Fiction

When the Gods Judge

A Story of Mystery and Magic

W. A. Fraser November 1 1917
Fiction

When the Gods Judge

A Story of Mystery and Magic

W. A. Fraser November 1 1917

When the Gods Judge

Fiction

A Story of Mystery and Magic

W. A. Fraser

Author of “Mooswa," “Thoroughbred"etc.

MOITOK'H NOTE. - Mr. Fraser is one of the foremost of Canadian authors, and perhaps best knoirn for his stories of Canadian life, tie was, however, a resident of India a number of years, and knows that land of *tranye races as few n filers do. Here is his most recent Indian story, preynant with all the mystery of the land. It iu one of the best he has done, certainly the best since he has come batk from retirement and syskn taken up ht*

AT the bottom of the little hill down which Arundel Street wanders from the Strand to the Embankment stands the Arundel Hotel. As you pass through the rotunda on the right is a door upon which hangs, of a Thursday evening, a card bearing the legend, “The East India Club."

Notwithstanding this portentous name this club is a very simple social comingtogether of men who have travelled. Its official staff is Hoskins, editor of the Windward Magazine. The gavel of the club is a briarwood pipe.

It was at one of these club meetings that Major Gray told this story of India. There had been some discussion over the mysticism of the East Hoskins had said : “Mysticism is the dominant note that comes from the Orient to us — that fascinates us because in our ultra materialism we cannot understand it”

“What has been your experience, Major Gray?” the Australian asked. “Did you ever see any of those esoteric tricks?”

Somehow the Major suggested a rat trap, or, if one carried on to something animate, a fox terrier. He was small, lean, and obviously tough as whalebone; the formation of his skull suggested a hardy efficiency rather than overbalancing mentality. Now he drew his pipe from his lips with a sweep as though he were drawing a sword, and answered: “I never could understand the Yogis. And that’s what it always comes to, the white man, if he’s honest, has simply got to answer, ‘I don’t know’.’’

“Did you ever see anything yourself, well—mystical?” questioned the Austra-

lie Major replaced his pipe and puffed meditatively. Presently he removed it from his lips and said: “I’ll tell you a true story. I warn you that it will leave you just where you are now—in the dark. It did me."

THE MAJOR’S STORY.

I WAS in forestry work, and on my way across country swung in to Darpore to stop a day with an old friend, Major Finnerty, of the Elephant Khedda.

When I reached Finnerty’s bungalow he was over at the elephant lines, but I was expected, and his butler, Boodha,

showed me into a room and, of course, brought me a whisky peg.

I’ll describe the room for, even at first, it struck me as being unusual. The bungalow' itself was located in a mango tope; these big trees with their heavy glossy leaves making a dense shade that added to the cool sombreness of the massive brick, whitewashed walls. The room I entered was a wing. In one corner was a massive fireplace suitable for burning logs; neat this was a door opening into the bathroom, and from that again an open door showed the outside. I’m not given to nerves, I assure you, but somehow—perhaps it was the cool of the room after the hot ride—I absolutely felt a chill creeping up my spine.

I was waiting for Abdul, whom I could hear out on the verandah rowing with the butler about something. I was standing facing the window, from which stretched away the road, taking a pull at the refreshing whisky and soda as Abdul entered the room with my tin box on his shoulder. At that instant a wailing moan came out of the black maw of the fireplace, and with a cry of terror Abdul jumped from under the box, which came smashing to the cement floor.

Of course, I turned on him with some useful and expressive words of Hindustani on my lips, but his livid face stopped me; I never saw a chap in such a blue

“What’s the matter, pagle (fool)?” I asked angrily.

Of course, he had the usual native answer. “I’m sick.” Said that the chill of the hills had struck his liver. That if his lord and master—the same being myself—would give him leave till tomorrow he would take some medicine.

He was an abject-looking object and, of course, I had to let him off.

I turned to have a look in the fireplace, thinking it might perhaps be a tucktaw or an owl, but I could see nothing, and concluded it was just the wind blowing down that old chimney.

The butler and Finnerty’s bearer brought in my traps, and even then I fancied there was something subdued, rather twitchy, you know, about their way of going. Well, I managed to get a change—I didn’t have to dress; there was no memsahib, Finnerty being a bachelor.

A FTER dinner the Khedda Sahib and I got into two arm chairs on the verandah for a buck about old times and a smoke. We chatted about pig, and plans for the next day, and the Major’s work, and after a bit he rose from his chair, saying, “I’ve got to write a report. We caught a couple of wild elephants in our pits, and for the next month or two I’ll be answering correspondence from devilish clerks as to how many teeth the elephants have, and how long are their tails, and particularly do these captives prove that the pit system is better than noosing or driving them into a khedda. I won’t be long.”

When he had gone I smoked my cheroot for a bit; and then concluded I’d go down to the stable and have a talk with Dewan. I must say, gentlemen, that Dewan was an Arab pony. But if there is a creature in the world that is a gentleman, it’s a high-caste Arab pony. They’re a royal breed by themselves, and Dewan, with his silken coat of the purest silver-white was a king even amongst Arabs. I could ride him straight as a bullet on to the mightiest boar that ever wore tusks, and that’s something a tiger won’t do—go straight at a boar.

The stalls were in a row, and in front of the doors was a long leaf-thatched screen to keep the ponies from being disturbed. I slipped quietly in at the end between the stalls and the screen, and made my way along, peering in each doorway till I saw the white figure of Dewan. He gave a little whinny of welcome. That he was standing up told me that there was something wrong.

Speaking, so that he would be sure by the voice, I stepped in beside him. With a sigh of content he snuggled his velvet muzzle against my cheek, and

showed me what was amiss by lifting a forefoot. I ran my hand down and discovered trouble; the syce had not slacked his bandages, and the wise little chap knew that to lie down might lame him. As I loosened the bandages I heard voices just beyond the screen, and saw the flicker of light as someone built a fire. It was a double stall, and my other pony I found was all right.

STEPPING to a hole in the screen I peeped through. By Jove! Talk about miracles and the healing of the sick. There was Abdul who, before dinner had been a decrepit wreck, standing as full of swagger as I had ever seen him. Finnerty’s syce, Baloo, was building the fire, while a couple of other servants, also the butler, had now squatted around a bubbling hookah.

I must say that I had devilish little compunction about listening, considering the bally rotten way Abdul had treated me. As happens all listeners, the first thing I heard was about myself.

Baloo was asking, as he tipped the cow-chips on edge that they might burn more brightly: “Does your sahib sleep in the room that is of ill repute, Abdul?” “The Presence sleeps in the room that is for guests; what is that to thee, thou son of a grass cutter? Will Baloo share the sahib’s bed?”

“The sahibs can do all things,' Abdul, but can they sleep where the dead cry out in the night? Tell me that, brother.” “Why should the dead come to that room—the room by the road, Baloo?” an aged Hindoo queried.

“I, Baloo, say it, Kedar Yogi, and it is a true talk. Ask Boodha there about the

sahib who rushed out of that place half way of the night with fear in his eyes. And Boodha saw over the sahib’s shoulder the Bhut (ghost). Is it not so?” “True in a way, Baloo,” Boodha answered, “as to the sahib coming forth in his pyjamas—and at that time there was a memsahib in the bungalow—but the sahib had been drinking of the brandy pani to a large extent for days.” Boodha pulled at the complaining hookah in satisfaction, having thus taken neutral ground.

“And it was the Bhut that killed Murray Sahib,” Baloo declared. “They found him there in that accursed room in the morning dead, and his face was awful to look upon.”

“I have heard in the bazaar that the sahib was murdered,” the Yogi said.

“It was the brandy pont; ask Abdul, who was the bearer to the sahib,” and Boodha turned again to the-hookah.

“I go not into that room,” Finnerty’s kitmutghar declared decisively. “Of a death like that the gods are not pleased; the spirit comes back."

“For the guilty the dead come back,” Kedar Yogi declared, and I could see his eyes were fastened on Abdul’s face. Then he boasted: “As for me, I am but an old man, past the days that I ate rice from the chattie of trouble, but even I, Kedar, have no fear of the Bhut" He reached for the hookah mumbling, “The guilty must have a care.”

“When a tiger makes the kill of a man does it not sometimes happen that the dead comes back and rides on his back as a guide, Yogi?” the kitmutghar asked. “And do they wait for guilty ones? No, even a child will be taken.”

“That is a matter of the gods; and, no doubt, the tiger gets out of hand when he smells food,” Kedar replied.

“I am afraid, and I am not guilty,” the kitmutghar asserted doggedly. “And Abdul, fear has turned his liver to water so that he has forsaken his sahib, and is it to be said that he is guilty, holy one?” “Thou are a pagle, born of a shebuffalo!” Abdul rasped.

MY attention was drawn to the old Hindoo. By Jove! I was fascinated. His head, as skinny as a skull, was thrust forward; and I never saw such eyes; they seemed on fire as he held them fixed on Abdul’s face.

Finnerty’s gardener, who was in the group, now said: “Once the Khedda Sahib told me to take wood to the fireplace of that accursed room, and, first putting some sweetmeats in front of Kala Beg for the god’s protection, I went in through the bathroom with three pieces of pipal. When I dropped them quickly into the fireplace, from beneath came a scream as though I had hurt the Bhut. Boodha will witness that what I say is

“Thou wert lucky, mali,” Baloo commented, “for if the bazaar talk is true Soona Beebe came to an evil end through entering that room.”

“That is the wisdom of a grass cutter’s sou,” Abdul sneered. “Soona Beebe went to Kashmir, where is her father.”

“Who took her there, brother?" queried the Yogi.

“Make thy salaams to the Khedda Sahib in the morning and he will tell thee,” Abdul answered sarcastically.

“But the father gave Tez Singh, who is but come from Kashmir a message to me, who am a Yogi, to ask of our village god the finding of Soona Beebe.”

‘‘Tez Singh is a Sikh, therefore a liar. When he has silver to buy opium he is fuller of tales than the sahib’s paper,” Abdul answered.

“As might be; but neither a Sikh nor a Mussulman gives his own silver to our gods,” the Yogi said complacently. "And Tez Singh gave to me three rupees that Soona Beebe’s father had sent for a sacrifice to Kala Beg."

“And it is in thy purse, Yogi, and the stone idol will get one anna of sweetmeats,” and Abdul laughed.

“I have made sacrifice of a goat, Abdul, and sprinkled the blood on the shrine.” And Kedar sighed as rebuke to the Mussulman’s insinuations.

“That is true,” Baloo affirmed, “for we have all eaten kabobs of the goat flesh, out of the holy one’s charity.”

“There is but one god, Allah,” Abdul declared fanatically; “and if yonder potbellied idol of stone that you call Kala Beg has power let him show it to-night over a man of the true faith, I, Abdul.”

The Mussulman’s words produced consternation.

“A difference of faith cannot save the guilty from the anger of the gods,” the Yogi declared solemnly; “one must needs have great sanctity to defy the gods.”

Just then my two syces joined the group, and Dewan, the little devil, must have winded them, for he gave a whinny. I bolted, getting nicely out of the screened lane before the syce rounded the corner.

The khedda sahib was prowling in the verandah when I reached the bungalow. “We’ll have a good-night peg, old man,” he said. So we took the big chairs for this matter of routine.

The Major seemed groping a little at this point of his story, struggling, as it were, to carry his listeners forward in the same state of mind he had experienced at that time. He resumed.

THE moon was up, and, peeping oVer the top of the bungalow, it silhouetted against the deep shadow of a tamarind the huge bulk of an elephant that was chained by a hind leg to the tree. The giant was weaving his massive head back-and-forth, back-and-forth in a ceaseless way; and on a limb of the tamarind had perched the most annoying bird in all creation, the koel.

There he sat calling “cluck-cluckcluck, koe-e-el!” And once, as

if he had put the elephant on edge, the latter swung up his trunk and trumpeted. And from the depths of a sal jungle on the hills that rose behind the bungalow came the harsh, grating call of a leopard.

At this Finnerty growled: “Is it any wonder that the natives have gods in this land of mysterious voices. Faith ! Sometimes I’m tempted to believe this reincarnation idea is really true.” He raised his long, powerful arm to point at the elephant. “That’s my pad elephant,” he added, “and if he isn’t human he’s next thing to it.”

“Who was Murray?” I asked.

“He was my assistant here. But he pegged himself to death, poor chap. Why?”

“I’ve got his former bearer, Abdul, it seems.”

“Well, I think you’ve got a proper budmash." Finnerty declared emphatically. “Did you see anything of a little Kashmiri girl called Soona Beebe hanging around with Abdul? She disappeared about the time Murray died, and Abdul went away about that time too. Boodha tells me that she didn’t go back to Kashmir; her father has been writing asking after her.”

“No, I saw nothing of the girl,” I re-

“She had money, and I wouldn’t put it past that budmash, Abdul, to have made away with her. You know what a Bengali Mussulman is like when he smells rupees.”

Then I told the Major all I had overheard down at the stables.

"There was something uncanny about poor Murray’s death,” the Khedda Sahib said. "The Civil Surgeon here said it was

whisky liver, but I always thought it was something else. I am sure Murray had quite a sum of money in his box, and we never found it. I think he was friendly with Soona Beebe; but she didn’t steal his rupees or have anything to do with his death. She was a gentle, sweet little thing something like her name—the Gold Girl.” “You think, then, that Abdul is at the bottom of it?” I asked.

“We searched his box,” Finnerty answered, “but we couldn’t prove anything. And what 1 wonder at is, that he came back here.”

“He didn’t know I was coming here,” I replied. “As it happened I didn’t say anything to him about where we were going. Anyway, he'll be little use to me, for something groaned in the chimney, and he’s in a blue funk.”

Finnerty laughed. “The servants all think that room is haunted. They declare they can hear a girl crying in it at night” “By Jove! I heard a ghoulish noise myself,” I declared.

“I’ve heard it,” Finnerty agreed. “There’s a hole through to the outside just in the back corner of the fireplace, and I think the wind moans and sighs through that when it’s from the north.” We had finished our peg, and with a good-night to my host I went to my room.

The Major turned to the other members of the club with a little digression from his story.

"Gentlemen, try to put yourself in my boots, because you’ll have to judge of what follows on its bare telling. You see everything so far was inclined to put me in a mystical mood; Finnerty’s story of Murray and Soona Beebe, the native talk of ghosts, and the groaning chimney.

“As I stood in my room looking from the window down the lane between the trees, half-a-dozen jackals slunk by, one, possessed of some fiendish impulse, squatting on his haunches just beyond the bathroom door to let out a series of ghoulish

MY light was an old lamp, and I was shortly undressed and had it snuffed out. It was the coo! weather, so doors and windows all open, I didn’t need a punkah, and wras soon asleep.

I had slept probably three hours when I was wakened by light; that was the sensation. When I opened my eyes the light was there, a flickering, like the flame of a torch. I want you to bear in mind, gentlemen, absolutely, that what I saw was not a dream-vision; I was awake — that’s about the only thing I’ll vouch for, that I was awake.

Very distinctly I saw Yogi Kedar standing just within the door of the room, his outstretched hand pointing to the chimney. I rolled my head a little and saw a native bending down in the fireplace.

As I slipped from the bed the native turned, and the light fell on his face—-it was Abdul. I sprang for him, but my tin box was in the way, and I came a cropper, the box making an outlandish clatter on the hard cement. My plunge threw me absolutely into the door of the bathroom.

As I scrambled to my feet I could hear Finnerty’s voice as he came plunging through the sitting-room that was just beyond a little passage that led from the room I was in. Strategically I stood where I was, guarding the back door, knowing that the Khedda Sahib would meet anybody escaping in the other direction. I thought we had Abdul in a sack; but when Finnerty rushed in, a lamp in his hand, a glance showed that the room was empty.

“What’s the row, Major—thieves?” he asked.

“Did you see Abdul or the old Hindoo?” I queried in answer.

“Not a soul.”

The chowkidar (watchman) now arrived on the scene. He declared that nobody had either entered or gone out through the front of the bungalow, for he had been lying wide awake on his charpoy on the verandah. You see it was the chowkidar’s duty to sleep there as a guard against thieves.

BRIEFLY I told Finnerty what I had seen. His only comment was: “We’ll find out if they’ve been here in the flesh.” He sent the chowkidar down to the servants’ quarters, telling him to slip in quietly and find out whether Abdul or Kedar were there, and if they had been out at all; also to bring these two to the verandah.

Just then the bally old chimney commenced to moan ; a gust of wind blew out the lamp, and neither Finnerty nor I lost any time in getting out.

The chowkidar soon came with Abdul, saying: “I will get Kedar Yogi down at the temple of the Black God.”

While he was away we questioned Abdul, but he called Allah to witness that he, being sick, had not moved from his bed since he had left me in the evening. We knew it was useless to question, so we waited for the Yogi.

Soon we heard the clink, clink, clink, of the loose iron ring on the chowkidar’s lathi (night stick), sending out its warning to snakes to clear the way, as he pounded along on the hard road coming back. “This, huzoor,” he said, salaaming, “is Kedar Yogi.”

The Yogi, creeping up the steps, knelt, and touching his forehead to the floor, said: “Salaam, Bahadar Sahib; what seeks your honor of Kedar?”

Finnerty, in fluent Hindustani, told the old fakir that he wanted all this humbug

cleared up; asked him why he had been in my room; why Abdul had been there; told him, in fact, what I had seen.

“If the sahib has seen it, it is true,” Kedar answered.

“And what else?” Finnerty asked, as the old chap stopped speaking.

“If Abdul was there, apsi (of his own will), or because of the gods, is all one, for only the guilty are troubled.”

“Were you there?’ Finnerty queried, sharply.

“If the sahib has seen Kedar, Kedar was there; but of the gods for I remained in the Temple meditating on my mission.”

“What?” Finnerty snapped.

“Huzoor, Kedar searches for Soona Beebe that her father may know what is.”

“Has Abdul taken her?” Finnerty asked.

“I know nothing of Soona,” Abdul interjected. “This infidel is crazed by his

“Huzoor,” the Hindoo continued calmly, “if the Presence will place Abdul in the room, in the morning he will speak the

By Jove! I felt creepy at this cold-blooded proposition; and Finnerty exclaimed, “Damme!” Then he added to me, “Not a bad idea. You can take Kennedy’s room, Major. He won't be back till to-morrow.”

“I am a Mussulman,” Abdul objected. “I have nothing to do with the mad gods of this idolater.”

“Mussulmans, or even the twice-born, the sahibs, come under the wrath of the gods if guilty; the innocent are not afraid,” Kedar declared solemnly.

“By heavans! I’m going to do it,” Finnerty asse r t e d . “W e can’t clear up the matter to-night anyway.”

So we took Abdul to the room, locked the back door, and put a padlock on the heavy wooden

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Continued from page 26.

shutters of the window. Two things I j E noticed this time; one that the mosquito J = netting in the open window was intact, ! = so Abdul could not have escaped that = way before; the other, that the moon E shone in the room through the open E window. I had not noticed it before; I E so those of you who wish to maintain = that it was the moon, and not a mystic | = light, are free do do so.

I saw Abdul take something from the roll E of his loin cloth, and flip it into his mouth. =

“Appin,” Kedar said to me, “but opium j ç will not hide the guilty from the gods. = In the morning we will have the truth.” —

We locked also the door leading from E the room into the long passage, and the | E chowkidar, closing the door from the passage to the living room drew his charpoy across it. Then Finnerty and I turned in for the little time that remained for sleep.

Back in bed I could not sleep for a time; small wonder, with all the mysticism. I didn’t feel at all satisfied over bottling Abdul up in that accursed room. I could have sworn I heard him call twice.

The Major filled his pipe slowly, as though he meditated over the denouement, or had a reluctance to finish. When it was lighted he took a dozen strong puffs while his listeners hung in suspense. He laid his pipe down on the table.

Gentlemen, when we opened the door in the morning we found Abdul stone dead in the corner farthest removed from the fireplace. There was no visible wound.

“Opium!” I said, telling Finnerty what I had seen.

“Guilty fear killed him!” Finnerty declared.

“The gods have put their hands on the guilty one!” the Yogi asserted.

“We'll never get the truth of it now, though,” and Finnerty pointed at the dead man’s lips.

“Huzoor, the truth is here,” Kedar said from in front of the fireplace.

Following the line of his skinny finger I saw in the ashes Abdul’s knife, beside a hollow he had dug in the night. In the hollow, like eggs in a nest, was a pile of shining rupees, a necklace of silver coins, and a gold bangle. Just beyond, swinging from the hole in the bricks, was the raised head of a cobra, its hood spread in anger.

“Yes,” declared the Major, after a deep breath, “we found where the cobra had struck Abdul on the wrist The rupees had been Murray’s, of course, and the ornaments Soona Beebe’s.”