Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Caves of Terror
Author: Mundy, Talbot, 1879-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Caves of Terror" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



CAVES OF TERROR

by

TALBOT MUNDY



Garden City         New York
Garden City Publishing Co., Inc
1924

Copyright, 1924, by
Doubleday, Page & Company
All Rights Reserved
Copyright, 1922, by Talbot Mundy, and the Ridgway Company
Printed in the United States
at the Country Life Press, Garden City, N. Y.



CONTENTS

        I. The Gray Mahatma

       II. The Palace of Yasmini

      III. Fear is Death

       IV. The Pool of Terrors

        V. Far Cities

       VI. The Fire Bathers

      VII. Magic

     VIII. The River of Death

       IX. The Earthquake Elephant

        X. A Date With Doom

       XI. "Kill! Kill!"

      XII. The Cave of Bones



CAVES OF TERROR



CHAPTER I

THE GRAY MAHATMA


Meldrum Strange has "a way" with him. You need all your tact to get him
past the quarreling point; but once that point is left behind there
isn't a finer business boss in the universe. He likes to put his ringer
on a desk-bell and feel somebody jump in Tibet or Wei-hei-wei or
Honolulu. That's Meldrum Strange.

When he sent me from San Francisco, where I was enjoying a vacation, to
New York, where he was enjoying business, I took the first train.

"You've been a long time on the way," he remarked, as I walked into his
office twenty minutes after the Chicago flyer reached Grand Central
Station. "Look at this!" he growled, shoving into my hand a clipping
from a Western newspaper.

"What about it?" I asked when I had finished reading.

"While you were wasting time on the West Coast this office has been
busy," he snorted, looking more like General Grant than ever as he
pulled out a cigar and started chewing it. "We've taken this matter up
with the British Government, and we've been retained to look into it."

"You want me to go to Washington, I suppose."

"You've got to go to India at once."

"That clipping is two months old," I answered. "Why didn't you wire me
when I was in Egypt to go on from there?"

"Look at this!" he answered, and shoved a letter across the desk.

It bore the address of a club in Simla.

    Meldrum Strange, Esq.,
      Messrs. Grim, Ramsden and Ross,
        New York.

    Dear Sir,

    Having recently resigned my commission in the British Indian army I
    am free to offer my services to your firm, provided you have a
    sufficiently responsible position here in India to offer me. My
    qualifications and record are known to the British Embassy in
    Washington, D. C., to whom I am permitted to refer you, and it is
    at the suggestion of ---- ---- (he gave the name of a British
    Cabinet Minister who is known the wide world over) that I am making
    this proposal; he was good enough to promise his endorsement to any
    application I might care to make. If this should interest you,
    please send me a cablegram, on receipt of which I will hold my
    services at your disposal until your letter has time to reach
    Simla, when, if your terms are satisfactory, I will cable my
    acceptance without further delay.

    Yours faithfully,
    Athelstan King, V. C., D. S. O., etc.

"Do you know who he is?" demanded Strange. "That's the fellow who went
to Khinjan Caves--the best secret service officer the British ever had.
I cabled him, of course. Here's his contract. You take it to him. Here's
the whole dope about this propaganda. Take the quickest route to India,
sign up this man King, and go after them at that end for all the two of
you are worth. That's all."

My passport being unexpired, I could make the _Mauretania_ and did.
Moreover I was merciless to the expense account. An aeroplane took me
from Liverpool to London, another from London to Paris.

I don't care how often you arrive in Bombay, the thrill increases. You
steam in at dawn by Gharipuri just as the gun announces sunrise, and the
dreamy bay glimmers like a prophet's vision--temples, domes, minarets,
palm-trees, roofs, towers, and masts.

Almost before the anchor had splashed into the spawn-skeined water off
the Apollo Bunder a native boat drew alongside and a very well-dressed
native climbed up the companion-ladder in quest of me. I had sent King a
wireless, but his messenger was away in advance of even the bankers'
agents, who flock on board to tout for customs business.

He handed me a letter which simply said that the bearer, Gulab Lal
Singh, would look after me and my belongings. So I paid attention to the
man. He was a strapping fellow, handsome as the deuce, with a Roman
nose, and the eye of a gentleman unafraid.

He said that Major King was in Bombay, but detained by urgent business.
However, he invited me to Major King's quarters for breakfast, so
instead of waiting for the regular launch I got into the native sailboat
with him. And he seemed to have some sort of talisman for charming
officials, for on the quay an officer motioned us through without even
examining my passport.

We drew up finally in front of a neat little bungalow in a long street
of similar buildings intended for British officials. Gulab Lal Singh
took me straight into the dining room and carried in breakfast with his
own hands, standing behind my chair in silence while I ate.

Without much effort I could see his face in the mirror to my right, and
when I thought he wasn't noticing I studied him carefully.

"Is there anything further that the _sahib_ would care for?" he asked
when the meal was finished.

"Yes," I said, pulling out an envelope. "Here's your contract, Major
King. If you're agreeable we may as well get that signed and mailed to
New York."

I expected to see him look surprised, but he simply sat down at the
table, read the contract over, and signed it.

Then we went out on to a veranda that was shut off from the street by
brown _kaskas tatties_.

"How long does it take you to grow a beard?" was his first, rather
surprising question.

It was not long before I learned how differently he could treat
different individuals. He had simply chosen his extraordinary way of
receiving me as the best means of getting a real line on me without much
loss of time. He did not compliment me on having seen through his
disguise, or apologize for his own failure to keep up the deception. He
sat opposite and studied me as he might the morning newspaper, and I
returned the compliment.

"You see," he said suddenly, as if a previous conversation had been
interrupted, "since the war, governments have lost their grip, so I
resigned from the army. You look to me like a kind of God-send. Is
Meldrum Strange as wealthy as they say?"

I nodded.

"Is he playing for power?"

"He's out to do the world good, but he enjoys the feel of it. He is
absolutely on the level."

"I have a letter from Strange, in which he says you've hunted and
prospected all over the world. Does that include India?"

I nodded.

"Know any of the languages?"

"Enough Hindustani to deceive a foreigner."

"Punjabi?"

I nodded.

Mind you, I was supposed to be this fellow's boss.

"I think we'll be able to work together," he said after another long
look at me.

"Are you familiar with the facts?" he asked me.

"I've the _dossier_ with me. Studied it on the ship of course."

"You understand then: The Princess Yasmini and the Gray Mahatma are the
two keys. The Government daren't arrest either, because it would inflame
mob-passion. There's too much of that already. I'm not in position to
play this game alone--can't afford to. I've joined the firm to get
backing for what I want to do; I'd like that point clear. As long as
we're in harness together I'll take you into confidence. But I expect
absolutely free rein."

"All right," I said. And for two hours he unfolded to me a sort of
panorama of Indian intrigue, including dozens of statements of sheer
fact that not one person in a million would believe if set down in cold
print.

"So you see," he said at last, "there's something needed in the way of
unobtrusive inspection if the rest of the world is to have any kind of
breathing spell. If you've no objection we'll leave Bombay to-night and
get to work."

       *       *       *       *       *

Athelstan King and I arrived, after certain hot days and choking nights,
at a city in the Punjab that has had nine names in the course of
history. It lies by a winding wide river, whose floods have changed the
land-marks every year since men took to fighting for the common
heritage.

The tremendous wall, along whose base the river sucks and sweeps for
more than a third of the city's whole circumference, has to be kept
repaired by endless labor, but there are compensations. The fierce
current guards and gives privacy to a score of palaces and temples, as
well as a burning ghat.

The city has been very little altered by the vandal hand of progress.
There is a red steel railway bridge, but the same framework carries a
bullock-road.

From the bridge's northern end as far as the bazaar the main street goes
winding roughly parallel with the waterfront. Trees arch over it like a
cathedral roof, and through the huge branches the sun turns everything
beneath to gold, so that even the impious sacred monkeys achieve
vicarious beauty, and the scavenger mongrel dogs scratch, sleep, and are
miserable in an aureole.

There are modern signs, as for instance, a post office, some telegraph
wires on which birds of a thousand colors perch with an air of perpetual
surprise, and--tucked away in the city's busiest maze not four hundred
yards from the western wall--the office of the Sikh apothecary Mulji
Singh.

Mulji Singh takes life seriously, which is a laborious thing to do, and
being an apostle of simple sanitation is looked at askance by the
populace, but he persists.

King's specialty is making use of unconsidered trifles and misunderstood
babus.

       *       *       *       *       *

King was attired as a native, when we sought out Mulji Singh together
and found him in a back street with a hundred-yard-long waiting list of
low-caste and altogether casteless cripples.

And of course Mulji Singh had all the gossip of the city at his fingers'
ends. When he closed his office at last, and we came inside to sit with
him, he loosed his tongue and would have told us everything he knew if
King had not steered the flow of information between channels.

"Aye, _sahib_, and this Mahatma, they say, is a very holy fellow, who
works miracles. Sometimes he sits under a tree by the burning ghat, but
at night he goes to the temple of the Tirthankers, where none dare
follow him, although they sit in crowds outside to watch him enter and
leave. The common rumor is that at night he leaves his body lifeless in
a crypt in that Tirthanker temple and flies to heaven, where he
fortifies himself with fresh magic. But I know where he goes by night.
There comes to me with boils a one-legged sweeper who cleans a black
panther's cage. The panther took his other leg. He sleeps in a cage
beside the panther's, and it is a part of his duty to turn the panther
loose on intruders. It is necessary that they warn this one-legged
fellow whenever a stranger is expected by night, who should not be torn
to pieces. Night after night he is warned. Night after night there comes
this Mahatma to spend the hours in heaven! There are places less like
heaven than _her_ palace."

"Is he your only informant?" King demanded.

"Aye, _sahib_, the only one on that count. But there is another, whose
foot was caught between stone and stone when they lowered a trap-door
once in that Tirthanker temple. He bade the Tirthankers heal his foot,
but instead they threw him out for having too much knowledge of matters
that they said do not concern him. And he says that the trap-door opens
into a passage that leads under the wall into a chamber from which
access is obtained by another trap-door to a building inside _her_
palace grounds within a stone-throw of that panther's cage. And he, too,
says that the Mahatma goes nightly to _her_ palace."

"Are there any stories of _her_?" King inquired.

"Thousands, _sahib_! But no two agree. It is known that she fell foul of
the _raj_ in some way, and they made her come to this place. I was here
when she came. She has a household of a hundred women--_maunds_ of
furniture--_maunds_ of it, _sahib_! She gave orders to her men-servants
to be meek and inoffensive, so when they moved in there were not more
than ten fights between them and the city-folk who thought they had as
much right to the streets. There was a yellow-fanged northern devil who
marshaled the serving-men, and it is he who keeps her palace gate. He
keeps it well. None trespass."

"What other visitors does she entertain besides the Mahatma?"

"Many, _sahib_, though few enter by the front gate. There are tales of
men being drawn up by ropes from boats in the river."

"Is there word of why they come?"

"_Sahib_, the little naked children weave stories of her doings. Each
has a different tale. They call her empress of the hidden arts. They say
that she knows all the secrets of the priests, and that there is nothing
that she cannot do, because the gods love her and the _Rakshasas_ (male
evil spirits) and _Apsaras_ (female evil spirits) do her bidding."

"What about this Tirthanker temple? Who controls it?"

"None knows that, _sahib_. It is so richly endowed that its priests
despise men's gifts. None is encouraged to worship in that place. When
those old Tirthankers stir abroad they have no dealings with folk in
this city that any man knows of."

"Are you sure they are Tirthankers?" asked King.

"I am sure of nothing, _sahib_. For aught I know they are _devils_!"

King gave him a small sum of money, and we walked away toward the
burning ghat, where there was nothing but a mean smell and a few old men
with rakes gathering up ashes. But outside the ghat, where a golden
mohur tree cast a wide shadow across the road there was a large crowd
sitting and standing in rings around an absolutely naked, ash-smeared
religious fanatic.

The fanatic appeared to have the crowd bewildered, for he cursed and
blessed on no comprehensible schedule, and gave extraordinary answers to
the simplest questions, not acknowledging a question at all unless it
suited him.

King and I had not been there a minute before some one asked him about
the Princess Yasmini.

"Aha! Who stares at the fire burns his eyes! A burned eye is of less use
than a raw one!"

Some laughed, but not many. Most of them seemed to think there was deep
wisdom in his answer to be dug for meditatively, as no doubt there was.
Then a man on the edge of the crowd a long way off from me, who wore the
air of a humorist, asked him about me.

"Does the shadow of this foreigner offend your honor's holiness?"

None glanced in my direction; that might have given the game away. It is
considered an exquisite joke to discuss a white man to his face without
his knowing it. The Gray Mahatma did not glance in my direction either.

"As a bird in the river--as a fish in the air--as a man in trouble is
the foreigner in Hind!" he answered.

Then he suddenly began, declaiming, making his voice ring as if his
throat were brass, yet without moving his body or shifting his head by a
hair's breadth.

"The universe was chaos. _He_ said, let order prevail, and order came
out of the chaos and prevailed. The universe was in darkness. _He_ said,
let there be light and let it prevail over darkness; and light came out
of the womb of darkness and prevailed. _He_ ordained the _Kali-Yug_--an
age of darkness in which all Hind should lie at the feet of foreigners.
And thus ye lie in the dust. But there is an end of night, and so there
is an end to _Kali-Yug_. Bide ye the time, and watch!"

King drew me away, and we returned up-street between old temples and new
iron-fronted stores toward Mulji Singh's quarters where he had left the
traveling bag that we shared between us.

"Is that Gray Mahatma linked up with propaganda in the U.S.A?" I asked,
wondering.

"What's more," King answered, "he's dangerous; he's sincere--the most
dangerous type of politician in the world--the honest visionary, in love
with an abstract theory, capable of offering himself for martyrdom.
Watch him now!"

The crowd was beginning to close in on the Mahatma, seeking to touch
him. Suddenly he flew into a fury, seized a long stick from some one
near him and began beating them over the head, using both hands and
laying on so savagely that ashes fell from him like pipe-clay from a
shaken bag, and several men ran away with the blood pouring down their
faces. However, they were reckoned fortunate.

"Some of those will charge money to let other fools touch them," said
King. "Come on. Let's call on _her_ now."

So we returned to Mulji Singh's stuffy little office, and King changed
into a Major's uniform.

"It isn't exactly according to Hoyle to wear this," he explained.
"However, she doesn't know I've resigned from the army."



CHAPTER II

THE PALACE OF YASMINI


Nobody saw us walk up to Yasmini's palace gate and knock; for whoever
was abroad in the heat was down by the ghat admiring the Mahatma.

The bearded giant who had admitted us stood staring at King, his long,
strong fingers twitching. In his own good time King turned and saw fit
to recognize him.

"Oh, hullo Ismail!"

He held a hand out, but the savage flung arms about him that were as
strong as the iron gate-clamps, and King had to fight to break free from
the embrace.

"Now Allah be praised, he is father of mercies! _She_ warned me!" he
croaked. "She knows the smell of dawn at midnight! She said, 'He cometh
soon!' and none believed her, save only I. This very dawn said she,
'Thou, Ismail,' she said, 'be asleep at the gate when he cometh and
thine eyes shall be thrown to the city dogs!' Aye! Oho!"

King nodded to lead on, and Ismail obeyed with a deal of pantomime
intended to convey a sense of partnership with roots in the past and its
fruition now.

The way was down a passage between high, carved walls so old that
antiquarians burn friendship in disputes not so much about the century
as the very era of that quiet art--under dark arches with latticed
windows into unexpected gardens fresh with the smell of sprinkled
water--by ancient bronze gateways into other passages that opened into
stone-paved courts with fountains in the midst--building joining on to
building and court meeting court until, where an old black panther
snarled at us between iron bars, an arch and a solid bronze door
admitted us at last into the woman's pleasance--a wonderland of jasmine,
magnolia and pomegranates set about a marble pool and therein mirrored
among rainbow-colored fishes.

Beyond the pool a flight of marble steps rose fifty feet until it passed
through a many-windowed wall into the _panch mahal_--the quarters of the
women. At their foot Ismail halted.

"Go thou up alone! Leave this elephant with me!" he said, nudging me and
pointing with his thumb toward a shady bower against the garden wall.

Without acknowledging that pleasantry King took my arm and we went
straight forward together, our tread resounding strangely on steps that
for centuries had felt no sterner shock than that of soft slippers and
naked, jeweled feet.

We were taking nobody entirely by surprise; that much was obvious.
Before we reached the top step two women opened a door and ran to meet
us. One woman threw over King's head such a prodigious garland of
jasmine buds that he had to loop it thrice about his shoulders. Then
each took a hand of one of us and we entered between doors of
many-colored wood, treading on mat-strewn marble, their bare feet
pattering beside ours. There were rustlings to right and left, and once
I heard laughter, smothered instantly.

At last, at the end of a wide hall before many-hued silken curtains our
two guides stopped. As they released our hands, with the always
surprising strength that is part of the dancing woman's stock-in-trade,
they slipped behind us suddenly and thrust us forward through the
curtains.

There was not much to see in front of us. We found ourselves in a
paneled corridor, whose narrow windows overlooked the river, facing a
painted door sixty paces distant at the farther end. King strode down
the corridor and knocked.

The answer was one word that I did not catch, although it rang like a
suddenly struck chord of music, and the door yielded to the pressure of
King's hand.

I entered behind him and the door swung shut of its own weight with a
click. We were in a high-ceilinged, very long room, having seven sides.
There were windows to right and left. A deep divan piled with scented
cushions occupied the whole length of one long wall, and there were
several huge cushions on the floor against another wall. There was one
other door besides that we had entered by.

We stood in that room alone, but I know that King felt as uneasy as I
did, for there was sweat on the back of his neck. We were being watched
by unseen eyes. There is no mistaking that sensation.

Suddenly a voice broke silence like a golden bell whose overtones go
widening in rings into infinity, and a vision of loveliness parted the
curtains of that other door.

"My lord comes as is meet--spurred, and ready to give new kingdoms to
his king! Oh, how my lord is welcome!" she said in Persian.

Her voice thrilled you, because of its perfect resonance, exactly in the
middle of the note. She looked into King's eyes with challenging
familiarity that made him smile, and then eyed me wonderingly. She
glanced from me to a picture on the wall in blue of the
Elephant-god--enormous, opulent, urbane, and then back again at me, and
smiled very sweetly.

"So you have brought Ganesha with you? The god of good luck! How
wonderful! How does one behave toward a real god?"

And while she said that she laid her hands on King's arms as naturally
as if he were a lover whom she had not seen perhaps since yesterday.
Plainly, there was absolutely nothing between him and her except his own
obstinate independence. She was his if he wanted her.

She took King's hand with a laugh that had its roots in past
companionship and led him to the middle, deepest window-seat, beneath
which the river could be heard gurgling busily.

Then, when she had drawn the silken hangings until the softened light
suggested lingering, uncounted hours, and had indicated with a nod to me
a cushion in the corner, she came and lay on the cushions close to King,
chin on hand, where she could watch his eyes.

King sat straight and square, watching her with caution that he did not
trouble to conceal. She took his hand and raised the sleeve until the
broad, gold, graven bracelet showed.

"That link forged in the past must bind us two more surely than an
oath," she said smiling.

"I used it to show to the gatekeeper."

He sat cooly waiting for her next remark. And with almost unnecessary
candor began to remove the bracelet and offer it back to her. So she
unmasked her batteries, with a delicious little rippling laugh and a
lazy, cat-like movement that betokened joy in the danger that was
coming, if I know anything at all of what sign-language means.

"I knew that very day that you resigned your commission in the army, and
I laughed with delight at the news, knowing that the gods who are our
servants had contrived it. I know why thou art here," she said; and the
change from you to thou was not haphazard.

"It is well known, Princess, that your spies are the cleverest in
India," King answered.

"Spies? I need no spies as long as old India lives. Friends are better."

"Do all princesses break their promises?" he countered, meeting her eyes
steadily.

"Never yet did I break one promise, whether it was for good or evil."

"Princess," he answered, looking sternly at her, "in Jamrud Fort you
agreed to take no part again in politics, national or international in
return for a promise of personal freedom and permission to reside in
India."

"My promise was dependent on my liberty. But is this liberty--to be
forced to reside in this old palace, with the spies of the Government
keeping watch on my doings, except when they chance to be outwitted?
Nevertheless, I have kept my promise. Thou knowest me better than to
think that I need to break promises in order to outwit a government of
Englishmen!"

"Quibbles won't help, Princess," he answered. "You promised to do
nothing that Government might object to."

"Well; will they object to my religion?" she retorted, mocking him. "Has
the British _raj_ at last screwed up its courage to the point of
trespassing behind the purdah and blundering in among religious
exercises?"

No man in his senses ever challenges a woman's argument until he knows
the whole of it and has unmasked its ulterior purpose. So King sat still
and said nothing, knowing that that was precisely what she did not want.

"You must make terms with me, heaven-born!" she went on, changing her
tone to one of rather more suggestive firmness. "The _Kali-Yug_ (age of
darkness) is drawing to a close, and India awakes! There is froth on the
surface--a rising here, an agitation there, a deal of wild talk
everywhere, and the dead old government proposes to suppress it in the
dead old ways, like men with paddles seeking to beat the waves down
flat! But the winds of God blow, and the boat of the men with the
paddles will be upset presently. Who then shall ride the storm? Their
gunners will be told to shoot the froth as it forms and rises! But if
there is a wise man anywhere he will make terms with me, and will set
himself to guide the underlying forces that may otherwise whelm
everything. I think thou art wise, my heaven-born. Thou wert wise once
on a time."

"Do you think you can rule India?" King asked her; and he did not make
the mistake of suggesting ridicule.

"Who else can do it?" she retorted. "Do you think we come into the world
to let fate be our master? Why have I royal blood and royal views,
wealth, understanding and ambition, while the others have blindness and
vague yearnings? Can you answer?"

"Princess," he answered, "I had only one object in coming here."

"I know that," she said nodding.

"I have simply come to warn you."

"_Chut!_" she answered with her chin between her hands and her elbows
deep in the cushions. "I know how much is known. This man--what is his
name? Ramsden? Pouff! Ganesha, here, is far better! Ganesha is from
America. Those fools who went to prepare the American mind for what is
coming, because they were altogether too foolish to be anything but in
the way in India, have been found out, and Ganesha has come like a big
bull-buffalo to save the world by thrusting his clumsy horns into things
he does not understand! I tell you, Athelstan, that however much is
known there is much more that is not known. You would better make terms
with me!"

"What you must understand, Princess, is that your plan to overthrow the
West and make the East the world's controlling force, is known by those
who can prevent you," he answered quietly. "You see, I can't go away
from here and tell whoever asks me that you are observing your promise
to----"

"No," she interrupted with a ringing merry laugh of triumph. "You speak
truth without knowing it! You can not go away!"

Princess Yasmini's boast was good. But we had come to solve a problem,
not to run away with it, and she looked disconcerted by our rather
obvious willingness to be her prisoners for a while.

"Do you think I can not be cruel?" she asked suddenly.

"I have seen you at your worst, as well as at your best!" King answered.

"You act like a man who has resources. Yet you have none," she answered
slowly, as if reviewing all the situation in her mind. "None knows where
you are--not even Mulji Singh, with whom you left your other clothes
before putting on that uniform the better to impress me! The bag that
you and Ganesha share between you, like two mendicants emerging from the
jail, is now in a room in this palace. You came because you saw that if
I should be arrested there would be insurrection. You said so to Ommony
sahib, and his butler overheard. But not even Ommony knows where you
are. He said to you: 'If you can defeat that woman without using
violence, you'll stand alone in the world as the one man who could do
it. But if you use violence, though you kill her, she will defeat you
and all the rest of us.' Is not that what your Friend Ommony said?"

"What kind of terms do you want me to make with you, Princess?" King
answered.

"I can make you ruler of all India!" she said. "Another may wear the
baubles, but thou shalt be the true king, even as thy name is! And
behind thee, me, Yasmini, whispering wisdom and laughing to see the
politicians strut!"

King leaned back and laughed at her.

"Do you really expect me to help you ruin my own countrymen, go back on
my color, creed, education, oath and everything, and----"

"Deluded fools! The East--the East, Athelstan, is waking! Better make
terms with me, and thou shalt live to ride on the arising East as God
rides on the wind and bits and governs it!"

"Very well," he said. "Show me. I'll do nothing blindfold."

"Hah! Thou art not half-conquered yet," she laughed. "And what of
Ganesha? Is this mountain of bones and thews a person to be trusted, or
shall we show him how much stronger than him is a horsehair in a clever
woman's fingers?"

"This man Ramsden is my friend," King said.

"Are you _his_ friend?" she retorted.

He nodded.

"You are going to see the naked heart of India!" she said. "Better to
have your eyes burned out now than see that and be false to it
afterward!"

Then, since we failed to order red-hot needles for our eyes, she cried
out once--one clear note that sounded almost exactly as if she had
struck a silver gong. A woman entered like the living echo to it.
Yasmini spoke, and the woman disappeared again.

Below us the river swallowed and gurgled along the palace wall, and we
caught the occasional thumping of a boat-pole. The thumping ceased
exactly underneath us, and a man began singing in the time-hallowed
language of Rajasthan. I think he was looking upward as he sang, for
each word reached its goal.

    "Oh warm and broad the plow land lies,
    The idle oxen wait!
    We pray thee, holy river, rise,
    Nor glut thy fields too late!
    The year awakes! The slumbering seed
    Swells to its birth! Oh river, heed!"

"Strange time of year for that song, Princess! Is that one of your
spies?" asked King, not too politely.

"One of my friends," she answered. "I told you: India awakes! But
watch."

It was growing dark. Two women came and drew the curtains closer. Other
women brought lamps and set them on stools along one wall; others again
brought tapers and lit the candles in the hydra-headed candelabra.

"It is really too light yet," Yasmini grumbled, as if the gods who
marshal in the night had not kept faith with her. But even so, the
shadows danced among India's gods on the wall facing the row of stools.

Then there began wood-wind music, made by musicians out of sight, low
and sweet, suggesting unimaginable mysteries, and one by one through the
curtains opposite there came in silently seven women on bare feet that
hardly touched the carpet; and all the stories about nautch girls, all
the travelers' tales of how Eastern women dance with their arms, not
feet, vanished that instant into the kingdom of lies. This was
dancing--art absolute. They no longer seemed to be flesh and blood women
possessed of weight and other limitations; their footfall was hardly
audible, and you could not hear them breathe at all. They were like
living shadows, and they danced the way the shadows of the branches do
on a jungle clearing when a light breeze makes the trees laugh.

It had some sort of mystic meaning no doubt, although I did not
understand it; but what I did understand was that the whole arrangement
was designed to produce a sort of mesmerism in the beholder.

However, school yourself to live alone and think alone for a quarter of
a century or so, meeting people only as man to man instead of like a
sheep among a flock of sheep, and you become immune to that sort of
thing.

The Princess Yasmini seemed to realize that neither King nor I were
being drawn into the net of dreaminess that those trained women of hers
were weaving.

"Watch!" said Yasmini suddenly. And then we saw what very few men have
been priviliged to see.

She joined the dance; and you knew then who had taught those women.
Theirs had been after all a mere interpretation: of her vision. Hers was
the vision itself.

She was _It_--the thing itself--no more an interpretation than anything
in nature is. Yasmini became India--India's heart; and I suppose that if
King and I had understood her we would have been swept into her vortex,
as it were, like drops of water into an ocean.

She was unrestrained by any need, or even willingness to explain
herself. She was talking the same language that the nodding blossoms and
the light and shadow talk that go chasing each other across the
hillsides. And while you watched you seemed to know all sorts of
things--secrets that disappeared from your mind a moment afterward.

She began singing presently, commencing on the middle F as every sound
in nature does and disregarding conventional limitations just as she did
when dancing. She sang first of the emptiness before the worlds were
made. She sang of the birth of peoples; of the history of peoples.

She sang of India as the mother of all speech, song, race and knowledge;
of truths that every great thinker since the world's beginning has
propounded; and of India as the home of all of them, until, whether you
would or not, at least you seemed to see the undeniable truth of that.

And then, in a weird, wild, melancholy minor key came the story of the
_Kali-Yug_--the age of darkness creeping over India, condemning her for
her sins. She sang of India under the hoof of ugliness and ignorance and
plague, and yet of a few who kept the old light burning in secret--of
hidden books, and of stuff that men call magic handed down the centuries
from lip to lip in caves and temple cellars and mountain fastnesses,
wherever the mysteries were safe from profane eyes.

And then the key changed again, striking that fundamental middle F that
is the mother-note of all the voices of nature and, as Indians maintain,
of the music of the spheres as well. Music and song and dance became
laughter. Doubt vanished, for there seemed nothing left to doubt, as she
began to sing of India rising at last, again triumphant over darkness,
mother of the world and of all the nations of the world, awake,
unconquerable.

Never was another song like that one! Nor was there ever such a climax.
As she finished on a chord of triumph that seemed like a new spirit
bursting the bonds of ancient mystery and sank to the floor among her
women, there stood the Gray Mahatma in their midst, not naked any
longer, but clothed from head to heel in a saffron-colored robe, and
without his paste of ashes.

He stood like a statue with folded arms, his yellow eyes blazing and his
look like a lion's; and how he had entered the room I confess I don't
know to this hour, nor does Athelstan King, who is a trained observer of
unusual happenings. Both doors were closed, and I will take oath that
neither had been opened since the women entered.

"Peace!" was his first word, spoken like one in authority, who ordered
peace and dared to do it.

He stood looking for more than a minute at King and me with, I think,
just a flicker of scorn on his thin lips, as if he were wondering
whether we were men enough to face the ordeal before us. Then
indefinably, yet quite perceptibly his mood changed and his appearance
with it. He held his right hand out.

"Will you not shake hands with me?" he asked smiling.

Now that was a thing that no sanctimonious Brahman would have dreamed of
doing, for fear of being defiled by the touch of a casteless foreigner;
so he was either above or below the caste laws, and it is common
knowledge how those who are below caste cringe and toady. So he
evidently reckoned himself above it, and the Indian who can do that has
met and overcome more tyranny and terrors than the West knows anything
about.

I wish I could make exactly clear what happened when I took his
outstretched hand.

His fingers closed on mine with a grip like marble. There are few men
who are stronger than I am; I can outlift a stage professional; yet I
could no more move his hand or pull mine free than if he had been a
bronze image with my hand set solid in the casting.

"That is for your own good," he said pleasantly, letting go at last.
"That other man knows better, but you might have been so unwise as to
try using violence."

"I'm glad you had that experience," said King in a low voice, as I went
back to the window-seat. "Don't let yourself be bewildered by it.
There's an explanation for everything. They know something that we
don't, that's all."



CHAPTER III

FEAR IS DEATH


At a sign from the Gray Mahatma all the women except Yasmini left the
room. Yasmini seemed to be in a strange mood mixed of mischief and
amused anticipation.

The Mahatma sat down exactly in the middle of the carpet, and his method
was unique. It looked just as if an unseen hand had taken him by the
hair and lowered him gradually, for he crossed his legs and dropped to
the floor as evenly and slowly as one of those freight elevators that
disappear beneath the city side-walks.

He seemed to attach a great deal of importance to his exact position and
glanced repeatedly at the walls as if to make sure that he was not
sitting an inch or two too far to the right or left; however, he had
gauged his measurements exactly at the first attempt and did not move,
once he was seated.

"You two _sahibs_," he began, with a slight emphasis on the word
_sahib_, as if he wished to call attention to the fact that he was
according us due courtesy, "you two honorable gentlemen," he continued,
as if mere courtesy perhaps were not enough, "have been chosen unknown
to yourselves. For there is but one Chooser, whose choice is never known
until the hour comes. For the chosen there is no road back again. Even
if you should prefer death, your death could not now be of your own
choosing; for, having been chosen, there is no escape from service to
the Purpose, and though you would certainly die if courage failed you,
your death would be more terrible than life, since it would serve the
Purpose without benefiting you.

"You are both honest men," he continued, "for the one has resigned
honors and emoluments in the army for the sake of serving India; the
other has accepted toilsome service under a man who seeks, however
mistakenly, to serve the world. If you were not honest you would never
have been chosen. If you had made no sacrifices of your own free will,
you would not have been acceptable."

Yasmini clasped her hands and laid her chin on them among the cushions.
She was reveling in intellectual enjoyment, as sinfully I daresay as
some folk revel in more material delights. The Mahatma took no notice of
her, but continued.

"You have heard of the _Kali-Yug_, the age of darkness. It is at an end.
The nations presently begin to beat swords into plowshares because the
time has come. But there is yet much else to do, and the eyes of those
who have lived so long in darkness are but blinded for the present by
the light, so that guides are needed, who can see. You two shall see--a
little!"

It was becoming intolerably hot in the room with the curtains drawn and
all those lights burning, but I seemed to be the only one who minded it.
The candles in the chandelier were kept from collapsing by metal
sheaths, but the very flames seemed to feel the heat and to flicker like
living things that wilted.

"Corn is corn and grass is grass," said the Mahatma, "and neither one
can change the other. Yet the seed of grass that is selected can improve
all grass, as they understand who strive with problems of the field.
Therefore ye two, who have been chosen, shall be sent as the seeds of
grass to the United States to carry on the work that no Indian can
properly accomplish. Corn to corn, grass to grass. That is your
destiny."

He paused, as if waiting for the sand to run out of an hour-glass. There
was no hour-glass, but the suggestion was there just the same.

"Nevertheless," he went on presently, "there are some who fail their
destiny, even as some chosen seeds refuse to sprout. You will need
besides your honesty such courage as is committed to few.

"Once on a time before the _Kali-Yug_ began, when the Aryans, of whom
you people are descendants, lived in this ancient motherland, the whole
of all knowledge was the heritage of every man, and what to-day are
called miracles were understood as natural working of pure law. It was
nothing in those days for a man to walk through fire unscathed, for
there was very little difference between the gods and men, and men knew
themselves for masters of the universe, subject only to _Parabrahm_.

"Nevertheless, the sons of men grew blind, mistaking the shadow for the
substance. And because the least error when extended to infinity
produces chaos, the whole world became chaos, full of nothing but
rivalries, sickness, hate, confusion.

"Meanwhile, the sons of men, ever seeking the light they lost, have
spread around the earth, ever mistaking the shadow for the substance,
until they have imitated the very thunder and lightning, calling them
cannon; they have imitated all the forces of the universe and called
them steam, gasoline, electricity, chemistry and what not, so that now
they fly by machinery, who once could fly without effort and without
wings.

"And now they grow deathly weary, not understanding why. Now they hold
councils, one nation with another, seeking to substitute a lesser evil
for the greater.

"Once in every hundred years men have been sent forth to prove by public
demonstration that there is a greater science than all that are called
sciences. None knew when the end of the _Kali-Yug_ might be, and it was
thought that if men saw things they could not explain, perhaps they
would turn and seek the true mastery of the universe. But what happened?
You, who are from America; is there one village in all America where men
do not speak of Indians as fakirs and mock-magicians? For that there are
two reasons. One is that there are multitudes of Indians who are thieves
and liars, who know nothing and seek to conceal their ignorance beneath
a cloak of deceit and trickery. The other is, that men are so deep in
delusion, that when they do see the unexplainable they seek to explain
it away. Whereas the truth is that there are natural laws which, if
understood by all, would at once make all men masters of the universe.

"I will give you an example. To-day they are using wireless telephones,
who twenty years ago would have mocked whoever had suggested such a
thing. Yet it is common knowledge that forty years ago, for instance,
when Roberts the British general led an army into Afghanistan in
wintertime and fought a battle at Kandahar, the news of his victory was
known in Bombay, a thousand miles away, as soon as it had happened,
whereas the Government, possessing semaphores and the telegraph, had to
wait many days for the news.[1] How did that occur? Can you or any one
explain it?

[Footnote 1: This is incontestably historical fact. See Lord Robert's
book, _Forty-one Years in India_.]

"If I were to go forth and tell how it happened, the men who profit by
the telegraphs and the deep-sea cables, would desire to kill me.

"There is only one country in the world where such things can be
successfully explained, and that is India; but not even in India until
India is free. When the millions of India once grasp the fact of
freedom, they will forget superstition and understand. Then they will
claim their powers and use them. Then the world will see, and wonder.
And presently the world, too, will understand.

"Therefore, India must be free. These three hundred and fifty million
people who speak one hundred and forty-seven languages must be set free
to work out their own destiny.

"But there is only one way of doing that. The world, and India with it,
is held in the grip of delusion. And what is delusion? Nothing but
opinions. Therefore it is opinions that hold India in subjection, and
opinions must be changed. A beginning must be made where opinions are
least hidebound and are therefore easiest to change. That means America.

"Therefore you two _sahibs_ are chosen--one who knows and loves India;
one who knows and loves America. The duty laid on you is absolute. There
can be no flinching from it. You are to go to America and convince
Americans that India should be free to work out her own destiny.

"Therefore follow, and see what you shall see."

He rose, exactly as he had sat down, without apparent muscular effort.
It was as if a hand had taken him by the scalp and lifted him, except
that I noticed his feet were pressed so hard against the floor that the
blood left them, so that I think the secret of the trick was perfect
muscular control, although how to attain that is another matter.

The Princess Yasmini made no offer to come with us, but lounged among
the cushions reveling in mischievous enjoyment. Whatever the Gray
Mahatma's real motive, there was no possible doubt about hers; she was
looking forward to a tangible, material profit.

The Gray Mahatma led the way through the door by which we had entered,
stalking along in his saffron robe without the slightest effort to seem
dignified or solemn.

"Keep your wits about you," King whispered; and then again, presently:
"Don't be fooled into thinking that anything you see is supernatural.
Remember that whatever you see is simply the result of something that
they know and that we don't. Keep your hair on! We're going to see some
wonderful stuff or I'm a Dutchman."

We passed down the long corridor outside Yasmini's room, but instead of
continuing straight forward, the Gray Mahatma found an opening behind a
curtain in a wall whose thickness could be only guessed. Inside the wall
was a stairway six feet wide that descended to an echoing, unfurnished
hall below after making two turns inside solid masonry.

The lower hall was dark, but he found his way without difficulty,
picking up a lantern from a corner on his way and then opening a door
that gave, underneath the outer marble stairway, on to the court where
the pool and the flowering shrubs were. The lantern was not lighted when
he picked it up. I did not see how he lighted it. It was an ordinary oil
lantern, apparently, with a wire handle to carry it by, and after he had
carried it for half a minute it seemed to burn brightly of its own
accord. I called King's attention to it.

"I've seen that done before," he answered, but he did not say whether or
not he understood the trick of it.

Ismail came running to meet us the instant we showed ourselves, but
stopped when he saw the Mahatma and, kneeling, laid the palms of both
hands on his forehead on the stone flags. That was a strange thing for a
Moslem to do--especially toward a Hindu--but the Mahatma took not the
slightest notice of him and walked straight past as if he had not been
there. He could hear King's footsteps and mine behind him, of course,
and did not need to look back, but there was something almost comical in
the way he seemed to ignore our existence and go striding along alone as
if on business bent. He acted as little like a priest or a fakir or a
fanatic as any man I have ever seen, and no picture-gallery curator or
theater usher ever did the honors of the show with less attention to his
own importance.

He led the way through the same bronze gate that we had entered by and
never paused or glanced behind him until he came to the cage where the
old black panther snarled behind the bars; and then a remarkable thing
happened.

At first the panther began running backward and forward, as the caged
brutes usually do when they think they are going to be fed; for all his
age he looked as full of fight as a newly caught young one, and his long
yellow fangs flashed from under the curled lip--until the Mahatma spoke
to him. He only said one word that I could hear, and I could not catch
what the word was; but instantly the black brute slunk away to the
corner of its cage farthest from the iron door, and at that the Mahatma
opened the door without using any key that I detected. The padlock may
have been a trick one, but I know this;--it came away in his hands the
moment he touched it.

Then at last he took notice of King and me again. He stood aside, and
smiled, and motioned to us with his hand to enter the cage ahead of him.
I have been several sorts of rash idiot in my time, and I daresay that
King has too, for most of us have been young once; but I have also
hunted panthers, and so has King, and to walk unarmed or even with
weapons--into a black panther's cage is something that calls, I should
say, for inexperience. The more you know about panthers the less likely
you are to do it. It was almost pitch-dark; you could see the brute's
yellow eyes gleaming, but no other part of him now, because he matched
the shadows perfectly; but, being a cat, he could see us, and the odds
against a man who should walk into that cage were, as a rough guess, ten
trillion to one.

"Fear is the presence of death, and death is delusion. Follow me then,"
said the Mahatma.

He walked straight in, keeping the lighted lantern on the side of him
farthest from the panther, whose claws I could hear scratching on the
stone flags.

"Keep that light toward him for God's sake!" I urged, having myself had
to use a lantern more than a score of times for protection at night
against the big cats.

"Nay, it troubles his eyes. For God's sake I will hide it from him," the
Mahatma answered. "We must not wait here."

"Come on," said King, and strode in through the open door. So I went in
too, because I did not care to let King see me hesitate. Curiosity had
vanished. I was simply in a blue funk, and rather angry as well at the
absurdity of what we were doing.

The Gray Mahatma turned and shut the gate behind me, taking no notice at
all of the black brute that crouched in the other corner, grumbling and
moaning rather than growling.

Have you ever seen a panther spit and spring when a keeper shoved it out
of the way with the cleaning rake? There is no beast in the world with
whom it is more dangerous to play tricks. Yet in that dark corner, with
the lantern held purposely so that it should not dazzle the panther's
eyes, the Gray Mahatma stirred the beast with his toe and drove him away
as carelessly and incautiously as you might shove your favorite dog
aside! The panther crowded itself against the side of the cage and slunk
away behind us--to the front of the cage that is to say, close by the
padlocked gate--where he crouched again and moaned.

The dark, rear end of the cage was all masonry and formed part of the
building behind it. In the right-hand corner, almost invisible from
outside, was a narrow door of thick teak that opened very readily when
the Mahatma fumbled with it although I saw no lock, hasp or keyhole on
the side toward us. We followed him through into a stone vault.

"And now there is need to be careful," he said, his voice booming and
echoing along unseen corridors. "For though those here, who can harm you
if they will, are without evil intention, nevertheless injury begets
desire to injure. And do either of you know how to make acceptable
explanations to a she-cobra whose young have been trodden on? Therefore
walk with care, observing the lantern light and remembering that as long
as you injure none, none will injure you."

At that he turned on his heel abruptly and walked forward, swinging the
lantern so that its light swept to and fro. We were walking through the
heart of masonry whose blocks were nearly black with age; there was a
smell of ancient sepulchers, and in places the walls were damp enough to
be green and slippery. Presently we came to the top of a flight of stone
steps, each step being made of one enormous block and worn smooth by the
sandalled traffic of centuries. It grew damper as we descended, and
those great blocks were tricky things for a man in boots to walk on; yet
the Gray Mahatma, swinging his lantern several steps below us, kept
calling back:

"Have a care! Have a care! He who falls can do as much injury as he who
jumps! Shall the injured inquire into reasons?"

We descended forty or fifty steps and I, walking last, had just reached
the bottom, when something dashed between my feet, and another something
flicked like a whip-lash after it. As the Mahatma swung the lantern I
just caught sight of an enormous rat closely pursued by a six-foot
snake, and after that we might as well have been in hell for all the
difference it would have made to me.

I don't know how long that tunnel was, but I do know I am not going back
there to measure it. It was nearly as big as the New York Subway, only
built of huge stone blocks instead of concrete. It seemed to be an
inferno, in which cobras hunted rats perpetually; but we saw one swarm
of fiery-eyed rats eating a dead snake.

There were baby cobras by the hundred--savage, six-inch things, and even
smaller, that knew as much of evil, and could slay as surely, as the
full-grown mother-snake that raised her hood and hissed as we passed.

The snakes seemed afraid of the Mahatma, and yet not afraid of him--much
more careful to keep out from under his feet than ours, yet taking no
other apparent notice of him, whereas hundreds of them raised their
hoods and hissed at us. And though nothing touched him, at least fifty
times rats and snakes raced over King's feet and mine, or slipped
between our legs.

"This fellow has some use for us," King said over his shoulder. "He'll
neither be killed himself, nor let us be if he can help it. This is no
new trick. Lots of 'em can manage snakes."

The Gray Mahatma, twenty yards ahead, heard every word of that. He
stopped and let us come quite close up to him.

"Have you seen this?" he asked.

There was a cobra swinging its head about two and a half feet off the
ground within a yard of him. He passed the lantern to me, and holding
out both hands coaxed the venomous thing to come to him as you or I
might coax a stray dog. It obeyed. It laid its head on his hands,
lowered its hood, and climbed until, within six inches of his face, its
head rested on his left shoulder.

"Would you like to try that?" he asked. "You can do it if you wish."

We did not wish, and while we stood there the infernal reptiles were
swarming all around us, rising knee-high and swaying, with their forked
tongues flashing in and out, but showing no inclination to use their
fangs, although many of them raised their hoods. At that moment there
were certainly fifty of the filthy things close enough to strike; and
the bite of any one of them would have meant certain death within
fifteen minutes.

However, they did not bite. The Gray Mahatma set down very gently the
snake that had done his bidding, and then shooed the rest away; they
backed off like a flock of foolish geese, hissing and swaying pretty
much as geese do.

"Come!" he boomed. "Cobras are foolish people, and folly is infectious.
Come away!"



CHAPTER IV

THE POOL OF TERRORS


We came soon to another flight of steps made of gigantic blocks of stone
older than history, and groping our way up those we followed the Gray
Mahatma to a gallery at the top, on the other side of which was a sheer
drop and the smell of stagnant water. I could hear something sluggish
that moved in the water, and somewhere in the distance was a turning
around which light found its way so dimly that it hardly looked like
light at all, but more like filmy mist. A heavy monster splashed
somewhere beneath us and the Mahatma raised the lantern to peer into our
faces.

"Those are _muggers_ (alligators). You may see them now if you would
rather. The same as with the snakes, the rule is you must do them no
harm."

He looked at us keenly, as if making sure that we really were not
enjoying ourselves, and then leaned his weight against an iron door in a
corner. It swung open, and we followed him through into a pitch-dark
chamber of some kind. But the door we came in by had hardly slammed
behind us when a bright light broke through a square hole in the ceiling
and displayed a flight of rock-hewn steps. Some one overhead had removed
a stone plug from the hole.

The Mahatma motioned to King to go first, but as King refused he led the
way again, going through the square hole overhead as handily as any
seaman swinging himself into the cross-trees. King followed him and I
stood on the top step with head and shoulders through the opening
surveying the prospect before scrambling up after him.

I was looking between King's legs. The light came from three large
wood-fires placed over at the left end of a rectangular chamber hewn out
of solid rock. The chamber was at least a hundred feet long and thirty
wide; its roof was lost in smoke, but seemed to be irregular, as if the
walls of a natural cavern had been shaped by masons who left the high
roof as they found it.

A very nearly naked man with a long beard, hair over his shoulders, and
the general air of being some one in authority, was walking about with
nothing in his hand except a seven-jointed bamboo cane. He was a very
old man, but of magnificent physique and ribbed up like a race-horse in
training. His principal business seemed to be the supervision of several
absolutely naked individuals, who carried in wood through a dark gap in
the wall and piled it on the three fires at the farther end with almost
ludicrous precision.

And between the three fires, not spitted and not bound but absolutely
motionless, there sat a human being, so dried out that not even that
fierce heat could wring a drop of sweat from him, yet living, for you
could see him breathe and the firelight shone on his living, yet
unwinking eyes. Every draft of air that he drew into his lungs must have
scorched him. Every single hair had disappeared from his body. And while
we watched they came and fed him.

But he was only one of many, all undergoing torture in its most hideous
and useless forms, and all as free as he was to deliver themselves if
they saw fit. The least offensive was a man within six feet of me who
sat on a conical stone no bigger than a cocoanut; that small stone was
resting on top of a cone of rock about a yard high, in such fashion that
it rocked at the slightest change of balance; the man's legs were
crossed, however, exactly as if he were squatting on the floor--although
they actually rested on nothing; and his arms had been crossed behind
his back for so long, and held so steadily, that the fingernails of the
right hand had grown through the left arm biceps, and vice versa. He,
too, was fed with drops of water and about a dozen grains of rice--every
second day, as the Mahatma told us afterward.

Space was at a premium in that gruesome madhouse. Close beside the
fellow on the rocking stone there hung two ropes from rings in the roof.
There were iron hooks on their lower ends, and these were passed through
the back muscles of another naked man, who kept himself swinging by
touching the floor with one toe. The muscles were so drawn by his weight
that they formed loops several inches long and had turned to dry
gristle; the strain had had some effect on one of his legs, for it was
curled up under him and apparently useless, but the other, with which he
toed the floor to swing himself, was apparently all right. His hands
were folded over his breast, and his beard and hair hung like seaweed.

Near him again there was an arrangement like a medieval rack, only that
instead of having a wheel or a lever the cords were drawn by heavy
weights. A man lay on it with arms and legs stretched out toward its
corners so tightly that his body did not touch the underlying strut; and
he had been so long in that position that his hands and feet were dead
from the pressure of the cords, and his limbs were stretched several
inches beyond their normal length. In proof that his torture, too, was
voluntary, he was balancing a round stone on his solar plexus that could
have been much more easily dumped than kept in place.

The priest stared questioningly at the Gray Mahatma, glancing from him
to us and back again.

The Gray Mahatma beckoned King and me and led the way between the
shuddersome, self-immolated, twisted wrecks of humanity to an opening in
the far wall, through which we passed into another chamber carved out of
the rock, not so large as the first and only lighted by a charcoal
brazier that gave off as much fumes as flame. The fitful, bluish light
fell in a stone ledge, in a niche like a sepulcher, carved in one wall,
and on that ledge a man lay who had every muscle of his body pierced
with thorns; his tongue protruded between his teeth, and was held there
by a thorn thrust through it.

The Gray Mahatma stood and looked at him, and smiled.

"Just a presumptuous fool!" he said pleasantly. "This was the most
presumptuous of them all, but they all suffer for the same offense. Take
warning! They could walk away if they cared to. They are here of what
they think is their free will. They are moths who sought the flame, some
from curiosity, some from desire, some craving adoration for themselves,
all for one false reason or another. This fate might be yours--so take
warning!

"There is not one of these who was not warned," he said quietly. "They
were cautioned not to inquire into matters too deep for them. They were
here to be taught; but that little knowledge that is such a dangerous
thing tempted them too swiftly forward beyond their depth, so that
now--you see them. They seek to get rid of material bodies and to
satisfy themselves that death is a delusion. You revolt at the sight of
these self-tortured fools; yet I tell you that, should you commit the
same offense, you would behave as they, even as the moth that goes too
near the flame. Take care lest curiosity overwhelm you."

"All right, lead along," King answered rather testily. "I've seen worse
than this a hundred times. I've seen the women."

The Mahatma nodded gravely.

"But not even I may lead you forward clothed as you are," he said. "I am
about to reveal such mysteries as set presumptuous fools to seeking
perfection by a too short route. Even I would be slain, if I tried to
introduce you in that garb. Undress."

He set us the example; but as we were not qualified by years of
arduously won sanctity to stand stark naked in the presence he conceded
us a clout apiece torn from a filthy length of calico that some one had
tossed in a corner. And he tore another piece of filthy red cotton cloth
in halves, and divided it between us to twist around our heads. King
laughed at me.

"You look like a fine, fat Bengali," he said.

The Mahatma called to one of the servitors to bring ashes in a brass
bowl. We watched him rake them out from under the fires, shake water on
them, and mix them into paste as casually as if the business were part
of his regular routine. The Mahatma took the bowl from him and plastered
King and me liberally with the stuff, making King look like a scabrous
fanatic, and I don't doubt I looked worse, having more acreage of
anatomy. Last of all he put some on himself, but only here and there, as
if his sanctity only demanded a little piercing out. Then he raised a
flagstone in one corner of the chamber that swung easily on pivots set
in sockets in the masonry, and led the way again.

We were evidently in a system of caves that had been quarried into shape
centuries before the Christian era. They seemed originally to have been
bubbles and blow-holes in volcanic rock, and to have been connected
together by piercing the walls between them. There was certainly no
intelligible plan attached to their arrangement, for we went first up,
then down, then sideways, losing all sense of elevation and direction.
But we passed through at least three score of those connected
blow-holes, and the air in some of the higher ones was so foul that
breathing it made you weak at the knees. Nevertheless, in every single
one there was an anchorite of some kind, engaged in painful meditation.
In each cave was an infinitesimal lamp made of baked clay and fed with
vegetable oil that provided more smoke than flame, and the walls and
ceiling were deep with the soot of centuries.

Following the Gray Mahatma's example King and I took handfuls of the
soot and smeared it on our breasts, stomachs and faces, to mingle with
the ashes in a mask of holiness. By the time we had finished that there
was not much chance of any one mistaking us for anything but two
half-crazed aspirants for sanctity.

I could not possibly have drawn a tracing of our own course, for it was
rank bewildering; but we emerged at last under the stars by the side of
a great stone tank. It might have been a bathing pool, for along each
side steps disappeared into the water. We could dimly distinguish one
end on our right hand with a row of great graven gods all reflected in
the water; but the other end vanished through a black cave-mouth. It was
about a hundred and twenty feet wide from bank to bank, and between us
and the steps that faced us on the far side, in among the quivering
star-reflections, I could count the snouts of eighteen alligators.

"Which way now?" King asked him a shade suspiciously.

"Forward," he answered, with a note of surprise.

But if the Mahatma supposed that a coat of soot and ashes provided
either King or me with a satisfactory reason for hobnobbing with
alligators in their home pool, he was emphatically mistaken. We objected
simultaneously, unanimously, and right out loud in meeting.

"Suit yourself," said I. "This suits me here."

"Go forward if you like," said King, "we'll wait for you."

The Gray Mahatma turned and eyed us solemnly but not unkindly.

"If I should leave you here," he said, "a much worse fate would overtake
you than any that you anticipate, for your minds are not advanced enough
to imagine the horrors that assail all those who lack courage. This is
the testing place for aspirants, and more win their way across it than
you might suppose, impudence of ambition adding skill to recklessness.
All must make the attempt, alone and at night, who seek the inner
shrines of Knowledge, and those creatures in the tank have no other food
than is thus provided.

"Those whose courage failed them are now such fakirs as we have seen,
who now seek to rid themselves of materiality, which is the cause of
fear, by ridding themselves of their fleshy envelope. Follow me then."

He stepped down into the water, and at once it became evident that to
all intents and purposes there were two tanks, the division between them
lying about eighteen inches under water. But the division was neither
straight nor exactly level. It zig-zagged this and that way like the
key-track in a maze, and was more beset with slippery pitfalls than a
mussel-shoal at low tide.

King followed the Mahatma in, and I came last, so I had the benefit of
two pilots, as well as the important task of holding King whenever he
groped his way forward with one foot. For the Mahatma went a great deal
faster than we cared to follow, so that although he had shown us the way
we were still doubtful of our footing. At intervals he would pause and
turn and look at us, and every time he did that those long loathsome
snouts would ripple toward him like spokes of a wheel, but he took no
more notice of them than if they had been water-rats. They seemed more
interested in him than in us.

There were seven sharp turns in that underwater causeway, and the edges
of each turn were slippery slopes, up which an alligator certainly could
climb, but that afforded not the least chance to a man whose foot once
stepped too far and slid. And not only were there unexpected turns at
different intervals, but there were gaps in the causeway of a yard or so
in at least a dozen places, and the edges of those gaps were smooth and
rounded, as if purposely designed to dump all wayfarers into the very
jaws of the waiting reptiles. It was in just such places as that that
they began to gather and wait patiently, with their awful yellow eyes
just noticeable in the starlight.

King and I were standing on one such rounded guessing-place.

The Mahatma, twenty yards away, was taking his time about turning to
give us directions, and one great fifteen foot brute had raised itself
on the causeway behind us and was snapping its paws together like a pair
of vicious castanets.

"Nero and Caligula were Christian gentlemen compared to you!" I called
out to the Mahatma.

"You are fortunate," he boomed back. "You have starlight and a guide.
Those who are not chosen have to find their way--or fail--alone under a
cloudy sky. There is none to hold _them_ while they grope; there is none
to care whether they succeed or not, save only the _mugger_ that desires
a meal. Nevertheless, there are some of them who succeed, so how should
you fail? Take a step to the left now--a long one, each holding the
other, then another to the left--then to the right again."

"Curse you!" I shouted back, staring over King's shoulder. "There's a
_mugger's_ head between us and the next stepping-stone!"

"Nay!" he answered. "That _is_ the stepping-stone."

I could have sworn that he was lying, but King set his foot on it and in
a moment more we were working our way cautiously along the causeway
again, making for the next sharp corner where the Mahatma had been
standing to give us the direction. But he never waited for us to catch
up with him. I think he suspected that in panic we might clutch him and
offer violence, and he always moved on as we approached, leaving us to
grope our way in agonies of apprehension.

The going did not become easier as we progressed. When the Gray Mahatma
reached the steps on the far side and stood, out of the water waiting
for us, all the monsters that had watched his progress came and joined
our party; and now, instead of keeping to the water, two of them climbed
up on the causeway, so that there was one of the creatures behind us and
two in front.

"Call off your cousins and your uncles and your aunts!" I shouted,
bearing in mind the Hindu creed that consigns the souls of unrighteous
men to the bodies of animals in retribution for their sins.

The Gray Mahatma picked up a short pole from the embankment, and
returned into the water with it, not striking out right and left as any
ordinary-minded person would have done, but shoving the brutes away
gently one by one, as if they were logs or small boats. And even so,
they followed us so closely that they climbed the steps abreast of us.

But I'm willing to bet that there is not an alligator living that can
catch me once my feet are set on hard ground, and I can say the same for
King; we danced up those steps together like a pair of fauns emerging
from a forest pool.

Then the Gray Mahatma came and peered into our faces, and asked an
extraordinary question.

"Do you feel proud?" he asked, looking keenly from one to the other of
us. "Because," he went on to explain, "you have now crossed the Pool of
Terrors, and they are not so many who accomplish that. The _muggers_ are
well fed. And those who reach to this side are usually proud, believing
they now have the secret key to the attainment of all Knowledge. You are
going to see now what becomes of the proud ones."

The Mahatma led us forward toward a long, dark shadow that transformed
itself into a temple wall as we drew closer, and in a moment we were
once more groping our way downward amid prehistoric foundation stones,
with bats flitting past us and a horrible feeling possessing me, at
least, that the worst was yet to come.

The hunch proved accurate. We came into an enormous crypt that evidently
underlay a temple. Great pillars of natural rock, practically square and
twenty feet thick, supported the roof, which was partly of natural rock
and partly of jointed masonry. There was nothing in the crypt itself,
except one old gray-beard, who sat on a mat by a candle, reading a roll
of manuscript; and he did not trouble to look up--did not take the
slightest notice of us.

But around the crypt there were more cells than I could count off-hand.
Some were dark. There were lights burning in the others. Each had an
iron door with a few holes in it, and a small square window, unglazed
and unbarred, cut in the natural rock. Enough light came through some of
those square holes to suffuse the whole crypt dimly.

"None but an aspirant has ever entered here," said the Gray Mahatma.
"Even when India was conquered, no enemy penetrated this place. You
stand on forbidden ground."

He turned to the left and opened an iron cell door by simply pushing it;
there did not seem to be any lock. He did not announce himself, but
walked straight in, and we followed him. The cell was about ten feet by
twelve, with a stone ledge wide enough to sleep on running along one
side, and lighted by an oil lamp that hung by chains from the hewn roof.
There were three bearded, middle-aged men, almost naked, squatting on
one mat facing the stone ledge, one of whom held an ancient manuscript
that all three were consulting; and on the stone ledge sat what once had
been a man before those devils caught him.

The three looked up at the Gray Mahatma curiously, but did not
challenge. I suppose his nakedness was his passport. They eyed King and
me with a butcher's-eye appraisal, nodded, and resumed their
consultation of the hand-written roll. The characters on it looked like
Sanskrit.

The Gray Mahatma faced the creature on the stone ledge, and spoke to
King and me in English.

"That," he said, "is one of those who crossed the Pool of Terrors and
became insane with pride. Consider him. He entered here demanding
knowledge, having only the desire and not the honesty. But since there
is no way backward and even failure must subserve the universal cause,
he was given knowledge and it made him what you see. Now these, who know
a little and would learn more, make use of him as a subject for
experiments.

"That thing, who was once a man, can imagine himself a bird, or a fish,
or an animal--or even an insensate graven stone--at their command. When
he is no more fit to be studied he will imagine himself to be a
_mugger_, and will hurry into the tank with the other reptiles, and that
will be the end of him. Come."

I felt like going mad that minute. I sat down on the rock floor and held
my head to make sure that I still had it. I wanted to think of something
that would give me back my grip on sanity and the good, clean concrete
world outside; I don't think I could have done it if King had not seen
and applied the solution. He kicked me in the ribs as hard as he could
with his naked foot, and, that failing, used his fist.

"Get up!" he said. "Hit me, if you want to!"

Then he turned to the Mahatma.

"Confound you! Take us out of this!"

"Peace! Peace!" said the Gray Mahatma. "You are chosen. You are needed
for another purpose. No harm shall come to either of you. There is one
more cell that you must enter."

"No!" said I, and I met his eye squarely. "I've seen my fill of these
sights. Lead the way out!"

He did not appear in the least afraid of me; merely curious, as if he
were viewing an experiment. I made up my mind on the instant to
experiment on my own account, and swung my fist back for a full-powered
smash at him. I let go, too. But the blow fell on King, who stepped
between us, and knocked nearly all the wind out of him.

"None o' that!" he gasped. "Let's see this through."

The Gray Mahatma patted him gently on the shoulder.

"Good!" he said. "Very good. You did well!"



CHAPTER V

FAR CITIES


The Gray Mahatma led the way toward one of the great square pillars that
supported a portion of the roof.

In that pillar there was an opening, about six feet high and barely wide
enough for a man of my build to squeeze himself through, but once inside
it there was ample space and a stairway, hewn in the stone, wound
upward. Still swinging the lantern he had brought with him from
Yasmini's palace the Mahatma led the way up that, and we followed, I
last as usual.

We emerged through a wooden door into a temple, whose walls were almost
entirely hidden by enormous images of India's gods. There were no
windows.

The resulting gloom was punctuated by dots of yellow light that came
from hanging brass lamps, whose smoke in the course of centuries had
covered everything with soot that it was nobody's business to remove. So
it looked like a coal-black pantheon, and in the darkness you could
hardly see the forms of long-robed men who were mumbling through some
sort of ceremony.

"Those," said the Gray Mahatma, "are priests. They receive payment to
pray for people who may not enter lest their sinfulness defile the
sanctuary."

There was only one consideration that prevented me from looking for a
door behind a carved stone screen placed at the end wall screen and
bidding the Mahatma a discourteous farewell, and that was the prospect
of walking through the streets with nothing on but a dish-rag and a
small red turban.

However, the Gray Mahatma, as naked as the day he was born, led the way
to the screen, opened a hinged door in it and beckoned us through; and
we emerged, instead of into the street as I expected, into a marvelous
courtyard bathed in moonlight, for the moon was just appearing over the
roof of what looked like another temple at the rear.

All around the courtyard was a portico, supported by pillars of most
wonderful workmanship; and the four walls within the portico were
subdivided into open compartments, in each of which was the image of a
different god. In front of each image hung a lighted lamp, whose rays
were reflected in the idol's jeweled eyes; but the only people visible
were three or four sleepy looking attendants in turbans and cotton
loin-cloths, who sat up and stared at us without making any other sign
of recognition.

In the very center of the courtyard was a big, square platform built of
stone, with a roof like a canopy supported on carved pillars similar to
those that supported the portico, which is to say that each one was
different, and yet all were so alike as to blend into architectural
harmony--repetition without monotony. The Gray Mahatma led the way up
steps on to the platform, and waited for us at a square opening in the
midst of its floor, beside which lay a stone that obviously fitted the
hole exactly. There were no rings to lift the stone by from the outside,
but there were holes drilled through it from side to side through which
iron bolts could be passed from underneath.

Down that hole we went in single file again, the Gray Mahatma leading,
treading an oval stairway interminably until I daresay we had descended
more than a hundred feet. The air was warm, but breathable and there
seemed to be plenty of it, as if some efficient means of artificial
ventilation had been provided; nevertheless, it was nothing else than a
cavern that we were exploring, and though there were traces of chisel
and adze work on the walls, the only masonry was the steps.

We came to the bottom at last in an egg-shaped cave, in the center of
which stood a rock, roughly hewn four-square; and on that rock, exactly
in the middle, was a lingam of black polished marble, illuminated by a
brass lamp hanging overhead. The Mahatma eyed it curiously:

"That," he said, "is the last symbol of ignorance. The remainder is
knowledge."

There were doors on every side of that egg-shaped cave, each set
cunningly into a natural fold of rock, so that they seemed to have been
inset when it was molten, in the way that nuts are set into
chocolate--pushed into place by a pair of titanic thumbs. And at last we
seemed to have reached a place where the Gray Mahatma might not enter
uninvited, for he selected one of the doors after a moment's thought and
knocked.

We stood there for possibly ten minutes, without an answer, the Mahatma
seeming satisfied with his own meditation, and we not caring to talk
lest he should overhear us.

At last the door opened, not cautiously, but suddenly and wide, and a
man stood square in it who filled it up from frame to frame--a big-eyed,
muscular individual in loin-cloth and turban, who looked too proud to
assert his pride. He stood with arms folded and a smile on his firm
mouth; and the impression he conveyed was that of a master-craftsman,
whose skill was his life, and whose craft was all he cared about.

He eyed the Mahatma without respect or flinching, and said nothing.

Have you ever watched two wild animals meet, stand looking at each
other, and suddenly go off together without a sign of an explanation?
That was what happened. The man in the doorway presently turned his back
and led the way in.

The passage we entered was just exactly wide enough for me to pass along
with elbows touching either wall. It was high; there was plenty of air
in it; it was as scrupulously clean as a hospital ward. On either hand
there were narrow wooden doors, spaced about twenty feet apart, every
one of them closed; there were no bolts on the outside of the doors, and
no keyholes, but I could not move them by shoving against them as I
passed.

The extraordinary circumstance was the light. The whole passage was
bathed in light, yet I could not detect where it came from. It was not
dazzling like electricity. No one place seemed brighter than another,
and there were no shadows.

The end of the passage forked at a perfect right angle, and there were
doors at the end of each arm of the fork. Our guide turned to the right.
He, King and the Mahatma passed through a door that seemed to open at
the slightest touch, and the instant the Mahatma's back had passed the
door-frame I found myself in darkness.

I had hung back a little, trying to make shadows with my hands to
discover the direction of the light; and the strange part was that I
could see bright light in front of me through the open door, but none of
it came out into the passage.

It was intuition that caused me to pause at the threshold before
following the others through. Something about the suddenness with which
the light had ceased in the passage the moment the Mahatma's back was
past the door, added to curiosity, made me stop and consider that plane
where the light left off. Having no other instrument available, I took
off my turban and flapped it to and fro, to see whether I could produce
any effect on that astonishing dividing line, and for about the ten
thousandth time in a somewhat strenuous career it was intuition and
curiosity that saved me.

The instant the end of the turban touched the plane between light and
darkness it caught fire; or rather, I should say fire caught it, and the
fire was so intense and swift that it burned off that part of the turban
without damaging the rest. In other words, there was a plane of
unimaginably active heat between me and the rest of the party--of such
extraordinary heat that it functioned only on that plane (for I could
not feel it with my hand from an inch away); and I being in pitch
darkness while they were in golden light, the others could not see me.

They could hear, however, and I called to King. I told him what
happened, and then showed him, by throwing what was left of the turban
toward him. It got exactly as far as the plane between light and
darkness, and then vanished in a silent flash so swiftly and completely
as to leave no visible charred fragment.

I could see all three men standing in line facing in my direction,
hardly ten feet away, and it was difficult to remember that they could
not see me at all--or at any rate that King could not; the others may
have had some trained sixth sense that made it possible.

"Come forward!" said the Gray Mahatma. "We three came by. Why should it
harm you?"

King sized up the situation instantly. If they intended to kill me and
keep him alive, that would not be with his permission or connivance, and
he stepped forward suddenly toward me.

"Stop!" commanded the Mahatma, showing the first trace of excitement
that he had yet betrayed, but King kept on, and I suppose that the man
who was acting showman did something, because King crossed the line
without anything happening and then stood with one foot on each side of
the threshold while I crossed.

"There are two of us in this!" he said to the Gray Mahatma then. "You
can't kill one and take the other."

We were in a chamber roughly fifty feet square, whose irregular corners
were proof enough that it had been originally another of those huge
blow-holes in volcanic stone; the roof, too, had been left rough, but
the greater part of the side-walls had been finished off smooth with the
chisel, and hand-rubbed.

There was a big, rectangular rock exactly in the middle of the room,
shaped like a table or an altar, and polished until it shone. I decided
to sit down on it--whereat the Mahatma ceased to ignore me.

"Fool!" he barked. "Keep off that!"

I tore a piece off the rag I was wearing for a loin-cloth and tossed it
on the polished surface of the stone. It vanished instantly and left no
trace; it did not even leave a mark on the stone, and the burning was so
swift and complete that there was no smell.

"Thanks!" I said. "But why your sudden anxiety on my account?"

He turned to King again.

"You have seen the _camera obscura_ that shows in darkness the scenery
near at hand, provided the sun is shining? The _camera obscura_ is a
feeble imitation of the true idea. There are no limits to the vision of
him who understands true science. What city do you wish to see?"

"Benares," King answered.

Suddenly we were in darkness. Equally suddenly the whole top surface of
the stone table became bathed in light of a different quality--light
like daylight, that perhaps came upward from the stone, but if so came
only a little way. To me it looked much more as if it began suddenly in
mid-air and descended toward the surface of the stone.

And there all at once, as clearly as if we saw it on the focusing screen
of a gigantic camera, lay Benares spread before us, with all its color,
its sacred cattle in the streets, its crowds bathing in the Ganges,
temples, domes, trees, movement--almost the smell of Benares was there,
for the suggestion was all-inclusive.

"But why is it daylight in Benares while it's somewhere near midnight
here?" King demanded.

That instant the sunshine in Benares ceased and the moon and stars came
out. The glow of lamps shone forth from the temple courtyards, and down
by the river ghats were the lurid crimson flame and smoke where they
cremated dead Hindus. It was far more perfect than a motion picture.
Allowing for scale it looked actually real.

Suddenly the chamber was all suffused in golden light once more and the
picture on the granite table vanished.

"Name another city," said the Gray Mahatma.

"London," King answered.

The light went out, and there sure enough was London--first the Strand,
crowded with motor-busses; then Ludgate Hill and St. Paul's; then the
Royal Exchange and Bank of England; then London Bridge and the Tower
Bridge and a panorama of the Thames.

"Are you satisfied?" the Gray Mahatma asked, and once again the cavern
was flooded with that peculiarly restful golden light, while the picture
on the granite table disappeared.

"Not a bit," King answered. "It's a trick of some sort."

"Is wireless telegraphy a trick then?" retorted the Mahatma. "If so,
then yes, so this is. Only this is as far in advance of wireless
telegraphy, as telegraphy is in advance of the semaphore. This is a
science beyond your knowledge, that is all. Name another city."

"Timbuctu," I said suddenly; and nothing happened.

"Mombasa," I said then, and Mombasa appeared instantly, with Kilindini
harbor fringed with palm-trees.

I had been to Mombasa, whereas I never had seen Timbuctu. Almost
certainly none present had ever seen the place, or even a picture of it.

The Gray Mahatma said something in a surly undertone and the golden
light turned itself on again, flooding the whole chamber. King nodded to
me.

"You can speak into a phonograph and reproduce your voice. There's no
reason why you can't think and reproduce that too, if you know how," he
said.

"Aye!" the Mahatma interrupted. "If you know how! India has always known
how! India can teach these sciences to all the world when she comes into
her freedom."

Throughout, the man who had admitted us had not spoken one word. He
stood with arms folded, as upright as a soldier on parade. But now he
unfolded his arms and began to exhibit signs of restlessness, as if he
considered that the session had lasted long enough. However, he was
still silent.

"Your honor is extremely clever. I've enjoyed the exhibition," I said to
him in Hindustanee, but he took not the slightest notice of me, and if
he understood he did not betray the fact.

"Let us go," said the Gray Mahatma, and proceeded to lead the way.

The Gray Mahatma took the other turning of the passage, and knocked on
the door at the end. It was opened by a little man, who once had been
extremely fat, for his skin hung about him in loose folds.

His cavern was smaller than the other, but as clean, and similarly
flooded with the restful golden light. But he was only host; the Gray
Mahatma was showman. He said:

"All energy is vibrations; yet that is only one fraction of the truth.
All is vibration. The universe consists of nothing else. Your Western
scientists are just beginning to discover that, but they are men groping
in the dark, who can feel but not see and understand. Throughout what
all nations have agreed to call the dark ages there have been men called
alchemists, whom other men have mocked because they sought to transmute
baser metals into gold. Do you think they sought what was impossible?
Nothing is impossible! They dimly discerned the possibility. And it may
be that their ears had caught the legend of what has been known in India
for countless ages.

"Gold is a system of vibrations, just as every other metal is, and the
one can be changed into the other. But if you knew how to do it, would
you dare? Can you conceive what would happen to the world if it were
common knowledge, or even if it were known to a few, how the
transmutation may be brought about? Now watch!"

What followed was convincing for the simple reason that there was
nothing covered up, and no complicated apparatus that might cause you to
suspect an ordinary conjuring trick. There were certainly strange
looking boxes with hinged lids arranged on a ledge along one side of the
chamber, but those were only brought into play when the funny little
ex-fat man selected a lump of metal from them. On another ledge on the
opposite side of the cell there were about a hundred rolls of very
ancient-looking manuscripts, but he did not make use of them in any way.

The floor was bare, smooth rock; there was nothing on it, not even a
mat. He laid a plain piece of wood on the floor and motioned us to be
seated in front of it; so we squatted in a line with our backs to the
door, King taking his place between the Mahatma and me. There was no
hocus-pocus or flummery; the whole proceeding was as simple as playing
dominoes.

Our host went to one of the peculiar looking boxes and selected a lump
of what looked like lead. It was a small piece, about the size of an
ordinary loaf of sugar and had no particular marks on it, except that it
looked as if it might have been cut from a larger piece with shears or
some such instrument. He dropped in into the middle of the slab of wood,
and squatted in front of it, facing us, to watch.

I daresay it took twenty minutes for that lump of lead to change into
what looked like gold before our eyes. It began by sizzling, and melting
in little pits and spots, but never once did the whole lump melt.

The tiny portions that melted and liquefied became full of motion,
although the motion was never in one place for more than about a minute
at a time; and wherever the motion had been the lump lost bulk, so that
gradually the whole piece shrank and shrank. At the end it was not in
its original shape, but had taken the form of a miniature cow's
dropping.

I suppose it was hot. Our host waited several minutes before picking it
off the slab.

At last he took the nugget off the slab and tossed it to King. King
handed it to me. It was still warm and it looked and felt like gold. I
laid it back on the slab.

"Do you understand it?" asked the Gray Mahatma.



CHAPTER VI

THE FIRE BATHERS


Our little wrinkly-skinned host did the honors as far as the door, and I
thanked him for the demonstration; but the Gray Mahatma seemed
displeased with that and ignoring me as usual, turned on King in the
doorway almost savagely.

"Do you understand that whoever can do what you have just seen can also
accomplish the reverse of it, and transmute gold into baser metal?" he
demanded. "Does it occur to you what that would mean? A new species of
warfare! One combination of ambitious fools making gold--another
unmaking it. Chaos! Now you shall see another science that is no fit
pabulum for fools."

We came to a door on our right. It was opened instantly by a lean,
mean-looking ascetic, whose hooked nose suggested an infernal brand of
contempt for whoever might not agree with him. Just as the others had
done, he met the Gray Mahatma's eyes in silence, and admitted us by
simply turning his back. But this door only opened into another passage,
and we had to follow him for fifty feet and then through another door
into a cavern that was bigger than any. And this time our host was not
alone. We were expected by a dozen lean, bronze men, who squatted in a
row on one mat with expressionless faces. They were not wearing masks,
but they looked as if they might have been.

This last cavern was certainly a blow-hole. Its round roof, blackened
with smoke, was like the underside of a cathedral dome. No effort seemed
to have been made to trim the walls, and the floor, too, had been left
as nature made it, shaped something like a hollow dish by the pressure
of expanding gases millions of years ago when the rock was molten.

The very center of the vast floor was the lowest point of all, and some
work had been done there, for it was shaped into a rectangular trough
thirty feet long by ten wide. That trough--there was no guessing how
deep it might be--was filled almost to the brim with white-hot charcoal,
so that obviously there was a means of forcing a draft into it from
underneath.

"Now," said the Mahatma, turning to King as usual and ignoring me, "your
friend may submit to the test if he wishes. He may walk on that furnace.
He shall walk unscathed. I promise it."

King turned to me.

"What d'you say?" he asked. "I've seen this done before.[2] It can be
done. Shall we try it together?"

[Footnote 2: See the newspaper accounts of fire-walking in the presence
of the Prince of Wales and about a thousand witnesses mostly European.]

I did not hesitate. There are times when even such a slow thinker as I
am can make up his mind in a flash. I said "No" with such emphasis that
King laughed. The Mahatma looked at me rather pityingly, but made no
comment. He invited the two of us to sit down, so we squatted on the
floor as close to the trough as we could go without being scorched.
There were no screens or obstructions of any kind, and the only
appliance in evidence was an iron paddle, which the man who had admitted
us picked up off the floor.

He took that paddle, and without any preliminary fuss or hesitation
walked straight on to the bed of white-hot charcoal, beginning at one
end, and smoothed the whole glowing surface with the paddle, taking his
time about it and working with as little excitement as a gardener using
a rake. When he had finished the end of the paddle was better than
red-hot--a good cherry-red.

The hairs on his legs were unscorched. The cotton cloth of which his
kilt was made showed not the slightest trace of burning.

As soon as he had sat down the other twelve advanced toward the fire.
Unlike him, they were stark naked. One by one they walked into the fire
and traversed it from end to end with no more sign of nervousness than
if they had been utterly unconscious of its existence. Then they turned
around and walked back again.

"Is it the men or the fire?" King demanded.

"Neither," the Mahatma answered. "It is simply knowledge. Any one can do
it, who knows how."

One of the men approached the fire again. He sat down on it, and went
through the motions of bathing himself in the white-hot flame, turning
his head repeatedly to grin at us. Then, lying down full-length, he
rolled from end to end of the furnace, and walked away at last as
casually as if he had come out of a bath. It was perfectly astonishing
stuff to watch.

"If this isn't superstition, or mesmerism, or deception of some kind,
why do you insist on all this mummery of soot and ashes for my friend
and me?" King demanded. "Why do you use a temple full of Hindu idols to
conceal your science, if it is a natural science and not trickery?"

The Gray Mahatma smiled tolerantly.

"Can you suggest a better way of keeping the secret?" he answered. "We
are protected by the superstition. Not even the Government of India
would dare arouse the superstitious wrath of a people by inquiring too
closely into what goes on beneath a temple. If we were to admit that
what we know is science, just as wireless telegraphy is a science, we
would not be safe for an hour; the military, the kings of commerce, the
merely curious, and all the enemies of mankind would invent ten thousand
excuses of investigating us."

"Where did you learn English?" King demanded.

"I am a Ph.D. of Johns Hopkins," the Gray Mahatma answered. "I have
traveled all over the United States seeking for one man who might be
trusted with the rudiments of our science. But I found none."

"Suppose you had found the wrong man--and trusted him?" King suggested.

"My friend," said the Gray Mahatma, "you are better known to us than we
to you. You are a man incapable of treachery. You love India, and all
your life you have striven to act always and in all things like a man.
You have been watched for years. Your character has been studied. If our
purpose had been to conquer the world, or to destroy the world, we would
never have selected you. There is no need to speak to you of what would
happen if you should commit treachery. There is no risk of your
explaining the secret of our science to the wrong individual, for you
are not going to be taught it."

"Well, what of my friend Ramsden?" King asked him.

"Your friend Mr. Ramsden, I think, will never again see the United
States."

"Why?"

"He has seen too much for his own good. He lacks your mentality. He has
bravery of a kind, and honesty of a kind; but he is--not--the
right--man--for--our--purpose. He made a mistake when he came with you."

King looked straight into the eyes of the Gray Mahatma.

"You think you know me?" he asked.

"I know you better than you know yourself!"

"That's possible," said King. "Do you suppose I would tell you the
truth?"

"I know it. I am sure of it. You have too much integrity to deal in
lies."

"Very well," King answered quietly, "it's both of us or neither. Either
we both go free, or you do your worst to us both. This man is my
friend."

The Gray Mahatma smiled, and thought, and smiled, and looked at King,
and then away again.

"It would be a pity to destroy yourself," he said at last.
"Nevertheless, you are the only chance your friend has. I have no enmity
against him; he is merely unsuitable; he will be the victim of his own
shortcomings, unless you can rescue him. But if you make the attempt and
fail, I am afraid, my friend, that that will be the end of both of you."

It was rather like listening to your own autopsy! I confess that I began
again to feel horribly afraid, although not so much so that I cared to
force King into danger on my account, and once more I made my mind up
swiftly. I reached out to seize the Gray Mahatma by the throat. But King
struck my hand up.

"We're two to their many," he said sternly. "Keep your hair on!"

The Mahatma smiled and nodded.

"A second time you have done well," he exclaimed. "If you can keep the
buffalo from blundering--but we waste time. Come."

King put his hands on my shoulders, and we lock-stepped out of the
cavern behind the Mahatma, looking, I don't doubt, supremely ridiculous,
and I for one feeling furiously helpless.

We entered another cave, whose dome looked like an absolutely perfect
hemisphere, but the whole place was so full of noise that your brain
reeled in confusion. There were ten men in there, naked to the waist as
all the rest had been, and every single one of them had the intelligent
look of an alert bird with its head to one side. They were sitting on
mats on the floor in no apparent order, and each man had a row of tuning
forks in front of him, pretty much like any other tuning forks, except
that there were eight of them to each note and its subdivisions.

Every few minutes one of them would select a fork, strike it, and
listen; then he would get up, dragging his mat after him with all the
forks arranged on it, and sit down somewhere else. But the tuning forks
were not the cause of the din. It was the roar of a great city that was
echoing under the dome--clatter of traffic and men's voices, whistling
of the wind through overhead wires, dogs' barking, an occasional bell,
at intervals the whistle of a locomotive and the rumble and bump of a
railroad train, whirring of dynamoes, the clash and thump of trolley
cars, street-hawkers' cries, and the sound of sea-waves breaking on the
shore.

"You hear Bombay," said the Mahatma. Then we all sat down in line.

It was actual physical torture until you were used to it, and I doubt
whether you could get used to it without somebody to educate you--some
scientist to show you how to defend your nerves against that outrageous
racket. For the sounds were all out of adjustment and proportion.
Nothing was in key. It was as if the laws of acoustics had been lifted,
and sound had gone crazy.

At one moment, apropos of nothing and disconnected from all other
sounds, you could hear a man or a woman speaking as distinctly as if the
individual were up there under the dome; then a chaos of off-key notes
would swallow the voice, and the next might be a dog's bark or a
locomotive whistle. The only continuously recognizable sounds were a
power station and the thunder of waves along the harbor front, and it
sounded much more thunderous than it should have done at that season of
the year.

The tuning of an orchestra does not nearly approximate the confusion;
for the members of the orchestra are all trying to find one pitch and
are gradually hitting it, whereas every sound within that cavern seemed
to be pitched and keyed differently.

"This is our latest," said the Mahatma. "It is only for two or three
hundred years that we have been studying this phenomenon. It may
possibly take us two or three hundred years more before we can control
it."

I wanted to ask questions, but could not because the cursed inharmony
made my senses reel. Nevertheless, you could hear other sounds
perfectly. When I struck my hand on the rock floor I could hear the slap
at least as distinctly as normal; possibly a little more so. And when
the Gray Mahatma spoke, each word was separate and sharp.

"Now you shall hear another city," he said. "Observe that the voices of
cities are as various as men's. No two are alike. Sound and color are
one and the same thing differently expressed, and the graduations of
both are infinite."

He caught the eye of one of the men.

"Calcutta!" he said, in a voice not exactly of command, yet certainly
not of deference.

Without acknowledging the order in any other way, the man got on his
knees and picked up an enormous tuning fork, whose prongs were about
three feet long, and he made some adjustment in the fork of it that took
about five minutes. He might have been turning the screw of a
micrometer; I could not see. Then, raising the fork above his shoulder,
he struck the floor with it, and a master-note as clear as the peal of a
bell went ringing up into the dome.

The effect was almost ridiculous. It made you want to laugh. Everybody
in the cavern smiled, and I daresay if the truth were known we had
discovered the mother-lode of comedy. That one note chased all the
others out of the dome as a dog might chase sheep--as the wind blows
clouds away--as a cop drives small boys off the grass. They actually
scampered out of hearing, and you couldn't imagine them hiding close by,
either; they were gone for good, and that one, clear master-note--the
middle F--went vibrating around and around, as if scouring out the very
smell of what had been there.

"That is the key-note of all nature," said the Mahatma. "All sounds, all
colors, all thoughts, all vibrations center in that note. It is the key
that can unlock them all."

The silence that followed when the last ringing overtone had gone off
galloping in its stride toward infinity was the most absolute and awful
silence I have ever had to listen to. The very possibility of sound
seemed to have ceased to exist. You could not believe that there could
be sound, nor remember what sound was like. A whole sense and its
functions had been taken from you, and the resultant void was dead--so
dead that no sense could live in it, unless fear is a sense. You could
feel horribly afraid, and I'll tell you what the fear amounted to:

There was a feeling that these men were fooling with the force that runs
the universe, and that the next stroke might be a mistake that would
result like the touching of two high-tension wires, multiplied to the
_nth_. You could not resist the suggestion that the world might burst in
fragments at any minute.

Meanwhile the fellow with the tuning fork fiddled again with some
adjustment on the thick portion of its stem, and presently whirling it
around his head as the old-time warriors used two-handed swords, he
brought it down on one of a circle of small anvils that were arranged
around him like the figures on a clock-face.

You could almost see Calcutta instantly! The miracle was the reverse of
the preceding one. The ringing, subdivided, sharp, discordant note he
struck was swallowed instantly in a sea of noise that seemed not only to
have color but even smell to it; you could smell Calcutta! But that, of
course, was mere suggestion--a trick of the senses of the sort that
makes your mouth water when you see another fellow suck a lemon.

You could even hear the crows that sit on the trees in the park and caw
at passers-by. You could hear the organ in a Christian church, and the
snarl of a pious Moslem reading from the Koran. There was the click of
ponies' hoofs, the whirring and honk of motor-cars, the sucking of
Hoogli River, booming of a steamer-whistle, roars of trains, and the
peculiar clamor of Calcutta's swarms that I can never hear without
thinking of a cobra with its hood just ready to raise.

In the sea of noises in the dome one instantly stood out--the voice of a
man speaking English with a slightly babu accent. For exactly as long as
the reverberations of those two tuning forks lasted, you could hear him
declaiming, and then his voice faded away into the ocean of noise like a
rock that has shown for a moment above the surface of a maelstrom.

"That is a member of the legislature, where ignorant men in all-night
session make laws for fools to break," said the Gray Mahatma.

Signing to King and me to remain seated, he himself crossed the floor to
where the master-tuner sat, and squatting down beside him began picking
up tuning forks and striking one against the other. Each time he did
that some city sound or other distinguished itself for a moment, exactly
as the theme appears in music; only some of the vibrations seemed to jar
against others instead of blending with them, and when that happened the
effect was intensely disagreeable.

At last he struck a combination that made me jump as effectually as
sudden tooth-ache. Some of the other sounds had affected King more, but
that particular one passed him by and tortured me. Watching with his
head a little to one side the Gray Mahatma instantly began striking
those two forks as rapidly as if he were clapping hands, increasing the
vehemence with each stroke.

If I had stayed there I would have been stark mad or dead within five
minutes. I felt as if I were being vibrated asunder--as if my whole body
were resolving into its component parts. I lay on the floor with my head
in both hands, and I daresay yelled with agony, but I don't know about
that.

At any rate King understood and acted instantly. He seized me under the
arms and dragged me face-downward to the door, where he had to drop me
in order to find how to open the thing. Having accomplished that, he
dragged me through into the passage, where the agony ceased as instantly
as the ache does when a dentist pulls an abscessed tooth. No one sound
reached us through the open door. However immature that particular
branch of their science might be, they had learned the way of absolutely
localizing noise.

The Gray Mahatma came out smiling, and ignoring me as if I was not
there.

He opened another door, not requiring to knock this time, and led the
way along another passage that wound through solid rock for what can
hardly have been less than a quarter of a mile.

King had dragged me out of that dome of dins in the nick of time, and my
head was recovering rapidly. By the time we reached a door at the end of
that long passage I could think clearly, and although too weak to stand
upright without holding on to something, was sufficiently recovered to
know that the remainder would be only a matter of minutes. And we spent
three or four of the minutes waiting for the door to open, which it did
at last suddenly.

A man appeared in the opening, whose absolutely white hair reached below
his shoulder-blades, and whose equally white beard descended to his
middle. He wore the usual loin-cloth, but was usual in nothing else. He
looked older than Methuselah, yet strong, for his muscles stood out like
knotted whip-cords; and active, for he stood on the balls of his feet
with the immobility that only comes of ableness. The most unusual thing
of all was that he spoke. He said several words in Sanskrit to the Gray
Mahatma, before turning his back on us and leading the way in.



CHAPTER VII

MAGIC


We went into a cavern whose floor was cup-shaped. Nearly all the way
around the rim of the cup was an irregular ledge averaging twenty feet
in width; with that exception, the whole interior was shaped like an
enormous egg with its narrow end upward. The bottom was nowhere less
than a hundred feet across, and was reached by steps cut irregularly
downward from the rim.

At intervals around the ledge were seated about a score of men, some
solitary, some in groups of three; some were naked, others wore
loin-cloths; all were silent, but they all took an obvious interest in
us, and some of them were grinning. A few of them squatted, with their
legs tucked under them, but most of them let their legs hang over the
edge, and they all had an air of perfect familiarity with the
surroundings as well as what can be best described as a "team look." You
see the same air of careless competence around a well-managed circus
lot.

King and I followed the Gray Mahatma down into the bowl, and under his
directions seated ourselves exactly in the middle, King and I back to
back and the Mahatma a little way from us and also with his back turned.
In that position my back was toward the door we had entered by, but I
was able to see nine narrow openings in the opposite wall about twenty
feet higher than the ledge, and those openings may have had something to
do with what followed, although I can't prove it.

Old gray-beard, who had admitted us, stood on the ledge like a picture
of St. Simon Stylites, folding his arms under his flowing beard and
looking almost ready to plunge downward, as if the bowl were a swimming
tank.

However, he suddenly filled his great scrawny breast with air and boomed
out one word. The golden light ceased to exist. There was no period of
going, as there is even with electric light. He spoke, and it was not.
Nothing whatever was visible. I held a finger up, and poked my eye
before I knew it.

Then all at once there began the most delicious music, like Ariel
singing in mid-air. It was subdued, but as clear as the ripple of a
mountain stream over pebbles, and there was absolutely no locating it,
for it seemed to come from everywhere at once, even from underneath us.
And simultaneously with the music there began to be a dim light, which
was all the more impossible to locate because it was never the same
color in two places, nor even in one place for longer than a note of
music lasted.

"Observe!" boomed the Gray Mahatma's solemn voice. "Color and sound are
one. Both are vibration. You shall behold the color harmonies."

Presently the connection between sound and color began to be obvious.
Each note had its color, and as that note was sounded the color appeared
in a thousand places.

It was Eastern music. It filled the cavern, and as the pulse of it
quickened the light danced, colors shooting this and that way like
shuttles weaving a new sky. But there were no drum-beats yet, and the
general effect was rather of dreaminess.

When the old gray-beard's voice boomed out at last from the ledge above
us, and light and music ceased simultaneously, the effect was
nauseating. It went to the pit of your stomach. The instantaneous
darkness produced vertigo. You felt as if you were falling down an
endless pit, and King and I clutched each other. The mere fact that we
were squatting on a hard floor did not help matters, for the floor
seemed to be falling too and to be turning around bewilderingly, just as
the whorls of colored light had done. The gray-beard's voice boomed
again; whereat there was more music, and light in tune to it.

This time, of all unexpected things, Beethoven's Overture to Leonore
began to take visible form in the night, and I would rather be able to
set down what we saw than write Homer's Iliad! It must be that we knew
then all that Beethoven did. It was not just wind music, or mere
strings, but a whole, full-volumed orchestra--where or whence there was
no guessing; the music came at you from everywhere at once, and with it
light, interpreting the music.

To me that has always been the most wonderful overture in the world
anyhow, for it seems to describe creation when the worlds took form in
the void; but with that light, each tone and semi-tone and chord and
harmony expressed in the absolutely pure color that belonged to it, it
was utterly beyond the scope of words. It was a new unearthly language,
more like a glimpse of the next world than anything in this.

The combination of color and music was having a highly desirable effect
on me. Nothing could have done more to counteract the effects of the
godless din that bowled me over in the other cavern.

But King was having a rotten time. He was heaving now as he tried to
master himself. I heard him exclaiming--

"Oh my God!" as if the physical torture were unbearable.

The Gray Mahatma was not troubling about King. He had shifted his
position so as to watch me, and he seemed to expect me to collapse. So I
showed as little as possible of my real feelings, and shut my eyes at
intervals as if bewildered. Then he cried out just as the gray-beard on
the ledge had done.

The overture to Leonore ceased. The colors gave place to the restful
golden light. King had not collapsed yet, and his usual Spartan
self-mastery prevented him then from betraying much in the way of
symptoms. So I clutched my head and tried to look all-in, which gave me
a chance to whisper to King under my arm.

"Can you hang on?"

"Dunno. How are you doing?"

"Fine."

The Gray Mahatma seemed to think that I was appealing to King for help.
He looked delighted. Between my fingers I could see him signaling to the
gray-beard on the ledge. The golden light vanished again. And now once
more they gave us Eastern music, awful stuff, pulsating with a distant
drumbeat like the tramp of an army of devils. The colors were angry and
glowering now. The shapes they took as they plaited and wove themselves
into one another were all involuted, everything turning itself inside
out, and the end of every separate movement was blood-red.

King groaned aloud and rolled over on his side, just as the stuff became
so dim and dreadful that you could hardly see your hand before your
face, and a noise like the rushing of the wind between the worlds made
every inch of your skin prickly with goose-flesh. Low though the colors
were, when you shut your eyes you could still see them, but I could not
see the Gray Mahatma, and I was sure he could not see me. He would not
know which of us was down and out.

So I seized King and dragged him across the floor to the point where the
irregular stone steps provided the only way of escape. There I hove him
like a sack on to my shoulders. In that drunken, throbbing twilight it
would have been easy for some of the gray-beard's crew to lean from the
ledge and send me reeling back again; the best chance was to climb
quickly before they were aware of me.

When I reached the ledge it was deserted. There was nothing whatever to
indicate where the gray-beard and his crew were. I could not remember
exactly the direction of the entrance, but made for the wall, intending
to feel my way along it; and just as I started to do that I heard the
Gray Mahatma climbing up behind me.

He made hardly more noise than a cat. But though the Mahatma was
stealthy, he came swiftly, and in a moment I felt his hand touch me.
That was exactly at the moment when the music and colors were subdued to
a sort of hell-brew twilight--the kind of glow you might expect before
the overwhelming of the world.

"You are as strong as the buffalo himself," he said, mistaking me for
King. "Leave that fool here, and come with me."

My right hand was free, but the Gray Mahatma had plenty of assistance at
his beck and call.

So I put my hand in the small of his back and shoved him along in front
of me. If he should learn too soon that King, and not I, was down and
out he might decide to have done with us both there and then. My task
was to get out of that cavern before the golden light came on again.

The Gray Mahatma led the way to the door, and it was just as well that
he did, for there was some secret way of opening it that I should almost
certainly have failed to find. I pushed him through ahead of me.

And then we were in pitch darkness. There was neither light, nor room to
turn, and nothing for it but for the Mahatma to lead the way along, and
I had to be careful in carrying King not to injure him against the rock
in the places where the passage narrowed.

However, he began to recover gradually as we neared the end of the long
passage, regaining consciousness by fits and starts like a man coming
out of anesthesia, and commencing to kick so that I had hard work to
preserve him from injury. When his feet were not striking out against
the walls his head was, and I finally shook him violently. That had the
desired effect. It was just as if fumes had gone out of his head. His
body grew warmer almost in a moment, and I felt him break out into a
sweat. Then he groaned, and asked me where we were; and a moment later
he seemed to understand what was happening, for he struggled to free
himself.

"All right," he whispered. "Let me walk."

So I let him slip down to his feet in front of me, and holding him
beneath the armpits repeated our lock-step trick with positions
reversed; and when we reached the outer door that gave on to the narrow
main passage he was going fairly strong. The Mahatma opened the door and
stepped out into the light; but it was the strange peculiarity of that
light that it did not flow beyond its appointed boundaries, and we
continued to be in darkness as long as we did not follow him through the
door.

So when King stepped out ahead of me, the Mahatma had no means of
knowing what a mistake he had been making all along. He naturally jumped
to the conclusion that King had been carrying me.

When I stepped out of the pitch blackness he looked more than a little
surprised at my appearance, and I grinned back at him as sheepishly as I
could manage, hoping he would not see the red patch on my shoulder
caused by the pressure of King's weight, or the scratches made by King's
fingernails when he was beginning to recover consciousness.
Nevertheless, he did see, and understood.

"Lead on, MacDuff!" I said in plain English, and perhaps he did not
dislike me so immensely after all, for he smiled as he turned his back
to lead the way.

We passed, without meeting anybody, out through the narrow door where
the first tall speechless showman had admitted us, into the cave where
the lingam reposed on its stone altar; and there the Mahatma resumed the
lantern he had left.

When we climbed the oval stairway and emerged on the platform under the
cupola the dawn was just about to break. The Gray Mahatma raised the
stone lid with an ease that betrayed unsuspected strength and dropped it
into place, where it fitted so exactly that no one ignorant of the
secret would ever have guessed the existence of a hidden stairway.

Swinging his lantern the Mahatma led into the temple, where the enormous
idols loomed in quivering shadow, and made straight for the biggest one
of all--the four-headed one that faced the marble screen. I thought he
was going to bow down and worship it. He actually did go down on hands
and knees, and I turned to King in amazement, thus missing my chance to
see what he was really up to.

So I don't know how he managed it; but suddenly the whole lower part of
the idol, including the thighs, swung outward and disclosed a dark
passage, into which he led us, and the stone swung back into place at
our backs as if balanced by weights.

At the far end the Mahatma led into a square-mouthed tunnel, darker if
that were possible than the vaulted gloom we had left, and as we entered
in single file I thought I heard the splashing of water underneath.

About a minute after that the Mahatma stopped and let King draw abreast;
then, continuing to swing the lantern he started forward again. I don't
know whether it was fear, intuition, or just curiosity that made me
wonder why he should change the formation in that way, but quite
absurdly I deduced that he wished King to walk into a trap. It was that
that saved me.

"Look out, King!" I warned.

Exactly as I spoke I set my foot on a yielding stone trap-door--felt a
blast of cool air--and heard water unmistakably. The air brought a
stagnant smell with it. I slid forward and downward, but sprang
simultaneously, managing to get my fingers on the edge of the stone in
front. But the balanced trap-door, resuming its equilibrium, caught me
on the back of the head, half-stunning me, and in another second I would
have gone down into the dark among the alligators. I just had enough
consciousness left to realize that I was hanging over the covered end of
the alligator tank.

But the faint outer circle of light cast by the Mahatma's lantern just
reached me, and as King turned his head to acknowledge my warning he saw
me fall. He sprang back, and seized my wrists, just as my fingers began
slipping on the smooth stone; but my weight was almost too much for him,
and I came so near to dragging him through after me that the stone trap
got past my head and jammed against my elbows.

Then I heard King yelling for the Mahatma to bring the lantern back, and
after what seemed an interminable interval the Mahatma came and set one
foot on the stone, so that it swung past my head again, nearly braining
me in its descent. I don't know whether he intended that or not.

"There is more in this than accident," he said, his voice booming hollow
as he bent to let the light fall on me. "Very well; pull up your
buffalo, and you shall have him!"

It was no easy task for the two of them to haul me up, because the
moment the Mahatma removed his foot from the lid of the trap the thing
swung upward and acted like the tongue of a buckle to keep me from
coming through. When he set his foot on it again, the other foot did not
give him sufficient purchase. Finally King managed to pull his
loin-cloth off and pass it around under my armpits, after which the two
together hauled me clear, minus in the aggregate about a half square
foot of skin that I left on the edge of the stone.

Off the Mahatma went alone again, swinging his lantern, and apparently
at peace with himself and the whole universe.

Thereafter, King and I walked arm-in-arm, thinking in that way to lessen
the risk of further pitfalls. But there was no more. The Mahatma reached
at last what looked like a blind stone wall at the end of the tunnel;
but there was a flagstone missing from the floor in front of it, and he
disappeared down a black-dark flight of steps.

We followed him into a cellar, whose walls wept moisture, but we saw no
cobras; and then up another flight of steps on the far side into a
chamber that I thought I recognized. He disappeared through a door in
the corner of that, and by the time we had groped our way after him he
was sitting in the old black panther's cage with the brute's head in his
lap, stroking and twisting its ears as if it were a kitten. The cage
door was wide open, and the day was already growing hot and brassy in
the east.

King and I hurried out of the cage, for the panther showed his fangs at
us; the Mahatma followed us out and snapped the door shut. Instantly the
panther sprang at us, trying to bend the bars together. Failing in that,
he lay close and shoved his whole shoulder through, clawing at us. It
was hardly any wonder that that secret, yet so simply discoverable door
between Yasmini's palace and the temple-caverns was unknown.

We swung along through the great bronze gate and into the courtyard
where the shrubs all stood reflected along with the marble stairway in a
square pool. We plunged right in without as much as hesitating on the
brink, dragging the Mahatma with us--not that he made the least
objection. He laughed, and seemed to regard it as thoroughly good fun.

We splashed and fooled for a few minutes, standing neck-deep and kicking
at an occasional fish as it darted by, stirring up mud with our toes
until the water was so cloudy that we could see the fish no longer. Then
King thought of clothes. He stood on tiptoe and shouted.

"Ismail! O--Ismail!"

Ismail came, like a yellow-fanged wolf, bowed to the Mahatma as if
nakedness and royalty were one, and stood eyeing the water curiously.

"Get us garments!" King ordered testily.

"I was not staring at thee, little King _sahib_," he answered. "I was
marveling!"

But he went off without explaining what he had been marveling at, and we
went on with our ablutions, the job of getting ashes out of your hair
not being quite so easy as it might appear. I daresay it was fifteen
minutes before Ismail came back carrying two complete native costumes
for King and me, and a long saffron robe for the Mahatma. Then we came
out of the water and the Gray Mahatma smiled.

"I said there were no more traps, and it seems I spoke the truth," he
said wonderingly. "Moreover, I did not set this trap, but it was you
yourselves who led me into it."

"Which trap?" we demanded with one voice.

"You have stirred the mud, my friends, to a condition in which the
_mugger_ who lives in that pool is not visible. But the _mugger_ is
there, and I don't know why he did not seize one of you!"

In the center of the pool there was a rockery, for the benefit of
plant-roots and breeding fish. I walked around it to look, and there,
sure enough, lay a brute about twenty feet long, snoozing with his chin
on a corner of the rock. I picked up a pole to prod him and he snapped
and broke it, coming close to the edge to clatter his jaws at me.
Prodding him a last time, I turned round to look for the Mahatma. He had
vanished--gone as utterly and silently as a myth. King had not seen him
go. We inquired of Ismail. He laughed.

"There is only one place to go--here," he answered.

"To the Princess?"

"There is nowhere else! Who shall disobey her? I have orders to unloose
the panther if the _sahibs_ take any other way than straight into her
presence!"



CHAPTER VIII

THE RIVER OF DEATH


Dressed now in the Punjabi costume with gorgeous silk turbans, we walked
side by side up the marble steps and knocked on the brass-bound, teak
front door at the top. Exactly as when we arrived on the previous day,
the door was immediately opened by two women.

The Mahatma was in there ahead of us, and had evidently told Yasmini
sufficient of our adventures to make her laugh. She squealed with
delight at sight of us.

"Come! Sit beside me in the window, both of you! My women will bring
food. Afterward you shall sleep--poor things, you look as if you need
it! O, what is that, Ganesha-ji? Blood on your linen? Were you hurt?"

Her swift, restless fingers drew the cloth aside and showed a few inches
of where my bare skin should have been.

"It is nothing. My women shall dress it. They have oils that will cause
the skin to grow again within a week. A week is nothing; you and
Athelstan will be here longer than a week! And you crossed the Pool of
Terrors? I have crossed that too! we three are initiates now!"

"Ye are three who will die unless discretion is the very law ye live
by!" said the Gray Mahatma. He seemed annoyed about something.

"Old Dust-and-ashes!" laughed Yasmini, snapping her fingers at him.
"Hah!" She laughed delightedly. "They have seen enough to make them
believe what I shall tell them!"

"Woman, you woo your own destruction. None has ever set out to betray
that secret and survived the first offense!" he answered.

"It was _you_ who betrayed it to _me_," she said, with another golden
laugh. Then, turning to King again:

"I have sought for that secret day and night! India has always known of
its existence; and in every generation some have fought their way in
through the outer mysteries to the knowledge within. But those who enter
always become initiates, and keep the secret. I was puzzled how to
begin, until I heard how, in England, a woman once overheard the secrets
of Freemasonry, and was made a Freemason in consequence.

"Now behold this man they call the Gray Mahatma! He does as I tell him!
You must know that these Knowers of Royal Knowledge, as they call
themselves, are not the little birds in one nest that they would like to
be; they quarrel among themselves, and there is a rival faction that
knows only street-corner magic, but is more deadly bent on knowing Royal
Knowledge than a wolf is determined to get lamb."

The Gray Mahatma saw fit to challenge some of that statement.

"It is true, that there are wolves who seek to break in," he said
quietly, "but it is false that there are quarrels among ourselves."

"Hah!" That little laugh of hers was like the exclamation of a fellow
who has got home with his rapier point.

"Quarrels or not," she answered, "there is a faction that was more than
willing to use the ancient passage under my palace grounds, and to hold
secret meetings in a room that I made ready for them."

"Faction!" The Gray Mahatma sneered. "Faithful seniors determined to
expel unfaithful upstarts are not a faction!"

"At any rate," she chuckled, "they wished to hold a meeting unbeknown to
the others, and they wished to make wonderful preparations for not being
overheard. And I helped them--is that not so, Mahatma-ji? You see, they
were scornful of women--then."

"Peace, woman!" the Mahatma growled. "Does a bee sting while it gathers
honey? You spied on our secrets, but did we harm you for it?"

"You did not dare!" she retorted. "If I had been alone, you would have
destroyed me along with those unfortunates on whose account you held the
meeting. It would have been easy to throw me to the _mugger_. But you
did not know how many women had overheard your secrets! You only knew,
that more than one had, and that at least ten women witnessed the fate
of your victims. Is that not so?"

"Victims is the wrong word. Call them culprits!" said the Gray Mahatma.

"What would the Government call them?" she retorted.

The Gray Mahatma curled his lip, but made no answer to that. Yasmini
turned to King.

"So I knew enough of their secrets to oblige them either to kill me or
else teach me all. And they did not dare kill me, because they could not
kill all my women too, for fear of Government. So first they took me
through that ordeal that you went through last night. And ever since
then I have been trying to learn; but this science of theirs is
difficult, and I suspect them of increasing the difficulty for my
benefit. Nevertheless, I have mastered some of it."

"You have mastered none of it!" the Gray Mahatma retorted
discourteously. "The golden light is the first step. Show me some."

"They thought they were being too clever for me," she went on. "They
listened to my suggestion that it might be wise to show Athelstan King
the mysteries, and send him to America to prepare the way for what is
coming. So we set a trap for Athelstan. And Athelstan brought Ganesha
with him. So now I have two men who know the secret, in addition to
myself and all my women. And I have one man who has skill enough to
_learn_ the secret, now that he knows _of_ it. Perhaps both men can
learn it, and I know full well that one can."

"And then?" King suggested.

"You shall conquer the world!" she answered.

King smiled and said nothing.

"I am uncertain yet whether or not I shall choose to be queen of the
earth!" she said. "Sometimes I think it would be fun for you and me to
be absolute king and queen of everywhere. Sometimes I think it will be
better to make some stupid person--say Ganesha here, for instance--king,
and for ourselves to be the power behind the throne. What do _you_
think, Athelstan?"

"I think," he answered.

"And you observe that the Gray Mahatma likewise thinks!" said she. "He
thinks what he can do to thwart us! But I am not afraid! Oh dear no,
Mahatma-ji, I am not at all fearful! Your secret is not worth ten
seconds' purchase unless it is of use to me!"

"Woman, is your word worth nothing?" asked the Gray Mahatma. "You can
not use what you know and keep the secret too. Let those two men escape,
and the secret will be blown to the winds within the hour."

She laughed outright at him.

"They shall not escape, old raven-in-a-robe!"

Just then some of her women brought a table in, and spread it with
fruit-laden dishes at the far end of the room. Yasmini rose to see
whether all was as she wished it, and I got a chance, not only to look
through the curtains, but also to whisper to King. He shook his head in
reply to my question.

"Could you manage for two, do you think?" he asked; and by that I knew
him for a vastly more than usually brave man. Consenting to what you
know is sure to destroy you, if the other fellow fails, calls for
courage.

"Makes a two to one chance of it," I answered.

"Very well, it's a bet. Give your orders!" said King.

The Mahatma sat rigid in mid-room with closed eyes, as if praying. His
hands were crossed on his breast, and his legs twisted into a nearly
unimaginable knot. He looked almost comatose.

The shutters and the glass windows were open wide to admit the morning
breeze. Nothing was between us and freedom but the fluttering silk
curtains and a drop of about seventy feet into an unknown river.

"Hold my hand," I said, "and jump your limit outward!"

The Gray Mahatma opened one eye and divined our intention.

"Mad!" he exclaimed. "So then that is the end of them!"

He believed what he said, for he sat still. But Yasmini came running,
screaming to her women to prevent us.

King and I took off together, hand-in-hand, and I take my Bible oath
that I looked up, and saw Yasmini and the Gray Mahatma leaning out of
the window to watch us drown!

Of course, seventy feet is nothing much--provided you are used to the
take-off, and know the water, and have a boat waiting handy to pick you
up. But we had none of these advantages, and in addition to that we had
the grievous handicap that King could not swim a stroke.

We took the water feet-first, close together, and that very instant I
knew what we were up against. As we plunged under, we were whirled
against a sunken pole that whipped and swayed in the current. King was
wrenched away from me. When I fought my way to the surface I was already
a hundred yards beyond the palace wall, and there was no sign of King,
although I could see his turban pursuing mine down-stream. We were
caught in the strongest current I had ever striven with.

I don't know what persuaded me to turn and try to swim against it for a
moment. Instinct, I suppose. It was utterly impossible; I was swept
along backward almost as fast as I had been traveling before. But what
the effort did do was to bring me face-up-stream, and so I caught sight
of King clinging to a pole and being bobbed under every time the weight
of water caused the pole to duck. I managed to cling to a pole myself,
although like King it ducked me repeatedly, and it was perfectly evident
that neither of us would be alive in the next ten minutes unless a boat
should come or I should produce enough brawn and brain for two of us.
And there was no boat in sight.

So between ducks I yelled to King to let go and drift down toward me. He
did it; and that, I believe, is the utmost test of cold courage to which
I have ever seen any man subjected; for even a strong swimmer becomes
panic-stricken when he learns he is no longer master of his element.
King had the self-control and pluck to lie still and drift down on me
like a corpse, and I let go the pole in the nick of time to seize him as
his head went under.

Followed a battle royal. Fight how I might, I could not keep both of our
heads out of the water more than half the time, and King very soon lost
the little breath that was left in him. Thereafter, he struggled a bit,
but that did not last long, and presently he became unconscious. I
believed he was dead.

The choice then seemed to lie between drowning too or letting go of him.
I did not dare try the shallows, for ninety per cent. of them are
quicksands in that river, and more than one army has perished in the
effort to force its way across. The only possible safety lay in keeping
to mid-stream and sweeping along with the current until something should
turn up--a boat--a log--possibly a backwater, or even the breakwater of
a bridge.

So I decided to drown, and to annoy the angels of the underworld by
taking as long as possible in the process. And I set to work to fight as
I had never in my whole life fought before. It was like swimming in a
millrace. The current swirled us this and that way, but everlastingly
forward.

Sometimes the current rolled us over and over on each other, but for
fifty per cent. of the time I managed to keep King on top of me, I
swimming on my back and holding him by both arms, head nearly out of the
water. I can't explain exactly why I went to all that trouble, for I was
convinced he was dead.

I remember wondering what the next world was going to be like, and
whether King and I would meet there, or whether we would each be sent to
a sphere suited to our individual requirements--and if so, what my
sphere would be like, and whether either of us would ever meet Yasmini,
and what she would be doing there. But it never occurred to me once that
Athelstan King might be alive yet, or that he and I would be presently
treading mother earth again.

I remember several terrific minutes when a big tree came whirling toward
us in an eddy, and my legs got tangled up in some part of it that was
under water. Then, when I managed to struggle free, King's cotton
loin-cloth became wrapped in a tangle of twigs and I could neither
wrench nor break him free; whenever I tried it I merely sent myself
under and pulled his head after me.

However, that tree suggested the possibility of prolonging the agony a
while.

I seized a branch and tried to take advantage of it, using all my
strength and skill to keep the tree from rolling over on King and
submerging him completely. I can remember when we whirled under the
steel bridge and the tree struck the breakwater of the middle pier; that
checked us for a moment, and instead of sending us under, dragged King
half out of the water, so that he lay after that on top of a branch.

Then the stream got us going again, and swung the butt end of the tree
around so that I was forced by it backward through the arch of the
bridge; and after that for more than a mile we were waltzed round and
round past sand-banks where the alligators lay on the look-out for
half-burned corpses from the burning ghats higher up.

At last we swung round a curve in the river and came on a quiet bay
where they were washing elephants. The current swung the tree inshore to
a point where it struck a submerged sand-bank and stuck there; and there
we lay with the current racing by, and King bobbing up and down with his
head out of water, and I too weak by that time to break off the twig
around which his loin-cloth was wrapped.

Well, there we were; but after a few minutes I raised enough steam for
the whistle at all events. I yelled until my own ear-drums seemed to be
bursting and my lungs ached from the pressure on the water in them, and
after what seemed an eternity one of the mahouts on shore heard me.

Hope surged triumphant! I could see him wave his arm, and already I saw
visions of dry land again, and a disappointed Yama! But I was
overlooking one important point: we were in India, where rescues are not
undertaken in a hurry.

He called a conference. I saw all the mahouts gather together in one
place and stare at us and talk. They swung their arms as they argued. I
don't know what argument it was that finally appealed to the mahouts,
but after an interminable session one of them fetched a long rope and
nine or ten of them climbed on the backs of three big elephants. They
worked their way a little bit upstream, and then came as close as the
elephants dared. One of the big brutes felt his way cautiously to within
twenty yards, and then threw up his trunk and refused to budge another
inch.

At that a lean, naked, black man stood up on his rump and paid out the
rope down-stream. He had to make nine or ten attempts before it finally
floated within reach of my hand. Then I made it fast to the tree and,
taking King in my right arm, started to work my way along it. It was
just as well I did that, and got clear of the branch; for the mahouts
passed the rope around the elephant's neck and set him to hauling; he
rolled the tree over and over, and that would surely have been the end
of King and me if we had been within reach of the overturning branches.
As it was I clung to the rope and the elephant hauled the lot of us high
and dry.



CHAPTER IX

THE EARTHQUAKE ELEPHANT


At the end of a minute's examination I began to suspect that King was
not quite dead, so I recalled the old life-saver's drill and got to work
on him. It took time. As King came more and more to his senses, and
vomited a bit, and began to behave in all ways like a living man again,
I had a chance to talk to the mahouts; and they were just like the
members of any other union, preferring conversation to alleged hard
labor any day of the week. They told me why the elephants were being
washed so early and we enjoyed a regular _conversazione_ on the beach.

It appeared the elephants were wanted to take part in a procession, and
for a while they let me guess what sort of a procession. But at last
they took compassion on my ignorance.

"_She_ has issued invitations to a party for princesses in _her panch
mahal_!"

Who was _she_? Everybody knew who _she_ was!

"The Princess Yasmini?" I suggested.

Whereat they all chuckled and made grimaces, and did everything except
acknowledge her name in public.

And then suddenly Athelstan King decided to sit up and spat some more
water out and tried to laugh. And they thought that was so exquisitely
funny that they all laughed too.

Then, when he had coughed a little more--

"We're going to attend that party!"

"Why?" I asked him.

"Two reasons." But he had to cough up more water before he could tell
them. "One: The Gray Mahatma will never rest until he knows we're dead,
or done for, and the safest place is close to the enemy; and, two: I
never will rest until I know the secret of that science of theirs!"

"How in thunder are we going to get back?" I objected.

"Ride!" he suggested.

"How--when--where?"

"Elephant--now--to her palace," he answered.

"They're not her elephants."

"So much the better! She'll think the Maharajah knows all about us.
She'll _have_ to accord us protection after that."

He asked a dozen more questions, and finally struggled to his feet.

"My friend," he said then to the chief mahout, "if you propose to take
us two _sahibs_ to _her_ palace, and be back at your master's stables in
time to get ready for the _Bibi-kana_, you'll have to hurry!"

"But I did not propose it!" the mahout answered.

"Nay, the gods proposed it. Which is your fastest elephant?"

"That great one yonder--Akbar. But who is giving orders? We are a
maharajah's servants."

"The gods are ordering all this business!" King assured him. "I wish to
ride to _her_ palace."

"By _her_ leave?"

"By the gods' leave."

"Will the gods pay me?"

"Doubtless. But she will pay first--setting the gods a good example."

The native of India finds it perfectly convenient to ride on a six-inch
plank, slung more or less like a house-painter's platform against an
elephant's bulging ribs, and it does not seem to make much difference to
him when more weight is on one side than on the other. But King and I
had to stand and hold each other's hands across the pad; and even so we
were by no means too secure, for Akbar resented being taken away from
the herd and behaved like a mutinous earthquake.

It was not so far to the city by road, because the river wound a good
deal and the road cut straight from point to point. But it was several
miles, and we covered it at pretty nearly the speed of a railroad train.

In spite of his rage, Akbar had perfect control of himself. Having
missed about half his morning swim, and the herd's society, he proposed
to miss nothing else, and there was not one cart, one _ekka_, one
piled-up load in all those miles that he did not hit and do his utmost
to destroy. There was not one yellow dog that he did not give chase to
and try to trample on.

He stopped to pull the thatch from the roof of a little house beside the
road, but as the plying _ankus_ made his head ache he couldn't stay long
enough to finish that job but scooted uproad again in full pursuit of a
Ford car, while an angry man shoved his head through the hole in the
roof of the house and cursed all the rumps of all the elephants,
together with the forebears and descendants of their owners and their
wives.

It seemed that Akbar was fairly well-known thereabouts. The men in the
Ford car shouted the news in advance of his coming, and the road into
the city began to look like the track of a routed army. Every man and
animal took to his heels, and Akbar trumpeted wild hurrahs as he
strained all tendons in pursuit. He needed no second wind, because he
never lost his first, but he took the whole course as far as the city
gate at a speed that would have satisfied Jehu, son of Nimshi, who, the
Bible says, made Israel to sin.

That particular city gate consisted of an arch, covered with carvings of
outrageous-looking gods, and as a picture display it was perfect, but as
an entrance to a crowded city it possessed no virtue. It was so narrow
that only one vehicle could pass at a time, and the whole swarm jammed
between it and us like sticks in front of a drain.

And not even Akbar's strength was so great that he could shove them
through, so the ancient problem of an irresistible force in contact with
an immovable object was presented, and solved by Akbar after a fashion
of his own.

He picked the softest spot, which was a wain-load of cotton bales, and
upset it, cannoning off that cushion so swiftly as to come within an ace
of scattering his four passengers across the landscape; and discerning,
with a swift strategic eye that would have done credit to the dashingest
cavalry general, that that rout was complete and nothing could be gained
by adding to it, he headed for the river and the women's bathing place,
took the broad stone steps at a dead run, and plunged straight in.

No ship was ever launched with more perfect aplomb, nor floated more
superbly on an even keel than did Akbar at the women's bathing ghat. For
a moment I thought he proposed to lie down there and finish his
interrupted toilet, but he contented himself with squirting water on the
sore spot caused by the thumping _ankus_ of the driver's and set out to
swim upstream.

It was not until he had reached the second ghat and climbed the steps
there that Akbar put himself in Napoleon's class. When he reached the
top of the steps no amount of whacking with the _ankus_ could make him
turn to the right and follow the city street. He turned to the left,
tooted a couple of wild hurrahs through his newly wetted whistle, and
raced to meet the traffic as it struggled through the gate in single
file!

There was ruin ripe for harvest and it looked like the proper time to
jump. But suddenly--with that delightful wheeled panic at his mercy, the
big brute stopped, stood still and looked at them, muttering and
gurgling to himself. Instantly the mahout began petting him, calling him
endearing names and praising his wisdom and discretion. I can't swear
that the beast understood what was said to him, but he acted exactly as
if he did. He picked up dust from the street with his trunk, blew a
little of it in the general direction of the defeated enemy, blew a
little more on himself, and turned his rump toward the gate, as if to
signify that hostilities were over!

As he did that, a man who was something of an athlete swung himself up
on the off-side footboard, and a second later the proud face of the Gray
Mahatma confronted me across the saddle-pad alongside King's!

"You are heavy enough to balance the two of us," he said, as if no other
comment were necessary. "Why did you run away from me? You can never
escape!"

Well, of course anybody could say that after he had found us again.

"Was it you who checked this elephant?" I asked him, remembering what he
had done to the black panther and the snakes, but he did not answer.

"Where do you think you are going?" I asked.

"That is what the dry leaves asked of the wind," he answered. "An
observant eye is better than a yearning ear, and patience outwears
curiosity!"

Suddenly I recalled a remark that King had made on the beach and it
dawned on me that by frightening the mahout into silence the Mahatma
might undo the one gain we had made by that plunge and swim. As long as
the Maharajah who owned the elephant was to hear about our adventure,
all was well. News of us would reach the Government. Most of the
maharajahs are pro-British, because their very existence as reigning
princes depends on that attitude, and they can be relied on to report to
the British authorities any irregularity whatever that comes under their
notice and at the same time does not incriminate themselves.

The same thought probably occurred to King, but he was rather too
recently recovered from drowning to be quick yet off the mark and
besides, the Mahatma was between him and the mahout, whereas I had a
free field. So I tugged at the arm of the second mahout, who was sitting
behind his chief, and he scrambled down beside me.

The Mahatma tried to take immediate advantage of that, and the very
thing he did made it all the easier for me to deal with the second
mahout, who had made the trip with us and who stared into my face with a
kind of puzzled mistrust. The Mahatma, as active as a cat, climbed up
behind the chief mahout and sat astride the elephant's neck in the place
where the second mahout had been, and began whispering.

"What is your Maharajah's name?" I asked my neighbor on the plank.

"Jihanbihar," he answered, giving a string of titles too that had no
particular bearing on the situation. They sounded like a page of the Old
Testament.

"You observe that his favorite elephant is about to be stolen with the
aid of the Gray Mahatma!"

The fellow nodded, and the expression of his face was not exactly
pleased; he may have been one of a crowd that got cursed by the Mahatma
for asking too many impertinent questions.

"He has a reputation, that Mahatma, hasn't he?" I suggested. "You have
heard of the miracles that he performs?"

He nodded again.

"You see that he is talking to the chief mahout now? Take my word for
it, he is casting a spell on him! Would you like to have him cast a
spell on you too?"

He shook his head.

"Run swiftly then, and tell the Maharajah _sahib_ to get a Brahman to
cancel the spell, and you will be rewarded. Go quickly."

He dropped from the plank and went off at a run just as the Mahatma
turned and saw him. The Mahatma had been whispering in the mahout's ear,
and as his eye met mine I laughed. For a moment he watched the man
running, and then, as if to demonstrate what a strange mixture of a man
he was, he laughed back at me. He acknowledged defeat instantly, and did
not appear in the least annoyed by it, but on the contrary appeared to
accord me credit for outwitting him, as undoubtedly I had.

India is not a democratic country. Nobody is troubled about keeping the
underworld in its place, so mahout or sweeper has the ear of majesty as
readily as any other man, if not even more so. And it would not make the
slightest difference now what kind of cock and bull story the mahout
might tell to the Maharajah. However wild it might be it would certainly
include the fact that two white men had ridden to Yasmini's palace on
the Maharajah's favorite elephant after having been fished out of the
river by mahouts at the elephant's bathing ghat.

It was the likeliest thing in the world that representations would be
made that very afternoon by telegraph to the nearest important British
official, who would feel compelled to make inquiries. The British
Government can not afford to have even unknown white men mysteriously
made away with.

The Gray Mahatma took all that for granted and nodded comprehendingly.
His smile, as we neared Yasmini's palace gate, appeared to me to include
a perfect appreciation of the situation. He seemed to accept it as
candidly as he had acknowledged my frequent escapes the night before.

Ismail opened the gate without demur and Akbar sauntered in, being used
to palaces. He passed under the first arch into the second courtyard,
coming to a halt at a gate on the far side that was too small for his
enormous bulk where he proceeded to kneel without waiting for
instructions.

"Do you feel proud?" the Mahatma asked me unexpectedly as he climbed off
Akbar's neck.

Suspecting some sort of verbal trap I did not answer him.

"You are like this elephant. You are able to do irreparable damage if
you see fit. _She_ was as apt as usual when she dubbed you Ganesha!"

He was working toward some point he intended to make, like one of those
pleasant-tongued attorneys flattering a witness before tying him up in a
knot, so I was careful to say nothing whatever. King came around the
kneeling elephant and joined us, leaning back against the beast and
appraising the Mahatma with his eyes half-closed.

"You're dealing with white men," King suggested. "Why don't you talk in
terms that we understand?"

It seemed difficult for the Mahatma to descend to that. He half-closed
his eyes in turn and frowned, as if hard put to it to simplify his
thoughts sufficiently--something like a mathematician trying to explain
himself to the kindergarten class.

"I could kill you," he said, looking straight at King.

King nodded.

"You are not the kind of man who _should_ be killed," he went on.

"Did you ever hear the fable of the fox and the sour grapes?" King asked
him, and the Mahatma looked annoyed.

"Would you rather be killed?" he retorted.

"'Pon my soul, I'm inclined to leave that to the outcome," King
answered. "Death would mean investigation, and investigation discovery
of that science you gave us a glimpse of."

"If I was to let you go," the Mahatma began to argue.

"I would not go! Forward is the only way," King interrupted. "You've a
reason for not having us two men killed. What is it?"

"I have no reason whatever for preserving this one's life," the Mahatma
answered, glancing at me casually. "For reasons beyond my power of
guessing he seems to bear a charmed existence, but he has my leave to
visit the next world, and his departure would by no means inconvenience
me. But you are another matter."

"How so?" King asked. "Mr. Ramsden is the man who would be inquired for.
The Indian Government, whose servant I no longer am, might ignore me,
but the multi-millionaire who is Mr. Ramsden's partner would spend
millions and make an international scandal."

"I am thinking of you, not of him. I am thinking you are honest," said
the Gray Mahatma, looking into King's eyes.

"So is he," King answered.

"I am wondering whether or not you are honest enough to trust me," said
the Gray Mahatma.

"Why certainly!" King answered. "If you would commit yourself I would
trust you. Why not?"

"But this man would not," said the Mahatma, nudging me as if I were the
elephant.

"I trust my friend King," I retorted. "If he decides to trust you, I
stand back of him."

"Very well then, let us exchange promises."

"Suppose we go a little more cautiously and discuss them first,"
suggested King.

"I will promise both of you your life, your eventual freedom, and my
friendship. Will you promise me not to go in league with _her_----"

"I'll agree to that unconditionally!" King assured him with a dry smile.

"--not to try to learn the secret of the science----"

"Why not?"

"Because if you _should_ try I could never save your lives."

"Well, what else?"

"Will you take oath never to disclose the whereabouts of the entrance to
the caverns in which you were allowed to see the sciences?"

"I shall have to think that over."

"Furthermore, will you promise to take whatever means is pointed out to
you of helping India to independence?"

"What do you mean by independence?"

"Self-government."

"I've been working for that ever since I cut my eye-teeth," answered
King. "So has every other British officer and civil servant who has any
sense of public duty."

"Will you continue to work for it, and employ the means that shall be
pointed out to you?"

"Yes is the answer to the first part. Can't answer the second part until
I've studied the means."

"Will you join me in preventing that princess from throwing the world
into fresh confusion?"

"Dunno about joining you. It's part of my business to prevent her little
game," King answered.

"She has proven herself almost too clever, even for us," said the
Mahatma. "She spied on us, and she hid so many witnesses behind a wall
pierced with holes that it would be impossible for us to make sure of
destroying all of them. And somewhere or other she has hidden an account
of what she knows, so that if anything should happen to her it would
fall into the hands of the Government and compel investigation."

"Wise woman!" King said smiling.

"Yes! But not so altogether wise. Hitherto we fooled her for all her
cleverness. Her price of silence was education in our mysteries, and we
have made the education incomprehensible."

"Then why do you want my help?"

"Because she has a plan now that is so magnificent in its audacity as to
baffle even our secret council!"

King whistled, and the Mahatma looked annoyed--whether with himself or
King I was not sure.

"That is what I have been hunting for three years--your secret council.
I knew it existed; never could prove it," said King.

"Can you prove it now?" asked the Mahatma with even more visible
annoyance.

"I think so. You'll have to help me."

"I?"

"You or the Princess!" King answered. "Shall I join you or her?"

"Thou fool! There was a sheep who asked, 'Which shall I run with, tiger
or wolf?' Consider that a moment!"

King showed him the courtesy of considering it, and was silent for
perhaps two minutes, during which the mahout judged it opportune to
whine forth his own demands. But nobody took any notice of him.

"You seem check-mate to me," King said at last. "You daren't kill my
friend or me. You daren't make away with us. You daren't make away with
the Princess. The Princess and several of her women know enough of your
secret to be able to force your hand; so do my friend Mr. Ramsden and I.
Mr. Ramsden and I have seen sufficient in that madhouse underneath the
temple to compel a Government inquiry. Is it peace or war, Mahatma? Will
you introduce me to your secret council, or will you fight to a finish?"

"I would rather not fight with you, my young friend."

"Introduce me, then," King answered, smiling.

"You don't know what you ask--what that involves."

"But I propose to know," said King.

The Mahatma never seemed to mind acknowledging defeat.

"I see you are determined," he said quietly. "Determination, my young
friend, combined with ignorance, is a murderer nine times out of ten.
However, you do not understand that, and you are determined, I have no
authority to make such terms as you propose, but I will submit the
matter to those whom you desire to meet. Does that satisfy you?"

King looked immensely dissatisfied.

"I would rather be your friend than your enemy," he answered.

"So said light and darkness each to the other when they first met! You
shall have your answer presently. In the mean time will you try not to
make my task even more difficult than it already is?"

King laughed uncomfortably.

"Mahatma, I like you well enough, but no terms until I have your answer!
Sorry! I'd like to be friends with you."

"The pity of it is that though you are honestly determined you are bound
to fail," the Mahatma answered; and at that he dismissed the whole
subject with a motion of one hand, and turned toward Ismail, who was
lurking about in the shadows like a wolf.

The Mahatma sent the man to the door of the _panch mahal_ with a message
that money was needed; and the mahout spent the next ten minutes in loud
praises of his kneeling elephant, presumably on the theory that "it pays
to advertise," for it is not only the West that worships at that shrine.

When Ismail came back with a tray on which were several little heaps of
money the mahout went into abject ecstasies of mingled jubilee and
reverence. His mouth betrayed unbelief and his eyes glinted avarice. His
fingers twitched with agonied anticipation, and he began to praise his
elephant again, as some people recite proverbs to keep themselves from
getting too excited.

The various heaps of money on the tray must have amounted to about fifty
dollars. The mahout spread out the end of his turban by way of begging
bowl, and the Mahatma shook all the money into it, so that Ismail gasped
and the mahout himself turned up his eyes in exquisite delirium.

"Go or you will be too late!" was all the Mahatma said to him, and the
mahout did not wait for a second command, but mounted his elephant's
neck, kicked the big brute up and rode away, in a hurry to be off before
he should wake up and discover that the whole adventure was a dream.

But he could not get away with it as easily as all that. Ismail was
keeper of the gate, and the gate was locked. Akbar doubtless could have
broken down the gate if so instructed, but even the East, which is never
long on gratitude, would hardly do that much damage after receiving such
a royal largesse. Ismail went to unlock the gate, and demanded his
percentage, giving it, though, the Eastern name, which means "the usual
thing."

And the usual argument took place--I approached to listen to it--the
usual recriminations, threats, counterclaims, abuse, appeals to various
deaf deities, and finally concession--after Ismail had made the
all-compelling threat to tell the other mahouts how much the gift had
amounted to. I suppose it was instinct that suggested that idea. At any
rate, it worked and the mahout threw a handful of coins to him.

Thereat, of course, there was immediate, immense politeness on both
sides. Ismail prayed that Allah might make the mahout as potbellied and
idle as his elephant; and the mahout suggested to a dozen corruptible
deities that Ismail might be happier with a thousand children and wives
who were true to him. Whereat Ismail opened the gate, and Akbar helped
himself liberally to sugar-cane from a passing wagon; so that every one
was satisfied except the rightful owner of the sugar-cane, who cursed
and wept and called Akbar an honest rajah, by way I suppose of
expressing his opinion of all the tax-levying powers that be.

There happened to be a thing they call a "constabeel" going by, and the
owner of the sugar-cane appealed to him for justice and relief. So the
"constabeel" prodded Akbar's rump with his truncheon, and helped
himself, too, to sugar-cane by way of balancing accounts. And while the
owner of the sugar-cane was bellowing red doctrine about that, Ismail
went out and helped himself likewise, only more liberally, carrying in
an armful of the stuff, and slamming the gate in the faces of all
concerned. In cynical enjoyment of the blasphemy outside he sat down
then in the shadow of the wall to chew the cane and count the change
extorted from the mahout.

"Behold India self-governed!" I said, turning to beckon through the arch
between the two courtyards.

But the Mahatma was gone! And unlike the Cheshire cat, he had not even
left a smile behind him--had not even left Athelstan King behind him.
The two had disappeared as silently and as utterly as if they had never
been there!



CHAPTER X

A DATE WITH DOOM


I hunted about, looked around corners, searched the next courtyard, and
drew blank. Then I asked Ismail, and he mocked me.

"The Mahatma? You are like those fools who pursue virtue. There never
was any!"

"That mahout named you rightly just now," said I. "He knew your
character perfectly."

"That may be," Ismail answered, rising to his feet. "But he was on an
elephant where I could not reach him. You think you are a strong man?
Feel of that then!"

He was old, but no mean adversary. Luckily for him he did not draw a
knife. I hugged the wind out of him, whirled him until he was dizzy and
threw him down into his dog's corner by the gate, not much the worse
except for a bruise or two.

"Now!" I said. "Which way went King sahib and the Gray Mahatma?"

"All ways are one, and the one way leads to _her_!"

That was all I could get out of him. So I took the one way, straight
down through the courtyards and under the arches, past the old black
panther's cage--the way that King and I had taken when we first arrived.
But it seemed like a year since I had trodden those ancient flagstones
side by side with King--more than a year! It seemed as if a dozen
lifetimes intervened. And it also occurred to me that I was growing
famished and desperately sleepy, and I knew that King must be in even
worse condition. The old, black panther was sleeping as I went by, and I
envied him.

There was a choice of two ways when I reached the _panch mahal_, for it
was feasible to enter through the lower door, which was apparently
unguarded, and climb the stone stairway that wound inside the wall.
However, I chose the marble front steps, and barked my knuckles on the
door at the top.

I was kept waiting several minutes, and then four women opened it in
place of the customary two; and instead of smiling, as on previous
occasions, they frowned, lining up across the threshold. They were older
women than the others had been and looked perfectly capable of showing
fight; allowing for their long pins and possible hidden weapons I would
not have given ten cents for my chance against them. So I asked for King
and the Mahatma.

They pretended not to understand. They knew no Hindustani. My dialect of
Punjabi was as Greek to them. They knew nothing about my clothes, or the
suitcase that King and I shared between us and that, according to
Yasmini, had been carried by her orders to the palace. The words "King"
and "Mahatma" seemed to convey no meaning to them. They made it
perfectly obvious that they suspected me of being mad.

I began to suspect myself of the same thing! Feeling as sleepy as I did,
it was not unreasonable to suspect myself at any rate of dreaming; yet I
had sufficient power of reasoning left to argue that if those were
dream-women they would give way in front of me. So I stepped straight
forward, and they no more gave way than a she-bear will if you call on
her when she is nursing cubs. Two more women stepped out from behind the
curtains with long slithery daggers in their hands, and somehow I was
not minded to test whether those were dream-daggers or not.

It was a puzzle to know what to do. The one unthinkable thing would be
to leave King unsought for. Suddenly it occurred to me to try that door
underneath the steps; so I kissed my hand irreverently to the
quarterguard of harridans, and turned my back on them--which I daresay
was the most unwise move that I ever made in my whole life. I have done
things that were more disastrous in the outcome, but never anything more
deserving of ruin.

Have you ever been tackled, tripped and hog-tied by women? Run rather
than risk it!

They threw a rope over my shoulders from behind, and I felt the foot of
one termagant in the small of my back as she hauled taut. I spun round
and stepped forward to slacken the noose and free myself, and two more
nooses went over my head in swift succession. Another caught my right
foot--another my right hand! More women came, with more ropes. It was
only a matter of seconds before they were almost dragging me asunder as
they hauled, two hags to a rope, and every one of them straining as if
the game were tug-of-war.

There was nothing else to do, and plenty of inducement, so I did it. I
yelled. I sent my voice bellowing through those echoing halls to such
tune that if King were anywhere in the place he would have to hear me.
But it did me no good. They only produced a gag and added that to my
discomfort, shoving a great lump of rubber in my mouth and wrapping a
towel over it so tightly that I could hardly breathe.

Then came Yasmini, gorgeously amused, standing at the top of the steps
where the inner hall was raised a few feet above the outer, and ordering
me blindfolded as well as rendered dumb.

"For if he can see as well as he can roar he will presently know too
much," she explained sarcastically.

So they wrapped another towel over my eyes and pinned it with a cursed
export safety-pin that pierced clean through my scalp. And the harder I
struggled, the tighter they pulled on the ropes and the louder Yasmini
laughed, until I might as well have been on that rack that King and I
saw in the cavern underneath the temple.

"So strong _Ganesha-ji_!" she mocked. "So strong and yet so impotent!
Such muscles! Look at them! Can the buffalo hear, or are his ears
stopped too?"

A woman rearranged the head-towel to make sure that my ears were missing
nothing; after which Yasmini purred her pleasantest.

"O buffalo Ganesha, I would have you whipped to death if I thought that
would not anger Athelstan! What do you mistake me for? Me, who have been
twice a queen! That was a mighty jump from my window; and even as the
buffalo you swam, Ganesha! Buffalo, buffalo! Who but a buffalo would
snatch my Athelstan away from me, and then return alone! What have you
done with him? Hah! You would like to answer that you have done nothing
with him--buffalo, buffalo! He would never have left you willingly, nor
you him--you two companions who share one foolish little bag between
you!

"Does he love you? Hope, Ganesha! Hope that he loves you! For unless he
comes to find you, Ganesha, all the horrors that you saw last night, and
all the deaths, and all the tortures shall be yours--with alligators at
last to abolish the last traces of you! Do you like snakes, Ganesha? Do
you like a madhouse in the dark? I think not. Therefore, Ganesha, you
shall be left to yourself to think a little while. Think keenly! Invent
a means of finding Athelstan and I will let you go free for his sake.
But--fail--to think--of a successful plan--Ganesha--and you shall suffer
in every atom of your big body! Bass! Take him away!"

I was frog-marched, and flung face-downward on to cushions, after which
I heard a door snap shut and had leisure to work myself free from the
ropes and gag and towels. It took time, for the hussies had drawn the
cords until they bit into the muscles, and maybe I was twenty minutes
about getting loose. Then, for ten minutes more I sat and chafed the
rope-cuts, craving food, examining the room, and wishing above all
things that conscience would let me fall asleep on the feathery, scented
pillows with which the floor was strewn, rather than stay awake on the
off-chance of discovering where King might be.

It was practically a bare room, having walls of painted wood that
sounded solid when I made the circuit of the floor and tapped each panel
in turn. But that proved nothing, for even the door sounded equally
solid; the folk who built that palace used solid timber, not veneer, and
as I found out afterward the door was nearly a foot thick. On the floor
I could make no impression whatever by thumping, and there was no
furniture except the pillows--nothing that I could use for a weapon.

But there were the cotton ropes with which they had bound me, and before
doing anything else I knotted them all into one. I had no particular
reason for doing that beyond the general principle that one long rope is
usually better than a half-a-dozen short ones in most emergencies.

There was only one window, and that was perhaps two feet high, big
enough, that is, to scramble through, but practically inaccessible, and
barred. The only weapon I had was that infernal brass safety-pin that
had held the towel to my scalp, and I stuck that away in my clothes like
a magpie hiding things on general principles.

I began to wonder whether it would not be wisest after all to lie down
and sleep. But I was too hungry to sleep, and it was recognition of that
fact which produced the right idea.

Beyond doubt Yasmini realized that I was hungry. She had threatened me
with tortures, and was likely to inflict them if she should think that
necessary; but nothing seemed more unlikely than that she would keep me
for the present without food and water. It would be bad strategy, to say
the least of it. She had admitted that she did not want to offend King.

The more I considered that, the more worth while it seemed to bet on it;
and as I had nothing to bet with except will power and personal
convenience, I plunged with both and determined to stay awake as long as
human endurance could hold out.

There was only one way that food could possibly be brought into the
room, and that was through the massive teak-wood door. It was in the
middle of the wall, and opened inward; there were no bolts on the
inside. Anybody opening it cautiously would be able to see instantly all
down the length of half that wall, and possibly two thirds of the room
as well.

It would have been hardly practical to stand against the door and hit at
the first head that showed, for then if the door should open suddenly,
it would strike me and give the alarm. There was nothing else for it but
to stand well back against the wall on the side of the door on which the
hinges were; and as that would make the range too long for quick action
I had to invent some other means of dealing with the owner of the first
head than jumping in and punching it.

There was nothing whatever to contrive a trap with but the cotton rope
and the safety-pin, but the safety-pin like Mohammed's Allah, "made all
things possible." I stuck that safety-pin in the woodwork and hung the
noose in such position that the least jerk would bring it down over an
intruding head--practised the stunt for ten or fifteen minutes, and then
got well back against the wall with the end of the line in hand, and
waited.

I have read Izaak Walton, and continue unconvinced. I still class
fishing and golf together with tiddledywinks, and eschew all three as
thoughtfully as I avoid bazaars and "crushes" given by the ladies of
both sexes. The rest of that performance was too much like fishing with
a worm to suit my temperament, and although I caught more in the end
than I ever took with rod and line, the next half-hour was boredom pure
and simple, multiplied to the point of torture by intense yearning for
sleep.

But patience sometimes is rewarded. I very nearly was asleep when the
sound of a bolt being drawn on the far side of the door brought every
sense to the alert with that stinging feeling that means blood spurting
through your veins after a spell of lethargy. The bolt was a long time
drawing, as if some one were afraid of making too much noise, and I had
plenty of time to make sure that my trap was in working order.

And when the door opened gingerly at last, a head inserted itself, my
noose fell, and I hauled taut, I don't know which was most
surprised--myself or the Gray Mahatma! I jerked the noose so tight that
he could not breathe, let alone argue the point. I reckon I nearly
hanged him, for his neck jammed against the door, and I did not dare let
go for fear he might withdraw himself and collapse on the wrong side. I
wanted him _in_side, and in a hurry.

He was about two-thirds unconscious when I seized him by his one long
lock of hair and hauled him in, shutting the door again and leaning my
weight against it, while I pried the noose free to save him from sure
death. Those cotton ropes don't render the way a hemp one would. And
while I was doing that a sickening, utterly unexpected sound announced
that somebody outside the door had cautiously shot the bolt again! The
Mahatma and I were both prisoners!

I sat the old fellow down on a cushion in a corner and chafed his neck
until the blood performed its normal office of revivifying him. And as
he slowly opened first one eye and then the other, instead of cursing me
as I expected, he actually smiled.

"The quality of your mercy was rather too well strained," he said in
English, "but I thank you for the offer nevertheless!"

"Offer?" I answered. "What offer have I made you?"

"A very friendly offer. But the penalty of being in the secret of our
sciences is that we may not die, except in the service of the cause.
Therefore, my friend, your goodwill fell on barren ground, for if you
had succeeded in killing me my obligation would have been held to pass
to you, and you would have suffered terribly."

"Who locked the door on us just now?" I asked him.

"I don't know," he answered, smiling whimsically.

"Very well," I said, "suppose you work one of your miracles! You and
King disappeared a while ago simply perfectly from right alongside me.
Can you repeat the process here and spirit me away?"

He shook his head.

"My friend, if your eyes had not been fixed on things unworthy of
consideration such as an elephant's rump and the theft of sugar-cane,
you would have seen us go."

"How did you persuade King to leave me standing there without a word of
warning?" I demanded.

"How were you persuaded into this place?" he retorted.

"You mean you gagged and bound him?"

He smiled again.

"Your friend was weak from having so nearly been drowned; nevertheless,
you overestimate my powers!"

"When I first met you, you gripped my hand," I answered. "I am reckoned
a strong man, yet I could not shift your hand a fraction of an inch. Now
you suggest that you are weaker than a half-drowned man. I don't
understand you."

"Of course you don't. That is because you don't understand the form of
energy that I used on the first occasion. Unfortunately I can only use
it when arrangements have been made in advance. It is as mechanical as
your watch, only a different kind of mechanics--something, in fact, that
some of your Western scientists would say has not yet been invented."

"Well, where's King?" I asked him.

"Upstairs. He asked me to bring you. Now how can I?"

He smiled again with that peculiar whimsical helplessness that
contrasted so strangely with his former arrogance. He who had looked
like a lion when we first encountered him seemed now to be a meek and
rather weak old man--much weaker in fact than could be accounted for by
the red ring that my noose had made on his neck.

"Is King at liberty?" I demanded.

"And what do you call liberty?" he asked me blandly, as if he were
really curious to know my opinion on that subject.

"Can he come and go without molestation?"

"If he cares to run that risk, and is not caught. Try not to become
impatient with me! Anger is impotence! Explanations that do not explain
are part and parcel of all religions and most sciences; therefore why
lose your temper? Your friend is free to come and go, but must take his
chance of being caught. He pursues investigations."

"Where?"

"Where else than in this palace? Listen!"

Among all the phenomena of nature there is none more difficult to
explain than sound. Hitherto in that teak-lined room we had seemed shut
off from the rest of the world completely, for the door and walls were
so thick and the floor so solid that sound-waves seemed unable to
penetrate. Yet now a noise rather like sandpaper being chafed together
began to assert itself so distinctly as to seem almost to have its
origin in the room. In a way it resembled the forest noise when a breeze
stirs the tree-tops at night--irregular enough, and yet with a kind of
pulse in it, increasing and decreasing.

"You recognize that?" asked the Mahatma.

I shook my head.

"Veiled women, walking!"

"You mean the princesses have come?"

"A few, and their attendants."

"How many princesses?"

"Oh, not more than twenty. But each will bring at the least twenty
attendants, and perhaps a score of friends, each of whom in turn will
have her own attendants. And only the princesses and their friends will
enter the audience hall, which, however, will be surrounded by the
attendants, whose business it will be to see that no stranger, and above
all no male shall see or overhear."

"And if they were to catch Athelstan King up there?"

"That would be his last and least pleasant experience in this world!"

That was easy enough to believe. I had just had an experience of what
those palace women could do.

"She, who learned our secrets, will take care that none shall play that
trick on _her_," the Mahatma went on confidently. "These women will use
the audience hall she lent to us. Their plan is to control the new
movement in India, and their strength consists in secrecy. They will
take all precautions."

"Do you mean to tell me," I demanded, "that as you sit here now you are
impotent? Can't you work any of your tricks?"

"Those are not tricks, my friend, they are sciences. Can your Western
scientists perform to order without their right environment and
preparations?"

"Then you can't break that door down, or turn loose any magnetic force?"

"You speak like a superstitious fool," he retorted calmly. "The answer
is no."

"That," said I, "is all that I was driving at. Do you see this?" And I
held my right fist sufficiently close to his nose to call urgent
attention to it. "Tell me just what transpired between you and King from
the time when you disappeared out there in the courtyard until you came
in here alone!"

"No beating in the world could make me say a word," he answered calmly.
"You would only feel horribly ashamed."

I believed him, and sat still, he looking at me in a sort of way in
which a connoisseur studies a picture with his eyelids a little lowered.

"Nevertheless," he went on presently, "I observe that I have misjudged
you in some respects. You are a man of violent temper, which is cave-man
foolishness; yet you have prevailing judgment, which is the beginning of
civilization. There is no reason why I should not tell you what you
desire to know, even though it will do you no good."

"I listen," I answered, trying to achieve that air of humility with
which _chelas_ listen to their _gurus_.

That was partly because I really respected the man in a way; and partly
because there was small harm in flattering him a little, if that could
induce him to tell me the more.

"Know then," he began, "that it was my fault that the Princess Yasmini
was able to play that trick on us. It was to me that she first made the
proposal that we should use her audience hall for our conference. It was
I who conveyed that proposal to those whom it concerned, and I who
persuaded them. It was through my lack of diligence that the
hiding-place was overlooked in which she and certain of her women lay
concealed, so that they overheard some of our secrets.

"For that I should have been condemned to death at once, and it would
have been better if that had been done.

"Yet for fifty years I have been a man of honor. And although it is one
of our chief requirements that we lay aside such foolishness as
sentiment, nevertheless the seeds of sentiment remained, and those men
were loath to enforce the penalty on me, who had taught so many of them.

"So they compromised, which is inevitably fatal. For compromise bears
within itself the roots of right and wrong, so that whatever good may
come of it must nevertheless be ruined by inherent evil. I bade them use
me for their studies, and have done with compromise, but being at fault
my authority was gone, so they had their way.

"They imposed on me the task of making use of the Princess Yasmini, and
of employing her by some means to make a beginning of the liberation of
India. And she sought to make use of me to get Athelstan King into her
clutches. Moreover, believing that her influence over us was now too
great to be resisted, she demanded that Athelstan King and yourself
should be shown sciences; and I consented, believing that thereby your
friend might be convinced, and would agree to go to the United States to
shape public opinion.

"Thereafter you know what happened. You know also that, because the
seeds of compromise were inherent in the plan, my purpose failed.
Instead of consenting to go to the United States Athelstan King insisted
on learning our sciences. You and he escaped, by a dive from the upper
window of this palace that would not have disgraced two fish-hawks, and
although you never guessed it, by that dive you sentenced me to death.

"For I had to report your escape to those whom it most concerned. And at
once it was obvious to them that you were certain to tell what you had
seen.

"Nevertheless, there was one chance remaining that you might both be
drowned; and one chance that you might be recaptured before you could
tell any one what you had seen. And there was a third chance that, if
you should be recaptured, you might be persuaded to promise never to
reveal what little of our secrets you already know. In that case, your
lives might be spared, although not mine.

"So it was laid upon me to discover where you were, and to bring you
back if possible. And on the polished table in that cave in which you
saw Benares and Bombay and London and New York, I watched you swim down
the river until you were rescued by the elephants.

"So then I went to meet you and bring you back."

"What if we had refused?"

"That elephant you rode--hah! One word from me, and the mob would have
blamed you for the damage. They would have pulled you from the elephant
and beaten you to death. Such processes are very simple to any one who
understands mob-passions. Just a word--just a hint--and the rest is
inevitable."

"But you say you are under sentence of death. What if you should refuse
to obey them?"

"Why refuse? What good would that do?"

"But you were at liberty. Why not run away?"

"Whither? Besides, should I, who have enforced the penalty of death on
so many fools, disloyal ones and fanatics, reject it for myself when I
myself have failed? There is nothing unpleasant about death, my friend,
although the manner of it may be terrible. But even torture is soon
over; and the sting is gone from torture when the victim knows that the
cause of science is thereby being advanced. They will learn from my
agonies."

"Suit yourself!" I urged him. "Each to his own amusement. What happened
after I turned to watch the elephant at the gate?"

"Those on whom the keeping of our secret rests considered that none
would believe you, even if you were to tell what you have seen. But
Athelstan King is different. For many years the Indian Government has
accepted his bare word. Moreover, we knew that we can also accept his
word. He is a man whose promises are as good as money, as the saying is.

"So after you turned aside to watch an elephant, those who were watching
us opened a hidden door and Athelstan King was made prisoner from
behind. They carried him bound and gagged into a cavern such as those
you visited; and there he was confronted by the Nine Unknown, who asked
him whether or not he will promise never to reveal what he had seen."

The Mahatma paused.

"Did he promise?" I asked him.

"He refused. What was more, he dared them to make away with him, saying
that the mahout who had accompanied us hither would already have
informed the Maharajah Jihanbihar, who would certainly report to the
Government. And I, standing beside him, confirmed his statement."

"You seem to have acted as prosecuting attorney against yourself!" I
said.

"No, I simply told the truth," he answered. "We who calculate in terms
of eternity and infinity have scant use for untruth. I told the Nine
Unknown the exact truth--that this man Athelstan King might not be
killed, because of the consequences; and that whatever he might say to
certain officers of the Government would be believed. So they let him go
again, and set midnight to-night as the hour of the beginning of my
death."

"Did King know that his refusal to promise entailed your death?" I
asked.

He shook his head.

"Why didn't you tell him?"

"Because it would not have been true, my friend. I had already been
sentenced to death. His promise could make no possible difference to my
fate. They let him go, and ordered me to present myself at midnight; so
I went with him, to preserve him from the cobras in a tunnel through
which he must pass.

"I brought him into this palace by hidden ways, and after I had shown
him the audience hall, where these princesses are to meet, he asked me
to go and find you--that being easier for me than for him, because none
in this palace would be likely to question me, whereas he would be
detected instantly and watched, even if not prevented. And when I had
found you--and you nearly killed me--some one, as you know, locked the
door and shut us in here together. It is all one to me," he added with a
shrug of the shoulders; "I have only until midnight at any event, and it
makes small difference where I spend the intervening hours. Perhaps you
would like to sleep a little? Why not? Sleep, and I will keep watch."

But, badly though I needed sleep, that sort of death-watch did not quite
appeal. Besides, gentle, and honest and plausible though the Gray
Mahatma now seemed, there was still something within me that rebelled at
trusting him entirely. He had been all along too mysterious, and mystery
is what irritates most of us more than anything else. It needs a man
like Athelstan King to recognize the stark honesty of such a man as that
Gray Mahatma; and Athelstan King was not there to set the example. I
preferred to keep awake by continuing to question him.

"And d'you mean that those devils will deliberately torture you to death
after you surrender voluntarily?" I asked.

"They are not devils," he answered solemnly.

"But they'll torture you?"

"What is called torture can hardly fail to accompany the process they
will put me through--especially if I am to be honored as I hope. For a
long time we have sought to make one experiment for which no suitable
subject could be found. For centuries it has been believed that a
certain scientific step is possible; but the subject on whom the
experiment is tried must be one who knows all our secrets and well
understands the manipulation of vibrations of the atmosphere. It is
seldom that such an one has to be sentenced to death. And it is one of
our laws that death shall never be imposed on any one not deserving of
it. There are many, myself included, who would cheerfully have offered
ourselves for that experiment at any time, had it been allowed."

"So you're really almost contented with the prospect?" I suggested.

"No, my friend. I am discontented. And for this reason. It may be that
the nine unknown, who are obliged by the oath of our order to be stern
and devoid of sentiment, will discover how pleased I would be to submit
myself to that experiment. And in that case, in place of that experiment
they would feel obliged merely to repeat some test that I have seen a
dozen times."

"And throw your body to the alligators afterward?"

"In that case, yes. But if what I hope takes place, there will be
nothing left for the alligators--nothing but bones without moisture in
them that will seem ten centuries old."



CHAPTER XI

"KILL! KILL!"


The Gray Mahatma sat still, contemplating with apparent equanimity his
end that should begin at midnight, and I sat contemplating him, when
suddenly a new idea occurred to me.

"You intend to surrender to your executioners at midnight?" I asked him.

He nodded gravely.

"Suppose she keeps us locked in here; what then? You say you can't use
your science to get out of here. What if you're late for the
assignation?"

"You forget," he said with a deprecating gesture, "that they can see
exactly where I am at any time! If they enter the cavern of vision and
turn on the power they can see us now, instantly. They know perfectly
well that my intention is to surrender to them. Therefore they will take
care to make my escape from this place possible."

Five minutes later the door opened suddenly, and six women marched in.
Two of them had wave-edged daggers, two had clubs, and the other two
brought food and water. It was pretty good food, and there was enough of
it for two; but the women would not say a word in answer to my
questions.

They set the food and water down and filed out one by one, the last one
guarding the retreat of all the rest and slipping out backward, pulling
the door shut after her. Whereat I offered the Mahatma food and drink,
but he refused the hot curry and only accepted a little water from the
brass carafe.

"They will feed me special food to-night, for I shall need my strength,"
he explained; but the explanation was hardly satisfying.

I did not see how he could be any stronger later on for having let
himself grow weaker in the interval. Nevertheless, I have often noticed
this--that the East can train athletes by methods absolutely opposite to
those imposed by trainers in the West, and it may be that their
asceticism is based on something more than guesswork. I ate enormously,
and he sat and watched me with an air of quiet amusement. He seemed to
grow more and more friendly all the time, and to forget that he had made
several attempts on my life, although his yellow eyes and lionlike way
of carrying his head still gave you an uncomfortable feeling, not of
mistrust but of incomprehension.

I began to realize how accurately King had summed him up; he was an
absolutely honest man, which was why he was dangerous. His standards of
conduct and motives were utterly different from ours, and he was honest
enough to apply them without compromise or warning, that was all.

I was curious about his death sentence, and also anxious to keep awake,
so I questioned him further, asking him point blank what kind of
experiment they were going to try on him, and what would be the use of
it. He meditated for about five minutes before answering:

"Is it within your knowledge that those who make guns seek ever to make
them powerful enough to penetrate the thickest armor; and that the men
who make armor seek always to make it strong enough to resist the most
powerful guns, so that first the guns are stronger, and then the armor,
and then the guns and then the armor again, until nations groan beneath
the burden of extravagance? You know that?

"Understand, then, that that is but imitation of a higher law. A
fragment of the force that we control is greater than the whole power of
all the guns in the world, and forever we are seeking the knowledge of
how to protect ourselves against it, so that we may safely experiment
with higher potencies. As we learn the secret of safety we increase the
power, and then learn more safety, and again increase the power.
Perpetually there comes a stage at which we dare not go
forward--yet--because we do not yet know what the result of higher
potencies will be on our own bodies. Do you understand me? So. There
will be an experiment to-night to ascertain the utmost limit of our
present ability to resist the force."

"You mean they'll try the force on you?"

He nodded.

"Why not use an alligator? There are lots of creatures that die harder
than a human being."

"It must be one who understands," he answered. "Not even a neophyte
would do. It must be one of iron courage, who will resist to the last,
enduring agony rather than letting in death that would instantly end the
agony. It must be one who knows the full extent of all our knowledge,
and can therefore apply all our present resources of resistance, so that
the very outside edge of safety, as it were, may be measured
accurately."

"And how long is the process likely to last?" I asked him.

"Who knows?" he answered. "Possibly three days, or longer. They will
feed me scientifically, and will increase the potencies gradually, in
order to observe the exact effects at different stages. And some of the
more painful stages they will repeat again and again, because the
greater the pain the greater the difficulty of registering exact degrees
of resistance. The higher vibrations are not by any means always the
most painful, any more than the brightest colors or the highest notes
are always the most beautiful."

"Then you are to use your knowledge of resistance against their
knowledge of force--is that it?"

He nodded.

"Isn't there a chance then that you may hold out to a point that will
satisfy them? A point, I mean, at which you'll be more useful to them
alive than dead? Surely if you should live and tell them all about it
that would serve the purpose better than to have you dead and silent
forever?"

He smiled like a school teacher turning down a promising pupil's
suggestion.

"They will vibrate every atom of flesh and every drop of moisture from
my bones before they have finished," he answered, "and they will do it
as gradually as possible seeking to ascertain exactly the point at which
human life ceases to persist. My part will be to retain my faculties to
the very end, in order to exercise resistance to the last. So a great
deal depends on my courage. It is possible that this experiment may
carry science forward to a point where it commences a new era, for if we
can learn to survive the higher potencies, a whole new realm will lie
before us awaiting exploration."

"And if you refuse?"

"A dog's death!"

"Have they no use for mercy?"

"Surely. But mercy is not treason. It would be treason to the cause to
let me live. I failed. I let the secret out. I _must_ die. That is the
law. If they let me live, the next one who failed would quote the
precedent, and within a century or so a new law of compromise would have
crept in. Our secrets would be all out, and the world would use our
knowledge to destroy itself. No. They show their mercy by making use of
me, instead of merely throwing my dead carcass to the alligators."

"If you will tell me your real name I will tell them at Johns Hopkins
about your death, and perhaps they will inscribe your record on some
roll of martyrs," I suggested.

I think that idea tempted him, for his eyes brightened and grew
strangely softer for a moment. He was about to speak, but at that moment
the door opened again, and things began to occur that drove all thought
of Johns Hopkins from our minds.

About a dozen women entered this time. They did not trouble to tie the
Mahatma, but they bound me as the Philistines did Samson, and then threw
a silken bag over my head by way of blindfold. The bag would have been
perfectly effective if I had not caught it in my teeth as they drew it
over my shoulders. It did not take long to bite a hole in it, nor much
longer to move my head about until I had the hole in front of my right
eye, after which I was able to see fairly well where they were leading
me.

Women of most lands are less generous than men to any one in their
power. Men would have been satisfied to let me follow them along or
march in front of them, provided I went fast enough to suit them, but
those vixens hardly treated me as human. Perhaps they thought that
unless they beat, shoved, prodded and kicked me all the way along those
corridors and up the gilded stairs I might forget who held the upper
hand for the moment; but I think not. I think it was simply
sex-venom--the half-involuntary vengeance that the under-dog inflicts on
the other when positions are reversed. When India's women finally break
purdah and enter politics openly, we shall see more cruelty and
savagery, for that reason, than either the French or Russian terrors had
to show.

I was bruised and actually bleeding in a dozen places when they hustled
me down a corridor at last, and crowded me into a narrow anteroom, where
the two harridans who had handled me hardest had the worst of it. I gave
them what in elephant stables is known as the "squeeze," crushing them
to right and left against projecting walls; whereat they screamed, and I
heard the reproving voice of the Mahatma just behind me:

"Violence is the folly of beasts. Patience and strength are one!"

But they were not sticking pins into his ribs and thighs to humiliate
and discourage him. He was being led by either hand, and cooed to softly
in the sort of way that members of the Dorcas Guild would treat a
bishop. It was easy enough for him to feel magnanimous. I managed to
tread hard on one foot, and to squeeze two more women as they shoved me
through a door into a vast audience hall, and the half-suppressed
screams were music in my ears. I don't see why a woman who uses pins on
a prisoner should be any more immune than a man from violent
retaliation.

When they had shut the door they stripped the silk bag off over my head
and holding me by the arms, four on either side, dragged me to the
middle of a hall that was at least as large as Carnegie Hall in New
York, and two or three thousand times as sumptuous.

I stood on a strip of carpet six feet wide, facing a throne that faced
the door I had entered by. The throne was under a canopy, and formed the
center of a horseshoe ring of gilded chairs, on every one of which sat a
heavily veiled woman. Except that they were marvelously dressed in all
the colors of the rainbow and so heavily jeweled that they flashed like
the morning dew, there was nothing to identify any of the women except
one. She was Yasmini. And she sat on the throne in the center, unveiled,
unjeweled, and content to outshine all of them without any kind of
artificial aid.

She sat under a hard white light directed from behind a lattice in the
wall that would have exaggerated the slightest imperfection of looks or
manner; and she looked like a fairy-book queen--like the queen you used
to think of in the nursery when your aunt read stories to you and the
illustrated Sunday supplements had not yet disillusioned you as to how
queens wear their hats.

She was Titania, with a touch of Diana the Huntress, and decidedly
something of Athena, goddess of wisdom, clothed in flowing cream that
showed the outlines of her figure, and with sandals on her bare feet.
Not a diamond. Not a jewel of any kind. Her hair was bound up in the
Grecian fashion and shone like yellow gold.

Surely she seemed to have been born for the very purpose of presiding.
Perhaps she was the only one who was at ease, for the others shifted
restlessly behind their veils and had that vague, uncertain air that
goes with inexperience--although one woman, larger looking than the
rest, and veiled in embroidered black instead of colors, sat on a chair
near the throne with a rather more nervy-looking outline. There were
more than a hundred women in there all told.

Yasmini's change of countenance at sight of my predicament was
instantaneous. I don't doubt it was her fault that I had been mistreated
on the way up, for these women had seen me bound by her orders and
mocked by her a couple of hours previously. But now she saw fit to seem
indignant at the treatment I had suffered, and she made even the ranks
of veiled princesses shudder as she rose and stormed at my captors,
giving each word a sort of whip-lash weight.

"Shall a guest of mine suffer in my house?"

One of the women piped up with a complaint against me. I had trodden on
her foot and crushed her against a door-jamb.

"Would he had slain you!" she retorted. "She-dog! Take her away! I will
punish her afterward! Who stuck pins into him? Speak, or I will punish
all of you!"

None owned up, but three or four of them who had not been able to come
near enough to do me any damage betrayed the others, so she ordered all
except four of them out of the room to await punishment at her
convenience. And then she proceeded to apologize to me with such royal
grace and apparent sincerity that I wondered whom she suspected of
overhearing her. Wondering, my eyes wandering, I noticed the woman
veiled in black. She was an elderly looking female, rather crouched up
in her gorgeous shawl as if troubled with rheumatism, and neither her
hands nor her feet were visible, both being hidden in the folds of the
long _sari_.

The next instant Yasmini flew into a passion because the Mahatma and I
were kept standing. The Mahatma was not standing, as a matter of fact;
he had already squatted on the floor beside me. The women brought us
stools, but the Mahatma refused his. Thinking I might be less
conspicuous sitting than standing I sat down on my stool, whereat
Yasmini began showering the women with abuse for not having supplied me
with better garments. Considering the long swim, the dusty ride on an
elephant, and two fights with women, during which they had been ripped
nearly into rags, the clothes weren't half-bad!

So they brought me a silken robe that was woven all over with pictures
of the Indian gods. And I sat feeling rather like a Roman, with that
gorgeous toga wrapped around me; I might have been bearing Rome's
ultimatum to the Amazons, supposing those bellicose ladies to have
existed in Rome's day.

But it was presently made exceedingly clear to me that Yasmini and not I
was deliverer of ultimatums. She had the whole future of the world doped
out, and her golden voice proceeded to herald a few of the details in
mellifluous Punjabi.

"Princesses," she began, although doubtless some of them were not
princesses, "this holy and benign Mahatma has been sentenced to die
to-night, by those who resent his having trusted women with royal
secrets. He is too proud to appeal for mercy; too indifferent to his own
welfare to seek to avoid the unjust penalty. But there are others who
are proud, and who are not indifferent!

"We women are too proud to let this Gray Mahatma die on our account! And
it shall not be said of us that we consented to the death of the man who
gave us our first glimpse of the ancient mysteries! I say the Gray
Mahatma shall not die to-night!"

That challenge rang to the roof, and the women fluttered and thrilled to
it. I confess that it thrilled me, for I did not care to think of the
Mahatma's death, having come rather to like the man. The only person in
the hall who showed no trace of the interest was the Mahatma himself,
who squatted on the carpet close beside me as stolid and motionless as a
bronze idol, with his yellow lion's eyes fixed on Yasmini straight ahead
of him.

"These men, who think themselves omnipotent, who own the secret of the
royal sciences," Yasmini went on, "are no less human than the rest of
us. If I alone had learned the key to their secrets, they might have
made an end of me, but there were others, and they did not know how many
others! Now there are more; and not only women, but men! And not only
men, but known men! Men who are known to the Government! Men whom they
dare not try to make away with!

"It is true that if they should destroy the Gray Mahatma none would
inquire for him, for he left the world behind him long ago, and none
knows his real name or the place he can from. But that is not so in the
case of these other men, one of whom sits beside him now. Already
Maharajah Jihanbihar has inquired by telegraph as to their names and
their business here, and the Government agents will be here within a day
or two. Those two white men must be accounted for. Let them, then,
account to us for the Gray Mahatma's life!"

I glanced sideways at the Gray Mahatma. He seemed perfectly indifferent.
He was not even interested in the prospect of reprieve. I think his
thoughts were miles away, although his eyes stared straight ahead at
Yasmini. But he was interested in something, and I received the
impression that he was waiting for that something to happen. His
attitude was almost that of a telegraphist listening for sounds that
have a meaning for him, but none for the common herd. And all at once I
saw him nod, and beckon with a crooked forefinger.

There was nobody in that hall whom he was beckoning to. He was not
nodding to Yasmini. I saw then that his eyes, although they looked
straight at her, were focused beyond her for infinity. And there came to
mind that chamber in the solid rock below the Tirthankers' temple in
which the granite table stood on which whoever knew the secret could see
anything, anywhere! I believe that I am as sane as you, who read this,
and I swear that it seemed reasonable to me at that moment that the Gray
Mahatma knew he was visible to watchers in that cavern, and that he was
signaling to them to come and rescue him--from life, for the appointed
death!

But Yasmini seemed not to have noticed any signaling, and if she did she
certainly ignored it. Perhaps she believed that her hornet's nest of
women could stand off any invasion or interference from without. At any
rate, she went on unfolding her instructions to destiny with perfectly
sublime assurance.

"It is only we women who can arouse India from the dream of the
_Kali-Yug_. It is only in a free India that the Royal sciences can ever
be stripped of their mystery. India is chained at present by opinions.
Therefore opinions must be burst or melted! Melting is easier! It is
hearts that melt opinions! Let these men, therefore, take this Gray
Mahatma with them to the United States and let them melt opinions there!
Let them answer to us for the Mahatma's life, and to us for the work
they do yonder!

"And lest they feel that they have been imposed upon--that they are
beggars sent to beg in behalf of beggars--let us pay them royally! Lo,
there sits one of these men beside the Gray Mahatma. I invite you, royal
women, to provide him with the wherewithal for that campaign to which we
have appointed him and his friend!"

She herself set the example by throwing a purse at me--a leather wallet
stuffed full of English banknotes, and the others had all evidently come
prepared, for the room rained money for about two minutes! Purses fell
on the Mahatma and on me in such profusion that surely Midas never felt
more opulent--although the Mahatma took no notice of them even when one
hit him in the face.

There were all kinds of purses, stuffed with all kinds of money, but
mostly paper money; some, however, had gold in them, for I heard the
gold jingle, and the darned things hurt you when they landed like a rock
on some part of your defenseless anatomy. Take them on the whole, those
women made straight shooting, but not even curiosity was strong enough
to make me pick up one purse and count its contents.

I rose and bowed acknowledgment without intending to commit myself, and
without touching any of the purses, which would have been instantly
interpreted as signifying acceptance. But I sat down again pretty
promptly, for I had no sooner got to my feet than the woman in black got
up too, and throwing aside the embroidered _sari_ disclosed none other
than Athelstan King looking sore-eyed from lack of sleep and rather weak
from all he had gone through, but humorously determined, nevertheless.

Yasmini laughed aloud. Evidently she was in the secret. But nobody else
had known, as the flutter of excitement proved. I think most of the
women were rather deliciously scandalized, although some of them were so
imbued with ancient prejudices that they drew their own veils all the
closer and seemed to be trying to hide behind one another. In fact, any
one interested in discovering which were the progressives and which the
reactionaries in that assembly could have made a good guess in that
minute, although it might not have done him much good unless he had a
good memory for the colors and patterns of _saris_. A woman veiled in
the Indian fashion is not easy to identify.

But before they could make up their minds whether to resent or applaud
the trick that King had played on them with Yasmini's obvious
collaboration, King was well under way with a speech that held them
spellbound. It would have held any audience spellbound by its sheer,
stark manliness. It was straighter from the shoulder than Yasmini's
eloquence, and left absolutely nothing to imagination. Blunt, honest
downrightness, that was the key of it, and it took away the breath of
all those women used to the devious necessities of purdah politics.

"My friend and I refuse," he said, and paused to let them understand
that thoroughly. "We refuse to accept your money."

Yasmini, who prided herself on her instantly ready wit, was too
astonished to retort or to try to stop him. It was clear at a glance
that she and King had had some sort of conference while the Mahatma and
I were locked up together, and she had evidently expected King to fall
in line and accept the trust imposed on him. Even now she seemed to
think that he might be coming at concession in his own way, for her face
had a look of expectancy. But King had nothing in his bag of surprises
except disillusion.

"You see," he went on, "we can no longer be compelled. We might be
killed, but that would bring prompt punishment. Maharajah Jihanbihar has
already started inquiries about us, by telegraph, which, as you know,
goes swiftly. We or else our slayers will have to be produced alive
presently. So we refuse to accept orders or money from any one. But as
for the Mahatma--we accord him our protection. There is only one power
we recognize as able to impose death penalties. We repudiate all
usurpation of that power. If the Mahatma thinks it will be safer in the
United States, my friend and I will see that he gets there, at our
expense.

"It was in my mind," he went on, "to drive a hard bargain with the
Mahatma. I was going to offer him protection in return for knowledge.
But it is not fair to drive bargains with a man so closely beset as he
is. Therefore I offer him protection without terms."

With that he tossed the black _sari_ aside and strode down the narrow
carpet to where the Mahatma sat beside me, giving Yasmini a mere nod of
courtesy as he turned his back on her. And until King reached us, the
Mahatma squatted there beckoning one crooked forefinger, like a man
trying to coax a snake out of its hole. King stood there smiling and
looked down into his eyes, which suddenly lost their look of staring
into infinity. He recognized King, and actually smiled.

"Well spoken!" he said rather patronizingly. "You are brave and honest.
Your Government is helpless, but you and your friend shall live because
of that offer you just made to me."

Yasmini was collecting eyes behind King's back, and it needed no expert
to know that a hurricane was cooking; but King, who knew her temper well
and must have been perfectly aware of danger, went on talking calmly to
the Mahatma.

"You're reprieved too, my friend."

The Mahatma shook his head.

"Your Government is powerless. Listen!"

At that moment I thought he intended us to listen to Yasmini, who was
giving orders to about a dozen women, who had entered the hall through a
door behind the throne. But as I tried to catch the purport of her
orders I heard another sound that, however distant, is as perfectly
unmistakable as the boom of a bell, for instance, or any other that
conveys its instant message to the mind. If you have ever heard the roar
of a mob, never mind what mob, or where, or which language it roared in,
you will never again mistake that sound for anything else.

"They have told the people," said the Mahatma. "Now the people will tear
the palace down unless I am released. Thus I go free to my assignation."

We were not the only ones who recognized that tumult. Yasmini was almost
the first to be aware of it; and a second after her ears had caught the
sound, women came running in with word from Ismail that a mob was
thundering at the gate demanding the Mahatma. A second after that the
news had spread all through the hall, and although there was no panic
there was perfectly unanimous decision what to do. The mob wanted the
Mahatma. Let it have him! They clamored to have the Mahatma driven
forth!

King turned and faced Yasmini again at last, and their eyes met down the
length of that long carpet. He smiled, and she laughed back at him.

"Nevertheless," said the Mahatma, laying a hand on King's shoulder, and
reaching for me with his other hand, "she is no more to be trusted than
the lull of the typhoon. Come with me."

And with an arm about each of us he started to lead the way out through
the maze of corridors and halls.

He was right. She was not to be trusted. She had laughed at King, but
the laugh hid desperation, and before we reached the door of the
audience hall at least a score of women pounced on King and me to drag
us away from the Mahatma and make us prisoners again. And at that the
Mahatma showed a new phase of his extraordinary character.

I was well weary by that time of being mauled by women. Suddenly the
Mahatma seized my arm, and gave tongue in a resounding, strange,
metallic voice such as I never heard before. It brought the whole
surging assembly to rigid attention. It was a note of command, alarm,
announcement, challenge, and it carried in its sharp reverberations
something of the solemnity of an opening salvo of big guns. You could
have heard a pin drop.

"I go. These two come with me. Shall I wait and let the mob come in to
fetch me forth?"

But Yasmini had had time now in which to recover her self-possession,
and she was in no mood to be out-generaled by any man whom she had once
tricked so badly as to win his secrets from him. Her ringing laugh was
an answering challenge, as she stood with one hand holding an arm of the
throne in the attitude of royal arrogance.

"Good! Let the mob come! I, too, can manage mobs!"

Her voice was as arresting as his, although hers lacked the clamorous
quality. There was no doubting her bravery, nor her conviction that she
could deal with any horde that might come surging through the gates. But
she was not the only woman in the room by more than ninety-nine and
certainly ninety-nine of them were not her servants, but invited guests
whom she had coaxed from their purdah strongholds partly by the lure of
curiosity and partly by skilful playing on their new-born aspirations.

Doubtless her own women knew her resourcefulness and they might have
lined up behind her to resist the mob. But not those others! They knew
too well what the resulting reaction would be, if they should ever be
defiled by such surging "untouchables" as clamored at the gate for a
sight of their beloved Mahatma. To be as much as seen by those casteless
folk within doors was such an outrage as never would be forgiven by
husbands all too glad of an excuse for clamping tighter yet the bars of
tyranny.

There was a perfect scream of fear and indignation. It was like the
clamor of a thousand angry parrots, although there was worse in it than
the hideous anger of any birds. Humanity afraid outscandals, outshames
anything.

Yasmini, who would no more have feared the same number of men than if
they had been trained animals, knew well enough that she had to deal now
with something as ruthless as herself, with all her determination but
without her understanding. It was an education to see her face change,
as she stood and eyed those women, first accepting the challenge,
because of her own indomitable spirit, then realizing that they could
not be browbeaten into bravery, as men often can be, but that they must
be yielded to if they were not to stampede from under her hand. She
stood there reading them as a two-gun man might read the posse that had
summoned him to surrender; and she deliberately chose surrender, with
all the future chances that entailed, rather than the certain, absolute
defeat that was the alternative. But she carried a high hand even while
surrendering.

"You are afraid, all you women?" she exclaimed with one of her golden
laughs. "Well--who shall blame you? This is too much to ask of you so
soon. We will let the Mahatma go and take his friends with him. You may
go!" she said, nodding regally to us three.

But that was not enough for some of them. The she-bear with her cubs in
Springtime is a mild creature compared to a woman whose ancient
prejudices have been interfered with, and a typhoon is more reasonable.
Half-a-dozen of them screamed that two of us were white men who had
trespassed within the purdah, and that we should be killed.

"Come!" urged the Mahatma, tugging at King and me. We went out of that
hall at a dead run with screams of "Kill them! Kill them! Kill them!"
shrilling behind us. And it may be that Yasmini conceded that point too,
or perhaps she was unable to prevent, for we heard swift footsteps
following, and I threw off that fifteen thousand dollar toga in order to
be able to run more swiftly.

The Mahatma seemed to know that palace as a rat knows the runs among the
tree-roots, and he took us down dark passages and stairs into the open
with a speed that, if it did not baffle pursuit, at any rate made it
easier for pursuers to pretend to lose us. Yasmini was no fool. She
probably called the pursuit off.

We emerged into the same courtyard, where the marble stairs descended to
the pool containing one great alligator. And we hurried from court to
court to the same cage where the panther pressed himself against the
bars, simultaneously showing fangs at King and me, and begging to have
his ears rubbed. The Mahatma opened the cage-door, again using no key
that I could detect, although it was a padlock that he unfastened and
shoved the brute to one side, holding him by the scruff of the neck
while King and I made swift tracks for the door at the back of the cage.

But this time we did not go through the tunnel full of rats and cobras.
There was another passage on the same level with the courtyard that led
from dark chamber to chamber until we emerged at last through an opening
in the wall behind the huge image of a god into the gloom of the
Tirthankers' temple--not that part of it that we had visited before, but
another section fronting on the street.

And we could hear the crowd now very distinctly, egging one another on
to commit the unforgivable offense and storm a woman's gates. They were
shouting for the Gray Mahatma in chorus; it had grown into a chant
already, and when a crowd once turns its collective yearnings into a
single chant, it is only a matter of minutes before the gates go down,
and blood flows, and all those outrages occur that none can account for
afterward.

As long as men do their own thinking, decency and self-restraint are
uppermost, but once let what the leaders call a slogan usher in the
crowd-psychology, and let the slogan turn into a chant, and the
Gardarene swine become patterns of conduct that the wisest crowd in the
world could improve itself by imitating.

"Think! Think for yourselves!" said the Gray Mahatma, as if he
recognized the thoughts that were occurring to King and me.

Then, making a sign to us to stay where we were, he left us and strode
out on to the temple porch, looking down on the street that was choked
to the bursting point with men who sweated and slobbered as they swayed
in time to the chant of "Mahatma! O Mahatma! Come to us, Mahatma!"

King and I could see them through the jambs of the double-folding temple
door.

The Mahatma stood looking down at them for about a minute before they
recognized him. One by one, then by sixes, then by dozens they grew
aware of him; and as that happened they grew silent, until the whole
street was more still than a forest. They held their breath, and let it
out in sibilant whispers like the voice of a little wind moving among
leaves; and he did not speak until they were almost aburst with
expectation.

"Go home!" he said then sternly. "Am I your property that ye break gates
to get me? Go home!"

And they obeyed him, in sixes, in dozens, and at last in one great
stream.



CHAPTER XII

THE CAVE OF BONES


The Gray Mahatma stood watching the crowd until the last sweating
nondescript had obediently disappeared, and then returned into the
temple to dismiss King and me.

"Come with us," King urged him; but he shook his head, looking more
lionlike than ever, for in his yellow eyes now there was a blaze as of
conquest.

He carried his head like a man who has looked fear in the face and
laughed at it.

"I have my assignation to keep," he said quietly.

"You mean with death?" King asked him, and he nodded.

"Don't be too sure!"

King's retort was confident, and his smile was like the surgeon's who
proposes to reassure his patient in advance of the operation. But the
Mahatma's mind was set on the end appointed for him, and there was
neither grief nor discontent in his voice as he answered.

"There is no such thing as being too sure."

"I shall use the telegraph, of course," King assured him. "If necessary
to save your life I shall have you arrested."

The Mahatma smiled.

"Have you money?" he asked pleasantly.

"I shan't need money. I can send an official telegram."

"I meant for your own needs," said the Mahatma.

"I think I know where to borrow a few rupees," King answered. "They'll
trust me for the railway tickets."

"Pardon me, my friend. It was my fault that your bag and clothes got
separated from you. You had money in the bag. That shall be adjusted.
Never mind how much money. Let us see how much is here."

That seemed a strange way of adjusting accounts, but there was logic in
it nevertheless. There would be no use in offering us more than was
available, and as for himself, he was naked except for the saffron
smock. He had no purse, nor any way of hiding money on his person.

He opened his mouth wide and made a noise exactly like a bronze bell.
Some sort of priest came running in answer to the summons and showed no
surprise when given peremptory orders in a language of which I did not
understand one word.

Within two minutes the priest was back again bearing a tray that was
simply heaped with money, as if he had used the thing for a scoop to get
the stuff out of a treasure chest. There was all kinds--gold, silver,
paper, copper, nickel--as if those strange people simply threw into a
chest all that they received exactly as they received it.

King took a hundred-rupee note from the tray, and the Gray Mahatma waved
the rest aside. The priest departed, and a moment later I heard the
clash and chink of money falling on money; by the sound it fell quite a
distance, as if the treasure chest were an open cellar.

"Now," said the Gray Mahatma, placing a hand on the shoulders of each of
us. "Go, and forget. It is not yet time to teach the world our sciences.
India is not yet ripe for freedom. I urged them to move too soon. Go, ye
two, and tell none what ye have seen, for men will only call you fools
and liars. Above all, never seek to learn the secrets, for that means
death--and there are such vastly easier deaths! Good-bye."

He turned and was gone in a moment, stepping sidewise into the shadows.
We could not find him again, although we hunted until the temple priests
came and made it obvious that they would prefer our room to our company.
They did not exactly threaten us, but refused to answer questions, and
pointed at the open door, as if they thought that was what we were
looking for.

So we sought the sunlight, which was as refreshing after the temple
gloom as a cold bath after heat, and turned first of all in the
direction of Mulji Singh's apothecary, hoping to find that Yasmini had
lied, or had been mistaken about that bag.

But Mulji Singh, although fabulously glad to see us, had no bag nor
anything to say about its disappearance. He would not admit that we had
left it there.

"You have been where men go mad, _sahibs_," was all the comment he would
make.

"Don't you understand that we'll protect you against these people?" King
insisted.

For answer to that Mulji Singh hunted about among the shelves for a
minute, and presently set down a little white paper package on a corner
of the table.

"Do you recognize that, _sahib_?" he asked.

"Deadly aconite," said King, reading the label.

"Can you protect me against it?"

"You're safe if you let it alone," King answered unguardedly.

"That is a very wise answer, _sahib_," said Mulji Singh, and set the
aconite back on the highest shelf in the darkest corner out of reach.

So, as we could get nothing more out of Mulji Singh except a tonic that
he said would preserve us both from fever, we sought the telegraph
office, making as straight for it as the winding streets allowed. The
door was shut. With my ear to a hole in the shutters I could hear loud
snores within. King picked up a stone and started to thunder on the door
with it.

The ensuing din brought heads to every upper window, and rows of other
heads, like trophies of a ghastly hunt, began to decorate the edges of
the roofs. Several people shouted to us, but King went on hammering, and
at last a sleepy telegraph babu, half-in and half-out of his black
alpaca jacket, opened to us.

"The wire is broken," he said, and slammed the door in our faces.

King picked up the stone and beat another tattoo.

"How long has the wire been broken?" he demanded.

"Since morning."

"Who sent the last message?"

"Maharajah Jihanbihar sahib."

"In full or in code?"

"In code."

He slammed the door again and bolted it, and whether or not he really
fell asleep, within the minute he was giving us a perfect imitation of a
hog snoring. What was more, the crowd began to take its cue from the
babu, and a roof-tile broke at our feet as a gentle reminder that we had
the town's permission to depart. Without caste-marks, and in those
shabby, muddy, torn clothes, we were obviously undesirables.

So we made for the railroad station, where, since we had money, none
could refuse to sell us third-class tickets. But, though we tried, we
could not send a telegram from there either, although King took the
station babu to one side and proved to him beyond argument that he knew
the secret service signs. The babu was extremely sorry, but the wire was
down. The trains were being run for the present on the old block system,
one train waiting in a station until the next arrived, and so on.

So, although King sent a long telegram in code from a junction before we
reached Lahore, nothing had been done about it by the time we had
changed into Christian clothes at our hotel and called on the head of
the Intelligence Department. And by then it was a day and a half since
we had seen the Gray Mahatma.

The best part of another day was wasted in consulting and convincing men
on whose knees the peace of India rested. They were naturally nervous
about invading the sacred privacy of Hindu temples, and still more so of
investigating Yasmini's doings in that nest of hers. There were men
among them who took no stock in such tales as ours anyhow--hard and fast
Scotch pragmatists, who doubted the sanity of any man who spoke
seriously of anything that they themselves had not heard, seen, smelt,
felt and tasted. Also there was one man who had been jealous of
Athelstan King all his years in the service, and he jumped at the chance
of obstructing him at last.

After we had told our story at least twenty times, more and more men
being brought in to listen to it, who only served to increase
incredulity and water down belief, King saw fit to fling his even temper
to the winds and try what anger could accomplish. By that time there
were eighteen of us, sitting around a mahogany table at midnight, and
King brought his fist down with a crash that split the table and
offended the dignity of than one man.

"Confound the lot of you!" he thundered. "I've been in the service
twenty-one years and I've repeatedly brought back scores of wilder tales
than this. But this is the first time that I've been disbelieved. I'm
not in the service now. So here's my ultimatum! You take this matter
up--at once--or I take it up on my own account! For one thing, I'll
write a full account in all the papers of your refusal to investigate.
Suit yourselves!"

They did not like it; but they liked his alternative less; and there
were two or three men in the room, besides, who were secretly on King's
side, but hardly cared to betray their opinions in the face of so much
opposition. They did not care to seem too credulous. It was they who
suggested with a half-humorous air of concession that no harm could be
done by sending a committee of investigation to discover whether it were
true that living men were held for experimental purposes beneath that
Tirthanker temple; and one by one the rest yielded, somebody, however,
imposing the ridiculous proviso that the Brahmin priests must be
consulted first.

So, what with one thing and another, and one delay and another, and
considering that the wire had been repaired and no less than thirty
Brahmin priests were in the secret, the outcome was scarcely surprising.

Ten of us, including four policemen, called on the Maharajah Jihanbihar
five full days after King and I had last seen the Mahatma; and after we
had wasted half a morning in pleasantries and jokes about stealing a
ride on his elephant, we rode in the Maharajah's two-horse landaus to
the Tirthanker temple, where a priest, who looked blankly amazed,
consented at once to be our guide through the sacred caverns.

But he said they were no longer sacred. He assured us they had not been
used at all for centuries. And with a final word of caution against
cobras he led the way, swinging a lantern with no more suggestion of
anything unusual than if he had been our servant seeing us home on a
dark night.

He even offered to take us through the cobra tunnel, but an acting
deputy high commissioner turned on a flashlight and showed those
goose-neck heads all bobbing in the dark, and that put an end to all
talk of that venture, although the priest was cross-examined as to his
willingness to go down there, and said he was certainly willing, and
everybody voted that "deuced remarkable," but "didn't believe the
beggar" nevertheless.

He showed us the "Pool of Terrors," filled with sacred alligators that
he assured us were fed on goats provided by the superstitious townsfolk.
He said that they were so tame that they would not attack a man, and
offered to prove it by walking in. Since that entailed no risk to the
committee they permitted him to do it, and he walked alone across the
causeway that had given King and me such trouble a few nights before.
Far from attacking him, the alligators turned their backs and swam away.

The committee waxed scornful and made numbers of jokes about King and me
of a sort that a man doesn't listen to meekly is a rule. So I urged the
committee to try the same trick, and they all refused. Then a rather
bright notion occurred to me, and I stepped in myself, treading gingerly
along the underwater causeway. And I was hardly in the water before the
brutes all turned and came hurrying back--which took a little of the
steam out of that committee of investigation. They became less free with
their opinions.

So we all walked around the alligator pool by a passage that the priest
showed us, and one by one we entered all the caves in which King and I
had seen the fakirs and the victims undergoing torture.

The caves were the same, except that they were cleaner, and the ashes
had all been washed away. There was nobody in them; not one soul, nor
even a sign to betray that any one had been there for a thousand years.

There were the same cells surrounding the cavern in which the old fellow
had sat reading from a roll of manuscript; but the cells were absolutely
empty. I suggested taking flashlight photographs and fingerprint
impressions of the doors and walls. But nobody had any magnesium, and
the policemen said the doors might have been scrubbed in any case, so
what was the use. And the priest with the lantern sneered, and the
others laughed with him, so that King and I were made to look foolish
once more.

Then we all went up to the temple courtyard, and descended the stairs
through the hole in the floor of the cupola-covered stone platform. And
there stood the lingam on its altar at the foot of the stairs, and there
were the doors just as we had left them, looking as if they had been
pressed into the molten stone by an enormous thumb. I thought we were
going to be able to prove something of our story at last.

But not so. The priest opened the first door by kicking on it with his
toe, and one by one we filed along the narrow passage in pitch darkness
that was broken only by the swinging lantern carried by the man in front
and the occasional flashes of an electric torch. King, one pace ahead of
me, swore to himself savagely all the way, and although I did not feel
as keenly as he did about it, because it meant a lot less to me what the
committee might think, I surely did sympathize with him.

If we had come sooner it was beyond belief that we should not have
caught those experts at their business, or at any rate in process of
removing the tools of their strange trade. There must have been some
mechanism connected with their golden light, for instance, but we could
discover neither light nor any trace of the means of making it.
Naturally the committee refused to believe that there had ever been any.

The caverns were there, just as we had seen them, only without their
contents. The granite table, on which we had seen Benares, London and
New York, was gone. The boxes and rolls of manuscript had vanished from
the cavern in which the little ex-fat man had changed lead into gold
before our eyes. The pit in the center of the cavern in which the
fire-walkers had performed, still held ashes, but the ashes were cold
and had either been slaked with water, or else water had been admitted
into the pit from below. At any rate, the pit was flooded, and nobody
wanted the job of wading into it to look for apparatus. So there may
have been paraphernalia hidden under those ashes for aught that I know.
It was a perfectly ridiculous investigation; its findings were not worth
a moment's attention of any genuine scientist. Subsequently, newspaper
editors wrote glibly of the gullibility of the human mind, with King's
name and mine in full-sized letters in the middle of the article.

About the only circumstance that the investigating committee could not
make jokes about was the cleanliness of all the passages and chambers.
There was no dust, no dirt anywhere. You could have eaten off the floor,
and there was no way of explaining how the dust of ages had not
accumulated, unless those caverns had been occupied and thoroughly
cleaned within a short space of time.

The air down there was getting foul already. There was no trace of the
ventilation that had been so obvious when King and I were there before.
Nevertheless, no trace could be found of any ventilating shaft; and that
was another puzzle--how to account for the cleanliness and lack of air
combined, added to the fact that such air as there was was still too
fresh to be centuries old.

One fat fool on the committee wiped the sweat from the back of his neck
in the lantern light and proposed at last that the committee should find
that King and I had been the victims of delusion--perhaps of hypnotism.
I asked him point blank what he knew about hypnotism. He tried to
side-step the question, but I pinned him down to it, and he had to
confess that he knew nothing about it whatever; whereat I asked each
member of the committee whether or not he could diagnose hypnotism, and
they all had to plead ignorance. So nobody seconded that motion.

King had lapsed into a sort of speechless rage. He had long been used to
having his bare word accepted on any point whatever, having labored all
his military years to just that end, craving that integrity of vision
and perception that is so vastly more than honesty alone, that the
blatant unbelief of these opinionative asses overwhelmed him for the
moment.

There was not one man on the committee who had ever done anything more
dangerous than shooting snipe, nor one who had seen anything more
inexplicable than spots before his eyes after too much dinner. Yet they
mocked King and me, in a sort of way that monkeys in the tree-tops mock
a tiger.

Their remarks were on a par with those the cave-man must have used when
some one came from over the sky-line and told them that fire could be
made by rubbing bits of wood together. They recalled to us what the Gray
Mahatma had said about Galileo trying to make the Pope believe that the
earth moved around the sun. The Pope threatened to burn Galileo for
heresy; they only offered to pillory us with public ridicule; so the
world has gone forward a little bit.

"Let's go," said somebody at last. "I've had enough of this. We're
trespassing, as well as heaping indignity on estimable Hindus."

"Go!" retorted King. "I wish you would! Leave Ramsden and me alone in
here. There's a cavern we haven't seen yet. You've formed your opinions.
Go and publish them; they'll interest your friends."

He produced a flashlight of his own and led the way along the passage, I
following. The committee hesitated, and then one by one came after us,
more anxious, I think, to complete the fiasco than to unearth facts.

But the door that King tried to open would not yield. It was the only
door in all those caverns that had refused to swing open at the first
touch, and this one was fastened so rigidly that it might have been one
with the frame for all the movement our blows on it produced. Our guide
swore he did not know the secret of it, and our letter of authority
included no permission to break down doors or destroy property in any
way at all.

It looked as though we were blocked, and the committee were all for the
air and leaving that door unopened. King urged them to go and leave
it--told them flatly that neither they nor the world would be any wiser
for anything whatever that they might do--was as beastly rude, in fact,
as he knew how to be; with the result that they set their minds on
seeing it through, for fear lest we should find something after all that
would serve for an argument against their criticism.

Neither King nor I were worried by the letter of the committee's orders,
and I went to look for a rock to break the door down with. They
objected, of course, and so did the priest, but I told them they might
blame the violence on me, and furthermore suggested that if they
supposed they were able to prevent me they might try. Whereat the priest
did discover a way of opening the door, and that was the only action in
the least resembling the occult that any of us saw that day.

There were so many shadows, and they so deep, that a knob or trigger of
some kind might easily have been hidden in the darkness beyond our view;
but the strange part was that there was no bolt to the door, nor any
slot into which a bolt could slide. I believe the door was held shut by
the pressure of the surrounding rock, and that the priest knew some way
of releasing it.

We entered a bare cavern which was apparently an exact cube of about
forty feet. It was the only cavern in all that system of caverns whose
walls, corners, roof and floor were all exactly smooth. It contained no
furniture of any kind.

But exactly in the middle of the floor, with hands and feet pointing to
the four corners of the cavern, was a grown man's skeleton, complete to
the last tooth. King had brought a compass with him, and if that was
reasonably accurate then the arms and legs of the skeleton were exactly
oriented, north, south, east and west; there was an apparent inaccuracy
of a little less than five degrees, which was no doubt attributable to
the pocket instrument.

One of the committee members tried to pick a bone up, and it fell to
pieces in his fingers. Another man touched a rib, and that broke
brittlely. I picked up the broken piece of rib and held it in the rays
of King's flashlight.

"You remember?" said King in an undertone to me. "You recall the Gray
Mahatma's words? 'There will be nothing left for the alligators!'
There's neither fat nor moisture in that bone, it's like chalk. See?"

He squeezed it in his fingers and it crumbled.

"Huh! This fellow has been dead for centuries," said somebody. "He can't
have been a Hindu, or they'd have burned him. No use wondering who _he_
was; there's nothing to identify him with--no hair, no clothing--nothing
but dead bone."

"Nothing! Nothing whatever!" said the priest with a dry laugh, and began
kicking the bones here and there all over the cavern. They crumbled as
his foot struck them, and turned to dust as he trod on them--all except
the teeth. As he kicked the skull across the floor the teeth scattered,
but King and I picked up a few of them, and I have mine yet--two molars
and two incisors belonging to a man, who to my mind was as much an
honest martyr as any in Fox's book.

"Well, Mr. King," asked one of the committee in his choicest note of
sarcasm, "have you any more marvels to exhibit, or shall we adjourn?"

"Adjourn by all means," King advised him.

"We know it all, eh?"

"Truly, you know it all," King answered without a smile.

Then speaking sidewise in an undertone to me:

"And you and I know nothing. That's a better place to start from,
Ramsden. I don't know how you feel, but I'm going to track their science
down until I'm dead or master of it. The very highest knowledge we've
attained is ignorance compared to what these fellows showed us. I'm
going to discover their secret or break my neck!"





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Caves of Terror" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home