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TALBOT MUNDY

BURBERTON AND ALI BEG

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY ADOLPH TREIDLER

First published in Everybody's, Jan 1914
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
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Everybody's, Jan 1914, with "Burberton and Ali Beg."



$ I.

THE wet-and-dry-nursed turf of Meadowbrook—sun sweetened green velvet on a ground of iron—drummed to a devil's tattoo. There were other intermittent noises. Ponies and men breathed hard. About once in every thirty seconds the packed stands creaked under the strain; twenty thousand, of a class which keeps emotion underneath the surface, would grip the seats and sway one way or the other alltogether—throat-held, hypnotized, by the game that is to all other games as wine to water.


Illustration

Through drumming of the hoofs—punctuating it—the click-smack-click of mallet-nose on whitened bamboo ball came at odd moments: now once, clean-clipped And hard, to be followed by thunder as the ponies wheeled and raced; now in a hail-storm clatter, with an underswish of whips as ponies tiptoed through a scrimmage nervously. Presently the crowd would sob again in unison, remembering at last to catch its breath.

"My conscience, but those gentlemen know how to lose!" said Margaret Brunton almost to herself, and Burberton beside her came out of a dream. He, too, had been watching spell-bound, and he felt a little bit ashamed of having let emotion get the better of him.

"Any man can learn to lose," he answered—sneering rather more than he intended. "They've lost. What would you have them do—lose their tempers? I vote we make a move, before the crowd starts rushing for the gate. Our men have won. There are only two more chukkers. "There's no earthly chance that the other side can pull the game out of the fire now."

"I'm going to stay and see them try!" said Margaret. "You go if you like: Mr. Howe will see me home."

"I'm dammed if he will!" thought Burberton, with a sideways glance at Sammy.

Samuel Hamilton Howe—gentleman of means and quite illimitable leisure—was about the only bosom friend that Burberton owned to. Sammy was a joke; every living being seemed to love him, but no man in his senses ever dreamed of coupling Sammy's name with that of a woman. And Norman Burberton prided himself on being in absolute possession of all his senses.

He had no illusions of any kind at all. He believed he could read human nature like a book, and he despised it in a rather good-natured, condescending way that he had inherited (without accessories) from "Old Man" Burberton, his father. Old Man Burberton had laughed, and taken what he wanted, leaving his only son more millions than were altogether good for him. Norman Burberton forgot to laugh as a rule, bought what he wanted, and grew tired of it.

He had no least notion now that Margaret Brunton could conceivably prefer Sammy Howe to himself, and jealousy in any case was the passion he despised most. He was too masterful to be jealous He had his father's absolute self-confidence, and a very considerable share of the railway magnate's judgment; he had decided, after calm reflection during which he indulged in no vainglorious flights of imagination, that Margaret Brunton was waiting contentedly for him to propose to her in his own good time. He admired her patience, and paid her the compliment of treating Sammy's attentions to her as quite undangerous.

But it suited his purpose to see her home himself. It was in line with his acquisitiveness. She was the only desirable thing that his money had not yet bought him, and to have her with him on the front seat of his car—not yet his, but yet no other man's; his when he chose to ask—gave him more delight than he had ever gained from actual possession of anything. Sammy on a seat behind would add to his enjoyment, and would serve to prevent the necessary other girl from interjecting conversation.

For all that he despised humanity so heartily, he liked the crowd to notice Margaret Brunton when she rode with him, and he had been conscious of a distinct feeling of irritation when the break-neck international polo game had drawn all eyes from her and her eyes away from him.

He had no interest in the game now. He believed in winning, and once won, the game ceased to interest him; he could not keep his attention on the last two chukkers, nor see any sense in waiting for the finish. He sat still and watched Margaret Brunton sideways, gloating—if the truth were known —over the thought of his ultimate possession of her, but to all outward seeming just a little bored, and quite indifferent.

Limb for limb—line for clean-bred line— he might have been blood-brother to any of the eight who were giving every good, grim ounce they owned on the drumming grass below. Those men were his crowd; the British four, too, would have acknowledged him their social equal as readily as his own countrymen did. And yet none of the eight could have been really his intimate. There was an egotism about Burberton that seemed to check and dry up the opening confidence of everyone, except Margaret Brunton and Sammy Howe—just as they two were like rays of sunshine to the rest of the world. Either team would have talked polo to Burberton as to an expert, and would have turned away at the first opportunity to be happy with Miss Brunton or Sammy, neither of whom knew a solitary thing about it.

It was perhaps his trouble, after all, that Norman Burberton knew too much and loved too little. He imagined that he loved the girl beside him, whereas all he did do was to know, from practised observation, that she was the sweetest, best-looking woman within his social horizon. And anybody could have told him that, without any of his worldly, thirty-year-old cynicism to help make comparisons.

He watched her appraisingly; as she leaned forward beside him; silhouetted against the black of someone's coat beyond, she might have been a cameo. Even Sammy—something of an Apollo on his own account, and every inch of him a dandy—suggested references to "Beauty and the Beast;" Burberton compared their features, as a connoisseur of jewels might judge one stone against a better one—and he looked like a connoisseur. They looked like happy children, all appreciative.

When the whistle shrilled at last and the blowing ponies trotted off the field to thunders of applause, Margaret Brunton sat still.

"Lord, look at the crowd!" said Burberton. "Why didn't we get away sooner?"

She looked at Sammy first, and then critically from him to Burberton, as if she were wondering where the difference lay; her lips were still slightly parted, her cheeks still glowing, her eyes still bright with the excitement of the game. So were Sammy's.

"I wouldn't have missed one minute of it! We can wait here until most of the crowd has gone, and then Mr. Howe has promised to bring one of the English team and introduce him."

"Heavens!" smiled Burberton, not ill-humoredly. He managed to infer a compliment. "Sammy's getting useful! Go on, Sam—fetch him."

Sammy, who sensed something in the atmosphere that was not absolutely peaceful —something faintly distasteful to his sunny disposition—was glad enough to go.

"Where did he meet any of the other team?" asked Burberton.

"When he was in India, I think. There must be something wonderful about that country. Mr. Howe came back quite different from what he was before he went away —and look at those officers! I'm told they learned all their polo in India. They certainly did learn how to lose like gentlemen."

"Do you mean that our fellows—?"

"Our fellows won."

"I don't see how that makes them—"

"They are 'our fellows,' and I'm glad they won. I always did think well of 'our fellows,' as you call them; and now I think even better of them. It makes me wonder how good they would be if they could all take a turn in India."

"India's got nothing to do with it!" said Burberton, with the air of a man of thirty who knows all there is to know. "Those four men are just natural-born polo-players —gentlemen—and they met a better team."

"I'd like to look at India," said Margaret, musingly.

"Why not?" Burberton pricked up astonishingly. When an idea came to him, one could recognize his father's son. He glanced left and right—made sure that Sammy was not on the way back yet—and settled down, as a man sits tight down in the saddle when he means to test his horsemanship.

"I've wanted to say this for a long time—been waiting for a chance to say it—didn't want to be banal and say the usual sort of things, and didn't want to do the usual thing, either. You've given me the idea."

"Wait!" said Margaret. "I think I know what you are going to say. I don't want you to say it. And yet—Norman—I would rather listen to you saying it than to any other man."

He did not answer. That was Burberton senior again. The old man had been famous for the art with which he reserved his verbal fire.

"I'm not comparing you, Norman, with any of those four men who played. If I could compare you with anybody, I would not have been seen about with you so much. But—"

"But what?"

"Every single one of those four men— and Mr. Howe besides—has got something which you haven't. You could get it—you could get it if you tried."

"What is it?"

She shook her head. "Can't you see?"

"If I could see something I wanted I would get it or go broke in the attempt. I was going to mention something that I want very much—and mean to have—when you cut me short."

"Do you really mean to have it?"

He nodded. "You know I do!"

"Then find out what the other is and get it first. The rest will be easy!"

"I hate riddles!" he answered irritably. "Won't you tell me the answer?"

"You'll have to see it for yourself. I don't think I can make it clear to you. Only this—you'll have to find out that the world's worth living in before it will be worth living in, and before you can help make some one else's life worth living too. I want you to find it out for yourself. I'm sure Mr. Howe found it in India, for I saw the change in him when he came back. And now I've seen these four men play and lose, and I know they came from India, and —I may be wrong, but it has made me think."

"I can't see what you're driving at," said Burberton.

"I know you can't. I want you to be able to see. You can't find it here, for you've got too much money and too many friends. Do you know anyone in India?"

"Not a soul."

"Perhaps that would be a good thing. I don't think Mr. Howe knew anybody—at all events until he got there."

Now there are few things more exasperating to a man of mettle—and Burberton had more than the ordinary—than to be compared to his own disadvantage with a man whom he considers his inferior, in wealth and brain and pluck and sportsmanship and savoir faire. He liked Sammy Howe. He very nearly loved him. But he did it patronizingly.

"I'm getting tired of hearing about Sam!" he answered.

"And I'm getting very tired of waiting for him! There's Mrs. Boileau—look, she's beckoning. I'm going to ask her to take me home in her car—where's Mildred? There she is—now will you go and explain to Mr. Howe that I couldn't wait? And— and—won't you wait for him and take him home afterward?"

Burberton, with the perfectly good grace that he knew well how to draw on over a feeling of discomfiture, walked with her to Mrs. Boileau's side, and later helped her into Mrs. Boileau's huge blue touring-car.


Illustration

"Got to wait for Sammy Howe," he explained, and not even that sharp-eyed scenter-out of social happenings could draw the least deduction from his manner. Sammy Howe, ten minutes later, was the first to get a glimpse below the surface.

"Come on home, you interminable ass!" Burberton growled, seizing Sammy by the elbow.

"Why? Won't she wait? He'll be out directly."

"She's gone with Mrs. Boileau."

Sammy did not raise his eyebrows—nor did he ask questions. The first remark of any kind came from Burberton, who was making new hole-records in the speed law of the state; and he did not speak until the city was in sight.

"Know anyone in India?" he asked.

"Yes. Know one man well. Why?"

"Give me an introduction to him, will you?"

Now Sammy's eyebrows did rise.

"What's the use?" he asked. "My man's not a nabob."

"I asked it as a favor."

"Are you going to India, then?"

"What else would I want the introduction for?"

"Will you go and see him if I give it to you?"

"What else would I do with it?"

"Promise?"

"Yes."

"It's yours. You'll like him if you stay long enough. Chap called Ommony. When d'you go?"

"By the first ship that leaves New York!" swore Burberton.


II.

SO Norman Burberton began to study India—from the wrong end; and for six toe-on-heel, hard-riding months he liked it. Men discovered he could ride and shoot as well as any of them, so things were pushed his way. He saw nothing of the mechanism —nothing of the insistent, sleepless maw that drains everlastingly the cleanest blood of England and gives back nothing but ideals. All he saw was surface glamour, and subsurface poverty, and new ways of killing time that interested him until the novelty wore off.

He stuck pig in Guzerat and quitted himself handsomely; a man who can do that may be forgiven six of all the seven sins, and his name went up and down the land in front of him. But it was all the same thing that he had known before, in a different setting —amusement, with a bad taste at the end of it.

He killed his tiger from the back of a rajah's elephant; shot a rhino (and few but royalty and viceroys may do that); shot quail; saw panthers fight to a ghastly, gory finish in a walled arena (that was in a native state, where Government had barely seeped into the roots of things); drank deep, as a welcome guest should, in the Gunners' Mess at Poona; and stood, at the end of it all, unawed and dissatisfied, in front of the Taj Mahal by moonlight.

It was not the mystery of India that appealed to him; he did not care for it, nor even realize it. It was another mystery.

These men—and most surely they were men—who drank with him and laughed with him, and rode neck and neck with him and risked their lives; who showed him a hundred kinds of hospitality the West knows nothing of; who spoke his language— drawled with the drawl that he had cultivated—and drew his arbitrary line between what was sport and what was not—regarded him exactly as he had regarded his own world back at home. They accepted him because he was there and "a pretty decent sort," but that was all. There was not one man of all of them who was really interested in him, or who so much as lifted the curtain for a minute from the heart of things that held them all except himself.

And he could not find the heart of things, however hard he tried. They had no secrets from him, or none that he could lay his finger on. He heard them talking "shop" in the club rooms after dinner, and they were selfish and querulous and jealous of one another, just like other men. Few of them admitted any love for India. Most if not all of them were men who could have earned a more than decent living anywhere, at almost anything they chose, and many of them were men of considerable private means.

He saw men sickening with fever and anemia, and all the other ailments that the Indian sun draws out of the polluted soil, and he saw other men who had sickened and gone home, and returned again for more. And he learned there was nothing in it for anybody except a pension—should he live to draw it.

They liked or hated one another; but they always understood. And invariably—always—all the time—drunk or sober—they treated him as some one who could not begin to understand.

"I suppose you're going to write a book on India when you get back home?" asked a judge of the Punjab High Court.

It was the dozenth time that he had been asked that question.

"Would you read it if I did?"

"Certainly. It's good to see ourselves as others see us—keeps our perspective right. I get clippings regularly from the American papers, and they make even better reading than the London ones. Now—what is your impression of the country?"

But Burberton did not answer him. He was conscious of being rather liked, but laughed at. At home, he had been neither liked nor laughed at, and he had not cared. Now he cared and was angry, because his cynicism wouldn't work. It annoyed him that these men who were certainly no better than himself should treat him as outside the pale of understanding. And why should thev be sarcastic?

"What is your impression of America?" he retorted, when he had given his irritation time to fade away.

"I've been there six times," said the judge. "I generally go home that way round. It's the only country in the world that could have produced you."

"You don't like Americans?"

"What is an American? I like you."

"I'd like very much to find out what holds you all here—you, for instance. You—none of you—like India."

"Like it? India's a beastly country to live in for any length of time—drains the life-blood out of you."

"Then what keeps you here?"

"You've been all up and down the country. D'you mean to say you haven't found that out yet? What are you going to do next?"

"Home, I think. No—I've a promise to keep first—a man named Ommony to visit —ever hear of him?"

"Not Ommony of the Woods and Forests by any chance? Visit him by all means— he'll give you the answer if anybody can."

"Who or what is he, exactly?"

"Exactly? Why, he's Ommony of the Woods and Forests. Go and visit him and see."

"How do I get there?"

"Train — about five hundred miles — change at Ahmadabad for Tikpur—tonga sixty miles to the edge of the reservation— then ride, unless the tonga road is through the forest already—ride and find him."


III.

HE knew now how alone he was. He realized, as the squeaky tonga jolted him along the new-made road, that loneliness— and nothing else—had been the trouble with him He was a specimen to other people—just as others had invariably been to him. Good, grown men looked at him, and dined and rode and talked with him, and did not care. He knew, now, that he wanted them to care.

And as he realized his loneliness, the border of the forest swallowed him and road and tonga, and the silence settled down on him as if he had been dead long ages. The trees and the outskirt changed to greater trees; the sky became patchwork spots of blue between the branches, and the tonga-driver ceased his singing—tried to begin again—and stopped. Only the clip-clop of the ponies' feet and the shrilling of the oil-less wheels disturbed the stillness; and the view was shut off by endless rows of giant tree-trunks that leaned back like a cordon of policemen to restrain the bursting verdure.

"I'll go—and stay one night—and come away again," swore Burberton. "Two days of this would drive me mad!"

But he drove for two days through the forest, until he could have shrieked at the gloom and silence. At night he stayed in a log-cabin that a road-builder had left there. Once or twice in the night he heard the baying of a distant wolf-pack; and once—as he walked the stamped-earth floor—he paused and listened to a footfall. Something heavy, with soft feet, came and seemed to listen, and went away. After that the only sound was of the moths that fluttered round his lantern, and when morning came there was a track down the middle of the floor where he had paced it. He would not wait for breakfast; he wanted to gallop back into the sunshine, and would have done it; only the tonga ponies could not gallop, and it was a day's drive either way. So he drove on.

By midday of the second day the New York that he knew and hated seemed to have been paradise, and the only hell was here among the trees. Ommony must be the arch-administrator of hell, and Margaret Brunton, who was lost to him, the Queen of Heaven. He dreaded meeting Ommony—hated him before he heard him speak or saw him—hated himself for being such an idiot as to leave luxury and sport and company for this—and fell asleep.

It was a devil that awoke him—a devil with muddied hair that reached down to his shoulders, with a tiger's claw suspended from his neck, and barely a rag of clothing— a red devil with a long knife tied to his waist, who glowed in the setting sun that shone huge and angry in a gap between the trees. The devil tugged at him, and Burberton descended from the tonga like a man who dreamed. For a second he entertained a wild idea of shooting, but his guns were cased and underneath the tonga seat.

"Are you Burberton?" a deep, mellow voice called from among the trees. "Come along. I'm glad to meet you."

He followed the voice, and found a straight-backed man who leaned against a tree and looked like part of it; his helmet and coat and puttees were all weather-stained, as if Mother Nature had made them too. He said nothing further, but shook hands and turned his back and led the way along a forest path. Burberton glanced back, with a thought for his guns and gear.


Illustration

"Nobody steals anything hereabouts," said Ommony—who had not looked; he had heard the turn—he was a forester.

"Wouldn't dare, I suppose?"

"Wouldn't want to."

They strode along so fast that Burberton had difficulty in keeping up. Ommony went ahead through the tangled undergrowth with the gait and tirelessness of a shrimp-catcher in the surf, and the naked, mud-matted devil trotted behind, silent and tireless in his element. But the pace told on Burberton.

"How do you keep yourself from growing crazy here?" he asked, hoping to gain time by conversation.

"By thinking of the forest. Thought I would go crazy when I first came. Thought of myself—think of the forest now—keep sane."

A minute later Ommony noticed his heavy breathing and slowed down. "I beg your pardon," he said, "that was stupid of me—I forgot."

They emerged soon into a clearing, where a wood-and-mud brick bungalow stood framed in a garden, with a fence around it. There were native servants busied about the place, and on the small veranda a grizzled old man waited, who salaamed and smiled at sight of them. He looked like the Peace-God's older brother.

"How often do you see a white man here?"

"Hardly ever. Have a drink," suggested Ommony.

The old man had arranged the chairs for them on the veranda, and they sat down facing each other. Burberton studied his host at length, but Ommony seemed to have been satisfied with half a glance. If he looked at Burberton at all it was sideways —not slyly, but as a jungle denizen that watches even while it rests.

"Know Hamilton Howe at all well?" asked Burberton, bursting to speak, but at a loss for subjects.

"Yes. Had him here a month—five—six years ago. Cured him."

"Of what?"

"Not listening."

Burberton stared hard, between sips at a long cool drink. It dawned on him that Ommony was always listening.

"What do you find to listen to?"

"The forest. Stay on and I'll show you."

A string of naked, lean savages emerged into the clearing, bearing Burberton's luggage on their heads. No one spoke to them, but they filed round behind the bungalow and stowed it all somewhere; Burberton could hear the thud as the packages were lowered to the floor.

"You seem to have good servants?" he volunteered.

"They and the forest taught me nearly all I know. They were bad at first—but I learned. Now there are none better anywhere."

They kept silence then until the sun went down with Indian suddenness and the black night glowed with moving phosphorescent dots. A little breeze sprang up and the ghostly trees responded to it until the night was full of silence rendered audible, and Burberton thought that the drums of his ears would burst.

"Dinner-time," said Ommony, so suddenly that Burberton was startled. "You'll find a bath all ready in your room."

He found more than a bath waiting. His dress-clothes were unpacked and laid out for him on the bed.

"Is Ommony sahib married, then?" he asked the grizzled servant. The old man did not understand.

"Memsahib hai?"

The old man shook his head.

So he dressed himself, stiff shirt, white-silk waistcoat, patent-leather shoes—and laughed at his reflection in the glass. He suspected that the whole thing was a mistake on the old servant's part, and that Ommony—in khaki, with his sleeves rolled up—would laugh at him. The laughter, he thought, might serve to break the dreadful silence.


Illustration

But he found Ommony waiting for him at a snow-white dinner table, in a suit that lacked a dozen years of fashion but in a shirt that was immaculate.

"Do you always dress for dinner?"

"Of course," said Ommony. The question seemed superfluous.

It was a six-course dinner, beautifully served, and not hurried over. Ommony appeared to be astonishingly well-informed, and said nothing of his forest. Burberton had expected to be bored with interminable details about woodcraft and other matters of indifference. Gradually Ommony drew Burberton on to talking of America, and then he listened—keeping the monologue going by a deftly inserted question here and there.

"Up at dawn," Ommony said at last, in a momentary pause. ''Better go to bed."

"What time is it?"

"Midnight."

Norman Burberton stared harder now than ever. He—the blase, money-weary cynic—had talked, and had been interested in his own talk, for four long hours on end. And on the table between them stood a bottle of Madeira still half full. This was wizardry.

"I was thinking of leaving in the morning," he said. "I just looked in on you because I promised Howe I would—"

"Howe wrote me. I answered him. I promised him I'd keep you."

"I—"

"Try one more day—then answer."

"But—"

"You're all right —just as he was. You don't drink— you don't boast— you're intelligent— stay on—you'll be glad afterward."

"I'd go crazy."

"Try a day of it —two days—before you answer. I'll show you things you never dreamt of."

They had gone out to the veranda, and Ommony had moved himself away from the light that streamed through the open door; his voice came like a ghost's from the black darkness.

"Don't be afraid. All that—" Burberton could not see him, but he knew as well as he knew that it was dark that Ommony was stretching out his hand toward the forest—"will heal you; it won't hurt you."

"I'm not afraid of anything," said Burberton.

"Then stay."

"I see what you mean. You don't see a white man very often—you're lonely— that's it?"

"Stay for that reason if you like."

So, with a little glow of virtue undermining his feeling of self-sacrifice, Burberton agreed to stay on for a day or two. He did it a little condescendingly and very grudgingly; and because of the darkness he failed to see the smile on Ommony's firm, weather-beaten face.


IV.

BURBERTON never remembered afterward all the details of the month that followed. They were like a dream, between the evening of his former life and the morning of his reawakening. Ommony—lone-handed in responsibility—ruled, watched, and listened to eight hundred square miles of forest; he was part of it, as were the animals he knew, and the naked forest-helpers who seemed to understand his thoughts; and he made his guest free of all of it.

He said little at any time, but he showed untiringly; and he taught Burberton the secret of the silences, that are never silent when one listens to them. And Burberton stayed condescendingly (at first)—revolted (that was on the third day)—stayed on a little longer out of curiosity—stayed yet another week because the fancy seized him, and then—threw his heart into the thing and stayed.

Week after week they rode together under rioting waves of branches that filtered the fierce sun grudgingly through a wonder-mesh of green; or galloped boot-to-boot down twenty-mile-long glades, hand-hewn and goat-grazed to keep the fires in check. They watched the sambur feeding, nose upwind, and came on the wild pig rooting in the clearings. The whole jungle and its occupants were an open book to Ommony, and he showed it all until the feel of it crept under Burberton's skin.

Once, three weeks after Burberton's arrival, when they had breasted a rock-and-jungle rise by a roaring waterfall, Ommony said suddenly, "I'll show you Ali Beg;" and they dismounted and crept cautiously between the boulders and lay side by side, peering through the jungle-grass.

"What's Ali Beg?"

"Look."

Careless in his strength, sun-bathed in a rock-strewn clearing, newly gorged, a tiger lay and licked himself, and Burberton, with held breath, watched him—strangely enough, without a white man's lust to kill. Then Ommony stood up head and shoulders above the grass and whistled; and fifty yards away the brute leaped to his feet and faced him, his tail swaying gently from side to side, and his huge fangs showing.

Ommony smiled back. He had no rifle in his hands. "No goats, Ali Beg!" he warned in a level voice. "Remember— leave the goats alone!"


Illustration

At the sound of his voice the great, sleek brute turned and strode away, swaggering, with his weight hung down between his shoulder-blades, and not once looking back.

"He's past his prime," said Ommony. "He's getting lazy. Next he'll get stiff. Then he'll find goats easier than sambur. Then—"

He looked down, and almost from between his feet a naked rifle-bearer rose. But it was always that way; men seemed to crop up from the jungle to obey his thoughts.

"Almost seemed as if the tiger understood you," said Burberton.

"He understands that I rule this jungle, and I understand him. That's enough. There are five like him in the forest, and they mayn't kill goats or men—that's all."

He sat down and signed to the boy to bring the tiffin basket; he almost never gave a spoken order, but he absolutely never went unwaited on.

"A hundred years ago there was no forest here—nothing but a wilderness and an occasional clump of trees. It's grown twenty-five per cent, in my time."

"Feels like your forest, I suppose?"

"No. Did at first. Now I belong to it— that's the secret. I didn't know anything until I let the forest take hold of me. It gave me all that's worth having—peace— strength—understanding—just as soon as I left off hating it and put out all I had. You've got to listen to it—listen all the time; then, after a while the forest tells you, and you can use your knowledge on the forest and be happy."

"I don't doubt anything you say—but what's the use? What's the end you're aiming for?"

"Ask God and the Government! The villagers think it's all to graze their goats in, and for fuel and building poles. Our friend, Ali Beg, imagines it's his hunting ground.

These jungle-wallahs—who know it all and tell me all they know—think I own the forest. And I know I'm its servant. Did it ever strike you that in some ways you're like Ali Beg?"

"How d'you mean?"

But Ommony was not given to repeating things.

Night after night they dined in semi-regal state, dressed as sahibs, lest the forest take a too strong hold on them and cause them to forget their birthright. And from dawn to dark they rode or strode through growing jungle, inspecting fire-lanes, attending to the planting of the naked places, and seeing that the goats were kept within their grazing limits.

"You sec, don't you?" said Ommony one afternoon, in one of his rare bursts of speech. "You can't stop the forest growing. You can swear at it, and hate it, but it grows. Care for it, love it, stamp the fires out, guard it, and it grows better. But you must listen—always listen!"

"Why should I listen? I'm not going to start a forest."

"I know you're not. You're going back into the outside world in three days' time. Don't go like Ali Beg. Listen and remember!"

"What's Ali Beg been doing?"

"Killed three goats a little after dawn— one for food, and two out of sheer wantonness."

Some strange conceit seemed to tickle Ommony, for he chuckled to himself. "You shall kill Ali Beg—you alone." he smiled; and after that he was silent until dinnertime. Before dinner, though, he gave certain orders to the hangers-on who clustered to the rearward of his bungalow.

He was silent all through dinner, even for Ommony, who had learned to love and listen to the silences, and as usual it was Burberton who broke the spell at last.

"I like you, Ommony," he said; and it was the first time in his life that he had ever said that to a man. "I'd like to see more of you, and you've made me keen on forestry. If you'll come to America, I'll buy you a forest—a big one—and put you in charge of it, and pay you five times over what you're getting now."

"I'll tell you a little story," answered Ommony. "Listen. Once a trading company that happened to be English came to India, and won the country by the sword. Notice the parallel: once a man became a millionaire by seizing opportunity. If you go deep down to the root of things you'll find it hard to justify cither of them. Well —the company grew fat and lazy, and talked about 'inalienable rights.' The country groaned, and was impoverished; the company grumbled at the selfishness of native India. Then the country mutinied. You know the history. The company was spewed out and extinguished. It left the forests bare and the people starving. It had never listened. Then England came and did listen; and look at India now."

"But you don't imagine, do you, that your Government is popular among the inhabitants? Why—they'd kick you all out to-morrow if they dared begin!"

"If we left India to-morrow do you suppose there'd be a forest here in ten years' time—or an acre under irrigation? If some of your rich men—the men who work, I mean—the men who listen and then give out what they've learned—were put out of business—stripped—what d'you suppose would happen? India used to be a hunting ground—for money; then it became a burden—then a responsibility, and now—man alive, it's fun! It's like a mother with her child; we feed it—it drains our lifeblood—it isn't grateful—but wc get back what nothing else can give us."

"I don't quite see the parallel, as you call it. I haven't been spewed out."

"No? I wish you could see yourself as you were a month ago! You were Ali Beg. Go back and give."

"You mean give money?"

"No, you idiot! Give yourself."


LONG before dawn next morning fifty or more naked jungle-coolies scattered in a semicircle through the forest; and as day broke, when the opalescent mist was lifting and the leaves were taking on a first faint glow of gold, Burberton stood alone in a clearing, breathing the cool morning air.

There came a crashing through the undergrowth. The fifty jungle-men were as silent as the tread of Nemesis; but the great striped brute they dodged and worried on from tree to tree was angry, and a tiger can be as silent as a snake or as noisy as a buffalo, just as the fancy seizes him. Ali Beg chose to give the jungle notice of his coming.

There came a pause—silence—and another crash. Then—head and shoulders protruding through the undergrowth—the tiger came to a stand and glared, twenty yards away. There was a sound behind him—the breaking of a twig—no more, but notice of the closing in. He glanced behind him; there were fifty behind him he could not see, and one in front he could; so he came with a rush and a spring—twelve feet in the air—a flashing, furious yellow streak, that tore the wind, white-fanged, claw-tipped, and snarling. And Burberton dropped him as he came, with a straight, clean shot, up and under, that tore through the breast and backbone. He fell two yards away.

"Bass!" said Ommony—the word that through the East means "Enough. That ends it. It is finished."

"I'd no idea that you were near me!"

"No? Did you think I'd leave you to the mercy of a driven tiger? That was a good shot. Your nerve's in fine condition; but it might not have been. I've had him covered all the way from where they flushed him. You should have fired when he first showed —I all but wiped your eye for you."

"I'm glad you didn't. Glad he fell to me."

"Don't let his ghost haunt you, that's all."

"I'd like to stay on and get another one."

"No. One Ali Beg's enough for any man. Go now. Get back to the place where you belong. I belong here, and you don't. Pack up your trunks and go."

"Won't you change your mind and come with me?"

"I? I'd no more leave my world until my time's up than you'll care to leave yours two years from now. Go back and remember what I told you—listen, and then give."


V.

THE Secretary of State in India—gray-haired from forty years of worry—did tell a few friends of the visit paid to him by Burberton; but they were chosen friends, and the secret was well kept.

He offered millions upon millions. He said: "Here I am, and I'm ready. You need money—it's notorious, and I've got money; put me to work, and you can have the use of all of it!" But the Secretary shook his head.

"What we need is men," he answered.

"But—millions—think what you—what wc could do with millions!"

"We could get millions in a week. We can borrow them at three per cent. We could get a tenth of what you offer from almost any Maharajah, if we'd so much as add one gun to his salute. We need the men to use the money and you can't buy them. If you want to give money there's a famine relief fund open—there are several universities in need of endowment—the trustees would be very grateful."

"Oh, I could do all that at home if I cared to. I want to work."

"Can't you work at home?"

"But why not here, if you need men?"

The Secretary shook his head. "We need men whose hearts are in it permanently," he answered. "We have to train them, and they have to start at the very beginning. You'd never do. Try your own country."

But afterward when he told the story to his friends, his verdict was: "He'll go a long way, that boy will. He's got the idea." And the consensus of opinion was with him.


THE other end of the story is better known —how Burberton went back to America, and what he has done there since. Margaret Brunton said that she had loved him all the time, and nobody ever doubted her. He met her at a dance, one week after his return, and no one was surprised when their engagement was announced fourteen days later. But she, and he, both kept the secret of exactly how it happened.

"What will be your next amusement?" she had asked him, after a conversation in between two dances.

"Next? I'm going to make this country hum! I'm going to make it sit up and take notice! The old dad's business will do all right to start with, but that's going to be child's play to what follows. I'm going to pick good men and turn 'em loose to do things—make things—create things—oh, you watch! I'm going to live!"

"And are vou going to marrv me first?" she asked. "Or—"

That is the true, inside history of their engagement.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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