The Devil’s Guard - Talbot Mundy - ebook

The Devil’s Guard ebook

Talbot Mundy

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Opis

Talbot Mundi „The Devil’s Guard” is a little intertwined and is definitely the source of another novel about Jimgrim „Nine Unknown”. The character of Jimgrim is a transposed image of Munzi from the Algan Quatermaine Haggar. In this mysterious story, he is looking for a hidden mysterious country of Shamballa, encountering good and evil characters in his occult incidents.

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Liczba stron: 476

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Contents

CHAPTER I. Chullunder ghose shoots shrewdly with the other barrel of his gun.

CHAPTER II. “A manuscript in the handwriting of jesus!”

CHAPTER III. In which Benjamin yields as a woman should —for love, not money.

CHAPTER IV. The spies of the Devil’s Guard

CHAPTER V. Painless Parker Ramsden, and the tale told by the Devil’s spies, Tsang-Mondrong and Tsang-Yang.

CHAPTER VI. The Fanged Jaws of the Zogi-La.

CHAPTER VII. The Strange Tale Told by Mordecai.

CHAPTER VIII. The Zogi-La lives up to its reputation.

CHAPTER IX. Lhaten.

CHAPTER X. THE MAN WITHOUT A NAME

CHAPTER XI. Sidiki Ben Mohammed’s Wife

CHAPTER XII. Dugpas.

CHAPTER XIII. A dugpa—and a mystery as easy to elucidate as that of life and death.

CHAPTER XIV. Lhaten’s Guru.

CHAPTER XV. In which Jimgrim makes no bolder claim than that he and his friends are savages.

CHAPTER XVI. Jeff Ramsden’s Dream

CHAPTER XVII. In which Narayan Singh decides an issue with the pistol instead of the sword.

CHAPTER XVIII. Chullunder Ghose Chenresi.

CHAPTER XIX. The Yellow Lama

CHAPTER XX. Prisoners—Jimgrim is missing.

CHAPTER XXI. Jimgrim Again, Elmer Rait, and the Death of Narayan Singh.

CHAPTER XXII. The Herdsman’s Hut.

CHAPTER XXIII. Jimgrim and Ramsden engage in argument, and come to terms.

CHAPTER XXIV. Chullunder Ghose

CHAPTER I. Chullunder ghose shoots shrewdly with the other barrel of his gun.

We remark upon the slowness of the snail and of the tortoise, but the processes of evolution are incomparably more slow, so that they escape our observation altogether. None the less, we are evolving, although few of us as we suppose. For supposition is the fumes of decomposing vanity–the instrument by which the Devil’s Guard beclouds that road on which we are ascending, lest we see too much and so imagine ourselves gods before the devil in us is evaporated. –from The Book Of The Sayings Of Tsiang Samdup

I FIND myself wondering why I should go to the trouble to write what few men will believe. Why do we try to leave records behind us? Why not wait until I meet old friends again on the bank beyond the river, when we can compare notes and laugh at the amateur drama we all combined to spoil with such enthusiasm! Frankly, I don’t know. The impulse is to set down an account of this adventure, in spite of the uncertainty that it will ever reach the United States.

I am writing in a draughty cave, in a temperature that numbs fingers, freezes ink at intervals and makes concentration on the task extremely difficult to a man unused to writing anything but field reports on mines and ordinary business letters. The sheets of this manuscript are fluttering under the stones I have to use as paper-weights; my feet are nearly frozen in a fur bag filled with yak-dung; I am filthy from weeks without washing, and extremely sore from bruises, as well as suffering from what I think is indigestion, due to bad food. Moreover, Jimgrim is not here. He has a clearer brain than mine, a better memory and clearer judgment of essentials. I must tell the story to the best of my recollection without the advantage of comparing notes with him.

Jimgrim–born James Schuyler Grim, but known as Jimgrim all over the Near East, Arabia, parts of Africa, and from Dera Isfail Khan to Sikkim –has served in the Intelligence Departments of at least five nations, always reserving United States citizenship. He speaks a dozen languages so fluently that he can pass himself off as a native; and since he was old enough to build a fire and skin a rabbit the very midst of danger has been his goal, just as most folk spend their lives looking for safety and comfort. When he is what other men would reckon safe, the sheer discomfort of it bores him.

He is the best friend a man could have, the least talkative, the most considerate; and he seems to have no personal ambition–which, I suppose, is why the world rewarded him with colonelcies that he did not seek and opportunities for self-advancement that he never used. Jimgrim could have had anything he cared to ask for in the way of an administrative post; and, funnily enough, the one thing that he always wanted was denied him. From his youth he wished to be an actor. That he is one of exceeding merit, is beyond dispute; but, except for occasional amateur performances behind the lines of armies, he has never set foot on the stage.

He looks as if he were half-Cherokee, although I believe there is only a trace of red man in his ancestry. He has a smile that begins faintly at the corners of his eyes, hesitates there as if to make sure none will be offended by it, and then spreads until his whole face lights with humor, making you realize that he has understood your weakness and compared it with his own. If you have any self-respect at all you can’t pick quarrels with a man who takes that view of life; the more he laughs at you, the more you warm toward him, since he is laughing at himself as well as you.

Grim and I were in Darjeeling with our backs against the porch of a hotel from which the whole range of the Himalayas could be seen, on one of those rare days of autumn when there was neither rain nor mist. The peak of Kanchenjunga stood up sharp and glittering against a turquoise sky. In our ears was the roar of the Ranjit River. In the distance, almost straight in front of us and looking, in that clear air, scarcely fifty miles away, was the outline of the frontier of Tibet.

We had returned, about a week before, from Assam, where I had gone to report on some oil indications. Grim, who made the trip with me, had amused himself by making Nepalis, Lepchas, Sikkimese and Bhutanis believe he was a Tibetan in disguise; and on the other hand, when he had met some old Tibetan pilgrims returning from India toward the Tse-tang Pass he had convinced them he was born in Sikkim. I have seen him play the same game frequently in Arab countries, using the dialect of one tribe to disguise from another such discrepancies of accent as might otherwise betray him.

We were not, I remember, talking. Grim is a man with whom you can sit for hours on end, saying nothing, enjoying his company. Our eyes were on that splendid panorama, neither of us at the moment guessing that our destiny would lead us across it and up to the roof of the world (but not back again). We cannot now go back to the friends we knew and the world we have left behind; but, being at a loose end, we had been discussing, that morning, whether or not we should visit some friends in California.

It was Grim who spoke first, rolling a cigarette and setting his feet on the veranda rail, framing Kanchenjunga between them as if he were squinting at the mountain through a V-sight.

“What next?” he asked.

I did not know. I was sick of business. Grim cares nothing about money, and I had made all I shall ever need; yet we were neither of us in the least disposed to loaf. Neither he nor I have any relatives who matter, we are both unmarried, we agree in loathing politics, and we are both verging on middle age–at that period of life, that is to say, when a man’s real usefulness ought to begin. If a man hasn’t acquired judgment and stability at forty-nine, he had better grow fat and keep out of the way.

I knew Grim had been into Tibet. He was with Younghusband’s* expedition, when he got himself into disfavor by ignoring the military problems he was there ostensibly to help clear up, and studying exclusively those apparently insignificant odds and ends, that, he maintains, are “the guts of things.” I did not even guess that he was thinking about Tibet while he stared between his feet at Kanchenjunga.

Before I could answer him there came and sat beside us a small smart Englishman by the name of Dudley Tyne–not a man we knew well, nor knew very much about except that he was popular, reputed dangerous, and in some vague way connected with the Secretariat. He knew how to be tactfully agreeable, but the tact was almost overdone, with the result that one fell on guard against him, though without any definite sense of dislike. We invited him to drink, and for five or six minutes he talked about the mountain range that filled the whole horizon.

He used considerable subtlety in reaching his objective, which was information about Elmer Rait, an American of Columbus, Ohio, with whom I went to school, and with whom I was for several years in partnership until I decided it was not worthwhile to try to continue to get along with him. The things a man says don’t matter much; it is the way he feels toward yourself and others, that makes him friend or not. Elmer Rait and I talked the same language, but thought from entirely opposed angles, and I came at last to the conclusion that he was rotten at the core, although he never did anything liable to get him into prison.

However, that was personal opinion. It was no excuse for telling tales against Rait, so I answered Mr. Tyne extremely guardedly, obliging him to disclose his reasons for so many questions.

“Rait is in Tibet,” he told me at last. “Our government has signed a treaty with Tibet. We recognize their right to keep strangers out of their country, and we’ve agreed to close the frontier. Rait has slipped through, which makes it awkward.”

Grim was listening, his eyes still fixed on Kanchenjunga. I noticed that he took his feet down off the rail, but he threw away his cigarette and rolled another as if the conversation didn’t interest him much.

“In what way are Rait’s movements supposed to concern me?” I asked, expecting to be told that I would have to sign a promise not to try to cross the frontier–that being the Indian Government’s usual method with individuals whose exact intentions are unknown. All governments lock stable doors immediately after a horse has bolted. I would have signed such a promise without question, but fortunately it had no more entered the heads of Anglo-Indian officials than it had mine that I might venture across the border.

“I was told you quarreled with Rait some years ago. I thought you might not object to giving us information,” Tyne suggested.

I told him the exact truth; that I had none sufficiently recent to be of any use. It was seven years since I had seen or heard from Rait.

“He seems to know your whereabouts,” Tyne answered. “Our information is that he wrote to you from Lhasa, sending the letter by hand to someone in Darjeeling. Would you mind letting me see that letter?”

I told him I had not received it. His manners were irreproachable and he left us before long with the impression that he believed every word I said. As if to wipe away the least trace of official unpleasantness he begged us to join him at dinner that night at the club; and because we wished to show that we had not resented his questioning, Grim and I accepted. While we were at dinner with him both our rooms in the hotel were searched and every single document in our possession was gone through thoroughly. To make the raid look plausible a watch-and-chain, a little money and some odds and ends of jewelry were stolen–all of which the police recovered for us next day with an alacrity and lack of fuss that was beyond all praise, but left no doubt as to who had searched our papers.

As we surveyed our upset luggage Grim looked at me and asked in the casual voice with which he hides emotion.

“Do you suppose Rait went to Tibet for his health? What about that? Like to look for him?”

I nodded. If memory serves, that was all the conferring we did as to whether or not we should follow Rait over the border. The very fact that his object in going was a mystery was enough to make us take the trail.

Tyne had asked us again and again to suggest to him who might be the individual to whom Rait would direct a letter for delivery to me. We had not even tried to imagine who it might be. But now, as we looked at our clothes scattered over the floor, and realized that we had been invited out to dinner that the spies might search our rooms without risk of disturbance, we did some thinking, thought of the same man simultaneously and both spoke at once

“Chullunder Ghose!”

There was nobody else in Darjeeling whom Rait would dare to trust and who, at the same time, was known to Rait to have been more or less in my confidence. True, Grim and I had been in Darjeeling for several days since our return from Assam, and Chullunder Ghose had neither presented himself nor sent a messenger; but the fat babu,* supposing it was he who had received Rait’s letter, would be the last person on earth to betray its whereabouts to the authorities by any sort of hasty movement.

Said Grim: “If the babu has that letter, he has read it. Probably he hopes to keep its contents to himself.”

Nevertheless, we made no move until the day following, after the police had brought back our stolen trinkets. We did not even discuss the subject, but both pondered it, and both of us reached the same conclusion as to how best to avoid the incessant watchfulness of the ubiquitous Indian spies.

“Hancock!”

It was Grim who voiced the suggestion uppermost in both our minds. Will Hancock is a reverend, possessed of weird ideas of heaven and hell and an entirely hospitable nature. He wears blue spectacles and runs a mission away across the Ranjit River, thirty miles beyond Darjeeling, breeding sturdy little ponies on the side, and writing commentaries on the Buddhist scriptures in his spare time. He has proved, to his own satisfaction, that all the Pali* manuscripts are forgeries; that the original Garden of Eden was in Ceylon; that the Afghans and Afridis are the ten lost tribes of Israel; that Alexander never crossed the Indus; and that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. He is a mild man in all except argument, an honest man in everything except debate, a genial, good-natured fellow until you mention any of the subjects and side-issues he has made his own. Behind his graying brown beard and heavily smoked glasses there is so obviously nothing except benevolence and bookish brains that not even the Intelligence Department keeps an eye on him.

“We can make it by sunset,” said I.

But we did not. It was nearly midnight when we rode up to the mission and awoke Will Hancock from a just man’s sleep by making a noise like a cat-and-dog fight, which he came out in pajamas to prevent. It took him about five minutes to unlock the iron gate under the archway, which would keep out almost anything except artillery (whereas the wall is hardly high enough to keep the knee-high convert-children in); but we rode in at last and were welcome, though we kept him out of bed beside a fragrant log fire in the mission dining-room until the dawn dyed Kanchenjunga’s summit gold and crimson and the brass bell summoned him to prayer.

Will Hancock, who is much too shrewd not to have suspected us of mischief, sent his ponies to the hotel for our luggage and a messenger to bring Chullunder Ghose, thus throwing all suspicion off the scent, since nobody would dream of connecting Will with any intrigue more desperate than an assault on Shakespeare under the banner of Francis Bacon, sometime Earl of Verulam.

We rewarded him by praising his clean mission work-shops, where an otherwise fortunate folk were being taught to shoulder Adam’s curse and to acquire expensive tastes for unsuitable objects. We submitted to hearing uncomfortably clean, uncomprehending children sing the Ten Commandments; and in the afternoon Grim played the chapel organ, rendering “Nobody Knows How Dry I Am and Alexander’s Ragtime Band” so wonderfully that Will Hancock thought they were from Handel. (He is no authority on music.)

And in the evening came Chullunder Ghose, a sturdy-legged pony panting under him, three or four chins all grinning, a new heliotrope turban impudently poised on his enormous head, and a fat, sleek, pompous, half-ingratiating, half-truculent swagger, announcing the fact that he was glad to see us–not a doubt of that.

“Rammy sahib! And Jimgrim sahib! I am jolly well reborn! This babu might be father of twins, so proud I am at this summons, which is, doubtless, prelude to an offer of emolument! Oh yes, believe me, both yours very truly! Only name job and be done with it!”

Ungraciously, because we knew him and proposed to establish sound relationships at once, we tipped him off the pony and drove rather than led him into Hancock’s study, where the treatises on Francis Bacon and Mosaic miracles were heaped on chairs as well as on the desk and shelves. There was nowhere to sit except on the floor, so we arranged ourselves cross-legged in a triangle with the babu’s face toward the lamp so that we might read his artfully concealed emotions. Then I held out my hand.

“Give me Rait’s letter!” I said abruptly.

He shook hands, making believe he had not understood me.

“Rammy sahib, this is like old times,” he said, heaving an enormous sigh. “How tempus does jolly well fugit. Is your honor prosperous?”

He looked much too prosperous. He had been robbing some Americans, as all Darjeeling knew, and had not yet had time to lose the money by trying to treble or quadruple it.

“Rait’s letter!” I repeated.

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