SOME people will tell you that if there were but a single loaf of bread in all India it would be divided equally between the Plowdens, the Trevors, the Beadons, and the Rivett-Carnacs. That is only one way of saying that certain families serve India generation after generation, as dolphins follow in line across the open sea.
Let us take a small and obscure case. There has been at least one representative of the Devonshire Chinns in or near Central India since the days of Lieutenant-Fireworker Humphrey Chinn, of the Bombay European Regiment, who assisted at the capture of Seringapatam in 1799. Alfred Ellis Chinn, Humphrey’s younger brother, commanded a regiment of Bombay grenadiers from 1804 to 1813, when he saw some mixed fighting; and in 1834 John Chinn of the same family — we will call him John Chinn the First — came to light as a level-headed administrator in time of trouble at a place called Mundesur. He died young, but left his mark on the new country, and the Honourable the Board of Directors of the Honourable the East India Company embodied his virtues in a stately resolution, and paid for the expenses of his tomb among the Satpura hills.
He was succeeded by his son, Lionel Chinn, who left the little old Devonshire home just in time to be severely wounded in the Mutiny. He spent his working life within a hundred and fifty miles of John Chinn’s grave, and rose to the command of a regiment of small, wild hill-men, most of whom had known his father. His son John was born in the small thatched-roofed, mud-walled cantonment, which is even today eighty miles from the nearest railway, in the heart of a scrubby, tigerish country. Colonel Lionel Chinn served thirty years and retired. In the Canal his steamer passed the outward-bound troop-ship, carrying his son eastward to the family duty.
The Chinns are luckier than most folk, because they know exactly what they must do. A clever Chinn passes for the Bombay Civil Service, and gets away to Central India, where everybody is glad to see him. A dull Chinn enters the Police Department or the Woods and Forest, and sooner or later he, too, appears in Central India, and that is what gave rise to the saying, “Central India is inhabited by Bhils, Mairs, and Chinns, all very much alike.” The breed is small-boned, dark, and silent, and the stupidest of them are good shots. John Chinn the Second was rather clever, but as the eldest son he entered the army, according to Chinn tradition. His duty was to abide in his father’s regiment for the term of his natural life, though the corps was one which most men would have paid heavily to avoid. They were irregulars, small, dark, and blackish, clothed in rifle-green with black-leather trimmings; and friends called them the “Wuddars,” which means a race of low-caste people who dig up rats to eat. But the Wuddars did not resent it. They were the only Wuddars, and their points of pride were these:
Firstly, they had fewer English officers than any native regiment. Secondly, their subalterns were not mounted on parade, as is the general rule, but walked at the head of their men. A man who can hold his own with the Wuddars at their quickstep must be sound in wind and limb. Thirdly, they were the most pukka shikarries (out-and-out hunters) in all India. Fourthly — up to one-hundredthly — they were the Wuddars — Chinn’s Irregular Bhil Levies of the old days, but now, henceforward and for ever, the Wuddars.
No Englishman entered their mess except for love or through family usage. The officers talked to their soldiers in a tongue not two hundred white folk in India understood; and the men were their children, all drawn from the Bhils, who are, perhaps, the strangest of the many strange races in India. They were, and at heart are, wild men, furtive, shy, full of untold superstitions. The races whom we call natives of the country found the Bhil in possession of the land when they first broke into that part of the world thousands of years ago. The books call them Pre-Aryan, Aboriginal, Dravidian, and so forth; and, in other words, that is what the Bhils call themselves. When a Rajput chief whose bards can sing his pedigree backwards for twelve hundred years is set on the throne, his investiture is not complete till he has been marked on the forehead with blood from the veins of a Bhil. The Rajputs say the ceremony has no meaning, but the Bhil knows that it is the last, last shadow of his old rights as the long-ago owner of the soil.
Centuries of oppression and massacre made the Bhil a cruel and half-crazy thief and cattle-stealer, and when the English came he seemed to be almost as open to civilisation as the tigers of his own jungles. But John Chinn the First, father of Lionel, grandfather of our John, went into his country, lived with him, learned his language, shot the deer that stole his poor crops, and won his confidence, so that some Bhils learned to plough and sow, while others were coaxed into the Company’s service to police their friends.
When they understood that standing in line did not mean instant execution, they accepted soldiering as a cumbrous but amusing kind of sport, and were zealous to keep the wild Bhils under control. That was the thin edge of the wedge. John Chinn the First gave them written promises that, if they were good from a certain date, the Government would overlook previous offences; and since John Chinn was never known to break his word — he promised once to hang a Bhil locally esteemed invulnerable, and hanged him in front of his tribe for seven proved murders — the Bhils settled down as steadily as they knew how. It was slow, unseen work, of the sort that is being done all over India today; and though John Chinn’s only reward came, as I have said, in the shape of a grave at Government expense, the little people of the hills never forgot him.
Colonel Lionel Chinn knew and loved them, too, and they were very fairly civilised, for Bhils, before his service ended. Many of them could hardly be distinguished from low-caste Hindoo farmers; but in the south, where John Chinn the First was buried, the wildest still clung to the Satpura ranges, cherishing a legend that some day Jan Chinn, as they called him, would return to his own. In the mean time they mistrusted the white man and his ways. The least excitement would stampede them, plundering, at random, and now and then killing; but if they were handled discreetly they grieved like children, and promised never to do it again.
The Bhils of the regiment — the uniformed men — were virtuous in many ways, but they needed humouring. They felt bored and homesick unless taken after tiger as beaters; and their cold-blooded daring — all Wuddars shoot tigers on foot: it is their caste-mark — made even the officers wonder. They would follow up a wounded tiger as unconcernedly as though it were a sparrow with a broken wing; and this through a country full of caves and rifts and pits, where a wild beast could hold a dozen men at his mercy. Now and then some little man was brought to barracks with his head smashed in or his ribs torn away; but his companions never learned caution; they contented themselves with settling the tiger.
Young John Chinn was decanted at the verandah of the Wuddars’ lonely mess-house from the back seat of a two-wheeled cart, his gun-cases cascading all round him. The slender little, hookey-nosed boy looked forlorn as a strayed goat when he slapped the white dust off his knees, and the cart jolted down the glaring road. But in his heart he was contented. After all, this was the place where he had been born, and things were not much changed since he had been sent to England, a child, fifteen years ago.
There were a few new buildings, but the air and the smell and the sunshine were the same; and the little green men who crossed the parade-ground looked very familiar. Three weeks ago John Chinn would have said he did not remember a word of the Bhil tongue, but at the mess door he found his lips moving in sentences that he did not understand — bits of old nursery rhymes, and tail-ends of such orders as his father used to give the men.
The Colonel watched him come up the steps, and laughed.
“Look!” he said to the Major. “No need to ask the young un’s breed. He’s a pukka Chinn. ’Might be his father in the Fifties over again.”
“’Hope he’ll shoot as straight,” said the Major. “He’s brought enough ironmongery with him.”
“’Wouldn’t be a Chinn if he didn’t. Watch him blowin’ his nose. ’Regular Chinn beak. ’Flourishes his handkerchief like his father. It’s the second edition — line for line.”
“’Fairy tale, by Jove!” said the Major, peering through the slats of the jalousies. “If he’s the lawful heir, he’ll . . . . Now old Chinn could no more pass that chick without fiddling with it than . . . .
“His son!” said the Colonel, jumping up.
“Well, I be blowed!” said the Major. The boy’s eye had been caught by a split-reed screen that hung on a slew between the veranda pillars, and, mechanically, he had tweaked the edge to set it level. Old Chinn had sworn three times a day at that screen for many years; he could never get it to his satisfaction.
His son entered the anteroom in the middle of a fivefold silence. They made him welcome for his father’s sake and, as they took stock of him, for his own. He was ridiculously like the portrait of the Colonel on the wall, and when he had washed a little of the dust from his throat he went to his quarters with the old man’s short, noiseless jungle-step.
“So much for heredity,” said the Major. “That comes of four generations among the Bhils.”
“And the men know it,” said a Wing officer. “They’ve been waiting for this youth with their tongues hanging out. I am persuaded that, unless he absolutely beats ’em over the head, they’ll lie down by companies and worship him.”
“Nothin’ like havin’ a father before you,” said the Major. “I’m a parvenu with my chaps. I’ve only been twenty years in the regiment, and my revered parent he was a simple squire. There’s no getting at the bottom of a Bhil’s mind. Now, why is the superior bearer that young Chinn brought with him fleeing across country with his bundle?” He stepped into the verandah, and shouted after the man — a typical new-joined subaltern’s servant who speaks English and cheats in proportion.
“What is it?” he called.
“Plenty bad man here. I going, sar,” was the reply. “’Have taken Sahib’s keys, and say will shoot.”
“Doocid lucid — doocid convincin’. How those up-country thieves can leg it! He has been badly frightened by some one.” The Major strolled to his quarters to dress for mess.
Young Chinn, walking like a man in a dream, had fetched a compass round the entire cantonment before going to his own tiny cottage. The captain’s quarters, in which he had been born, delayed him for a little; then he looked at the well on the parade-ground, where he had sat of evenings with his nurse, and at the ten-by-fourteen church, where the officers went to service if a chaplain of any official creed happened to come along. It seemed very small as compared with the gigantic buildings he used to stare up at, but it was the same place.
From time to time he passed a knot of silent soldiers, who saluted. They might have been the very men who had carried him on their backs when he was in his first knickerbockers. A faint light burned in his room, and, as he entered, hands clasped his feet, and a voice murmured from the floor.
“Who is it?” said young Chinn, not knowing he spoke in the Bhil tongue.
“I bore you in my arms, Sahib, when I was a strong man and you were a small one — crying, crying, crying! I am your servant, as I was your father’s before you. We are all your servants.”
Young Chinn could not trust himself to reply, and the voice went on:
“I have taken your keys from that fat foreigner, and sent him away; and the studs are in the shirt for mess. Who should know, if I do not know? And so the baby has become a man, and forgets his nurse; but my nephew shall make a good servant, or I will beat him twice a day.”
Then there rose up, with a rattle, as straight as a Bhil arrow, a little white-haired wizened ape of a man, with medals and orders on his tunic, stammering, saluting, and trembling. Behind him a young and wiry Bhil, in uniform, was taking the trees out of Chinn’s mess-boots.
Chinn’s eyes were full of tears. The old man held out his keys.
“Foreigners are bad people. He will never come back again. We are all servants of your father’s son. Has the Sahib forgotten who took him to see the trapped tiger in the village across the river, when his mother was so frightened and he was so brave?”
The scene came back to Chinn in great magic-lantern flashes. “Bukta!” he cried; and all in a breath: “You promised nothing should hurt me. Is it Bukta?”
The man was at his feet a second time. “He has not forgotten. He remembers his own people as his father remembered. Now can I die. But first I will live and show the Sahib how to kill tigers. That that yonder is my nephew. If he is not a good servant, beat him and send him to me, and I will surely kill him, for now the Sahib is with his own people. Ai, Jan baba — Jan baba! My Jan baba! I will stay here and see that this does his work well. Take off his boots, fool. Sit down upon the bed, Sahib, and let me look. It is Jan baba.”
He pushed forward the hilt of his sword as a sign of service, which is an honour paid only to viceroys, governors, generals, or to little children whom one loves dearly. Chinn touched the hilt mechanically with three fingers, muttering he knew not what. It happened to be the old answer of his childhood, when Bukta in jest called him the little General Sahib.
The Major’s quarters were opposite Chinn’s, and when he heard his servant gasp with surprise he looked across the room. Then the Major sat on the bed and whistled; for the spectacle of the senior native commissioned officer of the regiment, an “unmixed” Bhil, a Companion of the Order of British India, with thirty-five years’ spotless service in the army, and a rank among his own people superior to that of many Bengal princelings, valeting the last-joined subaltern, was a little too much for his nerves.
The throaty bugles blew the Mess-call that has a long legend behind it. First a few piercing notes like the shrieks of beaters in a far-away cover, and next, large, full, and smooth, the refrain of the wild song: “And oh, and oh, the green pulse of Mundore — Mundore!”
“All little children were in bed when the Sahib heard that call last,” said Bukta, passing Chinn a clean handkerchief. The call brought back memories of his cot under the mosquito-netting, his mother’s kiss, and the sound of footsteps growing fainter as he dropped asleep among his men. So he hooked the dark collar of his new mess-jacket, and went to dinner like a prince who has newly inherited his father’s crown.
Old Bukta swaggered forth curling his whiskers. He knew his own value, and no money and no rank within the gift of the Government would have induced him to put studs in young officers’ shirts, or to hand them clean ties. Yet, when he took off his uniform that night, and squatted among his fellows for a quiet smoke, he told them what he had done, and they said that he was entirely right. Thereat Bukta propounded a theory which to a white mind would have seemed raving insanity; but the whispering, level-headed little men of war considered it from every point of view, and thought that there might be a great deal in it.
At mess under the oil-lamps the talk turned as usual to the unfailing subject of shikar — big game-shooting of every kind and under all sorts of conditions. Young Chinn opened his eyes when he understood that each one of his companions had shot several tigers in the Wuddar style — on foot, that is — making no more of the business than if the brute had been a dog.
“In nine cases out of ten,” said the Major, “a tiger is almost as dangerous as a porcupine. But the tenth time you come home feet first.”
That set all talking, and long before midnight Chinn’s brain was in a whirl with stories of tigers — man-eaters and cattle-killers each pursuing his own business as methodically as clerks in an office; new tigers that had lately come into such-and-such a district; and old, friendly beasts of great cunning, known by nicknames in the mess-such as “Puggy,” who was lazy, with huge paws, and “Mrs. Malaprop,” who turned up when you never expected her, and made female noises. Then they spoke of Bhil superstitions, a wide and picturesque field, till young Chinn hinted that they must be pulling his leg.
“’Deed, we aren’t,” said a man on his left. “We know all about you. You’re a Chinn and all that, and you’ve a sort of vested right here; but if you don’t believe what we’re telling you, what will you do when old Bukta begins his stories? He knows about ghost-tigers, and tigers that go to a hell of their own; and tigers that walk on their hind feet; and your grandpapa’s riding-tiger, as well. ’Odd he hasn’t spoken of that yet.”
“You know you’ve an ancestor buried down Satpura way, don’t you?” said the Major, as Chinn smiled irresolutely.
“Of course I do,” said Chinn, who had the chronicle of the Book of Chinn by heart. It lies in a worn old ledger on the Chinese lacquer table behind the piano in the Devonshire home, and the children are allowed to look at it on Sundays.
“Well, I wasn’t sure. Your revered ancestor, my boy, according to the Bhils, has a tiger of his own — a saddle-tiger that he rides round the country whenever he feels inclined. I don’t call it decent in an ex-Collector’s ghost; but that is what the Southern Bhils believe. Even our men, who might be called moderately cool, don’t care to beat that country if they hear that Jan Chinn is running about on his tiger. It is supposed to be a clouded animal — not stripy, but blotchy, like a tortoise-shell tom-cat. No end of a brute, it is, and a sure sign of war or pestilence or — or something. There’s a nice family legend for you.”
“What’s the origin of it, d’ you suppose?” said Chinn.
“Ask the Satpura Bhils. Old Jan Chinn was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Perhaps it was the tiger’s revenge, or perhaps he’s huntin’ ’em still. You must go to his tomb one of these days and inquire. Bukta will probably attend to that. He was asking me before you came whether by any ill-luck you had already bagged your tiger. If not, he is going to enter you under his own wing. Of course, for you of all men it’s imperative. You’ll have a first-class time with Bukta.”
The Major was not wrong. Bukta kept an anxious eye on young Chinn at drill, and it was noticeable that the first time the new officer lifted up his voice in an order the whole line quivered. Even the Colonel was taken aback, for it might have been Lionel Chinn returned from Devonshire with a new lease of life. Bukta had continued to develop his peculiar theory among his intimates, and it was accepted as a matter of faith in the lines, since every word and gesture on young Chinn’s part so confirmed it.
The old man arranged early that his darling should wipe out the reproach of not having shot a tiger; but he was not content to take the first or any beast that happened to arrive. In his own villages he dispensed the high, low, and middle justice, and when his people-naked and fluttered — came to him with word of a beast marked down, he bade them send spies to the kills and the watering-places, that he might be sure the quarry was such an one as suited the dignity of such a man.
Three or four times the reckless trackers returned, most truthfully saying that the beast was mangy, undersized — a tigress worn with nursing, or a broken-toothed old male — and Bukta would curb young Chinn’s impatience.
At last, a noble animal was marked down — a ten-foot cattle-killer with a huge roll of loose skin along the belly, glossy-hided, full-frilled about the neck, whiskered, frisky, and young. He had slain a man in pure sport, they said.
“Let him be fed,” quoth Bukta, and the villagers dutifully drove out a cow to amuse him, that he might lie up near by.
Princes and potentates have taken ship to India and spent great moneys for the mere glimpse of beasts one-half as fine as this of Bukta’s.
“It is not good,” said he to the Colonel, when he asked for shooting-leave, “that my Colonel’s son who may be — that my Colonel’s son should lose his maidenhead on any small jungle beast. That may come after. I have waited long for this which is a tiger. He has come in from the Mair country. In seven days we will return with the skin.”
The mess gnashed their teeth enviously. Bukta, had he chosen, might have invited them all. But he went out alone with Chinn, two days in a shooting-cart and a day on foot, till they came to a rocky, glary valley with a pool of good water in it. It was a parching day, and the boy very naturally stripped and went in for a bathe, leaving Bukta by the clothes. A white skin shows far against brown jungle, and what Bukta beheld on Chinn’s back and right shoulder dragged him forward step by step with staring eyeballs.
“I’d forgotten it isn’t decent to strip before a man of his position,” said Chinn, flouncing in the water. “How the little devil stares! What is it, Bukta?”
“The Mark!” was the whispered answer.
“It is nothing. You know how it is with my people!” Chinn was annoyed. The dull-red birth-mark on his shoulder, something like a conventionalised Tartar cloud, had slipped his memory or he would not have bathed. It occurred, so they said at home, in alternate generations, appearing, curiously enough, eight or nine years after birth, and, save that it was part of the Chinn inheritance, would not be considered pretty. He hurried ashore, dressed again, and went on till they met two or three Bhils, who promptly fell on their faces. “My people,” grunted Bukta, not condescending to notice them. “And so your people, Sahib. When I was a young man we were fewer, but not so weak. Now we are many, but poor stock. As may be remembered. How will you shoot him, Sahib? From a tree; from a shelter which my people shall build; by day or by night?”
“On foot and in the daytime,” said young Chinn.
“That was your custom, as I have heard,” said Bukta to himself, “I will get news of him. Then you and I will go to him. I will carry one gun. You have yours. There is no need of more. What tiger shall stand against thee?”
He was marked down by a little water-hole at the head of a ravine, full-gorged and half asleep in the May sunlight. He was walked up like a partridge, and he turned to do battle for his life. Bukta made no motion to raise his rifle, but kept his eyes on Chinn, who met the shattering roar of the charge with a single shot — it seemed to him hours as he sighted — which tore through the throat, smashing the backbone below the neck and between the shoulders. The brute couched, choked, and fell, and before Chinn knew well what had happened Bukta bade him stay still while he paced the distance between his feet and the ringing jaws.
“Fifteen,” said Bukta. “Short paces. No need for a second shot, Sahib. He bleeds cleanly where he lies, and we need not spoil the skin. I said there would be no need of these, but they came — in case.”
Suddenly the sides of the ravine were crowned with the heads of Bukta’s people — a force that could have blown the ribs out of the beast had Chinn’s shot failed; but their guns were hidden, and they appeared as interested beaters, some five or six waiting the word to skin. Bukta watched the life fade from the wild eyes, lifted one hand, and turned on his heel.
“No need to show that we care,” said he. “Now, after this, we can kill what we choose. Put out your hand, Sahib.”
Chinn obeyed. It was entirely steady, and Bukta nodded. “That also was your custom. My men skin quickly. They will carry the skin to cantonments. Will the Sahib come to my poor village for the night and, perhaps, forget that I am his officer?”
“But those men — the beaters. They have worked hard, and perhaps ——”
“Oh, if they skin clumsily, we will skin them. They are my people. In the lines I am one thing. Here I am another.”
This was very true. When Bukta doffed uniform and reverted to the fragmentary dress of his own people, he left his civilisation of drill in the next world. That night, after a little talk with his subjects, he devoted to an orgie; and a Bhil orgie is a thing not to be safely written about. Chinn, flushed with triumph, was in the thick of it, but the meaning of the mysteries was hidden. Wild folk came and pressed about his knees with offerings. He gave his flask to the elders of the village. They grew eloquent, and wreathed him about with flowers. Gifts and loans, not all seemly, were thrust upon him, and infernal music rolled and maddened round red fires, while singers sang songs of the ancient times, and danced peculiar dances. The aboriginal liquors are very potent, and Chinn was compelled to taste them often, but, unless the stuff had been drugged, how came he to fall asleep suddenly, and to waken late the next day — half a march from the village?
“The Sahib was very tired. A little before dawn he went to sleep,” Bukta explained. “My people carried him here, and now it is time we should go back to cantonments.”
The voice, smooth and deferential, the step, steady and silent, made it hard to believe that only a few hours before Bukta was yelling and capering with naked fellow-devils of the scrub.
“My people were very pleased to see the Sahib. They will never forget. When next the Sahib goes out recruiting, he will go to my people, and they will give him as many men as we need.”
Chinn kept his own counsel, except as to the shooting of the tiger, and Bukta embroidered that tale with a shameless tongue. The skin was certainly one of the finest ever hung up in the mess, and the first of many. When Bukta could not accompany his boy on shooting-trips, he took care to put him in good hands, and Chinn learned more of the mind and desire of the wild Bhil in his marches and campings, by talks at twilight or at wayside pools, than an uninstructed man could have come at in a lifetime.
Presently his men in the regiment grew bold to speak of their relatives — mostly in trouble — and to lay cases of tribal custom before him. They would say, squatting in his verandah at twilight, after the easy, confidential style of the Wuddars, that such-and-such a bachelor had run away with such-and-such a wife at a far-off village. Now, how many cows would Chinn Sahib consider a just fine? Or, again, if written order came from the Government that a Bhil was to repair to a walled city of the plains to give evidence in a law-court, would it be wise to disregard that order? On the other hand, if it were obeyed, would the rash voyager return alive?
“But what have I to do with these things?” Chinn demanded of Bukta, impatiently. “I am a soldier. I do not know the law.”
“Hoo! Law is for fools and white men. Give them a large and loud order, and they will abide by it. Thou art their law.”
Every trace of expression left Bukta’s countenance. The idea might have smitten him for the first time. “How can I say?” he replied. “Perhaps it is on account of the name. A Bhil does not love strange things. Give them orders, Sahib — two, three, four words at a time such as they can carry away in their heads. That is enough.”
Chinn gave orders then, valiantly, not realising that a word spoken in haste before mess became the dread unappealable law of villages beyond the smoky hills was, in truth, no less than the Law of Jan Chinn the First, who, so the whispered legend ran, had come back to earth, to oversee the third generation, in the body and bones of his grandson.
There could be no sort of doubt in this matter. All the Bhils knew that Jan Chinn reincarnated had honoured Bukta’s village with his presence after slaying his first — in this life — tiger; that he had eaten and drunk with the people, as he was used; and — Bukta must have drugged Chinn’s liquor very deeply — upon his back and right shoulder all men had seen the same angry red Flying Cloud that the high Gods had set on the flesh of Jan Chinn the First when first he came to the Bhil. As concerned the foolish white world which has no eyes, he was a slim and young officer in the Wuddars; but his own people knew he was Jan Chinn, who had made the Bhil a man; and, believing, they hastened to carry his words, careful never to alter them on the way.
Because the savage and the child who plays lonely games have one horror of being laughed at or questioned, the little folk kept their convictions to themselves; and the Colonel, who thought he knew his regiment, never guessed that each one of the six hundred quick-footed, beady-eyed rank-and-file, to attention beside their rifles, believed serenely and unshakenly that the subaltern on the left flank of the line was a demi-god twice born — tutelary deity of their land and people. The Earth-gods themselves had stamped the incarnation, and who would dare to doubt the handiwork of the Earth-gods?
Chinn, being practical above all things, saw that his family name served him well in the lines and in camp. His men gave no trouble — one does not commit regimental offences with a god in the chair of justice — and he was sure of the best beaters in the district when he needed them. They believed that the protection of Jan Chinn the First cloaked them, and were bold in that belief beyond the utmost daring of excited Bhils.
His quarters began to look like an amateur natural-history museum, in spite of duplicate heads and horns and skulls that he sent home to Devonshire. The people, very humanly, learned the weak side of their god. It is true he was unbribable, but bird-skins, butterflies, beetles, and, above all, news of big game pleased him. In other respects, too, he lived up to the Chinn tradition. He was fever-proof. A night’s sitting out over a tethered goat in a damp valley, that would have filled the Major with a month’s malaria, had no effect on him. He was, as they said, “salted before he was born.”
Now in the autumn of his second year’s service an uneasy rumour crept out of the earth and ran about among the Bhils. Chinn heard nothing of it till a brother-Officer said across the mess-table: “Your revered ancestor’s on the rampage in the Satpura country. You’d better look him up.”
“I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I’m a little sick of my revered ancestor. Bukta talks of nothing else. What’s the old boy supposed to be doing now?”
“Riding cross-country by moonlight on his processional tiger. That’s the story. He’s been seen by about two thousand Bhils, skipping along the tops of the Satpuras, and scaring people to death. They believe it devoutly, and all the Satpura chaps are worshipping away at his shrine-tomb, I mean — like good uns. You really ought to go down there. Must be a queer thing to see your grandfather treated as a god.”
“What makes you think there’s any truth in the tale?” said Chinn.
“Because all our men deny it. They say they’ve never heard of Chinn’s tiger. Now that’s a manifest lie, because every Bhil has.”
“There’s only one thing you’ve overlooked,” said the Colonel, thoughtfully. “When a local god reappears on earth, it’s always an excuse for trouble of some kind; and those Satpura Bhils are about as wild as your grandfather left them, young un. It means something.”
“Meanin’ they may go on the war-path?” said Chinn.
“’Can’t say — as yet. ’Shouldn’t be surprised a little bit.”
“I haven’t been told a syllable.”
“’Proves it all the more. They are keeping something back.”
“Bukta tells me everything, too, as a rule. Now, why didn’t he tell me that?”
Chinn put the question directly to the old man that night, and the answer surprised him.
“Why should I tell what is well known? Yes, the Clouded Tiger is out in the Satpura country.”
“What do the wild Bhils think that it means?”
“They do not know. They wait. Sahib, what is coming? Say only one little word, and we will be content.”
“We? What have tales from the south, where the jungly Bhils live, to do with drilled men?”
“When Jan Chinn wakes is no time for any Bhil to be quiet.”
“But he has not waked, Bukta.”
“Sahib”— the old man’s eyes were full of tender reproof —“if he does not wish to be seen, why does he go abroad in the moonlight? We know he is awake, but we do not know what he desires. Is it a sign for all the Bhils, or one that concerns the Satpura folk alone? Say one little word, Sahib, that I may carry it to the lines, and send on to our villages. Why does Jan Chinn ride out? Who has done wrong? Is it pestilence? Is it murrain? Will our children die? Is it a sword? Remember, Sahib, we are thy people and thy servants, and in this life I bore thee in my arms — not knowing.”
“Bukta has evidently looked on the cup this evening,” Chinn thought; “but if I can do anything to soothe the old chap I must. It’s like the Mutiny rumours on a small scale.”
He dropped into a deep wicker chair, over which was thrown his first tiger-skin, and his weight on the cushion flapped the clawed paws over his shoulders. He laid hold of them mechanically as he spoke, drawing the painted hide, cloak-fashion, about him.
“Now will I tell the truth, Bukta,” he said, leaning forward, the dried muzzle on his shoulder, to invent a specious lie.
“I see that it is the truth,” was the answer, in a shaking voice.
“Jan Chinn goes abroad among the Satpuras, riding on the Clouded Tiger, ye say? Be it so. Therefore the sign of the wonder is for the Satpura Bhils only, and does not touch the Bhils who plough in the north and east, the Bhils of the Khandesh, or any others, except the Satpura Bhils, who, as we know, are wild and foolish.”
“It is, then, a sign for them. Good or bad?”
“Beyond doubt, good. For why should Jan Chinn make evil to those whom he has made men? The nights over yonder are hot; it is ill to lie in one bed over-long without turning, and Jan Chinn would look again upon his people. So he rises, whistles his Clouded Tiger, and goes abroad a little to breathe the cool air. If the Satpura Bhils kept to their villages, and did not wander after dark, they would not see him. Indeed, Bukta, it is no more than that he would see the light again in his own country. Send this news south, and say that it is my word.”
Bukta bowed to the floor. “Good Heavens!” thought Chinn, “and this blinking pagan is a first-class officer, and as straight as a die! I may as well round it off neatly.” He went on:
“If the Satpura Bhils ask the meaning of the sign, tell them that Jan Chinn would see how they kept their old promises of good living. Perhaps they have plundered; perhaps they mean to disobey the orders of the Government; perhaps there is a dead man in the jungle; and so Jan Chinn has come to see.”
“Is he, then, angry?”
“Bah! Am I ever angry with my Bhils? I say angry words, and threaten many things. Thou knowest, Bukta. I have seen thee smile behind the hand. I know, and thou knowest. The Bhils are my children. I have said it many times.”
“Ay. We be thy children,” said Bukta.
“And no otherwise is it with Jan Chinn, my father’s father. He would see the land he loved and the people once again. It is a good ghost, Bukta. I say it. Go and tell them. And I do hope devoutly,” he added, “that it will calm ’em down.” Flinging back the tiger-skin, he rose with a long, unguarded yawn that showed his well-kept teeth.
Bukta fled, to be received in the lines by a knot of panting inquirers.
“It is true,” said Bukta. “He wrapped him-self in the skin, and spoke from it. He would see his own country again. The sign is not for us; and, indeed, he is a young man. How should he lie idle of nights? He says his bed is too hot and the air is bad. He goes to and fro for the love of night-running. He has said it.”
The grey-whiskered assembly shuddered.
“He says the Bhils are his children. Ye know he does not lie. He has said it to me.”
“But what of the Satpura Bhils? What means the sign for them?”
“Nothing. It is only night-running, as I have said. He rides to see if they obey the Government, as he taught them to do in his first life.”
“And what if they do not?”
“He did not say.”
The light went out in Chinn’s quarters.
“Look,” said Bukta. “Now he goes away. None the less it is a good ghost, as he has said. How shall we fear Jan Chinn, who made the Bhil a man? His protection is on us; and ye know Jan Chinn never broke a protection spoken or written on paper. When he is older and has found him a wife he will lie in his bed till morning.”
A commanding officer is generally aware of the regimental state of mind a little before the men; and this is why the Colonel said, a few days later, that some one had been putting the Fear of God into the Wuddars. As he was the only person officially entitled to do this, it distressed him to see such unanimous virtue. “It’s too good to last,” he said. “I only wish I could find out what the little chaps mean.”
The explanation, as it seemed to him, came at the change of the moon, when he received orders to hold himself in readiness to “allay any possible excitement” among the Satpura Bhils, who were, to put it mildly, uneasy because a paternal Government had sent up against them a Mahratta State-educated vaccinator, with lancets, lymph, and an officially registered calf. In the language of State, they had “manifested a strong objection to all prophylactic measures,” had “forcibly detained the vaccinator,” and “were on the point of neglecting or evading their tribal obligations.”
“That means they are in a blue funk — same as they were at census-time,” said the Colonel; “and if we stampede them into the hills we’ll never catch ’em, in the first place, and, in the second, they’ll whoop off plundering till further orders. ’Wonder who the God-forsaken idiot is who is trying to vaccinate a Bhil. I knew trouble was coming. One good thing is that they’ll only use local corps, and we can knock up something we’ll call a campaign, and let them down easy. Fancy us potting our best beaters because they don’t want to be vaccinated! They’re only crazy with fear.”
“Don’t you think, sir,” said Chinn, the next day, “that perhaps you could give me a fortnight’s shooting-leave?”
“Desertion in the face of the enemy, by Jove!” The Colonel laughed. “I might, but I’d have to antedate it a little, because we’re warned for service, as you might say. However, we’ll assume that you applied for leave three days ago, and are now well on your way south.”
“I’d like to take Bukta with me.”
“Of course, yes. I think that will be the best plan. You’ve some kind of hereditary influence with the little chaps, and they may listen to you when a glimpse of our uniforms would drive them wild. You’ve never been in that part of the world before, have you? Take care they don’t send you to your family vault in your youth and innocence. I believe you’ll be all right if you can get ’em to listen to you.”
“I think so, sir; but if — if they should accidentally put an — make asses of ’emselves — they might, you know — I hope you’ll represent that they were only frightened. There isn’t an ounce of real vice in ’em, and I should never forgive myself if any one of — of my name got them into trouble.”
The Colonel nodded, but said nothing.
Chinn and Bukta departed at once. Bukta did not say that, ever since the official vaccinator had been dragged into the hills by indignant Bhils, runner after runner had skulked up to the lines, entreating, with forehead in the dust, that Jan Chinn should come and explain this unknown horror that hung over his people.
The portent of the Clouded Tiger was now too clear. Let Jan Chinn comfort his own, for vain was the help of mortal man. Bukta toned down these beseechings to a simple request for Chinn’s presence. Nothing would have pleased the old man better than a rough-and-tumble campaign against the Satpuras, whom he, as an “unmixed” Bhil, despised; but he had a duty to all his nation as Jan Chinn’s interpreter; and he devoutly believed that forty plagues would fall on his village if he tampered with that obligation. Besides, Jan Chinn knew all things, and he rode the Clouded Tiger.
They covered thirty miles a day on foot and pony, raising the blue wall-like line of the Satpuras as swiftly as might be. Bukta was very silent.
They began the steep climb a little after noon, but it was near sunset ere they reached the stone platform clinging to the side of a rifted, jungle-covered hill, where Jan Chinn the First was laid, as he had desired, that he might overlook his people. All India is full of neglected graves that date from the beginning of the eighteenth century — tombs of forgotten colonels of corps long since disbanded; mates of East India men who went on shooting expeditions and never came back; factors, agents, writers, and ensigns of the Honourable the East India Company by hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands. English folk forget quickly, but natives have long memories, and if a man has done good in his life it is remembered after his death. The weathered marble four-square tomb of Jan Chinn was hung about with wild flowers and nuts, packets of wax and honey, bottles of native spirits, and infamous cigars, with buffalo horns and plumes of dried grass. At one end was a rude clay image of a white man, in the old-fashioned top-hat, riding on a bloated tiger.
Bukta salamed reverently as they approached. Chinn bared his head and began to pick out the blurred inscription. So far as he could read it ran thus — word for word, and letter for letter:
To the Memory of JOHN CHINN, ESQ.
Late Collector of. . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . .ithout Bloodshed or . . .error of Authority
Employ . only . . cans of Conciliat . . . and Confiden .
accomplished the . . . tire Subjection . . .
a Lawless and Predatory Peop . . .
. . .taching them to . . . ish Government
by a Conquest . . over . . . . Minds
The most perma . . . and rational Mode of Domini . .
. . Governor General and Counc . . . engal
have ordered lhi . . . . . erected
. . . arted this Life Aug. 19, 184 . . Ag . . .
On the other side of the grave were ancient verses, also very worn. As much as Chinn could decipher said:
. . . . the savage band.
Forsook their Haunts and b . . . . . is Command
. . . . mended . . rals check a . . . . st for spoil.
And . . s . . ing Hamlets prove his gene . . . . toil.
Humanit . . . survey . . . . . . ights restor . .
A Nation . . ield . . subdued without a Sword.
For some little time he leaned on the tomb thinking of this dead man of his own blood, and of the house in Devonshire; then, nodding to the plains: “Yes; it’s a big work all of it even my little share. He must have been worth knowing . . . . Bukta, where are my people?”
“Not here, Sahib. No man comes here except in full sun. They wait above. Let us climb and see.”
But Chinn, remembering the first law of Oriental diplomacy, in an even voice answered: “I have come this far only because the Satpura folk are foolish, and dared not visit our lines. Now bid them wait on me here. I am not a servant, but the master of Bhils.”
“I go — I go,” clucked the old man. Night was falling, and at any moment Jan Chinn might whistle up his dreaded steed from the darkening scrub.
Now for the first time in a long life Bukta disobeyed a lawful command and deserted his leader; for he did not come back, but pressed to the flat table-top of the hill, and called softly. Men stirred all about him — little trembling men with bows and arrows who had watched the two since noon.
“Where is he?” whispered one.
“At his own place. He bids you come,” said Bukta.
“Rather let him loose the Clouded Tiger upon us. We do not go.”
“Nor I, though I bore him in my arms when he was a child in this his life. Wait here till the day.”
“But surely he will be angry.”
“He will be very angry, for he has nothing to eat. But he has said to me many times that the Bhils are his children. By sunlight I believe this, but — by moonlight I am not so sure. What folly have ye Satpura pigs compassed that ye should need him at all?”
“One came to us in the name of the Government with little ghost-knives and a magic calf, meaning to turn us into cattle by the cutting off of our arms. We were greatly afraid, but we did not kill the man. He is here, bound — a black man; and we think he comes from the west. He said it was an order to cut us all with knives — especially the women and the children. We did not hear that it was an order, so we were afraid, and kept to our hills. Some of our men have taken ponies and bullocks from the plains, and others pots and cloths and ear-rings.”
“Are any slain?”
“By our men? Not yet. But the young men are blown to and fro by many rumours like flames upon a hill. I sent runners asking for Jan Chinn lest worse should come to us. It was this fear that he foretold by the sign of the Clouded Tiger.”
“He says it is otherwise,” said Bukta; and he repeated, with amplifications, all that young Chinn had told him at the conference of the wicker chair.
“Think you,” said the questioner, at last, “that the Government will lay hands on us?”
“Not I,” Bukta rejoined. “Jan Chinn will give an order, and ye will obey. The rest is between the Government and Jan Chinn. I myself know something of the ghost-knives and the scratching. It is a charm against the Small-pox. But how it is done I cannot tell. Nor need that concern you.”
“If he stands by us and before the anger of the Government we will most strictly obey Jan Chinn, except — except we do not go down to that place tonight.”
They could hear young Chinn below them shouting for Bukta; but they cowered and sat still, expecting the Clouded Tiger. The tomb had been holy ground for nearly half a century. If Jan Chinn chose to sleep there, who had better right? But they would not come within eyeshot of the place till broad day.
At first Chinn was exceedingly angry, till it occurred to him that Bukta most probably had a reason (which, indeed, he had), and his own dignity might suffer if he yelled without answer. He propped himself against the foot of the grave, and, alternately dozing and smoking, came through the warm night proud that he was a lawful, legitimate, fever-proof Chinn.
He prepared his plan of action much as his grandfather would have done; and when Bukta appeared in the morning with a most liberal supply of food, said nothing of the overnight desertion. Bukta would have been relieved by an outburst of human anger; but Chinn finished his victual leisurely, and a cheroot, ere he made any sign.
“They are very much afraid,” said Bukta, who was not too bold himself “It remains only to give orders. They said they will obey if thou wilt only stand between them and the Government.”
“That I know,” said Chinn, strolling slowly to the table-land. A few of the elder men stood in an irregular semicircle in an open glade; but the ruck of people — women and children were hidden in the thicket. They had no desire to face the first anger of Jan Chinn the First.
Seating himself on a fragment of split rock, he smoked his cheroot to the butt, hearing men breathe hard all about him. Then he cried, so suddenly that they jumped:
“Bring the man that was bound!”
A scuffle and a cry were followed by the appearance of a Hindoo vaccinator, quaking with fear, bound hand and foot, as the Bhils of old were accustomed to bind their human sacrifices. He was pushed cautiously before the presence; but young Chinn did not look at him.
“I said — the man that was bound. Is it a jest to bring me one tied like a buffalo? Since when could the Bhil bind folk at his pleasure? Cut!”
Half a dozen hasty knives cut away the thongs, and the man crawled to Chinn, who pocketed his case of lancets and tubes of lymph. Then, sweeping the semicircle with one comprehensive forefinger, and in the voice of compliment, he said, clearly and distinctly: “Pigs!”
“Ai!” whispered Bukta. “Now he speaks. Woe to foolish people!”
“I have come on foot from my house” (the assembly shuddered) “to make clear a matter which any other Satpura Bhil would have seen with both eyes from a distance. Ye know the Small-pox who pits and scars your children so that like wasp-combs. It is an order of the Government that whoso is scratched on the arm with these little knives which I hold up is charmed against her. All Sahibs are thus charmed, and very many Hindoos. This is the mark of the charm. Look!”
He rolled back his sleeve to the armpit and showed the white scars of the vaccination-mark on his white skin. “Come, all, and look.”
A few daring spirits came up, and nodded their heads wisely. There was certainly a mark, and they knew well what other dread marks were hidden by the shirt. Merciful was Jan Chinn, that then and there proclaimed his godhead!
“Now all these things the man whom ye bound told you.”
“I did — a hundred times; but they answered with blows,” groaned the operator, chafing his wrists and ankles.
“But, being pigs, ye did not believe; and so came I here to save you, first from Small-pox, next from a great folly of fear, and lastly, it may be, from the rope and the jail. It is no gain to me; it is no pleasure to me: but for the sake of that one who is yonder, who made the Bhil a man”— he pointed down the hill —“I, who am of his blood, the son of his son, come to turn your people. And I speak the truth, as did Jan Chinn.”
The crowd murmured reverently, and men stole out of the thicket by twos and threes to join it. There was no anger in their god’s face.
“These are my orders. (Heaven send they’ll take ’em, but I seem to have impressed ’em so far!) I myself will stay among you while this man scratches your arms with the knives, after the order of the Government. In three, or it may be five or seven, days, your arms will swell and itch and burn. That is the power of Small-pox fighting in your base blood against the orders of the Government I will therefore stay among you till I see that Small-pox is conquered, and I will not go away till the men and the women and the little children show me upon their arms such marks as I have even now showed you. I bring with me two very good guns, and a man whose name is known among beasts and men. We will hunt together, I and he and your young men, and the others shall eat and lie still. This is my order.”
There was a long pause while victory hung in the balance. A white-haired old sinner, standing on one uneasy leg, piped up:
“There are ponies and some few bullocks and other things for which we need a kowl [protection]. They were not taken in the way of trade.”
The battle was won, and John Chinn drew a breath of relief. The young Bhils had been raiding, but if taken swiftly all could be put straight.
“I will write a kowl so soon as the ponies, the bullocks, and the other things are counted before me and sent back whence they came. But first we will put the Government mark on such as have not been visited by Small-pox.” In an undertone, to the vaccinator: “If you show you are afraid you’ll never see Poona again, my friend.”
“There is not sufficient ample supply of vaccination for all this population,” said the man. “They destroyed the offeecial calf.”
“They won’t know the difference. Scrape ’em and give me a couple of lancets; I’ll attend to the elders.”
The aged diplomat who had demanded protection was the first victim. He fell to Chinn’s hand and dared not cry out. As soon as he was freed he dragged up a companion, and held him fast, and the crisis became, as it were, a child’s sport; for the vaccinated chased the unvaccinated to treatment, vowing that all the tribe must suffer equally. The women shrieked, and the children ran howling; but Chinn laughed, and waved the pink-tipped lancet.
“It is an honour,” he cried. “Tell them, Bukta, how great an honour it is that I myself mark them. Nay, I cannot mark every one — the Hindoo must also do his work — but I will touch all marks that he makes, so there will be an equal virtue in them. Thus do the Rajputs stick pigs. Ho, brother with one eye! Catch that girl and bring her to me. She need not run away yet, for she is not married, and I do not seek her in marriage. She will not come? Then she shall be shamed by her little brother, a fat boy, a bold boy. He puts out his arm like a soldier. Look! He does not flinch at the blood. Some day he shall be in my regiment. And now, mother of many, we will lightly touch thee, for Smallpox has been before us here. It is a true thing, indeed, that this charm breaks the power of Mata. There will be no more pitted faces among the Satpuras, and so ye can ask many cows for each maid to be wed.”
And so on and so on — quick-poured showman’s patter, sauced in the Bhil hunting-proverbs and tales of their own brand of coarse humour till the lancets were blunted and both operators worn out.
But, nature being the same the world over, the unvaccinated grew jealous of their marked comrades, and came near to blows about it. Then Chinn declared himself a court of justice, no longer a medical board, and made formal inquiry into the late robberies.
“We are the thieves of Mahadeo,” said the Bhils, simply. “It is our fate, and we were frightened. When we are frightened we always steal.”
Simply and directly as children, they gave in the tale of the plunder, all but two bullocks and some spirits that had gone amissing (these Chinn promised to make good out of his own pocket), and ten ringleaders were despatched to the lowlands with a wonderful document, written on the leaf of a note-book, and addressed to an Assistant District Superintendent of Police. There was warm calamity in that note, as Jan Chinn warned them, but anything was better than loss of liberty.
Armed with this protection, the repentant raiders went down-hill. They had no desire whatever to meet Mr. Dundas Fawne of the Police, aged twenty-two, and of a cheerful countenance, nor did they wish to revisit the scene of their robberies. Steering a middle course, they ran into the camp of the one Government chaplain allowed to the various irregular corps through a district of some fifteen thousand square miles, and stood before him in a cloud of dust. He was by way of being a priest, they knew, and, what was more to the point, a good sportsman who paid his beaters generously.
When he read Chinn’s note he laughed, which they deemed a lucky omen, till he called up policemen, who tethered the ponies and the bullocks by the piled house-gear, and laid stern hands upon three of that smiling band of the thieves of Mahadeo. The chaplain himself addressed them magisterially with a riding-whip. That was painful, but Jan Chinn had prophesied it. They submitted, but would not give up the written protection, fearing the jail. On their way back they met Mr. D. Fawne, who had heard about the robberies, and was not pleased.
“Certainly,” said the eldest of the gang, when the second interview was at an end, “certainly Jan Chinn’s protection has saved us our liberty, but it is as though there were many beatings in one small piece of paper. Put it away.”
One climbed into a tree, and stuck the letter into a cleft forty feet from the ground, where it could do no harm. Warmed, sore, but happy, the ten returned to Jan Chinn next day, where he sat among uneasy Bhils, all looking at their right arms, and all bound under terror of their god’s disfavour not to scratch.
“It was a good kowl,” said the leader. “First the chaplain, who laughed, took away our plunder, and beat three of us, as was promised. Next, we meet Fawne Sahib, who frowned, and asked for the plunder. We spoke the truth, and so he beat us all, one after another, and called us chosen names. He then gave us these two bundles ”— they set down a bottle of whisky and a box of cheroots —“and we came away. The kowl is left in a tree, because its virtue is that so soon as we show it to a Sahib we are beaten.”
“But for that kowl” said Jan Chinn, sternly, “ye would all have been marching to jail with a policeman on either side. Ye come now to serve as beaters for me. These people are unhappy, and we will go hunting till they are well. Tonight we will make a feast.”
It is written in the chronicles of the Satpura Bhils, together with many other matters not fit for print, that through five days, after the day that he had put his mark upon them, Jan Chinn the First hunted for his people; and on the five nights of those days the tribe was gloriously and entirely drunk. Jan Chinn bought country spirits of an awful strength, and slew wild pig and deer beyond counting, so that if any fell sick they might have two good reasons.
Between head- and stomach-aches they found no time to think of their arms, but followed Jan Chinn obediently through the jungles, and with each day’s returning confidence men, women, and children stole away to their villages as the little army passed by. They carried news that it was good and right to be scratched with ghost-knives; that Jan Chinn was indeed reincarnated as a god of free food and drink, and that of all nations the Satpura Bhils stood first in his favour, if they would only refrain from scratching. Henceforward that kindly demi-god would be connected in their minds with great gorgings and the vaccine and lancets of a paternal Government.
“And tomorrow I go back to my home,” said Jan Chinn to his faithful few, whom neither spirits, overeating, nor swollen glands could conquer. It is hard for children and savages to behave reverently at all times to the idols of their make-belief; and they had frolicked excessively with Jan Chinn. But the reference to his home cast a gloom on the people.
“And the Sahib will not come again?” said he who had been vaccinated first.
“That is to be seen,” answered Chinn, warily.
“Nay, but come as a white man — come as a young man whom we know and love; for, as thou alone knowest, we are a weak people. If we again saw thy — thy horse ——” They were picking up their courage.
“I have no horse. I came on foot with Bukta, yonder. What is this?”
“Thou knowest — the thing that thou hast chosen for a night-horse.” The little men squirmed in fear and awe.
“Night-horses? Bukta, what is this last tale of children?”
Bukta had been a silent leader in Chinn’s presence since the night of his desertion, and was grateful for a chance-flung question.
“They know, Sahib,” he whispered. “It is the Clouded Tiger. That that comes from the place where thou didst once sleep. It is thy horse — as it has been these three generations.”
“My horse! That was a dream of the Bhils.”
“It is no dream. Do dreams leave the tracks of broad pugs on earth? Why make two faces before thy people? They know of the night-ridings, and they — and they ——“
“Are afraid, and would have them cease.”
Bukta nodded. “If thou hast no further need of him. He is thy horse.”
“The thing leaves a trail, then?” said Chinn.
“We have seen it. It is like a village road under the tomb.”
“Can ye find and follow it for me?”
“By daylight — if one comes with us, and, above all, stands near by.”
“I will stand close, and we will see to it that Jan Chinn does not ride any more.”
The Bhils shouted the last words again and again.
From Chinn’s point of view the stalk was nothing more than an ordinary one — down-hill, through split and crannied rocks, unsafe, perhaps, if a man did not keep his wits by him, but no worse than twenty others he had undertaken. Yet his men — they refused absolutely to beat, and would only trail — dripped sweat at every move. They showed the marks of enormous pugs that ran, always down-hill, to a few hundred feet below Jan Chinn’s tomb, and disappeared in a narrow-mouthed cave. It was an insolently open road, a domestic highway, beaten without thought of concealment.
“The beggar might be paying rent and taxes,” Chinn muttered ere he asked whether his friend’s taste ran to cattle or man.
“Cattle,” was the answer. “Two heifers a week. We drive them for him at the foot of the hill. It is his custom. If we did not, he might seek us.”
“Blackmail and piracy,” said Chinn. “I can’t say I fancy going into the cave after him. What’s to be done?”
The Bhils fell back as Chinn lodged himself behind a rock with his rifle ready. Tigers, he knew, were shy beasts, but one who had been long cattle-fed in this sumptuous style might prove overbold.
“He speaks!” some one whispered from the rear. “He knows, too.”
“Well, of all the infernal cheek!” said Chinn. There was an angry growl from the cave — a direct challenge.
“Come out, then,” Chinn shouted. “Come out of that. Let’s have a look at you.”
The brute knew well enough that there was some connection between brown nude Bhils and his weekly allowance; but the white helmet in the sunlight annoyed him, and he did not approve of the voice that broke his rest. Lazily as a gorged snake, he dragged himself out of the cave, and stood yawning and blinking at the entrance. The sunlight fell upon his flat right side, and Chinn wondered. Never had he seen a tiger marked after this fashion. Except for his head, which was staringly barred, he was dappled — not striped, but dappled like a child’s rocking-horse in rich shades of smoky black on red gold. That portion of his belly and throat which should have been white was orange, and his tail and paws were black.
He looked leisurely for some ten seconds, and then deliberately lowered his head, his chin dropped and drawn in, staring intently at the man. The effect of this was to throw forward the round arch of his skull, with two broad bands across it, while below the bands glared the unwinking eyes; so that, head on, as he stood, he showed something like a diabolically scowling pantomime-mask. It was a piece of natural mesmerism that he had practised many times on his quarry, and though Chinn was by no means a terrified heifer, he stood for a while, held by the extraordinary oddity of the attack. The head — the body seemed to have been packed away behind it — the ferocious, skull-like head, crept nearer to the switching of an angry tail-tip in the grass. Left and right the Bhils had scattered to let John Chinn subdue his own horse.”My word!” he thought. “He’s trying to frighten me!” and fired between the saucer-like eyes, leaping aside upon the shot.
A big coughing mass, reeking of carrion, bounded past him up the hill, and he followed discreetly. The tiger made no attempt to turn into the jungle; he was hunting for sight and breath — nose up, mouth open, the tremendous fore-legs scattering the gravel in spurts.
“Scuppered!” said John Chinn, watching the flight. “Now if he was a partridge he’d tower. Lungs must be full of blood.”
The brute had jerked himself over a boulder and fallen out of sight the other side. John Chinn looked over with a ready barrel. But the red trail led straight as an arrow even to his grandfather’s tomb, and there, among the smashed spirit-bottles and the fragments of the mud image, the life left, with a flurry and a grunt.
“If my worthy ancestor could see that,” said John Chinn, “he’d have been proud of me. Eyes, lower jaw, and lungs. A very nice shot.” He whistled for Bukta as he drew the tape over the stiffening bulk.
“Ten — six — eight — by Jove! It’s nearly eleven — call it eleven. Fore-arm, twenty-four — five — seven and a half. A short tail, too: three feet one. But what a skin! Oh, Bukta! Bukta! The men with the knives swiftly.”
“Is he beyond question dead?” said an awe-stricken voice behind a rock.
“That was not the way I killed my first tiger,” said Chinn. “I did not think that Bukta would run. I had no second gun.”
“It — it is the Clouded Tiger,” said Bukta, un-heeding the taunt. “He is dead.”
Whether all the Bhils, vaccinated and unvaccinated, of the Satpuras had lain by to see the kill, Chinn could not say; but the whole hill’s flank rustled with little men, shouting, singing, and stamping. And yet, till he had made the first cut in the splendid skin, not a man would take a knife; and, when the shadows fell, they ran from the red-stained tomb, and no persuasion would bring them back till dawn. So Chinn spent a second night in the open, guarding the carcass from jackals, and thinking about his ancestor.
He returned to the lowlands to the triumphal chant of an escorting army three hundred strong, the Mahratta vaccinator close at his elbow, and the rudely dried skin a trophy before him. When that army suddenly and noiselessly disappeared, as quail in high corn, he argued he was near civilisation, and a turn in the road brought him upon the camp of a wing of his own corps. He left the skin on a cart-tail for the world to see, and sought the Colonel.
“They’re perfectly right,” he explained earnestly. “There isn’t an ounce of vice in ’em. They were only frightened. I’ve vaccinated the whole boiling, and they like it awfully. What are — what are we doing here, sir?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” said the Colonel. “I don’t know yet whether we’re a piece of a brigade or a police force. However, I think we’ll call ourselves a police force. How did you manage to get a Bhil vaccinated?”
“Well, sir,” said Chinn, “ I’ve been thinking it over, and, as far as I can make out, I’ve got a sort of hereditary influence over ’em.”
“So I know, or I wouldn’t have sent you; but what, exactly?”
“It’s rather rummy. It seems, from what I can make out, that I’m my own grandfather reincarnated, and I’ve been disturbing the peace of the country by riding a pad-tiger of nights. If I hadn’t done that, I don’t think they’d have objected to the vaccination; but the two together were more than they could stand. And so, sir, I’ve vaccinated ’em, and shot my tiger-horse as a sort o’ proof of good faith. You never saw such a skin in your life.”
The Colonel tugged his moustache thought-fully. “Now, how the deuce,” said he, “am I to include that in my report?”
Indeed, the official version of the Bhils’ anti-vaccination stampede said nothing about Lieutenant John Chinn, his godship. But Bukta knew, and the corps knew, and every Bhil in the Satpura hills knew.
And now Bukta is zealous that John Chinn shall swiftly be wedded and impart his powers to a son; for if the Chinn succession fails, and the little Bhils are left to their own imaginings, there will be fresh trouble in the Satpuras.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56