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Title: Caste
Author: Fraser, William Alexander, 1859-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Caste" ***

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CASTE

BY

W. A. FRASER



AUTHOR OF "RED MEEKINS," "BULLDOG CARNEY," "THE THREE SAPPHIRES," "THE
LONE FURROW," "THOROUGHBREDS," ETC.



NEW YORK

GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



COPYRIGHT, 1922,

BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



CASTE. II


PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CASTE


CHAPTER I

The three Mahrattas, Sindhia, Holkar, and Bhonsla, were plotting the
overthrow of the British, and the Peshwa was looking out of brooding
eyes upon Hodson, the Resident at Poona.

Up on the hill, in the temple of Parvati, the priests repeated prayers
to the black goddess calling for the destruction of the hated whites.

Each one of the twenty-four priests as he came with a handful of
marigolds laid them one by one at the feet of the four-armed hideous
idol, repeating: "_Om, Parvati_!  _Om, Parvati_!" the comprehensive,
all-embracing "_Om_" that meant adoration and a clamour for favour.
Even to Nandi, the brass bull that carried Shiva, he appealed, "_Om
Shiva_!"

But down on the rock-plateau, where gleamed in the hot sun marble
palaces, a more malign influence was at work.  Dandhu Panth, the
adopted son of the Peshwa, had come back from Oxford, and the English
believed he had been changed into an Englishman, Nana Sahib.

Outwardly he was a sporting, well-dressed gentleman, such as Oxford
turns out; but in his heart was lust of power, and hatred of the white
race that he felt would make his inheritance, the Peshwaship, but a
vassalage.  His dreams of ruling India would fade, and he would sit a
pensioner of the British.  The Mahrattas had been stigmatised by a
captious Mogul ruler, "mountain rats."  As Hindus there was a sharp
cleavage of character; the Brahmins, fanatical, high up in the caste
scale, and all the rest of the breed inferior, vicious, blood-thirsty,
a horde of pirates.  Even the man who first made them a power, Sivaji,
had been of questionable lineage, a plebeian; and so the body corporate
was of inflammable material--little restraint of breeding.

And for all Nana Sahib's veneer of English class, mental development,
beneath the English shirt he wore the _junwa_, the three-strand sacred
thread, insignia of the twice-born,--the Brahmin.

From Governor General to the British officers who played polo with the
Peshwa's son, they all accepted him as one of themselves; considered it
good diplomacy that he had been sent to Oxford and made over.

There was just one man who had misgivings, the Resident at Poona.  He
was a small, tired, worn-out official--an executive, a perpetual wheel
in the works, always close to the red-tape-tied papers, always.
Strange that one not a dreamer, no sixth-sense, should have attained to
an intuition--which it was, his distrust of the cheery, sporty Nana
Sahib.  That Hodson's superiors intimated that India was getting to his
liver when he wrote, very cautiously, of this obsession, made no
difference; and clinging to his distrust, he achieved something.

After all it was rather strange that the matter had not been taken out
of his hands, but it wasn't.  A sort of departmental formula running;
"Commissioner So-and-So has the matter in hand--refer to him."  And so,
when a new danger appeared on the distressed horizon, Amir Khan and a
hundred thousand massed horsemen, Captain Barlow was sent to consult
with the Resident.  That was the way; a secretive, trusty, brave man,
for in India the written page is never inviolate.

Captain Barlow was sent--ostensibly as an assistant to the Resident, in
reality to acquire full knowledge of the situation, and then go to the
camp of Amir Khan with the delicate mission of persuading him not to
join his riding spear-men to the Mahratta force, but to form an
alliance with the British.

The Resident had asked for Barlow.  He had explained that any show of
interest, two men, or five, or twenty, an envoy, even men of pronounced
position, would defeat their object; in fact, believing Nana Sahib to
be what he was, he conceived the very simple idea of playing the
Oriental's Orientalism against him.

Barlow would be the last man in India to whom one as suspicious as the
Peshwa's son would attribute a subtlety deep enough for a serious
mission.  He was a great handsome boy; in his physical excellence he
was beautiful; courage was manifest in the strong content of his deep
brown eyes.  Incidentally that was one of the reasons the Resident had
asked for him, though he would have denied it, even to his daughter,
Elizabeth, though it was for her sake--that part of it.

The affair with Elizabeth had been going on for two or three years;
never quite settled--always hovering.

Indeed the Resident's daughter was not constituted to raise a cyclone
of passion, a tempest of feeling that brings an impetuous declaration
of love from any man.  She was altogether proper; well-bred; admirable;
perhaps somewhat of the type so opposite to Barlow's impressionable
nature that ultimately, all in good time, they would realise that the
scheme of creation had marked them for each other.  And Colonel Hodson
almost prayed for this.  It was desirable in every way.  Barlow was of
a splendid family; some day he might become Lord Barradean.

Anyway Captain Barlow was there playing polo with Nana Sahib--one of
the Prince's favourites; and waiting for a certain paper that would be
sent to the Resident that would contain offers of an alliance with the
Pindari Chief.

And this same hovering menace of the Pindari force was causing Nana
Sahib unrest.  Perhaps there had been a leak, as cautiously as the
Resident had made every move.  If the Pindari army were to join the
British, ready at a moment's notice to fall on the flank of the
Mahrattas, harass them with guerilla warfare, it would be serious; they
were as elusive as a huge pack of wolves; unencumbered by camp
followers, artillery, foraging as they went, swooping like birds of
prey, they were a terrible enemy.  Even as the tiger slinks in dread
from a pack of the red wild-dogs, so a regular force might well dread
these flying horsemen.

And it was Amir Khan that Nana Sahib, and the renegade French
commander, Jean Baptiste, dreaded and distrusted.  Overtures had been
made to him without result.  He was a wonderful leader.  He had made
the name of the Pindari feared throughout India.  He was the magnet
that held this huge body of fighting devils together.

Thus with the gigantic chess-board set; the possession of India
trembling in the balance; intellects of the highest development
pondering; Fate held the trump card, curiously, a girl; and not one of
the players had ever heard her name, the Gulab Begum.



CHAPTER II

The white sand plain surrounding Chunda was dotted with the tents of
the Mahratta force Sirdar Baptiste commanded.  And the Sirdar, his soul
athirst for a go at the English, whom he hated with the same rabid
ferocity that possessed the soul of Nana Sahib, was busy.  From
Pondicherry he had inveigled French gunners; and from Goa, Portuguese.
Also these renegade whites were skilled in drill.  If Holkar and
Bhonsla did their part it would be Armageddon when the hell that was
brewing burst.

But Baptiste feared the Pindari.  As he swung here and there on his
Arab the horse's hoofs seemed to pound from the resonant sands the
words "Amir Khan--Amir Khan!  Pin-dar-is, Pin-dar-is!"

It was as he discussed this very thing with his Minister, Dewan Sewlal,
that Nana Sahib swirled up the gravelled drive to the bungalow on his
golden-chestnut Arab, in his mind an inspiration gleaned from something
that had been.

His greeting of the two was light, sporty; his thin well-chiselled face
carried the bright indifferent vivacity of a fox terrier.

"Good day, Sirdar," he cried gaily; and, "How listen the gods to your
prayers, my dear Dewani?"

Baptiste, out of the fulness of his heart soon broached the troublous
thing: "Prince," he begged, "obtain from the worthy Peshwa a command
and I'll march against this wolf, Amir Khan, and remove from our path
the threatened danger."

Nana Sahib laughed; his white, even teeth were dazzling as the
black-moustached lip lifted.

"Sirdar, when I send two Rampore hounds from my kennel to make the kill
of a tiger you may tackle Amir Khan.  Even if we could crumple up this
blighter it's not cricket--we need those Pindari chaps--but not as dead
men.  Besides, I detest bloodshed."

The Dewan rolled his bulbous eyes despairingly: "If Sindhia would send
ten camel loads of gold to this accursed Musselman, we could sleep in
peace," he declared.

"If it were a woman Sindhia would," Nana Sahib sneered.

Baptiste laughed.

"It is a wisdom, Prince, for that is where the revenue goes: women are
a curse in the affairs of men," the Dewan commented.

"With four wives your opinion carries weight, Dewani," and Nana Sahib
tapped the fat knee of the Minister with his riding whip.

Baptiste turned to the Prince.  "There will be trouble over these
Pindaris; your friends, the English--eh, Nana Sahib--"

As though the handsome aquiline face of the Peshwa's son had been
struck with a glove it changed to the face of a devil; the lips
thinned, and shrinking, left the strong white teeth bare in a wolf's
snarl.  Under the black eyebrows the eyes gleamed like fire-lit amber;
the thin-chiselled nostrils spread and through them the palpitating
breath rasped a whistling note of suppressed passion.

"Sirdar," he said, "never call me Nana Sahib again.  The English call
me that, but I wait--must wait; I smile and suffer.  I am Dandhu Panth,
a Brahmin.  The English so loved me that they tried to make an
Englishman of me, but, by Brahm! they taught me hate, which is their
lot till the sea swallows the last of the accursed breed and
Mahrattaland is free!"

Nana Sahib was panting with the intensity of his passion.  He paced the
floor flicking at his brown boots with his whip, and presently whirled
to say with a sneering smile on his thin lips:

"The English can teach a man just one thing--to die for his ideals."

"Yes, Prince, of a certainty the Englishman knows how to die for his
country," Baptiste agreed in a soldier's tribute to courage.

"And for another nation's country," Nana Sahib rasped.  "He is a born
pirate, a bred pirate--we in India know that; and that, General, is why
I am a Brahmin, because they alone will free Mahrattaland--faith,
ideals.  Forms! the gods to me are not more than show-pieces.  That
Kali spreads the cholera is one with the idea that the little
red-daubed stone Linga gets the woman a male child, false; these things
are in ourselves, and in Brahm.  The priests sacrifice to Shiva, but I
will sacrifice to Mahrattaland, which to me is the supreme God."

Jean Baptiste looked out of his wise grey eyes into the handsome face
and felt a thrill, an awakening, the terrible sincerity of the speaker.
At times the ferocity in the eyes when he had spoken of sacrifice
caused the free-lance soldier to shiver.  A blur of red floated before
his eyes--something of a fateful forecasting that some day the awful
storm that was brewing would break, and the fanatical Brahmin in front
of him would call for English blood to glut his hate.  It was the more
appalling that Nana Sahib was so young.  Closing his eyes Baptiste
heard the voice of an English Oxonian that perhaps should be chortling
of polo and cricket and racing; and yet the more danger--the
youthfulness of the agent of destruction; like a Napoleon--a corporal
as a boy.  "_C'est la guerre_!" the French officer murmured.

Then, as a storm passing is often followed by smiling sunshine, so the
mood of Nana Sahib changed.  He had the volatile temperament of a
Latin, and now he turned to the Minister, his face having undergone a
complete metamorphosis: "Dewani," he said, "do you remember when a
certain raja sent his Prime Minister and twenty thousand men to punish
Pertab for not paying his taxes, and Pertab gave one Bhart, a Bagree,
ten thousand rupees and a village to bring him the Minister's
head--which he did, tied to the inside of his brass-studded shield?"

"Yes, Prince; that is a way of this land."

Nana Sahib drew forth a gold cigarette case, lighted a cigarette from a
fireball that stood in a brass cup, and gazed quizzically at the Dewan.
There was a little hush.  This story had set Jean Baptiste's nerves
tingling; there was something behind it.

The Dewan half guessed what was in the air, but he blinked his big eyes
solemnly, and reaching for a small lacquer box took from it a Ran leaf,
with a finger smeared some ground lime on it, and wrapping the leaf
around a piece of betel-nut popped it into his capacious mouth.

"These Bagrees are in the protection of Rajas, Karowlee, are they not?"
Nana Sahib asked.

"Yes, Prince; even some of Bhart's relatives are there--one Ajeet
Singh; he's a celebrated leader of these decoits."

"And Sindhia took from Karowlee some territory, didn't he?"

"Yes; Karowlee refused to pay the taxes."

"I should think the Raja would like to have it back."

"No doubt, Prince."

Nana Sahib, holding the cigarette to his lips between two fingers gazed
mockingly at the large-paunched Brahmin.  Then he said; "I see the
illuminating light of understanding in your eyes, Dewani--a subtle
comprehension.  Small wonder that you are Minister to the delightful
Sindhia.  If you are making any promises to Karowlee, I should make
them in the name of Sindhia--through Sirdar Baptiste, of course.  And,
Dewani, this restless cuss, Amir Khan, might make a treaty with the
English any time.  The dear fish-eyed Resident has been particularly
active--my spies can hardly keep up with him.  I shouldn't lose any
time--Ajeet Singh sounds promising."

Nana Sahib drew a slim flat gold watch from his pocket.  "I now must
leave you two interesting gentlemen," he said, "for I am to play a few
chuckers of polo with--particularly, Captain Barlow.  He is jackal to
the bloodless Resident.  I really thought a couple of days ago that he
would have to be sent home on sick leave.  One of my officers rode him
off the ball in a fierce drive for goal, and by some devilish mistake
the post hadn't been sawed half-through, so when Barlow crashed into it
it stood up.  As he lay perfectly still after his cropper it looked as
though Resident Hodson had lost his jackal.  But Barlow is one of those
whip-cord Englishmen that die of old age; he was in the saddle again in
two days.  Well, _au revoir_ and salaam."

When the clattering scurry of Nana Sahib's Arab had died out Baptiste
turned to the Dewan, saying:

"Well?"

"I will write the letter to Raja Karowlee, but you must sign it,
Sirdar; also furnish a fast riding camel and a trusty officer," the
Dewan answered simply.

"But Nana Sahib was nebulous--we may be made the goat of sacrifice."

"It is a wisdom, Sirdar; but, also, it is from the Prince an order; and
my office is always one of blame when there are excuses to make--it is
always that way.  When a head is required the Dewan's is always
offered."



CHAPTER III

In answer to the Dewan's request Raja Karowlee sent a force of two
hundred Bagrees to Jean Baptiste's camp.  Evidently the old Raja had
run the official comb through his territories, for the decoit force was
composed of a hundred men from Karowlee, under Ajeet Singh, and a
hundred from Alwar, led by Sookdee.

The two leaders were commanded to obey Sirdar Baptiste implicitly; and
Baptiste passed an order that they were to receive a thousand rupees a
day for their maintenance.

In addition there was a fourth officer, Hunsa, who was a jamadar, a
lieutenant, to Ajeet Singh.  And if then and there the ugly head had
been cut from his body, the things that happened would not have
happened.

From the advent of the Bagrees, even on their way from Karowlee, Hunsa
had been plotting evil.  He was a man who would have shrivelled up,
become atrophied, in an atmosphere of decency--he would have died.

Hunsa caused Sookdee to believe that he should have been the leader and
not Ajeet Singh.

A document was written out by Dewan Sewlal promising that in the event
of the decoits carrying out the mission they had come upon the estate
would be restored to Raja Karowlee, and that he would be compelled to
assign to the three decoit leaders villages within that territory in
rent free tenure.  The Dewan, with wide precaution, took care that the
document was so worded that General Baptiste was the official promiser,
putting in a clause that he, Sewlal, the Minister, would see that the
General carried out these promises on behalf of Sindhia.

Baptiste set his lips in a sardonic smile when he read and signed the
paper.  However, he cared very little; no concern of his whether
Karowlee attained to his lands or not--it would be a matter of the King
disposes.  Even that the Dewan stood in Baptiste's shadow in the affair
was another something that only caused the Frenchman to remark
sardonically:

"Dewani, the English sahibs have a delectable game of cards named poker
in which there is an observance called passing the buck; when a player
wishes to avoid the responsibility of a bet he passes the buck to the
next man.  Dewani, you have the subtlety of a good poker player and
have passed the buck to me."

The Brahmin looked hurt.  "Sirdar," he said, "you are the commander of
matters of war, which this is.  You stand here in the city of tents as
Sindhia; I am but the man of accounts; it is well as it is.  And now
that we have signed the promise the decoits will also sign, then I will
make them take the oath according to their patron goddess, Bhowanee.
They are just without--I will have them in."

When the three jamadars had been summoned to the Dewan's presence, he
said: "Here is the paper of promise as to the reward from Sindhia for
the service you are to render.  You will also sign here, making your
seal or thumb print; then it will be required that you take the oath of
service according to your own method and your gods."

Ajeet consulted a little apart with Sookdee and then coming forward
said: "We Bagrees are an ancient people descended from the Rajputs, and
we keep our word to our friends; therefore we will take the oath after
the manner of Bhowanee, beneath the pipal tree.  If Your Honour will
give us but an hour we will take the oath."

A mile down the red road from the bungalow, looking like a huge beehive
with its heavy enveloping roof of thatch, that was Jean Baptiste's
head-quarters, was a particularly sacred pipal of huge growth.  It was
an extraordinary octopus-like tree, and most sacred, for perched in the
embrace of its giant arms was a shrine that had been lifted from its
base in the centuries of the tree's growth.

And now, an hour later, the pipal was surrounded by thousands of
Mahratta sepoys, for word had gone forth,--the mysterious rumour of
India that is like a weird static whispering to the four corners of the
land a message,--had flashed through the tented city that the men from
Karowlee were to take the oath of allegiance to Sindhia.

The fat Dewan had come down in a _palki_ swung from the shoulders of
stout bearers, while Jean Baptiste had ridden a silver-grey Arab.

And then just as a bleating, mottled white-and-black goat was led by a
thong to the pipal, Nana Sahib came swirling down the road in a brake
drawn by a spanking pair of bay Arabs with black points.  Beside him
sat the Resident's daughter, Elizabeth Hodson, and in the seat behind
was Captain Barlow.

At the pipal Nana Sahib reined in the bays sharply, saying, "Hello,
General, wanted to see you for a minute--called at the bungalow, and
your servant said you had gone down this way.  What's up?" he
questioned after greetings had passed between Baptiste, Barlow and
Elizabeth Hodson.

"Just some new recruits, scouts, taking the oath of service," and
Baptiste closed an eye in a caution-giving wink.

A slight sneer curled the thin lips of Nana Sahib; he understood
perfectly what Baptiste meant by the wink--that the Englishman being
there, it would be as well to say little about the Bagrees.  But the
Prince had no very high opinion of Captain Barlow's perceptions, of his
finer acuteness of mind; the thing would have to be very plainly
exposed for the Captain to discover it.  He was a good soldier, Captain
Barlow--that happy mixture of brain and brawn and courage that had
coloured so much of the world's map red, British; he was the terrier
class--all pluck, with perhaps the pluck in excelsis--the brain-power
not preponderant.

"Who is the handsome native--he looks like a Rajput?" Elizabeth asked,
indicating the man who was evidently the leader among the others.

"That is Ajeet Singh, chief of these men," Baptiste answered.

"He is a handsome animal," Nana Sahib declared.

"He is like an Arab Apollo," Elizabeth commented; and her tone
suggested that it was a whip-cut at the Prince's half-sneer.

The girl's description of Ajeet was trite.  The Chief's face was almost
perfect; the golden-bronze tint of the skin set forth in the enveloping
background of a turban of blue shot with gold-thread draped down to
cover a silky black beard that, parted at the chin, swept upward to
loop over the ears.  The nose was straight and thin; there was a
predatory cast to it, perhaps suggested by the bold, black, almost
fierce eyes.  He was clothed with the full, rich, swaggering adornment
of a Rajput; the splendid deep torso enclosed in a shirt-of-mail, its
steel mesh so fine that it rippled like silver cloth; a red velvet
vestment, negligently open, showed in the folds of a silk sash a
jewel-hilted knife; a _tulwar_ hung from his left shoulder.  As he
moved here and there, there was a sinuous grace, panther-like, as if he
strode on soft pads.  At rest his tall figure had the set-up of a
soldier.

As the three in the brake studied the handsome Ajeet, a girl stepped
forward and stood contemplating them.

"By Jove!" the exclamation had been Captain Barlow's; and Elizabeth,
with the devilish premonition of an acute woman knew that it was a
masculine's involuntary tribute to feminine attractivity.

She had turned to look at the Captain.

Nana Sahib, little less vibrant than a woman in his sensitive
organisation, showed his even, white teeth: "Don't blame you, old
chap," he said; "she's all that.  I fancy that's the girl they call
Gulab Begum.  Am I right, Sirdar?"

"Yes, Prince," Jean Baptiste answered.  "The girl is a relative of the
handsome Ajeet."

"She's simply stunning!" Captain Barlow said, as it were, meditatively.

But Nana Sahib, knowing perfectly well what this observation would do
to the austere, exact, dominating daughter of a precise man, the
Resident, muttered to himself: "Colossal ass! an impressionable cuss
should have a _purdah_ hung over his soul--or be gagged."

"One of their _nautch_ girls, I suppose;" Elizabeth thus eased some of
the irritation over Barlow's admiration in a well-bred sneer.

"Yes," Baptiste declared; "it is said she dances wonderfully."

"You name her the Gulab Begum, General,--that is a Moslem title and,
from the turbans and caste-marks on the men, they seem to be Hindus; I
suppose Gulab Begum is her stage name, is it?"

Elizabeth was exhibiting unusual interest in a native--that is for
Elizabeth, and Nana Sahib chuckled softly as he answered: "Names mean
little in India; I know high-caste Brahmins who have given their
children low-caste names to make them less an object of temptation to
the gods of destruction.  Also, the Gulab may have been stolen from the
harem of some Nawab by this bandit."

The Gulab suggested more a Rajput princess than a dancing girl.  No
ring pierced the thin nostrils of her Grecian nose; neither from her
ears hung circles of gold or brass, or silver; and the slim ankles that
peeped from a rich skirt were guiltless of anklets.  On the wrist of
one arm was a curious gold bangle that must have held a large ruby, for
at times the sun flicked from the moving wrist splashes of red wine.
Indeed the whole atmosphere of the girl was simplicity and beauty.

"No wonder they call her the Rose Queen," Barlow was communing with
himself.  For the oval face with its olive skin, as fair as a Kashmiri
girl's, was certainly beautiful.  The black hair was smoothed back from
a wide low forehead, after the habit of the Mahratti women; the prim
simplicity of this seeming to add to the girlish effect.  A small
white-and-gold turban, even with its jauntiness, seemed just the very
thing to check the austere simplicity.  The girl's eyes, like Ajeet's,
were the eyes of some one unafraid, of one born to a caste that felt
equality.  When they turned to those who sat in the brake they were
calmly meditative; they were the eyes of a child, modest; but with the
unabashed confidence of youth.

Elizabeth, perhaps unreasonably, for the three of them sat so close
together in the brake, fancied that the Gulab's gaze constantly picked
out the handsome Captain Barlow.

An imp touched Nana Sahib, and he said: "I'd swear there was Rajput
blood in that girl.  If I knew of some princess having been stolen I'd
say she stood yonder.  The eyes are simply ripping; baby eyes, that,
when roused, assist in driving a knife under a man's fifth rib.  I've
seen a sambhur doe with just such eyes cut into ribbons a Rampore hound
with her sharp hoofs."

"Well, Prince," Elizabeth said, "I suppose you know the women of this
land better than either Captain Barlow or myself, and you're probably
right, for I see in a belt at her waist the jewelled hilt of a dagger."

Nana Sahib laughed: "My dear Miss Hodson, I never play with edged
tools, and Captain--"

But Nana Sahib's raillery was cut short by a small turmoil as the
bleating goat of sacrifice was dragged forward to a stone daubed with
vermillion upon which rested a small black alabaster image of Kali;
while a _guru_, with sharpened knife, hung near like a falcon over a
quivering bird.  Three times the goat's head was thrust downward in
obeisance to the black goddess; there was a flash of steel in the
sunlight, and hot blood gushed forth, to dye with its crimson flood the
base of the idol.

A Bagree darted forward and with a stroke of his _tulwar_ clipped the
neck from a pitcher and held it beneath the gurgling flood till it was
filled.

From where Elizabeth sat she looked across the shoulder of Nana Sahib
as they watched the sacrifice; she saw him quiver and lean forward, his
shoulders tip as though he would spring from the brake.  His face had
drawn into hard lines, his lips were set tight in intensity across the
teeth so that they showed between in a thin line of white.  The blood
seemed to have fascinated him; he was oblivious of her presence.  She
heard him murmur, "Parvati, Parvati!  There is blood, blood--wait,
thou, Parvati."

The bay Arabs--perhaps their sensitive nostrils drank in the smell of
fresh blood--sprang into their collars as if they would bolt in fright.
The two syces, squatting on their heels at the horses' heads, had
sprung to their feet, and now were caressing the necks of the Arabs as
they held them each with a hand by the bit.

There was a curious look in the Prince's eyes as he turned them on
Elizabeth; a mingling of questioning and defiance was in them.

Now the holder of the pitcher stood up and the _guru_ drew upon it four
red lines and dropped through its shattered mouth a woman's bracelet of
gold lacquer beads.  Then the pitcher was placed upon the Kali shrine;
raw sugar was inclosed in a cloth and tied to a branch of the pipal.

The voice of the Bagree Chief, somewhat coarse in its fulness, its
independence, now was heard saying: "Sirdar Sahib, and Dewan Sahib, we
men of the nine castes of the Bagrees now make the sacred oath.  Come
close that ye may observe."

Jean Baptiste edged his horse to the side of the road, and the Dewan,
heaving from the _palki_, stood upright.

Ajeet dipped a tapering finger in the pitcher of blood, touched the
swaying bag of sugar, and laying the hand against his forehead said, in
a loud voice:

"If I, Ajeet Singh, break faith with Maharaja Sindhia, may Bhowanee
punish me!"

Sookdee and Hunsa each in turn took the same solemn oath of allegiance.

As Hunsa turned from the ordeal and passed the Gulab Begum to where the
Bagrees stood in line, Nana Sahib said, "Do you know, General, what
that baboon-faced jamadar made oath to?"

"The last one, my Prince?"

"Yes, he of the splendid ugliness.  He testified, 'If I fail to thrust
a knife between the shoulder-blades of Ajeet Singh may Bhowanee cast me
as a sacrifice.'"

"He is jamadar to the other, Prince--but why?"

"He looked upon the Rose Lady as he passed, and as the blooded finger
lay upon his forehead he looked upon Ajeet, and in his pig eyes was
unholiness."

The cold grey eyes of the Frenchman rested for a second upon the
burning black eyes of the speaker, and again he shivered.  He knew that
the careless words meant that Hunsa was an instrument, if needs be.
But the Prince's teeth were gleaming in a smile.  And he was saying:
"If the play is over, Sirdar, turn your mount over to the _syce_ and
pop up here beside Captain Barlow--I'll tool you home.  The Captain
might like a peg."

The bay Arabs swirled the brake along the smooth roadway that lay like
a wide band of coral between giant green walls of gold-mohr and
tamarind; and sometimes a pipal, its white bole and branches gleaming
like the bones of a skeleton through leaves of the deepest emerald, and
its roots daubed with the red paint of devotion to the tree god.  Here
and there a neem, its delicate branches dusted with tiny white star
blossoms, cast a sensuous elusive perfume to the vagrant breeze.  Once
a gigantic jamon stretched its gnarled arms across the roadway as if a
devilfish held poised his tentacles to snatch from the brake its
occupants.

When they had swung in to the Sirdar's bungalow and clambered down from
the brake, Elizabeth said: "If you don't mind, General Baptiste, I'll
just drift around amongst these beautiful roses while you men have your
pegs.  No, I don't care for tea," she said, in answer to his
suggestion.  There was a mirthless smile on her lips as she added: "I'm
like Captain Barlow, I like the rose."

The three men sat on the verandah while a servant brought
brandy-and-soda, and Nana Sahib, with a restless perversity akin to the
torturing proclivity of a Hindu was quizzing the Frenchman about his
recruits.

"You'll find them no good," he assured Baptiste--"rebellious cusses,
worthless thieves.  My Moslem friend, the King of Oudh, tried them out.
He got up a regiment of them--Budhuks, Bagrees--all sorts; it was named
the Wolf Regiment--that was the only clever thing about it, the name.
They stripped the uniforms from the backs of the officers sent to drill
them and kicked them out of camp; said the officers put on swank;
wouldn't clean their own horses and weapons, same as the other men."

Then he switched the torture--made it more acute; wanted to know what
Sirdar Baptiste had got them for.

The Frenchman fumed inwardly.  Nana Sahib was at the bottom of the
whole murderous scheme, and here, like holding a match over a keg of
powder, he must talk about it in front of the Englishman.

When the brandy was brought Nana Sahib put hand over the top of his
glass.

"Not drinking, Prince?" Barlow asked.

"No," Nana Sahib answered, "a Brahmin must diet; holiness is fostered
by a shrivelled skin."

"But pardon me, Prince," Barlow said hesitatingly, "didn't going across
the black-water to England break your caste anyway--so why cut out the
peg?"

"Yes, Captain Sahib,"--the Prince's voice rasped with a peculiar harsh
gravity as though it were drawn over the jagged edge of intense
feeling,--"my caste _was_ broken, and to get it back I drank the dregs;
a cup of liquid from the cow, and not milk either!"

Baptiste coughed uneasily for he saw in the eyes of Nana Sahib
smouldering passion.

And Barlow's face was suffused with a sudden flush of embarrassment.

Perhaps it had been the sight of the blood sacrifice that had started
Nana Sahib on a line of bitter thought; had stirred the smothering hate
that was in his soul until frothing bubbles of it mounted to his lips.

"I was born in the shadow of Parvati," Nana Sahib said, "and when I
came back from England I found that still I was a Brahmin; that the
songs of the Bhagavad Gita and the philosophy of the Puranas was more
to me than what I had been taught at Oxford.  So I took back the caste,
and under my shirt is the _junwa_ (sacred thread)."

A quick smile lighted his face, and he laid a hand on Barlow's arm,
saying in a new voice, a voice that was as if some one spoke through
his lips in ventriloquism: "And all this, Captain, is a good thing for
my friends the English.  The Brahmins, as you know, sway the Mahrattas,
and if I am of them they will listen to me.  The English boast--and
they have reason to--that they have made a friend of Nana Sahib.  Here,
Baptiste, pour me a glass of plain soda, and we'll drink a toast to
Nana Sahib and the English."

"By Jove! splendid!" and Captain Barlow held out a hand.

But Baptiste, saying that he would find Miss Hodson, went out into the
sunshine cursing.

"Now we will go back," Nana Sahib was saying as the French General
brought Elizabeth from among the oleanders and crotons.



CHAPTER IV

The day after the Bagrees had taken the oath of allegiance to Sindhia
the jamadars were summoned to the Dewan's office to receive their
instructions for the carrying out of the mission.

In writing the Raja of Karowlee for the decoits, Dewan Sewlal had not
stated that the mission was for the purpose of bringing home in a bag
the head of the Pindar Chief.  As the wily Hindu had said to Sirdar
Baptiste: "We will get them here before speaking of this dangerous
errand.  Once here, and Karowlee's hopes raised over getting territory,
if they then go back without accomplishing the task, that rapacious old
man will cast them into prison."

So when the Bagree leaders, closeted with Baptiste and the Dewan in a
room of the latter's bungalow, learned what was expected of them they,
to put it mildly, received a shock.  They had thought that it was to be
a decoity of treasure, perhaps of British treasure, and in their
proficient hands such an affair did not run into much danger generally.

The jamadars drew to one side and discussed the matter; then Ajeet
said: "Dewan Sahib, what is asked of us should have been in the written
message to our Raja.  We be decoits, that is true, it is our
profession, but the mission that is spoken of is not thus.  Hunsa has
ridden with Amir Khan upon a foray into Hyderabad, and he knows that
the Chief is always well guarded, and that to try for his head in the
midst of his troops would be like the folly of children."

The Dewan's fat neck swelled with indignation; his big ox-like eyes
bulged from their holding in anger:

"Phut-t-t!" he spat in derision.  "Bagrees!" he sneered; "descendants
of Rajputs--bah!  Have you brought women with you that will lead this
force?  And danger!" he snarled--he turned on Sookdee: "You are
Sookdee, son of Bhart, so it was signed."

"Yes, Dewan, it is true."

"_You_ are the son of your mother, not Bhart," the Dewan raved; "he was
a brave man, but _you_ speak of danger--bah!"

The Dewan's teeth, stained red at the edges from the chewing of _pan_,
showed in a sneering grin like a hyena's as he added: "Bah!  Ye are but
thieves who steal from those who are helpless."

Ajeet spoke: "Dewan Sahib, we be men as brave as Bhart--we are of the
same caste, but there is a difference between such an one as he took
the head of and a Pindari Chief.  The Pindaris are the wild dogs of
Hind, they are wolves, and is it easy to trap a wolf?"

But the Dewan had worked himself into a frenzy at their questioning of
the possibilities; he waved his fat hands in a gesture of dismissal
crying: "Go, go!"

As the jamadars stood hesitatingly, Sewlal swung to the Frenchman:
"Sirdar Sahib, make the order that I cease payment of the thousand
rupees a day to these rebels, cowards.  Go!" and he looked at Ajeet;
"talk it over amongst yourselves, and send to me one of your wives that
will lead a company--lend your women your tulwars."

Ajeet's black eyes flashed anger, and his brows were drawn into a knot
just above his thin, hawk-like nose; suppressed passion at the Dewan's
deadly insult was in the even, snarling tone of his voice:

"Dewan Sahib, harsh words are profitless--" his eyes, glittering, were
fixed on the bulbous orbs of the man of the quill--"and the talk of
women in the affairs of men is not in keeping with caste.  If you pass
the order that we are not to have rations now that we are far from
home, what are we to do?  Think you that Raja Karowlee--"

"Do! do! if you serve not Sindhia what care I what you do.  Go back to
your honourable trade of thieving.  And as to Raja Karowlee, a man who
keeps a colony of cowards--what care I for him.  Go, go!"

The jamadars with glowering eyes turned from the Dewan, even the harsh
salaam they uttered in going sounded like a curse.

And when they had gone, Baptiste was startled by a gurgling laugh
bubbling up from the Dewan's fat throat.

"Sirdar," he chuckled, "I've given that posing Rajput a poem to commit
to memory.  Ha-ha!  They have two strong reasons now for going--their
shame and lean stomachs."

"They won't go," Baptiste declared.  "When a man is afraid of anything
he can find a thousand reasons for not making the endeavour.  If
Sindhia will give me the troops I will make an end of Amir Khan."

"And make enemies of the Pindaris: that we do not want; we want them to
fight with us, not against us.  The great struggle is about to take
place; Holkar and Bhonsla and Sindhia, perhaps even the King of Oudh,
leagued together, the accursed English will be driven from India.  But
even now they are trying to win over Amir Khan and his hundred thousand
horsemen by promises of territory and gold.  With the Chief out of the
way they would disband; he is a great leader, and they flock to his
flag.  You saw the Englishman, Captain Barlow?"

"Yes, Dewani.  Good soldier, I should say."

"Well, Sirdar, we think that he waits here to undertake some mission to
Amir Khan.  You see, no office can be conducted without clerks, and
sometimes clerks talk."

The Frenchman twisted nervously at his slim grey moustache.  "I
comprehend, Dewani," he said presently; "it is expedient that Amir Khan
be eliminated."

"It would be a merciful thing," Sewlal added--"it would save bloodshed."

"Well, Dewani, I must depart now.  It will be interesting to see what
your Bagrees do, especially when they become hungry."



CHAPTER V

For two days the Bagrees sat nursing their wrath at the reproaches of
Dewan Sewlal.

And the Dewan, in spite of his bold denunciation of the decoits, was
uneasy.  If they went back to Karowlee with a story of ill treatment,
of broken promises, that hot-headed old Rajput would turn against
Sindhia.  And the present policy of the Mahratta Confederacy was to
secure allies in the revolt against the British which was being
secretly planned.  The Dewan was also afraid of Nana Sahib.  He saw in
that young man a coming force.  The Peshwa was actually the ruler of
Mahrattaland; he had a commanding influence because he was the head of
the Brahmins--the Brahmins were the real power--and his adopted son,
his inborn subtle nature developed by his residence in England, now had
great influence over him.  The Dewan knew that; and if he failed to
carry out this mission of removing the dangerous one from Nana Sahib's
path it might cost him his place as Minister.

In his perplexity the Dewan asked Baptiste to formulate some excuse for
getting Nana Sahib up to Chunda--some matter affecting the troops, so
that he might casually get a sustaining suggestion from the wily Prince.

It so happened that when Nana Sahib swung up the gravelled drive to the
Sirdar's bungalow on a golden chestnut Arab, Sewlal was there.  But
when, presently, Baptiste's _durwan_ came in to say that Jamadar Hunsa
of the new troops was sending his salaams to the Dewan, the latter
gasped.  He would have told the Bagree to wait, but Nana Sahib,
catching the name Hunsa, commanded:

"By all means, my dear Baptiste, have that living embodiment of murder
in.  His face is a delight.  You know"--and he smiled at the
General--"that that frightfulness of expression is the very reason why
the genial Kali has such a hold upon our people.  You've seen her,
Baptiste; four arms, one holding a platter to catch the blood that
drips from a head she suspends above it by another arm; the third hand
clasps a sword, and the fourth has the palm spread out as much as to
say, 'That is what will happen to you.'"

The Frenchman shivered.  He was snapping a finger and thumb in mental
torture.

But Nana Sahib chuckled: "Her tongue protrudes thirsting for more
blood--"

But the Sirdar protested: "Prince--pardon, but--"

"My dear Baptiste, when the Hunsa comes in observe if these things are
not all stamped by Brahm on his frontispiece; he fascinates me."

The Dewan, devout Brahmin, had been running his fingers along a string
of lacquered beads that hung about his neck, muttering a prayer against
this that was like sacrilege.

When the jamadar was shown into the room his face took on a look of
uneasiness.  It but added to the ferocity of the square scowling
massive head.  His huge shoulders, stooped forward as he salaamed,
suggested the half-crouch of a tiger--even the eyes, the mouth, induced
thoughts of that jungle killer.

Nana Sahib, a sneer on his lips, turned to the Minister: "Play him,
Dewani, as you love us.  There is some rare deviltry afloat."

"Why have you come, Jamadar?" the Dewan asked.

Hunsa's pig eyes shifted from Sewlal's face to roam over the other two,
and then returned a question in them.

"Tell him," Nana Sahib suggested, "that he has nothing to fear from us."

The jamadar was troubled by the English exchange, but the Dewan
explained: "The Prince says you are to speak what is on your mind."

"It is this, Sahib Bahadur," Hunsa began, "there is a way that the head
of Amir Khan might be obtained as a gift for Maharaja Sindhia.  Then
Raja Karowlee would be pleased for he would receive his commission and
we would be given a reward."

"What is the way?" Sewlal queried.

"The Chief of the Pindaris, after the habit of Moslems, is one whose
heart softens toward a woman who is beautiful and is pleasing to his
eye."

"Ancient history," Nana Sahib commented in English, "and not confined
to Musselmen."

"Speak on," the Dewan commanded curtly.

"When I rode with Amir Khan," Hunsa resumed, "in loot there fell to the
Chief's share a dancing girl, and Amir Khan, perhaps out of respect to
his two wives, would visit her at night quietly in the tent that was
given her as a place of residing."

"Amir Khan seems to be less a Pindari and more a human than I thought
him," Nana Sahib commented drily.

"The world is a very small place, Prince," Baptiste added.

"But why has Hunsa brought this tale to men of affairs?" Sewlal queried.

Hunsa cast a furtive look over his shoulder toward the verandah, and
his coarse voice dropped a full octave.  "The Presence has observed
Bootea, the one called Gulab Begum, who is with Ajeet Singh?"

"Ah-ha!"  It was Nana Sahib's exclamation.

"Yes," the Dewan answered drily.

"If a party of Bagrees were to go to the Pindari camp disguised as
players and wrestlers, and the Gulab as a _nautchni_, Amir Khan might
be enticed to her tent for she causes men to become drunk when she
dances.  Once she danced for Raja Karowlee, and, though he is old and
fat and has more of wives than other possessions he became covetous of
the girl.  It is because of these things, that Ajeet keeps her within
the length of his eye.  Thus the Gulab would hold Amir Khan in her
hand, and some night as he slept in her tent I would crawl neath the
canvas and accomplish that which is desired."

"By Jove!" Nana Sahib exclaimed, "this jungle man has got the right
idea.  But if Ajeet goes on that trip he'll never come back--Hunsa will
see to that."

Then the son of the Peshwa took a quick turn to the door and gazed out
as if he had his Arab in mind--something wrong; but a sweet bit of
deviltry had suddenly occurred to him.  He had noticed the young
Englishman's interest in Bootea; had known that the girl's eyes had
shown admiration for the handsome sahib.  A woman--by Jove! yes.  If he
could bring the two of them together; have the Gulab get Barlow
sensually interested she might act as a spy, get Barlow to talk.  No
instrument like a woman for that purpose.  Nana Sahib turned back to
where the Dewan had been questioning Hunsa.

"That description of the Gulab as a _nautch_ girl tickles my fancy,
Dewani," he said.  "Between ourselves I think the Resident's jackal,
the impressionable young Captain, was rather taken with her.  I'm
giving a _nautch_ this week, and the presence of Miss Gulab is
desired--commanded."

"But Ajeet--"

Nana Sahib smiled sardonically.  "You and Hunsa are planning to send
her on a more difficult mission, so I have no doubt that this can be
accomplished.  The Ajeet should esteem it an honour."

The Dewan, also speaking in English, said, "I doubt if Ajeet would
consent to the girl's going to the Pindari camp."

Nana Sahib swung on his heel to face Baptiste.  "Sirdar, when you give
an order to a soldier and he refuses to obey, what do you do?"

"Pouf, _mon_ Prince," and Jean Baptiste snapped a thumb and finger
expressively.

"See, Dewani?" Nana Sahib queried; "I like Hunsa's idea; and you've
heard what the Commandant says."

The Dewan turned to the Bagree, "Will Ajeet consent to the Gulab acting
thus?"

Hunsa's answer was illuminating: "The Chief will agree to it if he
can't help himself."

There was a lull, each one turning this momentous thing over in his
mind.

It was the jamadar who broke the silence; somewhat at a tangent he
said: "As to a decoity, Your Honour said that we being of that
profession should undertake one."

The Dewan roared; the burden of his expostulation was the word liar.

But Nana Sahib laughed tolerantly.  "Don't mind me, Dewani; fancy all
the petty rajas and officials stand in with these decoits for a share
of the loot--I don't blame you, old chap."

Hunsa, taking the accusation of being a liar as a pure matter of
course, ignored it, and now was drooling along, wedded to the one big
idea that was in his mind:

"If a decoity were made perhaps it might even happen that one was
killed--"

"Lovely! the 'One' will be, and his name is Ajeet," Nana Sahib cried
gleefully.

But Hunsa plodded steadily on.  "In that case Ajeet as Chief would be
in the hands of the Dewan; then it could be mentioned to him that the
Gulab was desired for this mission."

"That might be," the Dewan said quietly.  "I will demand that Ajeet
takes the Gulab to help secure Amir Khan and if he refuses I will give
them no rations so that he will go on the decoity."

"No, Dewan Sahib," Hunsa objected; "say nothing of the Gulab, because
Ajeet will refuse, and then he will not go on a decoity, fearing a
trap.  If you will refuse the rations now, I will say that you have
promised that we will not be taken up if we make a decoity; then Ajeet
will agree, because it is our profession."

"I must go," Nana Sahib declared; "this Hunsa seems to have brains as
well as ferocity."  He continued in English: "If you do go through with
this, Dewan, tell Hunsa if anything happens when they make the
decoity--and if I'm any reader of what is in a man's heart, I think
something will happen the Ajeet--tell Hunsa to bring the Gulab to me.
I like his idea, and we can't afford to let the girl get away.  Don't
forget to arrange for the Gulab at my _nautch_."

When Nana Sahib had gone Baptiste diplomatically withdrew, saying in
English to the Minister: "Dewan Sahib, possibly this simple child of
the jungle would feel embarrassment in opening his heart fully before a
sahib, so you will excuse me."

This elimination of individuals gave the Dewan a fine opportunity;
promises made without witnesses were sure to be of a richer texture;
also surely the word of a Dewan was of higher value than the word of a
decoit if, at a future time, their evidences clashed.

Then Hunsa was entrusted with a private matter that filled his ugly
soul with delight.  He assured Sewlal Sookdee, if he were promised, as
he had been, full protection, would join in the enmeshing of Ajeet
Singh.

Sewlal pledged his word to the jamadar that no matter if an outcry were
raised over a decoity they would be protected--the matter would be
hushed up.

Hunsa knew that this was no new thing; he had been engaged in many a
decoity where men of authority had a share of the loot, and had
effectually side-tracked investigation.  In fact decoits always lived
in the protection of some petty raja; they were an adjunct to the
state, a source of revenue.

The Dewan had intimated that Hunsa and his men were to wait until a
messenger brought them word where and when to make the decoity.  Also
if he betrayed them, failed to keep his compact with them, it would
cause him the loss of his ugly head.

The jamadar quite believed this; it would be an easy matter, surrounded
as they were by Mahratta troops.

So then for the next few days Hunsa and Sookdee cautiously developed a
spirit of desire for action amongst the decoits, and a feeling of
resentment against Ajeet who was opposed to engaging in a punishable
crime so far from their refuge.

The Dewan sent for Ajeet and explained to him, as if it were a very
great honour, that Nana Sahib, having heard of Bootea's wonderful
grace, had asked her to appear at a _nautch_ he was giving to the
Sahibs and Hindu princes at his palace.  No doubt Bootea would receive
a handsome present for this, also it would incline the heart of the
Prince to the Bagrees.

Ajeet was suspicious, but to refuse permission he knew would anger the
Dewan; and he was in the Minister's hands.  His position was none too
secure; there was treachery in his own camp.  He asked for a day to
consult Bootea over the matter; in reality he wanted to consider it
more fully before giving an answer.

Of course Hunsa knew about it, and he told Sookdee; and when the matter
came up in camp they professed indignation at Ajeet's stupidity in not
appreciating the honour; dancers were only too glad to appear before
such people as the Prince and the Resident at a palace dance, they
explained.

Of course the matter of Bootea's mission to the Pindari Chief had not
been conveyed to Ajeet as yet; and Hunsa felt that this affair of the
_nautch_ was a propitious thing--an inserting of the thin edge of the
wedge.

Somewhat grudgingly Ajeet consented, for Bootea, strangely enough, was
quite eager over it.  As Nana Sahib had fancied the girl had taken an
unexplainable liking for Captain Barlow.  Of course that, the call, is
rarely explainable on reasonable grounds--it is a matter of a higher
dispensation; just two pairs of eyes settle the whole business; one
look and the thing is done.

The Sahib would see her in a new light--in an appealing light.  In her
thoughts there was nothing of a serious intent; just that to look upon
him, perhaps to see in his eyes a friendly pleasure, would be
intoxication.

So Ajeet took her to the palace to dance, but, of course, he had to
cool his heels without the _durbar_ chamber--smoke the hooka and chat
with other natives while the one of desire was within.

The girl had an exquisite sense of the beauty of simplicity--both in
dress and manner, and in her art; it was as if a lotus flower had been
animated--given life.  Her dancing was a floaty rhythm, an undulating
drifting to the soft call of the _sitar_; and her voice, when she sang
the _ghazal_, the love-song, was soft, holding the compelling power of
subdued passion--it thrilled Barlow with an emotion that, when she had
finished, caused him to take himself to task.  It was as if he had
said, "By Jove! fancy I've had a bit too much of that champagne--better
look out."

Nana Sahib and the Captain were sitting side by side, and the Gulab,
when she had finished the song, had swept her sinuous lithe form back
in a graceful curtsy in front of the two, and, as if by accident, a red
rose had floated to the feet of Captain Barlow.  Surely her soft, dark,
languorous eyes had said: "For thee."

With a cynical smile Nana Sahib picked up the rose and presented it to
Barlow saying: "My dear Captain, you receive the golden apple--beauty
will out."

Barlow's fingers trembled with suppressed emotion as he took the flower
and carefully slipped it into a buttonhole.

Elizabeth, who sat next him, saw this by-play, and her voice was cold
as she commented: "Homage is a delightful thing, but it spoils
children."

Nana Sahib leaned across Barlow: "My dear Miss Hodson, these dancers
always play to the gods--it is their trade.  But there is safety in
caste--in _varna_, which is the old Brahmin name for caste, meaning
colour.  When the Aryans came down into Hind they were olive-skinned
and the aborigines here were quite black, so, to draw the line, they
created caste and called it _varna_, meaning that they of the light
skin were of a higher order than the aborigines--which they were.  A
white skin is like a shirt-of-mail, it protects morally, socially, in
India."

"Ultimately, no doubt, Prince.  And, of course, a dance-girl is one of
the fourth caste, practically an outcast--an 'untouchable,'" Elizabeth
commented.

Barlow knew this as a devilish arraignment of himself, for he had felt
a strong attraction.  He said nothing; but he was aware of a feeling of
repulsion toward Elizabeth; her harshness, on so slight a provocation,
suggested vindictiveness--a narrow exaction.

Nana Sahib was filled with delight--his evil soul revelled in this
discord.  Then and there, if he could have managed it, he would have
suggested to the Captain that he would arrange for the Gulab to meet
him--might even have her sent to his bungalow.  But he had the waiting
subtlety of a tiger that crouches by a pool for hours waiting for a
kill; so, somewhat reluctantly, he let the opportunity pass.  While he
considered Barlow to be an Englishman possessed of rather slow
perception, he knew that the Captain had a quixotic sense of honour,
and possibly such a proposal might destroy his influence.

And Bootea went back to the camp with Ajeet, suffused to silence by the
strange thing that had happened, the strange infatuation--for it was
that--that had so suddenly filled her heart for the handsome sahib
whose soft, brave eyes had looked through hers into her very soul.



CHAPTER VI

Nana Sahib had assumed a gracious manner toward Ajeet Singh when Bootea
had been brought to the _nautch_.  He had bestowed a handsome gift upon
the Chief, ten gold _mohrs_; and for Bootea there had been the gift of
a ruby, also ten gold _mohrs_.

This munificence,--for Hunsa and Sookdee declared it to be a rare
extravagance,--was not so much as reward for Bootea's _nautch_ as a
desire on the part of the astute Prince to prepare for the greater
service required.

The Dewan also was very gracious to Ajeet over his compliance; but, at
the same time, declared that an order had been passed by Baptiste that
if the Bagrees would not obey the command to go after Amir Khan he
would not pay them a thousand rupees a day out of the treasury.  He put
all this very affably; raised his two fat hands toward heaven declaring
that he was helpless in the matter--Baptiste was the commander, and he
was but a dewan.  With a curious furtive look in his ox-eyes he advised
Ajeet to consult with Hunsa over a method of obtaining money for the
decoits.  He would not commit himself as to making a decoity, for when
they had seized upon the Chief for the crime Ajeet could not then say
that the Dewan had instigated it; there would be only Hunsa's word for
this, and, of course, he would deny that the Minister was the father of
the scheme.

And in the camp Hunsa and Sookdee were clamouring at Ajeet to undertake
a decoity for they were all in need, and to be idle was not their way
of life.

Hunsa went the length of telling Ajeet that the Dewan would even send
them word where a decoity of much loot could be made and in a safe way,
too, for the Dewan would take care that neither sepoys nor police would
be in the way.

And then one day there came to the Bagree camp a mysterious message.  A
yogi, his hair matted with filth till it stood twisted and writhed on
his head like the serpent tresses of Medusa, his lean skeleton
ash-daubed body clothed in yellow, on his forehead the crescent of
Eklinga, in his hand a pair of clanking iron tongs, crawled wearily to
the tents where were the decoits, and bleared out of blood-shot blobs
of faded brown at Ajeet Singh.

He had a message for the Chief from the god Bhyroo who galloped at
night on a black horse, and the message had to do with the decoits, for
if they were successful they could make offering to the priests at the
temple of Bhowanee, for in her service decoity was an honourable
occupation and of great antiquity.

Hunsa and Sookdee had come to sit on their heels, and as they listened
they knew that the wily old Dewan had sent the _yogi_ so that it could
not be said that he, the Minister, had told them this thing.

A rich jewel merchant of Delhi was then at Poona on his way to the
Nizam's court.  He had a wealth of jewels--pearls the size of a bird's
egg, emeralds the size of a betel nut, and diamonds that were like
stars.  This was true for the merchant had paid the duty as he passed
the border into Mahrattaland.

Ajeet gave the yogi two rupees for food, though, viewing the animated
skeleton, it seemed a touch of irony.

Then the jamadars considered the message so deeply wrapped in
mysticism.  Hunsa unhesitatingly declared that the yogi was a messenger
from the Dewan, and if they did not take advantage of it they would
perhaps have to fare forth on lean stomachs and in disgrace--perhaps
would be beaten by the Mahratta sepoys--undoubtedly they would.

Sookdee backed up the jamadar.

"Very well," declared Ajeet, "we will go on this mission.  But remember
this, Hunsa, that if there is treachery, if we are cast into the hands
of the Dewan, I swear by Bhowanee that I will have your life."

"Treachery!"  It was the snarl of an enraged animal, and Hunsa sprang
to his feet.  He whirled, and facing Sookdee, said: "Let Bhowanee
decide who is traitor--let Ajeet and me take the ordeal."

"That is but fair," Sookdee declared.  "The ordeal of the heated cannon
ball will surely burn the hand of the traitor if there is one," and he
looked at Ajeet; and though suspicious that this was still another
trap, Ajeet without cowardice could not decline.

"I will take the ordeal," he declared.

"We will take the ordeal to-night," Hunsa said; "and we should prepare
with haste the method of the decoity, for the merchant may pass, and we
must take the road in a proper disguise.  There is the village to be
decided upon where he will rest in his journey, and many things."

Even Ajeet was forced to acquiesce in this.

Boastfully Hunsa declared: "The ordeal will prove that I am thinking
only of our success.  This method of livelihood has been our profession
for generations, and yet when we are in the protection of the powerful
Dewan Ajeet says I am a traitor to our salt."

For an hour they discussed the best manner of sallying forth in a way
that would leave them unsuspected of robbing.  One of their favourite
methods was adopted; to go in a party of twenty or thirty as mendicants
and bearers of the bones of relatives to the waters of the sacred
Ganges.  No doubt the yogi would accompany them as their priest,
especially if well paid for the service.

The plot was elaborated on, or rather adapted from past expeditions.
Ajeet would be represented as a petty raja, with his retinue of
servants and his guard.  The Gulab Begum would be convincing as a
princess, the wife of the raja.  The wife of Sookdee could be a
lady-in-waiting.

As a respectable strong party of holy men, and a prince, they would
gain the confidence of the merchant, even of the _patil_ of the village
where he would rest for a night.

They would send spies into Poona to obtain knowledge of the jewel
merchant's movements.  The spies, two men who were happy in the art of
ingratiating themselves into the good graces of prospective victims,
would attach themselves to the merchant's party, and at night slip away
and join the robber band so that they might judge where he would camp
next night; at some village that would be a day's march.

When questioned, the _yogi_ told them where they would find the
merchant; he was stopping with a friend in Poona.  So the two set off,
and the Bagrees prepared for their journey.

For the ordeal a cannon ball was needed and a blacksmith to heat it.
And as Hunsa had been the father of the scheme, Sookdee declared that
he must procure these from the Mahratta camp.

Hunsa agreed to this.

The Bagrees were encamped to one side of the Mahratta troops in a small
jungle of _dhak_ and slim-growing bamboos that afforded them privacy.

In negotiating for the loan of a blacksmith Hunsa had impressed upon a
sergeant his sincerity by the gift of two rupees; and two rupees more
to the blacksmith made it certain that the heating of the cannon ball
would not make the test unfair to Hunsa.

A peacock perched high in the feathery top of a giant _sal_ tree was
crying "miaow, miaow!" to the dipping sun when, in the centre of the
Bagree camp the blacksmith, sitting on his haunches in front of a
charcoal fire in which nested the iron cannon ball, fanned the flames
with his pair of goat-skin hand-bellows.

Lots were cast as to which of the two would take the ordeal first, and
it fell to Ajeet.  First seven paces were marked off, and Ajeet was
told that he must not run, but take the seven steps as in a walk,
carrying the hot iron on a pipal leaf on his palm.

"This food of the cannon is now hot," the blacksmith declared, dropping
his bellows and grasping a pair of iron tongs.

As Sookdee placed a broad pipal leaf upon the jamadar's palm, Ajeet
repeated in a firm voice: "I take the ordeal.  If I am guilty, Maha
Kali, may the sign of thy judgment appear upon my flesh!"

"We are ready," Sookdee declared, and the waiting blacksmith swung the
instrument of justice from its heat in the glowing charcoal to the
outstretched hand of the jamadar.

Hunsa's hungry eyes glowed in pleased viciousness, for the blacksmith
had indeed heated the metal; the green pipal leaf squirmed beneath its
heat like a worm, as Ajeet Singh, with the military stride of a
soldier, took the seven paces.

Then dropping the thing of torture he extended his slim small hand to
Sookdee for inspection.

Hunsa's villainy had worked out.  A white rime, like a hoar frost,
fretting the deep red of the scorched skin, that was as delicate as
that on a woman's palm.

Sookdee muttered a pitying cry, and Hunsa declared boastfully: "When
men have evil in their hearts it is known to Bhowanee; behold her sign!"

But Ajeet laughed, saying: "Let Hunsa have the iron; he, too, will know
of its heat."

"Put it again in the fire," declared Sookdee, "for it is an ordeal in
which only the guilty is punished; but the ball must be of the same
heat."

And once more the shot was returned to the charcoal.

Gulab Begum pushed her way rapidly to where the jamadars stood; but
Sookdee objected, saying: "When men appeal to Bhowanee it is not proper
that women should be of the ceremony; it will indeed anger our mother
goddess."

"Thou art a fool, Sookdee," Bootea declared.  "The hand of your chief
is in pain though he shows it not in his face.  Shall a brave man
suffer because you are without feeling!"

She turned to the Chief.  "Here I have cocoanut oil and a bandage of
soft muslin.  Hold to me your hand, Ajeet."

"It is not needed, Gulab, star-flower," the Chief declared proudly.

The Gulab had poured from a ram's horn cool soothing cocoanut oil upon
the burns, and then she wrapped about the hand a bandage of shimmering
muslin, bound in a wide strip of silk-like plantain leaf, saying: "This
will keep the oil cool to your wound, Chief; it will not let it dry out
to increase the heat."

There was another band of muslin passed around the leaf, and as the
Gulab turned away, she said: "Think you, Sookdee, that Bhowanee will be
offended because of mercy.  Some day, Jamadar, fire will be put upon
your face, when the head has been lopped from your body, to hide the
features of a decoit that it may not bear witness against the tribe."

"You have delayed the ordeal," Sookdee answered surlily, "and because
of that Bhowanee will have anger."

The blacksmith, though pumping with both hands at his pair of bellows,
had felt the impress of the two silver coins in his loin cloth, and,
true to the bribe from Hunsa, had adroitly doctored his fire by dusting
sand here and there so that the shot had lost, instead of gained heat.
Now he cried out: "This kabob of the cannon is cooked, and my arms are
tired whilst you have talked."

Rising he seized his tongs asking, "Who now will have it placed upon
his palm?"

"Put it here," Sookdee said, as he laid a pipal leaf of twice the
thickness he had given Ajeet upon the palm of Hunsa.

Then Hunsa, having repeated the appeal to Bhowanee, strode toward the
goal, and reaching it, cast the iron shot to the ground, holding up his
hand in triumph.  His was the hand of a gorilla, thick skinned, rough
and hard like that of a workman, and now it showed no sign of a burning.

"What say you, Ajeet Singh?" Sookdee asked.

"As to the ordeal," the Chief answered, "according to our faith
Bhowanee has spoken.  But know you this, though the scar is in my palm,
in my heart is no treachery.  As to Hunsa, the ordeal has cleared him
in your minds, and perhaps it is true.  We will go forth to the decoity
and what is to be will be.  We are but servants of Bhowanee, and if we
make vow to sacrifice a buffalo at her temple perhaps she will keep us
in her protection."

Ajeet knew that he had been tricked somehow, but to dispute the ordeal,
the judgment of the black goddess, would be like an apostacy--it would
turn every Bagree against him--it would be a shatterment of their
tenets.  So he said nothing but accepted mutely the decree.

But Bootea's sharp eyes had been busy.  She had watched the blacksmith,
to whom Ajeet had paid little attention.  In the faces of Hunsa and
Sookdee she had caught flitting expressions of treachery.  She knew
that Ajeet had been guiltless of treason to the others, for she had
been close to him.  Besides she had, when roused, an imperious temper.
The Bagree women were allowed greater freedom than other women of
Hindustan, even greater freedom than the Mahratta females who, though
they appeared in public unveiled, in the homes were treated as
children, almost as slaves.  The Bagree women at times even led gangs
of decoits.  Her anger had been roused by Sookdee earlier, and now
rising from where she sat, she strode imperiously forward till she
faced the jamadars:

"Your Chief is too proud to deny this trick that you, Sookdee and
Hunsa, and that accursed labourer of another caste, the blacksmith,
that shoer of Mahratta horses whom Hunsa has bribed, have put upon him
in the name of Bhowanee."

Sookdee stared in affrighted silence, and Hunsa's bellow of rage was
stilled by Ajeet, who whirling upon him, the jade-handled knife in his
grip, commanded: "Still your clamour!  The Gulab has but seen the
truth.  I, also, know that, but a soldier may not speak as may one of
his women-kind."

There was a sudden hush.  A tremor of apprehension had vibrated from
Bagree to Bagree; the jamadars felt it.  A spark, one lunge with a
knife, and they would be at each other's throats; the men of Alwar
against the men of Karowlee; even caste against caste, for the Bagrees
from Alwar were of the Solunkee caste, while the Karowlee men were of
Kolee caste.

And there the slim girl form of Bootea stood outlined, a delicate bit
of statuary, like something of marble that had come from the hand of
Praxiteles, the white muslin sari in its gentle clinging folds showing
against the now darkening wall of bamboo jungle.  There was something
about the Gulab, magnetic, omnipotent, that subdued men, that enslaved
them; an indescribable subtlety of gentle strength, like the
bronze-blue temper in steel.  And her eyes--no one can describe the
compelling eyes of the world, the awful eyes that in their fierce
magnetism act on a man like _bhang_ on a Ghazi or, like the eyes of
Christ, smother him in love and goodness.  The _karait_ of India has a
dull red eye without pupil, of which it is the belief that if a man
gaze into it for a time he will go mad.  To say that Bootea's eyes were
beautiful was to say nothing, and to describe their compelling force
was impossible.

So as they rested on the sullen eyes of Sookdee he quivered; and the
others stood in silence as Ajeet took Bootea by the arm saying, "Come,
my lotus flower," led her to the tent.

There the jamadar put his sinewy arms about the slender girl, and bent
his handsome face to implant a kiss on her red lips, but she thrust his
arms from her and drew back saying, "No, Ajeet!"

"Why, lotus--why, Gulab?  Often from thy lips I have heard that there
is no love in thy heart for any man even for me, but is it not a lie,
the curious lie of a woman who resents a master?"

Ajeet in a mingling of awe and anger had dropped into the formal "thou"
pronoun instead of the familiar "you."

"No, Ajeet, it is the truth; I do not tell lies."

"But out there thou denounced those sons of depraved parents in defence
of Ajeet; thou bound up his hand as a mother dresses the wounds of a
child in her love--even mocked Bhowanee and the ordeal; then sayest
thou there is no love in thy heart for Ajeet."

"There is not; just the tie such as is between us, that is all.  I
never learned love--I was but a pawn, a prize.  Seest that, Ajeet?" and
Bootea laid a finger upon the iron bracelet on her arm--the badge of a
widow.

Ajeet Singh sneered: "A metal lie, a--"

"Stop!" The girl's voice was almost a scream of expostulation.  "To
speak of that means death, thou fool.  And thou hast sworn--"

Ajeet's face had blanched.  Then a surge of anger re-flushed it.

"Gulab," he said presently, "take care that the love thou say'st is
dead--but which is not, for it never dies in the heart of a woman, it
is but a smouldering fire--take care that it springs not into flame at
the words of some other man, the touch of his hands, or the light of
his eyes, because then, by Bhowanee, I will kill thee."

The Gulab stamped a foot upon the earth floor of the tent: "Coward! now
I hate thee!  Only the weak, the cowards, threaten women.  When thou
art brave and strong I do not hate if I do not love.  'Tis thou, Ajeet,
who art to take care."

Outside Guru Lal was casting holy oil upon the troubled waters of a
disputed ordeal.  The wily old priest knew well how omens and ordeals
could be manipulated.  Besides, unity among the Bagree leaders, leading
to much loot, would bring him tribute for the gods.

"It may be," he was saying to Sookdee, "that the blacksmith, who is not
of our tribe, nor of our nine castes, but is of the Sumar caste, has
sought to put shame upon our gods by a trick.  At best he was a surly
rascal of little thought.  It may be that the iron shot was made too
hot for the hand of the Chief.  An ordeal is a fair test when its
observance is equal between men; it is then that the goddess judges and
gives the verdict--her way is always just.  Have not we many times read
wrongly her omens, and have misjudged the signs, and have suffered.
And Ajeet acted like one who is not guilty."

"And think you, Guru, that Ajeet will give you a present of rupees for
this talk that is like the braying of an ass?" Hunsa growled.

But Sookdee objected, saying: "Guru Lal is a holy man of age, and his
blood runs without heat, therefore if he speaks, the words are not a
matter for passion, but to be considered.  We will go upon a decoity,
which is our duty, and leave the ordeal and all else in the hands of
Bhowanee."



CHAPTER VII

Perhaps it was the customs official that told Dewan Sewlal about the
_Akbar Ka Diwa_, the Lamp of Akbar, the ruby that was so called because
of its gorgeous blood-red fire, as being in the iron box of the
merchant.

This ruby had been an eye in one of the two gorgeous jewelled peacocks
that surmounted the "Peacock Throne" at Delhi in the time of Akbar to
the time when the Persian conqueror, Nadir Shah, sacked Delhi and took
the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor, and everything else of value back
to Persia.  But he didn't get the ruby for the Vizier of the King of
Delhi stole it.  Then Alam, the eunuch, stole it from the Vizier.  Its
possession was desirable, not only because of its great value as a
jewel, but because it held in its satanic glitter an unearthly power,
either of preservation to its holder or malignant evil against his
enemies.

At any rate Sewlal sent for Hunsa the night of the ordeal and explained
to him, somewhat casually, that a jewel merchant passing through
Mahrattaland had in his collection a ruby of no great value, but a
stone that he would like to become possessed of because a ruby was his
lucky gem.  The Dewan intimated that Hunsa would get a nice private
reward for this particular gem, if by chance he could, quite secretly,
procure it for him.

Next day was a busy one in the Bagree camp.

Having followed the profession of decoits and thugs for generations it
was with them a fine art; unlimited pains were taken over every detail.
As it had been decided that they would go as a party of mendicants and
bearers of family bones to Mother Ganges, there were many things to
provide to carry out the masquerade--stage properties, as it were; red
bags for the bones of females, and white bags for those of the males.

In two days one of the spies came with word that Ragganath, the
merchant, had started on his journey, riding in a covered cart drawn by
two of the slim, silk-skinned trotting bullocks, and was accompanied by
six men, servants and guards; on the second night he would encamp at
Sarorra.  So a start was made the next morning.

Sookdee, Ajeet Singh, and Hunsa, accompanied by twenty men, and Gulab
Begum took the road, the Gulab travelling in an enclosed cart as
befitted the favourite of a raja, and with her rode the wife of Sookdee
as her maid.

Ajeet rode a Marwari stallion, a black, roach-crested brute, with bad
hocks and an evil eye.  The Ajeet sat his horse a convincing figure, a
Rajput Raja.

Beneath a rich purple coat gleamed, like silver tracery, his steel
shirt-of-mail; through his sash of red silk was thrust a
straight-bladed sword, and from the top of his turban of
blue-and-gold-thread, peeped a red cap with dangling tassel of gold.

In the afternoon of the second day the Bagrees came to the village of
Sarorra.

"We will camp here," the leader commanded, "close to the mango _tope_
through which we have just passed, then we will summon the headman, and
if he is as such accursed officials are, the holy one, the yogi, will
cast upon him and his people a curse; also I will threaten him with the
loss of his ears."

"The one who is to be destroyed has not yet come," Hunsa declared, "for
here is what these dogs of villagers call a place of rest though it is
but an open field."

Ajeet turned upon the jamadar: "The one who is to be destroyed, say
you, Hunsa?  Who spoke in council that the merchant was to be killed?
We are men of decoity, we rob these fat pirates who rob the poor, but
we take life only when it is necessary to save our own."

"And when a robbed one who has power, such as rich merchants have, make
complaint and give names, the powers take from us our profit and cast
us into jail," Hunsa retorted.

"And forget not, Ajeet, that we are here among the Mahrattas far from
our own forests that we can escape into if there is outcry," Sookdee
interjected.  "If the voices are hushed and the bodies buried beneath
where we cook our food, there will be only silence till we are safe
back in Karowlee.  The Dewan will not protect us if there is an
outcry--he will deny that he has promised protection."

The Bagrees were already busy preparing the camp, the camp of a
supposed party of men on a sacred mission.

It was like the locating of a circus.  The tents they had brought stood
gaudily in the hot sun, some white and some of cotton cloth dyed in
brilliant colours, red, and blue, and yellow.  In front of Ajeet's tent
a bamboo pole was planted, from the top of which floated a red flag
carrying a figure of the monkey god, Hanuman, embroidered in green and
yellow.

The red and white bags carrying bones, which were supposed to be the
bones of defunct relatives, were suspended from tripods of bamboo to
preserve them from the pollution of the soil.

And presently three big drums, Nakaras, were arranged in front of the
yogi's tent, and were being beaten by strong-armed drummers, while a
conch shell blared forth a discordant note that was supposed to be
pleasing to the gods.

Some of the Bagrees issued from their tents having suddenly become
canonised, metamorphosed from highwaymen to devout yogis, their bodies,
looking curiously lean and ascetic, now clothed largely in ashes and
paint.

"Go you, Hunsa," Ajeet commanded, "into this depraved village and
summon the _patil_ to come forth and pay to the sainted yogi the usual
gift of one rupee four annas, and make his salaams.  Also he is to
provide fowl and fruits for us who are on this sacred mission.  He may
be a son of swine, such as the lord of a village is, so speak, Jamadar,
of the swords the Raja's guards carry.  Say nothing as to the expected
one, but let your eyes do all the questioning."

Hunsa departed on his mission, and even then the villagers could be
seen assembled between the Bagrees and the mud huts, watching curiously
the encampment.

"Sookdee," Ajeet said, "if we can rouse the anger of the _patil_--"

The Jamadar laughed.  "If you insist upon the payment of silver you
will accomplish that, Ajeet."

Ajeet touched his slim fingers to Sookdee's arm: "Do not forget,
Jamadar--call me Raja.  But as to the village; if we anger them they
will not entertain the merchant; they will not let him rest in the
village.  And also if they are of an evil temper we will warn the
merchant that they are thieves who will cut his throat and rob him.  We
will give him the protection of our numbers."

"If the merchant is fat--and when they attain wealth they always become
fat--he will be happy with us, Raja, thinking perhaps that he will
escape a gift of money the _patil_ would exact."

"Yes," Ajeet Singh answered, "we will ask him for nothing when he
departs."

After a time Hunsa was seen approaching, and with him the
grey-whiskered _patil_.

The latter was a commoner.  He suggested a black-faced, grey-whiskered
monkey of the jungles.  Indeed the pair were an anthropoid couple,
Hunsa the gorilla, and the headman an ape.  Behind them straggled a
dozen villagers, men armed with long ironwood sticks of combat.

The headman salaamed the yogi and Ajeet, saying, "This is but a poor
place for holy men and the Raja to rest, for the water is bad and
famine is upon us."

"A liar, and the son of a wild ass," declared Ajeet promptly.  "Give to
this saint the gift of silver, lest he put the anger of Kali upon you,
and call upon her of the fiery furnace in the sacred hills to destroy
your houses.  Also send fowl and grain, and think yourself favoured of
Kali that you make offering to such a holy one, and to a Raja who is in
favour with Sindhia."

But the villager had no intention of parting with worldly goods if he
could get out of it.  He expostulated, enlarged upon his poverty,
rubbed dust upon his forehead, and called upon the gods to destroy him
if he had a breakfast in the whole village for himself and people,
declaring solemnly; "By my Junwa!"--though he wore no sacred
thread,--"there is no food for man or horse in the village."  Then he
waxed angry, asking indignantly, who were these stragglers upon the
road that they should come to him, an official of the Peshwa, to demand
tribute; he would have them destroyed.  Beyond, not two _kos_ away,
were a thousand soldiers,--which was a gorgeous lie,--who if he but
sent a messenger would come and behead the lot, would cast the sacred
bones in the gaudy bags upon the dunghill of the village bullocks.

"To-morrow, monkey-man, the gift will be doubled," Ajeet answered
calmly, "for that is the law, and you know it."

But the _patil_, thinking there would be little fight in a party of
pilgrims and mendicants, called to his stickmen to bring help and they
would beat these insolent ones and drive them on their way.

"Take the yogi, Hunsa," Ajeet said, "and the men that have the
fire-powder and throw it upon the thatched roof of a hut in the way of
a visitation from the gods, because this ape will not leave us in peace
for our mission until he is subdued."

In obedience as Hunsa and the yogi moved toward the village, the
_patil_ cried.  "Where go you?"

"We go with a message from the gods to you who offer insult to a holy
one."

The villagers armed with sticks, retreated slowly before the yogi,
dreading to offer harm to the sainted one.  Muttering his curses, his
iron tongs clanking at every step, the yogi strode to the first
mud-wall huts, and there raising his voice cried aloud: "Maha Kalil
consume the houses of these men of an evil heart who would deny the
offering to Thee."

Then at a wave of his skeleton arm the two men threw upon the thatched
roof of a hut a grey preparation of gunpowder which was but a
pyrotechnical trick, and immediately the thatch burst into flames.

"There, accursed ones--unbelievers!  Kali has spoken!" the yogi
declared solemnly, and turning on his heels went back to the camp.

The headman and his men, with howls of dismay, rushed back to stop the
conflagration.  And just then the jewel merchant arrived in his cart.
The curtains of the canopy were thrown back and the fat Hindu sat
blinking his owl eyes in consternation.  At sight of Ajeet he
descended, salaamed, and asked:

"Has there been a decoity in the village--is it war and bloodshed?"

Ajeet assumed the haughty condescending manner of a Rajput prince, and
explained, with a fair scope of imagination that the _patil_ was a man
of ungovernable temper who gave protection to thieves and outlaws, that
the village itself was a nest for them.  That two of his servants,
having gone into the village to purchase food, had been set upon,
beaten and robbed; that the conflagration had been caused by the fire
from a gun that one of the debased villagers had poked through a hole
in the roof to shoot his servants.

"As my name is Ragganath, it is a visitation upon these scoundrels,"
the merchant declared.

"It is indeed, Sethjee."

Ajeet had diplomatically used the "Sethjee," which was a friendly
rendering of the name "Seth," meaning "a merchant," and the wily Hindu,
not to be outdone in courtesy, promoted Ajeet.

"Such an outrage, Maharaja, on the part of these low-caste people in
the presence of the sainted one, and the pilgrims upon such a sacred
mission to Mother Gunga, has brought upon them the wrath of the gods.
May the village be destroyed; and the _patil_ when he dies come back to
earth a snake, to crawl upon his belly."

"The headman even refused to give the holy one the gift of
silver--tendering instead threats," Ajeet added.

The merchant spat his contempt: "Wretches!" he declared; "debased
associates of skinners of dead animals, and scrapers of skulls; Bah!"
and he spat again.  "And to think but for the Presence having arrived
here first I most assuredly would have gone into the village, and
perhaps have been slain for my--"

He stopped and rolled his eyes apprehensively.  He had been on the
point of mentioning his jewels, but, though he was amongst saints and
kings, he suddenly remembered the danger.

"We would not have camped here," Ajeet declared, "had we not been a
strong party, because this village has an evil reputation.  You have
been favoured by the gods in finding honest men in the way of
protection, and, no doubt, it is because you are one who makes
offerings to the deity."

"And if the Maharaja will suffer the presence of a poor merchant, who
is but a shopkeeper, I will rest here in his protection."

Ajeet Singh graciously consented to this, and the merchant commanded
his men to erect his small tent beneath the limbs of the deep green
mango trees.

The decoits watched closely the transport of the merchant's effects
from the cart to the tent.  When a strong iron box, that was an evident
weight for its two carriers, was borne first their eyes glistened.
Therein was the wealth of jewels the flying horsemen of the night had
whispered to the yogi about.



CHAPTER VIII

When the merchant's tent had been erected, and he had gone to its
shelter, the jamadars, sitting well beyond the reach of his ears, held
a council of war.  Ajeet was opposed to the killing of Ragganath and
his men, but Hunsa pointed out that it was the only way: they were
either decoits or they were men of toil, men of peace.  Dead men were
not given to carrying tales, and if no stir were made about the decoity
until they were safely back in Karowlee they could enjoy the fruits Of
their spoils, which would be, undoubtedly, great.  By the use of the
strangling cloth there would be no outcry, no din of battle; they of
the village would think that the camp was one of sleep.  Then when the
bodies had been buried in a pit, the earth tramped down flat and solid,
and cooking fires built over it to obliterate all traces of a grave,
they would strike camp and go back the way they had come.

Ajeet was forced to admit that it was the one thorough way, but he
persisted that they were decoits and not thugs.

At this Sookdee laughed: "Jamadar," he said, "what matters to a dead
man the manner of his killing?  Indeed it is a merciful way.  Such as
Bhowanee herself decreed--in a second it is over.  But with the spear,
or the sword--ah! I have seen men writhe in agony and die ten times
before it was an end."

"But a caste is a caste," Ajeet objected, "and the manner of the caste.
We are decoits, and we only slay when there is no other way."

Hunsa tipped his gorilla body forward from where it rested on his heels
as he sat, and his lowering eyes were sullen with impatience:

"Chief Ajeet," he snarled, "think you that we can rob the _seth_ of his
treasure without an outcry--and if there is an outcry, that he will not
go back to those of his caste in Poona, and when trouble is made, think
you that the Dewan will thank us for the bungling of this?  And as to
the matter of a thug or a decoit, half our men have been taught the art
of the strangler.  With these,"--and extending his massive arms he
closed his coarse hands in a gnarled grip,--"with these I would, with
one sharp in-turn on the _roomal_, crack the neck of the merchant and
he would be dead in the taking of a breath.  And, Ajeet, if this that
is the manner of men causes you fear--"

"Hunsa," and Ajeet's voice was constrained in its deadliness, "that
ass's voice of yours will yet bring you to grief."

But Sookdee interposed:

"Let us not quarrel," he said.  "Ajeet no doubt has in his mind Bootea
as I have Meena.  And it would be well if the two were sent on the road
in the cart, and when our work is completed we will follow.  Indeed
they may know nothing but that there is some jewel, such as women love,
to be given them."

"Look you," cried Hunsa thrusting his coarse hand out toward the road,
"even Bhowanee is in favour.  See you not the jackal?"

Turning their eyes in the direction Hunsa indicated, a jackal was seen
slinking across the road from right to left.

"Indeed it is an omen," Sookdee corroborated; "if on our journeys to
commit a decoity that is always a good omen."

"And there is the voice!" Hunsa exclaimed, as the tremulous lowing of a
cow issued from the village.

He waved a beckoning hand to Guru Lal, for they had brought with them
their tribal priest as an interpreter of omens chiefly.  "Is not the
voice of the cow heard at sunset a good omen, Guru?" he demanded.

"Indeed it is," the priest affirmed.  "If the voice of a cow is heard
issuing at twilight from a village at which decoits are to profit, it
is surely a promise from Bhowanee that a large store of silver will be
obtained."

"Take thee to thy prayers, Guru," Ajeet commanded, "for we have matters
to settle."  He turned to Sookdee.  "Your omens will avail little if
there is prosecution over the disappearance of the merchant.  I am
supposed to be in command, the leader, but I am the led.  But I will
not withdraw, and it is not the place of the chief to handle the
_roomal_.  We will eat our food, and after the evening prayers will sit
about the fire and amuse this merchant with stories such as honest men
and holy ones converse in, that he may be at peace in his mind.  As
Sookdee says, the women will be sent to the grove of trees we came
through on the road."

"We will gather about the fire of the merchant," Sookdee declared, "for
it is in the mango grove and hidden from sight of the villagers.  Also
a guard will be placed between here and the village, and one upon the
roadway."

"And while we hold the merchant in amusement," Hunsa added, "men will
dig the pits here, two of them, each within a tent so that they will
not be seen at work."

"Yes, Ajeet," Sookdee said with a suspicion of a sneer, "we will give
the merchant the consideration of a decent burial, and not leave him to
be eaten by jackals and hyenas as were the two soldiers you finished
with your sword when we robbed the camel transport that carried the
British gold in Oudh."

"If it is to be, cease to chatter like jays," Ajeet answered crossly.

In keeping with their assumed characters, the evening meal was ushered
in with a peace-shattering clamour from the drums and a raucous blare
from conch-shell horns.  Then the devout murderers offered up prayers
of fervency to the great god, beseeching their more immediate branch of
the deity, Bhowanee, to protect them.

And at the same time, just within the mud walls of Sarorra, its people
were placing flowers and cocoanuts and sweetmeats upon the shrine of
the god of their village.

Just without the village gate the elephant-nosed Ganesh sat looking in
whimsical good nature across his huge paunch toward the place of crime,
the deep shadow that lay beneath the green-leafed mango trees.

In the hearts of the Bagrees there was unholy joy, an eager
anticipation, a gladsome feeling toward Bhowanee who had certainly
guided this rapacious merchant with his iron box full of jewels to
their camp.

Indeed they would sacrifice a buffalo at her temple of Kajuria, for
that was the habit of their clan when the booty was great.  The taking
of life was but an incident.  In Hindustan humans came up like flies,
returning over and over to again encumber the crowded earth.  In the
vicissitudes of life before long the merchant would pass for a
reincorporation of his soul, and probably, because of his sins as an
oppressor of the poor, come back as a turtle or a jackass; certainly
not as a revered cow--he was too unholy.  In the gradation of humans he
was but a merchant of the caste of the third dimension in the great
quartette of castes.  It would not be like killing a Brahmin, a sin in
the sight of the great god.

This philosophy was as subtle as the perfume of a rose, unspoken, even
at the moment a floaty thought.  Like their small hands and their erect
air of free-men, the Rajput atmosphere, it had grown into their created
being, like the hunting instinct of a Rampore hound.

The merchant, smoking his _hookah_, having eaten, observed with keen
satisfaction the evening devotions of the supposed mendicants.  As it
grew dark their guru was offering up a prayer to the Holy Cow, for she
was to be worshipped at night.  The merchant's appreciation was largely
a worldly one, a business sense of insurance--safety for his jewels and
nothing to pay for security--men so devout would have the gods in their
mind and not robbery.  When the jamadars, and some of the Bagrees who
were good story tellers, and one a singer, did him the honour of coming
to sit at his camp-fire he was pleased.

"Sit you here at my right," he said to Hunsa, for he conceived him to
be captain of the Raja's guard.

Sookdee and the others, without apparent motive, contrived it so that a
Bagree or two sat between each of the merchant's men, engaging them in
pleasant speech, tendering tobacco.  And, as if in modesty, some of the
Bagrees sat behind the retainers.

"This is indeed a courtesy," the merchant assured Hunsa; "a poor trader
feels honoured by a visit from so brave a soldier as the captain of the
Raja's guard."

He noticed, too, with inward satisfaction, that the jamadars had left
their weapons behind, which they had done in a way of not arousing
their victim's fears.

"Would not it be deemed a courtesy," the merchant asked, "if one like
myself, who is a poor trader, should go to pay his respects to the Raja
ere he retires, for of course it would be beneath his dignity to come
to his servant?"

"No, indeed," declared Hunsa quickly, thinking of the graves that were
even then being dug; "he is a man of a haughty temper, and when he is
in the society of the beautiful dancing girl who is with him, he cares
not to be disturbed.  Even now he is about to escort her in the cart
down the road to where there is a shrine that women of that caste make
offering to."

It had been arranged that Ajeet would escort Bootea, with two Bagrees
as attendants, to the grove of trees half a mile down the road.  He had
insisted on this in the way of a negative support to the murder.  As
there would be no fighting this did not reflect on his courage as a
leader.  And as to complicity, Hunsa knew that as the leader of the
party, Ajeet would be held the chief culprit.  It was always the leader
of a gang of decoits who was beheaded when captured, the others perhaps
escaping with years of jail.  And Hunsa himself, even Sookdee, would be
safe, for they were in league with the Dewan.

There was an hour of social talk; many times Hunsa fingered the
_roomal_ that was about his waist; the yellow-and-white strangling
cloth with which Bhowanee had commanded her disciples, the thugs, to
kill their victims.  In one corner of it was tied a silver rupee for
luck.  The natural ferocity of his mind threw him into an eager
anticipation: he took pride in his proficiency as a strangler; his
coarse heavy hands, like those of a Punjabi wrestler, were suited to
the task.  Grasping the cloth at the base of a victim's skull, tight to
the throat, a side-twist inward and the trick was done, the spine
snapped like a pipe-stem.  And he had been somewhat out of practice--he
had regretted that; he was fearful of losing the art, the knack.

About the fat paunch of the merchant was a silver-studded belt.  Hunsa
eyed this speculatively.  Beyond doubt in its neighbourhood would be
the key to the iron box; and when its owner lay on his back, his
bulbous eyes glaring upward to where the moon trickled through the
thick foliage of the mango tree beneath which they sat, he would seize
the keys and be first to dabble his grimy fingers in the glittering
gems.

Beyond, the village had hushed--the strident call of voices had ceased.
Somewhere a woman was pounding grain in a wooden mortar--a dull
monotonous "thud, thud, swish, thud" carrying on the dead air.
Night-jars were circling above the trees, their plaintive call,
"chy-eece, chy-e-ece!" filtering downward like the weird cry of
spirits.  Once the deep sonorous bugling note of a _saurus_, like the
bass pipe of an organ, smote the stillness as the giant crane winged
his way up the river that lay beyond, a mighty ribbon of silver in the
moonlight.  A jackal from the far side of the village, in the fields,
raised a tremulous moan.

Sookdee looked into the eyes of Hunsa and he understood.  It was the
_tibao_, the happiest augury of success, for it came over the right
shoulder of the victim.

Hunsa, feeling that the moment to strike had come, rose carelessly,
saying: "Give me tobacco."

That was a universal signal amongst thugs, the command to strike.

Even as he uttered the words Hunsa had slipped behind the merchant and
his towel was about the victim's neck.  Each man who had been assigned
as a strangler, had pounced upon his individual victim; while Sookdee
stood erect, a knife in his hand, ready to plunge it into the heart of
any one who was likely to overcome his assailant.

Hunsa had thrown the helpless merchant upon his face, and with one knee
between his shoulder-blades had broken the neck; no sound beyond a
gurgling breath of strangulation had passed the Hindu's lips.  There
had been no clamour, no outcry; nothing but a few smothered words,
gasps, the scuffle of feet upon the earth; it was like a horrible
nightmare, a fantastic orgy of murderous fiends.  The flame of the
campfire flickered sneers, drawn torture, red and green shadows in the
staring faces of the men who lay upon the ground, and the figures of
the stranglers glowed red in its light, like devils who danced in hell.

Hunsa had turned the merchant upon his back and his evil gorilla face
was thrust into the face of his victim.  No breath passed the thick
protruding lips upon which was a froth of death.

As the Jamadar tore the keys from the waist-band, snapping a silver
chain that was about the body, he said: "Sookdee, be quick.  Have the
bodies carried to the pits.  Do not forget to drive a spear through
each belly lest they swell up and burst open the earth."

"You have the keys to the chest, Hunsa?" Sookdee said, with suspicion
in his voice.

"Yes, Jamadar; I will open it.  We will empty it, and place the iron
box on top of the bodies in a pit, for it is too heavy to carry, and if
we are stopped it might be observed."

"Take the dead," Sookdee commanded the Bagrees; "lay them out; take
down the tents that are over the pits, and by that time I will be there
to count these dead things in the way of surety that not one has
escaped with the tale.

"Come," he said to Hunsa, "together we will go to the iron box and open
it; then there can be no suspicion that the men of Alwar have been
defrauded."

Hunsa turned malignant eyes upon Sookdee, but, keys in hand, strode
toward the tent.

Sookdee, thrusting in the fire a torch made from the feathery bark of
the _kujoor_ tree, followed.

Hunsa kneeling before the iron box was fitting the keys into the double
locks.  Then he drew the lids backward, and the two gasped at a glitter
of precious stones that lay beneath a black velvet cloth Hunsa stripped
from the gems.

Sookdee cried out in wonderment; and Hunsa, slobbering gutturals of
avarice, patted the gems with his gorilla paws.  He lifted a large
square emerald entwined in a tracery of gold, delicate as the
criss-cross of a spider's web, and held it to his thick lips.

"A bribe for a princess!" he gloated.  "Take you this, Sookdee, and
hide it as you would your life, for a gift to the son of the Peshwa,
who, methinks, is behind the Dewan in this, we will be men of honour.
And this"--a gleaming diamond in a circlet of gold--"for Sirdar
Baptiste," and he rolled it in his loin cloth.  "And this,"--a string
of pearls, that as he laid it on the black velvet was like the tears of
angels,--"This for the fat pig of a Dewan to set his four wives at each
other's throats.  Let not the others know of these, Sookdee, of these
that we have taken for the account."

Suddenly there was a clamour of voices, cries, the clang of swords, the
sharp crash of a shot, and the two jamadars, startled, eyes staring,
stood with ears cocked toward the tumult.

"Soldiers!" Sookdee gasped.  His hand brushed Hunsa's bare arm as he
thrust it into the chest and brought it forth clasping jewels, which he
tied in a knot of his waistcloth.  "Take you something, Hunsa, and lock
the box till we see," he said darting from the tent.

Hunsa filled a pocket of his brocaded Jacket, but he was looking for
the Akbar Lamp, the ruby.  He lifted out a tray and ran his grimy hands
through the maze of gold and silver wrought ornaments below.  His
fingers touched, at the very bottom, a bag of leather.  He tore it
open, and a blaze of blood-red light glinted at him evilly where a ruby
caught the flame of the torch that Sookdee had thrown to the earth
floor as he fled.

With a snarl of gloating he rolled the ruby in a fold of his turban,
locked the box, and darted after Sookdee.

He all but fell over the seven dead bodies of the merchant and his men
as he raced to where a group was standing beyond.  And there three more
bodies lay upon the ground, and beside them, held, were two horses.

"It is Ajeet Singh," Sookdee said pointing to where the Chief lay with
his head in the lap of a decoit.  "These two native soldiers of the
English came riding in with swiftness, for behind them raced Ajeet who
must have seen them pass."

"And here," another added, "as the riders checked at sight of the dead,
Ajeet pulled one from his horse and killed him, but the other, with a
pistol, shot Ajeet and he is dead."

"The Chief is not dead," said the one who held his head in his lap; "he
is but shot in the shoulder, and I have stopped the blood with my hand."

"And we have killed the other soldier," another said, "for, having seen
the bodies, we could not let him live."

From Sookdee's hand dangled a coat of one of the dead.

"This that is a leather purse," he said, "contains letters; the red
thing on them I have looked upon before--it is the seal of the Englay.
It was here in the coat of that one who is a sergeant--the other being
a soldier."

He put the leather case within the bosom of his shirt, adding: "This
may even be of value to the Dewan.  Beyond that, there was little of
loot upon these dogs of the Englay--eight rupees.  The coats and the
turbans we will burn."

Hunsa stooped down and slipped the sandals from the feet of the one
Sookdee had pointed out as the officer.

"The footwear is of little value, but we will take the brass cooking
pots of the merchant," Sookdee said, eyeing this performance; there was
suspicion in his eyes lighted from the flare of their camp fires.

"Sookdee," Hunsa said, "you have the Englay leather packet, but they do
not send _sowars_ through the land of the Mahratta with the real
message written on the back of the messenger.  In quiet I will rip
apart the soles of this footwear.  Do you that with the saddles;
therein is often hidden the true writing.  In the slaying of these two
we have acquired a powerful enemy, the English, and the message, if
there be one, might be traded for our lives.  Here are the keys to the
box, for it is heavy."

Into Hunsa's mind had flashed the thought that the gods had opened the
way, for he had plotted to do this thing--the destruction of Ajeet.

"Have all the bodies thrown into the pit, Sookdee," he advised; "make
perfect the covering of the fire and ash, and while you prepare for
flight I will go and bring Bootea's cart to carry Ajeet."

Then Hunsa was swallowed up in the gloom of the night, melting like a
shadow into the white haze of the road as he raced like a grey wolf
toward the Gulab, who now had certainly been delivered into his hands.

Soon his heart pumped and the choke of exertion slowed him to a fast
walk.  The sandals, bulky with their turned-up toes, worried him.  He
drew a knife from his sash and slit the tops off, muttering: "If it is
here, the message of value, it will be between the two skins of the
soles."

Now they lay flat and snug in his hand as he quickened his pace.



CHAPTER IX

The Gulab heard the shot at the Bagree camp, and Hunsa found her
trembling from apprehension.

"What has happened, Jamadar?" she cried.  "Ajeet heard the beat of
iron-shod hoofs upon the road, and seeing in the moonlight the two
riders knew from the manner they sat the saddles that they were of the
Englay service; when he called to them they heeded him not.  Then Ajeet
followed the two.  Why was the shot, Hunsa?"

"They have killed Ajeet," Hunsa declared; "but also they are dead, and
I have the leader's leather sandals for a purpose.  The shot has roused
the village, and even now our people are preparing for flight.  Get you
into the cart that I may take you to safety."  He took the ruby from
his turban, saying: "And here is the most beautiful ruby in Hind; the
fat pig of a Dewan wants it, but I have taken it for you."

But Bootea pushed his hand away: "I take no present from you, Hunsa."

Hunsa put the jewel back in his turban and commanded the two men, who
stood waiting, "Make fast the bullocks to the cart quickly lest we be
captured, because other soldiers are coming behind."

The two Bagrees turned to where the slim pink-and-grey coated trotting
bullocks were tethered by their short horns to a tree and leading them
to the cart made fast the bamboo yoke across their necks.

"Get into the cart, Bootea," Hunsa commanded, for the girl had not
moved.

"I will not!" she declared.  "I'm going back to Ajeet; he is not
dead--it is a trick."

"He _is_ dead," Hunsa snarled, seizing her by arm.

The Gulab screamed words of denunciation.  "Take your hands off me, son
of a pig, accursed man of low caste!  Ajeet will kill you for this,
dog!"

At this the wife of Sookdee fled, racing back toward the camp.  One of
the men darted forward to follow, but Hunsa stayed him, saying, "Let
her go--it is better; I war not upon Sookdee."

He had the Gulab now in the grasp of both his huge paws, and holding
her tight, said rapidly: "Be still you she-devil, accursed fool!  You
are going to a palace to be a queen.  The son of the Peshwa desires
you.  True, I, also, have desire, but fear not for, by Bhowanee! it is
a life of glory, of jewels and rich attire that I take you to; so get
into the cart."

But Bootea wrenched free an arm and struck Hunsa full upon his ugly
face, screaming her rebellion.

"To be struck by a woman!" Hunsa blared; "not a woman, but the spawn of
a she-leopard! why should not I beat your beautiful face into ugliness
with one of these sandals of a dead pig!"

He lifted her bodily, calling to the man upon the ground, the other
having mounted behind the bullocks.  "Put back the leather wall of the
cart that I may hurl this outcast widow of a dead Hindu within."

Bootea clawed at his face; she kicked and fought; her voice screaming a
call to Ajeet.

There was a heavy rolling thump of hoofs upon the roadway, unheard of
Hunsa because of the vociferous struggle.  Then from the shimmer of
moonlight thrust the white form of a big Turcoman horse that was thrown
almost to his haunches, his breast striking the back of the decoit.

The bullocks, nervous little brutes, startled by the huge white animal,
swerved, and before the man who sat a-straddle of the one shaft
gathered tight the cord to their nostrils, whisked the cart to the
roadside where it toppled over the bank for a fall of fifteen feet into
a ravine, carrying bullocks and driver with it.

The moonlight fell full upon the face of the horseman, its light making
still whiter the face of Captain Barlow.

And Bootea recognised him.  It was the face that had been in her vision
night and day since the _nautch_.

"Save me, Sahib!" she cried; "these men are thieves; save me, Sahib!"

The hunting crop in Barlow's hand crashed upon the thick head of Hunsa
in ready answer to the appeal.  And as the sahib threw himself from the
saddle the jamadar, with a snarl like a wounded tiger, dropped the girl
and, whirling, grappled with the Englishman.

Barlow was strong; few men in the force, certainly none in the
officers' mess, could put him on his back; and he was lithe, supple as
a leopard; and in combat cool, his mind working like the mind of a
chess player: but he realised that the arms about him were the arms of
a gorilla, the chest against which he was being crushed was the chest
of a trained wrestler; a smaller man would have heard his bones
cracking in that clutch.

He raised a knee and drove it into the groin of the jamadar; then in
the slight slackening of the holding arms as the Bagree shrank from the
blow, he struck at the bearded chin; it was the clean, trained
short-arm jab of a boxer.

But even as the gorilla wavered staggeringly under the blow, a soft
something slipped about Barlow's throat and tightened like the coils of
a python.  And behind something was pressing him to his death.  The
other Bagree springing to the assistance of Hunsa had looped his
_roomal_ about the Sahib's throat with the art of a thug.

Barlow's senses were going; his brain swam; in his fancy he had been
shot from a cliff and was hurtling through space in which there was no
air--his lungs had closed; in his brain a hammer was beating him into
unconsciousness.

Then suddenly the pressure on his throat ceased, it fell away; the air
rushed to the parched lungs.  With a wrench his brain cleared, and he
went down; but now with power in his arms, the arms that still clung
about the dazed Hunsa, and he was on top.

Scarce aware of the action, out of a fighting instinct, he dragged from
its holster his heavy pistol, and beat with its butt the ugly head
beneath, beat it till it was still.  Then he staggered to his feet and
looked wonderingly at the form of the Bagree behind who lay sprawled on
the road, a great red splash across the white jacket on his breast.

In the Gulab's hand was still clutched the dagger she had drawn from
her girdle and driven home to save the sahib who had sat like a god in
her heart.  With the other hand she held out from contact with her
limbs the muslin _sari_ that was crimsoned where the blood of the
Bagree had fountained when she drew forth her knife.

Barlow darted forward as Bootea reeled and caught her with an arm.
Close, the face, fair as that of a memsahib in the pallor of fright and
the paling moonlight, sweet, of finer mould, more spiritual than the
Mona Lisa's, puritanically simple, the mass of black hair drawn
straight back from the low broad brow--for the rich turban had fallen
in her fight for freedom--woke memory in the sahib; and as the blood
ebbed back through the girl's veins, the pale cheeks flushed with rose,
her eyelids quivered and drew back their shutters from eyes that were
like those of an antelope.

"You--you, Gulab, the giver of the red rose, the singer of the love
song!" Barlow gasped.

"Yes, Captain Sahib, you who are like a god--" Bootea checked, her head
drooped.

But Barlow putting his fingers under her chin and gently lifting the
face asked, "And what--what?"

"You came like one in a dream.  Also, Sahib, I am but one who danced
before you and you have saved me."

"And, little girl, you saved my life."

He felt a shudder run through the girl's form, and then she pushed him
from her crying, "Sahib--Hunsa!  Quick!"

For the jamadar, recovering his senses, had risen to his knees fumbling
at his belt groggily for his knife.

Barlow swung the pistol from its holster and rushed toward Hunsa, but
the latter, at sight of the dreaded weapon, fled, pursued for a few
paces by the Captain.

The girl saw the sandal soles lying upon the ground where Hunsa had
dropped them in the struggle, and slipped them beneath her breast-belt,
a quick thought coming to her that if the Captain saw them he might
recognise them as the footwear of the soldiers.  Also Hunsa had said
they were for a purpose.

Barlow followed the fleeing shadow for a dozen strides, then his pistol
barked, and swinging on his heel he came back, saying, with a little
laugh, "That was just to frighten the beggar so he wouldn't come back."

But Bootea's eyes went wide now with a new fear; the sound of the shot
would travel faster even than the fleeing Hunsa: and if the decoits
came--for already they would be making ready for the road--this
beautiful god, with eyes like stars and a voice of music, would be
killed, would be no more than the Bagree lying on the road who was but
carrion.  In her heart was a new thing.  The struggle with Hunsa, the
fright, even the horribleness of the blood upon her knife, was washed
away by a hot surging flood of exquisite happiness.  The Hindu name for
love--"a pain in the heart"--was veritably hers in its intensity; the
sahib's arm about her when she had closed her eyes had caused her to
feel as if she were being lifted to heaven.

She laid a hand on Barlow's arm and her eyes were lifted pleadingly to
his: "You must go, Sahib--mount your horse and go, because--"

"Because of what?"

"There are many, and you will be killed.  Hunsa will bring others."

"Others--who are they?"

But the Gulab had turned from him and was listening, her eyes turned to
the road up which floated from beyond upon the hushed silence that was
about them,--that seemed deeper because of the dead man lying in the
moonlight,--the beat of Hunsa's feet on the road.  Once there was the
whining note of wheels that claimed a protest from a dry axle; once
there was a clang as if steel had struck steel; and on the droning
through the night-hush was a rasping hum as if voices clamoured in the
distance.  This was the bee-hive stirring of the startled village.

"What is it, Bootea?" Barlow asked.

The eyes raised to his face were full of fright, a pleading fright.
"Sahib," she answered, "do not ask--just go, because--"

"Yes, girl, why?"

"That this is dead (and her hand gestured toward the slain Bagree) and
that others are dead, is; but you,--will you mount the horse and go
back the way you came, Sahib?"

Her small fingers clutched the sleeve of the coat he wore--it was of
hunting cloth, red-and-green: "Others are dead yonder, and evil is in
the hearts of those that live.  Go, Sahib--please go."

Barlow's mind was racing fast, in more materialistic grooves than the
Gulab's.  There was something about it he didn't understand; something
the girl did not want to tell him; some horrible thing that she was
afraid of--her face was full of suppressed dread.

Suddenly, through no sequence of reasoning, in fact there was no data
to go upon, nothing except that a girl--the Gulab was just that--stood
there afraid--through him she had just escaped from a man who was
little more than an ape--stood quivering in the moonlight alone, except
for himself.  So, suddenly, he acted as if energised by logic, as if
mental deduction made plain the way.

"You are right," he said: "we must go."

He laid a hand upon the bridle-rein of the grey, that had stood there
with the submission of a cavalry horse, saying, "Come, Bootea."

Foot in stirrup he swung to the saddle; and as the grey turned, he
reached down both hands saying: "Come, I'll take you wherever you want
to go."

But the girl drew back and shook her beautifully-modelled head,--the
delicate head with the black hair smoothed back to simplicity, and her
voice was half sob: "It can't be, Sahib, I am but--"  She checked; to
speak of the decoits even, might lead to talk that would cause the
Sahib to go to their camp, and he would be killed; and she would be a
witness to testify against her own people, the slayers of the sepoys.

Barlow laughed, "Because you are a girl who dances you are not to be
saved, eh?" he said.  "But listen, the Sahibs do not leave women at the
mercy of villains; you must come," and his strong sun-browned hands
were held out.

Bootea, wonderingly, as if some god had called to her, put her hands in
Barlow's, and with a twist of his strong arms she was swung across his
knees.

"Put your arms about my waist, Gulab," he said, as the grey, to the
tickle of a spur, turned to the road.  "Don't lean away from me," he
said, presently, "because we have a long way to go and that tires.
That's better, girl," as her warm breast pressed against his body.

The big grey, with a deep breath, and a sniffle of satisfaction,
scenting that his head was turned homeward, paced along the ghost-strip
of roadway in long free strides.  Even when a jackal, or it might have
been a honey-badger, slipped across the road in front, a drifting
shadow, the Turcoman only rattled the snaffle-bit in his teeth, cocked
his ears, and then blew a breath of disdain from his big nostrils.

In the easy swinging cradle of the horse's smooth stride the minds of
both Barlow and the Gulab relaxed into restfulness; her arms about the
strong body, Bootea felt as if she clung to a tower of strength--that
she was part of a magnetic power; and the nightmare that had been, so
short a time since, had floated into a dream of content, of glorious
peace.

Barlow was troubling over the problem of the gorilla-faced man, and
thinking how close he had been to death--all but gone out except for
that figure in his arms that was so like a lotus; and the death would
have meant not just the forfeit of his life, but that his duty, the
mission he was upon for his own people, the British government, had
been jeopardised by his participation in some native affair of strife,
something he had nothing to do with.  He had ridden along that road
hoping to overtake the two riders that now lay dead in the pit with the
other victims of the thugs--of which he knew nothing.  They were
bearing to him a secret message from his government, and he had ridden
to Manabad to there take it from them lest in approaching the city of
the Peshwa, full of seditious spies and cutthroats, the paper might be
stolen.  But at Manabad he had learned that the two had passed, had
ridden on; and then, perhaps because of converging different roads, he
had missed them.

But most extraordinarily, just one of the curious, tangented ways of
Fate, the written order lay against his chest sewn between the double
sole of a sandal.  Once or twice the hard leather caused him to turn
slightly the girl's body, and he thought it some case in which she
carried jewels.



CHAPTER X

They had gone perhaps an eighth of a mile when the road they followed
joined another, joined in an arrowhead.  The grey turned to the left, to
the west, the homing instinct telling him that that way lay his stall in
the city of the Peshwa.

"This was the way of my journey, Bootea," Barlow said; "I rode from
yonder," and he nodded back toward the highway into which the two roads
wedged.  "It was here that I heard your call, the call of a woman in
dread.  Also it might have been a business that interested me if it were
a matter of waylaying travellers.  Did you see two riders of large
horses, such as Arabs or of the breed I ride, men who rode as do
_sowars_?"

"No, Sahib, I did not see them."

This was not a lie for it was Ajeet who had seen them, and because of the
Sahib's interest she knew the two men must have been of his command; and
if she spoke of them undoubtedly he would go back and be killed.

"Were they servants of yours, Sahib--these men who rode?"

Barlow gave off but a little sliver of truth: "No," he answered; "but at
Manabad men spoke of them passing this way, journeying to Poona, and if
they were strangers to this district, it might be that they had taken the
wrong road at the fork.  But if you did not see them they will be ahead."

"And meaning, Sahib, it would not be right if they saw you bearing on
your horse one who is not a memsahib?"

"As to that, Gulab, what might be thought by men of low rank is of no
consequence."

"But if the Sahib wishes to overtake them my burden upon the horse will
be an evil, and he will be sorry that Bootea had not shame sufficient to
refuse his help."

She felt the strong arm press her body closer, and heard him laugh.  But
still he did not answer, did not say why he was interested in the two
horsemen.  If it were vital, and she believed it was, for him to know
that they lay dead at the Bagree camp, it was wrong for her to not tell
him this, he who was a preserver.  But to tell him would send him to his
death.  She knew, as all the people of that land knew, that the sahibs
went where their Raja told them was their mission, and laughed at death;
and the face of this one spoke of strength, and the eyes of placid
fearlessness; so she said nothing.

The sandal soles that pinched her soft flesh she felt were a
reproach--they had something to do with the thing that was between the
Sahib and the dead soldiers.  There were tears in her eyes and she
shivered.

Barlow, feeling this, said: "You're cold, Gulab, the night-wind that
comes up from the black muck of the cotton fields and across the river is
raw.  Hang on for a minute," he added, as he slipped his arm from about
her shoulders and fumbled at the back of his saddle.  A couple of buckles
were unclasped, and he swung loose a warm military cloak and wrapped it
about her, as he did so his cheek brushing hers.

Then she was like a bird lying against his chest, closed in from
everything but just this Sahib who was like a god.

A faint perfume lingered in Barlow's nostrils from the contact; it was
the perfume of attar, of the true oil of rose, such as only princes use
because of its costliness, and he wondered a little.

She saw his eyes looking down into hers, and asked, "What is it,
Sahib--what disturbs you?  If it is a question, ask me."

His white teeth gleamed in the moonlight.  "Just nothing that a man
should bother over--that he should ask a woman about."

But almost involuntarily he brushed his face across her black hair and
said, "Just that, Gulab--that it's like burying one's nose in a rose."

"The attar, Sahib?  I love it because it's gentle."

"Ah, that's why you wore the rose that I came by at the _nautch_?"

"Yes, Sahib.  Though I am Bootea, because of a passion for the rose I am
called Gulab."

"Lovely--the Rose! that's just what you are, Gulab.  But the attar is so
costly!  Are you a princess in disguise?"

"No, Sahib, but one brought me many bottles of it, the slim, long bottles
like a finger; and a drop of it lasts for a moon."

"Ah, I see," and Barlow smiled; "you have for lover a raja, the one who
brought the attar."

The figure in the cloak shivered again, but the girl said nothing.  And
Barlow, rather to hear her voice, for it was sweet like flute music,
chaffed: "What is he like, the one that you love?  A swaggering tall
black-whiskered Rajput, no doubt, with a purple vest embroidered in gold,
clanking with _tulwar_, and a voice like a Brahmini bull--full of demand."

The slim arms about his waist tightened a little--that was all.

"Confess, Gulab, it will pass the time; a love story is sweet, and Brahm,
who creates all things, creates flowers beautiful and sweet to stir
love," and he shook the small body reassuringly.

"Sahib, when a girl dances before the great ones to please, it is
permitted that she may play at being a princess to win the favour of a
raja, and sing the love song to the music of the _sitar_ (guitar), but it
is a matter of shame to speak it alone to the Presence."

"Tell me, Gulab," and his strong fingers swept the smooth black hair.

The girl unclasped her arms from about Barlow's waist and led his finger
to a harsh iron bracelet upon her arm.

At the touch of the cold metal, iron emblem of a child marriage, a
shackle never to be removed, he knew that she was a widow, accounted by
Brahminical caste an offence to the gods, an outcast, because if the
husband still lived she would be in a _zenanna_ of gloomy walls, and not
one who danced as she had at Nana Sahib's.

"And the man to whom you were bound by your parents died?" he asked.

"I am a widow, Sahib, as the iron bracelet testifies with cold
bitterness; it is the badge of one who is outcast, of one who has not
become _sati_, has not sat on the wood to find death in its devouring
flame."

Barlow knew all the false logic, the metaphysical Machiavellians, the
Brahmins, advanced to thin out the undesirable females,--women considered
at all times in that land of overpopulation of less value than men,--by
the simple expedient of self-destruction.  He knew the Brahmins' thesis
culled from their Word of God, the Vedas or the Puranas, calculated to
make the widow a voluntary, willing suicide.  They would tell Bootea that
owing to having been evil in former incarnations her sins had been
visited upon her husband, had caused his death; that in a former life she
had been a snake, or a rat.

The dead husband's mother, had Bootea come of an age to live with him,
though yet but a child of twelve years, would, on the slightest
provocation, beat her--even brand her with a hot iron; he had known of it
having been done.  She would be given but one meal a day--rice and
chillies.  Even if she had not yet left her father's house he would look
upon her as a shameful thing, an undesirable member of the family, one
not to be rid of again in the way of marriage; for if a Hindu married her
it would break his caste--he would be a veritable pariah.  No servant
would serve him; no man would sell him anything; if he kept a shop no one
would buy of him; no one would sit and speak with him--he would be
ostracised.

The only life possible for the girl would be that of a prostitute.  She
might be married by the temple priests to the god Khandoka, as thousands
of widows had been, and thus become a nun of the temple, a prostitute to
the celibate priests.  Knowing all this, and that Bootea was what she
was, her face and eyes holding all that sweetness and cleanness, that she
lived in the guardianship of Ajeet Singh, very much a man, Barlow admired
her the more in that she had escaped moral destruction.  Her face was the
face of one of high caste; she was not like the ordinary _nautch_ girl of
the fourth caste.  Everything about Bootea suggested breeding, quality.
The iron bracelet, indicated why she had socially passed down the
scale--there was no doubt about it.

"I understand, Gulab," he said; "the Sahibs all understand, and know that
widowhood is not a reproach."

"But the Sahib questioned of love; and how can one such know of love?
The heart starves and does not grow for it feeds upon love--what we of
Hind call the sweet pain in the heart."

"But have none been kind, Gulab--pleased by your flower face, has no one
warmed your heart?"

The slim arms that gripped Barlow in a new tightening trembled, the face
that fled from the betraying moonlight was buried against his tunic, and
the warm body quivered from sobs.

Barlow turned her face up, and the moonlight showed vagrant pearls that
lay against the olive cheeks, now tinted like the petals of a rose.  Then
from a service point of view, and as a matter of caste, Barlow went
_ghazi_.  He drooped his head and let his lips linger against the girl's
eyes, and uttered a superb common-place: "Don't cry, little girl," he
said; "I am seven kinds of a brute to bother you!"

And Bootea thought it would have been better if he had driven a knife
into her heart, and sobbed with increased bitterness.  Once her fingers
wandered up searchingly and touched his throat.

Barlow casting about for the wherefore of his madness, discovered the
moonlight, and heard the soft night-air whispering through the harp
chords of trees that threw a tracery of black lines across the white
road; and from a grove of mango trees came the gentle scent of their
blossoms; and he remembered that statistics had it that there was but one
memsahib to so many square miles in that land of expatriation; and he
knew that he was young and full of the joy of life; that a British
soldier was not like a man of Hind who looked upon women as cattle.

There did not obtrude into his mental retrospect as an accusation against
this unwarrantable tenderness the vision of the Resident's
daughter--almost his fiancée.  Indeed Elizabeth was the antithesis in
physical appeal of the gentle Gulab; the drawing-room perhaps; repartee
of Damascus steel fineness; tutored polish, class, cold integrity--these
things associated admirably with the unsensuous Elizabeth.  Thoughts of
her, remembrances, had no place in glamorous perfumed moonlight.

So he set his teeth and admonished the grey Turcoman, called him the
decrepit son of a donkey, being without speed; and to punish him stroked
his neck gently: even this forced diversion bringing him closer to the
torturing sweetness of the girl.

But now he was aware of a throbbing on the night wind, and a faint shrill
note that lay deep in the shadows beyond.  It was a curious rumbling
noise, as though ghosts of the hills on the right were playing bowls with
rounded rocks.  And the shrilling skirl grew louder as if men marched
behind bagpipes.

The Gulab heard it, too, and her body stiffened, her head thrust from the
enveloping cloak, and her eyes showed like darkened sapphires.

"Carts carrying cotton perhaps," he said.  But presently he knew that
small cotton carts but rattled, the volume of rumbling was as if an army
moved.

From up the road floated the staccato note of a staff beating its
surface, and the clanking tinkle of an iron ring against the wooden staff.

"A mail-carrier," Barlow said.

And then to the monotonous pat-pat-pat of trotting feet the mail-carrier
emerged from the grey wall of night.

"Here, you, what comes?" the Captain queried, checking the grey.

The postie stopped in terror at the English voice.

"Salaam, Bahadur Sahib; it is war."

"Thou art a tree owl," and Barlow laughed.  "A war does not spring up
like a drift of driven dust.  Is it some raja's elephants and carts with
his harem going to a _durbar_?"

"Sahib, it is, as I have said, war.  The big brass cannon that is called
'The Humbler of Cities,' goes forth to speak its order, and with it are
sepoys to feed it the food of destruction.  Beyond that I know not,
Sahib, for I am a man of peace, being but a runner of the post."

Then he salaamed and sifted into the night gloom like a thrown handful of
white sand, echoing back the clamp-clamp-clamp of his staff's iron ring,
which was a signal to all cobras to move from the path of him who ran,
slip their chilled folds from the warm dust of the road.

And on in front what had been sounds of mystery was now a turmoil of
noises.  The hissing screech, the wails, were the expostulations of
tortured axles; the rumbling boom was unexplainable; but the jungle of
the hillside was possessed of screaming devils.  Black-faced,
white-whiskered monkeys roused by the din, screamed cries of hate and
alarm as they scurried in volplaning leaps from tree to tree.  And
peacocks, awakened when they should have slept, called with their harsh
voices from lofty perches.

A party of villagers hurried by, shifting their cheap turbans to hide
faces as they scurried along.

The Gulab was trembling; perhaps the decoits, led by Hunsa, had come by a
shorter way; for they were like beasts of the jungle in this art of
silent, swift travel.

"Sahib," she pleaded, "go from the road."

"Why, Bootea?"

"The one with the staff spoke of soldiers."

He laughed and patted her shoulder.  "Don't fear, little lady," he said,
"an army doesn't make war upon one, even if they are soldiers.  It will
be but a wedding party who now take the wife to the village of her
husband."

"Not at night; and a Sahib who carries a woman upon his saddle will hear
words of offence."

Though Barlow laughed he was troubled.  What if the smouldering fire of
sedition had flared up, and that even now men of Sindhia's were slipping
on a night march toward some massing of rebels.  The resonant, heavy
moaning of massive wheels was like the rumble of a gun carriage.  And,
too, there was the drumming of many hoofs upon the road.  Barlow's ear
told him it was the rhythmic beat of cavalry horses, not the erratic
rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat of native ponies.

With a pressure upon the rein he edged the grey from the white road to a
fringe of bamboo and date palms, saying; "If you will wait here, Gulab,
I'll see what this is all about."

He slipped from the saddle and lifted her gently to the ground saying,
"Don't move; of a certainty it is nothing but the passing of some raja.
But, if by any chance I don't return, wait until all is still, until all
have gone, and then some well-disposed driver of a bullock cart will take
you on your way."  Putting his hand in his pocket, and drawing it forth,
he added: "Here is the compeller of friendship--silver; for a bribe even
an enemy will become a friend."

But the Gulab with her slim fingers closed his hand over the rupees, and
pressed the back of it against her lips saying, "If I die it is nothing.
But stay here, Sahib, they may be--"

She stopped, and he asked, "May be who, Gulab?"

"Men who will harm thee."

But Barlow lifting to the saddle passed to the road, and Bootea crumpled
down in a little desolate heap of misery, her fingers thrust within her
bodice, pleading with an amulet for protection for the Sahib.  She prayed
to her own village god to breathe mercy into the hearts of those who
marched in war, and if it were the Bagrees, that Bhowanee would vouchsafe
them an omen that to harm the one on a white horse would bring her wrath
upon their families and their villages.

Captain Barlow reined in the grey on the roadside, for those that marched
were close.  Now he could see, two abreast, horses that carried cavalry
men.  Ten couples of the troop rode by with low-voiced exchanges of words
amongst themselves.  A petty officer rode at their heels, and behind him,
on a bay Arab, whose sweated skin glistened like red wine in the
moonlight, came a _risiladar_, the commander of the troop.  A little down
the road Barlow could see an undulating, swaying huge ribbon of
white-and-pink bullocks, twenty-four yoke of the tall lean-flanked
powerful _Amrit Mahal_, the breed that Hyder Ali long ago had brought on
his conquering way to the land of the Mahrattas.  And beyond the
ghost-like line of white creatures was some huge thing that they drew.

The commander reined his Arab to a stand beside Barlow and saluted,
saying, "Salaam, Major Sahib--you ride alone?"

Barlow said: "My salaams, Risiladar, and I am but a captain.  I ride at
night because the days are hot.  My two men have gone before me because
my horse dropped a shoe which had to be replaced.  Did the Risiladar see
my two servants that were mounted?"

"I met none such," the commander answered.  "Perhaps in some village they
have rested for a drink of liquor; they of the army are given to such
practices when their Captain's eye is not upon them.  I go with
this"--and he waved a gauntleted hand back toward the thing that loomed
beyond the bullocks that had now come to a halt.  "It is the brass
cannon, the like of which there is no other.  We go to the camp of the
Amil, who commands the Sindhia troops, taking him the brass cannon that
it may compel a Musselman zemindar to pay the tax that is long past due.
Why the barbarian should not pay I know not for a tax of one-fourth is
not much for a foreigner, a debased follower of Mahomet, to render unto
the ruler of this land that is the garden of the world.  He has shut
himself and men up in his mud fort, but when this brass mother of
destruction spits into his stronghold a ball or two that is not opium he
will come forth or we will enter by the gate the cannon has made."

"Then there will be bloodshed, Risiladar," Barlow declared.

"True, Captain Sahib; but that is, after a manner, the method of
collecting just dues in this land where those who till the soil now,
were, but a generation or two since, men of the sword,--they can't forget
the traditions.  In the land of the British Raj six inches of a paper,
with a big seal duly affixed, would do the business.  That I know, for I
have travelled far, Sahib.  As to the bloodshed, worse will be the
trampling of crops, for in the district of this worshipper of Mahomet the
wheat grows like wild scrub in the jungle, taller than up to the belly of
my horse.  That is the whyfore of the cannon, in a way of speaking,
because from a hill we can send to this man a slaying message, and leave
the wheat standing to fill the bellies of those who are in his hands as a
tyrant.  Sirdar Baptiste was for sending a thousand sepoys to put the
fear of destruction in the debtor; but the Dewan with his eye on revenue
from crops, hit upon this plan of the loud-voiced one of brass."

Then the commander ordered the advance, and saluting, said: "Salaam,
Captain Sahib, and if I meet with your servants I will give them news
that you desire their presence."

When the huge cannon had rumbled by, and behind it had passed a company
of sepoys on foot, Barlow turned his horse into the jungle for Gulab.



CHAPTER XI

Bootea's eyes glistened like stars when, lowering a hand, Barlow said:
"Put a foot upon mine, Gulab, and I'll swing you up."

When they were on the road she said; "I saw them.  It is as the runner
said, war--is it so, Sahib?"

"The Captain says that he goes to collect revenue, but it may be that
he spoke a lie, for it is said that a man of the land of the Five
Rivers, which is the Punjaub, has five ways of telling a tale, and but
one of them is the truth and comes last."

The girl pondered over this for a little, and then asked; "Does the
Sahib think perhaps it is war against his people?"

That was just what was in Barlow's mind since he had seen the big gun
going forth at night; that perhaps the plot that was just a whisper,
fainter than the hum of a humming bird's wing, was moving with swift
silent velocity.

"Why do you ask that question?  Have you heard from lips--perhaps
loosened by wine or desire--aught of this?"

When she remained without answer, Barlow tapped his fingers lightly
upon her shoulder, saying, "Tell me, girl."

"I have heard nothing of war," she said.  "There was a something though
that men whispered in the dark."

"What was it?"

"It was of the Chief of the Pindaris."

She felt the quivering start that ran through Barlow's body; but he
said quietly: "With the Pindaris there is always trouble.  Something of
robbery--of a raid, was it?"

"I will listen again to those that whisper in the dark," she answered,
"and perhaps if it concerns you, for your protection, I will tell."

"I hope those men didn't fall in with my two chaps," Barlow said,
rather voicing his thoughts than in the way of speaking to the girl.

"The two who rode--they were the Captain Sahib's servants?"

Barlow started.  "Yes, they were: I suppose I can trust you."

"And the Sahib is troubled?  Perhaps it was a message for the Sahib
that they carried."

"I don't know," he answered, evasively.  "I was thinking that perhaps
they might be messengers, for our sepoys are not stationed here, and
come but on such errands."

"And if they were lulled, and the message stolen, it would cause
trouble?"

She felt him tremble as he looked down into her eyes.

"I don't know.  But the messages of a Raj are not for the ears of men
to whom they have not been sent."

Barlow had an intuition that the girl's words were not prompted by idle
curiosity.  He was possessed of a sudden gloomy impression that she
knew something of the two men who rode.  And it was strange that they
had not been seen upon either of the roads.  The officer spoke of them
frankly, and not as a man hiding something.

Suddenly he took a firm resolve, perhaps a dangerous one; not dangerous
though if his men had really gone through.

"Gulab," he said,--and with his hand he turned her face up by the chin
till their eyes were close together,--"if the two bore a message for
me, and it was stolen, I would be like that one you loved was lost."

The beautiful face swung from his palm and he could hear her gasping.

"You know something?" he said, and he caressed the smooth black tresses.

"I did not see them, Sahib."

They rode in silence for half a mile and then she said, "Perhaps,
Sahib, Bootea can help you--if the message is lost."

"And you will, girl?"

"I will, Sahib; even if I die for doing it, I will."

His arm tightened about her with a shrug of assuring thankfulness, and
she knew that this man trusted her and was not sorry of her burden.
Little child-dreams floated through her mind that the silver-faced moon
would hang there above and light the world forever,--for the moon was
the soul of the god Purusha whose sacrificed body had created the
world,--and that she would ride forever in the arms of this fair-faced
god, and that they were both of one caste, the caste that had as mark
the sweet pain in the heart.

And Barlow was sometimes dropping the troubled thought of the missing
order and the turmoil that would be in the Council of the Governor
General when it became known, to mutter inwardly: "By Jove! if the
chaps get wind of this, that I carried the Gulab throughout a moonlit
night, there'll be nothing for me but to send in my papers.  I'll be
drawn;--my leg'll be pulled."  And he reflected bitterly that nothing
on earth, no protestation, no swearing by the gods, would make it
believed as being what it was.  He chuckled once, picturing the face of
the immaculate Elizabeth while she thrust into him a bodkin of moral
autopsy, should she come to know of it.

Bootea thought he had sighed, and laying her slim fingers against his
neck said, "The Sahib is troubled."

"I don't care a damn!" he declared in English, his mind still on the
personal trail.

Seeing that she, not understanding, had taken the sharp tone as a
rebuke, he said, "If I had been alone, Gulab, I'd have been troubled
sorely, but perhaps the gods have sent you to help out."

"Ah, yes, God pulled our paths together.  And if Bootea is but a
sacrifice that will be a favour, she is happy."

If the girl had been of a white race, in her abandon of love she would
have laid her lips against his, but the women of Hind do not kiss.

The big plate of burnished silver slid, as if pushed by celestial
fingers, across the azure dome toward the loomed walls of the Ghats
that it would cross to dip into the sea, the Indian Ocean, and mile
upon mile was picked from the front and laid behind by the grey as he
strode with untiring swing toward his bed that waited on the high
plateau of Poona.

The night-jars, even the bats, had stilled their wings and slept in the
limbs of the neem or the pipal, and the air that had borne the soft
perfume of blossoms, and the pungent breath of jasmine, had chilled and
grown heavy from the pressure of advancing night.

The two on the grey rode sleepily; the Gulab warm and happy, cuddled in
the protecting cloak, and Barlow grim, oppressed by fatigue and the
mental strain of feared disaster.  Now the muscles of the horse rippled
in heavier toil, and his hoofs beat the earth in shorted stride; the
way was rising from the plain as it approached the plateau that was
like an immense shelf let into the wall of the world above the lowland;
a shelf that held jewels, topaz and diamonds, that glinted their red
and yellow lights, and upon which rested giant pearls, the moonlight
silvering the domes and minarets of white palaces and mosques of Poona.
The dark hill upon which rested the Temple of Parvati threw its black
outline against the sky, and like a burnished helmet glowed the golden
dome beneath which sat the alabaster goddess.  At their feet, strung
out between forbidding banks of clay and sand, ran a molten stream of
silver, the sleepy waters of the Muta.

"By Jove!" and Barlow, suddenly cognisant that he had practically
arrived at the end of his ride, that the windmill of Don Quixote stood
yonder on the hill, realised that in a sense, so far as Bootea was
concerned, he had just drifted.  Now he asked: "I'm afraid, little
girl, your Sahib is somewhat of a fool, for I have not asked where you
want me to take you."

"Yonder, Sahib," and her eyes were turned toward the jewelled hill.

As they rose to the hilltop that was a slab of rock and sand carrying a
city, he asked: "Where shall I put you down that will be near your
place of rest, your friends?"

"Is there a memsahib in the home of the Sahib?" she asked.

"No, Bootea, not so lucky--nobody but servants."

"Then I will go to the bungalow of the Sahib."

"Confusion!" he exclaimed in moral trepidation.

Bootea's hand touched his arm, and she turned her face inward to hide
the hot flush that lay upon it.  "No, Sahib, not because of Bootea; one
does not sleep in the lap of a god."

"All right, girl," he answered--"sorry."

As the grey plodded tiredly down the avenue of trees, a smooth road
bordered by a hedge of cactus and lanten, Barlow turned him to the
right up a drive of broken stone, and dropping to the ground at the
verandah of a white-waited bungalow, lifted the girl down, saying:
"Within it can be arranged for a rest place for you."

A _chowkidar_, lean, like a mummified mendicant, rose up from a
squeaking, roped _charpoy_ and salaamed.

"Take the horse to the stable, Jungwa, and tell the _syce_ to undress
him.  Remember to keep that monkey tongue of yours between your teeth
for in my room hangs a bitter whip.  It is a lie that I have not ridden
home alone," Barlow commanded.



CHAPTER XII

As Barlow led the Gulab within the bungalow she drew, as a veil, a
light silk scarf across her face.

Upon the floor of the front room a bearer, head buried in yards of pink
cotton cloth, his _puggri_, lay fast asleep.

As Barlow raised a foot to touch the sleeper in the ribs the girl drew
him back, put the tips of her finger to her lips, and pointed toward
the bedroom door.

Barlow shook his head, the flickering flame of the wick in an iron
oil-lamp that rested in a niche of the wall exaggerating to ferocity
the frown that topped his eyes.

But Bootea pleaded with a mute salaam, and raising her lips to his ear
whispered, "Not because of what is not permitted--not because of
Bootea--please."

With an arm he swept back the beaded tendrils of a hanging
door-curtain, the girl glided to the darkness of the room, and Barlow,
lifting from its niche the iron lamp, followed.  Within, she pointed to
the door that lay open and Barlow, half in rebellion, softly closed it.
As he turned he saw that she had dropped from their holding cords the
heavy brocaded silk curtains of the window.

His limbs were numb from the long ride with the weight of the girl's
body across his thighs; he was tired; he was mentally distressed over
the messengers he had failed to locate, and this, the almost forced
intrusion of Bootea into his bedroom, the closed door and the curtained
windows, her doing, was just another turn of the kaleidoscope with its
bits of broken glass of a nightmare.  He dropped wearily into a big
cane-bottomed Hindu chair, saying; "Little wilted rose, cuddle up on
that divan among the cushions and rest, while you tell me why we sit in
_purdah_."

The girl dragged a cushion from the divan, and placing it on the floor
beside his chair, sat on it, curling her feet beneath her knees.

Barlow groaned inwardly.  If his mind had not been so lethargic because
of the things that weighted it, like the leaden soles upon a diver's
boots, he would have roused himself to say, "Look here, a chap can't
pull a girl who is as sweet as a flower and as trusting as a babe, out
of trouble and then make bazaar love to her; he can't do it if he's any
sort of a chap."  All this was casually in his mind, but he let his
tired eyes droop, and his hand that hung over the teak-wood arm of the
chair rested upon the girl's shoulder.

"Bootea will soon go so that the Sahib may sleep, for he is tired," she
said; "but first there is something to be said, and I have come close
to the Sahib because men not alone whisper in the dark but they listen."

The hand that rested on Bootea's shoulder lifted to her cheek, and
strong fingers caressed its oval.

"Would the Sahib sleep, and would his mind rest if he knew where the
two who rode are?"

Barlow sat bolt upright in the chair, roused, the lethargy gone, as if
he had poured raw whisky down his throat.  And he was glad, the closed
door and the drawn curtains were not now things of debasement.  Curious
that he should care what this little Hindu maid was like, but he did.
His hand now clasped the girl's wrist, it almost hurt in its tenseness.

"Yes, Gulab,"--and he subdued his voice,--"tell me if you know."

"They are dead upon the road beyond where you saved Bootea."

"Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"It was too late, Sahib; and if you had gone there they would have
killed you."

"Who?"

"That, I cannot tell."

"You must, Gulab."

"No, Bootea will not."

Barlow stared angrily into the big eyes that were lifted to his, that
though they lingered in soft loving upon his face, told him that she
would not tell, that she would die first; even as he would have given
his life if he had been captured by tribesmen and asked to betray his
fellow men as the price of liberty.

He threw himself back wearily in the chair.  "Why tell me this now,--to
mock me, to exult?" he said, reproach in his voice.

"But it is the message, Sahib, that is more than the life of a _sepoy_,
is it not?"

Again he sat up: "Why do you say this--do you know where it is?"

She drew from beneath her bodice the sandal soles, saying: "These are
from the feet of the messenger who is dead.  The one the Sahib beat
over the head with his pistol dropped them,--and he was carrying them
for a purpose.  The Sahib knows, perhaps, the secret way of this land."

In the girl's hand was clasped the knife from her girdle, and she
tendered it, hilt first: "Bootea knows not if they are of value, the
leather soles, but if the Sahib would open them, then if there are eyes
that watch the curtains are drawn."

Barlow revivified, stimulated by hope, seized the knife and ran its
sharp point around the stitching of the soles.  Between the double
leather of one lay a thin, strong parchment-like paper.

He gave a cry of exultation as, unfolding it, he saw the seal of his
Raj.  His cry was a gasp of relief.  Almost the shatterment of his
career had lain in that worn discoloured sole, and disaster to his Raj
if it had fallen into the hands of the conspirators.

In an ecstasy of relief he sprang to his feet, and lifting Bootea,
clasped her in his arms, smothering her face in kisses, whispering:
"Gulab, you are my preserver; you are the sweetest rose that ever
bloomed!"

He felt the pound of her heart against his breast, and her eyes
mirrored a happiness that caused him to realise that he was going too
far--drifting into troubled waters that threatened destruction.  The
girl's soul had risen to her eyes and looked out as though he were a
god.

As if Bootea sensed the same impending evil she pushed Barlow from her
and sank back to the cushion, her face shedding its radiancy.

Cursing himself for the impetuous outburst Barlow slumped into the
chair.

"Gulab," he said presently, "my government gives reward for loyalty and
service."

"Bootea has had full reward," the girl answered.

He continued: "We had talk on the road about the Pindaris; what did
they who whisper in the dark say?"

"That the chief, Amir Khan, has gathered an army, and they fear that
because of an English bribe he will attack the Mahrattas; so the Dewan
has brought men from Karowlee to go into the camp of the Pindaris in
disguise and slay the chief for a reward."

This information coming from Bootea was astounding.  Neither Resident
Hodson nor Captain Barlow had suspected that there had been a leak.

"And was there talk of this message from the British to--?" Barlow
checked.

"To the Sahib?" Bootea asked.  "Not of the message; but it was
whispered that one would go to the Pindari camp to talk with Amir Khan,
and perhaps it was the Sahib they meant.  And perhaps they knew he
waited for orders from the government."

Then suddenly it flashed upon Barlow that because of this he had been
marked.  The foul riding in the game of polo that so nearly put him out
of commission--it had been deliberately foul, he knew that, but he had
attributed it to a personal anger on the part of the Mahratta officer,
bred of rivalry in the game and the fanatical hate of an individual
Hindu for an Englishman.

"Now that a message has come will the Sahib go to the Pindari camp?"
Bootea persisted.

"Why do you ask, Gulab?"

"Not in the way of treachery, but because the Sahib is now like a god;
and because I may again be of service, for those who will slay Amir
Khan will also slay the Sahib."

"Gulab,--"

Barlow's voice was drowned by yells of terror in the outer room.

"Thieves!  Thieves have broken in to rob, and they have stolen my lamp!
_Chowkidar, chowkidar_! wake, son of a pig!"

It was the bearer, who, suddenly wakened by some noise, had in the dark
groped for his lamp and found it missing.

"Heavens!" the Captain exclaimed.  "Now the cook house will be
empty--the servants will come!"  He rubbed a hand perplexedly over his
forehead.  "Quick, Gulab, you must hide!"

He swung open a wooden door between his room and a bedroom next.
Within he said: "There's a bed, and you must sleep here till daylight,
then I will have the _chowkidar_ take you to where you wish to go.  You
couldn't go in the dark anyway.  Bar the door; you will be quite safe;
don't be frightened."  He touched her cheek with his fingers: "Salaam,
little girl."  Then, going out, he opened the door leading to the room
of clamour, exclaiming angrily, "You fool, why do you scream in your
dreams?"

"God be thanked! it is the Sahib."  The bearer flopped to his knees and
put his hands in abasement upon his master's feet.

Jungwa had rushed into the room, staff in hand, at the outcry.  Now he
stood glowering indignantly upon the grovelling bearer.

"It is the opium, Sahib," he declared; "this fool spends all his time
in the bazaar smoking with people of ill repute.  If the Presence will
but admonish him with the whip our slumbers will not again be
disturbed."

The bearer, running true to the tenets of native servants, put up the
universal alibi--a flat denial.

"Sahib, you who are my father and my mother, be not angry, for I have
not slept.  I observed the Sahib pass, but as he spoke not, I thought
he had matters of import upon his mind and wished not to be disturbed."

"A liar--by Mother Gunga!"  The _chowkidar_ prodded him in the ribs
with the end of his staff, and turning in disgust, passed out.

"Come, you fool!" Barlow commanded, returning to his room, and, sitting
down wearily upon the bed, held up a leg.

The bearer knelt and in silence stripped the _putties_ from his
master's limbs, unlaced the shoes, and pulled off the breeches.

When Barlow had slipped on the pyjamas handed him, he said: "Tell the
_chowkidar_ to come to me at his waking from the first call of the
crows."



CHAPTER XIII

An omen of dire import all thugs believe is to hear the cry of a kite
between midnight and dawn; to hear it before midnight does not matter,
for the sleeper in turning over smothers the impending disaster beneath
his body.  But Captain Barlow had put up no such defence if evil hung
over him, for when the _chowkidar_ stood outside the door calling
softly, "Captain Sahib!  Captain Sahib!"  Barlow lay just as he had
flopped on the bed, his tiredness having held him as one dead.

Gently the soft voice of the _chowkidar_ pulled him back out of his
Nirvana of non-existence, and he called sleepily, "What is it?"

"It is Jungwa," the watchman answered, "and I have received the Sahib's
order to come at this hour."

Then Barlow remembered.  He swung his feet to the floor, saying, "Come!"

When the watchman had walked out of his sandals to approach in his bare
feet, the Captain said, "Is your tongue still to remain in your mouth,
Jungwa, or has it been made sacrifice to the knife for the sin of
telling in the cookhouse tales of your Sahib and last night?"

"No, Sahib, I have not spoken.  I am a Meena of the Ossary _jat_.  In
Jaipur we guard the treasury and the zenanna of the Raja, and it is our
chief who puts the _tika_ upon the forehead of the Maharaja when he
ascends to the throne.  Think you, then, Sahib, that an Ossary would
betray a trust?"

Barlow fixed the lean saffron-hued face with a searching look, and
muttered, "Damned if I don't believe the old chap is straight!"  "I
think it is true," he said.  "Shut the door."  Then he continued: "The
one who came last night is in the next room and you must take her out
through the bathroom door, for there is cover of the crotons and
oleanders, and then to the road.  Acquire a _gharry_ and go with her to
where she directs you."

"Salaam, Sahib! your servant will obey.  And as to the _chota hazri_,
Sahib?"

"By Jove! right you are, Jungwa"; for Barlow had forgotten that--the
little breakfast, as it was called.

Then he ran his fingers through his hair.  To send the Gulab off
without even a cup of tea was one thing; to admit the bearer to know of
her presence was another.

The wily old watchman sensed what was passing in his master's mind, and
he hazarded, diplomatically, "If the One is of high caste she will not
eat what is brought by the bearer who is of the Sudra caste, but from
the hands of a Meena none but the Brahmin _pundits_ refuse food."

Barlow laughed; indeed the grizzled one had perception--he was an
accomplice in the plot of secrecy.

"Good!  Eggs and toast and tea.  Demand plenty--say your Sahib is
hungry because of a long ride and nothing to eat.  But hurry, I hear
the 'seven sisters' (crows) calling to sleepers that the sun is here
with its warmth."

Then the bearer entered, but Barlow ordered him away, saying, "Sit
without till I call."

As he slipped into breeches and brown riding boots he cursed softly the
entanglement that had thrust upon him this thing of ill flavour.  Of
course the watchman, even if he did keep his mouth shut, which would be
a miracle in that land of bazaar gossip, would have but one opinion of
why Bootea had spent the night in the bungalow.  But if Barlow squared
this by speaking of a secret mission, that would be a knowledge that
could be exchanged for gold.  Perhaps not all servants were spies, but
there were always spies among servants.

"Damn the thing!" he muttered; but he was helpless.  The old man would
give no sign of what, no doubt, was in his mind; he would hold that
leathery face in placid acquiescence in prevalent moral vagary.

Then he tapped lightly on the wooden door, calling softly,
"Bootea--Bootea!"

When it was opened he said: "Food is coming, Gulab.  A man of caste
brings it, and it is but eggs from which no life has been taken, so you
may eat.  Then the _chowkidar_ will go with you."

Jungwa brought the breakfast and put it down, saying, "I will wait,
Sahib, outside the bathroom door."

"Here is money--ten rupees for whatever is needed.  Be courteous to the
lady, for she is not a _nautchni_."

"The Sahib would entertain none such," the _chowkidar_ answered with a
grave salaam.

"Damn the thing!" Barlow groaned.



CHAPTER XIV

An hour later Barlow, mounted on a stalky Cabuli polo-pony, rode to the
Residency, happy over the papers in his pocket, but troubling over how
he could explain their possession and keep the girl out of it.  To even
mention the Gulab, unless he fabricated a story, would let escape the
night-ride, and, no doubt, in the perversity of things, Resident Hodson
would want to know where she was and where he had taken her, and insist
on having her produced for an official inquisition.  The Resident, a
machine, would sacrifice a native woman without a tremor to the
official gods.

Barlow could formulate no plausible method; he could not hide the death
of the two native messengers, and would simply have to take the stand
of, "Here is this message from His Excellency and as to how I came by
it is of as little importance as an order from the War Office
regulating the colour of thread that attaches buttons to a tunic."

He turned the Cabuli up the wide drive that led to the Residency, the
big white walled bungalow in which Hodson lived, and shook his riding
crop toward Elizabeth who was reading upon the verandah.  He swung from
the saddle, and held out his hand to the girl, saying cheerily, "Hello,
Beth!  Didn't you ride this morning, or are you back early?"

The novel seemed to require support of the girl's hand, or she had not
observed that of the caller.  Her face, always emotionless, was
repellent in its composure as she said; "Father is just inside in his
office with a native, and I fancy it's one of the usual dark things of
mystery, for he asked me to sit here by the window that he might have
both air and privacy; I'm to warn off all who might stand here against
the wall with an open ear."

"I'll pull a chair up and chat to you till he's--"

"No, Captain Barlow--" Barlow winced at this formality--"Father, I'm
sure, wants you in this matter; in fact, I think a _chuprassi_ is on
his way now to your bungalow with the Resident's salaams."

Barlow laid his fingers on the girl's shoulder: "I'm ghastly tired,
Beth.  I'll come back to you."

"Yes, India is enervating," she commented in a flat tone.

Barlow had a curious impression that the girl's grey eyes had turned
yellow as she made this observation.

"Ah, Captain, glad you've come," Hodson said, rising and extending a
hand across a flat-topped desk.  "I'm--I'm--well--pull a chair.  This
is one Ajeet Singh," and he drooped slightly his thin, lean, bald head
toward the Bagree Chief, who stood stiff and erect, one arm in a sling.

At this, Ajeet, knowing it for an informal introduction, put his hand
to his forehead, and said, "Salaam, Sahib."

"_Tulwar_ play, sir, and an appeal for protection to the British, eh?"
and Barlow indicated the arm in the sling.

Still speaking in English Hodson said: "As to that,--" he pursed his
thin lips,--"something dreadful has happened; this man has been mixed
up in a decoity and has come for protection; he wants to turn Approver."

"The usual thing; when these cut-throats are likely to be caught they
turn Judas; to save their own necks they offer a sacrifice of their
comrades."

"Yes," the Resident affirmed, "but I'm glad he came.  Perhaps we had
better just sit tight and let him go on--he's only nicely started.
I've practically promised him that if what he confesses is of service
to His Excellency's government I will give him our conditional pardon,
and use what influence I have with the Peshwa.  But I fancy that old
Baji Rao is mixed up in it himself."

He turned to the decoit: "Commence again, and tell the truth; and if I
believe, you may be given protection from the British; but as to
Sindhia I have no power to protect his criminals."

The decoit cleared his throat and began: "I, Ajeet Singh, hold
allegiance to the Raja of Karowlee, and am Chief of the Bagrees, who
are decoits."

The Resident held up his hand: "Have patience."  He rose, and took from
a little cabinet a small alabaster figure of _Kali_ which he placed
upon the table, saying in English to Barlow, "When these decoits
confess to be made Approvers, half of the confession is lies, for to
swear them on our Bible is as little use as playing a tin whistle.  If
he's a Bagree this is his goddess."

In Hindi he said: "Ajeet Singh, if you are a Bagree decoit you are in
the protection of Bhowanee, and you make oath to her."

"Yes, Sahib."

"This is Bhowanee,--that is your name for Kali,--and with obeisance to
her make oath that you will tell the truth."

"Yes, Sahib, it is the proper way."

"Proceed."

The jamadar with the fingers of his two hands clasped to his forehead
in obeisance, declared: "If I, Ajeet Singh, tell that which is not
true, Mother _Kali_, may thy wrath fall upon me and my family."

Then Hodson shifted the black goddess and let it remain upon a corner
of his table, surmising that the sight of it would help.

"Speak, now," the Resident commanded; and the Jamadar proceeded.

"Dewan Sewlal sent to Raja Karowlee for men for a mission, and whether
it was in the letter he sent that _thugs_ should come I know not, but
in our party were thugs, and that led to why I am here."

"What is the difference, Ajeet," Hodson asked sharply.  "You are a
decoit who robs and kills, and thugs kill and rob; you are both
disciples of this murderous creature, Kali."

"We who are decoits, while we make offerings to Kali, are not thugs.
They have a chief mission of murder, while we have but desire to gain
for our families from the rich.  The thugs came in this wise, sahib.
Bhowanee created them from the sweat of her arms, and gave to them her
tooth for a pick-axe, which is their emblem, a rib for a knife, and the
hem of her garment for a noose to strangle.  The hem of her sacred
garment was yellow-and-white, and the _roomal_ that they strangle with
is yellow-and-white.  They are thugs, Sahib, and we are decoits."

"A fine distinction, sir," and Barlow laughed.

"Proceed," Hodson commanded.

"We were told by the Dewan to go to the camp of the Pindaris and bring
back the head of Amir Khan."

"Lovely!" Barlow muttered softly; but Hodson started,--a slight rouge
crept over his pale face and he said, "By Gad! this grows interesting,
my dear Captain."

"Absolutely Oriental," Barlow added.

Then when their voices had stilled Ajeet continued: "But Hunsa had
ridden with the Pindari Chief and he knew that he was well guarded, and
that it would be impossible to bring his head in a basket, so we
refused to go on this mission.  The Dewan was angry and would not give
us food or pay.  Through Hunsa the Dewan sent word that we must obtain
our living in the way of our profession, which is decoity."

"I wonder," Barlow queried.

But Hodson, nodding his head said: "Quite possible; and also quite
probable that the dear avaricious Dewan would claim a share of the loot
if it were of value, jewels especially."  He addressed Ajeet, "I have
nothing to do with this; I am not Sindhia."

"True, Sahib Bahadur, but a decoity was made upon a merchant on the
road and he and his men were killed, but also two English _sowars_ were
slain."

"By heavens!"  The cool, trained, bloodless machine, that was a British
Resident at a court of intrigue, was startled out of his composure; his
eyes flashed to those of Barlow.

But the Captain, knowing all this beforehand, had an advantage, and he
showed no sign of trepidation.

Then the thin drawn face of the Resident was flattened out by control,
and he commanded the decoit to talk on.

"I tried to save the two sepoys, and one was a sergeant, but I was
stricken down with a wound and it was in the way of treachery."

Ajeet laid a hand upon his wounded shoulder, saying, "When the two
_sepoys_ rode suddenly out of the night into our camp, where there in
the moonlight lay the bodies of the merchant and his men, the Bagrees
were afraid lest the two should make report.  They rushed upon the two
riders, and it was then that I was wounded.  I would have been killed
but for this protection," and Ajeet rubbed affectionately the beautiful
strong shirt-of-mail that enwrapped his torso.

"And observe, Sahib, the wound is from behind, which is a wound of
treachery.  As I rushed to the two and cried to them to be gone, a ball
from a short gun in the hands of some Bagree smote me upon the
shoulder, and this,--" he again touched the shirt-of-mail,--"and my
shoulder-blade turned it from my heart.  Even then Hunsa thought I was
dead.  And he was in league with the Dewan to obtain for Nana Sahib a
girl of my household, who is called the Gulab because she is as
beautiful as the moon."

At this statement Barlow knew why the man he had beaten with his pistol
had tried to seize the Gulab.  It was startling.  The leg that had
rested across a knee clamped noisily to the floor, and a smothered
"Damn!" escaped from his lips.  What a devilish complicated thing it
was.

Ajeet resumed: "Hunsa rushed to where the Gulab was in hiding and
helped the men who had been sent by Nana Sahib to steal her.  Then he
came back to our camp saying that many men had beaten him, and that he
had been forced to flee."

At this vagary Barlow chuckled inwardly.

"What of the two soldiers?" Hodson asked; "why were they here in this
land and at the camp of the Bagrees?"

"I know not, Sahib."

"Were the bodies robbed by your men--they would be--did they find
papers that would indicate the two were messengers?" and the Resident's
bloodless fingers that clasped a pen were trembling with the
suppression of the awful interest he strove to hide, for he knew, as
well as Barlow, what their mission was.

"Yes, Sahib, they were stripped and the bodies thrown in the pit with
the others.  Eight rupees were taken, but as to papers I know nothing."

"Where is the woman you call the Gulab?"

"She will be in the hands of Nana Sahib," Ajeet answered; "and because
of that I have come to confess so your Honour will save my life from
him for he will make accusation that I was Chief of those who killed
the soldiers of the British; and that the Sahib will cause to have
returned to me the Gulab."

The Resident took from a drawer a form, and his pen scratched irritably
at blanks here and there.  He tossed it over to Barlow saying, "I'm
going to give this decoit this provisional pardon; perhaps it will nail
him.  What he has confessed is of value.  You translate this to him
while I think; I can't make mistakes--I must not."

Captain Barlow read to Ajeet the pardon, which was the form adopted by
the British government to be issued to certain thugs and decoits who
became spies, called Approvers, for the British.


"You, Ajeet Singh, are promised exemption from the punishment of death
and transportation beyond seas for all past offences, and such
reasonable indulgence as your services may seem to merit, and may be
compatible with your safe custody on condition:--1st, that you make
full confession of all the decoities in which you have been engaged;
2nd, that you mention truly the names of all your associates in these
crimes, and assist to the utmost of your power in their arrest and
conviction.  If you act contrary to these conditions--conceal any of
the circumstances of the decoities in which you have been
engaged--screen any of your friends--attempt to escape--or accuse any
innocent person--you shall be considered to have forfeited thereby all
claims to such exemption and indulgence."


When the Captain had finished interpreting this the Resident passed it
to the decoit, saying: "This will protect you from the British.  You
are now bound to the British; and I want you to bring me any papers
that may have been found upon the two soldiers.  Bring here this woman,
the Gulab, if you can find her.  Go now."

When Ajeet, with a deep salaam, had gone from the room Hodson threw
himself back in his chair wearily and sighed.  Then he said: "A woman!
the jamadar was lying--all that stuff about Nana Sahib.  There's been
some deviltry; they've used this woman to trap the messengers; that's
India.  It's the papers they were after; they must have known they were
coming; and they've hidden the woman.  We've got to lay hands upon her,
Captain--she's the key-note."



CHAPTER XV

Barlow had waited until the decoit would have gone before showing the
papers that were in his pocket because it was an advantage that the
enemy should think them lost.  He was checked now as he put a hand in
his pocket to produce them by the entrance of Elizabeth, and he fancied
there was a sneer on her thin lips.

"Father," she said, as she leaned against the desk, one hand on its
teak-wood top, "I've been listening to the handsome leader of thieves;
I couldn't help hearing him.  I fancy that Captain Barlow could tell
you just where this woman, the Gulab, who is as beautiful as the moon,
is.  I'm sure he could bring her here--if he _would_."

The Captain's fingers unclasped from the papers in his pocket, and now
were beating a tattoo on his knee.

"Elizabeth!" the father gasped, "do you know what you are saying?"  His
cold grey eyes were wide with astonishment.  "Did you hear all of Ajeet
Singh's story?"

"Yes, all of it."

"It's your friend, Nana Sahib, whom you treat as if he were an
Englishman and to be trusted, that knows where this woman is,
Elizabeth."

A cynical laugh issued from the girl's lips that were so like her
father's in their unsympathetic contour: "Yes, one may trust men, but a
woman's eyes are given her to prevent disaster from this trust which is
so natural to the deceivable sex."

"Elizabeth! you do not know what you are saying--what the inference
would be."

"Ask Captain Barlow if he doesn't know all about the Gulab's movements."

The Resident pushed irritably some papers on his desk, and turning in
his chair, asked, "Can you explain this, Captain--what it is all about?"

There were ripples of low temperature chilling the base of Barlow's
skull.  "I can't explain it--it's beyond me," he answered doggedly.

The girl turned upon him with ferocity.  "Don't lie, Captain Barlow; a
British officer does not lie to his superior."

"Hush, Beth," the father pleaded.

"Don't you know, Captain Barlow," the girl demanded, "that this woman,
the Gulab, is one who uses her beauty to betray men, even Sahibs?"

"No, I don't know that, Miss Hodson.  I saw her dance at Nana Sahib's
and I've heard Ajeet's statement.  I don't know anything evil of the
girl, and I don't believe it."

"A man's sense of honour where a woman is concerned--lie to protect
her.  I have no illusions about the Sahibs in India," she continued, in
a tone that was devilish in its cynicism, "but I did think that a
British officer would put his duty to his King above the shielding of a
_nautch_ girl."

"Elizabeth!"  Hodson rose and put a hand upon the girl's arm; "do you
realise that you are doing a dreadful thing--that you are impeaching
Captain Barlow's honour as a soldier?"

Barlow's face was white, and Hodson was trembling, but the girl stood,
a merciless cold triumph in her face: "I do realise that, father.  For
the girl I care nothing, nor for Captain Barlow's intrigue with such,
but I am the daughter of the man who represents the British Raj here."

Barlow, knowing the full deviltry of this high protestation, knowing
that Elizabeth, imperious, dominating, cold-blooded, was knifing a
supposed rival--a rival not in love, for he fancied Elizabeth was
incapable of love--felt a surge of indignation.

"For God's sake, Elizabeth, what impossible thing has led you to
believe that Captain Barlow has anything to do with this girl?" the
father asked.

"I'll tell you; the matter is too grave for me to remain silent.  This
morning I rode early--earlier than usual, for I wanted to pick up the
Captain before he had started.  As I turned my mount in to his compound
I saw, coming from the back of the bungalow, this native woman, and she
was being taken away by his _chowkidar_.  She had just come out some
back door of the bungalow, for from the drive I could see the open
space that lay between the bungalow and the servants' quarters."

Hodson dropped a hand to the teak-wood desk; it looked inadequate,
thin, bloodless; blue veins mapped its white back.  "You are mistaken,
Elizabeth, I'm sure.  Some other girl--"

"No, father, I was not mistaken.  There are not many native girls like
the Gulab, I'll admit.  As she turned a clump of crotons she saw me
sitting my horse and drew a gauze scarf across her face to hide it.  I
waited, and asked the _chowkidar_ if it were his daughter, and the old
fool said it was the wife of his son; and the girl that he claimed was
his son's wife had the iron bracelet of a Hindu widow on her arm.  And
the Gulab wears one--I saw it the night she danced."

A ghastly hush fell upon the three.  Barlow was moaning inwardly, "Poor
Bootea!"; Hodson, fingers pressed to both temples, was trying to think
this was all the mistaken outburst of an angry woman.  The
strong-faced, honest, fearless soldier sitting in the chair could not
be a traitor--_could not be_.

Suddenly something went awry in the inflamed chambers of Elizabeth's
mind--as if an electric current had been abruptly shut off.  She
hesitated; she had meant to say more; but there was a staggering
vacuity.

With an effort she grasped a wavering thing of tangibility, and said:
"I'm going now, father--to give the keys to the butler for breakfast.
You can question Captain Barlow."

Elizabeth turned and left the room; her feet were like dependents,
servants that she had to direct to carry her on her way.  She did not
call to the butler, but went to her room, closed the door, flung
herself on the bed, face downward, and sobbed; tears that scalded
splashed her cheeks, and she beat passionately with clenched fist at
the pillow, beating, as she knew, at her heart.  It was incredible,
this thing, her feelings.

"I don't care--I don't care--I never did!" she gasped.

But she did, and only now knew it.

"I was right--I'm glad--I'd say it again!"

But she would not, and she knew it.  She knew that Barlow could not be
a traitor; she knew it; it was just a battered new love asserting
itself.

And below in the room the two men for a little sat not speaking of the
ghoulish thing.  Barlow had drawn the papers from his pocket; he passed
them silently across the table.

Hodson, almost mechanically, had stretched a hand for them, and when
they were opened, and he saw the seal, and realised what they were,
some curious guttural sound issued from his lips as if he had waked in
affright from a nightmare.  He pulled a drawer of the desk open, took
out a cheroot--and lighted it.  Then he commenced to speak, slowly,
droppingly, as one speaks who has suddenly been detected in a crime.
He put a flat hand on the papers, holding them to the desk.  And it was
Elizabeth he spoke of at first, as if the thing under his palm, that
meant danger to an empire, was subservient.

"Barlow, my boy," he said, "I'm old, I'm tired."

The Captain, looking into the drawn face, had a curious feeling that
Hodson was at least a hundred.  There was a floaty wonderment in his
mind why the fifty-five-years'-service retirement rule had not been
enforced in the Colonel's case.  Then he heard the other's words.

"I've had but two gods, Barlow, the British Raj and Elizabeth; that's
since her mother died.  In a little, a few years more, I will retire
with just enough to live on plus my pension--perhaps in France, where
it's cheap.  And then I'll still have two gods, Elizabeth and the one
God.  And, Captain, somehow I had hoped that you and Elizabeth would
hit it off, but I'm afraid she's made a mistake."

Barlow had been following this with half his receptivity, for, though
he fought against it, the memory of Bootea--gentle, trusting, radiating
love, warmth--cried out against the bitter unfemininity of the girl who
had stabbed his honour and his cleanness.  The black figure of Kali
still rested on the table, and somehow the evil lines in the face of
the goddess suggested the vindictiveness that had played about the thin
lips of his accuser.

And the very plea the father was making was reacting.  It was this,
that he, Barlow, was rich, that a chance death or two would make him
Lord Barradean, was the attraction, not love.  A girl couldn't be in
love with a man and strive to break him.

Hodson had taken up the papers, and was again scanning them mistily.

"They were on the murdered messenger--he was killed, wasn't he, Barlow?"

"Yes."

"And has any native seen these papers, Captain?"

"No, I cut them from the soles of the sandals the messenger wore,
myself, Sir."

"That is all then, Captain; we have them back--I may say, thank God!"
He stood up and holding out his hand added, "Thank you, Captain.  I
don't want to know anything about the matter--I'm too much machine now
to measure rainbows--fancy I should wear a strip of red-tape as a tie."

"If you will listen, Sir--there is another that I want to put right.
Your daughter did see the Gulab, but because she had brought me the
sandals.  And you can take an officer's word for it that the Gulab is
not what Elizabeth believes."

"Captain, I have lived a long time in India, too long to be led away by
quick impressions, as unfortunately Elizabeth was.  I've outlived my
prejudices.  When the _mhowa_ tree blooms I can take glorious pleasure
from its gorgeous fragrant flowers and not quarrel with its leafless
limbs.  When the pipal and the neem glisten with star flowers and
sweeten the foetid night-air, it matters nothing to me that the natives
believe evil gods home in the branches.  I know that even a cobra tries
to get out of my way if I'll let him, and I know that the natives have
beauty in their natures--one gets to almost love them as children.  So,
my dear Captain, when you tell me that the Gulab rendered you and me
and the British Raj this tremendous service, and add, quite
unnecessarily, that she's a good girl, I believe it all; we need never
bring it up again.  Elizabeth has just made a mistake.  And, Barlow,
men are always forgiving the mistakes of women where their feelings are
concerned--they must--that is one of the proofs of their strength.  But
these"--and he patted the papers lovingly--"well, they're rather like a
reprieve brought at the eleventh hour to a man who is to be executed.
We're put in a difficult position, though.  To pass over in silence the
killing of two soldiers would end only in the House of Commons;
somebody would rise in his place and want to know why it had been
hushed up.  But to take action, to create a stir, would give rise to a
suspicion of the existence of this."

Hodson rose from his chair and paced the floor, one hand clasped to his
forehead, his small grey eyes carrying a dream-look as though he were
seeking an occult enlightenment; then he sat down wearily, and spoke as
if interpreting something that had been whispered him.

"Yes, Barlow, this decoit has been seized by the Nana Sahib lot.  His
life was forfeit, and they've offered him his life back to come here
and turn Approver--to become a spy, not _for_ us but as a spy _on_ us
for them.  Ajeet would know that information of his coming to me would
be carried to them by spies--the spies are always with me--and his life
wouldn't be worth two annas.  I gave him that pardon because we have no
power to seize him here, but it will make them think that we have
fallen into the trap.  They might even believe--wily and suspicious as
they are--that what he gleans here is the truth.

"There's a curious efficacy, Barlow, in what I might call an
affectation of simplicity.  You know those stupid heavy-headed
crocodiles in that big pool of the Nerbudda below the marble gorge, and
how they'll take nearly an hour wallowing and sidling up to a mud-bank
before they crawl out to bask in the sun; but just show the tip of your
helmet above the rock and they're gone.  That's perhaps what I mean.
As we might say back in dear old London, this wily Rajput thinks he has
pulled my leg."

"I think, Colonel, that you are dead onto his wicket."

"Well, then, the thing to do is to emulate the mugger.  But
this"--Hodson lifted the paper and he grew crisp, incisive, his grey
eyes blued like temper purpling polished steel--"we've got to act:
they've got to be delivered, and soon."

"I am ready, Sir."

"It's a dangerous mission--most dangerous."

"Pardon, Sir?"

"Sorry, Captain.  I was just thinking aloud--musing; forgive me.
Perhaps when one likes a young man he lets the paternal spirit come in
where it doesn't belong.  I'm sorry.  There's a trusty Patan here who
could go with you," Hodson continued, "and this side of his own border
he is absolutely to be trusted; I have my doubts if any Patan can be
relied upon by us across the border."

"I will go alone," Barlow said quietly.  Then his strong white teeth
showed in a smile.  "You know the Moslem saying, Colonel, that ten
Dervishes can sleep on one blanket, but a kingdom can only hold one
king.  I don't mean about the honour of it, but it will be easier for
me.  I went alone through the Maris tribe when we wanted to know what
the trouble was that threatened up above the Bolan, and I had no
difficulty.  You know, Sir, the playful name the chaps have given me
for years?"

"Yes--the 'Patan'--I've heard it."

"I make a good Musselman--scarce need any make-up, I'm so dark; I can
rattle off the _namaz_ (daily prayer), and sing the _moonakib_, the
hymn of the followers of the Prophet."

"Yes," Hodson said, his words coming slowly out of a deep think, "there
will be Patans in the Pindari camp; in fact Pindari is an all-embracing
name, having little of nationality about it.  Rajputs, Bundoolas,
Patans, men of Oudh, Sindies--men who have the lust of battle and loot,
all flock to the Pindari Chief.  Yes, it's a good idea, Captain, the
disguise; not only for an unnoticed entrance to the camp, but to escape
a waylaying by Nana Sahib's cut-throats."

"Yes, Colonel, from what I have learned--from the Gulab it was,
Sir--the Dewan has an inkling that I am going on a mission; and if I
rode as myself the King might lose an officer, and officers cost pounds
in the making."

The Resident toyed with the papers on his desk, his brow wrinkled from
a debate going on behind it; he rose, and grasping the black Kali
carried it back to the cabinet, saying: "That devilish thing, so
suggestive of what we are always up against here, makes me shiver."

Then he sat down, adding, "Captain, there is another important matter
connected with this.  The Rana of Udaipur is being stripped of every
rupee by Holkar and Sindhia; they take turn about at him.  Holkar is up
there now, where we have chased him--threatened to sack Udaipur unless
he were paid seventy lakhs, seven million rupees--the accursed thief!
We have managed to get an envoy to the Rana with a view to having him,
and the other smaller rulers of Mewar, join forces with us to crush
forever the Mahratta power--drive them out of Mewar for all time.  The
Rajputs are a brave lot--men of high thought, and it is too bad to have
these accursed cut-throats bleeding to death such a race.  If the Rana
would sign this paper also as an assurance of friendship, to be shown
the Pindari Chief, it would help greatly."

"I understand, Colonel.  You wish me to get that from the Rana?"

"Yes, Captain; and I may say that if you can get through with all this
there will be no question about your Majority; you might even go higher
up than Major."

"By Jove! as to that, my dear Colonel, this trip is just good sport--I
love it: less danger than playing polo with these rotters.  I'll swing
over to Udaipur first--it's just west of the Pindari camp,--been there
once before on a little pow-wow--then I'll switch back to Amir Khan."

"I wish you luck, Captain; but be careful.  If we can feel sure that
this horde of Pindaris are not hovering on our army's flank, like the
Russians hovered on Napoleon's in the Moscow affair, it will be a great
thing--you will have accomplished a wonderful thing."

"Right you are, Sir," Barlow exclaimed blithely.  The stupendous task,
for it was that, tonicked him; he was like a sportsman that had
received news of a tiger within killing distance.  He rose, and
stretched out his hand for the paper, saying: "I've got a job of
cobbling to do--I'll put this between the soles of my sandal, as it was
carried before--it's the safest place, really.  To-morrow I'll become
an apostate, an Afghan; and I'll be busy, for I've got to do it all
myself.  I can trust no one with a dark skin."

"Not even the Gulab, I fear, Captain; one never knows when a woman will
be swayed by some mental transition."  He was thinking of Elizabeth.

"You're right, Colonel," Barlow answered.  "I fancy I could trust the
Gulab--but I won't."



CHAPTER XVI

Captain Barlow had been through a busy day.  The very fact that all he
did in preparation for his journey to the Pindari camp had been done
with his own hands, held under water, out of sight, had increased the
strain upon him.

In India in the usual routine of matters, a staff of ten servants form
a composite second self to a Sahib: to hand him his boots, and lace
them; to lay out his clothes, and hold them while slipped into; to
bring a cheroot or a peg of whiskey; a _syce_ to bring the horse and
rub a towel over the saddle--to hold the stirrup, even, for the lifted
foot, and trotting behind, guard the horse when the Sahib makes a call;
a man to go here and there with a note or to post a letter; a servant
to whisk away a plate and replenish the crystal glass with pearl-beaded
wine without sign from the drinker, and appear like a bidden ghost,
clad in speckless white, silent and impassive of face, behind his
master's chair at the table when he dines out; everything in fact
beyond the mental whirl of the brain to be arranged by one or other of
the ten.

But this day Barlow had been like a man throwing detectives off his
trail.  Not one of his servants must suspect that he contemplated a
trip--no, not just that, for the Captain had intimated casually to the
butler that he would go soon to Satara.

Thus it had to be arranged secretly that he would ride from his
bungalow as Captain Barlow and leave the city as Ayub Alli, an Afghan.

Perhaps Barlow was over tired, that curious knotted condition of the
nerves through overstrain that rasps a man's mental fibre beyond the
narcotic of sleep, and yet holds him in a hectic state of half
unconsciousness.  He counted camels--long strings of soured,
complaining beasts, short-legged, stout, shaggy desert-ships, such as
merchants of Kabul used to carry their dried fruits,--figs and dates
and pomegranates, and the wondrous flavoured Sirdar melon,--wending
across the Sind Desert of floating white sand to Rajasthan.

Once a male, tickled to frenzy by the caress of a female's velvet lips
upon his rump, with a hoarse bubbling scream, wheeled suddenly,
snapping the thin lead-cord that reached from the tail of the camel in
front to the button in his nostril, and charged the lady in an
exuberance of affection with a full broadside--thrust from his chest
that bowled her over, where she lay among the fragments of two huge
broken burnt-clay _gumlas_, that, filled with water, had been lashed to
her sides.

Barlow sat up at this startling tumult that was the outcome of his
slipping a little into slumber.  He threw his head back on the pillow
with a smothered, "Damn!"

His bed had creaked, and an answering echo as if something had slipped
or slid, perhaps the sole of a bare foot on the fibrous floor matting,
at the window, fell upon his senses.  Turning his face toward the sound
he waited, eyes trying to pierce the gloom, and ear attuned.  He almost
cried out in alarm as something floated through the dark from the
window and fell with a soft thud upon his face.  He brushed at the
something--perhaps a bat, or a lizard, or a snake--with his hand and
received a sharp prick, a little dart of pain in a thumb.  He sprang
from the bed, lighted the wick that floated in the iron lamp, and
discovered that the thing of dread was a rose, its petals red against
the white sheet.

He knew who must have thrown the rose, and almost wished that it had
been a chance missil, even a snake, but he put the lamp down, passed
into the bathroom, and unbarring the wooden door, called softly, "Who
is there?"

From the cover of an oleander a slight girlish form rose up and came to
the door saying, "It is Bootea, Sahib; do not be angry,--there is
something to be said."

By the arm he led her within and bidding her wait, passed to the
bedroom and drew the heavy curtains of the windows.  Then he went
through the drawing-room and out to the verandah, where the watchman
lay asleep on his roped charpoy.  Barlow woke him: "There's a thief
prowling about the bungalow.  Do not sleep till I give you permission.
See that no one enters," he commanded.

He went back to his room, closed and barred the door, and told Bootea
to come.

When the girl entered he said: "You should not have come here; there
are eyes, and ears, and evil tongues."

"That is true, Sahib, but also death is evil--sometimes."

"I have brought this to the Sahib," Bootea said as she drew a paper
from her breast and passed it to the Captain.  It was the pardon the
Resident had given that morning to Ajeet Singh.

Barlow, though startled, schooled his voice to an even tone as he
asked: "Where did you get this--where is Ajeet?"

"As to the paper, Sahib, what matters how Bootea came by it; as to
Ajeet, he is in the grasp of the Dewan who learned that he had been to
the Resident in the way of treachery."

"Ajeet thought Nana Sahib had stolen you, Bootea."

"Yes, Sahib, for he did not find me when he went to the camp, and I did
not go there.  But now he would betray the Sahibs, that is why I have
brought back the paper of protection."

"Will they kill Ajeet?" Barlow asked.

"I will tell the Sahib what is," the girl answered, drawing her _sari_
over her curled-in feet, and leaning one arm on Barlow's chair.  "The
decoity that was committed last night was, as Ajeet feared, because of
treachery on the part of the Dewan.  I will tell it all, though it
might be thought a treachery to the decoits.  As to being false to
one's own clan Ajeet is, because he is a Bagree--but I am not."

Barlow pondered over this statement.  The girl had mystified him--that
is as to her breeding.  Sometimes she spoke in the first person and
again in the third person, like so many natives, as if her language had
been picked up colloquially.  But then the use of the third person when
she used Bootea instead of a nominative pronoun might be due to a
cultured deference toward a Sahib.

"I thought you were not of these people--you are of high caste,
Bootea," he said presently.

He heard the girl gasp, and looking quickly into her eyes saw that they
were staring as if in fright.

For a space of a few seconds she did not answer; then she said, and
Barlow felt her voice was being held under control by force of will: "I
am Bootea, one in the care of Ajeet Singh.  That is the present, Sahib,
and the past--"  She touched the iron bracelet on her arm, and looked
into Barlow's eyes as if she asked him to bury the past.

"Sorry, girl--forgive me," he said.

"Ajeet has told why the men were brought--for what purpose?"

"Yes, Gulab; to kill Amir Khan."

"And when they refused to go on this mission, the Dewan, to get them in
his power, connived with Hunsa to make the decoity so that their lives
would be forfeit, then if the Dewan punished them for not going the
Raja of Karowlee could not make trouble.  Hunsa told the Dewan that if
I were sent to dance before Amir Khan, some of the men going as
musicians and actors, the Chief would fall in love with me, and that I
could betray him to those who would kill him; that he would come to my
tent at night unobserved--because he has a wife with him--and that
Hunsa would creep into the tent and kill him as he slept; then we would
escape."

Barlow sprang to his feet and paced the floor; then he plumped into the
chair again, saying: "What an unholy scheme, even for India.  Gad! how
I wish I'd killed the brute when I had the chance."

"I did not know that Hunsa had proposed this--neither did Ajeet; for
they wanted to get him in their power through the decoity so that if he
refused permission he might be killed.  And now Ajeet is trapped
through the decoity and Bootea is going to the Pindari camp."

"You're not going to betray Amir Khan, have him murdered!" Barlow
cried, aghast at the villainy, at the thought that one so sweet could
be forced to complicity in such a ghastly crime.

"No, Sahib, to _save_ his life, for if I do not go now Ajeet will be
killed, and all the others put in prison because of the decoity.  Worse
will happen Bootea,--she will be placed in the seraglio of Nana Sahib."

"Damn it! they can't do that!" Barlow exclaimed angrily.  "I'll stop
that."

"No, the Sahib can't; and he has a mission, he is not of the service of
protecting Bootea."

"You can't save Amir Khan's life unless you betray the Bagrees to him?"

"Yes, Sahib, I can.  Perhaps the Chief will like Bootea, and will
listen to what she says.  Men such as brave warriors always treat
Bootea not as a _nautchni_ so I will ask him not to come to the tent at
night because of ill repute.  Hunsa will not be able to slay him unless
it is a trap on my part to get him from the watching eyes of his men.
If Hunsa becomes suspicious, and there is real danger, I will threaten
that I will expose him to the Chief.  If we come back because we have
failed in our mission, having tried to succeed, it will not be like
refusing to go; and perhaps there will be mercy shown."

"Mercy!" Barlow sneered; "Nana Sahib knows nothing of mercy, he's a
tiger."

"But if I refuse to go another _nautchni_ will be sent, perhaps more
beautiful than I am, and she would betray the Chief, and perhaps all
would be killed."

"By Jove! you're some woman, you're magnificent--you're like a Rajputni
princess."

A slim hand was placed on Barlow's wrist and the girl said, "Sahib, I
am just Bootea,--please, please!"

"And that's your reason for taking this awful chance, to save Ajeet and
the others--is it?"

"There is another reason, Sahib."  The girl dropped her eyes and
turning a gold bangle on her wrist gazed upon a ruby that had the
contour of a serpent's head.  Presently she asked, "Will the Sahib go
to Khureyra and have a knife thrust between his ribs?"

Barlow was startled by this query.  "Why should I go to Khureyra,
Gulab?"

"To see Amir Khan."

"What makes you say that?"

"Because it is known.  But the Chief is not now there--he has taken his
horsemen to Saugor."

Again this was startling.  Also the information was of great value.  If
the Pindari horde had left the territory of Sindhia and crossed the
border into Saugor they were closer to the British.

Barlow patted the girl's hand, saying, "My salaams to you, little girl."

He felt her slim cool fingers press his hand, but he shrank from the
claiming touch, muttering, "The damned barrier!"

Suddenly Barlow remembered Bootea had spoken of another reason for
going to the Pindari camp.  He puzzled over this a little, hesitating
to question her; she had not told him what it was, but had asked if he
were going there; the reason evidently had something to do with him.
It couldn't be treachery--she had done so much for him; it must be the
something that looked out of her eyes when they rested on his face, the
unworded greatest thing on earth in the way of fealty and devotion.
Possibly this was the grand motive, the reason she had given being
secondary.

"You said, Gulab, that you had another reason for this awful trip; what
is it?" he asked.

The girl's eyes dropped to the ruby bracelet again; "To acquire merit
in the eyes of Mahadeo, Sahib."

"To do good acts so that you may be reincarnated as a heaven-born, a
Brahmini, perhaps even come back as a memsahib."

At this her big eyes rose to Barlow's face, and he could swear that
there were tears misting them; and sensing that if she had fallen in
love with him, what he had said about her becoming a memsahib had hurt.
Perhaps she, as he did, realised that that was the barred door to
happiness--that she wasn't of the white race.

"Yes, Sahib," she said presently, "a Swami told me that in a former
life I had been evil."

"The Swami is an awful liar!" Barlow ejaculated.

"The holy ones speak the truth, Sahib.  The Swami said that because of
having been beautiful I had caused deaths through jealousy."

"Oh, the crazy fool!" Barlow declared in English; "and it's all rot!
This is the reason you spoke of, Gulab--good deeds; is it the only
other reason?"

The girl turned her face away, and Barlow saw her shoulders quiver.

He rose from the chair, and lifting the girl to her feet held her in
his arms, saying: "Look me in the eyes, Gulab, and tell me if you are
going through this devilish thing because of me."

"Bootea is going to the camp of Amir Khan because Hunsa and the others
have been told to kill the Sahib; and she will see that this is not
accomplished."

Barlow clasped the girl to his breast and smothered her face in kisses;
"You are the sweetest little woman that ever lived," he said; "and I am
a sinner, for this can only bring you misery."

"Sahib--it can't be, but it is not misery.  The sweet pain has been put
in the heart of Bootea by the Sahib's eyes, and she is happy.  But do
not go as a Sahib."

Barlow cursed softly to himself, muttering, "India!  Even dreams are
not unheard!"  Then, "What made you say that?" he queried.

"It is known because that is the way of the Sahib.  He knows that where
he sleeps or eats, or plays games with the little balls, that there are
always servants, and it is known that Captain Barrle is called the
Patan by his friends."

"St. George and the Cross!" he ejaculated.  "If I were thus would they
know me?" he asked.  "There would be danger, but the Sahib knowing of
this, could take more care in the way of deceit.  But Bootea will
know--the eyes will not be hidden."

Then he thought of Hunsa, and asked, "But aren't you afraid to go with
that beast, Hunsa?"

The girl laughed.  "The decoits have orders from the Dewan to kill him
if I complain of him; but if they do not he is promised the torture
when he comes back if I make complaint.  If the Sahib will but wait a
few days before the journey so that Bootea has made friends with Amir
Kami before he comes, it will be better.  We will start in two days."

"I'll see, Gulab," he answered evasively.  "You are going now?"

"Yes, Sahib--it has been said."

"I'll send the doorman with you."

"No, Bootea will be better alone," she touched the knife in her sash;
"it must not be known that Bootea came to the Sahib."

Barlow took her arm leading her through the bathroom to the back door;
he opened it, and listened intently for a few seconds.  Then he took
her oval face in his palms and kissed her, passionately, saying,
"Good-bye, little girl; God be with you.  You are sweet."

"The Sahib is like a god to Bootea," she whispered.

As the girl slipped away between the bushes, like something floating
out of a dream, Barlow stood at the open door, a resurge of abasement
flooding his soul.  In the combat between his mentality and his heart
the heart was making him a weakling, a dishonourable weakling, so it
seemed.  He pulled the door shut, and went back to his bed and finally
fell asleep, a thing of tortured unrest.



CHAPTER XVII

Barlow was up early next morning, wakened by that universal alarm clock
of India, the grey-necked, small-bodied city crow whose tribe is called
the Seven Sisters--noisy, impudent, clamorous, sharp-eyed thieves that
throng the compounds like sparrows, that hop in through the open window
and steal a slice of toast from beside the cup of tea at the bedside.

He mounted the waiting Cabuli pony and rode to the Residency.  He had
much to talk over with Hodson in the light of all that had transpired
in the last two days, and, also, he had a hope that Elizabeth would be
possessed of an after-the-storm calm, would greet him, and somehow give
him a moral sustaining against his lapse in heart loyalty.  Mentally he
didn't label his feeling toward Elizabeth love.  Toward her it had been
largely a matter of drifting, undoubted giving in to suasion, more of
association than what was said.  She had class; she was intellectual;
there was no doubt about her wit--it was like a well-cut diamond,
sparkling, brilliant--no warmth.  When Barlow reflected, jogging along
on the Cabuli, that he probably did not love Elizabeth, picturing the
passion as typified by Romeo and Juliet as instance, he suddenly asked
himself: "By Jove! and does anybody except the pater love Elizabeth?"
He was doubtful if anybody did.  All the servants held her in esteem,
for she was just, and not niggardly; but hers was certainly not a
disposition to cause spontaneous affection.  Perhaps the word admirable
epitomised Elizabeth all round.  But he felt that he needed a sort of
Christian Science sustaining, as it were, in this sensuous
drifting--something to make his slipping appear more obnoxious.

As he rode up to the verandah of the Residency he saw Elizabeth cutting
flowers, probably to decorate the breakfast table.  That was like
Elizabeth; instead of leaving it to the _mahli_ (gardener), with the
butler to festoon the table, she was doing it herself.  It was an
occupation akin to water-colour painting or lace work, just the sort of
thing to find Elizabeth at--typical.

Barlow was possessed of a hopeful fancy that perhaps she had not ridden
expecting that he would call on the Resident; but as always with the
Resident's daughter he could deduct nothing from her manner.  She
nodded pleasantly, looking up, a gloved hand full of roses; and, as he
slipped from the saddle, relinquishing the horse to the _syce_, she
fell in beside him as far as the verandah, where they stood talking
desultory stuff; the morning sun on the pink and white oleanders, the
curious snake-like mottling of the croton leaves, and the song of a
_dhyal_ that, high in a tamarind, was bubbling liquid notes of joy.

"The Indian robin red-breast makes one homesick," Elizabeth said.

"Home--", but the girl put a quick hand on his arm checking him; the
action was absolutely like Elizabeth, imperious.  A small, long-tailed,
brown-breasted bird had darted across the compound to a mango tree from
where he warbled a love song as sweet and rich toned as the evensong of
a nightingale.

The _dhyal_, as if feeling defeat in the sweeter carol of his rival,
hushed.

"The _shama_," Elizabeth said; "when I hear him I close my eyes and
picture the downs and oaked hills of England, and fancy I'm listening
to the nightingale or the lark."

Barlow turned involuntarily to look into the girl's face; it was an
inquisitive look, a wondering look; gentle sentiment coming from
Elizabeth was rather a reversal of form.

Also there was immediately a reversal of bird form, a shatterment of
sentiment, a rasping maddening note from somewhere in the dome of a
pipal tree.  A Koel bird, as if in derision of the feathered songsters,
sent forth his shrill plaintive, "Koe-e-el, Koe-e-el, Ko-e-e-el!"

"Ah-a-a!" Barlow exclaimed in disgust--"that's India; the fever-bird,
the koel, harbinger of the hot-spell, of burning sun and stifling dust,
and throbbing head."

He cursed the koel, for the gentle mood had slipped from Elizabeth.  He
had hoped that she would have spoken of yesterday, give him a shamed
solace for the hurt she had given him.  Of course Hodson would have
told her all about the Gulab.  But while that, the service, was
sufficient for the Resident, Elizabeth would consider the fact that
Barlow knew Bootea well enough to have this service rendered; it would
touch her caste--also her exacting nature.

Something like this was floating through his mind as he groped mentally
for an explanation of Elizabeth's attitude, the effect of which was
neutral; nothing to draw him toward her in a way of moral sustaining,
but also, nothing to antagonise him.

She must know that he was leaving on a dangerous mission; but she did
not bring it up.  Perhaps with her usual diffident reserve she felt
that it was his province to speak of that.

At any rate she called to a hovering bearer telling him to give his
master Captain Barlow's salaams.  Then with the flowers she passed into
the bungalow.  She had quite a proppy, military stride, bred of much
riding.

Barlow gazed after Elizabeth ruefully, wishing she had thrown him a
life belt.  However, it did not matter; it was up to him to act in a
sane manner, men of the Service were taught to rely on themselves.  And
in Barlow was the something of breeding that held him to the true
thing, to the pole; the breeding might be compared to the elusive thing
in the magnetic needle.  It did not matter, he would probably marry
Elizabeth--it seemed the proper thing to do.  Devilish few of the chaps
he knew babbled much about love and being batty over a girl--that is,
the girls they married.

Then the bearer brought Hodson's salaams to the Captain.

And Hodson was a Civil Servant in excelsis.  He took to bed with him
his Form D and Form C--even the "D. O.", the Demi Official business,
and worried over it when he should have slept or read himself to sleep.
Duty to him was a more exacting god than the black Kali to the
Brahmins; it had dried up his blood--atrophied his nerves of enjoyment.
And now he was depressed though he strove to greet Barlow cheerily.

"It's a devilish shindy, this killing of our two chaps," he burst forth
with; "I've pondered over it, I've worried over it; the only solace in
the thing is, that the arm of the law is long."

"I think you've got it, sir," Barlow encouraged.  "When we've smashed
Sindhia--and we will--we'll demand these murderers, hang a few of them,
and send the rest to the Andamans."

"Yes, it has simply got to wait; to stir up things now would only let
the Peshwa know what you are going to do--we'd show him our hand.  And
I don't mind telling you, Captain, that he is an absolute traitor; and
I believe that it's that damn Nana Sahib who's influencing him."

"There's no doubt about it, sir."

"No, there is not!" the Resident declared gloomily.  "The two dead
_sowars_ must be considered as sacrifice, just as though they had
fallen in battle; it's for the good of the Raj.  If I get hauled over
the coals for this I don't give a damn.  I've pondered over it, almost
prayed over it, and it's the only way.  There's talk of a big loot of
jewellery by these decoits, and the killing of the merchant and his
men, but I've got nothing to do with that.  The one wonderful thing is,
that we saved the papers.  That little native woman that brought them
to you must be rewarded later.  By the way, Barlow, I took the liberty
of explaining all that to Elizabeth, and I think she's pretty badly cut
up over the way she acted.  But you understand, don't you, Captain?  I
believe that if it had been my case I'd have, well, I'd have known that
it was because the girl cared.  Elizabeth is undemonstrative--too much
so, in fact; but I fancy--well, never mind: it's so long ago that I
took notice of these things that I find I'm trying to speak in an
unknown tongue."

The little man rose and bustled about, pulling out drawers from the
cabinet and shoving them back again, venting little asthmatic coughs of
sheer nervousness.  Then coming up to Barlow he held out his hand
saying: "My dear boy, God be with you; but don't take chances--will
you?"

At that instant Elizabeth appeared at the doorway: "Captain Barlow will
have breakfast with us, won't he, father--it's all ready, and Boodha
says he has a chop-and-kidney curry that is a dream?"

"Jupiter!" Hodson exclaimed; "fancy I'm getting India head; was sending
Barlow off without a word about breakfast.  Of course he'll
stay--thanks, Elizabeth."

The tired drawn parchment face of the Resident became revivified, it
was the face of a happy boy; the grey eyes blued to youth.  Inwardly he
murmured: "Elizabeth is wonderful!  I knew it; good girl!"

It was a curious breakfast--mentally.  Elizabeth was the Elizabeth of
the verandah.  Perhaps it was the passionate beating of the pillow the
day before, when she had realised for the first time what Barlow meant
to her, that now cast her into defence; encased her in an armour of
protection; caused her to assume a casualness.  She would give worlds
to not have said what she had said the day before, but the Captain must
know that she had been roused by a knowledge of his intimacy with the
Gulab.  Just what had occurred did not matter--not in the least; it was
his place to explain it.  That was Elizabeth's way--it was her manner
of thought; a subservience of impulse to propriety, to class.  In the
light of her feeling when she had lain, wet-eyed, beating the pillow,
she knew that if he had put his arms about her and said just even
stupid words--"I'm sorry, Beth, you know I love you"--she would have
capitulated, perhaps even in the capitulation have said a Bethism: "It
doesn't matter--we'll never mention it again."

But Barlow, very much of a boy, couldn't feel this elusive thing, and
rode away after breakfast from the bungalow muttering: "By gad!
Elizabeth should have said something over roasting me.  Fancy she
doesn't care a hang.  Anyway--I'll give her credit for that--she
doesn't hunt with the hounds and run with the hare.  If it's the
prospect of sharing a title with me, a rotter would have eaten the
leek.  Yes, Elizabeth is class."



CHAPTER XVIII

Dewan Sewlal was in a shiver of apprehension over the killing of the
two sepoys; there would be trouble over this if the Resident came to
know of it.

But Hunsa had assured him that the soldiers and their saddles had been
buried in the pit with the others, and that nobody but the decoits knew
of their advent.

Then when he learned that Ajeet Singh had been to the Resident he was
in a panic.  But as that British official made no move, said nothing
about the decoity, he fancied that perhaps Ajeet had not mentioned
this, in fact he had no proof that he had made a confession at all.
But Ajeet's complicity in the decoity where the merchant and his men
had been killed, gave the Dewan just what he had planned for--the power
of death over the Chief.  As to his own complicity he had taken care to
speak of the decoity to no one but Hunsa.  The yogi had been inspired,
of course, but the yogi would not appear as a witness against him, and
Hunsa would not, because it would cost him his head.

So now, at a hint from Nana Sahib, the Dewan seized upon Ajeet, voicing
a righteous indignation at his crime of decoity, and gave him the
alternative of being strangled with a bow-string or forcing the Gulab
to go to the camp of Amir Khan to betray him.  Not only would Ajeet be
killed, but Bootea would be thrust into the _seraglio_, and the other
Bagrees put in prison--some might be killed.  Ajeet was forced to yield
to these threats.  The very complicity of the Dewan made him the more
hurried in this thing.  Also he wanted to get the Bagrees away to the
Pindari camp before the Resident made a move.

The mission to Amir Khan would be placed in the hands of Hunsa and
Sookdee, Ajeet being retained as a pawn; also his wound had
incapacitated him.  He was nominally at liberty, though he knew well
that if he sought to escape the Mahrattas would kill him.

The jewels that had been stolen from the merchant were largely retained
by the Bagrees, though the Dewan found, one night, very mysteriously, a
magnificent string of pearls on his pillow.  He did not ask questions,
and seemingly no one of his household knew anything about the pearls.

When the yogi asked Hunsa about the ruby, the Akbar Lamp, Hunsa, who
had determined to keep it himself, as, perhaps, a ransom for his life
in that troublous time, declared that in the turmoil of the coming of
the soldiers he had not found it.  Indeed this seemed reasonable, for
he, having fled down the road to the Gulab, had not been there when
they had opened the box and looted it.

So the Dewan sent for Ajeet, Hunsa and Sookdee, and declared that if
the Bagree contingent of murder did not start at once for the Pindari
camp he would have them taken up for the decoity.

It was Ajeet who answered the Dewan: "Dewan Sahib, we be men who
undertake all things in the favour of Bhowanee, and we make prayer to
that goddess.  If the Dewan will give fifty rupees for our _pooja_,
to-morrow we will make sacrifice to her, for without the feast and the
sacrifice the signs that she would vouchsafe would be false.  Then we
will take the signs and the men will go at once."

"You shall have the money," the Dewan declared: "but do not delay."

That evening the Bagrees made their way to a mango grove for the feast,
carrying cocoanuts, raw sugar, flour, butter, and a fragrant gum,
goojul.  A large hole was dug in the ground and filled with dry
cow-dung chips which were set on fire.  Sweet cakes were baked on the
fire and then broken into small pieces, a portion of the fire raked to
one side, and their priest sprinkled upon it the fragrant gum, calling
in a loud voice: "Maha Kali, assist and guide us in our expedition.
Keep calamity from us who worship Thee, and have made this feast in Thy
honour.  Give us the sign, that we may know if it is agreeable to Thee
that we destroy the enemy of Maharaja Sindhia."

When the Bagrees had eaten much cooked rice and meat-balls, which were
served on plantain leaves, they drank robustly of _mhowa_ spirit, first
spilling some of this liquor upon the ground in the name of the goddess.

The strong rank native liquor roused an enthusiasm for their
approaching interview of the sacred one.  Once Ajeet laid his hand upon
the pitcher that Hunsa was holding to his coarse lips, and pressing it
downward, admonished:

"Hunsa, whilst Bhowanee does not prohibit, it is an offence to approach
her except in devout silence."

The surly one flared up at this; his ungovernable rage drew his hand to
a knife in his belt, and his eyes blazed with the ferocity of a wounded
tiger.

"Ajeet," he snarled, "you are now Chief, but you are not Raja to
command slaves."

With a swift twist of his wrist Ajeet snatched the pitcher from the
hand of Hunsa, saying: "Jamadar, it is the liquor that is in you,
therefore you have had enough."

But Hunsa sprang to his feet and his knife gleamed like the spitting of
fire in the slanting rays of the setting sun, as he drove viciously at
the heart of his Chief.  There was a crash as the blade struck and
pierced the matka which Ajeet still held by its long neck.

There was a scream of terror from the throats of the women; a cry of
horror from the Guru at this sacrilege--the spilling of liquor upon the
earth in anger at the feast of Bhowanee.

Ajeet's strong fingers, slim bronzed lengths of steel, had gripped the
wrist of his assailant as Bootea, darting forward, laid a hand upon the
arm of Hunsa, crying, "Shame! shame!  You are like sweepers of low
caste--eaters of carrion, they who respect not Bhowanee.  Shame! you
are a dog--a tapper of liquor!"

At the touch of the Gulab on his arm, and the scorn in her eyes, Hunsa
shivered and drew back, his head hanging in abasement, but his face
devilish in its malignity.

Ajeet, taking a brass dish, poured water upon the hand that had gripped
the wrist of Hunsa, saying, "Thus I will cleanse the defilement."  Then
he sat down upon his heels, adding: "Guru, holy one, repeat a prayer to
appease Bhowanee, then we will go into the jungle and take the
auspices."

The Guru strode over to Hunsa, and holding out his thin skinny palm
commanded, "Jamadar, from you a rupee; and to-morrow I will put upon
the shrine of Kali cocoanuts and sweet-meats and marigolds as peace
offerings."

Hunsa took from his loin cloth a silver coin and dropped it surlily in
the outstretched hand, sneering: "To Bhowanee you will give four annas,
and you will feast to the value of twelve annas, for that is the way of
your craft.  The vultures always finish the bait when the tiger has
been slain."

Soon the feathery lace work of bamboos beneath which they sat were
whispering to the night-wind that had roused at the dropping of the
huge ball of fire in the west, and the soft radiance of a gentle moon
was gilding with silver the gaunt black arms of a babool.  Then the
priest said: "Come, jamadars, we now will go deeper into the silent
places and listen for the voice of Bhowanee."

He untangled from the posture of sitting his parchment-covered matter
of bones, and carrying in one hand a brocaded bag of black velvet and
in the other a staff, with bowed head and mutterings started deeper
into the jungle of cactus and slim whispering bamboo, followed by
Ajeet, Sookdee and Hunsa.  Presently he stopped, saying, "Sit you in a
line, brave chiefs, facing the great temple of Siva, which is in the
mountains of the East, so that the voice of Bhowanee coming out of the
silent places and from the mouth of the jackal or the jackass, shall be
known to be from the right or the left, for thus will be the
interpretation."

The priest took his place in front of the jamadars, sitting with his
back to them, and placed upon the ground, first a white cloth of
cotton, and then the velvet bag, upon which rested a silver pickaxe.

When Ajeet saw the pickaxe he said angrily: "That is the emblem of
thugs; we be decoits, not stranglers, Guru."

"They are equal in honour with Bhowanee," the Guru replied: "they slay
for profit, even as you do, and among you are those who are thugs, for
I minister to both."

Then the Guru buried his shrivelled skull in his thin hands and drooped
forward in silent listening.  Ajeet objected no more, and in the new
silence they could hear the shrill rasping of cicadae in the foliage of
a gigantic elephant-creeper, that, like a huge python, crawled its way
from branch to branch, sprawling across a dozen stately trees.  From
somewhere beyond was a steady "tonk! tonk! tonk!"--like the beat of
wood against a hollow pipe--of the little green-plumaged coppersmith
bird.  A honey-badger came timorously creeping, his feet shuffling the
fallen leaves, peered at the strange figures of the men, and, at the
move of an arm, fled scurrying through the stillness with the noise of
some great creature.

Suddenly the jungle was stilled, even from the voice of the rasping
cicadae; the leaves had ceased to whisper, for the wind had hushed.
The devotees could hear the beating of their hearts in the strain of
waiting for a manifestation from the dread goddess.  The white-robed
figure of the Guru was like a shrivelled statue of alabaster where the
faint moon picked it out in blotches as the light filtered through
leaves above.

Sookdee gasped in terror as just above them a tiny tree owl called,
"Whoo-whoo, whoo-whoo!" as if he jeered.  But Ajeet knew that that, in
their belief, was a sign of encouragement, meaning not overmuch, but
not an evil omen.  From far off floated up on the dead night air the
belling note of a startled cheetal, and almost at once the harsh,
grating, angry roar of a leopard, as though he had struck for the
throat of the stag and missed.  These were but jungle voices, not in
the curriculum of their pantheistic belief, so the Guru and the Bagrees
sat in silence, and no one spoke.

Then, the night carried the faint trembling moan of a jackal, as the
Guru knew, a _female_ jackal, coming from a distance on the left.

"Oo-oo-oo-oo-oo!  Aye-aye! yi-yi-yi-yi!" the jackal wailed, the note
rising to a fiendish crescendo; and then suddenly it hushed and there
was only a ghastly silence in the jungle depths.

The white-clothed, ghost-like priest sprang to his feet, and with his
lean left arm stretched high in suppliance, said: "Bhowanee, thou hast
vouchsafed to thy devotees the _pilsao_.  We will strew thy shrine with
flowers and sweetmeats."

He turned to the jamadars who had risen, saying, "Bhowanee is pleased;
the suspicies are favourable; had the call of the jackal been from the
right it would have been the _tibao_ and we should have had to wait
until the sweet goddess gave us another sign.  Now we may go back, and
perhaps she will confirm this omen as we go."

Hunsa, always possessed of a mean disposition, and still sulky over the
encounter with Ajeet, was in an evil mood as they trudged through the
jungle to their camp.  When Ajeet spoke of the priest's success in his
appeal, he snarled: "The hangman always advises the one who is to have
his neck stretched that he is better off dead."

"What do you mean by that?" Ajeet queried.

"Just that you are not going on this mission, Ajeet;" then he laughed
disagreeably.

"If you are afraid to go Sookdee will be well without you," Ajeet
retorted.

Before more could be said in this way, and as they approached the camp,
the lowing of a cow was heard.

"Dost hear that, Guru?" Hunsa queried.  "In a decoity is not the lowing
of a cow in a village held to be an evil omen?"

"Not so, Hunsa," the Priest declared.  "It is an evil omen if the
decoity is to be made on the village in which the cow raises her voice,
but we are going to our own camp in peace, and it is a voice of
approval."

"As to that," Ajeet commented, "if Hunsa is right, it is written in our
code of omens that hearing a cow call thus simply means that one of the
party making the decoity will be killed; perhaps as he was the one to
notice it, the evil will fall upon him."

"You'd like that," Hunsa growled.

"Not being given to lies, it would not displease me, for, as the
hangman said, you would be better dead."

But they were now at their camp, and the jamadars, standing together
for a little, settled it that the omens being favourable, and the wrath
of the Dewan feared, they would take the way to the Pindari camp next
day.



CHAPTER XIX

Dewan Sewlal had warned Hunsa and Sookdee against their natural
proclivities for making a decoity while travelling to the Pindari camp,
as the mission was more important than loot--an enterprise that might
cause them to be killed or arrested.  Indeed the Gulab had made this a
condition of her going with them.  She was practically put in command.
Both Nana Sahib and the Dewan were pleased over what they deemed her
sensible acquiescence in the scheme.  As has been said, the Dewan,
recognising the debased ferocity of Hunsa, had promised him the torture
when he returned if Bootea had any cause of complaint.

The decoit, believing that Bootea was designed for Nana Sahib's harem,
knew that as one favoured in the Prince's eyes, he would surely be put
to death if he offended her.

So, travelling with the almost incessant swift progress which was an
art with all decoits, in a few days they arrived at Rajgar, the town to
which Amir Khan had shifted.  He had taken possession of a palace
belonging to the Rajput Raja as his head-quarters, and his army of
horsemen were encamped in tents on the vast sandy plain that extended
from both sides of the river Nahal: the local name of this river was
"The Stream of Blood," so named because a fierce force of Arab
mercenaries in the employ of Sindhia, many years before, had butchered
the entire tribe of Nahals--man, woman, and child,--higher up in the
hills.

As had been planned, some of the decoits had come as recruits to the
Pindari standard.  This created no suspicion, because free-lance
soldiers, adventurous spirits, from all over India flocked to a force
that was known to be massed for the purpose of loot.  It was an easy
service; little discipline; a regular Moslem fighting horde, holding
little in reverence but the daily prayer and the trim of a spear, or
the edge of a sword.  Amir Khan was the law, the army regulation, the
one thing to obey.  As to the matter of prayers, for those who were not
followers of the Prophet, who carried no little prayer carpet to kneel
upon, face to Mecca, there was, it being a Rajput town, always the
shrine of Shiva and his elephant-headed son, Ganesh, to receive
obeisance from the Hindus.  And those who had come as players,
wrestlers, were welcomed joyously, for, there being no immediate matter
of a raid and throat-cutting, and little of disciplinary duties, time
hung heavy on the hands of these grown-up children.

Hunsa was remembered by several of the Pindaris as having ridden with
them before; and he also had suffered an apostacy of faith for he now
swore by the Beard of the Prophet, and turned out at the call of the
_muezzin_, and testified to the fact that there was but one god--Allah.
And he had known his Amir Khan well when he had told the Dewan that the
fierce Pindari was gentle enough when it came to a matter of feminine
beauty, for Bootea made an impression.

Of course it would have taken a more obdurate male than Amir Khan to
not appreciate the exquisite charm of the Gulab; no art could have
equalled the inherent patrician simplicity and sweetness of her every
thought and action.  Perhaps her determination to ingratiate herself
into the good graces of the Chief was intensified, brought to a finer
perfection, by the motive that had really instigated her to accept this
terrible mission, her love for the Englishman, Barlow.

Of course this was not an unusual thing; few women have lived who are
not capable of such a sacrifice for some one; the "grand passion," when
it comes, and rarely out of reasoning, smothers everything in the heart
of almost every woman--once.  It had come to Bootea; foolishly,
impossible of an attainment, everything against its ultimate
accomplished happiness, but nothing of that mattered.  She was there,
waiting--waiting for the service that Fate had whispered into her being.

And she danced divinely--that is the proper word for it.  Her dancing
was a revelation to Amir Khan who had seen _nautchnis_ go through their
sensuous, suggestive, voluptuous twistings of supple forms, disfigured
by excessive decoration--bangles, anklets, nose rings, high-coloured
swirling robes, and with voices worn to a rasping timbre that shrilled
rather than sang the _ghazal_ (love song) as they gyrated.  But here
was something different.  Bootea's art was the art that was taught
princesses in the palaces of the Rajput Ranas, not the bidding of a
courtesan for the desire of a man.  Her dress was a floating cloud of
gauzy muslin: and her sole evident adornment the ruby-headed gold
snake-bracelet, the iron band of widowhood being concealed higher on
her arm.  Some intuition had taught the girl that this mode would give
rise in the warrior's heart to a feeling of respectful liking: it had
always been that way with real men where she was concerned.

When Amir Kahn passed an order that Bootea was to be treated as a
queen, his officers smiled in their heavy black beards and whispered
that his two wives would yet be hand-maidens to a third, the favourite.

Hunsa saw all this, for he was the one that often carried a message to
the Gulab that her presence was desired in the palace.  But there were
always others there; the players and the musicians--the ones who played
the sitar (guitar) and the violin; and the officers.

Hunsa was getting impatient.  Every time he looked at the handsome
black-bearded head of the warrior he was like a covetous thief gazing
upon a diamond necklace that is almost within his grasp.  He had come
there to kill him and delay was dangerous.  He had been warned by the
Dewan that they suspected Barlow meant to visit the Chief on behalf of
the British.  He might turn up any day.  When he spoke to Bootea about
her part in the mission, the enticing of Amir Khan to her tent so that
he might be killed, she simply answered:

"Hunsa, you will wait until I give you a command to kill the Chief.  If
you do not, it is very likely that you will be the sacrifice, for he is
not one to be driven."  She vowed that if he broke this injunction she
would denounce him to Amir Khan; she would have done so at first but
for the idea that treachery to her people could not be justified but by
dire necessity.

Every day the Gulab, as she walked through the crowded street, scanned
the faces of men afoot and on horseback, looking for one clothed as a
Patan, but in his eyes the something she would know, the something that
would say he was the deified one.  And she had told Amir Khan that
there was a Patan coming with a message for him, and that when such an
one asked for audience that he should say nothing, but see that he was
admitted.

Then one day--it was about two weeks of waiting--Captain Barlow came.
He was rather surprised at the readiness with which he was admitted for
an audience with the Chief.  It was in the audience hall that he was
received, and the Chief was surrounded, as he sat on the Raja's dais,
by officers.

Barlow had come as Ayub Alli, an Afghan, and as it was a private
interview he desired, he made the visit a formal one, the paying of
respects, with the usual presenting of the hilt of his sword for the
Chief to touch with the tips of his fingers in the way of accepting his
respects.

The Chief, knowing this was the one Bootea had spoken of, wrote on a
slip of yellow paper something in Persian and tendered it to Barlow,
saying, "That will be your passport when you would speak with me if
there is in your heart something to be said."

Going, Barlow saw that he had written but the one word [Transcriber's
note: three Afghan or Persian characters], translated, "the Afghan."

Hunsa, too, had watched for the coming of Barlow.  The same whisper
that had come to Bootea's ears that he would ride as a Patan had been
told him by the Dewan.  Knowing that when Barlow arrived he would
endeavour to see the Chief in his quarters, Hunsa daily hovered near
the palace and chatted with the guard at the gates; the heavy double
teak-wood gates, on one side of which was painted, on a white
stone-wall, a war-elephant and the other side a Rajput horseman, his
spear held at the charge.  This was the allegorical representation, so
general all over Mewar, of Rana Pertab charging a Mogul prince mounted
on an elephant.

Thus Hunsa had seen the tall Patan and heard him make the request for
an audience with Amir Khan.  It was the walk, the slight military
precision, that caused the decoit to mutter, "No hill Afghan that."

And when Barlow had come forth the Bagree trailed him up through the
chowk; and just as the man he followed came to the end of the narrow
crowded way, Hunsa saw Bootea, coming from the opposite direction,
suddenly stop, and her eyes go wide as they were fixed on the face of
the tall Patan.

"It is the accursed Sahib," Hunsa snarled between his grinding teeth.
He brooded over the advent of the messenger and racked his animal brain
for some scheme to accomplish his mission of murder, and counteract the
other's influence.  And presently a bit of rare deviltry crept into his
mind, joint partner with the murder thought.  If he could but kill the
Chief and have the blame of it cast upon the Sahib, who, no doubt,
would have his interviews with Amir Khan alone.

During the time Hunsa had been there, several times in the palace,
somewhat of a privileged character, known to be connected with the
Gulab, he had familiarised himself with the plan of the marble
building: the stairways that ran down to the central court; the many
passages; the marble fret-work screen niches and mysterious chambers.

Either Hunsa or Sookdee was now always trailing Barlow--his every move
was known.  And then, as if some evil genii had taken a spirit hand in
the guidance of events, Hunsa's chance came.  Barlow, who had tried
three times to see Amir Khan, one day received a message at the gate
that he was to come back that evening, when the Chief, having said his
prayers, would give him a private audience.

Hunsa had seen Barlow making his way from the _serai_ where he camped
with his horse toward the palace, and hurrying with the swift celerity
of a jungle creature, he reached the gate first.  His head wrapped in
the folds of a turban so that his ugly face was all but hidden, he was
talking to the guard when Barlow gave the latter his yellow slip of
passport; and as the guard left his post and entered the dim entrance
to call up the stairway for one to usher in the Afghan, Hunsa slipped
nonchalantly through the gate and stood in the shadow of a jutting
wall, his black body and drab loin-cloth merging into the gloom.



CHAPTER XX

"Is the one alone?" Amir Khan asked when a servant had presented
Barlow's yellow slip of paper.

"But for the orderly that is with him."

"Tell him to enter, and go where your ears will remain safe upon your
head."

The bearer withdrew and Captain Barlow entered, preceded by the
orderly, who, with a deep salaam announced:

"Sultan Amir Khan, it is Ayub Alli who would have audience."  Then he
stepped to one side, and stood erect against the wall.

"Salaam, Chief," Barlow said with a sweep of a hand to his forehead,
and Amir Khan from his seat in a black ebony chair inlaid with
pearl-shell and garnets, returned the salutation, asking: "And what
favour would Ayub Alli ask?"

"A petition such as your servant would make is but for the ears of Amir
Khan."

The black eyes of the Pindari, deep set under the shaggy eyebrows, hung
upon the speaker's face with the fierce watchful stab of a falcon's.

Barlow saw the distrust, the suspicion.  He unslung from his waist his
heavy pistol, took the _tulwar_ from the wide brass-studded belt about
his waist, and tendered them to the orderly saying: "It is a message of
peace but also it is alone for the ears of Amir Khan."

The Pindari spoke to the orderly, "Go thou and wait below."

When he had disappeared the Pindari rose from the ebon-wood chair,
stretched his tall giant form, and laughed.  "Thou art a seemly man,
Ayub Alli, but thinkst thou that Amir Khan would have fear that thou
sendst thy playthings by the orderly?"

"No, Chief, it was but proper.  And you will know that the message is
such that none other may hear it."

"Sit on yonder divan, Afghan, and tell this large thing that is in thy
mind."

As Barlow took a seat upon the divan covered by a red-and-green
Bokharan rug, lifting his eyes suddenly, he was conscious of a mocking
smile on the Pindari's lips; and the fierce black eyes were watching
his every move as he slipped a well-strapped sandal from a foot.
Rising, he stepped to the table at one end of which the Pindari sat,
and placing the sandal upon it, said: "If the Chief will slit the
double sole with his knife he will find within that which I have
brought."

"The matter of which you speak, Afghan, is service, and Amir Khan is
not one to perform a service of the hands for any one."

"But if I asked for the Chief's knife, not having one--"

"_Inshalla_! but thou art right; if thou hadst asked for the knife thou
mightst have received it, and not in the sandal," he laughed.  The
laugh welled up from his throat through the heavy black beard like the
bubble of a bison bull.

The Pindari reached for the sandal, and as he slit at the leather
thread, he commented: "Thou hast the subtlety of a true Patan; within,
I take it, is something of value, and if it were in a pocket of thy
jacket, or a fold at thy waist, those who might seek it with one slit
of their discoverer, which is a piece of broken glass carrying an edge
such as no blade would have, would take it up.  But a man's sandals
well strapped on are removed but after he is dead."

"Bismillah!"  The Pindari had the paper spread flat upon the black
table and saw the seal of the British Raj.  He seemed to ponder over
the document as if the writing were not within his interpretation.
Then he said: "We men of the sword have not given much thought to the
pen, employing scribblers for that purpose, but to-morrow a _mullah_
will make this all plain."

Barlow interrupted the Chief.  "Shall I read the written word?"

"What would it avail?  Hereon is the seal of the _Englay_ Raj, but as
you read the thumb of the Raj would not be upon your lip in the way of
a seal.  The _mullah_ will interpret this to me.  Is it of an
alliance?" he asked suddenly.

"It is, Chief."

The Pindari laughed: "Holker would give me a camel-load of gold rupees
for this and thy head: Sindhia might add a province for the same."

"True, Chief.  And has Amir Khan heard a whisper of reward and a dress
of honour from Sindhia's Dewan for his head?"

"Afghan, there is always a reward for the head of Amir Khan; but a gift
is of little value to a man who has lost his life in the trying.
Without are guards ready to run a sword through even a shadow, and here
I could kill three."

He raised his black eyes and scanned the form of Ayub Alli.  There was
a quizzical smile on his lips as he said:

"Go back and sit thee upon the divan."

When Barlow had taken his place, the Chief laughed aloud, saying, "Well
done, Captain Sahib; thou art perfect as a Patan; even to the manner of
sitting down one would have thought that, except for a saddle, thou
hadst always sat upon thy heels."

Barlow smiled good humouredly, saying, "It is even so; I am Captain
Barlow.  And this,"--he tapped the loose baggy trousers of the Afghan
hillman, and the sheepskin coat with the wool inside--"was not in the
way of deceit but for protection on the road."

"It is well thought of," the Pindari declared, "for a Sahib travelling
alone through Rajasthan would be robbed by a Mahratta or killed by a
Rajput.  But as to the deceiving of Amir Khan, dost thou suppose that
he gives to a Patan the paper of admittance, or of passing, such as he
gave to thee.  Even at the audience I was pleased with thy manner of
disguise."

Barlow was startled.  "Did you know then that I was a Sahib--how did
you know?"

"Because thou wert placed in my hand in the way of protection."

Then Barlow surmised that of all outside his own caste there could be
but one, and he knew that she was in the camp, for he had seen her.
"It was a woman."

"A rare woman; even I, Chief of the Pindaris--and we are not bred to
softness--say that she is a pearl."

"They call her the Gulab," Barlow ventured.

"She is well named the Gulab; the perfume of her is in my nostrils
though it mixes ill with the camel smell.  Without offence to Allah I
can retain her for it is in the Koran that a man may have four wives
and I have but two."

"But the Gulab is of a different faith," Barlow objected and a chill
hung over his heart.

The Pindari laughed.  "The Sahibs have agents for the changing of
faith, those who wear the black coat of honour; and a _mullah_ will
soon make a good Musselmani of the beautiful little infidel.  Of
course, Sahib, there is the other way of having a man's desire which is
the way of all Pindaris; they consider women as fair loot when the
sword is the passport through a land.  But as to the Gulab, the flower
is most too fair for a crushing.  In such a matter as I have spoken of
the fragrance is gone, and a man, when he crushes the weak, has
conflict with himself."

"It's a topping old barbarian, this leader of cut-throats," Barlow
admitted to himself; but in his mind was a horror of the fate meant for
the girl.  And somehow it was a sacrifice for him, he knew, an
enlargement of the love that had shown in the soft brown eyes.  As he
listened schemes of stealing the Gulab away, of saving her were
hurtling through his brain.

"And mark thee, Sahib, Amir Khan has found favour with the little
flower, for when I thought of an audience with her in her own tent--for
to be a leader of men, in possession of two wives, and holding strong
by the faith of Mahomet, it is as well to be circumspect--the Gulab
warned me that a knife might be presented as I slept.  A jealous lover,
perhaps, I think--it would not have been Ayub Alli by any chance?"

What Barlow was thinking, was, "A most subtle animal, this."  And he
now understood why the Pindari, as if he had forgotten the message, was
talking of the Gulab; as an Oriental he was coming to the point in
circles.

"It was not, Chief," Barlow answered.  "A British officer on matters of
state, would break his _izzat_ (honour) if he trifled with women."

"Put thy hand upon thy beard, Afghan--though thou hast not one--and
swear by it that it was not thee the woman meant when she spoke of a
knife, for I like thee."

Barlow put his hand to his chin.  "I swear that there was nothing of
evil intent against Amir Khan in my heart," he said; "and that is the
same as our oath, for it is but one God that we both worship."

The Chief again let float from his big throat his low, deep, musical
laugh.

"An oath is an oath, nothing more.  To trust to it and go to sleep in
its guardianship, one may never wake up.  Even the gods cannot bind a
heart that is black with words.  It was one of my own name who swore on
the shrine of Eklinga at Udaipur friendship for a Prince of Marwar, and
changed turbans with him, which is more binding than eating opium
together, then slew him like a dog.  Of my faith, an oath, 'by the
Beard of the Prophet,' is more binding, I think.  Too many gods, such
as the men of Hind have, produce a wavering.  But thou hast sworn to
the truth as I am a witness.  The delay of an audience was that thou
mightst be well watched before much had been said, for a child at play
hides nothing, and if thou hadst gone but once to the tent of the
Gulab, Amir Khan would have known.

"But as to this,"--his hand tapped the document--"it has been said that
the British Raj doles out the lives of its servants as one doles grain
in a time of famine.  If an envoy, such as a Raja sends in a way of
pride, came with this, and were made a matter of sacrifice, perhaps
twenty lives would have paid of the trying, but as it is, but one is
the account."

Barlow shot a quick searching look into the Pindari's eyes; was it a
covert threat?  But he answered: "It is even so, it was spoken of as a
matter for two, but--"

The Chief laughed: "I know, Sahib; thou art pleasing to me.  Of the
Sahibs I have little knowledge, but I have heard it said they were a
race of white Rajputs, save that they did not kill a brother or a
father for the love of killing.  What service want they of Amir Khan?"

"There are rumours that the Mahrattas, forgetting the lessons they have
received--both Holkar and Sindhia having been thoroughly beaten by the
British--are secretly preparing war."

"A _johur_, a last death-rush, is it not?"

"They will be smashed forever, and their lands taken."

"But the King of Oudh has been promised a return to glory to join in
this revolt.  The fighting Rajputs--what of them?  Backed by the
English they should hold these black accursed Mahrattas in check."

Barlow rose and, the wary eyes of the Chief on every move, stepped over
to the table and pointed to a signature upon the document.

"That," he said, "is the signature of the Rana of Mewar, meaning that
he also passes the salt of friendship to Amir Khan."

He turned the document over, and there written upon it was the figure
"74 1/2."

"Bismillah!" the Chief cried for he had not noticed this before; "it is
the _tilac_, the Rana's sealing of the document; it is the mystic
number that means that the contents are sacred, that the curse of the
Sack of Fort Chitor be upon him who violates the seal, it is the oath
of all Rajputs--_tilac_, that which is forbidden.  And the Sahibs have
heard a rumour that Amir Khan has a hundred thousand horsemen to cut in
with.  Even Sindhia is afraid of me and desires my head.  The Sahibs
have heard and desire my friendship."

"That is true, Chief."

"This is the right way," and the Pindari brought his palm down upon the
Government message.  "I have heard men say that the English were like
children in the matter of knowing nothing but the speaking of truth; I
have heard some laugh at this, accounting it easy to circumvent an
enemy when one has knowledge of all his intentions, but truth is
strength.  We have faith in children because they have not yet learned
the art of a lie.  In two days, Captain Sahib, thou wilt be called to
an audience."  He rose from his chair, and, with a hand to his forehead
said: "Salaam, Sahib.  May the protection of Allah be upon you!"

"Salaam, Chief," Barlow answered, and he held out a hand with a boyish
frankness that caused the Pindari to grasp it, and the two stood, two
men looking into each other's eyes.

"Go thou now, Sahib; thou art a man.  Go alone and with quiet, for I
would view this message and put it in yonder strong box before others
enter."



CHAPTER XXI

When Captain Barlow had gone Amir Khan took up the message and read it.
Once he chuckled, for it was in his Oriental mind that the deceiving of
Barlow as to his knowledge of writing was rather a joke.  Once as he
read the heavy silk _purdah_ of the door swayed a little at one side as
if a draught of wind had shifted it and an evil face appeared in the
opening.

Presently he rose from his chair, took the lamp in one hand and the
paper in the other, and crossed to the iron box in a far corner of the
room.  He set the flickering light upon the floor, and dropping to his
knees, drew from his waistband a silver chain, at the end of which were
his seal and keys.  His broad shoulders blanked the tiny cone of light,
and behind through a marble fretwork, a delicate tracery of lotus
flowers that screened the window, trickled cold shafts of moonlight
that fell upon something evil that wriggled across the white and black
slabs of marble from beneath the door curtain.  The moonlight glistened
the bronze skin of the silent, crawling thing that was a huge snake, or
a giant centipede; it was even like a square-snouted, shovel-headed
_mugger_ that had crept up out of the slimy river that circled
sluggishly the eastern wall of the palace.

Once as Amir Khan fitted a key in the lock he checked and knelt, as
silent, as passive as a bronze Buddha, listening; and the creeping
thing was but a blur, a shadow without movement, silent.  Then he
raised the lid of the box and paused, holding it with his right hand,
the flickering light upon his bronze face showing a smile as his eyes
dwelt lovingly upon the gold and jewels within.

And again the thing crept, or glided, not even a slipping purr,
noiseless, just a drifting shadow; only where a ribbon of moonlight
from between a lotus and a leaf picked it out was the brown thing of
evil marked against the marble.  Then the divan blurred it from sight.
From behind the divan to the ebony chair, and the wide black-topped
table the shadow drifted; and when Amir Khan had clanged the iron lid
closed, and risen, lamp in hand, there was nothing to catch his eye.

He placed the lamp that was fashioned like a lotus upon the table, and
dropping into his chair, yawned sleepily.  Then he raised his voice to
call his bearer:

"Abd--"

The name died on his lips, for the brown thing behind the chair had
slipped upward with the silent undulation of a panther, and a deadly
_roomal_ (towel) had flashed over the Chief's head and was now a
strangling knot about his tawny throat; the hard knuckles of Hunsa were
kneading his spine at the back of the skull with a half twist of the
cloth.  He was pinioned to the back of the chair; he was in a vise, the
jaws of which closed his throat.  Just a stifled gurgle escaped from
his lips as his hand clutched at a dagger hilt.  The muscles of the
naked brown body behind stood out in knobs of strength, and the face of
the strangler, pan-reddened teeth showing in the flickering light as if
they had bitten into blood, was the face of a ghoul.

The powerful Pindari struggled in smothering desperation; and Hunsa,
twisting the gorilla hands, sought in vain to break the neck--it was
too strong.

Then the chair careened sidewise, and the Pindari shot downward, his
forehead striking a marble slab, stunning him.  Hunsa, with the
death-grip still on the roomal, planted a knee between the victim's
shoulder-blades, and jerked the head upward--still the spine did not
snap; and slowly tightening the pressure of the cloth he smothered the
man beneath his knee till he felt the muscles go slack and the body lie
limp--dead!

Then Hunsa crossed the _roomal_ in his left hand, and stretching out
his right grasped the Chief's dagger where it lay upon the floor, and
drove it, from behind, through his heart.  He placed the knife upon the
floor where drops of blood, trickling from its curved point, lay upon
the white marble like spilled rubies.  He unfastened the silver chain
that carried the keys and crossed the floor with the slouching crouch
of a hyena.  Rapidly he opened the iron box, took the paper Amir Khan
had placed there, and hesitated for a second, his ghoulish eyes
gloating over the jewels and gold; but he did not touch them, his
animal cunning holding him to the simple plan that was now working so
smoothly.  He locked the box and slipped the key-chain about the dead
man's waist; then seizing the right hand of his victim he smeared the
thumb in blood and imprinted it upon the paper just beside the seal of
the British Raj, muttering: "This will do for Nana Sahib as well as
your head, Pindari, and is much easier hidden."

He placed the paper in a roll of his turban, blew out the flickering
light, and with noiseless bare feet glided cautiously to the door.  The
_purdah_ swung back and there was left just the silent room, all dark,
save for little trickles of silver that dropped spots and grotesque
lines upon the body of the dead Chief.  It fell full upon the knife
flooding its blade into a finger-like mirror, and glinted the blood
drops as if in reality they had turned to rubies.  Without the _purdah_
Hunsa did not crouch and run, he walked swiftly, though noiselessly, as
one upon a message.  Ten paces of the dim-lighted hall he turned to the
right to a balcony.

Here at the top of a narrow winding stone stairway Hunsa listened; no
sound came from below, and he glided down.  Beneath was a balcony
corresponding with the one above, and just beyond was a domed cell that
he had investigated.  It was a cell that at one time had witnessed the
quick descent of headless bodies to the river below.  A teakwood beam
with a round hole in the centre spanned the cell just above an opening
that had all the appearance of a well.  Hunsa had investigated this
exit for this very purpose, for he had been somewhat of a privileged
character about the palace.

He now unslung from about his waist, hidden by his baggy trousers, a
strong, fine line of camel hair.  Making one end fast to the teakwood
sill he went down hand over hand, his strong hard palms gripping the
soft line.  At the end of it he still had a drop of ten or twelve feet,
but bracing his shoulders to one wall and his feet to the other he let
go.  Hunsa was shaken by his drop of a dozen feet, but the soft sand of
the river bed had broken the shock of his fall.  He picked himself up,
and crouching in the hiding shadow of the bank hurried along for fifty
yards; then he clambered up cautiously to the waste of white sand that
was studded with the tents of the Pindari horsemen.  On his right,
floating up the hill in terraces, its marble white in the moonlight,
was the palace where Amir Khan lay dead.  It still held a sombre
quietude; the murder had not been discovered.

He had mapped this route out carefully in the day and knew just how to
avoid the patrolling guards, and he was back in the narrow _chouk_ of
the town that was a struggling stream of swaggering Pindaris, and
darker skinned Marwari bunnias and shopkeepers.  Hunsa pushed his way
through this motley crowd and continued on to the gate of the palace.

To the guard who halted him he said: "If the other who went up to see
the Chief has gone, I would go now, _meer_ sahib.  As I have said, it
is a message from the Gulab Begum."

"I looked for you when I returned from above," the guard answered, "but
you had gone.  The Afghan has gone but a little since--stay you here."

He called within, "Yacoub!"

It was the orderly who had conducted Barlow to Amir Khan who answered,
and to him the guard said: "Go to the Chief's apartment and say that
one waits here with word from the favourite."

Hunsa sat down nonchalantly upon a marble step, and drew the guard into
a talk of raids, explaining that he had ridden once upon a time with
Chitu, on his foray into the territory of the Nizam.



CHAPTER XXII

Hunsa had come back to the palace in haste so that the murder of Amir
Khan might be discovered soon after Captain Barlow had left, and that
the crime might be fastened upon the Sahib.  As he waited, chatting to
the guard, there was suddenly a frenzied deep-throated call of alarm
from the upper level of rooms that was answered by other voices here
and there crying out; there was the hurrying scuffling of feet on the
marble stairs, and Yacoub appeared, his eyes wide in fright, crying:

"The Chief has been stabbed! he's dead! he's murdered!  Guard the
door--let no one out--let no one in!"

"Beat the _nakara_," the guard commanded; "raise the alarm!"

He seized his long-barrelled matchlock, blew on the fuse, and pointing
up toward the moonlit sky, fired.  Just within, in a little court,
Yacoub, with heavy drum-stick, was pounding from the huge drum a
thunderous vibrant roar, and somebody at his command had seized a horn,
and from its copper throat a strident shriek of alarm split the air.

The narrow street was now one surging mass of excited Pindaris.  With
their riding whips they slashed viciously at any one other than their
own soldier caste that ventured near, driving them out, crying: "This
is alone for the Pindaris!"

A powerful, whiskered jamadar pushed his way through the mob, throwing
men to the right and left with sweeps of his strong arm, and, reaching
the guard, was told that Amir Khan lay up in his room, murdered.  Then
an _hazari_ (commander of five thousand) came running and pushed
through the throng that the full force of the tragedy held almost
silent.

The guard saluted, saying: "Commander Kassim, the Chief has been slain."

"How--who?"

"I know not, Commander."

"Who has passed the guard here?"

"But one, the Afghan, who was expected by the Chief.  He went forth but
lately."

"A Patan!" Kassim roared.  "Trust a woman and a snake but not a Patan."
He turned to the whiskered jamadar: "Quick, go you with men and bring
the Afghan."  To another he said, "Command to enter from there"--his
hand swept the mob in front--"a dozen trusty _sowars_ and flood the
palace with them.  Up, up; every room, every nook, every place of
hiding; under everything, and above everything, and through everything,
search.  Not even let there be exemption of the seraglio--murder lurks
close to women at all times.  Seize every servant that is within and
bind him; let none escape."

He swept a hand out toward the Pindaris in the street that were like a
pack of wolves: "Up the hill--surround the palace!  and guard every
window and rat-run!"

The guard saluted, venturing: "Commander, none could have entered from
outside to do the foul deed."

"Liar! lazy sleeper!"--he smashed with his foot the _hookah_ that sat
on the marble floor, its long stem coiled like a snake--"While you
busied over such, and opium, one has slipped by."

He reached out a powerful hand and seized the shoulder of a Pindari and
jerked him to the step, commanding: "Stay here with this monkey of the
tall trees, and see that none pass.  I go to the Chief.  When the
Afghan comes have him brought up."

Hunsa had stood among the Pindaris, shoved hither and thither as they
surged back and forth.  Once the flat of a _tulwar_ had smote him
across the back, but when he turned his face to the striker who
recognised him as a man of privilege, one of the amusers, he was
allowed to remain.

The startling cry, "The Chief has been murdered! the Sultan is dead!"
swept out over the desert sand that lay white in the moonlight, and the
night air droned with the hum of fifty thousand voices that was like
the song of a world full of bees.  And the night palpitated with the
beat of horses' feet upon the hard sand and against the stony ford of
the parched river as the Pindari horsemen swept to Rajgar as if they
rode in the sack of a city.

Hoarse bull-throated cries calling the curse of Allah upon the murderer
were like a deep-voiced hymn of hate--it was continuous.

The _bunnias_, and the oilmen, and the keepers of cookshops hid their
wares and crept into dark places to hide.  The flickering oil lamps
were blotted out; but some of the Pindaris had fastened torches to
their long spears, and the fluttering lights waved and circled like
shooting stars.

Rajgar was a Shoel; it was as if from the teak forests and the jungles
of wild mango had rushed its full holding of tigers, and leopards, and
elephants, and screaming monkeys.

Soon a wedge of cavalry, a dozen wild-eyed horsemen, pushed their way
through the struggling mob, at their head the jamadar bellowing: "Make
way--make the road clean of your bodies."

"They bring the Afghan!" somebody cried and pointed to where Barlow sat
strapped to the saddle of his Beluchi mare.

"It is the one who killed the Chief!" another yelped; and the cries
rippled along from mouth to mouth; _tulwars_ flashed in the light of
the lurid torches as they swept upward at the end of long arms
threateningly; but the jamadar roared: "Back, back! you're like jackals
snapping and snarling.  Back! if the one is killed how shall we know
the truth?"

One, an old man, yelled triumphantly: "Allah be praised! a wisdom--a
wisdom!  The torture; the horse-bucket and the hot ashes!  The jamadar
will have the truth out of the Afghan.  Allah be praised! it is a
wisdom!"

At the gate straps were loosed and Barlow was jerked to the marble
steps as if he had been a blanket stripped from the horse's back.

"It is _the_ one, Jamadar," the guard declared, thrusting his face into
Barlow's; "it is the Afghan.  Beyond doubt there will be blood upon his
clothes--look to it, Jamadar."

"We found the Afghan in the _serai_, and he was attending to his horse
as if about to fly; beyond doubt he is the murderer of our Chief," one
who had ridden with the jamadar said.

"Bring the murderer face to face with his foul deed," the jamadar
commanded; and clasped by both arms, pinioned, Barlow was pushed
through the gate and into the dim-lighted hall.  In the scuffle of the
passing Hunsa sought to slip through, impelled by a devilish
fascination to hear all that would be said in the death-chamber.  If
the case against the Sahib were short and decisive--perhaps they might
slice him into ribbons with their swords--Hunsa would then have nothing
to fear, and need not attempt flight.

But the guard swept him back with the butt of his long smooth-bore,
crying: "Dog, where go you?"  Then he saw that it was Hunsa, the
messenger of his Chiefs favourite--as he took the Gulab to be--and he
said: "You cannot enter, Hunsa.  It is a matter for the jamadars alone."

At that instant the Gulab slipped through the struggling groups in the
street, the Pindaris gallantly making way for her.  She had heard of
the murder of the Chief, and had seen the dragging in of the Afghan.

"Let me go up, guard," she pleaded.

"It is a matter for men," he objected.  "The jamadar would be angry,
and my sword and gun would be taken away and I should be put to scrub
the legs of horses if I let you pass."

"The jamadar will not be angry," she pleaded, "for there is something
to be said which only I have knowledge of.  It was spoken to me by the
Chief, he had fear of this Afghan, and, please, in the name of Allah,
let Hunsa by, for being alone I have need of him."

The soft dark eyes pleaded stronger than the girl's words, and the
guard yielded, half reluctantly.  To the young Pindari he said, "Go you
with these two, and if the jamadar is for cutting off their heads, say
that those in the street pulled me from the door-way, and these slipped
through; I have no fancy for the compliment of a sword on my neck."

In the dim hallway two men stood guarding the door to the Chief's
chamber, and when the man who had taken the Gulab up explained her
mission, one of them said, "Wait you here.  I will ask of Kassim his
pleasure."  Presently he returned; "The Commander will see the woman
but if it is a matter of trifling let the penalty fall upon the guard
below.  The mingling of women in an affair of men is an abomination in
the sight of Allah."

When Bootea entered the chamber she gave a gasping cry of horror.  The
Chief lay upon the floor, face downward, just as he had dropped when
slain, for Kassim had said; "Amir Khan is dead, may Allah take him to
his bosom, and such things as we may learn of his death may help us to
avenge our Chief.  Touch not the body."

Her entrance was not more than half observed, for Kassim at that moment
was questioning the Afghan, who stood, a man on either side of him, and
two behind.

He was just answering a question from the Commander and was saying: "I
left your Chief with the Peace of Allah upon both our heads, for he
gripped my hand in fellowship, and said that we were two men.  Why
should I slay one such who was veritably a soldier, who was a follower
of Mahomet?"

The man who had brought Barlow up to Amir Khan when he came for the
audience, said: "Commander, I left this one, the Afghan, here with the
Chief and took with me his sword and the short gun; he had no weapons."

"Inshalla! it was but a pretence," the Commander declared; "a pretence
to gain the confidence of the Chief, for he was slain with his own
knife.  It was a Patan trick."

The Commander turned to the Afghan: "Why hadst thou audience with the
Chief alone and at night here--what was the mission?"

Barlow hesitated, a slight hope that might save his own life would be
to declare himself as a Sahib, and his mission; but he felt sure that
the Chief had been murdered because of this very thing, that somebody,
an agent of Nana Sahib, had waited hidden, had killed the Chief and
taken the paper.  To speak of it would be to start a rumour that would
run across India that the British had negotiated with the Pindaris, and
if the paper weren't found there--which it wouldn't be--he wouldn't be
believed.  Better to accept the roll of the dice as they lay, that he
had lost, and die as an Afghan rather than as an Englishman, a spy who
had killed their Chief.

"Speak, Patan," Kassim commanded; "thou dwellest overlong upon some
lie."

"There was a mission," Barlow answered; "it was from my own people, the
people of Sind."

"Of Sindhia?"

"No; from the land of Sind, Afghanistan.  We ride not with the
Mahrattas; they are infidels, while we be followers of the true
Prophet."

"Thou art a fair speaker, Afghan.  And was there a sealed message?"

"There was, Commander Sahib."

"Where is it now?"

"I know not.  It was left with Amir Khan."

There was a hush of three seconds.  Then Kassim, whose eye had searched
the room, saw the iron box.  "This has a bearing upon matters," he
declared; "this affair of a written message.  Open the box and see if
it is within," he commanded a Pindari.

"How now, woman," for the Gulab had stepped forward; "what dost thou
here--ah! there was talk of a message from the Chief.  It might be, it
might be, because,"--his leonine face, full whiskered, the face of a
wild rider, a warrior, softened as he looked at the slight
figure,--"our noble Chief had spoken soft words of thee, and passed the
order that thou wert Begum, that whatsoever thou desired was to be."

"Commander," Bootea said, and her voice was like her eyes, trembling,
vibrant, "let me look upon the face of Amir Khan; then there are things
to be said that will avenge his death in the sight of Allah."

Kassim hesitated.  Then he said; "It matters not--we have the killer."
And reverently, with his own hands, he turned the Chief on his back,
saying, softly, "In the name of Allah, thou restest better thus."

The Gulab, kneeling, pushed back the black beard with her hand, and
they thought that she was making oath upon the beard of the slain man.
Then she rose to her feet, and said: "There is one without, Hunsa,
bring him here, and see that there is no weapon upon him."

Kassim passed an order and Hunsa was brought, his evil eyes turning
from face to face with the restless query of a caged leopard.

"There is no paper, Commander Sahib," the jamadar said, returning from
his search of the iron-box.

"There was none such," Kassim growled; "it was but a Patan lie; the
message is yonder," and he pointed to the smear of blood upon the
marble floor.

Then he turned to Bootea: "Now, woman, speak what is in thy mind, for
this is an affair of action."

"Commander Sahib," Bootea began, "yonder man,"--and she pointed a slim
hand toward Barlow--"is not an Afghan, he is a Sahib."

This startling announcement filled the room with cries of astonishment
and anger; _tulwars_ flashed.  Barlow shivered; not because of the
impending danger, for he had accepted the roll of the dice, but at the
thought that Bootea was betraying him, that all she had said and done
before was nothing--a lie, that she was an accomplice in this murder of
the Chief, and was now giving the Pindaris the final convincing proof,
the reason.

To deny the revelation was useless; they would torture him, and he was
to die anyway; better to die claiming to be a _messenger_ from the
British rather than as one sent to murder the Chief.

Kassim bellowed an order subduing the tumult; then he asked: "What art
thou, a Patan, or as the woman says, an Englay?"

"I am a Sahib," Barlow answered; "a Captain in the British service, and
came to your Chief with a written message of friendship."

Kassim pointed to the blood on the floor: "Thou wert a good messenger,
infidel; thou hast slain a follower of the Prophet."

But Bootea raised a slim hand, and, her voice trembling with intensity,
cried: "Commander, Amir Khan was not slain with the dagger, he was
killed by the _towel_.  Look you at his throat and you will see the
mark."

"Bismillah!" came in a cry of astonishment from the Commander's throat,
and the marble walls of the _Surya-Mahal_ (room of audience) echoed
gasps and curses.  Kassim himself had knelt by the dead Chief, and now
rising, said: "By Allah! it is true.  That dog--" his finger was
thrusting like a dagger at Barlow.

But Bootea's clear voice hushed the rising clamour: "No, Commander, the
sahibs know not the thug trick of the _roomal_, and few thugs could
have overcome the Chief."

"Who then killed him--speak quick, and with the truth," Kassim
commanded.

He was interrupted by one of Hunsa's guards, crying: "Here, where go
you--you had not leave!"  And Hunsa, who had turned to slip away, was
jerked back to where he had stood.

"It is that one," Bootea declared, sweeping a hand toward Hunsa.
"About his waist is even now the yellow-and-white _roomal_ that is the
weapon of Bhowanee.  With that he killed Amir Khan.  Take it from him,
and see if there be not black hairs from the beard of the Chief in its
soft mesh."

"By the grace of Allah it is a truth!" the Commander ejaculated when
the cloth passed to him had been examined.  "It is a revelation such as
came to Mahomet, and out of the mouth of a woman.  Great is Allah!"

"Will the Commander have Hunsa searched for the paper the Sahib has
spoken of?" Bootea asked.

"In his turban--" Kassim commanded--"in his turban, the nest of a
thief's loot or the hiding-place of the knife of a murderer.  Look ye
in his turban!"

As the turban was stripped from the head of Hunsa the Pindari gave it a
whirling twist that sent its many yards of blue muslin streaming out
like a ribbon and the parchment message fell to the floor.

"Ah-ha!" and a man, stooping, thrust it into the hands of the Commander.

The Pindari who held the turban, threw it almost at the feet of Bootea,
saying, "Methinks the slayer will need this no more."

Bootea picked up the blue cloth and rolled it into a ball, saying, "If
it is permitted I will take this to those who entrusted Hunsa with this
foul mission to show them that he is dead."

"A clever woman thou art--it is a wise thought; take it by all means,
for indeed that dog's head will need little when they have finished
with him," the soldier agreed.

Kassim had taken the written paper closer to the light.  At sight of
the thumb blood-stain upon the document, he gave a bellow of rage.
"Look you all!" he cried holding it spread out in the light of the
lamp; "here is our Chief's message to us given after he was dead; he
sealed it with his thumb in his own blood, after he was dead.  A
miracle, calling for vengeance.  Hunsa, dog, thou shalt die for
hours--thou shalt die by inches, for it was thee."

Kassim held the paper at arm's length toward Barlow, asking: "Is this
the message thou brought?"

"It is, Commander."

Kassim whirled on Hunsa, "Where didst thou get it, dog of an infidel?"

"Without the gate of the palace, my Lord.  I found it lying there where
the Sahib had dropped it in his flight."

"Allah! thou art a liar of brazenness."  He spoke to a Jamadar: "Have
brought the leather nosebag of a horse and hot ashes so that we may
come by the truth."

Then Kassim held the parchment close to the lamp and scanned it.  He
rubbed a hand across his wrinkled brow and pondered.  "Beside the seal
here is the name, Rana Bhim," and he turned his fierce eyes on Barlow.

"Yes, Commander; the Rana has put his seal upon it that he will join
his Rajputs with the British and the Pindaris to drive from Mewar
Sindhia--the one whose Dewan sent Hunsa to slay your Chief."

"Thou sayest so, but how know I that Hunsa is not in thy hand, and that
thou didst not prepare the way for the killing?  Here beside the name
of the Rana is drawn a lance; that suggests an order to kill, a secret
order."  He turned to a sepoy, "Bring the Rajput, Zalim."

While they waited Bootea said: "It was Nana Sahib who sent Hunsa and
the decoits to slay Amir Khan, because he feared an alliance between
the Chief and the British."

"And thou wert one of them?"

"I came to warn Amir Khan, and--"

"And what, woman--the decoits were your own people?"

"Yonder Sahib had saved my life--saved me from the harem of Nana Sahib,
and I came to save his life and your Chief's."

Now there was an eruption into the chamber; men carrying a great pot of
hot ashes, and one swinging from his hand the nosebag of a horse; and
with them the Rajput.

"Here," Kassim said, addressing the Hindu, "what means this spear upon
this document?  Is it a hint to drive it home?"

The Rajput put his fingers reverently upon the Rana's signature.
"That, Commander, is the seal, the sign.  I am a Chondawat, and belong
to the highest of the thirty-six tribes of Mewar, and that sign of the
lance was put upon state documents by Chonda; it has been since that
time--it is but a seal.  Even as that,"--and Zalim proudly swung a long
arm toward the wall where a huge yellow sun embossed on gypsum
rested--"even that is an emblem of the Children of the Sun, the
Sesodias of Mewar, the Rana."

"It is well," Kassim declared; "as to this that is in the message,
to-morrow, with the aid of a mullah, we will consider it.  And now as
to Hunsa, we would have from him the truth."

He turned to the Gulab; "Go thou in peace, woman, for our dead Chief
had high regard for thee; and Captain Sahib, even thou may go to thy
abode, not thinking to leave there, however, without coming to pay
salaams.  Thou wouldst not get far."



CHAPTER XXIII

When the two had gone Kassim clapped his hands together: "Now then for
the ordeal, the search for truth," he declared.

Hot wood-ashes were poured into the horse-bag, and, protesting,
cursing, struggling, the powerful Bagree was dragged to the centre of
the room.

"Who sent thee to murder Amir Khan?" Kassim asked.

"Before Bhowanee, Prince, I did not kill him!"

At a wave of Kassim's hand upward the bag of ashes was clapped over the
decoit's head, and he was pounded on the back to make him breathe in
the deadly dust.  Then the bag was taken off, and gasping, reeling, he
was commanded to speak the truth.  Once Kassim said: "Dog, this is but
gentle means; torches will be bound to thy fingers and lighted.  The
last thing that will remain to thee will be thy tongue, for we have
need of that to utter the truth."

Three times the nosebag was applied to Hunsa, like the black cap over
the head of a condemned murderer, and the last time, rolling on the
floor in agony, his lungs on fire, his throat choked, his eyes searing
like hot coals, he gasped that he would confess if his life were spared.

"Dog!" Kassim snarled, "thy life is forfeit, but the torture will
cease; it is reward enough--speak!"

But the Bagree had the obstinate courage of a bulldog; the nerves of
his giant physical structure were scarce more vibrant than those of a
bull; as to the torture it was but a question of a slower death.  But
his life was something to bargain for.  Half dead from the choking of
his lungs, with an animal cunning he thought of this; it was the one
dominant idea in his numbed brain.  As he lay, his mighty chest pumping
its short staccato gasps, Commander Kassim said: "Bring the dog of an
infidel water that he may tell the truth."

When water had been poured down the Bagree's throat, he rolled his
bloodshot eyes beseechingly toward the Commander, and in a voice scarce
beyond a hoarse whisper, said: "If you do not kill me, Prince, I will
tell what I know."

"Tell it, dog, then die in peace," Kassim snarled.

But Hunsa shook his gorilla head, and answered, "Bhowanee help me, I
will not tell.  If I die I die with my spirit cast at thy shrine."

Kassim stamped his foot in rage; and a jamadar roared: "Tie the torches
to the infidel's fingers; we will have the truth."

Half-a-dozen Pindaris darted forward, and poised in waiting for the
command to bind to the fingers of the Bagree oil-soaked torches; but
Kassim moved them back, and stood, his brow wrinkled in pondering, his
black eyes sullenly fixed on the face of the Bagree.  Then he said:
"What this dog knows is of more value to our whole people, considering
the message that has been brought, than his worthless life that is but
the life of a swine."

He took a turn pacing the marble floor, and with his eyes called a
jamadar to one side.  "These thugs, when they cast themselves in the
protection of Kali, die like fanatics, and this one is but an animal.
Torture will not bring the truth.  Mark you, Jamadar, I will make the
compact with him.  Do not lead an objection, but trust me."

"But the dead Chief, Commander--?"

"Yes, because of him; he loved his people.  And the knowledge that yon
dog has he would not have sacrificed."

"But is Amir Khan to be unavenged?" the jamadar queried.

"Allah will punish yonder infidel for the killing of one of the true
faith.  Go and summon the officers from below and we will decide upon
this."

Soon a dozen officers were in the room, and the sowars were sent away.
Then Kassim explained the situation saying: "A confession brought forth
by torture is often but a lie, the concoction of a mind crazed with
pain.  If this dog, who has more courage than feeling, sees the chance
of his life he will tell us the truth."

But they expostulated; saying that if they let him go free it would be
a blot upon their name.

"The necessity is great," Kassim declared, "and this I am convinced is
the only way.  We may leave his punishment to Allah, for Allah is
great.  He will not let live one so vile."

Finally the others agreed with Kassim who said that he would take the
full onus upon himself for not slaying the murderer, that if there were
blame let it be upon his head.  Then he spoke to Hunsa: "This has been
decided upon, dog, that if thou confess, reveal to us information that
is of value to our people, the torture shall cease, and no man's head
in the whole Pindari camp shall be raised against thee either to wound
or take thy life."

"But the gaol, Hazari Sahib?"

"No, dog, if thou but tell the truth in full, that we may profit,
to-morrow thou may go free, and if any man in the camp wounds thee his
life will pay for it.  Till noon thou may have for the going; even food
for thy start on the way back to the land of thy accursed tribe.  By
the Beard of the Prophet no man of all the Pindari force shall wound
thee.  Now speak quick, for I have given a pledge."

There were murmurs amongst the jamadars at Kassim's terms, for their
hearts were full of hate for the creature who had slain their loved
chief.  But Kassim was a man famous for his intelligence.  In all the
councils Amir Khan had been swayed by the Hazari's judgment.  It was an
accursed price to pay, they felt, but the Chief was dead; to kill his
slayer perhaps was not as great a thing as to have Hunsa's confession
written and attested to.  All that vast horde of fierce riding Pindaris
and Bundoolas had been gathered by Amir Khan with the object of being a
power in the war that was brewing--the war in which the Mahrattas were
striving for ascendency, and the British massing to crush the Mahratta
horde.  It had been Amir Khan's policy to strike with the winning
force; perhaps his big body of hard-riding _sowars_ being the very
power that would throw the odds to one or other of the contenders.
Their reward would be loot, unlimited loot, so dear to the heart of the
Pindari, and an assignment of territory.  To know, beyond doubt, who
had instigated the murder of the Chief was precious knowledge.  It
might be, as the Gulab had said, Sindhia's Dewan, but there was the
English officer there at that time; and the message of friendship may
have been a message of deceit and the true object the slaying of Amir
Khan who was looked upon as a great leader.

Hunsa had lain watching furtively the effect of the Commander's words
upon the others; now he said, "I will tell the truth, Hazari, for thou
hast given a promise in the name of Allah that I am free of death at
the hands of thy people."

"Wait, dog of an infidel!" Kassim commanded: "quick, call the _Mullah_
to write the confession, for this is a sin to be washed out in much
blood, and the proof must be at hand so the guilty will have no plea
for mercy.  Also it is a matter of secrecy; we here being officers will
have it on our honour, and the _Mullah_, because of his priesthood,
will not speak of it: also he will bear witness of its sanctity."

Soon a Pindari announced, "Commander Sahib, here is the holy one," and
at a word from Kassim the priest unrolled his sheets of yellow paper,
and sitting cross-legged upon a cushion with a salaam to the dead
Chief, dipped his quill in a little ink-horn and held it poised.

Then Hunsa, his eyes all the time furtively watching the scowling faces
about him; fear and distrust in his heart over the gift of his life,
but impelled by his knowledge that it was his only chance, narrated the
story of Nana Sahib and the Dewan's scheme to rid the Mahrattas of the
leader they feared, Amir Khan; told that they knew that the British
were sending overtures for an alliance, but that fearing to kill the
messenger--unless it could be done so secretly it would never be
discovered--they had determined to remove the Chief.  When he spoke of
the other Bagrees, Kassim realised that in the excitement of fixing the
murder upon one there they had forgotten his troop associates, and a
hurried order was passed for their capture.

Of course it was too late; the others, at the first alarm, had slipped
away.

When the confession was finished Kassim commanded the _Mullah_ to rub
his cube of India ink over the thumb of the decoit and the mark was
imprinted on the paper.  Then he was taken to one of the cave cells cut
out of the solid rock beneath the palace, and imprisoned for the night.

"Come, Jamadars," Kassim said--and his voice that had been so coarse
and rough now broke, and sobs floated the words scarce articulate--"and
reverently let us lay Amir Khan upon his bed.  Then, though there be no
call of the _muezzin_, we will kneel here; even without our prayer
carpets, and pray to Allah for the repose of the soul of a true
Musselman and a great warrior.  May his rest be one of peace!"

He passed his hand lovingly over the face of the Chief and down his
beard, and his strong fearless eyes were wet.

Then Amir Khan was lifted by the Jamadars and carried to a bed in the
room that adjoined the _surya mahal_.

When they had risen from their silent prayer, Kassim said: "Go ye to
your tents.  I will remain here with the guard who watch."



CHAPTER XXIV

Captain Barlow and Bootea had gone from the scene of the murder through
the long dim-lighted hall, its walls broken here and there by niches of
mystery, some of them closed by marble fretwork screens that might have
been doors, and down the marble stairway, in silence.  Barlow had
slipped a hand under her arm in the way of both a physical and mental
sustaining; his fingers tapped her arm in affectionate approbation.
Once he muttered to himself in English, "Splendid girl!" and not
comprehending, the Gulab turned her star-eyes upward to his face.

At the gate the soldier who had accompanied them spoke to the guard,
and the latter, standing on a step bellowed: "Ho, ye Pindaris, here
goes forth the Afghan in innocence of the foul crime!  Above they have
the slayer, who was Hunsa the thug; and, Praise be to Allah! they will
apply the torture.  Let him pass in peace, all ye.  And take care that
no one molest the beautiful Gulab.  The peace of Allah upon the soul of
the great Amir Khan!"

A rippling thunder of deep voices vibrated the thronged street, crying,
"Allah Akbar! the peace of God be upon the soul of the dead Chief!"

A lane was opened up to them by the grim, wild-eyed, bandit-looking
horsemen, _tulwar_ over shoulder and knives in belt, who called: "Back
ye! the favoured of the Commander passes.  Back, make way! 'tis an
order."

The faces of the soldiers that had been wreathed in revenge and
blood-lust when Barlow had been brought, were now friendly, and there
were cries of "Salaam, brother! salaam, Flower of the Desert!" for it
had been spread that the Gulab had discovered the murderer, had
denounced him.

"Brave little Gulab!" Barlow said in a low voice, bending his head to
look into her eyes, for he felt the arm trembling against his hand.

She did not answer, and he knew that she was sobbing.

When they were past the turbulent crowd he said, "Bootea, your people
will all have fled or been captured."

"Yes, Sahib," she gasped.

"Perhaps even your maid servant will have been taken."

"No, Sahib, they would not take her; her home is here."

By her side he travelled to where the now deserted tents of the decoits
stood silent and dark, like little pagodas of sullen crime.  A light
flickered in one tent, and silhouetted against its canvas side they
could see the form of a woman crouched with her head in her hands.

"The maid is there," Barlow said: "but it is not enough.  I will bring
my blankets and sleep here at the door of your tent."

"No, Sahib, it is not needed," the girl protested.

"Yes, Bootea, I will come."  Then with a little laugh he added; "The
gods have ordained that we take turns at protecting each other.  It is
now my turn; I will come soon."

She turned her small oval face up to look at this wonderful man, to
discover if he were really there, that it was not some kindly god who
would vanish.  He clasped the face, with its soul of adoration, in his
two palms and kissed her.  Then fearing that she would fall, for she
had closed her eyes and reeled, he took her by the arm, opened the flap
of the tent, and steadied her into the arms of her handmaid.

It was a fitful night's sleep for Barlow; the beat of horses' hoofs on
the streets or the white sands beyond was like the patter of rain on a
roof.  There were hoarse bull-throated cries of men who rode hither and
thither; tremulous voices floated on the night air wild dirges, like
the weird Afghan love song.  Sometimes a long smooth-bore barked its
sharp call.  At sunrise the Captain was roused from this tiring sleep
by the strident weird sing-song of the Mullah sending forth from a
minaret of the palace his call to the faithful to prayer, prayer for
the dead Chief.  And when the voice had ceased its muezzin:

  "Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar;
  Confess that there is no God but God;
  Confess that Mohammad is the prophet of God;
  Come to Prayer, Come to Prayer,
  For Prayer is better than Sleep."

the big drums sent forth a thundering reverberation.  He could hear the
voices of the two women within, and called, "Bootea, Bootea!"

The Galub came shyly from the tent saying, "Salaam, Sahib."  Then she
stood with her eyes drooped waiting for him to speak.

"It is this, Bootea," Barlow said, "do not go away until I am ready to
depart, then I will take you where you wish to go."

"If it is permitted, Sahib, I will wait," she answered as simply as a
child.

Barlow put a finger under her chin, and lifting her face smiled like a
great boy, saying: "Gulab, you are wonderfully sweet."

Then Barlow went to the _serai_, looked after his horse, had his
breakfast, and passed back into the town.  He saw a continuous stream
of men moving toward the small river that swept southward, to the east
of the town, and asking of one the cause was told that the _ahiria_
(murderer)--for now Hunsa was known as the murderer--was being sent on
his way.  The speaker was a Rajput.  "It is strange, Afghan," he said,
"that one who has slain the Chief of these wild barbarians, who are
without gods, should be allowed to depart in peace.  We Rajputs worship
a god that visits the sin upon the head of the sinner, but the order
has been passed that no man shall harm the slayer of Amir Khan.
Perhaps it is whispered in the Bazaar that Commander Kassim coveted the
Chiefship."

Barlow being in the guise of a Musselman said solemnly: "Allah will
punish the murderer, mark you well, man of Rajasthan."

"As to that, Afghan, one stroke of a _tulwar_ would put the matter
beyond doubt; as it is, let us push forward, because I see from yonder
steady array of spears that the Pindaris ride toward the river, and I
think the prisoner is with them.  It was one Hunsa, a thug, and though
the thugs worship Bhowanee, they are worse than the _mhangs_ who are of
no caste at all."

As Barlow came to where the town reached to the river bank he saw that
the concourse of people was heading south along the river.  This was
rather strange, for a bridge of stone arches traversed by the aid of
two islands the Nahal to the other side.  A quarter of a mile lower
down he came to where the river, that above wandered in three channels
over a rocky bed, now glided sluggishly in one channel.  It was like a
ribboned lake, smooth in its slow slip over a muddy bed, and circling
in a long sweep to the bank.  On the level plain was a concourse of
thousands, horsemen, who sat their lean-flanked Marwari or Cabul horses
as though they waited to swing into a parade, the march past.  The
_sowars_ Barlow had seen in the town were in front of him, riding four
abreast, and at a command from their leader, opened up and formed a
scimitar-shaped band, their horses' noses toward the river.  As he came
close Barlow saw Kassim in a group of officers, and Hunsa, a soldier on
either side of him, was standing free and unshackled in front of the
Commander.  Save for the clanking of a bit, or the clang of a
spear-haft against a stirrup, or the scuffle of a quick-turning horse's
hoofs, a silence rested upon that vast throng.  Wild barbaric faces
held a look of expectancy, of wonderment, for no one knew why the order
had been passed that they were to assemble at that point.

Kassim caught sight of Barlow as he drew near, and raising his hand in
a salute, said: "Come close, Sahib, the slayer of Amir Khan, in
accordance with my promise, is to go from our midst a free man.  His
punishment has been left to Allah, the one God."

Without more ado he stretched forth his right arm impressively toward
the murky stream, that, where it rippled at some disturbance carried on
its bosom ribbons of gold where the sun fell, saying:

"Yonder lies the way, infidel, strangler, slayer of a follower of the
Prophet!  Depart, for, failing that, it lacks but an hour till the sun
reaches overhead, and thy time will have elapsed--thou will die by the
torture.  You are free, even as I attested by the Beard of the Prophet.
And more, what is not in the covenant,"--Kassim drew from beneath his
rich brocaded vest the dagger of Amir Khan, its blade still carrying
the dried blood of the Chief--"this is thine to keep thy vile life if
you can.  Seest thou if the weapon is still wedded to thy hand.  It is
that thou goest hand-in-hand with thy crime."

He handed the knife to a soldier with a word of command, and the man
thrust it in the belt of Hunsa.  Even as Kassim ceased speaking two
round bulbs floated upon the smooth waters of the sullen river, and
above them was a green slime; then a square shovel just topped the
water, and Barlow could hear, issuing from the thing of horror, a
breath like a sigh.  He shuddered.  It was a square-nosed _mugger_
(crocodile) waiting.  And beyond, the water here and there swirled, as
if a powerful tail swept it.

And Hunsa knew; his evil swarthy face turned as green as the slime upon
the crocodile's forehead; his powerful naked shoulders seemed to
shrivel and shrink as though blood had ceased to flow through his
veins.  He put his two hands, clasped palm to palm, to his forehead in
supplication, and begged that the ordeal might pass, that he might go
by the bridge, or across the desert, or any way except by that pool of
horrors.

Kassim again swept his hand toward the river and his voice was horrible
in its deadliness: "These children of the poor that are sacred to some
of thy gods, infidel, have been fed; five goats have allotted them as
sacrifice and they wait for thee.  They serve Allah and not thy gods
to-day.  Go, murderer, for we wait; go unless thou art not only a
murderer but a coward, for it is the only way.  It was promised that no
Pindari should wound or kill thee, dog, but they will help thee on thy
way."

Hunsa at this drew himself up, his gorilla face seemed to fill out with
resolve; he swept the vast throng of horsemen with his eyes, and
realised that it was indeed true--there was nothing left but the pool
and the faint, faint chance that, powerful swimmer that he was, and
with the knife, he might cross.  Once his evil eyes rested on Kassim
and involuntarily a hand twitched toward the dagger hilt; but at that
instant he was pinioned, both arms, by a Pindari on either side.  Then,
standing rigid, he said:

"I am Hunsa, a Bagree, a servant of Bhowanee; I am not afraid.  May she
bring the black plague upon all the Pindaris, who are dogs that worship
a false god."

He strode toward the waters, the soldiers, still a hand on either arm,
marching beside him.  On the clay bank he put his hands to his
forehead, calling in a loud voice: "_Kali Mia_, receive me!"  Then he
plunged head first into the pool.

A cry of "Allah!  Allah!" went up from ten thousand throats as the
Bagree shot from view, smothered in the foam of the ruffled stream.
And beyond the waters were churned by huge ghoulish forms that the
blood of goats had gathered there.  Five yards from the bank the ugly
head of Hunsa appeared; a brown arm flashed once, in the fingers
clutched a knife that seemed red with fresh blood.  The water was
lashed to foam; the tail of a giant _mugger_ shot out and struck flat
upon the surface of the river like the crack of a pistol.  Again the
head, and then the shoulders, of the swimmer were seen; and as if
something dragged the torso below, two legs shot out from the water,
gyrated spasmodically, and disappeared.

Barlow waited, his soul full of horror, but there was nothing more;
just a little lower down in the basin of the sluggish pool two bulbous
protrusions above the water where some crocodile, either gorged or
disappointed, floated lazily.

A ghastly silence reigned--no one spoke; ten thousand eyes stared out
across the pool.

Then the voice of Kassim was heard, solemn and deep, saying: "The
covenant has been kept and Allah has avenged the death of Amir Khan!"



CHAPTER XXV

Commander Kassim touched Barlow on the arm: "Captain Sahib, come with
me.  The death of that foul murderer does not take the weight off our
hearts."

"He deserved it," Barlow declared.

Though filled with a sense of shuddering horror, he was compelled
involuntarily to admit that it had been a most just punishment; less
brutal, even more impressive--almost taking on the aspect of a
religious execution--than if the Bagree had been tortured to death;
hacked to pieces by the _tulwars_ of the outraged Pindaris.  He had
been executed with no evidence of passion in those who witnessed his
death.  And as to the subtlety of the Commander in obtaining the
confession, that, too, according to the ethics of Hindustan, was
meritorious, not a thing to be condemned.  Hunsa's animal cunning had
been over-matched by the clear intellect of this wise soldier.

"We will walk back to the Chamber of Audience," Kassim said, "for now
there are things to relate."

He spoke to a soldier to have his horse led behind, and as they walked
he explained: "With us, Sahib, as at the death of a Rana of Mewar,
there is no interregnum; the dead wait upon the living, for it is
dangerous that no one leads, even for an hour, men whose guard is their
sword.  So, as Amir Khan waits yonder where his body lies to be taken
on his way to the arms of Allah in Paradise, they who have the welfare
of our people at heart have selected one to lead, and one and all, the
jamadars and the hazaris, have decreed that I shall, unworthily, sit
upon the _ghuddi_ (throne) that was Amir Khan's, though with us it is
but the back of a horse.  And we have taken under advisement the
message thou brought.  It has come in good time for the Mahrattas are
like wolves that have turned upon each other.  Sindhia, Rao Holkar,
both beaten by your armies, now fight amongst themselves, and suck like
vampires the life-blood of the Rajputs.  And Holkar has become insane.
But lately, retreating through Mewar, he went to the shrine of Krishna
and prostrating himself before his heathen image reviled the god as the
cause of his disaster.  When the priests, aghast at the profanity,
expostulated, he levied a fine of three hundred thousand rupees upon
them, and when, fearing an outrage to the image these infidels call a
god, they sent the idol to Udaipur, he way-laid the men who had taken
it and slew them to a man."

"Your knowledge of affairs is great, Chief," Barlow commented, for most
of this was new to him.

"Yes, Captain Sahib, we Pindaris ride north, and east, and south, and
west; we are almost as free as the eagles of the air, claiming that our
home is where our cooking-pots are.  We do not trust to ramparts such
as Fort Chitor where we may be cooped up and slain--such as the Rajputs
have been three times in the three famed sacks of Chitor--but also,
Sahib, this is all wrong."

The Chief halted and swept an arm in an encompassing embrace of the
tent-studded plain.

"We are not a nation to muster an army because now the cannon that
belch forth a shower of death mow horsemen down like ripened grain.  It
was the dead Chief's ambition, but it is wrong."

Barlow was struck with the wise logic of this tall wide-browed warrior,
it _was_ wrong.  Massed together Pindaris and _Bundoolas_ assailed by
the trained hordes of Mahrattas, with their French and Portuguese
gunners and officers, would be slaughtered like sheep.  And against the
war-trained Line Regiments of the British foot soldiers they would meet
the same fate.  "You are right, Chief Kassim," Barlow declared; "even
if you cut in with the winning side, especially Sindhia, he would turn
on you and devour you and your people."

"Yes, Sahib.  The trade of a Pindari, if I may call it so, has been
that of loot in this land that has always been a land of strife for
possession.  I rode with Chitu as a jamadar when we swept through the
Nizam's territory and put cities under a tribute of many _lakhs_, but
that was a force of five thousand only, and we swooped through the land
like a great flock of hawks.  But even at that Chitu, a wonderful
chief, was killed by wild animals in the jungle when he was fleeing
from disaster, almost alone."

They were now close to the palace, and as they entered, just within the
great hall Kassim said: "There will be nothing to say on thy part,
Captain Sahib; the officers will come even now to the audience and it
is all agreed upon.  Thou wilt be given an assurance to take back to
the British, for by chance the others have great confidence in me, even
more in a matter of diplomacy than they had in the dead leader, may
Allah rest his soul!"

And to the audience chamber--where had sat oft two long rows of minor
chiefs, at their head on a raised dais the Rajput Raja, a Seesodia, one
of the "Children of the Sun," as the flaming yellow gypsum sun above
the dais attested--now came in twos and threes the wild-eyed whiskered
riders of the desert.  They were lean, raw-boned, steel-muscled, tall,
solemn-faced men, their eyes set deep in skin wrinkled from the scorch
of sun on the white sands of the desert.  And their eyes beneath the
black brows were like falcon's, predatory like those of birds of prey.
And the air of freedom, of self-reliance, of independence was in every
look, in the firm swinging stride, and erect set of the shoulders.
They were men to swear by or to fear; verily men.  And somehow one
sharp look of appraisement, and one and all would have sworn by Allah
that the Sahib in the garb of an Afghan was a man.

As each one entered he strode to the centre of the room, drew himself
erect facing the heavy curtain beyond which lay the dead Chief, and
raising a hand to brow, said in a deep voice: "Salaam, Amir Khan, and
may the Peace of Allah be upon thy spirit."

"Now, brothers," Kassim said, when the curtain entrance had ceased to
be thrust to one side, "we will say what is to be said.  One will stand
guard just without for this is a matter for the officers alone."

He took from his waist the silver chain and unlocked the iron box,
brought forth the paper that Barlow had carried, and holding it aloft,
said: "This is the message of brotherhood from the English Raj.  Are ye
all agreed that it is acceptable to our people?"

"In the name of Allah we are," came as a sonorous chorus from one and
all.

"And are ye agreed that it shall be said to the Captain Sahib, who is
envoy from the Englay, that we ride in peace to his people, or ride not
at all in war?"

"Allah! it is agreed," came the response.

He turned to Barlow.  "Captain Sahib, thou hast heard.  The word of a
Pindari, taken in the name of Allah, is inviolate.  That is our answer
to the message from the Englay Chief.  There is no writing to be given,
for a Pindari deals in yea and nay.  Is it to be considered.  Captain
Sahib; is it a message to send that is worthy of men to men?"

"It is, Commander Kassim," Barlow answered.

"Then wait thou for the seal."

He raised his _tulwar_ aloft,--and as he did so the steel of every
jamadar and hazari flashed upward,--saying, "We Pindaris and Bundoolas
who rode for Amir Khan, and now ride for Kassim, swear in the name of
Allah, and on the Beard of Mahomet, who is his Prophet, friendship to
the Englay Raj."

"By Allah and the Beard of Mahomet, who is his Prophet, we make oath!"
the deep voices boomed solemnly.

"It is all," Kassim said quietly.  "I would make speech for a little
with the Captain."

As each officer passed toward the door he held out a hand and gripped
the hand of the Englishman.

When they had gone Kassim said: "Go thou back, Sahib, to the one who is
to receive our answer, and let our promise be sent to the one who
commands the Englay army and is even now at Tonk, in Mewar, for the
purpose of putting the Mahrattas to the sword.  Tell the Sahib to
strike and drive the accursed dogs from Mewar, and have no fear that
the Pindaris will fall upon his flank.  Even also our tulwars and our
spears are ready for service so be it there is a reward in lands and
gold."

The Pindari Chief paced the marble floor twice, then with his eyes
watching the effect of his words in the face of Barlow he said:
"Captain Sahib, it is of an affair of feeling I would speak now.  It
relates to the woman who has done us all a service, which but shows
what a perception Amir Khan had; a glance and he knew a man for what he
was.  Therein was his power over the Pindaris.  And it seems, which is
rarer, that he knew what was in the heart of a woman, for the Gulab is
one to rouse in a man desire.  And I, myself, years of hard riding and
combat having taken me out of my colt-days, wondered why the Chief,
being busy otherwise, and a man of short temper, should entail labour
in the way of claiming her regard.  I may say, Sahib, that a Pindari
seizes upon what he wants and backs the claiming with his sword.  But
now it is all explained--the wise gentleness that really was in the
heart of one so fierce as the Chief--Allah rest his soul!  What say
thou, Captain Sahib?"

"Bootea is wonderful," Barlow answered fervidly; "she is like a Rajput
princess."

Kassim coughed, stroked his black beard, adjusted the hilt of his
_tulwar_, then coughed again.

"Inshalla! but thou hast said something."  He turned to face Barlow
more squarely: "Captain Sahib, the one who suffered the wrath of Allah
to-day last night sent a salaam that I would listen to a matter of
value.  Not wishing to have the hated presence of the murderer in the
room near where was Amir Khan I went below to where in a rock cell was
this Hunsa.  This is the matter he spoke of, no doubt hoping that it
would make me more merciful, therefore, of a surety I think it is a
lie.  It is well known, Sahib, that the Rana of Udaipur had a beautiful
daughter, and Raja Jaipur and Raja Marwar both laid claim to her hand;
even Sindhia wanted the princess, but being a Mahratta--who are nothing
in the way of breeding such as are the Children of the Sun--dust was
thrown upon his beard.  But the Rajputs fly to the sword over
everything and a terrible war ensued in which Udaipur was about ruined.
Then one hyena, garbed as the Minister of State, persuaded the cowardly
Rana to sacrifice Princess Kumari to save Udaipur.

"All this is known, Sahib, and that she, with the courage of a
Rajputni, drained the cup that contained the poison brewed from poppy
leaves, and died with a smile on her lips, saying, 'Do not cry, mother;
to give my life for my country is nothing.'  That is the known story,
Sahib.  But what Hunsa related was that Kumari did not die, but lives,
and has the name of Bootea the Gulab."

The Chief turned his eyes quizzically upon the Englishman, who muttered
a half-smothered cry of surprise.

"It can't be--how could the princess be with men such?"

"Better there than sacrifice.  Hunsa learned of this thing through
listening beneath the wall of a tent at night while one Ajeet Singh
spoke of it to the Gulab.  It was that the Rana got a yogi, a man
skilled in magical things, either drugs or charms, and that Kumari was
given a potion that caused her to lie dead for days; and when she was
brought back to life of course she had to be removed from where Jaipur
or Marwar might see her or hear of this thing, because they would fly
to the sword again."

Kassim ceased speaking and his eyes carried a look of interrogation as
if he were anxious for a sustaining of his half-faith in the story.

"It's all entirely possible," Barlow declared emphatically; "it's a
common practice in India, this deceit as to death where a death is
necessary.  It could all be easily arranged, the Rana yielding to
pressure to save Mewar, and dreading the sin of being guilty of the
death of his daughter.  Even the Gulab is like a Princess of the
Sesodias--like a Rajputni of the highest caste."

"Indeed she is, Captain Sahib, the quality of breeding never lies."

"What discredits Hunsa's story," Barlow said thoughtfully, "is that the
Gulab was in the protection of Ajeet Singh who was but a _thakur_ at
best--really a protector of decoits."

"To save Kumari's life she had been given to the yogi, and he would act
not out of affection for the girl's standing as a princess, but to
prevent discovery, bloodshed, and, her life.  It is also known that
these ascetics--infidels, children of the Devil--by charm, or drugs, or
otherwise, can cause something like death for days--a trance, and the
one who goes thus knows not who he was when he comes back," Kassim
argued.

"Well," Barlow said, "it is a matter unsolvable, and of no importance,
for the Gulab, Kumari or otherwise, is a princess, such as men fight
and die for."

There was a little silence, Barlow carrying on in his mind this, the
main interest, so far as he was concerned, Bootea; as a woman appealing
to the senses or to the subtlest mentality she was the sweetest woman
he had ever known.

There was a flicker of grim humour in Kassim's dark eyes: "Captain
Sahib," he said, "that evil-faced Bagree has a curious deep cunning, I
believe.  I'll swear now by the hilt of my _tulwar_ that he made up the
whole story for the purpose of having audience with me, and in his
heart was a favour desired, for, as I was leaving, he asked that I
would have his turban given back to him to wear on his going; he
pleaded for it.  Of course, Sahib, a turban is an affair of caste, and
I suppose he was feeling a disgrace in going forth without it.  It
appears that Gulab had taken it as an evidence that he had been killed,
but when I sent a man for it she told him that the cloth was possessed
of vermin and she had burned it."

"But still, Chief, though Hunsa has an animal cunning, yet he could not
make up such a story--he has heard it somewhere."

Barlow felt his heart warm toward the grizzled old warrior as he,
dropping the nebulous matter of Kumari, said: "And to think, Captain
Sahib, that but for the Gulab we would have slain you as the murderer
of Amir Khan.  As a Patan, even if I had wished it, I could not have
fended the _tulwars_ from your body.  And you were a brave man, such as
a Pindari loves; rather than announce thyself as an Englay--the paper
gone and thy mission failed--thou wouldst have stood up to death like a
soldier."

He put his hand caressingly on Barlow's knee, adding: "By the Beard of
the Prophet thou art a man!  But all this, Sahib, is to this end; we
hold the Gulab in reverence, as did Amir Khan, and if it is permitted,
I would have her put in thy hands for her going.  Those that were here
in the camp with her fled at the first alarm, and my riders discovered
to-day, too late, that they hid in an old mud-walled fort about three
miles from here whilst my Pindaris scoured the country for them; then
when my riders returned they escaped.  So the Gulab is alone.  I will
send a guard of fifty horsemen and they will ride with thee till thou
turnest their horses' heads homeward, and for the Gulab there will be a
_tonga_, such as a Nawab might use, drawn by well-fed, and well-shod
horses.  That, too, she may keep to the end of her journey and
afterwards, returning but the driver."

"My salaams to you, Chief, for your goodness.  To-morrow if it please
you I will go with your promises to the British."

"It is a command, Sahib--to-morrow.  And may the Peace of Allah be upon
thee and thy house always!"

He held out a hand and his large dark eyes hovered lovingly over the
face of the Englishman.



CHAPTER XXVI

Captain Barlow walked along to the tent of Bootea to tell her of the
arrangement that had been made for their leaving the camp so that she
might be ready.  He could see in the girl's eyes the reflection of a
dual mental struggle, an ineffable sweetness varied by a changing cloud
of something that was apprehension or doubt.

"The Sahib is a protector to Bootea," she said.  "Sometimes I wondered
if such men lived; yet I suppose a woman always has in her mind a vague
conception that such an one might be.  But always that, that is like a
dream, is broken--one wakes."

Prosaically taking the matter in hand Barlow said, "You would wish to
go back to your people at Chunda--is it not so?"

The girl's eyes flashed to his face, and her brows wrinkled as if from
pain.  "Those who have fled will be on their way to Chunda, and they
will tell of the slaying of Amir Khan.  The Dewan will be pleased, and
they will be given honour and rich reward; they will be allowed to
return to Karowlee."

"Yes," Barlow interposed; "that Hunsa goes not back will simply be
taken as an affair of war, that he was captured and killed; there will
be nobody to relate that you revealed the plot.  When you arrive there
you, also, will be showered with favours, and Ajeet Singh will owe his
life to you; they will set him at liberty."

"And as to Nana Sahib?" Bootea asked, and there was pathetic dread in
her eyes.

"What is it--you fear him?"

"Yes, Sahib, he will claim Bootea; a Mahratta never keeps faith.  There
will be a fresh covenant, because he is like a beast of the jungle."

Barlow paced back and forth the small confine of the tent, muttering.
"It's hell!"  He pictured the Gulab in the harem of Nana Sahib--in a
gaudy prison chained to a serpent.  To interfere on her behalf would be
to sacrifice what came first, his duty as an officer of state, to what
would be called, undoubtedly, an infatuation.  Elizabeth would take it
that way; even his superiors would call it at least inexpedient, bad
form.  For a British officer to be interested or mixed up with a native
woman, no matter how noble the impulse, would be a shatterment of both
official and personal caste.

"I won't allow that," he declared vehemently, shifting into words his
mental traverse.

Bootea had followed with her eyes his struggle; then she said: "The
Sahib has heard of the women of the Rajputs who, with smiles on their
lips faced death, who, when the time of the last danger came were not
afraid?"

"Yes, Gulab.  But for you it is not that way.  You have said that I am
your protector--I will be."

There was a smile on the girl's lips as she raised her eyes to
Barlow's.  "It is not permitted, Sahib; the gods have the matter in
their lap.  For a little--yes, perhaps.  It is the time of the
pilgrimage to the shrine of Omkar at Mandhatta, and Bootea will make
the pilgrimage; at the shrine is the priest that told Bootea of her
reincarnations, as I related to the Sahib."

A curious superstitious chill struck with full force upon the heart of
Barlow.  Kassim's story of Kumari revivified itself with startling
remembrance.  Was this the priest that, to save Kumari's sacrifice, had
wafted her by occult or drug method from one embodied form into
another, from Kumari to Bootea?  It was so confusing, so overpowering
in its clutch that he did not speak of it.

The girl was adding: "It is on the Sahib's way to Poona; there will be
many from Karowlee at Mandhatta and I can return with them."

This seemed reasonable to Barlow; she would there be in the company of
people not at war.  And then, erratically, rebelliously, he felt a
heart hunger; but he cursed this feeling as being vicious--it was.  He
smothered it, shoving it back into a niche of his mind, thinking he had
locked it up--had turned a key in the door of the closet to hide the
skeleton.

He temporised, saying; "Well, we'll see, Gulab; perhaps at Mandhatta I
could wait while you made an offering and a prayer to Omkar, and then
you could journey on to Chunda."  To himself he muttered in English:
"By God!  I'll not stand for that slimy brute, Nana Sahib's, possession
of the girl--she's too good.  I know enough now to denounce him."

In council with himself, standing Captain Barlow firmly on his feet to
face the realities, he realised the impossibility of being anything
more to Bootea than just a Sahib who had by fate been thrown into her
path temporarily.  And then, feeling the sway, the compelling force of
a fascinating femininity he almost trembled for himself.  Weaker
sahibs--gad! he knew several, one a Deputy Commissioner.  A beautiful
little Kashmiri girl had nursed him through cholera when even his own
servants had fled.  The Kashmiri, who had the dainty flower-like
sweetness of a Japanese maid, and practically the same code, had lived
in his protection before this.  After the nursing incident he had
married her, with benefit of clergy, and the result had been hell, a
living suicide, ostracism.  A good officer, he still remained Deputy
Commissioner, the highest official of the district, but the social
excellence was wiped out--he was a pariah, an outcast.  And the girl,
who now could not remain just a native, could not attain to the dignity
of a Deputy-Commissioner Memsahib.

Barlow knew several such.  Of course of drifters he knew also, the
white inland beach-combers--men who had come out to India to fill
subordinate positions in the telegraph, or the railroad, or mills; and,
as they sloughed off European caste, and possessed of the eternal
longing for woman companionship, had married natives.  Barlow shuddered
at mentally rehearsed visions of the degradation.  Thus everything
logical was on that side of the ledger--all against the Gulab.  On the
other side was the fierce compelling fascination that the girl held for
him.

Yes, at Mandhatta they would both sacrifice to the gods.  Curiously
Elizabeth stood in the computation a cipher; probably he would marry
her, but the escapement from disaster, from wreck, would not be because
of any moral sustaining from her, any invisible thread of love binding
him to the daughter of the Resident.  He knew that until he parted from
Bootea at Mandhatta his soul would be torn by a strife that was
foolish, contemptible, that should never have originated.



CHAPTER XXVII

And next day when Barlow, sitting his horse, still riding as the
Afghan, went forth, his going was somewhat like the departure of a
Nawab.  Chief Kassim and a dozen officers had clanked down the marble
steps from the palace with him and stood lined up at the gates raising
their deep voices in full-throated salaams and blessings of Allah upon
his head.

The horsemen of the guard, spears to boot-leg, fierce-looking riders of
the plain, were lined up four abreast.  The _nakara_ in the open court
of the palace was thundering a farewell like a salute of light
artillery.

The _tonga_ with Bootea had gone on before with a guard of two
out-riders.

All that day they travelled to the south, on their left, against the
eastern sky, the lofty peaks of the Vindhya mountains holding the gold
of the sun till they looked like a continuous chain of gilded temples
and tapering pagodas.  For hours the road lay over hard basaltic rocks
and white limestone; then again it was a sea of white sand they
traversed with its blinding eye-stinging glare.

At night, when they camped, Barlow had a fresh insight into the fine
courtesy, the rough nobility that breeds into the bone of men who live
by the sword and ride where they will.  The Pindaris built their
camp-fires to one side, and two of them came to where the Sahib bad
spread his blankets near the _tonga_ and built a circle of smudge-fires
from chips of camel-dung to keep away the flies.  Then they went back
to their fellows, and when Barlow had pulled the blanket over himself
to sleep the clamour of voices where the horsemen sat was hushed.

And Bootea had been treated like a princess.  At each village that they
passed some would ride in and rejoin the cavalcade with fowl, and eggs,
and fruit, and sugar cane, and fresh vegetables; and a mention of
payment would only draw a frown, an exclamation of, "_Shookur_! these
are but gifts from Allah.  There has been more than payment that we
have not cut off the _kotwal's_ head, not even demanded a peep at the
money chest.  We are looked upon as men who confer favours."

It was the second day one of the horses in the _tonga_ showing
lameness, or perhaps even weariness, for the yoke of the _tonga_ across
their backs did not ride with the ease of a man, the jamadar went into
a village and came forth with his men leading two well-fed horses.
Again when Barlow spoke of pay for them the jamadar answered, "We will
leave these two with the unbelievers, and a message, in the name of
Allah, that when we return if the horses we leave are not treated like
those of the Sultan there will be throats slit.  _Bismillah_! but it is
a fair way of treating these unbelievers; they should be grateful."

The road ran through the large towns of Bhopal and Sehore, and at each
place Jamadar Jemla explained to all and sundry of the officials that
the Patan, meaning Barlow, was a trusted officer with Sindhia and they
were escorting a favourite for Sindhia's harem.  It was a plausible
story, and avoided interference, for while the Pindaris might be turned
back if there was a force handy, to interfere with a lady of the King's
harem might bring a horde of cut-throat Mahrattas down on them with a
snipping off of official heads.

On the fourth day, and now they were on a good trunk road that ran to
Indore, and branching to the left, that crossed the Nerbudda River at
Mandhatta, they were constantly passing pilgrims on their way to the
Temple of Omkar.  In the affrighted eyes of the Hindus Barlow could
read their dread of the Pindaris; they would cringe at the roadside and
salaam, as fearful were they as if a wolf-pack swept down the highway.

The jamadar would laugh in his deep throat, and twist his black
moustache with forefinger and thumb, and call the curse of Mahomet upon
these worshippers of stone images and foul gods.  He loved to ride
stirrup to stirrup with the Englishman, and Barlow found delight in the
man's broad conception of life; the petty things seemed to have no
resting place in his mind, unless perhaps as a matter for ridicule.
The sweep of a country with free rein and a sharp sword, and always the
hazard of loot or death was an engrossing subject.  Even the enemy who
fought and bled and died, were like themselves--by Allah! men; but the
merchants, the shop-keepers, and the money-lenders, who cringed and
paid tribute when the Pindaris drove at them in a raid, were pigs,
cowardly dogs who robbed the poor and gave only to the accursed
Brahmins and their foul gods.  He would dwell lovingly upon the feats
of courage of the Rajputs, lamenting that such fine men should be
excluded from heaven, dying as they did such glorious deaths, sword in
hand, because of their mistaken infidelity; they were souls lost
because of being led away from a true god, the one god, Allah, through
false priests.

"Mark thou, Sahib," Jemla said once, "I do not hold that it is a merit
in the sight of Allah to slay such except there is need, but when it is
a _jihad_, a question of the supremacy of a true god, Allah, or the
Sahib's God--which no doubt is one and the same--as against the evil
gods of destruction and depravity such as Shiva and Kali, then it is a
merit to slay the children of evil.  Mahomet did much to put this
matter right," he declared; "he made good Musselmen of thousands who
would otherwise have been cast into _jehannum_ (hell), at times holding
the sword over their heads as argument.  Therein Mahomet was a true
prophet, a saver of souls rather than a destroyer of such."

By noon they were drawing toward Mandhatta, and when they came to where
the road from Indore to Mandhatta joined the one they were travelling,
there was an increase in the stream of pilgrims and Barlow could see a
look of uneasiness in the jamadar's eyes.

There was a grove of wild mango trees on the left, running from the
road down to a stream that gurgled on its way from the hills to the
Nerbudda river, and Jemla said, "We might camp here, Sahib, for there
is both good water and fire-wood."

They could see, as they rested and ate, a party of Hindus down by the
stream where there was a shrine to Krishna that nestled under a huge
banyan that was like the roof of a cave from which dropped to earth to
take roots hundreds of slender shoots, like stalactites, and whose
roots, creeping from the earth like giant worms, crawled on to lave in
the stream.  When they had finished eating, Jemla said, "That is a
temple of the Preserver;" then he laughed a full-throated sneer:
"_Allah hafiz_! (God protect us), give me a fine-edged _tulwar_,--and
mine own is not so dull--methinks yon grinning affair of stone would
not preserve a dozen of these infidels had there been cause for anger."

"What do the pilgrims there, for they go, it would seem, to Omkar?"
Barlow queried.

"There has been a death--perhaps it was even a year ago, and at a
shrine of Krishna, especially this one that is on a water that is like
a trickle of holy tears to the sacred Narbudda, _straddhas_ (prayers
for the dead) are said.  Come, Sahib, we will look upon this mummy, the
only savour of grace about the infidel thing being that it perhaps
brings to their hearts a restfulness, having the faith that they have
helped the soul of the dead."

Barlow rose from where he sat and they went down to where a party of a
dozen were engaged in the service of an appeal to the god for rest for
the soul of a dead relative.  The devotees did not resent the
appearance of the two who were garbed as Moslems.  The shrine was one
of those, of which there are many in India, that, curiously enough, is
sacred to both Hindus and followers of the Prophet.  On a flat rock,
laved by the stream, was an imprint of a foot, a legendary foot-print
of Krishna, perhaps left there as he crossed the stream to gambol with
the milkmaids in the meadow beyond.  And it was venerated by the
Musselman because a disciple of Mohammed had attained to great sanctity
by austerities up in the mountain behind, and had been buried there.

But Barlow was watching with deep interest the ceremonial form of the
_straddha_.  He saw the women place balls of rice, milk, and leaves of
the _tulsi_ plant in earthenware platters, then sprinkle over this
flowers and kusa-grass; they added threads, plucked from their
garments, to typify the presenting of the white death-sheet to the dead
one; a priest all the time mumbling a prayer, at the end of the simple
ceremony receiving a fee of five rupees.

As the two men turned back toward their camp Jemla chuckled: "Captain
Sahib, thou seest now the weapon of the Brahmin; his loot of silver
pieces was acquired with little effort and no strife; as to the
rice-balls the first jackal that catches their wind will have a filled
stomach.  It is something to be thought of in the way of regard for a
long abiding in heaven that such foolish ones will not attain to it.
The setting up of false gods, carved images, I was once told by a
priest of thy faith, is sufficient to exclude such.  It makes one's
_tulwar_ clatter in its scabbard to see such profanation in an approach
to God."

Then Jemla spoke of the matter that had engendered the troubled look
Barlow had observed: "The Captain Sahib has intimated that the
One"--and he tipped his head toward the girl--"would proceed to the
temple of Omkar to make offerings at the shrine?"

"Yes, she goes there."

"There will be a hundred thousand of these infidels at Mandhatta, and
when they see fifty Pindaris, _tulwar_ and spear and match-lock, there
will be unrest; perhaps there will be altercation--they will fear that
we ride in pillage."

"I was thinking of that," Barlow replied; "and it would be as well that
you turned your faces homeward."

"We have received an order from our Chief that our lives are at the
disposal of the Captain Sahib, and we will drive into the heart of a
Mahratta force if needs be, but if it is the Sahib's command we will
ride back from here," Jemla said.

"Yes; there is no need of a guard for the Gulab now--just that the
_tonga_ carries her as far as she wishes it," Barlow concurred.

"Indeed we are not needed; those infidels come to worship their heathen
gods, not to combat men, and Mandhatta is but a matter of twelve _kos_
now," Jemla affirmed.

When Captain Barlow, and Bootea in the _tonga_, drew out from the
encampment to proceed on their way the Pindaris rode on in front, and
then, at a command from Jemla, wheeled their horses into a continuous
line facing the road, stirrup to stirrup, the horsemen sitting erect
with their _tulwars_ at the salute.  As Barlow passed a cry of,
"Salaam, aleikum! the protection of Allah be upon you," rippled down
the line.  Then the horsemen wheeled with their faces to the north.
Jemla swept a hand to his forehead and from his deep throat welled a
farewell, "Salaam, bhai!  (brother)."



CHAPTER XXVIII

The Jamadar's tribute from man to man, one encased in a dark skin and
one in a white, was akin to the tribulation that would not be driven
from Barlow's mind over the Gulab, that in their case made the matter
of a skin colourisation the bar sinister.  He rode in a brooding
silence.  And now the way was one of ascent toward the pass through the
Vindhya mountains; a red gravelly undulating formation had given place
to basaltic rocks.  They passed from groups of _mhowa_ trees and left
behind a wide shallow stream, its bed dotted with pools fringed by
great _kowa_ trees, and its banks lined by a thick green cover of
_jamun_ and _karonda_.  Thorny _babul_ thrust their spiked branches out
over the roadway, white with tufts of cotton torn by its thorns from
bales, loose pressed, on their way to market in buffalo carts; "Babul
the thief," the natives called this acacia.  Higher up a torch-wood
tree gleamed as if sprayed with gold, its limbs, lean and bare of
foliage, holding at their extremities in wisp-like fingers bright,
yellow, solitary blooms.  From a _tendu_ tree a pair of droll little
brown monkeys chattered and grimaced at the clattering cart.

A spotted owlet, disturbed by the driver's encouraging, "Pop-pop!
Dih-dih-dih!  Ho-ho-ho! children of jungle swine; brothers to buffalo!"
addressed to the horses lagging in the climb, fluttered away with his
silly little cackle.

These incidents of travel were almost unnoticed of Barlow.  All up the
climb the retrospect was with him, claiming his thoughts.  Just
that--all that was in evidence, a pigment in the skin, _caste_; and yet
reacting away back to God's mandate against the union of the white and
black.  And verily a sin to be visited even unto the third and fourth
generation, for the bar sinister would be upon his children; they would
be half-castes with all of the opprobrium the name carried.  Even the
son of a king, the offspring of such a union would be spoken of in mess
and drawing-room as a half-caste: the indelible sign would be upon him,
the blue tint to the white moons in his finger nails.  Barlow
shuddered.  Why contemplate the matter at all--it was impossible.  Nana
Sahib had named the barrier when he had spoken of _varna_, meaning
colour, as _caste_, a shirt-of-mail that protected from disaster.

Sometimes as he dropped back past the _tonga_, the face of Bootea would
appear beneath the lifted curtain, and though on the lips would be a
sweet ravishing smile, the eyes were pathetic, full of heart hunger.
Sometimes he vowed that he would put off the parting--dream on; carry
her on to her people at Chunda.  Then he would realise that this was
cowardice, a desire flooding his sense of nobility into a chasm of
possible disaster; not fair to the girl; the animal mastery of male
over female, the domination of sex.  Beyond doubt, wrapped in his arms,
not even the omnipotence of the gods would take her away from him.  If
there were less innate nobility in his avatar, if he were like men that
were called red-blooded men, yet lacking the finer sensibility, this
might be; not a villainous rush, just drifting.  That was it, the
superlative excellence of the Gulab; the very quality that attracted,
was the shield, the immaculate robe that clothed her and preserved her
like a vestal virgin from such violation.  Barlow could not word all
these things; subconsciously they swayed him--like the magnetic needle,
always toward the pole of right.

When they had topped the pass and descended into the valley of the
Narbudda, clothed in arboreal beauty, passed from a forest of evergreen
_sal_ to giant teak trees with huge umbrella-like leaves that formed a
canopy over the straight column-like boles of eighty feet, and on
amidst topes of wild mango and wild date, down, down, to the lower
levels where the _dhak_ jungles gave way to feathery bamboo and
plantain and waving grass, the sun, like a great ball of molten gold,
was splashing its yellow sheen upon the waters of a stream that hurried
south to Mother Narbudda.

There was a small village of Gonds, or Korkus, like a toy thing, the
houses woven from split bamboo, nestling against the billowing hills.

"Here we will rest and eat," Barlow said to the Gulab.

"As the Sahib wishes," she answered, and smiled at him like a child.

The huge medallion of gold had slid down in the west from the dome
through which were shot great streamers of red and mauve, and a peacock
perched high in a sal tree far up on the mountainside sent forth his
strident cry of "Miaou! miaou! miaou!" his evening salute to the god of
warmth.

As the harsh call, like an evening _muezzin_, died out, the sweet song
of a shama, in tones as pure as those of a nightingale, broke the
solemn hush of eventide.

Barlow turned his face to where the songster was perched in the top
branches of a wild-fig, and Bootea, said in a low voice: "Sahib, it is
said that the shama is a soul come back to earth to sing of love that
men may not grow harsh."

Soon a silver moon peeped over the walls of the Vindhya hills, and from
the forests above the night wind, waking at the fleeing of the sun,
whispered down through feathered _sal_ trees carrying the scent of
balsam and from a group of _salei_ trees a sweet unguent, the perfume
of the gum which is burnt at the shrines of Hindu gods.

When they had eaten, Barlow said: "I wonder, Gulab, if this is like
_kailas_, the heaven those who have passed through many transitions and
become holy, attain to."

"It is just heaven, my Lord," she replied fervently.

"And to-morrow I will be plodding on through the sands and dust, and
I'll be all alone.  But you, little girl, you will be making your peace
with Omkar and dreaming of the greater heaven."

"Yes, it will be that way; the Sahib will not have the tribulation of
protecting Bootea, and she will be in the protection of Omkar."

There was so much of pathetic resignation in the timbre of the girl's
voice, for it was half sigh, that Barlow shivered, as if the chilling
mist of the valley had crept up to the foothills.  Why had he not
treated her as an alien, kept all interest in abeyance?  His self
recrimination was becoming a disease, an affliction.

He rose, muttering, "Damn!  I'm like the young wasters that swarm up to
London from Oxford and get splashed with the girls from the
theatres--that's what I'm like."

As he strode over to where his horse was tethered, munching his ration
of grain, Bootea followed him with her eyes, wondering why he had
broken into English; perhaps he was chanting an evening prayer.

When Barlow came back he fell to wishing that they were at Mandhatta so
that he would start on the rest of his journey in the morning; he
dreaded the long evening with the girl.  He could have sat there with
Elizabeth, although their marriage hovered on the horizon, and talked
of trivial things: of sport, of shooting; or damned the Executive
sitting beneath _punkahs_ in offices with windows all closed, far away
in Calcutta.  Or could have traversed, mentally, leagues of sea and
rehabilitated past scenes in London.  It would be like talking to a
brother officer.  But with the Gulab, and the hush and perfume of the
forest-clad hills, and the gentle glamour of moonlight, his senses
would smother placid intellectuality; he would be like a toper with a
bottle at his elbow mocking weak resolve.

Then the girl said something: a shy halting request that set his blood
galloping: "Sahib, it is not far to Mandhatta--four _kos_, or perhaps
it is five; would it be unpermitted to suggest that we go there, for
the moon is beautiful and the road is good."

"All right, girl!" and remembering that he had spoken in English, he
added, "It will be expedient, for you will there find shelter."

"Yes, Sahib, Guru Swami will be there, and I am known of him; and there
are places where one may rest."

"I'll tell the driver to hitch up," Barlow declared, rising.

But she laid a detaining hand upon his arm: "Sahib, the sweetest thing
in all Bootea's life was the time she rode on the horse with him.
Then, too, the moon, that is the soul of Purusha, smiled upon her.
Would it be permitted to Bootea just one more happiness, for
to-morrow--to-morrow--"

The girl turned away, and seemed busy adjusting her gold-embroidered
jacket.

"So you shall, Gulab," Barlow declared.  And he, too, thought of the
sweetness of that ride where she lay like a confiding child in his
arms; and also for him, too, was to-morrow--to-morrow; and for him,
too, just one more foolish, useless happiness--just a sensuous burying
of his face in flowers that on the morrow would have shrivelled.

"I'll send the _tonga_ on ahead," he declared, "and we'll just have
that jolly old farewell ride together, girl--I'd love it."

Now she turned back to him and her face was placid, soft, content, as
though Mona Lisa had stepped out from the painted canvas, and, now
embodied, was there listening to the sigh of the night-wind through the
feathered _sal_ forest.

With ejaculations of "Bap, bap, bap!  _Shabaz_!" and queer gurgling
clucking of the throat, and a sonorous rumble from the wide, low
wheels, the driver drove the tonga on into the moonlight.  Barlow had
saddled his horse and thrown his blanket loosely behind the saddle.
The air was chilling, but his sheepskin coat would turn its cold
breath; the blanket was for Bootea.

As he had done once before, his feet in stirrups, he reached down a
hand and swung the girl up in front of him.  Then he enveloped her in
the blanket as she nestled against his chest, arms about his waist.
Her warm body was like a draught of wine and he muttered, "My God!  I
shouldn't have done this!"  But he knew that he would have had that
ride if devils had jeered at him from the jungle that lined the road.

As the horse swung along in leisured walking stride, the girl seemed to
have gone to sleep; her cheek lay against Barlow's shoulder, and he
could feel the pulsating throb of her heart.  Once a sigh came from her
lips, but it was like a breath of deep content.  Barlow felt that he
must talk to the girl; his senses were rampant; he was sitting like the
lotus-eaters drinking in a deadly intoxication.

But it was Bootea who broke the silence as though she, too, felt
herself slipping.  She took from beneath her vestment a little bag of
silk and taking from it a ruby she put it in Barlow's hand, saying:
"Here is the 'Lamp of Akbar;' it protects and gives power."

"Where did you get this magnificent ruby, girl--it is of great value?"
Barlow queried in amazement.

"Do you remember, Sahib, when Bootea asked for the turban of Hunsa, the
time it was stripped from his head, and the paper of message found
hidden in it?"

"Yes, you said you would take it back to the Bagrees to show them that
Hunsa was dead."

He could hear the Gulab chuckle.  "That was but the deceit of a woman,
Sahib; the simple things that a woman says to deceive a clever man.  I
knew that Hunsa had the ruby sewn in a corner of the turban, and when I
had taken the stone I burned the turban in the fire, for it was like
Hunsa--very dirty."

"Where did Hunsa get it?"

"When the Bagrees killed the jewel merchant, that time the Sahib saved
Bootea, he stole it from the other decoits, hiding it in his turban,
because the Dewan wanted it."

"But I don't want the stone--I can't take it," Barlow expostulated.

"It is for a service, Sahib.  Nana Sahib will assuredly cause Ajeet to
be put to death if Bootea does not return to his desire, but the Sahib
can buy his life with the ruby of great price."

"But if it were stolen would not Nana Sahib demand it, and then kill
Ajeet?"

"No; it was not his ruby; and to obtain it he will set Ajeet free."

"I'll do that, Gulab," Barlow agreed, and the girl's hand pushed up
from the folds of the blanket to caress his cheek, and her face nestled
against his shoulder.

The fingers thrilled him, and, though he had made solemn vow that he
would ride like an anchorite, he bent his head and kissed her with a
claiming warmth that caused her to cry out as if in misery.

Presently a whimsical fancy swayed the girl, and she said, "Ayub Alli!"

Barlow laughed, and answered: "Bismillah!"

"So, Afghan, riding thus, it is not disrespect, just that we be of
different faith, Hindu and Musselman."

"If it were thus, we'd not part at Mandhatta.  And as to the faith,
thou wouldst become a follower of the Prophet."

"Yes, Bootea would.  If she could go forever thus she would sacrifice
entrance to _kailas_.  But this is heaven; and perhaps Omkar, when I
make the sacrifice--I mean offering--will listen to Bootea's prayers,
and--and--"

"And what, Gulab?" Barlow asked, for the girl turned her face against
his breast, and her voice had smothered.

Their thoughts were distracted by a din in front that shattered the
solemn hush of the night.  There was a thunderous beat of tom-toms, the
shrill rasping screech of conch-shells, and in intervals of subversion
of instrumental clamour they could hear women's voices, high-pitched,
singing the _scahailia_ (song of joy).  Loud cries of "Jae, Jae,
Omkar!" rose in a chorus from a hundred swelling throats.

At a turning around a huge banyan tree they saw the flickering flames
of torches, and Barlow knew that plodding in front was a large body of
pilgrims.

He quickened his horse's pace, drawing Bootea closer to hide her from
curious eyes, and as he passed the Hindus he knew from their scowling
faces and cries of, "It is a Kaffir--a barbarian!" that they took him
for a Mussulman, perhaps one of Sindhia's Arabs.

At the head of the procession, carried on a platform gaily decorated
with gaudy cloths, borne on the shoulders of four men, was a figure of
Ganesha.  The obese, four-armed, jovial son of Shiva, bobbing in the
rhythmic stride of his carriers, seemed to nod his elephant head at the
horseman approvingly, wishing him luck as was the wont of Ganesha.  The
procession drove in upon Barlow's mind the thought that they were
nearing Mandhatta; he realised it with a pang of reluctance.  It seemed
but a matter of just minutes since he had lifted Bootea to the saddle.

It had hurried the Gulab's mind, too, for at another turn where the
road slid into the valley, bringing to their nostrils the soft perfume
of _kush-kush_ grass and the savour of _jamun_ that grew luxuriantly on
the banks of the Narbudda, the Gulab asked: "The Sahib will marry the
young Memsahib who is at the city of the Peshwa?"

Barlow was startled.  It was like a voice crying out in the night that
shattered a blissful dream.

"Why do you ask that, Gulab?"

"Because it was said.  And the Missie Baba's heart will be full of the
Sahib, for he is like a god."

"Is the Gulab jealous of the Missie Baba?" Barlow asked mundanely,
almost out of confusion.

"No, Sahib, because--because one is not jealous of a princess; because
that is to question the ways of the gods.  If I had been an Englay and
he loved me, and the Missie Baba claimed him, Bootea would kill her."

This was said with the simple conviction of a child uttering a weird
threat, but Barlow shivered.

"And now, Gulab," he persisted, "if you thought I loved you would you
kill the Missie Baba?"

"No, Sahib, because it is Bootea's fault.  It can't be.  It is
permitted to Bootea to love the Sahib, but at the shrine Omkar will
take that sin and all the other sins away when she makes sacrifice--"

"What sacrifice, Gulab?"

"Such as we make to the gods, Sahib."

Then something curious happened.  The girl broke, she clung to Barlow
convulsively; sobs choked her.

He clasped her tight and laid his cheek against hers soothingly, and
said, "Gulab, what is it?  Don't go to the Shrine of Omkar.  Come with
me to your people at Chunda, and if you do not want to remain with them
I will have it arranged, through the Resident, that the British will
reward you with protection.  You have done the British Raj a great
service."

"No, Sahib."  The girl drew herself erect, so that her eyes gazed into
Barlow's, They were luminous with an intensity of resolve.  "Let Bootea
speak what is in her heart, and be not offended; it is necessary.
There is, at the end of the journey the place that is called _jahannam_
(hell) for Bootea.  The Nana Sahib waits like a tiger crouched by a
pool at night for the coming of a stag to drink."

"The Resident will protect you against the Mahratta," Barlow declared.

"Bootea could do that," and in her small hand there gleamed in the
moonlight the sheen of her dagger blade.  She thrust it back into her
belt.

"What then do you fear, Gulab?" he queried.

"The Sahib."

"_Me_, Gulab?"

"Yes, Khudawand.  To see you and not be permitted to hear your voice,
nor feel your hand upon my face, would be worse than sacrifice.  Bootea
would rather die, slip off into death with the goodness, the sweetness
of to-night upon her soul.  There, where the Sahib would be, Bootea's
heart would be full of evil, the evil of craving for him.  No, this is
the end, and Bootea will make offering of thanks--marigolds and a
cocoanut to Omkar, and sprinkle attar upon his shrine in thankfulness
for the joy of the Sahib's presence.  It is said!" and the girl nestled
down against Barlow's breast again as though she had gone to sleep in
content.

But he groaned inwardly: there was something of dread in his heart, her
resignation was so deep--suggesting an utter giving up, a helplessness.
She had named sacrifice; the word rang ominously in his mind, beating
at his fears.  And yet, what she had said was philosophy--wise; a
something that had been worded, perhaps differently, for a million
years; the brave acceptance of Fate's decree--something that always
triumphed over the weak longings of humans.



CHAPTER XXIX

Now they could see the wide silver ribbon of Mother Narbudda lying
serene and placid in the moonlight, in the centre of the river's wide
flow the gloomy rock embrasures of Mandhatta Island.  Where it towered
upward in cliffs and coned hills the summit showed the flickering
lights of many temples, and like the sing of a storm through giant
trees there floated on the night wind the sound of many voices, and the
beating of drums, and the imperious call of horns and conch-shells.

They came upon the _tonga_ waiting by the roadside, and Barlow,
thrusting back the covering from the girl's face said: "Now, Gulab, I
will lift you down.  We must find a place in the village beyond for you
to rest to-night; I, too, will remain there and in the morning we will
make our salaams."

Then he drew her face to his and kissed her.

He slipped from the saddle and lifted the girl down, carrying her in
his arms to the _tonga_.

As they neared the village that was situated on the flat land that
swept back from the Narbudda in a wide plain, and nestled against the
river bank, they were swept into a crowd such as would be encountered
on a trip to the Derby.  The road was thronged with people, and the
village itself, from which a bridge reached to the Island of Mandhatta,
was a town in holiday attire, for to the Hindus the _mela_ of Omkar was
a union of festivity and devotion.

Both sides of the main street were lined with booths for the sale of
everything; calicoes from Calicut, where these prints first got their
name; hammered Benares ware; gold-threaded cotton puggris from Mewar;
tulwars and khandas from Bhundi.  In some of the little shops, bamboo
structures that thrust an underlip out into the street, there was Mhowa
liquor, and _julabis_, and _kabobs_ of goat meat.  Open spaces held
tiny circuses--abnormal animals and performing goats, and a moon-bear
on a ring and strap.

The street was full of gossiping men and women and children dodging
here and there; it was an outing where the _ryot_ (farmer) had escaped
from his crotched stick of wood that was a plough, and the village
tradesmen had left his shop, and the servant his service, to feel the
joyousness of a holiday.  Mendicants were in abundance prowling in
their ugliness like spirits in a nightmare; some naked, absolute,
others with but a loin-cloth, their lean shrivelled bodies smeared with
ashes--sometimes the ashes of the dead--and cow-dung, carrying on their
arms and foreheads the red and white horizontal bars of Shiva--who was
Omkar at Mandhatta.  In their hands were either iron-tongs, with loose
clattering ring, or a yak's tail, or the three-ribbed horn of a
black-buck.

Some of the _yogis_, perhaps Goswamies that had come from the country
where Eklinga was the tutelary deity, had their hair braided and woven
around their foreheads, holding in its fold lotus seeds; beneath the
tiara of hair a crescent of white on their foreheads.  A flowing yellow
robe half hid their ash-smeared limbs.  A tall Sannyasi--the most
ascetic of sects--his lean yellow-robed form supported by a long staff
at the end of which swung a yellow bag, strode solemnly along with eyes
fixed on a book, the Bhagavad Gita, muttering, "Aum, to the light of
earth, the divine light that illumines our souls.  Aum!"

To Barlow it was like a grotesque pantomime with no directing head.
Nautch girls tripped along laughing and chatting, bracelets jingling,
and tiny bells at their ankles tinkling musically.  It depressed him;
it was such a terrible juxtaposition of frivolity and the gloomed
shadow of idol worship that lay just the bridge's span of the sullen
Narbudda: the gloomy, broken scraps of the long since deserted forts
that cut with jagged lines the moonlit sky; and beyond them again the
many temples with their scowling Brahmin priests, and the shrine
wherein the god of destruction, Omkar, sat athirst for sacrifice.  He
shivered as though the white mist that veiled the river crept into his
marrow.

The Gulab seemed at home amongst these gathered ones.  Two or three
times she had bade the driver stop his creeping pace, and looking out
from beneath the curtain had questioned a man or woman.  At last, as
they were stopped by a wall of people watching the antics of some
strolling players upon a platform, Bootea spoke to a stout woman who
was pressed against the opening into the cart by the mob.

"_Lucker khan Bhaina, Bowree_," the Gulab said in a low voice, and the
woman's eyes took on a startled look for it was a decoit password, and
the Bowrees were a clan of decoits akin to the Bagrees.  From the woman
Bootea learned where she could find a good resting place with the
family of a shop-keeper.  There was no doubt about it, the Bowree woman
assured her, for the _tonga_ would impress him, and he was one who
profited from the loot of decoits.

The Gulab was given a place to sleep in the shopkeeper's house that
extended back from his little shop.  The driver was ordered to return
in the morning to the Pindari camp.  Barlow was for keeping the
_tonga_, hoping that perhaps Bootea would change her mind and go on to
Chunda, but the girl was firm in her determination to end it all at
Mandhatta.

Before Barlow left her to seek some camping place in hut or serai, and
food for himself and horse, the girl said: "If the Sahib will delay his
going to-morrow for a little, Bootea will proceed early to the shrine
to see the Swami--then she will return here, for she would want to see
his face once more before the ending."

"I'll wait, Gulab," he acquiesced; "I'll be here at the tenth hour."
He felt even then an unaccountable chill of their parting, for, many
being about, he could not take her in his arms to kiss her; but their
eyes spoke, and the girl's were luminous, and sweet with a look of
hunger, of pathetic longing, of sublime trust.

As Barlow turned away leading his horse, he muttered over and over,
"Gad! it's incomprehensible that a Sahib should feel this over a--yes,
a native woman; it's damnable!"

He reviled himself, declaring that it was harder on the Gulab than on
him--and he was actually suffering.  It would be better if he swung to
the saddle and fled from the misery that prolongation but intensified.
And the girl's brave resignation in giving him up was wonderful, was so
like her.

Then the sight of Mahratta _sowars_, who, it being Sindhia's territory,
were a guard to watch the pilgrim throng, flashed him back to a sense
of duty, his own mission.  But it had not suffered because of Bootea;
it had benefitted through her; but for her the written message from the
British would have been lost--stolen by Hunsa, and would have landed in
Nana Sahib's hands; and he would have been slain as the Patan, killer
of Amir Khan.

But the Gulab was right; from that time forward should she listen to
him and go on to Poona, God alone knew where it would lead to--misery.
It would be utter ruin morally, officially, in a caste way; even in
time passionate enthusiasm, engendered by her lovableness, dulled,
would bring utter debasement, degradation of spirit, of man fibre.  It
was the wisdom of God that entailed upon the union of the white and
dark-skinned the bar sinister.

Until he slept, wrapped in his blankets on the sand beside his tethered
horse, Barlow was tortured by this mental inquisition.  Even in his
troubled sleep there was a nightmare that waked him, panting and
exhausted, and the remembrance was vivid--Bootea lay beneath the mighty
paws of a tiger and he was beating hopelessly at the snarling brute
with a clubbed rifle.



CHAPTER XXX

In the morning Captain Barlow underwent a sartorial metamorphosis; he
attained to the sanctity of a Hindu pilgrim by the purchase of a
tight-ankled pair of white trousers to replace the voluminous baggy
ones of a Patan, and a blue shot-with-gold-thread Rajput turban.  He
shoved the Patan turban with its conical fez in his saddle-bags, and
wound the many yards of blue material in a rakish criss-cross about his
shapely head, running a fold or two beneath his chin.  The Patan
sheepskin coat was left with his horse.

When Bootea came at ten to where Barlow--who was now Jaswant
Singh--paced up and down with the swagger of a Rajput in front of the
_bunnia's_ shop, she stood for a little, her eyes searching the crowd
for her Sahib.  When he laughed, and called softly, "Gulab," her eyes
almost wept for joy, for not seeing him at once, a dread that he had
gone had chilled her.

"You see how easy it is, in a good cause, to change one's caste," he
said.

"With you, Sahib, yes, because you can also change your skin."

There it was again, the indestructible barrier, the pigmented badge.
It drove the laugh from Barlow's lips.

"Why has the Afghan Musselman become a Hindu?" Bootea asked.

"I have no wish to anger these people who are on a holy pilgrimage by
going into their temples as a Moslem."

"You are going to the shrine of Omkar?" the Gulab asked aghast.

"Are you--again?" Barlow parried.

"Yes, Sahib, soon."

"I am going with you," Barlow declared.

Bootea expostulated with almost fierce eagerness; with a fervour that
increased the uneasiness in Barlow's mind.  He had a premonition of
evil; dread hung on his soul--perhaps born of the dream of a tiger
devouring the girl.

"The Sahib still has the Akbar Lamp--the ruby?" the girl queried,
presently.

"I have it safe," he answered, tapping his breast.

"If the Sahib is not going to the shrine Bootea would desire that we
could go out beyond the village to a _mango tope_ where there are none
to observe, for she would like to make the final salaams in his
arms--then nothing would matter."

"Perhaps we had better go anyway," Barlow said eagerly--"though I am
going over to the shrine with you; for now, being a Hindu, I can pass
as your brother--and there there would not be opportunity."

The girl turned this over in her mind, then said: "No, we will not go
to the grove, for Bootea can say farewell to the Sahib in the cloister
where Swami Sarasvati has a cell for vigils."

Then asking Barlow to wait she went into the house and soon returned
clothed in spotless white muslin.  He noticed that she had taken off
all her ornaments, her jewellery.  The bangle of gold that was a
twisting snake with a ruby head, she pressed upon Barlow, saying: "When
the Sahib is married to the Englay will he give her this from me as a
safeguard against evil; and that it may cause her to worship the Sahib
as a god, even as Bootea does."

The simplicity, the genuine nobleness of this tribute of renunciation,
hazed Barlow's eyes with a mist--almost tears; she was a strange
combine of dramatic power and gentle sweetness.

"Now, come, Sahib," she said, "if you insist.  It will not bring misery
to Bootea but to you."

Barlow strode along beside the girl steeped in ominous misgivings.
Perhaps his presence at the temple would avert whatever it was, that,
like evil genii seemed to poison the air.

There was a moving throng of pilgrims that poured along in a joyous
turbulent stream toward the bridge.  No shadow of the dread god, Omkar,
gloomed their spirits; they chatted and laughed.  Of those who would
make devotions the men were stripped to the waist, their limbs draped
in spotless white.  And the women, on their way to have their sins
forgiven, were taking final license--the _purdah_ of the veil was
almost forgotten, for this was permitted in the presence of the god.
Even their beautifully formed bodies and limbs, the skin fresh
anointed, gleaming like copper in the sunlight, showed entrancingly,
voluptuously, with a new-born liberty.

Once, half way of the bridge, a man's voice rang out commandingly,
calling backward, admonishing some one to hurry, crying, "It is the
_kurban_!"

Barlow started; the _kurban_ meant a human sacrifice.  He looked at
Bootea--he could have sworn her head had drooped, and that she
shivered.  The girl must have sensed his thoughts, for she turned her
eyes up to his, but they held nothing of fear.

Beyond the bridge they passed across a lower level, jungle clad with
delicate bamboos and dhak, and sweet-scented shrubs, and clusters of
gorgeous oleanders.  The way was thronged with white-clothed figures
that seemed like wraiths, ghosts drifting back to the cavern of the
Destroyer.

Then they commenced the ascent following the bed of a stream that had
cut a chasm through black trap-rock, leaving jagged cliffs.  And the
persistent jungle, ever encroaching on space, had out-posts of champac
and wild mango, their giant roots, like the arms of an octopus, holding
anchorage in clefts of the rock.  And from the limbs above floated down
the scolding voices of _lungoor_, the black-faced grey-whiskered
monkeys, who rebuked the intrusion of the earth-dwellers below.  Where
the path lay over rocks it was worn smooth and slippery by naked feet,
the feet of pilgrims for a thousand years.  On the right the mouth of a
deep cave had been walled up by masonry.  Within, so the legend ran,
the High Priest of Mandhatta, centuries before, had imprisoned the
goddess Kali to stop a pestilence, making vow to offer to Bhairava, her
son, a yearly human sacrifice.  Higher up, approaching the plateau
where were the ruins of a thousand gorgeous shrines, both sides of the
pathway were lined by mendicants who sat cross-legged, in front of them
a little mat for the receipt of alms--cowries, pice, silver; the
mendicants muttering incessantly "_Jae, Jae, Omkar_!"  (Victory to
Omkar).

In front of the temple within which sat the god, was a conical black
stone daubed with red, the Linga, the generative function of Siva, and
before it, the symbol of reproduction, women made offering of
cocoanuts, and sweets, and garlands of flowers,--generally
marigolds,--and prayed for the bestowal of a son; even their postures,
carried away as they were by desire, showing a complete abandon to the
sex idea.  A Brahmin priest sat cross-legged upon a stone platform
repeating in a sing-song cadence prayers, and from somewhere beyond a
deep-toned bell boomed out an admonishing call.

Holy water from the sacred Narbudda was poured into the two jugs each
pilgrim carried and sealed by the Brahmins, who received, without
thanks, stoically, as a matter of right, a tribute of silver.

Towering eighty feet above the temple spire was a cliff, and from a
ledge near its top a white flag fluttered idly in the lazy wind.  It
was the death-leap, the ledge from which the one of the human sacrifice
to Omkar leapt, to crash in death beside the Linga.

Almost without words Barlow and the girl had toiled up the ascent,
scarcely noticed of the throng; and now Bootea said: "Sahib, remain
here, I go to speak to the High Priest."

Barlow saw her speak into the open portal of one of the cloister
chambers that surrounded the temple, then disappear within.  After a
time she came forth, and approaching him said, "The Priest would speak
with thee, Sahib; for because of many things I have told him who thou
art, though mentioning not the nature of the mission, for that is not
permitted."

Barlow's foreboding of evil was now a certainty as he strode forward.

The priest rose at the Captain's entrance.  He was a fine specimen of
the true Brahmin, the intellectual cult, that through successive
generations of mental sway and homage from the millions of untutored
ones had become conscious of its power.  Tall, spare of form, with wide
high forehead and full expressive eyes, almost olive skin, Barlow felt
that the Swami was quite unlike the begging yogis and mendicants; a man
who was by the close alliance of his intellect to the essence of
created things a Sannyasi.  Larger in his conceptions than the yogis
who misconstrued the Vedas and the Law of Manu as imposing an
association of filth--smeared ashes, and uncombed, uncleansed hair--as
a symbol of piety and abnegation of spirit, a visible assertion that
the body had passed from regard--that it, with its sensualities and
ungodly cravings, had become subservient to the spirit, the soul.

Swami Sarasvati was austere; Barlow felt that he dwelt on a plane where
the trivialities of life were but pestilential insects, to be endured
stoically in a physical way, with the mind freed from their irritation
grasping grander things; life was a wheel that revolved with the
certainty of celestial bodies.

It was so curious, and yet so unfailing, that Bootea, with her
hyper-intuition should have found, selected this spiritual tutor from
the horde of gurus, byragies, and yogis that were connecting links
between the tremendous pantheon of grotesque gods and the common
people.  Here she had come to an intellectual, though no doubt an
ascetic; one possessed of fierce fervour in his ministry.  There would
be no swaying of that will force developed to the keen flexible
unflawed temper of a Damascus blade.

Now the priest was saying in the _asl_ (pure) Hindustani of the
high-bred Brahmin: "The Sahib confers honour upon Sri Swami Sarasvati
by this visit, for the woman has related that he is of high caste
amongst the Englay and has been trusted by the Raj with a mission.
That he comes in the garb of my people is consideration for it avoids
outrage to their feelings.  I am glad to know that the Englay are so
considerate."

"I came, Swami, because of regard for Bootea for she is like a
princess."

The priest shot a quick, searching look into the eyes of the speaker,
then he asked, "And what service would the Sahib ask?"

The question caught Captain Barlow unaware; he had not formulated
anything--it had all been nebulous, this dread.  He hesitated, fearing
to voice that which perhaps did not exist in the minds of either the
priest or Bootea.

The girl perceived the hesitancy and spoke rapidly in a low voice to
the priest.

"Captain Sahib," the Swami began, "I see that thy heart is inclined to
the woman, and it is to be admired, for she is, as thou thinkest, like
a flower of the forest.  But also, Captain Sahib, thy heart is the
heart of a soldier, of a brave man, the light of valour is in thine
eyes, in thy face, and I would ask thee to be brave, and instead of
being cast in sorrow because of what I am going to tell thee, thou must
realise that it is for the good of the woman whose face is in thy
heart.  To-day she insures to her soul a place in kattas, the heaven of
Siva, the abiding place of Brahm, the Creator of all that is."

Barlow felt himself reel at this sudden confirmation of his fears--the
blow.  The cry "_Kurban_" that he had heard on the bridge was a
reality--a human sacrifice.

"God!" he cried in a voice of anguish, "it can't be.  Young and
beautiful and good, to die--it's wrong.  I forbid such a cruel, wanton
sacrifice of a sweet life."

The Swami, taking a step toward the door, swept his long thin arm with
a gesture that embraced the thousands beyond.

"Captain Sahib," he said solemnly, "if thou wert to raise thy voice in
anger against this holy, soul-redeeming observance thou wouldst be torn
to pieces; not even I could stop them if insult were offered to Omkar.
And, besides, the Englay Raj would call thee accursed for breeding hate
in the hearts of the Hindus through the sacrilege of an insult to the
High Priest of the Temple of Omkar.  This is the territory of the
Mahrattas, and the English have no authority here."

Barlow knew that he was helpless.  Even if there were jurisdiction of
the British, one against thousands of religious fanatics would avail
nothing.

The priest saw the torture in the man's face, and continued: "The woman
has told me much.  Her heart is so with thee that it is already dead.
Thou canst not take her to thy people, for the living hell is even
worse than the hell beyond.  If thou lovest the woman glory in her
release from pain of spirit, from the degradation of being
outcast--that she judges wisely, and there is not upon her soul the sin
of taking her own life, for if she went with thee, proud and high-born
as she is, it would come to that, Sahib--thou knowest it.  There are
things that cannot be said by me concerning the woman; vows having been
taken in the sanctity of a temple."

A figment of the rumour Barlow had heard that Bootea was Princess
Kumari floated through his mind, but that did not matter; Bootea as
Bootea was the sweetest woman he had ever known.  It must be that she
had filled his heart with love.

Again Bootea spoke in a low voice to the priest, and he said: "Sahib, I
go forth for a little, for there are matters to arrange.  I see yonder
the sixteen Brahmins who, according to our rites, assemble when one is
to pass at the Shrine of Omkar to _kailas_."

His large luminous eyes rested with tolerant placidity upon the face of
this man whom he must consider, according to his tenets, as a creature
antagonistic to the true gods, and said, in his soft, modulated voice:
"Thou art young, Sahib, and full of the life force which is essential
to the things of the earth--thou art like the blossom of the _mhowa_
tree that comes forth upon bare limbs before the maturity of its
foliage, it is then, as thou art, joyous in the freshness of awaking
life.  But life means eternity, the huge cycle that has been since
Indra's birth.  Life here is but a step, a transition from condition to
condition, and the woman, by one act of sacrifice, attains to the
blissful peace that many livings of reincarnated body would not
achieve.  It is written in the law of Brahm that if one sacrifices his
life, this phase of it, to Omkar, who is Siva, even though he had slain
a Brahmin he shall be forgiven, and sit in heaven with the _Gandharvas_
(angels).  But it is also written that whosoever turns back in terror,
each step that he takes shall be equivalent to the guilt of killing a
Brahmin."

The priest's voice had risen in sonorous cadence until it was
compelling.

Bootea trembled like a wind-wavered leaf.

To Barlow it was horrible, the mad infatuation of a man prostrate
before false gods, idols, a rabid materialism.  That one, to fall
crushed and bleeding from the dizzy height of the ledge of sacrifice
upon a red-daubed stone representation of the repulsive emblem, could
thus wipe out the deadly sin of murder, was, even spiritually,
impossible.

The priest, his soul submerged by the sophistry of his faith, passed
from the gloomed cloister to the open sunlight.

And Barlow, conscious of his helplessness unless Bootea would now yield
to his entreaties and forswear the horrible sacrifice, turned to the
girl, his face drawn and haggard, and his voice, when he spoke,
vibrating tremulously from the pressure of his despair.  He held out
his arms, and Bootea threw herself against his breast and sobbed.

"Come back to Chunda with me, Gulab,"  Barlow pleaded.

"No, Sahib," she panted, "it cannot be."

"But I love you, Bootea," he whispered.

"And Bootea loves the Sahib," and her eyes, as she lifted her face,
were wonderful.  "There," she continued, "the Sahib could not make the
_nika_ (marriage) with Bootea, both our souls would be lost.  But it is
not forbidden,--even if it were and was a sin, all sins will be
forgiven Bootea before the sun sets,--and if the Sahib permits it
Bootea will wed herself now to the one she loves.  Hold me in your
arms--tight, lest I die before it is time."

And as Barlow pressed the girl to him, fiercely, crushing her almost,
she raised her lips to his, and they both drank the long deep draught
of love.

Then the Gulab drew from his arms and her face was radiant, a soft
exultation illumined her eyes.

"That is all, Sahib," she said.  "Bootea passes now, goes out to
_kailas_ in a happy dream.  Go, Sahib, and do not remain below for this
is so beautiful.  You must ride forth in content."

She took him by the arm and gently led him to the door.

And from without he could hear a chorus of a thousand voices, its
burden being, "The _Kurban_!"

Barlow turned, one foot in the sunshine and one in the cloister's
gloom, and kissed Bootea; and she could feel his hot tears upon her
cheek.

Once more he pleaded, "Renounce this dreadful sacrifice."

But the girl smiled up into his face, saying, "I die happily, husband.
Perhaps Indra will permit Bootea to come back in spirit to the Sahib."

The High Priest strode to the entrance of the cloister, his eyes
holding the abstraction of one moving in another world; he seemed
oblivious of the Englishman's presence as he said:

"Come forth, ye who seek _kailas_ through Omkar."

As Barlow staggered, almost blind, over the stony path from the
cloister, he saw the group of sixteen Brahmins, their foreheads and
arms carrying the white bars of Siva.

Then Bootea was led by the priest down to the cold merciless stone
Linga, where she, at a word from the priest, knelt in obeisance, a
barbaric outburst of music from horn and drum clamouring a salute.

When Bootea arose to her feet the priest tendered her some _mhowa_
spirit in a cocoanut shell, but the girl, disdaining its stimulation,
poured it in a libation upon the Linga.

From the amphitheatre of the enclosing hills thirty thousand voices
rose in one thundering chorus of "Jae, jae, Omkar!" and, "To Omkar the
_Kurban_!"

Many pressed forward, mad fanaticism in their eyes, and held out at
arm's length toward the girl bracelets and ornaments to be touched by
her fingers as a beneficence.

But Swami Sarasvati waved them back, and turning to Bootea tendered
her, with bowed head, the _pan supari_ (betel nut in a leaf) as an
admonition that the ceremony had ceased, and there was nothing left but
the sacrifice.

As the girl with firm step turned to the path that led up through shrub
and jungle growth to the ledge where fluttered the white flag, a tumult
of approbation went up from the multitude at her brave devotion.  Then
a solemn hush enwrapped the bowl of the hills, and the eyes of the
thousands were fixed upon the jutting shelf of rock.

A dirge-like cadence, a mighty gasp of, "Ah, Kuda!" sounded as a slim
figure, white robed, like a wraith, appeared on the ledge, and from her
hand whirled down to the rocks below a cocoanut, cast in sacrifice;
next a hand-mirror, its glass shimmering flickers of gold from the
sunlight.

For five seconds the white-clothed figure disappeared in the shrouding
bushes; men held their breath, and women gasped and clutched at their
throats as if they choked.

Then they saw her again, arms high held as though she reached for God.
And as the white-draped, slender form came hurtling through the air
women swooned and men closed their eyes and shuddered.

An Englishman, clothed as a Hindu, lay prone on his face on the
hillside sobbing, the dry leaves drinking in his tears, cursing himself
for a sin that was not his.


THE END





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