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   Chapter 20 THE GOD OF THE ELEPHANTS

The Elephant God By Gordon Casserly Characters: 21186

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


At the end of the half hour a tempest of noise arose from the village; tom-toms were beaten, conch-shells blown and vigorous cheering was heard. Then from the huts long lines of coolies carrying weapons of every sort, rifles, old muskets, spears, and swords streamed out and encircled the bungalow at a distance. A little later the Rajah's twenty horsemen rode out of the village on their raw-boned stallions, followed by a hundred infantry soldiers who, Dermot observed, were now armed with rifles in place of their former muskets.

The dismounted troops formed up before the bungalow but half a mile away, in two lines in open order. But the cavalry kept together in a body; and the officer, turning in his saddle to speak to his men, pointed to the house with his sword.

"I believe they're going to charge us," said Dermot.

He had divided up the garrison to the four sides of the bungalow; but now, leaving one man with the shot gun to keep a watch on the back, he collected the rest on the front verandah. Noreen was inside, feeding the hungry children and consoling the mothers.

"Now, Daleham, don't fire until they are close, and then aim at the horses," said the Major, repeating the instruction to the servants in Urdu.

The Punjaubis grinned and patted their rifles.

The cavalry advanced. The sowars ambled forward, brandishing their curved sabres and uttering fierce yells. Dermot, knowing Sher Afzul and another man to be good shots, ordered them to open fire when the horsemen were about four hundred yards away. He himself took a steady aim at the commander and pressed the trigger. The officer, shot through the body, threw up his arms and fell forward on his horse's head. The startled animal shied and bolted across the furrows; and the corpse, dropping from the saddle, was dragged along the ground, one foot being caught in a stirrup. The cavalry checked for an instant; and Dermot fired again. A sowar fell. The rest cantered forward, yelling and waving their tulwars. Sher Afzul and the other servants opened fire. A second horseman dropped from his saddle, a stallion stumbled and fell, throwing its rider heavily. The firing grew faster. Two or three more horses were wounded and galloped wildly off. The rest of the cavalry came on, but, losing their nerve, checked their pace instead of charging home.

Dermot, loading and firing rapidly, bringing a sowar down with each shot, suddenly found Noreen crouching beside him behind the barricade. She was holding a revolver.

"For Heaven's sake, get into the house, darling!" he cried.

"No; I have Fred's pistol and know how to use it," she answered, calmly. "I have often practised with it."

He could not stop to argue with her, for the troopers still came on. But they bunched together, knee to knee, in a frontal attack, instead of assaulting from all four sides at once. They made a splendid target and suffered heavily. But some brought their horses' heads almost against the verandah railing. All the garrison rose from behind the barricade and fired point-blank at them. The girl, steadying her hand on a box, shot one sowar through the body. The few survivors turned and galloped madly away, leaving most of their number on the ground. To cover their retreat a ragged volley broke from the infantry; and a storm of bullets flew over and around the bungalow, ricocheted from the ground or struck the walls. But one young Mohammedan servant, who had incautiously exposed himself, dropped back shot through the lungs.

Then from every side fire was opened, the coolies blazing wildly; but as none of them had ever had a rifle in his hands before, the firing was for the most part innocuous. Yet it served to encourage them, and they drew nearer. The garrison, with only one or two defenders to each side of the house, could not keep them at a distance. The infantry began to crawl forward. The circle of foes closed in on the bungalow and its doomed inhabitants. Shrieks and cries rose from the women and children inside.

But although every bullet from the garrison found its billet, the issue was only a matter of time. Ill-directed as was the assailants' fire, the showers of bullets were too thick not to have some effect. Another servant was killed, a third wounded. Daleham was struck on the shoulder by a ricochet but only scratched. A rifle bullet, piercing the barricade, passed through Noreen's hair, as she crouched beside her lover, whom she resolutely refused to leave. The ring of enemies constricted.

Suddenly a bugle sounded from the village; and after a little the firing from the attackers ceased. Dermot, who with Noreen and Sher Afzul, was defending the front verandah, looked cautiously over the barricade. A white flag appeared in the village. The Major shouted to the others in the house to hold their fire but be on their guard.

After a pause the flag advanced, borne by a coolie. It was followed by a group of men; and Dermot through the glasses recognised the Rajah and Chunerbutty accompanied by several Brahmins. They advanced timidly towards the bungalow and stopped a hundred yards away. After some urging Chunerbutty stepped to the front and called for Daleham to appear.

Fred came through the house from the back verandah, where his place was taken by Sher Afzul. He looked over the barricade. Chunerbutty came nearer and shouted:

"Daleham, the Rajah gives you one more chance to surrender. You see your case is hopeless. You can have a quarter of an hour to think things over. If at the end of that time you and your sister don't come out, we'll rush the bungalow and finish you all."

Standing under the white flag he drew out his watch.

"Thank you," said Daleham; "and our reply is that if in a quarter of an hour you're still there, you'll get a bullet through you, white flag or no white flag."

He turned to Dermot whose arm was around Noreen as she crouched beside him.

"Well, Major, it's fifteen more minutes of life, that's all."

"Yes, it's nearly the end now. I've only two cartridges left."

"We're all in the same box. Getting near time we said good-bye. It was jolly good of you to stick by us, when you might have got away last night."

Dermot gripped the outstretched hand.

"If I go under first, you'll not let Noreen fall alive into the hands of those brutes, will you, sir?"

The girl raised her revolver.

"I'll keep the last cartridge for myself, dear," she said.

She looked lovingly at Dermot whose arm was still about her. Her brother betrayed no surprise.

"I'm not afraid to die, dear one," she whispered to her lover. "I couldn't live without you now. And I'm happy at this moment, happier than I've ever been, I think. But I wish you had saved yourself."

He mastered his emotion with difficulty.

"Darling, life without you wouldn't be possible for me either."

He could not take his eyes from her; and the minutes were flying all too swiftly. At last he looked at his watch and held out his hand to the boy.

"Good-bye, Daleham, you've got your wish. You're dying like a soldier for England," he said. "We've done our share for her. Now, we've three minutes more. If the Rajah and Chunerbutty come into view again I'll have them with my last two shots."

He turned to the girl and took her in his arms for a last embrace.

"Good-bye, sweetheart. Dear love of my heart. Pray that we may be together in the next world."

He paused and listened.

"Are they coming?"

But he did not put her from him. One second now was worth an eternity.

Then suddenly a distant murmur swelled through the strange silence. Daleham looked out over the barricade.

"They're-No. What is it? What are they doing?"

All round the circle of besiegers there was an eerie hush. No voice was heard. All-the Rajah, the flag-bearer, Brahmins, soldiers, coolies-had turned their faces away from the bungalow and were staring into the distance. And as the few survivors of the garrison looked up over the barricade an incredible sight met their eyes.

From the far-off forest, bursting out at every point of the long-stretching wall of dark undergrowth that hemmed in the wide estate, wild elephants appeared. Over the furrowed acres they streamed in endless lines, trampling down the ordered stretch of green bushes. In scores, in hundreds, they came, silently, slowly; the great heads nodding to the rhythm of their gait, the trunks swinging, the ragged ears flapping, as they advanced. Converging as they came, they drew together in a solid mass that blotted out the ground, a mass sombre-hued, dark, relieved only by flashes of gleaming white. For on either side of every massive skull jutted out the sharp-pointed, curving ivory. Of all save one.

For the mammoth that led them, the splendid beast that captained the oncoming array of Titans under the ponderous strokes of whose feet the ground trembled, had one tusk, one only. And as though the white flag were a magnet to him, he moved unerringly towards it, the immense, earth-shaking phalanx following him.

The awestruck crowds of armed men, so lately flushed with fanatical lust of slaughter, stood as though turned to stone, their faces set towards the terrifying onset. Their pain unheeded, their groans silenced, the wounded staggered to their feet to look. Even the dying strove to raise themselves on their arms from the reddened soil to gaze, and, gazing, fell back dead. Slowly, mechanically, silently, the living gave way, the weapons dropping from their nerveless grip. Step by step they drew back as if compelled by some strange mesmeric power.

And on the verandah the few survivors of the little band stood together, silent, amazed, scarce believing their eyes as they stared at the incredible vision. All but Dermot. His gaze was fixed on the leader of that terrible army; and he smiled, tenderly yet proudly. His arm drew the girl beside him still closer to him, as he murmured:

"He comes to save us for each other, beloved!"

Nothing was heard, save the dull thunder of the giant feet. Then from the village the high-pitched shriek of a woman pierced the air and shattered the eerie silence of the terror-stricken crowds. Murmurs, groans, swelled into shouts, wild yells, the appalling uproar of panic; and strong and weak, hale men and those from whose wounds the life-blood dripped, turned and fled. Fled past their dead brothers, past the little group of leaders whose power to sway them had vanished before this awful menace.

Petrified, rooted to the ground as though their quaking limbs were incapab

le of movement, the Rajah and his satellites stood motionless before the oncoming elephants. But when the leader almost towered above him, Chunerbutty was galvanised to life again. In mad panic he raised a pistol in his trembling hand and fired at the great beast. The next instant the huge tusk caught him. He was struck to the earth, gored, and lifted high in air. An appalling shriek burst from his bloodless lips. He was hurled to the ground with terrific force and trodden under foot. The Rajah screamed shrilly and turned to flee. Too late! The earth shook as the great phalanx moved on faster and passed without checking over the white-clad group, blotting them out of all semblance to humanity.

The dying yell of the renegade Hindu, arresting in its note of agony, caused the fleeing crowds to pause and turn to look. And as they witnessed the annihilation of their leaders they saw a yet more wondrous sight. For the dark array of monsters halted as the leader reached the house; and with the sea of twisted trunks upraised to salute him and a terrifying peal of trumpeting, they welcomed the white man who walked out from the shot-torn building towards the leader of the vast herd. Then in a solemn hush he was raised high in air and held aloft for all to see, beasts and men. And in the silence a single voice in the awestruck crowds cried shrilly:

"Hathi ka Deo ki jai! (Victory to the God of the Elephants!)"

In wonder, in dread, in superstitious reverence, hundreds of voices took up the refrain: "Hathi ka Deo! Hathi ka Deo ki jai!"

And leaving his thousand companions behind, the sacred elephant that all recognised now advanced towards the shrinking crowds, bearing the dread white god upon its neck. Had he not come invisibly among them again? Had they not witnessed the fate of those that opposed him? Had he not summoned from all Hindustan his man-devouring monsters to punish, to annihilate his enemies. Forgetful of their hate, their bloodthirst, their lust of battle, conscious only of their guilt, the terror-stricken crowds surged forward and flung themselves down in supplication on the earth. They wept, they wailed, they bared their heads and poured dust upon them, in all the extravagant demonstration of Oriental sorrow. Out from the village streamed the women and children to add their shrill cries to the lamentations.

With uplifted hand, Dermot silenced them. An awful hush succeeded the tumult. He swept his eyes slowly over them all, and every head went down to the dust again. Then he spoke, solemnly, clearly; and his voice reached everyone in the prostrate mob.

"My wrath is upon you and upon your children. Flee where you will, it shall overtake you. You have sinned and must atone. On those most guilty punishment has already fallen. Where are they that misled you? Go look for them under the feet of my elephants. Yet from you, ye poor deluded fools, for the moment I withhold my hand. But touch a single hair of those in your midst whom I protect, and you perish."

Not a sound was heard.

Then he said:

"Men of Lalpuri, who have come among these fools in thirst for blood. You have heard of me. You have seen my power. You see me. Go back to your city. Tell them there that I, who fed my elephants on the flesh of your comrades in the forest, shall come to them riding on my steed sacred to Gunesh. If they spare the evil counselors among them, then them I will not spare. Of their city no stone shall remain. Go back to them and bear this message to all within and without the walls, 'The British Raj shall endure. It is my will.' Tell them to engrave it on their hearts, on their children's hearts."

He paused. Then he spoke again:

"Rise, all ye people. Ye have my leave to go."

Noiselessly they obeyed. He watched them move away in terrified silence. Not a whisper was heard.

Then he smiled as he said to himself:

"That should keep them quiet."

He turned Badshah towards the bungalow.

Forty miles away, when darkness fell on the mountains that night, the army of the invaders slept soundly in their bivouacs around the doomed post of Ranga Duar. On the morrow the last feeble resistance of its garrison must cease, and happy those of the defenders who died. Luckless they that lived. For the worst tortures that even China knew would be theirs.

But when the morrow came there was no longer an investing army. Panic-stricken, the scattered remnants of the once formidable host staggered blindly up the inhospitable mountains only to perish in the snows of the passes. For in the dark hours annihilation had come upon the rest. Countless monsters, worse, far worse, than the legendary dragons of their native land, had come from the skies, sprung from the earth. And under their huge feet the army had perished.

When the sun rose Dermot knelt beside the mattress on which Parker lay among the heaps of rubble that had once been the Fort. An Indian officer, the only one left, and a few haggard sepoys stood by. The rest of the few survivors of the gallant band had thrown themselves down to sleep haphazard among the ruins that covered the bodies of their comrades.

"Is it all true, Major? Are they really gone?" whispered the subaltern feebly.

"Yes, Parker, it's quite true. They've gone. You've helped to save India. You held them off-God knows how you did it. Your wound's a nasty one; but you'll get over it."

He rose and held out his hands to the others. "Shabash! (Well done!) Subhedar Sahib, Mohammed Khan, Gulab Khan, Shaikh Bakar, well done."

And the men of the alien race pressed round him and clasped his hands gratefully.

The defeat of the invaders in this little-known corner of the Indian Empire was but the forerunner of the disasters that befell the other enemies of the British dominion, though many months passed before peace settled on the land again. But Lalpuri had not so long to wait for Dermot to redeem his promise to visit it. When he did he rode on Badshah at the head of a British force. The gates were flung open wide; and he passed through submissive crowds to see the blackened ruins of the Palace that, stormed, looted, and burnt by its rebel soldiery, hid the ashes of the Dewan.

A year had gone by. In the villages perched on the steep sides of the mountains the Bhuttia women rejoiced to know that the peace of the Borderland would never be broken again while the dread hand of a god lay on it. And in their bamboo huts they tried to hush their little children with the mention of his name. But the sturdy, naked babies had no fear of him. For they all knew him; and he was kind and far less terrible than the gods and demons that the old lama showed them in the painted Wheel of Life sent him from Tibet. Moreover, the white god's wife was kinder even than he. But that was because she was not a goddess. Only a girl.

On the high hills, up above the villages, a couple stood. No god and goddess: just a man and a woman. And the woman looked down past the huts, down to the great Terai Forest lying like a vast billowy sea of foliage far below them. Then, as her husband's arm stole round her, she turned her eyes from it and gazed into his and whispered:

"I love it more than even you do. For it gave you to me."

A crashing in the clump of hill bamboos at their feet attracted their attention; and with a smile he pointed down to the great elephant with the single tusk who was dragging down the feathery plumes with his curving trunk.

But Noreen looked up at Dermot again and said:

"I love you more than even Badshah does."

And their lips met.

THE END

* * *

A Selection from the Catalogue of

G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS

Complete Catalogues sent on application

Rosa Mundi

By

Ethel M. Dell

Author of

"The Top of the World," "The Lamp in the Desert," "The Way of an Eagle," etc.

Some of the finest stories ever written by Miss Ethel M. Dell are gathered together in this volume. They are arresting, thrilling, tense with throbbing life, and of absorbing interest; they tell of romantic and passionate episodes in many lands-in the hill districts of India, in the burning heart of Africa, and in the colonial bush country. The author's vivid and vigorous style, skillfully developed plots, her intensely sympathetic treatment of emotional scenes, and the strongly delineated character sketches, are typical of Ethel M. Dell's best work, and this volume will be found to contain some of the most remarkable of her shorter romances.

G.P. Putnam's Sons

New York London

* * *

Prairie Flowers

By

James B. Hendryx

Author of "The Texan"

When Tex Benton said he'd do a thing, he did it, as readers of "The Texan" will affirm. So when, after a year of drought, he announced his purpose of going to town to get thoroughly "lickered up," unsuspecting Timber City was elected as the stage for a most thorough and sensational orgy.

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G.P. Putnam's Sons

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The Ivory Fan

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Adrian Heard

When Lily Kellaway makes the observation, "It is better to be a slave to a man, which is natural, than to a woman, which is intolerable," she recites the text upon which the author of The Ivory Fan has built up a novel that is at once humorous in its cynicism and cynical in its humor. At the same time he gives us a pastel of certain phases of life comprehensive in its coloring and bitterly uncompromising of line.

This is an unconventional book, full of incident and plenty of clever dialogue.

G.P. Putnam's Sons

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* * *

Too Old for Dolls

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Anthony M. Ludovici

The story of a "flapper" too old for dolls, scarcely old enough for anything else, but capable of enraging her older sister and even her mother by the ease with which she secures the admiration of their male friends.

"From a Mohawk, from a sexless savage with tangled hair and blotchy features, she had, by a stroke of the wand, become metamorphosed into a remarkably attractive young woman." And with the change came a disconcerting knowledge of power.

A very real, very tense, and very modern novel.

G.P. Putnam's Sons

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