THE ELEPHANT GOD
BY GORDON GASSERLY
NEW YORK 1921
TO A CERTAIN ROGUE ELEPHANT RESIDENT IN THE TERAI FOREST
THE SLAYER OF DIVERS MEN AND WOMEN
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR IN GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF MUCH INSTRUCTION AND IN THE HOPE THAT SOME DAY IN THE HAPPY HUNTING GROUNDS THEY MAY MEET AGAIN AND DECIDE THE ISSUE
FOREWORD TO AMERICAN EDITION
Twenty years ago I dedicated my first book, The Land of the Boxers; or China Under the Allies, to the American officers and soldiers of the expeditionary forces then fighting in the Celestial Empire—as well as to their British comrades. And when, some years afterwards, I was visiting their country, right glad I was that I had thus offered my slight tribute to the valour of the United States Army. For from the Pacific to the Atlantic I met with a hospitality and a kindness that no other land could excel and few could equal. And ever since then, I have felt deep in debt to all Americans and have tried in many parts of our Empire to repay to those who serve under the Star Spangled Banner a little of what I owe to their fellow-countrymen.
Only those who have experienced that sympathetic American kindness can realise what it is. It is all that gives me courage to face the reading public as a writer of fiction and attempt to depict to it the fascinating world of an Indian jungle, the weird beasts that people it, and the stranger humans that battle with them in it. The magic pen of a Kipling alone could do justice to that wonderful realm of mountain and forest that is called the Terai—that fantastic region of woodland that stretches for hundreds of miles along the foot of the Himalayas, that harbours in its dim recesses the monsters of the animal kingdom, quaint survivals of a vanished race—the rhinoceros, the elephant, the bison, and the hamadryad, that great and terrible snake which can, and does, pursue and overtake a mounted man, and which with a touch of its poisoned fang can slay the most powerful brute. The huge Himalayan bear roams under the giant trees, feeding on fruit and honey, yet ready to shatter unprovoked the skull of a poor woodcutter. Those savage striped and spotted cats, the tiger and the panther, steal through it on velvet paw and take toll of its harmless denizens.
But, if I cannot describe it as I would, at least I have lived the life of the wild in the spacious realm of the Terai. I would that I had the power to make others feel what I have felt, the thrill that comes when facing the onrush of the bloodthirstiest of all fierce brutes, a rogue elephant, or the joy of seeing a charging tiger check and crumple up at the arresting blow of a heavy bullet.
I have followed day after day from dawn to dark and fought again and again a fierce outlaw tusker elephant that from sheer lust of slaughter had killed men, women, and children and carried on for years a career of crime unbelievable.
No one that knows the jungle well will refuse to credit the strangest story of what wild animals will do. Of all the swarming herds of wild elephants in the Terai, the Mysore, or the Ceylon jungles no man, white or black, has ever seen one that had died a natural death. Yet many have watched them climbing up the great mountain rampart of the Himalayas towards regions where human foot never followed. The Death Place of the Elephants is a legend in which all jungle races firmly believe, but no man has ever found it. The mammoths live a century and a half—but the time comes when each of them must die. Yet no human eye watches its death agony.
Those who know elephants best will most readily credit the strangest tales of their doings. And there are men—white men—whose power over wild beasts and wilder fellow men outstrips the novelist's imagination, the true tale of whose doings no resident in a civilised land would believe.
I.—THE SECRET MISSION 3
II.—A ROGUE ELEPHANT 20
III.—A GIRL OF THE TERAI 35
IV.—THE MADNESS OF BADSHAH 59
V.—THE DEATH-PLACE 79
VI.—A DRAMATIC INTRODUCTION 95
VII.—IN THE RAJAH'S PALACE 117
VIII.—A BHUTTIA RAID 137
IX.—THE RESCUE OF NOREEN 155
X.—A STRANGE HOME-COMING 175
XI.—THE MAKING OF A GOD 193
XII.—THE LURE OF THE HILLS 213
XIII.—THE PLEASURE COLONY 231
XIV.—THE TANGLED SKEIN OF LOVE 248
XV.—THE FEAST OF THE GODDESS KALI 267
XVI.—THE PALACE OF DEATH 286
XVII.—A TRAP 309
XVIII.—THE CAT AND THE TIGER 330
XX.—THE GOD OF THE ELEPHANTS 377
THE ELEPHANT GOD
THE SECRET MISSION
"The letters, sahib," said the post orderly, blocking up the doorway of the bungalow.
Kevin Dermot put down his book as the speaker, a Punjaubi Mohammedan in white undress, slipped off his loose native shoes and entered the room barefoot, as is the custom in India.
"For this one a receipt is needed," continued the sepoy, holding out a long official envelope registered and insured and addressed, like all the others, to "The Officer Commanding, Ranga Duar, Eastern Bengal."
Major Dermot signed the receipt and handed it to the man. As he did so the scream of an elephant in pain came to his ears.
"What is that?" he asked the post orderly.
"It is the mahout, Chand Khan, beating his hathi (elephant), sahib," replied the sepoy looking out.
Dermot threw the unopened letters on the table, and, going out on the verandah of his bungalow, gazed down on the parade ground which lay a hundred feet below. Beyond it at the foot of the small hill on which stood the Fort was a group of trees, to two of which a transport elephant was shackled by a fore and a hind leg in such a way as to render it powerless. Its mahout, or driver, keeping out of reach of its trunk, was beating it savagely on the head with a bamboo. Mad with rage, the man, a grey-bearded old Mohammedan, swung the long stick with both hands and brought it down again and again with all his force. From the gateway of the Fort above the havildar, or native sergeant, of the guard shouted to the mahout to desist. But the angry man ignored him and continued to belabour his unfortunate animal, which, at the risk of dislocating its leg, struggled wildly to free itself and screamed shrilly each time that the bamboo fell. This surprised Dermont, for an elephant's skull is so thick that a blow even from the ankus or iron goad used to drive it, is scarcely felt.
The puzzled officer re-entered the bungalow and brought out a pair of field-glasses, which revealed the reason of the poor tethered brute's screams. For they showed that in the end of the bamboo were stuck long, sharp nails which pierced and tore the flesh of its head.
Major Dermot was not only a keen sportsman and a lover of animals, but he had an especial liking for elephants, of which he had had much experience. So with a muttered oath he put down the binoculars and, seizing his helmet, ran down the steep slope from his bungalow to the parade ground. As he went he shouted to the mahout to stop. But the man was too engrossed in his brutality to hear him or the havildar, who repeated the Major's order. It was not until Dermot actually seized his arm and dragged him back that he perceived his commanding officer. Dropping the bamboo he strove to justify his ill-treatment of the elephant by alleging some petty act of disobedience on its part.
His excuses were cut short.
"Choop raho! (Be silent!) You are not fit to have charge of an animal," cried the indignant officer, picking up and examining the cruel weapon. The sharp points of the nails were stained with blood, and morsels of skin and flesh adhered to them. Dermot felt a strong inclination to thrash the brutal mahout with the unarmed end of the bamboo, but, restraining himself, he turned to the elephant. With the instinct of its kind it was scraping a little pile of dust together with its toes, snuffing it up in its trunk and blowing it on the bleeding cuts on its lacerated head.
"You poor beast! You mustn't do that. We'll find something better for you," said the Major compassionately.
He called across the parade ground to his white-clad Mussulman butler, who was looking down at him from the bungalow.
"Bring that fruit off my table," he said in Hindustani. "Also the little medicine chest and a bowl of water."
When the servant had brought them Dermot approached the elephant.
"Khubbadar—(take care)—sahib!" cried a coolie, the mahout's assistant. "He is suffering and angry. He may do you harm."
But, while the rebuked mahout glared malevolently and inwardly hoped that the animal might kill him, Dermot walked calmly toward it, holding out his hand with the fruit. The elephant, regarding him nervously and suspiciously out of its little eyes, shifted uneasily from foot to foot, and at first shrank from him. But, as the officer stood quietly in front of it, it stretched out its trunk and smelled the extended hand. Then it touched the arm and felt it up to the shoulder, on which it let the tip of the trunk rest for a few seconds. At last it seemed satisfied that the white man was a friend and did not intend to hurt it.
During the ordeal Dermot had never moved; although there was every reason to fear that the animal, either from sheer nervousness or from resentment at the ill-treatment that it had just received, might attack him and trample him to death. Indeed, many tame elephants, being unused to Europeans, will not allow white men to approach them. So the Hindu coolie stood trembling with fright, while the havildar and the butler were alarmed at their sahib's peril.
But Dermot coolly peeled a banana and placed it in the elephant's mouth. The gift was tried and approved by the huge beast, which graciously accepted the rest of the fruit. Then the Major said to it in the mahouts' tongue:
"Buth! (Lie down!)"
The elephant slowly sank down to the ground and allowed the Major to examine its head, which was badly lacerated by the spikes. Dermot cleansed the wounds thoroughly and applied an antiseptic to them. The animal bore it patiently and seemed to recognise that it had found a friend; for, when it rose to its feet again, it laid its trunk almost caressingly on Dermot's shoulder.
The officer stroked it and then turned to the mahout, who was standing in the background.
"Chand Khan, you are not to come near this elephant again," he said. "I suspend you from charge of it and shall report you for dismissal. Jao! (Go!)"
The man slunk away scowling. Dermot beckoned to the Hindu, who approached salaaming.
"Are you this animal's coolie?"
(The Government of India very properly recognises the lordliness of the elephant and provides him in captivity with no less than two body-servants, a mahout and a coolie, whose mission in life is to wait on him.)
The Hindu salaamed again.
"Yes, Huzoor (The Presence)," he replied.
"How long have you been with it?"
"Five years, Huzoor."
"What is its name?"
"Badshah (The King). And indeed he is a badshah among elephants. No one but a Mussulman would treat him with disrespect. Your Honour sees that he is a Gunesh and worthy of reverence."
The animal, which was a large and well-shaped male, possessed only one tusk, the right. The other had never grown. Dermot knew that an elephant thus marked by Nature would be regarded by Hindus as sacred to Gunesh, their God of Wisdom, who is represented as having the head of an elephant with a single tusk, the right. Many natives would consider the animal to be a manifestation of the god himself and worship it as a deity. So the Major made no comment on the coolie's remark, but said:
"What is your name?"
"Very well, Ramnath. You are to have sole charge of Badshah until I can get someone to help you. You will be his mahout. Take this medicine that I have been using and put it on as you have seen me do. Don't let the animal blow dust on the cuts. Keep them clean, and bring him up tomorrow for me to see."
He handed the man the antiseptic and swabs. Then he turned to the elephant and patted it.
"Good-bye, Badshah, old boy," he said. "I don't think that Ramnath will ill-treat you."
The huge beast seemed to understand him and again touched him with the tip of its trunk.
"Badshah knows Your Honour," said the Hindu. "He will regard you always now as his ma-bap (mother and father)."
Dermot smiled at this very usual vernacular expression. He was accustomed to being called it by his sepoys; but he was amused at being regarded as the combined parents of so large an offspring.
"Badshah has never let a white man approach him before today, Huzoor," continued Ramnath. "He has always been afraid of the sahibs. But he sees you are his friend. Salaam kuro, Badshah!"
And the elephant raised his trunk vertically in the air and trumpeted the Salaamut or royal salute that he had been taught to make. Then, at Ramnath's signal, he lowered his trunk and crooked it. The man put his bare foot on it, at the same time seizing one of the great ears. Then Badshah lifted him up with the trunk until he could get on to the head into position astride the neck. Then the new mahout, salaaming again to the officer, started his huge charge off, and the elephant lumbered away with swaying stride to its peelkhana, or stable, two thousand feet below in the forest at the foot of the hills on which stood the Fort of Ranga Duar. For this outpost, which was garrisoned by Dermot's Double Company of a Military Police Battalion, guarded one of the duars, or passes, through the Himalayas into India from the wild and little-known country of Bhutan.
Its Commanding Officer watched the elephant disappear down the hill before returning to his little stone bungalow, which stood in a small garden shaded by giant mango and jack-fruit trees and gay with the flaming lines of bougainvillias and poinsettias.
Dismissing the post orderly, who was still waiting, Dermot threw himself into a long chair and took up the letters that he had flung down when Badshah's screams attracted his attention. They were all routine official correspondence contained in the usual long envelopes marked "On His Majesty's Service." The registered one, however, held a smaller envelope heavily sealed, marked "Secret" and addressed to him by name. In this was a letter in cipher.
Dermot got up from his chair and, going into his bedroom, opened a trunk and lifted out of it a steel despatch box, which he unlocked. From this he extracted a sealed envelope, which he carried back to the sitting-room. First examining the seals to make sure that they were intact, he opened the envelope and took from it two papers. One was a cipher code and on the other was the keyword to the official cipher used by the military authorities throughout India. This word is changed once a year. On the receipt of the new one every officer entitled to be in possession of it must burn the paper on which is written the old word and send a signed declaration to that effect to Army Headquarters.
Taking a pencil and a blank sheet of paper Dermot proceeded to decipher the letter that he had just received. It was dated from the Adjutant General's Office at Simla, and headed "Secret." It ran:
"In continuation of the instructions already given you orally, I have the honour to convey to you the further orders of His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief in India.
"Begins: 'Information received from the Secretary to the Foreign Department, Government of India, confirms the intelligence that Chinese emissaries have for some time past been endeavouring to re-establish the former predominance of their nation over Tibet and Bhutan. In the former country they appear to have met with little success; but in Bhutan, taking advantage of the hereditary jealousies of the Penlops, the great feudal chieftains, they appear to have gained many adherents. They aim at instigating the Bhutanese to attempt an invasion of India through the duars leading into Eastern Bengal, their object being to provoke a war. The danger to this country from an invading force of Bhutanese, even if armed, equipped, and led by Chinese, is not great. But its political importance must not be minimised.
"'For the most serious feature of the movement is that information received by the Political Department gives rise to the grave suspicion that, not only many extremists in Bengal, but even some of the lesser rajahs and nawabs, are in treasonable communication with these outside enemies.
"'Major Dermot, at present commanding the detachment of the Military Battalion stationed at Ranga Duar, has been specially selected, on account of his acquaintance with the districts and dialects of the duars and that part of the Terai Forest bordering on Bhutan, to carry out a particular mission. You are to direct him to inspect and report on the suitability, for the purposes of defence against an invasion from the north, of:
(a) The line of the mountain passes at an altitude of from 3000 to 6000 feet.
(b) A line established in the Terai Forest itself.
"'In addition, if this officer in the course of his investigations discovers any evidence of communication between the disloyal elements inside our territory and possible enemies across the border, he will at once inform you direct.' Ends.
"Please note His Excellency's orders and proceed to carry them out forthwith. You can pursue your investigations under the pretence of big game shooting in the hills and jungle. The British officer next in seniority to you will command the detachment in your absences You may communicate to him as much of the contents of this letter as you deem advisable, impressing upon him the necessity for the strictest secrecy.
"You will in all matters communicate directly and confidentially with this office.
"I have the honour to be, Sir,
"Your most obedient servant."
Here followed the signature of one of the highest military authorities in India.
Dermot stared at the letter.
"So that's it!" he thought. "It's a bigger thing than I imagined."
He had known when he consented to being transferred from a staff appointment in Simla to the command of a small detachment of a Military Police Battalion garrisoning an unimportant frontier fort on the face of the Himalayas that he was being sent there for a special purpose. He had consented gladly; for to him the great attraction of his new post was that he would find himself once more in the great Terai Jungle. To him it was Paradise. Before going to Simla he had been stationed with a Double Company of the Indian Infantry Regiment to which he belonged in a similar outpost in the mountains not many miles away. This outpost had now been abolished. But while in it he used to spend all his spare time in the marvellous jungle that extended to his very door.
The great Terai Forest stretches for hundreds of miles along the foot of the Himalayas, from Assam through Bengal to Garwhal and up into Nepal. It is a sportsman's heaven; for it shelters in its recesses wild elephants, rhinoceros, bison, bears, tigers, panthers, and many of the deer tribes. Dermot loved it. He was a mighty hunter, but a discriminating one. He did not kill for sheer lust of slaughter, and preferred to study the ways of the harmless animals rather than shoot them. Only against dangerous beasts did he wage relentless war.
Dermot knew that he could very well leave the routine work of the little post to his Second in Command. The fort was practically a block of fortified stone barracks, easily defensible against attacks of badly armed hillmen and accommodating a couple of hundred sepoys. It was to hold the duar or pass of Ranga through the Himalayas against raiders from Bhutan that the little post had been built.
For centuries past the wild dwellers beyond the mountains were used to swooping down from the hills on the less warlike plainsmen in search of loot, women, and slaves. But the war with Bhutan in 1864-5 brought the borderland under the English flag, and the Pax Britannica settled on it. Yet even now temptation was sometimes too strong for lawless men. Occasionally swift-footed parties of fierce swordsmen swept down through the unguarded passes and raided the tea-gardens that are springing up in the foothills and the forests below them. For hundreds of coolies work on these big estates, and large consignments of silver coin come to the gardens for their payment.
But there was bigger game afoot than these badly-armed raiders. The task set Dermot showed it; and his soldier's heart warmed at the thought of helping to stage a fierce little frontier war in which he might come early on the scene.
Carefully sealing up again and locking away the cipher code and keyword, he went out on the back verandah and shouted for his orderly. The dwellings of Europeans upcountry in India are not luxurious—far from it. Away from the big cities like Bombay, Calcutta, or Karachi, the amenities of civilisation are sadly lacking. The bungalows are lit only by oil-lamps, their floors are generally of pounded earth covered with poor matting harbouring fleas and other insect pests, their roofs are of thatch or tiles, and such luxuries as bells, electric or otherwise, are unknown. So the servants, who reside outside the bungalows in the compounds, or enclosures, are summoned by the simple expedient of shouting "Boy".
Presently the orderly appeared.
"Shaikh Ismail," said the Major, "go to the Mess, give my salaams to Parker Sahib, and ask him to come here."
The sepoy, a smart young Punjabi Mussulman, clad in the white undress of the Indian Army, saluted and strode off up the hill to the pretty mess-bungalow of the British officers of the detachment. In it the subaltern occupied one room.
When he received Dermot's message, this officer, a tall, good-looking man of about twenty-eight years of age, accompanied the orderly to his senior's quarters.
"Come in and have a smoke, Parker," said the Major cheerily.
The subaltern entered and helped himself to a cigarette from an open box on the table before looking for a chair in the scantily-furnished room.
As he struck a match he said,
"Ismail Khan tells me you've just had trouble with that surly beast, Chand Khan".
Dermot told him what had occurred.
"What a soor! (swine!)" exclaimed Parker indignantly. "I always knew he was a cruel devil; but I didn't think he was quite such a brute. And to poor old Badshah too. It's a damned shame".
"He's a good elephant, isn't he?" asked the senior.
"A ripper. Splendid to shoot from and absolutely staunch to tiger," said the subaltern enthusiastically. "Major Smith—our Commandant before you, sir—was charged by a tiger he had wounded in a beat near Alipur Duar. He missed the beast with his second barrel. The tiger sprang at the howdah, but Badshah caught him cleverly on his one tusk and knocked him silly. The Major reloaded and killed the beast before it could recover."
"Good for Badshah. He seemed to me to be a fine animal," said Dermot.
"One of the best. We all like him; though he'll never let any white man handle him. By the way, Ismail Khan says he permitted you to do it."
"I doctored up his cuts. Besides, I'm used to elephants."
"All the same you're the first sahib I've heard Of that Badshah has allowed to touch him. Do you know, the Hindus worship him. He's a Gunesh—I supposed you noticed that. I've seen some of them simply go down on their faces in the dust before him and pray to him. There's a curious thing about Badshah, too. Have you heard?"
"No. What is it?" asked the Major.
"Well, it's a rummy thing. He's usually awfully quiet and obedient. But sometimes he gets very restless, breaks loose, and goes off on his own into the jungle. After a week or two he comes back by himself, as quiet as a lamb. But when the fit's on him nothing will hold him. He bursts the stoutest ropes, breaks iron chains; and I believe he'd pull down the peelkhana if he couldn't get away."
"Oh, that often happens with domesticated male elephants," said Dermot. "They have periodic fits of sexual excitement—get must, you know—and go mad while these last."
"Oh, no. It's not that," replied the subaltern confidently. "Badshah doesn't go must. It's something quite different. The jungle men around here have a quaint belief about it. You see, Badshah was captured by the Kheddah Department here years ago—twenty, I think. He's about forty now. He was taken away to other parts of India, Mhow for one——"
"Yes, they used to have an elephant battery there," broke in the Major.
"But somehow or other he got here eventually. Rather curious that he should have been sent back to his birthplace. Anyhow, the natives believe that when he breaks away he goes off to family reunions or to meet old pals."
"I shouldn't be surprised," remarked Dermot, meditatively. "They're strange beasts, elephants. No one really knows much about them. I expect the jungle calls to them, as it does to me."
He lit a cigarette and went on,
"But I've sent for you to talk over something important. Read that."
He handed Parker his transcription of the cipher letter. As the subaltern read it his eyes opened wider and wider. When he had finished he exclaimed joyfully,
"By Jove, Major, that's great. Do you think there's anything in it? How ripping it'll be if they try to come in by this pass! Won't we just knock them! Couldn't we get some machine guns?"
"I'm afraid we couldn't hold the Fort of Ranga Duar against a whole invading army, Parker. You know it isn't really defensible against a serious attack."
"Oh, I say! Do you mean, sir, that we'd give it up to a lot of Chinks and bare-legged Bhuttias without firing a shot?"
The Major smiled at his junior's indignation.
"You must remember, Parker, that if an invasion comes off it will be on a scale that two hundred men won't stop. The Bhutanese are badly armed; but they are fanatically brave. They showed that in their war with us in '64 and '65. They had only swords, bows, and arrows; but they licked one of our columns hollow and drove our men in headlong flight. But cheer up, Parker, if there is a show it won't be my fault if you and I don't have a good look in."
"Thank you, Major," said the subaltern gratefully.
He smoked in silence for a while and then said:
"D'you know, sir, I had an idea there was something up when Major Smith was suddenly ordered away and you, who didn't belong to us, were sent here from Simla. I'd heard of you before, not only as a great shikari—the natives everywhere in these jungles talk a lot about you—but also as a keen soldier. A fellow doesn't usually come straight from a staff job at Army Headquarters to a small outpost like this for nothing."
"Unless he has got into trouble and is sent off as a punishment," he said. "But that didn't happen to be my case. However, I was delighted to leave Simla. Better the jungle a thousand times."
"Yes; Simla's rather a rotten place, I believe," remarked the subaltern meditatively. "Too many brass hats and women. They're the curse of India, each of them. And I'm sure the women do the most harm."
"Well, steer clear of the latter, and don't become one of the former," said Dermot with a laugh, rising from his chair, "then you'll have a peaceful life—but you won't get on in your profession."
A ROGUE ELEPHANT
The four transport elephants attached to the garrison of Ranga Duar for the purpose of bringing supplies for the men from the far distant railway were stabled in a peelkhana at the foot of the hills and a couple of thousand feet below the Fort. This building, a high-walled shed with thatched roof and brick standings for the animals, was erected beside the narrow road that zig-zagged down from the mountains into the forest and eventually joined a broader one leading to the narrow-gauge railway that pierced the jungle many miles away.
One morning, about three weeks after Dermot's first introduction to Badshah, the Major tramped down the rough track to the peelkhana, carrying a rifle and cartridge belt and a haversack containing his food for the day. Nearing the stables he blew a whistle, and a shrill trumpeting answered him from the building, as Badshah recognised his signal. Ramnath, hurriedly entering the impatient elephant's stall, loosed him from the iron shackles that held his legs. Then the huge beast walked with stately tread out of the building and went straight to where Dermot awaited him. For during these weeks the intimacy between man and animal had progressed rapidly. Elephants, though of an affectionate disposition, are not demonstrative as a rule. But Badshah always showed unmistakable signs of fondness for the white man, whom he seemed to regard as his friend and protector.
Dermot was in the habit of taking him out into the jungle every day, where he went ostensibly to shoot. After the first few occasions he displaced Ramnath from the guiding seat on Badshah's neck and acted as mahout himself. But, instead of using the ankus—the heavy iron implement shaped like a boat-hook head which natives use to emphasise their orders to their charges—the Major simply touched the huge head with his open hand. And his method proved equally, if not more, effective. He was soon able to dispense altogether with Ramnath on his expeditions, which was his object. For he did not want any witness to his secret explorations of the forest and the hills.
An elephant, when used as a beast of burden or for shooting from in thick jungle, carries on its back only a "pad"—a heavy, straw-stuffed mattress reaching from neck to tail and fastened on by a rope surcingle passing round the body. On this pad, if passengers are to be carried, a wooden seat with footboards hanging by cords from it and called a charjama is placed. Only for sport in open country or high grass jungle is the cage-like howdah employed.
Dermot replaced Badshah's heavy pad by a small, light one, especially made, or else took him out absolutely bare. No shackles were needed to secure the elephant when his white rider dismounted from his neck, for he followed Dermot like a dog, came to his whistle, or stood without moving from the spot where he had been ordered to remain. The most perfect understanding existed between the two; and the superstitious Hindus regarded with awe the extraordinary subjection of their sacred and revered Gunesh to the white man.
Now, after a greeting and a palatable gift to Badshah, Dermot seized the huge ears, placed his foot on the trunk which was curled to receive it and was swung up on to the neck by the well-trained animal. Then, answering the salaams of the mahouts and coolies, who invariably gathered to witness and wonder at his daily meeting with Badshah, he touched the elephant under the ears with his toe and was borne away into the jungle.
His object this day was not to explore but to shoot a deer to replenish the mess larder. Fresh meat was otherwise unprocurable in Ranga Duar; and an unvaried diet of tinned food was apt to become wearisome, especially as it was not helped out by bread and fresh vegetables. These were luxuries unknown to the British officers in this, as in many other, outposts.
The sea of vegetation closed around Badshah and submerged him, as he turned off a footpath and plunged into the dense undergrowth. The trees were mostly straight-stemmed giants of teak, branchless for some distance from the ground. Each strove to thrust its head above the others through the leafy canopy overhead, fighting for its share of the life-giving sunlight. In the green gloom below tangled masses of bushes, covered with large, bell-shaped flowers and tall grasses in which lurked countless thorny plants obstructed the view between the tree-trunks. Above and below was a bewildering confusion of creepers forming an intricate network, swinging from the upper branches and twisting around the boles, biting deep into the bark, strangling the life out of the stoutest trees or holding up the withered, lifeless trunks of others long dead. They filled the space between the tree-tops and the undergrowth, entangled, crisscrossed, festooned, like a petrified mass of writhing snakes.
Through this maddening obstacle Badshah forced his way; while Dermot hacked at the impeding lianas with a sharp kukri, the heavy-bladed Gurkha knife. The elephant moved on at an easy pace, shouldering aside the surging waves of vegetation and bursting the clinging hold of the creepers. As he went he swept huge bunches of grass up in his trunk, tore down leafy trails or broke off small branches, and crammed them all impartially into his mouth. At a touch of Dermot's foot or the guiding pressure of his hand he swerved aside to avoid a tree or a particularly thorny bush.
There was little life to be seen. But occasionally, with a whirring sound of rushing wings, a bright-plumaged jungle cock with his attendant bevy of sober-clad hens swept up with startled squawks from under the huge feet and flew to perch high up on neighbouring trees, chattering and clucking indignantly in their fright. The pretty black and white Giant Squirrel ran along the upper branches; or a troop of little brown monkeys leapt away among the tree tops.
It was fascinating to be borne along without effort through the enchanted wood in the luminous green gloom that filled it, lulled by the swaying motion of the elephant's stride. The soothing silence of the woodland was broken only by the crowing of a jungle cock. The thick, leafy screen overhead excluded the glare of the tropic sunlight; and the heat was tempered to a welcome coolness by the dense shade.
But, despite the soporific motion of his huge charger, Dermot's vigilant eye searched the apparently lifeless jungle as he was borne along. Presently it was caught by a warm patch of colour, the bright chestnut hide of a deer; and he detected among the trees the graceful form of a sambhur hind. Accustomed to seeing wild elephants the animal gazed without apprehension at Badshah and failed to mark the man on his neck. But females of the deer tribe are sacred to the sportsman; and the hunter passed on. Half a mile farther on, in the deepest shadow of the undergrowth, he saw something darker still. It was the dull black hide of a sambhur stag, a fine beast fourteen hands high, with sharp brow antlers and thick horns branching into double points. Knowing the value of motionlessness as a concealment the animal never moved; and only an eye trained to the jungle would have detected it. Dermot noted it, but let it remain unscathed; for he knew well the exceeding toughness of its flesh. What he sought was a kakur, or barking deer, a much smaller but infinitely more palatable beast.
Hours passed; and he and Badshah had wandered for miles without finding what he wanted. He looked at his watch; for the sun was invisible. It was nearly noon. In a space free from undergrowth he halted the elephant and, patting the skull with his open hand, said:
Badshah at the word sank slowly down until he rested on his breast and belly with fore and hind legs stuck out stiffly along the ground. Dermot slipped off his neck and stretched his cramped limbs; for sitting long upright on an elephant without any support to the back is tiring. Then he reclined under a tree with his loaded rifle beside him—for the peaceful-seeming forest has its dangers. He made a frugal lunch off a packet of sandwiches from his haversack.
Eating made him thirsty. He had forgotten to bring his water-bottle with him; and he knew that there was no stream to be met with in the jungle for many miles. But he was aware that the forest could supply his wants. Rising, he drew his kukri and looked around him. Among the tangle of creepers festooned between the trees he detected the writhing coils of one with withered, cork-like bark, four-sided and about two inches in diameter. He walked over to it and, grasping it in his left hand, cut it through with a blow of his heavy knife. Its interior consisted of a white, moist pulp. With another blow he severed a piece a couple of feet long. Taking a metal cup from his haversack he cut the length of creeper into small pieces and held all their ends together over the little vessel. From them water began to drip, the drops came faster and finally little streams from the pulpy interior filled the cup to the brim with a cool, clear, and palatable liquid. The liana was the wonderful pani-bel, or water-creeper.
Dermot drank until his thirst was quenched, then sat down with his back against a tree and lit his pipe. He smoked contentedly and watched Badshah grazing. The elephant plucked the long grass with a scythe-like sweep of his trunk, tore down succulent creepers and broke off small branches from the trees, chewing the wood and leaves with equal enjoyment. From time to time he looked towards his master, but, receiving no signal to prepare to move on, continued his meal.
At last the Major knocked out the ashes of his pipe, grinding them into the earth with his heel lest a chance spark might start a forest fire, and whistled to Badshah. The elephant came at once to him. From his haversack Dermot took out a couple of bananas and held them up. The snake-like trunk shot out and grasped them, then curving back placed them in the huge mouth. Dermot stood up and, slinging his rifle over his shoulder, seized Badshah's ears and was lifted again to his place astride the neck.
Once more the jungle closed about them, as the elephant moved off. The rider, unslinging his rifle and laying it across his thighs, glanced from side to side as they proceeded. The forest grew more open. The undergrowth thinned; and occasionally they came to open glades carpeted with tall bracken and looking almost like an English wood. But the great boughs of the giant trees were matted thick with the glossy green leaves of orchid plants, from which drooped long trails of delicate mauve and white flowers.
Just as they were emerging from dense undergrowth on to such a glade, Dermot's eye was caught by something moving ahead of them. He checked Badshah; and they remained concealed in in the thick vegetation. Then through the trees came a trim little kakur buck, stepping daintily in advance of his doe which followed a few yards behind. As they moved their long ears twitched incessantly, pointing now in this, now in that, direction for any sound that might warn them of danger. But they did not detect the hidden peril. Dermot noiselessly raised his rifle, aimed hurriedly at the leader's shoulder and fired. The loud report sounded like thunder through the silent forest. The stricken buck sprang convulsively into the air, then fell in a heap; while his startled mate leaped over his body and disappeared in bounding flight.
At the touch of his rider's foot the elephant moved forward into the open; and without waiting for him to sink down Dermot slid to the ground. Old hunter that he was, the Major could never repress a feeling of pity when he looked on any harmless animal that he had shot; and he had long ago given up killing such except for food. He propped his rifle against a tree and, taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves, drew his kukri and proceeded to disembowel and clean the kakur. While he was thus employed Badshah strayed away into the jungle to graze, for elephants feed incessantly.
When Dermot had finished his unpleasant task, it still remained to bind the buck's legs together and tie him on to Badshah's back. For this he would need cords; but he relied on the inexhaustible jungle to supply him with these.
While searching for the udal tree whose inner bark would furnish him with long, tough strips, he heard a crashing in the undergrowth not far away, but, concluding that it was caused by Badshah, he did not trouble to look round. Having got the cordage that he needed, he turned to go back to the spot where he had left the kakur. As he fought his way impatiently through the thorny tangled vegetation, he again heard the breaking of twigs and the trampling down of the undergrowth. He glanced in the direction of the sound, expecting to see Badshah appear.
To his dismay his eyes fell on a strange elephant, a large double-tusker. It had caught sight of him and, contrary to the usual habit of its kind, was advancing towards him instead of retreating. This showed that it was the most terrible of all wild animals, a man-killing "rogue" elephant, than which there is no more vicious or deadly brute on the earth.
Dermot instantly recognised his danger. It was very great. His rifle was some distance away, and before he could reach it the tusker would probably overtake him. He stopped and stood still, hoping that the rogue had not caught sight of him. But he saw at once that there was no doubt of this. The brute had its murderous little eyes fixed on him and was quickening its pace. The undergrowth that almost held the man a prisoner was no obstacle to this powerful beast.
Dermot realised that it meant to attack him. His heart nearly stopped, for he knew the terrible death that awaited him. He had seen the crushed bodies, battered to pulp and with the limbs torn away, of men killed by rogue elephants. The only hope of escape, a faint one, lay in flight.
Madly he strove to tear himself free from the clutching thorns and the grip of the entangling creepers that held him. He flung all his weight into his efforts to fight his way out clear of the malignant vegetation, that seemed a cruel, living thing striving to drag him to his death. The elephant saw his desperate struggles. It trumpeted shrilly and, with head held high, trunk curled up, and the lust of murder in its heart, it charged.
The tangled network of interlaced undergrowth parted like gossamer before it. Small trees went down and the tallest bushes were trampled flat; the stoutest creepers broke like pack-thread before its weight.
Dermot tore himself free from the clutch of the last clinging, curving thorns that rent his garments and cut deep into his flesh. Gaining comparatively open ground he ran for his life. But he had lost all sense of direction and could not remember where his rifle stood. Escape seemed hopeless. He knew only too well that in the jungle a pursuing elephant will always overtake a fleeing man. The trees offered no refuge, for the lowest branches were high above his reach and the trunks too thick and straight to climb. He fled, knowing that each moment might be his last. A false step, a trip over a root or a creeper and he was lost. He would be gored, battered to death, stamped out of existence, torn limb from limb by the vicious brute.
The rogue was almost upon him. He swerved suddenly and with failing breath and fiercely beating heart ran madly on. But the respite was momentary. His head was dizzy, his legs heavy as lead, his strength almost gone. He could hear the terrible pursuer only a few yards behind him.
Already the great beast's uncurled trunk was stretched out to seize its prey. Dermot's last moment had come when, with a fierce, shrill scream, a huge body burst out of the jungle and hurled itself at his assailant. Badshah had come to the rescue of his man.
Before the rogue could swing round to meet him the gallant animal had charged furiously into it, driving his single tusk with all his immense weight behind it into the strange elephant's side. The shock staggered the murderous brute and almost knocked it to the ground. Only the fact of its having turned slightly at Badshah's cry, so that his tusk inflicted a somewhat slanting blow, had saved it from a mortal wound. Before it could recover its footing Badshah gored it again.
Dermot, plucked at the last moment from the most terrible of deaths, staggered panting to a tree and tried to stand, supporting himself against the trunk. But the strain had been too great. He turned faint and sank exhausted to the earth, almost unconscious. But the remembrance of Badshah's peril from a better-armed antagonist—for the possession of two tusks gave the rogue a great advantage—nerved him. Holding on to the tree he dragged himself up and looked around for his rifle. He could not see it, and he dared not cross the arena in which the two huge combatants were fighting.
As Badshah drew back to gain impetus for another charge, the rogue regained its feet and prepared to hurl itself on the unexpected assailant. Dermot was in despair at being unable to aid his saviour, who he feared must succumb to the superior weapons of his opponent. He gazed fascinated at the titanic combat.
The rogue trumpeted a shrill challenge. Then it curled its trunk between its tusks out of harm's way and with ears cocked forward and tail erect rushed to the assault. But suddenly it propped on stiffened forelegs and stopped dead. It stared at Badshah, who was about to charge again, and backed slowly, seemingly panic-stricken. Then as the tame elephant moved forward to the attack the rogue screamed with terror, swung about, and with ears and tail dropped, bolted into the undergrowth.
With a trumpet of triumph Badshah pursued. Dermot, left alone, could hardly credit the passing of the danger. The whole episode seemed a hideous nightmare from which he had just awaked. He could scarcely believe that it had actually taken place, although the trampled vegetation and the crashing sounds of the great animals' progress through the undergrowth were evidence of its reality. The need for action had not passed. The rogue might return, for a fight between wild bull-elephants often lasts a whole day and consists of short and desperate encounters, retreats, pursuits, and fresh battles. So he hurriedly searched for his rifle, which he eventually found some distance away. He opened the breach and replaced the soft-nosed bullets with solid ones, more suitable for such big game. Then, once more feeling a strong man armed, he waited expectantly. The sounds of the chase had died away. But after a while he heard a heavy body forcing a passage through the undergrowth and held his rifle ready. Then through the tangle of bushes and creepers Badshah's head appeared. The elephant came straight to him and touched him all over with outstretched trunk, just as mother-elephants do their calves, as if to assure himself of his man's safety.
Dermot could have kissed the soft, snake-like proboscis, and he patted the animal affectionately and murmured his thanks to him. Badshah seemed to understand him and wrapped his trunk around his friend's shoulders. Then, apparently satisfied, he moved away and began to graze calmly, as if nothing out of the common had taken place.
Dermot pulled himself together. Near the foot of the tree at which he had sunk down he found the cord-like strips of bark which he had cut. Picking them up he went to the carcase of the buck and tied its legs together. A whistle brought the elephant to him, and, hoisting the deer on to the pad, he fastened it to the surcingle. Then, grasping the elephant's ears, he was lifted to his place on the neck.
Turning Badshah's head towards home he started off; but, as he went, he looked back at the trampled glade and thanked Heaven that his body was not lying there, crushed and lifeless.
A GIRL OF THE TERAI
"How beautiful! How wonderful!" murmured the girl on the verandah, her eyes turned to the long line of the Himalayas filling the horizon to the north.
Clear against the blue sky the shining, ice-clad peaks of Kinchinjunga, a hundred miles away, towered high in air. Mystic, lovely, they seemed to float above the earth, as unsubstantial as the clouds from which they rose. They belonged to another world, a fairy world altogether apart from the rugged, tumbled masses, the awe-inspiring precipices and tremendous cliffs, of the nearer mountains. These were majestic, overpowering, but plainly of this earth, unlike the pure, white summits that seemed unreal, impossible in their beauty.
"Do come and look, Fred," said the girl aloud. "I've never seen the Snows so clearly."
She spoke to the solitary occupant of the dining-room of the bungalow. The young man at the breakfast table answered laughingly:
"I don't want to look at those confounded hills, Sis. I've seen them, nothing but them, all through these long months, until I begin to hate the sight of them."
"Oh, but do come, dear!" she pleaded. "Kinchinjunga has never seemed so beautiful as it does this morning. And it looks so near. Who could believe that it was all those miles away?"
With an air of pretended boredom and martyr-like resignation, her brother put down his coffee-cup and came out on the verandah.
"Isn't it like Fairyland?" said the girl in an awed voice.
He put his arm affectionately round her, as he replied:
"Then it's where you belong, kiddie, for you look like a fairy this morning."
The hackneyed compliment, unusual from the lips of a brother, was not far-fetched. If a dainty little figure, an exquisitely pretty dimpled face, a shell-pink complexion, violet eyes with long, thick lashes, and naturally wavy golden hair be the hallmarks of the fairies, then Noreen Daleham might claim to be one. Her face in repose had a somewhat sad expression, due to the pathetic droop of the corners of her little mouth and a wistful look in her eyes that made most men instinctively desire to caress and console her. But the sadness and the wistfulness were unconscious and untrue, for the girl was of a sunny and happy disposition. And the men that desired to pet her were kept at a distance by her natural self-respect, which made them respect her, too.
She was, perhaps, somewhat unusual in her generation in that she did not indulge in flirtations and would have strongly objected to being the object of promiscuous caresses and light lovemaking. Her innate purity and innocence kept such things at a distance from her. It never occurred to her that a girl might indulge in a hundred flirtations without reproach. Without being sentimental she had her own inward, unexpressed feelings of romance and vague dreams of Love and a Lover—but not of loves and lovers in the plural.
No one so far had shattered her belief in the chivalrous feeling of respect of the other sex for her own. Men as a rule, especially British men—though they are no more virtuous than those of alien nations—treat a woman as she inwardly wants them to treat her. And, although this girl was over twenty, she had never yet had reason to suspect that men could behave to her with anything but respect.
Her small and shapely figure looked to advantage in the well-cut riding costume of khaki drill that she wore this morning. A cloth habit would have been too warm for even these early days of an Eastern Bengal hot weather. She was ready to accompany her brother in his early ride through the tea-garden (of which he was assistant manager) in the Duars, as this district of the Terai below the mountains is called. From the verandah on which they stood they could look over acres of trim and tidy bushes planted in orderly rows, a strong contrast to the wild disorder of the big trees and masses of foliage of the forest that lay beyond them and stretched to and along the foothills of the Himalayas only a few miles away.
Daleham's father, a retired colonel, has died just as the boy was preparing to go up for the entrance examination for the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. To his great grief he was obliged to give up all hope of becoming a soldier, and, when he left school, entered an office in the city. Passionately desirous of an open-air and active life he had afterwards eagerly snatched at an offer of employment by one of the great tea companies that are dotting the Terai with their plantations and sweeping away glorious spaces of wild, primeval forest to replace the trees by orderly rows of tea-bushes and unsightly iron-roofed factories.
Left with a small income inherited from her mother, Noreen Daleham, who was two years her brother's junior, had gladly given up the dulness of a home with an aunt in a small country town to accompany her brother and keep house for him.
To most girls life on an Indian tea-garden would not seem alluring; for they would find themselves far from social gaieties and the society of their kind. Existence is lonely and lacking in the comforts, as well as the luxuries, of civilisation. Dances, theatres, concerts, even shops, are far, very far away. A woman must have mental resources to enable her to face contentedly life in a scantily-furnished, comfortless bungalow, dumped down in a monotonous stretch of unlovely tea-bushes. With little to occupy her she must rely for days at a time on the sole companionship of her man. To a young bride very much in love that may seem no hardship. But when the glamour has vanished she may change her mind.
To Noreen, however, the isolation was infinitely preferable to the narrow-minded and unfriendly intimacy of society in a country town with its snobbery and cliques. To be mistress of her own home and to be able to look after and mother her dearly-loved brother was a pleasant change from her position as a cipher in the household of a crotchetty, unsympathetic, maiden aunt. And fortunately for her the charm of the silent forest around them, the romance of the mysterious jungle with its dangers and its wonders, appealed strongly to her, and she preferred them to all the pleasures that London could offer. And yet the delights of town were not unknown to her. Her father's first cousin, who had loved him but married a rich man, often invited the girl to stay with her in her house in Grosvenor Square. These visits gave her an insight into life in Mayfair with its attendant pleasures of dances in smart houses, dinners and suppers in expensive restaurants, the Opera and theatres, and afternoons at Ranelagh and Hurlingham. She enjoyed them all; she had enough money to dress well; and she was very popular. But London could not hold her. Her relative, who was childless, was anxious that Noreen should remain always with her, at least until she married—and the older woman determined that the girl should make an advantageous marriage. But the latter knew that her income was very welcome to her aunt and, with a spirit of self-sacrifice not usual in the young, gave up a gay, fashionable life for the dull existence of a paying drudge in the house of an ungrateful, embittered elderly spinster. Yet her heart rejoiced when she conscientiously felt that her brother needed her more and had a greater claim upon her; and gladly she went to keep house for him in India.
And she was happier than he in their new life. For in this land that is essentially a soldier's country, won by the sword, held by the sword, in spite of all that ignorant demagogues in England may say, Fred Daleham felt all the more keenly the disappointment of his inability to follow the career that he would have chosen. However, he was a healthy-minded young man, not given to brooding and vain regrets.
"Are you ready to start, dear?" he said to his sister now. "Shall I order the ponies?"
"I am ready. But have you finished your coffee?"
"Thanks, yes. We'll go off at once then, for I have a long morning's work, and we had better get our ride over while it's cool."
He shouted to his "boy" to order the syces, or grooms, to bring the ponies.
"Where are we going today, dear?" asked the girl, putting on her pith helmet.
"To the nursery first. I want to see if the young plants have suffered much from that hailstorm yesterday."
"Wasn't it awful? What would people in England say if they got hailstones like that on their heads?"
"Chunerbutty and I measured one that I picked up outside the withering shed," said the brother. "It was a solid lump of clear ice two inches long and one and a half broad."
"I couldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen them," observed the girl. "I wonder that everyone who is caught out in such a storm is not killed."
"Animals often are—and men, too, for that matter," replied Daleham.
Noreen tapped her smart little riding-boot with her whip.
"I'm glad we're going out to the nursery," she said. "It's my favourite ride."
"I know it is, but I don't like taking you there, Sis," replied her brother. "I always funk that short cut through the bit of jungle to it. I never feel sure that we won't meet a wild elephant in it."
"Oh; but I don't believe they are dangerous; and I do love the ride through that exquisite patch of forest. The trees look so lovely, now that the orchids on them are in flower."
"My dear girl, get that silly idea that elephants are not dangerous out of your head," said Daleham decidedly. "You ask any of the fellows."
"Mr. Parry says they're not."
"Old Parr's never seen any elephant but a tame one, unless it's a pink or speckled one with a brass tail climbing up the wall of his room when he's got D.T's. He never went out shooting in the jungle in his life. But you ask Payne or Reynolds or any of the chaps on the other gardens who know anything of the jungle."
The girl was unwilling to believe that her beloved forest could prove perilous to her, and she feared lest her excursions into it should be forbidden.
"Well, perhaps a rogue might be dangerous," she admitted grudgingly. "But I don't believe that even a rogue would attack you unprovoked."
"Wouldn't it? From all I've heard about them I'd be very sorry to give one of them the chance," said her brother. "I'd almost like you to meet one, just to teach you not to be such a cocksure young woman. Lord! wouldn't I laugh to see you trying to climb a tree—that is, if I were safe up one myself!"
The arrival of the ponies cut short the discussion. Daleham swung his sister up into the saddle of her smart little countrybred and mounted his own waler.
Out along the road through the estate they trotted in the cool northerly breeze that swept down from the mountains and tempered the sun's heat. The panorama of the Himalayas was glorious, although Kinchinjunga had now drawn up his covering of clouds over his face and the Snows had disappeared. The long orderly lines of tea-bushes were dotted here and there with splashes of colour from the bright-hued puggris, or turbans, of the men and the saris and petticoats of the female coolies, who were busy among the plants, pruning them or tending their wounds after the storm.
The brother and sister quickened their pace and, racing along the soft earthern road, soon reached the patch of forest that intervened between the garden and the nursery.
"I say, Noreen, I think we'd better go the long way round," said Daleham apprehensively, as he pulled up his waler.
"Oh, no, Fred. Don't funk it. Do come on," urged the girl. "If you don't, I'll go on by myself and meet you at the nursery."
The dispute was a daily occurrence and always ended in the man weakly giving in.
"That's a dear boy," said his sister consolingly, when she had gained her point.
"Yes, that's all very well," grumbled the brother. "You've got your own way, as usual. I hope you won't have cause to regret it one day."
"Don't be silly, dear. Come on!" she replied, touching her pony with the whip. The animal seemed to dislike entering the forest as much as the man did. "Oh, do go on, Kitty. Don't be tiresome."
The pony balked, but finally gave way under protest, and they rode on into the jungle. A bridle path wound through the undergrowth and between the trees, and this they followed.
It was easy to understand the girl's enthusiasm and desire to be in the forest. After the tameness of the tea-garden the wild beauty of the giant trees, their huge limbs clothed in the green leaves and drooping trails of blossoms of the orchids, the tangled pattern of the interlaced creepers, the flower-decked bushes and the high ferns, looked all the lovelier in their untrammelled profusion.
The nursery was visited and the damage done to the young plants inspected. Then they turned their ponies' heads towards home and went back through the strip of jungle. They rode over the whole estate, including the untidy ramshackle village of bamboo and palm-thatched huts of the garden coolies, where the little, naked, brown babies rushed out to salaam and smile at their friend Noreen.
As they came in sight of the ugly buildings of the engine and drying-houses with their corrugated iron roofs and rusty stove-pipe chimneys, Daleham said:
"Look here, old girl, while I go to the factory, you'd better hurry on and see to the drinks and things we've got to send to the club. I hope you haven't forgotten that it's our day to be 'at home' there."
"Of course I haven't, Fred. Is it likely?" exclaimed the justly-indignant housewife. "Long before you were awake I helped the cook to pack the cold meat and sweets and cakes, and they went off before we left the bungalow."
They were referring to a custom that obtains in the colonies of tea-planters who are scattered in ones, two, and threes on widely-separated estates. Their one chance of meeting others of their colour is at the weekly gathering in the so-called club of the district. This is very unlike the institutions known by that name to dwellers in civilised cities. No marble or granite palace is it, but a rough wooden shed with one or two rooms built out in the forest far from human habitations, but in a spot as central and equi-distant to all the planters of the district as possible. A few tennis courts are made beside it, or perhaps a stretch of jungle is cleared, the more obtrusive roots grubbed up, and the result is called a polo-ground, and on it the game is played fast and furiously.
A certain day in the week is selected as the one which the planters from the gardens for ten or twenty miles around will come together to it. Across rivers, through forest, jungle, and peril of wild beasts they journey on their ponies to meet their fellow men. Some of them may not have seen another white face since the last weekly gathering.
Each of them in turn acts as host. By lumbering bullock-cart or on the heads of coolies he sends in charge of his servants to the club-house miles away from his bungalow food and drink, crockery, cutlery, and glasses, for the entertainment of all who will foregather there.
And for a few crowded hours this lonely spot in the jungle is filled with the sound of human voices, with laughter, friendliness, and good fellowship. Men who have been isolated for a week rub off the cobwebs, lunch, play tennis, polo, and cards, and swap stories at the bar until the declining sun warns them of the necessity for departing before night falls on the forest. After hearty farewells they swing themselves up into the saddle again and dash off at breakneck speed to escape being trapped by the darkness.
Many and strange are the adventures that befall them on the rough roads or in the trackless wilds. Sometimes an elephant, a bear, or a tiger confronts them on their way. But the intrepid planter, and his not less courageous women-folk, if he has any to accompany him, gallops fearlessly by it or, perhaps, rides unarmed at the astonished beast and scares it by wild cries. Then on again to another week of lonely labour.
This day it had fallen to the lot of the Dalehams to be the hosts of their community. Noreen had superintended the preparation and despatch of the supplies for their guests and could ride home now with a clear conscience to wait for her brother to return for their second breakfast. The early morning repast, the chota hazri of an Anglo-Indian household, is a very light and frugal one, consisting of a cup of coffee or tea, a slice of toast, and one or two bananas.
As she pulled up her pony in front of the bungalow a man came down the steps of the verandah and helped her to dismount.
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Chunerbutty," she exclaimed, "and good morning."
"Good morning, Miss Daleham. Just back from your ride with Fred, I suppose?"
The newcomer was the engineer of the estate. The staff of the tea-garden of Malpura consisted of three persons, the manager, a hard-drinking old Welshman called Parry; the assistant manager, Daleham; and this man. As a rule the employees of these estates are Europeans. Chunerbutty was an exception. A Bengali Brahmin by birth, the son of a minor official in the service of a petty rajah of Eastern Bengal, he had chosen engineering instead of medicine or law, the two professions that appeal most to his compatriots. A certain amount of native money was invested in the company that owned the Malpura garden; and the directors apparently thought it good policy to employ an Indian on it.
Like many other young Hindus who have studied in England, Chunerbutty professed to be completely Anglicised. In the presence of Europeans he sneered at the customs, beliefs, and religions of his fellow-countrymen and posed as an agnostic. It galled him that Englishmen in India thought none the more of him for foreswearing his native land, and he contrasted bitterly their manner to him with the reception that he had met with in the circles in which he moved in England. He had been regarded as a hero in London boarding-houses. His well-cut features and dark complexion had played havoc with the affections of shop-girls of a certain class and that debased type of young Englishwoman whose perverted and unnatural taste leads her to admire coloured men.
In one of these boarding-houses he had met Daleham, when the latter was a clerk in the city. It was at Chunerbutty's suggestion and with an introduction from him that Fred had sought for and obtained employment in the tea company, and as a result the young Englishman had ever since felt in the Bengali's debt. He inspired his sister with the same belief, and in consequence Noreen always endeavoured to show her gratitude to Chunerbutty by frank friendliness. They had all three sailed to India in the same ship, and on the voyage she had resented what seemed to her the illiberal prejudice of other English ladies on board to the Hindu. And all the more since she had an uncomfortable suspicion that deep down in her heart she shared their feeling. So she tried to seem the friendlier to Chunerbutty.
It said much for her own and her brother's popularity with the planters that their intimacy with him did not cause them to be disliked. These men as a class are not unjust to natives, but intimate acquaintance with the Bengali does not tend to make them love him. For the Dalehams' sake most of the men in the district received Chunerbutty with courtesy. But his manager, a rough Welshman of the bad old school, who openly declared that he "loathed all niggers," treated him with invariable rudeness.
As the Hindu engineer and Noreen ascended the steps of the verandah together, the girl said:
"You are coming to the club this afternoon, are you not?"
"Yes, Miss Daleham, that is why I have been waiting at your bungalow to see you. I wanted to ask if we'd ride over together."
"Of course. We must start early, though. I want to see that the servants have everything ready."
"I don't think I'd be anxious to go if it were not your 'At Home' day," said the Bengali, as they seated themselves in the drawing-room that Noreen had made as pretty as she could with her limited resources. "I don't like the club as a rule. The fellows are so stand-offish."
"You mustn't think so, Mr. Chunerbutty. They aren't really. You know Englishmen as a rule are not expansive. They often seem unfriendly when they don't mean to be."
"Oh, they mean it right enough here," replied the Hindu bitterly. "They all think they're better than I am, just because I am an Indian. It is that hateful prejudice of the English man and woman in this country. It is different in England. You know I was made a lot of in London. You saw how all the men in that boarding-house we stayed at before we sailed were my friends."
"Yes; that was so, Mr. Chunerbutty," replied Noreen, who was secretly tired of the subject, with which he regaled her every day.
"And as for the women—Of course I don't want to boast, but all the girls were keen to have me take them out and were proud to be seen with me. I know that if I liked I could have picked up lots of ladies, real ladies, I mean, not shop-girls. You should have seen the way they ogled me in the street. I can assure you that little red-haired girl from Manchester in the boarding-house, Lily——"
Noreen broke in quickly.
"Please don't tell me anything about her, Mr. Chunerbutty. You know that I don't like to hear you speak disrespectfully of ladies." Then, to change the disagreeable subject, she continued: "Fred will be back to breakfast soon. Will you stay for it? Then we can all ride together to the club."
"Thank you. I should like to," replied Chunerbutty. To show his freedom from caste prejudices he not only ate with Europeans, but even showed no objection to beef, much to the horror of all orthodox Hindus. That a Brahmin, of all men, should partake of the sacred flesh of the almost divine cow was an appalling sacrilege in their eyes.
Leaving him with a book she attended to the cares of her household, disorganised by the absence of cook and butler, who had gone on ahead to the club with the supplies.
When, after an eight miles' ride, the Dalehams and Chunerbutty reached the wooden shanty that was the rendezvous of the day, they found that they were not the first arrivals. Four or five young men swooped joyously down on Noreen and quarrelled over the right to help her from the saddle. While they were disputing vehemently and pushing each other away the laughing girl slipped unaided to the ground and ran up the wooden steps of the verandah. She was instantly pursued by the men, who followed her to the back verandah where she had gone to interview her servants. They clamoured to be allowed to help in any capacity, and she had to assume an indignation and a severity she was far from feeling to drive them away.
"Oh, do go away, please," she said. "You are only in the way. How can I look after tiffin if you interfere with me like this? Now do be good boys and go off. There's Mrs. Rice arriving. Help her out of her trap."
They went reluctantly to the aid of the only other lady of their little community, who was apparently unable to climb down from her bamboo cart without help. Her husband and Daleham were already proferring their services, but they were seemingly insufficient.
Mrs. Rice belonged to the type of woman altogether unsuited to the life of a planter's wife. She was a shallow, empty-headed person devoid of mental resources and incapable of taking interest in her household or her husband's affairs. In her girlhood she had been pretty in a common style, and she refused to recognise that the days of her youth and good looks had gone by. On the garden she spent her time lounging in her bungalow in an untidy dressing-gown, skimming through light novels and the fashion papers and writing interminable letters to her family in Balham. Her elderly husband, a weak, easy-going man, tired of her constant reproaches for having dragged her away from the gay life of her London suburb to the isolation of a tea-garden, spent as much of his day as possible in the factory. In the bungalow he drank methodically and steadily until he was in a state of mellow contentment and indifferent to his wife's tongue.
On club days Mrs. Rice was a different woman. She arrayed herself in the latest fashions, or the nearest approach to them that could be reached by a native tailor working on her back verandah with the guidance of the fashion plates in ladies' journals. Her face thickly coated with most of the creams, powders, and complexion beautifiers on the market, she swathed her head in a thick veil thrown over her sun-hat. Then, prepared for conquest, she climbed into the strong, country-built bamboo cart in which her husband was graciously permitted to drive her to the club. Fortunately for her a passable road to it ran from her bungalow, for she could not ride.
Arrived at the weekly gathering-place she delighted to surround herself with all the men that she could cajole from the bar running down the side of the one room of the building. With the extraordinary power of self-deception of vain women she believed that most of them were secretly in love with her.
Noreen's arrival in the district the previous year and her instant popularity were galling to the older woman. But after a while, finding that her sneers and thinly-veiled bitter speeches against the girl had no effect on the men, she changed her tactics and pretended to make a bosom friend of her.
When all the company had assembled at the club, luncheon was served at a long, rough wooden table. Beside Noreen sat the man she liked best in the little colony, a grey-haired planter named Payne. Many of the younger men had striven hard to win her favour, and several had wished to marry her; but, liking them all, none had touched her heart. She felt most at ease with Payne, who was a quiet, elderly man and a confirmed bachelor. And he cordially reciprocated her liking.
During tiffin Fred Daleham called out from the far end of the table:
"I say, Payne, I wish you'd convince that young sister of mine that wild elephants can be dangerous beasts."
"They can indeed," replied Payne, turning to Noreen. "Take my advice and keep out of their way."
"Oh, but isn't it only rogues that one need be afraid of?" the girl asked. "And aren't they rare?"
"These jungles are full of them, Miss Daleham," said another planter. "We've had two men on our garden killed already this year."
"The Forest Officer told me that several guards and wood-cutters have been attacked lately," joined in another. "One brute has held up the jungles around Mendabari for months."
"Oh, don't tell us any more, Mr. Lane," cried Mrs. Rice with affected timidity. "I shall be afraid to leave the bungalow."
"I heard that the fellow commanding the Military Police detachment at Ranga Duar was nearly killed by a rogue lately," remarked an engineer named Goddard. "Our mahout had the story from one of the mahouts of the Fort. He had a cock-and-bull yarn about the sahib being saved by his tame elephant, a single-tusker, which drove off the rogue. But, as the latter was a double tusker, it's not a very likely tale."
"They've got a still more wonderful story about that fellow in Ranga Duar," remarked a planter named Lulworth. "They say he can do anything with wild elephants, goes about the jungle with a herd and they obey him like a pack of hounds."
The men near him laughed.
"Good old Lulworth!" said one. "That beats Goddard's yarn. Did you make it up on the spot or did it take you long to think it out?"
Lulworth smiled good humouredly.
"Oh, it's not an original lie," he replied. "I had it from a half-bred Gurkha living in the forest village near my garden."
"Who is commanding Ranga Duar?" asked Lane.
"A fellow called Dermot; a Major," replied Goddard.
"Dermot? I wonder if by any chance it's a man who used to be in these parts before—commanded Buxa Duar when there was a detachment of an Indian regiment there," said Payne.
"I believe it's the same," replied Goddard. "He knows these jungles well and did a lot of shooting in them. He bagged that budmash (rogue) elephant that killed so many people. You heard of it. He chased the brute for a fortnight."
"That's the man," said Payne. "I'm glad he's back. We used to be rather pals and stay with each other."
"Oh, do ask him again, Mr. Payne, and bring him to the club," chimed in Mrs. Rice. "It would be such a pleasant change to have some of the officers here. They are so nice, such men of the world."
A smile went round the table. All were so used to the lady's tactless remarks that they only amused. They had long lost the power to irritate.
"I'm afraid Dermot wouldn't suit you, Mrs. Rice," said Payne laughing. "He's not a lady's man."
"Indeed? Is he married?" she asked.
"No, he hasn't that reason to dislike your sex. At least, he wasn't married when I knew him. I wonder how he's escaped, for he's very well off for a man in the Indian Army and heir to an uncle who is a baronet. Good-looking chap, too. Clever beggar, well read and a good soldier, I believe. He has a wonderful way with animals. I had a pony that was a regular mad beast. It killed one syce and savaged another. It nearly did for me. I sent it to Dermot, and in a week he had it eating out of his hand."
"He seems an Admiral what-d'you-call-him—you know, that play they had in town about a wonderful butler," said Mrs. Rice.
"Admirable Crichton, wasn't it?"
"Yes, that was the name. Well, your Major seems a wonderful chap," she said. "Do ask him. Perhaps he'll bring some of his officers here."
"I hope he won't, Mrs. Rice," remarked Goddard. "If he does, it's evident that none of us will have a look in with you."
She smirked, well pleased, as she caught Noreen's eye and rose from the table.
Sets of tennis were arranged and the game was soon in full swing. Some of the men walked round to the back of the building to select a spot to be cleared to make a polo ground. Others gathered at the bar to chat.
Noreen had a small court round her, Chunerbutty clinging closely to her all the afternoon, to her secret annoyance. For whenever he accompanied her to the club he seemed to make a point of emphasising the friendly terms on which they were for the benefit of all beholders. As a matter of fact he did so purposely, because he knew that it annoyed all the other men of the community to see him apparently on intimate terms with the girl.
On the afternoon, when at her request he had gone out to the back verandah to tell her servants to prepare tea, he called to her across the club and addressed her by her Christian name. Noreen took it to be an accidental slip, but she fancied that it made Mrs. Rice smile unpleasantly and several of the men regard her curiously.
The day passed all too quickly for these exiled Britons, whose one bright spot of amusement and companionship it was in the week. The setting sun gave the signal for departure. After exchanging good-byes with their guests, the Malpura party mounted their ponies and cantered home.
One morning, a week later, Noreen over-slept herself, and, when she came out of her room for her chota hazri, she found that her brother had already started off to ride over the garden. Ordering her pony she followed him. She guessed that he had gone first to the nursery, and when she reached the short cut through the forest she rejoiced at being able to enter it without the usual battle. She urged the reluctant Kitty on, and rode into it carelessly.
Suddenly her pony balked and shied, flinging her to the ground. Then it turned and galloped madly home.
As Noreen, half stunned by the fall, picked herself up stiffly and stood dazed and shaken, she shrieked in terror. She was in the middle of a herd of wild elephants which surrounded her on every side; and, as she gazed panic-stricken at them, they advanced slowly upon her.
THE MADNESS OF BADSHAH
Badshah's rescue of Dermot from the rogue caused him to be more venerated than ever by the natives. The Mohammedan sepoys of the detachment, who should have had no sympathy with Hindu superstitions, began to regard him with awe, impressed by the firm belief in his supernatural nature held by their co-religionists among the mahouts and elephant coolies. Among the scattered dwellers in the jungle and the Bhuttias on the hills, his fame, already widespread, increased enormously; and these ignorant folk, partly devil-worshippers, looked on him as half-god, half-demon.
Dermot's feelings towards the gallant animal deepened into strong affection, and the perfect understanding between the two made the sympathy between the best-trained horse and its rider seem a very small thing. The elephant loved the man; and when the Major was on his neck, Badshah seemed to need neither touch of hand or foot nor spoken word to make him comprehend his master's wishes.
Such a state of affairs was very helpful to Dermot in the execution of his task of secret enquiry and exploration. He was thus able to dispense with any attendant for the elephant in his jungle wanderings, which sometimes lasted several days and nights without a return to the Fort. He wanted no witness to his actions at these times. Badshah needed no attention on these excursions. The jungle everywhere supplied him with food, and water was always to be found in gullies in the hills. It was unnecessary to shackle him at night when Dermot slept beside him in the forest. The elephant never strayed, but stayed by his man to watch over him through the dangerous hours of darkness. He either stood by the sleeper all night or else gently lay down near him with the same consummate carefulness that a cow-elephant uses when she lowers her huge body to the ground beside her young calf. When Badshah guarded Dermot no harm from beast of prey could come to him.
While the forest provided sustenance for the animal, the soldier, accustomed though he was to roughing it, found it advisable to supplement its resources for himself. But with some ship's biscuits and a few tins of preserved meat he was ready to face the jungle for days. Limes and bananas grew freely in the foothills. Besides his rifle he usually carried a shot gun, for jungle fowl abounded in the forest, and kalej, the black and white speckled pheasant, in the lower hills, and both were excellent eating.
Dermot carried out a thorough survey of the borderland between Bhutan and India, making accurate military sketches and noting the ranges of all positions suitable for defence, artillery, or observation. Mounted on Badshah's neck he ascended the steep hills—elephants are excellent climbers—and explored every known duar and defile.
At the same time he kept a keen look-out for messengers passing between disloyal elements inside the Indian frontier and possible enemies beyond it. His knowledge of the language spoken by the Bhuttia settlers within the border, mostly refugees from Bhutan who had fled thither to escape the tyranny and exactions of the officials, enabled him to question the hill-dwellers as to the presence and purpose of any strangers passing through. He gradually established a species of intelligence department among these colonists, whose dread and hatred of their former rulers have made them very pro-British. Through them he was able to keep a check on the comings and goings of trans-frontier Bhutanese, who are permitted to enter India freely, although an English subject is not allowed by his own Government to penetrate into Bhutan. Despite this prohibition—so Dermot discovered—many Bengalis had lately passed backwards and forwards across the frontier, a thing hitherto unheard of. That members of this timorous race should venture to enter such a lawless and savage country as Bhutan and that, having entered it, they lived to come back proved that there must be a strong understanding between many Bhutanese officials and a certain disloyal element in India.
Dermot was returning through the forest from one of his excursions in the hills, when an opportunity was afforded him of repaying the debt that he owed to Badshah for the saving of his life. They had halted at midday, and the man, seated on the ground with his back to a tree, was eating his lunch, while the elephant had strayed out of sight among the trees in search of food.
Beside Dermot lay his rifle and a double-barrelled shot gun, both loaded. Having eaten he lit a cheroot and was jotting down in his notebook the information that he had gathered that morning, when a shrill trumpet from the invisible Badshah made him grasp his rifle. Skilled in the knowledge of the various sounds that elephants make he knew by the brassy note of this that the animal was in deadly fear. He sprang up to go to his assistance, when Badshah burst through the trees and came towards him at his fastest pace, his drooping ears and tail and outstretched trunk showing that he was terrified.
Dermot, bringing his rifle to the ready, looked past him for the cause of his flight, but could see no pursuer. He wondered what could have so alarmed the usually courageous animal. Suddenly the knowledge came to him. As Badshah rushed towards him with every indication of terror the man saw that, moving over the ground with an almost incredible speed, a large serpent came in close pursuit. Even in the open across which Badshah was fleeing it was actually gaining on the elephant, as with an extraordinary rapidity it poured the sinuous curves of its body along the earth. It was evident that, if the chase were continued into the dense undergrowth which would hamper the animal more than the snake, the latter would prove the winner in the desperate race.
Dermot recognised the pursuer. From its size and the fact that it was attacking the elephant it could only be that most dreadful and almost legendary denizen of the forest, the hamadryad, or king-cobra. All other big snakes in India are pythons, which are not venomous. But this, the deadliest, most terrible of all Asiatic serpents, is very poisonous and will wantonly attack man as well as animals. Badshah had probably disturbed it by accident—it might have been a female guarding its eggs—and in its vicious rage it had made an onslaught on him.
The peril of the poisoned tooth is the sole one that a grown elephant need fear in the jungle, and Badshah seemed to know that only his man could save him. And so in his extremity he fled to Dermot.
The soldier hurriedly put down his rifle and picked up the fowling-piece. The elephant rushed past him, and then the snake seemed to sense the man—its feeble sight would not permit it to see him. It swerved out of its course and came towards him. When but a few feet away it suddenly checked and, swiftly writhing its body into a coil from which its head and about five feet of its length rose straight up and waved menacingly in the air, it gathered impetus to strike.
A deadly feeling of nausea and powerlessness possessed Dermot, as from the open mouth, in which the fatal fangs showed plainly while the protruding forked tongue darting in and out seemed to feel for him, came a fetid effluvia that had a paralysing effect on him. He was experiencing the extraordinary fascination that a snake exercises over its victims. His muscles seemed benumbed, as the huge head swayed from side to side and mesmerised him with its uncanny power. The gun almost dropped from his nerveless fingers. But with a fierce effort he regained the mastery of himself, brought the butt to his shoulder, and pressed both triggers.
At that short range the shot blew the snake's head off, and Dermot sprang back as the heavy body fell forward and lashed and heaved with convulsive writhing of the muscles, while the tail beat the ground heavily.
At the report of the gun Badshah stopped in his hurried retreat and turned. Then, still showing evidences of his alarm, he approached Dermot slowly.
"It's all right, old boy," said the Major to him. "The brute is done for."
The elephant understood and came to him. Dermot patted the quivering trunk outstretched to smell the dead snake and then went forward and grasped the hamadryad's tail with both hands, striving to hold it still. But it dragged him from side to side and the writhing coils of the headless body nearly enfolded him, so he let go and stepped back. As well as he could judge the king-cobra was more than seventeen feet long.