"What a pity it is we have no piano, Katharine," said John Westonhaugh, who was fond of music. "Could you not sing something without any accompaniment?"
"Oh no. Mr. Isaacs," she said, turning her voice to where she could see the light of his cigarette and the faint outline of his chair in the starlight, "here we are in the camp. Now where is the 'lute' you promised to produce for us? I think the time has come at last for you to keep your promise."
"Well," said he, "I believe there really is an old guitar or something of the kind among my traps somewhere. But it might wake Mr. Ghyrkins, who, I understand from his tones, is asleep."
Various opinions were expressed to the effect that Mr. Ghyrkins was not so easily disturbed, and a voice like Kildare's was heard to mumble that "it would not hurt him if he was," a sentence no one attempted to construe. So the faithful Narain was summoned, and instructed to bring the instrument if he could find it. I was rather surprised at Isaacs' readiness to sing; but in the first place I had never heard him, and besides I did not make allowance for the Oriental courtesy of his character, which would not refuse anything, or make any show of refusal in order to be pressed. Narain returned with a very modern-looking guitar-case, and, opening the box, presented his master with the instrument, which, as Isaacs took it to the light in the door of the tent to see if it had travelled safely, appeared to be a perfectly new German guitar. I suspected him of having purchased it at the little music shop at Simla, for the especial amusement of our party.
"I thought it was a lute you played on," said Miss Westonhaugh, "a real, lovely, ancient Assyrian lute, or something of that kind."
"Oh, a plain guitar is infinitely better and less troublesome," said Isaacs as he returned to his seat in the dark and began to tune the strings softly. "It takes so long to tune one of those old things, and then nothing will make them stand. Now this one, you see,—or rather you cannot see,—has an ingenious contrivance of screws by which you may tune it in a moment." While he was speaking he was altering the pitch of the strings, and presently he added, "There, it is done now," and two or three sounding chords fell on the still air. "Now what shall I sing? I await your commands."
"Something soft, and sweet, and gentle."
"A love-song?" asked he quietly.
"Well yes—a love-song if you like. Why not?" said she.
"No reason in the world that I can think of," I remarked. Whereat Lord Steepleton Kildare threw his cigar away, and began lighting another a moment after, as if he had discarded his weed by mistake.
Isaacs struck a few chords softly, and then began a sort of running accompaniment. His voice, which seemed to me to be very high, was wonderfully smooth and round, and produced the impression of being much more powerful than he cared to show. He sang without the least effort, and yet there was none of that effeminate character that I have noticed in European male singers when producing high notes very softly. I do not understand music, but I am sure I never heard an opera tenor with a voice of such quality. The words of his song were Persian, and the pure accents of his native tongue seemed well suited to the half passionate, half plaintive air he had chosen. I afterwards found a translation of the sonnet by an English officer, which I here give, though it conveys little idea of the music of the original verse.
Last night, my eyes being closed in sleep, but my good fortune awake, The whole night, the livelong night, the image of my beloved one was the companion of my soul. The sweetness of her melodious voice still remains vibrating on my soul; Heavens! how did the sugared words fall from her sweeter lips; Alas! all that she said to me in that dream has escaped from my memory, Although it was my care till break of day to repeat over and over her sweet words. The day, unless illuminated by her beauty, is, to my eyes, of nocturnal darkness. Happy day that first I gazed upon that lovely face! May the eyes of Jami long be blessed with pleasing visions, since they presented to his view last night The object, on whose account he passed his waking life in expectation.
His beautiful voice ceased, and with infinite skill he wove a few strains of the melody into the final chords he played when he had finished singing. It was all so entirely novel, so unlike any music most of us had ever heard, and it was so undeniably good, that every one applauded and said something to the singer in turn, expressing the greatest admiration and appreciation. Miss Westonhaugh was the last to speak.
"It is perfectly lovely," she said. "I wish I could understand the words—are they as sweet as the music?"
"Sweeter," he answered, and he gave an offhand translation of two or three verses.
"Beautiful indeed," she said; "and now sing me another, please." There was no resisting such an appeal, with the personal pronoun in the singular number. He moved a little nearer, and emphatically sang to her, and to no one else. A song of the same character as the first, but, I thought, more passionate and less dreamy, as his great sweet voice swelled and softened and rose again in burning vibrations and waves of sound. She did not ask a translation this time, but some one else did, after the applause had subsided.
"I cannot translate these things," said Isaacs, "so as to do them justice, or give you any idea of the strength and vitality of the Persian verses. Perhaps Griggs, who understands Persian very well and is a literary man, may do it for you. I would rather not try." I professed my entire inability to comply with the request, and to turn the conversation asked him where he had learned to play the guitar so well.
"Oh," he answered, "in Istamboul, years ago. Everybody plays in Istamboul—and most people sing love-songs. Besides it is so easy," and he ran scales up and down the strings with marvellous rapidity to illustrate what he said.
"And do you never sing English songs, Mr. Isaacs?" asked the collector of Pegnugger, who was enchanted, not having heard a note of music for months.
"Oh, sometimes," he answered. "I think I could sing 'Drink to me only with thine eyes'—do you know it?" He began to play the melody on the guitar while he spoke.
"Rather—I should think so!" Kildare was heard to say. He was beginning to think the concert had lasted long enough.
"Oh, do sing it, Mr. Isaacs," said the young girl, "and my brother and I will join in. It will be so pretty!"
It certainly sounded very sweetly as he gave the melody in his clear, high tones, and Miss Westonhaugh and John sang with him. Having heard it several thousand times myself, I was beginning to recognise the tune well enough to enjoy it a good deal.
"That is very nice," said Kildare, who was sorry he had made an impatient remark before, and wanted to atone.
"Eh? what? how's that?" said Mr. Ghyrkins just waking up. "Oh! of course. My niece sings charmingly. Quite an artist, you know." And he struggled out of his chair and said it was high time we all went to bed if we meant to shoot straight in the morning. The magistrate of Pegnugger concurred in the opinion, and we reluctantly separated for the night to our respective quarters, Isaacs and I occupying a tent together, which he had caused to be sent on from Delhi, as being especially adapted to his comfort.
On the following day at dawn we were roused by the sound of preparations, and before we were dressed the voices of Mr. Currie Ghyrkins and the collector were heard in the camp, stirring up the sleepy servants and ordering us to be waked. The two old sportsmen felt it their duty to be first on such an occasion as this, and in the calm security that they would do everything that was right, Isaacs and I discussed our tea and fruit—the chota haziri or "little breakfast" usually taken in India on waking—sitting in the door of our tent, while Kiramat Ali and Narain and Mahmoud and the rest of the servants were giving a final rub to the weapons of the chase, and making all the little preparations for a long day. And we sat looking out and sipping our tea.
In the cool of the dawn Miss Westonhaugh came tripping across the wet grass to where her uncle was giving his final directions about the furnishing of his howdah for the day; a lovely apparition of freshness in the gray morning, all dressed in dark blue, a light pith helmet-shaped hat pressing the rebellious white-gold hair almost out of sight. She walked so easily it seemed as if her dainty little feet had wings, as Hermes' of old, to ease the ground of their feather weight. A broad belt hung across her shoulder with little rows of cartridges set all along, and at the end hung a very business-like revolver case of brown leather and of goodly length. No toy miniature pistol would she carry, but a full-sized, heavy "six-shooter," that might really be of use at close quarters. She stood some minutes talking with Mr. Ghyrkins, not noticing us in the shadow of the tent some thirty yards away; Isaacs and I watched her intently—with very different feelings, possibly, but yet intensely admiring the fair creature, so strong and pliant, and yet so erect and straight. She turned half round towards us, and I saw there were flowers in the front of her dress. I wondered where they had come from; they were roses—of all flowers in the world to be blooming in the desert. Perhaps she had brought them carefully from Fyzabad, but that was improbable; or from Pegnugger—yes, there would be roses in the collector's garden there. Isaacs rose to his feet.
"Oh, come along, Griggs. You have had quite enough tea!"
"Go ahead; I will be with you in a moment." But a sudden thought struck me, and I went with him, bareheaded, to greet Miss Westonhaugh. She smiled brightly as she held out her hand.
"Good morning, Mr. Isaacs. Thank you so much for the roses. How did you do it? They are too lovely!" So it was just as I thought. Isaacs had probably despatched a man back to Pegnugger in the night.
"Very easy I assure you. I am so glad you like them. They are not very fresh after all though, I see," he added depreciatingly, as men do when they give flowers to people they care about. I never heard a man find fault with flowers he gave out of a sense of duty. It is perhaps that the woman best loved of all things in the world has for him a sweetness and a beauty that kills the coarser hues of the rose, and outvies the fragrance of the double violets.
"Oh no!" she said, emphasising the negative vigorously. "I think they are perfectly beautiful, but I want you to tell me where you got them." I began talking to Ghyrkins, who was intent on the arrangement of his guns which was going on under his eyes, but I heard the answer, though Isaacs spoke in a low voice.
"You must not say that, Miss Westonhaugh. You yourself are the most perfect and beautiful thing God ever made." By a superhuman effort I succeeded in keeping my eyes fixed on Ghyrkins, probably with a stony, unconscious stare, for he presently asked what I was looking at. I do not think Isaacs cared whether I heard him or not, knowing that I sympathised, but Mr. Ghyrkins was another matter. The Persian had made progress, for there was no trace of annoyance in Miss Westonhaugh's answer, though she entirely overlooked her companion's pretty speech.
"Seriously, Mr. Isaacs, if you mean to have one of them for your badge to-day, you must tell me how you got them." I turned slowly round. She was holding a single rose in her fingers, and looking from it to him, as if to see if it would match his olive skin and his Karkee shooting-coat. He could not resist the bribe.
"If you really want to know I will tell you, but it is a profound secret," he said, smiling. "Griggs, swear!"
I raised my hand and murmured something about the graves of my ancestors.
"Well," he continued, "yesterday morning at the collector's house I saw a garden; in the garden there were roses, carefully tended, for it is late. I took the gardener apart and said, 'My friend, behold, here is silver for thee, both rupees and pais. And if thou wilt pick the best of thy roses and deliver them to the swift runner whom I will send to thee at supper time when the stars are coming out, I will give thee as much as thou shalt earn in a month with thy English master. But if thou wilt not do it, or if thou failest to do it, having promised, I will cause the grave of thy father to be defiled with the slaughter of swine, and, moreover, I will return and beat thee with a thick stick!' The fellow was a Mussulman, and there was a merry twinkle in his eye as he took the money and swore a great oath. I left a running man at Pegnugger with a basket, and that is how you got the roses. Don't tell the collector, that is all."
We all laughed, and Miss Westonhaugh gave the rose to Isaacs, who touched it to his lips, under pretence of smelling it, and put it in his buttonhole. Kildare came up at this moment and created a diversion; then the collector joined us and scattered us right and left, saying it was high time we were in the howdahs and on the way. So we buckled on our belts, and those who wore hats put them on, and those who preferred turbans bent while their bearers wound them on, and then we moved off to where the elephants were waiting and got into our places, and the mahouts urged the huge beasts from their knees to their feet, and we went swinging off to the forest. The pad elephants, who serve as beaters and move between the howdah animals, joined us, and presently we went splashing through the reedy patches of fern, and crashing through the branches, towards the heart of the jungle.
Mr. Currie Ghyrkins, whose long experience had made him as cool when after tigers as when reading the Pioneer in his shady bungalow at Simla, had taken Miss Westonhaugh with him in his howdah, and as an additional precaution for her safety, the little collector of Pegnugger, who was a dead shot, only allowed two pad elephants to move between himself and Ghyrkins. As there were thirty-seven animals in all, the rest of the party were much scattered. I thought there were too many elephants for our six howdahs, but it turned out that I was mistaken, for we had capital sport. The magistrate of Pegnugger, who knew the country thoroughly, was made the despot of the day. His orders were obeyed unquestioningly and unconditionally, and we halted in long line or marched onwards, forcing a passage through every obstacle, at his word. We might have been out a couple of hours, watching every patch of jungle and blade of long rank grass for a sight of the striped skin, writhing through the reeds, that we so longed to see, when the quick, short crack of a rifle away to the right brought us to a halt, and every one drew a long breath and turned, gun in hand, in the direction whence the sound had come. It was Kildare; he had met his first tiger, and the first also of the hunt. He had put up the animal not five paces in front of him, stealing along in the cool grass and hoping to escape between the elephants, in the cunning way they often do. He had fired a snap shot too quickly, inflicting a wound in the flank which only served to rouse the tiger to madness. With a leap that seemed to raise its body perpendicularly from the ground, the gorgeous creature flew into the air and settled right on the head of Kildare's elephant, while the terrified mahout wound himself round the howdah. It would have been a trying position for the oldest sportsman, but to be brought into such terrific encounter at arm's length, almost, at one's very first experience of the chase, was a terrible test of nerve. Those who were near said that in that awful moment Kildare never changed colour. The elephant plunged wildly in his efforts to shake off the beast from his head, but Kildare had seized his second gun the moment he had discharged the first, and aiming for one second only, as the tossing head and neck of the tusker brought the gigantic cat opposite him, fired again. The fearful claws, driven deep and sure into the thick hide of the poor elephant, relaxed their hold, the beautiful lithe limbs straightened by their own perpendicular weight, and the first prize of the day dropped to the ground like lead, dead, shot through the head.
A great yell of triumph arose all along the line, and the little mahout crept cautiously back from his lurking-place behind the howdah to see if the coast were clear. Kildare had behaved splendidly, and shouts of congratulation reached his ears from all sides. Miss Westonhaugh waved her handkerchief in token of approbation, every one applauded, and far away to the left Isaacs, who was in the last howdah, clapped his hands vigorously, and seat his high clear voice ringing like a trumpet down the line.
"Well done, Kildare! well done, indeed!" and his rival's praise was not the least grateful to Lord Steepleton on that day. Meanwhile the shikarries gathered around the fallen beast. It proved to be a young tigress some eight feet long, and the clean bright coat showed that she was no man-eater. So the pad elephant came alongside, to use a nautical phrase not inappropriate, and kneeling down received its burden willingly, well knowing that the slain beauty was one of his deadly foes. The mahout pronounced the elephant on which Kildare was mounted able to proceed, and only a few huge drops of blood marked where the tigress had kept her hold. We moved on again, beating the jungle, wheeling and doubling the long line, wherever it seemed likely that some striped monster might have eluded us. Marching and counter-marching through the heat of the day, we picked up another-prize in the afternoon. It was a large old tiger, nine feet six as he lay; he fell an easy prey to the gun of the little collector of Pegnugger, who sent a bullet through his heart at the first shot, and smiled rather contemptuously as he removed the empty shell of the cartridge from his gun. He would rather have had Kildare's chance in the morning.
After all, two tigers in a day was not bad sport for the time of year. I knew Isaacs would be disappointed at not having had a shot, where his rival in a certain quarter had had so good an opportunity for displaying skill and courage; and I confessed to myself that I preferred a small party, say, a dozen elephants and three howdahs, to this tremendous and expensive battue. I had a shot-gun with me, and consoled myself by shooting a peacock or two as we rolled and swayed homewards. We had determined to keep to the same camp for a day or two, as we could enter the forest from another point on the morrow, and might even beat some of the same ground again with success.
It was past five when we got down to the tents and descended from our howdahs, glad to stretch our stiffened limbs in a brisk walk. The dead tigers were hauled into the middle of the camp, and the servants ran together to see the result of the sahib log's day out. We retired to dress and refresh ourselves for dinner.
* * * * *
In Isaacs' tent I was pulling off my turban, all shapeless and crumpled by the long day, while Isaacs stood disconsolately looking at the clean guns and unbroken rows of cartridges which Narain deposited on the table. The sun was very low, and shone horizontally through the raised door of the tent on my friend's rather gloomy face. At that moment something intercepted the sunshine, and a dark shadow fell across the floor. I looked, and saw a native standing on the threshold, salaaming and waiting to be spoken to. He was not one of our men, but a common ryot, clad simply in a dhoti or waist-cloth, and a rather dirty turban.
"Kya chahte ho?"—"What do you want?" asked Isaacs impatiently. He was not in a good humour by any means. "Wilt thou deprive thy betters of the sunlight thou enjoyest thyself?"
"The sahib's face is like the sun and the moon," replied the man deprecatingly. "But if the great lord will listen I will tell him what shall rejoice his heart."
"Speak, unbeliever," said Isaacs.
"Protector of the poor! you are my father and my mother! but I know where there lieth a great tiger, an eater of men, hard-hearted, that delighteth in blood."
"Dog," answered Isaacs, calmly removing his coat, "the tiger you speak of was seen by you many moons since; what do you come to me with idle tales for?" Isaacs was familiar with the native trick of palming off old tigers on the unwary stranger, in the hope of a reward.
"Sahib, I am no liar. I saw the tiger, who is the king of the forest, this morning." Isaacs' manner relaxed a little, and he sat down and lighted the eternal cigarette. "Slave," he said meditatively, "if it is as you say, I will kill the tiger, but if it is not as you say, I will kill you, and cause your body to be buried with the carcass of an ox, and your soul shall not live." The man did not seem much moved by the threat. He moved nearer, and salaamed again.
"It is near to the dwelling of the sahib, who is my father," said the man, speaking low. "The day before yesterday he destroyed a man from the village. He has eaten five men in the last moon. I have seen him enter his lair, and he will surely return before the dawn; and the sahib shall strike him by his lightning; and the sahib will not refuse me the ears of the man-eater, that I may make a jaedu, a charm against sudden death?"
"Hound! if thou speakest the truth, and I kill the tiger, the monarch of game, I will make thee a rich man; but thou shalt not have his ears. I desire the jaedu for myself. I have spoken; wait thou here my pleasure." The ryot bent low to the earth, and then squatted by the tent-door to wait, in the patient way that a Hindoo can, for Isaacs to go and eat his dinner. As the latter came out ten minutes later, he paused and addressed the man once more. "Speak not to any man of thy tiger while I am gone, or I will cut off thine ears with a pork knife." And we passed on.
The sun was now set and hovering in the afterglow, the new moon was following lazily down. I stopped a moment to look at her, and was surprised by Miss Westonhaugh's voice close behind me.
"Are you wishing by the new moon, Mr. Griggs?" she asked.
"Yes," said I, "I was. And what were you wishing, Miss Westonhaugh, if I may ask?" Isaacs came up, and paused beside us. The beautiful girl stood quite still, looking to westward, a red glow on the white-gold masses of her hair.
"Did you say you were wishing for something, Miss Westonhaugh?" he asked. "Perhaps I can get it for you. More flowers, perhaps? They are very easily got."
"No—that is, not especially. I was wishing—well, that a tiger-hunt might last for ever; and I want a pair of tiger's ears. My old ayah says they keep off evil spirits and sickness; and all sorts of things."
"I know; it is a curious idea. I suppose both those beasts there have lost theirs already. These fellows cut them off in no time."
"Yes. I have looked. So I suppose I must wait till to-morrow. But promise me, Mr. Isaacs, if you shoot one to-morrow, let me have the ears!"
"I will promise that readily enough. I would promise anything you—" The last part of the sentence was lost to me, as I moved away and left them.
At dinner, of course, every one talked of the day's sport, and compliments of all kinds were showered on Lord Steepleton, who looked very much pleased, and drank a good deal of wine. Ghyrkins and the little magistrate expressed their opinion that he would make a famous tiger-killer one of these days, when he had learned to wait. Every one was hungry and rather tired, and after a somewhat silent cigar, we parted for the night, Miss Westonhaugh rising first. Isaacs went to his quarters, and I remained alone in a long chair, by the deserted dining-tent. Kiramat Ali brought me a fresh hookah, and I lay quietly smoking and thinking of all kinds of things—things of all kinds, tigers, golden hair, more tigers, Isaacs, Shere Ali, Baithop—, what was his name—Baithop—p—. I fell asleep.
Some one touched my hand, waking me suddenly. I sprang to my feet and seized the man by the throat, before I recognised in the starlight that it was Isaacs.
"You are not a nice person to rouse," remarked he in a low voice, as I relaxed my grasp. "You will have fever if you sleep out-of-doors at this time of year. Now look here; it is past midnight, and I am going out a little way." I noticed that he had a kookrie knife at his waist, and that his cartridge-belt was on his chest.
"I will go with you," said I, guessing his intention. "I will be ready in a moment," and I began to move towards the tent.
"No. I must go alone, and do this thing single-handed. I have a particular reason. I only wanted to warn you I was gone, in case you missed me. I shall take that ryot fellow with me to show me the way."
"Give him a gun," I suggested.
"He could not use one if I did. He has your kookrie in case of accidents."
"Oh, very well! do not let me interfere with any innocent and childlike pastime you may propose for your evening hours. I will attend to your funeral in the morning. Good-night."
"Good-night; I shall be back before you are up." And he walked quickly off to where the ryot was waiting and holding his guns. He had the sense to take two. I was angry at the perverse temerity of the man. Why could he not have an elephant out and go like a sensible thinking being, instead of sneaking out with one miserable peasant to lie all night among the reeds, in as great danger from cobras as from the beast he meant to kill? And all for a girl —an English girl—a creature all fair hair and eyes, with no more intelligence than a sheep! Was it not she who sent him out to his death in the jungle, that her miserable caprice for a pair of tiger's ears might be immediately satisfied? If a woman ever loved me, Paul Griggs,—thank heaven no woman ever did,—would I go out into bogs and desert places and risk my precious skin to find her a pair of cat's ears? Not I;—wait a moment, though. If I were in his place, if Miss Westonhaugh loved me—I laughed at the conceit. But supposing she did. Just for the sake of argument, I would allow it. I think that I would risk something after all. What a glorious thing it would be to be loved by a woman, once, wholly and for ever. To meet the creature I described to him the other night, waiting for me to come into her life, and to be to her all I could be to the woman I should love. But she has never come; never will, now; still, there is a sort of rest to me in thinking of rest. Hearth, home, wife, children; the worn old staff resting in the corner, never to wander again. What a strange thing it is that men should have all these, and more, and yet never see that they have the simple elements of earthly happiness, if they would but use them. And we, outcasts and wanderers, children of sin and darkness, in whose hands one commandment seems hardly less fragile than another, would give anything—had we anything to give—for the happiness of a home, to call our own. How strange it is that what I said to Isaacs should be true. "Do not marry unless you must depend on each other for daily bread, or unless you are rich enough to live apart." Yes, it is true, in ninetynine cases out of a hundred. But then, I should add a saving clause, "and unless you are quite sure that you love each other." Ay, there is the pons asinorum, the bridge whereon young asses and old fools come to such terrible grief. They are perfectly sure they love eternally; they will indignantly scorn the suggestions of prudence; love any other woman? never, while I live, answers the happy and unsophisticated youth. Be sorry I did it? Do you think I am a schoolboy in my first passion? demands the aged bridegroom. And so they marry, and in a year or two the enthusiastic young man runs away with some other enthusiastic man's wife, and the octogenarian spouse finds himself constituted into a pot of honey for his wife's swarming relations to settle on, like flies. But a man in strong middle prime of age, like me, knows his own mind; and—yes, on the whole I was unjust to Isaacs and to Miss Westonhaugh. If a woman loved me, she should have all the tiger's ears she wanted. "Still, I hope he will get back safely," I added, in afterthought to my reverie, as I turned into bed and ordered Kiramat Ali to wake me half an hour before dawn.
I was restless, sleeping a little and dreaming much. At last I struct a light and looked at my watch. Four o'clock. It would not be dawn for more than an hour; I knew Isaacs had made for the place where the tiger passed his days, certain that he would return near daybreak, according to all common probability. He need not have gone so early, I thought. However, it might be a long way off. I lay still for a while, but it seemed very hot and close under the canvas. I got up and threw a caftan round me, drew a chair into the connat and sat, or rather lay, down in the cool morning breeze. Then I dozed again until Kiramat Ali woke me by pulling at my foot. He said it would be dawn in half an hour. I had passed a bad night, and went out, as I was, to walk on the grass. There was Miss Westonhaugh's tent away off at the other end. She was sleeping calmly enough, never doubting that at that very moment the man who loved her was risking his life for her pleasure—her slightest whim. She would be wide awake if she knew it, staring out into the darkness and listening for the crack of his rifle. A faint light appeared behind the dining-tent, over the distant trees, like the light of London seen from twenty or thirty miles' distance in the country, a faint, suggestive, murky grayness in the sky, making the stars look dimmer.
The sound of a shot rang true and clear through the chill air; not far off I thought. I held my breath, listening for a second report, but none came. So it was over. Either he had killed the tiger with his first bullet, or the tiger had killed him before he could fire a second. I was intensely excited. If he were safe I wished him to have the glory of coming home quite alone. There was nothing for it but to wait, so I went into my tent and took a bath—a very simple operation where the bathing consists in pouring a huge jar of water over one's head. Tents in India have always a small side tent with a ditch dug to drain off the water from the copious ablutions of the inmate. I emerged into the room feeling better. It was now quite light, and I proceeded to dress leisurely to spin out the time. As I was drawing on my boots, Isaacs sauntered in quietly and laid his gun on the table. He was pale, and his Karkee clothes were covered with mud and leaves and bits of creeper, but his movements showed he was not hurt in any way; he hardly seemed tired.
"Well?" I said anxiously.
"Very well, thank you. Here they are," and he produced from the pocket of his coat the spolia opima in the shape of a pair of ears, that looked very large to me. There was a little blood on them and on his hands as he handed the precious trophies to me for inspection. We stood by the open door, and while I was turning over the ears curiously in my hands, he looked down at his clothes.
"I think I will take a bath," he said; "I must have been in a dirty place."
"My dear fellow," I said, taking his hand, "this is absurd. I mean all this affected calmness. I was angry at your going in that way, to risk your head in a tiger's mouth; but I am sincerely glad to see you back alive. I congratulate you most heartily."
"Thank you, old man," he said, his pale face brightening a little. "I am very glad myself. Do you know I have a superstition that I must fulfil every wish of—like that—even half expressed, to the very letter?"
"The 'superstition,' as you call it, is worthy of the bravest knight that ever laid lance in rest. Don't part with superstitions like that. They are noble and generous things."
"Perhaps," he answered, "but I really am very superstitious," he added, as he turned into the bathing connat. Soon I heard him splashing among the water jars.
"By-the-bye, Griggs," he called out through the canvas, "I forgot to tell you. They are bringing that beast home on an elephant. It was much nearer than we supposed. They will be here in twenty minutes." A tremendous splashing interrupted him. "You can go and attend to that funeral you were talking about last night," he added, and his voice was again drowned in the swish and souse of the water. "He was rather large—over ten feet—I should say. Measure him as soon as he—" another cascade completed the sentence. I went out, taking the measuring tape from the table.
In a few minutes the procession appeared. Two or three matutinal shikarries had gone out and come back, followed by the elephant, for which Isaacs had sent the ryot at full speed the moment he was sure the beast was dead. And so they came up the little hill behind the dining-tent. The great tusker moved evenly along, bearing on the pad an enormous yellow carcass, at which the little mahout glanced occasionally over his shoulder. Astride of the dead king sat the ryot, who had directed Isaacs, crooning a strange psalm of victory in his outlandish northern dialect, and occasionally clapping his hands over his head with an expression of the most intense satisfaction I have ever seen on a human face. The little band came to the middle of the camp where the other tigers, now cut up and skinned elsewhere, had been deposited the night before, and as the elephant knelt down, the shikarries pulled the whole load over, pad, tiger, ryot and all, the latter skipping nimbly aside. There he lay, the great beast that had taken so many lives. We stretched him out and measured him—eleven feet from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, all but an inch—as a little more straightening fills the measure, eleven feet exactly.
Meanwhile, the servant and shikarries collected, and the noise of the exploit went abroad. The sun was just rising when Mr. Ghyrkins put his head out of his tent and wanted to know "what the deuce all this tamaesha was about."
"Oh, nothing especial," I called out. "Isaacs has killed an eleven foot man-eater in the night. That is all."
"Well I'm damned," said Mr. Ghyrkins briefly, and to the point, as he stared from his tent at the great carcass, which lay stretched out for all to see, the elephant having departed.
"Clear off those fellows and let me have a look at him, can't you?" he called out, gathering the tent curtains round his neck; and there he stood, his jolly red face and dishevelled gray hair looking as if they had no body attached at all.
I went back to our quarters. Isaacs was putting the ears, which he had carefully cleansed from blood, into a silver box of beautiful workmanship, which Narain had extracted from his master's numerous traps.
"Take that box to Miss Westonhaugh's tent," he said, giving it to the servant, "with a greeting from me—with 'much peace.'" The man went out.
"She will send the box back," said I. "Such is the Englishwoman. She will take a pair of tiger's ears that nearly cost you your life, and she would rather die than accept the bit of silver in which you enclose them, without the 'permission of her uncle.'"
"I do not care," he said, "so long as she keeps the ears. But unless I am much mistaken, she will keep the box too. She is not like other Englishwomen in the least."
I was not sure of that. We had some tea in the door of our tent, and Isaacs seemed hungry and thirsty, as well he might be. Now that he was refreshed by bathing and the offices of the camp barber, he looked much as usual, save that the extreme paleness I had noticed when he came in had given place to a faint flush beneath the olive, probably due to his excitement, the danger being past. As we sat there, the rest of the party, who had slept rather later than usual after their fatigues of the previous day, came out one by one and stood around the dead tiger, wondering at the tale told by the delighted ryot, who squatted at the beast's head to relate the adventure to all comers. We could see the group from where we sat, in the shadow of the connat, and the different expressions of the men as they came out. The little collector of Pegnugger measured and measured again; Mr. Ghyrkins stood with his hands in his coat pockets and his legs apart, then going to the other side he took up the same position again. Lord Steepleton Kildare sauntered round and twirled his big moustache, saying nothing the while, but looking rather serious. John Westonhaugh, who seemed to be the artistic genius of the party, sent for a chair and made his servant hold an umbrella over him while he sketched the animal in his notebook, and presently his sister came out, a big bunch of roses in her belt, and a broad hat half hiding her face, and looked at the tiger and then round the party quickly, searching for Isaacs. In her hand she held a little package wrapped in white tissue paper. I strolled up to the group, leaving Isaacs in his tent. I thought I might as well play innocence.
"Of course," I remarked, "those fellows have bagged his ears as usual."
"They never omit that," said Ghyrkins.
"Oh no, uncle," broke in Miss Westonhaugh, "he gave them to me!"
"Who?" asked Ghyrkins, opening his little eyes wide.
"Mr. Isaacs. Did not he kill the tiger? He sent me the ears in a little silver box. Here it is—the box, I mean. I am going to give it back to him, of course."
"How did Mr. Isaacs know you wanted them?" asked her uncle, getting red in the face.
"Why, we were talking about them last night before dinner, and he promised that if he shot a tiger to-day he would give me the ears." Mr. Ghyrkins was redder and redder in the morning sun. There was a storm of some kind brewing. We were collected together on the other side of the dead tiger and exchanged all kinds of spontaneous civilities and remarks, not wishing to witness Mr. Ghyrkins' wrath, nor to go away too suddenly. I heard the conversation, however, for the old gentleman made no pretence of lowering his voice.
"And do you mean to say you let him go off like that? He must have been out all night. That beast of a nigger says so. On foot, too. I say on foot! Do you know what you are talking about? Eh? Shooting tigers on foot? What? Eh? Might have been killed as easily as not! And then what would you have said? Eh? What? Upon my soul! You girls from home have no more hearts than a parcel of old Juggernauts!" Ghyrkins was now furious. We edged away towards the dining-tent, making a great talk about the terrible heat of the sun in the morning. I caught the beginning of Miss Westonhaugh's answer. She had hardly appreciated the situation yet, and probably thought her uncle was joking, but she spoke very coldly, being properly annoyed at his talking in such a way.
"You cannot suppose for a moment that I meant him to go," I heard her say, and something else followed in a lower tone. We then went into the dining-tent.
"Now look here, Katharine," Mr. Ghyrkins' irate voice rang across the open space, "if any young woman asked me——" John Westonhaugh had risen from his chair and apparently interrupted his uncle. Miss Westonhaugh walked slowly to her tent, while her male relations remained talking. I thought Isaacs had shown some foresight in not taking part in the morning discussion. The two men went into their tents together and the dead tiger lay alone in the grass, the sun rising higher and higher, pouring down his burning rays on man and beast and green thing. And soon the shikarries came with a small elephant and dragged the carcass away to be skinned and cut up. Kildare and the collector said they would go and shoot some small game for dinner. Isaacs, I supposed, was sleeping, and I was alone in the dining-tent. I shouted for Kiramat Ali and sent for books, paper, and pens, and a hookah, resolved to have a quiet morning to myself, since it was clear we were not going out to-day. I saw Ghyrkins' servant enter his tent with bottles and ice, and I suspected the old fellow was going to cool his wrath with a "peg," and would be asleep most of the morning. John would take a peg too, but he would not sleep in consequence, being of Bombay, iron-headed and spirit-proof. So I read on and wrote, and was happy, for I like the heat of the noon-day and the buzzing of the flies, and the smell of the parched grass, being southern born.
About twelve o'clock, when I was beginning to think I had done enough work for one day, I saw Miss Westonhaugh's native maid come out of her mistress's tent and survey the landscape, shading her eyes with her hand. She was dressed, of course, in spotless white drapery, and there were heavy anklets on her feet and bangles of silver on her wrist. She seemed satisfied by her inspection and went in again, returning presently with Miss Westonhaugh and a large package of work and novels and letter-writing materials. They came straight to where I was sitting under the airy tent where we dined, and Miss Westonhaugh established herself at one side of the table at the end of which I was writing.
"It is so hot in my tent," she said almost apologetically, and began to unroll some worsted work.
"Yes, it is quite unbearable," I answered politely, though I had not thought much about the temperature. There was a long silence, and I collected my papers in a bundle and leaned back in my chair. I did not know what to say, nor was anything expected of me. I looked occasionally at the young girl, who had laid her hat on the table, allowing the rich coils of dazzling hair to assert their independence. Her dark eyes were bent over her work as her fingers deftly pushed the needle in and out of the brown linen she worked on.
"Mr. Griggs," she began at last without looking up, "did you know Mr. Isaacs was going out last night to kill that horrid thing?" I had expected the question for some time.
"Yes; he told me about midnight, when he started."
"Then why did you let him go?" she asked, looking suddenly at me, and knitting her dark eyebrows rather fiercely.
"I do not think I could have prevented him. I do not think anybody could prevent him from doing anything he had made up his mind to. I nearly quarrelled with him, as it was."
"I am sure I could have stopped him, if I had been you," she said innocently.
"I have not the least doubt that you could. Unfortunately, however, you were not available at the time, or I would have suggested it to you."
"I wish I had known," she went on, plunging deeper and deeper. "I would not have had him go for—for anything."
"Oh! Well, I suppose not. But, seriously, Miss Westonhaugh, are you not flattered that a man should be willing and ready to risk life and limb in satisfying your lightest fancy?"
"Flattered?" she looked at me with much astonishment and some anger. I was sure the look was genuine and not assumed.
"At all events the tiger's ears will always be a charming reminiscence, a token of esteem that any one might be proud of."
"I am not proud of them in the least, though I shall always keep them as a warning not to wish for such things. I hope that the next time Mr. Isaacs is going to do a foolish thing you will have the common sense to prevent him." She returned to her starting-point; but I saw no use in prolonging the skirmish, and turned the talk upon other things. And soon John Westonhaugh joined us, and found in me a sympathetic talker and listener, as we both cared a great deal more for books than for tigers, though not averse to a stray shot now and then.
In this kind of life the week passed, shooting to-day and staying in camp to-morrow. We shifted our ground several times, working along the borders of the forest and crashing through the jungle after tiger with varying success. In the evenings, when not tired with the day's work, we sat together, and Isaacs sang, and at last even prevailed upon Miss Westonhaugh to let him accompany her with his guitar, in which he proved very successful. They were constantly together, and Ghyrkins was heard to say that Isaacs was "a very fine fellow, and it was a pity he wasn't English," to which Kildare assented somewhat mournfully, allowing that it was quite true. His chance was gone, and he knew it, and bore it like a gentleman, though he still made use of every opportunity he had to make himself acceptable to Miss Westonhaugh. The girl liked his manly ways, and was always grateful for any little attention from him that attracted her notice, but it was evident that all her interest ceased there. She liked him in the same way she liked her brother, but rather less, if anything. She hardly knew, for she had seen so little of John since she was a small child. I suppose Isaacs must have talked to her about me, for she treated me with a certain consideration, and often referred questions to me, on which I thought she might as well have consulted some one else. For my part, I served the lovers in every way I could think of. I would have done anything for Isaacs then as now, and I liked her for the honest good feeling she had shown about him, especially in the matter of the tiger's ears, for which she could not forgive herself—though in truth she had been innocent enough. And they were really lovers, those two. Any one might have seen it, and but for the wondrous fascination Isaacs exercised over every one who came near him, and the circumstances of his spotless name and reputation for integrity in the large transactions in which he was frequently known to be engaged, it is certain that Mr. Ghyrkins would have looked askance at the whole affair, and very likely would have broken up the party.
In the course of time we became a little blase about tigers, till on the eighth day from the beginning of the hunt, which was a Thursday, I remember, an incident occurred which left a lasting impression on the mind of every one who witnessed it. It was a very hot morning, the hottest day we had had, and we had just crossed a nullah in the forest, full from the recent rains, wherein the elephants lingered lovingly to splash the water over their heated sides, drowning the swarms of mosquitoes from which they suffer such torments, in spite of their thick skins. The collector called a halt on the opposite side; our line of march had become somewhat disordered by the passage, and numerous tracks in the pasty black mud showed that the nullah was a favourite resort of tigers—though at this time of day they might be a long distance off. I had come next to the collector after we emerged from the stream, the pad elephants having lingered longer in the water, and Mr. Ghyrkins with Miss Westonhaugh was three or four places beyond me. It was shady and cool under the thick trees, and the light was not good. The collector bent over his howdah, looking at some tracks.
"Those tracks look suspiciously fresh, Mr. Griggs," said the collector, scrutinising the holes, not yet filled by the oozing back water of the nullah. "Don't you think so?"
"Indeed, yes. I do not understand it at all," I replied. At the collector's call a couple of beaters came forward and stooped down to examine the trail. One of them, a good-looking young gowala, or cowherd, followed along the footprints, examining each to be sure he was not going on a false spoor; he moved slowly, scrutinising each hole, as the traces grew shallower on the rising ground, approaching a bit of small jungle. My sight followed the probable course of the track ahead of him and something caught my eyes, which are remarkably good, even at a great distance. The object was brown and hairy; a dark brown, not the kind of colour one expects to see in the jungle in September. I looked closely, and was satisfied that it must be part of an animal; still more clearly I saw it, and no doubt remained in my mind; it was the head of a bullock or a heifer. I shouted to the man to be careful, to stop and let the elephants plough through the undergrowth, as only elephants can. But he did not understand my Hindustani, which was of the civilised Urdu kind learnt in the North-West Provinces. The man went quickly along, and I tried to make the collector comprehend what I saw. But the pad elephants were coming out of the water and forcing themselves between our beasts, and he hardly caught what I said in the confusion. The track led away to my left, nearly opposite to the elephant bearing Mr. Ghyrkins and his niece. The little Pegnugger man was on my right. The native held on, moving more and more rapidly as he found himself following a single track. I shouted to him—to Ghyrkins—to everybody, but they could not make the doomed man understand what I saw—the freshly slain head of the tiger's last victim. There was little doubt that the king himself was near by—probably in that suspicious-looking bit of green jungle, slimy green too, as green is, that grows in sticky chocolate-coloured mud. The young fellow was courageous, and ignorant of the immediate danger, and, above all, he was on the look out for bucksheesh. He reached the reeds and unclean vegetables that grew thick and foul together in the little patch. He put one foot into the bush.
A great fiery yellow and black head rose cautiously above the level of the green and paused a moment, glaring. The wretched man, transfixed with terror, stood stock still, expecting death. Then he moved, as if to throw himself on one side, and at the same instant the tiger made a dash at his naked body, such a dash as a great relentless cat makes at a gold-fish trying to slide away from its grip. The tiger struck the man a heavy blow on the right shoulder, felling him like a log, and coming down to a standing position over his prey, with one paw on the native's right arm. Probably the parade of elephants and bright coloured howdahs, and the shouts of the beaters and shikarries, distracted his attention for a moment. He stood whirling his tail to right and left, with half dropped jaw and flaming eyes, half pressing, half grabbing the fleshy arm of the senseless man beneath him—impatient, alarmed, and horrible.
"Pack!!! Pi-i-i-i-ing ..." went the crack and the sing of the merry rifle, and the scene changed.
With a yell like a soul in everlasting torment the great beast whirled himself into the air ten feet at least, and fell dead beside his victim, shot through breast and breastbone and heart. A dead silence fell on the spectators. Then I looked, and saw Miss Westonhaugh holding out a second gun to Mr. Ghyrkins, while he, seeing that the first had done its work, leaned forward, his broad face pale with the extremity of his horror for the man's danger, and his hands gripping at the empty rifle.
"You've done it this time," cried the collector from the right. "Take six to four the man's dead!"
"Done," called Kildare from the other end. I was the nearest to the scene, after Ghyrkins. I dropped over the edge of the howdah and made for the spot, running. I think I reflected as I ran that it was rather low for men to bet on the poor fellow's life in that way. Tigers are often very deceptive and always die hard, and I am a cautious person, so when I was near I pulled out my long army six-shooter, and, going witihin arm's length, quietly put a bullet through the beast's eye as a matter of safety. When he was cut up, however, the ball from the rifle of Mr. Ghyrkins was found in his heart; the old fellow was a dead shot still. I went up and examined the prostrate man. He was lying on his face, and so I picked him up and propped his head against the dead tiger. He was still breathing, but a very little examination proved that his right collar-bone and the bone of his upper arm were broken. A little brandy revived him, and he immediately began to scream with pain. I was soon joined by the collector, who with characteristic promptitude had torn and hewed some broad slats of bamboo from his howdah, and with a little pulling and wrenching, and the help of my long, tough turban-cloth, a real native pugree, we set and bound the arm as best we could, giving the poor fellow brandy all the while. The collar-bone we left to its own devices; an injury there takes care of itself.
An elephant came up and received the dead tiger, and the man was carried off and placed in my howdah. The other animals with their riders had gathered near the scene, and every one had something to say to Ghyrkins, who by his brilliant shot and the life he had saved, had maintained his reputation, and come off the hero of the whole campaign. Miss Westonhaugh was speechless with horror at the whole thing, and seemed to cling to her uncle, as if fearing something of the same kind might happen to her at any moment. Isaacs, as usual the last on the line of beating, came up and called out his congratulations.
"After saving a life so well, Mr. Ghyrkins, you will not grudge me the poor honour of risking one, will you?"
"Not I, my boy!" answered the delighted old sportsman, "only if that mangy old man-eater had got you down the other day, I should not have been there to pot him!"
"Great shot, sir! I envy you," said Kildare.
"Splendid shot. A hundred yards at least," said John Westonhaugh meditatively, but in a loud voice.
So we swung away toward the camp, though it was early. Ghyrkins chuckled, and the man with the broken bones groaned. But between the different members of the party he would be a rich man before he was well. I amused myself with my favourite sport of potting peacocks with bullets; it is very good practice. Isaacs had told me that morning when we started that he would leave us the next day to meet Shere Ali near Keitung. We reached camp about three o'clock, in the heat of the afternoon. The injured beater was put in a servant's tent to be sent off to Pegnugger in a litter in the cool of the night. There was a doctor there who would take care of him under the collector's written orders.
The camp was in a shady place, quite unlike the spot where we had first pitched our tents. There was a little grove of mango-trees, rather stunted, as they are in the north, and away at one corner of the plantation was a well with a small temple where a Brahmin, related to all the best families in the neighbouring village, dwelt and collected the gifts bestowed on him and his simple shrine by the superstitious, devout, or worldly pilgrims who yearly and monthly visited him in search of counsel, spiritual or social. The men had mowed the grass smooth under the trees, and the shade was not so close as to make it damp. Some ryots had been called in to dig a ditch and raised a rough chapudra or terrace, some fifteen feet in diameter, opposite the dining-tent, on which elevation we could sit, even late at night, in reasonable security from cobras and other evil beasts. It was a pleasant place in the afternoon, and pleasanter still at night. As I turned into our tent after we got back, I thought I would go and sit there when I had bathed, and send for a hookah and a novel, and go to sleep.
* * * * *
I observed that Isaacs was very quick about his toilet, and when I came out and ascended the terrace, followed by Kiramat Ali with books and tobacco, I glanced lazily over the quiet scene, settling myself in my chair, and fully expecting to see my friend somewhere among the trees, not unaccompanied by some one else. I was not mistaken. Turning my eyes towards the corner of the grove where the old Brahmin had his shrine, I saw the two well-known figures of Isaacs and Miss Westonhaugh sauntering towards the well. Having satisfied the expectations of my curiosity, I turned over the volume of philosophy, well thumbed and hard used as a priest's breviary, and I inhaled long draughts of tobacco, debating whether I should read, or meditate, or dream. Deciding in favour of the more mechanical form of intellectuality, I fixed on a page that looked inviting, and followed the lines, from left to right, lazily at first, then with increased interest, and finally in that absorbed effort of continued comprehension which constitutes real study. Page after page, syllogism after syllogism, conclusion after conclusion, I followed for the hundredth time in the book I love well—the book of him that would destroy the religion I believe, but whose brilliant failure is one of the grandest efforts of the purely human mind. I finished a chapter and, in thought still, but conscious again of life, I looked up. They were still down there by the well, those two, but while I looked the old priest, bent and white, came out of the little temple where he had been sprinkling his image of Vishnu, and dropped his aged limbs from one step to the other painfully, steadying his uncertain descent with a stick. He went to the beautiful couple seated on the edge of the well, built of mud and sun-dried bricks, and he seemed to speak to Isaacs, I watched, and became interested in the question whether Isaacs would give him a two-anna bit or a copper, and whether I could distinguish with the naked eye at that distance between the silver and the baser metal. Curious, thought I, how odd little trifles will absorb the attention. The interview which was to lead to the expected act of charity seemed to be lasting a long time.
Suddenly Isaacs turned and called to me; his high, distinct tones seeming to gather volume from the hollow of the well. He was calling me to join them. I rose, rather reluctantly, from my books and moved through the trees to where they were.
"Griggs," Isaacs called out before I had reached him, "here is an old fellow who knows something. I really believe he is something of a yogi."
"What ridiculous nonsense," I said impatiently, "who ever heard of a yogi living in a temple and feeding on the fat of the land in the way all these men do? Is that all you wanted?" Miss Westonhaugh, peering down into the depths of the well, laughed gaily.
"I told you so! Never try to make Mr. Griggs swallow that kind of thing. Besides, he is a 'cynic' you know."
"As far as personal appearance goes, Miss Westonhaugh, I think your friend the Brahmin there stands more chance of being taken for a philosopher of that school. He really does not look particularly well fed, in spite of the riches I thought he possessed." He was a strange-looking old man, with a white beard and a small badly-rolled pugree. His black eyes were filmy and disagreeable to look at. I addressed him in Hindustani, and told him what Isaacs said, that he thought he was a yogi. The old fellow did not look at me, nor did the bleared eyes give any sign of intelligence. Nevertheless he answered my question.
"Of what avail that I do wonders for you who believe not?" he asked, and his voice sounded cracked and far off.
"It will avail thee several coins, friend," I answered, "both rupees and pais. Reflect that there may be bucksheesh in store for thee, and do a miracle."
"I will not do wonders for bucksheesh," said the priest, and began to hobble away. Isaacs stepped lightly to his side and whispered something in his ear. The ancient Brahmin turned.
"Then I will do a wonder for you, but I want no bucksheesh. I will do it for the lady with white hair, whose face resembles Chunder." He looked long and fixedly at Miss Westonhaugh. "Let the sahib log come with me a stone's throw from the well, and let one sahib call his servant and bid him draw water that he may wash his hands. And I will do this wonder; the man shall not draw any water, though he had the strength of Siva, until I say the word." So we moved away under the trees, and I shouted for Kiramat Ali, who came running down, and I told him to send a bhisti, a water-carrier, with his leathern bucket. Then we waited. Presently the man came, with bucket and rope.
"Draw water, that I may wash my hands," said I.
"Achha, sahib," and he strode to the well and lowered his pail by the rope. The priest looked intently at him as he shook the rope to turn the bucket over and let it fill; then he began to pull. The bucket seemed to be caught. He jerked, and then bent his whole weight back, drawing the rope across the edge of the brickwork. The thing was immovable. He seemed astonished and looked down into the well, thinking the pail was caught in a stone. I could not resist the temptation to go down and inspect the thing. No. The bucket was full and lying in the middle of the round sheet of water at the bottom of the well. The man tugged, while the Brahmin never took his eyes, now bright and fiery, off him. I went back to where they all stood. The thing had lasted five minutes. Then the priest's lips moved silently.
Instantly the strain was released and the stout water-carrier fell headlong backwards on the grass, his heels in the air, jerking the bucket right over the edge of the well. He bounded to his feet and ran up the grove, shouting "Bhut, Bhut," "devils, devils," at the top of his voice. His obstinacy had lasted so long as the bucket would not move, but then his terror got the better of him and he fled.
"Did you ever see anything of that kind before, Miss Westonhaugh?" I inquired.
"No indeed; have you? How is it done?"
"I have seen similar things done, but not often. There are not many of them that know how. But I cannot tell you the process any more than I can explain the mango trick, which belongs, distantly, to the same class of phenomena."
The Brahmin, whose eyes were again dim and filmy, turned to Isaacs.
"I have done a wonder for you. I will also tell you a saying. You have done wrong in not taking the advice of your friend. You should not have come forth to kill the king of game, nor have brought the white-haired lady into the tiger's jaws. I have spoken. Peace be with you." And he moved away.
"And with you peace, friend," answered Isaacs mechanically, but as I looked at him he turned white to the very lips.
Miss Westonhaugh did not understand the language, and Isaacs would have been the last person to translate such a speech as the Brahmin had made. We turned and strolled up the hill, and presently I bethought me of some errand, and left them together under the trees. They were so happy and so beautiful together, the fair lily from the English dale and the deep red rose of Persian Gulistan. The sun slanted low through the trees and sank in rose-coloured haze, and the moon, now just at the half, began to shine out softly through the mangoes, and still the lovers walked, pacing slowly to and fro near the well. No wonder they dallied long; it was their last evening together, and I doubted not that Isaacs was telling her of his sudden departure, necessary for reasons which I knew he would not explain to her or to any one else.
At last we all assembled in the dining-tent. Mr. Currie Ghyrkins was among the first, and his niece was the last to enter the room. He was glorious that evening, his kindly red face beamed on every one, and he carried himself like a victorious general at a ladies' tea-party. He had reason to be happy, and his jerky good spirits were needed to counterbalance the deep melancholy that seemed to have settled upon his niece. The colour was gone from her cheeks, and her dark eyes, heavily fringed by the black brows and lashes, shone out strangely; the contrast between the white flaxen hair, drawn back in simple massive waves like a Greek statue, and the broad level eyes as dark as night, was almost startling this evening in the singularity of its beauty. She sat like a queenly marble at the end of the table, not silent, by any means, but so evidently out of spirits that John Westonhaugh, who did not know that Isaacs was going in the morning, and would not have supposed that his sister could care so much, if he had known, remarked upon her depression.
"What is the matter, Katharine?" he asked kindly. "Have you a headache this evening?" She was just then staring rather blankly into space.
"Oh no," she said, trying to smile. "I was thinking."
"Ah," said Mr. Ghyrkins merrily, "that is why you look so unlike yourself, my dear!" And he laughed at his rough little joke.
"Do I?" asked the girl absently.
But Ghyrkins was not to be repressed, and as Kildare and the Pegnugger man were gay and wide awake, the dinner was not as dull as might have been expected. When it was over, Isaacs announced his intention of leaving early the next morning. Very urgent business recalled him suddenly, he explained. A messenger had arrived just before dinner. He must leave without fail in the morning. Miss Westonbaugh of course was forewarned; but the others were not. Lord Steepleton Kildare, in the act of lighting a cheroot, dropped the vesuvian incontinently, and stood staring at Isaacs with an indescribable expression of empty wonder in his face, while the match sputtered and smouldered and died away in the grass by the door. John Westonhaugh, who liked Isaacs sincerely, and had probably contemplated the possibility of the latter marrying Katharine, looked sorry at first, and then a half angry expression crossed his face, which softened instantly again. Currie Ghyrkins swore loudly that it was out of the question—that it would break up the party—that he would not hear of it, and so on.
"I must go," said Isaacs quietly. "It is a very serious matter. I am sorry—more sorry than I can tell you; but I must."
"But you cannot, you know. Damn it, sir, you are the life of the party, you know! Come, come, this will never do!"
"My dear sir," said Isaacs, addressing Ghyrkins, "if, when you were about to fire this morning to save that poor devil's life, I had begged you not to shoot, would you have complied?"
"Why, of course not," ejaculated Ghyrkins angrily.
"Well, neither can I comply, though I would give anything to stay with you all."
"But nobody's life depends on your going away to-morrow morning. What do you mean? The deuce and all, you know, I don't understand you a bit."
"I cannot tell you, Mr. Ghyrkins; but something dependg on my going, which is of as great importance to the person concerned as life itself. Believe me," he said, going near to the old gentleman and laying a hand on his arm, "I do not go willingly."
"Well, I hope not, I am sure," said Ghyrkins gruffly, though yielding. "If you will, you will, and there's no holding you; but we are all very sorry. That's all. Mahmoud! bring fire, you lazy pigling, that I may smoke." And he threw himself into a chair, the very creaking of the cane wicker expressing annoyance and dissatisfaction.
So there was an end of it, and Isaacs strode off through the moonlight to his quarters, to make some arrangement, I supposed. But he did not come back. Miss Westonhaugh retired also to her tent, and no one was surprised to see her go. Kildare rose presently and asked if I would not stroll to the well, or anywhere, it was such a jolly night. I went with him, and arm in arm we walked slowly down. The young moon was bright among the mango-trees, striking the shining leaves, that reflected a strange greenish light. We moved leisurely, and spoke little. I understood Kildare's silence well enough, and I had nothing to say. The ground was smooth and even, for the men had cut the grass close, and the little humped cow that belonged to the old Brahmin cropped all she could get at.
We skirted round the edge of the grove, intending to go back to the tents another way. Suddenly I saw something in front that arrested my attention. Two figures, some thirty yards away. They stood quite still, turned from us. A man and a woman between the trees, an opening in the leaves jost letting a ray of moonlight slip through on them. His arm around her, the tall lissome figure of her bent, and her head resting on his shoulder. I have good eyes and was not mistaken, but I trusted Kildare had not seen. A quick twitch of his arm, hanging carelessly through mine, told me the mischief was done before I could turn his attention. By a common instinct we wheeled to the left, and passing into the open strolled back in the direction whence we had come. I did not look at Kildare, but after a minute he began to talk about the moonlight and tigers, and whether tigers were ever shot by moonlight, and altogether was rather incoherent; but I took up the question, and we talked bravely till we got back to the dining-tent, where we sat down again, secretly wishing we had not gone for a stroll after all. In a few minutes Isaacs came from his tent, which he must have entered from the other side. He was perfectly at his ease, and at once began talking about the disagreeable journey he had before him. Then, after a time, we broke up, and he said good-bye to every one in turn, and Ghyrkins told John to call his sister, if she were still visible, for "Mr. Isaacs wanted to say good-bye." So she came and took his hand, and made a simple speech about "meeting again before long," as she stood with her uncle; and my friend and I went away to our tent.
We sat long in the connat. Isaacs did not seem to want rest, and I certainly did not. For the first half hour he was engaged in giving directions to the faithful Narain, who moved about noiselessly among the portmanteaus and gun-cases and boots which strewed the floor. At last all was settled for the start before dawn, and he turned to me.
"We shall meet again in Simla, Griggs, of course?"
"I hope so. Of course we shall, unless you are killed by those fellows at Keitung. I would not trust them."
"I do not trust them in the least, but I have an all-powerful ally in Ram Lal. Did you not think it very singular that the Brahmin should know all about Ram Lal's warning? and that he should have the same opinion?"
"We live in a country where nothing should astonish us, as I remember saying to you a fortnight ago, when we first met," I answered. "That the Brahmin possesses some knowledge of yog-vidya is more clearly shown by his speech about Ram Lal than by that ridiculous trick with my water-carrier."
"You are not easily astonished, Griggs. But I agree with you as to that. I am still at a loss to understand why I should not have come or let the others come. I was startled at the Brahmin."
"I saw you were; you were as white as a sheet, and yet you turned up your nose at Ram Lal when he told you not to come."
"The Brahmin said something more than Ram Lal. He said I should not have brought the white-haired lady into the tiger's jaws. I saw that the first warning had been on her account, and I suppose the impression of possible danger for her frightened me."
"It would not have frightened you three weeks ago about any woman," I said. "It appears to me that your ideas in certain quarters have undergone some little change. You are as different from the Isaacs I knew at first as Philip drunk was different from Philip sober. Such is human nature—scoffing at women the one day, and risking life and soul for their whims the next."
"I hate your reflections about the human kind, Griggs, and I do not like your way of looking at women. You hate women so!"
"No. You like my descriptions of the 'ideal creatures I rave about' much better, it seems. Upon my soul, friend, if you want a criterion of yourself, take this conversation. A fortnight ago to-day—or to-morrow, will it be?—I was lecturing you about the way to regard women; begging you to consider that they had souls and were capable of loving, as well as of being loved. And here you are accusing me of hating the whole sex, and without the slightest provocation on my part, either. Here is Birnam wood coming to Dunsinane with a vengeance!"
"Oh, I don't deny it. I don't pretend to argue about it. I have changed a good deal in the last month." He pensively crossed one leg over the other as he lay back on the long chair and pulled at his slipper. "I suppose I have—changed a good deal."
"No wonder. I presume your views of immortality, the future state of the fair sex, and the application of transcendental analysis to matrimony, all changed about the same time?"
"Don't be unreasonable," he answered. "It all dates from that evening when I had that singular fit and the vision I related to you. I have never been the same man since; and I am glad of it. I now believe women to be much more adorable than you painted them, and not half enough adored." Suddenly he dropped the extremely English manner which he generally affected in the idiom and construction of his speech, and dropped back into something more like his own language. "The star that was over my life is over it no longer. I have no life-star any longer. The jewel of the southern sky withdraws his light, paling before the white gold from the northern land. The gold that shall be mine through all the cycles of the sun, the gold that neither man nor monarch shall take from me. What have I to do with stars in heaven? Is not my star come down to earth to abide with me through life? And when life is over and the scroll is full, shall not my star bear me hence, beyond the fiery foot-bridge, beyond the paradise of my people and its senseless sensuality of houris and strong wine? Beyond the very memory of limited and bounded life, to that life eternal where there is neither limit, nor bound, nor sorrow? Shall our two souls not unite and be one soul to roam through the countless circles of revolving outer space? Not through years, or for times, or for ages—but for ever? The light of life is woman, the love of life is the love of woman; the light that pales not, the life that cannot die, the love that can know not any ending; my light, my life, and my love!" His whole soul was in his voice, and his whole heart; the twining white fingers, the half-closed eyes, and the passionate quivering tone, told all he had left unsaid. It was surely a high and a noble thing that he felt, worthy of the man in his beauty of mind and body. He loved an ideal, revealed to him, as he thought, in the shape of the fair English girl; he worshipped his ideal through her, without a thought that he could be mistaken. Happy man! Perhaps he had a better chance of going through life without any cruel revelation of his mistake than falls to the lot of most lovers, for she was surpassingly beautiful, and most good and true hearted. But are not people always mistaken who think to find the perfect comprehended in the imperfect, the infinite enchained and made tangible in the finite? Bah! The same old story, the same old vicious circle, the everlastingly recurring mathematical view of things that cannot be treated mathematically; the fruitless attempt to measure the harmonious circle of the soul by the angular square of the book. What poor things our minds are, after all. We have but one way of thinking derived from what we know, and we incontinently apply it to things of which we can know nothing, and then we quarrel with the result, which is a mere reductio ad absurdum, showing how utterly false and meagre are our hypotheses, premisses, and so-called axioms. Confucius, who began his system with the startling axiom that "man is good," arrived at much more really serviceable conclusions than Schopenhauer and all the pessimists put together. Meanwhile, Isaacs was in love, and, I supposed, expected me to say something appreciative.
"My dear friend," I began, "it is a rare pleasure to hear any one talk like that; it refreshes a man's belief in human nature, and enthusiasm, and all kinds of things. I talked like that some time ago because you would not. I think you are a most satisfactory convert."
"I am indeed a convert. I would not have believed it possible, and now I cannot believe that I ever thought differently. I suppose it is the way with all converts—in religion as well—and with all people who are taken up by a fair-winged genius from an arid desert and set down in a garden of roses." He could not long confine himself to ordinary language. "And yet the hot sand of the desert, and the cool of the night, and the occasional patch of miserable, languishing green, with the little kindly spring in the camel-trodden oasis, seemed all so delightful in the past life that one was quite content, never suspecting the existence of better things. But now—I could almost laugh to think of it. I stand in the midst of the garden that is filled with all things fair, and the tree of life is beside me, blossoming straight and broad with the flowers that wither not, and the fruit that is good to the parched lips and the thirsty spirit. And the garden is for us to dwell in now, and the eternity of the heavenly spheres is ours hereafter." He was all on fire again. I kept silence for some time; and his hands unfolded, and he raised them and clasped them under his head, and drew a deep long breath, as if to taste the new life that was in him.
"Forgive my bringing you down to earth again," I said after a while, "but have you made all necessary arrangements? Is there anything I can do, after you are gone? Anything to be said to these good people, if they question me about your sudden departure?"
"Yes. I was forgetting. If you will be so kind, I wish you would see the expedition out, and take charge of the expenses. There are some bags of rupees somewhere among my traps. Narain knows. I shall not take him with me—or, no; on second thoughts I will hand you over the money, and take him to Simla. Then, about the other thing. Do not tell any one where I have gone, unless it be Miss Westonhaugh, and use your own discretion about her. We shall all be in Simla in ten days, and I do not want this thing known, as you may imagine. I do not think there is anything else, thanks." He paused, as if thinking. "Yes, there is one more consideration. If anything out of the way should occur in this transaction with Baithopoor, I should want your assistance, if you will give it. Would you mind?"
"Of course not. Anything——"
"In that case, if Ram Lal thinks you are wanted, he will send a swift messenger to you with a letter signed by me, in the Persian shikast—which you read.—Will you come by the way he will direct you, if I send? He will answer for your safety."
"I will come," I said, though I thought it was rather rash of me, who am a cautious man, to trust my life in the hands of a shadowy person like Ram Lal, who seemed to come and go in strange ways, and was in communication with suspicious old Brahmin jugglers. But I trusted Isaacs better than his adept friend.
"I suppose," I said, vaguely hoping there might yet be a possibility of detaining him, "that there is no way of doing this business so that you could remain here."
"No, friend Griggs. If there were any other way, I would not go now. I would not go to-day, of all days in the year—of all days in my life. There is no other way, by the grave of my father, on whom be the peace of Allah." So we went to bed.
At four o'clock Narain waked us, and in twenty minutes Isaacs was on horseback. I had ordered a tat to be in readiness for me, thinking I would ride with him an hour or two in the cool of the morning. So we passed along by the quiet tents, Narain disappearing in the manner peculiar to Hindoo servants, to be found at the end of the day's march, smiling as ever. The young moon had set some time before, but the stars were bright, though it was dark under the trees.
Twenty yards beyond the last tent, a dark figure swept suddenly out from the blackness and laid a hand on Isaacs' rein. He halted and bent over, and I heard some whispering. It only lasted a moment, and the figure shot away again. I was sure I heard something like a kiss, in the gloom, and there was a most undeniable smell of roses in the air. I held my peace, though I was astonished. I could not have believed her capable of it. Lying in wait in the dusk of the morning to give her lover a kiss and a rose and a parting word. She must have taken me for his servant in the dark.
"Griggs," said Isaacs as we parted some six or seven miles farther on,—"an odd thing happened this morning. I have left something more in your keeping than money."
"I know. Trust me. Good-bye," and he cantered off.
I confess I was very dejected and low-spirited when I came back into camp. My acquaintance with Isaacs, so suddenly grown into intimacy, had become a part of my life. I felt a sort of devotion to him that I had never felt for any man in my life before. I would rather have gone with him to Keitung, for a presentiment told me there was trouble in the wind. He had not talked to me about the Baithopoor intrigue, for everything was as much settled beforehand as it was possible to settle anything. There was nothing to be said, for all that was to come was action; but I knew Isaacs distrusted the maharajah, and that without Ram Lal's assistance—of whatever nature that might prove to be—he would not have ventured to go alone to such a tryst.
When I returned the camp was all alive, for it was nearly seven o'clock. Kildare and the collector, my servant said, had gone off on tats to shoot some small game. Mr. Ghyrkins was occupied with the shikarries in the stretching and dressing of the skin he had won the previous day. Neither Miss Westonhaugh nor her brother had been seen. So I dressed and rested myself and had some tea, and sat wondering what the camp would be like without Isaacs, who, to me and to one other person, was emphatically, as Ghyrkins had said the night before, the life of the party. The weather was not so warm as on the previous day, and I was debating whether I should not try and induce the younger men to go and stick a pig—the shikarry said there were plenty in some place he knew of—or whether I should settle myself in the dining-tent for a long day with my books, when the arrival of a mounted messenger with some letters from the distant post-office decided me in favour of the more peaceful disposition of my time. So I glanced at the papers, and assured myself that the English were going deeper and deeper into the mire of difficulties and reckless expenditure that characterised their campaign in Afghanistan in the autumn of 1879; and when I had assured myself, furthermore, by the perusal of a request for the remittance of twenty pounds, that my nephew, the only relation, male or female, that I have in the world, had not come to the untimely death he so richly deserved, I fell to considering what book I should read. And from one thing to another, I found myself established about ten o'clock at the table in the dining-tent, with Miss Westonhaugh at one side, worsted work, writing materials and all, just as she had been at the same table a week or so before. At her request I had continued my writing when she came in. I was finishing off a column of a bloodthirsty article for the Howler; it probably would come near enough to the mark, for in India you may print a leader anywhere within a month of its being written, and if it was hot enough to begin with, it will still answer the purpose. Journalism is not so rapid in its requirements as in New York, but, on the other hand, it is more lucrative.
"Mr. Griggs, are you very busy?"
"Oh dear, no—nothing to speak of," I went on writing—the unprecedented—folly—the—blatant—charlatanism——
"Mr. Griggs, do you understand these things?"
——Lord Beaconsfield's—"I think so, Miss Westonhaugh"—Afghan policy——There, I thought,
I think that would rouse Mr. Currie Ghyrkins, if he ever saw it, which I trust he never will. I had done, and I folded the numbered sheets in an oblong bundle.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Westonhaugh; I was just finishing a sentence. I am quite at your service."
"Oh no! I see you are too busy."
"Not in the least, I assure you. Is it that tangled skein? Let me help you."
"Oh thank you. It is so tiresome, and I am not in the least inclined to be industrious."
I took the wool and set to work. It was very easy, after all; I pulled the loops through, and back again and through from the other side, and I found the ends, and began to wind it up on a piece of paper. It is singular, though, how the unaided wool can tie itself into every kind of a knot—reef, carrick bend, bowline, bowline in a bight, not to mention a variety of hitches and indescribable perversions of entanglement. I was getting on very well, though. I looked up at her face, pale and weary with a sleepless night, but beautiful—ah yes—beautiful beyond compare. She smiled faintly.
"You are very clever with your fingers. Where did you learn it? Have you a sister who makes you wind her wool for her at home?"
"No. I have no sister. I went to sea once upon a time."
"Were you ever in the navy, Mr. Griggs?"
"Oh no. I went before the mast."
"But you would not learn to unravel wool before the mast. I suppose your mother taught you when you were small—if you ever were small."
"I never had a mother that I can remember—I learned to do all those things at sea."
"Forgive me," she said, guessing she had struck some tender chord in my existence. "What an odd life you must have had."
"Perhaps. I never had any relations that I can remember, except a brother, much older than I. He died years ago, and his son is my only living relation. I was born in Italy."
"But when did you learn so many things? You seem to know every language under the sun."
"I had a good education when I got ashore. Some one was very kind to me, and I had learned Latin and Greek in the common school in Rome before I ran away to sea."
I answered her questions reluctantly. I did not want to talk about my history, especially to a girl like her. I suppose she saw my disinclination, for as I handed her the card with the wool neatly wound on it, she thanked me and presently changed the subject, or at least shifted the ground.
"There is something so free about the life of an adventurer—I mean a man who wanders about doing brave things. If I were a man I would be an adventurer like you."
"Not half so much of an adventurer, as you call it, as our friend who went off this morning."
It was the first mention of Isaacs since his departure. I had said the thing inadvertently, for I would not have done anything to increase her trouble for the world. She leaned back, dropping her hands with her work in her lap, and stared straight out through the doorway, as pale as death—pale as only fair-skinned people are when they are ill, or hurt. She sat quite still. I wondered if she were ill, or if it were only Isaacs' going that had wrought this change in her brilliant looks. "Would you like me to read something to you, Miss Westonhaugh? Here is a comparatively new book—The Light of Asia, by Mr. Edwin Arnold. It is a poem about India. Would it give you any pleasure?" She guessed the kind intention, and a little shadow of a smile passed over her lips.
"You are so kind, Mr. Griggs. Please, you are so very kind."
I began to read, and read on and on through the exquisite rise and fall of the stanzas, through the beautiful clear high thoughts which seem to come as a breath and a breeze from an unattainable heaven, from the Nirvana we all hope for in our inmost hearts, whatever our confession of faith. And the poor girl was soothed, and touched and lulled by the music of thought and the sigh of verse that is in the poem; and the morning passed. I suppose the quiet and the poetry wrought up in her the feeling of confidence she felt in me, as being her lover's friend, for after I had paused a minute or two, seeing some one coming toward the tent, she said quite simply—
"Where is he gone?"
"He is gone to do a very noble deed. He is gone to save the life of a man he never saw." A bright light came into her face, and all the chilled heart's blood, driven from her cheeks by the weariness of her first parting, rushed joyously back, and for one moment there dwelt on her features the glory and bloom of the love and happiness that had been hers all day yesterday, that would be hers again—when? Poor Miss Westonhaugh, it seemed so long to wait.