NEMESIS IN HIND
A story of glamorous India, the India where death strikes mysteriously and superstition holds strange sway
Author of "Tarnished Heritage"
"Huzoor, he lashed his tail. He was a bhoot, a spirit white in the moonlight and I was afraid."
JOHN drove HAYES his buggy MACDONALD down the road between the ranks of darkgreen tea shrubs. Dusk was nearing—mist above the unseen river, blue haze on the hills beyond the valley.
Nine months ago he had inherited Daigroon plantation, and the sense of ownership was still so sweet that he could not resist a nightly drive around the whole 5(X) acres. Not bad, he told himself again; not bad for one who had begun as door-boy in Locke Steven’s office in Calcutta.
But the deep, red-dirt roads in whose still aisles hung sweet and aromatic scents, were queerly empty. There were no coolies, trudging homeward in the twilight with their loads of fuel, no bullock carts returning from domestic visits to estates downstream; which lack increased the feeling that of late had worried him that something strange was happening at Daigroon.
1 le had sensed it first as he saw how the coolies scurried homeward once the sun had set, and how at evening round the office godown where they came for pay, they huddled into big-eyed groups and whispered furtively. At night, instead of occasional drums, there now were numbers, beating until the dawn a note whose fear and urgency were getting on Macdonald’s nerves.
The road now climbed a ridge that paralleled the Daigroon River, and between road and stream, beyond a narrow belt of tea shrubs, lay the lines of huts that housed his coolies. Topping the rise, he was surprised to see, enclosing these on their three landward sides, a ring of fires. The small brown people had withdrawn to well inside the hutments, and at every group a little drum throbbed with that strange, scared note.
Macdonald was puzzled, faintly awed and irritated. Like all men of his breeding, he despised the native. He, John Macdonald, was a sahib, a white man; a coolie was a menial, scarcely human, thing to do his bidding. Yet he could not withstand his own infection by the fear which he sensed was haunting these inferiors.
Clear of the lines, the road sloped past the leaf-sheds and the roasting house down to the maidan—the open space that was the hub of the
open space estate and where the people gathered for its communal occasions. Where the maidan met the river, lay the little houseboat that had been O’Hara’s.
Thirty years past, O’Hara, leaving the service of the river company, had towed the Kookee up and moored her to the virgin jungle, and, working from her, he had made Daigroon plantation. In course of time, he built fine factory buildings, lines for his coolies and a charming bungalow for a white assistant, but he himself preferred to live as he’d begun, aboard the cockroach-haunted hulk, moored now in deep, swift water flat against a teakwood wharf.
Across the maidan from the office godown stood the stables, from before which a path sloped to the rear of John Macdonald’s bungalow. Thus the house stood a bit above the Kookee, with between the two a slope of twenty yards or so, grown with the young trees and scrub among the stumps of the old virgin forest. Macdonald gave his buggy to a syce, and in the tliree-parts darkness climbed the path behind his house.
At the back door were his servants, each man carrying a lantern, waiting in a silent huddle. Thus, banded as though against some mutual fear, they had of late essayed the journey homeward through the dark.
As he reached the house there emerged his bearer, for
whom the others had been waiting, also carrying a lantern. Macdonald stopped and rapped out in the native dialect: “What’s wrong with all you nuka-log, creeping about as though the devil were behind you. What are all those fires around the lines down there?”
NO ONE replied. They stood mutely in their white clothes in the lamplight, their eyes wide and apprehensive underneath their spotless turbans.
Macdonald’s temper tightened: “You. Pirtom! Answer me. unless you want to taste a stick. What’s going on?” Pirtom, the gentle joivlah man, replied: “ Huzoor, forgive us, but we are afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
Pirtom glanced furtively to where the dusk closed fast about them. Then his lips shut and he dropped his gaze, and Macdonald saw him swallow.
“Answer me !” Macdonald ordered.
At last Pirtom told him. low and tremulously: “ Huzoor, it is our sahib, the old bagh sahib, who now is dead.”
“Well? What about him?”
“His spirit does not rest, but walks at night. Men have beheld it.”
There was silence after that. It was Macdonald’s turn to
swallow. Then he demanded : “And what was it that these
“ Huzoor, a spirit, the spirit of O’Hara sahib, in the form of a great tiger.’
Macdonald felt relief. Of course. Last week a tiger had devoured Gul Baksh’s cow', and before that two others had been missing. In O’Hara’s day such depredations never happened, for any tiger that began to hunt within ten miles was shortly killed by "Bagh" O’Hara, to whom natives brought the news for generous reward. Daigroon plantation marked the end of settlement; beyond lay pristine jungles stretching clear to China. Macdonald was no shooting man, and now the tigers would, of course, drift in toward the easy prey of cattle. That was what had got his coolies frightened.
His poise quite restored, he said to Pirtom: “Why tell me tales of spirits to conceal thy fears. There is a tiger killing cattle, and you are afraid.”
Pirtom replied: "Ram ram! Ram ram!” which means, “May God have mercy on us;” and Macdonald told him:
“Next time this tiger kills, send me word swiftly. I will bring sahibs to shoot him and thereafter we shall hear no more of spirits.” Turning, he took the path around his house to the verandah.
Annoyed to realize how easily he’d been infected by the qualms of coolies, Macdonald mixed a drink. Now that O’Hara was not here, he had to be prepared for tiger trouble. Every outlying garden had it intermittently.
Three mistresses had ruled old Pat O’Hara-Daigroon, whisky and the sport of tiger shooting-to each of which he’d given the devotion of a stupid, brave and singleminded fellow.
O’Hara’s sport had been the awe and interest of all his people, who imputed to him superhuman understanding of the striped red beasts and for it had affectionately dubbed him Bagh, the tiger. He had killed just one less than a hundred tigers, and had promised sahib and native a great celebration when he should have bagged one more to round the total. But another love, the whisky, claimed him ere he could make good his word.
THESE and kindred matters occupied Macdonald’s mind as he sat this night on his verandah in the closing dark. He was a slim, pale fellow, with extreme good looks of a fine-chiselled sort. His hair was black and wavy, his skin white and his eyes big and brown. His ducks were smart and clean, his mien precise.
Slowly the green-white stars came out, and from the garden heavy blossom odors reached him ; fireflies gemmed the shrubs, and crickets, frogs and tree toads shrilled a steady chorus. In the lines the apprehensive drums beat on monotonously. Daigroon at any time was strange and beautiful; at night it had a romance all its own.
But romance of that sort did not charm Macdonald. He desired other things, toward gaining which his lifelong efforts had been concentrated. It was solely to their end that he had worked Daigroon so faithfully for Bagh O’Hara. To hoe. trench, lime pluck, haul, manufacture, to ship the neat square chests down-river and thus swell the total of his ten per cent of profits, had been his obsession; but that this should so impress O’Hara that he would
bequeath the garden to him never figured in his wildest dreams.
The day O’Hara told him of the will he’d made had marked the climax of Macdonald’s life. Till then, for all his efforts, what he lusted after had remained beyond his
reach; which fact brought him sometimes near desperation. He had been determined not to spend his life where he'd been born, in India. He wanted Euroix?. and all that in his eyes its capitals had come to stand for. And suddenly he found he’d labored better than he knew, and realization of his dreams had stood most glamorously close at hand. The only drawback was that Bagh O’Hara might survive too long.
That question, too, was history now; today his lifelong wait had almost reached a splendid consummation. He had but to get the Daulai Company to meet his price . . .
The thud of hoofs came up the slope and where the lamplight touched the lawn loomed up the figure of a mounted man, who chucked his reins to his orderly and came up the steps. It was Hugh Storr, the district superintendent of police.
Some eight months after Bagh O’Hara’s death, Storr had returned from leave in England. Though previously his contact with Macdonald had been no more than was incidental to his friendship with O’Hara, since his return he’d ridden over once a week and stayed till midnight.
Macdonald forced a welcome that he did not feel. “Why, hullo, Storr. It’s nice to see you. Have a drink.”
“Thank you. Macdonald.”
Storr was a tall spare man of fifty with a lined, friendly face. He mixed a drink, lit a cheroot and settled back into his chair. The smell of smoke mixed pungentlv with that of jasmine.
He took a puff or two. “You’ll think these Sunday visits have become an institution,” he said presently.
“Not at all," Macdonald answered. “Glad to have you.”
For the first time Hugh Storr broached direct that certain subject.
“That’s nice of you, Macdonald, because the reason that I come is that I feel I have to. It’s on account of poor O’Hara. He was my friend, and I keep wondering how he got into the river.”
“There’s no mystery in that. He came home extra drunk and toppled in across the rail.”
IN THE thick, yellow light, Storr faced him with his wise grey eyes.
“To most men that sounds quite all right, but not to me. I knew old Bagh too well. I've seen him scores of times, so drunk that he could hardly speak; yet he could leave his buggy at the stable, go on board, undress and get to bed in inky darkness and not bump a dxgt;rpost. Anywhere else he would be helpless, but the Kookee was his second self. Once he was in the river, of course, he was sure to drown, and, frankly, 1 don’t think he did fall in. I think someone helped him, though who and why and how defeats me.
“I can tel! you this, since you are safe from such suspicion. I’ve been through the evidence, of course, and it makes ,xgt;sitive that, even had you wished, you couldn’t possibly have done it. It could not be clearer: Saunders, Dobson and de Velley dined here with you; and you were with them playing bridge from eight till two, and Saunders stayed the night. O’Hara had been
down at Seeramara and got back at midnight-that, the syce makes clear. He was. as always, poor old devil, tight. He left his buggy at the stable and went off to bed. But his bed was never slept in, and the Dom folk down the river found him three days later, fully dressed, caught in their fish-weir. Those are the facts, and I don’t blame my junior for accepting them. But I’m not convinced.”
There was silence then, with Storr’s eyes on his host, who stared into the dark and beat his flt;xt in unison with the tom-toms. Presently Macdonald said :
“Well, 1 suppose you’re paid to be suspicious.” Then he abruptly changed the subject. “By the way, we’ve got a tiger here. I’m putting out some baits, and when he kills will you come over? I don’t shlt;xgt;t, you know. If you’re not interested I'll write de Velley.”
“A tiger in Daigroon! O’Hara’ll tum over in his grave. Of course I’ll come. Be glad to. Which reminds me: I’ve been told the coolies say O’Hara’s ghost is walking. Have you heard this tale that’s going round?”
“Well yes, 1 have. It’s all this tiger. They’re not used to cattle-killing and the fools are saying it’sO’Hara’s ghost. But you know these blasted natives: one of them starts some crazy rumor and next thing the whole lot panic.” “Quite,” Storr agreed. "I do know something of the native I am paid for that as well as what you mentioned. That’s one reason why I think if I keep coming here I’ll learn what happened to O’Hara. If I’ve guessed right and someone helped him in, that someone must have been a native; and because I’ve delved a bit into the native mind I think, somehow, some day, he’ll give himself away. Does that make sense to you, Macdonald?”
Macdonald’s gaze was on the dark outside, but in the still poise of his Ixxly, in the careful way he pulled at his cheroot before he answered, was a hint of tension.
“It might. if a native had been in it. But O’Hara had no enemies among the jxx>ple. You know quite well that he was half a god to them. No. He was extra drunk and just fell in. You’ll waste your time.”
MACDONALD tethered out six cows for bait, and shortly one was killed and dragged to cover. He put O’Hara’s skilled men to prepare a shooting machan in a near-by tree, and sent a message to Hugh Storr, who duly came at sunset and installed himself to wait for Stripes, as is the custom of his kind, to come back for a second feed.
Macdonald sat on his verandah waiting for a shot to end the disconcerting tension which was mounting at Daigroon. To every native it was now established that O Hara’s spirit roamed the place in tiger’s form. The frightened gossip knew no moderation and fantastic variations multiplied. From dusk to daylight not a single native left his home; all night the tom-toms beat, and round the lines and the inlying villages blazed guardian fires.
At twelve Macdonald went to bed and soon dozed off, to be aroused by noises in the dining room. He found Hugh Storr, his face lumpy with mosquito bites, mixing a drink.
“Nothing doing,” Storr announced. “That fellow’s too well fed -or else he winded me. I’ll have a try next time. Dam these mosquitoes. I’m half butchered.”
Macdonald stood in his pyjamas in the lamplight, pouring himself a drink. “Well, thank you anyway. You’ll turn in for tonight of course. There’s ammonia in the bathroom for those bites of yours.”
“Thank you, Macdonald. My horse is ordered for sunrise.” A new thought seemed to strike Hugh Storr. “I'll tell you what. This beast is lying up close in, no doubt of that, and he’ll be in the kuggaree for certain. You’ve got O’Hara’s men and elephants still, I take it? Have them ready and I’ll come tomorrow after office and we’ll try to get a shot. Will that suit you?”
“Darned good idea. I’ll see to it.”
XTEXT EVENING the live elephants were waiting on the maidan— not the formidably upholstered beasts beloved of fiction, but working shikarhathis, with a wcxxlen saddle lashed across their broad grey backs whereon the hunter sat astride and took his chance. From his porch Macdonald saw when Storr arrived, and went to meet him.
The five huge beasts crouched in a grave half-circle on the dusty earth amid a crowd of coolies, the mahouts before them in a little knot. When starting out with Bagh O’Hara after Stripes, these seasoned hunters had been wont to show a grinning eagerness for sjxirt impending. Today they stcxxl mute, with sullen faces.
Storr’s tall, stoojxxl figure left his horse and crossed to greet his host. "Hullo, Macdonald. All set, then?” He turned to the mahouts. "Aecha! Let us get on. We go to drive a tiger.”
But instead of climbing their beasts’ necks, the brownskinned men stood motionless, till Storr said to the shikari who headed them, one Rogonondon: “Well? What’s
The hunter, an old, gnomelike native with a ragged white mustache, clad simply in a loin-cloth and a huge red puggree, salaamed: “My lord is our father and our mother, but we do not wish to drive.”
“Since when have OT Iara sahib's mahouts grown tired of shikar? A tiger has grown daring and is taking cattle. If we do not kill him he will soon take men.”
The hunter shook his wizened head: “We shall not kill this tiger, sahib. He is not of the flesh, and if we hunt him evil will befall us all.”
“Not of the flesh? What foolishness is this? In a lifetime’s service of the sirkar I have seen strange things, but not so queer a beast.”
The elephant-man hid his eyes: "Ram ram! Ram ram! Huzoor, this is no beast! It is a ghost, the spirit of our sahib who drowned.”
At this Hugh Storr fell silent, merely looking at Macdonald with his eyebrows raised, as who would say, “Now here is something.”
Then he asked simply: "If a man’s spirit came to earth when he is dead, should it not take man’s shape? Why should the ghost of your sahib walk in tiger’s form?”
The man spoke with authority and condescension: "Huzoor, our sahib knew overmuch of tigers; he thought their thoughts, could seek them out in any cover. Of the many that he slew, part of their spirit entered him, until he was himself half tiger, and in his latter days he came to love the jungles more than anything on earth. This much I know: I drove game'for him thirty years and he showed me many times his heart.
And now his flesh is drowned, but not his spirit that was half a tiger. That could not drown. The man of him is ended, but that other lives here in his jungle. If we hunt him we shall anger him, and in anger he is very terrible.”
Meeting the fellow’s eyes, Storr said:
“There are sahibs who would curse thee for a fool, old shikari.”
Rogonondon spread his hands in deprecation, but his tone was unabashed:
“Fool I may be, huzoor; that thing my peers can judge. But there are those whose eyes have seen.” He ix>inted to the watching crowd. “There are Moti Lai, bullock man, and the woman Sudamooki. Ask them what walks our roads at night.”
“Oho!” exclaimed Storr in English.
“Now we’re getting somewhere.” He raised his voice and called: “Moti Lai,
gharrywan, and the woman Sudamooki.
Come here before me.” The two brown people came and stood with downcast eyes, and Storr singled out the man. “Tell me what thou hast seen?”
The coolie fumbled at his breechcloth.
"Huzoor, I was coming in my cart from Jolaghat with sacks of lime and saw it where the hill-road meets the trail up from the river. It was the spirit of a tiger.”
“And how did’st thou know it was a spirit and no earthly beast?”
“Lord,” said the man. awestruck but positive, “it was pale, as no tiger ever was, and light shone all around it.”
Storr muttered, sotto voce: “Light, eh?
That’s a new one. But that chap believes it, for a stack of mohurs.” He demanded of the woman: “Thou sister, what hast thou to say?”
She was a comely, brown-skinned Hindu with a golden nose-ring, her crimson sari held across her mouth for modesty.
"Huzoor, it was the moon for marriage and we were returning from my child’s betrothal in Dehinga bitstee. I looked out from our cart and saw him, where the road is deep. He stood on the brink among the tea and lashed his tail. He was as this gharry wallah says, a bhoot, a spirit, white in the moonlight, and I was afraid.”
ITING his nether lip, Storr turned to Macdonald. “Dead sure about it, aren’t they? I’ve known the sort of thing before, when someone popular has died. They make a legend of him, then some fellow with imagination starts a yarn like this and all the others see what they’re afraid of seeing. When I’ve bagged the tiger and the killing stops, the tale will peter out.”
At this, the apprehension that had gripped Macdonald slackened.
“Meanwhile,” concluded Storr, “we’ll have to humor ’em.”
He turned to Rogonondon. “I have heard, old man, and these things are beyond my comprehension. But this is sure: the tiger I would hunt is fleshly. I take it ghosts eat ghostly food; my beast eats warm red meat. Let us go out and drive. If we see thy ghost I will not shoot, but will halt the line till he is past and thus not anger him.”
Storr knew his natives, and they liked and trusted him. At so innocent a plan the men exchanged uncertain looks, and Storr rushed his advantage.
“Further, I promise that I will cry out: 'Salaam, bagh sahib, go(xl hunting to us all.’ Was not the sahib my friend and thine, and did he not love s|X)rt? How then can he be angry? Rather will he be glad to see me in the jungle with his elephants and mahouts.”
Storr turned a smiling face to each in turn. They, being simple folk, began to grin.
“How say you, shikaris?” he rallied them. “Shall we go out and drive, or are O’Hara sahib’s mahouts no longer tiger hunters but no more than coolies?”
The men stood hesitant. Then one turned for his beast. Two more exchanged a look and followed. Then they were each man at his elephant, mounting the neck.
Storr said to Macdonald : “Bull’s-eye ! Let’s be off before they weaken. You take Rangunga there. I know that elephant: he’s dead staunch to tiger.”
Macdonald backed a hasty step. “But I’m not coming. I have never shot. I’m not accustomed . . . ”
Storr eyed him levelly, and all at once Macdonald hated Storr. The man was always looking at him with those quiet eyes that seemed to see his heart ... At the thought, a thrill of apprehension touched Macdonald.
“I’m sure you’d better come,” Storr warned him. “All your folk are watching you. If you once let them think you’re scared, you’ll never handle them again.”
Macdonald saw the mild brown people in their gaudy cottons gazing at him. In their eyes he saw conviction dawning and he knew they’d seen him shrink. Storr t(X)k his arm. “You see! You’d better come.” Storr pressed him toward the elephant, and he had no choice but go.
The five grey beasts swung down the road toward the east end of the garden. The low sun spread a golden light upon the peace of Asian evening, and the air was rich with forest odors. Where the tea ran out, between the timbered foothills and the Daigroon River, flats lay, covered with those ten-foot reeds with great white plumes called kuggaree, which of all cover is the choice of tigers.
Storr led his elephants three miles along the join where slope met kuggaree, and as the sun was setting turned them in to form a line across the reeds and beat toward home. Storr had the centre, with, on his left, Macdonald and to right Rogonondon. The elephants went crashing through the tall reeds, the men shouting a time-honored tiger jargon to arouse the game and keep him on ahead until the cover thinned and he must face the issue—either swim the river, charge the line or take to the open.
Black partridges burst out before them, coveys of quail whirred off to either flank, a deer or two broke back, and often pig fled, grunting angrily, among the dry brown stems.
By the time they were three parts home and the reeds were thinning, dusk had come, the crests of northern hills gold in the light of the departed sun. Above the garden, half a mile ahead, the mauve mists gathered. And then the elephants gave signs their drivers understood. Their heads went up, long snaky trunks held high, testing the wind. The word ran down the line:
"Baghassi!” "Bagh hai!” "Bagh!”
Rusta, Storr’s beast, put up his ears and trumpeted. The mahout said:
“We are too late, sahib. It will be too dark to shoot. Better slip out and leave him undisturbed; he will lie here again.”
Storr said: “Keep on.”
The line advanced, the natives shouting, pounding their beasts’ bald heads to see that they did not break back.
The cane was thinning fast, when on the left a wild yell sounded and the end mahout was seen to wheel his beast and head back on his tracks in frantic flight.
And then Macdonald’s driver uttered a strange cry of horror, "Aieeeeeee!” hid his face, and bent until his forehead touched the elephant’s bald grey pate.
Storr’s elephant stopped and trumpeted. The mahout who, intent on his beast, had not observed the others’ actions, called: “He comes close, huzoor, shoot quickly.” Then his jaw fell open and his face turned grey; he put his face into his hands and stammered: "Ram, ram! Ram
ram! Ram ram!” And then the elephant spoke again—the hoarse, long scream which pronounced, “Tiger!” He coiled his trunk and cocked his grotesque head clear of the danger.
Storr sat with rifle at the ready while the panic ran along the line. But he fired no shot.
Padding homeward in the thickening dusk, Storr did not speak. He led to the maidan, and the elephants knelt.. A syce brought a lantern, gilding the loinclothed figures of old Rogonondon and the five mahouts, their massive beasts couched behind them.
His stage now set, Hugh Storr attacked the natives.
“So!” he pronounced with scorn. “I was told you were the best mahouts in all the valley. I find you children, losing your wits the moment your beasts wind a tiger.” Old Rogonondon spoke up angrily:
“It is not just that you abuse us so. huzoor. We are brave hunters, as the old sahib's five-score skins can prove. But we will not hunt a being from another world, and that the spirit of O’Hara sahib, whom we all loved. And you—you promised you would call to him, but we did not hear your voice,” the old man challenged him reproachfully.
The rest nodded between awe and condemnation of Hugh Storr’s betrayal.
“Spirits?” said Storr. “What is this further bleat of spirits? I speak of tigers.” “But my lord saw.” the wizened man protested. “It patesed not ten yards from the line. We all saw it.”
“The elephants smelt a tiger and the shikaris become afraid. That is all I saw.” There was silence, while the mahouts exchanged awe-stricken looks. Storr said: “Something, it seems, there was which you all say you saw but I saw not? This is peculiar. Can it be that you are lying to excuse your fears?”
Rogonondon swore: "Huzoor, may I scream in hell for ever if I did not see this ghost. It passed not ten feet from my beast—pale, it was, pale and very swift, and in the likeness of a splendid tiger.”
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Storr asked the rest: “Did any of you see this thing?”
"I, huzoor, I!” “I saw it, sahib“And I!” “And 1!” “Ram, ram ! Ram ram !” Storr faced Macdonald, in whose face were limned bewilderment and incredulity.
“Did you see anything? The tiger that the elephants winded, jxissihly?” Macdonald’s troubled eyes went down. “N—no,” he declared. “There was nothing passed. I didn’t see a thing.”
Storr returned to the natives: “Six of you saw a thing which the sahib and I saw not, and that thing a spirit. How is that sanity?”
“Huzoor," Rogonondon told him, “there be many mysteries; there be witchcraft, spells and vampires, werewolves and sendings from the evil places. These work among us sorceries no man can fathom.” “And you hold this—tiger, this pale, swift tiger that you natives saw, but we white men saw not, was the spirit of the old Bagh Sahib, who now is dead?”
There was an assenting chorus, and Hugh Storr replied: “Then here indeed is mystery beyond my grasp.”
They stood dumbly in the yellow light— seven scared, doubting men who gazed uneasily at one another with, behind, the grotesque heads of elephants sighing stertorously and squirting dust along their flanks.
The eighth man, subtly upon justice bent, paused to let apprehension do its work. Then he said:
“Rogonondon. If a man drowned, and it was judged an accident, and if it was no accident but a cunning murder, might it, in these mysteries of thine, transpire that his spirit walked the place where he had lived, seeking justice on his murderer?” The old shikari answered: “I have heard that such a thing has been, huzoor."
“If that be true,” Storr said, “this might not be so great a mystery”—his gaze went slowly down the row of lined brown faces—“for I believe the Bagh Sahib did not die by chance but was murdered.”
The dark eyes flickered to and fro with startled looks: “Ram ram! Ram ram!”
“Go now!” Storr told them. “Tomorrow, in the saner light of daytime, I will speak further of this matter.”
ALTHOUGH Macdonald prayed that he would go, Hugh Storr assumed urbanely that he was to stay to dinner.
His deliberations as to Bagh O’Hara’s death had yielded definite conclusions, but conclusions having not one speck of evidence to ground them and refuted by a perfect alibi, are of little use. But since he had left last night the machan with his shot deliberately unfired, he had been working toward a test, a flight in racial psychology, which might have portentous consequences. It had depended largely on his fortunes in his carefully timed tiger beat, and that had turned out excellently. He and Macdonald sat with vermouth
waiting for the dinner gong, when at the steps appeared the burly figure of his orderly, Maum Shah. Maum Shah was a Pa than, one of a breed of fighting men renowned for self-reliance and sagacity. Maum Shah particularly was a man of parts, whose nerve and knowledge, gained in dubiously silent years prior to his service, added to imagination and a sense of humor, made him an invaluable police assistant.
“The Presence sent for me?” he said.
“Excuse me for a bit, Macdonald. Business.” Storr ran down the steps and drew the Pathan out of earshot. Then he asked: “Maum Shah, art thou afraid of ghosts?”
The big, hook-nosed Mohammedan considered this. Then he replied:
“Huzoor, I have seen no ghosts. How then can I know if 1 fear them? But I take it, in these parts they would he ghosts of these small, timid folk. I do not think I am afraid of Hindu coolies’ ghosts.”
“And of this ghost in tiger’s form of which the coolies speak?”
“When I meet that I shall know if I fear it, huzoor.”
“An honest answer. Now give me your ear. Tonight we have sirkari work to do. This is thy part. Thou wilt wait below.”
Dinner was done. Storr and Macdonald sat beneath the punkah with their whiskies. The night was close and calm, and drenched with moughra scent. From the lines, agog now with the mahouts’ story, beat the drums with feverish note. The guardian fires blazed high, and through the drumming reached them chants of supplication.
Storr broached his subject. “This ghost affair is going pretty far. What do you make of it, Macdonald?”
Macdonald summoned all his will-power to show proper calm. He was distraught with mental conflict. In the dusk among the kuggaree he had seen a thing incredible and terrifying, and an unavailing struggle to deny his eyesight had reduced him to extremes of doubt and strain. But somehow he contrived to make a casual sounding answer.
“You’ve diagnosed it once and I agree. There’s a tiger killing cattle, and it’s got them panicky. Someone started this fool tale and it caught on. That’s all.”
Storr blew a long mauve plume to mingle with the scent of moughra. “I wish I could feel so positive,” he said.
Macdonald’s head jerked round. “Eh! How d’you mean?”
“I don’t know what I mean, exactly. Wish I did. But this I know: a white man is a white man and a native is a different thing. Natives have attributes that we have not. A healthy native will decide to die, lie down and let himself expire. A native gets news by some occult means and will respond to influence exerted by a fakir in another place. Now, this affair tonight. You and I saw nothing, but six
natives swear they saw a ghost, shaped like a tiger. What I mean is—well, maybe they did. How do we know? If they’re sensitive to forces that cannot reach whites, they might see things we don’t. Does that sound logical to you, Macdonald?”
He shifted in his chair to face Macdonald and regarded him with grave grey eyes. Macdonald did not answer, as he struggled to maintain his mental poise. He had always been quite sure that no one could suspect his origin. He had faced a glass a thousand times and told himself that no one could deduce from his appearance, manner or speech that he was grandson of the high-born Hindu mistress of the governor of old Fort William. Nothing ever had occurred to shake that confidence.
But he recalled his childhood, and the figure of his half-caste mother when her husband, John Macdonald of the Bengal Company, was dying, face down with her offerings before a six-armed image, praying tearfully to Siva the benevolent. And he was certain he had seen at twilight, threading a swift way through the reeds, the pale, splendid figure of a tiger. He had seen it, the mahouts had seen it. but Hugh Storr had not. The natives said that it was Bagh O’Hara’s spirit, seeking justice, and it might be that, as Hugh Storr said.
Macdonald gulped, and glared defiantly at Storr’s unmoving eyes.
“I think it’s rot!” he burst out. “Why must we talk of nothing but the superstitions of these blasted coolies? I have enough of coolies all day long. When I’m with someone of my own kind I should like some different conversation. I get sick of living all the time with natives.”
“Oh ! I beg your pardon. I’m getting on your nerves, aren’t I? I expect you miss O’Hara. I do—like the devil. He was my best friend, you know.”
rT"'HERE WAS silence then, with the perfume and the sultry night, Storr smoking quietly, and the slight figure of Macdonald half-crouched in his chair and staring at the dark.
“By the way,” Storr said presently. “Sam Bimie of the Daulai Company let drop that you were contemplating selling out. That so?”
Macdonald jumped at any change of subject. “I’d thought of it. They’ve always wanted Daigroon and I’d like to see a little of the world before I die. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. That is—not by itself. It surprised me, though, because of what O’Hara told me when he bequeathed you the place. He said it was because he knew you’d want it .for its own sake; you had given him that impression. He didn’t want a company to have it; he wanted it to be a home for someone who would care for it as he had, and he seemed sure that you would.”
“He told you that?”
“He did. He dined with us the day he made his will. He knew my missus wanted to retire to England and we wouldn’t want the garden, so he left us his money and Daigroon to you. You’d no idea, of course, of what he’d done?”
Macdonald spoke all unsuspecting: “No! How could I have?”
“Hm! That seems queer. Because O’Hara said that he was going to tell you, so you’d have the pleasure of anticipation. He was a trusting soul, was Bagh. He must have changed his mind.”
Having seen the trap that threatened, at this last remark Macdonald felt relieved. But at Storr’s next utterance fear gripped him again.
“It’s important; that is to say, it might have been, if you hadn’t been above suspicion. You see, Macdonald, as you know, it’s my belief that someone put O’Hara in the river, and if you hadn’t had so clear an alibi, and if you had known what was in the will, it would have looked suspicious. And in that case. too. it would have seemed significant that O’Hara drowned as soon as I had gone on nine months leave and left a green assistant in my place.”
There was a long pause then, through which Macdonald's apprehension slackened as he realized what had occurred. All that he possibly could have to fear had now transpired, and he was still secure. Nothing more against him could be said or done. Hugh Storr had shot his bolts and could have no more in his quiver, and through it all that blessed alibi had stood plain and unshakable.
The import of these facts had not at first come home to him, but as this dawned it brought an exquisite sensation of deliverance. He had a twitching of the nerves inside his thighs, a flood of warmth and lassitude embraced him as his defensive tension slackened. He had passed the worst possible ordeal and he was still secure. Hugh Storr would soon lie gone and then he’d . . .
Hugh Storr took out his handkerchief and flicked some pipe-ash off the table, and suddenly from down the slope reached them a cry in tones of rattling fear. It was the voice of Maum Shah, the Pathan, who did not know if he feared ghosts. There came a thud of desperate feet, and across the lawn and up the steps charged the big man, to whirl about and glare into the dark whence he had come.
Storr and Macdonald had sprung up. to follow his wild gaze. “What is it, man?” Storr demanded.
“ Huzoor, the tiger ghost ! I saw it by the stable, white and shining, as the people said.” He thrust out his hand. “See, it is coming up the slope.”
Storr said : “I see nothing but the stones that mark the path.”
“Yes ! And between them sahib, see him. He is not afraid, he is coming here.”
“You’re drunk, Maum Shah,” Hugh Storr said coldly, “and scared by a coolie’s tale. There is nothing there. Do you see anything, Macdonald?
Macdonald stared into the dark. Coming upon him all relaxed and off his guard, this thing unnerved him. His overwrought imagination saw come up the path the thing he’d seen that afternoon down in the kuggaree, the white, feline shape that was the ghost of Bagh O’Hara.
Storr was not looking at his orderly, acting with zest a part at his instructions. He watched Macdonald. He saw the starting eyes, the pallid cheek, the sweatgreased forehead and the gaping mouth, and judged the time was ripe.
“Macdonald!” he said sharply. “This man’s drunk. There’s nothing there !”
Macdonald whipped about with desperate gaze, and Hugh Storr said: “Why,
man, you’re shaking like a jelly. What’s the matter with you? Why should you be scared?”
And then Storr’s manner changed and his eyes grew menacing.
“I’ll tell you why! You see O’Hara’s ghost, don’t you? Of course you do ! You have to”—he stabbed out a finger with a sudden shout—"because you killed O’Hara didn’t you? You know you did.”
Macdonald’s nerve had gone at last, worn down by Storr’s insidious nagging, his own sense of guilt, his superstition. Fear and confusion ruled him, and the defensive impulse worked his downfall. Instinctive and unthinkingly he spokethe words of all words he should not have spoken.
“I didn’t!” he burst out. “I found the cable slackened and I—” Then he stopped, aghast to realize what he had said.
Storr stood with one hand at his lips and clarity unfolding in his mind.
“The cable slackened. Why, of course. You slackened it and let old Bagh fall through, and him blind drunk. I should have guessed ...”
NEXT MORNING he was penning his report to the Department.
“. . . the arrest of John Macdonald for O’Hara’s murder, which was carried out as follows: The Kookte’s after-mooring is by chain to a stump among the trees below Macdonald’s bungalow. Working at night, to this chain between Kookee and the stump he joined a line,
and tied this with a slipknot to a tree that stands in dense shrubs near his bedroom window. With this extension holding Kookee, he let out the chain six feet, so that, but for his line, the Kookee would swing out till brought up by the lengthened mooring.
“He waited till O’Hara was to dine at Seeramara on a mœnless night, then got three men for bridge to set his alibi. When all the servants would have gone to bed, he left the game, went to his room and climbed out through the window, pulled his slipknot and returned at once. He could do it all inside a minute.
“The Kookee swung out on the drift until stopped by the lengthened chain. O’Hara came home in the dark and walked into the river, and at bedtime Macdonald got out through his window and hauled in his line to bring the Kookee to her place against the wharf. At his leisure he took up the chain and removed the slip-line. The marks of this are clear, as are the scars on Kookee’s
weed where O’Hara scraped them as he fell ...”
To the official document Storr clipped a note for his suprior.
“I know nice people never say ‘I told you so,’ so will refrain from comment. Against his alibi, I knew my only hope was to wear down his nerve and trick or scare him into letting slip how he had done it, and with your Calcutta tip that he was quarter-caste I managed it —though but for a freak of nature I don’t think I ever should have done. It makes quite a tale.
“How would you like to help me bag an albino tiger? I’ve seen him twice and could have shot him on his kill two nights ago, but let him go to help me wreck Macdonald. He’s ten feet if an inch and white as snow, and he’s lying up well fed in old Bagh’s kuggaree. Say when and we’ll make a day of it and get him. Ever,