Andrew Soutar.

The chosen of the gods online

. (page 1 of 13)
Online LibraryAndrew SoutarThe chosen of the gods → online text (page 1 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook













"silent thunder," etc.


Limited^ 34 Paternoster RoWy E.C.\

Fit St published in 191;

Printed in Great Rritaiii at
J'ftc MavJJoucr Press, Phmouth. William Drendon & Son, Ltd.

^° vS 71^3 c




The Secret




Racial Prejudice .



A Bungalow — and a Scandal .



A Dream in Music .



A Dangerous Passion



The Dead Seven . . . .



The Palm-leaf Message .



Three Men and a Woman



The Stranger from Neon



The Eyes of the Idol .



Trump Cards ....



The Other Man . . . .



Solving a Mystery .



The Midnight Conference

. 158


Mice and Men



Will-power ....

. 179


The Warning ....

. 192


A Woman's Vigil



The Serpent's Tooth



Love and Duty



Military Activity .



The Treasure of the Dead .

. 262


The Fate of Krishna

. 38Q




MERCARA gasped in the pitiless white
sun of an Indian noonday. The
withered rice-fields stretched as far as the eye
could reach, a tract of sun-blasted land over
which the thin shadows of a few scattered
mango trees rested like the ghosts of poverty
and desolation. All hfe seemed to have been
charred and bhstered. The drowsy crooning
of the cicada made the stillness all the more
eerie, the more oppressive. The miserable
ryots, for whom life itself depended on the
yield of the rice-paddies, crouched in the slight
shade of their mud-huts, like silent bronze
idols ; their wide staring eyes were turned
to the east. Rain, only rain, they prayed for
— a few drops to moisten the crops till the
monsoon burst ; only the sun — the pitiless,
scorching, bhnding sun — was given in answer.
On the summit of the low-lying range of
hills to the south sat the Spectre of Famine ;
the tax-collector sat by its side.

One of the hovels stood away from the rest
and a few yards from the mud of the river-bed.


The door was open wide, and in the shadow
thrown against the side of the hut was a boy
of twelve. He was squatting after the manner
of natives, his abnormally long, thin arms
encircling his bony knees, his chin resting on
his hands. A mass of straggling black hair
fell over a high, protruding forehead, and
formed a sort of screen to a pair of eyes that
looked out, hungrily and bitterly, at the
whitened landscape. A weak, thin voice called
from the hut :

" Krishna ! Krishna ! "

The boy slowly disengaged his hands and
crawled into the hut, and to the side of the
sick ryot, Goviandswamy.

" Krishna, has the night come ? " asked the
old man, passing a skeleton hand wearily
before his eyes.

The boy started with sudden concern, and,
stretching himself on the rice-mat near the sick
man, he looked long and anxiously into the
fast-glazing eyes.

"Yes, my father," he said at last," the
night has come." The sunlight streaming
through the open doorway mocked him as he

" And Runga, the fakir — has he come ? "
asked Goviandswamy,


"No, my father, but he will come," said
the boy.

The old man turned his head away with
a despairing groan. " He will not come,"
he muttered. " He will not come to-night,
and to-morrow will be too late. Call Wadi,
the Eurasian."

The boy frowned sullenly and made no
effort to rise from the bedside.

" Call him," said the old man imperatively.

" Runga will come," the boy urged ; but
even as he spoke the face of Wadi, the
Eurasian, peered in at the doorway. It was
a dark, evil face, and a gash in the upper
lip revealed a set of irregular teeth, red-
stained with betel-nut. He moved to the
side of the dying ryot, glancing reproach-
fully at the frowning boy, who, muttering
again that Runga, the fakir, would yet come,
sidled to the door.

" Goviandswamy, you would speak with
me alone," said Wadi, throwing a malignant
look at the boy in the doorway.

Goviandswamy stretched forth a bony
hand, and grasped the stooping man's dhoti.
" Nearer," he whispered, seeking to draw him
down. " Wadi, once you offered to serve me
with your life."


The Eurasian nodded impatiently.

" You remember the night in Bombay
when the Mohammedans rose ? "

" Yes, yes," said Wadi, " I remember. You
saved me from them, Goviandswamy. What
is it that you would say to me now ? "

" You are to be trusted, Wadi "

" My life is yours, Goviandswamy."

" With a secret that may bring you the
blessing of the gods or tortures worse than
death ? "

" I am ready," said Wadi, his lean fingers
twitching at the rice-mat.

" Runga will come," wailed the boy at the
door, but the ryot made only a feeble gesture
of impatience.

" Come nearer, Wadi," whispered Goviand-
swamy. " The secret which I pass on to

you is a secret " He did not finish

the sentence, for the boy Krishna leaped
into the hut with a cry of " Runga !
Runga ! "

And with his snakes, and his ropes, and
his " miracle " baskets, and all about him
the pungent smell of the jungle, came Runga,
the fakir. Before he bent down to the rice-
mat he scrutinized the twisted face of the
chagrined Eurasian, as though seeking quietly


to determine what he had learned from the
dying ryot. Wadi rose and crept from the

" You are late, Runga."

The fakir nodded, and pressed his finger-
tips on the eyelids of the sick man, breathing
sharply at the discovery he made.

" The secret, Goviandswamy ? " he whis-

" It is here, Runga," said the ryot, touch-
ing his waist-cloth — " here, awaiting the
Chosen. You are ready, Runga ? "

The fakir bent down and whispered in the
ryot's ear. Goviandswamy groaned. " Then
who, who is to take upon himself the mission ? "
he asked. Runga turned his eyes towards the
doorway. Krishna, the boy, was sitting in
the midst of the fakir's baskets and cobras.
A white-headed snake had wriggled out of
captivity, and was dancing and swaying
before the eyes of the boy. With a cry of
alarm Runga sprang towards the door, but
before he could reach it Krishna had taken
the reptile by the neck and replaced it in its
basket. Not the slightest trace of fear rested
on the boy's face, and he turned to laugh
contemptuously at Runga.


" 1 have seen, Goviandswamy — seen with
my own eyes. The secret is for him." Runga
was back at the bedside of the dying ryot.

" But he is so young, Runga," the ryot

" The gods are wise," said the fakir simply.

" Call him," said Goviandswamy feebly,
and Krishna was brought into the hut. As
he knelt by the dying man his eyes were
turned inquiringly on the fakir, but Runga's
face was buried in his hands.

" Krishna," said Goviandswamy in a low
voice, " you are but a boy ; still, as Runga
says, the gods choose wisely. Before another
day breaks you will be alone in the world,
and Runga will take you to Madras. There
you will be committed to the care of one
Kuppuswamy, to whom I tenderly commend
you. Obey him as you would obey me, and
seek to profit by his wisdom. You have
been destined for high things, and here, in
the presence of Runga, I charge you to
perform them, cost what they may. This
secret " — he unloosened a red skin belt from
his waist and handed it to the boy — " is a
secret of the gods. Guard it as you would
guard your life itself, and when you shall
have reached years of discretion and wisdom,


act as the message therein dictates. In all
things be faithful to the Voices — the voices
of those brave men who have laid down
their lives for the Cause. Always they will
be watching you, guiding you. To-day they
are but six ; to-morrow my voice will be
blended in theirs.

A few sharp breaths, a few convulsions of
the skeleton-like frame

That night Runga, the fakir, and Krishna,
the boy, slept in the forest on their way to

The day was breaking when Runga, aroused
by the hissing of his captive reptiles, sprang
to his feet and ran to the form of the sleeping

" Krishna ! Krishna ! " the fakir called.

The boy lazily opened his eyes.

" I am here, Runga," he said simply.

"And the belt— the belt!" cried the
trembling fakir.

The boy sat up and, drawing aside his
dhoti, revealed the fact that the secret had

" You need have no fear," he said quietly.
" Wadi guards it. See ! yonder lies the


And so indeed he did, ten yards or more
from the reed couch of the boy. Runga
sprang towards the Hfeless body. Gripped
in a nerveless hand was the sacred belt, and
two inches down from the tip of the Eurasian's
chin was the blue-red mark where the snake,
the nulla pamhu, had struck !

Runga refastened the belt round the waist
of the boy and bowed himself in prayer.



KRISHNA had been two years in the
house of Kuppuswamy.

WTiile new and lasting impressions were
being created daily on his young mind — a
natural outcome of his changed environ-
ment — nothing seemed capable of eradicat-
ing the memory of those bitter years of semi-
starvation that immediately preceded the
death of his father. When the restfulness and
plenty of his benefactor's house threatened
most to overshadow the darkness of the past,
there seemed to come through the two
dead years the echoes of those cries of
despair that fell from the parched lips of
his father, as one real or fancied Govern-
ment iniquity followed close on the heels of

His faculty for observation and inquiry
was abnormal, and while Kuppuswamy
cherished, in a measure, the ideals that had
been but vaguely outlined for him by his
friend Goviandswamy, he would frequently
feign apathy that he might analyse more
closely a mind that was fast bewildering
him, philosopher and teacher that he was.
Often, when he had deemed a question by

B 17


the boy nothing more than idle curiosity,
the pertinence of it would suddenly strike
him at a later period, and open up a new
channel of thought.

Kuppuswamy was an influential vakil in
the Madras High Court. By means which
he preferred not to publish, not even for the
encouragement of discontented compatriots,
he had amassed considerable wealth. His
mode of life was simple ; his wants were
few, and if there was philanthropy in his
nature, it was exercised quietly and without
a suspicion of ostentation. His tastes were
fully satisfied by his books, his work, his
dreams, and his child, Lakshmi, a girl of
twelve, whose coming had meant the depart-
ing of Kuppuswamy' s mate. There was an
atmosphere of quiet comfort in the bungalow
— a comfort that many European guests had
envied. The vakil's friends were many and
varied. Wealth is a wonderful eraser of
racial scruples. But life with him had not
always been so smooth and untrammelled.
Sometimes of an evening as he sat on the
veranda of the bungalow, Lakshmi at his
feet, all trace of parental interest in her
childish prattle would cease of a sudden.
The half-finished cigarette would drop from


the slender fingers, the oval, intellectual head
loll forward until chin touched chest, and the
hard, bearded face assume a sadness of expres-
sian that was eloquent of bitter reflection.

When the child tired of asking unanswered
questions, and wearied of the fairy talk of
the drowsy cicada in the maples, she would
turn to him for the story of his thoughts.
And once he told her the tragedy of his
childhood, although it was " all in a book
of ancient India that he had read." The
sympathy even of a child will sometimes
ease a heavy heart.

The story was of a boy about Lakshmi's
age who lived in the South-west among the
rice-fields and the coffee plantations. The
monsoon had failed to keep its season, and
famine was rendered more hideous by the
brutality of the zamindar, that privileged
ruffian of Government creation. Driven to
desperation by the failure of the crops that
lay white- withered in the scorching sun,
the hungry ryots awaited the coming of the
collector as the hunted deer awaits the
foremost hound.

The father of the boy " in the book "
struck the first blow for emancipation — a
vain and ill-considered blow. He and the


woman who shared his hfe paid the penalty.
The scene was their boy's Hfelong punish-
ment. The terrorized ryots, full twenty
strong, and armed with no more formidable
weapons than those with which Nature had
endowed them ; a regiment of towering,
bearded Sikhs, and a barefaced boy-officer,
who shrieked commands as a woman shrieks
when immodesty leads her into horseplay ;
a wild, merciless swinging of rifle-stocks, and
then the score of brown, cowardly, accusing
fingers levelled at the ringleaders ; a quick,
short trial, devoid of all semblance of justice,
the asking and answering of a few curt
questions, and man and wife stood together
beneath the mango-trees, their faces turned
to the east, her hand in his, the light of
martyrdom in their flashing eyes, the sneer
of contempt for this '' justice " playing
around their dilated nostrils ; a shriek from
the boy-ofiicer, the hiss and spit of half a
dozen rifles, a scream of pain from the
faithful wife as she leapt high in the air and
fell across the prostrate body of her man,
who had died without a groan.

" And the boy, my father ? " queried the
weeping Lakshmi, when she had heard the
tale thus far.


" The gods were good, my child. He was
befriended by one who received him into his
house at the risk of losing his own liberty
and privileges, such as they were. This man
had a son of his own, who received the little
stranger as he might have received a brother.
The head of the house was a man of lofty
thought and ideals. He was much given to
study, and of an evening would impart to the
two boys some portion of his store of know-
ledge. Together they grew into manhood,
and together pursued their researches into
the history of the people and the conditions
under which they lived."

"And ?"

" Inquisitive child ! " he laughed fondly.
" They married, and for many years their
paths in life lay apart. The one had a son,
the other a daughter, and the two were
betrothed, as is customary among our people."

" And did they marry ? "

" child of mine ! Did ever tongue
move so freely, or mind so quickly ? No,
my child, the two are but children this
day : the boy an orphan, the girl — ^well,
weU, she is about thy age, child, and as fair
of face."

" I should like to have known the boy,"


said the child simply, brushing away the tears
from her eyes. " I wonder ! I wonder ! "

And Kuppuswamy, drawing her closer to
him, sighed in the dying twilight.

It was into this house that Krishna, the
son of Goviandswamy, came. To the child
Lakshmi he was an enigma from the first
moment of their meeting, when he gravely
eyed her, and touched her long black hair,
as though she were some new species of wild-
cat. When she attempted to break through
his reticence and interest him in her babyish
fancies, he turned from her with a pitying
smile and a beseeching glance at Kuppuswamy.

*' Krishna is not as other boys," her father
had said soothingly, as the child wept out
her disappointment at his feet. " He is
alone in the world, dependent on the studies
of his youth for his bread as a man." And
Krishna's eyes expressed his gratitude for
the intervention.

But the philosopher was unprepared for
the not unwelcome trap into which he had
unwarily wandered.

" Yes," the boy cried, with an eagerness
that stirred his whole frame, as the wind
stirs the leaves of a forest, " I want to study ;
I want to think ; I want to learn ! "


" And what do you wish most to learn ? "
Kuppuswamy asked quietly, thinking to
gratify the wish in a single answer.

" To learn ? " The boy crept nearer to
his benefactor, and with hands outstretched
imploringly, " I want to learn the meaning
of racial prejudice," he said solemnly. " Yes,
that's it — racial prejudice, for so the student
called it — the tall man who stood with the
others near the Rajah's seat at Mercara
when Runga and I passed through."

" I know not of what you talk, my son,"
said Kuppuswamy gently, fearing to drop
the first seed of discontent on a soil that
seemed so fertile.

" Runga knew," said the boy suUenly,
" but it was past his speech to make it clear

to me. At least, he showed me " The

boy hesitated.

" He showed you " the vakil prompted.

" I will tell you, Kuppuswamy," said the
boy, voluntarily settling at his feet and
fixing his eyes upon him. " You remember
the fort of Kotay, that lies to the south of
Mercara as you cross the town with the river
on the left — the fort that the ancient Rajahs
built for battle and the white sahibs and
their memsahibs use for their games with


the ball ? We stood near the outer wall,
Runga and I, watching the white ball fly
as the bat flies at twilight, and listening to
the memsahibs swear in our Hindustani at
the weary ball wala. Soon a ball -came over
the fortress wall, and rolled to the spot where
we were standing. I picked it up as it lay
at my feet, and, thinking to amuse the sahib
who sprang over the wall in pursuit, I held
it in my open palm before his very eyes. As
he put out his hand to take it, lo ! it vanished !
It was a trick that Runga taught me, but the
sahib did not laugh as the villagers had done.
' Black spawn of the devil ! ' he called out,
and felled me with a blow. When good
Runga came to my assistance, the sahib
raised his voice in alarm, and many of his
friends rushed upon us, with their dogs and
their whips. What had I done ? I returned
their ball even before the sahib had recovered
from his surprise at its disappearance. The
trick was well done. Runga said as much,
but ' racial prejudice ' spoilt it. So said
Runga. Had I been white of skin, he said,
the sahib would have called his memsahibs
round me and praised me for my skiM."

" It was but a small matter, my son,"
said Kuppuswamy, smiling at the boy's


indignation. " Perhaps the sahib feared you
meant to steal the ball and interfere with
their game. Remember, it was his ball."

" But whose fort is it ? " the boy demanded
hercely. " TeU me that ! "

" Pish ! child, you are as impetuous as a
woman of thirty. It is not for you nor me to
think of these things and in this manner.
What the gods have willed man cannot set
aside in mere caprice. It is not for you nor
me to question the rights by which we are
the ruled and not the rulers ; we must
submerge our cherished ideals and learn to

He rose and left the boy to ponder over
the problem. That very night, as Kuppu-
swamy sat alone in the apartment which
answered the purposes of a study, a faint
knock at the door aroused him from the
dreams into which he had lapsed. The
hour was late and there was suspicion in
the voice that inquired the name of the

"It is I — Krishna ! " was the reply ; and
with an exclamation of surprise the philo-
sopher threw wide the door. The boy, clad
only in his night attire, was standing on the
threshold !


But it was not the Krishna of two or
three hours before. The black hair was
dishevelled and hung about the face as the
dank seaweed hangs to the face of the ocean's
dead. And the face ! The brown skin had
assumed a lighter and a ghastly appearance ;
at the corners of the eyes it was actually
shrivelled. The cheeks were sunken and the
lower lip overlapped the upper. The veins
of the long, slender neck stood out like
knotted strings. The eyes of the boy terrified
the man. Wide and staring, they held him
spellbound with the intenseness of their
scrutiny. Standing there, with the darkness
of the room without for a background, the
yellow light of the study lamp playing upon
his twitching, unnatural face, and his white
linen night robes thrown loosely round him,
the boy seemed like some prematurely old
man newly risen from the tomb.

" Krishna ! " the man gasped. " What ails
thee, child ? "

The boy moved slowly forward, then
clutched him by the hand. For a moment
he stood, dazed and seemingly weakened by
the mental agony which obviously he had
suffered. Kuppuswamy passed his hand
over the boy's forehead, and uttered a cry


of horror as he quickly withdrew it, cold and
wet and clammy.

" What has happened, boy ? "

The sound of the agitated voice awakened
the boy, and, shivering slightly, he released
Kuppuswamy's hand, only to wind his long
arms about the startled man's neck.

" Kuppuswamy " — the voice was low and
quavering — " I offended you to-night ; I ask
your pardon."

" Pish, child ! I did not think of it in that
light. But what has that to do with — ^with
this ? " and he held the boy at arm's length,
the better to survey him.

" This ? " Krishna smiled feebly. " 'Tis
nothing, my father. Only once before they
—I Ugh, how cold it is ! "

The man hurriedly threw a blanket round
him and, compelling him to sit at his feet,
plied him with questions. But the boy only
shook his head, as though his mind were
incapable of piecing together the hetero-
geneous fragments of the horror that appeared
to have visited him.

" Tell me, Kuppuswamy," he cried sud-
denly and appealingly, " tell me more of
what we spoke of this evening — of India,
her people, her slaves, her rise, her fall, and


the Mutiny, the bloody Mutiny. Ah ! tell
me of that, Kuppuswamy — tell me of those
who have risen in arms against the tyranny
of the invaders."

" I know not, child. You are mad ! "

" You lie ! "

The boy had sprung to his feet, and his
willowy fingers entwined themselves in the
beard of the man before him. " You lie ! "
he shrieked. " You know of these things,
but your heart is white and craven, and you
fear the lash of the white sahibs."

" Krishna ! " The man tore the boy from
him, and held him forcibly in a chair until
the fit had passed. Then, when the scalding
tears of repentance poured in a stream down
the child's face, the vakil took him in his
arms, as he might have taken a new-born
babe, and wept.

" Yes, yes, I pardon thee, Krishna," he
said, as the boy sobbed in his arms. " Thou
art a strange child. But the gods are wise.
If it is that thy mind runs on these things,
all else being obliterated, depend upon it a
path has been chosen for thee, and it is not
for me to discourage thee by frown or speech."

" But, Kuppuswamy, help me not to think
as I do ; let me live as others. I am a boy,


yet I bear the burden of a man. My mind
cries out for food that is beyond me. Give it
me, satisfy me, and let me rest ! "

" What can I tell thee, child ? My own
mind is chaotic with this sudden eruption."

" Kuppuswamy " — the word was spoken
in an awesome whisper, and the boy glanced
fearfully round the room before he continued
— " have you ever heard of the Dead
Seven ? "

A sudden wave of understanding mingled
with indignation swept over the man.

" I see it now," he mused. " Tell me, child,
who has dared to disturb the peace of thy
youth by the recital of a tale that is almost
a legend."

" No one, Kuppuswamy. But tell me the
tale or legend. I want to hear it. I — I must
hear it."

" What a child it is ! " the old man sighed.
" Well, if it will serve to pacify, I will tell all I
know of the story. I said it was a legend, but
if my memory be not at fault, the inception of
the Society of Reformers dates back only to
those ten years which immediately followed
the great Mutiny. The administration of the
country then was very much the same as it is
to-day. The Indian Empire belongs to


Britain, and Britain, boy, stands to-day as
the greatest colonizer the world has ever
known. The methods by which they subju-
gated the Indians and now control them
have ever seemed passing strange to the
native student. In the name of civilization

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryAndrew SoutarThe chosen of the gods → online text (page 1 of 13)