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PAGE 3

The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes
by [?]

Here everything seemed easy enough. The sand hills ran down to the river edge, it is true, but there were plenty of shoals and shallows across which I could gallop Pornic, and find my way back to terra firmaby turning sharply to the right or left. As I led Pornic over the sands I was startled by the faint pop of a rifle across the river; and at the same m
oment a bullet dropped with a sharp “whit” close to Pornic’s head.

There was no mistaking the nature of the missile—a regulation Martini-Henry “picket. ”About five hundred yards away a country-boat was anchored in midstream; and a jet of smoke drifting away from its bows in the still morning air showed me whence the delicate attention had come. Was ever a respectable gentleman in such an impasse?The treacherous sand slope allowed no escape from a spot which I had visited most involuntarily, and a promenade on the river frontage was the signal for a bombardment from some insane native in a boat. I’m afraid that I lost my temper very much indeed.

Another bullet reminded me that I had better save my breath to cool my porridge; and I retreated hastily up the sands and back to the horseshoe, where I saw that the noise of the rifle had drawn sixty-five human beings from the badger-holes which I had up till that point supposed to be untenanted. I found myself in the midst of a crowd of spectators—about forty men, twenty women, and one child who could not have been more than five years old. They were all scantily clothed in that salmon-colored cloth which one associates with Hindu mendicants, and, at first sight, gave me the impression of a band of loathsome fakirs. The filth and repulsiveness of the assembly were beyond all description, and I shuddered to think what their life in the badger-holes must be.

Even in these days, when local self government has destroyed the greater part of a native’s respect for a Sahib, I have been accustomed to a certain amount of civility from my inferiors, and on approaching the crowd naturally expected that there would be some recognition of my presence. As a matter of fact there was; but it was by no means what I had looked for.

The ragged crew actually laughed at me—such laughter I hope I may never hearagain. Theycackled,yelled, whistled, and howled as I walked into their midst;some of them literally throwing themselves down on the ground in convulsions of unholy mirth. In a moment I had let go Pornic’s head, and. irritated beyond expression at the morning’s adventure, commenced cuffing those nearest to me with all the force I could. The wretches dropped under my blows like nine-pins, and the laughter gave place to wails for mercy; while those yet untouched clasped me round the knees, imploring me in all sorts of uncouth tongues to spare them.

In the tumult, and just when I was feeling very much ashamed of myself for having thus easily given way to my temper, a thin, high voice murmured in English from behind my shoulder:—“Sahib! Sahib!Do you not know me? Sahib, it is Gunga Dass, the telegraph-master. ”

I spun round quickly and faced the speaker.

Gunga Dass, (I have, of course, no hesitation in mentioning the man’s real name) I had known four years before as a Deccanee Brahmin loaned by the Pun-jab Government to one of the Khalsia States. He was in charge of a branch telegraph-office there, and when I had lastmethimwasajovial,full-stomached, portly Government servant with a marvelous capacity for making had punsinEnglish—apeculiarity which made me remember him long after I had forgotten his services to me in his official capacity. It is seldom that a Hindu makes English puns.