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Title: A Prince of Dreamers
Author: Steel, Flora Annie Webster, 1847-1929
Language: English
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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.

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      (University of California)



                         A PRINCE OF DREAMERS



                         A PRINCE OF DREAMERS


                                  By

                          FLORA ANNIE STEEL


                              Author of

          "A Sovereign Remedy," "On the Face of the Waters,"
                     "Voices in the Night," etc.



                               New York
                      Doubleday, Page & Company
                                 1909



          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION
          INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN



                COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY FLORA ANNIE STEEL



                           TO THE MEMORY OF
               A PRINCE OF DREAMERS AND A KING OF KINGS



   OH LORD! WHOSE SECRETS ARE FOR EVER VEILED
   AND WHOSE PERFECTION KNOWS NOT A BEGINNING;
   (END AND BEGINNING BOTH ARE LOST IN THEE
   NO TRACE OF THEM IN THY ETERNAL REALM)
   MY WORDS ARE LAME--MY TONGUE A STONY TRACT--
   SLOW WINGS MY SOUL--AND WIDE IS THE EXPANSE--
   CONFUSED MY THOUGHTS--THIS THY BEST PRAISE,
   IN ECSTASY I SEE THEE FACE TO FACE.

             --_Abul Faiz, Poet-Laureate at the Court of Akbar_



     THE BIRD OF THE MORNING ONLY KNOWETH THE
     WORTH OF THE BOOK OF THE ROSE; FOR NOT
     EVERY ONE WHO READETH THE PAGE UNDERSTANDETH
     THE MEANING.--_Hafiz_.



                               PREFACE


"The fiction which resembles truth is better than the truth which is
dissevered from the imagination," said the Persian poet Nizami, in the
year 1250.

It remains true, however, to-day. So I give no excuse for this book.
It is not one which will appeal to the man in the street. Nevertheless
I make the attempt to give the character and the times of the Prince
of Dreamers with a glad heart. It is as well that the twentieth
century of the West should know something of the sixteenth century in
the East.

So many of my _dramatis personæ_ once lived in the flesh and spoke
many of the words imputed to them in the following pages, that it will
be shorter to designate those who are purely imaginary puppets.

To begin with Mirza Ibrahîm and Khodadâd. For obvious reasons it is
always safer in historical novels to draw the out-and-out villains
with imagination. The death of the latter, however, together with the
curious privileges of the Târkhâns are part of the truth which is
stranger than fiction.

For Âtma Devi I have also no warranty; Indian history does not concern
itself with womenkind. But dear Auntie Rosebody's Memoirs[1] have
supplied me with my sketch of the Beneficent Ladies, while, of course,
the story of Mihr-un-nissa, who in long after-years did, under the
name of Nurjahân, become Prince Salîm's wife, and, as such, did
undoubtedly add to the honour and glory of his reign as Jâhangîr, is
purely historical; even to the chance meeting in the Paradise Bazaar.


---------------------

[Footnote 1: Memoirs of Gulbadan Begum.]

---------------------


Pâyandâr Khân, the Wayfarer, is so far possible that the heir to the
throne of Sinde, who bore that name, suddenly lost his senses in
consequence of some direful tragedy, disappeared into the desert, and
was no more heard of. The crediting of him with hypnotic powers is
offered as an explanation of many marvels which are constantly
cropping up in Indian story and legend.

It has been suggested to me that for those to whom the word Mogul is
mixed up with tobacconists' shops and packs of cards, a brief outline
of the dynasty called by that name might be advisable.

It was founded, then, by one Babar, poet, knight-errant, perfect
lover, who is, without doubt, the most charming figure in all history.
He sacrificed his life in 1540 for his son Humâyon, that most
unfortunate of kingly adventurers from whose opium-soddened hands the
thirteen-year-old boy, Akbar, took an uncertain sceptre. In him the
glory of the Moguls culminated. After him three more kings were worthy
of the title "Great," and then by slow degrees the dynasty dwindled
down to one Bahâdur Shâh, a feeble old man, who after defying us at
Delhi, died miserably in exile.

Akbar was cotemporary of Queen Elizabeth, and his rightful place is
among the great company of dreamers--Shakespeare, Raphael, Drake,
Galileo, Michelangelo, Cervantes, and half a hundred others--who in
the sixteenth century arose (and God alone knows why or whence) to
place the whole world, spiritual and temporal, under the sway of
imagination for the time.

I have chosen as my period in Akbar's life that time of glorious peace
before the abandonment of the City of Victory, Fatehpur Sikri, which
he had built to commemorate the birth of his son.

The reason for this abandonment is unknown, though scarcity of water
was certainly one of the factors in it.

One thing is clear, the step must have meant much to Akbar; must have
involved the giving up of many cherished dreams. And it is equally
clear that his whole policy changed from the day he left what was the
embodiment of his own personal pride, his own personal outlook on the
future. Evidently he felt himself faced by some necessity for supreme
choice, and having made it, he kept to the course he had chosen
undeviatingly.

I have presumed to find this necessity in the bitter disappointment
caused to him by his sons.

This at any rate is history, and with a man of Akbar's temperament it
is impossible to overestimate the effect of knowing that his natural
heirs were unworthy, incapable indeed, of carrying on his Dream of
Empire.

Whether the diamond which plays its part in these pages is the one now
called the Koh-i-nur, or whether it was the stone afterward known as
the Great Mogul, or whether it was yet a third one, who can say? The
history of Oriental gems is often too mysterious even for fiction. But
there is a legend that Akbar possessed such a lucky stone, and it is
certain that William Leedes remained to cut gems in the Imperial Court
when his companions John Newbery and Ralph Fitch left it.

Finally, if competent critics feel inclined to cavil at the
extraordinary aloofness of Akbar from his surroundings, I can only bid
them remember that he was literally centuries ahead of his time, and
assert that in this very aloofness lies the only claim of any soul to
be remembered above its fellows.

The two friends whom he chose to be friends--out of the millions of
men he governed--fittingly go down with him through those centuries, a
trio; Akbar the dreamer, Birbal the doubter, Abulfazl the doer, who
between them made of the Great Mogul a king of kings.



                          A PRINCE OF DREAMS



                          A PRINCE OF DREAMS



                              CHAPTER I

   _What know ye of the wearer, ye who know the dress right well?
    'Tis the letter-writer only, can the letter's purport tell_.
                                                       --Sa'adi.


"Hush! The King listens!"

The sudden sonorous voice of the court-usher echoed over the crowd and
there was instant silence.

The multitude sank, seated on the ground where it had been standing,
and so disclosed to view the rose-red palaces of Fatehpur Sikri, the
City of Victory, rising from the rose-set gardens where the silvery
fountains sprang from the rose-red earth into the deep blue of the
sky.

Akbar the King showed also, seated on a low, marble, cushion-covered
pedestal beneath a group of palms.

He was a man between the forties and the fifties with no trace of the
passing years in form or feature, save in the transverse lines of
thought upon his forehead. For the rest, his handsome aquiline face
with its dreamy yet fireful eyes and firm mouth, held just the promise
of contradiction which is often the attribute of genius.

So, as he sate listening, a woman sang.

She stood tall, supple, looking in the intensity of her
crimson-scarlet dress, like a pomegranate blossom, almost like a
blood-stain amongst the white robes of her fellow musicians. The face
of one of these, fine, careworn, stood out clear-cut as a cameo
against the glowing colour of her drapery, and the arched bow of his
_rebeck_ swayed rhythmic ally as the high fretful notes followed the
trilling turns of her voice:


       Gladness is Gain, because Annoy has fled
       Sadness is Pain, because some Joy is dead
       Light wins its Halo from the Gloom of night
       Night spins its Shadow at the Loom of light.

       The Twain are one, the One is twain
       Naught lives alone in joy or pain
       Except the King! Akbar the King is One!

       Birth sends us Death, and flings us back to Earth
       Earth lends us Breath, and brings us fresh to Birth
       Love gives delight----


"Hush! The King wearies!"

Once again the sonorous voice of the court-usher following a faint
uplift of the King's finger brought instant obedience. The singer was
silent, the crowd remained expectant, while the hot afternoon sun
blazed down on all things save the King, sheltered by the royal
baldequin.

He raised his keen yet dreamy eyes and looked out almost wistfully to
the far blue horizon of India, which from this rocky red ridge whereon
he had built his City of Victory showed distant, unreal, a mere shadow
on the inconceivable depth of the blue beyond.

Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar, Great Mogul, Emperor of India, Defender of
the Faith, Head of Kingdoms Spiritual and Temporal! Aye, he thought,
he was all that so far as the Shadow went. But in the Light? What
of the Light beyond, wherein Someone--Something--sate enthroned,
King-of-Kings, Lord-of-Lords? What was he _there_?

He rose suddenly, and the crowd rising also swept back from his path
tumultuously, as the waters of the Red Sea swept back from the staff
of Moses, to leave him free, unfettered.

There was no lack of power about him anyhow! He stepped forward,
centring his world with the swing of an athlete--a swing which made
the bearers of the royal baldequin jostle almost to a trot in their
efforts to keep the Sacred Personality duly shaded; and then he paused
to look thoughtfully into a pool that was fretted into ceaseless
rippling laughter by the fine misty spray which was all that fell back
from the clear, strong, skyward leap of the water in the central
fountain. Was that typical of all men's efforts, he wondered? A
skyward leap impelled by individual strength; and then dispersion?
When he died--and death came early to his race--what then?

He stood absorbed while the crowd closed in behind the courtiers who
circled round him at a respectful distance. Beyond them the fun of the
fair commenced; bursts of laughter, a hum of high-pitched voices, the
tinkling of wire-stringed fiddles, the occasional blare of a conch,
with every now and again the insistent throbbing of a hand drum, and a
trilling song--


    "_May the gods pity us, dreamers who dream of their godhead_"


And over all the hot yellow sunshine of an April afternoon in Northern
India.

"The King is in his mood again," remarked one of the courtiers
vexedly. He was Mân Singh, the Râjpût generalissimo, son of the Râjah
Bhagwân Singh who had been Akbar's first Hindoo adherent, who was
still his close friend and soon to be his relative by marriage. The
speaker was in the prime of life, and the damascened armour seen
beneath a flimsy white muslin overcoat seemed to match his proud
arrogance of bearing. The courtier to whom he spoke was of a very
different mould; small, slender, dark, with the face of a mime full of
the possibilities of tears and laughter, but full also of a supreme
intelligence which held all other things in absolute thrall. He gave a
quick glance of comprehension toward his master, then shrugged his
shoulders lightly.

"He sighs for new worlds to conquer, _Mirza-rajah_," he replied, with
a faint emphasis on the curious conglomerate title which was one of
the King's quaint imaginative efforts after cohesion in his court of
mixed Hindus and Mahommedans. "You Râjpût soldiers are too swift even
for Akbar's dreams! With Bengal pacified, Guzerât gagged, Berhampur
squashed and the Deccan disturbances decadent, His Majesty
is--mayhap!--busy in contriving a new machine to turn swords into
wedding presents."

He gave an almost sinister little bow at this allusion to the coming
political marriage of the Heir-Apparent, Prince Salîm to Mân Singh's
cousin; a match which set the adverse factions in the court by the
ears.

Mân Singh laid his hand on his sword-hilt and frowned.

"If Birbal could speak without jesting 'twere well," he said,
significantly. "Those bigoted fools"--he nodded toward a group of
long-bearded Mahommedan preachers--"may howl about heretics if they
choose, but we Râjpûts know not how to take this mixed marriage
either; for in God's truth the Prince is not as the King, but an
ill-doing lout of a lad--so Akbar has no time for moods. He needs
skill."

Birbal gave another of his comprehending glances toward his master,
another of his habitual slight shrugs of the shoulder.

"Perchance he wearies of skill! The doubt will come to all of us at
times, Sir soldier, whether aught avails to check the feeblest worm
Fate sends to cross the path! But ask Abulfazl there, he stands closer
in council to Akbar than I."

There was a slight suspicion of jealousy in his tone as he turned
toward a burly, broad-faced, clean-shaven man whose expression of
sound common sense almost overlaid the high intellectuality of his
face.

"What ails the King?" he answered, and as he spoke his light brown
eyes, scarce darker than his olive skin, were on Akbar with all the
affection of a mother who glories because her son has outgrown her own
stature. "Can you not see that he fears death?"

"Death!" echoed Mân Singh, hotly. "Since when? There was no fear of
death in Akbar when he, my father, and I--each guarding the other's
head--rode down that cactus lane at Sarsa when the spear points were
thick as the thorns!--nor when at Ahmedabad he sounded the _reveille_
to awaken his sleeping foes--though they outnumbered him by four to
one--because it was not regal to take them unawares--nor when----"

Abulfazl laughed, a fat chuckling laugh which suited his broad open
face: "Lo! I shall have come to thee, stalwart and true, when I run
short of incidents for my poor history of this glorious reign. Yet
none knows the Most Excellent's reckless bravery better than I. But
'tis to his dream he fears death, Mân Singh,--his dream of personal
empire that is bound up with this thirst-stricken town, founded for
the heir of his body! And this fear of the force of fate comes upon
him at the Nau-rôz[2] always, since both father and grandfather died
ere they were fifty; and Prince Salîm----"


---------------------

[Footnote 2: New Year.]

---------------------


"Curse the young cub," broke in the Râjpût angrily, "what of him now?"

"Only the old tale," replied Shaikh Abulfazl gravely, "drunk----"

"Oh! Let the young folk be----" interrupted Birbal bitterly, as he
passed on. "'Tis God gives us our sons; not we who make them. Mayhap
some of us might have found better heirs through the town crier!"

Abulfazl looked after him pityingly. "It wrings him too, with Lâlla,
his son, ever in the Prince's pocket. Such things are tragedies, and I
thank heaven that my father----"

"If Abulfazl has time for gratitude to his Creator"--broke in a voice
polished to the keenest acerbity--"can he not find a better subject
for it than mere man, even though the man _be_ his father?"

Abulfazl turned in perfect good-humour on his bitterest enemy, the
rival historian Budaoni, who, as opponent-in-chief of all reforms,
still wore a beard, while his green shawl and turban showed him an
orthodox Mahommedan.

"Not so, _Mulla-sahib_," retorted the Shaikh carelessly. "I will leave
the remark as a _Shiah_[3] sin for you to chronicle in your _Sumi_[4]
fashion."


---------------------

[Footnote 3: Two opposing sects of Mahommedans.]

[Footnote 4: Two opposing sects of Mahommedans.]

---------------------


So saying, he also passed on to stand beside the King, and, as Birbal
had already done, strive to rouse him from his dreams.

"My liege!" he said, "the deputation from the English Queen----"

For an instant Akbar looked at him, resentfully; then the despotic
finger raised itself, and Abulfazl fell back to join Birbal in
failure.

From behind in the circle of the courtiers came an airy laugh.

"Will you not try, Oh! most learned! to rouse him with religion, since
politics and art have been given _congé_, or shall I, as pleasure,
fling myself into the breach?" said an overdressed noble with a
handsome evil-looking face as he bowed ornately to the group of
long-bearded Mahommedan doctors who held themselves together in
contemptuous condemnation of all things.

"Where God sends meditation, Mirza Ibrahîm, He may haply send
penitence also," replied their leader, the Makhdûm-ul'-mulk. "For
that, we men of God wait with what patience that we can."

"I would we could rouse him," murmured Birbal, standing apart, "the
generalissimo said true. He has need of all his skill--and yours,
Shaikh-jee."

"Mine has he ever," replied Abulfazl, simply; and it was true. No
lover was more absorbed by his mistress than he by Akbar and Akbar's
fortunes. He was obsessed by them.

So as they stood, those two faithful friends and counsellors of the
one man whom they held dearest upon earth--yet in a way unfaithful,
distrustful of each other because of unconfessed jealousy--there came
to them close at hand throbbing through the hot yellow sunshine that
seemed to throb back in rhythm, the sound of an hourglass drum, and a
high trilling voice--


    "_May the gods pity us, dreamers who dream of their godhead_."


"It is Âtma," muttered Birbal to himself. "What seeks the madwoman
now?" And he strode back to where on the outskirts of the circle of
courtiers some disturbance was evidently going on.

"Let her pass in an' she will," he called to the ushers, angrily.
"When will men learn that fair words fight women better than foul
ones. I will dismiss her."

"Bards of a feather flock together," sneered Budaoni, alluding to
Birbal's own minstrel birth. Abulfazl who was close behind his enemy
turned on him courteously.

"Mayhap he and my brother Faiz, Hindu and Unorthodox poets-laureate,
being disappointed of a worthy colleague from your sect _Mulla-jee_,
are seeking one--amongst women!"

There was a laugh, and Budaoni turned aside scowling, with a murmured
"May God roast him!" It was his favourite wish for the unorthodox.

Meanwhile a red dress showed through the bevy of protesting ushers and
the next moment a group of three persons was standing before Birbal.
One the woman who had sung, the other the _rebeck_ player whose fine
careworn face had shown cameo-like against her glowing colour, the
third an old man almost hidden by his big drum.

The woman was past her first youth, but she was still extraordinarily
handsome, and her dark eyes, full of some hidden thought, looked
defiantly into Birbal's.

"I am the King's bard--the King's champion," she said in a low rapid
voice, "I have come to sing to him."

Birbal bowed with a half-disdainful sweep of both hands.

"Those who know Âtma Devi as the daughter--the _daughter_ only--of her
dead father, may disclaim her right of succession. Birbal does nothing
so--so unnecessary! Akbar has no need of your pedigrees to-day, madam!
The King listens to no one--not even to your servant! Let the lady
pass out again, ushers!"

For an instant Âtma hesitated. Then her eyes sought the _rebeck_
player's and Birbal's followed hers instinctively. There was nothing
unusual in the musician's thin face save its excessive pallor; in that
he looked as if he had been dead for days. For the rest he was clean
shaven to his very scalp, and wore no headdress; nor much of dress
below that either. Birbal's swift downward glance paused in a moment
at something attached to a skein of greasy black silk which the man
wore, talisman fashion, about his throat.

What was it? A stone of some sort roughly smoothed to a square, and of
a dull green uneven texture like growing grass. No! it was like
leaves--like the rose leaves in a garden, and those faintly red specks
were the roses. Yes! it was a rose garden. How the perfume of it
assailed the senses, making one forget--forget--forget--


             "_Oh! rose of roses is thy scent of God?
              Speak rose, disclose the secret!" "Foolish clod,
              Who knows discloses not what's sent of God_."


The quaint old triplet seemed afloat in the air and Âtma's voice to
come from beyond something that was eternally unchanged, inevitable.

"Has the seedling no need of the root; does the flower not nurture the
fruit?" she chanted, her eyes still upon the _rebeck_ player.

Birbal looked at her, caught in the great World-Wisdom which poets see
sometimes in the simplest words.

"She says truth," he murmured to himself. "She says truth!" Then with a
light laugh he turned to Abulfazl. "Shall we let her pass? At least
she can do no harm."

"Nor any good," broke in Mân Singh hotly; "and it will but strengthen
her madness! What! a woman to claim a Châran's[5] place--to give her
body to the sword?--her honour to the dust for the King's? Psha! Bid
her go back to her spinning wheel!"


---------------------

[Footnote 5: The Châran bard and champion is a hereditary office held
very sacred by the Râjpûts.]

---------------------


Abulfazl smiled largely. "Lo! even Râjpût manhood lives in the woman
for nine long months--none can escape from the dark life before birth.
Yea! let her pass in, Birbal--she can do no harm."

"Nor good," persisted Mân Singh stoutly.

Birbal's shoulders moved once more. "I would not swear," he answered
airily, "since Akbar is not of the common herd. Go then, good mad
soul, and sing thy pedigrees, and you,"----he paused pointing at the
quaint green stone. "What call you that, musician?"

The _rebeck_ player paused also, keeping his eyes downward
submissively.

"They call it smagdarite, Excellence. It comes from Sinde."

"Sinned or no sin," echoed Birbal gaily, "the devil is in it. But 'tis
a good name. Pass on Smagdarite! Stay"--here the old man half-hidden
by his drum essayed to follow--"whom have we here? Old Deena the
drum-banger! In what vile stew of Satanstown didst spend the night,
villain?"

Thus apostrophised, Deena's comically wicked, leering, old face hid
itself completely in a salaam behind the drum, and came up again
puckered with pure mischief.

"That is a question for the virtuous Lord Chamberlain, Mirza Ibrahîm,"
he replied, demurely.

The sally was greeted with a boisterous laugh, and Mirza
Ibrahîm--whose fine clothes dispersed a perfect atmosphere of
musk--scowled fiercely. For Satanstown, as ultimate exile of all the
bad characters of the city was in his charge, and report had it that
he pursued his duty of inspection with more than usual assiduity.

"Sit thou here then, by Smagdarite," continued Birbal, recovering from
his laugh, "and drum from a distance, lest thou be utterly damned for
deserting honourable company. Hark! she begins!"

Âtma had by this time sunk to the ground beside the King. Her flimsy
scarlet skirts curved about her like overblown poppy petals. Her dark
eyes, full of fire, were fixed on the unconscious figure so close
beside her, and, under the slow circling of her lissome forefinger the
little drum held in her left hand was beginning to give out an
indescribably mysterious sound like the first faint sobbing of air
before an organ pipe breaks into a note.

From the distance, almost unheard, came the muffled throbbing of old
Deena's drum, and the thin thread of the _rebeck_, light yet insistent
like a summer gnat; both kept to the same stern delicacy of rhythm.

The singer's voice, high and clear, rose on it almost aggressively--


              Hark! and hist!
              To the list
              Of the kings who have died
              In their pride,
              To the wide,
                 wide,
                 world.


                      MÎRUN-KHÂN!

              Lo! He dreamt he was King!
              But he died
              In his pride
              To the wide,
                 wide,
                 world.


                   SO HIS SON SULÎMÂN

              Dreamt the dreamings of kings
                Till he died
                In his pride
                To the wide,
                 wide,
                 world.


               SO THE DREAM WAS JEHÂN'S!

              And he dreamt he was king
                Till he died
                In his pride
                To the wide,
                 wide,
                 world.


The rhythmic background broke with the singing voice into troubled
triplets, and the King's slack hands gripped in on themselves. Was he
listening?


       Now the tale of the Kings who have died
           In their pride
           Is many, and many beside.
           But the dream is the same,
           So it came----


The pliant forefinger's whirling gave out a continuous boom like
distant thunder amongst hills. Deena's drum throbbed a _réveillé_, the
_rebeck_ thrilled like a cicala--


                               TO KUMÂN

              And he dreamt he was King
              In the wide,
                  wide,
                  world----


"Enough!" The word came swiftly as Akbar turned with a frown. "The
end, woman? The end?"

There was a pause; then from the very dust of his feet rose her reply:

"There is none to the dreaming of kings!"

"There is none--to the dreaming--of kings," he echoed slowly, and his
eyes scanned her face curiously as he raised her from the ground. "Who
art thou, woman?" he asked suddenly; then as suddenly dropped the
hands he held, and said coldly: "Give her gold for her song." But once
more a fresh feeling came to make him add: "Nay! not gold--let her
choose her own reward--what wouldst thou, sister?"

His face, grown soft as a woman's, looked sympathetically into hers;
she stood before him abashed by the quick tie that seemed to have
sprung up between them, unable to realise the chance that was hers.

"Quick step!" cried Mân Singh brutally. "See you not the Most-Gracious
waits? What shall it be? Gold, fal-lals, dresses--the things for which
women sell their souls?"

She turned on him like a queen.

"The women who nurture such heroes as Râjah Mân Singh mayhap so sell
them; but I----" here her recognition of opportunity swept
trivialities before it, she drew herself up to her full height and
faced both King and court, her voice ringing like a clarion.

"I claim my father's office!" she cried. "Listen, O King-of-Kings! He
gave you faithful service when you came to take the crown of India.
What to him was Hindu or Mahommedan? He was the King's herald! Akbar
was the King! His eldest son--my brother--died to save the honour of
the Râjpût chief he served before you came! And little Heera--son of
his old age, begot _for you_, died ere his baby tongue had ceased to
trip in challenging the world--_for you!_ Lo! I have kissed the words
to steadiness upon his childish lips when father grew impatient! Why
was I not the son? Hid in this dustlike body lies the spirit of my
race. Is it my fault that in the dark months of my mother's womb, Fate
made me woman, as she made you man? Give me my father's office, O my
King, and if my tongue forgets one word of all my father's lore, or if
I fail in guarding the King's honour, treat me as woman then--but not
till then."

The dying fall of her words left the court amazed, almost affronted.
Here was a claim indeed! A claim foreign to the whole conservative
fabric of Eastern society--which heaven knows had already suffered
shock enough at the King's reforming hands!

But Akbar took no heed of the looks around him; he was deep in that
problem of Sex which was one of the many to claim his quick interest
at all times.

"The spirit of thy race is in thee, sure enough, O sister," he said
slowly. "Manhood is in the woman, as womanhood is in the man--do I not
know the latter to my cost? So take thy gift. Thou art the King's
Châran from this day. But hearken! If thou failest in thy task, I
treat thee not as woman--but as man."

He turned away, dismissing her with an autocratic wave from sight,
even from thought. "Ushers!" he went on, raising his voice in command,
"Sound the advance! I go. And my Lord Chamberlain, bid the travelling
Englishmen attend me in the Diwani-Khas. Abul! your arm; I would speak
with you about this queen--this woman who has stretched her hand out
over the seas to meet mine." He gave a quick joyous laugh and
stretched out his own--the true Eastern hand, small, fine, but with a
grip as of wrought iron in its slender, flexible fingers. "By God and
his prophets I seem to feel it here--a woman's hand close clasped to
mine."

A fanfaronade of trumpets, shawms, and drums drowned his words, as
with a waving of plumes, a blinding glitter of gold and jewels, the
royal cortège of Akbar the Magnificent swept on its way.

"One moment!" cried Birbal to Mân Singh who awaited him impatiently,
"I must find Smagdarite first."

But both the _rebeck_ player and Âtma Devi had gone. Only old Deena
remained drumming softly; a fitting accompaniment to the murmurs which
rose around him, as the immediate _entourage_ of the King disappeared.

"Yet one more insult to Islâm," muttered the Makhdûm-ul'-mulk spitting
fiercely ere he spoke.

"And to honest men!" asserted a jealous old Turk who was suspicioned
of having drowned more than one young wife on the sly, "for what is
woman but ultimate deceit and guile?"

"What?" echoed one whose calling could best be described as
court-pandar; "Why a means for man's making money withal; though the
King's virtue steals many a penny out of my pocket. I tell you he is
no King--and no man. Would either spend his moneys on duty instead of
pleasure?"

Ghiâss Beg, the Lord High Treasurer, laughed uneasily. "The money goes
nevertheless. Tôdar Mull as Finance Minister is for ever cutting down
state revenues, and the King's private charities----"

"To say nothing of the civil list for five thousand women within the
palace walls at whom he never looks," put in Mirza Ibrahîm
sarcastically.

"Five thousand and one, my friend," laughed a man with a sinister
face, "since there will be a pension now for Âtma Devi, King's Châran,
unless Mirza Ibrahîm prefers to provide for her himself. I caught a
lewd eye appraising her many charms."

The Lord Chamberlain frowned. "I was but following the lead of
Khodadâd Khân, who hath the quickest sight of any in India for a
pretty woman."

"King's pensioners belong to the King," replied Khodadâd of the
sinister face, "and I meddle not with Majesty."

"So Majesty meddles not with me," remarked Ghiâss Beg, "and leaves me
my quail[6] curry and my saffron _pillau_, it is welcome to starve an'
it likes on one meal of pease-porridge a day!"


---------------------

[Footnote 6: Favourite supper dishes on account of their supposed
qualities.]

---------------------


And as he rolled off, good-natured, hospitable, he felt in the heart
which lay beneath his fat stomach a pang of regret that the King, in
so many ways a prince of good fellows, the best shot, the best rider,
the best polo player, the best all-round man and sportsman in his
kingdom, should be so marvellously out of touch with his court.

But the princes, his sons, were, thank heaven, different!



                              CHAPTER II

                    _For the Lord our God Most High
    He hath smote for us a pathway to the Ends of all the Earth_.
                          *   *   *   *   *
                    _And some we got by purchase
                     And some we had by trade
                     And some we found by courtesy
                     Of pike and carronade_.
                                          --Kipling.


Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, etc.... To the most invincible and
most mightie prince Lord Yelabdim Echebar, King of Cambaya Invincible
Emperor--etc.

The great affection which our Subjects have to visit the most distant
places of the world, not without good will and intention to introduce
the trade of all nations whatsoever they can, by which meanes the
mutual and friendly traffeque of marchandise on both sides may come,
is the cause that the bearer of this letter John Newbery joyntly with
those that be in his company, with a curteous and honest boldnesse,
doe repaire to the borders and countreys of your Empire, we doubt not
but that your Imperial Maiestie through your royal grace will
fauvurably and friendly accept him.

And that you would doe it the rather for our sake, to make us greatly
beholden of to your Maiestie; wee should more earnestly and with more
wordes require it if wee did think it needful.

But by the singular report that is of your Imperial Maiesties
humanitie in these uttermost parts of the world, we are greatly eased
of that burden and therefore wee use the fewer and lesse words, onely
we request that because they are our subjects they may be honestly
intreated and received. And that in respect of the hard journey which
they have taken to places so far distant it would please your Maiestie
with some libertie and securitie of voiage to gratifie it, with such
privileges as to you shall seeme good; which curtesie if your
Imperiall Maiestie shal to our subjects at our request performe, wee,
according to our royall honour will recompence the same with as many
deserts as we can. And herewith we bid your Imperiall Maiestie to
fare-well.[7]


---------------------

[Footnote 7: Copy of real letter.]

---------------------


The polished Persian periods of the translation--the original of
which, drawn from its brocaded bag, lay before the King--fell
mellifluously from Abulfazl's practised lips; the final cadence of the
farewell holding in it a certain sense of finality.

Some of the audience yawned; surfeited with the magnificences, the
festivities of this New Year's Day, both minds and bodies were attuned
to sleep in the present, not to dreams of the future.

Outside the wide rose-red arches of the Hall of Audience; a rose-red
sunset was flaring in the west. Over the wide plain of India the
growing shadows were obliterating the familiar life of millions on
millions of men.

So there was silence; a second, as it were, of breathing space. Then,
suddenly, a gong struck, echoing through the arches and over the
purpling plain beyond them, in rolling reverberations.

One of the three Englishmen who stood in worn doublets and hose
awaiting the reply to their Queen's letter shivered slightly. It
sounded to him like the knell of some doom. Whose? Theirs, or the
King's, who, with face suddenly alert, rose, and standing, looked down
the central aisle. The assemblage rose also, more or less alertly, and
all eyes followed the King's.

So, cleaving the hot evening air, which seemed the more heated by
reason of the fierce blare of many colours, the dazzling glitter of
gems which came with that sudden uprising, the sound of boys' voices
singing a wild, wavering chant was heard. Then far away down the
pathway of Persian carpeting two tiny babyish figures showed, heading
a procession of lighted tapers. Boy and girl, they were naked save for
the wreaths of roses with which they were bound together, and for the
filmy gossamer veil, spangled with diamond dewdrops, which, just
reaching their foreheads in front, trailed behind them on the floor.
The first footsteps of the following choristers almost touched it, as
they advanced slowly, twelve of them in single file, each bearing a
massive golden candlestick containing a flaring camphor candle. The
smoke of these drifted backward, lit up by the white light to
fantastic curves, and rested like a pall over the procession.

The Englishman who had shivered, crossed himself devoutly as he
stepped back to let it pass. He felt as if some corpse lay there,
lifted high above the world, shrouded by that trailing fume of light.

And now the wailing chant of the "Dismissal of Day"--discordant to
English ears--steadied to something vaguely reminiscent of the Kyrie
in Palestrina's Mass of Pope Marcellus, as the procession formed
itself into a semicircle about the throne, the two tiny figures, girl
and boy, tight hand-clasped, solemn, wide-eyed, standing together at
the King's very feet.


              Come Night! Our day is done
              Keep thou the Sun
              Safe in the West
              Lulled on thy breast
              For day is done.

              Our light its course has run
              The West has won
              Lo! God's behest
              Is manifest
              Our course is run.

              His Might and Right are one
              Plaint have we none
              Come darkness blest
              Give us thy Rest
              Our day is done.


The words fell lingeringly, and with the last, each chorister bent
toward his taper and softly blew it out, the tiny children drew the
gossamer veil over their faces and, bending to kiss each other,
turned, still solemn, wondering, wide-eyed, to head the retreating
procession which passed, silently and in shadow, whence it came.

Was it merely the swift extinction of those twelve brilliant tapers
symbolising the Hours-of-Light which brought a sudden sense of
darkness to all the pomp and magnificence? Or was it only because
outside the rose-red arches the sun's last rim was just disappearing
beneath the western horizon? Or on that memorable evening when the
English grip first closed upon India did some shadow of future fate
fall to intensify the solemnity of the Dismissal of Day?

It may well have been so.

"Read that portion again," came Akbar's resonant voice in the pause
which ensued, "which says '_with more wordes we should require it_.'"

If there was pride in his tone there was arrogance in most of the
faces around him. Their owners had already prejudged the case, and
were ready with denial. On Akbar's, however, was only the quick
curiosity with which he met all new things, and a not unkindly
personal interest for the three adventurers whose bold blue eyes gave
back his curiosity unabashed, and whose worn doublets, shabby and
travel-stained, appealed directly to one who, like Akbar, was
desert-born and hardly bred.

"'_We are greatly eased of that burden and therefore wee use the fewer
and lesse words_.'"

The phrase seemed to satisfy, and Akbar held up his despotic
forefinger.

"Your names," he said briefly, adding to the clerkly figures who sate
in their appointed places on the floor at the extremities of the small
semicircle centred on the throne, the equally despotic word, "Write!"

"John Newbery, merchant," replied the tallest of the three, who was
also unmistakably the leading spirit. As he spoke he made an obeisance
which showed him not absolutely unversed in Eastern etiquettes.

"Your home?" put in Akbar quickly. There was a half-defiance in the
answer:

"Aleppo. My purpose is trade." Something in the face, however, belied
the latter profession for it showed the restless energy of the born
wanderer to whom gain of gold is as nothing to gain of experience and
of power.

"Is there then not trade enough in the West?" came the swift question.

"Trade and to spare mayhap, your Majesty," replied John Newbery, "but
not enough for Englishmen. We live by trade."

A faint stir of distaste rose from amongst the nobles, and Mân Singh
muttered under his breath. "A Râjpût lives by his sword--would I had
it in some wames I wot of!"

"And you?" continued the King, turning to the next adventurer. He was
shorter, broader, and had an open face, matched by his bluff, frank
manner.

"I am one Ralph Fitch by name, may it please your Majesty, citizen and
trader of London town."

The answer passed the muster of Akbar's mind, and he repeated the same
question to the third traveller.

Older by some years than his companions, his whole appearance
suggested a more courtly breeding than theirs.

"May it please your Majesty," he said, dropping on one knee, "if
indeed that be the proper form of addressing the mighty Jelabdim
Echebar, Emperor of Cambay, I am one William Leedes, a jeweller.
Native of England, educated at Ghent and Rotterdam. I have cut gems
for royalty"--his eyes fixed themselves on the almost rough
translucence of a huge diamond which Akbar wore ever in his turban as
a fastening to the royal heron's plume, and then he paused to draw
something from his breast--"like this, my liege."

He held out betwixt finger and thumb a small rose-cut diamond. Even in
the growing dusk of the Audience Hall it showed its hundred pinpoints
of light welded into one bright flash, and a low guttural "wâh" of
admiration ran through the immediate circle round the throne. Akbar
took the stone between finger and thumb also, and as he looked his
eyes clouded instantly with dreams.

"A hundred suns where there is but one," he said, absently; "'tis like
a many-sided life!" Then he held the jewel out toward Birbal, the
young Princes, Abulfazl, Budaoni, and others of the inner court who
were craning over to see it.

"'Tis better cut," he went on, "than the little one Pâdré Rudolfo
showed us. Where did you learn the art?"

"At the fountain-head, my liege," replied William Leedes; "of old
Louis de Berguein's son at Ghent."

"And you could cut such gems here?"

"Given the stones. 'Tis diamond cut diamond----"

"In all things!" interrupted Akbar, with a sudden smile. Then he
turned to John Newbery.

"And what do you bring us in exchange?" he asked.

"Gold; and all that gold brings with it," was the ready reply.

Akbar shook his head. "We have gold and to spare already!
Purse-bearer! Set forth the immortal money that they may see we lack
it not."

In the brief pause, during which an old courtier stiff with age and
brocade fumbled in a netted bag and set out a row of coins on an
embroidered kerchief, Akbar sate silent, fingering the vellum of the
Queen's letter, absorbed in thought.

"All is prepared, Most Excellent," petitioned the purse-bearer.

"Read out the legends, O Diwân!"

In obedience to the order Abulfazl, stepping forward, raised the first
huge disc which contained a hundred pounds worth of pure gold, and
read aloud from about the plain stamped semblance of a rose, these
words:


                     I am a golden coin
                     May golden be my use.


So from the obverse, where it encircled a lily, came this couplet:


                     Golden it is to help
                     The seeker after truth.


The Englishmen looked at one another. Their coin of the realm, despite
its stamp "Defender of the Faith," held no such sermons.

So from the next largest disc worth just one half the _s'henser_ came
these words:


                     I am a garment of Hope
                     May hope be high.


and from the obverse:


                     God in His pleasure
                     Gives without measure.


"May it please your Most Excellent Majesty," interrupted John Newbery
readily, "we ask but this; that following the divine example, your
Majesty at your pleasure may grant our request without measure."

Akbar glanced round his court tentatively, first toward his sons. The
eldest, Salîm, a big, handsome lad who looked years older than his
age--eighteen--was asleep. Prince Murâd the next, tall, lanky,
cadaverous, sate sulky, indifferent. The youngest, Danyâl, a mere boy
of some twelve years, was carelessly munching sweetmeats. The King's
glance shifted with a sigh to Birbal's face.

"Wanderers are always beggars," quoted the latter warningly.

"Has Akbar's purse no penny left as alms?" came the instant answer.

"If this slave's opinion be asked, as Keeper of the Most Excellent's
regalia," spoke up Ghiâss Beg boldly, "I must protest against the
jeweller."

Akbar's sudden laugh seemed almost an outrage on that decorous
assemblage. "Sure Akbar's crown can spare a gem or two? What dost thou
say, O Abulfazl?"

As he spoke, he sought the wide-open, tolerant, far-seeing eyes of the
man on whom, more than on all the others, he was dependent for the
capable grip on possibilities which changed dreams into realities.

The eyes narrowed themselves for the moment, their gaze concentrated
on that somewhat forlorn-looking group of three, awaiting the verdict.

"They come, Most Excellent," he said slowly, "by their own showing
from a nation of traders. 'Tis your Majesty's axiom--a true one--that
where trade flourishes justice must lie, seeing that the greater
principle of mind is needed for the control over the lesser principle
of gold. Yet, ere your Majesty decides, it were well that these
traders be made acquainted with your Majesty's law, which while
yielding due profit to the dealer, denies to him greed of unearned
gain; the law demands fair, frank dealing from both parties to every
contract of sale." He turned to the trio, adding courteously,
"Doubtless it is also the law of your land, and of your Queen; since
the fame of the justice of both has echoed here to the East?"

The three wanderers looked at each other dubiously, and Ralph Fitch
muttered under his breath, "Ours is _caveat emptor_ and it works
well."

Then John Newbery pulled himself together and made bold answer:

"We need no such law, for England while she trades free, trades fair.
And by that just fame of our country and of our Queen we engage to do
naught unbecoming of either----"

"And to abide by my laws," put in Akbar sharply.

"And to abide by such laws!" echoed John Newbery, adding to himself,
"so long as they may last."

There was a pause. Once more Akbar's hand--that true Eastern hand,
loose-knit, double-jointed, small, yet with sinews of iron--fingered
the Queen's letter. At all times his mind went forth joyfully to any
new thing, expectant, he scarcely knew of what; and this vellum,
warming under his finger-touch seemed to grow responsive.

It was like a woman's hand. Aye! it was a woman's hand stretched out
as a Queen's, to him as King! Stretched out across the sea; that dim
mysterious sea which he had seen once, long years before, of which he
had so often dreamt since, seeing himself standing with the ebbing
tide at his feet and calling across the receding waters....

Calling for what?

For reply--always for the reply that never came!

"Write," he said suddenly, "write: Who injures them injures me, Akbar
the Emperor. They have safe conduct so long as they remain in my
realms."

John Newbery gave almost a laugh of relief. His part was played. The
rest lay with Providence--and Commerce! England had gained a foothold
in India. Let her see to it that she kept it. Aye! and more than kept
it.

"There is yet one more petition," said Abulfazl hastily, as the King
made as if he would rise. "The envoy from Sinde waits to bring the
accession offering of the new ruler to the feet of acceptance."

Akbar sank back amongst his cushions resignedly. The province of Sinde
was a perpetual thorn in his side. Sooner or later he felt it must be
delivered from the tyranny of its hereditary rulers, but a Tarkhân was
a Tarkhân, that is someone whom even a king would hesitate to touch,
someone hedged round by strange privileges and high honours. Still
annexation must come in the sequence of civilisation, so what mattered
it if Bâzi committed suicide in a fit of drunkenness, if Payandâr Jân
his son--poor "Wayfarer in Life" by name indeed!--had gone mad and
disappeared in the Great Desert, or whether Jâni Beg or any other of
the ill-doing royal house of Târkhâns had seized the reins of
government.

It was a farce from beginning to end. His sympathies lay, if anywhere,
with the Wanderer who had sought escape, so men said, from hereditary
iniquity in the wilderness. From what? If rumour spoke true from
terrors almost too horrible to be told.

So he sate indifferent while the envoy, a slight man with flowing
black hair and beard, and curious dull eyes, read out from a gold-leaf
besprinkled paper that Bâzi had taken the baggage of immortality from
the lodging of life, that Payandâr having poured the dust of his brain
into the sieve of perplexity and so removed the known into the
unknown, Jâni Beg placed his unworthiness on the steps of the Throne
of Virtue.

He did not even look up when the reading ceased and Birbal advanced to
perform his duty of taking the missive in its brocaded bag and handing
it to the throne.

But a quick exclamation roused him.

"What is it?" he asked, for Birbal stood staring at the envoy.

"Nothing, Most Excellent!" was the hasty reply, but the speaker still
stared at the envoy's throat. Was it--or was it not--a smagdarite of
which Birbal had caught a glimpse beneath brocaded muslin? His
curiosity prevailed.

"I wait, sire," he added suavely, "for the virtuous name of this
accredited of Kings."

The envoy's hand went up to his throat; he bowed gravely.

"Sufur-Dâr Khân of the Kingly House," he replied.

For the life of him Birbal could not resist another low swift
question.

"And of the talisman he wears?"

The dull dark eyes held the alert ones.

"A common stone called smagdarite. If it pleases the
Favoured-of-Kings, this Dust-born-Atom-in-a-Beam-of-Light resigns it."

Ye Gods! A rose-garden indeed! Birbal's bodily eyes saw the slender
dark hand holding out the lustreless green stone, but his mind was
lost in colour, beauty, perfume. Rose-leaves twined themselves into
his brain, they sought his heart, their scent bewildered his soul, and
faint and far off he seemed to hear a singing voice--


      _Who would have Musk of Roses must not touch the Rose.
       Its scent is secret; only Heaven knows
       How the sweet essence of a spirit grows_.


"What now!" came Akbar's full imperious voice. "Must the King wait
while Birbal dreams?"

The rose garden disappeared, for Birbal, taking it, thrust it hastily
into his bosom, and then advanced toward the King with the brocaded
bag.

"It is accepted," said the latter impatiently, signing away the
offering, "the audience ends. Birbal, your arm. I lack air. This place
is stifling."

The Englishmen awaiting the Lord Chamberlain to conduct them to
suitable lodging looked round the fast-emptying Hall-of-Audience with
the sort of stupefaction which follows on accomplishment.

"If we lose grip," said John Newbery suddenly, "'twill be the fault of
metal."

"Mettle," echoed William Leedes almost sadly. "There is mettle here
and to spare already, God knows. Yet must it go, since it is not of
English making."

Ralph Fitch looked at him dubiously. "We be Christian men, comrade,
and these but Pagans. Moreover, our commerce----"

John Newbery gave a loud laugh. "The pike and carronade for my choice,
my masters! But cheer up, friend! We will do the cutting of India
whilst William Leedes facets yonder pigeon's egg Echebar wore in his
turban."

The jeweller looked up quickly. "Lo! I could not an' I would! There is
something of steady radiance in it that would defy my tools."

So they followed their guide, catching a glimpse as they passed
through the courtyards of two figures standing under the Great Arch of
Victory and looking out over the purpling Indian plain. It was Akbar's
favourite evening resort, and to-night he had his favourite companion,
Birbal.

It was growing chill already under the massive masonry of the palaces,
but it was still warm out in the open where the blistering sun had
scorched all day long into the very heart of India--that dreaming
heart hidden away under the wide arid levels, under the calm content
of its multitudinous peoples.

The little dancing lights of the long line of booths and shops which
edged the whole twenty miles from Fatehpur Sikri to Agra had already
begun to glitter. The stars were lower in the sky, and only in the
West, Venus hung resplendent. A haze of heat and dust from the
lingering steps of homing cattle lay in quaint streaks, still faintly
tinted with gold, over the distant country, and hung whiter, more
obscure, and mingled with the smoke of the city, about the base of
that mighty mountain of wide measured steps which recedes up and
upward, climbing the low ridge of rocks until it finds pause in the
vast platform whence--as springs no other in the wide world--the tall
Arch of Victory thrusts itself skyward exultantly.

"'_Hafiz!_'" quoted the King suddenly. "'_No one knows the secret! Why
dost ask what happens in the Wheel of Time?_' But we do ask it,
Birbal! How many years is it since we two have sought the rose-essence
of truth and found nothing but the scentless leaves? And yet 'tis
here! I feel it, I know it!"--he touched his forehead lightly.
"Strange to hunger so, after what is hidden in me, myself!"

Birbal shook his head. "What is self, my master? Purûsha gazes upon
the Dancer Prakrîti, but by and by his eyes will tire of her
disguises----"

"And then," interrupted Akbar, eagerly, "what then? When the object is
gone, what of the subject? Answer me that, thou cold Kapilian! Nay!
Birbal! I cannot believe it so. It strikes a chill to my very marrow.
'Tis warmer beneath the shelter of All-pervading Âtman holding both
mind and matter in tenacious grip. Yet even that is cold to my hot
life."

He turned slightly, and let his eyes follow the inlaid marble
lettering of the legend which he himself had ordered to be set round
his great Arch of Victory.

_Said Jesus, on whom be peace: The world is a bridge, pass over it,
but build no house there. Who hopes for an Hour, hopes for Eternity.
Spend the Hour in Devotion. The rest is unknown_.

"Aye! but a bridge to what?" he murmured. "Could I but know what lies
before me--before this land!" His eyes embraced the darkening plain,
and questioned vainly the reddening flush behind the departed sun. "We
hope--that is all--hope for an hour--hope for eternity!--an eternity
for ourselves and for our children!"

Those far-seeing eyes turned to rest lovingly on the red towers of
Fatehpur Sikri. "No! I will never give it up. Birbal--it is my city of
dreams--the heritage of those who shall come after me--the birthplace
and the death-place of the holder of an empire that is deathless.
Water? Lo! what is water? 'Man,' says Pâdré Rudolfo the Jesuit, 'doth
not live by bread alone.' Neither does he live by water."

"Natheless, sire!" put in Birbal drily, "it hath a trick of being the
birthplace of most things; and the last report of the engineers is
unfavourable. There is not even a dampness at three hundred feet!"

"Then we must make an aqueduct from the river--the Ganges, an' thou
wilt--even from Holy Himâlya," answered the King gaily. "Akbar is not
to be let or hindered by aught save Death--and even so"--he glanced
with his winning, affectionate, almost womanish smile, at the man
beside him--"thou dost not forget the promise that whoever of us finds
freedom first shall come back--with news."

"I have not forgotten, Master," replied Birbal. "Yet who should want
my poor ghost--if I have one?"

Akbar's face lit up with curiosity, almost with credulousness.

"A ghost! By my faith, Birbal--which only God Himself knows since I
sway like any weathercock!--a ghost is what we need! Someone to tell
us fairly, squarely----" Then he smiled. "Didst see one but now when
thou stoodst staring at the Sinde envoy like a fretted porcupine?"

Birbal paused. He had almost forgotten the incident. "Nay, I saw no
ghost," he said slowly, and his hand sought his bosom as he spoke.

Then his face paled, for he could feel nothing there. The Garden of
Roses had gone.



                             CHAPTER III

              Oh! fathers who have sung I sing
                  With woman's lips
              Yet shall your sword hold honour for the King
                  Till my blood drips
              To cover failure with red blazoning,
              Of set defiance, deathful-triumphing
                  Ohé the King
                  Challenge I bring
                  Ohé the King, the King!


The huge silver hilted, cross-handled sword she had been holding--its
point skyward--smote the stone at her feet as the wild chant ended,
and the clang of the tempered steel rang out over the roof as Âtma
Devi, turning to the north, the south, the east, the west, repeated
her challenge. She had put on her father's silvered coat of mail, and
her long black hair bound with a silver fillet about the brows, made
her look like some Valkyrie of the West, ready to avenge the slain.

A water-bright ripple of laughter came from the door opening on to the
small square of roof, and Âtma turned toward it fiercely to see a pink
and yellow lollipop of a woman, respectability, in the shape of a
thick white _burka_ veil,[8] flung at her feet, leaning against the
door lintel and watching her amusedly.


---------------------

[Footnote 8: The ordinary outside-veil with eye-holes in it.]


---------------------


Her fierce frown faded. "Yamin," she said slowly, "What dost thou
here?"

Siyah Yamin, pampered darling of the town, sank down, like a snake
coiling itself, amid circling billows of soft scented satin and
jingling fringes of silver and pearls. She was a small woman,
extraordinarily graceful, extraordinarily beautiful, with a tiny oval
innocent-looking face on which neither pleasure no pain left any mark
whatever. From the crown of her head to the sole of her feet she
looked, and was, prepared at all points for her trade; a dainty piece
of confectionery ready to satisfy any sensual appetite.

"Here?" she echoed, and the one word showed her a passed-mistress in
polished elocution. "Didst fancy I would stay in Satanstown because
his Majesty the Monk chose to lump me with other loose livers and
exile us beyond his city's walls? Not I!" Here the water-bright laugh
rang out derisively. "Lo! many things have happened since Siyâla
played with Âtma--what a bully thou wast in those days to poor little
me; and thou lookst it now, thou sister of the veil!--for did we not
drink milk together out of one vessel and under one veil, see you,
before I drifted to the temple--and so hitherward? Yea! leaning on thy
sword so--why! thou lookst beautiful! Could but some of my men see
you----"

"Peace, woman!" said Âtma sternly. The tall cross-hilted sword held
point downward formed a support for her elbow as she rested her head
on her hand and gazed thoughtfully at Siyah Yamin.

"Thou hast not changed much, Siyâla," she said, more softly.

"Come! that is more like," laughed the little lady. "Those were merry
old days! A pity thou didst not come with me to the temple, Âtma!
Better anyhow than widowhood ere womanhood began."

"Peace, child!" repeated Âtma sternly. "What canst thou know of that
high fate which makes of womanhood something beyond itself--but I
waste words. Wherefore hast thou come?"

Siyah Yamin pouted her pretended sulkiness. "Because from my roof
yonder--lo! how well we have kept the secret that thou didst not know
the Companion-of-the-Court was thy next neighbour!--it hath been such
fun, Âtma! beguiling the beadles whom his Monkey Majesty----"

"Have a care, Siyah Yamin!" interrupted Âtma hotly--"the King----"

Siyah Yamin coiled herself to closer laughing curves. "The King!" she
echoed, "Oh yea! Âtma and the King--the King and Âtma!"

The woman hidden within the sword-bearer shrank back and paled.

"Well! What of Âtma and the King?"

"Naught! Naught!" laughed the little lady, "but I have heard of thy
success to-day. What is there that Siyah Yamin does not hear? So when
I saw thee from my roof up yonder with the old man's armour and the
sword--frown not sweet sister, it becomes thee mightily--I just caught
up my veil, and ran downstairs (for we have many entrances see you,
and this tenement of yours is one of them) to offer thee
congratulations--since if the King cast even the wink of an eye on a
woman that is something! And they _say_ he raised thee by the hands!"

The hot blood surged into Âtma's face. "And if he did, what then?" she
asked.

Siyah Yamin rose, and yawning took up her veil. "Touching comes before
tasting," she replied airily, "even with Kings. And so, having offered
my gratulations on good luck--farewell."

Âtma stood frowning at her. "Thou playest a dangerous game, Siyâla; if
the King discovers that thou--the darling of the town--hast set his
rule at naught----"

Siyah Yamin burst into a perfect cascade of laughter. "Fie on thee,
Âtma! and me a married woman, veiled, secluded, a perfect cupola of
chastity!" Wrapped in her white burka, all one could see of the
devilry within, was two eyes brimming over with malignant mischief.

"Married!" gasped Âtma, "what man has dared----?"

"Aye! He is brave," assented the courtesan, "and I love him--as much
as I love most! And he is the best-looking of them all--is
Jamâl-ud-din."

"Syed Jamâl-ud-din of Bârha?" echoed Âtma incredulously.

The veiled head nodded. "Yea! He is Syed, and set on his religion. So
I said the Creed and he gave me one of the eight marriages--I forget
which. These Mahommedan ceremonials are not awe-inspiring like the
Seven Steps and the Sacrificial Fire; lo! even with no man, but a
dagger, that gave me shivers. Thou wilt come and see me, Âtma. It is
pleasant up there. We have joined four roofs. Ask for the Persian
_bibi_ from Khorasân and if needful give the password--'Kings-town.'
Rage not, virtuous beloved! 'Tis better anyhow to live under Akbar
than under Satan!"

So with a tinkling of silver and pearl fringes she passed upward.

Âtma stood for a while lost in thought, then rousing herself in quick
impatience, put aside the sword in its appointed corner, removed her
hauberk, laid it on the ground in front of the sword and on it set the
two lamps which all night long kept watch and ward over the weapon,
placed between them the death-dagger of her race, and so, her new-come
evening task finished, went toward the parapet of the roof and,
leaning her arms on it, looked out over the fast-fading horizon of
India.

In her dark eyes still lay some of the unrest, the resentment which,
since her father's death, had made the townsfolk call her mad: for
those words with which the King had gifted to her the Châranship,
"I'll treat thee not as woman, but as man," had curiously enough
brought home to her all the limitations of that womanhood.

How little she could do--except die--for the King's honour. Still the
roof was no longer voiceless. The challenge had rung out from it once
more, obliterating the sad echoes of that last dying effort of the old
man. She looked round as if listening for that feeble whisper.

No! It had gone. She was the Châran now! and the edge of the
death-dagger was keen enough for woman's flesh; she might yet join the
great and noble company of the self-immolated.

Her heart stirred in her at the thought of their deeds enshrined in
old bardic verses that had been handed down from father to son from
generation to generation.

They were in her keeping now at any rate, and she must not forget
them.

So, half-kneeling by the low parapet, her chin resting upon her
crossed arms, she said them over to herself rough, rude, almost
unintelligible, yet still instinct with fire, with courage, with
defiance.

She lingered lovingly over one: that tale of how the young
ten-year-old Heera when his father was treacherously slain and his
master falsely accused of high treason to his suzerain, was sent forth
by his mother to seek his father's body in the wilds, and having found
it, to take the death-dagger from the bleeding corpse, and so, all
travel-stained and weary, his young face blistered with tears, to
appear before the hasty tribunal and give the champion's cry--


                     It is a lie!
                     I, Heera, I
                     I take the lie!
                     Ye Bright-Ones see me die!
                     Avenge the lie!


And thus by his death force upon the conspirators a full inquiry. So
she knelt dreaming, her chin upon her hand while the glow of the set
sun faded from the sky.

Yet with all her dreaming she was very woman, and in every fibre of
her being she still felt the touch of the King's hands upon hers.

Such hungry hands! Dimly, in her sexless soul, she recognised that
quality in them. What did they want? Not womanhood certainly. But who
wanted that? No one. Motherhood was one thing and widowhood was
another, but sexual womanhood was nescience.

With a sigh she rose to fetch her Dharm-shastra and read her nightly
portion from its pages, choosing it at random, so many _slokas_ this
way or that way from the one on which her eye fell first. Yet despite
this superstitious selection, she was learned beyond the learning of
most women, beyond even that of many learned men, for her father had
taught her as he taught his sons--all save the Sacred Text, that
privilege of Brahmanhood. The limitation, however, left Âtma smiling,
since her widowhood outweighed for her the repetition of many
_gayatris_.

By it she gained a privilege greater than her brothers. By its very
virginity she became their ancestress, the ancestress of all her race.
That voluntary yielding up of sex brought her eternal motherhood,
because through her renunciation those heroes had found life
everlasting.

Her barren breasts--sucked of no child's lips--had nurtured
them--nurtured them all!

Shiv-jee, Râjindar, half a hundred others, were all her children. Aye,
it was her hands which had sent little Heera into the wilderness to do
his duty. His childish face full of tears of courage was hers!--was
hers!

There was no death; nothing but unending life that "cannot slay that
is not slain." So to her, as she sate reading the Sacred Book came
spirits innumerable, until in the vast multitude of men, her own
womanhood was lost.

A low knock came to the door. Holding the light by which she had been
reading in her hand, she rose and went toward it.

"Who enters?" she asked, and started at the reply.

"It is I, Birbal. Open, my sister. I come from the King."

He stood within the threshold unfolding the shawl with which he was
enveloped, and disclosing his keen face lit by a satirical smile.

"A good password, by all that's holy," he said airily. "Nay! frown
not, sister, I am of thy tribe."

"True," she replied gravely. "My father spoke often of Maheshwar
Rao"--she gave Birbal's tribal name with intent--"and said that could
he but learn not to jest----"

The faint laugh, the little shrug of the shoulders came, unfailing as
ever.

"Were the world less amusing, sister," he said, "Birbal might have
more chance!" He passed lightly to the parapet, and sate on it
dangling his legs "Padré Rudolfo, the Jesuit, hath it," he continued,
"that I am the fool who saith 'There is no God'; but Birbal propounds
no such proposition. He hath an open mind. His very errand here this
night, my sister, shows--shall we say credulity? I come, sister, for
thy _rebeck_ player. I need him."

"Wherefore?" asked Âtma quickly.

Birbal's mouth quivered cynically. "Shall I say the King desires him,
sister? Nay! I will not lie. I want him, because of a talisman stone
he wears around his neck. He called it smagdarite. I wish to see it
again."

"A stone?" echoed Âtma surprised, "what stone? He wears no talisman,
for sure."

Birbal's feet came down the roof in sudden excitement. "He wears none!
Better and better! Tell me where he lives, sister. I would see for
myself. Come! quick, the night goes on, and it is time the King's
Châran was abed."

He looked at her in frank mockery and she flushed slowly.

"If it be not for harm," she began, "he is but a poor player."

"Harm!" he echoed impatiently. "If what I think prove true, it is not
likely Birbal would harm one possessed of--smagdarite! Out with it,
sister. I have tramped from well to water, and water to well, these
two hours seeking the Sinde envoy, but it comes ever from each clue
that he has gone--disappeared beyond the city. So I bethought me of
smagdarite and thee. Come! where lives he?"

"I will take my lord thither," she said evasively. "Nay! 'tis no
trouble; he lives--he lives here in this very house."

She raised the light above her head and passed down the stairs. It was
a many-storied tenement house, that circled round a central stair, and
then broke away from it and wandered in labyrinthine passages to
return once more to the same flight of steps; or was it another and
she was purposely deluding him?

On and on they went through the dark silence, going down and down.

"He is in the cellars," she said, pausing at a corner to show with her
lamp a flight of smaller, steeper steps. "He is so poor, he cannot
pay. Have a care! the steps are broken!"

They stood before a small low door at which Âtma knocked. There was no
answer. "Wayfarer!"[9] she cried softly. "O! Wayfarer!"


---------------------

[Footnote 9: This is a fair translation of the name Payandâr.]

---------------------


Still no answer.

"I have a key," she said, and drew one from her bosom. Birbal followed
the light into the dark room. In that hot climate a cellar is no bad
place wherein to live, and this one struck pleasantly cool,
deliciously scented as by a thousand roses in blossom.

Birbal was conscious of a sudden elation. He was on the track
assuredly! The next instant he was standing beside a string bed on
which lay, wrapped in a white sheet, the figure of the _rebeck_
player. The clear, fine profile turned upward almost as if he lay
dead, and he did not stir when Âtma touched him on the shoulder.

She gave a vexed sigh. "It is the Dream-compeller," she said, "he
takes it at times, and lies like a log, and then----"

But Birbal, eager in his quest, had drawn the sheet aside, and now
started back with a swift exclamation. For, on the drugged man's
breast was no talisman; but, upturned as his, there lay the most
beautiful face surely in the whole wide world. It was that of a girl
apparently not yet in her teens, yet still close on womanhood;
perfect, delicate, pure, like some scented lily. Her breath coming and
going regularly exhaled the perfume of a thousand flowers.

"'Tis Zarîfa--his daughter," explained Âtma softly. "She is a cripple
utterly. Naught shows of her scarcely save her face, but when her eyes
are open, one forgets." She gathered the sheet together so as to hide
all that should be hidden. Only that perfect face remained asleep upon
the Wayfarer's breast.

"Does he give the Dream-stuff to her also?" asked Birbal, feeling
his voice unsteady. Poet, artist, to his finger-tips, the sight
before him stirred him in every fibre, bringing with it a sense of
half-remembered dreams.

She shook her head. "He sends her to sleep first with flower essences.
She is like a deer for scent--a rose makes her unconscious, and then
they sleep, and sleep, and sleep."

Slumber seemed in the air. They stood beside the low string bed,
silent, almost drowsy. Âtma roused herself with an effort.

"He promised he would not; but they must have been given money
to-day," she said regretfully. "There is no use waiting, my lord--they
will sleep for hours--perhaps days."

"Days?" he echoed interrogatively.

She passed her hand over her forehead again. "It seems as if it were
days. Then, when he goes out, I carry Zarîfa up to my roof. She is so
light. There is nothing of her but the face. Yet she sings like a
bird."

Birbal's hand went out to the lamp Âtma held and turned its light full
on her face.

"You are but half-awake yourself, sister," he said gravely. "And it is
all hours of the night. See, I will wait until I note your light pass
on the uppermost stair, lest danger lurk for you in the dark."

He waited for her to lock the door, then standing in the dark archway
watched her twinkling light circle the stairs, then disappear, circle
again higher up and disappear, until he judged from the failure of the
twinkle to return that she had reached her roof. And, as he watched
his mind was busy.

Who was this man? And did he really possess the art which some deemed
magic, but which he, keen rational thinker, found to be inextricably
mixed up with the whole problem of life? What was it that all the
great ones of the earth had possessed? What gave them their power,
their influence? What was it, for instance, which made his own
clear-seeing eyes fall at times before those dreams in Akbar's? What
was it, what?

His whole life was one ceaseless questioning; and finding no answer,
he jested at the very question itself. What was reality? Not surely
the death-like profile he had just seen, the death-like form with that
flower-face upon its breast.

He was turning to go when a burst of half-sober laughter rose close
beside him and a voice answered tipsily.

"Ts'sh, Dhâri, thou art not safe yet in Siyah Yamin's paradise, so
lurch not, fool, lest the watch seize thee! Take my arm, lo! I am
steady."

A sound as of confused tumbling against the wall belied the assertion.

Every atom of blood in Birbal's body seemed to leap to his hands in
anger, for he recognised the voice. It was that of his only son, his
spendthrift son Lâlla--the son of so much promise, so many regrets.
And the other was his boon companion Dhâri--another bad son of a good
father--Tôdar Mull the man whose financial skill had saved the Empire
from the oppression of bribery. Where then was the third of this
precious trio of young rakes? Where was the Heir Apparent, Prince
Salîm? Not far off, that he would warrant!

Slipping off his shoes, he followed up the stairs, keeping at a
respectful distance to be beyond reach of the lurches, yet close
enough to hear the password given at the closed door, not far he
judged from Âtma's square of roof. Allowing a decent interval he
knocked again and briefly saying "Kings-town" found himself admitted
to an inner, scantily-lit staircase which, however, showed a brilliant
light at its end.

A minute more and he stood looking with a curious amusement at Siyah
Yamin's paradise. The jade had taste! Here on the highest roof in all
the city she had set a terraced garden open only to the stars. The
little coloured lights, edging the rose beds and the tiny splashing
fountains, scarcely sent their diffused radiance higher than his knee.
It did not reach the edge of the trellised walls, and above that was
night; cool, quiet, night. A liveried servant salaamed to him
profusely, then returned to his solitary game of cards. A white
Persian cat rose, hunched up its back and clawed viciously on the
Persian carpets laid along the paths, then yawned showing its needle.
like teeth. From a confused heap of silks and satins under an awning
came loud snores, but at the farther end of the far roof there was
wakefulness; for a half-tipsy, wholly-discordant voice made itself
heard singing a song--


       Why am I drunken, fools? Because I sup
       The wine of love from out the bosom's cup
       And the soft scented tresses of dark hair trip up
       My fuddled feet.

       Because my wine-stained mouth has found her lips
       Too close for kisses, so their nectar drips
       To brain and heart, and body, in slow sips
       Of passion sweet.


"His Royal Highness, the Heir Apparent," murmured Birbal, cynically
as, looking half-mechanically to the sit of his turban, he went
forward. Time was when love--but never wine--had tempted him also;
_this_, however, was flagrant disobedience of the King's orders and he
must see to it. Siyah Yamin was the town's darling, but even she had
her limits and must confine herself to them.

He smiled sardonically, thinking of the torrent of words he was about
to face, since she, likely, would be the only one with her wits about
her.

And he was right!

As he set aside the silken curtains which hid the interior of her
painted pavilion from sight, he found the place half-full of drowsy
girls and sodden revellers; but she, raising herself from her cushions
on her elbow, greeted him instantly with shrill jest.

"The King himself! Oh! the honour! Nay, 'tis not the King, but the
King's Counsellor. Sir! I would rise," she continued pointing and
making a graceful wriggle of apparent effort, "but that my treasure,
my lover, my husband, lies dead-drunk at my feet."

Birbal gave a quick glance at the prostrate figure among the cushions.

"Yea!" she continued, her baby face at strange variance with her
words, which came, clipped hard and fast with defiance, from her
soft-parted lips. "'Tis Syed Jamâl-ud-din, of Bârha, sure enough. A
good soldier to the King though at this present somewhat overcome with
love for poor me and liquor; as indeed is the Prince of Proprieties
yonder. Ah! Most Revered! Oh! Most Excellent of Heirs Apparents! rouse
thee to greet this Select Emissary of a Fateful Father."

Prince Salîm, a big, heavy looking lad, stared stupidly at the
newcomer, his cup arrested at his lips.

"What'sh devil he coming here for?" he muttered fiercely. "That's what
I wan'ter know. What'sh a devil----" Then his ferocity subsided amid a
titter from Siyah Yamin.

"Heed him not, Birbal, Prince of Jesters. Slaves, bring a cushion! Sit
thee down, so, beside me--we be the only two sober ones. Cupbearer,
the cup! And bring the snow from holy Himâlya to cleanse it; for see
you most Brahman Birbal, Siyah Yamin is fast Mahommedan since she
married! _La-illaha-il-ullaho_."

"Madam," said Birbal interrupting her mocking creed impatiently, "if
you would play your part as the wife of a Syed of Bârha----"

Siyah Yamin gave a little shriek of dismay. "My veil! Here! women, my
veil! lo! I was forgetting."

"A truce to jesting, madam," said Birbal sternly. "Time will show if
what thou sayest be true; meanwhile----" he glanced round, hastily
taking in the company. "So! Meean Khodadâd! Hide not thyself behind
the Prince as ever! God! if I could kill thee 'twere better for us
all!"

Khodadâd, on whose face sate enthroned all the evil which in the
younger revellers showed as yet fleetingly, roused himself to laugh
insultingly.

"What! Kill a Tarkhân? Lo! Brahman, even thy caste in that case would
not save thee from the hangman's noose. None can punish me, fool, I am
Khodadâd--'God given.'"

"God given!" echoed Birbal passionately. "That brings _one_ balm--no
man need shrink calling thee son! And as for thou, Lâlla!--go!
accursed by thy father!"

"What'sh all this," murmured Prince Salîm rising unsteadily. "What'sh
all this fush?"

"My Prince," said Birbal, restraining his voice to respect, "this is
no place for you--no place for the Heir to India--no place for one who
will be King when his great father----"

Prince Salîm dashed his cup down with a curse.

"Let be a shay! I tell you I am King here! Am I not King, and the
Shadow of God? Am I not a shay?"

He looked round on his company triumphantly; but Birbal, utterly
exasperated, bowed.

"No, my Prince," he replied politely, "thou art drunk, boy, and the
substance of a fool!"

Siyah Yamin's tinkling laughter led the chorus of mirth in which for
the time even Birbal's anger passed.



                              CHAPTER IV

             _Beauty is no bond maiden; Lot it holds
              The veil which hides it from all earthly lovers
              But to holy-hearted noble-souled
              Unveils and all its loveliness discovers_.


There was another, and very different tinkle of soft laughter, a
rustle of silks and satins which in their stirring gave out
multi-scented perfumes of orange and rose, musk, and ambergris; for
Auntie Rosebody was in full swing of one of her recitals, and all the
harem knew that they were as good as cornelian-water for raising the
spirits.

Not that spirits required raising on this day of days, on which
the accession of the Most Auspicious, the Most Excellent, the
King-of-Kings was commemorated! Pleasurable excitement simmered
through the whole women's apartments. For weeks past, preparations for
the feast had been going on, and to-day would bring full fruition to
all their labours. Dressed in their best, the harem waited for the
ceremonials to begin.

"Ha! la! la!" went on Aunt Rosebody, enjoying her own tale of past
glories. "That was a feasting, for sure A Mystic Palace, and three
Houses; one of dominion, one of good fortune, one of pleasure. So my
brother Jahânbâni-jinat Ashyâni--on whom be peace--chose pleasure. And
he took three plates full of gold coins. 'There is no need to count,'
said he, 'let each lady take a fistful.' So we scattered them in the
empty tank, and the guests scrambled for them.

"Then the King, my brother, seeing this, said to our Dearest
Lady"--here the little speaker's little hands fluttered faintly as if
in blessing--"on whom be God's uttermost peace for ever, 'If you
permit, why not let the water in?' At first 'Dearest Lady,' out of the
gentleness of her heart said no, but afterward she climbed out and
sate on the top steps! Ha! la! la! la! It was like the Day of
Resurrection! When the water came, everyone tumbled about and got so
excited, but the King called 'No harm done! Come out and eat aniseed
candy!' So to end my story everyone came out, everyone ate candy, and
none got cold! _Bis-millah!_"

The little lady hitched her veil straight--it had fallen from her
abundant gray hair during her vivacious gesticulations--and beamed
round on the audience seated about her on cushions.

"_Bis-millah!_" echoed their laughing voices. To look at Aunt Rosebody
was enough for laughter. Despite her years, nothing damped the keen
enjoyment of life which was hers by right of descent. Her nephew Akbar
had it at times also; but the cares of life crept in at others. Not so
with Aunt Rosebody. Even her recent pilgrimage to Mekka had not aged
her, though Salîma Begum her daughter looked years older, and _her_
daughter the little "Mother of Plumpness" had come out of the five
years journeying quite thin.

But one thing disturbed Auntie Rosebody's equanimity, and that was the
misdeeds of her darling grand-nephew, the Heir Apparent. These she
would weep over, scold over, and finally condone.

So the smiles died from her puckered face as Lady Hamida Begum, the
boy's grandmother, swept into the arcade her face pale with proud
vexation.

"Say not so! sister-in-law!" exclaimed the little lady, tears in her
voice already. "Say not he hath been drunk again? Oh! my life! What is
to be done?"

Lady Hamida set her lips. "It is true," she replied, "and my son--his
father--is deeply angered. And what wonder, though in truth"--she
sighed--"this setting aside of all loose livers in Satanstown----"

"Oh! 'tis a premium on discovery," moaned Aunt Rosebody. "Why cannot
my nephew let folk go to the devil discreetly, and none be the wiser
save Providence? Oh! my life! what is to be done?"

"Pray for him," suggested Salîma Begum nervously.

"Yes! Pray for him!" assented an older Salîma who, being related in
cross-road fashion to half the harem had lost all individuality.

"Prayers!" whimpered the little lady wrathfully. "Have I not already
given up my pilgrimage to the scapegrace, and if that avails not, what
are prayers? How was it, know you, Hamida?"

"The tale is not for virtuous ears," replied the Lady Hamida icily.
"It is sufficient that my grandson has once more been brought home in
a state unbecoming the heir to my son."

"Tra-a-a!" said an elderly woman dryly, as she looked up from the
_tarikh_ or numerical hemstitch she was laboriously composing in a
corner. Then she took a pinch of scented snuff and removed her
spectacles; for Râkiya Begum, as the political wife of Akbar's
boyhood, was titular head of the Mahommedan harem as the mother of the
Heir-Apparent was head of the Hindu.

"With due deference," she went on composedly, "it is in the blood. His
great-grandfather----"

Aunt Rosebody caught her up fiercely. "But never clown-drunk
like this boy! When my father of blessed memory was drunk, he
was as the Archangel Gabriel,--of the most entertaining--the most
exhilarating--And he gave it up! Does he not say in his blessed book
of memoirs: 'Being now thirty-nine and having vowed to abandon wine in
my fortieth year, I therefore drank to excess.' What would you more?
And his recantation! 'Gentlemen of the army! Those who sit down to the
feast of life must end by drinking the cup of death!' It stirs one
like the Day of Resurrection! But this boy--'tis all his Hindu
mother's fault."

"And his grandfather took opium," continued Râkiya, relentlessly.

Lady Hamida looked up with chill dignity. "Let the earth of the grave
cover the dead, daughter-in-law. What my husband did is known to me
better than to you."

Râkiya Begum put the spectacles on her pinched nose once more.

"I offer excuse," she replied ceremoniously. "I was but going to
remark that both blessed saints, despite these habits, were good
enough kings. It is the unprecedented abstemiousness of the present
Lord of the Universe, who looks neither at wine nor women, which
throws the Prince's indiscretions into relief."

Her words brought solace. After all who could expect a boy of eighteen
to be Akbar?--who, in truth, scarcely slept or ate. And this brought
the remembrance that if Salîm was sick--as he invariably was after a
drinking bout--the pile of good dishes which the Beneficent Ladies had
been preparing these many days back against this feast might as well
not have been made! The thought was depressing.

"I wonder," sighed Aunt Rosebody, "what 'Dearest Lady' would have
advised."

A hush fell over the company. It seemed as though the sweet wise
presence of a dead woman filled the room. A dead woman who even in
life had earned for herself that title, who lives under it still in
the pages of her niece's memoirs.

"She would have counselled patience as ever," answered the Lady
Haimda. "Lo! Elder-Sister-Rose! Such tangled skeins can be but
disentangled by Time. I remember when my marriage----" She broke off
and was silent. Elder-Sister-Rose might know the story, might even
remember for her memoirs the very words of the pitiful little tale of
girlish refusal overborne; but these others? No! sufficient for them
the fact that the unwelcome marriage had made her mother to the
King-of-Kings.

"It must not spoil the day anyhow," summed up Aunt Rosebody at last,
decisively drying her eyes, "and by and by, perhaps, when his mother
hath done giving the boy Hindu medicines--in truth, though I admit my
nephew is right in deeming the idolaters fellow mortals, their drugs
are detestable--we may have a chance with a cooling sherbet such as my
father--on whom be peace--ever loved after a carouse. Meanwhile is
everything ready for the weighing?"

"All things," replied Lady Hamida proudly. "My son shall lack for
nothing."

"Then the poor will at least benefit, God be praised!" said Râkiya
Begum tartly as she rose. "Though this weighing of the Sacred
Personality is a heathenish custom unsanctioned by our Holy Book; but
what with his Majesty's divine faith, what with the shaving of beards,
the keeping of dogs, and mixed marriages, a pious Musulmâni such as I,
had best take off her spectacles lest she see too much."

She took them off with a flourish and a loud _Sobhan-ullah!_ which
echoed militantly through the wide arcaded room.

Then she prepared to put on her _burka_ veil; for trumpets were
sounding outside that it was time for the Beneficent Ladies to take up
their secluded coign of vantage in order to see the coming show.

"There is no need for all-over-dresses," suggested Lady Hamida gently.
"My son hath arranged seclusion in a new fashion."

"I offer excuse!" replied Râkiya with a sniff, "but my honourable
veiling is of the old fashion."

With that she led the way in her ghostly goggle-eyed wrapper.

Such tinkling of jewels! Such perfume from stirred scent-sodden silks!
Such hurried needless mufflings with diaphanous veilings! Such final
eagerness of outlook, when they could peep through the latticing, see
the throne almost within touch of them, and--curving from it in a vast
semicircle of which it was the centre--see the packed rows on rows of
nobles glittering with jewels awaiting the coming of the King. So
entrancing was the sight that the due and stately greeting of the
rival women who trooped to their places from the Hindu harem, lacked
something of lengthy dignity, and there was a general sigh of content
as every eye settled down to a peephole.

"Look!" chattered even silent Salîma. "Yonder is Sher Afkân new back
from the Deccan war! A goodly man, and betrothed, they say, to Ghiâss
Beg, the Treasurer's daughter--a little witch for beauty. They call
her Queen of Women--Mihr-un-nissa--and she not twelve years old!"

"See, Amma-jân!" whispered little Umm Kulsum, the "Mother of
Plumpness," "that is Budaoni beside the Makhdûm--O God of the Prophet,
may the Holy One's blessing rest on me!"

"Yonder is Faiz, the poet--oh fie! He hath his dog with him--the
unclean beast," giggled another.

"Aye! Abulfazl, his brother, will likely come with the King; they say
his stomach grows bigger every day trying to swallow what his Majesty
will not eat."

Râkiya Begum gave a cackling laugh. "Stomach or no stomach, he is the
wonder of the age. He hath approved this concealed one's verses."

"Mine also," bridled Aunt Rosebody. "He hath asked and used my memory
in his history. But wherefore delays the King? The show is like a
peacock's tail without an eye, and he away."

It was an apt simile. The almost inconceivable magnificence of the
scene made the eye wander. The acres on acres of gorgeous pavilion
flashing with silver-gilt columns, glowing with silken Khorasân
carpetings, filled to the roofing with tier on tier of grandees of the
empire ablaze with jewels, multi-coloured as a flowerful parterre--all
this needed centralising, seemed incoherent without a figure on the
throne. The very curve of waiting elephants--a solid wall of gold
trappings encrusted with gems which stretched on and on beyond the
pavilion on either side like some huge bow--seemed as if it might have
gone over the horizon, but for the tight-packed bowstring of the
populace blocking the distant view from sight with myriads of eager
watching eyes.

Suddenly a great blare of sound!

At last--at last! The Royal _nakarah_ at last! And see! sweeping round
ahead of a scintillating knot of horsemen, banners, lances--one man!

The King! The King!

A low moaning surge of sound came from the packed humanity for an
instant. The next it was lost in the wild shrieking bellow which
seemed to crack the skies as two thousand elephants threw up their
trunks head-high and let loose their leviathan throats.

An imperial salute indeed! One that never grows stale, and the thrill
of it paled Akbar's cheek as, with the shining sun, standard of the
Râjpûts on one hand, the glorious green banner of Islâm on the other,
he rode forward to take the throne which he had wrung alike from
Hindus and Mahommedans.

Of what was he thinking, as grave, courteous, he returned the
obeisances of all? He was thinking with a passion of regret in his
heart of a lad of eighteen found drunk in Siyah Yamin's Paradise.

And now, seated on the throne, his figure, clad in simple white
muslin--with the milky sheen of a rope of pearls, and the dull
white gleam of the diamond he always wore in his turban--its only
ornament--seemed to centre the magificence in curious contrast.

"The King--may he live for ever!--looks well enough," commented Râkiya
Begum, charily concealing her pride, "but why doth he not wear a gold
coat like his fathers? These innovations will surely lead him to
hell."

"_Sobhan-ullah!_" assented Salîma nervously.

They were such simple, straightforward Beneficent Ladies with their
high features, high courage, high sense of duty, of family, of
tradition, all swathed and hidden away in scent-sodden silks and
satins. They formed as it were a masked battery of pure benevolence
behind the throne, unseen, but felt; for Akbar gave a glance round to
where he knew his mother must be sitting ere, facing his empire for a
second or two in silence, he rose and stepped forward to the great
silver-gilt steel-yard which stood in front of the dais.

A blare of _nakarahs_ sounded the advance, and Aunt Rosebody from her
peephole said in an agonised whisper: "God send everything be ready!"

"Even the Mystic Palace, O Khânzâda Gulbadan Khânum! was not more
prepared!" replied Lady Hamida, "Eunuchs! take out the gold!"

Then, as the slaves staggered forth under their burden, she sate
clasping little Umm Kulsum's hand murmuring softly, "He did not weigh
so heavy--once!"

She was back in memory to the terrified travail of long years ago in
the wilderness when, as a queen flying from her enemies, she had first
wept at the rough looks of the hastily summoned village midwife, then
hugged her for very joy when the boy-baby was put into her young arms.

The "Mother of Plumpness" nestled closer to her in the sheer sympathy
which she had, and to spare, for all comers. Her round bright eyes,
indeed, had already sought and found the posy of violets which the
King wore half-hidden by the rope of pearls around his neck. She grew
them in her garden, so that the Most Excellent might ever wear the
flower he loved so well; that his grandfather Babar had loved so well
also.

Akbar, meanwhile, seated in the scales awaited the great platter of
gold, and a sigh of relief rose from behind the lattice as the
steel-yard, recovering from the impact, oscillated, then settled to
fair equipoise.

The gold, anyhow, was of the right weight!

"Give it to the poor!" said the King and the taut bowstring of the
populace gave out a surging thrill.

"The ornaments next!" whispered Aunt Rosebody feverishly, and held her
breath as with due decorum the second huge tray was hefted to the
scale.

What had happened? Was there a faint unevenness in the swing? Would
there be the least deficiency?

Ere the question, rising in ten thousand minds, could be formulated
fairly, it was settled by one small hand which flashed through the
latticing, and a scarce-heard chink told that a little gold bracelet
had fallen just where it should fall.

Akbar holding to the gilded chains as the balance steadied to
level rest, did not smile. He only threw back at the lattice one
all-comprehending remark of superhuman gravity.

"Thanks! most reverend aunt!"

Gulbadan Begum fell from her peephole with a little shriek of outrage,
and the remaining ten weighings, and the distribution of chicken, and
sheep, and goats, one of each for each year of the Most Auspicious
reign, had all been set aside for the poor ere she had recovered her
composure.

"Now is there peace, as the squirrel said when he had pulled the sting
out of the wasp," she remarked, hurriedly fanning herself with the
plaited edge of her tinsel-set veil, "but 'twas like the Day of
Resurrection!" This being her favourite standard for a disconcerting
event.

"Who flings, finds as he flings!" remarked Râkiya Begum with much
acerbity, "and if women learn men's tricks they must expect scandal.
'Tis the fault of ill-regulated youth!"

"Ill-regulated?" burst out Aunt Rosebody in instant wrath. "My
father--on whom be peace--loved to see his girls--but there! No
quarreling on this great day! Here come the elephants!"

They came, heading the review. Close on two thousand of them, three
abreast, moving like a wall, only their slow shifting pads showing
beneath their fringed war-armour. And as each trio passed, up went the
snaky trunks, and from between curved tusks a bellowing trumpet
shrieked out.

"Not to-day, Guj-muktar!" called the King appeasingly as one mighty
beast paused; and the wise monster passed on shaking its huge head as
if to rid himself of an unwelcome burden; for Guj-muktar was Akbar's
favourite mount, and objected strongly to a strange driver.

Then came the camels all scarlet and gold, with swinging tassels,
their riders bent almost double in sitting the long stilted stride.
Then the horses neighing, prancing, curvetting, led by gorgeous grooms
waving long yak's-tails. Next the hounds, lean, hungry-looking, pacing
beside their keepers, followed by the hawks quaintly hooded and
leashed, their bells jingling, looking like stuffed birds, so still
were they upon the falconers' wrists.

Finally--quaintest sight of all to the three Englishmen who seated
beside Pâdré Rudolfo the Jesuit, watched the scene with wide eyes--the
hunting leopards, their cat-like faces shifting and peering, their
dog-like limbs sinewy and sinuous, their long slender tails swaying at
the tip with rhythmical feline regularity.

"Samand!"

The King's voice echoed softly through the hot air. There was a
spotted, painted flash in the sunlight as a leash was slipped, and a
great creature was purring at Akbar's feet like a huge cat and rubbing
its back against the throne. The King's hand went down to it, and its
head continued the rubbing with still louder purrs.

"Lo! It is not meet," remarked Râkiya Begum with dissatisfaction. "The
Most Auspicious is no better than a _mahout_ or a hunter."

"He cannot help the beasts loving him," spoke up little Umm Kulsum
hotly.

"I offer excuse," snapped the head of the harem. "He need not love
them in return. Come, ladies! All is over save the soldiery, and they
are of no interest to virtuous women."

She gathered up her flock austerely, the Lady Hamida and Auntie
Rosebody lingering to discuss Prince Salîm's absence from the
assemblage.

"He was not there! I looked even in the backmost row," declared the
little lady in a flutter. "What thinkest thou, Hamida? Can he be in
prison!"

"More likely sick in his mother's hands," replied Hamida coldly. "She
was not with us either, and, didst see? They were feeding Prince
Danyâl with sweeties all the time!"

"Trash!" ejaculated Aunt Rosebody vehemently. "What can they do but
drink with sugar in their mouth from morn till eve? If they would but
give the lad over to me----"

Here she gave a little shriek of relief, for there, as she entered the
arcaded reception room, was the scapegrace seated sulkily among
cushions.

"Thou--thou evil one!" she began in shrill tones which yet suggested
endless excuses. "So thou hast been overtaken _again_, and in a public
place! Why canst thou not be as thy great-grandfather was in his
cups--but that is not edifying for the young. Ah! Salîm! Salîm! How
came it about, sweetheart?"

"'Twas the meddler Birbal--may God scorch him," growled Salîm sulkily.
"He came after his cub--else Khodadâd had stuffed the guards full of
gold."

"Khodadâd! Lo! Tarkhân though he be, he should die for high treason.
And where was it?--What? thou wilt not say. Go! Umm Kulsum and thou
also Khadîja--go to the threading the beads. Thou _shalt_ tell me,
boy. Whisper it--What! Siyah Yamin's! And thou new-betrothed! Oh! had
but thy father settled thee with a true bride of my race she would
have kept--or killed thee!" She gave a little shriek. "What!
Jamâl-ud-din--the scorpion! saith he hath married her--the piece!
Shame! Shame!"

Then she suddenly put her head on one side and regarded her
grand-nephew distastefully. "Lo! Salîm thou growest too fat. Wine and
women will kill thee, and 'tis well that Birbal--mind you I say naught
for him or against him, though he hath made me laugh often enough."

"He shall laugh on the wrong side ere long," cried Salîm savagely.
"Aye! he shall learn not to jest at me."

The lively little face grew keen. "At thee? What said he? Come,
sweetheart, let me hear. I will decide if there be wit in it."

"Wit!" echoed the Prince angrily. "No wit, but insult for which he
shall pay. Look you, when the Hindu infidel interfered with sermons I
bid him silence. 'Am I not King?' said I (as I shall be), 'and the
Shadow-of-God?' 'No,' says he with that cursed bow of his, 'thou art
drunk, boy, and the substance of a fool.'"

Aunt Rosebody attempted gravity; then her laughter brimmed over, and
the whole room giggled in response, including the bead-threading
girls.

"Oh! my life," the little lady was beginning when one of the women
guards entered hurriedly, crying, "The King! honourable ladies, the
King!"

He was amongst them almost before the circle of fond relatives about
the young Prince had time to rise, so hiding him from view. For an
instant Akbar stood to make his courtly greeting, then, seeing his
mother's pale face light up, he flung his turban with its royal
heron's plume aside--his shoes he had already left at the door--and so
passing quickly to Hamida's side took both her hands and raised them
to his head.

"Mother! I thank thee--for all!"

Her fingers even in his strong grip lingered there lovingly as if she
felt the child's curls still; then she said with a quiver in her
voice:

"It was nothing, son--the good wishes were more weighty than the
gold."

He gave her hands a little squeeze ere he released them.

"Than the jewels, mayhap!"--here he turned with a mischievous smile to
Aunt Rosebody who stood divided between joy at seeing him, and dread
lest he should see Salîm. "For _them_ I have to thank my aunt----"

"How dost know it was I?" she challenged furiously.

He looked at her with immense gravity.

"First," he said, "'twas the smallest hand in India! Next, no other
woman could shy so straight. When one has played ball, polo, God knows
what, in one's youth----"

"Calumnies! Calumnies!" interrupted Aunt Rosebody, her face puckering
with amusement. "The Most Excellent's remark was truly scandalous!"

The word was unfortunate; it roused memories.

"There be worse scandals than that to the King's honour this day," he
said, his face clouding. "Know then, Beneficent Ladies, that the son I
have forgiven--how many times? sure it comes nigh to the Pâdré's
seventy times seven--has been found drunk again in a common stew. And
he is coward too; he hath not dared to face his father----"

He paused, his anger turning to ice, for Prince Salîm--to do him
justice no coward--took heart of grace, and rose above the shelter of
the women-folk, who seeing themselves no longer needed stood back,
leaving the father and son face to face.

They were a great contrast. Both tall and strong; but the one all
curves and softness, the other lean, sinewy.

"I was ill," began the Prince sullenly, when Akbar interrupted him
with a contemptuous laugh.

"Ill? Hast not even a body for drunkenness? Go thy way, boy, if thou
wilt. I have other strings to my bow."

"My son!" appealed Lady Hamida who, knowing the King's temper, knew
that once lost it might carry much with it, "the boy has come to
us----"

"And what does he here amongst virtuous women, madam, and how came
they to admit him?" asked Akbar sternly. "Did I, son and nephew, even
in the hottest hours of youth inure them to such insult? Go, boy! Go
with Jamâl-ud-din, the exile, and his paramour. I have other sons!"

A blank horror settled down on the Beneficent Ladies. Never had things
come to such a pitch before, and some of the younger women sobbed
audibly. Only little Auntie Rosebody, with the courage of despair
stood looking first at the father then at the son, regret, anger,
irritation, showing in her small puckered face.

"Oh! my life! Oh! nephew Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar," she cried at
last. "Look at him--oh! look at him! He is a fat-tailed sheep and thou
art a hunting leopard! How can he race with thee? Give him time,
nephew, give him time!"

Something in Salîm's sheepish attitude appealed to the King's sense of
humour, a suspicion of a smile showed about his mouth.

"At his age, madam," he began sternly, the memory of his strenuous
youth rushing in upon him. Why! at eighteen, dissatisfied with his
agents of Empire he had dismissed them, and taken the whole conduct of
affairs upon his own shoulders. At eighteen he had begun to dream. At
eighteen his mind was busy with the problem of how to unite a
conquered India; how to efface from it all memory of coercion, and
make it look to him and his, not as to ephemeral conquerors but as
God's viceregents, the upholders of justice, mercy, toleration, and
freedom. At eighteen----

Suddenly he flung his right hand out in a hopeless gesture of
finality. What use were dreams, even the dreaming of a King, if they
were only to last for one poor mortal life?

"There is no end to the dreaming of Kings." Bah! The woman had lied.
There was an end! An end to all things.

But the worst of his passion was over. He turned yet once more to his
son and forgave him yet once again.



                              CHAPTER V

      _The world-revealing cup of the King Jamsheed
       Counselled the King in his pleasures and in his need_.
                                                 --Firdusi.


The Prince Salîm, despite all efforts of his friends, accepted his
father's reprimand in dutiful fashion. Truly Akbar--may he be
accursed!--hath a very devil of persuasion in him for those he
loves."--The scribe's hand paused in its swift swooping over the
Persian curves, and he looked up for an instant with all the evil of
his handsome face concentrated into an expression of bitterest
antagonism. Then he turned his head, listening ere he went on with his
news-letter.

"So far little has been gained. Yet the poison works. The prince,
grown older, than his brothers--who are themselves coming on for
rebellion--resents this leading, as of a young colt, and will ere long
assert himself. Already he is fit for intrigue; by and by it may be
for murder. And Akbar once gone--by what means God knows!--Salîm will
be our tool. Thus the dead to-day brings forth another to-day, and so
we (more especially this Mote-speck-in-the-Light, Dalîl, of the Kingly
House, Tarkhân, who waits in unmerited exile for his Lord's service
expectant of his Lord's recall) hope, knowing that all God's strength
dwells not in one man's body. Meanwhile the King's action in this
matter hath stirred up the whole city. Ere noon Jamâl-ud-din left,
accompanied by a goodly gathering of his clan all incensed at the
sentence of exile passed on their captain. He hath gone to his
relatives of Bârha and will doubtless rouse them to resistance. But
the jade Siyah Yamin hath done more for our cause than any, since I
have but now returned from seeing her leave-taking; for the baggage
hath elected to follow her lawful spouse. Truly 'tis said 'A torn ear
clamours for more earring!' Half the town were at the heels of her
palanquin wherein she sate veiled like any cupola of chastity, but
full of an evil tongue. Truly it was a sight to set pumpkins a-sinking
and mill-stones a-floating, since none knew what to make of it, with
the light men gathering up the flowers she flung, and the light women
praising her in jest for her fidelity. But it hath done our cause good
service, and the King may repent him of his virtue ere long. Thus
remaineth matters at this present. Whilst I, Dalîl, knowing that
straight fingers hold naught, crook mine in the service of the Head of
my House, Mirza Jâni Beg, _looking for reward_. This goes by the hand
of Sufardâr, envoy, whom I await this day past, but----"

In the act of writing the words "who comes not" the scribe paused
again. This time there was no doubt of a sound presaging interruption,
and the writer, thrusting the papers under a fold of his embroidered
shawl took up a lute which lay beside him, and leaning back amongst
the scented cushions began to strum a love song and sing in a high
tenor voice:


              Oh! Love! I am caught in the snare
              Of the scented net of her hair
              Oh! Love! I am stricken dead
                 With hunger for her, and with drouth
              Her foot is upon my head
                 Would my kisses were on her mouth.


"A merchant selling essence of rose by my Lord's orders," said an
obsequious dwarf extravagantly dressed; one of the smartest
deformities in fact to be found in the service of the young nobility
of the court. His cunning face, full of almost malignant
comprehension, had been overlaid with servile admiration as he had
waited for the song to end.

"Let him enter," came the yawning reply, "and, Yahéd, close the doors
on us. The lamp flickers in the evening wind!"

The song went on lazily--


              Oh! Love! I am held by the power
              Of her bare brown bosom-flower
              Oh! Love! I am lost in the mesh!
                In the very thought of a sip
              At the nectar of soft warm flesh
                And the touch of her lip.


Then the door closed, and he turned swiftly on the figure which had
entered.

"So, at last! I have been awaiting thee these four-and-twenty hours.
And wherefore was there no due notice of arrival? Lo! my liver
dissolved when the arch-heretic, Abul, spoke at the King's audience of
an envoy from Sinde. For aught I knew Jâni Beg might have failed to
secure the crown. It was a relief to see thy face--but how came all
this Sufardâr?"

He spoke as one having authority, but the supposed merchant answered
sulkily as he unwound his close-draped shawl, so disclosing, in truth,
the slender spareness and the high pallid features of the envoy from
Sinde.

"If thou canst tell me how it came about, Oh! Dalîl Tarkhân of the
House of Kings," he said, "thou knowest more than I, the companion of
thy youth; since I know naught. A blank as of death lies behind me
from the time we encamped at noon yesterday, five miles beyond the
city."

The whilom scribe looked cynically at the dull opium-drugged eyes.

"A blank!" he echoed. "How much of the Dream-compeller goes to make
that for thee now a days, Oh! Sufar?"

Those dulled eyes lit up with sudden fire. "No more, I swear to God,
than the noon-day pellet of twelve years agone. Thou knowest the old
Tuglak tombs about Biggâya's Serai? The tents were late and it was
hot, so I slept in one of them----"

"Curse thee! Sleep where thou willst," interrupted his companion
impatiently, "but give me the packet. I must answer it, if answer be
required." He held out his hand, scented, manicured, be-ringed like
any modern lady's.

The envoy's face showed uneasiness. "If thou wouldst listen, thou
wouldst learn," he said vexedly. "I slept and dreamed. Then I woke;
but it was to to-day, not to yesterday."

"But thou wast at the Audience--for I saw thee! Aye! and I wondered
what Birbal, the heretic pig, had to say to thee as he kept the King
waiting."

The envoy shook his head slowly. "It is a blank; and hearken, _Mirza
sahib_, the packet hath gone!"

"Gone!" echoed the other again, his face paling at the thought of
Akbar's ever-swift punishment for treason. "Thou hast lost the letter;
and this tale of forgetfulness----"

The envoy from Sinde leant forward and laid one warning finger,
slender, almost emaciated, on his companion's well-kept hand. "'Tis no
tale, but a mystery. The packet was ever in my girdle cloth, and left
not my side day nor night. None knew of it. And I remember nothing of
my sleep, except my dream." He shivered and looked round
apprehensively. "It was a dream of nigh thirteen years ago--of--of a
rose-garden, _Mirza Dalîl!_ Oh! thou mayst laugh, but I curse the day
that ever I took a part in that damned work of thine. It comes between
me and my prayers."

Mirza Dalîl laughed airily. "It comes not between me and mine; but
then I am Tarkhân. There must be nine deadly sins ere even earthly
punishment be thought of, and I am but at my seventh; or stay, is it
eighth? Truly I know not and it matters not. But this tale of
thine--What says thy retinue?"

The envoy's face fell.

"They say I woke as ever, and gave the orders for the audience but I
remember naught, save----"

"Turn thy forgetfulness toward rose-gardens, opium-eater!" interrupted
the man he called Dalîl sternly. "Have I not ever told thee thou wert
but as a beast to give up the heavenly dreams of hemp for the clogging
sleep of the poppy. Thou wert drunk, that is all--or hast been since.
So remembrance is left with the drug. As for the packet--thou hast
lost--or sold it. Lucky for me, no names come from Sinde, and none
here know me save as Khodadâd--Khodadâd, the gift of God, the
companion of princes, the chamberlain of pleasures to the
Heir-Apparent! Khodadâd adventurer, made Tarkhân on the battlefield by
the King's brother, the rebel of Kabul, because, being above myself
with hemp, I saved his life! _Made_ Tarkhân, thou prophet of God! and
I a Tarkhân by birth. Still," he continued, checking himself in his
reckless mirth, "thou art in luck. But mark me, if by this loss
suspicion comes--aye! even a suspicion that Khodadâd is of the Kingly
House (younger brother, aye! even though he be a bastard, of the fool
Payandâr who went mad over the rose-garden) thy life is not worth
much. Go therefore. Here is thy packet." He drew out the paper he had
written, set the seal he wore on his first finger to it, folded it
neatly, then continued with an evil smile, "Mind I say naught in it
against thee. Thou mightest _lose_ the letter if I did. But I will see
thou comest not with messages again."

"Lo! that will I not," muttered the envoy, wrapping his shawl round
him as before. "This very sight of thee recalls the rose-garden--I
seem to hear her piteous cries----"

Khodadâd lay back amongst his cushions and laughed.

"Thou art far gone in opium, Sufardâr!" he said chuckling. "Ere long
thou wilt see the devil clutching thee, for sure! God's prophet, man,
hadst heard as many maidens' screechings as I!" He was silent but
smiling, evidently in pursuit of memory, and when the envoy had gone
he lay back among those scented cushions and allowed himself a certain
latitude of remembrance. At five-and-thirty there were few experiences
of which he had no cognizance; but it needed many experiences to leave
a mark on a Tarkhân! As he lounged lazily the soft night air fanning
his perfumed hair, his smooth yellow skin oily with unguents, every
atom of his body and soul surcharged with sensuality, there yet came
to him an uprush of almost wild pride in his race, in the honours, the
privileges which distinguished it even from the common herd of
princedom. A Bârlâs Tarkhân! Bârlâs the brave! Master of seven
distinctions in procession or audience. Free of every part of a king's
palace by night and day! Aye and more! Having the right to drink with
the King! So that when the Royal cup was handed from the right, the
Tarkhân's cup was handed from the left. And still more. With the right
to set his seal to all royal orders, above the King's seal!
Unpunishable too--until the uttermost. And then? If Mirza Dalîl's face
grew gray as he thought of that uttermost assize, it was not
altogether in fear, since there are some things pertaining to race
which bring with them an almost passionate acquiescence even in
terror; and this thought of the final verdict of his peers, to be
carried out by those peers with many ceremonials, had in it an element
of pride.

Besides, here, in a far country away from those peers, there was small
danger of the Silent Session being held.

So he looked out over the vast shadows of the town, wondering vaguely
how he should fill up the night with iniquities. He would have an
excellent companion--which was half the battle--since he had been
asked to sup with Mirza Ibrahîm, the Lord Chamberlain. There would be
business first, no doubt, due to the Heir-Apparent's childish
knuckling under, since some new intrigue must be set on foot to weaken
Akbar's authority; but once that was over Ibrahîm might be counted on
to make the hours hum. So he clapped his hands for the tiremen and
fresh dressing, and shaving, and scenting; then, after due dallying
with cosmetics and dyes, set off--the very pink of fashion--in his
gilded litter in which he lay lazily fanned with a peacock's feather
fan by a tiny boy who sate at his feet dressed in a girl's tinsel-set
garments, his hair braided on his forehead in the virginal plaits.

As he was borne through the silent streets with running torches beside
the ambling porters, a host of pipe-bearers, toothpick holders,
keepers of aphrodisaical pills, and general panderers trotting behind
him, he was Eastern vice personified; soft, perfumed, relentless.

So he disappeared into the Palace and the star-lit world was quit of
him for a time; for the night was spangled beyond belief. Spangled
with myriads of stars, not white as in northern climes, but holding in
their shine faint hints of rose, and green, and blue, and amber.

Against the clear obscure, the terraced town showed like some vast
fort, turreted, battlemented, from which one by one the twinkling
lights disappeared as the hours of the night wore on; until at last
only a few lay sparsely about its feet circling the outcast colony of
Satanstown where, by Akbar's orders, vice dwelt and turned darkness
into day. Above, all was shadow, save for one light high up on the
palace whose outline struck firm against the velvet of the sky. It
shone from Akbar's balcony; Akbar who after his usual habit watched
while his subjects slept. To-night, however, something more than mere
meditation absorbed him, as he sate, girt about the middle of his
loose, white, woollen garment like some Franciscan monk. His face
dark, aquiline, not so much ascetic as strenuous, was bent on William
Leedes, the English jeweller, as he weighed in his balance the great
uncut diamond from the King's turban.

The gold and gemmed setting from which it had been removed lay on the
floor, and the irregularly ovoid stone itself gave out flickering
brightnesses as it oscillated gently under the light of the seven
branched golden cresset-stand in the alcove. Beneath this stand,
backed partly by the tendril-inlaid curves of agate and chalcedony,
lapis-lazuli and cornelian upon the marble wall, and partly by the
pearl embroidered yellow satin cushions amongst which the King
reclined, was a beautifully embossed silver clepsydre, or water clock,
in which the floating bowl was fashioned in enamel like a sacred
lotus; and beside this stood the marvellous censer, a triumph of
goldsmith's and jeweller's art from which day and night arose the
scented smoke which Akbar loved. Beyond, through the arches of the
balcony, lay the night, velvety dark.

"Five hundred and sixty carats," murmured William Leedes to himself,
"the largest known diamond in this world!--and of a most elegant
water; but----" He looked up, his face full of denial. "It would
mayhap lose half its weight in the cutting, great King," he said
sharply, "and--God knows in His grace but we might cut out the King's
Luck thereby."

He looked as if for support to the two men who stood behind him. They
were Râjah Birbal and Shaik Abulfazl. The latter, seeing his master
frown, interrupted the jeweller in hasty excuse.

"I but told him, Most Exalted, that the populace hold the stone a
talisman; and sure at all times the luck of the Most Excellent has
been stupendous. Still, we of the enlightened give praise where praise
is due and not to stocks and stones."

Birbal shrugged his shoulders. "Say, rather, Shaikjee," he remarked
urbanely, "that the wise see an Eternal cause even in stocks and
stones."

The eyes of those two counsellors of the King were on each other in
rivalry; but the King himself bent forward to touch the diamond with
one pliant finger, and a faint fear showed in his face. Then he leant
back once more.

"Luck is of God," he said, "and this stone----" he paused beset by
recollections of the years he had worn it--ever since as a boy of
three he had made his way safely through the great Snow-land.

"The stone, sire," put in William Leedes, firmly, "is as God made it.
'Tis well to remember that----"

He was looking at the King and the King's eyes were on his; for the
time the whole of the rest of the world was empty for them both.

"Aye! But what of that He wishes it to be? What of that, sir
jeweller?" came the swift answer, "therein lies kingcraft, to see what
His will needs--and give it."

William Leedes bowed silently and there was a pause; then bluntly,
suddenly, he said, "Yet, Great King, would I rather have naught to do
with the cutting thereof."

In an instant Akbar's eyes flashed fire.

"Thou hast not, slave! 'Tis I who order it. Birbal! to thy charge the
arrangements. The room next Diswunt the painter's, in the Court of
Labour, is vacant. See it prepared. Double the guards if necessary--to
thee I leave--the King's Luck."

A faint smile came to his face, but Birbal and Abulfazl looked at each
other, and finally the latter spoke.

"This dust-like one," he said tentatively and yet with firmness,
"presumes not to offer wisdom to its fount; but to the minds of the
Most Exalted's devoted slaves it seems as if to the populace, there
might be danger in Royalty appearing without the talisman to which all
have looked as security for the King's success in all ways. Therefore
if Majesty _will_ ordain the cutting of the Eastern gem in Western
fashion, let it at least condescend to wear in its place--until the
gem return--a veritable Mountain of Light doubtless a substitute.
Pooroo, the false jewel maker, who can deceive all but a diamond
itself, hath the cast of the King's Luck, made when the Most Exalted
changed the setting thereof. Let him fashion a double to deceive----"

"Deceive?" came Akbar's voice with a note of affectionate reproach in
it, "deceive whom? Fate or the people? Lo! Abulfazl! to what end?
Since if the tale _be not true_ that luck lies in the stone, what need
to regard it? And if it _be true_, how shall the false gem hoodwink
God?"

He raised himself as he spoke, holding the diamond in his palm as an
orb.

"Luck!" he said dreamily, "thou art mine to-night; and to-morrow is
Fate's! Go!"

He gave the Eastern wave of dismissal and sank back amongst his
cushions; sank back with more than usual lassitude, for the day had
left him weary. It was no small thing to one of his temperament to
quarrel with his son, his heir. It was a still greater thing to
forgive him causelessly.

Therein lay the sting. The causelessness of the forgiveness, the lack
of any security against a recurrence of the offence. So, as he thought
of this, with a rush came back the memory of many a similar scene, and
his fingers clasped in upon themselves as the disappointment ate into
his very soul. Surely he had a right to expect more of Fate?--he who
had waited so long, so patiently for an heir--since in those long
years of waiting the very thought of mere sonship had been forgotten
in the heirship. Yes, even now, Love seemed too trivial to count
against Empire! Yet it was Love which had prompted forgiveness. Love
of what?--what? Of himself surely--the love which claimed to live in
his son--to live on....

"Shall I bid the Reader of Wisdom to the Wise resume his task," came
Birbal's voice. Noting the King's weariness he had lingered behind the
others.

The King started, then looked round cheerfully. "Not to-night, friend;
I have food for thought, and if I lack more--it waits below," he said,
and leaning forward, rested his arm on the marble balustrade of the
balcony, so pointed downward into the void darkness of the night.
Through it like a little line of light fading into nothingness, ran
the signal string attached to the quaint contrivance by which the King
could secure, when the mood seized him, the presence of an opponent
for some midnight argument. One touch at the cord and through the
darkness the disputant waiting below, would by an ingenious system of
counterpoise rise in a domed dhooli to the level of the balcony. Akbar
laid his finger on the tense string, then once more looked back
suddenly into Birbal's face.

"Ah! friend!" he said bitterly. "Could we but sound the Great Darkness
as I can sound this little night, certain that my need will bring some
sage, or fool, or knave, to keep Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar, Defender
of the Faith, from wearying for sleep! But from the great Depths there
comes no answer. The mystery is unfathomable--man's reason wanders
bewildered in the streets of the City of God."

His voice sank in silence; then yet once again, he roused himself.

"Farewell, friend, for the night--the night that will bring
to-morrow--Ye Gods! How will it be when the Night of Death closes
in--on one of us?"

Birbal sank to his knees and touched his master's feet with his
forehead. He had no other answer; so silently he passed through the
great wadded curtains of gold tissue which separated the alcove from
the rest of the room, leaving the King alone, lost in thought.

The problem of a future life had pressed on him all his days, and yet,
he told himself as he sate thinking, the fact had not interfered with
his enjoyment of the present one. Verily he had drunk of the cup of
life to the dregs. His vitality had spared neither himself nor his
world.

The memory of man is curiously creative. Out of the welter of
remembrance it chooses this and that in obedience to no law, but
arbitrarily, whimsically. It passes by unseen the peaks of past
passion, and makes mountains of the merest mole-hill of caprice.

So, as Akbar looked back over his life, he found many a triviality
standing out as clear, as untouched by Time, as many a tragedy, many a
palpable turning point in his career.

The first snow he ever saw? The sight came back to him as if he had
seen it yesterday, though five-and-forty years had passed since that
perilous journey from Kandahar to Kabul in charge of his foster-nurse
Anagâh. Dear Anagâh! How he had loved her! More, in a way, than he had
loved his absent, stately mother; but he had vague recollections of
that quaint meeting with the latter after three long years of
separation, when his father, as a joke, had brought him--a little
lad-ling of six--into a great circle of unveiled women and bidden him
to choose a mother for himself.

He had chosen right, but the very recollection of his choice had gone.
All he remembered was quick clasping arms and a kiss--surely the
sweetest kiss of his life.

The sweetest? No!

That (even after five-and-twenty years the horror, the despair of it
seemed to overwhelm him again) had been the last passion-fraught
kiss he had given to--to a murderer--to Adham! Adham his foster
brother--his playmate Adham, whom he loved, whom he trusted.

Oh! God! the tragedy of it! Why did such things come into this little
trivial life?

Yet it was inevitable. If Adham were to come to him now as he had done
that day; reckless, defiant, presuming on his position, boasting of
the foul murder of an old man whom he conceived to be his enemy, the
same swift justice must follow.

The beads of sweat started to Akbar's brow as he remembered the sudden
grip of his own strong young arms, the relentless forcing backward to
the parapet's edge, and then--before the final fling--that kiss!

And thereinafter silence. No! not silence--tears! Anagâh--dear
Anagâh's tears. She had died of a broken heart because of her son's
death--died without one word of forgiveness for the doer of justice.

Yet he did not regret the deed, though he had always, even as a boy,
been tender of life.

"I will fight a whole enemy, I will not slay a wounded one."

The very words of his refusal when his tutor had bidden him whet his
maiden sword on the rebel Hemu came back to him, and led him on to
remembrance of the day when this feeling for the sanctity of life had
risen in him not toward man only but toward all creatures. That was a
later memory, and the scene reproduced itself before his mind's eye
complete in every detail.

The long laborious encircling of game drawing to its close--the
opposing ends of the great arc of thousands upon thousands of men who
for two days had been sweeping across the country driving all wild
things before them, were narrowing, closing in--and he, the man called
King, was watching, luxuriously posted, his court about him, for his
first shot.

And then? Then close beside him a _chinkara_ fawn, looking at him with
great soft dim eyes, startled, but not afraid!

"His Majesty was seized suddenly with an extraordinary access of rage
such as none had ever seen the like in him before, and the _battue_
was given up; nor has he since, so pursued game, but prefers to go out
alone and spend hours in arduous chase."

That is how his quick, almost despairing remorse, regret, pity, anger
with himself had appeared to the outside multitude. To him it had been
a crisis in his life; one of the few things which had left an
indelible mark on his mind.

Aye! few things. For love had not touched him as, for instance, it had
touched his grandfather.

"To-night at midnight after three long years, I met Mâham again."

Babar had set that down in his memoirs, after--according to Aunt
Rosebody's tale--he had run out on foot from the palace on hearing of
the near approach of the long expected caravan from Kabul and met his
dearest dear six miles out along the road. Even his father's more
passionate love for the fourteen year old Hamida, seen when Humâyon
was five and thirty, had not been his. If it had been, perhaps his
sons might have been different!

And so in an instant, overwhelmingly, Akbar was back in the old dreary
disappointment; the old defiance of fate following fast on its heels.

The boy would do well enough! Even if some things passed, even if
ideals had to go, what then? The dynasty would remain. He and his and
the City of Victory he had built with such high hopes should endure
for ever, even if churlish Nature denied them a cup of cold water.

For ever! For ever! With the words came back the old puzzle. Oh! If he
could only see, only know!

He sate staring fixedly, abstractedly, at the clear translucence of
the diamond which he still held in the palm of his left hand, while
his right rested on the marble balustrade close to the summoning
string which dived into the depths below.

So after a while he seemed to sleep, for his muscles relaxed and the
right hand slipped, to hang over into the darkness, whence a faint
sound as of metal on metal rose waveringly, followed almost
immediately by the monotonous burr of a rope passing over pulleys.

It did not rouse the King, though it sent Birbal, who was lingering
beyond the wadded curtain, to peer through it stealthily, curious to
see what antagonist in argument the King had summoned.

Beyond the arched openings of the balcony, the domed roof of the
swinging dhooli rose into sight, and a moment afterward its occupant
laid a thin hand on the balustrade steadying himself to arrest.

Despite the high-peaked, white, woollen cap, the white, woollen robe
of a Sufi ecstatic which the figure wore, Birbal's recognition of the
face was instant, complete.

"Smagdarite!" he exclaimed.

The newcomer held his finger to his lip, but his eyes were on the
King. "Hush!" he whispered, "See, he dreams. The diamond hath found
him, and he knows himself."

Something in the man's tone sent a thrill through his hearer, and his
eyes followed the lead given them swiftly.

Akbar did not move. He leant amongst the cushions, gazing at the
diamond, but seeing it not; for the veil had fallen from the Unknown
and lay hiding the Known.

"What doest thou mean--mountebank!" whispered Birbal in return, his
own voice sounding strange to his ears as he stepped closer, bending
over the King. "He doth but doze. Wake, my liege, wake!"

The other's fine fingers were on his wrist, gripping it hard.

"At thy peril! though, mayhap, thou couldst not wake him if thou
wouldst. Lo! Birbal! Philosopher! learned beyond most! seest thou not
that the man sleeps indeed! Hast thou not heard, hast thou not read of
the death in life whereby the soul, set free, wanders at will, not in
Time, but in Eternity? So wanders Akbar now! He is not here--he is in
the future."

Birbal paled despite his disbelief.

"Who art thou, man of many faces," he gasped, "and how earnest thou
here?"

"He summoned me," replied the Sufi solemnly. "Wherefore God knows. As
for me, I am the Wayfarer of Life. What I have learned I have learned.
And this"--he pointed to the dreaming figure--"I know, that if my lord
desires to hear the future he has but to ask this sleeping soul. The
Self which lurks ever behind these trivial selves of ours will tell
him."

For an instant Birbal hesitated. Beset by curiosity as he was,
something in him cried aloud not to know; for, agnostic at heart,
doubter to the very core, he knew already. Knew that all his master's
dreams were but dreams; that like all other things in heaven and earth
they must pass. Then came the thought that the forewarned are
forearmed, and he knelt at that master's feet.

"Great King," he whispered, "tell us what is seen?"

There was no answer, and on the silence the Sufi's voice rose quiet,
but compelling.

"Oh! Self-behind-the-Self, speak! What of the future? Is Jalâl-ud-din
Mahomed Akbar there, as King?"

There was no pause; the reply rang immediate, resonant.

"He is not there and yet his work remains, to run, a glittering warp
among the woof. See! how the westering sun turns all to gold--gilt
that is pinchbeck of all baser metals.

"The land is thick with little crooked lines, but Akbar's roads were
measured straight to give an evening rest to tired travellers. He is
not there, but I--who lived in him--I linger still in Justice, Mercy,
Truth. Sons of his soul are these, sons of his love, not of his mortal
body--Oh! Salîm! Salîm----!"

The pause was eloquent of sudden personal distress, the clear dreaming
eyes clouded and there was silence. Then hurriedly, disconnectedly,
the voice took up its tale.

"What was the thought which racked me to the soul? Something I have
forgotten utterly."

So once more came silence while those two watchers waited.

"Hush!" whispered the Wayfarer, signing back the fresh questioning
which trembled on Birbal's lips, "he speaks again!"

The King's head had drooped as if to deeper sleep, for his voice lost
its resonance and seemed to come from very far away.

"And they too--in the years they shall forget. Their dream of empire
shall die as mine; and so we Twain, soul-welded into soul, shall pass,
shall live forgetting, unforgotten ('the dreaming of a King can never
die'). And all their faults shall fall from them. Ah God! The cry of
little children, the wail of murdered women in my palace walls--do ye
not hear them, aliens! Lo! I swear, such were not raised while Akbar
reigned as King. Yet even this shall pass to peace, to rest--to
greater ease--more gold--more luxury.

"Oh! subjects of Akbar! arouse ye! Wake! Life is not comfort! there is
that beyond which India always sought, for which she seeks. This is no
land of golden sunsetting--it is the land of coming dawn, of light in
which to search for Truth unceasingly.

"What do they say arousing me from sleep? 'They wait me in the House
of Argument?'

"Ah! well! I go, though it avails us not! India is Akbar's to the end
of Time--like him it knows not and it fain would know, the secret of
its birth and of its death. What are the words thou soughtest for in
the years--Akbar? His son? I see them not! I only see the Self that
knows, that sees, that hears, the everlasting Truth behind Life's lie.

"The rest I have forgotten."

The voice sank in silence, the head to deeper sleep, and the left hand
slacking its grip dropped nerveless on the knee, so that the shining
orb it had held rolled from it like a giant dewdrop until it found a
resting place at Akbar's feet.

Birbal with a little cry caught at the King's Luck.

"Take it back! Oh, Master, take it back!" he whispered, laying it once
more softly in the King's empty palm. "Hold fast to thyself. Lo! the
whole world equals not Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar."

Then in a perfect passion of resentment he turned to the Wayfarer. But
in those few seconds the latter's hold upon the balustrade had been
withdrawn, the counterpoise had reasserted itself, and Birbal peering
out over the balcony could see the dome of the dhooli disappearing in
its downward course of darkness.

To slip through the wadded curtain and make his way to the swinging
station at the foot of the wall was but the work of a minute or so.
Yet he was too late. The newly arrived Sufi from Ispahân, the yawning
attendants declared, had had his interview and gone--none knew
whither.

The east was all flushed with rose-leaf clouds when Akbar awoke and
smiled to find Birbal wrapped in his shawl watching him with curious,
doubtful eyes.

Would the King remember? That was the question.

"Lo! friend," he said affectionately. "So may I wake in Paradise after
a dreamless sleep and find thee there."



                              CHAPTER VI

         _The current of a deed will work its way
          Through the wide world and cannot be resisted,
          'Twas seasonably done--the seed is sown
          And in due time will bear the fruit of discord_.
                                                 --Kalidasa.


The wide mosque lay empty save for a group of long-bearded doctors of
the law, who, lingering after service was over, discussed as ever the
unfailing topic of the King's innovations. Such purposeless
innovations too! Leading to nothing, to absolute nescience; for what
else was all this talk of freedom, of equality, of universal
brotherhood? Were not kings, kings, and nobles, nobles, since the very
beginning?

These reverend seigneurs surcharged with pride of race, the pride of
the conqueror, fiercely fanatical in faith, felt resentfully that in
religion, in manners, in morals, Akbar, their King, stood absolutely
aloof from them.

Yet they, in their turn, stood as absolutely aloof from the real heart
of India which beat placidly in the simple lives of the husbandmen
toiling in the ample fields which, seen through the great Arch of
Victory receded into a dim blue distance that lost itself in a dim
blue sky. So each, the conqueror, the conquered, went on his way,
while a man dreamt of blending the two into one.

"Yes! it is true," murmured Budaoni the historian regretfully; "from
his earliest childhood his Majesty hath collected everything in all
religions that is worth remembering, with a talent of selection
peculiar to him, and a spirit of inquiry opposed to every principle of
our Faith."

"_Sobhan-ullah!_" assented the Makhdûm-ul'-mulk, who had been the
highest religious authority in the land until the King, with one sweep
of his pen, had made himself the Head of the Church. A direful offence
to the orthodox who refused assent to Akbar's reasoning that since
there was but one law, the law of God, there could be but one
authority; therefore the intervention of a priesthood between the
people and God's vice-regent on earth was unnecessary, impolitic.

An old man, white-bearded, high-featured, murmured to himself, "Yet
is he King indeed," then fell hurriedly to the telling of his beads;
but Ghiâss Beg, the Lord High Treasurer--a stout, good-humoured
looking man, whose fat paunch stood evidence for his love of good
living--shook his head and sighed.

"It cometh of abstinence, see you," he mourned. "When the stomach is
empty wind rises to the head. And, were it not for that damned sense
of duty which leaveth the King neither by day nor by night, Akbar
would give up food and sleep altogether. So far hath he wandered from
the Sure Pivot of Life that the very question of dinner ariseth not in
his mind; he eats but once a day, and leaveth off unsatisfied, nor is
there even any fixed hour for this food. Sure! 'tis the life of a very
dog."

"So he keep it, and his dogs, and his uncircumcised friends to
himself," muttered a sour-visaged elder, "I quarrel not with his
starvations. Belike they may bring the Heir-Apparent to his rights
sooner, and that would be a glad day for Islâm."

The old man with the white beard who was telling his beads murmured
once more under his breath: "Yet is he King indeed," and went on with
his prayers still more hurriedly.

"Lo! mullah jee!" yawned another sour-visaged one, "Prince Salîm will
be in the idolaters' toils ere then. With a Râjpût to wife there is
small hope for a Ruler of the Faith."

In the hot sunshine where they sate whispering like sleepy snakes,
ready, yet too lazy, to strike, a leisurely groan ran round the whole
assembly. That the first wife--practically the only real wife--of the
Heir-Apparent should be a Hindu was simply an outrage. It was bad
enough that the King himself should have taken the Râjpût daughters
and sisters of his conquered foes into his harem, in order--heaven
save the mark!--to cement friendship between the races; but he, at
least, had been first married in orthodox fashion to a daughter of
Islâm. Could he not do even so much for his son?

Ghiâss Beg heaved another fat sigh and his face took on obstinacy.

"True," he assented, "and 'tis not that as fair a bride could not be
found----"

"In the House of the Lord High Treasurer," interrupted a sneering
voice. It came from Mirza Ibrahîm, who, at that moment, followed at a
little distance by a posse of courtiers and others, came from the
cloisters full upon the half-drowsy group of malcontents.

"God forbid!" gasped the horrified High Treasurer weakly. In his heart
of hearts he had been thinking--and not for the first time--of his
little daughter Mihrun-nissa, as a future Empress of India. But this
was an outrage on decorum, an indignity! He began to splutter
remonstrance.

"Prayers are over! Up with the carpet!" interrupted the Mirza
irreverently. Whereupon the Makhdûm interfered with pompous frowns and
craved to know what my Lord High Chamberlain meant by the unseemly
remark.

"Nothing, Most Holy," replied the latter cheerfully, "save that if the
pious deliberations of the wise are ended the ignorant have a point of
law which they would fain lay before authority. Is it not so, oh,
sahibân?"

He turned as he spoke to a little knot of curiously
distinctive-looking men who, having separated themselves from the
remainder of his following, stood together in the full blaze of
sunlight. They were singularly alike. Small, fine-drawn, with watchful
eyes, and a little stoop forward of the head, reminding one
irresistibly of a bird of prey. In truth the Syeds of Bârha were wild
hawks indeed; and to-day, still travel-stained with their quick march
from their eyrie of a fortress far in the distant plains, they were
ready to swoop fiercely on any cause of offence. For they were red-hot
with anger at the exile of that ill-doing scion of their house
Jamâl-ud-din. Not that they defended his choice of a wife--it was one
which sooner or later might necessitate a sack, and the nearest
river--but, if Siyah Yamin was the lad's wife, what right had even the
Great Mogul to interfere?

They assented with a scowl; but Khodadâd (he who called himself by
another name when he wrote to Sinde) smiled urbanely. He was evidently
prepared to play the indispensable Eastern part of applauder and
general backer-up.

"Even so, Most Holy!" he replied effusively, "a point of law which can
only be settled by God's most chosen Judge, before whom even these
lineal descendants of our Great Prophet bow humbly."[10]


---------------------

[Footnote 10: The Syeds as lineal descendants of Mahommed.]

---------------------


The speech was full of malicious intent, purposely provocative, and
succeeded in its purpose.

"Then let them go to the King," began the Makhdûm acrimoniously, when
Ibrahîm cut him short, concealing a yawn as he sought a comfortable
place for himself where his feet could be in sunshine, his head in
shadow.

"Who hath usurped the Judge's seat? Nay! Most Holy! It is only
time-servers and idolaters who yield such function to Akbar. We
faithful ones and true----"

"Had best keep silence in a public place," put in Budaoni eyeing the
other with a glassy stare. He himself might take his own part in
discontent, but being, by virtue of his voice, precentor in the Court
Mosque, he did not choose to encourage Ibrahîm, whose evil life was
notorious. The latter smiled and skilfully drew another red-herring of
provocation across the path.

"Public?" he echoed with a leer of malice. "Sure there is no more
private place than the Court Mosque since the King started his Divine
Faith! Hast heard, Most Holy, what the idolatrous pig Birbal jested
last Friday when the King, for a marvel, put in an appearance at
prayers--that he came not in order to listen to what you preached as
of God, but to hush the slanders you borrowed of the Devil."

The Makhdûm spat solemnly, the senior canon let loose a thundering
"God roast him," which echoed and re-echoed through the wide arches.

"Except," remarked Budaoni with a sneer, "when his Majesty reads
prayers himself; then he comes to stutter!"

This allusion to the day not so far past when Akbar, assuming the
Headship had--whether from nervousness or emotion history sayeth
not--broken down in repeating the _kutba_ composed for the occasion by
Faiz, the poet-laureate, produced snorts and smiles of assent.

"Yes! yea!" assented the sour-visaged elder fiercely "he stuttered
indeed--mayhap because the words were by Faiz, the dog poet--may God
rot him for defiling His Holy Place."

The old man with the white beard looked up suddenly.

"Yet, sirs, was there ought wrong with the words?" he asked; so
stretched out his lean old hand, and his wavering old voice rang out
through the sunshine:


       Lo! from Almighty God I take my Kingship
       Before His Throne I bow and take my Judgeship
       Take Strength from Strength and Wisdom from His Wiseness
       Right from the Right, and Justice from His Justice
       Praising the King I praise God near and far
       Great is His Power, Al-la-hu Akbar.


The echoes died away and there was silence. Then Ibrahîm indulging in
a yawn of contempt for the digression his words had caused, said
patronisingly, "The question we ask is not of _kutbas_; it is of a
marriage, most Enlightened-One."

But Budaoni's virulence was incorrigible. "His Majesty hath propounded
not a few such problems to this poor court already," he remarked
caustically; "doth he perchance propound another?"

This further allusion to the hot dispute between the King and the
doctors concerning the legality of the former's political marriages
with Râjpût princesses, would have met with equal favour, but for
Ibrahîm's quick frown. To him, as chamberlain, the King's present
austerities and general asceticism were a continual grievance.

"Thy wits must wander, Budaoni," he interrupted sharply, "or thou
wouldst know the very name woman is at a discount at court! Mayhap the
translation into civilised language of the Hindu Scriptures proves too
much for thee!"

The historian scowled, for his task of translating religious books
from the Sanskrit into Persian for the King's benefit was utterly
abhorrent to his orthodoxy.

"And small wonder," he replied hotly. "These useless absurdities
confound the eighteen worlds! Such injunctions! Such prohibitions! A
whole page against the eating of turnips! May God forgive the enforced
spoiling of orthodox pen, ink, and paper over such puerilities!"

It was the Syeds' turn to shift impatiently. "Good sir historian,"
said one, handling his sword as it lay on his knee, "we come not
hither to discuss literature, but to ask an opinion. Hath the King
right to exile a man for the marrying of a woman?"

"What man, and what woman?" asked the Makhdûm portentously. "On that
hangs law. Hath the man already four wives?"

"The King hath nigher to forty," interrupted the incorrigible Budaoni.

"Peace, preacher!" reproved the great man, wagging his head. "Cloud
not perspicacity with allusions. And the woman? Is she virgin, widow,
or duly divorced?"

There was a general sort of chuckle from the hawks-brood.

"None of them i' faith," said the head of the clan at last, "'tis
Siyah Yamin whom all know; but she hath said the Creed and the lad
hath married her."

"By legal marriage?"

"How else?" asked the spokesman hotly. "We of Bârha, descended of the
true Prophet--may His name be exalted--deal not with customs borrowed
of the idolater."

"Then are they true wed, and none can dissolve the tie save the
husband himself by----"

"Traa!" interrupted Ibrahîm impatiently, "that is for them to settle
between them! These gentlemen desire to know by what right the King
forbids this virtuous young man to bring his screened and lawful woman
into the town? Such cupolas of chastity are beyond the power even of
majesty; is it not so, most learned doctors?"

A little stir shifted through the assemblage; it sate up literally,
metaphorically, keen for ground of offence against any of the King's
decisions.

"Of a truth," pronounced the Makhdûm pompously, "he hath no right. By
all the laws of Islâm a screened and lawful woman belongs only to her
owner."

So in the sunshine the enmity of the Old against the New rose hot as
the sunshine itself, and conspiracy sprang into being.

It was a good half-hour ere Mirza Ibrahîm summed up the situation in
these words:

"We meet again then, in the Hall of Public Audience to-day, and demand
revision of the sentence as being contrary to the Revealed Word; and
if the King----"

Khodadâd broke in on him with a sudden laugh--"Nay! my idolatrous
quarry will be Birbal! God and His Prophet! how I loathe the dog!" He
paused, seeing the unwisdom of his confidences, for the Syeds of Bârha
rose, to stand packed, fingering their swords.

"God's truth," said their leader, turning insolently to the speaker,
"keep thy carrion to thyself, Tarkhân! We of Bârha mix not in court
cabals--we be not buzzard-cocks to whom the smell of death brings but
gluttony. No! if the King rescind not his order we fling our
allegiance at his feet, we and our goodly following; so, escaping free
of false law to our strongholds, there to defend ourselves against
tyranny. But for quarry! Stab whom thou willst, Tarkhân, but reckon
not on our knives."

Khodadâd, deprecating a scowl at his indiscretion from Mirza Ibrahîm,
smiled lightly:

"Quarry for my craft is all I ask, though God knows His world would be
better without the Hindu pig who, see you, comes yonder defiling the
sanctuary and hatching new plots against our pockets, with the accurst
Khattri, Tôdar Mull, the Finance Minister."

It was a deft distraction, for the constant cutting-down of
perquisites and fees in Akbar's efforts to ameliorate the condition of
the poor, was a continual source of irritation to the upper classes.
But the Syeds of Bârha were large landowners, and they knew on which
side their bread was buttered. So they salaamed respectfully to the
two statesmen as they passed at a distance arm in arm, and the oldest
of the little group said sharply, "Hindu or no, he hath his grip on
the collector of taxes. So good luck go with him--aye! And with the
King, too, in such matters. Save for this about Jamâl-ud-din we find
no fault in him."

"Neither see I fault in him," came a sudden voice loud yet wavering.
It came from the white-haired old man who had been telling his beads,
and who now stood, his thin bent figure outlined against the distant
blue of India that showed through the Arch of Victory.

"Neither see I fault," he repeated, his tone breaking in his
vehemence. "God give him ever what he prays for--'a tranquil mind, an
open brow, a just intent, a right principle, a wide capacity, a firm
foot, a high spirit, a lofty soul, a right place, a shining
countenance, and a smiling lip.' Of such are kings indeed!"

They looked at the old man in haughty scorn, as stumblingly, his old
eyes half-blind with tears, he passed through the archway, so down the
steps to disappear as it were in the heart of India widespread,
remote, indefinite. But Budaoni murmured under his breath, "Lo! the
glamour of the King is upon him. God knows one can scarce live in
sight of him and not feel the very soul of one go out toward what lies
beyond. Even I myself----" he paused and was silent, knowing that
through all his diatribes, all his wanton misreadings of Akbar's
character, ran admiration.

Meanwhile Tôdar Mull had in passing given a quick glance in return for
the salutation which had come from the Syeds of Bârha.

"That bodes--what?" he had asked of Birbal, who had shrugged his
shoulders and given a still keener glance at the group in the
sunshine.

"Since Khodadâd is in it--mischief! Mirza Ibrahîm ever equals
immorality, and the Syedân--I wist not they were here--bode--with
Jamâl-ud-din and his chaste spouse in exile--marriage! As for the
Learned of the Law, they contribute 'Mahommed is His Prophet.' The
whole doubtless forming conspiracy--what else is there in the court
with this accursed peace of Akbar's giving time for the cooking of
cabals? Would to God----" He broke off, his mind besieged in a rush
with the fierce regret which had been his ever since, but a few hours
before he had heard the words of self-renunciation fall unconsciously
from his master's lips. But--fate willing--there should be no more
such talk! He, Birbal, would force on war; he would make Akbar, as
unconsciously, play his part in common-sense, grasping Kingship.
"Yea," he continued urbanely, "were it not that the poor, thriving,
are content, thanks to Tôdar Mull's wise ruling----"

The Kattri's face, yellow of tint, fleshy of contour, seemed to take
on bone and muscle, and his oiliness of manner roughened into swift
decision. "Aye!" he returned, "they grow more content, poor souls,
but, 'tis the King who starts me on the trail. I go even now to
discuss a new idea of his with Abulfazl, whose head truly hath no peer
for detail."

"Yea!" put in Birbal, "but the King's Diwan is even now using it in
showing the details of the King's work to the Englishmen, while the
Portuguese priests scowl at the intrusion of new claimants to
commerce. Lo! I grow weary of these strangers. Why should Akbar make
their way smooth?"

Tôdar Mull, his inherited aptitude for the problems of money showing
in the eyes which were keen even for fractions in a man's character,
looked at Birbal doubtfully.

"Wherefore not?" he asked. "Lo! I have had speech with these new men,
and there is that of free-trading, unfettered by aught save gold or
the lack of it, in them which compels approval. For see you, in the
end gold is the essence of all things. I tell thee were it not for
piety I myself would bow down to it and worship with a 'Hallowed be
thy name.'"

Birbal's mimetic face became preternaturally grave, but there was a
twinkle in his eye: "'Twould not"--he bowed courteously--"be so bulky
a divinity as Tôdar Mull's present pantheon, which, if rumour says
sooth, already runs to cart-loads."

The financier flushed. This allusion to his habit of carrying
waggons-full of household gods about with him when on tour brought a
quick reproach: "Jest not at the Gods, O! Brahmin-born," he said.

Birbal's whole expression changed. "Not at the All-Embracing One, for
sure; but for the little brass god-lings."

Tôdar Mull edged away nervously. "Let be--let be! Râjah Sahib. Each
for his own belief, and the Almighty's curse lodge on the hindmost, so
it be not me! Now go I to the statistic makers; for see you, without
figures man is lost in this world."

They parted company, and Birbal looked after the retreating Finance
Minister with a frown.

What was the use of it all! Was it not better far to eat, to drink,
knowing that to-morrow one must die? So his thoughts turned, as they
always did, to the present; to the one portion of time which even Fate
could not filch from a living man. The advent of the Syedân of Bârha
meant, doubtless, appeal to the King. An appeal to which the King must
not, of course, listen. As to that, Abulfazl must be seen, and at
once.

He found him in the royal storehouses, his yellow-brown eyes clear
with pride as he pointed out the system on which they were worked to
the three Englishmen who stood, centring, with the curious
half-contemptuous gaze of another world, the leisured bustle in the
wide courtyards.

"His Majesty," explained Abulfazl grandiloquently, "having acquainted
himself with the theory and practice of every manufacture, is thus
able to distinguish between good and bad work. So, the intrinsic value
of each article being settled by the State in reference to a certain
fixed standard, neither worthy labour nor true art can fall into
discredit."

Ralph Fitch looked queerly at the carts unlading and lading, at the
groups of experts settling true values, at the artificers waiting
patiently for the verdict; certain, if their work were up to the
standard, of immediate sale.

"And what of the merchants?" he asked sharply. "Where does their
profit----?"

"Their profit is settled also," interrupted the Diwan with simple
pride, "and they are content." His voice took on sternness as he
added, "They have, indeed, no choice; since all articles unstamped by
the testing houses are liable to confiscation, and the possessors
thereof to fine."

"Cheer thee up, Ralph," laughed John Newbery into his companion's
appalled face as they moved on to a new court, "and thank heaven we be
not thus tied by the apron strings! Though, by our Lady, this King
Echebar has a trick o' keeping cables taut which would make me almost
wish to enter his service would he but command some adventure to the
Poles."

William Leedes looked up quickly. "Nay," he said, "before God I would
rather quit this land and leave it--as it is."

He paused, for John Newbery's attention had passed as his roving eyes
settled themselves surprised, yet approvingly, on the long lines of
light which followed the rows on rows of steel lance heads, swords,
and matchlocks lining the walls of the vast armoury into which they
entered. It was full to the brim with every conceivable instrument of
war, many of them strange to Western eyes. But Abulfazl gave no time
for inspection. With the brief explanation, "The Most-Excellent is
yonder at work," he passed through one of the wide arches fitted with
massive doors which were now set open to the sunlight, and joined a
group of men who stood in the courtyard beyond.

A sharp report, followed by the whistling ping of a bullet as it
struck a target outlined on the farther wall, cut the hot air keenly,
and Akbar, who had been kneeling for better aim, stood up rubbing his
shoulder. He was dressed in a white overall, not unsmirched with
grease, and his grizzled hair showed free of covering.

"It hits hard enough behind anyhow, sir smith," he said
good-humouredly to a swarthy half-naked workman who looked down the
still smoking barrel of the newly tried gun with a doubtful air. "Nay!
'tis not the grooving. That idea holds good. It is something in the
chamber. Bring it this evening to the Palace, and we will see to it.
Hast aught else for trial?"

The next instant, after one careless salute to the newcomers he was
deep in the mechanism of a complicated gun, and his face lit up as he
looked. "See you," he went on--apparently as much for himself as for
those others who, left behind by his imaginings, stood patient,
half-comprehending--"if this moving wheel duly loaded, could fit the
one barrel what need for more? The twin cannon fired by one match
which we made last year works well, but this will be better--if it can
be compassed." And then suddenly as his hands fingered ratchet wheel
and eccentric, bolt and socket with sure practical touch, his eyes
grew full of dreams.

"Lo! we work in the dark," he murmured, "since none know why the
bullet curves, and so the worst may do as well, nay better than the
best. 'Twas an old matchlock snatched from a sleepy sentry which gave
me empire."

He paused, back in thought to that false dawn before the trenches at
Chitore when, going his rounds after his wont, alone and in darkness,
he had seen upon the ramparts of the besieged town the figure of his
foe also going his rounds, but by the light of lanterns.

It had been a long shot, but in the dawn Chitore was his, and he was
Emperor of India. Yet, once again, almost overmastering regret came
over him for the past horrors of that sun-bright dawn. The awful
onslaught of saffron-robed heroes, doomed to desperate death, which he
had seen against the rolling clouds of dense white smoke that rose
from the very bowels of the earth, where, in dark caves, the Râjpût
women were burning--self-immolated!

Then as he stood there fingering the outcome of his uncontrollable
desire for success, all his victories seemed to slip from him for the
moment; he remembered--as, nearly two thousand years before him
another great King of India had remembered--nothing but his regret. At
the moment he, also, could have inscribed an edict for all time
setting forth his sorrow for "the hundreds of thousands of God's
creatures needlessly slain." But the next instant the mood passed and
he turned with almost insolent regality to the English adventurers.

"Yet tell your queen, sir travellers," he said, "that Akbar holds the
best gun to be the best key to empire."

John Newbery looked at Ralph Fitch, who bowed his answer:

"Most Excellent, we will give the message without fail."

As they passed on, Birbal paused a moment beside Abulfazl to whisper
in his ear:

"The Bârha hawks are in. Hast news of them?"

The Diwan nodded: "The King sees them at audience to-day to
consider----"

Birbal interrupted with a bitter laugh: "Before God, Abul," he said,
with his habitual shrug of the shoulders, "when the Most-Excellent
thinks of himself as Head of the Church and Defender of the Faith, he
is too excellent for this world. Better sure a little injustice than
that the King should back on himself. It is not time for weakness.
What does he say?"

"'The Law-maker cannot break the law,'" replied the Diwan softly, and
in his voice there was a touch both of irritation and of pride.

So in the sunshine the eyes of those two followed the King who dreamt
such strange new dreams of duty and responsibility toward his
subjects.



                             CHAPTER VII

      _What makes a monarch? Not his throne, his crown,
       But man to work his will, to tremble at his frown_.
                                                      --Sa'adi.


The city was astir, sleepily astir. In the blind tortuous alleys where
the hot May sun struggled in vain to shine, shut out on every side by
the high tenement houses hiving swarms of men, women and children,
rumour spread like mushroom spawn in the dark; spread aimlessly, idly,
sending its filaments at random, here, there, everywhere, ready at a
moment's notice to shoot up into some fantastic mushroom growth. Even
in Agra itself, connected with Fatehpur Sikri by that twenty-mile-long
ribbon of shop-edged road, the talk was all of what was about to
happen in Akbar's City of Victory. The King had accepted the appeal
of Jamâl-ud-din Syed concerning his marriage, and had appointed the
next Friday audience for the hearing of proof concerning the same;
so much was certain. But would he really go back on his own order?
Could a King possibly own himself in the wrong? If he did, what
became of his claim to divine guidance, and how could folk in the
future live content on his judgment? Had a body ever heard of the
Learned-in-the-Law eating their own words? No! they stuck to them; in
that way lay safety, confidence, authority.

And what was this still more vague rumour concerning the King's Luck,
the diamond which had of a surety been his talisman these many years?
Was it really to be given to the foreigner to hack and hew?

This was a question which disturbed more than the populace, which
brought anxiety to the most highly cultured mind in Fatehpur Sikri.

"If it be true," said the Right Reverend Vicar of Christ, Father
Ricci, head of the Portuguese Mission in Goa, who had come up to Agra
on one of his periodical visits to the little colony of Christians to
whom Akbar gave patronage and protection, "if indeed this diamond,
whose worth is the ransom of a world, be given into these Englishmen's
hands, it is time we bestirred ourselves, son Rudolfo; and thou must
press the King yet once again for some speedy answer on his politics."

Pâdré Rudolfo, the Jesuit who for long years had lived at court,
hoping against hope for the King's definite conversion to
Christianity, spending himself body and soul in good works, good
example, sighed uneasily.

"Sure, my father, the grace of God must work in the end--and Akbar is
so close to the Kingdom! In tolerance alone----"

Father Ricci interrupted him sharply:

"It is anathema! He tolerates all faiths, all things, even these new
Englishmen who at best are heretics."

"One at least is good Catholic," interrupted Pâdré Rudolfo mildly. "He
was at the Mass in the Palace Chapel this morning."

The Superior of his order frowned. "See you, then, that he remains
within the influence of Holy Church. These Englishmen must gain no
foothold here. As for the King, I will write from Goa threatening your
removal--for surely he hath great regard for you, as you for him. Yet
I say to you that despite his good qualities, his justice, his
forgiveness until seventy times seven, Akbar is a stumbling block in
our way. Prince Salîm might serve our purpose better--our purpose,
which is Christ's," he added hastily as if to rectify any possible
confusion of meaning. Yet the meaning _was_ confused, for the world
holds few stories more strangely complex than the tale of the Jesuits'
struggle between greed of gold and greed of souls, which for close on
a century found arena in the court of the Great Moguls. Tragic it is
at times, at others comic, yet pathetic throughout in the certainty
that greed of gold must eventually prevail against the greed of souls.

Pâdré Rudolfo sighed again. Long living within reach of Akbar's
atmosphere had made him in his turn tolerant and there was always
hope; hope that his prayers, his penances, his sleepless nights might
at last count for righteousness in the King's long record of
hesitation. And yet in his heart of hearts Rudolfo Acquaviva knew that
there was no hope, was conscious even of a vague content that there
was none; for in the Father's house were there not many mansions, and
what was man that he should dictate to God what gave the right of
entry to them?

So from the highest to the lowest the passing days brought a sense of
strain. To Âtma Devi, however, in her secluded sun-saturated roof, the
general unrest did not penetrate to add to the dull distress of her
own disturbed mind.

For the joy which had come to her from even the half-jesting
recognition of her hereditary claim, had passed before the slow
assurance that, as woman, she was helpless to support her rôle of
champion, before the certainty which grew with the passing days, that
the King had no need of her.

She had discarded her poppy-petal red petticoat for the white robe of
the Châran, and with the silver hauberk fitting loosely to her tall
slenderness, her long hair unbound circled with a silver fillet, would
stand for hours, her hands clasped over the silver-hilted sword,
looking out over the low parapet wall across the blue distance. That
limited vision of hers held all her world; for the years had
obliterated memory of the far-off Central Indian home whence she had
been brought while still almost an infant by her father. But one or
two scenes of that childish life which had been passed beyond her
present outlook remained with her, clear yet dreamlike. The most
distinct of these being her surpassing affection for Siyâla, who was
now Siyah Yamin. As she thought of this a dull vague wonder possessed
her as to what purpose Fate could have had in making their two lives
so dissimilar--the one sexless by virtue of her widowhood, the other
sexual beyond even womanhood.

Âtma's was a limited mind: her soul groped blindly in the dark, yet
found what it sought and held fast to it.

So she waited as patiently as she could, hoping for some means of
vindicating her claim to the Châran's place, forgetting not one jot or
tittle of the many ceremonials of her race. Even if nothing else came
of the King's grace save the permission to challenge the world on his
behalf from her secluded silence, that in itself was gain. In one
heart, surely, his honour would be held sacred utterly.

She had a quaint companion in her solitude, the _rebeck_ player's
child Zarîfa. For on the morning after Âtma had taken Birbal to see
the musician asleep, with the young girl's flower-face upon his bosom,
he had appeared in Âtma Devi's roof, bearing the light burden of the
crippled child in his arms, and begged asylum for her during the space
of an hour while he went on an errand. But days had passed without his
return; so the child had stayed on. Helpless utterly, sustaining life
apparently by a mere sup of milk, a mouthful or two of fruit, and
sleeping away all the hours of fierce daylight, at dawn and at dusk
the soul hidden in the racked, deformed body seemed to be set free
from its bonds, and the child would lie with wide-open soft lustrous
eyes, smiling and singing to herself. And Âtma Devi as she sate
listening would feel peace and content steal over her restlessness, so
that as often as not, as the shadows crept over the roof, and the
daylight died, the rising moon would find both the child and the woman
asleep; Zarîfa in the dark shelter of the slip of a room--whence she
seldom stirred since the light seemed to scourge her--Âtma crouching
in the corner beside the little lamp which burned ever before the
death-dagger of her race.

Birbal, coming at dawn in search, once more, of the _rebeck_ player,
roused Âtma from such a sleep, and entering while--after unbarring the
door at his password "From the King"--she stood rubbing her eyes, was
met by such a strong perfume of roses that he turned quickly on her:

"So he is here!" he cried; then looked curiously at her, at the little
slip of room. "Within, I suppose," he added, passing to its entrance.
But Âtma barred the way.

"It is the child, my lord," she said quickly, "the musician left her
with me when he went away. And she is so timid, the very face of a
strange man is like a strong light upon her--it scorches and
shrivels."

Birbal laughed shortly. He was of the world and knew its evil ways.
"So does love," he replied mockingly. "Nay! I find no fault with thee,
widow, but call him out--I would see him."

Âtma flushed darkly. "My lord cannot see him; he is not here."

"Nor the child neither? Am I not even to have sight of her pretty face
to attest truth?" asked Birbal.

The woman met his jeering smile with a peremptory gesture. "Let my
lord sit silent yonder on the parapet," she said, in a voice of
command, "and from the darkness he shall hear."

So, closing the door behind her, she called softly, "Sing to me, my
bird," and stood listening.

Birbal, idly kicking his heels as he sate, looked over the wall
down the sheer drop of a hundred feet or more which ended in the red
rock. Just below him, brimming up to the very wall lay the tank which
Akbar had lately made as a reservoir for the lower part of the town.
Half-hidden in morning mist it reflected the morning sky here and
there as the vapour, parting, left its surface clear. And behind the
rising mist? Did it reflect nothing but the shifting gray curves above
it, or did the cool depths of rock below have their chance to shine
mirrored on the water?

Bah! who could tell!

The little roof lay still in the first sunlight. A few pigeons
wheeling about overhead sent shifting shadows to chase each other on
the purple bricks of wall and floor, and in the topmost branch of the
peepul tree whose roots throve beside the tank below, a white-throat
was singing its little limited song. So, suddenly, there rose on the
cool air of dawn another limited little voice.


       Rose leaves wither away so fast?
       Is the sun's kiss cold? Is the summer past?
       Whither away like shallops at sea
       With torn pink sails and never a mast
       Whither away so fast?

       Sun kisses are warm, and the summers last
       But the shadows are calling us dim and vast
       So we set our sails like shallops at sea
       And drift away without rudder or mast
           To the dark that will last
           For eternity!


Birbal, artist to his finger tips shivered slightly; Âtma, standing,
her hands clasped over the old silver-hilted sword, gave a soft sigh.
To both of them the creeping step of the Dark that will last for
Eternity, seemed to invade the present, claiming all things.

All things save Love, that essence of the Rose of Life.

"Only the dust of the rose-leaf remains to the heart of the seller of
perfumes."

The mystical meaning of the Sufi saying came home for once to Birbal.
As usual, he resented the intrusion and stood up ready to go, prepared
to jest.

"Farewell, then, widow! God send thee a lover if thou hast not one,
since even Châranship to Kings is not sufficient for a woman! Now,
wert thou but man thou mightst be true.----"

It was as if the dam of the lake below had suddenly given way, letting
loose a flood over the land, and he raised his arm in unconscious
self-defence as, like a tornado, Âtma swept upon him, flourishing the
sword.

"Lo! Maheshwar Rao, Brahmin, Bhât-bandi!" she cried, giving him all
his racial titles, "have a care what thou sayest! Yea! since the
long-dead day when Shiv-jee created us from the sweat-drops of his
godly brow, and jealous Parvati his wife--womanhood incarnate--exiled
us from Paradise because we sang his praises overloud--ever since then
we Chârans have been true, whether God makes us man or woman! Dost
deny it? Then by the long discipleship of thy upstart race--formed by
Parvati to sing her trivial worth--to mine, I do command thee to
remember that I am champion to the King. Dost hear, Maheshwar Rao?
Does Akbar need aught? Stands his honour firm? Lo! if thou speakest
not, I die!"

The sword's point clattered on the brick roof, she snatched the death
dagger of her race from its altar and stood ready to strike.

"Nay! sister," replied Birbal coolly, for the very heat of her
harangue had given him time for calm. "There is no need to die--yet."
Here, in a flash, a sudden thought came to him and he settled himself
back on the parapet with a faint laugh. Set a thief to catch a thief,
a woman to catch a woman! The intensity on this one's face might be
useful to him. Having long since constituted himself the eyes and
ears, as it were, of Akbar's empire, he had countless emissaries,
endless spies, everywhere; but he had not yet employed a woman. It
could do no harm to try one where all the cunning of man had failed.

"Sit thee down, sister," he said, after a moment's thought, "and I
will tell thee wherein thou canst serve the King's need. Thou knowest
Siyah Yamin----"

"What! hath the King need of _her?_" asked Âtma incredulously.

Birbal laughed shortly. "Nay, no one hath need of her; so she must
die."

The face opposite his paled. "Wherefore?" she asked briefly.

"Because she may be the undoing of empire," he replied. "Hearken, so
thou mayest understand."

"Siyah Yamin," she echoed in a puzzled voice when he had told her of
the Syed's appeal and the certainty that the courtesan would swear to
having read the Kalma and thus prove the legality of her marriage.
"Nay! she cannot swear!"

"Not if a bowstring find her throat first," retorted Birbal viciously;
"naught else will stop a woman's tongue, especially if marriage be the
subject. Therefore she must be found and--and--lost again! She is in
the city; that we know. Where, no one can compass. If thou couldst
find out----"

"There is no need," said Âtma slowly; "she--she will not swear!"

Birbal was on his feet with a laugh. "A woman will swear anything for
one she loves or hates, and Siyah Yamin hates the King. Whether she
love Jamâl-ud-din is another matter. So fare thee well, Âtma Devi
championess of Kings. Lo! I have given thee thy Châran chance. As for
the _rebeck_ player--I shall find him yet!"

After Birbal left, Âtma sate thinking. There was something which she
remembered about Siyâla, which little Siyâla, the darling of the Gods,
must remember also.

Or would she pretend to forget it? If she did, then she, Âtma, must
speak, must protest, if needs be die to witness to it.

Then, if she died it would be death to Siyah Yamin who was Siyâla,
sister of the veil.

Âtma roused herself and stood listening. A faint sound of slumbering
breath drawn evenly met her ear as she paused at the door of the slip
of a room where Zarîfa lay hidden. The child was asleep and could be
left for an hour or two at any rate.

Hastily discarding her Châran's dress she put on the poppy-petalled
red skirt and veil of the mad singer, so catching up her hourglass
drum passed into the street. Her cry,


    "_May the Gods pity us, dreamers who dream of their Godhead_"


echoing out into the closed courtyards as she hurried down the narrow
alley.

"List! that is Âtma back again," yawned a woman sleepily sitting down
to the mill-wheel beside the piled basket of wheat which was to serve
for the family breakfast. "I deemed she had been dead these days past.
But I will get her to tell me my fortune. What she told Gobind Sâhâi's
wife hath come true. She hath twin sons, and praise be to the gods!
her husband is not suspicious."

The last item of information was evidently more racy than the first,
and the women's voices gossiped over it rising above the hum of the
mill wheel.

Âtma meanwhile had made her way straight to the bazaar. Here and there
a figure huddled in a white shawl showed wandering outward, water-pot
in hand, a seller of milk or two, a woman bearing a heaped basket of
green-stuff passed inward, but for the most part the cavernous shops
stood closed or empty, for it was yet early hours. A woman blew loudly
at a pile of dried leaves under a toasting pan. The little spark left
in the charcoal below showed red, then white, amid the gray ashes, and
with a roaring crackle the flame leapt upward. A man guiltless of all
clothing save a rag, pared his nails solemnly into the gutter. But in
the house where Âtma entered all was silent. A medley of musical
instruments lay piled on the floor, and in a corner, his head resting
on his drum, snored Deena the drum-banger. Âtma passed over to him
swiftly and woke him by a touch. The old man started to his feet with
commendable activity; then was on the ground again in profuse salaam.

"Now am I saved from sin, mistress most chaste," he began
vociferously. "Lo! since I ceased drumming to the deeds of dead kings,
I have been a lost soul utterly. I have damned myself by giving time
to profligate steps. I have sung lewd songs. But what will ye? A drum
ever keeps bad company; being in sooth naught but the devil of a noise
that groweth worse instead of better by being whacked----"

"Peace, fool!" said Âtma sternly, "I have need of thee. Where hast
been of late?"

Deena sate down and began drumming softly with one finger, an
insistent, devilish sort of drumming that seemed created to conceal
something. Then he winked a wicked old eye.

"Hal-lal-lal-la-la!" he said gaily. "So old Deena is best gossip-maker
to the town. Truly he hears much; for, see you, there is something
that brings confidence to scandal in the continuous burring of a drum.
It seems to cover all, so folk speak free; and an old ear listens.
What dost desire to know, mistress most chaste?"

"Hast heard ought of Siyah Yamin?" asked Âtma readily.

Deena chuckled. "Other folks ask that, my lord Birbal to wit. Hol-lah!
The whole town is agog to know news of God knows what--Siyah Yamin,
the King's Luck----"

"What of the King's Luck?" interrupted Âtma Devi with a frown.

"Only that he hath given it away as a present to the Queen from over
the Black Water of whom the new infidels talk," replied Deena with a
yawn, for he had had a night of it at the Lord High Chamberlain's.

The frown deepened. "It is a lie!" she said peremptorily. "The King is
no fool; his luck is with him ever. But see--take up thy drum and
follow. To-day I will sing of dead kings and listen for the sake of a
living one; so I need thy banging."

Deena rose with alacrity. "And my drum needs thee, mistress. 'Tis an
evil instrument. But for its hindrance I could sing hymns"--he began
one dolorously, then paused shaking his head. "Lo! it hath no
discrimination--a holy psalm is even the same to it as a ribald rhyme.
Yea! yea! I follow. I will drum to the herald of a live king and
forget my sins."

So that day Âtma Devi, the mad singer, reappeared in the city,
flitting hither and thither, chanting of dead kings, listening for the
sake of a live one.

But she heard nothing; yet as the day drew down she realised that the
need of news was urgent; for the whole town talked of Siyah Yamin and
the King's Luck.

As she sate in the moonlight on her roof that night she told herself
yet once again that if the worst came to the worst she could but die
to attest the truth of what she remembered. But then the burden of
disproof would be laid on the courtesan, and if she failed she too
must die.

Poor little Siyâla! Better far if she could be warned; be persuaded
not to affirm this marriage.

"At the tank steps at dawn to-morrow," said Âtma briefly, as late in
the evening she parted with Deena at the foot of the stairs. She would
do her utmost. Zarîfa could be put to sleep with a pellet of the
Dream-compeller; so she would be free to spend every hour in search of
Siyah Yamin.



                             CHAPTER VIII

      _Dear, the Sun that shines above thee
       Spends his gold to see thee, sweet
       Let me like those rays that love thee
       Kiss the dust about thy feet_.
                                          --Nizâmi.


There was a faint half-kissing sound as of bare feet on a wet marble
floor, and a running tinkle of light voices behind the heavy curtain
which barred the archway to the inner bathroom; but in the little
balconied alcove at the end of the vestibule, where Aunt Rosebody,
attired in a vivid rose-coloured wadded silk dressing-gown, sate
drying her gray hair in the wind, there was silence, almost sleep.

For the active little old lady still preferred a swim to paddling in
scented waters, so she and Umm Kulsum the "Mother of Plumpness," both
being of small size, were used to start earlier, in one dhooli, for
their morning bathe in the women's screen at the big tank beneath Âtma
Devi's house. Being of the frank old Chughtâi type, they were
hail-fellow-well-met with the all and sundry who came down to fill
their pots or wash on the steps; so nearly every day a gray head and a
black one, both sleek from a dive under the screen arches, might be
seen slipping sideways in the overhead stroke far beyond the women's
limited range.

Now such exercise is fatiguing even when age is set aside so lightly
as it was by Aunt Rosebody. Therefore the time of hair-drying was for
her a time of repose also; the more so because Umm Kulsum always dried
hers whilst picking her daily violet posy for the King. And the other
ladies--heaven rest their souls and bodies!--always spent such an
unconscionable time over their scented paddlings; while as for the
dressings to come, when, fresh from their baths, they all sate in the
balconied vestibule to be perfumed, and manicured and massaged--Why!
what with the drinking of cool sherbets or hot tea, scented, almost
colourless, tasteless, save for the cinnamon flavouring it, these
_séances_ seemed unending. They were, however, amusing enough, since
this was a recognised time for morning callers; primed, of course,
with the latest and most vivacious gossip. Nor were the visitors
necessarily of the class which nowadays the East--without thereby in
the least impugning their respectability--stigmatises as "street
walkers"; since the laws governing seclusion are now far more strict
than they were in Mogul times.

Besides, there were always the court ladies, and the wives of the
Palace officials.

Always indeed! Aunt Rosebody broke off in the faintest of deep
breathings, which even by discourtesy would hardly be called a snore,
and remarked with drowsy captiousness, "What? again!" when the African
slave girl--whom the dear old lady had imported from Mekka as part of
her piety--ingeniously roused her slumbering mistress by actually
touching her feet in the deep salaam which accompanied the
announcement, "Bibi Azîzan, noble wife of my lord Ghiâss Beg,
Treasurer, and her daughter Mihr-un-nissa crave audience."

Aunt Rosebody's beautiful wavy gray hair stirred like moon-ripples on
water as she shook her head patiently.

"Let her come," she said resignedly, "the others cannot be long now,
and, mayhap, if I let her tongue start fair at a gallop, I may finish
forty winks ere it slackens to a trot."

Thereinafter, swaying with an odd sidelong waddle of the hips in the
fashionable gait which was supposed to emulate the grace of a swan or
a young elephant, there came over the marble inlaid floor strewn with
silken carpets from Khotan, a truly marvellous figure. Being somewhat
stout in the body--though the face, still charmingly pretty was
curiously unmarred by fatness or flabbiness--the extremity of the
modes in which the figure was dressed did not become the wearer. The
graceful dual garment (almost diaphanous but for its exceeding
fulness, cut to the ground at the sides, but literally yards long in
front and behind) instead of, when swept back by the walk, clinging in
soft folds from hip to ankle and lying on the ground behind in a
billowing train with no wrong side, was ruckled about the fat legs,
and huddled itself confusedly behind them, giving the appearance of a
peg-top entangled in a handkerchief!

There was no lack of colour, or stitching, and sewings about the lady.
From head to foot she stood confessed as one of the leaders of ladies'
fashions, and the jewelled chatelaine at her waist held _kohl_ caskets
and rouge-pots, even an unmistakable powder box, while a large mirror
set in pearls shone ring-fashion on her thumb.

She salaamed in the very latest court manner to Aunt Rosebody, and
came up from the semi-prostration, breathless but complacent, to meet
the little old lady's keen eyes fixed on her forehead whereon, just at
the parting, was stuck a tiny, round, vermilion wafer.

"What is that?" asked Aunt Rosebody pointing an accusing finger at
her. "Hast become a Hindu?"

Azîzan Begum tittered. "La! madam. 'Tis the very latest fashion! One
cannot, with respect to oneself and others, appear without it, in----"

"In the Râjpût harem," interrupted the little lady, her tone rising
ominously. "Well! 'tis not far distant, Azîz, if thou hast missed the
way thither. Just through the door, down the steps, across the yard
and thou wilt find plenty of red _tikkas_; but not here!"

"Madam! I protest," expostulated the poor fat fashionable; "I have no
desire--and 'tis worn by everybody at court."

"It is not worn here," repeated Aunt Rosebody with cool dignity. "So
if the desire to remain finds place in the respected and respectable
lady's plans she--she can wash it off! Ooma! a basin of water. Let it
be tepid lest the lady should receive a shock--and--and see it be duly
scented with scent of flowers; something that will make the respected
and respectable lady smell less like a civet cat! 'Tis pity, Azîz,
thou dost not keep to rose-essence after taking the trouble to invent
it!"

"I protest," murmured the Bibi, seeking support on the floor, and
adjusting the set of her veil and her folds generally with the sort of
reflex action which exists still in the women of her type--that is to
say, hopelessly courtesan despite their excellent wifehood and
motherhood-- "'Tis the very latest of my perfumes, and all the latest
fashionables--"

The elder woman's face took on seriousness beneath its impatience. "I
am not of the latest," she said, "though in truth I be later in life's
journey than they. Yet even in my youth"--her sparkling bright eyes
roved contemptuously over the other's dress--"I did not clothe myself
after--after Satanstown! And thou growest old, Azîzan! Thou hast a
daughter--but where is she?--did not they say she was with thee?"

"The child was beguiled bathward by Lady Umm Kulsum whom we met,"
bridled the Bibi.

"The child?" echoed Aunt Rosebody; "Lo! she will be giving thee dates
ere long--ha--ha!"

She chuckled over her own little joke, for the giving of dates is the
first step toward a wedding; but the Bibi tossed her head.

"She is but eight, and I protest is quite a babe--not one thought of
marriage."

Auntie Rosebody leant back and yawned. "Eleven," she said calmly, "or
twelve maybe. 'Tis thirteen since the ill-fated caravan left Persia,
and on the way thy child was born. Strange, surely, that such close
touch on death as must have been thine ere thou and her father could
have left her--as thou didst--to die in the desert, should not have
brought thee some sense in life! How about the betrothal to Sher
Afkân?"

Bibi Azîzan gave an affected little scream.

"La! there 'tis! Did I not tell her father that if he would insist on
sending the country-bumpkin a platter of welcome that the old tale
would be revived. La! 'tis too vexing! I could cry; and my sweet
poppet whom I long to keep always as my little babe, my perfect
innocent! I protest, madam, I would kill any bridegroom."

"Oh fie! marmie!" came a laughing voice behind--"Not Prince Salîm, I
will wager!"

Both women looked round with a start to see, holding back the wadded
curtain, such a vision of youth and perfect loveliness as the world
shows but seldom; yet once having shown does not let men forget. For
this small slender Eastern maid, comparable at her eleven years to
Western fourteen, was to take her place amongst the beauty which has
swayed the destiny of empires.

As she stood backed by the soft embroideries of the curtain, the
delicate outline of her still childish figure barely concealed by the
silver tinsel veil Umm Kulsum had thrown over her in laughter at her
utter nakedness as she had scrambled out of the bath, she showed at
once innocent, yet full of guile. There was not one false note in the
harmony of her beauty. The cupid's bow of her mouth was curved into a
mischievous smile as she looked at her mother half-jibingly, and at
Aunt Rosebody half-defiantly.

"Oh! my heart! Oh! what words!" gasped the former, having recourse to
her vinaigrette, while the latter looked at her nodding her moonshiny
head.

"So!" she said; "So, Azîzan! That lets the cat out of the cupboard!"

But there was no time for more, since through the upheld curtain
trooped the bevy of bathers followed by their maids. Then arose such a
chatter as to places and pillows, such giggles, such laughter, waxing
loudest round Umm Kulsum who, ready dressed, caught the silver tissued
maid-ling about the waist, and danced round with her, whirling through
the room, feet flying, hair floating, until--quite breathless--she
pulled her partner down right on Aunt Rosebody's rug.

The little old lady looked at the perfectly bewitching face, and a
smile quivered about her mouth.

"What about the Prince Salîm, child?" she asked accusingly. "What
about him?"

Mihr-un-nissa looked arch in return and positively made a _moue_ of
uncontrollable high spirits before she put on an air of immense and
demure propriety.

"Nothing, gracious lady! Am I not betrothed to Sher Afkân Khân?"

Bibi Azîzan let loose an absolute shriek.

"Oh! my liver! Ah! ladies! Heard one ever the like? Mihr-un-nissa how
darest thou?--it is not true--it is a lie!"

A curious expression of untamed obstinacy came to the girlish face and
gave it a character beyond its years.

"Lo! Marmita!" she said lightly; "when thou and Afkân's mother have
settled whether I be betrothed or no, there may be talk of truth. Till
then I marry no one."

Bibi Azîzan subsided helplessly, limply, amongst her cushions. To say
more might only induce the _enfant terrible_, of malicious intent,
still further to reveal the family strife; so there was room for Umm
Kulsum's tactful raillery.

"What! thou wilt be an old maid like me! And without even a pilgrimage
to thy credit! Fie! Thou art too pretty for Jehannum!"

Mihr-un-nissa laughed scornfully. "I would rather Jehannum on my own
feet than Paradise on a man's coat-tails. La! la! I hate men folk!"

There was a general gurgle of laughter. The girl's face grew
crimson-dark; her eyes filled with tears, yet flashed also and she
held her ground.

"'Tis true," she cried, stamping her bare foot with an almost
soundless yet curiously imperative smack on the marble floor. "I hate
them--they think of nothing but themselves--and--and women! And I hate
women too--I want to be a Queen, and I _will_ be one!"

"Come hither, child, and let me look at thee," said Auntie Rosebody,
suddenly holding out her hand. The supple young thing crossed to her
proudly, and crouching low touched the small fine old fingers with her
forehead.

"Thine eyes, child--thine eyes!" said the old woman. "Let me see thy
fate in them."

So for an instant's space the great lustrous soft depths of
Mihr-un-nissa's fathomless eyes were appraised.

"She might keep him--as he should be kept," murmured Auntie Rosebody
to herself; but Mihr-un-nissa was thinking of the queenship.

"What does the Most Beneficent see?" she asked eagerly. "Shall I be
Queen?--Queen myself I mean--real Queen?"

There was an instant's pause and in the silence which hung over the
whole room the imperious young voice seemed to linger. Then Umm
Kulsum, seeing a look of sudden recoil in Aunt Rosebody's face,
laughed cheerfully.

"Ask the witch wives, Mihro, not us! Or stay! Lo Auntie! dost remember
the red woman with her curious cry whom we saw at the tank steps but
now, and bade come hither, since she claimed to be the royal bard? She
is Brahmin and tells the stars, she said. Let us have her in if she is
here and then Mihro can hear fortunes."

"La!" cried Bibi Azîzan catching at any side escape from what had gone
before, "I can tell the ladies who the woman is. She is mad--quite
mad--and----"

"The more suitable for this subject of Queenship," remarked Aunt
Rosebody dryly, twisting her hair deftly to a topknot which greatly
enhanced her dignity. "Ooma! see if one Âtma, singer of pedigrees,
soothsayer, heaven knows what, waits without. If so, bid her enter.
And bring me a violet sherbet such as my father--may peace be his
always!--loved when he was aweary of fools; then Bibi Azîzan can have
her say in peace!"

After which Parthian shot she sipped her sherbet in silence. She was
inwardly amused at the cat which Mihr-un-nissa--an enchanting piece
truly!--had so wilfully and deftly let out of the cupboard. In truth
there was some excuse for such vaulting ambition in the child's
extraordinary beauty. Pity she had not been a few years older--pity
nephew Akbar would not put pleasure first and politics second in
Salîm's marriage--pity! Ah! pity in so many things.


    "_May the Gods pity us, dreamers who dream of their Godhead!_"


The old lady started at the quaintly apposite cry which seemed indeed
to force the whole vestibule into a second's silence.

Âtma Devi stood at the far arches, her poppy-petal dress showing for
an instant brilliant in the glimpse of sunlight let in by the upraisal
of the curtain.

In truth her entry brought a new note to the chord of womanhood which
vibrated in the atmosphere; a note that was foreign to its harmony. A
quick sense of tragedy came to the comedy of laughing ladies.
Something in Âtma's womanly face and figure that was in them also,
disguised, tucked away, hidden out of sight but still recognisable
made them recoil to silence. Perhaps it was the "Not womanhood" of the
dark days before Sex shows itself--the Not-womanhood which, with the
"Not-manhood," go to make up the Paradise Life in which there shall be
neither male nor female.

Âtma felt the recoil herself as her dark eyes questioned the scene
before them, challenging it in swift antagonism. For the past two days
her thoughts had been concentrated on her search for some clue of
Siyah Yamin. She had drifted about the bazaars, giving her curious
cry, she had watched at street corners, and listened patiently through
the hurly-burly of passing voices for some hint, some sound. Without
avail; and time was running short; she would not have wasted one
minute of it in obeying Aunt Rosebody's order to attend at the palace
but for a dazed sense of duty. She, the King's Châran, must not
neglect royal commands; even Siyah Yamin must give way to them.

Siyah Yamin! Siyah Yamin! Ye Gods! why had either of those two
children who had played together, grown up to be women? Why should any
woman-child grow up to be hampered by her sex, left helpless?

Âtma's thoughts as she stood mechanically shaking the hour-glass drum,
paused; her eyes in the darkness to which they were becoming
accustomed had found something which brought answer to her
questioning.

It was Mihr-un-nissa, who, barely veiled by silver tissue, sate a
little way apart from the others on a yellow silken rug; her slender
arms were around her knees, her head was tilted back against the wall
on which a flower garland of the inlaid mosaic seemed to frame her
delicate face, as through half-closed lids she returned the singer's
stare.

"Art thou a witch-wife?" asked the little maid suddenly, as if none
but they two were in the room. "Lo! I am Mihr-un-nissa, Queen of
Women. Tell me--shall I indeed be Queen not of them only, but of men
also?"

The brushers and dressers paused in their avocations to look and
listen. Something insistent, compellent, seemed to have come into the
atmosphere. Even Auntie Rosebody paused in the sipping of her sherbet
and waited for the answer to that still-childish voice.

And those two stared at each other, feeling vaguely akin; the woman
who strove to forget her sex in a man's work, the girl who cherished
it as a means of gaining a like power.

"I offer excuse for interference," came Râkiya Begum's rasping voice,
"but soothsaying except by reference to the Holy Book----"

"'Tis but for fun, Most Noble," pleaded Umm Kulsum, who was invariably
the smoother of difficulties, "and they did it at the Holy City, for I
paid seven golden _ashrafees_ to a woman with a crystal who told me
naught that I did not know before."

The little ripple of surrounding laughter did not soften Râkiya
Begum's sternness.

"A crystal," she said severely, taking a pinch of snuff, "is
different. That hath, as all know, its gift of God in certain hands;
but the looking at grains of rice and the counting of pease-pods is
irreligious, and most derogatory to true believers. Therefore in the
absence of our Lady Hamida----"

The acerbity of this allusion to an occasionally divided headship in
the harem was interrupted hastily by a twitter from the elder Salîma
who addressed her daughter nervously.

"In truth dear heart, Ummu, 'twere better not mayhap--the woman is
Hindu."

Mihr-un-nissa, her head still tilted back against the garlanded wall,
looked through her lashes, and her cupid's bow of a mouth smiled
bewilderingly.

"I mind not that one fly's weight," she remarked cheerfully, casually,
as if her likings or dislikings were the only question at issue, "Come
good red woman, begin! My fortune, please!"

Âtma hesitated. Here was a household divided against itself, and
beyond Auntie Rosebody and Umm Kulsum, whose status she knew, she was
unaware of the position of the scented, languidly laughing ladies
around her. Yet a false step might be fatal to future right of entry.
It was a time for swift, decisive action.

"I tell no fortunes," she replied. "I look only in the magic mirror
after the fashion that a pious pilgrim of Mahomed taught my father,
and if God sends a vision, I see!"

It was a fortunate hit. Râkiya Begum sate stiff with excitement. "Not
the magic mirror of ink, such as is used in Room? Lo! ladies! this is
a chance indeed! and I, at the moment, in one of my-poor verses was
using it as an allegory for the vast enlargement of the mind by
literature! Good woman! Let us see the process without delay. What
dost require?"

Âtma's native wit was equal to the occasion. "A drop of ink from the
inkpot of the poetess must bring visions," she replied readily, and
Khânum Râkiya Begum smiled her approval. So the inkpot came and Âtma,
her full red skirts billowing about her, sank to the ground opposite
Mihr-un-nissa whose bare limbs, the colour of freshly garnered wheat
overlaid with a faint tinsel sheen, showed almost white in contrast
with the intensity of the scarlet. Then holding the inkpot high in her
right hand the Châran began to sing softly:


                     Drop, ink! and hide my flesh
                     Cover my worldly ways
                     Then let God's Light afresh
                     Mirror God's praise
                     Drop ink! Drop deep
                     Cover in Sleep
              My Night of Nights and bring the Day of Days.


A little pool of ink lay, with curved surface like a dewdrop, on her
left palm as the song ceased.

"If the gracious child will almost touch the mirror with her left
forefinger and complete the circle of magic by touching my right arm
with her right hand," she suggested in a mysterious monotonous voice.

For answer Mihr-un-nissa's firm little fingers closed round her wrist
tightly. "Aye! it shall not stir," she said coolly. "I want to know
for certain--no clouds and waves and mists--I want to know. Dost
hear?"

Childishly imperative her eyes questioned Âtma's. "Nay!" replied the
latter, feeling in a measure at bay. "The gracious maid must close her
eyes. I, Âtma, will look alone into the mirror and see--if God
wills--the fortune of the Princess."

Aunt Rosebody's laugh came sudden, sarcastic.

"Not Princess yet, woman! Not as yet," she continued, turning to Bibi
Azîzan, "even in the inmost heart of the house of Ghiâss Beg, the Lord
Treasurer."

"I protest," began the fat fashionable one feebly.

Âtma gave a swift glance round at the speakers and the little pool of
ink in her palm wavered despite Mihr-un-nissa's almost fierce grip.

"How now, slave?" cried the latter; "I said no wavering."

"There shall be none, Highness," replied Âtma bending her brows over
her task again. But the mention of Ghiâss Beg's name had brought back
the thought of Siyah Yamin. For the only clue of any sort which the
two days of search had given to Âtma was a possible connection between
the Lord High Treasurer's House and that of the Syeds of Bârha.

They were distantly related by marriage. It was the faintest of clues
but the thought of it filled Âtma's mind in an instant with a pressing
desire.

Siyah Yamin! Siyah Yamin! She must be found! Time was passing! The
very next morning the Audience would be held.

Siyah Yamin! Siyah Yamin----

"I see naught," she went on monotonously, forcing herself to
words foreign to her thoughts--"I see, I see--what do I see? A
crowd of banners waving. 'Tis a marriage procession! And lo! the
bridegroom--Ohé! like the young Krishn for beauty--tall, slim, and
fair."

"Thou liest," came Mihr-un-nissa's voice full of passion. "Thou dost
not see it. Thou dost not----"

As she spoke she flung up the wrist she held so roughly that the ink
drops spurted over Âtma's scarlet dress; then, with a sudden bound,
she stood confronting her, a tornado in silver tissue. "Lo! I was
looking too, and I saw no crowd, no banners, no bridegroom. All I saw
was Siyah Yamin playing on the lute as she played last night when----"

She broke off with a sudden dismay, then laughing round defiantly to
her mother went on recklessly:

"There! I have let that musk-rat go! but I did see her, Marmita, just
as she sate last night when you and she----"

Bibi Azîzan's shriek drowned the rest.

Then came Auntie Rosebody's voice of horror; "Siyah Yamin! At--at thy
house, Azîzan! This passes indeed! Go, woman, and venture hither no
more!"

"I offer excuse," remarked Râkiya Begum who had risen and come forward
in sedate annoyance. Her stiff brocaded petticoat looked almost regal,
but her thin angular body still suffered from lack of attire, and her
veillessness showed her scanty hair screwed back tightly, ready for
subsequent additions. Withal she had a certain dignity of thin, harsh,
high features and scraggy uprightness. "That question, Khânzada
Gulbadan Kkânum is, as the lawyers have it, _sub-judice_. To-morrow
the King decides."

"Decides!" echoed Auntie Rosebody wrathfully. "And if he does
decide!--what then? You can't beat a drum with one hand, and all the
other five fingers are in the butter! No! No! Marry her fifty times,
Siyah Yamin _is_ Siyah Yamin. You can't hide an elephant under a
hencoop. So there! That's my say!"

Râkiya Begum took a pinch of snuff. "And I say nothing. A wise man
learns to shave upon strangers."

Meanwhile Mihr-un-nissa, her swift anger passing into amused wonder,
stood looking at the ink spots on the scarlet dress, until suddenly
her cupid's-bow mouth curved itself into a smile.

"'Twas thy fault," she said nodding her head. "Thou must have been
thinking of her, for I saw her clear; but see--that for thy spoilt
dress!"

She tore off a gold bangle from her arm and held it out. They were
standing close together, almost unobserved, the rest of the company
being more interested in crowding about the discussion which still
went on regarding Siyah Yamin.

"Why wilt not take it?" continued the little maiden stamping her foot,
as Âtma Devi drew back.

"Because I want a bigger boon," she replied hurriedly, seizing her
chance.

"A greater boon?" echoed Mihr-un-nissa curiously.

"Aye!" almost whispered Âtma Devi. "If the gracious child--in
truth her head well deserves a crown--would take this in exchange for
me," she hastily wrenched off a thin silver band-bracelet all too
small for the matured wrist on which it was worn. "Take it to Siyah
Yamin--it--it is hers. See! there is her name upon it."

She pointed to a word engraved on the bracelet. Mihr-un-nissa took it
and stood holding it, her unfathomable eyes full of malicious
contempt. "So! there is a mystery! La! I love mysteries--they are so
easy to guess! Yea! I will give it--and find out! Is there any
message?"

"None."

The childish face broke into almost sinister smiles. "Then the
bracelet means the message! What is it? Come, or go? No matter! I will
find out!"

She slipped the bracelet round her own slender wrist and turned away
nonchalantly, a veritable Queen of Women.



                              CHAPTER IX

                _Fling back thy veil, Beloved! Lo! how long
                       Shall it avail
                 To hide thy womanish nature, and so wrong
                       Thy beauty frail_.


"Is it thou, Siyâla?"

Âtma holding the cresset high peered out into the darkness of the
stair.

A tinkle of soft laughter came from the shadows. "So! thou hast not
forgotten the old signal, Âto! yet it was years agone that I gave thee
the bracelet, and thou gavest me thine. Still have I come for the sake
of it! That is enough, Yasmeen! I stay here till an hour ere dawn;
then fetch me."

The last was called in a low voice down the darkness and thereinafter
followed the sound of retreating steps; yet still no figure showed in
the circle of cresset light.

"Wilt not come in Siyâl?" said Âtma impatiently, "if by chance someone
came and found us women----"

Another tinkle of laughter rose from the shadows and out of them
stepped swaggering a slender youth, the very print and spit of
fashion, made taller by a high-wound turban, his hand on the jewelled
scimitar stuck in his tight-wound girdle.

"They would say that Âtma Devi had found a proper lover," laughed the
masquerader. "La! Âtma, on my soul I do love thee!--thou art so
monstrous serious, and thy large eyes have a fire in them. Be mine,
sweet widow!"

"Peace, Siyâl! This is not time for jesting. Come in and let me shut
the door. I have matters of privacy to say."

"Say on," retorted the other gaily, "but not here. And call me not
Siyâl! I am thy true lover Sher-Khân. In truth, Âtma," here the voice
changed to seriousness, "this disguise was necessary, seeing where I
bide! In God's truth we bazaar women have to go for trickery to the
chaste zenânas. I had but to tell Yasmeen I wished to go out and
this"--she touched her costume--"was forthcoming _instanter_. Lo! I
shall doubt every likely lad I see for the future as myself
disguised!--who knows, indeed, but what I was born to be a man! Come
sweetheart, I cannot talk here! Come with thy Sher-Khân."

She stepped forward and laid her hand on Âtma's wrist.

"Whither?" asked the latter, feeling as she looked at the feminine
face set in masculine clothes the nameless charm of the woman in the
man, the man in the woman. "And wherefore?"

The answer came short and sharp. "Because if I am missed they will
seek me here first. Mihr-un-nissa knows, and she--she has no mercy
when she feels power! We will go to my paradise. I have the key still.
Lord! How I shall love it after this past fortnight of a virtuous
cage! Lo! the dew of heaven is not a satisfying drink! So"--she
snatched at the cresset, "follow me, sister--sweetheart--widow if thou
wilt--woman any way! Bah! how dark it is--truly they say 'the
torchbearer sees not his own steps.'"

Thus chattering in shrill whispers, she led the way. A key rattled in
a lock; there were more stairs, then another door opened and they
stood in Siyah Yamin's paradise.

A deserted paradise indeed! Dark, almost dreadful in its unseenness,
with only a rustle as of dead, dried flowers and leaves coming to them
with the faint breeze which blew in their faces from the darkness. A
faint scent, as of withered blossoms came with it.

Siyah Yamin closed the door with a bang, burst into a perfect cascade
of laughter, and then, out of sheer delight and devilry pirouetted and
postured down the central walk singing as she danced a _ghazal_ from
Hâfiz:


              Love! Love! It is Spring
              Be thou of joyous heart
              Truly the birds will sing
              Roses be blossoming
              Though we depart!
              This is our little day!
              This is the hour of play
              Ere you and I be clay
              Kiss me, my heart!
              Kiss me alway.


With the cresset in her hand, its lights and shades falling on the
high turban with its waving green ends, on the effeminate embroideries
of her dandified dress, and bringing out into filmy clouds the long
floating coatee of gold-spangled white muslin worn as a loose overall,
she seemed like the very Spirit of Sex, neither male nor female,
careless of everything save reckless sensual pleasure.

So, suddenly, the lithe body stooped and from the cresset in her hand
one of the many little oil lamplets edging the paths and encircling
what had been flower beds ere neglect and noonday suns had left them
shrivelled, flickered into flame; then another, and another, and
another, as swaying, posturing, singing she danced on into the shadows
leaving behind her a pathway as of stars.

Ere she reached the pavilion at the further end and sank breathless
amongst its silken cushions, a dim radiance was suffused over the roof
showing the withered roses, the trailing dead tendrils of the scented
jasmine, the litter of spent blossoms, all the lees and dregs of a
past pleasure. The very table, low to the ground, its mother-o'-pearl
inlaying all dust-covered, still held a half emptied wine cup or two,
a leaf plate of half-rotten fruit.

"Lo! Siyâla!" said Âtma, suddenly looking almost tenderly at her
companion, as she lay, bathed in the rosy light of the hanging lamp
she had lit, "what art thou in very truth? Sometimes thou seemest to
me of the stars; at times thou art very earth."

The courtesan laughed. "I am Woman," she replied, flinging her high
turban aside and drawing the loose fallen tresses of her hair through
her fingers lazily, settling them in dainty fashion on her shoulders,
"I wait as I have waited all the long ages for the Man! Lo! I am ready
for his desire. I am the uttermost Nothingness which tempts Form. I am
Mâya, illusion and delusion!"

Her voice full of music and charm fell on the ear drowsily.

"And thou, Âtma," she went on, "shall I tell thee what thou art? Thou
art that which seeks not--which gives and takes nothing in return.
Thou art salvation. Yet thou canst not save--the Woman is too strong
for thee. Thou lovest the King!"

The blood flew to Âtma's face. "Thou liest!" she cried hotly.

Siyah Yamin's laugh filled the emptiness of the roof. "Thy denial
proves it, sister! Were it not wiser to accept thy womanhood? Ohé!
Âtma! there is joy in drawing the strength of a man through his
lips!--in making him forget high thoughts--in dragging him down, down
to the very depths of--of Nothingness!"

Her small bejewelled hand closed on the empty air; yet Âtma shivered:
that emptiness seemed to hold so much. She sate down on the steps and
resting her chin on her hand remained crouched in on herself, silent,
looking out over the dead roses.

"Lo! here is wine!" came the gay voice. "Pledge me in it, Âtma! Does
not Hâfiz say 'the cloister and the wine shop are not far apart?' No
more is thy woman's love from my woman's love. Why shouldst thou try
to make it man's love?"


              My love is a burning fire,
              And aloe-wood is my heart,
              The censer is my desire,
              Oh me! how I shrivel and smart!
              Yet the flame mounts higher and higher:
              Oh! love depart!
              Make not a funeral pyre
              Of censer and heart.


The trivial song ceased. Siyâla slipping from her cushions had slidden
toward Âtma, and now, her chin resting on the latter's broad shoulder,
was looking up at the brave steady face with cajoling menace in her
eyes.

"Why, and what willst thou, Âto? There is no third way. Woman must be
as I--the eternal Nothingness which Something sought in the beginning;
sought, tempted by the desire for Form; which men seek now tempted by
the Woman Form they have made! Tempted by me, the courtesan, who
drains the good from them and flings it sterile on the dust heap of
the world! Or they must be as thou art not: instinct with Motherhood,
draining the soul of man to hand it on in ceaseless conflict of sex,
of Form and Matter through the ages. But thou, Âto? Thou wouldst be
neither! Thou art mother of the past, not of the future. Thou wouldst
stand aside and give the man part of thee--'tis in all women even in
Siyah Yamin--thou wouldst give this man part which has come to thee
through thy fathers, back all untouched by thy womanhood to the man
thou lovest! Fool! There is no such love for us womenkind!"

"There thou tellest truth, Siyâl," said Âtma coldly. "It is not love.
Did I not tell thee so? But I came not here for this. We must speak
and speak quickly."

So the two women, half seen in the suffused light of the empty roof,
sate talking while the little lamplets twinkled like stars, and every
here and there one, growing short of oil, flickered and went out
leaving a gap of darkness.

"Three!" counted the courtesan with a yawn as the mellow echoing notes
of the city gongs chimed through the night. "'Tis time I were gone!"

She caught up her turban, coiled her long hair beneath it, thus stood
transformed at once into effeminate manhood. "And Sher-Khân," she
continued swaggering, "hath not had even one kiss--sweet widow!--the
perfume of thy hair is wrapped round my living soul----"

"Peace, Siyâl," said Âtma, who risen, stood sombre, thoughtful. "Then
I can do no more. I have warned thee. If thou swearest, I will speak."

"And I will deny--what then?"

"Then is my death----"

Siyah Yamin burst into a peal of laughter.

"Death! Trust the men folk--aye!--Trust the King to put a spoke in
that wheel! A woman is a woman, and thou art too good looking! Lord! I
shall laugh to see it, and thou so serious. Come! let us drink to our
success before we go."

She seized an empty wine cup, then stood looking at it for a second,
checked by the sight of it. It was a blown glass goblet damascened
with gold. She held it to the light, her small child's face grown
suddenly soft. "The cup of pleasure," she murmured to herself. "How
long is it since _he_ gave it!" So, with a laugh, she filled it to the
brim from a flagon that stood near.

"Thy health, Âto, and thy lover's!" she cried lightly. "Lo! he who
gave the cup was mine once; but Siyah Yamin will never lack for men,
since she is woman!"

She raised the cup to her lips but did not touch it, then, with a
sudden gesture flung it far into the shadows. It fell with a crash
beside a withered rose bush, and the red wine trickled through the dry
earth to moisten the roots below.

"Come, Âtma." she continued. "Nay! leave the lights as they are. They
will outlast the stars anyhow!"

A minute later Siyah Yamin's paradise held nothing but the twinkling
lights flickering out one by one. Yet she was right. The rising sun
found some of them burning bravely and the rose-shaded lamp in the
pavilion shone persistently on the silken cushions as if seeking for
some one; perhaps for her.


                          *   *   *   *   *


The palace was early astir that morning, and little knots of men
waited gossiping in corridor and vestibule.

"It is not politic," sighed Abulfazl, "the common folk well ask who is
God's vice-regent on earth if a King's order is no order."

'"Tis the devil's own foolery," spoke up Birbal roughly, bitterly,
"the long beards wag loosely already, and if Akbar gives them a field
they will take a barn."

And in truth a certain ill-defined smirk sate on the concealed lips of
the learned doctors of the law who stood in a bevy near the door. To
them even consideration of the vexed question was a distinct score. It
was a confession that the usurper of their office did not know his
business.

To the general public assembling in force it was an occasion for
curiosity; for something new which might pave the way to almost
anything. Only the Syeds, their hawk faces clustering close together,
their hands clutching at their sword belts, seemed certain of the
future.

A burst of the royal kettledrums in the distance echoed finally over a
dense crowd, packing the wide arches of the huge Hall-of-Audience, and
stretching beyond them into the paved courtyard.

"If he wear the Luck still, it will be something to go by," muttered
a weak-looking courtier, who by his very dress--curiously
nondescript--his shaven chin and high green turban showed a desire to
run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

There were many such in Akbar's empire; men whose imaginations went so
far with the King, yet whose hearts failed them before the strangeness
of his dreams.

Another long, loud burst of wild music, and the King showed alone on
the high raised dais, canopied and latticed at the sides with fretted
marble, which opened at the back into the private passage reserved for
Royal use only. By reason of the limited space in which he stood--the
central archway rising but a few inches above his head--he looked
larger, taller, broader than his wont, and as he glanced keenly over
the packed multitude before him, he showed every inch a king. Yet he
was conscious that he, alone of all his empire, saw strength, not
weakness, in his readiness for reconsideration; that he, only, felt
that the revocation of his order would be a greater display of kingly
power than the original order itself.

Standing as he did in shadow, it took the crowd a silent second or two
before it realised--what to it was a stupendous fact--that in this
critical new departure of their King's he was prepared to defy Fate.
He had deserted his luck. The tight wound turban of royalty did not
show the dull glow of the great diamond.

A sort of shiver ran through the Hall, checked by the King's voice.

"Are the suitors and the witnesses in the case present?" he asked.

Abulfazl, stepping into the wide open square kept clear before the
railed dais, replied in the affirmative.

"Then proceed."

The sing-song voice of the court reader filled the hushed air, but
from outside, beyond the red-toothed arches, came the morning song of
many birds. The sunlight filtered in with the song, making Akbar's
attention wander. How trivial these petty questions of rights and
wrongs seemed beside the great questions of Life in itself.

"Bring forward the woman. Let her swear that she is true and lawful
wife."

The crowd swayed at the back. A domed red dhooli showed forcing its
way to the front.

"Room! Room!" cried the ushers. "Room! Room! for the virtuous."

If it was virtuous, there was still something in the very fall of the
swinging silk curtains, in the lift of the liveried bearers, which set
men's pulses a-bounding. For it was Siyah Yamin's dhooli and she was
inside. Would she unveil? Would they see her again, uttermost mistress
of art, absolute owner of guile? A faint sigh of disappointment seemed
to shudder through the crowd as, in obedience to order, the bearers
set down the dhooli and removed the red domed cover, thus disclosing a
muffled figure which rose and salaamed low toward Akbar. Something
there was of ultimate grace in the salutation, which made remembrance
still more clear, and sent a pang of resentment through many of those
present that this perfection should no longer be public property. A
cupola of chastity indeed! screened and guarded by veiled duennas! Not
one in faith, but two! It was preposterous!--Siyah Yamin! the darling
of the town!

"Woman!" came Akbar's voice, "wilt thou swear that thou art lawfully
wedded to the exiled Jamâl-ud-din, Syed of Bârha?"

There was an instant's pause, then a gay clear voice with a bubble of
laughter in it replied:

"Yea! I swear! even though Âtma---- Where art thou, sister? Disguised
as yon duenna, I'll go bail!"

At her first word there was a faint scuffle, a flinging aside of a
_burka_, a silver flash, and almost ere she ended the Châran's cry
rang out


                     It is a lie
                     I, Âtma, I
                     Give it the lie
                     Ye Bright Ones see me die
                     Avenge the lie!


The death-dagger of Âtma Devi's race rose high in the air above the
silver fillet on her loosened hair, and the next moment it would have
been buried in the heart beneath the silver hauberk had not a man's
voice--not kingly at all in its hurried command--cried quickly:

"Hold her!"

As she staggered back, her balance gone by Birbal's swift arrest of
the blow, a mocking voice fell on her ear.

"Did I not tell thee so, sister! Thou art too good-looking for death!"

It had all passed so quickly that folks were still almost
incredulously craning to see, when sudden silence came to that group
on the clear square before the dais. To Siyah Yamin, muffled in her
chaste veil, to Âtma Devi with her bare defiance, to Birbal's eager
acute face as he still held back that hand with the dagger.

"Speak! What hast thou to say?" said the King through the silence.

"This," came the reply, clear, resolute, as Âtma Devi drew from out
her bosom a folded paper. "It was the death word of the King's
Châran."

"Take it and read," said the King, and Abulfazl stepping forward, took
the paper. His practised voice sounded sonorously through the wide
hall.

"Avenge the lie for which I die. Siyah Yamin is Siyâla, daughter of
Gokal, Brâhmin, of Chandankaura, Râjpûtana. We are sisters of the
veil. I saw her married with the Seven Steps and the Sacrificial Fire
to the death-dagger of my race which grants no divorce. She is Bride
of the Gods for ever and ever and ever. The Gods curse him who steals
her from them. Ye Bright Ones avenge the lie!"

"Is this true, woman?" asked the King, sternly.

From behind the veil came the gay mocking voice, "Let her prove it."

By this time the first shock of surprise was over, and men had begun
to turn to each other, questioning and appraising the validity of
Âtma's plea.

"And even if she can prove it, Oh! Most-Illustrious," began Budaoni,
who from his translating work was cognisant of Hindu customs, "even if
this evil woman was dedicated to the Gods, what then? She has read the
creed, she hath become Musulman--she is duly married."

"If the Most-Illustrious will hear me," put in Birbal bowing
low--"hear me, Bhât, Brâhmin, as one with knowledge and authority, I
will tell the Most-Just that this is no ordinary dedication of a girl
to the service of the Gods. _Deva-dasis_ there be--aye! even those
married to a dagger or a basil plant, on whom rests no life-long,
death-long tie. But this is not of those!--Married with the Seven
Steps to a Châran's death-dagger! Accursed be he----"

"Accursed be thou, Hindu!" cried a voice from the crowd, and in an
instant hands found sword-hilts and faces grew fierce.

"Sire! He is right," called Râjah Mân Singh. "The woman belongs to the
Gods--who claims her, takes her through my body!"

"Idolater!" rose an answering sneer, "what Islâm claims is God's!"

But behind these voices in the packed mass of the crowd, men looked at
each other dubiously; Hindu at Mahommedan, Mahommedan at Hindu. Should
they claim this woman or let her go?

"If this slave may offer opinion," came Abulfazl's sonorous voice
above the growing clamour, "the question must wait for proof."

"Enough!" said Akbar sternly. He had been standing with bent brows
staring at Âtma, and at the veiled figure beside her, lost in thought.
Then he turned to Birbal. "On thee, Maheshwar Rao, called by me
Birbal, the burden of inquiry shall rest. Speak. As thou wilt answer
to thy Gods, if what yon woman"--he pointed to Âtma Devi--"says be
true, would this marriage to the dagger hold against all others?"

Quick and sharp came the answer. "The marriage is inviolable, sacred
for Time and for Eternity."

"Then there must be proof. What proof hast thou?" His voice softened
slightly with the words.

Âtma Devi standing tall and straight flung her left arm skyward. "I
have none! None; save my own word. I saw it--we were children and I
cried because she left me. Yea! I remember the bitterness of my
tears."

There was a sudden gay laugh from the veilings at her side, a sudden
wreathing and curving of draperies, and in an instant the woman within
them stood revealed; revealed, not as the late wedded bride, not even
as Siyah Yamin the courtesan, but as Siyâla the dancing girl of the
Gods. Her nut-brown body, bare save for the tiny gold-encrusted bodice
following each swelling line of her bosom, rose, seductively supple,
from the innumerable fulnesses of the thin white muslin skirt which
after clinging close to the loveliness of curve from hip to knees,
fulled out like a bursting flower weighted by its heavy banding of
gold tissue. She wore no veil, but her loose flowing hair was wreathed
with jasmine chaplets, and round her neck, floating with each
exquisite movement of her arms, was a multi-coloured gossamer silk
scarf, rainbow hued, evanescent, ever-recurring, holding in its
loopings, its doublings, something of the absolute grace of a coiling
serpent.

And through the wide hall packed full of men instinct with anger,
malice, hatred, and all uncharitableness, there ran, swiftly, at the
mere sight of her, a common admiration, a common tremor of fear and
hope.

Even the King stepped back from her pure womanhood.

"Lo! Weep not Âto! Wherefore should any weep; when all life is for
laughter!" she said, and her polished voice sounded mysteriously
sweet. "Great King! she says truth. I am Siyâl belovéd of the Gods,
beloved of the Godhead in the man. I am no man's wife. I am no man's
mistress. I am free to have and hold."

She flung both arms forward to the crowd and the rainbow scarf leaping
up formed a halo round her head.

"Come! Come!" she murmured deeply, almost drowsily, "but seek not to
bind. Or ever you were, I was. Yet I am yours!" Her eyes flashed down
upon those liveried bearers of her dhooli, servants of her
courtesanship. "Raise me shoulder high, slaves," she cried, "so that
all may see Siyâl the Belovéd of the Gods, the beloved by men."

So shoulder high she stood smiling while a hoarse passionate breath
surged through the vast assembly.

And then, suddenly, she set up the oldest chant in the world, the
golden jingles about her feet clashing to its rhythm, the heavy gold
bracelets sliding and clashing on her arms as she waved them in the
dance of the _devaad-asi_--


       I am the dancer Prakrit,
       The wanton of change and unrest,
       And the sound of my dancing feet
       Roused the Sleeper self-em-meshed,
       And the eyes that were blind with peace
       Looked out and saw I was sweet,
       So the worlds whirled to my feet
       And Life grew big with Increase.
       Death danced in the arms of Birth
       And Tears were coupled with Mirth
       And Cold things hurried to Heat
       And Heat to Flame and Fire,
       Till the whole world, racked with desire,
       Kept time to my dancing feet.
       "Prakrit! Prakrit!"


She paused in her swift twirling and the long sinuous end of her
silken scarf which had floated round her undulating, almost alive in
its likeness to the clutching creeping arm of an octopus, hovered in
the air for a second then fell on her outstretched arm in delicate
desireful folds.

Something like a faint sigh breathed through the audience. There was
no other sound. Every man was spellbound, as swaying, posturing,
yielding, she went on, allure in her eyes, her voice--


       I am the Woman Prakrît,
       The Keeper and Wanton of Sex,
       And the clash of my dancing feet
       Is a lure that ruins and wrecks.
       Men's lips touch mine and desire
       The Nothingness that is sweet,
       And their souls flock to my feet
       To die in a kiss of fire.
       And I give them Death for Life,
       And I bring them Sorrow and Strife,
       As I suck their senses away
       As they follow and follow for aye
       The fall of my dancing feet.
           Prakrît!    Prakrît!


"Prâkrîti!--Prâkrîti!--Prâkrîti!"

The answering cry came multitudinously. But on it came the voice of
the King.

"Syeds of Bârha! Do you claim this woman or shall she go?"

There could be but one answer, with that unveiled, unabashed figure,
challenging every eye, flaunting before all men, making their very
bodies and souls thrill to the cadence of her dancing feet.

The Syeds' hands felt their sword hilts sullenly, but their spokesman
had no choice of words.

"Let her go. We of Bârha harbour no harlots--no idolaters."

So through the audience, in obedience to her sign, the servants of her
courtesanship carried her, seated, discreetly smiling, decorously
salaaming. But once outside, the crowd which followed her to
Satanstown caught up the song she had sung and bellowed it to the
skies, filling the lanes and byways with the tale which, told so many
ways, brings the mind back at last to the beginning of all things--to
the "Sleeper sleeping self-em-meshed."

As the procession passed a narrow turn, two men dressed as natives,
almost of native complexion, yet of such curious dissimilarity of
features from the crowd around them that the eye picked them out
instinctively as strangers, stood back on a high piled doorstep to
escape the crush.

"_Vadre retro Satanas_" muttered the taller of the two, crossing
himself and thus giving a glimpse of a violet ribbon on his breast
hung with the Portuguese Order of Christ. Its white cross charged upon
a red one glistened for an instant in the sun like silver.

They were Jesuit missionaries, and the smaller of the two, as he
watched, crossed himself also and murmured under his breath, "God help
us! She is like a Madonna!"

And, in truth, Siyah Yamin silent, possibly fatigued by the
excitement, seated with her childish face upraised, her eyes seemingly
full of wistful thought fixed on vacancy, as if somewhere out of sight
lay something very precious, looked innocent enough to touch that
other pivot of feminine life, Motherhood.


       And I give them Death for Life,
       And I bring them Sorrow and Strife,
       And I suck their senses away
       As they follow and follow for aye
       The fall of my dancing feet.
           Prakrît!    Prakrît!


The chorus bellowed out to the skies, as the procession swept on,
leaving Father Ricci and Father Rudolpho Acquaviva to continue their
way to the little mission chapel which Akbar had built for them.

So they went on their way, while in lessening sound came the chorus
which holds the Secret of the Sin for which all religions promise
forgiveness.

It brought a vague, throbbing restlessness to the hot air.



                              CHAPTER X

                    _Opportunity flies, O brother.
                     As the clouds that quickly pass.
                     Make use of it now, for another
                     Will never be yours, Alas!_
                                                 --Hafiz.


"Birbal! Lo! It is always Birbal. May God's curse light on him for an
infidel!"

Prince Salîm's young, sullen face lowered gloomily, he flung aside the
half-tasted sweetmeat he had taken from the golden basket which was
always held within his reach by a deaf and dumb slave.

"Ameen!" murmured Mirza Ibrahîm piously.

Khodadâd who in the _petit comite_ of the Heir-Apparent's innermost
circle of friends was enjoying the newly imported luxury of smoking,
puffed a cloud into the scented air, smiled, bowed gravely; finally
yawned. In truth the Prince wearied him not a little with his childish
petulance, his hasty resentments, his invariable failure to take
action; for he had just enough of his father in him to desire power,
to feel aggrieved at his own subordinate position, yet not sufficient
to make him set his desire above comfort, even above family affection.

They managed such matters better in Sinde. There, since time
immemorial, fathers had killed superfluous sons, sons had killed a
superfluous father, and brother removed brother without ridiculous
reference to relationship.

Khodadâd looked at the Heir-Apparent negligently through a blown ring
of tobacco smoke and appraised him critically. In a way, it was true,
this great lout of a lad formed the most convenient nucleus round
which conspiracy against the King might gather, since he would carry
with him the sympathy of the Orthodox, that is, of at least two-thirds
of the court.

But if he would not move he must be left behind, and conspiracy must
go on without him. It was nothing to Sinde who sate on the throne of
India, so it were not Akbar with his strong hand on the throat of all
rulers who chose to rule in the good old fashion. If Salîm could be
squared well and good, Sinde would help him to his own--on condition.
But if not? Khodadâd's sinister face grew more sinister.

"That ended it anyhow," continued Mirza Ibrahîm who was recounting the
events of the morning; for the Prince was a late riser and seldom
attended audience. "His Majesty appealed to the infidel, who was
backed, of course, by other idolaters such as Mân Singh."

Prince Salîm shot a savage glance at the speaker. "Have a care, fool,"
he cried, "Mân Singh will be of my house when I am married."

Mirza Ibrahîm spread out his hands in apology. "This slave's tongue
slipped over the tangled knot of matrimony," he replied suavely. "But
as I say, the King, forwarded by Birbal and others of his kidney began
to inquire, the firebrand of a madwoman--she was a picture for looks
as she stood breathing defiance--by the prophet! I envied the idolater
his hold upon her!--began on childish tears, and ere one could cry
rotten fruit there was Siyah Yamin, true daughter of the devil,
outraging everybody and making each man's skin thrill to her dancing
feet--even, I dare swear, the King your father's, if he be human
enough for such frailty!"

Prince Salîm gloomed round from another sweetmeat.

"Some men stand above humanity, Sir Chamberlain," he said sullenly,
"as some who call themselves men sit below monkeys."

Mirza Ibrahîm lifted his eyebrows in courtly surprise, bowed, and went
on undisturbed. "In truth the jade was superb; so they carried her
back shoulder-high to Satanstown, where half the young blades still
linger, hoping for a smile. But not I. The madwoman is my quarry!
Strange one can look fifty times at a woman and only fancy her the
fifty-first."

He spoke calmly as one who took his _amours_ rationally.

"And the Syedân? What said they?" asked the Prince.

"What could they say, with that dancing daughter of the devil all
unveiled. In God's truth they breathed the more free, knowing
themselves rid of the necessity for, sooner or later, sewing her into
a sack and committing her and their honour to the silent bottom of the
nearest river."

Khodadâd laughed suddenly, immoderately. "It will be a jest to hear
the tale of how the virtuous mothers of Bârha received the Darling of
the Town as daughter-in-law! Let us appoint a time for it! What say
you, my Prince?"

Salîm frowned his silence; he was in a virtuous mood that morning,
having as yet hardly recovered his rebellion after the check his
father had given to it.

Ibrahîm looked at Khodadâd with a covert sneer, and took up
provocation.

"The Most Illustrious Prince had better ask of Birbal what the Syedân
said or what Akbar did; since he, only, was present at the secret
interview."

Prince Salîm burst out with an oath, "Curse Birbal! I would to God the
jesting hound were dead!"

Khodadâd's evil face came up alert, eager from his smoke-wreaths. "Is
that, in truth, the wish of--of the Most Excellent the Heir-Apparent
to the throne of India?" he asked, and there was something in his
steady stare which made Salîm shift his eyes evasively.

"What good were death," he grumbled. "'Twould but make him and his
advice grow in grace with my father, as do all folk who die in
sanctity. If thou couldst kill the King's trust in him, that would be
different."

"It, also, might be compassed," suggested Khodadâd suavely; but once
more Salîm said nothing. Ibrahîm concealed a yawn by putting a scented
sweatmeat into the cavern of his mouth, then proceeded with his daily
task of poisoning the Prince's mind against authority.

"Yet, seeing that our gracious King Akbar gives up his Luck--as folk
say he hath--to the infidel, Birbal's wisdom may yet be needed, so,
'twere a pity----"

"His Luck? What mean you?" asked the Prince quickly.

Khodadâd shrugged his shoulders lightly. "The diamond, Most Noble, was
not in the kingly turban at the audience, and folk say--with what
truth I know not--that it hath gone to the English jeweller to be cut
Western fashion."

Salîm's heavy face became vital in an instant with a curious mixture
of anger and fear. "Gone!" he echoed. "My father has no right!--it is
mine to wear also when I am King. I tell thee 'tis an heirloom of
luck----"

"Mayhap the luck will not be cut out of it, mayhap it is but talk
after all," put in Ibrahîm deftly, diminishing the immediate wound, so
that its venom might have time to work. "Remember the saying: 'The
truth none heed; lies are the world's creed.' Time enough for trouble
when your turn comes; meanwhile let us sing!"

He let his hand stray idly to the strings of the latest fashionable
instrument which stood by his side. It was a sort of guitar, shaped
like a peacock, real feathers being let into the frets to form a tail.


       Nothing on earth is hidden; in the field
       The little buds of ruby or of pearl
       Burst into flowers so tinted, and the blaze
       Of diamonds in hard marble heart concealed
       Waits for Time's touch on all things to unfurl
       Their stony shroud, and give them back the rays
       In which gems glisten as they were always.


The tinkle of the _satara_, and the high trilling voice filled the
quaint arches of the building in which the Prince lounged idly,
surrounded by all the luxuries of young and sensual life.

It was the Pânch-Mahal, or Five Palaces, that puzzle to archaeologists
of to-day, few of whom seem to know that it was built as a playground
for Akbar's long-looked-for, eagerly-loved heir to many hopes. Here
from sun or storm alike, shelter could be found; shelter that could
bring with it no sense of being cribbed, cabined, or confined, since
in these four column-supported and arcaded platforms, each
superimposed on the next in lessening squares, no two things are
absolutely alike. Carven capital, fluted pillar, and scrolled
entablature each tell a different tale, and in the wide aisles, open
to every wind of heaven, a child might learn, almost as it might learn
from nature, the unending mutation, the ceaseless variety of life.

Whether it served its purpose who can say? One thing is certain; Salîm
as he lay sullenly, resentfully searching the long processions of bird
and beast, fruit and flower, magical monsters and mythical men that
lay carven before his eyes, seeking therein more cause for rebellion,
found himself assailed on all sides by the memory of an eager-faced
teacher who called him son.

His father!

Yes! A deep, unreasoning, jealous affection lay at the bottom of half
his unreasoning revolt.

So, as he lay divided between resentment and pride, the sound of many
hoofs outside disturbed the sleepy afternoon air, a swift step took
the steep stairs to the second story in its stride, and Akbar showed
at the stair-head, unannounced.

He was in riding dress, with untanned leathern gaiters to the knee,
his white cloth jerkin buckled tight with a broad leathern belt. On
his grizzled hair he wore a close-fitting leathern cap cut like a
chain-helmet. It was devoid of all ornament save a heron's plume at
the side. His lean figure and alert air made him look years younger
than his age, and his entry brought instant change of atmosphere to
the perfumed indolence of the young Prince's court. Akbar's quick eye
took in at a glance the sweetmeat baskets, held appetisingly near by
slaves, beautiful or quaint, the scent fountains, the fighting
avitovats, the dice-boxes and all the other paraphernalia of luxurious
sloth.

"Come, boy!" he said sharply, "thou canst not stay idling here till
bed-time! I come to challenge thee to a game of _chaugan_. Elders
against Youngers, see you, and I and Birbal will----"

He turned affectionately as he spoke to the latter who had followed
him more leisurely. But the very conjunction of names was sufficient
for Salîm. His lustreless eyes flashed sudden fire, he was on his feet
in a second.

"So be it, noble father!" he cried. "Since being foe to you makes me
foe also to Râjah Birbal, I am content."

Without a moment's pause Khodadâd was on the Prince's heels in
provocation. "Nay! most puissant Heir to Empire," he cried, with a
sort of servile swagger, "filch not my foe from me. Firsts pair with
firsts, seconds with seconds. So I, Khodadâd, lieutenant of the
Prince's team, claim Birbal as my compeer to stand or fall together in
all things."

There was no mistaking the utter unfriendliness of the challenge.
Akbar stood frowning, but Birbal, suave, sarcastic, only smiled.

"Not in crime, Tarkhân-jee! I bar crime! 'Tis one thing to murder or
steal without fear of punishment, another even to lie with a bowstring
about one's neck! So, seeing the most excellent of lieutenants through
being Tarkhân hath a supremacy in sin, I pray so far, to be excused;
'twill but bring Khodadâd one step nearer to judgment." He turned on
his heel as he spoke; then continued nonchalantly: "Will your Majesty
choose sides?"

"Nay!" replied the King, making an effort to restore good-humour.
"Shaikie shall choose his, and a cast of the die as ever settle
mine--save only for thee."

"May he be accursed!" muttered the young Prince as he flung aside his
deftly-piled and jewel-strung turban, to don a close-eared leathern
cap like his father. His mind was full of vague anger against that
father. Had he indeed parted with the Luck of the House, leaving him,
the heir, forlorn of hope? That must be Birbal's doing; Birbal with
the sneering, bitter tongue, which found out the joints in one's
armour with such deadly skill.

It was already late afternoon. An hour, or even less would see the
rapid Indian dusk settle down over those wide plains below the Sikri
ridge; but as yet the sun's slanting rays shone on the _chaugan_
ground, catching the gilt spikes of the red boundary flags and the red
and gold boundary ropes which were held at intervals by pages dressed
to match in red and gold. Within the oblong thus marked out, the
glittering white and gold and red and silver teams loosing their lean,
low, be-tasselled ponies in preliminary canters, or gathering in knots
to discuss the tactics of the coming game, made the scene show like
some richly jewelled square of embroidery stretched out among the
dusty levels.

Closely akin to polo, _chaugan_ was _par excellence_ the game of Mogul
India; and Akbar excelled at it, holding it to be "no mere play, but a
means of learning promptitude and decision, a test of manhood, a
strengthener of the bonds of friendship."

It differed chiefly from the modern form of the game in having no set
goal, the whole of each end of the oblong being counted as one. So, as
a single flourish from the Royal _nakârah_ sounded, ten riders ranged
themselves at the farther end of the ground, eager, alert, their
mounts (and themselves) hard held, all eyes--even those of the
ponies--fixed on the ball which was held high in the King's right
hand. On either side of the tense, vibrating line stood a pony, one
for either team, its rider holding it by the reins ready on the
instant to fling himself into the saddle and ride out to replace
anyone disabled in the game. Beyond these again, at each corner, was a
group of other ponies, other riders, also ready, when the gong sounded
every twenty minutes, to ride out and replace two players in either
team, thus ensuring a constant supply of fresh blood, fresh zest for
the fight.

"Are you ready, Sahibân?" shouted the King, and with the cry dashed
forward. The tense, vibrating line, giving a wild whoop, was not a
second behind him, and so, tassels waving, sticks carried like lances
came a veritable tornado of a charge that swept up to the centre of
the ground where a red patch of brickdust showed set four-square.

Ralph Fitch, who with his companions was watching the strange new
game, (perhaps the first Englishman who saw polo played), felt his
pulses bound with excitement at this forward dash. "They be sportsmen,
anyhow," he muttered under his breath. "Bravo! bravo!"

For Akbar's nimble little bay Arab pony, who played the game as keenly
as its master, had propped on the red delivery point and stood
quivering with the arrest, while its rider, holding back in his
stirrups for all he was worth sent the ball spinning skyward with an
awkward twist on it, then gripped his club, held till then with his
reins.

"_Hul-lul-la-la-la-la-Harri-ho! Ari!--Nila-kunta!_"

The confused cries rose from the wrestling knot of caps, sticks,
tassels, hoofs, and swinging arms which in an instant gathered, a
whirling nebula of potential force about that nucleus point of a
half-seen, falling ball.

"Ibrahîm!" shouted Khodadâd, whose vicious chestnut, hard held, flung
itself high in air, almost unseating its rider, "to the left or the
King has it."

So, swift as light, aid and prevention hustled each other, all so
quickly that a snapshot would hardly have registered the contest,
until a click, faint yet loud enough to fill each heart with joy or
anger told that the King's stick catching the ball fairly ere it fell
had sent it away in a clear swooping flight.

"He has it--ride! ride!" rose the cry from both sides and away they
went helter-skelter, pell-mell.

Too late, however, for either side to intervene, for the ball driven
with a will, dropped, rebounded, fell again within a foot of the fatal
line at the end and so easily, softly, trickled over it.

"Well hit, father!" called Prince Salîm forgetful of anything but
sheer pride in the King's prowess. His face, nevertheless, lowered
again as in accordance with custom the defeated five rode back along
the sides of the ground toward the starting end, pausing every twenty
paces to pirouette their ponies and to salaam to the victors who, when
the conquered had reached their places, rode triumphantly at a canter
down the middle to take up theirs.

But consolation comes in all games, and the next throw-up decreed that
the King should--not unwillingly--make obeisance to his son after a
hard tussle.

The third goal also went to the juniors, for, whether due to the
replacing in the King's team of Râjah Mân Singh by that inferior
player his cousin Bhâwun Singh, or to a trifle of lameness in Akbar's
little Arab, certain it is that after much swinging and driving of the
ball backward and forward the cry arose amongst the spectators "He
hath it--Khodadâd hath it this time!" And there was the Tarkhân, his
eyes glued on the ground, deliberately trundling the ball along safe
clipped in the crook of his stick, while the Prince and Dhâra beside
him rode off all attempts at rescue.

"He hath bird-lime on it," muttered Birbal, as he swooped down
fruitlessly. The ball trickled on deftly and even the King galloped
forward to defend the goal, but it was in vain, for in the final
_mêlée_ someone--in the dust and glamour--God knows who, gave the
final impetus, and the victors and vanquished wiped their streaming
foreheads ere recommencing another struggle.

It began on both sides with almost fierce determination.

"God's truth! It stirs the blood!" gasped Ralph Fitch. He had seen
many wonders at the court of the Great Mogul, but none so germane to
his temperament as this. It was a game worthy of Englishmen he thought
almost prophetically; since its lineal descendant, polo, has made
India bearable to generations of an English garrison. So while John
Newbery's eyes wandered over the jewels of the spectators around him,
and William Leedes found his attention too much concentrated on the
King's figure for due grip on the game as a whole, it was Ralph Fitch,
who despite distance, dusk, and dust, cried excitedly:

"He hath it again--the Sindi hath it once more!"

True enough. Through the looming medley of dust, men, horses, Khodadâd
(by many considered to be the best player of _chaugan_ this side the
Indus), showed ahead, trundling the ball as he might have trundled an
iron hoop in a hooked iron stick. But this time he had the King to
contend with.

"Back Birbal! it will come back!" shouted Akbar suddenly, and
Khodadâd's thin lips set firmer, his wrist stiffened itself in
downward pressure as just ahead he saw a faint inequality of the
ground. No! the ball should not rise nor swerve, not even if the
hammer-head of the King's stick lay ... so ... close ...

Ten thousand devils!

It was but a quarter of an inch, but it was enough for dexterity--and,
like a lofter at a bunkered golf ball, Akbar's club was
underneath--the next instant, played backhanded, the ball shot
rearward to Birbal's keeping.

Khodadâd riding back amongst the defeated with a wrist which still
felt the forceful grapple of Akbar's, cursed under his breath. He had
been bested, and everything else was forgotten for the moment in pure
personal anger. The thought of revenge rose in him unhampered even by
care for personal safety; for was he not--as Birbal had taunted him
with being--Tarkhân? Unpunishable that is till he had told his full
tale of crime. The Hindu dog might have to learn this to his cost!

The dusk had fallen. Here and there among the throng of spectators
beyond the boundary ropes the twinkling light of a wandering
sweetmeat-seller showed dimly amid the dust, and high on the towering
palaces which backed the ground a few faint gleams from a lamp within
gave outline to some latticed window, or corbeilled balcony.

"The game stands drawn," said Prince Salîm, wiping the sweat from his
brow. "It grows too dark for more."

"Dark! 'Tis never too dark for victory," cried Akbar gaily. "Let us
have out the blaze-balls, Shaiki! 'Twill be a point in thy favour,
young eyes being sharper than old; so choose thy team and mine shall
choose itself."

Either way they were likely players who ranged themselves in line
while the blazing ball of _pilâs_ wood, soaked in oil was handed to
the King in the earthenware cup of a pipe stem.

He held it aloft flaring. "We play for life or death, gentlemen," he
laughed, as with a bound his favourite countrybred mare Bijli, the
fastest pony in the royal stable, answered to the spur.

"For life or death," murmured Khodadâd giving the rein to his mount, a
chestnut Sindi stallion almost oversized for the game, but savagely
keen in the playing of it.

By this time a perpetual film of dust lay square over the ground
showing lighter than the undimmed dusk around it, and the watching
eyes of the spectators strained into it, seeing now a faint star of
light as the blazing ball sped onward, now a cloud of darkness as the
huddled riders followed on its track. Not all of them, however; one
rider held aloof, evidently biding his time for something which every
instant of growing darkness would favour. It was Khodadâd, Tarkhân. A
sinister indifference possessed him. If the chance came, as come it
might, he had made up his mind to take it. A purely accidental
collision would at least serve his purpose of personal revenge without
much personal risk, his being by far the heavier horse, while its
rider, of course, would be prepared for the shock.

Yes! if the chance came.

Like a skimming meteor the ball shot to the right of him and the
King's voice came close on it. "Ride! Birbal, ride!"

Which of them was on the ball? No matter, thought Khodadâd, either was
fair quarry!

He dug his spurs into the vicious chestnut and cut across to take them
on the flank.

Birbal! Yes, that was Birbal's little gray. All the better since there
could be no doubt as to who would have the worst of it. The Hindu pig
would at least get a fall heavy enough to send better men to Jehannum.

Khodadâd's malicious chuckle ceased abruptly. A lean bay head showed
close to his stirrup leather, and he realised in an instant that he
was observed. Yes! he was being ridden off--ridden off by the King,
damn him!

Well! let him try! Two could play at that game!

He jagged fiercely at the chestnut's tight rein and, overborne, the
bay head yielded a point. But the pace of the brute was the devil.
What right had even Kings to ride racers at _chaugan?_ If once it
crept past the stirrup level ... Curse it...!

Another fierce jag overreached its mark, the vicious beast he rode
threw up its head, flung out its feet, so losing half a stride, and
Khodadâd, beside himself with sheer temper, struck it madly over the
ears with his polo-stick. That finished it. With a scream of rage and
fear it plunged forward almost knocking over the smaller horse by
force of its superior weight, but the next instant it was on its hind
legs beating the air vainly, while the little bay at full racing
stride swept under the battling hoofs. Only, however, to find itself
in fresh danger. A horseman unseen till then had been creeping up on
the right in support of Khodadâd.

Akbar who had been giving Bijli the rein in reckless devilry uttered a
sharp cry as he recognised Salîm. Collision was inevitable, and the
wonder as to which would suffer most flashed through the King's mind
as after one vain, almost unconscious, tug, he realised the position,
flung his stick from him, dug spurs to the bay and gripping it all he
knew with his knees, rode straight to the crash. It came, but as it
came Akbar's arm clipped his son, and borne on by the fierce impetus
of Bijli's pace the two shot forward--Akbar underneath--over the bay's
head to lie stunned for a moment by the fall.

The King was the first to speak. "Thou art not hurt, Shaikie?" he
gasped, the breath well-nigh pommelled from him by the Prince's
weighty body.

"Not I!" gasped Salîm in his turn, beginning to realise what his
father had done for him--"but--thou--thou art bleeding."

"From the nose only," replied Akbar cheerfully, as a crowding _posse_
helped him to rise, "it was thy foot did it--God sent as much strength
to thine arm. Nay gentlemen! we are unhurt!"

The assurance was needed, for already on all sides the cry had risen:
"The King is down--the King is killed!" and folk were, in the dusk and
gloom, pressing round a figure which still lay prostrate on the
ground.

And those on the outside of the ever-thickening ring could not see
that it was only Khodadâd knocked out of time for the moment by that
backward flung stick of the King's, which had caught him fair on the
cheek bone and felled him like an ox.

Akbar walked over and looked at him contemptuously.

"Lo! Tarkhân," he said briefly to the man struggling back to
consciousness in Ibrahîm's arms, "ride not so--so _reckless_ again, or
ill may befall thee, Tarkhân though thou be."



                              CHAPTER XI

       Sing me a ditty, sweet singer I sue
       Afresh and afresh, anew and anew;
       Sing of the wine cup the red roses brew
       Afresh and afresh, anew and anew.

       Sing of my sweetheart close claspt to my side
       Love's lips to her lips in secret confide
       Kisses to credit that still remain due
       Afresh and afresh, anew and anew.

       Cup bearer, Sâki! Boy! Silver-limbed, slim,
       Cross thou, I pray thee, my poor threshold's rim,
       Fill up my goblet and fill my soul too
       Afresh and afresh, anew and anew.

       How shall the guerdon of Love's life be mine
       When thou deniest me the red rose's wine?
       Fill up! and in thought my Beloved one I'll view
       Afresh and afresh, anew and anew!

       Breeze of the morning that flyest so fleet,
       Haste thee! Ah haste thee, to her happy feet
       Tell her the tale of her lover so true
       Afresh and afresh, anew and anew.


Siyah Yamin paused, ending the song--which echoes and re-echoes
through every harlot's house in India--with a gay flourish of her
small fingers on the drum which had been throbbing a monotonous
accompaniment.

She looked more like a piece of confectionery than ever in saffron and
white and silver, and her indifferent laugh rang through the arches of
her balconied room and out into the wickedest alley in Satanstown
without a hint of anything in it save pure contentment. Contentment at
being set free from unwelcome trammellings, contentment at being once
more the Darling of the Town.

As for Âto, serious old Âto, with her mock heroics, she, Siyâla, bore
her no grudge for having supplied an excellent opportunity for
dramatic effect. Of course the "memory of tears" had precipitated
matters somewhat, but the dénouement was foreordained. Had not she
come prepared for it with her dancing clothes, her dancing feet?

Thus she lay lazily, contentedly, among her cushions and watched Mirza
Ibrahîm and Khodadâd smoking their drugged pipes in her balcony. Her
house was the rendezvous of all evil things and scarcely a plot was
hatched without her knowing something of it. So, after a time she
rose, silently as a carpet snake, and crept behind their backs. Then
she laughed.

"Hast not hit on payment yet for thy scarred cheek, Khodadâd?" she
asked derisively. "Lo! it spoils thy beauty, friend, and I have a mind
to pass thee off as damaged goods to Yasmeena over the way. She is not
bad as a mistress, though somewhat too stout. But there! 'When the
stomach's full the eye sees God.'"

"Daughter of the devil!" muttered Khodadâd succinctly.

Siyah Yamin's childish face grew hard and clear as if it were carved
in crystal. "Bandy no names, O Gift of God," she said disdainfully,
"Who made me, made thee. Are there not ever two splits in a pea? Yet
would not I sit still with a firebrand in my face." She pointed at the
red mark left by Akbar's polo stick.

"Neither do we!" broke in Ibrahîm angrily. "Leave us to our talk,
fool. We will hit, this time, on some plan with which no woman's lack
of good faith can interfere."

Siyah Yamin yawned imperturbably. "What would you?" she replied. "I am
better as I am, as the rat said when the cat invited him out of his
hole. Thy party purpose did not suit me. But blame me not with the
luck that lies ever with the King."

"Curse him!" muttered Khodadâd sullenly, and the courtesan gave
another evil little laugh.

"Yea! even at _chaugan_ thou hast no chance," she went on maliciously.
"'Tis a pity he was not killed. Lo! being so stunned thou couldst not
realise what the mere rumour of his death meant, or thou wouldst
regret thy failure still more. The bazaar rang with the news for
half-an-hour, half groaning, half cheering. _Then_ was the time for
action, not now, when the blind giant of India, formed of fools like
my friends here, is ready once more to drive home Akbar's javelin head
where it lists to go! God! did you but hate him as I, Woman, hate him
the Man!"

"What wouldst thou do, harlot?" asked Ibrahîm turning on her sharply.
"What couldst thou do?"

She half-closed her sleepy-looking eyes, and stared out into the
sunshine in which the lane below lay festering. Not a hundred yards
away, in the sunshine also, lay the high road from the great stretches
of fields where the peasants toiled uncomplainingly, to the palace
where the King dreamt his dream that was born out of due time, and
along it the workers were passing bringing in the fruits of their
labour. Piled baskets of green-skinned melons, red earthenware pots of
milk, creaking wains of corn. For them life was simple, untouched by
the imagination of either evil or good. For them even the gossip of
their town-bred neighbours was unreal, fantastic.

"What would I do, pandar," replied the courtesan slowly, her eyes
brightening in measure with her words, her voice gaining strength from
her evil fancies, "If I believed that the Luckstone of Akbar brought
luck as thou dost, it should be _mine!_ Stay! It should be mine and
bring discredit on the beast Birbal to whose charge 'tis given. Hold!
interrupt me not! I see further--such thoughts come with the thinking.
Aye! I would make Prince Salîm the thief, and so force him to revolt!
See you not? See you not? Akbar's every thought of empire is bound up
in the boy--that would be revenge indeed! There is no tie so strong as
the tie of blood; loose that and the ship of a man's mind may go
adrift. Make his son the thief I say, by guile if thou willst; but
make Salîm the thief!"

Her large eyes had grown larger with her evil dreamings. They sate and
looked at her as the fascinated bird looks at the snake.

"Impossible!" murmured the Lord Chamberlain, feeling nevertheless an
answering quiver of assent.

"Naught is impossible to ultimate guile," she went on, every atom of
her seeming to gain in vitality as her dream of deceit unfolded itself
to her ready mind. "Where is the diamond kept--dost know?"

Khodadâd spoke then; he was gathering initiative from her malice. "He
knows," he said, nodding his head at Ibrahîm, "as Chamberlain he must
know."

"Where it cannot be touched," retorted the palace official, sullenly.
"In the Hall of Labour, guarded, besentinelled, day and night. No
chance of theft--save by deep treachery. And there is none to bribe.
Shall I offer a price to virtue-ridden Budaoni, court preacher, who
works there at his translations? Or blazon our attempt abroad by
approaching the Râjpût soldiery or the King's paid artizans?"

Khodadâd's face fell. In truth bribery in such a stronghold of the
King's as the Hall of Labour where the best workmen were employed at
fabulous wages, seemed hopeless. But Siyah Yamin's took on a sudden
expression of amused contempt.

"So!" she began, "but they are men; that is enough for me. And one of
them is Diswunt--Diswunt the King's crippled painter----"

"Aye!" assented the Lord Chamberlain still more sullenly. "Diswunt who
is devoted to his master. 'Tis next his studio the Englishman's lathe
is set up; farthest therefore from the door, farthest from treachery."

Siyah Yamin stretched her beautiful arms in an all-embracing gesture
and leant back against the wall that was grimed by a hundred, a
million such contacts with vicious humanity.

"What wilt give me for the diamond, Ibrahîm?" she said suddenly, "a
thousand golden pieces? I will not take a dirrhm less. 'Twill serve to
pay the crazy painter for his likeness of me. Hast seen it? No?" She
clapped her hands, and sate up with an odd expression of doubt,
dislike, and desire on her small, childish face. "Then thou shalt see,
and--and condemn it. What? Drum-banger?" she went on sharply as
Deena's wicked old face showed at the stair-head in answer to her
call. "How now? Where is Nargîz?"

"Gone out, Princess, leaving me the while devising a new devil's dance
for my Lord Chamberlain's delectation this evening. He entertains the
King's friends!"

Siyah Yamin interrupted a malicious leer at Ibrahîm with scant
courtesy.

"Peace, fool! Go fetch the portrait of me Diswunt painted, these
gentlemen would see it."

"Well?" she added when, a minute or two afterward four pairs of
Eastern eyes were gazing at a picture which offended every canon of
Eastern art. Here were no tiny smooth surfaced stipplings, no delicate
dottings of jewellery no faultless complexion, no plastered hair. Even
its size, its composition were unconventional. This was a life-sized
face--the face and no more--peering out of a white swathing veil which
filled up the small oval panel on which it was painted. But it stood
there, propped against the humanity-grimed wall, a veritable marvel in
the fierce determination to be quit of all convention which showed in
its every touch.

The fighting quails called from their shrouded cages below, the sounds
of the bazaar drifted upward, and on these sounds came Ibrahîm's
sudden contemptuous laugh.

"Thou shouldst keep it as a scarecrow for unwelcome lovers," he said
idly. "By God! Even hot lust would fly from such a _churail_."[11]


---------------------

[Footnote 11: A very dreadful female ghost.]

---------------------


Siyah Yamin flushed angrily and bent forward to look at the picture
more closely. Something there was even in its outrageous originality
which she, as woman, recognised as true.

"The lad meant well, being my lover," she murmured softly, then her
eyes turned to Mirza Ibrahîm with a whole world of malice in them.

"Thou shouldst get him to paint such an one for thee of Âtma Devi,
friend; it might serve to heal thee of--of her scant courtesy--to say
nothing of her bruises!"

The Lord Chamberlain grew purple with rage. "Curses on her!" he cried.
"How didst hear? Did the jade dare to tell----"

The courtesan interrupted him with absolute contempt. "Truly thou hast
a poor purblind brain concerning women, Mirza. Couldst not see, man,
with half an eye that Âto is not of those who speak of insult? Nay!
'Twas old Deena yonder--who spends half his time with vice and half
with virtue--who, when thou wast attempting to thrust thyself upon
her, saw thee put through the door, and trundled down the stair like a
bad baby! Fie upon thee, sonling!"

The raillery of her voice matched the derisive shaking of her jewelled
finger as he rose sullenly, muttering curses and swearing to stop the
old drum-banger's loose lip. "Aye! Thou canst do it with a handful of
gold," yawned Siyah Yamin. "Deena's mouth just holds twenty good gold
pieces. I have had to gag him myself ere now. Farewell then,
conspirator! I will take a thousand of those same myself for the
King's Luck, not one dirrhm less!"

Mirza Ibrahîm stood arrested at the stair head. Angry as he was, he
knew her wit, and a glance at Khodadâd's face showed that he knew it
also.

"How wilt thou compass it?" he asked sullenly.

She looked at him jeeringly. "By my wits, friend. Have I not all the
vice of all India at my finger tips? Is not Pâhlu the subtlest thief
in Hindustan amongst my brethren? Do not the stranglers, and
poisoners, and beguilers rub shoulders with virtuous gentlemen as ye,
in this my house? Nay! Leave it to me, Mirza, leave it to me, the
courtesan!"

She lay softly laughing to herself when they had gone, until Deena the
drum-banger coming up the stairs with laboriously secret creakings
whispered: "Mistress Âtma Devi hath been waiting below for a private
interview this hour past. Shall she come?"

Then she sate up, suddenly serious.

"Âto!" she said. "Yes! let her come--let her come!"

There was an almost malicious content in her tone, for she realised
that here was metal worthy of her steel, that in the coming interview
she would have no crass, heavy man's brain and heart to deal with, but
a woman's. Dull they might be, it is true, yet would they be full of
intuitions, of sudden unexpected grip on motive, and sudden clarities
of vision. Yet for this alone, Âtma Devi might be useful to her in the
immediate future; since she would need every atom of knowledge, every
possible fulcrum, ere she could lay hands on the King's Luck. Aye!
Âtma might help, though she was for the King; but that made it all the
more imperative, all the more worthy skill, that she should be bent
from her purpose, and be made unconsciously to work for the King's
disadvantage.

So once more the whole vitality of the courtesan leapt up toward evil.

Woman against Woman! Aye! That was it! Woman glorying in her
serpent-bruised heel against Woman treading on the serpent's head.
Woman the Temptress, against Woman the Saviour.

Dimly she saw this--the unending conflict of the World--as she gave
greeting with a mysterious smile on her baby-face to the tall somewhat
gaunt figure with the harassed, perturbed look in its great grave dark
eyes.

In truth, no imagination could have conceived a more subtle antagonism
than lay between those two women as they sate for a second in silence,
looking at each other across Diswunt the crippled painter's picture
which still stood against the wall.

Something there seemed to be, indeed, in this man's ideal of the woman
he loved, of his endeavour to solve the mystery of woman's dual nature
which jarred upon the nerves of both these types of Womanhood; for as
their eyes met, Siyah Yamin laughed hurriedly and pointed. "Dost
recognise it?" she asked.

Âtma Devi's straight brows showed level and steady as she looked.

"Aye!" she answered, then added swiftly: "Lo! Siyah, with that before
thee, I marvel thou canst be so unkind--to a poor lad who loves thee."

The last words came softly, lingeringly, for love was still to Âtma
the one thing worth having in the world, though she denied it
strenuously. The craving for it lay behind all her claims to
Châranship. Vaguely she knew it, vaguely she was ashamed of it.

"Not more unkind than he who would fain thrust deformity upon _my_
love," retorted the courtesan airily. "Lo! Âto! even thou, with all
thy fine feelings, couldst not love crooked legs and a hunchback--the
King hath neither! Then wherefore should I be kind?"

"Wherefore indeed," assented Âtma, disdaining her own flush. "So why
not give him dismissal instead of keeping him, as thou dost, on the
rack? See you, I speak warmly, in that he had his food from my
father's house for service done before the King found him drawing dogs
upon a white wall with a burnt bone, and reft him from us for
teaching. Thus it grieved me to see him, but now, so distraught,
so----"

"But now?" echoed Siyah Yamin sharply. "What! Hast been at the Hall of
Labour?"

Âtma's face fell. "Nay! Not there. No woman finds entry there! Else
had I seen for myself and not come to thee, seeking news." Her
troubled eyes sought Siyah Yamin's almost resentfully.

"News?" echoed the latter, craft growing to her face. "What news?
Somewhat that Diswunt would not tell thee? Out with it Âto? Tell me
thy end--God knows but it may fit mine, since, so they say,
extremities meet."

"Aye," assented Âtma sombrely. "That is why I seek thee. Hate and love
are not far distant with us womenkind."

Then, suddenly she reached out a tense, nervous hand to lay upon Siyah
Yamin's smooth round arm.

"Lo! Sister! thou hearest all things here, and I--I hear nothing! What
news is there of the King's Luck? Hath he in truth yielded it to the
Englishman?"

Siyah Yamin stared for a second, then burst into a perfect cascade of
high-pitched laughter.

"Said I not truly," she gurgled, "that extremes meet! See! I will send
for a cooling sherbet, and I will tell thee all!"

It was not all, it did not even approach the truth, but it served her
purpose. So she sate, watching the effect of each word, and Âtma Devi
listened, weighing each word, both with the same indescribable
intuitions of their sex, appraising this, discounting that, until at
last the latter rose, tall, dark, menacing, to look down on the other,
crouching like a coiled snake among her cushions.

"Yea! as thou hast said, Siyâl, true loyalty would lend itself even to
theft, or rather to the snatching of luck from ill luck, and the
protection of the King from evil magic; and so I will tell Diswunt--I,
his mistress by inheritance. And to give it to the keeping of the
Beneficent Ladies as I have said were well done. The Lady Hamida, the
King's mother, carries his honour close day and night, even as she
once carried him. And Khânzada Gulbadan Begum hath wit more than most
men, so I will aid if I can, being bound also to the King's honour.
But hearken, Siyah! Lo! draw thy veil so--let me have it." She sank to
her knees and leaning forward caught the loose end of the courtesan's
tinsel veil and flung it round her own head also. "Now let us swear
once more, as sisters of the veil, to be true to each other until the
death--until the death--dost hear?"

Taken by surprise Siyah Yamin shrank back from those blazing eyes,
paled, faltered; finally, compelled thereto by the grip of a nature
stronger than her own, muttered faintly:

"I swear."

"Till the death?"

"Till--death."

After Âtma had gone the courtesan sate for a while as if
half-paralysed; she had gone further than was safe, seeing that she
was to use Âtma as a tool; a half-crazed tool. Then she looked about
her. The heat of the day was waxing. Below her the bazaar, becoming
drowsy, was leaving a thousand wickednesses to welter and fester under
the noon-tide sun while it slipped from them for a while in sleep;
leaving them restlessly active, ceaselessly on the move like molecules
in a sunray; thought hustling thought, intention seeking desire,
making evil ready for the awakening of men to find a new stimulus to
wrongdoing in the coolness of the afternoon. It was always so. Evil
grew day by day. There was nothing else alive in the whole world.

So by degrees courage and confidence returned.

"Send for Pâhlu, the prince of thieves," she said "and bid Pooru, the
false gem-maker, be here when I awaken. Meanwhile, let Deena take this
to Diswunt at the Hall of Labour."

She sate for a second, pen in hand, cogitating half amusedly; then
with a sudden smile wrote in delicate curvings a verse from Sa'adi's
"Lamp and the Moth":


       Oh! fearful tearful lover! Cease to sigh,
       Passion's worst pangs thou knowest not--as I.
       Leave pining, leave lamenting and be bolder
       Woman yields readiest to those who hold her.


So, swallowing a perfumed pill of opium all sugar coated and silvered,
she, too, slept in her balcony.



                             CHAPTER XII

              Live in the living hour,
              Fortune is fickle.
              To thy lips, laughing flower,
              Let good wine trickle.
              Who hoardeth wealth to leave
              He is a ne'er-do-well.
              Who lives to rail and grieve
              He is an infidel.
              Rest in thy cypress shade,
              Fill the cup higher,
              Drink to each merry maid,
              Drink to desire.
              So saith the cup bearer,
              So sings the lyre.
                                          --Hafiz.


The Hall of Labour lay deserted as if the artificers who worked in its
surrounding arcades had taken profit by the wisdom of Hafiz which came
trilling from the furthermost, sun-saturated end of the long
parallelogram of roof in which Akbar's especial artificers laboured at
especial tasks.

It was a quaint place this Hall or rather Roof of Labour, for it was
set high between the higher palaces which rose around it on three
sides. The fourth was arcaded as were the others, but in dummy
fashion, that is to say with the shallow archways filled in with brick
work--and gave on the wide plains of India, which were, however,
invisible because of the height of the wall. Most things, indeed of
the outside world were invisible from the Hall of Labour; you had to
go through the sentry-guarded door opposite the hidden plains before
you could get rid of a certain sense of imprisonment, of absorption in
duty. The artificers in the cell-like workshops on the left hand of
the doorway, were, however, better off in this case than those on the
right, since the superstructure above these was but cell wide, and so
from their farther ends, high, unattainable windows, partially bricked
up, let in a cross light on lathes and crucibles, paint-brushes, and
even inkpots; for in one of them near the door Budaoni, the historian,
used to sit most days engaged on his uncongenial task of translating
the Hindu scriptures, and glaring at another writer over the way who
was copying the translation of the Gospels for which Akbar had paid
the Jesuits a round sum of money. Money not quite honestly earned,
since the text was deftly doctored to suit Jesuit dogma! But even if
this had been known it would have mattered little to the jealousies of
the rival writers.

Farther down this left hand side worked a chemist employed in testing
atomic weights, an engraver busy over a ruby intaglio, an
experimentalist attempting to prove the properties of quicksilver in
the transmutation of metals, a worker in gold on crystal, and so on;
till at the end came an empty arcade with shut door, then William
Leedes's workshop, and on the other side the studio of Diswunt the
crippled painter. He was especially favoured, for in addition to the
high window which, like those in the other cells gave on the Court of
Dreams--on the opposite side of which stood the King's Sleeping
Palace--he had a corbeilled balcony overlooking the Indian plain; at
least so much of it as could be seen by reason of the towering Arch of
Victory which thrust itself skyward from its great plinth of steps.
Looking downward, one could see them receding in sharp angles almost
to the bottom of the rocky ridge. No place here, therefore, for escape
or entry, so Diswunt was allowed the luxury of light, even when his
great wide door was shut. He kept it so constantly; for he was morose
by birth, embittered by the accident of it.

And yet the idle rhymes of Hafiz came to his lips as he sate
irresolute, thinking of the paradise one woman had promised him if he
did something--a mere trifle!--for her; of the hell with which another
woman had threatened him should he fail to do the same thing. It was
too bad to have duty and pleasure on the same side; and against
them--what? Only loyalty to the man who seeing him--then a mere beast
of burden--as he paused in the bazaar to make, with a bit of the
charcoal he was carrying and a white-washed wall, a spirited sketch of
a dog gnawing a bone, had sent him for training to the Court School of
Painting. That, after all, had been but a sorry action! Diswunt looked
distastefully at his work--a portrait of Akbar small enough to go into
a ring--and his whole soul went out to charcoal and a white wall.

For the misshapen lad whose face had the brilliant, bizarre beauty of
strongly marked feature which so often goes with physical deformity,
was without doubt part of the sixteenth century crop of genius, of
which so much has remained to the world, so much more has passed out
of it, unwitting even of itself.

His eyes, as he sate listlessly, were dull with the hemp he drank
habitually to deaden the depth of his discontent.

For Akbar had not been able to uphold, against the whole artistic
verdict of his court, his own opinion that the "portrayal of real life
gave special facilities for true education since every touch that went
toward the likeness of reality must make the painter feel his own
impotence to bestow life, and so lead him to a right appreciation of
the immeasurable dignity of the Creator."

They had been brave words, but they had ended in stipplings and blobs
of white paint to imitate pearls!

Yet there were some who thought as he, Diswunt the King's crippled
painter thought. He shivered as he remembered the day but a week ago,
when the infidel jeweller next door, with whom he had scraped up an
acquaintance, had replied to a question he had asked in the lingua
franca of mixed Portuguese and Arabic which served as court jargon for
strangers.

"Nay friend! such missals, such pictures as these Jesuits bring are
but monkish work. There be other painters over the black water. Lo! I
studied for a while under one in Italia. Stay! I bethink me to have
backed yonder chart on the wall with a copy. Turn it round and see!"

See! Diswunt had seen little else since! It was only a bad copy in red
chalk of a torso by Michael Angelo, all blurred and half effaced, but
it had been a master key, opening the door of real art to the lad,
driven half crazy by dreams and drugs. Since then he had closed his
door, and the stippled face of Akbar had not received a single touch;
but the back of that closed door, which was made after Indian fashion,
of plain whitewashed wood nailed to a strong outside frame-work,
showed the cloudy smearings of much charcoal.

Should he, or should he not? It was close on noon. The silence told
that the artificers were putting by their tools. Stay, they were
beginning again! How was that?

He set the door wide open and carefully fastened it back, then looked
out. The reason of this brisking up to business was evident, for the
King, followed as usual by Birbal and Abulfazl, was crossing the
court. Not that he noticed the general activity; his objective was
William Leedes's workshop; for it having been notified that the first
facet of the diamond had been duly cut, he was keen to see it. But the
sight of his protégé Diswunt at his door made him forget his hurry, to
pause and say kindly:

"Come thou, with the artist's eye, and help Akbar hold his own with
these ignorant ones who have it that dulness equals God's luck." He
flashed round half-contemptuous raillery even at Birbal.

"Nay sire!" retorted the latter, "If the Light of the World will
pardon his slave, we do but hold that the King's Luck equals
Brightness."

But Akbar's quick imagination was already caught by the angular speck
of clear dark sheen which showed like a shadow on the dull radiance of
the uncut diamond, as it lay matrixed in the cutter's lathe. So dark,
but so clear.

"It is like a door," he cried exultantly. "Look! Diswunt, is it not as
a door through which one might pass and see what other folks see not."

"And therefore desire not!" put in Birbal quickly. "My liege it is not
yet too late. Let yonder flaw made of man remain as an outlet or inlet
for Akbar's dreams; but let the remainder be, as it has always been, a
sign of sovereignty to the people. Ask Abulfazl here. What thinkest
thou Diwan-jee, is there danger in this thing or no?"

"There is the chance of it," replied the King's Prime Minister,
slowly. "I can say no more, no less."

But Birbal was more vehement. "It is more than chance; it is
certainty. I have my finger on the pulse of the people. Already it
beats irregularly. Had I but the power----"

"Peace! Birbal," said the King, sternly. "Thou hast it not!" Then
turning to William Leedes he continued as if nothing had been said.
"And the next?"

The jeweller pointed to the mathematical diagrams at which he had been
working.

"That is as fate and figures will have it, my liege. I labour to lose
as little as may be."

Akbar's eyes twinkled, he gave a boyish laugh. "For fear of cutting
out the King's luck? Lo! that should satisfy thee, Birbal."

"Not one whit, sire," replied the latter stanchly. "Birbal knows his
own mind; and by all the gods in Indra's heaven, had I not been put in
charge of ill-luck by the King's order--I--I would have stolen luck
for him."

He laughed lightly giving his usual slight shrug of the shoulder; but
Diswunt turned away suddenly and stood looking out on the sunlight.

Should he, should he not? It meant paradise, it meant escape from hell
according to two women; but _this_ was a man; and the King's best
friend, the keenest intellect in the court.

"I stay!" he said curtly to the sentry who came to keep watch and ward
while William Leedes went out for the mid-day recess.

"Best not!" remarked the latter casually. "Art needs rest, and thou
has been at it ever since thou didst see Michael Angelo. Lo! were I to
work unceasing at my problem I should grow crazy with angles and take
a month where a week would suffice."

"Take the month an thou willst" retorted the cripple ill-humouredly as
he banged to his door.

So there was no hurry! He had a week wherein to do the little thing
that was asked of him. Only to wile the jeweller from his cell for one
brief minute.

It was, however, but two days afterward, that he stood at the lintel
of William Leedes's workshop. Something had gone wrong with the
latter's calculations and he had lingered after the Hall of Labour had
emptied. The lad's eyes were bloodshot, his hands were trembling with
the hemp he had drunken. And then suddenly he walked over to the
diamond. "Truly, as the King said, it is like a door" he murmured, "a
door through which men could see--but these men can see naught. Though
every line is true--they cannot see it."

"Cannot see what?" asked William Leedes abstractedly from his
compasses.

For answer Diswunt gave a wild jeering laugh and clutched the jeweller
by the wrist.

"Come and see it; _thou_ canst see! Come, I say--nay! thou must come
and tell me if I be fool utterly."

His door, set wide, almost elbowed that of the jeweller's, and,
overborne by Diswunt's wild appeal, William Leedes found himself on
its threshold.

"Not that! not that!" almost yelled the lad, his half insane, reckless
laughter echoing loudly through the arches. "Didst think I brought
thee to see the pattering of flies-paws. Stand forward a bit--so
forward----"

The wide door, as he set it aswing, enforced his demand; and what it
brought to view as it swung, astonished William Leedes to
forgetfulness and left him silent with admiration.

It was a hunting piece in rough charcoal. A buck standing at bay amid
a herd of hyenas; but there was something more in it than that and
William Leedes involuntarily crossed himself.

"Thou hast a devil, Diswunt," he said at last, and once more the
half-mad painter's high, reckless laugh filled the arches.

"So! thou canst see! Dost mark the Tarkhân's sneer, the Chamberlain's
cold glare?"

It was true. Something in the noble poise of the stag's head was
reminiscent of the King, and each one of the savage beasts surrounding
it recalled by some witchery of touch or line the foremost of the
King's enemies.

"Lo! yonder is the stupidity of the Makhdûm," went on Diswunt
punctuating his words by that high laugh; "yonder the self-satisfaction
of Budaoni, the fat foolishness of Ghiâss Beg." He paused, almost as
if listening to the faint echo of his laughter in the roof. Then sudden
seriousness came to him.

"But he will escape them, _now_. Dost see the javelin to the right
yonder--that shall save him and his Luck."

The last word came curiously clear as if intended to awake
remembrance. It did so.

"By'r Lady!" cried William Leedes, "I had a'most forgot." He was back
in his workshop in a moment to find the diamond matrixed as ever in
its place, with the darker sheen of the first facet showing full of
promise.

But Diswunt stood at the lintel and looked out, not at the sunshine
but at the door of the empty workshop next to William Leedes. It
quivered slightly as if wind were behind it, or as if someone were
gently closing a bolt.



                             CHAPTER XIII

              Whirr spindles on my rushing reel
              Leap thread from out my fingers feel.
              Time dwindles! Fate will cut the thread
              Sleep dead! Before her grinding wheel
              Kindles life's spark again for woe or weal.


Birbal paused on Âtma's threshold listening to her deep voice backed
by the burring hum of her spinning wheel, and as he listened he
shivered. This thought of unending life aroused from death or ever the
tired eyes were fast closed appalled him. Not for him such slight
slumber!

Then he knocked. There was a sound of quick uprising from within, a
swift echo of footsteps and then Âtma's voice at the door said with a
breathlessness in it:

"What is't? Hast brought news--is all well?"

"Well or ill matters naught" he replied cavalierly. "Open! I come from
the King."

But the phrase had lost its charm, "Go thy way, Chamberlain of
Princes!" came the mocking answer. "Once bit, twice shy."

"Thou mistakest, sister" urged Birbal, who knowing Mirza Ibrahîm's
reputation, had no difficulty in guessing the cause of Âtma Devi's
refusal. "I am Maheshwar Rao, disciple by birth of thy dead father."

The reassurance was deft, and the door held ajar upon the chain showed
Âtma's figure, tall, low-browed, defiant.

"What wants my lord?" she asked, and her voice trembled as if from
some secret perturbation. "A kiss like my Lord Ibrahîm, ere I turned
him out, close clipped in an embrace for which he cared not? Yet
enter--in the King's name enter to the house of his Châran."

Something there was of strain, of anxiety, in face and manner, that
made Birbal's keen eyes seek round the roof for its cause. Then he
laughed. "Nay! I seek no kisses, widow, where a lover has just left
his lips."

She stared at him haughtily. "What means my lord?"

He pointed easily to a pair of man's shoes which stood in a corner
beside the door. "Smagdarite's, sister! Ah I have your secret. He is
here, for yonder are his shoes!"

Âtma's eyes following his, grew puzzled in their anger.

"Shoes!" she echoed superbly. "I see them not, my lord."

This time the laugh came more coarsely. "None so blind as the blind
beggar! Bah! woman, do I not know what woman is? He is here I
say--hath been here always, and thou didst delude me last time with
the child's voice."

He paused, for suddenly a tremulous sweet song as of some mating bird
rose on the air.


              My singing soul has its nest
              Near the great white Throne
              Where the roses of Paradise rest
              On its Corner Stone,
              And the scent of those roses seems
              To bring idle dreams
              Of Life and Love and the Endless Quest.

              Oh bird! arise
              Lift up thine eyes
              To the Heaven that lies
              Beyond Paradise.


Once again the man who doubted all things felt a thrill almost of
fear; but Fate promptly gave him back his self-confidence, for a voice
behind him said as the song ceased.

"If my lord seeks me, I seek my lord."

He turned to find the _rebeck_ player on the threshold; but with bare
feet. So the cynical laughter rang out this time in frank amusement.
"Well designed, musician! But the shoes lie yonder." And then he
hummed gaily the refrain of a popular song.


              Love to her mind
              Came like the wind,
                All stealthy as the cat is.
              But those not blind
              Next morn will find
              Footsteps beneath her lattice.


A flickering smile showed on the _rebeck_ player's lips. "My lord has
learnt that of lust in the bazaar. If he desires to learn of love he
should go--to Bayazîd!"

The faintly inflected play of words was out of keeping with the man
who made it; but the vague questionings concerning him which for days
past had been in Birbal's mind seemed to have vanished with his first
look at the miserable, almost squalid figure, the dull eyes, the
deathlike mask of the face. What could the fellow be but street
musician? Except--since women were incomprehensible--the widow's
lover!

Something of curiosity, however, remained.

"Bayazîd?" he echoed haughtily. "What knowest thou of the drunkard who
calls himself King of Malwa?"

"That he is King of Musicians, my lord, and this slave's master. He
could tell my lord all concerning love. Aye! even as well as the Sufi
from Isphahân."

Those dull eyes seemed to take on a leer and Birbal stared at them,
startled back into questionings.

"The Sufi? What dost know of him?" he asked quickly.

"Naught!" replied the musician evasively. "Save that the servants said
he sups at the river palace this night; he and another king--Payandâr
of Sinde mayhap."

He looked up again with that leer in his eyes, and the wonder died out
of Birbal's. The man was palpably a trickster; palpably trying to play
on credulity--credulity in Birbal, prince of doubters!

"Then will they sup in hell, slave," he said curtly "since Payandâr
hath been dead these fifteen years. So farewell, Smagdarite, lest I
disturb love. Stay--let me see thy talisman once more."

"This dustborn atom in a beam of light resigns it," came the reply,
and for an instant Birbal stood paralysed by dim remembrance. But the
green stone on its greasy skein lay in his hands, all inert, without
perfume, without, charm.

It was like nothing so much, he told himself, as half chewed cud, and
he tossed it back contemptuously, a gold piece following it.

"That for thy pains. Farewell, widow! Luck to thy love!"

He turned to go, but the _rebeck_ player who had stooped to pick up
the coin, still stood in the doorway, and the sun flashing on the gold
he held betwixt finger and thumb seemed for a second to blind Birbal's
eyes to everything else.

"If the Most Excellent desires to hear of love," came the musician's
voice softly, "he might go to the King Bayazîd's river palace--this
night--when the moon is waning. The river palace, my lord, when the
moon is waning."

The words echoed down the stairs after Birbal who seemed not to hear
them. They had, however, the opposite effect on Âtma Devi; who all
this time had stood silent, apparently engrossed in listening. Now she
roused herself and turned accusingly to her companion.

"So thou has been here all the time, and it was to thee the child
talked in gray dawn and gray dusk! Wherefore did I not see thee?"

"Because thou wouldst not, sister! Because thy mind has been
elsewhere--whither God knows." She started and looked at him
half-fearfully but he went on unregarding. "It is what the will wishes
to see that is seen. To all else we are blind."

Something in the words seemed to strike a new note in her, and the
half savage, half anxious look on her face vanished. "Yes! mayhap I
have been blind," she muttered to herself despondently. "But
wherefore--Oh ye dear Gods! wherefore am I blind!"

She turned to lean over the parapet, as if to rest her eyes, her very
heart, upon the dim blue distant haze betwixt earth and sky.

"Because thou wilt not see the Truth, sister"--the voice seemed to her
to belong to that dim earth and sky--"because thou hast denied love.
Yet naught else will save the King."

She gave a startled cry but, looking round, saw that the Wayfarer had
gone. "May Shiv-jee protect me" she murmured to herself. "He is
magician for sure. Yet is he wrong. I am no woman, but the King's
Châran, I have done my duty!" So, clenching her hands she sate and
dreamed for him of safety, honour, empire.

Birbal, meanwhile, dreamt the same dream as he plunged into the
increasing intricacy of cabal which centred round his master.
So he gave no thought at all to so contemptible a person as the
opium-drugged, song-besotted Bayazîd who still styled himself the King
of Malwa, though he had fled from royalty for the sake of a dead
dancing girl; as if any woman were worth such a sacrifice! True, the
tragic tale of Rupmati, the poetess, musician, singer, ultimate
artist, who had made her King forget even statesmanship for seven long
happy years, had its æsthetic beauty. One could picture the
consternation of the dove-cot when Adham Khân, Akbar's general and
foster-brother put the royal lover to flight; picture still more
easily, knowing Adham Khân's nature, his defiance of orders, and the
proposals he made to Rupmati. While the rest was pure poetry! The
beautiful woman dressing herself as a bride is dressed for the
conqueror's assignation, and then leaving nothing but dead flesh
awaiting him on the couch strewn with flowers. That was fine! But
Bayazîd? Even though Akbar's own hand had brought retribution on
libertine Adham's head for this and other offences, he, Birbal, would
never have come cringing to the Emperor's court, to spend his time in
singing love _ghazals_. That was contemptible.

And yet as the day wore on, the memory of the _rebeck_ player's words
returned inconsequently, almost annoyingly. What was it to him,
Birbal, if Bayazîd had a supper party or no? He had other corn to
parch. And he parched it consistently until, late on in the evening,
having excused himself, he knew not why, from an entertainment at the
palace, he fell asleep peacefully.

The gongs were sounding eleven when he woke suddenly to a new resolve,
which admitted of no reconsideration.

He would go to the river palace. After all, there might be something
in what the _rebeck_ player had said--he might be in the right. At any
rate there was no harm in seeing. He clapped his hands and ordered his
fast trotting bullocks. But the river palace lay some miles away in an
orange garden down by the sliding yellow stream which flows past Agra
and it was nigh on midnight ere he reached its wide open gateway.
Bidding his râth await him outside, he passed inward. A sentry slept
in the scented shadow of the archway, so he went on unchallenged into
the scented garden where the faint shadows of the waning moonlight
slept also across the broad paved walks, and on the conduits of
running water that was hastening to slake the nightly thirst of the
sun-wearied plots of pomegranate and orange trees on which the ripe
fruit hung obscure. The dim clearness seemed to show the darkness;
above all the utter darkness of the great pile of the palace.

No signs here of a supper party! The fact whetted his curiosity, and
he went on, feeling himself the only live thing in a world of drugs
and dreams.

In the hallway another drowsy servant showed, curled up half asleep
upon the floor.

"Your master?" asked Birbal.

"Roofways," came the answer with a yawn.

The whole place seemed opium-soddened; there was a cloying savour of
poppy and dead roses in the narrow turret stairs which led upward; so
narrow that the stone wall on either side was polished by the elbows
of the passers up and down.

The first floor was dark save for the fading moonlight seen through
the open window archways, so he went up again, until the wide roof set
amid the encircling shadowy trees through which the pale gleam of the
river showed, lay beneath his feet.

And overhead were the stars beginning their watch of the night.

One seemed to have fallen from heaven to burn in a silver filagree
shrine, in shape like a domed mausoleum, which was the only thing
dimly visible in the darkness; that, and still more dimly the lute
with broken strings which lay before it illumined by the twinkling
light.

"Bayazîd!"

He stood and called; till from the night beyond the light came a
chanting, drowsy, half coherent voice--


       None knows the Secret! Therefore take the cup
       Lightly with laughing lip and drink it up.
       Though it be heart's blood!--just one little sup
       So ... That is good!... Now die!


"True wisdom, Hafiz, prince of poets," murmured Birbal as he went
forward and called again.

This time the answer came from near, "Yea! I am Bayazîd. Welcome
friend!"

He was resting on cushions behind the shrine and the light from its
little lamp showed him, long, lank, listless. But the wide eyes in
which burnt the dull fires of the Dreamgiver, recognised the visitor,
and the man who had been King of Malwa roused himself to give
salutation with stately ceremonial courtesy, and motioned Birbal to a
seat beside him. As the latter sank into the cushions they gave out a
scent of roses, and swift memory--swiftest of all for perfumes--made
him look round hastily; but the roof showed no sign of other living
soul.

"It is good of my lord to come so far and so late," murmured Bayazîd.
"In what can I help my Lord?" The words came drowsily. He seemed in
danger of falling asleep once and for all.

"I came to see Payandâr, King of Sinde," said Birbal sharply. If that
did not rouse the besotted fool nothing else would. The result was, in
its way, excellent. Bayazîd sate up instantly and laid his hand on
Birbal's arm.

"What of Payandâr?" he queried, his face working. "What of the Master
of Love? Does he indeed live, as some folk say?"

"That Bayazîd should know, better than some folk," replied Birbal
dryly, "since he was to have supped here to-night."

"To-night" echoed Bayazîd. "Nay, not to-night, or she would have told
me. She knows the Secret now!"

Birbal laughed lightly. "As we shall all know it--or not know it some
day! As Payandâr knows it also, since he died in the desert."

A sudden bitter exaltation came to the half-seen haggardness of the
face, the voice rang almost militantly.

"Aye! in the desert, driven thither as we dreamers of love are driven
ever, by lust--man's lust! Lo! thou knowest of my own seven happy
years--of my songstress who sang of love--of the viper who slew her
and slew the King in me. Ohí Rupmati, Rupmati! Were it not that thou
comest to me ever in the song of birds, in the breeze of the night, in
God's sunshine and in his flowers, I too would seek the desert and
save myself from the deadly companionship of my kind. So I wait for
thee and thy broken lute." He sank back into his cushions stilled by
the very violence of his emotions; but after a while his voice went on
more and more drowsily. "That the world knows. All know the tale of
Bayazîd and Rupmati. But who knows the story of Payandâr? Shall I tell
it as she told it me? How he loved a Rose in a garden of roses; naught
but a gardener's daughter--and he a Prince of the Tarkhâns. What do
the Tarkhâns know of Love? But he knew. He loved her--aye! though he
was Heir. So, vile utterly, his father betrayed him. A bastard younger
brother did the deed one night in the Garden of Roses, and when dawn
came the Rosebud had been plucked, despoiled! He left Kingship, and
died mad in the desert--so they say! But Love cannot die. Even in the
Wilderness there is a Rose Garden ready for it. So he took the Rosebud
thither, plucked, despoiled, soiled, bruised, and broken. And out of
Death came Life. Out of Lust came Love, though the child was a
crippled thing, despoiled, spoiled, bruised, and broken by its birth.
But Death came also to the Rosebud in the Rose Garden of Love, amidst
the perfume of roses. Is it not even now in the air? Is not the
darkness full of the Essence of Love. Ohí, Ohí Rupmati! let me hearken
to thy broken lute."

Was it fancy, or mingled with the faint sighing of the night wind
amongst many leaves, and the fainter rush of the sliding river was
there a sound as of jangled music?

Birbal sate arrested for a second, then, seeing from the supineness of
the figure beside him, that all hope of further speech with the
drug-eater was over, rose impatiently and made his way downstairs,
asking himself why he had come.

He paused astonished, however, to find the lower story no longer dark.
It was, on the contrary, brilliantly lit, servants were flitting
about, and in the central room, whose twelve arches gave on
surrounding arched aisles, which in their turn gave on overshadowing
trees and river gleam, a supper cloth was laid for two.

And by all the Gods! The figure which sate there holding a cup of wine
in its raised right hand was the Sufi from Isphahân!



                             CHAPTER XIV

             _Bring wine and I will read
              The riddle of this life of mine;
              The old stars' wizardry, the shine
              Of new moons wandering overhead:
              All this, I'll read with wine_.
                                                 --Hafiz.


For an instant Birbal was speechless, then he recovered himself.

"Who art thou, man of many faces?"

The question came peremptorily, the answer suavely.

"Thine host; for the rest, as thou art, a mere wayfarer on the limited
path of life. Combining the two, this slave ventures to offer
refreshment. Cupbearer! Wine of Shirâz, and scent the goblet's edge
with rose.

Mechanically Birbal drained the beaker, and the good liquor tingling
to his finger tips, he faced his familiar world again, incredulous as
ever.

"So," he said, as following the Sufi's sign he seated himself among
the cushions at the other side of the supper cloth. "It is, as I
thought, the Wayfarer. How many disguises hast thou O Bairupiya?[12]
Musician? Envoy? Sufi?" then a thought struck him and he gave his
little contemptuous jeering laugh, "mayhap King Payandâr also--but
that he is dead."


---------------------

[Footnote 12: A tribe who have the gift of (to use theatrical
parlance) "making up" to perfection.]

---------------------


"Aye, dead!" assented the Sufi gravely, "and the dead being but the
cast-off garments of the living, count not in disguise."

"But wherefore----" began Birbal.

His host smiled. "Let me quote the King of Poets to my lord--


             "Ah, soul of a man live free
              Of the Wherefore, the How,
              For the passing moments flee.
              Drink deep of the wine cup now,
              Drink deep, for He who is Wise
              He hath the Seeing Eyes,
              He knows the Secret that lies
              In the Hows and the Whys.


"Cupbearer, yet another wine of Shirâz and scent the goblet's edge
with the roses that grow beneath the vine."

The echo of the chanted song died away; then suddenly he reached out
his thin brown hand--the index finger wore a ring set with a
marvellous emerald, the surface of which was close covered with fine
flowing hieroglyphics--and laid it on Birbal's in familiar grip.

The latter started, turned pale. "Thou art the devil,--juggler, with
thy tricks!" he muttered faintly. "How didst learn the sign-manual of
my race, secret, inviolate?"

The Sufi laughed. "There is no devilry to the Hindu in being the
outcome of many incarnations. Mayhap in my past I have been Bhât-Bandi
and my lord----" he paused. "What matters it? 'Tis but the trick of
memory. Birbal forgets, this slave remembers. Aye, friend! 'tis but a
trick indeed! I juggle with men's eyes, and they with their own
senses."

He clapped his hands, gave a swift order in some unknown tongue, and
as if by magic the servants disappeared, extinguishing the lights as
they vanished, leaving those two alone in the rosy radiance of a lamp
that swung above the supper table. Its downward light left their two
faces in shadow.

"Listen, my lord!" said the Sufi rapidly. "I will waste no time in
words. I am here at Akbar's court, a spy. Wherefore, or who my master
is, seek not to know. Mayhap time will show. I spy on Prince Dalîl of
Sinde--dost know him? Khodadâd Tarkhân, boon companion of the
Heir-to-Empire. Start not! I watch him, I wait for him, not for
myself only, but for Sinde--for that unhappy country which counts on
Akbar's aid, aid which will not come if the assassin's dagger--if
conspiracy--succeeds. Dost see? Dost understand? Lo! I am Sinde
incarnate--waiting, watching."

He paused again and in the brief silence Birbal could hear a long
sobbing breath. The lamp had grown dimmer, and to his half startled
eyes its radiance seemed to leave the white-robed figure to chill
shadow. He too caught in his breath as a thought came to him.

"But that Payandâr is dead," he began whisperingly, "I should
deem----"

"Aye, he is dead!" echoed the other, almost menacingly. "But though he
died in the Desert--as thou hast heard from Bayazîd--Love,
Unconditioned, Ineffable----"

A sudden distaste to the man who spoke, to the whole tenor of his
talk, boastful, as it were, of some hold on the Unseen not known of
commoner clay, seized on Birbal.

"Keep that for the King, holy man!" he said decisively. "Birbal talks
not till dawn of Wine-cups and Roses and the Beloved."

"Perhaps 'twere better if he did," replied the Sufi boldly. "Nathless
I did not bring thee hither to talk of love, but to tell thee by my
arts that the King's Luck is stolen."

The impulse to start, to rise, was strong for an instant; then memory
came to calm the man of the world.

"Impossible" he said quietly. "I saw it to-day. It is in safe
keeping--the worse luck perhaps."

A jibing laugh echoed through the arches.

"So even Birbal hath superstition! But listen! Stay, I will tell thee
common truth. I go nightly to swing up the palace wall to Akbar's
balcony. Wherefore? Because, my lord, I pass not far from a certain
window where Mirza Ibrahîm and Khodadâd Khân hatch conspiracies; and
there is an iron stanchion by the side of it with which even a
swinging dhooli may find rest--and listen! Dost understand? So I hear
all, even their hours of meeting; and I am spy, a man of many
faces--as thou knowst. I was there but now--and the diamond is stolen.
I meant when I bid thee come hither, simply to warn thee, since to thy
charge----"

Birbal rose then, his eyes full of impatient disregard for the
trickster, the juggler--the man who pretended to supernatural
knowledge, and found it--or said he found it--by common spying!

"Why dost thou tell me?" he asked quickly. "Thou sayest thou art
friend to Akbar. Thou art no friend of mine."

There was a pause; a faint hesitancy came to the shadowed face before
him, as of one who, playing many different parts, finds them mixed up
in general confusion. Suddenly he seemed to grip himself, the real man
behind so many disguises of the unreal.

"Yet are we both friends of Akbar's aim, that is Unity. Thy hand,
Birbal! let us swear troth for that!"

That slender, brown, outstretched hand with the green glint of the
emerald on its index finger seemed to have a compelling power.
Birbal's sought it and the result was startling. The man whose whole
life was one long claim for individuality, realised in a second that
so far as his impact on that clasping hand was concerned, he had lost
all sense of personal touch. Flesh seemed made one with Flesh, with
all things.

"_Tat twam asi_" ("Thou art that!")

The fundamental creed of the East overwhelmed him as he stood. Then
suddenly he was alone again.

Alone in the darkness, save for the faint glimmer of the toothed
arches that gave on the shadowy gloom of overhanging trees and sliding
river.

"Wayfarer!" he called. "Wayfarer!" "Juggler! Where art thou? Sufi!
Spy!"

But there was no answer. He stood for a moment dazed; then he felt his
way for the stair, and called again. A steady snore came in return.
The drowsy servant he had questioned on entering was evidently now
fast asleep.

No wonder! he told himself as he made his way outward to his waiting
râth. The whole place was full of dreams; the very roses in the garden
had lost their scent through slumber. As he passed down the garden
path, he caught himself yawning, though his mind was broad awake.

Therein lay the puzzle--the body slept, the soul----

He turned at the outer archway to give a last look at the palace. To
his intense surprise it was ablaze with lights from basement to roof,
and standing in a balcony of the second story which gave on the
sliding river, he could see quite distinctly, a figure looking out
over the gleam of the water. The face, melancholy beyond words, was
deathly pale, and seen in profile only, looked like a cut cameo. Its
drooping eyelid half hid the lustreless eye, the long black hair,
escaping from the high green turban outlined the narrow contour of
forehead and cheek, then fell in ringlets on the sloping shoulders,
green clothed, and hung, as was the turban, with festoons on festoons
of emeralds.

The light struck them; they shone coldly green, incomparably clear.

The emeralds of Sinde surely! No other regalia held----

As the thought flashed to Birbal's mind, the lights flashed out and he
was left to the scentless darkness of the garden, to a half muttered
curse at the untrustworthiness of his own senses when in the grip of--
of what?

As the trotting bullocks made their way back to Fatehpur Sikri, the
puzzle of what had held him recurred again and again, even amid his
turmoil of thought regarding the diamond. The tale he had heard could
scarcely be true--he had seen the gem safe, but a few hours back; yet
the fact that such a conspiracy was on foot was quite credible, and
might necessitate still greater care, and at once.

The gray dawn was breaking into day, when, having roused William
Leedes without ceremony and carried him to the Hall of Labour, they
entered the sentinelled laboratory to find the diamond gleaming as
ever on the lathe.

It was a relief. Birbal sate down on the jeweller's stool and breathed
again. Despite his incredulity he felt that his whole being, mind and
body, had been impressed by the mountebank's manner. He had actually
allowed it to overcome his reason.

William Leedes, still but half awake, in utter ignorance of why he had
been brought thither, stood for a while stupidly, awaiting a remark.
Finally he ventured to ask what was required of him.

"What?" echoed Birbal lightly, recognising with his usual craft, that
the less said about his fear the better. "Only that the King is eager
to know somewhat of the second facet."

The jeweller's face fell. "Therein lies the puzzle," he said "and I
have not yet solved it. The thickness of the stone is great--almost
too great, and to cleave it would be to remove, mayhap, too much. Yet
without it to find true axis--the sun as we call it in the trade--is a
problem that defies at present my geometry."

"Hast tried Aljebr?" asked Birbal, roused instantly to interest. "Show
me thy work, sir jeweller, mayhap I can help."

Passed master as he was in the Eastern science of Algebra, they were
soon at work with signs and figures.

"That comes more nigh it," said William Leedes, hopefully taking up a
small style and going to the lathe.

"Were I to make this point the axis and----" the lathe spun round,
then stopped suddenly as he bent to look closer.

"It--it scratches," he murmured, too astonished for bewilderment.

Birbal was by his side in a second, had wrenched the gem from its
holding and had it at the light.

A scratch indeed!

In an instant his subtle mind followed the trail unerringly. The trick
of a false diamond which he and Abulfazl had urged upon Akbar had been
played here. But how? Who was the culprit? His knowledge of humanity,
of the world and its ways, instantly exculpated the Englishman from
implication in the theft. But had he been careless? That was a point
for inquiry; but now, this instant moment, what was to be done? what
had best be done?

"Sit silent on yonder stool and work out thy problem, fool!" he said
in a whisper to William Leedes, who stood gaping, ready to burst out
into speech when it came back to him, "and leave me to work out mine.
This is no diamond. 'Tis a false gem made, I swear by Pooru; but to
whose order? And for what purpose?"

He paced the little workshop, every fibre of his keen wit vibrating to
the tense pressure of his thought. Then he laid his hand suddenly on
the amazed jeweller's shoulder.

"When didst thou leave it--only for a moment? Speak truth."

But William Leedes brain had already begun to work slowly.

"Diswunt!" he said mechanically, "he showed me."

The next minute they stood looking round the painter's empty studio.
Through the corbeilled balcony they could see the miracle of dawn
being enacted, but in the wide, cool, airy room was nothing.

"What did he show thee?" asked Birbal menacingly. For answer William
Leedes threw back the door. It fell into its place with a clang of
chain upon staple, leaving disclosed no hunting scene; that had been
fiercely rubbed off, leaving gray clouds upon the whitewashed wood;
but on this indefinite background, limned in with large lines and
splashes of a curious scarlet was the figure of a woman. A woman
standing, her feet moving in a rhythmic dance, her scarf floating in
serpentine curves.

"Siyah Yamin!" cried Birbal under his breath, and stooped to read a
legend, dashed in roughly--with the brush, apparently, that still
stood half immersed in a bowl, where lingered dregs of the same
curious ghastly crimson scarlet pigment with which the portrait was
limned.

It was only a verse from Hafiz.


Each man has his gift; to one a cup of wine, to another the heart's
blood; so ask not life from the picture on the wall.


The man of wit, of intelligence beyond most, stood looking at the
picture in silence. Then he bent to pick up a scrap of crushed paper
which lay before it.

As he smoothed it out his face was a study in distaste which grew to
quick sympathy as he read. It contained but a few words from Sa'adi:


       Wide is the space 'twixt him who clasps his love
       And he who watches for her door to move.


And below this in flowing curves:

"Watch no longer, cripple! Gulamâr hath consolation if 'tis needed."

Birbal crushed it in his hand again and walking straight to the
corbeilled balcony looked out. In the dawn light a confused, dark
bundle as of clothes lay on the angled steps of the Arch of Victory.
The distaste vanished from Birbal's face. He stood looking down,
infinite pity in his eyes, as he quoted softly:


       Yea! He who made me from the clay
       And set my soul within it and alway.
       Pities and pardons, and enfolds me ever
       In His beneficence. Shall I not lay
       My heart back in His Hand?


"He--he hath killed himself," cried William Leedes, who had followed
to look also.

"Nay, she hath killed him--he painted her in his heart's blood,"
replied Birbal grimly, stooping for a closer look at the nigh empty
bowl, the incarnadined brush.

"Yet I fail to see," began the jeweller, when his companion swept him
into silence with a rush of contemptuous irritation.

"Fail to see? How shouldst thou see, strange-bred as thou art from the
uttermost guile of India--this old, old India that was guileful long
ages before thy island came into being? What canst thou or thy
kind know of the bottomless deceits, the dregs of many years, the
sediment of many men which must underlay the smooth levels of India?
But I, Brâhmin, Indian bred, I see all; and I see here the wagging
beards of Mahommedan doctors, virtuous, tradition-bound; I see the
lawless desires of libertines like Ibrahîm, the deep designs of
Khodadâd--misnamed mayhap! But under all I see the ancient harlotry of
womankind. Aye! even what they call Love--misnamed again! Yea, I see
the scented balcony in Satanstown where this----"

He pulled himself up and laid his hand compellingly on the jeweller's
arm. "But of that hereafter. For the present keep council if thou
lovest life. To you and to me only is that gem no diamond. Cut an
hundred facets on it an thou wilt; but if its falseness be found out,
ere _I_ will it, thou diest. Dost hear?"

Then his tone softened a little. "Stay! this scrawling must not stand
to tell its tale. Water and this brush, sir jeweller, will send it
flying--do this for me--and for _thyself_."

He paused, to give another look at the lad's last work. "Lo! there is
genius in it, for 'tis the jade herself. Poor fool! pity he had not
read the master to better purpose."

So he passed out with studied carelessness humming as he went another
bit of the wisdom of Hafiz:


       Wisdom is wearisome--very!
       Bring the noose of wine for its neck,
       Let us drink, my friend, and be merry,
       There's nothing to fear or to reck.
       The sun is wine and the Moon's the cup;
       Pour the Sun to the Moon and we'll drink it up.
       And be merry--be merry--very!



                              CHAPTER XV

      _I have oft said it, and again I say
       That I, poor soul, did never choose my way,
       But like taught birds, in hooded darkness heard
       What was the Master's will, the Master's word
       Bramble or rose whate'er His order gives
       I take in joy--knowing the Gardener lives_.
                                                 --Jami.


Auntie Rosebody's face showed pale above her wadded pink wrapper in
the light of the little cresset that was set upon the floor. Her small
hand shook as she reached it out mechanically and took something that
was held out to her by one of the two women who, close-wrapped in
their _burka_ veils, squatted opposite to her. She did not look at
this something, she simply held it fast in her closed palm.

What else could she do at two o'clock in the morning, when she had
been aroused from innocent slumber to decide, in an instant, the part
she would play in a conspiracy to preserve her nephew the King's Luck,
and increase that of her beloved grand-nephew the Prince Salîm.

Decide it! When she could scarcely gather her senses together
sufficiently to understand what the woman told her: the woman with the
polished Persian periods, the persuasive voice, which stamped her,
what she was, courtesan. The other voice she vaguely recognised, so,
after a time she challenged it.

"Thou art Âtma Devi, the mad fortune teller," she said, catching at
any straw of reality in this whirlpool of dreams.

"I am the King's Châran" came the reply. "Therefore, as the Most
Beneficent knows, his honour stands for my life."

True! There was reassurance in the thought, besides that which came
from the glib list of respected and respectable names that fell from
the other glib mouth. Khodadâd's was not amongst them, neither was
Mirza Ibrahîm's; for Siyah Yamin knew her company. She was too wise
even to betray her own identity and strove to keep the polish from her
periods as much as she could as she talked on and on of the safety of
the King, of bewitchments, of the immense value it might be to the
Prince in the coming Audience of Nobility if luck and favour might be
assured to him by the secret wearing of the talisman.

Even so much she protested, should be sufficient reason for the Most
Benificent assuming custody of the great diamond, even if she returned
it afterward. It would be as easy to replace the false gem with the
true one, as it had been to replace the true with the false. But once
the bewitchment of the foreigner was broken, the King himself would
likely give thanks to God and to his great-aunt. Here was her
opportunity!

Poor Auntie Rosebody's eyes wandered helplessly from one _burka-ed_
form to the other. She could not even think what "Dearest Lady" would
have said. Her mind held nothing but the fact that she, the Lady
Hamida, and the whole harem had, but that very afternoon, discussed
with tears the question of this cutting of the King's Luck, and that
even Hamida had applauded her impulsive assertion that to steal the
gem would be allowable under the circumstances. And now, here it was
stolen, and in her very hand. It was like the Day of Resurrection!

"And the Prince will need fortune," came the glib voice, "since for
these two nights passed, he hath undoubtedly been in Satanstown with
Siyah Yamin. And that angers the King. So, those who send us, say
'twere better if the King, his Royal Father, were to give him some
distant post of honour--as indeed is but his right. But this can be
compassed but by favour, and for this purpose the wearing of such a
talisman is potent."

Aunt Rosebody groaned. Did she not know it! Were there not instances
without number even in her own family of such influences? If she could
only consult someone--even Hamida. But the women were urgent. Except
in the safe keeping of the Beneficent Ladies, and under promise, the
diamond could not be left.

Then it was that the little lady reached out her hand and took what
was held out to her. After that there was but a short whispered
conference, and then Aunt Rosebody was left feeling as if the whole
round world was tight clasped in her small hand, while the women stole
back, as they had come, protected by the Lord Chamberlain's order.

"Well!" asked Siyah Yamin, when, safe beyond the walls, speech was
possible. "Art satisfied, Âto, now that thou hast seen the King's Luck
out of my evil hands? Ah! Fie on thee sister, for thy threats, thy
unkind thoughts of poor little Siyâla, who, heaven knows, has had more
curses than cowries out of the business. Yet but for me and my pet
thief Pâhlu, who between ourselves nigh starved waiting in the empty
workshop while Diswunt was making up his mind--the King's Luck would
still be--where it ought to be!"

Âtma's face grew troubled. Ever since the deed had been done, she had,
woman like, become afraid of it. It was this vague fear which had made
her insist on accompanying Siyah Yamin, so that she might see for
herself that the gem had been given into the hands of the Beneficent
Ladies. "Think'st thou so in truth, Siyâl----?" she asked
reproachfully, "and yet thou hast not ceased to assure me" She broke
off, then added "And but for me, sister, Diswunt's mind would never
have been made up. It was I----"

Siyah Yamin burst into a low laugh as she disappeared between the
curtains of her waiting dhooli. "Give him good reward, then, sister,
after woman's fashion. Lo! I have given him mine already."

Something in her tone made Âtma stoop and hurriedly open those
closed curtains that were heavy with stale scents. A glimmer of
gray dawn--for it had taken time to persuade Aunt Rosebody to
action--showed faintly the courtesan's face set in the white folds of
the _burka_ she had thrown upward for more air. Perhaps it was a
memory of the portrait thus framed which made Âtma repeat herself. "I
wonder thou canst be so unkind to a poor lad who loves thee."

"Unkind?" echoed the courtesan with the zest of a child who kills
flies. "Death is no unkindness, and they will give it him, doubtless,
if he hath been unwise. For he will not blab--that I know--he loves
too much!"

She was right. Even as she spoke Diswunt was seeking the Great
Silence.

The wind of dawn which found his face as he fell, found her soft
babyish face also; but it brought no message, told no secret.

Âtma stood watching the dhooli as it swung off toward Satanstown with
a rising dread at her heart. And yet she had acted for the best, and
when all was said and done the King's Luck was in good hands.

Siyah Yamin said the same thing to the two conspirators Mirza Ibrahîm
and Khodadâd, whom she found waiting for her return anxiously.

"Yea! Yea! Yea!" she answered yawning. "Lord! how we apples swim! She
will put it as talisman in the Prince's turban. The rest is not for
me. Lo! I have done my work."

"And more!" spoke up Khodadâd after a vain look at his companion to
urge him to the task. "Why hast thou taken the woman Âtma into thy
confidence? It may spoil all. Why hast thou done it, I say? For
that we will have answer now, will we not Ibrahîm? Thou hadst no
right----"

Siyah Yamin yawned again.

"Because, fool! without her I could not work!" Then she smiled
suddenly. "Lo! there is something betwixt me and old Âto which mankind
wist not of, and which I--understand not. But see you, gentlemen, if I
need a scapegoat she is ready to hand. And if that please you not, go!
But quarrel not over such trifles in the making of plans, my friends.
Time runs short and as the proverb says,


              One can hear snakes bickering,
              By the long tongues flickering.


So this advice I give--silence."

As usual she had the last word.

Poor Auntie Rosebody was at the same moment giving herself the same
advice. Sleep had of course, been effectually banished from her eyes,
and she was still sitting with the little packet she had received from
the women close clasped in her hand. She had held it for so many
minutes--nay, surely hours!--that it seemed to have become part of
herself, and her thoughts had long since left even the question as to
whether she ought not at once to summon the King and give it back to
its rightful owner. The only point with her now was how she could
manage her part without help. She had made up her mind not speak to
Hamida. One never quite knew what she might think or say. But was
there no one else? Aunt Rosebody felt as if she must burst without
speech; but it must be speech with silence. And except at night time,
it was almost impossible for any one to have a private interview with
any one else in the woman's house. It was full to the brim with idle
hussies, eunuchs, actual spies! Naturally if she wanted audience of
Hamida Begum, she could claim a private one; or even of Râkiya--here
the blood flew to Auntie Rosebody's face. No! it should never be old
Râkiya, with her hemistitches, her girding tongue, her ill-bred
remarks about dead saints! Gulbadan Begum was a good hater and the
mere thought of confiding in her enemy quite flustered her. Yet she
could not wait for discreet nightfall. What was to be done must be
done at once, that very morning; since the festivities that were to
commence the six weeks revelling in honour of Salîm's coming marriage
were to begin that afternoon. And then, suddenly, a thought struck
her. Umm Kulsum! Little Umm Kulsum who was such a tower of good sense
and sympathy! She would tell her. Yes! she would tell her, not in the
dhooli going to the bathing steps. There they might be overheard by
the duennas who walked beside it. That was the worst of being a
woman--there were spies everywhere, even upon the bathing steps. But
out on the water, right away in the tank, under the azure-silk sky of
heaven--there she could ensure solitude!

Aunt Rosebody heaved a sigh of relief. Ah! it was very well of Râkiya
Khânum to jibe at indecent youth, but it was something to be able to
swim and so get away from old cats!

And so it came to pass that Umm Kulsum coming up to shake her head
like a wet spaniel after her dive through the arches, nearly went to
the bottom from sheer affright of what she saw in Auntie Rosebody's
face.

"Don't" cried the little lady, catching her by the hand and thus
largely adding to her imminence of sinking. "Now do listen, Ummu. But
I think, my dear, you had better turn on your back and float, for what
I've got to tell will make your liver melt, for sure."

So side by side, hand in hand, they floated in the warm, morn-lit
water, Auntie Rosebody's gray hair mingling in snaky fashion with Umm
Kulsum's black locks while the former told her tale. And more than
once the elder woman had to adjure the younger one to keep a straight
back and float decently, since some of Aunt Rosebody's revelations
were disturbing.

"And now O Umm Kulsum, pilgrimess, mind you, to holy Mecca, save my
soul from sin--if thou canst--and tell me, above all, if I be asleep
or awake."

The confused appeal brought silence for a moment whilst those two
brave, superstitious, affectionate women's faces stared into the azure
blue.

Then Umm Kulsum said softly, "It is God's will. He has sent us to do
this thing, and we must do it. Yea! Auntie, even if they kill us we
must save the King's Luck, and buy favour to Salîm."

"Oh Ummu!" sobbed Auntie Rosebody. "How glad I am I told thee! Thou
art wisdom itself and thinkest even as I do. We are two splits to one
pea."

And so two set, determined, and in their exaltation, supremely happy,
faces showed ducking and bobbing as they swam and made plans. Ummu was
to set to work at once and make a seed-pearled and gold-embroidered
brocade bag for the stone, which should deftly disguise its shape, and
Aunt Rosebody was to say it contained a precious relic from Mecca, and
insist on the scapegrace wearing it concealed in his turban for the
day. After that? Why ... why...? After that all would depend upon the
fortune of the Prince.

So little Umm Kulsum retired to her violet garden in hot haste to dry
her hair as usual, and then, having dismissed her maids, began work in
the solitude of the secluded spot set round with low walls and orange
trees.

She had thought it all out, had seen that time pressed, and so without
remorse cut a bold snippet out of the pearl-edged embroidered hem of
her very best overcoat which she had told her tirewomen she meant to
wear. The damage would not be seen if she wore a thick veil, and a
very little sewing, but a few pearls deftly applied, would make of the
precious piece a relic holder as good as any in the palace. So her
round simple face grew absorbed in her task, when a rustle in the
orange tree above her made her look up.

She saw another laughing face looking down; a face that with its
orange-coloured veil showed like a ripe fruit amongst the burnished
green leaves. The next instant Mihr-un-nissa's lithe, still-childish
figure had swung itself to the ground and her forefinger was wagging
roguishly at Umm Kulsum's hasty and futile effort to conceal her work.

"Oh fie! Ummu. What! secrets?" came the mocking voice. "Dost not
know," here it took on a ludicrous likeness to her mother's, "that
only ill-bred young women degrade themselves by duplicity." Then she
cuddled close and looked at Umm Kulsum with a perfectly ravishing
smile. "Say, sweetheart! is it a love letter?"

Umm Kulsum gave a little shriek of horror. "Go to! thou art a bad
girl, Mihru! How didst come here? And how darest thou even mention
love letters?"

Mihr-un-nissa cuddled closer. "How? Because I needed to see thee,
Ummu--Auntie Ummu I shall call thee, dearest. So when they denied me,
I crept out by the window and along the wall. Mother is at the
reception, but I needed thee. And as for love--Ah! Ummu! I _have seen
him!_"

"Seen whom?" asked Umm Kulsum stolidly. Her mind was busy with likely
lies, for she knew the penetrating wit, the cold clear-sightedness, of
this child-girl.

"Why!--my man, of course," came the reply with sage noddings of the
pretty head.

Everything save horrified outrage flew from Umm Kulsum's mind.
"Thou--thou shameless one!--thou canst not mean it. And if thou
hadst--by chance--to dare to say it. Mihr-un-nissa Begum, say it is
not true!"

The pretty head nodded again cheerfully. "But it is true, Auntie Ummu,
and it was not by chance. I climbed into a tree--thou knowest I can
climb trees--and saw him over the wall as he came to sup with father.
And I like him. He hath a kind, strong face. And--lo! Ummu, one can be
queen of a man's heart."

As she sate there, her small slender hands closed on each other as if
she held something very precious, a mysterious smile came to her eyes,
her mouth. Years younger than her companion, in all things of
womanhood she outpassed her utterly. So, as she paused, sudden shame
came to her.

"And dost know, Ummu," she went on, a fine blush invading her cheeks
that were the colour of ripe wheat, her hands unloosing themselves to
plait and replait in her confusion the fold of Umm Kulsum's best
overcoat which lay beside her, "I--I think he saw me for--for he
smiled--though he walked on sedately as a gentleman should. But I am
not sure his eyes----"

She paused abruptly, gave a little shriek, "Oh! Ummu! thou hast cut
it--thy beautiful overcoat----"

She held up the accusing gap in the hem, and her young face took on
swift, keen interest. "So--thy secret! Come out with it, Auntie!"
She snatched at Umm Kulsum's work and held it out derisively. "An
amulet--nay! a relic holder!" she cried gaily. "Lo! Umm Kulsum Khânum!
it must be for thy lover to wear--in his turban likely."

Umm Kulsum gasped, and leant back against the orange bole helplessly.
"Truly, Mihru! thou--thou art a witch!" she murmured feebly.

The expression on the girlish face intensified into absolute cunning.
"So--then it is for some one's turban--Prince Salîm's I dare swear--to
bring him luck with his father. Ohí Ummu! I have hit it! Tell me,
sweetheart, what goes in it? Come! let me have a look at thy
face"--for Umm Kulsum in sheer dread of those piercing inquisitive
eyes had swaddled herself hastily in her veil. "What thou willst not.
Then it is something worth knowing. I will find out--but la! that
scent of ambergris portends my mother's passing. I must begone, Auntie
Ummu, ere they seek for me. Farewell--and--and good luck go with thy
Prince. He needs it!"

She had swung herself into the orange tree once more and was gone,
leaving Umm Kulsum with a beating heart. It was an ill chance, and the
girl was as a wizard with her guesses; but seeing that the Audience of
Nobility was to be held that night, there was small chance for
Mihr-un-nissa's wit to do harm. And the Prince would be under solemn
promise to bring the talisman back next morning without fail.

Whether he intended to keep the promise or not, certain it is that he
made it, while Auntie Rosebody's voice shook over the oath she
administered, and little Umm Kulsum stood by trembling in her very
marrow. And when the young man had gone off, all duly dressed for his
part in the festivities, sulkily carrying with him the well wishes of
every woman in the harem in addition to that mighty talisman which
they all looked at from a distance with awe, those two poor
conspirators retired together and wept on each other's neck.

"I will fast to-night O child!" said the old woman ruefully. "God
knows it may be my last; but he may spare thee, being young."

Umm Kulsum only sobbed the more. Why should she add to Aunt Rosebody's
anxieties by telling her of Mihr-un-nissa's visit? And after all, the
girl had wished the Prince good luck! Something at least should come
of that.

And ere many hours were over something did; for, as Prince Salîm
walked back through the Palace Gardens, Fate beckoned to him, and from
that time forth until his death he never forgot the call.

It happened on this wise. Vaguely disturbed, he dismissed his retinue
in an ill temper, and despite the heat of the early afternoon sun
sought solitude. Wherefore, who knows?

Had the conspirators gone so far as to tell him that he carried with
him the King's Luck, and that he had but to declare himself to find
following sufficient to give him the sceptre? Or had they merely begun
to prepare the way for such telling in the future? Certain it is that
he was moody, thoughtful beyond his wont. In half an hour or so the
festival would begin by a grand illumination; the festival which would
bring him marriage, if his father ...

That break in his thoughts seemed to end every subject for thought.

If his father--if his father...?

The noise of the firework makers and lamp sellers who were at work in
the principal paths, annoyed him, so he wandered off into the more
private ones, amusing himself idly, almost unconsciously, with a pair
of doves he had taken, as the only silent companions--he had said
bitterly, in the court.

If his father--if his father...? The question obsessed him.

Whether he knew actually that he carried kingship with him, certain it
is that his thoughts were with himself, as king. What he would do,
what he would say, what he would think.

If--this thing--were to happen, _now_, would he marry this Râjpûtni?
Not--by all the twelve Imams--if she were ugly! And, as his friends
said--they were all Mahommedans--the first wife should be of Islâm.

He had wandered farther than he knew, and without realising it had
entered the garden belonging to the women's apartments. But it was
empty; the hour was early and every one busy dressing for the
festival. So he went on unhindered. It was cooler here in the pleached
alleys, and perfumed too. Out yonder in the sunlight the very scent of
the flowers seemed burnt up.

Yes! If he married----

The onyx-eyed birds of love he was carrying fluttered and fretted.
Were they too, dreaming of liberty. Curse the brutes! Why could they
not keep quiet, and give him a chance of making up his mind.

His eye caught someone, a slip of a child it looked, wrapped close in
a creamy veil sitting beside a fountain. Some coolie's daughter, no
doubt, waiting for her father to finish work.

"Here, hold these birds, child," he cried peremptorily. The figure did
not move and with another curse on its stupidity he strode up to it,
thrust the pigeons into its lap and with a brief order to hold them
fast till his return, strode off again. Something he must settle, he
felt, before he met his father in the Audience of Nobility.

Vague, instinctive affection and loyalty had to war with passionate
desires for power, with the thousand and one poisoned thoughts which,
day and night, were put into his mind diligently by those who sought
him as their tool.

When he had disappeared into the thickets of pomegranate and orange,
there came a sudden little laugh.

"Oh! birdies! birdies! What a stupid stripling!"

The shrouding veil which she had hastily drawn round her on the
appearance of the Prince, slipped back, and Mihr-un-nissa's dimpling
face was buried in the opalescent feathers of her captives. "Nay! no
struggling! Sure thou art better here than with your sulky, fatling
Prince--though see you, my birds, he is not so ill-looking when he is
seen close, as the squirrel said of the spider when he had dismembered
him! But he is not a patch on Sher Afkân. La! how Ummu squirmed when I
spoke of him. What sillies women be, as if one might not use one's
eyes. Ohí! Now I have it! 'Tis the talisman in his turban gives the
Prince his air. Have a care! Mihr-un-nissa, lest thou fall in love
with him and desert true friend. And yet----"

She paused, looked down at her own face mirrored in the water and what
she saw there held her.

It was true what the woman told her. That was no mere wife's face--it
was the face of a queen--a real queen----

The birds of love fluttered in her listless hold. Lost in her dreams
she scarcely noticed that one, eluding her slack grasp fled joyfully
to coo his pæan of liberty from an orange tree hard by.

Was it worth it? Was it worth it? What was all the power in the world
worth to a woman, as she--the girl upon its verge--imagined womanhood?

"My birds?" The Prince had returned. The imperious voice roused her;
roused her temper also.

"Here, my lord," she replied curtly.

"What? Only one?" The voice was angry now; almost ready for a curse.

She set, as it were, soul and body into cold ice.

"Sire!" she answered, with chill courtesy, "one has flown."

In the shade of the trees, her face, averted, was unseen, and of her
figure, crouched in upon itself instinctively, the Prince saw nothing
but childish outlines.

"Stupid fool," he cried roughly. "How? Damn you! Tell me how."

She was on her feet in a second, facing his anger fearlessly, her own
blazing hot in defiance of all things. Aye! even this fading Prince
who dared to call her fool!

"So! my lord!" she cried defiantly and from her outstretched hands the
second dove flew circling to join its mate.

Salîm stood startled into silence. From the orange tree the doves were
cooing. The perfumes of the garden rose up around them. Overhead
blazed the brazen sky.

But the Heir-Apparent of India saw nothing save that first glimpse of
the woman who as Mihr-un-nissa, Queen of Women, Nurmabal, the Light of
Palaces, and finally as Nur-jahan, the Light of the World, was to play
so large a part in his life.

He was too much taken up with the love which, like the doves, had
flitted from the listless hand of Fate even to attempt to detain the
girl, when with a sudden sweeping salaam, a soft sweet, "Your servant,
Mihr-un-nissa" she turned and fled.

At least, she felt, he might as well know who she was.



                             CHAPTER XVI

      _A thousand ships have foundered here before
       So lost, no chip of them came back to shore.
       I, too, on those waves wandered many a night,
       Till terror plucked my sleeve, and cried "No More!
       Back to the land! God's wide horizon rings
       Thee and the worlds. Thinkst thou the King of kings
       To compare by conjecture? Ah! poor wight,
       Wisdom itself, wists not His hidden things_."
                                                 --Sa'adi.


When Mihr-un-nissa fled from the Prince in the garden, she did not fly
far. Just round the corner waiting for her return, stood her covered
palanquin, her dutiful duenna. For Mussumât Fâtima had long since
given up attempting to control her young mistress. To begin with, she
had found out that Mihr-un-nissa was not as other girls. She was wild
as a young hawk, but there it ended. Except in so far as uttermost
mischief went, she was to be trusted; there never was any fear of love
letters or any improprieties of that sort. So, if she chose to fancy
sitting beside a fountain by herself in the women's garden, where was
the harm? She was a mound of sense; so much so, that on this hot
afternoon (heaven knows why the child had insisted on coming out--to
ruin her complexion, doubtless, if she could--but she couldn't--from
the crown of her head to the sole of her foot there wasn't a speck or
a freckle) no one could blame a body for dozing in the dhooli and
dreaming.

"La! child! How thou didst frighten me," gasped Fâtima, as a tornado
of yellow and purple draperies flung itself breezily on the top of her
fat person.

"Oh! Futtu! Futtu!" panted the girl, half laughter, half tears. "I
have seen him!"

"What, again!" shrilled the duenna, waking instantly to a sense of her
responsibilities. "Impudence! knowest thou not that paper boats don't
float for ever, and that who lacks modesty lacks conscience?"

"Oh! have done with second-hand wisdom," said the girl, superbly. "And
it was not him--It was the Prince--Prince Salîm."

Fâtima let loose a shriek. "Oh! my liver! An' thou darest to tell me!
'Tis bread and water for a week, miss----"

"And I spoke to him and he spoke to me," continued the culprit,
calmly; out of sheer perversity, reversing the order of events.

Fâtima let loose a louder shriek. "What! Lo! the noose is round thy
neck, and mine too! May the devil be deaf! If folk hear----"

But the girl who had drawn aside with distaste and was now seated half
in and half out of the palanquin, interrupted the duenna
contemptuously. "Futtu, thou art a full-weight fool. Why dost not
remember it needs skill to do wrong instead of making thy nose red
with wrath?"

Suddenly she stood up, a curiously defiant figure. "Lo! I am sick of
saws and sayings. I want to know at first hand! And I will know. Call
the carriers. I go to Âtma Devi. Lo! I have tried, as thou knowest, to
see in the ink again; but it comes not. I lack the charm she said; she
shall teach it me. Nay!" she continued stemming Fâtima's rising flood
of denials, "See here, fool. If thou deniest me I go straight home,
and tell--not _my_ mother, she would be pleased--but Sher Afkân's, and
then----" She clasped the old woman's neck with both hands and
squeezed it tight. "Does it feel nice, Futtu?" she asked solicitously.

So it came to pass that just as the sun was setting, its last rays
sparkled on Mihr-un-nissa's jewelled hair, as she sate on the Châran's
roof waiting for the drop of ink to fall into her palm. She was more
woman than child now, since she had watched the birth of desire, and
of something more than desire, in Prince Salîm's eyes. So that was
love! A queer thing, at best, it must be to feel as he must have felt,
before he could look so poor a slave. If that was love, she could not
give it back. What! give homage to a lout of a lad? And yet the
Queenship! Oh! if it had been Akbar himself, then she would have known
what to do, for he was King indeed! Or if--yes! if it had been
"_him_," for he was a man indeed!


              Drop ink and hide my flesh,
              Cover my worldly ways.
              Then let God's light afresh
              Mirror God's praise.
              Drop ink, drop deep,
              Cover in sleep
       My night of nights and bring the day of days.


This time the chanted words thrilled little Mihr-un-nissa through and
through. For once--and perhaps for the first time in her young life
she was in deadly earnest. But, once again poor Âtma's mind was far
from her spell. Ever since Deena that morning had brought her word of
Diswunt's death, regret, remorse had warred with her defiance. It was
strange. What did it mean? Had he regretted? And wherefore? At times
absorbed with fear lest she should have betrayed the King, she had
been ready to seek out Birbal and tell him the truth, risking her own
life. But there was her promise, her sisters-troth with Siyah Yamin.
That cut both ways. It forced her to silence, so long as the courtezan
kept troth. And had she not? Had not Âtma Devi seen with her own eyes
Aunt Rosebody's hand close on the diamond? Could it be in better
keeping?

"If the gracious child will complete the circle of magic," she began,
when Mihr-un-nissa's laugh rang out disdainfully.

"What! to see what thou thinkest? Not so! What I shall see, what I
shall do, is of my own gift. Stand back woman!--touch me not!"


              Drop ink, drop deep,
              Cover in sleep
       My night of nights and bring the day of days.


She chanted the words lingeringly and for an instant there was
silence while those two women, the fat, worldly duenna, and the
passion-distraught denier of her sex, listened and looked with
long-drawn tense breathings. It was deadly earnest to them also. Would
she see? Could she see? Such things were, they knew, beyond the magic
frauds of fortune-tellers.

And then suddenly the sweet round voice rose eagerly.

"I see! Holy prophet! I see--It is the Prince; but Lord! how fat he
hath grown and how old--I think he is the King----"

Fâtima under her breath muttered "An old King's better than a young
Prince."

Mihr-un-nissa flashed round on her. "'An egg to-day's better than a
hen to-morrow,' so there! saw-sayer!" Then she looked again. "Sher
Afkân this time. He hath a scar upon his face that suits him well, and
a drawn sword."

"'The soldier gains his bread, by the risking of his head,'" murmured
the irrepressible Fâtima.

"'Lie you must, or your belly will bust,'" quoted Mihr-un-nissa
shamelessly, too interested, really, to do more than fling a reply in
this war of wise sayings. "Lo! clouds--clouds--nothing but clouds
again. What's this? Crossed swords and someone fighting for his life.
Holy Prophet! save him! save him! Clouds again. That is my face grown
old--and I am all in white," the girl's voice seemed to shrink in on
itself; her eyes, startled, looked indeed as if across the chasm of
the years she saw herself as she would be. "Surely I am widow--and
there's the King once more." She drew back from her own hand as she
might have drawn back from fate. "Then _he_ was not killed," she
muttered in a low whisper. "It must have been the--the other. Oh help!
help! help!"

She started to her feet, and as if in answer to her scarce audible
cry, a violent knocking shook the door.

"Open! Open! in the King's name, open!"

The command reduced even Mihr-un-nissa to the conventional quiet which
on such occasions sinks on an Indian woman's house, when those are
within who should not be seen.

You might have heard a pin drop.

"Âtma Devi, Châran of the King, open to his demand," came Birbal's
voice, clear, unmistakeable, followed quickly by the order--"Break
open the door, slaves, I must see if she be within ere seeking
elsewhere."

There was no time to lose. Instinctively Fâtima, holding fast to her
charge and dragging her with her, fled noiselessly to the closed door
of the slip of a room where Zarîfa lay sleeping, and Mihr-un-nissa
herself seeing no other way out of the _impasse_, allowed herself to
be dragged, as stealthily, as noiselessly.

None too soon, for as the latter motioning her duenna arbitrarily to
the farther corner of the darkness was limply closing the door so as
to allow a crack for hearing, a crash told that one bolt of the outer
one had given way, and Âtma Devi's voice rang out--

"Hold! I will open to my Lord Birbal."

His voice in return came through from without. "So thou wouldst spare
thy lock, widow! See that thou spare thy life also! Slaves--get you
gone--await me on the landing below, and if I call, come."

A moment after he was facing Âtma Devi, his face pale with
contemptuous passion.

"No lies, widow," he began at once. "I have come for the truth. Old
Deena, the drumbanger, hath blabbed somewhat! I have gathered more in
the bazaars. Thou art in this plot of the King's Luck, or thou knowest
something of Siyah Yamin's part in it. Speak or----"

The flash of the poniard he held met an answering flash, as Âtma
slipped forward, the death-dagger of her race ready on the instant,
her passion roused instinctively at the sight of his.

"The King's Châran," she replied haughtily, "knows how to die--knows
how to protect the King's Luck; and as for Siyah Yamin she is my
sister of the veil. Between us lies troth--to death."

That had been her chief thought during the past few hours. It had
indeed been her consolation in the vague regrets which had assailed
her. Siyah Yamin was hand-fast to her. The courtesan had repeated the
oath solemnly when Âtma Devi in restless anxiety had gone to her
again; what is more she had given words of warning against Birbal,
against the faction which he and Abulfazl represented. She had
stigmatised them as self-seeking, as those who led the King astray.
And had he not gone astray? Was there not, to begin with, this new
edict forbidding widows to burn with their husbands? Would not the
next step--if these two remained his advisers--be the forbidding of
women to be widows indeed?

Every atom of womanhood in her, all tangled and torn apart by the
plucking fingers of natural instinct and inherited ethics, rose up in
revolt against herself, against everybody, everything in the world
save that one thing--the King's honour, the King's Luck.

She stood surging in uttermost rebellion, and Birbal realised that a
deftless word, almost a deftless look, would send the dagger of her
race to her woman's heart.

So, realising also his mistake in having thus driven his last chance
of discovery into such sharp antagonism, he shrugged his shoulders,
strolled over to the parapet, and sate dangling his legs in his usual
debonair fashion. But his keen eyes were on hers.

"Thy pardon, sister," he said. "Who can doubt that the King's Châran
has his luck at heart, and it is for this, that I have come to thee.
Now listen."

He paused and but for his intentness those keen eyes of his might have
seen the faintest quiver of the door opposite him, as if someone
behind it wished to hear better.

"The King's Luck, given to the stranger to be cut, hath been stolen
from the lathe, and a false gem put in its place. Shall I tell thee
how?" his questioning eyes found hers with a baffling stare in them
and he went on. "A thief--Pâhlu, prince of thieves most likely, but I
have naught against him as yet--managed entry to the empty workshop
next to the diamond by scarce-seen clamps in the outer brick wall. He
must have worked hard, and risked his life many dark, midnight hours;
but he did it. The clamps remain. And doubtless he had a silken rope.
Then Diswunt, the King's painter, beguiled the foreign jeweller out of
his cell for a second or two. So the deed was done. But who beguiled
Diswunt? Siyah Yamin doubtless. I have proof of that--but the boy was
loyal. It would need some sense of duty, of devotion, to beguile him;
that I know. Now, thou didst go to his house, not once but twice--of
that, also, I have found proof. Wherefore? That is what, in the King's
name, I ask?"

He paused for a reply, but none came, and his face hardened.

"Now listen further," he went on again. "Of another thing I have but
too much proof. The court is astir. But now, I passed that hell-doomed
cur Khodadâd, and he smiled at me--at me, his bitterest enemy! So he
is content. Some plot is afoot, and the foundation of all plots is the
Prince Salîm--they seek to oust Akbar and place the drunken lout,
slave to his own passions and so slave to theirs, upon the King's
throne."

Âtma laughed scornfully. "That will they never do--my Lord the King
hath too many friends."

"And too many enemies, also," retorted Birbal. "Fool thou dost not
see, thou dost not understand--thou art but a woman of whom men expect
naught!"

It was growing dusk rapidly so a faint widening in the door-chink
passed unnoticed.

"Now listen again!" he went on yet once more. "Thou hast been often to
Siyah Yamin's of late, and Deena hath a tale of two veiled women at
the Palace last night----"

There was the faintest flicker of a flinch in Âtma's eyes, and he was
on his feet in a second, stretching out an accusing hand toward her.

"Thou wast there--thou and that accursed harlot--deny it not!"

She withdrew a pace and set her back to the wall. "I deny nothing, and
I affirm nothing, my lord," she replied coolly, obstinately, though
she felt torn in two by the conflict of her doubts.

"Fool!" he blazed out again. "I tell thee every second may be
precious! Listen--if thou canst listen, being but woman! Not only the
court, but within the last hour or so the soldiery, the people, show
unrest also, and we may be undone this night! I myself can scarce
understand.--It has come in a second like a miracle--as of some
talisman----" his quick wit caught at his own words--"I have it!--The
King's Luck! the Prince hath it."

In a second he had gripped both Âtma's wrists with his lithe hands and
held her pinned to the wall. "Tell me, fool! All things rest on it
mayhap--all things for which we have worked and hoped--for which he
hath worked and hoped--the peace, the unity of India. Say! woman!
Didst give it to the Prince?" Then seeing the utter obstinacy of her
face, he realised the futility of wasting time with her, when he had
found a cue which might lead to much elsewhere, and throwing her hands
from him with a curse on all womanhood, he turned to go relying on his
own keen wit.

But another keen wit joined to a mind capable of comprehension had
been at work behind the chink. There was a faint scuffle, a muffled
shriek, as Fâtima, who had heard nothing, made a dive at her little
mistress's dress as she flung the door wide, and stepped out. Fate
forced the duenna to grip the veil, so she only made matters worse;
for Mihr-un-nissa stood bare-headed before the strange man.

Birbal, however, even in his hurry to seek help elsewhere, did not
need such trivialities as veils to make him pause with instant
consideration for the dignity of the slim young figure which barred
his way.

"My lord," came the full rich young voice, "need not rail at all
womankind. Here is one who will tell him the truth for the sake of
Kingship. Peace! Âtma!" continued the girl, turning hotly on the
Châran who would have interrupted, "thou understandest not, so be
silent! My lord! I judge the talisman of the King's luck to be at this
moment in Prince Salîm's turban. For at the palace this morning, I saw
Khânzada Umm Kulsum sewing somewhat into a relic bag for this purpose,
and she denied me knowledge. Nay! I am sure of it----."

She paused and Birbal asked quickly:

"Will the Queen-of-Women give reason?"

The girl's face suddenly dimpled into smiles, a mischievous twinkle
took her eyes captive.

"Because the Most-Excellent the Heir-Apparent straightway came out of
the Palace and fell in love with me."

A shriek of horror from Fâtima who was employed in attempting to
re-enshroud the young girl's beauty emphasised the absolute
impropriety of the remark, but Birbal bowed to the very ground.

"That is Luck beyond the Luck of Kings, madam," he said, "and reason
beyond question. This Speck of Dust in the Court of Intellect gives
thanks for the Truth, and withdraws his earthly clay"--he paused, for
as he turned to go he saw the _rebeck_ player standing on the
threshold. "Back slave!" he cried at once impetuously--"this roof is
sacred to a Queen."

But the musician's pale face lit up suddenly. "A Queen suffers
no ill from the eyes of a King," he replied, fixing his gaze on
Mihr-un-nissa. So for an instant they stood, measuring one another;
then the man turned quickly to Birbal, "Come, my lord," he said, "the
Sufi from Isphahân desires to see the Most Excellent!--when he can
withdraw his earthly clay from the presence of the Queen of Queens."

Mihr-un-nissa stood looking after them as they disappeared, nodding
her head with a superior air. Then, in sudden change, she clapped her
hands together joyfully like a child. "That is good," she cried.
"It is lovely to be called that. Lo! I would do most things for
that--except marry the Prince! Yea! most things so that it was the
Luck of a real King!" Something in her own words made her pause. "That
must be safeguarded," she murmured, as if to herself. Then she wheeled
round and caught the fat duenna by both hands and tried to force her
to her knees.

"Kneel, Fâtima, or I will hurt thee! Kneel, dost hear? What! thou
disobeyest me!" A stamp of her foot emphasised her order, and brought
the fat duenna down in a hurry.

"Say! didst hear aught?" asked the girl superbly. "In the room, I
mean, not here."

"Highness, not a word!" protested Fâtima; "but what I heard here--what
I saw here--have made me deaf and blind for ever."

"So much the better, Futtu, so much the better," nodded Mihr-un-nissa
wisely. "Still 'tis always best to be on the safe side. So put thy
mouth in the dust and say after me:


             "May crows pick out mine eyes.

"Say! dost hear?


             "May crows pick out mine eyes."


An ineffectual murmur came from the dust.


             "May pigs devour my thighs."


The dust had evidently got into the speaker's mouth, for the words
became more and more inaudible, as the stern young teacher went on:


             "My heart rot carrion wise,
              My liver be eaten with flies,
              My lights blown up with sighs,
              Myself, my son, and all that I prize
              Burn in a fire that never dies
              If ever I open my lips to say
              The things I have heard and have seen to-day."


"So!" said Mihr-un-nissa when the formula was over, "that's done. And
as for thee?" she passed quickly to Âtma Devi, who, half stunned by
the swift mastery with which the girl had taken the whole business out
of her hands, still stood leaning blankly against the blank wall and
looked her curiously in the eyes. "Why wouldst thou not tell? And
wherefore didst thou steal the diamond?"

Then as she stood childishly curious, comprehension came to her and
she smiled half-contemptuously half-mysteriously.

"So, thou also lookest a slave," she said, "poor slave!"

But as she and Fâtima went whisperingly down the stairs, the faint
clatter of their loose slippers mingling like castanets amid the soft
swishing of silk, the jingling of jewels, she paused to listen to a
bird-like voice singing:


       Love dost live in the red rose garden?
       Love dost grow from a red rose root?
       Dost set thy springe with th' boughs that harden
       Or twine it soft with the young green shoot?
       Love! dost thou lurk in the red rose-bud?
       Love! is thy throne in the rose-heart's crown?
       Love! does the perfume of red rose flood
       In on the soul till the senses drown?

                          Nay!

       Love lives not in a garden of roses,
       Root nor bough nor the young green shoot,
       Bud nor chalice the perfume encloses
       Of Love lying lowly at Love's own feet.
       For Love is the Rose, Love is the Star
       Love is the heart of things near and afar,
       And afar--and afar--and afar!


Mihr-un-nissa shook her head, as the whispering descent began again.
Of a truth Love was far, very far, away.



                             CHAPTER XVII

      _Yet when from off the table of God's grace
       He gives what each may carry to their place
       Satan draws nigh, "Even for me" he says
       "A portion has been portioned in God's ways_."
                                                 --Sa'adi


The Most Illustrious, the Mighty in Power, the High in Pomp, the
Exalted in Splendour, the Father of his People, the Conqueror of the
Age, the Pole Star of Faith, the Sun of the World, Jalâl-ud-din
Mahommed Akbar, Great Mogul, Emperor of India, sate enthroned on a
dais which had been erected for the purpose of the festivities on the
uppermost terrace of the Palace Gardens.

The violet blackness of the sky above him was ablaze with stars, as
only an Indian sky can blaze, when the dust held in the atmosphere has
been laid by recent rain. And, to the infinite relief of the town and
all concerned in its welfare, rain had fallen--fallen in torrents,
suddenly sharply, during the later hours of dawn, leaving every tank
full, every street washed clean under the vivid blue sky which the
storm seemed to have washed also.

Relief had come from heaven, but no one looked at the stars, for the
blaze below held all eyes. A circle of Bengal lights so arranged that
the King's head should show against them, shed veritable sunlight on
his golden throne and on the white-robed figure that sate on it; for,
as ever, Akbar was dressed with studied simplicity. True, the Benares
muslin with its fine stitched edging of silver had taken years in the
loom, the ropes of pearls he wore over it were worth a king's ransom,
but there was no note of colour anywhere, and the turban, guiltless of
all ornament save the heron's plume of chieftainship, showed dull
without the calm radiance of the great diamond. Yet all things centred
on the man who sate enthroned, because it was his thought, his
imagination which had inspired the whole marvellous spectacle that was
being held in the terraced garden surrounded by distant half-seen
palaces.

And it was marvellous, indeed! The dais (behind which in darkest
shadow rose the latticed vantage ground of the court ladies) was
semicircular, round-fronted and was superabundantly lit by that crown
of twelve Bengal lights (representing the twelve solar months) which
hung like a halo round the man who claimed to be the Sun of his World.
A big claim, but in this instance it was made with such magnificent
straightforwardness, such clear perception of all that the claim
entailed, as to disarm criticism. This dais, some ten feet high, rose
from a semicircular round-fronted plinth which was lost in shadow,
partly because of a projecting eave which prevented the light from
above striking on it, and partly because seven equi-distant lights
(representing the seven days of the week and in varying colours
showing the tints of a rainbow) were so cunningly set in shades round
the dais that their light left the plinth in darkness and shot out, in
ever widening rays, through the garden, growing less and less distinct
until at its farther end colour seemed lost in a general mist of
light.

And in six of these rays, red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo, violet,
widening with the light, sate, in ordered rows, on the red side the
Hindus and Buddhists of the court, upon the violet side the
Mahommedans, the Jains, the Jews. Only the central green ray,
compounded of these two factors blue and yellow remained empty,
showing nothing but a narrow marble walk bordered on either side by
wide water ways, out of which fountains shot high into the still, dark
air; shot, illumined so far by the lights, then, rising high above
them, mere ghostly shadows on the darkness, to fall again in drops
that grew iridescent as they fell.

There was no other illumination in the garden; but the distant palaces
were outlined in every curve, every detail, by little soft flickering
lamplets like stars.

The running water in the waterways came out of the dark plinth
below the dais, and about fifty yards from it, ran under a wider
crossways marble platform which ended the narrow pathway; emerging
from this short hiding to fall rippling over a marble slope, where
(safe-sheltered from every drop in deftly cut niches) cunning little
coloured lamps shone, converting the whole cascade into a rainbow.
Hence, united, the stream of the two waterways merged into one, and
flowed to disappear from the garden through a low archway tunnelled
beneath the palace; thence to find its way by underground passages to
the tank at the bottom of the Sikri ridge.

Even as a mere spectacular effect the scene was striking, but once the
inner meaning of it, so clear to the mind of the white-robed figure on
the throne, was grasped, it became of absorbing interest as
representing the vast empire which Akbar had so far succeeded in
welding together. First the surging misty radiance of the crowd at the
end; then, strengthening as each ray narrowed, the broad demarcations
of the various religions professed by Akbar's subjects. Râjpûts in
their red robes on the one side elbowing the Brâhmins in the orange of
the ascetic; Shiahs in purple beside the Sunnis in indigo; while in
the yellow ray sate Buddhists in their devotional colour; in the blue
the Sufis, the Jews, the Jains, all the smaller cults that are to be
found in India.

Between them, centring all, shone the green ray of the true faith,
the perfect equality of toleration and freedom which was Akbar's
ideal--and it was empty!

Perfect as the scene was, every soul in the garden that night felt a
consciousness of vague depression, vague expectation. Eyes wandered as
they were not used to wander from that central figure on the throne.

"'Tis the talisman which the scapegrace wears," whispered Aunt
Rosebody ruefully from behind the latticed screen to little Umm Kulsum
who was holding her hand--she had been holding it practically ever
since the fatal moment, a few hours back, when they had seen the
Prince walk away unconcernedly with the hidden diamond in his turban
of state. "Oh! Ummu, I feel so cold down my back. But there is no
remedy against one's own acts! Though why such temptation should be
put in the way of an old woman only God and His Prophet knows! But
'tis always so. He had but one eye and the grit fell in it."

"We did what we thought best, auntie!" whimpered the Mother of
Plumpness, "and we can take it back when the Audience is over--or we
can die!"

Aunt Rosebody shook her head mournfully. "Dying is no good" she
protested, "but why doth not the scapegrace come and have done with
it! If oil isn't ready when the frying pan's ready, it had best go
away!"

"In truth it appears long waiting, mayhap, for the last day," sighed
Umm Kulsum tragically.

"Last day!" echoed Aunt Rosebody snappishly. "Lo! who wants a last
day? Not I. Sure I am betwixt and between. Earth too hard, sky too far
like the swallows. Please God they'll hurry up and let me get to my
prayers. Lo! there goes Khodadâd with a smile on his face. True is it
that lies only shine in the dark."

In truth Khodadâd stepped jauntily and his face shone with content as
he passed to his place in the light-screened plinth where the court
officials were gathered awaiting the signal which was to summon them
to the dais above, there to range themselves behind the Emperor for
the coming audience.

"It is nigh time," said Mirza Ibrahîm, who as Court Chamberlain had
charge of the ceremonies. "Gentlemen are you ready?"

Then he bent forward to the newcomer and whispered something. The
whispered reply brought such satisfaction to Ibrahîm's face also, that
he stared with open contempt at Birbal, who lounging in, lazily late,
was making his way toward him.

"My lord has nearly missed his chance," he said meaningly.

"Nay! Sir Chamberlain," replied Birbal coolly, "I am about to take it,
and--and give it." He held out a paper as he spoke. "The matter is
urgent, since as the Envoy comes with all the Insignia of Royalty, he
must be presented before the Heir-Apparent. But such etiquettes are
safe in the hands of a Chamberlain! For the rest, he and his retinue
await reception at the gate."

"What is't?" asked Khodadâd in an undertone as he saw Ibrahîm's face
change. But his own turned grayish green, as, over the shoulder he
read the titular address:

"I, Payandâr Tarkhân of the House of Sinde coming by order----"

"Impossible," he gasped. "This--this is some jest of my lord Birbal's.
Payandâr is----"

"There be other Tarkhâns so called besides the one who died in the
wilderness," retorted Birbal slowly, "and this one comes as King--so
he says. Read through the document, Mirza Sahib, and see if all is in
order. If so, do the duty of Chamberlain; and be quick about it, for
yonder go the royal _nakârahs_. The Hour of Audience has come.
Gentlemen! to our places. I will inform the Emperor."

A minute later, the court officials stood in a serried semicircle
behind the King, and the green light, the central light of the seven,
had divided into two and shone guarding either side of a narrow marble
staircase which was disclosed leading upward to the dais. At the foot
of this stood Mirza Ibrahîm, reading aloud, in a voice which betrayed
his agitation, the titular names and designations of the Amir of
Sinde. His mind was busy with a thousand questionings. What did it all
mean? And why had Khodadâd been so disturbed? Surely their plans were
secure? Surely the Prince had been told of the talisman? Surely this
knowledge would breed confidence--and so--with aid--defiance? Every
one was ready. That very night might see conspiracy successful at
last, the Prince, at last, forced into taking his part.

"Let the Royalty of Sinde, as represented by him who wears the
Insignia of Royalty be welcome to the Court of the Sun of the World."

The words were spoken by Abulfazl, as Prime Minister. His face showed
a slight astonishment which was reflected even on Akbar's. He leant
forward as if eager to see the unexpected visitor, and all eyes
followed his toward the dim radiance of the distant crowd. Something
there was in the multitude of faces, half seen though deep-shadowed,
which thrilled many of the lookers. But the thrill passed into
something like an electric shock, as tearing the still night air with
discordant clangour, an almost inconceivable clash and crash of copper
kettledrums and brass cymbals seemed to crack the ears that heard it.

Instinctively almost every one present drew back from the sound,
blinked, then opened eyes afresh upon the world of coloured lights and
hidden imaginations. Even Akbar started, and Birbal, looking eagerly
into his eyes, gave a quick sigh of relief.

So swiftly had the start come and gone, yet so real had been its
effect upon every nerve, that people felt dazed, uncertain, waking as
it were to the perception that a figure was standing on the crossway
platform of marble above the rainbow cascade--standing almost alone,
though backed by a confused crowding of retinue on either side the
central waterway.

The only other figures really visible were two misshapen dwarfs, one
in front, bearing a tasselled lance, the other behind, bearing a
tasselled lance also. But both showed jet black from head to foot, and
each carried, the front one on his breast, the one behind on his back
a round, brilliant mirror. Or was it a brilliant light? Certain it is
that as the dwarfs strutted forward, leading and following the central
figure these round plaques shot out a dazzling brilliance, and for, an
instant seemed to cloud all else.

The next thing that became clear was the vivid green of emeralds; such
ropes of them, shining like young green wheatfields, in the green
radiance shed by the central light of green.

"The emeralds of Sinde, sure enough," said Mân Singh half to himself,
and settled down comfortably to look, as he sate heading the red ray
of Râjpûts. But there were others in those converging rays who stared
and said doubtfully, "Sure, yonder are Birbal's daughter's two dwarfs
that all know!" Until hushed by some neighbour's contemptuous denial,
they also saw their mistake, and looked with believing eyes. There was
one man, however, who, though he denied strenuously grew grayer and
grayer as he watched the slight figure with the long black curls
resting on its sloping shoulders, and the slight beard scarce covering
the thin narrow cheeks. '"Tis Sufurdâr for sure!" muttered Khodadâd
fighting against fear--"it is but the emeralds that bring the
resemblance--that is all!--before God, that is all!"

So, the green light in which the little group was enveloped growing
greener as the three figures approached the dais, they advanced, until
at the foot of the stairs, the dwarfs stood one to each side, the one
who had walked in front wheeling to show his mirror also to the
watching eyes.

To that confused crowd at the end of the garden these two shining
spots glowed beneath the green lamps. That was all; and the familiar
words of welcome given as Akbar motioned the representative of Sinde
to the cushions beside him took all the strangeness from the scene. It
was the beginning of the marriage festival; other Princes had sent, or
would send their representatives. Sinde, no doubt to curry favour with
the Mogul, had sent its Royalty by the hand of an envoy; but the great
event of the evening was yet to come. For that was the reception of
the Bridegroom-Elect, the Heir-Apparent--the man who might come to his
own any day, since Akbar was ever reckless of his own life. Had he not
escaped by a miracle being killed at _chaugan_ but the other day?

So the whole assembly stirred as one man, when the Royal _nakârahs_
sounded once more, and Prince Salîm followed by a right royal retinue
showed, where the Envoy of Sinde had showed, on the marble platform
above the rainbow cascade.

"Lo! Ummu!" whispered Auntie Rosebody, "we did the right thing. He
looks the Archangel Gabriel. Let me go to bed in the dark, my day is
full!"

And in truth the Prince had never looked better in his life. Perhaps
the whole-heartedness of his plunge into Love's sea was the only
reason why his hopes ran high; perhaps he knew of the talisman he
carried, but carried it with no evil intention; perhaps again those
hopes of his had gone further than mere Love, so that he saw himself
master of the situation, able to give the Râjpût girl whom he had
never seen the go by, able to do in future what he chose, what he
desired. But certain it is that every eye followed his youthful
dignity with admiration, and more than one looked furtively from the
son to the father, appraising both. In that father's mind, however,
was no hint of jealousy, only unmixed joy.

As he raised his son from his obeisance and kissed him on both cheeks,
it seemed to him as if, at long last, content had come to him. The
questionings which had so harassed him of late seemed to have fled.
Here was an heir, indeed!

"How well thou lookest Shaikie!" he whispered affectionately in the
young man's ear ere taking him by the hand and leading him forward so
that they might be seen by all the populace.

A goodly pair indeed! The younger man, somehow--for this evening at
any rate--with more personal charm about him; but the elder one even
in his plain dress, his unadorned turban, a king every inch of him.

"Heralds! read out the Titles of this my beloved son, Salîm!"

Akbar's voice raised in command penetrated to the farthest corner of
the garden and every ear strained to catch the honours that were to be
showered on this Heir to Empire. Aunt Rosebody's face, flushed with
anxiety grew crimson dark with sheer delight as she listened.

"Captain of Ten Thousand--praise be to Allah!" she commented
breathlessly. "What! a Viceroy in the Northeast--now may I go to
Paradise!--Master of Distinctions!--what! Sunshade and Fly whisk! Umm
Kulsum! I go again to Mecca to give thanks--And the jewels--not
_sir-a-pa_, head to foot!--not _sir-a-pa!_--Yes!--Now may they kill
me--one can take two kicks from a milch cow! Unalienable--did I hear
right--Ummu tell me! tell this poor old woman who--who--cannot
believe--her ears."

"Unalienable, never to be neglected. Always to be considered by right,
election, and consent Crown Prince." So far the Mother of Plumpness
repeated in a trembling voice; then the two women fell on each other's
necks and wept.

"Bring the well!" murmured Auntie Rosebody. "I'll drown myself."

And Akbar stood holding his heir by his right hand, full of a great
triumph.

"Lo! I have given thee all, Shaikie" he said fondly, "art content?"

"Not all!" said a quiet voice beside him. "There is yet one honour
withheld from this Peerless Prince, this Honourable Heir."

It was the Envoy from Sinde who as the representative of royalty stood
on Akbar's left hand a step behind him.

Akbar flashed round on him haughtily. "What honour hath Sinde to
suggest?"

"The honour of Brotherhood to the Sun of the World. The honour of the
exchange of turbans!"

The converging rays of spectators suddenly seemed to quiver, as if
some of their component parts stirred, but the Emperor stood still,
his eyes upon the envoy's.

Then his own narrowed with quick thought. "Sinde is right," he said
slowly, "there is no tie like brotherhood. It is the chain which links
the whole world to One." He turned swiftly to his son withdrawing his
hand from him and so for an instant standing apart, dissevered,
independent.

The stir in the rays grew more evident, but his voice quieted it.

"Brother," it said, and its ringing tones filled the wide spaces, "let
us exchange the sign of brotherhood!"

His own simple turban with its heron's plume was in his hand.

For an instant Prince Salîm hesitated; the next his more elaborate one
with its hidden diamond was in his. It could not be otherwise.

"So!" smiled Akbar, giving himself up as he did always, to
imagination, to sentiment, to dreams. "Take thou the inner place,
Shaikie, next my heart--my arms are longer!"

Long enough any how to reach round Salîm's less sinewy ones and place
the tufted turban of Kingship on the young man's head, where being a
trifle too large it slipped well down over the ears and forehead.

"Thou must grow to it, little brother," quoth Akbar in fond pleasure.
"As for me I must walk circumspectly lest my brotherhood fall!"

And in truth the Prince's turban showed all too much of the grizzled
hair.

"Ummu! I will go back and say thanksgiving till dawn," faltered Auntie
Rosebody behind the screen. "Truly what is to be, won't rub out. The
Lord had it in His keeping, all the time, and we were wondering which
side of the wall the cat would jump! So the King hath his own again,
and Salîm hath more grace than the scapegrace deserves. Truly you may
toil and sweat. What Fate wills you'll get."

The proverb might have been quoted by many another in the assembly had
they been able to realise at once the full meaning of the little
incident. But a sort of blank amaze settled down even on those
conspirators who grasped at once that the chance of immediate defiance
was over. Mirza Ibrahîm looked at Khodadâd, Khodadâd at Mirza Ibrahîm,
and their glances betrayed one and the same thought.

This was no accident. Someone had split on their secret. Who?

"Come, my brother!" said Akbar, taking his son's hand and advancing
toward the marble steps. "Now that the conferring of titles is over,
let us pass to amusement."

The court ushers rushed to their places, the royal _nakârahs_ sounded,
and the cortège of the select few passed downward amid a seething
shout of content from that dim crowd at the end of the garden. But
above that strange sound like a surging wave, which seems to sweep
along any densely packed mass of men, rose another.

This had a rumble in it, a sharp hiss, then a deafening low, long
continued roar.

Akbar, who had just reached the narrow marble pathway, stopped dead
and looked round him sharply.

"The reservoir!" he cried, "the reservoir above!"

His instinct was right. The rain of dawn had found some weak spot in
the masonry and the next instant, bursting its hidden way beneath the
dais and hurling great blocks of marble before it, a huge volume of
water rose spurtling into the air.

"Run for it, Shaikie, run for it! Leap from the platform!"

The cry came not one moment too soon. Keeping within bounds by the
very force of its onward impulse, the great wave of water, which would
have hurled them down the marble cascade, but just touched their
heels, as choosing different sides they leapt to safety.

Leapt turbanless, their ill-fitting head-dresses having tumbled off at
their first start.

The general shriek of horror at the impending catastrophe subsided
into confused babels of relief centring round the Prince on the left,
the King on the right. So none noticed two men one on the right, one
on the left of the wide central waterway who instantly started to race
two half-floating half-sinking objects which, swept over the cascade
by that wild impulse of flood, were now unsteadily swirling down to be
engulfed under the low archway leading to subterreanean passages. And
neither Khodadâd nor Birbal had eyes for anything save the prize of
that race.

A sudden swerve to the left taking the Prince's turban with its
talisman almost within reach of the enemy, decided Birbal. He paused a
second. Then his low forward dive gave him a yard or two, and he rose
to find his hand and Khodadâd's both clutching at what they sought.
But his was the nearer.

"Not so fast, Tarkhân-jee," he jibed breathless, unable to resist
retort, even in that moment of stress. "Beware stealing or thy list of
crime is full! This is my master's."

Then the current caught him and hurled him almost helpless to the
other side. Half a yard farther and he would have been sucked down
into the archway, but a thin arm clutched at him and the clutch held.

A brief struggle and he stood beside the _rebeck_ player, gazing at
him stupidly, but half conscious of who he was. Only for an instant
however; the next he faced Khodadâd who, backed by Mirza Ibrahîm was
scowling at him across the water.

"Your pardon, gentlemen," he gasped politely, as before their very
eyes, he calmly searched for and tore out the talisman which Umm
Kulsum and Aunt Rosebody had sewn so deftly into the folds of Salîm's
turban? "but I would fain see if this be my master's headdress given
him in brotherhood by his son. Yes! of a surety it is. It will be
kept, messieurs, the appointed time, and returned in due course--with
the talisman--by all the gods! with the talisman--I wot not if it be a
true or a false one--to those who gave it."

With that he turned on his heel regardless of the volley of curses
from over the water.

But he rounded fiercely on the _rebeck_ player's sardonic request to
be remembered in that he had saved the master's life.

"Thou art the devil, juggler," he said and there was real fear in his
voice. "Get thee gone, since, before God, I know not who thou art."

A laugh followed him.



                            CHAPTER XVIII

      _Longing for the Unseen as never one
       Longed, passionate, for Seen; remembering none
       From dawning to the setting of the sun
       Save Secret Things unheard, unseen, unwon
       No man shall know, till this world's life is done_.
                                                        --Sa'adi.


"I would have sent for thee," said Âtma softly, "but there was none to
send. The whole town was away at the festival--so I stayed." She
sighed almost fiercely in her regret at having been let and hindered,
though her eyes were tender, as she gazed down on little Zarîfa who
lay in the Wayfarer's arms. It was bare dawn, and, in the shadow of
the wall one could but just see the perfect outline of the sleeping
face that nestled close to his pallid mask.

"She fails fast, methinks," added the woman in a lower tone.

"Aye! she fails--at last," echoed the man's voice. As if to give them
both the lie, the whispered words brought a sudden smile to Zarîfa's
face. Her eyes opened full of swift desire, her whole deformed body
pressed closer to the breast on which it lay, and there was
unmistakable appeal in the soft curved cheeks, the curved waiting
lips. The Wayfarer answered it instantly and laid his to hers.

The kiss was long; his mask came up from it with a certain repulsion
of expression, at once tender and cruel.

"Yea, it is true! She nears womanhood, and what hath she to do with
its blessing, or with its curse," he muttered, looking at the face,
which, satisfied, had sunk to sleep once more, a smile still hovering
over it; then he laid the misshapen bundle of humanity he held--so
small, so helpless, so apart from everything save limited life--on the
string bed, whence he had taken it, and covered it gently with the
quilt; for the air of dawn was chill.

Âtma stood looking down on the beautiful face, feeling a hot anger
rise in her heart against all mankind.

"Thou didst never love her mother, or thou wouldst not speak so," she
said scornfully.

The Wayfarer, who at the parapet was watching the slow growth of dawn,
turned on her swiftly. "Not love her, woman?" he echoed passionately,
fiercely. "That God knows! It is her father that I hate--it is for him
I wait!"

"Her father? Art _thou_ not then----?" began the Châran in surprise,
but the _rebeck_ player had recovered his calm monotony of manner.

"Her father truly," he said, "since of Love I brought her into the
world, of Love I care for her, of Love I give her Love."

As he spoke his fingers were busy about his neck, and Âtma seeing him
stoop over the sleeper, saw also that he left something in the ghostly
half-seen folds of the white quilt.

"What is't?" she asked curiously, stooping also, conscious of a
certain unreality in what had passed, in what was passing. She had
sate up all night beside Zarîfa, unable to leave her, unable to get a
message sent to summon any one; and so, unable to hear what was
happening, when so much might happen.

The nervous tension of that night of waiting, of watching had been
great; yet she had forgotten it when in the false dawn the Wayfarer
had suddenly appeared. Since then she had been absorbed, as he was, in
the child--this child of Love!

Ye Gods! What was it that exhaled roses? The whole air was full of
their scent--her very eyes seemed to see them, crowning the sleeping
head, hiding the scant contour of the deformed body: and to her,
ignorant in a way, yet from her birth familiar with mystical thoughts,
credulous of all mystical things, the sudden inrush of unreality
brought small surprise but quick curiosity, and she caught
imperatively at the Wayfarer's hand.

"Who art thou, Lord!" she asked simply. "In the name of this Rose of
Love tell this slave."

The man drew back from her touch resentfully; his face grew more
human, less deathlike, and Âtma watching it wondered at the change in
it, and asked herself, if this were indeed the poor musician who
played for the chance hearers of the bazaars.

"Thou hast spoken a compelling word, sister," he said, "so thou
shalt be told. But guard the secret if thou lovest--any! I am
Payandâr--whether king or hind matters little. Mayhap I am both, since
I am Love incarnate and Hate incarnate. That is Spiritual Love which
knows not Sex, and Earthly Love which lives by it. And I--doubtless
thou hast heard the tale, told as a legend--I loved one who was to be
my wife. But she whom I held sacred, my brother, of wanton wickedness,
dishonoured. Yonder child is his--so the Earthly Love that is in me
still, despite the Rose Garden of the wilderness, waits till the
measure of his iniquity shall be full. It will not be long."

He stretched his hand out menacingly, and turned to go.

"Thy brother?" she echoed, "who----"

He stopped her with a sudden wild gesture.

"Ask not that, fool!" he cried passionately. "Lo! thou art very woman,
cleaving to the detail, seeing naught of the spirit. Thou canst not
even see that I have lied? I tell thee she _is_ my child--the child of
the sins which I, Tarkhân, inherited even as he did--the child of many
sins that are in me, even as they are in him."

He stooped over the sleeper and kissed her on the forehead.

"Master!" said Âtma tremulously as she saw him cross to the door.
"Must thou go? I have waited long--and now----"

"There comes one who will bring thee news, and I will be back ere
long," he answered, and even as he spoke a voice full of importance,
breathless with hurry, came from the stairs.

"Mistress Âtma! Mistress, I say. God send she be not out, or, if
mischief come of it, I will be double damned for double treason."

The next instant old Deena the drumbanger, his drum hitched to his
back like a huge hump, hustled the departing musician at the door and
flung himself blubbering at Âtma's feet.

"Lo! chaste pillar of virtue! said I not ever ill service was as the
feeding of snakes--one never knows but when one has to turn on them
rather than that they should turn on thee," he began tumultuously,
"but I have come! Yea! old Deena hath to remember his soul and if
mistress Siyah Yamin----"

"Siyah Yamin! What of her," queried Âtma sharply even as she added,
"Speak, lower, fool! Thou wilt disturb the child."

Deena made a grimace of apology, pursed his face up, looked at the
sleeper, shook his head with elaborate regret, and then hitching his
drum round to equalise his balance, squatted with his elbows resting
on it, ready for a calm whispered recital of what he had come prepared
to tell.

"There is no need to begin at the beginning," he said tentatively and
was rewarded by Âtma's curt "Tell all, slave! I have been held here by
the child all night and know nothing."

"Thank God for ignorance!" ejaculated the old gossip piously, and went
on to recount the events of the past night.

Âtma listened quietly. She started and clasped her hands tighter when
she heard how the King and Prince Salîm had exchanged turbans, but her
long night's vigil had brought so many visions of what Birbal's wit
might compass that she scarcely felt surprised. The story of the
bursting of the reservoir and, the miraculous escape of the father and
son, however, told as it was from the outside (for old Deena naturally
knew nothing of the extraordinary import of the incident he was
describing) roused her instant alarm.

"Prate not about their bareheadedness!" she broke in on his tale of
how the two had stood before the multitude shorn of honourable
headgear but mighty in monarchy--"the turbans man! the turbans! what
of them?"

Deena's wicked old eyes lost their sparkle, his tone grew peevish.
"Lo! mistress! wouldst spoil the picture. Doubtless they drowned. Who
thinks of turbans when----"

Âtma was on her feet. "Bide thou here! I must go," she said hurriedly.
She felt she could no longer stand inaction. All this had came
about--if, indeed, it had come about "Yea! I must go to Siyah Yamin,"
she repeated blindly.

Old Deena laid a detaining hand on her red skirt. "Not there!
mistress! Not there. Lo! thou hast not heard what I come to tell. Thou
didst bid me begin at the beginning and I began; but 'tis not only
scorpions' tails that end in a sting, and this one hath venom in it I
swear. If thou hadst heard--Nay listen! mistress! 'Twas Meean Khodadâd
and Mirza Ibrahîm who came raging to Siyah Yamin's half an hour agone.
I had gone back thither after the show was over to have speech with
Yasmeen and the hussy was virtuous and would not let me in. So,
standing there I heard----"

"What?" asked Âtma fiercely, "Canst not speak without twists and
turns?"

"Lo! Mistress! let my tongue follow my brain as the potter's donkey
follows muddy breeches thinking them his master," replied Deena
mildly. "I am at the very prick o' the point. They swore vengeance on
thee for what I know not, protesting that thou and thou only couldst
be the cause; and then they swore at Siyah Yamin for telling thee; but
gingerly, for look you Siyâla is not one to threaten lightly--but she
said--doubtless with that smile which makes a body feel like a camel
without legs----"

"What said she, fool?" interrupted Âtma exasperated.

"That without the seeing of thee she could not tell; whereupon they
said that if they saw thee----"

Âtma caught up a white cloth and wrapped it round her. "Stay thou
here!" she said imperatively, "the child sleeps and I will be back in
half an hour."

She was well down the stairs ere Deena ceased to call feebly! "Not so!
oh mistress most chaste, not so!" and resigning himself to
circumstances closed the door, hasping it lightly by the bottom hook
and chain, then sate down beside the sleeping child.

"Even as a Peri," he murmured to himself as he looked at the face
showing more clearly now in the coming light. "Truly God knows His own
work--yet is there no mortal sense in sending such a countenance of
beauty with no body to match it fit for hugging."

So he dozed off into the sleep which pure vice had taught him to take
in snatches.

Meanwhile Âtma hurrying through the still deserted alleys felt her
mind too much in a tumult for concentration; thus, as she almost ran
past the high unarched doorways, the blank walls shutting out all
things, the constant burr of the unseen hand-mills busy over their
daily task of grinding flour came to join the unceasing burr of
thought that whirled in her brain. Doubt as to her own wisdom had
assailed her the night long, and now with this uncertitude concerning
the fate of the diamond, she felt she could have killed herself for
the part she had played in its theft. Why had she played it? Why? Why?
The futility of fighting against Fate came home to her, as from a
closed courtyard rose shrilly the voice of a woman chanting the song
of the Grinding Stone and the Grounden Wheat:


       Red Sandstone and red-husked wheat
       Whirl in your dancing, part and meet
       My right hand is your master,
       What if the stone be rushed?
       What if the grain be crushed?
       Men and women must eat,
       The cry of the child be hushed.
       Whirl faster and faster,
       God's right hand is our master!
       What though Love mates with Lust,
       Though Just yield to Unjust,
       What care the Stone and the Wheat,
       For men and women must eat,
       The cry of the child be hushed,
       So Dust grind Dust!


Dust grind dust! She smote her hands together and sped on. She could
at least challenge these men for the truth, and tell them that they
lied. She had told no tales!

And as she made her breathless way toward Satanstown, Mirza Ibrahîm
and Meean Khodadâd were making their way back from it. They had gained
nothing from Siyah Yamin save biting words and contemptuous gibes. She
had done her part and there would be time to hold her fool when it was
proved that Âtma had betrayed her. For herself, she did not believe
it; and in so saying she for once spoke her real thought. She knew,
briefly, that treachery was out of the question with her sister of the
veil.

But the two men held, manlike, to what was on the surface.

"Fret not, Khodadâd," said Mirza Ibrahîm with a sinister smile, as
they passed out from the courtesan's house, "there is no hurry to
settle scores with the madwoman. I, being Chamberlain, claim her as
the King's woman, and then----"

"Then may I go shares with thee, or take thy leavings!" muttered
Khodadâd fiercely. "That may be thy revenge; but I am Tarkhân."

"Tarkhân or no, it grows too light for us now, Meean Sahib, so fare
thee well for the time," remarked Ibrahîm significantly. And in truth
the sky was beginning to show pearly over the pile of the city.

"Tarkhâns need no darkness for their deeds," retorted Khodadâd
recklessly. His temper, as ever, had overmastered him, he was
literally beside himself with rage and disappointment. These two
confederates were fools! What man could succeed, bound hand and foot
by chicken-hearted cowards like Ibrahîm, and the rest of them? But
he--aye! he would take revenge, dawn though it was! for he was
Tarkhân, accredited to evil deeds.

"To Siyah Yamin's Paradise," he said flinging himself into the
palanquin which followed behind him. The madwoman lived in the same
tenement. So much he knew, and the rest would come; if he had luck. If
not there was no harm done. Pure devilry possessed him; he could not
rest without some attempt at retaliation.

And so old Deena woke from his snatched snooze at whispering voices
outside, followed by a steady calculated shouldering of the door, a
slip of the ill-hasped chain, and the sudden consequent sprawl of half
a dozen stalwart Abyssinians on to the roof.

"Back slaves!" said Khodadâd, his voice low and hoarse with passion
that leapt up with the chance of satisfaction. "And close the door
behind you."

Old Deena scrambled to his feet. "My lord! my lord!" he expostulated,
every atom of virtue in him rising up scandalised at the intrusion,
all the more so perhaps, because of his loose life. "This roof is the
abode of chastity."

"Fool!" said the Tarkhân seizing him easily by the throat. "The
woman--where is she? Speak low or I strangle thee."

"She--is--not here," gasped the old man--"Mercy lord! mercy!"

"Not here!--thou liest!"

Still holding Deena fast pinned against the wall Khodadâd's eyes
flashed round the roof. There were no shadows now; the morning light
clear and fresh filled every corner.

"Ye gods! and devils!"

The words came low, almost soft, with the sudden inrush of admiration,
as Khodadâd's hands fell away from the old man's throat, and he took
one step toward the bed.

"My lord! My lord!" cried Deena starting forward. "She is ill, she is
a child--she is----"

He staggered back from the blow dealt him recklessly.

"She is beautiful--that is enough!" came with a chuckling laugh.
"Wake, my houri! Wake up my peri of Paradise."

There was a faint scream, the mere cry, as it were, of a wounded bird.
"Nay beauty! thou shalt kiss me! What! Scent of roses and no love?
Pâh! how the perfume gets into my brain. Never but once before--but
this is no time for the past! Nay! struggle not. Such beauty needs no
veiling."

The little murmuring wail died to silence, and the half jibing voice
was silent also. So, horror-struck, Khodadâd stood for one instant
before the deformity he had unshrouded. Then with a curse he turned
and fled.

Deena, still dazed with the blow, crept over to the bed and covered
crippledom again.

"Little one," he crooned, "there is no fear--he will not come back."

But there was no answer, and he leant swiftly to listen for a breath.

"Little one! Little one!" he cried. He could hear none, and as he
stooped his wrinkled face puckering into tears, a voice behind him
said quietly: "She is dead! Lo! it was time."

Deena turned to see the _rebeck_ player who closing the door softly,
came to stand beside the bed.

"Dead! Dead!" blubbered the old sinner. "Yea! Yea! it is so--his
kisses killed her--only his kisses."

"Whose?"

The question echoed and re-echoed over the roof instinct with a sudden
new fire, a sudden authority, and it reduced Deena to snivelling
submission.

"Only a kiss lord, only a kiss; but Meean Khodadâd----"

He paused struck dumb by the expression on the Wayfarer's face. Grief,
horror, exultation showed on it, and over all a great awe as of one
who sees a mystery.

"Khodadâd! Oh! Thou most Mighty! Khodadâd! It is the end."



                             CHAPTER XIX

      _Love sent music to sing Love's praise
       So Harmony came to this world's sad ways.
       Master of melody, Cæsar of sound,
       Each chord he struck fettered reasoning,
       Till man and beast by it quite were bound
       Into friendship fast and companioning.
       Yea! at the note of his crooked lyre
       One wakened up, one was lulled to sleep,
       And the whole wide world grew quick with desire
       To dance and to die, to laugh and to weep.
       At the burst of his blended melody
       The heart of the wise knew the mystery_.
                                                 --Nizâmi.


"Lo I am true!" cried Âtma menacingly, "Art thou so also, O! Siyâl?"

She had been with the courtesan for full half an hour, time was
running short, and yet she felt that she had gained nothing, and knew
scarcely more than she had done when she had climbed the steep
oil-greased narrow stairs to the balcony room. She had been eager then
to face fact--if need be--keen to test the loyalty of her fellow
conspirators; but now she stood baffled before Siyah Yamin's easy but
inflexible contempt. That someone had betrayed them the latter said
was indubitable; and as Âtma was the only outsider, she must be the
culprit. Not necessarily a conscious offender. But, by all she held
most sacred, did not Âtma know of some indiscretion, could she not,
briefly, guess--and then the noisy, yet silvery laugh had rung out at
the Châran's tell-tale face. Her tongue, however, had been loyal. She
had refused to say a word. Not that she felt in any way bound to
shield Mihr-un-nissa from the possible revenge of those whose game she
had given away, but because it was out of the question to tell of the
secret visit of a screened lady.

So Siyah Yamin had declined information except by fair barter;
declined it with jibes and smiles; but now sudden pallor came to her
face, she shifted her eyes uneasily from Âtma's half accusing ones.

"True?" she echoed, and, and her voice had a petulant ring in it.
"Aye! as true as it befits womanhood to be! Lo! Âto I grow tired of my
sex at times and would I were a man!" She pressed her hands close to
her heart, then suddenly burst out again into her hard silvery laugh
"And thou? sweet widow--dost not pine for thy lover Sher Khân? Is he
not here despite these--petticoats?" She flounced out her clinging
muslins.

"Peace, fool! So thou wilt not tell" said Âtma frowning, "then I must
ask elsewhere."

"Aye! Ask!" jibed the courtesan. "There be many with tongues beside
poor little me who will, look you, have confidence for confidence.
Belike the Beneficent Ladies, or mayhap Rajah Birbal for the Envoy
from Sinde whom some deem a mere simulacrum of a man, or even the
Feringhi jeweller--to say nothing of the King himself."

Her eyes were keenly on the Châran's face as she spoke, but there was
no flicker of expression to give her any clue. In truth Âtma was
absolutely in the dark. She did not even know if the turban were lost
or found. Her mind ran riot over supposition in either case. If the
former, it could not remain lost for ever in those underground
chambers. It might even now have drifted to the tank where a hundred
hands might find it. She must go and watch. And yet, what use? The
rather send divers to search below; if indeed any man would so
adventure his life! And for this she must proclaim a cause, proclaim
that she knew of the theft. And after all there might be no reason for
this. Birbal, with his quick wit, must have saved the turban. He must;
yet not even he could outwit Fate.

She smote her hands together again impotently as she ran, this time
toward the roof which she had left too long. That feeling of neglected
duty strangely enough, overmastered all others. She must go back to
her immediate charge. Once there she would have time to think what she
must do to find out the truth. For she must find it even if she had to
go to the King himself tell him all and then repay herself for
treachery by the death dagger.

But what she found awaiting her on the roof drove these thoughts from
her mind for a time; only for a time--that Time which meant nothing to
one brought up as she had been, in a philosophy which counts the past,
the present, the future as one. For in India there is no hurry about
anything; the wisdom of Isaiah is in every mouth, "He that believeth
shall not make haste."

Yet as she joined in the woman's wailing over Zarîfa--for the news of
death spreads quickly, and the neighbours troop in as to a festival--a
dull wonder lay at the back of her brain, a vague resentment at her
own ignorance.

In truth the resentment was scarcely justifiable, since many others
concerned in the incident were feeling the same dull surprise.

The conspirators first of all, who found themselves once more deprived
of their _point d'appui_. And Khodadâd the arch-plotter was strangely
silent, strangely lacking in suggestion. As the day wore on, indeed he
withdrew petulantly from all conclave, and taking Mirza Ibrahîm with
him, plunged into pleasure at Satanstown. For something in that scent
of roses on the roof, something in the look of that face sleeping so
peacefully upon the pillow, had roused memory; and memory in her long
slumber had somehow, from some subliminal consciousness in that
unknown ego of which Khodadâd Tarkhân was the outward and visible
sign, associated herself with regret. He told himself, lightly, that
it was the shock of seeing deformity where he had expected beauty,
which had unnerved him; but it was not that. It was the ineffaceable
memory of Beauty itself.

Then in the Palace where Umm Kulsum and Aunt Rosebody had sate in the
little balcony outside the latter's private room all the morning,
unable to feel joy over the merciful escape of the Most High and their
scapegrace darling because of the probable loss of the turban with its
talisman; yet unable to feel sufficient grief over the latter because
of bubbling gladness over the Brotherhood between those two dear ones
(a Brotherhood that nothing must disturb, not even self-seeking
confession of sin) on to all this had followed a dull wonder as to
what was to be done next. For after noonday prayers were over had come
a despatch by hand from my Lord Birbal, Chief Constable of the Kingdom
returning in due course of etiquette to the givers, the turban they
had supposed lost. And what is more, when their anxious fingers had
privilege to pry, there was the talisman also, safe and sound.

The shock of relief kept them both silent awhile; then Aunt Rosebody
cracked all her knuckles vehemently.

"So goes care!" she cried, adding piously, "truly we might have
trusted God! His club makes no noise, and what's in the pot comes on
the plate."

Then her face clouded. "But what is to be done next Ummu?" she asked
feebly. Umm Kulsum shook her head.

"We might give it back to the woman."

"What?" interrupted the little old lady peevishly. "To a civet-cat
from the bazaar of whom we know nothing?"

"There was the red woman also, auntie," suggested the Mother of
Plumpness, "she seemed honest--at least when she came to----"

"Tell Mihru's fortune--a pack of lies!" sniffed her companion. "Canst
think of nothing better, child?"

"Mayhap it might be wiser," suggested Umm Kulsum again, "to
consult----"

"Consult whom?" shrilled Gulbadan Khânum, and this time the
interruption was wrathful. "What would be the use of asking Hamida?
All know her answer. 'Tell truth and shame Shaitan.' And as for Râkiya
Begum with her spectacles and her etiquettes and her distiches, I
would sooner die! Now it would be different if 'Dearest Lady' were
alive----" She paused and her lively dark eyes grew limpid with sudden
tears.

"We can go where she went for wisdom," whispered little Umm Kulsum
consolingly, "we can pray."

Aunt Rosebody gave a grunt of satisfaction and dried her eyes. "Aye!
there is some sense in that! We can pray and wait. 'Twill at least
give us time to think out some plan for ourselves, and sleep brings
wisdom; but Ummu, Ummu, I would give every hair I possess--and though
they are gray they are not uncomely--that I had never mixed myself up
with the King's Luck. 'Tis worse than the Day of Resurrection, for
then a body will but have two roads to choose--up and down--and here!
Lo! wonder grows like a white ants' castle."

In this feeling Aunt Rosebody was not alone. Birbal himself was in a
similar state of blank surprise, for to him had come the most
startling dénouement of all.

After the momentous events of the night he had felt himself entitled
to a few hours' rest. He had had little of it by day or by dark, ever
since he had discovered the theft of the diamond; for he had given
himself up wholly to the recovery of the stolen jewel; but now that he
had this safely stowed away in his waistband-purse he could spare
leisure for comfort. So he slept the sleep of the just, without a
dream to disturb him. Yet his brain must have been working, for, when
he woke, it was to a sense that in the excitement of the moment of
success he had made a mistake. Had he had time to consider he would
never have given himself away to his enemies as he had done by showing
them that he knew of the talisman. It was a tactical error; which
might be partially rectified so far as some people were concerned.
Therefore without further delay, he sent a message to William Leedes,
at the Hall of Labour, to come up to him at once, bringing the false
diamond with him. When this arrived it did not take long to exchange
the true for the false, and then with due decorum to send the turban
back to the Beneficent Ladies, who, he knew from what Mihr-un-nissa
had said, had given it to the Prince. He calculated cunningly that
this return would at least keep them quiet, and women were invariably
at the bottom of every conspiracy.

He felt very secure, very confident, very complacent, and spent an
hour or two in entertaining William Leedes with Eastern sumptuousness
ere ordering the palanquins to take the jeweller and the diamond back
to safe keeping in the Hall of Labour, whence he assured himself no
thief in the world would have another chance of purloining it. In
truth he had some reason for complacency; since the general outlook
was clearing. These repeated failures must dishearten the enemies of
empire, and the mere fact of the bond of Brotherhood between the King
and his son--which had come incidentally by the way in the course of
counterplot--added to the chance of Akbar being content with practical
politics and remaining at Fatephur Sikri.

The only unsatisfactory item in past or present was the memory of the
man who juggled with other men's eyes and ears. Who and what was he? A
friend to Akbar at any rate, and for the time being, that was enough.

The wide roof of the Hall of Labour lay ablaze with afternoon sunshine
as they entered it, and as they passed along the arcades, the workmen
looked up and salaamed. The door of Diswunt's studio was locked and
barred, and a sentry paced across that of the jeweller. Known though
they were, it required the password ere William Leedes could produce
his key, unlock the door, enter, then close and lock it again behind
them.

Birbal gave a sigh of relief as he drew out his waistband-purse. "At
last!" he said holding out the diamond. "Replace it on the lathe, sir
jeweller, and once I see it there--lo! I will vow pilgrimage if needs
be. Yea! I will cry 'Hari Ganga' like any drunk man in a puddle!"

He turned aside, out of sheer lightheartedness, humming a _ghazal_
from Hâfiz.


       Make fast a wine cup to my shroud
       That at the latter day
       My soul a good drink be allowed
       To nerve it for the fray.


Meanwhile the jeweller's deft hands were busy. A few turns, a click or
two, and William Leedes bent over the treasure joyfully.

"There it is, my master; with naught but a few days' delay in the
cutting thereof! I must be all the quicker now, else the King will
wonder. Yet have I lost as little time as may be, since the next facet
is assured--it will run so."

The delicate steel point he held just touched the surface. Then it
fell away from it, as the hand holding the instrument seemed to shrink
back. The foot, too, left the treadle, and the spinning pivots
slackened speed and sank to rest.

"What is't?" asked Birbal, turning hastily.

The jeweller's face was white, his very jaw had fallen.

"It--it scratches" he muttered faintly "there is some mistake."

There was no mistake about the scratch however. It showed distinct,
and wrote the truth without a shadow of doubt. This was no diamond; it
was a fraud, like the other!

For an instant Birbal's head whirled. Then helplessly he fingered his
purse again. Could he by chance have made a mistake and sent back the
wrong one? Impossible; and yet?

He sank on the jeweller's seat and covered his face with his hands.
For once his wit was not quick enough to grasp the situation, and--
clogging thought!--that dim suspicion recurred despite denial--Had he
by chance made a mistake?

So Âtma as she sate apart on the roof watching the Mahommedan woman
prepare Zarîfa's body for the burial which was to take place at sunset
had no monopoly in confusion and wonder. She could take no part in
what was going on. She dare not, from fear of defilement, even touch
the dead child with a kiss, but she sate jealously watching that every
ceremonial was duly carried out.

"Lo! she is lovely as any houri _now!_" chattered the Dom women who
had come in to perform the last offices, as they bound the corpse with
gold tinsel to the string bedstead on which it was to be carried to
the grave. "'Tis a sin, for sure, to have more body in death than in
life; but what will you? Mayhap Munkir and Niker[13] seeing her
look so, may not ask questions, but give her a decent body for
Paradise--sure she needed one poor thing!"


---------------------

[Footnote 13: The two Recording Angels.]

---------------------


So they stood looking down on their handiwork. And in truth the
crippled child looked very beautiful. The _rebeck_ player, saying it
was the custom of his tribe, had hired from somewhere a low, oblong,
lidless coffin, more like a deep picture frame than anything else; and
in this, as it lay on the bed, these tirewomen of the dead, had so
disposed draperies, and pillows, and whatnot, that all the curves of
the budding womanhood showed beneath the face that remained more
beautiful even in death than it had been in life. It was covered only
with a fine network, for the veil was draped carefully on either side
the slender neck. One corner of it, and a loop of jasmin chaplet fell
over the dingy worn gilt of the coffin frame.

"Lo! many will envy Death his bride and send regrets after her as she
passes by," said the oldest of the Domni, nodding her head wisely. And
it was so.

For as the two bearers--it needed but two for that bier--shuffled at
sunset-tide with their light burden through the crowded bazaar, more
than one careless eye grew to sudden interest. And one spectator, an
idle reckless looking man who sate on a sherbet-seller's threshold
joking with a light woman in an upper balcony, ceased his sarcasms to
murmur a stanza from Hafiz; for he was rhymster too.


              No more from poet's lips
              Shall love songs pass
              She who once garnered them
              Is dead--alas!


There were few mourners. Only the professional wailers, and the
_rebeck_ player, who with bent head, followed the bier making mournful
music as he went. Âtma, of another creed, still held aloof, walking
veiled and stately some way behind. And all around them slipping aside
to let the dead pass, for the most part careless almost unheeding,
were the living; buying, selling, gossiping, chaffering.

Âtma drew breath more freely when they were through the city gates,
and the bearers stepped out more quickly over hard stretches of sand
and waste hillocks set with thorn and caper bushes toward the little
cemetery which the musician had chosen. A few gnarled _jhand_ trees
decked with coloured snippets of cloth tied there by many mourners, a
few nameless roly-poly concrete graves, a sprinkling of tiny turrets
showing where someone was laid--someone whose resting place was
unknown to all save the women who came thither every week to
mourn--marked the spot. A dreary lonesome spot, in truth. But the
westering sun showed warm and red over the desert horizon, and the
chipping notes of the seven-brother birds sounded cheerful as the
family flitted from one tree to another.

The grave was already dug and the diggers stood by waiting for their
day's pay. It was a wide deep grave, looking as if it had been cut out
of yellow rock, so dry, so even were the sides. And the low arch of
the long niche on one side in which the corpse was to be laid as in a
coffin, was as regular as if built in with unburnt brick. To Âtma's
surprise, the floor of this niche was set thick, as by a coverlet,
with roses. She glanced hastily at the _rebeck_ player, but he was
already immersed in the prayers with which an attendant priest had
greeted the little procession. She listened gravely, repeating to
herself meanwhile the formulas--so few, so simple--of her own creed.

And yet when, after saying aloud the prayer for benediction, the
_rebeck_-player stood forward, raised the sad gracious figure from the
coffin, and stepping into the grave laid it gently in the niche, she
shivered as she saw him stoop to gather up a handful of earth.

"We created you of dust and we return you to dust, and we shall raise
you out of the dust upon the day of resurrection."

The words seemed to her almost horrible. To be left lying alone in the
desert, waiting, waiting, waiting!

For what? For yourself--the old mean self of which she was so tired.

Ah! better surely to find rest at once in the Great Self which
pervaded all things!

"Wilt thou not throw earth also?" said a voice beside her, "then throw
flowers. These are the roses of love."

The _rebeck_ player pulled aside the kerchief covering a flat basket
which one of the Dom women had carried, and lo! there were roses red
at their hearts, pale where the sun had kissed them. Their scent
filled the air.

"Yea! lord," she said meekly, "I will throw them."

The priest, the bearers, the Dom women had disappeared, their task
done. Only the grave-diggers chattered to one another as they filled
in the grave.

"Lo! she would have been ripe for kisses soon and now the worms have
got her," said one discontentedly.

"Ballah! friend!" quoth the other. "Lovers die, but love dies
not--there be ever other food for lust in the world!"

"Throw them into thy life also, sister," said the musician, suddenly.
"There is no fear or blame in love."

So as he stood watching the shovelsful of earth hide the roses which
covered little Zarîfa, he played softly on his _rebeck_, and sang a
whispering song to its wailing music.


              Love is a full red wine bowl
                Passion the bubbles on its rim,
              Drink deep down to the dregs, soul,
                Heed not the froth on the brim.

              Passion has wings like an eagle
                Love needs none; she is at rest--
              Flood tide full--as the seagull
                Drifts, the cold wave at her breast.

              Love is the Lightless Ether
                Passion the star-shine it lets through
              Building sense-worlds beneath her
                Love seeks not form, seeks not hue.

              Passion has myriad senses
                Love has not voice, eyes, nor ears,
              Space, Time, Life, Moods, and Tenses
                Chain not her Soul to the years.

              Love is a sail, mid-ocean
                Losing itself in the Whole,
              Passion the wavelets commotion
                Blurring the shores of the Soul.


He ceased suddenly, and his whole face changed. The grave was filled
up, the diggers were already passing stolidly back to the city. On the
desert horizon the red sun had lost its warmth and was sinking coldly
behind the gray verge.

"Lo! I have done with Love," came the musician's mocking voice. "So
take this, sister, and may it bring thee more luck than it hath
brought Payandâr. For him only hate remains."

When she looked up from her hasty glance at what he had thrust into
her hand, the _rebeck_ player was moving away rapidly after the
grave-diggers and she was left alone, looking at the new-made grave,
looking at the quaint green stone she had just been given.



                              CHAPTER XX

      _A trembling fell on mountain and on plain,
       The earth, unstable as a juggler's ball,
       Became a rolling sphere. The dust rose up
       High to the collar of heaven. The clarion of the wind
       Roused shock on shock, and from the valley's streams
       The fish, out-cast, lay gasping. Lightning flash
       On lightning flash split the wide sky; the sinking rocks,
       Disjointed, filled with water, and the hills,
       Clasping each other, squeezed themselves to death_.
                                                        --Nizami.


Khodadâd Khan, Tarkhân, sate at the head of his supper cloth, with the
dazed look of one who has taken drugs in his eyes. And in truth he had
drugged himself body and soul to the uttermost. He had passed from one
pleasure to another, and all the while he had raged inwardly at the
necessity for seeking yet further forgetfulness; since after all what
had he to forget? Only the shock of seeing deformity; for the rest was
dead as the past years which had contained it. And yet he could not
forget! Even as he had come hither to this last stimulant to jaded
appetite--an _al fresco_ entertainment out in the desert stretches
beyond the city, where all the wallowing wickedness of humanity would
show up the more alluringly vicious against that pure background of
solitude and silence--even then he had shrunk back as from a snake
before a glimpse that had come to him in the bazaar of a dead face. It
could not be the same girl from whom he had turned horror-struck that
morning, for his practised eye noted in a second all those graceful
contours of budding womanhood, which showed above the shallow coffin.
Besides, why should she die? He had barely kissed her, and--he laughed
cynically, as the thought came to him--where was the woman who
objected to a kiss, who was the worse for it? Were they not made for
it?

He flung his arm round Yasmeena who lolled on the cushions beside him
and kissed the heart-shaped curve of skin which her swelling, filmy
bodice left exposed below her dimpled chin. She slapped him lightly on
the cheek and the company laughed at his frown.


      "None can escape
       Wounds in the Red Rose garden where no Rose
       But arms with thorns her Beauty"


quoted one of the guests. "My lord is over hasty. Our stomachs are not
yet satisfied, though by the twelve Imâms, this saffron pillau of
tender chicken filters fast to my vitals." He leered at Siyah Yamin,
who threw up her dainty little head disdainfully.

"Keep thy spiced sentiment to thyself, fool," she replied archly, "I
desire no forced feeling of fowl."

The laugh at her retort ran round boisterously, and even Khodadâd
joined in it. But it was a mirthless laugh. Still as the hours went on
the fun waxed fast and furious, and the stars above must have been
glad of the widespread square canopy of tent which hid some of the
doings of man from High Heaven. It was well on into the night ere the
first guest, excusing himself, jingled in his palanquin back cityward.
So, by ones and twos, the party dispersed until Khodadâd was left
alone looking contemptuously down at Mirza Ibrahîm, whose senses had
deserted him in the long orgie, and who lay helpless amid wine cups,
torn shreds of muslin, and all the indescribable beastliness of
uncontrolled amusement.

"Take the fool home, slaves," said the Tarkhân thickly, "And bring a
bed here. I stop; the night air will cool my brain."

So in the midst of all the refuse of vicious humanity, they set a
dirty string bed, and covered it with satin quilts. As he lay on it he
formed fit matching to its hidden squalor.

It was now the hour before the false dawn; that hour of slumber even
for wickedness and wrong. The servants, outwearied by long ministering
to every whim of their masters, were soon asleep even while they
simulated watchfulness.

But Khodadâd lay awake. Half-drugged, half-drunk though he was, his
nerves tingled, he started at the least sound. Possibly some vague
unacknowledged fear of what the darkness might bring had lain at the
bottom of his resolution to sleep were he was, where none could know
of his presence; yet everything disturbed him. A prowling jackal, a
mere noiseless shadow in the moonlight, made him sit up and watch till
it had slunk away.

How still, how horribly still the desert was! One could almost hear
the soft patter of the birds' feet which would leave delicate tracery
upon the sand for the dawn to discover. And then his mind flew back to
another still, hot night in the past. Surely it must have been about
this time of year? Perchance this was the very night. Was it so? His
brain, reluctant yet insistent, traced back the past. Nay! it could
not be--and yet-- Yet it was before that. Aye! and after that----

And by an odd chance, beyond a low thicket of caper bushes that
bounded the desert to one side of the scene of past orgie, lay the
little cemetery where Zarîfa slept so soundly. He did not know this
but he lay awake, thinking of her.

Ye Gods! Why could he not sleep? What had he to fear; a Tarkhân in a
strange country? Nothing. On the morrow he would be himself; free of
all things--free to do as he chose.

And so suddenly with the comfort of the thought came slumber.

Was it for an instant or for an hour? He sate up, the sweat starting
from him with causeless fear, to look about him.

He could see nothing. All was darkness itself. Then a sense of
constriction about his forehead made him raise his hands to feel if
aught were there.

God and his Prophet! He was blindfolded! He was on his feet in a
second, but even as he rose, strong hands of iron grip closed round
his and despite a wild struggle, he stood helpless, his arms fast
pinioned to his sides.

"What is't?" he asked putting unfelt boldness into his voice; it
sounded thick almost unintelligible.

"Dalîl, Tarkhân of the Royal House, thou art summoned to the Last
Assize of thy Peers."

The answer came from close; so close that it seemed to knell in his
ear as if it came from inside himself, and it brought a sudden throb
of purely animal dread to his heart. But he essayed a laugh. This was
not real; it was but a disordered dream, a nightmare due to the
excesses of the day. His peers? Here in a strange land where were
they?

"Wherefore?" he asked.

The answer was too swift for him to judge of the quality of his own
voice; the other was resonant though still curiously personal,
curiously close to him.

"Because the measure of thine iniquities is full at last! Mount the
White Horse, and ride bravely to judgment, as thou hast ridden bravely
to sin."

He felt himself half-forced forward, half-willingly yielding to unseen
pressure, and he told himself again it was but a dream. The sooner
through with it, the sooner to wake; it could not go on forever.

The warmth of the horse's body felt against him, brought another throb
of fear. He heard its screaming neigh. Was it indeed, the Tarkhân's
White Stallion of Death which he bestrode? Ah! if he could but see,
could but move!

But his feet were fast bound beneath the warm breathing belly, his
arms were close pinioned to his side. For an instant he thought of
shrieking aloud--it might at least wake him; then something--perhaps
pride of race and that admonition to bear himself bravely--held him
back from cries.

Whither were they taking him? The way seemed endless, and he fought
for bare breath between the mad throbbings of his heart; his very lips
tingled and smarted as the life blood pulsed irregularly through them.
Would that ceaseless strain and relaxation of muscle as the horse
galloped on and on never end? Must he always wait and wait. For what?
Something worse perhaps.

"Halt!"

He gave a convulsive gasp. The whole universe seemed to stand still.
So an awful and intolerable silence settled down on all things.

"Who are ye!" he cried at last in desperation, and his voice rang out
strident yet quavering, like an ill-tuned violin.

A low, reverberating roll of kettledrums was the only answer, and an
uncontrollable shiver shook him, replying to the shudder with which
they filled the air.

"Who are ye?"

This time the cry had a wail in it; but once again that roll of
kettledrums was the only answer.

"Who are ye?"

It was a mere whisper, hoarse, half-choked; but this time a voice came
instant, clear, in reply.

"Unbind his eyes, heralds, and let him see those who judge him."

The flood of moonlight seemed at first to blind him, and even after
his eyes recovered sight a mistiness, a vagueness rested on all
things. And yet he saw all things; aye! and recognised them, not from
personal experience, for the Last Assize was even in those days fast
becoming legendary, but from the racial experience which he could not
escape.

Aye! Beneath him was the White Stallion of Death standing square upon
the square of white cloth, whose purpose sent a shiver of horror
through him. Those were the heralds masked, veiled, who rode on black
horses beside him, and at their feet curled up, cowering like
loathsome reptiles, he could see the two executioners, their long
fingers clutching--at what?

Not a sword or a dagger. No! He knew what they held and with a wild
hope of pardon, his strained eyes sought, beyond these nearer things,
the semicircle of faces before which he stood. The moonbeams showed
them clear yet blurred. How like himself they were, these chieftains
of the Barlâs clan! And whence had they come? From the grave surely,
some of them, or were they only simulacra? Was it indeed the race
which sate in judgment on him? The race; and so himself. Ah! in that
case what hope--what chance of life had he, Dalîl?

And then suddenly there leaped to clearness the figure which centred
the wide semicircle of dim countenances.

It was dressed in regal robes, it wore the emeralds of Sinde, and
there was no mistaking the face which stared at him with cold
implacable justice.

"Payandâr!" he gasped--"hast come back from the dead to kill me?"

"From a life that has been a death I come to judgment," was the reply.
"Chiefs of the Barlâs clan, assembled for this high purpose, listen!
Listen to the record of this man's iniquities and say if the cup be
full."

It was a long record, yet Dalîl's memory gave assent to all, and as
each crime was counted a surging murmur of acquiescence came from
those listening faces. It seemed to deaden the miserable man's senses,
for after a time he forgot all things but that one accusing figure in
its royal robes, and the hard, cold, accusing voice.

"It is but eight," he muttered hoarsely, "no Tarkhân can be condemned
by eight----"

"Listen O Chief of the Barlâs clan," interrupted the accuser, "to the
ninth crime. Yestermorn he did of vile licence kill with his lustful
kiss----"

Khodadâd essayed a mocking laugh.

"With a kiss? What then? Lucky for any maiden to be so honoured by a
Tarkhân; so much the more lucky for such a devil's mash of deformity."

"His own daughter," rang out the charge, harder, colder, crueller.
"His daughter by the Rosebud of Love which he dishonoured. His
daughter whom he called into being without cause, when he defiled her
mother!"

Ah! now he knew! now he understood why--the thought came to Dalîl even
as he fought blindly against it.

"Thou liest!" he murmured thickly. "She was Payandâr's spawn. He----"

"He is the accuser," returned the voice calmly, "and by his right of
Tarkhân he swears it before the Last Assize. Speak, chiefs of the
Barlâs clan, doth this man deserve sentence?"

Once again that surging assent mingled with the rolling of
kettledrums, filled Dalîl's ears; but through it he heard the words:

"Executioners! open the veins of his neck and let the Barlâs blood go
free of his vile body. Let him bleed to death while I, the king, mourn
the spilling of good Barlâs blood."

Then from all around seemed to arise a low wailing, backed still by
that quivering roll of the kettledrums. The veiled figures rose
slowly; a blackness rose also obliterating all save awful fear. Ah! he
knew what was coming! He knew. Was that the keen prick of a long
lancet at his throat? Was that a warm stream trickling, trickling?

Oh! ye gods and devils! it was time to wake!

"Ohí my son! Ohí my brother!" The long-drawn wail rose louder and
louder!

Wake! _Wake_! _Wake_! What a hideous dream it was. She was not--she
could not be his----

An awful cry, half-choked, broke from him. It was bloodwarm blood--his
own blood caressing his bosom, nestling at his heart ...

Wake! Wake!

"Ohí! my brother! Ohí! my son!"

Something surged in his brain. He heard no more.


                          *   *   *   *   *


It was dawn.

The delicate tracery of the desert birds' feet showed close up to the
edge of the ruffled carpets whereon lay--hideously confused--all the
indescribable refuse of sensuality which the mind has enabled humanity
to bring to bear upon its pleasures. But he who had called all the
past lust and licence into being, still slept peacefully on the
squalid string bed beneath the rich satin quilts.

A servant or two wakened and yawned; then, seeing his services
unrequired slept again. So, swiftly, the sun rose with a ruffling wind
that followed the footsteps of the birds, in circling eddies, and
passed on, leaving the sand without a sign of passage on it.

"He sleeps long," said one, a servant.

"Let him sleep," grumbled another, "when he wakes it will be but
another service of sin for him and us."

But others needed the quick wit and relentless purpose of
Khodadâd; so almost ere dawn had passed to day, two or three
horsemen came galloping from the city intent on finding help from the
arch-conspirator.

"God and His Prophet!" faltered Mirza Ibrahîm shrinking back from the
shoulder on which he had laid an awakening hand, "he is dead!"

Dead and cold. There was no sign of violence upon him; only on his
neck two blue marks, mere signs as it were, of scratches about half an
inch long.

"He has died in the night," said Ghiâss Beg with a shiver. "No one is
to blame. God send he had time for a prayer."

But Mirza Ibrahîm clutched the complacent Lord High Treasurer by the
arm and gasped:

"Look! Look!"

In front of the tent just beyond the ruffled carpet lay a square of
white cloth and on it as if in blood, lay clear, distinct, the red
marks of a horse's hoofs.

"'Tis the sign," he whispered, his face ashen gray. "The sign that
judgment has been passed by his peers."



                             CHAPTER XXI

      _No strength of Hand, no strength of Foot have I,
       To reach the restful Heaven of Thy Throne;
       Yet can my soul's eyes gaze upon the Sky
       And finding dream there, dream the Truth mine own
       Even while wearied by its ceaseless Strife
       I watch the Shuttle in the Loom of Life_.
                                                 --Nizami.


That self-same dawn Akbar the King sate alone, as he so often did,
upon a large flat stone which lay in a lonely spot beside the Anup
tank. He was dressed in the saffron sheet of an ascetic, and a fold of
it, drawn across the lower part of the face, completely disguised him;
though the few persons abroad at this early hour were not of the class
from whom he could fear detection or even interruption--except perhaps
a petition for a blessing. For this was the widows' hour; that strange
hour in India, while the world still sleeps, when sorrowful womanhood
works out the salvation of mankind. When dim, ghostlike in their white
shrouding, figures creep out of the shadowy homes, burdened with the
sins of men, and, after washing them away in the chill waters of dawn,
creep back to the hearthstones, ere the sun rises upon the devoted
drudgery of another widows' day.

The sight of these figures, the whole scene, unreal, mystical, had
always had a fascination for Akbar, a curious almost angry interest.
He felt himself helpless before it, King though he was. True! he had
abolished _suttee_ by a sweep of his pen. The swift cruel sacrifice of
life he had checked; but this long-drawn agony was beyond him.

And what did it mean when all was said and done? His active mind, ever
wrestling with problems of the psychic world, fought for a conclusion
on this, the question which has puzzled so many inquirers.

"Whence and wherefore comes the sense of sin which in the woman lies
ever at the root of sex, making her falsely modest or boldly brazen?"

How silent they were, these mateless, almost sexless bodies whose
souls were seeking--through past æons, and for endless centuries to
come--salvation not for themselves but for their men folk! The very
water slipped noiselessly over the shaven unveiled heads that slipped
into it as noiselessly.

Sound only came when, on the red sandstone steps of the tank once
more, they again drew their wet shrouds round youth and age alike.

Drip! Drip! Drip!

The water fell in blood-red tear drops beside the blood-red print of
their bare feet upon the stones. A dolorous way indeed! a dolorous
life.

A couple of gray-crested cranes, mates evidently, showed nestling side
by side as they stood knee-deep in the gray levels of the tank; levels
which brimmed up from the dim shadowy steps of the dim shadowy
reflections in the water of the dim shadowy realities of stunted
bushes and gnarled caper trees that rose against the dim gray of
coming dawn.

Why was not humanity like the birds, accepting the Great Mystery of
generation as differing not one whit from other functions of Life?

There lay the puzzle. What sin was it that the woman had committed in
the dawn of days!

Yea! the dawn came fast! Below the distant verge of sight the
bright-hued riders of the Day were galloping hard, each bringing his
pennant to the battle of Light and Darkness.

Blue upon gray, violet tinting the blue, so passing to red, flaming to
orange. Then with one throb of primrose----

Light!

He felt the thrill of it--that endless quiver of the ether waves
passing on and on regardless of him, around him, through him, in
him--felt it in a sudden answering shiver of nerve, and vein, and
muscle, as he stood up, absorbed utterly in adoration.

"Thy blessing O my father!" came a voice beside him.

"May thy sacrifice be propitious O my daughter!" he replied
mechanically.

"And may the King-of-Kings live forever! His slave kisses the dust of
his footsteps."

He turned hastily, kingship coming back to him at once, to recognise
Âtma Devi. Crouching at his feet, the wet folds of her widow's shroud
clung to every curve of her supple body. After a night spent in
fruitless inquiry she had come to the tank at the earliest point of
dawn to wander fruitlessly in search round its shores; so after a
hasty performance of her sacrifices, she was on her way cityward again
when she had seen the solitary figure, and, guessing instinctively
that it was the King--for his habits were known to all his people--had
come to test her suspicion and so, perchance, gain direct speech of
someone from whom, surely, she might hear the truth. But his first
words checked her.

"I wist not, woman, thou wert widow," he said sternly. "As a rule thy
dress----"

Thinking he blamed her--and blame from him meant all things--she was
quick in explanation. "The Most-Auspicious is right," she almost
interrupted, "but he to whom I was wedded as a babe proved vile; so my
father--praise be to the Gods!--withheld me from him utterly. Yet
these few years past, that the man's evil body is dead, I come hither
to ransom his soul."

The answer fitting so aptly with Akbar's previous thoughts roused his
instant curiosity.

"Wherefore?" he asked, his keen face lighting up with interest as he
seated himself once more. "Sit yonder, sister, at my feet and tell me,
wherefore?"

"Because he was my husband," came the almost aggressively quick reply.
"And a wife is bound to her husband in Life and in Death."

Akbar smiled--the foibles of his world always amused him. "Not in
Death, nowadays, my good woman," he cried lightly. "Akbar hath
forbidden Death. Would that he could forbid this also."

He touched a fold of her wet shroud with his finger. A shiver shot
heartwards from the contact. Was it merely the chill to his flesh
warmed by his heart's blood, or was it--something he had told himself
he had forgotten? He drew back in resentment. She also; but from his
touch on what to her, as to most Hindu women, was the dearest
privilege of her sex--the right to burn!

"The Most Excellent is a mighty King," she commented sarcastically,
"but even he cannot stay the immortal man in woman from following man
in death. We are not all cowards like she who sent yonder _râm-rucki_
to the Most High."

She pointed with scorn to a slender, silken cord, behung with coloured
tassels which the King wore on his wrist, bracelet fashion.

Akbar frowned.

"So. Thou knowest the story?"

"This slave knows all that concerns the Honour of the King," she
replied proudly.

The frown grew.

"The King can keep his honour without thy help, woman! Aye! and his
promises too; so this coward shall be saved." Then, as was so often
the case with him, eager questioning swept away everything else. "Yet
wherefore coward? Tell me that, thou, her sister in sex? Wherefore
should a young girl not shrink from burning with an old profligate
whose very age hath prevented natural fulfilment of husbandhood? By
the sun, my very stomach turns at the thought of it; yet womanhood
accepts it dutifully. Lo! couldst thou but tell me--but thou canst
not--whence comes this sense of sin which makes women prostitute, and
tempts men to be far worse than the beasts, I would give thee----." He
paused, looking into her soft dark eyes whence the fierceness had died
away giving place to wise surprise at ignorance.

"The Most Excellent must know," she replied. "Our mothers teach it to
us. It is the love which seeks for pleasure, which forgets motherhood.
Lo! in the beginning we were the nothingness which tempted form, even
as Siyâla the courtesan sang; so we cannot live save through that
which we create. We are 'thieves of form, and sanctuaries of souls,'
even as the Princess Sanyogata told Prithvirâj. Aye! though she had
lured him with the love that is illusion! But she was brave also. She
left her womanhood to die, and followed the immortal in the man."

"Then this mortal love is woman's only?" he asked critically, eager as
ever in argument.

"Aye!" she answered simply. "In the beginning it was so; but we
have taught it to man; thus it returns to us again in every soul to
which we give a body. Yea! it is so! Look how far we are, Most
Excellent"--she pointed with slim finger to the distant cranes--"from
yonder birds to whom pairing time is breeding time, who know not sex
save for the life they have to give to the world."

She paused, and there was silence; for once again, the example she had
chosen fitted in with past thoughts. Far away on the primrose verge a
sword-shaped shaft of red-encircled cloud hid the rising sun.

"And there is no other Love?" he asked moodily, forgetful as ever of
his _entourage_ in the absorption of inquiry. Her face grew paler, her
hand went up almost unconsciously to her throat round which the green
stone of the _rebeck_ player hung; but no essence of rose assailed her
senses; or if it did she denied the fact strenuously.

"I know not, my King," she said quietly. "There be some who talk of
it; but my father--he was very learned, Most High--held that Love,
needing both subject and object" (she spoke quite simply of such
abstruse idea as many a nigh naked coolie in India will do, if so be
he is Brâhmin), "lay outside the Great Unity and so was illusion. Yet
to me----" she hesitated and looked at him almost appealingly out of
her large, dark, unfathomable eyes. "Lo! I am woman, so I cannot
think--wherefore should not Love be all things?"

"Wouldst thou have it so, sister?" he asked, meaningly. She flushed
faintly under her dark skin.

"Nay! Most High," she replied proudly. "For me honour is enough, since
I guard the King's."

The words held something of self-revelation in them. He rose and wound
his saffron veil closer. "So be it, sister! Guard the King's honour,
aye! and his Luck too if thou canst!" he added with a smile as he
moved away.

The word roused her to a sense that her chance was departing; she
caught at his feet and bowed herself over them in the attitude which
in India brings arrest to all in authority; for it is ultimate appeal.

"What is it, sister?" he queried almost mechanically.

"What--what, Most Excellent, of the King's Luck?" she asked
tremulously. At the moment other, clearer words failed her.

"What?" he echoed perplexedly, wondering what the woman would
be at. "Naught that I know of save that it shone when I saw it
yester-evening, and that it will shine still more when the Feringhi
jeweller hath spent his Western art upon it," he added with a smile.

"Yester-even," she could scarce speak for surprise, "then--then it is
not stolen? The King's Luck is safe?"

"Stolen! Ye Gods, no!" His look of wonder changed to kindly
compassion. "Go home, my sister," he said as he might have said to a
child. "And dream not so much of the King and his Luck. He is not
worth it! So farewell! Yet stay! I owe thee something once more
for--thy treatise on Love! I gave thee thy father's titular office
did, I not? Well! to-morrow take up his duties! Come to the Great
Durbar in thy Châran's dress, and, for once, a woman shall challenge
the whole world for Akbar. Lo! it will make some of the _durbaries_
see Shaítan," he interpolated for himself light-heartedly. "But come
and fear not--I will warn the Chamberlain to give thee place. So once
more farewell, widow----"

Thus far he had spoken with a smile; now his face grew grave. "Lo!
despite Akbar, methinks thou wilt die for some man yet; thou art of
that quality. Heaven send he be worth the sacrifice!"

"I will die for the King's honour if need be," she muttered, true by
instinct to her life-idea, even in the midst of her mingled joy and
amazement. She sate for some time after Akbar left her, trying to
piece together the tangled clues she held; but such intricate
balancing of facts was beyond her. She lived only by what she felt, so
she was without guide in following up the actions of others.

That the diamond had been stolen she knew; and now it was evident that
Birbal had kept the knowledge of the theft from the King--doubtless to
save him from distress. This latter thought leapt to her heart and
found instant harbour there, so that she began to reproach herself
with having gone so near to making such forethought of no avail; a
forethought that had done its work too, since as the Most High had
seen the diamond but the evening before it must have been recovered.
The incident was therefore over--small thanks to her!

And yet the King had bidden her challenge the whole world on his
behalf! She crept home and looked at her father's corselet and sword
wonderingly. How had it come about that the Great Hope of her life was
about to be realised, and she could scarce feel any joy in it?

Meanwhile Akbar was doffing his ascetic's robe, and donning the
heron-plumed turban of empire. It was a change to which he was
accustomed; but this morning, he felt that something of his interview
with Âtma Devi lingered with him.

He paused for a moment as he passed to the Private Hall of Audience
with Birbal to look out across the palace courtyard and so through the
Arch of Victory to India stretching wide and far beyond it.

"If I leave this place," he said quietly, "as leave it surely I shall
some day, thus condemning myself to sonlessness, I shall go down to
the ages as one who failed--who built dream-palaces unfit for
humanity; therefore fit home for the bats, the foxes, the hyenas."

"This will I warrant, sire!" replied Birbal, hotly, in instant defence
of his master. "Let who will come to Akbar's Arch of Triumph in the
future, it shall remain to them unforgettable, unforgotten, until
Death kills memory!"

"The memory of a great defeat," continued the King shaking his head.
"And to my mind a greater one if I remain!" He turned and laid his
hand on Birbal's shoulder. "Yea! old friend. I have failed--why strain
thyself to hide it? Wherefore--God knows! for I have striven." He
paused, then went on, "There was a woman at the tank this morning who
said that Love was all things. Is it so? Have I not loved enough? Is
that the solving of the riddle--is it the Master-Key?"

Birbal's face was a fine study in sarcastic disagreement. "Mayhap, my
King! The poets have it so; though in God's truth this wondrous key
has unlocked naught for me--save nothingness!"

"A perfect mating," went on the dreamer, absorbed in his own thoughts.
"The Twain once more as One, sex and its vain search forgotten.
Strange if it should be so! Strange if the finding of Self in the
Giving of Self should bring back memory yet forgetfulness of that far
beginning when the Ocean of Light everlasting, quiescent, stirred into
ripples of Shadow, and the One became Two."

"The Audience waits, sire," said Birbal drily.

Akbar laughed, and went on. Yet he turned to Birbal swiftly half an
hour afterward when, in the course of business, words were let fall
which brought back the memory of this conversation.

It had been rather a disturbing audience and Akbar, ere he commenced
it, had felt wearied beyond his usual measure.

So, as he sate below the throne, the position he invariably occupied
as symbolising that he was but the representative of a higher power,
he had listened with a certain sense of irritation, while a letter,
which Father Ricci, the Jesuit, had left behind him, was read aloud by
a slim white-robed man with a marked bend of the head and a kindly,
patient face.

It ran as follows:

"To the Most Merciful and Most Illustrious King and Emperor
Jalâl-ud-in Mahommed Akbar greeting, from his Father in God and Vicar
of Christ, servant of the King of Kings: Whereas for long years past I
have to the great injury of the cause of Christ, yet with the most
pious hopes of eventual harvest, permitted that good servant of the
Lord, priest Rudolfo Acquaviva to reside at the Most-Excellent's court
in the hopes that by his godly example and teaching light might come
to the eyes, and knowledge to the ears of the Emperor. Yet having,
during my recent visit, seen with mine own eyes how small a part the
great truths of the Church play in the life of the Most-Excellent, and
having in view also the most great favour extended to heretick
Protestants----"

Birbal's mime-like face puckered, he bent over the King.

"Said I not the reception of the English merchants would bring about
greater zeal for Majesty's conversion?"

But Akbar checked him with a frown; so the long phrases of
disappointment, partly pious, partly pique, went on and on. When they
closed he turned swiftly to the reader.

"Be thou the arbiter, friend Rudolfo. Dost wish to go? Is Akbar not
kind enough?"

Pâdré Rudolfo Acquaviva looked affectionately at the man whom he
refused, almost to the point of insubordination, to count accursed.

"The King is not kind enough to himself," he said, his gentle face a
benediction, as he noted the strain, the anxiety, which in all moments
of rest sate on Akbar's countenance. "Wherefore should not weariness
lay down its burden at the gracious command, 'Come unto me and I will
give you rest'?"

For a second there was a pause. Then Akbar rose, and squared his broad
shoulders. "I could not if I would, friend," he replied proudly. "A
King's burden must be carried." So with a loud voice he cried:

"Has any or aught further need of the King's wisdom?"

There was no pause this time.

The Makhdûm-ul'-mulk, in his robes of chief doctor of the law, stepped
forward hastily and began to read.

"Lo! Makhdûm-_sahib_," interrupted Akbar lightly vet impatiently,
"Majesty hath listened to this before. The petition is dismissed. It
hath seemed good to the Crown so to cement union with our Râjpût
Allies, the marriage ceremonies are commenced, therefore this demand
that the Heir-Apparent shall have his first wife one of his own faith
is idle--and ill-timed."

"It hath the signature of fifteen thousand learned Ulemas of Islâm,"
continued the Makhdûm militantly.

"If it had fifty thousand----" interrupted Akbar again; this time
sternly.

Ghiâss Beg, the Lord High-Treasurer flung himself, suddenly at the
King's feet, and his example was followed by half a dozen of Akbar's
most tried and trusted Mohammedan counsellors.

"If the Most-Auspicious will grant us private audience for a space, we
will disclose that which may alter Majesty's opinion," said their
leader.

Akbar frowned; Birbal and Abulfazl scenting some further conspiracy,
stepped forward with instant excuse.

"It is not on the list, sire," said the latter. But the Emperor's
sense of Kingship had been aroused, first by his reply to Pâdré
Rudolfo, next by the Makhdûm's militant protest. So with a quaint
admixture of pride and humility he set aside the Prime Minister's plea
haughtily.

"Justice, Shaikh-jee, is not listed like an auctioneer's tale of
goods. Ushers! clear the assemblage! My friends, farewell! I would be
alone with these gentlemen for a while."

After the ceremonial salaamings, the rustle and glitter of retreating
silks and satins had died away, he faced those few as he stood below
the throne.

"Well," he said, "speak."

A little old man, poet as well as prince, prostrated himself, and so
began with many flowers of speech, many ambiguities, and many
quotations from Hafiz, on the story of Prince Salîm's sight of
Mihr-un-nissa. "Thus O Most Illustrious King, O! Most Indulgent
Father, Fate hath intervened and sent Love!" he concluded, adding in
pompous monotonous chant the well-known lines:


    He whose soul by Love is quickened, never can to death be hurled;
    Written is his name immortal in the records of the world.


Then it was that Akbar turned and looked at Birbal. The latter was
instant in reply to the unspoken questions.

"The love of a lad of eighteen, Most High, can scarce be counted love.
And might we learn the honourable family of the lady? That hath been
omitted."

Ghiâss Beg prostrated himself, "My daughter, sire! The shame of this
plea overwhelms me, but in justice to Majesty, I cast away honour. My
daughter, sire, a most excellent, admirable, and beautiful young
lady."

"But surely," put in Abulfazl swiftly, suavely, "already betrothed to
Sher Afkân, captain in the King's horse?"

Akbar frowned. "Is this so?" he asked and listened, the frown
deepening, to the altercation that followed. Finally, he raised his
hand.

"Enough," he cried, "that ends it. What is talked of is bespoken; and
not even a King's son hath right to interfere."

The Makhdûm-ul'-mulk was the next to prostrate himself and speak.
"True O Ruler of the Universe! but the Head of the Church hath ever
had the right to annul such promises, and Majesty having assumed that
title, might exercise the functions thereof." The suggestion was deft,
but it failed.

"For my son's benefit," retorted Akbar "not so, Makhdûm-_sahib_. The
office is held more incorruptible now."

"The August Pillar of Empire mistakes," put in a younger man, alert,
intelligent. "It is for the good of Empire. Lo! we be here as humble
friends, advisers, counsellors. With all duty be it spoken, the young
Prince--may he live for ever!--hath given cause for anxiety. This
chaste cupola of chastity of whom undesirable mention has been made,
whose name my unworthy lips refuse to utter, hath a reputation for
great wisdom as well as beauty. If then the Heir-Apparent were wedded
to her, if love----"

Akbar raised his hand again sharply, and Birbal divining hesitation,
whispered in his ear.

"Remember the Râjpût Allies sire; a hint of this----"

The King checked him haughtily, "Peace! That goes on as ever. I was
but thinking--thinking of the boy and--and the girl." Then he raised
his voice. "Gentlemen! I admit much of what hath been said. The Prince
hath given cause for anxiety--he gives it still. And if Fate had been
beforehand with fact, such might have been good solution for much
anxiety. But she is behindhand. The wedding festivities of the
Heir-Apparent have already begun----"

"The nuptials could be simultaneous, Most High," interpolated the
younger man, who was court lawyer. "It is a royal custom----"

"And the young lady is already betrothed," went on Akbar inexorably.
"That in itself is sufficient. The King's promise is given in the
first, her father's in the second. Akbar will break neither." And then
suddenly resentment, perhaps a faint regret, seemed to come to him and
his voice rose. "Lo! have I ever broken faith? Has not my yea been
yea, my nay, nay?"

"Of a truth it has, Great Sire," answered the court lawyer deftly as
his forehead once more touched the dust. "Yea! even beyond the
ordinary faith of kings, since Akbar hath not shrunk in the past from
rescinding orders he hath made in error. Will he not do so now? Will
he not bow to Fate?"

It was boldness beyond belief, and both Birbal and Abulfazl stood
aghast. Yet it was a master-stroke, for Akbar paled and was silent.

"Fate," he echoed at last, and the tone of his voice brought Birbal's
to his ear in earnest entreaty--but it was too late. "So be it! Fate
shall be the arbiter for this boy and this girl. Let her see to it!"
His eyes lit up, a certain buoyancy seemed to lift him above the dull
world. "I, Akbar, challenge her! Ye say Fate hath intervened. Let her
intervene! If in the hours from dawn to dawn, she can make the King go
back from his word in one thing, to her the victory! If not, to me."

The words rang out through the maze of arches in the Diwan-i-Khas.
Then there was silence, till on the silence the King's laugh rang out.
"Look not so solemn, friends--and foes mayhap!--Akbar, like all things
else is in the hands of Fate."

But as Birbal went out with Abulfazl, he cursed and swore. "Aye!" he
assented "'tis true enough. All things are in the hands of Fate; but
wherefore should the King be in the hands of his enemies? They will
strain every nerve----"

"'Tis but for a short time--from dawn to dawn." put in Abulfazl
consolingly, "and we must strain every nerve also." Then suddenly his
face softened. "Lo! I would not have him otherwise, Birbal. He is like
a racehorse! The least touch of the bit of Fate and--for all his
words--he chafes against it. 'Tis not Acquiescence, it is Defiance
that wings his challenge."

"Aye!" grunted Birbal with a whimsical smile, "and a half-hearted
belief that Love is all things."



                             CHAPTER XXII

      _Take to the garden thy carpet of prayer
       Wait, and watch how at God's command
       The daffodils girdles of green prepare,
       How sentinel straight the cypresses stand.
       Forget thyself in the Path-of-Life
       Plunge for a second in God's own Sea,
       And the Seven Tides of the Water of Strife
       Will never encompass thee_.
                                                 --Hafiz.


"Lo! I have prayed," said Auntie Rosebody, captiously, "and I have
watched, but naught has come of it save a brow-ache. Truly Ummu, at my
age, piety is fatiguing and 'tis better to trust the senses God gave
than seek a new gift from him. Belike He is tired of old Gulbadan, and
would as lief she took her rest decently in death like the rest of her
generation. One cannot expect Him to count an old woman as worth so
much to the world as a young one."

Little Umm Kulsum looked shocked.

"Nay, Auntie," she began, "are we not taught----"

"Taught," echoed the old lady tartly, "aye, we are taught much that is
not true and more that is no use to us when we lose our way. But
there! it serves me right! None lose themselves on a straight path; so
mine--nay!--it is mine, child, not yours--hath been crooked, that is
the truth. But I have made up my mind. The diamond shall go back to
the jeweller from whom it was taken, for 'tis my belief that his
Majesty the King knows naught about it. When I came from morning
prayers and found him paying his respects to the Lady Mother, my
conscience was exalted to the edge of confession and I began, as one
does begin, to skirt round the subject--I never could abide, like my
revered father--on whom be peace--to go head foremost into cold water.
But the fount of my penitence soon ran dry in the parched desert of
his ignorance. 'Tis useless telling a blind man that you have stolen
his spectacles! So I gave over, came hither, and ordered a _do-piâza_
with double spice of onions to it, for I was sick with fasting. And it
hath cleared my brain. The diamond shall go back, and I will trust the
red madwoman as thou didst suggest last night. For his Highness the
Most-Auspicious spoke of her this morning to Lady Hamida, and bid us
all look out to see this Châran--forsooth!--at the Durbar to-morrow!
Truly my august nephew hath a wit like a camel's cantrip; it leaves
one uncertain whether to laugh or to weep! But he must hold her
faithful, so I will write a letter to the Feringhi in a feigned hand,
appointing time and place for restoration. This she shall take; and
afterward I will lay strict oaths on her, such as not even a woman
could evade, and she shall have the stone, and bring back receipt
therefore. So that settles it, and may God forgive silly old
Gulbadan!" She frowned fiercely. "Yea, grand-daughter, that is the
sting in the scorpion's tail! For once Khânzâda Gulbadan Begum hath
been a fool! She hath acted without counting the cost."

So, secretly and in haste, Âtma Devi was sent for and shewn into the
little corbeilled balcony overhanging the lofty outside wall of the
palace, where there could be no eavesdroppers save the purple pigeons
that cooed and strutted on the wide cornices.

"The diamond!" she said incredulously. "Oh! Beneficent Ones! it is not
stolen! Or rather it hath been given back. My lord Birbal must have
replaced it, for the King knows naught about it."

"'Tis my lord Birbal who knows naught about it, foolish one," said
Auntie Rosebody, peremptorily, "for he sent it back here safe sewn in
the Prince's turban. Lo! unbeliever, look, and see if I lie."

Her small henna-tinged palm went into her bosom, and there, like a
huge dewdrop among rose leaves, lay the gem.

"The King's Luck," murmured Âtma in stupefaction, "the King's Luck!
And yet my lord Birbal knew--this slave knows that he knows, and the
King does not know--this slave knows that he does not know."

"Oh cloud not perspicacity with noes and not noes!" cried Aunt
Rosebody wrathfully and yet with a whimper in her voice. "If the
Most-Excellent is ignorant--as I, too, believe him to be, and as I
pray he may ever remain--that is the more reason why this should go
back at once."

"Aye!" assented Âtma, her face scarcely less bewildered than little
Umm Kulsum's as she sate rocking herself to and fro, mechanically
repeating penitential verses of the Koran, "but my lord Birbal
knew--wherefore?"

"Wherefore," echoed Aunt Rosebody vehemently protesting. "Lo! if thou
wilt ask questions, I shall lose my way again. Remember the saying


             'Ask not the road of twain
              If one can make it plain.'


And for my part, I think the better of Birbal for his silence. If my
nephew knew that his heir had filched his Luck from him----" and then
suddenly she dissolved into tears, "Oh! Gulu! Gulu! beloved of thy
father! why didst not think of this before, thou silly--old--fool?"

Umm Kulsum joined her in tears, only Âtma Devi sate calm, frowning.
"Aye," she assented gravely, "I see. The Most High must never know.
Therefore if the Beneficent Lady will give me the letter I will see it
delivered, and when dark comes I can take the King's Luck to the place
appointed."

Aunt Rosebody gave a sigh of relief. "Truly thou art not so bad,
good red-woman. Ummu! my pen and ink. And we--we three will swear
never to open our mouths concerning this again, least of all to the
Most-Auspicious. No! not even as dying confession to ease our
miserable souls."

"Lo! I promise," sobbed Umm Kulsum. "God gives the reward of silence."

"Yea! I promise," murmured Âtma softly.

And so it came to pass that just as Birbal had almost given up hope of
coming even upon a trace of the lost diamond; when, thrown back upon
himself, he was meditating the possibility of a private audience with
the Beneficent Ladies, and a complete throwing of himself upon their
mercy, he received a message to come down without delay to the Hall of
Labour. He found William Leedes attempting to make out the meaning of
a little scented note in a brocaded bag, which had been left for him
at the outside door.

"A woman's writing for sure," said Birbal quickly at his first glance.
"See how the curves are clipped showing lack of decision." He read the
first words--"Ye Gods!" he muttered; so ran hastily through the few
lines which appointed a place for the due restoration of the missing
gem.

Then he refolded the letter, replaced it in its covering without a
word, and stood silent, all the confident vitality gone from face and
figure. Suddenly he sniffed at the brocaded bag. "Aye! violets!" he
murmured. "The Lady Umm Kulsum's favourite flower! By heaven and
earth, Birbal! thou art a fool!" He flung his arms out so recklessly
that it seemed as if he would strike himself. "'Tis my mistake after
all, sir jeweller! I must have confused the true and the false, for
this is from the palace." he said bitterly, "and all my searchings, my
chase after that vanishing quantity the harlot Siyah Yamin hath been
lost time! I am a fool!"

It was a few minutes ere his quick brain had regained sufficient
self-confidence to work; but then it worked rapidly. At nine
o'clock--it was now six--by the large flat stone at the Anup tank, not
only William Leedes must be in evidence, but he, Birbal, and a strong
guard of deaf and dumb slaves must be concealed close by so as to
prevent any possibility of treachery. For Birbal did not forget
Akbar's curious challenge to his courtiers that day, or that the safe
conduct given to the Englishman was a promise which an assassin's
dagger might easily break. Ralph Fitch and John Newbery were too far
away to be points of attack, but William Leedes must be guarded. Aye!
and endless other possibilities must be foreseen, and precautions
taken against defeat. For in this case defeat would mean a change in
the King's whole line of policy. It is true that it would also, in all
probability, mean his acceptance of practical politics and so bring
him round to Birbal's point of view--namely that Kingship must follow
certain definite and familiar lines; but Birbal's wholehearted love of
his master could not brook defeat for him. What action he took must be
free, not forced.

So in the interval between the time of receiving the notice of
appointment and the appointment itself Birbal set seriously to work in
consultation with Abulfazl.

"The hounds of hell will scour heaven and earth to find some pitiful
failure," he said finally, almost grinding his teeth with impotent
regret. "Lo! Shaikh-jee! What ails the King at times to give such
handle to his enemies?"

"It is his sense of strength," replied Abulfazl calmly. "He feels like
a God, and of a truth he is one." The Prime Minister's flattery had
grown to be part of himself; he really thought of Akbar as he wrote
about him.

"Perchance!" growled Birbal, "but he lives among men, and men know how
to trick their gods. I can think of no more promises; if thou dost,
guard against failure, for my leisure may be scant."

As he made his way to the appointment, he told himself that it might
be scant indeed; since, somehow, he must recover the diamond that
night. Despite his unbelief, his clear wit, his critical outlook on
all things, he could not escape from the feeling that the best
safeguard to his master would be the repossession of the lucky stone.
Yes! he must recover it.

The night was dark, dark enough to favour the posting of men unseen in
the shadow of the trees to the left of the big flat stone. So dark
that even the still levels of the tank lay unrevealed, save here and
there, where a feeble oil rushlight shone on the shore showing the
little platter of food for the dead on which it stood, the fading
chaplet of flowers twined around the offering.

So dark, so still, so quiet. No sign anywhere of movement.

Stay! up yonder where the steps might begin, a twinkling light. Was it
some other bereaved woman coming to place her remembrance on the
water's edge--or was it the messenger? By heaven! it bore to the
left--just a twinkling light, no more. Birbal held his breath. And
now, grown nearer, the faint circle of radiance showed a hand holding
a little platter of offerings, and on the wrist a fold not of white
but red drapery.

By all that was holy, Âtma Devi! Then she was at the bottom of it,
after all!

The next minute he and his slaves were surrounding her and the dark
figure of William Leedes, who had risen from the large flat stone
where he had been waiting.

She stood quite still, apparently not much surprised, and her eyes met
Birbal's without fear.

"Yea, kill me when I have fulfilled my errand," she said quietly, "but
not till then. I have sworn to give it to none but the jeweller. Is he
here?"

"Take it from her, sir jeweller," came the quick order. "I can settle
with her afterward."

There was a pause as Âtma Devi appraised the Feringhi's strange dress,
then from amongst the little pile of uncooked grain upon the platter
of the dead, produced the diamond. It shone with a faint lambent glow
in the flickering light of the oil lamp. A sigh of satisfaction came
from Birbal, but William Leedes bent closer to look at what he held
and his face as he raised his head showed ghastly gray.

"It also is false, master," he faltered. "See yonder is the scratch my
tool made on it----"

"False," Birbal stood transfixed, feeling, even amidst his
stupefaction, a quick sense of relief that after all he had made no
mistake. "False," he echoed, and turned on Âtma Devi. She also stood
surprised, so surprised that Birbal realised in an instant that she
was innocent of all complicity in whatever had brought about this
astounding revelation. So without a word, he drew out the other false
gem which he had brought with him, and laid it beside its marrow on
the jeweller's palm.

"There be two false stones, sister," he said striving to be calm,
feeling that it was his only chance of getting any hint on which he
could work from her, "but where is the real one; dost know?"

Her great, wide eyes roved helplessly from the twin stones to the
jeweller's face, so back to his; then back again to the stones.

"Pooru must have made them," she said slowly, "but I wist not they
were even made."

Then suddenly she threw up her arms and clapped her hands together
high above her head. The platter of death offerings with its little
lamp falling from her hold, dashed itself to pieces on the stones, and
there was darkness. So from it came her wail--"Lo I have betrayed the
King, I, his Châran! Yet I know nothing." She sank huddled in a heap
upon the ground.

"There is no use wasting further time here," said Birbal roughly after
several vain attempts to rouse Âtma Devi from ineffectual despair.
"Leave her to her own condemnation. This points to deeper plotting
than I dreamt of, and there is no moment to lose."

As he hurried off, he marshalled half a hundred theories before the
judgment seat of his brain....

The biggest villain--who was the biggest villain? Khodadâd without
doubt, but he was dead. Could _he_ have had the diamond? It was
becoming plain to Birbal that in this scheme of theft some one had
played for the chance of the Great Diamond never coming again within
reach of a jeweller's lathe. Someone had kept the real stone, and
played off false ones upon the conspirators. He must search Khodadâd's
house; aye even the corpse which still awaited the next dawn for
burial. Then there was Siyah Yamin; but that devil's limb had once
more disappeared. She would be found, of course--no power, not even
fear, could keep a woman of her kidney quiet for long. But this was
all in the future, and deep down in the cynical heart of the man
lurked a clamour that his King, his master, should have the benefit of
his luck stone within the next few hours. It must not be in the
keeping of his enemies. It must be secure in the safe custody of a
friend.

Yet he felt curiously helpless. Though he had ransacked Fatehpur
Sikri, aye and Agra also, in search of the so-called Sufi from
Isphahân--the mountebank, the juggler with men's senses, he had not
come upon a trace of him. William Leedes was of no use, and the only
other human being friendly to the King who knew of the diamond's loss,
was the half-crazy woman whom he had left crushed in despairing
remorse by the Anup tank. Most likely she would go home and kill
herself with the death-dagger of her race.

Well she was of no use. From beginning to end, she had been a
hindrance, not a help.

And Âtma, meanwhile, was feeling that the Seven Tides of the Waters of
Strife had overwhelmed her.

What had she done? She had persuaded Diswunt to give the opportunity
for the theft of the diamond, it is true; but only that she might take
it--as she had taken it--to the keeping of the Beneficent Ladies. And
they had given it back to her. She sate unconscious of the passage of
Time, puzzling herself vainly to account for those twin stones which
had lain shining in the jeweller's palm.



                            CHAPTER XXIII

      _Wash white the pages! In no book
       Love's rule is written. Wherefore look
       Not in my words for Flattery; nor dare
       To claim me as thy rightful share.
       Traced on my brow is Love--Fate wrote it there_.
                                                 --Hafiz.


The gongs striking eleven roused her. She stood up and looked about
her, feeling lost, forlorn; and lo! she was in a world of stars. For
it was the Night of the Dead, and every little hovel, every house, and
homestead, and palace in the town behind her, glittered with the small
lamps set to illuminate the feasts that are laid out for wandering
spirits. And as she looked out over the unseen levels of the tank, the
stars were there also, twinkling farther and farther away to the
horizon in every hamlet and village. For an instant the inner vision
of the soul was hers, and she saw, as it were a map stretched before
her, the wide plain of India receding on and on into the darkness of
the night, all sown with such stars in constellations.

And every star was the memory of some dear face; every star was set
for some loved wandering soul!

She felt like a disembodied spirit herself as she looked down at her
feet, remembering the little decorous platter in which she had hidden
the diamond. Should she go back to the Beneficent Ladies and tell them
what had happened? No! She had done her part toward them; she had
given the gem they had given her into the jeweller's own hand as she
had promised; so that was the end.

But it was not the True Luck; thus her duty, so far as she herself was
concerned, still remained. She must try and find it, and if she failed
there was always the death-dagger; for she must be true, though she
was a woman.

"True! Aye! as true as it befits womanhood to be."

Who had said that?

Siyâla?

Then in a second she knew, and turning swiftly on her heel ran toward
the town. Siyâl! Siyâla was the thief! She had the King's Luck. Ye
gods! had it come to this. Her sister of the veil, the little dainty,
delicate, perfumed piece of femininity which she had borne with, nay,
had almost loved as a half-forgotten part of herself--she, and she
only, was preventing her, Âtma, the representative of Chârans, from
playing her man's part in Châranship. An uttermost loathing of
herself, as woman, came to the mind that had been educated to believe
in her womanhood as nothingness, the while she hurried through the
full bazaars toward Satanstown. She almost had to fight her way
through one portion where the crowd filled every inch of the roadway
past Khodadâd's house. He was lying in state there with all the royal
insignia of a Tarkhân about him. That had not saved his corpse,
however, from quick searching by the hands of the city police (for
treasonable papers was the excuse) but now that Birbal had come and
gone unsatisfied, the professional wailers were once more skirling
away their mercenary grief, and through the wide arches of the upper
floor the swaying heads of the hired priests could be seen as they
chanted their orisons for the dead.

"Who is't?" she asked, faint curiosity rising in her as she passed.

"Khodadâd, Tarkhân. Hast not heard?" answered someone. "They found him
dead at dawn, the blood pouring from his veins, and the white horse
from which he had fallen by his side."

"Aye! but thou forgettest neighbour!" said another eager voice "his
hands were tied and----"

"God send his soul to the nethermost hell for treachery," broke in
Âtma on the gossiping, as she fought her way on.

"Ari, sister! Have a care," protested the crowd. "Thou hittest like a
man, and will hurt."

But she was gone ere the sentence ended in a broad laugh, and a rough
jest on him who had such a termagant to wife.

Old Deena caught sight of her as she came breathlessly along the
balconied lane. There were lights and to spare here, but Siyah Yamin's
house stood a dark block amongst its radiant neighbours.

"Thou art too late, mistress most chaste," he called, "the singing
bird is fled."

"Whither?" she gasped.

He shook his wicked old head and leered with his wicked old eye.

"No-whither so far as this world knows. A many have been after her,
even my Lord Birbal, without success. She left for the desert to my
Lord Khodadâd's devil's feast last evening and hath not returned. Now
he is dead, and she hath disappeared! Belike the white horse carried
her off too; or belike," he spoke in a lower voice, "the desert was
but fair doubling ground for pursuit."

Âtma stared at him uncomprehending.

"But I need her," she muttered.

A hard metallic laugh rang from a neighbouring balcony.

"No woman needs woman!" came a coarse jeering voice. "But such a
strapping wench could mayhap play a man's part. Play it, sister, and
God go with you."

Âtma turned and fled from the burst of wild laughter that followed on
the sally. There was nothing left now for her, truly, but the man's
part. She must find the death-dagger of her race, and die as they had
died.

But not for honour; for dishonour!

By the time she reached the winding tenement stair which led upward to
her roof she had grown calm, and her mind, set loose from the urgency
of the present, had begun to wander amid past scenes. Yea! yonder were
the steps leading down to the cellar where the Wayfarer had lain
asleep, half dead in dreams, with Zarîfa's face upon his bosom. A
strange man indeed! What was it he had said about Love? Her hand
sought her throat involuntarily and finding the quaint green stone
clasped it.

Roses! Roses! Roses! Their scent bewildered her!

Then in a second she saw all, she understood all. Aye! she, the woman
in her, had loved the King and she had been ashamed of it. But
this--this was different. This was the mortal following the immortal!
She was going to death as to a funeral prye, to find herself sexless,
beyond the flames.

She stumbled on and on, up and up, every atom of herself forgotten
save the deathless desire for Unity which lies behind sex, until,
suddenly, some unfamiliarity beneath her feet made her pause.

Had she come too far? She stopped in the mirk darkness to feel the
step on which she stood, so, groping felt the wall.

A nail. And something had caught on it. What?

A tiny scrap of fringe. And that was scent--not bewildering scent of
roses; but bewildering scent of musk and ambergris--the essences of
Satanstown!

Siyah Yamin's paradise!

The thought leaped to her brain; a second or so afterward she stood at
the secret door. It was ajar.

But this time the darkness of the roof showed like a black shadow
against the diffused radiance from the town below.

"Siyâla" she cried, but there was no answer. She moved forward a step;
then, bethinking herself, turned back, locked the door and thrust the
key in her bosom. If anyone were there, they would have to meet her
face to face.

So, her eyes becoming accustomed to that outside radiance, that
central shadow, she half-felt her way down the broad path from the
door toward the place where, when last she had seen it, silken
curtains had still hung, and the remains of feasting had still lain
rotting--rotting surely, slowly by day and night.

But there was nothing now. Even the dead roses had disappeared and her
feet as she walked sank softly in the carpet of sand and dust that
covered all things. Was that a darker shadow flitting back as she
advanced? She turned swiftly, heard an ineffectual rattle of the lock,
and the next instant, in her haste, her outstretched hands pinned a
slight figure to the door.

"Lo! Âto," came a petulant voice, "thou art rough as any man! I am
here if thou needst me, so take thy big hands from my frail body and
let me light a light. 'Twas thy step--manlike again--made me
extinguish mine, for fear."

A spark from the tinder box showed small hands shaking; and the
following light, a second too soon, found traces of sharp terror
behind the mocking smile on Siyah Yamin's face. She was dressed as she
had been before in man's clothes, but this time they seemed to sit ill
on her shrinking figure; yet she strove hard for boldness.

"Well! what is't, Âto?" she went on recklessly as if trying to put off
time. "Somewhat of the King I will go bail--the King thou dost not
love! ha! ha!" Her jeering laugh roused a muffled echo from the low,
empty walls.

"Yea, I love the King as woman loves man," replied Âtma gravely. "What
of that. It is illusion. It will pass."

Siyah Yamin gave a little soft shuddering sigh.

"Come!" she said sharply, "we cannot talk so. Come! widow! follow thy
lover, Sher Khân." She sprang forward light in hand, and her slender
figure fled forward leaving darkness behind her; darkness through
which her light song echoed.


              What says philosophy
              Love's an illusion!
              Silly delusion!
              Give me your lips
              Take mine! Such sips
              Prove Love felicity.
              Wisdom is wearisome
              Closer, my dearie, come
              Let us find Unity--


"Peace Siyâl!" said Âtma, sternly interrupting the ribald verses.

"Peace? oh yea! let there be peace between us." laughed the courtesan,
as she sank down on the dusty step of the dais, and put the light
beside her. But her wide eyes belied her light words.

Fear sate behind their glitter, watching wickedly; and every
subtle sense sought for some means of escape, some method of
cajolery. "Wherefore not," she rattled on. "Lo! I give you in his
Monkey-Majesty! He is not a man after my heart. Yet, I would not his
enemies got the better of him, as they will do. What! hast not heard?
He challenged them this day to write failure across a promise of his,
or change across his mind. From dawn to dawn it was. And see you, Âto"
the hurried palpitating voice steadied, as the wild search for some
false trail happened upon one. "Thou art the King's Châran and must
warn him! They have sent poison out to the paralysed profligate at
Shâkin-garh--he will be burnt at dawn and with him the girl whose
_râm-rucki_ the King wears. There is small time to lose, Âto--I know
it, I tell thee--I heard it from their lips--go thou, then, with
warning."

She leant forward; her face full of guileful, beguileful beauty, close
to the grave level brows that met in a steady frown.

"Aye! I will go, Siyâl--but not without the King's Luck. Give it me.
Thou hast it in thy bosom--thy hand has hovered there. Give it me, I
say." She essayed to grip those fluttering fingers but Siyah Yamin was
on her feet in a second, and stood back, swaying unsteadily, one hand
clasped to her heart.

"I--lo! it is not true. 'Tis something here that hurts"--she beat her
breast sharply. "Be not so rough, Âto! Thou wert always rough as a
man. Lo! in the old days it was I, little Siyâla who was to marry Âtma
Singh, and now--now--Sher Khân." she paused, tore off her dandified
turban, and let the great plaits and coils of her hair fall loose.
"See I am woman again, and thou--thou art man! And, Âto, hist! Knowest
thou why I came back here to-night?--would I had never come. It was to
find the broken pieces of the glass goblet I broke." Her small face
melted almost to tears, the babyish lips trembled over the words.
"Yea! Yea! it is true. I came for them!--I was going away--for
ever--and I remembered. Lo! Âto, a woman always remembers her first
lover, even if she be courtezan. Yea! thou wilt remember the King, so
have pity! What! dost not believe? Lo! I was looking when thou camest,
and frightened me into putting out the light. See here if I lie." With
her right hand she tore something out of her bosom and shifting it
swiftly to her left held it out. It was a curved fragment of the
blown-glass goblet which had fallen with a crash upon a rosebush,
whose red wine of Shirâz had trickled thirstily to the rose's root.

Twined upon it in golden tracery lay part of its legend--


              Take the cup of Life with laughing lip,
              Forget the bleeding heart within.


She caught at the words hysterically. "So have I taken Life, Âto, as
all women should; I have drunken heart's blood. Âto! touch me not! or
before God I---- What dost seek, madwoman?

"The King's Luck, harlot! Thou hast it in thy bosom. Give it me,
or----"

They were locked in each other's arms, but Âtma Devi was a second too
late, for Siyah Yamin had drawn something besides a broken glass-sherd
from her bosom, and her right hand with a flash of steel in it rose
high, then fell on the Châran's broad breast. Âtma staggered under the
blow, but the poniard blade crashing on the collar bone turned aside
upward and cleft the muscles of the neck harmlessly. She had the
weapon wrested from the small hand in a second, and her voice,
breathless from exertion yet steady, went on relentlessly.

"Thou hast it, Siyâl! Thou didst steal it and betray--all men! Best
give it to me--or--or I shall have to kill thee--sister of the veil."

But Siyah Yamin was true to her womanhood, and every atom of her
fought for full possession as she struggled madly.

"It--it is mine." she gasped. "No one shall have it--I claim--I am the
woman and I will have----"

Suddenly there was silence. Resistance melted out of Âtma Devi's arms;
her insistent hand, still seeking, found what it sought. She gave a
sharp cry of joy and relaxed her hold.

But the dainty figure her insistence had supported, doubled up limply
and fell in a huddled heap upon the ground.

She sank beside it on her knees. She would have killed it, as she had
said. Aye, killed it remorselessly! but surely she had not----

"Siyâl? Siyâla? Sister?"

But she called in vain. The very glare of hatred and fear was dying
from the eyes over which the impenetrable veil of death was creeping.

She watched them for a second or two, then closed them, and stood up.
She was not frightened nor remorseful at what had happened. Vaguely
she felt relieved. It was womanhood which had died there on the roof
in the Paradise of Lust. Now that she had time to think, she saw it
all. It was so simple. Siyâla, beset by the desire of possession, had
ordered the false gem maker to make two false stones, and palming them
off on the conspirators had kept the real one, trusting to her luck
that the one supposed to be the true gem would never again fall into
the hands of the jeweller. But it had. The exchange of turbans had
brought discovery close at hand, so she had meant to fly; and
doubtless for once had spoken truly, when she said she had returned
during the night to gather up the broken fragments of her first cup of
joy.

So, quietly, methodically, Âtma straightened out the huddled figure
that had held the _deva-dasi_, sister of the veil, daughter of the
Gods, covering it decorously with the tinselled muslin scarf Sher Khân
had worn in gay mockery of his sex. So it was pure Womanhood that lay
there with face upturned to the dark. Then taking the light, Âtma
searched under the rose-bushes for the broken cup. She found the bowl
intact save for the one curved splinter Siyâla had gathered up. The
stem, too, jarred and chipped, would still stand upright; so, making a
little pile of dust she set them together beside the dead woman's
hand, and left her lying there in the shadow, with the diffused light
from the Lamps of the Dead below making a far-away halo to that
central darkness.

Closing, and locking the door, she flung the key through a narrow
loophole in the stairway, through which that same radiance of the Dead
could be seen faintly; so passed down to her own door.

There was much to be done. The diamond, however, being so far safe,
her first care must be to warn the King that the little coward of the
_râm-rucki_ was in imminent danger. For this she must make her way to
the palace.

She made it quicker than she had thought for, since, as she unlocked
her door, figures started out on her from the darkness below, and she
felt what the Beneficent Ladies called an "all-over dress," being
respectfully yet firmly pulled over her.

"By the King's command, bîbî," said the oily voice of a eunuch. "Thou
hast been appointed of his household, and the Lord Chamberlain hath
ordered us----"

She made no effort at escape, knowing herself helpless, but she could
defend herself.

"The Lord Chamberlain, being here himself," she interrupted at a
venture--and a faint stirring as if those around her turned to look at
someone told her that her surmise was correct--"can take me prisoner
if he choose; but let him remember that the King desires my presence
as Châran at the Great Durbar. So let him treat me ill at his peril."

Mirza Ibrahîm who had, indeed, come to see his orders executed, said
nothing; but he inwardly swore that the jade should repent her
defiance. There were endless possibilities for a Lord Chamberlain once
the wild-cat were fairly housed within reach.

Âtma meanwhile in her screened dhooli felt herself going palaceward
contentedly enough. So far was good. But how to get her message
conveyed to the King.

Yet conveyed it must be, and before long; for the soft radiance of the
Lamps of the Dead had begun to die down. The wandering spirits had had
their feasting; they must be in their graves by dawn.

Could she escape? Could she by good luck see a friend? bribe one of
the bearers?

But time slipped by without opportunity and she found herself lodged
at last in a very handsome apartment consisting of a room and beyond
that a slip of roof with a latticed cupola before any chance had come
of accomplishing her desire.

"Nay! no more! I need nothing more. I will call if so be," she said to
the servants who fawned about her. "Go! I tell thee."

She must think, she must devise some plan. The room was well
appointed; even a long pen-box with a quaint pot of glazy ink stood by
a low stool, so she could write. Meanwhile she must have a few minutes
in the open. The musk of the tented dhooli had almost been too much
for her.

So, out on the roof of this cupola's bastion or turret, half way down
the palace wall, she leant, her arms on the parapet, and looked
downward and upward. Above, to one side, was the palace; but which
part of it? Below her was one of the wide eaves so characteristic of
Indian architecture, and it ran, after skirting the turret octagonally
along the walls, into the darkness. There was foothold for one with a
strong head, doubtless; but what then?

As she thought a sound of whirring ropes met her ear, and something
dark slid down the wall from far above her.

The preacher's dhooli! Then the King's balcony was somewhere above
her! Could she? How far did the eave run. It would need ten yards at
least. And could she start the equipoise if once she got a hold on the
ropes?

Stay! She would only have to signal.



                             CHAPTER XXIV

      _Oh clear the cushioned thrones from those who sleep
       Preach thou the Truth, let the Untruth be dumb
       Till gladsome voices once more fill both worlds
       Freshen the universe--Be thou our soul
       We are dead bodies. Bring us back to life
       Thou art our guard, the caravan is lone.
       Thou art our army, let thy standard wave.
       Lo! the day steed is weary; the dim night
       To all around us; bid thy seraphim
       Herald the coming dawn, and wake us, Lord,
       As helpless babes we sleep and sleep and sleep
       Upon the threshhold of another world_.
                                          --Nizami.--A. D. 1140.


Birbal had been wakeful. The discovery of the second false gem had
thrown him back on himself. At dawn all his energies must be turned
toward making it impossible that the King's rash, almost incredibly
rash challenge, should bring disaster on the policy of years; so ere
that dawn came endless plans for the recovery of the missing jewel
must be set in train. Then, if possible, he must find the juggler with
men's senses, the man whose marvellous art had helped him before.
There was a chance that King Bayazîd might know his whereabouts; so an
hour or so ere daylight, all other things having been started,
Birbal's swift-trotting bullocks drew up at the garden gate of the
River Palace. All was dreamful as before. Here no lamps of the Dead
shone in the wide arcades, only on the roof the light which burnt ever
in Rupmati's shrine, showed the gaunt length of her lover asleep on
cushions beneath it.

"The Sufi from Isphahân?" he said drowsily. "He who called himself the
Wayfarer, pretended to be Payandâr, and _was_ musician! Yea! he left a
message for thee--that his work was accomplished. He whom he watched
was dead, the danger was overpast; therefore he went, whither I know
not. Neither do I care. He sang me a _ghazal_ ere he left--it hath a
good lilt to it."

And Birbal as he ran down the stairs again, heard that same lilt of it
ringing after him.


       A broken glass that held the red-wine of Strife,
       The corpse of a man, besprinkled with essence of rose,
       A child asleep on the threshold of larger life,
       Such is thy dawn-wake, lover who seeks repose.
       Lend, for the Love-of-God, to my thirsty heart thy bowl,
       So with the dawn-waked winds He shall refresh thy soul.


He muttered a curse on Sufi nonsense, and flinging himself into the
_râth_ again, bade the servant return cityward. So, after a while he
dozed, seizing on time for sleep when naught else could be done. He
was aroused by a sharp jolt, a sudden drawing to one side on the part
of the driver.

"What is't, fool?" he queried, sharply.

"Protector of the Poor" replied the man "It is the King!"

He was on his feet in an instant, rubbing his eyes in the gray
dawn-light in time to see a rider whirl past alone.

The King undoubtedly; but his escort? Was this all? An old man bent
with service, dropping farther and farther behind, not so much from
any fault in his mount, but simply from lack of riding.

That anyhow could be remedied.

"Your horse!" he cried, and the old servitor, a tall, bony Mahommedan,
recognising Birbal instantly, recognising also the advantage of the
slim Hindu in a stern chase, obeyed.

"What is it? Where goes he?" asked Birbal briefly, hands busy
shortening stirrups.

"Shakîngarh--to the burning. The Most-Auspicious slept when the
madwoman--she who calls herself Châran came up in the Preacher's
dhooli. Two horses are aye kept saddled in the yard below. The King
was on Bijli in a twinkle, and I--there was none else--scrambled on
Chytue shouting for some one to follow."

But Birbal had gathered up the reins and was off. Chytue lightened by
the change of riders, sweeping on at a thundering gallop, lessening
the distance at every stride between him and his stable companion.

Akbar looked round to frown; then to smile. "A race!" he cried
gleefully. "How now Bijli?" The mare answering to the call shot
forward like an arrow from a bow.

A race indeed! thought Birbal. A lost one, too, most likely, for the
gray of the false dawn was passing into primrose.

How had they managed it--they must have killed the old man; and he
would be burnt at sunrise, and then Akbar's promise to the little
coward of a Râni--oh! curse all women!--

Fifteen miles good, though in the far distance behind him the low,
jagged ridge of Sikri loomed like a cloud. One by one the mud mounds
which tell of village sites, rose out of the treeless western horizon,
showed silent, lightless, smokeless in the half-light, then sank,
dwindled, to join that shadow of the ridge. How many more of them must
be passed before dawn ... before dawn ...

So thought the rider behind, cursing himself as he rode, for having
forgotten this easy-broken promise of his King.

But Akbar, riding ahead, had forgotten anxiety in determination, and
as, at a deviating curve in the track, he struck boldly across
country, his every vein thrilled with joyful excitement.

The dawn was coming! Under his horse's flying hoofs the interminable
sequence of sandy by-paths through the sun-baked fallows chequered
with fields of young millet and maize, seemed to slip past. As the
light grew, the purple eyes of the feathery vetches seemed to look at
him tear-drenched with dew, the goldy-green balls of the colocynth
apples as they cracked under the thundering feet gave out a bitter,
bracing, wholesome smell.

Down in an old backwater of the river which held a few acres of damper
ground, a flight of cranes rose, to wing a wedge-shaped way to the
west.

"Oh! for the wings of a dove."

That was what Pâdré Rudolfo sang.

Was that a spiral trail of smoke on the horizon? Aye; but from a
village rubbish heap. After all, a funeral pyre was nothing more; a
mere rubbish heap of accessories in which a soul had played its part.


              Yea! but as when one layeth
              His worn out robes away
              And, taking new ones sayeth
              These will I wear to-day.
              So putteth by the spirit
              Lightly its robe of flesh
              And passeth to inherit
              A residence afresh.


The words of the Bhagavad-Gita recurred to his mind, bringing with
them as they do to every human mind that knows them, a sudden sense of
companionship, of hand clasping in the wilderness of life.

The pale primrose of the dawn was reddening fast. A few more minutes
and the sun's edge would for half a second sparkle like a star on the
rim of the world; and then, with the coming of sunlight, the King's
Shadow, swifter than the King himself would speed ahead, lengthening
out, reaching, touching all things before he, the flesh and blood,
could touch them!

Ah! The Shadow was the real man! He glanced backward. He had come
fast. No one was in sight. Following the whimsey of his thought he
told himself it was always so. Behind, out of sight, almost out of
mind, rode the world, in front the Shadow--the Will, the Ideal, the
Unattainable.

Faint and far on the horizon a square speck of light showed the tower
of Shakîngarh, the Falcon's Nest. There was little time to spare then,
for the sun shone on its battlements.

Little indeed! for as the gleam of the village clustering about the
feet of the fortress rose to view, a sound of shawms and trumpets
arose also. But there was no spiral of smoke as yet to tell of fire.

Bijli, responding to the spur, swept on over the more cultivated
country. An old canal, dug hundreds of years before by some dead
dynasty sent sinuous channels through the fields; high cactus hedges,
shutting out the view, formed impenetrable barriers. With irritation
at the delay, Akbar had to follow a winding cart track, deep-rutted
beyond words--an old way--the old way that made reform so difficult!

The sun at last! Akbar's shadow sped before him, climbing the thorn
enclosures, which at a sharp corner barred the way.

If he himself could but so override difficulties.

Ye Gods! Smoke!

Bijli, at racing speed, was round the corner in a second. Before her
lay a mud wall, beyond that an open space, a dense crowd encircling a
huge pile of wood.

As she rose like a bird to the leap, Akbar saw nothing but a smoking
flaming torch in a man's hand.

"Hold!" he shouted "Akbar the King forbids it."

Bijli, over the wall, was treating the crowd, as she was given to
treating a squash at _chaugan_ with kicks and bites, and an instant
after, Akbar slipping to the ground, stood stern beside the pile.

There was a murmur of sheer surprise; but Akbar had no eyes for
anything but the dulled, drugged, acquiescence of a girl's face as,
dressed in bridal finery, she sate on the funeral pyre with an old
man's head upon her lap.

"Unloose her! let her go!" came the order, bringing consternation; yet
also relief. For half Shakîngarh knew the greed of land and gold which
led to this enforced _suttee_. Briefly, the young wife had powerful
friends who would claim her full widow's share; therefore she must
die.

But a buxom woman, deep-breasted, arrogant, had seized the arrested
torch from her husband and was brandishing it fiercely; for being wife
to the old profligate's eldest son she had everything to gain by this
getting rid of a rival.

"King?" she echoed, "By thine own word only! And even so King of men
only! We women claim our right! She shall not be defrauded of it! Our
father shall not go to the realms of Yama unattended."

"Then go thyself, woman," retorted Akbar peremptorily. "Thy part is
done. Thy breasts have given suck to grown sons. Hers await an
infant's lips! At thy peril, fool, or on thine own head be----."

He started forward to seize the torch she was in the act of thrusting
into one of the firing places that were ready filled with resins, oil,
and cotton wool.

To escape him she leaped nimbly to the pyre and with outstretched arm
sought another feeder of the flames. As she did so, something that had
lain like a withered branch moved and shot arrow-like at her bare
ankle.

"Snake! Snake!"

Her yell of ultimate fear rang out and was caught up by the crowd. The
torch dropped recklessly, she was down on her knees rocking herself
backward and forward.

"A judgment! A judgment! Let her burn!" The cry of the crowd merged
instantly into condemnation; but Akbar had leaped after her,
dispatched the cobra--which hidden in some hollow log had doubtless
crept out for warmth when the first sun rays had touched the pyre--and
crushing out the torch flame with his heel, had his mouth on the
woman's ankle.

To no purpose. Even in that brief second the poison had reached the
heart, and after a few moans of agonised fear, merciful drowsiness
invaded heart and brain, she breathed slowly and yet more slowly.

Akbar stood up and looked about him dazedly. This instant response of
Providence in his favour filled him with exulting awe. The almost
fanatical enthusiasm for himself, for his ideals, which so often
possessed him, seized on him; and Birbal, riding up in weary haste,
found him the centre of an enthusiastic crowd who, granting him
supernatural power, were busy substituting a dead woman for a living
girl, while the latter sate stupidly in the sunlight watching the
flames blaze up round another victim with that burden of an old man's
head upon her lap.

Anyhow, the promise was unbroken; but Birbal, as he rode back behind
Majesty, told himself there was trouble ahead. Such incidents were not
wholesome, especially when every effort must be made to keep the King
down to practical politics. So little might make him break away.

"So, Shaikie, hath lost one chance of Love," said Akbar, suddenly,
when after a long and silent ride, the towers of Fatehpur Sikri showed
clear again.

"And Empire hath gained many chances of stability," replied Birbal
drily. "With grandsons of Râjpût descent, Majesty may hand on the
crown, when God's time comes, in security."

"Of what?" asked Akbar swiftly. "That my dream will be fulfilled--the
dream of a King." And then suddenly he almost drew rein. "The woman
must be rewarded, Birbal--she who came, God knows how, to warn me. I
would not have her escape reward."

"As Majesty has bidden her act Châran at the Festival to-day," replied
Birbal, still more drily, "there seems small chance of her escaping
notice."

The King's face broke suddenly into charming, whimsical smiles. "Of a
truth, friend! I must be a thorn in the flesh even to thee; and to
those others. God knows how they bear with me."

"Or how they will bear with her," acquiesced Birbal, grimly. For all
his liberal culture, his boasted freedom from prejudices, he was
conventionality itself in somethings, and it irked him to think of a
woman masquerading as a Châran.

And yet Âtma Devi looked her best when a few hours afterward she knelt
on the floor below the short flight of steps on the second of which
the Emperor sate on the royal yellow satin cushions, while the throne,
a marvel of gold and gems, occupied the highest step. Her long black
hair, unbound, encircled by a steel fillet, fell like a veil over her
shoulders, but left her bosom half-hidden by a man's steel corselet
bare. A cuirass of steel chains hanging below the corselet covered the
muslins of her woman's drapery, and her shapely arms, strenuous under
the weight of the huge straight sword, held hilt downward, balanced it
straight as a die, steady as a rock, point skyward.

In truth, the whole scene was magnificent beyond compare. The ordinary
reception was over, but there was to follow one of the great episodes
of the gorgeous yearly round of splendid yet curiously imaginative
festivals, which marked Akbar's court. That is to say, the Emperor
having challenged his court to play chess with him, was to play the
game with the living chessmen who stood duly ranged on the huge
chequered board of black and white marble which still exists at
Fatehpur Sikri, just beyond the flight of steps which leads downward
from the Hall of Audience.

So Akbar alone, the empty throne above him, occupied those empty steps
at the foot of which his challenger crouched. Opposite, on the other
side of the marble board the court, a blaze of colour and gems--save
for a knot or two of Ulemas in their dark robes--stood ranged; while
between them, immovable as statues, waited the living chessmen. The
very horses of the knights, black and white, scarce moved a muscle,
and the unwieldy masses of the elephants, which in the Indian game do
the bishop's duty looked carved of stone. Black and silver, white and
gold, each and all ablaze with black and white diamonds. The pawns
(peons, footmen) cased in gold or silver armour each carried a pennant
in black or white velvet embroidered in gold or silver; and the great
castles or forts--also of gold or silver--were worn as corselets by
huge giants of men, who each held aloft a royal standard of the Râjpût
sun or the crescent moon of Mahommed.

Overhead the hard, blue Indian sky; as a background rose-red palace or
grass-green trees; and through it all insistent, never ceasing, like
the shiver of cicalas on a summer's night a low tremor of muted
strings, and deadened drums.

"Challenge for the King, O Châran!" came Akbar's voice and on it,
almost clipping the last sound, followed a blaring clang, as the great
steel sword sweeping forward hit the marble floor. The sound echoed
and re-echoed through the arches, almost confusing the wild chant
borne upon it.


              Ohí! the King,
              Challenge I bring
              Let every man
              In the world's span
              Do what he can
              To best the King.


A faint shiver ran through the crowding courtiers, and Birbal standing
in a group composed of the King's greatest friends and allies, looked
round anxiously. As a rule these contests were foregone conclusions.
To begin with, the King was undoubtedly the best chess-player in his
dominions; then as a rule the games were generally of the most
_jejeune_ description--mere spectacles of games. But to-day some new
interest seemed to make the spectators' faces sharp, and though he
could scarcely see how even defeat could be construed into such
failure as Akbar had meant in his challenge, he felt vaguely uneasy.

"Thinkst thou they mean mischief?" he said to Abulfazl.

The latter smiled. "Mischief? not they! Mirza Ibrahîm hath as ever,
forwarded the schedule and the King hath seen it"--he laughed,--"'Tis
an irregular opening, but the onslaught is trivial--an elephant's
charge----."

He paused, interrupted by the herald on the other side who took up the
challenge on behalf of the Emperor's court.

Birbal looked over to his master. He could scarce tell why, but he was
not satisfied. To begin with, that master's eyes were too dreamy. Had
he perchance heard that Prince Salîm, seeking consolation from Love,
had been found drunk in Satanstown that morning? As like as not; some
of those sour-faced holy ones of set purpose had told him.

Ah! if the next few days were but over. If this Râjpût betrothal had
but gone so far that there was no drawing back!

How many hours yet were there before this gnawing anxiety lest he
should be overreached, and the King overpersuaded, should be past?

Akbar, nevertheless, showed intent enough upon his game. He was
leaning forward his head on his hand, rapidly and in a low voice,
calling out each move to the figure beneath him. And, ever, almost ere
the tone ended, came that clash of steel on stone, that high strident
cry "Ohí! The King! peon to _rukh's_ fourth" and so on.

Yet in truth Birbal was right. Akbar was preoccupied. The morning's
ride, with its hint of omnipotence, had, naturally enough, roused his
physical and mental vitality to the highest pitch, and so dissociated
him still further from his surroundings, and brought back the old
question, "Why should he cling longer to the ancient pathways?" Being
a King, accredited by God, seeing the truth clearly, why should he not
cast aside old shackles, cease to attempt immortality through his
unworthy sons, and achieve it for himself, by himself alone?

And something had happened that very morning which had almost driven
from him all hope of one son at any rate. Not the escapade in
Satanstown of which he had, of course, been informed. That was bad
enough, bringing with it, as it did, scorn of a love which could so
solace itself. No! it was not that! It was this: He had seen, being
carried to a hospital almost lifeless, the body of a slave brutally
beaten by Salîm's orders, before Salîm's eyes, and the sight had
forced from Akbar's lips the bitter question as to how the son of a
man who could not see God's littlest creature suffer without pity,
could be so barbarous?

Would it not be better to give up the struggle?

All this was in Akbar's mind, as half-mechanically, working as good
chess-players can with a portion of their intellect only, so that they
can carry on many games at one and the same time, he marshalled his
forces swiftly in these opening moves.

And now the board was clearer. Behind it on either side stood a long
row of prisoners. The final onslaught was at hand.

"It is an elephant's attack" murmured Abulfazl and then checked
himself--"they have changed it!" he exclaimed louder as the court
herald cried.

"_Ghorah_ (knight) to _badshad's_ (king's) seventh."

"Wherefore not?" sneered one of the Mahommedan faction who stood hard
by. "There be many alternatives in a game of chess."

Birbal looked hurriedly round him. There was evident eagerness on the
very faces where he expected to find it; aye! and there was
anticipation in many more. Then he glanced at the board, seeing in an
instant that this move altered the whole defence: but even as he
recognised this, and recognised that an answering change would make it
strong as ever, the Châran's cry rang out.

"_Badshah's rukh_ takes _wazir_" (Queen).

Akbar had let the move slip--had evidently been in a dream, was still
in one! Yet it would need skill now to extricate himself for by God!
he, himself, had not seen that before! It would be checkmate in two
moves if the _rukh_ were moved. The only defence--what was the
defence?

"_Wazir's rukh_ takes _peon_."

Inexorably the Court-herald's voice echoed through the arches and out
into the garden. It was followed by a little tense murmur from the
crowd.

Ye Gods! what was the defence? _Ghorah_ to---- No! that was fatal. The
king of course! The king one step backward and the game was won!

Would Akbar see it?

His attention had anyhow been aroused. He had leant forward, his elbow
on his knee, his brows bent. The question was--_how much of his mind
had been withdrawn from dreams_.

"He is not here!" murmured Abulfazl hurriedly, "but surely they
cannot----"

"They can and dare all," interrupted Birbal "Oh! devils in hell."

For clear from the King's lips came the words, "_Ghorah_ to----"

This time, however, that clang of steel on stone blurred the closing
tones of the King's lips and the Châran's rose on it clear.

"_Badshah_ to his eighth."

Birbal gasped, the King started, the courtiers stirred swiftly. But
Birbal's quick wit was the first to recover from surprise.

"Repeat the move, O Châran of Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar, Emperor of
India! It hath not been fully heard!"

Instantly the clang repeated itself, and the words followed high,
strident, unmistakable.

"By the order of the King, _badshah_ to his eighth."

"But we protest," cried the Makhdûm-ul'-Mulk, finding voice, and Akbar
rising, looked angrily downward and prepared to speak.

"Great sire!" interrupted Birbal advancing on the very board
itself--"we protest also against disorder. A Châran's voice duly
challenged, is the voice of the King. Naught can alter it, save
treachery. Where is the treachery here? He speaks that which he hears.
Question the woman. Ask her what she heard?"

A great wave of sudden curiosity swept over the King's mind. What
would this woman say? So far Birbal was right. She could be punished
for treachery--but----

"Speak, Âtma Devi, Châran of Kings. What didst thou hear?" His voice
was strangely soft, but so clear that it could be heard by all.

There was not a quiver in the straight-held sword of steel, no tremor
in the firm mouth that gave the answer.

"I heard what I spoke!"

There was an instant's pause; she sate motionless, her face impassive,
the half-shut eyes gleaming coldly out at all the world. Then Birbal
laughed, a quick cackling laugh.

"The move is played, messieurs! Answer, it if ye can!"

And then he looked admiringly across at Âtma Devi; in truth she was
man indeed, in woman's--nay! by the Gods! she was man altogether--a
man amongst men; for that was checkmate--checkmate to the King's
enemies.



                             CHAPTER XXV

      _'Tis Eve O Sakil fill the wine cup high
       Be quick! the clouds delay not as they fly.
       Ere yet this Fading World to Darkness goes
       My senses darken with thy wine of Rose,
       Till Fate makes flagons of my worthless clay.
       Then fill my empty skull with wine I pray
       So neither Death nor Judgment shall be mine
       The Grave a brimming cup of Limpid Wine_.
                                                 --Sa'adi.[14]


---------------------

[Footnote 14: Sir Edwin Arnold's translation.]

---------------------


Âtma, back in the palace, was once more racking her mind what to do
about her remaining responsibility, the diamond. So far Fate and the
Gods had guided her aright. She had managed to give the King timely
warning that the little coward would claim his promise (better, sure,
if she had burned!) then, having little time for thought, and knowing,
in truth, that she had no chance of escaping unmolested through the
strictly guarded entrances to the King's private apartments, she had
returned by the swinging dhooli to her own, thus for the time keeping
her method of escape secret from her gaolers. So, immediate urgency
being over, she had set to work first to conceal what till then she
had hidden in the dark braids of her hair; for she guessed at once, by
the luxury with which she was surrounded, that tirewomen would appear
in the morning, that every temptation would be plied to make her yield
to Mirza Ibrahîm's lawless desires. She smiled at the thought. Yea,
let him come; but not till after she was prepared. So she deftly cut a
snippet of brocade from a hanging, and greasing it in an oil lamp
rolled the diamond and the Wayfarer's square stone together, so as to
form a fine large packet, stitched it together with gold thread she
found ready on an embroidery frame, and hung it once more on the
greasy black skein, telling herself none would interfere with so
palpable a talisman. For the rest she had the Death-dagger of her
race, which she hid until dressing-time was over in a woman's
work-basket; though nothing, she told herself, would happen before her
appearance at the Festival as Châran. So, seeing always but a short
space into the future, she lay down and slept.

When she had wakened, servants had been ready to fly in lawful
command, to temporise soothingly with unlawful ones, and she had
smiled grimly, telling herself they were afraid of her, and that when
the end came, she need only fear the violence of poison.

But that again was not yet.

Even after the Festival was over, after she had lied so calmly to save
the King's honour, she had hours to spare. The Mirza would need
darkness for his proposals; so she had quite smilingly put on the
gorgeous dress of a court lady which on her return from the Audience
was all she had found in the place of her own old red garments. What
did it matter? The steel hauberk of her father's, the circlet, and the
sword were still hers. These she had worshipped, these would look down
on her death for honour. So if her white robe trailed on the ground
and was sewn with stars, if her jewelled bodice flashed under the
light folds of a saffron pearl-set veil, what was that to her, the
King's Châran, who carried a death-dagger in her waistband?

Nothing mattered so long as her hardly-thought-out project for the
delivery of the King's diamond could be brought about. If the message
could be sent--if old Deena the drum-banger would take it, then the
jeweller might come disguised as a Sufi in the Preacher's dhooli,
and she could fulfil her promise; she could give it into his very
hands--yea even if she had to yield, before that, to the Lord
Chamberlain's desires.

Even this supreme sacrifice she was prepared to make if they failed to
send Deena, or if the Feringhi failed to come. For she must have time.

She leant listlessly on the steps below the cupola toying idly with a
scrap of silk-made writing paper and pen and ink. A slave-woman,
gaoler, duenna--whom Âtma had sent from her very side on plea of
chilliness, was standing a little way apart, making believe to drive
away the sunset-time mosquitoes with a peacock's feather fan; in
reality watching every movement of her charge.

Would Deena come? She had sent for him calmly to drum to her rhythm of
pedigrees. That was her right, and he was so far a hanger on of the
Mirza's that they might count him of themselves; yet he might be true
to her also.

"The drumbanger waits," said a eunuch at the door, and her heart leapt
to her mouth.

"Lo 'tis luscious as honey to a bee; lascivious to the liver, as
saffron pillau to the stomach!" ejaculated the old man admiringly, In
truth Âtma looked superlatively handsome amid the fine feathers of
silken carpets and satin cushions.

"Thy liver, and thy stomach, sinner!" retorted Âtma carelessly,
as she crumpled up the scrap of paper and flung it into the lacquered
pen-tray. "But come! to work! Since I am here as King's woman I may be
called on any moment to sing in the harem; and I sing few women's
songs: none of the modern style."

She broke into the high trilling commencement of a not
over-respectable ballad of the bazaars.

Deena's wicked old face took on an air of outraged virtue, his hands
refused to touch his drum.

"Nay! mistress most chaste," he protested in an injured tone,
"salvation comes not that way to old Deena. He can get drumming and to
spare of that sort elsewhere."

Âtma stared at him, and held his eyes with her large meaningful dark
ones.

"'Tis not drumming, but deeds, that count, sir sinner," she said
slowly. "As King Solomon said to the peacock who remained to salaam by
drumming his wings, while the hoopoe gained his golden crown by
running a message."

Deena's old face set instantly like a stone. No muscle quivered, but
his wicked old eyes twinkled. He understood in a second what was
wanted of him, for intrigue was his very food and drink. It made him
feel years younger to carry a love letter. This would have naught to
do with love of course; but the joy was in the deception. Happen he
meant to help, happen he did not, it was all one to him; it meant the
deceiving of a duenna.

"Shall I then take a message for the mistress most chaste?" he asked
hardily, winking the while at the latter as if taking her into his
confidence.

"Message?" echoed Âtma scornfully "Nay! no message! My lord Ibrahîm,
my lover, will come when he thinks fit, and go when _I_ choose, like a
cur with his tail belly-wards!"--she had been full of such jibes all
day--"So let us to work; the song of the Tale of the Wisdom of the
Princess Fortunata can hurt no woman folk! But take heed to the time!"
She broke at once into irregular chanting.


       Listen women! I pray to the wise
       Sanyogata, the Queen's advice
       To Prithvi on courage and cowardice.


Then she changed rhythm and the words swept on like a torrent.


       What fool asks woman for advice--The world
       Holds her wit shallow. Even when the truth
       Comes from her lips, men stop their ears and smile
       And yet without the woman, where is man?
       We hold the power of Form--for us the Fire
       Of Shiv's creative force flames up and burns;
       Lo! we are Thieves of Life, and sancturies of souls
           And sanctuaries of souls! of souls!


There was a sudden check of irritation; the singer interrupted herself
to complain of lack of accord; then continued:


       Vessels are we of Virtue and of Vice
       Of knowledge and of utmost ignorance
       Astrologers can calculate from books
       The courses of the stars; but who is he
       Can read the pages of a woman's heart?
       Our book hath not been measured, so men say
       "She hath no wisdom" but to hide their lack
       Of understanding. Yet we share your lives,
       Your failures, your successes, griefs, and joys.
       Hunger and thirst, if yours, are ours, and Death
       Parts us not from you; for we follow fast
       To serve you in the mansions of the Sun
           The mansions of the Sun.


Yet once again some discord in voice and music seemed to rouse ire.

"Fool!" cried Âtma, "hast no sense! Thou art like a sitting hen with
thy cluck, cluck, cluck, all out of tune! Take a paper if thou canst
not remember and set it down in notation. See there is a bit yonder."

She pointed to the pen-tray and Deena with contrite face took the
crumpled scrap, smoothed it out on the top of his drum and
thereinafter, with some slight exaggeration in displaying a fair white
surface, proceeded to write down quaint musical hieroglyphics. Then
folding it, notation uppermost, stuck it into the drum-brace.

"Now let us try again, mistress most chaste," he said cheerfully. "For
old Deena never failed a woman yet; least of all one who hath oft
times stood between him and damnation."

There was a faint tremble as of relaxed tension in Âtma's voice as she
went on:


       Love of my heart! Lo! you are as a swan
       That rests upon my bosom as a lake,
       There is no rest for thee but here, my lord!
       And yet arise to Victory and Fame
       Sun of the Chanhans! Who has drunk so deep
       Of glory and of pleasure as my lord!
       And yet the destiny of all is Death.
       Yea! even of the Gods! And to die well
       Is Life immortal. Therefore draw your sword,
       Smite down the Foes of Hind. Think not of Self,
       The garment of this Life is frayed and worn--
       Think not of me--we Twain shall be as One
       Hereafter and for ever. Go! my King.
           We Twain shall be as One, as One!


The nicest musical ear might have detected small change in Deena's
accompaniment, but Âtma professed herself satisfied.

"And now," asked the old go-between, as she leant back wearily, "What
next?"

"Nothing," she answered. "One is enough for a day. Thou canst come
to-morrow--for reward or punishment."

"And the mistress hath no orders, no message?" he asked, winking at
the duenna elaborately.

"Nothing; save to get thee gone as quick as may be. See him out,
woman!"

That faint tremor of voice only betrayed that her nerves were almost
at breaking point; that she felt the need of solitude for a second.

When it came she passed swiftly to the sword of her fathers and kissed
it passionately. Then flinging her arms on the parapet she gazed out
over the plain scarce seeing the pageantry of sunset that was being
enacted on the distant horizon.

What had she written on that scrap of paper? It had necessarily to be
guarded--but had she said enough?

"To the Feringhi jeweller! Come disguised as a Sufi in the Preacher's
dhooli to-night at one o'clock. Âtma Devi will give thee the luck thou
desirest."

After all it did read like a love letter. So much the better perhaps,
with Deena as messenger. Anyhow the message was sent.

What, therefore, lay before her? Within measurable distance of
probabilities now, she could face them. Supposing the Mirza came that
night? Oh! where was the use of considering what at the worst she
might have to do, in order to secure leisure at one o'clock! For, that
_had_ to be gained. Aye! even though before that hour, say at eleven,
she had to----

One, and eleven! Her mind, unaccustomed to strain, circled vaguely.
There was only a pin's-point difference between the two hours on
paper, just a mere scratch, a duplication and yet--mayhap!--between
them, tonight, a whole life--1 and 11--Strange! so little difference!

"Why didst thou lie to-day, woman?" said a voice beside her, "to save
my honour?"

She turned with a cry and fell at Akbar's feet. He had met Deena's
outgoing, had sent the duenna packing by a word backed by the display
of the ring which was Royalty's sign manual in all matters pertaining
to the women's apartments; so entering, had flung aside his muffling
shawl and for the last few seconds had been watching Âtma. For a
sudden new perception of her beauty had come to him, perhaps with the
sight of her in a dress familiar to him, since it is generally some
such subtle hint which, at first, makes a man's eyes differentiate one
woman from another.

Down at his very feet, Âtma's voice was yet proud. "To save the honour
of the King."

Akbar was quick in comprehension--"Who never dies--Not to save
Jalâl-ud-din-Mahomed Akbar! Still, thou needst not have lied."

"This slave only said what the King would have said."

A quick frown flew to his keen face. "Thou speakest bravely woman! But
'tis true. Akbar's brain was clouded. How came thine to be so clever?"

"My father was a chess-player," she said simply. "He taught me. And it
was not difficult, Most High. It was trivial."

For a second he looked really angry; then said quietly. "True
again, O Châran. Stand up, woman! Wherefore shouldst thou grovel
before--triviality?"

Standing there beside her their eyes met, and his showed admiration.

"So thou didst not lie, because the King can do no wrong. Then art
thou, woman, to be judge? thy thought, thy standard, always to be
right?"

"It--it was to-day, Great King," she said gravely.

He laughed outright.

"This is wholesome as a draught of bitter apples! Lo! Châran, thou
didst give me a lesson in love last time we met. Give me one in
tactics to-day! Not tactics in chess--that is past praying for--but in
Kingship."

She looked at him with pitiful humility. "This slave knows not, she is
only woman!"

"And yet thou didst come at dawn to save me from a broken promise! I
have not thanked thee yet for that; but in truth"--here his voice grew
softer, and leaning his elbow on the parapet, he looked into her eyes,
"thanks being all on one side----" Then suddenly curiosity beset him.
"How didst thou come?"--he looked down rapidly--"not by yonder
projecting eave? not by that, surely? Why! even my head----" He paused
a while, and her silence assuring him, murmured: "And thou didst that
_for me?_"

"For the King, Most-High!" she protested in a low voice as she
clutched convulsively at the talisman. For through her swept with
tumultuous force her first real knowledge of what her womanhood might
hold. Ye Gods! have pity! she must not lose herself. The King's Luck
must be safe first. He must never know the tale.

He looked at her curiously. Her lips were parted her breath came fast.

"Thou hast the nerve of ten," he said rapidly, "thou couldst walk
yonder ledge where I--even I--might fear to fall, and yet----" His
hand, reaching out as they stood close together by the parapet, caught
her wrist swiftly, and clasped it. "Yet now thou art afraid--afraid of
what?"

Her pulses bounding under his cool, firm touch seemed to suffocate
her.

"Aye," she admitted, turning her mind frantically to excuse, "I
fear--I fear the night, alone in a strange place."

In truth she did fear it. Her soul shrank now, knowing what she might
have to sacrifice. But for the blind, half-confusing memory of one
o'clock she would have fallen at his feet and begged for freedom. She
might have done so had she had time to count the cost.

"Strange?" echoed Akbar, haughtily. "Dost forget it is the King's
house?--that the King is guardian? Though in truth," he added with a
smile "Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar sleeps to-night in his pitched camp
beyond the gates." The memory seemed to obsess him with other ideas,
for he turned away gloomily.

"Farewell, widow. Akbar will strive to be King--thou hast done thy
best to make him one, anyhow," he added almost angrily. But as he
went, something in her face and form recalled his youth, and he
hesitated. Then drawing off a ring hastily he strode over to her, and
taking her hand roughly, slipped it on her finger.

"Yea, thou hast done many things for me," he said proudly, "so let me
do one for thee. This ring, the Signet of the Palace, may calm thy
fears for to-night. None dare harm its possessor without my order. At
thy peril, use it not unworthily. I----" He paused, drew his shrouding
shawl round him, and corrected himself--"It will be reclaimed at
dawn."

The dusk had died down almost to dark, the stars grew clearer and
clearer on the growing violet of the sky. Âtma stood gazing with
unseeing eyes over the wide plain that was losing itself rapidly in
shadow. She was scarcely thinking at all. She was only feeling how
increasingly hard it was becoming to dissociate Akbar from the King,
Love from Love.

"The Lord High Treasurer hath called to inquire and craves
admittance."

She awoke to realities at the duenna's voice, but with a new element
in her outlook on the future--a palpitating horror at the thought of
the sacrifice she had faced calmly but an hour ago.

"He--he is welcome," she said faintly. There was no use shirking, and
she might be able to put him off till after one.

But his first words told her theirs was a fight for life in the
present.

"All in the dark!" he said lightly, "so much the better mayhap,
mistress, for Ibrahîm's peace of mind, seeing that he hath but a few
hours to count his own. The jackal hath to eat his bones betimes."

"What meanest my lord?" she asked hurriedly.

"That his Majesty the King will feast on the flesh," he replied
recklessly. "Ah I have heard He hath been here this last half-hour. In
troth, but that he interferes with my quarry, I would say thank God
the anchorite _hath_ found his meat. As it is, I have come earlier to
handsel my share." Then he turned swiftly to the duenna. "Leave us for
a while. I would speak alone with this lady."

When she had gone he said curtly. "Thou hadst best sit down. I have
much to say."

"Say on," replied Âtma laconically, as without the faintest sign of
trepidation she sate herself calmly down amid the silken carpets and
cushions; for behind her propped against the marble pilasters, were
the hauberk, the sword of her fathers, to give her courage. It was the
Mirza who showed uneasiness. He walked up and down as if uncertain how
to begin.

"Well," she asked with a scornful smile as she played idly with the
pens in the open pen-box, "what hast thou to say?"

He cast aside doubt at her words, flung himself on the steps, and
leaning forward peered through the dusk into her eyes. "What thou wilt
not care to hear; so brace thyself--if thou canst, woman! Thou didst
send by Deena----"

"He has betrayed me," she exclaimed involuntarily.

"Or died! Take it as thou willst. The letter was sent to its
destination anyhow, for it served our purpose. Thou knowest the King's
challenge? Well, we have sought all day to get hold of the Feringhi
jeweller, so that his death might break the King's safe conduct. But
Birbal hath been too quick for us. He hath him safe cooped up in his
house. But _thou_ hast called the man here."

Âtma, with a cry, rose to her feet. "I meant but----" she began.

"What thou didst mean matters not now, though I have my suspicions,"
broke in the Mirza brutally. "Sit down, I tell thee, and listen.
Whether thy call be, as I hold it to be, one that even Birbal would
admit, time will show. But if this doubly damned infidel be found
within the palace precincts it is death. And see here"--he held out a
paper.

"I cannot see," she murmured dully. "It is too dark." And in truth,
even as she spoke, the palace gong sounded one stroke.

How often it sounded one she thought as the Mirza struck a light. But
this time it meant half-an-hour beyond eight. One, yes--it was the
knell of doom.

The spark had come to the tinder-roll, and now a sputtering oil lamp
in the sevenfold cresset showed her the writing on the paper. "To the
Sergeant of the Palace watch. At one of the clock, guard the
Preacher's dhooli and enter the apartment of Âtma Devi. Her lover will
be there."

"He is not my lover," she began.

"But he will be there at one." He laughed devilishly, "Now listen.
None but me know of this--as yet. Âtma," his voice took on urgency,
almost appeal, "grant me thyself--and this paper shall be destroyed."

So it had come. She was the price of honour. Would it not be the
simplest way?

"It must be to-night," he whispered hoarsely, "Tomorrow the King----"

She could have struck him full upon the mouth, but she sate trembling
with tense desire to do so.

"If I promise," she asked firmly, "may this paper be mine?" She had
noticed that it was signed and countersigned by the captain and
commandant of the guard. If she had it, it might be difficult to get
another. Anyhow it would show good faith.

Ibrahîm's face grew hard. "Nay, fair one," he said, "hardly till the
promise is fulfilled. I must have due security."

And she must have it also, she thought fiercely. Aye, she knew him,
devil-spawn, vile utterly. He meant to take all from her and send the
order too. She might give him everything at eleven and yet at
one--eleven and one!--11 and 1!

She glanced hastily at the paper; then sate silent her face hardening,
her hands still playing idly with the pens in the pen bag.

"Think over it, bibi" he said insinuatingly for even the faint lamp
light showed her bewilderingly beautiful. "It is not so much to ask! I
am no ill-favoured churl, and before heaven, I love thee. Then,
surely, thou wouldst not betray the King."

Betray the King! No! that must never be. She had thought of a way to
prevent that.

"And--and if I give the audience thou desirest at--at eleven?" she
began slowly.

He fell at her feet rapturously. "Âtma! I swear!"

She stilled him with a wave of her hand. "I must think," she cried,
and rising, walked to the parapet. Only however, to return after a
second.

"I consent," she said quietly. "At eleven be it--thou wilt not send
this?" She showed the paper she still held.

"Nay," he replied with a bow as he took it from her. "I will keep it
ever next my heart as security for happiness--at eleven."

When he had gone she broke into a sudden, wild laugh, and flung the
pen she held concealed in her right hand into the pen tray.

"Only a fly's foot on the paper, but it will show truth or untruth!"
she muttered.

Then she sate down and waited; there was nothing else to be done. She
dare not use the King's signet--if indeed this token of mere personal
safety to herself would be of any avail--since that might lead to his
discovery of the diamond's theft. And that (this had grown to an
immutable creed) must never be!

"Light not so many lights," she said to the servants who came in with
long garlands of flowers and coloured lights; but they went on with
their work. It was by the Lord Chamberlain's orders they said. And
they brought her new jewels, and scattered rose-oil-water about the
cushions, and spread a low stool-table with fruit, and goblets, and
wine flagons.

She sate and watched them, interested as she would not have been but
for the awakening of her womanhood under the King's touch. Now she
understood; now for the first time she realised the philosophy of
Siyah Yamin.

So Ibrahîm, coming in early--she smiled mysteriously at his
haste--found her watching the slave-women who were reaching up to
place coloured lights amongst the roses twined round the cupola, and
as they worked they sang in a quaint roundel:


       Shine earthen lamps, outblaze the stars
       So cold, so white, so far.
       Shine little lamp, hide Heaven's light
       Love comes to Love to-night.


"Bid them remove them, my lord," she said eagerly. "Lo! they are
garish. Are not mine eyes and the stars sufficient for--for lovers?"
She hung her head and looked at him. Her cheeks showed a crimson flush
beneath the corn-coloured skin, her eyes blazed, indeed, like many
stars.

He gave the order instantly, and as it was being executed walked to
the parapet whence he could feast his eye upon the picture she made as
she sate in the cupola, the rose garlands bending to touch her, the
light of the seven-lamped cresset on the step below her shining full
on her face, and glinting behind her on cold steel of sword and
hauberk. Aye! she was right. The coloured lights were garish; she was
colourful enough herself; she needed no adventitious aids to passion;
that hint of cold steel was enough! His blood rose to fever heat.

"Quick slaves! quick!" he cried. "Are we to be kept waiting all night."

Her laugh rang out provocatively. "My lord is before his time. It is
not yet eleven! Drink to our love, Mirza--or stay! Let us drink to the
truth between us!" She filled two goblets of the good red wine and
passed him one. "So! to the truth between us," she cried; then, as she
drained the glass flung it far into the darkness of the night. It
showed curving comet-like, then sank, a distant tinkle telling where
it had smashed to atoms. "Thine also! Thine also! Ibrahîm!" she cried.
"To the Truth between us!"

He muttered something unheard, flung his glass away, then essaying a
laugh caught up a lute and began to sing in high airy trills:


       Lo! the green-hued sea of heaven
       And the crescent moon its ship
       Bear me, dearest, to the haven
       Where Love's Anchor I may dip
       In the harbour of thy bosom.
       Find in shelter of thy lip
       Kisses seven! Kisses seven
       Oh! what nectar--One more sip
       Surely thou wilt be forgiven
       Even angels sometimes trip.


As he stood there dressed in white from head to foot, becurled,
bescented, bedandyfied, Âtma thought of the man who had stood there
before, and something purely savage crept into her smile.

"Lo! thou singest well" she said. "So do I, give me the lute?"

The servants had gone. He crossed to her, passion in his eyes. "I came
not here for lutes." he cried almost brutally, "I came for love!"

She motioned him back with her hand. "It is not yet--eleven! And I
will sing--of--of--love."

He drew a long breath. She was surpassing beautiful with that enticing
smile. Why should he be greedy of his pleasure?


       Love of my heart, bring blushes to my face,
       Seek not at wisdom's hand, excuse or grace.
       Speed thou my blood in passion's tireless race
       Till lip meet lip, and arm with arm embrace
       For the love of the heart has no end----


"Âtma! I love thee!"

His quick cry sank before her steady voice:


              But the grave
              But the cold, cold grave
              But the grave!


He gave a slight shiver and drew back; then threw himself beside her.
"Come!" he said, "there is life before the grave!"

She shook her head playfully. Not even Siyah Yamin with all her
knowing wiles, could have played her part better.

"It is not yet--eleven" she answered and if her face showed haggard it
was belied by her gay laugh. "Lo! keep to compact, Mirza Sahib. There
is another verse; by then, it may be--eleven!"

She paused a second as if her keen ears had caught some faint sound,
then she swept the strings with a resounding force that echoed and
re-echoed through the roof, drowning all else.


       Love of my soul, bring courage to my heart
       Seek not at passion's hand her lure and art.
       Claim thou the whole of me and not the part
       Though Death meet Death and Life from Life depart
       For the love of the soul has no end in the grave.
           In the cold, cold grave.
           In the grave.


A crashing chord, dissonant, fierce, overbore all things, and out of
it rose mellow the first chime of eleven.

She leant forward, her eyes full of allure, on his. "Out with the
lamps, Love needs no light," she quoted rapidly.

"One!" Her curved red lips smiled, parted, and one of the cressets was
gone. Its dying breath exhaled perfumes of musk.

Again the mellow note rang out.

"Two," she whispered and again a cresset flickered, went out.

"Three."

"Four." This time the Mirza seemed to be listening.

"It will be counting kisses by and by when light fails," she suggested
gaily, pointing to the three remaining lamplets.

"Five--"

There were but two now. She was leaning closer to him, his arm had
stolen round her waist.

"Six--"

Something made her glance hastily to the door, but the bounding blood
in his pulses seemed for him to have invaded the whole world, and he
heard nothing.

"_Seven!_--"

It was dark now, and from the darkness came the long-drawn sound of a
kiss; then of another.

_Eight_--_Nine!_--The chiming hour went on.

His arms were round her. Aye, but hers were round him also. Arms like
iron, lips like steel upon his mouth.

"_Ten!_"

"Die dog!" she whispered with the kiss. "Nay, thou shalt take it."

He struggled fiercely.

_Eleven!_

"Die in mine arms, for thine untruth, traitor!"

"Help!" he choked feebly. "Harlot! let me go!"

But it was too late. The palace guard under orders for eleven, not for
one, had found their quarry in the dark. Had found him in a woman's
arms, and swift daggers did their work.

There was not a quiver in Mirza Ibrahîm's body when, turning it over,
they discovered by a lantern's light their mistake and started back in
horror.

"Yea, he is dead," said Âtma as she stood, fast held for future
punishment. There was sombre menace in her voice, her eyes blazed with
a cruel fire. Then she turned on her captors.

"Loose me, slaves. I carry the Signet of the King. Seek his orders
concerning me."

It was true. The signet was on her finger. So releasing her, they
double-guarded the door, while, with the dead body of the Lord
Chamberlain as witness, they sought superior wisdom.

Left alone, Âtma found the old sword as solace and clasped it to her
bosom. She had but killed for the King; a? her fathers had killed many
a time.



                             CHAPTER XXVI

      _'Twas in the bath a piece of perfumed clay
       Came from my loved one's hands to mine one day
       Art thou then musk or ambergris? I said,
       That by thy scent my soul is ravished.
       "Not so," it answered, "naught but clay am I,
       But I have kept a rose's company_."
                                          --Sa'adi


It was nigh twelve of the night, and Akbar was awake. He sate on the
low divan which served him as a bed, and in a measure as throne also,
when he was in camp; but there was little else about the magnificent
apartment in which it stood to suggest the smallest withdrawal of
luxury, still less of comfort. The walls were of the finest Kashmir
shawls draped in panels between the parcel-gilt tent poles, and the
floor was covered with strangely-glistening silken carpets from
Khotan. A marvellous lustre of precious stones hung from the roof, and
beside the divan stood the seven-light cresset stand, the golden and
gemmed scent brazier, and the clepsydra with its lotus bowl, without
which the King spent no night.

He was alone for the time, though countless guards doubtless stood in
the vast city of huge tents which formed the King's camp. Weary work
indeed, is it to even read the catalogue of such a camp. Of the
hundreds of tents of scarlet cloth bound with silken tapes, fitted
with silken ropes, some of which would seat ten thousand people. Of
the great circle of double-storied screen around the "Akass-deva"
lamp--the King's lamp that showed the way to God's Justice. Then the
dais for Common Audience with its avenue of five hundred feet by three
hundred broad, and its great circular enclosure of over one thousand
feet diameter. Truly the mind wavers over the tremendous size of it,
and refuses to grasp the possibility of a pavilion with fifty-four
rooms in it!

Such, nevertheless, was the camp in which Akbar sate alone awaiting a
favoured visitor.

For he had made up his mind to see this little "Queen of Women" with
whom his son was said to have fallen in love.

It was easy. She was but a child, and he the father of his people. So
he had ordered Ghiâss Beg to bring her to the camp privately at twelve
of the night, when all was quiet.

Then, he felt, he would be able to judge aright. Since what was this
challenge of his but mere childishness? Everyone, even Birbal, was
keen to win or lose; but if he lost or won, how did that affect the
truth?

Was Love powerful enough to wean Salîm from his life of debauchery?
The idea of it had not been; but the compelling force depended on the
woman. Was this child of twelve----? Pshaw it was impossible.

Yet he must see her, he felt; for it was a momentous decision, not to
be made lightly.

He rose, and walking over to the clepsydra, watched the lotus cup
sinking with the weight of time.

So sank beauty under the weight of years.

And then, suddenly, to him came the remembrance of Âtma Devi. Ye Gods!
if from the beginning he had had a mate such as she--a woman to whom
the honour of the King outweighed the honour, nay, even the love of
the man, he need not now have stood uncertain, hesitating whether to
leave all, even his sons, to wallow in the mire of conventionality--to
leave all, and dream out his dream of Empire in his own way. For he
would have had not only sons, but heirs.

Should he so leave all? Should the morrow see the camp no more
spectacle to the wedding festivities, but a real departure?

He could take her with him as an inspiration--the sudden unlooked for
thought caught him unawares, left him surprised.

"The Captain of the Palace Guard without and the Chief Eunuch have
urgent news," came the obsequious voice of a page.

"Bid them in," he replied, returning to the divan, almost glad of an
interruption to what was disturbing in the uttermost.

"Dead!" he echoed incredulously to the news they brought. "The Lord
High Chamberlain dead--by whose hands?"

"By mine, Most High," answered a trembling voice as the Sergeant of
the Guard fell at the King's feet. "We had warning that the English
jeweller was to be in Mistress Âtma Devi's rooms to-night at eleven.
We went. All was dark. We found him as we thought, in her very arms.
Yet when Justice was done and we brought the light, it--it was Mirza
Ibrahîm."

"In whose apartment?" Akbar's voice was very cold, very quiet.

"In the Châran-woman's, Most High! Lo! there is some mistake,
doubtless. Yet she was brought in by the Mirza's orders--she had the
fairest apartment set apart for her and--and he visited her this
evening--just after Majesty, so the woman said."

Akbar rose to his feet fiercely.

"What has that to do with it, slave?" he interrupted, his voice full
of swift sudden anger, "go on with the noisome tale!"

"Of a truth, sire, there is no doubt lamps were lit and wine brought.
So he deserved death, and the woman too----"

"Aye!" assented the King, "she deserved it more! Didst kill her too?"
He felt outraged beyond words; every atom of his manhood rose in hot
anger against the woman who had dared--aye! dared to make him think of
things he had forgotten, when she herself---- Ah! it was past mere
anger.

"Nay! Most High. She--she showed us the Signet of Majesty and so----"

Under his breath a curse broke from Akbar's lips. Aye! he remembered
now! He had given her the ring, and with the memory came back such an
impotent flood of pure savage rage as never before in all his life had
he felt. The Mogul scratched showed the Tartar; for an instant not
even his ancestor Timur could have felt more bloodthirsty. The shame
of it alone cried for instant revenge.

The thought brought him outward calm.

"She dies at dawn," he said quietly. "As women do who sin in God's
night. Bring her here, _then_. She shall affix the seal to her own
death-warrant. Write it now, and lay it on yonder desk so that it may
be ready."

"And till then, Most High?"

"Leave her where her lover died; being Hindu she may learn to follow
him without fear."

For already bitter anger was passing; inflexible justice taking its
place.

"His Highness the Lord Treasurer waits without with a dhooli," said
the page once more.

"Close the screens, let no one enter. Bid the Lord Treasurer bring the
dhooli to the outer tent and remain there himself." The order was
given calmly, but he who gave it was in a whirlwind of passionate
protest.

And this woman--this common strumpet of the bazaars--had talked to him
of Love; had, in reality, set him on the first step which had led him
so far from common-sense; which had brought him here to an interview
with a chit of a child at dead of night!

A slim white figure parting the curtains which separated this inner
pavilion from the one beyond, brought him back to his bearings. It was
not the child's fault; she must be courteously dealt with.

"Wilt not unveil, my child?" he said gravely, "there is none to
fear----"

"And Mihr-un-Nissa fears none," came the reply, as the cloud of white
drapery thrown back, fell on the ground, and the girl stepping forward
lightly from the billowy folds, stood to salaam.

There was a moment's pause; then eager, warm, came Akbar's verdict.
"By all the Gods of Indra! by Allah and his Prophet! thou art
beautiful indeed, my daughter."

A deeper flush tinged the rounded cheeks, but the girl looked frankly
into the admiring eyes.

"I am glad."

Something in her conscious unconsciousness made him ask quickly,
"Wherefore?"

"Because they call me Queen of Women, sire, and the Queen should
please the King," she answered demurely.

"Thou hast a ready wit, child. Dost wish to be a Queen?"

There was not a trace of sauciness in her quick reply. "It depends,
sire, upon the King."

Akbar felt completely taken aback; he recognised in this slender
little maid-ling of twelve, the germs of something that might grow to
greatness indeed.

"I am a churl, lady," he said at last, "to keep Beauty standing.
Seat yourself so, beside me, and we can talk. Or stay!" A whimsical
smile irradiated his face, he put out his hand to lead her to the
throne-divan. "Sit thou upon the seat of Majesty, and I will sit at
Beauty's feet. I have much to learn from it."

She did not even protest. She took her place with childish dignity,
and waited for him to speak. Frankness seemed the only possible
approach, so he plunged at once in _medias res_.

"Lady, dost thou love my son Salîm?"

The cupid's-bow of her lips smiled over a cold definite "No."

Akbar's parental pride rose instantly.

"And why, prithee?"

The answer was nonchalant, uncompromising.

"I like not his looks."

"Yet he is not ill-favoured," protested the proud father, beginning to
feel injured, "he is stalwart and young, hath fine eyes, and----"

"He is not so good looking as his father is--even now," said
Mihr-un-nissa, sagely nodding her head.

"But for that 'even now' fair daughter," said Akbar nettled, "your
compliments might make one shy! Then thou lovest Sher Afkân?"

The flush came again. "He is a brave soldier, anyhow," said the little
maiden holding her head high.

"A brave soldier, indeed!" assented Akbar gravely, yet feeling
inclined to smile, "but as for looks, hath he not a scar upon his
face?"

"'Twill be a place whereon a wife may lay her kisses," retorted
Mihr-un-nissa hastily, then grew crimson with shame at having
inadvertently used an argument which had evidently done duty in
sparring matches on the subject with her mother.

Akbar laughed out loud, then grew grave. "Of a truth Mistress
Quick-wit, women are beyond men's comprehension! But we have been
playing with words hitherto. Now let us be serious--let me see thy
mind. Why dost not like my son?"

Instant, clear, decisive, came the reply.

"Because he doth not love his father."

"Wherefore does he not love him? What proof hast thou?" asked Akbar
hotly.

Mihr-un-nissa's face had no pity, even in its deep unfathomable eyes.

"Because, Great King, he seeks ever to betray Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed
Akbar. Oh!"--the words once started rushed out now like a torrent--"I
know they say it is better Akbar should not know! I know how they
all--even my Lord Birbal--keep things back, saying the King's mind
should be tranquil. But it is not so! Kingship is the truth! Kings
must know all things! There is the diamond--They have kept that back,
I dare swear. It was stolen, Most High----"

"Stolen!" echoed Akbar stupidly, "who was it--who spoke of that
before?" Then memory returning, impotent rage once more rose in him.
"Well, what then?" he queried roughly.

"I say the King should know!" came the high girlish voice. "Pain is
but a safeguard from ill. He should know, aye, and use his knowledge
that it was stolen for the Prince--that he wore it in his turban and,
that if it hath gone back to safekeeping 'tis not because of remorse
upon the Prince's part, but because the King exchanged the Turban of
Brotherhood----"

"It is not true," muttered Akbar, hiding his head in his hands.
"Child--say it is not true." Something in him told him it was true,
therefore he fought against it all the more fiercely.

"Will saying it alter fact?" went on the inexorable young voice. "My
King, the knowledge of all this is to be King; ignorance is--is
foolishness!"

She stood up, a startled look in her eyes. "Have I, have I made thee
cry?" she said solicitously. Then she burst out fiercely, "Oh, if I
were Queen I would have no son, no husband. I would be Queen indeed."

Akbar had stood up also, his face blurred by emotion, but strong and
stern.

"I have to thank thee for the Truth. Strange I have had to learn it
from a little maid's lips. Lo! Mihr-un-nissa, wilt thou not love my
son?"

She shook her head, "Had he been more like----" she paused, and hung
her head, shy for the first time.

He took her little hand, and stooping, kissed it. "And had the Queen
of Women but been fifteen years older--thou art sure, child, thou
wouldst not care to be Queen?"

Her face grew grave, the perfect features took on dignity. "Queen I
shall be. The crystal says so. But not now, for I am too young and he
would break my heart. Why should I give up youth?" Then suddenly
recollecting her rôle of virtuous wisdom, she added solemnly, "But God
alone knows what the future may hold."

When she had gone Akbar sate down, feeling dazed by the many unlooked
for buffettings which Fate had given him that night.

To begin with, he had been within an ace of dishonour himself. Aye!
there was no use denying it. It must have been unrecognised passion in
himself which had led him into this childish, unkinglike challenge.
And now had come this dishonour of degenerate heirs; for what use was
there in dissociating Salîm from Murâd, Murâd from Danyâl? His sons
were all alike--were they indeed his sons, these dissolute drinking
louts?

He paced the tent almost in despair. Pride, anger, love, justice,
tearing at his heart.

Yes, he must go! He must leave his City of Heirship for ever. He must
cast off earthly shackles and live only for the immortal dream.

Birbal's slim figure stealing through the curtains roused him to
instant anger, almost as instant patience; since how could he judge of
those bound by conventional standards?

"What now?" he asked briefly. Something uncompromising in his tone
made the minister begin an excuse. He had been close by, and hearing
that Majesty waked----

Akbar walked up and laid his hand on Birbal's shoulder.

"Lie not, friend," he said, "hath the stolen diamond been found? Sh!
hold thy peace. I know the tale. A queen of common sense hath told it
to me; and rightly told it. What, she said, was pain but a warning
against evil. That is truth; but is the stone found? That is what I
ask."

Birbal, whose jaw had almost fallen in his blank surprise, was on his
knees, instinct telling him to attempt no excuse.

"Sire! I have it with me now. The madwoman Âtma Devi----"

"What of her?" asked Akbar fiercely.

Truth was the only resource, so Birbal told it. "She sent a message to
bid William Leedes come to her at one o' the night in the Preacher's
dhooli; and I, fearing treachery--for I never trusted woman yet
without regretting it--went myself. For the safe-conduct given by
Majesty to these strangers was a fertile field for the breaking of
promise."

Akbar interrupted him impatiently.

"And she met you, where?"

"In truth where there was scant foothold for a goat," said Birbal
glibly, trying to get through with confession lightly, "on the wide
eave of the turret. Belike she heeded not the danger, being as she
said, under sentence of death at dawn. And it was that made her yield
the gem to me--'twas her last chance--for she held fast to her promise
to give it to none save unto the jeweller's own hand. So she stood
there, with death in a falter, administering fearful oaths and----" He
had been feeling in his breast and now held forth the Luck of the King
"here it is, sire."

In the light of the cressets, the gem glowed familiarly like soft
moonshine; but Akbar peremptorily set it aside.

"Thou art under oath to deliver it to none but the jeweller. Traitor!
are women to be more faithful than men?"

Birbal grovelled at the King's feet, but Akbar did not notice him.

He was dully trying to piece the parts into a whole, telling himself
he would hear the truth when Âtma Devi should be brought to him at
dawn.



                            CHAPTER XXVII

      _Look lover! Now indeed Love endeth right
       This is the only road. Oh, learn of me
       That Death shall give thee Love's best ecstasy
       Oh! If thou be'st true lover wash not hand
       From that dear Stain of Love; from worldly brand
       Of Wealth and Self-love wash it. At the last
       Those win who spite of Fortune's tempests stand
       Glad to wreck all for Love--I say to thee
       I, Sa'adi, launch not on Love's boundless Sea
       But, if thou puttest forth, hoist sail, quit anchor,
       To Storm and Wave trust thyself hardily_.
                                                 --Sa'adi[15]


---------------------

[Footnote 15: Translated by Sir Edwin Arnold.]

---------------------


"The Woman-Châran waits without under guard."

"Bid her in--alone!"

Akbar had been awaiting this it seemed to him for hours. Now that it
had come he would have delayed, if he could.

The tent was still dark, but as the outer screen was lifted something
paler, grayer than murk-night showed in faint square, grew blurred
with moving shades, then disappeared altogether. The cresset light
scarce reached into the shadowy corners of the tent, where hung faint
clouds of scented smoke; but Akbar's keen eyes pierced the gloom
clearly.

"What? Have they bound thee? I meant not so," He stepped to the tall
dim figure and unloosed the cord with which its hands were tied.

"Come hither, woman."

The kindly office done, he was back on the throne, his face showing
stern in the cresset light. As she came forward she stumbled slightly
in her walk. They must have tied her feet also, when they were
bringing her to the camp and she was numb and stiff. His heart went
out to her in swift pity, then returned to him in swifter justice.

"The ring, woman! The signet that I gave thee," he said peremptorily.
Until that was gone from her finger, even he could not touch her for
harm. She held it out to him without a word, then sinking to her knees
crouched at his feet. The folds of her star-set skirts clung round her
closely, the saffron, pearl-sewn veil hardly hid her beauty of strong
supple curves. She had begged to be allowed to die in the steel
hauberk of the Châran, but they had jeered at her, saying the race was
well quit of such representatives as she. So in her final arraignment
she stood as simple woman.

Perhaps by so doing she gained advantage. Anyhow, Akbar who had meant
to be sternly judicial, felt, now they were alone together, that this
was no question of Culprit and Judge, but of a man and a woman. And
with the feeling came, to his surprise, a sense of keen personal
injury.

"Why hast thou done this thing?" he asked bitterly.

The long tension of the night, the sight of the man she knew she
loved, the very touch of his hands as he undid the knot which had
bound her, and now the regret, the pain of his voice, all conspired
against calmness, though she fought for it desperately. There was but
one refuge--the refuge of race.

"I--I did it for the King," she said mechanically, not realising the
full meaning of her words.

He caught at it in a moment. "For the King? Then _thou_ art true."

She gave no answer. What was the use of explanation when she could not
explain? When the King must never know aught concerning the theft of
the diamond. Silence was better. God gave the reward of that.

"Âtma"--she shivered at the name, at the tone, of the King's
voice--"I command thee, as King, answer truly. What was there betwixt
thee and the Mirza?"

She sighed faintly. By forgetting what really mattered in the purely
personal, he had enabled her to obey.

"That which is ever between a man and woman when they both need
somewhat, my liege," she said simply. "So now I must die. It will be
better."

She had told herself this a hundred times that night. She had done her
work. Life might bring difficulties. Death was the only remedy. But
she over-reached herself in self-sacrifice.

"Oh! let me die, my liege," she cried kissing the dust of his feet.
"Majesty will forget." This hope was also in her blurred mind.

"It will not forget," he cried passionately, "unless it knows the
truth. Speak! woman--Blazon out thy shame if shame there be, else I
call Birbal with the diamond he took from thee----"

She was on her feet trembling with anger, outraged utterly.

"What! he hath told the Most-High! Oh! traitor, coward! And he
swore--he bade me never tell----"

Akbar gave a sigh of relief. He understood now. This woman had been in
the conspiracy of silence; and she would have kept that silence until
death.

"Sit thee down again, King's Châran," he said almost with a smile.
"The King was not to know. Aye! but he does know, so silence is of no
avail. He knows all--how the Luck was stolen for the Prince Salîm, and
how he, deceiving his father----"

Âtma gave a little cry and crept closer, almost as it were
consolingly, to his feet.

"He is but young, my liege, he did not think," she pleaded. "Truly he
loves his father--there is no cause for pain----"

In the slight pause Akbar's eyes showed suspiciously as if they held
sudden tears. "Not so spoke she who told me," he said, his voice
bitter. "Yet she also was woman!"

Âtma's slow brain busy over that "she" broke in on the silence.

"Was't Khânzada Gulbadan or Umm Kulsum?" she asked naïvely.

Akbar frowned quickly. "I wist not _they_ were in the scandal," he
said quite petulantly. "But what matters it if all the world
knew--save only the King! Leave that alone, for God's sake, and tell
me truly what lay between thee and Ibrahîm?"

To him so near desire, that was the fateful question.

To her also, for dimly she saw ahead. "Silence is best," she said
obstinately. "It does not injure Truth, _whose hiding place is
immortality, whose shadow, death_."

The well-worn quotation fell from her lips like the juice of poppy,
restful, soothing, opiate; but Akbar was in no mood of acquiescence.
He bent hastily and seized her by the wrist, fiercely, tenderly. All
his blood was stirring in him as it had not stirred for years.

"I tell thee thou shalt answer! I, the King, command thee, Châran. Nay
I, Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar, as man, command thee as woman. Tell me
the truth----"

She shrunk back--looked into his eyes, whence peace and dignity had
fled, leaving naught but man's passion--then gave a little sob,
feeling her effort had failed. He was man, not King.

"Yea! I will tell thee, Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar!"

So she told him dully, piteously, of her treachery concerning Diswunt,
of her immediate repentance, of her much searching. Of the Wayfarer
and his strange gift that she wore even now around her neck and how it
had helped her, until as she spoke a scent of fresh roses seemed to
fill the tent where those two sate hand in hand; for the grip on wrist
had slackened and her fingers now lay in his willingly, confidently.
Then she told him of Mihr-un-nissa and the Beneficent Ladies, of the
false gems and the true one hidden in a harlot's bosom, until interest
growing in Akbar's eyes, she forgot herself in her story, as she told
of the Mirza and his uttermost deceit. Her very hand withdrew itself
unnoticed as she described the fly's foot upon the paper which had
altered the hour, and her voice rang defiant as she gave her challenge
for the Truth. So, instinct with the mere drama of the deed, she
sprang to her feet and made as if she flung the goblet, curving like a
comet, into the night. And Akbar sate and watched her with ever
growing admiration as, action by action, she followed her own words.

It became breathless, palpitating--the seven lamped cresset--the
chiming gong--even the long-drawn kisses----

Akbar's cheek paled--this was more than womanhood--this was his dream
of it----!

"Die dog! Die for thine untruth!"

Her passion had risen to its height; she staggered, for it was Akbar
whom she found within her clasp.

But it was Akbar who held her close, as men hold women whom they love,
who strained her to his breast, murmuring, "Nay! thou shalt live, live
for thine uttermost Truth."

The excitement died from her face in a moment, she drew back from him
in deadly fear.

"My liege--my liege--not so--it cannot be--for pity sake, my liege."

"Cannot?" he echoed with an exultant laugh. "Wherefore can it not be.
Am I not the King?"

"It is because the Most High _is_ the King" she began--"Remember, my
liege--the death warrant."

He had forgotten it; but he passed rapidly to the desk whereon it lay.

"That is easy remedied," said he seizing on it and making as if he
would tear it up.

"Hold!" she cried peremptorily.

"Wherefore?" he asked as peremptorily.

She drew herself up to her full height. "Because I am keeper of the
King's honour, and I forbid it."

"Again, wherefore?" Checked in his immediate intention his temper
rose.

"Does my liege forget," she said and her voice was calmness itself,
"that it is not yet Dawn? That to destroy that paper is failure?--that
the King's enemies will triumph? It is not yet Dawn and _that_"--she
pointed to what he held--"belongs to To-day."

There was an awful silence. Akbar stood blinded by the truth. It was
as she had said; to annul the death-warrant was to confess failure.

So, after a time his voice--or was it not his voice--sounded through
the tent.

"It is not sealed. Thou hadst the ring--therefore it doth not count"

She had taken a step or two nearer to him as if to beg the paper of
him, now she shrank back as from a snake, frozen with fear.

"What!" she whispered and her voice was close on tears. "Shall
Kingship stoop to Craft--Leave that to the King's enemies."

But Akbar was past reproach; passion had mastered him and his hands
instinct mobile with fierce life, met and parted again and again until
the death-warrant torn to shreds lay in his clasp a mere handful of
waste paper. "Lo!" he cried joyfully, "Let Kingship go! Jalâl-ud-din
is man--he will reap man's harvest of love."

He flung what he held from him with the action of a sower who sows.
The light scraps of paper hung in the air for a second then fell
steadily, softly, like seed grains. Some of them fell on Âtma's white
star-sewn skirts.

She stooped slowly to raise one and hold it up menacingly.


   "Not a grain of the sheaves of life is stored by one who has trod
    The furrows and fallows of passion, and sown no seed for God."


But Akbar had drifted too far from philosophy for such hoarded wisdom.
He was back beside the speaker his arm around her.

"It is idle, Âtma I tell thee naught shall stand between us. Let
Kingship go--thou art my Queen!"

She fought frantically against him and his claim.

"Sire, bethink you, if the challenge be lost?"

"What care I--thou lovest me--dare not to say thou dost not----"

"Yea! Yea! I love thee oh Jalâl-ud-din," she cried pleading with him,
for himself, "but thou art the King. Thy faith must not fail."

"My faith in thee will never fail," he replied, "naught else matters."

"Not mine in thee? Not mine, the Châran's in the King? Nay, it shall
not be so Âtma the Châran dies!"

Her hand which had snatched out the death-dagger of her race held it
high above her head; but Akbar was too quick for her. His was on hers;
so arrested, it remained, bringing her face closer to his.

"Nay, my Queen!" he said and the softness of his voice sent despair
and delight through her veins. "Thou hast said thou lovest me, as I do
thee. Is that not enough for poor mortal man? What is Kingship
compared to it? Let it go! Kiss me, sweetheart--kiss me but once, and
thou wilt learn----"

She lay passive on his shoulder, her eyes, full of the fire of love
immortal, found and held his.

"What shall I learn, Great King?" she whispered falteringly.

"To take even love from my hand," he said, bending closer.

Her whole body seemed to yield to him, she nestled closer, finding
soft rest in his strong arms.

"Yea!" she whispered, raising her lips for the kiss. "I will take--all
things from the hand of the King."

So, ere he could prevent it, ere, taken by surprise, his iron muscles
could counteract the strong downward sweep of her right hand, his,
clasping hers, followed the flash of the death-dagger of her race.

It found fit sheathing close to her heart.

"Âtma," he whispered sinking to his knees with the dead weight he
held. "Âtma!"

He did not call her love or queen; he knew too well that she was
slipping away from such empty titles.

A low murmur made him bend his ear closer.

"May the--Gods pity--us Dreamers--who--dream----"

The old refrain. The first words surely he had heard from her lips.
But at least she still lived.

Gathering her in his arms he carried her to the divan; then knelt
supporting her on his breast. If she died she should die as a
queen--in the King's clasp--upon his throne.

So there was silence.

The dawn was coming fast. It showed in streaks of shimmering gray
light between the dark screens.

"Âtma!"

There was no sound.

Then suddenly gay, light-hearted as a bird, a bugle rang out; followed
by another, and another.

The dying woman stirred.

"The--the dawn has come!" she whispered to herself. And then,
suddenly, as if galvanised to an instant's life, she sate up and the
tent rang with her cry.


              Ohí! The King, The King,
              Challenge I bring
              Ohí! The King--the----


The last word never came. In her effort to rise she overbalanced and
slipped in a huddled heap at Akbar's feet.

He stood quite still. He knew that she was dead; that nothing but
worthless clay lay there; the deathless spirit--the dreamer that never
dies--had fled--whitherward? His way, surely!

So as he stood, he felt Kingship rise in him, as he had never--no not
even he the prince of dreamers--felt it before.


                       Ohí! The King the King!


He stooped, gathered the dead thing in his arms, and laid it on the
low throne. He did not even kiss the dead face, though the scent of
roses clung round her. For an instant he felt inclined to take the
gift of the Wayfarer from her as a remembrance. Then he remembered
himself.

Such things might be for Jalâl-ud-din the man. He was the King. She
should take Love with her.

Outside the bugle notes were echoing each other merrily through the
camp. All things were astir with the dawn.

And he, the King was needed elsewhere. He called, and a servant
entered.

"Lo! I have killed the woman," he said pointing to the divan briefly.
"Give her fit burning, at once, ere the sun rise. She is _suttee_--she
hath died for a man."

So he strode through the screen to the larger tent, and gave the
signal for the uprising of Majesty.

In a second the huge weighted curtains at the end had swung to their
high looped places, and advancing, he took his seat upon the canopied
dais behind them. On the far level horizon the pearl gray of dawn was
changing to primrose, darkening even as it changed to rosy-red; for
Dawn comes swiftly in the cloudless skies of India. Before him,
thronged with courtiers, circled the vast enclosure of the Inner
Audience, opening out into a wide avenue wherein, drawn up on either
side, stood soldiers in battalions. Their spear points struck at the
sky; for beyond was nothingness. Only a wide, empty plain reaching up
to a wide, empty sky.


                           ALLAH-HU AKBAR!


The cry rose from a thousand throats.

Akbar was indeed the King.

His enemies had failed.

Yet there was one thing which must be done before the dawn, if all was
to be well, and Birbal looking somewhat crestfallen, stepped forward
at a signal from the throne; behind him came William Leedes the
jeweller.

The latter was saying "Ave-Mary's" under his breath, partly from pure
fear of evil, partly from thanksgiving for delivery from evil.

"Mirza-Râjah Birbal," came the King's voice clear and resonant, to be
heard of all men. "Deliver up the diamond called the King's Luck which
was stolen, but which the King's Châran Âtma Devi hath died to
restore" (Birbal started, then hung his head). "Deliver it up to the
Western jeweller, William Leedes, in accordance with the oath by which
she bound you."

Then turning to the Englishman the royal voice became less stern.

"And you--who are without blame--take it once more to thy lathe.
Akbar's will hath not changed. His Luck shall shine. Aye! and
his empire shall shine--as _he chooses_; let subjects, princes,
friend--yea--even sons, say what they may!" Then changing gravity for
cheerfulness he called down the line of soldiery: "Gentlemen! make
ready for your march! Akbar goes forward! He leaves this Town of many
Tears and Lack of Water behind him for ever!"

As he spoke the curved edge of the sun showed like a star for a second
across the waste of desert that stretched as a sea before him, and
from behind, from the Darkness of the Tents, from the Shadows of
Man's Habitations, came the Procession of the Hours. In rosy pink like
Dawn-Clouds, the pair of little children, no longer wide-eyed and
solemn, danced at the head; and behind them, radiant with smiles
followed the choric singers each with an unlit taper, singing the Song
of the Dawn that has been sung in India since the Dawn of Days.


       Many-tinted Morn! Th' immortal daughter of heaven
       Young, white-robed, come with thy purple steeds
       Follow the path of the dawning the world has been given
       Follow the path of the dawn the world still needs.


From behind came quaint interludes that sounded like the carolling of
birds, the whisperings of wind among the corn, the lowing of
cattle--all the sounds of waking life upon the earth; and three of the
taper holders advancing placed a taper, one on each side of the dais,
one in the middle; so stood beside it still singing:


   Darkly shining Dusk, thy sister has sought her abiding,
   Fear not to trouble her dreams! Daughters ye twain of the Sun,
   Dusk and Dawn bringing Birth. Oh! Sisters your path is unending!
   Dead are the first who have watched. When shall our watching
      be done?


Once again three taper bearers bore their burdens to the appointed
places.


   Bright luminous Dawn; rose-red, radiant, rejoicing,
   Show the traveller his road; the cattle their pastures new,
   Rouse the beasts of the earth to their truthful myriad voicing,
   Leader of Lightful days, softening the soil with dew.


The semicircle round the dais was almost complete now. It needed but
three more tapers, and once again the voices rose exultant!


   Wide expanded Dawn: Open the gates of the Morning
   Waken the singing birds. Guide thou the truthful light
   To uttermost shade of the Shadow, for see you! the dawning
   Is born white-shining out of the gloom of the night!


As one, the twelve camphor candles flashed into white light, that
shone for a second, then grew pale and cold, as the sun, heaving his
mighty shoulder out of the dust haze that hung on the horizon, flooded
the wide earth with his shine.

There was a pause. Akbar was about to rise, so ending the ceremony,
when down the wide centre, betwixt the serried ranks of the soldiers,
showed a man.

He walked slowly, his head was bent, and on his right arm was knotted
a blue handkerchief.

"News of death!" commented the soldiers, quickly recognising the
emblem--"Whose?"

"Whose?" asked the courtiers rapidly, while Akbar stood arrested.

"Whose?" queried Birbal quickly. He had been busy all night; had heard
nothing.

"His half-brother of Kabul," said Abulfazl sadly. "The runner came in
but half an hour agone; and this seemed the best way of breaking it;
the shock will help----"

"Now heaven be thanked!" cried Birbal. "Not that I do not grieve--for
the King; but this may make his decision less final. He _must_ go now
for the sake of Kingship--but His Dream in Red Sandstone may see him
yet once again!"



                               L'ENVOI

       _O Gardener wide open the gate of the garden.
       Let in the rose from her long winter sleep;
       Bid the tall cypress stand sentinel-warden,
       Spreading soft shade where the narcissus keep
       Heads drooping down in their slumbering deep.
       Bid the shoot harden,
       Bid the sap leap!_

       _Gardener! array all with manifold flowers.
       Figure the garden like damask of old,
       Tell of its hues in the turtledove's bowers,
       Gild the bare ground with the pansies of gold
       Pomegranate lips, stained with wine have you told
       "These are the rose hours
       Nightingale bold!"
       Lo! she returns with bud-cradle of birth
       Rose of the wine-house she brings to the earth,
       Drink to the Spring time, to Love, and to Mirth_.
                                                        --Nizami.


Four years had passed away and the Dream in Red Sandstone still waited
for the Dreamer: waited, as it still waits, deserted but not ruined,
the Great Arch of Victory remaining as Birbal had prophesied, that
which no man having once seen, can ever forget.

But Birbal himself had passed into the unknown; almost into the
forgotten save for his master's undying affection which, even after
two years, still scanned the earthly horizon eagerly looking for news,
at any rate, of his lost friend; since Birbal's actual death is one of
those things of which neither past or present hold any knowledge. He
disappeared in the mountains of Swât whither he had gone in the vain
effort to translate one of Akbar's dreams into terms of reality.

For the Great Mogul, Emperor of India, had dreams of conquest, not by
sword, not even by religion, as his great forerunner the Emperor Asoka
had had in the years before Christ--but by common sense; that is the
voluntary submission of the individual to a collective policy which
makes for peace and prosperity to the mass of the people.

Deprived of latter-day delusions, modern foolishnesses, Akbar's dream
was Socialism. Not the Socialism which proclaims the right of the
individual, which presses that home against all other considerations,
but the Socialism which sweeps all things, individual poverty as well
as individual wealth into the Great Mill of God for the good of the
race; which holds personal comfort unworthy of consideration.

It was not, perhaps, a policy suited to the most turbulent tribes upon
the Indian Frontier. Still Kabul had been annexed almost without a
blow, Kashmir brought into the Imperial net by a peaceful
demonstration, and, but for Sinde, the Imperial armies would scarcely
have struck a blow during these years of Imperial aggrandisement.

Anyhow, the experiment, one after Akbar's own heart, was tried; and
Birbal went with the forces as a counterpoise to the old Commander in
Chief (he was the Wellington of Akbar's reign) and his more antiquated
methods of suasion. They drew lots, those two friends of the King,
Abulfazl and Birbal, which should take the onerous post; and the lot
fell on Birbal. It is said that the King hesitated to let him go; but
behind friendship lay Kingship.

So he went, and disputes soon arising between the policy of pike and
cannonade, as against a mere display of force, Birbal, left in the
lurch, disappeared for ever with fifteen hundred picked men amid the
peaks and passes of the Alai Mountains.

It had been a great blow to Akbar; he had, indeed, refused to believe
in his friend's death, and still looked for him to return--even if
from the Other Side--in obedience to his promise.

But now, this 10th of May, 1590, he was pausing a little below the top
of the Pir Panjal Pass on the way to Kashmir, awaiting the arrival of
William Leedes, the English jeweller, who all these years had been
engaged in cutting the Great Diamond of India.

It was ready now, and Akbar was eager to see it. But the little party
escorting the jeweller and his charge had not arrived that morning, so
Akbar had come out alone to a favourite vantage point below the actual
snows, whence the whole Panjab plain rising an almost incredible
height in the sky, could be seen.

It was like a shield, he thought suddenly, as he noted the palpable
curve of the horizon; higher in the middle, lower at the sides. That
was the curve of the world's surface, of course; still it reminded one
of the curve of a great shield set between these holy snows of Himâlya
and the world beyond. Aye! for the blue of that distant plain was
darker nowhere, was lighter nowhere; and everywhere alike it was
damascened with threads--broader, narrower--of gold.

The land of the Five Rivers! A fair land indeed! A broad battle shield
to the rest of India.

"Lo! there is gran'dad!" came a voice from behind him, and he turned
at the sound of little pattering feet to see his grandson, a child of
about two, stumbling swiftly over the broken ground toward him.

"Have a care Fair-face," (Khushru) he called, holding out his arms,
and the child with a laughing crow, hurrying still harder, almost fell
into their shelter.

"Truly! thou art as two peas in one pod," gasped a breathless voice,
as Auntie Rosebody, completely done by hurrying up the hill, flung
herself on the ground beside her nephew. She looked not a day older
with her gray hair stuffed away into a Mogul cap, her petticoats
tucked away into full Mogul trousers. So, had she roamed the hills, as
a girl, with her father Babar, and now, in her old age, she set an
example to all other ladies of the camp. Umm Kulsum, ever her close
companion, followed on her heels, dressed in like manner, and stood
looking down on the little family party.

"Lo! nephew! at times it takes me," said the old lady, nodding her
head sagely, "to leave the scapegrace--who hath, nathless been
behaving more reputably of late--out of the bargain altogether! The
boy is more like Jalâl-ud-din Mahomed Akbar than Salîm ever was, and
that is a fact! But"--seeing a frown come to Akbar's face--"I am not
here to fashion likeness, but because," here she drew her face into a
decent pucker of sorrow, "having been--God forgive me--Aye! and Umm
Kulsum too--part responsible for its theft--truly, nephew, your old
aunt feels ever about her neck the bowstring that should have been
drawn, and was not, thanks to----"

Akbar interrupted her with patient gloom. "We have talked this out
many times, oh! most reverend aunt. After all there was no mischief
done." He thought ever as he spoke of that Arch of Victory standing
deserted on the Sikri Ridge.

"But there might have been," interrupted Aunt Rosebody, hotly. "Take
not penitence from my soul, nephew. 'Tis good to have sins to repent
when one grows old and there are no more to commit. So, having been in
the tale at the beginning----"

Akbar looked pathetically at Umm Kulsum, who had sunk to her knees in
contrition.

"It is because, Highness," she answered as if to a question, "the
jeweller is arrived, and is even now on his way hither."

Akbar sprang to his feet, light as a boy. Dressed in hunting leathers
with the close Mogul cap crested with a heron's plume, he looked not a
day older, though his short hair above his beardless face had grown
almost white.

"Here!" he cried, and even as he spoke a party of three or four showed
rounding the rocky path.

A few minutes later Akbar stood holding the diamond, half its original
size, but brilliant exceedingly in the hollow of his right hand.

"For my part," sniffed Auntie Rosebody, "I liked it better as it was.
True, it dazzles the eyes, but to look at it much would be to court
blindness. Lo! it gives _me_ the browache. Come Ummu, let us on our
way. I have promised Hamida, rhubarb-stew to her dinner and we must
climb to the snows for that."

But Umm Kulsum lingered for consolation since, in truth, the stone
bewildered her. "True, _chachaji_" (maternal uncle), she said softly,
"I am not clever enough for it. There be so many sides, and each
seemeth different."

Aye that was it! So many sides, thought Akbar, as, after dismissing
the jeweller and his escort for refreshment, he sate on that pinnacle
of rock almost overhanging the Panjab plain, and looked at the Luck
which he had had cut in Western fashion.

His fowling piece--for he had been on his way to one of his long
solitary rambles--lay beside him and on the polished steel of its lock
the brilliant sunshine glinted, sending reflected light to touch and
make visible the almost microscopic fruition of a tiny lichen on the
rock.

But how much more brilliant was the light that sparkled from the
diamond!

A hundred suns in one? No it was a hundred worlds--worlds unseen till
then.

What would it--what might it not--what ought it not to make manifest?

So once more as he sate holding his luck in his hands, holding it
between him and the river-damascened shield of the wide Panjab plain,
the Self that is behind Self found eyes and saw.

What did he see? Did he see the Shield of India stand in the forefront
of battle for the principles he preached, as it did in Mutiny time? Or
did sight pass beyond that, and did he see the East, intoxicated by
the errors of the West, aping the horrors of a civilisation which has
missed its way, which has forgotten that Socialism is Despotism--the
Despotism of Fate whose eye is fixed, not on the equality of the
individual, but the ultimate outcome of Race?

Who knows?

For as the morning sun rose to power, vapoury mist-clouds gathered on
the damp mountain sides below, and crept up and up, hiding all things,
obscuring all things.

The wide shield of the Land of the Five Rivers went first. Bit by bit
the hurrying mists obscured it, the damascening disappeared until high
upon the sky only a clear blue curved rim remained--an arch of victory
that stretched over the visible world.

Then the mist claimed Akbar's outstretched hand; so, rising, rolling
over on itself, almost playing with the short flower-set turf, patched
here and there with melting snow, and nestling into the crannies of
the rock, it shrouded the King from his Kingdom, the Man from his
World--and the Dreamer was alone with his Dream.

He was asleep, his head resting on a tuft of those tiny blue poppies
which grow on the peaks of Holy Himâlya--poppies of heavenly rest
whose petals look as if they had been cut from the sky--when Aunt
Rosebody's voice roused him. The sun, having overcome the mists, was
shining brightly.

"Lo!" she exclaimed, "the King hath been delayed no doubt, but high up
where we were seeking rhubarb it was like the Day of Resurrection to
see the mists tear themselves to shreds in rage as the Sun caught
them. So goes Ignorance before Wisdom. And little Fair-face hath found
his granddad a _nârgiz_--present it, child, though 'tis late for a New
Year offering. Lo! he is the spit of my father--on whom be peace--no
flower escapes him."

"And I have found violets for the King," smiled Umm Kulsum,
comfortably. She was more than ever a Mother of Plumpness in her
stuffed Mogul costume.

"Ps'sh" commented Auntie Rosebody scornfully. "What are flowers to
rhubarb? And I have enough for two stews, so Râkiya Begum may lay her
tartness to that--if she will eat of it, though mayhap at her age she
hath forgotten her youth. As for me, 'twill be a Day of Resurrection
indeed to taste of it again, for I have dreamt of it all these years."

Akbar caught up the child with a sudden laugh, and setting him astride
his shoulders began the descent to the camp below.

"'Tis as well, most reverend," he said "that some dreamers dream
true."

Did he think as he spoke of a woman who had dreamed her dream through
to the Truth, _whose hiding place is immortality, whose shadow is
death?_

Perhaps he did. Perhaps, even now, on those misty spring mornings when
the sun chases the snow vapours over the blue gentians and rosy alpine
primulas that edge the snow patches on the peaks of the Pir Panjal,
the Self that lay behind the Self that was called Akbar sits,
enshrouded by the mists and looks out over the Empire of the Great
Mogul.

What does the Prince of Dreamers think of it?

                                                 F. A. Steel.

_28th January, 1908_.





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