"JUSTICE, destiny and love, these three are blind," says one of the lesser known commentators on the laws of Manu. But what the devil that had to do with Ben Quorn was a question that did not even occur to him. It did not even bore him. He ignored it. His job of digging graves in Philadelphia left him lots of time for reading. Nowadays, at five or ten cents a volume, a grave-digger can accumulate as good a library as anybody needs. Quorn was an omnivorous reader, on all sorts of subjects; and well-read books that can be carried in the pocket make their readers skeptical of writers—of philosophers for instance, and especially of journalists who quote philosophy. Just now, having finished a grave for a notorious millionaire whom he pitied for having to leave all that money behind him, Quorn was on a barrel in the tool-shed, studying the Morticians' Monitor—an aggressively cheerful publication that flaunts a fighting motto on the title page: "They're dying one a minute. Are you getting your share of the funerals?"
"One funeral's enough for any man!" said Quorn to himself. He had seen too many of them. He was restless.
That reference to the Laws of Manu was on the second page, which is always reserved for intellectual trifles and embalmed jokes of the "smile that leaves no sting" persuasion. Quorn turned to the Want Ads—one and a half columns on the inside back page. The top half-column on the left-hand side contained in heavy black type the advertisement: "Your face is your fortune. Improve it with Calverley's Soap." Beneath that was an electrotype of a movie hero with a he-man chin, whose face could have been improved by almost anything. Quorn thought about his own face for the ten thousandth time; it had become a habit. His face puzzled him, as it did other people. He stroked it, to remember what it looked like.
It was an ordinary sort of face at first glance. But people who looked twice, usually looked a third time. It made him look much older than he actually was. It was the only reason why he dug graves for a living instead of being some one's butler, or perhaps a bishop. Nobody trusted him much, and that was a strange thing, because he had discovered he could trust himself. His eyes held all the amber unbelief in ethics of a he-goat's; their imponderable purpose made most people suspect him of being a satyr or an anarchist. As a matter of fact he was a rather conservative fellow, who saved his money and preferred Shakespeare to Mencken, although he harbored a suspicion that poetry and music are a bit immodest.
So far Quorn is comprehensible, and he could even understand himself. Having read three and a half dollars' worth of five-cent books on psychology, behaviorism and kindred subjects, he felt he knew as much as the experts—maybe more. But why did he like elephants? There was nothing in Freud or Jung or Adler about elephants. And why did elephants like him? There was nothing in natural history to explain that. He could not stay away from the elephants when a circus came to town; they fascinated him. It seemed he fascinated them, too, although he never fed them, merely watched them. He had sometimes bribed elephant keepers to let him sit up all night with their charges. He liked their smell. He liked everything about them. But when questioned about it he usually only scratched the birth-mark on his forehead, just over the pineal gland. The question puzzled Quorn more than any one else. He seemed intuitively to know all about elephants; and because their home was India he had read a lot of books about the country and had a curious longing to go there. Last night he had dreamed he was in India. Coincidence? Here, at the foot of the right-hand column of the inside back page of the paper he was reading, was a Want Ad that made him almost bristle with curiosity. Work was over for the day. He shoved the folded paper in his pocket, washed himself and set forth to find the advertiser, at a good respectable address in an old-fashioned part of the city. He was shown into a private library and not kept waiting.
"Are you a reliable single man?" a ministerial, middle-aged person asked him; he resembled nothing so much as a heron in spectacles. Quorn gave references, answered questions and agreed to be examined by a doctor. He got along astonishingly well with his inquisitor, who was almost the first person who had ever stared at him without becoming suspicious. He was almost suspiciously unsuspicious.
"How many fellers have had this job?" Quorn asked him. "Is it one of these short-lived propositions?"
"Two men have had it. One died. The other complained of being lonely," his informant answered. "I myself was in Narada once, for three days. It is a very romantic, mysterious, beautiful place, and I enjoyed it immensely. But the circumstances are peculiar. There is usually a British official Resident, sometimes with his family; but no other Occidental is allowed in Narada for more than three days at a time, excepting our one caretaker. If you are seriously interested, I will tell you all about it."
It appeared that Narada, a tiny but extremely ancient Indian State, is almost independent, being subject only to the terms of a treaty with the British-Indian Government that dates from Clive's time. The State contains one large city that is principally palaces and temples. Nobody knows why, and nobody cares, but when its ruler pays his biennial official visit to the British Viceroy, he rides all the way to Delhi—a journey of three weeks—on the back of an elephant, whose howdah is heavy with gold and silver. He returns to Narada on a different elephant, and is afterwards very expensively disinfected by Hindu priests, although he is not a Hindu by religion, but an Animist as far as anybody can discover. The Hindu priests can make him do incredibly severe and costly penances whenever he breaks the least of their ceremonial laws. His tyranny is consequently tempered by discretion.
There is an army, limited by the treaty to one hundred and twenty officers, whose only serious duty is to guard the palace. It is commanded by the equivalent of a colonel, and looks fierce because the men all dye their whiskers and eat lots of pepper. The palace contains what guide-books would undoubtedly describe as priceless treasures; but the guide-books don't mention Narada, because of that ancient treaty, which permits no visitors, no explorers, no investigation of antiquities, and no Christian missionaries.
The latter clause of the treaty was long evaded, however, by a missionary sect, whose persuasion is so peaceful and numbers so insignificant, that even Narada's sensitive nerves were hardly conscious of the quiet intrusion. The sect was heavily endowed at some old lady's death, and for fifty years or so the mission flourished. The Reverend John Brown, adopting something of Narada's method, which includes subtlety and breaking laws while seeming to obey them, bought an ancient palace from a dissolute heir to the throne and converted that to begin with. Behind its greenish limestone garden walls he modernized the buildings. He imported plumbing, books, and school desks. He started an elementary school of medicine, that would have caused an immediate riot if he had not possessed more than normal tact; but he called it a revival of ancient Hindu magic. He even offered to supply the local priests with free drugs in any quantity; so that numbers of babies began to be born with unafflicted eyes, which led to tolerance.
There was even gratitude. A junior priest of an obscure temple, after being suitably protected by incantation, was actually sent to hang a garland around the Reverend John Brown's neck. That created a scandal, of course, but the Hindu hierarchy lived it down. The Reverend John Brown converted all Narada finally to the use of quinine. Then he died. He was promptly cremated, Hindu style, to lay his ghost before anyone could interfere, and his ashes were sent home to Philadelphia.
Death has a way of inspiring much diplomacy. It occurred to several people that there might be trouble about that cremation, because one of the principal heathen practices against which the Reverend John Brown preached was the burning of dead men's bodies. It was a very important detail of his doctrine. Quorn's informant even interrupted the flow of his narrative to emphasize that:
"It is because you so evidently believe in burying the dead, Mr. Quorn, that I shall support your application before the board of trustees. You are the only gravedigger who has applied for the post. How can the dead ever rise again if thoughtless people burn their bodies?"
Realizing the importance of the injury done to the late John Brown, the priests of Narada decided to set a diplomatic backfire before trouble should ensue. So they sent a deputation to Delhi, with a band of music, and painted elephants, to demand that the illegal Christian mission should be withdrawn. Meanwhile, half of the Maharajah's army guarded the empty mission, or pretended to, while the mails went to and fro across several oceans and the files of the British Embassy in Washington grew fat with memoranda, minutes, references and such similar documents with which delay is diplomatically fortified until dilemma dies a natural death.
"The truth is, Mr. Quorn, that we have not been very diplomatic. Mahatma Gandhi, of whom you have perhaps heard, has made things very difficult for us. We made the serious mistake, some years ago, of asking him to espouse our cause. He did so, with the best of intentions. But the result was that the Indian Government opposed us more firmly than ever. And there was a man named Bamjee, a telegraphist, who mixed himself up in everything. He read our telegrams, and he was a shrewd little bat of a man. He was the nigger in the wood-pile, if you will excuse my language. It was he who suggested a compromise, to which we were finally forced to agree after he had helped himself to almost everything removable. He did exceedingly well for himself; he became the Maharajah's purchasing agent, an office that he himself invented and applied for. The compromise provided that there should be no more mission work, but that the buildings and what remains of their contents should be allowed to continue as the Reverend John Brown left them, until we can find a purchaser for the property. We are permitted to maintain one caretaker on the spot, who must be a citizen of the United States, unmarried and of good personal character. The caretaker has no duty, and no privileges other than to see that the mission property is undisturbed until we sell it. However, we are under no compulsion to find a purchaser. Our caretaker is particularly not to interfere with native women."
"Sounds like a cinch of a job," said Quorn, whose eyes, he knew, made many women shudder. He had read all about women in five-cent books, in order to discover how to get along without them. "Women don't mean much in my life," he admitted.
His informant nodded. That was Quorn's only unpleasant moment during the entire interview. He would have preferred that this stranger should not understand so readily why women were not a serious problem, as concerned himself.
"There is only one other important point," his informant continued. "This Bamjee person, of whom I spoke, died recently. Unfortunately, his successor as purchasing agent for the Maharajah is an unspeakable Machiavellian monster named Chullunder Ghose, who appears to have fallen heir to all of Bamjee's secrets. He is an intriguer of the most objectionable type. It would be unwise to offend him—equally unwise to become at all intimate with him. Do you think you possess tact enough to govern yourself in such a situation?"
"Men who look like me have tact ground into 'em," Quorn answered simply.
Two days later Quorn was summoned before a board of trustees, questioned narrowly about his morals, certified as sane and physically fit by a physician, sworn before a notary public, given a two-page contract along with an order for suitable clothing, a phrase-book and a dictionary, and supplied with a ticket to India, second-class.
"You are off to a land," said the chairman, "where people believe in the Wheel of Destiny."
"Destiny?" said Quorn, scratching the birth-mark on his forehead. "I've read books about it. Seems to me it's ju st another word for horse-feathers."
BEN QUORN traveled seventy miles from rail-head in a two-horse tonga and installed himself in the comfortable gate-house of the Narada mission, along with a one-eyed Eurasian servant named Moses who did the cooking and helped him to learn the language. Each in his own way they were men of strong opinions, Quorn especially. There being little to do, they would sit for hours on tilted chairs, blue-shirted against the whitewashed gate-house wall and argue about Noah's Deluge, or the curious statement in the Book of Genesis that light was created before the sun. Quorn considered all his neighbors, from the unapproachable Maharajah down to the untouchables who swept the street, as heathen. That was the only word he had for them, but it was no worse than the word they had for him, so there was no spite wasted. He became a well-known figure, cleanly dressed and shaven, wandering without much curiosity through sun-baked, crowded streets. Before long, people took no more notice of him than they did of the sacred neem trees; or of the sacred monkeys catching fleas on one another; or of the sacred bulls, thrusting their way through alleys packed with humans to steal grain from the bags in the open shop-fronts; or of the sacred peacocks strutting and screaming on walls that guarded sacred mystery from public gaze.
So many things in Narada are sacred that it is simplest to take the Apostle Paul's advice and hold that there is nothing common or unclean, not even the temple dirt.
When men had nearly ceased to notice Quorn, they grew almost friendly. They ceased to become darkly silent when he drew near. Moses was not a bad language teacher, so that after a while Quorn was able to chat with strangers in the street. It puzzled him that they should be so courteous to him. He spoke to Moses about it, but Moses only stared into his eyes and smiled. It was several weeks before it gradually dawned on Quorn that what had been a handicap at home was here an asset. It appeared that men understood, or thought they did, that strangeness in his eyes, which he himself did not understand.
But the East guards understanding carefully and hides it with all sorts of subterfuge. When Quorn strolled in the great roofed market-place, at least a thousand pairs of eyes would glance furtively toward the wall at the far end, but no one spoke to him about it. Even when he and Moses once went marketing together he missed the explanation. Half Oriental, half inclined in consequence to keep all secrets hidden, but equally half inclined to lay them bare, Moses led him to that end wall, where broken sunlight played on partly ruined carving. The wall was almost unguessably ancient, and there was not enough left of the carving to tell a connected story, even to an antiquarian; but there was an obvious elephant, the lower half of a woman who had jewels on her feet and ankles, and the head and shoulders of a man in a turban. Farther along the wall appeared the same man riding on the elephant, with the lady up behind him in a funny little howdah; but most of the rest of the carving was too fragmentary to present a picture.
"Some say you look like that man," Moses volunteered. Then he looked away, pretending to be interested in a woman.
Quorn stared, unaware that he was being watched through the corners of hundreds of eyes. The market had almost ceased its chaffering.
"Some heathen god?" he asked at last.
"No, not a god," said Moses. "Onlee some old sacred personage of veree ancient time."
Then the Western half of Moses—the part that could not keep secrets—stole a moment's freedom from the Oriental half that could.
"Once," he said, "there was a man named Gunga, toward whom the gods were veree friendly. He is said to have been veree brave and pious, although not absolutelee obedient. Because of his braveree the gods selected him to rescue a princess who was living her life in durance vile. So he came for her on an eleephant, which eleephant was also chosen for the purpose by the gods. But because this personage named Gunga was veree brave and veree willing, and yet onlee partlee obedient, he did not fineesh what he had to do. He got down from the eleephant to see about something or other; so the eleephant is supposed to have believed the Gunga personage had grown faint hearted. Therefore the eleephant slew him, or so it is said, because an eleephant is not an animal conspicuous for temperate emotions. Consequentlee the princess was recaptured by her proud and veree angree father; and she lived all the rest of her life in the durance vile from which had been hoping to escape. For this the gods were sorree, so the storee is. Therefore the gods said someday Gunga must return to fineesh what he had begun. Then that carving was made on this wall. Some say the gods commanded that also. That is the legend. And now these people say you look like Gunga."
"Bunk," Quorn answered. "Heathen priests 'ud lie about nothin' at all, and pious idolaters 'ud believe 'em. Horse-feathers!" He turned away with his hands in his pockets.
"Oh yes, certainlee," said Moses, and withdrew, tortoise- fashion, into the Oriental half of him that was ashamed and afraid of the half that told secrets.
Quorn sent Moses home to prepare dinner and to chase pariah dogs and sacred monkeys out of the mission compound. He had pretended not to be interested, but as a matter of actual fact he was puzzled by that ancient carving. He recognized it did look like himself. As usual when puzzled, he grew discontented. When discontented he always went to see the Maharajah's elephants. There was something about the big brutes that made him feel less homesick. So it was discontent, not destiny that introduced him to the Maharajah's purchasing agent.
Babu Chullunder Ghose was an enormous person, probably nearly fifty years old; but he looked younger because of a genial disposition and a pair of remarkable brown eyes. He possessed a prodigious stomach, wore a very brightly colored turban and the graceful Bengali costume which displayed one huge thigh. He had a small, black cotton sunshade and a silver-mounted cane with which he terrified the chief mahout; he was accusing that miserable grafter of having stolen and resold a quantity of the elephants' rations. The moment Quorn entered the compound the babu spotted him. He squandered a cascade of brilliant insults on the head of the chief mahout, struck him with the silver-mounted cane and almost ran to greet Quorn. He was as suddenly bland as he had been angry.
"Cheerio, top o' the morning to you, how d'ye do and look who's here, by Jiminy! Mister Quorn, I take it? Caretaker at the mission. Soft job. Lots of time for meditation. Meditation leads us into mischief. Mischief is the devil, and the devil is still at the old stand. I am His Highness' purchasing agent—soft job also—first soft job in five··and- twenty years, I wish to tell you—first time in the history of this inelegantly scandalous babu that people praise me to my fat face. Let us sit down. Let me tell you what you wish to know. I know it all. Compendium of cyclopaedic, up-to-date and useless information—this babu, yours truly."
He took Quorn by the arm. He led him to a shed, where there were canvas chairs beneath a lean-to roof. He snapped his fingers and commanded liquor. In almost a moment there were whisky pegs in two long glasses, brought by a servant who knew how to excite thirst by making the ice tinkle musically.
"Self am hedonist, like Mencken, save and except I know too much to write for magazines. I drink to your distrust of me. I like it," said the babu.
Facing the shed in a wide ellipse within a high stone wall the elephants stood picketed beneath enormous trees. They tossed up the dust with their trunks and created a haze like a golden veil. They swayed to elephantine music utterly inaudible to man; perhaps it was the music of the spheres.
Quorn drank, then spoke as he reached for his pipe and filled it, knowing that tobacco made him tactful:
"I've been warned o' you. As one man to another, I've been cautioned you're a hot snipe. It was told me straight, in Philadelphia, that trustin' rattlesnakes is common sense compared to lettin' you get chummy."
"Quite true," said the babu, sighing. But his eyes laughed. "Never having had a decent reputation, self am public benefactor. There was not enough humility or virtue for us all. A half-share would be mortifying. So I contributed my portion to the public. Having got along without it I am like a charter member of a colony of German nudists. Such uncomfortable clothing as morality would annoy me. How do you like our Maharajah?"
"Never saw him," said Quorn.
"Live in hope. He is an eyeful as they say in U.S.A. United States," the babu answered. "He is out riding. Three of his wives have been consulting an astrologer, who told them that the moon is in a quarter likely to afflict and weaken his Highness' obstinacy. So they chose last night to air their views about a contemplated new—to put it diplomatically—wife, of whom they have heard rumors—very well authenticated rumors. They consider he already has enough wives and a lot too many more expensive women. They proceeded to convince him of the same profound truth. In plain words, they were women in his hour of ease. So he got drunk to relieve his headache. After being drunk he always has a much worse headache, because he mixes his drinks. So he rides abroad looking for some one to punish. He is a prince with a high sense of duty on such occasions."
"Three wives, has he?" Quorn asked.
"Five wives. Two have taken to religion. But that is not all of it. He has a daughter whose mother is dead. She has modernistic views. She acquired them from reading modern books, including Kant, Mencken, Ingersoll, Ring Lardner and Eleanor Glynn. She has refused to marry anybody not of her own choosing. But how shall she choose, since he keeps her behind the purdah? How shall she meet men? Do you see the dilemma? She is a cause of much perplexity not only to herself, but to her father also, she being his only child and the heir to his throne. He hates her, but what can he do about it?"
"Ship her to the U.S.A. and keep her short o' pocket-money," Quorn suggested.
"He does part of that. He keeps her short of money," said the babu. "Just now there is very great perplexity. Visiting Narada are some emissaries from his Highness the Maharajah of Bohutnugger, who is an eighteen-gun man of enormous influence; his royal ancestral tree is traceable for seven thousand years, where it becomes lost in Darwinian haze. Through these semi- official intermediaries he has condescended to suggest that if there were sufficient added money, he might perhaps be willing to lay his polygamous heart in the dust at the feet of the Princess Sankyamuni."
"She's our nabob's daughter?" Quorn asked.
"Yes. And that would manifestly be a fine alliance. But the infernal nuisance is that these semi-official representatives are too inquisitive. As usual with elderly gents who have looked for virtue in the arms of Venus, the Maharajah of Bohutnugger is a stickler for the social graces in his own domestic circle. Do I bore you?"
"No," said Quorn. "I don't believe you, that's all. I'm jus' curious to find out why you're kidding me."
"Enviable ingrate! I continue. Should these emissaries of his Highness learn that Princess Sankyamuni smokes, has modern views, can only be restrained with difficulty from escaping from the palace precincts and from showing her beautiful face to strangers, what then? All negotiations would be called off. Worse, though—much worse: stung by disillusionment, those emissaries of the Maharajah of Bohutnugger would immediately spread malicious scandal. It would cause the Maharajah of Narada's face to blush the color of his turban, which is usually yellow. He would rather have the girl killed, although one must admit that he is normally too lazy to murder anyone, even his own daughter, except on the deadliest provocation."
"Why tell me all this?" Quorn asked him.
"To disturb you," said the babu. "If I like a man at first sight, I invariably tell him secrets, to discover his reaction to them. That is thoroughly immoral, but it often saves me from making mistakes later on."
"Ain't going to be no later on," Quorn answered. "Me and you are destined to be strangers. I'll be civil to you, that's all."
"Ah!" Chullunder Ghose shone with amusement. His intelligent eyes became liquid with silent laughter. "Having been the destinee of too much trouble, as for me I don't believe in destinee at all. To hell with it."
"Same here," Quorn agreed. Then he finished his drink by way of emphasis. The babu emerged from his chair, with astonishing lack of effort in such a big-bellied man, and beckoned to a sais to bring his pony. He mounted the animal, Quorn marveling that even such a stocky little mount as that could carry such a huge weight.
"Neither of us then believes in destiny? Both are skeptics? Good," said the babu, smiling as he gathered up his reins and opened his sunshade. "Destiny, however, may not be a skeptic. How if destiny believes in us? Have you considered it? Auf wiedersehen—come and have a drink with me at any time."
He rode off, riding admirably. Seen from behind he resembled the pot-bellied Chinese god of Luck, all confidence, good temper and amused indifference to human morals.
Quorn stuck his hands in his pockets. "That guy's up to no good," he remarked to himself. Then he strolled across the compound to observe the elephants.
BEFORE he had been three weeks in Narada, Quorn had struck up quite an acquaintance with the biggest elephant of all, Asoka, who was chained by one leg to the picket farthest from the compound gate. He was a monster possessed of immeasurable dignity and was reputed, too, to have a temper like a typhoon, although Quorn had seen no evidence of that. He and the great animal were satisfied to stare in silence at each other, neither betraying a trace of emotion. Asoka swayed and fidgeted, as all elephants do. Quorn stood still. A mahout watched, squatting beneath a neem tree with his naked brats around him, all dependent for their living on the elephant and all ungrateful, but aware of obligations.
Quorn's back being toward the compound gate, he did not see the Maharajah enter—did not even hear him ride in followed by a group of mounted squires. The Maharajah was a handsome man, magnificently horsed. He looked too lazy to be dangerous; but his squires kept well out of range of his riding whip. He wore a blood-red turban, possibly suggestive of his inner feelings; and he spent ten or fifteen minutes at the congenial task of cursing the ancestors, immediate and distant relatives, the female family and person of the head mahout, to whom, after threatening to have him thrashed to death, he gave reluctant leave to live because a substitute might be an even more disgusting scoundrel.
Meanwhile, destiny being a dead superstition, some other influence touched the trigger of the unseen mechanism that propels events. Perhaps it was the fact that Quorn found time a little heavy on his hands. For the first time in his entire experience of elephants he had the curiosity to find out whether or not Asoka would obey his orders. He commanded the brute to lie down. To his agreeable surprise, Asoka slowly descended to earth, like a big balloon with the gas let out, and thrust out a forefoot for Quorn to sit on. Quorn did not understand that gesture, but he sensed some sort of invitation and drew nearer. Then, smiling at his own foolishness, wondering what Philadelphia would think of it, he vaulted on to the great brute's neck, thrusting his knees under the ears, as he had seen mahouts do. He felt younger and ridiculous, but rather pleased. He thought he could imagine worse things than to have to ride elephants all day long.
It was at that moment, just as Quorn was mounting, that the mahout's brats, underneath the neem tree, caught sight of the Maharajah riding forward down the track between the avenue of big trees in the middle of the compound. They yelled with one voice to Asoka to get up and salute the Heavenborn. Quorn held on, exclaiming—
"Hold her, now there, steady!"
But Asoka knew no English. He rose like a leisurely earthquake. Quorn tried to think of ways to get down, but his nerves were suddenly, and utterly for the moment, paralyzed. Asoka raised a forefoot, threw his trunk in air, and screamed the horrible salute that Hannibal, a thousand viceroys and kings, some wise men and a host of fools have been accepting as their due since elephants were first made captive. It sounded like Paleolithic anguish.
The Maharajah was riding a new, young horse that had not yet been broken to the voice of elephants. The horse reared, terrified. The Rajah spurred him. Four-and-thirty elephants at pickets scattered up and down the compound, taking their signal from Asoka, trumpeted a goose-flesh raising chorus, each of them raising a forefoot and stamping the dusty earth until a cloud went up through which the sun shone like a great god, angry.
Terror, aggravated by whip and spurs and by the cries of the mahouts, became a thousand devils in the Maharajah's horse's brain. Strength, frenzy, speed and will were his to get to hell from that inferno. He shed the Maharajah—spastically, as a cataclysm sheds restraint. He fled, as life goes fleeing from the fangs of death—a streak of sun-lit bay with silver stirrups hammering his flanks, and a broken rein to add, if it were possible to add to anything so absolute and all-inclusive as that passion to be elsewhere.
Asoka trumpeted again, accepting all that tumult as applause. The Maharajah sprawled in smelly dirt, too angry to be stunned, too mortified to curse his squires. But panic warned those gentry that their master's royal anger would be vented on themselves; and they were conscious of too many undetected crimes against him to feel able to defy injustice. They must act, to direct injustice elsewhere. So some fool struck Asoka as the source of the catastrophe, struck him across his friendly, sensitive, outreaching trunk with a stinging whalebone riding whip.
Then genuine disaster broke loose naturally—upward of four tons of it, with Quorn on top. A green and golden panorama veiled in smelly haze, with sacred monkeys scampering like bad thoughts back to where bad thoughts come from, wherever that is; and a crowd of frantic horses, shouting mahouts and screaming children darting to and fro, was opened, split asunder and left gasping at Asoka's great gray rump. It had an absurd tail, like an elongated question mark suggesting that all speculation was useless as to what would happen next.
The unbelievable had happened. Never before, in more than forty years, had Asoka broken faith by snapping that futile ankle-ring. He had always played fair. He had pretended the rusty iron was stronger than the lure of mischief, thus permitting an ungrateful, dissolute mahout to spend the price of a new steel ring on arrack, which is worse than white mule whisky, and more prolific of misjudgment.
And now Quorn and Asoka were one unit, provided Quorn could keep his balance, and his knees under those upraised ears. He had never before ridden on an elephant. The only earthquake motion he had ever felt was on the steamer on the way to India, and there had been something then to cling to, as well as fellow passengers to lend him confidence. He was alone now—as alone as an unwilling thunderbolt, aware of Force that was expelling him from something that he understood, into an unknown but immediate future where explosion lay in wait.
"Whoa, blood! Steady!"
Asoka screamed contempt of consequences. Quorn's helmet fell over his eyes; he did not dare to lift a hand to push it back in place. He was drenched in sweat. He felt the low branches of trees brush past him and was aware of danger, colored green, that went by far too swiftly to be recognized. The speed was beyond measurement; it was relative to Quorn's imagination and to nothing else except Asoka's wrath. They four were one—two animals, two states of consciousness, with one goal, swiftly to be reached but unpredictable.
They passed through the compound gate like gray disaster being born. Several sarcastic godlets on the ancient gateposts grinned good riddance. And because the road led straight toward the market, headlong forward went Asoka, caring nothing whither so he got there, and then somewhere else. Carts went crashing right and left. A swath of booths and tents were laid low. Fruit stalls, egg stalls, sticky colored drink stalls, peep-shows, fortunetellers' tents and vegetable curry stalls lined the long road amid piles of baskets. An indignant elephant goes through and not around things. All that trash went down as if a typhoon struck it, each concussion a fresh insult to Asoka. He was red- eyed. He was a rebel against the human race.
Quorn ceased to wonder what would happen. Fear had gone its limit. He recovered that state of consciousness that makes some men superior to elephants. Not that he felt superior—not yet by any means; he felt like nothing on the edge of chaos. But he had begun to speculate in terms of why, instead of what.
"Why me?" he wondered. "Easy, feller, easy! Where d'you kid yourself you're going, fathead? Let me down and then smash all you want to! Who-o-a, Irish!"
There were dozens of collisions, there was a mile of ruin in his wake, before it occurred to Quorn that he was speaking the wrong language. By that time there was a black umbrella threaded on Asoka's trunk like a rat-preventer on a ship's cable. He was catastrophically anxious to be rid of the incomprehensible thing, and Quorn had to cling to his perch like a monkey. That umbrella changed mere passion into a deliberate determination to destroy, and Quorn could sense that. He did his utmost to guide the elephant away from the market-place. He might as well have tried to turn the sun from its course.
Quorn's helmet was struck by a roof-beam as they charged in through the cluttered entrance; it collapsed, shapeless, looking like a twisted turban—like the turban on the man named Gunga on the carving on the end wall. For perhaps five seconds, malignantly choosing his mark, Asoka paused in the market entrance. Panic struck the crowd dumb, and for a moment motionless. The drama took Quorn by the spine and stiffened him. He sat majestically, unapproachably aloof as if there on purpose, obeyed by the monster he rode. Then he raised his hand. He shouted to them. But he could not remember afterwards what words he used.
Asoka screamed and burst into the throng. And there is no wrath like an elephant's. It is a prehistoric passion. It is elemental, learned in the dawn of time when Nature brewed the future in a cauldron of floods and earthquakes, burning trash like white-hot lava and obliterating errors with sulphurous deluge. Asoka's taught, trick loaded memory was in abeyance. Herd memory, subconscious, filled him with a horror of all newness. There is almost nothing that is not new to that primeval instinct—new, abominable, loathsome, to be trodden and unmade.
Down went the market stalls—cloth, eggs, brassware, chickens, crockery, imported clocks, curry and spices, cooked food, benches, baggage, basketry—smashed into a smear of vanity that once was. Humans in white-eyed droves fled this and that way, witless, aimless, shrilling, praying to a thousand gods—as if the gods cared! There was a dreadful din under the roof, like the braying and cracking of battle, until the Maharajah's soldiers came, astonishingly fierce of wax and whisker but above all careful not to harm Asoka, who was expensive, or the crowd that was cheap but not unfriendly in its own way.
The soldiers made a vast and most important counter-demonstration. They brought three bugles into action. They fired blank volleys; and in the pauses of that startling din they made the vast roof thunder with reverberating martial commands. And being well drilled, they avoided danger, which was excellent example. There began to be plenty of room for Asoka. Havoc fully finished, and the noise being intolerable, Asoka glimpsed the sunlight in the entry and went avalanching forth in quest of a less nerve-wracking field of battle.
Some said afterwards that Quorn shouted on the way out, though others doubted that, and Quorn never remembered. But all agreed that he had raised his right arm, as if his right hand held an ankus, and that his gesture, position, attitude were those—exactly—of the Gunga sahib, he who rode the elephant amid the broken carving of the end wall. It was agreed by all, including many who did not see it and who therefore knew much more about it, that all he lacked to make resemblance perfect was the funny little howdah up behind him. His smashed helmet looked exactly like the Gunga sahib's turban. His coat was gone; he had thrown it away; he sat in flapping, loose, bazaar- made shirt-sleeves. People who believe in such nonsense as reincarnation and destiny may be excused for having stared hard at the carving on the wall. There is no law against comparing one thing with another. Men, whose stalls and goods and money have been smashed into an uninsured and eggy chaos, need some sort of superstitious comfort to help them endure it. There was grief, but there was no wrath, in the wake of that awful event. It was karma, grievous but inevitable.
"Patience bringeth peace," observes the commentator on the Laws of Manu. "Anger aggravates. Be gentle, O ye sufferers, lest worse befall you."
ASOKA went ahead, up-street, in straight spurts. He was growing winded. Nearly a score of dogs ceased licking sores and scratching their verminous pelts, to let themselves be swept into the current of excitement. Asoka became the pursued. He hated dogs; but an offensive, uninvited, unclean pack of yellow curs, each in a little dust cloud of his own, ears up, tail between legs and anatomy tautened in spasms of energy, yelped at his heels. It was enough to make a herd of elephants hysterical. Asoka went in search of solitude. He deserted the city.
It was the sort of day that might have almost tamed a locomotive, so hot was the sun. The very palms and mangoes seemed to cast a shriveled shadow. Sound itself fainted with weariness. Sweat died still-born. Dust enwrapped everything. Asoka's ton- weight footsteps fell on silent earth. He was a great gray ghost bestridden by a wraith, dry throated, talking to himself.
"Crashing the gates o' death, I'd call it! He ain't thinkin'. He ain't lookin'. All he's doin' is to get the hell from here. He don't care where he goes until he hits what stops him. Wish I was in Philadelphia!"
But it was no use wishing. One had to do something. There was a wall in the distance—a good, high, solid looking stone wall that should stop a steam-roller. Quorn decided he would try to guide the elephant straight at the wall. It might be possible. The brute was getting dog-tired. Quorn remembered how short- sighted elephants are. A sort of instinct told him what to do. If he could get near enough to the wall there were overhanging branches; he could grab those and swing himself up to safety. He began to urge the elephant, not guessing that his voice might stir the monster to a last tremendous effort. But it happened.
They went at the wall like a battering ram, and the wall was rotten. There was a shock that almost threw Quorn over backward. The wall shook, tottered, and fell inward into dusty heaps. Asoka swayed into the gap, then staggered forward, stumbled on some masonry, and fell. He lay sobbing, heaving, near enough to an artificial fish-pond to smell water and too spent to reach it. Quorn was pitched into a woeful heap and rolled into the pond, among the frightened frogs. He felt mud on the bottom; it frightened him, although the water was not very deep. He groped for something to take hold of—heard a voice and touched a hand. It was a little one—a woman's or a child's. He seized it. Then another, stronger hand took hold of him and he felt himself dragged to dry land.
"Will you kindly let me use my lip-stick?" said a woman's voice, in English. He discovered he was still holding the small hand, and there was something in it, so he let go. Then he began to be able to see distinctly, and it occurred to him at once that he was probably dead, because he had never even dreamed of such a girl as this one. She was using her lip-stick calmly, making faces in a tiny mirror; and what with her pale-blue dress, and her eyes, and her sandaled feet, and dark hair, she was so lovely that he blinked at her speechless. Quite unconscious that his middle finger had been smeared with lip-stick carmine, he began scratching his forehead. Were those stories true, that his mother had told him about angels, when he was knee-high to her apron- string?
It was the voice of Chullunder Ghose that brought him back to earth. He recognized that instantly.
"Sahiba, solitude has taken wings, like easy money! This babu advises you go home."
Quorn turned to stare at him—fat, bland, imperturbable, but vehement. He was a man with a plan, one could see that. It occurred to Quorn he might be interrupting an important interview. He removed his battered helmet from respect for a lady's presence, then felt at his head and discovered his skull was almost baked through by the sun's heat. His eyes wandered; he saw a shawl of golden gauzy silk that hung from a branch of some shrubbery. He was afraid of the Indian sun; without stopping to think whose the shawl might be, he seized it and bound it on his head like a turban. Then he turned again toward the lady, and for the first time she was able to observe his eyes and the crimson caste-mark he had made unconsciously above them with his lip- sticked middle finger. She uttered an exclamation, almost screaming. Quorn hastened to reassure her:
"You've no call to fear me, missy. Me and him committed trespass, but we didn't mean no harm."
He turned from her to look at him—Asoka, sobbing and tossing his trunk in futile efforts to reach water. "Hey, you," he ordered the babu, "panee lao! Fetch a bucket quick, he's famished."
Chullunder Ghose merely gestured toward some bushes, where Quorn spied an expensive, imported watering can that had been abandoned among the flowers by a gardener who probably preferred the ancient goat-skin mussuk. Quorn fetched the can and filled it at the pond, then grabbed Asoka's trunk and thrust it into the receptacle.
"There, ye darned old ijjit, suck your fill an' sober up."
The water vanished, to be squirted down Asoka's dusty throat while Quorn refilled the can. A second and a third dose went sluicing down the same course. Then Quorn himself took a drink, and the relief it gave him stirred imagination. He sat down on Asoka's forefoot.
"There, don't carry on. 'Tweren't your fault. And it weren't my doing neither. Quit your grieving. There's been no harm done that money can't set right again. There's always somebody got money. You're all bruised up, an' you're scared, but you've had your fun, so now act sensible."
Asoka seemed to recognize the note of friendship. He left off moaning. He even touched Quorn's shoulder with his trunk. But his eyes did not lose their madness until Quorn began talking to him in the native tongue, remembering the phrases he had heard mahouts use when their charges were ill-tempered or in trouble.
"Prince of elephants! A prince, a maharajah, of the hills, a bull of bulls, a royal bull! Did they offend him? He shall have a howdah made of gold and emeralds! They shall paint him blue and scarlet! He shall lead the line of elephants! He shall carry kings on his back!"
The poor, bewildered brute responded, swaying his head to and fro and permitting Quorn to rub the edges of his ears. He gurgled for more water. Quorn persuaded him to rise and led him to the fish-pond.
"In you go, you sucker!"
He was obeyed so swiftly that a dozen fish were splashed out on the wave displaced by four descending tons. Quorn picked up the fluttering fish by the tails and tossed them in again. Reveling amid the ruin of the lotus plants, Asoka lay still. Quorn began to wonder what to do next.
"I'm the only friend he's got on earth this minute. They'll shoot him sure, unless I take the blame for all that damage. Maybe I'd better talk to that babu."
He followed the sound of voices, peered between some shrubbery and saw the babu squatting comfortably in the presence of the lady. She was seated above him, on the marble railing in front of an exquisite garden-house. Her eyes, as she watched the curl of the smoke of a cigarette, were half-hidden beneath languorous, dark lashes that somehow failed to conceal excitement. She had pearly skin, with just a hint of color, and the great dark pearls that she wore as earrings beneath a turban of cloth of gold were like drops of the juice of youth and life exuding from her.
"O daughter of the moon," the babu argued in his mellow baritone, "this may be wonderful, but is it wise? Suppose these garden walls have ears?"
"They have," she answered, "but they don't understand English, so say what you like, except that you mustn't contradict me."
"Heavenborn sahiba, may this babu talk of commonplaces? If the question may be forgiven, does it not occur to your superb imagination that this situation is desperate? This babu will be accused of aiding and abetting your escape. Not only shall I lose my perquisites, but I shall be caused to eat slow poison—ground glass probably."
"Yes, any fool would know that," she retorted. "Use your wits then, babu-ji."
"But, daughter of astonishment, I have no wits for such a situation! She, on whom his eighteen-gun-saluted majesty of Bohutnugger chooses to bestow his royal heart, has fled from the parental roof! His emissaries will insult your royal parent in an expert manner. Who could forgive that? It is not that your royal parent really minds your modern views. I think he secretly enjoys them. But he has to think about the priests, who are scandalized. And a scandalized priest is a serious matter! How can you get away from here? There is no way. To remain here is to be discovered. And discovery means—O Krishna, what does it not mean? It means shame, sahiba. Your royal parent—"
She interrupted him: "He is like a parent in somebody's novel. It could never occur to him how ashamed I would be if he could force me to marry some one I had never seen. I wouldn't love such a man, not even if he were so lovable that it would kill me not to love him."
"Krishna!" the babu exploded. "In addition they will blame me for providing you with modern books! They will blame me with excruciating details such as hunger in a dungeon! Probably your father will incarcerate you until you agree to be religious and become a temple ministrant."
"Oh no, the priests wouldn't have me," she answered. "You see, they know I know too much. Either I go to America, or—
"Do you know where America is?" he exploded. "Do you know about the Quota, how they count heads and reject all immigrants who are not respectable? Unmarried but beautiful ladies are never respectable in U.S.A. United States. How will you get as far as Bombay? You have neither clothes nor money for such a journey."
"That is for you to attend to," she retorted. "I have made up my mind to be independent. I have run away. I have done my part. Now you attend to your part."
"Krishna! Who shall explain things to a woman?"
"There is no need for explanations. Either take me to America, or else accept this destiny and—
"I tell you, there is no such thing as destiny," the babu interrupted. "That man is a common laborer—"
She made a scornful gesture. "What of it? You are a common babu. I am a common princess. If, as you say, there is no such thing as destiny—
"I see you are after all only a boastful rogue," she answered. "You are not really an adventurer. You are afraid. Very well, you may leave me. I will manage my own affairs."
Chullunder Ghose sighed. "Honesty is rotten policy," he remarked with an air of finality. "I have honestly tried to dissuade you. As a dissuadee you are a failure. Very well then, let us succeed at something. What do you wish me to do?"
She threw away her cigarette and lit another one, and though there was mischief in her smile, there underlay the mischief something that looked dangerously like intelligence. There was a bit of a frown, like a vague cloud on her forehead. There was a certain not unpleasant firmness of the lips. At the back of her brilliant eyes was something more than mere audacity.
"Does he, or does he not resemble Gunga sahib?" she demanded. "Do I, or do I not resemble Sankyamuni, whose namesake I am? Did he, or did he not come on an elephant and find me in a difficulty? Let us take advantage of it."
"Do you know what the risks are?" the babu asked her. "It will be you, and I, and this man Quorn, whom neither of us knows, against a universe!"
"Cheese it!" said Quorn to himself. "It's in my contract not to interfere with native women. That lets me out."
He stole away silently, back to Asoka who was enjoying himself in the pond.
"Come on out, old-timer," he commanded. "Me an' you are in trouble enough without extras. I reckon I need a friend as bad as you do. Out you come. No sulking."
But Asoka was not yet quite amenable. He came out, but he stubbornly refused to face the gap in the wall. Quorn decided to look for a gate, and the elephant followed him meekly enough around a clump of bamboos, along a pathway. There were vine- covered arches at intervals; the big beast knocked down two of them, but there was no return of panic. They arrived, around the corner of an empty house, at a stone-paved stable yard where ancient vehicles and rotting lumber were crowded in confusion. Along one side there was a shed, in which Quorn spied new-cut sugar-cane. He made Asoka lie in mid-yard, broke a rotten door and appropriated as much of the cane as he could carry.
"There now, that's for being daddy's good boy. Eat it, and we'll go home."
He left Asoka munching sugar-cane and went in search of a gate that might open on the main road. He found one, but it was fastened with a lock and chain and he struggled with that for fifteen minutes, trying to smash the padlock with a stone, until it suddenly occurred to him that he could lift the light gate off its hinges. Then he hurried back, for fear Asoka might be up to mischief. But it was not Asoka. He had already become a mere lay- instrument of mischief.
There were servants on the scene—three gardeners. The princess was directing operations. Chullunder Ghose, as muscular as all three gardeners in one, was helping to drag out through a stable door a funny little ancient howdah and some rat-gnawed harness that had to be moistened before it would bend. The howdah was crimson and in fairly good condition; there was only room for one person in it. It had four upright poles that supported a gilded roof, precisely like that on the howdah borne by the elephant carved on the wall of the market-place. The gardeners were afraid to approach the elephant, so Chullunder Ghose kicked them with astonishing force and agility. Then they started to try to lift the howdah to Asoka's back.
There was only one thing to be done, because nobody took the slightest notice of Quorn's protests. Unexplainably, but definitely that was Quorn's elephant. The equation contained plenty of unknowns, but pride was a basic element. He felt responsible; he could not have the elephant misbehave himself. So he went to Asoka's head and kept him quiet while the unaccustomed crew toiled at the howdah and finally strapped it in place, Asoka heaving himself without a protest, to let the great buckles be passed under his belly. Then the babu drove the gardeners away, commanding one to unlock the gate and another to fetch his pony.
"It is dangerous," he said. "Sahiba, should this elephant misbehave himself, then the harness will break, and—
"We have nothing to lose," she interrupted. "If the gods have a sense of humor—
"But there aren't any gods," said the babu.
"So much the better," she answered, "we needn't give them a thought. We shall know in an hour whether we also are nothing at all. It is all we can do. It is all or nothing."
She turned and smiled at Quorn. He was aware of being analyzed—read like a book. He was vaguely offended. But for his pride in having tamed an elephant he would have bowed to her and walked away. When she spoke to him after a moment her voice was rich and low, and there was humor in her eyes, but that only increased his suspicion and made him feel obstinate.
"Did anybody ever call you Gunga sahib?" she asked him.
"Many people will, from now on."
"My name, Miss, is Ben Quorn."
"We are destined, I think, to be friends, Mr. Quorn."
"No, Miss, I believe not. I was sworn before a notary to avoid all women for as long as I'm in India."
She became immediately serious. "A vow?" she answered. "Nobody should dare to try to break that. I am sorry. Is it out of the question for you to escort me to the palace?"
Quorn felt disarmed. He was not at all sure he had answered her wisely. She was a heathen. She was in league with a babu whom he had been warned not to trust. He did not understand their game, but he had overheard enough to realize that their conspiracy included himself in some way. Still, there was no harm in taking her home, he supposed. Afterwards, he would return Asoka to his picket in the compound; and if she and the babu could involve him any deeper than that, they would have to be mighty clever.
He made Asoka rise. The babu dragged a ladder from the shed and set it up against the howdah. The princess appeared to expect Quorn to offer a hand. He felt it would be surly to refuse that. She hardly touched his hand. She was as active as a kitten. But that one touch affected him strangely. It was not exactly thrilling; it was confidential; it made him feel as if she trusted him. And then the babu's manner also produced an effect that thoroughly disturbed Quorn's self-command, although he did not realize it at the moment. He was conscious of the babu watching him intently. A suspicion stole into his mind that Chullunder Ghose expected him to use the ladder in order to get to his seat on the elephant's neck; in other words, the babu knew him for an amateur.
"Take that dam' ladder away," he ordered.
All or nothing, eh? Well, they were not the only two who could accept that gamble. He had seen mahouts mount scores of times, and he knew the right word of command. He went and stood beside Asoka—spoke, low voiced—and was obeyed. Asoka curled his trunk around him—it was like being gripped by a python—raised him high in the air, where he felt for one agonized moment as if he were doomed to be smashed into pulp on the ground—and then set him in place exactly, gently, astride the broad neck with his back to the howdah.
Chullunder Ghose had found an ancient ankus in the shed to which he had returned the ladder. He gave it to the elephant, who passed it up to Quorn.
"To the manner born!" said the babu. "It is too bad you are honest. Good mahouts are rogues, invariably. Honesty is dam-bad policy, believe me, I have tried it!"
"Silence!" the princess commanded. "Don't annoy him." And again Quorn felt an unfamiliar emotion that intrigued him strangely, even while it increased his sense of danger.
A gardener brought the babu's pony. He mounted, opened his black sunshade and led the way, hugely incongruous, riding with wonderful dignity and yet, somehow or other, a clown. He was play-acting. Even the bewildered Quorn could see that. A dramatic impulse seemed to seize them all as they passed out through the opened gate into the road, Asoka swaying homeward with the stately pageant-stride that durbar elephants all learn and always use unbidden, as if by instinct, when there is importance in the air. Quorn sat upright, with the butt of the ankus resting on his thigh—coatless—in a bazaar shirt, somewhat soiled—in a yellow turban—with a crimson caste-mark on his forehead. And his agate eyes were luminous with wonder that suggested mystic and inscrutable design, unless one knew what thoughts were surging through his puzzled and suspicious brain.
QUORN was a fellow whose thought took the definite form of words before it meant much. He seldom—almost never muttered to himself. But he carried on a conversation in his brain, which was the same thing plus reticence. He liked to dig at problems, almost in the way he used to dig graves, shovelful by shovelful, one thought at a time and no hurry.
"This here old prodigal son, he needs a massage and a hot towel. Reckon I can lie him out o' trouble somehow. Elephants are elephants. He's easy. But the rest of it smells to me like politics. This ain't a circus."
But it did look like a circus. All Narada seemed to be pouring along the highway to discover what had happened to Asoka. The crowd was excited, hot, breathless, expecting something terrible, and in a mood to be thoroughly entertained by almost anything, so be it staggered imagination. The sun shone through the cloud of dust they raised, on to a drunken riot of color all in motion. And the crowd beheld a miracle. There was no doubt about that whatever.
When Asoka had burst forth like a typhoon through the city, he had had no howdah on his back. When Quorn had ridden forth, he had had no turban on his head, no ankus and no caste-mark. There had been no princess in any way connected with the incident. And yet, here came the elephant, moving as if impelled by dignity and destiny combined. On his back was an ancient crimson howdah, such as nobody had seen in use for generations. Riding in the howdah was a gloriously dressed and radiantly beautiful young woman, unveiled. No one in the crowd had ever before seen her face to face, because the purdah custom had prevented that. But everyone had seen the carving on the market wall. What should not a breathless crowd believe—the more incredible the better?
Furthermore, there was the loud voice of Chullunder Ghose, riding ahead and shouting to them in their own tongue:
"Way there! Way for the Wheel of Destiny! The gods now finish what the gods began!"
Could anything be simpler? Could anything be more authentic? Why should anybody not believe it? Up went a roar of recognition—such a tumult as perhaps Darius heard when multitudes acclaimed him King of Kings.
"The Gunga sahib! The Gunga sahib and the Princess Sankyamuni!"
Messengers were sent post-haste to warn the priests of thirty temples that a prophecy was coming true at last. And there is competition among temples. It was almost like Lindbergh coming home to the United States, such streams of rival welcoming committees raced to be first to pay official honors. Priests turned out in hundreds with bands of music. They choked the road. Asoka had to slow down. It was all that Chullunder Ghose could do, using his lungs and his wits to their utmost, to get the crowd moving again. And the delay gave time for garlands to be brought—long chains of flowers that were tossed to Quorn, that fell draped on Asoka's shoulders and all over the crimson howdah, until the Princess looked forth from a perfect bower and Asoka trod crushed blossoms underfoot.
There is nothing so convincing as flowers, unless it be a procession behind bands of music. Through Narada's streets there surged such a procession as those ancient buildings had not seen for centuries. The sacred peacocks screamed from garden walls. The sacred monkeys jabbered and grimaced from trees as green as jade. And Quorn sat silent, wondering, aware he was the hero of it all, but not at all enjoying the heroics. He was more contemptuous than actually timid.
It was a heavy iron ankus that he held. He could have thrown it and easily hit the babu. It was tempting to do that, and he never really knew why he didn't.
"He's making a monkey of me. Well, I'll fix him afterwards."
He almost forgot the Princess, until she called to him to take her to the palace. Asoka had been following the crowd, that flowed toward the center of the city where the larger temples stood. But Chullunder Ghose led up a winding street toward the park-like suburb where the palace was. Asoka obeyed the pressure of Quorn's knee; so that the order of procession became suddenly reversed, Asoka leading and the crowd surging behind him. That gave Chullunder Ghose a chance to gallop forward as fast as his overburdened pony could set foot to earth; and by the time Asoka reached the palace the babu had interviewed the Maharajah, who had evidently had quite a number of brandies and soda as a sequel to the morning's accident. Sober, he would very likely not have dreamed of doing it, but he was decidedly not sober. He donned his royal robes and jewels. And he came on foot to meet the thunderous procession at the splendid entrance gate.
The crowd heard nothing, because the crowd itself was making too much noise. But the crowd saw, which was the all important point. It saw the great gate close behind Asoka, as if destiny had turned a page and was about to write new history. Perhaps it was Chullunder Ghose who put the thought in some one's mind. He was certainly not in the palace grounds when the gate closed. At any rate, somebody started a shout going, and it caught on, in little explosions, until the whole crowd roared in unison and the Maharajah's brandied face grew darker with concern.
"Bande Sankyamuni! She is free! She is free! This time the Gunga sahib did it! She is free! She is free!"
Less than a dozen priests and half-a-dozen members of the crowd had managed to follow behind Asoka before the gate was shut tight by the Maharajah's servants. The priests had promptly grouped themselves around the Maharajah, to prevent him from feeling or appearing too important. He turned toward them, and they were as baffled as he was. He spoke a few words and they answered in whispers. Then he shrugged his shoulders. He appeared not altogether unhappy. He sent somebody running toward the palace, and went on talking with the priests until a group of women from the royal zenanah came and waited on the Princess. Quorn made Asoka kneel. The Princess almost jumped into the arms of veiled, excited women who flung a silken sheet around her and then hurried her away.
Quorn remained on Asoka's neck. He doubted what to do next. But he knew exactly what to do when he saw the Maharajah start toward him. He would hold his tongue. He would not tell what had happened. It was none of his business.
The Maharajah came as close as he could get. He examined Quorn's eyes. For a minute at least, they stared straight at each other in silence, Quorn's resentment gaining, until at last the Maharajah spoke, in good plain English, awkwardly pronounced:
"Well, well. You're a strange coincidence. You realize, of course, that you'd be an impossible nuisance in Narada? You must go home. How much shall I give you?"
That was the first really great moment of Quorn's life. It was the first time that anyone ever had offered to bribe him. Instinct warned him that heroics was the one thing to avoid.
"This elephant's in trouble, sir," he answered. "I've a contract job here, I'm not going to the States, so forget it. You protect this elephant, and I won't trouble you. If they should shoot him—"
"Shoot him?" said the Maharajah. "I would kill the man who did it! You must go home."
Quorn fell on silence, closing his lips grimly.
"But you see," said the Maharajah, "you don't know India. It mightn't be healthy for you after this. There are more ways of dying than there are of living. Has that thought occurred to you?"
"As long as I mind my job I reckon I'll be safe enough," Quorn answered, and the Maharajah stared at him again at least a minute. Then he lighted a cigar, strode to and fro a dozen paces and resumed the stare.
"You're a damned strange coincidence," he said at last. "Can you manage that elephant? Can you return him to his picket? All right, do it. I will send a man to talk to you tomorrow."
Somebody opened the gate. Asoka arose and headed homeward, passing through the dense crowd outside like an alibi through circumstantial evidence. The crowd roared. Hundreds followed through the winding streets. But there was new news; something else was stirring, and by the time they reached the compound where the other elephants stood swaying at their pickets Quorn had no more than a following of small boys and a few dozen caste- less women. Some police drove them away. The head mahout attempted to get rid of Quorn as easily. Quorn smiled. He could show an eye-tooth when he did that.
"You send a man for my servant," he answered. "Moses is to fetch my supper here and bring a cot too. I sleep here. You understand that? Right alongside of Asoka. Now don't argue. Do it. Would you care to kiss that?" He showed the man the tightened knuckles of his left fist. "Something's happened to me," he remarked to himself, as he watched the head mahout despatch a messenger for Moses. "Somehow it's the same day. But I'm not the same man."
SUNRISE discovered Asoka munching an enormous loaf of hot bread and Quorn drinking tea on a chair within ten feet of him. He was reading a five-cent book entitled Maxims of Napoleon. He had no use whatever for the Corsican. He considered him a scoundrel. What puzzled and intrigued him was that such a scoundrel should have been so philosophically wise.
"A guy who didn't have to be a king, but went and was one—a guy who might ha' been a poet, but who went and was a politician—a guy who could have had it easy, and who went to Roosia—just imagine that—was crazy. He was as crazy as this here elephant was yesterday. He ran amok through Europe. Yet he talked wise. Get this one: 'It is much wiser to despise the judgments of certain men than to seek to demonstrate their insignificance and versatility.' True, ain't it? Yet the guy who said it lets the English ship him off to St. Helena jes' as simple minded as a communist asking the cops for board an' lodging!—It 'ud be like me if I should ask that balm for an introduction to an easy billet."
That last thought was brought into being by the sight of Chullunder Ghose on pony-back, riding toward him. Quorn stuffed the booklet in his pocket and studied the man. He noticed that the pony was tired. The babu needed shaving. He dismounted without betraying fatigue, but his eyes looked as if he might have been up all night. Somebody brought him a chair. He demanded a cup and saucer and drank some of Quorn's tea while they stared at each other in silence.
"I wouldn't trust you," the babu said at last, "with one small secret. You're a moralist. You believe in righteousness. Same is the excuse which solemn nobodies depend on to explain their unscrupulous acts. You are a prig with irreligious eyes—in other words a fraud. I get you."
"What would you call yourself?" Quorn retorted, charging his pipe with his thumb.
Chullunder Ghose finished the tea and then stared at the leaves in the teacup before he answered:
"Mark Twainian definition fits me as its own skin fits a herring. An honest man, said Mark Twain, is a hellion who will stay bought. That is what is known as verb sap."
"Uh-huh? Some one bought you lately?" Quorn asked.
"No, not lately," said the babu. "I could find no purchaser. So I bought myself—long ago. I paid a high price. And I have stayed bought like any other trouble that was in the market."
Quorn stared, smoking, leaning on his elbows. He signed to a mahout to bring grass for Asoka.
"Go on," he said. "Are you the man that Maharajah said he'd send to talk to me? I'm listening, but I'm believing nothing."
"Good, then I can tell the truth." Chullunder Ghose opened his black sunshade and balanced it over his shoulder against the rising sun. That gave him an advantage; he could watch Quorn's face, whereas his own was in shadow—not that Quorn cared. "The truth is only dangerous when somebody believes it," he went on. "I was cheap at the price, and the price was a high old time, by Jiminy. I have had it. And there is worse to come."
"Yes, best time ever. Good time depends on upsetting equilibrium of status quo and vested interests, like bull in china-shop. Everything else is mere morality. You had a good time yesterday. So did the elephant."
"Yes you did. You didn't know it, that's all. Soft snap now is staring at you, but you can't see."
"I can see you're a crook," Quorn answered.
The babu nodded. "That is what exasperates me," he admitted. "You have enough intelligence to see that, yet you lack imagination. You, with your advantages! Excuse me if I smile. It is to save myself from weeping for you hypocritically. Hypocrisy is the only vice I don't permit myself."
"Advantages? Me?" Quorn thumbed his pipe and lighted it again. "If you knew, you wouldn't talk such boloney. I was a poor lad. Mother took in laundry. Since I was fourteen I've had one mean job after another, on account that my eyes scared even me when I looked in a looking-glass. I've got me a sort of education, but it gets me nowhere. You don't know what tough luck is."
"Perhaps not," said the babu. "I was only failed B.A., Calcutta University. I was expected to raise a family on Rupees thirty- five per month less fines for indiscretions. Am indiscretionist by nature. Solemn stupidity stirs my soul to Rabelaisian amusement. There were so many fines in consequence that I was owing the treasury money every pay-day. I assure you a sense of humor is a bad thing for a failed B.A., in a country ruled by white man's burden-bearers. Once the English get to India they seem to think that Rudyard Kipling wrote them; so unless you can get them to laugh at themselves they are so self-conscious that they creak like rusty bed-springs. Only one in two dozen can laugh at himself; that makes all the rest regard him as a bounder, so he has no influence. It was no use. I had to eschew respectability, and I have been happy ever since, all things by turns and nothing long, like U.S.A. American politics. I have been wayside conjurer—secret service agent—salesman of spells and potions—twice to the United States as lecturer on magic—twice deported on the ground of too hot competition with the native clergy—twice to Tibet—twice around the world. I know eight languages, Charlie Chaplin, Trotsky, Aimee Semple MacPherson and Albert Einstein. I have owned a hundred thousand dollars in actual money for several months. I have been in jail in seven countries. I have had a Chinese mistress and a Jewish secretary. I have been the intimate friend of men and women who walked this earth like gods. And I have been patronized by pompous and expensive nobodies. I have been to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, where I was mistaken for a Maharajah. I have been up in airplanes, and down in submarines. I have been condemned to death twice by angry governments and kissed on both cheeks by a Frenchman. I was run out of Russia, bare-footed over the snow through a forest, on an empty stomach. I have dined on ortolans in Paris, on rotten eggs in Pekin, and on raw wind to the northward of Lhassa."
"You seem to have seized your opportunities," said Quorn incautiously.
"They seized me." Chullunder Ghose paused. "I was a tidbit in their talons." He paused again. "But never saw I such an opportunity as this one."
"Purchasing agent, eh? I don't doubt there's graft. Watch out you don't lose your job."
Chullunder Ghose smiled, as one would at a child who spoke ingenuously. "Graft?" he answered. "Graft is for such as would cheat themselves at solitaire! Myself am cosmic opportunist, eager for gargantuan enjoyment. Graft is mouse-trap bait. It catches little mice like moralists and hypocrites, who are the self-same leopard with the spots exaggerated. No self-respecting immoralist could condescend to be a grafter. Graft is a system of petty rewards for pikers, such as noblemen, politicos and similar mistakes of nature. Graft is self-humiliation on the easy payment plan. Are you a grafter?"
"No," said Quorn, "I never had a chance to graft but once. I passed that chance up. Not that it's any o' your business."
"Graft," remarked the babu, "is the grave of opportunity. But perhaps you don't know a verb sap when you see one. Did you ever hear of the boy who struck the winning blow at Bunker Hill?"
"No, never heard of him."
"Have you heard of the cow that kicked the lamp that burned the house that Jack built? Have you seen Chicago? All due to a cow! Have you seen London? All due to a baker's ash- box—Pudding Lane to Pie Corner, all one ash-heap—all one cosmic opportunity. But perhaps you don't know history? Have you heard of Mahatma Gandhi's false teeth? He has had them made for him in prison by an expert dentist, as a signal that he means to starve himself to death. What do you think of that one?"
"I'd call that contrariness o' disposition."
The babu looked grieved by such stupidity. "Contrariness," he said, "is your complaint, Gandhi is a G. B. Shaw in bathing trunks without the whiskers to get in his way. He would rather die than lose, and he looks like losing, so why not die spectacularly? But if he wins, he's in training for dinner; he'll need teeth, so he gets some good ones. Gandhi is pure paradoxist. You are prudish, Pollyanna-minded quidnunc. You have been in training during many lean years to embrace an opportunity, and here is opportunity. You seem to think it is an opportunity to fiddle while India burns! You are a cow with a lamp all ready to be kicked, but you let it burn you instead of the barn! You have a chance to be a corner-stone of history. You can be laid with dignity, good humor and perhaps with profit. You prefer to be a Maharajah's goat, deported to save him trouble!"
That was a shrewd thrust. Quorn stiffened at the thought of that indignity.
"What's your lay-out?" he demanded. And he knocked out his pipe on the heel of his boot—a symptom that the babu noticed, analyzed and remembered for future reference. For the moment the babu merely remarked:
"It seems a pity they should shoot this elephant."
Quorn swallowed that too, hook, line and sinker. "Who says who'll do that? The Maharajah said he'd kill any one who dared try to shoot him."
"O-o-oh?" exclaimed the babu. "O-o-o-h! So you're as innocent as all that? You should go back to the U.S.A. United States and vote for prohibition! Do you really believe—that the word of a prince—in a tight place—is a rain-check? It is as breakable, I tell you, as the Ten Commandments! It is as worthless as a bankrupt's promissory note! It is worth exactly as much as a priest's forgiveness! That a man with such eyes as yours should be so innocent! Oh, what a life! What disillusionments! What waste of energy and plasm, that evolution, in a billion years, should breed no better than the face of Gunga sahib with the brains of a lump of institution pudding! That I should live to see it! Ignominy!"
"Whose ignominy?" Quorn demanded. He was skeptically curious. His wits were in low gear, racing to ascend to heights of more Olympian comprehension.
"Mine—-mine—mine!" said the babu, almost tearfully. "Should I give a damn for your ignominy? Besides, you haven't any. To have ignominy, one must have intelligence and self-respect. It is otherwise as marmalade to moonshine—neither is even aware of the other. Oh, the shame—the shame of it! I said to her, you have imagination. I staked my intelligence on it. I said: 'sahiba, there are no gods. There is no such thing as destiny. There is a word that covers this, which only Germans or the Chinese could appreciate—Comicosmiccoincidentalfortuity. The Law of Improbability, that governs the drawing of sweepstake tickets, has functioned. Unworthy aggregates of atoms though we are, Humor has attracted to us some one who would rather die than double- cross your Highness.' She did not know what double-cross means. I told her that to you the word means worse than alimony, worse than bugs in boarding-houses. I said 'Ben Quorn will desert neither you nor the elephant, whatever happens.' Oh well—I eat ashes. It is not the first time."
"I believe you'd double-cross your own self, you're that crooked," Quorn answered. "I wouldn't take your word for twice two. But she's a right nice young lady. I wouldn't see harm done to her, if I could help it. But I'd have to have her word on it. I wouldn't take yours. Have you come from her or from the Maharajah?"
"Am diplomatist," the babu answered. "Same means double-headed eagle looking both ways, sitting on two horns of a dilemma and on both sides of a fence. It isn't easy. However, the word is all over the City that you are Gunga sahib. It is very funny. The Maharajah was drunk when he met you at the palace gate. But he was not yet too drunk; and I had whispered to him. So he asked those priests who forced their way in, whether or not you are Gunga sahib. They said Yes, because they had no time to think; the crowd was demonstrating, and I was outside telling the crowd what words to yell. It happened he was very angry with the agents of the Maharajah of Bohutnugger, who have been giving themselves great airs and demanding too much money. Therefore what I whispered to him sunk in. Being drunk enough, he sent a scandalously unimportant messenger to tell those agents they may go home, seeing that his precious daughter is now next thing to a goddess and therefore much too good for such a brute as Bohutnugger."
"What's wrong with that?" Quorn asked. "She doesn't have to marry Bluebeard. Sounds all right to me."
"Oh? Does it? Can't a Maharajah sober up? He has been interviewing priests all night long. Priests don't like miracles that happen. They prefer miracles that are said to have happened, somewhere else and long ago. They see the difficulties. This babu is Difficulty-specialist—fathead maybe, but first-class fisherman in troubled water—up all night long spreading propaganda, promising the people celebrations, fireworks, a procession, free food, all the elements of jubilee. And they forget it will be paid for from the taxes. Also have been sending messages to her by female courier. Consequently, she demands her freedom. She demands elaborate establishment of precedent. She insists she shall ride through the streets of Narada unveiled, escorted by the troops. And the priests forbid it. Why not? They stand to lose everything. They say that you and the elephant ought to be killed. She should be made so sacred that no one ever may see her again. They have a holy hole to put her into, down under the temple crypt, where several saints have earned immortality by being lousy and hungry."
Quorn relighted his pipe. "The hell they say it. Well, I reckon I can die game. Him and me—he glanced at old Asoka, who was calmly tossing tufts of hay on to his head and shoulders—him and me can cut loose any time we're minded. Bring on your priests; I'll talk to 'em. But how about the lady? Is that father o' hers so skeered o' priests he'll hand her over?"
The babu shook his head. "It's no use," he said sadly. "I couldn't trust you. I must send word to her to be brave. She will die dreadfully, but death is nothing."
Quorn stood up. He faced the babu. He put his pipe in his pocket. He clenched his fists. He thrust aside the babu's sunshade, so that they could see each other.
"Look here," he demanded, "who—said—who—can't— trust—me?"
"Don't be ridiculous," said the babu. "Danger is danger. Fear is fear. Why not admit it?"
"God damn your soul to hell," said Quorn. "You name your bet! I'll show you who's afraid of priests, or you or anyone!"
"Perhaps you are not afraid of me, because I am a benevolent elderly gent," said the babu. "And perhaps you are not yet afraid of the priests, because you are ignorant. But you are afraid of that elephant, because you know he is dangerous. You would not dare to ride him to the city and let me show you something."
"Is that so?" Quorn answered.
THERE was nothing the head mahout could do about it, except sulk, vow vengeance, and then put on his best clothes and walk to the palace to complain that his honor was dead. Quorn had ordered a pad put on Asoka, and the helpers had not dared to disobey him. He mounted, with the babu on the pad behind him looking beneath his sunshade like a fat, benignant deity, and off they went toward the city. Quorn was silent—more scared than he was willing to admit, even to himself. He made no comments on the babu's chatter. Not guessing that inscrutable aloofness was the surest means of involving himself deeper in the toils of an ancient legend, he did not even acknowledge the crowd's obeisances. He hoped they might grow tired of demonstration if he took no notice. He was wondering about his job at the mission, and watching the elephant. Asoka obeyed perfectly, but Quorn was skeptical and on the alert for symptoms of another outbreak, at the same time mildly appreciative of the babu's courage. Surely there could not be many people who would have taken a ride on that elephant after the previous day's tantrum.
"Did you ever see a tiger?" asked the babu, chatting away like a fat old woman at a picnic. "They are outsize pussy cats that look like fire on four legs. They have 54 fangs. They have claws and they can use both, believe me. But they are not as dangerous as elephants. An elephant has intellect, and he can crush like an Englishman snubbing an upstart."
Quorn had seen plenty of tigers in circuses. They had never meant much to him, and he betrayed no interest in them now. He wasn't specially interested in the English either; they were all of them pretty much George the Thirds, except the ones who dropped their aitches, and those were all on the dole. His attention was fully occupied. The streets were crowded and narrow; numbers of fools appeared almost to wish that Asoka would trample them. It was a phase of Oriental superstition that Quorn had never quite believed was true, although he had read about the Car of Juggernaut and similar relics of antiquity that stir emotional excess. He had heard too of the unarmed crowds that hurl themselves against the armed police in ecstasies of "passive" protest. He discovered, however, that if he shouted they would clear the way; his voice, if he pitched it carefully, held almost as much mysterious authority as his goat-like eyes did. Against his will he had been obliged to wear yesterday's turban, because he had had no time to buy a new helmet and he was afraid of the sun. The babu had bound the turban on properly and had slyly touched his forehead with a little carmine, so that he looked exactly as the day before, except for a clean shirt, open at the neck, revealing sun-burned skin. He had no idea where they were going. He doubted the wisdom of going anywhere at the babu's instigation. However, he let the babu direct him toward a part of the city he had not yet seen, and, doubting the outcome, hoped it might not be too awful.
"To estimate effectiveness of diplomatic dodges," said the babu, "one should multiply the speed by the unexpectedness, then add the square of one's opponent's tendency to be conservative. Divide that by the number of fools who are in your confidence, and then you know the odds against you. If it figures as odds on, change the plan immediately. Odds on chances usually fail because Perversity is same as Destiny, and Destiny is what you call horse-feathers. Odds on chances also are corrupters of imagination. I intend to introduce you to a Derby-sweepstake- ticket shot—about a million to one."
Gambling was out of Quorn's line. He had never even won a raffle. If he had any opinion about it at all, he would probably have said gambling is wicked or antisocial. But the subject did not interest him. He continued calling to the crowd to get out of the way.
"Perversity," remarked the babu, "being omnipresent, sits on fence and saddens prospects quite impartially. You and I are not monopolists of evil. Enemy shares same fifty-fifty. Thus it happens there is no one at the Residency, which is good for us and bad for crackpots who believe in cricket—same being English for puss-in-the-corner according to Hoyle, who was a doctrinaire. And doctrinaires are like Napoleon's cannon that stuck in the mud en route to Waterloo. A British Resident, just now, would be a Blücher in the wrong box. He would put out the fire and filch the chestnuts. God in gray silk reach-me-downs would be a tolerant and unconventionally easy-going look-the- other-wayish humorist compared to the kind of British Resident they send to this sort of place. There is a new one coming. I have never heard of him. But I will bet you he is some one they have relegated to obscurity until he can be pensioned in usual course. They need their good men to resist the passive calm that Gandhi whooped up. A good Englishman is an incorruptible opportunist with iron bowels and a sense of humor. But this will be a middle-class Englishman, with middle-class morals and a middle-class horror of innovations and responsibility for same. He will have middle-class notions of dignity. He will say no with an air of firmness, to everything, because he is afraid to say yes. He will know eight antediluvian jokes and he will tell them tiresomely. He will disapprove of you, of me, and of everything else that is irregular. So we have thirteen days in which to play Perversity against the bank. Winner take all. I wish you kindly to observe that carving."
They were half-way down a long street that is called the Pul- ke-nichi, meaning "underneath the bridge." It is the street where the fortune tellers and the nostrum sellers do a roaring business, in between the offices of money-lenders and the lairs of ladies of the oldest trade on earth. It is a narrow, smelly, noisy, interesting street. The ancient stone bridge crosses from one temple to another, and the street dives under it in gloom that could hide a hundred murderers, but they are only cripples and homeless pariahs who sleep there. The bridge is beautiful, because time has smoothed it and obliterated all the builder's sins of over-decoration. The two temples that it connects are together known as Kali's Bosom, because they stand on two, low, rounded hillocks. But the bridge has been blocked at either end for centuries. The rival priesthoods quarreled. Grass has grown in the cracks of the limestone. Doves build their nests on the shoulders of gods and goddesses that face each other inward from the parapets on either side. It is an act of impiety nowadays to cross the bridge; men even smear a little carmine on the wall before they pass beneath it, lest ill luck happen. It is said all sorts of evil spirits haunt the neighborhood where priests have excommunicated one another.
Carved on one side of the ancient limestone arch, where slanting sunlight stabbed into the smelly gloom, there was a figure of a tiger being led into what looked like a temple doorway. He was being led by a lady. The lady wore jeweled anklets. The tiger had on a collar, and she led him with her left hand. In her right hand were flowers. Quorn halted Asoka to stare at the carving, and that caused quite a sensation in the crowded street. The babu, flourishing his sunshade, delivered what appeared to be a lecture to the crowd. It was received with rapt attention.
"Now let's go," said the babu finally. "Enough is just a leetle too much. Always omit the explanation if you wish to stir imaginations. Forward!"
They passed under the bridge and emerged in sunlight, Quorn observing over-shoulder that the babu's words were being repeated to fresh arrivals on the scene. There was almost a mob back there; it was too interested or excited to pay any attention at all to the incompetent police.
"Vox populi vox dei," said the babu. "That means anyone who cares may make the laws, if I may cultivate the superstitions."
Then at last Quorn spoke to him: "Your time's up. Either you talk horse, or else get down and walk. You hear me?"
"First talk tiger," said the babu. "You have seen the carving of that virgin on the bridge. She is the self-same Princess Sankyamuni whom the Gunga sahib rescued. It is part of the same legend, that after the elephant slew the Gunga sahib she was thrown into a tiger's den within a courtyard of this temple on your right hand. But it is said she tamed the tiger. It is said she led him forth, across the bridge, into that other temple on your left hand. Do you get the sweet significance?"
"Not yet," said Quorn. "You talk. I'll listen."
"I was just now telling all those people not to let the priests deceive them. I informed them that the priests are jealous and will say you are not the real Gunga sahib, nor is she the real Sankyamuni. I suggested, however, that if she is the real Sankyamuni they will soon know it, because of course she will fulfill all the prophetic legend, not only half of it."
Quorn came out of his mood; he was horrified out of it. "You mean she has to tame a tiger?"
"You must," said the babu, "unless she is to be eaten."
"Then she gets et," Quorn conceded.
The babu sighed, then continued: "In that temple on your right hand is a very sacred tiger, said to be so savage that only his keeper can approach his cage, which is set in the opening of a passage leading to the crypt, said passage consequently being free from trespass. Don't you see how eagerly the priests will leap at the suggestion that the real Sankyamuni should tame that tiger? Let her lead him across the parapet, into that temple beyond the bridge, and thus fulfill the legend. Priests are always reasonable."
"Is she silly ass enough to try it?" Quorn asked.
"If she doesn't," said the babu, "love's young dream of liberty is what a Russian calls kaput, like Five-Year Plan statistics. And unless she does same sooner than the British Resident arrives, she will be stopped before she starts—and you will be deported as a fraud who tampered with the local superstitions."
Quorn forgot his incredulity. "Hell," he demanded, "will her father let her do it?"
"Will he not! When was a throne less valuable than a naughty daughter?" asked the babu. "Morals are elastic. It is only economics that are intransigent. Her father will try to bargain with the priests for quid pro quo-ish terms which either side will hope to force the other to observe, and he will then get beautifully pie-eyed."
"But it's murder," said Quorn.
"No, it's morals," the babu corrected. "Anything done in the name of religion is moral. Didn't you know that? And besides, the Maharajah will conservatively give a little money to the gods to make a miracle. He doesn't believe in miracles. But he does believe in Lord God Alibi—like Admiral Nelson seeing signals."
"Aren't the British Christians?" Quorn demanded. "How about it, when the missionaries hear o' this?"
"The Maharajah will refer them to the story about Abraham and Isaac," said the babu.
"That won't get him nowhere."
"Very likely not. He knows a Christian's religion is the same as anybody's—words adroitly strung together to excuse mendacity. But did you ever know a criminal who did not over-play his knowledge?"
Quorn conceived a sudden idea. "Tell you what," he said, "I'll let you in on this. You and I'll split the credit. Let's hit the pike. It's only seventy miles to rail-head, and this elephant's fit to make that in a day and a night. Let's get to rail-head and send a hell of a long telegram to the British, at Delhi or wherever they keep their head man. That'll stop it. There'll be troops here in a jiffy."
"Look at me," the babu answered. "Look quick. Do I look like a fool?"
"You look crooked. I could see that, and I said so, first time me and you met," Quorn retorted.
"But do I look simple? Do I look like a reformer-—or a tittle-tattle-tell-tale—or a player of penny-a-hundred Old Maid? Listen to me: I have been a thousand things, and three of them were good enough to live for. But I have never yet been a Prime Minister. I intend to be one. Do you think I would let a respectable ignoramus with ratty morals stand in my way for a minute? Krishna! Disillusionize yourself!"
"I'm mission caretaker. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Me and tigers don't mix," Quorn retorted.
"Nevertheless," said the babu, "we have given that head mahout plenty of time to reach the palace and complain against you. I should say the Maharajah will immediately order you deported. You will be assassinated on your way to rail-head."
"Why should I be murdered?" Quorn asked, angrily because he could feel he was losing confidence.
"To prevent you from sending telegrams!" the babu answered. "As for me, in my opinion, murder would be too good for a moralist who would leave a lovely woman to be given the works, as will happen to her if you fail her."
"Damn your eyes, stop calling me a moralist!"
"Stop being one."
"Does that there Maharajah mean to shoot this elephant?"
"He will do as the priests instruct him, unless you are sensible."
"What d'you mean, sensible?"
"Listen: self am soloist on harp of opportunity. Emotional attachment to yourself, or admiration of your brains is not a motive that emasculates my purpose. As for you, to hell with you, unless you have some guts and affability. You get that? Get this also. To succeed, I have to make you useful."
"Meaning telepathic insight into such malignity as might destroy your usefulness to me. You yokel! Can I have my cake and eat it? Can I throw away my ace of trumps and win the rubber? Can I let you down and set myself up?"
"We are going to the palace. We will speak to the Maharajah. Trust me, and I promise you a red-hot time, by Jiminy, plus self- approval, which is Nature's niftiest reward. Oppose me, and I guarantee you self-contempt, opprobrium, oblivion and Amen. Am a good prognosticator."
"You're a good slick promiser," said Quorn. "Promises are easier broke than kept. Can you save this elephant?"
"He is damned if I don't," said the babu.
"Shucks—I'll try you. Save the elephant, and I'll trust you one move more. Make good again, and I'll trust you again. Take that or leave it."
"I accept—your manners are so gracious," said the babu. "I will show you fun as long as you are on the level—"
"Cut that," Quorn growled over-shoulder. "Which way to the palace?"
THE Maharajah never received anyone within the palace, except political priests and perfumed ladies. He had had an overdose of priests and almost no sleep. The very mention of a woman made him blasphemous. So he decided to tackle the problem of public immorality and went to the lodge in the grounds to give audience and grind out justice. Unconscious realism made him wear a yellow turban that morning, with brownish spots that suggested the state of his liver. He found himself immediately besieged by petitioners begging for compensation for damage done by the royal elephant on the previous day. There had been plenty of time to use imaginations and to suborn witnesses. The total amount of the claims was almost astronomical. The Maharajah's temper had become volcanic by the time Asoka swayed along the sunlit drive between the splendid beds of cannas and came to a casual standstill.
"There the brute is," said the Maharajah. "You may have him. Shoot him—sell him—skin him alive—he's all you get. The law is, that you can't claim higher compensation than the value of the instrument that caused the damage."
That was not the law, nor was it justice, and the claimants knew that. But they also knew the Maharajah's offer was a trifle less outrageous than their own exaggerated total. There was plenty of room for negotiation.
Time was no object. It is Eastern custom that a ruler shall be democratically liberal of audience even if free with insulting epithets and furiously unjust. The entire crowd squatted on its hunkers to await the drama of debate and the gradual seesaw evolution of an artful compromise.
Chullunder Ghose descended by Asoka's tail, one-handed, as active as a pot-bellied Japanese wrestler. His little black sunshade looked like an absurd parachute. He closed it with a flourish, faced the marble balustrade of the audience lodge, and bowed to the Maharajah as profoundly as if the divine right of kings were his whole religion.
"You swag-bellied rogue, what evil news have you brought?" the Maharajah demanded, and his secretaries grinned at one another. Quorn felt thoroughly ill at ease. What chance had either he or the elephant if the babu was out of favor? The secretaries seemed confident, and glad of it, that the babu would be sharply reprimanded, if not worse. But the babu's mellow baritone went booming along the three-foot pavement that split the crowd down the midst like parted hair. The native language lends itself to melodrama. Vowels open gates of grandeur for the consonants to tramp through like a bristling army on the march.
"O Heavenborn, I bring important tidings! It is not this babu's privilege to spread abroad what wisdom may prefer to guard with silence."
The Maharajah scowled. "I'm busy," he answered haughtily.
"Forever caring for this people's needs!" the babu ventured, marvelously tinting flattery with pastel-shaded ridicule. "Time is busy also."
"Time should have tripped your mother. You would have been better still-born," said the Maharajah.
"The Heavenborn knows best," the babu answered. "Is not trouble also better still-born? This babu knows many ways of aborting trouble. As for time—perhaps your Highness can delay that?"
"Curse you," said the Maharajah.
"I am cursed into oblivion, if wisdom says so."
So the babu bowed himself away and turned Asoka by the trunk toward the main gate. But he walked extremely slowly. It was the easiest thing in the world for anyone to overtake him. A hurrying servant, to whom the Maharajah whispered, and who escaped from the lodge by a back door, reached a clump of cannas by a winding path and hid himself behind the blazing flowers more than sixty seconds before Asoka drew abreast. He only said one word, and no one answered him; but the babu took Asoka by the trunk again and led him along a by-path that circled S-wise toward splendid trees, and a stone wall, and a graveled roadway. They entered a little compound, where there was hay to keep Asoka interested, and a rope to keep him anchored. There was also the head mahout's chore-boy in charge of his master's slippers. Quorn tossed him a quarter-rupee and ordered him to mind the elephant. The babu led on, through a high door in a wall, so rapidly that Quorn could hardly keep pace. He had no chance to ask questions. Dignity warned him not to run, and he was almost breathless from walking so fast, when at last he overtook the babu in a little private garden at the back of the audience lodge.
"What's your hurry?" he grumbled.
"Horoscopically speaking, we are seven seconds early," said the babu, glancing at a wrist-watch. "Talking, however, in terms of physics, I prefer to see him first, before he sees me. You act naturally. I act supernaturally. Never mind me. Nature, if permitted to direct my actions, might make horrible mistakes. I see him coming. Stand still."
Chullunder Ghose disappeared behind a clump of bougainvillæa. Quorn awaited the Maharajah, who strode along whacking an English riding-boot with a whip of rhinoceros-hide.
"You're a bully," thought Quorn to himself. "But you can't bully me. I'll take no dirt from any man." However, he remembered manners. He stepped to one side of the path in case the Maharajah should have it in mind to keep on walking. That gave the Maharajah opportunity to play a favorite trick. He drew abreast as if he were hardly aware of Quorn's existence. Then, as if expecting to be murdered, he suddenly turned and faced him, half- raising the hand that held the riding-whip.
"Well?" he demanded. "What do you want?"
"Plain talk," said Quorn, unflinching.
"You shall have it!" The Maharajah beckoned. Solemnly, savagely, sneering and stealthy as hell, the head mahout came out of hiding from behind the statue of a dancing goddess. He began to speak so rapidly that Quorn understood hardly a word. But he gestured, he spat, he accused, he pointed, he glared with bloodshot eyes, and there was no doubt he was not exactly praising Quorn for anything.
"You understand him?" asked the Maharajah.
"Yep, I dessay. Is he asking for a loan of a punch on the nose, or something?"
"He says, yesterday you purposely caused that elephant to scare my horse, and that you tried to make him trample me. He says you made the elephant do all the damage possible; and that now you have stolen the elephant, for mysterious reasons."
"Do you believe him?" Quorn asked.
"He has been my servant for eleven years. Why shouldn't I believe him?" asked the Maharajah.
Quorn looked him straight in the eyes. "Perhaps you do," he answered. "You don't look to me such a damned fool as that. I'd give you credit for more sense."
The Maharajah hesitated, showing his teeth between a smile and a snarl. "Where is that rotten rogue, Chullunder Ghose?" he demanded.
The babu stepped out from behind the bushes, speaking English: "Seize your opportunity and sack that scoundrel, Heavenborn! Five times I have caught him selling stores. I tell you, listen to me! Don't waste time. I know what I am urging. I accept responsibility. You sack him now and trust me to explain it to you afterwards!"
The Maharajah flicked his front teeth with a thumb-nail. Suddenly he shrugged his shoulders, turned toward the head mahout and struck him savagely, raising a welt on his neck with the riding-whip. He cursed him and called to his servants to kick the man out of the grounds.
"And now what?" he demanded. "Justify it, or you get the same dose." But Chullunder Ghose seemed unperturbed. There was a slightly perceptible change in the Maharajah's eyes as he watched the babu's face. If not afraid of him, he was at least not free from premonition. "What is your news?"
"That there are thirteen days before the Resident will be here!"
"Idiot! I knew that."
"There are thirteen days in which to break the power of the priests, and be the real instead of the nominal ruler of Narada!"
"What are you driving at, damn you?"
"Thirteen days before a Resident arrives to frown on all political activity! Thirteen days for a bid for power!"
It was surely not the same babu whom Quorn had doubted and defied! He was vibrant. He was passionate. If roguery was in him, it was overrun by vehement and iron-willed courage. He was stirring to watch. Enthusiasm bristled from him and excited a response.
"Are you a man?" he asked the Maharajah.
"Are you capable of advising me?" came the answer, slow, doubt-laden. "Is your plan safe?"
"Safety?" said the babu. "Oh my faith in princes! Listen to me. Twice in all your life your Highness has been spoken to as I speak!" He lined himself up by Quorn. "This man spoke as I do. He was unafraid, as I am also. I, who have doubled your Highness' income by reducing theft and bribery, am I less to be trusted than the priests who hunger for your money? Or than the ministers who betray your secrets to the priests and to the British Resident?"
The Maharajah stroked his chin and studied the babu's face beneath lowered eyelids.
"It was you," he said, "who were the cause of yesterday's abominable outrage."
Up went the babu's hands. His blazing eyes grew round with indignant protest. "By whatever is that's holy, I declare I never dreamed of it," he answered. "It was all an accident. But did I take advantage of it? Did I, or did I not commit the priests to a mistake? Didn't they call this man the Gunga sahib? Didn't this man play his part? If you are fit to be a Maharajah, he and I are fit to fool those priests a little farther and to make them kiss feet! Is it pleasant to be tamed and sneeringly humiliated by shaven ecclesiastics?"
Hatred glinted in the Maharajah's eyes at mention of the priests. But he bit at his knuckles, hesitating. "You have raised up my Calamity against me," he said, sucking at his teeth. Custom forbade him to mention the sex or the name of his child in the presence of men.
The babu bore him down by vehemence and weight of will. "Do you believe," he asked, "that you can conquer that by crushing it? Can't it appeal to the Resident when he gets here?"
The Maharajah bit his fingernails and swore beneath his breath. "Then you suggest what?"
"There are thirteen days in which to trap the priests into a public and disastrous error. Should that individual of whom we speak ridiculously blunder into one trap with the priests, is that a thought that shocks your Highness?"
"I have no son," said the Maharajah.
"May your Highness live to have a hundred," said the babu, bowing.
"Why this curiously fervent zeal for my cause?" the Maharajah demanded. "You want what?"
"Your Highness' happiness, prosperity and ever-increasing influence!" the babu answered, bowing again. "As chief of your Highness' ministers of state, it would be less a duty than a priceless privilege to work unceasingly to that end."
"I might try you, if you prove you're worth it," said the Maharajah, "but I suspect you of treachery."
"How could that benefit me?" the babu asked him, and the Maharajah nodded.
"Get me into trouble and you'll know what trouble is," he said darkly. "What do you suggest that I should do now?"
"Play for safety," said the babu. "Your Highness may remember that a rather recent ancestor was slain by a frenzied elephant. The head mahout is discharged. Respectfully I recommend this person for the post of master of the royal elephants."
The Maharajah stared at Quorn. "Do you want the job?"
Quorn nodded. He was too excited to trust his voice.
"Since that will be defiance of the priests, I beg your Highness," said the babu, "not to weaken when they protest, but to count on public sentiment."
Quorn trusted his voice at last. "I'll need a contract," he interrupted.
"So I suppose," said the Maharajah. "What else?"
"It would be fatal," said the babu, "absolutely fatal to refuse permission to a certain person to appear unveiled in public. I assure your Highness, it is too late now to close the purdah door. That hen has flew the coop as U.S.A. United Statesian diplomatist would asseverate. The clever thing to do, is to provide an opportunity for blunders, same as Mexican police suggesting to a thief that he may go free."
The Maharajah nodded. "She must not be shot!" he said severely. "Anything that happens to her must be obviously accidental."
Chullunder Ghose beamed. "Your Highness is a statesman," he said with an air of cordial approval.
"Prove yourself to be one, and perhaps I may promote you," said the Maharajah. Then he eyed Quorn critically. "How about that elephant? Can you answer for him?"
"If I get a contract sealed and swore to, I'll live up to it," Quorn answered. He smelt treachery. He trusted no one.
"If your Highness will permit it," said the babu, "I will tell all those petitioners that they should put their claims in writing and submit the same to me as arbiter. I will reduce the claims to reasonable proportions, and then find a way to pay them that will not reduce your income."
Visibly gratified, the Maharajah scowled to conceal the fact. He nodded with an air of hesitancy. "What else?"
"Pray permit me to be provocative agent of conspiracy to modernize Narada."
"At your own risk!"
"I shall have to interview the principal offender."
"At your own risk!"
"But I have your Highness' leave to do it?"
"At your own risk!"
"Am a risqué babu. I ask leave to go now."
"R-r-ruksa!" said his Highness.
CHULLUNDER GHOSE mingled with the crowd in front of the audience lodge. Quorn watched him, not exactly admiring the babu's method but admitting to himself at least that there was "something in it." Huge though the babu was, and pompous though he could be, he was as ingratiating as a puppy when it suited his purpose.
"Wisht I was half as affable," said Quorn to himself, grudgingly. He watched the change in the petitioners' psychology as the babu moved from one group to another and engaged them in conversation. "But he's a con man. He'd sell counterfeit bills to a Revenue Dick. He'd argue Andy Mellon into buying phoney sweepstake tickets. He's a bad egg. Less I have to do with him the better."
Nevertheless, Quorn waited for him. He would not have admitted it, but he felt actually friendly when the crowd began to break up and go home, and the babu rejoined him at last. It was so long since he had intimately talked with anyone, except one-eyed Moses, that his natural resistance had weakened. Common fairness, too, obliged him to admit to himself that the babu had got him a job that was better than anything he had ever dreamed of. One thought at a time was Quorn's method, and the more important problem first; so, as he walked beside the babu, he broached his subject without preliminaries.
"How'll I get around my mission contract? Can't exit and leave nobody there to caretake. I'm on oath to observe that agreement faithful."
"Contracts are same as religion," said the babu. "They have many meanings. Let me see yours. Oaths are like the Constitution of the U.S.A. United States; interpretation normally depends on kind of coffee oathees had for breakfast. I will criticize your contract, same as colored person studying amendment giving him a vote and taking away liquor—maybe. That is easy. We will first do something difficult."
Quorn jibbed. "Hey, you paddle your own canoe. I'm no conspirator. Politics ain't in my line."
"If you were a politician," the babu answered, "I would impolitely pay your fare to hell as soon as possible. Politics are hellish but present no difficulties. A conspirator is a fool with a Freudian inferiority complex that obliges him to act like Guy Fawkes on a powder barrel. Difficulties are the food of daring, and daring is TNT. I only know of three real difficulties. One is, to restrain intelligence from being too smart. Another is, to use stupidity and not be tangled by it. And the third is to manage a woman who is intelligent enough to know she is ignorant but stupid enough to be honest. Do you remember Cinquevalli? He could juggle a cannon-ball, an open umbrella and a half-sheet of crumpled paper at one and same time while he grinned at audience. Am Cinquevallian exponent of a metaphysical conception of the same trick. Am a G. B. Shavian diplomatist with easy morals and a Rabelaisian delight in truth, whoever tells it. Truth is only palatable to intelligence, so don't you meddle with it. Always lie about me. I prefer that. My obliquity is such that I am happy unless some one knows the truth about me. My mendacity is most ingenious when hiding from myself my own opinion of me. You understand that? No? Well, watch this."
They had reached a corner of the palace where a high wall enclosed a garden and entirely shut off a view of any windows that might overlook it from that ancient and uninviting wing. It resembled a prison wall. There were sharp iron spikes along it. Trees inside the wall had been so clipped and pruned that they afforded no means of invasion. There was one door, tall and narrow, studded with iron nails, but it presented not even a keyhole to suggest that it was ever opened. There was a deathly silence, emphasized by the liquid song note of a mina, somewhere in a cage beyond the wall.
"Is this where that young lady has to live?" Quorn asked.
"It is where she dies," the babu answered. "Death and monotonous virtue are the same thing only more so. She has had a Swiss, a Swedish and a Cincinnati governess, but none of them could be so pure so permanently. I assure you, it is not opportunity but the absence of it that inserts the sting in chastity. A visitor or two, politely reprehensible but self- restrained, to make the governesses happy, might have saved our Sankyamuni from the solitude that frets her to such rebellion. Ah me! The Maharajah, too, was just a little tactless. Had he insulted them with money—who knows? But he honored them with offers of gratuitous amours. The governesses went away. Oh solitude, what crimes are born within thy cruel womb! She sees no one—no one!"
"Well, he told us you could see her."
"Same as keeper telling us to enter cage and pet some tigers! You suppose a Maharajah is a master in his own house? He is more like a man in delirium tremens swatting rats that won't obey him. Were you ever photographed? You stand still and watch for the birdie. Don't move. When you see the shutter open, keep on looking straight in front of you, and don't watch me."
He chose a good-sized lump of broken stone and used it on the door as if he meant to break his way in. He made a thunderous, scandalous noise. He kept it up for two or three minutes, then listened, threw the stone away and stepped aside, crowding himself against the wall. Quorn, straight in front of the door, stood as directed, arguing to himself that serious trouble could hardly come of standing still and doing nothing. But the truth was, he felt so curious that his spine tingled. He couldn't hear himself breathe.
There was a sound of creaky bolts at last. The door opened gingerly. A surly, angry voice demanded "Koi hai?" No answer. Then the door opened wide. A man stood framed in it who held an ancient sword which quivered in his right hand. His broken teeth, beneath a black moustache, were like the fangs of malice. He stared at Quorn, muttered, then swore aloud at him. Probably Quorn looked frightened, and perhaps he even took a half-step backwards. Either that, or else his own chained-watch-dog disposition, tempted the man to swagger forward to where he could swing the sword more easily. He fell—as sudden and as silent as a pole-axed beef—stunned by a blow on the back of the neck from the babu's left fist, that he used as Firpo once used his to club Jack Dempsey.
"Come on," said the babu calmly, "Bring the sword and lock the door."
He gathered up the fallen warrior as easily as if he had knocked out weight as well as consciousness. Inside the door there was a roofed passage, closed by another door at the far end. To the right was a small room containing a bench, a table, a water-jar and a roll of shabby bedding. Chullunder Ghose laid his victim on the table. He trussed him to it skilfully with the cord from the bedding roll and with the man's own turban that contained not less than thirty yards of thin, hand-woven silk. Then he locked the door on him and dropped the key out through a tiny iron-barred window high up in the passage wall.
"Are you afraid?" he asked Quorn.
"Me? Hell. What of? No. Why?"
"Liar," said the babu. Then he opened the door at the far end and, as casually as if he owned the place, led the way into the loveliest garden Quorn had ever seen. It was a blaze of color, and so silent that he felt like walking on tiptoe. The way the babu walked seemed sacrilegious, swaggering along a path between glorious roses, actually humming to himself and swinging his right arm like a senator rehearsing his speech on his way to the Capitol. Quorn followed, doubtful whether he had better keep his distance for safety's sake, or keep close to the babu for the same reason. He felt sure of nothing, except that he was going into danger. Self-respect did not permit him to desert the babu, no matter what might happen. But he was making a fool of himself; he knew that. It was not reassuring knowledge.
The path twisted and wound until it passed the corner of the palace wing and brought them to a green lawn watered by a maze of sprinklers that flung whirling cascades of diamonds above the sunlit green. There were splendid ancient trees there, and a fountain long ago imported by a prince who liked the realistic sort of Gallic nudity which leaves imagination nothing to invent. There was a Queen Anne window in a semi-Gothic, near-ecclesiastic addition to an Italian wall of the Neapolitan ice-cream Renaissance period, all grafted on to ancient mouse-gray masonry. Art for the love of opulence had had her innings. The Queen Anne window opened on a classical Greek portico with Corinthian marble columns and a Byzantine roof of fluted copper sheeting. Quorn was pop-eyed. So were several of the palace women; they were sunning themselves, unveiled, against the marble columns. Three of them fled indoors. One stood her ground, one rather older than the others; it was she who insolently asked the babu what he wanted.
Quorn knew enough of the language to follow the argument. The babu pointed to a little summer-house beyond the unchaste fountain. He declared he had the Maharajah's written order to discuss important business with the Princess. He would interview her in the summer-house, and she must waste no time, since the matter was urgent. Where was the written order? How did anyone suppose he could have got into the garden without giving up the order to the gate man?
"And besides," he added, in a lower voice that blended impudence and confidence, "are you her enemy? If I snap fingers there will be a change of women here in sixty minutes!"
Then he sat down, fat and friendly looking, on a marble pedestal beside the steps that led up to the portico. Quorn stood near him, sweating, too uncomfortable to explain his own sensations to himself.
"Taking chances, aren't we?" he suggested.
"Million to one shot!" said the babu. "Is that not ridiculous enough without hysterics also? Fortunately I am sleepy so I can't feel frightened. Should his Highness catch us, we are out of luck I tell you."
"Hell, he said for you to see her."
"Said the spider to the fly. Am using TNT-manship. It is the art of crashing thin ice to arrive at roots of riddles. As a skater I am no good. Can't trust ice or women. If that woman is as shrewd as you are nervous, we are likely to resemble nothing much in less than half-a-jiffy. Verb sap. Did I tie that gateman tight enough? If he should break loose—"
"Guess you killed him," said Quorn.
"Oh, I hope so! Did you ever kill a person? Murder is the only squeam remaining to me. As a composite immoralist one soon runs out of devilish sensations. As a solace, murder is dependable when all else seems so stupid. She is coming. I behold her. I regret to have to tell you that your fear was quite unnecessary. It is saddening to waste one's worst emotions on an empty nothing. I must hope to do a little better for you next time."
It was gradually dawning on Quorn's not too quick mind that behind a barricade of nonsense the babu was coolly intelligent. Unwilling to admit that he was beginning to like the man, he did feel less distrustful of him. He eyed him so narrowly that he hardly noticed the Princess. She was veiled and swathed in silken saris, hurrying between two women down a path toward the summer- house.
"You quit your kidding," he said to the babu. "Talk on the level to me, and I'll treat you equal."
Solemnly the babu stared. His speculative, skeptical, alert eyes darkened with a kind of humorous inscrutability. He looked like a figure of self-control, in graven rock, by Rodin. Then his throat moved as if he tested it before he trusted it to speak.
"Fraternity," he said at last, "is scratch me and I scratch you, but the devil take the 'hindmost. Liberty is live and let live, if the vested interests permit. What is equality?"
"All men are born equal," said Quorn. "Equal opportunity and equal rights. One man's as good as another."
"Verb sap. Let us go and meet an equal," said the babu. "Let us share and share alike such disillusion as awaits Platonic libertines. Equality! If we are equal to a situation—three things equal to the same thing—Ah! you duffer—you forgot that Einstein has abolished Euclid. Relativity is female—aged eighteen, I tell you—TNT-ically disrespectful. Lead on. My equality has four flats. You go ahead and tell her you are equal to her. That way—to the right around the fountain, and then straight on."
Quorn went forward. Princess or no Princess, he was not going to be chaffed out of countenance by a heathen babu.
QUORN had manners. He stood facing the summer- house door with the natural dignity of an event that has happened. He appeared entirely unselfconscious and incurious. He waited to be spoken to. He rather wondered at his own poise—always had been rather puzzled by his own intuitive behavior whenever circumstances put him in a false position. Nervousness had a trick of deserting him at critical moments, leaving him nothing to carry on with but his own inherent good sense.
"Gunga sahib," said a voice as full of liquid laughter as a pebbly spring. He could see nothing, because the inside of the little shrine-shaped house was all in shadow. "Is it good-by? Are you a dream? Or are you real?"
"Yours to command, Miss." He could think of nothing else to answer.
"Has Chullunder Ghose confided in you?"
"Him, Miss? He's said plenty. I'm not saying I believe him or I don't believe him. Maybe you've opinions that you'd like to have me listen to?"
"Would you believe me?"
"Miss, it isn't in my character to disbelieve a lady. But I'm good at keeping out of mischief. I could listen, supposing you wished that."
"Do you like being Gunga sahib?"
"I don't like my situation either. Shall we help each other?"
"Miss, I'm an ignorant man. If you'll forgive me giving you advice, I'd say you need an expert."
"Isn't babu Chullunder Ghose an expert?"
"Miss, according to him he's the only one alive and out o' prison."
"You don't trust him?"
"Miss, I've had to."
"Was it unsafe?"
"I'm not dead yet."
"You don't like him?"
Quorn scratched his forehead. For the first time he was aware of the carmine that Chullunder Ghose had slyly smeared that morning when he bound the turban on so carefully. He examined his middle fingernail.
"I like his cheek, Miss. He's a slick customer. I'd trust him off my own bat maybe half as far as I could throw an elephant with one hand."
"But he promised me to have you appointed Master of the Elephants. Hasn't he done it?"
"Yes, Miss. When I see the contract I'll believe my own eyes."
"Don't you ever—what is the expression?—don't you ever take a long chance?"
"Seems to me, Miss, that I'm taking one this minute. Me and Maharajahs aren't two of a kind. If what I've read in books is on the level, palace eunuchs aren't particular how they hop to it. They give a man the works if they can catch him."
She gave a little squeal of laughter. "My attendants are women. The only eunuch is the gateman, and he is not at liberty to leave his post," she answered.
"I noticed that, Miss."
"But what a phrase! Give them the works! Is that right? Gunga sahib, that expresses it exactly! I intend to give the works to all Narada—and to all this stuffy conventional life—and all this cruelty—and all the priests—and superstition—and silly prejudice—and dirt—and uneconomical, unscientific misgovernment—and degradation of women—and unsanitary habits—"
"Sounds, Miss, like a primary election platform."
"I will wear that as a motto! I will have it done in gold and jewels! Give them the works! Oh, wonderful!"
"But we begin," said a baritone voice, "by being less conspicuous. Sahiba, this babu is satisfied that three of your attendant ladies are dependable unless depended on too much. The others are amenable to expert flattery—too loving to betray you unless tempted. It is best that nobody should know too much, however. So, in view of unconventional intentions, please dismiss the two who sit there with you."
"But they don't know English?"
"Star of Heaven, secrets and a woman's knowledge are identical. A woman only tells you what she doesn't know. What she knows, she tells to others at the wrong time. Were they sleeping all the while you were at English lessons? It is bad enough for us to have to trust each other, Moon of Magnanimity! This fatness is not fatuous; I am a taker of tremendous chances. But about takeable chances there is some uncertainty. There is no uncertainty whatever about trusting more than one woman at once."
"Oh, very well." There was a whispered interlude. Two veiled, a little too secretive looking women left the building by a back door. The babu watched them well on their way toward the palace before he thrust Quorn forward with a hand in the small of his back. They entered side by side into a small, octagonal, wide- windowed chamber that contained a divan and a few small tables. There was a fountain-pen on the table, a box of paper, and one of those leather-bound books with a brass lock in which financiers keep their real balances, and young folk write such secrets as they burn in later years. The room was rather dim, because creepers hung in dense cascades of green and yellow from the low eaves. But the Princess, on a straight chair by the table, sat where broken sunlight streamed in; and as they entered she threw off her veil with a shoulder-shrug and a little laugh of what was probably excitement. Quorn had seen a young girl at Atlantic City make exactly the same gesture as she threw off a beach-robe and dared propriety in an up-to-date bathing suit. She motioned to them, so they sat down on the divan, Chullunder Ghose bare- footed, drawing up his legs and squatting like a fat god.
"Do you keep a diary, sahiba?" he demanded.
She stared at him, almost as if he had questioned her about her underwear.
"Burn it!" he commanded. "Burn it! An important diary is evidence of thought, and thought is treasonable anywhere, at all times and in all lands. An unimportant diary is worse. Whoever steals it learns your sentimental weakness, and you are at his mercy."
"It is only poetry," she answered, locking the book in the table drawer.
"Self am poet also," said the babu, "but myself am poetry enough to keep me busy. Am a free verse—difficult indeed to set to music."
The Princess lighted a cigarette. "Let us lay aside all silly etiquette," she proposed; and she appeared to believe that was easy to do. She knew—of course she knew, that she was lovelier to look at than a dewy rose in sunlight. She was perfectly aware of the line of her leg, and of the harmony of color where her ivory foot peeped forth from dawn-hued gossamer. Perhaps she thought that men are unobservant, or unemotional, and that they don't rely on etiquette to govern impulse. "I enjoy being called Miss, it is so delightfully informal and democratic. I would be a communist, if communists would let me, but they think I'm anarchistic; and to me they seem such terrible old superstitious fogies, all afraid of new ideas. I will call you Gunga sahib. The name fits you. And besides, you will have to get used to it sooner or later."
"The sooner the better," said the babu. "Moon of Modesty, are you used to the thought of trusting all your destiny to one throw of the Dice of Danger? There are fifty thousand women within a five-mile radius, not one of whom would hesitate to take a pink risk for a good fat profit. You have got to take a bloody red risk for a rat's chance of a royal flush. There is a fortune in the kitty—but a cold deck."
She frowned a little. "What does that mean?"
"Cards are stacked and you have nothing much to draw to, except the joker. Self am which. Do you intend to listen to me?"
"I intend to trust you," she answered.
The babu glanced at Quorn sideways. "Self-esteem," he remarked, "is sweeter than success but not so necessary. You prefer your comforts?"
Quorn was noncommittal. "Talk horse," he retorted.
Suddenly the babu's face changed. He assumed that graven rock expression that had made Quorn almost like him. He was serious, not solemn; it would have been impossible for him to be solemn and not ridiculous. But he was energy incarnate—concentrated sincerity, self-consciously bent on realism.
"Miss!" he said with emphasis. "I speak to you as dam-Dutch uncle, if you know what that is! Listen to me. Self am flotsam on a wave of circumstances, same as anybody. Disillusionment is my meat. Do you wish to be a heroine? Or are you human? Can you be a heroine from the heels up, but a human from the head down? Can you laugh at yourself?"
She stared hard. "Am I funny?"
"Yes—unless you see the joke," he answered. "If you see it, you are hot stuff. Caesar, let me tell you, was irresistible and bad luck had to take a back seat, for as long as a sense of humor kept him laughing at himself. But when he was a hero in his own eyes, then the gang got dangerous and snickersneed him."
"Oh well, Caesar was a man," she answered. "All men are victims of vanity."
"Cleopatra was a woman," said the babu. "So were Catherine the Great and Queen Elizabeth. Until they thought of themselves as heroines they had it easy. Are you a heroine? If so, this babu isn't having any! Martyrdom is no good. I assure you, it is no more dignified to die a Joan of Arc, with flames for a chemise, than it is to be a bawdy woman in a bad-house. Either way, you only minister to monstrous animality. Am animal, but attitudinist. An elementary idealism forces this babu to kid himself he isn't foul enough to mislead bravery. But heroism isn't honest. Honesty incorrigibly causes self-analysis. If same is competently undertaken, comedy is so self-evident that even flattery and appetite seem funny. Fun and fortune are the same thing. Fortune and solemnity are opposites."
"Am I to laugh myself out of this prison?" she asked. "I thought you came here to advise me seriously."
"Marvelous sahiba, seriousness is mere mountebankery compared to my emotion! Let us bargain. In exchange for nothing but my own self-entertainment, I will fly like fathead into face of Providence and beat the rules or bust, until you reign as Maharanee of Narada—if—but only if—you promise me to play, not prostitute your talents in the pro bono publico stews of self-humiliation."
"Pro bono what?" she demanded. "What does that mean?"
"Soul of unborn Indiscretions, this babu, like Shakespeare, has a very little Latin and a lot less Greek. But natural suspiciousness induces me to think the words may mean morality is mediocrity. If that is true, the public should be grateful if it gets no worse than what is coming to it. Verb sap. After you are Maharanee—"
"I have promised. You shall be chief of my ministers."
"Am incorruptible immoralist. As helpmeet to a heroine, am worse than caviar to a giraffe. So we will cross that puddle of conundrums as per schedule, same as train on wet track, if we reach it. After you are Maharanee, you may do exactly as you dam- please. You may be a reformer. You may get religion. You may thumb your nose at Reason and behave like Gandhi on the greasy pole of popular approval. I am speaking of preliminaries. I exact a promise from you to be sensible to start with. Never mind what happens afterwards. You are neither a child of destiny, which was the skin of a banana that Napoleon set his heel on; nor a favorite of the gods, which was the gullibility that disillusioned Marie Antoinette; nor a credulous romanticist, which was the handicap of Mary Queen of Scots. And you are neither orthodox, which was the fault of Charles the First; nor pious, which was James the Second's failing. You are not sentimental. You are not a superior young person. You are not cynical. You know morality is morbid jaundice, due to lack of an imagination; and you know imagination is the door of opportunity. But opportunity is damned exacting and demands a sense of humor. So you laugh at yourself. But you take damned good care nobody else does, unless you foresee you will laugh last. Promise!"
She smiled, a bit perplexed. "I will try to remember it all," she answered.
"Star of heaven, it is too late for a tryout. We have got to hit this unforgiving opportunity so accurately on the snout that it will know its master! To be merciful to opportunities is just as foolish as to cry for spilt milk. Do you know the temple where the Jains treat injured animals?"
"I know it well," she answered. "I have often sent them gifts. I sent a cat there to be treated, but it died. They set my mina's broken leg, however, and—"
"They weep," the babu interrupted, "over spilt milk."
"Orthodoxy," said the babu. "Same old story. Applesauce for goose is good for turkey-buzzard—same hymn for a virgin and a venerable roué—ethics same for tiger and a titmouse. Jains don't eat meat. Consequently, tigers mustn't, dogma being as illogical as calculus but easier to preach. A tiger is sent to them—fine one—born in captivity—nice tame triple-extra treachery in stripes—incalculable very—very sick, though—calculably manageable pro tem. He is pap fed. He recovers. He is milk fed. Convalescence makes him ravenous, however. So he upsets milk in argumentative request for change of diet. Orthodoxy up against it, same as a Mohammedan with only ham and wine and some one looking. Do you get my idea?"
"No," she answered.
"Point is: will you take a tigerish chance?"
"I will take any chance you advise," she answered valiantly.
"Miss, Miss! That's not clever," Quorn objected.
"Have him tell you all about it first. You think it over, and then talk it over."
"Why?" she asked. "I said I trust him. If I live to trust nobody else, I will trust him."
"Why, Miss? He admits he isn't moral."
"He is the only friend I have," she answered. "If it turns out badly, I will not regret I trusted him. It would be much worse to go on living this way, than to die in a forlorn hope."
"Miss, is it as bad as that?" Quorn asked.
She eyed him steadily. "If I could go mad," she said after a moment, "then perhaps I could endure this existence. But I can't go mad. I only suffer. So it is better to act madly, and to win free or take the consequences."
"Very well, Miss." Quorn made up his mind that instant. It occurred to him that life would not be comfortable in the knowledge that she had failed for lack, perhaps, of something he might have done about it, though he had no idea what. "I can act as crazy as a March hare too, I reckon. But I'm no hero. Don't expect it of me. I'm an ignorant man, and I'm timid. As much as it's in me to do, I'll see you through your trouble."
"I thank you, Gunga sahib." There was wisdom in her. She said nothing about compensation. But she looked excited.
Quorn turned to the babu. "Watch your step," he recommended. "Trip up, and you'll reckon with me, if it's my last act."
"Now what? Quickly!" said the Princess, intervening to prevent the stab of answering wit that might have led to anger. "What do I do?"
"Write a letter to the Jains, O Song of heaven. Ask them to present to you the tiger that you hear embarrasses their magnanimity. Invite them to deliver same carnivorous obscenity to bearer, who is faithful but anonymous. Suggest that their immediate necessities might stir your regal generosity if you should know their nature. Sign your name and seal the letter; then let this babu entrust it to an unknown messenger."
She wrote, her eyes aglow with curiosity. Her lips were set firm. Her chin was reckless.
"Read it," she said. Then: "Couldn't you have asked them? Don't you know them?"
"Yes, sahiba. But they know me. Jains are pious people. Piety implies a critical mistrust of realism such as motivates this impiously contemplative student of their views! But oh, how much they will enjoy a letter! Now I kiss feet. I beg leave to go like bat in blazes."
"Go if you must. But what next?"
"Hush, hush! Secrecy is so important that I let my lips not know what my imagination hatches! Trust us!" He included Quorn in a retreating gesture of conspiracy and mutual esteem, then bowed his way out backward, pulling Quorn too.
"Come on," he commanded. "It is better to be hot than Hollywooded. In a minute, she would melt our reticence like Myrna Loy in movies. She is wonderful, but it is better she should fret than ruin spontaneity with too much reason. Cold feet come of hot enthusiasm overfed with facts, I tell you. Where did you put the gateman's shudder-maker?"
"Stuck it in the bushes."
"Get it then and give it to me. Get the key too."
Quorn obeyed. He overtook the babu in the gate-house. The babu unlocked the door and cut the prisoner loose with the sword. It was as sharp as a razor. He returned it to the victim, who was still half-dazed.
"There, take it," he commanded. "Show your gratitude, you carrion! Had I not spoken for you, gone was your job! I spoke, however, and the Princess has forgiven you for being such a badmash—such a beshirm! Silence—do you understand me? Speak of it—think of it—even remember it—and I will tell the Maharajah you habitually pass in visitors! Do you understand me?"
"Will you speak of it?"
"And when I knock another time, will you admit me?"
The babu turned to Quorn. "Embarrass him with riches. Give him a glare and a growl and rupees ten. Then get your elephant and go home. I will see you after midnight, near the wall behind Asoka's picket."
IT takes much time for ancient India to become commonplace, so that a man can accept what he sees and understand his own reaction to events. For the first time in his experience Quorn felt life flowing through him, colorful and vivid. Yet he felt like a man in a day-dream. It was natural, and yet it was not. It was strange, mysterious, incredible, yet real. It was even terrifying. It felt as if sudden death, from unknown causes, might occur now—in an hour—in a day. More than a day ahead was unimaginable. Philadelphia was somewhere in a half- remembered former life, vivid enough at moments but impossible to correlate with this experience.
The most puzzling part of it was that it seemed so natural to ride through swarming streets on an obedient elephant. To avoid being stared at, he lay prone on the elephant's neck, but even so he excited interest. The name Gunga sahib was on all men's lips. It seemed to him that there was rather less enthusiasm than there had been—rather more watchful waiting, as if the crowd anticipated something they were warned would happen. Once or twice he thought he noticed sly smiles of the wait and see sort, and they made him shudder. But the sensation of swaying along so high above the crowd, and of being important, yet feeling unimportant, of understanding none of it, yet feeling himself to be essential to it all, so swamped all else that thought was almost in abeyance. It was no use reasoning about unreasonable things. Babu—Maharajah—palace—Princess—elephants —there was nothing to compare them with. It wasn't even like the movies. It was least of all like digging graves in Philadelphia and reading books by men, who, he began to suspect, knew not much after all.
"Realism?" he said to himself. Almost all the writers of the five-cent books are realists, or rationalists, or materialists, or Reds. "I wonder. Is there such a thing as being so incredulous you can't see truth until it hits you for a home run?"
Things seemed real when he reached the compound. It was known already who was Master of the Elephants, though no one told from whom the information came, and no one would confess to having seen the babu. Moses was in the compound waiting for him, ostentatiously exuding flattery, but curiously careful how he phrased congratulations.
"Oh, I am overjoyed, sir! Oh, I know how absolutelee wonderful it must feel. And the salaree is no doubt most remunerative. Affluence is so nice. I am hoping, though, your honor's resignation from the mission is not written just yet?"
"Why the hell should you care?" Quorn asked. "You ain't fired. You follow me. Might happen you'd rate five or so a month more money if you pull yourself together."
"I am veree grateful." Moses' one eye somehow qualified the gratitude with doubt. "It was a thought I had, that possiblee—your honor—I mean—is there a hurree?"
"What the hell are you driving at?"
"There is so little to do at the mission."
"Don't I know it?"
"It is comfortable—it is cleaner at the mission. Will your honor sleep here?"
Quorn glanced at the shed where he had had his first drink with Chullunder Ghose. There was room for a cot. There was a veranda—two armchairs—and quantities of water. He was not a man who craved luxury, as Moses knew well. But Moses' oriental half was on the qui vive.
"Here are manee not so veree conscientious people. Could you not deputize me to be the mission caretaker? Then the safe if not so profitable position would be still yours, should this eleephantine change appear unfortunate."
"I get you." Quorn was quick enough to see the drift of that idea. "You want my job at the mission in case I'm murdered—that it?"
"There are jealousees and so forth," said Moses. "Possiblee your honor does not comprehend them all."
"Luckily for you, I'm deaf o' one ear," Quorn answered. "Take my tip and hold your jaw. You'll learn in plenty o' time about my job at the mission."
He went the round. He inspected the elephants one by one, examining their feet. The circus men in Philadelphia had told him that elephants' feet are their weakness. He had often watched the job of paring corns with a chisel and mallet. He knew exactly what to look for, and he was not so naïve as to think that the mahouts were conscientious. He found plenty of fault, but he needed Moses to interpret, since his own vocabulary lacked as yet the technical expressions that mahouts use.
Presently he invaded the store-shed and discovered quantities of oil. He ordered the elephants oiled that morning. Moses repeated the order unenthusiastically. No move was made to obey. And then Quorn noticed that he was receiving no obedience at all. No elephant was down, having his corns cut; they were all standing, and the mahouts stood by as if expecting something.
"Tell'em," he said to Moses, "if they don't hop to it, there'll be hell here such as they ain't used to. Wait a minute. Tell me first what's the big idea. What's eating 'em?"
"They wait," said Moses, "for the heathen cereemonee. This is the day on which the high priest always blesses all the elephants."
"Why didn't you tell me that?"
"You did not ask," said Moses.
Exasperated, but suppressing the temptation to declare war there and then on anything that challenged his authority, Quorn strolled to his chair beside Asoka, filled his pipe and sat down.
"You stay by," he ordered Moses. "Soon as this here high priest has strutted his stuff, I'll strut mine; and I'll need you so there won't be no mistake about my meaning. Fetch a chair and sit beside me."
They were seated there together when a band of weirdly unfamiliar music struck on Quorn's ears. It resembled, more than anything else he knew, the din of carnival, heard from a couple of streets away, when ten or a dozen mechanical instruments, all playing different tunes, are working full blast. All the elephants began to sway as if their lives depended on it. The mahouts raised their hands to their foreheads and bowed. Quorn tilted back his chair, one leg crossed over the other, and assumed the air of brassy and contemptuous indifference with which he would have looked on at a procession of the Knights of Pythias. But as the procession came into the compound he had hard work not to betray his curiosity.
He would not have believed that such a person as that high priest existed, if his own eyes had not seen him. Magic, in Quorn's imagination, meant Houdini or the conjurer who "filled in" at the picture palace back in Philadelphia. Black magic was boloney—something that the suckers fell for, and that ignorant European peasants gradually sloughed off when they emigrated to the U.S.A. He had heard of Wops who still believe in the evil eye; and he had read in the paper that witches now and then still haunt the rural districts of even enlightened Pennsylvania. But there was nothing to it. Five-cent books had made him positive on that point. Spiritualism was even less than boloney, it was hooey; and in fact all mysticism came under the general heading of horse-feathers—not to be taken seriously by any man of sanity and self-respect.
Yet—here was this high priest! And it wasn't a circus, in spite of all the elephants and costumes. It wasn't music that the band played—not in Quorn's ears. Music was Sousa's marches, one-step, two-step, fox-trot, and "The Gang's All Here." This was mystery stuff that made a fellow's backbone curdle and reduced his thinking process to a sort of frenzy, as if static were coming over fifty radios at once and he were trying to pick out Mac-Namee's description of a prize-fight. That high priest was a chocolate-creamy maniac from some kids' story book. But was he? Bughouse Bill was Quorn's name for him, instantly invented—never to be substituted; in sheer self-defense, he would call that expert Bughouse Bill forever. For he surely was an expert, and Quorn knew he was—feared him—hated him—shrunk, within himself, away from him, and outwardly insulted him with slightly over-done indifference. Quorn's eyes saved his face; they were too saturnine to betray horror, even when he knew the high priest saw him and was watching him sideways. Moses, solar topee in his hand, stood up respectfully, unable to endure the strain of Quorn's contemptuous attitude.
"Sucker!" said Quorn. But Moses bowed his head.
The high priest, all in white, with shaven head and naked breast and belly, stalked the earth like death's grandfather. Surely he invented death—begat it! His ascetic body, rib by rib, was unreality electroplated on an idea! His movements were stealthy and hypnotic thought, expressed in cautious action, arrogant but ten times as alert as a leopard's. He had high cheek-bones. His eyes were as agate as Quorn's but touched with red, lashless. He had no eyebrows. His heavy eyelids were as wrinkled as walnut-shells; his eyes peered steadily out from under them like an alligator's.
As he passed each elephant he raised his right hand casually, barely as high as his shoulder. Six robed priests behind him swung their censers then, exactly to the same height, toward the indicated beast that swayed at its picket. There was a sudden cloud of incense smoke. Obedient to its mahout each elephant in turn acknowledged, with an upraised trunk, its individual blessing, and the band blared ritual disharmony that indicated godly recognition of the act and deed. Thirty-five or forty temple ministrants in white robes, following the men with censers, chanted nasally like irritated wasps. As many nautch girls, naked-bellied but arrayed in savage copper-purple splashed on naked skin, clashed their anklets and sang like harpies snarling through tinny megaphones. They looked to Quorn like birds of prey. He suspected them of being cannibals. They brought back to his mind, too, stories he had read of goings-on when Rome was learning about vice in Syria. They hardly danced; theirs was a movement more resembling waves—a spastic surge, repeated and repeated. It aroused the Puritan antagonism that was close to the surface of Quorn's self-taught skepticism.
As the high priest reached Asoka, Quorn's eyes met his for perhaps one second. Then the priest's hand went up and the censers swung. Asoka stood still; he was not even swaying. He was used to await the order when the priests went by, and Quorn gave none. He had resumed his swaying by the time the nautch girls reached him. Quorn was still considering the high priest's stare, detesting it and steeling the strength of prejudice, accepting enmity—enjoying it. He noticed, though, that all the nautch girls stared at him and Asoka.
"That is terrible," said Moses. "They will say now that Asoka is not blesséd."
"Me an' you are missionaries. We'll baptize him," Quorn retorted irritably. He was having to restrain himself. A man who might be a priest or something of the sort, who had been following the procession, had detached himself and was drawing nearer. He was grinning, but the grin was wry and lean, and he was making gestures that suggested anything but laughter. They were hardly ceremonial. They might be deaf-and-dumb signs, comprehensible to anyone who knew that alphabet. Indifference was difficult to keep up under that ordeal. Moses, frankly terrified, caught at the back of Quorn's chair:
"Oh, do be respectful to him! Do be sensible!" he muttered.
"If he wants my goat, he's got to get it he-man fashion," said Quorn. "If he gets it, he'll know it."
"But he is a personage!"
The personage approached. One of his gestures was to spread two fingers of his right hand and to point them straight at Quorn's eyes. He approached then within about two strides, so that Quorn got the smell of the incense on his garments. But he spoke to Moses, looking straight at Moses—spoke so rapidly that Quorn couldn't catch one word he uttered. Then he passed on, following the procession, walking normally as if his act were finished.
"What did he say?"
"I don't know."
"How come then you're terror-stricken? Tell me."
"No, no, sir, I did not understand him."
"That so? Then you're fired for lying. How much do I owe you? Draw your money and get the hell from here."
"But sir, I am a poor man. Don't be angree—I am veree much upset. I—"
"Come across or quit. No argument. What did he tell you?"
"Sir, if he had said it of me, I would go away from here so rapidlee I—"
"Shoot, I say! What did he tell you?"
"It is veree bad luck, sir, to tell such superstitious sayings. Should I say it, I should have to go to confession to a priest. But how can I? There is no priest in Narada."
"Bad luck, eh?" said Quorn. "You'd better confess to me, you sucker! See here, me and you've been tolerable friendly. But you see this?" Knotted knuckles stopped within a foot of Moses' nose. "You talk, or you'll learn what bad luck is. You'll need a set o' new front teeth and a job too. Come on."
"Sir, he said—oh, no, I dare not say it!"
"Sir, he said—before the moon is full, your spirit shall incarnate in a worm within the belly of a dog that has mange and rabies."
"Is that all? Hell, I thought he'd threatened me!"
"Sir, it is superstitious magic, but so veree dangerous that—"
"Shucks. You go and bring my dinner. Cut along now, and forget I talked rough. After dinner you can find a porter and fetch my cot here. You sleep at the mission till I tell you what next."
Moses went off in a hurry. He would have been useless anyhow to talk to the mahouts—too nervous. Quorn was curious to find out whether he could make mahouts, who had seen him cursed, obey him. He knew well, everyone of the mahouts had seen and understood. He half expected to have to make some bloody-nosed examples, and he wondered how far it was safe to go. Not having seen a knife used as an argument against authority, nor ever having had to analyze his food, he was not afraid of knives or poison. But he did not want to begin with a general strike on his hands. He rather hoped the miserable head mahout would come and beg for re-instatement; as a subordinate, well-watched and disciplined, he might be useful, for a while at any rate.
However, there was another surprise awaiting him. He was obeyed on the instant. The mahouts went to work in a hurry. Every elephant in the compound, including Asoka, was given a thorough grooming. The mahouts appeared to think a priestly cursing had increased Quorn's potency for evil so that it was unsafe to disobey him in the slightest detail. Letting well enough alone, he invaded the shed and made a list of all the stores; and by the time that Moses brought his dinner he was feeling good- tempered—almost unsuspicious.
"If I can get them priests to curse me reg'lar, once a month," he said to Moses, "I've a notion I can run this job to suit my sense o' what's what."
"Oh, sir, priestlee cursing is a veree deadlee sin," said Moses.
"Shucks. Ain't you a Christian?"
"Certainlee. But so were all the holee saints who died in torment. It is necessaree not to be a sinner, but it is not necessaree to be made a martyr."
Quorn stuck a spoon into curry and rice. "I'm agin that too," he answered. "I'm too ornery to burn meek. Reckon, for a martyr, I'd be kind o' cantankerous. If they can martyr me, they're welcome, but—it's swell curry. You're a good cook."
"Oh, sir, do not be irreverent," said Moses.
THINGS went so smoothly that Quorn took a nap in the afternoon. There were no orders for the elephants. Except that during certain seasons of the year they had to haul a little lumber in the hills, it appeared that there never was much for them to do. Every other day or so a few of them would haul grass, but most of the grass was delivered in ox-carts by contractors. There were now and then public processions, and more rarely a royal ceremony in which the elephants had to take part, but on the whole it was a lazy life they led, chained to their pickets, with a bath and a scrub in the river whenever they needed it.
The shed that Quorn appropriated to his own use backed against a high wall. There was a narrow door in the wall that looked as if it had not been opened for a hundred years. He discovered that Chullunder Ghose had a locker in the shed, and a cot too. However, the job was his, so the shed was his; he set the babu's cot against a side wall and had his own put opposite, with a table between.
"I'm hospitable. If his nibs don't like it, he can pull freight."
He liked the shed. It had a sort of hide-out atmosphere, exactly suiting Quorn's observant, solitary disposition. From the small veranda, and through the little windows at both ends, he could overlook the entire compound. It was so close to Asoka's picket that he could call to him and get him used to the sound of his voice. There was a shelf where he could keep his five-cent books. All he lacked was a daily paper to make conditions perfect.
Having had his nap and made his rounds, he sat and read a book on the Failure of Christian Missions, by McCabe, whose bitter advocacy of eternal ignorance of anything but blood and brains precisely suited the occasion. He enjoyed the thought that intellectuals are sometimes more stupid than other people. It helped to make his own bewilderment a bit less irritating.
"There are more learned fools in the world than you could shake a stick at," he commented. He had given many a nickel to Christian missions. He refused to believe he had been choused of his money. He felt he needed all his confidence in Christianity to help him keep a cool head in the midst of all this heathen hocus-pocus. As a lay custodian of mission property, he felt he belonged to the Christian camp. As one who had been publicly cursed by a heathen, he felt that he was bound in common honesty to take a stiff view; and he wished he had a Bible with him, that he might read up about the whoredoms of the Jews, who brought the truth into the world. He knew there was an angle there that he had never thoroughly considered. Careful study of it might enable him to understand his duty to religion—and the Princess.
He was aware of two exactly opposite opinions about the Princess, each of which was equally convincing. Was she a Jezebel? Was she a "whoore o' Babylon"? Was she an unfilial, immodest vixen, treacherously plotting, with a rogue who boasted of his immorality, to seize her father's throne and play old Harry with established law and order? It seemed that way. Or was she an honest youngster, too well educated for her station in life, and too high spirited to submit to conventional cruelties, determined, at whatever risk, to try to make a change? That seemed true, too. Had her governesses taught her a corrupt idealism? Quorn mistrusted foreigners of all sorts; he had read of governesses who were used as spies in international intrigues.
"I wouldn't put it past them Roossians to have stirred her up, deliberate, with Red ideas. That fat babu said he was in Roossia—said he was run out o' Roossia. Saying's easier than doing. Maybe he was told to say he had been run out. Roossians who were sending him to India to propagand a Bolsheviki upset o' the government 'ud hardly ship him to the border in a nickel-plated special."
Then there was the Maharajah to consider. Quorn held no brief for hereditary despotisms. He had even less use for polygamy, in theory or practice. But as Master of the Elephants his boss was certainly the Maharajah. That was an awkward predicament. To do his duty by the elephants was not enough to offset a conspiracy against their owner. To desert the mission was an equally doubtful proposition. Hadn't he better have thought a bit before making the jump?
"Bughouse Bill's not serious. He's ugly, but he's no more dangerous than one o' them there fish that make faces at you in the aquarium. But who's this British Resident that's coming? What'll he say to a white man on the Maharajah's pay-roll? Seems to me I've heard the British know their onions at raising hell for anyone they didn't okay. They'd be running the United States this minute if it weren't for having raised such hell that nobody could stand it. Say he ships me. He could do it. He could run me out of India like Emma Goldman getting the air from the U.S. Then where'd I be? No job. No credentials that a nigger 'ud look at. Unemployment. Bread-line. Not so rosy!"
Moses brought his dinner. Moses' one eye almost looked astonished not to find him dead already. After dinner he sent Moses home with a flea in his ear, then took his chair and went and sat beside Asoka, comforted by the big brute's proximity. That set him thinking about elephants and wondering again why elephants and he were on such naturally good terms. He could almost feel Asoka's satisfaction when he sat down near him.
The compound was a marvel of beauty. The mahouts were cooking, and their fires glowed crimson through the trees. Enormous shadows moved amid the gloom. The stars looked as large as saucers, on a sky whose blackness held the whole range of blue and purple. There was audible silence—feather-footed secrets stealthily confiding in each other until night seemed one vast secret of tomorrow's plans. There were good smells, earthy and indistinguishable without an effort from sight and sound. The senses all led to the same emotion. They were one experience. Their effect was feeling. It was psychic—dreamy. Quorn dozed until his pipe dropped and awoke him—smoked again until he dozed. And it was midnight.
Asoka had lain down to sleep, but was up again, fidgeting. There were some sounds behind the high wall. Quorn heard Asoka's new steel picket-ring clink on the chain as he tested its strength. There was no moon. It was too dark to see details; Asoka was a big black shadow, not now swaying as he did in the daytime, but erect, alert, each movement definite and ominous. Staring, Quorn could see the monster's trunk extended and the huge ears moving. There was something wrong. He spoke. Asoka grumbled, turning sideways, testing with his trunk suspicious smells that reached him, so it seemed, upwind and from over the wall. There were signs of a tantrum brewing. Other elephants apparently had sensed a general alarm and some of the mahouts were reassuring them, commanding them to lie down. Had not Quorn been a natural elephant man there might have been disaster on a big scale. There was the markings of a panic. He had no experience, but he seemed to know intuitively what to do.
He dragged his chair a little closer to Asoka, and sat just out of reach of the flailing trunk. He relighted his pipe. Gruffly he commanded good behavior, leaning backward in an attitude of calm indifference. He started humming to himself. At the first sign of returning calm he commanded Asoka to lie down. He was obeyed. When the elephant moved, Quorn's voice broke the silence gruffly but without the least note of alarm. Presently Quorn called for a helper and commanded a little smoke-smudge to be made—a smoldering fire of dampened dung that spread familiar and undisturbing smell between Asoka and the high wall. All was quiet by the time the lock creaked in the high door in the wall, then the unoiled hinges screamed and Chullunder Ghose emerged, not stealthily but not making much noise for a man of his weight.
"When do you sleep?" Quorn asked him, yawning.
"Slept this afternoon. Like Duke of Wellington, Napoleon, and other great calamities, can cat-nap any time or sleep ad lib as indicated. Am bee-hive of a lot of mixed emotions just now. All of same are acrimonious."
"Disturb my elephants at night again, and me and you'll be plenty acrimonious," said Quorn. "There might ha' been a stampede, durn you. What's up?"
"Down to hard tacks—naturally. Do you think I get a chit for eleemosynary tiger tame from infancy, and do not cash same before Jains disgust him so with milk that he becomes an anarchist? An anarchistic tiger is a bad ingredient."
"Ingredient of what?"
"A miracle. Get me some meat. Not too much. A young kid. Kill him and let me have him."
"This time o' night? I can get you a hen."
"Holocaust me three hens."
Quorn sent the man who had built the fire to bring three hens from the chicken-shed that a mahout's wife tended. "Take 'em and kill 'em—you hear me? I'll pay at daybreak." Then he turned to the babu. "Spill it. What's the low-down?"
"Low-down blackguard of a carter has exacted rupees fifty, simply to convey a cage containing tigers one, and no gossip, from thence to thither, secrecy improbable but stipulated. Same is now voraciously billeted in dark shed on the other side of this wall. Cage is weak and wooden—therefore necessary to reduce voracity of tiger and increase his sleepiness with chicken diet, simultaneously causing an association of ideas. Henceforth, to the tiger you will mean meat."
"You don't say."
"Nice red, fresh, raw, bloody meat. The very sight of milk arouses him to anger. He will love you."
"Like hell he will."
"Unless he chews his way out of that wooden cage before the chickens get here. Did I tell you she is wonderful?"
"She-tiger, is it."
"She-exasperator! She-young monkey with a mischievous imagination! She is worse than her mother, who died of trying to adapt polygamy to theories of matriarchy. Rumor mentions arsenic, but I say belladonna, knowing local methods. Should it be acceptable to other ladies in a populous zenana, to be matriarchied by a moralist, whose qualification simply is that she is mother of the boozy monarch's one child? Women are all witches. Princess Sankyamuni is ten, and the devil as well. She has set that whole zenana by the ears. No sooner had we left her than she sent word through the palace that the Maharajah is not her father at all. She said her late lamented lady mother was concubinated by a he-god, as per legendary custom. Consequently, she herself is only semi-human. That means she is not reducible to human categories. She is free to do as she jolly well dam- pleases, and is superior to priests or anybody else."
"She complained she couldn't go mad. Is that her trouble? Is she nutty?" Quorn asked. "Bats in her belfry?"
"If so," said the babu, "They are brickbats of Machiavellian gray-stuff. I am over-stout and elderly to trip the light fantastic on a mental tight-rope. Teach her to be a heterodox—she pre-anticipates the unexpectedness that was antepenultimate trump up sleeve of this babu. She forces pace. Her inexperience eliminates a fat man's sense of step by step from this to that. And youth—so practical—so unromantic—sees absurdity of superstitions and immediately uses same to put the superstitionees in a hell of a fix. She is a genius. She gives me a Freudian inferiority qualm. I hate her. She did what I ought to have done. It is a finesse."
"Do you mean," said Quorn, "that she believes she's only half o' this world?"
"She is red-hot realist," the babu answered. "She jolly well knows that nobody believes such Santaclausian stupidity, except tax-paying proletariat that sighs for fresh frauds to endure, like Alexander asking for a higher income tax. No matter why. Truth is too unpalatable to be interesting, so they buy lies for cash in advance. Not even priests believe such imbecility. But priests have taught it, haven't they, since the first priest found the way to toil not that he might be comfortable? The Maharajah knows it isn't true. But what can he do? What can he say? Isn't he descended from the gods, according to the legend which repudiates his duty to be decent and explains his privilege to live like pig in clover? None of his wives believe it. Why should they? Don't they know him? He is human, much too human. They will raise hell. Hell in a zenana is a little too much even for a Christian imagination. That is why Christians oppose polygamy. They will say she is an illegitimate impostor; a scandalous stain on nobility's fame and dignity; an infamy in impudent apparel; to hell with her; to a dungeon with her; to oblivion. But you may do as you please with people's rights, provided you respect the superstitions, and the Maharajah knows it. The priests know it. The proletariat has seen you and her on the elephant. It loves the Gunga sahib story as the English love a Lord Mayor's coachman—as the U.S.A. Americans love liberty in winkers."
"Does she aim to set up as a goddess?" Quorn asked, scratching his forehead. "I'd say she'll have difficulties. Bughouse Bill—the head man of the holy Joes who came and blessed the elephants this morning—him with a naked face like nobody's sweet poppa—he'll act peevish, if I know a bob-cat when I see him. He's a monopolist, that guy. I've seen bankers at funerals, burying bond hogs, who were liker him than bunk is like boloney."
The babu suddenly sat down in Quorn's chair, holding his sides. He giggled silently, the silence only emphasizing mirth that shook him like a hiccough. The helper was on the way with the chickens before he could speak without spluttering. Then he grew as suddenly serious, self-controlled and dramatic. He stood up and laid a hand on Quorn's arm.
"Did you know," he asked, "that phrases are the chemistry of fate? No? Let me show it to you. 'Made in Germany' set competition going that produced the crash in August 1914, didn't it? 'The little corporal' was invincible; the 'emperor' was old stuff, self-defeated. Ben Quorn is a nobody; the Gunga sahib is an idea! Do you get that? Gunpat Rao—the great Gunpat—is a high priest, terrible with secret power, throned on mystery and almost too much as an adversary even for an opportunist such as I am. But Bughouse Bill? I fear no foe in funny underwear! I accolade you! Let us take the chickens to the tiger. He, too, needs a change of viewpoint."
They groped their way into a dark shed on the far side of the wall; and through the opened door the starlight shone on eyes that scared Quorn. There was a smell that stirred instinctive dread. There was a sound that crouched—a tension that tightened the skin on Quorn's neck and forearms. Suddenly the thing behind the eyes smelt blood. There was a snarling whine that swelled into the short, explosive kill-roar of a famished tiger.
"Quick!" said the babu. "Wooden boards do not a fortress make!"
Quorn found a stick and shoved three chickens through the bars. The tiger struck them off the stick, savagely snarling. Then the crunching began.
"Feathers and all? Bones and all?"
"Yes," said the babu. "Better for him than a physic. He is constipated. Animals in cages die of sentimentalism feeding them politely. Come on." He led the way out and shut the door. "Darkness, appetite, a good meal for the first time in months—he is happy."
"Anything you don't know?" Quorn asked.
"Not much. Sadly ignorant, however, about Bughouse Bill. Have always thought of him as Gunpat Rao. Verb sap indicated but is lost in maze of relativity. Must study Bughouse Bill. Must study him—study him. You pardon me, if I sit here and meditate?"
QUORN shredded some tobacco, rammed it in his pipe, lighted it and then looked dourly at the babu. It was four in the morning, and as a matter of fact Quorn had fallen asleep in his chair, but he chose not to admit that, even to himself. To pretend to have been thinking seemed more dignified, although he knew what millions have learned, including Edison, that forty winks are usually better than a full day's worry.
"Now you listen to me," he began, and the babu sat bolt- upright. "I'm an ignorant man, but I know my likes and dislikes. Plain talk, and each to his job, is two o' my notions. Nothing gets my nanny worse than a lot o' bull without no meaning to it. If I buy me a can that's labeled corn beef, all I expect is weary Willy on the inside. If it's salmon, I want my money back, even if salmon's more respectable or maybe better for me. Don't you interrupt. It's my turn, and I'm loaded."
"Two shots for a nickel," said the babu. "Am an easy target."
"I'm a man o' my word, or I aim to be. I told a princess I was for her, and I meant I'd go my limit. But there is a limit. Christianity's my camp, no matter what my private doubts about it may be. Christianity don't hold with goddesses, and I don't aim to give a goddess no more recognition than I would an atheist. Goddesses and atheists are two sides of a Bolsheviki heathen heresy. I'm set agin 'em. Do you get that?"
"Now the other barrel," said the babu.
"I'm signed up to watch a mission property. It's my job. I'd be acting treacherous and ungrateful, if I was to abandon them buildings on account o' my liking for elephants. I like 'em fine; I grant you that. I'm cut out for a job o' minding 'em. But a contract's a contract, and the trustees back in Philadelphia have confidence in me to protect their property for the full term o' the agreement."
"How does it feel to break a promise?" asked the babu.
"Verb sap. Flit is indicated."
"Flit my eye. You listen to me. Goddesses are heathen and agin religion, but a god's a heap worse. Strikes me, I'm as near to being branded to a wrong herd as if I took out Chinee papers, or became a Christian Scientist. You get yourself another Gunga sahib. I'm no god, no matter if this here elephant did take a shine to me and act up legendary. I'm a plain man, and I'm acting plain and sensible from now on. Do you get that?"
"Got you!" said the babu. "What else?"
"Me and tigers ain't amusing one another worth a goddamn."
"Truth," said the babu, "will out, won't it!"
"Meaning?" Quorn struck the bowl of his pipe on the heel of his boot. "Were you insinuating anything?"
"No. Sweet sahiba has insinuated," said the babu. "Shall I let cat out of bag? I said cat, not tiger. Don't be nervous. Tiger might be easier to manage, but the cat is more fun."
"She flat," said the babu. "She has flitted. Moses, it is safe to draw near!"
Moses came forth from a shadow looking, even in the darkness, melancholy. He walked as if he were late for church and interrupting prayers.
"How long have you been here?" Quorn asked him.
"Sir, this babu recommended me to wait until your honor should awake and not be veree acrimonious. A ghastlee difficultee has arisen."
"At the mission?"
"Yes, sir. What to do about it?"
"Tell what happened."
"Sir, the Princess came and has ensconced herself with six or seven ladees in the main building, and—"
"What the hell did you let her in for?"
"Sir, I told her to go away. But they were manee women. They had a key. What could I do? She said to me, if I am puneeshed she will mollify me with indemnitees. But I am veree upset. So I came to noteefy your honor."
"Flit was indicated," said the babu. "She has flitted from the palace. Any more shots, Gunga sahib?"
Quorn stuck his pipe in his pocket. Not knowing what to do, he stood up. Moses backed away from him, but there was nothing criminal about Quorn's temper. It was himself he criticized.
"Dammit!" he grumbled. "I've only me to blame. If I'd been where I belong at the gate-house—"
"Being you, you would have told a lady in distress to go to hell," the babu interrupted. "I can see you sending her to Bughouse Bill for charitable favors! Am mysogynistically stoical, but simply sentimental in comparison to such an iron moralist as you are. Kick her out then. Why not?"
"Damn you, did you tip her off to go there?"
"Up against it! Any port in typhoon. Her audacity set pace and stung this elderly babu to ratiocination. Simple little matter to declare herself semi-divine and set the palace sizzling. But what then? My ball, wasn't it? This babu must hit a hot one. Can I leave her to be eunuched? Belladonna—sand- bag—upstairs window—pillows—snake- bite—many ways of dying opportunely. Bughouse Bill is busy; don't forget that. What was indicated?"
"Don't ask—tell me! What did you do?"
"Sent a letter to her, naturally, saying, in the mission she is difficult to kill but very easy to exaggerate."
"They'll raid the mission!" Quorn exploded.
"Bughouse Bill will recommend that," said the babu. "But the Maharajah is a party to a contract that prohibits him from interfering with the mission. On the contrary, it obligates him to preserve same from trespass."
"He's a drunkard. He'll forget that."
"Possibly. But populace is superstitious very. Suitably exaggerated rumor—demonstration. Demonstration—riot. Rioting is not so good for rulers. Same inevitably lose out any time they send for sahibs to assist them. That is verb sap point of statesmanship, the same as sending for marines in Nicaragua, or borrowing from bankers."
"Hell, he's on the job already, I'll bet," Quorn said dismally.
"You don't know him," said the babu. "If he is, though, he will see it is a bad job. Do you take me for a tortoise? I am fat, but as fast in a pinch as a pig into sausage in U.S.A. Am propagandist in excelsis—expert! It was this babu who propaganded Gunga sahib story. So then—should the Maharajah swoop upon the mission, he will find a crowd of six or seven thousand very superstitious and fanatical believers in the Gunga story, advocating hands off."
"A couple o' cops could move 'em on," Quorn answered. He had not seen a passive resistance swarm opposing elasticity to force. "He'll haul her out—and that's the end of her—and of my job too, I reckon."
There was a warning of dawn in the air. The sky paled. To the westward there was faint false morning, and the babu looked exactly like a bloated ghost set fluttering by the wind that ushers in the day,
"Supposing he could do it," he retorted, "supposing he dared and were drunk enough, would he do it for love of Bughouse Bill? Or why else? Such a diplomat as you are! You should show the League of Nations how to put the Japanese in China!"
"Shut up! I'm sick of you," Quorn retorted. "What with listening to you, I've lost my job. I may as well start for the States this minute."
The babu sighed. "You have a goat's eyes and a moralist's imagination! Yesterday you wonder how to keep two jobs and do your duty by them both, you duty maniac! Today I show you, and you blow up! Idiot! Answer! Does your contract order you to caretake? Is she your friend or your enemy? Is she likely to protect the mission or to wreck it? Can't you say you gave her sanctuary? Isn't that a good ground for the British to support you, should a slip-up happen, using the excuse that otherwise the U.S.A. United States might make a diplomatic faux pas such as asking for the interest on fifty billion or so? But why suggest a slip-up? Why not use imagination? Will the Maharajah do a thing that might afford the British an excuse to interfere? Or will he do a thing to build up Bughouse Bill's authority? If he should sack you, there is still the mission. Can he sack you from the mission? Is he likelier to try to make you his friend or his enemy? Which? Don't argue with me. Answer!"
"He'll make me the goat, that's what," Quorn answered. "He don't love me any."
"Love you? Does he love his daughter? Does he love me, or the British, or Bughouse Bill? He loves nobody but Number One, I tell you. He is tickled silly to employ you in a plot to slap religion for a home run. Later, he will slap you, if, as, when and how we let him do it. Do we let him do it? Do I look like a shopkeeper that loves to be kicked by a duke for the social prestige? Are we smart enough to double-cross and do in Bughouse Bill, but too besotted in our wits to make a Maharajah overreach himself? And what then? Should his only daughter become Maharanee, are you probably a pauper? Put your bet down! Is she probably an ingrate?—Oh, hell! Go to the United States! I never knew a white man yet who had the guts to back a long shot!"
"Eh? The hell you didn't!"
"U.S.A. Americans are all afraid of women. I will tell her you funked it."
Quorn lifted a heel and struck his pipe on it:
"See here! See that elephant? Asoka, she and me can see this to a finish. You go find a tack to sit on. Hey, you, Moses—go and get word to the Princess that I'll be around to see her as soon as this elephant's fed."
"Am I mistaken?" said the babu. "But you are afraid of tigers."
"'Fraid o' nothing when a woman's in a bad fix."
"Shame humiliates me," said the babu. "For the first time, I mistook caution for cowardice."
"I'm maybe slow," said Quorn, "but hell can't shift me, when I've made my mind up."
"Henceforth," said the babu, "I will take advice from you before I venture. May I be forgiven?"
"Shucks. You ain't a bad guy. All you need is easy manners. What d'ye say we wash and get a bite to eat before we hustle around and see her?"
THE babu went off alone to see the Princess after all. He swaggered away beneath his little black umbrella as if there were nothing to worry about in all the universe. Quorn had to call on the Maharajah. He was sent for very shortly after daybreak, almost before Asoka's meal was finished; and he went on the elephant, knowing that, if he went on foot or in a gharri, he would feel inferior. He did not dare for half a second to forget what digging graves had taught him, that the same shovel buries us all.
"I'll treat him civil, even if he treats me supercilious. But that's my limit."
He was sorry he had spoken rather roughly to the babu. Otherwise he might have had the advantage of more last minute advice. But the babu had been very off-handed:
"Listen to him. Tell him nothing. Then he will think you are stupid. Princes are only afraid of clever people. Clever people never are afraid of princes."
Nevertheless, Quorn felt afraid because he did feel stupid; at the back of his mind he knew that was why he was rehearsing independent views, to stiffen resolution, as he rode Asoka through the city. Even at that early hour the streets were thronged. There was excitement. Evidently the news was out that the Princess had left the palace. But there was no disposition to swarm around the elephant. He was given a clear course, made way for like an entrant in a great event, watched, stared at, now and then applauded, but only by small groups. One incident did more to steady Quorn's nerves than almost anything else could have done, by arousing his belligerency. Some one, either from a roof or from a window down one of the winding alleys, threw a tile. It missed Quorn's head by the breadth of a flicker of wind. And there was mocking laughter.
Evidently something less than all Narada believed the Gunga sahib story. That was bad enough; it made Quorn feel like an exposed charlatan. But the laughter accomplished more than the missile, since it hit its target. To be laughed at always did make Quorn more bellicose than a punch in the nose could. Punched, he would still have sense enough to weigh his strength against his adversary's. Laughed at he was neither patient nor forgiving.
"I'll show 'em!" He was in a fine pig-headed mood by the time he reached the palace gate and shouted to the man in charge to open it. He stared at the sentries, who ostentatiously did not salute him—stared them out of countenance. He was in a mood to enjoy the effect of his agate eyes on superstitious people.
"Maybe I don't rate a subaltern's salute. But maybe courtesy 'ud cost 'em nothing. Seems I pack a whallop. No use packing what you don't get comfort of."
It made him angry to be told to wait at the audience lodge; not that there was anything wrong with waiting, he had almost always had to wait for people all his life. Some people are even late for their own funerals. It was the insolence of the servant who told him to wait that stirred his anger. He had begun, without knowing it, to experience the irritation that almost always ruins whites who accept employment under Indians; it is exactly the same irritation that enrages educated Indians who accept employment under whites. Its immediate effect on Quorn was to make him scornful of everything in sight—the palace and its grounds—the methods of the patient, pottering, lethargic gardeners—the fierce light—the heat—and the flies that hit him on the lips and made him spit.
"Bring on your Maharajah," summed up his emotion. And the Maharajah came at last, in Jodhpur riding breeches and a pair of slippers with silken tassels on their upturned toes that aroused Quorn's prejudices. "Sissy!" he muttered. He had dismounted. He was standing beside Asoka, restraining the restless trunk, at frequent intervals, from breaking twigs off near-by shrubbery. The Maharajah stared, and Quorn's eyes met his unblinking.
"You are supposed to salute me," said the Maharajah. There were puffy pouches beneath his eyes. He looked sulky and yet determined, and his blood-red turban hinted violence. He licked his lips. He evidently did not in the least like what he had decided he would do.
"Uh-huh. That's okay with me, if it's in the contract," Quorn answered. "How do you have it? Army fashion?"
"Somebody shall show you. Have you seen that babu?"
"Yes, I seen him."
"Did he tell you anything to say to me?"
"He did not."
"Do you know who is at the mission?"
"I know who was there."
"Do you mean she has gone?"
"What the devil do you mean?"
"There's no knowing what that party might do, almost any minute. I weren't there. I slept along o' this here elephant, on account of his being restless."
"Did you invite her to go to the mission?"
"I did not."
"Did you expect her?"
"I did not."
"I am told you spoke to her."
"Who said it?"
"An informant. I was told it."
"Some folks'll believe what anybody tells 'em."
Quorn knew he should not have said that. It was uncivil, not to say disrespectful; if he could, he would have withdrawn the words. He fully expected to be dismissed on the spot, and he would have considered it served him right if that had happened. He knew instantly what he would do in that event; he would accept dismissal, and then apologize, as one man to another. Meantime, having said it, he stood to his guns, so to speak, and stared, until it dawned on him that the Maharajah did not really know that he had spoken with the Princess. Probably the gateman had kept silence. The Maharajah had lied, to elicit information. No apology was needed. Okay.
"You and I must have an understanding," said the Maharajah.
"I have sent an officer and twenty of my soldiers to the mission to protect the place. They are to let no one in and no one out."
"If they should shoot me," Quorn said, "that 'ud cause a frackass. I'm in duty bound to—"
"You may enter. I ordered it."
"Okay. If they should shoot the babu—"
"He, too, is allowed to enter. Now then, tell me what your plan is."
"I don't know of any plan, your Highness." Quorn got off the words "your Highness" competently. He was proud of having done it without a trace of insolence. He was feeling almost sorry for the Maharajah. It had never occurred to him before that an autocrat might be in ignorance of what was going on around him, or might be unable to control even his own domestic circle.
"There is a tiger," said the Maharajah.
"Yeah—I"—(Quorn almost said "I seen him," but he changed it in time) "seems I heard something o' that."
"I understand you are quite reliable with animals. In fact, that's evident. You and the babu seem to me quite competent to—ah—work out all the details. Did he say how much money you get?"
"He did not."
"I will settle with him. You look to him for payment."
"How about my contract?" Quorn asked.
"You will need no contract. You will be on your way in a week from now. There are twelve days, but I think it better you should go as soon as possible. Otherwise, you might meet the British Resident on his way from railhead. He might ask unnecessary questions. So whatever you do, must be done in a week."
"I don't know yet what I'm supposed to do," Quorn answered, and the Maharajah scowled.
"The babu will undoubtedly explain that to you at the right time. You, the babu, and the priests, between you, one or all of you, get the full blame for whatever happens. If the priests get it, so much the better for you and the worse for them. I don't interfere with religion or religious practices; and I shall deny having ever spoken to you about it."
"Sounds like taking some one for a ride," said Quorn, scratching his forehead. "I'm—" Then he hesitated. Knowing himself to be very stupid in some ways, he knew nevertheless that it is almost as dangerous to be in a murderer's confidence as it is to be the intended victim. He had often wondered, when he dug graves, how many people died because they knew more than was comfortable for their confidants. It seemed best to shut up.
"There are more ways of dying than living," said the Maharajah, as if he could read Quorn's thoughts. "A human life is cheap in India. Remember: eight days from today it will be unsafe here for either you or the babu. The first train, and the first boat after that. You understand me?"
"I shall not need any elephants for eight days. You are in full charge of the elephants and make your own dispositions. The official understanding is that I have engaged you on probation. You are subject to dismissal at the end of eight days, or to a permanent appointment at the end of eight days if your services are satisfactory, which of course they won't be."
Quorn nodded, no longer trusting himself to speak. The difference between reading about criminals, and being treated as a criminal by one who evidently meant to double-cross him, so astonished him that he could hardly feel indignant. Anger, for the moment, crouched under a protective camouflage of cunning. It was better to look stupid. The babu was right. This prince, who was afraid of his own family and of Bughouse Bill, and of a British Resident, would murder anyone he feared, if he could get away with it, with as little compunction as a Philadelphia or New York gangster. Better to play with a tiger than to argue with that man.
"Good enough," said Quorn. "I guess I get you."
He escaped from further conversation by mounting and riding away, not looking backward. He would not have dared to speak again, for fear of not appearing much more stupid than he actually felt. He felt he was beginning to wake up.
"Damn his eyes, he thinks I don't see through him." One thought at a time took shape in words in Quorn's brain in time to the sway of the elephant's head. "Maybe I don't. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe it isn't his plan to have me do his dirty work, and have me run, and have me scuppered as I run. It's seventy miles to rail- head—forty mile o' jungle-room for fifty of me to be et by jackals, kites and what not. And a few dead bones don't say much, even if a Resident should see 'em. What's a Resident? If he's as stupid as the sort o' sap they keep at Washington D.C. to drink embassy liquor, he'll believe what he's told anyhow, and 'twon't be much they'll tell him. How about that babu?"
He thought so intently about the babu that he rode through the palace gate without even seeing the soldiers. Did he like the babu? Did he trust him? Was the babu for the Maharajah or against him?
"Who knows who's what hereabouts? That little lady is a hot tomater, but she's on the level or I'll eat this elephant. But that there babu? Is it his game to make a goat o' me, and grab the jack, and beat it? Mebbe. She and me are for it, that's a ring cinch. Wisht I knew more local politics. Them priests are to be let kill her, and mebbe me too—prob'ly me too, come to think of it. That gives loving poppa an excuse to soak it to the priests, the same as politics in Philadelphia. You fix a crime on a guy when he hogs more'n his share o' the graft. That proves you're a paragon o' civic virtue actuated by a love o' duty. And the voters fall for it. Me and she'll be martyrs, and the crowd'll howl for priest's heads. Fat lot o' good that'll do us. I weren't cut out for the martyr racket. How about that babu?"
Somehow or other, the more he thought about the babu, the more convinced he became he could trust him. It would be rather like trusting a lunatic. You never knew what crazy stuff the man would say next; or what he would do next—such as turning up, for instance, with a tiger, in a wooden cage, at midnight, needing chickens at a moment's notice.
"Nutty? I'll say he is. But smart. And dammit, somehow I can't figure him electing for the Maharajah as against that nice young lady. If he's slated for a ride the same as me and her, they'll maybe have to work to put it over on us. Here goes anyhow; I got to trust him. Ain't no other way out."
WHEN he arrived again at the compound, Quorn was told by one of the mahouts that all the elephants should go down to the river that day for a swim. It was the custom. Since they had been thoroughly oiled the previous day he saw no sense in it; but it seemed a good way to get them all off his mind for the morning, so he gave permission for all except Asoka and one helper, who was at great pains to explain why Asoka became suddenly ill-tempered.
"He knows they will swim. He will go also. One week—ten days he will be indignant, and none can manage him."
"He's spoiled, that's all the matter. You leave him to me," Quorn answered. He had an idea. But he went first to examine the tiger. The door in the wall was locked, so he used a ladder to reach a branch that overhung the wall, and climbed down by the big tree on the far side. When he peered in, the tiger was sleeping, flat on its side in the darkest corner.
"Tame," he thought, "but how tame does a tiger get? There's a mark on his neck where that one's worn a collar."
He climbed back, after observing that the tiger's shed was in a field of barely two acres, surrounded by a high wall with a solid wooden double gate at the far end. New wheel-marks led to the gate, so that was evidently how the tiger had been brought there. But why? He returned the ladder to its hooks on the wall, and bound it carefully in place with wire to prevent anyone else from whetting curiosity by that means.
"As a detective," he thought to himself, "I'd be a first-class flop. It beats me."
Then he turned attention to Asoka, who was straining his chain and behaving like an outraged baby. When the helper approached he tried to rush the man.
"Stand aside and leave me to it," Quorn commanded. He took a horse-whip and cracked it. "Buddy," he said, "you've got to learn it pays to trust me. I know where to hit you where it hurts, so quit your bluffing. Sit down. On your hunkers. Sit up."
Asoka obeyed. He could beg like a dog, and he looked ridiculous with this trunk straight upright; he appeared to be hanging by it from an invisible hook in the sky. The absurdity strengthened Quorn's assurance. So he made the great brute kneel. And after that he took a long chance, to the horror of the helper. He went close, vaulted on to Asoka's neck and ordered him to stand up.
"Loose him," he commanded. "Now you lead along toward the mission."
So the helper walked ahead, continually looking backward in fear for his life. But there was no more difficulty, and the victory, such as it was, did Quorn good. It made him feel there were at any rate four tons of potential murder that knelt and obeyed and were good at the word of command. Inferiority seemed less his own particular personal attribute. Nature was full, after all, of inferior things. The ugly silence of a few bystanders, who watched him furtively as he passed through the smelly streets, and the remarks that a few others shouted after him, took no effect, unless to strengthen obstinacy. And he felt contemptuous, too, of applause and obsequious reverence, of which there was much more than of critical sneering. None of it made much impression on him. He was seeing India through new eyes, and himself in a new perspective.
"Mebbe gladiators felt like this when they were marching in to give the works to one another. Funny, I'm not skeered or excited. But I'm not pleased either. I'm ugly, that's what I am. That's my mood. I get me. Giving me the works'll come expensive. Morals? That babu don't know what he's talking about. I'm not a moralist. I'm ugly—just plain ornery and out for trouble. Yeppy. I allow I've had enough o' being blind man to a bunco steerer. Me for knowing what's what. Show down. This here life's as personal to me as anyone's. Whoever gets mine, gets it bobcat inconvenient. I've been too good natured, that's what. And it don't pay. That's the trouble with these heathen; they get things put over on 'em by their rulers and the British just because they're easy mannered. I'm a looker out for Number One from now on."
But he felt like a Number One exhibit as he neared the mission gate. The babu had not exaggerated. There were thousands in the street, and on the scrap of common land that faced the mission wall. The greater number were all seated, awaiting events with eastern patience—a sea of turbans under black umbrellas. They roared a greeting to him, but they were onlookers, not demonstrators, and nearly all of those remained seated. But there was a crowd near the gate being held back by a platoon of the Maharajah's men, who had to use the butts of their rifles to club a gangway for Asoka. There appeared to be some fanatics among that lot—very wild eyed—utterly indifferent to blows. It was they who held the attention of the soldiers, so that the helper got by with the elephant. Their officer shouted to the helper to stay outside; but he had to face about at once to deal with a rush of sweating enthusiasts who tried to force their way in when the gate opened, so the helper got by. Once inside, Quorn turned Asoka about and made him shove the gate shut with his forehead. Then the din died down a little. But Quorn had a feeling of narrow escape, from what he did not know, but it was nothing pleasant.
In the midst of the mission courtyard was a pond with sides of heavy masonry. It probably had been a spectacular affair before the palace buildings were stripped of all their pagan ornament and put to moral uses. It was full of water still, but totally neglected, and the frogs made merry amid tangled reeds and matted lotus roots.
"Set me down," Quorn commanded, and Asoka lifted him to earth. "Now see what comes o' trusting me, you big stiff. In you go, and cool off."
So Asoka, for the second time, associated Quorn with comfort at the end of dusty boredom. Quorn found a broom in the yard and bade the helper scrub the big brute. "Scrub him pukka." Then he lighted his pipe and made a survey of the situation.
"Can't bust in on ladies. Better size this up a minute."
It was almost like a great abandoned hotel—buildings on three sides of a courtyard with the doors and windows boarded up. The padlock on the big front door was still in place; there was no sign of anyone having trespassed. Moses was nowhere visible. The little back door of the gate-house was locked. Quorn hammered on it, but there was no answer. No sign of the babu. Noises in the street, and the tremendous splashing of Asoka in the pond, made it impossible to be sure that no sound came forth from the buildings, but the place seemed as dead as bygone history.
"Didn't I say there's no knowing what she or that babu'll be up to next?"
Quorn walked the entire length of the buildings, listening at boarded doors and windows. One great solid square of boarding closed the end of a passage that led to where the Reverend John Brown had made a hospital of former servant's quarters—or perhaps they had been the lairs of dancing girls. At any rate, there was another courtyard, back behind the main buildings, that Quorn had only visited once, when he first came, because there was nothing there worth guarding—empty rooms in long rows, looted long ago of every scrap of furniture they had once contained. He remembered seeing a few empty bottles and a broken bedspring. He remembered dying pomegranate trees, and shrubbery that had survived somehow or other without attention. Come to think of it, he and Moses had unscrewed that massive boarding that blocked the passage, and had had the devil's own job to set it up again. They had had to call in help. The easiest way to get through now would be to employ the elephant as a battering ram. But if the Princess was on the far side, how did she get there? Suddenly he remembered that a cellar had been used by Moses as a place for storing vegetables. He had never visited the cellar—always had a notion that there might be cobras in it; and he had a horror of snakes.
Moses, he knew, had always reached the cellar by a stone trap- door that could be lifted by a rope and pulley on the outer wall, close to the gate-house. He walked over there and tried the rope. It was a heavy haul, and the rope was none too trusty looking. However, the stone trap came up gradually, hinged on a pivot near its middle; and a dark hole yawned with dampish, greenish limestone steps that led into gloom that made Quorn shudder. For the moment he forgot he had decided to be tough.
"If I set here and wait for that babu, he'll come," he argued.
But the thought of sitting there and waiting brought to mind that crowd outside that also sat and waited.
"They'll wait eight days for a sight o' what next. I've eight days to strut my stuff or be et by a tiger or something. Snakes are bad, but waiting's worse."
He tied the rope to a ring to keep the stone trap open and admit the daylight. Then he went down the steps with his whip in his hand, expecting to have to use it to kill cobras. The steps led down to a passage, whose floors and walls and roof were limestone blocks; and it was not particularly dark; there was light at the far end. The dampness evidently came from the pond in which Asoka wallowed; water dripped from the roof where the passage passed under the pond. On his left, at the foot of the steps was Moses' sack of vegetables.
"Breeds are breeds, no matter where you find 'em. I suppose that sucker never spoke o' this because I never asked him! God, what a country."
He went ahead gingerly. More than midway of the passage, fifty feet beyond the spot where water dripped, there was a stone door. It looked like a big rough monolith upended to support the roof. But a semicircular ridge in the mud on the floor betrayed that it had recently been opened. It appeared to swing on pivots set in hollows in the masonry at top and bottom. There were footprints in the mud; he could make them out distinctly even in that dimness.
"Nice place for a mission!" he reflected. "Dirty work could go on, and nobody wiser. What was the name o' that telegraph guy who looted the mission and then died? Bamjee? Probably Bamjee took the loot out down this passage and through that door. And let's see—wasn't I warned Chullunder Ghose had fallen heir to all o' Bamjee's secrets?"
Mistrust of the babu re-arose in his mind with the overwhelming logic of a mathematical equation. It appeared as nothing less than madness to imagine that the babu could be anything but a scoundrel. He had very likely murdered Bamjee for the sake of the mission plunder. Bamjee's bones might lie beyond that stone door. Quorn tried to find a way to open it. If he could, he might learn something to his own advantage—something to the disadvantage of the babu. He spent several minutes examining the cracks and looking for a lock of some sort, but, not knowing what to look for, his search was half-hearted, perfunctory, finally a mere reflex action. He was thinking, faster than he had thought yet since he came to Narada, and with greater concentration. And the thoughts made his blood run cold, as they marched on his brain like ghosts in step, one following another, damning him, and dooming him, and leaving no hope.
"I'm a sucker. All I ever knew about this mission is what they told me in Philadelphia. Likelier than not they lied to me about it. I should ha' known there was something fishy about my getting the job so easy. Second place, that Maharajah probably has damned good reasons why he don't want missionaries here. But he wants this mission. He can maybe get it if he gets me into trouble. Scupper me umbrageous, and he takes charge in the name o' protecting the place; and once in, who's to put him out? Maybe Bughouse Bill and his gang want the place as bad as the Maharajah does. As I was told it, it was they who claimed the treaty right and made the missionaries shut down. That's two parties that want it. And now she's here. Maybe it's worth having. Who knows? Maybe she wants it as bad as any of 'em. And she's his daughter. There's not much she'd stop at, if she takes after him.
"By the babu's account, her mother weren't what you might call of a easy disposition. That young woman 'ud have me murdered, like as not, with no more squeams about it than a U.S. Immigration officer deporting aliens to starve in Europe. Maybe she's agin the Maharajah; but she got out o' that palace suspicious easy. Maybe they're collusioning. He sends soldiers to protect her. Next thing is to get me into trouble—frame me into acting lawless, so I can be bumped off. Then the troops march in.—Or, maybe again, she is agin him. That's imaginable. She and the babu cook it up between 'em to involve me in a heap o' trouble. Somehow they make use o' me to trip up Bughouse Bill and trick the Maharajah. Seems they're all afraid of this here Resident, whoever he is. Maybe he's a kind of Federal Bank examiner, who can walk in and ask for the keys o' the situation anytime he pleases. Me, I get mine just before this Resident arrives, I reckon. Then she and the babu get the mission. Maybe he gets his too. What for? God knows. But I'm the goat, and I don't like it. It ain't natural. Maharajahs and princesses and high priests are none o' my business. I'm a decent, God-fearing democrat. I wisht I was in Philadelphia."
He almost turned back. In the little room in the gatehouse were his savings, suit-case and a change of clothes. He could break down the door and get in. In the pond overhead was the elephant; on the back of Asoka he could reach rail-head faster than anyone could follow. The only serious danger would be the telegraph wire; it might be possible to turn out villagers to intercept him before he could reach the frontier. But it was only ten miles from the frontier to rail-head, where there was a white officer with some Indian policemen. It was very tempting. Panic almost had him in its grip. But it is strange what influences actually makes men do, or not do, things that argument could not persuade them to consider.
"I can't leave that guy Moses in the lurch. They'd bump him off to stop him telling what he maybe knows. Got to find him first."
Ahead he went, gingerly, fearful of snakes amid the debris. It was slippery in places. There were quantities of loose stone on which it would be easy to twist an ankle. He was not a noisy fellow; self-consciousness connected with his eyes had taught him never to be self-assertive; so that, what with being scared and thoroughly suspicious, he was almost silent until he reached the foot of the steps at the end of the passage and blinked upward at a patch of dazzling bright blue sky. It was then that he first heard voices—recognized the babu's voice, and heard his own name. But he could not pick out any other words distinctly. So he crept up the steps with the stealth of a cat on the prowl after birds.
He remembered now. In the midst of the neglected shrubbery there was a big round well-head, boarded over. And beside the well-head was an open tank, of masonry peculiarly shallow. He remembered wondering why any one should have gone to the trouble to build such a tank only a couple of feet deep. He could see now that the floor of the tank was nothing but a roof above the stairway, and that the stairway opened into the well-head. The opening into the well-head had been blocked with rubble, and whoever knocked that out to make an opening had thrown most of the rubble down the well; but some of it had fallen into the passage below the steps, and that accounted for the ankle- twisters he had had to avoid. From the opening in the side of the well-head to the top there was a wooden ladder, set there recently. It was a new ladder; its iron nails were not yet rusty. The big round wooden cover of the well was raised on end and held in that position by a rope that passed over the ancient iron gallows over which the bucket-ropes originally passed. It was that cover that served as a shield, preventing Quorn from being seen as he climbed to the top of the ladder and listened. He heard the voice of the Princess:
"Babu-ji, you are too suspicious. If I always talk with you in English, it will make my ladies think I mistrust them."
"Don't you?" asked the babu. "It is bad enough to have to trust me. You have got to learn to trust absolutely nobody unless you have to. Everybody else has got to learn to trust you. But that is different. It is the difference between wisdom and folly. Trust not, that you may be trusted. That is verb sap of the sappiest supreme quintessence of eternal wisdom."
"Can't I trust the Gunga sahib?"
"Yes, you can," the babu answered. "So can I get in the way of a cannon when it goes off. I can trust it to abolish all my interest in subsequent events. But why do it? Coruscating and adorable but obstinate sahiba, can't you see that if you make him trust you he is then dependable, but if you trust him you are left dependent on his whimsies, morality, obsessions, prejudices, pride and sundry unpredictable but deadly tendencies to act up? Dammit, how you argue! As your confidential adviser I must be permitted now and then to get a word in edgewise."
"Very well," she answered, "but I don't quite trust you altogether."
"Flickering of false dawn! Or is it true that wisdom wakens?"
"I doubt you intend to let me play fair."
"But I insist on it," he answered. "All I ask is, let me make the rules, and keep them secret. If you play according to another person's rules, you have less than a fifty-fifty chance, because you can't compel him to obey his own rules. And if he knows your rules, he has more than a fifty-fifty chance. A fifty-fifty chance is much too much to give one's adversary, and a lot too little for oneself. This isn't cricket, with time out for tea. As proof of one's nobility it might be dignified, perhaps, to give one's adversary one chance in a hundred thousand—but retain that on deposit as a hostage for his good behavior. An adversary is an adversary. You should be a Christian. If he kisses you on one cheek, punch him on the other."
"I was thinking of friends, not adversaries," she answered. "I would rather die than betray a friend, I have so few of them. I am not in the least afraid of dying. I will not send anybody into deadly danger for me that I don't share."
"I am afraid then," said the babu, "you are destined to be great. As Japanese would say: 'am sorrow for you!'"
"I have no wish to be great."
"Then you are great. This confidential adviser pities you. Improbably you may be fortunate enough to die before you are discovered. Otherwise, you will learn what lonely disillusion greatness is. However, let us get you going! All this talk of principles is very entertaining, but it isn't war. C'est magnifique, mais—what the hell, sahiba? Time is ruthless."
"So am I!" Her voice struck full on a natural note; it was neither flattened by overemphasis, nor sharpened by the slightest effort to persuade; it stated fact, unqualified. "I, too, am ruthless. I am no romantic figurehead that people are to die for. I am not a lie in a chastity belt that lives off others' chivalry. Let danger be. I love it. I accept men's willingness to share my danger, if they see fit. And the death they die is their death, very honorable if they die as brave men. But I die too. I die with them. My danger is mine, and I ask no odds from destiny. I challenge it. Let destiny be proven. I will not accept what others win, unless I share all risks."
"Mere morals," said the babu.
"It is what I will," she answered.
"Then you make me trust you, most intelligent sahiba, which is what I dreaded. This babu, investigating all philosophies, discovered nothing he could trust in all the universe except a good sport. Sportess is even gooder. I will have to trust you to deprive me of timidity. O dreadful thought! Timidity has saved me from so many bad imbroglios! But self-contempt is something I have known too intimately ever to embrace again—unless scared like a found-out high financier or something."
"Are you afraid of death, babu-ji?"
"Very," he answered. "There is so much still to unlearn! It is only as one ages that the opportunities appear to upset youth's dogmaticism! If that Gunga sahib doesn't come soon—"
"I'm here." Quorn stepped up on to the well-head rim. He stared down at the Princess; she was seated on a chair amid the tangled shrubbery, looking as unlike a movie princess as anything he could imagine. She looked like just a nice young lady, with a frown above her eyebrows and an unself-conscious air of intellectual audacity. The babu squatted on a stone bench near by, looking mischievous. "I listened in," said Quorn. "It weren't good manners, but I done it, and I'll trust both o' you. That's final. What next?" Then he jumped down and stood with his back to the well, awaiting orders, wondering what Moses could be saying to the women who were grouped, unveiled, around him near an open door. It wasn't sensible; it wasn't even sane as far as judgment indicated, but Quorn had drawn a mental line, and turned a page. It was blank. He, too, would challenge destiny and see what destiny could write.
"NOTHING next," said the babu. "All will be simultaneous, unless my intuition has a fit of relativity—which may be. Einstein demonstrated Space-Time infinite non sequitur of experientia docet. This adorable sahiba is square root of minus one of this equation. Si vis bellum para pacem. That means dog eat dog in any case."
"What's Moses doing?" Quorn asked.
"Being flattered by the ladies. Inferiority complex being liquidated in a sea of indescribable emotions. He is being rendered irresponsible, in order that utility may transpire. Anesthetic, that's all."
"Mr. Quorn," said the Princess; and since it was the first time she had called him by his right name, Quorn felt suddenly self-conscious.
"You have interviewed his Highness? I suppose he said he intends to be in ignorance of what is doing, but it must be done before the Resident arrives?"
"How did you know that, Miss?"
"Because I know him. He pretended to be ignorant of an attempt made late last night to have me thrown off the palace roof. That was the priests' way—"
"Bughouse Bill's way," said the babu.
"—of preventing me from doing what I will do. That is why I came here. His Highness thought that if the priests should murder me, he might be able to accuse them of it and excite the rabble to an act of vengeance that would rid him of priestly tyranny."
"The proletariat is vox particularly dei at the moment," said the babu. "That is Greek for propaganda—has its uses."
"He's a fatherly sort of a gent, his Highness seems to be," Quorn ventured.
"Yes," said the Princess, "fatherly. He has a young wife, so he hopes to have a son one of these days. Naturally, he supposes I would have the son poisoned."
"Would you?" Quorn asked. He was deadly serious. He wished to know.
"Why poison?" she answered. "Poison always seems to me such a servile way of doing things. I like rebellion, open and honest. I intend to end this reign of stupidity. If he should have a son, that son would perpetuate it for one more unnecessary generation. Things would go from bad to worse; because, if the son should succeed as a minor, he would get more than ever into the power of the priests. So I am not in favor of his having a son."
"Miss, how will you prevent it?" Quorn asked.
"Dead men don't beget sons."
"Miss—you mean to murder your own father?"
"Oh no. Murder isn't intelligent. It's stupid. Only stupid people think of it. But people who oppose themselves to big ideas have a way of dying. It is like getting in the way of a determined elephant. I have a big idea."
"She means, it has her," said the babu.
"Miss, if I was you," said Quorn, "I'd send a telegram. I'd have the British here so quick there'd be nothing to it. They'd come with a flock of airplanes. I don't figure the British are the special people that they kid 'emselves they are, not by a long shot. But I'll say this: they're on the level when it comes to dirty murder, and I don't mean maybe. They'd protect you, even if it cost your old man all his money."
She shook her head. "The British are in need of friends, not fed cats, if they are to hold India for one more generation. I am not a fed cat. I will catch my own mice. If I win this—you may think perhaps Narada isn't much. But is a pawn much? Do you play chess? I used to play it with my governess. I won many a game by having a pawn on the right square, when my opponent was thinking about nothing but kings and bishops. I can bargain with the British if I play this carefully. But I must take a big risk to begin with."
She looked astonishingly unoriental, although her eyes were splendid and liquidly luminous. True, her skin was darker than the ordinary, and her cheek-bones were perhaps a fraction higher than those of Western women. She was not exactly pretty; in fact she was not pretty at all. Quorn decided she was almost plain on close examination. But she was damned good looking. She was knit of one piece, slight, small, not athletic but alert and active looking. Above all, she looked intelligent. And when she smiled, one felt the smile was humorous, not malicious, but wise. The smile made her look older than she was. The frown that came and went above her eyebrows made her look younger.
"She's a swell girl," Quorn thought to himself. And he knew, without letting the thought take form, that what enabled her to command his loyalty was not the end she had in view. He didn't care a damn about that. It was the fact that he, whom women usually drew away from with apparently instinctive horror when they saw his eyes, was privileged to have the confidence of this one, who, to him, seemed consequently better than them all. She knew his eyes were not a satyr's. Therefore he knew she was on the level. That was his limit of praise. He thought of God as on the level, when he thought about God at all, which was not very often.
"Okay, Miss, and I'm for you. But I still think your best bet is the British. I'd hate like hell to have to buck that outfit. They're no diplomats, I grant you. But diplomacy don't bother 'em. They just go after what they want and get it, same as Soaker when he's working off a peeve."
"He means Asoka," said the babu.
"And they do their diplomating afterwards," Quorn added. "Soaker's here, Miss. I can come and go; so I can get a howdah, and then feed him good, and bring him back here. I can set you down at rail-head inside four-and-twenty hours, I reckon—you and quite a raft o'ladies, if you want to bring 'em. You could fix a dicker with the British, I don't doubt. I've read of Maharajahs being treated same as Jimmy Walker—him o' New York. Maybe you never heard of him. He was resignated recent. Maybe the British 'ud give your pa the air and set you on the thrown, as peaceable as pulling teeth."
He stopped because it appalled him to be listened to with such diffident attention. The mere manners with which she heard him to a finish made him so self-conscious that he actually blushed beneath the tan. The babu chuckled. He noticed it, and that restored his poise a little. But he had said his say. He waited for the Princess.
"People who are set on thrones," she answered after several seconds, "are—"
"Like fools financed by bankers," said the babu. "They work, and the bankers bankidoodle-i-do. Verb sap."
"Not Lenin—I don't like Lenin," said the Princess, "but Mussolini, Mustapha Kemal and Venezelos set me my example. They dared everything and won. They did impossible things. Nothing worth having is won by letting other people do it for you. One has to see an opportunity and seize it."
"Steve Brodie took a chance," said the babu, nodding. "That is U.S.A. American for carpe diem, which is algebra for toujours l'audace. And that is Admiral Nelson K.C.B. with telescope to blind eye. The precedents are all in favor of it."
"Gunpat Rao is the adversary," said the Princess. The babu interpreted:
"Bughouse Bill," he said, and smacked his lips like a bishop enjoying a quotation from one of the naughtier odes of Horace. But like Queen Victoria on an historic occasion, the Princess was not amused.
"Gunpat Rao is enraged," she continued, "by the coincidence that you and I should fit the Gunga sahib story so astonishingly well. It is only an old legend which the priests have used for centuries to entertain the ignorant and keep them pious. It has become an article of faith."
"Like Prohibition," said the babu, "and George Washington's cherry tree, and Free Trade."
"The people have been taught to believe it, because it was harmless and it was easy to point a simple moral," said the Princess.
"But a legend must be legendary," said the babu, "and that is the hell of it. A simple moral is a complicated issue, same as bird-lime to a pigeon, when a legend turns up like a Rip Van Winkle. You and this Sahiba have between you sprung a Mary Baker Eddy on them. Bughouse Bill must now repudiate the Gunga sahib story, or admit that miracles are still on tap. And he must certify them, or submit to proletarian ribaldry, the same as Christian bishops saying age of miracles is over. Predicament and propaganda are the male and female parents of a crisis. This babu as midwife certifies the crisis is delivered, healthy and vigorous—yelling—parents also thriving."
"Gunpat Rao," said the Princess, "tried to have me murdered last night. He may try it again, because he is desperate. He knows that if I gain the throne I will make an end of his pretensions. It is he or I, and no quarter asked or given. That is why I chose this place, where I can't be hit by missiles from the road."
Quorn scratched the birth-mark on his forehead. "I wonder," he said, "was it Bughouse Bill who had 'em pitch a tile at my head? I don't take that guy too serious. I wisht I threw a cabbage at him when he came and sprayed the elephants."
The babu chuckled. "Cabbages," he said, "are a corollary of kings, but Bughouse Bill is somewhat subtler than a cabbage. You have seen him on the day when precedent compels him to appear in public. That blessing of the elephants is a ceremony as ancient as the Lord Mayor's show. He hates it, but he has to do it. Otherwise he spends his whole life in the temple precincts. But they say of him that if a woman sneezes in the palace, Gunpat Rao knows it. So he knows what this sahiba says about him. The hostility is mutual. He loves his enemy on both cheeks. So we have to chuck a tiger at him, not a cabbage."
"Let me talk," said the Princess. "You make him think you are not serious. It is this way, Mr Quorn. There are two temples with a bridge connecting them. Together they are known as Kali's Breasts because they stand on low hills separated by a hollow. Both are very ancient, but the older is really Siva's temple. The one which is not so old is Kali's."
"Yes," said Quorn, "I seen 'em."
"It is a part of the Gunga sahib story," she continued, "that the Gunga sahib died this way: after he had rescued Sankyamuni of the legend, he was ordered by the gods to take her to Siva's temple, where there was a tiger of such ferocity that none dared to approach him. She had to lead that tiger across the bridge into Kali's temple. Being guarded by the gods, she did it."
"That," explained the babu, "is symbolical of something, same as Daniel in den of lions, only more so."
"The Gunga sahib waited for her on his elephant," the Princess continued. "He watched her cross the bridge and disappear into the other temple. Then he grew afraid. So he got down from his elephant to go and help her. And the elephant thought he was running away, so the elephant slew him."
"Symbolizing something," said the babu.
"But the legend goes on," said the Princess, "that the gods felt sympathetic, since they knew the Gunga sahib's real motive. So they commanded that in course of time—and certain gods are said to hold the keys of time—he, she and the elephant, all three should be reborn; and that then she should lead the tiger back across the bridge from Kali's temple into Siva's, where a cage is always waiting. Thus the Gunga sahib may redeem his fair name, and the elephant may be forgiven."
"Symbolizing something else again," the babu added.
"That the legend might be vital and important," said the Princess, "some say for a thousand years, but certainly for many centuries, the priests have always kept a very savage tiger in a cage in Kali's temple. When the tiger dies, they get another. They of Kali's temple say the tiger symbolizes—"
"Something," said the babu, "it is always something."
"They of Siva's temple say not."
"Bughouse Bill bets both ways," said the babu.
"I have undertaken," said the Princess, "to enact that legend."
"Miss," said Quorn, "do you mean you intend to lead a tiger by the scruff across that bridge?"
"I have demanded my right to do it," she answered.
"This is 1932, Miss. Such things ain't done."
"And the legend says," she went on, "that when that shall happen, then Sankyamuni shall become the ruler of Narada."
"Propaganda indicated?" asked the babu. "Oh no! Fathead such as I am would be likely to miss that one."
"Gunpat Rao either has to—"
"Bluff or show cards," said the babu.
"He must let me try it or be laughed at. And the crowd is naturally very eager. Some believe and some doubt. Some are scornful. Some, but not many, are taking Gunpat Rao's part and urging him to denounce me and forbid the attempt. But on the whole the people differentiate between religion and the priests, and the majority would very gladly see a—"
"Waterloo for Bughouse Bill. Am for it also," said the babu. "Now you understand undoubtedly that tiger which the Jains have made religious. Rabbit out of hat is nothing to it. We have got to swap a doubtfully religious tiger for a hellish certainty and trust to luck. Have you a rabbit's foot?"
"The point is, Gunga sahib," said the Princess, "would you rather have a double? I have read the magazines of Hollywood. I understand that all the stars have doubles for dangerous events. I must have you for what are called the close-ups, because no one else in all Narada looks exactly like the Gunga sahib. And besides, you can manage Asoka. But once inside the temple courtyard where they keep their savage tiger we could see a double for the really dangerous business. You see, we dare not leave the savage tiger in his cage. He has to vanish. We can't shoot him. A shot might be heard by the crowd outside. It will be difficult. You see—"
Quorn interrupted. "Miss, I think maybe you didn't understand my meaning. Are you going to tackle that proposition?"
"Oh yes. Why not? I have nothing to lose. If I die, I am dead. I prefer that to a living death and finally to die of dreadful living. But you—"
"Miss, I don't think that's nice of you," said Quorn. "Tigers and heroics ain't in my line; and I don't quite get the idee—not yet. But did you think I'd let another guy do my job? The hell I will. I'm double for the Gunga sahib, that's what I am. Getting et by tigers is a raw deal but a durned sight better than it would be to watch you et, and me sitting pretty. Get a double for the babu, if he needs it. He's a heathen."
Chullunder Ghose grinned. "Am bum psychologist, I don't think. This babu's verbosity is many verb saps made into a volume. Let's go. Million to one shot—same as odds of Irish sweepstakes! Somebody always wins. It's Moses' turn to—"
"Let me talk to Moses," said the Princess.
QUORN never knew what the Princess said to Moses. He could only guess that she had said it well. The change in the one-eyed, rather shifty looking Eurasian was even more sudden and remarkable than what had taken place in Quorn himself; his self-esteem had suddenly been raised to altitudes where mystery redeems one from a lowly heritage. Excitement, held in by pride, produced what years of education and environment had almost obliterated—that spark of essential spirit that, like death and sleep, makes all men equal—the spark that always upsets calculations, the divinity in man not being calculable by lords of things and rules and precedents.
"I am to guard you, sir," said Moses. "You are not to be a massacre. I am entrusted with it."
Guardianship began when Quorn went down the ladder in the well-head. Moses went first. He went ahead through the tunnel. The only check in the growth of Moses' new sense of responsibility was momentary. Quorn called to him to ask what lay behind the huge stone door in mid-tunnel, and for thirty seconds then, Moses plainly hesitated. He seemed afraid to confess ignorance. Then, suddenly:
"But sir, it would be breach of confeedence. It will be told at the proper moment."
Not one word more could Quorn get out of him on that subject. Moses went ahead up the steps at the far end, peering about at the top to make sure no enemies were ambushed. Quorn watched him engage the assistant mahout in conversation; watched the mahout change from sleepy indifference to alertness.
"What have you said to him?"
"Nothing much," said Moses. "If one says too much to such ones they become bad. I have onlee said he shall receive the debt paid that he owes a monee-lender, if for one week he obeys obedientlee and is utterlee secretive."
Asoka was summoned out of the water, glistening wet, and for the first time in his life Moses rode in real state, up behind Quorn, scared but too proud to admit it, with a hand on Quorn's shoulder to keep his balance, The assistant mahout unlocked the gate. The Maharajah's soldiers drove the crowd back, and Asoka swayed homeward, the assistant mounting by his tail and perching on the wet back with the agility of a monkey.
"What next?" Quorn asked. He was slightly jealous of the fact that Moses had been taken into confidence.
Moses, leaning forward, answered in his ear awesomely but trying to smile it off:
"We are to teach the tiger."
"We? You mean you're game to tackle that?"
"But sir, if we should fail to do so, there would be unsatisfactoree conseequences."
"What do you know about tigers?"
"Nothing, sir. But I also do not know about poleetics. Yet here I am, politicalee active. That must be undoubtedlee because God wishes it; and if I die obedient to God, then I shall go to heaven. It will make no deeference whether a tiger kills me or I die of some other atrocitee."
"Gee, you're pious."
"Pietee is better, sir, than supersteetion."
"Aren't you scared any more o' the priests?"
"Oh yes, but they are not of princeepal importance. I shall need some monee. I must send to the bazaar for food and cooking pots, since it is necessaree now to see you are not poisoned, for a week at anee rate. So I will cook in the shed. And I will sleep there also."
"The hell you will."
"Yes, I have promised, and there are two cots. This assistant is to have a blanket, and shall sleep on the veranda. He and I will watch that you are not a massacre by night. For one week onlee. It is orders."
"Her Eminence's orders."
Quorn thought things over. It was a new one, to be subject to Moses' dispositions and vigilance. Was Moses set to spy on him? Again a gulf appeared to yawn between himself and all this mystery of legend and intrigue. It was too late now to back down. He was for it. But the thing seemed more ridiculous than ever. Five-cent books on history had taught him that a coup d'état is never possible unless the military are behind it, yet a coup d'état was obviously being planned. Two or three British bombing planes could easily subdue Narada. There was the wire to the border that could summon the Royal Air Force at a few hours' notice. Even supposing some one should cut the wire, there were the Maharajah's hundred men and the police. It was the damnedest, craziest, least credible proposition he had ever heard of.
"Do they mean to feed that Maharajah to the tiger?" he wondered. There was no suggestion wild enough to fit the situation.
Quorn said nothing more until they reached the compound and Asoka was once more safely picketed beneath his tree with hay to keep him amused. But there was a faint smell of tiger that appeared more interesting than the hay, so Quorn sat on the veranda of his little shed, where he could watch and be ready for trouble. The elephant was real enough; Quorn understood him. But the rest seemed unreal, and he could not understand it. There were too many mysterious details. There was too much clockwork- like precision in the way things fitted—as for instance: during his absence some one had hung a newly killed kid in a sack to a nail on the wall of the shed. Did that fat babu never overlook anything? How many secret assistants had he? Moses came and sat beside Quorn:
"It is better, sir," said Moses, "that you should not seem to understand the language. Then, if I interpret for you, you will know exactlee what is said. And you will not need to say veree much. But what you do say will be accuratelee understood by those to whom I will interpret what you do say."
The proposal being reasonable, Quorn nodded. It suited him perfectly.
"It is better to seem stupid than too senseeble," said Moses. "It is even better that you give a foolish name to that assistant who has gone for food and cooking pots, because a follee is an unsuspicious circumstance. Exactitude is something to arouse the curiositee of malevolent people."
"Yeah, I already named him," said Quorn. "He's the image o' Ratty Riley—him that they 'lectrocuted for the Trenton hold-up. He already answers to Ratty."
"And sobrietee is inadvisable," said Moses.
Quorn eyed him sideways. "Never touch the stuff," he answered. "I'm a tartar when I'm pie-eyed. Six or seven shots o' Rye and you couldn't kid me that I can't lick Dempsey and a locomotive. I'm not taking any."
"Nevertheless," said Moses, "should I put some cold tea in a whisky bottle, it would cause them to treat you not so carefulee, because a drunken person acts ridiculouslee, whereas sober people must be treated otherwise."
"I get you. Okay. I'll act pie-eyed. This whole damned business seems pie-eyed to me. Let's feed the tiger."
Asoka had grown quiet and was tossing hay on to his back contentedly. Quorn took down the kid's carcase from the nail, and he and Moses climbed over the wall. They pulled the ladder after them to reduce the risk of espionage. Quorn fed the tiger, shuddering as the brute struck the meat off the end of a stick and began to devour it instantly, entrails first.
"How do you tame a brute like that?" he grumbled.
"It must certainlee be done," said Moses. "Possiblee if you should beat him with a whip—or with a hot iron—"
Quorn sent him over the wall again, to cook dinner and keep an eye on Asoka.
"If I'm needed, throw a rock on the roof of this shed. I'll come quick."
Then he settled down to study the conundrum. There was an old packing case in the shed; he sat on that and watched the tiger devour his meal, all but the head and the lower parts of the legs. Then he went near enough to make sure there was water in the pan, and since the tiger merely stared he grew bolder and decided to try to clean the cage. So he climbed back over the wall, hunted up a long-handled hoe and returned. When he shoved the hoe between the wooden bars the tiger played with it, striking at it and pretending to be furious. Or perhaps he was furious. But the job was finished in about fifteen minutes and then the tiger lay down, licking himself contentedly.
"If I should feed him fat, he'll probably go sick," Quorn argued to himself, "but he'll be safer full o' meat than craving it. I'd sooner he was sick than me all chewed up."
He dragged the packing case close to the cage and sat there to let the tiger get used to him. The brute took no apparent notice, although Quorn sat there until he was weary of sitting still. Then Moses summoned him to dinner. After dinner he returned and found the tiger pacing up and down, so he paced up and down too, as close to the bars as he dared; and at last, when the tiger grew tired of it and lay down in a corner of the cage, Quorn scratched him cautiously. The tiger promptly sprawled to let his ears be rubbed. He was tame. He was used to being handled. There was the clear mark of a collar on his neck.
"If I should get a collar on him, what then?"
Barring one journey across the wall when all the elephants returned from the river and supplies had to be measured out, Quorn stayed with the tiger all that afternoon, talking to him now and then in a low voice, hunting for a phrase that the beast might recognize, but with no result. The tiger drowsed most of the time, not growing restless until Quorn started to move away, when he jumped up. He appeared to like human company.
"But what the hell? A woman couldn't hold him by the collar, even if he is tame. It's a cinch he'd break away. And she'd be lucky if he didn't scrag her. Could I give him opium, I wonder?"
There was opium in the store-shed, for sick elephants, and as a reward, to be rationed out in minute quantities to the mahouts, who needed it at intervals to keep their dissolute bodies and souls together. But how could one feed a tiger opium? And how much?
"Wisht I had a book on tiger-training."
It was almost dark when Moses summoned him. A stone came thumping on the roof of the shed and startled the tiger out of a snooze. Quorn left him pacing up and down, and as he climbed the wall he could smell supper. There was a little table laid on the veranda. But all that Moses produced was a whisky bottle, from which he poured a stiff dose into a long glass. Not a word was said. Quorn drank the stuff. He detested the flavor of lukewarm tea, but he kept a straight face and even smacked his lips, since there was evidently something in the wind.
"Give me some more," he commanded. Moses made a show of protest. Quorn insisted angrily. He drank a second glass, then lurched to the chair and sat down.
"There is somebodee to see you, sir," said Moses.
"Let him wait."
Quorn shredded tobacco clumsily and filled his pipe, staring about him while he lighted it, but he could see nothing out of the ordinary. The last of the sacred monkeys was getting away with stolen corn, almost too sleepy to dodge the stone that a mahout threw. It was almost dark; there were a few pale stars already visible and the day smell had changed to the smokier, slightly damper, cooler smell that heralds night. Moses retired into the shed, but Quorn was aware of him peering through the window; he could hear him performing the silly old trick of snapping coins together to suggest a cocked revolver. But nothing happened.
"Well—who is it?" he demanded at last.
Then, from around beside the shed, there came a dark-skinned, solemn-looking little man with high cheek-bones and mutton-chop whiskers turning iron-gray. He had a fierce moustache and wore a dull-red turban made of twisted cloth. The bare calves of his legs looked powerful as he stepped on to the veranda, but he was a more than middle-aged man and not particularly active looking—no one to feel afraid of, although he had a vague air of being used to authority, and he was certainly not afraid of Quorn.
"Kick off your slippers!" Quorn commanded.
The man obeyed without comment. Then for almost sixty seconds he and Quorn stared at each other, mutually hostile, until the sudden total darkness of the Indian night closed in around them and they were framed in the yellow lamplight from the open window.
"What does he want, Moses?"
Quorn knew enough of the language to follow the conversation, and his ears were alert enough to catch the flick of the blade of Moses' cooking knife against the wood beneath the window.
"Sir, this personage is the private secretary of the Maharajah's minister of state. He wishes to speak to you confidentialee."
"Tell him to come in the morning when I'm sober. Say when I'm as drunk as this I don't keep secrets."
"Sir, he says it would be well to treat him confidentialee. Thus he may befriend you properlee, but otherwise how can he?"
"After breakfast in the morning is the time for talk," Quorn answered.
"He says, sir, that it is necessaree he and you shall speak together now." Moses came around through the door with his knife in his hand and dragged up a chair for the visitor, who sat down. "He says, sir, that if there are to be events he wishes to be cognizant of same, in order that he may behave discreetlee. Somebody, he says, has cut the telegraph wire. He thinks you ordered it."
"I should care what he thinks."
"He says, sir, that you should have a friend or two at court unless you are willing to die of a perfect certaintee; because it will not be permitted that the Princess shall attempt to lead the tiger, and if necessaree they will shoot the tiger and will kill you."
"Sir, he says that you are quite undoubtedlee a British agent. He is perfectlee aware, he says, that you are sent here by the British to perform a mysteree in order that political disturbance may occur, because the British, who are in manee difficultees, wish for an excuse to seize Narada as they once took Scinde and certain other places. So, he says, you must be veree brave to dare death so importantlee. He says, it is invariablee profitable to protect the brave and to provide for their necessitees. If you should need some monee—"
"Tell him he may go to hell," Quorn interrupted. Ignorant he might be, but he was not so ignorant as that. When a total stranger mentions money it is time to close the conversation. But Moses, it appeared, thought otherwise:
"He says, sir, he is certain that your honor is in no great danger after all, because, if anyone should kill you, that would give the British an excuse to interfere, and nobody will wish that. Nevertheless, he thinks that you should authorize him to suggest that thought to others, just in case some sillee person should neglect to think about it and should act indiscreetlee and kill. He says, it is so easy to take life, so difficult to preeserve same, so impossible to bring back to life when once thoroughlee dead."
"Does he think I'm crazy?" Quorn asked.
"Sir, he says you certainlee are crazee unless you culteevate his affection, because otherwise he will not dare to speak to you as one friend to another."
"Kiss him for me. Say I love him first rate."
"He says, sir, that he will tell you all he knows if you will be a friend to him in what he calls contingencees. I believe, sir, it would be as well to treat this personage politelee."
"Go ahead then. Kiss him."
Moses interpreted that at such garrulous length that Quorn grew tired of listening. He gathered, though, that Moses represented him as being tough, and rather drunken, but such a man of his word that even the incredulous and cautious British- Indian Council of State entrusted him with terrific secrets. Moses' idea of the Indian Government was almost as hazy as Quorn's, but he made up for that with an air of sincerity, and at last the visitor revealed a slightly deeper layer of his motive:
"Now he says, sir, that the popularitee of the Princess is such that nobodee will dare to attempt to preevent what she has said that she intends to do."
"He said the opposite o' that just now," Quorn interrupted.
"But, he says, he did not dare to tell the truth until he tested first your honor's confeedence. But what he wishes to inquire is, how will your honor overcome the prejudices of the priestlee tiger, which is being teased to make him veree angree? Should the Princess try to lead that angree animal, he says, she will be certainlee a massacre. But should she not attempt it, after having promised, she will lose her popularitee, and consequentlee certain personages hesitate to acclaim her. Should they do so they might be much humiliated. If your honor has a good plan and a safe one—"
Quorn interrupted again: "You tell him miracles are my meat. Joshua, who made the sun stand still, was a mere beginner. And remind him your name's Moses. Tell him plaguing the Egyptians with frogs and boils was nothing to what you're cooking up for Bughouse Bill. Say tigers don't mean nothing to us. Tell him, where I come from, tigers are pet cats. Then tell him I want my supper, so to hell with him and good night."
Moses' translation of that was free but eloquent. He managed to convey the idea without unnecessary detail. The visitor stood up and bowed; but as he bowed he spoke again, low voiced.
"He says," said Moses, "does your honor not want monee? He would like her Highness to remember, later on, that he was friendlee toward her—"
"Tell him to see Chullunder Ghose about it."
That was final. Quorn's voice was suddenly whip-crack definite, and the visitor turned to go.
"It isn't that I don't like graft," said Quorn to Moses. "Finding's keepings. First come, first served, mebbe. But I like to know who's buying what, and why. You get me?"
But Moses only answered:
"Oh my God!" He dropped his knife on the veranda and stood frozen with terror. Quorn let his chair come forward with a thump and sat still.
The visitor had paused at the veranda step to put his slippers on, and perhaps to think of one last argument to break down Quorn's reticence. Out of the darkness, flashing for a second in the lamplight from the open window, came a thrown knife. It struck the visitor between the shoulder-blades. He fell without saying a word, blood spurting from his mouth. His lungs were pierced.
"They have killed him, sir," said Moses stupidly. Quorn got up to look closely, but suddenly thought better of it. He decided first to summon the mahouts as witnesses. His foot struck Moses' kitchen-knife.
"Pick it up," he ordered. "Get inside and stay there."
"Sir, that knife was meant for you!" said Moses. But another voice interrupted, laughing:
"Not so! This babu bets all his money that Bughouse Bill proposes you shall be accused of murder, Gunga sahib! I bet that is your knife, stolen from the mission gate-house! Let me see it."
Chullunder Ghose strode out of shadow. He stooped to examine the victim—an enormous target, had there been another knife in ambush.
"Watch out for yourself," Quorn advised him. "How long have you been here?"
"Not long. I followed this man; what he had to tell you was important. Yes, this knife has B.Q. on the handle—your initials."
Quorn swore angrily: "I never put 'em on a knife."
"No?" The babu chuckled. "They did! Bughouse Bill is fond of finesse, and he thinks of details! One knife for two adversaries. Not bad! But a bughouse is a bughouse. And a verb sap is—" He raised his voice a little higher. "Idherao!" he commanded.
Three men stepped out of the darkness—two who looked like soldiers, and a third who trembled in their grip on his sinewy arms.
THE babu looked deathly tired. The yellow lamplight made his weary, handsome face look older. The chair that Moses brought creaked under him as he let himself go and sat slackly, relaxed. His eyelids drooped, but there was fire behind the meditative eyes. His big head still poised masterfully on the strong neck. Lines of humor, still there, indicated that the humor might have irony behind it. It was a marvel that the man was not a high court judge or something of the sort. In that rich light and shadow he was a picture of Quorn's idea of what a senator had looked like in the splendid days of Rome. His powerful, well-shaped fingers tapped judicially on the table as he considered the man in front of him—a man who no longer trembled and no longer tried to shrink free from the grip of the two who held him.
"We're full in lamplight," Quorn warned.
"And the audience is in the dark," the babu answered. "That is proper." Then he began to talk to the prisoner, arrogantly, in a language of which Quorn knew not one word. Moses, who appeared also not to understand that language, slunk indoors, crossing himself and shuddering as he passed the corpse. As he opened and closed the shed door, light shone for a second on shadowy forms in the outer darkness. The mahouts had gathered. They were watching. They were trying to listen.
Suddenly Moses yelled and came rushing out again. The crash of upset cooking pots behind him was as startling as an explosion.
"Cobra! Oh my God!" His one eye was white in the lamplight. "Who will kill him? Somebodee must kill him!" The mahouts came closer. One could hear them breathing.
"Shut the door," said the babu. "Keep the snake in there. It shall kill this prisoner, unless he tells me what I wish to know." Apparently he repeated that to the prisoner, who grinned uncomfortably, as a frightened, stubborn man might show his teeth at the sight of instruments of torture.
Quorn shut the door with a slam that made Moses jump. Then he stared in through the open window for about a minute.
"Yes," he said at last, "a big 'un. Darn you, you've spilled my supper," he added. "How did he get in there?"
"Which is easier," the babu asked: "to throw a knife, or to let a cobra out of a basket? Bughouse Bill is thorough. But so are cobras. This man, who threw the knife, shall fight that cobra with his teeth unless he answers me." He said something or other very swiftly, in a low voice, to the two who looked like soldiers though they wore no uniform, and they began to twist the prisoner's arms behind his back. Quorn sat down nervously:
"Eh? Third degree?" he objected.
"To begin with," said the babu. "There are ninety-nine degrees in India and I know all of them. Tread on his toes," he commanded. "Time is of the essence of our haste, and I am not so sentimental as I look."
A heavy, military-looking foot descended on the prisoner's, who set his teeth and held his breath.
"Now punch him in the belly," said the babu. Out came the prisoner's breath with a spastic gasp—then a groan—then a tortured exclamation.
"He will talk now," said the babu. "I intend to let him go if he is truthful." He repeated that to the prisoner.
"But he murdered a man," Quorn interrupted.
"You moralist!" The babu smiled scornfully. "Lives there a king or president or ruler in the world, whose authority is not based on murder? Name me a god who is not a murderer! What do I care that this fool slew a secretary? I have learned that the palace hesitates which way to bet. That was the dead man's message. Having given it, what was he worth? He is a dead rat. Now then—"(he changed to the vernacular)—"twist his fingers."
But the prisoner had had enough persuasion. He began to talk rapidly, in the language that Quorn did not understand.
"A mere fool," said the babu at last. "A fanatical fool, and a liar, as fanatics all are. He justifies himself. He says he had no orders, but he overheard the speech of Gunpat Rao. Very probable! It is as if I said I overheard the secrets of the British Cabinet in Downing Street! But he says that he and another therefore made conspiracy together. One would introduce a cobra into the shed. The other—that is this one—would throw a knife. And thus, one way or the other, one of them would slay this imitation Gunga sahib and prevent the intended sacrilege. He says it was an accident; he slew the wrong man. He lies, but what of it? He forgets the initials on the knife. That dead rat went to Gunpat Rao and did talk to him. Am I a simpleton? So simple am I that the man who overheard was no less than the dead rat's body servant; so I know the whole truth. And the truth is this: there is a palace revolution, almost; but the palace hesitates. So the dead rat was sent to see you, and you only. However, he was a rat, and first he went to Gunpat Rao to have both confidences and to sit on both sides of the fence. Gunpat Rao easily seduced him. So he came here and held you in conversation, intending that you should be an easy target for a thrown knife. But Gunpat Rao is Bughouse Bill, who loves no rats that run from one side to another. To accuse the Gunga sahib of a murder, and to murder the rat who might otherwise betray his confidence, seemed subtler to him and a lot less dangerous. So this fool was instructed, although not by Gunpat Rao, who is not so easy with his confidences, and a knife was notched with your initials. Simple, wasn't it? Why not arrest you? But the point is, nobody knows now what this murdering fool has told me. Bughouse Bill will certainly repudiate him, but he will not know how much I know. He will try to discover how much I know, before he makes his next move. He surely knows already that his plan miscarried; probably a dozen messages have reached him."
"Hell," said Quorn, "he'll send and murder both of us. That's easy. Put the light out, Moses. Sitting here's like daring 'em to do it."
But Moses was afraid to go into the room where the cobra was, and the lamp was too far back from the window to be reached from outside. The babu seemed too tired to make a joke about it, but he spoke to Quorn as to a child who had been stupid at his lessons:
"There are more than thirty witnesses observing us, you innocent! Do you imagine Bughouse Bill would trust mahouts to keep his secrets?"
Quorn grunted, not enjoying the snub in the presence of Moses. He had abandoned his feeling of superiority to the babu, but Moses was a half-breed and his servant to boot. The word innocent had humiliating implications. However, the babu changed the subject. Suddenly he sprang out of his chair as if exploded out of it. The prisoner tried to flinch away from him.
"You lied!" said the babu savagely in English, hardly raising his voice but making it vibrate with anger. Then he changed to the vernacular and spoke three or four short sentences that sounded like threats or curses, or both combined. The prisoner flinched again, seemed almost reassured for a second, and then more terrified than ever.
"He will talk now," said the babu confidently. But he was wrong. The man sulked, until at last the babu asked for pen and ink and paper. Quorn produced a fountain-pen, but the babu had to use the fly-leaf of a book to write on, because neither Quorn nor Moses would face the cobra in order to bring paper from indoors. When he had finished writing he folded the note. Then:
"An ekka," he commanded.
There was a lean pony at a picket in the compound, and in a corner was a small two-wheeled cart with hoops over it to support a sheet in rainy weather. Quorn shouted to Ratty to go and harness the lean pony and bring the ekka. Ratty emerged from a shadow almost at his feet and ran like a ghost to obey. Within three or four minutes the ekka waited close to the veranda. But there was no covering over the hoops.
"Get a sheet," said the babu. That took longer, but one was found and tied over the hoops at last. And then the night grew tense with silence. Sixty or seventy eyes were watching from the darkness. There was a sensation of breath being held. The prisoner looked terrified; he almost spoke; his lips moved, but there were no audible words.
"Off with his turban," said the babu. Then he went and stooped over the murdered man as if to make sure he was actually dead. But he appeared to take death for granted, or to be indifferent. What interested him was the dead man's turban made of yards and yards of coiled red cloth. He pulled it off, tied a loop in the end and passed that over the prisoner's head.
"Going to lynch him?" Quorn asked. "I won't stand for it," he added. "He's a dirty murderer, but—"
"Worse than lynching," said the babu. Then he ordered the prisoner bound hand and foot with his own turban, and that was done very efficiently by the man who held him. Using a length of wire that Quorn kept handy for cleaning a pipe-stem, the babu pinned to the prisoner's breast the folded note that he had written.
"Just my compliments," he said, "to Gunpat Rao. Lead him to his victim now, and throw him," he commanded.
That was done with military zeal and lack of gentleness. The murderer fell prone on his victim, and the babu lashed the two together with the turban that he had looped in readiness around the murderer's neck. He trussed them neck to neck, and arm to arm, and leg to leg.
"He would love death better," he remarked then. "Making corpses is heroic, but to touch them is against his conscience. He is ritually unclean now, and who shall ritually cleanse him? Bughouse Bill? I think not."
"That is terrible!" said Moses. "It is sinful. It is—"
"Pretty drastic, aren't you?" Quorn suggested. "Monkeying with a guy's religion—"
"Sometimes even I am moral," said the babu. "Now into the ekka with them."
It was curious to watch the care with which the military- looking individuals avoided touching the corpse, or even the blood that already drenched the murderer's clothing. They took the murderer by head and feet, so that the corpse came with him, and hove the two into the ekka like sacked merchandise. And even so they wished to wash themselves—went to the faucet near- by, splashed there for several minutes and then came back dripping. The babu used that interval to make sure that the cover was lashed tight to the ekka. He was not easily satisfied. Finally with his own hands he tied the murderer to the hoops to keep him from escaping. Then he gave his orders:
"Take them to Gunpat Rao! One of you lead the pony. One of you walk behind the ekka."
Both men objected, one volubly, the other muttering.
"Then go back to your Maharajah!" said the babu. "Go and tell him you deserted but have changed your loyalty a second time!"
They muttered mutinously. They were more afraid of Gunpat Rao than of court martial. But the babu argued, bullied, threatened, and then suddenly drew one more surprise from his store:
"I will go with you! I will lead you!"
It was almost a defeat. They hesitated. It was clear enough that, though they doubted the babu, they had no doubt at all about Gunpat Rao. Chullunder Ghose might punish them, perhaps; perhaps he might not dare to try to punish them. But Gunpat Rao had the powers of darkness at his beck and call. It was the babu's last shot that won:
"The Gunga sahib is coming also."
Whether they believed that Quorn's eyes were an armor against evil, or whether it was curiosity that won them over, or a sense of shame, they surrendered, and one went at once to the pony's head. Quorn wondered whether to refuse or not. The whole transaction was a lot too lawless for him. But it was Moses who spoke:
"Sirs, you leave me here alone?" he asked. He came and stood beside Quorn. He looked determined—rigid—sacred but not to be imposed upon. And he received at once the accolade that was all he needed to make him a redoubtable ally:
"We need you with us, sahib," said the babu. No one had ever addressed him as sahib. No one had ever before addressed him as a man whose courage was a positive, unquestionable fact.
"You may command me," he answered, and his voice held a hint of a choke, as a man's should in a splendid moment. Then the babu turned to Quorn and spoke low:
"One fathead, so many things to do, no sleep—and what do you think will be the end of it? Am I a man of ice and iron?"
"You'd better watch out, or you'll crack," Quorn answered. But the babu frowned and his face grew firm:
"I will not fail! It is good that I made a slight mistake, since it awakens me! If I had been awake, I would have thought of this first! Had you and I not gone to pay this call on Bughouse Bill—"
"Why call on him?"
"We might have had to deal with Gunpat Rao," said the babu.
"They're the same man, aren't they?"
"Two in one skin! I can outwit Bughouse Bill. But Gunpat Rao is a better man than I am. Come on."
Quorn followed Moses. He was actually too distrustful of the outcome, and too nervous, to have followed the babu without an argument. But he refused to feel inferior to Moses. So he gruffly ordered Ratty to guard the shed, and stepped forth into darkness, swearing below his breath and scratching at the birth-mark on his forehead.
"We're as crazy as hell," he muttered. "We're every one of us as crazy as Billy-be-damned."
THE public oil-lamps were far apart and rather dim. There were a few patches of light from badly fitted shutters, and there was a glow on the roofs, where women chattered amid curtains that swayed in the evening wind. The stars shone wonderfully, and the low half-moon bathed one part of the sky in liquid silver. But down in the narrow streets there was barely enough light to show that they were being followed, it was impossible to guess by how many people. The sound of sandaled feet was like that of a soft wind in a forest.
"What's your plan?" Quorn demanded. But the babu was not to be drawn.
"Only opportunists have plans," he answered. "Self am creator of opportunities that, being new, have not been spoiled by other people."
"Wisht we'd come on Soaker," Quorn grumbled. "We'll be mobbed, or else land in the lock-up. Which is worse, I wonder?"
"It would be worse to have no witnesses," the babu answered. "Curiosity prevents more crimes than cupidity causes. It would be safer to sleep with cobras than to visit Bughouse Bill on such an errand unless lots of people saw us do it. Oh publicity, what secrecy thy fierce light hides! Oh secrecy, how silly are thy slaves!"
He chatted, probably to keep himself awake; or perhaps to keep Quorn from thinking and becoming scared by his own imagination. He may have done it to conceal his own thoughts. At any rate, he revealed a new side of himself:
"Give me one small state that is a member of the League of Nations, and then watch me! Machiavelli's day is down the river, like Kipling's empire. The bourgeoisie who wrangle at Geneva think arithmetic empowers them to cope with relativity! One man with an imagination, and the courage of it—"
"Meaning you?" Quorn asked him, keeping step. They trudged behind the ekka like poor relations discussing estimates of compensation and employers' liability behind a pauper's hearse.
"Imagination—courage—patience," said the babu. "Narada is nothing—a mere Andorra—a mere Corsica. But Corsica is an empty egg that hatched a famous chicken!"
"Marry the Princess?" Quorn suggested. In the stories he had read, and in the pictures he had seen, the princess always married the adventurer who overcame her enemies. He knew that difference of age, in the East, is unimportant. "That 'ud make you Maharajah, would it?"
"Innocent! Am I a simpleton? I like impossibilities, but that would be impossible and silly also. There never lived the king or queen who was more than a puppet. And today their ministers are puppets."
"Sure, there you're right," said Quorn. "Democracy's the stuff."
"Stuff? Yes. It is the stuff of which calamities are made," agreed the babu. "Brains and an imagination! Plus a swarm of silly politicians jealous of each other and in deadly rivalry for self- importance! That is the stuff of which Napoleons build empires."
"Oh! So you're a new Napoleon?"
"How can there be a new Napoleon, you ignoramus! What would be new about his mistakes? He was a fool who wisely wanted India but never saw it because vanity and greed prevented him. Gandhi could have had India, but was too much of a moralist to want it. I am not a moralist, and I will win Narada for the Princess. Then what? What when India exchanges British rule for self- determination? Who shall be the self who shall determine that outcome? And if India grows great because of brains and an imagination, what of Asia? If I should live for five-and-twenty years—"
"We've five-and-twenty minutes, maybe,· if we're lucky," said Quorn, whose imagination reveled in no such flights at awkward moments. On their left hand, in the darkness of the street that passed beneath the bridge, already loomed the Kali temple wall. It was like the wall of a prison, sheer for twenty feet, of massive masonry. Above that, vaguely luminous in starlight and in places silvered by the moon, there was crowded ornament, with images of gods and goddesses and their attendants staring into vacancy. But beneath, there was solemn gloom, and the silence and stench of unknowable things. A great gate, ponderous with iron fastenings, its timbers carved with legendary themes of life and death, stood grim and uninviting in the shadow of an arch that could admit two elephants abreast. There was a small door in the gate, but no grille—no bell—no knocker.
"It is better that we leave the bodies here," said Moses trying to conceal his terror with an air of judicial wisdom. But the babu ignored him. He seemed to have changed his personality again. He was alert, undreamy, impudent—a realist with a plan. He picked up a stone and hammered on the gate until the echoes thundered; and at last some one called down to him angrily through a hole near the top of the arch. The babu answered scornfully at no great length and resumed his hammering.
"To the front gate?" he remarked to Quorn, who stood beside him. "Not I! Self am diplomatically much too modest." Quorn was nervously eyeing the shadowy figures that filled the street behind them. Those at the rear were pressing forward but were being held back for the moment by the cautious ones in front. The weird telepathy that summons crowds was functioning; already, from beneath the bridge down-street a swarm of men and women was running uphill.
"We're cut off, both ends now," said Quorn. "The next thing, cops'll turn up. Then what?"
But the babu kept on hammering, and presently the small gate in the big one opened about two inches on a chain that some one rattled carefully to make its presence known. The babu talked through the opening, low voiced but with violent emphasis. The only words that Quorn overheard were "Gunpat Rao." Apparently the babu was invited to enter alone. He refused, and there followed a long pause, presumably for consultation inside. Then another argument. And at last the great gate opened gingerly, then suddenly swung wide. Ten or a dozen men in yellow robes poured into the street and stood to keep the crowd from entering. The babu waved to the soldier who held the pony's head to lead the ekka. He, Moses, Quorn and the other soldier followed, almost chased in by the men in yellow. Then the great gate shut with a thud and the bolts went home.
"That's good-by to the U.S.A.!" Quorn muttered, sniffing. There was an acrid stench, and there were figures moving amid shadows. He could see great columns rising upward into darkness. In a corner, on his right hand, moonlight and a little lamplight fell on a flight of steps that seemed to lead toward the bridge that crossed the street. Somewhere ahead in the gloom a man was carrying a lantern; he appeared to have entered a tunnel. There were perhaps a dozen tiny ghee-lamps stuck on brackets amid carving on surrounding walls. The sky looked like a purple-black roof sprayed with jewels. But the babu seemed to care for none of that. He was unimpressed—arrogant—swift in his movements.
The pony suddenly grew frantic and the babu sprang to its head. He ordered the shafts loosed from the harness, and he kicked the hesitating soldier. He could kick like a battery mule and the shock reduced the man to mechanical, dumb obedience. The babu ordered him to hold the shafts; then he let the pony go, and the terrified beast went galloping away amid echoing empty spaces, sending up sparks from paving stones, until he vanished somewhere. Then the babu ordered the ekka turned around, and he himself cut the cords that tied the prisoner to the hoops. When a lantern was seen coming, and then four more lanterns, along a passage directly ahead, across the courtyard, the babu took hold of the ekka shafts and held them level. In that darkness the passage down which the lanterns came looked as if it might lead to the midst of the world.
"That's not Bughouse Bill," said Quorn—deliberately. He was disappointed. He felt like facing Bughouse Bill and fighting him to soothe his nerves. He was conscious of a small-boy impulse to throw stones and jeer. Had he not interviewed a Maharajah and a Princess? Priests, however solemn or exclusive, held no social terrors for him. But the priests, if priests they were, came forward unbelligerently, almost humbly. Darkness masked the pride that their assumed humility could only make more evident in daylight. They were weirdly beautiful, with lantern light on naked arms and on one side of their faces; they suggested an Old Master's painting of Apostles attending a midnight conference. However, the babu denied them any dignity whatever.
"See that!" he shouted as they neared him. At the word he raised the ekka shafts until the prisoner and the corpse, still bound together, rolled on the paving stones and almost touched the feet of the leading priest, who recoiled in horror. All the priests stood transfixed, staring, scandalized. They were trained men, thoroughly familiar with death and taught to cover even great astonishment with poise and silence. But that was too much. Their silence gave the babu opportunity, and his baritone voice made the utmost use of it. He made a speech, with rounded periods and studied vehemence of gesture, that suggested a fat Mark Antony addressing the conspirators who murdered Caesar.
"What is he saying?" Quorn asked. Moses almost struck him to keep him silent and listened until the babu finished. Then:
"He speaks defiantlee. Accusinglee he challenges them most contemptuouslee. He demands that they shall come with him before the Maharajah, now, this minute, and in public, before all men, make denial of responsibilitee for this obscenitee."
"And what do they say?" Quorn asked.
Moses listened. Some one came and took the note from the prisoner's breast, then cut the turban that bound the prisoner and corpse together, but even so he could not writhe free unaided. The babu forbade helping him. He made some jibe about the note, and the man hurried away with it into the darkness.
"They ask," said Moses, "that the babu shall accompanee themselves into the temple and speak more privatelee of this and other things."
Quorn stepped closer to the babu. "Don't you go, you idiot! They'll scrag you!" He took the babu by the arm, but the babu whispered to him:
"The miscarried plans of guilty opportunists are less dangerous to this babu than horse-feathers in a mare's nest. Verb sap."
There were terrible, stealthy sounds not far away, and although Quorn could not see into the darkness on his left hand, he knew now what the stench meant and what had terrified the pony. There was a lot of noise, too, in the street, and it seemed to irritate the priests. The babu pointed to the moonlit steps.
"He says," said Moses, whispering, "that he will go up there and speak to anyone, where all the world can see him from the street."
"He's crazy," Quorn answered. "Hell, they'll shove him off the parapet."
Moses agreed: "It is the end of us. They will play a trick on us. I am not confeedent—and this is all veree sinful."
"What's that babu saying now?" Quorn demanded.
"He is saying that the murderer has spoken to us all in presence of each other, and that there are manee witnesses of what happened; but that they may have both murderer and victim for their purposes. They say they will not have them, but he tells them they must have them. They are veree angree, but he is satisfactorilee complacent."
One of the priests gave a command in a loud voice. Some one came forward out of the darkness and untied the murderer, who struggled stiffly to his feet and glowered at the babu. The soldiers closed in on the babu to protect him. But a priest spoke to the murderer, and he sulkily walked away into the gloom that had swallowed the pony. Nobody offered to touch the corpse; it lay twisted gruesomely, with the knife sticking out between the shoulder-blades. One of the priests set a lantern down beside it.
"He will pray," said Moses. But he did not. He examined the dead man's face, stooping over it, his own face in the lantern light looking sour and contemptuous; then he backed away and left the lantern standing where it was. Two of the priests then turned toward the stairway and the babu followed them. Quorn, the two soldiers and Moses crowded close to one another, trying to look unconcerned but shuddering when they touched each other because the gloom felt full of knife-blades. They watched the babu—pompous—senatorial. Revealed alternately by moonlight and lantern light, he swaggered up the steps behind the priests, until they saw him silhouetted against the sky, above the street. There he squatted. But the priests stood, and they seemed to be arguing.
"Grab me that lantern," said Quorn. But Moses feared to do it. So he ordered a soldier to bring it, but the soldier pretended not to understand him.
"Hell, I'm scared," he said to Moses, "but I'm curious, and standing still don't suit my type, so here goes!"
He walked forward as nonchalantly as he could and took the lantern. Then he turned to the left in the direction whence the stealthy noises and the stench came. No one offered to prevent him, but Moses and the soldiers followed for the sake of company, and the priests walked away toward the foot of the steps up which Ghose had gone.
"Oh God!" Moses exclaimed, and his teeth began chattering.
Twenty or thirty feet ahead a pair of eyes shone in the dark, about breast high. Quorn went nearer and the lantern light revealed an iron cage, set on a masonry platform, filling the mouth of what appeared to be an ancient wide-arched doorway. The cage was about fifteen feet wide and as many deep, and there were bars back and front, but the sides were of stone blocks solidly cemented to the walls of the arch; and between the top of the cage and the arch the whole space had been filled in with some sort of masonry, plastered over. An enormous tiger crouched behind the bars and, as Quorn drew nearer, rushed at him, making almost no sound but displaying his tawny belly as he reared upright and tried to strike through the bars of the cage. The swaying lantern light exaggerated size and horror. The brute appeared to be mad—slunk away to the rear of the cage and rushed again, hurling himself against the bars and wrenching at them, snarling now.
"He is a cannibal," said Moses. "Come away, sir. It is not safe to be near him. Those bars easily might open."
Quorn examined the bars by lantern light that shone on wrath in motion—stealthy, swift, terrific, striped, enormous—impotent. The bars held. They were set in one iron frame, and the whole frame was hinged to the masonry at the bottom. At the top, an iron bolt was so arranged that if one pulled it downward the whole front of the cage would fall forward. It was a clumsy arrangement. The only way they could have got the tiger in there was by using a net to keep him in until the front of the cage was raised and locked in place. Apparently the rear of the cage was built in the same way, although it was impossible to see distinctly. The cage was not properly cleaned and the stench was almost unendurable.
"It looks to me," said Moses, "as if back there is a passage."
"Try and go in," Quorn suggested. Nervousness had made him irritable. He felt savage—glanced up at the parapet and saw the babu silhouetted there against the purple sky—cursed him, and decided on the instant, right or wrong, to go up there and interrupt his endless chatter. As he started across the courtyard, robed men wheeled away the ekka.
"Why?" he wondered. "What now?" The corpse still lay there. He and Moses avoided it. So did the soldiers, although they lagged in the rear, apparently afraid of what Quorn might do next; they were even more afraid of the priests than Moses was. Moses spoke thickly, terrified but trying gamely to be brave about it:
"I beelieve they will feed our ponee to that tiger presentlee—perhaps the corpse, too—and then afterwards us also!"
"Do you reckon he's all that hungry?" Quorn asked. "Half a dozen of him couldn't eat our babu! Quit your belly-aching."
"But sir, it is veree dangerous to trespass. It is also sinful. I advise we wait here."
"Suit yourself," said Quorn and walked on. Moses followed, and the soldiers followed Moses. But the soldiers remained at the foot of the steps, paused there for a moment, and then marched away toward the gate. They marched as if they had a corporal behind them. Moses hurried up the steps to overtake Quorn, glancing to left and right and then behind him. He was so afraid of the priests in yellow robes near the foot of the steps, who had drawn aside to let Quorn pass, that he took two steps at a time and stumbled. With his solar topee that he wore at all hours because it signified western ancestry, he looked absurdly like a tourist. Out of breath, he begged Quorn to return to the courtyard, but Quorn went forward, ignoring him. It was a long climb—fine, wide polished stone steps, very ancient, and with narrow treads—hardly room for a man's foot, worn on the surface by the naked feet of centuries—a handsome balustrade—and at last the parapet, not less than ten feet wide, a veritable causeway leading all around the temple.
Quorn stood staring down into the street, where almost utter darkness swarmed with human life that one could not see. He sensed it—felt it, knew that it was human, but the sound resembled water rushing downhill. He supposed they were all talking at once. Moses was afraid to look over the edge; he touched Quorn's sleeve and pointed to the babu, who was sitting so close to the edge, not thirty feet away from where they stood, that a kick or a shove would have toppled him over.
"Should they kill him, sir, then—"
Quorn approached the babu, whose back was toward him. Moses' suggestion had made his blood run cold. It was worse than cold; it curdled. He couldn't imagine what he could do without the babu. Now he knew, too, that he liked him—liked him first rate. Danger was the main thought; but a curiously strong wave of affection urged him too—an impulse that he would have denied furiously if taxed with it.
"He's loco—and he's logey for lack o' sleep. God damn his eyes, he might fall off!"
Two priests stood before the babu. They were talking to him, but they were not near enough to him to do much mischief without warning. However, Quorn conceived the notion of getting behind the priests, believing they would hardly dare to attack the babu with an enemy at their rear. It was no use trying to listen to the conversation; he could not understand a word of it. But he might be able to spy out the situation. There was a great stone image of the temple goddess—one of many that stared down over the parapet at intervals. It was only about fifteen feet beyond the priests. There might be somebody behind it. He would find out.
Moses did not pass the babu but stayed near enough to listen to the conversation. Both priests tried to intercept Quorn, but the babu was speaking to them and they seemed not to wish to miss what he said, so that their effort was distracted and a trifle too late. Another voice arrested them; it seemed to come from the huge image, or else from behind it. Quorn decided there was certainly an enemy in ambush, so he quickened his pace, expecting at each step to be hurled to the street or else knifed. He could not have claimed that his blood was up. It was a desperate maneuver, born of panic and that sudden feeling that he must protect the babu. His pace slackened again as he reached the shadow of the image. He came almost to a standstill and then, holding the lantern in his left hand at a level with his shoulder, approached cautiously. He came to a sudden halt, with his mouth wide open and his heart thumping against his ribs.
The image was hollow. There was a door in its back that opened inward. Inside, in utter darkness, Bughouse Bill stood staring at him. The lantern shone full in the high priest's face, lighting it slightly from beneath, throwing strange shadows that exaggerated the look of proud malevolence. More than anything else it suggested the face of an evil spirit lurking in a tomb—a monstrous, mean, sadistic devil. Quorn tried to speak; he wanted to insult the man. But not a word would come forth; the muscles of his throat felt paralyzed and his dry tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He held the lantern still and stared, his agate eyes not flinching as he met the priest's that observed him with a cold gaze like an alligator's from beneath their wrinkled, lashless lids. There was no gesture of recognition. Quorn was being looked at like an insect on a pin, perhaps with curiosity but not with anything remotely like fear or respect or excitement. It humiliated and enraged him. He felt like spitting at the face, or punching it, but he could not move.
Then the door slammed suddenly, and through a hole in the side of the image a voice that had a harp-string note spoke to the priests who faced the babu. The priests spoke in turn, and the babu stood up then as if the interview was over. But Quorn could not yet face reality. He doubted whether he could yet find speech. He discovered he was still holding the lantern shoulder high—still staring at a hateful face that would not vanish from the mirror of his consciousness. Turn how he would, the face was there in front of him—dispassionate, mean, vivid. It was not cruel, because it had no sympathies. It was hateful—awful—and it would not vanish.
To drive the image from his mind Quorn studied his surroundings. He noticed that the parapet led to the bridge that crossed the street toward the other temple. It became the floor of the bridge, but the bridge was blocked at both ends. However, the bridge also had wide parapets, with images that leaned outward and looked downward to the street. The parapets were as broad as ordinary footpaths-—or so it seemed in the dim light. But as he stared at the bridge, that face was there. When he looked down at the stone he stood on, the face stared up at him. It made him feel hysterical. He tried to brush it away with his right hand. It did not even vanish when the babu called out: "This way, Gunga sahib!" The priests stood aside to let him pass them. Then, almost before he knew it, the babu had him by the arm in a grip that almost tore his muscles.
"So-ho!" said the babu. "So you ventured too near Gunpat Rao? One more difficulty! Oh my fathead! Bughouse Bill is safe enough. But Gunpat Rao—"
MOSES went ahead, feeling his way carefully. He was so afraid of lurking enemies, or of stumbling on the worn stone steps, that he did not realize the babu had paused near the middle of the stairway and was speaking to Quorn. The moon had dipped out of sight. There was almost nothing visible except the pool of light around Quorn's lantern in which he and the babu stood like tragic actors on a darkened stage, and the little ghee-lamps dotting the darkness, that illuminated nothing.
"Let go of my arm," said Quorn. "D'you think I can't feel?"
"Raise the lantern. Look into my eyes," the babu answered.
They were Gunpat Rao's eyes. Behind, or looking through, or mixed up with the babu's massive head, was Gunpat Rao's. As a pulse beats, Gunpat Rao's baleful stare grew stronger than the babu's. Then the babu's eyes prevailed again. Then Gunpat Rao's.
"Loose my arm, I tell you!"
"Gunpat Rao is an expert," said the babu.
Moses came back, running up the steps in panic. His breath came in sobs, and his teeth were chattering. He stumbled, clutched the babu's leg and saved himself from falling headlong. The babu gave him a hand and raised him. He clung to the hand with both of his.
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Oh!" Then he clapped both his hands to his face and shook hysterically, fighting like a man to regain self- control.
"Oh, well," said the babu. He sighed resignedly. "If this is defeat, then it is. But let us see about it."
He retained his grip on Quorn's arm but relaxed it a little. Moses seized his other hand, and the babu led the two of them down the steps in silence. There were no priests at the bottom—no lanterns. All was darkness. In the far corner the tiger snarled at Quorn's lantern; he was pacing the cage; one could hear him plainly.
"Oh God!" Moses took his topee off and wiped sweat from his forehead. "They are gone—the soldiers! We are helpless!"
"Are we?" said the babu. He led them to where the corpse had lain. It was gone; there was not even blood on the paving stones. "Look at me. What do you see?" the babu demanded. It was almost the voice of a drill-master.
Quorn met his eyes again. He saw the eyes of Gunpat Rao. Moses blubbered:
"How do we get out? Oh, sirs—"
The babu led toward the tiger's cage. "God-dammit, stare straight at him!" he commanded.
The tiger crouched, his face so near the bars that in the lantern light there appeared to be nothing but eyes and fangs. They were the eyes of Gunpat Rao. But the face of Gunpat Rao gradually faded as the tiger's shape took form in darkness. Then the eyes became an animal's—terrible—-hateful. But the passionless intelligence was not there. Suddenly the tiger sprang against the bars, reared up and leaped to the rear of the cage, where he crouched.
"Look at me!" said the babu. "Quickly!"
They were his eyes—sleepy—intelligent—skeptical. "Remember," said the babu, "that we deal with Bughouse Bill, not Gunpat Rao! Bughouse Bill is just a tiger in a cage called Gunpat Rao, that's all. Let's go."
But he retained his grip on Quorn's arm, and there was a sensation, wordless but convincing, that the babu was almost as close to hysteria as Quorn himself. Moses was beyond control; he clung to the babu's arm and muttered half-remembered prayers. He was praying to the Virgin.
"Go where?" Quorn asked.
"Think!" said the babu. "Do some thinking! Are you brainless?"
Quorn looked around in the darkness. There were little blinking ghee-lamps and the dreadful sound of silence. When the tiger moved, the skin went crawling up his spine, and Moses moaned. Quorn kicked Moses savagely, then talked to hide his own hysteria.
"Can't go home," he said. "The cobra's in there. There'll be blood on the veranda. Oh the hell—" He made a pitiful attempt at humor. "Call a cab and find a hotel."
"Sleep is indicated," said the babu. He was almost asleep on his feet. The will-power that was forcing him to stay awake was also overburdening his nerves. "A spot of Scotch," he said, "would be the best bet, but the priests aren't civilized. The trouble is, I don't know what has happened to the soldiers."
"If you knew, you might be scared worse," Quorn retorted. "Where do we go from here?"
"To a woman! Cherchez always the inevitable woman! This is hour of zero. Why are the priests so slow—so like eternity? If priests were only quicker, there would be no governments; the rest of us would all be choir-boys. It is their next move. Why don't they make it?"
"What do you mean, their next move?"
"I have made a bargain with them. Will they keep it?"
"Damn you!" Quorn exploded. "Wake up!"
Moses shuddered and clung to the babu. "Oh!" he groaned, "I hear them—they are coming now, and I must die unshriven! Bless me, some one!"
"Bless them," said the babu. "They may have the military; what do we care? This is what they think shall be the hearse of our conspiracy! It is the womb, I think, of victory—a womb on wheels! Oh destiny, I disbelieve in you. You are too convincing. Nothing that convinces us is true. I know it. But you are plausible, you bad bitch."
Out of the darkness, rumbling, and to judge by the echoes, out of the tunnel from which the priests had come—strange sounds approached, but no lanterns. Gradually the thump of heavy wheels grew recognizable, and then the leisurely tread of oxen. It was impossible to see anything; the little ghee-lamps only made the darkness down there in the courtyard more impenetrable. Quorn's lantern cast a yellow pool of light that made the dark beyond it seem like a black wall, on which Gunpat Rao's face appeared whenever Quorn stared long enough. It was not as distinct as it had been, and when he thought of the tiger's eyes it vanished. But it aroused hatred. It made Quorn killing irritable.
"Now, if they should have a sense of humor, we are done for," said the babu, "but solemnity and humor are not relative. They are Euclidean—can't be in the same place at the same time. Let us hope that is a verb sap. Otherwise—"
He still kept his grip on Quorn's arm. He still let Moses cling to him. He led them forward, until the lantern light shone on a pair of milk-white sacred oxen, huge-humped, heavy-horned, yoked to the pole of a boxlike, four-wheeled vehicle with slatted shutters. It was nearly as big as a moving van, and it was painted yellow and vermilion. A nearly naked driver sat on the pole and held the oxen by the tails. There was a door at the back. A priest stepped out from darkness and took Quorn's lantern. Another opened the door of the conveyance.
"In with you," said the babu, for the first time letting go of Quorn's arm. So Quorn climbed in and Moses followed. There were no seats, and it was pitch-dark inside, so they sat on the floor together, leaning their backs against the wooden wall. Outside, the babu talked for a few moments in a low voice. Then he climbed in and the door slammed. For a second or two dim strips of lantern light came through the slatted shutters and made a pattern on the ceiling. After that it was so dark that Quorn could not see his hand when he scratched his forehead. The vehicle moved and thumped over the paving stones. The great gate shut behind them with a thunderous thud, and there was a sudden sea of noise as a crowd made way and let the oxen turn up-street. Quorn got on his knees and tried to see through the slats, but the downward angle was too sharp, so he resumed his seat. It became insufferably stuffy and the sweat poured so that he pulled his jacket off.
"Care if I smoke?" he asked, but there was no answer. Quorn struck a match. The babu was already asleep. With his head on his chest and his hands on his belly he leaned into the corner by the door, not snoring but breathing like a man half-strangled. Moses screamed and clutched Quorn's arm:
"Oh God, sir! Did you see that?"
But the wooden match had burned Quorn's fingers. He dropped it and then shook Moses off. "God-dammit, if you do that to me again I'll kill you! What the devil—"
He struck another match. He followed Moses' horror-stricken stare. At the front end of the vehicle, facing each other, their heads sagging on their breasts, slouched into the opposite corners, were the soldiers. One man's turban had fallen off.
"Wake 'em," said Quorn. But he knew they were dead.
"This is a sin," said Moses. "We are veree sinful. Let us wake the babu. I have prayed for us implicitlee, but—"
Out went the match, and Moses clutched Quorn's arm again. The face of Gunpat Rao stared at Quorn whichever way he looked. The vehicle lurched over an open drain at a cross-street and one of the bodies thudded to the floor. Quorn felt Moses reach across him, meaning to grope for the babu and shake him awake. He shoved him back roughly.
"Stiffs can't hurt us. If you wake the babu he'll be loco. Give him a chance. Here, hold my coat."
He took his box of matches and approached the dead bodies on hands and knees. Then he struck match after match and examined them, until he had only two matches left. He could discover no wounds—no clue at all as to how they had died. Their eyes were shut and their jaws had fallen open. There was no plain evidence of poison, such as swollen lips or tongues—no bruises to be seen by match-light.
"Beats me," he muttered, and crawled back. "I'll go mad if this keeps up, I reckon." Then he remembered he had two matches left, so he got out his knife and tobacco, shredded enough of the stuff in the dark, then filled his pipe and lighted it. It tasted like straw. He discovered his mouth was as dry as a brick.
"Care to smoke?" he asked Moses, and offered the pipe.
Flattered, Moses accepted it. He drew hard. In the sudden red glow from the bowl his one eye looked like the end of a hard- boiled egg, it was so white with terror. Moses passed the pipe back.
"It is too strong, sir. But thank you veree much all the same."
"Did that babu tell you where we're going?"
"He said, to a woman."
"Damn, I'll kill him if that's it! We've had trouble enough for one night."
"Are we there yet?" asked the babu suddenly. He opened the door and looked out. "No, not there yet."
"Do you know what's in here?" Quorn asked.
"Yes," said the babu. "Sleep is." In another moment he was breathing heavily. Ten minutes later he was awake again, opened the door and again looked out. Without a word he jumped out, and a moment later the vehicle came to a standstill. Quorn and Moses followed him. They were in time to see him kick the driver like a football and send him running for sheer life. There was no crowd visible or audible. They were in a dark lane, near a gate in a wall.
"Do you know where you are?" the babu asked.
"Do you know what's in there?" Quorn retorted. "Two dead soldiers—our two—dead as mutton! Folks'll say we murdered 'em."
"Priests will say anything," the babu answered. "Let them say it." But he stood still, thinking. "Damn them, so they did that? So they had a sense of humor? That makes them dangerous! How were they slain?"
"Not a mark," Quorn answered.
"It is a good jest," said the babu, and that irritated Quorn. He bridled:
"Dammit, they were our gang!"
"They were paid deserters," said the babu. "They would have deserted us next. But we must turn that jest back somehow—oh for sleep—sleep! Help me do this."
In the dark it took all three of them to open the gate in the wall. They had to lift it off its hinges. Then the babu took the oxen by their nose-rings, and with a great deal of backing because of the sharp right-angle in the narrow lane, he guided them in through the gate.
"No, leave it open," he commanded. "You go over the wall and fetch that young assistant. Don't you know where you are? Can't you smell your elephants? And bring a flashlight if you have one. Moses, stay here."
Quorn obeyed. He could think of no alternative. As he groped his way toward the wall he heard the lumbering van follow. By the time he had climbed to the roof of the tiger's shed and swarmed the wall, the oxen were already backing and turning beneath him. It was not until he had dropped to the earth on the far side that he began to wonder how to get the flashlight. There was a cobra in the shed. How could he enter? The lamp was still burning, but he could see no blood on the edge of the veranda where the murdered man had fallen. He supposed Ratty had washed it away. Not a bad guy, for an ignorant heathen. He walked over to Asoka's picket and found Ratty half-asleep beside a sack in an open box. The man's vocabulary was as limited as Quorn's; it took him about three minutes to explain that he had caught the cobra by noosing him with a string on a long stick. He explained it was a very fine snake; he could sell it to a man whose trade was snatching out their fangs and teaching them to dance to music. It was worth five—perhaps six rupees. When Quorn told him he was wanted on the far side of the wall he insisted on taking the snake with him, lest one of the mahouts should steal it. He seemed to expect Quorn to help him over the wall with his burden, and there was disillusion in store for him on that point; Quorn would not knowingly touch a cobra at the end of a ten-foot pole. But when they reached the wall the narrow door was open and the babu stood in the gap, fuming with impatience.
"Hurry!" he commanded. "Where is the flashlight?" But Quorn paused to explain to him what Ratty had done, and suddenly the babu threw impatience to the winds. He put his hands to his stomach and went off into one of his spasms of silent laughter.
"Bughouse Bill!" he gurgled. He was breathless. "Go and get your flashlight."
By the time Quorn had found that and a box of matches the babu was in the tiger shed with Ratty. Moses, standing beside the oxen, stammered a warning only just in time to prevent Quorn from stumbling over something. He switched on the flashlight and discovered the two dead soldiers at his feet. They were carefully posed, as if they had died writhing. On top of one of them lay a cobra, dead but still squirming.
"God forgive us all," said Moses. "It is tereeble to treat dead people sacreeligiouslee. They made the cobra bite them both, and then they slew it. That babu is—"
"Are you never coming?" the babu shouted.
It was all Quorn could do to squeeze into the shed because the van was backed against it. The moment he was inside, Moses backed the oxen further, until the rear-end of the great boxlike vehicle was flat against the shed wall. Its open door was in the center of the shed door, but there was a space underneath, half the height of the wheels. The babu blocked that with the packing case that Quorn had used to sit on. Then he took Quorn's flashlight.
"Are you ready, Moses?" he shouted. "Oh if I had thought of bringing meat!" he muttered. "Now then. Let us do this swiftly. Let a tiger think, and he will think of difficulties! Take that stick and stand there. If the tiger turns back, whack him! If he kills you, go to heaven and remember this babu with condescending pity!"
He and Ratty each took an end of the cage and began to pull at the pegs that held the corners together. The babu flashed the light into the empty van. Then the whole front of the cage suddenly fell outward and the babu switched the light off. There was total darkness for a second. Then the light flashed again on a tiger leaping for the open doorway. It leaped straight into the trap prepared for it. The babu shouted, ran, and held the flashlight in the opening while Moses tugged at the oxen's heads and the van lurched forward. When it had moved by the width of its door Ratty slammed the door shut. He seemed to think it was all perfectly right and natural; he grinned because the job was well done, but he was not excited.
"Oh Krishna!" exclaimed the babu. "Why was I born timid?" Then he leaned on Quorn so heavily that he almost threw him to the ground. Quorn helped him to the packing case in the doorway, and the thing creaked under his weight as he sat down. He made as if to vomit, but recovered.
"Never mind me," he said after a moment. "You take your assistant. Bring your elephant."
"Bring him where?"
"To the mission. Lock that door in the wall, and bring the key with you."
"How about Moses?"
"I will feed him and his morals to the tiger!" said the babu. "He can not be timid without feeling sinful. I will teach him soon what sin is! Look sharp. Wait for me at the first cross- street. You had better keep the elephant behind us. I am not a good driver. The oxen don't know me. If they balk, you must shove from behind. Yes, yes, leave me, I am all right—No, no. Wait a moment—do you see the jest now? Soldiers' hypothetical desertion is accounted for by bite of cobra! Who can contradict it? And it probably was known we had a tiger in here—tame—-from the Jains, who tame them thoroughly. Now, the tiger is gone—has escaped! I will leave the big gate open. Whoever finds the soldiers sees an empty tiger-cage! A little propaganda! All I have to do is to announce a big reward for one tame tiger, and Bughouse Bill will think he has us!—Go now—hurry, hurry, hurry!"
IT took time, because Quorn took two elephants, one for the purpose of carrying food for Asoka; he knew there was no food for him at the mission. He was rather proud of having thought of something that Chullunder Ghose had overlooked. The mahouts, too, made difficulties. They wanted to know about orders for the following day, and that was obviously only an excuse for asserting themselves. They had seen a murder and a mystery. They knew there was a secret in the wind. They knew they had a nuisance value. It was as clear as impudence and furtive suggestion could make it that they had already talked with the police. However, since the world began, no sane mahout ever told the truth to a policeman; and they were even more afraid of Quorn's eyes and his Gunga sahibdom than of the priests of Kali's temple. They insisted Quorn should remain there and protect them, and he suspected the police had ordered them to say that, because they refused to tell from what he should protect them. After fifteen minutes' argument he rationed out some opium from the locked store and they withdrew, looking more contented than he felt, for he discovered that somebody had a key to the shed. A quantity of opium was missing. That and the sight of the mahouts clustering around him in the darkness, with their eyes reflecting the light from the lamp in the shed window, had almost as much effect on Quorn's imagination as the eyes of Gunpat Rao had done. That was perhaps because he understood them better. He could understand how unreliable and treacherous they were.
"Is all India like that?" he wondered.
As he rode Asoka out of the compound, with Ratty following on a smaller elephant with the grain and baled hay, Quorn munched at half a loaf of bread until Asoka raised his trunk and begged for what was left. He did his utmost to explain the situation to himself, but without much result. The strangeness of riding an elephant had not yet worn off. It was still weird to be obeyed by the enormous beast, particularly in the dark.
"Are all revolutions as crazy as this, I wonder? Are all politics like this? Are rats as important as tigers? There's the big bugs at the League o' Nations ragging one another like a lot o' horse-thieves at a phoney poker layout. There's armies, and navies, and kings and governments. There's viceroys, and high commissioners, and special police, and telephones, and radio, and Lord knows what else. And here's me and Moses and that babu pulling off a revolution! Are we? Or are we kidding ourselves? I suppose if revolutions was to go by rules, there'd be none. All the men on top 'ud know what to expect, and they'd spike a thing before it happened. It's the unexpectedness, maybe, that wins out—same as a bank going bust in a boom—or same as that guy shooting somebody at Sarajevo. Banks go bust in spite of bank examiners. But it's a licker to me that the British aren't wise to what's going on here. What are their sly dicks doing? Where's the gum-shoe gang? Why aren't all their under-cover experts hopping to it? Are they all so busy on the track o' Gandhi and the Afghans and the Bolsheviki that they've forgotten this neck o' the woods? Let's see—it was the British, wasn't it, that let the Irish put one over on them. If they could let that happen—maybe the British aren't such shucks at running empires as the book says."
He was still pondering the problem, wishing he were better educated and trying to remember what a five-cent book had told him about hypnotism, which might explain why Gunpat Rao's eyes kept staring at him from the gloom, when he overtook the babu. He did not feel hypnotized. He was in command of all his senses. He could see things and understand them. It was not like a dream. The great, lumbering van, unlighted, crawled along the middle of the street, a shadow amid shadows between trees and high walls. Moses was on the roof, lying flat on his hands, and when Quorn came close enough he crawled to the rear to talk, and there was nothing hypnotic about that either. The words made sense.
"It is precariouslee touch and go," said Moses in a hoarse voice. "The tiger is not contented, and the shutters are not veree strong. It is a possibilitee that he will break out."
Suddenly Asoka got the smell of tiger and became unruly. He would have smashed the rear end of the van in another minute. Quorn had to hurry him past the van and take the lead. He got a dim glimpse of the babu squatting on the pole between the oxen's rumps with a tail in each hand, but after that Asoka kept him too busy to notice much else. The big brute made two or three spurts. The night air seemed to make him mischievous, and a rap on the skull from the ankus only checked him momentarily; Quorn's voice did better. He made the last spurt as he neared the mission. There was a small crowd, even at that hour, keeping watch on the mission gate. They fled unanimously. Even the Maharajah's soldiers beat a retreat. Quorn got the elephant quiet at last by guiding him up to the gate and talking to him. Then a non- commissioned officer drew nearer and stood by the lantern where the soldier's water-bottles and blankets were piled in a heap.
"Gunga sahib," he said in a gruff, low voice. Apparently he recognized Quorn's silhouette against the night sky; Asoka's enormous bulk would complete the identification. Then, in the vernacular: "Is it true they have killed the babu? It is said he was slain by a thrown knife."
Quorn answered scornfully. He could hardly see the man, but he recognized fear in his voice. He was feeling proud of having controlled his elephant. "Ask the babu. He'll tell you. He'll be here in a minute."
"Was none slain?" asked the non-commissioned officer.
"Oh yeah. They killed a Maharajah's secretary."
"The priests did. Then a cobra bit two of your men. They're dead."
"God is inscrutable," said the soldier. "Who knows what next?"
Quorn hummed through his nose. He only remembered the words of the tune when he came to the end of the line: "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform-—" It seemed somehow blasphemous, so he stopped humming. Then suddenly:
"Open that gate before this elephant gets vicious."
So the gate swung open. Looking backward, by the light of the guard's lantern on the ground, Quorn saw the babu almost lurch off his perch on the pole of the van. But he awoke in time. He turned the oxen. The non-commissioned officer stopped him and asked questions, but the babu appeared to answer curtly and drove in, followed by the other elephant. Then the gate slammed shut and all was dark again. Quorn with his flashlight saw to the chaining of both elephants and left them in charge of Ratty, who was perfectly contented. Ratty behaved like a man whose destiny depended on his being civil and obedient until tomorrow. Somebody had taken down the heavy wooden boarding that closed the passage to the inner courtyard. The babu drove the van into the passage. He and Moses unhitched the oxen and left it there; it almost exactly filled the passage; if the tiger should succeed in breaking through a shutter on either side, he would still be imprisoned by the walls of the building, and the ends of the van were much too solid to be broken by a tiger. Quorn had to crawl under the van to get through, and on the far side he found the babu talking to a stranger, who hurried away to do the babu's bidding. The oxen were turned loose to shift for themselves and Moses had vanished. There were piles of chairs and tables in the courtyard and all sorts of packages. It looked like plunder. Not less than a dozen men emerged out of shadow and tried to have word with the babu; several seemed to be well armed. But the only one who held his attention for more than sixty seconds had no weapons. He looked like an unimportant person. He made what appeared to be a rather long report, and gave the babu a sheaf of papers. There were several lanterns dotted about, but the babu asked for Quorn's flashlight and studied the papers.
"Bohut Atcha," he exclaimed. Then he gave and repeated twice what evidently were important orders, and the unimportant looking person hurried away; a few moments later his head and shoulders appeared against the starlit sky as he mounted by a ladder. There was a back way out.
"A back way in, too," Quorn reflected rather nervously.
"Now for tribulation," said the babu. "Royalty is royal. If you have a top-hat you must keep it valeted." He yawned. "Oh Krishna, I can't endure an argument, and I am not a courtier. But come on!"
There was not much ceremony. Two men, whose decided air of breeding was not concealed by the shawls that hid their mouths, stood aside after one of them had rapped on a door near an open window, whence the sound of women's voices came. The door opened instantly. The babu kicked off his slippers, and Quorn, not knowing what to do, started to pull off his turban, but the woman who had opened the door giggled at that, so he tried to put it back in place; however it had come unfolded, so he swore, and bunched it in his hand, and followed the babu. He decided he hated women.
There were ten or fifteen women in there, and it was immediately evident that the Princess did not lack friends in the city. They had furnished one of the Reverend John Brown's hospital wards for her with huge cushions. There were curtains at the windows and some good rugs. The women were seated in a circle around the Princess, who had her back to a corner, but there were no men in the room. Quorn had never seen anyone look happier than she did, until he looked a little harder at her, and her eyes became Gunpat Rao's. That infernal face was haunting him again. Two lamps, one on either side of the Princess, framed her in mellow light against the white wall. Gunpat Rao seemed to lurk behind her and look through her. She had a little desk on the floor, some papers, pen and ink—
"Playing at it," Quorn thought. "Is she? Am I second-sighted? Am I seeing the truth? Is she a devil behind that nice young lady looking face o' hers?"
The babu bowed profoundly, but without that overdone obsequiousness that an eastern Princess might expect or that Quorn thought she might expect. It was a bow of confidential regard that recognized conventions. The Princess nodded, smiled, frowned a little, spoke a few words in her own language, and then changed to English, probably for Quorn's edification. When she spoke the eyes of Gunpat Rao vanished.
"You are so late. We have all been busy, but it is terrible to wait here and not know what you are doing. Tell me—tell me! I am listening. But he looks tired. Make room for him, some one."
"Gee," thought Quorn, "she's sociable!"
However, he changed his mind a moment later. He was left standing. No one offered him a seat of any kind; so he went and leaned his back against a curtained window, not exactly disrespectfully, but rather piqued, explaining to himself that he was more tired than he had realized. He could see Gunpat Rao again. The babu sat on an enormous cushion, facing the Princess and spoke to her rapidly in her own language, she and all her women listening so intently that they hardly breathed. Then, either because he wished Quorn to listen, or else because he wished her women not to understand, the babu began speaking in English:
"Utterly adorable sahiba, this babu is inexhaustibly human, and that is to say exhaustible. And we are up against it. All our tempo has been galley-wested, if you know what that means. There are now too many in the secret. We must jazz this up like Jimmy-o, or else the secret will be spilled milk, and a cat out of a bag to cry about it. Secrets are not kept by secrecy but by thinking three moves in advance of our friends, who consequently can't betray us to our enemies in time to do harm. We have got to do in one day what we thought to do in six or seven, because the telegraphist—"
"Has not the telegraph wire been cut?" she interrupted.
"Melodramatic sahiba, only bandits and authors of novels cut telegraph wires. A cut wire starts alarm and brings the military in a moment. The telegraphist has had delivered to him for despatch nine telegrams to British India, of which one is in code, addressed to mercantile firms. Those only hint at trouble. And there are two others in code, undoubtedly from secret agents giving detailed information. One is from a banker. Those that are in code were sent scrambled, so that they will mean nothing at the other end. Here are the others. You may read them."
He passed to her the sheaf of papers that had been given to him when he entered the compound. She glanced over them quickly, frowning.
"So he despatched these?" she demanded.
"Yes and no. The hints of a political disturbance were eliminated. There have been eight telegrams from British India, mostly mercantile, and you will find those all together at the bottom of the pile. One is undecipherable. None of them has been delivered to its consignee. But the point is, that telegrapher is not a Bamjee. He is good, but not very intelligent; and goodness is not so useful as intelligence. The gooder a man is, the more ridiculous mistakes he makes. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the next at latest, British India will smell a rat, and ratiocination is a dam-sight better than being rat-catched by British soldiers. We must make this snappy. Snappiness, sahiba, is a gift that only Sleep can give us. I need eight uninterrupted hours of—"
"Eight hours?" She was scandalized. Youth and excitement mocked at the idea. Ruthlessness was in her. Quorn recognized it. She had not been kidding herself when she boasted of it in the little summer-house beside the fountain in the palace garden. "Two hours—I will give you two hours—"
But the babu interrupted. "Exquisite sahiba, this babu is too old to be tricked by chivalry or taught by eagerness. As Maharanee you may do as you jolly well dam-please, if the British will let you. But until you are Maharanee, I will do as I jolly well dam-please, because otherwise you never will be Maharanee. As an advocate of equal rights for anybody who can grab them, I condemn myself to sleep for eight hours, sentence to run consecutively."
"But Babu-ji, so much might happen," she objected. She appeared not to mind his impudence, and her women did not understand it, so it passed unchallenged.
"Happen? Let it happen!" said the babu. "It is better that you deal with it. You will hate me otherwise, and I hate to be hated except by people whom I hate too. There is no such bitter and humiliating hatred as that of a celebrity who owes all to a faithful benefactor. Do you think I wish to be a Bismarck? Make a few mistakes tonight. You go ahead and make them. I will try to turn them into pinch hits, so that you may know you are a better manager than I am. Thus we may retain a friendship that would otherwise become a tidbit for the cynics."
"You are cruel to talk to me like that!" she answered. Her eyes blazed with anger. "Do you believe that of me?"
"Do you believe I am sleepy?" he answered, and her smile grew older, but the frown above her eyes was youngly resentful.
"You may sleep"—her voice was vibrant with anger—"until the end of time, if that is your wish! Surely I owe all to you. I am not ungrateful." Then she clapped her hands three times, and when one of the men opened the door she gave cold-voiced orders that the babu was to have the best bed that could be provided, and that he was not to be disturbed—"not even if the place takes fire" she added. Then she gave the babu leave to go, and Quorn followed him. But she called Quorn back, and he stood for a minute in front of her, self-conscious because her women were all staring at him, until the sound of the babu's footsteps ceased outside the window.
"Were you with him?" she asked then.
"Did he talk with Gunpat Rao?"
"No, Miss." Gunpat Rao's eyes appeared again in front of Quorn's face. They appeared to look through hers. He hated them. At the moment he felt he had no other friend in the world than the babu. And his friend had been treated damnably. He felt he hated women. This one was about to treat him also damnably. Her women watched, expecting that. He knew they would all giggle when he left the room.
"Somebody," she said, "has turned him against me. Was it Gunpat Rao? Has he turned you also? Are you both afraid to work for me any longer?"
"No, Miss." Quorn's blood was rising. Nothing else than knowledge that he had no training in the ways of courts, or in the use of phrases suitable to well-bred women, kept him silent. Naturally she could see the anger in his eyes, and they were weird eyes. She misread it:
"Has a little danger frightened you?" she asked. "Or has his Highness my father made you promises? Or do you know something that the babu hasn't told me, that has changed your judgment?"
"What are you hiding from me?"
"Miss, if it's a secret—" For another second, hesitating, Quorn bridled his temper. But again he saw the eyes of Gunpat Rao. Two of the women whispered to each other—One smiled. It made his blood boil. He threw off caution."—Let's have it out and over with!" he went on. "I haven't changed my judgment, not for half-a-minute. This here is a crazy proposition, lock, stock, barrel and ramrod. I don't give a damn for who rules India or any part of it. I give less than a damn for being Gunga sahib. Elephants are swell, and murder's lousy, that's my judgment in a nutshell. But I made you a promise. I was dog-gone crazy; and I'm all that crazy, I'll keep it, seeing I made it. But it was a three-way promise, Miss, and it included that there babu. He's a white guy. Him and me are in on this together. If you let him out, that gives me the air as simultaneous as two sides of a rupee. So it's up to you, Miss."
He paused, more afraid of himself than of her. He would give her a piece of his mind, he knew, unless he could regain control of himself, and he saw no use in it. A heathen was a heathen, even if she did wear pretty dresses and behave like a modern young lady, lip-stick and all. She began to use her lip-stick, and he judged by that that she was thinking up a come-back, so he waited for it, hoping she would use discretion.
"It has been told to me," she said after a moment, "that Babu Chullunder Ghose needs money, being badly in debt, and that—" she paused perceptibly—"others know that and are making tempting offers to him."
"Is that so, Miss?" Quorn took his pipe out, struck it on his heel, then, suddenly remembering where he was, stuck it back in his pocket. "Some folks 'ud believe anything. I'd say that for a guy who thought about his pocketbook, that babu is a lot too free and easy with his sweet life. Pikers, if you know what they are, figure on their skins and comfort. He can take more chances in one day—damn-fool, crazy chances that a John J. Sullivan 'ud flinch at—against knives and tigers and Lord knows what else—than I've seen taken in a year o' Sundays. He can keep his temper, doing it, and that's no mark of yellow either. If he'd give a damn for money-lenders, whether they went broke or not, I'll eat my elephant. The babu's okay. And he's on the level. Money to him, I'll bet you, is the same as fresh air; he can get it any time he needs it. Buy him? Miss, I'll tell you. If there's any way to buy that babu, it's to offer him a chance to buck the League o' Nations or the British Navy or J. P. Morgan, or the Japs or Mussolini. There ain't enough money in all India to buy him—nor me either."
Quorn again took a cinch on himself. He felt he owed it to his race to be temperate—not, that is, to speak too sharply to a lady.
"He is not the only one who runs risks," she retorted.
"There are poison, knives and tigers also in my horoscope. One may have courage and nevertheless be treacherous."
"Maybe, Miss." Quorn's tongue almost got the best of him. "If you know more about treachery than I do, that's your privilege. My pleasure is to know a good guy when I see him. Him—I mean, he—that babu is the only party who can change my judgment of him. If you'll pardon me, Miss, that's my last word."
"It is my part to discover whom to trust," she answered.
"Why not do it, Miss?"
"I think I like your spirit better than your manners," she retorted.
"I apologize for them, Miss. Manners can be picked up easy; there's a heap o' books about 'em, but I've had no time to study. If it's manners, I'll shut up, and listen, and try to mend 'em. But manners won't make you a Maharanee. I've met guys with perfect manners that I'd trust as far as I could throw Asoka by the tail."
That made her laugh, and all her ladies laughed, too, because they saw she was pleased, and they felt the relief from the strain, although they had not understood what was said. The Princess changed her voice and her entire expression:
"I believe I can trust you, Mr Quorn."
"Okay, Miss. What about the babu?"
"You seem to have convinced me. I believe I trust him also. Are you also very sleepy?"
Quorn got that hint at the first guess, and nothing could have suited him better. "Yes, Miss," he answered promptly. "Good night. Good night, ladies." His retreat was masterly. He bowed, took two steps backward, stuck his right hand in his pocket, faced about and strode toward the door. When he reached it he faced them again and repeated: "Good night, ladies." Then he walked out. "There," he murmured to himself, "that'll learn 'em who has manners." He listened for a moment for giggles through the open window. There were none. He nodded to himself.
One of the turbaned gentlemen on guard at the door supposed he was wondering which way the babu had gone, so he pointed in the direction of the passage where the van was parked. Quorn thanked him and walked toward it. He stumbled over the pole in the darkness, hurting his shin, and for some unaccountable reason that relieved his feelings, although he swore fiercely. He was about to crawl under the van when he heard the tiger clawing at the woodwork, so he spent ten or fifteen minutes talking to the beast through a little square hole with a slide, near the top, that he could just reach by standing on tip-toe on the driver's perch. The tiger grew quiet. He heard him lie down. Then he crawled beneath the wagon to the far side.
"Wonder what it is," he murmured, "about me and animals? The critturs seem to take a shine to me, no matter whether I like 'em or not. Wisht the women felt the same way!" He walked over to where Asoka was chained beside the smaller elephant, and both beasts appeared pleased to see him. Asoka felt him and smelt him all over. "Durned strange," he muttered, "I'm as scared as a cat when he does that, and yet it seems to make him easy-tempered. Am I second-sighted? I've heard say second-sighted folks are good at—hell, I don't believe a word of it."
He stuck his hands into his pockets and walked toward the gate-house, where a streak of light shone through a crack in the window-shutter. If the babu was not in there, Moses was, and Moses could make him some coffee; he needed it, having had no supper. Moses opened the door when he knocked—no less white-eyed—no less frightened than he had been.
"Coffee," he ordered. "Make it snappy. Where's the babu?"
"Oh sir, he is on your bed and he is sleeping, but I think you should awaken him and ask him what he has told me. I am veree upset."
"Take a holt of yourself. If you upset the coffee like you did my supper, me and you'll have an argyment. What did the babu tell you?"
"Sir, he said he hopes to see a massacre! He said the Princess is a naughtee bitch who shall be eaten by a tiger if he can contrive it! He says that the priests are gentlemen, and that the Maharajah is a sweetlee philosophic saint; however, that he hopes the British will arrive and murder all of them! He said he is fed up, and that he would sell all Narada for fifteen rupees. I fear he is mad and we are ruined!"
"Sounds to me as if he'd gone sane of a sudden," Quorn answered. "But I reckon he's only tireder than what I am. Go and make that coffee. Then chuck me a couple o' rugs in a corner—find me something for a pillow—and I'll turn in."
"Shall I call you, sir, at daybreak?"
Quorn considered it a moment. "Call us both," he answered, "if you hear the British airplanes humming. Barring that, let's sleep good. Watch that coffee now, and don't use more than half an egg nor let it boil over. You ruined the last batch. Step on her."
Then he went in to look at the babu, who was sleeping like a fat child, naked except for a crumpled bed-sheet, smiling and breathing as easily as if he had never known trouble in all his life. Quorn switched off the flashlight at last:
"Durn him," he muttered, "what's the betting he isn't up first in the morning to have first crack at my safety razor? Guess I'll have to fit a new blade, and I've only two left."
QUORN dreamed interminably that night, and the eyes of Gunpat Rao seemed to be the gates through which the dreadful dreams came pouring. Destiny and doom were one sensation, and the face of Gunpat Rao seemed to be the whole sky. His teeth were monuments, like milestones that measured the march of disaster. Then they changed into great white pillars that guarded realms of dark death. But they were tigers' fangs nevertheless. And from his nostrils cobras crawled that killed men, who did not die but walked away into a gloom amid silent columns. All the while Asoka's forefoot was above Quorn's head, ready to crush him at a word from some one who was waiting for the airplanes. But the Maharajah drank and said the Princess should marry the babu and be sent by telegram, in code all scrambled. And that was why Moses walked along a parapet, with one eye like a lobster's at the end of a stick; he said the mob was surging against the temple wall, which would fall down soon and they would all be drowned.
When Quorn awoke it was broad daylight; he knew by the light- rays streaming through the shutters that the sun was already far above the roofs of the mission buildings. There was no sign of the babu, except for a disordered bed and the cast-off clothes of yesterday in a heap on the floor. And Quorn had been right about the safety-razor, only that the babu had used both the new blades, leaving him the choice of three wet, blunted ones with which to scrape away his own tough whiskers. That made him indignant and the indignation helped a little, but not much. There was plenty of noise in the compound, and a great deal more noise outside in the street. But Moses was making a friendlier clatter in the tiny kitchen, and by the time Quorn had tubbed himself there was a smell of well made coffee that stirred his nerves and made him feel almost human, although worried. He felt that last night's dream was ominous because he could remember it in detail and he was superstitious about dreams that he remembered after waking. There was a comfortless sensation of impending calamity.
When he had dressed he discovered that his crumpled turban was missing, and that was bad because he had come to think the thing was lucky. There was a brand-new one, of daffodil-yellow silk, folded neatly on the big wooden chest that was used as a dressing-table. He detested that shade of yellow; it suggested to him weakness and effeminacy. Good dark sturdy colors, such as navy-blue, maroon, or the brown of a well brushed riding-boot were more to Quorn's mind. Or he liked snuff-color, or battleship gray. So he shouted for Moses.
"What the hell's this?"
"Sir, the babu said you are to wear it. Same is veree necessaree. I am to encrown you with it artfullee."
"I'll crown him. What's he doing?"
"Sir, I think that nobodee can tell. He is a man of manee importunitees, not confeedences. He was up at daybreak. He rebuked me with a boot when I suggested to him peaceablee that he should not appropreeate your shaving-brush; and he commanded me to get for him clean garments from the citee. So I did it, and the citee is tumultuous with manee people. It is like a hartal at Amritzar."
"How did you get out of here?" Quorn asked him.
"Through the main gate."
"Isn't it guarded?"
"Yes sir, but the sentrees are so friendlee that I think they are corrupted by the babu, who perhaps has won the militaree over to the Princess, though I do not know about such matters. And when I brought the clothing he had had his breakfast, using all the tinned peaches, so that there are none left. There was a disturbance because there are manee people who have entered the mission, and he went to see about it, saying that the Princess is princessing already and that is too soon for same. Somebodee brought bread for all these people in baskets that were passed over the wall; but Rattee stole same for the eleephants, who consequentlee are contented. But the breakfastless were veree angree, and so Rattee hid himself in the van with the tiger, where it would be indiscreet to follow. But the babu was angree about that also, saying that too manee people now know that there is a tiger in there."
"Quit your kidding. Is Ratty in there now?"
"No, he came out."
"All in one piece?"
"Yes, he is the man who had that tiger when it was a kitten and before it grew sick. It had the rickets. It was he who took it to the Jains because it was a veree lovely tiger, and he thinks it is an incarnation of a wicked person who was good to Rattee when he was a babee. So he loves it. But the babu says that you should feed the tiger, since it must remember you are not a nastee person; because even veree lovelee tigers are incorrigiblee tigerish, particularlee if they are an incarnation of a wicked person—which is superstitious, and I think he mocks it sacrilegeouslee, but I say what he said. So there is a killed goat in the kitchen, but I do not know who brought it."
Quorn poked at a bundle. "What's that?" he demanded. "That, sir, is the costume of the Princess."
"What the hell for?"
"Rattee is to wear same. It is obviouslee redolent of personalitee. It savors of her individualitee, possessing sweet aroma that is markedlee delicious. And the babu says a tiger is inadequatlee wittee in his judgment, seeing that a sense of smell is not as rational as when a pundit understands the rule of three."
"But what's the idea?"
"Sir, he did not tell me. But he said it would be veree sinful to neglect to load the dice in anee game with fortune, because fortune is a ladee, and he said that is a verb sap, but he did not offer to eluceedate it."
"What's all that noise in the street?"
"So manee people, sir, that nobodee can pass, and the police are impotentlee issuing commands that nobodee obeys."
"Hell—haven't the cops got billies?"
"Yes, sir, but a superstition is illusory, and it is consequentlee difficult to hit. The babu has been telling all the people—and I think he has assistants who are also telling all the people—they must watch, because the Princess, at a horoscopicalee perfect moment, will proceed to lead the tiger out of Kali's into Siva's temple by the bridge across the street; and after that the Gunga sahib will convey her to the palace. So the superstitious people are a little skepticalee predisposed to see that, and they will not tolerate a disappointment."
"What's the Maharajah doing? Why in thunder don't he act rough? Is he crazy?"
"It is said, sir, that the militaree are not loyal to him. It is also said that the police are satisfactorilee speculative as to what might happen if they made a bad guess."
"Did the babu tell you that?"
"No. It was being said by manee people in the citee when I went to get the vestments for the babu. It is also said that gallopers have gone to rail-head, since the head telegrapher has said his instrument is out of order. Some say British troops are being sent for."
"Sure thing, and that's the end of us! The Maharajah'd be a sucker not to send for help. He should ha' done it sooner."
"But I think it is not he," said Moses. "There are certain people in the citee who are unimaginativelee adverse to a change of government and it is they who sent the gallopers to rail-head. Some say other gallopers are sent to overtake them and there may be fighting. But the Maharajah, it is said, is hoping veree audiblee, and some say drunkenlee, that there will be an accident. It is a rumor in the citee that he says a daughter is a cheap price to pay for the humiliation of the priests, whose tiger is known to be so feerocious that the ceremonee is impossible; so if he had another daughter he would give her also if she were an emanceepated female. Same are poisonous to his equanimitee. Accordinglee he expects to deenounce the priesthood after the sad event—so they say in the citee. Manee people, though they do not love the Maharajah, say that it is proper she should perish horriblee, because she is a ladee who has broken purdah, which to them is worse than Bolshevism."
"What's she doing?"
"She is sending messages impatientlee to find the babu. There are some who tell her that the babu is disloyal. They are saying she should trust some other person, who will find a way to satisfy the populace and yet not run a big risk. Those are saying to her also that it is a proper moment now to come to terms with Gunpat Rao, who is probablee a little worried. But she keeps on sending for the babu."
"You ought to be a reporter," said Quorn. "You'd make a fortune of a daily paper."
"Oh, sir, I would love it! Just to think of writing about real kings and queens, and genuinelee interesting people! It would—"
In burst the babu, sweating but triumphant, with his nice clean clothing dusty and his turban over one ear. He slammed the door in the faces of about a dozen people and strode straight to the mirror to put his headdress in order.
"Sir," said Moses, "I am told to tell you, you should go immediately to the Princess, who is waiting."
"She will keep a lot of people waiting if she is ever a Maharanee," the babu answered. "And if we lose, it doesn't matter. Let her wait a little. I enjoy importance while I have it. Gunga sahib, are you good and tigerishly gutty? Attaboy and up guards? All that sort of hocus-pocus? It is up to you to hit the winning home-run. Babe Ruth in a coal-hole. There is dirty work to be done in the dark. Dam-bad-Yankee-doodle-i-do dangerous under-the- bottom—not over-the-top. Are you in favor of it?"
"Spill your beans," said Quorn, "I'm sick o' knowing nothing."
"But your ignorance is blissful. All the news is bloody awful," the babu answered. "Cruxes are excruciating always. Do you know why this babu is nothing but a fat non-entity?" He sat down, fanning himself with a Saturday Evening Post. There were marks of weariness—deep rings below his eyes and lines toward the corners of his mouth, but there was laughter and enthusiasm in his brown eyes, and the exhaustion, that had made his shoulders sag the night before, had vanished. He crossed one leg over another and looked like a man who had won a fortune. Haste was not in him although he glanced at his wrist-watch and compared it with the little alarm-clock on the mantelpiece, which had stopped for lack of winding.
"Kings and Queens," he said, "are always silly in a crisis. You can bet on it. For instance, there was Silly Willy Kaiser. There was simpleton Czar Nicholas. A person who consents to be a king is naturally silly. You can lay a safe bet how he will behave in any circumstances if you know the circumstances. What annoys me is that this babu should never have been a safe bet. I have been as silly as a foreign office expert—almost. How? You don't know. I will tell you. Modesty compels me to admit there isn't anyone on earth, from Venizelos, who is a wise old weasel, down to Mussolini, who is simply a revivalist in buskins, who has had half my experience. If you could imagine the reverse of ignorance, you might suspect how much I know; and it would make you sick, I don't mind telling you, I know such awful things about so many people. There isn't anybody in the League of Nations, and there wasn't anybody at Versailles, or at the Round Table Conference in London, possessed of a tenth of my knowledge about things that matter. There isn't a soldier in the world who has had more narrow escapes than I, nor a general who knows more strategy. This babu is a bird of many feathers, each of which is inconsistent with the other and appropriately lucky, because luck is consistent in nothing but inconsistency—a verb sap that is metaphysically scientific."
"Cut the tape and come through," Quorn suggested, swallowing his coffee.
"Listen to me. I have pulled off things that would arouse the incredulity of even a reporter of Soviet news for the capitalistic Press. I have studied history and philosophy until I know the faults of all the famous men, and the obscenity of all morality, and all the tricks of politicians, plus the use of propaganda. I am timid it is true, but I have learned to use that as an asset where a braver man would break his silly neck. And I have studied battles, since it always was a mystery to me why both sides weren't wiped out like Kilkenny cats. So I have learned that it takes more than a million bullets to make one casualty, and that has been a great help to a timid person such as I am. But it did not solve the problem, Why am I a nobody?"
"Do you know now?" Quorn asked, gulping down some more coffee.
"Yes, I know now. Generals who were idiots have won battles. Statesmen, who were imbeciles, have won garters, without as much as knowing what a saucy woman thinks about. Presidents, who were figureheads in a stuffed shirt laundered by a crooked boss, have won general elections, and a tomb as big as a sane man's house. Slow horses have won fast races. And the reason why is, they were usually in the right place at the right time. But I never have been."
"Where was you?" Quorn asked.
"In the right place at the wrong time."
"Some folks don't know where they're well off," Quorn retorted. "In out o' the wet's the place to head for. Wisht I knew a hide-out right this minute."
"That way you will never be successful," said the babu. "Famous and important, maybe, but successful never. The reward of your importance will be a rotten reputation, same as mine is, and the privilege of crying Yes ma'am to a thief who stole your thunder. But I have been thinking about Napoleon, who set up kings and queens like skittles and got the credit for it, until he forgot his technique. Where did he get his reputation? In Italy. How? He made his dispositions for a battle, but he didn't bother about living to see the end of it, although nobody loved better than Napoleon to collect the gold out of the teeth of all the butcherees. He picked the point of greatest danger. It was he who led the attack on the bridge-head, carrying the colors. Later on, however, he forgot that technique. So he sought to die in bed like any other has-been. Then he wasn't. And he did die in bed; and it wasn't any better than the one I had in U.S.A. United States when they arrested me for having smuggled my intelligence without declaring same for customs purposes on Blue Form B."
"I hear they've sent some gallopers to fetch the British," Quorn interrupted. "There'll be airplanes here in half a jiffy. Me and you won't die in bed, I reckon. TNT's a one-way ticket for a place where technique ain't important. Maybe I'd as soon have that as tigers. I was dreaming last night. Bughouse Bill has got me worked up so I can't feel cheerful. I've a dose of willies."
"Yes, I know it," said the babu. "Bughouse Bill has psyched you, as they say in circles where it is not dignified to speak of magic. How do you think priests put it over on ignoramuses? By being pious? They perceive a complex and they irritate it, that's all."
"Wisht I'd punched that sucker!"
The babu chuckled. "You did better. You convinced him you are spell-bound by his personality."
"Spell hell! But I can't get his eyes out o' my mind."
"He knows it. He depends on that to make you act stupidly," said the babu, "as a bull in the ring acts stupidly," he added, "when it does not understand the bandilleros."
"Anything to that?" Quorn asked. He tried hard to seem unconcerned, but he felt like a man with an inside agony consulting a physician. Moses, interrupting, did not help in the least, although Quorn despised Moses' attitude toward heathen superstitions and reacted normally in downright opposition to them.
"It is veree sinful and veree deadlee," said Moses. "It is that which made the widows commit suttee in the olden time, and that which made Thugs commit thuggee. It is necessaree to be sanctified from it with manee masses by a priest whose pietee is—"
"Chup karao!" said the babu, in a voice like a sergeant- major's. "Go into the kitchen!" Then he spoke to Quorn nearly as angrily. "Ass! Have you forgotten Bughouse Bill? He is the feet of clay of Gunpat Rao. He is why I thought about Napoleon. And he is why this babu, this time, will be in the right place at the right time."
"At the bridge-head. I will lead you. Should I die there, you will be what Moses calls a massacre, as Napoleon's soldiers would have been, but that won't worry any dead babu, believe me. I don't care what happens after I am dead. And I don't think bridge-heads are as dangerous as funk-holes if we only knew it. What defends the bridgehead? Their tiger. What do we do with their tiger?"
"Shoot him?" Quorn suggested. He had never used a rifle, and he certainly did not suspect the babu of efficient marksmanship. There was no other way he could think of, unless they could get some poisoned meat into the cage, and the priests would hardly be such fools as to permit that.
"Shoot him?" said the babu. "How then could we manage? We have to get him out of there, and get the other tiger in without the priests knowing it. We have to do it tonight, as soon as darkness makes it possible, and before the moon disappears; because we need the moonlight for the main event, but lots of shadow for concealment. We are done for, if we delay until tomorrow night, because the Princess thinks her flatterers are friends, and she has taken half Narada into confidence."
"It sounds like lunacy to me," said Quorn, "but what's the Maharajah doing?"
"He is acting just like any other personage who thinks heredity is the same as privilege, and that divine right is genius," the babu answered. "He is running true to type, like altruistic smarties at Geneva. He is being diplomatic, very—this babu providing irritant in form of an emasculated whisperer who tells him what to think and lets the Maharajah think he thought it. Very verb sap. Just the same as Charles the First, who lost his head for listening to friends he hadn't sense enough to see through. Bismarck and the altered telegram are nothing to him! He is supernaturally clever! Spiritual! Spirit comes out of a bottle! He has dared the priests to deny the truth of the legend of the Gunga sahib and the Princess and the tiger. They replied it is true. Of course they did. They had to. Then he dared them to say, is the prophesy true, that if she leads the tiger she will be the Maharanee? They could not deny that, so they said that remains to be seen. Accordingly he went to work and added to our propaganda. All last night his agents circulated tales among the people; and they undid a mistake which the Princess made, which might have ruined us. She has been saying, like a silly child, that she will lead the tiger of her own initiative. Her women have been telling that to all the women in the city. And it is women who make history. Men only swallow the blame for the women's mistakes and call it heroism—which it is, believe me! But the Maharajah's agents contradicted that: they said that the priests insist upon it, and that she consents to be a martyr for religious reasons. Do you get the hang of it now?"
"No, I'm damned if I do," Quorn answered.
The babu's patience seemed inexhaustible. He laid his elbow on the table and pointed a powerful forefinger at Quorn; but Quorn interrupted before he could speak:
"In the name o' common sense and caution, does her pappa think she's crazy? He must guess she has a trick up her sleeve. He must know that she wouldn't face that tiger in that there temple. Where's his horse sense?"
"He has less sense than a horse," the babu answered. "He believes in his own divinity. Why shouldn't he believe the Princess would believe in hers? People who believe they are special people will believe anything. Don't economists believe they can tax the world back to prosperity? Don't diplomats believe that they can lie and cheat each other into world peace? Don't moralists in U.S.A. United States believe that they can abolish drunkenness by act of Congress? Doesn't Gandhi believe he can remove the jealousies that are the product of a thousand years of selfishness and superstition, by eating nothing with his new false teeth? If you knew India a little better, you would understand why people went long of the market in '29, and why the Czar feared Rasputin, and why the Kaiser set his portrait in Jerusalem alongside God's, and why the Christian Scientists take absent treatment for a present fracture of the tibia, and why Napoleon applied for British hospitality when they had beaten him at Waterloo, and why the taxes are increased in order to reduce depression, and why speculators go to money-lenders. People kid themselves. And there is no such kidder of himself in all the universe as a professional parasite, who always thinks heredity endowed him with peculiar judgment. Didn't the Princess set the palace by the ears by saying she is superhuman because lady-momma was concubinated by a he-god? That made his Highness out a cuckold, didn't it? And does he like that? Not he! Royal anger makes him positive that she believes that twaddle. And he never trusted her mother. He more than half-suspects adultery. And he is drunk. A little whisky is a good thing for the stomach, but a lot of it is bad for politics."
"Okay," said Quorn. "Let's say he's pie-eyed, and she's full o' mischief. And no love lost between 'em," he added. "And the British watching out for Gandhi and the Roossians so intent that we've a chance to slip one past 'em. And let's say the Democratic party o' Narada wants a change o' government so horrid bad that they'll all vote the miracle ticket. But what if the tiger scrags her? What then?"
"Easy," said the babu. "You and I get scragged too. That's soon over with. And then the Maharajah charges Bughouse Bill and all his crew with inhumanity, conspiracy and treason. He proves against them that they hated the Princess, because she said repeatedly that she will overthrow them one way or another. Thus he hopes to stir the populace against them, and to have British political backing in a campaign that will deprive the priests of nearly all their revenues and all their power."
"If the British get here first?"
"Then we are flummoxed," said the babu, "and we go to prison, because they are moralists. They think a Brahmin or a bishop or a top-hat are essential to status quo of ad hoc, which is foreign- officeese for Trust in God I don't think. That is why the priests, some merchants, and a banker, and some peace-at-any- pricers, and some followers of Gandhi, and a few lick-spittle opportunists have sent messages to India. They count on Holy Joe-ishness of British pragmatism. That means we must make this snappy, or the plug gets pulled before the pet cat catches the canary. It is the eaten canary that counts in politics—the same as Japs in Manchukuo."
"You've a chance? Do you think you've a chance?" Quorn asked him.
"No," said the babu, "none whatever. If I thought that I would funk it. All the chances are against us, thank God. It is trusting chance that makes the difference between meum and tuum. Metaphysically speaking I am betting on the cert that tigers' fangs are at the front end. Now I will go and see the Princess. She has made enough mistakes by now to make the priests feel cocky. Same is all-important. It is not the enemy's mistakes, but ours, that upset chances and afford intelligence a sine qua non. That is Greek verb sap for over-confidence induces bad bets."
Moses came in from the kitchen, grinning diffidently. He offered Quorn a little crucifix on a ribbon. "It is to wear around the neck," he said. "It is against the eyes of Gunpat Rao."
Quorn accepted it politely, not knowing what else to do. It was against his principles, but nearly all his principles were down wind anyhow, and Moses meant well.
"Take that now to Ratty," said the babu, and Moses walked out with the bundle of clothing that he said had been worn by the Princess.
"When I have finished talking nonsense to her, we will feed our tiger," said the babu. "And then we will get down to realities, and I will show you what the underside of anybody's bet is like before the cat jumps. Sit and smoke until I come for you, but don't touch liquor."
Then he walked out and left Quorn feeling like a man on trial waiting for a jury to return its verdict. He sat staring at the little crucifix until at last he put it in a drawer, and then shredded tobacco and filled his pipe.
"I'm crazy," he said at last. "It's me that's bughouse, that's what. I'm seeing things." He lighted the pipe and it tasted good. "Okay then. Go ahead," he said. "Let's see 'em."
QUORN had to go out before the babu came for him. Asoka winded the tiger and began behaving badly, working up a tantrum. Both elephants were chained to big iron rings and those were bolted through to the inside of a wall; but the smaller elephant was getting nervous, too, and between them they might pull the wall down; it was only of mud and stone, well rammed and hard with age. They had been dying buildings, but they had come to life again. It was no longer Quorn's nice quiet caretaking job. The place had become overnight more like a camp devoid of discipline. Twenty or thirty people, mostly armed with swords and other ancient weapons, had gathered into a rather scared group on the far side of the tank. They had an air about them of looking for jobs as generals. Asoka screamed, ears up, and tried to wrench his chain loose, so they took to a roof by a ladder, and found their way over the roof to the inner courtyard.
Quorn took a whip to Asoka, and at the end of ten or fifteen minutes he had him quiet. But he did not dare to take him off the chain in order to remove him to the far end of the yard or to turn him loose into the tank. He would probably have charged at the van in the archway. Quorn was worried, what with Ratty nowhere visible and Moses useless for this sort of business. Two unmanageable elephants would be a fine mess of trouble to leave behind them while the babu and he went to play a trick on watchful priests, who more than likely had a trick up their own sleeves. The babu was right as usual; all the chances seemed to be against them. Secrecy? Where was it? There was a roar outside the main gate like that of a crowd on fair-day.
But when the babu came at last he seemed delighted. He crawled through the passage beneath the van, took a look at the elephants' chains and chuckled:
"They are as dependable as any other link of this conspiracy! At least they will keep this courtyard clear of inquisitive fools! So many people have offered their services to the Princess that she thinks she is already ruler of the world. They will all run if some one sneezes, but just now she is as happy as the owner of a sweepstake ticket planning how to spend the money, if she draws a horse and if the horse wins. She has emancipated all the women of Narada to begin with. She invited me to translate Karl Marx, so that she may have a popular edition printed. Just now she is writing a letter in English to the Viceroy at Delhi, making clear her political views. She is a Bolsheviki autocrat, pro-British with a rather de Valera tinge and Hollywoodish- Fascist notions of a Gandhi-esque return to nudist pacifism, all mixed up with Tolstoi and time out for tea. Oh, let us win! Oh let me live to see her buck the British Government! It won't last long, but let me live to see it! Go get the meat for the tiger. Don't put on the yellow turban yet; we need that for the Armistice-Fourth-of-July-Guy-Fawkes-day-Lord-Mayor's celebration!"
By the time Quorn had brought the slaughtered kid, the door of the van had been opened and shut, and Ratty was outside. He looked less like Ratty than a ragtag harridan from the cheaper stews. He grinned self-consciously in feminine apparel. The pale- blue clothing of the Princess, creased and filthy from the mess that the tiger had made in the van, unchastely clung to his lean frame and no longer was royal or even sweet smelling. He looked bawdy and incorrigible. Never a circus back-lot at a season's end revealed such tawdry and untidy looking villainy. He knew it. He leered like a small boy dressed up scandalously, and his bigness made him even more immodest. He was taller than Quorn by inches, and the shortness of the clothing made his naked legs and feet ridiculous.
"He isn't beautiful, but he is art," said the babu. "He has done what a regiment couldn't. He has put a collar on the tiger and has chained him to the far end of the van. You can go in and feed him without losing your heart through your front teeth. Go in two or three times. Take in the meat the fourth time. Thus the tiger may discover you are not an evil person."
"How about you?" Quorn retorted.
"I am evil. I don't go in."
So Quorn entered, and the tiger did not recognize him. There was a clatter of chain and a snarl in stenching dimness. Quorn prayed that the chain was short and strong enough as he stared at the luminous eyes and watched the brute's fangs uncover. The little laid-back ears suggested unchanging and deadly enmity. But when he spoke the tiger became quiet. He seemed to like to be spoken to. He was a big beast. He seemed in fine condition. But there was something vaguely lethargic about his movements like those of a dog that has recovered from distemper, as if he doubted his strength or had got out of the habit of using it. Quorn stepped out and shut the door, sweating.
"That's no pet cat," he remarked, wiping his forehead.
"Sickness and the Jains have sissified his ego," said the babu, "but a tiger is a devil in a wasp's suit and we are going to have to do some close-ups. Go back in again."
So Quorn repeated the process, and repeated it again. And then, at last, he fed the tiger. It was not much of a rehearsal for cooperation under difficulties in the dark, but, as the babu said:
"Familiarity is just as bad for tigers as it is for statesmen. Keep the tame ones guessing and they run no risks of being found out. That is verb sap, very. And besides, this is no worse than trusting God or any other unknown quantity. Women run much worse risks in childbirth, merely for the sake of bringing you or me into the world—and what a gamble! Also this is safer than to be a communist in New York, or to speak your mind in Moscow. I would rather this than be a moralist in Manchukuo, or be vaccinated by a Mexican apothecary on a railroad train without an antidote available; and that has happened to me; it was no good. Come to think of it, we only undertake a minor risk. The premium at Lloyds should be a bagatelle, and even so the underwriters would be robbers. I begin to lose enthusiasm, it is such a tame adventure. Come on; let us look into the entrails of it."
Quorn, understanding the babu better now, suspected he was talking to reduce his own excitement and to raise Quorn's, while, behind that barrage of words, he reviewed his plans in microscopic detail. He had the master-gambler's trick of overlooking nothing, with an air of jocular irreverence that masked alertness keener than a cat's. As soon as he saw Quorn's facial expression change he turned and ordered Ratty what to do during their absence. Then he shouted for Moses and ordered a black cotton table-cloth torn in halves. One half he bound on Quorn's head and the other on his own. Ratty was ordered to take the royal robes off and to stand by the elephants. Moses was to warn people out of the courtyard on the ground of danger if the elephants should break loose. Then the babu raised the stone trap leading to the passage underground. The well-head had been closed, so there was no light from the far end. Moses closed the trap behind them and they were in total darkness except for Quorn's flashlight.
"Give it to me," said the babu. Quorn was too slow for him. The babu appeared to lack that mistrust of darkness as a thing in itself which handicaps most people. He merely flashed on the light at intervals for half-a-second, talking all the while and striding confidently.
"Were you raised on bogies?" he asked. "Everybody is. India's darkness is said to be full of millions of them and it probably is; but I have never met one that could pull a trigger, and you can't scare me with mere malevolence. Benevolence is often much worse. This world is a place for pragmatists, and if the next world isn't, what do I care? Lend a hand, please."
It taxed their united strength to raise one of the stones in the floor. There was nothing under it but a big bronze rod, curved slightly, with a handle at one end and a small hook at the other. But a small stone in the wall came out rather easily after having been thumped a few times with the rod; and that revealed a hole just large enough to admit the hook. The babu inserted almost the full length of the rod and gave it half a turn until the hook took hold of something.
"Now pull," he commanded.
Grunting, straining, with their feet against the wall, they pulled until something yielded and the rod came slowly toward them. It came almost half-way the width of the tunnel. Quorn could not see what was happening because the babu had switched off the flashlight and set it down in order to use both hands. He merely realized that they were pulling something out through the hole. He did not know that the enormous slab of limestone, that looked like a support for the roof of the tunnel, had opened outward, until the babu had flashed on the light again. They had been pulling at a chain which was fast to a lever on the far side of the wall. The babu turned the flashlight on a rather complicated looking system of levers, and then led the way in, up a flight of five steps and into a narrower tunnel whose floor was foul with bats' excreta. There was very dim light that came through small gaps set at wide intervals; it foreshortened the view along the tunnel, so that it looked like a dungeon. The masonry of the arched roof, clumsy and irregular, afforded foothold for countless bats that let go and fled in front of them. The air was foul with their stench, although there seemed to be plenty of ventilation of a kind and the tunnel was dry.
"Two miles!" said the babu, and his voice rumbled along the tunnel. "It is not too safe in places where the roof needs propping. It will fall in one of these days. Then another bit of history will lose reality. The scholars will debunk it. They will say there never was a tunnel. Howsoever, it is how the miracles were managed, in the days before the mission was even a palace as yet, and that is centuries ago. There used to be a dance of gods and goddesses on astrologically stipulated dates. There was a circle of flame around a stone stage and the gods and goddesses appeared within it, vanishing again before the flame died. That was very comforting to pious people, and it might be happening today, but certain of the priests and ladies of the nautch of Kali's temple somehow or other got badly burned. And it may be that the price of naphtha went up. Or perhaps the contemporary Maharajah was jealous and promised the people to restore prosperity by putting a prohibitive import duty on inflammables. At any rate, the gods and goddesses discontinued the entertainment. And there were always spoil-sports in the world sticking noses into things. The only difference is that nowadays they don't get burned at the stake, or flayed alive, or similarly cured of blasphemy, but go to parliament and get a peerage. Some one told about this tunnel leading out from Kali's temple to the place where spiritual fox-trots used to fascinate the credulous. They nailed him to a tree by the tongue, of course, for blasphemy. But that wasn't enough to stop talk. So the priests invented or revived the tale of Sankyamuni and the tiger. Ever since then they have kept the most ferocious tiger they could get, in a cage in the mouth of the passage. Priests are simple people, just like politicians and financiers. They hate to let go of a vested interest, even when the dividends have to be passed. Unrespectable criminals would have closed this passage, which would be easy to do. But priests are moralists, and morals mean looking a long way ahead. There might come a time in course of generations or of centuries when this passage could be put to profitable use again. So they discouraged all investigation from the end we entered, by arranging that their tiger can be loosed into the tunnel. Would you like to meet the front end of an angry tiger in a tunnel? And at that, a tiger propaganded by the priests as being fed by night on ogres' entrails that are brought forth from the underworld by incantations?"
Quorn was breathless from the bat-stench and the speed with which the babu led. The floor was regular enough, but he couldn't be sure of that, because the babu only used the light in the very dark intervals midway between the slots of daylight from the holes in the roof. The slots resembled chimneys as much as anything. Some of the holes were almost closed up, and those sections of the tunnel were in almost total darkness. Sweat streamed into his eyes. The babu's conversation rumbled so along the tunnel that it was an almost intolerable effort to separate the words from their echo. It made him irritable, and the irritation was increased by thirst.
However, there was light ahead at last—a lot of blinding white light. The babu waited for him at the foot of what appeared to be a high, roofless tower, twenty feet wide at the summit and a great deal wider at the bottom. It was almost kiln-shaped.
"We are now beneath Siva's temple, on the opposite side of the street from Kali's temple," said the babu. "This is why I dared talk. Sounds pass upward at this point. Do you remember the roof of Siva's temple? This is one of those cone-shaped towers. All that fallen masonry in front of us was once a stairway that led to a door about two-thirds of the way up; but when the stair fell they bricked up that door. I am probably the only living man who knows for certain that the stair, when it fell, didn't block the last bit of tunnel. Bamjee knew it. He knew a lot more than was good for a man of his limitations. This babu brought medicines for Bamjee all the way from Cawnpore, where there is a poisoner who knows enough about antidotes to make the fortune of a specialist in bootleg liquor patients. But Bamjee died nevertheless. His fault was that his greed was stronger than his curiosity, and he was too crude. He attempted to blackmail Bughouse Bill by threatening to sell the secret of this tunnel to the Maharajah. It was a silly threat, as Bamjee realized when it was too late. Some men seem to have to die to get sense knocked into them. The Maharajah would have paid him nothing for the secret. And to threaten Bughouse Bill is to incur an animosity that oozes essences of herbs which do not aid longevity. However, dying men grow talkative if they are humorously entertained, so this babu learned Bamjee's secrets. Let a man be solemn on his death-bed and he will talk about eternity and many other matters that he does not know yet. I told Bamjee jokes, and he told me, by Jiminy, this secret that he did know. I know how to use it, but he didn't."
He began to lead the way again, but paused. "From here on," he admonished, "silence! Not a whisper!"
It was easy going, although there seemed to be no passage at all until they took the fallen masonry in flank and found an opening between it and the wall. They were now in a winding tunnel, pitch dark, that apparently made a circuit because its walls were a part of the foundations of the temple, The babu turned the flashlight upon carvings which suggested that even the foundations were built of ruins older than the ancient pile above them. Some of the carvings were upside down. At last they turned a corner and the babu switched the light off. Thirty feet ahead of them, seen cross-wise of the tunnel opening, at an angle, silhouetted sharply, stood the temple tiger, black against the bright sky. There was a rather sharp slope up toward him, and at the top of that, before one reached the cage, were stone steps. Both men breathed hard. The tiger heard them—turned—stared down at them, and snarled.
The babu touched Quorn's black turban, then his own, and pointed to the shadow beneath the cage. The meaning of that was plain enough; their heads would be invisible from the temple courtyard, even should they raise them above the level of the floor of the cage. But the nearer they approached the tiger the more restless he became—then angry—then furious. He began to rush to and fro and to hurl himself against the bars. It was entirely probable that priests were watching him to prevent a trick being played. But the babu crept so close that the tiger almost clawed his turban through the bars. He drew Quorn closer—pointed—made him study details, while the tiger raved and ravened up above them.
The back of the cage was unlike the front. One section of it had been made to open, and that part resembled a door. It would swing outward on hinges. But the door, instead of being locked, was fastened, similarly to the front one, by iron bolts that shot into the framework of the cage, one at the top and one at the bottom. To reach either bolt would mean getting within reach of the tiger's claws. Above the cage, behind where the arch had been filled in with masonry, there was a dark hole where several men might hide, unseen and safe, if they could reach it; but the only possible way to reach it would be to open the door of the cage and climb by that. The tiger probably could take the same route, since the door was cross-barred and would give him foothold for a leap.
Because they were below the floor-level, there was nothing to be seen through the cage but the far bars and the sky beyond it. But the babu pointed at the sky, so Quorn studied that, too. The sun, he observed, would set behind the cage. Long before sunset the huge pile of the temple would throw all that corner of the courtyard into deep shadow; and he remembered how dark the tiger's cage was after sunset. But the more he considered that tiger in its cage, the more he wished himself in Philadelphia.
The babu beckoned him away at last, and they had a last glimpse of the tiger tearing at the bars in an attempt to follow them as they found their way back to the circular space beneath the open dome.
"This, here, is our bull ring," said the babu. "Here we kill him. We shall need a ladder. Then I climb to the top of the cage, and stay there. I release the top bolt. You release the bottom one with long tongs. As the door swings open it protects you from him. If he turns to attack you—if he does turn, which he may not—I switch on the flashlight in his face. He is hungry; the priests have kept him famished to sweeten his disposition. And a tiger loves dogmeat. We will have a dog tied here in this place and when we leave him alone the dog will howl. I have a good dog ready; he can howl like hell; he usually howls all night long. So the tiger goes after the dog, and you take a gun and go after the tiger."
"You're a genius," said Quorn. "I know a hotter one than that, though. See here: the tiger jumps past me—I grab his tail and tie a knot in it—that makes him holler and fetches the dog, who grabs his ear and hauls him to the tank in the mission courtyard. There we drown him decent. Me and you get leather medals, and the band plays 'Hallelujah.'"
"You are all right," said the babu. "Certainties only fail when men can't joke about uncertainties. Now you tell me. How do you think we ought to do this?"
Quorn scratched his forehead. "You're going to bring her along this tunnel with the other tiger?" he asked. "She's to get through that cage, and then lead our tame tiger up over the bridge? Is that it? You've your choice o' two ways. Either you get a hunk o' meat with good, quick poison in it, and you shove that through the bars from this side. If he's famished, he'll swallow it quick; and if it's cyanide, or even strychnine, you won't need no referee to count him out like Tunney. Then the way's clear. Otherwise you shoot him."
"No good," said the babu. "We have got to get their tiger out of the way. Their tiger absolutely never was. Ours is the tiger, and there is no other—not even his ghost. Ratty must lead our tiger through the tunnel. We couldn't trust her to do it. As a Princess, she is unpredictable. But as a tiger-leader, I should say she is a dead cert—dead before the job is half done."
"Do you mean you have a double for her?" Quorn asked.
"No, not for the last act. But we needn't kill her in the first act, need we? Dead princesses are as useless as a League of Nations passport with a visa from the king of Manchukuo."
"Well then, what the hell?" Quorn answered irritably. "Talk horse. What's your idea?"
But the babu only grinned. He answered: "Think it over, Gunga sahib! Now is time for thinking. Get that over with. Tonight there won't be any time for thinking." He began to lead the way toward the tunnel. Over his shoulder he added: "Think of the impossibilities. You will reject those. Then tonight you won't try them."
"Aw, hell, come on, tell me your plan," Quorn insisted. But the babu answered over-shoulder:
"Not I! You would argue it to death. This babu's plans are best unargued even when they're no good. And the worst plan is the best one, if the best is argued to a frazzle but the worst one isn't."
Just as he reached the tunnel-mouth he stooped and carefully examined something that was cached behind some crumbled masonry. It was a bundle. It consisted of one long rod with a two-pronged hook at the end, a pair of long-armed blacksmith's tongs, and a gun that looked almost twice as long as any other gun that Quorn had ever seen.
"Am not a good sport," said the babu. "When I aim at a tiger, I like a barrel long enough to keep him that far off at any rate."
"Oh yeah?" Quorn asked. "So it's you who'll shoot him?"
"Did you think I'd let a God-dam Yankee do what I daren't?" the babu answered. "I daren't. But I will. You watch me. Let's go. There is lots to do yet—plenty to go wrong yet! Come on—hurry, hurry, hurry!"
IT was well they returned when they did. Asoka disliked his new quarters, and the smell of tiger had sent him into a passion of indignation. Ratty hardly dared to go near him. The ring in the wall was coming loose, too; half a dozen more tugs and either the iron bolt or the wall itself might give way. The younger, smaller elephant was copying Asoka—not exactly out of hand yet, but in a mood to make trouble at the first chance.
It was a problem that taxed resources. Quorn fastened a rope on to the end of the iron bolt inside the empty building and made that secure by bringing it out through a window, so that at any rate there was the weight of a whole wall to tax Asoka's strength. The babu crawled beneath the tiger's van and out through the archway. He returned with ten men, who looked like cabinet ministers, they were all so nicely dressed, but he set them to work at once to draw the van around the tank and toward the great stone trap-door leading to the tunnel. There he parked it, probably out of Asoka's sight, because all elephants are short-sighted, and upwind from him anyhow. That done, he made the ten men raise and bolt in place the massive boarding that fitted the end of the archway; thus he shut off the inner courtyard and secured theoretical privacy. Then he dismissed the ten men—sent them up the ladder and to the inner courtyard by way of the roof. Moses, he decided, was a liability at that particular moment, so he sent him indoors out of danger. Ratty was commanded to resume the cast-off royal robes. They produced a curiously swift effect on him. He was a showman instantly—a circus showman, intelligent, alert, dependable, no matter what he might be out of sight and smell and sound of the arena. One imagined sawdust.
"Destiny is a hussy," said the babu, "but I think we bilk the lady. If she misses this one, it's her last chance—almost. Up with the trap-door. Tie it open."
The van door faced the opened trap; the descending steps were six or seven feet in front of it. The door would open toward the courtyard wall. The babu ordered Quorn to stand between the van and the trap, so that he would be facing the door when it opened.
"Stand a little nearer to the trap-door. If he likes you, he will pass you. If he doesn't I will swat him. He mustn't like me whatever happens. You coax, I drive—love and hatred, fifty- fifty. In you go—out with him, Ratty—take him down the steps into the tunnel!"
Ratty jumped in swiftly and gave the tiger no chance to do any thinking. He unsnapped the chain in a second and drove the tiger out in front of him. But he followed so fast that he almost lost his foothold on the van step. The tiger hesitated, blinked at the sun-lit courtyard and seemed to mistrust the yawning hole in front of him. Quorn stood terrified. He could have touched the tiger. He could have kicked it. It stared at him, as undecided as Quorn was what to do next. But Ratty, with the chain in both hands, started down the steps. The babu stepped out from behind Quorn with a slat of wood in his hand. He spanked the tiger on the rump and it went down the steps, but in no great haste. It repeatedly snarled backward over-shoulder at the babu, who remained on the top step flourishing his weapon.
"Love and hatred, fifty-fifty," he repeated. "A tiger is a sentimentalist. A sentimentalist is a behaviorist. And a behaviorist would be a person if he had intelligence, but he hasn't. If the tiger murders Ratty, you will have to double for him. Let us hope not. Should he murder you, it would be all up! Go down now and help to seduce him into the other tunnel."
But seduction was not so easy. The tiger drank a little where the water seeped through from the tank. Then he stared back at the sunlight, eyed Quorn suspiciously and pulled back on the chain when Ratty went in through the opening into the long tunnel. He was much too powerful to have been dragged by one man, and he snarled at Quorn, who called back to the babu:
"What now? He's getting ugly!"
But Quorn's voice either scared the tiger or reassured him. He started forward. Ratty took up the slack of the chain. Quorn, with his heart in his mouth, slipped by between the tiger and the wall, so that he could at least pretend to cut off that end of the tunnel. Then he spoke again, pitching his voice low, and the babu ran down-steps and slapped them, as he came, with his piece of wood. He made a noise like crackers going off. The tiger gave one glance at him and then slunk stealthily through the opening. The hair was still rising on Quorn's neck when Ratty called back quietly that all was well.
"Do you mean," Quorn asked the babu, "that you'll trust that heathen to time your trick right?"
"Must trust some one," said the babu. "So I trust me. I am not a heathen, let me tell you. Am a voluble verb sappist, realistically skeptical of destiny, who is a dull wench. What a hell of a life to know exactly what will happen! What a bore to be destiny! Let us go up now and close the trap-door. Should the tiger murder Ratty—oh, well—we shall know soon."
So they closed the trap-door, and to Quorn it felt like immuring a decent heathen in a dreadful tomb. It brought to his mind the pictures he had seen in the public library of martyrdoms in ancient Rome. However, those thoughts were dispersed by mutiny and Moses, the last person in the world from whom mutiny seemed likely. The babu shouted for Moses, who came out of the gate- house sulkily, offended because he had not been thought reliable enough to help with the tiger. He stuck a hand into his trouser pocket and looked superior. The babu ordered him to scrub the inside of the van.
"You can bring a pail and carry water from the tank there. Please use quantities of soap and lots of water. Get the tiger- stink out."
But Moses stood on privilege. "I am taking orders onlee from my employer," he answered, "and for strictlee honorable service. I am cooking tiffin. As for sweepers, there are plentee in the citee."
As a good God-fearing democrat, Quorn saw the principle involved in that in less than half-a-second.
"Okay. You're fired," he retorted. "Get your money. Now whose orders are you taking?"
"Fired, eh?" said the babu. One of his amazing kicks snapped upward and missed Moses by the width of a shoe-sole. Moses' eye whitened as he stepped backward.
"Seeing you're fired," said Quorn, "I can't protect you any. Where I come from, that's a white man's job to valet tiger-cages. Heathen don't get trusted with important jobs o' that sort."
"Oh, sir, if it is important—"
Quorn frowned. "It needs doing right," he answered. "I must find a guy I can depend on."
"Kindly re-engage him," said the babu. "It will save me the necessity of asking you to do that awfully important work."
"But sir," said Moses, "that is no job for a gentleman." His one eye looked at Quorn remorsefully. "To save you from it I would do a so much worse indignitee."
"Okay. Then you're hired again," said Quorn. "Go to it."
So the babu smiled and Moses went to work with soap and scrubbing-brush. He scrubbed until the van was twice as clean inside as when the priests had loaned it to the babu. It was much too late for tiffin—after four already—and the rice was burned to the side of the pot, but the curry looked good, so Quorn started a kettle for tea, and while the kettle was boiling he fed the elephants. He did not dare to loose Asoka yet; he carried water for him, making six or seven trips with buckets; and by the time that was finished the babu had already helped himself to curry, had made the tea and was busy drinking from a saucer. Quorn helped himself, too, and then lighted his pipe and sat down.
"Maybe I'm dumb," he began, "but I've been fair itching to ask you something. If it's part o' your fancy plan that you won't talk about, I reckon I can save my breath to cool this."
"They who ask, occasionally learn what is not true, and that eliminates some useless guessing," said the babu. "And besides, I am not a diplomatist. I only lie when it is virtuous to do so—not from fear or force of habit. Try me."
"Why in thunder," Quorn asked, "did the outfit round at Bughouse Bill's place loan you that there van and oxen, and no objections?"
"But there were objections," said the babu. "Very grave objections. And I made them."
He imbibed tea from the saucer with a sound like the last of a bath-tub's contents gurgling down the drain. Then, noticing that Quorn was all attention:
"They insisted on it."
Quorn waited. He expected a prodigious lie was coming. He could see the babu's beautiful brown eyes enjoying roguery of some sort. But it might be reminiscence. Possibly the truth was humorous enough to need no tinkering. Silence seemed best, so he swallowed his tea—a form of moderated silence that was non- committal.
"They insisted I should have the van to bring the Princess to the tiger," said the babu.
"Hey now, don't talk crazy."
"Cleverness and craziness are closer to each other than the cream and the milk," the babu answered. "It was I who thought of it, but they who thought they thought of it when I refused, the same as Japanese denying that they want Manchuria, to use anything belonging to the temple. First they thought I wanted money, because priests are very simple people, who know all about psychology, like high financiers who get caught short of scarce stock on a rising market. So I had to help them; and I told them that the Princess would insist on coming in a modern motor car to show her disrespect for precedents and so forth. And I added, since I knew their proud and bitter hatred of his Highness, that they ought to ask the Maharajah for his new car, something they would almost rather die than do. As a matter of fact he can't use it in the city, because it won't go around the corners of the narrow streets—but priests don't think of those things. And I knew that Bughouse Bill was busy trying to be Gunpat Rao. You remember, he was lurking at a stairhead. He was prompting the priests I talked with. And when a high priest lurks, he has his cunning with him, maybe, but his wisdom is at the laundry or somewhere."
Quorn wiped his forehead as an excuse for passing his hands before his eyes. The very mention of that meeting with Gunpat Rao on the temple parapet brought back the awful vision of the priest's face and made him shudder. But the babu, though he noticed the gesture, went on talking:
"I knew that Kali's priests knew that the Jains had disposed of their tame but irreligiously carnivorous tiger. They knew about that tiger, because the Jains had offered it to them; they had refused it because they didn't need it, since they had one that was savage and more to their liking. They suspected me of having the Jains' tiger hidden away somewhere because I am always suspected of anything anyhow; and of course it was only a matter of time before they would discover where I had it, because the only way to keep a secret from an inquisitive priest is to kill the priest or tell the truth. The truth will usually fool them; and a secret that they think they have discovered for themselves behaves like a strong wine in an ascetic head. So I became a little reverently courteous to them, just as you might be if a New York cop should catch you carrying some liquor, and I made one of my best mistakes. Whoever tells you that the highest art is to conceal art is a bum instructor. Such is amateurish in comparison to making bloody blunders at a proper moment. I apologized to them for the smell on my garments. There was none, but they smelt it then at once, and thought it had annoyed their sanctimonious noses since we first began talking. And I said the smell was from the ekka, which belonged to a trainer of animals who did some carting for the Jains. At that, of course, they knew for certain that I had the tiger and would try to substitute it somehow, or to play a trick of some sort."
"Sounds like contract bridge," said Quorn, "with deuces wild," he added. "Go on. I'm listening."
"Bughouse Bill was listening, when I told them that the Princess was willing to concede a little to their prejudices, just as a matter of give and take in the name of sacredness, but that she could not be persuaded to employ a vehicle belonging to the temple. Gunpat Rao saw through that, of course, immediately; any experienced diplomat would have understood that I wished for the use of a temple vehicle. But intelligence and vulgar cunning in the same skin are like meum and tuum, they don't mix even on a communistic basis; so Bughouse Bill spoiled Gunpat Rao's judgment. Bughouse Bill made one of the two priests who were talking to me step back and whisper to him; and I sat staring at the moon as if I were in love whereas I was wishing for supper and sleep."
"And you were scared," said Quorn. "Don't kid yourself."
"I was not. I am frightened when I think I know that something terrible will happen, or when I know I know it will. But when I don't know, then my curiosity is made of what a Jew calls innocence, and you can't frighten that with innuendo. Cultivated innocence has no nerves. Until the priest came back to me I did not know that Bughouse Bill was such a cunning looney as I hoped. Nothing but audacity and innocence—and they are two heads of the self-same penny—made me hope that he would set for me a trap which Gunpat Rao in a calmer moment would have seen that I was tempting him to set. He did it, though. Bughouse Bill had told that priest to tell me that the show was off, and the priests would have nothing to do with it, unless the Princess should come to the temple in a vehicle provided by the priests. He stipulated that it should be a closed vehicle publicly recognizable as temple property. And he was cunning enough to pretend that stipulation was to save the Princess from the populace among whom certain fanatics, who dislike sacrilege, are probably conspiring to assassinate her, said he."
"Hell—you're lying. Or the priests are stark mad," Quorn answered. "They aim to have her scragged by that there temple tiger, don't they?"
"It is their divinely inspired and pious purpose that she shall get scragged," said the babu.
"Well—their van connects 'em with the murder, don't it? A patrolman on his first beat could figure that out."
"Ah, yes," said the babu. "That is why the Maharajah waits with such complacency; because he knows we have that van. I know he knows, because I sent the information to him. That van is his trump card. It is evidence against the priests of full complicity and of conspiracy to murder. He is betting on it. But do you imagine that Bughouse Bill expects the Princess will be in that vehicle? Of course he thinks we will bring our tiger in it. I have sent for two big howdahs for the elephants; they will be here soon; and the elephants go with the van to make a nice procession through the streets; so Bughouse Bill will bet his destiny that the Princess is hidden in one of the howdahs."
"What good would that do?" Quorn asked.
"He has such a saintly sort of cunning," said the babu, "that he simpletonly thinks we mean to leave the temple tiger in its cage and let the Princess lead our tame one up over the bridge for the crowd to gape at. Possibly he thinks we mean to shoot the temple tiger. He will make provision to prevent that."
"But it's what I hoped at first you meant to do," said Quorn. "That 'ud be possible, wouldn't it? The way it is now, if you can get the back of that cage open in time you'll have two tigers on your hands and one gun. Maybe you think a tiger-fight's a picnic, but I'm losing my faith in this venture, I am. I'll lay a fair- sized bet who it is gets scragged, unless you figure you're too tough for tigers' chewing."
"Don't make fool bets," said the babu. "I will tell you what to bet on. Bet that Bughouse Bill's most truculent, suspicious and determined Holy Joes will be on the reception committee. Bet, too, that a crowd will fill the Pulke-nichi like a roaring river; and the roofs of all the houses will be crowded also. It will be the easiest thing in the world to start a riot."
"Oh yeah—and me on Soaker? Not so good, that isn't."
"They will demand to see the Princess in the van before they let her enter," said the babu. "Why not? That is reasonable. Her identity is important, isn't it? Some of the priests will search the howdahs at the same time, probably. They don't know yet when to expect us. And they won't know for another hour or two yet whether to expect us tonight or tomorrow, because this astrologically-minded babu has to cast another horoscope or two and genuflect to Siva. And the priests believe that horoscope story as much as Asoka does. They know I mean to spring a trick and hope to catch them unprepared for it. So they will look for a tiger in the van. And they will look for the Princess hiding in a howdah. Would it not be an ecclesiastically cunning and contemptuously safe bet to denounce her to the crowd as an impostor who is playing hob with holy matters? Would the crowd not—"
"Scrag her?" Quorn set his teeth. "There'll be Soaker," he said grimly. "Scragging her means scragging him and me. If he should cut loose—"
The babu interrupted him: "You must lead the procession. No matter what the priests say, you must ride Asoka into the temple courtyard ahead of the Princess. Otherwise, when the priests discover that they have guessed wrong they will be in a panic. Panicky priests, I tell you, are worse than politicians, because they have older instincts. They will stab Asoka, or do something else to make him furious. If he should charge into the crowd there would be a terrible calamity. They would blame you and her, and it would be easy after that to have you murdered by indignant fanatics. A mob would hunt you down and tear you both into little pieces. Do you understand that?"
"Yeah, and it don't sound good," Quorn answered.
"It is better than good," said the babu. "It is perfect. It is perfectly balanced. My agents, and the priests' agents, and the Maharajah's agents, from three different angles have worked on the crowd's psychology until it is ready for anything. What the crowd wants to see is a miracle. It wants to see and believe with its own eyes. Even if it doesn't believe, it wants to see. And it will be for us or against us at the touch of a trigger. So the moment the gate of the temple courtyard opens, ride in on Asoka and leave the van to follow you."
"How are you going to time this?" Quorn asked. "You'll be in the tunnel."
"I will time it by their tiger's antics. They have kept him famished. He is restless. He will leap at the bars of the cage when he sees the elephant. I will be wearing a black turban and something black over my shoulders, and when he leaps at the front bars I will look through the cage from behind him."
"Fine and dandy. What d'you kid yourself that Soaker will be doing when he sees their tiger?" Quorn asked. "Scratching himself or something?"
"Then you pinch hit," said the babu.
"I get pitched off, that's what happens. Soaker flattens out the whole kaboodle, priests and Princess, tiger, me and every one. This here is a louse-bound proposition. I won't have a thing to do with it. It's crazy."
"Yes, I knew you'd funk it," said the babu. "That is why I have another man ready to ride Asoka. He is being made up now by the women. He is just your size. If you will lend us your jacket, darkness and the women's pigments will do the rest. He is a man of evil character who will try to blackmail us afterwards, but he is afraid of nothing, so we must use him."
"Oh, yeah? What I meant is, use your wits and think up something reasonable. You've time to change the plan around. You said the priests don't know when to expect you to pull this off. Postpone it, and let's think o' something."
"Time," the babu answered, "is a dimension, and the dimensions of one plan are not the same as those of another. This is timed for tonight. This time tomorrow we are either dead or very interesting people. But you have a perfect opportunity to run away, and you can go now. I will get you a horse, and you can ride to rail-head. Nobody will notice you, if you wear no turban and go quietly; they are all too excited about the Princess. Start at sunset."
Quorn struck his pipe on his heel. He spoke with decision: "I don't aim to find fault with a heathen, such as you are, for mistaking the meaning of Christian speech. I was putting it up to you to think this proposition over. And I say it's a crazy proposition. But if you won't be reasonable—and that's the trouble with heathens, they ain't—you needn't kid yourself that I'm yellow. Maybe I am, but I haven't discovered it yet. Was that why you picked that yellow turban for me? God damn it to hell, I won't wear yellow!"
"You shall have a red one," said the babu.
"Dull-red. Damn all these sissified colors!"
"Good, dark blood-red," said the babu.
"Where's this guy who wants my job? I'd like to see him. Let me give him the once over. Maybe he needs taking down a peg. Been dolled up by the ladies, has he? Done wise-cracking about me, I reckon, while they prettied him up. Where is he? Lead me to him."
But the babu drew a herring over that trail and restored Quorn's equanimity at the same time: "You and I must go and see the Princess," he answered. "We will go by way of the tunnel and up through the well-head; that is better than over the roof. So many people have been trying to persuade her to delay this ceremony, and for so many reasons, that I would bet my fortune, if I had one, that the priests are trying to gain time. And when the enemy tries to gain time, that is just what not to give him. She is impatient enough—perhaps too impatient. But they might persuade her. We must tell her the real reason why the time is tonight."
Quorn's eyes brightened alertly: "You haven't told me yet."
"I believe it is the priests' reason for wanting to delay proceedings."
"Ought to be hot. What is it?"
"That it is impossible to keep a secret. That the odds are something like a million to one that somebody has warned the British. Airplanes! It would only need one thoroughly experienced and cheerful Englishman to stop this. They might kill him. But he'd stop it."
"Hell, yes, that 'ud never do," said Quorn. "Their Viceroy 'ud clean this place up with a posse o' polite young earls in khaki, damn 'em!—and we'd catch it! Lord, we'd catch it! Come on. Soaker's quiet now. Let's go and talk to the Princess."
THE inner courtyard was crowded. It resembled a fair, there were so many people. Having had to come over the wall by a ladder, they were thoroughly enjoying a secretive atmosphere that was as illusory as it was important and exciting.
"If less than ten per cent of them are spies, then I am an archbishop," said the babu; and as they swarmed around to ask him questions and to stare at Quorn, he told them that the day was not yet finally decided on.
"But be ready! Be ready!" he insisted. "He who is ready reaps rewards. All others only read the bulletins and pay the taxes!"
Then he almost forced his way into the room the Princess occupied. It was crowded with people. She was holding a kind of court. She was bright-eyed and excited, but pretending not to be. Unused to male society, but thoroughly determined to be modern, she was getting a swift education in manners and in how to impose them on designing flatterers. They were taking utmost advantage of her inexperience, and she needed help. The babu gave it to her.
He threw one man out—a very obvious nobody who was near enough to the door to be an easy victim.
"Follow me," he said, "and keep close."
Then he hustled his way through the crowd, not caring whom he elbowed, nor how violently, and Quorn kept at his heels, admiring the man's prodigious strength of mind and muscle. When he had forced himself near enough he whispered to one of the women. They were rather scared looking women; they lacked their young leader's inborn arrogance; and even more than that, they lacked her sense of humor, but they were protecting her from the crush as best they could. She to whom the babu whispered looked a little older than the others, and a bit less nervous, but she was so relieved to see the babu that she stumbled, and almost fell, in her hurry to repeat the whispered message to the Princess. The Princess nodded. The babu faced about suddenly, clearing a space for himself by sheer violence. But he smiled like a man who only did no worse than that because he saw no need. The arrogance of his air of power and authority was overwhelming. Silence fell. There were men in the room whose caste and rank were vastly higher than the babu's. There were young bloods who had deserted the Maharajah's court for the sheer fun of an adventure. But before astonishment could change into truculence, the babu read that embryonic court a lesson, in the vernacular. He betrayed no trace of fear of them, and no respect of persons.
"Animals!" he called them. "Parasites! Beggars of rewards for worthless promises! Her Highness has commanded me to clear the room. There is important news for her, and there are some of you who are untrustworthy. I could give names." He turned and appeared to whisper to the Princess, but Quorn thought he only pretended to. She looked puzzled for a moment, but smiled and then nodded again. The babu continued: "She has commanded me to tell you, on her royal oath, that nobody shall be rewarded except for actual service! There are no promises asked or given—no bribes—no offices for sale. She will know whom to reward! You have her royal leave to withdraw immediately! Those of you whose treachery is known are warned to keep away unless you wish to test the temper and resources of more honorable men!"
He drew a paper from his pocket and appeared to consult it. Out they all went. None had courage to oppose him. He looked, as he always did, like some one with resources at his beck and call. He only had to stride six paces forward, and the laggards at the rear made haste to get out of his reach. Then he summoned inside the two gray-bearded gentlemen who were on guard at the door, and when he had closed and locked the door he flattered them heavily:
"You two are trusted," he said. "By her Highness' express command you are permitted to know the deepest secrets. Of such as you she hopes her future ministry may be when she is ruler of Narada." They scarcely acknowledged the babu. Caste and prejudice resented his assumed authority. But they bowed profoundly to the Princess. Then the babu approached her, taking care to leave them on guard at door and window. He lowered his voice so that they would need preternaturally sharp ears to overhear anything, and on top of that he spoke English:
"Tonight!" he said to her. "Tonight, tonight!"
"But Babu-ji," she answered, "I am told that the police may interfere. Some secret friends, who dare not let their names be known at present, have asked for delay, to give them time to persuade the police to—"
His laugh interrupted her. It was crusty, curt, dynamic. He could use the manners of an angry Bismarck when he chose. He silenced her without a gesture. Then he drew on fatherly and patient gentleness that only half-hid his anger, though the anger was assumed and the patience was nothing less than iron will:
"Sahiba, this babu is willingly the servant of experience and wisdom, but presumes to tell you that experience is wisdom. Wisdom is experience. The two are twins. Their womb is Willingness to learn. And they are in that womb, sahiba, not yet born, or reared, or educated! Learn this: Secret friends are always open enemies as soon as secret treachery has opened doors through which their secret friendship can betray successfully the unwise person whom they altruistically love! That is very verb sap. Write it in your book of poems."
"But the police—" she began.
He interrupted her. "Sahiba, the police are opportunists, I assure you. Tempo is the plague of opportunists; it invariably beats them, because they wait for the beat instead of foreseeing it. You have read some books on Scotland Yard, and they were pretty good. I read them also. You believe with Teddy Roosevelt of U.S.A. United States that a policeman only needs a good example to become a saint. He died singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers,' just as Gandhi will die of starvation or brotherly love, no matter which. But the police are still policemen. Discontent won't turn them into Galahads who will risk their jobs and pensions in behalf of decent government. They prefer it indecent. It is only in England that policemen can be morally correct and discontented at the same time. The blue bulwarks of the law of England would arrest you, if you treated them with ordinary kindness. They would say you were corrupting discipline or something. You can't trust an English policeman. He would arrest the King for buying a cigar after hours. But you can trust ours. They are police, not missionaries. That is why I took them into confidence."
"You told the police?" she asked, horrified. "How much did you tell them? Isn't that enough to ruin us?"
"Enough, sahiba, is always too much. So I told them too much for our enemies, but not enough for the police to overtake our tempo. Many a conspiracy has failed because the Polizei weren't warned in time to keep out of the way. They have their dignity to think about, the same as you have. Anywhere except in England, where the unmatriculated bishops all join the police as a matter of routine, the police understand that law-breaking is what they live by. If the laws weren't broken, nobody would pay policemen to arrest fat gentlemen for slipping on bananas. If they were taken by surprise, they might feel forced to do things. They would lose their tempers, and there might be serious trouble."
"Then it isn't true they may interfere?" she asked him.
"After the event they will be for us or against us, as the case may be. If we succeed, they claim the credit for having made it easy for us. If we fail, they will feel they were treated fairly because we made things easy for them. They will be able to arrest the nuisances and let the valuable people go free—that is to say, the people who can afford to pay for it. The market price is always higher for conspirators than for mere criminals."
"Oh I won't endure it!" she exploded. "I despise such hypocrites! When I am Maharanee—"
"You may do as you jolly well please when you are Maharanee, if the British will let you," he interrupted. "You may even have incorruptible police if you know where to find them. For the present you are dealing with an unevangelized police, who naturally wish to see which way the cat will jump before they make their bets. If it should suddenly occur to bet on airplanes there would be nothing for us to do but skedaddle. Do you know what that is?"
"I will not run away!" she retorted.
"This babu is much too fat to run away, sahiba. He would be a much too easy target for a bullet. That is why intuitive and selfish prejudice supports my reasoned judgment that tonight's the night. Why? Nobody is ready."
"Babu-ji, are we not ready?"
"Let us hope not! Ready is the word that rots imagination! That is why the Germans did not win the war, they were so absolutely ready! Everyone, including you, will have to pinch hit. Do you know what that means?"
"No," she answered. She was becoming angry with him. Evidently flattery had rather spoiled her taste for being lectured. But the babu restored her equanimity:
"To pinch hit," he explained, "is to produce at a dangerous moment the resourcefulness that makes the only difference between a special person and a duffer. If I did not know you have that spark of genius, I would be elsewhere. It is better to bet on the quails or the dogs than on second-rate people. This babu discovered that a quarter of a century ago."
"Dangerous?" she answered. "How I wish there were some real danger! I would love to test my courage! I am not afraid of that tame tiger since you told me that the Jains used to let people go into his cage. My part of it is all too safe and easy. What can go wrong?"
"Everything!" He grinned as if he relished that thought. "If anything goes right I shall become hysterical! I won't believe it. I shall think that destiny is interfering. And I don't trust destiny! I beg you, please, to eat a moderately hearty meal, sahiba, and be ready one hour after sunset."
"Very well," she answered.
"Please don't talk to anyone, but let me manage the publicity. I can spread the news through the city in twenty minutes—three different versions; in an hour there will be thirty versions, because versions breed like microbes. That will perplex our opponents and will also fill the streets with an unmanageable crowd. They will be much more afraid of the crowd than of us. We shall need at least four elephants to force a passage for us. But there must be no armed followers"—(he said that slowly, with great emphasis)—"because they would certainly start trouble, which can start itself quite easily enough. So I intend to scare away these faithful friends of yours who crowd this place to offer such undying devotion."
"Scare them? You? How?" she demanded. She was cut to the quick.
"Sahiba, this babu has had five friends in fifty years, whose friendship stood the test of anticlimax. You have made a very good beginning with two friends. But I warn you: one of those is not yet tested!" He bowed toward Quorn with mock-solemnity.
Quorn bridled. But he saw the trap. He knew, if he should boast, he would be at the babu's mercy. He would have to live up to the boast, and things were bad enough already. Instinctively he felt for his pipe, but remembered in time.
"I've warned you, Miss," he said, "that I'm no hero. I can do my damnedest, and I will, but it maybe won't amount to much. So if you'd sooner use that substitute that you've been grooming up to take my place, I'm willing."
"What substitute?" she answered, frowning. "I haven't heard of one? What do you mean?"
"Your ladies, Miss, were titivating him this afternoon so he'd pass in the dark for the Gunga sahib."
"But that is untrue," she answered. "It is the first I have heard of it. Who told you?"
Quorn was puzzled for a moment. Were there other women, unknown to her, who did the real plotting?
"Oh, well," said the babu, "go ahead and penalize me for a pinch hit! Terminological inexactitudes are good when Winston Churchill uses them and gets found out. This babu was experimenting with the Gunga sahib. He is as per invoice. He is certified as Grade A. He is not a quitter."
"You take too great liberties," she answered. She was very angry now. "I will not have my friends subjected to your impudent experiments. Scare them away, will you? No need! They will leave me in disgust because I tolerate such methods!"
He bowed patiently—suavely.
"If you have a friend outside here, I will find him for you," he answered. And before she could stop him he went to the door. He walked out, closing it behind him. His unmistakable baritone voice could be heard clearly through the window, but his words were undistinguishable. He was gone several minutes. There was quite a lot of talking outside—mostly low-voiced, but considerably louder than the conversation of the Princess with her women, who discussed the babu angrily. When he came in again be was smiling.
"Terminological inexactitudes," he said, "are no good among loyal friends and gallant comrades. So I told what I know. Let us see what happens."
She was almost on the verge of tears, she was so exasperated by his insolence. She bit her lip.
Quorn could not endure the spectacle. It would have been bad enough to see her alone look mortified, but every one of her women was in a state of bewildered sympathy, or seemed to be. Her angry eyes and twitching lip betrayed the last extremity of self- control.
"Shame on you! What ha' you done now?" Quorn demanded.
The babu told him: "I have said that British airplanes and a bloodless revolution are not simultaneous equations. One, in fact, precludes the other. Messages undoubtedly have gone to British India to summon airplanes. Therefore it is timely that the names of those who pledge themselves to die if necessary in the name of this cause should be signed immediately on a roll of honor. Thus may each depend upon the other's steadfastness and all may share the peril equally."
"Who has said that the British planes are coming?" asked the Princess.
"I have said it," he answered. "It is as sure as tomorrow's sunrise. Are the British noted for their hesitation, when a rumor of this sort of storm in a tea-cup reaches them? They will come to find out. They will be TNT-ically ready to correct a false impression that Narada can conduct its own—"
He was interrupted by a voice. It spoke through the window rapidly. The two gentlemen in waiting bowed to the Princess and walked out, closing the door after them. But the Princess hardly noticed that; she, too, was talking rapidly in low tones to her ladies. They had clustered around her. Suddenly she faced the babu:
"I will not permit it! Should they sign their names, if we should fail, their signatures would involve them all in ruin."
"Altruism!" said the babu. "Oh what errors are committed in thy mad name!—But there won't be many signatures," he added. "Let us count how many."
He went to the window and drew aside the curtain just sufficiently to peer out. She went to the other window. Quorn went to the door and opened it six inches. At the far end of the courtyard there were still some dozens of secretive looking men, but they were waiting their turn at the ladder. None spoke. For about two minutes the Princess stared through the parted window curtain. Quorn closed the door softly and watched her fight herself for self-command. She seemed to him to age in those two minutes, until, when at last she turned and faced the babu, youth had almost vanished. There was a hardness in her eyes that he had not seen previously.
"Very well then, I am disillusioned," she said in a strained voice. There was a tear on her cheek, but she did not deign to notice it. "What now?"
"Disillusionment is better than credulity, sahiba. You are learning what is understood by the strong, but that the weak obey, believing they originate it. You are learning tempo."
"Tempo?" Her voice was hollow. "Why do you not speak plainly to me?"
"You are learning that on you yourself alone depends your destiny. You are your destiny. To count on crowds to aid you to destroy indecencies by which they hope to profit in their own turn, is as unwise as to trust in God and keep your powder in a wet sack. You must make them trust you. You must never trust them—never. Tempo is the art of doing unexpectedly and suddenly a concrete thing that theorists can talk about, until another concrete thing presents them with another climax. Thus they learn to trust you because you always put one over on them, and their doubts can never overtake your deeds. But they will never trust you if they know what to expect. They will merely love you for being as stupid as themselves. Their love is just as worthless as a tiger's morals, and the sooner they learn that you can get along without it, the more determined they will be to make you love them. Your love for them is important; but keep it skeptical!"
"You have made me two hundred enemies," she said.
"But I have shown you whom to trust," he answered.
"Whom?" She defied him—stared straight at him. Her indignant eyes declared he had lost her confidence.
"Trust yourself, sahiba."
"So that you may mock my judgment and my ideals and persuade me how ridiculous I am?"
"Sahiba, I have shown you what you are not. You are not a puppet at the mercy of designing mediocrities. You might be, if you had no impudent old babu to impose his criticism."
Through the window came the sound of footsteps. They were startling, because it had grown so silent outside. The babu went to the window and peered out.
"Who are they?" she demanded.
She caught her breath. "Do you mean—Oh, why did you confide in the police! They—"
"Plain clothes," he said, "off duty—most anonymous—impersonal—and verb sap very."
"What are they here for?"
"They will see that no more candidates for honors overcrowd your Highness. They will take care, too, that no one murders you until the tiger gets its innings! I was waiting for them; otherwise I would be snatching forty winks instead of preaching. Have I leave to go now?"
She nodded. But as he and Quorn bowed she spoke again:
"I will come to you through the tunnel one hour after sunset. And I will go through with this, come what may. But I believe my heart is broken. I believed those men were—"
"Broken hearts," he interrupted, "are the broken eggs of which the omelets of destiny are made, sahiba. Destiny is iron rations, and it kills off weaklings, but the strong grow stronger on it. Destiny is not a sentimental moralist in Red Cross uniform. It makes its omelets of bad eggs very often. But oh what good ones it can make of good eggs!"
Then he bowed himself out, and Quorn followed. "Look the other way," he ordered. "Never recognize policemen when they are doing for you what they shouldn't!" Then when they were out of earshot of the window: "Breaking hearts is not this babu's special pastime. Self am masochist, not sadist. But she had to have it. If I hadn't spanked her, she would have spanked me. And I don't need it. I have been kicked around too much by destiny—the hussy!"
QUORN followed down the well-head ladder and let the cover of the well fall shut. In the darkness he could see nothing but the eyes of Gunpat Rao until the babu switched on a flashlight.
"Zero!" said the babu. The word went rumbling along the tunnel—"Ero—ero—ero."
Quorn laughed. "Heroes? We're a brace o' cheap bums buying trouble."
"Uble-uble-uble," said the tunnel. "That's what we are."
"We are—we are."
"That Maharajah will hire us murdered, that's what he'll do, even supposing we do pull this off. How much did he promise you?"
"Incalculable scads of money," said the babu. "He expected to be blackmailed afterwards, so what did it matter what he promised? Yes, of course he means to murder us. But that is not what troubles me. He is too quiet. Even if he is drunk, he must be feeling like Macbeth. He must be getting lots of good and bad and worse advice, from people whom he detests, and all of whom detest him. And he certainly fears the Resident may get here too soon. It is time he hesitated. It is time he should do something silly. He doesn't."
The babu paused at the open entrance of the two-mile tunnel. He turned the flashlight into it. There was no sound—no sign of Ratty and the tiger.
"Maybe he knows something," Quorn suggested.
"There was a danger," said the babu, "that he might reinstate the head mahout and order the elephants kept in their compound. But I foresaw that. The head mahout is in the lock-up on a charge of murder. He is booked under a false name. The police made a little mistake."
"How about his soldiers?"
"They foresee advantage if he should lose. Their commander is in favor of the Princess although he hasn't the courage to say so openly. And the police are thoroughly against him. He blundered into their bad books a little while ago by pocketing the red light district conscience money. That had been their perquisite for ages. No." He walked on. "I wish I could guess what he will do. It will be something silly. But it is the silly things that are unpredictable."
He said no more until they reached the outer courtyard, where the elephants stood swaying quietly, now that the disgusting smell of tiger had disappeared. Moses had finished scrubbing out the van and had mopped it dry. He was admiring his handiwork.
"Put in a chair," said the babu. Quorn's best armchair was produced and Moses nailed it in place.
"Oxen?" Quorn asked.
"In the lavatory, using the wash-bowls as mangers. They are too slow. I have sent for a longer pole and we will use two elephants. They should be here soon. The mahouts are—oh, I think I have it!"
Quorn waited. He had never seen the babu self-confessedly perplexed, and he rather enjoyed the revelation, even though the menace of irresolution was deadly at that late hour. The sun was already down below the mission roofs and the courtyard lay in deepening shadow. At last the babu spoke slowly; almost as if he tasted the words before he uttered them.
"I ordered elephants for tonight, but food for them for three days. The Maharajah's fear is that I won't move soon enough. He won't know any sooner than the crowd does that tonight's the night. He is worried for fear the Resident may turn up. He has stationed watchmen on the palace roof; and by night he will have listeners there, although it is hardly likely that a plane will come by night. But if the plane should come—he must get rid of you and me."
"Give us the works, eh?"
"He has probably arranged to have us shot. Oh well—people seldom shoot straight. Tempo will beat the Maharajah—tempo—tempo! I am more afraid of Gunpat Rao. It is Czars and Kaisers, not priests, who believe in destiny. And Bughouse Bill might be a little reckless. But Gunpat Rao—he believes in holding five aces! Oh, why can't I be in ten places at once! I am afraid of Gunpat Rao. He can pinch hit, also.
"I must speak to Moses."
"See here." Quorn took the babu by the arm. "I don't want Moses in on this. He's all right in his own way, but he's easy scared. I'm scared enough without him there to add to it."
"I have a little special business for him that he can do as well as anyone," the babu answered; and he went and talked to Moses, who looked frightened but presently straightened himself. He even grinned, as if he had been given something safe to do that made him feel important. He walked away toward the gate- house.
Then there was considerable tumult in the street and the heads of mahouts were visible over the high wall. The babu went to the gate and cautiously admitted three men, but after he had talked to the three men he sent them away again. Then he talked through the gate to the soldier outside. He was sweating—thinking furiously. His gestures were nervous—less dynamic than they had been.
"Are you cracking?" Quorn thought. "Oh Lord!"
The babu set his back against the gate and wiped his forehead.
"I have lighted the fuse," he said. "The news is spreading through the city. It is too late now to hesitate. We must go on with it. But they have sent ten elephants. I only ordered six. There is something cooking. Krishna! Gunpat Rao easily could bribe a couple of mahouts! You keep away from the elephants! Go into the gate-house. Stay there, and let Moses come out here to me. Don't you come until I tell you."
So Quorn went into the gate-house glumly. It was no use disobeying or asking questions.
"It's a dam-fool business, and I'll get a fool's desserts, and serve me proper! Hell, I wisht I had the guts to say the hell with it, and back down. Wonder what being dead's like. No use wondering, I reckon. I'll know soon enough!"
He discovered Moses cutting a section off the rubber hose that had been fitted in place of a broken water pipe.
"What for?" he demanded angrily.
"It was too lengthee. It was inconvenientlee lengthee."
"It's a darned strange time to choose to cut it. Get outside and find the babu. He wants you."
He examined the hose. It was a lie about its being too long. It was too short now, and the cut-off piece was missing.
"Can't trust half-breeds. Damn 'em, they're all alike. They steal when you least expect it."
He heard the big gate open and the elephants come swaying in. The gate slammed shut behind the last one. It was dark inside the gate-house, and when he tried to light the lamp he found no oil in it.
"Unwise virgins, that's us! I'll lay a million dollars that the babu's euchred. He's a heathen. 'Tain't in nature for heathen to run things, or they'd all be giving orders instead o' taking 'em."
He sat and smoked, with his hands in his pockets, until he began seeing Gunpat Rao's eyes again. He tried all sorts of ways to drive them out of mind, but failed, until it suddenly occurred to him that the babu might be murdered by the mahouts. Then he picked up the iron ankus that was almost heavy enough to brain Asoka with, and walked out. Indian darkness had come. The stars and the rather low moon were a little pale as yet, but the courtyard was utterly dark because of the high walls. The mahouts were at work by lantern light, and he could see they had already put a howdah on Asoka; it was a big one—big enough for half-a-dozen people. There was a regular dump of corn and hay, and there were two sacks full of enormous loaves; he took one of the loaves and gave it to Asoka, keeping a very careful eye on the mahouts meanwhile. He was not quite sure in the darkness, but he suspected one of them was a stranger. Presently he heard the babu's voice from the direction of the van, so he walked over there to see what was happening. They had brought a long pole for the van, and there were two elephants standing by, but there was some trouble about fitting the pole, and the elephants' harness needed some adjustments. The babu landed one of his terrific kicks and sent a man staggering away into the dark; then he tackled the pole himself and it was in place in a minute.
"Where's Moses?" Quorn asked. "I've a mind to lick him. He's been cutting my rubber water pipe when he reckoned my back was turned."
"I have given Moses work to do," he answered, a bit irritably. Then he watched the elephants being harnessed up and ordered the mahouts to mount and draw the van toward the main gate. He and Quorn followed, and when they drew near the gate he threatened the mahouts with awful forms of mayhem if they should dare to dismount or to move without further orders. Then he turned on Quorn explosively:
"Where is your turban? Oh, my God, have I to think of everything? Come—hurry, hurry, hurry!"
He ran into the gate-house and used the flashlight. "That's the sissy-yellow turban," Quorn objected. "You said blood-red."
"Too late! Too late now." He bound the turban on by flashlight, Quorn holding the light and keeping it directed at the mirror. "There now—look at yourself in the glass. Remember it is yellow! If you wish one blood-red, earn it! And now listen. I have changed plans."
"Yes, I had to. Those two mahouts are spying on us. They believe our tiger is in that van, so I daren't open it to let the Princess enter. She must hide in the howdah behind you, which is what they will expect her to do anyhow, and they will see her do it. They are probably prepared to signal to the priests that she is in the howdah. They will signal as they turn the corner of the Pulke-nichi. You must watch for the signal. And then she must show herself, at the last minute, when it is too late for the priests to think of what to do about it. Tempo! If you give a priest time he's got you. You must tell her Tempo! Tempo!"
"Tell her yourself. She won't obey me."
"I will tell her. But you hit her with the ankus if she forgets! And now this last word: Two elephants go ahead of you to clear the way. Their mahouts are also spies, and you will have to watch them. That is why I chose those two to go in front. If they should try to change position you must raise hell—pinch hit—don't let them get behind you. But they are likely to be most dangerous when you reach the temple gate. They may try something there, so watch them! Next goes the van. And then you on Asoka. All the other elephants will follow, just to make up a procession. When you reach the temple, and the priests discover there is nothing in the van, remember tempo! Make it snappy! Turn in through the temple gate, and let us pray they shut it! Then we pinch hit—all of us! And she knows her part."
"How's she to get down off Soaker?" Quorn demanded. "He'll go crazy when he sees their tiger."
"Anyone can get down! It is getting up that is not so easy," said the babu. "She must swing from the howdah and jump."
"And she a Princess! Hell, if she was raised in a circus she couldn't do it."
"She must pinch hit!" said the babu. "Come on. You mount now, and bring Asoka to the stair-head. She will have to stand on my shoulders to reach the howdah. You watch the mahouts and look innocent; that will make them doubly sure that we are loading her in secret. Don't turn your head to look at her, or they will think we don't mind their knowing."
"One more last word: When you reach the temple, be the first through the gate. They may try a trick at the temple gate. Don't let any other elephant push past you."
"Be the first in, even if you have to charge in."
"Go ahead then."
Quorn surprised the mahouts by ordering Asoka loosed. He led him by the trunk into the darkness and then made Asoka lift him into place there where there was no risk of anyone stabbing or pricking the animal; he thought he knew of many nicer ways of being killed than to be hurled to the earth by an elephant's trunk. However, Asoka seemed calm and was quite obedient, and Quorn felt better once he was up behind the huge head. He moved Asoka over to the wall, as close as he could get him to the stone trap. He could see the babu then; he was down on the stairway, listening. Quorn whistled softly but he did not answer. It was four or five minutes before anything happened. Quorn peered over the high wall, where the voices of a waiting crowd were like the sound of water pouring among rocks. There was motion, and there were a few lanterns, but he could not see much. Whichever way he looked he saw not much more than the eyes of Gunpat Rao. They were growing more distinct, and he began to hate them, and as he hated them he felt less nervous.
"Hell, I'll kill him!" he muttered.
Suddenly the babu switched the light on. He went hurrying down into the tunnel. Two or three minutes later he was on the way up with the Princess, although she was hardly visible beside him. He could hear the babu talking to her; he had switched the light off. They stood for at least two minutes, talking, in total darkness between the elephant and the wall, before Quorn heard her chuckle as she struggled on to the babu's shoulders and began to scramble into the howdah.
"Some folks 'ud laugh at their own funerals," he reflected. "Wisht I felt merry!"
She was into the howdah in no time and he heard her settle down amid the cushions.
"Gunga sahib!" said the babu. "Tempo! Then extemporize and pinch hit! Make it snappy! If in doubt, do the craziest thing you can think of! Something certainly will go wrong! This babu will meet you in the next world, maybe, if there is one. If there isn't, who cares? Toujours l'audace! That is German for 'Give her the works and God will bless you!'"
Then he took Asoka by the trunk and led him to his proper place in the procession. He marshalled it by lantern light, gave the mahouts their orders, threatened complicated mayhem for the slightest breach of discipline, and then shouted to the guard to open the gate from the outside. Quorn rode out into a sea of sound—of dense, packed shadow that swayed and surged. There was a stench of hot humanity, and of dust uprising. But the only face he saw was Gunpat Rao's. It was the face of the night—of the crowd. He hated it. And when he looked ahead it backed away from him, leading.
"God!" he remarked to himself. "I wisht I'd punched him when I had the chance to do it!"
BLUE-BLACK Indian night—heat—uproar—and the sway of the ponderous elephants. Torch light—lantern light—leaping figures frantic with excitement—a whole population surging into one street and choking the crossings. Impotent policemen, hoarse, hot, frightened, borne along by hysterical crowds half-glimpsed by window-light. Smashed street-lamps. Hundreds fighting to approach the van and peer in through the slatted shutters. Quorn had to order two elephants forward, one to each side of the van, to keep the crowd at bay. And but that there were elephants ahead of him, Asoka would have cut loose; he detested the din; the miracle that nobody was killed beneath his feet in all those winding streets was even greater than the one the crowd was there to see. But there were scores of accidents, and there were fights where the eager crowds came pouring in from side-streets and were forced back. There were fires from smashed lanterns, and one big house burned like a volcano, so that when he looked back Quorn could see a thousand faces reddened by the flames.
But he looked back seldom, and he felt like a man in a dream, with Gunpat Rao's hateful eyes examining his soul.
"The eyes o' doom, I reckon!"
So he thought of tigers, but the high priest's eyes refused to vanish. Then he tried to rehearse the program in his mind; but his own part of it was too vague, and he found he could not concentrate on anything except the danger that Asoka might get out of control and charge into the crowd. He tried to think about the babu, and for about two minutes he did imagine him, below there in the tunnel, with the draggled Ratty in a blue dress.
"He can't do it! Hell, he can't begin to do it! He's crazy! There'll be a tiger-fight—him and a brace o' Bengal bobcats, one of 'em scared ugly and the other raving—him with a rifle six-foot long that likely goes off both ends. Then what? What can she and I do without that babu?"
Uproar—tumult—blue-black darkness, lit by myriads of stars and swaying lanterns—smeared with the smoky glare of torch-light—and a smell that choked, intoxicated and condensed it all in one delirious emotion.
"Stink makes East East. Lack of it makes West West! Hell's bells, this is East o' Suez and a vengeance! This beats Armistice night! And they don't care who's 'et by tigers, nor who's ruler, nor if school keeps, nor nothing! God, what a sight! It's almost worth it! Gee—if I could lay my hands on Bughouse Bill I'd die easy-minded. Him and me—we'd mix it, and the hell with what next!"
The procession was slow. It was as slow as a funeral. The elephants were almost wading in a sea of yelling humans. They loomed along. Their special gift—their contribution to the cosmic whole—was conscious pageantry. Asoka gradually caught the spirit of the thing and moved along like time evolving destiny—enormous, solemn—as impersonal as darkness. But Quorn mistrusted that mood.
"Gee–if they should touch him with a torch! If he should cut loose!"
Once or twice he knew the Princess tried to speak to him, but he could not hear what she said, for the tumult. It might have been safe to turn and answer her; the crowd imagined she was in the van; but there were hundreds staring at himself, and his name made more thunder than hers:
"Gunga sahib! Gunga—Gunga sahib!"
It was weird to be a legend from a past life greeted by an ancient name. He almost thought there might be truth in it, until the eyes of Bughouse Bill appeared again and banished all will to believe.
"Him and me are on opposite sides! If he's for legends, I'm agin 'em! This here's hooey! Gee, but it's hard to believe it ain't true!"
He thought about the Maharajah. "What's he doing? Is he looking on? Or is he one o' them there generals that die in bed unless a golf ball hits 'em? Say, if I was king o' this mess, I'd be in it! I'd hire cheap 'uns to get drunk and do the legislating! I'd be in on this stuff, and to hell with belly-aching in a palace! I could wish this weren't over so quick!"
But it was so slow that he feared the moonlight might be all gone before they could reach the temple, and he knew the babu counted on the moonlight. It was so slow that the eyes of Bughouse Bill again and again became the eyes of Gunpat Rao, terrible and so near that he almost struck out with the ankus. But at last they neared the Pulke-nichi, and there panic seized him, as the thunder of the mob rose tenfold. Roofs and walls were thronged with humans and the very sky roared "Gunga! Gunga!"
"Now we catch it! Wonder if she packs a whallop? Can she act up? This 'ud scare an angel! If she has a fit o' willies we're it! Gee-whiz! Yeah, I saw 'em!"
The two leading elephants turned down-street in a flare of torch-light. Their mahouts raised both arms upward, three times. They had made their signal. For a moment after that a human maelstrom surged at the turn and the elephants stood swaying until self-elected stalwarts fought the crowd back, beating them with sandals—lathis—fists—with anything that offered. Savagery broke loose. It was like a battle that blared with conch-horns; and from the roofs, where excited enthusiasts lost their footing, men and women fell on the heads of the furious mob below. One roof broke beneath the weight of hundreds. But the pulse of the thunderous din was "Gunga! Gunga!"
A way opened. The procession moved. The van, between two elephants and drawn by two, went bumping forward. Then Asoka turned into the Pulke-nichi, and the bridge lay down-street etched in silver by the low moon—shadowy and lovely. It was like a path of silver laid on solid gloom, with silver statues standing guard along it. Left and right loomed temple buildings—silvered gloom—incalculable bulk upreared toward a star-lit night. But down in the street it was dark except for two flares near the great arched temple gate; and the gate glowed blood-red.
"Guess it's her turn!"
Quorn looked back at last and struck the ankus on the hard front of the howdah.
"Show yourself, Miss!"
Then he had one glimpse of her. She seemed to be kneeling, with an aureole of light around her head. He wondered whence the light came, but he had no time to look twice. There was danger, from a dozen ways at once. Crowds on the roof on the right were absolutely frantic. If they should fall on Asoka—if tiles should fall—or if the priests should play a trick here—
"Whoa there—steady, feller—steady!"
There were lathis going. A belated company of volunteers clearing the way with a wedge-shaped charge into the crowd down- street ahead of them. The arch beneath the bridge was like a gate of dark death, spewing forth breathless legions. They were forced back screaming "Gunga! Sankyamuni! Sankyamuni!" It was impossible to see quite what was happening but there was death there, dark, choked, dreadful.
"Us next!" Quorn was staring at the eyes of Gunpat Rao.
Near the torchlight by the temple gate there was a space kept clear by main force and a barricade of bales and boxes. There stood men who looked like priests, not praying; if they prayed it was for trouble. There was a surge and a crash like the charge of cavalry when the men with lathis widened out the space, and Quorn followed the van to its midst. He did not dare look backward. He was all eyes for the priests, and cursing Gunpat Rao's eyes that got between him and whatever he looked at. But he caught one glimpse of the Princess. She was standing upright. There was a priest-—or he looked like one—who shouted and gesticulated. There began to be a counter-demonstration. There were catcalls and yells of derision. On the roofs and up-street there were evidently men strategically placed to yell to the crowd what the meaning of the altercation was. But there was organized opposition to that, and there began to be fights on the roofs.
"Oh be swift!" It was the Princess' voice. She seemed hysterical. Her words reached Quorn's ears on a sharp note that cut through the tumult.
Swift? There was nothing to do! The plan had failed—had gone wrong! Six priests climbed to the roof of the van and shook their fists at Quorn and the Princess. Not a word reached Quorn's ears; tumult swallowed up their shouts, but their defiant gestures dared him to get down and open the van.
"Tempo!" he remembered. "Tempo!"
Not even Asoka could have forced a way backward or forward. But the temple gate was shut. Two of the priests with torches, looking frightened, struggled with the handle of the van door. It opened suddenly and they leaped back, to a din like an explosion from the throats of the hundreds looking on. But nothing happened. So the priests went nearer. They let torchlight flare into the van—and nothing happened. Then they peered in, and a roar went up from the street and roofs that shook the fetid air until Asoka raised his trunk and gurgled angrily. Perhaps he sensed the crowds' impatience.
"Tempo!" Quorn remembered. "Tempo!"
But the eyes of Gunpat Rao mocked him, staring at him through the solid woodwork of the shut gate. One of the two elephants beside the van turned slowly while a priest commanded the mahout with word and gesture. Suddenly the elephant came spurting forward almost head-on. The mahout aimed a blow at Quorn's head with his iron ankus. Quorn ducked. As he ducked he learned why Moses stole a length of rubber hose-pipe. From the howdah, like a striking snake, it licked out and hit the mahout on the back of the neck. He reeled and fell. The elephant continued on its way, and Quorn learned whence the light had come that made an aureole around the Princess' head and shoulders.
"It is veree necessaree to be swift," said Moses, and lay down again. He switched on the flashlight again. He bathed her again in light that made her look like Sankyamuni reborn out of ancient legend.
In a deafening, exultant, terrifying din Quorn turned Asoka's head toward the temple gate and sent him at it. There was a rush from behind the priests that came too late. He heard the voice of Moses:
"Swiftlee! Veree swiftlee!"
Then Asoka's head struck on the gate, and it yielded, unlocked, swinging easily. Asoka swayed in. Some one slammed the gate shut. Then Quorn turned his head for orders how the Princess was to dismount—but he only saw the flashlight—Moses' hands—the rubber hose—the Princess clinging to the hose and dropping to the ground. Then Moses vaulted out, and vanished. After that he saw the eyes of Gunpat Rao—heard the short, gruff, guttural war-roar of a tiger—felt an earthquake under him—Asoka trumpeting his anger into dreadful darkness—and a fight was on—a nightmare of a fight that lasted all eternity—or sixty seconds—or a week—Quorn never knew. But Bughouse Bill had played his fifth ace. Somebody had pulled a cord that somebody had fastened to the bolt that locked the whole front of the tiger-cage. Down came the front of the cage with a clang. There was a little moonlight—a little starlight—Moses' flashlight, faithfully and well directed—and a tiger!
That was the babu's voice. He was in the cage mouth. Moses' flashlight showed him for an instant, standing with the rifle held in both hands. That was one glimpse.
But Asoka was moving stiffly—almost sideways—cat- wise—trunk out—gurgling. He screamed—rushed. Something shadowy and swift leaped almost out from under him. Asoka wheeled and gave chase, following in spasms, amid dark columns, something unseen that watched for an opening. There was a glimpse of Moses, up on the balustrade, his flashlight searching for the tiger. There was a glimpse of the Princess, higher up than Moses, on the stairway, with her hair just touched by moonlight. Then the torchlight found the tiger and he sprang—missed—missed by the width of the wind in his claws, as Asoka switched around and rushed him, trumpeting. Then the still hunt once more, with Asoka creeping like a frozen earthquake, until the flashlight found the tiger and Quorn knew the end was at hand. He had only his ankus. But the tiger was Gunpat Rao, and the tiger's eyes were Gunpat Rao's.
Quorn gripped tight. He swung the ankus like a club. He heard his own voice. It was like another's, not his:
"Soak him, Soaker!"
At bay, in a corner, his back to a wall, the tiger sprang as Asoka charged. Quorn struck—struck straight at the brute's eyes with the iron ankus. There was a trumpeting, snarling, flash-lit shock—then a quivering thud—thud—thud that shook a temple wall as Asoka's huge skull rammed the tiger up against it. Thud—thud—thud the ankus went home. Then a trampling dance in darkness as Asoka crushed the tiger into pulp beneath his feet.
"Goo' boy, Soaker!"
Quorn reached out a hand to pat the great head rising and falling in time to the trampling forefeet; but he drew it back sticky with warm blood.
"Hey!—Fetch—that—light—here!" he shouted. "Steady, feller, steady! That'll do him! He's dead!"
So was Gunpat Rao dead as far as Quorn's imagination knew him. There were no more awful eyes in the night around him. And he thought of nothing but Asoka.
"Fetch that light, d'ye hear me!"
He felt for the blood again, and there was lots of it. He heard the babu running; and the babu had two flashlights, Moses' and his own. He shouted:
"Well done, Gunga sahib! Now she pinch hits! We had difficulties—couldn't make our tiger wake up! But he's ready, and Bughouse Bill will think of something else unless we look sharp!" He was standing behind a column, probably for safety if the elephant should still be furious and charge him. But his eyes were on details: "Dammit! Ratty can't sell that tiger- skin—I promised he should have it, but it's ruined—I shall have to buy it from him! Quickly now—outside with that elephant!"
"Flash that light on his head!" Quorn answered. "Did you hear me say he's bleeding? The poor feller's bleeding!"
"Take him out of here, I tell you! Out with him! Out with him! Moses will open the gate."
"You go to hell! He's bleeding bad. D'ye see that? Two o' the tiger's claws ha' ripped him awful—missed his eye by half o' nothing! Water—d'ye hear me?—water—lots o' water!"
"I can't bring that other tiger out until you take him away from here," the babu argued. He was almost dancing with excitement. "Gunga sahib, for the love of this babu, be reasonable! Take him out into the street and they will bring you water by the cart-load!"
"Shut up and fetch some water!"
"Moses!" yelled the babu. "Moses!"
Quorn had time to glance toward the steps. The Princess stood there, all alone, not evidently frightened. But a priest was speaking to her from a platform where the steps turned up toward the parapet, and the priest was limned clear in the moonlight.
"Krishna!" exclaimed the babu. "Gunpat Rao."
He tossed a flashlight to Moses and ran toward the Princess. But to Quorn the very name of Gunpat Rao had somehow lost its meaning. There were no more fierce eyes in the darkness, although he felt strange and his head swam.
"Get water, Moses," he commanded.
"Sir, I do not know where—"
"Water!" he repeated. "Fetch a lot of it quick, or I'll kill you with this here ankus!"
Moses and the flashlight vanished, and at last Quorn persuaded Asoka to cease pounding the tiger's carcass. He moved him away a little, talking to him.
"Goo' boy, Soaker. Stopped a hot one, did you—but your poppa'll fix that! Easy, feller, easy!" He moved him slowly to and fro until Moses came back, carrying a big earthern jar. Quorn reached down and raised it.
"Sir, I think that it is holee water!"
"Says they! Gimme more light! What's that babu doing?"
He began to be aware again of tumult in the streets and on the roofs, that had not ceased; it was he who had left off hearing it. And he knew now he was trembling, when he tried to pour the water on the clawed wound. He felt sick. But he sluiced the water on and presently discovered the wound was wide, but not deep.
"Sir, he listens on the steps," said Moses. "It is she who talks to some one."
Suddenly the babu came down-steps like laundry blown before a high wind.
"Oh my God!" he exploded. "For sake of Jiminy and hell-hell- hell, do get the devil out of here! I tell you there will not be any moonlight in a brace of jiffies and the effect of the tiger's opium will wear off! Bughouse Bill is hands up! If we finish this he has to kay-o all of it! So get the devil out of here—you hear me? Do you hear me? Krishna! Wait a minute! Go into the street and watch, but don't let anybody kill you! When you see her cross the bridge, then work your way below the bridge and to the front gate of the other temple. Wait there—hurry, hurry, hurry! Pinch hit!"
He went scurrying back to the steps. Moses led toward the gate that was invisible in the gloom of the temple wall. Quorn let the water-jar drop and smashed it to a thousand pieces. That served as a signal for Asoka, who followed Moses.
"I'll be better in a minute, buddy. Go slow till I get this off my stomach." Quorn relieved his heaving inner man. "A tiger's like physic, I reckon." Nausea repeated. "What a night! I'd lead a tiger by a collar over that there bridge I don't think!" He began to feel better, but his shirt and his jacket were clammy with sweat, and it was all he could do to sit upright. "Outside, Soaker! Wish 'em luck, old-timer! Me and you ha' pinch hit plenty for one inning!"
Moses undid the temple gate, and the priests came pouring in when some one shouted to them. They slammed the gate shut, but Quorn hardly heard that, such a tumult arose at sight of him. He thought Moses had remained behind, but in another moment he saw him clamber to the top of the van. So he brought Asoka alongside the van, and Moses climbed into the howdah.
"That was veree classee, but it was not safe," said Moses, "and I think the worst is coming!"
"SOMETHING has been happening," said Moses, crouching in the howdah, his one eye searching the crowd. His head was close behind Quorn's back, but there was such a tumult that it was all Quorn could do to hear him. "We were in there, I think, five minutes onlee, but something has happened."
There was a change in the voice of the crowd. It had grown determined. The theme of the din was "Gunga! Gunga! Gunga sahib!" But it was as regular as drumbeats. There was almost a suggestion of an army awaiting orders to march.
"They act as if the whole job's in the hat," Quorn told himself. "Who's told 'em what?"
A woman gave some sticky sweetmeats to Asoka. She aroused envy and there was a dangerous surge of imitators, but Asoka's trunk licked in and out amid the sweaty faces and outstretched arms. He accepted all that came his way, as his due, and grew contented. He forgot tigers. A mahout from another elephant brought oil- soaked linen for his wounded head; but where he got the oil and linen was a mystery until a woman in the crowd, with her own hand-woven linen torn from her breasts struggled up by a wheel of the van and yelled in Quorn's ear. He did not know what she said, but he let her touch him for luck, since she seemed to have bought the privilege. Moses shouted back at her and she dropped to the ground, screaming excitedly to every one within reach. In less than sixty seconds there was a new wonder leaping from lip to lip.
"She was asking you," said Moses, "how the eleephant was wounded. And I said to her, the tiger was abominablee angree, but the Gunga sahib hit him with the ankus and he scratched the eleephant a little but was afterwards submissive!"
Quorn laughed. "Next you know," he told himself, "I'll be a shining hero in a suit o' chain mail, killing dragons by the carload. Selling me a hero story won't come easy after this, I reckon." Then he glanced at the ankus by the light of a flare. There was blood and hair on the end of it. The crowd was roaring his name, so he raised the ankus in acknowledgment. Moses turned the flashlight on him.
"Higher! Higher!" said Moses. "This is absolutelee timelee!"
So he held the ankus high in air; and by that time fifty tales about him and the tiger were leaping from lip to lip. The mahouts on the other elephants salaamed to him, and ovation thundered from the street and from the roofs. But the deafening din seemed weirdly blanketed. The breathless night felt solid with a kind of dreamy mysticism. Mob, heat, din, smell, starlight, temple walls, were all one. They were real. But what was yesterday? And last year? Tomorrow was beyond a bridge that was a streak of silver, like a bridge in a dream. It seemed to link eternal darkness, on the left hand, with the moonlit mysteries of Siva's temple on the right. The whole of Kali's temple was in darkness. The moon would be gone in a minute or two.
"And something else has happened, I know not what," said Moses, "but the crowd is definitelee resolute. It suddenlee is—"
Silence shut down. It was a clap of silence—as sudden as explosion. Quorn could hear Asoka munching sweetmeats. Out of utter darkness at the left end of the bridge the Princess stepped forth into moonlight. She was leading the tiger—by a ribbon it seemed; there was something light and flimsy looking in her left hand, that led to his collar. She was between the tiger and the edge of the parapet, and he walked beside her heavily, slouching his weight beneath his shoulders. Once or twice the tiger glanced back, and Quorn thought he glimpsed the babu, black turbaned, where the moonlight met darkness; but he was not sure he had seen him. He held his breath. His fingers ached from his clutch on the ankus. Should the tiger—and he seemed to be pressing the Princess' left knee—move but one foot sideways, she would be dashed to her death on the heads of the crowd beneath her. Let the crowd but shout and terrify the brute—
And Moses talked. He talked continuously. Quorn could have brained him with the ankus, but he talked on as some people do at the movies, making situations clear to one another:
"Rattee is beneath the parapet. He has a chain or something, and it is inviseeble because of shadow, but he leads the tiger, though it seems she does it. And the opium is not yet evanescent in the tiger, so he goes agreeablee. Oh yes, I think the babu also is behind the parapet, because I saw a piece of wood. I think he flourishes a threat."
"Oh, cut your cackle!"
"And the deeficulty is, that there are statues. It was totalee insuperable, so they act extemporaniouslee. Then the tiger must go one way or the other, because the statue is in the middle. There may be an acceedent."
There was an accident, of what a scientist would call coincidence. It brought the thump of Quorn's heart up against his teeth. It stilled the multitude to such a pass of silence that Quorn actually heard the sweat splash from his chin to the back of his hand. He had his left hand on his breast, for no known reason. When the tiger reached the first statue he paused. He stood and gazed at the crowd beneath him, marvelous in moonlight.
"And I think now Rattee goes around the statue on the far side. It is impossible to see the tiger's feet because of shadow. And I think that Rattee has him by a cord, because a chain would glitter. He is probablee provided with a hook or something, so that he can hook the cord around the statue under cover of the shadow. Then he can once more pull the tiger."
"Silence, damn you!"
The Princess passed in front of the statue, but the tiger waited. And he seemed inclined to turn back. He stared behind him—then changed his mind and followed her. The crowd breathed.
"I think he saw the babu then," said Moses.
There were three more statues; and the light was stronger at the right-hand end of the bridge; but the moon was getting lower second by second. Whatever trick was being worked was riskier each yard of the way, because eyes on the roofs up-street could watch the parapet from a higher angle. Perhaps they could even see its full width, although to Quorn it now looked like a silver beam, in which she and the tiger were striding ankle deep.
"And that Ratty is only a heathen," Quorn reflected.
"He's as like as not to make a fool break."
In the midst, between the first and second statues, the tiger paused again and stared downward.
"And I think now somebodee is giving orders," remarked Moses.
She did seem to be listening. She took advantage of the pause to change position. Something startled the tiger; he stared downward, inward, to his left, toward the dark floor of the bridge. She passed in front of him, and when the tiger started forward she was on the inside and he on the edge of the parapet. And now she was more than ankle deep in shadow, so that when they reached the second statue, and the tiger passed it, she and shadow served to hide whatever Ratty did. She had to follow the tiger; but on the far side he appeared to wait for her.
"And now I think that Rattee pulls him, but it was a veree stringent awkwardness," said Moses.
She was out on the edge again, bathing her feet in the silvery sheen of moonlight. And she was lovelier now than legend. She was lovelier than anything that Quorn had ever seen, because she walked with a grace as perfect in its own way as the tiger's. Moonlight softened and graced all outlines; and in contrast to the tiger's skulky, lazy arrogance her attitude was of young enthusiasm looking forward. Whether she was smiling or not, she appeared to be smiling. She appeared to be in no haste, victim of no embarrassment. No Duse in the spotlight ever played her part more naturally; and Quorn did not know that nature needs unnatural restraint and discipline, intelligence and iron will, in order to appear as reasonable, logical, inevitable drama.
"Gee, but she's born to it!"
"I think," said Moses, "that the babu speaks to her continuouslee from behind the parapet. He is a man who speaks loquaciouslee to stop another person from becoming solemn. I beelieve he is a sinner who will swindle God in some way, if it can be managed. And I hope that God perhaps will not be veree sorree."
There was no perceptible pause at the third statue. She went ahead and the tiger followed. But at the fourth statue, as the crowd was growing restless with a sound like rain-drenched undergrowth astir in steaming jungle, the tiger hesitated. He turned back. Something scared him and he snarled. She seemed to speak to him. He glanced right and left, then faced the street, crouching, as if about to leap upon the crowd beneath him. Then he came out of his crouch, and his shuddering, ominous, sulky roar re-smote down silence on the multitude.
Up went Asoka's trunk. Up went his ears.
"And now I think it is catastrophee," said Moses. But Asoka's blast of anger drowned whatever else he said. The elephant began to dance as if he trampled something underfoot, and Quorn used the butt of the ankus on his skull. The tiger turned—he almost fled—not quite—he slunk away along the parapet. The Princess had to let go after they had passed the statue; he was moving too fast for her dignity. He vanished, leaping off the parapet into a gulf of darkness at the end of the bridge.
"And now what?" That was Quorn's own voice. It startled him. His elephant was trudging, trudging, trudging, an imaginary tiger underfoot; but the rumps of elephants ahead prevented any forward movement. And the crowd was breathless. But the Princess, nearly knee-deep now in moonlight, possibly because the parapet sloped inward at the end, stood and raised her arms toward the crowd, her head back and her figure limned in silver light. She threw them her goodwill—flung it to them, three times—then turned and vanished. And Asoka's huge head rose and fell, as he danced on an imagined tiger, crunching it beneath his feet.
The crowd grew frantic. Bedlam broke loose. There began a flow down-street beneath the bridge like one of nature's timed, premeditated movements that obliterate past history. There was broken tumult. "Gunga sahib!" "She is Maharanee!"—laughter, and the wordless waterfall of sheer exultant din were all mixed in one uproar. There were explosions of sudden agreement; night shook with the excitement of group after group that caught on to the mystical significance of the tiger's roar and the elephant's answer. And Asoka danced! He kept on dancing! Destiny! Destiny! It was a true tale! Onward!
Crowning climax—as the low moon touched the city roofs, and the bridge uniting Siva's breasts sank deeper into purple- black gloom, priests of Kali, led by Gunpat Rao, marched in single file along the parapet, waist-deep in shadow, waist-high in moonlight, bearing lanterns. They were chanting. They were wading forth from Kali's dreadful death into the light of Siva's everlasting rebirth. Gunpat Rao, snatching victory from ruin, for the first time in a score of generations led the ceremonial, symbolic ancient pilgrimage from death to life, that signified the endless rebirth and the endless triumph of the endlessly evolving man! He endorsed the legend! He accepted Sankyamuni! He approved the Gunga sahib!
Elephants and van and roaring men were swept beneath the bridge like a river in flood. Beyond the bridge the crowd spread like a lake on the wide maidan that fronted Siva's temple gate. It flowed the maidan full and was a torch-lit swamp of turbaned heads. Asoka, pausing once or twice to dance his trudge-step, elephantine instinct recognizing thunderous applause as something personal to him, re-merged himself into the mob emotion. He became as manageable as the other elephants—obeyed the pressure on his neck and edged himself diagonally through the crowd toward the shut gate, where a hundred flaring torches smoked the glare, and sweating faces shone in lurid crimson light.
The gate opened, and the first man through it was the babu.
"Pinch hit now!" he shouted. He was sweating. He was furious. He shoved the crowd away from him. He fought his way toward the van, and in a spasm of ridiculous, dynamic energy—a fat man hoisted by his own excitement—he climbed to the roof by a wheel. From that he leaped into the howdah of the elephant alongside—knelt there, imprecating the mahout until he turned his elephant; and in another moment he was alongside Quorn. He clenched both fists and yelled at him:
"To hell with luck, I tell you! Oh for God's sake, pinch hit, Gunga sahib! This is awful!"
"What's wrong?" Quorn had to yell at the top of his lungs. "Airplanes?"
"Much worse! They intend to scrag the Maharajah! Bughouse Bill is Gunpat Raoing! Damn him, he has stolen all my thunder! He is top dog! He is recognizing her as Maharanee. He is blessing her with incense, and his messengers are egging on the crowd to scrag the Maharajah! They will do it! He will blame me for it!"
"What the hell do you care?"
"She also will blame me! Dammit, she had planned to send him to the Riviera with an income! Oh for God's sake, go and pinch hit!"
"Go where? Hit what?"'
"To the palace! Juldee, juldee! Beat your elephant! Find him—warn him—hurry him away!"
"On Asoka? He ain't fit to—"
"Pinch hit, I tell you! I will send some men to follow you with horses. Get him out of the way! I will send his friends to—"
"Come on!" Quorn shouted. "Get into the howdah and I'll take you to him. He won't do what I say. Jump in!"
"Do you take me for a simpleton?" The babu's mouth was frothy with excitement. He used his turban-end to wipe it. "Can I leave her? This is no time for mistakes, and she will make them just as sure as Jiminy unless I watch her! In a minute she will be signing her name to something! Gunpat Rao will be eating the canary! Go, I tell you! Go like Gallagher! Oh put some ginger in it! For the love of this babu, be ruthless! Ride hard!"
The iron ankus rapped Asoka's skull to call attention to a new mood—new necessities. It was the stand-by bell. And like a swaying boat amid a sea of living flare-lit waves, Asoka gradually wore away toward the outer darkness. On a parapet of Siva's temple, in a torch-lit crimson glare, the Princess stood alone, unveiled, unmoving, and the crowd went mad again at sight of her. There was a roar that rent the firmament. But some took note that Quorn was leaving, and the din was broken into counter- tumult as a sea breaks when a cross-wind smites it. Quorn was in darkness, but he was not yet on the outskirts of the crowd when purpose shaped itself and motion thundered into being.
There was a shriek at the end of that—a worse sound than the savage rage of wind that rips a ship to death on unseen rocks. It turned the streaming sweat cold. It froze emotion. Quorn was running away, and he knew it, when he reached a dark street, and Asoka plunged along it toward silence. And then Moses' voice in Quorn's ear:
"They are saying that you go to slay the Maharajah, because that is legendaree also!"
"Curse that babu! Why the devil couldn't he have known that this 'ud happen! They'll kill that drunkard, and I'll swing for it! Better find him, I guess."
Nothing on four legs can travel much faster than an elephant for a mile, or a mile-and-a-half. Asoka rushed up dark streets like a gray ghost, and the thunder of the tumult died behind him—but not very far behind him. Crowds, like water, flow by short cuts.
"They are coming, sir!" said Moses. "I can hear them. I can see the torches, that are dancing. They are running rapidlee. It is nip-and-tuckish, and I think the militaree will be—"
Speed at a corner swept his words away into the pitch-black shadows. Quorn set his teeth. He had no more notion what to do than Asoka had. He tried to think of what to say if he should find the Maharajah. He expected to be shot by sentries. He imagined himself and Moses seizing the reluctant Maharajah by the arms and dragging him into the howdah, somehow; even those mad moments failed to picture that exactly. He must pinch hit, must he?
"Damn that babu! Wisht I was in Philadelphia!" Then utter unexpectedness. The palace gate—no sentries—and the gate wide open, looming. Had the Maharajah taken flight already? Something was in the gate—it was big, dark—men's figures moved; they were working furiously. One man stood alone and looked on. Panting like a furnace bellows Asoka swayed to a standstill, close to the jaws of the open gate, and Moses switched on the flashlight.
"Koi hai?" demanded some one harshly.
Stalled in the gate was the Maharajah's auto, lights out. There was no one in it. Two men sweated with their heads beneath the engine cover, and a third was on his knees, with the battery out on the running board.
"Ye're as crazy as hell!" Quorn shouted. It was no use trying to control his voice; it roared in spite of him. "There isn't time to fix that. Where's your Maharajah? Pitch him up here?"
The man who stood alone and looked on took a few strides closer, staring along the beams of Moses' flashlight.
"You Quorn?" he demanded.
"Yes, sir. I came looking for you. Climb up and I'll ride you toward rail-head. Things ain't healthy."
There was a moment's silence. Framed in the circle of Moses' light the Maharajah's handsome face looked scared but thoughtful. Then he said suddenly:
"I will direct you where to take me."
"Can you climb up by the roof of the auto?" Quorn asked. "It'll save time. There'll be a mob here in a couple o' minutes."
"Make the elephant kneel," he answered.
Argument would waste more time, so Quorn obeyed him. Asoka went down like a landslide at the order, nothing loath; he was blown, and the howdah was heavy. That brought Quorn and the Maharajah face to face, but Moses switched off the flashlight. There were no lights in the palace windows. It was all dark. Starlight hardly penetrated through the shadows of gate and shrubbery.
"Damn your manners—dismount!" said the Maharajah.
"Who is that in the howdah?"
"Suit yourself," Quorn answered. "Manners eat up time, but it's not my funeral." He vaulted to the ground and stood still. "Get out, Moses. Meet his Highness."
Moses jumped out like a cat with hot feet and withdrew himself within the darkness of Asoka's loom.
"Insolent dog! You damned adventurer!" The Maharajah took a long stride nearer, but he was on the far side of the elephant from Quorn. "Give me that ankus!"
Hardly believing, Quorn leaned across Asoka's neck to listen. His ears were full of the roar of a crowd. A mob was coming—coming hotfoot. The Maharajah swore in his own language and repeated:
"Give me that ankus! I can ride my elephant! Do you hear me?"
The men who were trying to repair the auto suddenly let go of everything and ran. The Maharajah called to them. There was no answer. Then he reached out for the ankus. His left hand touched the tiger-claw wound near Asoka's left eye. There was a scream of anger from the elephant. The hurt brute rose like earth up-thrown by dynamite. It was impossible to see what happened then, but the Maharajah, legs first, rose against the star-lit sky, screaming, neck and shoulders tortured in Asoka's trunk. The elephant swung him—shook him—and then hurled him to earth and trampled him—trudge, trudge, trudge—another tiger's carcass.
"Flashlight!" shouted Quorn, but Moses failed him that time. He had to go in alone with the ankus, face the elephant and drive him off his victim.
"You big fool, you're done for! Now they'll shoot you sure! Let up! Let up, you hear me! Go on, kill me if you dare, you sucker! I don't give a God-damn!"
He could not make Asoka obey him. But he felt no fear. In a sort of delirium—numb—bereft of care or thought of consequences—he attacked and struck out with the ankus, wondering that the huge brute backed away instead of killing him. He backed into the auto, screamed at it, and dashed past Quorn in panic, vanishing amid the beds of bougainvillea and roses, crashing through them like an avalanche.
"And that is destinee, I think," said Moses' voice.
"The hell with destiny!" Quorn answered. "You'll swing too! They'll swear we came o' purpose and—"
"You have a flashlight? Let me have it," said a voice in English. "Quickly!" Some one stepped out from behind the auto and stood for a moment listening to the roar of an approaching mob. "Push that car inside and close the gate," he ordered sharply. Shadowy forms obeyed him and the gate clanged shut in the sight of sweating faces that came pouring forward in the flare-lit smoke of torches. There was a dim view up and behind them of the heads of elephants.
"Be quick now—help me!" said the same voice. He was a tall man, hatless and in riding breeches, wearing a white shirt open at the neck. He used the flashlight half a second and then he and Quorn and Moses raised the Maharajah's body. "Into the car," he commanded. And as they slammed the car door some one in the mob discovered that the gate was not locked. It clanged open. Torches and a yelling crowd rushed through and poured past. "Luckily for you, I saw that happen," said the voice, and Quorn leaned back against the auto. He gulped.
"Who are you, sir?" he asked after a moment.
"I am the Resident," said the quiet voice. "I heard some rumors of this at rail-head, so I almost killed two horses getting here. However, it seems I came a bit too late to present credentials. Who is that?"
On an elephant, surrounded by a sweating, yelling, torch-lit swarm of dancing maniacs, the Princess rode unveiled. Behind her, in the howdah, soiled and sweating but important looking, sat Chullunder Ghose, the babu. He appeared to be talking to her, and she seemed to listen.
"She's the Queen, I reckon," Quorn answered. "No, that's not the right word. She's the Maharanee."
"And who is the fat man?"
"He, sir? He's the works. You'd better ask him."
The palace lights went on and glowed like fairyland amid the trees. But the crowd still poured past, yelling with excitement and there was nothing to do but stand still.
"And who are you?" asked the man in riding breeches. "Me, sir? Damned if I know! Ben Quorn's my name and I wisht I was in Philadelphia. I'd feel a damned sight better if my elephant was hunky-dory. Poor old sucker, he'll get shot, I reckon."
"I enjoyed the way you faced him. That took doing."
"Some folks 'ud enjoy 'most anything," Quorn answered. "I could tame that elephant, God-dammit! Him and me—"
"Suppose you walk up with me to the palace," said the man in riding breeches. "If the crowd will let us," he added.
So Quorn followed him.
THE new arrival led for as much as ten or fifteen paces, courteously asking sweating men to make way. But he followed Quorn after that. Even in the starlight Quorn was recognized. A wide lane opened up. There was a roar of "Gunga sahib!"
"Pardon me, after you!" said the man in riding breeches.
So Quorn strode forward—a rather small man in a yellow turban, holding an old iron ankus, looking angry; next, a very tall man in a white shirt, looking curious and thoughtfully amused; and then a third man in a solar topee and a white suit, whose peculiarly lonely looking eye suggested nervous self- importance; without knowing what he did, he was using a piece of rubber hose-pipe for a walking stick.
The elephants were in a row before the palace front door, and in their midst was the guilty Asoka, in line, unmounted, decorated with the wreck of flower-beds. His lower lip hung slobbering. He had forced his way into his rightful place and nobody had dared to try to prevent him. The mahouts knew the mood he was in. They shouted warning to the crowd. It was the presence of Asoka, not the babu, that had cleared a wide space in the light from the palace windows. But it was the babu who seized that opportunity. In front of the shut front door, he held forth, fagged and sweaty, but triumphant, leaning forth from the low porch like a Roman orator. His voice was hoarse; and there was tumult, but a gradually gaining silence, and he evidently spoke well-aimed phrases barbed for interested ears. It was in a pause in his speech, as he wiped his face and looked around him with the practised demogogic art which silences a crowd, that he saw Quorn—and then saw the man behind him.
"Oh my God!" he shouted. "Krishna! Jiminy! By—Sahib, this babu is drunk! Or is it true? It is too good to be true! I don't believe it! Brazenose Blake? Here? Now? In the nick of neck or nothing? Oh salaam—salaam—salaam—before I wake up! If I thought there were a god who gave a damn about the British, I would certainly have prayed to have you sent here! May I shake hands?"
He descended from the porch. He shook hands. There was no way of escaping that, and there was no denying his enjoyment.
"This is crown of my career! It is the accolade of destiny. I love it," he said grinning.
"You damned old rascal, what have you been doing?" asked Brazenose Blake. He made a certain effort to disguise affection, but his voice was not in key with the effort and the corner of his mouth twitched.
"I? I seized a flood of destiny by short hair and booted it over the top," said the babu. And then, unexpectedly—"Rupees a thousand! Pay me!"
Brazenose Blake looked puzzled.
"Do you not remember—that day when you told me I am destined to be hanged for too much curiosity—I betted you a thousand rupees I will be a minister of state—a genuine, recognized, prime and trusted minister of state, with seals of office and a letter of appointment? You took that bet. Pay me!"
"Aren't you just a wee bit previous?"
"I am not! There has been a revolution. There is now a Maharanee of Narada. Floated on the tide of fortune, this babu as minister of state awaits her recognition by the British Government. The former Maharajah is a fugitive from justice."
"No he isn't," said Brazenose Blake. "He is dead. I saw him killed."
The babu's face fell. "Dead?" He glanced at Quorn. He looked shocked. "Who did it?"
"An elephant. I believe it was that big elephant. I think the Maharajah hurt him somehow, but it happened very quickly in the darkness. As an eye-witness, I can only swear he was killed by an elephant."
The babu breathed relief. "I feared," he said, "that destiny had stuck a thorn, as usual, into the rose of our requiescat! That saves pension money! Did you ever see an elephant drink champagne? You shall see Asoka do it. He shall drink a whole case, paid for from the thousand that you owe me! Your congratulations are in order, sahib."
"Where are the police?" asked Brazenose Blake. "Can you keep order?"
"The police are restoring order, sahib, by refraining from offending prejudices."
"And the military?"
"Are in barracks. This babu persuaded them that revolution is a civil, not to say a civilized proceeding, capable of being misinterpreted by big majorities in search of somebody to blame for being in the way. They are to have nice new uniforms."
Brazenose Blake compelled a smile to tremble back into retirement.
"I was told," he said, "that the telegraph line is out of order. I tried to send a wire the moment I got here. How long—"
"Fifteen minutes, sahib. This prime minister is magically good at mending instruments! You will report all quiet?"
"I will report 'situation apparently under control.' But there'll be a row about this, you understand."
The babu hesitated. Then he grinned. "Sahib," he said, "there is trouble enough for the British. When you tell them that her Highness is the lawful heiress, and that this prime minister is capable of guiding her, not only to a throne but also into wise and not too communistic policies—"
"Is she a—"
"She is modern, sahib. She is moral. This prime minister is middle-aged and totally unmoral. Shake hands on it!"
"Dammit, I'm not the Government. I can't promise anything."
"But they will listen to you. This prime minister—" The front door opened and the Princess stepped out. For a moment she stood smiling at the crowd that roared a greeting to her. Then she came to the edge of the porch and, leaning forward—
"Chullunder Ghose, who is this gentleman? Present him to me. You should have asked him in at once. What dreadful manners! He will think my ministers are—"
Quorn walked away, unnoticed. Palaces were no place for him anyhow. But Moses lingered, listening. Quorn went to Asoka and stood staring at him, well within reach of the restless trunk.
"I guess your luck's good after all, old-timer," he said glumly. "Durn you, I wish mine was. I'll get marching orders in the morning. Lucky if I don't get stuck in prison, just for looking like a legend. They'll be needing a goat."
He stood for fifteen minutes talking to the big dumb brute. And in the momentary intervals of talking to him he was puzzled, as innumerable other men have been, to know why men, who thought he was a legendary hero come to life, should think it natural to stand around him and not stare too curiously.
"India's a durned strange country," he reflected. "Wisht I didn't have to go home."
Moses came to him at last, a little spineless, something lacking in him. He drooped like the piece of hose-pipe that he carried.
"You blue, too?" Quorn asked him.
"Nobodee has anee word for me," said Moses. "Certainlee the babu will be her prime minister. I heard her say that you shall be the Master of the Elephants, because the people will demand that, even if she did not also wish it. But of me they did not speak, although I stood there noticeablee."
"Your job's safe if I stay on," Quorn answered. "Now I've learned you how to make the coffee, you'll do."
"Rattee is to be a senior mahout," said Moses, "and to have his debt paid to the money-lender. It is fitting I should have preeferment also."
"What do you want?" Quorn asked him.
"Sir, if I may call myself your secretaree—I will cook the eggs and bacon and the curree and the coffee—but I should feel—"
"Okay. You're my secretary. Hustle along home and have the coffee ready. Time I've hitched old Soaker to his picket I'll be all in. Mind now—only half an egg, and don't you let it boil over or you'll lose your new job."
"Thank you kindlee, sir," said Moses.