E-text prepared by Al Haines
SON OF POWER
WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT and ZAMIN KI DOST
Garden City New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1920 Copyright, 1920, by Doubleday, Page & Company All Rights Reserved, Including That of Translation into Foreign Languages, Including the Scandinavian Copyright, 1919, by the Curtis Publishing Company
Zamin Ki Dost is a title given to one who lived in India many years—from the time when she was little more than a child. The tale of tales would be her own story. Her name is
WILLIMINA L. ARMSTRONG
I THE GOOD GREY NERVE II SON OF POWER III SON OF POWER (Continued) IV THE MONKEY GLEN V THE MONKEY GLEN (Continued) VI JUNGLE LAUGHTER VII THE HUNTING CHEETAH VIII THE MONSTER KABULI IX THE MONSTER KABULI (Continued) X HAND-OF-A-GOD XI ELEPHANT CONCERNS XII BLUE BEAST XIII NEELA DEO, KING OF ALL ELEPHANTS XIV NEELA DEO, KING OF ALL ELEPHANTS (Continued) XV THE LAIR XVI FEVER BIRDS
SON OF POWER
The Good Grey Nerve
His name was Sanford Hantee, but you will hear that only occasionally, for the boys of the back streets called him Skag, which "got" him somewhere at once. That was in Chicago. He was eleven years old, when he wandered quite alone to Lincoln Park Zoo, and the madness took him.
A silent madness. It flooded over him like a river. If any one had noticed, it would have appeared that Skag's eyes changed. Always he quite contained himself, but his lips stirred to speech even less after that. He didn't pretend to go to school the next day; in fact, the spell wasn't broken until nearly a week afterward, when the keeper of the Monkey House pointed Skag out to a policeman, saying the boy had been on the grounds the full seven open hours for four straight days that he knew of.
Skag wasn't a liar. He had never "skipped" school before, but the Zoo had him utterly. He was powerless against himself. Some bigger force, represented by a truant officer, was necessary to keep him away from those cages. His father got down to business and gave him a beating—much against that good man's heart. (Skag's father was a Northern European who kept a fruit-store down on Waspen street—a mildly-flavoured man and rotund. His mother was a Mediterranean woman, who loved and clung.)
But Skag went back to the Zoo. For three days more he went, remained from opening to closing time. He seemed to fall into deep absorptions—before tigers and monkeys especially. He didn't hear what went on around him. He did not appear to miss his lunch. You had to touch his shoulder to get his attention. The truant officer did this. It all led dismally to the Reform School from which Skag ran away.
He was gone three weeks and wouldn't have come back then, except his heart hurt about his mother. He felt the truth—that she was slowly dying without him. After that for awhile he kept away from the animals, because his mother loved and clung and cried, when he grew silently cold with revolt against a life not at all for him, or hot with hatred against the Reform School. Those were ragged months in which a less rubbery spirit might have been maimed, but the mother died before that actually happened. Skag was free—free the same night.
The father's real relation to him had ended with the beating. It was too bad, for there might have been a decent memory to build on. The fruit-dealer, however, had been badly frightened by the truant-officer (in the uniform of a patrolman), and he was just civilised enough to be a little ashamed that his boy could so far forget the world and all refined and mild-flavoured things, as to stare through bars at animals for seven hours a day. In the process of that beating, hell had opened for Skag. It was associated with the raw smell of blood and a thin red steam, a little hotter than blood-heat. It always came when he remembered his father. . . . But his mother meant lilacs. The top drawer of her dresser had been faintly magic of her. The smell came when he remembered her. It was like the first rains in the Lake Country.
But that was all put back. Skag was out in the world now, making it exactly to suit himself. He was in charge of himself in many ways. A glass of water and a sandwich would do for a long time, if necessary. . . . The West pulled him. Awhile in the mountains, he lived with a prospector; there was a period in the desert when he came to know lizards; then there were years of the circus, when he was out with the Cloud Brothers, animal men of the commercial type. Ten queer, hard years for the boy—as hard almost as for the animals.
Back in Chicago the caged creatures had been kept better—as well as beasts belonging to the outdoors could be imprisoned, but the Cloud Brothers didn't have fine senses like their charges. They tried to make wild animals live in a place ventilated for men. There was a bad death-percentage and none of the big cats were in show form, until the Clouds began to take Skag's word for the main thing wrong. It wasn't the hard life, nor the coops, nor the travel, but the steady day in and day out lack of fresh air. Skag knew what the animals suffered, because it all but murdered him on hot nights. Of course, there are tainted-flesh things like hyenas that live best on foul air, foul everything, but "white" animals of jungle and forest are high and cleanly beasts. When well and in their prime, even their coats are incapable of most kinds of dirt, because of a natural oily gloss.
At nineteen, Skag was in charge of the packing, moving and feeding of all the big cats, including pumas, panthers, leopards. He was in and out of the cages possibly more than was necessary. He learned that there are two ways to manage a wild animal—the "rough-neck" way with a club, and the fancy way with your own equilibrium; all of which comes in more to the point later.
He was interested at the time, but not really acquainted with the camels and elephants. He often chatted with Prussak, the Arab, who loathed camels to the shallow depths of his soul, but got as much out of them as most men could. Skag dreamed of a better way still, even with camels. Often on train-trips, at first, he talked with old Alec Binz, whose characteristic task was to chain and unchain the hind leg of the old "gunmetal" elephant, Phedra, who bossed her sire and the little Cloud herd, as much with the flap of an ear as anything else. . . .
No, old Alec must not be forgotten, nor his sandalwood chest with its little rose-jar in the corner, making everything smell so strangely sweet that it hurt. A girl of India had given Alec the jar twenty years before. The spirit of a real rose-jar never dies; and something of the girl's spirit was around it, too, as Alec talked softly. All this was unreservedly good to Skag—thrilling as certain few books and the top drawer that had been his mother's. . . . But something way back of that, utterly his own deep heart-business, was connected with the rose-jar. It was breathless like opening a telegram—its first scent after days or weeks. If you find any meaning to the way Skag expressed it, you are welcome:
"It makes you think of things you don't know—"
"But you will," Alec had once answered.
The more you knew, the more you favoured that old man of the circus company,—little gold ring in his ear and such tales of India!
It was Alec who led Skag into the fancy way of dealing with animals, but of course the boy was peculiar, inasmuch as he believed it all at once. Skag never ceased to think of it until it was his; he actually put it into practice. Alec might have told a dozen American trainers and have gotten no more than a yawp for his pains. This is one of the things Alec said:
"If you can get on top of the menagerie in your own insides, Skagee—the tigers and apes, the serpents and monkeys, in your own insides—you'll never get in bad with the Cloud Brothers wild animal show."
There wasn't a day or night for years that Skag didn't think of that saying. It was his secret theme. So far as he could see, it worked out. Of course, he found out many things for himself—one of which was that there is a smell about a man who is afraid, that the animals get it and become afraid, too. Alec agreed to this, but added that there is a smell about most men, when they are not afraid.
For hours they talked together about India—tiger hunts and the big Grass Jungle country in the Bund el Khand, until Skag couldn't wait any longer. He had to go to India. He told Alec, who wanted to go along, but couldn't leave old Phedra.
"I've been with her too long," he said. "She's delicate, Skagee. I'm young, but she couldn't stand it for me to go. Times are hard for her on the road, and the little herd needs her as she needs me. . . ."
Skag understood that. In fact, he loved it well. It belonged to his world—to be straight with the animals. Gradually as the distance increased between them, the memory of old Alec began to smell as sweet as the sandal-wood chest in Skag's nostrils—the chest and the rose-jar that never could die and the old friend became one identity. . . .
India didn't excite Skag, who was twenty-five by this time. In fact, some aspects of India were more natural to him than his own country. Many people did a lot of walking and they lived while they walked, instead of pushing forward in a tension to get somewhere. Skag approved emphatically of the Now. The present moving point was the best he had at any given time. He thought a man should forget himself in the Now like the animals.
Besides they didn't regulate dress in India; in fact, they dressed in so many different ways that a man could wear what he pleased without being stared at. Skag hated to be stared at above all things. You are beginning to get a picture of him now—unobtrusive, silent, strong in understanding, swift, actually in pain as the point of many eyes, altogether interested in his own unheard-of things.
Alec told him how to reach the jungle of all jungles, ever old, ever new, ever innocent on the outside, ever deadly within—the Grass Jungle country around Hattah and Bigawar—the Bund el Khand. The Cloud Brothers had paid him well for his years; there was still script in his clothes for travel, but Skag had a queer relation to money, only using it when the law required. Not a tight-wad, far from that, though he preferred to work for a meal than pay for it; much preferred to walk or ride than to purchase other people's energy, having much of his own.
He came at last to a village called Butthighur, near Makrai, north of the Mahadeo Mountains in the Central Provinces. On the first day, on the main road near the rest-house, there passed him on the street, a slim, slightly-stooped and spectacled young white man. The face under the huge cork helmet, Skag looked at twice, not knowing why altogether; then he followed leisurely to a bungalow, walked up the path to the steps and knocked. The stranger himself answered, before the servant could come. He looked Skag over, through spectacles that made his eyes appear insane, at times, and sometimes merely absurd. Finally he questioned with soft cheer:
"And what sort of a highbinder are you?"
Skag answered that he was an American, acquainted with wild animals in captivity, and that he had come to this place to know wild animals in the open.
"But why to me?" the white man asked.
"It seemed well. I have looked into many faces without asking anyone. There is no chance of working for the native people here. They are too many, and too poor."
"You do not talk like an American—"
"I do not like to talk."
The white man was puzzled by Skag's careful and exact statements and remarked presently:
"An American asking for work would say that he knew about everything, instead of just animals in captivity."
"I have not asked for work before. I can do without it. I like it here near the forests."
"You mean the jungles—"
"I thought jungles were wet."
"In the wet season."
The slim one suddenly laughed aloud though not off-key:
"But I haven't any wild animals in captivity for you—"
Skag did not mind the mirth. He appreciated the smell of the house. It was like a hot earthen tea-pot that had been well-used.
"I will come again?" he asked tentatively.
"Just do that—at the rest-house. I drop in there after dinner—about nine."
That afternoon Skag went into the edge of the jungle. It was a breath of promised land to him. He was almost frightened with the joy of it—the deep leaf-etched shadows, the separate, almost reverent bird-notes; all spaciousness and age and dignity; leaves strange, dry paths, scents new to his nostrils, but having to do with joys and fears and restlessness his brain didn't know. Skag was glad deep. He took off his boots and then strode in deeper and deeper past the maze of paths. He stayed there until the yellow light was out of the sky. At the clearing again, he laughed—looked down at the turf and laughed. He had come out to the paths again at the exact point of his entry. This was his first deep breath of the jungle—something his soul had been waiting for.
At dinner in the village, Skag inquired about the white man. The native was serving him a curry with drift-white rice on plantain leaves. After that there was a sweetmeat made of curds of cream and honey, with the flavour and perfume of some altogether delectable flower. In good time the native replied that the white man's name was Cadman: that he was an American traveller and writer and artist, said to be almost illustrious; that he had been out recently with a party of English sportsmen, but found tiger-hunting dull after his many wars and adventures. Also, it was said, that Cadman Sahib had the coldest-blooded courage a man ever took into the jungle, almost like a bhakti yogin who had altogether conquered fear. Skag bowed in satisfaction. Had he not looked twice at the face under the helmet—and followed without words?
"How far do they go into the jungle for tigers?" he asked.
"An hour's journey, or a day, as it happens. Tigers are everywhere in season."
"Within an hour's walk?" Skag asked quietly. The other repeated his words in a voice that made Skag think of a grey old man, instead of the fat brown one before him.
"Within an hour's walk? Ha, Ji! They come to the edge of the village and slay the goats for food—and the sound cattle—and the children!"
Skag laughed inwardly, thinking how good it had been in the deep places. However, it was now plain that these native folk were afraid of tigers—afraid as of a sickness. He walked out into the street. Though dark, it was still hot, and the breeze brought the dry green of the jungle to him and life was altogether quite right.
That night he met Cadman Sahib. They talked until dawn. Skag was helpless before the other who made him tell all he knew, and much that had been nicely forgotten. Sometimes in the midst of one story, the great traveller would snap over a question about one Skag had already told. Then before he was answered fully, he would say briefly:
"That's all right—go on!"
". . . Behold a phenomenon!" he said at last. "Here is one not a liar, and smells have meanings for him, and he has come, beyond peradventure, to travel with me to the Monkey Forest and the Coldwater Ruins!"
It had been an altogether wonderful night for Skag. Talking made him very tired, as if part of him had gone forth; as if, having spoken, he would be called upon to make good in deeds. But he had not done all the talking and Cadman Sahib was no less before his eyes in the morning light—which is much to say for any man.
These two white men set out alone, facing one of the most dangerous of all known jungles. The few natives who understood, bade them good-bye for this earth.
Many stories about Cadman had come to Skag in the three or four days of preparation—altogether astonishing adventures of his quest for death, but there was no record of Cadman's choosing a friend, as he had done for this expedition. Skag never ceased to marvel at the sudden softenings, so singularly attractive, in Cadman's look when he really began to talk. Sometimes it was like a sudden drop into summer after protracted frost, and the lines of the thin weathered face revealed the whole secret of yearning, something altogether chaste. And that was only the beginning. It was all unexpected; that was the charm of the whole relation. Skag found that Cadman had a real love for India; that he saw things from a nature full of delicate inner surfaces; that his whole difficulty was an inability to express himself unless he found just the receiving-end to suit. Indian affairs, town and field, an infinite variety, Cadman discussed penetratingly, but as one who looked on from the outside.
"She is like my old Zoo book to me," he said, speaking of India their first night out. "A bit of a lad, I used to sit in my room with the great book opened out on a marble table that was cold the year round. There were many pictures. Many, many pictures of all beasts—wood-cuts and copies of paintings and ink-sketchings—ante-camera days, you know. All those pictures are still here—"
Cadman blew a thin diffusion of smoke from his lungs, and touched the third button down from the throat of his grey-green shirt.
"One above all," he added. "It was the frontispiece. All the story of creation on one page. Man, beautiful Man in the centre, all the tree-animals on branches around him, the deeps drained off at his feet, many monsters visible or intimated, the air alive with wings—finches up to condors. That picture sank deep, Skag, so deep that in absent-minded moments I half expected to find India like that—"
There were no better hours of life, than these when Cadman Sahib let himself speak.
"I haven't found the animals and birds and monsters all packed on one page," he added, "but highlights here and there in India, so that I always come back. I have often caught myself asking what the pull is about, you know, as I catch myself taking ship for Bombay again. Oh, I say, my son, and you never got over to the lotus lakes?"
"Not yet," Skag said softly.
"There's a night wind there and a tree—I could find it again. I've lain on peacock feathers on a margin there—unwilling to sleep lest I miss the perfume from over the pools. . . . And the roses of Kashmir, where men of one family must serve forty generations before they get the secrets; where they press out a ton of petals for a pound of essential oil! And that's where the big mountains stand by—High Himalaya herself—incredible colours and vistas—get it for yourself, son."
It was always the elusive thing that Cadman didn't say, that left Skag's mind free to build his own pictures. Meanwhile Cadman as a companion was showing up flawlessly day by day.
At the end of a long march, after many days out, they smelled the night cooking-fires from a village. A moment later they passed tiger tracks, and the print of native feet.
The twilight was thick between them as they hastened on. Cadman Sahib stepped back suddenly, lifting his hand to grasp the other, but not quite soon enough. That instant Skag was flicked out of sight, taken into the folds of mother-earth and covered—the bleat of a kid presently identifying the whole mystery.
Skag fell about twelve feet into the black earth coolness. He was unhurt, and knew roughly what had happened before he landed. His rush of thoughts: shame for his own carelessness, gladness that Cadman Sahib was safe above, the meaning of the kid's cry and the tracks they had seen; this rush was broken by another deluge of earth that all but drowned the laugh of Cadman. Skag had jerked back against the wall of earth to avoid being struck by the body of his companion who coughed and laughed again faintly, for his wind was very low.
"You couldn't ask more of a friend than that, son. I couldn't get you up to me, so I came down with you—"
Of course, it was an accident. Cadman presently explained that he had set down his dunnage and crept close on his knees to look into the pit when the dry earth caved. Doubtless it was intended to do so, since this was a native tiger-trap baited with live meat. But Cadman had not considered fully in time. . . . Dust of the dry brown earth settled upon them now; the grey twilight darkened swiftly. The chamber was about nine by fifteen feet, hollowed wider at the bottom than the top, and covered with a thin frame of bamboo poles, upon which was spread a layer of leaves and sod. The kid had been tethered to escape the stroke if possible.
"It's all night for us," Cadman remarked. "They won't look at the trap until morning. My packs are above—rifle and blanket—"
"I have the camera," Skag chuckled.
Cadman's thin hand came out gropingly.
"The cigarettes are in the tea-pot," he said in a voice dulled with pain.
"I have the pistol," Skag added dreamily. Something of the situation had touched him with joy. If he spoke at such times, it was very dryly.
"Doubtless you have our bathing-suits," Cadman suggested.
"And my cigarette-case has—" Skag felt in the dark, "has one—two—three—"
"Go on," the other said tensely.
"Three," said Skag.
"Let's smoke 'em now. They're calling me already."
Skag passed him the case, saying; "I'm not ready. I do not care just now."
The other puffed dismally.
"I don't always quite get you, son," he said. "But it's all right when I do—"
Skag mused over this. He was hungry and he put the thought away. He was athirst and he put that thought away also. The wants came back, but he dealt with them more firmly. The two men talked of appetites in general, and Skag explained that he handled his, just as he had handled the wild animals in the circus, being straight with them and gaining their friendliness.
"Don't fight them," he said. "Get them on your side and they will pull for you in a pinch."
"You talk like a Hindu holy man—"
"Do they talk like that?" Skag asked quickly. . . . "It was my old friend with the circus—who taught me these things. He taught me to make friends with my own wild animals. It is true that he was many years in India. . . ."
"He was the one that had the ring in his left ear?"
The other laughed. "It's such a novelty to find you are not a liar—with all you know and have been through. I'll stop that nasty business of testing you. Hear me, from now on, I'm done!"
Hours passed; it was after midnight. The waning moon was rising. They could tell the light through the trees. Cadman had smoked again, but Skag still expressed an unwillingness.
"It doesn't want to, now," he said.
"Oh, it doesn't—"
"I have persuaded it to think of other things. It is working for me."
Cadman swore softly, genially. "I never forget anything, son," he whispered. "Never anything like that."
"Old Alec said I should never let a day pass without doing something I didn't want to—or without something I wanted. He said it was better than developing muscle."
"Some brand of calisthenics—that. And he was the old one with the rose-jar?"
Skag's hand lifted toward the other and Cadman's met his.
There was a wet, meaty growl, indescribably low-pitched—but no chance even to shout—only to huddle back together to the farthest corner. The beast had stalked faultlessly and pounced, landing upon the thin cross pieces of bamboo, but short of the bait. Down the twelve feet he came with a tearing hiss of fright and rage. Something like a muffled crash of pottery, it was, mixed with dull choking explosions. The air of the pit seemed charged with furious power that whipped the leaves to shreds.
"The pistol, Skag—"
They were free, so far, from the rending claws. The younger man's brain was full of light. Cadman Sahib's voice had never been more calm.
Skag drew a match, not the gun. He scratched the match and held it high in front. They saw the great cowering creature like a fallen pony in size—but untellably more vivid in line—the chest not more than seven feet from them, the head held far back, the near front paw lifted against them as if to parry a blow.
Skag changed the match from his right hand to his left. When the flame burned low, he tossed it on the ground, half way between them and the tiger. There was a forward movement of the beast's spine—a little lower and forward. The lifted paw curved in, but did not touch the ground. The last light of the match, as it turned red, seemed bright in the beast's bared mouth. In it all there was the dramatic reality of a dream that questions not.
"He's badly frightened," Skag said.
No sound from Cadman Sahib.
"It's too big for him," Skag went on calmly. "He thinks we put over the whole thing on him. It's too big for him to tackle. Wonder if he's got a mate?"
One big green eye burned now in the pit—steady as a beacon and turned to them, enfolding them. Cadman Sahib cleared his throat.
"All right to talk?" he asked huskily.
"Sure. It will help—"
He cleared his throat again and inquired in an enticing tone: "You actually don't mean to use the pistol?"
"I'm not a crack-shot," Skag said queerly.
"You might pass it to me. I'm supposed to be—"
"It is bad light."
"And then again, you might not," Cadman laughed softly. "I've got you, son—"
"I will do as you say," Skag said steadily.
Cadman hiccoughed. "The eye moved," he explained. "There—it did it again. I got a feeling as if an elevator dropped a flight. What were you saying?"
"That I am here to take orders."
"I'm taking orders to-night, son. I wouldn't risk your good opinion by shooting your guest—"
"He is perfect—not more than four or five years—got his full range, but not his weight."
Skag stopped abruptly, until the other nudged him.
"Go on—it's like a bench-show—"
"We called them Bengalis—but that is just the trade-name—"
"You intimated he might have a lady-friend—do they hunt in couples?"
The boy didn't answer that. "You've never been in a tiger's cage?" he asked suddenly.
"I'm telling you not, so you'll excuse my apprehensions about our lodging—in case Herself appears. The fact is, there isn't room—"
"She won't come near, if we keep up the voices—"
"It becomes instantly a bore to talk," Cadman answered.
Sometime passed before they spoke again. The tiger didn't seem to settle any; from time to time, they heard the tense concussion, the hissing escape of his snarl. The kid had either escaped or strangled to death.
"Will he stand for it until morning?" Cadman asked abruptly.
"He may move a little to rest his legs."
"And won't he try for the top?"
"I think not. He has already measured that. He sees in the dark. He knows there's no good in making a jump."
"Nothing to jump at—with us here?"
"We have put it over on him. You have helped greatly."
"How's all that?"
"You don't smell afraid—"
Long afterward Cadman's hand came over to Skag's brow and touched it lightly.
"I was just wondering, son, if you sweat hot or cold."
There was a pause, before he added:
"You see, I want to get you, young man. You really like this sort of night?"
"It is India," said Skag.
Every little while through the dragging hours, Cadman would laugh softly; and if there had been silence for long, the warning snarl would come back. The breath of it shook the air and the thresh of the tail kept the dust astir in the pit.
"There is only one more thing I can think of," Cadman said at last.
The waning moon was now in meridian and blent with daylight. The beast was still crouched against the wall.
"Yes?" said Skag.
"That you should walk over and stroke his head."
"Oh, no, he is cornered. He would fight."
"There's really a kind of law about all this—?"
"Very much a law."
After an interval Cadman breathed: "I like it. Oh, yes," he added wearily, "I like it all."
It was soon after that they heard the voices of natives and a face, looking grey in the dawn, peered down. Cadman spoke in a language the native understood:
"Look in the tea-pot and toss down my cigarettes—"
At this instant the tiger protested a second time. The native vanished with the squeak of a fat puppy that falls off a chair on its back. For moments afterward, they heard him calling and telling others the tale of all his born days. Three quarters of an hour elapsed before the long pole, thick as a man's arm, was carefully lowered. Skag guided the butt to the base of the pit, and fixed it there as far as possible from the tiger. This was delicate. His every movement was maddeningly deliberate, the danger, of course, being to put the tiger into a fighting panic.
"Now you climb," Skag said.
"It is better so. I am old at these things. He will not leap at you while I am here—"
"You mean he might leap, as you start to shin up the pole—alone?"
"No, that will be the second time. It will not infuriate him—the second one to climb."
"I'll gamble with you—who goes first."
"You said that you were taking orders," Skag said coldly.
"That's a fact. But this isn't to my relish, son—"
"We do not need more words."
Cadman Sahib had reached safety. The natives were around him, feeling his arms and limbs, stuttering questions. He bade them be silent, caught up his rifle and covered the tiger, while Skag made the tilted pole, beckoning the rifle back.
"It's been a hard night for him," he said.
The two men stood together in the morning light. Cadman's face was deeply shaded by the big helmet again, but his eyes bored into the young one's as he offered his cigarette-case. Skag took one, lit it carelessly. Cadman was watching his hands.
"You've got it, son," he said.
"The good grey nerve. . . . Not a flicker in your hand. I wanted to know. . . . Say, cheer up—"
Skag was looking toward the tiger trap.
"Ah, I see," said Cadman Sahib.
"The circus is a hard life," Skag said.
That was a kind of a feast day. . . . At noon the natives had the tiger up in sunlight, caged in bamboo. Skag presently came into a startling kind of joy to hear his friend make an offer to buy the beast. Negotiations moved slowly, but the thing was done. That afternoon the journey toward Coldwater Ruins was continued with eight carriers, the tiger swung between them. Skag was mystified. What could Cadman mean? What could he do with a tiger at the Ruins or in the Monkey Forest? The natives apparently had not been told the destination, but they must know soon. It was all strange. Skag liked it better alone with his friend. Halt was called that afternoon, the sun still in the sky. The two white men walked apart.
"You get the drift, my son?"
Skag shook his head.
"Of course, the natives won't like it; they won't understand. But we're sure he isn't a man-eater—"
Skag's chest heaved.
"I never knew a more decent tiger—" Cadman went on. "Besides, he's a friend of yours, and not too expensive—"
"You bought him to—"
"I bought him for you, son—a tribute to the nerviest white man I ever stepped with—"
That evening a great whine went up from the bearers. It appears that while some were cutting wood, others preparing supper and others gathering dry grass for beds, the younger white man, who had made magic with the tiger in the pit, suddenly failed in his powers. The natives were sure it was not their fault that the cover had not been securely fastened. The bearers repeated they were all at work and could find no fault with themselves. They were used to dealing with white men who did not permit bungling. Their wailing was very loud. . . . To lose such a tiger was worth more than many natives, some white men would say. . . . But Cadman Sahib was rich. He fumed but little; being of all white men most miraculously compassionate. . . . Also it was true the beast, though full grown, was not a man-eater. . . .
"And to-morrow we shall go on alone—it is much pleasanter," said Skag, after all was still and they lay down together.
Son of Power
His Indian name was given to Skag in the great Grass Jungle; but he did not know the meaning of the words when they first fell upon his ear. There India herself first opened for him the magic gates that seal her mystery. But he did not know it was her glamour that made him utterly forget outside things, in the unbelievable loveliness of Grass Jungle days; did not know it was just as much her spell that made him forget his own birthright, in the paralysis of perfect fear.
A part of her mystery is this forgetting—while she reveals canvas after canvas of life—uncovers layer beneath layer of her deeper marvels. Skag was involved with his animals—and interests peculiarly personal—till it all came to seem like a dream. Yet underneath his surface consciousness it was working in him, as the glamour of India always does, to colour his entire future—as the magic of India always will.
After their night in the tiger pit-trap, Cadman and Skag had wandered southeast-ward—still searching for the Monkey Forest and the Coldwater Ruins—and had become lost to the world and the ways of civilisation in the mazes of the Mahadeo mountains. They had found a dozen jungles full of monkeys, but none of them looked to Cadman like his dream. The monkeys were all so melted-in to everything else; and there was so much too much of everything else.
As for Ruins, the thing they found was too old. It was like an exposure of the sins of first men—alive with bats and smaller vermin. The monkeys there had preserved from age to age the germs of all depravity. Without words the two Americans turned away from that spot, to forget it.
Skag was learning that his training in the circus had been but a mere beginning in the study of wild animals. It seemed impossible that there could be a jungle anywhere with more beasts or greater variety, than they heard at night.
It was as hard to come in good view of any wild creature—excepting monkeys—as it had been hard at first to sleep, on account of the voices of all creation after sundown. To approach undiscovered, and to lie out and watch undiscovered, taxed and developed all their faculties; the fascination and excitement of it stretched their powers; and their successes enriched them both for a life-time.
After the first eagerness to get twenty different positions of a tigress playing with her kittens, Cadman had become a miser of material and an adept in noiseless movement. Finding that he was in danger of going short on sketching paper, he used it more and more as if it were fine gold, till his outlines were not larger than miniatures. Also, he learned to glance for the flash of approval in Skag's eye.
The two men had grown into a rare comradeship. This time of year, sleeping in the open was luxury. They had not suffered for food, excepting in the memory of such things as had once been most common. Well above fever-line, no ailment had touched them. So, eating simply, sleeping deeply and working hard, they toughened in body and keened in mind—the days all full of quickening interests, every next minute due to develop surprise.
It was by a little headlong mountain stream, that the revelation came. Skag was looking to see which was the business-end of his tooth-brush that morning when Cadman broke his sheath knife. The accident was a calamity, because Skag's was already worn out cutting step-way to climb out of khuds, and this was all they had left to serve such a purpose.
"That settles it, we must go," said Cadman, looking ruefully at the stump of his old blade. "Our nearest kin wouldn't know us, but we are still recognisable to each other, and I'm not exactly ready to quit—are you?"
"No," Skag answered absently—unwilling to realise the necessity.
Cadman studied the crestfallen face—they had loved this life together and equally.
"But do you realise, my son," he asked, "that others will have to see us, before we can ever again be clothed and groomed properly?"
Now Skag looked at his friend with seeing eyes and blushed.
"It's not the clothes, so much as—" Skag stopped.
Cadman focused on Skag's face through his queer spectacles, then he laughed as only Cadman could laugh.
So they climbed down and took train for Bombay. Like fugitives they dodged the sight of correctly dressed Englishmen all the way; stopping over more than seven hours at Kullian—so as to reach the great city at night.
Next morning two clean-faced and very much alive Americans arrived at the Polo Club for late breakfast. Indeed they were good to look at, being in the finest kind of health and full of initiative. That breakfast was royal in every flavour; they felt like young spendthrifts squandering their patrimony. Just as they were finishing, a distinguished looking Englishman came across the room and greeted Cadman:
"Now this is my own proverbial good luck! Come away up to the house and give account of yourself. Where are the pictures? We'll take 'em along."
Cadman presented Skag to Doctor Murdock of the University, explained that it was imperative for them to do some general outfitting, but promised to bring his friend in the afternoon.
"Doctor Murdock is an extraordinary man, Skag," said Cadman, as the Englishman hurried away. "Beside his chair in the University, he is said to be top surgeon of Bombay. Barring none, he has more of different kinds of knowledge than any man I know; becomes master of whatever he takes up—authority, past question."
"I wondered why you promised to take me along," Skag put in.
"You'll be glad to have met him. He'll be interested in you," Cadman answered. "He's quite likely to take us to see some of the Indian nautch-girls. They're one of his fads—for their beauty. He has specialties in art as well as in science; but he's clean stuff—nothing rotten in him."
They forgot time in the Bombay bazaars; first looking for bags, to be easily carried on their own persons; and then giving themselves to quality and workmanship in things designed for their special uses. There was no hurry. All life stretched before them, in widening vistas.
Doctor Murdock's house was high on Malabar Hill. Their hired carriage came in behind his trim little brougham, as it turned on the driveway into his compound.
"My fortune again!" the Doctor called. "I've been detained by a case and properly sweating for fear you'd reach my den first."
Tea was served on a verandah entirely foreign and tropical and strange looking to Skag. A field of palm-tops stretched away from their feet to the sea. They told him the city of Bombay was hidden under those fronds.
"And now you understand, Cadman," the Doctor was saying, "there's your own room and one next for your friend Hantee. Your traps will be up before you sleep, which may not be early, for I've a tamasha on for you this night—you remember, I enjoy dinner in the morning?"
That tamasha was a maze of strange colour, strange motion and stranger perfume to Skag; not penetrating his conscious nature at all—feeling unreal to him.
"I've been watching you without shame this night, young man," the Doctor said to him, as they finished the after-midnight meal. "My entertainment fell dead with you. Sir. You've been 'way off somewhere else. I'm simply consumed to know what you have found in life, to make your eyes blind and your ears deaf to the lure of human beauty. You're not to be distressed by my impudence—it's innocent."
"If I may answer for my friend, I belive [Transcriber's note: believe?] I can tell you, Doctor." Cadman saw consent in Skag's eye and went on: "He has found the lure of creatures. He has entered into the spell of a young tigress playing with her kittens, in her own place. He has watched another tigress fight her mate to a finish, defending her little ones from their sire. He has listened to the symphonies of night and seen the drama of the wild. He lives in the clean glamour of the primeval jungle."
The Doctor's eyes widened for seconds; then they gloomed as he spoke:
"Between you, you challenge modern manhood. We have not conceived that 'clean glamour' since men were young—forgotten ages past. No, there was no human beauty to-night to make a man forget those tigresses. . . . She was not there. I am one of many who miss her, but I would give—" The Doctor broke off, searching their faces before he spoke again: "There is no hope you will know the depth of the calamity; the bitterness of the loss. Speaking of clean things—"
"Who was she?" Cadman asked.
"She was the most beautiful thing on earth. She was indeed the most marvellous thing on earth, being a Bombay singing nautch-girl—undefamed. There has been no one else, these ages."
The Doctor sat smoking, apparently oblivious of his guests.
"The Spartan Helen?" Cadman suggested.
"Hah! The Spartan Helen was not invincible!"
"The Noor Mahal?"
"The Noor Mahal was always in seclusion."
"Her name?" Skag questioned.
"She had no name," the Doctor answered, "but she was called 'Dhoop Ki Dhil'—Heart-of-the-Sun; possibly on account of her voice. There has been none like it. The master-mahouts of High Himalaya, their voices pass those of all other men for splendour; but I tell you there was none other in the world, beside hers. Rich men in Bombay would give fortunes to anyone who would find her."
"Then she is not dead?" Skag spoke startled.
"We do not know that she is dead," the Doctor answered. "We would suppose so, but for a curious happening four days before she disappeared. Down in the silk-market a dealer was buying silk from an up-country native—a man from the Grass Jungle. The native was exceptionally good to look upon. Dhoop Ki Dhil came into the place to make some purchase. Her eye fell on the jungle man and she stood back. She was a valuable customer, so the silk-merchant made haste to signal her forward. But she shook her head and moved further back."
The Doctor stopped to smoke.
"After a while Dhoop Ki Dhil came forward, moving like one in a trance, and said to the jungle man, 'Are you a god?' and the jungle man answered her with shame, 'No, I am a common man.'
"Now that silk-merchant will tell no more. One doesn't blame him. The natives are not patient with such a tale of her. To hear that any man had taken her eye, maddened them. She had passed the snares of desire—immune. She had turned away from fabulous wealth. She had denied princes and kings. She smiled on all men alike—with that smile mothers have for little children."
"She was a mother-thing," murmured Cadman.
The Doctor turned, questioning:
"A mother-thing? Yes, probably. But she led the singing women like a super-being incarnate. She led the dancing women like a living flame. They sing and dance yet, but the fire of life is gone out!"
"Where is the Grass Jungle?" Cadman asked.
"Nobody seems to know. As for me, I never heard of it—till this. The silk-merchants say that once in several years some strange man—one or another—in strange garments, comes down with a peculiar kind of silk, to exchange for cotton cloth. He won't take money for it and he's easily cheated. He won't talk—only that he's from the great Grass Jungle. He usually calls it 'great.'"
"It must be possible to find," said Cadman, glancing at Skag. "What do you say?"
"I'm with you," Skag answered.
"Now am I gone quite mad, or do I understand you?" the Doctor enquired.
"I think you understand us," Cadman answered.
The Doctor sprang up, exclaiming:
"I've often told you, Cadman, you Americans develop most extraordinary surprises. Most remarkable men on earth for—for developing at the—at the very moment, you understand!"
"Do you know anyone who might give us something on the locality?" Skag asked Cadman.
"That's the point. I think I do," Cadman nodded. "But we'll have to go and find out."
"My resources are at your disposal," the Doctor put in.
"Your resources have accomplished the first half," smiled Cadman. "It's fair that the rest of it should be ours."
"Then what's to do?" the Doctor questioned.
"A few things to purchase first, easily done to-day," Cadman answered, glancing out at the faint dawn. "Then, I know Dickson of the grain-foods department, at Hurda—Central Provinces. He ought to be familiar with the topography of all the inside country. We'll risk nothing by going to him."
"Then away with you to bed and get one good sleep. The boy will bring you a substantial choti-hazri when you're out of your bath at six. I have a couple of small elephant-skin bags—you'll not find the like in shops—they're made for the interior medical service."
So Cadman and Skag went up from Bombay that night on the Calcutta-bound train, facing the far interior of India. The boy in Skag found joy in every detail of his outfit; especially the elephant-skin bag, stocked with necessary personal requirements and nothing more. But somewhere, far out before him, lost in this mystery-land—was a woman. That woman must be found.
"What's the secret about the Doctor?" he asked Cadman, after they had been rolling through the night some hours.
"Nobody knows, unless it's a woman he didn't get," Cadman answered.
"What's the grip this wonder-woman has on him?"
"Beauty and music and life, in the superlative degree; when it all happens together, in one woman—she grips."
After that they both dreamed vague man-dreams of Dhoop Ki Dhil.
"There stands Dickson Sahib himself!" Cadman exclaimed, at Hurda station; and Skag saw the two meet, perceiving at once that it was a friendship between men of very different type.
Then Dickson Sahib promptly gathered them both into that Anglo-Indian hospitality which is never forgotten by those who have found it. Skag was made to feel as much at home as the evidently much-loved Cadman; not by word or gesture, but by a kindly atmosphere about everything. He met a slender lad of twelve years, presented to him by Dickson Sahib as "My son Horace," whose clear grey eyes attracted him much.
After dinner Cadman told the story of Dhoop Ki Dhil. There was perfect silence for minutes when he finished. Skag was groping on and on—his quest already begun. Dickson was smoking hard, till he startled them both:
"Of course, it's altogether right; I'd like to be with you."
"Then will you direct us?" Cadman asked.
"As an officer in a land-department, you understand—" Dickson answered slowly, "I'm not supposed to send men into a place like that, to their death. But I want you to know that my responsibility has nothing whatever to do with my concern. Because I value your lives as men—I want to be careful. You must let me think it out loud. It's a maze. I may place you, as I get on."
"We appreciate your care," Cadman said earnestly.
"The 'great' Grass Jungle is the proper name for vast territory—not all in one piece," Dickson Sahib began. "It comes in rifts between parallel rivers among the mountains. Seepage back and forth between the streams, gives the moisture necessary for such growth—year round.
"When white men come to the edge of one of those rifts, they turn back. It's pestilential with wild beasts. Natives call it the Place-of-Fear. White men don't challenge it—they go round. Government has named one part of it—over toward the eastern end of the Vindhas—the Bund el Khand, the closed country; that name tells its own story."
Dickson Sahib stopped, frowning.
"The native with silks to exchange goes down to Bombay?" he went on. "That means, not Calcutta-way. It also means, not anywhere in the Deccan—which clears us away from large tracts. Yet he usually calls it 'great'—that should mean, the Bund el Khand. No one knows how far in; but you'll best approach it from this side. I'm not dissuading you; I'd like to be along. I'm offering you choice of my assortment of firing-pieces. I'll work you out some running lines—they'll be ready by late-breakfast time. But I'm certain your best place to leave the tracks will be Sehora."
Dickson Sahib was worrying with a match, his face troubled, as he muttered:
"Now if Hand-of-a-God—"
"What is that?" Skag asked quietly, of Cadman.
"That," smiled Dickson Sahib, "is a Scotchman. This civil station of Hurda is famous because he lives here. He is an absolutely perfect shot. Years ago he took all the medals and cups at the great shooting tournaments. He took 'em all, till for shame's sake he withdrew from contesting. He goes to the tournaments just the same—the crackshotmen wouldn't be without him—but he doesn't enter for the trophies any more."
"He is called the avenger of the people, Skag," Cadman put in, "because he goes out and gets the man-eaters; never sights for anything but the eye or the heart, and never misses."
"As I was saying," Dickson Sahib went on, "if Hand-of-a-God were here, he'd go without asking. Or even if the Rose-pearl's brother Ian were here, he's quick enough. But he plays with situations, rather."
"Don't let this situation trouble you, Dickson," said Cadman.
There fell a moment of curious silence. Cadman was a bit pale, but Skag's face looked serene, as he questioned innocently:
"Yes," Dickson Sahib began absently, "she's here when she's not visiting one of her numerous brothers; just now it's Billium in Bombay. Her degree is from London University and the medical service recognises her work among the people. She's a holy thing to them; indeed, she never rests when there's much sickness among them. But one wouldn't ask a favour of one of her brothers."
"Hold on, Dickson, I protest!" Cadman interrupted laughingly. "I'm not such a bad shot myself, you know!"
"The Grass Jungle is crowded—I say crowded—with the worst kinds of blood-eaters. You may want an extra good shot; at the very top notch of practice, what's more."
As Dickson Sahib came out with it, he noticed Skag's surprise, and challenged him:
"Bless your soul, man, I believe it's your grip that grips us!"
Skag's serene face got warm, but Cadman assented.
"Skag dwells in the fundamentals," he explained; "most of us never touch 'em. He's practically incapable of fear; and the idea of failure never occurs to him."
Early next morning Cadman got a telegram calling him to Calcutta; and afterward to England.
"We'll take time to do this big thing first, though," he said, putting the wire into Skag's hand. "They want me sooner—as you see; but they'll get me later. Come away and I'll send word to that effect."
Skag was realising what it would have meant to him, if Cadman had failed; so he asked—vaguely—something about the Rose-pearl.
"Don't let yourself get interested in her, son. That family is like a secret sanctuary; and she is the holy thing behind the altar. She's unattainable."
Son of Power (Continued)
They left the train at Sehora and struck out through rough country, following Dickson Sahib's directions. They camped in full jungle—wild beast voices ringing through the night.
Next day they came into a valley like Eden, nourished by a small river. On its banks—near a mud-walled, grass-thatched village—Cadman discovered a devout man of great learning, who rested on the path of a long pilgrimage. The devout man was approachable and spoke perfect English; so they asked him about the land ahead.
"The Grass Jungle, sons? It is the place of secret ways. Only the very innocent of men-things dwell there; those not soiled by the wisdom of evil. To the wise of the world, it is the place of plague and pestilence and fear; and swift death by heat—and the shedding of blood. Past all else—to such—it is the place of the shedding of blood."
He stopped a moment, musing; then in softer tones went on:
"The days are all still there. The creature-multitude sleeps in hidden lairs—black and gold and brown and grey—all veiled in golden gloom. The little men-things go their ways, on their own man-paths, which they only know; remember this—they only know.
"When you go in, they will send boys with you from one village to the next; but only in the early hours, or in the late hours of day. See that you do not persuade them otherwise. The full-day heat is called 'blight' because it robs men of their wits."
Skag scarcely breathed, till the Learned spoke again.
"At night—I speak who know—at night the earth rises up to the heavens on the voices of the wild and the ears of the gods are offended. Creatures go out on their own paths—as the men-things go on theirs by day. They rend and contend, they kill and are killed; but they do not cease till dawn."
The devout man's head sank low upon his breast and he was very still.
"It's romance, Skag," whispered Cadman, "but that's not saying it's our romance. The man's off again in his abstractions; but I'm going to try once more."
Touching the wise man's foot with reverence and speaking in the form of utmost respect, Cadman asked:
"Is it well that we go in? We search for one who sings as the super-human sing; we search for the sake of sick hearts—her heart and others. Is it well?"
The eyes that lifted were not abstract; they were very deep and keen. Both the Americans felt winnowed before he spoke again.
"Ignorance is not good, but innocence is the supreme defence. If it is the will of the beneficent gods that you find the unmothered woman of great beauty in time, then it shall be so. But be patient. Move slowly through the little peoples, forgetting your search—I say forgetting your search, as you go. Be kind; haste will not delay the sacrifice—kindness may. The way lies before you. Peace."
Cadman rose at once. They had been dismissed with a benediction; nothing further could be obtained. Otherwise Skag would have been a question-mark before that poor old man till morning.
"But he knows!"
The words seemed wrung out of Skag, as they sat apart.
"He does; there's no gamble about that. But if we challenge him, the chances are—he'll revoke that benediction!" Cadman speculated whimsically. "Then we'll have all the people against us—which is to say, every prospect of success would go glimmering. No, there's nothing for it but to go ahead, as fast as we can—slowly."
"But what do you suppose he meant by 'forgetting'?" Skag asked. "That we mustn't let the natives know we're looking for her?"
"I believe you've got it!" Cadman assented.
"Then I've forgotten!" Skag said with decision.
"I will have forgotten, by morning," Cadman answered.
They were on their way as soon as it was light enough to see their compass. They slept at two villages; and early the third day came out of sketchy mountains into full view of the great Grass Jungle itself. In long low waves, it billowed away from them to the dim rugged line of Vindha against the sky. It looked like massed plumes of feathers—all golden-green.
That day they walked down toward it with few words. To Skag it was perfectly natural enchantment—veiling the mystery of Dhoop Ki Dhil. He never thought of it as a death-trap for himself.
Under the late afternoon sun, the rolling waves of golden-green took on an aspect of measureless distance; clean reaches, absolutely unbroken by anything save their own majestic undulations. The most innocent landscape on earth, more enticing than the sand-desert—its softer mystery breathed forth the faint searching perfume of growing things. Its undertone was well-being. Its overtone was peace.
"Do you suppose they're doing any harm to her, in there?" Cadman asked.
"No," Skag answered, but his face was grim as he spoke.
When they came into it, they found not grass but bamboo, twelve to sixteen feet high, standing root to root. They camped at a village in its edge; and before they slept, twenty lads were ready to lead them in the man-paths, next morning.
The villages had not been visible from the mountain-side, being solidly double-thatched with bamboo. Garden and fruit-stuffs were underneath; and animals for milk and butter.
The people were semi-primitive. Physical degeneration was not found. Indeed their bodily perfection was extraordinary. In mind, they were like children; happy and friendly, joyful to teach all they knew—joyful to show all they had. The days rang with clean, childish laughter; but there was no philosophy. There was no deep concern, no lasting grief, no hate.
"Skag, my son," said Cadman solemnly, "if a man really wants to depart from sin—this is the place to come!"
By this time they had passed through several villages, camping under double-thatch and inside heavy stockade guards. Being unable to release himself from the thrall of his life-quest, even while every element of his manhood was deep in the thrall of a "singing nautch-girl—undefamed—" Skag's trained ears had been extending his education in what was the cult of cults to him. He had listened longer than Cadman at night, to those voices of the wild by which the ears of the gods are offended.
Surely his secret consciousness—during those night-watches—had grappled with the unknown ahead, reaching impatient fingers to find and save Dhoop Ki Dhil in time. But he let no flicker of that thought colour his answer.
"I don't know," he said dubiously, "if I'm not mistaken, I've heard some sinful language at night."
As they got further in, two names attracted their attention—spoken together like one word—Dhoop Kichari-lal and Koob Soonder. Of course Koob Soonder—Utterly Beautiful—they first thought could mean none other than the Bombay nautch-girl whom they sought—yet later they were to learn the truth. But the last part of the first name—Kichari-lal—they did not know. Yet no one would interpret it to them; the innocent people looked frightened when they asked.
Still, the name recurred; and like following golden threads through meshes of green—all this life was gold and green—they became fascinated by the tracing of it.
Then they heard of a man who "knew everything and was able to tell it." They found him strangely clothed in soft brown, surrounded by youngsters; and asked for all he knew about Dhoop Kichari-lal and Koob Soonder. (Their request would have been made in different form, if they had recognised his order at first glance.) He eyed them keenly, before speaking:
"Dhoop Kichari-lal? That is the name of a colour which the woman from far wears; she whom Jiwan Kawi loved and would have wed. And Koob Soonder—small sister of Jiwan Kawi—our strong young man who went away; she whose mother was taken by Fear when she was a babe, she who was stricken by the blight when she began to run—she who was named for her perfect beauty, before the Grass Jungle had seen beauty more perfect—"
"Do you know all the story?" Cadman interrupted, with dry lips.
"All," said the man. "Am I not here to teach the little people with the telling of tales? Jiwan Kawi was sent on the great adventure, to change our silks for cotton cloths—which the people consider more desirable." (There was the hint of a tender smile on his lips, as he said the last words.) "Jiwan Kawi was the most strong, the most beautiful of all our young men when these same leaves were small, in the spring." He paused, seeming to forget them—his eyes on the leaves.
Then his manner changed, taking on a quality of austere impressiveness, as he continued:
"Jiwan Kawi returned from the great adventure; but a woman came after him—sunrise to sunset behind. She had followed him from the place of the multitudes, where all the people dwell together. He had seen her there; he had loved her there; he had fled in fear from her beauty; he had fled in distraction away back to his own place. Now—his joy showed, past telling. But she had come without a mother to give her in marriage; and marriage cannot be, otherwise.
"If it had not been for her so great beauty! Surely our women are beautiful—as the gods know how to make common women. But when they saw her—they went back into their houses and covered their faces from the light of her eyes.
"That was the calamity; for a woman must be given in marriage by the heart of a woman—sincere and unafraid. And there was not one without fear. Jiwan Kawi went out into the jungle that night; and he never came back. Fear may have taken him."
The man looked away toward the horizon.
"Then she put on her body the one garment of hindu-widowhood, unadorned; but without marriage. She said, 'I will mourn for the children that have not been—that are not—that cannot be.' The women heard the voice of her mourning; and they forgot her too-great beauty, to serve her too-great pain—when it was late.
"They gave her the little Koob Soonder, to mother. Now it is that the child, who has no wit and little reason, goes out into the place of sacrifice to find Fear; and the woman in a widow's garment goes after, to fetch her back. Then the woman who mourns for unborn children, goes out into the night-paths—as Jiwan Kawi went—and the little Koob Soonder follows, to fetch her back.
"So they are going, always going out into the place of sacrifice—where Fear lives. Some day or some night—Fear will take them."
"What kind of fear?" Cadman asked, with a dry throat.
"Fear is name enough. There is none other."
The man's reply was spoken in conclusive tones. He sat as if oblivious, for several minutes. Then searching them both earnestly with haggard eyes, he spoke direct:
"Have you looked on Dhoop Ki Dhil, for whom you come so far? Have you heard her voice?"
Both the Americans shook their heads.
"Will you look on her in the paths of my understanding? Will you render yourselves to know her in the currents of my blood?"
"We will," Cadman answered tensely.
The man lifted his face toward the night-sky, becoming perfectly still before he spoke:
"She is the breath of the early spring-time, when the pulse of the earth awakes. She is the midnight moon of all summers, in all lands. The rose of daybreak is in her smile; the flames of sunset in her face. Lightnings of the monsoon break from her eyes; and she mothers the mothers of men with their tenderness. Her body moves like flowing water; and she is the joy of all joy and the sorrow of all sorrow, in motion."
The man lifted his hand, as if to interrupt himself.
"The majesties of High Himalaya are in her voice; and distances of star-lit night."
He stopped, seeming to listen to something they could not hear.
"The tides of the seasons flow through the blood of common men," he went on; "they carry the gold of delight away; and the rock-stuff of strength. Then men are old. It is not so with her. Bitter waters of grief have drenched her, they have covered her as the deep covers the lands below; but her ascending flames of life consume them all. She rises like a creature made of jewels, to enlighten men against the snares of that same deep from which she has come up—wearing splendours of loveliness for garmenture.
"The people weep their tears for her pain; but she heals their hurts with a look. She restores their dead memories of youth to old men—their memories of dead loves. She restores the eyes of girlhood to the elder women, who have long been weary with yearning after dead little ones—after dead men. She has taught the little people who cannot think—the child-hearted people—that Love-the-transcendent can never die!
"Dhoop Ki Dhil? She is youth, eternal! She is motherhood—the divine lotus of the world!"
Turning to face Cadman and Skag, the man said gently:
"The way lies before you. Go swiftly now. Peace."
And rising softly in the dead hush, he moved away.
Cadman sat long meditating, before he spoke at all; then it was like thinking aloud:
"A mystic brother of the Vindhas—one with the old man outside; not leaving these little semi-primitives alone—identifies himself with them—that's good business!"
"Let's get on!" breathed Skag.
They made the utmost speed possible, till they came to the village that startled them. The childlike care-freedom was gone. Light-heartedness was quenched. Apprehension took its place; low tones, no laughter—a look of helpless suffering like the large-eyed wonder in the face of a grieved child.
They asked about the next village.
"Fear lives there," they were told.
"What fear?" Cadman asked.
"Do you know the king of all serpents—he who comes over any wall, he who goes through any thatch? He dwells there. He feeds upon the children of men and upon their creatures. He comes only to the edge, but he eats!"
The boy who told them this was so different from other boys they had seen, that Cadman asked him direct:
"Who are you?"
"I am here under a master, doing a certain work in my novitiate," the boy said simply.
"Will you take us there in the morning?" Cadman asked.
The boy looked at them intently, before he answered:
"It is just inside the nesting-place of all the serpents in the world; but Fear is their king. We who are here to serve, have no weapons; and we cannot overcome malignant things with kindness. If you will deliver the people from that serpent-king, by destroying his evil life, all the snakes will go further back into the jungle. For many generations—if the gods will, for always—the innocent people will be safe. I will take you there, if you will kill him."
"We will try," Cadman said, not even turning to look at Skag.
They found the village in total paralysis of all natural activities. It was like a deadly pall. This was no new terror; it was old devastation—bred into the bone of consciousness.
A little girl came near to watch Cadman, who was getting out his gun. She had never seen one before. He whispered to her—it seemed not right to speak aloud in this place—and asked her where was Dhoop Ki Dhil. The child shook her head, but answered him:
"Wherever you will see the sun-melted red."
"What is that?" he wondered.
"That? That is the long-long, wide-wide cloth that covers all her body. It is made of so-thick silk" (she showed him six fingers), "that many times as thick as we know how to make."
"What is the name of the boy who led us here?" he asked next.
"We call him Dhanah and many other names; but he is not a small boy, he is a man—very wise and sad."
At that moment they heard a voice like golden 'cellos and golden clarions and golden viols—calling "Koob Soon-n-der, Koob Soon-n-der!" and the boy came past, running hard.
"Soon!" he shouted.
But Skag was at his heels and Cadman followed close, the short firing-piece in his hands.
The paths were narrow, the bamboo dense; the boy leaped into a curve and was lost. They raced after him, till the path broadened at the top of an elevation. Pausing an instant to listen, they saw—directly in front of them a little way distant—a tall post; a dark post, seven or eight feet above the bamboo tops, stiff and straight.
It held their eyes by its strange sheen. It began to lean stiffly toward one side—as if falling. It straightened and leaned the other way. Then undulation crept into it, till the top-end followed the outline of a double loop—like a figure-of-eight.
The snake had chained them this long. Skag recovered with an inward revulsion that rent him. He plunged down the path, his faculties surging—thought, feeling, realisation, volition—tearing him.
He met Dhanah carrying an utterly limp girl in his arms—the boy's face gone grey.
As Skag fled on past Dhanah, the whole story of Dhoop Ki Dhil was eating in his brain like fire. She was somewhere in there ahead of him—somewhere near that monster snake.
The weaving of the serpent's head, looping in long reaches above the bamboo tops—looking over them, looking down into them, looking for its prey—had frozen him to the marrow of his bones.
Dhoop Ki Dhil had come out into this blind maze to find and save the heat-blighted child from—that death. He knew what that death was like—he had seen a big snake kill a goat once, in the circus, for food. . . . The frost in his bones bit deeper, because this was Dhoop Ki Dhil—the wonder-woman—who was in there, somewhere close to that snake. He heard the Bombay Doctor's tones again, as he ran; and the words of the brown-robed mystic went like flame and acid through his blood.
. . . Why couldn't he hear Cadman? Cadman had the gun. But if he himself could only reach her before the snake—if he could only— And a soft blur of sun-melted red loomed ahead of him.
Dhoop Ki Dhil did not walk, she did not run; but her glide was almost as swift as Dhanah's flight.
When Skag met her face to face, he shivered with a shock of realisation—her ineffable beauty glowed like coals in a trance of some unearthly devotion. Her human mind was not there—an incomparable calm reigned in its stead.
"Come!" he urged strangely.
She moved with him, tilting her beautiful head to indicate something behind.
He looked—the snake was coming through the long narrow path, coming on; huge undulations, touching the ground but coming through the air, without any look of haste. The path was plenty wide for it, there was plenty time for it—it was overtaking them as if they stood still.
Then, for one eternal moment, Skag knew fear. It was cold—long—metallic. It was invincible—without pity. He heard human voices and the sound of running water—in a dream. Near by, he heard a low sweet laugh. The eyes of fathomless splendour beside him were not looking into his, but they were full of that love which transcends fear. And the birthright of Sanford Hantee rose up in him.
"That's right, come on!" he cried to her.
She looked up; and he followed her glance—one great undulation swayed above them—surging in oozy motion—curving down; just higher than their faces—a broad flat head—thin lateral lips—stark lidless eyes.
Skag ran with his arm about Dhoop Ki Dhil's shoulders. He ran as fast as he could—and still look up. He dared not loosen his eyes from those eyes of evil—he must hold them with what strength he had.
They were utterly patient—those eyes of unveiled malice; as if there had never been strength in the universe but that of sin—as if sin looked down for the first time on something different.
Skag was perfectly definite in his intention; he meant to hold the snake if he could. Some of his training had been in the use of his eyes to control animals under stress.
So he ran with his arm about Dhoop Ki Dhil's shoulders, the flame of his volitional power burning straight up into those pitiless, lidless eyes—till he came into a sentiency that had no cognisance of time.
. . . The raw curse of wickedness and the bitter length of hate, beat down upon him—out of the great snake's naked eyes. The deadly stench of old corruption, poured down upon him—in the great snake's breath.
It challenged the manhood and womanhood of his humankind, with all the crimes of violence they had ever done. Skag met it wistfully at first, with knowledges of loving-kindness; then a rising force that almost choked him, of confidence in ultimate good.
. . . Cadman had found the right path at last. What he saw blotted everything else out. Calling his reserves of control, he sighted with the utmost care. His big-game bullet shattered the serpent's head. It launched backward and Skag heard a heavy stroke on the ground, almost before he realised that the lidless eyes of ancient evil had disappeared from so near his face.
A mighty shout went up from the people, as the monster coils began to thresh living bamboo into pulp. No one saw the hands of the two Americans grip.
Then the majesties of High Himalaya and the distances of star-lit night, poured forth from Dhoop Ki Dhil's lifted lips.
Cadman and Skag followed her among the people going back to the village. Once she whirled with an inimitable movement, flinging her fingers toward Skag, in a gesture that seemed to focus the eyes of the whole world upon him. (And in that instant, the American men could not have spoken a word—for the richness of her in their hearts.)
The light of intelligence flooded her face; her mind had returned to her, unmarred—a radiant scintillance.
"She is naming you 'Rana Jai' for the generations to come," Cadman interpreted. "She says no mortal man ever held the king of all serpents from his stroke—ever delayed him from his chosen prey—this thing they have seen you do. It is your tradition for the future.
"She says I am your guardian, sent by the gods, to destroy the serpent—for your sake—so saving the people." Cadman finished huskily.
"But I didn't reach him, Cadman," Skag protested. "I didn't touch him—inside!"
As they all came into the village enclosure, Dhoop Ki Dhil slipped into a house near by, saying that Dhanah thought the child slept too deeply—she would care for her.
The people were beside themselves with joy. But presently Dhoop Ki Dhil came out, looking straight up. Her hands were palm to palm, reaching slowly upward from her breast to their full stretch; there she gently opened them apart. A perfect hush fell on all.
"The child is gone," Cadman said, in an undertone.
Then the people began a low chant. It was not mourning. It was as if a great multitude sang a great lullaby together.
"Boy, boy! This is a hard knock at our civilisation!"
Cadman was not aware that he had spoken. Skag shook his head.
"God! how I love it!" burst from him; and he had no shame of that love.
Little Koob Soonder's body—in heavy silks of gleaming blue—was laid on a bamboo pyre. Dhoop Ki Dhil tenderly sprinkled flower-petals and incense-oils over all, and lighted the four corners for the motherless one, herself. Cadman and Skag watched the clean flames, till only silver ashes were on the ground. And all the while the people sang their great soft lullaby, without tears or any sign of mourning.
Hours later, the voice of Dhoop Ki Dhil rose on the night—far away. It seemed to compass the planet with its golden power and to descend from the empyrean of sound; further and further—transcending the voices of the wild—the very heart of love, the very soul of light. But they saw no more of her; and the people next morning made no reply to Cadman's natural enquiry; no one would tell what had happened to Dhoop Ki Dhil.
All the way to the edge of the great Grass Jungle, where they had come in, a multitude went before and after—establishing the tradition of their deliverance. Finally Cadman asked the people why they spoke no word of Dhoop Ki Dhil, excepting as to things finished. The people bowed their heads and one answered for them all:
"It is finished. When we of the Grass Jungle mourn, we do not use words."
As they walked slowly into the open, listening to the voices of the child-people, the name "Rana Jai" recurred often.
"I haven't heard what that word means yet," Skag said.
"Rana Jai?" Cadman repeated. "The exact translation is Prince of Victory; but Dhoop Ki Dhil made her meaning clear—Son of Power; a great deal more."
After that, they had little to say. Certainly Cadman would never forget the length of time he had seen the looming head—less than two feet from Skag's face—the incredible power that flamed up out of the young man's eyes. Certainly Skag was full of content as to the safety of the people. But all realisations were lost in a gnawing depression about Dhoop Ki Dhil.
When they came to Sehora, the station-man held out a letter in quaintly written English; it read:
From the wayside Dhoop Ki Dhil sends greetings to Son of Power, most exalted; and to his guardian, most devoted.
She pays votive offerings from this day, at sunrise and at sunset, for those men—incense and oils and seed—to safety from all evil, and fulfillment of their so-great destiny.
The gods, all-beneficent, have preserved him—Jiwan Kawi, the man of men! He met her in the night-paths; and he goes now with her—to her own people. Jiwan Kawi, the man of men!
The Grass Jungles are in her heart, like dead rose-leaves; their perfume in her blood, is forever before the gods—remembering Son of Power and his guardian.
Dhoop Ki Dhil touches their holy feet.
The two Americans looked into each other's eyes, without words—the Calcutta-bound train was alongside.
"Remember, I'm responsible for you from now on, son!" Cadman said, as he loosed Skag's hand.
The Monkey Glen
Skag and Cadman were back in Hurda where Dickson Sahib lived, and the younger man was disconsolate at the thought of Cadman's leaving for England. During those few last days they were much together in the open jungle around the ancient unwalled city; and once as they walked, two strange silent native men passed them going in toward the wilderness.
"The priests of Hanuman," Cadman whispered.
Skag enquired. He had a new and enlarged place in his mind for everything about these men. Cadman explained that these priests serve the monkey people: to this purpose they are a separate priesthood. Abandoning possessions and loves and hates of their kind, they live lives of austerity, mingling with the monkey people in their own jungles; eating, drinking with them; sleeping near; playing and mourning with them—in every possible way giving expression to good-will. All this they do very seriously, very earnestly, with reverence mingled with pity.
"The masses here think these men worship the monkeys," Cadman added. "It's not true. Most Europeans dismiss them as fanatics—equally absurd. I've been out with them."
Skag had actually seen the faces of the two men just passed. The impression had not left his mind. They were dark clean faces, grooved by much patient endurance, strong with self-mastery and those fainter lines that have light in them and only come from years of service for others.
Cadman certainly had no scorn for these men. He had passed days and nights with their kind in one of the down-country districts. His tone was slow and gentle when he spoke of that period. It wasn't that Cadman actually spoke words of pathos and endearment. Indeed, he might have said more, except that two white men are cruelly repressed from each other in fear of being sentimental. They are almost as willing to show fear as an emotion of delicacy or tenderness.
"The more you know, the more you appreciate these forest men," Cadman capitulated and laughed softly at the sudden interest in Skag's face as he added: "I understand, my son. You want to go into the jungle with these masters of the monkey craft. You want to read their lives—far in, deep in yonder. Maybe they'll let you. They were singularly good to me. . . . It may be they will see that thing in your face which knocks upon their souls."
"What is that?"
Cadman laughed again.
"In the West they know little of these things; but the fact is, it's quite as you've been taught: the more a man overcomes himself, the more powers he puts on for outside work. And when a man is in charge of himself all through, he has a look in his eye that commands—yes, even finds fellowship with the priests of Hanuman."
"Would these priests see such a look?"
"Because they have it themselves. It's evident as sun-tan, to the seers, who are what they are because they rule themselves. Your old Alec Binz had it right. You handle wild animals in cages or afield just in proportion as you handle yourself. Those who command themselves see self-command when it lives in the eye of another. . . . They called me—those priests did—years ago. I almost wanted to live with them for a while; but it was too hard."
"How was that?"
"They said I must forsake all other things in life to serve the monkey people—that I must stay years with them, winning their faith, before I would be of value—that all life in the world must be forgotten."
Cadman laughed wistfully. "I wasn't big enough," he added, "or mad enough, as you like. Perhaps they'll know you at once, or it might take labour and patience to convince them you have not an unkind thought toward any of their monkey friends and no scorn of them because they serve in such service."
The out and out staring fact of the whole matter, Skag realised, was that these priests believed the monkeys to be a race of men who have been far gone in degeneration. They gave their lives to help the return progress. The order of Hanuman had already endured for many generations. The value of their work was hardly appreciable from any standpoint outside; they counted little the years of a man's life; they were trained in patience to a degree hardly conceivable to a Western mind.
". . . Of course they work in the dark," Cadman said. "The natives try to obey in these matters, but do not understand; and one young European with a rifle can undo a whole lot of their devoted labour among the tree-people. You see, the priests work with care and kindness, following, ministering, accustoming the monkeys to them, never betraying them in the slightest—"
Skag nodded, keenly attentive. He knew well from his experience as a show trainer what it means to get the confidence of the big cats; and how months of careful work could be ruined in a moment by an ignorant hand. Deep, steady, inextinguishable kindness was the thing.
"Yes, to be kind and square," Cadman resumed. "And one of the strangest and most remarkable things that ever came to me in the shape of a sentence was from one of these priests. He was an old man, grey pallor stealing in under the weathered brown of his face. He had that look in his eye that has nothing to do with years, but means that a man is so sufficient unto himself that he can forget himself utterly. . . . He spoke of the condition of the tree-folk, of the incommunicable sorrow of them—as if it were his own destiny. The one sentence of his, hard to forget—in English would be like this:
"'After a man has lived with these monkey people for a long time, and always been kind, one of them may come and stand before him and let tears roll down his hairy face. And this is all the confession of sorrow he can make!'"
Skag caught the deep thing that had stirred Cadman. The latter added with a touch of scorn:
"Once I told this thing, as I have told you, to a group of Europeans in a steamer's smoking room. And two of them laughed—thought I was telling a funny story. . . . These priests are apt to be very bitter toward one who wrongs one of their free-friends. They believe that it is a just and good thing to make a man pay with his life, for taking the life of a monkey; because it impedes his coming up and embitters the others. One way to look at it?"
Skag was in and out of the jungle most of the days after Cadman left for Bombay to sail. Closer and closer he drew to the deep, sweet earthiness and the mysteries carried on outside the ken of most men. One dawn, from a distance he watched a sambhur buck pause on the brow of a hill. The creature shook his mane and lifted up his nose and sniffed the dawn of day.
Skag knew that it was good to him, knew how the sensitive grey nostrils quivered wide, drinking deep draughts of cool moist air. The grasses were rested; the trees seemed enamoured of the deep shadows of night. The river gurgled musically from the jagged rocks of her mid-current to the overleaning vines and branches of her borders.
This was a side stream of the Nerbudda. Already Skag shared with the natives the attitude of devotion to the great Nerbudda. She was sacred to the people, and to every creature good, for her gift was like the gift of mothers. When all the world was parched and full of deep cracks, yawning beneath a heaven white and cloudless, and rain forsook the land, and every leaf hung heavy and dust-laden; when heat and thirst and famine all increased, till creatures crept forth from their hot lairs at evening and moved in company—who had been enemies, but for sore suffering—then would she yield up her pure tides to satisfy their utmost craving. . . .
Skag lived deep through that morning. The rose and amber radiance of dawn fell into all the hearts of all the birds; and wordless songs came pulsing up from roots of growing things. The sambhur lifted high his head again and spread the fan of one ear toward the wind, while one breathed twice. Then there fell a sudden rustling on the branches; and swift along the river's brim, the sharp, plaintive cry of monkeys, beating down through all the startled stillness with their wailing voices. These turned, hurrying away in one direction, with fearless leaps and clinging hands and ceaseless chattering. Their cries at intervals, bringing answers, until the air was a-din with monkeys, leaping along the highways of the trees.
Women of the villages, children tending goats, labourers among the driftings of the hills and on the open slopes, holy men and those who toiled at any craft—heard the shrill calls along the margins of the jungle and knew that some evil had fallen on a leader of his kind among the monkey people.
Then Skag saw two priests of Hanuman rising up from the denser shadows where the river was lost in the jungle. Quickly girding themselves, they followed the multitudes. Skag did not miss their stern faces, nor the instant pause as they dipped their brown feet with prayers into the river. He dared to follow. The priests turned upon him, silent, frowning; but he was not sent back.
Skag recalled Cadman's words, but also that he was known among the natives as one white man not an animal-killer. His name Son of Power had followed him to Hurda; word about him had travelled with mysterious rapidity. To his amazement Skag found that the people of Hurda knew something of the story of the tiger-pit and his part in delivering the Grass Jungle people from the toils and tributes of the great snake. . . . He was not sent back.
For a long time, until the forenoon was half spent, the three marched silently. One halted at length to pick up from the leaves a white silk kerchief, bearing in one corner two English letters wrought in needle-work. This was lifted by the elder of the priests and folded in the thick windings of his loin-cloth. Deeper and deeper into the jungle they travelled, never far from the river.
Suddenly the branches parted, the path ceased; a smooth, perfect carpet of tender, green grass spread out before them and reached and clung to the lip of a deep, clear pool—beaten out through the ages, by the weight of the stream falling on a lower ledge of rock from the brow of a massive boulder. The mighty trees of the forest stretched their huge arms over this spot, as if to keep it secret, so that even the fierce sunshine was mellowed before it touched the earth.
In the midst of rich grasses, in the shadow of an overleaning rock, a wounded monkey lay stretched upon fresh leaves. The two priests went near him, softly, while the tree-branches filled in and swayed—under weight of monkeys finding places. Here and there a local chattering broke the stillness for a moment, where some dry branch snapped, refusing to bear its burden.
For minutes the two hesitated, considering the wounded one; then the elder priest drew out the kerchief. Skag did not understand all the words spoken, but he made out that this kerchief was a token that should find the hand that caused the wound "and seal it unto torment." The second priest's lips moved, repeating the same covenant. The elder then turned back toward the city, signifying that Skag might follow.
After they had walked some time, the old priest halted and drew forth the kerchief again. He examined the monogram woven with a fine needle into the corner. To him the shape of the first English letter was like a ploughshare, and the second was like the form in which certain large birds fly in company over the heights of the hill country. The priest looked long, then hid the kerchief once more, and they hurried on.
Near the unwalled city, the priest sat down before the pandit, Ratna Ram, whose seat was under the kadamba tree by the temple of Maha Dev. Ratna Ram was learned in the signs of different languages and could write them with a reed, so that those who had knowledge could decipher his writing, even after many days and at a great distance: Ratna Ram, to whom the gods had given that greatest of all kinds of wisdom, whereby he could hold secretly any knowledge and not speak of it till the thing should be accomplished. (The pandit was well known to Skag who studied Hindi before him for an hour or more, on certain days.)
Taking the reed from Ratna Ram, the old priest carefully reproduced the letters he had memorised—A. V.—explained that he had found a kerchief, doubtless fallen from some foreigner as he walked in the jungle. . . . Did the pandit know the man whose name was written so? . . . Now the priest spoke rapidly in his own tongue, repeating the covenant Skag had heard him pronounce in the monkey glen.
For a while Ratna Ram sat silent. The priest waited patiently, knowing that the pandit's wisdom was working in him and that he was considering the matter.
Then Ratna Ram spoke to the priest:
"Oh, Covenanted, you are learned in many things and I am ignorant. But knowledge of some things has pierced to my understanding like a sharp sword. Consider, oh, Covenanted, Indian Government, who is lord over all this land, over the Mussulman and over us also, over our lands and over all our possessions, in whose hand is the protection of our lives and the safety of our cattle. The foreigner has no honour to the life of any creature of the jungle, neither in his heart, nor in his understanding, nor in his laws. But know this and understand it; to Government the life of one human is heavier to hold in the hand than all the lives of all the tribes of the people of Hanuman. This is a good and wise thing to remember at this time, for there is no safe place to hide from Government in all this land; no, not even in the rocks, if he be searching for those who have taken one of his lives; and there is no force to bring before him to meet his force; and there is no holding the life from him, that he will take in punishment; and if many lives have taken his one life, he will have them all. Consider these sayings."
When Ratna Ram had ceased speaking, the priest sat without answering for a short space; then he inquired:
"Has Government force enough to put between, that we should not accomplish to take the slayer alive?"
"No. His armies are not here; but it would not be many days before they would reach this place."
"Not before our purpose could be fulfilled?"
"It may be, not before. But soon after."
"That is well. We fear not death. Shall we not surely die? What matters it? Our covenant stands."
Ratna Ram begged the priest to rest a little under the kadamba tree. Rising up, he gathered his utensils of writing and put them in a cotton-bag; and with a glance at Skag to follow, left the place walking toward the city. Skag knew by this time, that his teacher, the pandit, considered the matter of serious import. They reached the verandah steps of an English bungalow and Skag would have retired, but Ratna Ram would not hear, wishing him to keep a record of this affair.
"The priest of Hanuman trusts you," he said, "and my righteousness to him, as well as to Government, must have witness."
He knocked. A girl came to the door. All life was changed for Skag. . . . The girl, seeing the shadowed face of the pandit, inquired if he sorrowed with any sorrow.
"Only the sorrow that over-shadows thy house, Gul Moti-ji."
Ratna Ram explained that he had come in warning, but also in equal service for the priests of Hanuman who wanted the life of her cousin—A. V.—the young stranger from England. The fact that the young man was away from Hurda this day was well for him, because he had shot and wounded a great monkey, the king of his people.