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Title: Tales of Destiny
Author: Mitchell, Edmund
Language: English
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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.

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TALES OF DESTINY



By EDMUND MITCHELL



LONDON
CONSTABLE AND COMPANY LTD
1913



COPYRIGHT, 1912
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
BY
EDMUND MITCHELL



CONTENTS


  Introduction                                                     1

  Chap. I. The Maid of Jhalnagor. Told by the Rajput Chief         5

       II. The Hollow Column. Told by the Tax-Collector           19

      III. What the Stars ordained. Told by the Astrologer        35

       IV. The Spirit Wail. Told by the Merchant                  60

        V. The Blue Diamonds. Told by the Fakir                  101

       VI. The Tiger of the Pathans. Told by the Afghan General  128

      VII. Her Mother Love. Told by the Physician                146

     VIII. The Sacred Pickaxe, Told by the Magistrate            170



TALES OF DESTINY

INTRODUCTION


Just without one of the massive bastioned gates of the city of
Fathpur-Sikri there stood in the year 1580 a caravanserai that afforded
accommodation for man and beast. Here would alight travellers drawn by
the calls of homage, by business, or by curiosity to the famous Town of
Victory, built, as the inscription over the gateway told, by "His
Majesty, King of Kings, Heaven of the Court, Shadow of God, Jalal-ad-din
Mohammed Akbar Padishah."

At the time of our story Akbar was at the zenith of his glory. He had
moved his court from Agra, the capital of his predecessors on the throne
of the Moguls, after having raised for himself, on the spot where the
birth of a son had been promised him by a hermit saint, this superb new
city of Fathpur-Sikri, seven miles in circumference, walled and guarded
by strong forts at its seven gateways. Emperor and nobles had vied with
each other in erecting palaces of stately design and exquisite finish of
adornment. A beautiful mosque commemorated the good deeds of the saint,
and provided a place of prayer for those of the Moslem faith. In the
palace of the Emperor was a magnificent audience hall, with marble
columns and stone-carved galleries, in the centre of which stood the
throne of gold sprinkled with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, surrounded
by a silver railing, and covered by a canopy of rich crimson brocade.
In this audience hall the great and good Akbar was wont to receive not
only his subjects, rich and poor, the former assembled to pay their
court, the latter to lay their grievances before the Imperial judge; but
he also extended welcome to strangers from afar. On the question of
religion his mind was at this period in a state of change, for he had
broken from the strict faith of the Moslem, had publicly announced that
there was good in all beliefs, had overthrown ceremonial rules, whether
of Islam or of Hinduism, and had proclaimed all things lawful except
excess. His thoughts thus drifting toward a new religion, a divine faith
that would bring into one fold the votaries of all religions, he was
glad at his court to give audience to learned doctors from distant lands
as well as from every part of India. All were welcome--Brahmins and
Buddhists, Moslem schoolmen, Hindu fanatics, pantheists, the worshippers
of fire, the Jews whose prophets are Abraham and Moses, even Christian
padres from far-off Europe. It was Akbar's delight to listen to their
expositions and discussions, and to the defence of their varied dogmas.

Thus did the fame of the king for tolerance, benevolence and wisdom
become noised abroad far and wide, so that visitors flocked in
ever-increasing numbers to the beautiful city. At our caravanserai
without the gate there would often, in the cool of an evening, be
gathered together on the shaded veranda a group of travellers
representing diverse races and classes. Some of the town-dwellers, too,
would be there, resting and refreshing themselves after their walk to
the city walls, while from the near-by camp of the Rajputs, who formed a
portion of the royal bodyguard, there would oftentimes stroll over a few
men-at-arms.

On such occasions it would generally happen that the debates recently
listened to in the Imperial Hall of Assembly would be subjected to
comment. And from discussion of this kind the conversation would quite
frequently change to story-telling, dear to the hearts of all natives of
Hindustan, and by no means to be despised, for in a good story there may
be implanted the kernel of a sound philosophy.

On a summer night in the year named eight men were assembled on the
veranda of the caravanserai. The full moon had just risen above a tope
of tamarind trees, and its silvern radiance revealed every detail of the
scene. A Rajput chief occupied the place of central prominence, cushions
arranged for his convenience, on one of which rested his scimitar, the
emblem of his soldierly profession. Not far from him, in a
half-reclining posture, was a general of the Afghans, also of the
bodyguard of the Emperor. A hakeem, or physician, and an astrologer,
both in the Moslem style of dress, were seated close together, legs
crossed beneath them; while a little apart were two Hindus, as the caste
marks on their foreheads showed, a tax-collector from the country and a
kotwal, or city magistrate. Just above the steps leading on to the
veranda, surrounded by his bales of merchandise, sat a merchant from
Bombay, a big and stalwart man, attired in spotless white raiment, on
his head a voluminous muslin turban. In striking contrast, squatting on
the ground below the steps, at his feet a wooden begging bowl, was a
fakir, or religious ascetic, a loin cloth his sole covering, his face
bedaubed with ashes, his lean chin resting on his upraised knees while
he listened to the dialogue and watched each speaker's face with eyes of
keen alertness.

There had been some desultory conversation, which finally resulted in
the Rajput chief being begged to relate in detail an experience at which
he had previously hinted. The first story led to another story, and the
third to yet another, and so on, until each member of the company had
contributed to the general entertainment. And these are the tales that
were told by the travellers on the veranda of the caravanserai outside
the walls of Fathpur-Sikri that moonlight night in the days of the
mighty Akbar:



I. THE MAID OF JHALNAGOR

TOLD BY THE RAJPUT CHIEF


Well, since you would have it so, listen to the story of Rukpur Singh,
hereditary chief of Jhalnagor, mansabdar of five hundred men, captain of
the bodyguard of Akbar the Great, King of Kings, Lord of the Earth.

"This day in the Hall of Assembly, in the presence of the great Padishah
himself, we have listened to the arguments of men of diverse faiths. It
is well. As Akbar, the Most High, himself has said, all religions are
good; each man has the god or gods of his fathers; let there be no
obstacle placed against worshipping the divine power in any manner that
seemeth fit. That is both wisdom and justice. That is why I, a Hindu, a
Rajput, one of the twice born, can serve my lord, the Moslem Emperor
Akbar, with loyalty of heart and of sword that no man may question."

At these words the captain of the bodyguard touched the jewelled hilt of
his scimitar lying on the cushion by his side. He glanced around, as if
to see whether anyone present dared to question the fidelity he had
professed. But there was neither movement nor remark among his
listeners, and with a disdainful little smile of self-complacency he
resumed.

"During to-day's discussion, in the spirit of tolerance that Akbar
teaches to all of us, we Rajputs have had to harken to severe
upbraiding. We are accused of inhumanity because in our homes a female
child may be done away with at birth, lawfully and without dishonour. Be
it so; the fact itself I shall not dispute. Nor shall I defend the
practice except to point out that a woman more or less in the world does
not matter, that the babe suffers no pain and knows no ill, that had she
lived it might have been to a life of widowhood--if courage were wanting
to choose the suttee--and therefore to long days of shame and sorrow.

"Furthermore, has it to be remembered that the marriage of one of our
daughters costs much money. According to the rules of our caste and the
customs of our race, the ceremony must be worthy of the parents and of
the position they occupy; all of the district must be feasted, and let
the expense be grievous as it may it must be borne. To some who are rich
the money thus spent is of no account. But to others who are poor yet
proud--and all Rajputs are proud--a wedding that is seemly for a
daughter of the house may mean poverty and ruin for the father and
brothers during twenty years to follow. In certain circumstances this
misfortune cannot be thought of. The honour of the race, the very safety
of a whole clan, may depend on rigid economy as a provision against
danger. So it may be both right and wise for an infant daughter to be
put painlessly to her death. Such was the doctrine my father taught me,
and his name is blessed."

The speaker dropped his eyes, folded his hands across his breast, and
for a full minute remained in silent meditation. When at last he looked
up again, there had come over the usually stern and haughty face a
wonderful glow of kindliness, and his voice took a softer modulation.

"However, know this, my friends, that in my zenana at Jhalnagor there
are little girls--three, and more will be welcome should the divine
Krishna send them. Three little daughters have I, all born of my wife
Lakmibai, the jewel of Jhalnagor. With sons also am I blessed--two brave
little boys, of whom I may well be proud. But I love them not more than
my daughters, nor would I change any one daughter for a son. This do I
say out of the truth of my heart, and in no wise because fortune has
been kind to me and mine, and has given us such prosperity that there is
a fit dower for each daughter without my treasury knowing the loss.

"So when the learned mullah from Stamboul denounced infanticide, I was
one with him in sympathy, for my inclination is to cherish with love and
care every female child the gods send.

"Now would you hear how a Rajput came to this manner of thinking? My
story is that of a little maid. Listen. It happened just five years gone
by.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Under the firm and just rule of our master Akbar there has been peace
for many years in our part of the world. Except when, as now, I come to
Fathpur-Sikri for my yearly month of service in providing part of the
Emperor's bodyguard, I live quietly among my own people. The soil around
our villages is tilled, our shopkeepers buy and sell, we worship in our
temples, and we are happy, for no enemy comes to disturb the peace of
our beautiful little valley of Jhalnagor embosomed among the hills.

"One day it befell that I had gone on a hunting trip with a party of my
friends. In the early dawn we had descended from the fort on the hill
top which is my home and the rallying-place for my clan--a small clan,
numbering but a few thousands, but nobly born as any tribe in Rajputana,
brave and of honour unsullied, men who have never yet given a daughter
to the harem of a Moslem."

The features of the Rajput flashed with pride. His brother-at-arms, the
Afghan, met the defiant look, and said, with a quiet smile:

"There are many Rajput women wed to Moslem lords."

"Yes, but not Rajput women of Jhalnagor. They would have died
first--many of them did so prefer to die when the Moslem host first
swept over our land. In the hour of defeat, against overwhelming
numbers, within the citadel of Jhalnagor the women of my race, refusing
to accept dishonour, bared their bosoms to the spears of those they
loved, husbands, brothers, and fathers, and so they died."

With hands outstretched and eyes upraised in rapt pride and reverence
for the deeds of his ancestors, again the Rajput fell into momentary
silence.

"The story of the little maid." It was the voice of the physician
recalling the narrator to his task.

"Yes, the story of the little maid," resumed the Rajput. "As I have
said, we had gone to the hunt one morning--a party of twelve, riding on
three elephants. For we were in pursuit of a tiger, a destroyer of men,
which the villagers had marked down in a patch of jungle by the river
side. Of the hunt I need say nothing; we killed the tiger, and, with the
huge, striped body slung across the neck of my elephant, we were
returning home. It was toward evening, for we had rested in the forest
during the heat of the day.

"We were just entering the narrow gorge that leads to the fort on the
hill, when, right on the pathway before me, I saw the prone figure of a
child. Almost my elephant's feet were upon it before the sage brute
himself stopped and trumpeted a warning to us in the howdah, for, the
tiger's body occupying the place where the mahout was wont to ride, the
latter was walking, and he, too, had not noticed the tiny bundle of
bright yellow clothing lying on the road.

"Glancing down, I beheld a little girl with her forehead touching the
dust. At my calling she arose, and spread her hands across her breast.

"'Listen, O chief, to my warning, listen, O my lord,' she called out in
a shrill tone of supplication. Already had I observed that her face was
one of great beauty, although that of just a little child, but six or
seven years old.

"The other two elephants had halted behind mine, and some of the party
had descended. But at the approach of these men the maid shrank away,
and, keeping her eyes fixed in my direction, she continued to address
me:

"'Listen to my words, O chief, and be saved from death.'

"In another moment I had sprung to the ground. As I advanced the child
ran toward me, absolutely fearless. Taking her in my arms, I sat me down
by the roadside. Close to my breast she nestled, and, with sobs and
tears now, told me her story.

"A robber band was in the nullah--less than a mile further along--full a
hundred strong, fierce men and murderers. For they had already slain the
father and the mother of the little maid, humble woodcutters. I had
known them well; they were poor, but of mine own people, and instantly
in my heart I vowed that I would be avenged.

"The little girl, Brenda her name, as she told me in her childish way of
confidence, had hidden in the brushwood all day, trembling and afraid.
But at last she divined that the men had come to slay me, for as the
afternoon advanced they disposed themselves among bushes and behind
trees, also in the hut of her dead parents. And even now were the
assassins in waiting for me, for the girl had seen our party ride forth
in the early morning, and she knew that I had not yet returned.

"When, with wonderful intuition for a child so tender in years, the
thought came to her mind that I was to be assailed, she stole down the
gorge, moving cautiously through the undergrowth, and awaited at the
spot we found her to give me warning.

"The child had described to me the leader of the gang, and I had
immediately recognized Gunesh Tanti, accursed son of a pig, a robber
from across the desert of Sindh, who had more than once ravaged peaceful
villages of Rajputana. He would know that I had treasure in the fort,
and of an instant I could read his wily plan. Moving through the
country, he had doubtless heard a day or two before of this projected
expedition of mine for the killing of the man-eating tiger. So he had
designed to slay me on my homeward way, and, the deed accomplished,
would rely on gaining access to the citadel by loading his ruffians into
the howdahs of my elephants. Once over the drawbridge and within the
portcullised gateway, his murderous scheme might have been easy, for my
score of men-at-arms on duty would have been taken by surprise and so at
a disadvantage.

"But knowing now the danger, I laughed in my beard, for Gunesh Tanti,
this human tiger and slayer of innocent men, just as had been the tiger
now slung across the back of my elephant, was fairly delivered into my
hand. He who had come to trap me was himself entrapped. And thanks all
to this little maid of the glen! At the thought, I patted her soft cheek
with my hand, and in response she smiled up into my eyes with wondrous
trust and winsomeness.

"Our party, as I have said, numbered twelve, this without counting the
three mahouts, lithe and active men, and brave as any one of us. The
neck of the gorge was narrow, and for a hundred yards on either side
there were steep precipices down which rocks could be tumbled on fleeing
men. By a goat path over the hillside the fort could be reached by one
sure of foot and knowing the way. Such a lad was of our party, a cousin
of my own, who could race with the deer.

"In a few minutes he had girded his loins and was on his mission,
disappearing over the crest of the almost perpendicular crag up which he
had clambered. He was to warn the garrison, turn out every man and boy
fully armed, and bid them to sweep down on the ambushed robbers. The
mothers and the maidens would hold the fort. No other garrison, when
once on the alert, was needed for such an enemy."

Again the Rajput smiled proudly, but the silence of intent listening was
unbroken, and he continued:

"The firing of a matchlock was to be our signal that my men held the
upper end of the pass, and were descending on our enemies. Meanwhile, my
immediate followers prepared the rocks above the narrow neck of the
defile and got them ready for instant rolling down. To this last task
four of our number were deputed. The others abided with me. Our plan was
to block the narrow passage by ranging the elephants abreast of each
other, and, so that the animals themselves might not be stampeded by the
unexpected din of battle, we chained their forelegs, first each animal
separately, and then the middle one to his comrades on either side.

"At last all our preparations were completed, the huge beasts in line,
my companions mounted into the howdahs. I alone remained on foot, I and
the little woodcutters' daughter, standing by my side, holding
trustfully to my hand, and no longer weeping.

"'You must come with me, my almond-sweet,' I said, as I raised the child
in my arms, and passed her up into the howdah of my own elephant, the
central one. Then I myself clambered aloft. The tiger's corpse had been
flung to the ground, and our three mahouts sat in their proper places,
iron goads in hand, ready to perform their task of keeping the elephants
under control.

"At last, after a tense period of waiting, the welcome report of the
matchlock reverberated from among the hills.

"The fight does not really concern my story," said the Rajput, grimly.
"It is sufficient to say that Gunesh Tanti and all his band perished to
a man--some slain by the swords of my horsemen charging down the pass,
some crushed by the falling rocks, some of the last survivors, who flung
themselves desperately against our living barrier, dying on our
handpikes or being trampled under foot by the elephants. Not one of more
than five score men lived to carry back the tale of death to the robber
haunts whence they had come.

"On our side some lives were lost, seven in all; but this is the penalty
that brave men have to pay in the doing of righteous deeds. Their
memory is honoured.

"As for the little maid, I had nested her in the best-protected corner
of the howdah, and in the thick of the fray, when a shower of arrows had
fallen upon us, I had covered her tiny form with my shield. But during
the final hand-to-hand fight, when all was din and turmoil with the
shouting of the men and the angry trumpeting of the elephants, I had not
paid her any special heed. From her lips came no sound to attract my
attention--no cry of fear, nor wailing murmur.

"But at the end I looked for the little child, lifting the shield that
had partly guarded her. She met my gaze with a smile. But straightway I
noticed that an arrow, descending almost perpendicularly, had pierced
her soft little arm, and transfixed it to her side. Yet had she not
cried out, nor even now, when I was tending her, did she whimper.

"I drew forth the arrow, breaking it in twain, so as to let the shaft
pass through the arm. Although blood flowed freely, I saw at a glance
that the wound in the body was a mere puncture, and also that on the
limb only a piercing of the flesh. Therefore was her hurt not serious,
although of a certainty painful, and terrifying too for a child so
young. But even now not one word of complaining did she utter. She kept
her sweet smile on me. Brave little maid!

"Tearing a length of cambric from my turban, I had bound both arm and
tender breast, and readjusted the sari of yellow-dyed cotton that formed
her simple garment. And now she reposed, happy and contented, in my
arms. I remained in the howdah, while my companions cut off the heads of
the robbers, and loaded these trophies of victory on one of the other
elephants, so that a triumphal pile might be made in the courtyard of
the citadel. Then, with the tiger replaced on the neck of my own
elephant, we moved for home, a group of fifty horsemen now forming our
escort. The headless bodies of our enemies were left as fitting spoil
for the jackals and the vultures, the latter of whom, scenting the
carrion, were already beginning to drop down, it might seem, from the
blue vault of heaven.

"By the time we gained the fortress the dusk was gathering. Across the
drawbridge, promptly lowered at the sound of our joyful shouting, I saw
my wife standing beside the big carronade that commanded the roadway up
the hill. The smoking match was in her hand, but at sight of me she
stooped and smothered in the dust the spark that would have dealt out
death to the robbers had they ever gained a near approach. Descending
from my elephant, I greeted her and thanked her for the courage of
herself and all the other women, our loved ones.

"Then my friends above handed down gently into my arms the form of the
little maid. At sight of my wife's sweet and kindly countenance the eyes
of the child were lighted with joyousness. But with a quick motion wife
drew her veil completely over her features. Ere this was done, however,
I had caught a strange look in her face--a look of mingled surprise and
terror. At the same moment her old attendant and confidant, Rakaya,
flung herself at my feet, and began to babble for my forgiveness.

"'What means this?' I asked, glancing in profound amazement from the
woman's prostrate form up into my wife's eyes. There again I read the
strangely troubled expression. Puzzled, yet restraining my curiosity
before the others gathered around, I placed the wounded child in my
wife's arms, and, with a gesture to signify that she and Rakaya were to
follow, I led the way to the women's quarters.

"Once within the zenana, I told my story briefly: how the little damsel
of the glen had saved me from certain death, and then, through danger
and through pain, had been brave as the noblest-born Rajput maid could
be. After this recital, I commended the child to my wife's affections,
bidding her love the orphan as she would a daughter.

"Then was the lovely countenance of my wife, the jewel of Jhalnagor,
suffused with great joy. Hugging the child to her motherly bosom, she
exclaimed:

"'Oh, my lord, I have a confession to make, but now you will forgive me.
Do you remember our first-born babe?'

"My brow darkened. I felt the hot flush of shame on my cheeks. For our
first-born had been a girl, and I--disappointed and aggrieved, because I
was then strongly under the influence of my father's teachings, proud of
my family's position and wealth, and fearful to be impoverished in the
future--had given the word that the babe must die. This in spite of my
wife's pitiful tears and pleadings. And it was not the memory of the
deed itself that made me now ashamed, but the memory of those tears and
of how I had repelled her. Through the intervening years I had tried
never to think of this painful episode, and, with two little boys
playing at my knee, had well nigh forgotten the first child that had
come. Mention of the dead and buried past now made me resentful.

"'Why do you speak thus?' I asked, angrily.

"'Because, my lord,' exclaimed my wife, dropping on her knees at my
feet, yet with the little child still pressed to her breast, and drawing
me down to her with her free hand, so that we were all three close
together, 'because, oh, my lord, in our arms now this very moment is our
first-born, our daughter. We spared her, Rakaya and I; we bribed Runjit,
who is now dead, and to whom you gave the terrible orders, and Rakaya
smuggled the babe safe away to the cottage of the woodcutters. Since
then I have managed to see her sometimes by stealth, and have loved her;
but I have never dared to clothe her in any but humble garments--no
silks, no bangles, no jewels of any kind--lest suspicion should be
aroused.'

"'Oh, great master, forgive your humble slave,' moaned the old crone,
Rakaya, grovelling in a corner of the room.

"But to my wife only I paid heed. 'Can this be?' I murmured, surprised
and deeply moved.

"'She is our very own, our little girl.' And back into my arms she
placed the child, whose tresses I straightway fell to fondling, as her
sweet, trustful eyes looked up into mine, beaming with love as if she
had indeed long before divined in her heart that I was her father and
her natural protector.

"'And, oh, my dear lord,' continued my wife, her eyes brimming with
tears, 'thou knowest now it was to save thee that, in the mysterious
workings of fate, this little child was saved.'"

The Rajput paused in his story, bending his head to hide the emotion
that caused his lips to tremble. "A month later," he went on, softly, "a
little sister was born to Brenda, and only last year a third daughter
came to our home. And all, as I have said, are well beloved."

The speaker's face was now upraised. The soldierly sternness had gone
out of it: it shone only with paternal pride and love as he added:

"To-day Brenda, our first-born, is the light of my home, and a year
hence she will be married to the Rajah of Jodhpur, to make the heart of
that great and noble prince of the Rajputs happy for ever-more."

And so ended the Rajput's tale.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was silence for a time, broken at last by the voice of the
ash-besprinkled devotee:

"Allahu akbar! God is great! Over many things he gives his servants
power."



II. THE HOLLOW COLUMN

TOLD BY THE TAX-COLLECTOR


"Every man's fate is fore-ordained," said the tax-collector,
reflectively stroking his beard. "Although we may not understand it at
the moment each particular event that happens is simply a means prepared
for some destined end that may be many years remote in time. Vishnu the
Preserver saved the life of the little maid of Jhalnagor so that her
father's life might later on be saved. But none can read the future, so
that we are all blindly doing the things of to-day without knowing their
real bearing on the things of a far-away to-morrow. And one man can make
or mar the happiness of another man, even though their lives be
separated by hundreds of leagues in space or hundreds of years in time."

"In your mind doubtless is some tale to illustrate the truth of what you
teach," remarked the astrologer, with a shrewd uplifting of his
eyebrows. "The stars can help us to read the future, as I can prove to
you by a story of actual experience. But before I proceed to my
narrative, pray, friend, let us hear from you."

"Gladly," assented the tax-collector. "The story of this noble Rajput
has brought to memory an incident in my own life many years ago,
likewise serving to show that the gods prepare long years ahead for the
working out of each particular man's destiny. Listen:

       *       *       *       *       *

"As a youth I was a keeper of accounts in the service of a rich
zemindar, whose estate lay in the Country of the Five Rivers. He was a
usurer as well as a landowner, as had been his fathers before him for
many generations. So in his castle was an accumulation of great stores
of wealth--gold and silver and precious stones, cloth of gold, silks,
brocades, and muslins, ivory and amber, camphor, spices, dye stuffs, and
other merchandise of divers kinds."

The Afghan general stirred, and the scabbard of his sword rattled on the
floor as, raising himself from his elbow that rested on a cushion, he
sat up and assumed an attitude of keen attention.

"Where is this place?" he asked, a wolfish gleam in his eyes, and his
lips curved to a smile that revealed, under the black, curled moustache,
the white gleam of sharp-pointed teeth.

The story-teller also smiled, knowingly, and raised a deprecatory hand.

"Nay, friend, this zemindar, my first master, was not fated to be
relieved of his treasure, as my story will tell, even though a skilful
plot had been laid for his spoliation. Which is the very point of my
tale, although I may seem to come to it by a roundabout way of telling."

The Afghan sank back on his cushion, but his gaze remained riveted on
his narrator's face.

"One day I was seated in my home, casting up my books of account, for I
had only that morning completed the taking of taxes from the crops of
the rayats, the tenants of my lord. All of a sudden a white-robed figure
entered the doorway and threw himself prostrate before me. When at last
the face was raised I recognized the dhobi of the village that nestled
under the hill on which was perched the castle of the zemindar.

"'O thou washer of clothes,' I asked, 'what is thy plaint?'

"'Protector of the poor,' replied my visitor, 'behold my bandaged feet,
beaten with rods until they are swollen and torn.'

"I looked, as requested, and saw the blood-stains soaked through the
wrappings of linen.

"'Thou art an honest and a peaceful man, Bhagwan. Why this cruel
punishment?'

"'I know not, indeed. But I have come to thee, because I have endured
the wrong at the hands of thy master.'

"'Tell me thy story.'

"'As you have said, O my protector,' began the dhobi, assuming a sitting
posture and spreading the folds of his loose-flowing cotton garment over
his bandaged feet, 'I am an honest man. And it is for that very reason I
have suffered. Yesterday, among the apparel I received from the home of
the zemindar to be made clean and white was the bodice of a woman, and
tied in one corner of this piece of raiment was a ring set with bright
red stones that gleamed as if they were aflame. Straightway I returned
to the palace of the zemindar, and, entering the audience chamber where,
as is his wont at that particular hour each day, he was seated receiving
the complaints of the oppressed, did my humble obeisance, and then
placed in his hand the jewel I had discovered. He asked me where I had
found it, and when I replied truthfully, his eyes flashed with anger,
and his voice thundered at me in rebuke. Although I had done no wrong,
but rather a virtuous deed, I implored for pardon. But in vain. My mind
grew confused, and the next thing I remember was the sharp cut of bamboo
rods upon the soles of my feet. I was in a small vaulted chamber, bound
to a wooden bench, surrounded by the zemindar's soldiers, and powerless
except to scream out in the agony of each blow. Thirty strokes were
counted, and then I was flung out of the gates of the castle, to limp my
way home.'

"Tears of self-pity were in the dhobi's eyes as he recounted his tale of
woe. Even then I was reflecting on the real cause of the zemindar's
wrath. The jewel had been discovered in the folds of a garment worn by
one of the women in his zenana, and his quick access of anger showed
that the gift had come from some other hand than his. Savage jealousy,
therefore, had prompted the act of injustice inflicted upon the
unfortunate washerman. I knew my master so well his sullen moods, his
outbursts of passion, that already I could arrive at this conclusion
with certainty.

"'Proceed,' I said, indifferently, for it is well that a man should
keep his own counsel in such delicate affairs. 'What is my concern with
your misfortune?'

"'Harken, O dispenser of bounties! Last night when I lay nursing my
wounds, I remembered that the ring which had proved the cause of my
misery had been wrapped in a fragment of paper whereon were some strange
marks and lines as in the books of learned men. This I had flung away,
at that time deeming only the ring to be of any consequence. But the
thought came to me in the night that perhaps the paper might tell
something about the ring. So all this day have I searched among the
bushes by the stream where I beat the clothes on stones and wash them.
And behold, I have found that for which I have been seeking.'

"Hereupon the dhobi loosened the loin cloth beneath his upper garment,
and extracted from its folds a tiny roll of paper. This he presented to
me, with a bow of deference to my superior understanding of such things.

"'This time I have come to you,' he said, 'a man of learning and of
justice, not like unto the cruel zemindar. Does the paper tell why I
should have suffered such shame and pain at his hands?'

"I had unrolled the scroll, the folds of which showed that it had served
as a wrapping for the ring. The writing was in neat Persian characters,
and I had no difficulty in deciphering it, for the four lines that met
my eyes had been recited to me only a few days before by the very man
who claimed to be their author.

"Now did my very heart tremble with agitation. But to the dhobi I
appeared cold as the waters of the snows that melt on the mountains.

"'This writing would only add to your troubles,' I said. 'Here, let me
destroy it.' And, turning to the red ashes burning in a brazier near at
hand, I dexterously substituted a fragment of paper, on which I had been
figuring my accounts, for the paper received, from the dhobi, placing
the former on the glowing charcoal embers and bestowing the latter in
the security of my girdle. A curl of white smoke, a puff of flame, and
the work of destruction was, to all appearance, completed.

"'In view of your misfortune, my friend,' I resumed, 'I bestow upon you
in the name of my master ten maunds of dal, which will be sent to your
home on the morrow.'

"The recipient of this unexpected bounty prostrated himself before me.

"'O prince of justice, no longer do my wounds pain me. The bellies of my
children will be filled for many long days to come.'

"'Then go thy way, rejoicing in thy heart even though limping on thy
feet. And remember that silence is golden. Say not one word more to
anyone about the ring or the paper, your punishment or the reward that
has now redressed the wrong. Go in peace.'

"And the dhobi, after profuse expressions of gratitude, hobbled from my
presence.

"Alone with my thoughts, I felt sorely troubled. The writer of the
verses of ardent poetry written on the paper brought to me by the
washerman was my cherished friend, a youth from far-away Bokhara, Abdul
by name. This young man had come to our country only a year or so
before, bringing several beautiful Arab horses for sale. These the
zemindar had purchased, and had retained Abdul in his service, for the
youth was skilled in the management of horses, and in the rearing of
young stock.

"Abdul and myself were much of an age, and my regulation of expenditures
in the stables had brought us constantly together. So a close friendship
had resulted, valued greatly on my side, for I had soon come to know
that Abdul was a man of refinement and learning such as I had never
before encountered in any man of so humble a calling. And despite the
fact that he was a Moslem and I a Hindu, he had chosen me as his
intimate friend, his only confidant. Thus had it come about that at
times he had read to me of an evening songs of his own composing, and
even on occasion had sung them to the accompaniment of a small harp, the
strings of which he touched with wondrous skill and sensibility.

"Now did I know that this dear friend of mine had endangered not only
his well-being but his life, by sending into the zenana of our master,
the zemindar, a love token and a love message for one of the women
dwelling there.

"Thus ran the fateful lines, written after the style of the famous
Persian poet, Omar the Tent-Maker, which I now read again on the paper
withdrawn from my girdle:

  This ring, O idol mine, tells one is here
  To bring thee joy, to kiss away the tear.
    Keep in thy heart the ruby fire of love;
  The hour of thy deliverance is near.

"And, after reading, I felt thankful that the message had not fallen
into the hands of the zemindar, else had the intriguer's identity been
quickly determined and his fate as quickly sealed.

"Yet the lines breathed the spirit of honourable love, and my heart was
stirred to aid my friend in his daring enterprise.

"Patiently during the afternoon I waited, cogitating the while, and
counting the chances. At last about an hour before sunset Abdul came to
me with his usual gay smile and happy greeting.

"He read trouble in my look, for straightway he asked of me:

"'What is wrong? What matters have gone amiss?'

"I motioned him to sit by my side, and then without more ado told him of
the evil turn that had befallen the dhobi, and showed him the quatrain
of verses.

"'These you wrote?' I questioned.

"'With my own hand,' he answered, gravely, but without excess of fear.

"'And the ring with the flaming red gems?'

"'Was her mother's own ring. Zuleika would know it in an instant.'

"'Zuleika--who is she?'

"'Listen, my brother, for fate points that to thee should I give my
fullest confidence. Zuleika is a maid of the Turkmans, betrothed to me.
But a year ago, when gathering flowers in our valley, she was stolen by
roving freebooters. And, true to my love, I have followed her here, to
the home of the zemindar, your master, who purchased her from the
marauders.'

"'How came you to know that she was here?'

"'Never mind. I am a man of resource and observation, and I tracked the
maid. Moreover, gold opens the gates of confidence, and of this I have
goodly store.' As he spoke, he touched a pouch that hung from his
girdle, 'For I am not, as I may have seemed to you, a mere dealer in
horses, but the son of a great chief in my own land.'

"He had drawn himself up proudly, and I bowed my head, in homage as well
as in acquiescence. For the news did not surprise me, and in a friend of
such noble bearing and high attainments I was well content to recognize
an overlord.

"More did he tell me--about a grass-cutter in the stables who had ridden
with the robbers, and knew where the captive had been disposed; and
about a dancing girl who had carried the ring into the zenana, and
brought forth Zuleika's answer in return, telling that she was well,
that she was destined as the bride of the zemindar's eldest son, but
that she would resist all advances until rescued by her lover, the pearl
of her heart, now thrice dear because he had followed her so faithfully
and so far.

"Abdul, fearful of danger to Zuleika because of the discovery of the
ring, was for instant action--the hiring of bravoes, and a bold attack
on the zemindar's person, taking him unawares, carrying him off and
holding him to ransom, deliverance of the captive maid of the Turkmans
being the price of his freedom.

"But I had more subtle counsel to offer. For by foreordaining of
Providence there rested in my breast certain knowledge, the real use of
which was only now being revealed.

"'Harken to me, Abdul,' I said, 'and I shall show you a way out of your
difficulties--a way, too, that will lead to the attainment of your
heart's desire. Send out to-night relays of horses along the northern
road, and reserve for your own use the fleetest and strongest steed in
the zemindar's stables. To-morrow morning early the dancing girl will
carry a message to Zuleika, bidding her to watch and wait for you near
the door in the women's quarters that leads to the treasure room of the
zemindar.'

"'Of a surety you jest at me,' interposed Abdul. 'How can I gain access
either to zenana or to treasure chamber?'

"'All will presently be made clear. At the appointed place Zuleika must
await your coming, to-morrow during the hour of the zemindar's public
audience. Him shall I engage in business matters while you carry off
your beloved. In this you cannot fail, for God, the Lord of the
Universe, pitying and helping you, has long years ago prepared the
precise means for the accomplishment of your purpose.'

"'Still do you speak in riddles, friend.'

"Nay; listen, Abdul, and though you, a follower of Mohammed, may think
of me as an idol-worshipping Hindu, you will yet see that the same
supreme spirit rules both our destinies, making me the instrument of
your happiness, because of certain knowledge which I possess. There is a
secret which my father entrusted to me before he died, bidding me to
guard it jealously until occasion for its application might arise. And
behold now the appointed hour has come.'

"'You know the council chamber of our lord, the zemindar, with its
three-and-thirty columns of white marble. These are massive, seeming to
have been hewn out of single pieces of rock--base, pillar, and capital
all in one, each column in its entirety a single piece of quarried
stone. But learn that this is not so, for these monoliths are in reality
artificially made, having been fashioned by clever workers from the
Coromandel country, who brought with them here supplies of a certain
hard white stone, which they first roasted to a great heat, and then
ground to the fineness of flour, finally compounding this material with
other things, and constructing therefrom the columns of marble you now
behold.'

"'Indeed have I marvelled at their size,' commented Abdul, 'and wondered
how such mighty blocks of hewn stone could have been obtained or set in
place.'

"'Well, you learn now that they were not quarried but moulded. This work
was done in the time of my father, when he was treasurer in the service
of the zemindar, then a young man. Now, know that the architect of the
zemindar's palace was a dishonest knave, for he contrived that one of
the three-and-thirty columns of marble should be hollow, and fitted
inside with steps or holding places of iron, so that a lissom man might
ascend and gain access to the treasure chamber above. This he confided
to my father, seeking to gain him as a confederate in systematically
robbing their master. But my father had a heart of gold and a hand of
steel, for he slew the would-be thief after disdainfully rejecting his
base proposal. Yet did he keep locked up in his own breast exclusively,
knowledge of the hollow marble column, and of the sliding sections that
gave access to it both above and below. For knowledge is power, he
argued, and no man should squander such power any more than he would
squander wealth. The destined time would come for the use of the
knowledge, and it was in this faith that, just before he died, he
confided the secret to me, his successor in the office of treasurer.

"'And with me unto this day the secret has remained. But now at last the
workings of fate are disclosed. How old art thou, Abdul?'

"'Four-and-twenty summers,' he replied.

"'Well, a full score years before you were born God so contrived that
there should be a means for you to rescue the pearl of your heart, and
escape, both of you, back to your own country. Go now and arrange the
relays of horses, as I have directed, and when to-morrow's sun has
risen, send by the hand of the dancing girl the message to your
betrothed within the zenana, bidding her to be prepared. An hour before
the zemindar's noontide council I will meet you, and, conducting you to
the vaults below the assembly hall with its three-and-thirty columns of
marble, will show you that particular column which, by the touching of a
hidden spring, will open a passage way whereby you can climb to the
zemindar's treasury. The door of that chamber you can open on the
inside, simply by pushing back the wooden bolt which serves as a lock
and answers only to a key on the other side. Let the maid be waiting
there at the appointed time for your coming. Now go, brother of my soul,
and make your preparations. Then sleep, for sleep is the best surety of
success when wakefulness and courage come to be required.'

"Next day shortly after the hour of noon, the zemindar was seated in
council. He was a big stout man, having waxed fat with age and
prosperity. His beard descended to his waist like the moss on an old
tree, and, above, his moon-like face surveyed complacently the circle of
courtiers, soldiers, and retainers. Petitions had been presented,
judgments had been spoken, and affairs of the day had been discussed,
and we, the few close counsellors who tarried, were only awaiting the
raised hand that would have bidden us go our several ways.

"'Where is Abdul?' of a sudden asked the zemindar, casting a glance of
inquiry around.

"'He has been smitten with a fever, my lord,' I answered, taking upon my
shoulders the burden of excuse, and telling no falsehood, for surely
love is the fiercest burning fever of all.

"'Ah, ha!' muttered the zemindar, in a guttural note of disappointment.
And there and then I saw him toying with a ruby ring, not worn upon one
of his fingers, but held lightly between his two hands.

"'Does anyone here know aught of this bauble?' he added, raising the gem
aloft.

"There were glances of inquiry from all around, then bows and gestures
and murmurs of disavowal. I alone remained irresponsive, for at that
very moment every fibre of my being was strained to nervous rigidity. My
senses were preternaturally at work. The marble column against which I
was leaning with seeming carelessness, vibrated under my hand. Within
its circular depths I could see Abdul descending stealthily and slowly,
his one free arm pressing a silken bundle to his breast. Even to my
nostrils there was wafted the fragrance of attar of roses, and with the
exhalations of perfume came a gentle sigh of timidity almost at my very
ear.

"I was moistening my parched lips with my tongue, when I awoke from my
momentary trance. The zemindar's eyes were blazing down at me.

"'Villain, this ring is yours!' he cried, struggling to his feet.

"'Not mine, my lord,' I protested, flinging myself at full length before
him.

"But at that very moment there rang forth the sharp tattoo of a horse's
hoofs on the paved courtyard without, followed by the sharp challenge of
a sentry, the bang of a matchlock, and then a very babel of excited
yelling.

"Every one in the audience hall swept outside, even the zemindar, his
dignity all forgotten. Left alone, with swift consciousness of the
suspicion that had fastened itself upon me, and of my powerlessness to
deny connivance with the escape of my friend, I gathered myself up and
fled by a side passage to a ghat on the river. Here I had a boat
prepared for just the emergency that had happened, and because of this
happy foresight I am enabled to-day, after more than two score of years,
to tell the tale."

       *       *       *       *       *

"And the zemindar?" asked the Afghan soldier.

"Dead long since."

"The hollow marble column?" pressed the interlocutor.

"Its secret remained unrevealed," replied the tax-collector. "Trusty
friends told me later that the flight of Abdul on a fiery stallion, with
a female figure clinging to him on the saddle behind, ever remained a
mystery. So the youth had had the presence of mind to close the sliding
panels above and below."

"He escaped? He lived?" queried the Rajput.

"Assuredly," came the quiet reply. "I have never seen nor heard from
Abdul from that day to this. But as destiny had provided, long years
before the actual event, a means for the accomplishment of his
happiness, I have ever rested content in the belief that all was well
with him--that all is well with him even yet perhaps--with him and his
beloved in the valley of far-away Bokhara."

"I should like to find that hollow column," muttered the Afghan.

"As I have said, the column was contrived for love and not for rapine,
my friend. Should the white stone from Coromandel that can be cunningly
wrought into marble ever cross your fate, be on your guard lest the omen
mean, not the gaining of a fortune, but the making of a tomb."

The Afghan smiled, half disdainfully, half uneasily, and silence reigned
for a spell.



III. WHAT THE STARS ORDAINED

TOLD BY THE ASTROLOGER


"And now, master star-gazer, your proffered story," said the
tax-collector, bestirring the company from its meditative mood.

"As I have promised," responded the astrologer, "I shall recount an
experience that shows how the stars, if read aright, can tell us the
influences for good or for evil that weigh upon a man and inevitably
determine his destiny at the critical moments of his life. What is
written is written, and it is impossible to strive against fate."

"Nay," objected the Rajput, "that is a teaching of helplessness to which
I cannot subscribe--the pitiful excuse of the coward who folds his hands
in the hour of danger, or of the self-indulgent weakling who yields to
seductive temptation because his heart inclines to seize the pleasure of
the moment even when his conscience counsels otherwise. I hold that man
is the master of his own fate. Most assuredly have I been the master of
mine," he added with a proud smile, his fingers closing significantly on
the handle of a dagger at his belt.

"Be it so," answered the astrologer. "But as Allah knows everything that
is to happen, so must it happen."

"Which does not forbid the exercise of my own free will," argued the
Rajput. "The Supreme Being, the presiding power of creation, call him
Allah if you will, understanding my heart as he understands all things,
knows beforehand what choice of action I shall make at the moment of an
emergency. But that still leaves me responsible for the deed which I
elect to do. Such is my understanding of destiny. It gives
fore-knowledge to God, but leaves free will to man."

"From all of which I do not dissent," rejoined the astrologer. "It is
only the ignorant or the base that makes kismet the excuse for
helplessness or for wrongdoing. But as the stars under which a man is
born influence that man's acts, then does the reading of the stars guide
us as to what the future has in store."

"I know little about your stars," replied the Rajput. "But let us have
the story," he added, crossing his hands on his knees in an attitude of
expectancy. The astrologer, saluting his audience generally with a bow
of acquiescence, thus began:

       *       *       *       *       *

"By your courtesy let me first explain, as necessary to the
understanding of the tale which is to follow, that I am from Persia,
from the city of Teheran, where for many generations my ancestors were
profound students of astrology, some of them famous men because of their
skilful divinations, with reputations that reached even to Stamboul. For
thither in my early boyhood to the court of the Sultan of the Osmanlis
was my father summoned, and him I never beheld again. It was from my
aged grandfather that I learned my first lessons in astrology--about the
twelve houses, the ruling star of each day, the coming and the going of
the planets, their conjunctions and oppositions, and the influences they
exercise on men's lives. I learned with avidity, and was an apt pupil,
for at fifteen I had begun the practice of my profession, casting
horoscopes and reading the nocturnal heavens with constant care,
understanding also the flight of birds and the cries of wild beasts of
the jungle.

"Yet at that time was my mind assailed with grievous doubts. I often
caught myself wondering whether the stars did really rule the fates of
men. And with this inward questioning a restless spirit grew upon me. I
longed to see more of the world--to enlarge the sphere of my
observations. Just then I chanced to hear some gossip in the bazaars
about a great expedition that was getting ready at Kabul to descend upon
Hindustan. The hunger of adventure seized me, and was not to be denied.
Despite the tears and implorings of my family, I set forth on foot for
Afghanistan, a stripling; in my hand the staff I used in my divinations,
in the bag slung at my side a single change of raiment. Money I had
none, but my ability to read the stars I knew well would earn me a
livelihood wherever I might wander.

"With my adventures during the next two years this story has no concern.
It is enough to say that, after many vicissitudes of fortune, I found
myself installed as astrologer in the court of a Moslem prince,
sovereign over an extensive region in Kashmir.

"My lord was a man of noble heart and of high mental gifts. He ruled
over his people not by fear of the sword, but by absolute justice, which
he himself personally administered, every day holding audience so that
grievances, even those of the most poor, might be heard and wrongs
redressed. And his royal duties were shared by his wife, who, although
she might sit behind the screen of the women's quarters, none the less
shared in the counsels of state, and contributed words of wisdom in the
direction of affairs.

"Never in my experience have I encountered such mutual love, trust, and
devotion as subsisted between this pair. For no other woman in the world
had Mirza Shah thought or regard or desire--I call him Mirza Shah, but
that was not his real name. For reasons that will presently appear, I
refrain from disclosing the identity of places and persons connected
with my story.

"Well, it was my privilege from the outset to be on relations of close
intimacy with my master. He used to come through the palace gardens to
the shrub-embowered tower which I occupied, and from the roof of which I
nightly contemplated the heavens. For long hours he would abide with me,
learning something of the stars while enjoying the cool of the night air
after the heat and fatigues of the day. And many times of an afternoon
the sultana, veiled, would come with her lord, and together they would
seek to gain from me knowledge of the heavenly bodies and of divination.
Some things I told to them, but others I withheld, which is just and
right, for skill in astrology is hereditary, descending from father to
son, and new minds are unprepared for such teachings, so that too much
knowledge conveyed to outsiders may become a source of disturbance to
themselves and perchance of danger and hurt to their fellow men. Thus,
following the rules laid down for me by my grandfather, always, even
when closely pressed with questions, did I exercise a discreet reserve.

"Gradually the friendship accorded to me by my lord and his lady waxed
stronger, and I found myself being admitted to some of their innermost
thoughts. Thus did I come to learn the passionate longing of the wife to
become a mother: for six years had she waited, but no child had blessed
her love for her husband. As for Mirza Shah, just so soon as the subject
was mentioned I could see the cloud of melancholy rest on his brow. And
when, as time went on, sadness seemed to settle upon him continuously, I
knew full well that this disappointment in his wedded life had at last
taken complete possession of his mind, to the exclusion of all other
matters.

"And from the sultana's manner I could see the trepidation that filled
her heart--the dread that her childlessness might in the end rob her of
her husband's love. It was not given to me to look upon her face--to get
more than a glimpse of her eyes as they shot an occasional glance at me
through the parted folds of her veil. But in these glances I had read
the prayers of entreaty that I should use all the spells of my art in
her favour, so as to obtain for her from God the gift of a son.

"Well, after a time an unexpected thing happened. Mirza Shah was absent
from his home--gone on a full week's journey, engaged in the settling of
some dispute on the confines of his territory. To me there came one
afternoon the sultana, attended by one of her women--the most trusted
one, I knew, for both were from the same country, near to Amritsar,
where the famous rugs are woven. So much I had learned, and this further
I also knew, that by birth the sultana was a Hindu, although on being
wed to her lord as a little girl, she had of course embraced the true
faith of Islam, in so far as it matters for a woman to have any religion
at all.

"It was the female attendant who spoke to me, her mistress listening in
silence. But the questions came so readily that it was clear the lesson
had been well rehearsed by the twain.

"'Astrologer,' she began, 'can you swear on the Koran that the stars
speak truth?'

"'That I can swear,' I replied, with due dignity and respect for myself
and my profession.

"'Can the stars bring about the wishes of man or of woman?'

"'Nay, that I do not declare. They rule the lives of men and women only
in so far as their movements forecast the future. If we can read the
stars aright, we may gain foreknowledge of events destined to happen.
For what is written in the scroll of fate cannot be changed. From kismet
there is no escape."

"'Then tell me this, O astrologer, from your stars: is my noble lady
here ever going to have a child, a son?'

"'That question I cannot answer. Unless I have the horoscope of her
highness, cast by skilled hands at the time of her birth, I cannot tell
which planet rules her destiny.'

"'Alas, we knew not these things among my people down in Amritsar,' I
heard my lady murmur.

"'Bah!' exclaimed the serving woman contemptuously. She had flung open
her veil, unashamed as are women of her station that I, not her brother
or her husband, should gaze upon her face. It was a pleasant enough face
of a woman of five-and-twenty years of age; yet, methought, as I looked
into it now, that there was unseemly boldness in her eye and even
something of wanton abandonment in her manner.

"'Bah! If your stars cannot get us what we wish, what good are they?
Better pray at a Hindu shrine to Krishna, god of love revels, than waste
time in consulting a Moslem astrologer. That is what I have said all
along, dear lady'; and with undoubtedly great affection the woman folded
to her breast her now sobbing mistress.

"I turned away, as was proper, and busied myself with a chart of the
heavens over which I had been poring when my visitors had arrived. On
again raising my eyes, I found that I was alone.

"This incident I had well nigh forgotten, and near a year had elapsed.
For some months I had not seen the sultana; she remained in the strict
seclusion of the harem. Her highness was unwell, most people said. But I
knew the truth; Mirza Shah himself had told it to me, his face beaming
with pride and pleasure. At last his dearest hopes were to be realized;
the sultana was about to become a mother.

"Meanwhile I was on the alert to cast the horoscope of the child the
very hour it should arrive. My preparations had been all made for some
time past. Now was I only studying the stars night by night, so that I
should be the better prepared to read them correctly.

"At last, almost at the midnight hour, came a messenger running to the
tower with the news that a child had been born--a son, Allah be praised.
Then I set me instantly to my task, and it was with deep thankfulness I
saw that the conjunction of the planets and stars was highly favourable.
I carefully recorded the exact position of each heavenly body, and had
already read from my rough chart strength and valour for the boy that
had just been born, beauty of figure, good endowments of mind, when once
again I lifted my eyes to the heavens. But to my horror and dismay at
that very instant a streak of fire shot from west to east across the
first house, straight toward the planet there ruling, where it
disappeared. Just the fraction of a second had passed in the passing of
that fiery star. But I knew what it meant, for my grandfather had
instructed me in this matter. The child into whose horoscope had come
this dread intruder was destined, if he lived beyond infancy, to slay
his own father. And with the heaviness of lead this foreknowledge of
destiny settled on my soul.

"My head had sunk dejectedly on my breast, when I started up at the
touch of a hand on my shoulder, and the greeting of a joyous voice--that
of Mirza Shah.

"'A son, Syed Ali, a son. Joy, joy, joy! And now, what do the stars
say?'

"Was it cowardice, was it pity, was it sympathy for him in his long
deferred happiness, that prompted me to act as I did? Even at this day I
myself cannot answer the question. Perhaps it was just unthinkingly on
the spur of the moment that I did what I did. Without a word I thrust
into Mirza Shah's hand the roughly completed horoscope. There was no
note in it of the flaming star that at the last had marred the
favourable showing.

"Mirza Shah, under my instructions, had become skilled enough to
interpret the general significance of such a diagram with its
accompanying symbols.

"'Ah, my friend,' he exclaimed in fervent delight, 'this is indeed
excellent. He will be clever and brave and handsome, everything that a
father could wish. Get ready the emblazoned scroll at once. Now I shall
go. There are others to whom to tell the glad news, and to your mistress
even now shall I try to whisper the splendid omens the stars have traced
for us here.'

"He tapped the rough chart with a forefinger, then handed it back to me,
and was gone.

"Let my story hasten on, just as the years hastened on. The boy grew up
to be a comely lad, much in my companionship, for he came to me to learn
to read and write Persian and Arabic. But although I loved him well,
never any single day did he come into my sight but my heart was smitten
with self reproach. Why had I, by suppressing the truth, allowed this
child to live even for an hour beyond the hour of his birth? The
foreordained murderer of his good and noble father!--to my eyes the
decree of fate was branded on the very brow of the boy.

"Yet did I console myself and justify myself. At times I even dared to
indulge a doubting mood as to the certainty of the celestial writing of
fate. Could a bright, open-faced child like this one seated at my knee,
book in hand, ever come to commit the most abominable of human
crimes--to slay his own dearly loving father?

"'Impossible!' I would murmur to myself, and would thus resolutely shut
the gates of my heart to the whispering of conscience.

"But in any case it was now too late to speak. The boy was endeared to
his father and to his mother, the idol of both their lives. Mirza Shah
would have gladly died, well I knew, for his son. Why then should I
interfere? Kismet! Let destiny take its course. Even I, in withholding
the truth, had been an instrument in the hand of fate. And had it not
been written that I should so act? Who, indeed, but Allah can change the
course of events?

"By such arguments I became reconciled to abide with peace of mind the
workings of destiny. And so years rolled on.

"When Prince Hasan, as the lad had been named, had attained the age of
seventeen, it befell that the Emperor Humayun, son of Baber, made a
progress through the Kashmir Valley, receiving homage from his
feudatories, among whom was Mirza Shah. And the magnificent retinue of
the mighty Mogul so impressed our young prince, that he must needs beg
the privilege of joining the imperial bodyguard. This request was
readily granted, for Humayun was trying to gather around him the best
young blood in Hindustan, Rajput as well as Moslem, so that each race
alike might be keen in the defence and proud of the glory of the great
Mogul Empire.

"Thus it came about that Prince Hasan, superbly mounted and dressed in a
suit of fine chain armour beneath his upper silken garments, rode forth
from the valley where he had been reared, accompanied by the tearful
blessings of his father and mother.

"A year passed, and then Mirza Shah himself, summoned by special
messenger, departed on a visit to the Court at Agra. When two months
later he returned, never did I know such a change to have been wrought
in so brief a time on any man. He was grey and haggard; his eyes were
sunken. And to me he came almost first of all in the palace, to consult
the stars.

"And for my better guidance he told me some things. Prince Hasan had
fallen into ways of dissipation and habits of drunkenness--most accursed
of vices--in the city of Agra. It was in the hope of reclaiming him
that an old friend had called Mirza Shah to the capital. But at the
meeting of father and son, instead of repentance on the part of the
misguided youth, there had been defiance and revilement, and at last, as
the father confessed to me, with the tremor of shame in his voice, an
insulting blow in the face. This was too much to endure. Mirza Shah had
disowned his son. He declared he was henceforth childless, for, perhaps
as I have told you, there had been no other babe born all these years to
the sultana.

"Even now did I conceal my guilty knowledge, though well I knew that the
inexorable scroll of destiny was beginning to unfold itself. In fact, I
was afraid to speak, for Mirza Shah had challenged me straightway to
show a flaw in the happy horoscope I had drawn. And flaw in the
emblazoned scroll there was none that I could lay finger on; only in my
secret heart was the one sinister line traced--surely traced, as I
remorsefully reflected.

"For months thereafter Mirza Shah kept away from me--I knew that his
faith in the stars or in my skill to interpret them aright had been
shaken. But I held my place and kept to the even tenor of my ways, for I
had resolved that, if ever Prince Hasan should return home, then
assuredly would I be on hand to warn Mirza Shah, so that, the crisis
approaching, steps might at least be tried to avert the blow of destiny.
Of this I was determined, even though death itself would come to me as
the penalty of my long silence.

"But all of a sudden the storm of impending events broke. One day there
came to Kashmir the intelligence that Prince Hasan, incensed at his
father's just rebukes, was marching against him with a mighty host
gathered together from the forces of his companions in revelry.
Preparations for defence on our side were at once made, the armed men
gathered in from the surrounding villages, and carronades mounted on the
walls and at the gateway of the citadel, which hung on sloping ground,
with a precipitous mountain guarding it in the rear.

"Too true proved to be the news. One morning the army of Prince Hasan
came into view ascending the valley, and before nightfall the
semi-circle of ground beneath the walls of the citadel, at a distance of
four or five hundred yards, was occupied by the hosts of our enemy.
Among these were both horsemen and foot soldiers, also full two score of
great elephants dragging a train of siege guns.

"Now at last were the seals of silence broken from my lips. Without
further delay I must tell everything to Mirza Shah. Just as the sun was
setting I intercepted him when making a round of the walls, and begged
of him to come with me to my tower.

"'Later,' he said, sternly, as he passed on to complete his plans for
repelling the assault expected at daybreak on the morrow.

"The night was far advanced when at last my lord came to me, and, to my
surprise, clinging to his arm, was his wife, the sultana. I placed
cushions for her close to one of the casements, where she had been wont
to sit on the occasions of her visits in days gone by. Without a word
she sank into the place thus assigned to her.

"But Mirza Shah strode into the centre of the little circular room, and
took his stand right under the lamp that illuminated it.

"'Now what have you to say, thou false astrologer?' he demanded, without
word of prelude.

"Then did I take my courage in both hands, and told him everything--that
the stars had in truth revealed to me that the son was destined to be
his father's slayer, and that in my foolish desire to give the parents
immediate joy I had suppressed the incident of the flaming star.

"As my narrative reached the end I watched the changes in the face of
Mirza Shah. I had expected anger-righteous anger against my own self,
but in place of this there came over his handsome countenance a serene
look of happiness.

"'I thank you, Syed Ali,' he said, 'for the service you have done me.
Had you told me eighteen years ago what you tell me to-night, then for a
certainty would the guilt of murder be now upon my soul. To-day I am
indeed in sore sorrow, but, Allah be praised, there is not my own
child's blood upon my hands.'

"As he spoke he spread out his palms, as if in testimony of their
stainlessness.

"But at that moment a great burst of lamentation came from beneath the
sultana's veil, and, in a shrill tone of agony, she began to reproach
herself.

"'It is I who am the cause of all this misery,' she wailed.

"Instantly Mirza Shah bent down and silenced her, then gathered her,
almost like a bundle, into his arms.

"'I shall return straightway,' he cried to me, as he disappeared down
the narrow stairway.

"Two full hours passed, however, before Mirza Shah came back. His face
was white as marble--every feature seemed set, as the sculptor's chisel
fixes each line of the carved stone. He spoke to me quite abruptly:

"'Syed Ali, ask no questions, but do my bidding immediately. Yours will
be a dangerous task, but it is right that you, who have so long
concealed the truth from me, should be called upon to take the risk. The
successful accomplishment of your mission is the only reparation I
require.'

"'Most gladly will I die for you, Mirza Shah,' I murmured, kissing the
hem of his robe.

"'I know it,' he answered, 'and that is why I trust implicitly in you,
relying both on your courage and on your discretion. Take this ring,' he
went on, handing me a finger ring set with a large turquoise, 'and hide
it among your garments. Use your best wits to evade the enemy's
outposts. Follow the mountain path. You will get a horse from Abdulla
Beg at the head of the gorge. Then ride night and day for Talakabad.
There you will go to the house of a man named Gholab Khan, overlooking
the town. You will hand to him the finger ring I have just given you.
And this you will say: 'Mirza Shah is dead. You are to come to the
person who has sent this ring.'

"'But my lord lives--Allah be praised! he will yet live many a long
day.'

"'I like not deceit, Syed Ali, but when deceit has been used, then must
deceit reply. Carry to Gholab Khan the ring and the exact words I have
spoken: "Mirza Shah is dead. You are to come with me to the person who
has sent this ring. Hasten." Gholab Khan will without delay respond to
this summons. And here will I await your return,' added my lord grimly,
'for your stars have told me beyond all peradventure that I can hold
this citadel until Gholab Khan arrives. Now go. Here is the key for the
postern in the wall.'

"I had already tied the ring into a fold of my inner garment, and,
taking only my staff, I set forth straightway.

"This is not a story about myself, but about Mirza Shah and his family,"
said the astrologer, with a glance around his circle of auditors, whose
fixed attention showed the keen interest with which they were awaiting
the unfolding of the destiny proclaimed by the stars. "So once again
will I pass over my adventures. The end of them all was that, ere the
passing of a full week, I was back in my little tower, and with me was
Gholab Khan. It was night, for we had evaded the besiegers' watchfulness
under cover of the darkness by taking the same mountain defile by which
I had travelled forth on my expedition, and gaining entrance to the
citadel by the private gateway the key of which had been entrusted to
me.

"I lighted the lamp in the tower, and then turned to Gholab Khan. He was
a petty chieftain of the mountains, a handsome man of middle age,
resolute-looking and daring. In a few words I bade him wait awhile. Then
I stole forth to apprize Mirza Shah that my mission was achieved.

"My lord had given orders to his attendants that he was to be
immediately aroused, so soon as I returned, whatever the hour of the
night might be. In a moment he strode forth from his sleeping chamber
all ready dressed. I started back with affright, for in his hand was a
naked sword.

"'Fear not, Syed Ali,' he said to me. 'Where is this Gholab Khan?'

"'In my tower,' I answered.

"'Good,' he replied. 'Come.' And at the word his bodyguard, all with
drawn blades, closed around their master.

"About fifty paces from the tower he halted his men, and we two advanced
alone.

"I entered the building first. Close behind me, up the winding stairway,
pressed Mirza Shah, and I had but crossed the threshold of the room when
he thrust me aside.

"'Surrender!' he cried, the point of his sword at Gholab Khan's neck
before the latter could utter one word or make any movement in
self-defence.

"'Bind his hands,' went on my lord, his enemy pinned helplessly against
the wall. Gholab Khan dared not move, but his bulging eyes mutely
protested.

"I did as I was told, using a turban cloth gathered from a peg on the
wall. Of my own accord I tied ankles as well as wrists. Then Mirza Shah
dropped his sword.

"'Now leave us,' he said to me. 'I wish some words with this man. Remain
on guard below. Permit no one to intrude.'

"Some time passed. At the base of the stairway I could hear the voices
from above, but could distinguish no words. Then came a call from Mirza
Shah, bidding me to ascend.

"'Syed Ali,' he said, on my entry into the room, 'this man, Gholab Khan,
has to-night had the choice between two alternatives, either to die here
now at my hands, or to set forth at dawn and fight in single combat the
leader of my beleaguering enemies. He has chosen the latter--the wise
course.'

"'The only course,' interpolated Gholab Khan, with a shoulder shrug of
protest. The fellow had recovered his equanimity, and, knowing him as I
did from our few days of travel in company, I reflected that in mortal
combat he would be likely to give good account of himself. But there was
no time to indulge in surmises. Mirza Shah still claimed my attention.

"'My men will guard our guest here,' he continued. 'Food will be served
to him.'

"'And some wine, please,' growled Gholab Khan.

"'Wine, too, then, if you will,' assented Mirza Shah, contemptuously,
for he never by any chance used the fermented juice of the grape
forbidden by the Prophet, and now rendered doubly hateful to him by
reason of his son's excesses. 'At dawn weapons will be brought to you,
and six horses from among which you can make your choice. Meanwhile the
challenge will have gone forth. And once again, in the presence of this
witness, I pledge my word that if you return successful from the combat,
Gholab Khan, having killed your man, then will you be free to return
unscathed to your home at Talakabad, and with a lac of rupees for your
pains.'

"'Bismillah! I would fight any day and with any man for such a prize,'
cried Gholab Khan, his face all aglow, showing that, despite the
kidnapping trick played upon him, he was now well pleased.

"'That is good,' said Mirza Shah, coldly.

"Then he blew a shrill whistle, which straightway brought the guard
running to the tower.

"But my narrative must hasten. With the first morning light a messenger,
his mission announced by the blare of trumpets, went forth from the
citadel, daring Prince Hasan to single combat with a champion fighting
on behalf of Mirza Shah. There came back, as we expected, an exultant
acceptance of the challenge.

"The sun had mounted only spear-high when Gholab Khan, armed with lance
and sword, rode out through the gates of the citadel. For his reception
the whole host of our enemies had been drawn up, and in the middle of
the curved line was the massed troop of some forty elephants, their
howdahs crowded with spectators eager to witness the joust at arms.

"From my observation tower Mirza Shah and I watched the scene. Although
my mind was clouded with all manner of uncertainties, yet in my heart
was a faint flutter of hope. Would this mountain fighter break the spell
of the stars, and actually kill Prince Hasan, before the latter could
accomplish the portended crime of dealing death to his father? I was
torn by distracted arguments; at one moment I believed firmly as ever in
the stars, at the next my trust was in the lance of the burly freebooter
I had brought down with me from the mountains.

"With bated breath I watched the combat--first the riding at full tilt;
the thud of the galloping horses we could hear at this distance. But
both lances were successfully parried, and a moment later the combatants
had leaped with one impulse from horseback, and were rushing upon each
other with swords. We saw the mirror-like flash of the blades in the
morning sun.

"Then next I beheld one figure go down, and, while I was yet wondering
which of the twain had fallen, a mighty shout of triumph from the
beleaguering army told me, alas! that it was our champion who had been
worsted. And now a dissevered head raised high on sword-point by Prince
Hasan told the bloody tale with final certainty. Gholab Khan was not
only down but dead. At this display of the gruesome trophy of victory
there were further frantic yells of delight from the assembled hosts
across the valley. The sack of our citadel and town seemed now assured
to them.

"I just glanced at Mirza Shah. To my surprise his face wore a look of
perfect calm, and, on meeting my eyes, there came a gleam of triumph
into his.

"'The stars were right,' he exclaimed, in a low, tense voice. 'Praise be
to Allah! All is well. A base bibber of wine shall never rule over my
people and destroy their happiness, for now that he has fulfilled his
destiny Allah will assuredly deliver him into my hands.'

"I was perplexed. So far from Prince Hasan's destiny having been
fulfilled, it appeared to me that the dread tragedy foretold by the
stars was inexorably drawing nearer and nearer--the death of Mirza Shah
at the hands of his unworthy son, a bibber of wine, as he had
contemptuously called him.

"While this thought was passing through my mind, all of a sudden there
arose another mighty tumult, this time from our side--a shout of
astonishment, followed by cries of delight. But the roar of voices was
quickly drowned by the thunder of mighty hoofs and the excited
trumpeting of elephants. Turning round, I saw at a glance what had
happened. The elephants, frightened by the first wild huzzas of victory,
had stampeded, and were madly careering in a solid body across the
plain.

"Prince Hasan, as he held aloft the severed head of his adversary, saw
the oncoming danger. He made a dart for his horse, but the animal,
terrified by the noise and confusion, leaped forward, and was gone up
the valley like the wind.

"The youth made no attempt to run. It would have been useless. Yes, be
it admitted, he died like a man. Ere the elephants were upon him, he had
folded his arms across his breast, calmly prepared to meet his doom. In
another instant he was whirled through the air, like a straw caught up
by a tornado; then the living, irresistible billow swept over him.

"My eyes were still glued in frozen horror to the scene. The screaming
of the frightened troop of elephants had receded into the distance. Out
on the open, through a haze of dust, I saw the blot of coloured raiment
that showed where the body of Prince Hasan lay. And for the moment there
was naught but pity in my heart for the youth who had played by my side,
and gathered knowledge, if not wisdom, from my lips.

"But a hand was laid on my shoulder, and, turning round, I looked into
the face of Mirza Shah. It was lighted by a smile of stern satisfaction.

"'Syed Ali, as you have ever declared, even though I have detected that
your faith at times has wavered, the stars cannot speak falsely. He
died, that dog out there, but not until he had slain his own father.'

"'His own father!' I stammered. The truth began to break in upon my
dazed brain.

"'Yes. It is right that you at least should have the explanation, if for
no other reason than to confirm your trust in the stars. Beguiled to
wrong by the arguments of a serving woman, the sultana had a son. It is
a shameful story, yet do I know that she begot the child out of pure
love for me. Hasan was no son of mine. Enough! I have spoken. You can
guess the rest.'

"Mirza Shah paused. I could but drop my eyes and remain silent, for I
dared to make no comment.

"After a brief pause he resumed:

"'In the end she confessed everything to me, that night when you
revealed to us the full truth of what the stars had foretold. As for me,
I helped the stars to run their courses: that is why I sent for Gholab
Khan. Now, you who know my secret, travel away far from here. Respect
the confidence I have given you. There is a bag of gold for you in my
treasurer's charge. We part friends, Syed Ali. Fate, working through
you, its blind instrument, spared the child so that my shame might be
fully atoned. Now go, for I, too, must be up and doing. One timely sally
now from the citadel, and yonder disordered host will be swept back
whence it came.'

"The result was as Mirza Shah had predicted. The beleaguering army fled
at the first onslaught, leaving many hundreds of dead on the field to
keep the mangled corpse of their leader company.

"So, you see, my friends," commented the astrologer, concluding his
tale, "as Mirza Shah most truly said, the stars cannot speak falsely.
Never again have I doubted. The destiny read by me in the heavens that
night when the sultana's babe was born was fulfilled in every detail."

"And the faithless wife?" asked the Rajput. "What became of her?"

"Nay, do not presume to judge her," protested the astrologer. "Judgment
is for Allah. When Mirza Shah returned from his victorious charge, it
was to find his sultana dead on the roof of the women's quarters. She
had seen her son--yes, _her_ son, her own flesh and blood, although not
her husband's--pounded to death under the elephants' feet. So the
unhappy mother had pierced her breast with a dagger, and, by her side,
similarly self-slain, lay the serving woman who had miscounselled her to
wrongdoing, yet, as I could quite well comprehend, from motives of
sincere affection, to safeguard for her her husband's love and to give
her the joy of motherhood for which she craved.

"Mirza Shah lived and ruled well for five-and-twenty years longer. He
remained to the end a childless man: Allah had decreed it so. But he
ever revered the wife who had loved him so well, for she had sinned
because of her very love for him, nor had she persisted in her sin.
Mirza Shah built to her memory a splendid mosque, and these are the
words engraved on her tomb beneath the central dome, showing how her
virtues were esteemed and her one act of wrong was forgotten:

  "'Before my tomb, O stranger, stay thy way,
    Reflect on fate's inexorable decree;
  But yestere'en I was as thou to-day,
    What I am now to-morrow thou wilt be.
  Right good the grave for those whom good deeds bless,
    Gentle the rest of them who tried to spread
  Around their lives the balm of gentleness.
    Trustful in God repose the worthy dead.
  For such as they the living need not weep--
    Their death is only faith-abiding sleep.'

"By her side now lies her husband, at rest and in peace, for only death
brings true rest and peace. And even now, after many years, I am on my
way to pay a pilgrimage to the tombs of that truly noble man and his
good--aye, his worthy--spouse, for, as I have said, let no man take upon
himself to judge her. Allah alone can search the hearts of men."



IV. THE SPIRIT WAIL

TOLD BY THE MERCHANT


"Allah alone can search the hearts of men," said the hakeem, slowly and
reflectively repeating the words with which the astrologer had closed
his tale. He was a man of venerable appearance, with flowing, white
beard that descended to his waist. And yet, although his face was
furrowed with the lines of old age, his eyes were wonderfully youthful
in their contemplative calm.

"No truer words have been spoken to-night," he continued. "Yet must we
further reflect that, while a man cannot sit in judgment upon his
fellows, he can assuredly judge himself, which goes to show that within
the breast of every man there dwells the very spirit of God, the power
to search his own heart, whether in condemnation or for approval. Life
is a problem, and it requires a full lifetime to solve it. Only as we
grow older do we come to know our own souls--our strength and our
weakness, the measure of our true nobility of character and likewise the
measure of our inherent meanness, the temptations not merely from
without but from within that assail us, our power to conquer these or
our miserable yielding at times, with no one, perhaps, even guessing at
our degradation except the divine spark of conscience that inexorably
turns a searching ray on every thought and on every motive for action."

"So you would argue that man is God?" queried the Rajput.

"Not so, but that the soul of man is of the essence of God, the proof of
which is this very power of searching out our own hearts and sitting in
judgment on our own failings: for the judgment seat belongs to Allah
alone."

"A subtle philosophy which I do not presume fully to understand,"
interposed the merchant from Bombay.

During the night's entertainment he had shown himself to be a man of few
words, yet an attentive listener. He was of middle age, of a mild
dignity of mien, and of robust physique, as befitted one accustomed to
long journeys through regions infested with robbers or with beasts of
prey.

"But in my practical experience of life," he proceeded, "I have come to
realize that, while I may know myself, no other man can I know.
Therefore, if it be right to be sparing of condemnation for another, it
is also wise to be chary of undue commendation. The world too often
acclaims a deed as noble when the real motive prompting it is utterly
ignoble."

"A true philosopher, despite your bales of merchandise," murmured the
hakeem, with a smiling nod of approval for the sentiments expressed.

"Well, I suppose that every one who travels becomes a philosopher, more
or less," assented the trader. "Change of scene and of companionship
stimulates new ideas. Now will I relate an actual experience which aptly
illustrates that, in our dealings with those around us, we never really
penetrate their minds. Man knows himself; he knows no one else--friend
or intimate, the child of his heart or the very wife of his bosom."

"It is more easy to discover a white crow," muttered the fakir, "than
know what a woman has in her heart."

The merchant paid no heed to the interruption. He went on:

"Each of us is an inscrutable mystery to the other. Each soul is veiled
to every other soul, and is naked to itself alone."

"O prince of philosophers in pedlar's disguise!" murmured the hakeem.

"If our souls sat naked for the common gaze," commented the Rajput, "if
we could all read each other's hearts, then indeed would life be an
abomination--an utter misery, with the twin devils of shame and disgust
seated at our elbows all the time."

"Most true," concurred the trader. "For too much knowledge of another's
inmost thoughts brings only disillusionment and regret, as my tale will
show. The story takes us among humble people, but human nature is the
same everywhere--the same in the hut of the rayat as in the palace of
the rajah.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Once in every two years it is my custom to travel from Bombay to
Benares, and invariably I break the journey at a certain village some
six or seven days from my final destination. Here dwells an old friend
and caste brother, formerly, like myself, a merchant in the Bombay
bazaar where silken stuffs are sold, but retired now to his own country
with modest savings sufficient for the rest of his days. Baji Lal, as he
is named, is all the closer to me because his wife Devaka is a sister of
my own wife, and the two are always eager to have news of each other's
welfare.

"At the house of this friend I rest for a day or two, enjoying his
companionship, the reminiscences of old times, and the gossip of the
hour. So, on my long and fatiguing journeyings, I have always looked
forward to these meetings with pleasurable anticipation and remembered
them with tranquil satisfaction.

"But on the occasion of one of my periodical visits judge of my surprise
when I was received in silence and with apathy that made no pretence at
disguise. Devaka did not rise from her cushions on the floor to bid me
welcome, and her husband, similarly irresponsive, returned my customary
cordial greeting with nothing better than a look of wearied dejection.

"Disturbed, I made inquiry:

"'Baji Lal, my friend, what is the matter? Are you ailing?'

"But he only shook his head, and turned away.

"To Devaka I then appealed.

"'What is the meaning of this?' I asked. 'Sadness and silence where
everything used to be joy.'

"She drew aside the sari that had concealed her face, and I was shocked
at its grief-stricken aspect. Her trembling lips parted to answer me,
but her husband checked her with a sharp word, such as I had never heard
him use to her before. Her eyes filled with tears, and I could see the
big drops rolling down her cheeks as she silently replaced the sari over
her head, and, bending low, rocked herself to and fro.

"For the moment I imagined that I had intruded on some scene of domestic
unhappiness which would be dissipated in an hour. So, hiding my
embarrassment, I turned to the door, intimating that I would seek some
other lodging for the night, and return on the morrow, when I hoped my
friends would be in fitter mood to receive me.

"At last Baji Lal spoke, raising his face but still remaining seated on
the divan we were wont in former times to share.

"'Go thy way, Chunda Das,' he said. 'The sword of fate has descended
upon this house. Come not again to a place accursed.'

"Then did I realize that the trouble was serious.

"'But, my friend and brother,' I protested, 'I cannot depart and leave
you thus. Let me at least understand what calamity has befallen you, so
that I may help toward its repair.'

"'Nothing can be done, so nothing need be said,' he answered, in a tone
and with a look of dignified resignation to the will of God. 'If you
must have the story of our misfortune, you have only to ask the first of
our neighbours you encounter.'

"And he, too, covered his face with his garment, leaving me no choice
but to withdraw without further attempt at this manifestly inopportune
time to probe the mystery.

"If I was to be of service to my friends, however, knowledge of what had
befallen was the first essential. So I took the road that would lead me
to the great pipul tree in the village square, close to the tank and to
the temple, where all day long there was coming and going, and where
therefore I would be most likely to glean the information I desired. By
a happy chance I found reclining under the pipul tree the village
barber, a loquacious fellow, who counted it as part of his business to
know the last detail about other people's affairs.

"After greetings, and a few remarks about the weather and the crops and
the season's epidemics, I carefully broached the real purpose of my
interview, for a prudent man will never divulge his thoughts to another
until he knows that other's thoughts.

"'I have just come from the house of Baji Lal,' I said, in a seemingly
casual way.

"The barber's face instantly lost the smile it had worn.

"'How did you find him?' he asked.

"'Strangely altered,' I replied.

"'And so does every one,' he concurred.

"'Why so?' I ventured.

"The barber looked at me squarely, and then said:

"'You and he were very good friends, Chunda Das.'

"'Yes, and are still, so far as I am concerned,' I answered.

"'I thought so. Well, I am his friend likewise. Many years I have known
him and his wife, Devaka. Both are good, kind people, always willing to
help their neighbours, and ready to give their last bowl of rice to a
vagrant beggar. Perhaps you can assist me to clear away the shadows that
have fallen around them and obscured the sunshine of their home. Let me
tell you the story. A few months ago a stranger came to this village. He
was on his way to Fathpur-Sikri, to witness the glories of the court of
the mighty Akbar. But on the road he had fallen ill, and, arriving here,
was too sick to proceed. I am ashamed to say that none of us were
willing to take him in, for sickness goes from one person to another. So
we have to be careful, especially in my calling, where I come into such
close contact with so many.

"'There was quite a little crowd just here by the tank, discussing the
situation, the sick man in their midst resting upon the ground, when
Baji Lal and his wife, who happened to be passing, came forward to see
what the commotion was all about. They listened to the story, and then
told the stranger he might come with them. He gratefully accepted, and,
after whispering some instructions to a servant by whom he was
accompanied, he motioned to Baji Lal to lead the way. The little group
moved off, the servant in the rear, leading the horses, which included a
pack animal laden with the traveller's bedding, cooking pots, and other
belongings.

"'After unloading the baggage at Baji Lal's home, the servant, as we
learned later in the day, had, in obedience to orders, straightway
mounted his horse, and ridden away. He had exchanged no words with any
of us.

"'For weeks Baji Lal and his wife attended to the wants of the invalid,
until at last he was able to move about the village, and talk with one
and another. From the first we had recognized the stranger as a man of
distinction. Now we learned his name--Sheikh Ahmed, a Moslem, I need not
say. But in these days of Akbar all religious feuds are to be set aside,
this by direct command of the Emperor himself--blessed be his name and
exalted his glory! So this follower of the prophet was made quite
welcome among us, a community of Hindus.

"'Day by day the Sheikh regained his strength, and often would he come
of an evening when the village folk gathered under this pipul tree,
listening to the chit-chat going on, sometimes joining in the
conversation. Soon he began to tell us stories of far lands, for he had
travelled to many distant places, even outside of Hindustan, so we grew
to like him, and to watch each evening for his coming.

"'But all of a sudden he disappeared from our midst. The day before he
had been with us, sitting almost on the very spot where you are seated
now. He did not say he was going away, nor even hint that he intended
doing so. When Baji Lal was questioned, he said that the servant had
returned during the night with saddle and pack horses, and that, after
conferring with Sheikh Ahmed, had gathered together his master's
belongings, and announced their immediate departure. Baji Lal had tried
to persuade his guest to wait until daylight, but this advice was
unheeded. The Sheikh promised, however, that he would come again to the
village when he passed that way on his homeward journey.

"'At this time Baji Lal's story seemed a perfectly natural one, and the
people only regretted that they had not had the opportunity of bidding
the Sheikh farewell. Still the prospect of soon seeing him again
softened this regretful feeling.

"'And now began the change in our friends. Baji Lal ceased to come to
our village meetings, and Devaka shunned every woman, even her most
intimate friends. For a while this strange behaviour did not attract
special attention, although noted and commented on afterwards. For just
a few days after Sheikh Ahmed had gone away the monsoon had burst, and
the stormy weather would account for Baji Lal and his wife remaining
much at home. But as time wore on, and their furtive ways grew more and
more pronounced, people began to talk, and from talking they took to
watching and spying. For, believe me, there is nothing so all-absorbing
as for once respected and well-thought-of people to be under a cloud. We
allow our imaginations to run riot, and our tongues do not rust for want
of wagging.

"'Thus suspicion gradually filled the air, and it was whispered that
Baji Lal and Devaka had murdered their guest for his money, and had
merely invented the story of his midnight departure to hide their
crime. Children who once used to run to them shrank back, or were called
away by their parents.

"'But, most extraordinary thing of all, and one that brought convincing
confirmation to what had at first been mere suspicion, at night there
could be heard heartbreaking cries and sobs coming from the house of
Baji Lal. The voice was not his, nor that of his wife; it was, in all
truth, the wail of a spirit, plaintive at times, then angry as if
shrieking aloud for vengeance. For I myself have heard these sounds with
mine own ears; twice in the darkness of the night I mustered courage to
steal forth as far as the hedge that hides the house from the roadway,
and, although the monsoon winds were still boisterous, above all other
noises again and again arose that wail of a soul in anguish. Others,
too, went to listen, and fled from the place in terror. And soon the
house of Baji Lal came to be shunned by every one as if it had been
plague-stricken.

"'Now you understand why your old friends greeted you with woe-begone
looks. The inner meaning of the story I do not know, but I have told you
the facts that are in my possession. And glad shall I be if you can
conceive any solution for the mystery, and free Baji Lal and his wife
from the terrible accusation of having murdered the man who was their
guest within the gate and had eaten of their salt. If you cannot, then
we must just say kismet, I suppose. Man cannot strive against fate.'

"'Is it your belief, Bimjee,' I asked, 'that the stranger was really
done to death in Baji Lal's home?'

"'No,' he answered decisively. 'But all the same, I have the evidence of
my own ears that a curse has fallen upon the place.'

"For the moment I made no further comment, but sat silent, revolving the
strange story in my mind. My reverie, however, was of short duration,
for all of a sudden Bimjee sprang to his feet in great excitement.

"'Look, look,' he cried, pointing to a crowd of villagers coming in our
direction. 'At last they have laid hold of Baji Lal and his wife, and
are bringing them here for punishment.'

"Bewildered by the suddenness of this blow, I could but watch in
helpless silence the advancing throng, with my poor friends in their
midst, their hands bound, their tottering footsteps directed by rude
shoves towards the pipul tree, the accustomed assembly place of the
villagers and the village council.

"A minute later, however, I had regained my self-possession, and when
the procession came abreast of me, I stepped in front of it and
commanded a halt. Courtesy to me as a visitor to the village was
sufficient to exact this measure of obedience. But when I demanded that
the ropes should be cut and the prisoners liberated, a storm of angry
protests was the only result.

"The leader of the crowd approached me, and in a respectful voice said
they were sorry to refuse my request, but a crime had been committed
that disgraced the whole community. The spirit of a murdered man haunted
the house of Baji Lal and Devaka, and cried to heaven for vengeance. The
villagers would never prosper if they allowed this foul deed to pass
unpunished; why, only that very morning a strange sickness had seized
some of their cattle, and two sacred cows had died in spasms of pain--an
omen from the gods that could not be disregarded.

"I saw that it was useless to argue with the man. But I made another
attempt to have the prisoners' bonds at least loosened, for I could see
that the cords bit cruelly into their arms. After some consultation this
point was conceded. Baji Lal shot at me a look of gratitude, but his
poor little wife merely used her freed hands to hide her face in the
folds of her sari.

"'Now my friends,' I cried boldly, 'this case must be properly tried.
Where is the patel?'

"I had noticed that the headman of the village was not present, and in
asking for him had in mind that he was my personal friend, so that I
might appeal to him with better success for the release of the
prisoners.

"'The patel is away on a day's journey,' cried a voice in the crowd.

"'Then must the accused be taken to the village constable,' I declared,
'and kept by him until the patel returns and the council of elders can
be properly assembled.'

"My bold assumption of authority had stilled the tumult, and to my
surprise every one now seemed willing to do my bidding.

"'Come along then,' cried several voices, as the prisoners were once
more urged forward. I kept close by their side, and when we gained the
constable's house and the staked enclosure that served as a place of
detention, I too passed within, leaving the leaders of the crowd to
guard the gateway.

"When we were alone, Baji Lal and Devaka threw themselves at my feet,
and thanked me for the aid I had rendered them.

"'My children,' I said, as I raised them up, 'were I not assured in my
own mind that there is some grievous mistake, and that you can explain
the mysterious disappearance of your guest, I should not be here by your
side. But tell me your story, and I shall advise you to the best of my
powers.'

"Baji Lal lifted his eyes, and gazed at me mournfully but fearlessly.

"'Chunda Das,' he began, 'you have known me now for many years. Have I
ever done aught to shake your confidence?'

"'Never,' I affirmed.

"'Have you ever heard me tell a lie?'

"'Never,' I again replied.

"'Well, then, you will believe me when I say that I told the truth in
declaring that the stranger went away in the night. His servant came
back all in a hurry for him, and he would not tarry even until daylight,
although I pleaded with him to stay.'

"'I believe you,' I said, for, even apart from my prior trust, the
man's look convinced me that he was speaking true words.

"'Yes, this is the simple truth,' he went on. 'And yet'----here his
voice faltered, and he glanced down pityingly on his wife crouched upon
the ground, rocking herself and wringing her hands. 'And yet I know,
_we_ know, Devaka and I, that Sheikh Ahmed has been murdered.'

"I started aghast, and involuntarily drew my garments around me.

"'Nay,' he said reproachfully, reading my unacknowledged and almost
unformed thought, 'but not at our hands, Chunda Das.'

"'Then how do you know that he is dead?' I questioned, already ashamed
that a doubt could have crossed my mind as to my friends being art and
part in such a dastardly deed. 'What makes you think so?'

"'I do not think; I know,' he said decisively. 'And I will tell you why.
The night after the Sheikh left was cold and windy, for the monsoon was
approaching. Devaka and I were sitting together, and as we listened to
the wind blowing outside she expressed the hope that our guest was
safely at his destination, for in his state of health the inclement
weather would be harmful. Before I could answer her we were startled to
hear quite close to us a faint cry. I got up and looked around, and so
did Devaka, for she is brave, my wife. But we could not find anything to
account for the disconcerting sound.

"'We sat down again, but before long we heard once more the wailing
cry, louder now and more prolonged. We started up, and this time went
outside in spite of the rain carried by the lashing wind. However, we
could discover no one--neither man nor beast. So we went in again, and
shut the door.

"'And all that night long this strange thing continued. Sometimes the
sound was softly sobbing, then it would grow to a heartbreaking wail. We
could not go to bed. Fear kept us awake, for we had come to the
conclusion that it was the spirit of Sheikh Ahmed trying to make us
understand that he had been murdered on the road.

"'Day after day, and night after night we were haunted by the cries and
sobs of this spirit. Can you wonder that our hearts grew weak from fear,
that we shunned our neighbours lest they should enter our dwelling and,
hearing these sounds, suspect that we had done some grievous wrong? That
is my story, Chunda Das.'

"And the strong man sank to the ground, as he buried his face in his
hands.

"'It is even a relief to be here,' he cried, in broken tones, 'here,
prisoners in this place of shame, because at least we are no longer
haunted by the voice of the dead Sheikh.'

"He flung his hands out in an abhorrent gesture, and raised tear-filled,
pleading eyes to mine.

"I had been listening intently to Baji Lal's story, and had watched the
changes on his impassioned face. When the tale was ended, Devaka threw
herself prone at my feet, and pressed her lips to the hem of my robe. I
was touched by her silent beseeching, though I hastily, and I fear
roughly, commanded her to arise.

"'Dear friends,' I said, 'this is indeed an extraordinary occurrence.
And how I can help you is more than I at present know. But rest assured
that I will exert myself to the utmost to remove from your heads the
infamy of such an accusation.'

"I mused awhile, then put a few questions as to the personal appearance
of the stranger, Sheikh Ahmed, and also that of his servant, the exact
hour of their departure, and the direction in which they had gone. After
learning these things, I took my leave, commending Baji Lal and his wife
to the care of the constable, whose promise that nothing would happen to
his prisoners until the patel's return I sealed with a handful of
rupees.

"This matter settled, I strolled back to the pipul tree beside the tank,
thinking that it might be useful to pick up the remarks of the
loiterers. But to my surprise I found virtually the whole village in
assembly, and to my dismay soon gathered that it was their fixed
intention to kill Baji Lal, give to Devaka the privilege of committing
suttee, and then burn down the haunted house whence the accusing sounds
came, making of their own home the funeral pyre of both victims.

"I plucked my beard in my distress; I felt so helpless. If only the
headman was here, together we might have devised something. But alone I
was powerless. Plunged in gloomy forebodings, I did not notice the
approach of the barber, until he touched my sleeve to announce his
presence.

"'You have heard what they mean to do?' he asked.

"I nodded.

"'We must save them, Chunda Das. But I beg of you not to place any
reliance on the patel's coming, for he sides with the rest of the
villagers, and will help them to deal out the swift justice which he
believes to be well deserved. Besides it was his cows that died this
morning.'

"At this statement, then indeed my last hope was gone. For we were far
away from any town where I could have invoked the aid of the Emperor's
soldiers. I shook my head despairingly.

"'Oh, yes, Chunda Das, you will devise some way,' protested the barber,
reading the hopelessness in my mind. 'You have a fleet horse, and can
ride after Sheikh Ahmed, find him, and call him back again. Or, if he be
really dead, you can bring word of how his end came.'

"'Will there be time for all this?' I asked dubiously.

"'We must make time,' he answered. 'The patel will be back before long.
You can use the interval in getting some food, and in preparing for the
road. I think your influence with him will at least secure delay for
some days, until you can return with the information in quest of which
you go. But mark my words, unless the Sheikh shows himself, or you can
prove how he met his death on the road, then assuredly will the doom of
our friends be sealed.'

"'Very well,' I said, contented in my mind; for if my search for Sheikh
Ahmed failed, I could bring back with me some of our master Akbar's
soldiery to rescue the prisoners.

"During the afternoon the headman returned, and I lost no time before
interviewing him. I told him how firmly convinced I was that Baji Lal
and Devaka were innocent, and that I would prove it if he gave me the
chance to do so. At first he shook his head, but on my promising that
the unfortunate couple would in the interval make no effort to escape,
and that I would surely be back in two weeks' time whether or not
success in my mission attended me, he yielded to my entreaties, the less
reluctantly because I further undertook to pay him the value of his dead
cows.

"So, after a brief good-bye visit to Baji Lal and his wife, I set forth
on my journey.

"Six days later I entered the bazaar of Punderpur. I went to a
travellers' rest house with which I was familiar, to see whether I could
glean any information as to the present whereabouts of Sheikh Ahmed,
who, in his travels, I had discovered, had been making for this place.

"Seated around the courtyard of the caravanserai were many visitors and
their friends of the town. With some of the latter I was acquainted, but
for the present I only returned their greetings with a silent salaam. I
was anxious to meet with an old friend, a munshi, learned in many
languages, whose profession kept him on the outlook for the numerous
travellers from distant parts who passed this way.

"I had just espied the man of whom I was in quest, seated at some
distance among a group of idlers, when I was accosted by a stranger
handsomely accoutred and of line bearing. He said that he had heard I
was recently arrived from Sengali. He had friends in that village, and
would be glad to hear of them.

"I told him that for the present I was occupied with pressing business,
but a little later I would be at his disposal, and pleased to give him
any information in my power. He thanked me courteously, and said he
would return in the evening, when, perhaps, I would be more at leisure.
I had cut short this interview, paying, indeed, little heed to the
stranger, for I had noticed that my friend, the munshi, not knowing of
my presence in the inn, was in the act of taking his departure. I
hastened after him.

"The venerable munshi was delighted to see me, and insisted on my
sharing his evening meal. We moved in the direction of his home, and he
gave me the chit-chat of the day. Until our repast was finished I did
not mention the object of my visit. Only after we were comfortably
seated on the veranda, enjoying the cool night air, did I approach the
subject, discreetly, as was fitting, by talking on topics quite at
variance from the one in my mind. But after a time I ventured to ask
whether many travellers had passed recently. He looked at me shrewdly
and smiled.

"'At last, my friend, you tell me the reason of your coming here. You
are in search of some one.'

"'Truly I am,' I replied, 'and it is a matter of life or death to find
the man I am seeking.'

"Thereupon, without further preamble, I related the story of Baji Lal
and the missing Sheikh.

"At the end of my narrative Munshi Khyraz--such was my host's name--sat
silent for a spell. I knew my friend, and allowed him his own time to
make any comment. Presently he broke from his reflections.

"'About the time you mention,' he began, 'just before the first rains, a
stranger was brought into this town by some woodcutters. Their story was
that the wounded man had been attacked by his servant when travelling,
and left for dead in the jungle.'

"I started, and leaned toward him eagerly.

"'A clue!' I cried. 'A clue! Where is he now?'

"The old sage looked at me with disapproval in his eyes.

"'Excitement and impetuosity of speech are for the young, my friend,' he
said, gravely. 'They are not becoming in the matured.'

"I lay back again on my cushions, feeling justly censured. The light of
displeasure dying from his eyes, the munshi proceeded:

"'I had the victim of this outrage carried to my house, and, his wounds
not proving serious, he was soon well, and able to think of resuming his
journey. He was very reticent concerning the motive of his servant for
attempting his life, and foolishly, to my mind, made no effort to trace
the miscreant. When leaving he said that in all probability he would
return this way a few weeks later. So, my friend, he may be here any
day, for it is a good long while since he left.'

"Repressing my eagerness this time, I sat still for a few minutes, then
said:

"'I think it is certain from what you have told me that the wounded man
was the one I am now seeking.'

"'Perhaps, perhaps, but only time will decide,' he replied, cautiously.
'You must wait and see.'

"'Wait! wait!' I cried, impatiently. 'There is no time to wait. I must
act, and that quickly.'

"The munshi looked at me commiseratingly, but contented himself with a
shrug of his shoulders.

"Just then a servant approached, and whispered in his master's ear. The
old man sat up from his half-reclining attitude, and methought for a
moment that an amused smile crept over his face.

"'Admit him,' he said to the attendant. 'Admit him at once.'

"Then, turning to me with his accustomed gravity, he added in
explanation: 'A friend of mine has called. He is an interesting man, and
I want you to know him.'

"I was about to protest that I had not come there to make new
acquaintances, when the curtain was pushed aside, and none other than
the stranger who had addressed me at the caravanserai stepped on to the
veranda. He crossed over to the master of the house, and greeted him
affectionately. I decided to remain at least a short time, and waited
quietly until my host should introduce his visitor. This he straightway
proceeded to do, presenting us to each other with a courteous wave of
his hand.

"A glow of pleasure suffused the newcomer's face when he recognized me.

"'Fate is indeed kind,' said he. 'I was going to try and find you again
at the rest house, when, lo and behold! here you are, the guest of my
good friend, the munshi.'

"'What! Are you already acquainted?' exclaimed our host, visibly
surprised, despite the philosophy of self-restraint he was so fond of
preaching.

"It was my turn now to bestow a reproving look.

"'We have met,' I rejoined, with proper dignity, 'but as yet I have not
the honour of acquaintance.'

"To cover this well-deserved rebuke, the munshi clapped his hands and
bade the servant who responded to the summons to bring sherbet for our
refreshment. After the cooling draught, and when we were all comfortably
settled, the stranger, whose name had not yet been spoken, turned to me
and said:

"'Now perhaps you will give me the news from Sengali.'

"'It is grievous,' I returned, 'and it is owing to trouble there that I
am now here.'

"'Indeed. And what may the trouble be? As I told you this afternoon, I
have friends in the village, and am consequently interested.'

"'Aye, aye, tell him the story you have just told me,' called out the
munshi.

"Courteously the stranger awaited my response, in his eyes an anxious
look of inquiry. As I proceeded with my recital his excitement grew
apace, and he leaned forward in his eagerness to miss not a word. At the
finish he started to his feet, and, catching hold of my arm, exclaimed:

"'What! You tell me they will burn down their very home?'

"I nodded assent.

"'Then must we start in all haste for Sengali,' he continued, excitedly.
'To-night, now, or it may be too late.'

"I was moved by this display of fervid sympathy on the part of a
stranger for my humble friends in their sorry plight. But I could not
avail myself of his proffered assistance.

"'Pardon me,' I replied, 'but I have first to find Sheikh Ahmed, who has
been the cause--the innocent cause--of all this grievous anxiety, and
whose presence is needed to put an end to the false charge of murder.'

"'Don't you know that I am Sheikh Ahmed?' cried the stranger.

"'Yes, yes, he is no other,' laughed our host, the munshi. 'I avoided
giving the wounded traveller's name a while ago, Chunda Das, as a
fitting curb to your eagerness, and now, thanks to the Sheikh paying me
a visit, you have met somewhat quicker than I expected.'

"For full a minute I was speechless. Was it possible that I had so soon
found my man, or, to put it more correctly, that the man had found me?
The gods be praised for working on behalf of the helpless and
oppressed!

"But my meditations were rudely interrupted. The Sheikh had again
gripped me by the shoulder, and was speaking rapidly:

"'Rouse yourself, friend; rouse yourself. This is no time for
wonderment.'

"'So you are indeed alive and well, Sheikh Ahmed?' I asked, in
blundering fashion.

"'You can see for yourself,' he replied, impatiently. 'But I little
thought I should have been the means of doing to these kind people who
nursed and nourished me so grievous an injury. But, Allah be praised!
there is yet time to repair the wrong and make amends. Let us away,
away, without the delay of another hour.'

"The munshi clapped his hands once more, and the servant was quickly in
attendance.

"'These friends of mine will take the road,' he said to the man, 'so
soon as the moon is up. Go you now to the inn, and bid the grooms make
ready their horses for a long journey. Quick--lose no time!'

"The Sheikh motioned the servant to his side, and added some whispered
instructions. Then, turning to me, he said:

"'The moon will serve us ere very long.'

"By my silence I had acquiesced in the plan of speedy departure, for
nothing could better suit my own wishes. But meanwhile there would be an
interval of patient waiting.

"'Can you account for the strange wailing around the house of Baji Lal?'
I asked of the Sheikh.

"He hesitated a moment before making answer.

"'To me it is all a mystery,' he said at last. 'Some one, perhaps, is
playing a trick upon them.'

"'A sorry trick,' I commented bitterly.

"'But their home must certainly be saved,' he added.

"'Not merely their home,' said I. 'Their lives are also in jeopardy.'

"'We must save them! we shall save them!' cried the Sheikh, with
upraised hand and in a tone of determination that brought great comfort
to my anxious heart.

"The time soon passed, and, our horses having been brought round from
the rest house, we took leave of our good host, Munshi Khyraz.

"Just as we turned on to the high road, ten or a dozen mounted troopers
emerged from the shadow of a tope of trees, and came clattering behind
us.

"'These are my escort,' explained the Sheikh. 'I have already
encountered too many dangers on this road to run further risks.'

"I made no comment, but inwardly reflected that once more kind fate was
working in my favour. Of course, with Sheikh Ahmed alive, there would be
no need to use force for Baji Lal's rescue. But safeguarded on the way,
we should be all the quicker in reaching our destination.

"It was toward noon on the fourth day from Punderpur--for there were now
no inquiries to delay me--that we came in sight of the village of
Sengali. It was just ten days then since the date of my departure in
quest of the missing man. So my mind was at ease; according to the
patel's promise, there remained yet four days of safety for Baji Lal and
Devaka.

"But all at once fear smote my heart. There was a strange absence of
people in the fields and on the outskirts of the village. Dreading I
know not what, I begged of the Sheikh to press forward. Our escort was
some distance behind us on the road, but, without waiting for the
troopers, we set our tired horses to their best speed.

"Coming to the pipul tree and the tank, we found this usual place of
congregation deserted. Now indeed was I thoroughly alarmed, likewise my
companion, and of one accord, without waiting to visit the constable's
compound, we turned our horses' heads in the direction of the home of
Baji Lal.

"And there indeed we found a dense crowd, the hoarse murmur of their
voices being borne to our ears before we turned the corner. The first
thing that smote my eyes was a thin column of smoke mounting skyward.

"Sheikh Ahmed too had seen, for he whipped up his horse unmercifully. As
he flashed past me, I was struck by the ashen grey that had stolen over
his features. His face was drawn, his nostrils quivered from excitement.

"I could not but admire his eager determination. 'What gratitude! What
unselfishness!' I thought to myself. 'Here is this man, rich and highly
placed, ready to endure prolonged fatigues and hardships, to face any
adventure, and all for the sake of a humble villager and his wife who
did but nurse him when he was sick. Not often do we find such men, not
often do we see the rich incommoding themselves for the poor.'

"Emulating his example, I urged my lagging beast to a final effort. In a
brief minute we were on the outskirts of the crowd, where perforce we
had to dismount. The Sheikh led the way as, afoot, we passed through the
throng.

"When we got within clear view of the house, I saw that faggots had been
placed all around it, and that these were already alight, giving forth
the smoke we had seen from a distance. I looked about me in dread. Where
were Baji Lal and Devaka? I questioned a man who was blocking my way. He
turned round, and, to my joy, I recognized Bimjee, the barber. He gazed
at me sadly, and, without expressing surprise at seeing me, pointed to
the flat roof.

"There, beyond the low parapet, tied to a stake, was poor little Devaka.
Her face was covered by her sari, and whether she were living or dead it
was impossible to tell.

"'And her husband?' I asked, trembling. 'Not yet dead?'

"'No. But when the sun is at its highest point, which will be in a few
minutes now, he will be dispatched with a sword and his body flung into
the fire. See! they are already pouring oil on the faggots, so that the
haunted house may be quickly consumed. It will soon be all over with our
poor friends.'

"'Not so, not so,' I cried, 'for Sheikh Ahmed has come back. See, there
he is, hastening to rescue his humble friends. He has not rested day or
night since he heard of the disaster that had befallen them.'

"The crowd had parted before the Sheikh, and through the rift I now
beheld Baji Lal, standing with his hands tied behind him at a little
distance from his burning home. But to my surprise Sheikh Ahmed darted
past him.

"'Ah!' exclaimed the barber, noticing my disconcerted look. 'He thinks
that Devaka is in greater peril, and leaves you to rescue her husband.'

"I looked at the curling smoke, and shuddered. Assuredly there was no
time to be lost if the woman was to be saved.

"'You are right, Bimjee,' I cried. 'We'll look after Baji Lal. Come
along.'

"And I gained my friend's side none too soon, for already a sword was
pointed at his breast. Leaping on the man who held it, I thrust the
weapon aside.

"The patel, standing by, turned on me with a ferocious look.

"'How dare you hinder justice, Chunda Das?' he demanded. 'This is by
decree of the panchayet.'

"'Your promise bound the village council as well as yourself,' I
retorted. 'It is but ten days since I departed on my quest for Sheikh
Ahmed, and you assured me faithfully that for two weeks at least nothing
would be done to this man and his wife.'

"'More cattle have died,' he answered, sullenly.

"The crowd were pressing round us, with angry gestures and threatening
looks, like wild beasts baulked of their prey.

"'Pull his beard,' 'Knock off his turban,' and such like impertinences
were hurled at me. But, taking no heed of these, I again addressed the
patel, raising my voice so that all around might hear.

"'You gave me fourteen days to find the stranger whom you say was
murdered, and ahead of time I have returned and brought him with me. And
Baji Lal, whom this very minute you were about to murder--aye,
murder--is an innocent man, and his wife a maligned woman.'

"And such is human nature, that they who a short time before had been so
keen to see Baji Lal done to death, were now loud in their acclamations
at his escape.

"But the patel looked at me with lowering brow.

"'Fine words, Chunda Das, but I do not see the Sheikh?'

"The crowd hushed their outburst, and faces again looked serious.

"'Oh, yes,' cried some one. 'Let us see him. Where is Sheikh Ahmed?'

"'Where, indeed, but in the burning house, endeavouring to save your
other victim?' I made answer, turning round and pointing with uplifted
arm to Devaka, who now was standing with hands held out beseechingly to
the throng, her face uncovered, full of entreaty.

"And even as we gazed the flames burst through the roof beneath her
feet, and the clouds of smoke almost hid her from view.

"There was no sign of Sheikh Ahmed, and I was greatly perturbed. What
had happened to him? Why did he not appear on the roof? From their
countenances I could see that the spectators were still unconvinced of
the presence of the man.

"Baji Lal up to this time had remained passive, his head bowed as if in
helpless acknowledgement of the power of destiny. But at my call he cast
his eyes upward with the others, and, beholding the form of his wife
through the eddying smoke wreaths, he broke out in loud and passionate
appeal.

"'Chunda Das, friends, neighbours, do not let her burn. She is innocent
of any crime. Do not let her perish. Chunda Das, cut my bonds, that I
may save her or die with her.'

"I was about to sever the thongs that confined his wrists and ankles,
when the patel laid a detaining hand on my shoulder.

"'Not so fast, not so fast, if you please. We have not yet seen Sheikh
Ahmed, and Baji Lal is still condemned to die.'

"I flashed an indignant look at the relentless man, but a cry of 'There
he is, there he is,' broke from the mob. And, sure enough, through the
clouds of smoke, could be seen the figure of the rescuer, crouching low
as he cautiously crept along the roof, with a hand on the parapet to
guide his movements. With bated breath we watched as he neared the
fainting woman, and then, rising to his full height, tore at the rope
which bound her to the stake.

"At last he had released her, and gathered her senseless form in his
arms. But a billow of black smoke blotted out the grim scene. A moment
of tense silence and sickening uncertainty. Then a great shout from the
throng, a shout of pent-up joy and relief, when the hero with his burden
came staggering out through the flame-framed doorway of the building.

"I rushed forward with the rest, and received Devaka in my arms. She had
swooned. I gazed at her rescuer in admiration, his face blackened, his
hair singed, his clothes torn. But could I believe my eyes? The brave
man who had sunk to the ground in a heap was not Sheikh Ahmed, but
Bimjee, the village barber!

"Hastily consigning Devaka to the care of women standing by, I hurried
forward.

"'Sheikh Ahmed is in that house,' I cried, 'probably overpowered by the
smoke. We must save him. Who will come with me?'

"All remained silent. Then some one called out:

"'It is no use, Chunda Das. It is impossible, the walls are falling.'

"But at that very instant the Sheikh appeared through the clouds of
smoke rolling from the doorway. He tottered forward, bearing in his arms
a large bundle wrapped in a cotton quilt. Outstretched hands caught him
as he fell, and carried him away from the burning ruins, for the walls
had now indeed collapsed.

"Neighbours vied with each other in offers of help. Baji Lal and Devaka
were taken to one house. Sheikh Ahmed and myself went to another. The
barber had recovered, and had quietly departed for his own home.

"Next day I sent round word that all the villagers were to come to the
usual place of public gathering, the widespread pipul tree. No second
bidding was required; the open space was soon crowded, right to the edge
of the tank and to the wall of the temple.

"When all were assembled, with Sheikh Ahmed, Baji Lal and Devaka, also
Bimjee the barber, standing by me, I faced the throng.

"'Good people,' I said, 'our worthy friends, Baji Lal and his wife, have
been publicly disgraced. They are now to be publicly reinstated as
honoured members of the community. Sheikh Ahmed will explain the sobbing
and wailing that used to distress them just as much as it mystified you
all, and eventually caused suspicion of an abominable crime. Listen to
the story Sheikh Ahmed has to tell.'

"As I stepped back a pace, the Sheikh came forward. His handsome
countenance beamed goodwill to all, and a murmur of friendly greeting
bore testimony to his popularity. In soft, melodious voice, he addressed
the eagerly expectant crowd.

"'I am indeed heartily grieved that through any fault of mine my kind
host and his wife Devaka should have suffered so severely. I may now
inform you that when I tarried in your midst some time ago, I was on my
way to the court of Akbar on an important mission. I was, as you know,
accompanied by a servant. I had in my possession a most valuable harp,
encrusted with diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones. It had
formerly belonged to the Maharanee of Kholtan, and had been looted from
her palace during the last war. Our Emperor, the Padishah, had long been
desirous of possessing it, for the fame of the instrument, its beauty
and value, was widespread. By a fortunate chance I became acquainted
with the man who was hiding it in the city of Poona. I promised, in the
name of my lord and master, the mighty Akbar, a lac of rupees, and
undertook to carry the instrument safely to the Emperor at
Fathpur-Sikri. On account of its extreme value we decided to conceal it
in a rough packing, and, with a view to avoid attracting attention, that
I should be attended on the road by no more than one body servant, a man
who had been long in my employment and in whom I placed implicit
confidence.

"'Well, all went right until, just as we neared this village I fell
sick--as I now believe, through the agency of my faithless attendant,
who would have poisoned me so that he might possess himself of the
precious harp. Fortunately I was succoured by our good friend, Baji Lal,
and nursed back to health by him and his devoted wife Devaka. I had sent
my servant on to Punderpur, there to await a summons when I again felt
well enough to travel. But one night he returned of his own accord,
bringing the news that the Padishah himself was approaching Punderpur,
and now would be the time for me to complete my mission.

"'But there was something in the fellow's manner that awakened my
distrust. At this time my suspicions were but vague, yet sufficient to
prompt me to caution. Without discovering my inmost thoughts, I
acquiesced in his proposal, and, disregarding the entreaties of my kind
hosts, prepared to take the road without an hour's delay.

"'But first I had to dispose of the bejewelled harp in a place of
safety, for I had made up my mind not to carry it any longer with me. At
Punderpur it would be possible to get an escort of Akbar's cavalry, and
then I could return with them for the treasure. So meanwhile I had to
find some sure hiding-place, this in preference to burdening anyone here
with my secret.

"'The walls of my room in Baji Lal's house were covered with a thick
tent-cloth. While my servant was feeding the horses, I loosened one edge
of this, and to my joy found the space between the inner and the outer
covering sufficient to take the harp. I stripped off the bulky wrappings
in which the harp had been carried up to this time, leaving only a
swathing of fine silk. Then I carefully bestowed the instrument in its
place of hiding, tying it securely to a beam high up toward the ceiling,
and finally I restored the tent-cloth wall exactly as I had found it.
Thereafter I stuffed a few billets of wood into the empty casing of the
harp, and when my servant returned I bade him carry forth the package,
and secure it across my saddle-bow, just as I had been wont to travel
heretofore. Even though it was yet dark, we rode forth on our way.

"'Next day I noticed that my servant kept watching me in a furtive
manner, and I congratulated myself on the precaution I had taken, and
inwardly resolved to be more than ever on my guard not to be caught
unawares. But, alas! I was still weak, and exhausted nature overcame
vigilance, so that one night I slept soundly. I remember nothing of what
took place. But when I came to myself some woodcutters were bathing my
head. They said I had been beaten and wounded, and had bled profusely. I
tried to stand up, but was seized with a great faintness, and would have
fallen had not my succourers steadied me. With tender care I was carried
to Punderpur, happily not far distant, where I was yet once again kindly
bidden to the home of strangers.

"'A munshi named Khyraz was the name of my new benefactor. He was most
wishful that I should hunt down my faithless servant, who, I need not
say, after leaving me for dead, had disappeared with my horse and the
package which was supposed to contain the precious harp. However, as I
had still the instrument in safe keeping, and as I did not want the
story of its being in my possession to get noised abroad, for this would
have robbed me of the pleasure of surprising our King of Kings with the
production of the coveted prize, I let the rascal go, for the time being
at all events. But his day will come, the son of a pig who betrayed the
master whose salt he had eaten for years. May the tombs of his
ancestors be defiled!

"'Of course the news that had brought me to Punderpur was false. So far
from Akbar being in the vicinity, I now learned that he had gone on a
journey to Gwalior, and would not be back to Fathpur-Sikri for several
months. Therefore, I took the opportunity of paying a business visit to
Benares, resting content in my mind that the harp could be in no safer
place than in its snug hiding at the home of Baji Lal, where no robbers
would ever dream of prying.

"'However, I was just on the eve of retracing my steps to this village
when Chunda Das came to Punderpur in quest of me. We met at the house of
Munshi Khyraz, and there I learned of the disaster to my friends here,
and the terrible doom that was contemplated for them. Imagine my dismay,
too, when I discovered that their house was to be burned. My beautiful
harp! It would be destroyed! So we hurried back, sparing neither
ourselves nor our beasts.

"'When I saw the tongues of flame actually curling about the home of
Baji Lal, I became oblivious of aught else save the rescue of the
priceless harp from destruction. Through the blinding smoke I groped my
way to my old sleeping room. I nearly succumbed three or four times
before I managed to tear down the tent-cloth. Then, by the flicker of
the flames I could see the harp reposing in its hiding place in all its
gleaming beauty. I had no time to feel surprised that its silken
covering had been blown aside, and indeed was at that very moment
fluttering in a current of air.

"'Just as my hand reached forth to seize the precious instrument, I was
startled by a subdued plaintive cry. For an instant I paused and
wondered. Then I discovered that the wind was blowing through a crevice
in the wall just behind the harp, and that it was the breeze rushing
through the opening that was causing the strings to vibrate and give
forth their weird complaining.

"'And this, good people, is the explanation of the unrestful spirit.
When the wind blew strong, the cries were loud and insistent; when the
blast came gently, the sobbing was low and wailing.

"'I am distressed that so simple a thing could have caused such trouble.
But in reparation I will undertake to build for Baji Lal and his wife a
new home. I hereby give to their good friend, Chunda Das, an undertaking
to that effect'--he passed a paper to me as he spoke--'whereby I make
myself liable for all moneys expended. And to Devaka I give this chain,
which I hope she will always wear in remembrance of her good deed in
nursing Sheikh Ahmed back to health.'

"And, throwing a long gold chain around the neck of Devaka, the Sheikh
bowed to the company, and, with salaams of farewell, passed through the
throng, toward his escort waiting for him all ready mounted at a little
distance. Soon there was the clatter of hoofs, and they were riding away
across the plain. I had noticed that at Sheikh Ahmed's saddle-bow was a
bulky package, undoubtedly the precious harp in its wrappings.

"That was all there was to be said, and after a while the crowd began to
disperse. On every hand there was loud acclaim for the Sheikh and his
noble generosity, and Devaka's gold chain, which she now held timidly in
her hand, was the object of many admiring glances, and drew for her
general words of congratulation.

"At last all had gone their several ways, leaving Baji Lal and his wife,
Bimjee and myself, alone beneath the pipul tree. A first look into each
other's eyes showed that we were all of the same mind. In their
excitement of the moment the unthinking throng had approved; but for us
there was nothing but bitter disappointment.

"It was Baji Lal who first voiced his feelings.

"'Chunda Das,' he said slowly, 'Sheikh Ahmed has promised to recompense
me for my losses; he has given a costly present to my wife. We want
neither his gifts nor his promises. They are as dust to us. The little
we did for him was not done for gold. Yet we took him into our home, and
fought death for him, and won. He left a valuable treasure under our
roof without consulting or trusting us. When this act of his brought
disaster on our heads, it was no thought for Devaka or for me that
brought him back in hot haste. It was the possible loss of the harp that
occupied all his thoughts. When he came upon the scene, he saw me tied
and ready for the word to die. On the roof he saw my wife with the
flames already leaping to devour her. Yet not one finger did he put
forth to save either her or me. He just rushed into the smoke-filled
house, that he might secure the harp--an instrument of great price, let
it be. But you, my dear friend, had ridden night and day to find the man
whom our neighbours thought we had murdered. Our faithful friend
Bimjee'--Baji Lal stretched out his hand to the barber--'defied fire and
smoke to rescue a defenceless woman from an atrocious death. Neither of
you had anything to gain by these deeds of bravery and self-sacrifice.
You did them for pure love of us. What do we want with that selfish
man's gifts? Chunda Das, give me the paper which binds him to his
promise to restore my home, that I may tear it into fragments and
scatter it to the winds. Devaka, my wife,'--and his voice fell to a tone
of great gentleness--'hand the necklet to Chunda Das, that he may
restore it to the giver.'

"Devaka, who, as I have said, had already removed the chain of gold from
her neck, looked at it perhaps a little lingeringly, let it slip through
her fingers caressingly, then with a sigh placed it in my hands and
turned away. But her sigh, I knew, was less for the surrender of the
gift than for the unworthiness that had prompted its bestowal.

"Her husband contemplated her compassionately. 'You have not many
trinkets, little wife,' he said, 'but this one would not remind us so
much of good deeds done as of base ingratitude. I have no home to take
you to at present, but Bimjee wants us to stay with him until I can
build you another.'

"He stretched forth his hand to Devaka, and, leading her away, departed.
Bimjee, after a salute to me, followed his bidden guests at a little
distance. For myself, I remained awhile to ponder all these happenings.

"To say that I was disappointed in Sheikh Ahmed would not adequately
express my feelings. From the first I had been attracted to the man, by
his handsome figure, distinguished bearing, and pleasant smile. During
our intimacy of four days on the road I had admired the brilliancy of
his conversation, and had taken great delight in his entertaining
recitals of adventure in many far lands. From one like him I had
certainly never expected this display of callous selfishness. But such
is life. We have to keep ourselves prepared for many disillusionments.
And, as I remarked at the outset of my narrative, an experience of this
kind teaches that, if in judging our fellow men we are to be chary of
condemnation, it behoves us also to be discreet in commendation."

And so ended the Bombay trader's story.

       *       *       *       *       *

After an interval of silence, the voice of the Rajput chief spoke up:

"What became of Baji Lal and Devaka?"

"Oh," replied the merchant, "from that day their happiness returned and
continued. For the villagers were ashamed to have doubted them, so all
contributed to the building and furnishing of their home, and would take
no denial. Good fortune seemed to settle on their roof-tree. Little
Devaka is now the mother of a fine boy, and she wears a chain of gold
around her neck, one given to her by the women of the village when they
heard that she had scorned the proffered gift of Sheikh Ahmed, and
understood the reason why."

"And the Sheikh and his wonderful harp?" questioned the Afghan soldier.
"Did the costly toy reach its destination?"

"The harp is in the treasury of our Sovereign Akbar. Sheikh Ahmed
started back for Poona with the lac of rupees he had promised in the
name of the Padishah and half a lac more for his own recompense. But he
and his company were attacked by a swarm of Mahrattas, and perished to a
man."

"And the treacherous servant?"

"About him I know nothing. My tale is told."



V. THE BLUE DIAMONDS

TOLD BY THE FAKIR


"You have certainly improved on the moral of my story," said the
astrologer, addressing the merchant, silent now after the telling of his
tale. "If it is for God alone to pronounce the censure on mankind, then
assuredly it is for God also to award the praise. As the story of Sheikh
Ahmed and his jewelled harp well shows, deeds may be done openly by the
hand, but the motives for their doing lie secretly in the heart. And the
heart is the innermost temple where none but the high priest, the
individual soul, holds communion with his God, the supreme Deity of the
universe."

"So that a man's life is an unsolvable riddle to all but himself,"
concurred the hakeem.

"And not to be solved even by himself," remarked the Afghan with a
laugh, half of bitterness, half of bravado. "We may know in our secret
heart the motive that prompts to a deed, but we cannot tell the
consequences of that deed as affecting even ourselves who wrought it.
Take this very story of the Sheikh; when recovering his precious harp he
was but digging his own grave. So with all of us; we imagine we are
marching bravely to accomplish some preconceived plan, when all the time
we are merely groping with blinded eyes along the path of destiny,
avoiding the mud holes, it may be, but failing to see the tiger,
crouched for his spring, a few paces further along."

"Shabash!" cried the fakir, in a shrill tone of approval that drew all
eyes to the lean and naked and ash-besprinkled figure seated at the foot
of the veranda steps. "Shabash! shabash!" he cried, again and yet again.

"And your story?" asked the Rajput, with a nod of inquiry and
encouragement.

"Is one that shows how a man may keep on running all his life yet never
reach the goal he has in sight," replied the ascetic. And with the
sturdy independence of his calling he beat a peremptory tattoo with
finger-tips on wooden begging-bowl to command attention to his tale.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Behold in me a man who possesses nothing in this world excepting a
begging-bowl and a loin cloth. Yet was I at one time the owner of lands
and of cattle, of a home bountifully stored for comfort and for
sustenance, of wives who wore rich jewels, necklets of pearls, armlets
of gold, and bangles of silver, with maid-servants to minister to their
needs and children to play around them. All gone! by my own doing, or
undoing, call it which you will.

"And know, too, that in those days I also was a soldier"--this with a
defiant glance first at the Rajput chief and then at the Afghan general.
"At my side rattled the steel scabbard, and in my belt was the sharp
poinard, swift messenger of death when it came to hand-to-hand fighting,
and the horse I rode had its rich trappings of gold and silver. It may
all seem strange, to hear me tell those things of the long ago and to
look upon me now"--and the speaker stretched forth his skinny, twisted
fingers and attenuated arms, and for a moment ruefully contemplated
them.

"But I speak the truth," he went on, "for to-night, prompted by the
stories to which I have listened and the thoughts they have engendered,
will I unseal my lips after fifty long years of wandering alone, giving
no man my confidence, seeking no man's confidence, intent only on the
attainment of the one desire deeply seated in my heart, and which, in my
eager striving to achieve, seems to be ever more remote from
accomplishment. To-night will I reveal the story of my life, so that,
perchance, the lesson it teaches will show still more clearly the
impotence of man to constitute himself the avenger of wrongs. For if
judgment belongs to Allah, so does vengeance. And the choice of
instrument, of time and place, of the very manner of the deed--all this
belongs to God alone, as this night, listening to the stories that have
gone before, have I for the first time come fully to comprehend."

The fakir paused to gaze around his audience. The look of interest and
expectancy on each face showed the impression his impulsive flow of
language had made. No interrupting word was spoken, but every eye
remained fastened on the lean, keen face peering over long slender
shanks and hand-clasped knees. The narrator continued:

"In those days I had twenty retainers at my call, and these men I
commanded when I rode forth to service with a certain Nawab, from whom I
held my lands for the feudal service I thus performed. It was my fate to
take part in many a fight and in many a foray, and to send many a man to
his doom. But God had ordained it so; the fault was not mine.

"Well, it befell that a certain city was given over to sack and carnage,
for the word had gone forth that the only way to break the power of its
Hindu occupants was to demolish their temples, destroy their idols, and
thereby show the impotence of their false gods to protect them."

The Rajput drew himself up proudly, and a flush of resentment stole over
his face. But the Moslem fanatic, unconscious now of anything but his
reminiscences of the past, went on unheeding and unabashed:

"It was toward the hour of sunset when a body of our soldiery broke into
a temple devoted to the worship of Siva the Destroyer. We had battered
in the heavy wooden doors that protected the inner court, and within the
threshold a score or more of priests fell to our swords, and a dozen
dancing girls as well, attendants on the idols--self-slain these women,
for when they saw that there was no quarter for the men they rushed on
us like female panthers and flung themselves on our dripping blades."

The Hindu listeners were visibly disturbed and affected by this cold
recital of bloody deeds. The hands of the Rajput clenched and unclenched
themselves nervously, and the merchant gave a deep, guttural groan of
horror as he flung the end of his robe over his face as if to shut out a
vision of sacrilege and shame.

"It was written in the beginning, nay before creation it was written,"
murmured the Moslem astrologer, quoting, in courteous sympathy, the
familiar formula of his faith. "And as your priests themselves say," he
added, addressing himself more particularly to the Rajput, "'The destiny
of each man is irrevocably inscribed on his forehead by the hand of
Brahma himself.'"

The Rajput bowed his head in acquiescent silence, and as the fakir
proceeded with his story the trader also regained his composure and
withdrew the covering from his face.

"When the shadows of night fell, the temple made a bonfire that
illuminated the scenes of pillage going on all around. The big idols of
loathly aspect had been thrown down, broken to pieces, and despoiled of
their jewels and the heavy plates of gold that encumbered them. Our
soldiers had swarmed out of the building, past a tank to the houses of
some priests beyond. Not one single custodian of the temple survived,
and I stood alone in the outer courtyard, watching in idle fashion the
tongues of flame licking the beams and rafters and paint-bedaubed walls
of the wrecked edifice.

"Then did my eyes chance to light on a small idol in the passage-way
between the two courtyards of the temple, set in a deep niche, on which
account it had escaped the notice of the despoilers. It was the familiar
elephant-headed idol of the Hindus, Ganapati, as I knew they called him,
their god of wisdom and the remover of obstacles according to their
creed.

"Even as I looked, methought that the eyes of the idol twinkled
knowingly and entreatingly at me. After a moment I saw that this fancy
was but due to the play of the flames on jewels, comprehending which, I
said to myself that the little fat man might perchance be of some
considerable value. So I plucked him from his resting-place, not without
difficulty, for the base of the idol was fastened by iron clamps to the
altar, and only just in time before a surge of fire and smoke swept
through the vestibule. Then, without more ado, I carried forth this
Ganapati, wrapped in a cotton cloth I had gathered from one of the slain
priests, and tied it to the saddle-bow of my horse, which had been
standing tethered under a tree close at hand.

"Thus did it come about that, a full month later, I was seated in my
home, in a secret inner chamber that served me as a treasury, and to
which the only access was through the women's quarters. And before me on
a stool rested the cross-legged figure of the four-armed and
elephant-headed god, fat, complacent, smiling, to all appearance
recovered from the fatigues of a journey of near a hundred leagues and
thoroughly contented amidst his new surroundings. The idol was of
bronze, and the eyes, which at times gave it such life-like semblance,
were clusters of rubies set around with white sapphires.

"And it followed that, day after day, after the siesta hour, I found
myself in the company of this accursed idol--for accursed it came to be,
bringing me misfortunes and ruin, as my story will unfold. No doubt it
was by my own doing that the wrath of Allah was brought down upon my
head. For had not I, a follower of the Prophet, and therefore a despiser
of graven images in every shape or form, come to treat this monstrous
and misshapen creature, half man, half beast, as a sort of familiar,
even greeting him on my entry with the words with which I might have
saluted a living unbeliever, 'May your days be peaceful,' spoken in
goodnatured jest, of course, and without one thought at the time of the
sacrilege of which I was guilty? Yea, I would pat the fat little fellow
on the head, and, when the humour seized me, would show him my hoard of
gold mohurs, even jingle before him a bag of silver rupees, or ask his
opinion on the colour and quality of some gem, speaking words of
foolishness the while, like a child playing with a toy. And when I lay
back on my cushions, sometimes I fancied that the little jewelled eyes
in the elephant head of bronze twinkled at me in merry and friendly
understanding. All which things I have since remembered with bitter
shame.

"But it happened one day that I was in angry mood--some contrary thing
among the women of my household had vexed me. And when I sat brooding
over my trouble, it seemed that the eyes of the Ganapati laughed at me
in mockery. And, angry now at the idol himself, I arose and pressed the
balls of my thumbs on the two scintillating clusters of jewels, as it
were to shut out the gleam of their impertinence, even ready, in my
insane access of wrath, to force them from their sockets as I might have
done with the eyeballs of a slave who had offended me.

"But in a moment all passion faded from my heart. For an extraordinary
thing happened.

"As I pressed with my thumbs, the clicking sound of moving wheels smote
my ear, and the elephant head began slowly to raise itself and revolve
backward on some concealed pivot, forming a gaping opening right across
the body of the Ganapati. And, as the opening gradually widened, by some
devilish contrivance the hammer of a gong concealed within the idol was
set in motion, and there resulted a loud continuous clanging din that
could have been heard at a far distance. Instinctively I thrust my
fingers in my ears to shut out the infernal noise. But after a time the
clangor ceased, and now I observed that the elephant head had moved
completely back on its hinges, and lay at rest, its single tusk raised
aloft. Within the body of the Ganapati a cavity was revealed.

"But before I could explore this, I was distracted by the frightened
outcries of my womenfolk, and I sallied forth to pacify them, and give
assurance that the bell need cause no alarm, it being one I had
purchased in the bazaars with the intent some day to use it as a
protection against thieves--its obvious utility, as I guessed even now.
When all was again at peace I returned to the secret chamber. Everything
was as I had left it a few minutes previously.

"In the hollow body of the bronze idol there lay disclosed to view a
small casket of rock crystal, round and polished, and provided with a
cap of gold. For me to snatch this casket from its hiding-place was the
work of an instant. Straightway I removed the golden lid, and there, in
the smooth, transparent nest of crystal, lay a little heap of gems that
flashed and gleamed like living fire.

"Recovering from my first emotions of astonishment and delight, I poured
forth the treasure into the hollow of my hand, and found it to be a
necklace of diamonds, as I could tell from the dazzling sparkle of the
stones despite their uncommon colour, which was blue, like the vault of
the sky or the eyes of the fair-skinned women of Circassia. Each stone
was cut with many facets, and all were strung together by a delicate
chain of gold, a solitary large stone in the centre, then smaller ones
on either side, each succeeding pair carefully matched as to size, and
constantly diminishing till the last were no bigger than grains of
millet. All the diamonds were of dazzling lustre and of the one uniform
tint, the blue that is so rare, and, as I gazed upon my treasure trove,
well could I believe that not such another necklace existed in any part
of the world, not even in the jewel caskets of the Great Padishah
himself, nor of the Kings of China or of Persia, nor of the Princes of
the Franks, who are reputed to have untold stores of diamonds, rubies,
topazes, and amethysts.

"For a time I was stricken dumb and motionless, from very fear of the
great wealth that reposed in my hollowed palm. Then did I replace the
necklace in its casket, and the casket in its receptacle within the body
of the bronze god, and, grasping the tusk, I drew forward once again the
elephant head, which, at my gentle pressure, rose easily on its pivot,
winding again the clicking wheels as it moved, and finally closing at
its accustomed place with a sharp snap but without any further sounding
of the gong, at which I was well pleased.

"Overcome with varied emotions, I sank down on the carpet, and, gazing
up at the idol, beheld the jewelled eyes once more twinkling at me,
merrily and mockingly.

"After an interval I withdrew from the chamber, securing the padlock on
the outside, and slipping back the artfully concealed panel that hid the
secret doorway from prying intruders. The corridor without led to the
women's quarters, through which I passed, vouchsafing word to no one. It
was only when I had gained the outer courtyard that I drew my breath
freely, and recovered my wonted tranquillity of mind and mien.

"Several days passed before I ventured again to visit the Ganapati, and
this at last I did in the full belief that the whole affair had been
naught but an idle dream. But when I pressed again on the eyes of the
elephant head, there came once more the clicking of wheels, followed by
the clangor of the gong. This I succeeded in muffling somewhat by
throwing a thick cotton quilt, which I had brought for the purpose, over
the figure of the god.

"A minute later I held the necklace of flashing blue diamonds in my
trembling hand. I lingered just long enough to satisfy myself of the
reality of the jewels, of their flawless quality and their matchless
lustre. Then, replacing everything as before, I left the chamber with
the usual precautions, and gained the divan in the vestibule of the
outer courtyard, where I was accustomed to sit and receive my friends.
There I meditated for several hours, and at last had formed a definite
plan.

"Well I knew that to disclose the treasure would mean its instant
surrender to the Nawab, most probably my own doing to death, so that the
new owner of the gems might feel more secure in their possession. To
realize the value of those blue diamonds they must be sold one by one,
or, at most, in separate pairs, and this with infinite care, so as not
to arouse suspicion among the banians who are the traders in precious
stones, and are ever on the outlook to screw the last copper paisa out
of the seller unlawfully trafficking in them. And first of all it would
be necessary for me to gain some true idea as to the value of brilliants
of so rare a hue.

"Three days later I rode into the city of Lahore, and, after seeing to
the wants of my horse, repaired to the bazaar of the Hindu shroffs and
banians. All my actions having been carefully thought out and decided
upon beforehand, I approached with a bold swagger the shop of a
reputable-looking banian, and, in the usual manner of business, took my
seat cross-legged before him. Two other merchants were seated near by,
but to them I gave no heed.

"After some desultory conversation with the owner of the shop, I
unloosed my waistband, and drew therefrom a tiny piece of silk stuff, in
whose folds were wrapped two of the smallest of the blue diamonds, a
pair, which I had carefully detached from the necklace before setting
forth on my journey. These I placed in the banian's hand, and I waited,
with all proper patience, while he carefully examined them. His face
gave no sign as at last he laid the gems on the lap of his robe. With
this I extended my right hand, and thrust it into his right hand,
covering both with the loosened end of my waistband, so that he could
tell me the price he was willing to pay by the secret pressure on my
fingers that would reveal to me the value he had set on the stones
without disclosing it to the rival traders seated at our side.

"But to my surprise his hand remained absolutely impassive, giving no
response to my movement of inquiry. Then, looking again into the
banian's eyes, I detected there a strange menacing look that greatly
perturbed me. As his fingers were still limp over mine, signifying
unmistakably that there was no willingness to buy, I hastened to
withdraw my hand, and, retying my little package, restored it to its
place of security. After I had adjusted my waistband, again we spoke
some tittle-tattle of the hour before I arose and, with a courteous
salaam, took my departure.

"Glancing back from a short distance, I saw the three banians in close
colloquy and eagerly gesticulating. Thoroughly alarmed now, and feeling
sure that they had recognized the blue diamonds as the spoil of one of
their temples, I made all speed to regain the caravanserai where my
horse had been bestowed, and, offering no explanation of my hurried
departure, immediately rode from the city. Gaining the open country, I
gave rein to my horse, although I took the precaution of making a detour
before I finally struck out in the direction of my home.

"Before nightfall of the succeeding day I had regained my house, and had
replaced the detached stones on the necklace by the little golden hooks
that formed their fastenings. With all speed I quitted the presence of
the Ganapati, vowing that I would make no more attempt for the present
to dispose of the treasure hidden in his entrails.

"A full month had elapsed, and I had ceased to give my exclusive
thoughts to the necklace of blue diamonds; for the harvest time was
approaching, and I had to make arrangements for the garnering of my
crops. My house was in the open country, half a league or so from the
nearest village. It was the evening hour, and I was seated in the
vestibule of the outer courtyard, having just dismissed the head reaper
with whom I had come to terms for the services of himself and his
fellows in the fields of grain.

"Glancing along the road I descried what I took to be a band of
travelling yogis, in rags, unkempt, some hobbling on crutches. But as I
was accustomed to treat with contempt such Hindu beggars, I gave no
special heed to their approach.

"All of a sudden, however, when within less than a bow shot of the
house, the pretended yogis raised a loud and terrifying yell, and rushed
toward me, brandishing staves and daggers. Then did I realize that I was
in the presence of a gang of armed dacoits. Before I could summon help,
I was mercilessly beaten over the head with bludgeons; after which I was
bound hand and foot, and thrown face downward on the divan on which I
had been seated. I could hear the sound of a scuffle in the courtyard,
and the dying scream of the eunuch who guarded the entrance to the
women's apartments, rising high above the frightened cries of my two
wives and the children and of the female slaves who attended them. Then,
because of the grievous blows that had assailed me, as well as the agony
of my mind, consciousness fled, and I lay like one dead unto the world.

"It must have been hours before I was awakened from this stupor, for the
moon was riding high in the heavens. Over me was bending the demoniac
face of a Hindu priest, a worshipper of Siva as I knew from the caste
marks on his forehead.

"'Where is the Ganapati?' he hissed in my ear. 'It is that which we
want. We will spare your life if you surrender the stolen god and the
blue diamonds.'

"Instantly great joy surged through my heart, for I knew that, whatever
other evil fortune had befallen, my secret treasure chamber had not been
discovered. And with this joy came the determination that I would rather
die than surrender the necklace of blue diamonds, or allow the mocking
elephant-headed god to be returned to his place of honour before a crowd
of idolatrous worshippers.

"I shall not recount the details of that terrible night. I need but say
that I was tortured in a dozen different ways--the soles of my feet were
burned with hot embers, the flesh of my thighs was pierced with daggers,
I was beaten all over with clubs, and when I lost my senses for a spell
I was revived by chatties of cold water being dashed on my face. But I
never spoke a word. The very spirit of Shaitan had entered into my soul;
if they were devils, then was I the prince of devils in my resolve to
defy them.

"I was but faintly conscious of my surroundings, when I heard a
whispered colloquy among the priests disguised as robbers.

"'We must not kill him,' I heard one voice say. 'Only if he lives shall
we recover the Ganapati.'

"Then also I heard some faint cries from afar off, from the village,
showing that the dacoits were discovered, and that courage was being
mustered for some attempt to drive them away.

"After a moment the same priest who had addressed me before bent his
face once again over mine.

"'Listen, you Moslem son of a pig,' he hissed in my ear. 'Three more
warnings will be given to you, and if these do not succeed in making you
restore the Ganapati and the jewels then assuredly will you die. You
know whence you stole it. Take back the idol to Ferishtapur, or go to
the nethermost hell to which you belong.'

"With that he slapped my face again and again, with a slipper taken from
his foot, and, writhing in my bonds, I was powerless to revenge, even at
the cost of my life, this crowning and abominable insult.

"I must have swooned once more, for dawn was breaking when the craven
villagers, satisfied that the robbers and murderers had departed, at
last arrived upon the scene, and, loosening the thongs that bound me,
re-awakened me to consciousness of my pitiful plight.

"My womenfolk and my three children were uninjured. I found them,
cowering and terrified, in an inner chamber. But the infidels had
searched every room in their quarters, scattering the contents of chests
on the floors. And at sight of this vile desecration the iron of revenge
even then entered into my soul.

"The eunuch lay dead in the vestibule leading to the harem. My other
servants, who had happened to be outside the house at the time of the
assault, had fled, and in the shame of their desertion never again dared
to show their faces in my presence. The kotwal of the district made an
investigation, but I held my own counsel, and spoke not one word about
the Ganapati or the blue diamonds. So the outrage was set down as the
work of dacoits, and although in point of fact nothing had been stolen I
felt no call on me to disturb this finding of the magistrate.

"About a week later a new disaster overtook me. In the full light of
day, when a breeze happened to be blowing, my standing crops were
burned, and my fields left a blackened wilderness. By whose hand the
fire-brand had been applied, no man could tell. An accident, or the
first of the promised warnings?--this I asked myself, and I strove hard
to believe that it was ill-luck and nothing more.

"Another full week passed, and I began to hope that the threatened
persecution had indeed been abandoned. Recovered from my wounds and
bruises, I was able now to be out and about again, endeavouring to
restore order to my troubled affairs. One afternoon on my home-coming, I
found the women lamenting with loud outcries over the body of my eldest
son, a lad of seven years. Unseen by any of the household he had been
knocked down on the road and crushed under the wheels of a heavy wagon
that was travelling past.

"That night, when his poor little body was being made ready for burial,
my elder wife, his mother, led me to the side of the bier. Uncovering
the child's shoulder, she showed me a strange mark, as if branded upon
the flesh by a hot iron. In the red, angry lines I had no difficulty in
tracing the head of a bull, the sacred mark of Siva. I said nothing,
and indeed commanded my wife to hold her peace.

"I knew now that this cruel calamity was indeed a warning from the
accursed priesthood, who had not even scrupled to murder an innocent
child so that they might wreak their vengeance on me or break my will.

"But, if I had been determined before, ten times more now was I resolved
never to yield. No cowardly surrender could bring me back my child. The
boy was dead, and what was done could not be undone, for the will of God
is eternal.

"That very night I visited the Ganapati, and in the frenzy of my bitter
grief and righteous wrath I swore, with clenched fist shaken before his
twinkling eyeballs, that I would break him into pieces, throw the blue
diamonds into a fire of charcoal, and myself die, rather than restore
him to the infidels who had destroyed my happiness and my home.

"The next blow fell swifter than ever. Only four days had passed when
the bereaved mother, who had refused to be consoled for the death of her
only child, was found drowned at the bottom of the well in the harem
garden. The household was plunged in lamentation over her pitiful act of
self-destruction, and now I became vaguely conscious that friends and
neighbours, as well as servants, were looking at me askance, and were
beginning to shun my presence as if a curse had fallen upon my head.

"It was at the funeral ceremonies of my wife that I was first made
pointedly to feel that there rested over me the suspicion of some
terrible crime that had drawn down the special wrath of Allah. Standing
in isolation, at a time when my sorrowing heart yearned for brotherly
comfort, I realized that already I was an outcast from among my own
people, one whom they deemed to be marked by heaven for special
vengeance, a moral leper, a menace to the community, to be shunned for
all time by his fellow men.

"And there and then I made up my mind to flee secretly to another
country, sending later for my surviving wife and children, abandoning
all my other possessions in the shape of land and cattle and accumulated
stores, but clinging to the blue diamonds which would yet bring me
riches out of all proportion to those of which fate was robbing me at
the present time.

"For the third and final warning had passed, although no one but myself
had thought of my wife's death otherwise than as a case of
grief-demented suicide.

"But, as she had lain on her bier, I had looked secretly, and had found
the brand of the bull on her shoulder blade, just as she had found it on
that of her murdered boy. Allah alone knows how this last crime was
wrought--how access to the women's quarters had been gained, and how the
fatal seal of Siva had been impressed upon her flesh before she had been
flung into the well.

"To me has this ever remained a mystery of mysteries.

"So the three warnings had been delivered--the burning of my crops, the
slaying of my child, the drowning of my wife. Unless by the morrow I
made signs of submission by taking the road to Ferishtapur, there to
surrender the Ganapati, it would assuredly be upon myself that the sword
of fate would next descend.

"That very night of the funeral, after securely barricading the outer
gates of the house, I locked myself in the treasure chamber. Not a
servant had remained in the home upon which the curse of God had
descended; even the two women slaves had fled in the dusk of the
evening, gone, I knew not whither, and now I little cared. My surviving
wife and children, tiny infants, a girl and a boy, were asleep in an
inner room; I had glanced at their slumbering forms when passing to the
corridor that led to the secret doorway.

"I lost no time in beginning my preparations for departure. First of all
I unlocked my strong box, and drew therefrom a small sack of gold
mohurs, and another of gold pagodas, also sundry family jewels, armlets
and necklets of gold, gemmed rings, and other trinkets of price. All
these I tied tightly in a cotton cloth, forming a package that I could
conveniently and without undue attention carry at my saddle-bow or in my
hand. The bags of silver money, likewise the store of silver bangles, I
would leave behind; they were cumbersome, and moreover they would serve
to meet the necessities of my wife and children during our period of
severance.

"Then I turned to the Ganapati, and after swathing him as before in the
cotton quilt, so as to deaden the sound of the gong, with my hands
beneath the covering I pressed upon the jewelled eyeballs. I had not
gazed upon the blue diamonds since the day when I had restored the two
stones shown to the banian merchant in Lahore. As the wheels now clicked
and the muffled bell commenced its dulled clangor, the uneasy thought
came to my mind that perhaps the treasure had in the interval been
spirited away by some devilish jugglery. But when at last silence fell,
and I whipped the cloth aside, there reposed the crystal casket, and,
the lid of gold removed, my eyes fastened with grim satisfaction upon
the clustered heap of gems, gleaming in the light of my tiny oil lamp
like drops of rain in a flash of lightning.

"Assured of their safety, I pressed down the cap on the casket, and
bound the crystal ball securely in my waistband.

"Then I turned round to seize an iron hammer which I had brought with me
for the deliberate purpose of smashing the accursed idol to pieces,
partly in revenge, partly to secure the bejewelled eyeballs. But at that
very moment I became possessed with the notion that I was not alone in
the room. My heart beat wildly, and I raised aloft the little lamp.
Nothing but four bare walls, and not even a window through which an
enemy might be peering!

"I breathed again, and grasped the handle of the hammer. Yet my uneasy
dread was still with me, for I paused once more, this time to listen.
Not a sound without, or the whisper of a sound!

"But what was that?--the creak of a timber not louder than if a mouse
had stirred. And, directed by the faint sound, I saw the wooden bolt
that fastened the door on the inside heave, just once, as if by the
pressure of a lever cautiously at work on the other side. The hammer
slipped to the rug from my unnerved fingers.

"Lamp in hand, I stole to the door, on tiptoe, step by step, afraid to
awaken the echo of a footfall. I touched the wooden bolt with a finger
tip; I pressed my ear against the panel. And now, every fibre of my
being at tension, my senses quickened by the unseen but certain presence
of danger, I could hear at the other side of the thin boards the eager
breathing of the fanatic devil of a priest who had come to slay me,
miserably trapped like a panther in a pit. At this thought the very
blood froze in my veins. My hand relaxed its hold on the lamp, and in
its fall the light was extinguished.

"Alone in the dark with the Ganapati, and with the human tiger at the
other side of the door, I shrieked aloud.

"In prompt answer to my cry of pent-up agony came the sharp sound of
splintering timber, and before me, revealed by the flare of a torch held
aloft in one hand, appeared the dread visage of the Hindu priest,
contorted now by his mingled emotions of hate and triumph. For his eyes
had lighted on the idol, and it was with a shout of joyful recognition,
'Ganapati! Ganapati!' that the fanatic flung himself upon me, and
plunged a dagger into my throat. Then the curtain of black
forgetfulness descended and covered me with its folds.

"I know not what time elapsed, but I was awakened to the consciousness
that I was yet alive by a tongue of flame that leaped at my face, and,
scorching my skin, caused me to stir instinctively in self-preservation.
Raising my head from the pool of blood in which it had been weltering,
and moving my stiffened neck with difficulty because of the dagger
wound, the mark of which I carry to this day"--upraising his chin, the
fakir laid a finger on a tiny but palpable scar--"I struggled to a
sitting posture, and looked about in dazed bewilderment. But ere I could
realize what had happened, again the blistering heat of fire that ran
along the walls of the room caused me to stagger to my feet. Then as I
gazed around, through a haze of smoke illumined by fitful, flickering
gleams of ruddy radiance, all of a sudden came remembrance of the deadly
assault and comprehension of my present danger.

"One swift sweeping glance showed me that the Ganapati was gone, and
that my strong box, too, with its silver hoard had disappeared, together
with the package of gold coin and jewellery. My hands went instantly to
my waistband; it had been torn open, and the crystal casket that held
the blue diamonds abstracted.

"So the murderous priest had not only recovered his own, but had robbed
me of my all!

"There was no time, however, to reflect or to moralize, for the loud
crackling of fire amid the woodwork warned of my imminent peril.
Flinging the skirt of my robe across my face, I made one frantic dash
for safety through the splintered panels of the door, the only exit from
the room, regardless of the billows of mingled smoke and flame that were
now rolling along the corridor.

"Half suffocated, almost blinded by the pungent fumes, my flesh seared,
my garments aflame, I reeled into the courtyard of the women's quarters,
and threw myself into the fountain splashing in the middle of the marble
pavement. Then, drawing myself out of the water like a bedraggled rat, I
crawled on hands and knees to the apartment of my wife.

"God! God! It was to find her and our two little children dead--stabbed
to the heart on the sleeping mats where they lay."

A sobbing wail burst from the narrator's lips, and he covered his face
with his hands. After a time he recovered his self-possession, and
resumed, although still in broken tones and with shoulders heaving from
emotion.

"I need not dwell on the pitiable story. Gaining the open country, I
gazed upon the fierce flames now bursting in a dozen places from the
roof of my doomed home, the funeral pyre of the last ones dear to me on
earth.

"As I gazed I rent my garments, and raised my voice in loud
lamentations. Soon all was consumed, and there remained only the dull
glow of red embers. Then I wandered out into the night, stupefied and
broken-hearted by the crowning calamity that had overtaken me, afraid
even to face my neighbours of the village, naked, penniless, and alone.

"Thus did it come about that I, a man of estate, feudatory of a prince,
within the period of a single moon lost wives and children, slaves and
retainers, land and crops and cattle, family jewels, stores of gold and
of silver, and also the blue diamonds of the idol for the retention of
which I had rashly but unknowingly ventured all that I had of happiness
in this world.

"And since that day of final disaster I have journeyed over the face of
the land trying to find, not the blue diamonds, not my stolen hoard, but
that fiend incarnate, the priest of Siva, who slew my wives and
children.

"I go about, now a Moslem fakir with the right of entry to the mosques
where I may worship the only true God and Mohammed his prophet, now
disguised as a Hindu yogi, crying 'Ram, Ram,' so that I may gain access
to the temples of the idolators, there to find the Ganapati with the
jewelled eyes, and by that token discover the man for whom I am ever
seeking. Every year I revisit Ferishtapur, whence the idol was
originally taken by my hand from the wrecked temple, but thither neither
the priest nor the Ganapati has ever returned. At other times I travel
from one city to another, searching for temples, mingling with the
devotees at the recurring festivals, the Holi, the Durgapuga, the feast
of lanterns, and watching the processions when the idols and their
custodians visit each other's shrines or go to the river for the
blessing of the waters. But wander where I may, priest or Ganapati have
I never seen again.

"Thus have passed fifty long years, during which I have lived for one
thing alone, and that----revenge!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Pausing before the last word, then uttering it in a scream that pierced
the night air, the fakir sprang to his feet, and, swept by a sudden gust
of overmastering passion, raised his hands high to heaven--a weird and
eerie figure in the silver sheen of the moon.

"Deen! deen! deen!" he cried, dancing around as he shrilly voiced the
fanatic call to massacre--the dread call which through the centuries has
drenched with human blood a thousand shrines, both Moslem mosques and
Hindu temples.

"Subah!" shouted the Afghan general, half rising, his hand on his sword
hilt. "Stop that, you son of a dog, or I will make you meat for jackals.
Subah!" At the reiterated stern command the dancing figure became
instantly rigid. Then, just as suddenly as he had leaped from his
crouching attitude, the fakir sank to the ground in a huddled heap, his
face buried in the dust.

"You would be happier to-day, O man of many sorrows, had you followed
the philosophy of 'kooch perwani'--had you said to yourself: 'What is
done is done, and cannot be undone. Let it pass. Kooch perwani--no
matter.'"

It was the Rajput who was speaking, in rebuke yet in commiseration.

"Even when all seemed lost" continued the Hindu soldier, "you should
have forgotten the blue diamonds, the abiding greed for which was the
real cause of your undoing; you should have forgotten your lost wealth
and honourable position, your dear ones gone to the abode of bliss, the
enemies who had despitefully used you but who, as your own religion
teaches, were in truth only God's emissaries sent to punish you for your
sins. It is the philosophy of 'kooch perwani' that teaches us to forget
the dead past, do the work of the vital present, and by doing it aright
build for the future an edifice of happiness and contentment. Had you
followed that philosophy, O fakir, you might have been again to-day rich
in the good things of the world."

The mendicant raised his face from the dust. "To which I reply, O
prince,--kooch perwani. By the ordeals through which I have passed I
have come to learn that the treasures of this world are of no account.
Therefore is my philosophy to-day greater than your own. You wear costly
robes, I the loin cloth of the beggar. Kooch perwani; for when death
comes, we are equals. There is no pocket to a shroud."



VI. THE TIGER OF THE PATHANS

TOLD BY THE AFGHAN GENERAL


"In my case the philosophy of life is of the simplest," remarked the
Afghan general. "I neither crave the wealth of the prince, nor do I
inflict upon myself the mortifications of the ascetic. For the one rich
robes and the sceptre, for the other a loin cloth and a begging-bowl;
but for me the good sword that commands respect from my enemies,
confidence from my friends, and my due share of the good things of
existence. In this frame of mind I find the full measure of joy in each
day that passes."

He smiled the smile of the man contented with the world and with
himself, but there was the light of proud determination in his eyes that
belied the mere sybarite.

"Then for you the greatest good consists in the happiness you can snatch
from the passing hour," suggested the magistrate.

"That is so," concurred the soldier, "if to the word happiness you give
the right interpretation. To me the performance of one's present duty is
the only real thing that brings contentment. And duty need not always be
stern and forbidding; to laugh and play and be merry may, at the proper
time and in the proper circumstances, be a duty both to ourselves and
to others. When one lives philosophically for the present, he takes men
in all their moods and life in all its phases. The past is counted as
dead and to be forgotten, except for the experience gained to guide the
doing of the things that lie now to one's hand. The future is unseen,
but is none the less determined by our deeds, words, and thoughts of the
passing moment, each one of which, be it remembered, whether deed or
rash word, or unspoken thought, has consequences that are eternal."

"So for the man whose mind is thus attuned," again interposed the
magistrate, "the present becomes all supreme, shaped by the past,
shaping the future."

"Which means that destiny never degenerates into mere blind and helpless
fatalism," responded the Afghan. "To do the right now suffices to give
absolute trust in God for the hereafter. That is the key of destiny, and
each man holds it in his own keeping."

"A simple religion," smiled the Rajput.

"And therefore the best. It is the religion of Islam freed from all the
controversies of rival sects and over-learned mullahs. It is the
religion of my fathers and the religion of my youth, and in it I abide.
Let me tell you a story of the rough school in which I received my early
training and where such thoughts as these first began to sink deep into
my mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Have you ever heard of Shir Jumla Khan? No? Well, that is doubtless
because he has been dead for a full score of years, and because he held
his sway in a land remote from these plains of Hindustan, up in the
rugged mountains, where brave tribesmen guard the valleys which their
ancestors tilled, and yield allegiance to no one but their own
hereditary chieftains. Such was my country and my people, for I am proud
that in my veins runs the blood of the man who for a hundred miles
around my boyhood home was known as The Tiger of the Pathans. Behold in
me a grandson of Shir Jumla Khan."

The narrator folded his arms across his breast, in an attitude of quiet
dignity. After just a moment's pause he continued:

"We were all born fighters, the members of my clan, for during hundreds
of years many a swarming host had swept past the gateways of our
territory, Persians, Arabs, Afghans, Moguls, Turkmans, hordes of
fighting men of every race and tongue, sometimes marching south bent on
conquest, at other times returning to their homes laden with rich
spoils, and yet at other times defeated and broken, with enemies
pressing at their heels. And it was the patrimonial right of our tribe
to take toll from all alike, from victors and vanquished, from pursuers
and pursued.

"Sometimes an army would pass through our mountains under safe conduct
from all the tribes, and the price paid in money, horses, camels, and
cattle, cloths and other goods, would be divided among the several
clans. But in this practice there had grown to be more danger for
ourselves than from forays or assaults on passing enemies, because over
the division of the spoils there would be quarrelling, followed by
fighting, among the tribes. Thus had originated many a blood feud
enduring through many generations.

"In the early days of Shir Jumla Khan it had come about that several
rich caravans had fallen exclusively into his hands. With the money thus
provided by the bountifulness of Allah, he had been enabled to build for
himself a citadel that for vastness and security surpassed those of all
his rivals among the tribal chiefs. Within its wide walls were wells and
water tanks, gardens for the growing of fruits and vegetables,
warehouses for goods, granaries stored with barley, wheat, and dal,
stables for a hundred horses, sheds for the housing of cattle, sheep,
and camels, and dwelling places for a goodly multitude of armed men,
their wives and their children. And all of these things endure until
this day, for the fortress town amid the mountains built by my
grandsire, The Tiger of the Pathans, has ever remained unconquered and
unconquerable.

"But as Shir Jumla Khan grew rich in possessions and in power--for
scores of fighting men from afar were attracted to his service--at the
same time did his position among the tribesmen become one of increasing
isolation. All feared him and envied him, and fear and envy have ever
been breeders of hate. Yet was he a just and a benevolent man, honoured
and beloved by every one within his domain, where his slightest word was
gladly accepted law, not because of the might he wielded but because of
his fairness to all men.

"I was yet a young man when a widely spread plot among the rival
tribesmen to destroy Shir Jumla Khan's power had come to a head, and had
resulted in a determined and prolonged attack upon his citadel. Numbers
had told, our outlying fields had been devastated, our flocks and herds
driven away, and crowded within the walls of the fortress were refugees
from all the surrounding countryside. We had been cooped up through the
summer, we had lost our annual crops, and without the usual
replenishment granaries and warehouses were beginning to wear an empty
look, with but sorry promise for the winter. But, calm and undismayed,
his proud look and serene smile ever the same, Shir Jumla Khan continued
to feed the hungry host within his gates and now absolutely dependent
upon his protection.

"The coming of winter would mean for us some relief, for the first snows
would scatter the beleaguering hosts, sending them back to their own
valleys, and giving us the chance, in the intervals of the season's
storms, to make a few forays on our own account on neighbouring
communities, which, taken one at a time, would be pretty well at our
mercy. But if we reasoned in this wise so did our enemies; for it was
now toward the close of the month of August and redoubled efforts were
being put forth to accomplish the breaching of our walls, so that The
Tiger of the Pathans might be slain before there was the chance of his
fangs and claws again becoming dangerous.

"The tribesmen, no doubt by capture and enforced service, had secured
the help of some engineers versed in the methods of sieges and assaults
on fortified places as practised in Hindustan. At that time I had never
before seen a sabat, but now from our fortifications I beheld the
gradual extension, day by day, of a broad covered way, with bull-hide
roof stretched across the trench being dug, and effectually protecting
the labourers below from our guns and muskets and catapults. We had made
several sallies with a view to try and stop this work, but these had
only resulted in losses on our side out of all proportion to the
harassment and delay inflicted on the besiegers. So we could but
impotently watch the subtle and inexorable approach of the skilled men
who would eventually reach our walls, drive mines beneath them, and blow
us to perdition.

"Our one chance lay in the question of time. If the winter began early
we should be saved, but if the snows held off till late in the year it
looked as if our doom must be sealed.

"But quite unexpectedly a ray of hope came from another quarter.
Dissension had broken out in the ranks of our foes!

"The first word was brought to us by a deserter from the besiegers'
camp, who one night had crept up to the gateway of the fort and whined
for admittance, declaring that he had important news to tell and hoped
for a reward.

"I was with my grandfather when, awakened from his sleep, he listened to
the man's story. It told of a fierce quarrel the preceding evening
between two of the leading chieftains. They had been conversing alone in
one of their tents, when suddenly those without had heard angry words.
Then it would seem that the owner of the tent had sent for one of the
slippers which his visitor had left at the doorway, and with this had
administered five or six strokes over the head, driving his guest forth
insulted and disgraced. Every one in the camp was on the alert for
fighting in the morning.

"With a grim smile Shir Jumla Khan listened to this narrative. But he
made no comment; he merely issued instructions for the informer to be
fed and for the present closely guarded.

"But if there had been any lingering doubt as to the truth of the story,
confirmation came ere the breaking of the dawn. For we were once again
disturbed from our rest, this time by the noise of a great tumult in the
camp of the besiegers, loud shouting followed by the discharge of
muskets, the sounds gradually dying away in the distance as if a fight
and a pursuit had taken place. When day broke such indeed proved to be
the case; we could descry in the camp a row of tents thrown down and
dismantled, also dead or wounded men being brought in from the country
beyond, while away on a distant ridge was a considerable body of
tribesmen retreating toward their homes.

"At this sight joyful huzzas resounded through the fortress, and we did
indeed all feel that Allah, by disrupting the forces of the enemy, was
fighting on our side. And as I spread my prayer carpet, and prostrated
myself toward Mecca, the pious thought in my heart was one that had many
times been inculcated by my noble grandsire himself: 'Let the wise man
reflect that he can in no way succeed without the help of God Most
High.'

"During the day we took counsel as to the advisability of an attack on
the somewhat attenuated host without the walls. But from our posts of
observation we could see that every one in the camp was under arms and
on the alert, no doubt foreseeing that such an attempt was likely on our
part. So we concluded to let events develop, and contented ourselves
with watching the progress of the sabat. Here there was no relaxation of
endeavour, for the protected trench made a considerable advance ere the
sun once again sank over the western hills.

"Darkness had not long fallen when another bleating voice of a suppliant
for admittance was heard by the sentry at the gateway. Introduced to our
presence, the newcomer, a goatherd by his appearance, and with the signs
of travel on his garments, removed his head dress, untwisted the long
locks of hair bound according to custom around his head, and, producing
a small packet from the midst of his tresses, flung it on the floor. I
picked up the missive, and handed it to our chieftain.

"Shir Jumla Khan untied the packet, and produced therefrom a heavy gold
signet ring. While he was examining this, the seeming goatherd raised
his voice:

"'O prince of princes, protector of the poor and oppressed, by the token
in your hands know that I who wear this humble disguise am the son of
Mustafa Khan, thy brother chieftain, who craves a refuge within the
walls of this God-guarded citadel. I am empowered to propose terms which
will bring substantial reward for you and sure deliverance from the pack
of wolves yelping at your gates.'

"The youth soon convinced us that he was none other than he claimed to
be, an additional guarantee to the possession of the ring being afforded
by the full and detailed messages which he brought from his father. At
the council which followed I was privileged to be present. The son of
Mustafa Khan first recounted the story we already knew, of the deadly
insult inflicted on his father, and then told briefly the tale of the
morning flight and fight. His fleeing clansmen were now concealed in a
gorge not a mile away, some two hundred fighting men, and would be glad
to join their forces with those of Shir Jumla Khan, so that they might
wipe out the stain of the dishonour they had suffered. If the gates were
opened to them, they would come to the citadel that very night.

"But, watching my grandfather's face, I could see him smiling through
his beard.

"'I want no more mouths to feed, young man,' replied The Tiger of the
Pathans. 'But take this message to your sire. Let him come here, alone
and unattended, and thus serve as a hostage for his own good faith. Then
shall we two together concert a plan whereby an attack by his men from
the other side of the camp will be made at the same moment as a sortie
by my men on this side, so that together we shall crush our common enemy
as we would break a nut between two stones. I have spoken.'

"'But my mother,' faltered the youth, 'and my sister? They and two women
attendants are with my father, and he cannot leave them alone and
unprotected.'

"Shir Jumla Khan stroked his beard; the appeal was one that reached his
benignant heart.

"'How could they come here?' he asked, addressing the young man.

"'We have a camel with panniers. In that they escaped from the camp last
night. I myself could lead them hither.'

"'Then in the name of God let the women too come into this place of
refuge. You and your father, and the camel with the panniers, will be
admitted, if you can reach the gates before the breaking of the dawn.'

"'And a place of seclusion for the ladies?'

"'What need to ask that?' exclaimed my grandsire, abruptly and angrily.
'I will show the respect to Mustafa Khan's women which I should expect
him to show to mine. A house will be got ready ere you return.'

"And he waved the youth from his presence.

"I was at the gateway in the grey of the morrow's dawn when the
fugitives arrived--Mustafa Khan, a big burly figure wrapped in his camel
robe, the son still in the garments of a goatherd, and, led by him, a
camel from the back of which was slung panniers for women, one on each
side, enveloped in the usual coverings that safeguarded those within
from forbidden eyes.

"But although, both out of proper respect for women and in duty toward
our guests, I had not attempted to look at the camel or its burden,
having indeed inclined my head downward as the animal passed, yet as I
again raised my eyes did I involuntarily catch sight of a dainty white
hand and the gleam, through momentarily parted curtains, of a beautiful
face--that of a young girl, fair as a lily, sweet and innocent as the
half-opened blossom of a rose. And methought that, in her very childlike
innocence, as our eyes met for a single instant, she smiled into mine
ere she gathered together the curtain that hid the vision of loveliness
from my ravished gaze.

"My heart was hammering against my breast as I watched the father and
the brother, with the swaying camel, disappear under the archway of a
building sheltered by the encompassing wall of the fortress. This I knew
had been designated as the home of the refugees during their stay among
us, but never had I imagined that such a treasure was to be bestowed in
so rough a casket.

"All that day Mustafa Khan and my grandfather remained in close and
secret conclave. Again I occupied my time by watching the approaching
sabat. The work was progressing quicker than ever. At this rate, within
two or three days the covered trench would be within a short stone throw
of the fortress walls. After the evening meal I reported this position
of affairs to Shir Jumla Khan.

"He only smiled gently at me.

"'Rest easy in your mind,' he said. 'Everything is understood and
arranged between me and Mustafa Khan. On the day after to-morrow our
enemies will be delivered into our hands.'

"But that night sleep would not come to my eyes. The face of the
beautiful girl haunted me, and a great longing came over me to behold
her again. I even began to hope that the conjoining of our fortunes
might bring the damsel to me, to be the joy of my life and the pride of
my future home. Already I was framing in my heart the sentences
wherewith I would plead my cause after the battle was over, both with my
grandsire and with Mustafa Khan. And I vowed that, in the fighting to
come, I would do some deed of daring that would surely win the girl's
father to my side.

"Meanwhile I wandered around the battlements, and half unconsciously I
found myself on the walls at a place that surmounted the house which
sheltered my beloved, with her mother and their women attendants, God is
my witness, but I had no thought of profane prying, contrary alike to
the laws of the Prophet and to the laws of hospitality. But my eyes fell
on a beam of light coming from a tiny window niched deep down in a
recess of the building. And even as I saw this, there came to my ears a
faint, regular sound--a muffled 'tap, tap, tap.' Instantly every fibre
of my being was in a quiver.

"I know not what instincts guided me--to burst asunder the bonds both of
conventionality and of religion that might have restrained me, to make
suspicion of some vague unseen danger stifle within my breast every
tender thought of awakening love. But in my surge of excitement love and
faith were alike forgotten. I ran from the walls, and without consulting
anyone returned but a few minutes later with a coil of rope in my hands.
To fasten this to one of the parapets, to tie a few knots at intervals
so as to give me handhold and foothold--all this was the work of another
minute or two. Then, slowly and cautiously, hand under hand, I was
descending into the well-like recess toward the one tiny shaft of light
that pierced its black darkness.

"'Tap, tap, tap'--the mysterious sound grew more and more distinct as I
dropped down and down. Then, all of a sudden, the playing of a zither
and the full-throated song of a woman smote my ears, and I arrested my
descent. Almost could I have climbed back again, unseeing and ashamed.
But in a brief momentary interlude in the music I heard, loud and
unabashed now, the steady 'thump, thump, thump' as of a hammer, and
straightway I knew that the song and its accompaniment were but part of
some devilish plot--a means devised to muffle the sound of the other
operations, whatever these might be. In another moment I was abreast of
the window, small as a loophole for musketry, but all-sufficient for my
requirements, I had the rope twisted around my leg, and, secure against
slipping, I craned forward to peer inside.

"My irreverent eyes fell on no woman's face--the music was floating
upward from an adjoining chamber. But in the room into which I gazed was
a strange sight--four men stripped to the waist and toiling for all the
world like diggers of a well. The flagstones of the floor had been torn
up, and a great hollow cavern had been dug below. From this cavity two
of the figures were passing up baskets of mud and gravel, into the hands
of Mustafa Khan himself, who was bestowing the material around the walls
of the room. The fourth man, also in the pit that had been dug, was
tapping a long iron crowbar into a hole that had evidently been pierced
in the soft ground in the direction of the fortress wall.

"I knew little enough about engineering in those days, but it needed
only common sense for me to realize that the miscreant Mustafa had
betrayed our hospitality for no other purpose than to breach the walls
of the citadel. If there had been women in one pannier there had been
men in the other, and, to balance the camel's load, there had been
powder and tools for the nefarious task, the crowning achievement, no
doubt, of an elaborate conspiracy.

"But I lost no time then in trying to piece together the details of the
scheme. It was action that was needed now. So, just as silently and
cautiously as I had descended, I climbed back again by my rope and
regained the battlements. I paused just for a moment to listen to the
sweeping chords of the zither, played by no unskilled hand, and to the
rich notes of the woman's voice swelling into the midnight air. Then I
gathered the rope in my arms, and sought the sleeping quarters of my
grandfather.

"The old Tiger of the Pathans, as I knew well, was prepared to be
aroused at any hour of the night. Even his tulwar was buckled to his
belt when, in answer to my summons, he stepped forth into the outer
chamber. He listened to my eager story, peering at me the while from
beneath his shaggy eyebrows. But not even the twitching of a muscle in
his face betrayed surprise.

"At the close of my narrative he laid a kindly hand on my shoulder.

"'O son of my dead son,' he said gravely, 'if what you have seen
to-night be not a dream, then have you done me great service. But go now
and sleep, and prepare yourself for what is to come. Rest assured, more
than ever before, that Allah is on our side, and that, even as I said to
you last night, our enemies are being delivered into the hollow of our
hands.'

"But sleep still refused to come to me that night. The call for morning
prayer found me wide awake, turning over in my mind the many
perplexities of the situation. Had the quarrel in the camp of our
adversaries been nothing but a cunning pretence, the fight among the
tribesmen before the dawn a mere sham, even the gathering in of the
supposed dead and wounded an artful deception for our eyes, all
contrived so that this devil of devils, Mustafa Khan, should gain access
to the citadel with skilled sappers and mining munitions? And was the
youth who had played the part of a goatherd really a son of the man, or
a serpent-tongued liar, a chosen master of craft whose seeming
guilelessness had helped to delude us? It had been a crude first idea on
his part to suggest the admission as refugees of a swarm of armed men,
but, when this had failed, there had been glib readiness with the other
and more subtle plan that had so nearly succeeded. And as I reflected on
these things, I marked the young hypocrite for my own particular prey.

"During the morning hours I was surprised to see the two khans, guest
and host, betrayer and betrayed, walking around the gardens in seeming
amity. But after a time my grandsire beckoned me to his side.

"'This is a grandson of mine,' he said, presenting me to Mustafa Khan.
'He has reported to me that the sabat is approaching too close to your
present quarters, and that any explosion would endanger the members of
your household.'

"I saw the traitor pale under the quiet eye of The Tiger of the Pathans.

"'There will be no explosion to-day,' he stammered.

"'You seem to be fully and precisely acquainted with the plans of our
enemies. Nay, do not draw that sword by your side, Mustafa Khan. Look
behind you, man.'

"With haggard face now, Mustafa turned round. It was to see half a dozen
pikes pointed at his ribs. At a signal from their master a guard had
noiselessly drawn near.

"'You know what to do, jemadar,' said the old Tiger to the officer in
charge. There was a vicious smile now on his face, such as I had never
seen there before and never saw again--a savage curling of the upper lip
that showed the white fangs of the relentless hunting animal.

"And, prodded by the encircling spikes, Mustafa Khan went to his
doom--calmly and proudly erect, be it said, for a Pathan always knows
how to die with dignity and resignation to the will of God. Nor must we
forget that he was a brave man, for in coming to the citadel he had
boldly ventured his life on a desperate chance, and perfidy in the game
of war brings shame only when it meets with discomfiture. Peace be with
his soul!

"My grandsire and I were now alone.

"'You will let me fight that crawling snake, his son?' I cried, with a
gesture of appeal.

"'He is already carrion for the vultures,' was the reply. 'He was no son
of Mustafa Khan, just a low-born hireling schemer, and it needed only a
prod of the dagger to make him betray the whole plot, and whine for the
mercy which I would have scorned myself to bestow. The two skilled
sappers are still mining--under my directions this time. We shall make a
feint of a sally to-morrow morning at the hour prearranged by Mustafa
Khan with the tribesmen outside. But it is the sabat and its occupants
that will be blown into the sky, and not my good stout walls'--this last
with the old familiar smile, stern but pleasant to look upon.

"'And the girl who sang?' I ventured, falteringly.

"'She is safe in the protection of my home. On her rests no blame, for
in the part she played she was but obeying her father's bidding. Now,
that is all for the present. Keep your own counsel, and be with me
to-morrow at the dawn.'

"And with the dawn came the swarm of Mustafa Khan's clansmen, running
eagerly toward the opened gateway of the fort, with their fellow
conspirators shouting and shooting and waving their swords in pretended
pursuit. But just within the entrance were ranged a dozen guns and
arquebuses on swivels, loaded to their muzzles with slugs of iron. And
almost at the same moment as the rain of death mowed down the onrushing
horde, a great explosion shook the earth outside, and the fragments of a
hundred bodies blown from the sabat by our countermine filled the air.
Then indeed did our men-at-arms, footmen and horsemen, sally forth to
pursue with sword and spear their scattered and dismayed enemies,
sending scores to their deaths and the survivors scampering to their
dens among the mountains.

"And none ever again dared to attack my grandsire, The Tiger of the
Pathans."

       *       *       *       *       *

With a proud smile the Afghan surveyed his audience. No one ventured to
question him, yet there was a look of unsatisfied curiosity on more than
one face.

"Oh, yes," laughed the soldier, lightly, "I heard the fair zither player
and singer again--often again--in my own home."



VII. HER MOTHER LOVE

TOLD BY THE PHYSICIAN


By general although unspoken assent, the eyes of all the company were
now directed to the venerable hakeem, as if to invite from him the next
contribution to the night's entertainment. Meditatively for a moment the
man of medicine stroked the broad white beard that descended almost to
his girdle, and then began:

"Familiar to us all is the thought that death is but a birth into
another state of existence, whether that state be the eternal paradise
which is the final goal of every man's hopes, or merely another stage
thitherward. Death is a birth, the truth of which will more forcibly
appeal to our minds when we reflect also that birth is a death."

"How can that be, except for the still-born?" queried the astrologer.

The hakeem raised a hand deprecating the interruption.

"Nay, follow me in my argument," he continued quietly. "If death is a
birth, then is a birth truly death. For the babe has been living through
a prior stage of existence. To it the nine months passed in its mother's
womb may have meant a long span of life. For time is but a relative
term, and, measured against eternity, the whole period of man's sojourn
on earth, be it three score or four score years, is but as the puff of
a single breath. So the child in the womb lives there a full span of
existence; it is nurtured and it grows, it sleeps and it wakes, it lies
passive and it disports itself, it is sensitive to cold and to heat, to
thirst and to hunger, and God alone knows what it thinks and what mental
impressions it forms of the existence through which it is passing. And
the hour of its birth is truly the hour of its death, for in pain and
travail it is plucked from its warm and comfortable surroundings, and
with the shock of physical change and unseeing dread it cries aloud in
sharp anguish. Thus precisely do we ourselves die when we pass from this
world to another existence, physically and mentally resenting the harsh
change, terrified because of our very ignorance of what is really
happening."

The physician paused, amid a deep hush that bore eloquent testimony to
the impressiveness of the thought to which he had given utterance.

"But the parallel does not end here," he resumed.

"When the infant is born, then for the first time does it see face to
face the divinity who through all the preceding stage of its existence
has protected it, warmed it, and nourished it. In the presence of its
mother it is in the presence of the God who has hitherto enveloped it,
wholly and completely, in His own divine being. So when we die will we
be face to face with the now unseen God who everywhere encompasses us,
beholding Him at first only with the dazzled vision and dim
half-consciousness of the new-born babe, but growing to know Him and to
love Him as we have all known and loved the devoted mothers who bore us.
For mother love is man's first foretaste of God love, the full glory of
which we shall comprehend only when by death we are born into a higher
and more spacious sphere of existence."

There was another brief interval of silence, again unbroken by any
comment from the auditors. Then the hakeem continued in lighter tone:

"Now let me point my moral by telling you a story of a mother's supreme
devotion for her son.

       *       *       *       *       *

"At one time I practised my profession in the capital city of a state
ruled over by a maharajah, who, although he had been a brave and
honourable man in his prime, had degenerated into a mere voluptuary,
spending his days in the companionship of nautch girls and disreputable
men, indulging constantly in immoderate potations of strong wine, and
given at times to the use of bhang, which does more than anything else
to dull the faculties and deaden the conscience of the unfortunate who
surrenders himself to its seductive spells. The inevitable results were
for him the premature loss of health and strength, and for his people
misrule, extortion and widespread unhappiness.

"It happened that, after several Hindu physicians had failed to restore
their royal master from a fainting spell, I, a Moslem, was summoned in
haste to the palace. I carried with me a small jar containing a certain
pungent liquid, which I applied to the nostrils of my patient, with the
result that he was straightway brought back from seeming death to
consciousness of his surroundings. I take no special credit for
effecting this recovery, but the maharajah himself deemed me to be a
veritable worker of miracles, and, dismissing all his other doctors,
kept me thenceforth constantly by his side. From the first I knew, by
his trembling limbs and enfeebled condition, that death had marked him
for its own; but I could, at least, prepare aromatic drinks to mitigate
his pains and saffron meats to drive out the evil spirits that possessed
him.

"Thus did it come about that I gained the confidence of the maharajah,
and when it happened that one of his favourite wives had fallen into a
decline, and had begged for the services of a physician, the honourable
trust of ministering to her needs was confided to me. My examination of
the invalid was in accordance with the usual restrictions. Accompanied
by the feeble old maharajah himself, I was conducted to an apartment
across which a heavy curtain was suspended. After an interval of
waiting, the rustle of silken garments behind the purdah, followed by
the gentle sigh of a woman, told me that my patient had arrived. It was
the husband himself who bade her thrust her tongue through an orifice in
the curtain. My inspection of this member revealed no internal disorder,
and I requested from my master permission to touch the lady's hand so
that I might feel the pulsing of the blood in her veins. Not too
willingly he ordered her to push her arm through the opening.

"It was a dainty white hand, with many jewelled rings upon the taper
fingers, and the nails, as with all ladies of quality, dyed the deep
orange red of henna. Although I knew well that the jealously watchful
eyes of her lord were upon me, I made no hesitancy in encompassing the
wrist with my own fingers. But the little hand within mine was clenched
tight, and, the better to conduct my examination, I freed my fingers
from her wrist so as to straighten out hers as I required them. When I
attempted to do this, however, I was conscious of some resistance and
then of the presence of a small packet concealed in the palm of her
hand. With a flash of comprehension I knew that the package must be
intended to be conveyed to me surreptitiously, and, with no thought at
that critical moment of what the ulterior object might be, I aided the
act by a deft movement of my shoulder, which for a moment intercepted
the maharajah's gaze.

"In another second he could see my finger-tips lightly pressed on her
wrist, and her empty hand extended; but the package was safe in my other
hand, and not the quiver of a muscle on my face betrayed that anything
unusual had happened. Both to mask my feelings, and to give the lady
behind the curtain confidence that she could repose trust in my
discretion, I counted the pulse beats aloud.

"These indeed told me that the heart of my patient was beating at a mad
gallop, but this I divined was simply caused by the daring deed she had
essayed and successfully accomplished. I deemed it wise and prudent,
however, to announce that the lady was suffering from a fever, and that
I would send her a powder that would speedily restore her to good
health. At this the maharajah was sufficiently overjoyed to permit of my
withdrawal without obvious embarrassment. I had a smile upon my lips,
and the secret package secure in the folds of my girdle. A chuprassi
accompanied me to my home to bring back the medicine.

"I knew, of course, that it was only a dry powder that this high-born
Hindu lady could take from my dispensary, for to have swallowed a liquid
drug would have been a violation of her caste. I took pains to let the
chuprassi see that my hands did not touch the powder, which, after due
weighing, I bestowed in a paper carefully sealed, instructing him to
deliver it to no one but his highness the maharajah. It was only finely
ground sugar that the man carried away. But perhaps this is a harmless
little trick of my profession which even now I should not disclose."

But a general smile among the company showed the hakeem that his calling
was held in no undue reverence, at least by those without present need
of his ministrations.

"When I was alone with my mortars and my drugs," resumed the narrator,
"I lost no time in examining the mysterious packet. I unwound the silk
threads that tightly tied it, both to restrict its bulk and to render it
secure. Soon, to my amazement, I uncovered a string of ten pearls, of a
size and lustrous purity that bespoke a high value even to my untutored
eyes. Also there was a little seal of red chalcedony, with the antlered
head of a deer and some scroll of lettering engraved upon it; but there
was not one scrap of writing to explain to me the reason of these gifts.

"Had the lady, as often happens, imagined herself to be seriously sick,
and devised this plan of invoking my interest and most skilful services
on her behalf? But why, then, the seal, the value of which was quite
insignificant?

"Even as I was pondering these questions, there came a clapping of hands
at the gateway of my home that announced the arrival of a visitor.
Hastily concealing the pearls and the seal in my girdle, I stepped forth
into the outer court and took my seat upon the divan.

"Straightway there was ushered into my presence a big man clothed in
rich garments. His sable complexion and thick lips declared him to be a
moorman from across the seas, and his beardless chin further told at a
glance that he was an attendant at the seraglio of some rich noble.

"He salaamed me with the cool confidence of his kind, and, without
waiting for an invitation, seated himself on the carpet at my feet.

"'My name, O learned hakeem, is Malik Kafur,' he began in the shrill
treble voice I had anticipated, 'and you know why I come here.'

"As my knowledge had been taken for granted, I bowed in acquiescence.

"'But her highness said that you would first of all show me her signet
so as to prove that you are acting with her authority.'

"With all due gravity I produced the chalcedony seal from my belt, and,
without quitting hold, extended it for my visitor's inspection. There
was a swift gleam of recognition in his eyes.

"'That is right,' he murmured.

"'Then proceed,' I said, quietly. 'You can speak in the fullest
confidence.'

"'I have promised the maharanee that to-morrow, when the fourth of the
day is over, I shall conduct her into the bazaars. She bade me explain
her plans precisely, so that you in turn should know how to act. Well,
her highness will be, as usual, in her palankeen slung between two
mules. When we turn from the coppersmiths' bazaar into the secluded
bazaar where the money changers dwell, the two grooms in charge of the
mules will be assailed by budmashes and beaten with sticks. I, too, will
be knocked down and my clothes torn; but do not worry on my account.'

"I gave a cheerful nod to signify that his anxiety on this score might
be set at rest.

"'It will devolve on you to have two men ready to take advantage of the
confusion of the scuffle and lead away the mules with the palankeen,
conducting the maharanee to a place which she herself will indicate.
This you understand?'

"'I understand.'

"'At night, when I shall come to you again, under cover of the
darkness, you will pay over to me the agreed-upon price--the ten pearls
which her highness has placed in your custody.'

"'They are here,' I assented, holding aloft the little string of pearls,
the purpose they were intended to serve at last made clear to my
understanding.

"The eyes of the negro flashed with cupidity, and he reached forth a
big, fat, black hand.

"'I can be trusted to do my share of the task,' he said, eagerly. 'To
save trouble, let me be paid now.'

"'Not so, thou slave,' I replied, curtly and with authority, as I
returned the pearls to their place of safe-keeping. 'The price will be
paid when the service is performed. To-morrow night you will be
admitted, Malik Kafur, if you knock three times at my gate.'

"The fellow rose to his feet, with a servile and submissive smile, and,
by a wave of my hand, I dismissed him from my presence.

"Here, indeed, was an adventure thrust upon me, a man of peace and of
studious habits, who had ever shrunk from deeds of violence; but the
hand of fate was clearly beckoning me along the path of duty, and not
for a moment did I shrink from the dangers into which, perchance, I was
being hurried.

"For the maharajah, worthless, besotted, and on the verge of dishonoured
death, I could have no respect. For the lady of his household, who was
confiding to me her very life, whose soft hand I had touched with due
reverence, there was an instinctive feeling of sympathy. In her hour of
dire need, most likely of extreme danger, she had turned to me, a man
of staid repute and old enough, no doubt, to be her father. So this was
no affair of conjugal wrong, from which my religious scruples and my
abiding principles alike, would have repelled me. Clearly was I the
instrument in God's directing hand for some great happening, and it was
not for me, through thought of self or cowardice, to interpose obstacles
to the carrying out of the divine will.

"And as I thus ruminated there came from a minaret close by the call to
evening prayer. 'The world is but an hour,' I murmured to myself as I
spread my carpet; 'spend it in devotion, the rest is unseen.'

"On the morrow I was astir even before the morning call to prayer.
'Prayer is better than sleep'--I listened to the familiar cry of the
muezzin. But while again I prayed I felt that a good deed done may count
more for a man at the gates of Paradise than the record of many prayers.

"Full an hour before the appointed time I was at the corner of the
coppersmiths' and the money-changers' bazaars. Here I posted two of my
retainers, in whom I could place complete confidence. They had already
been instructed how to act when the proper moment arrived. For myself, I
sauntered through the crowded and noisy bazaar of the makers and menders
of copper vessels, so as not to attract undue attention. In my heart was
not one flutter of excitement or of uncertainty: I felt the quiet
confidence which in the crises of life comes to a man whose trust in
God the Most High is implicit.

"After a period of waiting there came into sight the huge black moorman,
in his hand a white wand of office, and, following close behind him, a
brilliantly decorated palankeen suspended between a pair of mules and
attended by two grooms, leading the animals. The throng had parted
before this little procession, averting their eyes from the covered
palankeen, as was beseeming.

"But suddenly, at the intersection of the two bazaars, a group of
loiterers sprang forward, and with cries assailed the moorman and the
grooms, turning the mules into the quieter thoroughfare. There I had now
posted myself, and, while the shopkeepers ran up the street to see what
had befallen, the cavalcade under my directions, and with my attendants
at the animals' heads, hurried along, and as we threaded our way through
the maze of streets the tumult of voices soon died away behind us.

"After a little time I ventured to approach the curtained palankin.

"I spoke just loud enough to be heard by its occupant:

"'May your day, O queen, be peaceful! Your servant, most humble and
devoted, awaits your orders.'

"'Peace be to thee, O thou trustful and brave hakeem. Take me to the
protection of thy wife and home.'

"It was a soft, melodious woman's voice that had spoken, tremblingly,
imploringly, and yet withal in a tone of authority.

"'As thou hast commanded, so shall it be done,' was my brief reply.

"After a little time the cavalcade, without any undue attention being
attracted, had passed through the gateway of my home, and the doors had
been barred behind us.

"To my surprise a gallant youth, some twelve years of age, sprang
through the momentarily parted curtains of the palankeen.

"'I salute thee, O hakeem, our deliverer,' he exclaimed, kissing the hem
of my robe. 'My royal mother is in the palankeen, and craves for
sanctuary in your zenana.'

"'Let her pass,' I replied, and I urged the docile mules toward the
second archway that led to the women's courtyard.

"At my bidding the inner gates opened, and they closed again when the
palankeen had entered.

"'Within is sanctuary for your royal mother, and here is sanctuary for
yourself, O prince,' I continued, with a profound obeisance, for,
despite the modest garments he wore, I had recognized the eldest royal
son of the maharajah, whom I had seen several times in his father's
presence, and on one occasion at an affair of state clad in a robe of
honour of silk and gold brocade, festoons of jewels around his neck, and
a tiny sword with scabbard of gold girt at his side.

"Having once more impressed secrecy on my attendants, and bidding them
give admission to no one, I led my young guest into an inner reception
room. There, in a few concise sentences, he told me his story.

"A plot had been hatched in the royal zenana that, just so soon as the
maharajah died, this youth, and seven or eight younger brothers, sons of
other wives, should be slain, so that the undisputed succession might
descend on one particular son, elder by several years, but not in the
regular line of succession because born of a slave mother. It was this
slave woman's brother who commanded the maharajah's bodyguard, and, in
collusion with his sister, had conceived the damnable conspiracy. Only
by the whisper of a woman who was close to the officer, but whose heart
was tender, had the mother of the young heir to the throne been warned.
With my aid, and that of the eunuch who had visited me the day before,
they had made their escape, the youth having been hidden in the
palankeen of his mother before the latter left the seraglio on one of
her occasional visits to the bazaars.

"Such was the story. Now the future had to be planned, for up to this
point the maharanee had acted blindly and impulsively--just swiftly--the
moment she had realized the supreme danger for her son. In the boy I
found high courage and a clear brain, and together we devised the
measures to be followed that would best allay suspicion as to the
whereabouts of the fugitives.

"As a first step I sallied forth as usual to pay my professional visit
on the maharajah a little before the noontide hour. Perhaps I felt
that, if by any chance suspicion had already alighted upon me, I was
taking my life in my hands by entering the palace; but, trusting to the
protection of Allah, I gave no second thought to any fear of this kind.

"I had not yet reached the palace gates when I encountered a messenger
running in hot haste to summon me. His highness the maharajah had been
seized with a fit, and the whole palace was in a turmoil.

"When I gained the royal apartment I saw at a glance that the sufferer
was beyond human aid. I could but watch the deep laboured breathing,
growing ever fainter and fainter, until the death-rattle in the throat
proclaimed the end.

"During that hour of watching my soul had been gravely perturbed, not
because of the dying debauchee, but in dread of sinister happenings in
the royal zenana when the news of the maharajah's demise should come to
be announced. But how was I to give warning without betraying to certain
death the youth and his mother who had sought sanctuary in my
defenceless home? For there, at the door of the sick room, stood the
captain of the king's bodyguard, Todar Rao, the very man who, I knew,
held his corrupt soldiery in leash for any villainy.

"Another high officer of the court, the diwan, had shared my vigil in
the death chamber, and just before the end came had informed me that it
was news of an attack by budmashes on one of the royal palankeens that
morning in the bazaars that had inflicted the fatal stroke upon his
master. But this treasurer was an aged man, who would have quailed under
the eye of the stern and relentless soldier keeping watch and ward at
the doorway, and, for all I knew, he, too, might be in the
conspiracy--indeed, his furtive glances and the nervous twitching of his
hands forewarned me of this danger.

"Surrounded by uncertainties, and utterly helpless in my isolation, I
could but drift whither the stream of destiny carried me.

"'The king is dead,' I announced, when the last flutter of the heart had
ceased. 'May God in His compassion give him peace.'

"The diwan summoned the captain of the bodyguard, and the latter, to
make certainty doubly sure, brutally shook the dead man by the shoulder.
I could see the savage gleam of satisfaction on his face when he threw
from him the already stiffening arm. The two men, in close conclave,
hastened from the chamber, and when the attendants set up the accustomed
cries of wailing I profited by the clamour and confusion to slip
discreetly from the palace and gain my own home.

"The terrible events of the next few days were, alas! just the same as
have befallen a hundred times on the passing of a king. The outside
world knew few details, but the news from the palace current in the
bazaars was that all the sons of the late maharajah had perished
excepting only the eldest. And this youth, although the whisper passed
freely that he was merely the son of a slave woman, duly ascended the
throne.

"Revolt by some of the nobles over such an indignity might come later
on. But meanwhile, at all events, the show of military power quelled all
opposition, while a judicious remission of taxes pleased the general
populace, and indeed caused them joyfully to acclaim the new maharajah
as he made a triumphal procession through the city, mounted on an
elephant caparisoned with cloth of gold and bedecked with silver chains
and bells, preceded by priests and the dancing girls of the temples, and
surrounded by troops, both horsemen and foot soldiers.

"Only I and the members of my household knew that the rightful heir to
the throne was alive and in safe hiding. For the moorman had never come
to claim his string of pearls, and it was not until some days later that
I had learned of his having been summarily dispatched by order of the
dead maharajah, in the latter's first paroxysm of anger over the
abduction of his favourite wife when visiting the bazaars. In this
opportune removal of a greedy hireling and possible traitor I once more
recognized the hand of Providence working for the noble woman whose
quick wit had aided mother love to save her son.

"A noble woman I have called her, and such indeed she was. For me the
maharanee had discarded the purdah, and in the sanctity of my harem,
with my wife as her devoted attendant, I was privileged to converse with
her hour after hour, gazing freely upon the most beautiful countenance
I had ever beheld--beautiful not only by reason of soft and rounded
features and the peach bloom of the skin, but also because of the
soul-lit eyes that illumined it with joyous radiance. For this queen
lived in her son, forgot every other sorrow in his safety, and now
experienced all the glowing pride of a leader on the field of battle in
planning the campaign for the vindication of his rightful claims to the
royal inheritance.

"Her first step had been to send secret word to her father--she was the
daughter of a mountain chieftain--bidding him to dispatch one of her
brothers to me as a trusted messenger. The distance was far, and three
months elapsed before the hillman arrived, a sturdy young fellow, serene
of eye, slow of speech, and muscled like a panther. He departed back
home again, carrying our tale by simple word of mouth for greater
security, and having concealed on his person some of the gems which the
maharanee had saved and which would be readily convertible into money.
Then, after a second interval of time, other tribesmen came sifting into
the city by twos and threes, until we had full fifty of the finest
material for a bodyguard a young prince could desire. These men were
quartered at different places in the vicinity of my home, armed and
ready for a general muster when the moment should be ripe for action.

"Meanwhile a widespread spirit of dissatisfaction with the new raj was
daily growing, and on every hand in the bazaars mutterings of trouble
began to be heard. The young ruler had proved to be a mere puppet in
the hands of his mother and uncle, who had not hesitated to advance
their base-born relatives and associates to places of highest honour and
emolument, thereby giving grievous offence among the families of proud
and ancient lineage, both Hindu and Moslem, which had hitherto supplied
the principal officers of state and had been the real buttresses of the
throne. Then, to fill full the measure of discontent, came ominous
rumours that the prince, although still a mere youth, had, like his
father, become addicted to the use of bhang and strong wines, and,
encouraged by a worthless following, was abandoning himself to all
manner of expensive debauchery. And when at last the screw of heavily
increased taxation gave proof to these stories the first timid whispers
of displeasure among the populace swelled to sullen and continuous
murmuring.

"For the true queen mother and her son the hour of destiny was
approaching!

"But, although the embers of revolt were ready to burst into flame at
the first fanning of a breeze, Todar Rao, now sirdar in command of the
whole army, still dominated the situation. At his slightest word the
mercenary soldiery under his control would have rushed into the bazaars
with sword and torch, like ravening wolves among sheep helpless to
defend themselves. As for the nobles, each surrounded by his own
bodyguard, they were torn into rival factions, the one jealously
watching the other lest open revolt should be made the excuse for
usurpation of the throne by the strongest and best prepared among them.

"In these circumstances it would have been fatal to let word go forth
prematurely that the rightful heir was alive, for disappointed ambitions
among the feudal lords might have become an added danger to the fury of
the sirdar. But any prolonged delay would also be disastrous, for it was
only now that the boy prince would be recognized and received as the
undoubted heir to his father's throne; a few years later he would, to a
certainty, be looked at askance as a mere pretender--a pawn in the game
of some unscrupulous king-maker playing for his own aggrandizement.

"It was the maharanee who devised the bold stroke which involved
undoubted danger yet promised the best chance of success. Her idea was
to take the whole court unawares at one and the same moment, so that the
nobles might have presented to them, not only a common rallying-point
for loyalty, but the chance by united action to break for all time the
hated military power of the slave-born sirdar.

"It was the appointed day when the recently installed maharajah,
according to custom immemorial, was to be publicly weighed, and the gold
he counterbalanced distributed in charity. In the great courtyard of the
palace all the people were assembled, nobles and officers of state,
soldiers and traders, rich and poor, among the latter the halt, the
blind and the maimed, the deformed and the leprous, in pitiful evidence
as fitting objects for a share of the promised bounty. On a raised
dais, seated upon a throne covered with cloth of gold, and sheltered by
a canopy and awnings of crimson brocade, sat the reigning maharajah, a
puny and sickly-looking stripling.

"Before the main ceremony of the day, heralds had announced that the
sovereign was prepared to listen to any grievances or complaints from
his people. For a few minutes no one came forward, but at last a pair of
sleek mules, handsomely caparisoned, with a richly adorned palankeen
slung between them, the identical equipage of the maharanee which had
been harboured in my home, emerged from the crowd, and advanced at a
grave pace toward the royal dais. That some high-born lady was within
the silken coverings of the palankeen every one surmised, and at this
extraordinary spectacle a hush of tense expectancy fell upon the
assemblage.

"But the silence changed to murmurs of amazement and admiration when a
queenly woman stepped upon the edge of the dais, and faced, not the
maharajah on his throne, but the nobles and courtiers and officers
clustered around.

"With a proud gesture she flung even the sari from her face, which the
play of the sunbeams among the jewels in her hair and around her neck
invested with a shimmering halo of radiance. On such a woman's face the
multitude had never looked before. But stately and unabashed, serene in
the purity of her womanhood, the dignity of her motherhood, and the
majesty of her rank, she raised aloft a hand, and spake aloud in tones
clear as the notes of a silver trumpet.

"'O nobles and O people, the royal son and heir of my husband, the late
maharajah, is alive, spared by divine Providence from the massacre of
his brothers and playmates in the seraglio of the palace. Many of you
know him well, and behold now he comes to claim his heritage.'

"As these words were spoken, the crowd again parted, and there stepped
forth the young prince, my protégé. At the edge of the throng he
discarded a loose mantle of cotton that had concealed the rich garments
befitting his rank. Then he advanced, looking proudly and gaily about
him, while close behind, and pressing eagerly around his person, came
full fifty stalwart tribesmen, treading with the bold swinging gait of
the mountaineer, their drawn tulwars flashing in the sun, their voices
shouting 'Jai, jai,--Hail, hail!' in deafening chorus.

"The effect was instantaneous and tremendous, and from all the assembled
multitude went up the loud acclaim--'Jai, jai, jai!' There seemed to be
not a dissentient in the throng. And a moment later the young prince was
standing on the dais by his mother's side, one hand resting proudly on
her shoulder.

"Among the nobles there had hitherto been the silence of stupefaction.
But at last, one of their number, an elderly man, advanced, and
prostrated himself on the rich carpet spread in front of the dais, thus
rendering public homage to his rightful king. 'Jai, jai, jai!' shouted
the mob, and soon a dozen others among the nobles had given the pledge
of fealty.

"Meanwhile the kinglet on the throne of gold had been forgotten. He had
made no move, but had contented himself with staring around in confused
and helpless surprise. But now Todar Rao, the sirdar, had sprung to his
side and dragged the youth to his feet.

"'O princes and people, this is your rightful king,' cried the soldier
in stentorian tones, 'crowned and proclaimed and accepted by your
pledges of loyalty. My orders to the troops are death to those who now
betray him.'

"But the words had hardly passed his lips, when two score of the
mountaineers, shouting 'Deen, deen,--Kill, kill,' had swarmed over the
silver railings surrounding the throne. There was the momentary clash of
steel on steel, the impotent curse of an angry man, a shrill pitiful cry
of anguish from the youth who in his terror had crouched behind the
awnings descending from the canopy. And when the tribesmen again faced
the multitude, the soldierly figure of Todar Rao had disappeared, and
the throne was vacant for the reception of its rightful occupant.

"Amidst a wild tumult of joy the young prince ascended from the dais and
took the royal seat, showing in his every movement the natural grace and
dignity that might almost in themselves have proved his right of
heritage, and that certainly won to his cause the last waverers among
the onlooking multitude. Even the bodyguard of the slain sirdar were
now joining in the universal acclaim.

"The first to bend a knee to the rightful king enthroned was the royal
queen, his mother. And then the lady stepped back, a little to the rear
and to the side of the throne, drawing her silken sari over the lovely
countenance that would never again be beholden by the people.

"'Never again!' The thought had scarce passed through my mind, as I
watched the scene from the fringe of the crowd, when a more grim and
terrible reality was given to the unspoken words than I had ever
intended. Close to the spot where the maharanee had halted were some
hangings of brocade arranged, as we understood later, so that the seated
and veiled figure of a woman might observe the brilliant pageantry of
the day from the privacy of this purdah.

"And from out these hangings there now stretched, stealthily but
swiftly, a bejewelled hand, which plunged a long dagger between the
shoulders of the queen mother.

"Without a cry she fell. I was quickly by her side, and the young
maharajah and myself, as we bent over her, caught her dying words.

"'All is well, my beloved son,' she murmured. 'I have accomplished that
which I was sent into the world to perform. In peace I yield my soul to
God.'

"With the last word she breathed her last breath. And such is mother
love."

There was a suppressed sob in more than one breast at the close of the
venerable hakeem's tale. Down his own furrowed face the tears were
streaming.

"And the woman who struck the foul blow?" inquired the Afghan in an
eager whisper.

"The slave mother of the dead pretender. Well, she too had given her all
for mother love. The tribesmen tore her limb from limb."

And the hakeem pressed a hand to his eyes to shut out the memory of a
dreadful scene.



VIII. THE SACRED PICKAXE

TOLD BY THE MAGISTRATE


The first wolf-grey of the dawn was creeping over the scene, and turning
to a sickly yellow the flare of the little oil lamps arranged around the
veranda. The morning air bit shrewdly, and more than one of the seated
or reclining figures had gathered his robes more closely around him. All
eyes were now turned on the kotwal. He alone of the company had not
contributed from his store of experiences.

"Methinks it is too late for any more story-telling," he protested
diffidently, with gesture and glance toward the east in token that he
spoke truly.

"Nay, nay," cried the Rajput, "this night will not be complete without
the full measure of our entertainment. Come, come, friend; the sun is
yet an hour below the horizon."

Murmurs of approval showed that the general wish had been interpreted.

"Be it so, then," assented the magistrate. "I have heard so many stories
this night that it would indeed be churlish on my part to refuse to give
you one of mine. Well, listen.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Know, my friends, that I am a district judge in Delhi, presiding over
that quarter known as the Bara Bazaar, where the merchants most do
congregate. One day some few years ago it befell that I was seated alone
in the hall where I hold my court. It was the afternoon hour, all the
suits of the day had been disposed of, punishment had been meted out to
those who deserved it, justice had been done to rich and poor alike, in
accordance with the orders of our most righteous master Akbar, to whom
be all honour and glory.

"I had taken from my garments my silver betel-nut box, and was leisurely
spreading on a leaf the smear of lime preparatory to enjoying my pan
supari, musing the while on the strange little ironies of life that came
to my knowledge each day in the discharge of my magisterial functions.
All at once a shadow from the open doorway fell across the room. Raising
my eyes, I beheld the tall figure of a man. On meeting my look he bowed
his body, and with both hands outstretched, courteously salaamed me.

"'Protector of the poor, listen to my story,' he said.

"In silence, while I adjusted the fragments of betel-nut on the limed
leaf and rolled up the morsel, I motioned him to a place on the edge of
the carpet whereon I myself sat. For my first glance had shown me that
the stranger was a man of consequence, his garments being rich and his
look that of one accustomed to the exercise of authority.

"He took his seat, and arranged his flowing and finely embroidered robes
around him. I proffered him the pan supari I had prepared, but with a
wave of the hand he declined this courtesy. So I placed the morsel in my
own mouth, fell to its meditative mastication, and awaited the beginning
of his tale.

"'I am a well-to-do traveller, as you would think. O kadi--a pilgrim on
my way to the sacred shrine of Juggernaut, as I profess myself to all
who make inquiry and to whom an answer is due. But I am not what I
appear to be. In reality you behold in me--a thug.'

"The man lowered his voice mysteriously when he pronounced the last
word, bending forward so that I might hear it.

"'And what may be a thug?' I asked, for the name to me was quite a new
one.

"'Listen,' he said eagerly, and still in a low whisper. 'The thugs are
worshippers of Bowani.'

"'There are countless thousands who worship Kali, the dread goddess,' I
replied.

"'Yes, but we, the thugs, not only worship her as the wife of Siva, god
of destruction, but we are her devoted priests who put men to death in
her name and for her glory.'

"Now indeed did I prick up my ears and listen intently. But I did not
suffer my awakened interest to betray itself in look or tone of voice.

"'Some fanatics may seek to justify human sacrifice,' I said. I was
treading cautiously; later I would tell the man that such foul deeds
were against the decrees of Akbar, and involved the penalty of death
under the feet of elephants. But meanwhile I wanted his confession.

"'Ah, you know nothing about the thugs,' continued the stranger. 'But
hearken to me, for I have come to tell you all, and for a reason you
will presently understand. We are thousands strong, and we live in all
parts of Hindustan and the Deccan. We are caste brothers, and are bound
together by our worship of Bowani. The traditions of our creed have been
handed down for generations from father to son. You have never heard of
the thugs, O kadi, although you sit in the place of justice. Do you know
why? Because I am the very first of the sect who has broken his vows of
silence, and spoken the word thug to one outside our secret
association.'

"'Yet you say you are thousands strong.'

"'Yes, we are strong in numbers, but stronger still in our fidelity to
our vows. When once we have sworn on the sacred pickaxe, it is
impossible to speak words of treachery.'

"'If it be for the good and happiness of all men,' I interpolated,
encouraging him to keep on speaking freely, 'there can be no treachery,
no breaking of vows in revealing the truth.'

"'It is to reveal the truth that I have come to you. It is by the orders
of Bowani herself; for I have wronged her, and she is angry and has
loudly proclaimed to me that thuggee is ended--that her protection is
for ever withdrawn from me and my fellows, because, O misery, we have
grievously offended her. Hark! Do you not hear the voice of Bowani even
now?'

"The man raised his face toward the rafters of the room, and, with right
hand uplifted, his attitude was one of intent listening.

"'Unworthy, unworthy, unworthy,' he murmured, in a strange absent
monotone, as if repeating words he was actually hearing. 'You have
broken my laws. Go now to your doom, you and all your brothers. Such
priests Kali will not have. Thuggee is no more. I will seek some other
worshippers.'

"After a pause of tense silence, as if the listener was awaiting for
more, he dropped hand and eyes. And now my mind took a new turn of
thought. There was the confused, unmistakable glare of insanity in the
man's eyes. Half unconsciously, I leaned back on my cushions and placed
a hand upon the dagger in my kummerbund.

"The stranger noticed the movement, and, lunatic though he undoubtedly
appeared to be, interpreted my thoughts.

"'Be not afraid of me, master,' he said. 'This is the only weapon I
carry.'

"And with these words he slipped off a silken scarf that he had been
wearing loosely around his throat, and tossed it on the carpet between
us.

"Now was I all the more confirmed in my estimate of his madness. To call
such a thing a weapon!--a strip of soft fabric that might kill a
butterfly but would be poor defence indeed to rely on against sword or
dagger. I suppose I smiled contemptuously, for again the man read my
thoughts.

"Then instantly did he do a thing that made my blood run cold. With a
toss of the scarf into the air, he formed it into a noose, and this he
threw over one upbended knee. Next with a swift twist of fierce hands he
drew the knot tight, and so terribly realistic was his action that for
the moment I saw above his knee the contorted mouth and protruding eyes
of his suddenly strangled victim.

"There was horror in my gaze now, but only calm professional pride in
his, as he flung back the still looped and knotted kerchief on to the
carpet.

"'Yes, I am a strangler,' he said calmly, 'as are all the thugs, born to
become stranglers, and taught how to use the roomal in early youth by
their own fathers' hands.'

"Of strangling as a means of murder I of course knew, and, indeed,
during the years of my magistracy, I had heard vague rumours of robbers
habitually resorting to this method of dispatching their victims rather
than to clubs or swords. But such appalling dexterity as this man
displayed in the handling of an innocent-looking silken scarf I had
never imagined.

"'You look dismayed,' commented the miscreant, no longer a madman now to
my thinking, but a very dangerous character indeed. 'I am not surprised.
Now prepare yourself for a story that will freeze the very marrow in
your bones. Know that I am from Daibul, the city by the sea where great
Mother Indus flows into the black waters. There for six months of the
year, just before and during the season of the monsoon, I live
peacefully in my home, doing no wrong to my fellows, in the eyes of all
my neighbours a man of wealth and respectability, who goes periodically
to his own country to draw rents from his lands. Little do my friends
know that when I do travel it is to worship Bowani by sacrificing to her
other travellers on the road. She gives us the omen to kill and we obey
her. Once the omen has been declared, it would be sacrilege not to kill
her destined victim.'

"'And you rob them too?' I asked discreetly.

"'Oh, naturally. But that is a mere incident. We kill those marked for
death by our divine Kali, and she freely bestows on us the wealth of her
victims. But we never kill to rob. That would be truly abominable. We
kill only in honour of Kali, of Bowani, the all-mighty, great Mother of
the Universe. For to her devout worshippers, the thugs, did she not give
one of her teeth for a pickaxe, a rib for a knife, and the hem of her
lower garment for a noose? So we strangle in her service, and with every
victim the act becomes more and more a delight to the soul.' As he
spoke, his muscular fingers and wrists automatically went through the
motions of tying and drawing the fatal noose. 'Once a man has become a
thug, he will remain a thug all the rest of his days. Even if he come to
possess the wealth of the world, he will continue to serve Bowani.'

"I had regained my momentarily disturbed composure, and was studying the
face of the man before me. It was a fine face, clear-cut, that of a
clean liver, unmarked by sensuality, unharmed by wine, keen of
intelligence, resolute of will. I could no longer deem him a madman. But
I saw I had to do with one so filled with fanaticism that he could look
upon murder as religion, plan it without misgiving, execute it without
pity, and remember it without remorse. But now there had occurred
something so to upset his mental balance that he feared the wrath of his
own goddess and fancied he heard her threatening voice in the air.

"'You have journeyed to Delhi from Daibul?' I asked, prompting him to
resume his story.

"'Yes, we were six thugs at the start, with fifteen others, merchants
and pilgrims, all of us agreeing to journey together for greater
protection on the road. As we proceeded day by day more travellers
joined us, some peaceful voyagers, the others thugs to a man. Of the
latter several were our own inveiglers, who had gone on in advance to
gain the confidence of likely victims and delay them until our coming.
The rest were strangers to us, yet none the less thugs. For we had left
signs on the road telling such as could read them that more help was
needed and in what direction we were moving; and, although those who
responded to this call were in varied disguises, one, perhaps, coming up
to us as a petty chief with a mounted escort, another as a merchant with
a bullock cart to draw his packages of goods and a servant in
attendance, yet another as a juggler or a musician, we could instantly
recognize them as belonging to our brotherhood of Bowani by the secret
signals with which they introduced themselves.

"'So we fared onward, increasing our numbers until our caravan was full
one hundred strong. We walked or rode together, ate together, worshipped
at the wayside shrines together, chatted and amused ourselves at night
around the camp fire, slept side by side, thugs and our intended
victims, until our strength should be sufficient and a suitable place
for the final deed attained.

"'At last these two requirements were satisfied. We were now three to
one, just the proper proportion--a strangler to use the roomal, a holder
of legs, and a holder of arms, three thugs for each man to be
sacrificed, so that there could be no mistake, no outcry for help, no
possibility of escape for our victims. And one day's journey ahead, as
we knew well from previous experience, there was a lonely gorge densely
grown with jungle. Here the sacrifice to Bowani would be consummated, so
the grave-choosers and the grave-diggers were sent on in advance. We
acted now with the certainty of good fortune, for day by day every omen
had continued to be propitious, as interpreted by the movements and
cries of beasts and birds.'

"The man's story fell on my ears in an even flow. He spoke without
emotion. I feared to interrupt with a single word, lest any untoward
comment from me should put an abrupt end to the appalling confession. So
I just listened while I chewed my betel-nut.

"'On the succeeding night,' continued the thug, 'we reached the nullah.
The camp fire was lighted the bullocks and riding ponies were placed
within the circle formed of the carts, for the gorge beneath us was full
of wild beasts, and we had even heard the roar of a tiger disturbed from
his hunting. The bales and boxes of merchandise had been piled up in
heaps, close to where each of the owners would sleep, some on the open
ground, some in tents erected by their servants. The evening meal had
been cooked and eaten. The half-moon had risen, and at a little distance
from the fire a troupe of musicians was performing--zithers were
playing, cymbals clanking, tum-tums beating. From the peculiar rhythm of
the drums, which all we thugs knew well, we were made aware that the
appointed hour had come.

"'Our leader stood in the midst of the gathering, ostensibly warming his
hands at the blaze of the fire. Gradually and naturally we took our
appointed places, many of them customarily taken before this night so as
to excite no suspicion at the final moment. And little did the destined
victims of Bowani dream that behind each of them now was an accomplished
strangler, with the roomal ready to his hands, while on either side
squatted a holder of legs and a holder of arms.

"'Then there happened a thing that will explain, O kadi, why I have come
to you this day to tell my story. I am an adept in my craft, and
therefore was one of those entrusted to use the roomal. My particular
victim was a comely youth, perhaps seventeen years of age--son of a
landowner, he had told me in confidence, travelling with a bag of gold
mohurs for his father. This lad had been in my close companionship
during the journey, and he had come to show great affection for me. I
liked him well, but there was no pity in my heart, for it is good to die
in honour of Bowani.

"'At last came the signal of death--the jhirnee we call it. Our leader
raised aloft his right hand, and said aloud so that all could hear the
agreed-upon words: "The moon shines bright to-night." This was our
command to act, and in an instant every appointed victim was in the
death throes. Five minutes later all were dead--four-and-thirty of
them--and not one faintest cry of alarm or of agony had been uttered.
Thus skilfully had our work been done. When all was over, the musicians
were still playing their stringed instruments and hand-drums, softly now
after a great volume of sound that would have overwhelmed any chance
scream of terror.

"'But in the very act of strangling, a dreadful revelation had come to
me. Just before the signal was given the lad had turned his countenance
toward me, and his eyes were looking into mine. In his fixed regard, as
I realized later, there was the glow of love. But this was transformed
of an instant into affrighted horror, as my hand at his ear gave the
noose the deft and fatal twist. In the space of a single heart-beat, I
saw incredulity change to the realization of sudden death, the first
wild appeal for pity turn into rigid despair. But this momentary flash
of revelation had shown me something else. It was a maid into whose
soul I had gazed. I had put to death a woman.'

"Now for the first time in his narrative did the strangler betray
emotion. Bending forward, he raised a hand to shield his quivering
features from my scrutiny. I turned away, that he might the better
recover himself. After a little time he resumed:

"'Oh, the horror of it!' he cried, uplifting haggard eyes to mine. 'The
frightful crime against Bowani! To have killed one of her own sex! For a
thug there is no crime in all the world to equal this one. Too late I
realized what I had done. But in my first impulse of fear I resolved to
keep the dread secret to myself. With my own hands I rifled the body,
and laid the spoil of gold and other valuables on the cotton cloth
outspread in the moonlight for the reception of such gifts to the
goddess. I removed the outer garments, robes of cost, silken, and
heavily wrought with gold. Then, when the grave-diggers emerged from the
nullah to show us the places of burial prepared, one for each victim, in
my own arms I carried the body down into the darkness, laid it in its
narrow bed, filled in the sand, and heaped on top the stones already
gathered together in a pile, so that hyenas or jackals should not
disturb the grave, finally covering all with brushwood cut and ready,
that even the signs of recent excavation should be hidden from prying
eyes and the sacrifice to Bowani disclosed to none besides her votaries.

"'I kept my secret--the terrible knowledge that a woman had died at our
hands. By the morning dawn the spoil had been divided, and our
cavalcade, smaller now by nearly one-third, moved on. At the first
cross-roads we split up into several groups, and later on into smaller
parties still, so as to divert attention from us. And thus have I come
on to Delhi, only I and one other member of that body of thugs,
dispersed to assemble again as the omens of the goddess should direct.
At Delhi we two await another gathering of thugs. But meanwhile my heavy
secret has weighed upon my soul. I have heard incessantly, these last
few days and nights, Bowani denouncing me as false to her because I have
taken the life of a woman in her name, and bidding me hand over all the
thugs to the justice of Akbar. Therefore have I come first to you, O
kadi, one of the judges of Akbar.'

"I looked steadily at the man. Methought I saw once more the furtive,
shifty eyes of the maniac.

"'What proof have you of this story?' I asked.

"'Take some sowars, and ride back with me three days' journey. There
will I show you the graves of these last victims, and of some hundreds
of others buried on previous occasions in the same gorge.'

"'Where is your companion--your brother thug?'

"'He has a shop at the corner of the Chota Bazaar and Dhurmtola. There
he is now selling his merchandise.'

"'But that is the shop of Kubar Bux. He dwells here in Delhi.'

"'Kubar Bux is his name.'

"'He is a well-known and respected merchant.'

"'None the less is he a thug,' answered the informer, with what I took
to be a vindictive little smile.

"Then once again did a new thought leap into my mind. This man might
have a feud with Kubar Bux, and peradventure he had merely invented the
story of thugs and wholesale murder for the latter's undoing. I know
well the wily ways of some men--how they will even imperil their own
lives to compass the ruin of an enemy.

"'If I go with you now,' I said, 'to the shop of Kubar Bux, what proof
will you give me of his connexion with this story of thuggee?'

"'On his person he carries the sacred pickaxe of Bowani, which makes him
our leader when thugs come together. And hidden in one of his bales of
silk you will find a case of jewelled rings that actually belonged to
another Delhi merchant, who was of the party of travellers that recently
perished, on his way home from a visit to Baroda. You will but have to
inquire as to this same merchant's disappearance, and get his relatives
to identify the casket as the dead man's property.'

"'That, indeed, will be proof,' I assented. 'Come, let us go to the
Chota Bazaar.'

"As we passed out of the courthouse, I signalled to two sepoys on guard
there to follow us.

"Keeping close to the denouncer, I allowed him to lead me through the
narrow crowded streets. Soon we were at the corner where was the shop of
Kubar Bux, and there amidst his bales of merchandise the man himself
was seated, a venerable and dignified figure. Yet at sight of me and my
companion I thought an ashen pallor stole into the nut-brown of his
complexion.

"As I stood with the informer in front of the tiny shop, which was too
small for all of us to enter, the two soldiers closed up behind us. Then
unmistakably did Kubar Bux turn grey from trepidation.

"'Kubar Bux,' I began, without ceremony, for I saw that a crowd would
soon be gathering, 'open the bale of silk among your merchandise in
which a casket of jewels is hidden, or I shall order your shop to be
searched by the sepoys I have brought here with me.'

"The merchant rose to his feet. I noticed now, further back in the shop,
another figure seated--that of a man who, on our entry, had drawn his
garments around him so as to conceal his face. But to him at the moment
I gave no particular attention. My eyes were on Kubar Bux. He moved
toward a pile of fabrics, silks and embroidered cloths, as if to comply
with my demand. He pressed against the bales, and then all of a sudden
sank down upon the floor in a huddled heap. Then I saw the crimson stain
of blood upon the merchandise.

"I sprang forward. Driven up to the very hilt, in the breast of Kubar
Bux was a dagger. He was not quite dead, and I heard him with his last
breath murmur the words: 'Bowani, great goddess, all hail!' Then with a
rattle in his throat he died.

"I had gathered the dying man in my arms, and now beneath the flowing
garments, laid flat against the breast, I could feel the shape of
something fashioned like a small pickaxe.

"When I saw that Kubar Bux was indeed dead, I drew forth this implement.
It was carefully swathed in white cloths, a pickaxe bright from the
hammer of the smith who had forged it, unsullied by earthy stain but
curiously marked from the head to the point by seven discs of red paint,
showing it to be an object of worship at an altar rather than for actual
use in the ground. But at this stage I did not pause further to
investigate, and hastily replaced the wrappings.

"'Keep close guard on this man,' I said to the sepoys, pointing to the
informer. But he whom I would thus hold safe remained standing
impassively, making no attempt to escape.

"Then with a push of my hands I tumbled down the pile of bales. In the
one next to the bottom was a protuberance, and from this I drew forth a
casket of silver, delicately chased and inlaid with ivory.

"By this time a throng of passers-by had stopped outside the shop, and
some had even crowded into the little place. But these I now ordered
out. Then I turned to seek the man who had been Kubar Bux's companion at
the moment of our coming. He was no longer there. The shop was
tenantless--except for myself and the dead man.

"I need tell but little more. The silver box was identified by several
people as the property of Govind Chung, a jewel-seller in the Bara
Bazaar, who had made a recent journey to the court of the Rajah of
Baroda, but had not yet returned home, although for some time expected.

"That night the paint-bedaubed pickaxe, sacred emblem of Kali's worship,
lay on the table in my sleeping chamber. But in the morning it had
disappeared--gone how and where no one has ever discovered. The informer
had been confined in the public prison, guarded by two sepoys. Thither,
on discovering my loss, I straightway repaired.

"The soldiers were still on guard in the corridor; nothing had happened
during the night to disturb their watch.

"But within his cell the informer was found dead--strangled, eyes and
tongue protruding from blackened face, the twisted knot under his ear
tied in the very manner I had seen him himself tie it over his upraised
knee on the afternoon of his confession.

"That is the end of my story."

       *       *       *       *       *

The narrator of the grim tale folded his hands across his breast, bowed
his head, and thus remained in an attitude of meditation. There was an
interval of silence.

"Who murdered the informer?" at last asked the astrologer.

"We never learned," replied the magistrate.

"Was he strangled with his own silken scarf?"

"No. A plain cotton loin-cloth had been used for the deed. It had never
been worn or washed. It must thus have come straight from some shop in
the bazaars. But scores of the same kind are bought and sold every day.
We could discover nothing from this, the only clue the murderer had left
behind him."

"The assassin must have been the mysterious individual you saw in the
rear of the shop of Kubar Bux," commented the Afghan general. "Himself a
member of the thug fraternity, he no doubt took swift vengeance on the
informer for having betrayed its secrets."

"As I believed then, and believe now. But the whole affair remained a
puzzle. For how was access gained to the locked and guarded prison cell,
and to my sleeping chamber as well whence the sacred pickaxe was
stolen?"

"Well, who can be certain even of his associates or followers? According
to the miscreant's own story, there are thugs all around, knowing each
other but not known to us."

"Can such things be?" asked the merchant, his eyes showing the fear and
horror that had smitten him. "Many times have I travelled in company
with just such a promiscuously gathered crowd as the strangler
described."

"You have been in luck," laughed the Afghan.

"Doubtless on those occasions the omens proved unpropitious for the
final deed. A jackal crossing the road or the hoot of an owl at midnight
may have spared your life, my friend."

With a shudder, the trader drew his white garments more closely around
him.

"Well," remarked the magistrate, "for my own part, ever from that day
when I heard the story of thugs and thuggee I have exercised the
precaution of never travelling a single mile on the road with strangers,
however fair-spoken. Although I have never again met anyone whom I could
positively accuse of such practices, that the evil exists in our midst,
and is widely spread, I am convinced. For a religion that provides a
rich livelihood, while at the same time exalting the attendant crime
into positive virtue is at least convenient enough to have many ardent
devotees." The words were accompanied by a glance around the listening
group, and a disdainful half-smile that expressed distrust of all
humanity.

"But of a truth," he went on, "I know no more than my story has told.
And hark! There is the trumpet call that heralds the coming of the sun."

Saying this, the kotwal uncrossed his legs and rose erect.

The long winding note of a horn was floating from the camp of the
soldiery near the city gateway, and in a moment there came from the same
direction the confused sound of men's voices afar off, calling the one
to the other.

"I must away," exclaimed the Afghan, springing alertly to his feet, and
buckling his sword belt. Three or four servants of the Rajput chief had
approached, and were gathering together the cushions and rugs on which
he had been reclining. One of them placed in his master's hand the
bejewelled hilt of his scimitar.

"This for my enemies and the enemies of Akbar," cried the Rajput,
drawing the curved blade half way from its scabbard. "But I would not
soil it with the heart's blood of a thug. For him the gibbet, and the
crows to pick out his eyes."

Just then the first lance-tips of the dawn flashed above the horizon,
gilding the domes and minarets of the marble city. Away in the distance
could be heard the wailing cry of a muezzin calling the faithful to
prayer.

Other members of the party had now arisen, each intent on his own
affairs, one arranging his garments, another settling his turban
straight on his head, the hakeem adjusting the little box of instruments
and simples he carried at his girdle, the Moslem astrologer spreading
his prayer carpet at the end of the veranda and prostrating himself in
the direction of Mecca.

Only the fakir had remained motionless; but now he gathered up in his
hands his wooden begging-bowl, and held it forth, crying, "Ram, Ram," in
the plaintive whine of his profession. But there was none to pay heed to
his untimely importunity. Indeed, the Bombay merchant, when the cry
smote his ears, started uneasily, and in descending the steps gave the
lean, ash-bedaubed figure of the ascetic the widest berth possible.

"Who can tell a thug from a honest man?" he asked of the magistrate in
passing.

"Who indeed can tell?" came the reply, in measured tone and with an
enigmatic smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

And a minute later all had gone their several ways.


THE END.


Transcriber's Notes: Normalized punctuation and quotes
Left one instance of fore-ordained and one of foreordained
Page 26: Changed access to excess (Printer's error)
Page 30: Changed four-and twenty to four-and-twenty (Printer's error)





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