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The hot sunshine lasted for a week, and then the rains gathered together for their last downpour, and the water fell in sheets that flayed the skin off the ground and leaped back in mud. Puran Dass heaped his fire high that night, for he was sure his brothers would need warmth; but never a beast came to the shrine, though he called and called till he dropped asleep, wondering what had happened in the woods.
It was in the black heart of the night, the rain drumming like a thousand
drums, that he was roused by a plucking at his blanket, and, stretching
out, felt the little hand of a langur. "It is better here than in
the trees," he said sleepily, loosening a fold of blanket; "take
it and be warm." The monkey caught his hand and pulled hard. "Is
it food, then?" said Puran Dass. "Wait awhile, and I will prepare
some." As he kneeled to throw fuel on the fire the langur ran to
the door of the shrine, crooned, and ran back again, plucking at the man's
The deer's antlers clashed as he strode into the shrine, clashed against the grinning statute of Kali. He lowered them in Puran Dass's direction and stamped uneasily, hissing through his half-shut nostrils. "Hai! Hai! Hai!" said the Holy Man, snapping his fingers, "Is this payment for a night's lodging?" But the deer pushed him toward the door, and as he did so Puran Dass heard the sound of something opening with a sigh, and saw two slabs of the floor draw away from each other, while the sticky earth below smacked its lips.
"Now I see," said Puran Dass. "No blame to my brothers that they did not sit by the fire tonight. The mountain is falling. And yet, why should I go?" But then his eye fell on the worn begging-bowl, and his face changed. "They have given me good food daily since I came, and if I am not swift, tomorrow there will not be one mouth in the valley. Indeed, I must go and warn them below. Back there, Brother! Let me get to the fire."
The barasingh backed unwillingly as Puran Dass drove a pine torch deep into the flame, twirling it till it was well lit. "AH! YE CAME TO WARN ME," he said, rising. "Better than that we shall do; better than that. Out, now, and lend me thy neck, Brother, for I have but two feet." He clutched the withers of the barasingh with his right hand, held the torch away with his left, and stepped out of the shrine into the desperate night. There was no breath of wind, but the rain nearly drowned the flare as the great deer hurried down the slope, sliding on his haunches.
As soon as they were clear of the forest more of his brothers joined them. He heard, though he could not see, the langurs pressing about him, and behind them the 'Uhh! Uhh!' of Sona. The rain matted his long white hair into ropes; the water splashed beneath his bare feet, and his yellow robe clung to his frail old body, but he stepped down steadily, leaning against the barasingh. He was no longer a holy man but Sir Puran Dass, K.C.I.E., Prime Minister of a major State, a man accustomed to command, going out to save life.
Down the steep, splashy path they poured all together, the Bhagat and his brothers, down and down till the deer's feet clicked and stumbled on the wall of a threshing-floor, and he snorted because he smelt Man. Now they were at the head of the one crooked village street, and the Bhagat beat with his crutch on the barred windows of the blacksmith's house, as his torch blazed up in the shelter of the eaves. "Up and out!" cried Puran Bhagat; and he did not know his own voice, for it was years since he had spoken aloud to a man.
"The hill falls! The hill is falling! Up and out, oh you within!"
The alarm was passed from house to house, while the beasts, cramped in the narrow way, surged and huddled round the Bhagat, and Sona puffed impatiently. The people hurried into the street - they were no more than a few hundred souls all told - and in the glare of the torches they saw their Bhagat holding back the terrified barasingh, while the monkeys plucked piteously at his skirts, and Sona sat on his haunches and roared.
"Across the valley and up the next hill!" shouted Puran Dass. "Leave no one behind! Go quickly! We will follow!" Then the people ran as only Hill folk can run, for they knew that in a landslide you must climb for the highest ground across the valley. They fled, splashing through the little river at the bottom, panted up the terraced fields on the far side, while the Bhagat and his brethren followed. Up and up the opposite mountain they climbed, calling to each other by name - the roll call of the village - and at their heels toiled the big barasingh, weighted by the failing strength of Puran Dass. At last the deer stopped in the shadow of a deep pine-wood, five hundred feet up the hillside. His instinct that had warned him of the coming slide, told him he would be safe here.