Jungle Jest. A Tale of India - Talbot Mundy - ebook

Jungle Jest. A Tale of India ebook

Talbot Mundy

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And then a dark figure came out of the shadow between two tents. This other man was probably a policeman, Patan, and by contrast between these two people, even in the dark, one could even say that one of them was white. The white man ducked, escaped from capture and retreated to his tent. The color was born and danced through millions of prisms, the wind intensified, and the camp slowly woke up.

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Contents

EPISODE ONE

CHAPTER 1 “All right, I’ll remember.”

CHAPTER 2 “Twenty-five years later.”

CHAPTER 3 “I’ll prove to you that there’s not much wrong with Mahommed Babar.”

CHAPTER 4 “Fear and the heart of a fool are one.”

CHAPTER 5 “Loyalty to whom—to what?”

CHAPTER 6 “Engage the enemy more closely.”

CHAPTER 7 “I am the High Court judge.”

CHAPTER 8 “The benefit of the doubt.”

CHAPTER 9 “I will lead!”

CHAPTER 10 “Hostages.”

CHAPTER 11 “Yours truly, John Linkinyear.”

CHAPTER 12 “Mahommed Babar wants a cavalry saber.”

CHAPTER 13 “To-night I will write down how ye did.”

CHAPTER 14 “But they stole no Hindu women?”

CHAPTER 15 “That kind of talk is always true.”

CHAPTER 16 “Tomorrow a big victory!”

CHAPTER 17 “I am a rebel.”

EPISODE TWO

CHAPTER 1 “There isn’t a king, crowd, or parliament that could make me the enemy of a man whom I approve.”

CHAPTER 2 “How is Ommony exempt?”

CHAPTER 3 “Foolishness to frighten hawks.”

CHAPTER 4 Peria Vur.

CHAPTER 5 “Hah! He is Perr-r-other-o-o-oh!”

CHAPTER 6 “I’m going to kick you out of this!”

CHAPTER 7 “A cur, never!”

CHAPTER 8 Colonel John Tregurtha, V.C., D.S.O., Etc.

CHAPTER 9 “I will do anything you ask of me, Bahadur.”

CHAPTER 10 “I’m glad it’s you, Tregurtha!”

CHAPTER 11 “Ommony was right in some respects.”

CHAPTER 12 “What’ll you do?”

CHAPTER 13 “Let the man alone!”

CHAPTER 14 “You exceeded your authority!”

CHAPTER 15 “My country is the forest!”

CHAPTER 16 “A man’s death is the most a man may ask!”

EPISODE THREE

CHAPTER 1 “Slow but sure—the Lord providing foresters”

CHAPTER 2 “They conceded fish.”

CHAPTER 3 “Hail, Parumpadpa!”

CHAPTER 4 “My name is Craig!”

CHAPTER 5 “By Jiminy, we’ll now grow trees!”

CHAPTER 6 “The priests did this.”

CHAPTER 7 “Silence, please, Memsahib!”

CHAPTER 8 “Sir William Molyneux will blame your priests!”

CHAPTER 9 “Obey the priests!”

CHAPTER 10 “To the Queen’s taste!”

CHAPTER 11 “Think it over!”

CHAPTER 12 “How’s the situation?”—“Ticklish!”

CHAPTER 13 “Good dog, Di!”

CHAPTER 14 “She euchred the Ephesians!”

EPISODE ONE

CHAPTER 1. “All right, I’ll remember.”

Someone began to pray in a nasal snarl, and a stallion squealed for breakfast, but the sun did not get up, and seven or eight thousand other horses that knew the time ignored the stallion’s appeal as phlegmatically as several hundred men cold-shouldered the religious argument. It was better to sleep than pray. Better to sleep than squeal for breakfast. That was all about it.

Horse or human, at a horse-fair let him rest who can. There is little enough peace in the world, and none at Dera Ismail Khan when the snow has left the passes and the foot-hills. There is horse-fair, holiday and hocus-pocus – money, maybe, and murder certainly; but no peace.

The stars had done a night’s work and were fading away before the chill wind that blows the dawn along. To the northward the sky rested dimly on the dark mass of the Himalayas, and there was one warm light that marked the sentry-post by the bridge over the Jumna, but that was a long way off and made the darkness bigger and more bleak.

There was a smell magnificent, and one other light that moved. A man swinging a lantern walked among the rows of low tents, cautiously avoiding pegs and stooping at intervals to examine sleeping men who had taken advantage of tent-flies or piled baggage. But they were smothered head and all under blankets, and though he prodded one or two of them occasionally with a long stick that he carried ostensibly against dogs, he failed in his search.

Finally another dark form stepped from a shadow between two tents and cautioned him. This second man was obviously a Pathan policeman, and by the contrast between the two men you could tell, even in darkness, that the first was white. The white man swore, grumbled, and retreated to his own tent. Then suddenly the Lord of Light touched a mountaintop with an electric finger. Color was born and danced on the snow through a billion prisms. The wind increased quarrelsomely, and the camp awoke, each living being in it aware of emptiness and appetite.

Of such stuff music is made. Add the smoke of new dung-fires to the stamping and snorting of horse-lines. Send the whine of morning prayer through that, and the shouts of the saises dragging sacks of grain – then presently the steady munching as the beasts get fed, and you have a tune, if you know what that is. It contains no jazz – nothing syncopated – but a leisurely suggestion of long trails and a hum to the effect that life means business. Now and then the staccato thump as a hoof lands home punctuates the rhythm. Mares, whinnying, provide high notes that are nearly as eloquent as the mew of sea-gulls.

Music of the long leagues – immeasurable spaces – horse – and the smell magnificent of cooking and dung and unwashed men; tobacco, forage and dry grain in gunny-bags. That is Dera Ismail Khan when the passes open in the spring.

The white man was there to buy army remounts. That was, a quarter of a century ago, and his name does not matter, for he was no hero and never had been. Besides, he is dead and has probably learned his lesson. He belonged to that school of white man that asserts pride of race with boot and fist, demands obsequiousness, and is obsequious – the snob. Maybe the devil made them when the Creator’s back was turned.

To him, as he sat in his canvas chair in the door of his tent, came ex- Rissaldar Mahommed Babar, leading a boy by the hand. It is not thought unmanly for a warrior of that land of battles to lavish affection on his male child, but the sight of it raised the white man’s gorge, and he omitted to return the stately greeting – although a viceroy had more than once gone out of his way to shake hands with Mahommed Babar.

“Curse you! Why didn’t you come yesterday?”

“I came the day before yesterday at sunset.”

The rissaldar’s face did not betray that he had noticed insolence. It hardly mattered, for none could overhear. The camp was alive and a-hum with too many noises for one mean man’s ill-temper to attract attention, and the small boy knew no English. True pride is hardly ever self-assertive.

“You lie,” said the white man. “I hunted the whole camp over for you. All last night I poked among the shadows looking for your one-legged servant. Just for you and your dilly-dallying I got ordered out of the lines by a bloody Pathan policeman! I won’t listen to your lies!”

“Surely not, sahib, since I tell none. I arrived as I said. The boy fell ill. My man and I nursed him.”

“And kept me waiting! That’s another obvious lie. Look at the brat – there’s nothing whatever the matter with him!”

“I have another son, who–”

“That’ll do! You’ve kept me waiting while you’ve rigged the market against me. You promised to get the horses cheap! Kick that brat into the horse- lines and go to work now! I expect the best horses twenty percent cheaper than last year. Fail me if you dare, and take the consequences! Hurry! Don’t stand there looking at me!”

Rissaldar Mahommed Babar continued to look for thirty seconds, saying nothing. His only reason for promising to help had been desire that the army of the Raj, whose salt he had eaten, and in whose ranks he had fought, should have the pick of the horses available. Year after year for ten years since he retired on pension he had performed the same friendly office of advising the remount buyers. But one white man is no more like another necessarily than horse resembles horse, and he stood considering the difference before he turned and led his son away.

That was altogether too much for the white man’s patience. He had to be cringed to, and had not been. Instead, saises, horse-dealers of a dozen tribes, and even a camp constable saluted the rissaldar as he began threading his way through the horselines. The white man picked up a tent-peg, which is an awkward missile, threw it at the rissaldar, missed him, but hit his son. The boy yelped – once – and bit the cry in halves – remembering what he owed his stock. The rissaldar turned to face the white man, and all that end of the camp grew curiously still. It is neither safe nor wise to strike back in a conquered land. It would be even less sensible than hitting a policeman in London or New York. Yet everybody knew the limit had been overstepped.

“Are you afraid to strike me, that you throw things at the child?” the rissaldar demanded. He used a tongue that every hanger-on in that camp understood, and the white man got to his feet, picking up his riding-whip.

“Afraid of you?” He walked close with his lower jaw thrust out. “Take that!”

He struck with the heavy riding-whip, and the rissaldar made no attempt to parry the blow, which fell on his shoulder and brought blood welling up through the cotton shirt under a semi-military tunic. The blow had opened an old wound.

One, and only one, consideration kept the rissaldar from defending himself – the same that prevented him from striking back or summoning assistance. There were twenty rival clans in camp, every man of whom would have instantly made common cause with him if the rissaldar had raised a finger. They would have beaten that white man to death, with consequences that any fool could foresee.

But the white man mistook the self-control for meekness, a quality that exasperates ill-temper. He struck again and again, until the boy let go his father’s hand and shouted shame on the horse-traders who could look on and not retaliate.

That was all that was needed. There would have been murder, and inevitable hangings afterward, but for another small boy. As he rode an Arab pony around the lines he saw the first blow struck, and, being the only son of Cuthbert “Raj-bahadur” King, who was sixth of his line to serve in India, he knew how to choose the right course even at that age.

While the men of a dozen rival factions ran to avenge the rissaldar, young Athelstan King spurred his pony in the opposite direction and reined in at his father’s tent.

“What is it, boy?”

Those two had learned to understand each other in eight years. You must, if you ever mean to, in a land that the white man’s son may not know between the years of eight and eighteen. It is as children that the English learn the art of governing, and grown men return to India to pick up reins which were dropped when they left for “Home” and school. Nine or ten words were enough. Raj-bahadur Cuthbert King lifted his son from the saddle and galloped across camp as fast as the red pony could lay hoof to earth under him.

He was in time to burst through a yelling swarm armed with knives and sticks and take on his own body a last blow aimed at Mahommed Babar. The white man was afraid now, with the bully’s fear that seeks to terrify the strong by hammering the weak. The blow would have killed if it had landed on the old man’s head. Instead, it gave Raj-bahadur King excuse for the only means of saving the situation.

He struck back, dismounted, and waded in with his fists, treating the white man to a licking such as few white men have ever had in front of an Eastern crowd. Not a man from Delhi to Peshawar would willingly have laid a finger on Raj-bahadur King. Rather than harm him they forewent their rage and stood back in a circle until it dawned that the thrashing he meted out was better, and more just, than the murder they had intended. After that they ceased shouting and watched in silence, while all the theoretic principles of the army were broken and an officer thrashed a civilian with his fists.

Finally Raj-bahadur King threw the victim into his tent, resumed his jacket, and addressed himself to Rissaldar Mahommed Babar.

“I’m sorry, old friend, that this should have happened. Are you hurt?”

“Nothing that I cannot endure for your sake, sahib.”

“Is the boy hurt?”

“Not he. He has had a lesson.”

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