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CHARLES J. MANSFORD

SHAFTS FROM AN EASTERN QUIVER

THE HINDU FAKIR
OF THE SILENT CITY

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First published in The Strand Magazine, Dec 1892

Collected in Shafts from an Eastern Quiver,
George Newnes Limited, London, 1894

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Version Date: 2019-11-05
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Shafts from an Eastern Quiver, George Newnes, 1893, with:
"The Hindu Fakir of the Silent City"



A REVIEW OF "SHAFTS FROM AN EASTERN QUIVER"

THESE stories ... introduce the lover of sensations to a new writer, who is not at all unworthy to be placed upon the same shelf with Mr. Conan Doyle. He certainly contrives to give the three heroes of this book—the two Englishmen, Frank Denviers and Harold Derwent, and their marvellous Arab servant and good genius Hassan—as many hairbreadth escapes and other adventures by sea and land as can well be packed into a volume of less than three hundred pages.

Mr. Mansford appears to be most at home in Persia, Afghanistan, and India. But he does not confine his literary attentions to the more strictly Eastern countries; on the contrary, one of his most thrilling stories tells of the experiences of the fortunate three among Papuan wreckers, and another relates the escape of an exile from Siberia.

Undoubtedly Mr. Mansford has the gift of the story-teller, and besides, he uniformly writes like a scholar. The illustrations of the book, though small and unpretentious, are admirably executed, and enhance the piquancy—though that was hardly needed—of the letterpress.

The Spectator, 1 December 1894



Illustration


I.

"WHAT an extraordinary scene!" said Denviers, as we sat under the veranda of a Hindu house facing the street.

"Well," I responded, "after what we saw at Jaganath I am scarcely surprised at anything in India."

"The sahibs have reached Conjeve just in time," said our guide, Hassan, as he stood behind us watching what was transpiring with his grave eyes, "for of all the sights in Southern India this is surely the most remarkable!"

After our escape from the temple at Delhi and the capture of the diamonds from the sword-hilt of the idol which it contained, we had passed through the long plain of the Ganges, and eventually reached Calcutta. We then determined to travel along the coast of India, and, after witnessing the death of several voluntary victims beneath the wheels of the famous car of Jaganath, we pushed on to Madras, and thence to Conjeve, where we were destined to meet with a strange adventure.

"What is the cause of all this excitement, Hassan?" asked Denviers, as he looked into the thronged street.

"It is the first day of the festival which is kept every year," he answered; "the image yonder on the idol car is that of the principal god."


Illustration

The Festival


Amid the wild cries and excited gesticulations of the onlookers we saw a car fully forty feet in height, and shaped like a tower or gopuram, upon which was placed the gigantic image of a god riding upon a bull carved in black granite, and with its horns gilded. The whole of the car was covered with grotesque carvings, while before the solid wheels, on which it moved slowly along, was a crowd of pilgrims and devotees pulling with all their might at the ropes as they were cheered on by the vast concourse which lined the streets.

"We may as well get a nearer view of the car," said Denviers, as he rose from the chair on which he had been sitting. "The carving upon it is certainly worth closer examination." Hassan placed his hand on my companion's shoulder as he said quickly:—

"It is no wise thing which the sahib proposes to do. I know that he is brave, but in the hands of the frenzied worshippers there, alone or together, we should fare badly. It is well not to run into needless danger at such a time. Will not the sahib hear the words of Hassan, since more than once has he seen enacted a terrible deed in the streets of Conjeve?"

"I see no reason why we should be afraid to go among the crowd yonder," returned Denviers; then, turning to me, he added, "Come on, Harold, the idol car is half-way up the street!" I rose and followed him, and, as I did so, turned to the Arab, saying:—

"You need not come, Hassan, unless you wish to; we will soon return."

"The Arab does not fear for himself," responded Hassan, calmly. "Where the Englishmen go their slave is ready to follow," and a moment after we were pushing and jostling in the crowd which followed the car. Hindus in their white robes and gaily- coloured turbans; women profusely adorned with jewellery on their arms and necks and in their hair, which was uncovered; and besides these, religious mendicants, jugglers, and pilgrims smeared with ashes, whose clothes were less than scanty, all made up the excited throng into which we thrust ourselves.

In spite of the deep bronze which overspread our features, the effect of our prolonged travels, many curious glances were turned upon us, some of them friendly enough, but others expressive of hatred that we should dare to mingle with those whose foreheads were duly inscribed with the sacred marks which betokened their devotion to the idol.

Whether Hassan's recent remarks were caused by a foreboding of evil or not it is difficult to say, but in our anxiety to reach the idol car we pressed on forgetful of him. When we had succeeded in satisfying our curiosity, I looked round, and found that Hassan was not be seen. Turning to Denviers, I asked:—

"What has become of our guide, Frank?" To my surprise, he responded:—

"I thought we had left him behind; he seemed disinclined to come with us, and I have not seen him since we left the veranda."

"But he followed us," I persisted; "he was close behind until a few minutes ago, I am certain." My companion, however, remarked, lightly:—

"We shall see him again before long. Hassan has been in Conjeve before to-day; I dare say he thought that pushing through a crowd of Hindus on such a hot day as this is, was not quite the form of pleasure that he cared to indulge in. No doubt he is under the veranda again by this time, meditating on our folly and his own wisdom."

Denviers had hardly finished speaking when a great din rose in the street through which we had passed. Something unusual had evidently happened, and, connecting the event somehow with our guide, we made a desperate attempt to break through the throng which we saw had gathered round a spot where the street widened to accommodate one of the temples which we met at every few yards in Conjeve. The excitement rapidly spread, and in a few minutes we were hemmed in by a swaying mass of humanity, in which to either advance or to retreat was impossible. Fortunately for us the height of those in the crowd before us did not completely hide the view, and with a little struggling we managed to get some idea of what had happened.

Standing with his left arm behind him close to an opening in the ruined wall of a temple was our faithful guide Hassan, parrying dexterously the savage thrusts which were being made at his body by an ugly-looking fakir, or religious enthusiast. The latter was clothed in a tightly-bound yellow garment, his face—dark and fierce—being partly hidden by the matted, neglected hair which hung down as far as his shoulders. Unlike the rest of the Hindus in the crowd, he wore a long, shaggy beard, to betoken that he had undertaken some vow, and his countrymen were urging him on to the combat, while they were careful to keep themselves out of the reach of Hassan's blade, which flashed as he warily kept the fakir at bay.

Illustration

The Combat


"If only I could get through this crowd, somehow," said Denviers, "I would paint that fakir's robe a different colour for him. I wonder what Hassan did to cause all this commotion?"

"Very little, no doubt," I responded. "Hassan is too cautious to offend, wilfully, the prejudices of a fanatic." Then, watching the struggle in which we were quite unable to join, I added:—

"Hassan is giving the fakir plenty of hard work, and the yelling mob can tell that plainly enough. I suppose if their comrade loses there will be an ugly rush upon the Arab, and we shall, possibly, have a few minutes' tough fighting."

"Hassan little thinks we are in the crowd watching him," said Denviers. "At present the crush is so intense that I cannot get my hand down to touch the handle of my sword. I wish he would look this way for a minute, it would put new spirit into him to see us, for I have no doubt our brave guide thinks he is left to the mercy of the relentless mob."

"What a splendid thrust!" I exclaimed, as Hassan, parrying a blow aimed at his head, narrowly missed piercing his enemy's chest. It was strange how much we had become attached to Hassan, for, in spite of his passion for committing small depredations from us on every possible opportunity, our guide presented a combination of qualities rarely met with in the East. Certainly the pluck which he displayed on this occasion was something for any Englishman to admire, and as I looked into my companion's face while he fumed at our helplessness, I saw the glances of admiration which he bestowed on the Arab. The cries of the frenzied throng grew fiercer, for they saw that, having at first acted on the defensive, Hassan now began to press the fakir considerably, whom he wounded, indeed, several times in quick succession.

Our guide was not destined, however, to win the combat, for one of the Hindus bolder than the rest suddenly darted upon him from one side, and in the momentary surprise which this brought to Hassan, he glanced aside. In a second, the sword which he held was wrenched from his hand and fell on the ground, while the Hindu, slipping off the cloth which formed his turban, bound Hassan as the fakir held him.

There was a loud cry of satisfaction from the Hindus as they saw this, and a moment afterwards they attempted to throw themselves upon the defenceless Arab. The fakir, however, waved them off, and then called something out, the purport of which we did not understand. The surging crowd immediately took up the cry, while, securing the advantage of the rush, we pushed and elbowed our way to within a few yards of Hassan, where we were again completely hindered from advancing. The Arab glanced towards us, and struggled to free his arms, but in vain; and then we saw the fakir and the Hindu forcibly drag our guide through the gap in the broken wall which we had already observed.

Denviers managed to unsheath his sword, and as he did so the crowd drew back for a moment, then turned furiously upon us. We had reached the gap in the interval, and, dashing aside a scowling Hindu who ventured to bar the entrance, we darted through it, and found ourselves in a small paved court, at the end of which was a dwelling, one story in height and evidently built long before, for the chunam which had been used to plaster it over lay scattered about it. We pushed through the débris and beat violently on the door. No answer was returned, and we thereupon burst it in, to find ourselves confronted by the fakir!


II.

"WHY do the Feringhees force their way into my abode uninvited?" he asked, as he turned his evil-looking face towards us.

"Where is the man whom you just dragged through the gap in the outer wall of the temple which is apparently beyond here?" said Denviers, answering the first question with a second one. A scornful smile crossed the face of the fanatic as he answered:—

"I know not of whom ye speak; no Feringhee, save yourselves, has entered here." Denviers looked threateningly at the man as he gave this equivocating reply, and I saw his right hand wander to the handle of the sword which he had sheathed after passing through the gap.

"We do not seek an Englishman," he said, in a tone of suppressed anger, "but for our Arab guide. If you have dared to injure him you shall surely die."

The fakir glanced at us defiantly for a moment, then flung himself upon the rush matting which covered a portion of the stone floor of the dilapidated and wretched room in which we stood.

"Strike if you will," he said in his fierce tone, "yet I will not deal a blow in return, for not thus will the secret be wrung from me which ye vainly covet."

Illustration

"Strike if you will," he said.


Denviers stood for a moment irresolute. He could not injure a man who evidently had no intention to defend himself if attacked, and yet he knew that every minute wasted in this way was precious to us indeed. I made a careful examination of the room, observing it thus narrowly to discover if in this way a clue to Hassan's whereabouts might be obtained. The walls were apparently made of sun-dried mud and were entirely bare of ornament, save for some strange marks scored upon them, and which corresponded with those upon the fakir's forehead. The fragments of ceiling above consisted of a few bamboo rafters, covered doubtless at some former time with palm-leaf thatch, but at this period almost bared to the sky. The rush mat on which the fakir lay and a few broken earthen vessels formed the entire furniture of the wretched man's hut, into which we knew Hassan must have been brought, for no other way to reach the temple-like building which towered beyond it existed between this hovel and the gap in the wall, since on either side of the fakir's abode a second wall ran parallel to the outer one.

"What are we to do now?" I asked Denviers, dejectedly. "This cowardly fanatic, assisted by the Hindu, has certainly made away with Hassan, and yet the wall of the room opposite seems to contain no exit, the only one being that by which we entered this hovel."

"Be patient for a few minutes, Harold," said Denviers, "we shall find out the secret directly; meanwhile keep before the doorway, and whatever happens don't let this fellow escape in that direction."

I uttered a few words of assent, and took up the position which my companion had indicated, as he moved slowly towards the reclining fakir, and then stooped over him, saying, as he did so:—

"You are weary after the fight which took place between yourself and the Arab just now in the street yonder; nay, you are badly wounded!" and Denviers pointed quietly to a dark stain which was conspicuous upon the fanatic's robe.

"Yes," he answered, fiercely, "but the dog who did it shall die as surely as I have a vow to fulfil." He moved his body restlessly upon the rush matting, and a moment afterwards, to my astonishment, I saw Denviers seize hold of the matting and attempt, forcibly, to drag it from beneath the fakir! The latter leapt suddenly to his feet and exclaimed:—

"Why touch with your polluting hands the sole resting-place for my weary frame?"

Denviers pointed to the spot where the fakir had spread the mat and answered:—

"The entrance to the place where the Arab has been taken lies there; lead us to him that we may set him free, or we will drag you there by force."

"The Feringhee is quick-witted and has even discovered the secret way; why then should I conduct him thither?" Denviers drew from his finger a ring set with a brilliant which he wore, and holding it out towards the fakir, responded:—

"The reason why you should do so is there, for by the begging- gourd which is upon the floor I judge that you are poor. Take this and lead us to the Arab." The eyes of the fanatic gazed with cupidity upon the gem. Taking it with an eager clutch he said:—

"Feringhee as thou art, I accept what thou offerest. What threats could not accomplish has been won with a bribe!" The fakir's tone jarred upon my ears, and I felt that his promise was an insincere one. I uttered a few words of caution to Denviers expressive of my distrust just as the fakir stooped and raised with apparent ease a block of stone from those which formed the floor of the hovel, and, pointing downwards, said in a reluctant tone, as if repenting of his bargain:—

"The twisted ladder of palm-shoots which ye see, reaches from here to the bottom of a passage leading to the place ye seek. Dare ye, with all your bravery, venture thither?"


Illustration

"Dare ye venture?"


We looked shudderingly down the yawning, gloomy gulf, and saw a faint light, which came from the passage far below. Denviers turned to me and said quietly:

"We must risk it for the sake of Hassan." Then turning to the fakir he added, sternly: "Go down first, we will then follow you; betray us if you dare."

Denviers waited until our fierce guide had descended, then clung to the ladder, and with a few encouraging words, bade me follow.

Slowly and cautiously we descended, the frail ladder oscillating violently with us in the pitchy darkness. Occasionally we stopped, and endeavoured with our eyes to pierce the gloom, fearing lest the fakir had evolved some treacherous scheme in order to entrap us. At last we reached the bottom, and found ourselves at what was the end of a rocky passage, which had been roughly hewn out and sloped upwards. Into this the light from outside was stealing from the distant entrance. The fakir cast a strange, inquiring glance at us as we joined him in this subterraneous place, but beyond muttering something incoherently to himself, did not volunteer any remark until we had traversed the entire passage. Emerging into daylight once more, we stopped suddenly, and gazed in bewilderment at the scene before us.

Towering in the distance rose the ruins of a vast temple, resting above a rock which seemed to have been partly excavated into the form of arches. In the central niche was a huge representation in stone similar to the idol which we had seen that day dragged through the streets, while on either side of it was carved a great throng of worshipers adoring it. The rock in the background was deeply cut to present the appearance of the side of a street, while many strange emblems were shown thereon. Below were the remains of a ruined village, the miserably small hovels contrasting forcibly with the grandeur and boldness cf the wonderful carvings above. How many centuries had passed since the place was inhabited it seemed impossible for us to surmise. The ground was thickly covered with a jungle-like grass, and I noticed that part of it seemed to have been recently beaten down. I pointed this fact out to my companion, who responded:—

"Very likely that happened when Hassan was dragged into this place, for I expect he resisted pretty stoutly." We saw the fakir throw himself prostrate upon the ground as he faced the stone idol, then, raising his body slowly, he approached us and asked:—

"Have the Feringhees seen aught like this silent city before?" Denviers shrugged his shoulders impatiently as he answered:—

"Show us the spot where the Arab is hidden: we did not come here to look at the work of a race of fanatics. If the trampled grass before us indicates anything, you have dragged him into one of these caves which surround us."

The fakir gave a shrill laugh, which re-echoed from cave to cave. Then he replied:—

"A stranger cause than ye suppose was that which beat down the grass before us growing amid these ruins which ye have dared to enter, yet shall ye see the cave wherein is the imprisoned one whom ye seek." He moved across the dry, rustling grass as he spoke, closely followed by us. In the shadow of the ruins above, one side of this vast hollow seemed to grow dim, the caves running into it appearing gloomy and uninviting. When he had neared one of the caves the fakir stopped and, pointing to it, said:—

"That is the place ye seek and to learn about which ye bribed me. The man lies asleep, but stooping over him ye may rouse the Arab and take him hence." I glanced for a moment at the fanatic as he spoke. Beneath his disordered and matted hair a fierce hatred seemed to light up his eyes as they were directed towards us. As we approached the entrance of the cave, another shrill laugh came from his lips; turning round I saw him wave his arms wildly in the air and then disappear into one of the cavities, just as Denviers exclaimed:—

"Follow me cautiously, Harold; it is quite possible that some plot may be revealed to us in a moment. I have no confidence whatever in this treacherous fakir."

We entered the cave, my companion leading the way and softly calling Hassan's name. No reply came forth, however, and when we had advanced a few yards he Stopped, saying:—

"Perhaps Hassan is asleep, after all. Unless my eyes deceive me in the gloom, there is certainly something lying in the cave a little farther on." I peered carefully into the dark cave, and then became aware of two bright red spots shining just in front of us.

"Frank," I said to my companion, "Hassan is lying there, sure enough. I can see his eyes turned towards us; I wonder why he—" I left the sentence unfinished, for Denviers, uttering a warning cry to me, turned and fled from the cave. I felt his breath come fast upon me as he pressed on from behind me, then a moment afterwards, just as we emerged from the cave, I heard him fall with a heavy thud to the ground.

Turning quickly round, I saw to my consternation that Denviers was struggling might and main with a huge tigress, which held him down as he tried to grip her by the throat!


Illustration

I saw Denviers struggling with a huge tigress.


III.

THE struggles of my companion only seemed to infuriate the tigress still more, and for a moment it was impossible for me to attempt to rescue him. I drew my hunting- knife, and when a favourable opportunity arrived lunged at her as I threw myself bodily upon the tigress, determined to save Denviers at all hazards. The fierce beast, recognising that her injury had been inflicted by me, left my companion and, raising one paw, dashed me headlong to the ground. In a moment she bounded heavily upon me as I lay there, her weight crushing and bruising me severely. Immediately afterwards I felt myself lifted bodily from the ground, and the brute began to carry me away to the cave into which we had been recently lured by the treacherous fakir! I made one supreme effort to release myself, and succeeded as I thought in doing so, for the tigress dropped me and bounded with a fierce cry towards her lair, just as I heard the sharp ping of a bullet re-echo through the silent city. My companion rushed up, and, stooping over me, asked:—

"Harold, are you much hurt? I have shot the brute, she will never reach the end of her cave alive!"

I staggered to my feet, and, looking towards the animal's lair, saw the body of the tigress lying motionless within the entrance.

"Not badly." I answered, "except that I got some pretty severe bruises in the encounter."

We rested quietly for several minutes; then I questioned:—

"Frank, where is Hassan concealed? We must rescue him somehow!" Denviers rose as he answered:— "It is certain that he is hidden in one of these caves, very likely where the fakir is now."

"Then we must make a careful search for him," I responded; "but this time we will improvise some torches, so as to get a good view of these gloomy caverns before venturing into another one of them." We twisted together some of the tangled grass, and made for the direction in which the fakir went, just when he saw that his cunningly contrived plot was apparently successful.

When we reached the caves Denviers turned to me and said:—

"I think it would be a good plan to call out our guide's name from time to time, he may hear us, and unless he is gagged will respond, and so lead us to him." To this remark I readily assented, and standing before several of the caves which lay close together, my companion shouted:—

"Hassan!"

To our great joy we heard the well-known voice of the Arab answer us from a little distance. We shouted again, and, guided by his responses, found ourselves traversing one of the caves, holding the blazing torches in our hands. Moving a heavy block of stone which barred the way, we found our faithful guide lying behind it, bound hand and foot.

Illustration

We found our faithful guide bound hand and foot.


"Allah bless the sahibs!" he said, in his grave, Oriental way: then his eyes fell upon our garments, which were terribly rent after our encounter with the tigress. "The sahibs have gone through peril to rescue me," he continued, as Denviers speedily unbound him; "their slave will be ever faithful to them."

We had some difficulty in getting Hassan from the cave, his limbs being swollen and painful, but at last we emerged and sought for some way of egress other than the one we knew, owing to its difficulty. At the far side of the hollow we found some rudely-carved steps, deeply worn, by which the people of the now silent city had entered the temple which they had built for themselves. Climbing these we passed through the gigantic ruin, and saw vast fragments of the roof lying scattered among fallen idols. The wall beyond was in ruins also, and we found a gap through which we went. The outer wall still confronted us, but at last we reached a stone gateway through which the pilgrims, long before, had doubtless passed.

"Hassan," I said, "as we were climbing the stone steps, I saw the fakir and the Hindu start from a cave and come forth to watch us. Their plot has been foiled; what did they intend to do with you?"

Illustration

"What did they intend to do with you?"


The Arab gazed at our torn garments again and then responded:—

"Will the sahibs tell me how their garb was rent?" We gave him a short account of what had happened, to which he replied:—

"This is the explanation of what occurs: Into the silent city, which we have left, a tigress entered and took up her abode. The Hindus, surprised at this strange marvel, sought for its solution. They at last concluded that the god who rides upon the bull was angry with them, and called upon this fakir to help them. He declared that someone had polluted a temple, and that until some stranger fell a victim to the tigress the god would not be appeased! His long beard, which ye have seen, indicated the vow he made to find the one who should suffer. He purposely pushed violently against me in the street, and when I remonstrated he drew his sword. The rest ye saw, and I was to become the victim to the tigress when the sun had thrice streaked the eastern sky."

"Well, Hassan," said Frank, as we found ourselves on the way once more to Conjeve, "don't you think the adventure which we have had brought us more pleasure than sitting under the veranda?"

"The sahibs are brave, and make light of the rescue of Hassan, the dust beneath their feet, whom they saved from the tigress, now dead."

"I am sorry the brute is dead!" interposed Denviers, as he listened to the Arab's remark. The latter turned his grave eyes upon my companion and asked:—

"Why, sahib?"

My companion smiled at Hassan as he replied:—

"Because she might have taken it into her head one day that the fakir would furnish a toothsome meal, and so have demolished him accordingly, adorned with his yellow robe."

We reached the Hindu's house at which we were staying, and were glad to rest ourselves after the events of the day, for the tigress had left some marks upon Denviers also, which from his conversation I subsequently discovered, while my own injuries were much more severe than I had supposed at the time when the tiger attacked me.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.