24 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 9

THE PAWN. T HE Almighty, it seems, will adopt the humblest

of his creatures as the agent of His will. There was the case of the Purbiah, Balu syce, a docile, obedient Little automaton, barely five feet in height, of an intense ebony blackness, who might have passed for the model and prototype of the first gollywog, the very inspiration of the idea. One suspected hidden worth in the little man on account of the attraction he had for Pauline Anne, the small pony of the five-year-old daughter of his master, the Police Sahib of Bahadurgarh. Pauline Anne was unhappy in the absence of Balu. She would look round for him uneasily on the road when he lagged behind and stop and tap the ground impatiently with her foot. When at last he appeared round the corner she whinnied and neighed musically and made comfortable noises in her inside. The coat of Pauline Anne shone like burnished bronze, she had no particular points or shape, but her belly was round and firm. She was as much like a toy pony as Balu was like a toy syce. Pauline Anne and her mistress and the father of her mistress, the Police Sahib of Bahadurgarh, were all sad when Balu went away with the savings of ten years to settle down in his Purbiah home in Oudh. The homing instinct in Balu was too strong, and no blandishments could induce him to stay. Had he not gioomed, mallished, and fed Pauline Anne for ten years with the sole idea of earning the wherewithal to take him back to the only soil which in his judgment possessed any worth, and in whit's it was possible to become rooted without regret ?

Balu, as Cunningham, the Police Sahib, was aware, had no vice. Through all his service his slate was clean. He did not waylay women or drink or steal. Therefore the father of the mistress of Pauline Anne did not accept the evidence of debauch when the body of Balu was brought into the Thana the morning after he left service. The earthly remains of the syce were found under an uk bush beside the grand trunk road three miles out of Bahadur- garh. The constables believed he had perished in a drunken brawl. True, there scats a bottle in his hand ; the ground at his feet had been broken and trodden as in a fray, and his clothes reeked of country spirits ; but Cunningham was unconvinced, and the post-mortem vindicated his faith in gollywogs, if not in men. In the stomach of Balu the assistant surgeon found a quantity of datura, quite enough to have killed Pauline Anne.

When 'Cunningham heard of the datura he knew that Balu was the agent elected by Providence for the tracking down of the poisoner Sharf-ud-din. He knew that Shari- ud-din, alias Jamu, alias Motu, alias Umra son of Sandhi, alias Debi son of Rup Chand resident of Jaipur, alias at least twenty-five other persons, in all of whom Cunning- ham's Service was deeply interested, had been during the last twenty-four hours within three miles of Bahadur- garh. Sharf-ud-din, juggler, horse-dealer, expert card- sharper, professor of alchemy, healer of disease by charms, and dispatcher of many unconsidered lives to the other side of the dividing river, did not vary his role enough. The datum, the spirit bottle, his victim's arrack-sodden clothes betrayed him. This waylaying of Purbiahs re- turning to their home with their earnings was no new ruse. Cunningham knew exactly how Sharf-ud-din had appeared to Balu, disguised as a respectable native of Oudh, a munshi perhaps, while another of his gang dis- guised as his servant would make the first advance. Balu's village would be known to them both ; his neighbours would be discussed. Then after the customary common- places of the road, when Sharf-ud-din had remarked how small the world is, and how rich in encounters the grand trunk road, when Balu had vented the eternal wonder that man was not constituted otherwise than he is, the little black golly-wog, with whom asceticism was a habit rather than a principle, would be induced to drink. When the clouds of insensibility descended upon him he would be robbed of all he possessed, his clothes would be sprinkled with the offending alcohol, the perjured bottle would be fixed firmly in his hand, and Sharf-ud-din and his accom- plices would decamp with the proceeds of ten yeara* attention to Pauline Anne. The dacoits would then ex- change their Purbiah Hindu disguises for the ordinary costume of the Punjab and cut across country to a fresh point, preferably in the United Provinces or some native State.

But this time the poisoners did not go far enough. The drama had been enacted too often on the road between Delhi and Karnal. Sharf-ud-din had grown overbold. " Dead Purbiahs tell no tales," he said. He would not have been so confident if he had known that " Button Sahib " was engaged in the case ; Button Sahib, who, had " the gift of invisibility and the executive control over many devils," the dealer in magic to whom the dead spoke even as the living. Balu must have communed with Button Sahib, for a few days after his death the super-detective of the Punjab and Cunningham walked into the back chamber of a bunniah's shop in Ramgarh and surprised Sharf-ud-din as the village barber was shaving him. He had lost his beard ; only a tuft of hair was left uncut on his head, the tika caste mark was imprinted on his forehead ; he wore heavy earrings, and his appear- ance was so changed that even mussammat Wilayatan, who had lived with him for years as his wife, could not recognize him. In the shadow of " Waar Button Sahib " he read the writing on the wall ; in the first words of the Wizard of the Punjab he listened to his death sentence. Cunningham could read in Sharf-ud-din's drooping chin and alarmed, uneasy eyes the anticipation of the gallows. Balu, the father of the mistress of Pauline Anne, and then " Wasr Button Sahib " were the last links in the chain of his human relations.

It is perhaps a little difficult of belief, but Pauline Anne appears to have been a " sensitive." She bolted for the first time in her untroubled life and took over charge from her young mistress, when she met Sharf-ud-din, handcuffed and chained, as he entered Bahadurgarh gaol. Also there is a spot on the grand trunk road three miles out of the city which Balu's successor can never induce Pauline Anne to pass. The life of Balu, Purbiah, as we have seen, was demanded as a pawn by the Supernal Administrative Powers in the interests of justice. How Providence is to adjust the balance for Balu is written, no doubt, in the Great Book, but the page is yet unturned.