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Title: Harold's Bride - A Tale
Author: A.L.O.E.
Language: English
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                             HAROLD’S BRIDE



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


[Illustration: ALICIA’S ESCAPE.]


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


                             Harold’s Bride

                                 A TALE

                                   BY

                              A. L. O. E.,

        Author of “Driven into Exile,” “Pictures of St. Peter,”
                      “The Shepherd of Bethlehem,”
                          “Exiles in Babylon,”
                                &c. &c.


                       [Illustration: Decoration]


                         THOMAS NELSON AND SONS
                   _London, Edinburgh, and New York_
                                   ——
                                  1902

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


                             HAROLD’S BRIDE


[Illustration: “Then He _did_ hear me!”]


                           T. NELSON AND SONS

                    London, Edinburgh, and New York


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



                                Preface.

                                -------


MANY years ago a huge panorama of a vast extent of country was exhibited
in London. Of what country it was memory retains no clear impression;
but I recollect a remark made by the exhibiting artist. Referring to the
tints of some hills pictured in the panorama, he observed, “They ought
to be natural, for I took my materials from the hills themselves.”

The artist’s remark had slight weight, for the fact that he had used
pigments taken from the actual soil was no warrant for the accuracy of
his delineation; but I am reminded of that remark by the circumstances
under which the following tale has been written. It was not penned in
some study in London, nor in some rural home in an English county; the
authoress was living, as it were, surrounded by the materials needed for
her picture. The old missionary came in heated and tired from the daily
round in zenanas to dip her pen and write of a zenana. The materials for
her touches of natural history lay, as it were, at her elbow. She might
feelingly picture little inconveniences which she herself had
experienced.

Such of A. L. O. E.’s readers as are already, from former volumes,
acquainted with the Hartley brothers, may perhaps like to hear how they
fared when they had crossed the ocean, and had entered on the mission
life which they had contemplated from boyhood. It may be that the tale
will be thought suitable for reading aloud at working parties in aid of
missions, and that it may help to give a more vivid idea of life in some
of the more isolated stations in India. But not mere amusement is in
view. A. L. O. E. would fain hope that some enthusiasts, who would
undertake the work of carrying the gospel to the heathen more in a
spirit of romance than that of earnest self-consecration, may be led by
her book to reflect on what a solemn thing it is to be “allowed of God
to be put in trust with the gospel” (1 Thess. ii. 4). Some maiden, ere
linking her lot to that of a missionary, may be induced to consider the
responsibility attending the position of an evangelist’s wife. Something
far more onerous is before her than the pleasant duty of making a
cheerful home for a good man; she must share the burden, she must aid in
the labour, or she is likely to prove a hindrance instead of a helpmeet.
By some women, even amiable ones, this responsibility is almost ignored;
but by being ignored it is not avoided. May some lesson be learned from
the little weaknesses and mistakes of



                            HAROLD’S BRIDE.


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



                               Contents.

                                -------


              I. HOUSE-BUILDING,                              11

             II. AN EXOTIC,                                   21

            III. HAPPY DAYS,                                  26

             IV. INDIAN TRAVELLING,                           33

              V. FIRST IMPRESSIONS,                           42

             VI. LITTLE FOES,                                 52

            VII. DIGGING DEEP,                                62

           VIII. FIRST VISIT TO A ZENANA,                     71

             IX. TRY AGAIN,                                   81

              X. MARRIAGE AND WIDOWHOOD,                      95

             XI. WHAT A SONG DID,                            107

            XII. A STARTLING SUSPICION,                      116

           XIII. OUT IN CAMP,                                132

            XIV. THE BLACK CHARM,                            143

             XV. A STRUGGLE,                                 161

            XVI. WATER! WATER!                               170

           XVII. THE COMMISSIONER,                           182

          XVIII. WAITING TIME,                               191

            XIX. THE WHITE BROTHER,                          206

             XX. THE WELCOME RAIN                            212

            XXI. A LETTER FOR HOME,                          219

           XXII. YOKED TWAIN AND TWAIN,                      223



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


                            HAROLD’S BRIDE.

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



                               CHAPTER I

                            HOUSE-BUILDING.


“WHAT’S this?—not a coolie at work; the place a litter of bricks and
dust; the pillars of the veranda not a foot high! Instead of growing
upwards, they seem to grow downwards, like lighted candles. The bricks
also are good for nothing—chipped, broken, katcha [only sun-dried], when
I gave strict orders for pakka [baked]. Cannot a fellow be absent for a
week without finding everything neglected, everything at a
standstill?—Nabi Bakhsh! Nabi Bakhsh!”

The call was rather angrily given, and was obeyed by a dusky, bearded
man in a large dirty turban, who made an obsequious salám to Robin
Hartley, after emerging from some corner where this overseer of the
building works had been placidly smoking his hookah.

“What has become of the coolies? have they all gone to sleep?” cried
young Hartley, in Urdu more fluent than correct. “The work seems at a
deadlock, and you promised that I should find the veranda finished by my
return. Do you think that we are to pay you for merely looking at
rubbish like this?” Robin struck one of the bricks with his heel, and
broke it to pieces.

The excuses of Nabi Bakhsh need not be detailed,—how there had been a
religious feast, and of course the men could not work; then the
grandmother of Karim had died, and of course every one had gone to the
funeral.

“I believe that she was the fourth grandmother that has died!” exclaimed
Robin, half angrily, yet half playfully, for his wrath seldom lasted for
more than a minute. “Feasts, fasts, and funerals, delays and excuses,
one coolie doing nothing and another helping him to do it,—it’s hard to
get work finished in India. But call the men now, and let them make up
for lost time. My brother and the Mem [lady] will be here in a few days,
and what will they say to a mass of confusion like this?”

Nabi Bakhsh went off to call the workmen. Robin, though just off a
twenty-miles walk, pulled off his jacket, and set to work himself with
all the vigour which youth, health, and light spirits can give. The
youth talked to himself as he laboured, being fond of soliloquizing when
no one was near with whom to converse.

“Only a month to build a house in, and only one thousand rupees [less
than a hundred pounds] with which to pay for bricks, mortar, and work!
It’s well that the place is a small one; but big or small it won’t be
ready for Harold’s bride. It’s hard on a delicately-nurtured young lady
to be brought to such a bungalow as ours—two bed-rooms, one
sitting-room, and a place for lumber, with three missionaries to share
with her the limited accommodation. Besides, Alicia has no end of
luggage. I cannot imagine where we shall stow it away. I suppose that
Harold was right in marrying so soon—dear old fellow, he’s always
right—but I cannot help wishing that Colonel Graham had not been
starting for England till April, so that his daughter’s wedding could
have been delayed till we had some corner to put her up in.”

Robin paused, wiped his heated brow, and looked up at the tiny house on
which he had expended a great deal of personal labour, as well as that
of urging on the coolies and bricklayers, who, whenever his back was
turned, would sit down for a smoke. Robin had with his own hands made
all the doors, inserting in each the four panes of glass which made it
serve as a window. Robin had constructed the wooden eye-lids, as he
called them, to keep off the sun from the roshandáns (upper windows),
which to a novice standing outside might give the false impression that
the bungalow had an upper story. Robin had trampled down into something
like solidity the layer of mud on the roof, which was intended to
moderate heat and keep out rain. Tiles and slates were things unknown at
Talwandi. The youth was a little proud of his work, yet, as he looked up
at the uncompleted dwelling, an expression of doubt, almost of
dissatisfaction, came over Robin’s bright young face.

“Bricks and mud have no natural affinity to beauty,” he said, “not even
to picturesqueness. As for comfort, even if we could get the veranda up
and the mats down, the place would be too damp to be lived in. Poor
Alicia must be content to squeeze herself into our nutshell—father and I
in one room, she in the other, whilst the one sitting-room, backed, or
rather fronted, by the veranda, must serve as drawing-room, dining-room,
study, reception and school room, and whatever else be required. Well,
happily we are not likely to quarrel any more than do double kernels in
one nut.”

Robin glanced down the dusty road, bordered with ragged cactus, which
led to the small native town of Talwandi, which was the head-quarters of
this branch of the mission. A town it was with some dignity of its own,
as it boasted not only two little mosques with domes, and a big Hindu
temple with stumpy spire, but one house of some height and pretensions,
domineering over some hundreds of low houses built of mud.

“I wish that father would come home,” said Robin to himself. “But he did
not expect to have me back so soon, with the appetite of half-a-dozen
jackals. Father had ordered nothing for himself but dál [a kind of dried
pease] and chapatties [flat baked cakes of flour]; but I wanted better
fare. As soon as I arrived I pronounced the death-warrant on the fattest
hen in the compound, so there will be something fit for dinner.” Robin
resumed his work, still soliloquizing. “Dear father is not fit to have
charge of his own comfort; he is always thinking about people’s souls,
and has little regard for bodies. Harold and I had agreed together never
to leave him without a son beside him, for thirty years of hard work are
telling upon him; but how could we help being absent on such an occasion
as this? Father himself would not hear of my not attending Harold’s
wedding, and Harold—” Robin interrupted himself in the midst of his
sentence with the exclamation, “Here’s father at last!”

Mr. Hartley was coming along the cactus-bordered way, a heavy bag in one
hand, an open umbrella held up by the other, and a thick hat made of
pith on his head. The missionary was pale, thin, and somewhat bent, with
many a line on his face; but his mild countenance lighted up with
pleasure as he caught sight of his son. Robin flung down his mattock,
and bounding forward the youth greeted his parent with a most
unconventional hug, which was as warmly though more quietly returned.
Robin’s impetuous affection was more that of the child than that of a
youth with down on his lip. It had often been said that Robin, with his
rough curly head, his joyous spirit, and his absolute freedom from
guile, would never, should he live to a patriarch’s age, be anything
more than a boy.

Whilst, laughing and chatting, Robin is accompanying his father into the
little house, the position of the Hartley family at the time when my
story begins may be briefly described. The circle consisted of the
veteran missionary and his two sons. Harold, the elder, on receiving
deacons’ orders, had started to join his father on the mission-field in
the Panjab. Robin, who was several years younger than his brother, had
accompanied Harold, as the youth himself said, “as a kind of general
helper, a Jack-of-all-trades—carpenter, blacksmith, builder, tailor,
cobbler, and what not besides;” an unpaid but valuable servant to the
mission. In vain the lad had been urged to complete his education in
college. Robin perhaps under-estimated his own powers as a student. He
compared himself to a rough knotted branch that might do well enough for
a bludgeon, but could by no skill be shaped and planed into a library
table. He would be a stick in Harold’s hand, and perhaps help him over
rough bits of the road, or assist him to knock down some difficulty in
his way. Mr. Hartley made no objection to Robin’s plans, for he yearned
to have both his sons under his roof; and Harold secretly rejoiced that
his own advice had not been taken, and that he should not be obliged to
leave behind him a brother whom he would so greatly have missed.

After about a year of earnest preparatory work at Talwandi, Harold had
gone to the city of Lahore to pass a double examination—that which
mission-agents must undergo, and that which precedes admission into
priests’ orders. Both examinations had been passed by the young
clergyman with the highest credit. The effect of Harold’s success was
immediately seen in his being urgently pressed to act as temporary
chaplain to a large English congregation during the very severe illness
of him to whom the office belonged. Harold had hesitated about accepting
the post, being unwilling, even for a few weeks, to give up his own
missionary work; but he knew that for those few weeks’ service he would
be handsomely paid by Government, and money was urgently needed to start
a school at Talwandi. “Not one piece shall be appropriated to my own
use,” Harold had reflected. “My time belongs to the mission; but in
procuring help for the school I may be serving my society even more
effectually than by my personal efforts.” So Harold consented to act as
chaplain.

The Rev. Mr. Cunningham’s illness lasted longer than had been expected;
the weeks were prolonged into months. During this period Harold’s
clerical duties brought him into close and friendly intercourse with
those over whose spiritual interests he had temporary charge. The young
missionary was welcomed almost everywhere, but specially in the house of
Colonel Graham, an officer on the point of retiring from the Indian
service. The colonel had a fair daughter, and Harold, at first almost
unconsciously, found that his visits to Graham Lodge were rendering his
residence in the city to him very delightful. There is no need to
describe how these visits became more frequent, and how Harold
increasingly felt that life would be a blank without Alicia. The young
maiden, on her part, thought that she saw in Harold Hartley everything
required to make her future life perfectly happy. Alicia, under a
playful manner, had deep religious convictions. She loved Harold chiefly
because she thought him the highest type of a Christian whom she ever
had met with. His sermons refreshed her soul, and seemed to lift her
into a higher, purer atmosphere than that which she had hitherto
breathed. Alicia was not a worldly girl. She felt that she would rather
share the humblest lot with Harold than rank and wealth with any one
else.

Mr. Hartley and Robin were not a little startled one day by a letter
from Harold asking his fathers consent to his suing for the hand of
Alicia Graham. He had, as he wrote, already made the lady fully aware
that his means were slender. Her father knew his position; there had
been no concealment of his circumstances, no attempt to hide the fact
that not only toil but something of hardship might be a part of
missionary life. Miss Graham had said that she feared neither toil nor
hardship.

“I think that Harold must have done the wooing already,” observed Robin,
“before asking your consent to the suing.”

There was something like a smile on the lad’s lips as he spoke, but
nothing of the usual mirth in his eyes. Robin was taken by surprise. He
had never contemplated Harold’s seeking a wife. Perhaps there was a
touch of pain in the idea of any one standing in a closer, dearer
relationship to his almost worshipped brother than he did himself. But
Robin’s frank, generous nature was not one to harbour mean jealousy.

“Because I was satisfied with his companionship, there was no reason to
suppose that Harold would be satisfied with mine,” thought Robin. “I
ought to rejoice that a true-hearted girl values my brother as he ought
to be valued.”

Mr. Hartley did not speak for several minutes. As was usual with him,
any emotion that stirred him deeply took the form of silent prayer. He
then slowly reread Harold’s letter, pausing at every sentence as if to
weigh its meaning. The old missionary then folded his thin hands, and
said, rather as if speaking to himself than addressing Robin,—

“If He who chose Rebekah for His servant Isaac, and made her willing to
share his tent, have chosen this maiden for my son, the union must and
will be blessed.”

So the suing followed the wooing, and both being successful, the
engagement was duly announced to the world. An early day was fixed for
the wedding, on account of Colonel Graham’s approaching departure. Mr.
Hartley and Robin were, of course, requested to be present at the
marriage. The elder missionary not only was unwilling to leave his
station without a worker, but he felt his own strength and spirits
unequal to such a sudden plunge into society after years of seclusion.
Robin, he said, should be his representative upon the joyful occasion.

The weeks that passed before Robin went to Lahore were very busy ones
indeed to the youth. It was evident that a separate residence would be
absolutely needful for Harold and his bride. Colonel Graham had given a
cheque of £100 as a small contribution to the building fund, little
thinking how far the trifling sum would be made to go. Mr. Hartley was
generous almost to a fault, and at this time had left himself with
scarcely a rupee in hand. The first weight of the pecuniary difficulty
fell upon Robin, who worked early and late, but who could not, with all
his energy, make one rupee do the work of five. Robin, however, worked
cheerily, and marvels were performed as long as he remained on the spot;
but his absence, as we have seen, caused a sudden suspension of labour.
The young amateur architect returned to find that nothing whatever had
been accomplished while he had been away, except in the way of a blunder
or two, the effects of which he would have to repair.


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



                               CHAPTER II

                               AN EXOTIC.


AS Robin and his father sat at the small dining-table (which the youth
himself had made out of a packing-case, painting the rough wood which
would not take a polish), conversation flowed freely. Robin, as usual,
engrossed the larger share.

“This fowl, if somewhat tough since it was running about an hour ago, is
to my mind as good as the turkey, with legs tied up with white satin
ribbon, which figured at the wedding breakfast. What a display we had
there!—potted tongues, potted beef, hams, creams and jellies, and a huge
cake, of course, iced and covered all over with fancy designs; it was
such a work of art that it seemed a shame to eat it. The bride’s health
was drunk in sparkling champagne. I think that her health would have had
a better chance if all the rupees gulped down to do honour to the toast
had been kept to give her a better house.”

Mr. Hartley smiled and nodded assent.

“I own that I did grudge the expense,” said Robin, “when I heard the
popping of so many corks. I wondered, also, what the bride would do with
her elegant white satin dress in a jungle like this, with only the kites
and crows to see it! If there had been simpler dressing and plainer
feeding, we might have had a good third room to the little dwelling, and
had the bricks pakka throughout!”

“You seem to have been pleased with your new sister,” observed Mr.
Hartley; “I care less to hear of the dress than of the wearer.”

“I am more than pleased with Alicia. She has one of the sweetest faces
that ever I saw, with eyes soft and large like those of a gazelle, yet
sometimes sparkling with fun. Alicia’s complexion is fair, but a little
too pale, except when she flushes, as she did with fright on the first
evening after my arrival. She certainly has uncommonly weak nerves.”

“What caused her alarm?” asked the father.

“Oh, merely a poor little bat that, attracted by the lights, went
noiselessly wheeling and circling around the room. Alicia started,
trembled, put up her hands, almost screamed when the creature’s shadowy
flight brought it within a foot of her head! It was difficult to keep
from laughing. Then when the intruder had been expelled, Alicia asked me
anxiously whether she would find many snakes at Talwandi. ‘Not till the
weather is warmer,’ said I; ‘at present they keep snug in their holes.’
Alicia did not look reassured. ‘Can you not kill them?’ she asked. ‘I
always do when they come within reach of my arm,’ I replied. ‘I’ll cut a
stick for you to have handy if ever a snake pay you a visit.’ You should
have seen her look!” continued Robin, laughing at the recollection. “I
think that the snakes are in little danger from Alicia’s prowess; I
doubt whether she would be a match for a baby scorpion.”

“I am sorry my new daughter is so timid,” observed Mr. Hartley: “such
nervousness may cause her distress in a wild place like this—twenty
miles from civilized life, and these twenty miles of the roughest of
roads.”

“I wonder how much of the lady’s luggage will survive the jolting and
bumping?” said Robin. “Alicia has a number of wedding presents, enough
to half furnish a shop. They were all put out to be admired, and they
covered three tables and, I think, two chairs besides.”

“Where shall we put them?” asked Mr. Hartley.

“A question I’ve asked myself twenty times, but I have never succeeded
in finding an answer. There is a piano, too, which Alicia is to play on,
and I am to tune, though I have never tuned one in my life! Some of the
presents seemed to me funny. There were three silver fish-knives in
satin-lined cases; but where, oh where shall we find the fish?” Robin
burst into a merry laugh as he added, “If any one had consulted me as to
what would be an acceptable gift, I should have suggested a big kitchen
kettle or a dozen good iron spoons.”

“You must try the jhil [lake] for fish,” said Mr. Hartley.

“One clock (there were two) took my fancy,” continued Robin. “The design
on the top was evidently taken from Moore’s song about the love-lorn
mermaid who was in pity transformed into a harp. There was the siren as
the poet described her:—


          ‘Her hair, dropping tears from all its bright rings,
           Fell over her white arm to make the gold strings.’


I thought, if her lover had been true, and had married the mermaid, how
would the lady have enjoyed her new strange life on shore? After
floating about serenely on summer seas, how would the mermaid have
enjoyed being jolted along in an ekká [a very rough country conveyance],
or even being swung from a camel? It would have been a sad change for
the poor siren, who would have felt like a fish out of water.”

Mr. Hartley saw that his son was not thinking alone of the fabled siren,
and he observed with his quiet smile,—“Sad indeed for her to exchange
her native element for another quite uncongenial, unless she were gifted
with wings to raise her to one higher and purer than either water or
earth.”

“I think that Alicia has such wings,” said Robin more gravely: “she
seems to be truly, earnestly pious. Had she not been so, she would never
have been Harold’s choice. Alicia spoke to me so nicely about helping in
mission work. She has begun to read the Bible to her ayah, and has
learned by heart all the first part of the parable of the Prodigal
Son—in Urdu.”

“Good!” was Mr. Hartley’s laconic comment.

“Alicia speaks the language like—well, of course _not_ like a native,
nor very grammatically neither, but very fairly indeed for a lady who
has been but one cold season in India, and has had only servants on whom
to practise. I daresay that in time she will make herself understood
even by zamindars’ bibis [wives]. Only I’m afraid she’ll have—”

“What?” inquired Mr. Hartley as his son stopped short.

“Headaches,” responded Robin.

“Many missionaries have headaches,” observed his father, who was now
seldom without one.

“Yes; but some can take headaches, and other aches too, as a hunter
takes a hedge: it lies in his way; he goes over it or scrambles through
it, spurs on, and is in at the death. But not every one is a hunter.”

“You think, in short, that our bride has been too delicately nurtured,
is of too soft a nature, too sensitive a frame, to bear the rough life
which is before her?” said Mr. Hartley.

“I think that we’re transplanting an exotic which requires a glass
frame,” replied Robin; “and we’ve nothing for it but a hard, rough wall,
exposed to rude blasts. But I forget,” the youth continued, resuming the
cheerful tone which was natural to him, “our sweet exotic will have a
fine strong pillar to lean on and cling to; and with the sunshine above
and the pure air around her she may—yes, and will—rise higher and
higher, till she may smile down on us all.”


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



                              CHAPTER III

                              HAPPY DAYS.


HAROLD allowed himself but a brief honeymoon; but it was as bright as it
was brief, especially to the young wife. The happiness of Alicia was
undisturbed by the petty cares which, like musquitoes in the sunniest
hours, occasionally buzzed about her husband. The very anxiety which
Harold felt to shield his bride from the slightest annoyance or even
inconvenience added considerably to his cares. It was he who had to
think about ways and means. The young husband had believed that by
economy on himself he had saved enough of rupees to supply every
probable want; but expenses came on which he had not sufficiently
reckoned. Both at Colonel Graham’s house, after the marriage, and at the
bungalow lent by a friend of Alicia, there seemed to be no end to
demands for bakhshish (tips). Khitmatgars, khansamars, chankidars, “all
the others that end in _ar_,” and a great many others that do not, came
smiling and saláming, and hailing the young bridegroom as father and
mother, and nourisher of the poor, even as flies gather round honey. It
was not in Harold’s nature to be stingy, especially at so joyful a time.
His stock of money appeared to melt like snow; he would have barely
enough, he saw, to cover travelling expenses.

Yet, after all, what were such cares when Alicia was beside him?
Sometimes he forgot them altogether. When their conversation was on
spiritual subjects, then, most of all, Harold realized what a treasure
he had in his wife. At other times the expression of innocent joy and
pleasant hopes flowed like a rippling stream from the lips of Alicia.

“We shall have a girls’ school, dearest,” she said to her husband as she
sat with her hand clasped in his; “I have been taken to such nice ones
by missionary ladies. I was charmed to see the rows of little girls with
shining black eyes, gay chaddars, and such a quantity of glittering
jewels. When I have such schools of my own I shall feel like a hen in
the midst of her brood of chickens. How delightful, too, it will be to
carry happiness into zenanas, to go like a welcome messenger proclaiming
to captives that they are free! I do long to see the delight pictured on
the dark faces of those who have never before heard the glad tidings!
Oh, what a blessed lot is mine!”

Harold met with a smile the smile on the fair young face upturned
towards his, yet felt that he must put some sober tints into Alicia’s
bright picture.

“You must remember, my love,” he observed, “that the work in Talwandi is
rather that of clearing and breaking up ground than that of reaping a
harvest. You must be prepared for some difficulties in a new station
like ours, which has been worked for scarcely a year. When my father was
moved to the Panjab he had a new language to learn, and not one of his
native helpers beside him. He has had at Talwandi very uphill and rather
discouraging work.”

“Was not your father grieved to leave his old station and friends?”
asked Alicia.

“Much grieved; for there were many converts, most of whom he himself had
baptized. But there were circumstances which made the move advisable;
and my father, without a murmur, though not without a sigh, gave up his
long-cherished hope of spending his last days in his old home and
amongst his own people, and being buried in the same grave as my
mother.”

“I think that it was very hard to send your father away against his
will!” exclaimed Alicia.

“Missionaries must have submissive wills, my love, and think nothing
hard that is right.”

“Oh, it will take me a long time to learn that lesson,” cried Alicia.
“Papa always let me have my own way—perhaps more than was quite good for
me. Do you know,” Alicia added in a more lively tone, “when I asked
Robin—playfully of course—whether I should not make a capital
missionary, he was bear enough to shrug his broad shoulders and say,
‘Time will show’?”

“Robin could not flatter to save his life,” remarked Harold; “but with
all his bluntness you will like him, Alicia. He has the kindest, the
truest of hearts.”

“Oh, I like him amazingly!” cried the bride. “We were hand and glove
from the first—only the glove is not a kid one. Robin will help to make
our house the daintiest little home to be found in all the Panjab. I
have quantities of pretty things, you know—pictures and
beautifully-bound books. We will have a flower-garden too, and creepers
all over the house. I mean it to look like a bower.”

Harold did not like to speak again of difficulties; he only remarked
with a smile, “Missionaries cannot always contrive to have very elegant
homes, my Alicia.”

“But I know that they have, for I have seen them. Some of the bungalows
are quite charming,” said the bride.

“Probably in older stations, my love, when it is easier to gather little
comforts around one.”

“Perhaps one can do without some of the little comforts, darling,” said
Alicia, “when one has the greatest comfort of all!” Very tender was the
bride’s tone as she added, “With you every place will be Eden to me.”

Harold fondly stroked the small clasped hands which rested so
confidingly on his knee.

“I do so want to be a help to you—never a hindrance. Do you not think
that missionaries’ wives, as well as their husbands, should have the
missionary spirit?”

“So strongly do I feel it, my love, that I should think a worker for God
a traitor to the good cause if he united himself to one in whom such a
spirit is wanting.”

“Ah, you think better of your poor little wifie than does Master Robin,”
said Alicia. “He copied out for me a song all about the duties of
Mission Miss Sahibas. So, like a dutiful little sister, I learned it by
heart, and set it to a capital old tune. Would you like to hear it? I
wish that my piano were here; but it has been sent on with the heavy
luggage.”

“Your voice needs no accompaniment, my love,” said Harold; “the
nightingale requires no piano.”

Alicia smiled and began, in a very musical tone, a song set to the air
of “The Fine Old English Gentleman.” After the first stanza Harold’s
manly voice joined in the chorus, as he beat time with his foot.


                     MISSION RULES AND REGULATIONS.


          The Mission Miss Sahibas must never complain;
          The Mission Miss Sahibas must temper restrain
          When sust [lazy] pankahwalas won’t pull at the cane;
          Must never be fanciful, foolish, or vain.
                Oh, listen ye, Miss Sahibas;
                  These are the Mission rules!

          The Mission Miss Sahibas must furnish the brain,
          Of two or three languages knowledge obtain,
          When weary and puzzled must “try, try again,”—
          We cannot learn grammar by legerdemain.
                Oh, listen ye, Miss Sahibas;
                  These are the Mission rules!

          The Mission Miss Sahibas should know every lane,
          Climb ladder-like stairs without fearing a sprain;
          Must rebuke and encourage, exhort and explain;
          Dark babies should fondle, dark bibis should train.
                Oh, listen ye, Miss Sahibas;
                  These are the Mission rules!

          Let Mission Miss Sahibas from late hours refrain,
          For they must rise early, and bear a hard strain,
          Like vigorous cart-horses drawing a wain,
          That pull well together when yoked twain and twain.
                Oh, listen ye, Miss Sahibas;
                  These are the Mission rules!


“Just as you and I are yoked together, Harold,” said Alicia, pausing for
a merry little laugh.

“_I_ may be a cart-horse, but you are rather like a white fawn,” was
Harold’s rejoinder. “Pray go on with your song; we have not yet
discovered the whole range of the ladies’ duties.”


“The next verse is a funny one,” observed Alicia: “I hope that the
formidable warning with which it closes is not needed by me.”


        The Mission Miss Sahibas in dress must be plain;
        The Mission Miss Sahibas must work might and main,
        And therefore good nourishment should not disdain,
        Or danger is great of their going insane!
              Oh, listen ye, Miss Sahibas;
                These are the Mission rules!

        The Mission Miss Sahibas must topis [sun-hats] retain
        To guard against sunstroke, to health such a bane;
        ‘Midst flies and musquitoes must patient remain;
        By Mission Miss Sahibas snakes should be slain.
              Oh, listen ye, Miss Sahibas;
                These are the Mission rules!

        The Mission Miss Sahibas should sow well the grain,
        To bibis and begums [princesses] should love entertain;
        Should smile and should soothe, but not flatter or feign,
        And to usefulness thus they may hope to attain.
              Oh, listen ye, Miss Sahibas;
                These are the Mission rules!


“Bravo!” cried Harold, as the chorus was concluded; “that is no bad
lesson for Miss Sahibas to learn.”

“Or _Mem_ Sahibas either,” said Alicia laughing. “I suppose that the
duties of married and unmarried are much alike, only the Mems may leave
the snake-slaying to their lord and masters.”


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



                               CHAPTER IV

                           INDIAN TRAVELLING.


THE Hartleys soon left their pleasant place of sojourn, and started on
their journey towards Talwandi. The piano and large packing-cases had
been sent on before by a luggage train; and Harold had arranged that a
big bullock-cart should meet them at the station where the railway-line
must be quitted. Nothing could be pleasanter to the young couple than
the journey as long as it could be made by train, though, for economy’s
sake, the carriage which they occupied was second class. The travellers
were to descend at the station of Chuanwál, twenty miles from Talwandi.
Harold had made every possible arrangement beforehand for the comfort of
his young bride. He had secured a dák-gári (the Indian substitute for a
post-chaise) in which she should accomplish the last part of the
journey.

Chuanwál was reached. After helping Alicia down to the platform, and
rapidly emptying the carriage of two big rolls of bedding, umbrellas, a
hamper, and six or seven other articles which must on no account be left
behind, Harold looked for the station-master.

“You have been good enough to lay our dák; a carriage is ready, I hope?”
said Harold.

“Here is the munshi, sir; he will explain,” said the station-master, as
a stout, dark, sensuous-looking man came forward, book in hand and
pencil behind his thick ear, proud of an opportunity of airing his stock
of English.

“Dák no lay—can’t lay. No station Talwandi way—dusri ráh [other way].
How Sahib change horses where no horses be found?” said the munshi.

“Well, suppose that we cannot change horses on the journey, one pair of
stout animals can easily accomplish twenty miles.” The last part of
Harold’s sentence was half drowned in the shrill scream of the departing
train.

The fat munshi seemed to see mountains of difficulty in the way. “If
horses go Talwandi, must come back Chuanwál,” at last he sagely
observed.

“Of course; they will return here to-morrow. The question is, Have you
the gári [carriage] and horses which I ordered three days ago?”

After a good deal of beating about the bush and cross-questioning,
Harold elicited the fact that there was a gári, and moreover a pair of
horses.

“Then have the horses put in at once. Why were they not ready? The lady
is tired of waiting,” said Harold, glancing towards Alicia, who was
sitting on one of the bundles of bedding.

Orders were given to a man waiting near, who went off to see about the
gári; and the munshi took his pencil from behind his ear. “Sahib must
pay beforehand,” said the munshi.

“All right. How much have I to pay?” asked young Hartley, drawing from
his pocket his bag of rupees.

The munshi surveyed the bag, perhaps making a calculation as to its
probable contents, then named a sum that was an exorbitant charge for so
short a journey. To pay it would more than drain Harold’s bag. The
missionary remonstrated, but in vain. The munshi knew that the
travellers were in his power. They must pay what he chose to demand, or
no dák-gári should start.

“I shall inform the Government official of the extortion,” began Harold;
but he was not allowed to conclude the sentence.

“No Government dák—private affair,” said the munshi, showing a row of
white teeth in a smile of triumph. “If Sahib no like pay, Sahib try find
ekká.”

Harold’s first thought was, “So I will;” but when he glanced again at
his simply but elegantly dressed wife, he could not bear the idea of her
having to climb up into a vehicle so rude, to be jolted over twenty
miles of rough road, seated Oriental fashion, and holding the ropes at
the side to prevent herself from being jerked out on the road. No, no;
Harold would not take his bride home in an ekká.

“Harold, what is all this delay and discussion about?” asked Alicia,
who, weary of waiting, had sauntered up to the side of her husband.

“This fellow is making an unreasonable demand: he asks for more than I
have with me,” said Harold, looking slightly annoyed.

“Oh, is that all? I’ll be your banker,” cried Alicia. “Just help me to
open my box, and I’ll get out the money.”

In a few minutes Alicia’s pretty purse was in the hand of her husband.
The lady was rather amused at the idea of lending to Harold; but he was
by no means pleased at having to borrow from his bride. The money was
paid, the amount registered in the munshi’s greasy book, and in due time
the gári appeared.

“Is it not like an old bathing-machine?” said Alicia. “It looks hardly
as luxurious as one would expect from the cost of its hire.”

A dák-gári is by no means luxurious, especially on a rough country road.
It has neither springs nor windows, and cushions must be improvised from
the rugs which travellers carry with them. However, Alicia was perfectly
satisfied. “Mission Mem Sahibas must not care for luxury,” thought she.

When nearly half the journey had been accomplished, the travellers
passed a heavily-laden bullock-cart, slowly jolting on its way.

“There, see! there’s our piano and our big cases!” exclaimed Alicia. “I
thought that we should find them all ready unpacked on our arrival at
home. We sent on the luggage ages ago.”

“There was probably some hitch at the station,” said Harold; “and
bullocks travel very slowly indeed. But the cart will be in before
morning; we shall arrive some hours before it.”

Harold was calculating without his host, or rather without his horses. A
brief pause was made half-way to Talwandi for the driver to quench his
own thirst and that of his horses, and to indulge himself with a pull at
his hookah. The pause was unfortunate, for it gave one of the animals
time to consider that he had not been taken out of harness and relieved
by another horse, as he had a right to expect. The creature resolutely
determined—and some Indian horses have resolute wills—not to go a single
step further. The driver had resumed his seat on the box, and cracked
his whip as a sign to move on; but in vain was whip-cracking or urging
or beating. The horse reared and plunged and kicked, and turned almost
right round, after the fashion of nat-kat (naughty) horses in India.

“O Harold! Harold! what is that dreadful creature doing?” exclaimed
Alicia, in terror grasping her husband’s arm.

“It is only that we have a nat-kat in the shafts,” replied Harold.
“There will be a regular battle between the will of man and horse, as
shown in the picture which we were looking at in the clever book ‘Curry
and Rice.’”

“Oh, this is terrible!” cried Alicia, as the horse’s iron hoofs beat a
tattoo against the gári. “There—oh, look!—he has turned round—his head
will be in the carriage; he’s as fierce as a tiger! What a frightful
noise he makes—between a neigh and a scream!”

“I will get out and help the driver,” said Harold, with his hand on the
sliding panel of the gári, which was but half pushed back.

“Oh no; the horse will kick you or bite you—nat-kat horses bite!” cried
Alicia, almost frantic with terror. Stronger nerves than hers have been
tried by a nat-kat brute.

Neither could the driver master the furious beast, nor Harold soothe the
terrified lady. A quarter of an hour passed—a half-hour; mindless of
rein, only irritated by blows, kicking, snorting, backing, now to the
right side of the road, then to the left, doing his utmost to overturn
the heavy gári, the nat-kat would go any way but forward.

“O Harold, I can bear this no longer; help me out!” gasped Alicia,
looking so pale that her husband feared that she was going to faint.
Catching his opportunity, Harold sprang from the gári, lifted his wife
down on the side nearest the quieter horse, and placed the trembling
lady at a safe distance from the heels of the plunging nat-kat.

“Harold, I feel so nervous; I will not attempt to get into that carriage
again,” faltered Alicia Hartley.

“But we _must_ go on, my love; the driver will at last get the better in
the struggle.”

“There is the bullock-cart coming along the road; we will go in that,
the oxen are so quiet. Oh, mercy!”

The nat-kat, half-maddened by the punishment which he was receiving,
with distended nostrils and flashing eyes, was indeed attempting to bite
as well as to kick. Harold in vain urged that the bullocks would take
hours to accomplish the journey, and that the sun was about to set.
Alicia declared that to go home slowly was better than not getting home
at all. Harold was constrained to let the timid creature have her own
way, and the furious horse had his; for while Alicia was with difficulty
squeezing herself behind the piano, and Harold trying to arrange the
luggage taken from the gári, the nat-kat and his companion were tearing
away at the utmost speed that the weight of the gári permitted on their
way back to Chuanwál station. Mightily amused was the fat munshi when he
heard of the adventure, and with great satisfaction he stroked his beard
and jingled his bag of rupees.

It was some time before the nervous Alicia, in her most uncomfortable
niche in the bullock-cart, could recover her wonted composure. Harold
tried to make the best that he could of circumstances, but thought with
regret of the despised ekká, in which he might so much more quickly and
cheaply, and perhaps more comfortably too, have accomplished a tiresome
journey. Poor Alicia had been so much frightened, and was now so much
shaken and tired, that she had difficulty in keeping in her tears. She
had a fear that she had displeased, or at least had annoyed, Harold, and
that Robin would laugh at her for making so poor a beginning of
missionary life. The slow pace of the bullocks made the journey terribly
tedious, and dark night closed in long before they had accomplished five
miles.

Travelling adventures were not over. A bit of specially bad and boggy
road was encountered. First the cart stuck fast in the mud. Harold
sprang down, and his exertions, combined with those of the driver and
the struggles of the belaboured oxen, at last succeeded in setting the
clumsy conveyance in motion again. A few yards further on there was a
sudden shock and a crash. One of the big wheels had come off. A great
deal of the luggage was precipitated on the miry road.

“Quite a night of adventures!” cried Harold cheerfully, to reassure his
young wife and prevent her noticing that a falling box had inflicted on
his arm a very severe contusion. He bit his lip with pain, and then
added in the same playful tone, “We shall laugh over our little troubles
when we reach our destination.”

“But when shall we reach it?” exclaimed Alicia; “how far are we now from
Talwandi?”

“I should say four miles,” replied Harold; “but it is difficult to guess
in the darkness, when one can see no landmarks. How we are to proceed
with a wheel off is a difficult problem to solve. If you permit, I will
press forward and bring back a lantern and my fathers tattu [pony], on
which you will ride.”

“Oh no; you must not leave me!” cried Alicia, clinging like a terrified
child to her husband’s strong arm. “I can walk—I would far rather walk.”

And walk she did, all the long weary way over a rough road; for the four
miles proved to be five, and to the young traveller seemed to be ten.
Mr. Hartley, after staying up till midnight to welcome the pair, had
given them up and retired to rest, when Harold and his tired—almost
exhausted—bride reached the little bungalow at last.


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



                               CHAPTER V

                           FIRST IMPRESSIONS.


ALICIA’S was rather a cheerless arrival at home. Her old father-in-law
was asleep on his charpai (small bedstead), and Robin, overcome by
slumber on his arm-chair, was in the midst of a dream, when both were
roused by the sound of Harold’s familiar voice. Up in a moment sprang
Robin, ready to give a warm welcome. After kindly greetings were over,
the lad turned hastily away to see what could be done for the comfort of
those who had arrived in the middle of a cold February night.

“Oh, this is too bad—the fire out, and the lamp all but burned down!”
cried Robin. “That lazy dog Mangal asleep, of course. But I set him the
example.—Mangal! Mangal! bring more logs; fill the kettle—no, I’ll do
that myself.—There is plenty of food in the doli [meat-safe]; we’ll have
it warmed up in ten minutes. I am so provoked at having gone to sleep;
but who would have dreamed of your coming on foot, and at such a late
hour?”

The bride was too weary to wait till a fire could be lighted and food
prepared. “I will go to my room, please,” she faintly said, “and the
ayah will bring me my tea.” The poor girl forgot at the moment that an
ayah’s services was one of the luxuries which she was to forego at
Talwandi.

“I will act as your ayah,” said Harold. “As soon as Robin can coax fire
to burn and water to boil, I will bring you your tea.”

As he spoke, Mr. Hartley, looking, as Alicia thought, haggard and pale
as a ghost, came wrapped in his dressing-gown to welcome his daughter.
It was an effort to Alicia to look pleased and happy on her first
introduction to her new father; she felt something of awe not unmixed
with pity, and wondered whether she could ever venture to be lively in
the presence of such a man.

While the servant was preparing the food, Mr. Hartley proposed united
thanksgiving and prayer. Alicia expressed her wish to join in it, though
she was hardly able to keep her eyes open during the service, brief as
it was. She then retired—if it could be called retiring in a place where
the accommodation was so cramped that every sound could be heard over
the house—and Alicia felt as if she must not only be uncomfortable
herself, but make every one else so. The last sound which fell on her
drowsy ear was that of Robin starting off with all the coolies whom he
could manage to muster at that hour of the night, to go with him to the
place where the bullock-cart had broken down, in order to bring home the
luggage.

Alicia did not awake till very late on the following morning—so late
that Mr. Hartley had gone to his work hours before; and Harold, who had
a crowd of native visitors to welcome him back, was only waiting to give
his wife breakfast before going the round of his station. After his
months of absence, the young missionary’s work was much in arrears.

“Harold, dear Harold, can we not have a little quiet?” murmured Alicia.
“It is very embarrassing to have such a number of black eyes staring
curiously at the new Mem, as if I were some kind of white bear just
imported from the North Pole.”

“I will carry them all off with me to the mango grove; but I must
introduce a few of my boys to you first.—Kripá Dé, Bál Singh, make your
saláms to the lady.”

They did so respectfully and with natural grace. Alicia was puzzled how
to return the politeness, for she had had no intercourse with natives,
except her servants.

“I see that your breakfast is just ready, my love,” said Harold. “Call
for anything that you want; Mangal acts as khitmatgar [table-servant] as
well as cook.”

“But surely you are going to take breakfast with me!” cried Alicia. “I
am not to eat alone, and on the first morning here!”

“Forgive me, darling, for hurrying away. I do not know when I shall be
able to overtake all the work which I find before me.”

“But you must eat breakfast,” began Alicia.

“I took mine hours ago with my father. I only waited to see you, and
look after your little comforts. Indeed I must go,” continued Harold,
vexed to see moisture rising to the eyes of his wife. “I have left my
burden too long on the shoulders of others. You know that a missionary’s
time is not his own;” and in another minute he was off.

“So I am not to have the society of my own husband, or have him always
surrounded by natives!” murmured Alicia, as she sat down disconsolately
to her solitary meal. “It is rather hard—but no! I must remember
Harold’s words, that nothing is hard which is right. And missionaries
should have submissive wills.”

Alicia gave a little sigh. Her eyes were opening to the fact that to be
a good wife to a devoted worker like Harold would require some amount of
self-denial. Time was already beginning to show to the bride that she
needed a great deal of training to be fit for the position which she had
lately thought the most enviable in the world. The conclusion at which
Alicia arrived, as she rather pensively ate her suji, was that she must
in future make her appearance a good deal earlier than ten o’clock in
the morning.

“Already my folly and self-will have involved Harold in trouble,” Alicia
said to herself. “If I had taken his advice, I should have waited
patiently in the gári till the nat-kat’s temper was subdued, and should
not have added the weight of ourselves and our luggage to an already
overladen cart. Had I behaved like a sensible woman and not like a silly
child, the cart might never have stuck in the mud nor the wheel come
off.”

Alicia glanced around her and above, surveying her new habitation. “Very
bare it looks, I must own; no ceiling to hide the rafters; nothing
pretty to adorn the walls. This clearly has never been the residence of
a woman. I will soon make mine look brighter than this. I am glad that
Harold has promised to leave all the decorations to me. Ah, here come
our goods at last!” exclaimed Alicia, springing up joyfully from her
chair as Robin, himself carrying a large portmanteau, appeared at the
head of a band of coolies, who, after the curious native fashion, bore
their heavy loads on their heads instead of their backs. “O Robin, I am
so glad to see you. Let the men set down their burdens here in the
veranda. You will help me, I know, to open the boxes.”

Robin was hungry, and would far rather have taken his place at the
breakfast table after a night of toil; but without a word he put down
the portmanteau and went off for his tools. Alicia was very eager to
have the cases opened, to ascertain that her goods had sustained no
injury from the jolting or the fall from the cart. But when the wooden
cover of the first large box was raised, and the tin beneath unsoldered
(rather a tedious operation), the examination of the contents, slowly
extricated from the hay in which they had been packed, was not very
satisfactory to their owner.

“Oh, my clock—my beautiful clock! The siren broken to pieces! I daresay
that the works are useless!” exclaimed Alicia.

“I hope not,” said Robin cheerily. “I am a bit of a watchmaker, you
know. I hope to set the clock going again, though I cannot undertake to
patch up the siren. Here, let me help you. That box is too heavy for
your little hands.”

“It is my medicine-chest, and full of bottles,” said Alicia. “Oh,” she
added in a different tone, “what can have happened? Something inside
must have been broken; my hands are all covered with castor-oil! Ugh!”

Not only the fingers of the lady, but a good many things besides, were
moistened with oil and full of its odour. Scarcely a bottle had survived
the shocks of that journey. Alicia looked aghast when she became aware
of the extent of the mischief done.

“Don’t worry about it, dear,” said her brother-in-law, with rough
sympathy. “To have nice things spoilt is a very common experience with
us missionaries, so I have often congratulated myself on having so few
things to be ruined.” Seeing the cloud still on Alicia’s face, Robin
added more seriously, “You know there is something in the Bible about
taking joyfully the spoiling of goods.”

“It is difficult to take it joyfully, but I must try to take it
patiently,” said Harold’s bride. “But where is my beautiful piano?
Surely you have not left it behind!”

“One of the oxen is loaded with—with what remains of it,” said Robin
slowly.

“Oh, surely the piano is not broken! My father’s gift! Don’t say that it
too has come to grief!” cried Alicia.

“Then what am I to say?” replied Robin. “I am sure that I would far
rather tell you something pleasant, but one of the big packing-cases
fell on the poor piano.”

“And smashed it—quite smashed it?” cried Alicia.

Robin gravely nodded his head, then turned a little aside to avoid
seeing the tears gathering in Alicia’s lovely eyes.

“Perhaps the piano is not past mending,” were the first words which she
uttered, after a silence of several minutes.

Robin knew that the instrument was quite past repairing; his silence was
sufficient reply.

“I suppose that missionaries must not let their hearts cling to anything
earthly,” thought poor Alicia. “I must gradually learn _to endure
hardness like a good soldier of Jesus Christ_. After all,” she said
aloud, “one might have worse losses than even that of a new piano.”

So the sad face cleared up a little, and Alicia, with a resolution of
making the best of what remained to her, turned to the second of her
large packing-cases.

“That chiefly contains clothes and linen,” she observed, “and a very
large roll of wall-paper. Nothing there is likely to have been spoiled.
But I can examine nothing in it until I have washed these oily fingers.”

“May I suggest your waiting a little before doing any more unpacking,”
said Robin. “You look tired already, and the first case is not fully
explored. From what you say, it appears that there is little or nothing
liable to be broken in this second box, so you can leave it for a while.
Let these fellows carry both boxes into the bungalow.”

“Not into your bungalow, Robin; they would not leave us standing room,”
said Alicia with decision. “Let everything be put into our empty
house”—the lady glanced at the yet scarcely finished bungalow which
adjoined the one in whose veranda she now was standing,—“there is space
for everything there, and in it I shall gradually unpack all my things.”

“That house, newly built, is damp,” expostulated Robin; “you must put
nothing into it yet.”

“Indeed, but I will,” was Alicia’s playful retort. “I want my own
property in my own home, and it only gives useless trouble to carry it
backwards and forwards. I suspect, Master Robin, that you wish to see
the contents, and so you shall, but not till I have arranged them and
put them into right order.”

“You have been in India so short a time,” began Robin; but the wilful
girl cut him short with a laugh.

“And so you favour me with the results of your long experience. Oh,
grave and reverend signor!” she cried, “I have been a little longer in
the world than you have, and won’t stand like a meek little girl to hear
how, when, and where I should open my boxes. So go to your breakfast,
dear Robin. I have been very selfish to keep you from it so long. I am
sure that I am much obliged to you for all the trouble which you have
taken about my luckless luggage.”

As Robin sat at the breakfast-table drinking cold tea and eating colder
suji, he heard Alicia, as she stood in her yet uncompleted veranda,
ordering the coolies to take away or bring (she constantly confused the
two verbs), eking out her slender amount of Urdu with English, and more
comprehensible signs, and evidently rather pleased at finding herself in
the position of mistress in her own dwelling.

“What father said yesterday was quite right,” reflected Robin. “He and I
had better go out with our tent for some days itinerating in the
district, and leave Harold and Alicia to settle down quietly here. It is
quite natural that they should like to be a little together, with no one
else near. Of course, the bride, accustomed to live in a handsome house
in a city, finds our quarters uncomfortably small when we are all
together. Let her and her husband have the bungalow for a while all to
themselves.”

So in the course of the day this little matter was settled. Soon after
dawn on the following morning, Mr. Hartley and his younger son started
on an itinerating tour amongst the surrounding villages. A camel carried
their tiny tent, a few wraps, and cooking-vessels. The old missionary
rode his pony, and Robin walked. The weather was delightful, as it
usually is at that time of the year. Harold and his bride were left in
sole possession of the bungalow at Talwandi.


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



                               CHAPTER VI

                              LITTLE FOES.


ALICIA was up in time to see the travellers off; with her own hands she
filled the provision-basket, and helped Robin to pack her father’s
portmanteau. She was resolved to show herself to be a capable, energetic
missionary Mem. All her idle days were over: Alicia had grand designs in
her head. She looked so bright, animated, and happy as she bade the
travellers good-bye, that Robin, as he walked beside his father’s tattu,
laughingly observed, “I think that our pretty exotic is taking root
already, and promises to climb up bravely. To get so soon over the loss
of a piano, the breaking of bottles, and the smashing of porcelain,
shows a spirit worthy of Harold’s bride.”

What was one of the principal causes of Alicia’s cheerfulness on that
Friday morning may be seen from a letter which she wrote to a sister in
England on the following Monday.

                                               “_February 28, 1868._

    “DEAREST LIZZIE,—I promised to give you a full and particular
    description of my new home at Talwandi; but I would rather delay
    so doing till I have brought some order out of chaos, some
    beauty out of confusion. Everything is now in the rough. I am
    going to be so busy, so desperately busy, that I am not at all
    sorry that my father-in-law and Robin are away on a preaching
    tour. I want to give them a grand surprise on their return, and
    a surprise also to my Harold, who is so dreadfully busy all day
    long with his native boys or his translations that he has no
    time to consider whether he lives in a palace or a wigwam.

    “But first I must tell you what I think of Harold’s father,
    though I have seen but little of him as yet. Mr. Hartley is
    tall, but stoops slightly, as if from weakness. He is pale and
    thin and somewhat wrinkled—less from age, I think, than from
    toil. Harold has certainly a likeness to his parent; but, oh! I
    trust that my noble-looking husband, whose form is so erect,
    whose step so elastic, may never have such a worn-out
    appearance, such a faint voice, as the veteran worker. I feel a
    very great respect, almost reverence, for my new father; but he
    inspires me with something a little like awe. Mr. Hartley is
    almost too polite, for in the courtesy which he shows to me as a
    lady he seems half to forget that I am his daughter. I should
    like him to clap me on the shoulder and call me ‘Pussy,’ as dear
    papa used to do. Mr. Hartley _will_ rise when I enter the room,
    nor resume his chair until I am seated, though I would often
    prefer standing or running about. The dear man listens with such
    courtesy to what I say that I dare hardly open my lips lest I
    should utter something silly. Then I feel that Mr. Hartley lives
    in a sphere so very much higher than my own, that I am humbled
    and a little constrained by his presence. Perhaps when I know
    him better this feeling may wear away. At present, my father
    appears to me something too high and spiritual for earth—like
    the rainbow which we admire but cannot touch. Yet Robin is as
    playful as a kitten with his father, who evidently enjoys his
    fun. Harold regards his parent with much veneration and love. It
    is beautiful to see the confidence and affection existing
    between father and sons.

    “To quit this subject, I must tell you of the grand work which I
    started last Friday, almost as soon as the travellers had left
    us. My Harold knows nothing about it; I only said to him as he
    went off to the school which he holds (in a mango grove, I
    believe), ‘Please give Nabi Bakhsh and Mangal strict orders to
    obey me in whatever I tell them to do.’ ‘I am sure that I may
    trust my little queen with despotic power,’ replied Harold,
    smiling. ‘Your subjects shall obey your commands, if you can
    make them understand them.’

    “No sooner had my husband left me than I ordered a big bowl, or
    rather my basin, full of paste, and flew off to my work in my
    own little home. Foreseeing, like a prudent housewife, that
    nothing elegant could be procured at Talwandi, I have brought a
    quantity of the loveliest wall-paper that ever I saw—pale lilac
    ground, as smooth as satin, with a pattern of roses twining over
    a trellis of gold. Nothing can be more tasteful, or more suited
    to make ‘Paradise’ (as I have named our little bungalow) a sort
    of fairy bower. I had Nabi Bakhsh and Mangal to help me in the
    work of papering my room; for though I have brought a huge
    brush, I could not do all the pasting myself. I could, however,
    trust nothing that required common sense to my assistants: for I
    found Mangal putting my roses upside down; and when I bade Nabi
    Bakhsh hang my pictures on some brass nails which Robin had
    fixed in the wall, I saw the drawing representing our church so
    placed that the tower and trees hung downwards, suspended, as it
    seemed, from the sky! Of course, it was absurd to begin to hang
    up pictures before I had papered the room; but I did so because
    it gave me such pleasure to see them whenever I glanced up from
    my work. Nor could I resist the pleasure of filling the
    book-shelves (also Robin’s kind thought) with my very prettiest
    books.

    “How I laboured that day! how I swung my big brush, and dashed
    the paste over the brick-work! You would have laughed, Lizzie,
    to have seen your Ailie perched on a ladder, now stopping to
    look down to direct or scold her assistants, now dabbing paste
    on the ugly bare wall, which was not graced with even a coating
    of whitewash. I worked and worked till hands were tired and head
    was throbbing and eyes aching from looking up. Then I stopped to
    admire my rosy bower, and went on again with fresh vigour. I
    pasted away as long as the light lasted, and then, not wishing
    Harold to see the work incomplete, I left my huge roll of paper
    (a good deal lessened in size) on the floor, sent Mangal to look
    after cooking the dinner, quitted the house, and locked the door
    behind me. No one should enter ‘Paradise’ as long as one brick
    remained uncovered in its bare ugliness in that room.

    “I was at first—though dreadfully tired—in high glee when Harold
    returned. He was tired too, and needed his meal, which Mangal
    took ages to prepare. It had never occurred to me that the
    khansamar could not cook while he was pasting. When the food
    came at last, I took to shivering instead of eating, and my
    looks awakened alarm in the mind of my tender husband. Harold
    took my hand; it burned with fever, and I was obliged to confess
    to a pain in my head. It appeared that I had taken a chill.
    Harold was uneasy at my having even a touch of Indian fever so
    soon after my arrival. I was condemned to imprisonment and a
    strong dose of bitter quinine. Do not be alarmed, dear Lizzie;
    mine was only a passing attack, and it gave me the luxury (was
    it selfish to enjoy it?) of more of the company of my beloved. I
    believe that the school-lads had a holiday on Saturday, for
    Harold scarcely quitted my side. I was very much better on
    Sunday; but my dear jailer would not let me quit my room, and
    gave me a little English service there. It was a happy, peaceful
    Sabbath to me. The time when Harold was away holding religious
    converse with a young Hindu who reads the gospel, I spent in
    learning a good many verses from the Urdu Bible, which, when I
    repeated them in the evening, won for me the prized reward of my
    husband’s praise. To-day (Monday) I had hoped to go on with my
    papering work; but as there happened to be a rough wind, and the
    fever had left a cold on my chest, Harold bade me keep one day
    more in the house.

    “‘I forgot to ask you for the key of our new bungalow,’ said he;
    ‘pray give it to me now, for we must keep all the doors open
    during the daytime, and have a large fire burning within. I had
    a tree cut down on purpose to have plenty of wood to burn. I
    ought to have seen to this matter before; but give me the key
    now, please, my love.’

    “Now, for Harold to have had the key would have spoilt the
    charming surprise which I was preparing for him. This would
    never do; so I begged my husband not to wait for the key, and I
    promised to send Nabi Bakhsh to throw open all the doors and
    pile up roaring fires. Harold went off to his inquirers, and
    I—shall I confess it to you, Lizzie?—I became so much interested
    in my studies that I quite forgot my promise. There was no
    feeling of cold to remind me that fires may be needed, for the
    days are quite warm, to me even hot, though at night the air
    becomes fresh. It is now too late to have the doors opened, so I
    am spending the twilight, before Harold returns, in writing to
    you. I shall be too busy to-morrow pasting and papering to do
    more than add a line to tell of the success of my work.

    “Harold is later than usual; he is probably having a religious
    conversation with Kripá Dé, whom he thinks almost, if not quite,
    a Christian in heart. I have only seen the lad once or twice,
    but I am exceedingly struck with his appearance. Kripá is as
    fair as an Englishwoman, only the complexion has in it no tinge
    of colour; it is, I hear, one not uncommon among Kashmiris.
    Kripá Dé has a delicacy of feature and grace of—There is the
    step of my Harold! no more writing to-day.

    “_Tuesday._—O Lizzie, I little thought how this long letter was
    to end,—how my bright fancies, my eagerly pursued occupation,
    were to bring nothing but disappointment! I have only too much
    leisure for writing to-day, and must relieve my mortified spirit
    by telling my troubles to you.

    “I was almost impatient for Harold to go out to his work, so
    eager was I to resume mine. I hurried off to my little house,
    after calling to Mangal to prepare a fresh supply of paste, and
    asking Nabi Bakhsh to get some one to bring plenty of logs for a
    fire (coals are unknown in Talwandi). I knew that I had been
    imprudent in not having had a fire lighted on Friday, and that I
    had brought fever on myself and trouble on my husband by
    neglecting this simple precaution. I will not be so foolish
    again.

    “Well, to go on with my story. I turned the key in the lock of
    my door, pushed it open, and entered the room where I had left
    my fancy paper, some on the wall, some on the floor. Yes, I
    entered with eager step, and then—stood simply aghast. Ugly dark
    damp-marks had completely marred what I, with such labour, had
    put up but three days ago; and worse still, my pictures, my
    choice pictures, were almost completely spoilt. I felt inclined
    to sit down and cry; but to have given such way to my vexation
    would have been unworthy of Harold’s wife. It was a comfort, I
    thought, that the larger portion of the beautiful wall-paper had
    not yet been put up; _that_, at least, should be kept to be used
    after the house should have become quite dry. I went up to my
    large roll (which, you remember, I had left on the brick floor),
    and saw—oh, how shall I describe what I saw with mingled
    astonishment and disgust! The paper, with its roses and golden
    trellis, was, as it were, _alive_ with odious little white
    maggots. It almost sickened me to see them; I could not touch
    one of the horrid things. I called loudly for Nabi Bakhsh, and
    when he appeared I could only point to the disgusting mass on
    the floor. ‘Dimak,’ he said calmly, as if there were nothing
    astonishing in the sight. Then Nabi Bakhsh walked leisurely to
    the wall, and knocked down a quantity of branching excrescences
    of something like mud, in shape a little resembling coral, but
    of the colour of mire. This, too, was alive with grubs, and
    again the Moslem said, ‘Dimak.’ There is no danger of my ever
    forgetting that hateful word.

    “As I stood almost petrified with this my first introduction to
    white ants, one of the plagues of India, I was startled by the
    unexpected entrance of Harold. He had returned for some book,
    and seeing the door open had walked in.

    “Harold asked no questions; he saw at a glance what had
    happened. ‘Call the mihtar [sweeper], and have all this cleared
    away at once,’ he said to Nabi Bakhsh. Then gently taking my
    hand, my husband led me out into the open veranda. I was too
    much agitated to be able to speak. I attempted to smile, but
    failed.

    “‘I am very sorry to find the white ants in possession already,’
    said Harold. ‘We must fight them in this bungalow, as we have
    fought them in my father’s. Happily a good supply of tar is
    left; some shall immediately be put round the lower part of the
    walls, and below the rafters, or the wood-work will become the
    prey of greedy little foes.’

    “‘The rafters!’ I murmured faintly; ‘would the dimak bring down
    our very roof over our heads?’

    “‘If we gave them time and opportunity they would do so,’ was
    the not consolatory reply. ‘But be assured, my Alicia, that
    active measures shall be taken at once.’

    “And what was the result of these active measures, Lizzie? I
    have just come in from looking at my poor, certainly misnamed,
    Paradise. All my pretty paper has been pulled down and cleared
    away, and men are putting a funeral band of hideous black all
    round the upper part of the walls, along the rafters, and a few
    inches above the floor. There is a bespattering of the tar in
    unsightly spots even where it is not supposed to be needed. The
    whole effect is horrible, and my new bungalow smells like an old
    steamer. I do not know whether to laugh or to cry.”


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



                              CHAPTER VII

                             DIGGING DEEP.


AT sunset Mr. Hartley and Robin unexpectedly returned to Talwandi, the
strength of the former having proved unequal to the fatigues of
camp-life. The old missionary had hardly been able to keep the saddle.

“Why, Alicia, you must have been ill! what have you been doing while we
were away?” was Robins first exclamation, as he took the hand of his
sister and looked with affectionate concern at her pale face and
drooping appearance.

“Alicia has been a little imprudent,” said Harold.

“And has paid dearly for her imprudence,” added Alicia with a rather
forced smile.

Then followed the story of the invasion of the white ants, and an
account of the means taken to prevent its repetition.

“Tar is not enough to keep out the dimaks,” said Robin; “they are the
most persevering little workers in the world. Hunt them from one corner,
and presently you see their brown tunnels in another; chase them from
the floor, and they are up in the beams. There is no weapon for fighting
the white ants to be compared to a good stout spade. I’ll take mine, and
go out early to-morrow morning, and see if I cannot find the trace of a
colony somewhere near. If I do, then will come the work of sapping and
mining. We must follow the enemy to his underground fort, and if
possible capture his queen.”

“I never saw white ants in Lahore,” said Alicia.

“They have rural tastes like myself: they prefer country to town, like
those gentry whose music now breaks on the ear.”

“Oh, what is that frightful yelling and howling?” exclaimed Alicia in
alarm. “I hope, I trust, that this jungly place is not infested by
wolves!”

“Merely jackals,” said Harold quietly.

“But don’t jackals hunt in packs? might they not attack one?” asked
Alicia anxiously, as the wild yells came nearer and nearer.

“Jackals are the most cowardly brutes in the world,” exclaimed Robin;
“they have none of the boldness of the dimak. I doubt whether jackals
would attack any human being, except, of course, a baby. Even you,
Alicia, might face a jackal.”

“I should rather not meet one in the dark, to say nothing of a pack!”
cried the lady. “I never before heard such a horrible sound as their
yells.”

“You will grow accustomed to it,” observed Harold.

On the following morning Robin started off with his spade, and did not
return for hours. Harold went to his work, and Alicia was left with her
father-in-law, who was too poorly to leave the house. Mr. Hartley was
for some time occupied with translating, whilst Alicia, seated near him,
removed from some of her choice books, as far as she could, traces of
the ravages of damp and of white ants. The two were making a study of
the veranda, the single sitting-room in the mission bungalow being
uncomfortably crowded by Alicia’s luggage, which had been removed for
the present from her damp house.

After writing for some time, Mr. Hartley glanced up from his desk, and
his eyes met those of Alicia, who had also paused in her occupation,
after laying down a sadly marred volume of poems.

“I wonder why white ants were created?” she murmured; “they do nothing
but mischief in the world.”

“They are probably, like briers and thorns, a part of the curse,”
observed Mr. Hartley, putting away his pen. “But as all things work for
good to the servants of the Lord, even white ants may have their
mission.”

“I cannot imagine what it possibly can be,” said Alicia.

“Our small worries, in this life of probation, my child, may be as
effectual as great troubles in disciplining the mind, and keeping the
soul from resting too much on things of earth. Have you yourself learned
nothing from yesterday’s disappointment?”

Alicia did not answer the question directly, but, after a pause, said a
little bitterly,—

“Was it wrong in me to wish to make my husband’s home look pretty?”

“No, my daughter,” said the missionary very gently; “your object was not
in itself wrong, but it was, perhaps, not pursued in quite a right way.”

“I do not understand,” said Alicia.

“I will try to explain myself better. Was my daughter not aware that she
was risking the loss of her health by working for many hours in a place
exceedingly damp?”

“One cannot be always thinking about health,” said Alicia, with the
slightest touch of impatience in her tone.

“Do you not think that our mortal frames belong to the Lord as well as
our intellectual powers? Have we a right to injure the instrument given
us to be employed in this work?”

“Oh, dear Mr. Hartley, I think that you are hardly the one to give
reproof on this subject!” cried Alicia, looking at the wasted form
beside her.

“It is because my conscience reproves me as being a defaulter that I am
the more able to point out to others the places where my own foot has
slipped,” was the meek rejoinder. “I came to India, Alicia, a vigorous,
agile man, quite as strong as your Harold is now; you see me, at the age
of little more than fifty, an old man, compassed with infirmities,
which, alas! hinder my work.”

“But you have worn out your health in the Lord’s service, dear father,”
said Alicia.

“By no means altogether so, my child. I was proud of my agility and
strength; I liked to show my powers and my daring; I scorned what I
thought womanish precautions; what you said just now was often on my
lips—‘One cannot always be thinking about health.’ Now with something
like repentance I look back on useless, perhaps vainglorious exertions,
by which I wasted God-given strength. That strength, if _only_ employed
on God’s work, might have made me a vigorous labourer still.”

“It is said, _Better wear out than rust out_,” observed Alicia.

“That proverb is perfectly true, but it does not quite bear on the
subject before us,” was the quiet reply. “The choice is not between
wearing and rusting, but between careless, wilful neglect of common
precautions (perhaps in the pursuit of amusement), and a conscientious
reserving of one’s strength for daily duties. I have known a missionary
bring on sunstroke, because she could not resist the pleasure of
gathering flowers in the heat of the day, and could not hold up an
umbrella whilst wielding the garden-scissors. Another felt that society
did her good by refreshing her spirits after hard work. ‘Sitting up late
does not mean rising late,’ she observed. So my friend sat up night
after night till past eleven, then bravely went to her work at six.
Nature could not bear the double strain, and the result was that a
valuable missionary had to rest for six months in the Hills, leaving her
important station without a single worker.”

“Yes, I see that one should attend to the care of health for the sake of
others,” said Alicia, remembering the anxiety which her own little
attack of fever had cost her husband.

“And if you are not weary of an old man’s talk,” continued her father,
“might I ask whether, when pursuing your work so eagerly, you had no
idea that you were doing what Harold, had he known of it, would have
forbidden?”

Alicia coloured, and assented by silence. After a while, however, she
observed, “My husband had never spoken on the subject.”

“Affection needs not the spoken command; it divines the will, and obeys
it.”

“You are rather hard on me, father,” said Alicia. “I fear that you will
often blame me, if you notice such little things.”

“These little things seem to me symbolized by the dimak,” observed Mr.
Hartley. “Small errors do not startle conscience as do more evident
sins, that, like the jackals, give loud warning of their approach. We
may be in little danger of defrauding, or lying, or hating; but the
small faults creep noiselessly on us, working, as it were, under ground,
yet gradually marring beauty of character and injuring peace of mind.”

“To what special faults do you allude?” asked Alicia.

“Want of consideration for others, foolish talking, exaggeration, and
discontent; to which I must add another, to which, I grieve to say, I
too often give place. This is irritability of temper,—most unbecoming in
a Christian.”

“I have never seen you show irritability, dear father, except, perhaps,
once or twice with the servants.”

“Sometimes in the bazaars the blasphemy of the infidel or the insolence
of the Moslem makes me speak with unguarded heat.”

“Surely such anger is lawful in a missionary defending his Master’s
cause,” said Alicia.

“My daughter, no cause is gained by its advocate losing his temper. I
have bitterly repented of words spoken in a moment of irritation.”

Here the conversation was suddenly interrupted by Robin’s bursting into
the veranda, a spade in one hand, and in the other an earthen saucer,
which he triumphantly waved aloft.

“After four hours of work, behold the spoils of victory!” he cried, and
he handed the saucer to Alicia.

“What are these hideous fat white creatures?” she exclaimed, looking
with disgust at three huge grubs, each of the size of her little finger.

“These are the mother-queens of the dimak,” said Robin gaily, “which the
natives, with a sublime contempt for grammatical rules about gender,
call badshahs (kings). Whether kings or queens, they are the source of
all the mischief done by white ants; and since these are ‘in captive
held,’ we may get rid of their troublesome subjects.”

“What am I to do with the horrid creatures?” said Alicia.

“Put them in spirits, and keep them as curiosities, or trophies, if you
like the word better. Now, I must be off, for I have other work to do
besides digging;” and with quick step Robin quitted the veranda.

“Robin dug deep,” observed Mr. Hartley after a pause; “so he came to the
root of the mischief.”

“I am sure that you are thinking of something besides white ants,” said
Alicia. “Perhaps you would suggest that if we dig down deep enough in
our consciences we may find out the source of our so-called little
sins.”

“Can you not divine them?” said Mr. Hartley. “There are many; but to
preserve our analogy, let us unearth but three—selfishness,
self-righteousness, and self-will. I have traced most of my own errors
to one or other of these.”

The conversation was not continued. Alicia took away the unsightly
creatures, and her father resumed his translation. Mr. Hartley paused,
however, ere he had written half a page. “Was I too hard on the dear
child?” he said to himself.

Alicia flung away the queen-ants; she did not care to preserve them. She
felt humbled and a little distressed by the conversation which had just
taken place. It was a new thing for her to have her faults so closely
dealt with, for her good-natured, easy-going father had never been aware
that she had any; and Harold, though less blind, was just as indulgent.
The brief talk with an experienced Christian had opened Alicia’s eyes to
the fact that she had a great deal to learn, and a good deal of
discipline perhaps to undergo, before her self-will should be dug up,
and she should become worthy to be called a missionary’s wife.


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



                              CHAPTER VIII

                        FIRST VISIT TO A ZENANA.


ROBIN was very busy during the rest of the week, but the nature of his
occupation was kept a profound secret, into which no one was allowed to
enter but Harold. On the Monday morning, when the family was partaking
of their warm daliya and milk, Harold turned to his wife and said, “You
have often told me, my love, that you would like to take a part in
mission work here.”

“I should like it of all things!” exclaimed Alicia. “You know that I
have seen something of the kind of thing already, as I have been with
mission ladies into four or five zenanas, and I learned a lesson for
future use. You know, darling, that I can read the Bible fairly in Roman
Urdu; I have also learned some texts, and I have a famous book of
pictures. I have practised my stock of bhajans [native songs] till I
begin really to like them, though I thought them so frightful at first.”

“How many bhajans can you manage?” asked Robin.

“Why, to tell the truth, only two; but many musical-boxes play no
greater number of tunes, and, like a musicalbox, I’ll go over and over
again. I think that I am ready, at least to make a beginning;” and
Alicia glanced with a shy smile at her husband.

Harold met that look with one of affectionate encouragement; he was
pleased with the spirit shown by his bride. “I could not let you go to
any doubtful place,” he observed, “or let you do any really rough work;
but I think that I have found an opening for you into a respectable
house, where my young wifie is not likely to be exposed to any
annoyance. Kripá Dé tells me that you would be welcomed by his aunt, a
Kashmiri like himself, who would feel honoured by a visit from an
English Mem Sahiba. She lives in a kind of fort on the other side of
Talwandi.”

“I think that I know the place,” said Alicia, “for there is only one
house that looks in the least like a fort. It is high, and surrounded by
walls. I have often longed to pass them and have a peep at the ladies
within.”

“The ladies within wish to have a peep of you, my love. The family is of
high caste. I have made careful inquiries, and I think that in that
house you may make your first attempt to begin mission work in
Talwandi.”

“But how am I to go? We have no gári like the ladies in Lahore and
Amritsar, who visited no end of zenanas. Am I to go on foot, or ride
father’s tattu, with no proper saddle?”

“Robin will, I believe, answer that question for you,” replied Harold,
with a glance at his brother.

“It is time for me to let my cat out of the bag,” said Robin gaily. “I
have given you no wedding present yet, Alicia, for I could not get it
ready before. It is bigger than your clock, and is to have its
siren—_inside_. It is made to go, and faster than ever a chimney-piece
clock could go. It is not intended to strike, and yet strike it may if
awkward urchins come in the way. In short—”

“Behold it!” said Harold, as two men, supporting either end of a long
pole on their swarthy shoulders, carried a doli into the veranda and set
it down.

The party went out to see it.

“This is the Mission Miss Sahiba’s special conveyance,” observed Mr.
Hartley. “In places like this where a gári is not to be found, or, if
available, could hardly be used in the narrow, crowded streets, a doli
is a most convenient vehicle.”

Alicia praised her doli as much as she could, though thinking that a big
square box had not much of grace or elegance to recommend it. She
admired the pink print with which it was covered, and the neat green
blinds at the sides. Alicia did not utter aloud the question in her
mind, “I wonder how I shall pack myself into my box?”

However, this is an art easily learned, and Alicia soon felt fairly at
home in her doli. The men lifted the pole on their shoulders; and Robin,
delighted with the success of his work and the thanks which it brought,
paced with long strides beside it as it made its first trial trip. Mr.
Hartley and Harold re-entered the bungalow and went to their several
occupations.

“Why should I not go at once to the fort, and give Harold a surprise by
my promptness in obeying his wishes?” said Alicia to Robin from her
doli. “Just bring me my picture-book and Urdu Bible. You will see them
on my table. I will make my first call this morning.” Alicia had never
forgotten Robin’s answer to her question, “Shall I not make a capital
missionary?” and was impatient to show him that his implied doubts were
quite unjust.

Robin ran back for the required books. He was highly amused at his
pretty sister’s energy, and regarded Alicia’s first essay at
zenana-visiting much as he would have regarded a first attempt at
skating. To him it was rather a matter for fun.

The lady and Robin proceeded, chatting cheerfully as the doli jogged
along, as far as the outer gate of the fort, which was encompassed by a
mud wall. The tall building itself was of brick, quite devoid of
windows, but with squares of open brick-work so let into the upper part
of the house as to give the appearance of perforations, through which
the inmates of the zenana, themselves unseen, could peep at the world
below.

“It looks rather like a prison,” observed Alicia, “and I see no bell at
the gate.”

“We must rattle the chain to give notice of our coming,” said Robin, who
had just helped to extricate Alicia from her square box.

The rattling was repeated twice, and then the door was opened just
widely enough to let two dogs, furiously barking, rush out. The
doli-men, called kahars, threatened the animals with their staves; one
threw a stone at the fiercer dog, and made him go limping and howling
away.

“I don’t like this,” said Alicia timidly. “Perhaps the dogs may come
back, or there may be others inside. Robin, please go in first.”

“Go in!” repeated Robin in affected horror. “I would rather venture into
a bear’s den than into a zenana. It is only open to lady visitors, you
know.”

“But can’t I send in the kahars to see that the way is clear?”

“No; the kahars, being men, must remain outside. See, there are girls
within the court-yard peeping curiously at you. They will show you the
way to the ladies. You have really nothing to fear.”

Alicia, a good deal against her will, had to enter the court-yard alone.
The kahars remained outside with the doli, and Robin went back to the
bungalow. Brown girls, with a profusion of metal ornaments on their
heads and a wondrous number of rings in their ears, called to the
English lady to come on. They stood in a doorway at the other side of
the court-yard,—a doorway which evidently led to the interior of the
large building. As Alicia hesitated, the Hindu girls called more loudly,
giggled and laughed, but did not attempt to approach the lonely
stranger.

“How can I possibly cross the yard with that horrible cow and calf and
two hideous black buffaloes right in my way?” thought the frightened
girl. “I have always been warned not to go near a cow with a calf. I see
that the creature is tied, but she looks fierce, and I doubt that there
is safe room for me to pass her. What shall I do! what on earth shall I
do!”

At last Alicia called out in her best Urdu to the girls, “Send man
animals take away,” enforcing her demand by signs; but neither words nor
signs had the slightest effect. Whether the Hindus understood the lady
is a matter of doubt. They certainly took no measures to obey her; they
merely saw that she looked frightened, and her misery rather amused
them.

Alicia saw that she must either go back or go on; the latter course she
deemed dangerous, the former dreadfully disgraceful.

“I think that there is just room to pass the cow; and as the buffaloes
are resting on the ground, I am not so much afraid of them: besides,
buffaloes’ horns bend backwards—they do not look made for goring.”

Thus reassured, but anxiously watching the cow, Alicia, carrying her bag
of books and white-covered umbrella, made a few steps forward. She was
only a little afraid of the recumbent buffaloes, but had never
calculated on the great clumsy beasts being afraid of her. It was so,
however. The animals, who had never seen a European before, started
simultaneously to their feet.[1] The terrified girl thought that they
were going to make a rush at her, but she gave them no time to make it.
Trembling with fright, Alicia fled to the entrance doorway, and through
it hurried into her doli, and in an excited voice bade the kahars carry
her home. The buffaloes recovered from their unreasonable fright sooner
than did the lady.

Alicia, extremely mortified at her failure, left her doli a short
distance from her home, hoping to be able to retire into the bungalow
unobserved. But, as it happened, all the three missionaries were in the
veranda, a consultation on some difficult case having drawn them
together.

“Why, Alicia, where have you been?” exclaimed Harold, who thought his
bride too young to be wandering about without escort.

“What brings you back so soon?” cried Robin. “I ran home almost all the
way, yet have only won the race by a neck. You must have paid the fair,
or brown, ladies a very short visit indeed.”

“What visit has been paid?” asked Harold.

“I just tried to do what you wished,” said Alicia, colouring with shame;
“but I found a cow and two big buffaloes in the court-yard, and so—”

Footnote 1:

  The writer herself so alarmed two yoked oxen by her appearance that,
  with a violent plunge, they freed themselves from their yoke. At
  another time, passing on the road a large beast led by a man, its
  restive appearance made her call out to him, “Is it _nat-kat_?” “No;
  it is _frightened_!” was the reply.

“You concluded that ‘She who fights and runs away may live to fight
another day,’” cried Robin, mirth dancing in his eyes. “Well, Alicia, I
don’t think that you’re quite made for a missionary Mem. When I marry
I’ll have a bride who goes to church in good strong boots instead of
white satin slippers.”

“Keep your ill-timed jests to yourself,” said Harold sternly, for he saw
that his wife was distressed.

Robin’s mirth collapsed in a moment. He was not accustomed to receive so
sharp a rebuke from his brother. It was his turn to flush very red.
“Alicia, forgive my foolish nonsense,” he said. “I am always speaking
when I should be silent.”

Alicia did not reject Robin’s offered hand, but, deeply hurt, she made
her way in tears into the house.

“How did this happen?” inquired Mr. Hartley.

“Alicia was eager to begin her mission work,” was Robin’s reply, “and
so, walking beside her doli, I took her to the fort. Of course I could
not go in.”

“I should have preferred having been consulted, and having had prayer
with her first,” said Harold gravely, and he followed Alicia into the
house.

“How wrong in me to forget that!” exclaimed Robin. “Alicia and I were
like two foolish, impatient children: neither of us thought of beginning
by prayer.”

“Can you wonder, my son, that no blessing followed?” said Mr. Hartley.
“Should we ever undertake the Lord’s work in a spirit of mere playful
adventure? It is possible, even in these days, to lay a presumptuous
hand on the holy ark of God.”

Later in the day, when Mr. Hartley and Alicia were alone together, the
missionary entered on the subject of consecrating all labours for the
good of others by prayer.

“If you try zenana-visiting again, my daughter, as I doubt not that you
will, I would recommend the habit of prayer both before and after your
work. You will need courage, you will need wisdom; love and patience
will be required. All are in the treasury of the Lord, and to be had for
the asking. Well said the poet, addressing the Giver of all good,—


                          ‘With us is prayer,
            And joy and strength and courage are with Thee.’


And as you speed on your way, my child, it will make your steps lighter
and your path brighter if you offer up ‘psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs, singing and making melody in your heart,’ though the Master alone
may hear. It has been well said that hymns are as wings to the soul.”

“It was very wrong in forgetting to pray for help,” said Alicia; “but
was I so very wrong in not exposing myself to danger? You have spoken to
me yourself about the duty of taking care of the bodily frames which God
has given us.”

“As regards not sacrificing health to gratify self-will,” was Mr.
Hartley’s reply; “but to serve God faithfully a missionary must
encounter some risks.”

“Even that of being gored?” said Alicia.

Mr. Hartley could not repress a gentle smile. “The chance of being gored
is so very, very small,” he observed, “that it may fearlessly be
encountered. In all my thirty years’ experience I never knew of one
European being gored, and scarcely more than four—no, five—that have
even been run at by buffalo or bull.”

“I might be a sixth,” observed Alicia. “What protection have I against
such an accident, going about, as I must sometimes go, all alone, in a
country that seems to swarm with horned cattle?”

“I think that my daughter should find her safeguard in the words, ‘Fear
not, for I am with thee.’ God’s grace enables us to reply, ‘I will fear
no evil: for thou art with me.’ It should be a missionary’s privilege to
fear nothing but sin.”

“I am afraid that I shall never be a good missionary,” sighed Alicia.
“Harold should have chosen a stout-hearted, strong-minded wife.”

“Harold is very well contented with his choice,” cried a familiar voice
behind her, and a kiss followed the words. “Do not be discouraged, my
love, at a little difficulty at the first start. With patience, pains,
and prayer you will be a capital missionary yet.”


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



                               CHAPTER IX

                               TRY AGAIN.


THE following morning, Alicia timidly said to her husband, “If you
approve, Harold, I think that I will try again to enter the fort. I have
been praying about it.”

“That’s my brave little bride!” said Harold. “I will make arrangements
to prevent your being exposed to any unnecessary alarm or annoyance.
Kripá Dé shall meet you at the outer gate, pilot you across the
court-yard, and usher you into the presence of the purdah-nishins”
(women secluded in their zenanas).

“Is Kripá, who is almost if not quite grown up, allowed to enter the
ladies’ apartments?”

“Oh yes,” was Harold’s reply: “lads brought up in zenanas are allowed
the freedom of them, even when no longer mere boys. I have heard lady
missionaries say that they find their best listeners amongst such
youths, especially in those who have received some light from attending
a mission school. Kripá Dé’s aunt is, I understand, the wife of the
principal sircar of the fort; she is, in fact, the greatest lady in
Talwandi. If the way were not made thus straight before you, I should
hardly sanction your going at all, young as you are, and inexperienced.
Now my great, I may say my sole, hope of reaching the women of Talwandi
is through my Alicia.”

Mr. Hartley, when leading the family devotions, did not omit offering a
special petition for the young wife thus about to commence mission work.
He prayed earnestly that her mouth might be opened, and that the Lord
might be her strength in weakness, and her stronghold in trouble.
Especially did the venerable man pray that being emptied of all
self-seeking and self-will, his daughter might be a chosen and
sanctified vessel, meet for the Master’s use. Alicia felt solemnized as
well as strengthened by the prayer.

Both Harold and Robin accompanied the doli as far as the gate of the
fort, and lingered near till at the summons of the rattled chain the
door was opened by Kripá Dé. His fair, bright young face spoke welcome,
and with native courtesy the Kashmiri youth relieved the lady of the
weight of her bag. At Kripá’s sign the dogs ceased to bark, and the
nervous buffaloes that were still in the court-yard showed stolid
indifference to everything but their food. The cow was so quietly
ruminating that Alicia was ashamed of having ever been afraid of so
harmless a creature. Passing through the second doorway, where the Hindu
girls had stood, Alicia, with her guide, entered another but smaller
yard, where were a good many noisy, curious children in scanty apparel.
This being also passed, Alicia through a third doorway entered the
building itself. As the fort was high, the visitor had an idea that she
would have to mount a staircase; but entering suddenly almost complete
darkness, Alicia was unable at first to see the least indication of
steps. In this part of the country staircase-windows were luxuries quite
unknown.

“Where is the stair? I can see nothing. Must I turn to the right or the
left?” said the young lady, stretching out her hand to feel the brick
wall.

“This way,” cried Kripá Dé in front; and Alicia could now dimly trace
the steps before her. They were steep, narrow, and not in particularly
good condition. Alicia had a vague consciousness of plenty of dust below
and cobwebs above.

“How strange it is,” thought the lady, as she groped her upward way,
“that people of high caste and easy means, living in a large, lofty
house, should not care for comfort, cleanliness or light. What a
marvellous difference Christianity makes even in what only belongs to
this world!”

The train of dirty, eager children followed the lady up the stair.
Alicia emerged into light, and entered what might be called a gallery,
raised above three sides of the smaller yard, with a low parapet over
which there was a clear view of all that passed below. Behind this
gallery were wooden pillars, some of them prettily carved, but rather
dark with age, and in by no means perfect repair. Behind these pillars
were women’s apartments, and above them a flat roof. On this roof, and
another higher still, women, mostly wearing chaddars (veils), and almost
all wearing ornaments, were peeping down at the strangers. The effect
was picturesque; for the bibis on the highest perch stood out in bold
relief against the background of a clear sky. Alicia found herself the
object of a good deal of curiosity amongst the female denizens of the
fort. They had never seen an English visitor before.

A native lady, with gold-bordered chaddar, and bedizened with a good
many jewels, courteously received the missionary’s wife. Chand Kor was
fairer than most of the bibis, but not so fair as her nephew young Kripá
Dé. A charpai was dragged out for the lady’s accommodation, and in order
to show her honour a white cloth was spread upon it. Alicia did not
quite know how to dispose of herself on the bedstead, so she sat on it
English fashion, with her feet resting on the earthen floor. But from
various quarters the cry, “Sit nicely,” made her draw up her feet and
assume the position which with Orientals is _à la mode_. There is
etiquette in zenanas.

Alicia was assailed with a number of questions: a few she understood, a
few she guessed at, a few were as utterly unintelligible as if uttered
in the Hottentot tongue. The visitor was asked about her father and
mother, the number of her brothers and sisters, how long she had been
married, and what salary she received. In the meantime dirty hands were
fingering her dress, and curious eyes examining the few ornaments which
she wore. Alicia felt puzzled and confused. She looked around for her
ally, Kripá Dé; but he was no longer present—he had gone away to his
school.

To stop the babel of sounds and the stream of questions, Alicia began to
sing one of the two bhajans which she had learned. The effect of this
was magical: the hubbub was hushed, the most talkative of the Hindus was
for a few minutes silenced.

Alicia then opened her picture-book to give more direct instruction. She
had carefully, with her husband’s help, prepared her first lesson, which
was on the lost sheep. Alicia had learned the parable by heart, and had
brought with her three good coloured prints to illustrate it. As a
preliminary Alicia said, “What is this?” pointing to the picture of a
sheep.

Heads were bent forward, and the picture examined.

“What is this?” repeated Alicia.

“Sher” (tiger), said the first woman who ventured on a reply.

“Hathi” (elephant), suggested another.

A third, equally discriminating, guessed that the picture was that of a
_fish_.[2]

“How will it be possible to get any spiritual ideas into the minds of
those who cannot distinguish the commonest objects?” thought Alicia. She
forgot that this was probably the first time that the women had looked
on the picture of a sheep: their eyes were untrained as well as their
minds.

At the exclamations uttered, a young girl, quite as fair as Kripá Dé,
turned to have a distant view of the wonderful book round which the
bibis were crowding. It was but distant, for the girl did not rise from
her place on the floor, near what looked like a round hole. Into this
hole the fair creature, and a darker and stronger-looking woman beside
her, were pounding away with alternate blows of what appeared to be
short wooden clubs. The natives in this manner separate rice from the
husk. The laborious occupation had made the young girl’s chaddar fall
back on her shoulders, revealing a pale but to Alicia singularly
interesting face.

Footnote 2:

  Such guesses were actually made when A. L. O. E. showed such a print.

“Is not such work too hard for one so young?” said Alicia; for the
slight, delicately-formed frame of the girl strongly contrasted with the
stout figure and strong thick arms of her companion in labour.

“Premi always beats rice,” said Chand Kor, as if that were sufficient
reply; and in a sharp tone she bade Premi go on with her work. The
pounding, which had been suspended for two minutes, perhaps to rest
weary arms, perhaps to give the woman the opportunity of giving a glance
at the pictures, was instantly resumed.

“I suppose that Premi is Kripá Dé’s sister—she is white also,” observed
Alicia. The observation met with no denial, though it was evident, from
the contrast between the girl’s coarse dress and the youth’s very
elegant attire, that they occupied very different stations in Chand
Kor’s zenana.

“Why does Premi wear no jewels?” asked Alicia.

“She’s a widow,” said a rough-featured middle-aged woman, whose fat
brown arms were encircled with at least half-a-dozen bracelets.

“A widow—and so young!” exclaimed Alicia. She had often heard of
child-marriages; but seeing is a very different thing from hearing. It
shocked her to think of the fairest inmate of the zenana being doomed to
life-long labour and degradation. The dejected, hopeless expression in
eyes which looked as if they might sparkle so brightly under their long
dark lashes, awoke in Alicia a sense of compassion. “Is she a relation
of yours?” asked Harold’s wife of the middle-aged woman.

“She is my father’s widow,” was the reply.

“You mean your son’s!” exclaimed Alicia.

This set the Hindu women laughing; Premi alone looked almost sternly
grave. Several of the bibis assured the lady that what Darobti had said
was true. Alicia could not doubt that Premi had been married to a man
old enough to have been her grandfather, and his death at so ripe an age
was visited on his poor young widow as a crime!

“Before the English annexed the Panjab,” reflected Alicia, “this
helpless victim would probably have been burned alive on the old mans
funeral pile. And now she is a drudge—a slave!” The sound of the heavy
thuds of the club wielded by Premi’s slender hands was painful to the
English lady. It was with an effort that Alicia opened her Urdu Bible
and attempted to read.

Attempted; for Harold’s wife did not, on that first visit, succeed in
gaining one attentive listener. She was interrupted ere she had finished
two verses by an attendant, who, by Chand Kor’s orders, brought her a
rupee, and something that looked rather like an ill-shaped cannon-ball
made of coarse and very brown sugar.

Alicia had been told beforehand simply to touch the money, should any be
offered. Had she put the coin into her pocket, sadly would she have
disappointed the offerer of the silver. But the big ball was something
different; it was intended to be retained, and Alicia had received no
instructions regarding the presentation of gur. She was afraid of giving
offence by rejecting the clumsy gift. Alicia wondered whether she were
expected to eat the huge lump of brown sugar; but its size and shape
made this an impossible feat. All that the lady could do was to take the
sticky mass into her hand (thereby sacrificing her glove), and to
express her thanks as well as she could by smiles and saláms.

Alicia then having come quite to the end of her Urdu, and feeling that
it would be impossible to read, rose from her charpai. Noisy
expostulations made her only the more anxious to depart. Again followed
by her juvenile escort, the young lady made her way down the dark stair,
and was glad when she reached the place outside the fort where her doli
was resting on the ground. She was rather encumbered by the gur, in
addition to her large bag and umbrella.

“Oh! here is a poor famished wretch, just the person to prize my brown
cannon-ball,” said Alicia to herself, as her eyes fell on a
disgusting-looking being just about to enter the court-yard—a thin,
gaunt man, scantily clothed, his matted hair daubed like his face with
ashes, which gave him a ghastly appearance. The man held aloft a pole
from which hung a variety of rags, bones, and other unsightly pendants.
Half averting her face, with a feeling of mingled repulsion and pity,
Alicia held out the gur to the beggar. The man muttered she knew not
what, but did not deign to touch what she offered.

On returning home, Alicia did not fail to give to the little missionary
party a full account of her visit, ending by telling of the poor wretch
disfigured with ashes and clothed in rags.

“Oh, how I wish that we had work-houses or alms-houses here, to which to
send such miserable objects!” cried the kind-hearted girl.

“The jogi would not thank you for imprisoning him in the most
comfortable alms-house that ever was built,” observed Harold. “The
beggar likes his wandering life, and the honour—I may say worship—which
he gains from the people, who regard him, as the poor wretch regards
himself, almost as a god upon earth.”

“O Harold, you are jesting,” exclaimed Alicia.

“You have little idea, my daughter, of the length to which superstition
can go,” observed Mr. Hartley.

“The dirty jogi would have thought himself defiled by taking food from
your clean white fingers!” cried Robin. “You thought him a scarecrow; he
sets up for a saint.”

“I could tell you an extraordinary story,” said Mr. Hartley, “and a true
one, which I had from my good friend Andrew Gordon of the American
Mission. It will show you in a striking manner how pretenders to
sanctity impose on the ignorant natives of India.[3]

“In a large village called Jandran, not long ago, lived twenty-five
families of Megs, a caste of weavers. These poor people had begun to
feel dissatisfied with their old religion, and to desire clearer light.
Whilst in this inquiring state they were visited by a fagir [religious
beggar], who resolved to offer himself to them as a guru, or religious
teacher.

“‘Have you people ever found God?’ inquired Maston Singh (such was the
fagir’s name).

Footnote 3:

  For this story at fuller length, and many other curious anecdotes, see
  the late Rev. A. Gordon’s interesting work, “Our Indian Mission.”

“‘No, we have not found God,’ was the honest reply of the simple
weavers.

““I am quite sure that you have not,’ said Maston Singh; ‘for God is not
to be found in the religion of either Hindus or Mohammedans. But I can
reveal him to you; and if I can bring him near to you, even causing your
eyes to see him, will you receive and follow me as your guru?’

“‘Most certainly,’ replied Rama, a leader amongst the Megs. ‘It is this
very thing that we are all earnestly seeking; this is the great desire
of our hearts.’”

“I wish that a Christian missionary had gone to these honest inquirers,
instead of a deceitful fagir,” said Alicia.

“The Megs were to hear the truth afterwards,” observed Mr. Hartley; “but
not until they had found out that it was not to be learned from a lying
fagir.”

“Pray go on with your story, dear father.”

“The poor Megs found that it was no trifling expense to have to support
such a guru as Maston Singh. He required daily a pound of meal, two
pounds of milk, besides spices, tobacco, and ghee [a kind of preserved
butter]. Nay, the greedy guru must fain have a servant besides. However
difficult it might be to the poor peasants to supply his numerous wants,
they resolved to make such efforts in order to be taught by him true
religion.”

“How could the man teach others what he did not know himself?” observed
Robin.

“For eighteen long months this guru went on eating and drinking at the
weavers’ expense,” continued the narrator, “teaching them to despise
both Mohammedanism and the religion of the Hindus.”

“No harm in that,” said Alicia.

“No harm, if Maston Singh had given the true in the place of the false
religions,” rejoined her father; “but the wretched deceiver summed up
his teaching at last with the blasphemous declaration, ‘Greater than man
there is none; whatever there is, therefore, is now before your eyes!’”

“Oh, the wretch!” exclaimed Robin: “did he mean his own miserable self?”

“He did mean himself,” replied Mr. Hartley. “The atheist, not content
with the honour accorded to a guru, claimed to be regarded as a being
divine.”

“Surely this opened the eyes of the Megs,” said Alicia.

“These poor weavers showed more intelligence than superstitious Hindus
usually do,” observed Mr. Hartley. “They did not at once fall down at
Maston Singh’s feet and worship him as a god. They said to the impostor,
‘You have indeed dug up Hinduism and Mohammedanism by the roots, but you
have not given us one ray of light.’ The honest people thereupon
consulted together, and after three days of warm discussion they thus
gave Maston Singh their decision in regard to his blasphemous claim:—

“‘We ask you to satisfy us just on one point. You say that there is no
being in the universe greater than yourself. Now, if you will give us
some proof of your power _to create and give life_, we will be content
to follow your teaching. We do not ask you to make a camel, or buffalo,
or an elephant, but only a little worm. You can make this of clay; but
make one, be it ever so small, and give it _life_, so that it shall go,
and we will believe.’”

“Well done, weaver philosophers!” laughed Robin. “Your proposition was a
poser indeed. One would have liked to see the atheist’s face when he was
asked to create a worm.”

“The poor weavers’ test was a good one,” remarked Harold,—“the Almighty
having reserved the power of giving life to Himself.”

“I hope that the wretched Maston Singh was kicked out of the village by
the Megs!” exclaimed Robin.

“No,” replied his father: “deceived and robbed as they had been, the
weavers behaved as Christians might have done. Their spokesman thus
rebuked the deceiver, who had betrayed their trust and fattened on their
bounty: ‘You have said there is no God; we can never receive this. There
is a Creator who made the earth and the heavens.’ Then the weavers,
without injuring him, sent the false guru away; and Maston Singh
departed—I hope with sorrow and shame—from those whose simple faith he
had vainly tried to destroy.”

“And did no Christian come to tell these dear people the true way to
salvation?” exclaimed Alicia.

“The messenger of Satan was followed by the messenger from God,” replied
Mr. Hartley. “The gospel was preached with success to the weavers. They
learned not only to revere the divine Creator, but to adore the blessed
Redeemer, who from the fallen worm—man—could raise the renewed man,
indued with life, and that life everlasting.”

“Oh, it is a grand thing to be a missionary, a _real_ missionary!” cried
Alicia Hartley.


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



                               CHAPTER X

                        MARRIAGE AND WIDOWHOOD.


“I HEARD the ‘Click, click’ of the hot-weather bird to-day,” observed
Robin; “the warm season will burst on us soon.”

“Soon indeed!” exclaimed Alicia, fanning herself as she spoke. “You need
not speak of the future; have we not grilling days already? Are you not
all driven into this little room because the morning sun makes the
veranda like a furnace?—O Harold, surely the heat without and the fires
within have made our bungalow habitable now!”

“Scarcely yet, my love,” was Harold’s reply.

Alicia would have laughed at petty discomforts in cooler weather; but
with the thermometer making a sudden rise to ninety, with no intention
of resting at that point, and with a host of flies and musquitoes coming
out to enjoy the warmth, she felt her power of endurance rather severely
tried.

“Oh, these hateful musquitoes!” exclaimed the young wife, trying, but
with indifferent success, to ward off their attacks with her fan.

“I prefer the musquito to the fly,” observed Robin, whose face showed
numerous signs that the former had not left him in peace. “The vulgar
fly comes buzzing about you with apparently no definite object, settles
on your pen and drinks the ink, and then makes a dash at your eye. The
musquito is a more chivalrous foe: he blows his trumpet as a challenge,
and defies you to single combat. He is vigilant and active; so must you
be if you wish to bring him down with a blow. You see my hand is now
resting perfectly still on my knee: this is a _ruse_ to invite an
attack. The enemy sees it, and—_there_!” A sharp slap on that hand given
by the right one resounded through the room; but the musquito had been
too quick even for Robin, and soared aloft unhurt, blowing its horn in
triumph. “I’ll have him yet,” said Robin gaily.

“You make a joke of everything,” remarked Alicia.

“It is better to laugh than to cry over tiny troubles,” was Robin’s
cheerful reply. “We missionaries should not want to roll along life’s
road in an easy carriage, bolstered up, and enclosed in a musquito-net.”

“The weather makes my head ache,” said Alicia. “Robin, why do you
smile?”

It would not have been easy for Robin to have explained the cause of
that smile. It was the remembrance of his own prognostications. Alicia,
made a little irritable by the heat and insect tormentors, felt somewhat
annoyed.

“I will go to the fort,” she said, as she rose from her seat; “I have
not been there for a week.”

“Is not the weather too hot for you?” asked Harold, glancing up from his
desk; “the sun has now a good deal of power.”

“The sun is hot, but there is at least breathing-space in the fort,”
said Alicia, who disliked the cramped accommodation of the crowded
bungalow.

“I am sorry that I cannot procure for you Kripá Dé’s escort to-day,”
observed Harold.

“I do not want it; I know the way now; I can go by myself,” said Alicia.
She did not choose to set Robin smiling again at any weakness of hers.

When once in her doli, Alicia repented of the passing peevishness into
which she feared that she had been betrayed. “It is a wrong, a mean
thing,” thought the young wife, “to feel cross because others take small
worries more patiently than I do. Robin is right: it is better to laugh
than to cry over tiny troubles. A poor missionary I must be, indeed, if
my fortitude cannot stand a hot room or the stinging of a musquito. Oh
for a calm, firm, quiet spirit!”

Alicia had almost forgotten her headache before she reached the fort.
For once the court-yard was clear of cattle, and the dogs seemed to
understand that the white visitor was not a bear to be baited; they did
not even growl. Alicia, not unmarked but unmolested, made her way up the
dark stair to the women’s apartments.

Again there was the interchange of saláms, again was the charpai dragged
out and spread, again Alicia attempted to read, and again had the young
missionary the vexation of being interrupted by irrelevant questions. As
a resource from such tiresome and often puzzling inquiries, Alicia again
sang that bhajan of which native women never seem to be weary, a chord
in their hearts being touched by that verse which may be thus rendered,
though its melody suffers by the translation,—


              “In this world happiness never can be found;
              It is as water-drops spilt on the ground.”


“These women have hearts, if one could but reach them,” thought Alicia,
as she saw tears rise to the eyes of a bibi. “They feel that the world
is fleeting and vain. Oh, when shall we persuade them to raise their
eyes to another, whose joys will never pass away! I am like one trying
to open an iron door which is locked, and of which I have not the key.
Oh, my Lord, do for me what I am unable to do! Make a clear way for thy
feeble, unworthy child, and give her courage to enter and patience to
persevere.”

The young widow Premi approached with a fat heavy boy of some two years
old sitting astride on her hip, after the Indian fashion of carrying
children. The slight frame of the girl seemed unsuited for supporting
the weight; she was looking weary and ill.

“Is Premi, young as she is, the mother of that big boy?” asked Alicia.
The bibis laughed, as they were wont to do on suitable or unsuitable
occasions. Several answered at once, and it was with some difficulty
that Alicia made out that the fat boy was a grandson of Premi’s deceased
husband, and the fifth child of Darobti. Indian relationships are
extremely puzzling to strangers, not only from the numerous words used
to express them (there are at least five species of aunts), but from the
custom of disregarding accuracy, and calling those indiscriminately
“brothers” and “sisters” who may be cousins in a distant degree.

The fat infant was deposited in the arms of the fat mother, and
forthwith began to torture her by dragging at her huge ear-rings—a
favourite amusement of native babies, who appear to consider these
glittering ornaments as made for their own special diversion. Poor Premi
was sent off again to pound rice with the club which she was almost too
feeble to wield.

The sound of the thud, thud of that club went to the gentle heart of
Alicia. “Premi looks so ill,” she observed.

“Only because yesterday was her fast-day,” said Jai Dé, an old woman who
had but one eye, the other having been lost in small-pox, and who
possessed but two teeth, which seemed by their extra size to try to make
up for the absence of all the rest.

Alicia did not understand the word for “fast,” and it took her some time
to make out, partly by means of signs, that on the preceding day Premi
had touched no food, and that she was fasting still.

“What bad thing has she done that you should starve her?” exclaimed the
indignant lady.

The Hindus looked surprised at the question, which betrayed such
ignorance of what they thought that every one knew or ought to know.

“Premi is a widow: of course she fasts every fortnight,” said Chand Kor;
and so, as if tired with conversation on so insignificant a subject, she
asked Alicia to sing.

Alicia was in no mood for singing; she rose and made her excuses as well
as she could for not lingering longer in the zenana. “The sun is hot; my
head pains me,” she said, in reply to the women’s expostulations. The
words were true; but it was rather pain in the heart than pain in the
head which so shortened Alicia’s visit. Amidst the sound of the jabber
of many voices, and a child’s loud roar which reached her as she groped
her way down the stair, there came to the lady’s ear that hateful thud,
thud which told of the hopeless toil of a weak and helpless slave.
Alicia’s soul was full of indignant pity.

“Oh, this cruel, wicked system!” exclaimed Alicia. “How long shall the
cry of innocent young victims, doomed to life-long misery, go up to
Heaven? Before the English took possession of the Panjab, the probable
fate of this fair girl-widow would have been to be burned alive with the
corpse of an old man whom she could never have loved; but was such a
fate worse than that which the young creature must endure for perhaps
forty—fifty years,—even more? It is shameful—it is horrible! But this
one victim may be rescued. I have a plan in my head, and I will speak of
it to my husband. I think that the merciful Being who breaks the
captives’ chains may have sent me to this dark spot to set one prisoner
free.”

Alicia’s mind was absorbed in forming projects as she was carried home
in her doli. She found Harold and his father sitting in the veranda, as
the sun was no longer pouring his beams from the eastern quarter, and
the veranda did not face the south. The season had not yet arrived when
it might be needful to close doors and windows to exclude the hot air,
and to live in a kind of twilight; because light is connected with heat.
Before fiery June should arrive the new bungalow might be pronounced dry
enough to be used by its owners, who would not, however, sleep in it,
but aloft on the roof.

“O Harold, I must tell you of what I have seen, and what I have been
thinking, and consult you as to what I must do,” cried Alicia, as,
heated and flushed, she threw herself on the chair which her husband had
vacated on her entrance.

Alicia in a hurried way described what she had seen in the fort, Mr.
Hartley and Harold listening to her story with silent attention. Neither
of the missionaries was wont to give violent expression to his feelings;
nor was the sad subject of a Hindu widow’s wrongs at all a new one to
them.

“And now I will tell you what I am set on doing,” continued Alicia; “I
mean, of course, if my husband humour his little wife, as he always
does. When our Paradise is ready (this sun must have made it as dry as a
bone), I mean to bring Premi to live in that nice little convenient room
behind my own, which Robin calls my box-room. I do not intend to call
her my ayah [a servant], but I will teach her to keep all my things
neat, and in her leisure time she shall learn to sew and knit and sing.
If Premi turn out in the least bit clever—and there is intelligence in
her fine dark eyes—I will teach her to read the Bible. Premi will be
sure to become a Christian, and she will be the first woman baptized in
Talwandi!” Alicia’s face beamed with pleasure as she added, “Is not mine
a capital plan?”

“It would be, were it practicable,” said Harold Hartley. He was sorry to
throw any shadow of disappointment on the sweet countenance now so
bright with hope.

“But where is the difficulty?” cried Alicia; “I can see none. Premi has
nothing to make her wish to remain in that fort, where probably nobody
wishes to keep her.”

“And yet,” said Mr. Hartley very gravely, “were we to bring Premi here,
we might bring on a serious riot in the district. She, being Kripá Dé’s
sister, must like himself be of Brahmin caste. The Hindus would combine
as one man against us, declaring that the sanctity of their homes was
invaded. The Government so shrinks from interfering with social matters,
that it would probably afford the poor widow no protection. Premi would
be dragged back to the fort, probably be never again seen by a European,
and possibly be poisoned by her family on suspicion of having broken her
caste.”

Alicia turned inquiringly towards her husband, but could gain no hope
from his looks.

“I have known three innocent persons arrested and brought into a
European court of justice, on the bare charge of having abetted a Hindu
widow’s attempt to escape from the bondage of which she was tired.”[4]

“Then can nothing be done for poor Premi?” exclaimed Alicia.

“You may do much, my love,” replied Harold; “not by freeing the captive,
but by giving her that knowledge which is better even than freedom. You
can tell Premi of a home beyond the grave, of a place at the Saviour’s
feet, of the joy which far outweighs even the heaviest afflictions of
earth.”

Alicia sighed deeply, for she was sorely disappointed by the collapse of
her scheme. She could not dispute the opinions of those whose
benevolence equalled her own, and whose experience was so much greater.
“I will do what I can,” she said submissively; “and as a beginning I
will learn the translation of ‘Joyful, joyful!’ to sing to poor Premi.”

Footnote 4:

  A fact.

The entrance of Kripá Dé, the Kashmiri convert, with Robin gave a new
form to the hopes of Alicia.

“If we cannot free Premi, surely her own brother can,” cried the young
wife. “As Premi seems to be an orphan, he is her natural protector; if
Kripá Dé place her under our care, who has a right to object?”

Harold in a few sentences explained to the convert the lady’s anxiety to
rescue Premi from her present wretched condition. “Would it be
impossible for you to bring her here?” he asked in conclusion.

Kripá Dé looked astonished at the question. “Perfectly impossible,” was
his reply. “I have no power in a matter like this.”

Alicia felt provoked at a brother’s tamely acquiescing in what she
thought tyranny and injustice. “Harold or Robin would not stand with
folded hands,” thought she, “were a sister treated as a slave.” Then she
added aloud, “Are you content that poor Premi’s whole life is to be
passed in nothing but sorrow?”

“She had a happy childhood, Mem Sahiba,” replied the Kashmiri. “Often we
played together. She made my kites, and proudly watched them rising
higher than those of my companions. Often she laughed for joy when I
gave her a share of my sweetmeats. Her life was very different then from
what it was after her marriage.”

“Did Premi’s marriage grieve you?” asked Robin; “or were you too young
to care about it?”

“Did I not care!” exclaimed Kripá Dé—“did I not care to have my little
playmate taken away, to be given to an old profligate who had had
half-a-dozen wives already! Mere boy as I was, I felt that the marriage
was something cruel and wicked. When every one else was rejoicing—except
the poor child who was crying—my soul was full of anger. I did not care
for the fireworks; I would not touch the sweetmeats; I turned away my
head, that I might not see the old bridegroom in his glittering dress,
mounted on his white horse.”

“And did the marriage, mere ceremony as it was, quite separate you from
Premi?” asked Robin.

“I was never able to play with her again, though I often saw her in the
zenana,” replied Kripá Dé; “for she continued to live in the fort. She
was kept a great deal more strictly, and it was as if a high wall had
been raised between us. I hoped that the child was happy; the women said
that she was so, for she had plenty of jewels; but I never heard her
laugh again as she did in the days that were gone. I do not think that
Premi cared as much for jewels as our women usually do; she preferred
chaplets of jasmine flowers. Premi was unlike any one else in the
zenana.”

“She looks very much unlike the rest, there is so much more soul in her
expression,” observed Alicia when Harold had translated to her the words
of Kripá Dé.

“One night,” pursued the Kashmiri, “terrible news arrived. The
bridegroom had had a fit, and fallen down dead. It was not he but his
corpse that came back to Talwandi. I heard the wailing and the beating
of the breasts in concert which are the signs of Hindu mourning. Darobti
wept loudest and beat hardest. She rushed at Premi; she abused her; she
struck her; she dragged the bracelets from the widow’s arms; she tore
the rings from her ears;—she thought that she best honoured a dead
father by heaping disgrace on his widow!”

“Did you see this and not protect the innocent girl?” exclaimed Robin
fiercely.

“I could do nothing,” said Kripá Dé sadly. “Was it not dastur [custom]?
Oh that the good God of whom you have told me would sweep all such
customs away!”

Mr. Hartley rose from his seat and paced the veranda, with hands clasped
and lips moving in scarcely audible prayer: “O Lord, overthrow this
Jaggernath of cruel custom which is crushing under its iron wheels
hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. Let the lightning of Thy
power, or rather let the light of Thy truth, burst forth. Save India’s
enslaved daughters—the poor child-widows—from bondage worse than death!”


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



                               CHAPTER XI

                            WHAT A SONG DID.


HAROLD came in late to breakfast on the following morning. He was not
unaccompanied, for his hand was resting on the shoulder of Kripá Dé.
Whilst the young Kashmiri looked pale and excited, his missionary
friend’s face wore an expression of thoughtful satisfaction which told
of prayers granted and efforts crowned with success.

“We have a guest to share our breakfast to-day, Alicia,” he said; “so
prepare for him a place and a welcome.—Robin, I am sure that you will
make room for our new brother, both at the board and in your heart.
Kripá Dé has asked to be baptized, and comes to-day to take the
preliminary step of breaking his caste by eating for the first time with
Christians.”

Mr. Hartley, who had long watched the gradual growth of conviction in
the mind of the young Brahmin, held out his hand to the convert. “God
bless you, my son,” he said; “the day will never come in which you will
repent having cast in your lot with the followers of Christ.”

Robin heartily embraced the Kashmiri; and Alicia, obeying a glance from
Harold, held out to Kripá Dé her small fair hand. The youth kissed it
with timid reverence, and then shyly took his place at the table beside
Robin Hartley.

The English reader can hardly estimate the significance of so simple an
act. The first spoonful of suji which the convert ate at a Christian’s
table was to him a passing of the Rubicon, a renunciation of all that he
had looked upon as the high privileges of his birth; it was a cutting
himself off from home and family, a taking up of the cross, the sign of
suffering and shame.

“Kripá Dé will remain here to-day,” observed Harold, “and at night will
sleep on the roof, for we must keep him concealed. After his baptism,
which will take place early to-morrow, he must depart at once for Lahore
till the first burst of the storm is over. When once it is known in the
fort that Kripá Dé has taken the decisive step of baptism, it will be
hardly safe for him to remain at Talwandi.”

“But Kripá Dé is of an age at which the law lets him choose his own
religion,” said Robin.

“True, he would not be given up in a court of law, but his age would not
protect him from the violence of a mob in a remote corner of a district.
Kripá Dé’s baptism is sure to cause great excitement amongst the
Hindus.—Until that excitement subside,” continued Harold, addressing
himself to his wife, “you will have, I fear, to suspend your visits to
the fort.”

“Give up my only zenana!” exclaimed Alicia, “and just when I have become
so much interested in one of its inmates, and have learned ‘Joyful,
joyful!’ in Urdu, on purpose to give her comfort!”

“The poor little widow could hardly receive comfort from that Christian
hymn,” observed Harold. “If her present existence be like one in a
prison, over the future to her hangs a heavy curtain of darkness.”

“I might lift it, just a little,” said Alicia, “to let one little ray
come in.”

“To-morrow the news of a baptism will probably cause the door to be
closed against you.”

“Then let me go to-day,” cried Alicia with animation, rising from her
seat as she spoke. “I must, I really must, see that sweet fair young
Kashmiri again.”

“Let her go, Harold, let my brave little sister go!” exclaimed Robin.

Kripá Dé had been watching the discussion with eager eyes, as if he
could drink in its import through them. Harold briefly explained to him
the lady’s wishes, and asked him whether she could safely visit the
zenana.

“To-day, not to-morrow,” was the reply; “no one in the fort knows that I
am here.”

“But if the women should question you?” said Harold in English,
addressing himself to his wife.

“I am not a bit bound to answer them, even if I could do so,” said
Alicia playfully; “for my conversational powers in Urdu will not carry
me far into any dangerous subject. I do not know the words for
_conversion, baptism_, or _breaking caste_. If the women ask me a
thousand questions, talking together after _their_ fashion, I shall
merely look puzzled after _my_ fashion, and get out of any difficulty by
beginning to sing.”

“Let her go!” repeated Robin, laughing. “I only wish that I were small
enough to be packed into her bag, that I might see the fun.”

Harold, after consulting his father, gave a rather reluctant consent.
Utterly fearless regarding himself, he was anxious regarding his wife.

Alicia again, armed with her bag of books, her fan, and her
white-covered umbrella, took her seat in her doli, and started for the
fort. She really ran but little risk of annoyance, for, as Kripá Dé had
said, his relatives did not know whither he had gone. The Kashmiri’s
determination to declare himself openly a Christian was as yet a secret
known but to himself and the Hartleys. It would not be at once noised
abroad in Talwandi that he had broken his caste; for Mangal, a
Mohammedan, and faithful to his salt, was the only native aware of the
fact.

Alicia proceeded towards the fort without anything occurring to cause
her the slightest alarm. She saw in the narrow streets the people
engaged in their usual occupations. The mochi glanced up for a moment as
the doli was carried along, then went on with his delicate work of
making slippers adorned with thread of gold. The clang of the
blacksmith’s hammer was not interrupted, and the sweetmeat-seller,
behind his little pile of metai, looked as unconcerned as if the passing
of a doli were a thing too ordinary to be noticed. Alicia, to her
comfort, saw no sign of any approaching tempest; nor did the lady meet
with any inconvenience save from the troops of thin, overladen donkeys
which sometimes obstructed the way, notwithstanding the loud warning
“Bach!” (Save thyself!) with which the kahars tried to clear a passage
for the doli.

The fort was soon reached. There, also, the first feeling of curiosity
had passed away. A smaller crowd of dirty, bare-footed children greeted
Alicia with loud, shrill cries of “Mem! Mem!” and when the upper terrace
was reached, only two or three bibis made their appearance. To Alicia’s
disappointment Premi was not amongst them. So little interest was shown
in the lady, that Alicia resolved not to visit a zenana again on
consecutive days. The bibis’ stock of questions had been exhausted, half
of them had been misunderstood or unanswered; the white lady’s dress was
the same which she had worn on preceding days, and she was not likely to
have anything to communicate but what the Hindus did not care to hear.
Sometimes disappointment is experienced by workers when the hearers who
crowded round them on their first appearance dwindle away as visits are
repeated.

“How different is zenana-visiting from what I had pictured it to be!”
thought Alicia, as she saw the women eagerly examining some new purchase
which had cost a few coppers, as if it were an object of interest too
absorbing to leave any room for care about the soul. “I feel as if I
were trying with a small penknife to carve a statue out of granite. It
seems hopeless to try to make an impression. Is it possible to make
these poor heathen think of anything beyond the trifles of the day?”
Alicia showed a few pictures to the children, who were somewhat more
attentive than their elders, and she tried to betray no impatience when
little brown fingers, just taken from a mouth half-stuffed with metai
(sweets), scrabbled dirty marks on her book.

Then Alicia bethought herself of her new song—_that_ might help her to
gain some attention. Clear rose her voice in the translation of “Here we
suffer grief and pain,” in which the cheerful tone of the melody belies
the sadness of the first line. But when Alicia had begun the well-known
refrain, which was, of course, in Urdu, to her astonishment a clear
“Joyful, joyful, joyful!” in unmistakable English, rang from the upper
roof. Alicia, startled, raised her eyes, and saw for a moment, clear
against the blue sky, the unveiled head of Premi in the act of eager
listening. A most un-Oriental flush was on her cheeks, a bright but
bewildered expression in her eyes, as if she listened to some song from
dreamland and joined in it by some irresistible impulse. In a moment the
voice was silent, the head withdrawn, and Alicia remained gazing
upwards, listening and wondering, asking herself whether both her senses
could have at once deceived her. Then she turned to the nearest Hindu,
who chanced to be Darobti, standing with her fat little boy on her hip.

“Does Premi know English?” asked Alicia eagerly.

Darobti at first did not appear to hear the question, nor to understand
it when she did hear. When Alicia had repeated her inquiry five or six
times, it only elicited the reply, “Premi knows nothing; Premi grinds
corn.” Saying this, Darobti turned away, and sauntered off to another
part of the building.

Was it to teach that song to the children that Alicia sang it again and
again, until little lips began to catch the refrain? If such were her
only object, why were the Englishwoman’s eyes so constantly wandering
from her auditors in the direction of that lofty terraced roof? Alicia
sang in English as well as Urdu. She lingered in the fort longer than
she would otherwise have done, in hopes of catching a sight of Premi’s
face, with the rosy blush upon it. Alicia was disappointed in her hope,
and at last quitted the gallery over the court, where she had now no
auditors but the children. As she descended the dark staircase, Alicia
almost expected to hear Premi’s step behind her. As Harold’s wife was
crossing the inner court-yard she again paused to look up and listen for
that “Joyful, joyful!” from above. She heard only the laugh of the
children and the snort of a buffalo in the outer yard.

All the way back to the bungalow Alicia could think of nothing but the
incident which had occurred. She was so eager to tell of it that it was
a real disappointment to her to find nobody in the veranda, and the
bungalow empty. It is one of the trials of the first year of mission
life to feel idle when others are busy, lonely because companions are
out at work. There is the uncomfortable sensation of being like a drone
in the hive. The remedy is study of the language; but Alicia felt too
unsettled and impatient to sit down to grammar, and struggle with
strange idioms and incomprehensible combinations of verbs. She sat
fanning herself, glancing up at the clock every two minutes, and wishing
for Harold’s return. The striking of that clock—for Robin had succeeded
in setting it going—was the first thing to rouse Alicia from her dreamy,
indolent mood.

“It would be far better if, instead of wasting my time thus, I spent
more of it on my knees,” thought Alicia. “A baptism is to take place
to-morrow, the first baptism in Talwandi, and I have never yet in my
private prayers remembered the youth over whom my Harold is rejoicing
with trembling. I have not prayed earnestly, and as one who believes in
the power of prayer, for poor Premi. I am neglecting one of the best
means of helping those who toil in the mission field, whilst grieving
that I can do in it next to nothing. I am thinking what I may accomplish
when I can speak to natives in their Urdu tongue, and care too little to
pour out to God my hearts desires in my own. Lord, forgive my selfish
neglect, and shed on Thy feeble child more of the spirit of prayer,
specially of intercessory prayer!”

The tediousness of Alicia’s waiting-time was over; one by one there rose
before her mind the names of those for whom she ought to plead. Not only
did she pray for her nearest and dearest—they had not been forgotten in
her early prayer—but for servants, kahars, all who came within reach of
her own or her husband’s influence. With Kripá Dé’s name came that of
his youthful widowed sister; then Alicia pleaded for the poor ignorant
bibis of Talwandi, and the little ignorant children. Harold’s young wife
was surprised to find how large a circle might be enclosed by the prayer
of one who was but standing, as it were, at the open gate of the
harvest-field which she as yet felt herself scarcely worthy to enter.


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



                              CHAPTER XII

                         A STARTLING SUSPICION.


MR. HARTLEY and Robin returned soon after Alicia, with a spirit
refreshed and strengthened, had risen from her knees. The elder
missionary looked so much heated and wearied that his daughter’s first
care was to bring him a cool, refreshing draught. Then Alicia told of
her visit to Chand Kor’s zenana, and of the strange effect of a little
hymn.

“And Premi looked a different being,” continued Alicia, “with that
colour on her cheek and that light in her eyes. It almost seemed as if
the English word ‘joyful’ had transformed her into one of ourselves. She
was not like a Hindu at all.”

“You probably mistook the word sung by the young Kashmiri,” observed Mr.
Hartley, who knew how easily the ear is deceived when something is
spoken in a foreign tongue. He tried to recall some Urdu or Kashmiri
word which might be mistaken for “joyful,” but none such came to his
mind.

Robin looked full of animation; his eyes told, before his lips spoke,
that a new thought had flashed on his brain. “Is it not possible,” he
cried, “that some European child, whom all supposed to have been
murdered at the Mutiny time, may have been spared to endure the worse
fate of being buried in a zenana?”

“Oh, what an idea!” exclaimed Alicia, clasping her hands and turning
sparkling eyes on Robin. “My own uncle and aunt and their two little
girls were killed in the Mutiny, more than eleven years ago—at least we
always thought so.”

“At what place?” inquired Mr. Hartley.

Alicia mentioned a distant city.

“That is very far away—not in the limits of the Panjab. And one thing is
evident,” continued the missionary—“Kripá Dé is undoubtedly a Kashmiri
Brahmin, so no sister of his could be English.”

Alicia looked disappointed; but Robin said quickly, “Are you sure that
the widow _is_ Kripá Dé’s sister?”

“I think that the bibis said so,” answered Alicia.

“Oh, but you might not have understood the bibis; or the bibis might not
have understood you; or—but here comes Kripá Dé himself with Harold.
Let’s have the real truth from his lips.—Kripá Dé,” he continued,
addressing the convert, “are you and Premi the children of one mother?”

“No,” replied the youth. “Premi was only my little playmate when she was
a child.”

The negative reply made Alicia’s heart beat fast with excitement. “Oh,
question him more closely!” she exclaimed, feeling more distressed than
she had ever done before at her knowledge of Urdu being so imperfect.

Mr. Hartley’s interest was thoroughly aroused. “Was Premi always in the
fort?” he inquired of Kripá Dé; “or can you remember her first arrival?”

“I remember Premi being brought in one night,” said Kripá Dé; he spoke
slowly, like one trying to recall impressions of the distant past. “She
was then quite a little girl, some years younger than myself. I
recollect that the bibis crowded around her, and that Darobti jested me
about the child’s skin being as white as my own.”

“She said that you were like brother and sister?” suggested Robin.

Kripá Dé shook his head and looked embarrassed; which made the
questioner shrewdly guess that Darobti had joked the boy on the coming
of a little white bride for a little white bridegroom. Marriage, even of
infants, forms a large subject of interest in the Indian zenana.

Harold, who had been briefly informed by Alicia of what had occurred,
now took the place of catechiser.

“How many years have elapsed since the child was brought to Talwandi?”
he asked.

“Who knows?” was the reply. Native children keep little count of time.

“Have you no sort of idea? Think again.”

“I was just tall enough then to see over the wall. It seems a great many
years ago.”

“Perhaps ten or twelve?” suggested Robin. “You know that you are now
eighteen. Have you no sort of guess how old you were then?”

“Perhaps seven or eight,” replied Kripá Dé.

Harold translated each question and answer to his eager young wife.

“Did those who brought the child not explain how she came to be in their
hands?” inquired Mr. Hartley.

“I cannot recollect; I never heard. It has sometimes been said in the
zenana that Premi was brought from Kabul; that she is white as being the
child of Pathans. I never considered the matter at all.”

“Ask how the little one was dressed when she arrived,” said Alicia
eagerly.

Kripá raised his hand to his brow and reflected. “I think that the child
had a shawl wrapped round her, and—yes—yes—one white thing like what the
English wear on their feet!” cried Kripá Dé. “I remember that; for the
bibis laughed, and fitted it on their hands. We had never seen such a
thing before. But why do you question me thus?” the young Brahmin
suddenly asked.

“Because we suspect it to be possible that Premi is neither Kashmiri nor
Pathan,” said Harold, “but the child of English parents.”

Kripá Dé’s countenance, with various expressions flitting rapidly across
it, was a study to those who watched it. Surprise, perplexity, now
pleasure, now pain, succeeded each other on it, leaving at the end one
look of anxious hope as he asked, “If Premi were English, would she be
_free_?”

“Certainly,” replied every voice; and Harold added, “No English girl
could be kept in confinement; the Government would claim her, and heavy
punishment would fall on any one who dared to attempt to detain her.”

“But the difficulty would be to prove that she is English,” observed Mr.
Hartley. Addressing himself to Kripá Dé, he inquired whether the zenana
child had ever talked of other scenes or of other people.

“Never,” was the Kashmiri s reply—“at least I never heard of her doing
so.”

“There was nothing to awake a suspicion in your mind that Premi was
connected with Europeans? Did she talk just like those around her?”

Kripá Dé, pressing his hand over his forehead, made strong efforts to
revive any faint impression left on the sands of his memory, but could
not at first discover any. “If Premi’s language had at first been
strange,” he observed, “I would only have thought that she was speaking
in Pushtoo” (the language of the Afghans).

“My father, are you aware that the commissioner is now on circuit?” said
Harold. “I accidentally heard to-day that Mr. Thole is encamped at
Patwal, only six miles from this place; but he may possibly have moved
on. Would it not be well to lay the whole matter before him, and procure
from him a warrant for the production in court of a young widow
suspected to be of English birth? If our suspicions be correct, other
proofs would probably come out if the matter were thoroughly sifted by a
Government official.”

It was now Kripá Dé’s turn to need an interpreter, and his eyes were
anxiously turned towards Robin.

“I think that we should not lose a day in consulting Mr. Thole,” was Mr.
Hartley’s reply. “I have a slight, a very slight, acquaintance with the
commissioner; he knows who I am, and he will, I hope, give me audience
at once.—Robin, give orders for the tattu to be saddled without delay.”

“Not, I trust, before you have taken your meal,” said Alicia pleadingly.
“O father, you need rest and refreshment so much!”

“Why not let Robin and myself go, and you remain here?” suggested
Harold. “You have already exerted yourself beyond your strength.”

Mr. Hartley would not hear of this arrangement. He knew the character of
Mr. Thole, and that he would be far more likely to listen to an elderly
man, of whom he had seen something, than to two young missionaries who
were to him utter strangers. Mr. Hartley felt that the matter might need
delicate handling. Mr. Thole was one of those Government officers who
pride themselves on being strictly just. The commissioner could not
endure the imputation of favouring a countryman, above all if that
countryman happened to be engaged in mission work, with which Mr. Thole
had not the slightest sympathy. The official’s justice, like ambition,
thus sometimes overleaped itself, and fell on the other side; and Mr.
Thole actually showed no small tendency to partiality, from the very
dread of being considered partial. Mr. Thole looked upon evangelistic
efforts as a waste of money, if not an actual means of disturbing the
public peace. To the commissioner it was a matter of indifference
whether India were Hindu, Mohammedan, or Christian; but he was very
anxious to do his duty to Government, very desirous that his district
should be regarded as the most quiet and prosperous in the land. Mr.
Hartley knew that to bring his frank, impetuous, and not always discreet
Robin into contact with a calm, cold man of the world might utterly
defeat his own desire to make Mr. Thole act in a delicate, difficult
matter. The missionary therefore decided that Harold and himself should
go in search of Mr. Thole, and lay before him the case of Premi. The
only point conceded was that the expedition should be postponed to a
later hour in the day. Six miles was a short distance, and Patwal could
easily be reached before sunset. After a brief rest, Mr. Hartley on his
tattu and Harold on foot were on their way to the commissioner’s
encampment, to seek his aid in instituting inquiries regarding the
nationality of Premi. Without the weight of his authority, it would be
impossible to make inquiries at all.

After watching from the veranda the departure of Mr. Hartley and her
husband, Alicia, accompanied by Robin, returned to the room in which
they had left the Kashmiri. Kripá Dé was not to venture out of the
house, lest he should be seen by any one who might betray to his family
the secret of his being amongst Christians. Alicia was struck by the
anxious, thoughtful expression on the convert’s fair young face. He was
seated on the floor, with his hand pressed over his eyes.

“What are you thinking of, Kripá Dé?” asked Robin, taking his place on
the mat beside him, so as to be on a friendly level with his companion.

“I am trying to recollect more about Premi and the days that are past,”
was the reply. “I remember that the little child cried and called for
her mother, and that I tried to quiet her with bits of sugar-cane; but I
supposed that the dead mother was a Pathan. There is a woman in the fort
who could, I feel sure, tell a great deal more about Premi than I am
able to do. Has the Mem noticed an old bibi with one eye who goes about
in the zenana?”

Robin translated the question to Alicia, who replied, “I remember well
an old woman with one blind eye: she is always talking; she interrupted
me every minute.”

“That bibi was the first to carry in the white little girl,” observed
Kripá Dé. “That Jai Dé has said strange things about Premi; they are
coming back to my mind. Were she questioned, I am certain that she could
tell a good deal more.”

“What things has she said?” asked Robin.

“I have heard her remark, more than once, that it was unlucky to bring
into the fort a child of blood. I supposed from that word that Premi’s
father had been probably killed in some feud; but with the Pathans that
is a thing too common to attract much notice. Jai Dé has also said that
it must have been to keep off some bhut [demon] that a black charm had
been hung round the little girl’s neck.”

“A black charm!” exclaimed Alicia eagerly, after the words had been
translated. “Can she have meant a black locket?”

“Likely enough. But what makes this strike you so much?”

“After my grandmother’s death,” said Alicia, “her husband gave a black
memorial locket to each of her female descendants. There were seven
purchased; two went to my cousins in India, and I have another. The
seven were exactly of the same pattern, with a little inscription,
initials, and a date. If Premi had a locket like mine, I should feel
perfectly certain that she is my cousin.”

Robin, eager as Alicia herself, closely questioned the Kashmiri. But the
youth could only reply on the authority of Jai Dé that the charm worn by
Premi was black; he had never himself seen it. “But I will try to see
it, if it has not been thrown away,” he cried, rising hastily from the
ground. “I will get from Jai Dé all that she knows; I will go back at
once to the fort.”

“Stop, madman!” cried Robin, who had sprung to his feet, and who now
laid a strong grasp on the convert’s shoulder. “If you go back now, we
shall never set eyes on you again. Where does your family suppose you to
be at this moment?”

“On a pilgrimage to the shrine of Máta Devi at Rangipur,” replied the
Kashmiri. “I am not expected back at the fort till to-morrow at sunset.”

“I hope that you did not tell your people that you were going on
pilgrimage?” observed Robin gravely.

“Of course I did, or I could not have got away,” replied the convert,
without any appearance of shame.

“It was a lie,” said Robin bluntly. “I am sure that my brother did not
know that you had told one, or he would never have consented to your
being baptized to-morrow.”

Then indeed a flush rose to the Kashmiri’s pale cheek, and he looked
perplexed and troubled. Kripá Dé had indeed received the Christian faith
in all sincerity; but brought up as he had been in an atmosphere of
falsehood, he could hardly be expected to have that abhorrence of a sin
which he, hardly recognized to be one which was a characteristic of the
English youth. Robin translated Kripá Dé’s words to Alicia, who was more
indulgent to the weakness of the convert.

“Do you not think,” she observed, “that in some cases it may be
pardonable to deceive, such as this, for instance, where life itself may
be at stake, or the safety of a soul?”

“Surely such deceit comes from want of faith,” replied Robin. “Can we
believe that He who created the universe, and called the dead from their
graves, cannot save bodies or souls without our trying to help Him by
breaking His laws?”

“But what is to be done now?” cried Alicia, looking distressed. “It is
of such importance for us to gain information regarding Premi, and only
Kripá Dé can procure it. What is to be done?” she repeated more
earnestly, as Robin gave no immediate reply.

“Kripá Dé must _not_ go back to the fort,” replied Robin with decision.
“If he go, he will assuredly be questioned; he may even be asked whether
he has eaten with us and broken his caste. Caste is all nonsense to us;
but to Hindus, and specially Brahmins, to eat with Christians is a far
worse crime than slandering or stealing. If Kripá Dé be thus questioned,
he will be tempted to lie; and if he do not lie—”

“He will be imprisoned, perhaps murdered,” cried Alicia.

“Likely enough,” was the rejoinder. “So we must keep him under our eye.”

“And poor Premi, what is to become of her?”

“Do you not think that the Lord cares for the poor young widow at least
as much as we do?” said Robin. “My father has gone to try to procure a
Government warrant for Premi to be produced in court. All that we can
do, at least so it seems to me now, is for us to pray that he may
succeed.”

Very earnest prayer was offered, both in English and in Urdu—in the
latter for the sake of Kripá Dé, who could not otherwise have joined in
or have understood the petitions offered up.

In the evening, when alone with the convert, Robin tried to impress on
Kripá Dé the necessity under which every real Christian lies to speak
the truth always, and to fear nothing but sin.

“If you do not hate falsehood,” said the young evangelist, “where is the
proof that you love Him who is the Truth as well as the Life?”

“Did I not give proof of my love for Christ,” replied the Kashmiri,
“when for His sake I threw away my Brahminical thread?”

Robin was not yet sufficiently versed in Hindu customs to understand the
full force of this simple appeal. “Was it then such an overwhelming
trial to part with a thread?” he inquired.

Kripá Dé looked as much surprised at the question as a king might be if
asked whether it would be a trial to part with his crown. Then the young
Brahmin told the strange story of his own early life. He described the
mysterious ceremony with which he had been invested with the Brahminical
thread, revealing to his listener some of the strange force of that
superstition which helps to choke spiritual life among the Hindus.

“Immediately after the solemn act of putting the Brahminical sign round
my neck,” said the youthful convert, “I was confined for three days in a
closed room, and was not allowed to have intercourse with any one but my
grandmother. She has since died, and her ashes, collected from the
funeral pile, have been carried hundreds of miles to be thrown into the
Ganges.”

“Tell me more about your three days of seclusion,” said Robin.

“During those three days in which I remained shut up my grandmother was
my teacher. She reminded me of my new duties, and told me what honour I
must claim from the lower orders simply on account of my being a
Brahmin. Through her teaching my vanity increased: I thought in my pride
that I was in possession of divine power, and could destroy any one who
should dare to stand against me simply by the breath of my mouth.”

“Could you believe such a tremendous falsehood?” exclaimed Robin
Hartley.

“I did believe it,” was the reply, “and I resolved to use my power.
Immediately after my release, I thought of trying an experiment on one
of my playmates who belonged to the Kayasta caste, a boy with whom I was
not always on good terms. So after I was set free to walk about the
village and join my former companions, one of the first things which I
did was to pick a quarrel with the boy whom I wanted to destroy.”

“Kripá Dé, were you ever such a fiend?” burst from the lips of the
astonished listener.[5]

“I was a Brahmin,” said Kripá Dé, as if that were sufficient reply.

“Pray go on with your story,” said Robin.

“In the quarrel I gave the boy two or three severe blows, and then
warned him not to touch me, as I had now the power of reducing him to
ashes. Notwithstanding my warning, he gave back as many hard knocks as
he had received. I tried in vain to destroy him by the breath of my
mouth; and at last threw my sacred thread at his feet, expecting to see
him consumed by fire.”

“And you were disappointed to find that your thread had no power to work
such a horrible miracle!” observed Robin.

“I was so bitterly disappointed that I ran crying to my grandmother to
tell her what had happened. The result was a great quarrel between her
and my playmate’s mother, who resented my attempt to burn up her son.
Other women joined in the dispute, and the noise and wrangling lasted
for more than an hour. All that I had at last was a rebuke, not for
wishing to kill my companion, but for parting with my Brahminical
thread, which was soon replaced by another.”

Footnote 5:

  This strange story is no invention of my own imagination; it is the
  relation of what he himself did, copied almost verbatim from an
  address by T. K. Chatterji, a talented Christian native gentleman, who
  had once been a Brahmin. Here indeed truth is stranger than fiction!

This extraordinary revelation of what the spirit of Brahminism is made a
strong impression on Robin. It was a glimpse of the features of the
demon with whom the young knight of the Cross was to combat till death
should end the struggle. Robin repeated the story of Kripá Dé to Alicia
that evening.

“I can hardly believe that one who looks so gentle, so mild, could ever
have been possessed by such demons of pride, hatred, and malice,” she
exclaimed.

“The Master has cast out the demons,” observed Robin, “and the convert
is now sitting at the Lord’s feet, clothed and in his right mind. What a
miracle of grace is a proud Brahmin’s conversion!”

The return of Mr. Hartley and Harold was watched for eagerly by the
little group in the mission home. Many a time Robin quitted the bungalow
to look down the road and watch for his father’s return. The last gleam
of light faded from the sky, the stars shone out, but the missionaries
had not returned. Kripá Dé was sent to sleep on the roof; but Alicia and
Robin sat up watching, growing more and more impatient as hour after
hour passed on. At last their uncertainty was ended by the return of the
sais (groom) who had accompanied Mr. Hartley. The man brought a note
from Harold. What information it contained will be given in the
following chapter.


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



                              CHAPTER XIII

                              OUT IN CAMP.


MR. HARTLEY and his son proceeded on their way towards Patwal, the slow
pace of the tattu allowing them to converse together, as Harold walked
beside his father, the sais following behind on foot. The conversation
was chiefly on subjects connected with mission work.

After a while Patwal was reached. Between the stems of trees in a thick
mango tope white tents were seen, on which the golden rays of the sun
about to set cast a rich warm glow. At a short distance the camels which
had carried tents and luggage were tethered, some crouching on the
ground, some browsing on the lower branches of trees. Turbaned servants
were moving hither and thither. Extemporized fire-places in the open
air, from whose neighbourhood sundry savoury scents proceeded, showed
that the Sahib’s dinner was in course of preparation. Mr. Hartley
dismounted and gave his card to one of the attendants, to be taken to
the Commissioner Sahib. After a short delay the servant returned with
his master’s saláms, the Oriental formula of admitting a guest. As the
Hartleys approached the large, square, flat-roofed tent of Mr. Thole,
they heard the commissioner’s voice from within give the order to lay
dinner for three. India is the land of hospitality; even had Mr. Thole
never before met either of his visitors, he would have welcomed them to
his well-spread board.

For no one need associate the idea of discomfort, far less that of
hardship, with the life of a commissioner going the round of his
district in the cooler months of the year. A good double tent holds all
that even luxury may require. The great Sahib has his numerous
satellites,—munshi to write, khansamar to cook, and masalchi to wash up
the dishes. He has his bearer to anticipate every want, khitmatgars to
wait at his well-furnished table; sweeper, water-bearer, camel-drivers,
and two servants to attend on each of his horses—one to groom him, the
other to cut grass. Besides this troop of attendants, from each town and
village near the halting-place come obsequious natives—those of the
higher rank on gaily-caparisoned horses, the more lowly peasants on
foot. Some come to offer petitions, some to seek employment, some, as it
appears, only to pay their homage to one of the lords of creation. What
lies under all this outward respect we need not now inquire. The
government of our Empress-Queen’s vast possessions in India may be
described as a kind of oligarchy, the English officials forming an
aristocracy to which all pay at least the semblance of honour. Low are
the saláms, fulsome the compliments paid to one of the higher grade, the
official’s rank rising, it appears, in due proportion to the shortening
of his titles. An assistant deputy commissioner is a chhotá Sahib
(little gentleman); cut off the first word, and he rises, we may say, to
the rank of a baron; cut off the second, and you may regard him as an
earl at the least. Strange must it seem to our Anglo-Indians, on going
home for good, to find themselves lost in a crowd, none to follow them,
flatter and fawn, meat dear and chickens expensive. Some doubtless heave
a sigh at the remembrance of the old days passed in India, when in the
pleasant cold weather they went camping out in the district.

Mr. Thole received the missionaries with courtesy flavoured with
condescension. Even tent-life had not shaken out of this bara Sahib
(great gentleman) all his starch. Unlike some of his equals, he was in
his nature rather pompous, and did not carry his dignity with the easy
grace which distinguishes those who seem born to rule.

“I fear that we have come at an inconvenient time,” began Mr. Hartley;
for already the servants were making preparations for serving in dinner.
“A little matter of business—”

“Oh! we’ll waive the business for the present,” said the commissioner,
with an expressive movement of the hand. “I’ve been at it since
daybreak, settling disputes, listening to the jabber of villagers, each
with a separate jargon; and now the first duty before me is to do
justice to what comes before me—on the table. Take your seat, Mr.
Hartley; you look as if you needed dinner and a good cigar after it even
more than I do. What! dined already, you say? Forget the past; let
bygones be bygones.” And with a little chuckle at his own mild joke, the
commissioner sat down to his steaming plateful of rich mullagatawny. It
was evident that to him dinner was an important business, to which all
else must for the time be postponed.

In vain Mr. Hartley urged that the sun was setting, and that he was
anxious to return to Talwandi before night should be far advanced. The
commissioner must have his dinner before he could listen to anything
which he called “shop.” The repast was a somewhat lengthy one, being
made more so by conversation; for the commissioner enjoyed his own good
stories as well as his soup. He told of hunting adventure, and adventure
with a snake; then, as his servant filled and refilled his master’s
glass, there came anecdotes of his horses, and a dissertation on camels.

“Apropos to camels,” said the commissioner, passing his damask napkin
over his thick grizzled mustache, “I met with a curious instance of
superstition the other day in regard to the slow-paced brute. An urchin
had a fall from one of the baggage-camels—rather a tall one—and
expecting at least a dislocation to be the result, I was surprised to
see the boy sitting composedly on the ground as if nothing had happened.
‘Is the fellow not hurt?’ I inquired of a servant. ‘No, Sahib,’ was the
careless reply; ‘it was only a fall from a camel—that is nothing; it
would have been worse had it been from a donkey.’”

“How did he make out that?” asked Mr. Hartley.

“The man was a devout Mussulman, and he explained the matter in true
Mohammedan fashion: ‘You see, Sahib, that the camel goes slowly on, as
if saying “Bismillah” [in the name of God] at every step; whilst the
donkey shambles on as if repeating, “Naddi tuti, naddi tuti” [Broken
bone], as he jogs on his way.’—Nizam, bring in the lights.—I think that
the Mohammedan is the most religious of men,” laughed Mr. Thole, “since
his piety extends even to his camels.”

“The ‘Bismillah’ on his lips,” observed Mr. Hartley. “has often as
little to do with his thoughts as the camel’s pace has to do with his
religion.”

The conversation then took a different turn, as the dessert appeared on
the table, and dates on the dish reminded the commissioner of dates on
the tree.

“I think that the tallest date-palms that I ever saw were by the temple
of Máta Devi,” said he. “Of course you have been to the place,” he
continued, addressing himself to Harold. “There is a most curious idol,
of great antiquity, with jewels for eyes.”

“I have been to the place on a preaching tour,” replied the young
missionary; “but I did not see the idol, for I did not enter the
temple.”

“Would not the Hindus admit you?” said the Sahib.

“Not unless I took off my shoes.”

“And why not take off your shoes?” said the commissioner, who held what
he considered to be very liberal views. “It is a mere matter of form.”

“Neither as missionary nor as Englishman could I pay any mark of respect
to an idol,” was Harold’s reply.

“Oh! I suppose that missionaries have a code of their own,” observed Mr.
Thole, with the slightest possible shrug of his broad shoulders; “but I
may be supposed to know as well as even the youngest of them what befits
an Englishman. We Government servants, whilst we are bound to pay no
respect to persons, are also pledged to pay due respect to all
religions. I should think no more of taking off my shoes in a temple
than I should of taking off my hat in a church. Had we lived in the days
when the goddess Yoyyathal was said to be wedded to the Indian
Government, I might have been bound to carry the bridal gift; and being
an official, the act would have done me as little harm as receiving the
Kashmir shawl did good to the idol. Do you not see that?” added the
commissioner, still addressing himself to Harold.

“I do not see it, sir,” said the young clergyman, a flush rising to his
cheek. “There are many officials, both civilians and military officers,
who do not think that duty to Government supersedes duty to God.”

The commissioner looked somewhat offended, and turning towards the elder
missionary, directed his speech to him, as if Harold, for presuming to
give an independent opinion, had forfeited any claim to further notice.
“Do you know, Mr. Hartley, any well-authenticated instance of an
official going straight against Government orders on account of some
religious scruple of his own?”

“The most striking instance which occurs to me is that of a man who
resigned ten thousand pounds per annum rather than violate conscience,”
was the quiet reply.

The commissioner elevated his bushy brows to express surprise not
unmixed with incredulity. “Who might this man be?” he inquired.

“Sir Peregrine Maitland,” replied Mr. Hartley. “His story may have
perhaps escaped your memory, as so many stirring events have occurred in
India since. This officer, at that time a leading man, was offered the
command of the Madras army and a seat in Council.”

“He was a lucky fellow,” remarked the commissioner, leaning back on his
chair; “such big prizes don’t fall often to the lot of a man. Pray go
on, Mr. Hartley.”

“Sir Peregrine accepted the high offices on the express condition that
they should not involve him in any connection with Hindu idolatry.”

Mr. Thole’s muttered “Humph!” and slight smile expressed no great
admiration for Sir Peregrine Maitland’s superfluous caution. The
commissioner helped himself to a cigar from a case brought by a servant,
after the missionaries had declined one, lighted it, and raised it to
his lip. He smoked it, whilst Mr. Hartley proceeded with his tale.

“Not many days after the commander had arrived in Madras, in the first
despatch-box which he received as a member of Council, came a document
to sanction the appointment and payment of dancing-girls in a certain
Hindu temple. Sir Peregrine was expected to sign this paper.”

“A mere matter of form,” observed Mr. Thole, removing the cigar from his
mouth for a minute. “Whether the member of Council signed or not, the
thing would be done. It was simply making a dash with his pen.”

“Rather than make that dash with his pen,” said Mr. Hartley, “Sir
Peregrine was ready to resign his high offices. After looking at the
paper the commander called out to his wife, Lady Sarah, who was
superintending the unpacking of their lately-arrived luggage, ‘Sarah,
don’t open these boxes; I am going back to England.’ And, after sending
home a fruitless appeal to Government, _go back he did_, resigning his
lucrative offices.”

“And I daresay that he repented so doing to the end of his life,” cried
Mr. Thole.

“Certainly not at the end of his life,” said Harold Hartley: “no man
ever on a death-bed repented of a sacrifice made for conscience’ sake.”

Mr. Thole did not relish the conversation, and broke it off abruptly.
Throwing away his cigar, he pushed his chair back from the table, and
said in rather a dictatorial tone to Mr. Hartley, “Now, sir, I am ready
to hear about the business which brought you hither.”

Mr. Hartley felt that the preceding conversation had been an unfortunate
introduction to what was coming, for Mr. Thole had resumed all his
official stiffness. However, there was nothing to be done but to make a
clear, concise statement of all that had led him to suspect that Miranda
Macfinnis, daughter of a merchant, supposed to have been murdered with
her parents about twelve years before in the Mutiny, was at present shut
up in a zenana at Talwandi, and, as a widow, treated with cruel
harshness and neglect.

Mr. Thole listened with stern gravity, neither stirring a muscle nor
interrupting by a single question until the missionary had produced all
the slender information that he possibly could give on the subject. When
Mr. Hartley stopped, the commissioner coldly asked, after a brief pause,
“Have you anything more to communicate, sir?”

“Nothing more at present,” was the reply.

“Then allow me to say that Mr. Hartley has not shown all the
discrimination and judgment which might have been expected from one of
his experience in bringing before me a case which has not a leg to stand
on,” said the commissioner, with a touch of impatience. “Your
daughter-in-law, a young lady who, as you own, possesses slight
knowledge of Urdu, hears a woman in a zenana shout out thrice what she
is pleased to consider an English word. It was probably the praise of
some of her myriad gods, _jai_ (victory) being easily mistaken for
‘joy,’ The girl is white; but that is not the slightest proof of
European origin—some Kashmiris and Pathans, as every one knows, having
complexions perfectly fair. You would have me give weight to the
evidence of a youth who owns that he always considered the girl an
Afghan, and who would never have thought of her as anything else, had it
not been put into his head that the widow may be a European. And on such
cobweb evidence as this you would have me to do what would justly make
me the most unpopular man in the Panjab, cause probably a serious
tumult, and expose me to Government censure!” Mr. Thole’s voice rose to
a more indignant pitch at each clause in his speech till it reached a
climax in the peroration: “No, sir; I have too much regard for the
interests of Government and my own honour to violate the sacred privacy
of a Hindu zenana by a demand for the production of one of its inmates
on an absurd suspicion confirmed by not even the shadow of truth!” Mr.
Thole pushed back his chair and angrily rose from the table.

“I see the force of what you say, sir,” observed Mr. Hartley; “but
should further evidence be brought forward—”

“Of course, of course, if there be documents or proofs such as would
justify a demand for the girl’s examination, I would do my duty,
whatever opposition might be aroused,” interrupted the commissioner in a
haughty manner: “at present there seems to be nothing of the kind; and I
can only regret, sir, that you have put yourself” (“and me” was
understood though not expressed) “to such unnecessary trouble.”

“Then we have only to wish you good-night, sir,” said Mr. Hartley,
attempting to rise; but weary, and overcome by a sudden attack of
giddiness, he was unable to do so, and sank back on his chair.

“You must not think of returning to Talwandi to-night, Mr. Hartley,”
said the commissioner; “you are evidently unequal to riding, even if the
road were a smooth one. You and your son can occupy the tent of my
munshi.”

The Hartleys were unwilling to avail themselves of hospitality offered
as a matter of course rather than of kindness; but Mr. Hartley was too
unwell to keep the saddle, therefore they were constrained to stay till
morning. Harold penned a short letter to his wife, recounting what had
occurred, and ending thus: “If my father be better, we shall join you
to-morrow; but do not expect us early, as I would not break his morning
sleep. The baptism must be delayed till sunset. If possible, gain more
information regarding the widow; you may find it advisable to visit the
zenana again.”


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



                              CHAPTER XIV

                            THE BLACK CHARM.


“HOW is it possible that I should gain more information regarding
Premi?” asked Alicia sadly, as she sat alone with Robin at the breakfast
table, Kripá Dé preferring to eat his food sitting cross-legged on the
floor. “I am certain that I should not be admitted into the fort were I
to attempt to go there this morning. The women paid me little attention
yesterday, and Darobti was offended at my question regarding Premi. I do
not like to visit where I am not welcome; I cannot go to the fort
to-day.”

“Yet to-day seems our last chance,” observed Robin, “as to-morrow the
zenana is sure to be closed. Could you not ‘screw up your courage to the
sticking-point’ once more, dear Alicia, and attack the fort like a
gallant missionary lady?”

“It would be of no use,” said Alicia; “I am not suited for capturing
forts. I should only meet with repulse and defeat. If there were a
shadow of hope—”

“I have it!” exclaimed Robin suddenly, clapping his hand to his forehead
as if to prevent the escape of a thought. “I beg your pardon for
interrupting you, Alicia, but an idea has just come into my head. I can
insure you a welcome, I can insure you an audience, if—”

“If what? I am curious to know,” said Alicia.

“If you will only go to the zenana in your wedding dress, decked out
with your jewels.”

“You are joking, Robin,” said Alicia.

“I was never more earnest in my life,” exclaimed Robin, and his bright,
earnest eyes showed that he meant what he said. “The bibis might resist
you in your fawn-coloured print; but donning your gleaming white satin,
with the pretty little slippers to match—”

“You absurd boy!” interrupted Alicia, “do you think that I would cross
that dirty court-yard in white satin slippers?”

“Yes, if it were a very slough!” exclaimed Robin; “if that were the only
way of getting into the house. Do you not see,” he added more quietly,
“that if you display your jewels you may very well ask the Hindu ladies
to show you theirs? And should a black locket appear amongst them, why,
you would pounce down upon it like a cat on a mouse!”

“Robins scheme is not so very wild as it seemed at first,” thought
Alicia.

“What say you to my plan?” asked the lad.

“That it would be all very well—if you could only carry it out
yourself.”

“I!” exclaimed Robin, with a burst of uncontrollable mirth. “Fancy me in
white satin, attempting to force my great splay-foot into one of your
delicate slippers!”

“This is too serious a matter for mirth,” said Alicia, who for once
could resist the infection of Robin’s laugh. “Of course if any one goes,
I must go. But it would be so very strange to put on finery here—in this
jungle!”

“It would be making the very best use of finery,” cried Robin, who was
grave enough now. “It would be consecrating it to the cause of humanity.
I never thought when I saw you arrayed in your wedding attire, and
considered you almost too fine to be my sister, that you might make it a
means of delivering a zenana prisoner, and perhaps of bringing her under
Christian influence.”

Alicia sighed, reflected a few moments, then said—“Robin, we must have a
prayer together before I venture, I feel so weak and nervous. I never
engaged in anything so strange and difficult before.”

The brother and sister knelt down together, and Kripá Dé prostrated
himself on the floor, though he could only guess the import of the
prayer. After its conclusion Alicia went to her own room, unlocked and
opened one of her large boxes, and from its envelopment of silver paper
took out the dress which she had worn at her bridal.

Some quarter of an hour afterwards Alicia, blushing under her long white
veil, returned to the place where she had left Robin.

“How absurd I must look in this dress!” she observed, glancing shyly at
her brother.

“Lovely as an angel,” thought Robin, “and going on the errand of an
angel;” but he only said aloud, “I admire you more in that white satin
now than I did on the first day that you wore it. Come, Alicia; your
doli is ready in the veranda.”

“I hate being seen, even by the kahars; and how can I pass through the
city so strangely attired?”

“We will draw down the blind on either side; no one shall see you.”

“My satin will be utterly crushed in that box,” cried Alicia, lifting up
the rich folds which swept the veranda.

“I’ll help to pack in the satin; and if the worst comes to the worst, a
crushed dress is better than a crushed life like Premi’s.”

“Robin, you must go with me; I feel myself in such an absurd position,”
said Alicia, as she with difficulty settled herself in the cramped space
of the doli.

“I will go as far as I may, and wait outside as long as I can,” was
Robin’s reply.

Robin walked by the side of the doli, playfully prompting, encouraging,
supplying his sister with Urdu words, throwing the light of his own
joyous spirit over the little expedition, till Alicia caught his own
love of adventure. There was nothing so terrible to encounter, nothing
so extravagant to do, nothing so difficult to accomplish. Alicia was
certainly going beyond missionary rules and regulations, but so peculiar
a case had never been contemplated by those who had framed them. Alicia
was full of brightness and hope by the time that she arrived at the
outer door of the fort.

The kahar knocked with the rattling chain. He knocked twice, thrice, and
yet again; only the bark of a dog gave reply.

“There is some one within; I hear moving and talking,” said Robin, and
he himself energetically repeated the summons at the door, which brought
a shrill reply from inside, “Fursat nahim” (No leisure), which is the
Panjabi form of saying, “Not at home.”

“Show yourself,” said Robin to Alicia; “I see a child’s face peeping
over the wall.” As he spoke he threw up the blind of the doli on the
side nearest to the fort, and then himself rapidly retreated out of
sight.

Alicia put one slippered foot out of the doli, and extended one arm,
with its satin sleeve and golden bracelet,[6] to extricate herself and
her voluminous dress. The effect was magical. Almost a scream of
astonishment came from the top of the wall; then there was the sound of
a rapid rush within; the door was thrown open, and amidst children’s
shrill cries of “Mem! Mem! devi [goddess], devi!” Alicia entered the
court-yard, to be almost mobbed by a crowd of little urchins of both
sexes, who came staring and shouting to welcome her in.

Footnote 6:

  It need hardly be said that the lady’s example is _not_ given for
  imitation. A missionary’s dress can scarcely be too quiet and
  unostentatious. It would be worse than foolish for one to draw on
  herself the attention which should be given to the message which she
  bears. When the lantern throws a Scripture picture on the sheet, the
  exhibiter carefully avoids standing in front of it, lest he should
  himself hide what he seeks to display.

Alicia, a little bewildered and half deafened by the noise, picked her
way as carefully as she could along the yard, which seemed to be even
more dirty than usual. She was cumbered by the necessity of holding up
her long dress, while at the same time protecting her head with her
white-covered umbrella. It was disagreeable to be jostled by children
whose every touch must leave a mark on her white satin; but Alicia went
on till the second court was reached, and then the dark stair. Beyond
this there were great pushing and scrambling; Alicia was almost thrown
down the steps by her noisy, excited young escort. Presently she emerged
into daylight, flushed and heated, with her beautiful dress by no means
improved by the crush.

There was now no difficulty in collecting women; they came from every
likely and unlikely place to stare on an English lady, or rather on the
bridal dress which she wore. Premi alone stood on the roof above, with
Darobti’s fat baby astride on her hip.

“Sit down, sit down!” cried Chand Kor. “Sit down, sit down!” echoed the
one-eyed Jai Dé. The bibis were evidently determined to indulge their
curiosity to the full. “Keep back; bad zát” (low caste), shouted Darobti
to the children who were pressing around Alicia to stroke her smooth
satin and finger her jewels.

When a little order was restored, Alicia had to play show-woman to the
various parts of her dress and the ornaments which she wore. Her satin
slippers, her silk stockings extorted many a “Wah! wah!” the women
feasted on the sight of such pretty novelties. Alicia had to take even
the silver ear-rings from her ears, to be passed round and admired. The
lady’s patience was almost exhausted before she had any opportunity of
pursuing the object for which she had come. Alicia seized that of the
first lull in the noise and excitement.

“Now show me your jewels—all, all!” she cried, repeating the lesson
learned from Robin.

The bibis were by no means loath to display their ornaments: chains and
head-jewels of marvellous make, rings for thumbs and sheaths for toes,
nose-gems and ear-gems, and jingling anklets, bracelets of gold, silver,
and glass, were eagerly thrust on the visitor’s notice. But in vain did
Alicia’s anxious eyes search for a black locket amongst them.

“All, all,” she repeated—“show me all.”

At length the bibis were tired of displaying their treasures; the Mem
Sahiba seemed to have an unreasonable avidity for seeing jewels. Alicia,
heated and tired, began to despair of ever finding what she had come
expressly to see. Some of the women had gone away, Chanel Kor had taken
to her hookah, and Alicia was about to rise and depart, when Darobti
opened a curious old box to take out betel to chew—a very common custom
amongst Eastern bibis. At the bottom of the box lay what looked like a
dirty bit of rag, but Alicia’s quick eye detected in that rag something
of European manufacture.

“What’s that?” asked the lady, pointing to the rag.

The question did not appear to be understood; at any rate it received no
reply. Alicia put out her own jewelled hand, and to Darobti’s surprise
pulled the dirty thing out of the box. It was part of a child’s sock,
and out of it something dropped on the floor. Alicia could not repress
an exclamation of surprise and delight: it was indeed a black locket in
the shape of a heart!

Darobti stooped to pick it up; but the eager lady was quicker than she.
Alicia was breathless with excitement; she actually held in her hand the
two things that might prove to others the fact of which she had now not
the slightest doubt—that Premi was her own cousin. “I have you, and I’ll
keep you,” thought Alicia, after hastily ascertaining that there was an
inscription on the locket, and initials marked in red thread on the
sock.

“Give that back!” cried Darobti.

Alicia clenched her prize tightly in her left hand, then with her right
unfastened her own silver brooch, and held it out to Darobti. “Exchange,
exchange,” said the lady.

Alicia’s very eagerness was the thing to defeat her own object. Her
anxiety awoke in the Hindus both suspicion and that spirit of
covetousness which has such power over the Oriental. Why should the Mem
desire that little black charm? There must be witchcraft.

“It’s a spell to make us all Karanis” (Christians) said Darobti. “I’d
rather throw the black thing down the well than let it get into the
hands of a Feringhi” (European).[7]

“It brought no luck when the girl had it,” cried the one-eyed Jai Dé.
“It may have had something to do with the death of Premi’s husband. Let
the black charm be taken away!”

“Daughter of an owl, you know nothing!” screamed out Darobti; and an
abuse-match began between the two women, carried on in voices so shrill
and loud that Alicia would fain have stopped her ears. A Hindu bibi in a
passion could probably, in noisy volubility, hold her own amongst women
of any other nationality in the world.

Footnote 7:

  To show how strong this fear of witchcraft is amongst Hindu women, I
  will give another extract, almost as curious as the first, from the
  public address of the Christian gentleman and converted Brahmin, T. K.
  Chatterji. Speaking of his mother he says,—

  “She was very much afraid of the witches, and to protect me from their
  evil influences she used to fast often, and make vows to gods and
  goddesses. If any devotee happened to visit our village, one of the
  first things that she would ask him was, whether he knew anything that
  would keep me from the evil influence of the witches. She would pay
  him money with which to make puja [worship], and would not mind
  undergoing any amount of penances for my good. She was not content
  doing this only, but procured a costly gold chain, and enclosed in its
  links little pieces of the roots of some wild trees which she thought
  had the virtue of driving away witches and evil spirits, and she took
  great care to hang this chain round my neck. She used to spit on my
  forehead whenever I went out to play with other boys or to the village
  school, and would not eat anything until I returned home safe.”

  Oh, what a picture is here presented to us of maternal love, strong
  though blind, and of slavish, misery-making fear! Such superstition,
  met with in various forms, is one of the galling chains from which, in
  God’s strength, missionaries desire to free their poor native sisters.

Chand Kor being of a less irascible nature, and perhaps less
superstitious than the others, was more inclined to drive a good bargain
with the ignorant Mem Sahiba, who had taken an evident fancy to a black
ornament, old, damaged, and of little intrinsic value. Alicia, confused
and half-frightened, yet resolved, cost what it might, to keep the
locket. Chand Kor perceived this, and saw her advantage. The lady,
willing to exchange one jewel for another, was driven to bid higher and
higher, till even the contentious women stopped their quarrelling to see
how far the English lady would go.

Alicia s brooch had been rejected; she was ready to add the ear-rings to
match, then the silver buckle which fastened her band; but her offers
were of no avail. Darobti and Jai Dé kept repeating the word _jadugari_
(witchcraft). Alicia knew not the meaning of the word, but she saw that
the bibis connected it with the locket, and thought it probably the name
by which lockets are called.

“Give me the little jadugari,” said she, “and take this,” and she held
out her silver chain.

“It is jadugari; she confesses it, the witch!” cried Darobti, shrinking
back as if the chain were a snake that could bite her.

But the covetous eyes of Chand Kor, the ruler of the zenana, were fixed
on a golden bracelet in the form of a serpent with diamond eyes, which
was the most expensive trinket which Alicia possessed, and a bridal gift
sent from England.

“Give that, _that_,” said the Hindu bibi, “and keep the black thing
which you have in your hand.”

Alicia, thoroughly disgusted at the woman’s mean covetousness, shook her
head and rose from the charpai on which she had been seated.

“Give the charm back!” cried Darobti, becoming suddenly aware that
whilst she was quarrelling with Jai Dé the cause of the dispute might be
carried away.

“Give the charm back!” echoed more than one voice.

Alicia grasped the locket more tightly. It was the property of her
cousin, not theirs; she would never give it up except to its rightful
owner. A cry for help from above burst from the Englishwoman’s heart as
she made one step forward.

Strong brown hands were laid on the lady’s arm; she had no strength to
cast them off—helpless as a dove in the claws of the falcon.

“Give the bracelet!” cried Chand Kor.

With a quick, sudden movement, Alicia drew off the jewel, and flung it
from her in the direction farthest from the door by which she had
entered. It was a bait, and it took. Every one made a rush in that
direction. Alicia was free—released from the grasping hands which had
held her as in a vice. She took advantage of the moment, and rushed to
the door which opened on the stair without stopping to say salám. She
would have forgotten to snatch up her umbrella had she not intuitively
seized on it as a weapon of defence. Alicia rushed so hurriedly down the
stair that she nearly fell in her haste. She could hear the bibis above
quarrelling over the jewel which she had flung away, which all coveted,
but only one could possess. As Alicia, panting with excitement and heat,
sped first across the inner then the outer court-yard, she thrust her
prize—black locket and dirty rag—within the body of her bridal dress
above her heart, she was so much afraid that in her haste she should
drop that which had cost her so dear.

Alicia’s troubles were not ended even when with a sense of relief she
passed through the second door and found herself outside the fort. There
was her little doli indeed in the place where she had left it, but to
her utter dismay Alicia could see neither Robin nor the kahars. Where
could they be? In vain the lady called aloud, in vain she gazed from
side to side; no one replied, and no one appeared.

“What on earth shall I do!” exclaimed the poor girl. “I cannot possibly
return home with no one to carry me.”

There stood Alicia, trembling and perplexed, in her bridal satin,
utterly alone, whilst noisy voices, both from within the fort and the
adjacent native town, made her equally afraid to return to the first, or
to attempt to pass through the other. The sun, now very powerful, was
blazing above her, and fears of _coup-de-soleil_ were added to other
alarms. It was the most miserable moment that Alicia had ever yet known
in the course of her life; never before had she experienced such a sense
of helplessness and desolation.

“I must get home somehow,” she murmured, after looking again and again
in every direction for her faithless kahars; “some one may attack me for
the sake of my jewels, and I am so utterly unprotected! O Robin, Robin!
why did you thus desert me? I must try to make my way back on foot, but
not through the town, oh, not through the town, though I suppose that
must be the shortest way. I must go by the road, but I am not sure in
what direction our bungalow lies. How dreadful it would be should I take
the wrong turn! I cannot stand still under this fiery sun. I have heard
that when exposed to its heat it is safer to walk, still safer to run;
but if I run I shall attract more attention, and may be but going faster
away from my home. Oh, if I had only any one to protect and guide me!”
exclaimed the poor young wife.

The sound of her own words seemed to reproach her for want of faith.
Alicia felt that she was only craving the support of an earthly arm, and
was forgetting in her terror that arm which is ever stretched out to
help the servants of God. “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou
doubt?” flashed on the memory of Alicia. Her exclamations of distress
now took the form of prayer. “Lord, save me, help me, guide me!” she
repeated again and again as she sped on her way, the rough road marring
her slippers, hurting and almost burning her feet. There was comfort in
uttering that incoherent prayer, solace in realizing that wherever she
might go there was a protecting wing above her. Alicia did not look much
around her; she dreaded meeting the wondering stare of natives whom she
might pass on the road. But very few people were abroad—here a wandering
fakir, there two or three peasants weeding the fields on which the crops
were almost ripe for the harvest, which is usually gathered in April. No
one molested the poor young wanderer.

At length Alicia reached a place where the road divided. There were two
paths before her, both equally dusty and glaring, and she knew not which
to take. Alicia stood still, utterly perplexed. Again the prayer for
guidance burst from her lips, and then she turned to the right. Before
her stretched a long straight road, white with dust and glare, and
bordered with cactus. On that road, to Alicia’s inexpressible joy and
relief, she saw forms which she instantly recognized. Their backs were
turned towards her, and they were at a considerable distance; but well
did Alicia know the brown tattu on which her father-in-law was mounted;
familiar and dear to her eyes was the tall form in a sun-helmet which
walked at his side.

Alicia eagerly ran forward, attempting to call out as she ran; but voice
and breath failed her, and she was only able to gasp out, “Harold,
Harold!” in tones too feeble to reach the ear of her husband. Alicia ran
on, then paused to call again, her heart beating so violently that she
pressed her hand over it to still its throbbing. A third call, which
rose into a cry, burst from her parched lips. At the distance which
separated husband from wife it was inaudible to any but Harold; but
love’s quick ear caught the sound of the dear familiar voice. Harold
turned round, saw his wife, and hurried back to meet her, with an
expression of surprise, anxiety, and almost terror on his pale face.
Seeing Alicia alone, strangely attired and greatly excited, a horrible
suspicion flashed across the young man’s mind that the effect of
sunstroke had turned his poor bride’s brain. In no other way could
Harold account for finding her thus—at some distance from home,
unattended, arrayed in white satin, and running as if for her life.
Harold hastened to meet her, and the poor frightened dove threw herself
into his arms, and burst into a passionate flood of tears. This still
further alarmed her husband, who mistook the expression of joy and
relief for one of distress. Alicia’s face was crimson with the exertion
of running in the heat, her slight frame trembled violently; but even at
that moment there was a tone of triumph in her sobbed-out words, “I have
it—I have it—safe in my bosom!”

“What have you, my love, my life?” asked Harold; but he did not press
for a reply. His only thought was how to get his afflicted wife safe
home. Mr. Hartley, who had turned to see the cause of Harold’s suddenly
quitting his side, had ridden back to the spot where his son and Alicia
were standing, and shared the surprise and alarm of young Hartley. The
missionary threw himself off his pony with all the energy of youth, and
bade Harold place Alicia upon it. The agitated girl was lifted to the
saddle and supported on it by her husband, who spoke to her gentle words
of soothing, as he might have done to a frightened child. Very slowly
the party proceeded homewards, Harold holding a white umbrella over the
head of his wife. He did not ask any questions; but as soon as the short
burst of crying was over, and Alicia had recovered her breath, she was
eager to recount her adventures.

“You wonder at seeing me in such a strange dress; but Robin said that my
best chance of getting into the fort was to go in my wedding attire. How
absurd it must look!”

“So it is Robin whom I have to thank for this!” exclaimed Harold
angrily. “I shall take care not to leave you under the care of such a
hare-brained mad-cap again.”

“But Robin was right, quite right!” laughed Alicia. “I did get into the
fort, and I _did_ get the locket out of the hands of the Hindu bibis!”

“What locket? you speak in riddles, my love.”

“Oh, I forgot that you have heard nothing about the black heart-shaped
locket, just like the one which you saw hung round my neck on the first
day that we met. Premi had its fac-simile on the day when she was
brought to the fort; Robin and I thought that if we could only get
possession of it, we could identify my cousin by its means.”

Harold’s face brightened: an intolerable weight was lifted from his
heart; his fears for his wife’s loss of reason were gone. Mr. Hartley
listened as eagerly as did his son to the full and graphic account which
Alicia now gave of her visit to the fort. Harold laughed at the
bargaining over the locket, and when told of the flinging away of the
bracelet which had had such a happy effect, the husband exclaimed with
proud delight, “My noble girl, my spirited wife! you deserve to wear the
Koh-i-nur itself on your arm!”

Mr. Hartley’s praise was almost as warm as that of his son. “It was
bravely done,” he said. “Our Alicia had asked for wisdom and courage,
and they were given in the moment of need.”

“Yes,” said Alicia earnestly; “I feel that I was helped all through, or
I should never have succeeded. Was it not a mercy that at the very
moment when I knew not whither to turn, you should have been passing
along the road?”

“Had not our departure from the encampment been delayed by my
oversleeping myself,” observed Mr. Hartley, “we should have been at the
bungalow hours before this.”

“You were so weary—you have been ill!” cried Alicia. “I cannot bear to
ride while you walk; I would rather, far rather be on foot.”

“My child, I have boots; your little slippers have been fairly worn out
in honourable service,” was the playful reply.

“Robin must never twit me about them again,” said Alicia.

“What to me is incomprehensible is Robin’s conduct to-day!” exclaimed
Harold, with a touch of indignation in his tone. “It is so unlike him to
bring a sister into a difficult situation, and then to desert her, after
promising to keep near.”

“And why did the kahars too run away?” cried Alicia; “something very
strange must have occurred.”

“The mystery will soon be cleared up,” observed Mr. Hartley, “for we
have come in sight of the bungalow at last.”

The reader will find the solution of the mystery in the following
chapter.


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



                               CHAPTER XV

                              A STRUGGLE.


WHEN Alicia went into the fort in her quest after the black locket,
Robin, keeping the doli in sight, removed to a place at a short distance
where he would be less liable to observation. There, under a peepul tree
was a well to supply the inmates of the fort with water, and this water,
as is very commonly the case in India, was drawn up by means of a
Persian wheel. This contrivance, which is never seen in England, is
familiar to dwellers in the East. Two oxen, yoked to a shaft which is
attached to a large wheel, by going round and round the well make the
wheel revolve. Its circumference is completely encircled with a garland
of small earthen pots. As the big wheel turns round, its lower half in
the well, such of the pots as are lowest dip under the water, and thus
necessarily become filled. The revolution of the wheel raises these full
vessels higher and higher, till each in turn reaches a point where the
turn of the circle empties out all the water contained in the pot into a
wooden trough. By the water flowing through this channel, a tiny
streamlet is fed to irrigate the fields or supply the personal wants of
the people. To Robin this manner of raising water by a Persian wheel was
nothing new, but as he now stood waiting he had plenty of time to watch
the simple contrivance, and the revolving wheel, with its filling and
emptying jars, formed itself into a parable in his mind.

“These oxen go round and round on a wearisome course of work, perhaps
themselves suffering from thirst whilst raising water for others. They
are like our home societies, our secretaries and committees, labouring
in dear old England to turn the mission wheel. All these little jars are
emblems of the missionaries themselves; that one broken at the rim I’ll
take as a type of myself. Here you go down, down, little jar—there’s a
need of humility; keep aloft, and not a drop of water can reach you. You
must descend before you can mount. There! my jar has disappeared in the
well—it is, as it were, lost in its work; this is the filling time for
the little vessel. There! I see it again, dripping and glistening and
rising! Up it goes to empty itself of its treasure, to send fertility
into the fields, and comfort into the home, to make the dry furrows
laugh with a future harvest. The jar is but a poor, mean thing of clay,
yet it has its use in the world,—emblem of weak men and weaker women, of
whom God deigns to make use to carry to the thirsty heathen that water
of life—the knowledge of a Saviour.”

Robin, who of late had not only thought a good deal, but written a good
deal—his pen taking, as he said to himself, the place of a wife—was so
full of his little allegory, which he thought that he might turn into a
poem, that he did not take notice of the approach of a party of men,
till one of them suddenly addressed him. Turning his eyes from the
Persian wheel, Robin recognized in the handsomely-attired native near
him Thákar Dás, the chief who ruled in the fort. The Hindu did not give
the Englishman the salám which courtesy demands, and there was something
of insolence in the chief’s tone and manner as he abruptly said, “Where
is Kripá Dé?”

“Why do you ask me?” said Robin, perplexed by the sudden question.

“Because you are certain to know. You and your brother have misguided
the lad—you have bewitched him; have you baptized him too?”

“No,” was the curt reply.

“Have you made him break his caste? has he eaten with you?” demanded the
angry Hindu.

“What right have you to inquire?” asked Robin.

“Am I not his father?” cried Thákar Dás.

“Kripá Dé has no father, nor mother neither,” said Robin, “and he is of
an age to choose for himself.”

“He is under fourteen years of age!” cried the Hindu.

“Kripá Dé is full eighteen years old; no one knows that better than
yourself,” said the indignant Robin. “Happily his janam-patri
[horoscope] is with us.”

“You have seen it!” exclaimed Thákar Dás. “Then the boy is in hiding
with you?”

Robin was silent; he could not deny the fact.

The chief gave a signal both with voice and with uplifted arm to a body
of men whom he had stationed at some fifty yards distance on the road
which led to the mission bungalow. “Off—seize Kripá Dé!” shouted Thákar
Dás; and in an instant the band of Hindus were rushing in the direction
of Mr. Hartley’s house, to execute the command of their chief, and carry
off the disgraced and degraded Brahmin. Some of these Hindus were armed
with sticks and clubs; but had they borne swords and guns it would have
been all the same to Robin Hartley. He had but one thought—“Kripá Dé is
in danger; I must warn him. These Hindus have the start of me; but I’ll
be at the bungalow before them.” And off darted Robin at speed.

Alicia’s kahars, eager, like all natives of India, to see a tamasha
(which might be Anglicized “to be present at the fun”), deserted the
doli, and hurried off in the same direction.

The other Hindus ran fast; but “with heart of fire and foot of wind,”
the active Robin overtook them mid-way and passed them, narrowly missing
a heavy blow from a club. Victor in the race, panting and streaming with
perspiration, the English youth came near enough to the bungalow for his
shout to be heard by one within it. “Up to the roof, Kripá Dé!” He had
no breath to say more. It was too late for the convert to fly with any
hope of escaping; but if he could mount to the roof, Robin had resolved
to take his own stand on the steep narrow outside stair which led to it,
and make good its defence against the attacking force. “I think that I
can keep the wolves at bay, at least until the arrival of my father and
Harold shall reduce the odds against me,” muttered Robin Hartley.

Kripá Dé, as commanded, fled to the roof; Robin shouted to him to lie
down flat, so as not to offer a mark to the shower of bricks with which
the pursuers were likely to assail him. Robin himself caught up a
hatchet which had been left on a heap of rough timber which a servant
had been chopping up for firewood. This was a formidable weapon wielded
by a strong, vigorous English arm. Robin mounted the steep stair, took
his stand on one of the upper steps, and in an attitude of defiance
awaited the expected rush of men from below.

The Hindus looked up, but did not attempt to come within reach of the
swing of the hatchet. No one chose to be the first to encounter the
fearless boy. A brief consultation appeared to be held below. Robin
could not hear the words spoken, but he was soon to see their effect.
About half the number of Hindus moved off. Young Hartley knew that there
was no inner staircase to the bungalow, and therefore considered that
the only way of reaching the convert on the roof was by passing over his
own body. But Robin had forgotten that Alicia’s “paradise” had a
separate outer staircase, and that the dwellings were so close to each
other that they virtually formed but one. Young Hartley was reminded of
his oversight by seeing dark figures running over the flat roof of his
brother’s house. Robin could not guard two staircases at once, so
springing upon his own roof with intent to defend Kripá Dé to the last,
he saw the poor young convert struggling in the grasp of a dozen dark
hands. Robin beheld no more, for he was himself struck down by a
bludgeon which laid him senseless on the flat roof. There he lay,
bleeding and unconscious of all that was passing around him. When the
poor youth recovered his senses, he found the place deserted; the
convert had evidently been carried off, and all that he had himself
gained from the brief struggle to save Kripá Dé was an aching head, from
which blood flowed freely over his face and dress. Robin raised himself,
first to a sitting posture, then to his feet, looked around, and then,
though feeling sick, dizzy, and faint, made his way to the stair. He
descended the steps much more slowly than he had mounted them, and just
as he reached the platform below his father and the rest of the party
arrived. Alicia gave a cry of horror when she saw the state of her poor
young brother.

“My boy! what has happened?” exclaimed Mr. Hartley in alarm.

“Kripá Dé has been carried off,” was the reply. Robin had no thought for
anything else.

“And you?”

“Oh! never mind me. What a blockhead I was to forget the second stair!”

“Your hurt must be dressed at once,” cried Alicia.

“It’s nothing—a mere knock; the thing to be done is to rescue poor Kripá
Dé!”

Robin was in such an impatient mood that he would hardly submit to have
his wound washed, dressed, and bound up. Harold played the surgeon, and
Alicia the nurse, wrapping round her brother’s head a delicate white
scarf which had formed part of her own apparel.

“O Alicia, your satin is stained with blood; it will never be worth
anything again!” cried Robin.

“My satin has done its work,” was Alicia’s reply: “I have through it
secured the black locket.”

“Secured the black locket!” exclaimed Robin, springing from his seat,
and clapping his hands for joy like a child.

“I will now at once write to Mr. Thole a full account of this cruel,
cowardly attack on my son,” said Mr. Hartley, “and of the carrying away
by violence one of her Majesty’s subjects.”

“And you will add that the proof of Premi’s identity with Miranda
Macfinnis, my wife’s cousin, is in our hands,” observed Harold; “that
Alicia has secured the black locket, which is exactly similar to the one
in her own possession.”

“And tell of the fragment of a child’s sock,” added Alicia, “and that it
has the initials ‘M. M.’ marked upon it.”

“Oh, show me these things!” exclaimed Robin.

“Sit down, sit down,” said Harold: “we must not have the end of the
scarf hanging down like a streamer, instead of binding up your poor
broken head. If you will be quiet, like a sensible fellow, Alicia will
show us her trophies of war.”

With very great interest were the black locket and piece of old sock
examined and handed around. Both had suffered from time and rough usage,
but on the locket the inscription in minute letters, “E. T., 1856,” was
legible still, as well as the mark on the sock. Mr. Hartley, after
examining these relics, sat down to his desk and wrote as concise and
forcible an account as possible of the attack on Kripá Dé, the injury
received by Robin, and the manner in which the proofs of Miss Miranda
Macfinnis’s identity had come into the missionaries’ possession.
“Doubtless due investigation will bring out other and yet more
convincing evidence,” Mr. Hartley wrote in conclusion. He then sent off
his letter at once.

“Alicia, you have managed your part of the affair much better than I
have done mine,” said poor Robin, whose head was aching sorely under its
improvised picturesque turban.

“It was you who put me in the way of doing anything,” was Alicia’s
reply. “I am a coward, and should never to-day have ventured into the
fort at all had you not given me courage, and helped by your counsels
and prayers.”

“Our exotic has climbed bravely,” said Robin, glancing at his father.
“Did I not foretell that it would soon smile down on us all?”


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



                              CHAPTER XVI

                             WATER! WATER!


KRIPÁ DÉ, in the hands of his enemies, at first struggling madly, then
yielding to a force which he had no power to resist, was dragged away
toward the fort. As the shorter route through the town was taken, the
crowd of excited Hindus around him grew larger as the party hurried on
with their prey. Wild cries and howlings resounded on every side. Now
and then a blow was given to the helpless captive, which made him feel
sensibly how utterly he was at the mercy of superstitious fanatics, to
whom breaking of caste, especially by a Brahmin, appeared a horrible
crime. Kripá Dé had become an object of contempt to those who, a day
before, might have fallen prostrate at his feet. The persecuted youth
made no attempt to address the crowd—his voice would have been lost in
the uproar; but he lifted up his heart in silent prayer. It was less a
prayer for deliverance than for strength to keep faithful unto death.
Kripá Dé knew that a terrible ordeal might be before him—that, once
within the walls of the fort, he might have to suffer what nature shrank
from, and he mistrusted his own power to endure; but the poor lad in his
misery cast himself on a power greater than his own. “O Lord, let me not
deny Thee! let me rather die than deny Thee!” was the converts silent
but fervent supplication. It was at once the cry of fear and the prayer
of faith.

Not all of the excited crowd were permitted to enter the court-yard of
the fort; and of those who pressed in, but few were suffered to pass the
second door, which led to the women’s apartments, which formed the most
private part of the building. To this part Thákar Dás resolved to take
his prisoner, woman’s entreaties, reproaches, and curses being, he
thought, more likely to be effectual in shaking the convert’s resolution
than the threats and even the violence of man.

Kripá Dé, after being rudely pushed up the steep dark stair, had on the
upper platform to face the anger and the insults of the women, as well
as to answer the stern interrogations of the chief of the fort.

“Where have you been since you left us on pretence of making a
pilgrimage?”

“With friends,” replied Kripá Dé, as soon as he was able to speak.

“Friends! beef-eaters! slayers of the sacred cow! Hast thou eaten with
them, vile wretch? Hast thou blackened the faces of thy family, hast
thou disgraced thy dead mother, and cast dust on the grave of thy
father, by eating with the impure?”

Kripá Dé did not deny the charge, and his silence brought on him a
furious volley of abuse from Darobti and the other women, who assailed
the convert with epithets too vile for repetition here. At a pause,
however, Thákar Dás commanded silence by a wave of his hand. The chief
had loved and been proud of the beautiful boy whom his wife had adopted,
and the Hindu had not given up all hope of winning Kripá Dé back to the
faith of his fathers. The path of return is not so much blocked up now
as it was once against the return of those who have forsaken the Hindu
religion.

“Hear me, O son of Shiv Prasád!” exclaimed Thákar Dás. “Thou hast been
bewitched by English sorceries, and hast cast away like a madman the
privileges of thy high birth. But the gods may yet be propitiated and
the Brahmins appeased. The holy waters of the Ganges, the swallowing the
five sacred products of the cow, with large offerings which I will make
for thee at many temples, thine own pilgrimages, fastings, and
ablutions, may yet restore thee to the high position from which thou
hast fallen, if thou swear by the holy gods to abjure the faith of the
Christians.”

“I would rather part with my life than my faith!” cried the young
Kashmiri, his fair cheek flushing and his lip quivering as he made the
reply.

This declaration renewed the pelting of the pitiless storm of abuse and
invectives. Darobti pulled off her slipper, and with it struck the youth
on the face.

“Why do you treat me thus?” exclaimed Kripá Dé. “I have done wrong to no
man, I have injured none, I am of an age to choose my own religion. The
English Sircar [Government] will protect me.”

“You are a child; you are under fourteen,” cried Chand Kor, with the
unblushing effrontery often shown in such cases. “I can swear that ten
years ago thou wert an infant in arms.”

“We can bring a dozen witnesses!” exclaimed Thákar Dás. “We will do so
if the case be brought into court.”

“The Sahib has my janam-patri,” said the young Brahmin.

This renewed the tempest of abuse.

“Has the Sahib your sacred thread also?” almost shrieked out the aunt of
the convert.

Kripá Dé was about to say “No;” for to have given his thread to an eater
of beef would have been in the eyes of the family a crime like parricide
in enormity. But the lad remembered what Robin had said about falsehood;
so he pressed his lips together to keep in the word, and by silence
signified assent. Again Darobti struck him on the face, and Jai Dé spat
at the Brahmin.

About an hour passed thus, a terrible hour, during which Kripá Dé was
the butt of the coarsest abuse. Then Thákar Dás and his few attendants
withdrew from the women’s part of the building, carefully fastening
behind them the door on the upper part of the stair—the door of
communication between the zenana and the lower part of the fort, and the
two courts which have been repeatedly mentioned. The weather being warm,
most of the women then went by an outer stair to the upper terrace,
which was also comprised in their allotted quarters. There, sitting in
the sunshine, the bibis span at their wheels, or prepared vegetables for
the evening meal, which they had not yet begun to cook. Chand Kor alone
remained near Kripá Dé, big tears of mingled anger and sorrow now and
then dropping from her eyes, and such words as these from her
mouth:—“Hac! hac! would that thou hadst died ere thy lips could speak!
would that the destroyer had strangled thee in thy infancy! Thou art
dead now, cut off! Thou art like a dead dog, a crushed worm; thou art
lower than the dust of the earth!”

“O my Lord, Thou didst bear shame and reproach for me!” thought the poor
convert; “shall the disciple not suffer like the Master?”

Hours passed, miserable hours; the heat was oppressive; Kripá Dé’s mouth
was parched with feverish excitement, and he longed intensely to quench
his thirst. The youth moved towards a brass vessel which he knew
contained water, and was about to pour some into his hand, when Chand
Kor, starting up angrily, overturned the vessel and emptied it of its
contents.

“Who would drink anything out of a vessel polluted by thy vile touch?”
she exclaimed.

“O mother, mother! have you no compassion?” exclaimed Kripá Dé,
addressing Chand Kor by that most tender of names, in order to touch her
heart. “Do you mean to let the only child of the sister whom you loved
die of thirst in the midst of abundance?”[8] Kripá knew that the time
for the evening meal had arrived.

Chand Kor looked at her nephew sternly and steadily for some moments,
and then said: “No! Mihtab Kor’s son shall not die of hunger or thirst.
I will send thee food and water, but by the hand of a mitráni [sweeper,
one of very low caste]. Eat, drink, and be doubly defiled!”

“Not by the hand of a mitráni!” exclaimed the Brahmin, as his aunt went
away to mount the stair to the upper gallery, from which a savoury scent
of curry was now proceeding.

“By a mitráni,” repeated Chand Kor, turning round to give a look of
contempt. “Thou art only fit to herd with mihtars.”

The English reader will hardly understand the utter disgust with which
the high-caste Hindu looks down on the mihtar. Forced to make use of his
services—for the mihtar is the scavenger of the house—he is deemed
unclean like the vulture. Food touched by the mihtar would be thrown
away; some Brahmins would rather die than eat it. Kripá Dé had not yet
lost all the prejudices of his caste; like some native Christians even
of some standing in the Church, he shrank with repulsion from any
contact with one of the mihtar class.

Footnote 8:

  It was believed that a convert who _disappeared_ had been quietly
  starved to death in his home.

“But is it Christ-like to despise any human being whom God has made?”
reflected Kripá Dé when left alone. “Did not the Sahib tell me that
Peter was forbidden to call any one common or unclean? Is it not true
that the Lord died for mihtars as well as for Brahmins? It cannot really
pollute me to take water from a mitráni when I am dying of thirst. I
will drink it, and thank God for the draught.”

It seemed to poor Kripá Dé that the longed-for water never would come,
he had to wait so long, whilst eating and drinking were going on above;
and now and then women and girls looked down on the prisoner, and
laughingly asked him if he were ready for food.

The sun had by this time set, and one faint little star after another
appeared in the sky. Then a low-caste woman, as Chand Kor had
threatened, holding in one dirty hand a chapattie (unleavened cake), and
in the other an earthen vessel, came down the outer steps, and without
speaking put down what she had brought, then instantly quitted the spot.
The mitráni was never suffered to sleep in the town, far less in the
fort; but Thákar Dás having shut up the only door of communication with
the lower stair, the sweeper had been thus accidentally detained a kind
of prisoner in a place where she would not be allowed to cook her food,
far less to eat it.

“I could not touch that chapattie—I am too miserable to be hungry,”
thought Kripá Dé; “but, oh, the water! the water!”

The thirsty captive eagerly caught up the earthen vessel, and was about
to drain it, when he caught sight of a face, pale with terror, the eyes
dilated with fear, on the terrace above him, and heard a voice, the
voice of Premi, exclaiming in a loud warning tone, “Do not drink! the
water is poisoned!”

Kripá Dé sprang to his feet, and flung the vessel and its contents over
the low parapet beside him into the court below. He did not doubt for an
instant the truth of the warning; the playmate of his childhood would
never deceive him, and it was only too probable that his family would
prevent the disgrace of his baptism by a deed of secret murder.[9] But
how was Kripá Dé to escape the double danger of dying of thirst or by
poison? The poor youth rushed to the door at the head of the inner
stairs, with a wild hope to find it unfastened, or to break it open by a
desperate effort. Alas! it was fast shut, and its strength defied any
human effort to force it. Only one desperate course remained, and the
convert took it. He sprang over the parapet down into the court—a
formidable leap, which no one had calculated on his attempting. It
seemed to Kripá Dé that it was by miracle that he alighted on the ground
unhurt, but he had not a moment for reflection. In an instant he dashed
into the outer court. He made no attempt to open the door which led out
of the fort; young, active, and desperate, Kripá Dé took a shorter way
of escape by springing over the wall. He knew well that he would be
pursued; he could hear the shrill call of the women on the roof who had
seen his escape, and who gave an instant alarm. From the part of the
building where men were eating and smoking rushed forth fierce pursuers.
But Kripá Dé was fleeing for his life, terror lent him speed, and,
unlike Alicia, the convert knew well the way to the mission bungalow; he
could have reached it blindfold.

Footnote 9:

  The authoress has had personal acquaintance with three natives on whom
  (two of them after recent baptism) such attempts have been made to
  destroy intellect, if not life.

The family in the bungalow, tired out by a day of such unusual
excitement, Robin feverish from his wound, and Alicia from the fatigue
and exposure which she had so lately undergone had resolved to retire
very early to rest. Previous to so doing, they met to unite in evening
devotions.

“We will not forget to pray for our poor Kripá Dé,” said Robin, as he
was about to kneel down. The name was yet on his lips when the convert
himself, pale and panting, rushed into the room and sank down at his
feet.

“Lock the door! bar it! he is sure to be pursued!” exclaimed Mr.
Hartley; and in two seconds Harold had closed the door and locked it.

“Water!” cried the convert faintly. The hand of Alicia quickly supplied
the fugitive’s need.

“They are after me!” cried Kripá Dé, when he had drained the glass.
“They tried to poison me; Premi saved me. I fear that she will have to
pay dear for giving me warning.”

“She will not be long in the enemy’s hands, I trust,” said Harold.

As he spoke, loud angry voices from without and violent shaking of the
door, followed by furious blows, showed that the pursuers had arrived.

“The door is not strong enough to stand much of this!” cried Robin; and
snatching up a stick which was at hand, he looked ready for another
battle with the foe.

Harold went up to the closed door, and his voice rang out in clear
tones, which were heard above the battering and the furious demands for
admittance.

“Back with you all!” he cried.—“Thákar Dás, it is no light matter to
break into an Englishman’s home!”

“Give up Kripá Dé! give up the wretch, the apostate!” yelled the Hindus.
Then a brief lull of silence ensued, that the reply might be heard.

“We will never give him up but with our lives,” said Harold firmly. “If
you think that you have a right to imprison and poison him, bring your
case into court; we expect the commissioner here to-morrow.”

This announcement was startling to the Hindus, who had a wholesome dread
of bringing on themselves the wrath of the Sircar. Thákar Dás and his
followers knew that the two attacks on the dwelling of one of the ruling
race would be likely to expose them to serious consequences, which they
had no wish to meet. Heartily glad were the Hartleys that the letter to
Mr. Thole had been so promptly penned, so quickly despatched.

“Will you not tell them, my Harold,” said Alicia, “that we have proofs
that Premi is of English birth?”

“No!” cried both the brothers almost in a breath; and the elder added:
“If the Hindus knew that this second charge—that of imprisoning our
countrywoman—could be brought against them, poor Premi would be only too
likely to disappear mysteriously before we could claim her.”

“Can the Hindus have gone away?” cried Alicia; “a wonderful stillness
has succeeded to that terrible noise.”

“They are going away like baffled hounds,” said Robin, who was making a
survey.

“We were about to kneel down to pray,” observed Mr. Hartley; “let us do
so now, and join our praises to our prayers. This has been a day of
wonderful mercies.”

Very fervent were the thanksgivings which rose from the missionaries’
home.

After all had risen from their knees, Robin observed, “I will sit up
to-night; these jackals may return for their prey.”

“_You_ sit up, looking like a ghost as you do!” exclaimed Harold. “You
have played your part bravely to-day, old boy, and have left your elder
brother nothing but the office of a chankidar [watchman]. We must all
remain in the house to-night; but to prevent semi-suffocation the doors
must be open. I give you my word that I will not sleep on my post.”

Harold kept his word, watching till morning; but the attack on the
bungalow was not repeated.


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



                              CHAPTER XVII

                           THE COMMISSIONER.


THE bara Sahib had proposed to move on his camp to a distant part of the
district. Mr. Thole’s plans were laid, and he was not a man lightly to
change them. The commissioner’s tents were struck, and put on the backs
of camels; his servants had gone forward in advance with the cooking
utensils—for the great man must have his dinner ready for him on his
arrival at Dhaul. In order to have it ready, chickens would have to be
captured, killed, and cooked, mutton procured, vegetables boiled, curry
prepared, and of course tents pitched for the Sahib’s accommodation.

But plans, however well laid, cannot always be carried out, and troubles
and inconveniences come sometimes even to Commissioner Sahibs.

First appears the dark sais to inform his master that his riding horse
has cast a shoe, and that no one can quickly be found to replace it. The
blacksmith has gone to a wedding.

“If I can’t ride, I can drive,” said the Sahib with a frown. “Order the
buggy [gig] to be got ready at once.”

Accordingly, the buggy-horse is put into harness; but even as John
Gilpin, when on the point of starting, saw “three customers come in” to
detain him, so is the not very patient commissioner detained by three
headmen from three villages, each with a separate petition to make. The
commissioner mutters something not very complimentary to his visitors,
but stands resolutely to listen with as good a grace as he can to
fulsome compliments on his wisdom, justice, and generosity, and then to
expressions of that kind of gratitude which has been well defined as
“expectation of favours to come.” The commissioner is an able man, but
there are two things which he has never quite succeeded in
performing,—to make tedious petitioners study conciseness, and to keep
his own temper under the infliction of their harangues.

At length the three lambardars are dismissed. Mr. Thole gets into his
buggy, and takes the rein into his hand. The pawing horse is on the
point of starting on his journey, when another unforeseen annoyance
occurs. A brown urchin has been pelting with bits of hard mud a large
tree near, to bring down the sour fruit which he sees on its branches.
On that same tree wild bees have been making a kind of nest, larger than
the head of a man. One of the pellets hits the nest, and brings down the
vengeance of its warlike inmates, not on the boy who has disturbed them,
but on the unoffending sais and horse. The air is full of buzzing, and
half-a-dozen bees presume to attack the Commissioner Sahib himself.
Maddened by the pain caused by a hundred stings, the poor horse, with
bees clustering over his nostrils and eyes, rushes forward at speed,
dashes the buggy against the stump of a tree, breaks the harness, and
smashes the wheel.

Such an incident as this may scarcely merit the name of an adventure,
but is fraught, as the writer has seen, with consequences very
unpleasant. The sais, rolling on the ground and yelling, with a black
cap of bees on his head, the horse frantically struggling, the great man
only able to rid himself of his despicable foes by rushing to a small
tank or pond happily at hand, form together a scene of discomfiture and
disaster. At the close of an hour, behold the horse, freed indeed from
his tormentors, but trembling as if with ague; the sais, groaning aloud
in his pain; and the commissioner, with both cheeks swollen to an
unnatural size, and one eye partially closed.

Here comes another man with a paper; making a salám, he presents it to
Mr. Thole.

“Where does this come from?” asks the commissioner with a frown.

“From the Padre Sahib,” is the messenger’s reply.

“Oh! I had enough of these missionaries last evening,” mutters Mr.
Thole; and he is inclined to fling the despatch aside, when the word
“Urgent” on the envelope catches his eye. In no mild mood he tears it
open to glance at the contents, which are written in a clear, even
handwriting, as if to invite perusal. Mr. Thole glances at the signature
at the end, “Robert Hartley,” and sits down on the stump against which
the wheel of his buggy was smashed, to read whilst awaiting the coming
of his riding-horse, for which a smith has at last been found.

Mr. Thole begins to read with that sour expression on his damaged face
which denotes an inclination to dispute or deny whatever may be written
in the paper before him. But, not gradually but almost suddenly, that
expression changes to one of interest, mingled with surprise.

“This _is_ a strange case, a very extraordinary case,” he mutters. “A
locket found in a zenana—a locket the very counterpart of a family
memorial possessed by young Mrs. Hartley, with a legible inscription
too. And part of a child’s sock, marked with initials. This is strong,
decidedly strong corroboration that these rascally natives have really
abducted an English child, Miranda Macfinnis, cousin by the maternal
side of a lady now in Talwandi!” The commissioner rose from his seat;
his national pride was roused. “If this crime can be proved—this offence
against the ruling power—these villanous Hindus shall rue it. The case
must be investigated without delay. Ho! Mir Sahib!” (a servant answers
the call), “send off at once after my servants and tents; call them
back. I must be to-morrow at Talwandi.”

“Talwandi!” exclaims the astonished man.

“I am not accustomed to repeat my orders twice,” is the irritable reply.

It had shown knowledge of the character of the man with whom he had to
deal when Mr. Hartley in his letter had put the case of Premi first; had
he begun with a complaint regarding the violent carrying off of the
Brahmin convert, Mr. Thole would have felt no sympathy, and have put the
case aside for a while, muttering some abuse of missionaries as weak,
meddling, mischievous men. But “What will they say in England?” rose to
Mr. Thole’s mind, to quicken his interest in the romantic story of the
long-lost Miranda. The commissioners indignation was also roused by the
personal attack made on an English youth by the Hindus; he admired the
young man’s courage, while undervaluing the missionary’s zeal.

Talwandi was in a state of great excitement on the following morning
when the news that the Commissioner Sahib had arrived spread like
wild-fire through the town. Thákar Dás naturally connected the great
man’s coming with the attack on the mission bungalow, and the blow
received by Robin Hartley from the hand of one of the chief’s
attendants. Thákar Dás determined utterly to disclaim having had
anything to do with such a breach of the law; he would declare that he
had never approved of violence, that the attack had been made without
his sanction, and even without his knowledge. The Hindu was wily as a
fox; but whilst avoiding the trap, he found himself in an unsuspected
pit.

Numbers of the inhabitants of Talwandi crowded the court, which was held
in a tent. Mr. Hartley and his sons were present, and Kripá Dé in their
midst, the object of fierce, angry invectives from the people, who were
restrained from more violent persecution only by the august presence of
Mr. Thole.

The commissioner opened the sitting in a way utterly unexpected by the
Hindus. It was as if a bomb-shell had fallen amongst them when Mr.
Hartley, coming forward, in a clear voice requested the production in
court of a widow, known by the name of Premi, whom he could prove to be
an Englishwoman, Miranda Macfinnis, detained unlawfully in the fort.

Mr. Thole sternly demanded of the chief, Thákar Dás, whether he knew
anything of such a person.

Thákar Dás was utterly taken aback. At first he stammered forth a flat
denial that such an individual had ever been seen at Talwandi.

“Can any witnesses be produced?” asked the commissioner.

“There are two present,” was Mr. Hartley’s reply: “one, this young
Brahmin, who saw the English child when she was first brought into the
fort, and has had frequent opportunities of conversing with her since;
the other, this lady.” He turned towards Alicia, who with a thick veil
down was standing beside her husband. “Mrs. Hartley has not only seen
the widow more than once, but has heard from her lips a fragment of an
English hymn which could not have been learned from her Hindu
companions.”

“Let this Premi be produced at once,” the commissioner said in a tone of
command.

Then the wily Hindu changed his tactics, showing as little regard for
consistency as he had done for truth. He declared—shedding tears to
confirm his words—that the widow was to him as a daughter; she had been
brought up in purdah; she would die of shame, she would kill herself, if
forced to leave her seclusion.

The commissioner’s only reply to this pathetic appeal was a reiterated
command to produce her. If she were not brought into court, an order to
search the fort would be given.

There were murmurs of anger and looks of indignation amongst the
bystanders, even low threats might be heard; but Mr. Thole was
determined to carry his point, and he did so.

After tedious delay, a form, supported between two old women—for it
seemed almost ready to fall—appeared in the court. The form was so
entirely muffled from head to foot in a large white sheet that its shape
could scarcely be defined. A silence prevailed which was broken by the
commissioner’s voice: “Remove the sheet; the woman must be identified,
or the case cannot proceed.”

Thákar Dás fell on his knees, and flung his turban on the ground in a
passion of distress. Shedding plenteous tears, he exclaimed, “My
daughter! my daughter! she will never survive the shame of being
uncovered before the eyes of strangers. O your highness! O dispenser of
justice! spare me and my house this terrible disgrace.”

The Hartleys felt pity for the humbled chief. Harold stepped forward,
and addressing the commissioner said: “Might it not be sufficient, sir,
for my wife to see and identify this lady?”

“Let Mrs. Hartley ascertain that the person in court, who from her
feebleness appears to be of great age, is really identical with the
young widow in question,” said Mr. Thole.

Alicia approached the drooping figure before her, encountering as she
did so a look of mingled anger and terror from Jai Dé, who was one of
the women acting the part of supporter. Gently the lady drew back a part
of the shrouding sheet, and then started back with an exclamation of
horror. “They have been murdering her!” cried Alicia. The old women,
relaxing their hold, retreated backwards, and the veiled form sank on
the ground.

“Water! bring water!” cried Robin, and he rushed out to procure some.

The sheet was at once and entirely removed from the slight form of the
senseless sufferer. With unutterable indignation the Europeans beheld
the young girl’s bleeding and bruised face, still bearing tokens of
delicate beauty, and the white arms on which the marks of violence
showed how cruelly the fair creature had been treated. Harold, kneeling,
supported poor Premi in his arms, whilst his wife bent over her with all
the tenderness of a sister.

“A European, without the shadow of a doubt!” muttered Mr. Thole with
indignation. “If my poor young countrywoman die, there is some one here
who shall swing for it.”

Perhaps the keenest feeling was shown by Kripá Dé as he gazed on the
ghastly features of the playmate of his childhood and exclaimed, “They
have punished her for saving my life; she is dying for me.”


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



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                             WAITING TIME.


BUT Premi was not dying. She had been severely, mercilessly kicked and
beaten, but no vital part was injured. What she needed was kindness and
care, and that she found in the home of her cousin.

The result of her case, which filled many columns in local papers and
was the sensation of the day in England when the account of it reached
that land, may be summed up here in few words. Premi, or Miranda, as we
may now call her, could never be persuaded to tell at whose hands she
had received her terrible beating. Some feeling, perhaps of delicacy,
perhaps of pity for her old female companions, prevented her from
letting out the secret. From the impossibility of knowing who was the
actual offender, no inmate of the zenana received the due reward of her
barbarous conduct. Alicia suspected Darobti; but neither her name nor
that of any other bibi escaped the lips of Miranda. She seemed to wish
to draw a thick purdah over the past.

Thákar Dás narrowly escaped very severe punishment by being able to
prove that it was not he, but a brother since dead, who had brought
Miranda Macfinnis into the fort. The Hindu declared that he did not know
that she was English; that he had taken her in from motives of pure
compassion; and though few believed his vehement assertions, the
contrary could not be proved. But the chief could not so easily meet the
second charge—that of having directed two attacks on the mission
bungalow, in the first of which an Englishman had been wounded and a
Hindu youth violently carried away. The attempt to poison Kripá Dé
aggravated the offence: though it was not proved that Thákar Dás
actually committed the crime, there was strong suspicion against him. A
very heavy fine was inflicted, with long imprisonment in default of
payment. Thákar Dás was a disgraced and ruined man. Unable otherwise to
pay the heavy penalty imposed, the Hindu had to give up his fort and the
land held for centuries by his forefathers, and, accompanied by the
female portion of his family, quit for ever that part of the country.

Mr. Thole had expressed his opinion that Chand Kor should be compelled
to return to Mrs. Hartley the gold bracelet which she had tried to win
from her by meanly bartering for it a bauble not worth a tenth part of
its value, and not even legally her own. But Harold declined such
reparation in behalf of his wife. “Mrs. Hartley threw the bracelet to
the women of her own free will,” he said, “and, I am sure, would not
desire such restitution.”

“Was I right, darling?” he said to Alicia, after his return from an
interview with Mr. Thole.

“Quite right,” answered his wife. “I would never wish to take back
anything given for the Lord or His work.”

Alicia never knew the fate of that jewel. It was sold ere long with
other valuables to purchase the bare necessaries of life for Chand Kor
and Darobti, who had to pound their own rice and grind their own corn
for themselves.

The evening after the conclusion of the trial, which lasted for some
days, Alicia said joyfully to her husband, “Now one sheaf at least is
gathered home. Premi—I mean Miranda—is our own, quite our own. She has
almost recovered now, and will soon, I think, lose all trace of her
bruises, and look lovelier than ever.”

“You say that Premi is quite our own, my love,” observed Harold; “but
are you her nearest relative? I think that you have more than once
mentioned that she has a brother in England.”

“Oh! Cousin Gilbert, who was at home preparing to go to college in the
Mutiny year, and so escaped the fate of his poor parents.”

“He is then Premi—Miranda’s natural protector and guardian.”

“I should be sorry to trust her to his care,” cried Alicia. “Gilbert is
a gay, thoughtless sort of fellow, and has been lately married to a
foolish fashionable girl. I should be most unwilling to send our rescued
cousin to them. It would not be mercy to her.”

“We must think of justice as well as of mercy, my Alicia. A brother has
a right to be consulted about the future of an orphan sister. The
English mail goes to-day; will you write to your cousin, or would you
wish me to do so?”

Alicia felt and looked disappointed. She had encountered much difficulty
in finding a jewel, and then in drawing it from the dark mine in which
it had been buried; and now, was she contentedly to hand it over to one
who had given nothing, suffered nothing, and who might place no value on
what had cost her so much? It was with rather an ill grace that Alicia
sat down to her desk. Everything seemed to combine to make the task
distasteful. The wood of the desk was warped by the heat, the ink in the
bottle half dried up. Alicia had to throw away one quill pen after
another, and her own heated, languid hand moved wearily over the paper,
which the pankah (for Robin had contrived a pankah in the new house) was
perpetually trying to blow away to the other side of the room. The hot
season was beginning, Alicia’s first hot season, and everything that she
did was done with an effort.

Alicia had other little troubles connected with her newly-found cousin,
troubles which she poured forth to Robin in the evening, when sunset had
brought some slight relief from the heat. The brother and sister were
slowly pacing up and down the veranda, Alicia with rather a melancholy
air.

“Is anything vexing my fair sister?” asked Robin in that cheerful and
kindly tone which invited confidence and usually obtained it.

“I do not like to trouble Harold with all my small perplexities,”
replied Alicia, wearily fanning herself as she spoke.

“First let me relieve you of your fan, and then do you relieve yourself
of your perplexities,” said Robin, taking from Alicia her little
hand-pankah. He swayed it to and fro with an even, measured movement,
far more effectual and soothing than Alicia’s fitful, fluttering shake.

“I thought that it would be so easy to make Premi happy and comfortable
in my Paradise,” said Alicia (the coming of the guest had hastened the
removal to the newly-built house). “I thought that the poor girl would
find kindness and love so delicious after her miserable life in the
fort. But in trying to make her well and happy, I find a difficulty at
every step.”

“You know the definition of a difficulty—‘a thing to be overcome,’”
remarked Robin. “Let us look steadily at yours; perhaps it will vanish
as we look.”

“Of course Premi needs nourishment,” said Alicia; “but it is hard to
know what to give her, especially as the hurt on her hand makes her
unable to cook for herself. We all know that for invalids doctors always
prescribe beef-tea, so I was determined that Premi should have it. With
no small trouble I procured some beef from Chuanwál; I boiled it myself,
for I could not trust Mangal to cook it—he always fails in the soup.”

“Heroic Alicia!” exclaimed Robin; “did you really stand fire in such
weather as this?”

“Cooking certainly was no pleasure,” replied Alicia; “but I managed to
do something, for I was so anxious to give my poor cousin what might
help to make her well soon. I thought that she would enjoy anything
prepared by my hands.”

“And the result?” asked Robin smiling, for he guessed what it was likely
to have been.

“The poor foolish thing rejected my beef-tea almost with horror, as if I
had been offering her boiled toads or snakes, or something equally
disgusting. Premi clenched her teeth tightly, turned away her head, and
would not touch nor even look at my soup.”

“You must remember, sister dear, that poor Premi has been brought up
from childhood to regard beef-eating with utter disgust. She is now free
from Hindu slavery, but the chains of its superstition are hanging on
her still. We must have patience, dear Alicia, and try to remove them so
gently that we shall not gall the poor wrists that have worn them so
long.”

“Another difficulty is about dress,” said Alicia. “Premi—Miranda—came
clad in little better than rags, blood-stained, too, from her terrible
beating. I felt that Miranda should dress like an English lady, as she
really is one by birth. I made the effort of rummaging through one of my
big boxes—everything now is an effort—and selected a parcel of clothes.
I thought that Miranda Macfinnis would look so nice in one of my
neat-fitting costumes.”

Robin playfully inquired how Miranda Macfinnis had appreciated the
costume.

“Not at all,” replied Alicia, smiling notwithstanding her
disappointment. “Miranda made not the slightest attempt to help me to
perform her toilet, though she offered no actual resistance. I had to
dress her as I would have dressed a large doll. I held the sleeve ready,
but the passive arm had to be guided into its place. I had to put every
little hook into its corresponding eye, and after all my trouble saw
that the clothes sat ill on one who had never donned a tight-fitting
garment before. However, I was glad that a tiresome task had been
accomplished, and led Premi—I mean Miranda—in front of my mirror to let
her see the effect.”

“What did she think of her own reflection?”

“Miranda just caught up her own soiled chaddar, and drew it closely
around her—head, blue dress, and all.”

Robin laughed at Alicia’s vain attempt to make her cousin look like an
English lady.

“The worst was when I tried to make my cousin put boots on,” continued
Alicia, unable to resist joining in Robin’s mirthful laugh. “Her feet
are certainly not larger than mine, and I had chosen an easy pair of
boots. But all my persuasions and attempts to draw on the obnoxious
articles ended in a burst of crying and sobbing on Premi’s part, and
something like despair on mine.”

“Why distress the poor girl by compelling her to adopt English dress
when she would look so much more beautiful in her own?” cried Robin.
“Would you compare an ugly stiff hat—I beg your pardon, Alicia—with a
chaddar falling in graceful folds round a slight, youthful form?”

“But suppose that Gilbert should send for his sister,” cried Alicia,
with something between playfulness and impatience, “would you have her
create a sensation by tripping barefoot up a London staircase, or
introduce her to a fashionable sister-in-law wrapped up in a chaddar?”

“Wait till you know what Gilbert decides on, and at least wait till
cooler weather comes, before you inflict the torture of the boot on poor
little feet accustomed to freedom. And as regards chaddars, could you
not contrive to manufacture one out of your odd pieces of muslin?”

“But Miranda will never be able to appear as a lady in England if we let
her continue to dress like a Hindu,” observed Alicia smiling.

“I do not think it likely that she will ever go to England,” said Robin;
“and if she remain at Talwandi, surely it is better that Premi should
remain as a kind of silver link between European and native. She will be
far more useful in mission work if we do not quite separate her in dress
and habits from those whom she once deemed to be her own people.”

“In mission work!” exclaimed Harold, who had just joined his wife and
brother in the veranda. “Robin, do you forget that the poor girl is as
yet not even a Christian?”

“She will be one,” cried Robin the hopeful. “We shall see Premi a
Christian—yes, and a worker. Alicia will rejoice over her sheaf.”

“God grant it!” said Harold fervently. “Were Premi, who is so conversant
with everything regarding Hindu zenanas, to be able to assist my dear
wife in her work there, she would be an untold blessing to us all.
Thákar Dás will be compelled to quit the fort, and I hope to be able to
purchase it. I have been writing by this mail to Clarence, Ida, and
other friends, to collect means for making the purchase.”

“And what would you do with the large building if you had it?” asked
Alicia.

“I should find abundant use for it, my love. There would be space not
only for a boys’ school, a prayer-room, and library, but for a place
where converts might sleep. And—what think you, my Alicia?—might there
not, in the women’s apartments, which are, as you know, in a separate
quarter, be collected little Hindu girls from the town to form a small
school, a little centre of light, to be presided over by my dear wife?”

“With Premi to teach under her!” exclaimed Robin.

“I think this is rather like building in cloudland,” observed Alicia,
but she smiled as she spoke.

“If Premi is to be a teacher, she must be a learner first,” said Robin;
“anyways, Miss Miranda Macfinnis should know how to read.”

“I will begin to teach her to-morrow,” said Alicia.

The task proved harder than that of persuading Miranda to adopt English
costume. Robin made an alphabet in large Roman letters, to master which
was to be Miss Macfinnis’s first step on the ladder of learning.

“I will teach her four or five letters each day,” Alicia had remarked,
“and the alphabet will be mastered in a week.”

But a week passed, and all the young teacher’s efforts had not enabled
her pupil to see clearly the difference between an A and an O.

“Miranda is dreadfully dull at learning, though quick at everything
else,” sighed Alicia, when confiding her new trouble to Robin. “She, an
English-born woman nearly sixteen years old, will not master the English
alphabet.”

“Why not try the Gurmuki?”[10] suggested Robin; “it will be easier for
one who knows no language but Panjabi to learn the familiar sounds.”

Footnote 10:

  Gurmuki is the character in which Panjabi is usually written.

“I do not know the Gurmuki alphabet myself,” observed Alicia, with a
slight shrug of her shoulders.

“Oh! I’ll teach you both, if you will be my pupils,” cried Robin. “Kripá
Dé would have taught you better, no doubt; but as we’ve sent him off to
Lahore for safety and further education, you must accept me as a master
in default of a better. Premi is too shy of Harold to learn from him.”

It was true that Premi was less painfully bashful with Robin than with
either his father or brother. Mr. Hartley was to her the buzurg
(elder)—reverenced but feared; Harold was the Padre Sahib, in whose
presence the shy young creature always drew her chaddar over her face;
but Robin was a privileged person with Premi as with every one else. She
knew that he, like herself, had risked life to save Kripá Dé; she looked
on him as her old playmate’s bhai, or brother, and even spoke of him by
that name. Robin once laughingly observed that Miss Miranda Macfinnis
did not regard him as one of the lords of creation at all, but as a big,
good-natured, shaggy dog, whom she did not expect to bite her.

So, under his tuition, Gurmuki lessons were begun, and Alicia was
surprised to find that Premi learned more rapidly than herself, and with
keener enjoyment.

“Does Miranda know her own early history? is she aware that she has
relations in England?” Harold inquired one day of his wife.

“She does not know much. You see, dearest, that I am scarcely strong
enough yet in Urdu to tell a long, complicated story.”

“Robin had better tell her. Miranda does not seem shy with him,”
observed Harold.

So, on the following morning, before lessons were begun, Robin gave
Miranda a short, clear account of those early days of her life which had
left no impression on memory. Miranda listened as she might have done to
the story of what had happened to some one else many years ago. It was
to her a thing of the past.

“But all this has to do with the present too,” observed Robin. “Do you
know, Premi, that you have a white brother in England?”

“And a white sister too,” added Alicia, “the wife of that brother.”

There was a soft pleading look of love in Miranda’s dark eyes as she
drew Alicia’s hand to her own bosom, then pressed it to her own lips,
and murmured, “Premi wants no sister but you.”

“But you have a brother,” said Robin: “his name is Gilbert Macfinnis; he
is your nearest relation. He may wish to have you beside him in
England.”

“Across the black sea!” exclaimed Miranda, and such a look of terror
passed over her fair young face that in pity the conversation was
changed.

That it was not forgotten appeared by the thoughtful, mournful
expression which Miranda now often wore, and the anxious look with which
she watched the opening of any letters. But never in conversation did
Miranda allude to her white brother. As for his name, it was to her as
yet unpronounceable, and more difficult to remember than the English
alphabet. The young girl secretly regarded Robin as her white brother,
and she had no wish for any beside.

Alicia’s greatest anxiety regarding her young cousin was in matters more
important than her style of dress, education, or family relations.
Harold’s wife, when once Miranda was safe under her roof, had calculated
on her conversion to Christianity as a sure and probably an easy thing
to be accomplished. Separated from all heathen influences, placed under
the daily instruction of devoted and gifted spiritual pastors,
constantly with a friend like herself whose kindness the orphan repaid
with clinging affection, how could Miranda fail to become a Christian?
The once oppressed widow could not but see the difference between a
religion of love and one of fear, the difference between loyalty to a
Saviour and dread of a demon, between freedom and bondage, darkness and
light. But those who, like the elder Hartley, have laboured long amongst
those who have been from childhood brought up in superstition and error,
know how strangely, it seems unaccountably, the heart clings to its
idols. Spiritual work is not like a sum in arithmetic—given so much
time, so much labour, so much prayer, and then a certain visible result.
We must toil and pray and seek to persuade, but the work of grace is,
like life which is its symbol, something beyond the ken and the wisdom
of man. In missionary work we must reverently accept, as if addressed to
ourselves, the Saviour’s answer to His apostles, “It is not for you to
know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own
power.” We can see, even with our half-blind eyes, reasons why this
should be. Our insufficiency to do anything of ourselves throws us on
the power of Him who is all-sufficient. We are humbled, God is exalted.
We can but remove the swaddling bands from the spiritually dead; the
voice of Omnipotence alone can say, “Come forth from the tomb!” We
preach as it were to dry bones; the Spirit of God must breathe on them,
or they will never revive and stand up. It is grace that opened our
lips; it is grace that must wing our words, or they will fall short of
the mark.

It was with such reflections that Harold tried to cheer his young wife,
when with tears she spoke of the deadness of Miranda’s soul. “She drops
asleep even when father is preaching in the native tongue. She only, I
fear, listens to the Bible in order to please me. Miranda loves me,
tenderly loves, but it seems as if she would not love the Saviour.”

“Patience, my love,” said Harold. “Remember the words, ‘Behold the
husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long
patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.’ That
blessed rain may be coming now, like the little cloud no bigger than the
hand of a man which was seen rising above the sea, in answer to the
prayer of Elijah.”

Robin, laying his hand on Alicia’s, quoted, not quite correctly,
favourite lines,—


          “Fret not for sheaves, but holy patience keep;
             Wait for the early and the latter rain;
           For all that faith hath scattered, love shall reap.
           _Gladness is sown_; the Lord may let thee weep,
             But know no tear of thine is shed in vain.”


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



                              CHAPTER XIX

                           THE WHITE BROTHER.


THE heat continued to increase; to Alicia it seemed to be terrific. The
accommodation in the two bungalows was small. Mr. Hartley and his
daughter-in-law had repeated attacks of fever, though not of an alarming
nature. Miranda was the most gentle and loving of nurses, and became
increasingly dear in the mission circle. “If Gilbert send for his
sister, I know not how we shall bear to part with her,” said Alicia.
“Miranda is opening out like a flower, and such a lovely sweet one!”

Robin Hartley was by far the merriest of the circle, and during the
trying season helped to keep every one’s spirits alive. He was naturally
of a joyous nature, and he had now found a new fountain of pleasure.
Little cared Robin for the heat, even when it shut him up in his little
room in semi-darkness with the musquitoes, for he had his pen and paper
with him. Robin had taken to composing, and found great delight in the
occupation. No one knew whether he was writing a Panjabi vocabulary, a
journal, or an epic poem; Robin kept his own secret, like a child bent
on giving some one a surprise. He himself carried a thick roll of paper
to the post, and he watched as eagerly for a reply as did Alicia for an
answer to her letter to her cousin Gilbert.

The looked-for mail-day arrived. Harold brought in to his wife three
letters bearing the English post-mark. Alicia singled out the one which
was _not_ in a familiar hand; these sprawling characters she guessed to
be traced by her cousin, from whom she had never before had a letter.
Miranda—seated on the ground, her favourite position still, though she
had always a chair at meals—watched with anxiety in her fine dark eyes
the face of her cousin. She seemed to know, as by instinct, that the
letter which Alicia was perusing related to her own fate. The letter,
which was read aloud, ran as follows:—

    “MY DEAR COZ,—I am sure that you have shown wonderful ingenuity
    in ferreting out this sister of mine. I was never so astonished
    in my life as when I found that I had one. The whole story is
    like a sensation novel or a transformation scene in a pantomime.
    But when the novel is closed, or the curtain falls on Columbine,
    the whole thing is over, and nothing remains to be done. This
    affair of Miranda is a different and much more difficult matter.
    You ask me if I wish to have my sister home to be educated in
    England; you give me to understand that she is a kind of raw
    material (silk in the cocoon, I suppose) which her friends are
    to work up into satin. The girl can’t read, write, or spell,
    cannot yet use a knife and fork, does not know a word of
    English, and prefers squatting on the floor to lolling on a sofa
    like a lady! What on earth could I do with such a heathenish
    sister?”

“I should like to punch that fellows head!” exclaimed Robin, his eyes
flashing with indignation. “He may have a head to be punched, but he
certainly has not a heart.”

Miranda looked at her angry bhai with alarm. “There must be something
very dreadful indeed in that letter,” thought the poor girl. “I am
afraid that I have a cruel white brother in England.”

“Let’s hear the rest of the letter,” said Harold; and Alicia resumed her
reading:—

“I could not introduce to my wife and her acquaintance a girl—a _widow_,
you say—who might startle us by plunging her hand into a fricassee, or
whooping like a Red Indian.”

“What does the fellow mean by that?” fiercely interrupted Robin.

“Oh, I suppose that Gilbert classes all sorts of Indians together,”
laughed Alicia: “he was always a thoughtless boy. I daresay that he
thinks that our Premi wears a coronet of feathers, and perhaps a chaplet
of human teeth.” Again the lady read on,—

“Then if any respectable school would admit this wild widow, there are
no funds to support her there. Government has agreed to do something in
consideration of what was lost in the Mutiny; but what is fifteen pounds
per annum in England? hardly enough to pay a dancing-master’s fees. No,
no; the wild widow had far better keep where she is. Perhaps you could
find another black husband to suit her.”

Robin struck his clenched fist on the table with such violence that he
threw over a tumbler, and smashed a plate, and filled Miranda’s young
heart with vague apprehensions.

“Oh, have pity on my crockery, Robin!” exclaimed Alicia; “I cannot
replace it here.”

“I am very sorry that I have done mischief,” said Robin, as he picked up
the broken pieces. “It is not your fault that you have such a cousin,
nor Miranda’s that she has such a brother.”

The sound of the name which she had been taught to recognize as her own
increased the uneasiness of poor Premi. The letter which had made her
bhai so very angry certainly related to herself. A vague fear that
suttees might be thought the correct thing in England, and that her
white brother might wish to burn her alive, flitted across the poor
girl’s mind; however, she was somewhat reassured by the smile on the
lips of Alicia.

“It seems as if we should never get to the end of this letter,” said
Harold, taking the paper from the hand of his wife. “Where were we—oh,
here;” and he went on with the reading aloud:—

“Or you might make a missionary of her, perhaps. I leave all
arrangements to you; I am sure that the best will be made for the poor
little waif by you and your husband.”

“He wants to wash his hands of the care of his own, his only sister,”
muttered Robin. “This Gilbert is unworthy of the name of a brother!”

Alicia caught sight of the look of anxious, almost agonizing inquiry in
the eyes of Miranda, and hastened to relieve her at once.

“We have heard from your brother in England,” she said in reply to the
mute appeal.

Miranda flushed and visibly trembled; her lips moved, but uttered no
sound.

“Your white brother wishes you to remain with us in India.”

Miranda sprang to her feet with a cry of delight, then sank sobbing into
the arms of Alicia, clinging to her as a frightened child might have
done. “Then He _did_ hear me!” was her almost inaudible exclamation.

“Who heard you, dear Miranda?” asked Alicia.

“God,” was the reverently murmured reply. “I did ask Him, I did beseech
Him to save me from being sent away from Talwandi.”

This was the first indication which Miranda had given of understanding
the nature of prayer.

“Then you are willing to stay with us, dear one?” said Alicia.

Miranda’s reply was a fervent, passionate embrace; then, ashamed of
having given such outward expression to her joy in the presence of men,
Miranda retreated hastily into the adjoining dwelling.


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



                               CHAPTER XX

                           THE WELCOME RAIN.


FIERY June had run more than half its course when it came, the
longed-for, the prayed-for blessing, the copious welcome rain. The
heavens were overshadowed with clouds, veiling completely the dreaded
sun. The sound of the heavy, ceaseless downpour was to the almost
exhausted dwellers in the plains sweeter than music. It was delightful
to watch the brown water streaming from each spout above, rushing along
each gutter below. It was pleasant to see the earth first dotted over
with big drops, then transformed into pools covered with dancing
bubbles, while frogs croaked their monotonous song of joy, and a
delicious coolness pervaded the air, which had been like the breath of
an oven. “The rain! the blessed rain! God be thanked for the rain!” was
the exclamation intuitively uttered.

Robin came out into the veranda of “Paradise” to enjoy the scent of the
wet earth, the sight of Nature reviving under the heavy rainfall, and
the sound of plashing water. Miranda was there; she had come for the
same purpose. The air had slightly blown back the chaddar of the fair
girl, and with the rose-tint which the comparative coolness had brought
to her cheek, and the brightness which pleasure gave to her eyes,
Miranda looked beautiful in the mellowed light from a cloudy sky. The
young girl did not retreat when Robin appeared; she was not shy with her
bhai and tutor, for during Alicia’s attacks of fever Robin had adopted
her pupil. Miranda had under his tuition made great progress, being
eager to surprise her beloved sister with her acquirements in English as
well as Gurmuki. She could even put short English words together, and
read Panjabi with fluent ease.

The conversion of his fair pupil was the daily subject of Robin’s
prayers, as of those of the other missionaries of Talwandi. As the youth
looked now on Miranda’s lovely form and face, his whole heart rose in
fervent supplication for her who had been so wonderfully brought to
share Alicia’s home. Robin then, advancing towards Miranda, said, “What
are you looking at, my little sister?”

“The rain—the good rain. See how the thirsty ground is drinking it in!”

“Who sends the good rain, little sister?”

Miranda folded her hands and looked upwards.

“Should we not thank God for the rain?” asked Robin.

“All thank God—trees, birds, earth,” was the reply.

“But we have more reason to thank God than have the trees, the birds,
and the earth. Do you not remember what you have heard so often about
the best, the greatest of gifts?”

Miranda looked down and did not reply.

Robin suddenly changed the conversation, while keeping the one point at
which he was aiming in view.

“Miranda, I heard from your Kashmiri bhai yesterday.” A slight smile
came to the girl’s lips, and she raised her head to listen. “Kripá Dé
asked me to tell his sister that he never forgets that she saved his
life by her timely warning.”

“Premi is glad,” said Miranda softly.

“When you called out to Kripá Dé not to drink from the poisoned cup, did
you think that your giving such a warning would bring you into trouble
and danger?”

“I thought that I should be beaten, and I was so,” Miranda replied.

“You did a brave and kind action,” said Robin, “and I am sure that Kripá
Dé is not ungrateful.” Miranda blushed like a rose at the praise. “But
suppose,” continued Robin, “that you could only have saved your bhai by
drinking the poison yourself, Miranda, would you have drunk it?”

A strange expression flitted over the lovely face. Miranda did not reply
at once; then she said, in a hesitating tone, avoiding meeting the
questioner’s gaze, “I think that I should have drunk it.”

“And you would in dying have expected, and justly expected, to be ever
gratefully remembered by him for whom you had sacrificed life?”

Miranda slightly inclined her graceful head in assent.

“And yet how coldly you seem to regard the greatest sacrifice that ever
was made! Many who thank God for rain, which descends at His simple
command, never thank Him for the unspeakably greater gift of His only
Son. There are those who read, or hear without interest, without love,
that Christ tasted death for every man. Do you understand what that
means?”

“I suppose that it was like drinking poison,” said the girl.

“Yes, like drinking poison, the deadliest poison, for every believer. I
should think that for each individual there was a separate pang to be
borne. I believe that when Christ hung on the cross He was drinking the
deadly cup instead of me, instead of you, till the whole terrible
draught of poison was finished, the cup drained of the last deadly
drop.”

“And I have never loved Him, never thanked Him,” murmured Miranda, the
soft tears rising to her eyes.

“Do you love Him, do you thank Him now?” exclaimed Robin.

The brimming eyes overflowed; Miranda covered her face with both her
hands, and Robin, with delight, caught the whispered words, “I do! I
do!”

Oh, blessed rain that comes at last! Thank God for the blessed rain—that
which maketh the heart to blossom and bud, that which brings life to the
dead in sin! Thank God for the rain which drops from heaven—the dew of
His Holy Spirit!

Robin was too full of joyful hopes not to hurry into “Paradise” to let
Alicia share them. Harold’s young wife was still a prisoner to her sofa
after an attack of fever, but she was rejoicing, like every one else, in
the beginning of the season of rain.

“Robin, is not this change delightful?” said Alicia.

“Most delightful!” echoed her brother; but he was not thinking of the
weather.

Robin was beginning to tell his deeply-sympathizing listener of the
impression which at last had been made on the heart of Miranda, when
Harold entered, with a packet of letters in his hand which he had just
taken from the dripping postman.

“Two English letters for me, one Indian one for my wife, and a
registered despatch for you, Robin,” said Harold, distributing his
little budget. “The postman is waiting in the veranda for your signature
to the paper.”

Robin sprang forward, in his eagerness almost snatched the letter from
the hand of his brother, and was out of the room in a moment.

“A registered letter is a novelty to Robin,” observed Alicia, smiling,
as she broke open the envelope in her hand; “I never knew him to receive
one before.”

“Nor dart away in such a hurry when the English mail was about to be
opened,” said Harold. “This is Clarence’s handwriting, this Ida’s neat
little hand; their letters will be interesting, as telling us what
success they have had in collecting money for the purchase of the fort.”

Harold and Alicia were engaged in reading their letters, when Robin
returned to the room, his face radiant with pleasure.

“I hope, Robin, that your despatch has been as cheering as ours,” said
Harold.

“First, let me tell you of mine,” cried Alicia. “Here’s a cheque for
fifty rupees for our work; you will never guess who sent it.”

“Tell me; I am in no mood for riddles,” said Robin gaily.

“Would you think it? the cheque is from Mr. Thole, with a nice little
note besides.”

“And so much money has been collected by friends in England,” said
Harold, “that we have almost enough to purchase the fort; only about a
hundred rupees are wanting.”

“Then take the fort at once, and plant on it the red-cross banner,”
cried Robin gaily: “here is the powder and shot which is lacking,” and
with the joyousness of a boy he tossed to Harold a currency note for a
hundred rupees.

So Robin’s secret was out. He had entered the literary arena, and with a
success that surprised himself.

“I did but write a simple account of our adventures in Arabia,” said he,
in reply to a question from Harold. “I thought that when it was too hot
to dig in the garden, go out to shoot a pheasant, or come home to cook
it, I might earn a trifle by my pen. I am astonished to receive a
hundred rupees, and mightily pleased by the publisher’s note: ‘We shall
be glad to have further contributions from R. H.’”

“And do you wish to give the whole of this to the mission?” asked
Harold, glancing at the currency note which he held in his hand.

“Of course,” replied Robin simply; “the first-fruits are always the
Lord’s.”


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



                              CHAPTER XXI

                           A LETTER FOR HOME.


WE will now pass over a considerable space of time, and look over
Alicia’s shoulder as, on the third anniversary of her wedding-day, she
is penning a letter to her sister.

“I can hardly believe, dear Lizzie, that I have really been three years
married, though that darling, golden-haired Robin, who is trying at this
moment to climb upon my knee, serves as a charming reminder. He is
like—oh, so like!—his father, only his merry laugh is Robin’s.

“You ask how the work in the fort goes on. Just to our heart’s desire.
We are full of gratitude to Him from whom all goodness flows. The best
room in the fort has been fitted up as a church; we have service there
every day, and thrice on Sundays. A grand gift for our wedding-day has
arrived—a harmonium, on which I shall play the hymns. There is a nice
room for the boys’ school, with a large veranda in which the brown
urchins squat at their lessons. To enter that school is like going near
a hive of bees, there is such a humming of voices.

“We—Miranda and I—have a nice girls’ school of our own in quite a
different part of the fort. It is in that very gallery where I first saw
poor Premi pounding away at the rice. I can scarcely recognize that
unhappy young Hindu widow in the tall, graceful, beautiful Christian
lady who is to me as the sweetest of sisters. You write, ‘I suppose that
Miss Macfinnis has quite cast off all her old Hindu ways, and is quite
the English demoiselle now?’ No, not exactly. Miranda is not, I think
never will be, just like one who has always trodden a drawing-room
carpet; she is more like Shakespeare’s Miranda—a beautiful blossom
reared under Indian skies, not in a conservatory at home. Miranda always
by preference wears the chaddar when she is engaged in the mission work
which she loves, but when we are at home her luxuriant hair is braided
just like my own. She reads and converses well in English, but with a
slight accent which to our ears makes her language more sweet. We all
love her dearly, and her native pupils are ready to kiss her feet.
Miranda’s influence over them is much greater than mine.

“We had an absurd little scene a few days ago; I laugh at the
recollection. The bara Sahib, Mr. Thole, paid us a visit. I suspect that
his curiosity drew him here, for he had never seen Premi since that
strange day when, shrinking and trembling, bruised and bleeding, a poor
oppressed Hindu widow was brought before the commissioner, whose verdict
would decide her fate. Miranda entered our sitting-room without knowing
that a guest was there; her chaddar was off, her hands filled with
flowers from the garden which Robin has made. She looked herself like a
rose. The commissioner rose, with his stiff, formal politeness, and
said, ‘This is, I presume, Miss Miranda Macfinnis.’ Miranda started like
a frightened fawn, dropped her flowers, and vanished out of the room. I
could scarcely keep my countenance when I apologized for my young
cousin’s unintentional rudeness. ‘A little jungly,’ said Mr. Thole, with
a condescending smile. ‘You should send her to a school in the hills.’

“I must add that poor Miranda was very penitent for having treated the
commissioner thus. ‘I was so startled,’ she said; ‘the unexpected sight
of Mr. Thole called back such strange and terrible recollections. But I
should have rather thanked him on my knees for what he did; he was one
means of delivering me from bondage to freedom, of changing ignorance
and misery to this light and love and joy.’

“Miranda used at first to be a little afraid of Harold’s father; but
that feeling has long since passed away, and she looks upon him with the
deepest reverence, something, I fancy, resembling that with which the
Panjabis regard their gurus (religious teachers). She would, I am
certain, think it a privilege to wash his feet. Our father’s health is
now so much broken that he cannot itinerate at all, and we often fear
that his day is drawing near to its close. But what a calm, peaceful,
glorious sunset is his! I always think of him when I look at the picture
which hangs on our wall, representing a weary reaper falling asleep with
his head resting on one of the golden sheaves around him. The rich warm
light is falling on his face, so full of peaceful repose. Death to our
father will be but sinking to sleep.


                  ‘Oh, how calm will that rest appear!
                    Oh, how sweet will the waking be!’


But I do not like to anticipate losing one so dear, so I will turn to
another subject.

“I have often told you of Robin, the brother of my loved Harold, and his
unfailing fund of good-humour and fun. During the last few months Robin
has greatly altered: he is no longer the merry, boyish youth, but seems,
almost suddenly, to have developed into the thoughtful man. Perhaps this
comes of his having become a now well-known author, whose brain must be
ever at work, as well as an evangelist, teacher, and general aid in the
mission. My brother often sits dreamily, and scarcely hears a question
when it is put to him; sometimes the colour suddenly flushes his cheek
without any visible cause. Perhaps Robin overworks; sometimes I
fancy—Oh, what a blot! Mischievous baby has upset my ink. I shall have
to punish the little rogue by—putting down my pen and having a romp.”


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



                              CHAPTER XXII

                         YOKED TWAIN AND TWAIN.


ABOUT an hour afterwards, when baby had been made over to his
grandfather’s care, to give his mother leisure to prepare for her
wedding-day feast, Robin came in from village preaching. He had a very
preoccupied look, as if he were looking either far back into the past or
far forward into the future, and had no eyes for anything near him.

“What are you dreaming of, Robin?” exclaimed Alicia gaily. “You must not
put your bag of books on the top of my dough.”

“I beg pardon,” said Robin in an absent manner, and he took a seat
beside his sister.

Alicia went on with her kneading, and rather wondered that Robin,
usually so obliging, made no offer to help her.

“Are you composing a poem in honour of the day?” asked Alicia; “or is
marriage, after three years, too prosaic a subject?”

“It may be a life-long poem,” replied Robin.

“I suppose that I might take that for a compliment,” said Alicia,
smiling, “but for the qualifying _may_. Now tell me the truth, Robin:
did you not think three years ago that there was more of poetry than of
wisdom in Harold’s engagement—in short, that he had made a little
mistake?”

Robin smiled. “I am not bound to confess what I thought,” he replied.

“Silence often tells as much as speech. You did not think that Harold
had made a little, but perhaps a _great_ mistake,” suggested Alicia.

“Sister dear, I own that you looked to me too fine—too much of a
delicate drawing-room belle to be suited for a mission Mem,” was the
candid reply; “but I only proved myself to be—a donkey.”

“No, Robin; you were perfectly right,” said Alicia frankly. “My Harold
_did_ run a great risk, and _I_ showed—well—presumption. I was far too
ignorant, too weak, too self-willed, for a missionary’s wife. Had I
always remained as I was when my Harold put this gold ring on my finger,
I should have been utterly unfit for my position; I should have been a
clog instead of a help. But I hope that I have learned something from
our father’s wisdom, your plain speaking, and my dear husband’s patient
love; I have also learned something from seeing my own mistakes.”

“Most of all from the Book which is our guide in every stage of our
lives,” said Robin.

“But I am still a long way from being a good mission Mem,” said Alicia.
“I have now a much higher standard than was mine three years ago, and I
feel how very far I fall short of it. Miranda, who was then a poor,
ignorant heathen, makes now a better worker than I do.”

“But do we not owe Miranda to _you_?” cried Robin, in his old impetuous
manner. “You pitied her, you rescued her, you brought her amongst us,
you have taught her all that she knows.”

“No, Robin; the most precious knowledge of all was, by God’s grace,
imparted through you.”

Robin’s eyes glistened with inexpressible joy. He thought, but his lips
were silent, that such a privilege might well repay the toil of a
lifetime.

Alicia, who had paused a little in her occupation, now resumed it with
redoubled energy. She had not looked so fair in Robin’s eyes in her
wedding-dress of white satin as she did now in her simple pink print,
with her sleeves tucked up and her slender hands all whitened with
flour. Robin watched his sister as she mixed and stirred and kneaded.

“Harold is very happy,” he said at last in a dreamy tone. “There is no
doubt that ‘two pull together, when yoked twain and twain,’ far better
than a solitary worker.”

“That line was written for mission maidens,” observed Alicia; “they are
usually placed two and two in their stations.”

“Not only for mission maidens,” said Robin; “surely it holds good with
mission couples. What a helper you are to Harold! You cheer him in
trouble, you share his joys, you work amongst the wives and daughters of
those whose worst hindrances are in their homes. You break away the
thorns that would wound your husband, you strengthen his hands in the
Lord, you sharpen his weapons for fight. You make Harold realize the
truth of that word from Scripture—_A prudent wife is a gift from the
Lord_.”

“May you also prove its truth one day, dear Robin,” said Alicia, with a
smile of gratification.

Robin flushed till his very brow was suffused with crimson. Had his
sister guessed the secret which he thought that he had so carefully
concealed from all?

“Alicia, I can speak on one subject more freely to you than I can even
to Harold,” said Robin with an effort. “You know that I can earn
something now—enough, more than enough, for two with simple tastes, who
live out of the world as we do, who care not for earthly show, who ask
but for daily food and raiment, and a humble place in God’s vineyard. Do
you think, dare I hope, that I could make Miranda happy?”

“You had better ask that question of herself,” said Alicia, smiling. “I
see that the kahars are setting down her doli in the veranda. Suppose
that you help her out, and leave me undisturbed to finish my wedding-day
cake.”

Robin went readily enough; and yet his heart beat faster than it ever
had done in a moment of danger, and he experienced more of fear. He felt
as if all his earthly happiness were staked on the issue of one brief
interview with one around whom every fibre of his loving heart was
twined. We will not record the conversation which passed in the veranda
of “Paradise.” Before it was ended, Mr. Hartley and Harold, with baby
Robin perched on his father’s shoulder, had come through the connecting
doorway which had been made between the bungalows, and joined Alicia,
who had just completed her cake.

“Where is our good brother?” asked Harold. “Is he at his composition at
this holiday time?”

“Robin is beginning his life-poem, I think,” observed the smiling
Alicia, glancing towards the veranda.

The words were yet on her lips when Robin, his face beaming with
happiness, came in, leading one who was indeed to him _a gift from the
Lord_.

And here we leave the Hartleys, rich in the joy which is multiplied
tenfold by having God’s blessing upon it.

Robin’s playful words came true: he _did_ marry a bride who went to
church in good strong boots instead of in satin slippers. Miranda proved
a good and loving wife, an active, devoted worker for God. Mr. Hartley
was a shrewd observer and a clever judge, but he never was able to
decide the question which often presented itself to his mind: which was
the better daughter, worker, and wife—the young convert from heathen
darkness, or her fair sister,


                            HAROLD’S BRIDE.


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



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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