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Title: The Elephant God
Author: Casserly, Gordon
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Elephant God" ***

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THE ELEPHANT GOD

BY GORDON GASSERLY



NEW YORK
1921



TO A CERTAIN ROGUE ELEPHANT RESIDENT IN THE TERAI FOREST

THE SLAYER OF DIVERS MEN AND WOMEN

THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR IN GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF MUCH
INSTRUCTION AND IN THE HOPE THAT SOME DAY IN THE HAPPY HUNTING GROUNDS
THEY MAY MEET AGAIN AND DECIDE THE ISSUE



FOREWORD TO AMERICAN EDITION


Twenty years ago I dedicated my first book, _The Land of the Boxers; or
China Under the Allies_, to the American officers and soldiers of the
expeditionary forces then fighting in the Celestial Empire--as well as to
their British comrades. And when, some years afterwards, I was visiting
their country, right glad I was that I had thus offered my slight tribute
to the valour of the United States Army. For from the Pacific to the
Atlantic I met with a hospitality and a kindness that no other land could
excel and few could equal. And ever since then, I have felt deep in debt to
all Americans and have tried in many parts of our Empire to repay to those
who serve under the Star Spangled Banner a little of what I owe to their
fellow-countrymen.

Only those who have experienced that sympathetic American kindness can
realise what it is. It is all that gives me courage to face the reading
public as a writer of fiction and attempt to depict to it the fascinating
world of an Indian jungle, the weird beasts that people it, and the
stranger humans that battle with them in it. The magic pen of a Kipling
alone could do justice to that wonderful realm of mountain and forest that
is called the Terai--that fantastic region of woodland that stretches for
hundreds of miles along the foot of the Himalayas, that harbours in its dim
recesses the monsters of the animal kingdom, quaint survivals of a vanished
race--the rhinoceros, the elephant, the bison, and the hamadryad, that
great and terrible snake which can, and does, pursue and overtake a mounted
man, and which with a touch of its poisoned fang can slay the most powerful
brute. The huge Himalayan bear roams under the giant trees, feeding on
fruit and honey, yet ready to shatter unprovoked the skull of a poor
woodcutter. Those savage striped and spotted cats, the tiger and the
panther, steal through it on velvet paw and take toll of its harmless
denizens.

But, if I cannot describe it as I would, at least I have lived the life of
the wild in the spacious realm of the Terai. I would that I had the power
to make others feel what I have felt, the thrill that comes when facing the
onrush of the bloodthirstiest of all fierce brutes, a rogue elephant, or
the joy of seeing a charging tiger check and crumple up at the arresting
blow of a heavy bullet.

I have followed day after day from dawn to dark and fought again and again
a fierce outlaw tusker elephant that from sheer lust of slaughter had
killed men, women, and children and carried on for years a career of crime
unbelievable.

No one that knows the jungle well will refuse to credit the strangest story
of what wild animals will do. Of all the swarming herds of wild elephants
in the Terai, the Mysore, or the Ceylon jungles no man, white or black, has
ever seen one that had died a natural death. Yet many have watched them
climbing up the great mountain rampart of the Himalayas towards regions
where human foot never followed. The Death Place of the Elephants is a
legend in which all jungle races firmly believe, but no man has ever found
it. The mammoths live a century and a half--but the time comes when each of
them must die. Yet no human eye watches its death agony.

Those who know elephants best will most readily credit the strangest tales
of their doings. And there are men--white men--whose power over wild beasts
and wilder fellow men outstrips the novelist's imagination, the true tale
of whose doings no resident in a civilised land would believe.

GORDON CASSERLY.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                   PAGE

    I.--THE SECRET MISSION                   3

   II.--A ROGUE ELEPHANT                    20

  III.--A GIRL OF THE TERAI                 35

   IV.--THE MADNESS OF BADSHAH              59

    V.--THE DEATH-PLACE                     79

   VI.--A DRAMATIC INTRODUCTION             95

  VII.--IN THE RAJAH'S PALACE              117

 VIII.--A BHUTTIA RAID                     137

   IX.--THE RESCUE OF NOREEN               155

    X.--A STRANGE HOME-COMING              175

   XI.--THE MAKING OF A GOD                193

  XII.--THE LURE OF THE HILLS              213

 XIII.--THE PLEASURE COLONY                231

  XIV.--THE TANGLED SKEIN OF LOVE          248

   XV.--THE FEAST OF THE GODDESS KALI      267

  XVI.--THE PALACE OF DEATH                286

 XVII.--A TRAP                             309

XVIII.--THE CAT AND THE TIGER              330

  XIX.--TEMPEST                            351

   XX.--THE GOD OF THE ELEPHANTS           377



THE ELEPHANT GOD



CHAPTER I


THE SECRET MISSION

"The letters, sahib," said the post orderly, blocking up the doorway of the
bungalow.

Kevin Dermot put down his book as the speaker, a Punjaubi Mohammedan in
white undress, slipped off his loose native shoes and entered the room
barefoot, as is the custom in India.

"For this one a receipt is needed," continued the sepoy, holding out a long
official envelope registered and insured and addressed, like all the
others, to "The Officer Commanding, Ranga Duar, Eastern Bengal."

Major Dermot signed the receipt and handed it to the man. As he did so the
scream of an elephant in pain came to his ears.

"What is that?" he asked the post orderly.

"It is the _mahout_, Chand Khan, beating his _hathi_ (elephant), sahib,"
replied the sepoy looking out.

Dermot threw the unopened letters on the table, and, going out on the
verandah of his bungalow, gazed down on the parade ground which lay a
hundred feet below. Beyond it at the foot of the small hill on which stood
the Fort was a group of trees, to two of which a transport elephant was
shackled by a fore and a hind leg in such a way as to render it powerless.
Its _mahout_, or driver, keeping out of reach of its trunk, was beating it
savagely on the head with a bamboo. Mad with rage, the man, a grey-bearded
old Mohammedan, swung the long stick with both hands and brought it down
again and again with all his force. From the gateway of the Fort above the
_havildar_, or native sergeant, of the guard shouted to the _mahout_ to
desist. But the angry man ignored him and continued to belabour his
unfortunate animal, which, at the risk of dislocating its leg, struggled
wildly to free itself and screamed shrilly each time that the bamboo fell.
This surprised Dermont, for an elephant's skull is so thick that a blow
even from the _ankus_ or iron goad used to drive it, is scarcely felt.

The puzzled officer re-entered the bungalow and brought out a pair of
field-glasses, which revealed the reason of the poor tethered brute's
screams. For they showed that in the end of the bamboo were stuck long,
sharp nails which pierced and tore the flesh of its head.

Major Dermot was not only a keen sportsman and a lover of animals, but he
had an especial liking for elephants, of which he had had much experience.
So with a muttered oath he put down the binoculars and, seizing his helmet,
ran down the steep slope from his bungalow to the parade ground. As he went
he shouted to the _mahout_ to stop. But the man was too engrossed in his
brutality to hear him or the _havildar_, who repeated the Major's order. It
was not until Dermot actually seized his arm and dragged him back that he
perceived his commanding officer. Dropping the bamboo he strove to justify
his ill-treatment of the elephant by alleging some petty act of
disobedience on its part.

His excuses were cut short.

"_Choop raho!_ (Be silent!) You are not fit to have charge of an animal,"
cried the indignant officer, picking up and examining the cruel weapon. The
sharp points of the nails were stained with blood, and morsels of skin and
flesh adhered to them. Dermot felt a strong inclination to thrash the
brutal _mahout_ with the unarmed end of the bamboo, but, restraining
himself, he turned to the elephant. With the instinct of its kind it was
scraping a little pile of dust together with its toes, snuffing it up in
its trunk and blowing it on the bleeding cuts on its lacerated head.

"You poor beast! You mustn't do that. We'll find something better for you,"
said the Major compassionately.

He called across the parade ground to his white-clad Mussulman butler, who
was looking down at him from the bungalow.

"Bring that fruit off my table," he said in Hindustani. "Also the little
medicine chest and a bowl of water."

When the servant had brought them Dermot approached the elephant.

"_Khubbadar_--(take care)--sahib!" cried a coolie, the _mahout's_
assistant. "He is suffering and angry. He may do you harm."

But, while the rebuked _mahout_ glared malevolently and inwardly hoped that
the animal might kill him, Dermot walked calmly toward it, holding out his
hand with the fruit. The elephant, regarding him nervously and suspiciously
out of its little eyes, shifted uneasily from foot to foot, and at first
shrank from him. But, as the officer stood quietly in front of it, it
stretched out its trunk and smelled the extended hand. Then it touched the
arm and felt it up to the shoulder, on which it let the tip of the trunk
rest for a few seconds. At last it seemed satisfied that the white man was
a friend and did not intend to hurt it.

During the ordeal Dermot had never moved; although there was every reason
to fear that the animal, either from sheer nervousness or from resentment
at the ill-treatment that it had just received, might attack him and
trample him to death. Indeed, many tame elephants, being unused to
Europeans, will not allow white men to approach them. So the Hindu coolie
stood trembling with fright, while the _havildar_ and the butler were
alarmed at their sahib's peril.

But Dermot coolly peeled a banana and placed it in the elephant's mouth.
The gift was tried and approved by the huge beast, which graciously
accepted the rest of the fruit. Then the Major said to it in the _mahouts'_
tongue:

"_Buth!_ (Lie down!)"

The elephant slowly sank down to the ground and allowed the Major to
examine its head, which was badly lacerated by the spikes. Dermot cleansed
the wounds thoroughly and applied an antiseptic to them. The animal bore it
patiently and seemed to recognise that it had found a friend; for, when it
rose to its feet again, it laid its trunk almost caressingly on Dermot's
shoulder.

The officer stroked it and then turned to the _mahout_, who was standing in
the background.

"Chand Khan, you are not to come near this elephant again," he said. "I
suspend you from charge of it and shall report you for dismissal. _Jao!_
(Go!)"

The man slunk away scowling. Dermot beckoned to the Hindu, who approached
salaaming.

"Are you this animal's coolie?"

(The Government of India very properly recognises the lordliness of the
elephant and provides him in captivity with no less than two body-servants,
a _mahout_ and a coolie, whose mission in life is to wait on him.)

The Hindu salaamed again.

"Yes, _Huzoor_ (The Presence)," he replied.

"How long have you been with it?"

"Five years, _Huzoor_."

"What is its name?"

"_Badshah_ (The King). And indeed he is a _badshah_ among elephants. No one
but a Mussulman would treat him with disrespect. Your Honour sees that he
is a _Gunesh_ and worthy of reverence."

The animal, which was a large and well-shaped male, possessed only one
tusk, the right. The other had never grown. Dermot knew that an elephant
thus marked by Nature would be regarded by Hindus as sacred to _Gunesh_,
their God of Wisdom, who is represented as having the head of an elephant
with a single tusk, the right. Many natives would consider the animal to be
a manifestation of the god himself and worship it as a deity. So the Major
made no comment on the coolie's remark, but said:

"What is your name?"

"Ramnath, _Huzoor_."

"Very well, Ramnath. You are to have sole charge of Badshah until I can get
someone to help you. You will be his _mahout_. Take this medicine that I
have been using and put it on as you have seen me do. Don't let the animal
blow dust on the cuts. Keep them clean, and bring him up tomorrow for me to
see."

He handed the man the antiseptic and swabs. Then he turned to the elephant
and patted it.

"Good-bye, Badshah, old boy," he said. "I don't think that Ramnath will
ill-treat you."

The huge beast seemed to understand him and again touched him with the tip
of its trunk.

"Badshah knows Your Honour," said the Hindu. "He will regard you always now
as his _ma-bap_ (mother and father)."

Dermot smiled at this very usual vernacular expression. He was accustomed
to being called it by his sepoys; but he was amused at being regarded as
the combined parents of so large an offspring.

"Badshah has never let a white man approach him before today, _Huzoor_,"
continued Ramnath. "He has always been afraid of the sahibs. But he sees
you are his friend. _Salaam kuro_, Badshah!"

And the elephant raised his trunk vertically in the air and trumpeted the
_Salaamut_ or royal salute that he had been taught to make. Then, at
Ramnath's signal, he lowered his trunk and crooked it. The man put his bare
foot on it, at the same time seizing one of the great ears. Then Badshah
lifted him up with the trunk until he could get on to the head into
position astride the neck. Then the new _mahout_, salaaming again to the
officer, started his huge charge off, and the elephant lumbered away with
swaying stride to its _peelkhana_, or stable, two thousand feet below in
the forest at the foot of the hills on which stood the Fort of Ranga Duar.
For this outpost, which was garrisoned by Dermot's Double Company of a
Military Police Battalion, guarded one of the _duars_, or passes, through
the Himalayas into India from the wild and little-known country of Bhutan.

Its Commanding Officer watched the elephant disappear down the hill before
returning to his little stone bungalow, which stood in a small garden
shaded by giant mango and jack-fruit trees and gay with the flaming lines
of bougainvillias and poinsettias.

Dismissing the post orderly, who was still waiting, Dermot threw himself
into a long chair and took up the letters that he had flung down when
Badshah's screams attracted his attention. They were all routine official
correspondence contained in the usual long envelopes marked "On His
Majesty's Service." The registered one, however, held a smaller envelope
heavily sealed, marked "Secret" and addressed to him by name. In this was a
letter in cipher.

Dermot got up from his chair and, going into his bedroom, opened a trunk
and lifted out of it a steel despatch box, which he unlocked. From this he
extracted a sealed envelope, which he carried back to the sitting-room.
First examining the seals to make sure that they were intact, he opened the
envelope and took from it two papers. One was a cipher code and on the
other was the keyword to the official cipher used by the military
authorities throughout India. This word is changed once a year. On the
receipt of the new one every officer entitled to be in possession of it
must burn the paper on which is written the old word and send a signed
declaration to that effect to Army Headquarters.

Taking a pencil and a blank sheet of paper Dermot proceeded to decipher the
letter that he had just received. It was dated from the Adjutant General's
Office at Simla, and headed "Secret." It ran:

"Sir:

"In continuation of the instructions already given you orally, I have
the honour to convey to you the further orders of His Excellency the
Commander-in-Chief in India.

"Begins: 'Information received from the Secretary to the Foreign
Department, Government of India, confirms the intelligence that Chinese
emissaries have for some time past been endeavouring to re-establish the
former predominance of their nation over Tibet and Bhutan. In the former
country they appear to have met with little success; but in Bhutan, taking
advantage of the hereditary jealousies of the _Penlops_, the great feudal
chieftains, they appear to have gained many adherents. They aim at
instigating the Bhutanese to attempt an invasion of India through the
_duars_ leading into Eastern Bengal, their object being to provoke a war.
The danger to this country from an invading force of Bhutanese, even if
armed, equipped, and led by Chinese, is not great. But its political
importance must not be minimised.

"'For the most serious feature of the movement is that information received
by the Political Department gives rise to the grave suspicion that, not
only many extremists in Bengal, but even some of the lesser rajahs and
nawabs, are in treasonable communication with these outside enemies.

"'Major Dermot, at present commanding the detachment of the Military
Battalion stationed at Ranga Duar, has been specially selected, on account
of his acquaintance with the districts and dialects of the _duars_ and that
part of the Terai Forest bordering on Bhutan, to carry out a particular
mission. You are to direct him to inspect and report on the suitability,
for the purposes of defence against an invasion from the north, of:

  (_a_) The line of the mountain passes at an altitude of from 3000 to
        6000 feet.

  (_b_) A line established in the Terai Forest itself.

"'In addition, if this officer in the course of his investigations
discovers any evidence of communication between the disloyal elements
inside our territory and possible enemies across the border, he will at
once inform you direct.' Ends.

"Please note His Excellency's orders and proceed to carry them out
forthwith. You can pursue your investigations under the pretence of big
game shooting in the hills and jungle. The British officer next in
seniority to you will command the detachment in your absences You may
communicate to him as much of the contents of this letter as you deem
advisable, impressing upon him the necessity for the strictest secrecy.

"You will in all matters communicate directly and confidentially with this
office.

"I have the honour to be, Sir,

"Your most obedient servant."


Here followed the signature of one of the highest military authorities in
India.

Dermot stared at the letter.

"So that's it!" he thought. "It's a bigger thing than I imagined."

He had known when he consented to being transferred from a staff
appointment in Simla to the command of a small detachment of a Military
Police Battalion garrisoning an unimportant frontier fort on the face of
the Himalayas that he was being sent there for a special purpose. He had
consented gladly; for to him the great attraction of his new post was that
he would find himself once more in the great Terai Jungle. To him it was
Paradise. Before going to Simla he had been stationed with a Double Company
of the Indian Infantry Regiment to which he belonged in a similar outpost
in the mountains not many miles away. This outpost had now been abolished.
But while in it he used to spend all his spare time in the marvellous
jungle that extended to his very door.

The great Terai Forest stretches for hundreds of miles along the foot of
the Himalayas, from Assam through Bengal to Garwhal and up into Nepal. It
is a sportsman's heaven; for it shelters in its recesses wild elephants,
rhinoceros, bison, bears, tigers, panthers, and many of the deer tribes.
Dermot loved it. He was a mighty hunter, but a discriminating one. He did
not kill for sheer lust of slaughter, and preferred to study the ways of
the harmless animals rather than shoot them. Only against dangerous beasts
did he wage relentless war.

Dermot knew that he could very well leave the routine work of the little
post to his Second in Command. The fort was practically a block of
fortified stone barracks, easily defensible against attacks of badly armed
hillmen and accommodating a couple of hundred sepoys. It was to hold the
_duar_ or pass of Ranga through the Himalayas against raiders from Bhutan
that the little post had been built.

For centuries past the wild dwellers beyond the mountains were used to
swooping down from the hills on the less warlike plainsmen in search of
loot, women, and slaves. But the war with Bhutan in 1864-5 brought the
borderland under the English flag, and the Pax Britannica settled on it.
Yet even now temptation was sometimes too strong for lawless men.
Occasionally swift-footed parties of fierce swordsmen swept down through
the unguarded passes and raided the tea-gardens that are springing up in
the foothills and the forests below them. For hundreds of coolies work on
these big estates, and large consignments of silver coin come to the
gardens for their payment.

But there was bigger game afoot than these badly-armed raiders. The task
set Dermot showed it; and his soldier's heart warmed at the thought of
helping to stage a fierce little frontier war in which he might come early
on the scene.

Carefully sealing up again and locking away the cipher code and keyword, he
went out on the back verandah and shouted for his orderly. The dwellings of
Europeans upcountry in India are not luxurious--far from it. Away from the
big cities like Bombay, Calcutta, or Karachi, the amenities of civilisation
are sadly lacking. The bungalows are lit only by oil-lamps, their floors
are generally of pounded earth covered with poor matting harbouring fleas
and other insect pests, their roofs are of thatch or tiles, and such
luxuries as bells, electric or otherwise, are unknown. So the servants, who
reside outside the bungalows in the compounds, or enclosures, are summoned
by the simple expedient of shouting "Boy".

Presently the orderly appeared.

"Shaikh Ismail," said the Major, "go to the Mess, give my salaams to Parker
Sahib, and ask him to come here."

The sepoy, a smart young Punjabi Mussulman, clad in the white undress
of the Indian Army, saluted and strode off up the hill to the pretty
mess-bungalow of the British officers of the detachment. In it the
subaltern occupied one room.

When he received Dermot's message, this officer, a tall, good-looking man
of about twenty-eight years of age, accompanied the orderly to his senior's
quarters.

"Come in and have a smoke, Parker," said the Major cheerily.

The subaltern entered and helped himself to a cigarette from an open box on
the table before looking for a chair in the scantily-furnished room.

As he struck a match he said,

"Ismail Khan tells me you've just had trouble with that surly beast, Chand
Khan".

Dermot told him what had occurred.

"What a _soor!_ (swine!)" exclaimed Parker indignantly. "I always knew he
was a cruel devil; but I didn't think he was quite such a brute. And to
poor old Badshah too. It's a damned shame".

"He's a good elephant, isn't he?" asked the senior.

"A ripper. Splendid to shoot from and absolutely staunch to tiger," said
the subaltern enthusiastically. "Major Smith--our Commandant before you,
sir--was charged by a tiger he had wounded in a beat near Alipur Duar. He
missed the beast with his second barrel. The tiger sprang at the howdah,
but Badshah caught him cleverly on his one tusk and knocked him silly. The
Major reloaded and killed the beast before it could recover."

"Good for Badshah. He seemed to me to be a fine animal," said Dermot.

"One of the best. We all like him; though he'll never let any white man
handle him. By the way, Ismail Khan says he permitted you to do it."

"I doctored up his cuts. Besides, I'm used to elephants."

"All the same you're the first sahib I've heard Of that Badshah has allowed
to touch him. Do you know, the Hindus worship him. He's a _Gunesh_--I
supposed you noticed that. I've seen some of them simply go down on their
faces in the dust before him and pray to him. There's a curious thing about
Badshah, too. Have you heard?"

"No. What is it?" asked the Major.

"Well, it's a rummy thing. He's usually awfully quiet and obedient. But
sometimes he gets very restless, breaks loose, and goes off on his own into
the jungle. After a week or two he comes back by himself, as quiet as a
lamb. But when the fit's on him nothing will hold him. He bursts the
stoutest ropes, breaks iron chains; and I believe he'd pull down the
_peelkhana_ if he couldn't get away."

"Oh, that often happens with domesticated male elephants," said Dermot.
"They have periodic fits of sexual excitement--get _must_, you know--and go
mad while these last."

"Oh, no. It's not that," replied the subaltern confidently. "Badshah
doesn't go _must_. It's something quite different. The jungle men around
here have a quaint belief about it. You see, Badshah was captured by the
Kheddah Department here years ago--twenty, I think. He's about forty now.
He was taken away to other parts of India, Mhow for one----"

"Yes, they used to have an elephant battery there," broke in the Major.

"But somehow or other he got here eventually. Rather curious that he should
have been sent back to his birthplace. Anyhow, the natives believe that
when he breaks away he goes off to family reunions or to meet old pals."

"I shouldn't be surprised," remarked Dermot, meditatively. "They're strange
beasts, elephants. No one really knows much about them. I expect the jungle
calls to them, as it does to me."

He lit a cigarette and went on,

"But I've sent for you to talk over something important. Read that."

He handed Parker his transcription of the cipher letter. As the subaltern
read it his eyes opened wider and wider. When he had finished he exclaimed
joyfully,

"By Jove, Major, that's great. Do you think there's anything in it? How
ripping it'll be if they try to come in by this pass! Won't we just knock
them! Couldn't we get some machine guns?"

"I'm afraid we couldn't hold the Fort of Ranga Duar against a whole
invading army, Parker. You know it isn't really defensible against a
serious attack."

"Oh, I say! Do you mean, sir, that we'd give it up to a lot of Chinks and
bare-legged Bhuttias without firing a shot?"

The Major smiled at his junior's indignation.

"You must remember, Parker, that if an invasion comes off it will be on a
scale that two hundred men won't stop. The Bhutanese are badly armed; but
they are fanatically brave. They showed that in their war with us in '64
and '65. They had only swords, bows, and arrows; but they licked one of our
columns hollow and drove our men in headlong flight. But cheer up, Parker,
if there is a show it won't be my fault if you and I don't have a good look
in."

"Thank you, Major," said the subaltern gratefully.

He smoked in silence for a while and then said:

"D'you know, sir, I had an idea there was something up when Major Smith was
suddenly ordered away and you, who didn't belong to us, were sent here from
Simla. I'd heard of you before, not only as a great _shikari_--the natives
everywhere in these jungles talk a lot about you--but also as a keen
soldier. A fellow doesn't usually come straight from a staff job at Army
Headquarters to a small outpost like this for nothing."

Dermot laughed.

"Unless he has got into trouble and is sent off as a punishment," he said.
"But that didn't happen to be my case. However, I was delighted to leave
Simla. Better the jungle a thousand times."

"Yes; Simla's rather a rotten place, I believe," remarked the subaltern
meditatively. "Too many brass hats and women. They're the curse of India,
each of them. And I'm sure the women do the most harm."

"Well, steer clear of the latter, and don't become one of the former," said
Dermot with a laugh, rising from his chair, "then you'll have a peaceful
life--but you won't get on in your profession."



CHAPTER II


A ROGUE ELEPHANT

The four transport elephants attached to the garrison of Ranga Duar for the
purpose of bringing supplies for the men from the far distant railway were
stabled in a _peelkhana_ at the foot of the hills and a couple of thousand
feet below the Fort. This building, a high-walled shed with thatched roof
and brick standings for the animals, was erected beside the narrow road
that zig-zagged down from the mountains into the forest and eventually
joined a broader one leading to the narrow-gauge railway that pierced the
jungle many miles away.

One morning, about three weeks after Dermot's first introduction to
Badshah, the Major tramped down the rough track to the _peelkhana_,
carrying a rifle and cartridge belt and a haversack containing his food for
the day. Nearing the stables he blew a whistle, and a shrill trumpeting
answered him from the building, as Badshah recognised his signal. Ramnath,
hurriedly entering the impatient elephant's stall, loosed him from the iron
shackles that held his legs. Then the huge beast walked with stately tread
out of the building and went straight to where Dermot awaited him. For
during these weeks the intimacy between man and animal had progressed
rapidly. Elephants, though of an affectionate disposition, are not
demonstrative as a rule. But Badshah always showed unmistakable signs of
fondness for the white man, whom he seemed to regard as his friend and
protector.

Dermot was in the habit of taking him out into the jungle every day, where
he went ostensibly to shoot. After the first few occasions he displaced
Ramnath from the guiding seat on Badshah's neck and acted as _mahout_
himself. But, instead of using the _ankus_--the heavy iron implement shaped
like a boat-hook head which natives use to emphasise their orders to their
charges--the Major simply touched the huge head with his open hand. And his
method proved equally, if not more, effective. He was soon able to dispense
altogether with Ramnath on his expeditions, which was his object. For he
did not want any witness to his secret explorations of the forest and the
hills.

An elephant, when used as a beast of burden or for shooting from in thick
jungle, carries on its back only a "pad"--a heavy, straw-stuffed mattress
reaching from neck to tail and fastened on by a rope surcingle passing
round the body. On this pad, if passengers are to be carried, a wooden seat
with footboards hanging by cords from it and called a _charjama_ is placed.
Only for sport in open country or high grass jungle is the cage-like howdah
employed.

Dermot replaced Badshah's heavy pad by a small, light one, especially made,
or else took him out absolutely bare. No shackles were needed to secure the
elephant when his white rider dismounted from his neck, for he followed
Dermot like a dog, came to his whistle, or stood without moving from the
spot where he had been ordered to remain. The most perfect understanding
existed between the two; and the superstitious Hindus regarded with awe the
extraordinary subjection of their sacred and revered _Gunesh_ to the white
man.

Now, after a greeting and a palatable gift to Badshah, Dermot seized the
huge ears, placed his foot on the trunk which was curled to receive it and
was swung up on to the neck by the well-trained animal. Then, answering the
_salaams_ of the _mahouts_ and coolies, who invariably gathered to witness
and wonder at his daily meeting with Badshah, he touched the elephant under
the ears with his toe and was borne away into the jungle.

His object this day was not to explore but to shoot a deer to replenish the
mess larder. Fresh meat was otherwise unprocurable in Ranga Duar; and an
unvaried diet of tinned food was apt to become wearisome, especially as it
was not helped out by bread and fresh vegetables. These were luxuries
unknown to the British officers in this, as in many other, outposts.

The sea of vegetation closed around Badshah and submerged him, as he turned
off a footpath and plunged into the dense undergrowth. The trees were
mostly straight-stemmed giants of teak, branchless for some distance from
the ground. Each strove to thrust its head above the others through the
leafy canopy overhead, fighting for its share of the life-giving sunlight.
In the green gloom below tangled masses of bushes, covered with large,
bell-shaped flowers and tall grasses in which lurked countless thorny
plants obstructed the view between the tree-trunks. Above and below was a
bewildering confusion of creepers forming an intricate network, swinging
from the upper branches and twisting around the boles, biting deep into the
bark, strangling the life out of the stoutest trees or holding up the
withered, lifeless trunks of others long dead. They filled the space
between the tree-tops and the undergrowth, entangled, crisscrossed,
festooned, like a petrified mass of writhing snakes.

Through this maddening obstacle Badshah forced his way; while Dermot hacked
at the impeding _lianas_ with a sharp _kukri_, the heavy-bladed Gurkha
knife. The elephant moved on at an easy pace, shouldering aside the surging
waves of vegetation and bursting the clinging hold of the creepers. As he
went he swept huge bunches of grass up in his trunk, tore down leafy trails
or broke off small branches, and crammed them all impartially into his
mouth. At a touch of Dermot's foot or the guiding pressure of his hand he
swerved aside to avoid a tree or a particularly thorny bush.

There was little life to be seen. But occasionally, with a whirring sound
of rushing wings, a bright-plumaged jungle cock with his attendant bevy of
sober-clad hens swept up with startled squawks from under the huge feet and
flew to perch high up on neighbouring trees, chattering and clucking
indignantly in their fright. The pretty black and white Giant Squirrel ran
along the upper branches; or a troop of little brown monkeys leapt away
among the tree tops.

It was fascinating to be borne along without effort through the enchanted
wood in the luminous green gloom that filled it, lulled by the swaying
motion of the elephant's stride. The soothing silence of the woodland was
broken only by the crowing of a jungle cock. The thick, leafy screen
overhead excluded the glare of the tropic sunlight; and the heat was
tempered to a welcome coolness by the dense shade.

But, despite the soporific motion of his huge charger, Dermot's vigilant
eye searched the apparently lifeless jungle as he was borne along.
Presently it was caught by a warm patch of colour, the bright chestnut hide
of a deer; and he detected among the trees the graceful form of a _sambhur_
hind. Accustomed to seeing wild elephants the animal gazed without
apprehension at Badshah and failed to mark the man on his neck. But females
of the deer tribe are sacred to the sportsman; and the hunter passed on.
Half a mile farther on, in the deepest shadow of the undergrowth, he saw
something darker still. It was the dull black hide of a _sambhur_ stag, a
fine beast fourteen hands high, with sharp brow antlers and thick horns
branching into double points. Knowing the value of motionlessness as a
concealment the animal never moved; and only an eye trained to the jungle
would have detected it. Dermot noted it, but let it remain unscathed; for
he knew well the exceeding toughness of its flesh. What he sought was a
_kakur_, or barking deer, a much smaller but infinitely more palatable
beast.

Hours passed; and he and Badshah had wandered for miles without finding
what he wanted. He looked at his watch; for the sun was invisible. It was
nearly noon. In a space free from undergrowth he halted the elephant and,
patting the skull with his open hand, said:

"_Buth!_"

Badshah at the word sank slowly down until he rested on his breast and
belly with fore and hind legs stuck out stiffly along the ground. Dermot
slipped off his neck and stretched his cramped limbs; for sitting long
upright on an elephant without any support to the back is tiring. Then
he reclined under a tree with his loaded rifle beside him--for the
peaceful-seeming forest has its dangers. He made a frugal lunch off a
packet of sandwiches from his haversack.

Eating made him thirsty. He had forgotten to bring his water-bottle with
him; and he knew that there was no stream to be met with in the jungle for
many miles. But he was aware that the forest could supply his wants.
Rising, he drew his _kukri_ and looked around him. Among the tangle of
creepers festooned between the trees he detected the writhing coils of one
with withered, cork-like bark, four-sided and about two inches in diameter.
He walked over to it and, grasping it in his left hand, cut it through with
a blow of his heavy knife. Its interior consisted of a white, moist pulp.
With another blow he severed a piece a couple of feet long. Taking a metal
cup from his haversack he cut the length of creeper into small pieces and
held all their ends together over the little vessel. From them water began
to drip, the drops came faster and finally little streams from the pulpy
interior filled the cup to the brim with a cool, clear, and palatable
liquid. The _liana_ was the wonderful _pani-bêl_, or water-creeper.

Dermot drank until his thirst was quenched, then sat down with his back
against a tree and lit his pipe. He smoked contentedly and watched Badshah
grazing. The elephant plucked the long grass with a scythe-like sweep of
his trunk, tore down succulent creepers and broke off small branches from
the trees, chewing the wood and leaves with equal enjoyment. From time to
time he looked towards his master, but, receiving no signal to prepare to
move on, continued his meal.

At last the Major knocked out the ashes of his pipe, grinding them into the
earth with his heel lest a chance spark might start a forest fire, and
whistled to Badshah. The elephant came at once to him. From his haversack
Dermot took out a couple of bananas and held them up. The snake-like trunk
shot out and grasped them, then curving back placed them in the huge mouth.
Dermot stood up and, slinging his rifle over his shoulder, seized Badshah's
ears and was lifted again to his place astride the neck.

Once more the jungle closed about them, as the elephant moved off. The
rider, unslinging his rifle and laying it across his thighs, glanced from
side to side as they proceeded. The forest grew more open. The undergrowth
thinned; and occasionally they came to open glades carpeted with tall
bracken and looking almost like an English wood. But the great boughs of
the giant trees were matted thick with the glossy green leaves of orchid
plants, from which drooped long trails of delicate mauve and white flowers.

Just as they were emerging from dense undergrowth on to such a glade,
Dermot's eye was caught by something moving ahead of them. He checked
Badshah; and they remained concealed in in the thick vegetation. Then
through the trees came a trim little _kakur_ buck, stepping daintily in
advance of his doe which followed a few yards behind. As they moved their
long ears twitched incessantly, pointing now in this, now in that,
direction for any sound that might warn them of danger. But they did not
detect the hidden peril. Dermot noiselessly raised his rifle, aimed
hurriedly at the leader's shoulder and fired. The loud report sounded like
thunder through the silent forest. The stricken buck sprang convulsively
into the air, then fell in a heap; while his startled mate leaped over his
body and disappeared in bounding flight.

At the touch of his rider's foot the elephant moved forward into the open;
and without waiting for him to sink down Dermot slid to the ground. Old
hunter that he was, the Major could never repress a feeling of pity when he
looked on any harmless animal that he had shot; and he had long ago given
up killing such except for food. He propped his rifle against a tree and,
taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves, drew his _kukri_ and
proceeded to disembowel and clean the _kakur_. While he was thus employed
Badshah strayed away into the jungle to graze, for elephants feed
incessantly.

When Dermot had finished his unpleasant task, it still remained to bind the
buck's legs together and tie him on to Badshah's back. For this he would
need cords; but he relied on the inexhaustible jungle to supply him with
these.

While searching for the udal tree whose inner bark would furnish him with
long, tough strips, he heard a crashing in the undergrowth not far away,
but, concluding that it was caused by Badshah, he did not trouble to look
round. Having got the cordage that he needed, he turned to go back to the
spot where he had left the _kakur_. As he fought his way impatiently
through the thorny tangled vegetation, he again heard the breaking of twigs
and the trampling down of the undergrowth. He glanced in the direction of
the sound, expecting to see Badshah appear.

To his dismay his eyes fell on a strange elephant, a large double-tusker.
It had caught sight of him and, contrary to the usual habit of its kind,
was advancing towards him instead of retreating. This showed that it was
the most terrible of all wild animals, a man-killing "rogue" elephant, than
which there is no more vicious or deadly brute on the earth.

Dermot instantly recognised his danger. It was very great. His rifle was
some distance away, and before he could reach it the tusker would probably
overtake him. He stopped and stood still, hoping that the rogue had not
caught sight of him. But he saw at once that there was no doubt of this.
The brute had its murderous little eyes fixed on him and was quickening its
pace. The undergrowth that almost held the man a prisoner was no obstacle
to this powerful beast.

Dermot realised that it meant to attack him. His heart nearly stopped, for
he knew the terrible death that awaited him. He had seen the crushed
bodies, battered to pulp and with the limbs torn away, of men killed by
rogue elephants. The only hope of escape, a faint one, lay in flight.

Madly he strove to tear himself free from the clutching thorns and the grip
of the entangling creepers that held him. He flung all his weight into his
efforts to fight his way out clear of the malignant vegetation, that seemed
a cruel, living thing striving to drag him to his death. The elephant saw
his desperate struggles. It trumpeted shrilly and, with head held high,
trunk curled up, and the lust of murder in its heart, it charged.

The tangled network of interlaced undergrowth parted like gossamer before
it. Small trees went down and the tallest bushes were trampled flat; the
stoutest creepers broke like pack-thread before its weight.

Dermot tore himself free from the clutch of the last clinging, curving
thorns that rent his garments and cut deep into his flesh. Gaining
comparatively open ground he ran for his life. But he had lost all sense of
direction and could not remember where his rifle stood. Escape seemed
hopeless. He knew only too well that in the jungle a pursuing elephant will
always overtake a fleeing man. The trees offered no refuge, for the lowest
branches were high above his reach and the trunks too thick and straight to
climb. He fled, knowing that each moment might be his last. A false step, a
trip over a root or a creeper and he was lost. He would be gored, battered
to death, stamped out of existence, torn limb from limb by the vicious
brute.

The rogue was almost upon him. He swerved suddenly and with failing breath
and fiercely beating heart ran madly on. But the respite was momentary. His
head was dizzy, his legs heavy as lead, his strength almost gone. He could
hear the terrible pursuer only a few yards behind him.

Already the great beast's uncurled trunk was stretched out to seize its
prey. Dermot's last moment had come when, with a fierce, shrill scream, a
huge body burst out of the jungle and hurled itself at his assailant.
Badshah had come to the rescue of his man.

Before the rogue could swing round to meet him the gallant animal had
charged furiously into it, driving his single tusk with all his immense
weight behind it into the strange elephant's side. The shock staggered the
murderous brute and almost knocked it to the ground. Only the fact of its
having turned slightly at Badshah's cry, so that his tusk inflicted a
somewhat slanting blow, had saved it from a mortal wound. Before it could
recover its footing Badshah gored it again.

Dermot, plucked at the last moment from the most terrible of deaths,
staggered panting to a tree and tried to stand, supporting himself against
the trunk. But the strain had been too great. He turned faint and sank
exhausted to the earth, almost unconscious. But the remembrance of
Badshah's peril from a better-armed antagonist--for the possession of two
tusks gave the rogue a great advantage--nerved him. Holding on to the tree
he dragged himself up and looked around for his rifle. He could not see it,
and he dared not cross the arena in which the two huge combatants were
fighting.

As Badshah drew back to gain impetus for another charge, the rogue regained
its feet and prepared to hurl itself on the unexpected assailant. Dermot
was in despair at being unable to aid his saviour, who he feared must
succumb to the superior weapons of his opponent. He gazed fascinated at the
titanic combat.

The rogue trumpeted a shrill challenge. Then it curled its trunk between
its tusks out of harm's way and with ears cocked forward and tail erect
rushed to the assault. But suddenly it propped on stiffened forelegs and
stopped dead. It stared at Badshah, who was about to charge again, and
backed slowly, seemingly panic-stricken. Then as the tame elephant moved
forward to the attack the rogue screamed with terror, swung about, and with
ears and tail dropped, bolted into the undergrowth.

With a trumpet of triumph Badshah pursued. Dermot, left alone, could
hardly credit the passing of the danger. The whole episode seemed a
hideous nightmare from which he had just awaked. He could scarcely
believe that it had actually taken place, although the trampled
vegetation and the crashing sounds of the great animals' progress
through the undergrowth were evidence of its reality. The need for
action had not passed. The rogue might return, for a fight between wild
bull-elephants often lasts a whole day and consists of short and
desperate encounters, retreats, pursuits, and fresh battles. So he
hurriedly searched for his rifle, which he eventually found some
distance away. He opened the breach and replaced the soft-nosed bullets
with solid ones, more suitable for such big game. Then, once more
feeling a strong man armed, he waited expectantly. The sounds of the
chase had died away. But after a while he heard a heavy body forcing a
passage through the undergrowth and held his rifle ready. Then through
the tangle of bushes and creepers Badshah's head appeared. The elephant
came straight to him and touched him all over with outstretched trunk,
just as mother-elephants do their calves, as if to assure himself of his
man's safety.

Dermot could have kissed the soft, snake-like proboscis, and he patted the
animal affectionately and murmured his thanks to him. Badshah seemed to
understand him and wrapped his trunk around his friend's shoulders. Then,
apparently satisfied, he moved away and began to graze calmly, as if
nothing out of the common had taken place.

Dermot pulled himself together. Near the foot of the tree at which he had
sunk down he found the cord-like strips of bark which he had cut. Picking
them up he went to the carcase of the buck and tied its legs together. A
whistle brought the elephant to him, and, hoisting the deer on to the pad,
he fastened it to the surcingle. Then, grasping the elephant's ears, he was
lifted to his place on the neck.

Turning Badshah's head towards home he started off; but, as he went, he
looked back at the trampled glade and thanked Heaven that his body was not
lying there, crushed and lifeless.



CHAPTER III


A GIRL OF THE TERAI

"How beautiful! How wonderful!" murmured the girl on the verandah, her eyes
turned to the long line of the Himalayas filling the horizon to the north.

Clear against the blue sky the shining, ice-clad peaks of Kinchinjunga, a
hundred miles away, towered high in air. Mystic, lovely, they seemed to
float above the earth, as unsubstantial as the clouds from which they rose.
They belonged to another world, a fairy world altogether apart from the
rugged, tumbled masses, the awe-inspiring precipices and tremendous cliffs,
of the nearer mountains. These were majestic, overpowering, but plainly of
this earth, unlike the pure, white summits that seemed unreal, impossible
in their beauty.

"Do come and look, Fred," said the girl aloud. "I've never seen the Snows
so clearly."

She spoke to the solitary occupant of the dining-room of the bungalow. The
young man at the breakfast table answered laughingly:

"I don't want to look at those confounded hills, Sis. I've seen them,
nothing but them, all through these long months, until I begin to hate the
sight of them."

"Oh, but do come, dear!" she pleaded. "Kinchinjunga has never seemed so
beautiful as it does this morning. And it looks so near. Who could believe
that it was all those miles away?"

With an air of pretended boredom and martyr-like resignation, her brother
put down his coffee-cup and came out on the verandah.

"Isn't it like Fairyland?" said the girl in an awed voice.

He put his arm affectionately round her, as he replied:

"Then it's where you belong, kiddie, for you look like a fairy this
morning."

The hackneyed compliment, unusual from the lips of a brother, was not
far-fetched. If a dainty little figure, an exquisitely pretty dimpled
face, a shell-pink complexion, violet eyes with long, thick lashes, and
naturally wavy golden hair be the hallmarks of the fairies, then Noreen
Daleham might claim to be one. Her face in repose had a somewhat sad
expression, due to the pathetic droop of the corners of her little
mouth and a wistful look in her eyes that made most men instinctively
desire to caress and console her. But the sadness and the wistfulness
were unconscious and untrue, for the girl was of a sunny and happy
disposition. And the men that desired to pet her were kept at a distance
by her natural self-respect, which made them respect her, too.

She was, perhaps, somewhat unusual in her generation in that she did not
indulge in flirtations and would have strongly objected to being the object
of promiscuous caresses and light lovemaking. Her innate purity and
innocence kept such things at a distance from her. It never occurred to her
that a girl might indulge in a hundred flirtations without reproach.
Without being sentimental she had her own inward, unexpressed feelings of
romance and vague dreams of Love and a Lover--but not of loves and lovers
in the plural.

No one so far had shattered her belief in the chivalrous feeling of respect
of the other sex for her own. Men as a rule, especially British men--though
they are no more virtuous than those of alien nations--treat a woman as she
inwardly wants them to treat her. And, although this girl was over twenty,
she had never yet had reason to suspect that men could behave to her with
anything but respect.

Her small and shapely figure looked to advantage in the well-cut riding
costume of khaki drill that she wore this morning. A cloth habit would
have been too warm for even these early days of an Eastern Bengal hot
weather. She was ready to accompany her brother in his early ride
through the tea-garden (of which he was assistant manager) in the Duars,
as this district of the Terai below the mountains is called. From the
verandah on which they stood they could look over acres of trim and tidy
bushes planted in orderly rows, a strong contrast to the wild disorder
of the big trees and masses of foliage of the forest that lay beyond
them and stretched to and along the foothills of the Himalayas only a
few miles away.

Daleham's father, a retired colonel, has died just as the boy was preparing
to go up for the entrance examination for the Royal Military College at
Sandhurst. To his great grief he was obliged to give up all hope of
becoming a soldier, and, when he left school, entered an office in the
city. Passionately desirous of an open-air and active life he had
afterwards eagerly snatched at an offer of employment by one of the great
tea companies that are dotting the Terai with their plantations and
sweeping away glorious spaces of wild, primeval forest to replace the trees
by orderly rows of tea-bushes and unsightly iron-roofed factories.

Left with a small income inherited from her mother, Noreen Daleham, who was
two years her brother's junior, had gladly given up the dulness of a home
with an aunt in a small country town to accompany her brother and keep
house for him.

To most girls life on an Indian tea-garden would not seem alluring; for
they would find themselves far from social gaieties and the society of
their kind. Existence is lonely and lacking in the comforts, as well as the
luxuries, of civilisation. Dances, theatres, concerts, even shops, are far,
very far away. A woman must have mental resources to enable her to face
contentedly life in a scantily-furnished, comfortless bungalow, dumped down
in a monotonous stretch of unlovely tea-bushes. With little to occupy her
she must rely for days at a time on the sole companionship of her man. To a
young bride very much in love that may seem no hardship. But when the
glamour has vanished she may change her mind.

To Noreen, however, the isolation was infinitely preferable to the
narrow-minded and unfriendly intimacy of society in a country town with
its snobbery and cliques. To be mistress of her own home and to be able
to look after and mother her dearly-loved brother was a pleasant change
from her position as a cipher in the household of a crotchetty,
unsympathetic, maiden aunt. And fortunately for her the charm of the
silent forest around them, the romance of the mysterious jungle with its
dangers and its wonders, appealed strongly to her, and she preferred
them to all the pleasures that London could offer. And yet the delights
of town were not unknown to her. Her father's first cousin, who had
loved him but married a rich man, often invited the girl to stay with
her in her house in Grosvenor Square. These visits gave her an insight
into life in Mayfair with its attendant pleasures of dances in smart
houses, dinners and suppers in expensive restaurants, the Opera and
theatres, and afternoons at Ranelagh and Hurlingham. She enjoyed them
all; she had enough money to dress well; and she was very popular.
But London could not hold her. Her relative, who was childless, was
anxious that Noreen should remain always with her, at least until she
married--and the older woman determined that the girl should make an
advantageous marriage. But the latter knew that her income was very
welcome to her aunt and, with a spirit of self-sacrifice not usual in
the young, gave up a gay, fashionable life for the dull existence of
a paying drudge in the house of an ungrateful, embittered elderly
spinster. Yet her heart rejoiced when she conscientiously felt that her
brother needed her more and had a greater claim upon her; and gladly she
went to keep house for him in India.

And she was happier than he in their new life. For in this land that is
essentially a soldier's country, won by the sword, held by the sword, in
spite of all that ignorant demagogues in England may say, Fred Daleham felt
all the more keenly the disappointment of his inability to follow the
career that he would have chosen. However, he was a healthy-minded young
man, not given to brooding and vain regrets.

"Are you ready to start, dear?" he said to his sister now. "Shall I order
the ponies?"

"I am ready. But have you finished your coffee?"

"Thanks, yes. We'll go off at once then, for I have a long morning's work,
and we had better get our ride over while it's cool."

He shouted to his "boy" to order the _syces_, or grooms, to bring the
ponies.

"Where are we going today, dear?" asked the girl, putting on her pith
helmet.

"To the nursery first. I want to see if the young plants have suffered much
from that hailstorm yesterday."

"Wasn't it awful? What would people in England say if they got hailstones
like that on their heads?"

"Chunerbutty and I measured one that I picked up outside the withering
shed," said the brother. "It was a solid lump of clear ice two inches long
and one and a half broad."

"I couldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen them," observed the girl. "I
wonder that everyone who is caught out in such a storm is not killed."

"Animals often are--and men, too, for that matter," replied Daleham.

Noreen tapped her smart little riding-boot with her whip.

"I'm glad we're going out to the nursery," she said. "It's my favourite
ride."

"I know it is, but I don't like taking you there, Sis," replied her
brother. "I always funk that short cut through the bit of jungle to it. I
never feel sure that we won't meet a wild elephant in it."

"Oh; but I don't believe they are dangerous; and I do love the ride through
that exquisite patch of forest. The trees look so lovely, now that the
orchids on them are in flower."

"My dear girl, get that silly idea that elephants are not dangerous out of
your head," said Daleham decidedly. "You ask any of the fellows."

"Mr. Parry says they're not."

"Old Parr's never seen any elephant but a tame one, unless it's a pink or
speckled one with a brass tail climbing up the wall of his room when he's
got D.T's. He never went out shooting in the jungle in his life. But you
ask Payne or Reynolds or any of the chaps on the other gardens who know
anything of the jungle."

The girl was unwilling to believe that her beloved forest could prove
perilous to her, and she feared lest her excursions into it should be
forbidden.

"Well, perhaps a rogue might be dangerous," she admitted grudgingly. "But I
don't believe that even a rogue would attack you unprovoked."

"Wouldn't it? From all I've heard about them I'd be very sorry to give one
of them the chance," said her brother. "I'd almost like you to meet one,
just to teach you not to be such a cocksure young woman. Lord! wouldn't I
laugh to see you trying to climb a tree--that is, if I were safe up one
myself!"

The arrival of the ponies cut short the discussion. Daleham swung his
sister up into the saddle of her smart little countrybred and mounted his
own waler.

Out along the road through the estate they trotted in the cool northerly
breeze that swept down from the mountains and tempered the sun's heat. The
panorama of the Himalayas was glorious, although Kinchinjunga had now drawn
up his covering of clouds over his face and the Snows had disappeared. The
long orderly lines of tea-bushes were dotted here and there with splashes
of colour from the bright-hued _puggris_, or turbans, of the men and the
_saris_ and petticoats of the female coolies, who were busy among the
plants, pruning them or tending their wounds after the storm.

The brother and sister quickened their pace and, racing along the soft
earthern road, soon reached the patch of forest that intervened between the
garden and the nursery.

"I say, Noreen, I think we'd better go the long way round," said Daleham
apprehensively, as he pulled up his waler.

"Oh, no, Fred. Don't funk it. Do come on," urged the girl. "If you don't,
I'll go on by myself and meet you at the nursery."

The dispute was a daily occurrence and always ended in the man weakly
giving in.

"That's a dear boy," said his sister consolingly, when she had gained her
point.

"Yes, that's all very well," grumbled the brother. "You've got your own
way, as usual. I hope you won't have cause to regret it one day."

"Don't be silly, dear. Come on!" she replied, touching her pony with the
whip. The animal seemed to dislike entering the forest as much as the man
did. "Oh, do go on, Kitty. Don't be tiresome."

The pony balked, but finally gave way under protest, and they rode on into
the jungle. A bridle path wound through the undergrowth and between the
trees, and this they followed.

It was easy to understand the girl's enthusiasm and desire to be in the
forest. After the tameness of the tea-garden the wild beauty of the giant
trees, their huge limbs clothed in the green leaves and drooping trails of
blossoms of the orchids, the tangled pattern of the interlaced creepers,
the flower-decked bushes and the high ferns, looked all the lovelier in
their untrammelled profusion.

The nursery was visited and the damage done to the young plants inspected.
Then they turned their ponies' heads towards home and went back through the
strip of jungle. They rode over the whole estate, including the untidy
ramshackle village of bamboo and palm-thatched huts of the garden coolies,
where the little, naked, brown babies rushed out to salaam and smile at
their friend Noreen.

As they came in sight of the ugly buildings of the engine and drying-houses
with their corrugated iron roofs and rusty stove-pipe chimneys, Daleham
said:

"Look here, old girl, while I go to the factory, you'd better hurry on and
see to the drinks and things we've got to send to the club. I hope you
haven't forgotten that it's our day to be 'at home' there."

"Of course I haven't, Fred. Is it likely?" exclaimed the justly-indignant
housewife. "Long before you were awake I helped the cook to pack the cold
meat and sweets and cakes, and they went off before we left the bungalow."

They were referring to a custom that obtains in the colonies of
tea-planters who are scattered in ones, two, and threes on
widely-separated estates. Their one chance of meeting others of their
colour is at the weekly gathering in the so-called club of the district.
This is very unlike the institutions known by that name to dwellers in
civilised cities. No marble or granite palace is it, but a rough wooden
shed with one or two rooms built out in the forest far from human
habitations, but in a spot as central and equi-distant to all the
planters of the district as possible. A few tennis courts are made
beside it, or perhaps a stretch of jungle is cleared, the more obtrusive
roots grubbed up, and the result is called a polo-ground, and on it the
game is played fast and furiously.

A certain day in the week is selected as the one which the planters from
the gardens for ten or twenty miles around will come together to it. Across
rivers, through forest, jungle, and peril of wild beasts they journey on
their ponies to meet their fellow men. Some of them may not have seen
another white face since the last weekly gathering.

Each of them in turn acts as host. By lumbering bullock-cart or on the
heads of coolies he sends in charge of his servants to the club-house miles
away from his bungalow food and drink, crockery, cutlery, and glasses, for
the entertainment of all who will foregather there.

And for a few crowded hours this lonely spot in the jungle is filled with
the sound of human voices, with laughter, friendliness, and good
fellowship. Men who have been isolated for a week rub off the cobwebs,
lunch, play tennis, polo, and cards, and swap stories at the bar until the
declining sun warns them of the necessity for departing before night falls
on the forest. After hearty farewells they swing themselves up into the
saddle again and dash off at breakneck speed to escape being trapped by the
darkness.

Many and strange are the adventures that befall them on the rough roads or
in the trackless wilds. Sometimes an elephant, a bear, or a tiger confronts
them on their way. But the intrepid planter, and his not less courageous
women-folk, if he has any to accompany him, gallops fearlessly by it or,
perhaps, rides unarmed at the astonished beast and scares it by wild cries.
Then on again to another week of lonely labour.

This day it had fallen to the lot of the Dalehams to be the hosts of their
community. Noreen had superintended the preparation and despatch of the
supplies for their guests and could ride home now with a clear conscience
to wait for her brother to return for their second breakfast. The early
morning repast, the _chota hazri_ of an Anglo-Indian household, is a very
light and frugal one, consisting of a cup of coffee or tea, a slice of
toast, and one or two bananas.

As she pulled up her pony in front of the bungalow a man came down the
steps of the verandah and helped her to dismount.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Chunerbutty," she exclaimed, "and good morning."

"Good morning, Miss Daleham. Just back from your ride with Fred, I
suppose?"

The newcomer was the engineer of the estate. The staff of the tea-garden of
Malpura consisted of three persons, the manager, a hard-drinking old
Welshman called Parry; the assistant manager, Daleham; and this man. As a
rule the employees of these estates are Europeans. Chunerbutty was an
exception. A Bengali Brahmin by birth, the son of a minor official in the
service of a petty rajah of Eastern Bengal, he had chosen engineering
instead of medicine or law, the two professions that appeal most to his
compatriots. A certain amount of native money was invested in the company
that owned the Malpura garden; and the directors apparently thought it good
policy to employ an Indian on it.

Like many other young Hindus who have studied in England, Chunerbutty
professed to be completely Anglicised. In the presence of Europeans he
sneered at the customs, beliefs, and religions of his fellow-countrymen and
posed as an agnostic. It galled him that Englishmen in India thought none
the more of him for foreswearing his native land, and he contrasted
bitterly their manner to him with the reception that he had met with in the
circles in which he moved in England. He had been regarded as a hero in
London boarding-houses. His well-cut features and dark complexion had
played havoc with the affections of shop-girls of a certain class and that
debased type of young Englishwoman whose perverted and unnatural taste
leads her to admire coloured men.

In one of these boarding-houses he had met Daleham, when the latter was a
clerk in the city. It was at Chunerbutty's suggestion and with an
introduction from him that Fred had sought for and obtained employment in
the tea company, and as a result the young Englishman had ever since felt
in the Bengali's debt. He inspired his sister with the same belief, and in
consequence Noreen always endeavoured to show her gratitude to Chunerbutty
by frank friendliness. They had all three sailed to India in the same ship,
and on the voyage she had resented what seemed to her the illiberal
prejudice of other English ladies on board to the Hindu. And all the more
since she had an uncomfortable suspicion that deep down in her heart she
shared their feeling. So she tried to seem the friendlier to Chunerbutty.

It said much for her own and her brother's popularity with the planters
that their intimacy with him did not cause them to be disliked. These men
as a class are not unjust to natives, but intimate acquaintance with the
Bengali does not tend to make them love him. For the Dalehams' sake most of
the men in the district received Chunerbutty with courtesy. But his
manager, a rough Welshman of the bad old school, who openly declared that
he "loathed all niggers," treated him with invariable rudeness.

As the Hindu engineer and Noreen ascended the steps of the verandah
together, the girl said:

"You are coming to the club this afternoon, are you not?"

"Yes, Miss Daleham, that is why I have been waiting at your bungalow to see
you. I wanted to ask if we'd ride over together."

"Of course. We must start early, though. I want to see that the servants
have everything ready."

"I don't think I'd be anxious to go if it were not _your_ 'At Home' day,"
said the Bengali, as they seated themselves in the drawing-room that Noreen
had made as pretty as she could with her limited resources. "I don't like
the club as a rule. The fellows are so stand-offish."

"You mustn't think so, Mr. Chunerbutty. They aren't really. You know
Englishmen as a rule are not expansive. They often seem unfriendly when
they don't mean to be."

"Oh, they mean it right enough here," replied the Hindu bitterly. "They all
think they're better than I am, just because I am an Indian. It is that
hateful prejudice of the English man and woman in this country. It is
different in England. You know I was made a lot of in London. You saw how
all the men in that boarding-house we stayed at before we sailed were my
friends."

"Yes; that was so, Mr. Chunerbutty," replied Noreen, who was secretly tired
of the subject, with which he regaled her every day.

"And as for the women--Of course I don't want to boast, but all the girls
were keen to have me take them out and were proud to be seen with me. I
know that if I liked I could have picked up lots of ladies, real ladies, I
mean, not shop-girls. You should have seen the way they ogled me in the
street. I can assure you that little red-haired girl from Manchester in the
boarding-house, Lily----"

Noreen broke in quickly.

"Please don't tell me anything about her, Mr. Chunerbutty. You know that I
don't like to hear you speak disrespectfully of ladies." Then, to change
the disagreeable subject, she continued: "Fred will be back to breakfast
soon. Will you stay for it? Then we can all ride together to the club."

"Thank you. I should like to," replied Chunerbutty. To show his freedom
from caste prejudices he not only ate with Europeans, but even showed no
objection to beef, much to the horror of all orthodox Hindus. That a
Brahmin, of all men, should partake of the sacred flesh of the almost
divine cow was an appalling sacrilege in their eyes.

Leaving him with a book she attended to the cares of her household,
disorganised by the absence of cook and butler, who had gone on ahead to
the club with the supplies.

When, after an eight miles' ride, the Dalehams and Chunerbutty reached the
wooden shanty that was the rendezvous of the day, they found that they were
not the first arrivals. Four or five young men swooped joyously down on
Noreen and quarrelled over the right to help her from the saddle. While
they were disputing vehemently and pushing each other away the laughing
girl slipped unaided to the ground and ran up the wooden steps of the
verandah. She was instantly pursued by the men, who followed her to the
back verandah where she had gone to interview her servants. They clamoured
to be allowed to help in any capacity, and she had to assume an indignation
and a severity she was far from feeling to drive them away.

"Oh, do go away, please," she said. "You are only in the way. How can I
look after _tiffin_ if you interfere with me like this? Now do be good boys
and go off. There's Mrs. Rice arriving. Help her out of her trap."

They went reluctantly to the aid of the only other lady of their little
community, who was apparently unable to climb down from her bamboo cart
without help. Her husband and Daleham were already proferring their
services, but they were seemingly insufficient.

Mrs. Rice belonged to the type of woman altogether unsuited to the life of
a planter's wife. She was a shallow, empty-headed person devoid of mental
resources and incapable of taking interest in her household or her
husband's affairs. In her girlhood she had been pretty in a common style,
and she refused to recognise that the days of her youth and good looks had
gone by. On the garden she spent her time lounging in her bungalow in an
untidy dressing-gown, skimming through light novels and the fashion papers
and writing interminable letters to her family in Balham. Her elderly
husband, a weak, easy-going man, tired of her constant reproaches for
having dragged her away from the gay life of her London suburb to the
isolation of a tea-garden, spent as much of his day as possible in the
factory. In the bungalow he drank methodically and steadily until he was in
a state of mellow contentment and indifferent to his wife's tongue.

On club days Mrs. Rice was a different woman. She arrayed herself in the
latest fashions, or the nearest approach to them that could be reached by a
native tailor working on her back verandah with the guidance of the fashion
plates in ladies' journals. Her face thickly coated with most of the
creams, powders, and complexion beautifiers on the market, she swathed her
head in a thick veil thrown over her sun-hat. Then, prepared for conquest,
she climbed into the strong, country-built bamboo cart in which her husband
was graciously permitted to drive her to the club. Fortunately for her a
passable road to it ran from her bungalow, for she could not ride.

Arrived at the weekly gathering-place she delighted to surround herself
with all the men that she could cajole from the bar running down the
side of the one room of the building. With the extraordinary power of
self-deception of vain women she believed that most of them were
secretly in love with her.

Noreen's arrival in the district the previous year and her instant
popularity were galling to the older woman. But after a while, finding that
her sneers and thinly-veiled bitter speeches against the girl had no effect
on the men, she changed her tactics and pretended to make a bosom friend of
her.

When all the company had assembled at the club, luncheon was served at a
long, rough wooden table. Beside Noreen sat the man she liked best in the
little colony, a grey-haired planter named Payne. Many of the younger men
had striven hard to win her favour, and several had wished to marry her;
but, liking them all, none had touched her heart. She felt most at ease
with Payne, who was a quiet, elderly man and a confirmed bachelor. And he
cordially reciprocated her liking.

During _tiffin_ Fred Daleham called out from the far end of the table:

"I say, Payne, I wish you'd convince that young sister of mine that wild
elephants can be dangerous beasts."

"They can indeed," replied Payne, turning to Noreen. "Take my advice and
keep out of their way."

"Oh, but isn't it only rogues that one need be afraid of?" the girl asked.
"And aren't they rare?"

"These jungles are full of them, Miss Daleham," said another planter.
"We've had two men on our garden killed already this year."

"The Forest Officer told me that several guards and wood-cutters have been
attacked lately," joined in another. "One brute has held up the jungles
around Mendabari for months."

"Oh, don't tell us any more, Mr. Lane," cried Mrs. Rice with affected
timidity. "I shall be afraid to leave the bungalow."

"I heard that the fellow commanding the Military Police detachment at Ranga
Duar was nearly killed by a rogue lately," remarked an engineer named
Goddard. "Our _mahout_ had the story from one of the _mahouts_ of the Fort.
He had a cock-and-bull yarn about the sahib being saved by his tame
elephant, a single-tusker, which drove off the rogue. But, as the latter
was a double tusker, it's not a very likely tale."

"They've got a still more wonderful story about that fellow in Ranga Duar,"
remarked a planter named Lulworth. "They say he can do anything with wild
elephants, goes about the jungle with a herd and they obey him like a pack
of hounds."

The men near him laughed.

"Good old Lulworth!" said one. "That beats Goddard's yarn. Did you make it
up on the spot or did it take you long to think it out?"

Lulworth smiled good humouredly.

"Oh, it's not an original lie," he replied. "I had it from a half-bred
Gurkha living in the forest village near my garden."

"Who is commanding Ranga Duar?" asked Lane.

"A fellow called Dermot; a Major," replied Goddard.

"Dermot? I wonder if by any chance it's a man who used to be in these parts
before--commanded Buxa Duar when there was a detachment of an Indian
regiment there," said Payne.

"I believe it's the same," replied Goddard. "He knows these jungles well
and did a lot of shooting in them. He bagged that _budmash_ (rogue)
elephant that killed so many people. You heard of it. He chased the brute
for a fortnight."

"That's the man," said Payne. "I'm glad he's back. We used to be rather
pals and stay with each other."

"Oh, do ask him again, Mr. Payne, and bring him to the club," chimed in
Mrs. Rice. "It would be such a pleasant change to have some of the officers
here. They are so nice, such men of the world."

A smile went round the table. All were so used to the lady's tactless
remarks that they only amused. They had long lost the power to irritate.

"I'm afraid Dermot wouldn't suit you, Mrs. Rice," said Payne laughing.
"He's not a lady's man."

"Indeed? Is he married?" she asked.

"No, he hasn't that reason to dislike your sex. At least, he wasn't married
when I knew him. I wonder how he's escaped, for he's very well off for a
man in the Indian Army and heir to an uncle who is a baronet. Good-looking
chap, too. Clever beggar, well read and a good soldier, I believe. He has a
wonderful way with animals. I had a pony that was a regular mad beast. It
killed one _syce_ and savaged another. It nearly did for me. I sent it to
Dermot, and in a week he had it eating out of his hand."

"He seems an Admiral what-d'you-call-him--you know, that play they had in
town about a wonderful butler," said Mrs. Rice.

"Admirable Crichton, wasn't it?"

"Yes, that was the name. Well, your Major seems a wonderful chap," she
said. "Do ask him. Perhaps he'll bring some of his officers here."

"I hope he won't, Mrs. Rice," remarked Goddard. "If he does, it's evident
that none of us will have a look in with you."

She smirked, well pleased, as she caught Noreen's eye and rose from the
table.

Sets of tennis were arranged and the game was soon in full swing. Some of
the men walked round to the back of the building to select a spot to be
cleared to make a polo ground. Others gathered at the bar to chat.

Noreen had a small court round her, Chunerbutty clinging closely to her all
the afternoon, to her secret annoyance. For whenever he accompanied her to
the club he seemed to make a point of emphasising the friendly terms on
which they were for the benefit of all beholders. As a matter of fact he
did so purposely, because he knew that it annoyed all the other men of the
community to see him apparently on intimate terms with the girl.

On the afternoon, when at her request he had gone out to the back verandah
to tell her servants to prepare tea, he called to her across the club and
addressed her by her Christian name. Noreen took it to be an accidental
slip, but she fancied that it made Mrs. Rice smile unpleasantly and several
of the men regard her curiously.

The day passed all too quickly for these exiled Britons, whose one bright
spot of amusement and companionship it was in the week. The setting sun
gave the signal for departure. After exchanging good-byes with their
guests, the Malpura party mounted their ponies and cantered home.

One morning, a week later, Noreen over-slept herself, and, when she came
out of her room for her _chota hazri_, she found that her brother had
already started off to ride over the garden. Ordering her pony she followed
him. She guessed that he had gone first to the nursery, and when she
reached the short cut through the forest she rejoiced at being able to
enter it without the usual battle. She urged the reluctant Kitty on, and
rode into it carelessly.

Suddenly her pony balked and shied, flinging her to the ground. Then it
turned and galloped madly home.

As Noreen, half stunned by the fall, picked herself up stiffly and stood
dazed and shaken, she shrieked in terror. She was in the middle of a herd
of wild elephants which surrounded her on every side; and, as she gazed
panic-stricken at them, they advanced slowly upon her.



CHAPTER IV


THE MADNESS OF BADSHAH

Badshah's rescue of Dermot from the rogue caused him to be more venerated
than ever by the natives. The Mohammedan sepoys of the detachment, who
should have had no sympathy with Hindu superstitions, began to regard him
with awe, impressed by the firm belief in his supernatural nature held by
their co-religionists among the _mahouts_ and elephant coolies. Among the
scattered dwellers in the jungle and the Bhuttias on the hills, his fame,
already widespread, increased enormously; and these ignorant folk, partly
devil-worshippers, looked on him as half-god, half-demon.

Dermot's feelings towards the gallant animal deepened into strong
affection, and the perfect understanding between the two made the sympathy
between the best-trained horse and its rider seem a very small thing. The
elephant loved the man; and when the Major was on his neck, Badshah seemed
to need neither touch of hand or foot nor spoken word to make him
comprehend his master's wishes.

Such a state of affairs was very helpful to Dermot in the execution of his
task of secret enquiry and exploration. He was thus able to dispense with
any attendant for the elephant in his jungle wanderings, which sometimes
lasted several days and nights without a return to the Fort. He wanted no
witness to his actions at these times. Badshah needed no attention on these
excursions. The jungle everywhere supplied him with food, and water was
always to be found in gullies in the hills. It was unnecessary to shackle
him at night when Dermot slept beside him in the forest. The elephant never
strayed, but stayed by his man to watch over him through the dangerous
hours of darkness. He either stood by the sleeper all night or else gently
lay down near him with the same consummate carefulness that a cow-elephant
uses when she lowers her huge body to the ground beside her young calf.
When Badshah guarded Dermot no harm from beast of prey could come to him.

While the forest provided sustenance for the animal, the soldier,
accustomed though he was to roughing it, found it advisable to supplement
its resources for himself. But with some ship's biscuits and a few tins of
preserved meat he was ready to face the jungle for days. Limes and bananas
grew freely in the foothills. Besides his rifle he usually carried a shot
gun, for jungle fowl abounded in the forest, and _kalej_, the black and
white speckled pheasant, in the lower hills, and both were excellent
eating.

Dermot carried out a thorough survey of the borderland between Bhutan and
India, making accurate military sketches and noting the ranges of all
positions suitable for defence, artillery, or observation. Mounted on
Badshah's neck he ascended the steep hills--elephants are excellent
climbers--and explored every known _duar_ and defile.

At the same time he kept a keen look-out for messengers passing between
disloyal elements inside the Indian frontier and possible enemies beyond
it. His knowledge of the language spoken by the Bhuttia settlers within
the border, mostly refugees from Bhutan who had fled thither to escape
the tyranny and exactions of the officials, enabled him to question the
hill-dwellers as to the presence and purpose of any strangers passing
through. He gradually established a species of intelligence department
among these colonists, whose dread and hatred of their former rulers
have made them very pro-British. Through them he was able to keep a
check on the comings and goings of trans-frontier Bhutanese, who are
permitted to enter India freely, although an English subject is not
allowed by his own Government to penetrate into Bhutan. Despite this
prohibition--so Dermot discovered--many Bengalis had lately passed
backwards and forwards across the frontier, a thing hitherto unheard of.
That members of this timorous race should venture to enter such a
lawless and savage country as Bhutan and that, having entered it, they
lived to come back proved that there must be a strong understanding
between many Bhutanese officials and a certain disloyal element in
India.

Dermot was returning through the forest from one of his excursions in the
hills, when an opportunity was afforded him of repaying the debt that he
owed to Badshah for the saving of his life. They had halted at midday, and
the man, seated on the ground with his back to a tree, was eating his
lunch, while the elephant had strayed out of sight among the trees in
search of food.

Beside Dermot lay his rifle and a double-barrelled shot gun, both loaded.
Having eaten he lit a cheroot and was jotting down in his notebook the
information that he had gathered that morning, when a shrill trumpet from
the invisible Badshah made him grasp his rifle. Skilled in the knowledge of
the various sounds that elephants make he knew by the brassy note of this
that the animal was in deadly fear. He sprang up to go to his assistance,
when Badshah burst through the trees and came towards him at his fastest
pace, his drooping ears and tail and outstretched trunk showing that he was
terrified.

Dermot, bringing his rifle to the ready, looked past him for the cause of
his flight, but could see no pursuer. He wondered what could have so
alarmed the usually courageous animal. Suddenly the knowledge came to him.
As Badshah rushed towards him with every indication of terror the man saw
that, moving over the ground with an almost incredible speed, a large
serpent came in close pursuit. Even in the open across which Badshah was
fleeing it was actually gaining on the elephant, as with an extraordinary
rapidity it poured the sinuous curves of its body along the earth. It was
evident that, if the chase were continued into the dense undergrowth which
would hamper the animal more than the snake, the latter would prove the
winner in the desperate race.

Dermot recognised the pursuer. From its size and the fact that it was
attacking the elephant it could only be that most dreadful and almost
legendary denizen of the forest, the hamadryad, or king-cobra. All other
big snakes in India are pythons, which are not venomous. But this, the
deadliest, most terrible of all Asiatic serpents, is very poisonous and
will wantonly attack man as well as animals. Badshah had probably disturbed
it by accident--it might have been a female guarding its eggs--and in its
vicious rage it had made an onslaught on him.

The peril of the poisoned tooth is the sole one that a grown elephant need
fear in the jungle, and Badshah seemed to know that only his man could save
him. And so in his extremity he fled to Dermot.

The soldier hurriedly put down his rifle and picked up the fowling-piece.
The elephant rushed past him, and then the snake seemed to sense the
man--its feeble sight would not permit it to see him. It swerved out of
its course and came towards him. When but a few feet away it suddenly
checked and, swiftly writhing its body into a coil from which its head
and about five feet of its length rose straight up and waved menacingly
in the air, it gathered impetus to strike.

A deadly feeling of nausea and powerlessness possessed Dermot, as from the
open mouth, in which the fatal fangs showed plainly while the protruding
forked tongue darting in and out seemed to feel for him, came a fetid
effluvia that had a paralysing effect on him. He was experiencing the
extraordinary fascination that a snake exercises over its victims. His
muscles seemed benumbed, as the huge head swayed from side to side and
mesmerised him with its uncanny power. The gun almost dropped from his
nerveless fingers. But with a fierce effort he regained the mastery of
himself, brought the butt to his shoulder, and pressed both triggers.

At that short range the shot blew the snake's head off, and Dermot sprang
back as the heavy body fell forward and lashed and heaved with convulsive
writhing of the muscles, while the tail beat the ground heavily.

At the report of the gun Badshah stopped in his hurried retreat and turned.
Then, still showing evidences of his alarm, he approached Dermot slowly.

"It's all right, old boy," said the Major to him. "The brute is done for."

The elephant understood and came to him. Dermot patted the quivering trunk
outstretched to smell the dead snake and then went forward and grasped the
hamadryad's tail with both hands, striving to hold it still. But it dragged
him from side to side and the writhing coils of the headless body nearly
enfolded him, so he let go and stepped back. As well as he could judge the
king-cobra was more than seventeen feet long.

It took some time to reassure Badshah, for the elephant was badly
frightened and, when Dermot mounted him, set off from the spot with a haste
unlike his usual deliberate pace.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a week after this occurrence the Major was busy in his bungalow in
Ranga Duar drawing up reports for the Adjutant General and amplifying
existing maps of the borderland, as well as completing his large-scale
sketches of the passes. When his task was finished he filled his haversack
with provisions one morning and, shouldering his rifle, descended the
winding mountain road to the _peelkhana_. Long before this was visible
through the trees of the foothills he was apprised by the trumpeting of the
elephants and the loud shouts of men that there was trouble there. When he
came out on the cleared stretch of ground in front of the stables he saw
_mahouts_ and coolies fleeing in terror in all directions, while the
stoutly built _peelkhana_ itself rocked violently as though shaken by an
earthquake.

Then forth from it, to the accompaniment of terrified squealing and
trumpeting from the female elephants, Badshah stalked, ears cocked and tail
up and the light of battle in his eyes, broken iron shackles dangling from
his legs.

"_Dewand hoyga_ (he has gone mad)," cried the attendants, fleeing past the
Major in such alarm that they almost failed to notice him. Last of all came
Ramnath, who, recognising him, halted and salaamed.

"_Khubbadar_ (take care), sahib!" he cried in warning. "The fit is on him
again. The jungle calls him. He is mad."

Dermot paid no attention to him but hastened on to intercept the elephant
which stalked on with ears thrust forward and tail raised, ready to give
battle to any one that dared stop him.

The Major whistled. Badshah checked in his stride, then as a well-known
voice fell on his ear he faltered and looked about him. Dermot spoke his
name and the elephant turned and went straight to him, to the amazement of
the _peelkhana_ attendants watching from behind trees on the hillside. Yet
they feared lest his intention was to attack the sahib, for when a tame
tusker is seized with a fit of madness, it often kills even its _mahout_,
to whom ordinarily it is much attached.

Dermot raised his hand. Badshah stopped and sank on his knees, while his
master cast off the broken shackles and swung himself astride of his neck.
Then the elephant rose again and of his own volition rolled swiftly forward
into the jungle which closed around them and hid animal and man from the
astounded watchers.

One by one the _mahouts_ and coolies stole from the shelter of the trees
and gathered together.

"_Wah! Wah!_ the sahib has gone mad, too," exclaimed an old Mohammedan.

"He will never return alive," said another, shaking his head sorrowfully.
"_Afsos hun_ (I am sorry), for he was a good sahib. The _shaitan_ (devil)
has borne him away to _Eblis_ (hell)."

Here Ramnath broke in indignantly:

"My elephant is no _shaitan_. He is _Gunesh_, the god _Gunesh_ himself. He
will let no harm come to the sahib, who is safe under his protection."

The other Hindus among the elephant attendants nodded agreement.

"_Such bath_ (true words)," they said. "Who knows what the gods purpose?
Which of you has ever before seen any man stop a _dhantwallah_ (tusker)
when the madness was upon him? Which of ye has known a white man to have a
power that even we have not, we whose fathers, whose forefathers for
generations, have tended elephants?"

"Ye speak true talk," said the first speaker. "The Prophet tells us there
are no gods. But _afrits_ there are, _djinns_--beings more than man. What
know we of those with whom the sahib communes when he and Badshah go forth
alone into the forest?"

"The sahib is not as other sahibs," broke in an old coolie. "I was with him
before--in Buxa Duar. There is naught in the jungle that can puzzle him. He
knows its ways, the speech of the men in it--ay, and of its animals, too.
He was a great _shikari_ (hunter) in those old days. Many beasts have
fallen to his gun. Yet now he goes forth for days and brings back no heads.
What does he?"

"For days, say you, Chotu?" queried another _mahout_. "Ay, for more than
days. For nights. What man among us, what man even of these wild men around
us, would willingly pass a night in the forest?"

"True talk," agreed the old Mohammedan. "Which of us would care to lie down
alone beside his elephant in the jungle all night? Yet the sahib sleeps
there--if he does sleep--without fear. And no harm comes to him."

Ramnath slowly shook his head.

"The sahib does not sleep. Nor is there aught in the forest that can do him
harm. Or my elephant either. The _budmash_ tried to kill the sahib, and
Badshah protected him. When the big snake attacked Badshah, the sahib saved
him.

"But what do they in the forest?" asked Chotu again. "Tell me that,
Ramnath-_ji_."

Once more Ramnath shook his head.

"What know we? We are black men. What knowledge have we of what the sahibs
do, of what they can do? They go under the sea in ships, beneath the land
in carriages. So say the sepoys who have been to _Vilayet_ (Europe). They
fly in the air like birds. That have I seen with my own eyes at Delhi----"

"And I at Lahore," broke in the old Mohammedan.

"And I at Nucklao (Lucknow)," said a third.

"But never yet was there a man, black man or sahib, who could hold a
_dhantwallah_ when the mad fit was on him, as our sahib has done,"
continued Ramnath. "He is under the protection of the gods."

Even the Mohammedans among his audience nodded assent. Their _mullah_
taught them that the gods of the Hindu were devils. But who knew? Mecca was
far away, and the jungle with its demons was very near them. Among the
various creeds in India there is a wide tolerance and a readiness to
believe that there may be something of truth in all the faiths that men
profess. A Hindu will hang a wreath of marigolds on the tomb of a
Mohammedan _pir_--a Mussulman saint--and recite a _mantra_, if he knows
one, before it as readily as he will before the shrine of Siva.

While the superstitious elephant attendants talked, Badshah was moving at a
fast shambling pace along animal paths through the forest farther and
farther away from the _peelkhana_. Wild beasts always follow a track
through the jungle, even a man-made road, in preference to forcing a way
through the undergrowth for themselves. As he was borne swiftly along, his
rider felt that, although the elephant had allowed him to mount to his
accustomed place, it would resent any attempts at restraint or guidance.
But indeed Dermot had no wish to control it. He was filled with an immense
desire to learn the mystery of Badshah's frequent disappearances. The Major
was convinced that the animal had a definite objective in view, so
purposeful was his manner. For he went rapidly on, never pausing to feed,
unlike the usual habit of elephants which, when they can, eat all their
waking time. But Badshah held straight on rapidly without stopping. He was
proceeding in a direction that took him at an angle away from the line of
the Himalayas, and the character of the forest altered as he went.

Near the foot of the hills the graceful plumes of the bamboo and the broad
drooping leaves of the plantain, the wild banana, were interspersed with
the vivid green leaves and fruit of the limes. Then came the big trees,
from which the myriad creepers hung in graceful festoons. Here the
undergrowth was scanty and the ground covered with tall bracken in the open
glades, which gave the jungle the appearance of an English wood.

Farther on the trees were closer together and the track led through dense
undergrowth. Then through a border of high elephant-grass with feathery
tops it emerged on to a broad, dry river-bed of white sand strewn with
rounded boulders rolled down from the hills. The sudden change from the
pleasant green gloom of the forest to the harsh glare of the brilliant
sunshine was startling. As they crossed the open Dermot looked up at the
giant rampart of the mountains and saw against the dark background of their
steep slopes the grey wall of Fort and bungalows in the little outpost of
Ranga Duar high above the forest.

Then the jungle closed round them again, as Badshah plunged into the high
grass bordering the far side of the river-bed, its feathery plumes sixteen
feet from the ground. On through low thorny trees and scrub to the huge
bulks and thick, leafy canopy of the giant _simal_ and teak once more. The
further they went from the hills the denser, more tropical became the
undergrowth. The soil was damper and supported a richer, more luxuriant
vegetation. Cane brakes through which even elephants and bison would find
it hard to push a way, tree ferns of every kind, feathery bushes set thick
with cruel hooked thorns, mingled with the great trees, between which the
creepers rioted in wilder confusion than ever.

The heat was intense. The air grew moist and steamy, and the sweat trickled
down Dermot's face. The earth underfoot was sodden and slushy. Little
streams began to trickle, for the water from the mountains ten miles away
that sinks into the soil at the foot of the hills and flows to the south
underground, here rises to the surface and gives the whole forest its
name--Terai, that is, "wet."

Slimy pools lurked in the undergrowth. In one the ugly snout of a small
crocodile protruded from the muddy, noisome water, and the cold, unwinking
eyes stared at elephant and man as they passed. The rank abundant foliage
overhung the track and brushed or broke against Badshah's sides, as he
shouldered his way through it.

Suddenly, without warning, Badshah came out on a stretch of forest clear of
undergrowth between the great tree-trunks, and to his amazement Dermot saw
that it was filled with wild elephants. Everywhere, as far as the eye could
range between the trees, they were massed, not in tens or scores, but in
hundreds. On every side were vistas of multitudes of great heads with
gleaming white tusks and restless-moving trunks, of huge bodies supported
on ponderous legs. And with an unwonted fear clutching at his heart Dermot
realised that all their eyes were turned in his direction.

Did they see him? Were they aware that Badshah carried a man? Dermot knew
that beasts do not quickly realise a man's presence on the neck or back of
a tame elephant. He had seen in a _kheddah_, when the _mahouts_ and noosers
had gone on their trained elephants in among the host of terrified or angry
captured wild ones, that the latter seemed not to observe the humans.

So he hoped now that if he succeeded in turning his animal round and
getting him away quickly, his presence would remain unnoticed. Grasping his
rifle ready to fire if necessary, he tried with foot and hand to swing
Badshah about. But his elephant absolutely ignored his efforts and for the
first time in their acquaintance disobeyed him. Slowing down to a stately
and deliberate pace the _Gunesh_ advanced to meet the others.

Then, to Dermot's amazement, from the vast herd that now encompassed them
on every side came the low purring that in an elephant denotes pleasure.
Almost inaudible from one throat, it sounded from these many hundreds like
the rumble of distant thunder. And in answer to it there came from
Badshah's trunk a low sound, indicative of his pleasure. Then it dawned on
Dermot that it was to meet this vast gathering of his kind that the animal
had broken loose from captivity.

And the multitude of huge beasts was waiting for him. All the swaying
trunks were lifted together and pointed towards him to sense him, with a
unanimity of motion that made it seem as if they were receiving him with a
salute. And, as Badshah moved on into the centre of the vast herd and
stopped, again the murmured welcome rumbled from the great throats.

Dermot slung his rifle on his back. It would not be needed now. He resigned
himself to anything that might happen and was filled with an immense
curiosity. Was there really some truth in the stories about Badshah, some
foundation for the natives' belief in his mysterious powers? This reception
of him by the immense gathering of his kind was beyond credence Dermot knew
that wild elephants do not welcome a strange male into a herd. He has to
fight, and fight hard, for admission, which he can only gain by defeating
the bull that is its leader and tyrant. But that several herds should come
together--for that there were several was evident, since the greatest
strength of a herd rarely exceeds a hundred individuals--to meet an escaped
domesticated elephant, and apparently by appointment, was too fantastic to
be credited by any one acquainted with the habits of these animals. Yet
here it was happening before his eyes. The soldier gave up attempting to
understand it and simply accepted the fact.

He looked around him. There were elephants of every type, of all ages. Some
were very old, as he could tell from their lean, fleshless skulls, their
sunken temples and hollow eyes, emaciated bodies and straight, thin legs.
And the clearest proof of their age was their ears, which lapped over very
much at the top and were torn and ragged at the lower edges.

There were bull-elephants in the prime of life, from twenty-five to
thirty-five years old, with great heads, short, thick legs bowed out
with masses of muscle, and bodies with straight backs sloping to the
long, well-feathered tails. Most of them were tuskers--and the sight
of one magnificent bull near Dermot made the sportsman's trigger-finger
itch, so splendid were its tusks--shapely, spreading outward and upward
in a graceful sweep, and each nearly six feet in length along the
outside curve.

There was a large proportion of females and calves in the assemblage. The
youngest ones were about four or five months old. A few had not shed their
first woolly coat; and many of the male babies could not boast of even the
tiniest tusks.

Badshah was now completely surrounded, for the elephants had closed in on
him from every side. He raised his trunk. At once the nearest animals
extended theirs towards him. These he touched, and they in their turn
touched those of their neighbours beyond his reach. They did the same to
others farther away, and so the action was repeated and carried on
throughout the herd by all except the youngest calves.

Dermot was wondering whether this meant a greeting or a command from
Badshah, when there was a sudden stir among the animals, and soon the whole
mass was in motion. Then he saw that the elephants were moving into single
file, the formation in which they always march. Badshah alone remained
where he was.

Then the enormous gathering broke up and began to move. The oldest
elephants led; and the line commenced to defile by Badshah, who stood as if
passing them in review. As the first approached it lifted its trunk, and to
Dermot's astonishment gently touched him on the leg with it. Then it passed
on and the next animal took its place and in its turn touched the man. The
succeeding ones did the same; and thus all the elephants defiled by their
domesticated companion and touched or smelt Dermot as they went by.

Throughout the whole proceeding Badshah remained motionless, and his rider
began to believe that he had ordered his wild kindred to make themselves
acquainted with his human friend. It seemed a ridiculous idea, but the
whole proceeding was so wildly improbable that the soldier felt that
nothing could surprise him further.

As the elephants passed him he noticed on the legs of a few of them marks
which were evidently old scars of chain or rope-galls. And the forehead of
one or two showed traces of having been daubed with tar, while on the trunk
of one very large tusker was an almost obliterated ornamental design in
white paint, and his tusks were tipped with brass. So it was apparent that
Badshah was not the only animal present that had escaped from captivity.
The big tusker had probably belonged to the _peelkhana_ of some rajah,
judging by the pattern of the painted design.

Slowly the seemingly endless line of great animals went by. Hours elapsed
before the last elephant had passed; and Dermot, cramped by sitting still
on Badshah's neck, was worn out with heat and fatigue long before the slow
procession ended.

When at last the almost interminable line had gone by, Badshah moved off at
a rapid pace and passed the slow-plodding animals until he had overtaken
the leaders. Dermot found that the herd was heading for the mountains and
the oldest beasts were still in front. This surprised him, as it was
altogether contrary to the custom of wild elephants. For usually on a march
the cows with calves lead the way. This is logical and reasonable; because
if an unencumbered tusker headed the line and set the pace, he would go too
fast and too far for the little legs of the babies in the rear. They would
fall behind; and, as their mothers would stay with them, the herd would
soon be broken up.

But as Badshah reached the head of the file and, taking the lead, set a
very slow pace, Dermot quickly understood why the old elephants were
allowed to remain in front. For all of them were exceedingly feeble, and
some seemed at death's door from age and disease. He would not have been
surprised at any of them falling down at any moment and expiring on the
spot.

Then he remembered the curious but well-known fact that no man, white or
coloured, has ever yet found the body of a wild elephant that has died in
the jungle from natural causes. Though few corners of Indian or Ceylon
forests remain unexplored, no carcases or skeletons of these animals have
ever been discovered. And yet, although in a wild state they reach the age
of a hundred and fifty years, elephants must die at last.

Dermot was meditating on this curious fact of natural history when Badshah
came out on the high bank of an empty river-bed and cautiously climbed down
it. Ahead of them rose the long line of mountains clear and distinct in the
rays of the setting sun. As he reached the far bank Dermot turned round to
look back. Behind them stretched the procession of elephants in single
file, each one stepping into the huge footprints of those in front of it.
When Badshah plunged into the jungle again the tail of the procession had
not yet come out on the white sand of the river-bed.

And when the sun went down they were still plodding on towards the hills.



CHAPTER V


THE DEATH-PLACE

An hour or two after night had fallen on the jungle Badshah stopped
suddenly and sank down on his knees. Dermot took this as an invitation to
dismount, and slid to the ground. When Badshah stopped, the long-stretching
line behind him halted, too, and the elephants broke their formation and
wandered about feeding. Soon the forest resounded with the noise of
creepers being torn down, branches broken off, and small trees uprooted so
that the hungry animals could reach the leafy crowns. Dermot realised that
in the darkness he was in danger of being trodden underfoot among the
hundreds of huge animals straying about. But Badshah knew it, too, and so
he remained standing over his man, while the latter sat down on the ground,
rested his aching back against a tree, and made a meal from the contents of
his haversack. Badshah contented himself with the grass and leaves that he
could reach without stirring from the spot, and then cautiously lowered
himself to the ground and stretched his huge limbs out.

Dermot lay down beside him, as he had so often done before in the nights
spent in the jungle. But, exhausted as he was, he could not sleep at first.
The strangeness of the adventure kept him awake. To find his presence
accepted by this vast gathering of wild elephants, animals which are
usually extremely shy of human beings, was in itself extraordinary. Much as
he knew of the jungle he had never dreamt of this. In Central Indian
villages he had been told legends of lost children being adopted by wolves.
But for elephants to admit a man into their herd was beyond belief. That it
was due to Badshah's affection for him was little less remarkable than the
fact itself. For it opened up the question of the animal's extraordinary
power over his kind. And that was an unfathomable mystery.

Dermot found the riddle too difficult to solve. He ceased to puzzle over
it. The noises in the forest gradually died down, and the intense silence
that followed was broken only by the harsh call of the barking-deer or the
wailing cry of the giant owl. Fatigue overcame him, and he slept.

It seemed to him that he had scarcely lost consciousness when he was
awakened by a touch on his face. It was still dark; but, when he sprang up
hastily, he could vaguely make out Badshah standing beside him. The
elephant touched him with his trunk and then sank down on his knees. The
invitation to mount was unmistakable; and Dermot slung his rifle on his
back and climbed on to the elephant's neck. Badshah rose up and moved off,
and apparently the other elephants followed him, for the noises that had
filled the forest and showed them to be awake and feeding, ceased abruptly.
Dermot could just faintly distinguish the soft footfall of the animal
immediately behind him.

When Badshah reached the lowest hills and left the heavy forest behind the
sky became visible, filled with the clear and vivid tropic starlight. An
animal track led up between giant clumps of bamboos, by long-leaved
plantain trees and through thick undergrowth of high, tangled bushes that
clothed the foothills. Up this path, as a paling in the east betokened the
dawn, the long line of elephants climbed in the same order of march as on
the previous day. Badshah led; and behind him followed the oldest
elephants, on which the steep ascent told heavily.

Two thousand feet above the forest the track led close to a Bhuttia
village. As the rising sun streaked the sky with rose, the head of the long
line neared the scattered bamboo huts perched on piles on the steep slopes.
The track was not visible from the village, but a party of wood-cutters
from the hamlet had just reached it on their way to descend to their day's
work in the jungle below. They saw the winding file of ascending elephants
some distance beneath them and in great alarm climbed up a big rubber tree
growing close to the path. Hidden among its broad and glossy green leaves
they watched the approaching elephants.

From their elevated perch they had a good view of the serpentining line.
To their amazement they saw that a white man sat astride the neck of the
first animal and was apparently conducting the enormous herd. One of the
wood-cutters recognised Dermot, who had once visited this very village
and interrogated this man among others. Petrified with fright, the
Bhuttia and his companions watched the long line go by, and for fully an
hour after the last elephant had disappeared they did not venture to
descend from the tree.

When at last they did so there was no longer any thought of work. Instead,
they fled hotfoot to the village to spread their strange news; and next
day, when they went to their work below and explained to the enraged Gurkha
overseer the reason of their absence on the previous day, they told him the
full tale. No story is too incredible for the average native of India, and
the overseer and various forest guards who also heard the narrative fully
believed it and spread it through the jungle villages. It grew as it passed
from tongue to tongue, until the story finally rivalled the most marvellous
of the exploits of Krishna, that wonderful Hindu god.

Meanwhile Dermot and his mammoth companions were climbing steadily higher
and ever higher into the mountains. A panther, disturbed by them in his
sleep beside the bones of a goat, rose growling from the ground and slunk
sullenly away. A pair of brilliantly-plumaged hornbills flew overhead with
a loud and measured beat of wings. _Kalej_ pheasants scuttled away among
the bushes.

But soon the jungle diminished to low scrub and finally fell away behind
the ascending elephants, and they entered a region of rugged, barren
mountains cloven by giant chasms and seamed by rocky _nullahs_ down which
brawling streams rushed or tumbled over falls. A herd of _gooral_--the
little wild goat--rushed away before their coming and sprang in dizzy leaps
down almost sheer precipices.

As the mountains closed in upon him in a narrow passage between beetling
cliffs thousands of feet high, Dermot's interest quickened. For he knew
that he was nearing the border-line between India and Bhutan; and this was
apparently a pass from one country into the other, unknown and unmarked in
the existing maps, one of which he carried in his haversack. He took it out
and examined it. There was no doubt of it; he had made a fresh discovery.

He turned round on Badshah's neck and looked down on all India spread out
beneath him. East and west along the foot of the mountains the sea of
foliage of the Terai swept away out of sight. Here and there lighter
patches of colour showed where tea-gardens dotted the darker forest. Thirty
odd miles to the south of the foothills the jungle ended abruptly, and
beyond its ragged fringe lay the flat and fertile fields of Eastern Bengal.
A dark spot seen indistinctly through the hot-weather haze marked where the
little city of Cooch Behar lay. Sixty miles and more away to the south-east
the Garo Hills rose beyond the snaky line of the Brahmaputra River
wandering through the plains of Assam.

A sharp turn in the narrow defile shut out the view of everything except
the sheer walls of rock that seemed almost to meet high overhead and hide
the sky. Even at noon the pass was dark and gloomy. But it came abruptly to
an end, and as through a gateway the leading elephants emerged suddenly on
a narrow jungle-like valley. The first line of mountains guarding Bhutan
had been traversed. Beyond the valley lay another range, its southern face
covered with trees.

Badshah halted, and the elephants behind him scattered as they came out of
the defile. The aged animals among them, as soon as they had drunk from a
little river running midway between the mountain chains and fed by streams
from both, lay down to rest, too exhausted to eat. But the others spread
out in the trees to graze.

Dermot, who had begun to fear that the supply of food in his haversack
might run short, found a plantain tree and gathered a quantity of the
fruit. After a frugal meal he wrote up his notes on the pass through which
he had just come and made rough military sketches of it. Then he strolled
among the elephants grazing near Badshah. They showed no fear or hostility
as he passed, and some of the calves evinced a certain amount of curiosity
in him. He even succeeded in making friends with one little animal about a
year old, marked with whitish blotches on its forehead and trunk, which
allowed him to touch it and, after due consideration, accepted the gift of
a peeled banana. Its mother stood by during the proceeding and regarded the
fraternising with her calf dubiously.

Not until dawn on the following day did the herd resume its onward
movement. Dermot was awake even before Badshah's trunk touched his face to
arouse him, and as soon as he was mounted the march began again. The route
lay through the new mountain range; and all day, except for a couple of
hours' halt at noon, the long line wound up a confusing jumble of ravines
and passes. When night fell a plateau covered with tall deodar trees had
been reached, and here the elephants rested.

Daybreak on the third morning found Badshah leading the line through a
still more bewildering maze of narrow defiles and a forest with such dense
foliage that, when the sun was high in the heavens, its rays scarcely
lightened the gloom between the tree-trunks. Dermot wondered how Badshah
found his way, for there was no sign of a track, but the elephant moved on
steadily and with an air of assured purpose.

At one place he plunged into a deep narrow ravine filled with tangled
undergrowth that constantly threatened to tear Dermot from his seat.
Indeed, only the continual employment of the latter's _kukri_, with which
he hacked at the throttling creepers and clutching thorny branches, saved
him.

Darker and gloomier grew the way. The sides of the _nullah_ closed in until
there was scarcely room for the animals to pass, and then Dermot found
Badshah had entered a natural tunnel in the mountain side. The interior was
as black as midnight, and the soldier had to lie flat on the elephant's
skull to save his own head.

Suddenly a blinding light made him close his eyes, as Badshah burst out of
the darkness of the tunnel into the dazzling glare of the sunshine.

When his rider looked again he found that they were in an almost circular
valley completely ringed in by precipitous walls of rock rising straight
and sheer for a couple of thousand feet. Above these cliffs towered giant
mountain peaks covered with snow and ice.

At the end of the valley farthest from them was a small lake. Near the
mouth of the tunnel the earth was clothed with long grass and flowering
bushes and dotted with low trees. But elsewhere the ground was dazzlingly
white, as though the snow lay deep upon it. Badshah halted among the trees,
and the old elephants passed him and went on in the direction of the lake.
Dermot noticed that they seemed to have suddenly grown feebler and more
decrepit.

He looked down at the white ground. To his surprise he found that from here
to the lake the valley was floored with huge skulls, skeletons, scattered
bones, and tusks. It was the elephants' Golgotha. He had penetrated to a
spot which perhaps no other human being had ever seen--the death-place of
the mammoths, the mysterious retreat to which the elephants of the Terai
came to die.

He looked instinctively towards the aged animals, which alone had
gone forward among the bones. And, as he gazed, one of them stumbled,
recovered its footing, staggered on a few paces, then stopped and slowly
sank to the ground. It laid its head down and stretched out its limbs.
Tremors shook the huge body; then it lay still as though asleep.
A second old elephant, and a third, stood for a moment, then slowly
subsided. Another and another did the same; until finally all of them
lay stretched out motionless--lifeless, dark spots on the white floor
that was composed of bones of countless generations of their kind.

There was a strange impressiveness about the solemn passing of these great
beasts. It affected the human spectator almost painfully. The hush of this
fatal valley, the long line of elephants watching the death of their
kindred, the pathos of the end of the stately animals which in obedience to
some mysterious impulse, had struggled through many difficulties only to
lie down here silently, uncomplainingly, and give up their lives, all
stirred Dermot strangely. And when the thought of the incalculable wealth
that lay in the vast quantity of ivory stored in this great charnel-house
flashed through his mind, he felt that it would be a shameful desecration,
inviting the wrath of the gods, to remove even one tusk of it.

He was not left long to gaze and wonder at the weird scene. To his relief
Badshah suddenly turned and passed through the trees again towards the
tunnelled entrance, and the hundreds of other elephants followed him in
file. In a few minutes Dermot found himself plunged into darkness once
more, and the Valley of Death had disappeared.

When they had passed through the tunnel, the elephants slipped and stumbled
down the rock-encumbered ravines, for elephants are far less sure-footed in
descent than when ascending. But they travelled at a much faster pace,
being no longer hampered by the presence of the old and decrepit beasts. It
seemed to take only a comparatively short time to reach the valley between
the two mountain ranges. And here they stopped to feed and rest.

When morning came, Dermot found that the big assembly of elephants was
breaking up into separate herds of which it was composed. The greater
number of these moved off to the east and north, evidently purposing to
remain for a time in Bhutan, where the young grass was springing up in the
valleys as the lower snows melted. Only three herds intended to return to
India with Badshah, of which the largest, consisting of about a hundred
members, seemed to be the one to which he particularly belonged.

During the descent from the mountains into the Terai, Dermot wondered what
would happen with Badshah when they reached the forest. Would the elephant
persist in remaining with the herd or would it return with him to the
_peelkhana_?

Night had fallen before they had got clear of the foothills, so that
when they arrived in the jungle once more they halted to rest not far
from the mountains. When Dermot awoke next morning he found that he and
Badshah were alone, all the others having disappeared, and the animal
was standing patiently awaiting orders. He seemed to recognise that his
brief hour of authority had passed, and had become once more his usual
docile and well-disciplined self. At the word of command he sank to
his knees to allow his master to mount; and then, at the touch of his
rider's foot, turned his head towards home and started off obediently.

As they approached the _peelkhana_ a cry was raised, and the elephant
attendants rushed from their huts to stare in awe-struck silence at animal
and man. Ramnath approached with marked reverence, salaaming deeply at
every step.

When Dermot dismounted it was hard for him to bid farewell to Badshah. He
felt, too, that he could no longer make the elephant submit to the ignominy
of fetters. So he bade Ramnath not shackle nor bind him again. Then he
patted the huge beast affectionately and pointed to the empty stall in the
_peelkhana_; and Badshah, seeming to understand and appreciate his being
left unfettered, touched his white friend caressingly with his trunk and
walked obediently to his brick standing in the stable. The watching
_mahouts_ and coolies nodded and whispered to each other at this, but
Ramnath appeared to regard the relations between his elephant and the sahib
as perfectly natural.

Dermot shouldered his rifle and started off on the long and weary climb to
Ranga Duar. When he reached the parade ground he found the men of the
detachment falling out after their morning drill. His subaltern, Parker,
who was talking to the Indian officers of the Double Company, saw him and
came to meet him.

"Hullo, Major; I'm glad to see you back again," he said, saluting. "I
hardly expected to, after the extraordinary stories I've heard from the
_mahouts_."

"Really? What were they?" asked his senior officer, leading the way to his
bungalow.

"Well, the simplest was that Badshah had gone mad and bolted with you into
the jungle," replied the subaltern. "Another tale was that he knelt down
and worshipped you, and then asked you to go off with him on some
mysterious mission."

Dermot had resolved to say as little as possible about his experiences.
Europeans would not credit his story, and he had no desire to be regarded
as a phenomenal liar. Natives would believe it, for nothing is too
marvellous for them; but he had no wish that any one should know of the
existence of the Death Place, lest ivory-hunters should seek to penetrate
to it.

"Nonsense. Badshah wasn't mad," he replied. "It was just as I guessed when
you first told me of these fits of his--merely the jungle calling him."

"Yes, sir. But the weirdest tale of all was that you were seen leading an
army of elephants, just like a Hindu god, to invade Bhutan."

"Where did you hear that?" asked Dermot in surprise.

"Oh, the yarn came from the _mahouts_, who heard it from some of the forest
guards, who said they'd been told it by Bhuttias from the hills. You know
how natives spread stories. Wasn't it a silly tale?" And Parker laughed at
the thought of it.

"Yes, rather absurd," agreed the Major, forcing a smile. "Yes, natives are
really--Hello! who's done this?"

They had reached the garden of his bungalow. The little wooden gate-posts
at the entrance were smeared with red paint and hung with withered wreaths
of marigolds.

When a Hindu gets the idea into his head that a certain stone or tree or
place is the abode of a god or godling or is otherwise holy, his first
impulse is to procure marigolds and red paint and make a votive offering of
them by making wreaths of the one and daubing everything in the vicinity
with the other.

"By Jove, Major, I expect that some of the Hindus in the bazaar have heard
these yarns about you and mean to do _poojah_ (worship) to you," said
Parker with a laugh. "I told you they regard Badshah as a very holy animal.
I suppose some of his sacredness has overflowed on to you."

Dermot realised that there was probably some truth in the suggestion. He
was annoyed, as he had no desire to be looked on by the natives as the
possessor of supernatural powers.

"I must see that my boy has the posts cleaned," he said. "When you get to
the Mess, Parker, please tell them I'll be up to breakfast as soon as I've
had a tub and a shave."

Two hours later Dermot showed Parker the position of the defile on the map
and explained his notes and sketches of it; for it was important that his
subordinate should know of it in the event of any mishap occurring to
himself. But before he acquainted Army Headquarters in India with his
discovery, he went to the pass again on Badshah to examine and survey it
thoroughly. When this was done and he had despatched his sketches and
report to Simla, he felt free to carry out a project that interested him.
This was to seek out the herd of wild elephants with which Badshah seemed
most closely associated and try to discover the secret of his connection
with them.

Somewhat to his surprise he experienced no difficulty in finding them; as,
when he set out from the _peelkhana_ in search of them, Badshah seemed to
know what he wanted and carried him straight to them. For each day the
animal appeared to understand his man's inmost thoughts more and more, and
to need no visible expression of them.

When they reached the herd, the elephants received Badshah without any
demonstration of greeting, unlike the previous occasion. They showed no
objection to Dermot's presence among them. The little animal with the
blotched trunk recognised him at once and came to him, and the other calves
soon followed its example and made friends with him. The big elephants
betrayed no fear, and allowed him to stroll on foot among them freely.

This excursion was merely the first of many that Dermot made with the herd,
with which he often roamed far and wide through the forest. And sometimes,
without his knowing it, he was seen by some native passing through the
jungle, who hurriedly climbed a tree or hid in the undergrowth to avoid
meeting the elephants. From concealment the awed watcher gazed in
astonishment at the white man in their midst, of whom such wonderful tales
were told in the villages. And when he got back safely to his own hamlet
that night the native added freely to the legends that were gathering
around Dermot's name among the jungle and hill-dwellers.

On one occasion Dermot, seated on Badshah's neck, was following in rear of
the herd when it was moving slowly through the forest a few miles from the
foot of the hills. A sudden halt in the leisurely progress made him wonder
at the cause. Then the elephants in front broke their formation and crowded
forward in a body, and Dermot suddenly heard a human cry. Fearing that they
had come unexpectantly on a native and might do him harm, he urged Badshah
forward through the press of animals, which parted left and right to let
him through. To his surprise he found the leading elephants ringed round a
girl, an English girl, who, hatless and with her unpinned hair streaming on
her shoulders, stood terrified in their midst.



CHAPTER VI


A DRAMATIC INTRODUCTION

When Noreen Daleham rose half-stunned from the ground where her pony had
flung her and realised that she was surrounded by wild elephants she was
terrified. The stories of their ferocity told her at the club flashed
across her mind, and she felt that she was in danger of a horrible death.
When the huge animals closed in and advanced on her from all sides she gave
herself up for lost.

At that awful moment a voice fell on her ears and she heard the words:

"Don't be alarmed. You are in no danger."

In bewilderment she looked up and saw to her astonishment and relief a
white man sitting on the neck of one of the great beasts.

"Oh, I am so glad!" she exclaimed. "I was terrified. I thought that these
were wild elephants."

Dermot smiled.

"So they are," he said. "But they won't hurt you. Can I help you? What are
you doing here? Have you lost your way in the jungle?"

By this time Noreen had recovered her presence of mind and began to realise
the situation. It was natural that this man should be astonished to find an
Englishwoman alone and in distress in the forest. Her appearance was
calculated to cause him to wonder--and a feminine instinct made her hands
go up to her untidy hair, as she suddenly thought of her dishevelled state.
She picked up her hat and put it on.

"I've had a fall from my pony," she explained, trying to reduce her unruly
tresses to order. "It shied at the elephants and threw me. Then I suppose
it bolted."

She looked around but could see nothing except elephants, which were
regarding her solemnly.

"But where have you come from? Are you far from your camp?" persisted
Dermot. "Shall I take you to it?"

"Oh, we are not in camp," replied Noreen. "I live on a tea-garden. It is
quite near. I can walk back, thank you, if you are sure that the elephants
won't do me any harm."

But as she spoke she felt her knees give way under her from weakness, and
she was obliged to sit down on the ground. The shock of the fall and the
fright had affected her more than she realised.

Dermot laid his hand on Badshah's head, and the animal knelt down.

"I'm afraid you are not fit to walk far," said Dermot. "I must take you
back."

As he spoke he slipped to the ground. From a pocket in the pad he extracted
a flask of brandy, with which he filled a small silver cup.

"Drink this," he said, holding it to her lips. "It will do you good."

Noreen obeyed and drank a little of the spirit. Then, before she could
protest, she was lifted in Dermot's arms and placed on the pad on Badshah's
back. This cool disposal of her took her breath away, but to her surprise
she felt that she rather liked it. There was something attractive in her
new acquaintance's unconsciously authoritative manner.

Replacing the flask he said:

"Are you used to riding elephants?"

She shook her head.

"Then hold on to this rope across the pad, otherwise you may slip off when
Badshah rises to his feet. You had better keep your hand on it as we go
along, though there isn't much danger of your falling."

As he got astride the elephant's neck he continued: "Now, be ready. Hold on
tightly. Uth, Badshah!"

Despite his warning Noreen nearly slipped off the pad at the sudden and
jerky upheaval when the elephant rose.

"Now please show me the direction in which your garden lies, if you can,"
said Dermot.

"Oh, it is quite near," Noreen answered. "That is the road to it."

She let the rope go to point out the way, but instantly grasped it again.
Dermot turned Badshah's head down the track.

"Oh, what about all these other elephants?" asked the girl apprehensively,
looking at them where they were grouped together, gazing with curiosity at
Badshah's passengers. "Will they come too?"

"No," said Dermot reassuringly, "you needn't be afraid. They won't follow.
We'd create rather too much of a sensation if we arrived at your bungalow
at the head of a hundred _hathis_."

"But are they really wild?" she asked. "They look so quiet and inoffensive
now; though when I was on the ground they seemed very dreadful indeed. But
I was told that wild elephants are dangerous."

"Some of them undoubtedly are," replied Dermot. "But a herd is fairly
inoffensive, if you don't go too near it. Cow-elephants with young calves
can be very vicious, if they suspect danger to their offspring."

A turn in the road through the jungle shut out the sight of the huge
animals behind them, and Noreen breathed more freely. She began to wonder
who her rescuer was and how he had come so opportunely to her relief. Their
dramatic meeting invested him in her eyes with more interest than she would
have found in any man whose acquaintance she had made in a more unromantic
and conventional manner. And so she bestowed more attention on him and
studied his appearance more closely than she would otherwise have done. He
struck her at once as being exceedingly good looking in a strong and manly
way. His profile showed clear-cut and regular features, with a mouth and
chin bespeaking firmness and determination. His face in repose was grave,
almost stern, but she had seen it melt in sudden tenderness as he sprang to
her aid when she had felt faint. She noticed that his eyes were very
attractive and unusually dark--due, although she did not know it, to the
Spanish strain in him as in so many other Irish of the far west of
Connaught--and with his darker hair, which had a little wave in it, and his
small black moustache they gave him an almost foreign look. The girl had a
sudden mental vision of him as a fierce rover of bygone days on the Spanish
Main. But when, in a swift transition, little laughter-wrinkles creased
around his eyes that softened in a merry smile, she wondered how she could
have thought that he looked fierce or stern. Although, like many of her
sex, she was a little prejudiced against handsome men, and he certainly was
one, yet she was strongly attracted by his appearance. Probably the very
contrast in colouring and type between him and her made him appeal to her.
He was as dark as she was fair. And when he was standing on the ground she
had seen that he was well above middle height with a lithe and graceful
figure displayed to advantage by his careless costume of loose khaki shirt
and Jodpur breeches. The breadth of his shoulders denoted strength, and his
rolled-up sleeves showed muscular arms burned dark by the sun.

"How did you manage to come up just at the right moment to rescue me?" she
asked. "I have not thanked you yet for saving me, but I do so now most
heartily. I can't tell you how grateful I feel. I am sure, no matter what
you say, that those elephants would have killed me if you hadn't come."

Dermot laughed.

"I'm afraid I cannot pose as a heroic rescuer. I daresay there might have
been some danger to you, had I not been with them. For one can never tell
what elephants will do. Out of sheer nervousness and fright they might have
attacked you."

"You were with them?" she echoed in surprise. "But you said that these were
wild ones."

"So they are. But this animal we are on is a tame one and was captured
years ago in the jungle about here. I think he must have belonged to this
particular herd, for they accept him as one of themselves."

"Yes; but you?"

"Oh, they have made me a sort of honorary member of the herd for his sake,
I think. He and I are great pals," and Dermot laid his hand affectionately
on Badshah's head. "He saved my life not long ago when I was attacked by a
vicious rogue."

Noreen suddenly remembered the conversation at the club lunch.

"Oh, are you the officer from the Fort up at Ranga Duar?" she asked.

"One of them. I am commanding the detachment of Military Police there," he
answered. "My name is Dermot."

"Then I've heard of you. I understand now. They said that you could do
wonderful things with wild elephants, that you went about the forest with a
herd of them."

"_They_ said?" he exclaimed. "Who are 'they'?"

"The men at the club. We have a planters' club for the district, you know.
At our last weekly meeting they spoke of you and said that you had nearly
been killed by a rogue. Mr. Payne told us that he used to know you."

"What? Payne of Salchini? I knew him well. Awfully good chap."

"Yes, isn't he? I like him so much."

"I saw a lot of him when I was stationed at Buxa Duar with my Double
Company. Hullo! here we are at a tea-garden."

They had suddenly come out of the forest on to the open stretch of furrowed
land planted with the orderly rows of tidy bushes.

"Yes; it is ours. It's called Malpura," said Noreen. "My brother is the
assistant manager. Our name is Daleham."

"Here comes somebody in a hurry," remarked Dermot, pointing to where, on
the road ahead of them, a man on a pony was galloping towards them with a
cloud of dust rising behind him.

"Yes, it's my brother. Oh, what's happening?" she exclaimed.

For as he approached his pony scented the elephant and stopped dead
suddenly, nearly throwing its rider over its head.

"Fred! Fred! Here I am!" she cried.

But Daleham's animal was unused to elephants and positively refused to
approach Badshah. In vain its rider strove to make it go on. It suddenly
put an end to the dispute between them by swinging round and bolting back
the way that it had come, despite its master's efforts to hold it.

Noreen looked after the pair anxiously.

"You needn't be alarmed, Miss Daleham," said Dermot consolingly. "Your
brother is quite all right. Once he gets to a safe distance from Badshah
the pony will pull up. Horses are always afraid of elephants until they get
used to them. See, he is slowing up already."

When the girl was satisfied that her brother was in no danger she smiled at
the dramatic abruptness of his departure.

"Poor Fred! He must have been awfully worried over me," she said. "He
probably thought I was killed or at least had met with a bad accident. And
now the poor boy can't get near me."

"I daresay he was alarmed if your pony went home riderless."

"Yes, it must have done so. Naughty Kitty. It must have bolted back to its
stable and frightened my poor brother out of his wits."

"Well, he'll soon have you back safe and sound," said Dermot. "Hold on
tightly now, and I'll make Badshah step out. _Mul!_"

The elephant increased his pace, and the motion sorely tried Noreen. As
they passed through the estate the coolies bending over the tea-bushes
stopped their work to stare at them. Noreen remarked that they appeared
deeply interested at the sight of the elephant, and gathered together to
talk volubly and point at it.

When they neared the bungalow they saw Daleham standing on the steps of the
verandah, waiting for them. He had recognised the futility of struggling
with his pony and had returned with it.

As they arrived he ran down the steps to meet them.

"Good gracious, Noreen, what has happened to you?" he cried, as Badshah
stopped in front of the house. "I've been worried to death about you. When
the servants came to the factory to say that Kitty had galloped home with
broken reins and without you, I thought you had been killed."

"Oh, Fred, I've had such an adventure," she cried gaily. "You'll say it
served me right. Wait until I get down. But how am I to do so, Major
Dermot?"

"The elephant will kneel down. Hold on tightly," he replied. "_Buth_,
Badshah." He unslung his rifle as he dismounted.

When her brother had lifted her off the pad, the girl kissed him and said:

"I'm so glad to get back to you, dear. I thought I never would. I know
you'll crow over me and and say, 'I told you so.' But I must introduce you
to Major Dermot. This is my brother, Major. Fred, if it had not been for
Major Dermot, you wouldn't have a sister now. Just listen."

The men shook hands as she began her story. Her brother interrupted her to
suggest their going on to the verandah to get out of the sun. When they
were all seated he listened with the deepest interest.

At the end of her narrative he could not help saying:

"I warned you, young woman. What on earth would have happened to you if
Major Dermot had not been there?" He turned to their visitor and continued:
"I must thank you awfully, sir. There's no doubt that Noreen would have
been killed without your help."

"Oh, perhaps not. But certainly you were right in advising her not to enter
the forest alone."

"There, you see, Noreen?"

The girl pouted a little.

"Is it really so dangerous, Major Dermot?" she asked.

"Well, one ought never to go into it without a good rifle," he replied.
"You might pass weeks, months, in it without any harm befalling you; but on
the other hand you might be exposed to the greatest danger on your very
first day in it. You've just had a sample."

"You were attacked yourself by a rogue, weren't you?" asked the girl. "You
said that your elephant saved you? Was this the one? Do tell us about it."

Dermot briefly narrated his adventure with the rogue. Brother and sister
punctuated the tale with exclamations of surprise and admiration, and at
the conclusion of it, turned to look at Badshah, who had taken refuge from
the sun's rays under a tree and was standing in the shade, shifting his
weight from leg to leg, flapping his ears and driving away the flies by
flicking his sides with a small branch which he held in his trunk. Dermot
had taken off his pad.

"You dear thing!" cried the girl to him. "You are a hero. I'm very proud to
think that I have been on your back."

"It was really wonderful," said Daleham. "How I should have liked to see
the fight! I say, all our servants have come out to look at him. By Jove!
any amount of coolies, too. One would think that they'd never seen an
elephant before."

"I'm sure they've never seen such a splendid one," said his sister
enthusiastically. "He is well worth looking at. But--oh, what is that man
doing?"

One of the crowd of coolies that had collected had gone down on his knees
before Badshah and touched the earth with his forehead. Then another and
another imitated him, until twenty or thirty of them were prostrate in the
dust, worshipping him.

"I must stop this," exclaimed Daleham. "If old Parr sees them he'll be
furious. They ought to be at their work."

He ran down the steps of the verandah and ordered them away. His servants
disappeared promptly, but the coolies went slowly and reluctantly.

"What were they doing, Major Dermot?" asked Noreen. "They looked as if they
were praying to your elephant. Hadn't they ever seen one before?"

He explained the reason of the reverence paid to Badshah. Daleham,
returning, renewed his thanks as his sister went into the bungalow to see
about breakfast. When she returned to tell them that it was ready, Dermot
hardly recognised in the dainty girl, clad in a cool muslin dress, the
terrified and dishevelled damsel whom he had first seen standing in the
midst of the elephants.

During the meal she questioned him eagerly about the jungle and the ways of
the wild animals that inhabit it, and she and her brother listened with
interest to his vivid descriptions. A chance remark of Daleham's on the
difficulty of obtaining labour for the tea-gardens in the Terai interested
Dermot and set him trying to extract information from his host.

"I suppose you know, sir, that as these districts are so sparsely populated
and the Bhuttias on the hills won't take the work, we have to import the
thousands of coolies needed from Chota Nagpur and other places hundreds of
miles away," said Daleham. "Lately, however, we have begun to get men from
Bengal."

"What? Bengalis?" asked Dermot.

"Yes. Very good men. Quite decent class. Some educated men among them. Why,
I discovered by chance that one is a B.A. of Calcutta University."

"Do you mean for your clerical work, as _babus_ and writers?"

"No. These chaps are content to do the regular coolie work. Of course we
make them heads of gangs. I believe they're what are called Brahmins."

"Impossible! Brahmins as tea-garden coolies?" exclaimed Dermot in surprise.

"Yes. I'm told that they are Brahmins, though I don't know much about
natives yet," replied his host.

Dermot was silent for a while. He could hardly believe that the boy was
right. Brahmins who, being of the priestly caste, claim to be semi-divine
rather than mere men, will take up professions or clerical work, but with
all his experience of India he had never heard of any of them engaging in
such manual labour.

"How do you get them?" he asked.

"Oh, they come here to ask for employment themselves," replied Daleham.

"Do they get them on many gardens in the district?" asked Dermot, in whose
mind a vague suspicion was arising.

"There are one or two on most of them. The older planters are surprised."

"I don't wonder," commented Dermot grimly. "It's something very unusual."

"We have got most, though," added his host. "I daresay it's because our
engineer is a Hindu. His name is Chunerbutty."

"Sounds as if he were a Bengali Brahmin himself," said Dermot.

"He is. His father holds an appointment in the service of the Rajah of
Lalpuri, a native State in Eastern Bengal not far from here. The son is an
old friend of ours. I met him first in London."

"In fact, it was through Mr. Chunerbutty that we came here," said Noreen.
"He gave Fred an introduction to this company."

Dermot reflected. He felt that if these men were really Bengali Brahmins,
their coming to the district to labour as coolies demanded investigation.
Their race furnishes the extremist and disloyal element in India, and any
of them residing on these gardens would be conveniently placed to act as
channels of communication between enemies without and traitors within. He
felt that it would be advisable for him to talk the matter over with some
of the older planters.

"Who is your manager here?" he enquired.

"A Welshman named Parry."

"Are you far from Salchini?"

"You mean Payne's garden? Yes; a good way. He's a friend of yours, isn't
he?"

"Yes; I should like to see him again. I must pay him a visit."

"Oh, look here, Major," said Daleham eagerly. I've got an idea. Tomorrow is
the day of our weekly meeting at the club. Will you let me put you up for
the night, and we'll take you tomorrow to the club, where you will meet
Payne?"

"Thank you; it's very kind of you; but--" began Dermot dubiously.

Noreen joined in.

"Oh, do stay, Major Dermot. We'd be delighted to have you."

Dermot needed but little pressing, for the plan suited him well.

"Excellent," said Daleham. "You'll meet Chunerbutty at dinner then. You'll
find him quite a good fellow."

"I'd like to meet him," answered the soldier truthfully. He felt that the
Bengali engineer might interest him more than his host imagined.

"I'll tell the boy to get your room ready," said Noreen. "Oh, what will you
do with your elephant?"

"Badshah will be all right. I'll send him back to the herd."

"What, will he go by himself?" exclaimed Daleham. "How will you get him
again?"

"I think he'll wait for me," replied Dermot.

They had finished breakfast by now and rose from the table. The Major went
to Badshah, touched him and made him turn round to face in the direction
whence they had come.

"Go now, and wait for me there," he said pointing to the forest.

The elephant seemed to understand, and, touching his master with his trunk,
started off at once towards the jungle.

Daleham and his sister watched the animal's departure with surprise.

"Well, I'm blessed, Major. You certainly have him well trained," said Fred.
"Now, will you excuse me, sir? I must go to the factory. Noreen will look
after you."

He rose and took up his sun-hat.

"Oh, by the way, there is one of the fellows I told you of," he continued.
"He is the B.A."

He pointed to a man passing some distance away from the bungalow. Dermot
looked at him with curiosity. His head was bare, and his thick black hair
shone with oil. He wore a European shirt and a _dhoti_, or cotton cloth
draped round his waist like a divided skirt. His legs were bare except for
gay-coloured socks and English boots. Gold-rimmed spectacles completed an
appearance as unlike that of the ordinary tea-garden coolie as possible. He
was the typical Indian student as seen around Gower Street or South
Kensington, in the dress that he wears in his native land. There was no
doubt of his being a Bengali Brahmin.

Daleham called him.

"Hi! I say! Come here!"

When the man reached the foot of the verandah steps the assistant manager
said to him:

"I have told this sahib that you are a graduate of Calcutta University."

The Bengali salaamed carelessly and replied:

"Oah, yess, sir. I am B.A."

"Really? What is your name?" asked Dermot.

"Narain Dass, sir."

"I am sorry, Mr. Dass, that a man of your education cannot get better
employment than this," remarked Dermot.

The Bengali smiled superciliously.

"Oah, yess, I can, of course. This--" He checked himself suddenly, and his
manner became more cringing. "Yess, sir, I can with much facility procure
employment of sedentary nature. But for reasons of health I am stringently
advised by medical practitioner to engage in outdoor occupation. So I adopt
policy of 'Back to the Land.'"

"I see, Mr. Dass. Very wise of you," remarked Dermot, restraining an
inclination to smile. "You are a Brahmin, aren't you?"

"Yess, sir," replied the Bengali with pride.

"Well, Mr. Dass, I hope that your health will improve in this bracing air.
Good-morning."

"Good-morning, sir," replied the Bengali, and continued on his way.

Dermot watched his departing figure meditatively. He felt that he had got
hold of a thread, however slender, of the conspiracy against British rule.

"You seem very interested in that coolie, Major Dermot," remarked Noreen.

"Eh? Oh, I beg your pardon," he said, turning to her. "Yes. You see, it is
very unusual to find such a man doing this sort of work."

He did not enter into any further explanation. The suspicion that he
entertained must for the present be kept to himself.

When Daleham left them the girl felt curiously shy. Perfectly at her
ease with men as a rule, she now, to her surprise, experienced a
sensation of nervousness, a feeling almost akin to awe of her guest. Yet
she liked him. He impressed her as being a man of strong personality.
The fact that--unlike most men that she met--he made no special effort
to please her interested her all the more in him. Gradually she grew
more at her ease. She enjoyed his tales of the jungle, told with such
graphic power of narrative that she could almost see the scenes and
incidents that he depicted.

Dinner-time brought Chunerbutty, who did not conduce to harmony in the
little party. Dermot regarded him with interest, for he wished to discover
if the engineer played any part in the game of conspiracy and treason.
Although the Hindu was ignorant of this, it was evident that he resented
the soldier's presence, partly from racial motives, but chiefly from
jealousy over Noreen. He was annoyed at her interest in Dermot and objected
to her feeling grateful for her rescue. He tried to make light of the
adventure and asserted that she had been in no danger. Gradually he became
so offensive to the Major that Noreen was annoyed, and even her brother,
who usually saw no fault in his friend, felt uncomfortable at Chunerbutty's
incivility to their guest.

Dermot, however, appeared not to notice it. He behaved with perfect
courtesy to the Hindu, and ignored his attempts at impertinence, much to
Daleham's relief, winning Noreen's admiration by his self-control. He
skilfully steered the conversation to the subject of the Bengalis employed
on the estate. The engineer at first denied that there were Brahmins among
them, but when told of Narain Dass's claim to be one, he pretended
ignorance of the fact. This obvious falsehood confirmed Dermot's suspicion
of him.

The Dalehams were not sorry when Chunerbutty rose to say good-night shortly
after they had left the dining-room. He was starting at an early hour next
morning on a long ride to Lalpuri to visit his father, of whose health he
said he had received disquieting news.

When Noreen went to bed that night she lay awake for some time thinking of
their new friend. In addition to her natural feeling of gratitude to him
for saving her from deadly peril, there was the consciousness that he was
eminently likable in himself. His strength of character, his manliness, the
suggestion of mystery about him in his power over wild animals and the
fearlessness with which he risked the dangers of the forest, all increased
the attraction that he had for her. Still thinking of him she fell asleep.

And Dermot? Truth to tell, his thoughts dwelt longer on Chunerbutty and
Narain Dass than on Miss Daleham. He liked the girl, admired her nature,
her unaffected and frank manner, her kind and sunny disposition. He
considered her decidedly pretty; but her good looks did not move him much,
for he was neither impressionable nor susceptible, and had known too many
beautiful women the world over to lose his heart readily. Possibly under
other circumstances he might not have given the girl a second thought, for
women had never bulked largely in his life. But the strange beginning of
their acquaintance had given her, too, a special interest.

The Dalehams' arrival at the club the next day with their guest caused
quite a sensation. At any time a stranger was a refreshing novelty to this
isolated community. But in addition Dermot had the claim of old friendship
with one of their members, and the other men knew him by repute. So he was
welcomed with the open-hearted hospitality for which planters are
deservedly renowned.

Mrs. Rice took complete possession of him as soon as he was introduced to
her, insisted on his sitting beside her at lunch and monopolised him after
it. Noreen, rather to her own surprise, felt a little indignant at the calm
appropriation of her new friend by the older woman, and a faint resentment
against Dermot for acquiescing in it. She was a little hurt, too, at his
ignoring her.

But the soldier had not come there to talk to ladies. He soon managed to
escape from Mrs. Rice's clutches in order to have a serious talk with his
old friend Payne, which resulted in the latter adroitly gathering the older
and more dependable men together outside the building on the pretext of
inspecting the future polo ground. In reality it was to afford Dermot an
opportunity of disclosing to them as much of the impending peril of
invasion as he judged wise. The planters would be the first to suffer in
such an event. He wanted to put them on their guard and enlist their help
in the detection of a treacherous correspondence between external and
internal foes. This they readily promised, and they undertook to watch the
Bengalis among their coolies.

The Dalehams and their guest did not reach Malpura until after sundown, and
Dermot was persuaded to remain another night under their roof.

On the following morning the brother and sister rode out with him to the
scene of Noreen's adventure. He was on foot and was accompanied by two
coolies carrying his elephant's pad. The girl was not surprised, although
Fred Daleham was, at Badshah's appearance from the forest in response to a
whistle from his master. And when, after a friendly farewell, man and
animal disappeared in the jungle, Noreen was conscious of the fact that
they had left a little ache in her heart.



CHAPTER VII


IN THE RAJAH'S PALACE

A rambling, many-storied building, a jumbled mass of no particular design
or style of architecture, with blue-washed walls and close-latticed
windows, an insanitary rabbit-warren of intricate passages, unexpected
courtyards, hidden gardens, and crazy tenements kennelling a small army of
servants, retainers, and indefinable hangers-on--such was the palace of the
Rajah of Lalpuri. Here and there, by carved doors or iron-studded gates
half off their hinges, lounged purposeless sentries, barefooted, clad in
old and dirty red coatees, white cross-belts and ragged blue trousers. They
leant on rusty, muzzle-loading muskets purchased from "John Company" in
pre-Mutiny years, and their uniforms were modelled on those worn by the
Company's native troops before the days of Chillianwallah.

The outer courtyard swarmed with a mob of beggars, panders, traders,
servants, and idlers, through which occasionally a ramshackle carriage
drawn by galled ponies, their broken harness tied with rope, and conveying
some Palace official, made its way with difficulty. Sometimes the vehicle
was closely shuttered or shrouded with white cotton sheets and contained
some high-caste lady or brazen, jewel-decked wanton of the Court.

On one side were the tumble-down stables, near which a squealing white
stallion with long, red-dyed tail was tied to a _peepul_ tree. Its rider, a
blue-coated _sowar_, or cavalryman, with bare feet thrust into heelless
native slippers, sat on the ground near it smoking a hubble-bubble. A
chorus of neighing answered his screaming horse from the filthy stalls,
outside which stood foul-smelling manure-heaps, around which mangy pariah
dogs nosed. In the blazing sun a couple of hooded hunting-cheetahs lay
panting on the bullock-cart to which they were chained.

The Palace stood in the heart of the city of Lalpuri, a maze of narrow,
malodorous streets off which ran still narrower and fouler lanes. The
gaudily-painted houses, many stories high, with wooden balconies and
projecting windows, were interspersed with ruinous palm-thatched bamboo
huts and grotesquely decorated temples filled with fat priests and hideous,
ochre-daubed gods, and noisy with the incessant blare of conch shells and
the jangling of bells. Lalpuri was a byword throughout India and was known
to its contemptuous neighbours as the City of Harlots and Thieves. Poverty,
debauchery, and crime were rife. Justice was a mockery; corruption and
abuses flourished everywhere. A just magistrate or an honourable official
was as hard to find as an honest citizen or a virtuous woman.

Like people, like rulers. The State had been founded by a Mahratta
free-booter in the days when the Pindaris swept across Hindustan from
Poona almost to Calcutta. His successor at the time of the Mutiny was a
clever rascal, who refused to commit himself openly against the British
while secretly protesting his devotion to their enemies. He balanced
himself adroitly on the fence until it was evident which side would
prove victorious. When Delhi fell and the mutineers were scattered, he
offered a refuge in his palace to certain rebel princes and leaders
who were fleeing with their treasures and loot to Burmah. But the
treacherous scoundrel seized the money and valuables and handed the
owners over to the Government of India.

The present occupant of the _gadi_--which is the Hindustani equivalent of a
throne--was far from being an improvement on his predecessors. He exceeded
them in viciousness, though much their inferior in ability. As a rule the
Indian reigning princes of today--and especially those educated at the
splendid Rajkumar College, or Princes' School--are an honour to their high
lineage and the races from which they spring. In peace they devote
themselves to the welfare of their subjects, and in war many of them have
fought gallantly for the Empire and all have given their treasures or their
troops loyally and generously to their King-Emperor.

The Rajah of Lalpuri was an exception--and a bad one. Although not thirty
years of age he had plumbed the lowest depths of vice and debauchery.
Cruelty and treachery were his most marked characteristics, lust and liquor
his ruling passions.

Of Mahratta descent he was of course a Hindu. While in drunken moments
professing himself an atheist and blaspheming the gods, yet when
suffering from illness caused by his excesses he was a prey to
superstitious fears and as wax in the hands of his Brahmin priests.
Although his territory was small and unimportant, yet the ownership of
a Bengal coalfield and the judicious investment by his father of the
treasure stolen from the rebel princes in profitable Western enterprises
ensured him an income greater than that enjoyed by many far more
important maharajahs. But his revenue was never sufficient for his
needs, and he ground down his wretched subjects with oppressive taxes
to furnish him with still more money to waste in his vices. All men
marvelled that the Government of India allowed such a debauchee and
wastrel to remain on the _gadi_. But it is a long-suffering Government
and loth to interfere with the rulers of the native states. However,
matters were fast reaching a crisis when the Viceroy and his advisers
would be forced to consider whether they should allow this degenerate to
continue to misgovern his State. This the Rajah realised, and it filled
him with feelings of hostility and disloyalty to the Suzerain Power.

But the real ruler of Lalpuri State was the _Dewan_ or Prime Minister, a
clever, ambitious, and unscrupulous Bengali Brahmin, endowed with all the
talent for intrigue and chicanery of his race and caste as well as with
their hatred of the British. He had persuaded himself that the English
dominion in India was coming to an end and was ready to do all in his power
to hasten the event. For he secretly nourished the design of deposing the
Rajah and making himself the nominal as well as the virtual ruler of the
State, and he knew that the British would not permit this. His was the
brain that had conceived the project of uniting the disloyal elements of
Bengal with the foreign foes of the Government of India, and he was the
leader of the disaffected and the chief of the conspirators.

When Chunerbutty arrived in Lalpuri he rode with difficulty through the
crowded, narrow streets. His sun-helmet and European dress earned him
hostile glances and open insults, and more than one foul gibe was hurled at
him as he went along by some who imagined him from his dark face and
English clothes to be a half-caste. For the native, however humble, hates
and despises the man of mixed breed.

When he reached the Palace he made his way through the throng of beggars,
touts, and hangers-on in the outer courtyard, and, passing the sentries,
all of whom recognised him, entered the building. Through the maze of
passages and courts he penetrated to the room occupied by his father in
virtue of his appointment in the Rajah's service.

He found the old man sitting cross-legged on a mat in the dirty, almost
bare apartment. He was chewing betel-nut and spitting the red juice into a
pot. He looked up as his son entered.

Among the other out-of-date customs and silly superstitions that the
younger Chunerbutty boasted of having freed himself from, were the
respect and regard due to parents--usually deep-rooted in all races of
India, and indeed of the East generally. So without any salutation or
greeting he sat down on the one ricketty chair that the room contained,
and said ill-temperedly:

"Here I am, having ridden miles in the heat and endured discomfort for
some absurd whim of thine. Why didst thou send for me? I told thee never
to do so unless the matter were very important. I had to eat abuse from
that drunken Welshman to get permission to come. I had to swear that
thou wert on the point of death. Then he consented, but only because, as
he said, I might catch thy illness and die too. May jackals dig him from
his grave and devour his corpse!"

As the father and son sat confronting each other the contrast between them
was significant of the old Bengal and the new. The silly, light-minded
girls in England who had found the younger man's attractions irresistible
and raved over his dark skin and the fascinating suggestion of the Orient
in him, should have seen the pair now. The son, ultra-English in his
costume, from his sun-hat to his riding-breeches and gaiters, and the old
Bengali, ridiculously like him in features, despite his shaven crown with
one oiled scalp-lock, his bulbous nose and flabby cheeks, and teeth stained
red by betel-chewing. On his forehead were painted three white horizontal
strokes, the mark of the worshippers of Siva the Destroyer. His only
garment was a dirty old _dhoti_ tied round his fat, naked paunch.

He grinned at his son's ill-temper and replied briefly:

"The Rajah wishes to see thee, son."

"Why? Is there anything new?"

"I do not know. Thou art angry at being torn from the side of the English
girl. Art thou to marry her? Why not be satisfied to wed one of thine own
countrywomen?"

The younger man spat contemptuously.

"I would not be content with a fat Hindu cow after having known English
girls. Thou shouldest see those of London, old man. How they love us of
dark skin and believe our tales that we are Indian princes!"

The father leered unpleasantly.

"Thou hast often told me that these white women are shameless. Is it
needful to pay the price of marriage to possess this one?"

"I want her, if only to anger the white men among whom I live," replied his
son sullenly. "Like all the English out here they hate to see their women
marry us black men."

"There is a white man in the Palace who is not like that."

"A white man in the Palace?" echoed his son. "Who is he? What does he
here?"

"A Parliamentary-_wallah_, who is visiting India and will go back to tell
the English monkeys in his country what we are not. He comes here with
letters from the _Lat Sahib_."

"From the Viceroy?"

"Yes; thou knowest that any fool from their Parliament holds a whip over
the back of the _Lat Sahib_ and all the white men in this land. This one
hath no love for his own country."

"How knowest thou that?"

"Because the _Dewan Sahib_ loves him. Any foe of England is as welcome to
the _Dewan_ as the monsoon rain to the _ryot_ whose crops are dying of
drought. Thou wilt see this one, for he is ever with the _Dewan_, who has
ordered that thou goest to him before seeing the Rajah.

"Ordered? I am sick of his orders," replied the son, petulantly. "Am I his
dog that he should order me? I am not a Lalpuri now. I am a British
subject."

"Thy father eats the Rajah's salt. Thou forgettest that the _Dewan_ found
the money to send thee across the Black Water to learn thy trade."

The younger man frowned discontentedly.

"Well, I see not the colour of his money now. Why should I obey him? I will
not."

"Softly, softly, son. There be many knives in the bazaars of the city that
will seek out any man's heart at the _Dewan's_ bidding. Thou art a man of
Lalpuri still."

His son rose discontentedly from his chair.

"_Kali_ smite him with smallpox. I suppose it were better to see what he
wants. I shall go."

Admitted to the presence of the _Dewan_, Chunerbutty's defiant manner
dropped from him, for he had always held that official in awe. His swagger
vanished; he bent low and his hand went up to his head in a salaam. The
Premier of the State, a wrinkled old Brahmin, was seated on the ground
propped up by white bolsters, with a small table, a foot high, crowded with
papers in front of him. He was dressed simply and plainly in white cotton
garments, a small coloured _puggri_ covering his shaved head. Although
reputed the possessor of finer jewels than the Rajah he wore no ornaments.

Sprawling in an easy chair opposite him was a fat European in a tight white
linen suit buttoned up to the neck. He evidently felt the heat acutely, and
with a large coloured handkerchief he incessantly wiped his red face, down
which the sweat rolled in oily drops, and mopped his bald head.

When Chunerbutty entered the apartment the _Dewan_, without any greeting
indicated him, saying:

"This, Mr. Macgregor, is an example of what all we Indians shall be when
relieved of the tyranny of British officials and allowed to govern
ourselves."

His English was perfect.

The bearer of the historic Highland name, whose appearance suggested rather
a Hebrew patronymic, removed from his mouth the cigar that he was smoking
and asked in a guttural voice:

"Who is the young man?"

The _Dewan_ briefly explained, then, turning to Chunerbutty, he said:

"This is Mr. Donald Macgregor, M.P., a member of the Labour Party and a
true friend of India. You may speak freely before him. Sit down."

The engineer looked around in vain for another chair. The _Dewan_ said
sharply in Bengali, using the familiar, and in this case contemptuous,
"thou":

"Sit on the floor, as thy fathers before thee have done, as thou didst
thyself before thou began to think thyself an Englishman and despise thy
country and its ways."

Chunerbutty collapsed and sat down hastily on a mat. Then in English the
_Dewan_ continued:

"Have you any news?"

"No; I have forwarded as they came all letters and messengers from Bhutan.
The troops--" He stopped and looked at the Member of Parliament.

"Continue. There is no need of secrecy before Mr. Macgregor," said the
_Dewan_. "I have said that he is a friend of India."

"It's all right, my boy," added the Hebrew Highlander encouragingly. "I am
a Pacifist and a socialist. I don't hold with soldiers or with keeping
coloured races enslaved. 'England for English and India for the Indians' is
my motto."

"Well, I have already informed you that there is no truth in the reports
that troops were to be sent again to Buxa Duar," said Chunerbutty,
reassured. "On the frontier there are only the two hundred Military Police
at Ranga Duar. They are Punjaubi Mohammedans. I made the acquaintance of
the officer commanding them last night."

"Ah! What is he like?" enquired the _Dewan_, interested.

"Inquisitive, but a fool--like all these officers," replied the engineer
contemptuously. "He noticed Narain Dass on our garden and saw that he was a
Bengali. He learned that others of us were employed on our estate and was
surprised that Brahmins should do coolie work. But he suspected nothing."

"You are sure?" asked the _Dewan_.

"Quite certain."

The _Dewan_ shook his head doubtfully.

"These English officers are not always the fools they seem," he observed.
"We must keep an eye on this inquisitive person. Now, how goes the work
among the garden coolies? Are they ripe for revolt?"

"Not yet on all the estates. They are ignorant cattle, and to them the
Motherland means nothing. But on our garden our greatest helper is the
manager, a drunken bully. He ill-treats the coolies and nearly kicked one
to death the other day."

"That's how the Englishman always treats the native, isn't it?" asked the
Hebrew representative of an English constituency.

"Always and everywhere," replied the engineer unhesitatingly, wondering if
Macgregor were really fool enough to believe the libel, which one day's
experience in India should have shown him to be false. But this foreign Jew
turned Scotchman hated the country of his adoption, as only these gentry
do, and was ready to believe any lie against it and eager to do all in his
power to injure it.

The _Dewan_ said:

"Mr. Macgregor has been sent to tell us that his party pledges itself to
help us in Parliament."

"Yes, you need have no fear. We'll see that justice is done you," began the
politician in his best tub-thumping manner. "We Socialists and Communists
are determined to put an end to tyranny and oppression, whether of the
downtrodden slaves of Capitalism at home or our coloured brothers abroad.
The British working-man wants no colonies, no India. He is determined to
change everything in England and do away with all above him--kings, lords,
aristocrats, and the _bourgeoisie_. He demands Revolution, and we'll give
it him."

"Pardon me, Mr. Macgregor," remarked the engineer. "I've lived among
British working-men, when I was in the shops, but I never found that they
wanted revolution."

The Member of Parliament looked at him steadily for a moment and grinned.

"You're no fool, Mr. Chunerbutty. You're a lad after my own heart. You know
a thing or two. Perhaps you're right. But the British working-man lets us
represent him, and we know what's good for him, if he don't. We Socialists
run the Labour Party, and I promise you we'll back you up in Parliament if
you rebel and drive the English out of India."

"We shall do it, Mr. Macgregor," said the _Dewan_, confidently, "We are
co-ordinating all the organisations in the Punjaub, Bombay, and Bengal,
and we shall strike simultaneously. Afghan help has been promised, and
the Pathan tribesmen will follow the Amir's regiments into India. As I
told you, the Chinese and Bhutanese invasion is certain, and there are
neither troops nor fortifications along this frontier to stop it."

"That's right. You'll do it," said Macgregor. "The General Election
comes off in a few months, and our party is sure of victory. I am
authorised to assure you that our first act will be to give India
absolute independence. So you can do what you like. But don't kill the
white women and children--at least, not openly. They might not like it
in England, though personally I don't care if you massacre every damned
Britisher in the country. From what I've seen of 'em it's only what
they deserve. The insolence I've met with from those whipper-snapper
officers! And the civil officials would be as bad, if they dared.
Then their women--I wouldn't like to say what I think of _them_."

The _Dewan_ turned to Chunerbutty.

"Go now; you have my leave. His Highness wishes to see you. I have sent him
word that you are here."

The engineer rose and salaamed respectfully. Then, with a nod to Macgregor,
he withdrew full of thought. He had not known before that the conspiracy to
expel the British was so widespread and promising. He had not regarded it
very seriously hitherto. But he had faith in the _Dewan_, and the pledge of
the great political party in England was reassuring.

Admitted to the presence of the Rajah, Chunerbutty found him reclining
languidly on a pile of soft cushions on the floor of a tawdrily-decorated
room. The walls were crowded with highly-coloured chromos of Hindu gods and
badly-painted indecent pictures. A cut-glass chandelier hung from the
ceiling, and expensive but ill-assorted European furniture stood about the
apartment. French mechanical toys under glass shades crowded the tables.

The Rajah was a fat and sensual-looking young man, with bloated face and
bloodshot that eyes spoke eloquently of his excesses. On his forehead was
painted a small semicircular line above the eyebrows with a round patch in
the middle, which was the sect-mark of the _Sáktas_. His white linen
garments were creased and dirty, but round his neck he wore a rope of
enormous pearls. His feet were bare. On a gold tray beside him were two
liqueur bottles, one empty, the other only half full, and two or three
glasses.

He looked up vacantly as Chunerbutty entered, then, recognising him, said
petulantly:

"Where have you been? Why did you not come before?"

The engineer salaamed and seated himself on the carpet near him without
invitation. He held the Rajah far less in awe than the Prime Minister, for
he had been the former's boon-companion in his debauches too often to have
much respect for him.

He answered the prince carelessly.

"The _Dewan_ sent for me to see him before I came to you, _Maharaj Sahib_."

"Why? What for? That man thinks that he is the ruler of Lalpuri, not I,"
grumbled the Rajah. "I gave orders that you were to be sent to me as soon
as you arrived. I want news of the girl. Is she still there?"

"Yes; she is still there."

"Listen to me," the Rajah leant forward and tapped him on the knee. "I must
have that girl. Ever since I saw her at the _durbar_ at Jalpaiguri I have
wanted her."

"Your Highness knows that it is difficult to get hold of an Englishwoman in
India."

"I know. But I do not care. I must have her. I _will_ have her." He filled
a tumbler with liqueur and sipped it. "I have sent for you to find a way.
You are clever. You know the customs of these English. You have often told
me how you did as you wished with the white women in England."

"That is very different. It is easy there," and Chunerbutty smiled at
pleasant memories. "There the women are shameless, and they prefer us to
their own colour. And the men are not jealous. They are proud that their
daughters and sisters should know us."

He helped himself to the liqueur.

"Why do you not go to England?" he continued. "There every woman would
throw herself at your feet. They make much of the Hindu students, the sons
of fat _bunniahs_ and shopkeepers in Calcutta, because they think them all
Indian princes. For you who really are one they would do anything."

The Rajah sat up furious and dashed his glass down on the tray so violently
that it shivered to atoms.

"Go to England? Have I not tried to?" he cried. "But every time I ask, the
Viceroy refuses me permission. I, a rajah, the son of rajahs, must beg
leave like a servant from a man whose grandfather was a nobody--and be
refused. May his womenkind be dishonoured! May his grave be defiled!"

He filled another glass and emptied it before continuing.

"But, I tell you, I want this girl. I must have her. You must get her for
me. Can you not carry her off and bring her here? You can have all the
money you want to bribe any one. You said there are only two white men on
the garden. I will send you a hundred soldiers."

Chunerbutty looked alarmed. He had no wish to be dragged into such a mad
proceeding as to attempt to carry off an Englishwoman by force, and in a
place where he was well known. For the girl in question was Noreen Daleham.
The Rajah had seen her a few months before at a _durbar_ or reception of
native notables held by the Lieutenant Governor of Eastern Bengal, and been
fired with an insane and unholy passion for her.

"Your Highness, it is impossible. Quite impossible. Do you not see that all
the power of the _Sirkar_ (the Government) would be put forth to punish us?
You would be deposed, and I--I would be sent to the convict settlement in
the Andaman Islands, if I were not hanged."

The Rajah abused the hated English, root and branch. But he was forced to
admit that Chunerbutty was right. Open violence would ruin them.

He sank back on the cushions, exhausted by his fit of anger. Draining his
glass he filled it up again. Then he clapped his hands. A servant entered
noiselessly on bare feet, bringing two full bottles of liqueur and fresh
tumblers. There was little difficulty in anticipating His Highness's
requirements. The _khitmagar_ removed the empty bottles and the broken
glass and left the apartment.

The Rajah drank again. The strong liqueur seemed to have no effect on him.
Then he said:

"Well, find a plan yourself. But I must get the girl."

Chunerbutty pretended to think. Then he began to expose tentatively, as if
it were an idea just come to him, a plan that he had conceived weeks
before.

"_Maharaj Sahib_, if I could make the girl my wife--"

The Rajah half rose up and spluttered out furiously:

"You dog, wouldst thou dare to rival me, to interfere between me and my
desires?"

The engineer hastened to pacify the angry man.

"No, no, Your Highness. You misunderstand me. Surely you know that you can
trust me. What I mean is that, if I married her, she would have to obey me,
and--" he smiled insinuatingly and significantly--"I am a loyal subject of
Your Highness."

The fat debauchee stared at him uncomprehendingly for a few moments. Then
understanding dawned, and his bloated face creased into a lascivious smile.

"I see. I see. Then marry her," he said, sinking back on the cushions.

"Your Highness forgets that the salary they pay a tea-garden engineer is
not enough to tempt a girl to marry him nor support them if she did."

"That is true," replied the Rajah thoughtfully. He was silent for a little,
and then he said:

"I will give you an appointment here in the Palace with a salary of a
_lakh_ of rupees a year."

Chunerbutty's eyes glistened. A _lakh_ is a hundred thousand, and at par
fifteen rupees went to an English sovereign.

"Thank you, Your Highness," he said eagerly.

The Rajah held up a fat forefinger warningly.

"But not until you have married her," he said.

Chunerbutty smiled confidently. Much as he had seen of Noreen Daleham he
yet knew her so little as to believe that the prospect of such an income,
joined to the favour in which he believed she held him, would make it an
easy matter to win her consent.

He imagined himself to be in love with the girl, but it was in the
Oriental's way--that is, it was merely a matter of sensual desire. Although
as jealous as Eastern men are in sex questions, the prospect of the money
quite reconciled him to the idea of sharing his wife with another. His
fancy flew ahead to the time, which he knew to be inevitable, when
possession would have killed passion and the money would bring new, and so
more welcome, women to his arms. The Rajah would only too readily permit,
nay encourage him to go to Europe--alone. And he gloated over the thought
of being again in London, but this time with much money at his command.
What was any one woman compared with fifty, with a hundred, others ready to
replace her?

So he calmly discussed with the Rajah the manner of carrying out their
nefarious scheme; and His Highness, to show his appreciation, invited him
to share his orgies that night. And in the smiles and embraces of a
Kashmiri wanton, Chunerbutty forgot the English girl.



CHAPTER VIII


A BHUTTIA RAID

Dermot's friendship with the Dalehams made rapid progress, and in the
ensuing weeks he saw them often. In order to verify his suspicions as to
the Bengalis, he made a point of cultivating the acquaintance of the
planters, paid several visits to Payne and other members of the community,
and was a frequent guest at the weekly gatherings at the club.

On one of his visits to Malpura he found Fred recovering from a sharp bout
of malarial fever, and Dermot was glad of an opportunity of requiting their
hospitality by inviting both the Dalehams to Ranga Duar to enable Fred to
recuperate in the mountain air.

The invitation was gladly accepted. Their host came to fetch them himself
with two elephants; Badshah, carrying a _charjama_, conveying them, while
the other animal bore their luggage and servants. With jealous rage in his
heart Chunerbutty watched them go.

Noreen enjoyed the journey through the forest and up the mountains, with
Dermot sitting beside her to act as her guide, for on this occasion
Ramnath drove Badshah. As they climbed the steep, winding road among the
hills and rose out of the damp heat of the Plains, Fred declared that he
felt better at once in the cool refreshing breezes that swept down from
the lofty peaks above. The forest fell away behind them. The great teak
and _sal_ trees gave place to the lighter growths of bamboo, plantain,
and sago-palm. A troop of small brown monkeys, feasting on ripe bananas,
sprang away startled on all fours and vanished in all directions. A
slim-bodied, long-tailed mongoose, stealing across the road, stopped in
the middle of it to rise up on his hind legs and stare with tiny pink
eyes at the approaching elephants. Then, dropping to the ground again
with puffed-out, defiant tail, he trotted on into the undergrowth angry
and unafraid.

Arrived at Ranga Duar the brother and sister exclaimed in admiration at the
beauty of the lonely outpost nestling in the bosom of the hills. They gazed
with interest at the stalwart sepoys of the detachment in khaki or white
undress whom they passed and who drew themselves up and saluted their
commanding sahib smartly.

Dermot had given up his small bungalow to his guests and gone to occupy
the one vacant quarter in the Mess. Noreen was to sleep in his bedroom,
and, as the girl looked round the scantily-furnished apartment with
its small camp-bed, one canvas chair, a table, and a barrack chest of
drawers, she tried to realise that she was actually to live for a while
in the very room of the man who was fast becoming her hero. For indeed
her feeling for Dermot so far savoured more of hero-worship than of
love. She looked with interest at his scanty possessions, his sword,
the line of riding-boots against the wall, the belts and spurs hung on
nails, the brass-buttoned greatcoat hanging behind the door. In his
sitting-room she read the names of the books on a roughly-made stand to
try to judge of his taste in literature. And with feminine curiosity she
studied the photographs on the walls and tables and wondered who were
the originals of the portraits of some beautiful women among them and
what was their relation to Dermot.

While her brother, who picked up strength at once in the pure air,
delighted in the military sights and sounds around him, the girl revelled
in the loveliness of their surroundings, the beauty of the scenery, the
splendour of the hills, and the glorious panorama of forest and plains
spread before her eyes. To Parker, who had awaited their arrival at
Dermot's gate and hurried forward to help down from Badshah's back the
first Englishwoman who had ever visited their solitary station, she took an
instant liking, which increased when she found that he openly admired his
commanding officer as much as she did secretly.

In the days that followed it seemed quite natural that the task of
entertaining Noreen should fall to the senior officer's lot, while the
junior tactfully paired off with her brother and took him to shoot on the
rifle range or join in games of hockey with the sepoys on the parade
ground, which was the only level spot in the station.

Propinquity is the most frequent cause of love--for one who falls headlong
into that passion fifty drift into it. In the isolation of that solitary
spot on the face of the giant mountains, Kevin Dermot and Noreen Daleham
drew nearer to each other in their few days together there than they ever
would have done in as many months of London life. As they climbed the hills
or sat side by side on the Mess verandah and looked down on the leagues of
forest and plain spread out like a map at their feet, they were apt to
forget that they were not alone in the world.

The more Dermot saw of Noreen, the more he was attracted by her naturalness
and her unconscious charm of manner. He liked her bright and happy
disposition, full of the joy of living. On her side Noreen at first hardly
recognised the quiet-mannered, courteous man that she had first known in
the smart, keen, and intelligent soldier such as she found Dermot to be in
his own surroundings. Yet she was glad to have seen him in his little world
and delighted to watch him with his Indian officers and sepoys, whose
liking and respect for him were so evident.

When she was alone her thoughts were all of him. As she lay at night
half-dreaming on his little camp-bed in his bare room she wondered what
his life had been. And, to a woman, the inevitable question arose in her
mind: Had he ever loved or was he now in love with someone? It seemed to
her that any woman should be proud to win the love of such a man. Was
there one? What sort of girl would he admire, she wondered. She had
noticed that in their talks he had never mentioned any of her sex or
given her a clue to his likes and dislikes. She knew little of men. Her
brother was the only one of whose inner life and ideas she had any
knowledge, and he was no help to her understanding of Dermot.

It never occurred to Noreen that there was anything unusual in her interest
in this new friend, nor did she suspect that that interest was perilously
akin to a deeper feeling. All she knew was that she liked him and was
content to be near him. She had not reached the stage of being miserable
out of his presence. The dawn of a woman's love is the happiest time in its
story. There is no certain realisation of the truth to startle, perhaps
affright, her, no doubts to depress her, no jealous fears to torture her
heart--only a vague, delicious feeling of gladness, a pleasant rose-tinted
glow to brighten life and warm her heart. The fierce, devouring flames come
later.

The first love of a young girl is passionless, pure; a fanciful, poetic
devotion to an ideal; the worship of a deified, glorious being who does
not, never could, exist. Too often the realisation of the truth that the
idol has feet of clay is enough to burst the iridescent glowing bubble. Too
seldom the love deepens, develops into the true and lasting devotion of the
woman, clear-sighted enough to see the real man through the mists of
illusion, but fondly wise enough to cherish him in spite of his faults,
aye, even because of them, as a mother loves her deformed child for its
very infirmity.

So to Noreen love had come--as it should, as it must, to every daughter of
Eve, for until it comes no one of them will ever be really content or feel
that her life is complete, although when it does she will probably be
unhappy. For it will surely bring to her more grief than joy. Life and
Nature are harder to the woman than to the man. But in those golden days in
the mountains, Noreen Daleham was happy, happier far than she had ever
been; albeit she did not realise that love was the magician that made her
so. She only felt that the world was a very delightful place and that the
lonely outpost the most attractive spot in it.

Even when the day came to quit Ranga Duar she was not depressed. For was
not her friend--so she named him now in her thoughts--to bring her on his
wonderful elephant through the leagues of enchanted forest to her home? And
had he not promised to come to it again very soon to visit--not her, of
course, but her brother? So what cause was there for sadness?

Long as was the way--for forty miles of jungle paths lay between Malpura
and Ranga Duar--the journey seemed all too short for Noreen. But it came
to an end at last, and they arrived at the garden as the sun set and
Kinchinjunga's fairy white towers and spires hung high in air for a
space of time tantalisingly brief. Before they reached the bungalow the
short-lived Indian twilight was dying, and the tiny oil-lamps began to
twinkle in the palm-thatched huts of the toilers' village on the estate.
And forth from it swarmed the coolies, men, women, children, not to
welcome them, but to stare at the sacred elephant. Many heads bent low,
many hands were lifted to foreheads in awed salutation. Some of the
throng prostrated themselves to the dust, not in greeting to their own
sahib but in reverence to the marvellous animal and the mysterious white
man bestriding his neck who was becoming identified with him.

When Dermot rode away on Badshah the next morning the same scenes were
repeated. The coolies left their work among the tea-bushes to flock to the
side of the road as he passed. But he paid as little attention to them as
Badshah did, and turned just before the Dalehams' bungalow was lost to
sight to wave a last farewell to the girl still standing on the verandah
steps. It was a vision that he took away with him in his heart.

But, as the elephant bore him away through the forest, Noreen faded from
his mind, for he had graver, sterner thoughts to fill it. Love can never be
a fair game between the sexes, for the man and the woman do not play with
equal stakes. The latter risks everything, her soul, her mind, her whole
being. The former wagers only a fragment of his heart, a part of his
thoughts. Yet he is not to blame; it is Nature's ordinance. For the world's
work would never go on if men, who chiefly carry it on, were possessed,
obsessed, by love as women are.

So Dermot was only complying with that ordinance when he allowed the
thoughts of his task, which indeed was ever present with him, to oust
Noreen from his mind. He was on his way to Payne's bungalow to meet the
managers of several gardens in that part of the district, who were to
assemble there to report to him the result of their investigations.

His suspicions were more than confirmed. All had the same tale to tell--a
story of strange restlessness, a turbulent spirit, a frequent display of
insolence and insubordination among the coolies ordinarily so docile and
respectful. But this was only in the gardens that numbered Brahmins in
their population. The influence of these dangerous men was growing daily.
This was not surprising to any one who knows the extraordinary power of
this priestly caste among all Hindus.

There was evidence of constant communication between the Bengalis on the
other estates and Malpura, which pointed to the latter as being the
headquarters of the promoters of disaffection. But few of the planters were
inclined to agree with Dermot in suspecting Chunerbutty as likely to prove
the leader, for they were of opinion that his repudiation and disregard of
all the beliefs and customs of the Brahmins would render him obnoxious to
them.

From Payne's the Major went on to visit some other gardens. Everywhere he
heard the same story. All the planters were convinced that the heart and
the brain of the disaffection was to be found in Malpura. So Dermot
determined to return there and expose the whole matter to Fred Daleham at
last, charging him on his loyalty not to give the faintest inkling to
Chunerbutty.

A delay in the advent of the rain, which falls earlier in the district of
the Himalayan foothills than elsewhere in India, had rendered the jungle
very dry. Consequently when Dermot on Badshah's neck emerged from it on to
the garden of Malpura, he was not surprised to see at the far end of the
estate a column of smoke which told of a forest fire. The wide, open
stretch of the plantation was deserted, probably, so Dermot concluded,
because all the coolies had been collected to beat out the flames. But, as
he neared the Daleham's bungalow, he saw a crowd of them in front of it.
Before the verandah steps a group surrounded something on the ground, while
the servants were standing together talking to a man in European clothes,
whom Dermot, when he drew nearer, recognised as Chunerbutty.

The group near the steps scattered as he approached, and Dermot saw that
the object on the ground was a native lying on his back, covered with blood
and apparently dead.

Chunerbutty rushed forward. He was evidently greatly agitated.

"Oh, Major Dermot! Major Dermot! Help! Help!" he cried excitedly. "A
terrible thing has happened. Miss Daleham has been carried off by a party
of Bhuttia raiders."

"Carried off? By Bhuttias?" exclaimed the soldier. "When?"

He made the elephant kneel and slipped off to the ground.

"Barely two hours ago," replied the engineer. "A fire broke out in the
jungle at the south edge of the garden--probably started purposely to draw
everyone away from the bungalows and factory. The manager, Daleham, and I
went there to superintend the men fighting the flames. In our absence a
party of ten or twenty Bhuttia swordsmen rushed the house. Miss Daleham had
just returned from her ride. Poor girl!"

He broke down and began to cry.

"Pull yourself together man!" exclaimed Dermot in disgust. "Go on. What
happened?"

"They seized and bound her," continued the Bengali, mastering his emotion.
"These cowards"--with a wave of his hand he indicated the servants--"did
nothing to protect her. Only the _syce_ attempted to resist, and they
killed him."

He pointed to the prostrate man.

"They tried to bear her off on her pony, but it took fright and bolted.
Then they tied poles to a chair brought from the bungalow and carried her
away in it."

"Didn't the servants give the alarm?" asked Dermot.

"No; they remained hiding in their quarters until we came. A coolie woman,
who saw the raiders from a distance, ran to us and told us. Fred went mad,
of course. He wanted to follow the Bhuttias, but I pointed out that it was
hopeless."

"Hopeless? Why?"

"There were only three of us, and they were a large party," replied
Chunerbutty.

"Yes; but you had rifles and should have been a match for fifty."

The Bengali shrugged his shoulders.

"We did not know in which way they had gone," he said. "We could not track
them."

"I suppose not. Well?"

"Fred and Mr. Parry have ridden off in different directions to the
neighbouring gardens to summon help. We sent two coolies with a telegram to
you or any officer at Ranga Duar, to be sent from the telegraph office on
the Barwahi estate. Then you came."

Dermot observed him narrowly. He was always suspicious of the Hindu; but,
unless the engineer was a good actor, there was no doubt that he was
greatly affected by the outrage. His distress seemed absolutely genuine.
And certainly there seemed no reason for suspecting his complicity in the
carrying off of Miss Daleham. So the Major turned to the servants and,
taking them apart one by one, questioned them closely. Chunerbutty had
given their story correctly. But Dermot elicited two new facts which they
had not mentioned to the engineer. One raider at least was armed with a
revolver, which was unusual for a Bhuttia, the difficulty of procuring
firearms and ammunition in Bhutan being so great that even the soldiers of
the Maharajah are armed only with swords and bows. The Dalehams'
_khansamah_, or butler, stated that this man had threatened all the
servants with this weapon, bidding them under pain of death remain in their
houses without raising an alarm.

"Do you know Bhutanese?" asked Dermot.

"No, sahib. But he spoke Bengali," replied the servant.

"Spoke it well?"

"No, sahib, not well, but sufficiently for us to understand him."

Another servant, on being questioned, mentioned the curious fact that the
man with the revolver conversed with another of the raiders in Bengali.
This struck Dermot as being improbable, but others of the servants
confirmed the fact. Having gathered all the information that they could
give him he went over to look at the dead man.

The _syce_, or groom, was lying on his back in a pool of blood. He had been
struck down by a blow from a sword which seemed to have split the skull.
But, on placing his ear to the poor wretch's chest, Dermot thought that he
could detect a faint fluttering of the heart. Holding his polished silver
cigarette case to the man's mouth he found its brightness slightly clouded.

"Why, he is still living," exclaimed the soldier. "Quick! Bring water."

He hastily applied his flask to the man's lips. Although he grudged the
time, Dermot felt that the wounded man's attempt to defend Noreen entitled
him to have his wound attended to even before any effort was made to rescue
her. So he had the _syce_ carried to his hut, and then, taking out his
surgical case, he cleansed and sewed up the gash. But his thoughts were
busy with Noreen's peril. The occurrence astonished him. Bhuttias from the
hills beyond the border occasionally raided villages and tea-gardens in
British territory in search of loot, but were generally careful to avoid
Europeans. Such an outrage as the carrying off of an Englishwoman had never
been heard of on the North-East Frontier.

There was no time to be lost if the raiders were to be overtaken before
they crossed the border. Indeed, with the start that they had, pursuit
seemed almost hopeless. Nevertheless, Dermot resolved to attempt it, and
single-handed. For he could not wait for the planters to gather, and
summoning his men from Ranga Duar was out of the question. He did not
consider the odds against him. Had Englishmen stopped to do so in India,
the Empire would never have been founded. With his rifle and the prestige
of the white race behind him he would not have hesitated to face a hundred
such opponents. His blood boiled at the thought of the indignity offered to
the girl; though he was not seriously concerned for her safety, judging
that she had been carried off for ransom. But he pictured the distress and
terror of a delicately nurtured Englishwoman at finding herself in the
hands of a band of savage outlaws dragging her away to an unknown and awful
fate. She was his friend, and he felt that it was his right as well as his
duty to rescue her.

With a grim determination to follow her abductors even to Punaka, the
capital of Bhutan, he swung his leg across Badshah's neck and set out,
having bade Chunerbutty inform Daleham and the planters that he had started
in pursuit.

The raiders had left the garden by a path leading to the north and headed
for the mountains. When Dermot got well clear of the bungalow and reached
the confines of the estate, he dismounted and examined the ground over
which they had passed. In the dust he found the blurred prints of a number
of barefooted men and in one place four sharply-defined marks which showed
where they had set down the chair in which Noreen was being carried,
probably to change the bearers. A mile or two further on the track crossed
the dry bed of a small stream. In the sand Dermot noticed to his surprise
the heel-mark of a boot among the footprints of the raiders, it being most
unusual for Bhuttias to be shod.

As his rider knelt down to examine the tracks, Badshah stretched out his
trunk and smelt them as though he understood the object of their mission.
And, as soon as Dermot was again on his neck, he moved on at a rapid pace.
It was necessary, however, to check constantly to search for the raiders'
tracks. The Bhuttias had followed an animal path through the jungle, and
Dermot seated on his elephant's neck with loaded rifle across his knees,
scanned it carefully and watched the undergrowth on either side, noting
here and there broken twigs or freshly-fallen leaves which marked the
passage of the chair conveying Noreen. Such signs were generally to be
found at sharp turnings of the path. Wherever the ground was soft enough or
sufficient dust lay to show impressions he stopped to examine the spot
carefully for footprints. Occasionally he detected the sharp marks of the
chair-legs or of the boot.

The trial led towards the mountains, as was natural. But after several
hours' progress Badshah turned suddenly to the left and endeavoured to
continue on towards the west. Dermot was disappointed, for he had persuaded
himself that the elephant quite understood the quest and was following the
trail. He headed Badshah again towards the north, but with difficulty, for
the animal obstinately persisted in trying to go his own way. When Dermot
conquered finally they continued towards the mountains. But before long the
soldier found that he had lost all traces of the raiding party. He cast
around without success and wasted much time in endeavouring to pick up the
trail again. At last to his annoyance he was forced to turn back and
retrace his steps.

At the spot where the conflict of opinion between him and the elephant had
taken place he cast about and found the track again. It led in the
direction in which Badshah had tried to take him. The elephant had been
wiser than he. Now, with an apologetic pat on the head, Dermot let him
follow the new path, wondering at the change of route, for it was only
natural to expect that the Bhuttias would have made for the hills by the
shortest way to the nearest pass into Bhutan. As the elephant moved along
his rider's eye was quick to recognise the traces of the passing of the
raiders, where no sign would have been visible to one unskilled in
tracking.

All at once Badshah slackened his pace and began to advance with the
caution of a tusker stalking an enemy. Confident in the animal's
extraordinary intelligence Dermot cocked his rifle. The elephant suddenly
turned off the path and moved noiselessly through the undergrowth for a few
minutes. Then he stopped on the edge of an open glade in the forest.

Scattered about in it, sitting or lying down half-asleep, were a number of
short, sturdy, brown-faced men with close cropped bare heads. Each was clad
in a single garment shaped like a Japanese _kimono_ and kilted up to expose
thick-calved, muscular bare legs by a girdle from which hung a _dah_--a
short, straight sword. A little apart from them sat Noreen Daleham in a
chair in which she was securely fastened and to which long carrying-poles
were tied. She was dressed in riding costume and wore a sun-helmet.

The girl was pale, weary, and dejected, and looked so frail and unfitted to
cope with so terrifying a situation that a feeling of immense tenderness
and an instinctive desire to protect her filled Dermot as he watched her.
Then passionate anger welled up in him as he turned his eyes again to her
captors; and he longed to make them pay dearly for the suffering that she
had endured.

But, despite his rage, he deliberated coolly enough on the best mode of
attack, as he counted the number of the raiders. There were twenty-two. The
soldier's quick eye instantly detected that one of them, although garbed
similarly to the rest, was in features unlike a Bhuttia and had not the
sturdy frame of a man of that race. He was wearing shoes and socks and was
the only one of the party not carrying a _dah_.

Dermot's first idea was to open fire suddenly on the raiders and continue
firing while moving about in cover from place to place on the edge of the
glade, so as to give the impression of a numerous force. But he feared that
harm might come to the girl in the fight if any of the Bhuttias carried
fire-arms, for they would probably fire wildly, and a stray bullet might
hit the girl. So he resolved on a bolder policy. While the raiders, who had
put out no sentries, lay about in groups unconscious of the proximity of an
enemy, Dermot touched Badshah with his hand, and the elephant broke
noiselessly out of the undergrowth and suddenly appeared in their midst.



CHAPTER IX


THE RESCUE OF NOREEN

There was a moment's consternation among the Bhuttias. Then they sprang to
their feet and began to draw their _dahs_. But suddenly one cried:

"The demon elephant! The devil man!"

Another and another took up the cry. Then all at once in terror they turned
and plunged panic-stricken into the undergrowth. All but two--the wearer of
shoes and a man with a scarred face beside him. While the rest fled they
stood their ground and called vainly to their companions to come back. When
they found themselves deserted the wearer of shoes pulled out a revolver
and fired at Dermot, while his scarred comrade drew his sword and ran
towards Noreen.

The soldier, ignoring his own danger but fearing for the girl's life, threw
his rifle to his shoulder and sent a bullet crashing through her
assailant's skull, then with his second barrel he shot the man with the
pistol through the heart. The first raider collapsed instantly and fell in
a heap, while the other, dropping his weapon, swayed for a moment,
staggered forward a few feet, and fell dead.

Only then could Dermot look at Noreen. In the dramatic moment of his
appearance the girl had uttered no sound, but sat rigid with her eyes fixed
on him. When the swordsman rushed at her she seemed scarcely conscious of
her peril but she started in terror and grew deadly pale when his companion
fired at her rescuer. When both fell her tension relaxed. She sank back
half-fainting in her chair and closed her eyes.

When she opened them again Badshah was kneeling a few yards away and Dermot
stood beside her cutting the cords that bound her.

She looked up at him and said simply:

"I knew you would come."

With an affectation of light-heartedness that he was far from feeling he
replied laughing:

"Of course you did. I am bound to turn up like the clown in the pantomime,
saying, 'Here we are again.' Oh, I forgot. I am a bit late. I should have
appeared on the scene when those beggars got to your bungalow."

He pretended to treat the whole affair lightly and made no further allusion
to her adventure, asking no questions about it. He was afraid lest she
should break down in the sudden relief from the strain and anxiety. But
there was no cause to fear it. The girl was quietly brave and imitated his
air of unconcern, behaving after the first moment as if they were meeting
under the most ordinary circumstances. She smiled, though somewhat feebly,
as she said:

"Oh, not a clown, Major Dermot. Rather the hero of a cinema drama, who
always appears in time to rescue the persecuted maiden. I am beginning to
feel quite like the unlucky heroine of a film play."

The cords fastening her had now been cut, so she tried to stand up but
found no strength in her numbed limbs.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm--I'm rather stiff," she said, sinking back into the
chair again. She felt angry at her weakness, but she was almost glad of it
when she saw Dermot's instant look of concern.

"You are cramped from being tied up," he said. "Don't hurry."

The cords had chafed her wrists cruelly. He stooped to examine the
abrasions, and the girl thrilled at his gentle touch. A feeling of shyness
overcame her, and she turned her eyes away from his face. They fell on the
bodies of the dead raiders, and she hastily averted her gaze.

"Hadn't we better hurry away from here?" she asked, apprehensively.

"No; I don't think there is any necessity. The men who ran away seemed too
scared to think of returning. But still, we'll start as soon as you feel
strong enough."

"What was it that they cried out?"

"Oh, merely an uncomplimentary remark about Badshah and me," he replied.

The girl made another attempt to rise and succeeded with his assistance. He
lifted her on to Badshah's pad and went over to examine the dead men. After
his first casual glance at the wearer of shoes he knelt down and looked
closely into the face of the corpse. Then he pulled open the single
garment. A thin cord consisting of three strings of spun cotton was round
the body next the skin, passing over the left shoulder and under the right
arm. This Dermot cut off. From inside the garment he took out some other
articles, all of which he pocketed. He then searched the corpse of the
scarred Bhuttia, taking a small packet tied up in cloth from the breast of
the garment. Noreen watched him with curiosity and marvelled at his courage
in handling the dead bodies.

He returned to the kneeling elephant and took his place on the neck.

"Hold on now, Miss Daleham," he said. "Badshah's going to rise. _Uth_"

Noreen gripped the surcingle rope tightly as the elephant heaved up his big
body and set off along a track through the jungle at a rapid pace.

"Now we are safe enough," said Dermot, turning towards his companion. "I
have not asked you yet about your adventures. Tell me all that happened to
you, if you don't mind talking about it."

"Oh, it was awful," she answered, shuddering at the remembrance. "And it
was all so sudden. There was a fire in the jungle near the garden, and Fred
went with the others to put it out. He wouldn't let me accompany him, but
told me to go for my ride in the opposite direction. I didn't stay away
long. I had just returned to the bungalow and dismounted and was giving my
pony a piece of sugar, when several Bhuttias rushed at me from behind the
house and seized me. Poor Lalla, my _syce_, tried to keep them off with his
bare hands, but one brute struck him on the head with his sword. The poor
boy fell, covered with blood. I'm afraid he was killed."

"No, he isn't dead," remarked Dermot. "I saw him, and I think that he'll
live."

"Oh, I'm so glad to hear it," exclaimed the girl. "Ever since I saw it I've
had before my eyes the dreadful sight of the poor lad lying on the ground
covered with blood and apparently lifeless. Well, to go on. I called the
other servants, but no one came. The Bhuttias tied my hands and tried to
lift me on to my pony's back, but Kitty got frightened and bolted. Then
they didn't seem to know what to do, and one went to a man who had remained
at a distance from us and spoke to him. He apparently told them to fetch a
chair from the bungalow and put me into it. I tried to struggle, but I was
powerless in their grasp. I was fastened to the chair, poles were tied to
it, and at a sign from the man who stood alone--he seemed to be the
leader--I was lifted up and carried off."

"Did you notice anything about this man--the leader?" asked Dermot.

"Yes, he was not like the others in face. He didn't seem to me to be a
Bhuttia at all. He was one of the two that you shot--the man with shoes. It
seems absurd, but do you know, his face appeared rather familiar to me
somehow. But of course I could never have seen him before."

"Are you sure that you hadn't? Think hard," said Dermot eagerly.

The girl shook her head.

"It's no use. I puzzled over the likeness most of the time that I was in
their hands, but I couldn't place him."

Dermot looked disappointed.

The girl continued:

"We went through the forest for hours without stopping, except to change
the bearers of my chair. I noticed that the leader spoke to one man only,
the man with the scars on his face whom you shot, too, and he passed on the
orders."

"Could you tell in what language these two spoke to each other?"

"No; they never talked in my hearing. In fact I noticed that the man with
shoes always avoided coming near me. Well, we went on and on and never
halted until we reached the place where you found us. It seemed to be a
spot that they had aimed for. I saw the scarred man examining some marks on
the trees in it and pointing them out to the leader, who then gave the
order to stop."

"How did they behave to you?"

"No one took any notice of me. They simply carried me, lifted me up, and
dumped me down as if I were a tea-chest," replied the girl. "Well, that is
all my adventure. But now please tell me how you came so opportunely to my
rescue. Was it by chance or did you follow us? Oh, I forgot. You said you
saw Lalla, so you must have been at Malpura. Did Fred send you?"

Dermot briefly related all that had happened. When he told her of his
dispute with Badshah about the route to be followed and how the elephant
proved to be in the right she cried enthusiastically:

"Oh, the dear thing! He's just the most wonderful animal in the world.
Forgive me for interrupting. Please go on."

When he had finished his tale there was silence between them for a little.
Then Noreen said in a voice shaking with emotion:

"How can I thank you? Again you have saved me. And this time from a fate
even more dreadful than the first. I'd sooner be killed outright by the
elephants than endure to be carried off to some awful place by those
wretches. Who were they? Were they brigands, like one reads of in Sicily?
Was I to be killed or to be held to ransom?"

"Oh, the latter, I suppose," replied Dermot.

But there was a doubtful tone about his words. In fact, he was at a loss to
understand the affair. It was probably not what he had thought it at
first--an attempt on the part of enterprising Bhuttia raiders to carry off
an Englishwoman for ransom. For when he overtook them they were on a path
that led away from the mountains, so they were not making for Bhutan. And
the identity of the leader perplexed him.

There could be no political motive for the outrage. The affair was a
puzzle. But he put the matter aside for the time being and began to
consider their position. The sun was declining, for the afternoon was well
advanced. As far as he could judge they were a long way from Malpura, and
it seemed to him that Badshah was not heading directly for the garden. But
he had sufficient confidence in the animal's intelligence to refrain from
interfering with him again. The pangs of hunger reminded him that he had
had no food since the early morning cup of tea at the planter's bungalow
where he had passed the night, for he had hoped to breakfast at Malpura. It
occurred to him that his companion must be in the same plight.

"Are you hungry, Miss Daleham?" he asked.

"Hungry? I don't know. I haven't had time to think about food," she
replied. "But I'm very thirsty."

"Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Oh, don't tantalise me, Major," she replied laughing. "I feel I'd give
anything for one now. But unfortunately there aren't any tea-rooms in this
wonderful jungle of yours."

Dermot smiled.

"Perhaps it could be managed," he said. "What I am concerned about is how
to get something substantial to eat, for I foolishly came away from
Granger's bungalow, where I stayed last night, without replenishing my
stores, which had run low. I intended asking you for enough to carry me
back to Ranga Duar. But when I heard what had happened--Hullo! with luck
there's our dinner."

He broke off suddenly, for a jungle cock had crowed in the forest not far
away.

"I wish I had a shot gun," he whispered. "But my rifle will have to do.
_Mul_, Badshah."

He guided the elephant quietly and cautiously in the direction from which
the sound had come. Presently they came to an open glade and heard the fowl
crow again. Dermot halted Badshah in cover and waited. Presently there was
a patter over the dry leaves lying on the ground, and a jungle cock, a bird
similar to an English bantam, stalked across the glade twenty yards away.
It stopped and began to peck. Dermot quietly raised his rifle and took
careful aim at its head. He fired, and the body of the cock fell to the
earth headless.

"What a good shot, Major!" exclaimed Noreen, who had been quite excited.

"It was an easy one, for this rifle's extremely accurate and the range was
very short. I fired at the head, for if I had hit the body with such a big
bullet there wouldn't have been much dinner left for us. Now I think that
we shall have to halt for a little time. I know that you must be eager to
get back home and relieve your brother's anxiety. But Badshah has been
going for many hours on end and has not delayed to graze on the way, so it
would be wise to give him a rest and a feed."

"Yes, indeed," said the girl. "He thoroughly deserves it."

She was not unwilling that the time spent in Dermot's company should be
prolonged. It was a sweet and wonderful experience to be thus alone with
him in the enchanted jungle. She had forgotten her fears; and the
remembrance of her recent unpleasant adventure vanished in her present
happiness. For she was subtly conscious of a new tenderness in his manner
towards her.

The elephant sank down, and Dermot dismounted and lifted the girl off
carefully. Noreen felt herself blushing as he held her in his arms, and she
was thankful that he did not look at her, but when he had put her down,
busied himself in taking off Badshah's pad and laying it on the ground.
Unstrapping his blankets he spread one and rolled the other up as a pillow.

"Now please lie down on this, Miss Daleham," he said. "A rest will do you
good, too. I am going to turn cook and show you how we fare in the jungle."

The girl took off her hat and was only too glad to stretch herself on the
pad, which made a comfortable couch, for the emotions of the day had worn
her out. She watched Dermot as he moved about absorbed in his task. From
one pocket of the pad he took out a shallow aluminium dish and a small,
round, convex iron plate. From another he drew a linen bag and a tin
canister.

"You said that you would like tea, Miss Daleham," he remarked. "Well, you
shall have some presently."

"Yes; but how can you make it?" she asked. "There's no water in the
jungle."

"Plenty of it."

"Are we near a stream, then?"

"No; the water is all round us, waiting for me to draw it off."

The girl looked about her.

"What do you mean? I don't see any. Where is the water?"

"Hanging from the trees," he replied, laughing. "I'll admit you into one of
the secrets of the jungle. But first I want a fire."

He gathered dried grass and sticks, cleared a space of earth and built
three fires, two on the ground with a large lump of hard clay on either
side of each, the third in a hole that he scraped out.

"To be consistent I ought to produce fire by rubbing two pieces of dried
wood together, as they do in books of adventure," he said, turning to the
interested girl. "It can be done. I have seen natives do it; but it is a
lengthy process and I prefer a match."

He took out a box and lit the fires.

"Now," he said, "if you'll see to these for me, I'll go and get the kettle
and crockery."

At the far end of the glade was a clump of bamboos. Dermot selected the
biggest stem and hacked it down with his _kukri_. From the thicker end he
cut off a length from immediately below a knot to about a foot above it,
trimmed the edges and brought it to Noreen. It made a beautifully clean and
polished pot, pale green outside, white within.

"There is your kettle and tea-pot," he said.

From a thinner part he cut off similarly two smaller vessels to serve as
cups.

"Now then for the water to fill the kettle," he said, looking around among
the creepers festooning the trees for the _pani bêl_. When he found the
plant he sought, he cut off a length and brought it to the girl, who had
never heard of it. Asking her to hold the bamboo pot he filled it with
water from the creeper, much to her astonishment.

"How wonderful!" she cried. "Is it really good to drink?"

"Perfectly."

"But how are you going to boil it?"

"In that bamboo pot."

"But surely that will burn?"

"No, the water will boil long before the green wood begins to be charred,"
replied Dermot, placing the pot over the first fire on the two lumps of
clay, so that the flames could reach it.

Then he opened the linen bag, which Noreen found to contain _atta_, or
native flour. Some of this he poured into the round aluminium dish and with
water from the _pani bêl_ he mixed dough, rolled it into balls, and patted
them into small flat cakes. Over the second fire he placed the iron plate,
convex side up, and when it grew hot put the cakes on it.

"How clever of you! You are making _chupatis_ like the natives do,"
exclaimed Noreen. "I love them. I get the cook to give them to us for tea
often."

She watched him with interest and amusement, as he turned the cakes over
with a dexterous flip when one side browned; then, when they were done, he
took them off and piled them on a large leaf.

"Who would ever imagine that you could cook?" Noreen said, laughing. "Do
let me help. I feel so lazy."

"Very well. Look after the _chupatis_ while I get the fowl ready," he
replied.

He cleaned the jungle cock, wrapped it up in a coating of wet clay and laid
it in the hot ashes of the third fire, covering it over with the red
embers.

Just as he had finished the girl cried: "The water is actually boiling? Who
would have believed it possible?"

"Now we are going to have billy tea as they make it in the bush in
Australia," said Dermot, opening the canister and dropping tea from it into
the boiling water.

Noreen gathered up a pile of well-toasted _chupatis_ and turned a smiling,
dimpled face to him.

"This is the jolliest picnic I've ever had," she cried. "It was worth being
carried off by those wretches to have all these delightful surprises. Now,
tea is ready, sir. Please may I pour it out?"

He wrapped his handkerchief round the pot before handing it to her.

"I suppose you haven't a dairy in your wonderful jungle?" she asked,
laughing.

"No; I'm sorry to say that you must put up with condensed milk," he
replied, producing a tin from a pocket of the pad and opening it with his
knife.

"What a pity! That spoils the illusion," declared the girl. "I ought to
refuse it; but I'll pass it for this occasion, as I don't like my tea
unsugared and milkless. No, I refuse to have a spoon." For he took out a
couple and some aluminium plates from the inexhaustible pad. "I'll stir my
tea with a splinter of bamboo and eat my _chupatis_ off leaves. It is more
in keeping with the situation."

Like a couple of light-hearted children they sat side by side on the pad,
drank their tea from the rude bamboo cups and devoured the hot _chupatis_
with enjoyment; while, invisible in the dense undergrowth, Badshah twenty
yards away betrayed his presence by tearing down creepers and breaking off
branches. In due time Dermot took from the hot ashes a hardened clay ball,
broke it open and served up the jungle fowl, from which the feathers had
been stripped off by the process of cooking. Noreen expressed herself
disappointed when her companion produced knives and forks from the magic
pockets of the pad.

"We ought to be consistent and use our fingers," she said.

When they had finished their meal, which the girl declared was the most
enjoyable one that she had ever had, Dermot made her rest again on the pad
while he cleaned and replaced his plates, cutlery, and cooking vessels.
Then, leaning his back against a tree, he filled and lit his pipe, while
Noreen watched him stealthily and admiringly. In the perfect peace and
silence of the forest encompassing them she felt reluctant to leave the
enchanted spot.

But suddenly the charm was rudely dispelled. A shot rang out close by, and
Dermot's hat was knocked from his head as a bullet passed through it and
pierced the bark of the tree half an inch above his hair. As though the
shot were a signal, fire was opened on the glade from every side, and for a
moment the air seemed full of whistling bullets. The soldier sprang to
Noreen, picked her up like a child in his arms, and ran with her to an
enormously thick _simal_ tree, behind which he placed her. Then he gathered
up the pad and piled it on her exposed side as some slight protection. At
least it hid her from sight.

As he did so the firing redoubled in intensity and bullets whistled and
droned through the glade. One grazed his cheek, searing the flesh as with a
red-hot iron. Another wounded him slightly in the neck, while a third cut
the skin of his thigh. He seemed to bear a charmed life; and the girl
watching him felt her heart stop, as the blood showed on his face and neck.
The flying lead sent leaves fluttering to the ground, cut off twigs, and
struck the tree-trunks with a thud. Flinging himself at full length on the
ground Dermot reached his rifle, then crawled to shelter behind another
tree.

He looked eagerly around for his assailants. At first he could see no one.
Suddenly through the undergrowth about thirty yards away the muzzle of an
old musket was pushed out, and then a dark face peered cautiously behind
it. The eyes in it met Dermot's, but that glance was their last. The
soldier's rifle spoke, and the face disappeared as its owner's body pitched
forward among the bushes and lay still. At the sharp report of the white
man's weapon the firing all around ceased suddenly. But the intense silence
that followed was broken by a strange sound like the shrill blast of a
steam whistle mingled with the crackling of sheets of tin rapidly shaken
and doubled. Noreen, crouching submissively in the shelter where Dermot had
placed her, thrilled and wondered at the uncanny sound.

The soldier knew well what it was. It was Badshah's appeal for help, and he
wondered why the animal had given it then, so late. But far away a wild
elephant trumpeted in reply. There was a crashing in the undergrowth as
Badshah dashed away and burst through the cordon of enemies encircling
them. Dermot's heart sank; for, although he rejoiced that his elephant was
out of danger, his sole hope of getting Noreen and himself away had lain in
running the gauntlet on the animal's back through their invisible foes.

As he gripped his rifle, keenly alert for a mark to aim at, his thoughts
were busy. He was amazed at this unexpected attack and utterly unable to
guess who their assailants could be. They were not the Bhuttias again, for
those had no guns. And the man that he had just shot was not a mountaineer.
Although it was evident that the firearms used were mostly old smooth-bore
muskets, and the smoke from the powder rose in clouds over the undergrowth
and drifted to the tree-tops, he had detected the sharp crack of a modern
rifle occasionally among the duller reports of the more ancient weapons.
The mysterious attackers were apparently numerous and completely surrounded
them. Dermot cursed himself for his folly in halting for food instead of
pushing on to safety without a stop. But he had calculated on the
superstitious fears of the Bhuttias who had been scared away by the sight
of him and Badshah; and indeed to all appearance he was right in so doing.
He could not reckon on new enemies springing up around them. Who could they
be? It was almost inconceivable that in this quiet corner of the Indian
Empire two English people could be thus assailed. The only theory that he
could form was that the attackers were a band of Bengali political
_dacoits_.

The firing started again. Dermot appeared to be so well hidden that none of
their enemies had discovered him, except the one unlucky wretch whose
courage had proved his ruin. The shots were being fired at random and all
went high. But there seemed no hope of escape; for it was evident from the
sounds and the smoke that the girl and he were completely surrounded. For
one wild moment he thought of rising suddenly to his feet and making a dash
through the cordon, hoping to draw all their enemies after him and give his
companion a chance of escape. But the plan was futile; for she would never
find her way alone through the jungle and would fall at once into the hands
of her foes.

Suddenly a heavy bullet struck the tree a foot above his head, evidently
fired from behind him. He instantly rolled over on his back and lay
motionless with his eyes half-closed, looking in the direction from which
the shot must have come. The bushes not ten yards away were parted quietly;
and a head was thrust out. With a swift motion Dermot swung his rifle round
until the muzzle pointed over his toes and, holding the weapon in one hand
like a pistol, fired point-blank at the assailant who had crept up quietly
behind him. Shot through the head the man pitched forward on his face,
almost touching the soldier's feet. Dermot saw that the corpse was that of
a low-caste Hindu, clad only in a dirty cotton _koorta_ and _dhoti_. A
Tower musket lay beside him.

The wild firing died down again. The sun was setting; and the soldier
judged that the attackers were probably waiting for darkness to rush him.
Why they did not do so at once, since they were so numerous, surprised him;
but he surmised that it was lack of courage. It was maddening to be obliged
to await their pleasure. He was far more concerned about the girl than for
himself. A feeling of dread pity filled his heart when he thought of what
her fate would be when he was no longer alive to protect her. Should he
kill her, he asked himself, and give her a swift and merciful death instead
of the horrors of outrage and torture that would probably be her lot if she
fell alive into the hands of these murderous scoundrels? In those moments
of tension and terrible strain he realised that she was very dear to him,
that she evoked in his heart a feeling that no other woman had ever aroused
in him.

The sun was going down; and with it Dermot felt that his life was passing.
He grudged losing it in an obscure and causeless scuffle, instead of on an
honourable field of battle as a soldier should. He wished that he had a
handful of his splendid sepoys with him. They would have made short work of
a hundred of such ruffians as now threatened him. But it was useless to
long for them. He drew his _kukri_ and laid it on the ground beside him,
ready for the last grim struggle. He had resolved to crawl to the girl when
darkness settled on the forest, and, before the rush came, give her the
chance of a swift and honourable death, shoot her if she chose it--as he
was confident that she would--then close with his foes until death came.

The light grew fainter. Dermot nerved himself for the terrible task before
him and was about to move, when with a light and unfaltering step Noreen
came to him.



CHAPTER X


A STRANGE HOME-COMING

Dermot dragged the girl down to the ground beside him as a shot rang out.

"I suppose they will kill us, Major Dermot," she said calmly. "But couldn't
you manage to get away in the darkness? You know the jungle so well. Please
don't hesitate to leave me, for I should only hamper you. Won't you go?"

Emotion choked the soldier for a moment. He gripped her arm and was about
to speak when suddenly the forest on every side of them resounded to a
pandemonium of noise: a chorus of wild shrieks, shots, the crashing of
trampled undergrowth, the death-yells of men amid the savage screams and
fierce trumpetings of a herd of elephants.

"Oh, what's that? What terrible thing is happening?" cried the girl.

Dermot seized her and dragged her close against the trunk of the tree. In
the gloom they saw men flying madly past them pursued by elephants. One
wretch not ten yards from them was overtaken by a great tusker, which
struck him to the ground, trampled on him, kicked and knelt upon his
lifeless body until it was crushed to a pulp, then placing one forefoot on
the man's chest, wound his trunk round the legs and seized them in his
mouth, tore them from the body, and threw them twenty yards away. All
around similar tragedies were being enacted; for the herd of wild elephants
had charged in among the attackers.

Dermot gathered the terrified girl in his arms and held her face against
his breast, so that she should be spared the horror of the sights about
them; but he could not shut out the terrible sounds, the agonised shrieks,
the despairing yells of the wretches who were meeting with an awful fate.
He remained motionless against the tree, hoping to escape the notice of the
fierce animals, whom he could see plunging through the jungle in pursuit of
their prey, for they were hunting the men down. Suddenly one elephant came
straight towards them with trunk uplifted. Dermot put the girl behind him
and raised his rifle; but with a low murmur from its throat the animal
lowered its trunk, and he recognised it.

"Thank God! we are saved," he said. "It's Badshah. He has brought his herd
to our rescue."

The girl clung to him convulsively and scarcely heard him; for the tumult
in the jungle still continued, though the terrible pursuit seemed to be
passing farther away. The giant avengers were still crashing through the
jungle after their prey; and an occasional heartrending shriek told of
another luckless wretch who had met his doom.

Dermot gently disengaged the clinging hands and repeated his words. The
girl, still shuddering, made an effort and rose to her knees.

Dermot went forward and laid his hand on the elephant's trunk.

"Thank you, Badshah," he said. "I am in your debt again."

The tip of the trunk touched his face in a gentle caress. Then he stepped
back and said: "Now we'll go at once, Miss Daleham. We won't stop this time
until we reach your bungalow."

The girl had already recovered her courage and stood beside him.

"But you are wounded. There's blood on your face and on your neck. Are you
badly hurt?"

Dermot laughed reassuringly.

"To tell you the truth I had forgotten all about it. They are only
scratches. The skin is cut, that's all. Come, we mustn't delay any longer."

At a word from him Badshah knelt. He hurriedly threw the pad on the
elephant's back and made him rise so that the surcingle rope could be
fixed. Then he brought the animal to his knees again and lifted Noreen on
to the pad. But before he took his own seat he searched the undergrowth
around the glade and found many corpses of men almost unrecognisable as
human bodies, so crushed and battered were they. From the number that he
came upon it was evident that most of their assailants had been slain. But
all the elephants except his had disappeared; and the sounds of the
massacre were dying away.

Slinging his rifle he climbed on to the pad; and Badshah rose and went
swiftly along a track that seemed to Dermot to lead towards Malpura. He did
not attempt to guide the elephant, but placed himself so that his body
would shield the girl from the danger of being struck by overhanging
boughs. He held her firmly as they were borne through the darkness that now
filled the forest; for the swift-coming Indian night had fallen.

"Keep well down, Miss Daleham," he said. "You must be on your guard against
being swept off the pad by the low branches."

"Oh, Major Dermot," cried the girl with a shudder, "have all these terrible
things really happened in the last few hours or has it all been a hideous
nightmare?"

"Please try not to think of them," he answered. "You are safe now."

"Yes; but you? You have to face these dangers again, since you are so much
in the jungle. Oh, my forest that I thought a fairyland! That such terrible
things can happen in it!"

"I can assure you that they are very unusual," he replied with a cheery
laugh. "You have been very fortunate; for you have crammed more excitement
and adventure into one day than I have seen previously in all my time in
the jungle."

"It all seems so incredible," she said. "Did you really mean that Badshah
brought his herd to our rescue? But I know he did. I heard him call them.
When he ran off I thought that he was frightened and had abandoned us. But
I did him a great injustice."

Her companion was silent for a moment. Then he said:

"Look here, Miss Daleham, we had better not tell that tale of Badshah quite
in that way. It would seem impossible, and no European would credit it.
Natives would, of course, for as it is they seem to look upon him as a god
already."

"Yes; but you think as I do, don't you?" she exclaimed in surprise. "Surely
you believe that he did bring the other elephants to save us."

"Yes, I do. I know that he did, for I--well, between ourselves I have seen
him do even more wonderful things. But others wouldn't believe us, and I
don't want to emphasise the marvellous part of the story. I'd rather people
thought that the _dacoits_, or whoever those men were who attacked us,
accidentally fell foul of a herd of wild elephants."

"Perhaps you are right. But _we_ know. It will be just our own secret and
Badshah's," she said dreamily.

Then she relapsed into silence. In spite of the terrible experiences
through which she had just passed she felt happy at the pressure of
Dermot's arm about her and the sensation of being utterly alone with him in
a world of their own, as they were borne on through the darkness. Fatigue
made her drowsy, and the swaying motion of the elephant's pace lulled her
to sleep.

She woke suddenly and for an instant wondered where she was. Then
remembrance came and she felt the warm blood mantle her face as she
realised that she was nestling in Dermot's arms. But, drowsy and content,
she did not move. Looking up she saw the stars overhead. They were out of
the forest.

"I must have been asleep," she said. "Where are we?"

"At Malpura. There are the lights of your bungalow," replied Dermot. He
said it almost with regret, for he had found the long miles through the
forest almost short, while the girl nestled confidingly, though
unconsciously, in his arms and he held her against his heart.

As the elephant neared the house Dermot gave a loud shout.

Instantly the verandah filled with men who rushed out of the lighted rooms
and tried to pierce the darkness. A little distance from the bungalow a
large number of coolies, seated on the ground, rose up and pressed forward
to the road. From behind the house several white-clad servants ran out.

Dermot shouted again and called out Daleham's name.

There was a frantic rush down the verandah steps.

"Hurrah! it's the Major," cried a planter.

"And--and--yes, Miss Daleham's with him. Hooray!" yelled another.

"Good old Dermot!" came in Payne's voice.

Through the throng of shouting, excited men the girl's brother broke.

"Noreen! Noreen! My God, are you there? Are you safe?" he cried
frantically.

Almost before Badshah sank to the ground, the girl, with a little sob,
sprang into her brother's arms and clung to him, while Dermot was dragged
off the pad by the eager hands of a dozen men who thumped him on the back,
pulled him from one to another, and nearly shook his arm off. The servants
had brought out lamps to light up the scene.

From the verandah steps Chunerbutty looked jealously on. He had been
relieved at knowing that the girl had returned, but in his heart he cursed
the man who had saved her. He was roughly thrust aside by Parry, who dashed
up the steps, ran into the house, and emerged a minute later holding a
large tumbler in his hand.

"Where is he, where is he? Look you, I know what he wants. Here's what will
do you good, Major," he shouted.

Dermot laughed and, taking the tumbler, drank its contents gratefully,
though their strength made him cough, for the bibulous Celt had mixed it to
his own taste.

"Major, Major, how can we thank you?" said Fred Daleham, coming to him with
his sister clinging to his arm.

But she had to release him and shake hands over and over again with all the
planters and receive their congratulations and expressions of delight at
seeing her safe and sound. Meanwhile her brother was endeavouring in the
hubbub to thank her rescuer. But Dermot refused to listen.

"Oh, there's nothing to make a fuss about I assure you, Daleham," he said.
"It was just that I had the luck to be the first to follow the raiders. Any
one else would have done the same."

"Oh, nonsense, old man," broke in Payne, clapping him on the back. "Of
course we'd all have liked to do it, but none of us could have tracked the
scoundrels like you could. How did you do it?"

"Yes; tell us what happened, Major."

"How did you find her, Dermot?"

"What occurred, Miss Daleham?"

"Did they put up a fight, sir?"

The eager mob of men poured a torrent of questions on the girl and her
rescuer.

"Easy on, you fellows," said Dermot, laughing. "Give us time. We can't
answer you all at once."

"Yes, give them a chance, boys. Don't crowd," cried one planter.

"Here! We can't see them. Let's have some light," shouted another.

"Where are those servants? Bring out all the lamps!"

"Lamps be hanged! Let's have a decent blaze. We'll have a bonfire."

Several of the younger planters ran to the stable and outhouses and brought
piles of straw, old boxes, anything that would burn. Others despatched
coolies to the factory near by to fetch wood, broken chests, and other
fuel. Several bonfires were made and the flames lit up the scene with a
blaze of light.

"Why, you're wounded, Dermot!" exclaimed Payne.

"Oh, no. Just a scratch."

"Yes, he is wounded, but he pretends it's nothing," said Noreen. "Do see if
it's anything serious, Mr. Payne."

"I assure you it's nothing," protested the soldier, resisting eager and
well-meant attempts to drag him into the house and tend his hurts by force.
But attention was diverted when a planter cried:

"Good Heavens! what's this? The elephant's tusk is covered with blood."

"Tusk! Why, he's blood to the eyes," exclaimed another.

For the leaping flames revealed the fact that Badshah's tusk, trunk, and
legs were covered with freshly-dried blood.

"Good Heavens! he's been wading in it."

"What's that on his tusk? Why, it's fragments of flesh. Oh, the deuce!"

There were exclamations of surprise and horror from the white men. But the
mass of coolies, who had been pressing forward to stare, drew back into the
darkness and muttered to each other.

"The god! The god! Who can withstand the god?" they whispered.

"_Arhé, bhai_! (Aye, brother!) But which is the god? The elephant or his
rider? Tell me that!" exclaimed a grey-haired coolie.

Among the Europeans the questions showered on Dermot redoubled.

"Look here, you fellows. I can't answer you all at once," he expostulated.
"It's a long story. But please remember that Miss Daleham has had a tiring
day and must be worn out."

"Oh, no, I'm not," exclaimed the girl. "Not now. I was fatigued, but I'm
too excited to rest yet."

"Come into the bungalow everyone and we'll have the whole story there,"
said her brother. "The servants will get supper ready for us. We must
celebrate tonight."

"Indeed, yes. Look you, it shall be very wet tonight in Malpura,
whateffer," cried Parry, who was already half drunk. "Here, boy! Boy! Where
is that damned black beastie of mine? Boy!"

His _khitmagar_ disengaged himself from the group of servants and
approached apprehensively, keeping out of reach of his master's fist.

"Go to the house," said Parry to him in Bengali. "Bring liquor here. All
the liquor I have. Hurry, you dog!"

He aimed a blow at him, which the _khitmagar_ dodged with the ease of long
practice and ran to execute his master's bidding.

Daleham gave directions to his butler and cook to prepare supper, and led
the way into the house with his arm round his sister, who, woman-like,
escaped to change her dress and make herself presentable, as she put it.
She had already forgotten the fatigues of the day in the hearty welcome and
the joy of her safe home-coming.

But before Dermot entered the bungalow he had water brought and washed from
Badshah's head and legs the evidences of the terrible vengeance that he had
taken upon their assailants. And from the verandah the planters looked at
animal and master and commented in low tones on the strange tales told of
both, for the reputation of mysterious power that they enjoyed with natives
had reached every white man of the district.

The crowd of coolies drifted away to their village on the tea-garden, and
there throughout the hot night hours the groups sat on the ground outside
the thatched bamboo huts and talked of the animal and the man.

"It is not well to cross this sahib who is not as other sahibs," said a
coolie, shaking his head solemnly.

"Sahib, say you? Is he only a sahib?" asked an old man. "Is he truly of the
_gora logue_ (white folk)?"

"Why, what else is he? Is not his skin white?" said a youth,
presumptuously thrusting himself into the conclave of the elders.

"Peace! Since when was it meet for children to prattle in the presence of
their grandsires?" demanded a grey-haired coolie contemptuously. "Know,
boy, that Shri Krishn's skin was of the same colour when he moved among us
on earth."

Krishna, the Second Person of the Hindu Trinity, the best-loved god of all
their mythological heaven, is represented in the cheap coloured oleographs
sold in the bazaars in India as being of fair complexion.

"Is he Krishna himself?" asked a female coolie eagerly, the glass bangles
on her arm rattling as she raised her hand to draw her _sari_ over her face
when she thus addressed men. "Is he Krishna, think you? He is handsome
enough to be the Holy One."

"Who knows, daughter? It may be. Shri Krishn has many incarnations," said
the old man solemnly.

"Nay, I do not think that he is Krishna," remarked an elderly coolie. "It
may be that he is another of the Holy Ones."

"Perhaps he is _Gunesh_," ventured a younger man.

"No; he bestrides _Gunesh_. I think he must be Krishna," chimed in another.
"What lesser god would dare to use Gunesh as his steed?"

"He is _Gunesh_ himself," asserted a grey-beard. "Does he not range the
jungle and the mountains at the head of all the elephants of the Terai? Can
he not call them to his aid as Hanuman did the monkeys?"

"He is certainly a Holy One or else a very powerful demon," declared the
old man. "It is an evil and a dangerous thing to molest those whom he
protects. The Bhuttias, ignorant pagans that they are, carried off the
missie _baba_ he favours. What, think ye, has been their fate? With your
own eyes ye have all seen the blood and the flesh of men upon the tusk and
legs of his sacred elephant."

And so through the night the shuttle of superstitious talk went backward
and forward and wove a still more marvellous garment of fancy to drape the
reputation of elephant and man. The godship that the common belief had long
endowed Badshah with was being transferred to his master; and a mere Indian
Army Major was transformed into a mysterious Hindu deity.

Meanwhile in the well-lighted bungalow in which all the sahibs were
gathered together the servants were hurriedly preparing a supper such as
lonely Malpura had never known. And Noreen's pretty drawing-room was
crowded with men in riding costume or in uniform--for most of the planters
belonged to a Volunteer Light Horse Corps, and some of them, expecting a
fight, had put on khaki when they got Daleham's summons. Their rifles,
revolvers, and cartridge belts were piled on the verandah. Chunerbutty,
feeling that his presence among them would not be welcomed by the white men
that night, had gone off to his own bungalow in jealous rage. And nobody
missed him. Dermot, despite his protests, had been dragged off to have his
hurts attended to, and it was then seen that he had been touched by three
bullets.

When all were assembled in the room the planters demanded the tale of
Noreen's adventures; and the girl, looking dainty and fresh in a white
muslin dress, unlike the heroine of her recent tragic experience, smilingly
complied and told the story up to the point of Dermot's unexpected and
dramatic intervention.

"Now you must go on, Major," she said, turning to him.

"Yes, yes, Dermot. Carry on the tale," was the universal cry.

Everyone turned an expectant face towards where the soldier sat, looking
unusually embarrassed.

"Oh, there's nothing much to tell," he said. "The raiders--they were
Bhuttias--had left a trail easy enough to see, though I confess that I
would have lost it once but for my elephant. When I came up to them, as
Miss Daleham has just told you, they all ran away except two."

"What did these two do?" asked Granger, his host of the previous night.

"Not much. They tried to stand their ground, but didn't really give much
trouble. So I took Miss Daleham up on my elephant and we started back. But
like a fool I stopped on the way to have grub, and somebody began shooting
at us from the jungle, until wild elephants turned up and cleared them off.
Then we came on here. That's all."

These was a moment's silence. Then Granger, in disgusted tones, exclaimed:

"Well, Major, of all the poor story-tellers I've ever heard, you're the
very worst. One would think you'd only been for a stroll in a quiet English
lane. 'Then we came on here. That's all.'"

"Oh, yes, you can't ask us to believe it was as tame as that, Major," said
another planter. "We expected to hear something a little more exciting."

"You go out after thirty or forty raiders--"

"No, only twenty-two all told," corrected Dermot.

"All right, only twenty-two, come back with three hits on you and your
elephant up to his eyes in blood and--and--well, hang it all, Major, let's
have some more details."

"Come, Miss Daleham," Payne broke in, "you tell us what happened. I know
Dermot, and we won't get any more out of him."

"Yes; let's hear all about it, Noreen," said her brother. "I'm sure it
wasn't as tame as the Major says."

"Tame?" echoed the girl, smiling. "I've had enough excitement to last me
all my life, dear. I think that Major Dermot has put it rather mildly. I'm
sure even I could tell the story better."

She narrated their adventures, giving her rescuer, despite his protests,
full credit for his courage and resource, only omitting the details of
their picnic meal and slurring over their relief by the wild elephants. The
planters listened eagerly to her tale, breaking into applause at times.
When she had finished Parry laid a heavy hand on Dermot's shoulder and said
solemnly, though thickly:

"Look you, you are a bad liar, Major Dermot. Your story would not deceive a
child, whateffer. But I am proud of you. You should have been a Welshman."

The rest overwhelmed the soldier with compliments and congratulations, much
to his embarrassment, and when Noreen left the room to supervise the
arrangement of the supper-table they plied him with questions without
extracting much more information from him. But when a servant came to
announce that the meal was ready and the planters rose to troop to the
dining-room, Dermot reached the door first and held up his hand to stop
them.

"Gentlemen, one moment, please," he said. Then he looked out to satisfy
himself that the domestic was out of hearing and continued: "I'd be obliged
if during supper you'd make no allusion before the servants to what has
happened today. Afterwards I shall have something to say to you in
confidence that will explain this request of mine."

The others looked at him in surprise but readily agreed. Before they left
the room Daleham noticed the Hindu engineer's absence for the first time.

"By Jove, I'd forgotten Chunerbutty," he exclaimed. "I wonder where he is?
Perhaps he doesn't know we're going to have supper. I'd better send the boy
to tell him."

"Indeed no, he is fery well where he is," hiccoughed Parry, who, seated by
a table on which drinks had been placed, had not been idle. "This is not a
night for black men, look you."

"Yes, Daleham, Parry's right," said Granger. "Let us keep to our own colour
tonight. Things might be said that wouldn't be pleasant for an Indian to
hear."

"Forgive my putting a word in, Daleham," added Dermot. "But I have a very
particular reason, which I'll explain afterwards, for asking you to leave
Chunerbutty out."

"Yes, we don't want a damned Bengali among us tonight, Fred," said a young
planter bluntly.

"Oh, very well; if you fellows would rather I didn't ask him I won't,"
replied their host. "But I'm afraid his feelings will be hurt at being left
out when we're celebrating my sister's safe return. He's such an old
friend."

"Oh, hang his feelings! Think of ours," cried another of the party.

"All right. Have it your own way. Let's go in to supper," said the host.

The hastily improvised meal was a merry feast, and the loud voices and the
roars of laughter rang out into the silent night and reached the ears of
Chunerbutty sitting in his bungalow eating his heart out in bitterness and
jealousy. Noreen, presiding at one end of the long table, was the queen of
the festival and certainly had never enjoyed any supper in London as much
as this impromptu meal. General favourite as she always was with every man
in the district, this night there was added universal gladness at her
escape and the feeling of satisfaction that the outrage on her had been so
promptly avenged. While the girl was pleased with the warmth and sincerity
of the congratulations showered upon her, she was secretly delighted to see
the high esteem in which all the other men held Dermot. He was seated
beside her and shared with her the good wishes of the company. His health
was drunk with all the honours after hers, and the planters did not spare
his blushes in their loudly-expressed praises of his achievements.
Cordiality and good humour prevailed, and, although the fun was fast and
furious, Parry was the only one who drank too much. Before he became
objectionable, for he was usually quarrelsome in his cups, he was
dexterously cajoled out of the room and safely shepherded to his bungalow.



CHAPTER XI


THE MAKING OF A GOD

Parry's departure served as a hint to Noreen that it was time for her to
say good-night to her guests and withdraw. As soon as she left the room
there was an instant hush of expectancy, and all eyes were turned to
Dermot. The servants had long since gone, but, after asking his host's
permission, he rose from his place and strolled with apparent carelessness
to each doorway in turn and satisfied himself that there were no
eavesdroppers. Then he shut the doors and asked members of the party to
station themselves on guard at each of them. The planters watched these
precautions with surprise.

Having thus made sure that he would not be overheard Dermot said:

"Gentlemen, a few of you already know something of what I am going to tell
you. I want you to understand that I am now speaking officially and in
strict confidence."

He turned to his host.

"I must ask you, Mr. Daleham (Fred looked up in surprise at the formality
of the mode of address) to promise to divulge nothing of what I say to your
friend, Mr. Chunerbutty."

"Not tell Chunerbutty, sir?" repeated the young planter in astonishment.

"No; the matter is one which must not be mentioned to any but Europeans."

"Oh, but I assure you, Major, Chunerbutty's thoroughly loyal and reliable,"
said Daleham warmly.

"I repeat that you are not to give him the least inkling of what I am going
to say," replied Dermot in a quiet but stern voice. "As I have already told
you, I am speaking officially."

The boy was impressed and a little awed by his manner.

"Oh, certainly, sir. I give you my word that I shan't mention it to him."

"Very well. The fact is, gentlemen, that we are on the track of a vast
conspiracy against British rule in India, and have reason to believe that
the activity of the disloyalists in Bengal has spread to this district. We
suspect that the Brahmins who, very much to the surprise of any one
acquainted with the ways of their caste, are working as coolies on your
gardens, are really emissaries of the seditionists."

"By George, is that really so, Major?" asked a young planter in a doubting
tone. "We have a couple of these Bengalis on our place, and they seem such
quiet, harmless chaps."

"The Major is quite right. I know it," said one of the oldest men present.
"I confess that it didn't occur to me as strange that Brahmins should take
such low-caste work until he told me. But I have found since, as others of
us have, that these men are the secret cause of all the trouble and unrest
that we have had lately among our coolies, to whom they preach sedition and
revolution."

Several other estate managers corroborated his statement.

"But surely, sir, you don't suspect Chunerbutty of being mixed up in this?"
asked Daleham. "He's been a friend of mine for a long time. I lived with
him in London, and I'm certain he is quite loyal and pro-British."

"I know nothing of him, Daleham," replied the soldier. "But he is a Bengali
Brahmin, one of the race and caste that are responsible for most of the
sedition in India, and we must take precautions."

"I'd stake my life on him," exclaimed the boy hotly. "He's been a good
friend to me, and I'll answer for him."

Dermot did not trouble to argue the matter further with him, but said to
the company generally:

"This outrageous attempt to carry off Miss Daleham--"

"Oh, but you said yourself, sir, that the ruffians were Bhuttias," broke in
the boy, still nourishing a grievance at the mistrust of his friend.

Dermot turned to him again.

"Do Bhuttias talk to each other in Bengali? The leader gave his orders
in that language to one man--who, by the way, was the only one he spoke
to--and that man passed them on to the others in Bhutanese."

This statement caused a sensation in the company.

"By Jove, is that a fact, Dermot?" cried Payne.

"Yes. These two were the men I shot. Do Bhuttias, unless they have just
looted a garden successfully--and we know these fellows had not--carry sums
like this?" And Dermot threw on the supper-table a cloth in which coins
were wrapped. "Open that, Payne, and count the money, please."

All bent forward and watched as the planter opened the knot fastening the
cloth and poured out a stream of bright rupees, the silver coin of India
roughly equivalent to a florin. There was silence while he counted them.

"A hundred," he said.

Dermot laid on the table a new automatic pistol and several clips of
cartridges.

"Bhuttias from across the border do not possess weapons like these, as you
know. Nor do they carry English-made pocket-books with contents like those
this one has."

He handed a leather case to Granger who opened it and took out a packet of
bank notes and counted them. "Eight hundred and fifty rupees," he said.

The men around him looked at the notes and at each other. A young engineer
whistled and said: "Whew! It pays to be a brigand. I'll turn robber myself,
I think. Poor but honest man that I am I have never gazed on so much wealth
before. Hullo! What's that bit of string?"

Dermot had taken from his pocket the cord that he had cut from the corpse
of the second raider and laid it on the table.

"Perhaps some of you may not be sufficiently well acquainted with Indian
customs to know what this is."

"I'm blessed if I am, Major," said the engineer. "What is it?"

"It's the _janeo_, or sacred cord worn by the three highest of the
original Hindu castes as a symbol of their second or spiritual birth and
to mark the distinction between their noble twice-born selves and the
lower caste once-born Súdras. You see it is made up of three strings of
spun cotton to symbolise the Hindu _Trimurti_ (Trinity), Brahma, Vishnu,
and Siva, and also Earth, Air, and Heaven, the three worlds pervaded by
their essence."

"Oh, I see. But where did you get it?" asked the engineer.

"Off the body of the second man that I shot, together with the pistol and
pocket-book. Now, Bhuttias do not wear the _janeo_, not being Hindus. But
high-caste Hindus do--and a Brahmin would never be without it."

"Oh, no. So you mean that the man wasn't a Bhuttia?"

"This is the last exhibit, as they say in the Law Courts," said Dermot,
producing a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles. "You don't find Bhuttias
wearing these."

"By Jove, no," said Granger, taking them up and trying them. "Damned good
glasses, these, and cost a bit, too."

Dermot turned towards Daleham.

"Do you remember showing me on this garden one day a coolie whom you said
was a B.A. of Calcutta University?"

"Yes; he was called Narain Dass," replied Fred. "We spoke to him, you
recollect, Major? He talked excellent English of the _babu_ sort."

"What has happened to him?"

"I don't know. He disappeared a short time ago. Deserted, I suppose, though
I don't see why he should. He was getting on well here."

Dermot smiled grimly and touched the cord and spectacles.

"The man who wore these, who led the Bhuttias in the raid, was Narain
Dass."

These was a moment's amazed silence in the room. Then a hubbub arose, and
there was a chorus of exclamations and questions.

"Good Heavens, is it possible, Major? He appeared to be such a decent,
civil chap," exclaimed Daleham.

"His face seemed familiar to me, as he lay dead on the ground," replied
Dermot. "I couldn't place him, though, until I found the spectacles. I put
them on his nose, and then I knew him. His hair was cropped close, he was
wearing Bhuttia clothes, but it was Narain Dass, the University graduate
who was working as a coolie for a few _annas_ a day."

"And he had eight hundred and fifty rupees on him," added the young
engineer.

"Yes; and if all the Bhuttias had as much as the one shot that meant over
two thousand."

"Where did they get it?"

"Who is behind all this?"

"The seditionists, of course," said an elderly planter.

"Yes; but today it isn't a question of an isolated outrage on one
Englishwoman, nor of a few Bengali lawyers in Calcutta and their dupes
among hot-headed students and ignorant peasants," said Dermot. "It's the
biggest thing we've ever had to face yet in India. What we want to get at
is the head and brains of the conspiracy."

"What do you make of this attempt on Miss Daleham?" asked Granger. "What
was the object of it?"

"Probably just terrorism. They wanted to show that no one is secure under
our rule. It may be that Narain Dass, who had worked on this garden and
seen Miss Daleham, suggested it. They may have thought that the carrying
off of an Englishwoman would make more impression than the mere bombing of
a police officer or a magistrate--we are too used to that."

"But why employ Bhuttias?" asked Payne.

"To throw the pursuers off the track and prevent their being run down. The
search would stop if we thought they'd gone across the frontier, so they
could get away easily. When they had got Miss Daleham safely hidden away in
the labyrinths of a native bazaar, perhaps in Calcutta, they'd have let
everyone know who had carried her off."

"Who was the other fellow with Narain Dass--the chap who talked Bengali?"

"Probably a Bhuttia who knew the language was given the Brahmin as an
interpreter."

"But I say, Major," cried a planter, "who the devil were the lot that
attacked you?"

"I'm hanged if I know," Dermot answered. "I have been inclined to believe
them to be a gang of political _dacoits_, probably coming to meet the
Bhuttias and take Miss Daleham from them, but in that case they would have
been young Brahmins and better armed. This lot were low-caste men and their
weapons were mostly old muzzle-loading muskets."

"Perhaps they were just ordinary _dacoits_," hazarded a planter.

"Possibly; but they must have been new to the business," replied the Major.
"For there wouldn't be much of an opening for robbers in the middle of the
forest."

"It's a puzzle. I can't make it out," said Granger, shaking his head.

The others discussed the subject for some time, but no one could elucidate
the mystery. At length Dermot said to Daleham:

"No answer has come to that telegram you sent to Ranga Duar, I suppose?"

"No, Major; though there's been plenty of time for a reply."

"It's strange. Parker would have answered at once if he'd got the wire, I
know," said Dermot. "But did he? Most of the telegraph clerks in this
Province are Brahmins--I don't trust them. Anyhow, if Parker did receive
the wire, he'd start a party off at once. It's a long forty miles, and
marching through the jungle is slow work. They couldn't get here before
dawn. And the men would be pretty done up."

"I bet they would if they had to go through the forest in the dark," said a
planter.

"Well, I want to start at daybreak to search the scene of the attack on us
and the place where I came on the Bhuttias. Will some of you fellows come
with me?"

"Rather. We'll all go," was the shout from all at the table.

"Thanks. We may round up some of the survivors."

"I say, Major, would you tell us a thing that's puzzled me, and I daresay
more than me?" ventured a young assistant manager, voicing the thoughts of
others present. "How the deuce did those wild elephants happen to turn up
just in the nick of time for you?"

"They were probably close by and the firing disturbed them," was the
careless answer.

"H'm; very curious, wasn't it, Major?" said Granger. "You know the habits
of the _jungli hathi_ better than most other people. Wouldn't they be far
more likely to run away from the firing than right into it?"

"As a rule. But when wild elephants stampede in a panic they'll go through
anything."

The assistant manager was persistent.

"But how did your elephant chance to join up with them?" he asked. "Judging
by the look of him he took a very prominent part in clearing your enemies
off."

"Oh, Badshah is a fighter. I daresay if there was a scrap anywhere near him
he'd like to be in it," replied Dermot lightly, and tried to change the
conversation.

But the others insisted on keeping to the subject. They had all been
curious as to the truth of the stories about Dermot's supposed miraculous
power over wild elephants, but no one had ever ventured to question him on
the subject before.

"I suppose you know, Major, that the natives have some wonderful tales
about Badshah?" said a planter.

"Yes; and of you, too, sir," said the young assistant manager. "They think
you both some special brand of gods."

"I'm not surprised," said the Major with assumed carelessness. "They're
ready to deify anything. They will see a god in a stone or a tree. You know
they looked on the famous John Nicholson during the Mutiny as a god, and
made a cult of him. There are still men who worship him."

"They're prepared to do that to you, Major," said Granger frankly. "Barrett
is quite right. They call you the Elephant God."

Dermot laughed and stood up.

"Oh, natives will believe anything," he said. "If you'll excuse me now,
Daleham, I'll turn in--or rather, turn out. I'd like to get some sleep, for
we've an early start before us."

"Yes, we'd better all do the same," said Granger, rising too. "How are you
going to bed us all down, Daleham? Bit of a job, isn't it?"

"We'll manage all right," replied the young host. "I told the servants to
spread all the mattresses and charpoys that they could raise anywhere out
on the verandah and in the spare rooms. I'm short of mosquito curtains,
though. Some of you will get badly bitten tonight."

"I'll go to old Parr's bungalow and steal his," said Granger. "He's too
drunk to feel any 'skeeter biting him."

"I pity the mosquito that does," joined in a young planter laughing. "The
poor insect would die of alcoholic poisoning."

"I've given you my room, Major," said Daleham. "I know the other fellows
won't mind."

No persuasion, however, could make Dermot accept the offer. While
the others slept in the bungalow, he lay under the stars beside his
elephant. The house was wrapped in darkness. In the huts in the compound
the servants still gossiped about the extraordinary events of the day,
but gradually they too lay down and pulled their blankets over their
heads, and all was silence. But a few hundred yards away a lamp still
burned in Chunerbutty's bungalow where the Hindu sat staring at the wall
of his room, wondering what had happened that day and what had been
said in the Dalehams' dining-room that night. For he had prowled about
their house in the darkness and seen the company gathered around the
supper-table. And he had watched Dermot shut the door between the room
and the verandah, and guessed that things were to be said that Indians
were not meant to hear. So through the night he sat motionless in his
chair with mind and heart full of bitterness, cursing the soldier by all
he held unholy.

Long before dawn Noreen, refreshed by sleep and quite recovered from the
fatigues and alarms of the previous day, was up to superintend the early
meal that her servants prepared for the departing company. No one but her
brother was returning to Malpura, the others were to scatter to their own
gardens when Dermot had finished with them.

As the girl said good-bye to the planters she warmly thanked each one for
his chivalrous readiness to come to her aid. But to the soldier she found
it hard, impossible, to say all that was in her heart, and to an onlooker
her farewell to him would have seemed abrupt, almost cold. But he
understood her, and long after he had vanished from sight she seemed to
feel the friendly pressure of his hand on hers. When she went to her rooms
the tears filled her eyes, as she kissed the fingers that his had held.

Out in the forest the Major led the way on Badshah, the ponies of his
followers keeping at a respectful distance from the elephant. When nearing
the scene of the fight the tracks of the avenging herd were plain to see,
and soon the party came upon ghastly evidences of the tragedy. The buzzing
of innumerable flies guided the searchers to spots in the undergrowth where
the scattered corpses lay. As each was reached a black cloud of blood-drunk
winged insects rose in the air from the loathsome mass of red, crushed
pulp, but trains of big ants came and went undisturbed. The dense foliage
had hidden the battered, shapeless bodies from the eyes of the soaring
vultures high up in the blue sky, otherwise nothing but scattered bones
would have remained. Now the task of scavenging was left to the insects.

Over twenty corpses were found. When an angry elephant has wreaked his rage
on a man the result is something that is difficult to recognise as the
remains of a human being. So out of the twenty, the attackers shot by
Dermot were the only ones whose bodies were in a fit state to be examined.
But they afforded no clue to the identity of the mysterious assailants. The
men appeared to have been low-caste Hindus of the coolie class. They
carried nothing on their persons except a little food--a few broken
_chupatis_, a handful of coarse grain, an onion or two, and a few
_cardamoms_ tied up in a bit of cloth. Each had a powder-flask and a small
bag with some spherical bullets in it hung on a string passed over one
shoulder. The weapons found were mostly old Tower muskets, the marks on
which showed that at one time they had belonged to various native regiments
in the service of the East India Company. But there were two or three
fairly modern rifles of French or German make.

These latter Dermot tied on his elephant, and, as there was nothing further
to be learned here, he led the way to the other spot which he wished to
visit. But when, after a canter along the narrow, winding track through the
dense undergrowth, jumping fallen trees and dodging overhanging branches,
the party drew near the open glade in which Dermot had overtaken the
raiders, a chorus of loud and angry squawks, the rushing sound of heavy
wings and the rustling of feathered bodies prepared them for
disappointment. When they entered it there was nothing to be seen but two
struggling groups of vultures jostling and fighting over what had been
human bodies. For the glade was open to the sky and the keen eyes of the
foul scavengers had detected the corpses, of which nothing was left now but
torn clothing, mangled flesh, and scattered bones. So there was no
possibility of Daleham's deciding if Dermot had been right in believing
that one of the two raiders that he had killed was the Calcutta Bachelor of
Arts. On the whole the search had proved fruitless, for no further clue to
the identity of either body of miscreants was found.

So the riders turned back. At various points of the homeward journey
members of the party went off down tracks leading in the direction of their
respective gardens, and there was but a small remnant left when Dermot said
good-bye, after hearty thanks from Daleham and cheery farewells from the
others.

He did not reach the Fort until the following day. There he learned that
Parker had never received the telegram asking for help. Subsequent
enquiries from the telegraph authorities only elicited the statement that
the line had been broken between Barwahi and Ranga Duar. As where it passed
through the forest accidents to it from trees knocked down by elephants or
brought down by natural causes were frequent, it was impossible to discover
the truth, but the fact that nearly all the telegraph officials were
Bengali Brahmins made Dermot doubtful. But he was able to report the
happenings to Simla by cipher messages over the line.

Parker was furious because the information had failed to reach him. He had
missed the opportunity of marching a party of his men down to the rescue of
Miss Daleham and his commanding officer, and he was not consoled by the
latter pointing out to him that it would have been impossible for him to
have arrived in time for the fight.

Two days after Dermot's return to the Fort he was informed that three
Bhuttias wanted to see him. On going out on to the verandah of his bungalow
he found an old man whom he recognised as the headman of a mountain village
just inside the British border, ten miles from Ranga Duar. Beside him stood
two sturdy young Bhuttias with a hang-dog expression on their Mongol-like
faces.

The headman, who was one of those in Dermot's pay, saluted and, dragging
forward his two companions, bade them say what they had come there to say.
Each of the young men pulled out of the breast of his jacket a little
cloth-wrapped parcel, and, opening it, poured a stream of bright silver
rupees at the feet of the astonished Major. Then they threw themselves on
their knees before him, touched the ground with their foreheads, and
implored his pardon, saying that they had sinned against him in ignorance
and offered in atonement the price of their crime.

Dermot turned enquiringly to the headman, who explained that the two had
taken part in the carrying off of the white _mem_, and being now convinced
that they had in so doing offended a very powerful being--god or devil--had
come to implore his pardon.

Their story was soon told. They said that they had been approached by a
certain Bhuttia who, formerly residing in British territory, had been
forced to flee to Bhutan by reason of his many crimes. Nevertheless, he
made frequent secret visits across the border. For fifty rupees--a princely
sum to them--he induced them to agree to join with others in carrying off
Miss Daleham. They found subsequently that the real leader of the
enterprise was a Hindu masquerading as a Bhuttia.

When they had succeeded in their object they were directed to go to a
certain spot in the jungle where they were to be met by another party to
which they were to hand over the Englishwoman. Having reached the place
first they were waiting for the others when Dermot appeared. So terrible
were the tales told in their villages about this dread white man and his
mysterious elephant that, believing that he had come to punish them for
their crime, all but the two leaders fled in panic. Several of the
fugitives ran into the party of armed Hindus which they were to meet, a
member of which spoke a certain amount of Bhutanese. Having learned what
had happened he ordered them to guide the newcomers' pursuit.

When the attack began the Bhuttias, having no fire-arms, took refuge in
trees. So when the herd swept down upon the assailants all the hillmen
escaped. But they were witnesses of the terrible vengeance of the powerful
devil-man and devil-elephant. When at last they had ventured to descend
from the trees that had proved their salvation and returned to their
villages these two confided the story to their headman. At his orders they
had come to surrender the price of their crime and plead for pardon.

Their story only deepened the mystery, for, when Dermot eagerly
questioned them as to the identity of the Hindus, he was again brought
up against a blank wall, for they knew nothing of them. He deemed it
politic to promise to forgive them and allow them to keep the money that
they had received, after he had thoroughly impressed upon them the
enormity of their guilt in daring to lay hands upon a white woman. He
ordered them as a penance to visit all the Bhuttia villages on each side
of the border and tell everyone how terrible was the punishment for such
a crime. They were first to seek out their companions in the raid and
lay the same task on them. He found afterwards that these latter had
hardly waited to be told, for they had already spread broadcast the
tale, which grew as it travelled. Before long every mountain and jungle
village had heard how the Demon-Man had overtaken the raiders on his
marvellous winged elephant, slain some by breathing fire on them and
called up from the Lower Hell a troop of devils, half dragons, half
elephants, who had torn the other criminals limb from limb or eaten them
alive. So, not the fear of the Government, as Dermot intended, but the
terror of him and his attendant devil Badshah, lay heavy on the
border-side.

Chunerbutty, kept at the soldier's request in utter ignorance of more
than the fact that Noreen had been rescued by him from the raiders, had
concluded at first that the crime was what it appeared on the surface--a
descent of trans-frontier Bhuttias to carry off a white woman for ransom.
But when these stories reached the tea-garden villages and eventually came
to his ears he was very puzzled. For he knew that, in spite of their
extravagance, there was probably a grain of truth somewhere in them. They
made him suspect that some other agency had been at work and another reason
than hope of money had inspired the outrage.

In the Palace at Lalpuri a tempest raged. The Rajah, mad with fury and
disappointed desire, stormed through his apartments, beating his servants
and threatening all his satellites with torture and death. For no news had
come to him for days as to the success or failure of a project that he had
conceived in his diseased brain. Distrusting Chunerbutty, as he did
everyone about him, he had sent for Narain Dass, whom he knew as one of the
_Dewan's_ agents, and given him the task of executing his original design
of carrying off Miss Daleham. To the Bengali's subtle mind had occurred the
idea of making the outrage seem the work of Bhuttia raiders. But for
Dermot's prompt pursuit his plan would have been crowned with success. The
girl, handed over as arranged to a party of the Rajah's soldiers in
disguise, would have been taken to the Palace at Lalpuri, while everyone
believed her a captive in Bhutan.

At length a few poor wretches, who had escaped their comrades' terrible
doom under the feet of the wild elephants and, mad with terror, had
wandered in the jungle for days, crept back starved and almost mad to the
capital of the State. Only one was rash enough to return to the Palace,
while the others, fearing to face their lord when they had only failure to
report, hid in the slums of the bazaar. This one was summoned to the
Rajah's presence. His tale was heard with unbelief and rage, and he was
ordered to be trampled to death by the ruler's trained elephants. Search
was made through the bazaar for the other men who had returned, and when
they were caught their punishment was more terrible still. Inconceivable
tortures were inflicted on them and they were flung half-dead into a pit
full of live scorpions and cobras. Even in these enlightened days there are
dark corners in India, and in some Native States strange and terrible
things still happen. And the tale of them rarely reaches the ear of the
representatives of the Suzerain Power or the columns of the daily press.



CHAPTER XII


THE LURE OF THE HILLS

A dark pall enveloped the mountains, and over Ranga Duar raged one of
the terrifying tropical thunderstorms that signalise the rains of India.
Unlike more temperate climes this land has but three Seasons. To her the
division of the year into Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter means
nothing. She knows only the Hot Weather, the Monsoon or Rains, and the
Cold Weather. From November to the end of February is the pleasant time
of dry, bright, and cool days, with nights that register from three to
sixteen degrees of frost in the plains of Central and Northern India.
In the Himalayas the snow lies feet deep. The popular idea that
Hindustan is always a land of blazing sun and burning heat is entirely
wrong. But from March to the end of June it certainly turns itself into
a hell of torment for the luckless mortals that cannot fly from the
parched plains to the cool mountains. Then from the last days of June,
when the Monsoon winds bring up the moisture-laden clouds from the
oceans on the south-west of the peninsula, to the beginning or middle
of October, India is the Kingdom of Rain. From the grey sky it falls
drearily day and night. Outside, the thirsty soil drinks it up gladly.
Green things venture timidly out of the parched earth, then shoot up as
rapidly as the beanstalk of the fairy tale. But inside houses dampness
reigns. Green fungus adorns boots and all things of leather, tobacco
reeks with moisture, and the white man scratches himself and curses the
plague of prickly heat.

But while tens of thousands of Europeans and hundreds of millions of
natives suffer greatly in the tortures of Heat and Wet for eight weary
months of the year in the Plains of India, up in the magic realm of the
Hills, in the pleasure colonies like Simla, Mussourie, Naini Tal,
Darjeeling, and Ootacamund, existence during those same months is one long
spell of gaiety and comfort for the favoured few. These hill-stations make
life in India worth living for the lucky English women and men who can take
refuge in them. And incidentally they are responsible for more domestic
unhappiness in Anglo-Indian households than any other cause. It is said
that while in the lower levels of the land many roads lead to the Divorce
Court, in the Hills _all_ do.

For wives must needs go alone to the hill-stations, as a rule. India is not
a country for idlers. Every white man in it has work to do, otherwise he
would not be in that land at all. Husbands therefore cannot always
accompany their spouses to the mountains, and, when they do, can rarely
contrive to remain there for six months or longer of the Season.
Consequently the wives are often very lonely in the big hotels that abound
on the hill-tops, and sometimes drift into dependence on bachelors on leave
for daily companionship, for escort to the many social functions, for
regular dancing partners. And so trouble is bred.

Major Dermot was no lover of these mountain Capuas of Hindustan, and had
gladly escaped from Simla, chiefest of them all. Yet now he sat in his
little stone bungalow in Ranga Duar, while the terrific thunder crashed and
roared among the hills, and read with a pleased smile an official letter
ordering him to proceed forthwith to Darjeeling--as gay a pleasure colony
as any--to meet the General Commanding the Division, who was visiting the
place on inspection duty. For the same post had brought him a letter from
Noreen Daleham which told him that she was then, and had been for some
time, in that hill-station.

The climate of the Terai, unpleasantly but not unbearably hot in the summer
months, is pestilential and deadly during the rains, when malaria and the
more dreaded black-water fever take toll of the strongest. Noreen had
suffered in health in the hot weather, and her brother was seriously
concerned at the thought of her being obliged to remain in Malpura
throughout the Monsoon. He could not take her to the Hills; it was
impossible for him to absent himself even for a few days from the garden,
for the care and management of it was devolving more and more every day on
him, owing to the intemperate habits of Parry.

Fred Daleham's relief was great when his sister unexpectedly received a
letter from a former school-friend who two years before had married a man
in the Indian Civil Service. Noreen, who was a good deal her junior, had
corresponded regularly with her, and she now wrote to say that she was
going to Darjeeling for the Season and suggested that Noreen should join
her there. Much as the prospect of seeing a friend whom she had idolised,
appealed to the girl (to say nothing of the gaieties of a hill-station and
the pleasure of seeing shops, real shops, again), she was nevertheless
unwilling to leave her brother. But Fred insisted on her going.

From Darjeeling she told Dermot in a long and chatty epistle all her
sensations and experiences in this new world. It was her first real letter
to him, although she had written him a few short notes from Malpura. It was
interesting and clever, without any attempt to be so, and Dermot was
surprised at the accuracy of her judgment of men and things and the
vividness of her descriptions. He noticed, moreover, that the social
gaieties of Darjeeling did not engross her. She enjoyed dancing, but the
many balls, At Homes, and other social functions did not attract her so
much as the riding and tennis, the sight-seeing, the glimpses of the
strange and varied races that fill the Darjeeling bazaar, and, above all,
the glories of the superb scenery where the ice-crowned monarch of all
mountains, Kinchinjunga, forty miles away--though not seeming five--and
twenty-nine thousand feet high, towers up above the white line of the
Eternal Snows.

Dermot was critically pleased with the letter. Few men--and he least of
all--care for an empty-headed doll whose only thoughts are of dress and
fashionable entertainments. He liked the girl for her love of sport and
action, for her intelligence, and the interest she took in the varied
native life around her. He was almost tempted to think that her letter
betrayed some desire for his companionship in Darjeeling, for in it she
constantly wondered what he would think of this, what he would say of that.

But he put the idea from him, though he smiled as he re-read his orders and
thought of her surprise when she saw him in Darjeeling. Would she really be
pleased to meet her friend of the jungle in the gay atmosphere of a
pleasure colony? Like most men who are not woman-hunters he set a very
modest value on himself and did not rate highly his power of attraction for
the opposite sex. Therefore, he thought it not unlikely that the girl might
consider him as a desirable enough acquaintance for the forest but a bore
in a ballroom. In this he was unjust to her.

He was surprised to discover that he looked forward with pleasure to seeing
her again, for women as a rule did not interest him. Noreen was the first
whom he had met that gave him the feeling of companionship, of comradeship,
that he experienced with most men. She was not more clever, more talented,
or better educated than most English girls are, but she had the capacity of
taking interest in many things outside the ordinary range of topics. Above
all, she inspired him with the pleasant sense of "chum-ship," than which
there is no happier, more durable bond of union between a man and a woman.

The Season brought the work in which Dermot was engaged to a standstill,
and, keen lover of sport as he was, he was not tempted to risk the
fevers of the jungle. Life in the small station of Ranga Duar was dull
indeed. Day and night the rain rattled incessantly on the iron roofs
of the bungalows--six or eight inches in twenty-four hours being not
unusual. Thunderstorms roared and echoed among the hills for twenty or
thirty hours at a stretch. All outdoor work or exercise was impossible.
The outpost was nearly always shrouded in dense mist. Insect pests
abounded. Scorpions and snakes invaded the buildings. Outside, from
every blade of grass, every leaf and twig, a thin and hungry leech waved
its worm-like, yellow-striped body in the air, seeming to scent any
approaching man or beast on which it could fasten and gorge itself fat
with blood. Certainly a small station on the face of the Himalayas is
not a desirable place of residence during the rains, and to persons
of melancholy temperament would be conducive to suicide or murder.
Fortunately for themselves the two white men in Ranga Duar took life
cheerily and were excellent friends.

       *       *       *       *       *

By this time Noreen considered herself quite an old resident of Darjeeling.
But she had felt the greatest reluctance to go when her brother had helped
her into the dogcart for the long drive to the railway. Fred was unable to
take her even as far as the train, for his manager had one of his periodic
attacks of what was euphemistically termed his "illness." But Chunerbutty
volunteered to escort Noreen to the hills, as he had been summoned again to
his sick father's side, the said parent being supposed to be in attendance
on his Rajah who had taken a house in Darjeeling for the season. As a
matter of fact his worthy progenitor had never left Lalpuri. However,
Daleham knew nothing of that, and, being empowered to do so when Parry was
incapacitated, gladly gave him permission to go and gratefully accepted his
offer to look after the girl on the journey.

Noreen would much have preferred going alone, but her brother refused to
entertain the idea. Although she knew nothing of the suspicions of her
Bengali friend entertained by Dermot, she sensed a certain disapproval on
his part of Fred's and her intimacy with Chunerbutty, and it affected her
far more than did the open objection of the other planters to the Hindu.
Besides, she was gradually realising the existence of the "colour bar,"
illiberal as she considered it to be. But it will always exist, dormant
perhaps but none the less alive in the bosoms of the white peoples. It is
Nature herself who has planted it there, in order to preserve the
separation of the races that she has ordained. So Noreen, though she hated
herself for it, felt that she would rather go all the way alone than travel
with the Hindu.

The thirty miles' drive to the station of the narrow-gauge branch railway
which would convey them to the main line did not seem long. For several
planters who resided near her road had laid a _dâk_ for her, that is, had
arranged relays of ponies at various points of the way to enable the
journey to be performed quickly. Noreen's heavy luggage had gone on ahead
by bullock cart two days before, so the pair travelled light.

After her long absence from civilisation the diminutive engine and
carriages of the narrow-gauge railway looked quite imposing, and it
seemed to the girl strange to be out of the jungle when the toy train
slid from the forest into open country, through the rice-fields and by
the trim palm-thatched villages nestling among giant clumps of bamboo.

In the evening the train reached the junction where Noreen and Chunerbutty
had to transfer to the Calcutta express, which brought them early next
morning to Siliguri, the terminus of the main line at the foot of the
hills, whence the little mountain-railway starts out on its seven thousand
feet climb up the Himalayas.

Out of the big carriages of the express the passengers tumbled reluctantly
and hurried half asleep to secure their seats in the quaint open
compartments of the tiny train. White-clad servants strapped up their
employers' bedding--for in India the railway traveller must bring his own
with him--and collected the luggage, while the masters and mistresses
crowded into the refreshment room for _chota hazri_, or early breakfast.
Noreen was unpleasantly aware of the curious and semi-hostile looks cast at
her and her companion by the other Europeans, particularly the ladies, for
the sight of an English girl travelling with a native is not regarded with
friendly eyes by English folk in India.

But she forgot this when the toy train started. As they climbed higher the
vegetation grew smaller and sparser, until it ceased altogether and the
line wound up bare slopes. And as they rose they left the damp heat behind
them, and the air grew fresher and cooler.

The train twisted among the mountains and crawled up their steep sides on a
line that wound about in bewildering fashion, in one place looping the loop
completely in such a way that the engine was crossing a bridge from under
which the last carriage was just emerging. Noreen delighted in the journey.
She chatted gaily with her companion, asking him questions about anything
that was new to her, and striving to ignore the looks of curiosity, pity,
or disgust cast at her by the other European passengers, among whom
speculation was rife as to the relationship between the pair.

The leisurely train took plenty of time to recover its breath when it
stopped at the little wayside stations, and many of its occupants got out
to stretch their legs. Two of them, Englishmen, strolled to the end of the
platform at a halt. One, a tall, fair man, named Charlesworth, a captain in
a Rifle battalion quartered in Lebong, the military suburb of Darjeeling,
remarked to his companion:

"I wonder who is the pretty, golden-haired girl travelling with that
native. How the deuce does she come to be with him? She can't be his wife."

"You never know," replied the other, an artillery subaltern named Turner.
"Many of these Bengali students in London marry their landladies' daughters
or girls they've picked up in the street, persuading the wretched women by
their lies that they are Indian princes. Then they bring them out here to
herd with a black family in a little house in the native quarter."

"Yes; but that girl is a lady," answered Charlesworth impatiently. "I heard
her speak on the platform at Siliguri."

"She certainly looks all right," admitted his friend. "Smart and
well-turned out, too. But one can never tell nowadays."

"Let's stroll by her carriage and get a nearer view of her," said
Charlesworth.

As they passed the compartment in which Noreen was seated, the girl's
attention was attracted by two gaily-dressed Sikkimese men with striped
petticoats and peacocks' feathers stuck in their flowerpot-shaped hats, who
came on to the platform.

"Oh, Mr. Chunerbutty, look at those men!" she said eagerly. "What are
they?"

The Hindu had got out and was standing at the door of the compartment.

"Did you notice that?" said Charlesworth, when he and Turner had got beyond
earshot. "She called him Mr. Something-or-other."

"Yes; deuced glad to hear it, too," replied the gunner. "I'd hate to see a
white woman, especially an English lady, married to a native. I wonder how
that girl comes to be travelling with the beggar at all."

"I'd like to meet her," said Charlesworth, who was returning from ten days'
leave in Calcutta. "If I ever do, I'll advise her not to go travelling
about with a black man. I suppose she's just out from England and knows no
better."

"She'd probably tell you to mind your own business," observed his friend.
"Hullo! it looks as if the engine-driver is actually going to get a move on
this old hearse. Let's go aboard."

More spiteful comments were made on Noreen by the Englishwomen on the
train, and the girl could not help remarking their contemptuous glances at
her and her escort.

When the train ran into the station at Darjeeling she saw her friend, Ida
Smith, waiting on the platform for her. As the two embraced and kissed each
other effusively Charlesworth muttered to Turner:

"It's all right, old chap. I'll be introduced to that girl before this time
tomorrow, you bet. I know her friend. She's from the Bombay side--wife of
one of the Heaven Born."

By this lofty title are designated the members of the Indian Civil Service
by lesser mortals, such as army officers--who in return are contemptuously
termed "brainless military popinjays" by the exalted caste.

Their greeting over, Noreen introduced Chunerbutty to Ida, who nodded
frigidly and then turned her back on him.

"Now, dear, point out your luggage to my servant and he'll look after it
and get it up to the hotel. Oh, how do you do, Captain Charlesworth?"

The Rifleman, determined to lose no time in making Noreen's acquaintance,
had come up to them.

"I had quite a shock, Mrs. Smith, when I saw you on the platform, for I was
afraid that you were leaving us and had come to take the down train."

"Oh, no; I am only here to meet a friend," she replied. "Have you just
arrived by this train? Have you been away?"

Charlesworth laughed and replied:

"What an unkind question, Mrs. Smith! It shows that I haven't been missed.
Yes, I've been on ten days' leave to Calcutta."

"How brave of you at this time of year! It must have been something
very important that took you there. Have you been to see your tailor?"
Then, without giving him time to reply, she turned to Noreen. "Let me
introduce Captain Charlesworth, my dear. Captain Charlesworth, this is
Miss Daleham, an old school-friend, who has come up to keep me company.
We poor hill-widows are so lonely."

The Rifleman held out his hand eagerly to the girl.

"How d'you do, Miss Daleham? I hope you've come up for the Season."

"Yes, I think so," she replied. "It's a very delightful change from down
below. This is my first visit to a hill-station."

"Then you'll be sure to enjoy it. Are you going to the
Lieutenant-Governor's ball on Thursday?"

"I don't suppose so. I don't know anything about it," she replied.
"You see, I've only just arrived."

"You are, dear," said Ida. "I told Captain Craigie, one of the A.D.C.'s,
that you were coming up, and he sent me your invitation with mine."

"Oh, how jolly!" exclaimed the girl. "I do hope I'll get some partners."

"Please accept me as one," said Charlesworth. Then he tactfully added to
Ida, "I hope you'll spare me a couple of dances, Mrs. Smith."

"With pleasure, Captain Charlesworth," she replied. "But do come and see us
before then."

"I shall be delighted to. By the way, are you going to the gymkhana on the
polo-ground tomorrow?"

"Yes, we are."

Charlesworth turned to Noreen.

"In that case, Miss Daleham, perhaps you'll be good enough to nominate me
for some of the events. As you have only just got here you won't have been
snapped up yet by other fellows. I know it's hopeless to expect Mrs. Smith
not to be."

Ida smiled, well pleased at the flattery, although, as a matter of fact, no
one had yet asked her to nominate him.

"I'm afraid I wouldn't know what to do," answered Noreen. "I've never been
to a gymkhana in India. I haven't seen or ridden in any, except at
Hurlingham and Ranelagh."

Charlesworth made a mental note of this. If the girl had taken part in
gymkhanas at the London Clubs she must be socially all right, he thought.

"They're just the same," he said. "In England they've only copied India in
these things. Have you brought your habit with you?"

"Yes; Mrs. Smith told me in her letters that I could get riding up here."

"Good. I've got a ripping pony for a lady. I'll raise a saddle for you
somewhere, and we'll enter for some of the affinity events."

The girl's eyes sparkled.

"Oh, how delightful. Could I do it, Ida?"

"Yes, certainly, dear."

"I should love to. It's very kind of you, Captain Charlesworth. Thank you
ever so much. It will be splendid. I hope I shan't disgrace you."

"I'm sure you won't. I'll call for you and bring you both down to Lebong if
I may, Mrs. Smith."

"Will you lunch with us then?" asked Ida. "You know where I am staying--the
Woodbrook Hotel. Noreen is coming there too."

"Thank you, I'll be delighted," replied the Rifleman.

"Very well. One o'clock sharp. Now we'll say good-bye for the present."

Charlesworth shook hands with both ladies and strode off in triumph to
where Turner was awaiting him impatiently.

"Now, dear, we'll go," said Ida. "I have a couple of _dandies_ waiting for
us."

"_Dandies_?" echoed the girl in surprise. "What do you mean?"

The older woman laughed.

"Oh, not dandies like Captain Charlesworth. These are chairs in which
coolies carry you. In Darjeeling you can't drive. You must go in
_dandies_, or rickshas, unless you ride. Here, Miguel! Have you got the
missie _baba's_ luggage?" This to her Goanese servant.

"Yes, _mem sahib_. All got," replied the "boy," a native Christian with the
high sounding name of Miguel Gonsalves Da Costa from the Portugese Colony
of Goa on the West Coast of India below Bombay. In his tweed cap and suit
of white ducks he did not look as imposing as the Hindu or Mohammedan
butlers of other Europeans on the platform with their long-skirted white
coats, coloured _kamarbands_, and big _puggris_, or turbans, with their
employers' crests on silver brooches pinned in the front. But Goanese
servants are excellent and much in demand in Bombay.

"All right. You bring to hotel _jeldi_ (quickly). Come along, Noreen," said
Mrs. Smith, walking off and utterly ignoring the Hindu engineer who had
stood by unnoticed all this time with rage in his heart.

Noreen, however, turned to him and said:

"What are you going to do, Mr. Chunerbutty? Where are you staying?"

"I am going to my father at His Highness's house," he replied. "I should
not be very welcome at your hotel or to your friends, Miss Daleham."

"Oh, of course you would," replied the girl, feeling sorry for him but
uncertain what to say. "Will you come and see me tomorrow?"

"You forget. You are going to the gymkhana with that insolent English
officer."

"Now don't be unjust. I'm sure Captain Charlesworth wasn't at all insolent.
But I forgot the gymkhana. You could come in the morning. Yet, perhaps, I
may have to go out calling with Mrs. Smith," she said doubtfully. "And how
selfish of me! You have your own affairs to see to. I do hope that you'll
find your father much better."

"Thank you. I hope so."

"Do let me know how he is. Send me a _chit_ (letter) if you have time. I am
anxious to hear. Now I must thank you ever so much for your kindness in
looking after me on the journey. I don't know what I'd have done without
you."

"It was nothing. But you had better go. Your haughty friend is looking back
for you, angry that you should stop here talking to a native," he said
bitterly.

Ida was beckoning to her; even at that distance they could see that she was
impatient. So Noreen could only reiterate her thanks to the Hindu and hurry
after her friend, who said petulantly when she came up:

"I do wish you hadn't travelled up with that Indian, Noreen. It isn't nice
for an English girl to be seen with one, and it will make people talk. The
women here are such cats."

Noreen judged it best to make no reply, but followed her irate friend in
silence. Their _dandies_ were waiting outside the station, and as the girl
got into hers and was lifted up and carried off by the sturdy coolies on
whose shoulders the poles rested, she thought with a thrill of the last
occasion on which she had been borne in a chair.



CHAPTER XIII


THE PLEASURE COLONY

A town on the hill-tops; a town of clubs, churches, and hotels, of luxury
shops, of pretty villas set in lovely gardens bright with English flowers
and shaded by great orchid-clad trees; of broad, well-kept roads--such is
Darjeeling, seven thousand feet above the sea.

At first sight there is nothing Oriental about it except the Gurkha
policemen on point duty or the laughing groups of fair-skinned,
rosy-cheeked Lepcha women that go chattering by him. But on one side the
steep hills are crowded with the confused jumble of houses in the native
bazaar, built higgledy-piggledy one on top of the other and lining the
narrow streets and lanes that are thronged all day by a bright-garbed
medley of Eastern races--Sikkimese, Bhuttias, Hindus, Tibetans, Lepchas.
Set in a beautiful glen are the lovely Botanical Gardens, which look
down past slopes trimly planted with rows of tea-bushes into the deep
valleys far below.

As Noreen was borne along in her _dandy_ she thought that she had never
seen a more delightful spot. Everything and everyone attracted her
attention--the scenery, the buildings, the varied folk that passed her on
the road, from well set-up British soldiers in red coats and white helmets,
smartly-dressed ladies in rickshas, Englishmen in breeches and gaiters
riding sleek-coated ponies, to yellow-gowned lamas and Lepcha girls with
massive silver necklaces and turquoise ornaments. She longed to turn her
chair-coolies down the hill and begin at once the exploration of the
attractive-looking native bazaar--until she reached the English shops with
the newest fashions of female wear from London and Paris, set out behind
their plate-glass windows. Here she forgot the bazaar and would willingly
have lingered to look, but Ida's _dandy_ kept steadily alongside hers and
its occupant chattered incessantly of the many forth-coming social
gaieties, until they turned into the courtyard of their hotel and stepped
out of their chairs.

When Ida had shown her friend into the room reserved for her she said:

"Take off your hat, dear, and let me see how you look after all these
years. Why, you've grown into quite a pretty girl. What a nice colour your
hair is! Do you use anything for it? I don't remember its being as golden
as all that at school."

The girl laughed and shook the sunlit waves of it down, for it had got
untidy under her sun-hat.

"No, Ida darling, of course I don't use anything. The colour is quite
natural, I assure you. Have you forgotten you used sometimes to call me
Goldylocks at school?"

"Did I? I don't remember. I say, Noreen, you're a lucky girl to have made
such a hit straight away with Captain Charlesworth. He's quite the rage
with the women here."

"Is he? Why?" asked the girl carelessly, pinning up her hair.

"Why? My dear, he's the smartest man in a very smart regiment. Very well
off; has lots of money and a beautiful place at home, I believe. Comes from
an excellent family. And then he's so handsome. Don't you think so?"

"Yes; he's rather good-looking. But he struck me as being somewhat
foppish."

"Oh, he's always beautifully dressed, if that's what you mean. You saw
that, even when he had just come off a train journey. He's a beautiful
dancer. I'm so glad he asked me for a couple of dances at the L.G.'s ball.
I'll see he doesn't forget them. I'll keep him up to his word, though
Bertie won't like it. He's fearfully jealous of me, but I don't care."

"Bertie? Who is--? I thought that your husband's name was William?" said
Noreen wonderingly.

Ida burst into a peal of laughter.

"Good gracious, child! I'm not talking of my husband. Bill's hundreds of
miles away, thank goodness! I wouldn't mind if he were thousands. No; I'm
speaking of Captain Bain, a great friend of mine from the Bombay side. He's
stationed in Poona, which is quite a jolly place in the Season, though of
course not a patch on this. But he got leave and came here because I did."

"Oh, yes, I see," replied Noreen vaguely, puzzled by Ida's remark about her
husband. She had seen the Civil Servant at the wedding and remembered him
as a stolid, middle-aged, and apparently uninteresting individual. But the
girl was still ignorant enough of life not to understand why a woman after
two years of marriage should be thankful that her husband was far away from
her and wish him farther.

"But I'm not going to let Bertie monopolise me up here," continued Mrs.
Smith, taking off her hat and pulling and patting her hair before the
mirror. "I like a change. I've come here to have a good time. I think I'll
go in and cut you out with Captain Charlesworth. He's awfully attractive."

"You are quite welcome to him, dear," said the girl.

"Oh, wait until you see the fuss the other women make of him. He's a great
catch; and all the mothers here with marriageable daughters and the spins
themselves are ready to scratch each other's eyes out over him."

"Don't be uncharitable, Ida dearest."

"It's a fact, darling. But I warn you that he's not a marrying man. He has
the reputation of being a terrible flirt. I don't think you'll hold him
long. He's afraid of girls--afraid they'll try to catch him. He prefers
married women. He knows we're safe."

Noreen said nothing, but began to open and unpack her trunks. In India, the
land of servants, where a bachelor officer has seven or more, a lady has
usually to do without a maid, for the _ayah_, or native female domestic, is
generally a failure in that capacity. In the hotels Indian "boys" replace
the chambermaids of Europe.

Ida rattled on.

"Of course, Bertie's awfully useful. A tame cat--and he's a well-trained
one--is a handy thing to have about you, especially up here. You need
someone to take you to races and gymkhanas and to fill up blanks on your
programme at dances, as well as getting your ricksha or _dandy_ for you
when they're over."

Noreen laughed, amused at the frankness of the statement.

"And where is the redoubtable Captain Bain, dear?"

"You'll see him soon. I let him off today until it's time for him to call
to take us to the Amusement Club. He was anxious to see you. He wanted to
come with me to the station, but I said he'd only be in the way. I knew
Miguel would be much more useful in getting your luggage. Bertie's so slow.
Still, he's rather a dear. Remember, he's my property. You mustn't poach."

Noreen laughed again and said:

"If he admires you, dear, I'm sure no one could take him from you."

"My dear girl, you never can trust any man," said her friend seriously.
Then, glancing at herself in the mirror, she continued modestly:

"I know I'm not bad-looking, and lots of men do admire me. Bertie says I'm
a ripper."

She certainly was decidedly pretty, though of a type of beauty that would
fade early. Vain and empty-headed, she was, nevertheless, popular with the
class of men who are content with a shallow, silly woman with whom it is
easy to flirt. They described her as "good fun and not a bit strait-laced."
Noreen knew nothing of this side of her friend, for she had not seen her
since her marriage, and honestly thought her beautiful and fascinating.

Ida picked up her hat and parasol and said:

"Now I'll leave you to get straight, darling child, and come back to you
later on."

She looked into the glass again and went on:

"It's so nice to have you here. A woman alone is rather out of it,
especially if she comes from the other side of India and doesn't know
Calcutta people. Now it'll be all right when there are two of us. The cats
can't say horrid things about me and Bertie--though it's only the old
frumps that can't get a man who do. I _am_ glad you've come. We'll have
such fun."

       *       *       *       *       *

Captain Bain, a dapper little man, designed by Nature to be the "tame cat"
of some married woman, was punctual when the time came to take the two
ladies to the Amusement Club. Noreen had very dubiously donned her smartest
frock which, having just been taken out of a trunk after a long journey,
seemed very crushed, creased, and dowdy compared with the freshness and
daintiness of Ida's _toilette._ Men as a rule understand nothing of the
agonies endured by a woman who must face the unfriendly stares of other
women in a gown that she feels will invite pitiless criticism.

But for the moment the girl forgot her worries as they turned out of the
hotel gate and reached the Chaurasta, the meeting of the "four-ways,"
nearly as busy a cross-roads as (and infinitely more beautiful than) Carfax
at Oxford or the Quattro Canti in Palermo. To the east the hill of
Jalapahar towered a thousand feet above Darjeeling, crowned with bungalows
and barracks. To the north the ground fell as sharply; and a thousand feet
below Darjeeling lay Lebong, set out on a flattened hilltop. On three sides
of this military suburb the hill sloped steeply to the valleys below. But
beyond them, tumbled mass upon mass, rose the great mountains barring the
way to Sikkim and Tibet, towering to the clouds that hid the white summits
of the Eternal Snows.

Bain walked his pony beside Noreen's chair and named the various points of
the scenery around them. Then, when Noreen had inscribed her name in the
Visitors' Book at Government House, they entered the Amusement Club.

Noreen was overcome with shyness at finding herself, after her months
of isolation, among scores of white folk, all strangers to her. Ida
unconcernedly led the way into the large hall which was used as a
roller-skating rink, along one side of which were set out dozens of
little tables around which sat ladies in smart frocks that made the girl
more painfully conscious of what she considered to be the deficiencies
of her own costume. She saw one or two of the women that had travelled
up in the train that day stare at her and then lean forward and make
some remark about her to their companions at the table. She was
profoundly thankful when the ordeal was over and, in Ida's wake, she had
got out of the rink. Conscious only of the critical glances of her own
sex, she was not aware of the admiring looks cast at her by many men in
the groups around the tables.

But later on in the evening she found herself seated at one of those same
tables that an hour before had seemed to her a bench of stern judges. She
formed one of a laughing, chattering group of Ida's acquaintances. More at
ease now, the girl watched the people around her with interest. For a year
she had seen no larger gathering of her own race than the weekly meetings
at the planters' little club in the jungle, with the one exception of a
_durbar_ at Jalpaiguri.

Yet despite Ida's company she was feeling lonely and a little depressed, a
stranger in a crowd, when she saw Captain Charlesworth enter the rink,
accompanied by another man. Recent as had been their meeting, he seemed
quite an old friend among all these unknown people about her, and she
almost hoped that he would come and speak to her. He sauntered through the
hall, bowing casually to many ladies, some of whom, the girl noticed, made
rather obvious efforts to detain him. But he ignored them and looked
around, as if in search of some particular person. Suddenly his eyes met
Noreen's, and he promptly came straight to her table. He shook hands with
Mrs. Smith and bowed to the other ladies in the group, introduced his
companion, a new arrival to his battalion, and, securing a chair beside
Noreen, plunged into a light and animated conversation with her. The girl
could not help feeling a little pleased when she saw the looks of surprise
and annoyance on the faces of some of the women at the other tables. But
Charlesworth was not allowed to have it all his own way with her. Bain and
an Indian Army officer named Melville also claimed her attention. The
knowledge that we are appreciated tends to make most of us appear at our
best, and Noreen soon forgot her shyness and loneliness and became her
usual natural, bright self. Ida looked on indulgently and smiled at her
patronisingly, as though Noreen's little personal triumph were due to her.

Noreen slept soundly that night, and although she had meant to get up early
and see Kinchinjunga and the snows when the sun rose, it was late when her
hostess came to her room. After breakfast Ida took her out shopping. Only a
woman can realise what a delight it was to the girl, after being divorced
for a whole year from the sight of shops and the possibility of
replenishing her wardrobe, or purchasing the thousand little necessities of
the female toilet, to enter milliners' and dressmakers' shops where the
latest, or very nearly the latest, _modes_ of the day in hats and gowns
were to be seen.

Charlesworth came to lunch in a smart riding-kit, looking particularly
well-groomed and handsome. The girl was quite excited about the gymkhana,
and plied him with innumerable questions as to what she would have to do.
She learned that they were to enter for two affinity events. In one of
these the lady was to tilt with a billiard-cue at three suspended rings,
while the man, carrying a spear and a sword, took a tent-peg with the
former, threw the lance away, cut off a Turk's head in wood with the sword,
and then took another peg with the same weapon. The other competition was
named the Gretna Green Stakes, and in it the pair were to ride hand in hand
over three hurdles, dismount and sign their names in a book, then mount
again and return hand in hand over the jumps to the winning-post.

The polo-ground at Lebong that afternoon presented an animated scene,
filled with colour by the bright-hued garments of the thousands of native
spectators surrounding it, the uniforms of the British soldiers in the
crowd, and the frocks of the English ladies in the reserved enclosure,
where in large white marquees the officers of Charlesworth's regiment acted
as hosts to the European visitors. Down the precipitous road to it from
Darjeeling came swarms of mixed Eastern races in picturesque garb, Gurkha
soldiers in uniform, and British gunners from Jalapahar; and through the
throngs Englishmen on ponies, and _dandies_ and rickshas carrying ladies in
smart summer frocks, could scarcely make their way.

When Mrs. Smith's party reached the enclosure and shook hands with the wife
of the Colonel of the Rifles, who was the senior hostess, Noreen was not
troubled by the feeling of shyness that had assailed her at the Club on the
previous evening. She had the comforting knowledge that her habit and boots
from the best West End makers were beyond cavil. But she was too excited at
the thought of the approaching contests to think much of her appearance.
Charlesworth took her to see the pony that she was to ride, and, as she
passed through the enclosure, she did not hear the admiring remarks of many
of the men and, indeed, of some of the women. For in India even an
ordinarily pretty girl will be thought beautiful, and Noreen was more than
ordinarily pretty. Her mount she found to be a well-shaped, fourteen-two
grey Arab, with the perfect manners of his race; and she instantly lost her
heart to him as he rubbed his velvety muzzle against her cheek.

The gymkhana opened with men's competitions, the first event in which
ladies were to take part, the Tilting and Tent-pegging, not occurring until
nearly half-way down the programme. Noreen was awaiting it too anxiously to
enjoy, as she otherwise would, the novel scene, the gaiety, the band in the
enclosure, the well-dressed throngs of English folk, the gaudy colours of
the crowds squatting round the polo-ground and wondering at the strange
diversions of the sahib-_logue_. Charlesworth did well in the men's event,
securing two first prizes and a third, and Noreen could not help admiring
him in the saddle. He was a graceful as well as a good rider. Indeed, he
was No. 2 in the regimental polo team, which was one of the best in India
at the time.

When the moment for their competition came at last and he swung her
up into her saddle, Noreen's heart beat violently and her bridle-hand
shook. But when, after other couples had ridden the course, their names
were called and a billiard-cue given her, the girl's nerves steadied at
once and she was perfectly cool as she reined back her impatient pony at
the starting-line. The signal was given, and she and her partner dashed
down the course at a gallop. They did well, Charlesworth securing the
two pegs and cutting the Turk's head, while his affinity carried off two
rings and touched the third. No others had been as fortunate, and cheers
from the soldiers and plaudits from the enclosure greeted their success.
Noreen was encouraged, and a becoming colour flushed her face at the
applause. The last couple to ride tied with them, the lady taking all
the rings, her partner getting the Turk's head and one peg and touching
the second. The tie was run off at once. Noreen, to her delight, found
the three rings on her cue when she pulled up at the end of the course,
although she hardly remembered taking them, while Charlesworth had made
no mistake. Daunted by this result, their rivals lost their heads and
missed everything in their second run.

Noreen, on her return to the enclosure, was again loudly cheered by the
men, the applause of the ladies being noticeably fainter, possibly because
they resented a new arrival's success. But the girl was too pleasantly
surprised at her good luck to observe this, and responded gratefully to the
congratulations showered on her. She was no longer too excited to notice
her surroundings, and now was able to enjoy the scenery, the music, the gay
crowds, the frocks, as well as her tea when Charlesworth escorted her to
the Mess Tent.

In the Gretna Green Stakes she and her partner were not so fortunate. Over
the second hurdle in the run home Charlesworth's pony blundered badly and
he was forced to release his hold on the girl's hand. When the event came
for which he had originally requested her to nominate him, she suggested
that he should ask Mrs. Smith to do so instead. He was skilled enough in
the ways of women not to demur, and he did as he was wanted so tactfully
that Ida believed it to be his own idea. So, when the gymkhana ended and
Noreen and her chaperone said good-bye, he felt that he had advanced a good
deal in the girl's favour.

During the afternoon Noreen caught sight of Chunerbutty talking to a fat
and sensual-looking native in white linen garments with a string of
roughly-cut but very large diamonds round his neck and several obsequious
satellites standing behind him. They were covertly watching her, but when,
catching the engineer's eye, she bowed to him, the fat man leant forward
and stared boldly at her. She guessed him to be the Rajah of Lalpuri, who
had been pointed out to her once at the Lieutenant-Governor's _durbar_ at
Jalpaiguri.

That evening a note from Chunerbutty, telling her that his father was
better though still in a precarious state, was left at her hotel. But the
engineer did not call on her.

The ball on the Thursday night at Government House was all that Noreen
anticipated it would be. Among the hundreds of guests there were a few
Indian men of rank and a number of Parsis of both sexes--the women adding
bright colours to the scene by the beautiful hues of their _saris_, as the
silk shawls worn over their heads are called. During the evening Noreen saw
Chunerbutty standing at the door of the ballroom with the fat man, who was
now adorned with jewels and wearing a magnificent diamond _aigrette_ in his
_puggri,_ and gloating with a lustful gaze over the bared necks and bosoms
of the English ladies. The native of India, where the females of all races
veil their faces, looks on white women, who lavishly display their charms
to the eyes of all beholders, as immodest and immoral. And he judges
harshly the freedom--the sometimes extreme freedom--of intercourse between
English wives and men who are not their husbands.

Later in the evening, when Noreen was sitting in the central lounge with
Captain Bain during an interval, Chunerbutty approached her with the fat
man. Coming up to her alone the engineer said:

"Miss Daleham, may I present His Highness the Rajah of Lalpuri to you?"

Noreen felt Captain Bain stiffen, but she replied courteously:

"Certainly, Mr. Chunerbutty."

The Rajah stepped forward, and on being introduced held out a fat and
flabby hand to her, speaking in stiff and stilted English, for he did not
use it with ease. He spoke only a few conventional sentences, but all the
while Noreen felt an inward shiver of disgust. For his bloodshot eyes
seemed to burn her bared flesh, as he devoured her naked shoulders and
breast with a hot and lascivious stare. After replying politely but briefly
to him she turned to the engineer and enquired after his father's health.
The music beginning in the ball-room for the next dance gave her a welcome
excuse for cutting the interview short, as Bain sprang up quickly and
offered her his arm. Bowing she moved away with relief.

"I suppose that fellow in evening dress was the man from your garden, Miss
Daleham?" asked Bain, as they entered the ballroom.

"Yes; that was Mr. Chunerbutty, who escorted me to Darjeeling," she
answered.

"Well, if he's a friend of your brother, he ought to know better than to
introduce that fat brute of a rajah to you."

"Oh, he is staying at the Rajah's house here, as his father, who is ill, is
in His Highness's service."

"I don't care. That beast Lalpuri is a disreputable scoundrel. There are
awful tales of his behaviour up here. It's a wonder that the L.G. doesn't
order him out of the place."

"Really?"

"Yes; he's a disgraceful blackguard. None of the other Rajahs of the
Presidency will have anything to do with him, I believe; and the two or
three of them up here now who are really splendid fellows, refuse to
acknowledge him. Everybody wonders why the Government of India allows him
to remain on the _gadi_."

The Rajah had watched Noreen with a hungry stare as she walked towards the
ballroom. When she was lost to sight in the crowd of dancers he turned to
Chunerbutty and seized his arm with a grip that made the engineer wince.

"She is more beautiful than I thought," he muttered. "O you fools! You
fools, who have failed me! But I shall get her yet."

He licked his dry lips and went on:

"Let us go! Let us go from here! I am parched. I want liquor. I want
women."

And they returned to a night of revolting debauchery in the house that was
honoured by being the temporary residence of His Highness the Rajah of
Lalpuri, wearer of an order bestowed upon him by the Viceroy and ruler of
the fate of millions of people by the grace and under the benign auspices
of the Government of India.



CHAPTER XIV


THE TANGLED SKEIN OF LOVE

The Lieutenant-Governor's ball was for Noreen but the beginning of a long
series of social entertainments, of afternoon and evening dances,
receptions, dinner and supper parties, concerts, and amateur theatrical
performances that filled every date on the calendar of the Darjeeling
Season. Only in winter sport resorts like St. Moritz and Mürren had she
ever seen its like. But in Switzerland the visitors come from many lands
and are generally strangers to each other, whereas in the Hills in India
the summer residents of the villas and the guests at the big hotels are of
the same race and class, come from the same stations in the Plains or know
of each other by repute. For, with the exception of the comparatively few
lawyers, planters, merchants, or railway folk, the names of all are set
forth in the two Golden Books of the land, the Army List and the Civil
Service List; and hostesses fly with relief to the blessed "Table of
Precedence" contained in them, which tells whether the wife of Colonel This
should go in to dinner before or after the spouse of Mr. That. The great
god Snob is the supreme deity of Anglo-India.

Many hill-stations are the Hot Weather headquarters of some important
Government official, such as the Governor of the Presidency or the
Lieutenant-Governor or Chief Commissioner of the Province. These are great
personages indeed in India. They have military guards before their doors.
The Union Jack waves by command above their august heads. They have Indian
Cavalry soldiers to trot before their wives' carriages when these good
ladies drive down to bargain in the native bazaar. But to the hill visitors
their chief reason for existing is that their position demands the giving
of official entertainments to which all of the proper class (who duly
inscribe their names in the red-bound, gold-lettered book in the hall of
Government House) have a prescriptive right to be invited.

Noreen revelled in the gaieties. Her frank-hearted enjoyment was like a
child's, and made every man who knew her anxious to add to it. She could
not possibly ride all the ponies offered to her nor accept half the
invitations that she got. Even among the women she was popular, for none
but a match-making mother or a jealous spinster could resist her.

Proposals of marriage were not showered on her, as persons ignorant of
Anglo-Indian life fondly believe to be the lot of every English girl there.
While a dowerless maiden still has a much better chance of securing a
husband in a land where maidens are few and bachelors are many, yet the day
has long gone by when every spinster who had drawn a blank in England could
be shipped off to India with the certainty of finding a spouse there.
Frequent leave and fast steamers have altered that. When a man can go home
in a fortnight every year or second year he is not as anxious to snatch at
the first maiden who appears in his station as his predecessor who lived in
India in the days when a voyage to England took six months. And men in the
East are as a rule not anxious to marry. A wife out there is a handicap at
every turn. She adds enormously to his expenses, and her society too often
lends more brightness to the existence of his fellows than his own.
Children are ruinous luxuries. Bachelor life in Mess or club is too
pleasant, sport that a single man can enjoy more readily than a married one
too attractive, rupees too few for what Kipling terms "the wild ass of the
desert" to be willing to put his head into the halter readily.

Yet men do marry in India--one wonders why!--and a girl there has so many
opportunities of meeting the opposite sex every day, and so little rivalry,
that her chances in the matrimonial market are infinitely better than at
home. In stations in the Plains there are usually four or five men to every
woman in its limited society, and the proportion of bachelors to spinsters
is far greater. Sometimes in a military cantonment with five or six
batteries and regiments in it, which, with departmental officers, may
furnish a total of eighty to a hundred unmarried men from subalterns to
colonels, there may be only one or two unwedded girls. The lower ranks are
worse off for English spinster society; for the private soldier there is
none.

Noreen's two most constant attendants were Charlesworth and Melville. The
Indian Army officer's devotion and earnestness were patent to the world,
but the Rifleman's intentions were a problem and a source of dispute among
the women, who in Indian stations not less than other places watch the
progress of every love-affair with the eyes of hawks. It was doubtful if
Charlesworth himself knew what he wanted. He was a man who loved his
liberty and his right to make love to each and every woman who caught his
fancy. Noreen's casual liking for him but her frank indifference to him in
any other capacity than that of a pleasant companion with whom to ride,
dance, or play tennis, piqued him, but not sufficiently to make him risk
losing his cherished freedom.

Chunerbutty left Darjeeling after a week's stay. Parry, having become
sufficiently sober to enquire after him and learn of his absence,
demanded his instant return in a telegram so profanely worded that it
shocked even the Barwahi post-office _babu._ The engineer called on
Noreen to say good-bye, and offered to be the bearer of a message to her
brother. He kept up to the end the fable of his sick father.

He could not tell her the real reason of his coming to Darjeeling. The
truth was that he had learned that the Rajah had inspired the attempt by
the Bhuttias to carry off Noreen and wanted to see and upbraid him for his
deceit and treachery to their agreement. There had been a furious quarrel
when the two accomplices met. The Rajah taunted the other with his lack of
success with Noreen and the failure of his plan to persuade her to marry
him. Chunerbutty retorted that he had not been allowed sufficient time to
win the favour of an English girl, who, unlike Indian maidens, was free to
choose her own husband. And he threatened to inform the Government if any
further attempt against her were made without his knowledge and approval.
But the quarrel did not last long. Each scoundrel needed the help of the
other. Still, Chunerbutty judged it safer to remove himself from the
Rajah's house and find a lodging elsewhere, lest any deplorable accident
might occur to him under his patron's roof.

After the engineer's departure Noreen seldom saw the Rajah, and then only
at official entertainments, to which his position gained him invitations.
He spoke to her once or twice at these receptions, but as a rule she
contrived to elude him.

So far she had got on very well with Mrs. Smith. Their wills had never
clashed, for the girl unselfishly gave in to her friend whenever the latter
demanded it, which was often enough. Ida's ways were certainly not
Noreen's, and the latter sometimes felt tempted to disapprove of her
excessive familiarity with Captain Bain and one or two others. But the next
moment she took herself severely to task for being censorious of the elder
woman, who must surely know better how to behave towards men than a young
unmarried girl who had been buried so long in the jungle. And Ida did not
guess why sometimes her repentant little friend's caresses were so fervent
and her desire to please her so manifest, and ascribed it all to her own
sweetness of nature.

The coming of the Rains did not check the gaiety of the dwellers on the
mountain-tops, though torrential downpours had to be faced on black nights
in shrouded rickshas and dripping _dandies_, though incessant lightning lit
up the road to the club or theatre, and the thunder made it difficult to
hear the music of the band in the ballroom. Noreen missed nothing of the
revels. But in all the whirl of gaiety and pleasure in which her days were
passed her thoughts turned more and more to the great forest lying
thousands of feet below her, and the man who passed his lonely days
therein.

Little news of him came to her. He never wrote, and her brother seldom
mentioned him in his letters; for during Parker's absence on two months'
privilege leave from Ranga Duar Dermot did not quit it often and very
rarely visited the planters' club or the bungalows of any of its members.
And Noreen wanted news of him. Much as she saw of other men now--many of
them attractive and some of whom she frankly liked--none had effaced
Dermot's image or displaced him from the shrine that she had built for him
in her inmost heart. Mingled with her love was hero-worship. She dared
not hope that he could ever be interested in or care for any one as
shallow-minded as she. She could not picture him descending from the
pedestal on which she had placed him to raise so ordinary a girl to his
heart. She could not fancy him in the light, frothy life of Darjeeling.
She judged him too serious to care for frivolities, and it inspired her
with a little awe of him and a fear that he would despise her as a
feather-brained, silly woman if he saw how she enjoyed the amusements
of the hill-station. But she felt that she would gladly exchange the
gaieties and cool climate of Darjeeling for the torments of the Terai
again, if only it would bring him to her side. For sometimes the longing
to see him grew almost unbearable.

As the days went by the power of the gay life of the Hills to satisfy her
grew less, while the ache in her heart for her absent friend increased. If
only she could hear from him she thought she could bear the separation
better. From her brother she learned by chance that he was alone in Ranga
Duar, the only news that she had had of him for a long time. The Rains had
burst, and she pictured the loneliness of the one European in the solitary
outpost, cut off from his kind, with no one of his race to speak to,
deprived of the most ordinary requirements, necessities, of civilisation,
without a doctor within hundreds of miles.

At that thought her heart seemed to stop beating. Without a doctor! He
might be ill, dying, for all she knew, with no one of his colour to tend
him, no loving hand to hold a cup to his fevered lips. Even in the short
time that she had been in India she had heard of many tragedies of
isolation, of sick and lonely Englishmen with none but ignorant, careless
native servants to look after them in their illness, no doctor to alleviate
their sufferings, until pain and delirium drove them to look for relief and
oblivion down the barrel of a too-ready pistol.

Thus the girl tortured herself, as a loving woman will do, by imagining all
the most terrible things happening to the man of her heart. She feared no
longer the perils of the forest for him. She felt that he was master of man
or beast in it. But fever lays low the strongest. It might be that while
she was dancing he was lying ill, dying, perhaps dead. And she would not
know. The dreadful idea occurred to her after her return from a ball at
which she had been universally admired and much sought after. But, as she
sat wrapped in her blue silk dressing-gown, her feet thrust into satin
slippers of the same colour, her pretty hair about her shoulders, instead
of recalling the triumphs of the evening, the compliments of her partners,
and the unspoken envy of other girls, her thoughts flew to one solitary man
in a little bungalow, cloud-enfolded and comfortless, in a lonely outpost.
The sudden dread of his being ill chilled her blood and so terrified her
that, if the hour had not made it impossible, she would have gone out at
once and telegraphed to him to ask if all were well.

Yet the next instant her face grew scarlet at the thought. She sat for a
long time motionless, thinking hard. Then the idea occurred to her of
writing to him, writing a chatty, almost impersonal letter, such as one
friend could send to another without fear of her motives being
misunderstood. She had too high an opinion of Dermot to think that he would
deem her forward, yet it cost her much to be the first to write. But her
anxiety conquered pride. And she wrote the letter that Dermot read in his
bungalow in Ranga Duar while the storm shook the hills.

The girl counted the days, the hours, until she could hope for an answer.
Would he reply at once, she wondered. She knew that, even shut up in his
little station, he had much work to occupy him. He could not spare time,
perhaps, for a letter to a silly girl. And the thought of all that she had
put in hers to him made her face burn, for it seemed so vapid and frivolous
that he was sure to despise her.

On the fourth day after she had written to Dermot she was engaged to ride
in the afternoon with Captain Charlesworth. But in the morning a note came
to her from him regretting his inability to keep the appointment, as the
Divisional General had arrived in Darjeeling and intended to inspect the
Rifles after lunch. Noreen was not sorry, for she was going to a dance that
evening and did not wish to tire herself before it.

Distracted and little in the mood for gaiety as she felt that night, yet
when she entered the large ballroom of the Amusement Club she could not
help laughing at the quaint and original decorations for the occasion. For
the entertainment was one of the great features of the Season, the
Bachelors' Ball, and the walls were blazoned with the insignia of the Tribe
of the Wild Ass. Everywhere was painted its coat-of-arms--a bottle,
slippers, and a pipe crossed with a latch-key, all in proper heraldic
guise. Captain Melville, who was a leading member of the ball committee and
who was her particular host that night, spirited her away from the crowd of
partner-seeking men at the doorway and took her on a tour of the room to
see and admire the scheme of decoration. She was laughing at one original
ornamentation when a well-known voice behind her said:

"May I hope for a dance tonight, Miss Daleham?"

The girl started and turned round incredulously, feeling that her ears had
deceived her. To her astonishment Dermot stood before her. For a few
seconds she could not trust herself to reply. She felt that she had grown
pale. At last she said, and her voice sounded strange in her own ears:

"Major Dermot! Is it possible? I--I thought you--"

She could not finish the sentence. But neither man observed her emotion,
for Melville had suddenly seized Dermot's hand and was shaking it warmly.
They had been on service together once and had not met since. The next
moment, a committee man being urgently wanted, Melville was called away and
left Dermot and the girl together.

"I suppose you thought me shut up in my mountain home," the man said, "and
probably wondered why I had not answered your very interesting letter. It
was so kind of you in all your gaiety here to think of me in my
loneliness."

Noreen had quite recovered from her surprise and smiled brightly at him.

"Yes, I believed you to be in Ranga Duar," she said. "How is it you are
here?"

"An unexpected summons reached me at the same time as your letter. Four
days ago I had no idea that I should be coming here."

"How could you bear to leave your beloved jungle and that dear Badshah? I
know you dislike hill-stations," said the girl, laughing and tremulously
happy. The world seemed a much brighter place than it did five minutes
before.

"My beloved jungle has no charm for me at this season," he said. "But
Badshah--ah, that was another matter. I have seldom felt parting with a
human friend as much as I did leaving him. The dear old fellow seemed to
know that I was going away from him. But I was very pleased to come here to
see how you were enjoying yourself in this gay spot. I was glad to know
that you were out of the Terai during the Rains."

So he had wanted to see her again. Noreen blushed, but Dermot did not
observe her heightened colour, for he had taken her programme out of her
hand in his usual quiet, masterful manner and was scrutinising it.

"You haven't said yet if I may have a dance," he continued. "But I know
that on an occasion like this I must lose no time if I want one."

"Oh, do you dance?" she asked in surprise. Somehow she had never associated
him with ballrooms and social frivolities.

Dermot laughed.

"You forget that I was on the Staff in Simla. I shouldn't have been kept
there a day if I hadn't been able to dance. What may I have?"

Noreen felt tempted to bid him take all her programme.

"Well, I'm engaged for several. They are all written down. Take any of the
others you like," she said demurely, but her heart was beating fast at the
thought of dancing with him.

"H'm; I see that all the first ones are booked. May I--oh, I see you have
the supper dances free. May I take you in to supper?"

"Yes, do, please. We haven't met for so long, and I have heaps to tell
you," the girl said. "We can talk ever so much better at the supper-table
than in an interval."

"Thank you. I'll take the supper dances then."

"Wouldn't you care for any others?" she asked timidly. What would he think
of her? Yet she didn't care. He was with her again, and she wanted to see
all she could of him.

"I should indeed. May I have this--and this?"

"With pleasure. Is that enough?"

"I'll be greedy. After all, the men up here have had dances from you all
the Season, and I have never danced with you yet. I'll take these, too, if
you can spare them."

She looked at him earnestly.

"I owe you more than a few dances can pay," she said simply.

"Thank you, little friend," he said, and a happy feeling thrilled her at
his words. He had not forgotten her, then. He used to call her that
sometimes in Ranga Duar. She was still his little friend. What a delightful
place the world was after all!

As he pencilled his initials on her programme a horde of dance-hungry men
swooped down on Noreen and almost pushed him aside. He bowed and strolled
away to watch the dancing. He had no desire to obtain other partners and
was content to watch his little friend of the forest, who seemed to have
suddenly become a very lovely woman. She seemed very gay and happy, he
thought. He noticed that she danced oftenest with Melville and a tall, fair
man whom he did not know.

Never had the early part of a ball seemed to Noreen to drag so much as this
one did. She felt that her partners must find her very stupid indeed, for
she paid no attention to what they said and answered at random.

At last almost in a trance of happiness she found herself gliding round the
room with Dermot's arm about her. The band was playing a dreamy waltz, and
her partner danced perfectly. Neither of them spoke. Noreen could not; she
felt that all she wanted was to float, on air it seemed, held close to
Dermot's breast. She gave a sigh when the dance ended. In the interval she
did not want to talk; it was enough to look at his face, to hear his voice.
She hated her next partner when he came to claim her.

But she had two more dances with Dermot before the band struck up "The
Roast Beef of Old England," and the ballroom emptied. At supper he
contrived to secure a small table at which they were alone; so they were
able to talk without constraint. She began to wonder how she had ever
thought him grave and stern or felt in awe of him. For in the gay
atmosphere his Irish nature was uppermost; he was as light-hearted as a
boy, and his conversation was almost frivolous.

During supper Noreen saw Ida watching her across the room, and later on,
when the dancing began again, her friend cornered her.

"I say, darling, who is the new man you've been dancing with such a lot
tonight? You had supper with him, too. I've never seen him before. He's
awfully good-looking."

"Oh, that is--I suppose you mean Major Dermot," replied the girl, feeling
suddenly shy.

"Major Dermot? Who's he? What is--Oh, is it the wonderful hero from the
Terai, the man you told me so much about when you came up?"

"Yes; he is the same."

"Really? How interesting! He's so distinguished-looking. When did he come
up? Why didn't you tell me he was coming?"

"I didn't know it myself."

"I should love to meet him. Introduce him to me. Now, at once."

With a hurried apology to her own partner and Noreen's she dragged the girl
off in search of the fresh man who had taken her fancy, and did not give up
the chase until, with Melville's aid, Dermot was run to earth in the
cardroom and introduced to her. Ida did not wait for him to ask her to
dance but calmly ran her pencil through three names on the programme and
bestowed the vacancies thus created on him in such a way that he could not
refuse them. Dermot, however, did not grumble. She was Noreen's friend; if
not the rose, she was near the rose.

Ida was not the only one who noticed how frequently the girl had danced
with him. Charlesworth, disappointed at finding vacancies on her programme,
for which he had hoped, already filled, commented on it and asked who the
stranger was in a supercilious tone that made her furious and gained for
him a well-merited snubbing.

Indifferent to criticism, kind or otherwise, Noreen gave herself up for the
evening to the happiness of Dermot's presence, trying to trick herself into
the belief that he was still only a dear friend to whom she owed an immense
debt of gratitude for saving her life and her honour. Never had a ball
seemed so enjoyable--not even her first. Never had she had a partner who
suited her so well. Certainly he danced to perfection, but she knew that if
he had been the worst dancer in the room she still would have preferred him
to all others. And never had she hated the ending of an entertainment so
much. But Dermot walked beside her _dandy_ to the gate of her hotel, calmly
displacing Charlesworth, much to the fury of the Rifleman, who had begun to
consider this his prerogative.

Ida and she sat up for hours in her room discussing the ball and all its
happenings, but the older woman's most constant topic was Dermot. It was a
subject of which Noreen felt that she could never weary; and she drew her
friend on to talk of him, if the conversation threatened to stray to
anything less interesting. The girl was used to Ida's sudden fancies for
men, for the married woman was both susceptible and fickle, and Noreen
judged that this sudden predilection for Dermot would die as quickly as a
hundred others before it. But this time she was wrong.

The Major was not to remain many days in Darjeeling, but Noreen hoped that
he would give her much of his spare time while there. She was disappointed,
however, to find that although he was frequently in her and Ida's company
at the Amusement Club or elsewhere, he made no effort to compete with
Charlesworth or Melville or any other man who sought to monopolise her, but
drew back and allowed him to have a clear field while he himself seemed
content to talk to Mrs. Smith. At first she was hurt. He was her friend,
not Ida's. But he never sought to be alone with her, never asked her to
ride with him, or do anything that would take her away from the others.

Then she grew piqued. If he did not value her society he should see that
others did, and she suddenly grew more gracious to Charlesworth, who seemed
to sense in Dermot a more dangerous rival than was Melville or any of the
others and began to be more openly devoted and to put more meaning into his
intentions.

One hateful night when she had been with Charlesworth to a private dance to
which Ida had refused to go, dining instead with Dermot, who had no
invitation to the affair, the blow fell. After her return to the hotel her
treacherous friend had crept into her room, weeping and imploring her
sympathy. Too late, she sobbed on Noreen's shoulder, she had found her
soul-mate, the man destined for her through the past æons, the one man who
could make her happy and whose existence she alone could complete. Why had
she met Dermot too late? Why was she tied to a clod, mated to a clown? Why
were two lives to be wrecked?

As Noreen listened amazed an icy hand seemed to clutch her shrinking heart.
Was this true? Did Dermot really care for Ida? Could the man whom she had
revered as a white-souled knight be base enough to make love to another
man's wife?

Then the demon of jealousy poisoned her soul. She got the weeping Ida back
to her bed, and sat in her own dark room until the dawn came, her brain in
a whirl, her heart filled with a fierce hatred of Dermot. And when next
day, his business finished, he had to leave Darjeeling, she made a point of
absenting herself with Charlesworth from the hotel at the time when Dermot
had arranged to come to say good-bye.

But long before the train in which he travelled down to the Plains was
half-way to Siliguri, the girl lay on her bed, her face buried in her
pillow, her body shaken with silent but convulsive sobs.

And Dermot stared out into the thick mist that shrouded the mountains and
enfolded his downward-slipping train and wondered if his one-time little
friend of the forest would be happy in the new life that, according to her
bosom-friend and confidant, Mrs. Smith, would open to her as Charlesworth's
wife as soon as she spoke the word that was trembling on her lips.

And he sighed unconsciously. Then he frowned as the distasteful memory
recurred to him of the previous night, when a wanton woman, misled by
vanity and his courteous manner, had shamelessly offered him what she
termed her love and forced him to play the Joseph to a modern Mrs.
Potiphar.



CHAPTER XV


THE FEAST OF THE GODDESS KALI

The Rains were nearing their end, and with them the Darjeeling Season was
drawing to a close. To Noreen Daleham it had lost its savour since Dermot's
departure. Her feelings towards Ida had undergone a radical change; her
admiration of and affection for her old schoolfellow had vanished. Her eyes
were opened, and she now saw plainly the true character of the woman whom
once she was proud to call her friend. The girl wondered that she could
have ever been deceived, for she now understood the many innuendoes that
had been made in her hearing against Mrs. Smith, as well as many things in
that lady's own behaviour that had perplexed her at the time.

But towards the man her feelings were frankly anger and contempt. He had
rudely awakened her from a beautiful dream; for that she could never
forgive him. Her idol was shattered, never again to be made whole, so she
vowed in the bitterness of her desolate soul. It was not friendship that
she had felt for him--she realised that now. It was love. She had given him
her whole heart in a girl's first, pure, ideal love. And he had despised
the gift and trampled it in the mire of unholy passion. She knew that it
was the love of her life. Never could any man be to her what he had been.

But what did it matter to Dermot? she thought bitterly. She had passed out
of his life. She had never been anything in it. He had been amused for an
idle moment by her simplicity, tool that she was. What he had done, had
risked for her, he would have done and risked for any other woman. Why did
he not write to her after his departure as he might have done? She almost
hoped that he would, so that she could answer him and pour out on him, if
only on paper, the scorn and disgust that filled her. But no; she would not
do that. The more dignified course would be to ignore his letter
altogether. If only she could hurt him she felt that she would accept any
other man's offer of marriage. But even then he wouldn't care. He had
always stood aside in Darjeeling and let others strive for her favour. And
she was put to the test, for first Charlesworth and then Melville had
proposed to her.

Though Noreen's heart was frozen towards her quondam friend, Ida never
perceived the fact. For the elder woman was so thoroughly satisfied with
herself that it never occurred to her that any one whom she honoured with
her liking could do aught but be devoted to her in return. And against the
granite of her self-sufficiency the iron of the girl's proud anger broke
until at length, baffled by the other's conceit, Noreen drifted back into
the semblance of her former friendliness. And Ida never remarked any
difference.

A hundred miles away Dermot roamed the hills and forest again. The
interdict of the Rains was lifted, and the game was afoot once more.

The portents of the coming storm were intensified. Much that the Divisional
Commander, General Heyland, had revealed to him in their confidential
interviews at Darjeeling was being corroborated by happenings in other
parts of the Peninsula, in Afghanistan, in China, and elsewhere. Signs were
not wanting on the border that Dermot had to guard. Messengers crossing and
re-crossing the Bhutan frontier were increasing in numbers and frequency;
and he had at length succeeded in tracking some of them to a destination
that first gave him a clue to the seat and identity of the organisers of
the conspiracy in Bengal.

For one or two Bhutanese had been traced to the capital of the Native State
of Lalpuri, and others, having got into Indian territory, had been met by
Hindus who were subsequently followed to the same ill-famed town. But once
inside the maze of its bazaars their trail was hopelessly lost. It was
useless to appeal to the authorities of the State. Their reputation and the
character of their ruler were so bad that it was highly probable that the
Rajah and all his counsellors were implicated in the plot. But how to bring
it home to them Dermot did not know. By his secret instructions several of
the messengers to and from Bhutan were the victims of apparent highway
robbery in the hills. But no search of them revealed anything compromising,
no treasonable correspondence between enemies within and without. The men
would not speak, and he could not sanction the proposals made to him by
which they should be induced so to do.

The planters began to report to him a marked increase in the mutinous
spirit exhibited by their coolies; arms were found in the possession of
these men, and there was reason to fear a combined rising of the labourers
on all the estates of the Duars. Dermot advised Rice to send his wife to
England, but the lady showed no desire to return to her loudly-regretted
London suburb.

Every time that the Major met Daleham he expected to be told of Noreen's
engagement, perhaps even her wedding. But he heard nothing. When he
found that Fred was beginning to arrange for her return to Malpura and
that--instigated by Chunerbutty--he refused to consider the advisability
of her remaining away until conditions were better in the Terai, Dermot
persuaded him to replace his untrustworthy Bengali house-servants by
reliable Mussulman domestics, warlike Punjaubis, whom the soldier
procured. They were men not unused to firearms, and capable of defending
the bungalow if necessary.

He and Badshah, who was happy to have his man with him again, kept
indefatigable watch and ward along the frontier. Sometimes Dermot assembled
the herd, which had learned to obey him almost like a pack of hounds, and,
concealed among them, penetrated across the border into Bhutan and explored
hidden spots where hostile troops might be concentrated. Only rarely a
wandering Bhuttia chanced to see him, and then the terrified man would veil
his eyes, fearing to behold the doings of the terrible Elephant God.

The constant work and preoccupation kept Dermot from dwelling much on
Noreen. Nevertheless, he thought often of the girl and hoped that she would
be happy when she married the man she was said to have chosen. He felt no
jealousy of Charlesworth; on the contrary, he admired him as a good
sportsman and a manly fellow, as well as he could judge from the little
that he had seen of him. The very fact that the girl who was his friend had
chosen the Rifleman as her husband, according to Mrs. Smith, made him ready
to like the man. He was not in love with the girl and had no desire to
marry, for he was wedded to his profession and had always held that a
soldier married was a soldier marred.

Thus while Dermot thought far seldomer of Noreen, whom he acknowledged to
himself he liked more than any other woman he had ever met, she, who
assured herself every day that she hated and despised him, could not keep
him out of her mind. And all the more so as she began to have doubts of the
truth of Ida's story. For the girl, who could not resist watching her
friend's post every day, much as she despised herself for doing it,
observed that no letter ever came to Mrs. Smith in Dermot's handwriting.
And, although Ida had talked much and sentimentally of him for days after
his departure, she appeared to forget him soon, and before long was
engrossed in a good-looking young civilian from Calcutta. Bain had long
since left Darjeeling.

Could it all have been a figment of the woman's imagination and
vanity?--for Noreen now realised how colossally vain she was. Had she
misunderstood or, worse still, misrepresented him? But that thought was
almost more painful to the girl than the certainty of his guilt. For if
it were true, how cruelly, how vilely unjust she had been to the man who
had saved her at the peril of his life, the man who had called her his
friend, who had trusted in her loyalty! No, no; better that he were
proved worthless, dishonourable. That thought were easier to bear.

Sometimes the girl almost wished that she could see him again so that she
might ask him the truth. She could learn nothing now from Ida, who calmly
ignored all attempts to extract information from her. Yet how could she
question him, Noreen asked herself. She could not even hint to him that she
had any knowledge of the affair, for her friend had divulged it to her in
confidence. If only she were back at Malpura! He might come to her again
there and perhaps of his own free will tell her what to believe of him. But
when in a letter she broached the subject of her return to her brother,
Fred bade her wait, for he hoped that he might be able to join her in
Darjeeling for a few days during the Puja holidays.

During the great festival of Durgá-Puja, or the Dússera, as it is variously
called, no Hindu works if he can help it, especially in Bengal. As all
Government and private offices in Calcutta are closed for it, every
European there, who can, escapes to Darjeeling, twenty-four hours away by
rail, and the Season in that hill-station dies in a final blaze of
splendour and gaiety in the mad rush of revelry of the Puja holidays. And
Fred hoped that he might he there to see its ending, if Parry would keep
sober long enough to let his assistant get away for a few days. When he
returned, Daleham wrote, he would bring Noreen back with him.

Dermot's activities on the frontier were not passing unmarked by the chief
conspirators in Lalpuri. His measures against their messengers focussed
attention on him. The _Dewan_, a far better judge of men and things than
Chunerbutty, did not make the mistake of despising him merely because he
was a soldier. The old man realised that it was not wise to count British
officers fools. He knew too well how efficient the Indian Military
Intelligence Department had proved itself. So he began to collect
information about this white man who might seriously inconvenience them or
derange their plans. And he came to the conclusion that the inquisitive
soldier must be put out of the way.

Assassination can be raised to a fine art in a Native State--where a man's
life is worth far less than a cow's if the State be a Hindu one--provided
that the prying eyes of British Political Officers are not turned that way.
True, Dermot was in British territory, but in such an uncivilised part of
it that his removal ought not to be difficult considering his habit of
wandering alone about the hills and jungle.

So thought the _Dewan_. But the old man found to his surprise that it
was very difficult to put his hand on any one willing to attempt
Dermot's life. No sum however large could tempt any Bhuttia on either
side of the border-line, or any Hindu in the Duars. Even the Brahmin
extremists acting as missionaries on the tea-gardens fought shy of him.
Superstition was his sure shield.

Then the _Dewan_ fell back on the bazaar of Lalpuri City. But in that den
of criminals there was not one cut-throat that did not know of the terrible
Elephant God-Man and the appalling vengeance that he had wreaked on the
Rajah's soldiers in the forest. The _Dewan_ might cajole or threaten, but
there was not one ruffian in the bazaar who did not prefer to risk his
anger to the certainty of the hideous fate awaiting the rash mortal that
crossed the path of this dread being who fed his magic elephants on the
living flesh of his foes.

The _Dewan_ was not baffled. If the local villains failed him an assassin
must be imported from elsewhere. So the extremist leaders in Calcutta,
being appealed to, sent more than one fanatical young Brahmin from that
city to Lalpuri, where they were put in the way to remove Dermot. But when
in bazaar or Palace his reputation reached their ears they drew back. One
was sent direct from Calcutta to the Terai, so that he would not be scared
by the foolish tales of the men of Lalpuri. But his first enquiries among
the countryfolk as to where to find Dermot brought him such illuminating
information that, not daring to return unsuccessful to those who had sent
him, he turned against his own breast the weapon that he had meant for the
British officer.

Then the _Dewan_ sent for Chunerbutty and took counsel with him, as being
more conversant with European ways. And the result was a cunning and
elaborate plot, such as from its very tortuousness and complexity would
appeal to the heart of an Oriental.

The Rajah of Lalpuri, being of Mahratta descent, tried to copy in many
things the great Mahratta chiefs in other parts of India, such as the
Gaekwar of Baroda and the Maharajah Holkar of Indore. He had long been
anxious to imitate Holkar's method of celebrating the Dússera or Durgá
Festival, particularly that part of it where a bull is sacrificed in public
by the Maharajah on the fourth day of the feast. The _Dewan_ had always
opposed it, but now he suddenly veered round and suggested that it should
be done. In Indore all the Europeans of the cantonment and many of the
ladies and officers from the neighbouring military station of Mhow were
always invited to be present on the fourth day. The old plotter proposed
that, similarly, some of the English community of the Duars, the Civil
Servants and planters, should receive invitations to Lalpuri. It would seem
only natural to include the Officer Commanding Ranga Duar. And to tempt
Dermot into the trap Chunerbutty suggested Noreen as a bait, undertaking to
persuade her brother to bring her.

The Rajah was delighted at the thought of her presence in the Palace. The
_Dewan_ smiled and quoted two Hindu proverbs:

"Where the honey is spread there will the flies gather," said he. "Any lure
is good that brings the bird to the net."

The consequence of the plotting was that Noreen Daleham, fretting in
Darjeeling at having to wait for her brother to come there for the Puja
holidays, received a letter from him saying that he had changed his mind
and had accepted an invitation from the Rajah of Lalpuri for her and
himself to be present at the celebrations of the great Hindu festival at
the Palace. She was to pack up and leave at once by rail to Jalpaiguri,
where he would meet her with a motor-car lent him for the purpose by the
Lalpuri Durbar, or State Council. If Mrs. Smith cared to accompany her an
invitation for her would be at once forthcoming. Fred added that he was
making up a party from their district which included Payne, Granger, and
the Rices. From Lalpuri Noreen would return with him to Malpura.

The girl was delighted at the thought of leaving Darjeeling sooner than she
had expected. To her surprise Ida announced her intention of accompanying
her to Lalpuri. But the fact that her Calcutta friend was returning to the
city on the Hoogly and that by going with Noreen she could travel with him
as far as Jalpaiguri explained it.

Chunerbutty, deputed by the Rajah to act as host to his European guests,
met Daleham's party when they arrived at the gates of Lalpuri and
conducted them to the Palace. They passed through the teeming city with
its thronged bazaar, its narrow, winding streets hemmed in by the
overhanging houses with their painted walls and closely-latticed windows
through which thousands of female eyes peered inquisitively at the white
women, the brightly dressed crowds flattening themselves against the
walls to get out of the way of the two cavalry soldiers of the Rajah's
Bodyguard who galloped recklessly ahead of the car. Soon they reached
the _Nila Mahal_, or Blue Palace, as His Highness's residence was
called, with its iron-studded gates, carved doors, and countless wooden
balconies. A swarm of retainers in magnificent, if soiled, gold-laced
liveries filled the courtyards, and bare-footed sepoys in red coats,
generally burst at the seams and lacking buttons, and old shakoes with
white cotton flaps hanging down behind, guarded the entrance.

A wing of the Palace had been cleared out and hastily furnished in an
attempt to suit European tastes. The guests were accommodated in rooms
floored with marble, generally badly stained or broken. Two large chambers
tiled and wainscoted with wonderfully carved blackwood panels were
apportioned as dining-hall and sitting-room for the English visitors. All
the windows of the wing, many of them closely screened, looked on an inner
courtyard which was bounded on two sides by other buildings of the Palace.
The fourth side was divided off from another courtyard by a high blank wall
pierced by a large gateway, the leaves of the gate hanging broken and
useless from the posts.

Ida and Noreen were given rooms beside each other and were amused at the
heterogeneous collection of odd pieces of furniture in them. The old
four-posted beds with funereal canopies and moth-eaten curtains had
probably been brought from England a hundred years before. In small
chambers off their rooms, with marble walls and floors, and windows
filled with thin slabs of alabaster carved in the most exquisite tracery
as delicate as lace, galvanised iron tubs to be used as baths looked
sadly out of place.

When they had freshened themselves up after their long motor drive they
went down to the dining-hall, where lunch was to be served. And when she
entered the room the first person that Noreen saw was Dermot, seated at a
small table with Payne and Granger.

On his return from a secret excursion across the Bhutan border the Major
had found awaiting him at Ranga Duar the official invitation of the Lalpuri
Durbar. He was very much surprised at it; for he knew that the State had
never encouraged visits from Europeans, and had, when possible, invariably
refused admission to all except important British officials, who could not
be denied. Such a thing as actually entertaining Englishmen of its own
accord was unknown in its annals. So he stared at the large card printed in
gold and embossed with the coat-of-arms of Lalpuri in colours, and wondered
what motive lay behind the invitation. That it betokened a fresh move in
the conspiracy he was certain; but be the motive what it might he was glad
of the unexpected opportunity of visiting Lalpuri and meeting those whom he
believed to be playing a leading part in the plot. So he promptly wrote an
acceptance.

He reached the Palace only half an hour before Daleham's party arrived from
another direction, and had just met his two planter friends when Noreen
entered the room. He had not known that she was to be at Lalpuri. The three
men rose and bowed to her, and Dermot looked to see if Charlesworth were
with her. But only the two women and Daleham followed Chunerbutty as he led
the way to a table at the far end of the room.

There were about twenty English guests altogether, eight or nine of whom
were from the district in which Malpura was situated, the Rices among them.
The rest were planters from other parts of the Duars, a few members of the
Indian Civil Service or Public Works Departments, and a young Deputy
Superintendent of Police from Jalpaiguri.

At Chunerbutty's table the party consisted of the Rices, one of the Civil
Servants, the Dalehams, and Noreen's friend. The planter's wife neglected
the man beside her to stare at Mrs. Smith, taking in every detail of her
dress, while Ida chattered gaily to Fred, whose good looks had attracted
her the moment that she first saw him on the platform of Jalpaiguri
station. She was already apparently quite consoled for the loss of her
Calcutta admirer.

Noreen sat pale and abstracted beside Chunerbutty, answering his remarks in
monosyllables, eating nothing, and alleging a headache as an explanation of
her mood. The unexpected sight of Dermot had shaken her, and she dreaded
the moment when she must greet him. Yet she was anxious to witness his
meeting with Ida, hoping that she might glean from it some idea of how
matters really stood between them.

After _tiffin_ a move was made into the long chamber arranged as the
guests' lounge. Here introductions between those who had not previously
known each other and meetings between old acquaintances took place; and
with an inward shrinking Noreen saw Dermot approaching. She was astonished
to observe that Ida's careless and indifferent greeting was responded to by
him in a coldly courteous manner almost indicative of strong dislike. The
girl wondered if they were both consummate actors. Dermot turned to her. He
spoke in his usual pleasant and friendly manner; but she seemed to detect a
trace of reserve that he had never showed before. She was almost too
confused to reply to him and turned with relief to shake hands with Payne
and Granger, who had come up with him.

Chunerbutty played the host well, introduced those who were strangers to
each other, and saw that the Palace servants, who were unused to European
habits, brought the coffee, liqueurs, and smokes to all the guests, where
they gathered under the long punkah that swung lazily from the painted
ceiling and barely stirred the heated air.

As soon as it was cool enough to drive out in the State carriages and
motor-cars that waited in the outer courtyard, the afternoon was devoted to
sight-seeing. Chunerbutty, in the leading car with Noreen and the District
Superintendent of Police, acted as guide and showed them about the city.
Dermot noted the lowering looks of many of the natives in the narrow
streets, and overhead more than one muttered insult to the English race
from men huddling against the houses to escape the carriages.

The visitors were invited by Chunerbutty to enter an ornate temple of
Kali, in which a number of Hindu women squatted on the ground before a
gigantic idol representing the goddess in whose honour the Puja festival
is held. The image was that of a fierce-looking woman with ten arms,
each hand holding a weapon, her right leg resting on a lion, her left on
a buffalo-demon.

"I say, Chunerbutty, who's the lady?" asked Granger. "I can't say I like
her looks."

"No, she certainly isn't a beauty," said the Brahmin with a contemptuous
laugh. "Yet these superstitious fools believe in her, ignorant people that
they are."

He indicated the female worshippers, who had been staring with malevolent
curiosity at the English ladies, the first that most of them had ever seen.
So these were the _mem-logue_, they whispered to each other, these
shameless white women who went about openly with men and met all the world
brazenly with unveiled countenances. And the whisperers modestly drew their
_saris_ before their own faces.

"She is the goddess Kali or Durgá, the wife of Shiva, one of the Hindu
Trinity. She is supposed to be the patron of smallpox and lots of other
unpleasant things, so no wonder she is ugly," continued Chunerbutty.

"Oh, you have goddesses then in the Hindu religion," observed Ida
carelessly.

"Yes, Mrs. Smith; but these are the sort we have in India," he answered
with an unpleasant leer. "The English people are more fortunate, for they
have you ladies."

The remark was one that would have gained him smiles and approbation from
his female acquaintances in the Bayswater boarding-house, but Ida glared
haughtily at him and most of the men longed to kick him.

Dreading a cutting and sarcastic speech from her friend, Noreen hurriedly
interposed.

"Isn't the Puja festival in her honour, Mr. Chunerbutty?"

"Yes, Miss Daleham, it is. It is another of these silly superstitions of
the Hindus that make one really ashamed of being an Indian. The festival is
meant to commemorate the old lady's victory over a buffalo-headed demon.
Hence the weird-looking beast under her left leg."

"And do these people really believe in that sort of rot?" asked Mrs. Rice.

"Oh, yes, lots of the ignorant, uneducated lower class do," replied the
atheistical Brahmin. "Durgá is the favourite deity. Her husband and Krishna
and old Brahma are back numbers. The fact is that the common people are
afraid of Kali. They think she can do them such a lot of harm."

"What does the festival consist of, old chap?" asked Daleham. "What do the
Hindus do?"

"Well, the image is worshipped for nine days and then chucked into the
water," replied the engineer. "Tomorrow, the fourth day, is the one on
which the sacrifices are made--sheep, buck goats, and buffaloes are used.
Their heads are cut off before this idol and their heads and blood are
offered to it. Tomorrow you'll see the Rajah kill the bull that is to be
the sacrifice. At least, he'll start the killing of it. Now, we'll go along
back to the Palace."

The visitors' dinner that night was quite a magnificent affair. The
catering for the time of their stay had been confided to an Italian firm
in Calcutta. The cooking was excellent, but the waiting by the awkward
Palace retainers was very bad. The food was eaten off the Rajah's State
silver service, made in London for his father for the entertainment of a
Viceroy. The wine was very good. So the guests enjoyed their meal, and
most of them were quite prepared to think the Rajah a most excellent
fellow when, at the conclusion of the meal, he entered the dining-room
and came to the long table to propose and drink the health of the
King-Emperor. He left the room immediately afterwards. This is the usual
procedure on the part of Hindu rulers in India, since they are precluded
by their religion and caste-customs from eating with Europeans.

After dinner the guests went to the lounge, where coffee was served. They
broke up into groups or pairs and sat or stood about the room chatting.
Mrs. Rice, who had been much impressed by Ida's appearance and expensive
gowns, secured a chair beside her and endeavoured to monopolise her,
despite many obvious snubs. At last Ida calmly turned her back on her and
called Daleham to talk to her. Then the planter's wife espied Dermot
sitting alone and pounced on him. He had tried to speak to Noreen after
dinner, but it was so apparent that she wished to avoid him that he gave up
the attempt. He endured Mrs. Rice's company with admirable resignation, but
was thankful when the time for "good-night" came at last.

The men stayed up an hour or two later, and then after a final "peg" went
off to bed. Dermot walked upstairs with Barclay, the young police officer,
who was his nearest neighbour, although the Major's room was at the end of
the building and separated from his by a long, narrow passage and several
empty chambers.



CHAPTER XVI


THE PALACE OF DEATH

When they reached the door of the police officer's apartment Dermot wished
him good-night and proceeded down the passage, which was lit only by a
feeble lamp placed in a niche high up in the wall. He had to grope his way
through the outer chambers by the aid of matches, and when he reached his
room, was surprised to find it in darkness, for he had left a light burning
in it. He struck more matches, and was annoyed to discover that his lamp
had been taken away. Being very tired he felt inclined to undress and go to
bed in the dark, but, suddenly remembering the small light in the passage,
determined to fetch it. Making his way back to the passage he tried to take
the little lamp down. But it was too high up, and the noise that he made in
his efforts to reach it brought Barclay to his door.

When he heard of Dermot's difficulty he said:

"I'm not sleepy yet, Major, so I'll bring my lamp along to your room and
smoke a cheroot while you undress. Then I'll go off with it as soon as
you've turned in."

Dermot thanked him, and the young policeman went with him, carrying the
lamp, which had a double wick and gave a good light. Putting it down on the
dressing-table he lit a cheroot and proceeded to seat himself in a chair
beside the bed. Like the room itself and the rest of the furniture, it was
covered with dust.

"By George, what dirty quarters they've given you, sir," he exclaimed.
"Just look at the floor. I'll bet it's never been swept since the Palace
was built. The dust is an inch deep near the bed." He polished the seat of
the chair carefully before he sat down.

The heat in the room was stifling, and the police officer, even in his
white mess uniform, felt it acutely.

"By Jove, it's steamy tonight," he remarked, wiping his face.

"Yes, I hate October," replied Dermot. "It's the worst month in the year, I
think. Its damp heat, when the rain is drying up out of the ground, is more
trying than the worst scorching we get in May and June."

"Well, you don't seem to find it too hot, Major," said the other laughing.
"It looks as if you'd got a hot-water bottle in the foot of your bed."

"Hot-water bottle? What do you mean?" asked Dermot in surprise, throwing
the collar that he had just taken off on to the dressing-table and turning
round.

"Why, don't you see? Under the clothes at the foot," said his companion,
pointing with the Major's cane to a bulge in the thin blanket and sheet
covering the bed. He got up and strode across to it. "What on earth have
you got there? It does look--Oh, good heavens, keep back!" he cried
suddenly.

Dermot was already bending over the bed, but the police officer pushed him
forcibly back and snatched up the cane which he had laid down. Then,
cautiously seizing the top of the blanket and sheet near the pillow, he
whisked them off with a sudden vigorous jerk. At the spot where the bulge
had betrayed it a black cobra, one of the deadliest snakes in India, lifted
its head and a foot of its length from its shining coils. The forked tongue
darted and quivered incessantly, and the unwinking eyes glistened as with a
loud hiss it raised itself higher and poised its head to strike.

Barclay struck it sharply with the cane, and it fell writhing on the bed,
its spine broken. The coils wound and unwound vigorously, the tail
convulsively lashing the sheet. He raised the stick to strike it again,
but, paused with arm uplifted, for the snake could not move away or raise
its head.

Seeing that it was powerless the young Superintendent swung round to
Dermot.

"Have you a pistol, Major?" he whispered.

Without a word the soldier unlocked his despatch-box and took out a small
automatic.

"Loaded?"

The soldier nodded.

"Give it to me."

Taking the weapon he tiptoed to the door, listened awhile, then opened it
sharply. But there was no one there.

"Bring the lamp," he whispered.

Dermot complied, and together they searched the ante-rooms and passages.
They were empty. Then they looked into the small room in which the zinc
bath-tub stood. There was no one there.

The Deputy Superintendent closed the door again, and, as it had neither
lock nor bolt, placed a heavy chair against it. Taking the lamp in his hand
he bent down and carefully examined the dusty floor under and around the
bed. Then he put down the lamp and drew Dermot into the centre of the room.

"Has your servant any reason to dislike you?" he asked in a low voice.

Dermot answered him in the same tone:

"I have not brought one with me."

The D.S.P. whistled faintly, then looked apprehensively round the room and
whispered:

"Have you any enemies in the Palace or in Lalpuri?"

Dermot smiled.

"Very probably," he replied. Then in a low voice he continued: "Look here,
Barclay, do you know anything of the state of affairs in this province? I
mean, politically."

The police officer nodded.

"I do. I'm here in Lalpuri to try to find out things. The root of the
trouble in Bengal is here."

"Then I can tell you that I have been sent on a special mission to the
border and have come to this city to try to follow up a clue."

The D.S.P. drew a deep breath.

"That accounts for it. Look here, Major, I've seen this trick with the
snake before. Not long ago I tried to hang the servant of a rich _bunniah_
for murdering his master by means of it, but the Sessions Judge wouldn't
convict him. If you look you'll see that that brute"--he pointed to the
cobra writhing in agony on the bed and sinking its fangs into its own
flesh--"never got up there by itself. It was put there. Otherwise it would
have left a clear trail in the thick dust on the floor, but there isn't a
sign."

"Yes, I spotted that," said Dermot, lighting a cigarette over the lamp
chimney. "I see the game. My lamp--which was here, for I dressed for dinner
by its light--was taken away, so that I'd have to go to bed in the dark;
and, by Jove, I very nearly did! Then I'd have kicked against the cobra as
I got in, and been bitten. The lamp would have been put back in the morning
before I was 'found.' Look here, Barclay, I owe you a lot. Without you I'd
be dead in two hours."

"Or less. Sometimes the bite is fatal in forty minutes. Yes, there's no
doubt of it, you'd have been done for. Lucky thing I hadn't gone to bed and
heard you. Now, what'll we do with the brute?"

He looked at the writhing snake.

"Wait a minute. Where are the matches?"

He picked up a box from the dressing-table, moved the chair from the door
and left the room. In a minute or two he returned, carrying an old
porcelain vase, and shut the door.

"I found this stuck away with a lot of rubbish in the outer room," he said.
"I don't suppose any one will miss it."

Dermot watched him with curiosity as he placed the vase on the floor near
the bed and picked up the cane. Putting its point under the cobra he lifted
the wriggling body on the stick and with some difficulty dropped the snake
into the vase, where they heard its head striking the sides with furious
blows.

"I hope it won't break the damned thing just when I'm carrying it," he
said, regarding the vase anxiously.

"What are you doing that for?" asked Dermot.

The police officer lowered his voice.

"Well, Major, we don't want these would-be murderers to know how their
trick failed. That's the reason I didn't pound the brute to a jelly on the
bed, for it would have made such a mess on the sheet. Now there isn't a
speck on it. I'll take the vase with me into my room and finish the cobra
off. In the morning I'll get rid of its body somehow. When these devils
find tomorrow that you're not dead, they'll be very puzzled. Now, the
question is, what are you going to do?"

"Going to bed," answered Dermot, continuing to undress. "There's nothing
else to be done at this hour, is there?"

The police officer looked at him with admiration.

"By George, sir, you've got pluck. If it were I, I'd want to sit up all
night with a pistol."

"Not you. Otherwise you wouldn't be in the place at all. Besides you are
qualifying for delicate little attentions like this." And Dermot flicked
the ash of his cigarette into the vase in which the cobra still writhed and
twisted.

"Oh, well, they haven't tumbled to me yet," said the young police officer,
making light of his own courage. "I suppose you won't make any fuss about
this?"

"Of course not. We've got no proof against any one."

"But do you think it wise for you to stay on here, sir? They'll only try
again."

Dermot lit a fresh cigarette.

"Well, it can't be helped. It's all in the day's work. I'm due to stay here
two days more, and I'm damned if I'm going to move before then. As you
know, it doesn't do to show these people the white feather. Besides, I'm
rather interested to see what they'll try next."

"You're a cool hand, Major. Well, since you look at it that way, there's
nothing more to be said. I see you're ready for bed, so I'll take my lamp
and bit of pottery, and trek."

"Oh, just one moment, Barclay." Dermot sank his voice. "Did you notice the
Rajah's catch-'em-alive-ohs on sentry?"

"You mean his soldiers? No, I can't say I did."

"Well, just have a look at them tomorrow. I want to have a talk with you
about them."

"I'd like to strip these bed-clothes off. I don't fancy them after the
snake. Luckily it's so hot that one doesn't want even a sheet tonight. Let
me see if there's another cobra under the pillow. It's said that they
generally go about in pairs." He turned over the pillow. "No; that's all
right."

"Hold on a minute," whispered Barclay, raising the lamp above his head with
his left hand. "Let's see if there's any concealed entrance to the room. I
daresay these old palaces are full of secret passages and masked doors."

He sounded the walls and floors and examined them carefully.

"Seems all right. I'll be off now. Good-night, Major. I hope you'll not be
disturbed. If there's any trouble fire a shot and I'll be here in two
shakes. I've got a pistol, and by Jingo I'll have it handy tonight. Keep
yours ready, too."

"I shall. Now a thousand thanks for your help, Barclay," said the soldier,
shaking his friend's hand.

Then he closed the door behind the police officer and by the light of a
match piled chairs against it. Then he lay down on the bed, put the pistol
under the edge of the mattress and ready to his hand, and fell asleep at
once.

Early in the morning he was aroused by a vigorous knocking and heard
Barclay's voice outside the door.

"Are you all right, Major?" it said.

"Yes, thanks. Good-morning," replied the soldier. "Come in. No, wait a
minute."

He jumped out of bed and removed the barricade. Barclay entered in his
pyjamas. Lowering his voice he said:

"Anything happen during the night?"

"I don't think so. I slept soundly and heard nothing. You're up early,"
replied the soldier, picking up the blankets and sheets from the floor and
spreading them carelessly on the bed to make it look as if he had used
them.

"Yes; those infernal birds make such a confounded row. It's like being in
an aviary," said Barclay.

Dermot threw open the wooden shutters. Outside the window was a small
balcony. On the roofs and verandahs of the Palace scores of grey-hooded
crows were perched, filling the air with discordant sounds. Up in the pale
blue sky the wheeling hawks whistled shrilly. Down in the courtyard below
yellow-beaked _mynas_ chattered volubly.

"Don't they make a beastly row? How is a fellow to sleep?" grumbled
Barclay. "Look at that cheeky beggar."

A hooded crow perched on the railing of the balcony and, apparently
resenting his remarks, cawed defiantly at him. The Deputy Superintendent
picked up one of Dermot's slippers and was about to hurl it at the bird,
when a voice from the doorway startled him.

"_Char, Huzoor!_ (Tea, Your Excellency!)"

He looked round. One of the Palace servants stood at the door holding a
tray containing tea and buttered toast.

Dermot directed the man to put the tray on the dressing-table, and when the
servant had salaamed and left the room, he walked over to it and looked at
the food.

"Now, is it safe to eat that?" he said. "I've no fear of the grub they
serve in the dining-hall, for they wouldn't dare to poison us all. But
somehow I have my doubts about any nice little meal prepared exclusively
for me."

"I think you're right there, Major," said Barclay, who was sitting on the
edge of the bed.

"We'll see. There isn't the usually handy pi-dog to try it on. But we'll
make use of our noisy friend here. He won't be much loss to the world if it
poisons him," and Dermot broke off a piece of the toast and threw it on the
floor of the balcony. The crow stopped his cawing, cocked his head on one
side, and eyed the tempting morsel. Buttered toast did not often come his
way. He dropped down on to the balcony floor, hopped over to the toast,
pecked at it, picked it up in his strong beak, and flew with it to the roof
of the building opposite. In silence the two men watched him devour it.

"That seems all right, Major," said the police officer. "You've made him
your friend for life. He's coming back for more."

The crow perched on the rail again and cawed loudly.

"Oh, shut up, you greedy bird. Here's another bit for you. That's all
you'll have. I want the rest myself," said Dermot, laughing. He broke off
another piece and threw it out on to the balcony.

The crow looked at it, ruffled its feathers, shook itself--and then fell
heavily to the floor of the balcony and lay still.

"Good heavens! What an escape!" ejaculated Barclay, suddenly pale.

The two men stared at each other and the dead bird in silence. Then Dermot
murmured:

"This is getting monotonous. Hang it! They _are_ in a hurry. Why, they
couldn't even know whether I was alive or not. If the snake trick had come
off, I'd be a corpse now and this nice little meal would have been wasted.
Really, they are rather crowding things on me."

"They're taking no chances, the devils," said the younger man, who was more
upset by the occurrence than his companion.

"Well, I'll have to do without my _chota hazri_; and I do like a cup of tea
in the morning," said the soldier; and he began to shave. Glancing out of
the window he continued: "They've got a fine day for the show anyway."

Barclay sprang up from the chair on which he had suddenly sat down. His
nerve was shaken by the two attempts on his companion's life.

"Damn them and their shows, the infernal murderers," he muttered savagely,
and rushed out of the room.

"Amen!" said Dermot, as he lathered his face. Death had been near him too
often before for him to be disturbed now. So he went on shaving.

Before he left the room he poured tea into the cup on the tray and got rid
of the rest of the toast, to make it appear that he had freely partaken of
the meal. He wrapped up the dead crow in paper and locked it in his
despatch-case, until he could dispose of it that evening after dark.

Noreen had slept little during the night. All through the weary hours of
darkness she had tossed restlessly on her bed, tortured by thoughts that
revolved in monotonous circles around Dermot. What was she to believe of
him? What were the relations between him and her friend? He had seemed very
cold to Ida when they met and had avoided her all day. And she did not
appear to mind. What had happened between them? Had they quarrelled? It did
not disturb Ida's rest, for the girl could hear her regular breathing all
night long, the door between their rooms being open. Was it possible that
she and Dermot were acting indifference to deceive the people around them?

Only towards morning did Noreen fall into a troubled, broken sleep, and she
dreamt that the man she loved was in great danger. She woke up in a fright,
then dozed again. She was hollow-eyed and unrefreshed when a bare-footed
native "boy" knocked at her door and left a tray with her _chota hazri_ at
it. She could not eat, but she drank the tea thirstily.

Pleading fatigue she remained in her room all the morning and refused to go
down to _tiffin_. When the other guests were at lunch in the dining-hall a
message was brought her that Chunerbutty begged to see her urgently. She
went down to the lounge, where he was waiting. Struck by her want of
colour, he enquired somewhat tenderly what ailed her. She replied
impatiently that she was only fatigued by the previous day's journey, and
asked rather crossly why he wanted to see her.

"I have something nice for you," he said smiling. "Something I was to give
you."

Glancing around to make sure that they were unobserved, he opened a
sandalwood box that he held in his hand and took out a large, oval
leather case, which he offered to her.

"What is this?" she asked in surprise.

"Open it and see," he replied.

The girl did so unsuspectingly. It was lined with blue velvet, and resting
in it was a necklace of diamonds in quaint and massive gold setting,
evidently the work of a native jeweller. The stones, though badly cut, were
very large and flashed and sparkled with coloured fires. The ornament was
evidently extremely valuable. Noreen stared at it and then at Chunerbutty
in surprise.

"What does this mean?" she demanded, an ominous ring in her voice.

"Just a little present to you from a friend," replied the Hindu, evidently
thinking that the girl was pleased with the magnificent gift.

"For me? Are these stones real?" she asked quietly.

"Rather. Why, that necklace must be worth thousands of pounds. The fact is
that it's a little present from the Rajah, who admires you awfully. He----"

Noreen's eyes blazed, and she was on the point of bursting into angry
words; but, controlling herself with an effort, she thrust the case back
into his hands and said coldly:

"You know little of English women, Mr. Chunerbutty, if you think that they
accept presents like that from strangers. This may be the Rajah's
ignorance, but it looks more like insolence."

She turned to go; but, stopping her, he said:

"Oh, but you don't understand. He's a great friend of mine and he knows
that I'm awfully fond of you, little girl. So he's ready to do anything for
us and give me a----"

She walked past him, her eyes blazing with anger, with so resolute an air
that he drew back and watched her go. She went straight to her room and
remained there until Ida came to tell her that it was time to dress for the
celebration of the Puja festival.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the outer courtyard of the Palace six of the Rajah's State elephants,
their tusks gilded and foreheads gaudily painted, caparisoned with rich
velvet housings covered with heavy gold embroidery trailing almost to the
ground, bearing on their backs gold or silver howdahs fashioned in the
shape of temples, awaited the European guests. Chunerbutty, when allotting
positions as Master of Ceremonies, took advantage of his position to
contrive that Noreen should accompany him on the elephant on which he was
to lead the line. The girl discovered too late that they were to be alone
on it, except for the _mahout_ on its neck. Dermot and Barclay managed to
be together on another animal.

When all were in position in the howdahs, to which they climbed by ladders,
the gates were thrown open, and through a mob of salaaming retainers the
elephants emerged with stately tread on the great square in front of the
Palace and proceeded through the city. The houses were gaily decorated.
Flags and strips of coloured cloth fluttered from every building; gaudy
carpets and embroideries hung from the innumerable balconies and windows.
The elephants could scarcely force a passage through the narrow streets, so
crowded were they with swarms of men, women, and children in holiday
attire, all going in one direction. Their destination was the park of the
_Moti Mahal_ or Pearl Palace, the Rajah's summer residence outside the
walls of the city.

There the enormous crowd was kept back by red-robed retainers armed with
_tulwars_--native curved swords--leaving clear a wide stretch of open
ground, in the centre of which on a gigantic altar was the image of the
Goddess Kali. Before it a magnificent bull was firmly secured by chains and
ropes to stout posts sunk deep in the earth. The animal's head drooped and
it could hardly stand up, for it had been heavily drugged for the day's
ceremony and was scarcely conscious.

The Rajah's army was drawn up in line fronting the altar, but some distance
away from it. Two old muzzle-loading nine-pounder guns, their teams of
powerful bullocks lying contentedly behind on the grass, formed the right
of the line. Then came the cavalry, consisting of twenty _sowars_ on
squealing white stallions with long tails dyed red. Left of them was the
infantry, two hundred sepoys in shakoes, red coatees, white trousers, and
bare feet, leaning on long percussion-capped muskets with triangular
bayonets.

Shortly after the Europeans had arrived and their elephants taken up their
position on one side of the ground, cheering announced the coming of the
Rajah. The cannons were discharged by slow matches and the infantrymen,
raising their muskets, fired a ragged volley into the air. Then towards the
altar of Kali the Rajah was seen approaching in a long gilded car shaded by
a canopy of cloth-of-gold and drawn by an enormous elephant, richly
caparisoned. Two gold-laced, scarlet-clad servants were perched on the back
of the car, waving large peacock-feather fans over their monarch. A line of
carriages followed, conveying the _Dewan_, the Durbar officials, the
Ministers of the State and the leading nobles of Lalpuri. After the first
volley, which scattered the horses of the cavalry, the artillery and
infantry loaded and fired independently as fast as their antiquated weapons
permitted, until the air was filled with smoke and the acrid smell of
gunpowder.

The Rajah, hemmed in by spearmen with levelled points and followed by all
his suite with drawn swords, timidly approached the bull, _tulwar_ in hand.
The animal was too dazed to lift its head. The Rajah raised his gleaming
blade and struck at the nape of its neck, and at the same moment two
swordsmen hamstrung it. Immediately the _Dewan_, Ministers, and nobles
crowded in and hacked at the wretched beast as it lurched and fell heavily
to the ground. The warm blood spurted out in jets and covered the officials
and nobles as they cut savagely at the feebly struggling carcase, and the
red liquid splashed the Rajah as he stood gloating over the gaping wounds
and the sufferings of the poor sacrifice, his heavy face lit up by a
ghastly grin of delight.

The horrible spectacle shocked and disgusted the European spectators. Ida
nearly fainted, and Mrs. Rice turned green. Noreen shuddered at
Chunerbutty's fiendish and bestial expression, as he leaned forward in the
howdah, his face working convulsively, his eyes straining to lose no detail
of the repulsive sight. He was enjoying it, like the excited, enthralled
mobs of Indians of all ages around, who pressed forward, gradually pushing
back the line of retainers struggling to keep the ground.

Suddenly the swarming thousands broke loose. They surged madly forward,
engulfing and sweeping the soldiers along with them, and rushed on the
dying bull. They fought savagely to reach it. Those who succeeded threw
themselves on the quivering carcase and with knives or bare hands tore
pieces of still living flesh from it and thrust them into their mouths.
Then, blooded to the eyes, they raised their reddened arms aloft, while
from thousands of throats rang out the fanatical cry:

"_Kali Ma ki jai!_ (Victory to Mother Kali!)"

They surged around the altar. The Rajah was knocked down and nearly
trampled on by the maddened, hysterical crowd. _Dewan_, Ministers,
officials, guards were hustled and swept aside. The cavalry commander saw
his ruler's danger and collecting a dozen of his _sowars_ charged the
religious-mad mob and rescued the Rajah from his dangerous position, riding
down and sabring men, women, and children, the fierce stallions savaging
everyone within reach with their bared teeth.

Chunerbutty, in whom old racial instincts were rekindled, had scarcely been
able to restrain himself from climbing down and joining in the frenzied
rush on the bull. But the turn of events sobered him and induced him to
listen at last to Noreen's entreaties and angry demands from the Englishmen
who bade him order the _mahouts_ to take the visitors away from the
horrible spectacle. As they left they saw the Rajah's golden chariot and
the carriages of the officials being driven helter-skelter across the grass
with their blood-stained and terrified occupants. And the madly fanatical
crowds surged wildly around the altar, while their cries to Kali rent the
air.

The elephants lumbered swiftly in file through the deserted city, for it
was now emptied of its inhabitants. Merchants, traders, shopkeepers,
workers, harlots, and criminals, all had flocked to the _Moti Mahal_ to
witness the sacrifice.

As they entered the Palace gates the _mahout_ of the animal carrying
Barclay, Dermot, and two planters called to a native standing idly in the
courtyard:

"Why wert thou not out with thy elephant, Ebrahim?"

The man addressed, a grey-bearded Mussulman, replied:

"Shiva-_ji_ is bad today. I fear him greatly."

"Is it the madness of the _dhantwallah_?"

"It is the madness."

And the speaker cracked his finger-joints to avert evil luck.

Dinner was not a very jovial meal among the English guests that night. Much
to their relief the Rajah did not come in to them. The ladies retired early
to their rooms, and the men were not long in following their example.

Barclay and Dermot, who were the only occupants of the floor on which their
rooms were situated--it was the top one of the wing--went upstairs
together. At the Deputy Superintendent's door a man squatted and, as they
approached, rose, and saluted them in military fashion. It was Barclay's
police orderly.

"Hast got it?" asked his master in the vernacular.

"I have got it, Sahib. It is here," and the man placed a small covered
basket in his hands.

"_Bahut atcha. Ruksat hai_" (very good. You have leave to go), said his
officer, using the ordinary Indian formula for dismissing a subordinate.

"Salaam, Sahib."

The orderly saluted and went away down the passage.

"Wait a moment, Major; I'm going with you to your room," said the Deputy
Superintendent, opening his door. "Do you mind bringing my light along, as
yours may be gone again. My hands are full with this basket."

When they reached Dermot's apartment they found a lamp burning feebly in
it, smoking, and giving little light.

"Looks as if there's a fresh game on tonight," said Dermot in a low voice.
"This is not the lamp I had before dinner. That was a large and brilliant
one. I'm glad we brought yours along."

"Barricade the door, Major," whispered Barclay. "Are the shutters closed?
Yes; that's all right."

"What have you got in that mysterious basket?" his companion asked.

"You'll see presently."

He set it down on the floor and raised the lid. A small, sharp-muzzled head
with fierce pink eyes popped up and looked about suspiciously. Then its
owner climbed cautiously out on to the floor. It was a slim, long-bodied
little animal like a ferret, with a long, furry tail.

"Hullo! A mongoose? You think they'll try the same trick again?" asked
Dermot.

He glanced at the bed and picked up his cane.

"Just stand still, Major, and watch. If there's anything in the snake line
about our young friend here will attend to it."

The mongoose trotted forward for a few steps, then sat down and scratched
itself. It rose, yawned, stretched its legs, and looked up at the two men,
betraying no fear of them. Then it lifted its sharp nose into the air,
sniffed, and pattered about the room, stopping to smell the legs of the
dressing-table and a cap of Dermot's lying on the floor. It investigated
several rat-holes at the bottom of the walls and approached the bed. Under
it a pair of the soldier's slippers were lying. The mongoose, passing by
them, turned to smell them. Suddenly it sprang back, leaping a couple of
feet into the air. When it touched the floor it crouched with bared teeth,
the hair on its back bristling and its tail fluffed out until it was bigger
than the body of the fierce little animal.

"By Jove, it has found something!" exclaimed Barclay.

The two men leant forward and watched intently. The mongoose approached the
slippers again in a series of bounds, jumped around them, crouched, and
then sprang into the air again.

Suddenly there was a rush and a scurry. The mongoose had pounced on one
slipper and was shaking it savagely, beating it on the floor, rolling over
and over and leaping into the air with it. Its movements were so rapid that
for a few moments the watchers could distinguish nothing in the miniature
cyclone of slipper and ball of fluffy hair inextricably mingled. Then there
was a pause. The mongoose stood still, then backed away with stiffened
legs, its sharp teeth fixed in the neck of a small snake about ten inches
long, which it was trying to drag out of the slipper.

"Good heavens! This is worse than last night," cried Barclay. "It's a
_karait_."

This reptile is almost more poisonous than a cobra, and, as it is thin and
rarely exceeds twelve inches in length, it can hide anywhere and is an even
deadlier menace in a house.

The mongoose backed across the room, dragging the snake and with it the
slipper.

"Why the deuce doesn't it pull the _karait_ out?" said Dermot, bending down
to look more closely, as the mongoose paused. "By George! Look at this,
Barclay. The snake's fastened to the inside of the slipper by a loop and a
bit of thin wire."

"What a devilish trick!" cried Barclay.

"Well, I hope that concludes the entertainment for tonight," said Dermot.
"Enough is as good as a feast."

When next morning the servant brought in his tray, Dermot was smoking a
cigarette in an easy chair, and he fancied that there was a scared
expression in the man's eyes, as the fellow looked covertly at the slippers
on the Major's feet.



CHAPTER XVII


A TRAP

In the forenoon of the fifth day of the Durgá-Puja Festival the _Dewan_ and
Chunerbutty sat on the thick carpet of the Rajah's apartment, which was in
that part of the Palace facing the wing given up to the visitors. It formed
one of the sides of the square surrounding the paved courtyard below, which
was rarely entered. Only one door led into it from the buildings which
lined it on three sides, a door under the Rajah's suite of apartments.

That potentate was sprawling on a pile of soft cushions, glaring
malevolently at his Chief Minister, whom he hated and feared.

"Curses on thee, _Dewan-ji_!" he muttered, turning uneasily and groaning
with the pain of movement. For he was badly bruised, sore, and shaken, from
his treatment by the crowd on the previous day.

"Why on me, O Maharaj?" asked the _Dewan_, looking at him steadily and with
hardly-veiled contempt.

"Because thine was the idea of this foolish celebration yesterday. Mother
Durgá was angry with me for introducing this foreign way of worship,"
answered the superstitious atheist, conveniently forgetting that the idea
was his own. "It will cost me large sums to these greedy priests, if she is
not to punish me further."

"Not for that reason, but for another, is the Holy Mother enraged, O
Maharaj," replied his Minister. "For the lack of a sweeter sacrifice than
we offered her yesterday."

"What is that?" demanded the Rajah suspiciously. He distrusted his _Dewan_
more than any one else in his service.

"Canst thou ask? Thou who bearest on thy forehead the badge of the Sáktas?"

"Thou meanest a human sacrifice?"

"I do."

"I have given Durgá many," grumbled the Rajah. "But if she be greedy, let
her have more. There are girls in my _zenana_ that I would gladly be rid
of."

"The Holy Mother demands a worthier offering than some wanton that thou
hast wearied of."

Chunerbutty spoke for the first time.

"She wants the blood of one of the accursed race; of a _Feringhi_; of this
soldier and spy."

The Rajah shifted uneasily on his cushions. He hated but he feared the
white men, and he had not implicit faith in the _Dewan's_ talk of their
speedy overthrow.

"Mother Durgá has rejected him," he said. "Have ye not all tried to slay
him and failed?"

The _Dewan_ nodded his head slowly and stared at the carpet.

"There is some strange and evil influence that sets my plans at naught."

"The gods, if there be gods as you Brahmins say, protect him. I think evil
will come to us if we harm him. And can we? Did he not lie down with the
hooded death itself, a cobra, young, active, full of venom, and rise
unhurt?"

"True. But perhaps the snake had escaped from the bed before the
_Feringhi_ entered it," said the _Dewan_ meditatively.

"To guard against that, did they not fasten the _karait_ in his shoe?"

"He may have discovered it in time," said the engineer. "Englishmen fear
snakes greatly and always look out for them."

"Ha! and did he not eat and drink the poisoned meal prepared for him by our
skilfullest physician?"

There was no answer to this. The mystery of Dermot's escape from death was
beyond their understanding.

"There is certainly something strange about him," said Chunerbutty. "At
least, so it is reported in our district, though to me he seems a fool. But
there all races and castes fear him. Curious tales are told of him. Some
say that _Gunesh_, the Elephant-headed One, protects him. Others hold that
he is _Gunesh_ himself. Can it be so?"

The _Dewan_ smiled.

"Since when hast thou believed in the gods again?" he asked.

"Well, it is hard to know what is true or false. If there be no gods,
perhaps there are devils. My Christian friends are more impressed by the
latter."

The Rajah shook his head doubtfully.

"Perhaps he is a devil. Who knows? They told me that he summoned a host of
devils in the form of elephants to slay my soldiers. Pah! it is all
nonsense. There are no such things."

With startling distinctness the shrill trumpeting of an elephant rang
through the room.

"Mother Kali preserve me!" shrieked the superstitious Rajah, flinging
himself in terror on his face. "That was no mortal elephant. Was it
_Gunesh_ that spoke?" He lifted his head timidly. "It is a warning. Spare
the _Feringhi_. Let him go."

"Spare him? Knowest thou, O Maharaj, that the girl thou dost desire loves
him? But an hour ago I heard her tell him that she wished to speak with him
alone," said Chunerbutty.

"Alone with him? The shameless one! Curses on him! Let him die," cried the
jealous Rajah, his fright forgotten.

The _Dewan_ smiled.

"There was no need to fear the cry of that elephant," he said. "It was your
favourite, Shiva-_ji_. He is seized with the male-madness. They have penned
him in the stone-walled enclosure yonder. He killed his _mahout_ this
morning."

"Killed Ebrahim? Curse him! If he had not cost me twenty thousand rupees I
would have him shot," growled the Rajah savagely. "Killed Ebrahim, my best
_mahout_? Why could he not have slain this accursed _Feringhi_ if he had
the blood-lust on him?"

"In the name of Siva the Great One!" exclaimed the _Dewan_ piously. "It is
a good thought. Listen to me, Maharaj! Listen, thou renegade" (this to
Chunerbutty, who dared not resent the old man's insults).

The three heads came together.

      *       *       *       *       *

After lunch that day Dermot sat smoking in his room. Although it had no
punkah and the heat was great, he had escaped to it from the crowded lounge
to be able to think quietly. But his thoughts were not of the attempts on
his life and the probability that they would be repeated. His mind was
filled with Noreen to the temporary exclusion of all other subjects. She
puzzled him. He had supposed her engaged, or practically engaged, to
Charlesworth. Yet she had come away from Darjeeling at its gayest time and
here seemed to be engrossed with Chunerbutty. She was always with him or he
with her. He never left her side. She sat by him at every meal. She had
gone alone with him in his howdah to the _Moti Mahal_, when every other
elephant had carried more than two persons. He knew that she had always
regarded the Hindu as a friend, but he had not thought that she was so
attracted to him. Certainly now she did not appear content away from him.
What would Charlesworth, who hated natives, think of it?

As for himself, their former friendship seemed dead. He had naturally been
hurt when she had not waited in the hotel at Darjeeling, though she knew
that he was coming to say good-bye to her. But perhaps Charlesworth had
kept her out, so he could not blame her. But why had she deliberately
avoided him here in the Palace? What was the reason of her unfriendliness?
Yet that morning in the lounge after breakfast he had chanced to pass her
where she stood beside Chunerbutty, who was speaking to a servant. She had
detained him for a moment to tell him that she wished to see him alone some
time, for she wanted his advice. She seemed rather mysterious about it, and
he remembered that she had spoken in a low tone, as if she did not desire
any one else to hear what she was saying.

What did it all mean? Well, if he could help her with advice or anything
else he would. He had not realised how fond he was of her until this
estrangement between them had arisen.

As he sat puzzling over the problem the servant who waited on him entered
the room and salaamed.

"_Ghurrib Parwar!_ (Protector of the Poor.) I bring a message for Your
Honour. The English missie _baba_ sends salaams and wishes to speak with
you."

Dermot sprang up hastily.

"Where is she, Rama? In the lounge?"

"No, _Huzoor_. The missie _baba_ is in the Red Garden."

"Where is that?"

"It is the Rajah's own private garden, through there." The servant pointed
down to the gateway in the high wall of the courtyard below. He had opened
the shutter of the window by which they were standing. "I will guide Your
Honour. We must go through that door over there under His Highness's
apartments."

"_Bahut atcha_, Rama. I will come with you. Give me my _topi_," cried
Dermot, feeling light-hearted all at once. Perhaps the misunderstanding
between Noreen and him would be cleared up now. He took his sun-hat from
the man and followed him out of the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Noreen was greatly perplexed about the insult, as she considered it, of the
Rajah's offer of the necklace. She feared to tell her brother, who might be
angry with her for suspecting his friend of condoning an impertinence to
her. Equally she felt that she could not confide in Ida or any one else,
lest she should be misjudged and thought to have encouraged the engineer
and his patron. To whom could she turn, sure of not being misunderstood? If
only Dermot had remained her friend!

She was torn with longings to know the truth about his relations with Ida.
The uncertainty was unbearable. That morning in her room she had boldly
attacked Ida and asked her frankly. The other woman made light of the whole
affair, pretended that Noreen had misunderstood her on that night in
Darjeeling, and laughed at the idea of any one imagining that she had ever
been in love with Dermot.

The girl was more puzzled than ever. Her heart ached for an hour or two
alone with her one-time friend of the forest. O to be out with him on
Badshah in the silent jungle, no matter what dangers encircled them!
Perhaps there the cloud between them would vanish. But could she not speak
to him here in the Palace? He seemed to be no longer fascinated with Ida,
if indeed he ever had been. She could tell him of the Rajah's insult. He
would advise her what to do, for she was sure that he would not misjudge
her. And perhaps--who knew?--her confiding in him might break down the wall
that separated them. She forgot that it had been built by her own
resentment and anger, and that she had eluded his attempts to approach her.
Even now she felt that she could not speak to him before others.

Growing desperate, she had that morning snatched at the opportunity to ask
him for an interview. Chunerbutty, who seemed always to cling to her now
with the persistence of a leech, had as usual been with her, but his
attention had been distracted from her for a moment. She hoped that the
Hindu had not overheard her. Yet what did it matter if he had? Dermot had
understood and nodded, as he passed on with the old, friendly look in his
eyes. Perhaps all would come right.

She had seen him leave the lounge after lunch, but she remained there
confident that he would return. She felt she could not talk to the others
so she withdrew to a table near one of the shuttered windows and pretended
to read the newspapers on it.

Payne was there, deep in the perusal of an article in an English journal on
the disturbed state of India. Mrs. Rice, impervious to snubs, was trying to
impress the openly bored Ida with accounts of the gay and fashionable life
of Balham. The men were scattered about the room in groups, some discussing
in low tones the occurrences of the day before at the _Moti Mahal_, others
talking of the illuminations and fireworks which were to wind up their
entertainment in Lalpuri on this the last night of their stay. For all were
leaving on the morrow.

Suddenly there was a wild outcry outside. Loud cries, the shouts of men,
the terrifying trumpeting of an elephant, resounded through the courtyard
below and echoed weirdly from the walls of the buildings. A piercing shriek
of agony rang high above the tumult of sound and chilled the blood of the
listeners in the lounge.

Payne tore fiercely at the stiff wooden shutters of the window near him,
which led out to the long balcony. Suddenly they burst open and he sprang
out.

"Good God!" he cried in horror. "Look! Look! Dermot's done for!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The soldier had followed Rama, who led him through an unfamiliar part of
the Palace along low passages, down narrow winding staircases, through
painted rooms, in some of which female garments flung carelessly on the
cushions seemed to indicate that they were passing through a portion of the
_zenana_. Finally they reached a marble-paved hall on the ground-floor,
where two attendants, the first persons whom they had seen on their way,
lounged near a small door. They were evidently the porters and appeared to
expect them, for they opened the door at Rama's approach. Through it Dermot
followed his guide out into the courtyard on which he had often looked from
the balcony of his room. He looked up at the lounge, two stories above his
head, its long casements shuttered against the heat. Then he noticed that
in none of the buildings surrounding the court were there any windows lower
than the second story, and the only entrance into it from the Palace was
the small door through which he had just passed. Almost at the moment he
stepped into the courtyard a familiar sound greeted his ears. It was the
trumpeting of an elephant. But there was a strange note of rage and
excitement in it, and he thought of the remarks of the _mahouts_ the
previous day on the return from the _Moti Mahal_. Probably the _must_
elephant of which they spoke was chained somewhere close by.

As he crossed the courtyard he chanced to glance up at the shuttered
windows of the apartments which he had been told were occupied by the
Rajah. At that moment one of them was opened and a white cloth waved from
it by an unseen hand. He wondered was it a signal. He stooped to fasten a
bootlace, and Rama, who was making for the gateway in the high wall forming
the fourth side of the courtyard, called impatiently to him to hasten. The
servant's tone was impertinent, and Dermot looked up in surprise.

Then suddenly Hell broke loose. From the direction in which they were
proceeding came fierce shouts of men, yells of terror, and the angry
trumpeting of an elephant mingled with the groaning of iron dragged over
stone and the crashing of splintered wood. Rama, who was a few yards ahead,
turned and ran past the white man, his face livid. Dermot looked after him
in surprise. The man had dashed back to the little door and was beating on
it madly with his fists. It was opened to admit him and then hastily
closed. The soldier heard the rusty bolts grinding home in their sockets.

Scenting danger and fearing a trap he stood still in the middle of the
courtyard.

The uproar continued and drew nearer. Suddenly it was dominated by a
blood-curdling shriek of agony. Through the wide gateway he saw five or
six men fleeing across the farther courtyard, which was surrounded by a
high wall. Behind them rushed a huge tusker elephant, ears and tail
cocked, eyes aflame with rage. He overtook one man, struck him down with
his trunk, trod him to pulp, and then pursued the others. Some of them,
crazed with terror, tried to climb the walls. The savage brute struck
them down one after another, gored them or trampled them to death.

Three terrified wretches fled through the gateway into the courtyard in
which Dermot was standing. One stumbled and the elephant caught him up. The
demented man turned on it and tried to beat it off with his bare hands.
With a scream of fury the maddened beast drove his blood-stained tusk into
the wretch's body, pitched him aloft, then hurled him to the ground and
gored him again and again. The dying shriek that burst from the labouring
lungs turned Dermot's blood cold. The body was kicked, trampled on, and
then torn limb from limb.

The two other men had dashed wildly across the courtyard. One reached the
small door and was beating madly on it with bleeding knuckles, but it
remained implacably closed. The other, driven mad by fear, was running
round and round the courtyard like a caged animal, stopping occasionally to
raise imploring hands and eyes to the windows of the Palace, which were now
filled with spectators. Even the roofs were crowded with natives looking
down on the tragedy being enacted below.

Dermot realised that he had been trapped. There was no escape. He looked up
at the Rajah's windows. One had been pushed open, and he thought that he
could see the _Dewan_ and his master watching him. He determined that he
would not afford them the gratification of seeing him run round and round
the walls of the courtyard like a rat in a trap until death overtook him.
So, when the elephant at last drew off from its victim and stood irresolute
for a moment, he turned to face it.

It seemed to him that he heard his voice called, faintly and from far away,
but all his faculties were intent on watching the death that approached him
in such hideous guise. Dermot's thoughts flew to Badshah for a moment, but
swung back to centre on the coming annihilation. With flaming eyes, trunk
curled, and head thrown up, the elephant charged.

For one brief instant the man felt an insane desire to flee but, mastering
it, he faced the on-rushing brute. A minute more, and all would be over.
The soldier was unconscious of the shouts that rent the air, of the
spectators crowding the balconies and windows. He felt perfectly cool now
and had but one regret--that he had not been able to see Noreen again, as
she had wished, before he died.

He drew a deep breath, his last perhaps before Death reached him, and took
a step forward to meet his doom.

But at his movement a miracle happened. Not five yards from him the
charging elephant suddenly tried to check its rush, flung all its weight
back and, unable to halt, slid forward with stiffened fore-legs over the
paving-stones. When at last it stopped one tusk was actually touching the
man. Tail, ears, and trunk drooped, and it backed with every evidence of
terror. Some instinct had warned it at the last moment that this man was
sacred to the mammoth tribe.

Like a flash enlightenment came to Dermot. Once again a mysterious power
had saved him. The elephant knew and feared him. Yet he seemed as one in a
dream. He looked up at the native portion of the Palace and became aware of
the spectators on the roofs, the staring faces at the windows, the eyes of
the women peering at him through the latticed casements of the _zenana_.
The Rajah and the _Dewan_, all caution forgotten in their excitement, had
thrown open the shutters from behind which they had hoped to witness his
death, and were leaning out in full view.

Dermot laughed grimly, and the thought came to him to impress these
treacherous foes more forcibly. He walked towards the shrinking elephant,
raised his hand, and commanded it to kneel. The animal obeyed submissively.
The soldier swung himself on to its neck, and the animal rose to its feet
again.

He guided it across the courtyard until it stood under the window from
which the Rajah and the _Dewan_ stared down at him in amazement and
superstitious dread. Then he said to the animal:

"_Salaam kuro!_ (Salute!)"

It raised its trunk and trumpeted in the royal salutation. With a mocking
smile, Dermot lifted his hat to the shrinking pair of murderers and turned
the elephant away.

Then for the first time he became aware that the balcony of the lounge was
crowded with his fellow-countrymen. Ida and Mrs. Rice were sobbing
hysterically on each other's shoulders. Noreen, clinging to her brother,
whose arm was about her, was staring down at him with a set, white face.
And as he looked up and saw them the men went mad. They burst into a roar
of cheering, of greeting, and applause that drove the Rajah and his
Minister into hiding again, for the shouts had something of menace in them.

Dermot took off his hat in acknowledgment of the cheers and, seeing the
Hindu engineer shrinking behind the others with an expression of amazed
terror on his face, called to him:

"Would you kindly send one of your friends to open the door, Mr.
Chunerbutty? It seems to have got shut by some unfortunate accident."

He brought the elephant to its knees and dismounted. Then as it rose he
pointed to the gateway and said in the _mahout's_ tongue:

"Return to your stall."

The animal walked away submissively. The two surviving natives shrank
against the buildings in deadly fear, but the animal disappeared quietly.

Dermot went to the door and waited. Soon he heard the key turned in the
lock and the rusty bolts drawn back. The door was then flung open by one of
the porters, while the others huddled against the wall, for Barclay stood
in front of them with a pistol raised. He sprang forward and seized
Dermot's hand.

"Heaven and earth! How are you alive?" he cried. "I thought the devils had
got you this time. I was tempted to shoot these swine here for being so
long in opening the door."

There was a clatter of boots on the marble floor, as Payne and Granger,
followed by the rest of the Englishmen, ran up the hall, cheering. They
crowded round Dermot, nearly shook his arm off, thumped him on the back,
and overwhelmed him with congratulations.

As Dermot thanked them he said:

"I didn't know that you fellows were looking on, otherwise I wouldn't have
done that little bit of gallery-play. But I had a reason for it." "Yes; we
know," said Payne significantly. "Barclay told us."

Then they dragged him protesting upstairs to the lounge, that the women
might congratulate him too; which they did each in her own fashion. Ida was
effusive and sentimental, Mrs. Rice fatuous, and Noreen timid and almost
stiff. The girl, who had endured an agony worse than many deaths, could not
voice her feelings, and her congratulations seemed curt and cold to others
besides Dermot.

She had no opportunity of speaking to him apart, even for a minute, for the
men surrounded him and insisted on toasting him and questioning him until
it was time to dress for dinner. And even then they formed a guard of
honour and escorted him to his room.

Noreen, utterly worn out by her sleepless nights and the storm of emotions
that had shaken her, was unable to come down to dinner, and at her
brother's wish went to bed instead. And so she did not learn that Dermot
was leaving the Palace at the early hour of four o'clock in the morning.

That night as Dermot and Barclay went upstairs together the police officer
said:

"I wonder if they'll dare to try anything against you tonight, Major. I
should say they'd give you a miss in baulk, for they must believe you
invulnerable. Still, I'm going with you to your room to see."

When they reached it and threw open the door a figure half rose from the
floor. Barclay's hand went out to it with levelled pistol, but the words
arrested him.

"_Khodawund!_ (Lord of the World!) Forgive me! I did not know. I did not
know."

It was the treacherous Rama who had tried to lead Dermot to his death. He
lay face to the ground.

"Damned liar!" growled Barclay in English.

"Did not know that thou wert leading me under the feet of the _must_
elephant?" demanded Dermot incredulously.

"Aye, that I knew of course, _Huzoor_. How can I deceive thee? But thee I
knew not; though the elephant Shiva-_ji_ did, even in his madness. It is
not my fault. I am not of this country. I am a man of the Punjaub. I know
naught of the gods of Bengal."

Barclay had heard from the planters the belief in Dermot's divinity which
was universal in their district, and perceived that the legend had reached
this man. He was quick to see the advantages that they could reap from his
superstitious fears. He signed to Dermot to be silent and said in solemn
tones:

"Rama, thou hast grievously offended the gods. Thou knowest the truth at
last?"

"I do, Sahib. The talk through the Palace, aye, throughout the city, is all
of the God of the Elephants, of the Terrible One who feeds his herd of
demons on the flesh of men. The temple of _Gunesh_ will be full indeed
tonight. But alas! I am an ignorant man. I knew not that the holy one took
form among the _gora-logue_ (white folk)."

"The gods know no country. The truth, Rama, the truth," said Barclay
impressively. "Else thou art lost. Shiva-_ji_, mayhap, is hungry and needs
his meal of flesh."

"Ai! sahib, say not so," wailed the terror-stricken man. "He has feasted
well today. With my own eyes I saw him feed on Man Singh the Rajput."

Natives believe that an elephant, when it seizes in its mouth the limbs
of a man that it has killed and is about to tear in pieces, eats his
flesh. In dread of a like doom, of the terrible vengeance of this
mysterious Being, god, man, or demon, perhaps all three, from whom
death shrank aside, whom neither poison of food nor venom of snake could
harm, who used mad, man-slaying elephants as steeds, Rama unburdened his
soul. He told how the _Dewan's_ confidential man had bade him carry out
the attempts on Dermot's life. He showed them that the Major's
suspicions when he saw the Rajah's soldiery were correct, and that from
Lalpuri came the inspiration of the carrying-off of Noreen. He told them
of a party of these same soldiers that had gone on a secret mission into
the Great Jungle, from which but a few came back after awful sufferings,
and the strange tales whispered in the bazaar as to the fate of their
comrades.

He disclosed more. He spoke of mysterious travellers from many lands that
came to the Palace to confer with the _Dewan_--Chinese, Afghans, Bhutanese,
Indians of many castes and races, white men not of the sahib-_logue_. He
said enough to convince his hearers that many threads of the world-wide
conspiracy against the British Raj led to Lalpuri. There was not proof
enough yet for the Government of India to take action against its rulers,
perhaps, but sufficient to show where the arch-conspirators of Bengal were
to be sought for.

Rama left the room, not pardoned indeed, but with the promise of punishment
suspended as long as he was true to the oath he had sworn by the Blessed
Water of the Ganges, to be true slave and bearer of news when Dermot needed
him.

Long after he left, the two sat and talked of the strange happenings of the
last few days, and disclosed to each other what they knew of the treason
that stalked the land, for each was servant of the Crown and his knowledge
might help the other. And when the hoot of Payne's motor-horn in the outer
courtyard told them that it was time for Dermot to go, they said good-bye
in the outwardly careless fashion of the Briton who has looked into
another's eyes and found him true man and friend.

Then through the darkness into the dawn Dermot sped away with his
companions from the City of Shame and the Palace of Death.

And Noreen woke later to learn that the man she loved had left her again
without farewell, that the fog of misunderstanding between them was not yet
lifted.



CHAPTER XVIII


THE CAT AND THE TIGER

Several weeks had passed since the Durgá Puja Festival. Over the Indian
Empire the dark clouds were gathering fast. The Pathan tribes along the
North-west Frontier were straining at the leash; Afridis, Yusufzais,
Mohmands, all the _Pukhtana_, were restless and excited. The _mullahs_ were
preaching a holy war; and the _maliks_, or tribal elders, could not
restrain their young men. Raids into British Indian territory were
frequent.

There was worse menace behind. The Afghan troops, organised, trained, and
equipped as they had never been before in their history, were massing near
the Khyber Pass. Some of the Penlops, the great feudal chieftains of
little-known Bhutan, were rumoured to have broken out into rebellion
against the Maharajah because, loyal to his treaties with the Government of
India, he had refused a Chinese army free passage through the country. All
the masterless Bhuttia rogues on both sides of the border were sharpening
their _dahs_ and looking down greedily on the fertile plains below.

All India itself seemed trembling on the verge of revolt. The Punjaub was
honeycombed with sedition. Men said that the warlike castes and races that
had helped Britain to hold the land in the Black Year of the Mutiny would
be the first to tear it from her now. In the Bengals outrages and open
disloyalty were the order of the day. The curs that had fattened under
England's protection were the first to snap at her heels. The Day of Doom
seemed very near. Only the great feudatories of the King-Emperor, the noble
Princes of India, faithful to their oaths, were loyal.

Through the borderland of Bhutan Dermot and Badshah still ranged, watching
the many gates through the walls of mountains better than battalions of
spies. The man rarely slept in a bed. His nights were passed beside his
faithful friend high up in the Himalayan passes, where the snow was already
falling, or down in the jungles still reeking of fever and sweltering in
tropic heat. By his instructions Parker and his two hundred sepoys toiled
to improve the defences of Ranga Duar; and the subaltern was happy in the
possession of several machine guns wrung from the Ordnance Department with
difficulty.

Often, as Dermot sat high perched on the mountain side, searching the
narrow valleys and deep ravines of Bhutan with powerful glasses, his
thoughts flew to Noreen safe beyond the giant hills at his back. It cheered
him to know that he was watching over her safety as well as guarding the
peace of hundreds of millions in the same land. He had seldom seen her
since their return from Lalpuri, and on the rare occasions of their meeting
she seemed to avoid him more than ever. Chunerbutty was always by her side.
Could there be truth, then, in this fresh story that Ida Smith had told him
on their last night at the Palace, when she said that she had discovered
that she was mistaken in believing in Noreen's approaching betrothal to
Charlesworth, of which she had assured him in Darjeeling? For at Lalpuri
she said she had extracted from the girl the confession that she had
refused the Rifleman and others for love of someone in the Plains below.
And Ida, judging from Chunerbutty's constant attendance on, and
proprietorial manner with Noreen, confided to Dermot her firm belief that
the Bengali was the man.

The thought was unbearable to the soldier. As he sat in his lonely eyrie he
knew now that he loved the girl, that it would be unbearable for him to see
her another's wife. Those few days at Lalpuri, when first he felt the
estrangement between them, had revealed the truth to him. When in the
courtyard of the Palace he saw Death rushing on him he had given her what
he believed would be his last thought.

He recalled her charm, her delightful comradeship, her brightness, and her
beauty. It was hateful to think that she would dower this renegade Hindu
with them all. Dermot had no unjust prejudice against the natives of the
land in which so much of his life was passed. Like every officer in the
Indian Army he loved his sepoys and regarded them as his children. Their
troubles, their welfare, were his. He respected the men of those gallant
warrior races that once had faced the British valiantly in battle and
fought as loyally beside them since. But for the effeminate and cowardly
peoples of India, that ever crawled to kiss the feet of each conqueror of
the peninsula in turn and then stabbed him in the back if they could, he
had the contempt that every member of the martial races of the land, every
Sikh, Rajput, Gurkha, Punjaubi had.

The girl would scarcely have refused so good a match as Charlesworth or
come away heart-whole from Darjeeling, where so many had striven for her
favour, if she had gone there without a prior attachment. That she cared
for no man in England he was sure, for she had often told him that she had
no desire to return to that country. He had seen her among the planters of
the district and was certain that she loved none of them. Only Chunerbutty
was left; it must indeed be he.

He shut up his binoculars and climbed down the rocky pinnacle on which he
had been perched, and went to eat a cheerless meal where Badshah grazed a
thousand feet below.

In Malpura Noreen was suffering bitterly for her foolish pride and jealous
readiness to believe evil of the man she loved. She knew that she was
entirely to blame for her estrangement from him. He never came to their
garden now; and to her dismay her brother ignored all hints to invite him.
For the boy was divided between loyalty to Chunerbutty (whom he had to
thank for his chance in life) and the man who had twice saved his sister.
Chunerbutty had reproached him with forgetting what he, the now despised
Hindu, had done for him in the past, and complained sadly that Miss Daleham
looked down on him for the colour of his skin. So Fred felt that he must
choose between two friends and that honour demanded his clinging to the
older one. Therefore he begged Noreen for his sake not to hurt the
engineer's feelings and to treat him kindly. She could not refuse, and
Chunerbutty took every advantage of her sisterly obedience. Whenever they
went to the club he tried to monopolise her, and delighted in exhibiting
the terms of friendship on which they appeared to be. The girl felt that
even her old friends were beginning at last to look askance at her;
consequently she tried to avoid going to the weekly gatherings.

It happened that on the occasion when Dermot, having arrived at Salchini on
a visit to Payne, again made his appearance at the club, Daleham had
insisted on his sister accompanying him there, much against her will.
Chunerbutty was unable to go with them, being confined to his bungalow with
a slight touch of fever.

That afternoon Noreen was more than ever conscious of a strained feeling
and an unmistakable coldness to her on the part of the men whom she knew
best. And worse, it seemed to her that some young fellows who had only
recently come to the district and with whom she was little acquainted, were
inclined to treat her with less respect than usual. She had seen Dermot
arrive with his host; but, although Payne came to sit down beside her and
chat, his guest merely greeted her courteously and passed on at once.

All that afternoon it seemed to the girl that something in the atmosphere
was miserably wrong, but what it was she could not tell. She was bitterly
disappointed that Dermot kept away from her. It was not the smart of a hurt
pride, but the bewildered pain of a child that finds that the one it values
most does not need it. Indeed her best friends, all except Payne, seemed to
have agreed to ignore her.

Mrs. Rice, however, was even sweeter in her manner than usual when she
spoke to the girl.

"Where is Mr. Chunerbutty today, dear?" she asked after lunch from where
she sat on the verandah beside Dermot. Noreen was standing further along it
with Payne, watching the play on the tennis-court in front of the club
house.

"He isn't very well," replied the girl. "He's suffering from fever."

"Oh, really? I am so sorry to hear that," exclaimed the older woman. "So
sad for you, dear. However did you force yourself to leave him?"

Noreen looked at her in surprise.

"Why not? We could do nothing for him," she said. "We sent him soup and
jelly made by our cook, and Fred went to see him before we started. But he
didn't want to be disturbed."

Mrs. Rice's manner grew even more sweetly sympathetic.

"I _am_ so sorry," she said. "How worried you must be!"

The girl stared at her in astonishment. She had never expected to find Mrs.
Rice seriously concerned about any one, and least of all the Hindu, who was
no favourite of hers.

"Oh, there's really nothing to worry about," she exclaimed impatiently.
"Fred said he hadn't much of a temperature."

"Yes, I daresay. But you can't help being anxious, I know. I wonder that
you were able to bring yourself to come here at all, dear," said the older
woman in honeyed tones.

"But why shouldn't I?"

Noreen's eyebrows were raised in bewilderment. She felt instinctively that
there was some hidden unfriendliness at the back of Mrs. Rice's sympathetic
words. She felt that Dermot was watching her.

"Oh, forgive me, dear. I am afraid I'm being indiscreet. I forgot," said
the other woman. She rose from her chair and turned to the man beside her.

"Major, do take me out to see how the coolies are getting on with the polo
ground. I hope when it's finished you'll come here to play regularly. These
boys want someone to show them the game. You military men are the only ones
who know how it should be played."

She put up her green-lined white sun-umbrella and led the way down the
verandah steps. With a puckered brow Noreen watched her and her companion
until they were out of sight round the corner of the little wooden
building.

"What does Mrs. Rice mean?" she demanded. "I'm sure there's something
behind her words. She never pretended to like Mr. Chunerbutty. Why should
she be concerned about him now? Why does she seem to expect me to stay
behind to nurse him? Of course I would, if he were dangerously ill. But
he's not."

Payne glanced around. Some of the men, who were sitting near, had heard the
conversation with Mrs. Rice, and Noreen felt that there was something
hostile in the way in which they looked at her.

Payne answered in a careless tone:

"Let's sit down. There are a couple of chairs. We'll bag them."

He pointed to two at the far end of the verandah and led the way to them.

When they were seated he said:

"Haven't you any idea of what she means, Miss Daleham?"

The girl stared at him anxiously.

"Then she does mean something, and you know it. Mr. Payne, you have always
been good to me. Won't you help me? Everyone seems to have grown suddenly
very unfriendly."

The grey-haired man looked pityingly at her.

"Will you be honest with me, child?" he asked. "Are you engaged to
Chunerbutty?"

"Engaged? What--to marry him? Good gracious, no!" exclaimed the astonished
girl, half rising from her chair.

"Will you tell me frankly--have you any intention of marrying him?" he
persisted.

Noreen stared at him, her cheeks flaming.

"Marry Mr. Chunerbutty? Of course not. How could you think so! Why, he's
not even a white man."

"Thank God!" Payne exclaimed fervently. "I'm delighted to hear it. I
couldn't believe it--yet one never knows."

"But what on earth put such a preposterous idea into your head, Mr. Payne?"
asked Noreen. "And what has this got to do with Mrs. Rice?"

"Because Mrs. Rice said that you were engaged to Chunerbutty."

For a moment Noreen could find no words. Then she leaned forward, her eyes
flashing.

"Oh, how could she--how could she think so?"

"Perhaps she didn't. But she wanted us to. She said that you had told her
you were engaged to him, but wanted it kept secret for the present. So
naturally she told everyone."

"Told everyone that I was going to marry a native? Oh, how cruel of her!
How could she be so wicked!" exclaimed the girl, much distressed. Then she
added: "Did _you_ believe it?"

Payne shook his head.

"Candidly, child, I didn't know what to think. I hoped it wasn't true. But
of late that damned Bengali seemed so intimate with you. He apparently
wanted everyone to see on what very friendly terms you and he were."

"Did Major Dermot believe it too?"

"I don't know," said Payne doubtfully. "Dermot's not the fellow to talk
about women. He's never mentioned you."

"But how do you know that Mrs. Rice said such a thing? Did she tell you?"

"No; she knows that I am your friend, and I daresay she was afraid to tell
me such a lie. But she told others."

He turned in his chair and called to a young fellow standing near the bar
of the club.

"I say, Travers, do you mind coming here a moment? Pull up a chair and sit
down."

Travers was a straight, clean-minded boy, one of those of their community
whom Noreen liked best, and she had felt hurt at his marked avoidance of
her all the afternoon.

"Look here, youngster," said Payne in a low voice, "did Mrs. Rice tell you
that Miss Daleham was engaged to Chunerbutty?"

Travers looked at him in surprise.

"Yes. I told you so the other day. She said that Miss Daleham had confided
to her that they were engaged, but wanted it kept secret for a time until
he could get another job."

"Then, my boy, you'll be pleased to hear it's a damned lie," said Payne
impressively. "Miss Daleham would never marry a black man."

The boy's face lit up.

"I am glad!" he cried impulsively. "I'm very, very sorry, Miss Daleham, for
helping to spread the lie. But I only told Payne. I knew he was a friend of
yours, and I hoped he'd be able to contradict the yarn. For I felt very
sick about it."

"Thank you, Mr. Travers," the girl said gratefully. "But I'm glad that you
did tell him. Otherwise I might not have heard it, at least not from a
friend."

Just then the four men on the tennis-court finished their game and came in
to the bar. Fred Daleham and another took their places and began a single.
Mrs. Rice, with Dermot and several other men, came up the steps of the
verandah, and, sitting down, ordered tea for the party.

Noreen looked at her with angry eyes, and, rising, walked along the
verandah to where she was sitting surrounded by the group of men.

Her enemy looked up as she approached.

"Are you coming to have tea, dear?" she said sweetly. "I haven't ordered
any for you, but I daresay they'll find you a cup."

Dermot rose to offer the girl his chair; but, ignoring him, she confronted
the other woman.

"Mrs. Rice, will you please tell me if it is true that you said I was
engaged to Mr. Chunerbutty?" she demanded in a firm tone.

It was as if a bomb had exploded in the club. Noreen's voice carried
clearly through the building, so that everyone inside it heard her words
distinctly. The only two members of their little community who missed them
were her brother and his opponent on the tennis-court.

Mrs. Rice gasped and stared at the indignant girl, while the men about her
sat up suddenly in their chairs.

"I said so? What an idea!" ejaculated the planter's wife. Then in an
insinuating voice she added: "You know I never betray secrets."

"There is no secret. Please answer me. Did you say to any one that I had
told you I was engaged to him?" persisted the girl.

The older woman tried to crush her by a haughty assumption of superiority.

"You absurd child, you must be careful what accusations you bring. You
shouldn't say such things."

"Kindly answer my question," demanded the angry girl.

Mrs. Rice lay back in her chair with affected carelessness.

"Well, aren't you engaged to him? Won't even he--?" she broke off and
sniggered impertinently.

"I am not. Most certainly not," said Noreen hotly. "I insist on your
answering me. Did you say that I had told you we were and asked you to keep
it a secret?"

"No, I did not. Who did I tell?" snapped the other woman.

"Me for one," broke in a voice; and Dermot took a step forward. "You
told me very clearly and precisely, Mrs. Rice, that Miss Daleham had
confided to you under the pledge of secrecy--which, by the way, you were
breaking--that she was engaged to this man."

There was an uncomfortable pause. Noreen glanced gratefully at her
champion. The other men shifted uneasily, and Mrs. Rice's husband, who was
standing at the bar, hastily hid his face in a whiskey and soda.

Noreen turned again to her traducer.

"Will you kindly contradict your false statement?" she asked.

The other woman looked down sullenly and made no reply.

"Then I shall," continued the girl. She faced the group of men before her,
Payne and Travers by her side.

"I ask you to believe, gentlemen, that there never was nor could be any
question of an engagement between Mr. Chunerbutty and me," she said firmly.
"And I give you my word of honour that I never said such a thing to Mrs.
Rice."

She waited for a moment, then turned and walked away down the verandah,
followed by Payne and Travers, leaving a pained silence behind her. Mrs.
Rice tried to regain her self-confidence.

"The idea of that chit talking to me like that!" she exclaimed. "It was
only meant for a joke, if I did say it. Who'd have ever thought she'd have
taken it that way?"

"Any decent man--or woman, Mrs. Rice," said Dermot severely. Then, after
looking at Rice to see if he wished to take up the cudgels on his wife's
behalf, and failing to catch that gentleman's carefully-averted eye, the
soldier turned and walked deliberately to where Noreen was sitting, now
suffering from the reaction from her anger and frightened at the memory of
her boldness.

The other men got up one by one and went to the bar, from which the hen
pecked Rice was peremptorily called by his angry wife and ordered to drive
her home.

After the Dalehams had returned to their bungalow the girl told her brother
of what had happened at the club. He was exceedingly angry and agreed that
it would be wiser for her to keep Chunerbutty at a distance in future. And
later on he had no objection to her inviting Dermot to pay them a flying
visit when he was again in their neighbourhood. For the incident at the
club had brought about a resumption of the old friendly relations between
Noreen and Dermot, who occasionally invited her to accompany him on Badshah
for a short excursion into the forest, much to her delight. She confided to
him the offer of the necklace and learned in return his belief that the
Rajah was the instigator of the attempt to carry her off. When her brother
heard of this and of Chunerbutty's action in the matter of the jewels he
was so enraged that he quarrelled for the first time with his Hindu friend.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dermot was kept informed of whatever happened in Lalpuri by the repentant
Rama through the medium of Barclay. For the Deputy Superintendent had been
appointed to a special and important post in the Secret Police and told off
to watch the conspiracy in Bengal. This he owed to a strong recommendation
from Dermot to the Head of the Department in Simla. Rama proved invaluable.
Through him they learned of the despatch of an important Brahmin messenger
and intermediary from the Palace to Bhutan, by way of Malpura, where he was
to visit some of his caste-fellows on Parry's garden. The information
reached Dermot too late to enable him to seize the man on the tea-estate.
So he hurried to the border to intercept the messenger before he crossed
it. But here, too, he was unsuccessful. Certain that the Brahmin had not
slipped through the meshes of the net formed by his secret service of
subsidised Bhuttias, Dermot returned to the jungle to make search for him
along the way. But all to no avail, much to his chagrin; for he had reason
to hope that he would find on the emissary proof enough of the treason of
the rulers of Lalpuri to hang them. He went back to Malpura to prosecute
enquiries.

To console himself for his disappointment Dermot determined to have a day's
shooting in the jungle, a treat he rarely had leisure for now. He invited
the Dalehams to accompany him. Noreen accepted eagerly, but her brother was
obliged to decline, much to his regret. For Parry was now always in a state
bordering on lunacy, and his brutal treatment of the coolies, when his
assistant was not there to restrain him, several times nearly drove them
into open revolt. So Dermot and his companion set off alone.

As they went along they chanced to pass near a little village buried in the
heart of the jungle. A man working on the small patch of cleared soil in
which he and his fellows grew their scanty crops saw them, recognised
Badshah and his male rider, and ran away shouting to the hamlet. Then out
of it swarmed men, women, and children, the last naked, while only
miserable rags clothed the skinny frames of their elders. All prostrated
themselves in the dust in Badshah's path. The elephant stopped. Then a
wizened old man with scanty white beard raised his hands imploringly to
Dermot.

"Lord! Holy One! Have mercy on us!"

The rest chorused: "Have mercy!"

"Spare thy slaves, O Lord!" went on the old man. "Spare us ere all perish.
We worship at thy shrine. We grudge not thy elephants our miserable crops.
Are they not thy servants? But let not the Striped Death slay all of us."

Dermot questioned him and then explained to Noreen that a man-eating tiger
had taken up its residence near the village and was rapidly killing off its
inhabitants.

"Oh, do help them," she said. "Can't you shoot it?"

He reflected for a few moments.

"Yes, I think I know how to get it. Will you wait for me in the village?"

"What? Mayn't I go with you to see you kill it? Please let me. I promise
I'll not scream or be stupid."

He looked at her admiringly.

"Bravo!" he said. "I'm sure you'll be all right. Very well. I promise you
you shall see a sight that not many other women have seen."

He borrowed a _puggri_--a strip of cotton cloth several yards long--from a
villager, and bade them show him where the tiger lay up during the heat of
the day. When they had done so from a safe distance, he turned Badshah,
and, to Noreen's surprise, sped off swiftly in the opposite direction.

Suddenly the girl touched his arm quietly.

"Look! I see a wild elephant. There's another! And another!" she whispered.

"Yes; I've come in search of them," he replied in his ordinary tone. "It's
Badshah's herd."

"Is it really? How wonderful! How did you know where to find them?" she
cried, thrilled by the sight of the great beasts all round them and
exclaiming with delight at the solemn little woolly babies, many newly
born. For this was the calving season.

Dermot uttered a peculiar cry that sent the cow-elephants huddling
together, their young hiding under their bodies, while from every
quarter the great tuskers broke out through the undergrowth and came to
him in a mass. Then, as Badshah turned and set off at a rapid pace, the
bull-elephants followed.

When he arrived near the spot in which the man-eater was said to have his
lair, Dermot stopped them all. Despite her protests he tied Noreen firmly
with the _puggri_ to the rope crossing Badshah's pad. Then he drove his
animal into the herd of tuskers, which had crowded together, and divided
them into two bodies. The tiger was reported to lie up in a narrow _nullah_
filled and fringed with low bushes. From the near bank to where Badshah
stood the forest was free from undergrowth, which came to within a score of
yards of the far bank.

Badshah smelled the ground, and the other elephants followed his example
and, when they scented the tiger's trail, began to be restless and excited.
A sharp cry from Dermot and the two bodies of tuskers separated and moved
away, branching off half right and left, and disappeared in the
undergrowth.

Dermot cocked his double-barrelled rifle. There was a long pause. A strange
feeling of awe crept over Noreen at the realisation of her companion's
strange power over these great animals. No wonder the superstitious natives
believed him to be a god.

Presently there was a loud crashing in the undergrowth beyond the _nullah_,
and Noreen saw the saplings in it agitated, as if by the passage of the
elephants. The tiger gave no sign of life. The girl's heart beat fast, and
her breath came quickly. But her companion never moved.

Suddenly Noreen gasped, for through the screen of thin bushes that fringed
the edge of the _nullah_ a hideous painted mask was thrust out. It was a
tiger's face, the ears flattened to the skull, the eyes flaming, the lips
drawn back to bare the teeth in a ghastly snarl. The brute saw Badshah and
drew quietly back. A pause. Then it sprang into full view and poised for a
single instant on the far bank. But at that very moment the line of tuskers
burst out of the tangled undergrowth and the tiger jumped down into the
_nullah_ again.

Then like a flash it leaped into sight over the near bank, bounding in a
furious charge straight at Badshah. Noreen held her breath as it crouched
to spring. Dermot's rifle was at his shoulder, and he pressed the trigger.
There was a click--the cartridge had missed fire. And the tiger sprang full
at the man.

But as it did so Badshah swung swiftly round--well for Noreen that she was
securely fastened--for he had been standing a little sideways. And with an
upward sweep of his head he caught the leaping tiger in mid-air on the
point of his tusk, hurling it back a dozen yards.

As the baffled brute struck the ground with a heavy thud it lay still for a
second and then sprang up, but at that moment Dermot's second barrel rang
out, and, shot through the brain, the tiger collapsed, its head resting on
its paws. A tremor shook the powerful frame, the tail twitched feebly, then
all was still.

The long line of elephants halted on the far bank of the _nullah_, swung
into file, and moved swiftly out of sight. Their work was done.

Dermot reloaded and urged Badshah forward, covering the tiger with his
rifle. There was no need. It was dead.

Noreen leant forward and looked down at the striped body.

"What a splendid beast!" she exclaimed.

Dermot turned to her.

"You kept your word well, Miss Daleham," he said. "I congratulate you on
your pluck. The highest compliment I can pay you is to say that I forgot
you were there. Not many men would have sat as quiet as you did when the
cartridge missed fire and the brute sprang."

The girl's eyes sparkled and she blushed. His praise was very dear to her.

In a lighter tone he continued:

"As a reward and a souvenir you shall have the skin. I'll get the
villagers to take it off. Now stay on Badshah, please, while I slip down
and have a look at the tiger's little nest."

With rifle at the ready, lest the dead animal should have had a mate,
he climbed down into the _nullah_. He had not gone ten yards before his
foot struck against something hard. In the pressed-down weeds was the
half-gnawed skull of a man. The skin and flesh of the face were fairly
intact. He took the head up in his hands. On the forehead were painted
three white horizontal strokes. The tiger's last prey had been a
Brahmin. A thought flashed across Dermot's mind. He searched about.
A few bones, parts of the hands and feet, some rags of clothing--and
a long flat narrow leather case. He tore this open and hastily took
out the papers it contained; and as he skimmed through them his eyes
glistened with delight.

He sprang up out of the _nullah_ and ran towards Badshah. When the
elephant's trunk had swung him up on to the massive head he said:

"We must go back at once. I 'll tell the villagers as we pass to flay the
tiger. I must borrow your brother's pony and ride as fast as I can to
Salchini to get Payne's motor to take me to the railway."

"The railway?" exclaimed the girl. "Why, what is the matter? Where are you
going?"

"To Simla. I've found the lost messenger. Aye, and perhaps information that
may save India and proofs that will hang our friends in the Palace of
Lalpuri. _Mul_, Badshah!"



CHAPTER XIX


TEMPEST

The storm had burst on India. In the Khyber Pass there was fiercer fighting
than even that blood-stained defile had ever seen. The flames kindled by
fanaticism and lust of plunder blazed up along the North-west Frontier and
burned fiercest around Peshawar, where the Pathan tribes gathered thickest.
No news came from the interior of Bhutan.

So far, however, the interior of the land was comparatively tranquil.
Sporadic outbreaks in the Bombay Presidency and the Punjaub had been
crushed promptly. The great plan of a wide-spread concerted rising
throughout the peninsula had come to naught, thanks to the papers that
Dermot had found in the man-eater's den. He had carried them straight to
Simla himself, for closer examination had confirmed his first impression
and shown him that they were far too important to be confided to any one
else.

The information in them proved to be of the utmost value, for they
disclosed the complete plans of the conspirators and told the very dates
arranged for the advance of the Afghan army and the attacks of the Pathans,
which were to take place simultaneously with the general rising in India.
This latter the military authorities were enabled to deal with so
effectively that it came to nothing.

Incidentally the papers conclusively proved the treason of the Rajah and
the _Dewan_ of Lalpuri, and that the Palace was one of the most important
centres of the conspiracy. To Dermot's amazement no action was taken
against the two arch-plotters, owing to the incredible timidity of the
chief civil authorities in India and their susceptibility to political
influences in England. For Lalpuri and its rulers had been taken under the
very particular protection of the Socialist Party; and the Government of
India feared to touch the traitors. The excuse given for this leniency was
that any attempt to punish them might be the signal for the long delayed
rising in Lalpuri and Eastern Bengal generally.

A few days after Dermot's return from Simla orders came to him from the
Adjutant General to hand over the command of the detachment to Parker, as
he himself had been appointed extra departmental Political Officer of the
Bhutan Border, with headquarters at Ranga Duar. This released him from the
responsibilities of his military duties and left him free to devote himself
to watching the frontier. He was able to keep in communication with Parker
by means of signal stations established on high peaks near the Fort,
visible from many points in the mountains and the forest; for he carried a
signalling outfit always with him.

Thanks to this precaution the garrison of the outpost was not taken by
surprise when one morning the hills around Ranga Duar were seen to be
covered with masses of armed men, and long lines of troops wound down the
mountain paths. For from the peaks above the pass through which he had once
gone to the Death Place of the elephants, Dermot had looked down upon an
invading force of Chinese regulars supported by levies of Bhutanese from
the interior and a wild mob of masterless Bhuttias from both sides of the
border. He had flashed a warning to Parker in ample time, returned to the
_peelkhana_ and bidden Ramnath hide with Badshah in a concealed spot in the
foothills where he could easily find them, sent the other _mahouts_ and
elephants out of reach of the invaders, and climbed up to the Fort to watch
with his late subaltern the arrival of the enemy.

"Well, Major, it's come our way at last," said Parker as they greeted each
other. "Thanks to your warning we're ready for them. But we are not the
only people who've been expecting them. The wires are cut, the road
blocked, and we are isolated."

"Yes, I know. Many messengers have got through from the enemy; for my
cordon of faithful Bhuttias has disappeared. The members of it have joined
the invaders in the hope of loot." Parker looked up at the hills, black
with descending forms.

"There's a mighty lot of the beggars," he said simply. "Do you remember our
discussing this very happening once and your saying that we weren't equal
to stopping a whole army? What's your advice now?"

"See it out. We're bound to go under in the end, but we'll be able, I hope,
to keep them off for a few days. And every hour we hold them up will be
worth a lot to those below. We shan't be relieved, for there aren't any men
to spare in India. But we'll have done our part."

"I say, Major, wasn't it lucky we got those machine guns in time? I've
plenty of ammunition, so we ought to be able to put up a good fight.
What'll they do first?"

"Try to rush the defences at once. They have a lot of irregulars whom the
Chinese General won't be able to keep in hand. He won't mind their being
wiped out either. I see you've made a good job of clearing the foreground.
You haven't left them much cover. So you blew up our poor old Mess and the
bungalows?"

"Yes. The rubble came in handy for filling in that _nullah_. Hullo!"
Parker's glasses went to his eyes. "You're right, by Jingo! They're
gathering for an assault. Gad! what a beautiful mark for shrapnel. I wish
we'd a gun or two."

A storm of shells from the mountain batteries, the only artillery that the
enemy had been able to bring with them through the Himalayas, fell on the
Fort and its defences. Then masses of men rushed down the hills to the
attack. Not a shot was fired at them. Encouraged by the garrison's silence
and carried away by the prospect of an easy victory, they lost all
formation and crowded together in dense swarms.

The two British officers watched them from the central redoubt. Parker held
his binoculars to his eyes with his right hand, while his left forefinger
rested on a polished button in a little machine on the table beside him.
The assailants, favoured by the fall of the ground, soon reached the limits
of the cantonments, bare now of buildings and trees. There were trained
Chinese troops, some tall, light-complexioned Northerners of Manchu blood,
others stocky, yellow men from Canton and the Southern Provinces. Mobs of
Bhutanese with heads, chests, legs, and feet bare, fierce but undisciplined
fighters, armed with varied weapons, led the van. Uttering weird yells and
brandishing their _dahs_, spears, muskets, and rifles, they rushed towards
the fort, from which no shot was fired. Accustomed to the lofty _jongs_, or
castles, of their own land they deemed the breastworks and trenches
unworthy of notice. And the stone barracks and walls in the Fort were
rapidly melting away under the rain of shells.

Flushed with victory the swarming masses came on. But suddenly the world
upheaved behind the leaders. Rocks, earth, and rubble went up in clouds
into the air, and with them scores of the Chinese regular troops, under
whose very feet mines of the new explosive had been fired by Parker. And
the howling mobs in front were held up by barbed wire, while from the
despised trenches and breastworks a storm of lead swept the crowded masses
of the attackers away. At that close range every bullet from the machine
guns and rifles of the defenders drove through two or three assailants,
every bomb and grenade slew a group. Only in one spot by sheer weight of
numbers did they break through.

But like a thunderbolt fell the counter-attack. Stalwart Punjaubi
Mohammedans, led by Dermot, swept down upon them, and with bomb and bayonet
drove them out. The survivors turned and staggered up the hills again,
withering away under the steady fire of the sepoys, who adjusted their
sights with the utmost coolness as the range increased.

Again and again the assaults were repeated and repulsed, until the
undisciplined and demoralised Bhutanese refused to advance, and the Chinese
regulars attacked alone. But fresh mines exploded under them; the deadly
fire of the defenders' machine guns blasted them; and the Pekin general
looked anxious as his best troops melted away. He would not go far into
India if every small body of its soldiers took equally heavy toll of his
force. So he ordered a cessation of the assaults.

But there was no respite for the little garrison. Day and night the
pitiless bombardment by the mountain batteries and long-range fire of
rifles and machine guns never ceased. And death was busy among the
defenders.

On the third night of the siege Dermot and the subaltern knelt side by side
in what was now the last line of the defence.

"I ought not to ask you to go, Major," whispered Parker. "It's not possible
to get through, I'm afraid. I can't forget the awful sight of the fiendish
tortures they inflicted on poor Hikmat Khan and Shaikh Ismail today in full
view of us all. They tried to slip through last night with their naked
bodies covered with oil. It's a terrible death for you if they catch you.
It would be much easier to die fighting. Yet someone ought to go."

"Yes, they must be told at Headquarters," replied his companion in an
equally low tone. "We can't hold them two days longer."

"Not that, if they try to rush us again. Our ammunition is giving out,"
said Parker. "I'd go myself if I weren't commanding here. But I'd have no
chance of getting through. You are our only hope. Oh, I don't mean of
relief. There's no possibility of that."

"No; if I do manage to get into touch with Headquarters, it would be too
late, even if they could spare any troops."

"Yes, it's all over now, bar the shouting. Well, we've had some jolly times
together, sir, you and I, in this little place, haven't we? Do you remember
when the Dalehams were up here? What a nice girl she was. I hope she's
safe."

"I hope to Heaven she is," muttered Dermot. "Well, Parker, I must say
good-bye. We've been good friends, you and I; and I'm sorry it's the
end."

In the darkness their hands met in a firm grip.

"One word, sir," whispered the subaltern. "If you do pull through, you've
got my mother's address. You'll let her know? She thinks a lot of me, poor
old lady."

Dermot answered him only by a pressure of the hand. The next moment he was
gone. Parker, straining eyes and ears, saw nothing, heard nothing.

Half an hour later a picquet of slant-eyed men lying on the steep slopes of
the hill below the Fort saw above them a man's figure dark against the
paling stars. They challenged and sprang towards it with levelled bayonets.
The next instant they were hurled apart, dashed to the ground, trampled to
death. One as he expired had a shadowy vision of some awful bulk towering
black against the coming dawn.

The sun was low in the heavens when Dermot awoke in a bracken-carpeted
glade of the forest thirty miles away from Ranga Duar. Over him Badshah
stood watchfully. The man yawned, rubbed his eyes and sat up. He looked at
his watch.

"Good Heavens! I've slept for hours!" he cried.

Overcome by fatigue, for he had not even lain down once since the siege
began, and finding that he was in danger of falling off the elephant, he
had dismounted for a few minutes' rest. But exhausted Nature had conquered
him, and he had fallen into a deep sleep. Haggard, hollow-eyed, and worn
out, despite the rest, he staggered to his feet and was swung up to
Badshah's neck by the crooked trunk and started again.

He was hastening towards Salchini, where he hoped to secure Payne's car, if
the owner had not fled, and try to get into touch with Army Headquarters.
But what to do if his friend had gone he hardly knew. The heavy firing at
Ranga Duar, echoed by the mountains, must have been heard in the district;
and all the planters had probably taken the warning and gone away. He was
racked with anxiety as to Noreen's fate and could only hope that at the
first alarm her brother had hurried her off. But there was no military
station nearer than Calcutta or Darjeeling, and by this time it was
probable that the whole of Eastern Bengal was in revolt. God help the
Englishwoman that fell into its people's hands! The temptation to turn
aside to Malpura was great. But Dermot overcame it. His duty came first.

Darkness had fallen on the jungle now. Except to lessen his speed it made
little difference to the elephant; but for the man it was harder to find
his way. On the twisting jungle tracks his luminous compass was of little
use. He was forced to trust mainly to the animal.

But soon a suspicion arose in his mind that Badshah had swerved away from
the direction in which Salchini lay and was heading for Malpura. It became
certainty when they reached a deep _nullah_ in the forest which Dermot knew
was on the route to that garden. He tried to turn the elephant. Badshah
paid no heed to him and held on his way with an invincible determination
that made the man suspect there was a grave reason for his obstinacy. He
knew too well the animal's strange and mysterious intelligence. He gave up
contending uselessly and was borne along through the dark forest
unresisting. Over the tree-tops floated the long, wailing cry of a Giant
Owl circling against the stars. Close to their path the warning bark of a
_khakur_ deer was answered by the harsh braying roar of a tiger. Far away
the metallic trumpeting of a wild elephant rang out into the night.

Presently Dermot saw a red glow through the trees ahead. Badshah never
checked his pace but swept on until the glow became a ruddy glare staining
the tree-trunks. Suddenly the stars shone overhead. They were clear of the
jungle; and as they emerged on the open clearing of the tea-garden a column
of fire blazed up ahead of them.

A chill fear smote Dermot. He would have urged Badshah on, but the elephant
did not need it. Rapidly they sped along the soft road towards the leaping
flames, which the soldier soon realised rose from the burning factory and
withering sheds. And black against the light danced hundreds of figures,
while yells and wild cries rent the air. And, well to one side, a fresh
burst of flame and sparks leapt up into the night. It was one of the
bungalows afire. Round it more figures moved fantastically. A groan came
from the man's lips. Was it Daleham's bungalow that burned?

All at once Badshah stopped of his own accord and sank down on his knees.
Mechanically his rider slipped to the ground and stood staring at the
strange scene. He hardly noticed that the elephant rose, touched him
caressingly with its trunk, swung round and sped away towards the forest.
Half-dazed and heedless of danger Dermot hurried forward. Again the flames
shot up, and by their light he saw to his relief that the Dalehams'
bungalow was still standing. Parry's house was burning furiously. Pistol in
hand he ran forward, scarcely cognizant of the crowds of shifting figures
around the blazing buildings, deaf to their triumphant yells. Groups of
natives crossed his path, shouting and leaping into the air excitedly, but
they paid no attention to him. But, as he ran, he hit up against one man
who turned and, seeing his white face, yelled and sprang away.

As Dermot neared the Dalehams' bungalow he saw that it was surrounded by a
cordon of coolies armed with rifles and strung out many yards apart. He
raced swiftly for a gap between two of them; but a man rose from the ground
and snatched at him. The soldier struck savagely at him with the hand in
which the pistol was firmly clenched, putting all his weight into the blow.
The native crumpled and fell in a heap.

Dashing on Dermot shouted Daleham's name. From behind a barricade of boxes
on the verandah a stern voice which he recognised as belonging to one of
the Punjaubi servants whom he had provided, called out:

"_Kohn hai? Kohn atha?_ (Who is there? Who comes?)"

"Sher Afzul! It is I. Dermot Sahib," he replied, as he sprang up the
verandah steps.

The muzzle of a rifle was pointed at him over the barricade, and a bearded
face peered at him.

"It is the Major Sahib!" said the Mohammedan. "In the name of Allah, Sahib,
have you brought your sepoys?"

"No; I am alone. Where are the Sahib and the missie _baba?_"

"In the bungalow. Enter, Sahib."

Dermot climbed over the barricade and pushed open the door of the
dining-room, which was in darkness. But the heavy curtain dividing it
from the drawing-room was dragged aside and Daleham appeared in the
doorway, outlined against the faint light of a turned-down lamp. Behind
him Noreen was rising from a chair.

"Who's there?" cried the boy, raising a revolver.

"It's all right, Daleham. It's I, Dermot. I'm alone, I'm sorry to say."

A stifled cry burst from the girl.

"Oh, you are safe, thank God!" she cried, her hand at her heart.

"What has happened here?" asked Dermot, entering the room.

Fred let fall the curtain as he answered:

"Hell's broke loose on the garden, sir. The coolies have mutinied. Parry's
dead, murdered; and we're alive only by the kind mercies of that brute
Chunerbutty, damn him! You were right about him, Major; and I was a
fool.... Is it true you've been attacked up in Ranga Duar?" he continued.

"Are you wounded, Major Dermot?" broke in the girl anxiously.

"No, Miss Daleham. I'm quite safe and sound."

Then he told them briefly what had happened. When he had finished he asked
them when the trouble began at Malpura.

"Three days ago," replied Fred. "The wind was blowing from the north, and
we heard firing up in the mountains. I thought you were having an extra go
of musketry there. But the coolies suddenly stopped work and gathered
outside their village, where those infernal Brahmins harangued them. I went
to order them back to their jobs----".

"Where was Parry?"

"Lying dead drunk in his bungalow. Well, some of the coolies attacked me
with _lathis_, others tried to protect me. The Brahmins told me that the
end of the British _Raj_ (dominion) had come and that you were being
attacked in Ranga Duar by a big army from China and would be wiped out.
Then I was hustled back to the bungalow where those Mohammedan servants
that you got for us--lucky you did!--turned out with rifles, which they
said afterwards you'd given them, and wanted to fire on the mob. But I
stopped them."

"Where was Chunerbutty?"

"Oh, he hadn't thrown off the mask yet. He came to me and said he was a
prisoner and would not be allowed to leave the estate. But he advised me to
ride over to Granger or some of the other fellows and get their help. But I
wouldn't leave Noreen; and Sher Afzul told me that it was as bad on the
other gardens. But only today the real trouble began."

"What happened?"

"Some news apparently reached the coolies that drove them mad with delight.
They murdered the Parsi storekeeper, looted his place, and got drunk on his
_dáru_. Then they started killing the few Mohammedans we had on the estate.
Some of the women and children got to us and we took them in. But the rest,
even the little babies, were murdered by the brutes.

"I went over to Parry, but he was still too drunk to understand me. I was
trying to rouse him when I heard shouts and ran out on the verandah. All
the coolies, men, women, and children, were streaming towards the
bungalows, mad with excitement, screaming and yelling. The men and even
most of the boys carried weapons. The Brahmins were leading them. They made
for Chunerbutty's house first. I was going to run to his assistance, when
he came out and they cheered him like anything. He was in native dress and
had marks painted on his forehead like the other Brahmins."

"Yes; go on. What happened then?"

"The engineer seemed as excited and mad as the rest. He ran down his steps,
put himself at the head of the mob, shouted out something, and pointed to
Parry's bungalow. They all rushed over to it, yelling like mad. Poor old
Parr heard them and, dazed and drunk, staggered out on the verandah in his
pyjamas and bare feet. Chunerbutty and the Brahmins came up the steps,
driving back the crowd, which tried to follow them, howling like demons."

Fred passed his hand across his eyes. Dermot bent forward and stared
eagerly at him, while Noreen looked only at the soldier.

"I called out to the engineer and asked him what it all meant," went on the
boy, "but he took no notice of me. Parry tottered towards him, abusing him.
Chunerbutty let him come to within a yard or two, then pulled out a pistol
and fired three shots straight at the old man's heart. Poor old Parr fell
dead."

Daleham paused for a moment.

"Poor old chap! He had his faults; but he had his good points, too. Well,
I rushed towards him, but the Bengalis fell on me, knocked me down, and
overpowered me. The mob outside yelled for my blood; but Chunerbutty shut
them up. I was allowed to get on my feet again; and Chunerbutty held a
pistol to my head, and cursed me and ordered me to go back to my bungalow
and wait. He said that somebody would come here tomorrow to settle what was
to be my fate and to take Noreen."

The girl sprang up.

"You never told me that," she cried.

"No; it wasn't any use distressing you," replied her brother. "But I had to
tell the Major."

She turned impetuously to Dermot and stretched out her arms to him.

"You won't let them take me, will you? Oh, say you won't!" she said with a
little sob.

He took both her hands in his.

"No, little girl, I won't. Not while I live."

"You'll kill me first? Promise me."

"On my honour."

She gave a sigh of relief and, strangely content, sank back into her chair.
But she still held one of his hands clasped tightly in both of hers.

"Well, that's pretty well all there is to tell, Major," her brother went
on. "I came back here, and the servants and I tried to put the house into a
state of defence. No one's come near us so far."

"So Chunerbutty was at the head of affairs here. I thought so, I suppose
the someone is that scoundrelly Rajah. He'll make his conditions known and,
if you don't surrender, they'll attack us. Now, let's see what we've got as
garrison. We two and the servants--seven. How are you off for weapons? I
left my rifle behind."

"The servants have got their rifles and plenty of ammunition. I have a
double-barrelled .400 cordite rifle and a shot-gun. If it comes to a scrap
I'll take that and leave you the rifle. You're a much better shot; and I
can't miss at close quarters with a scatter-gun."

"Do you think there's any hope for us?" asked the girl quietly.

"Frankly, I don't. I'd not put it so bluntly, only I've seen you in a tight
corner before, Miss Daleham, and you weren't afraid."

"I am not now," she replied calmly.

"I believe we'd hold off these coolies, aye, and the Rajah's soldiers too,
if they came. But we may have the Chinese troops on us at any minute; and
that's a different matter."

"But why should you stay with us, Major Dermot?" said the girl anxiously.
"As you got in through these men, surely you could escape the same way."

"I'll be candid with you, Miss Daleham, and tell you that if I could I
would. For it's my duty to go on and report. But I'm stranded without my
elephant, and even if I had him it wouldn't be much good unless I had
Payne's car. And what has happened here must have happened on the other
gardens. Without the motor I'd be too late with my news. So I'll stay here
and take my chance."

Then he laughed and added:

"But cheer up; we're not dead yet. If only I'd Badshah I'd take you both up
on him and we'd break through the whole Chinese Army."

The girl shook her head.

"We couldn't go. We couldn't leave those poor women and children and the
servants."

"I forgot them. No; you're right. Well, I haven't lost all hope. I have
great faith in old Badshah. I shouldn't be surprised if he got us out of
this scrape, as he did before."

"Oh, I forgot him. I believe he'll help us still," cried the girl. "Where
did you leave him?"

"He left me. He's quite able to take care of himself," replied Dermot
grimly. "Now, Daleham, please take me round the house and show me the
defences; and we'll arrange about the roster of sentry-duty with the
servants. Please excuse me, Miss Daleham."

Through the weary night the two men, when not taking their turn on guard,
sat and talked with Noreen in the drawing-room. For the girl refused to go
to bed and, only to content them, lay back on a settee.

When she and Dermot were left alone she sighed and said:

"Ah, my beautiful forest! I must say good-bye to it. How I have enjoyed the
happy days in it."

"Some of them were too exciting to be pleasant," he replied smiling.

"But the others made up for them. I like to think of you in the forest
best," she said dreamily. "We were real friends there."

"And elsewhere, I hope."

"No. In Darjeeling you didn't like me."

"I did. Tonight I can be frank and tell you that I was glad to go to it
because you were there."

She looked at him wonderingly.

"But you wouldn't take any notice of me there," she said.

"No. I was told that you were engaged, or practically engaged, to
Charlesworth, and disliked any one else taking up your time."

She sat up indignantly.

"To Captain Charlesworth? How absurd! I suppose I've Ida to thank for that.
I wouldn't have married him for anything."

"Is that so? What a game of cross-purposes life is! But that's why I didn't
try to speak to you much."

"Did you want to? I thought you disliked me. And it hurt me so much. Do you
know, I used to cry about it sometimes. I wanted you to be my friend."

He walked over to her settee.

"Noreen, dear, I wanted to be your friend and you to be mine," he said,
looking down at her. "I liked you so much. At least, I thought I liked
you."

"And--and don't you?" she asked, looking up at him.

He knelt beside her.

"No, little friend, I don't like you. Because I--" He paused.

"What?" she whispered faintly.

"I love you, dear. Do you think it absurd?"

She was silent for a moment. Then she looked slowly up at him; and in her
eyes he read her answer.

"Sweetheart! Little sweetheart!" he whispered, and held out his arms to
her.

With a little cry she crept into them; and he pressed her to his heart. At
that moment enemies, danger, death, were forgotten. For Noreen her whole
world lay within the circle of his arms.

"Do you really, really love me?" she asked wonderingly.

He held her very close to his heart and looked fondly, tenderly down into
the lovely upturned face.

"Love you, my dearest? I love you with all my heart, my soul, my being," he
whispered. "How could I help loving you?"

And bending down he kissed her fondly.

"It's all so wonderful," she murmured. "I didn't think that you cared for
me, that you could ever care. You seemed so far away, too occupied with
important things to spare a thought for me. So serious a person, and
sometimes so stern, that I was afraid of you."

He laughed amusedly.

"The wonder is that you ever came to care for me. You do care, don't you,
beloved?"

She looked up at him earnestly.

"Dear, do I seem forward, bold? But our time together is too short for
pretence. Yes, I do care. I love you? I seem to have always loved you. Or
at least to have waited always to love you. I don't think I knew what love
was until now. Until now. Now I do know."

She paused and stared across the room, seeing the vision of her childhood,
her girlhood. From outside came intermittent shouts and an occasional
random shot. But she did not hear them.

"As a child, as a schoolgirl, even afterwards, I used to day-dream. I used
to wonder if any one would ever love me, ever teach me what love is. I
dreamt of a Fairy Prince who would come to me one day, of a strong, brave,
tender man who would care for me, who would want me to care for him. I
often laughed at myself for it afterwards. For in London men all seemed so
very unlike my dream-hero."

She turned her face to him and looked tenderly at him.

"But when I met you," she continued, "I think I knew that you were He. But
I never dared hope that you would learn to care for me."

"Dearest heart," he replied, "I think I must have fallen in love with you
the first moment I saw you. I can see you now as you stood surrounded by
the elephants, a delightful but most unexpected vision in the jungle."

"Did you--oh, did you really like me that very first day?" she asked
eagerly. At the moment the answer seemed to her the most important thing in
the world.

As a lover will do Dermot deceived himself and imagined that his love had
been born at the first sight of her. He told her so; and the girl forgot
the imminent, deadly peril about them in the glow of happiness that warms
the heart of a loving woman who hears that she has been beloved from the
beginning.

"But I looked so absurd," she said dreamily; "so untidy, when you first saw
me. Why, my hair was all down."

He laughed again; but the laughter died from his lips as the remembrance of
their situation returned to him. Death was ordinarily little to him; though
now life could be so sweet since she loved him. It seemed a terrible thing
that this young girl must die so soon--and probably by his own hand to save
her from a worse fate.

She guessed his thoughts.

"Is this really the end, dear?" she asked, unwilling but unafraid to meet
death. "Is there no hope for us?"

"I fear not, beloved."

"I--I don't want to die so soon. Before you came tonight I wouldn't have
minded very much; for I was not happy. But now it's a little hard, just as
this wonderful thing has happened to me."

She sighed. He held out his arms again, and she crept into them and nestled
into his embrace.

"Well, if it must be so, I'll try to be worthy of my soldier and not
disgrace you, dear," she said fondly, bravely. "Let's try to forget it for
a while and not let it spoil our last hours together. Let's 'make-believe,'
as the children say. Let's pretend that this is all a hideous nightmare,
that our lives and our love are before us."

So through the long, dread night with the hideous menace never out of their
minds they talked bravely of what they would like to do, to be--if only
they were not to die so soon. Several times Noreen left him and went to
comfort, to console the poor Mohammedan women and children to whom she had
given shelter. Her brother refused to allow Dermot to relieve him on watch,
saying that he could not sleep or rest, and begging him instead to remain
with the girl to cheer her, to hearten her in the awful hours of waiting
for the end.

So Dermot was with her when a sudden uproar outside caused him to dash out
on to the verandah. From behind the barricade on the front verandah Daleham
was watching.

"What is it? Are they attacking?" cried the soldier.

"No. It's not an attack. They're cheering somebody, I think, and firing
into the air."

Dermot stared out. Men ran forward to the smouldering ruins of the factory
and threw on them tins of kerosene oil, looted from the murdered Parsi's
shop, until the flames blazed up again and lit up the scene. The hundreds
of coolies were cheering and crowding round a body of men in red coats.

"I believe it's the Rajah's infantry," said Dermot. "Are they going to
attack? Sher Afzul, wake up the others and tell them to be on their guard.
Give me that rifle, Daleham."

So Noreen did not see her lover again until the sun rose on a scene of
desolation and ruin. Smoke and sparks still came from the blackened heaps
of the destroyed buildings. The cordon of sentries had apparently been
withdrawn; but when Daleham climbed up on the barricade to get a better
view a shot was fired from somewhere and a bullet tore up the ground before
the bungalow.

A couple of hours dragged slowly by; and then a servant doing sentry on the
front verandah reported a cloud of dust on the road from the forest leading
to the village. Dermot went out on the front verandah which looked towards
the coolie lines and put up the glasses.

"Some men on horses. Yes, and a motor-car coming slowly behind them," he
said to Daleham and his sister, who had followed him out. "It's the Rajah
and his escort, I suppose. Things will begin to move now."

When the newcomers reached the village a storm of shouting arose. Volley
after volley of shots were fired, conch-shells blown, tom-toms beaten.

"Yes, there's no doubt of it. It must be that fat brute," said Daleham.

Half an hour went by. The sun was high in the heavens. The landscape was
bare of life. Not a man was visible. But presently from the village came a
little figure, a naked little coolie boy. He moved slowly towards the
bungalow, stopping every few minutes to look back to the huts, then
advancing again with evident reluctance.

Dermot watched him through the glass. The whole garrison was on the
verandah.

"He's a messenger. I see a letter in his hand," said the soldier. "Poor
little devil, he's in an awful funk. None of the cowards dared do it
themselves, so they beat this child and made him come."

At last the frightened infant reached the bungalow, and Sher Afzul met him
and took the letter from him. Fred tore it open. It was written by
Chunerbutty and couched in the most offensive terms. If within half an hour
Miss Daleham came willingly to the Rajah, her brother's life would be
spared and he would be given a safe conduct to Calcutta. But everyone else
in the bungalow would be put to death, including the white man reported to
have entered it during the night. If the girl did not surrender, her
brother would be killed with the rest and she herself taken by force.

Dermot acquainted the Mohammedan servants with the contents, to show them
that there was no hope for them, so that they would fight to the death. The
little boy was told that there was no answer, and Daleham gave him a few
copper coins; but the scared child dropped them as though they were red hot
and scampered back to the village as fast as his little legs would carry
him.



CHAPTER XX


THE GOD OF THE ELEPHANTS

At the end of the half hour a tempest of noise arose from the village;
tom-toms were beaten, conch-shells blown and vigorous cheering was
heard. Then from the huts long lines of coolies carrying weapons of
every sort, rifles, old muskets, spears, and swords streamed out and
encircled the bungalow at a distance. A little later the Rajah's twenty
horsemen rode out of the village on their raw-boned stallions, followed
by a hundred infantry soldiers who, Dermot observed, were now armed with
rifles in place of their former muskets.

The dismounted troops formed up before the bungalow but half a mile away,
in two lines in open order. But the cavalry kept together in a body; and
the officer, turning in his saddle to speak to his men, pointed to the
house with his sword.

"I believe they're going to charge us," said Dermot.

He had divided up the garrison to the four sides of the bungalow; but now,
leaving one man with the shot gun to keep a watch on the back, he collected
the rest on the front verandah. Noreen was inside, feeding the hungry
children and consoling the mothers.

"Now, Daleham, don't fire until they are close, and then aim at the
horses," said the Major, repeating the instruction to the servants in Urdu.

The Punjaubis grinned and patted their rifles.

The cavalry advanced. The _sowars_ ambled forward, brandishing their curved
sabres and uttering fierce yells. Dermot, knowing Sher Afzul and another
man to be good shots, ordered them to open fire when the horsemen were
about four hundred yards away. He himself took a steady aim at the
commander and pressed the trigger. The officer, shot through the body,
threw up his arms and fell forward on his horse's head. The startled animal
shied and bolted across the furrows; and the corpse, dropping from the
saddle, was dragged along the ground, one foot being caught in a stirrup.
The cavalry checked for an instant; and Dermot fired again. A _sowar_ fell.
The rest cantered forward, yelling and waving their _tulwars_. Sher
Afzul and the other servants opened fire. A second horseman dropped from
his saddle, a stallion stumbled and fell, throwing its rider heavily.
The firing grew faster. Two or three more horses were wounded and
galloped wildly off. The rest of the cavalry came on, but, losing their
nerve, checked their pace instead of charging home.

Dermot, loading and firing rapidly, bringing a _sowar_ down with each shot,
suddenly found Noreen crouching beside him behind the barricade. She was
holding a revolver.

"For Heaven's sake, get into the house, darling!" he cried.

"No; I have Fred's pistol and know how to use it," she answered, calmly. "I
have often practised with it."

He could not stop to argue with her, for the troopers still came on. But
they bunched together, knee to knee, in a frontal attack, instead of
assaulting from all four sides at once. They made a splendid target and
suffered heavily. But some brought their horses' heads almost against the
verandah railing. All the garrison rose from behind the barricade and fired
point-blank at them. The girl, steadying her hand on a box, shot one
_sowar_ through the body. The few survivors turned and galloped madly away,
leaving most of their number on the ground. To cover their retreat a ragged
volley broke from the infantry; and a storm of bullets flew over and around
the bungalow, ricocheted from the ground or struck the walls. But one young
Mohammedan servant, who had incautiously exposed himself, dropped back shot
through the lungs.

Then from every side fire was opened, the coolies blazing wildly; but as
none of them had ever had a rifle in his hands before, the firing was for
the most part innocuous. Yet it served to encourage them, and they drew
nearer. The garrison, with only one or two defenders to each side of the
house, could not keep them at a distance. The infantry began to crawl
forward. The circle of foes closed in on the bungalow and its doomed
inhabitants. Shrieks and cries rose from the women and children inside.

But although every bullet from the garrison found its billet, the issue was
only a matter of time. Ill-directed as was the assailants' fire, the
showers of bullets were too thick not to have some effect. Another servant
was killed, a third wounded. Daleham was struck on the shoulder by a
ricochet but only scratched. A rifle bullet, piercing the barricade, passed
through Noreen's hair, as she crouched beside her lover, whom she
resolutely refused to leave. The ring of enemies constricted.

Suddenly a bugle sounded from the village; and after a little the firing
from the attackers ceased. Dermot, who with Noreen and Sher Afzul, was
defending the front verandah, looked cautiously over the barricade. A white
flag appeared in the village. The Major shouted to the others in the house
to hold their fire but be on their guard.

After a pause the flag advanced, borne by a coolie. It was followed by a
group of men; and Dermot through the glasses recognised the Rajah and
Chunerbutty accompanied by several Brahmins. They advanced timidly towards
the bungalow and stopped a hundred yards away. After some urging
Chunerbutty stepped to the front and called for Daleham to appear.

Fred came through the house from the back verandah, where his place was
taken by Sher Afzul. He looked over the barricade. Chunerbutty came nearer
and shouted:

"Daleham, the Rajah gives you one more chance to surrender. You see your
case is hopeless. You can have a quarter of an hour to think things over.
If at the end of that time you and your sister don't come out, we'll rush
the bungalow and finish you all."

Standing under the white flag he drew out his watch.

"Thank you," said Daleham; "and our reply is that if in a quarter of an
hour you're still there, you'll get a bullet through you, white flag or no
white flag."

He turned to Dermot whose arm was around Noreen as she crouched beside him.

"Well, Major, it's fifteen more minutes of life, that's all."

"Yes, it's nearly the end now. I've only two cartridges left."

"We're all in the same box. Getting near time we said good-bye. It was
jolly good of you to stick by us, when you might have got away last night."

Dermot gripped the outstretched hand.

"If I go under first, you'll not let Noreen fall alive into the hands of
those brutes, will you, sir?"

The girl raised her revolver.

"I'll keep the last cartridge for myself, dear," she said.

She looked lovingly at Dermot whose arm was still about her. Her brother
betrayed no surprise.

"I'm not afraid to die, dear one," she whispered to her lover. "I couldn't
live without you now. And I'm happy at this moment, happier than I've ever
been, I think. But I wish you had saved yourself."

He mastered his emotion with difficulty.

"Darling, life without you wouldn't be possible for me either."

He could not take his eyes from her; and the minutes were flying all too
swiftly. At last he looked at his watch and held out his hand to the boy.

"Good-bye, Daleham, you've got your wish. You're dying like a soldier for
England," he said. "We've done our share for her. Now, we've three minutes
more. If the Rajah and Chunerbutty come into view again I'll have them with
my last two shots."

He turned to the girl and took her in his arms for a last embrace.

"Good-bye, sweetheart. Dear love of my heart. Pray that we may be together
in the next world."

He paused and listened.

"Are they coming?"

But he did not put her from him. One second now was worth an eternity.

Then suddenly a distant murmur swelled through the strange silence. Daleham
looked out over the barricade.

"They're--No. What is it? What are they doing?"

All round the circle of besiegers there was an eerie hush. No voice was
heard. All--the Rajah, the flag-bearer, Brahmins, soldiers, coolies--had
turned their faces away from the bungalow and were staring into the
distance. And as the few survivors of the garrison looked up over the
barricade an incredible sight met their eyes.

From the far-off forest, bursting out at every point of the long-stretching
wall of dark undergrowth that hemmed in the wide estate, wild elephants
appeared. Over the furrowed acres they streamed in endless lines, trampling
down the ordered stretch of green bushes. In scores, in hundreds, they
came, silently, slowly; the great heads nodding to the rhythm of their
gait, the trunks swinging, the ragged ears flapping, as they advanced.
Converging as they came, they drew together in a solid mass that blotted
out the ground, a mass sombre-hued, dark, relieved only by flashes of
gleaming white. For on either side of every massive skull jutted out the
sharp-pointed, curving ivory. Of all save one.

For the mammoth that led them, the splendid beast that captained the
oncoming array of Titans under the ponderous strokes of whose feet the
ground trembled, had one tusk, one only. And as though the white flag were
a magnet to him, he moved unerringly towards it, the immense, earth-shaking
phalanx following him.

The awestruck crowds of armed men, so lately flushed with fanatical lust of
slaughter, stood as though turned to stone, their faces set towards the
terrifying onset. Their pain unheeded, their groans silenced, the wounded
staggered to their feet to look. Even the dying strove to raise themselves
on their arms from the reddened soil to gaze, and, gazing, fell back dead.
Slowly, mechanically, silently, the living gave way, the weapons dropping
from their nerveless grip. Step by step they drew back as if compelled by
some strange mesmeric power.

And on the verandah the few survivors of the little band stood together,
silent, amazed, scarce believing their eyes as they stared at the
incredible vision. All but Dermot. His gaze was fixed on the leader of that
terrible army; and he smiled, tenderly yet proudly. His arm drew the girl
beside him still closer to him, as he murmured:

"He comes to save us for each other, beloved!"

Nothing was heard, save the dull thunder of the giant feet. Then from the
village the high-pitched shriek of a woman pierced the air and shattered
the eerie silence of the terror-stricken crowds. Murmurs, groans, swelled
into shouts, wild yells, the appalling uproar of panic; and strong and
weak, hale men and those from whose wounds the life-blood dripped, turned
and fled. Fled past their dead brothers, past the little group of leaders
whose power to sway them had vanished before this awful menace.

Petrified, rooted to the ground as though their quaking limbs were
incapable of movement, the Rajah and his satellites stood motionless before
the oncoming elephants. But when the leader almost towered above him,
Chunerbutty was galvanised to life again. In mad panic he raised a pistol
in his trembling hand and fired at the great beast. The next instant the
huge tusk caught him. He was struck to the earth, gored, and lifted high in
air. An appalling shriek burst from his bloodless lips. He was hurled to
the ground with terrific force and trodden under foot. The Rajah screamed
shrilly and turned to flee. Too late! The earth shook as the great phalanx
moved on faster and passed without checking over the white-clad group,
blotting them out of all semblance to humanity.

The dying yell of the renegade Hindu, arresting in its note of agony,
caused the fleeing crowds to pause and turn to look. And as they witnessed
the annihilation of their leaders they saw a yet more wondrous sight. For
the dark array of monsters halted as the leader reached the house; and with
the sea of twisted trunks upraised to salute him and a terrifying peal of
trumpeting, they welcomed the white man who walked out from the shot-torn
building towards the leader of the vast herd. Then in a solemn hush he was
raised high in air and held aloft for all to see, beasts and men. And in
the silence a single voice in the awestruck crowds cried shrilly:

"_Hathi ka Deo ki jai!_ (Victory to the God of the Elephants!)"

In wonder, in dread, in superstitious reverence, hundreds of voices took up
the refrain: _"Hathi ka Deo! Hathi ka Deo ki jai!"_

And leaving his thousand companions behind, the sacred elephant that all
recognised now advanced towards the shrinking crowds, bearing the dread
white god upon its neck. Had he not come invisibly among them again? Had
they not witnessed the fate of those that opposed him? Had he not summoned
from all Hindustan his man-devouring monsters to punish, to annihilate his
enemies. Forgetful of their hate, their bloodthirst, their lust of battle,
conscious only of their guilt, the terror-stricken crowds surged forward
and flung themselves down in supplication on the earth. They wept, they
wailed, they bared their heads and poured dust upon them, in all the
extravagant demonstration of Oriental sorrow. Out from the village streamed
the women and children to add their shrill cries to the lamentations.

With uplifted hand, Dermot silenced them. An awful hush succeeded the
tumult. He swept his eyes slowly over them all, and every head went down to
the dust again. Then he spoke, solemnly, clearly; and his voice reached
everyone in the prostrate mob.

"My wrath is upon you and upon your children. Flee where you will, it shall
overtake you. You have sinned and must atone. On those most guilty
punishment has already fallen. Where are they that misled you? Go look for
them under the feet of my elephants. Yet from you, ye poor deluded fools,
for the moment I withhold my hand. But touch a single hair of those in your
midst whom I protect, and you perish."

Not a sound was heard.

Then he said:

"Men of Lalpuri, who have come among these fools in thirst for blood. You
have heard of me. You have seen my power. You see me. Go back to your city.
Tell them there that I, who fed my elephants on the flesh of your comrades
in the forest, shall come to them riding on my steed sacred to _Gunesh_. If
they spare the evil counselors among them, then them I will not spare. Of
their city no stone shall remain. Go back to them and bear this message to
all within and without the walls, 'The British _Raj_ shall endure. It is my
will.' Tell them to engrave it on their hearts, on their children's
hearts."

He paused. Then he spoke again:

"Rise, all ye people. Ye have my leave to go."

Noiselessly they obeyed. He watched them move away in terrified silence.
Not a whisper was heard.

Then he smiled as he said to himself:

"That should keep them quiet."

He turned Badshah towards the bungalow.

Forty miles away, when darkness fell on the mountains that night, the army
of the invaders slept soundly in their bivouacs around the doomed post of
Ranga Duar. On the morrow the last feeble resistance of its garrison must
cease, and happy those of the defenders who died. Luckless they that lived.
For the worst tortures that even China knew would be theirs.

But when the morrow came there was no longer an investing army.
Panic-stricken, the scattered remnants of the once formidable host
staggered blindly up the inhospitable mountains only to perish in the
snows of the passes. For in the dark hours annihilation had come upon
the rest. Countless monsters, worse, far worse, than the legendary
dragons of their native land, had come from the skies, sprung from the
earth. And under their huge feet the army had perished.

When the sun rose Dermot knelt beside the mattress on which Parker lay
among the heaps of rubble that had once been the Fort. An Indian officer,
the only one left, and a few haggard sepoys stood by. The rest of the few
survivors of the gallant band had thrown themselves down to sleep haphazard
among the ruins that covered the bodies of their comrades.

"Is it all true, Major? Are they really gone?" whispered the subaltern
feebly.

"Yes, Parker, it's quite true. They've gone. You've helped to save India.
You held them off--God knows how you did it. Your wound's a nasty one; but
you'll get over it."

He rose and held out his hands to the others. _"Shabash!_ (Well done!)
_Subhedar Sahib_, Mohammed Khan, Gulab Khan, Shaikh Bakar, well done."

And the men of the alien race pressed round him and clasped his hands
gratefully.

The defeat of the invaders in this little-known corner of the Indian Empire
was but the forerunner of the disasters that befell the other enemies of
the British dominion, though many months passed before peace settled on the
land again. But Lalpuri had not so long to wait for Dermot to redeem his
promise to visit it. When he did he rode on Badshah at the head of a
British force. The gates were flung open wide; and he passed through
submissive crowds to see the blackened ruins of the Palace that, stormed,
looted, and burnt by its rebel soldiery, hid the ashes of the _Dewan_.

A year had gone by. In the villages perched on the steep sides of the
mountains the Bhuttia women rejoiced to know that the peace of the
Borderland would never be broken again while the dread hand of a god lay on
it. And in their bamboo huts they tried to hush their little children with
the mention of his name. But the sturdy, naked babies had no fear of him.
For they all knew him; and he was kind and far less terrible than the gods
and demons that the old lama showed them in the painted Wheel of Life sent
him from Tibet. Moreover, the white god's wife was kinder even than he. But
that was because she was not a goddess. Only a girl.

On the high hills, up above the villages, a couple stood. No god and
goddess: just a man and a woman. And the woman looked down past the huts,
down to the great Terai Forest lying like a vast billowy sea of foliage far
below them. Then, as her husband's arm stole round her, she turned her eyes
from it and gazed into his and whispered:

"I love it more than even you do. For it gave you to me."

A crashing in the clump of hill bamboos at their feet attracted their
attention; and with a smile he pointed down to the great elephant with the
single tusk who was dragging down the feathery plumes with his curving
trunk.

But Noreen looked up at Dermot again and said:

"I love you more than even Badshah does."

And their lips met.



THE END



_A Selection from the Catalogue of_

G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS

Complete Catalogues sent on application



Rosa Mundi

By

Ethel M. Dell

Author of

"The Top of the World," "The Lamp in the Desert," "The Way of an Eagle,"
etc.

Some of the finest stories ever written by Miss Ethel M. Dell are gathered
together in this volume. They are arresting, thrilling, tense with
throbbing life, and of absorbing interest; they tell of romantic and
passionate episodes in many lands--in the hill districts of India, in the
burning heart of Africa, and in the colonial bush country. The author's
vivid and vigorous style, skillfully developed plots, her intensely
sympathetic treatment of emotional scenes, and the strongly delineated
character sketches, are typical of Ethel M. Dell's best work, and this
volume will be found to contain some of the most remarkable of her shorter
romances.

G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York London



Prairie Flowers

By

James B. Hendryx

Author of "The Texan"

When Tex Benton said he'd do a thing, he _did_ it, as readers of "The
Texan" will affirm. So when, after a year of drought, he announced his
purpose of going to town to get thoroughly "lickered up," unsuspecting
Timber City was elected as the stage for a most thorough and sensational
orgy.

But neither Tex nor Timber City could foresee the turbulent chain of
events which were to result from his high, if indecorous, resolve, here
set down--the wild tale of an untamed West.

A well-known writer, who has served his apprenticeship in the cow country,
said the other day, "I like Hendryx's stories--they're real. His boys are
the boys I used to work with and know. His West is the West I learned to
love."

G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York  London



The Ivory Fan

By

Adrian Heard

When Lily Kellaway makes the observation, "It is better to be a slave to a
man, which is natural, than to a woman, which is intolerable," she recites
the text upon which the author of _The Ivory Fan_ has built up a novel
that is at once humorous in its cynicism and cynical in its humor. At the
same time he gives us a pastel of certain phases of life comprehensive in
its coloring and bitterly uncompromising of line.

This is an unconventional book, full of incident and plenty of clever
dialogue.

G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York  London



Too Old for Dolls

By

Anthony M. Ludovici

The story of a "flapper" too old for dolls, scarcely old enough for
anything else, but capable of enraging her older sister and even her mother
by the ease with which she secures the admiration of their male friends.

"From a Mohawk, from a sexless savage with tangled hair and blotchy
features, she had, by a stroke of the wand, become metamorphosed into a
remarkably attractive young woman." And with the change came a
disconcerting knowledge of power.

A very real, very tense, and very modern novel.



G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York London





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