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The Charmed Life by Achmed Abdullah

 

From a letter dated September the eleventh, nineteen hundred and seventeen, by Captain Achmed Abdullah to the Editor of the All-Story Weekly

...and as to that, you are, of course, perfectly right. Magazine readers want to be entertained--that's what they plunk down their little dimes for--and take them all around, they prefer a story which is full of action, of things daring, with some love and a fair dose of adventure thrown in, and yet, as you put it, they do not want their credulity strained to the breaking point. They like to say to themselves--well, not exactly "This did happen" but rather, "This might have happened": and as an afterthought, chiefly if they're young (by which I mean the sunny side of seventy-three) they often add the two tiny words "To me."

An adventurous and slightly fantastic love story--yet substantially a true story--that's the dope: and the only thing which remains is to catch your hare, to quote Mrs. Glass's famous Cookery Book. I heard such a story not so very long ago, when on my way home to Afghanistan. I stopped for a few weeks at Calcutta.

The name of the man who told me the story--his own story--was--(name deleted by the editor). You may known some of his people in Boston. And when you come to the end of the tale, remember one thing, the hero--though I hate the appellation--is happy; and that, perhaps, is the final aim and object of man's life--to achieve happiness without making others unhappy.

I hope your readers will like the tale. At least it is a true tale; as true as all India; as true as the fact that before there was a Europe, India worshiped the Trimurti, the triple deity composed of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu, the Sustainer, Shiva the Destroyer, and--to believe certain Hindus--will continue to worship this triple image long after Europe has ceased to exist; as true, finally as the facts that never there lived, nor will live, American or European who can get below the skin of India without doing what the Boston man did in his little house in Calcutta, not far from the Chitpore Road.

Best Regards, Achmed Abdullah.

(Note by the editors--Captain Abdullah's manuscript contained the real names of the people and localities whom this story concerns. We changed them--for obvious reasons.)

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On the day when death will knock at thy door, what wilt thou offer him?

Oh, I will set before my guest the full vessel of my life--I will never let him go with empty hands.

--Rarindranath Tagore

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CHAPTER I - The Meeting

Kiss happiness with lips That seek beyond the lips.---from the Love Song of Yar Ali

I met him in that careless, haphazard and thoroughly human way in which one meets people in Calcutta, in all parts of India for that matter. He and I laughed simultaneously at the same street scene. I don't remember if it was the sight of a portly, grey-bearded native dressed incongruously in a brown-and-grey striped camel's-hair dressing-gown, an extravagantly embroidered skull-cap, gorgeous open-work silk socks showing the bulging calves, and cloth-topped patent leather shoes of an ultra-Viennese cut, or if it was perhaps the sight of Donald McIntyre, the Eurasian tobacco merchant in the Sealdah, abusing his Babu partner in a splendid linguistic mixture of his father's broad, twangy Glasgow Scots and of his mother's soft, gliding Behari.

At all events something struck me as funny. I laughed. So did the other man. And there you are.

Nice-looking chap he was--of good length of limbs and width of shoulders, clean-shaven, strong-jawed, and with close-cropped curly brown hair, and eyes the keenest, jolliest shade of blue imaginable. And--he was an American. You could tell by his clothes, chiefly by his neat shoes. They were of a vintage of perhaps two or three years before, but still they bore the national mark; they smacked, somehow, of ice water and clanking overhead trains and hustle and hat-check boys--and his nationality, too, was a point in his favor, since I had spent the preceding three years in New York and America had become home to me, in a way.

So we talked. I forgot who spoke first. It really doesn't matter--in India. Nor did we exchange cards nor names, that not being the custom of negligent India, but we conversed with that easy, we-might-as-well-be-friends familiarity with which strangers talk to each other aboard a transatlantic liner or in a Pullman car--west of Chicago. Presently we decided that we were obstructing the thoroughfare--at least a tiny, white bullock was trying his best to push us out of the way with his soft, ridiculous muzzle--we decided, furthermore, that we had several things to talk over. Quite important things they seemed at the time, and tremendously varied: the home policy of the ancient Peruvians, the truth of the Elohistic theory in the study of the Pentateuch, and the difference between Lahore and Lucknow chutney. In other words, we felt that strange human phenomenon: a sudden warm wave of friendship, of interest, of sympathy for each other.

So we adjourned to a native café which was a mass of violet and gold--slightly fly-specked--of smells honey-sweet and gall-bitter, of carved and painted things supremely beautiful and supremely hideous--since the East goes to the extreme in both cases.

We sipped our coffee and smiled at each other and talked. We discovered that we had likings in common--better still, prejudices and mad theories in common, and presently, since with the bunching, splintering noon heat the shops and the bazaar were clearing of buyers and sellers and since the café was filling with all sorts of strong scented low-castes, kunjris and sansis and what-not, chewing betel and expectorating vastly after the manner of their kind, he proposed that we should continue our conversation in his house.

I accepted, and leaving the tavern I turned automatically to the left fully expecting him to lead toward Park Street or perhaps, since he was so obviously an American, toward one of the big cosmopolitan hotels on the other side of the Howrah Bridge. But instead he led me to the right, straight toward Chitpore Road, straight into the heart of the ancestral tenements of the Ghoses and Raos and Kumars--the respectable native quarter, in other words.

That was my first surprise. My second came when we reached his home--a two storied house of typical extravagant bulbous Hindu architecture, surrounded by a flaunting garden, orange and vermilion with peach and pomegranate and peepul trees and with a thousand nodding flowers. For, as soon as he had ushered me into the great reception hall which stretched across the whole ground floor from front to back veranda, he excused himself. He did not wait to see me comfortably seated nor to offer me drink and tobacco, after the pleasant Anglo-Indian, and, for that matter, American habit. But he dropped hat and stick on the first handy chair, left the room with a hurried "be back in a jiffy, old man," and, a moment later I heard somewhere in the upper story of the house his deep mellow voice, quickly followed by a tinkling, silvery burst of laughter--the unmistakable, low-pitched laughter of the native woman which starts on a minor key and is accompanied by strange melodious appoggiatures an infinitesimal sixteenth below the harmonic tones to which the Western ear is attuned.

So I felt surprised, also disappointed and a little disgusted. The usual sordid shop-worm romance--I said to myself--the usual, useless pinchbeck tale of passion of some fool of a young, rich American and a scheming native woman, doubtless aided and abetted by a swarm of scheming, greasy, needy relations--the old story; the sort of thing that used to be notorious in Japan and in the Philippines.

Impatient, rather soured with my new-found friend, I looked about the room--and my surprise grew, but in another direction.

For the room was not furnished in the quick, tawdry, thrown-together manner of a man who lives and loves and nests with the impulses of a bird of passage. That I could have understood. It would have been in keeping with the tinkly laugher which had drifted down the stairs. Too, I could have understood if the appointments had been straight European or American, a sort of cheap, sentimental link with the home self--respect which he had discarded--temporarily---when he started light housekeeping with his native-born Pgryne.

The room, complete from the ceiling to the floor and from window to door, was furnished in the native style; not in the nasty, showy, ornate native style of the bazaars which cater to tourists--and it is in Indian's favor that the "Oriental wares" sold there are mostly made in Birmingham, Berlin and Newark, N. J.--but in that solid, heavy, rather somber native style of the well-to-do high-caste Hindu to whom every piece--each chair and table and screen--is somehow fraught with eternal, racial tradition. It was a real home, in other words and a native home; and there was nothing--if I except a rack of bier pipes and a humidor filled with a certain much-advertised brand of Kentucky burley tobacco--which spoke of America.

A low divan ran around the four sides of the room. There were three carved saj-wood chairs, a Kashmir walnut table of which the surface was deeply undercut with realistic chenar leaves, and a large water-pipe made of splendid Lucknow enamel. A huge, reddish-brown camel's-hair rug covered the floor, and on tabourets distributed here and there were niello boxes filled with the roseleaf-and-honey confections beloved by Hindu women, pitchers and basins of that exquisite damascening called bidri, and a soft-colored silken scarf--coiled and crumpled, as if a woman had dropped it hurriedly.

The walls were covered with blue glazed tiles; and one the one facing the outer door an inscription in inlaid work caught my attention. They were just a few words, in Sanskrit, and, somehow, they affected me strangely. They were the famous words from the Upanishad:

"Recall, O mind, thy deeds--recall, recall!"

The answer was clear. I said to myself, with a little bitter pang for remember that I liked the man--that here was one who had gone fantee, who had gone native; a man who had dropped overboard all the traditions, the customs, and decencies, the virtues, the blessed, saving prejudices of his race and faith to mire himself hopelessly in the slough of a foreign race and faith. For it is true that a man who goes fantee never acquires the good, but only the bad of the alien breed with which he mingles and blends---true, moreover, that such a man can never rise again, that the doors of the house of his birth shall be forever closed to him. He has blackened the crucible of his life and he will never find a single golden bead at the bottom of it; only hatred and despair and disgust, a longing for the irreparably lost, a bitter taste in the mouth of his soul.

I started towards the door. Out into the free, open sunlight, I said to myself. For I knew what would happen. The man would come down-stairs, carrying a square bottle and glasses. Presently he would become drunk--maudlin--he would pour his mean, dirty confidences into my ear and weep on my neck and---

I reconsidered, quite suddenly. Why, this young American had not the earmarks of a man who had gone fantee. There was not that look in his eyes--that horrible, unbearable look, a composite of misery and lust, bred of bad thoughts, bad dreams, and worse hashish---

The man--I had seen him in the merciless rays of the Indian sun--was keen-eyed, clean morally and physically. His laughter was fresh. His complexion was healthy--and yes, continued my thoughts, he seemed happy, supremely, sublimely, enviably happy!

"Sorry I kept you waiting," came his voice from the farther door as he came into the room, dressed in the flowing, comfortable house robe of a wealthy native gentleman.

He must have read my gyrating, unspoken thought. Perhaps I stared a little too inquisitively at his face, for the tell-tale sign of the sordid tragedy which I suspect. For he smiled, a fine, thin smile, and he pointed to the Sanskrit inscription, reading the words out loud and with a certain gently exalted inflection as if his tongue, in forming the sonorous words, was tasting a special sort of psychic ambrosia.

"Recall, O Mind, thy deeds--recall, re--"

"Well," I blurted out, brutally, tactlessly, before I realized what I was doing, "What is the answer--to this and that and this?" pointing, in turn, at the Indian furniture, the inscription, his dressing robe, and, though the stone-framed window, at the native houses which crowded the garden on all sides.

He smiled. He was not the least bit angry, but frankly amused, like a typical, decently-bred American who can even relish a joker at his own expense. "You're an inquisitive beggar," he commenced, "but I'll tell you rather than have some gossiping cackling hen of a deputy assistant commissioner's mother-in-law tell you the wrong tale and make me lose your friendship. You see," he continued, with an air as if he was telling me a tremendous secret, "I am Stephen Denton."

"Well," I asked, "what of that? The name meant nothing to me."

"What? Have they already forgotten my name? Gosh, that's bully! In another year they will have forgotten the tale itself! You see," he continued, dropping into one of the divans and waving me down beside him, "I'm the guy whom the kid subalterns over at the British barracks call 'the man with the charmed life.'"

I gave a cry--of surprise, amazement, incredulity. For I had heard tales--vague, fantastic, incredible. "You--" I stammered, "you--are--"

"Yes," he laughed, "I am that same man. Care to hear the story?"

"You bet!" I replied fervently, and that very moment, came once more the sound of laughter from up-stairs--soft, tinkling, silvery---

CHAPTER II - The Call

I broke the night's primeval bars

I dared the old abysmal curse

And flashed through ranks of frightened stars

Suddenly on the universe!

--Rupert Brooke

STEPHEN DENTON interrupted his tale now and then with shrewd and picturesque sidelights on native life, customs, and characters which proved now deep he had got below the skin of India. But I shall omit them here--doubtless at a future date, he himself will embody them in the great book on India which he is writing--and, in the following, I shall only give the pith of his incredible tale. I only regret that there is no way of reproducing his voice with the printed word---his happy, frank voice, unmistakably American in its intonations, yet once in a while with a quaint inflection which showed that he had begun to think at times in Hindustani.

You see, he commenced, it was all originally Roos-Keppel's doing--fault, if you prefer to call it that. Roos-Keppel--"Tubby" Roos-Keppel---you must have met him over at the jockey club, or in the evening, in the Eden Gardens, driving about in his old-fashioned C-spring barouche---big, paunchy, brick-faced Britisher, who won the Calcutta Sweepstakes--in 1900. Why everybody in India knows the tale, how a sudden, mad prosperity went to his head; how he gave up his job in the Bengal Civil Service, and painted Calcutta crimson for three years; how he lost his hold on everything, including himself; everything that is, except his hospitality, his fantastic ideas, his infectious, daredevil madness.

I met him the day after I got here. How did I get here? Why? When?

Well, two years to-morrow, to answer your last question first, and as to why and how, there's a native proverb which says that fate and self--exertion are half and half in power.

I came here on a sight-seeing trip after I'd got through Yale. I had money of my own, my parents were dead, there was nobody to say no---and I had an idea it would do me good to get a nodding acquaintance with the world and its denizens before I settled down in the Back Bay section--yes--you guessed it--originally I'm just that sort of a Bostonian.

Everything back home--with the dear old, white-haired lawyer, who was my guardian, and his little plump spinster sister who kept house for him, and the black walnut furniture and the antimacassars and the bound volumes, of Emerson and Longfellow and Thoreau--it seemed all so confounded safe and sure. Even timid. Respectably, irreproachably timid, if you get the idea.

Stephen Denton smiled reminiscently.

Preordained, too, it seemed. Preordained from the mild cocktail before dinner to the hoary place on the bench I was expected to grace some day. I had every reason to be happy, don't you think? And I was happy. Quite!

And then I smelled a whiff of wanderlust. And so it happened that that red faced Britisher of a Roos-Keppel kicked me, figuratively speaking, in the stomach--and I'm grateful to him--always shall be grateful.

I met him at the jockey club. He took to me and invited me to dinner at the Hotel Semiramis, where he had a gorgeous suite of rooms. It was some little dinner--just the two of us--and you know the sort of host he is. We tried every barreled, fermented, and bottle refreshment from Syrian raki to yellow-ribbon Grand Marnier; and it was at the end of the party--I was busy with a large cup of coffee and a small glass of brandy, and he with a small cup of coffee and a large glass of brandy--that he cut loose and told me tales about India--tales in which he had been either principal or witness--and, in half an hour, he had taught me more about the hidden nooks and corners of this land than there is in all the travel books, Murray's government and missionary reports put together. What's more his tales were true.

So I asked him, like a tactless young cub: "Heavens, man, with your knowledge of India---why did you throw your chance away? Why didn't you stick to it? You would have made a great, big, bouncing, twenty-four carat success!"

"And I would have wound up with a G. C. S. I., a bloody knighthood, a pension of ten thousand rupees a year, and a two-inch space in the obituary column of the Calcutta Times--English papers please copy--when I've kicked the bally bucket!" He guffawed, and he hiccuped a little. For he had been hitting the brandy bottle, and all the other assorted bottles, like a corn-stalk sailor on a shore spree after two dry months on a lime-juicer without making port. "Success?" he continued, "why, my lad, I am a success. A number one--waterproof--and, damn my eyes, whisky-proof for that matter?"

"You are--what?" I asked, amazed for the man was serious, perfectly serious, mind you; and he kept right on with his philippic monologue, extravagant in diction and gesture, but the core of it--why it was serene, grotesquely serene! "I am a success, I repeat: don't you believe me?" He lowered a purple-veined eyelid in a fat, Falstaffian leer.

"Take a good look at these rooms of mine---best rooms in the Semiramis, in Calcutta, in India, hang it all--in the whole plurry empire!" He pointed at the gorgeous furniture and the silk hangings, "Viceroys by the score have occupied them--and the Prince of Wales--and four assorted Russian grand dukes--and three bloated Yankee plutocrats. And our little supper--look at the bottles and dishes--how much do you think it'll cost? I tell you--five hundred rupees---without the tip! And," he laughed, "I haven't even got enough of the ready to tip the black-lacquered Eurasian majordomo who uncorked our sherry and, doubtless, swiped the first glass."

I made an instinctive gesture toward my pocket-book, but he stopped me with another laugh. "Don't make a silly ass of yourself," he said. "I don't want to borrow any money. All I want to prove to you is that I live and I do as I please--forgetful of the yesterday, careless of the morrow--serene in my belief in my own particular fate. To-night I am broke--hopelessly, desperately broke, you'd call it. For I haven't got a rupee in the world. My bank-account is concave, I owe wages to my servants, I owe for my stable service and horse feed. Everything I have--even my old C-spring barouche, even my old, patched, green bedroom slippers are mortgaged. But what of it? I'll sleep to-night as quiet and untouched as a little babe, something is sure to happen tomorrow---always does happen. I always kick through--somehow--"

"But--how?" I was beginning to get worried for him--I liked him.

"How? Because I am a success--a success with reverse English. The world? Why, I put it all over this fool of a world. For I believe in myself. That's why I win out. Everybody who believes in himself wins out--in what he wants to win out. You, Denton," he went on after a short pause, "are a nice lad, clean and well-bred and no end proper. But you are too damned smug--no offense meant--you are like a respectable spinster owl with respectable astigmatism. Cut away from it. See life. Make life. Take life by the tail and swing it about your head and force it to disgorge. Take a chance--say to yourself that nothing can happen to you!"

"Pretty little theory," I interrupted.

"Theory--the devil!" he cried. "It's the truth! Don't take me as an example if you don't want to. Take people who have done real things. Take you own adored George Washington--take the Duke of Wellington, take Moltke, Ghengiz Khan, U. S. Grant, Attila, Tamerlane, Joffre, or Theodore Roosevelt! They lived through to the end until they had achieved what they wanted to achieve. They made their own fate. The bullet was not run, the sword was not forged which could kill these---for they had willed to live, willed to succeed! They--" a little superstitious hush came into his voice, "they bore the charmed life--"

He poured himself another stiff drink, gulped it down, and pointed through the open window, out at the streets of Calcutta, which lay at our feet, bathed in moonlight.

I looked, and the sight of it, the scent of it, the strange, inexpressible feel of it crept through me--yes, that's it--it crept through me. You know this town--this Calcutta--this melting pot of all India--and remember, that brick-faced reprobate of a Roos-Keppel had been telling me tales of it--grim, fantastic, true tales--and here they were at my feet, the witnesses and actors, the heroes and villains in his tales--hurrying along the street in a never-ending procession--a vast panorama of Asia's uncounted races. There were men from Bengal, black, ungainly, slightly Hebraic shuffling along on their eternal, sissified patent leather pumps. There were men some bearded Rajputs--weaponless, that being the law of Calcutta, but carrying about them somehow the scent of naked steel--and next to them their blood enemies--fur-capped, wide shouldered, sneering Afghans, with screaming voices, brushing through the crowds like the bullies they are--doubtless dreaming of loot and rapine and murder. There were furtive Madrases--"monkey men" we call them here--and a few red-faced duffle-clad hillmen from the North--thin, stunted desertmen from Bikaneer, with their lean jaws bandaged after the manner of the land, and Sikhs and Chinamen and Eurasians and what-not.

And, directly below our window, there was a Brahman priest, a slow, fanatic fire in his eyes---the light from out room caught in them--a caste mark of diagonal stripes of white and black on his forehead, chanting in Sanskrit the praises of the hero and demi-god Gandharbasena---

". . . and thus did the great hero persuade the king of Dhara to give to him in marriage his daughter. Ho! Let all men listen to the Jataka for he was the son of Indra...."

Roos-Keppel's thick, alcoholic voice sounded at my elbow. "India," he hiccuped, "and the horror, the beauty, the wonder, the cruelty, the mad color and scent which is India!" He clutched my arm. "My game's played down to the last rubber, Denton, and my score is nearly settled---but you--why. you've got a stack of chips--you are strong and young--your eyes are clear---and--Gad, I wish I had your chance! I'd take this town by the throat--I'd jump into its damned mazes, regardless of consequences. Heavens, man, can't you feel it beckon and wink and smile--and leer? Listen--" momentarily he was silent, and, from the street came a confused mass of sounds--voices in many languages, rising, then decreasing, the shouts of the street-vendors, the tinkle-tinkle of a woman's glass bracelet--the sounds leaped up like gay fragments of some mocking tunes, again like the tragic chorus of some world--old, world--sad rune. "India!" he continued, "can you resist the call of it?"

It was a psychological moment. Yes--it was that often misquoted, decidedly overworked psychological moment--the brandy and champagne fumes were working in my brain---and something tugged at my soul--if I had wings to fly from the window, to launch myself across the purple haze of the town, to alight on the flat roofs and look into the houses, the lives, the gaieties, the mysteries, the sorrows of this colorful, turbaned throng. And then everything I was--racially, traditionally, you understand--the Back Bay of Boston; the old lawyer, my preordained place on the bench, the antimacassars, Phi Beta Kappa, and all the rest of it, made a last rally in my defense.

"But," I said and I guess my voice was thin, apologetic--just as if Roos-Keppel was the driving master of my destinies, "this is said to be a dangerous place--away from the beaten paths---so what is the use of--"

"The use? The use?" he cut in, with a bellow of laughter, and then, suddenly, his voice was low and quiet "Why, just because it's dangerous, that; why you should try your chance--and your life." He pointed again through the window, east, where, on the horizon, a deep-gray smudge lay across the bent of glimmer and glitter. "See that patch of darkness?" he asked, with something of a challenge in his accents which were getting more and more unsteady, "that's the Colootallah Section--cha--charming little bunch of real estate--worst in the world, not even excepting Aden, Naples and all the wickedness and crimes of Port Said. Only two men are safe there, and they aren't quite safe," he laughed, and to my quickly interjected question, he replied, "Why, a fakir--holy man, you know--and a member of the filthy castes who thrive there--you know even criminal have their own castes in India, and they all seem to congregate there--thugs and thieves and murderers and what-not.

"Wait"--he stopped my questions with a gesture--"perhaps, mind you, I say 'perhaps,' an exceptional detective of the Metropolitan Police in Lal Bazaar may be safe there for three minutes, but--" He was silent and leered at me.

"But what?" I asked impatiently.

"I'd tackle it just the same if I were you, young and strong. No white man has done it before. By Jupiter, I'd tackle it if I had a char---char charmed life--" and quite suddenly he fell into snoring, alcoholic slumber.

I stepped out on the balcony. India was at my feet, cruel, beckoning, mysterious, scented, minatory, fascinating, inexplicable. Right then it got below my skin.

I gave a low laugh. No, I don't know why I laughed.

Stephen Denton was silent for a moment. He was thinking deeply. Then he shook his head.

Honestly, 1 don't know why I laughed. I don't know why I did any of the things I did that night, until I came to the wall at the other end of Ibrahim Khan's Gully. No, no. I had imbibed quite a little--couldn't help it--with Roos--Keppel, but I was not drunk. Not a bit of it.

Well, imagine me there on the balcony of the Semiramis, laughing at India, if you wish; perhaps at the Back Bay, perhaps at myself. I left the balcony, patted the drunken man on the shoulder, and stepped out of the hotel and into the smoky, purple night. The storm which had threatened earlier by the evening was melting into a quiet night of glowing violet, with a pale, sneering, negligent sort of a moon. A low, cool wind was blowing up from the River Hooghli.

I gave a mocking farewell bow in the direction of Park Street, the white man's Calcutta, Government House, green tea and respectability, and turned east, sharp east, toward the patch of darkness, toward the Colootallah. I walked very steadily, as if I had a definite aim and object, turned on the corner of Park Street, and there a policeman, an English policeman, stopped me.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said with that careful. Anglo-Saxon politeness, "you're goin' the wrong way, I fancy, sir. The hotel is over yonder, sir," pointing in the opposite direction; and I laughed. I pressed a rupee into his ready hand. "Hotel, nothing." I said. "I am going toward the Street of Charmed Life!"

"Right-o." commented the policeman. "Some of these 'ere native streets do 'ave funny names, don't they? But--beggin' your pardon, sir--better 'ave a care. Those streets ain't safe for a white man, least--ways at night."

"Quite safe--for me!" I assured him, and I walked on, on and on, not caring where I went---away from the thoroughfares, through grimy little gardens in the back of opium dens where the brick paths were hollow and slimy with the tread of many naked, unsteady feet; then through a greasy, packed wilderness of three-storied houses, perfectly respectable Babu houses, from which a faint, acrid smell seemed to emanate; on, twisting and turning, through the Burra Bazaar and the Jora Bagan--you know the sections, don't you, and their New York counterpart, the Bowery and Hell's Kitchen--and then up into the crooked mazes of the Machua Bazaar--evil, filthy, packed.

On and on, farther and farther away, and at every corner, in every doorway, there were new faces, new types, new voices, new odors, until I came to the Colootallah.

How did I know I was there? Oh, I asked a native, decent sort he was, though he was a bit unsteady with opium, and, just like the English policeman, he advised me to go back to Park Street.

Perhaps he was right. For a moment I was quite sure that he was right, but I walked on, through streets that grew steadily more narrow. You know how narrow they can be, with a glimpse of smoky sky above the roofs revealing scarcely three yards of breadth, and all sorts of squirmy, squishy things underneath your feet, and shawls, and bit of underwear, and turban clothes hanging from the windows and balconies and flopping unexpectedly into your face, and beggars, and roughs, and lepers slinking and pushing against you, jabbering, quarreling, begging; and the roadway ankle-deep in thick slime, and a fetid stink hanging over it all like a cloud; and the darkness, the bitter darkness---black blotched, compact, except for a haggard moon-ray shooting down occasionally from above and glancing off into the cañon of the street from bulbous roof and crazy, tortured balcony.

By ginger, I was sick for a moment. I said to myself that there was a steamer sailing the next day--home and America via Liverpool--and I was about to turn when---

Wait a second.

Get first where I was, though you'll never find the place. You'll hear the reason why later on. You see, I had meanwhile turned up a narrow street; it was quite lonely there; not a soul, not a footstep, hardly a sound. They called the place then--mind you, I said then--Ibrahim Khan's Gully. It was typical of its sort. Whitewashed walls without windows or doors, mysterious, useless-looking to right and to left; and straight in front of me, at the end of the gully, was another wall. It sat there at the end of that cul-de-sac like a seal of destiny, portentous threatening. The moon was pretty well behaved and bright just then, and so I looked at that wall. It impressed me.

It was perhaps ten feet high, and it seemed to be the support of some roof-top for it was crowned with rather an elaborate balustrade of carved, fretted stone. At a certain distance behind it rose another higher wall, then another, still higher, and so on; as if the whole block was terraced from the center toward the gully. To the left and right the wall stretched, gradually rising into the dark without a break, it seemed, and surmounted here and there by the fantastic outline of some spire or balcony or crazy, twisted roof, the whole thing a confounded muddle of Hindu architecture, with apparently neither end nor beginning--mad, brusk, useless--like a harebrained giant's picture-puzzle.

There I stood and stared. I said to myself, "Back, you fool? Straight home with you to Boston, to the bound volumes of Emerson, to the mild cocktail--and I wonder who'll win the mile at the Intercollegiate--" And then--and I remember it as if it was to-day, it was just in the middle of that thought about the mile race--I heard a voice directly above me.

It was a woman's voice, singing in that quaint, minor wail of Eastern music. Perhaps you know the words. I have learned them by heart---

You are to me the gleam of sun

That breaks the gloom of wintry rain;

You are to me the flower of time---

O Peacock, cry again!

"Bravo, bravo!" I shouted. For you see I was only a fool of an outsider, looking into this night--wrapped, night-sounding India as I would look at a fantastic play, and then suddenly the song broke off, came another voice, harsh, hissing, spitting, the sound of a hand slapping bare flesh, and then a piercing shriek. A high-pitched, woman's shriek that shivered the night air, that somehow shivered my heart.

I must help that woman, but--"Home you fool, you silly, meddling idiot." said my saner ego "This is no quarrel of yours." "Take a chance," replied another cell in my brain. "Take a chance with chance! See what all this talk about a charmed life is!"

No, no, I decided the next moment it was mad. Impossible. A native house, a native woman--they were sacred. Not even the police would dare enter without a search warrant; and this was the Colootallah, the worst section of Calcutta; and I knew next to nothing about India, about the languages, the customs, the prejudices of the land, except what Roos-Keppel had told me.

"Hai-hai-hai!" came once more the piercing, woman's wail: and right then I consigned Back Bay and safety first to the devil. I made for that wall with a laugh, perhaps a prayer.

A charmed life! By the many hecks, I'd find out presently I said to myself, as I jumped on a narrow ledge a few feet from the ground, from which I could clutch the top of the stone balustrade.

Up!

I swung myself into the unknown, balanced for the fraction of a second on the balustrade, then let myself drop. I struck something soft and bulky that squirmed swiftly away. Came a grunt and a curse--at least, it sounded suspiciously like a curse--then somebody struck a light which blinded me momentarily.

And at that very moment the bell from the Presbyterian Church in Old Court House Street struck the midnight hour.

CHAPTER III - A Fool's Heart

Oft have I heard that no accident or chance ever mars the march of events here below, and that all moves in accordance with a plan. To take shelter under a common bough or a drink of the same river is alike ordained from ages prior to our birth.

--From the letter of a Japanese Daimio to his wife before committing hara-kari

RAPIDLY my eyes got used to the light. It came from a flickering, insincere oil-lamp held in the hands of an elderly Hindu, evidently the possessor of the soft and bulky body which I had struck when I had let myself drop.

He looked at me, and I looked at him, silently. I am quite sure we didn't like each other. We didn't have to say a single word to convince each other of the fact. He was an old man, but old without the slightest trace of dignity, he wore no turban, and that gave his shiny, shaven head a horribly naked look. On his forehead was a crimson caste mark--nasty-looking thing it was. His eyes were hopelessly bleared, his teeth were blackened with betel juice, his rough, gray beard was quite a stranger to comb or oil. He was a fat, ridiculous old man, with a ridiculous, squeaky little cough.

I burst out laughing, and I laughed louder when I saw the expression which crept into his red-rimmed eyes. Not that the expression was really funny. Rather this opposite. For it was one of beastly hatred, of savage joy, of sinister triumph. But, don't you see, I wasn't the Stephen Denton of half a year, why, of half an hour before. Right then I had forgotten all about America and Boston and regulation respectability. There seemed to be no home tradition to analyze and criticize and I belonged right there--to that flat rooftop, to the purple, choking night down below in Ibrahim Khan's Gully, to India, to Calcutta. One blow of my fist, I said to myself, and that fat, ridiculous old savage would take an involuntary, headlong tumble from the balustrade to the blue, sticky mire of the gully. So I laughed.

But hold on. Don't get the story wrong. I didn't stand there, on that roof-top in the Colootallah, exactly thinking out all these impressions, detail for detail. They passed over me in a solid wave and in the fraction of a second, and, even as they swept through me, the lamp in the hands of the old man trembled a little and shot its haggard, dirty-white rays a little to the left, toward a short, squat, carved stone pillar quite close to the balustrade.

And there, breathing hard, clutching the pillar with two tiny, narrow hands, I saw a native woman--a young girl rather--doubtless she whom I had heard sing, then scream in pain. Red, cruel finger-marks were still visible on her delicate, pale-golden cheek.

Stephen Denton lit a cigar and blew out a series of rings, attempting to hang them on the chandelier, one by one.

You know (he said this with a certain, ringing, challenging seriousness) I fell in love right then and there. Sounds silly, of course. But it's the truth. I looked at that Hindu girl, and I loved her. Such a--a--why, such a strange, inexpressible sensation came over me. It seemed suddenly that we were alone--she and I--on the roof-top in Calcutta--alone in all the world---

But never mind that I guess you know what love is.

She was hardly more than sixteen years old, and she dressed in the conventional dress of a Hindu dancer, in a sari--you know, the scarf which the Hindu woman drapes about her with a deft art not dreamed of by Fifth Avenue--of pale rose colored silk, shot with orange and violet and bordered with tiny seed-pearls. An edge of the sari hung over one round shoulder and the robe itself came just below the knee. Her face was small and round and exquisitely chiseled. Her hair was parted in the middle. It was of a glossy bluish--black, mingled with flowers and jewels and the braids came down to her ankles. A perfume, sweet, pungent, mysterious, so faint as to be little more than a suggestion, hovered about her.

Well--I stared at her. Then I remembered my manners and lifted my hand to raise my hat. It wasn't there. I must have dropped it when I negotiated the wall and the girl, seeing my action, understanding it, forgot her pain and laughed. Such a jolly silvery, exquisite little laugh.

Ever think of the psychology of laughter? To me it has always seemed the final proof of sympathy, of humanity, even. And so that laugh, from the crimson lips of this Hindu girl, finally did the trick. I forgot all about the fat old party with the caste mark and the bleary eyes, I walked up to the girl and offend her my hand, American fashion.

"Glad to meet you," I said in English. It was a foolish thing to say, absolutely ridiculous, but just then I couldn't think of anything else. You see, at midnight, on the roof-top of some unknown native house in the heart of the Colootallah, together with people of an unknown race and faith, of alien tradition, alien emotions, even---what would you have said?

I struck to my native-born form of salutation, and held out my hand. She gave me hers--it felt just like some warm, downy little baby bird--and replied in English, with a certain faint nuance of mockery, "Glad to meet you, sir," and I grinned and was about to open up a polite conversation.

You see, momentarily I had really forgotten all about that bleary-eyed old scoundrel. But he recalled himself to me almost immediately--with an exceedingly rude and, considering his age, muscular push which shoved me to one side and the girl to the other.

There he stood between us, like an exageratingly hideous Hindu idol of revenge and hatred and lust and half a dozen other assorted beastly qualities, the lamp trembling in his clawlike hand. He pointed at me, addressing the girl in a mad, jerky, helter-skelter flood of Hindustani--I didn't understand it--which caused the girl to pale and to shake her head vigorously. It was evidence that he was accusing her of something or other, and that she was denying the accusation indignantly. And then he commenced abusing her in English, doubtless for my benefit.

I was stuffing his mouth at once with my fist, but the girl signaled to me, frantically, imploringly, "No, no"--I saw her lips shaping the words and so, temporarily I kept me peace while the old Hindu proceeded to prove that he could translate Hindu abuse into very fair English.

"Ho!" he shouted at her. "Ho! thou daughter of unthinkable begatting! Thou spawn of much filth. Thou especially illegitimate and shameless hyena! Thou this and that and once more this! By Shiva and Shiva--I shall wench thy wicked hide with the touchstone of pain and affliction! I shall--"

"Look here" I interrupted "you are getting entirely too fresh. Stow your line of talk, or--" and I made a significant gesture with my fist---would have hit him, too, if the girl had not signaled to me again--this time, and I don't know what she wanted by it, pointing at her forehead and then back at the building which terraced toward the center of the block.

The Hindu man was too angry to notice the by-play. "O Calamity!" he went on. "O crimson shame! May Doorgha, the great goddess, cut out thy heart and feed it to a mangy pig! What shameless doing are these--O thou bazaar woman--to send word to thy lover--to have him come here, to this house, and at night? Didst thou think that I would be asleep? Thy lover--" he spat out, "and he a man of the accused foreign race, an infidel, an eater of unclean food, a cannibal of the holy cow, a swinish derider of the many gods! He--thy lover! Ah! by the Mother of the Elephant's Trunk--thy portion shall be the pain which passeth understanding!" Suddenly he turned and addressed himself to me, "and as for thee--for thee--" He was so choked with fury that the words were gurgled and died in his throat. He positively did not know whom to insult or bully first, the girl or me. Like Balaam's Ass, he stood there, undecided, and finally he made up his mind to attend first to the girl.

"Thou--" came an unmentionable epithet, unmentionable even among Hindus, and you know how extravagant their abuse is inclined to be, then he turned on her. His right hand still held the trembling lamp. He struck out with his left. She tried to evade him--slipped--I was too late to come to her rescue--only a glancing blow, but she fell, bumping her head smartly against the stone pillar.

She gave a pitiful little moan--and was unconscious.

Then I got mad.

I rushed up to him, lunged, and missed. You see, the old beggar danced away from me with a certain sharp, twisting agility which I wouldn't have believed possibly in that aged, obese body of his. Also, I had to be careful--on that confounded roof-top. No use tumbling over the balustrade and breaking my neck. That wouldn't have helped the girl any. The only chance I had was to get him against the wall on the side opposite the gully--a torn-down wall occasionally connecting the rooftop with the next layer on that maze of buildings.

Finally I managed to drive him toward the wall. I had him cornered. He stood there--the lamp still flickering in his right, its ray sharply silhouetting him against the spectral white stucco. I was quite fascinated for a moment, looking at him. The idea flushed into my brain that I was looking into the visage of something monstrous, impossible. The beastly bald skull, the caste mark, the fat, wide-humped shoulders, suggested that which was scarcely human and, struck by a sudden burst of horror, I stared into that dark, inscrutable countenance.

Then he opened his mouth--he said something, in a low voice of what was going to happen to me. It had something to do with one of his beastly, many-armed gods--I didn't understand the allusion at the time. At all events, he pointed at the caste mark on his forehead and---

You see, I am a slow, careful sort of fighter. I hate to waste a blow. Furthermore, up to then we had all been comparatively quiet. I didn't care to make too much noise. And I had him cornered. So, instead of rushing up like a noisy avalanche, I poised myself on my toes, squared my shoulders, drew back my right arm--and then I nearly lost the whole game. For, quite suddenly, he brought his left hand to his mouth. He was about to shout--for help, I suppose. And then I hit him, right between the eyes, By ginger, it was a wallop.

You see, I was quite mad; and even in that fleeting moment, when I had really no time to register sensations, I could feel his skin break beneath my knuckles, the soft, pulped flesh--the blood squirting up--and, darn it, I liked the feeling!

Stephen Denton gave a strange smile.

Rather bestial, don't you think? But then I told you I was a different man--there, on that roof-top, with purple India whispering about me--than I had been half an hour before.

Well, the old Hindu fell, unconscious, by the side of the girl. The lamp dropped from his hand. I tried to catch it, could not, and over the balustrade it went in a fantastic curve of yellow sparks, and down into the blue slime of Ibrahim Khan's Gully where it gave a little protesting sshissh and guttered out.

So there I was, on that confounded roof-top, in utter silence, utter darkness--the moon had hidden behind a cloud-bank--and within a few feet of me was the unconscious form of the girl---the Hindu girl--with whom I had fallen in love---and I knew neither her name, nor her faith--nor anything at all about her. An adventure, don't you think? An adventure--to me. Fantastic, twisted, incredible! And, a few hours before, I had imagined that the greatest adventure that could ever happen to me would be to catch a fifty pound salmon, and to get away with the tale of it!

But, just then, I didn't even consider the whole mad sequence of events in the light of adventure. It seemed all perfectly sane, perfectly possible--preordained, in a way--and I thought and acted with the utmost self-assurance and deliberation.

Was I afraid, you ask? I was not. Honestly! Sounds silly, bragging, doesn't it? But it's the truth. Of course I realized that my position was ugly. You see, there was that blotchy, purple darkness all about me, and a terrific, breathless silence--and what was I to do? Back across the wall? Into Ibrahim Khan's Gully--and a run for the Hotel Semiramis? Sure, I could have jumped down. I had learned the trick in gym work, back at college--to land on my toes, slightly bending my back and my legs.

But I didn't take that chance. I could not. For there was the girl, and I loved her. She was dear to me--very dear--dearer than my life, my salvation--dearer--what's the old saying?--yes, dearer than the dwelling of kings! Carefully, slowly I crept across to her side, for I didn't want to step on the old Hindu. I didn't want to recall him from his trance before I was ready for him, before I had decided exactly what to do.

I stooped down and touched the girl's soft little face. The touch went through me like an electric thrill. What was I to do? She was breathing, but quite unconscious. I had no way, no time to revive her.

Should I take her with me across the balustrade? Impossible. I couldn't drag her into the gully like a bag of flour, nor was it feasible for me to go down first--wouldn't be able to reach and lift her from below.

I was sure of only one thing. I wouldn't leave without her--without her I wouldn't leave that roof-top, the Colootallah, nor Calcutta, nor India.

I loved her. I wanted her. I would die for her. The source of that rash courage will ever be to me an inexplicable mystery. For, don't you see, I had always lived a perfectly sheltered life back in Boston, with the antimacassars and the walnut furniture and the volumes of Emerson and Thoreau. But I had resolved to take that girl with me. No more, nor less!

So I squatted there, by the side of the girl, considering. It is strange how trivial things impinge on the consciousness in such moments with a shock of something important, immense. There was just a slight noise--a soft tckk-tckktckk--but, somehow, I knew what it was. It was the noise of a scorpion scuttling across the roof---to the left of me--towards the old Hindu.

I knew just exactly what would happen---tried my best, with a sharp hiss, to prevent it--but it did happen. The little scorpion, if, indeed, it was one--perhaps it was only a mouse--scurried across the old Hindu's face--startled him into consciousness.

He sat up. He gave a shout for help--just one shout. I was one top of him the very next second--but I could not clutch that shout out of the air--it echoed and reverberated among the terraced walls, sharp, metallic. It tore through the gloom like the point of a knife.

I had him down on his back again in the twinkling of an eye, had him gagged securely with my handkerchief and the heavy leather gloves I carried in my pocket. Working feverishly, I tore the silk scarf from the girl's shoulder, tore off my coat, my necktie--and had him tied before he knew what was happening to him.

Then I sat up and listened. With a little gray thrill of horror I realized that the cry for help had been heard, that the crisis was upon me. Far in the bowels of that crazy mass of terrace buildings I heard confused voices--footsteps.

Tap-tap-tap--naked feet stepping gingerly on cold stone slabs.

A dozen questions leaped to my brain. What could I do? How? The old man--myself--the girl---

Yes! The girl whom I loved. At that moment I longed for two things, two things of Western civilization: a revolver and a box of matches. But I had neither the one nor the other about me. All I had was a knife, a pretty good knife, too, very much like an old-fashion Bowie. I had bought it the day I left America, in a spirit of jest, rather than with the expectation of using it.

The footsteps came nearer and nearer from the direction of the wall which connected the rooftop with the next building. I looked about me, for a place to hide the girl, to hide myself.

And the old man! Over the wall with him, I decided brutally, and I dragged at his feet--he was heavy, very heavy--and then I desisted. For the footsteps came nearer, ever nearer; also excited voices in an unintelligible language.

For a moment the voices were drowned in a round, metallic burst of sound. Banng! came the bell from the Presbyterian Church in Old Court House Street, tolling the quarter after midnight. Then, when the tolling had trembled away, came once again the sounds--nearer, nearer--voices, footsteps, and also a faint crackling of steel, the swish of a scabbard scraping across stone flags.

And the darkness was about me like a heavy, woolen garment.

Stephen Denton smiled, quizzically, incongruously.

Don't you see? He continued when he saw the expression of surprise on my face, the thing was really quite funny. The adventure itself seemed to me--oh, sort of inevitable, like a Greek drama: and as to the darkness--why, old man, that moon there behind the cloud-bank reminded me of some dear old chaperone at a ball at Magnolia. Prime her with a ball of knitting wool, a glass of near-soft punch, and pop her into a nice warm conservatory, and she'll remain there until the band plays "Good Night, Ladies" and not bother the young idea. Get it? So is was with that moon. Kept away, left everything blotchy, dark side of by itself. Me and the girl, and the old man and the whole damned rooftop.

Yes, I thought of all that at the time. But I acted, even as I thought, as if I had two sets of nerve-controls, working separately from each other. I moved about in the darkness, feverishly, searching for some hiding-place big enough to hold one or all of us--the footsteps and the voices were coming nearer all the time--and finally I discovered that the balustrade, built out towards the roof-top, formed a sort of box for a length of about six feet. Did I put the girl inside? You bet your life I did not! I told you I wasn't going to leave her ever again. I stuck the old man inside, handled him as I would a bundle of useless, dirty rags; and the next moment, with the strength and haste of desperation, I picked up the unconscious girl, and, holding her in my arms, I squeezed myself behind the carved stone pillar against which she had been leaning when I had burst upon the scene. The place was just large enough to hold us--me and her--pressed tight against me.

Of course, the whole thing took less time than it takes me to tell it.

So, there I was, holding that little Hindu girl in my arms--and--why, man, I loved her--unless the repetition of that detail bores you--my arms touched the soft curves of her young shoulders.

It was quite dark, as I told you. But there, resting on my left arm, was her little face, like an opening flower. Only a slip of a girl, her youthful incompleteness just a lovely sketch for something larger, finer, more splendid--just a mass of happy, seductive hints, with the high-lights yet missing.

That's it! You guessed it first time! I kissed her--either my last kiss on this earth I said to myself; or if there was any truth in that charmed life hope, my first kiss--given, taken rather, in real love.

And, as I pressed her closer against me in the ecstasy of the moment--you see, I had forgotten all about the approaching footsteps, I am such a careless fellow--I felt as if something was giving way behind me. Quickly I squirmed, a few inches to the right--there wasn't so very much room, and at the same moment a door opened up in the wall in back of the pillar, leading up from somewhere in that crazy maze of a building.

The swing of the door missed me by a fraction of an inch--I sucked in my breath--and two men came out on the roof-top carrying naked blades.

No! I didn't see the blades, but both, one after the other, scraped against me, cutting through trousers and underwear like razors.

They wounded me slightly, but I made neither motion nor outcry. For there, in my arms was the girl who was dearest to me in all the world; and so, just for luck, I bent down and kissed her again.

CHAPTER IV - Depths

Vainly the heart on Providence calls, such aid to seek were hardly wise For man must own the pitiless law the sways the globe and sevenfold skies--From the Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi

WHAT saved me then was the Oriental negligence, the Oriental carelessness as to details, which--and that's my own discovery---the only thing that is keeping India and the rest of Asia in the rear of Western progress.

An American watchman, hearing a cry for help, might possibly have forgotten his gun. But never his lamp! With these two Hindus it was just the opposite; armed to the teeth they were, judging from the swish and crackle of steel which syncopated their movements about the roof-top, but they carried neither lamp, nor candle, nor even a match. They moved about there in the dark, searching, groping, tapping and were, of course, very much astonished when they didn't find anybody. I was sure that the old ruffian in the cupboard beneath the balustrade nearly caused his eyes to pop out of his head with effort to shout out to them, to tell them where he was. But my gloves were a good gag--with a fine, healthy, tannic acid taste to them, I guess.

Yes, they were astonished and amazed. At least, I gathered as much from the guttural exclamations. They called on a variety of Hindi deities to be witness to their predicament, but the native gods weren't helping much that night. Just then, a little black-and-yellow box of Swedish matches--prosaic, matter-of-fact Occidental matches--would have beaten Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, and Parvati herself into a cocked hat.

But those two steel-rattling fools did not know it. They just groped about, and searched, and cursed a little, and finally they seemed to decide that, though they themselves had come to the roof-top via the only aperture that led out from the building itself, there was only one other way--from Ibrahim Khan's Gully, across the balustrade--the way I had taken. So one of them swung over the wall, I heard him land on his feet, with a little soft plop, like some great cat, and with a metallic, grating noise as the tip of his scabbard bumped against the ground; and a moment later I heard him down below, walking up and down, up and down, as if he was patrolling the Gully.

By this time I was getting decidedly uncomfortable. The front of me was all right, with that little soft, warm bundle of humanity held tight in my arms. But the back of me! Pressed against the confounded stone wall, with about an inch of sharp bronze door-hinge boring into a choice spot of my anatomy! It was that which I minded. Funny, don't you think? There I was, balancing precariously on the edge of the unknown, and it wasn't my ultimate fate which I feared. I didn't even think of it. The only thing that mattered was that one little pang of pain in the small of my back.

A smile flickered on Stephen Denton's lips. It was not exactly a smile of amusement, nor altogether a smile of triumph. Anyway, here's how he continued:

I was pretty good at college, sort of solid and reliable; I played tackle straight through my lessons--didn't slip and slide and run about the side-lines.

Don't you get me? Well, put it this was, then:

I went in for the sound and heavy and recognized in learning, and didn't care much for apologies. Regular chief in the tribe of the Philistines I was! Psychology? That was a word always on the lips of some of my classmates, as an excuse, an explanation for almost anything. I didn't care for it at all.

I always thought that a psychologist is like a man who is looking for his spectacles and finally finds them on his own nose, after looking on everybody's else's nose--the sort of a man who loses his spectacles--what? By putting them in the wrong place? Why, no! By putting them in the right place! That's how he loses them! Well, I didn't. I wasn't a psychologist, nor any other sort of intellectual, self-analytical jackass. Perhaps I was too stupid--and it turned out to be lucky for me that night, on the flat roof-top in the heart of Colootallah, with every wickedness and crime and cruelty and superstition in India floating and breathing and bunching somewhere about me in the purple, choking darkness, with my love in my arms! For--as I should and would have done had I been a junior Münsterberg--I did not stop to dissect and label the psychology of fear and apprehension, as exemplified in myself.

Perhaps I didn't have the time. All I meant to do--I had made up my mind to do--was to get rid of the pain in my back, and to get the little girl somewhere where there wouldn't be a witless hairbreadth of destiny between her life and mine.

But how?

Of course, my first inclination was to assault the Hindu who had remained behind--I could hear him breathe, near me, in the gloom--in fact, to kill him. Yes, to kill him! Remember, I told you I was beginning to feel myself part of the Colootallah scenery, including the--ah!---primeval emotions of that charming neighborhood. But, if I was a caveman in emotions, I was also a caveman in instinctive, safety-first cunning. I said to myself that I could not kill without making a noise--and there was my Hindu's sidekick prowling about in the Gully. What then? I could not stay all night behind the pillar, even supposing the pain in my back should cease. For, in another few hours, it would be morning, and before that old lady Moon might get it into her head almost any time to pop out from behind her banks of clouds and treat us to a silver bath.

No hope in front of me, thus! But in back of me there was a door, the only solid nail on which to hang my plan. If it had been door enough to let the two Hindu out on the roof-top, It was bound to be door enough to let me away from the roof-top.

I acted on that idea as soon as I thought of it. The door was still ajar. Quite noiselessly, the girl in my arms, I squirmed around the edge of it, and I felt steps under my feet.

Right then I drew a good, long breath the first in about three eternities, it seemed to me---and I eased the strain on my muscles by letting the warm little burden in my arms slip down until the tips of her toes touched the ground.

What--did I lock the door behind me? You bet your life I did--not!

There was a latch, and I could have barred those snooping beggars out, but what possible good would that have done? Sooner or later they were bound to give up their search and to report to whomever had sent them; and their suspicions would only have increased if they had found that somebody had locked them out. No, I left the door open, and, once more pressing the little Hindu girl tight against my chest, I groped my way down the stairs, slowly, carefully, perhaps a couple of dozen steps, worn, slippery and hollow by the trend of naked feet, down, straight down.

There was not even the faintest ray of light. But I held to my course, the burden in my arms getting heavier every second, carefully setting foot before foot, and finally landing dead against the wall. I gave my forehead a terrific bump and jarred my whole body. It was providential that the girl didn't regain consciousness, for just then I should have had a devil of a time explaining to her.

Presently, by groping tentatively here and there, I discovered that I had debouched on a narrow landing which stretched right and left. What now? I had to turn somewhere, and I chose the left, for not particular reason. But I have often since wondered what would have happened, how the whole thing would have ended, had I gone the other way, although a few minutes later I decided that my eventual choice of directions had been singularly unfortunate.

Still, in the end, it didn't turn out that way.

You see (Stephen Denton made a vast, circular gesture) here I am, and--Never mind, old man. Let me resume my muttons.

He laughed at the word.

Muttons with a vengeance! If not muttons, then at least goats; same family of ruminant animals, aren't they? For, as I walked down, the landing a perfectly brutal, goatish smell seemed to drift from the unknown goal toward which I was making. I wondered if on top of all the other sanitary iniquities the Hindu was the habit of keeping pens in the middle of their living-houses. But I wasn't going to let a smell, any smell, swerve me from my course. Goats or no goats, I walked on, on for several minutes along the outside which twisted and turned, rose and dipped like some crazy stone snake, and all the time I felt the pat-pat-pat of the little girl's heart-beats, softly beating, against my own heart, as if trying to blend, to mix with it.

Once I stopped. For, from a great distance it seemed, the bell of the Presbterian church on Old Court House Street was tolling the half-hour; and I, don't you see--I was going away from the bell, from the church and all it implied--civilization, Christianity, safety--away from Boston and mild cocktails and Phi Beta Kappa! "Come back!" tolled the bronze-tongued bell, and the sounds of it seemed to pour through the glassy, grooved floor as though from cellars and tunnels where they lay stored beneath the house, beneath the Colootallah, beneath all India. They sang and trembled about me: "Come back, Come back!" But I---

Well, I told the fool bell to go chase itself. I kept on--yes, in the general direction of that brutal odor.

Presently, though the smell increased in intensity, in a certain unspeakable corroding acidity, it seemed to become less goatish; but, too, it seemed to hold some vague horror.

Doesn't seem reasonable, does it, to be afraid of a smell? But I was, in a way; and heretofore I hadn't been afraid at all! Of course, I controlled my nascent fear immediately. Had to, you see, with all the world's treasures to my arms. But I was in a peculiar state of mind. I put my feet down carefully, but mechanically, and my mind seemed suddenly detached from my bodily sensations, as if it was trying to grope ahead of my body into the dark, to warn, to reassure. Somehow I felt that I had stepped into a hollow; not a hollow of the earth, but one of time.

Still I kept on, and all at once it seemed to me that the smell was directly in front of me, coming from below my feet. I groped in the dark. I had come to the end of the corridor; but there was a door set slant-ways into the wall. There was a handle. I gripped it The door opened easily. I stepped inside, and the door shut behind me with a little dull, soft thud of finality.

A moment later I thought I had been too rash. Holding the girl in my left arm, I tried to open the door with my right; but it was impossible. I could not even budge it.

Stephen Denton smoked for a while in silence, a silence suddenly broken by the strumming of a native guitar which drifted down the stairs. He smiled.

Can you imagine, he continued, to step from utter silence and darkness into a room with a bright light? Why, no! What is there to apprehend, to startle you, even in a bright light? You know it comes from somewhere, through some mechanical or natural agency, don't you?

What startled me into stark, breathless immobility was a faint noise--a faint, rasping noise, the like of which I had never heard before.

Not that, with my back against a cold, moist wall, the girl in my left arm with her feet touching the ground. I had time to run in my memory over all the noises I had ever heard. But I knew that was it--I knew that the noise which I heard had a sinister, grim connection with the fetid scent which had drifted down the corridor in front of me, and, too, that it held in itself a terrible menace. It wasn't a hissing, nor a barking, nor a scraping. It seemed more like a tremendous vibration that filled the space about me, that seemed to close in on me; and while I was not afraid--how could I have been with her in my arms? I felt, sort of dimly, a rushing wonder as to the aspect, the source, the nature, yes as though it may seem silly to you--the all-fired use and necessity of that unknown noise! I want you to feel that noise as I felt it--yes, felt it more than heard it--perhaps a combination of the two sensations. I seemed to both feel and hear somebody, something listening in the dark! Presently the impression grew into positive knowledge, and then--I guess there's some scientific connecting-link between seeing and hearing and smelling--at that very same moment the fetid smell rose against me like a solid wall, and I saw two small, oblong, green lights--and they appeared to be flat.

You know, I wouldn't have minded so much if those two green lights had seemed rounded, globular. What startled me was the fact that they were quite flat. Mad, don't you think? But true, old man!

And the door was shut behind me; and I and the girl who was all the world and all the world's salvation to me were imprisoned with that strange, humming vibration, the terrible, fetid odor, the flat oblong, green lights!

What was I to do? Get my arms free for action, for savage battle, for whatever might happen--that was the first!

I turned a little to the left to let the girl slip gently to the floor.

And then my heart stood still, quite still. The blood in my veins felt exactly like freezing water!

For as I turned I saw two more that, green lights. But they were less distinct than the others. Sort of vague, wiped-over--that's how they looked; and they were in the wall, like jewels in a deep-setting. I raised my right hand to crush them, to pluck them out; and then I laughed.

I am sure I laughed--at myself.

You see, the moment my hand was in one line with them they disappeared; and then I knew the second pair of green lights was only a reflection of the first pair, the slimy, dank wall acting as a mirror; and so I propped the girl against the wall, drew my knife, and turned back to face once more the unknown danger.

The vibrations were increasing in intensity; the green lights swerved and swayed here and there like gigantic fireflies; and I was a little afraid, perhaps because my love was not in my arms any more; and so I commenced whistling to regain my self-confidence. I whistled quite well, very softly. I used to practice it years ago in prep school to annoy my teachers.

Imagine me standing there like a fool in that inky-black room in the heart of the Colootallah, shielding a Hindu girl, a girl whose name I didn't know and whom I had finally decided to take with me to the very end of life--facing I didn't know what unknown horror and iniquity, and whistling--whistling one of those slow, dreamy, peaches-and-cream Hawaiian melodies, the "Waikiki Moonlight," if I remember rightly, with a little drooping sob to every third note.

I am glad that it was dark and that there was no mirror down there in which to behold myself. I am sure I must have cut a laughable figure--I can imagine it with my hair, since I was a little scared, standing out like ruffled feathers, my eyes wide open and staring into those flat, green, ghastly things in front of me, my jaw a trifle dropped, and my lips pointed, whistling that sentimental poppycock about the dear old silvery moonlight on dear old Waikiki beach. Gosh!

But presently the impression grew on me--to become a stony certainty almost immediately---that those swaying green things in front of me were becoming more quiet, more stationary, the longer and softer I whistled. Too, the vibration, while it did not cease, became indifferent, less terrible and minatory; seemed to lose some of its menacing, crouching, intensity.

A few more staves about moonlight and Liliuokalani and Waikiki, and the vibrations had blended completely into a soft, contented--well a mixture between a purr and a hiss.

What did I do? Why I kept right on whistling. You just bet I did! I must have gone through my entire lengthy repertory of sentimental mush--German tunes, American, Hawaiian, Irish and Greaser! And, which is the incredible part of it, the true, inevitable part, that one little accomplishment saved my life that night.

I was beginning at about No. 33 on my musical program--by this time the green things, had become quite stationary and something like a milky veiled film had settled over them when there was a soft rushing noise, but not at all a terrifying noise, the green lights were blotted out altogether, and something hove up out of the dark: it brushed up against me, it poured over my feet and ankles with the soft, pliable weight of a huge steel cable--something mighty and very cold! I stood there like a statue if a statue can tremble a little--and the coiled, steely, thing drew itself up, up the length of my legs, around my waist with a great turn over my shoulders; then, without any apparent effort, still farther up, over my head a foot or so encircling my neck--the next moment one end of it touched my cheek with a soft, gentle, caressing gesture.

A cobra! yes--a cobra!

That huge reptile had heard me whistle perhaps it was some sob catch in my way of whistling which did the trick, which reminded the snake of the plaintive notes which the snake--charmer produces from his flat reed pipe.

Anyway, there it was, encircling my body, gently touching my cheeks. Fancy though---wasn't it?--to consider the there, in that rabbits' warren of a building with every one's hand against me, a cobra--most hated and feared of animals--was the only living thing which seemed to have a sort of affection for me!

What did I do? Oh, I patted its head, and I have a vague, shameful recollection that I addressed the great, slimy brute as "good old pussy"--but, whatever it was, it pleased her: and if ever a snake purred, that snake purred!

Presently it must have thought that there had been enough caressing for the time being, for, with one final, deep vibrating hiss-purr, it slid down my body and with a slightly wiggle of farewell which nearly knocked me off my feet, it scooted off.

I didn't waste much time in putting two and two together. For a cobra in India in a building---meant priests and a temple.

You see, I had done quite a little sight-seeing in Calcutta; I had also studied my guide-book, and had talked to several seasoned old Anglo-Indians, Roos-Keppel included; and I remembered what I had seen and read and heard--about the sacred king-cobra which the Hindus keep in stone caves at the feet of some of their idols, how the Brahmans go down and feed them, and how tame the reptiles become.

Don't you see? I was just in such a snake den, and I said to myself that the way of getting out of it was the way by which the priest brought down the food--they can't throw it down, you know, since cobras drink a good deal of milk--a way which must lead, not back to the landing whence I had come, but straight into the temple. So I groped and tapped about the walls and the low ceiling, and finally I found a curved metal handle. A jerk and a twist--and half the ceiling slid to one side, into a well-oiled groove, sending down a flood of haggard, indifferent light. I picked up the little Hindu girl, who was still unconscious, lifted her gently through the hole in the ceiling, and followed after.

The room in which I found myself was lit by the dull-red, scanty glow which came from an open-work silver brazier swinging on chains from the vaulted ceiling--a dull-red glow sadly mingling with a few pale moon-rays breaking through a tiny window high up on the left wall.

For a few seconds I was bewildered---couldn't quite locate myself. Directly in front of the opening--I saw that plain enough--was a huge, bestial Hindu idol--an image of Shiva in his incarnation as Natarajah, "Lord of the Dance" I remembered that from the other temples I had seen.

You can imagine what the idol looked like---its right leg in the air in a fantastic curve, the left pressed upon the figure of a dwarf; in the whirling hair a cobra, a skull, a mermaid figure of the river Ganges, and the crescent moon; in the right ear a man's earring, in the left a woman's; and with four arms--one holding a drum, and another fire, while the third was raised, and the fourth pointed to the lifted foot--and the whole act on a huge lotus pedestal.

From an incense-burner in the farther corner a mass of scented smoke, swirled up, darkening the air with a solid, bloated shadow--and everything seemed shapeless, veiled, wreathed in floating vapors.

Presently my eyes got used to the dim half--light. I discovered that the temple was fair-sized, and that it contained no furniture nor ornament---no article of any sort except the statue of Shiva and the incense-burner. The window was too high up to reach, and there was only one door--a low door, directly across from the idol, a door leading--where?

"Say," Stephen Denton interrupted his tale, "are you getting tired of my adventures? Would you rather play a game of cards--dummy bridge? Say the word."

I told him that I abhorred cards. I told him that just then I was only interested in one thing. "How the deuce did you get away from there?" I wound up. "What was behind that door? How did you--"

"Survive?" he completed my halting question with a low laugh. "Why, old man--you forget that I bore a charmed life that night--a charmed life---just like Napoleon, like Tamerlane, like--" "What was behind that door?" I interrupted him a little heatedly.

"Wait till we get to it." Stephen Denton laughed. "Something else happened in the temple--before I opened that door and found out!"

CHAPTER V - Nerves

E gaio il minuetto, ma tavolta piange

The minuet's lift is merry, but sometimes a song breaks through---Fogazzaro

THERE was one thing more in the temple--a fine, soft, silk rug--and I rolled it into a tight pillow and slipped it under the head of the little Hindu girl. I had stretched her out on the floor.

You know--Stephen Denton continued, with a curious, hazy note of embarrassment in his pleasant voice--I am afraid that, at that moment, with the girl at my feet and the grinning idol above me--with the scented; whirling wreaths of incense-smoke floating about me--I had a certain revulsion of feeling.

I was not afraid. Nor was I exactly riled at that mad throw of the dice of fate which had chucked me there--into the dim, mysterious heart of the Colootallah, five centuries removed from the Hotel Semiramis, the Presbyterian Church, the English bobbies, and all the rest of trousered, hatted civilization. I didn't mind that. Of course not! For, don't you see, I loved that warm, little, girlish thing of gold and black and crimson at my feet. My love was one of those mighty, heaving, cosmic revolutions which will attempt and accomplish the impossible--it was one of those stony, merciless facts which no arguing and no self-searching can kick out of existence.

But I guess there is such a thing as loving in spite of one's self--of love being a thing, a condition, a fact apart from the rest of one's life.

Don't you get me? Why, old man, remember what I told you of how the girl was dressed--in the costume of a tuwaif, a Hindu dancer--and here, grinning and jeering above my head, was the idol of Shiva in his incarnation at Natarajah, "Lord of the Dance"--and the connection seemed obvious! And, after all, my people did come over in the Mayflower--and there was that reproachful church-bell from Old Court House Street--just then it was tolling the quarter to one.

Nothing shocking in the art and motion of dancing. But you have seen Hindu dances---religious Hindu dances--haven't you? You know the significance of the image of Natarajah, how in the night of Brahma nature is said to be inert and cannot breathe nor move nor dance till Shiva wills it; how Shiva rises from his stillness of meditation, crushes the dwarf of night and inertia, and, dancing on his prostrate body, sends through all matter the pulsing waves of awakening sound, preceding from the drum; how, in the richness of time, still dancing, he destroys all names and all forms by fire: and how then all emotions and a new rest come upon the earth.

A mad Hindu notion of bringing together the orderly swing of the spheres, the perpetual movement of atoms, the sensation of the human body, and evolution itself--all represented in the dancing figure of Shiva Natarajah--and in the whirling bodies of the nautch, the Hindu dancing--girls who are consecrated to the service of the gods!

You know the nature and meaning and gestures of those dances, don't you? And there was the girl at my feet in her dancing costume, and the grinning idol above us--there was the memory of some of things which Roos-Keppel had told me about the crimes and vices and the unclean castes which center in the Colootallah; and how--as in the rest of the world--it is always woman who is used as the mainspring of intrigue and venal traffic--and I clenched my fists until the knuckles stretched white.

I looked at the girl--the light was dim, trembling, uncertain, but I could see the pale gold of her little face, the dusky, voluminous clouds of hair, the thick net of the eyelashes.

I touched her face, her shoulders--only for a fleeting second--for, don't you see, to me she was holy, and somehow she was to me part of that temple--of the sacredness of that temple--yes---sacredness--and I mean it. A mad, bombastic, fantastic, cruel faith--that Hindu faith! I know it! But faith, religion, just the same somehow trying to make the world better. I guess there isn't a single religion which really tries to do harm.

Yes, sacred and inviolable she was to me---and I thought how she and the love of her had come to me, in the purple Indian night--precious, swift, unexpected, like a break of glimmering sunlight after a leaden gray day--and there leapt into my heart with the terrific and incalculable aim of lightning, the blinding longing for complete possession--and deliberately disentangled myself from the jumble of bitter emotions which had come to me through the thought she was a nautch, consecrated to Shiva Natarajah.

The whole revolution of feeling had only lasted a few seconds. I said to myself that love---real love--has no time to consider and weigh the patterned dictates of abstract morality. Mine own life to make or to mar--and I considered that I would rather mar my life through love than make it through clammy indifference!

Temple girl or no temple girl, it was up to me to get her out of that building, out of the Colootallah, out of whatever shame and misery and disgrace life had meant to her before I had seen her for the first time, back there on the rooftop at the end of Ibrahim Khan's Gully.

This time I had no choice of directions, for there was only one door out of the temple. Should I pick her up and step into the unknown? No--I decided the next moment--instead of carrying her, and thus burdening and slowing my progress, it would be better for me to scout ahead, to hunt about until I had discovered an avenue of escape. When I had found that, I would come back to her and carry her to safety.

But there was the chance that the two Hindu watchmen on the roof-top might give up their fruitless search and come into this room. Too, there was the possibility of some Brahman priest entering the temple to attend to some of his sacerdotal duties. I would have to hide the girl. But where? Remember, the room was empty of furniture and ornaments. I went the round of the walls, hunting for a closet, but found none. There was only the incense burner, and the huge idol of Shiva Nataajiht, the latter standing fairly close to the wall.

I walked around it more or less aimlessly, and then I made a discovery quite an interesting discovery--discovery, too, with which, had I had time to use it for that purpose just then, I could have blown the thaumaturic reputation of that particular Hindu temple sky high.

I found that the lotus pedestal of the statue had an opening in the back; a sort of curved sliding door, three feet high and about seven broad, which was partly open. I stooped to investigate, and then I drew back in a hurry.

For sounds came from within. I suppose my nerves tingled a little, but you mustn't forget that--though at the time the thought never entered my head; I was too busy--all the events of that mad night had been so unusual that I had really lost the common standards of judging and of fearing. So I let my nerves tingle all they wanted to, and I stooped down once more to discover the source and nature of those sounds.

The very next moment I knew, and I guess I was foolish enough to laugh. You see, the sounds which came from the inside of the pedestal were really quite peaceful and prosaic; they might have happened in quiet old Boston, for that matter.

Somebody in there was snoring--in a fat, contented, elderly way!

So I pushed the sliding-door to one side just as far as it would go. I looked, and sure enough, there, comfortably curled up on a litter of rugs and pillows and shawls. I saw the dim form of a portly Brahman priest sleeping with his mouth wide open, his curly white beard moving rhythmically up and down with the intake of his breath. Not a bad-looking old gentleman--quite peaceful and dignified. But that didn't help him any just then; for here was the ideal hiding-place for my Daughter of Heaven.

I drew my knife, poised it neatly over his heart, and jerked him awake. "Keep quiet--perfectly quiet!" I whispered to him, very much like a black-mustached villain in an old-fashioned melodrama. At the same moment he stirred, opened his eyes, heard my warning, he saw the Bowie--saw the point of it, if you will forgive my wretched pun--and, obeying my instructions, he rose and came out of the pedestal, a very incarnation of outraged, elderly pomposity Gosh, but that Brahman looked mad!

So far so good--here was a cozy little nest for my love--but what was I to do with Old Pomposity?

"What shall I do with you?" I finally asked him direct, and he replied with a stream of low--pitched and extremely foul abuse. That did not help any--neither him nor me nor the girl--and so, after considering a few seconds, I narrowed my question down to a choice of two things. I asked him, quite civilly and good-naturedly--I bore him no personal grudge, you see--what he preferred: to be killed outright, or to go down to the snake. Pretty tough on his nibs; but what could I do? I needed the hollow pedestal, and I couldn't afford to leave a live witness behind.

But he couldn't see it my way, naturally. He threatened and cajoled and argued. He cursed me, my ancestors, my posterity, and my cow in the name of a dozen assorted Hindu deities--in the name of Vishnu and Shiva, Indra, Varuna, Agni, Surya, Chandra, Yama, Kamadeva, Ganesha, and what not! He had a surprising knowledge of Puranic theology; but finally he decided in favor of the snake! I could understand his choice; since he doubtless was the priest in charge of the temple, and thus sure to be on more or less friendly terms with the wiggly old reptile at the feet of Natarajah.

"All right--just as you wish," I replied; and just for luck--also to make him a little more easy to handle--I fetched him a good hard blow on the side of the head which stretched him unconscious, gagged and tied him securely with some of the shawls from his couch, shoved him down into the cobra's den, and pushed the stone slab shut.

Then I investigated the interior of the lotus pedestal. It was big enough to afford sitting and sleeping space to an average-sized human being, and--here is the discovery of which I told you, the discovery which would have raised no end of a row in orthodox Hindu theological circles--I saw that the statue was hollow, and that it could be reached by the occupant of the pedestal.

What for? Why? How? Why, old man, the day of miracles may have passed in the West---with biology and motor-cars and aeroplanes, and all that--hut not so in the eternal East! For there, handy to the occupant of the pedestal, was an assortment of ropes and levers and handles and pulleys which were connected with the different parts of Shiva Natarajah's sacred anatomy. Push a lever here, pull a rope there--I tried it, you see---and the idol would lift a leg or wave one of his four arms or wag his beastly old head. There was even one bit of machinery--it was rather rusty and hard to move, as though it hadn't been used for a long time--which allowed the whole statue, pedestal included, to move forward across the room--a very ingenious bit of machinery, a combination system of wheels and gliding planes--and the very thing for a smashing, twenty-four-carat miracle!

But the only miracle which mattered to me just then was the fact that, through a twist and jerk of Fate, I had come to Ibra him Khan's Gully-and to the little Hindu girl. I picked her up and put her inside the pedestal, leaving the sliding-door slightly aslant to give her breathing space.

By ginger--Stephen Denton gave an embarrassed little smile--she looked pretty in there on that soft mass of pillows and shawls, and the dim light about her like a veil. You know those lines by Rabindranath Tagore, don't you?

When ruddy lips blossom into smiles, black eyes

pass stolen glances,

Then it is the season, my poet, to make a bonfire

of your verses.

And weave only heart with heart and hand with

hand.

Oh, well---

I bent down and kissed the little soft mouth--unconscious she was, and her thoughts dream-veiled, but there was something like an answering quiver on her lips as I touched them with mine--I crossed the width of the temple, opened the door, and stepped out on a corridor, bright-lit with swinging yellow lamps. It was really more than a corridor--more like a long hall, very high, with a vaulted ceiling--and, compared to the slime of Ibrahim Khan's Gully, compared to the oppressive gray reek and misery of the Colootallah compared even to the dignified bareness the temple, it seemed incongruous startling in its utter magnificence--as if it had been flung there, In the heart of that drab, twisted maze of buildings, to echo to the footsteps of--of what and whom?

You see, old man, right then I wondered. I was a little disturbed--with the dim terror of something awfully remote from and awfully inimical to my personality, my race, my life as it had been heretofore. For Roos-Keppel had told me--oh, a whole lot. He had told me how, in the days when he was still In the Bengal Civil Service, he had tracked one of the Indian seditionist secret societies--"Hail, Motherland!" it called itself straight down into the caste labyrinth of assassins and thieves and thugs and criminals of all sorts; how, in fact, the Babu gentry of the Hail, Motherland! had made a hard and fast alliance with the criminal castes, had fraternized with them in life, and in worship, and in death, both fighting the same enemy: the established government, the British raj. And this--all this--why, don't you see? The temple of Shiva, god of high castes, here, in the heart of the low-caste Colootallah--the rattle and crackle of naked steel on the roof-top; and remember that the law against carrying and possessing weapons is as strictly enforced in Calcutta as the Sullivan Law in New York; and, then, as a final proof, it seemed to me, the dazzling, extravagant splendor of this corridor, this long, tall hall!

Up to a height of seven feet the walls were covered with stucco, white on white, ivory and snowy enamel skillfully blended with shiny-white lac, and overlaid with a silver-threaded spider's web of arabesques, at exquisite as the finest Mechlin lace, and, of Sanskrit quotations in the deva-nagari script.

I reconstructed all this later on, in my memory, after--Stephen Denton pointed about the room--India had become part of my life, my whole life. The upper part of the walls above the white stucco, was a procession, a panorama of conventionalized Hindu fresco paintings--an epitome, a résumé of all Hindustan's myths and faiths and legends and superstition's, from the Chhadanta Jataka, the birth-story of the Six--tusked Elephant, most beautiful of all Buddhistic legends, to the ancient tale of Kaliya Damana, which tells how Krishna overcame the hydra Kaliya; from color-blazing designs picturing Rama, Sita, and Lakshman meditating in their forest exile, to a representation of Bhagirstha imploring Shiva to permit the Ganges to fall to the earth from his matted locks.

The tale of a nation's life, a nation's civilization and faith--yes, and crimes and virtues and sufferings, here in front of me, and the thought came over me--a true thought, discovered afterward--that never white man had seen the like before, and I felt like an intruder, I had a faint feeling of misgiving. But what could I do? It was Hobson's choice! I had to walk on!

So I moved along rapidly, down that everlasting corridor with all India's gods jeering at me from the wall paintings, and looking left and right for a door, a window, or some other avenue of escape, at least of progress--when, very suddenly, I was startled into complete immobility--into a stark immobility of utter horror.

Directly in front of me, the corridor came to an end--or rather it broadened out, swept out into a circular hall--quite an impressive affair, the walls covered with slabs of the delicate, extravagant Indian stone carving that looks like sculptured embroidery, with splendid furniture of carved, black shishan wood, a profusion of enameled silver ornaments, and the floor covered with huge, squares of that white embroidery which the people hereabouts call chikam.

Of course, I didn't see all that at first--took it in more gradually, for I told you that I was---oh--crushed under a sudden weight of gray, breath-clogging horror, and, in such moments of overwhelming emotion, the eyes search too eagerly, too furiously, to see properly at all; too, the light was flickering--shooting in curly, wavering streams from a swinging lamp and sending out shadows which ran about the walls and the ceiling like running water.

Stephen Denton leaned forward in his chair.

Tell me, have you ever felt the fascination of utter horror? Have you ever had a dream in which everything around you--the inanimate objects even--assume I shifting, wavering forms and loom about I you--bending and twisting and stretching toward you like cruel, misshapen arms?

Have you ever feared Fear itself?

The thing which stirred me so profoundly? Yes, yes--I am coming to that--and I guess you'll be disappointed.

For it was only a face.

Only a face--and yet--why, if I should try to tell you what I felt, what I really felt, I would involve myself in a maze of contradictions. There are some nervous reactions for which there are no words in our language: and, anyway. I survived it--that as well as what came after. I am sitting here now, across from you, talking to you--and up-stairs--

Never mind. You're getting impatient. Let me get back to my tale---

CHAPTER VI - Out--And In

Our horses aren't from Tartary, the land of

Tamerlane.

They come from river meadows, out beyond

the Southern Main

No lynx we bring for foxes,

No cheetahs for the deer;

With brown and while bedappled

Our English hounds are here.

The jackal he may kennel in the fields of

sugar-cane.

The pack is in and after him to drive him out

again.

--E. D.

ONLY a face, he continued, that of an old man, wrinkled, brown, immobile on a scrawny neck which was like the slimy stalk of some poisonous jungle flower, the body, arms, and legs wrapped in layers of thin muslin, sitting upright on a great chair of gray, carved marble.

I wish I could picture that face to you as I saw it--it would take the hand of a Rodin to clout and shape the meaning of it. The taint of death, the flavor of dread tortures which surrounded it, the face of a sensual, perverted, plague-spotted Roman emperor blended with the unhuman, meditating, crushing calm of a Chinese sage.

Why, man, I can see it even now--at times---heavy-jowled, thin-lipped, terribly broad across the temples--and with an expression in his whitish-gray-eyes like the sins of a slaughtered soul.

Compared to that face--to the solitary fact of that face's existence, if you get me--all the little fears and trembling apprehensions which had come over me since I had swung across the wall at the end of Ibrahim Khan's Gully seemed ridiculous--as unimportant as the twittering of sparrows in a street gutter--and my adventures seemed dull and commonplace.

I had an idea that I spoke--some foolish, meaningless words of greeting. I am not sure if I did or not. For, during some moments, I sought in vain to steady my mind and my senses to the point of understanding, of intelligence, of observation. All I could see and feel was the existence of these features in front of the grotesque, monstrous, unhuman--and I wanted to shriek--I wanted to beat them into raw, bleeding pulp!

Perhaps the whole sensation, the whole flash of emotions, lasted only a moment. Perhaps it was contained in the fraction of the second it took me to pass from the corridor, properly speaking, into the hall. At all events, suddenly I was myself again. I remembered the girl--and the wondrous magic, the sweet, wild strength of the love I bore her.

Whatever the meaning of these sinister, immobile features--whatever the dread prophecy in these staring, unblinking, cruel eyes--I'd have to go through with my task--the task of fighting my way out of this house--and to carry the girl with me, unharmed. So I walked--up to that muslin-swathed body--to that horror of a face---

Stephen Denton ashed his cigar. He was silent for perhaps a couple of minutes, and I did not press him to hurry up with his tale. It was so evident that he was trying to collect his thoughts--so evident too, that the remembrance of that moment was not a very pleasant one to him. But presently he looked up, with a return of his old full, jolly, magnetic smile; and he continued.

Yes--I jerked my wits into a fair semblance of nerve control and took a step forward--one step, two, three--slowly and deliberately--until I was within a foot of that face--and then--why, man, I laughed! It wasn't a very cheerful laugh---rather a harsh, ghastly, scraping sort of machination--but it saved, if not my life, then at least my sanity. For, quite suddenly. When I was within a foot of it, I realized that that face--that thing of dread and horror--was harmless. I realized, that it was not alive at all!

A statue? No, old man, guess again--you see, it was the face of a mummy--that's why the body was wrapped in layers of muslin--and the eyes were of glass, cunningly painted. I said to myself that it was doubtful the mummified remains of some especially holy Brahman priest--and I felt quite a rush of affection for his deceased holiness--for at least he couldn't hurt me; he couldn't hurt the little girl who was all the world to me. I have an idea that I was about to pat the old mummy familiarly on the brown, wrinkled brow when---

Wait? It's so confoundedly hard to put it into words--you've got to feel it, as I felt it, that night. You see, I heard a whisper--yes--I knew that wrinkled horror was dead, a mummy--and yet---why, I looked about the room--there was nobody there--and the mad thought came to me that the mummy had whispered!

Don't you get me? I knew it was impossible--and--there it was; a whisper shadowy, fleeting, secretive! Of course it was ridiculous--and yet I was sure, in spite of my positive knowledge and in spite of the dictates of my sanity, that the whisper had come from the mummy. I don't know why I should have thought so--ask a professor of psychology for the correct explanation--but the fact remains that I jumped back about three feet with a quickly suppressed cry of fear.

The whole impression lasted less time than it takes me to tell it. The very next second I had collected myself--had to, you see, since I didn't want to lose my sanity--and with breath sucked in, head in one side my whole body tense and bunched, I tried to follow up the low sibilant tone waves--to locate the direction whence the whispering really came.

What? Did they plant a phonograph inside of that mummy? (Stephen Denton laughed at my question.) No! No! Can you imagine such a Western abomination as a phonograph near a Hindu temple--in the mummified body of a Hindu saint?

Of course not! The explanation was a hanged sight easier. The tone waves--the whispers---came, not from the mummy's mouth--but from the mummy's feet!

So I stretched myself full-length on the floor, at the feet of his holiness, pressed my ears against the cold stone flags, and listened intently.

And I heard--two words, at first! They sort of remained with me, and made me feel uncomfortable and creepy all over again. For those whispered words were: "The Sahib!"

They stood out, those two words, in sharp, crass relief. "The Sahib!" Nothing more--and, subconsciously, I guessed--no! I knew, that it was I--Stephen Denton, Esquire, out of Boston---who was meant by that melodious and honorable appellation. For sahibs, at one o'clock in the morning, are a pretty rare article in the midst of the Colootallah!

The whispering continued, and I heard quite well. There was really no mystery to it--for, don't you see, most of those old buildings in the Colootallah were built many years ago, and since Calcutta was a swamp in these days and since wood and stone were rare, they built their houses with hollow tiles imported from Persia via Delhi--and these tiles act very much like telephones--sending tone waves in straight lines and at a considerable distance.

I was grateful for that--and for one more Indian peculiarity--namely the number and diversity of the many Indian languages and dialects which forces Hindus from different parts of the country to speak in English. There were two men whispering--doubtless either thugs or seditionist, at all events men who hated the very name at England and yet they had to speak in English to each other, to make them intelligible. Funny, wasn't it?

I could hear just as plainly as through a telephone--with a perfect connection. The man who spoke first felt evidently peevish about the Sahib--about me. You should have heard the things he called me; not me alone, but also my father, my grandfather, most of my cousins and uncles and my whole family-tree straight down to Adam and Eve, and beyond, even. It seemed that he was appealing to the other man for help.

"Where is she? Where is she?" came the sibilant whisper; and then, with a splendid flow of Oriental imagery, "he--the Sahib--the this-andthat"---more epithets--"has stolen her--the apple of my eyes, the well of my love, the stone of my contentment! Ah!"--and distinctly, through the hollow tiles, I could hear something like a forced, hypocritical sob--"she is a. pearl among pearls---with lips like the crimson asoka flower, with teeth as virgin-white as the perfumed madhavi, with a voice like the mating-song of the kokila bird, with a waist as the waist of a she-lion, and with the walk of a king-goose! By Shiva and Shiva--and again by Shiva!"--here he got busy once more about my ancestry and character--"may that white-skinned, cow-eating, and unthinkably begotten foreigner boil slowly and very, very painfully in the everlasting fire which is vomited from the Jwalamukhi! May Garura pick out his eyes--first the left--and then the right! May Bhawani herself suck his filthy heart dry!"

A pause--then the other man's voice: "But whom has the Sahib stolen, brother?" followed by the first man's answer, "the Lady Padmavati!"

"Padmavati?" repeated the second man, in accents of utter, amazed, horrified incredulity, "Padmavati?"

Then silence--thick, heavy, palpable!

Say, continued Stephen Denton, can you imagine what a crash of silence can be like? Sounds paradoxical, don't you think? But that's exactly what followed the mentioning of the little girl's name.

Silence--for one minute--two--three---rhythmically my heartbeats seemed to syncopate each dragging second while I lay there, my ear pressed against the stone flags, at the feet of that beastly old mummy.

I thought finally that the two speakers had perhaps gone away from wherever they were talking. I was about to rise, to continue in my search for an opening, a door or a window which would help my love and me to escape--when once more, insistent, sibilant, whispering, the tone waves glided through the hollow tiles.

It seemed to be the second man who was speaking.

"We must get him--the foreigner--the Christian--the cannibal of the Holy Cow! Quick--by the heavenly light of Chandra!" and he said it in such a deep, flat, strange voice that I felt something like the letting loose of fate--crashing, terrific--I felt an acrid flavor and taint of death and torture--a crimson undercurrent of gigantic, intolerable horrors!

Came the first man's answering whisper: "Yes, for he is dangerous, as dangerous as Prithwi Pala, the servant of Indra the god, of whom the legends speak; and as for Padmavati--" again he was silent--came another flow of words, in Hindustani this time and thus unintelligible to me. But they seemed to be words of command, and they were followed by other voices, other words; then a sharp, ominous hissing and rattling of steel and the faint sound of quick-running feet.

They're off, I said to myself, off and away and after me! I rose and looked to right and left. I guess I felt as a fox must feel when it hears the view-halloo of the chase and the baying of the hounds, with nothing in front but a bare hillside and far in the distance, a spinney which it can never reach.

For where was I to go? Where was I to hide myself?

Only one thing was certain. I could not let myself be caught in this hall nor in the abutting corridor, both bright with light. Back into the temple then--perhaps into the cobra den--a wild thought flashed through my head that I might have time to change clothes with the priest--a thought quickly given up, for what would I do with the priest himself?--other thoughts followed--but clear above them all rose the stony idea that, whatever happened, I must not lead the chase to the idol, the lotus pedestal where I had hidden the girl who was dearer to me than the dwelling of kings.

So I ran, with my thoughts gyrating madly, like swirling fog in the brain of a blind world, faster and faster! There was a noise in my temples like running water, like the wind in the wings of birds; it filled my head with huge, tenoring sound waves, and, as I came within sight of the temple door, the bell from the Presbyterian church boomed out--ba-nnnng--a quarter after one---like a gray seal of doom and despair!

Another rushing steps-already my hand was on the door-knob of the temple--already I was trying to subordinate my physical to my mental action, which seemed both muddled and frantic---for, you see, I know that presently I would have to be capable of one supreme effort of wit to save the girl and myself; battle and struggle it would be, and I did not refute the grim challenge of it; I did not blind myself to the balance of odds which would be against me.

Fight, and win or lose! Frenzied heroism? Not a bit of it, old man: Simply the law of equal action and reaction--if I remember anything of my scientific course at college--applied to the dim, cruel heart of the Colootallah.

I had half turned the door-knob--and then---Stephen Denton leaned forward in his chair and, for the first time since he had commenced the recital of his mad adventures, he gesticulated--his right hand shot out tensely, dramatically.

And then from the walls, as if they had been parts of the walls, two men jumped at me, one from each side.

No, I saw no door, through, of course, there must have been one--two, rather. I only heard the metallic jarring and grating of rusty hinges, and, that same second, they were there, as if a sinister, supernatural power had visualized them from nothing and popped them out at me!

There they were--two men--with a crackle of naked steel--but wait! Get this right!

You see--and it sounds incredible, I know it!--but even in that fraction of a moment's flash my eyes registered what those two men looked like. Strange, isn't It? But I saw--I actually saw every detail of their persons, their costumes, their facial characteristics: their dark skin, their hooked noses, their broad, thin lips, their flashing purple--black, narrow-lidded eyes, their beards, curled and twisted and parted in the dandified Rajput manner, their voluminous, white turbans, with clusters of emeralds, falling over their low, broad foreheads, and, high in the right hand of either, a curved scimitar!

Why, man, I even saw the curling, glittering lights on the points of their blades as they seemed to meet above my head like a double-barreled, curved guillotine!

All that, every last bit of it, I saw in that fleeting fraction of a moment, and, speak about quickness of perception, about rushing rapidity of wit, why---

Stephen Denton was silent. His right hand was still in the air, as if it were trying to pluck the tense, incredible facts of his narrative from the atmosphere.

Quite suddenly, from up-stairs, came once more the twanging of a native guitar; that a soft, silvery woman's voice, singing in Behari:

". . . chare din ke gaile murga Mor ko ke aile . . .

Stephen Denton laughed. "You know the old song, don't you?" he said. "The cock goes from home for four days only, and returns a peacock!" Same with me that night--in the Colootallah--I left the Hotel Semiramis a plain, prosaic Back Bay Bostonian, and I returned--oh, you'll see---you bet I returned, in spite of those flashing scimitars! Am I not here--in front of your eyes---in the flesh?

And he continued with another laugh. Yes, the jarring of the doors, the fact of my being able to register what those two bewhiskered ruffians looked like, the ominous crackle of steel as the blades flickered about my head, my own quick-wittedness--all that passed and happened and surged on in a moment. I was too excited, probably to feel ordinary fear. Something flashed through me akin to fear, but, oh, different; there's no word for it in our language; but with it flashed, also, a certain breathless, sullen audacity that's it exactly; a sullen audacity--and I---

Suddenly Stephen Denton burst into a roar of laughter.

Do you know what I did, old man? Can you guess it? No, no! I didn't draw my Bowie-knife and give battle! Of course not! First of all, there wasn't the time--for remember, the whole thing, from the jarring of the unseen door to the end of the little intermezzo, didn't take more than two seconds; and, furthermore, what chance is there for a quiet Bostonian with a Bowie--a Bowie he isn't used to handle, on top of it--against two big, hairy roughs with six yards of curved, razor-sharp steel between them? I'd have had as much chance against them with my Bowie as a regiment of volunteers armed with Civil War pop-guns against a battery armed with French forty-five millimeter guns!

What did I do? But I am coming to that, Don't get impatient---

You see--I ducked!

Yes, sir, I ducked! I threw myself flat on the floor before those two ruffians had a chance to realize what was happening--before they had time to put the brake on their brawny right arms.

Down came the two scimitars, and--yes, this time you guessed it--they hit each other, instead of hitting little me! They split each other's turbaned skulls--zzzsh! through the voluminous layers of muslin--with rather a sickening, sharp--crunching noise--and there were two dead Hindus!

Say, man, speak about Tamerlane and George Washington and Napoleon--speak, about the Charmed Life--what?

I told you--haven't I?--that from the moment of my swinging across the wall at the end of Ibrahim Khan's Gully--from the moment, rather, when I felt that my life was one with that of the little Hindu girl--my whole self seemed to have separated itself suddenly and completely from all that it had been in the past; it seemed to have lifted itself with a savage, tearing jerk from the pale, flat dumps of my past life and education and tradition--Boston, in other words--to the flashing, crazy limbos of this new, purple, mysterious India! I realized it, even at that moment, with the two dead men at my feet, one with his features, oh, set in an astonished sort of smile, as if wondering at the dark blood which was running lazily from the split skull to the floor; the other dead man's face like a grinning Tibetan devil mask, with the lips drawn back a little over the gleaming, white teeth in an eerie grin, like the fangs of a wolf who sees the victim, jumps, then finds himself in a trap, smells death in the trap in the moment of killing!

Yes, all that I realized; not emotionally, for I seemed able perfectly to decompose the whole situation into a few and negligible elements, as I would decompose a force in a question of abstract dynamics, and I was neither shocked nor even disgusted; and, mind you, this was the first time in my life I had seen death!

But, you see, I seemed to belong to India, to the terrible, corroding simplicity of India, and I felt like chanting a chant of victory. I felt a brutal, sublimely unselfconscious joy at the sight of those two sprawling, stark-contoured figures.

Rather beastly, don't you think? But true!

The next moment--for in that respect, too, the crouching, grim-clever instincts of all India had got into my blood--I looked about me, silently, carefully.

I said to myself that there might be more Hindus out after my scalp--for remember, first, I had heard two voices whispering, then a few sharp words of command. The Hindustani, and finally several more voices. I had run toward the temple, away from the lights, and I had evidently miscalculated. For if those two dead beggars had located me in the vicinity of the temple it was three to one to assume that the others would reason the same way.

Away from the temple, then! Back in the direction of the circular hall, in spite of the bright lights, as fast as my legs would carry me! So I ran, and as I ran there came to me the madding, paralyzing sensation that quite near me, inside the walls other footsteps were keeping parallel with my own, and I was afraid.

But only for a moment. The very next second the terror in my heart gave way to a feeling of indignation. I was cross, and I forgot all about that great, purple India which had picked me up and was shaping me into a molecule of its own strange, throbbing soul. You see, all my life I had been surrounded by the comfortable, machine--made, wire-drawn safeguards of Western life---police, laws, corporation counsels, prosecuting attorneys, municipal writs, regulation standards, regulation opinions. Fetishes I used to call them in my world-storming undergrad days; but I had relied on them. With all the rest of the Western world--socialists, anarchists, and I. W. W.'s included--I had always been in the position of a man who can demand and receive protection from the duly constituted authorities; and here I was suddenly up against life in the raw--in the bloodstained, quivering raw! I was up against a condition of society to which no law applied, no regulation, no standard known to me.

By ginger, I was mad with utter, impotent fury. Right then I would have liked to have an interview with some of those visionary jackasses who prate against constituted law; and then (Stephen Denton laughed) quite suddenly I quit kicking. Quite suddenly I became convinced once more that I had a charmed life, after all!

For by that time I had arrived again in the great circular hall where his holiness, the mummified Brahman Swami, was sitting in sinister state; and there, not too high up, I saw a window!

I made for it immediately, as a frightened cat makes for an open cellar; a running jump with every ounce of strength I possessed, I balanced myself precariously on the sill! I didn't look down. Might have spoiled my nerve. I just closed my eyes and jumped, and I landed on a nice, thick, soft heap of ashes and cinders.

The moon had come from behind the bank of clouds and was drenching everything with tiny flecks of gold. I looked about me. I found myself in a long, narrow courtyard, with the window through which I had come to the left of me, a high wall with a door to the right, another wall, about fifteen feet high, in front, and in back a fantastic, twisted building which towered up in a wilderness of spires and turrets.

I had my choice of three ways, since I had no intention of returning to the hall whence I had jumped, naturally. Too, I discarded the building immediately; it looked, oh, too populous. Remained the two walls. First I examined the one with the door. There was a crack in it and I looked through; it seemed to open out into the street---some street.

Did I try the door? Did I make for the street? You bet I did not! Why?

But, man, there was the girl, back there somewhere in that maze of buildings; the girl who was all the world to me. No! I took the one remaining choice--the fifteen-foot wall in back of me.

At first I failed to discover anything by which I could mount; but at last, walking down the length of it, I came upon a shed with a heavy padlock on its wooden door, with its roof inclined at an angle against the wall. It was my only chance, and there was but one way to do it. I stepped back a few paces and took a running leap for the edge of the roof, jumping for the padlock. I tried three times. The third time I got my foot upon the padlock, and caught the edge of the wall with my hands. Exerting all my strength, I drew myself up, and where do you think I found myself?

I was back on the roof-top at the end of Ibrahim Khan's Gully! Quite alone, for when I groped beneath the balustrade where I had popped the old Hindu, bound and gagged, over an hour and a half before, I found the space empty.

CHAPTER VII - The Miracle

Evil is impossible because it is always rising up into Good.---Saint Augustine

So likewise is Evil the revelation of Good.---Cardinal Newman

I LOOKED about me. It was a peaceful, summer night, with the low hum of a sleeping world, and a froth of yellow stars flung over the crest of the heavens. Over to my right, where the lights of Howrah Station were flickering through the river-mist like dirty candle-dips, lay the great cosmopolitan hotels--the Semiramis, the Great Eastern, the Tai Mahal; there crouched the faint outlines of the Presbyterian church, of the Bengal Club, of Government House--peace and civilization and all the rest of the white man's world. I imagined I could hear them snore across the distance--the commissioners and deputy commissioners, the colonels and adjutants, the big Anglo-Indian merchants, and the American travelers--snoring, peacefully snoring! And I--I was here in the Colootallah, and, yes, I went straight back to my girl.

Did I think much? But what should I have thought about, old man? The only responsibility I had was the girl--since I loved her. My own life? My own fate? Oh, I guess everybody is the weaver of his own life; and if he wants to entangle the woof and warp of it, it's up to him, and to him alone, isn't it? And that isn't Indian philosophy, either. It's plain Yankee, out of Boston; if it wasn't there wouldn't have been any Mayflower in the first place. Would there?

So back to the girl I went the same old way; through the door in back of the pillar, down the staircase and the narrow landing, straight up to the cobra's den. Again I opened the door without much effort; but again, though I tried to keep it open, it slammed shut, and I found it impossible to open it from the inside. There was a bit of hidden machinery there which I could not find, nor had I time to look.

Carefully groping my way, I found the curved handle in the low ceiling. I jerked it, and the ceiling slid to one side, sending down a flood of light from the temple. The Brahman priest was still where I had dumped him, and--would you believe me?--he was peacefully asleep, sawing wood through his nostrils. Speak about Oriental philosophy and submission to fate! Why, that portly, thrice-born Brahman had an overdose of it. Compared to his plethora of calm, my own quiet Yankee soul seemed to be shrill, noisy, exaggerated.

The cobra? Yes, she, too, was asleep, curled up in the corner like a huge, coiled thing of watered silk.

I swung myself up into the temple, shutting the door behind me, and rushed over to the statue of Shiva Natarajah. The little girl--"the Lady Padmavati" as the Hindus had called her--was still lost to the world; the blow against her temple must have been a terrific one, but her breath came evenly. Some of the rugs on which she lay had slipped to one side, and I was just about to bend down to fix her up more comfortably, when---

But wait! Let me get this right.

Stephen Denton gave a fleeting, apologetic smile.

You see, it's rather difficult to describe a moment which blends the physical with the psychical.

Well, I had already bent down. Yes, I remember now! My hand was on her soft, narrow shoulder, and, oh, my love seemed to surge upwards with a rush of sweet splendor. That little space in the pedestal seemed charged to the brim with some overpowering loveliness of wild and simple things, like the beauty of stars, and wind, and flowers, with something which all my life, subconsciously, my heart seemed to have craved in vain, beside which my life of yesterday seemed a gray, wretched dream. You know how these thoughts rush through one--suddenly, overwhelmingly--and at the same time music seemed to chime in my ears, rhythmic, glorious music, the music of my heart, of my soul, I thought, and I wasn't ashamed of the winged, poetical flight.

And then, all at once, I realized that the music was not the music of my heart. I realized that it had a much more matter-of-fact origin; that in steadily swelling tone waves it came drifting in from the outside. I straightened up. I listened intently. Then I knew: the music came beating and sobbing down the long, magnificent corridor on toward the temple.

Presently I could make out the different instruments--the clash of the cymbals, the rubbing of tom-toms, the hollow thumping of a drum, the plaintive twanging of native sitars; voices, too, chiming in with a deep, melodious swing, and footsteps, echoing down the length of the corridor--nearer, ever nearer!

Sort of breathless, that night, wasn't it? Never knew what was going to happen next. In again, out again, just like immortal Irishman, and in again it was into the pedestal of Shiva, by the side of the girl, or rather crouching over her. Believe me, it was a very uncomfortable position.

My heart was plumping heavily, like the heart of a babe in the dark. I didn't know what was going to happen. But I had a shrewd suspicion that Fate was about to fulminate a whole lot of rusty thunder in my direction.

Twang-zumm-bang, droned the music; and then I guessed what was coming--some sort of worshiping procession. You see, I had been in a Hindu temple or two and was more or less familiar with their noisy theological exercises. Nor was I mistaken. For a moment later the door was flung open and I saw--How did I see? Oh, in the part of the pedestal which was straight across from the door were two peep-holes, very much like those in a stage drop, and I had quite a good view.

Came a procession of Hindus, singing, playing on instruments; some carrying swinging lamps, others wreaths of flowers and bowls filled with milk and fruit and sweetmeats. The first half--dozen or so were nice enough looking chaps---bearded, dignified, clean--doubtless gentlemen in their own country. But the rest of them! Of all the wholesale, bunched, culminating, shameless wickedness! Why, man, in Sing Sing they would have electrocuted them on sight! And I thought of what Roos-Keppel had told me about the close, sinister, underground connection between the Hindu secret political societies and the criminal castes--thieves, assassins, and thugs; high-castes and low-castes--praying to the same, blood--gorged god.

It was the dawning ceremony of the Shiva worship, the ceremony which celebrates the victory of day over night.

At the end of the procession stalked a tall, magnificent specimen of Oriental humanity, swinging a flat incense-burner on silver chains. Around and around he swung it, and there rose long, slow streams of perfumed, many-colored smoke--wavering and glimmering like molten gold, blazing with all the deep, transparent yellows of amber and topaz, flaming through a stark, crimson incandescence into a great, metallic blue, then trembling into jasper and opal flames---like a gigantic rainbow forged in the heat of a wondrous furnace. Up swirled the streams of smoke, tearing themselves into floating tatters of half-transparent veil, pouring through the temple and clinging to the corners, the ceiling, with ever new shapes and colors, as endless and as strange and as mad as my life had been--since I had swung over the wall at the end of Ibrahim Khan's Gully, a little over an hour ago.

Straight up to the idol moved the procession, and Heavens, man, I felt qualmy. You see--there I was--I, a doubting Thomas of a Yankee, inside of their favorite deity, and together with Lady Padmavati! A bit indiscreet, wasn't it? But they didn't know it, thank God! They came right up, bowing with outstretched hands, and depositing flowers and fruit and sweetmeats in front of the pedestal--rather an agony, that last one, since I was getting hungry--and chanting their low--pitched litanies. You know India. You can imagine what those chants were like.

First a wail of minor cadences, more fleeting than the shadow of an echo, strangely reminiscent of some ventriloquist's stunt; then a gathering, bloating volume of voices, gradually shaping the words until the full melody, the full meaning beat up like an ocean of eternity, and the whole punctuated by the hollow staccato of the drums:

. . . nor this the weapons pierce; nor this does fire burn; nor ihis does water wet; nor the wind dry up! This is called unpierceable, unburnable, unwetable, and undriable, O harasser of thy foes eternal; all-pervading, constant thou; changeless, yet ever changing; unmanifest, unrecognizable thou, and unvarying.

Didn't mean anything to me in those days---all this long-winded chanting about Veda-born action and the exhaustless spirit and the certainty of cause and effect. I was getting frankly bored, and I was glad when the congregation varied the monotony of their chant by a few, choice, bloodcurdling prayers--loud and throaty and decidedly materialistic.

By this time they were getting excited, frenzied. You know how an overdose of religion grips these Hindus, how it affects them, much like strong wine; goes to their heads, to their feet, too. Yes, they danced, and, believe me, there isn't a single musical comedy star on Broadway who wouldn't have given her little-all to learn some of the steps I saw that night. Tango? Maxixe? Foxtrot? Why, they weren't in it with that Hindu religious dance!

Interesting, doubtless, but I was getting tired of it; tired, too, of my crouching position, with every bone and nerve and muscle strained to the utmost so as not to crush the little girl and--Well, remember those levers and handles I told you about? There was one handy to my right arm, and just for luck I gave it a good, hard pull.

Immediately there was silence. I wondered which one of Shiva's limbs I had caused to move, and the next moment I knew; for there came a ringing, triumphant shout from one of the worshipers:

"Shiva! Shiva Natarajah! See, brothers, he moves his right arm, as in blessing!"

"In blessing--in blessing!" the crowd took up the refrain, and they thanked Shiva for the sign he had given them, sealing and emphasizing their thanks with another long-winded hymn:

. . . from food come creatures; food comes from rain, rain comes from sacrifice, sacrifice is born of action, and action of thy great miracle, O harasser of thy foes.

A good enough light was trembling through the peep-holes and a couple of age-worn cracks into the interior of the pedestal, and I looked carefully to discover with which parts of Shiva's sacred anatomy the different levers and handles were connected. You see, I wanted to scare the congregation out of the temple through a real, simon-pure, overwhelming miracle. Presently I located most of the connections and, pushing a lever here and pulling a handle there, I caused the idol to lift his legs and wag his ugly old head in turns, and then to jerk his four arms in one generous, embracing altogether gesture. It was a success. There was no doubt of it. For the Hindus yelled and shrieked and moaned. But they didn't run away. I guess the Brahman had worked that same miracle before, and so they weren't scared of it any more--familiarity breeds contempt, you know, even in orthodox Hindu theological circles.

"Try, try, try again!" I told myself, and a moment later I thought of the intricate apparatus, the combination of wheels and gliding planes, which made the whole statue, including the pedestal, move forward across the floor. There was one master-handle within easy reach, but I was afraid of using it. For, remember, I told you that that particular machinery hadn't been used for a long time, that it was rusty and hard to move.

The fool thing needed a generous dose of Three--in-One oil; and I said to myself that some of those Hindus might smell a rat if they heard the squeaking and grating of the rusty old wheels.

What then?

Finally I thought of a way. You see, at college I held the absolute hors-de-concours record in yelling. I was the pride, in that respect at least, of my fraternity. I used to be proud of the accomplishment myself at the time being, but I would never have guessed that it would ever be of any practical value in life.

But here was a chance to try and find out. And so, at the moment of jerking down the master-handle, I let out a wild yell. I guess it must have sounded rather startling--sort of ghastly---coming, as it did, from that hollow statue; and the more I jerked at the handle, the louder I yelled. Presently the idol moved, I could feel it trembling beneath me. I continued yelling, and the effect was spontaneous. It was immense. It brought down the house!

The whole congregation gave one long, lone, soul-appalling outcry, and then they ran, pushing, kicking, pulling, biting each other in their mad haste to get to the door. Doubtless they imagined that they had offended Shiva, that their last hour had struck. At the door the whole lot of them bunched into one tremendous fighting knot--they fell over each other--and for a moment I was silent, to catch breath, and just then, at that very same moment, the bronze-tongued bell from the Presbyterian Church in Old Court House Street struck the half-hour--half after one--and, believe me, it was dramatic, that sudden tolling!

Just imagine the smoke, the many-colored light, the lesser miracle of Shiva's moving feet and arms, then the great miracle, my mad yelling, and suddenly that deep-toned bell!

Why, man, that fighting, struggling knot on the threshold dissolved itself into its human components inside of half a second, and a moment later the temple was empty. They didn't stop to shut the door nor to pick flowers on the way. I saw them rushing down the corridor--high-castes and low-castes, thrice-borns and thugs--running as fast as they could, with their legs and arms jerking and shooting out fantastically to right and to left, so that they looked like so many gigantic Indian scorpions scurrying for cover and yelling their lungs out as they ran. Gosh, it was comical! And the funniest part of all was the sight of the very last of the lot. He had had his swathing robe torn off him in the frantic struggle, and there he ran, as naked as on the day he was born, except for the huge turban on his head, his white robe on the threshold, like a splotch of light!

You know, he interrupted his tale, I felt really proud of myself. Here was I--plain Yankee out of Boston, still redolent of pies and Thoreau and the Back Bay--and I had worked a thumping, all-to-the-good miracle which these Hindus would doubtless tell to their children's children. In the course of time it would go down into legend and tradition, as the thing which the Hindu theologians call Jataka, and I felt a sort of kinship, of comradeship, with that many-armed, grinning old idol of Shiva Natarajah. Snobbish of me, wasn't it, to be so proud of my own particular little miracle. But then--oh--it was a miracle, and snobbishness is after all only a simplified form of the desire to be mystic, to drown one's own puny personality in a greater self--as I had drowned myself in that of Shiva, had given him my voice in fact--my good old college yells.

I thought of that even as, with the last shrieking straggler scooting out of sight down the corridor, I came out of the pedestal, closed the temple door, and then--well, I was torn between two emotions. You see, I didn't want the Hindus to come back, and I could arrange for that, at least, temporarily, by setting the machinery into motion again and backing the heavy statue up against the door. On the other hand, I would bar my own exit by the same process.

Finally, I decided to risk it. First I picked up the robe which the last of the fleeing Hindus had dropped and put it on my own back; then I got back into the pedestal and pushed the master--handle until Shiva was plumb up against the door, straddling on both sides of it like a great metallic spider and making it impossible to open it.

That road was barred to the Hindus, and to me! There remained thus only one way of escape: back over the roof-top. Back somehow, though I didn't know how, for there was the long drop into the blue slime of Ibrahim Khan's Gully, and how could I do it with the unconscious girl in my arms?

I said to myself that I would have to try it, and I was about to pick up the little girl when another thought assailed me. For, remember, that both times I had passed through the cobra den---the only communication between the temple and the stairs leading to the roof-top--I had found it impossible to open the connecting door from the inside. It was easy enough to get into the cobra den from the stairs, but to get out--why, there seemed to be some intricate, hidden bit of machinery which I did not know.

I would have to ask. Whom? Why, his nibs, of course; the old Brahman priest down in the cobra den. Whom else could I have asked?

So I pushed open the stone slab, shook my priest awake, took the gag from his mouth, and talked to him like a Dutch uncle.

But it wasn't a go. Not a bit of it. That thrice--born mountain of portliness only laughed at me. Yes, by the many hecks, he laughed at me, and then, when I asked him to elucidate, he spoke, very gently, with a sort of regretful sob in his voice--the old hypocrite: "Ah, sahib," he sighed, "it is, alas! impossible to open the door from the inside--as impossible as wings upon a cat, as flowers of air, as rabbits' horns, as ropes made of tortoise hair! Only from the outside can the door be opened!"

I threatened him with voice and with hand and, you know, I have a large, man-size, persuasive sort of hand. But it didn't do a bit of good. "Impossible, sahib!" he repeated, "impossible by the five sacred Pandavas!" and there was that in his voice which convinced me that Old Pomposity, perhaps for the first time in his life, was speaking the truth.

"Look here," I said after a pause, "there's another way out of the temple, isn't there?" "Assuredly," he replied. "You can pass through the temple, sahib, out of the door, along the corridor--"

"Cut it out! Can it, you old humbug!" I interrupted him. "I know that way--I took it half an hour ago, and I had a devil of a time getting back here. Now, look here. I have an idea that there's yet a third way out of here, and that you know it. Come through at once, or--well, I'll give you a good sound spanking!" And I made a significant gesture.

But that didn't faze him in the least. He stared at me out of his round, onyx eyes, folded his hands over his stomach and said resignedly, "Beat me then, sahib, for--ah--a beating from a master and a step into the mud are not things one should consider." Cute little metaphor, wasn't it? And perhaps not exactly as flattering as it sounded first shot out of the box. "Sahib," he went right on with his eternal Oriental proverbs, "if the man be ugly, what can the mirror do? Can you plaster over the rays of the sun? No? Then why beat me? It would not help you out of the temple, would it?"

I lost my temper then. "Look here," I said, "if you don't get me out of here--me and the girl---I'll kill you: and by ginger I mean it!"

But he continued staring at me without as much as a blink.

"Sahib," he said calmly, "you are a white man, a Christian, afraid of death, of--ah--final destiny. But I, sahib," he purred, "I am a Brahman, a thrice-born indifferent to life and to death--for death is only a passing breath, only a forgotten wind sweeping over the grassy hills of eternity; indifferent to Satva, and Rajas, and Tamas--to pleasure, and pain, and darkness. You believe that man's life is a bundle of qualities which die with death; and I--I know that man's life is a thing without bondage or limit, perpetually active! I, sahib," he shot out with sudden ringing sincerity, "I am not afraid of death!"

Right then an idea came to me--a mingling of what I had read and of what Roos-Keppel had told me about caste and loss of caste. Roughly, I forced the Brahman to swing himself out of the den and into the temple. I followed.

"Look!" I said, pointing at the idol of Shiva Natarajah, straddling the door; and the Brahman turned as pale as a sheet. "You are not afraid of death," I went on, "and that's the truth. But you are afraid of losing caste; you are afraid of losing your priestly influence, aren't you?" He did not reply, just stood there, staring dumbly, despairingly at the statue, and I continued: "You see, I discovered how you work your little miracles, and I worked them myself--every last one of them. I even made your fool idol talk; and the people saw and heard and ran away. Now, either you get me out of this mess, out of this confounded rabbit-warren, or I give myself up to your countrymen, and I tell 'em how you've fooled them in the past. I'll tell 'em how the miracles are accomplished, and then you, I guess, would--"

"Yes, yes," he mumbled, "I would lose caste! For many lives to come would I be born in the form of insects, of--"

"Well," I interrupted harshly, "what's the answer? Come through! Are you going to lead me out of this building or not?"

"Sahib," he said, "you win. But I can not lead you out of the temple!"

"Stop your hedging," I cried. "How the deuce do I win if you can't lead me out of the temple?"

"Forgive your servant, sahib," stammered the priest, "and have patience until I have explained. For I have given a vow never too leave this building, never even to come within sight of the outer walls of it, a sacred vow to Ganesha, the Elephant-Tusked Lord of Incepts! And should I break this vow I would lose caste as assuredly as if you--ah--would give to the people the tale of the miracles."

"Well, what then?" I demanded impatiently.

"Just this, sahib. I can lead you from here to another room and thence, by yourself easily, assuredly, will you be able to find escape in a short time. Listen! Listen to me, sahib," he continued hurriedly, excitedly, "listen to my solemn oath," and he gave the one solemn vow which--I remembered what Roos-Keppel had told me--no Brahman will ever break: "I swear by Shiva the Great Yogi, by Parvati, and the Sacred Bull Nandi--by Ganesha and Karttikeya! I swear by all the Devas who dwell in Svarga! I swear by the heavenly Apsaras, the Gandharvas, and Kinnaras! I swear by Vishnu's Garuda, by Parvati's Tiger, by Ganesha's Rat, and by Indra's Elephant! I swear that I shall lead the sahib into a room whence he shall find a quick and certain way out of danger, a way to eternal peace and release from worry; nor shall he be molested by man or beast! Ay! peace and rest and safety shall be his! I swear it to thee, O Brahm, Supreme Spirit, O Son of Pritha!"

Then he turned to me, speaking with his ordinary voice: "You believe me, sahib?"

"Sure!" I did believe him. He spoke the truth, and there was no doubt of it. "All right," I said, walking over to the pedestal and picking up the little girl. Her head dropped on my shoulder like a precious waxen flower. "Lead on MacDuff!"

"Good, sahib, good!" breathed the priest, turning directly to the wall to the left of the door, and then he continued. speaking over his shoulder, "you are not afraid of trees?"

"You bet I am not," I laughed. "Trees are what I want--trees, and sunlight, and the open--"

"Good, good, good!" the priest replied. "Trees shall be your fate--trees and peace and safety forever!" And for a few minutes he groped over the wall panels, seemed to find what he was looking for, gave a violent little jerk, and part of the wall flung open with a great rush of cool air.

"Come, sahib," he said, and I followed him, the girl in my arms, through the opening and down a winding staircase into pitchy darkness. But I wasn't afraid--not the least bit. I knew that the Brahman would not break his solemn vow.

CHAPTER VIII - Brahman Truth

The vox angelica replied: "The shadows flee

away!

Our house-beams were of cedar. Come in

with boughs of May!"

The diapason deepened it: "Before the

darkness fall,

We tell you He is risen again!

Our God hath burst His prison again!

Christ is risen, is risen again: and Love is

Lord of all!"

--ALFRED NOVES.

DOWN the cool, dark staircase we went--and--Say--Denton turned on me a smile of sheer joy--do you believe there's such a thing as compressing all that is fine and sweet and precious and wild and simple in life into a few golden, pulsing seconds? What? Do I believe it myself?

Why, man, I knew it, as I walked down the stairs with the little Hindu girl in my arms, her soft, warm body pressed against mine, her heart beating through her flimsy draperies, and with the thought that soon she and I would find peace and safety. Just then I didn't even think of the portly old thrice-born who was walking ahead of me, giving warning every once in a while about a broken or slippery step. I felt an utter sense of complete, lasting remoteness from the gray, grinding worries and unhappinesses of all the world--as if the girl and I had, somewhat audaciously, but entirely successfully, come without passport, without asking leave, into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic and love. "We have arrived, sahib," the Brahman's voice jarred into my happy reverie, and at the same time the pitchy darkness was cut off as sharp and clean as with a knife, and a bright, silvery light rose in front of me suddenly, as when a series of motion-pictures snaps short a street scene and shifts without warning into the scenery of lake and forest.

In a moment my eyes got used to the blinding dazzle. It was the dazzle of moon-rays coming through a window and mirroring themselves on the shiny white lac walls of a small room into which the stairs abutted. I stepped up to the window and looked out; it gave on a garden which stood out spectrally in the silken moonlight. I could see the dim stir of the leaves and particles of fine dust blown about by some vagabond wind of the night; and the mystery, the mad, amazing stillness of India surged out of the dark and spoke to me.

But the mystery, the throbbing stillness held, too, a message of peace to me and the girl, for there was the garden, the trees, the open, freedom--the fulfillment of my Charmed Life. I completed my groping thoughts with a smile as I turned to the priest with a heart-felt "Thank you," and was about to throw open the window. But he restrained me. "No, no, sahib," he said hurriedly, "no! There is no way out of the garden; it is surrounded by a huge wall and well patrolled. Wait, sahib! I shall keep my solemn oath. I shall give you your heart's desire--safety and peace---no harm from man or beast--and," he smiled, "trees, better, richer, more glorious than those trees yonder," pointing at the waving palm fronds in the garden.

He turned and walked to the opposite side of the room. "As, here we are," he breathed softly, and very suddenly, with such utter quickness that: I did not even see his hand as it worked it, he had set some dull-grating machinery into motion, and four feet of stone wall slid to one side with a little thud. "Step inside, sahib," he went on, "and remember the oath of the Brahman--safety and peace. Step inside, sahib, you who love trees!"

You know, Stephen Denton continued after a short pause, for a fleeting moment a certain shapeless, clammy fear seemed to settle down upon me, focusing about my heart. Looking at the Brahman's smiling face, I had very much the sensation a bird may feel when it runs straight into the jaws of the snake that has fascinated it. I seemed to be falling in with a devilish plan of the Brahman's own making--to--oh, my thoughts seemed to be flying about somewhere outside of my brain, beyond control scattering wildly. But I jerked them back into my nerve-control with a stark, savage effort. I told myself that the Brahman would not break his oath. I stepped through the opening, the girl in my arms, while the priest stood to one side, bowing, smiling, like a deferential butler receiving an honored guest.

"I have kept my oath, sahib," he repeated. "Let the Divine Mother of the Elephant's Trunk be witness to the fact that I have kept my oath! You will find trees--you who do not fear trees, you who like trees--sit beneath them for a while and meditate on Life, on Death, on the Seven Great Virtues, and the Seven Black Sins! Think of it all, and remember, too," suddenly he gave a shrill, high-pitched laugh, "that sense is not a courtesan, that it should come to men unasked! Ho, wise sahib among sahibs!" And, with another ringing laugh, he had stepped quickly back--he was about to shoot the door home--when once more fear and suspicion raced through me.

"Wait a moment!" I said, "wait--" I took a step toward him, but the girl was in my arms---very quickly I shifted the soft, warm burden to my left arm, releasing my right--I made a grab at the Brahman. But I had not been quick enough. I only caught the end of his flowing robe--it tore in my hand. He was out and away, and the door shut with a jarring bang of finality. The only thing he left behind him was the yard or two of white robe which got caught in the slamming door, hanging down like a limp, disgusted flag. Again fear rushed through me--"fear as dry and keen as a new-ground sword," as the Hindus say--and my heart was a great, confused turmoil of mingled

dread and despair--and of love for the girl in my arms. I pressed her to me more closely than ever.

Was this a trap, a--But no, no! whispered my saner self. The Brahman had sworn the one oath the breaking of which would make him lose caste; and immediately I became reassured. There was a way out of this room, and it wouldn't, couldn't be hard to find; for the priest had promised safety and peace and escape from worry for me and the girl. He had promised that neither man nor beast would harm me.

I needed just a few minutes' rest, for even the sweetest burden becomes heavy in one's arms, and then I would find my way out. So, very gently, I let Padmavati slide to the floor--beneath the trees.

Trees? Yes! For the Brahman had spoken the truth, There were two trees in the center of the room, striving straight up to the tall ceiling. Indian gold-mohur trees they seemed, in full-bursting, dark-green leafage, and crowned with masses of flame-colored, fantastically twisted flowers. The branches touched the walls on all four sides, they seemed to fill the whole upper half of the room, and, like willow-branches, they drooped down, coming within about seven feet of the floor. I smiled at the typical Hindu conceit which had caused trees to be planted in a room, and I touched the trunk of one of them--and then I drew my hand back with an exclamation of surprise.

You see, I had touched something cold, ice--cold!

Startling, wasn't it? And my surprise grew into amazement when I looked closer. For the trees were not living trees at all!

They were made of metal, every last detail of them, every leaf and flower--metal, cunningly wrought and embossed and enameled! I remember the Brahman's question; he had asked me first, if I feared trees; then, if I liked them?

What had he meant by it? Well, it made no difference to me either way, I concluded my thought. Doubtless, these two metal trees had some occult religious significance. Perhaps this room was only another temple, the trees represented some incarnation of one or other of the many Hindu deities, after all, the Brahmans had assimilated into their faith a good deal of the nature worship of the black Indian aborigines. I knew that much from what I had read.

So, I sat there, beside the girl and rested myself. I didn't follow the Brahman's advice---Stephen Denton laughed--I didn't meditate on the Seven Great Virtues and the Seven Black Sins, I thought of simpler, sweeter, bigger things--of love--just that! Love.

I rose, a few minutes later, thoroughly refreshed in mind and body. And, I began once more looking for a door through which to escape. But there was neither window nor door. That didn't worry me, for I said to myself that I would presently chance upon some cellar-flap or some cunningly hidden spring which would release part of the wall, since, judging from past experiences, this seemed to be the usual mode of exit in this mad maze of buildings. I would get out somehow. There was the Brahman's solemn oath--peace and safety, and relief from worry!

First of all, I looked for a cellar-flap, and it didn't take me long to give up that particular search. For the floor, jet black as the Gates of Erberus, proved to be fashioned of a single, unjointed sheet of some sort of heavy metal, so highly polished that the tiniest hinge or button would have stood out like a crack in a mirror.

The walls, then!

They seemed covered with a wonderful, intricate, color-shouting embroidery, the very thing to conceal a tapestry door.

Beautiful stuff it was, and I raised my hand to touch it--you know the desire people have to handle precious textures--and then--why, man, the walls, too, were of metal, like the trees, like the floor! What I had taken for embroidery was in reality exquisitely inlaid enamel. It was perfectly wonderful work. I had never seen the like of it, and even at the time I thought that the whole thing--the walls, the trees, the floor, and what came after--could not be of Hindu workmanship; that it must have been made by the wizard hands of some Chinese craftsman. A Hindu wouldn't have had the patience, nor the neatness, for such delicate work. And you know the Persian saying: "God gave cunning to these three:--the brain of the Frank, the tongue of the Arab, the hand of the Chinaman!"

Well, metal or no metal, Hindu or Chinese, it was up to me to find some sort of an opening, and I began to make the round of the walls. Foot by foot, as high as I could reach, I commenced to examine them, groping, feeling, tapping carefully, minutely--and then, suddenly, I stopped. I jumped back a clear two feet, with an exclamation of surprise. Something had touched me on the shoulder!

I looked. There was nobody--just the girl and I--yes--and the trees! The next moment I knew what had startled me so. I told you about the branches of the trees, how they drooped, like willows; well, one of the branches had drooped a little lower, it had touched me. That was all!

Again I returned to my work. But I felt dizzy. I was on the verge of fainting. I jerked myself up with a will. I said to myself that I would have to hurry, for day breaks early and people rise early in the tropics; and I would have to make my getaway before the night faded from purple into rose and dull orange--and there was my love for the little girl, my love which was like a fine spring rain, unceasing, penetrating.

I did try to continue my search; but I couldn't!

I called myself a weakling and a fool; for terror--red, rank terror beyond death--seized me.

The trees--the branch of the one tree which had drooped a little and touched my shoulder! But how could it droop, since it was not a living branch--since it was made of lifeless metal?

I looked at the trees, at the ceiling. I looked--and I was appalled! Perhaps my eyes were deceiving me--an optical illusion--just my imagination, I told myself, growing, bloating, expanding like a balloon of evil anticipations, my mad imagination whispering to my saner Self, my real thinking Self; until, steadily growing in volume and effect, jumping from cord to cord in that intricate spider-web which is the nervous system, it had persuaded the thinking, recording cells in my brain, that--Stephen Denton half-rose in his chair--that the ceiling was slowly coming down--slowly, slowly--and with it the trees--the metal trees--with the sharp crushing metal branches!

Yes! They seemed to descend--very, very slowly, but as steadily and pitilessly as God's logic--steadily, steadily.

But no! Impossible!

I said to myself that it could not be so; that what I seemed to see must be the result of autosuggestion, of some wretched sort of self-hypnotism, focusing on my mentality, trying to strangle and paralyze my physical activity at the very moment when I had to use both body and brain to find the door in the wall, to escape!

I would have to convince myself that it was only an illusion, and there was one way of doing it. I told you about the intricate pattern with which the metal walls were enameled. I picked out one, a little black-and-red crane standing erect on a lotus-leaf, a beautiful bit of enamel, high up on the wall, quite near the ceiling, and I watched it. I watched it carefully, without taking my eyes away for a single moment--I watched--watched--and I saw! I apologized to myself for having called myself a fool and a coward, and for having accused myself of autosuggestion and an overdose of crazy imagination. I decided that my real Self was still on deck, after all, working, observing, sober, and more or less subliminal. For, within a short time--perhaps three minutes--the edge of the ceiling had touched the head of the little black-and-red crane. Another three minutes, the crane had disappeared, and the ceiling was halfway across the lotus-leaf.

I saw--and immediately I understood! I understood everything--the walls and floor and ceiling of solid metal, the trees, the Brahman's question if I feared tree, and the Brahman's oath!

The Brahman had given a solemn oath, nor would he break it. He had lured me into this room, me and the girl, and he had set some machinery into motion which would kill us, slowly, mercilessly--crushing us, doubtless as sacrifices, human sacrifices, to his bestial, blood-stained gods. Yes, he had kept his oath, for to him death spelled peace and safety and final release from earthly worries; nor were we being harmed by man or beast, but by metal, by crushing weight, by---

And he had asked me to sit awhile beneath the trees--to rest myself, to meditate!

What should I do, could I do? The bell from the Presbyterian church, tolling the quarter to two, gave answer. Yes, I knelt down, and I prayed--a foolish prayer of my childhood days, back in Boston. It was the only one I could remember:

Dear God, I am a growing child;

Each day of living brings

A hundred puzzling thoughts to me

About a hundred things.

Sometimes it's very hard for me To tell what I should do, And so I say this little prayer, And leave it all to you.

Childish, wasn't it? But it didn't seem so to me at the time--and, yes, it seemed to--oh!---steady my nerves; it seemed to me like the cool, safe breath of God. It gave me resignation, it left no room for fear. Come what may--there was nothing in my heart except love--love for the little Lady Padmavati--and all the tortures in the world, the slowest, cruelest death, would not blot out from my consciousness the fact that I loved her--her only!

There was nothing I could do. I could save neither her life, nor my own. A pistol clapped to my head, a curved saber waved above me--those I could have battled and struggled against. They were real, tangible. But this--why, I was helpless, and I knew it.

Again I watched the ceiling, the trees. They were still coming down, steadily, slowly, the branches drooped lower and lower; one of them, a specially stout branch, was already within a foot of the top of the low door; another touched my head, the sharp metal cut my scalp--I ducked.

There was just one thing I could do for Padmavati. I could protect her with my own body. She, too, would be crushed to death, but at least the sharp metal branches would not tear her flimsy robe to ribbons, dishonoring her in the hour of death, nor would they cut her soft, golden skin.

I crouched above her, and I prayed, again I prayed! Twice I looked up to see if the ceiling, the trees, were still coming down, fully convinced, before I looked, that they were coming down. They were now descending a little faster--the branch near the door was nearly touching the top.

I bent down lower to kiss the girl, a kiss of love and farewell--I felt her soft, warm, intoxicating breath--and---

I did not kiss her after all! For, suddenly, I heard a noise, loud, sharp, jarring. I looked up, startled--again I was afraid. Was this the end? Were the metal trees about to crush us? Or, perhaps, had the door opened to admit the Brahman?

And then--quite suddenly---

Stephen Denton was silent for a moment. He turned to me with a quizzical smile. He pointed at the fine, white ashes of his cigar, curling around the dull-red glow. He blew the ashes away.

"Half a rupee's worth of tobacco," he said, "burned into a smelly stump of no value at all in twenty minutes--that's a cigar, isn't it? And yet---imagine a puff of wind, an open barrel of gunpowder, a conflagration, a wooden building across the street, a town gone up in flames and smoke! Small cause and thumping result, don't you think?"

"Yes, yes," I interrupted impatiently, "but what's that got to do with those metal trees above you--with the horrible death you were facing---you and the girl you loved?"

What has that got to do with the trees--you ask--with my death? Why, everything, old man!

Remember the loud, sharp-jarring noise I told you about a second ago? Remember the Brahman and the Brahman's white robe, how I clutched at it, how it tore and got caught in the slamming of the door at the height of the knob?

Well, I have an idea that bit of flimsy muslin is responsible for the fact that I am sitting here today, across from you, old man. I am not sure how it happened, though later on, when calm reflection came, I said to myself that the Chinese craftsman with the patient, delicate hands, who was doubtless the builder of that torture-chamber, had been a trifle too patient, a trifle too delicate. It was pretty clear to me that the Brahman had set the machinery in motion--most likely it timed itself--so and so many minutes, until the room had contracted to such a degree that the trees crushed whatever living thing was in their vicinity.

You see, the ceiling and the trees had stopped in their slow, pitiless, juggernaut descent, for the simplest reason in the world!

The flimsy bit of torn muslin had prevented the door from closing completely, by the fraction of an inch, no more! But it was enough to cause the top of the door to protrude the least little bit from the upper part of the door-jamb--and there you are! The stout metal branch of the tree, instead of sliding serenely past door-jamb and along the door, had pumped smartly against the protruding top of the door!

Providence, eh? Chance--perhaps that blind Madonna of children and lovers? Or the Charmed Life?

Whatever the psychical reason, the physical was clear. The whole thing had happened and passed in a moment. The jarring noise--the realization that the muslin had saved our lives---then silence.

Again I looked at the ceiling, at the trees. They could not work past the minute obstacle. And I thanked God--and then I bent once more over the girl, to continue my interrupted kiss, and at the same moment she gave a little sob and opened her eyes.

I guess she must have recognized me immediately. She must have remembered the scene on the roof-top. For she wasn't a bit frightened. She just looked at me and smiled, and then, in a few rapid words, I told her what had happened--from the moment the old ruffian on the roof-top had struck her the glancing blow to the moment when I had come to this room, her unconscious form in my arms.

I did not tell her about the trees, about this devil's devising of a room. For I loved her, don't you see, I did not want to worry her, and, momentarily at least, we were safe. Also--and I know you'll think me mad--when I saw her open her eyes--when I saw that soft, sweet expression in her face as she looked at me and recognized me, the idea, the thought--no!--the all-fired, eternal conviction came to me that God was in His Heavens after all--that I bore the Charmed Life---that, somehow, we would get out of this room, this house, this maze of buildings--out of the Colootallah!

So I told her everything up to the moment when I had crossed the threshold when I had stretched her beneath the trees, and I wound up with a few simple words.

Stephen Denton blushed a little.

What were those words? Can't you guess them? They were the same words which are spoken in every known and unknown language, a million times each day, in every country, in every city and village.

I said: "I love you! Will you be my wife?"

And she replied in English, in soft, beautiful English: "Would you marry a dancing-girl, a nautch, sahib?"

"You bet your life!" I replied, with ringing conviction in my voice. "I'd marry you if you were--"

"The Lady Padmavati?" she interrupted me, mockingly, and then I remembered how I had heard that same name whispered through the hollow tiles at the feet of the mummy. I remembered the sensation, the utter amazement, which the mentioning of that name had caused.

Still, "the Lady Padmavati" meant nothing to me, and so I asked her straight out who she was, and she told me.

I guess you know, Stephen Denton continued; you must have read about it in the newspapers, how one of the Hindu revolutionary secret societies had been trying to bully the Raja of Nagapore into joining their ranks, or, at least, contributing a handsome bunch of money: how the Raja--very pro-British he--had refused, and how his only child, a daughter, had been kidnapped. Well, to make a long story short, Padmavati was the daughter of the Raja of Nagapore. Those ruffians had stolen her and were training her for the temple worship of Shiva Natarajah.

"And," she wound up her tale, "I have made a vow that whoever rescues me him I shall--"

The rest of her sentence was drowned in a loud, metallic noise. At the same moment was a rush of cool air. I looked up. The door had been flung wide open, and there round-eyed, utterly amazed, stood--my old friend, the Brahman!

I doubt if it took me more than a hundredth part of a second to collect my thoughts, to realize my position. "Quick," I whispered to the girl. She rose, catching my arm. We jumped across the threshold! He stood there, mute, and I laughed.

"Miscalculated a little, didn't you, you fat Brahman ruffian?" I asked in a low voice. "Told me to sit beneath the trees and meditate on Life and Death--and meanwhile you'd turn a crank and supply the latter, eh? All right--" Suddenly I grabbed him and pushed him into the steel room---he was quite limp--didn't even fight---"now it's your turn to meditate, and mine to move the crank, and I guarantee you there isn't going to be any torn slip of muslin this time--inside of twenty minutes you'll be as flat as a flounder!" And I scooted out of the room and shut the door. Of course, I had no intention of really crushing him to death--crafty, treacherous old beggar though he was--and though he had come back, doubtless, to have a good look at our flattened-out remains--the gory-minded Brahman gray-beard! But, after all, though India had crept into my blood, I was still an American, a Westerner. I could have killed him with knife or bullet, killed him outright, you see, without too much compunction. But to slowly squeeze him to death--oh, I couldn't do it.

And, too, don't you see, old man, the whole thing was a bluff, anyway. How did I know where to go--how to find the crank or whatever it was which set the machinery into motion? I simply figured on the chance that the Brahman would be too badly scared to see through my bluff. And, to make it appear more real, I took out my Bowie--knife and scraped the door on the outside, to make him think the machinery was jarring and snapping into motion.

Faintly, from within, I could hear his agonized moaning and sobbing.

I felt Padmavati's soft little hand on my arm. "But, dearest"--she whispered, and I understood, though she didn't finish her sentence.

"It's all right, darling," I returned. "I am not going to hurt Old Pomposity more than I have to. Don't you worry about him!" and I continued scraping at the steel door until the moaning and sobbing had ceased. Then, very gently, I opened the door. I looked in.

The Brahman had fallen in a dead faint. His light-brown face had turned ashen-gray.

I shook him awake. He came out of his trance with a start. He clutched my legs, he kissed the hem of my robe, my hands, and whatever parts of my anatomy he could reach. "Sahib, Heaven--Born, Protector of the Pitiful!" he groaned. "In the name of the many true gods--do not--do not--"

"All right!" I said, "I won't, you obese fraud--but--"

"Oh, Shining Pearl of Equity and Mercy!" he interrupted me with another outpouring of Oriental imagery. "Oh, Great King! Accept the vow of my gratitude! Hari bol! Krishna bol! Vishnu bol! Let the mighty gods be witnesses to my gratitude! May earth and life be to you as a wide and many-flowered road! May the clay of the holy river Vaiturani be rubbed on your body after your death--"

"That's exactly it!" I cut in. "After my death! And I don't intend to die--and, if you are as grateful as I am inclined to believe from your protestations, show me a way out of here--quick!"

He rose. Three times he bowed. Then he spoke, solemnly, "I will, Heaven-Born! Follow me!" and he turned to go.

"Can I believe you this time?" I asked.

"Courage is tried in war, sahib," replied the Brahman; "integrity in the payment of debt and interest; friendship in distress; the faithfulness of a wife in the day of poverty; and a Brahman's loyalty in the hour of death. Sahib, follow me!"

And I did--arm in arm with the girl--for, somehow, I felt that the old priest was speaking the truth.

So he led us through halls and rooms, up and down stairs worn hollow and slippery with the tread of naked feet, along corridors, on and on, with here and there a stop, a whispered word from the Brahman to keep perfectly quiet, a silken rustling of garments in some nearby room where people were still awake, with once in a while a hushed, distant voice, and twice the steely impact of a scabbard-tip bumping the stone flags as some unseen, prowling watchman of the night passed somewhere on his rounds; on and on we passed, and we never met a single human being. I hardly noticed the direction. For I was talking to Padmavati.

She gave a low, throaty laugh. Just then we were passing through a long, dark hall.

"Remember, sahib," she asked, "what I was saying just before the priest opened the door? I did not finish the sentence. Let me finish it now. I said that I have made a vow that whoever rescues me, him I shall--"

"You shall--marry!" I interrupted her, catching her in my arms and seeking her lips with mine.

I believe, Stephen Denton continued after a short pause, that science holds it impossible to measure eternity. It is the same thing with the great, deep joy--the huge, pulsing, bewildering elation which comes to man once--once in his life--when he loves, and when he feels that his love is returned. It is--oh, well, perhaps you know it yourself, perhaps you can fill in the details from your personal experience--the hot, exquisite knocking of the blood, the whispering rhythm of the dear, soft body you hold pressed against your own, the gigantic sounds of harmony which fill your soul--your sudden new, golden life as it seems to disentangle itself from the bunched, dark whole of humanity into a great, radiant simplicity.

Love--the first minutes of true love--and you can't measure them! At least I couldn't--that night. I pressed Padmavati close against me; mechanically, I set foot before foot, following the priest; and then, a second later, we ascended a staircase which seemed vaguely familiar to me.

The Brahman pushed open a door, we crossed a threshold--and there we were---

Once more on the roof-top, with the moon slowly fading in the distant sky before the faint rose-blush of dawn!

The Brahman walked straight up to the carved stone balustrade and pointed down at Ibrahim Khan's Gully.

"I have kept my word, sahib," he said, "There is the street--a jump--the turning of a street corner or two--and you will find Park Street! You will find your own world, your own people!" He bowed, then he turned to the girl. "And you, Padmavati--great was the injustice done to you. You were carried away from the palace of your father! You were forced here, into this building, to learn how to dance before Shiva Natarajah! Yes, great was the injustice of it; and yet, can you wipe out blood with darkening blood? Will a wrong right a wrong?"

"A wrong?" she asked. "What wrong?"

"The sahib, Padmavati!" he replied. "You are following the sahib, a foreigner, a Christian, and you are--" he halted.

"Yes," she said after a short pause, "I am the Princess Padmavati. I am the daughter of the Maharajah of Nagapore. I am a Rathor of Kanauj, claiming kinship with the flame, and my mother is a Tomara of Delhi, claiming kinship with the sun! I am a descendant of the gods!" She drew up her, little figure in a passion of pride. "My people have lived here--they have ruled this great land of Hindustan for over three thousand years! Never have we mixed our blood with the blood of foreigners! And yet--"

"And yet--what?" anxiously asked the priest, and she continued with a low, silvery laugh: "And yet there is love, wise priest!" And she turned to me. "Jump, beloved," she whispered, "jump--and I shall follow!"

I jumped without waiting for another word---down into Ibrahim Khan's Gully, landing safely on my feet. The next second her little lithe figure was balanced on the edge of the balustrade. I stretched my arms wide--she jumped--I caught her--just as the bell from the Presbyterian church in Old Court House Street tolled--binng-bunng--two o'clock!

Yes, mused Stephen Denton, a descendant of the gods, she, the daughter of a race who ruled this land before history dawned on the rest of the world--and I, from Boston, with memories of the antimacassars, mild cocktails, Phi Beta Kappa, and---

 
 
 

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