TALES OF THE PSYCHIC
TALES OF THE PSYCHIC
Author of "The Trail of the Beast"
"The Honorable Gentleman and Others"
"The Man On Horseback," Etc., etc.
THE JAMES A. McCANN COMPANY
Copyright 1920 by
THE JAMES A. McCANN COMPANY
All Rights Reserved
Printed in U. S. A.
F. ELLIOT CABOT
"Lonely! Why should
I feel lonely? Is not
our planet in the
WINGS . . . :-, .. >. >- > >
DISAPPOINTMENT . : .. >: : > >: >: >
To BE ACCOUNTED FOR . : ..: >: : > 63
TARTAR . < >j >: > ; >: w > -
RENUNCIATION . . > : x IO 3
KRISHNAVANA, DESTROYER OF SOULS . . 115
THAT HAUNTING THING .... .. .- 1.35
THE MAN WHO LOST CASTE . ... ... . .. IS3
SILENCE , ... > .-; *: w -: w a !* l6 3
KHIZR .- >: >: [: >i w M > W M l8 3
FEAR , . >: * w w < ? m * >
LIGHT >: >: M BB- m . .oa ai w
TALES OF THE PSYCHIC
THAT Saturday night at the height of the Lon
don season when Martab Singh, Maharaja of Oney-
J)ore, made his initial bow to Belgravia in the salon
bf the Dowager Duchess of Shropshire, properly
introduced and vouched for by Sir James Spottis-
woode of the India Office, there wasn t a man in the
great scarlet and purple room, nor woman either,
who did not look up quite automatically when the
big, bearded, turbaned figure crossed the threshold
and bent over the wrinkled, perfumed hand of Her
There wasn t a person in that room and people
of all classes crowded the gossipy old duchess s
Saturday night at homes, from recently knighted,
pouchy, sharp-voiced barristers to gentlemen of the
bench who hid their baldness and their forensic
wisdom under tremendous, dusty wigs; from the
latest East African explorer returned from a six-
2 . WINGS
months unnecessary slaughter, to the stolidest nov
elist of mid-Victorian respectability; from the most
Parisianized Londoner to the most Anglified Pari
sian; from the latest shouting evangelist out of the
State of Wisconsin to the ungodly Yorkshire peer
who had varied the monotony of last year s mar
riage to, and divorce from, a Sussex dairymaid by
this year s elopement with a Gaiety chorus-girl;
from Mayfair Dives to Soho Lazarus there wasn t
a person in all that mixed assembly who did not feel
a shiver of expectation as the raja entered.
Expectation of something.
Waiting tensely, dramatically, silently, for some
"Not waiting for something to happen," Charlie
Thorneycroft put it. "Rather waiting for some
thing that had already happened, you know. Which
of course is infernal rot and asinine drivel. For
how in the name of my canonized great-grandaunt
can you wait for the future of the past tense? But
there you are !"
And Thorneycroft, of London, Calcutta, Pesha
war, Melbourne, Capetown, and the British Empire
in general, vaguely attached to some mythical diplo
matic bureau in some unknown diplomatic capacity,
would drop his monocle and look up with a sharp,
challenging stare of his ironic gray eyes, as if ex
pecting you to contradict him.
It was not that the presence of a raja, or any
other East Indian potentate or near-potentate was
an unusual occurrence in London. Rajas are more
common there than Nevada plutocrats at a Florida
resort, or black-cocks on a Yorkshire moor. Lon
don is the capital of a motley and picturesque em
pire, and pink turbans soften the foggy, sulfurous
drab of Fleet Street; lavender turbans bob up and
down the human eddy of the Burlington Arcade;
green and red and white turbans blotch the sober,
workaday atmosphere of East Croydon and
Nor was it anything in Martab Singh s appear
ance or reputation.
For, as to the first, he was good-looking in rather
a heavy, simple, bovine fashion, with two hundred
pounds of flesh and brawn carried by his six foot
two of height, his great, staring, thick-fringed,
opaque eyes, his melancholy smile, and his magnifi
cent beard, dyed red with henna, which was split
from the chin down the center and then curled up
on either side of his face so that the points, which
touched his ridiculously small ears, looked like the
horns of a combative ram.
And as to his reputation and standing, Sir James
Spottiswoode had vouched for it.
There was also Charlie Thorneycroft s drawling,
slightly saturnine corroboration.
Tremendously swanky beggar in his own coun
try/* he said to pretty, violet-eyed Victoria de
Rensen. "Descendant of the flame on his father s
side, and related to the moon on the bally distaff.
Cousin to Vishnu, Shiva, Doorgha, and what-not,
and college chum to all the assorted and hideous
divinities of the Hindu heaven. His principality is
small, barren, poor. A mixture of rocks and flies
and hairy and murderous natives. But he is the
very biggest among the bigwigs of India. To two
hundred million benighted Hindus he is the deity
Brahm, what? all the gods rolled into one and
topped by a jolly, crimson caste-mark. He s the
gods earthly representative, you know, Vic darling.
Not only that. For" he dropped his voice to a
flat whisper "this is the first time in the history
of the world hang it, before the history of the
world that a Maharaja of Oneypore has left his
"Why shouldn t he?"
"Because by leaving India he pollutes his soul, he
loses caste. And that s just why I wonder "
Quite suddenly he looked up, and his long, white
fingers gripped the girl s arm nervously.
"Did you feel it?" he whispered.
There was no need for an answer. Nor, really,
had there been need for the question in the first
For, as the raja, arm in arm with Sir James
Spottiswoode, stepped away from the door and
farther into the room, it came.
Nobody heard it. Nobody saw it or smelt it.
Nobody even felt it, either consciously or subcon
But again, through the mixed company that
crowded the duchess s salon, there passed a shiver.
A terrible, silent, hopeless shiver.
Then noises: human noises, and the relief that
goes with them. A distinct sound of breath sucked
in quickly, of tea-cups clacking as hands trembled,
of feet shuffling uneasily on the thick Turkish carpet,
of the very servants, placidly, stolidly English, stop-
ping in their rounds of hospitable duties, standing
stock-still, silver trays gripped in white-gloved
fingers, and staring, breathless, like pointers at bay.
"Something like great wings, rushing, rushing !"
murmured Charlie Thorneycroft, dropping his usual
slang like a cloak.
"Like wings " echoed Victoria de Rensen with
a little sob.
Yet there was nothing formidable or sinister in
the raja s progress through the room, by the side of
Sir James, who played guide, philosopher, and
friend. A charming, childlike smile was on his lips.
His great, opaque eyes beamed with honest, kindly
pleasure. He bowed here to a lady, shook the hands
of barrister and judge and artist, mumbled friendly
words in soft, halting English, accepted a cup of
tea from a servant who had regained his composure,
and dropped into a low Windsor chair, looking at
the people with the same melancholy, childlike ex
Very gradually the huge, voiceless excitement
Once more servants pussyfooted through the
salon with food and drink; once more the Paris
cubist tore the artistic theories of the white-bearded
Royal Academician into shreds ; once more the Wis
consin evangelist bent to the ear of the Mayfair
debutante and implored her to hit the trail of sal
vation ; once more lion growled at lion.
But Charlie Thorneycroft could not shake off the
strange impression which he had received. He was
still aware of the thing, whatever it was, and of the
great rushing of wings. It came out of the East,
from far across the sea, and it was very portentous,
very terrible, very tragic.
"I didn t hear the wings!" he exclaimed later on.
"Nor did I feel them. If I had felt or heard I
wouldn t have minded so, you know. I felt with
them and I was sorry for them, awfully, awfully
sorry. No sense to that? Of course not. There
wasn t a bally ounce of sense to the whole wretched
thing from beginning to end -and that s the worst
Such was the entree of the Maharaja of Oneypore
into London society; and for three weeks, to a day,
an ho^r, a minute "Hang it ! To a bally second !"
Charlie Thorneycroft commented the impression
which had accompanied him into the salon of Her
(Grace of Shropshire clung to him.
Not that people feared or mistrusted him. [There
was nothing personal about it, and indeed the man
was kindness itself. He could not pass by beggar,
by effusive, tailwagging street cur, or by mewing,
rubbing, dusty, ash-bin cat, without giving what he
thought was demanded of him money or caress or
Nor was it Because he was too foreign. For he
improved his English rapidly, and, well-bred, a
gentleman, it did not take him long to master Eu
ropean social customs, including the prejudices.
He tried his best to become Western, in every sense
of the word, and to that end he abandoned his
Hindu dress, his turban, his magnificent jewels.
He even shaved off his split, henna-stained beard,
and there remained nothing about him reminiscent
of his native land except the expression in his eyes
melancholy, ancient, tired; more the eyes of a race
than those of an individual and the vivid, crimson
caste-mark painted on his forehead.
It seemed rather incongruous, topping, as it did,
his correct English clothes tailored by a Sackville
Then, at the end of three weeks, the aura of
suspense, the aura of waiting for something that
had already happened which hovered about him, dis
appeared quite as suddenly, and quite as terribly as
it had come.
It was on the occasion of a ball given at Marl-
borough House, and the rooms were gay with fluffy
chiffon and stately brocades, with glittering uni
forms, and the sharp contrast of black and white
evening dress. The orchestra, hidden behind a
palm screen, sobbed a lascivious Brazilian tango.
Paired off, the young danced and flirted and
laughed. So did the middle-aged and the old. In
the buffet-room the majordomo was busy with the
preparation of the famous Marlborough cham
At half past eleven the raja entered, together with
Charlie Thorneycroft, who had attached himself to
him, and at once the usual enormous shiver brushed
through the assembly, like a wedge of ferocious,
superhuman evil, with a hidden thunder of un-
People stopped still in the middle of a dance-step.
The music broke off with a jarring discord as a
B-string snapped. The Marchioness of Liancourt
swooned against a priceless Sevres vase and sent it
splintering to the waxed floor. The majordomo
dropped his mixing-ladle into the silver punch-bowl.
Remote, gigantic, extended, the impression of
voiceless fear gathered speed. It gathered breath-
clogging terror. It stabbed the regions of sublimi
Strident yet unheard, huge yet unseen, torrential
yet non-existent, it swelled to a draft of sound
"sound beyond the meaning of the word words
are so inadequate sound which you could not
hear!" Thorneycroft put it that sucked through
the rooms with the strength of sky and sea and stars,
with the speed of splintering lances thrown by
giants hands, with a passionate, tragic leaping and
yearning that was as the ancient call of Creation
itself. It flashed outward with a wrenching, tame
less glory and savagery that fused all these London
molecules of humanity into one shivering whole.
Two minutes it lasted, and at exactly twenty^
eight minutes to twelve Thorneycroft, obeying a
peculiar impulse, had looked at his watch, and he
never lived to forget the time nor the date : the 1 5th
of January, 1913 the nameless impression passed
into the limbo of unremembered things.
It passed as enormously by contrast as it had
come. It passed with an all-pervading sense of
sweetness and peace : of intimate sweetness, too inti
mate peace. It passed with a wafting of jasmine
and marigold perfume, a soft tinkling of far-away
bells, and the muffled sobs of women coming from
across immeasurable distances.
The raja smiled.
He raised a high-veined hand in salutation.
Then he trembled. He gave a low sigh that
changed rapidly into a rattling gurgle. His eyes
became staring and glassy. His knees gave way,
and he fell straight back, dead, white-faced, the
crimson caste-mark on his forehead looking like
some evil thing, mocking, sardonic, triumphant.
"God !" Thorneycroft bent over the rigid form,
feeling the heart that had ceased to beat. He spoke
a quick word, and servants came and carried out
But the people who crowded the rooms seemed
quite unaware that death had stalked among them.
Suddenly a wild wave of gayety surged through
the house. They laughed. They chattered. They
jested. They clinked glasses. The orchestra led
away with a Paris waltz that was as light as foam.
That night champagne flowed like water. Half
a dozen love-affairs were finished, another half-
dozen begun. Scandal was winked at and condoned.
Gayety, the madness of Bacchanalian gayety,
invaded every nook and cranny of Marlborough
House, invading the very servants hall, where the
majordomo balanced the third up-stairs parlor-maid
on his knees and spoke to her of love in thickly
dignified terms. .
Two days later Martab Singf Maharaja of
Oneypore, descendant of the many gods, was buried
in state, with twenty file of Horse Guards flanking
the coffin, and all the purple- faced gentry of the
India Office rolling behind in carriages, dressed in
pompous black broadcloth and smoking surreptitious
On the same day Charlie Thorneycroft called on
Victoria de Rensen, kissed her pouting lips, and told
her in his vague manner that he was off to India.
India came to Charlie Thorneycroft as it had
come to him a dozen times : with a sudden rush of
splendor, flaming red, golden tipped, shot through
with purple and emerald-green, and hardly cloaking
the thick, stinking layer of cruelty and superstition
and ignorance that stewed and oozed beneath the
colorful surface. He knew it all, from the Rajput
gentleman s stately widow who gives herself to the
burning pyre in spite of British laws, to the meanest
half-caste money-lender who devils the souls of
sporting subalterns amid the flowering peepul-trees
of Fort William barracks; and so he yawned his
way from the moment when the big P. and O. liner
nosed kittenishly through the sucking sand-banks
of the Hoogly to the Hotel Semiramis.
There he had a lengthy and whispered conversa-
ton with a deputy commissioner recently returned
from Rajputana, who bowed low and spoke softly
in spite of the fact that Thorneycroft was his
junior by twenty years and seemed to have no
especial diplomatic rank or emoluments.
All the next morning he yawned away the hours
that creep to the sweating west, took a late train
for the north, and continued his bored prog
ress through twelve hundred miles of varied
He had no eye for the checker-board landscape
of neat Bengal, nor for the purple and orange tints
of the Indian sky that changed the far hills into
glowing heaps of topaz, the scorched ridges into
carved masses of amethyst and rose-red. Rajpu-
tana, gold and heliotrope, sad with the dead cen
turies, the dead glory, interested him not.
His thoughts were far in the north, near the
border, where Rajput and Afghan wait for a re
newal of the old, bitter fight for supremacy when
Britain shall have departed; and still, waking and
sleeping, he could feel he could feel with the
silent whirring of immense wings "like the wings
of a tortured soul trying to escape the cage of the
dust-created body," he put it with a lyric soaring
that clashed incongruously with his usual horsy
The whirring of wings !
1 6 WINGS
And there was sjome accent In it of secret dread,
of terrible, secret melancholy, deeper than his soul
could perceive, his brain could classify. The terror
of a mighty struggle was behind it: a mighty
struggle awfully remote from individual existence
and individual ambition and life, individual death
even. It partook of India itselfj the land, the
ancient races, the very gods.
The farther north he traveled the more strongly
grew the shapeless, voiceless impression. At times,
suddenly, a light flashed down the hidden tunnels
of his inner consciousness, and made visible for one
fleeting second something which he seemed too slow
A whisper came to him from beyond the ration
And so, two days later, he dropped from the train
at a small up-land station that consisted of a chaotic
whirlwind of stabbing sand, seven red-necked vul
tures squatting on a low wall and making un
seemly noises, a tumble-down Vishnavite shrine, and
a fat, patent-leather-slippered babu, who bowed be
fore Charlie Thorneycroft even lower than the
deputy commissioner had done, called him Protec-
tor of the Pitiful, and otherwise did him great
"All right, all right!" came Thorneycroft s im
patient rejoinder. "I see that you got my cable. Is
the bullock-cart ready?"
"Yes, heaven-born!" And the babu pointed at
the tonga, the bullock-cart, that came ghostlike out
of the whirling sandstorm.
"Good enough." He swung himself up.
"Ready. Chuck the bedding and the ice in the
back. Let her go !" he said to the driver, who had
his jaws bandaged after the manner of desertmen,
and the tonga started off, dipping and plunging
across the ridges like a small boat in a short sea.
The babu squatted by Thorneycroft s side, talk
ing softly, and again the Englishman yawned. But
this time there was a slight affectation in his ya\vn,
and affectation, too, as of one weaving close to the
loom of lies, in his words :
"Yes, yes. I fancy it is the old story. Some
jealous wildcat of a hill woman "
"No, heaven-born !" cut in the babu. He winked
his heavy-lidded eyes slowly as if to tell the other
that he was "on." "This time it is different. This
time there is no woman s jealousy brewing unclean
1 8 WINGS
abominations behind the curtains of the zenana.
This time it is "
"You have said it, sahib !" came the babu s reply
in a flat, frightened whisper.
"All right!" Thorneycroft gave a short, un
pleasant laugh. "Let s go to Deolibad first and call
on my friend Youssef Ali." And a few words of
direction to the driver, who grunted a reply, jerked
the heads of the trotting animals- away from the
north and toward the northwest, and plied their fat
sides with the knotted end of his whip.
All night they drove. They rested near a
shallow river. But they did not tarry long. They
watered the team, rubbed them down with sand, and
were off again.
It was a long, hot drive. The silence, the inso
lent nakedness of the land, the great, burning sun
lay on Thorneycroft s soul like a heavy burden.
Time and again he was conscious of the whirring
of wings, and with each league it seemed to lay
closer to the ears of his inner self. It seemed born
somewhere in the heart of the purple, silver-nicked
gloom that draped the hills of Rajputana.
The babu, too, was conscious of it. His teeth
clicked. His body trembled, and he looked at the
Englishman, who looked back at him.
Neither spoke. Something utterly overwhelming
enfolded them. For the whirring was at once of
enchanting peace and sweetness, and of a mournful,
tragic, sobbing strength that was like the death of a
Once the babu put it into words :
"Like the death of a soul "
"Shut up!" Thorneycroft whispered, and then
silence again but for the pattering hoofs of the
There were few signs of life. At times a gecko
slipped away through the scrub \vith a green,
metallic glisten. Once in a while a kite poised high
in the parched, blue sky. Another time they over
took a gigantic cotton-wain drawn by twenty
bullocks about the size of Newfoundland dogs.
Then, late one night, they reached Deolibad,
They passed through the tall southern gate, studded
with sharp elephant-spikes, paid off their driver,
walked through the mazes of the perfume-sellers
bazaar, and stopped in front of an old house.
Three times Thomeycroft knocked at the age-
gangrened, cedarwood door, sharp, staccato, with a
long pause between the second and third knocks, and
then again three times in rapid succession.
It was as if the ramshackle old house were listen
ing in its sleep, then slowly awakening. Came the
scratch of a match, a thin, light ray drifting through
the cracks in the shutters, a shuffling of slippered
feet, and the door opened.
A man stood there, old, immensely tall, im
mensely fat, an Afghan judging from his black silk
robe and his oiled locks, holding a candle in his
He peered at the two figures in front of him.
Then he broke into high-pitched laughter and
gurgling words of greeting.
"Thorneycrof t ! Thorneycroft, by the Prophet!
Young heart of my old heart !"
And in his excitement he dropped the candle,
which clattered to the ground, and hugged the Eng
lishman to his breast. The latter returned the em
brace; but, as the Afghan was about to renew his
flowery salutations, cut them short with:
T need your help, Youssef Ali."
"Anything, anything, child ! I will give you any
help you ask. I will grant you anything except
sorrow. Ahi! These are like the old days, when
you, with your mother s milk not yet dry on your
lips, rode by my side to throw the dragnet of the
British Raj s law around the lying priests of this
stinking land. Heathen priests of Shiva and
Vishnu, worshiping a monkey and a flower!
Aughrrr!" He spat.
Thorney croft laughed.
"Still the old, intolerant Youssef, aren t you?
All right. But I don t need much. Simply this
and that " He crossed the threshold side by side
with the Afghan and followed by the babu. He
said a few words, adding: "I hear that you are a
much-married man, besides being an amateur of
tuwaifs, of dancing-girls. So I m sure you will be
able to help me out. I could have gone to the
bazaar and bought the stuff. But there are leaky
tongues there "
It was Youssef s turn to laugh.
"A love affair, child ? Perhaps with the daughter
of some hill raja?"
"No. Not love. But lifeand death. And
perhaps " He was silent. There was again the
giant whirring of wings. Then he went on:
"Perhaps again life! Who knows?"
"Allah knows !" piously mumbled Youssef. "He
is the One, the All-Knowing. Come with me,
child," he went on, lifting a brown-striped curtain
that shut off the zenana. "Sitt Kumar will help
you a little dancing-girl whom" he coughed
apologetically "I recently encountered, and whose
feet are just now very busy crushing my fat, foolish
old heart. Wait here, O babu-jee!" he said to the
babu, while he and the Englishman disappeared be
hind the zenana curtain.
There was a moment s silence. Then a woman s
light, tinkly laughter, a clacking of bracelets and
anklets, a rapid swishing of linen and silk.
Again the woman s light laughter. Her words:
"Keep quiet, sahib, lest the walnut-dye enter thy
eye!" And ten minutes later the zenana curtains
were drawn aside to- disclose once mo-re the Afghan,
arm in arm with a middle-aged, dignified Brahman
priest, complete in every detail of outer sacerdotal
craft, from the broidered skull-cap and the brilliant
caste-mark on his forehead to the patent-leather
pumps, the open-work white stockings, and the
sacred volume bound in red Bokhara leather that he
carried in his right hand.
"Nobody will recognize you," said Youssef.
"Good!" said the Brahman in Thorneycroft s
voice. "And now can you lend me a couple of
"Surely. I have a brace of Marwari stallions.
Jewels, child! Pearls! Noble bits of horseflesh!
He led the way to the stable, which was on the
other side of his house, and sheltered by a low wall.
He lit an oil-lamp, opened the door, soothed the
nervous, startled Marwaris with voice and knowing
hand, and saddled them.
He led the horses out, and Thorneycroft and the
"Where to?" asked the Afghan.
Thorneycroft waved his hand in farewell.