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   Chapter 6 A DRAMATIC INTRODUCTION

The Elephant God By Gordon Casserly Characters: 27608

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When Noreen Daleham rose half-stunned from the ground where her pony had flung her and realised that she was surrounded by wild elephants she was terrified. The stories of their ferocity told her at the club flashed across her mind, and she felt that she was in danger of a horrible death. When the huge animals closed in and advanced on her from all sides she gave herself up for lost.

At that awful moment a voice fell on her ears and she heard the words:

"Don't be alarmed. You are in no danger."

In bewilderment she looked up and saw to her astonishment and relief a white man sitting on the neck of one of the great beasts.

"Oh, I am so glad!" she exclaimed. "I was terrified. I thought that these were wild elephants."

Dermot smiled.

"So they are," he said. "But they won't hurt you. Can I help you? What are you doing here? Have you lost your way in the jungle?"

By this time Noreen had recovered her presence of mind and began to realise the situation. It was natural that this man should be astonished to find an Englishwoman alone and in distress in the forest. Her appearance was calculated to cause him to wonder-and a feminine instinct made her hands go up to her untidy hair, as she suddenly thought of her dishevelled state. She picked up her hat and put it on.

"I've had a fall from my pony," she explained, trying to reduce her unruly tresses to order. "It shied at the elephants and threw me. Then I suppose it bolted."

She looked around but could see nothing except elephants, which were regarding her solemnly.

"But where have you come from? Are you far from your camp?" persisted Dermot. "Shall I take you to it?"

"Oh, we are not in camp," replied Noreen. "I live on a tea-garden. It is quite near. I can walk back, thank you, if you are sure that the elephants won't do me any harm."

But as she spoke she felt her knees give way under her from weakness, and she was obliged to sit down on the ground. The shock of the fall and the fright had affected her more than she realised.

Dermot laid his hand on Badshah's head, and the animal knelt down.

"I'm afraid you are not fit to walk far," said Dermot. "I must take you back."

As he spoke he slipped to the ground. From a pocket in the pad he extracted a flask of brandy, with which he filled a small silver cup.

"Drink this," he said, holding it to her lips. "It will do you good."

Noreen obeyed and drank a little of the spirit. Then, before she could protest, she was lifted in Dermot's arms and placed on the pad on Badshah's back. This cool disposal of her took her breath away, but to her surprise she felt that she rather liked it. There was something attractive in her new acquaintance's unconsciously authoritative manner.

Replacing the flask he said:

"Are you used to riding elephants?"

She shook her head.

"Then hold on to this rope across the pad, otherwise you may slip off when Badshah rises to his feet. You had better keep your hand on it as we go along, though there isn't much danger of your falling."

As he got astride the elephant's neck he continued: "Now, be ready. Hold on tightly. Uth, Badshah!"

Despite his warning Noreen nearly slipped off the pad at the sudden and jerky upheaval when the elephant rose.

"Now please show me the direction in which your garden lies, if you can," said Dermot.

"Oh, it is quite near," Noreen answered. "That is the road to it."

She let the rope go to point out the way, but instantly grasped it again. Dermot turned Badshah's head down the track.

"Oh, what about all these other elephants?" asked the girl apprehensively, looking at them where they were grouped together, gazing with curiosity at Badshah's passengers. "Will they come too?"

"No," said Dermot reassuringly, "you needn't be afraid. They won't follow. We'd create rather too much of a sensation if we arrived at your bungalow at the head of a hundred hathis."

"But are they really wild?" she asked. "They look so quiet and inoffensive now; though when I was on the ground they seemed very dreadful indeed. But I was told that wild elephants are dangerous."

"Some of them undoubtedly are," replied Dermot. "But a herd is fairly inoffensive, if you don't go too near it. Cow-elephants with young calves can be very vicious, if they suspect danger to their offspring."

A turn in the road through the jungle shut out the sight of the huge animals behind them, and Noreen breathed more freely. She began to wonder who her rescuer was and how he had come so opportunely to her relief. Their dramatic meeting invested him in her eyes with more interest than she would have found in any man whose acquaintance she had made in a more unromantic and conventional manner. And so she bestowed more attention on him and studied his appearance more closely than she would otherwise have done. He struck her at once as being exceedingly good looking in a strong and manly way. His profile showed clear-cut and regular features, with a mouth and chin bespeaking firmness and determination. His face in repose was grave, almost stern, but she had seen it melt in sudden tenderness as he sprang to her aid when she had felt faint. She noticed that his eyes were very attractive and unusually dark-due, although she did not know it, to the Spanish strain in him as in so many other Irish of the far west of Connaught-and with his darker hair, which had a little wave in it, and his small black moustache they gave him an almost foreign look. The girl had a sudden mental vision of him as a fierce rover of bygone days on the Spanish Main. But when, in a swift transition, little laughter-wrinkles creased around his eyes that softened in a merry smile, she wondered how she could have thought that he looked fierce or stern. Although, like many of her sex, she was a little prejudiced against handsome men, and he certainly was one, yet she was strongly attracted by his appearance. Probably the very contrast in colouring and type between him and her made him appeal to her. He was as dark as she was fair. And when he was standing on the ground she had seen that he was well above middle height with a lithe and graceful figure displayed to advantage by his careless costume of loose khaki shirt and Jodpur breeches. The breadth of his shoulders denoted strength, and his rolled-up sleeves showed muscular arms burned dark by the sun.

"How did you manage to come up just at the right moment to rescue me?" she asked. "I have not thanked you yet for saving me, but I do so now most heartily. I can't tell you how grateful I feel. I am sure, no matter what you say, that those elephants would have killed me if you hadn't come."

Dermot laughed.

"I'm afraid I cannot pose as a heroic rescuer. I daresay there might have been some danger to you, had I not been with them. For one can never tell what elephants will do. Out of sheer nervousness and fright they might have attacked you."

"You were with them?" she echoed in surprise. "But you said that these were wild ones."

"So they are. But this animal we are on is a tame one and was captured years ago in the jungle about here. I think he must have belonged to this particular herd, for they accept him as one of themselves."

"Yes; but you?"

"Oh, they have made me a sort of honorary member of the herd for his sake, I think. He and I are great pals," and Dermot laid his hand affectionately on Badshah's head. "He saved my life not long ago when I was attacked by a vicious rogue."

Noreen suddenly remembered the conversation at the club lunch.

"Oh, are you the officer from the Fort up at Ranga Duar?" she asked.

"One of them. I am commanding the detachment of Military Police there," he answered. "My name is Dermot."

"Then I've heard of you. I understand now. They said that you could do wonderful things with wild elephants, that you went about the forest with a herd of them."

"They said?" he exclaimed. "Who are 'they'?"

"The men at the club. We have a planters' club for the district, you know. At our last weekly meeting they spoke of you and said that you had nearly been killed by a rogue. Mr. Payne told us that he used to know you."

"What? Payne of Salchini? I knew him well. Awfully good chap."

"Yes, isn't he? I like him so much."

"I saw a lot of him when I was stationed at Buxa Duar with my Double Company. Hullo! here we are at a tea-garden."

They had suddenly come out of the forest on to the open stretch of furrowed land planted with the orderly rows of tidy bushes.

"Yes; it is ours. It's called Malpura," said Noreen. "My brother is the assistant manager. Our name is Daleham."

"Here comes somebody in a hurry," remarked Dermot, pointing to where, on the road ahead of them, a man on a pony was galloping towards them with a cloud of dust rising behind him.

"Yes, it's my brother. Oh, what's happening?" she exclaimed.

For as he approached his pony scented the elephant and stopped dead suddenly, nearly throwing its rider over its head.

"Fred! Fred! Here I am!" she cried.

But Daleham's animal was unused to elephants and positively refused to approach Badshah. In vain its rider strove to make it go on. It suddenly put an end to the dispute between them by swinging round and bolting back the way that it had come, despite its master's efforts to hold it.

Noreen looked after the pair anxiously.

"You needn't be alarmed, Miss Daleham," said Dermot consolingly. "Your brother is quite all right. Once he gets to a safe distance from Badshah the pony will pull up. Horses are always afraid of elephants until they get used to them. See, he is slowing up already."

When the girl was satisfied that her brother was in no danger she smiled at the dramatic abruptness of his departure.

"Poor Fred! He must have been awfully worried over me," she said. "He probably thought I was killed or at least had met with a bad accident. And now the poor boy can't get near me."

"I daresay he was alarmed if your pony went home riderless."

"Yes, it must have done so. Naughty Kitty. It must have bolted back to its stable and frightened my poor brother out of his wits."

"Well, he'll soon have you back safe and sound," said Dermot. "Hold on tightly now, and I'll make Badshah step out. Mul!"

The elephant increased his pace, and the motion sorely tried Noreen. As they passed through the estate the coolies bending over the tea-bushes stopped their work to stare at them. Noreen remarked that they appeared deeply interested at the sight of the elephant, and gathered together to talk volubly and point at it.

When they neared the bungalow they saw Daleham standing on the steps of the verandah, waiting for them. He had recognised the futility of struggling with his pony and had returned with it.

As they arrived he ran down the steps to meet them.

"Good gracious, Noreen, what has happened to you?" he cried, as Badshah stopped in front of the house. "I've been worried to death about you. When the servants came to the factory to say that Kitty had galloped home with broken reins and without you, I thought you had been killed."

"Oh, Fred, I've had such an adventure," she cried gaily. "You'll say it served me right. Wait until I get down. But how am I to do so, Major Dermot?"

"The elephant will kneel down. Hold on tightly," he replied. "Buth, Badshah." He unslung his rifle as he dismounted.

When her brother had lifted her off the pad, the girl kissed him and said:

"I'm so glad to get back to you, dear. I thought I never would. I know you'll crow over me and and say, 'I told you so.' But I must introduce you to Major Dermot. This is my brother, Major. Fred, if it had not been for Major Dermot, you wouldn't have a sister now. Just listen."

The men shook hands as she began her story. Her brother interrupted her to suggest their going on to the verandah to get out of the sun. When they were all seated he listened with the deepest interest.

At the end of her narrative he could not help saying:

"I warned you, young woman. What on earth would have happened to you if Major Dermot had not been there?" He turned to their visitor and continued: "I must thank you awfully, sir. There's no doubt that Noreen would have been killed without your help."

"Oh, perhaps not. But certainly you were right in advising her not to enter the forest alone."

"There, you see, Noreen?"

The girl pouted a little.

"Is it really so dangerous, Major Dermot?" she asked.

"Well, one ought never to go into it without a good rifle," he replied. "You might pass weeks, months, in it without any harm befalling you; but on the other hand you might be exposed to the greatest danger on your very first day in it. You've just had a sample."

"You were attacked yourself by a rogue, weren't you?" asked the girl. "You said that your elephant saved you? Was this the one? Do tell us about it."

Dermot briefly narrated his adventure with the rogue. Brother and sister punctuated the tale with exclamations of surprise and admiration, and at the conclusion of it, turned to look at Badshah, who had taken refuge from the sun's rays under a tree and was standing in the shade, shifting his weight from leg to leg, flapping his ears and driving away the flies by flicking his sides with a small branch which he held in his trunk. Dermot had taken off his pad.

"You dear thing!" cried the girl to him. "You are a hero. I'm very proud to think that I have been on your back."

"It was really wonderful," said Daleham. "How I should have liked to see the fight! I say, all our servants have come out to look at him. By Jove! any amount of coolies, too. One would think that they'd never seen an elephant before."

"I'm sure they've never seen such a

splendid one," said his sister enthusiastically. "He is well worth looking at. But-oh, what is that man doing?"

One of the crowd of coolies that had collected had gone down on his knees before Badshah and touched the earth with his forehead. Then another and another imitated him, until twenty or thirty of them were prostrate in the dust, worshipping him.

"I must stop this," exclaimed Daleham. "If old Parr sees them he'll be furious. They ought to be at their work."

He ran down the steps of the verandah and ordered them away. His servants disappeared promptly, but the coolies went slowly and reluctantly.

"What were they doing, Major Dermot?" asked Noreen. "They looked as if they were praying to your elephant. Hadn't they ever seen one before?"

He explained the reason of the reverence paid to Badshah. Daleham, returning, renewed his thanks as his sister went into the bungalow to see about breakfast. When she returned to tell them that it was ready, Dermot hardly recognised in the dainty girl, clad in a cool muslin dress, the terrified and dishevelled damsel whom he had first seen standing in the midst of the elephants.

During the meal she questioned him eagerly about the jungle and the ways of the wild animals that inhabit it, and she and her brother listened with interest to his vivid descriptions. A chance remark of Daleham's on the difficulty of obtaining labour for the tea-gardens in the Terai interested Dermot and set him trying to extract information from his host.

"I suppose you know, sir, that as these districts are so sparsely populated and the Bhuttias on the hills won't take the work, we have to import the thousands of coolies needed from Chota Nagpur and other places hundreds of miles away," said Daleham. "Lately, however, we have begun to get men from Bengal."

"What? Bengalis?" asked Dermot.

"Yes. Very good men. Quite decent class. Some educated men among them. Why, I discovered by chance that one is a B.A. of Calcutta University."

"Do you mean for your clerical work, as babus and writers?"

"No. These chaps are content to do the regular coolie work. Of course we make them heads of gangs. I believe they're what are called Brahmins."

"Impossible! Brahmins as tea-garden coolies?" exclaimed Dermot in surprise.

"Yes. I'm told that they are Brahmins, though I don't know much about natives yet," replied his host.

Dermot was silent for a while. He could hardly believe that the boy was right. Brahmins who, being of the priestly caste, claim to be semi-divine rather than mere men, will take up professions or clerical work, but with all his experience of India he had never heard of any of them engaging in such manual labour.

"How do you get them?" he asked.

"Oh, they come here to ask for employment themselves," replied Daleham.

"Do they get them on many gardens in the district?" asked Dermot, in whose mind a vague suspicion was arising.

"There are one or two on most of them. The older planters are surprised."

"I don't wonder," commented Dermot grimly. "It's something very unusual."

"We have got most, though," added his host. "I daresay it's because our engineer is a Hindu. His name is Chunerbutty."

"Sounds as if he were a Bengali Brahmin himself," said Dermot.

"He is. His father holds an appointment in the service of the Rajah of Lalpuri, a native State in Eastern Bengal not far from here. The son is an old friend of ours. I met him first in London."

"In fact, it was through Mr. Chunerbutty that we came here," said Noreen. "He gave Fred an introduction to this company."

Dermot reflected. He felt that if these men were really Bengali Brahmins, their coming to the district to labour as coolies demanded investigation. Their race furnishes the extremist and disloyal element in India, and any of them residing on these gardens would be conveniently placed to act as channels of communication between enemies without and traitors within. He felt that it would be advisable for him to talk the matter over with some of the older planters.

"Who is your manager here?" he enquired.

"A Welshman named Parry."

"Are you far from Salchini?"

"You mean Payne's garden? Yes; a good way. He's a friend of yours, isn't he?"

"Yes; I should like to see him again. I must pay him a visit."

"Oh, look here, Major," said Daleham eagerly. I've got an idea. Tomorrow is the day of our weekly meeting at the club. Will you let me put you up for the night, and we'll take you tomorrow to the club, where you will meet Payne?"

"Thank you; it's very kind of you; but-" began Dermot dubiously.

Noreen joined in.

"Oh, do stay, Major Dermot. We'd be delighted to have you."

Dermot needed but little pressing, for the plan suited him well.

"Excellent," said Daleham. "You'll meet Chunerbutty at dinner then. You'll find him quite a good fellow."

"I'd like to meet him," answered the soldier truthfully. He felt that the Bengali engineer might interest him more than his host imagined.

"I'll tell the boy to get your room ready," said Noreen. "Oh, what will you do with your elephant?"

"Badshah will be all right. I'll send him back to the herd."

"What, will he go by himself?" exclaimed Daleham. "How will you get him again?"

"I think he'll wait for me," replied Dermot.

They had finished breakfast by now and rose from the table. The Major went to Badshah, touched him and made him turn round to face in the direction whence they had come.

"Go now, and wait for me there," he said pointing to the forest.

The elephant seemed to understand, and, touching his master with his trunk, started off at once towards the jungle.

Daleham and his sister watched the animal's departure with surprise.

"Well, I'm blessed, Major. You certainly have him well trained," said Fred. "Now, will you excuse me, sir? I must go to the factory. Noreen will look after you."

He rose and took up his sun-hat.

"Oh, by the way, there is one of the fellows I told you of," he continued. "He is the B.A."

He pointed to a man passing some distance away from the bungalow. Dermot looked at him with curiosity. His head was bare, and his thick black hair shone with oil. He wore a European shirt and a dhoti, or cotton cloth draped round his waist like a divided skirt. His legs were bare except for gay-coloured socks and English boots. Gold-rimmed spectacles completed an appearance as unlike that of the ordinary tea-garden coolie as possible. He was the typical Indian student as seen around Gower Street or South Kensington, in the dress that he wears in his native land. There was no doubt of his being a Bengali Brahmin.

Daleham called him.

"Hi! I say! Come here!"

When the man reached the foot of the verandah steps the assistant manager said to him:

"I have told this sahib that you are a graduate of Calcutta University."

The Bengali salaamed carelessly and replied:

"Oah, yess, sir. I am B.A."

"Really? What is your name?" asked Dermot.

"Narain Dass, sir."

"I am sorry, Mr. Dass, that a man of your education cannot get better employment than this," remarked Dermot.

The Bengali smiled superciliously.

"Oah, yess, I can, of course. This-" He checked himself suddenly, and his manner became more cringing. "Yess, sir, I can with much facility procure employment of sedentary nature. But for reasons of health I am stringently advised by medical practitioner to engage in outdoor occupation. So I adopt policy of 'Back to the Land.'"

"I see, Mr. Dass. Very wise of you," remarked Dermot, restraining an inclination to smile. "You are a Brahmin, aren't you?"

"Yess, sir," replied the Bengali with pride.

"Well, Mr. Dass, I hope that your health will improve in this bracing air. Good-morning."

"Good-morning, sir," replied the Bengali, and continued on his way.

Dermot watched his departing figure meditatively. He felt that he had got hold of a thread, however slender, of the conspiracy against British rule.

"You seem very interested in that coolie, Major Dermot," remarked Noreen.

"Eh? Oh, I beg your pardon," he said, turning to her. "Yes. You see, it is very unusual to find such a man doing this sort of work."

He did not enter into any further explanation. The suspicion that he entertained must for the present be kept to himself.

When Daleham left them the girl felt curiously shy. Perfectly at her ease with men as a rule, she now, to her surprise, experienced a sensation of nervousness, a feeling almost akin to awe of her guest. Yet she liked him. He impressed her as being a man of strong personality. The fact that-unlike most men that she met-he made no special effort to please her interested her all the more in him. Gradually she grew more at her ease. She enjoyed his tales of the jungle, told with such graphic power of narrative that she could almost see the scenes and incidents that he depicted.

Dinner-time brought Chunerbutty, who did not conduce to harmony in the little party. Dermot regarded him with interest, for he wished to discover if the engineer played any part in the game of conspiracy and treason. Although the Hindu was ignorant of this, it was evident that he resented the soldier's presence, partly from racial motives, but chiefly from jealousy over Noreen. He was annoyed at her interest in Dermot and objected to her feeling grateful for her rescue. He tried to make light of the adventure and asserted that she had been in no danger. Gradually he became so offensive to the Major that Noreen was annoyed, and even her brother, who usually saw no fault in his friend, felt uncomfortable at Chunerbutty's incivility to their guest.

Dermot, however, appeared not to notice it. He behaved with perfect courtesy to the Hindu, and ignored his attempts at impertinence, much to Daleham's relief, winning Noreen's admiration by his self-control. He skilfully steered the conversation to the subject of the Bengalis employed on the estate. The engineer at first denied that there were Brahmins among them, but when told of Narain Dass's claim to be one, he pretended ignorance of the fact. This obvious falsehood confirmed Dermot's suspicion of him.

The Dalehams were not sorry when Chunerbutty rose to say good-night shortly after they had left the dining-room. He was starting at an early hour next morning on a long ride to Lalpuri to visit his father, of whose health he said he had received disquieting news.

When Noreen went to bed that night she lay awake for some time thinking of their new friend. In addition to her natural feeling of gratitude to him for saving her from deadly peril, there was the consciousness that he was eminently likable in himself. His strength of character, his manliness, the suggestion of mystery about him in his power over wild animals and the fearlessness with which he risked the dangers of the forest, all increased the attraction that he had for her. Still thinking of him she fell asleep.

And Dermot? Truth to tell, his thoughts dwelt longer on Chunerbutty and Narain Dass than on Miss Daleham. He liked the girl, admired her nature, her unaffected and frank manner, her kind and sunny disposition. He considered her decidedly pretty; but her good looks did not move him much, for he was neither impressionable nor susceptible, and had known too many beautiful women the world over to lose his heart readily. Possibly under other circumstances he might not have given the girl a second thought, for women had never bulked largely in his life. But the strange beginning of their acquaintance had given her, too, a special interest.

The Dalehams' arrival at the club the next day with their guest caused quite a sensation. At any time a stranger was a refreshing novelty to this isolated community. But in addition Dermot had the claim of old friendship with one of their members, and the other men knew him by repute. So he was welcomed with the open-hearted hospitality for which planters are deservedly renowned.

Mrs. Rice took complete possession of him as soon as he was introduced to her, insisted on his sitting beside her at lunch and monopolised him after it. Noreen, rather to her own surprise, felt a little indignant at the calm appropriation of her new friend by the older woman, and a faint resentment against Dermot for acquiescing in it. She was a little hurt, too, at his ignoring her.

But the soldier had not come there to talk to ladies. He soon managed to escape from Mrs. Rice's clutches in order to have a serious talk with his old friend Payne, which resulted in the latter adroitly gathering the older and more dependable men together outside the building on the pretext of inspecting the future polo ground. In reality it was to afford Dermot an opportunity of disclosing to them as much of the impending peril of invasion as he judged wise. The planters would be the first to suffer in such an event. He wanted to put them on their guard and enlist their help in the detection of a treacherous correspondence between external and internal foes. This they readily promised, and they undertook to watch the Bengalis among their coolies.

The Dalehams and their guest did not reach Malpura until after sundown, and Dermot was persuaded to remain another night under their roof.

On the following morning the brother and sister rode out with him to the scene of Noreen's adventure. He was on foot and was accompanied by two coolies carrying his elephant's pad. The girl was not surprised, although Fred Daleham was, at Badshah's appearance from the forest in response to a whistle from his master. And when, after a friendly farewell, man and animal disappeared in the jungle, Noreen was conscious of the fact that they had left a little ache in her heart.

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