“IT IS a queer name,” Mrs. Strickland admitted, “and none of our family have ever borne it, but, you see, he is the first man to us.”
So he was called Adam, and to that world about him he was the first of men—a man-child alone. Heaven sent him no Eve for a companion, but all earth, horse and foot, was at his feet. As soon as he was old enough to appear in public, he held a levée; and Strickland’s sixty policemen, with their sixty clanking sabres, bowed to the dust before him. When his fingers closed a little on Imam Din’s sword-hilt, they rose and roared—till Adam roared, too, and was withdrawn.
“Now, that was no cry of fear,” said Imam Din, afterwards, speaking to his companions in the Police Lines. “He was angry—and so young! Brothers, he will make a very strong Police officer.”
“Does the Memsahib give him the breast?” said a new Phillour recruit, the dye smell not yet out of his yellow cotton uniform.
“Ho!” said an up-country Naik, scornfully. “It has not been known for more than ten days that my woman suckles him.” He curled his moustaches as lordly as ever an Inspector could afford to do, for he knew that the husband of the foster-mother of the son of the District Superintendent of Police was a man sure of consideration.
“I am glad,” said Imam Din, loosening his belt. “Those who drink our blood become of our own blood, and I have seen, in these thirty years, that the sons of the Sahibs, once being born here, return when they are men. Yes, they return after they have been to Belait [Europe].”
“And what do they do in Belait?” asked the recruit, respectfully.
“Get instruction—which thou hast not,” returned the Naik. “Also they drink of belaitee-panee [soda-water], enough to give them that devil’s restlessness which endures for all their lives. Whence we of Hind have trouble.”
“My father’s uncle,” said Imam Din, slowly, with importance, “was Ressaldar of the Long Coat Horse; and the Empress called him to Belait in the year that she had accomplished fifty years of rule. He said (and there were also other witnesses) that the Sahibs there drink common water, even as do we; and that the belaitee-panee does not run in all the rivers.
“He said also that there was a Shish Mahal—half a glass palace—half a koss in length and that the rail-gharri ran under the roads, and that there are boats bigger than a village. He is a great talker.” The Naik spoke scornfully. He had no well-born uncles.
“He is a man of good birth,” said Imam Din, with the least possible emphasis on the first word, and the Naik was silent.
“Ho! ho!” Imam Din reached out to his pipe, chuckling until his fat sides shook again. “Strickland Sahib’s foster-mother was the wife of an Arain in the Ferozepur district. I was a young man then, ploughing while the English fought. This child will also be suckled here, and he will have double wisdom, and when he is a Police officer it will be very bad for the thieves in this illakha.”
“There will be no English in the land then. They are asking permission of clerks and low-caste men to continue their rule even now,” said the Naik.
“All but foolish men—such as those clerks are—would know that this asking is but an excuse for making trouble, and thus holding the country more strictly. Now, in an investigation, is it not our custom to permit the villagers to talk loosely and give us abuse for a little time? Then do we not grow hot, and walk them to the thana two by two—as these clerks will be walked? Thus do I read the new talk.”
“So do not I,” said the Naik, who borrowed the native newspapers.
“Because thou art young, and wast born in time of peace. I saw the year that was to end the English rule. Men said it was ended, indeed, and that all could now take their neighbour’s cattle. This I saw ploughing, and I was minded to fight too, being a young man. My father sent me to Gurgaon to buy cattle, and I saw the tents of Van Corlin Sahib in the wheat, and I saw that he was going up and down collecting the revenue, neither abating nor increasing it, though Delhi was all afire, and the Sahibs lay dead about the fields. I have seen what I have seen. This Raj will not be talked down; and he who builds on the present madness of the Sahib-log, which, O Naik, covers great cunning, builds for himself a lock-up. My father’s uncle has seen their country, and he says that he is afraid as never he feared before. So Strickland Sahib’s boy will come back to this country, and his son after him. Naik, have they named him yet?”
“The butler spoke to my household, having heard the talk at table, and he says that they will call him Adam, and no jaw-splitting English name. Ud-daam. The padre will name him at their church in due time.”
“Who can tell the ways of Sahibs? Now, Strickland Sahib knows more of the Faith than ever I had time to learn—prayers, charms, names, and stories of the Blessed Ones. Yet he is not a Musalman,” said Imam Din, thoughtfully.
“For the reason that he knows as much of the gods of Hindustan, and so rides with a rein in each hand. Remember that he sat under the Baba Atall, a fakir among fakirs, for ten days: whereby a man came to be hanged for the murder of the dancing-girl on the night of the great earthquake,” said the Naik.
“True—it is true—and yet . . . they are one day so wise, the Sahibs, and another so foolish. But he has named the child well: Adam. Huzrut Adam! Ho! ho! Father Adam we must call him.”
“And all who minister to the child,” said the Naik, quietly, but with meaning, “will come to great honour.”
Adam throve, being prayed over before the gods of at least three creeds, in a garden almost as fair as Eden. There were gigantic clumps of bamboo that talked continually, and enormous plantains on whose soft paper skin he could scratch with his nails; green domes of mango-trees as huge as the dome of St. Paul’s, full of parrots as big as cassowaries, and grey squirrels the size of foxes. At the end of the garden stood a hedge of flaming poinsettias higher than any-thing in the world, because, childlike, Adam’s eye could not carry to the tops of the mango-trees. Their green went out against the blue sky, but the red poinsettias he could just see. A nurse who talked continually about snakes and pulled him back from the mouth of a fascinating dry well, and a mother who believed that the sun hurt little heads, were the only drawbacks to this loveliness. But, as his legs grew under him, he found that by scaling an enormous rampart—three feet of broken-down mud wall at the end of the garden—he could come into a ready-made kingdom where every one was his slave. Imam Din showed him the way one evening, and the police troopers cooking their supper received him with rapture, and gave him pieces of very indigestible but altogether delightful spiced bread.
Here he sat or sprawled in the horse-feed where the police horses were picketed in a double line, and he named them, men and beasts together, according to his ideas and experiences, as his First Father had done before him. In those days everything had a name, from the mud mangers to the heel-ropes; for things were people to Adam, exactly as people are things to folk in their second childhood. Through all the conferences—one hand twisted into Imam Din’s beard, and the other on his polished belt-buckle—there were two other people who came and went across the talk—Death and Sickness—persons stronger than Imam Din, and stronger than the heel-roped stallions. There was Mata, the small-pox, a woman in some way connected with pigs; and Heza, the cholera, a black man, according to Adam; and Booka, starvation; and Kismet, who quietly settled all questions, from the choking of a pet mungoose in the kitchen drain, to the absence of a young policeman who once missed a parade and never came back. It was all very wonderful to Adam, but not worth much thinking over; for a child’s mind is bounded by his eyes exactly as a horse’s view of the road is limited by blinkers. Between all these objectionable shadowy vagrants stood a ring of kind faces and strong arms, and Mata and Heza would never touch Adam, the first of men. Kismet might do so, because—and this was a mystery no staring into the looking-glass would solve—Kismet, who was a man, was also written, like police orders for the day, in or on Adam’s head. Imam Din could not explain how this might be, and it was from that grey fat Muhammadan that Adam learned through every inflection the Khuda janta [God knows] that settled everything in his mind.
Beyond the fact that “Khuda” [God] was a very good man and kept lions, Adam’s theology did not run far. Mrs. Strickland tried to teach him a few facts, but he revolted at the story of Genesis as untrue. A turtle, he said, upheld the world, and one-half the adventures of Huzrut Nu [Father Noah] had never been told. If Mamma wanted to hear them, she must ask Imam Din. Adam had heard of a saint who had made wooden cakes and pressed them to his stomach when he felt hungry, and the Feeding of the Multitude did not impress him. So it came about that a reading of miracle stories generally ended in a monologue by Adam on other and much more astonishing miracles.
“It’s awful,” said Mrs. Strickland, half crying, “to think of his growing up like a little heathen.” Mrs. Strickland (Miss Youghal that was, if you remember her) had been born and brought up in England, and did not quite understand things.
“Let him alone,” said Strickland; “he’ll grow out of it all, or it will only come back to him in dreams.”
“Are you sure?” said his wife, to whom Strickland’s least word was pure truth.
“Quite. I was sent home when I was seven, and they flicked it out of me with a wet towel at Harrow. Public schools don’t encourage anything that isn’t quite English.”
Mrs. Strickland shuddered, for she had been trying not to think of the separation that follows motherhood in India, and makes life there, for all that is written to the contrary, not quite the most desirable thing in the world. Adam trotted out to hear about more miracles, and his nurse must have worried him beyond bounds, for she came back weeping, saying that Adam Baba was in danger of being eaten alive by wild horses.
As a matter of fact, he had shaken off Juma by bolting between a couple of picketed horses and lying down under their bellies. That they were personal friends of his, Juma did not understand, nor Strickland either. Adam was settled at ease when his father arrived, breathless and white, and the stallions put back their ears and squealed.
“If you come here,” said Adam, “they will hit you kicks. Tell Juma I have eaten my rice and wish to be alone.”
“Come out at once,” said Strickland, for the horses were beginning to paw violently.
“Why should I obey Juma’s order? She is afraid of horses.”
“It is not Juma’s order. It is mine. Obey!”
“Ho!” said Adam, “Juma did not tell me that.” And he crawled out on all fours among the shod feet. Mrs. Strickland was crying bitterly with fear and excitement, and as a sacrifice to the home gods Adam had to be whipped. He said with perfect justice:—
“There was no order that I should not sit with the horses, and they are my horses. Why is there this tamasha [fuss]?”
Strickland’s face showed him that the whipping was coming, and the child turned white. Mother-like, Mrs. Strickland left the room, but Juma, the foster-mother, stayed to see.
“Am I to be whipped here?” he gasped.
“Before that woman? Father, I am a man—I am not afraid. It is my izzat—my honour.”
Strickland only laughed (to this day I cannot imagine what possessed him), and gave Adam the little tap-tap with a riding-cane that was whipping sufficient for his years.
When it was all over, Adam said quietly: “I am little, and you are big. If I stayed among my horse folk I should not have been whipped. You are afraid to go there.”
The merest chance led me to Strickland’s house that afternoon. When I was half-way down the drive Adam passed me, without recognition, at a fast run. I caught one glimpse of his face under his big hat, and it was the face of his father as I had once seen that in the grey of morning when it bent above a leper. I caught the child by the shoulder.
“Let me go!” he screamed, and he and I were the best of friends, as a rule. “Let me go!”
“Where to, Father Adam?” He was quivering like a new-haltered colt.
“To the well. I have been beaten. I have been beaten before women! Let me go!” He tried to bite my hand.
“That is a small matter,” I said. “Men are born to beatings.”
“Thou hast never been beaten,” he said savagely.
“Indeed I have. Times past counting.”
“My mother and the ayah saw. By women too, for that matter. What of it?”
“What didst thou do?” He stared beyond my shoulder up the long drive.
“It is long ago, and I have forgotten. I was older than thou art; but even then I forgot, and now the thing is but a jest to be talked of”
Adam drew one big breath and broke down utterly in my arms. Then he raised his head, and his eyes were Strickland’s eyes when Strickland gave orders.
“Ho! Imam Din.”
The fat orderly seemed to spring out of the earth at our feet, crashing through the bushes, and standing to attention.
“Hast thou ever been beaten?” said Adam.
“Assuredly. By my father when I was thirty years old. He beat me with a plough-beam before all the women of the village.”
“Because I had returned to the village on leave from the Government service, and had said of the village elders that they had not seen the world. Therefore he beat me, to show that no seeing of the world changed father and son.”
“I stood up. He was my father.”
“Good,” said Adam, and turned on his heel without another word.
Imam Din looked after him. “An elephant breeds but once in a lifetime, but he breeds elephants. Yet I am glad I am no father of tuskers,” said he.
“What is it all?” I asked.
“His father beat him with a whip no bigger than a reed. But the child could not have done what he desired to do without leaping through me. And I am of some few pounds weight. Look!”
Imam Din stepped back through the bushes, and the pressed grass showed that he had been lying curled round the mouth of the dry well.
“When there was talk of beating I knew that one who sat among horses, such as ours, was not like to kiss his father’s hand. So I lay down in this place.” We both stood still looking at the well-curb.
Adam came back along the garden path to us. “I have spoken to my father,” he said simply. “Imam Din, tell thy Naik that his woman is dismissed my service.”
“Huzoor! [Your Highness!]” said Imam Din, stooping low.
“For no fault of hers.”
“Protector of the Poor!”
“It is an order! Go!”
Again the salute, and Imam Din departed, with that same set of the back which he wore when he had taken an order from Strickland. I thought that it would be well to go too, but Strickland beckoned me from the verandah. When I came up he was perfectly white, and rocking to and fro in his chair, repeated “Good God!” half a dozen times.
“Do you know that he was going to chuck himself down the well—because I tapped him just now?” he said helplessly.
“I ought to,” I replied. “He has just dismissed his nurse—on his own authority, I suppose?”
“He told me just now that he wouldn’t have her for a nurse any more. I never supposed he meant it for an instant. I suppose she’ll have to go.”
It is written elsewhere that Strickland was feared through the length and breadth of the Punjab by murderers, horse-thieves, and cattle-lifters.
Adam returned, halting outside the verandah, very white about the lips.
“I have sent away Juma because she saw that—that which happened. Until she is gone I do not come in the house,” he said.
“But to send away thy foster-mother—” said Strickland, with reproach.
“I do not send her away. It is thy blame, and the small forefinger was pointed to Strickland. “I will not obey her; I will not eat from her hand, and I will not sleep with her. Send her away.”
Strickland stepped out and lifted the child into the verandah.
“This folly has lasted long enough,” he said. “Come, now, and be wise.”
“I am little, and you are big,” said Adam, between set teeth. “You can beat me before this man or cut me to pieces. But I will not have Juma for my ayah any more. I will not eat till she goes. I swear it by—my father’s head.”
Strickland sent him indoors to his mother, and we could hear sounds of weeping, and Adam’s voice saying nothing more than, “Send Juma away.” Presently Juma came in and wept too, and Adam repeated, “It is no fault of thine, but go!”
And the end of it was that Juma went, with all her belongings, and Adam fought his own way alone into his little clothes until a new ayah came. His address of welcome to her was rather amazing. In a few words it ran: “If I do wrong send me to my father. If you strike me I will try to kill you. I do not wish my ayah to play with me. Go and eat rice.”
From that day Adam forswore the society of ayahs and small native girls as much as a small boy can, confining himself to Imam Din and his friends of the police. The Naik, Juma’s husband, had been presuming not a little on his position, and when Adam’s favour was withdrawn from his wife he judged it best to apply for a transfer to another post. There were too many companions anxious to report his shortcomings to Strickland.
Towards his father Adam kept a guarded neutrality. There was not a touch of sulkiness in it, for the child’s temper was as clear as a bell. But the difference and the politeness worried Strickland.
If the other men had loved Adam before the affair of the well, they worshipped him now.
“He knows what honour means,” said Imam Din; “he has justified himself upon a point thereof. He has carried an order through his father’s household as a child of the blood might do. Therefore he is not altogether a child any longer. Wah! He is a tiger’s cub.” The next time that Adam made his little unofficial inspection of the line, Imam Din, and by consequence all the others, stood upon their feet, with their hands to their sides, instead of calling out from where they lay, “Salaam, Babajee,” and other disrespectful things.
But Strickland took long counsel with his wife, and she with the cheque-book and their lean bank-account, and they decided that Adam must go “home” to his aunts. But England is not home to a child that has been born in India, and it never becomes home-like unless he spends all his youth there. The bank-book showed that if they economised through the summer by going to a cheap hill-station instead of to Simla, where Mrs. Strickland’s parents lived, and where Strickland might be noticed by the powers, they could send Adam home in the next spring. It would be hard pinching, but it could be done. In India all the money that people in other lands save against a rainy day runs off in loss by exchange, which today cuts a man’s income down almost exactly to one-half. There is nothing to show for money when all is put by, and that is what makes married life there so hard. Strickland used to say, sometimes, that he envied the convicts in the jail. They had no position to keep up, and the ball and chain that the worst of them wore was only a few pounds weight of iron.
Dalhousie was chosen as being the cheapest of the hill-stations;—Dalhousie and a little five-roomed cottage full of mildew, tucked away among the rhododendrons.
Adam had been to Simla three or four times, and knew by name the most of the Tonga drivers from Kalka to Tara Deva; but this new plan disquieted him. He came to me for information, his hands deep in his knickerbocker pockets, walking, step for step, as his father walked.
“There will be none of my bhai-bund [Brotherhood] up there,” said he, disconsolately, “and they say that I must lie still in a doolie [palanquin] for a day and a night, being carried like a sheep. I wish to take some of my mounted men to Dalhousie.”
I told him that there was a small boy called Victor, at Dalhousie, who had a calf for a pet, and was allowed to play with it on the public roads. After that Adam could not sufficiently hurry the packing.
“First,” said he, “I shall ask that man Victor to let me play with the cow’s child. If he is muggra [ill-conditioned] I shall tell my policemen to take it away.”
“But that is unjust,” said Strickland, “and there is no order that the Police should do injustice.”
“When the Government pay is not sufficient, and low-caste men are promoted, what can an honest man do?” he replied, in the very touch and accent of Imam Din, and Strickland’s eyebrows went up.
“You talk too much to the Police, my son,” he said.
“Always, about everything,” said Adam, promptly. “They say that when I am an officer I shall know as much as my father.”
“God forbid, little one!”
“They say, too, that you are as clever as Shaitan [the Evil One] to know things.”
“They say that, do they?” said Strickland, looking pleased. His pay was small, but he had his reputation, and that was dear to him.
“They say also—not to me, but to one another when they eat rice behind the wall—that in your own heart you esteem yourself as wise as Suleiman [Solomon], who was cheated by Shaitan.”
This time Strickland did not look so pleased. Adam, in all innocence, launched into a long story about Suleiman-bin-Daoud, who once, out of vanity, pitted his wits against Shaitan, and because God was not on his side Shaitan sent “a little devil of low caste,” as Adam put it, who cheated him utterly, and put him to shame before “all the other Rajas.”
“By Jove!” said Strickland, when the tale was done, and went away, while Adam took me to task for laughing at Imam Din’s story. I did not wonder that he was called Huzrut Adam, for he looked old as all time in his grave childhood, sitting cross-legged, his battered little helmet far at the back of his head, his forefinger wagging up and down, native fashion, and the wisdom of serpents on his unconscious lips.
That May he went up to Dalhousie with his mother, and in those days the journey ended in fifty or sixty miles of uphill travel in a doolie or palanquin, along a road winding through the Himalayas. Adam sat in the doolie with his mother,and Strickland rode and tied with me, a spare doolie following. The march began after we got out of the train at Pathankot, in a hot night among the rice and poppy fields.
It was all new to Adam, and he had opinions to advance—notably about a fish that jumped on a wayside pond. “Now I know,” he shouted, “how Khuda puts them there. First He makes them and then He drops them down. That was a new one.” Then, lifting his head to the stars, he cried, “O God, do it again, but slowly, that I, Adam, may see.”
But nothing happened, and the doolie-bearers lit the noisome, dripping rag torches, and Adam’s eyes shone big in the dancing light, and we smelt the dry dust of the plains that we were leaving after eleven months’ hard work.
At stated times the men ceased their drowsy, grunting tune, and sat down for a smoke. Between the guttering of their water-pipes we could hear the cries of the beasts of the night, and the wind stirring in the folds of the mountain ahead. At the changing stations the voice of Adam, the first of men, would be lifted to rouse the sleepers in the huts till the fresh relays of bearers shambled from their cots, and the relief-pony with them.
Then we would re-form and go on, and by the time the moon rose Adam was asleep, and there was no sound in the night except the grunting of the men, the husky murmur of some river a thousand feet down in the valley, and the squeaking of Strickland’s saddle. So we went up from the date-palm to deodar, till the dawn wind came round a corner all fresh from the snows, and we snuffed it. I heard Strickland say: “Wife, my overcoat, please,” and Adam, fretfully: “Where is Dalhousie, and the cow’s child?” and then I slept till Strickland turned me out of the warm doolie at seven o’clock, and I stepped into the splendour of a cool hill day, the plains sweltering twenty miles back and three thousand feet below. Adam waked too, and needs must ride in front of me to ask a million questions, and shout at the monkeys, and clap his hands when the painted pheasants bolted across our road, and hail every wood-cutter and drover and pilgrim within sight, till we halted for breakfast at a staging-house. After breakfast, being a child, he went out to play with a train of bullock-drivers haltered by the road-side, and we had to chase him out of a native liquor-shop where he was bargaining with a naked seven-year-old for a mynah in a bamboo cage.
Said he, wriggling on my pommel, as we went on again: “There were four men behosh [insensible] at the back of that house. Wherefore do men grow behosh from drinking?”
“It is the nature of the water,” I said, and calling back: “Strick, what’s that grog-shop doing so close to the road? It’s a temptation to any one’s servants.”
“Dunno,” said a sleepy voice in the doolie. “This is Kennedy’s district. ’Twasn’t here in my time.”
“Truly the water smells bad,” Adam went on. “I smelt it, but I did not get the mynah even for six annas. The woman of the house gave me a love-gift, that I found, playing near the verandah.”
“And what was the gift, Father Adam?”
“A nose-ring for my ayah. Ohé! ohé! Look at that camel with a bag on his nose.”
A string of loaded camels came cruising round the corner, as a fleet rounds a cape.
“Ho, Malik! why does not a camel salaam like an elephant? His neck is long enough,” Adam cried.
“The Angel Jibrail made him a fool from the beginning,” said the driver, as he swayed on the top of the led beast, and laughter ran all along the line of red-bearded men.
“That is true,” said Adam, and they laughed again.
At last, in the late afternoon, we came to Dalhousie, loveliest of the hill-stations, and separated.Adam hardly could be restrained from setting out at once to find Victor and the “cow’s child.” I found them both, something to my trouble, next morning. The two young sinners had a calf on a taut line just at a sharp turn in the Mall, and were pretending that he was a Raja’s elephant who had gone mad. But it was my horse that nearly went mad, and they shouted with delight. Then we began to talk, and Adam, by way of crushing Victor’s repeated reminders that he and not “that other” was the owner of the calf, said: “It is true I have no cow’s child, but a great dacoity [robbery] has been done on my father.”
“We came up together yesterday. There could have been nothing,” I said.
“It was my mother’s horse. She has been dacoited with beating and blows, and now it is so thin.” He held his hands an inch apart. “My father is at the tar-house sending tars. Imam Din will cut off all their heads. I desire your saddle-cloth for a howdah to my elephant. Give it me.”
This was exciting, but not lucid. I went to the telegraph-office and found Strickland in a bad temper among many telegraph-forms. A dishevelled, one-eyed groom stood in a corner, whimpering at intervals. He was a man whom Adam invariably addressed as “Be-shakl be-ukl, be-ank” [ugly, stupid, eyeless]. It seemed, according to Strickland, that he had sent his wife’s horse up to Dalhousie by road, a fortnight’s march. This is the custom in Upper India. Among the foot-hills near Dhunnera or Dhar, horse and man had been violently set upon in the night by four men, who had beaten the groom (his leg was bandaged from knee to ankle in proof), had incidentally beaten the horse, and had robbed the groom of the bucket, and all his money eleven rupees, nine annas, three pie. Last, they had left him for dead by the wayside, where wood-cutters had found and nursed him. Then the one-eyed howled with anguish, thinking over his bruises. “They asked me if I was Strickland Sahib’s servant, and I, thinking the protection of the name would be sufficient, spoke the truth. Then they beat me grievously.”
“Hm!” said Strickland. “I thought they wouldn’t dacoit as a business on the Dalhousie road. This is meant for me personally—sheer badmashi [impudence]. All right.”
In justice to a very hard-working class, it must be said that the thieves of Upper India have the keenest sense of humour. The last compliment that they can pay a Police officer is to rob him, and if, as once they did, they can loot a Deputy Inspector-General of Police, on the eve of his retirement, of everything except the clothes on his back, their joy is complete. They cause letters of derision and telegrams of condolence to be sent to the victim; for of all men, thieves are most compelled to keep up with modern progress.
Strickland was a man of few words where his business was concerned. I had never seen a Police officer robbed before, and I expected some excitement; but Strickland held his tongue. He took the groom’s deposition and retired into himself for a time, evolving thieves. Then he sent Kennedy, of the Pathankot charge, an official letter and an unofficial note. Kennedy’s reply was purely unofficial, and it ran thus: “This seems a compliment solely intended for you. My wonder is, you didn’t get it before. The men are probably back in your district by this time. The Dhunnera and foot-hill people are highly respectable cultivators, and seeing my Assistant is an unlicked pup, and I can’t trust my Inspector out of my sight, I am not going to turn their harvest upside down with a police investigation. I am run off my feet with vaccination police work. You’d better look at home. The Shubkudder Gang were through here a fortnight back. They laid up at the Amritsar Serai, and then worked down. No cases against them in my charge, but remember you lagged their malik for receiving in Prub Dyal’s burglary. They owe you one.”
“Exactly what I thought,” said Strickland. “I had a notion it was the Shubkudder Gang from the first. We must make it pleasant for them at Peshawur, and in my district too. They are just the kind that would lie up under Imam Din’s shadow.”
From this point onward the wires began to he worked heavily. Strickland had a very fair knowledge of the Shubkudder Gang, gathered at first hand.
They were the same syndicate that had once stolen a Deputy Commissioner’s cow, put horse-shoes on her, and taken her forty miles into the jungle before they lost interest in the joke. They added insult to insult by writing that the Deputy Commissioner’s cows and horses were so much alike that it took them two days to find out the difference, and they would not lift the like of such cattle any more.
The District Superintendent at Peshawur replied to Strickland that he was expecting the gang, and Strickland’s Assistant in his own district, being young and full of zeal, sent up the most amazing clues.
“Now that’s just what I want that young fool not to do,” said Strickland. “He hasn’t passed the lower standard yet, and he’s an English boy born and bred, and his father before him. He has about as much tact as a bull, and he won’t work quietly under my Inspector. I wish the Government would keep our service for country-born men. Those first five or six years give a man a pull that lasts him his life. Adam, if you were only old enough to be my ‘Stunt’!” He looked down at the little fellow on the verandah. Adam was deeply interested in the dacoity, and, unlike a child, did not lose interest after the first week. On the contrary, he would ask his father every evening what had been done, and Strickland had drawn him a picture on the white wall of the verandah showing the different towns in which policemen were on the lookout for the thieves. They were Amritsar, Jullundur, Phillour, Gurgaon, in case the gang were moving south; Rawal Pindi and Peshawur, with Multan. Adam looked up at the picture as he answered—
“There has been great dikh [trouble] in this case.”
“Very great trouble. I wish thou wert a young man and my assistant to help me.”
“Dost thou need help, my father?” Adam asked curiously, with his head on one side.
“Leave it all alone. It is bad. Let loose everything.”
“That must not be. Those beginning a business continue to the end.”
“Thou wilt continue to the end? Dost thou not know who did the dacoity?”
Strickland shook his head. Adam turned to me with the same question, and I answered it in the same way.
“What foolish people!” he said, and turned his back on us. He showed plainly in all our dealings afterwards how we had fallen in his opinion. Strickland told me that he would sit at the door of his work-room and stare at him for half an hour at a time as he went through his papers. Strickland seemed to work harder over the case than if he had been in office on the plains.
“And sometimes I look up and I fancy the little chap’s laughing at me. It’s an awful thing to have a son. You see, he’s your own and his own, and between the two you don’t know quite how to handle him,” said Strickland. “I wonder what in the world he thinks about?”
I asked Adam this on my own account. He put his head on one side for a moment and replied: “In these days I think about great things; I do not play with Victor and the cow’s child any more. He is only a baba.”
At the end of the third week of Strickland’s leave the result of Strickland’s labours—labours that had made Mrs. Strickland more indignant against dacoits than any one else—came to hand. The police at Peshawur reported that half the Shubkudder Gang were held at Peshawur to account for the possession of some blankets and a horse-bucket. Strickland’s Assistant had also four men under suspicion in his charge; and Imam Din must have stirred up Strickland’s Inspector to investigations on his own account, for a string of incoherent telegrams came in from the Club Secretary, in which he entreated, exhorted, and commanded Strickland to take his “mangy havildars” off the club premises. “Your men, in servants’ quarters here, examining cook. Marker indignant. Steward threatens resignation. Members furious. Saises stopped on roads. Shut up, or my resignation goes to committee.”
“Now, I shouldn’t in the least wonder,” said Strickland, thoughtfully, to his wife, “if the club was not just the place where a man would lie up. Bill Watson isn’t at all pleased, though. I think I shall have to cut my leave by a week and go down there. If there’s anything to be told, the men will tell me. It will never do for the gang to think they can dacoit my belongings.”
That was in the forenoon, and Strickland asked me to tiff in to leave me some instructions about his big dog, with authority to rebuke those who did not attend to her. Tietens was growing too old and too fat to live in the plains in summer. When I came, Adam had climbed into his high chair at the table, and Mrs. Strickland seemed ready to weep at any moment over the general misery of things.
“I go down the hill tomorrow, little son,” said Strickland.
“Wherefore?” said Adam, reaching out for a ripe mango and burying his head in it.
“Imam Din has caught the men who did the dacoity, and there are also others at Peshawur under suspicion. I must go to see.”
“Bus! [enough]” said Adam, between the sucks at his mango, as Mrs. Strickland tucked the napkin round his neck. “It is enough. Imam Din speaks lies. Do not go.”
“It is necessary. There has been great dikh-dari (trouble-giving].”
Adam came out of the fruit for a minute and laughed. Then, returning, he spoke between slow and deliberate mouthfuls.
“The dacoits live in Beshakl’s head. They will never be caught. All people know that. The cook knows, and the scullion, and Rahim Baksh here.”
“Nay,” said the butler behind his chair, hastily. “What should I know? Nothing at all does the servant of the Presence know.”
“Accha [good],” said Adam, and sucked on. “Only it is known.”
“Speak, then,” said Strickland. “What dost thou know? Remember the sais was beaten insensible.”
“That was in the bad-water shop where I played when we came here. The boy who would not sell me the mynah [parrot] for six annas told me that a one-eyed man had come there and drunk the bad waters and gone mad. He broke bedsteads. They hit him with a bamboo till he fell senseless, and, fearing he was dead, they nursed him on milk—like a little baba. When I was playing first with the cow’s child I asked Beshakl if he were that man, and he said no. But I knew, because many wood-cutters asked him whether his head were whole now.”
“But why,” I interrupted, “did Beshakl tell lies?”
“Oh! He is a low-caste man, and desired consideration. Now he is a witness in a great law-case, and men will go to the jail-khana on his account. It was to give trouble and obtain notice.”
“Was it all lies?” said Strickland,
“Ask him,” said Adam, cheerily, through the mango-juice.
Strickland passed through the door; there was a howl of despair in the servants’ quarters up the hill, and he returned with the one-eyed groom.
“Now,” said Strickland, “it is known. Declare!”
“Beshakl,” said Adam, while the man gasped. “Imam Din has caught four men, and there are some more at Peshawur. Bus! Bus! Bus! Tell about the mare and how she rolled.”
“Thou didst get drunk by the wayside, and didst make a false case to cover it. Speak!”
Like many other men, Strickland, in possession of a few facts, was irresistible. The groom groaned.
“I—I did not get drunk—till—till—Protector of the Poor, the mare rolled.”
“All horses roll at Dhunnera. The road is too narrow before that, and they smell where the other horses have rolled. This the bullock-drivers told me when they came there,” said Adam.
“She rolled. The saddle was cut, and the curb-chain was lost.”
“See!” said Adam, tugging a curb-chain from his pocket. “That woman in the shop gave it to me for a love-gift. Beshakl said it was not his when I showed it. But I knew.”
“Then they in the grog-shop, knowing that I was the servant of the Presence, said that unless I drank and spent money they would tell.”
“A lie. A lie,” said Strickland. “Son of an owl, speak truth now at least.”
“Then I was afraid because I had lost the curb-chain, so I cut the saddle across and about.”
“She did not roll, then?” said Strickland, bewildered and very angry.
“It was the curb-chain that was lost. That was the beginning of all. I cut the saddle to look as though she had rolled, and went to drink in the shop. I drank, and there was a fray. The rest I have forgotten, till I was recovered.”
“And the mare the while? What of the mare?”
The man looked at Strickland, and collapsed. “I will speak truth.
“She bore fagots for a wood-cutter for a week.”
“Oh, poor Diamond!” said Mrs. Strickland.
“And Beshaki was paid four annas for her hire three days ago by the wood-cutter’s brother, who is the left-hand man of the jhampanis here,” said Adam, in a loud and joyful voice. “We all knew. We all knew. I and all the servants.”
Strickland was silent. His wife stared helplessly at the child—the soul called out of the Nowhere, that went its own way alone.
“Did no man help thee with the lies?” I asked of the groom.
“None, Protector of the Poor—not one.”
“They grew, then?”
“As a tale grows in the telling. Alas! I am a very bad man,” and he blinked his one eye dole-fully.
“Now four men are held at my station on thy account, and God knows how many more at Peshawur, besides the questions at Multan, and my izzat is lost, and the mare has been pack-pony to a wood-cutter. Son of devils, what canst thou do to make amends?”
There was just a little break in Strickland’s voice, and the man caught it. Bending low, he answered in the abject, fawning whine that confounds right and wrong more surely even than most modern creeds, “Protector of the Poor, is the police service shut to—an honest man?”
“Out!” cried Strickland, and swiftly as the groom departed he must have heard our shout of laughter behind him.
“If you dismiss that man, Strick, I shall engage him. He’s a genius,” I said. “It will take you months to put this mess right, and Billy Watson won’t give you a minute’s peace.”
“You aren’t going to tell him?” said Strickland, appealingly.
“I couldn’t keep this to myself if you were my own brother. Four men held in your district—four or forty at Peshawur—and what was that you said about Multan?”
“Oh, nothing. Only some camel men there have been—”
“On account of a curb-chain. Oh, my aunt!”
“And whose memsahib was thy aunt?” said Adam, with the mango stone in his fist. We began to laugh again.
“But here,” said Strickland, pulling his face together, “is a very bad child who has caused his father to lose honour before all the policemen of the Punjab.”
“Oh, they know,” said Adam. “It was only for the sake of show that they caught the people. Assuredly they all knew it was benowti [make-up].”
“And since when hast thou known?” said the first policeman in India to his son.
“Four days after we came here—after the wood-cutter had asked Beshakl of the health of his head. Beshaki all but slew a wood-cutter at that bad-water place.”
“If thou hadst spoken then, time and money and trouble to me and to others had all been spared. Baba, thou hast done a wrong greater than thy knowledge, and thou hast put me to shame, and set me out upon false words, and broken my honour. Thou hast done very wrong. But perhaps thou didst not think?”
“Nay, but I did think. Father, my honour was lost when that happened that—that happened in Juma’s presence. Now it is made whole again.”
And, with the most enchanting smile in the world, Adam climbed on to his father’s lap.