by Ridyard Kipling
The least that Findlayson, of the Public Works Department,
expected was a C.I.E.; he dreamed of a C.S.I. Indeed, his
friends told him that he deserved more. For three years he had
endured heat and cold, disappointment, discomfort, danger, and
disease, with responsibility almost to top-heavy for one pair of
shoulders; and day by day, through that time, the great Kashi
Bridge over the Ganges had grown under his charge. Now, in less
than three months, if all went well, his Excellency the Viceroy
would open the bridge in state, an archbishop would bless it, and
the first trainload of soldiers would come over it, and there
would be speeches.
Findlayson, C. E., sat in his trolley on a construction line
that ran along one of the main revetments - the huge stone-faced
banks that flared away north and south for three miles on either
side of the river and permitted himself to think of the end.
With its approaches, his work was one mile and three-quarters in
length; a lattice-girder bridge, trussed with the Findlayson
truss standing on seven-and-twenty brick piers. Each one of
those piers was twenty-four feet in diameter, capped with red
Agra stone and sunk eighty feet below the shifting sand of the
Ganges' bed. Above them was a railway-line fifteen feet broad;
above that, again, a cart-road of eighteen feet, flanked with
footpaths. At either end rose towers, of red brick, loopholed
for musketry and pierced for big guns, and the ramp of the road
was being pushed forward to their haunches. The raw earth-ends
were crawling and alive with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny asses
climbing out of the yawning borrow-pit below with sackfuls of
stuff; and the hot afternoon air was filled with the noise of
hooves, the rattle of the drivers' sticks, and the swish and
roll-down of the dirt. The river was very low, and on the
dazzling white sand between the three centre piers stood squat
cribs of railway-sleepers, filled within and daubed without with
mud, to support the last of the girders as those were riveted up.
In the little deep water left by the drought, an overhead crane
travelled to and fro along its spile-pier, jerking sections of
iron into place, snorting and backing and grunting as an elephant
grunts in the timberyard. Riveters by the hundred swarmed about
the lattice side-work and the iron roof of the railway line hung
from invisible staging under the bellies of the girders,
clustered round the throats of the piers, and rode on the
overhang of the footpath-stanchions; their fire-pots and the
spurts of flame that answered each hammer-stroke showing no more
than pale yellow in the sun's glare. East and west and north and
south the construction-trains rattled and shrieked up and down
the embankments, the piled trucks of brown and white stone
banging behind them till the side-boards were unpinned, and with
a roar and a grumble a few thousand tons' more material were
flung out to hold the river in place.
Findlayson, C. E., turned on his trolley and looked over the
face of the country that he had changed for seven miles around.
Looked back on the humming village of five thousand work-men; up
stream and down, along the vista of spurs and sand; across the
river to the far piers, lessening in the haze; overhead to the
guard-towers -and only he knew how strong those were - and with a
sigh of contentment saw that his work was good. There stood his
bridge before him in the sunlight, lacking only a few weeks' work
on the girders of the three middle piers - his bridge, raw and
ugly as original sin, but pukka - permanent - to endure when all
memory of the builder, yea, even of the splendid Findlayson
truss, has perished. Practically, the thing was done.
Hitchcock, his assistant, cantered along the line on a little
switch-tailed Kabuli pony who through long practice could have
trotted securely over trestle, and nodded to his chief.
"All but," said he, with a smile.
"I've been thinking about it," the senior answered. "Not half a
bad job for two men, is it?"
"One - and a half. 'Gad, what a Cooper's Hill cub I was when I
came on the works!" Hitchcock felt very old in the crowded
experiences of the past three years, that had taught him power
"You were rather a colt," said Findlayson. "I wonder how you'll
like going back to office-work when this job's over."
"I shall hate it!" said the young man, and as he went on his eye
followed Findlayson's, and he muttered, "Isn't it damned good?"
"I think we'll go up the service together," Findlayson said to
himself. "You're too good a youngster to waste on another man.
Cub thou wast; assistant thou art. Personal assistant, and at Simla,
thou shalt be, if any credit comes to me out of the business!"
Indeed, the burden of the work had fallen altogether on
Findlayson and his assistant, the young man whom he had chosen
because of his rawness to break to his own needs. There were
labour contractors by the half-hundred - fitters and riveters,
European, borrowed from the railway workshops, with, perhaps,
twenty white and half-caste subordinates to direct, under
direction, the bevies of workmen - but none knew better than
these two, who trusted each other, how the underlings were not to
be trusted. They had been tried many times in sudden crises -
by slipping of booms, by breaking of tackle, failure of cranes,
and the wrath of the river - but no stress had brought to light
any man among men whom Findlayson and Hitchcock would have
honoured by working as remorselessly as they worked them-selves.
Findlayson thought it over from the beginning: the months of
offce-work destroyed at a blow when the Government of India, at
the last moment, added two feet to the width of the bridge, under
the impression that bridges were cut out of paper, and so brought
to ruin at least half an acre of calculations- and Hitchcock, new
to disappointment, buried his head in his arms and wept; the
heart-breaking delays over the filling of the contracts in
England; the futile correspondences hinting at great wealth of
commissions if one, only one, rather doubtful consignment were
passed; the war that followed the refusal; the careful, polite
obstruction at the other end that followed the war, till young
Hitchcock, putting one month's leave to another month, and
borrowing ten days from Findlayson, spent his poor little savings
of a year in a wild dash to London, and there, as his own tongue
asserted and the later consignments proved, put the fear of God
into a man so great that he feared only Parliament and said so
till Hitchcock wrought with him across his own dinner table, and
- he feared the Kashi Bridge and all who spoke in its name. Then
there was the cholera that came in the night to the village by
the bridge works; and after the cholera smote the small-pox. The
fever they had always with them. Hitchcock had been appointed a
magistrate of the third class with whipping powers, for the
better government of the community, and Findlayson watched him
wield his powers temperately, learning what to overlook and what
to look after. It was a long, long reverie, and it covered
storm, sudden freshets, death in every manner and shape, violent
and awful rage against red tape half frenzying a mind that knows
it should be busy on other things; drought, sanitation, finance;
birth, wedding, burial, and riot in the village of twenty warring
castes; argument, expostulation, persuasion, and the blank
despair that a man goes to bed upon, thankful that his rifle is
all in pieces in the gun-case. Behind everything rose the black
frame of the Kashi Bridge - plate by plate, girder by girder,
span by span - and each pier of it recalled Hitchcock, the
all-round man, who had stood by his chief without failing from
the very first to this last.
So the bridge was two men's work - unless one counted Peroo, as
Peroo certainly counted himself. He was a Lascar, a Kharva from
Bulsar, familiar with every port between Rockhampton and London,
who had risen to the rank of serang on the British India boats,
but wearying of routine musters and clean clothes, had thrown up
the service and gone inland, where men of his calibre were sure
of employment. For his knowledge of tackle and the handling of
heavy weights, Peroo was worth almost any price he might have
chosen to put upon his services; but custom decreed the wage of
the overhead-men, and Peroo was not within many silver pieces of
his proper value. Neither running water nor extreme heights made
him afraid; and, as an ex-serang, he knew how to hold authority.
No piece of iron was so big or so badly placed that Peroo could
not devise a tackle to lift it - a loose-ended, sagging
arrangement, rigged with a scandalous amount of talking, but
perfectly equal to the work in hand. It was Peroo who had saved
the girder of Number Seven pier from destruction when the new
wire-rope jammed in the eye of the crane, and the huge plate
tilted in its slings, threatening to slide out sideways. Then
the native workmen lost their heads with great shoutings, and
Hitchcock's right arm was broken by a falling T-plate, and he
buttoned it up in his coat and swooned, and came to and directed
for four hours till Peroo, from the top of the crane, reported
"All's well," and the plate swung home. There was no one like
Peroo, serang, to lash, and guy, and hold, to control the
donkey-engines, to hoist a fallen locomotive craftily out of the
borrow-pit into which it had tumbled; to strip, and dive, if need
be, to see how the concrete blocks round the piers stood the
scouring of Mother Gunga, or to adventure upstream on a monsoon
night and report on the state of the embankment-facings. He
would interrupt the field-councils of Findlayson and Hitchcock
without fear, till his wonderful English, or his still more
wonderful linguafranca, half Portuguese and half Malay, ran out
and he was forced to take string and show the knots that he would
recommend. He controlled his own gang of tackle men - mysterious
relatives from Kutch Mandvi gathered month by month and tried to
the uttermost. No consideration of family or kin allowed
Peroo to keep weak hands or a giddy head on the pay-roll.
"My honour is the honour of this bridge," he would say to the
about-to-be-dismissed. "What do I care for your honour?
Go and work on a steamer. That is all you are fit for."
The little cluster of huts where he and his gang lived centred
round the tattered dwelling of a sea-priest - one who had never
set foot on black water, but had been chosen as ghostly
counsellor by two generations of sea-rovers all unaffected by
port missions or those creeds which are thrust upon sailors by
agencies along Thames bank. The priest of the Lascars had
nothing to do with their caste, or indeed with anything at all.
He ate the offerings of his church, and slept and smoked, and
slept again, "for," said Peroo, who had haled him a thousand
miles inland, "he is a very holy man. He never cares what you
eat so long as you do not eat beef, and that is good, because on
land we worship Shiva, we Kharvas; but at sea on the Kumpani's
boats we attend strictly to the orders of the Burra Malum
[the first mate], and on this bridge we observe what Finlinson
Finlinson Sahib had that day given orders to clear the
scaffolding from the guard-tower on the right bank, and Peroo
with his mates was casting loose and lowering down the bamboo
poles and planks as swiftly as ever they had whipped the cargo
out of a coaster.
From his trolley he could hear the whistle of the serang's silver
pipe and the creek and clatter of the pulleys. Peroo was
standing on the top-most coping of the tower, clad in the blue
dungaree of his abandoned service, and as Findlayson motioned to
him to be careful, for his was no life to throw away, he gripped
the last pole, and, shading his eyes ship-fashion, answered with
the long-drawn wail of the fo'c'sle lookout: "Ham dekhta hai"
("I am looking out").
Findlayson laughed and then sighed. It was years since he had
seen a steamer, and he was sick for home. As his trolley passed
under the tower, Peroo descended by a rope, ape-fashion, and
cried: "It looks well now, Sahib. Our bridge is all but done.
What think you Mother Gunga will say when the rail runs over?"
"She has said little so far. It was never Mother Gunga that
"There is always time for her; and none the less there has been
delay. Has the Sahib forgotten last autumn's flood, when the
stone-boats were sunk without warning - or only a half-day's
"Yes, but nothing save a big flood could hurt us now. The spurs
are holding well on the West Bank."
"Mother Gunga eats great allowances. There is always room for
more stone on the revetments. I tell this to the Chota Sahib" -
he meant Hitchcock - "and he laughs."
"No matter, Peroo. Another year thou wilt be able to build a
bridge in thine own fashion."
The Lascar grinned. "Then it will not be in this way - with
stonework sunk under water, as the Qyetta was sunk. I like
sus-sus-pen-sheen bridges that fly from bank to bank. with one
big step, like a gang-plank. Then no water can hurt. When does
the Lord Sahib come to open the bridge?"
"In three months, when the weather is cooler."
"Ho! ho! He is like the Burra Malum. He sleeps below while the
work is being done. Then he comes upon the quarter-deck and
touches with his finger, and says: 'This is not clean! Dam
"But the Lord Sahib does not call me a dam jibboonwallah, Peroo."
"No, Sahib; but he does not come on deck till the work is all
finished. Even the Burra Malum of the Nerbudda said once at
"Bah! Go! I am busy."
"I, also!" said Peroo, with an unshaken countenance. "May I take
the light dinghy now and row along the spurs?"
"To hold them with thy hands? They are, I think, sufficiently heavy."
"Nay, Sahib. It is thus. At sea, on the Black Water, we have
room to be blown up and down without care. Here we have no room
at all. Look you, we have put the river into a dock, and run her
between stone sills."
Findlayson smiled at the "we."
"We have bitted and bridled her. She is not like the sea, that
can beat against a soft beach. She is Mother Gunga - in irons."
His voice fell a little.
"Peroo, thou hast been up and down the world more even than I.
Speak true talk, now. How much dost thou in thy heart believe of
"All that our priest says. London is London, Sahib. Sydney is
Sydney, and Port Darwin is Port Darwin. Also Mother Gunga is
Mother Gunga, and when I come back to her banks I know this and
worship. In London I did poojah to the big temple by the river
for the sake of the God within. . . . Yes, I will not take the
cushions in the dinghy."
Findlayson mounted his horse and trotted to the shed of a
bungalow that he shared with his assistant. The place had become
home to him in the last three years. He had grilled in the heat,
sweated in the rains, and shivered with fever under the rude
thatch roof; the lime-wash beside the door was covered with rough
drawings and formulae, and the sentry-path trodden in the matting
of the verandah showed where he had walked alone. There is no
eight-hour limit to an engineer's work, and the evening meal with
Hitchcock was eaten booted and spurred: over their cigars they
listened to the hum of the village as the gangs came up from the
river-bed and the lights began to twinkle.
"Peroo has gone up the spurs in your dinghy. He's taken a couple
of nephews with him, and he's lolling in the stern like a
commodore," said Hitchcock.
"That's all right. He's got something on his mind. You'd think
that ten years in the British India boats would have knocked most
of his religion out of him."
"So it has," said Hitchcock, chuckling. "I overheard him the
other day in the middle of a most atheistical talk with that fat
old guru of theirs. Peroo denied the efficacy of prayer; and
wanted the guru to go to sea and watch a gale out with him, and
see if he could stop a monsoon."
"All the same, if you carried off his guru he'd leave us like a
shot. He was yarning away to me about praying to the dome of St.
Paul's when he was in London."
"He told me that the first time he went into the engine-room of a
steamer, when he was a boy, he prayed to the low-pressure
"Not half a bad thing to pray to, either. He's propitiating his
own Gods now, and he wants to know what Mother Gunga will think
of a bridge being run across her. Who's there?" A shadow darkened
the doorway, and a telegram was put into Hitchcock's hand.
"She ought to be pretty well used to it by this time. Only a
tar. It ought to be Ralli's answer about the new rivets. . . .
Great Heavens!" Hitchcock jumped to his feet.
"What is it?" said the senior, and took the form. "that's what
Mother Gunga thinks, is it," he said, reading. "Keep cool,
young 'un. We've got all our work cut out for us. Let's see.
Muir wired half an hour ago: 'Floods on the Ramgunga. Look out.'
Well, that gives us - one, two - nine and a half for the flood to
reach Melipur Ghaut and seven's sixteen and a half to Lataoli -
say fifteen hours before it comes down to us."
"Curse that hill-fed sewer of a Ramgunga! Findlayson, this is two
months before anything could have been expected, and the left bank
is littered up with stuff still. Two full months before the time!"
"That's why it comes. I've only known Indian rivers for
five-and-twenty years, and I don't pretend to understand. Here
comes another tar." Findlayson opened the telegram. "Cockran,
this time, from the Ganges Canal: 'Heavy rains here. Bad.' He
might have saved the last word. Well, we don't want to know any
more. We've got to work the gangs all night and clean up the
riverbed. You'll take the east bank and work out to meet me in
the middle. Get everything that floats below the bridge: we
shall have quite enough river-craft coming down adrift anyhow,
without letting the stone-boats ram the piers. What have you got
on the east bank that needs looking after?
"Pontoon - one big pontoon with the overhead crane on it. T'other
overhead crane on the mended pontoon, with the cart-road rivets
from Twenty to Twenty-three piers - two construction lines, and a
turning-spur. The pilework must take its chance," said
"All right. Roll up everything you can lay hands on. We'll give
the gang fifteen minutes more to eat their grub."
Close to the verandah stood a big night-gong, never used except
for flood, or fire in the village. Hitchcock had called for a
fresh horse, and was off to his side of the bridge when
Findlayson took the cloth-bound stick and smote with the rubbing
stroke that brings out the full thunder of the metal.
Long before the last rumble ceased every night-gong in the
village had taken up the warning. To these were added the hoarse
screaming of conches in the little temples; the throbbing of
drums and tom-toms; and, from the European quarters, where the
riveters lived, McCartney's bugle, a weapon of offence on Sundays
and festivals, brayed desperately, calling to "Stables." Engine
after engine toiling home along the spurs at the end of her day's
work whistled in answer till the whistles were answered from the
far bank. Then the big gong thundered thrice for a sign that it
was flood and not fire; conch, drum, and whistle echoed the
call, and the village quivered to the sound of bare feet running
upon soft earth. The order in all cases was to stand by the
day's work and wait instructions. The gangs poured by in the
dusk; men stopping to knot a loin-cloth or fasten a sandal;
gang-foremen shouting to their subordinates as they ran or paused
by the tool-issue sheds for bars and mattocks; locomotives
creeping down their tracks wheel-deep in the crowd; till the
brown torrent disappeared into the dusk of the river-bed, raced
over the pilework, swarmed along the lattices, clustered by the
cranes, and stood still - each man in his place.
Then the troubled beating of the gong carried the order to take
up everything and bear it beyond high-water mark, and the
flare-lamps broke out by the hundred between the webs of dull
iron as the riveters began a night's work, racing against the
flood that was to come. The girders of the three centre piers -
those that stood on the cribs -were all but in position. They
needed just as many rivets as could be driven into them, for the
flood would assuredly wash out their supports, and the ironwork
would settle down on the caps of stone if they were not blocked
at the ends. A hundred crowbars strained at the sleepers of the
temporary line that fed the unfinished piers. It was heaved up
in lengths, loaded into trucks, and backed up the bank beyond
flood-level by the groaning locomotives. The tool-sheds on the
sands melted away before the attack of shouting armies, and with
them went the stacked ranks of Government stores, iron-hound
boxes of rivets, pliers, cutters, duplicate parts of the
riveting-machines, spare pumps and chains. The big crane would
be the last to be shifted, for she was hoisting all the heavy
stuff up to the main structure of the bridge. The concrete
blocks on the fleet of stone-boats were dropped overside, where
there was any depth of water, to guard the piers, and the empty
boats themselves were poled under the bridge down-stream. It
was here that Peroo's pipe shrilled loudest, for the first stroke
of the big gong had brought the dinghy back at racing speed, and
Peroo and his people were stripped to the waist, working for the
honour and credit which are better than life.
"I knew she would speak," he cried. "I knew, but the telegraph
gives us good warning. O sons of unthinkable begetting -
children of unspeakable shame - are we here for the look of the
thing?" It was two feet of wire-rope frayed at the ends, and it
did wonders as Peroo leaped from gunnel to gunnel, shouting the
language of the sea.
Findlayson was more troubled for the stoneboats than anything
else. McCartney, with his gangs, was blocking up the ends of the
three doubtful spans. but boats adrift, if the flood chanced to
be a high one, might endanger the girders; and there was a very
fleet in the shrunken channel.
"Get them behind the swell of the guardtower," he shouted down to
Peroo. "It will be dead-water there. Get them below the bridge."
"Accha! [Very good.] I know; we are mooring them with wire-rope,"
was the answer. "Heh! Listen to the Chota Sahib. He is working hard."
From across the river came an almost continuous whistling of
locomotives, backed by the rumble of stone. Hitchcock at the
last minute was spending a few hundred more trucks of Tarakee
stone in reinforcing his spurs and embankments.
"The bridge challenges Mother Gunga," said Peroo, with a laugh.
"But when she talks I know whose voice will be the loudest."
For hours the naked men worked, screaming and shouting under the
lights. It was a hot, moonless night; the end of it was darkened
by clouds and a sudden squall that made Findlayson very grave.
"She moves!" said Peroo, just before the dawn. "Mother Gunga is
awake! Hear!" He dipped his hand over the side of a boat and the
current mumbled on it. A little wave hit the side of a pier
with a crisp slap.
"Six hours before her time," said Findlayson, mopping his
"Now we can't depend on anything. We'd better clear all hands
out of the riverbed."
Again the big gong beat, and a second time there was the rushing
of naked feet on earth and ringing iron; the clatter of tools
ceased. In the silence, men heard the dry yawn of water crawling
over thirsty sand.
Foreman after foreman shouted to Findlayson, who had posted
himself by the guard-tower, that his section of the river-bed had
been cleaned out, and when the last voice dropped Findlayson
hurried over the bridge till the iron plating of the permanent
way gave place to the temporary plank-walk over the three centre
piers, and there he met Hitchcock.
"'All clear your side?" said Findlayson. The whisper rang in the
box of lattice work.
"Yes, and the east channel's filling now. We're utterly out of
our reckoning. When is this thing down on us?"
"There's no saying. She's filling as fast as she can. Look!"
Findlayson pointed to the planks below his feet, where the sand,
burned and defiled by months of work, was beginning to whisper
"What orders?" said Hitchcock.
"Call the roll - count stores sit on your hunkers - and pray for
the bridge. That's all I can think of Good night. Don't risk
your life trying to fish out anything that may go downstream."
"Oh, I'll be as prudent as you are! 'Night. Heavens, how she's
filling! Here's the rain in earnest."
Findlayson picked his way back to his bank, sweeping the last of
McCartney's riveters before him. The gangs had spread themselves
along the embankments, regardless of the cold rain of the dawn,
and there they waited for the flood. Only Peroo kept his men
together behind the swell of the guard-tower, where the stone-boats
lay tied fore and aft with hawsers, wire-rope, and chains.
A shrill wail ran along the line, growing to a yell, half fear
and half wonder: the face of the river whitened from bank to hank
between the stone facings, and the far-away spurs went out in
spouts of foam. Mother Gunga had come bank-high in haste, and a
wall of chocolate-coloured water was her messenger. There was a
shriek above the roar of the water, the complaint of the spans
coming down on their blocks as the cribs were whirled out from
under their bellies. The stone-boats groaned and ground each
other in the eddy that swung round the abutment, and their clumsy
masts rose higher and higher against the dim sky-line.
"Before she was shut between these walls we knew what she would
do. Now she is thus cramped God only knows what she will do!"
said Peroo, watching the furious turmoil round the guard-tower.
"Ohe'! Fight, then! Fight hard, for it is thus that a woman wears
But Mother Gunga would not fight as Peroo desired. After the
first down-stream plunge there came no more walls of water, but
the river lifted herself bodily, as a snake when she drinks in
midsummer, plucking and fingering along the revetments, and
banking up behind the piers till even Findlayson began to
recalculate the strength of his work.
When day came the village gasped. "Only last night," men said,
turning to each other, "it was as a town in the river-bed! Look now!"
And they looked and wondered afresh at the deep water, the
racing water that licked the throat of the piers. The farther
bank was veiled by rain, into which the bridge ran out and
vanished; the spurs up-stream were marked by no more than eddies
and spoutings, and down-stream the pent river, once freed of her
guide-lines, had spread like a sea to the horizon. Then hurried
by, rolling in the water, dead men and oxen together, with here
and there a patch of thatched roof that melted when it touched a
"Big flood," said Peroo, and Findlayson nodded. It was as big a
flood as he had any wish to watch. His bridge would stand
what was upon her now, but not very much more, and if by any of a
thousand chances there happened to be a weakness in the
embankments, Mother Gunga would carry his honour to the sea with
the other raffle. Worst of all, there was nothing to do except
to sit still; and Findlayson sat still under his macintosh till
his helmet became pulp on his head, and his boots were over-ankle
in mire. He took no count of time, for the river was marking the
hours, inch by inch and foot by foot, along the embankment, and
he listened, numb and hungry, to the straining of the
stone-boats, the hollow thunder under the piers, and the hundred
noises that make the full note of a flood. Once a dripping
servant brought him food, but he could not eat; and once he
thought that he heard a faint toot from a locomotive across the
river, and then he smiled. The bridge's failure would hurt his
assistant not a little, hut Hitchcock was a young man with his
big work yet to do. For himself the crash meant everything -
everything that made a hard life worth the living. They would
say, the men of his own profession . . .he remembered the
half-pitying things that he himself had said when Lockhart's new
waterworks burst and broke down in brick-heaps and sludge, and
Lockhart's spirit broke in him and he died. He remembered what
he himself had said when the Sumao Bridge went out in the big
cyclone by the sea; and most he remembered poor Hartopp's face
three weeks later, when the shame had marked it. His bridge was
twice the size of Hartopp's, and it carried the Findlayson truss
as well as the new pier-shoe - the Findlayson bolted shoe. There
were no excuses in his service. Government might listen,
perhaps, but his own kind would judge him by his bridge, as that
stood or fell. He went over it in his head, plate by plate, span
by span, brick by brick, pier by pier, remembering, comparing,
estimating, and recalculating, lest there should be any mistake;
and through the long hours and through the flights of formulae
that danced and wheeled before him a cold fear would come to
pinch his heart. His side of the sum was beyond question; but
what man knew Mother Gunga's arithmetic? Even as he was making
all sure by the multiplication table, the river might be scooping
a pot-hole to the very bottom of any one of those eighty-foot
piers that carried his reputation. Again a servant came to him
with food, but his mouth was dry, and he could only drink and
return to the decimals in his brain. And the river was still
rising. Peroo, in a mat shelter coat, crouched at his feet,
watching now his face and now the face of the river, but saying
At last the Lascar rose and floundered through the mud towards
the village, but he was careful to leave an ally to watch the
Presently he returned, most irreverently driving before him the
priest of his creed - a fat old man, with a grey beard that
whipped the wind with the wet cloth that blew over his shoulder.
Never was seen so lamentable a guru.
"What good are offerings and little kerosene lamps and dry
grain," shouted Peroo, "if squatting in the mud is all that thou
canst do? Thou hast dealt long with the Gods when they were
contented and well-wishing. Now they are angry. Speak to them!"
"What is a man against the wrath of Gods?" whined the priest,
cowering as the wind took him. "Let me go to the temple, and I
will pray there."
"Son of a pig, pray here! Is there no return for salt fish and
curry powder and dried onions? Call aloud! Tell Mother Gunga we
have had enough. Bid her be still for the night. I cannot pray,
but I have been serving in the Kumpani's boats, and when men did
not obey my orders I -" A flourish of the wire-rope colt rounded
the sentence, and the priest, breaking free from his disciple,
fled to the village.
"Fat pig!" said Peroo. "After all that we have done for him!
When the flood is down I will see to it that we get a new guru.
Finlinson Sahib, it darkens for night now, and since yesterday
nothing has been eaten. Be wise, Sahib. No man can endure
watching and great thinking on an empty belly. Lie down, Sahib.
The river will do what the river will do." "The bridge is mine; I
cannot leave it."
"Wilt thou hold it up with thy hands, then?" said Peroo,
laughing. "I was troubled for my boats and sheers before the
flood came. Now we are in the hands of the Gods. The Sahib will
not eat and lie down? Take these, then. They are meat and good
toddy together, and they kill all weariness, besides the fever
that follows the rain. I have eaten nothing else to-day at all."
He took a small tin tobacco-box from his sodden waist-belt and
thrust it into Findlayson's hand, saying: "Nay, do not be afraid.
It is no more than opium - clean Malwa opium."
Findlayson shook two or three of the dark-brown pellets into his
hand, and hardly knowing what he did, swallowed them. The stuff
was at least a good guard against fever -the fever that was
creeping upon him out of the wet mud -and he had seen what Peroo
could do in the stewing mists of autumn on the strength of a dose
from the tin box.
Peroo nodded with bright eyes. "In a little - in a little the
Sahib will find that he thinks well again. I too will -"
He dived into his treasure-box, resettled the rain-coat over
his head, and squatted down to watch the boats. It was too dark
now to see beyond the first pier, and the night seemed to have
given the river new strength. Findlayson stood with his chin on
his chest, thinking. There was one point about one of the piers
- the seventh - that he had not fully settled in his mind. The
figures would not shape themselves to the eye except one by one
and at enormous intervals of time. There was a sound rich and
mellow in his ears like the deepest note of a double-bass - an
entrancing sound upon which he pondered for several hours, as it
seemed. Then Peroo was at his elbow, shouting that a wire hawser
had snapped and the stone-boats were loose. Findlayson saw the
fleet open and swing out fanwise to a long-drawn shriek of wire
straining across gunnels.
"A tree hit them. They will all go," cried Peroo. "The main
hawser has parted. What does the Sahib do?"
An immensely complex plan had suddenly flashed into Findlayson's
mind. He saw the ropes running from boat to boat in straight
lines and angles - each rope a line of white fire. But there was
one rope which was the master rope. He could see that rope. If
he could pull it once, it was absolutely and mathematically
certain that the disordered fleet would reassemble itself in the
backwater behind the guard-tower. But why, he wondered, was
Peroo clinging so desperately to his waist as he hastened down
the bank? It was necessary to put the Lascar aside, gently and
slowly, because it was necessary to save the boats, and, further,
to demonstrate the extreme ease of the problem that looked so
difficult. And then - but it was of no conceivable importance -
a wire-rope raced through his hand, burning it, the high bank
disappeared, and with it all the slowly dispersing factors of
the problem. He was sitting in the rainy darkness - sitting in a
boat that spun like a top, and Peroo was standing over him.
"I had forgotten," said the Lascar, slowly, "that to those
fasting and unused, the opium is worse than any wine. Those who
die in Gunga go to the Gods. Still, I have no desire to present
myself before such great ones. Can the Sahib swim?"
"What need? He can fly - fly as swiftly as the wind," was the
"He is mad!" muttered Peroo, under his breath. "And he threw me
aside like a bundle of dung-cakes. Well, he will not know his
death. The boat cannot live an hour here even if she strike
nothing. It is not good to look at death with a clear eye."
He refreshed himself again from the tin box, squatted down in the
bows of the reeling, pegged, and stitched craft, staring through
the mist at the nothing that was there. A warm drowsiness crept
over Findlayson, the Chief Engineer, whose duty was with his
bridge. The heavy raindrops struck him with a thousand tingling
little thrills, and the weight of all time since time was made
hung heavy on his eyelids. He thought and perceived that he was
perfectly secure, for the water was so solid that a man could
surely step out upon it, and, standing still with his legs apart
to keep his balance - this was the most important point - would
be borne with great and easy speed to the shore. But yet a
better plan came to him. It needed only an exertion of will for
the soul to hurl the body ashore as wind drives paper, to waft it
kite-fashion to the bank. Thereafter - the boat spun dizzily -
suppose the high wind got under the freed body? Would it tower
up like a kite and pitch headlong on the far-away sands, or would
it duck about, beyond control, through all eternity? Findlayson
gripped the gunnel to anchor himself, for it seemed that he was
on the edge of taking the flight before he had settled all his
plans. Opium has more effect on the white man than the black.
Peroo was only comfortably indifferent to accidents. "She cannot
live," he grunted. "Her seams open already. If she were even a
dinghy with oars we could have ridden it out; but a box with
holes is no good. Finlinson Sahib, she fills."
"Accha! I am going away. Come thou also." In his mind,
Findlayson had already escaped from the boat, and was circling
high in air to find a rest for the sole of his foot. His body -
he was really sorry for its gross helplessness - lay in the
stern, the water rushing about its knees.
"How very ridiculous!" he said to himself from his eyrie -" that
- is Findlayson - chief of the Kashi Bridge. The poor beast is
going to be drowned, too. Drowned when it's close to shore. I'm
- I'm on shore already. Why doesn't it come along?"
To his intense disgust, he found his soul back in his body again,
and that body spluttering and choking in deep water. The pain of
the reunion was atrocious, but it was necessary, also, to fight
for the body. He was conscious of grasping wildly at wet sand,
and striding prodigiously, as one strides in a dream, to keep
foothold in the swirling water, till at last he hauled himself
clear of the hold of the river, and dropped, panting, on wet
"Not this night," said Peroo, in his ear. "The Gods have
protected us." The Lascar moved his feet cautiously, and they
rustled among dried stumps. "This is some island of last year's
indigo-crop," he went on. "We shall find no men here; but have
great care, Sahib; all the snakes of a hundred miles have been
flooded out. Here comes the lightning, on the heels of the
wind. Now we shall be able to look; but walk carefully."
Findlayson was far and far beyond any fear of snakes, or indeed
any merely human emotion. He saw, after he had rubbed the water
from his eyes, with an immense clearness, and trod, so it seemed
to himself with world-encompassing strides. Somewhere in the
night of time he had built a bridge - a bridge that spanned
illimitable levels of shining seas; but the Deluge had swept it
away, leaving this one island under heaven for Findlayson and his
companion, sole survivors of the breed of Man.
An incessant lightning, forked and blue, showed all that there was
to be seen on the little patch in the flood - a clump of thorn,
a clump of swaying creaking bamboos, and a grey gnarled peepul
overshadowing a Hindoo shrine, from whose dome floated a
tattered red flag. The holy man whose summer resting-place it
was had long since abandoned it, and the weather had broken the
red-daubed image of his god. The two men stumbled, heavy-limbed
and heavy-eyed, over the ashes of a brick-set cooking-place, and
dropped down under the shelter of the branches, while the rain
and river roared together.
The stumps of the indigo crackled, and there was a smell of
cattle, as a huge and dripping Brahminee bull shouldered his way
under the tree. The flashes revealed the trident mark of
Shiva on his flank, the insolence of head and hump, the luminous
stag-like eyes, the brow crowned with a wreath of sodden marigold
blooms, and the silky dewlap that almost swept the ground. There
was a noise behind him of other beasts coming up from the
flood-line through the thicket, a sound of heavy feet and deep
"Here be more beside ourselves," said Findlayson, his head against
the treepole, looking through half-shut eyes, wholly at ease.
"Truly," said Peroo, thickly, "and no small ones."
"What are they, then? I do not see clearly."
"The Gods. Who else? Look!"
"Ah, true! The Gods surely - the Gods." Findlayson smiled as his
head fell forward on his chest. Peroo was eminently right. After
the Flood, who should be alive in the land except the Gods that
made it - the Gods to whom his village prayed nightly - the Gods
who were in all men's mouths and about all men's ways. He could
not raise his head or stir a finger for the trance that held him,
and Peroo was smiling vacantly at the lightning.
The Bull paused by the shrine, his head lowered to the damp
earth. A green Parrot in the branches preened his wet wings and
screamed against the thunder as the circle under the tree filled
with the shifting shadows of beasts. There was a black Buck
at the Bull's heels-such a Buck as Findlayson in his far-away
life upon earth might have seen in dreams - a Buck with a royal
head, ebon back, silver belly, and gleaming straight horns.
Beside him, her head bowed to the ground, the green eyes burning
under the heavy brows, with restless tail switching the dead
grass, paced a Tigress, full-bellied and deep-jowled.
The Bull crouched beside the shrine, and there leaped from the
darkness a monstrous grey Ape, who seated himself man-wise in the
place of the fallen image, and the rain spilled like jewels from
the hair of his neck and shoulders. Other shadows came and went
behind the circle, among them a drunken Man flourishing staff and
drinking-bottle. Then a hoarse bellow broke out from near the
ground. "The flood lessens even now," it cried. "Hour by hour
the water falls, and their bridge still stands!"
"My bridge," said Findlayson to himself "That must be very old
work now. What have the Gods to do with my bridge?"
His eyes rolled in the darkness following the roar. A Mugger -
the blunt-nosed, ford-haunting Mugger of the Ganges -draggled
herself before the beasts, lashing furiously to right and left
with her tail.
"They have made it too strong for me. In all this night I have
only torn away a handful of planks. The walls stand. The towers
stand. They have chained my flood, and the river is not free any
more. Heavenly Ones, take this yoke away! Give me clear water
between bank and bank! It is I, Mother Gunga, that speak. The
Justice of the Gods! Deal me the Justice of the Gods!"
"What said I?" whispered Peroo. "This is in truth a Punchayet of
the Gods. Now we know that all the world is dead, save you and
The Parrot screamed and fluttered again, and the Tigress, her
ears flat to her head, snarled wickedly.
Somewhere in the shadow, a great trunk and gleaming tusks swayed
to and fro, and a low gurgle broke the silence that followed on
"We be here," said a deep voice, "the Great Ones. One only and
very many. Shiv, my father, is here, with Indra. Kali has
spoken already. Hanuman listens also."
"Kashi is without her Kotwal to-night," shouted the Man with the
drinking-bottle, flinging his staff to the ground, while the
island rang to the baying of hounds. "Give her the Justice of
"Ye were still when they polluted my waters," the great Crocodile
bellowed. "Ye made no sign when my river was trapped between the
walls. I had no help save my own strength, and that failed - the
strength of Mother Gunga failed - before their guard-towers. What
could I do? I have done everything. Finish now, Heavenly Ones!"
"I brought the death; I rode the spotted sick-ness from hut to
hut of their workmen, and yet they would not cease." A
nose-slitten, hide-worn Ass, lame, scissor-legged, and galled,
limped forward. "I cast the death at them out of my nostrils,
but they would not cease."
Peroo would have moved, but the opium lay heavy upon him.
"Bah!" he said, spitting. "Here is Sitala herself; Mata - the
small-pox. Has the Sahib a handkerchief to put over his face?"
"Little help! They fed me the corpses for a month, and I flung
them out on my sand-bars, but their work went forward. Demons
they are, and sons of demons! And ye left Mother Gunga alone for
their fire-carriage to make a mock of The Justice of the Gods on
The Bull turned the cud in his mouth and answered slowly: "If the
Justice of the Gods caught all who made a mock of holy things
there would be many dark altars in the land, mother."
"But this goes beyond a mock," said the Tigress, darting forward
a griping paw. "Thou knowest, Shiv, and ye, too, Heavenly Ones;
ye know that they have defiled Gunga. Surely they must come to
the Destroyer. Let Indra judge."
The Buck made no movement as he answered: "How long has this
"Three years, as men count years," said the Mugger, close
pressed to the earth.
"Does Mother Gunga die, then, in a year, that she is so anxious
to see vengeance now? The deep sea was where she runs but
yesterday, and to-morrow the sea shall cover her again as the
Gods count that which men call time. Can any say that this their
bridge endures till to-morrow?" said the Buck.
There was a long hush, and in the clearing of the storm the full
moon stood up above the dripping trees.
"Judge ye, then," said the River, sullenly. "I have spoken my
shame. The flood falls still. I can do no more."
"For my own part " - it was the voice of the great Ape seated
within the shrine -" it pleases me well to watch these men,
remembering that I also builded no small bridge in the world's youth."
"They say, too," snarled the Tiger, "that these men came of the
wreck of thy armies, Hanuman, and therefore thou hast aided -"
"They toil as my armies toiled in Lanka, and they believe that
their toil endures. Indra is too high, but Shiv, thou knowest
how the land is threaded with their fire-carriages."
"Yea, I know," said the Bull. "Their Gods instructed them
in the matter."
A laugh ran round the circle.
"Their Gods! What should their Gods know? They were born yesterday,
and those that made them are scarcely yet cold," said the Mugger.
"To-morrow their Gods will die."
"Ho!" said Peroo. "Mother Gunga talks good talk. I told that to
the padre-sahib who preached on the Mombassa, and he asked the
Burra Malum to put me in irons for a great rudeness."
"Surely they make these things to please their Gods," said the Bull again.
"Not altogether," the Elephant rolled forth. "It is for the
profit of my mahajuns - my fat money-lenders that worship me at
each new year, when they draw my image at the head of the
account-books. I, looking over their shoulders by lamplight,
see that the names in the books are those of men in far places -
for all the towns are drawn together by the fire-carriage, and
the money comes and goes swiftly, and the account-books grow as
fat as - myself. And I, who am Ganesh of Good Luck, I bless my
"They have changed the face of the land-which is my land. They
have killed and made new towns on my banks," said the Mugger.
"It is but the shifting of a little dirt. Let the dirt dig in
the dirt if it pleases the dirt," answered the Elephant.
"But afterwards?" said the Tiger. "Afterwards they will see that
Mother Gunga can avenge no insult, and they fall away from her
first, and later from us all, one by one. In the end, Ganesh, we
are left with naked altars."
The drunken Man staggered to his feet, and hiccupped vehemently.
"Kali lies. My sister lies. Also this my stick is the Kotwal of
Kashi, and he keeps tally of my pilgrims. When the time comes to
worship Bhairon-and it is always time - the fire-carriages move
one by one, and each bears a thousand pilgrims. They do not come
afoot any more, but rolling upon wheels, and my honour is
"Gunga, I have seen thy bed at Pryag black with the pilgrims,"
said the Ape, leaning forward, "and but for the fire-carriage
they would have come slowly and in fewer numbers. Remember."
"They come to me always," Bhairon went on thickly. "By day and
night they pray to me, all the Common People in the fields and
the roads. Who is like Bhairon to-day? What talk is this of
changing faiths? Is my staff Kotwal of Kashi for nothing?
He keeps the tally, and he says that never were so many altars
as today, and the firecarriage serves them well. Bhairon am I -
Bhairon of the Common People, and the chiefest of the Heavenly
Ones to-day. Also my staff says -"
"Peace, thou" lowed the Bull. "The worship of the schools is
mine, and they talk very wisely, asking whether I be one or many,
as is the delight of my people, and ye know what I am. Kali, my
wife, thou knowest also."
"Yea, I know," said the Tigress, with lowered head.
"Greater am I than Gunga also. For ye know who moved the minds
of men that they should count Gunga holy among the rivers. Who
die in that water - ye know how men say - come to us without
punishment, and Gunga knows that the fire-carriage has borne to
her scores upon scores of such anxious ones; and Kali knows that
she has held her chiefest festivals among the pilgrimages that
are fed by the fire-carriage. Who smote at Pooree, under the
Image there, her thousands in a day and a night, and bound the
sickness to the wheels of the fire-carriages, so that it ran from
one end of the land to the other? Who but Kali? Before the
fire-carriage came it was a heavy toil. The fire-carriages have
served thee well, Mother of Death. But I speak for mine own
altars, who am not Bhairon of the Common Folk, but Shiv. Men go
to and fro, making words and telling talk of strange Gods, and I
listen. Faith follows faith among my people in the schools,
and I have no anger; for when all words are said, and the new
talk is ended, to Shiv men return at the last."
"True. It is true," murmured Hanuman. "To Shiv and to the
others, mother, they return. I creep from temple to temple in
the North, where they worship one God and His Prophet; and
presently my image is alone within their shrines."
"Small thanks," said the Buck, turning his head slowly. "I am
that One and His Prophet also."
"Even so, father," said Hanuman. "And to the South I go who am
the oldest of the Gods as men know the Gods, and presently I
touch the shrines of the New Faith and the Woman whom we know is
hewn twelve-armed, and still they call her Mary."
"Small thanks, brother," said the Tigress. "I am that Woman."
"Even so, sister; and I go West among the fire-carriages, and
stand before the bridge-builders in many shapes, and because of
me they change their faiths and are very wise. Ho! ho! I am the
builder of bridges, indeed - bridges between this and that, and
each bridge leads surely to Us in the end. Be content, Gunga.
Neither these men nor those that follow them mock thee at all."
"Am I alone, then, Heavenly Ones? Shall I smooth out my flood
lest unhappily I bear away their walls? Will Indra dry my
springs in the hills and make me crawl humbly between their
wharfs? Shall I bury me in the sand ere I offend?"
"And all for the sake of a little iron bar with the fire-carriage
atop. Truly, Mother Gunga is always young!" said Ganesh the
Elephant. "A child had not spoken more foolishly. Let the dirt
dig in the dirt ere it return to the dirt. I know only that my
people grow rich and praise me. Shiv has said that the men of
the schools do not forget; Bhairon is content for his crowd of
the Common People; and Hanuman laughs."
"Surely I laugh," said the Ape. "My altars are few beside those
of Ganesh or Bhairon, but the fire-carriages bring me new
worshippers from beyond the Black Water - the men who believe
that their God is toil. I run before them beckoning, and they
"Give them the toil that they desire, then," said the River.
"Make a bar across my flood and throw the water back upon the bridge.
Once thou wast strong in Lanka, Hanuman. Stoop and lift my bed."
"Who gives life can take life." The Ape scratched in the mud with
a long forefinger. "And yet, who would profit by the killing?
Very many would die."
There came up from the water a snatch of a love-song such as the
boys sing when they watch their cattle in the noon heats of late
spring. The Parrot screamed joyously, sidling along his
branch with lowered head as the song grew louder, and in a patch
of clear moonlight stood revealed the young herd, the darling of
the Gopis, the idol of dreaming maids and of mothers ere their
children are born Krishna the Well-beloved. He stooped to knot
up his long wet hair, and the Parrot fluttered to his shoulder.
"Fleeting and singing, and singing and fleeting," hiccupped
Bhairon. "Those make thee late for the council, brother."
"And then?" said Krishna, with a laugh, throwing back his head.
"Ye can do little without me or Karma here." He fondled the
Parrot's plumage and laughed again. "What is this sitting and
talking together? I heard Mother Gunga roaring in the dark, and
so came quickly from a hut where I lay warm. And what have ye
done to Karma, that he is so wet and silent? And what does Mother
Gunga here? Are the heavens full that ye must come paddling in
the mud beast-wise? Karma, what do they do?"
"Gunga has prayed for a vengeance on the bridge-builders, and
Kali is with her. Now she bids Hanuman whelm the bridge, that
her honour may be made great," cried the Parrot. "I waited here,
knowing that thou wouldst come, O my master!
"And the Heavenly Ones said nothing? Did Gunga and the Mother of
Sorrows out-talk them? Did none speak for my people?"
"Nay," said Ganesh, moving uneasily from foot to foot; "I said it
was but dirt at play, and why should we stamp it flat?"
"I was content to let them toil -well content," said Hanuman.
"What had I to do with Gunga's anger?" said the Bull.
"I am Bhairon of the Common Folk, and this my staff is Kotwal of
all Kashi. I spoke for the Common People."
"Thou?" The young God's eyes sparkled.
"Am I not the first of the Gods in their mouths to-day?" returned
Bhairon, unabashed. "For the sake of the Common People I said -
very many wise things which I have now forgotten, but this my staff-"
Krishna turned impatiently, saw the Mugger at his feet, and kneeling,
slipped an arm round the cold neck. "Mother," he said gently,
"get thee to thy flood again. The matter is not for thee.
What harm shall thy honour take of this live dirt? Thou hast
given them their fields new year after year, and by thy
flood they are made strong. They come all to thee at the last.
What need to slay them now? Have pity, mother, for a little - and
it is only for a little."
"If it be only for a little," the slow beast began.
"Are they Gods, then?" Krishna returned with a laugh, his eyes
looking into the dull eyes of the River. "Be certain that it is
only for a little. The Heavenly Ones have heard thee, and
presently justice will be done. Go now, mother, to the flood
again. Men and cattle are thick on the waters - the banks fall -
the villages melt because of thee."
"But the bridge - the bridge stands." The Mugger turned grunting
into the undergrowth as Krishna rose.
"It is ended," said the Tigress, viciously. "There is no more
justice from the Heavenly Ones. Ye have made shame and sport of
Gunga, who asked no more than a few score lives."
"Of my people - who lie under the leaf-roofs of the village
yonder - of the young girls, and the young men who sing to them
in the dark -of the child that will be born next morn - of that
which was begotten to-night," said Krishna. "And when all is
done, what profit? To-morrow sees them at work. Ay, if ye swept
the bridge out from end to end they would begin anew. Hear me!
Bhairon is drunk always. Hanuman mocks his people with new riddles."
"Nay, but they are very old ones," the Ape said, laughing.
"Shiv hears the talk of the schools and the dreams of the holy
men; Ganesh thinks only of his fat traders; but I - I live with
these my people, asking for no gifts, and so receiving them
"And very tender art thou of thy people," said the Tigress.
"They are my own. The old women dream of me turning in their
sleep; the maids look and listen for me when they go to fill
their lotahs by the river. I walk by the young men waiting
without the gates at dusk, and I call over my shoulder to the
white-beards. Ye know, Heavenly Ones, that I alone of us all
walk upon the earth continually, and have no pleasure in our
heavens so long as a green blade springs here, or there are two
voices at twilight in the standing crops. Wise are ye, but ye
live far off; forgetting whence ye came. So do I not forget.
And the fire-carriage feeds your shrines, ye say? And the fire-
carriages bring a thousand pilgrims where but ten came in the old
years? True. That is true, to-day."
"But to-morrow they are dead, brother," said Ganesh.
"Peace!" said the Bull, as Hanuman leaned forward again. "And
to-morrow, beloved - what of to-morrow?"
"This only. A new word creeping from mouth to mouth among the
Common Folk - a word that neither man nor God can lay hold of -
an evil word - a little lazy word among the Common Folk,
saying (and none know who set that word afoot) that they weary of
ye, Heavenly Ones."
The Gods laughed together softly. "And then, beloved," they said.
"And to cover that weariness they, my people, will bring to thee,
Shiv, and to thee, Ganesh, at first greater offerings and a
louder noise of worship. But the word has gone abroad, and,
after, they will pay fewer dues to your fat Brahmins. Next they
will forget your altars, but so slowly that no man can say how
his forgetfulness began."
"I knew - I knew! I spoke this also, but they would not hear,"
said the Tigress. "We should have slain-we should have slain!"
"It is too late now. Ye should have slain at the beginning when
the men from across the water had taught our folk nothing. Now
my people see their work, and go away thinking. They do not
think of the Heavenly Ones altogether. They think of the
fire-carriage and the other things that the bridge-builders have
done, and when your priests thrust forward hands asking alms,
they give a little unwillingly. That is the beginning, among one
or two, or five or ten - for I, moving among my people, know what
is in their hearts."
"And the end, Jester of the Gods? What shall the end be?" said Ganesh.
"The end shall be as it was in the beginning, O slothful son of Shiv!
The flame shall die upon the altars and the prayer upon the
tongue till ye become little Gods again - Gods of the jungle
- names that the hunters of rats and noosers of dogs whisper in
the thicket and among the caves -rag-Gods, pot Godlings of the
tree, and the village-mark, as ye were at the beginning. That is
the end, Ganesh, for thee, and for Bhairon - Bhairon of the
"It is very far away," grunted Bhairon. "Also, it is a lie."
"Many women have kissed Krishna. They told him this to cheer
their own hearts when the grey hairs came, and he has told us the
tale," said the Bull, below his breath.
"Their Gods came, and we changed them. I took the Woman and made
her twelve-armed. So shall we twist all their Gods," said Hanuman.
"Their Gods! This is no question of their Gods - one or three -
man or woman. The matter is with the people. I move, and not
the Gods of the bridge-builders," said Krishna.
"So be it. I have made a man worship the fire-carriage as it stood
still breathing smoke, and he knew not that he worshipped me,"
said Hanuman the Ape. "They will only change a little the names
of their Gods. I shall lead the builders of the bridges as
of old; Shiv shall be worshipped in the schools by such as doubt
and despise their fellows; Ganesh shall have his mahajuns,
and Bhairon the donkey-drivers, the pilgrims, and the sellers
of toys. Beloved, they will do no more than change the names,
and that we have seen a thousand times."
"Surely they will do no more than change the names," echoed
Ganesh; but there was an uneasy movement among the Gods.
"They will change more than the names. Me alone they cannot
kill, so long as a maiden and a man meet together or the spring
follows the winter rains. Heavenly Ones, not for nothing have I
walked upon the earth. My people know not now what they know;
but I, who live with them, I read their hearts. Great Kings, the
beginning of the end is born already. The fire-carriages shout
the names of new Gods that are not the old under new names.
Drink now and eat greatly! Bathe your faces in the smoke of the
altars before they grow cold! Take dues and listen to the cymbals
and the drums, Heavenly Ones, while yet there are flowers and
songs. As men count time the end is far off; but as we who know
reckon it is to-day. I have spoken."
The young God ceased, and his brethren looked at each other long
"This I have not heard before," Peroo whispered in his
companion's ear. "And yet sometimes, when I oiled the brasses
in the engine-room of the Goorkha, I have wondered if our priests
were so wise - so wise. The day is coming, Sahib. They will be
gone by the morning."
A yellow light broadened in the sky, and the tone of the river
changed as the darkness withdrew.
Suddenly the Elephant trumpeted aloud as though man had goaded him.
"Let Indra judge. Father of all, speak thou! What of the things
we have heard? Has Krishna lied indeed? Or --"
"Ye know," said the Buck, rising to his feet. "Ye know the
Riddle of the Gods. When Brahm ceases to dream, the Heavens and
the Hells and Earth disappear. Be content. Brahm dreams still.
The dreams come and go, and the nature of the dreams changes, but
still Brahm dreams. Krishna has walked too long upon earth, and
yet I love him the more for the tale he has told. The Gods
change, beloved - all save One!"
"Ay, all save one that makes love in the hearts of men," said
Krishna, knotting his girdle. "It is but a little time to wait,
and ye shall know if I lie. Truly it is but a little time, as
thou sayest, and we shall know. Get thee to thy huts again,
beloved, and make sport for the young things, for still Brahm
dreams. Go, my children! Brahm dreams and till he wakes the
Gods die not."
"Whither went they?" said the Lascar, awe-struck, shivering a
little with the cold.
"God knows!" said Findlayson. The river and the island lay in
full daylight now, and there was never mark of hoof or pug on the
wet earth under the peepul. Only a parrot screamed in the
branches, bringing down showers of water-drops as he fluttered
"Up! We are cramped with cold! Has the opium died out.
Canst thou move, Sahib?"
Findlayson staggered to his feet and shook himself. His bead
swam and ached, but the work of the opium was over, and, as he
sluiced his forehead in a pool, the Chief Engineer of the Kashi
Bridge was wondering how he had managed to fall upon the island,
what chances the day offered of return, and, above all, how his
"Peroo, I have forgotten much I was under the guard-tower
watching the river; and then --- Did the flood sweep us away?"
"No. The boats broke loose, Sahib, and" (if the Sahib had
forgotten about the opium, decidedly Peroo would not remind him)
"in striving to retie them, so it seemed to me but it was dark -
a rope caught the Sahib and threw him upon a boat. Considering
that we two, with Hitchcock Sahib, built, as it were, that
bridge, I came also upon the boat, which came riding on
horseback, as it were, on the nose of this island, and so,
splitting, cast us ashore. I made a great cry when the boat left
the wharf and without doubt Hitchcock Sahib will come for us. As
for the bridge, so many have died in the building that it cannot
fall." A fierce sun, that drew out all the smell of the sodden
land, had followed the storm, and in that clear light there was
no room for a man to think of the dreams of the dark. Findlayson
stared upstream, across the blaze of moving water, till his eyes
ached. There was no sign of any bank to the Ganges, much less of
"We came down far," he said. "It was wonderful that we were not
drowned a hundred times."
"That was the least of the wonder, for no man dies before his
time. I have seen Sydney, I have seen London, and twenty great
ports, but" - Peroo looked at the damp, discoloured shrine under
the peepul - "never man has seen that we saw here."
"Has the Sahib forgotten; or do we black men only see the Gods?"
"There was a fever upon me." Findlayson was still looking
uneasily across the water. "It seemed that the island was full
of beasts and men talking, but I do not remember. A boat could
live in this water now, I think."
"Oho! Then it is true. 'When Brahm ceases to dream, the Gods
die.' Now I know, indeed, what he meant. Once, too, the guru
said as much to me; but then I did not understand. Now I am wise."
"What?" said Findlayson, over his shoulder.
Peroo went on as if he were talking to himself "Six - seven - ten
monsoons since, I was watch on the fo'c'sle of the Rewah - the
Kumpani's big boat - and there was a big tufan; green and black
water beating, and I held fast to the life-lines, choking under
the waters. Then I thought of the Gods - of Those whom we saw
to-night "- he stared curiously at Findlayson's back, but the
white man was looking across the flood. "Yes, I say of Those
whom we saw this night past, and I called upon Them to protect
me. And while I prayed, still keeping my lookout, a big wave
came and threw me forward upon the ring of the great black
bow-anchor, and the Rewah rose high and high, leaning towards the
left-hand side, and the water drew away from beneath her nose,
and I lay upon my belly, holding the ring, and looking down into
those great deeps. Then I thought, even in the face of death: If
I lose hold I die, and for me neither the Rewah nor my place by
the galley where the rice is cooked, nor Bombay, nor Calcutta,
nor even London, will be any more for me. 'How shall I be sure,'
I said, 'that the Gods to whom I pray will abide at all?' This I
thought, and the Rewah dropped her nose as a hammer falls, and
all the sea came in and slid me backwards along the fo'c'sle and
over the break of the fo'c'sle, and I very badly bruised my shin
against the donkey-engine: but I did not die, and I have seen the
Gods. They are good for live men, but for the dead. . . . They
have spoken Themselves. Therefore, when I come to the village I
will beat the guru for talking riddles which are no riddles.
When Brahm ceases to dream the Gods go."
"Look up-stream. The light blinds. Is there smoke yonder?"
Peroo shaded his eyes with his hands. "He is a wise man and
quick. Hitchcock Sahib would not trust a rowboat. He has
borrowed the Rao Sahib's steam-launch, and comes to look for us.
I have always said that there should have been a steam-launch on
the bridge works for us.
The territory of the Rao of Baraon lay within ten miles of the
bridge; and Findlayson and Hitchcock had spent a fair portion of
their scanty leisure in playing billiards and shooting blackbuck
with the young man. He had been bearled by an English tutor of
sporting tastes for some five or six years, and was now royally
wasting the revenues accumulated during his minority by the
Indian Government. His steam-launch, with its silver-plated
rails, striped silk awning, and mahogany decks, was a new toy
which Findlayson had found horribly in the way when the Rao came
to look at the bridge works.
"It's great luck," murmured Findlayson, but he was none the less
afraid, wondering what news might be of the bridge.
The gaudy blue-and-white funnel came downstream swiftly. They
could see Hitchcock in the bows, with a pair of opera-glasses,
and his face was unusually white. Then Peroo hailed, and the
launch made for the tail of the island. The Rao Sahib, in tweed
shooting-suit and a seven-hued turban, waved his royal hand, and
Hitchcock shouted. But he need have asked no questions, for
Findlayson's first demand was for his bridge.
"All serene! 'Gad, I never expected to see you again, Findlayson.
You're seven koss downstream. Yes; there's not a stone shifted
anywhere; but how are you? I borrowed the Rao Sahib's launch, and
he was good enough to come along. Jump in. "Ah, Finlinson, you
are very well, eh? That was most unprecedented calamity last
night, eh? My royal palace, too, it leaks like the devil, and the
crops will also be short all about my country. Now you shall
back her out, Hitchcock. I - I do not understand steam-engines.
You are wet? You are cold, Finlinson? I have some things to eat
here, and you will take a good drink."
"I'm immensely grateful, Rao Sahib. I believe you've saved my
life. How did Hitchcock -"
"Oho! His hair was upon end. He rode to me in the middle of the
night and woke me up in the arms of Morpheus. I was most truly
concerned, Finlinson, so I came too. My head-priest he is very
angry just now. We will go quick, Mister Hitchcock. I am due to
attend at twelve forty-five in the state temple, where we
sanctify some new idol. If not so I would have asked you to
spend the day with me. They are dam-bore, these religious
ceremonies, Finlinson, eh?"
Peroo, well known to the crew, had possessed himself of the
inlaid wheel, and was taking the launch craftily up-stream. But
while he steered he was, in his mind, handling two feet of
partially untwisted wire-rope; and the back upon which he beat
was the back of his guru.
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