W. A. FRASER
THE STORY tells of the subtle machinations of Nana Sahib, English-trained prince of India, against the English in India, of Colonel Hodson, Britain’s representative in the troubled state, whos loyalty was divided between the English Raj, and hii coldly imperious daughter Elizabeth. It tells also of Captain Barlow, courageous, emotional, resourceful, and of Boolea, the exquisite native girl, whose love for Barlow led her to desert her fellow countryman, Ajeet Singh, to save his life, and brought her to his apartments to tell of further dangers, and more far-reaching schemes. And the story goes on —
CAPTAIN BARLOW read to Ajeet the pardon, which was the form adopted by the British government to be issued to certain thugs and decoits who became spies, called approvers, for the British.
“You, Ajeet Singh, are promised exemption from the punishment of death and transportation beyond seas for all past offences, and such reasonable indulgence as your service may seem to merit, and may be compatible with your safe custody on condition:—1st, that you make full confession of all the decoities in which you have been engaged; 2nd, that you mention truly the names of all your associates in these crimes, and assist to the utmost of your power in their arrest and conviction. If you act contrary to these conditions—conceal any of the circumstances of the decoities in which you have been engaged— screen any of your friends—attempt to escape—or accuse any innocent person—you shall be considered to have forfeited thereby all claims to such exemption and indulgence.”
BARLOW had waited until the decoit would have gone before showing the papers that were in his pocket because it was an advantage that the enemy
should think them lost. He was checked now as he put a hand in his pocket to produce them by the entrance of Elizabeth, and he fancied there was a sneer on her thin
When the Captain had finished interpreting this the Resident passed it to the decoit, saying: “This will protect you from the British. You are now bound to the British; and I want you to bring me any papers that may have been found upon the two soldiers. Bring here this woman, the Gulab, if you can find her. Go now.” When Ajeet, with a deep salaam, had gone from the room Hodson threw himself back in his chair wearily and sighed. Then he said: “A woman! the jamadar was lying—all that stuff about Nana Sahib. There’s been some deviltry;!they’ve used this woman to trap the messengers; that’s India. It’s the papers they were after; they must, have known they were coming; and they’ve hidden the woman. We’ve got to lay hands upon her, Captain — she’s the key-note.”
“Father,” she said, as she leaned against the desk, one hand on its teak-wood top, “I’ve been listening to the handsome leader of thieves; I couldn’t help hearing him. I fancy that Captain Barlow could tell you just where this woman, the Gulab, who is as beautiful as the moon,
is. I’m süre he could bring her here—if he would."
The Captain’s fingers unclasped from the papers in his pocket, and now were beating a tattoo on his knee.
“Elizabeth!” the father gasped, “do you know what you are saying?” His cold gray eyes were wide with astonishment. “Did you hear all of Ajeet Singh’s story?”
“Yes, all of it.”
“It’s your friend, Nana Sahib, whom you treat as if he were an Englishman and to be trusted, that knows where this woman is, Elizabeth.”
A cynical laugh issued from the girl’s lips that were so like her father’s in their unsympathetic contour: “Yes, one may trust men, but a woman’s eyes are given her to prevent disaster from this trust which is so natural to the deceivable sex.”
“Elizabeth! you do not know what you are saying— what the inference would be.”
“Ask Captain Barlow if he doesn’t know all about the Gulab’s movements.”
The Resident pushed irritably some papers on his desk, and turning in his chair, asked. “Can you explain this, Captain—what it is all about?”
There were ripples of low temperature chilling the base of Barlow’s skull. “I can’t explain it—it’s beyond me,” he answered doggedly.
The girl turned upon him with ferocity. “Don’t lie, Captain Barlow; a British officer does not lie to his superior.”
“Hush, Beth,” the father pleaded.
“Don’t you know, Captain Barlow,” the girl demanded, “that this woman, the Gulab, is one who uses her beauty to betray men, even Sahibs?”
“No, I don’t know that, Miss Hodson. I saw her dance at Nana Sahib’s and I’ve heard Ajeet’s statement. I don’t know anything evil of the girl, and I don’t believe
“A man’s sense of honour where a woman is concerned —lie to protect her. I have no illusions about the Sahibs in India,” she continued, in a tone that was devilish in its
cynicism, “but I did think that a British officer would put his duty to his King above the shielding of a naulch girl.”
“Elizabeth!” Hodson rose and put a hand upon the girl’s arm; “do you realise that you are doing a dreadful thing—that you are impeaching Captain Barlow’s honour as a soldier?”
Barlow’s face was white, and Hodson was trembling, but the girl stood, a merciless, cold triumph in her face: “I do realise that, father. For the girl I care nothing, nor for Captain Barlow’s intrigue with such, but I am the daughter of the man who represents the British Raj here.”
Barlow, knowing the full deviltry of this high protestation, knowing that Elizabeth, imperious, dominating, cold-blooded, was knifing a supposed rival—a rival not in love, for he fancied Elizabeth was incapable of love— felt a surge of indignation.
“For God’s sake, Elizabeth, what impossible thing has led you to believe that Captain Barlow has anything to do with this girl?” the father asked.
“I’ll tell you; the matter is too grave for me to remain silent. This morning I rode early—earlier than usual, for I wanted to pick up the Captain before he had started. As I turned my mount in to his compound, I saw, coming from the back of the bungalow, this native woman, and she was being taken away by his chowkidar. She had just come out some back door of the bungalow, for from the drive I could see the open space that lay open between the bungalow and the servants’ quarters.”
Hodson dropped a hand to the teak-wood desk; it looked inadequate, thin, bloodless; blue veins mapped its white back. “You are mistaken, Elizabeth, I’m sure. Some other girl—”
“No, father, I was not mistaken. There are not many native girls like the Gulab, I’ll admit. As she turned a clump of crotons she saw me sitting my horse and drew a gauze scarf across her face to hide it. I waited, and asked the chowkidar if it were his daughter, and the old fool said it was the wife of his son; and the girl that he claimed was his son's wife had the iron bracelet of a Hindu widow on her arm. And the Gulab wears one—I saw it the night she danced.”
A ghastly hush fell upon the three. Barlow was moaning inwardly, “Poor Bootea!”; Hodson, fingers pressed to both temples, was trying to think this was all the mistaken outburst of an angry woman. The strong-faced, honest, fearless soldier sitting in the chair could not be a traitor—could not be.
Suddenly something went awry in the inflamed Chambers of Elizabeth's mind—as if an electric current had been abruptly shut off. She hesitated: she had meant to say more; but there was a staggering vacuity.
With an effort she grasped a wavering thing of tangibility, and said: “I’m going now, father to give the keys to the butler for breakfast. You can question Captain Barlow.”
Elizabeth turned and left the room; her feet were like dependents, servants that she had to direct to carry her on her way. She did not call to the butler, but went to her room, closed the door, flung herself on the bed, face downward, and sobbed; tears that scalded splashed her cheeks, and she beat passionately with clenched fist at the pillow, beating, as she knew, at her heart. It was incredible, this thing, her feelings.
“I don’t câre—I don’t care—I never did!” she gasped.
But she did, and only now knew it.
“I was right—I’m glad—I’d say it again!”
But she would not, and she knew it. She knew that Barlow could not be a traitor; she knew it; it was just a battered new love asserting itself.
And below in the room the two men for a little sat not speaking of the ghoulish thing. Barlow had drawn the papers from his pocket; he passed them silently across the table.
Hodson, almost mechanically, had stretched a hand for them, and when they were opened, and he saw the seal, and realised what they were, some curious guttural sound issued from his lips as if he had waked in affright from a nightmare. He pulled a drawer of the desk open, took out a cheroot—and lighted it. Then he commenced to speak, slowly, droppingly, as one speaks who has suddenly been detected in a crime. He put a flat hand on the papers, holding them to the desk. And it was Elizabeth he spoke of at first, as if the thing under his palm, that meant danger to an empire, was subservient.
“Barlow, my boy,” he said, “I’m old, I’m tired.”
The Captain, looking into the drawn face, had a curious feeling that Hodson was at least a hundred. There was a floaty wonderment in his mind why the fifty-five years’-service retirement rule had not been enforced in the Colonel’s case. Then he heard the other’s words.
“I’ve had but two gods, Barlow, the British Raj and Elizabeth; that’s since her mother died. In a little, a few
years more, I will retire with just enough to live on plus my pension—perhaps in France, where it's cheap. And then I’ll still have two gods, Elizabeth and the one God. And, Captain, somehow I had hoped that you and Elizabeth would hit it off. but I'm afraid she's made a mis-
BARLOW had been following this with half his receptivity, for, though he fought against it, the memory of Bootea—gentle, trusting, radiating love, warmth—cried out against the„ bitter unfemininity of the girl who had stabbed his honor and his cleanness. The black figure of Kali still rested on the table, and somehow the evil lines in the face of the goddess suggested the vindictiveness that had played about the thin lips of his accuser.
And the very plea the father was making was reacting. It was this, that he, Barlow, was rich, that a chance death or two would make him Lord Barradean, was the attraction, not love. A girl couldn’t be in love with a man and strive to break him.
Hodson had taken up the papers, and was again scanning them mistily.
“They were on the murdered messenger—he was killed, wasn’t he, Barlow?”
“And has any native seen these papers, Captain?”
“No, I cut them from the soles of the sandals the messenger wore, myself, Sir.”
“That is all then, Captain; we have them back—I may say, thank God!” He stood up and holding out his hand added, “Thank you, Captain. I don’t want to know anything about the matter—I’m too much machine now to measure rainbows—fancy I should wear a strip of redtape as a tie.”
“If you will listen, Sir—there is another that I want to put right. Your daughter did see the Gulab, but because she had brought me the sandals. And you can take an officer’s word for it that the Gulab is not what Elizabeth believes.”
“Captain, I have lived a long time in India, too long to be led away by quick impressions, as unfortunately Elizabeth was. I’ve outlived my prejudices. When the mhowa tree blooms I can take glorious pleasure from its gorgeous fragrant flowers and not quarrel with its leafless limbs. When the pipal and the neem glisten with star
flowers and sweeten the foetid night air. it matters nothing to me that the natives believe evil gods home in the branches. I know that even a cobra tries to get out of my way if I’ll let him, and I know that the natives have beauty in their natures one gets to almost love them as children. So, my dear Captain, when you tell me that the Gulab rendered you and me and the British Raj this tremendous service, and add. quite unnecessarily, that she’s a good girl, I believe it all; we need never bring it up again. Elizabeth has just made a mistake. And, Barlow, men are always forgiving the mistakes of women where their feelings are concerned'--they must—that is one of the proofs of their strength. But these”—and he patted the papers lovingly—“well, they’re rather like a reprieve brought at the eleventh hour to a man who is to be executed. We’re put in a difficult position, though. To pass over in silence the killing of two soldiers would end only in the House of Commons; somebody would rise in his place and want to know why it had been hushed up. But to take adtion, to create a stir, would give rise to a suspicion of the existence of this.”
HODSON rose from his chair and paced the floor, one hand clasped to his forehead, his small grey eyes carrying a dream-look as though he were seeking an occult enlightenment; then he sat down wearily, and spoke as if interpreting something that had been whispered him.
“Yes, Barlow, this decoit has been seized by the Nana Sahib lot. His life was forfeit, and they’ve offered him his life back to come here and turn Approver—to become a spy, not for us but as a spy on us for them. Ajeet would know that information of his coming to me would be carried to them by spies—the spies are always with me and his life wouldn’t be worth two annas. I gave him that pardon because we have no power to seize him here, but it will make them think that we have fallen into the trap. They might even believe—wily and suspicious as they are—that what he gleans here is the truth.
“There’s a curious efficacy, Barlow, in what I might call an affectation of simplicity. You know those stupid heavy-headed crocodiles in that big pool of the Nerbudda below the marble gorge, and how they'll take nearly an hour wallowing and sidling up to a mud-bank before they crawl out to bask in the sun; but just show
your helmet above the rock and they’re gone. That’s perhaps what 1 mean. As we might say back in dear old London, this wily Rajput think: he lias pulled my leg.”
“1 think. Colonel, that you are dead onto his wicket.” "Well, then, the thing to do is to emulate the mugger. Lut this” Hodson lifted the paper and he grew crisp, incisive, his grey eyes blued like temper purpling polished steel—“we’ve got to act: they’ve got to be delivered, and
“I am ready, Sir.’’
“It's a dangerous mission— most dangerous.”
“Sorry, Captain. 1 was just thinking aloud—musing; forgive me. Perhaps when one likes a young man he lets the paternal spirit come in where it doesn’t belong. I’m sorry. There’s a trusty Patan here who could go with you,” Hodson continued, “and this side of his own border he is absolutely to be trusted; I have my doubts if any Patan can be relied upon by us across the border.”
“I will go alone,” Barlow said quietly. Then his strong white teeth showed in a smile. “You know the Moslem saying, Colonel, that ten Dervishes can sleep on one blanket, but a kingdom can only hold one king. I don’t mean about the honour of it, but it will be easier for me.
I went alone through the Maris tribe when we wanted to know what the trouble was that threatened up above the Bolán, and I had no difficulty. *You know, Sir, the playful name the chaps have given me for years?” “Yes—the ‘Patan’—I’ve heard it.”
“I make a good Mussulman—scarce need any makeup, I’m so dark; I can rattle off the namaz (daily prayer), and sing the moonakib, the hymn of the followers of the Prophet.”
“Yes,” Hodson said, his words coming slowly out of a deep think, “there will be Patans in the Pindari camp; in fact Pindari is an ell-embracing name, having little of nationality about it. Rajputs, Bundoolas, Patans, men of Oudh, Sindies—men who have the lust of battle and loot, all flock to the Pindari Chief. Yes, it’s a good idea, Captain, the disguise; not only for an unnoticed entrance to the camp, but to escape a waylaying by Nana Sahib’s cut-throats.”
“Yes, Colonel, from what I have learned—from the Gulab, it was, Sir—The Dewan has an inkling that I am going on a mission; and if I rode as myself the King might lose an officer, and officers cost pounds in the making.”
THE Resident toyed with the papers on his desk, his brow wrinkled from a debate going on behind it; he rose, and grasping the black Kali carried it back to the cabinet, saying: “That devilish thing, so suggestive of what we are always up against here, makes me shiver.” Then he sat down, adding, “Captain, there is another important matter connected with this. The Rana of Udaipur is being stripped of every rupee by Holkar and Sindhia; they take turn about at him. Holkar is up there now, where we have chased him—threatened to sack Udaipur unless he were paid seventy lakhs, seven million rupees—the accursed thief! We have managed to get an envoy to the Rana with a view to having him, and the other smaller rulers of Mewar, join forces with us to crush forever the Mahratta power—drive them out of Mewar for all time. The Rajputs are a brave lot—men of high thought, and it is too bad to have these accursed cut-throats bleeding to death such a race. If the Rana would sign this paper also as an assurance of friendship, to be shown the Pindari Chief, it would help greatly.”
“I understand, Colonel. You wish me to get that from the Rana?”
“Yes, Captain; and I may say that if you can get through with all this there will be no question about your Majority; you might even go higher up than Major.”
“By Jove! as to that, my dear Colonel, this trip is just good sport—I love it: less danger than playing polo with these rotters. I’ll swing over to Udaipur first—it’s just west of the Pindari camp,—been there once before on a little pow-wow—then I’ll switch back to Amir Khan.”
“I wish you luck, Captain; but be careful. If we can feel sure that this horde of Pindaris are not hovering on our army’s flank, like the Russians hovered on Napoleon in the Moscow affair, it will be a great thing—you will have accomplished a wonderful thing.”
“Right you are, Sir,” Barlow exclaimed blithely. The stupendous task, for it was that, tonicked him; he was like a sportsman that had received news of a tiger within killing distance. He rose, and stretched out his hand for the paper, saying: “I’ve got a job of cobbling to do—I’ll put this between the soles of my sandal, as it was carried before—it’s the safest place, really. To-morrow I’ll become an apostate, an Afghan; and I’ll be busy, for I’ve got to do it all myself. I can trust no one with a dark
“Not even the Gulab, I fear, Captain; one never knows when a woman will be swayed by some mental transition.” He was thinking of Elizabeth.
“You’re right, Colonel,” Barlow answered. “I fancy I could trust the Gulab—but I won’t.”
CAPTAIN BARLOW had been through a busy day.
The very fact that all he did in preparation for his journey to the Pindari camp had been done with his own hands, held under water, out of sight, had increased the strain upon him.
In India in the usual routine of matters, a staff of ten servants form a composite second self t,o a Sahib: to hand him his boots, and lace them; to lay out his clothes, and hold them while slipped into; to bring a cheroot or a peg of whiskey; a syce to bring the horse and rub a towel over the saddle—to hold the stirrup, even, for the lifted foot, and trotting behind, guard the horse when the Sahib makes a call; a man to go here and there with a note or to post a letter; a servant to whisk away a plate and replenish the crystal glass with pearl-beaded wine without sign from the drinker and appear like a bidden ghost, clad in speckless white, silent and impassive of face, behind his master’s chair at the table when he dines out; everything in fact beyond the mental whirl of the brain to be arranged by one or other of the ten.
But this day Barlow had been like a man throwing detectives off his trail. Not one of his servants must suspect that he contemplated a trip—no, not just that, for the Captain had intimated casually to the butler that he would go soon to Satara.
Thus it had to be arranged secretly that he would ride from his bungalow as Captain Barlow and leave the city as Ayub Alii, an Afghan.
Perhaps Barlow was over tired, that curious knotted condition of the nerves through overstrain that rasps a man’s mental fibre beyond the narcotic of sleep, and yet holds him in a hectic state of half unconsciousness. He ' counted camels—long strings of soured, complaining beasts, short-legged, stout, shaggy desert-ships, such as merchants of Kabul used to carry their dried fruits,— figs and dates and pomegranates, and the wondrous flavoured Sirdar melon,—wending across the Sind Desert of floating white sand to Rajasthan.
Once a male, tickled to frenzy by the caress of a female’s velvet lips upon his rump, with a hoarse bubbling scream, wheeled suddenly, snapping the thin lead-cord that reached from the tail of the camel in front to the button in his nostril, and charged the lady in an exuberance of affection with a full broadside-thrust from his chest that bowled her over, where she lay among the fragments of two huge broken burnt-clay gumías, that, filled with water, had been lashed to her sides.
Barlow sat up at this startling tumult that was the outcome of his slipping a little into slumber. He threw his head back on the pillow with a smothered, “Damn!” His bed had creaked, and an answering echo as if something had slipped or slid, perhaps the sole of a bare foot on the fibrous floor matting, at the window, fell upon his senses. Turning his face toward the sound he waited, eyes trying to pierce the gloom, and ear attuned. He almost cried out in alarm as something floated through the dark from the window and fell with a soft thud upon his face. He brushed at the something—perhaps a bat, or a lizard, or a snake—with his hand and received a sharp prick, a little dart of pain in a thumb. He sprang from the bed, lighted the wick that floated in the iron lamp, and discovered that the thing of dread was a rose, its petals red against the white sheet.
He knew who must have thrown the rose, and almost wished that it had been a chance missile, even a snake, but he put the lamp down, passed into the bathroom, and unbarring the wooden door, called softly, “Who is there?” From the cover of an oleander a slight girlish form rose up and came to the door saying, “It is Bootea, Sahib; do not be angry,—there is something to be said.”
BY THE arm he led her within and bidding her wait, passed to the bedroom and drew the heavy curtains of the windows. Then he went through the drawingroom and out to the verandah, where the watchman lay asleep on his roped charpoy. Barlow woke him: “There’s a thief prowling about the bungalow. Do not sleep till I give you permission. See that no one enters,” he commanded.
He went back to his room, closed and barred the door, and told Bootea to come.
When the girl entered he said: “You should not have come here; there are eyes, and ears, and evil tongues.” “That is true Sahib, but also death is evil—sometimes.”
“I have brought this to the Sahib,” Bootea said as she drew a paper from her breast and passed it to the Captain. It was the pardon the Resident had given that morning to Ajeet Singh.
Barlow, though startled, schooled his voice to an even tone as he asked: “Where did you get this—where is Ajeet?”
“As to the paper, Sahib, what matters how Bootea came by it: as to Ajeet, he is in the grasp of the Dewan who learned that he had been to the Resident in the way of treachery.”
“Ajeet thought Nana Sahib had stolen you, Bootea.” “Yes, Sahib, for he did not find me when he went to
the camp, and I did not go there. But now he would betray the Sahibs, that is why I have brought back the paper of protection.”
“Will they kill Ajeet?” Barlow asked.
“I will tell the Sahib what is,” the girl answered, drawing her sari over her curled-in feet, and leaning one arm on Barlow’s chair. “The decoity that was committed last night was, as Ajeet feared, because of treachery on the part of the Dewan. I will tell you all, though it might be thought a treachery to the decoits. As to being false to one’s own clan Ajeet is, because he is a Bagree—but I am not.”
Barlow pondered over this statement. The girl had mystified him—that is as to her breeding. Sometimes she spoke in the first person and again in the third person, like so many natives, as if her language had been picked up colloquially. But then the use of the third person when she used Bootea instead of a nominative pronoun might be due to a cultured deference toward a Sahib.
“I thought you were not of these people—you are of high caste, Bootea,” he said presently.
He heard the girl gasp, and looking quickly into her eyes saw that they were staring as if in fright.
For a space of a few seconds she did not answer; then she said, and Barlow felt her voice was being held under control by force of will: “I am Bootea, one in the care of Ajeet Singh. That is the present, Sahib, and the past—” She touched the iron bracelet on her arm, and looked into Barlow’s eyes as if she asked him to bury the past.
“Sorry, girl—forgive me,” he said.
“Ajeet has told why the men were brought—for what purpose?”
“Yes, Gulab; to kill Amir Khan.”
“And when they refused to go on this mission, the Dewan, to get them in his power, connived with Hunsa to make the decoity so that their lives would be forfeit, then if the Dewan punished them for not going the Raja of Karowlee could not make trouble. Hunsa told the Dewan that if I were sent to dance before Amir Khan, some of the men going as musicians and actors, the Chief would fall in love with me, and that I could betray him to those who would kill him; that he would come to my tent at night unobserved—because he has a wife with him—and that Hunsa would creep into the tent and kill him as he slept; then we would escape.’
BARLOW sprang to his feet and paced the floor; then he plumped into the chair again, saying: “What an unholy scheme, even for India! Gad! how I wish I’d killed the brute when I had the chançe.”
“I did not know that Hunsa had proposed this—neither did Ajeet; for they wanted to get him in their power through the decoity so that if he refused permission he might be killed. And now Ajeet is trapped through the decoity and Bootea is going to the Pindari camp.” “You’re not going to betray Amir Khan, have him murdered!” Barlow cried, aghast at the villainy, at the thought that one so sweet could be forced to complicity in such a ghastly crime.
“No, Sahib, to save his life, for if I do not go now Ajeet will be killed, and all the others put in prison because of the decoity. Worse will happen Bootea,—she will be placed in the seraglio of Nana Sahib.”
“Damn it! they can’t do that!” Barlow exclaimed angrily. “I’ll stop that.”
“No, the Sahib can’t; and he has a mission, he is not of the service of protecting Bootea.”
“You can’t save Amir Khan’s life unless you betray the Bagrees to him?”
“Yes, Sahib, I can. Perhaps the Chief will like Bootea, and will listen to what she says. Men such as brave warriors always treat Bootea not as a nautchni BO I will ask him not to come to the tent at night because of ill repute. Hunsa will not be able to slay him unless it is a trap on my part to get him from the watching eyes of his men. If Hunsa becomes suspicious, and there is real danger, I will threaten that I will expose him to the Chief. If we come back because we have failed in our mission, having tried to succeed, it will not be like refusing to go; and perhaps there will be mercy shown.”
“Mercy!” Barlow sneered; “Nana Sahib knows nothing of mercy; he’s a tiger.”
“But if I refuse to go, another nautchni will be sent, perhaps more beautiful than I am, and she would betray the Chief, and perhaps all would be killed.”
“By Jove! you’re some woman, you’re magnificent— you’re a Rajputni princess.”
A slim hand was placed on Barlow’s wrist and the girl said, “Sahib, I am just Bootea,—please, please!” “And that’s your reason for taking this awful chance, to save Ajeet and the others—is it?”
“There is another reason, Sahib.” The girl dropped her eyes and turning a gold bangle on her wrist gazed upon a ruby that had the contour of a serpent’s head. Presently she asked, “Will the Sahib go to Khureyra and havé a knife thrust between his ribs?”
Barlow was startled by this query. “Why should I go to Khureyra, Gulab?”
“To see Amir Khan.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because it is known. But the Chief is not now there— he has taken his horsemen to Saugor.”
Again this was startling. Also the information was of great value. If the Pindari horde had left the territory of Sindhia and crossed the border into Saugor they were closer to the British.
Barlow patted the girl’s hand, saying, “My salaams to you, little girl.”
He felt her slim cool fingers press his hand, but he shrank from the claiming touch, muttering, “The damned barrier!”
SUDDENLY Barlow remembered Bootea had spoken of another reason for going to the Pindari camp.
He puzzled over this a little, hesitating to question her; she had not told him what it was, but had asked if he were going there; the reason evidently had something to do with him. It couldn’t be treachery—she had done so much for him; it must be the something that looked out of her eyes when they rested on his face, the unworded greatest thing on earth in the way of fealty and devotion. Possibly this was the grand motive, the reason she had given being secondary.
. “You said, Gulab, that you had another reason for this awful trip; what is it?” he asked.
The girl’s eyes dropped to the ruby bracelet again; “To acquire merit in the eyes of Mahadeo, Sahib.”
“To do good acts so that; you may be reincarnated as a heaven-born, a Brahmini, perhaps even come back as a memsahib.”
At this her big eyes rose to Barlow’s face, and he could swear that there were tears misting them; and sensing that if she had fallen in love with him, what he had said about her becoming a memsahib had hurt. Perhaps she, as he did, realised that that was the barred door to happiness— that she wasn’t of the white race.
“Yes, Sahib,” she said presently, “a Swami told me that in a former life I had been evil.”
“The Swami is an awful liar!” Barlow ejaculated. “The holy ones speak the truth, Sahib. The Swami said that because of having been beautiful I had caused deaths through jealousy.”
“Oh, the crazy fool!” Barlow declared in English; “and it’s all rot! This is the reason you spoke of, Gulab— good deeds; is it the only other reason?”
The girl turned her face away, and Barlow saw her shoulders quiver.
He rose from the chair, and lifting the girl to her feet held her in his arms, saying; “Look me in the eyes, Gulab, and tell me if you are going through this devilish thing because of me.”
“Bootea is going to the camp of Amir Khan because Hunsa and the others have been told to kill the Sahib; and she will see that this is not accomplished.”
Barlow clasped the girl to his breast and smothered her face in kisses: “You are the sweetest little woman that ever lived,” he said; “and I am a sinner, for this can only bring you misery.”
“Sahib—it can’t be, but it is not misery. The sweet pain has been put in the heart of Bootea by the Sahib’s eyes, and she is happy. But do not go as a Sahib.” Barlow cursed softly to himself, muttering, “India! Even dreams are not-unheard!” Then, “What made you say that?” he queried.
“It is known because that is the way of the Sahib. He knows that where he sleeps or eats, or plays games with the little balls, that there are always servants, and it is known that Captain Rarlowis called the Patan by his friends.”
“St. George and the Cross!” he ejaculated.
“If I were thus would they know mo?” he asked.
“There would be danger, but. the Sahib knowing of this could take more care in the way of deceit. But Bootea will know—the eyes will not be hidden."
BARLOW took her arm, leading her through the bathroom to the back door; he opened it, and listened intently for a few seconds. Then he took her oval face in his palms and kissed her, passionately, saying, “Good-bye, little girl; God be with you. You are sweet.” “The Sahib is like a god, to Bootea,” she whispered. As the girl slipped away between the bushes, like something floating out of a dream, Barlow stood at the open door, a resurge of abasement flooding his soul. In the combat between his mentality and his heart, the heart was making him a weakling, a dishonourable weakling, so it seemed. He pulled the door shut, and went back to his bed and finally fell asleep a thing of tortured unrest.
BARLOW was up early next morning, wakened by that universal alarm clock of India, the grey-necked, small-bodied city crow whose tribe is called the Seven Sisters—noisy, impudent, clamorous sharp-eyed thieves that throng the compounds like sparrows, that hop in through the open window and steal a slice of toast from beside the cup of tea at the bedside.
He mounted the waiting Cabuli pony and rode to the Residency. He had much to talk over with Hudson in the light of all that had transpired in the last two days, and also, he had a hope that Elizabeth would be possessed of an after-the-storm calm, would greet him, and somehow give him a moral sustaining against his lapse in heart loyalty. Mentally he didn’t label his feeling toward Elizabeth love. Toward her it had been largely a matter of drifting, undoubted giving in to suasion, more of associationlthan what wassaid. She had class; she was intellectual; there was no doubt about her wit—it was like a wellcut diamond, sparkling, brilliant— no warmth. When Barlow reflected, jogging along on the Cabuli, that he probably did not love Elizabeth, picturing the passion
as typified by Romeo and Juliet as instance, he suddenly asked himself: “By Jove! and does anybody except the pater love Elizabeth?” He was doubtful if anybody did. All the servants held her in esteem, for she was just, and not. niggardly; but hers was certainly not a disposition to cause spontaneous affection. Perhaps the word admirable epitomised Elizabeth all round. But he felt that he needed a sort of Christian Science sustaining, as it were, in this sensuous drifting— something to make his slipping appear more obnoxious.
As he rode up to the verandah of the Residency he saw Elizabeth cuttingflowers, probably to decorate the breakfast table. That was like Elizabeth; instead of leaving it to the mahli (gardener), with the butler to festoon the table, she was doing it. herself. It was an occupation akin to watercolour painting or lace work, just the sort of thing to find Elizabeth at—typical.
Barlow' was possessed of a hopeful fancy that perhaps she had not ridden expecting that he would call on the Resident; but as always with the Resident’s daughter he could deduce nothing from her manner. She nodded pleasantly looking up, a gloved hand
__ full of roses, and as he slipped
from the saddle, relinquishing the horse to the syce, she fell in beside him as far as the verandah, where they stood talking desultory stuff; the morning sun on the pink and white oleanders, the curious snake-like mottling of the croton leaves, and the song of a dhyal that, high in a
tamarind, was bubbling liquid notes of joy.
“The Indian robin red-breast makes one homesick,” Elizabeth said.
“Home—,” but the girl put a quick hand on his arm, checking him; the action wras absolutely like Elizabeth, imperious. A small, long-tailed, brown-breasted bird had darted across the compound to a mango tree from where he warbled a love song as sweet and rich-toned as the evensong of a nightingale.
The dhyal, as if feeling defeat in the sweeter carol of his rival, hushed.
“The sliama,” Elizabeth said; “when I hear him I close my eyes and picture the dow-ns and oaked hills of England, and fancy I’m listening to the nightingale or the lark.”
Barlow turned involuntarily to look into the girl’s face; it was an inquisitive look, a wondering look; gentle sentiment coming from Elizabeth was a reversal of form.
Also there was immediately a reversal of bird form, a shatterment of sentiment, a rasping maddening note from somewhere in the dome of a pipal tree. A koel bird, as if in derision of the feathered songsters, sent forth his shrill plaintive, “Koe-e-el, Koe-e-el, Koe-e-el!
“Ah-a-a!” Barlow exclaimed in disgust—“that’s India: the fever-bird, the koel, harbinger of the hot-spell, of burning sun and stifling dust, and throbbing head.
He cursed the kool, for the gentle mood had slipped from Elizabeth. He had hoped that she would have spoken of yesterday, give him a shamed solace for the hurt she had given him. Of course Hodson would have told her all about the Gulab. But while that, the service, was sufficient for the Resident, Elizabeth would consider the fact that Barlow' knew Bootea w'ell enough to have this service rendered; it would touch her caste—also her exacting nature.
SOMETHING like this was floating through his mind as he groped mentally for an explanation of Elizabeth’s attitude, the effect of which was neutral; nothing to draw him toward her in a way of moral sustaining, but also, nothing to antagonize him.
She must know that he was leaving on a dangerous mission; but she did not bring it up. Perhaps with her usual diffident reserve she felt that it was his province to speak of that.
At any rate she called to a hovering bearer telling him to give his master Captain Barlow's salaams. Then with the flowers she passed into the bungalow. She had quite a proppy, military stride, bred of much riding.
Barlow gazed after Elizabeth ruefully, wishing she had thrown him a life belt. However it did not matter; .t was
Then he thought of Hunsa, and asked, “But aren’t you afraid to go with that beast, Hunsa?”
The girl laughed. “The decoits have orders from the Dewan to kill him if I complain of him; but if they do not he is promised the torture when he comes back if I make complaint. If the Sahib will but wait a few days before the journey so that Bootea has made friends with Amir Khan before he comes, it will be better. We will start in tw'o days.”
“I’ll see, Gulab,” he answered evasively. “You are going now?”
“Yes, Sahib—it has been said.”
“I’ll send the doorman with you.”
“No, Bootea will be better alone,” she touched the knife in her sash; “It must not be known that Bootea came to the Sahib.”
up to him to act in a sane manner, men of the Service were taught to rely on themselves. And in Barlow was something of breeding that held him to the true thing, to the pole; the breeding might be compared to the elusive thing in the magnetic needle. It did not matter, he would probably marry Elizabethit seemed the proper thing to do. Devilish few of the chaps he knew babbled much about love and being batty over a girl—that is, the girls they married.^
Then the bearer brought Hudson’s salaams to the Captain.
And Hudson was a Civil Servant in excelsis. He took to bed with him his Form D and Form C—even the “D. Ö.,” the Demi-Official business, and worried over it when he should have slept or read himself to sleep.
Duty to him was a more exacting god than the black Kali to the Brahmins; it had dried up his blood—atrophied his nerves of enjoyment. And now he was depressed though he strove
to greet Barlow cheerily.
“It’s a devilish shindy, this killing of our two chaps,” he burst forth with;
“I’ve pondered over it, I ve worried over it; the only solace in the thing is, that the arm of the law is long.”
“I think you’ve got it, sir,” Barlow encouraged. “When we’ve smashed Sindhia—and we will—we’ll demand these murderers, hang a few of them, and send the rest to the Andamans.
“Yes, it has simply got to wait; to stir up things now would only let the Peshwa know what you are now' going to do—we’d show him our hand. And I don’t mind telling you,
Captain, that he is an absolute traitor; and I believe that it s that damn Nana Sahib who’s influencing him.”
“There’s no doubt about it, sir.”
“No, there is not!” the Resident declared gloomily. “The two dead sowars must be considered as sacrifice, just as though they had fallen in battle; it’s for the good of the Raj. If I get hauled over the coals for this I don’t give a damn. I’ve pondered over it, almost prayed over it, and it’s the only way. There’s talk of a big loot of jewellery by these decoits. and the killing of the merchant and his men, but I’ve got nothing to do with that. The one wonderful thing is, that we saved the papers. That little native woman that brought them to you must be rewarded later.
By the way, Barlow, I took the liberty of explaining all that to Elizabeth, and I think she’s pretty badly cut up over the way she acted. But you understand, don’t you, Captain? I believe that if it had been my case I’d have, well,
I’d have known that it was because the girl cared. Elizabeth is undemonstrative—too much so, in fact; but I fancy—well, never mind; it’s so long ago that I took notice of these things that I find I’m trying to speak in an unknown tongue.”
THE little man rose and bustled about, pulling out drawers from the cabinet and shoving them back again, venting little asthmatic coughs of sheer nervousness. Then coming up to Barlow he held out his hand saying: “My dear boy, God be with you; but don’t take chances—will you?”
At that instant Elizabeth appeared at the doorway: “Captain Barlow will have breakfast with us, won’t he, father—it’s all ready, and Boodha says he has a chop-andkidney curry that is a dream?”
“Jupiter!” Hodson exclaimed; “fancy I’m getting India head; was sending Barlow off without a word about breakfast. Of course he’ll stay —thanks. Elizabeth.”
The tired drawn parchment face of the Resident became revivified, it was the face of a happy boy; the grey eyes blued to youth. Inwardly he murmured: “Elizabeth is wonderful! I knew it; good girl!”
It was a curious breakfast—mentally. Elizabeth was the Elizabeth of the verandah. Perhaps it was the passionate beating of the pillow the day before, when she realised for the first time what Barlow' meant to her, that now cast her into defence; encased her in an armour of protection; caused her to assume a casualness. She would give worlds not to have said what she had said the day before, but the Captain must know that she had been roused by a knowledge of his intimacy with the Gulab.
Just what had occurred did not matter—not in the least; of course, but the yogi would not appear as a witness
it was his place to explain it. That was Elizabeth’s way— against him, and Hunsa would not, because it would cosí
it was her manner of thought; a subservience of impulse him his head.
to propriety, to class. In the lighl of her feeling when she So now, at a hint from Nana Sahib, the Dewan seized had lain, wet-eyed, beating the pillow, she knew that if he upon Ajeet, voicing a righteous indignation at his crime
of decoity, and gave him the alternative of being strangled with a bowú string or forcing the Gulab to go to
the camp of Amir Khan to betray him. Not only would Ajeet be killed, but Bootea would be thrust into the seraglio, and the other Bagrees put in prison—some might be killed. Ajeet was forced to yield to these threats. The very complicity of the Dewan made him the more hurried in this thing. Also he wanted to get the Bagrees away to the Pindari camp before the Resident made a move.
The mission to Amir Khan would be placed in the hands of Hunsa and Sookdee, Ajeet being retained as a paVn; also his wound had incapacitated him. He was nominally at liberty, though he knew well that if he sought to escape the Mahrattas would kill him.
The jewels that had been stolen from the merchant were largely retained by the Bagrees, though the Dewan found, one night, very mysteriously, a magnificent string of pearls on his pillow. He did not ask questions, and seemingly no one of his household knew anything about the pearls.
When the yogi asked Hunsa about the ruby, the Akbar Lamp, Hunsa,. who had determined to keep it himself, as, perhaps, a ransom for his life in that troublous time, declared that in the turmoil of the coming óf the soldiers he had not found it. Indeed this seemed reasonable, for he, having fled down the road to the Gulab, had not been there when they had opened the box and looted it.
So the Dewan sent for Ajeet, Hunsa and Sookdee, and declared that if the Bagree contingent of murder did not start at once for the Pindari camp he would have them taken up for decoity.
It was Ajeet who answered the Dewan: “Dewan Sahib, we be men who undertake all things in the favour of Bhowanee, and we make prayer to that goddess. If the Dewan will give fifty rupees for oui pooja, to-morrow we will make sacrifice to her, for without the feast and the sacrifice the signs that she would vouchsafe would be false. Then we will take the signs and the men will go at once.’'
“You shall have the money,” the Dewan declared: “but do not delay.” That evening the Bagrees made their way to a mango grove for the feast carrying cocoanuts, raw sugar, flour, butter, and a fragrant gum, gooiul. A hole was dug in the ground and filled with dry cow-dung chips which were set on fire. Sweet cakes were baked on the fire and then broken into small pieces, a portion of the fire raked to one side, and their priest sprinkled upon it the fragrant gum, calling in a loud voice: "Maha Kali, assist and guide us in our expedition. Keep calamity from us who worship Thee, and have made this feast in Thy Honour. Give us the sign, that we may know if it is agreeable to Thee that we destroy the enemy of Maharaja Sindhia.” .
When the Bagrees had eaten much cooked nee and meat-balls, which were served on plantain leaves, they drank robustly of mhowa spirit, first spilling some of this liquor upon the ground in the name of the goddess.
The strong native liquor roused an enthusiasm for their approaching interview of the sacred one. Once Ajeet laid his hand upon the pitcher that Hunsa was holding to his coarse lips, and pressing it downward, admonished: . .
“Hunsa, whilst Bhowanee does not prohibit, it is an offence to approach her except in devout silence.
The surly one flared up at this; his ungovernable rage drew his hand to a knife in his belt, and his eyes blazed with the ferocity of a wounded tiger.
“Ajeet,” he snarled, “you are now Chief, but you are not Raja to command slaves.”
With a swift twist of his wrist Ajeet snatched the pitcher from the hand of Hunsa, saying: “Jamadar, it is the liquor that is in you, therefore you have had enough.
But Hunsa sprang to his feet and his knife gleamed Uke
had put his arms about her and said just even stupid words “I’m sorry, Beth, you know I love you”—she would have capitulated, perhaps even in the capitulation have said a Bethism: “It doesn’t matter—rçe’ll never
mention it again.”
But Barlow, very much of a boy, couldn’t feel this elusive thing, and rode away after breakfast from the bungalow muttering: “By gad! Elizabeth should have said something over roasting me. Fancy she doesn’t care a hang. Anyway—I’ll give her credit for that—she doesn’t hunt with the hounds and run with the hare. If it’s the prospect of sharing a title with me, a rotter would have eaten the leek. Yes, Elizabeth is class.”
T~\EWAN SEWLAL was in a shiver of apprehension over the killing of the two sepoys; there would be trouble over this if the Resident came to know of it.
But Hunsa had assured him that the soldiers and their saddles had been buried in the pit with the others, and that nobody but the decoits knew of their advent.
Then when he learned that Ajeet Singh had been to the Resident he was in a panic. But as that British official made no move, said nothing about the decoity, he fancied that perhaps Ajeet had not mentioned this, in fact he had no proof that he had made a confession at all. But Ajeet’s complicity in the decoity where the merchant and his men had been killed, gave the Dewan just what he had planned for—the power of death over the Chief. As to his own complicity he had taken care to speak of the decoity to no one but Hunsa. The yogi had been inspired,
the spitting of fire in the slanting rays of the setting sun, as he drove viciously at the heart of his Chief. There was a crash as the blade struck and pierced the maíka which Ajeet still held by its long neck.
There was a scream of terror from the throats of the women; a cry of horror from the Guru at this sacrilege —the spilling of liquor upon the earth in anger at the feast of Bhowanee.
Ajeet’s strong fingers, slim bronzed lengths of steel, had gripped the wrist of his assailant as Bootea, darting forward, laid a hand upon the arm of Hunsa, crying, “Shame! shame! You are like sweepers of low casteeaters of carrion, they who respect not Bhowanee. Shame! you are a dog—a lapper of liquor!”
At the touch of the Gulab on his arm, and the scorn in her eyes, Hunsa shivered and drew back, his head hanging in abasement, but his face devilish in its malignity.
Ajeet, taking a brass dish, poured water upon the hand that had gripped the wrist of Hunsa, saying, “Thus I will cleanse the defilement.” Then he sat down upon his heels, adding: “Guru, holy one, repeat a prayer to appease Bhowanee, then we will go into the jungle and take the auspices.”
The Guru strode over to Hurlfea, and holding out his thin skinny palm commanded, “Jamadar, from you a rupee; and to-morrow I will put upon the shrine of Kali cocoanuts and sweet-meats and marigolds as peace offerings.”
Hunsa took from his loin cloth a silver coin and dropped it surlily in the outstretched hand, sneering: “To Bhowanee you will give four annas, and you will feast to the value of twelve annas, for that is the way of your craft. The vultures always finish the bait when the tiger has been slain.”
SOON the feathery lace-work of bamboos beneath which they sat were whispering to the night-wind that had roused at the dropping of the huge ball of fire in the west, and the soft radiance of a gentle moon was gilding with silver the gaunt black arms of a babool. Then the priest said: “Come, jamadars, we now will go deeper into the silent places and listen for the voice of Bhowanee.”
He untangled from the posture of sitting his parchmentcovered matter of bones, and carrying in one hand a brocaded bag of black velvet and in the other a staff, with bowed head and mutterings started deeper into the jungle of cactus and slim whispering bamboo, followed by Ajeet,
Sookdee and Hunsa. Presently he stopped, saying, “Sit you in a line, brave chiefs, facing the great temple of Siva, which is in the mountains of the East, so that the voice of Bhowanee coming out of the silent places and from the mouth of the jackal or the jackass, shall be known to be from the right or the left, for thus will be the interpretation.”
The priest took his place in front of the jamadars, sitting with his back to them, and placed upon the ground, first a white cloth of cotton, and then the velvet bag, upon which rested a silver pickaxe.
When Ajeet saw the pickaxe he said angrily: “That is the emblem of thugs; we be deeoits, not stranglers, Guru.”
“They are equal in honour with Bhowanee,” the Guru replied: “they slay for profit, even as you do, and among you are those who are thugs, for I minister to both.”
Then the Guru buried his shrivelled skull in his thin hands and dropped forward in silent listening. Ajeet objected no more, and in the new
silence they could hear the shrill rasping of cicadae in the foliage of a gigantic elephant-creeper, that, like a huge python, crawled its way from branch to branch, sprawling across a dozen stately trees. From somewhere beyond was a steady “tonk! tonk! tonk!”—like the beat of wood against a hollow pipe—of the little green-plumaged coppersmith bird. A honey-badger came timorously creeping, his feet shuffling the fallen leaves, peered at the strange figures of the men, and, at the move of an arm, fled scurrying through the stillness with the noise of some great creature.
Suddenly the jungle was stilled, even from the voice of the rasping cicadae; the leaves had ceased to whisper, for the wind had hushed. The devotees could hear the beating of their hearts in the strain of waiting for a manifestation from the dead goddess. The white-robed figure of the Guru was like a shrivelled statue of alabaster where the faint moon picked it out in blotches as the light filtered through leaves above.
Sookdee gasped in terror as just above them a tiny tree owl called, “Whoo-whoo, whoo-whoo!” as if he jeered. But Ajeet knew that that, in their belief, was a sign of encouragement, meaning not overmuch, but not an evil omen. From far off floated up on the dead night air the belling note of a startled cheetal, and almost at once the harsh, grating, angry roar of a leopard, as though he had struck for the throat of the stag and missed. These were but jungle voices, not in the curriculum of their pantheistic. belief, so the Guru and the Bagrees sat in silence, and no one spoke.
Then the night .carried the faint trembling moan of a jackal, as the Guru knew, a female jackal, coming from a distance on the left.
“Oo-oo-oo-oo-oo! Aye-aye! yi-yi-yi-yi!” the jackal wailed, the note rising to a fiendish crescendo; and then suddenly it hushed and there was only a ghastly silence in the jungle depths.
The white-clothed, ghost-like priest sprang to' his fee,t and with his lean left arm stretched high in suppliance, said: “Bhowanee, thou hast vouchsafed to thy devotees the pilsao. We will strew thy shrine with flowers and’ sweetmeats.”
He turned to the jamadars who had risen, saying, “Bhowanee is pleased; the auspices are favourable: had the call of the jackal been from the right it would' have been the tibao and we should have had to wait until the sweet goddess gave us another sign. Now we may go back, and perhaps she will confirm this omen as we go.” Hunsa, always possessed of a mean disposition, and still sulky over the encounter with Ajeet, was in an evil mood as they trudged through the jungle to their camp. When Ajeet spoke of the priest’s success in his appeal, he snarled: “The hangman always advises the one who is to have his neck stretched that he is better off dead.”
“What do you mean by that?” Ajeet queried.
“Just that you are not going on this mission, Ajeet;” then he laughed disagreeably.
“If you are afraid to go, Sookdee will be well without you,” Ajeet retorted.
Before more could be said in this way, and as they approached the camp, the lowing of a cow was heard.
“Dost hear that. Guru?” Hunsa queried. “In a decoity is not the lowing of a cow in a village held to be an evil omen?”
“Not so, Hunsa,” the Priest declared. “It is an evil omen if the decoitv is to be made on the village in which the cow raises her voice, but we are going to our own camp in peace, and it is a voice of approval.”
“As to that,” Ajeet commented, “if Hunsa is right, it is written in our code of omens that hearing a cow call thus simply means that one of the party making the decoity will be killed; perhaps as he was the one to notice it, the evil will fall upon him.”
“You’d like that,” Hunsa growled.
“Not being given to lies, it would not displease me, for, as the hangman said, you would be better dead.”
But they were now at their camp, and the jamadars, standing together for a little, settled it that the omens being favourable, and the wrath of the Dewan feared, they would take the way to the Pindari camp next day.
HEWAN SEWLAL had warned Hunsa and Sookdee against their natural proclivities for making a decoity while travelling to the Pindari camp, as the mission was more important than loot—an enterprise that might cause them to be killed or arrested. Indeed the Gulab had made this a condition of her going with them. She was practically put in command. Both Nana Sahib and the Dewan were pleased over what they deemed her sensible acquiescence in the scheme. As has been said, the Dewan, recognising the debased ferocity of Hunsa, had promised him the torture when he returned if Bootea had any cause of complaint.
The decoit, believing that Bootea was designed for Nana Sahib’s harem, knew that as one favoured in the Prince’s eyes, he would surely be put to death if he offended her.
So travelling with the almost incessant swift progress which was an art with all deceits, in a few days they arrived at Rajgar, the town to which Amir Khan had shifted. He had taken possession of a palace belonging to the Rajput Raja as his head-quarters, ami lus army • f horsemen were encamped in tents on the vast sandy plain that extended from both sides of the river Nabal: the lo.al name of this river was “The Stream of Blood.” so named because a fierce force of Arab mercenaries in the employ of Sindhia, many year» before, had butchered the en I'ontinvrd on page !,0
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Continued from page 29
tire tribe of Nahals—man, woman, and child—higher up in the hills.
As had been planned, some of the decoits had come as recruits to the Pindari standard. This created no suspicion, because free-lance soldiers, adventurous spirits, from all over India flocked to a force that was known to be massed for the purpose of loot. It was an easy service; little discipline; a regular Moslem fighting horde, holding little in reverence but the daily prayer and the trim of a spear, or the edge of a sword. Amir Khan was the law, the army regulation, the one thing to obey. As to the matter of prayers, for those not followers of the Prophet, who carried no little prayer carpet to kneel upon, face to Mecca, there was, it being a Rajput town, always the shrine of Shiva and his elephant-headed son, Ganesh, to receive obeisance from the Hindus. And those who had come as players, wrestlers, were welcomed joyously, for there being no immediate matter of a raid and throat-cutting, and little of disciplinary duties, time hung heavy on the hands of these grown-up children.
Hunsa was remembered by several of the Pindaris as having ridden with them before; and he also had suffered an apostacy of faith for he now swore by the Beard of the Prophet, and turned out at
call of the muezzin, and testified to the fact that there was but one god—Allah. And he had known his Amir Khan well when he had told the Dewan that the fierce Pindari was gentle enough when it came to a matter of feminine beauty, for Bootea made an impression.
Of course it would have taken a more obdurate male than Amir Khan to not appreciate the exquisite charm of the Gulab; no art could have equalled the inherent patrician simplicity and sweetness of her every thought and action. Perhaps her determination to ingratiate herself into the good graces of the Chief was intensified, brought to a finer perfection, by the motive that had really instigated her to accept this terrible mission, her love for the Englishman, Barlow.
Of course this was not an unusual thing; few women have lived who are not capable of such a sacrifice for some one; the “grand passion,” when it comes, and rarely out of reasoning, smothers everything in the heart of almost every woman —once. It had come to Bootea; foolishly, impossible of attainment, everything against its ultimate accomplished happiness, but nothing of that mattered. She was there, waiting—waiting for the service Fate had whispered into her being.
And she danced divinely—that is the
proper word for it. Her dancing was a revelation to Amir Khan who had seen nautehnis go through their sensuous, suggestive, voluptuous twistings of supple forms, disfigured by excessive decoration—bangles, anklets, nose rings, highcoloured swirling robes, and with voices worn to a rasping timbre that shrilled rather than sang the ghazal (love song) as they gyrated. But here was something different. Bootea’s art was the art that was taught princesses in the palaces of the Rajput Ranas, not the bidding of a courtesan for the desire of a man. Her dress was a floating cloud of gauzy muslin and her sole evident adornment the ruby headed gold snake-bracelet, the iron band of widowhood being concealed higher on her arm. Some intuition had taught the girl that this mode would give rise in the warrior’s heart to a feeling of respectful liking: it had always been that way with real men where she was concerned.
WHEN Amir Khan passed an order that Bootea was to be treated as a queen, his officers smiled in their heavy black beards and whispered that his two wives would yet be hand-maidens to a third, the favourite.
Hunsa saw all this, for he was the one that often carried a message to the Gulab that her presence was desired in the palace. But there were always others there; the players and the musicians—the ones who played the sitar (guitar) and the violin; and the officers.
Hunsa was getting impatient. Every time he looked at the handsome blackbearded head of the warrior he was like a covetous thief gazing upon a diamond necklace that is almost within his grasp. He had come there to kill him and delay was dangerous. He had been warned by the Dewan that they suspected Barlow meant to visit the Chief on behalf of the British. He might turn up any day. When he spoke to Bootea about her part in the mission, the enticing of Amir Khan to her tent so that he might be killed, she simply answered:
“Hunsa, you will wait until I give you a command to kill the Chief. If you do not, it is very likely that you will be the sacrifice, for he is not one to be driven.” She vowed that if he broke this injunction she would denounce him to Amir Khan; she would have done so at first but for the idea that treachery to her people could not he justified but by dire necessity.
Every day the Gulab, as she walked through the crowded street, scanned the faces of men afoot and on horseback looking for one clothed as a Patan, butin his eyes the something she would know, the something that would say he was the deified one. She had told Amir Khan that there was a Patan coming with a message for him, and that when such an one asked for audience that he should say nothing, but see that he was admitted.
Then one day -it was about two weeks of waiting—Captain Barlow came. He was rather surprised at the readiness with which he was admitted for an audience with the Chief. It was in the audience hall that he was received, and the Chief was surrounded, as he sat on the Raja’s dais, by officers.
Barlow had come as Ayub Alii, an Afghan, and as it was a private interview he desired, he made the visit a formal one, the paying of respects, with the usual presenting of the hilt of his sword for the Chief to touch with the tips of his fingers in the way of accepting his respects.
The Chief, knowing this was the one Bootea had spoken of, wrote on a slip of yellow paper something in Persian and tendered it to Barlow, saying, “That will be your passport when you would speak with me if there is in your heart something to be said.”
Going, Barlow saw that he had written the words, “te Afghan.”
HUNSA, too, had watched for the coming of Barlow. The same whisper that had come to Bootea’s ears that he would ride as a Patan had been told him by the Dewan. Knowing that when Barlow arrived, he would endeavor to see the Chief in his quarters, Hunsa daily hovered near the palace and chatted with the guard at the gates; the heavy doubleteak-wood gates, on one side of which was painted, on a white stonewall, a war-elephant, and the other side a Rajput horseman, his spear held at the charge. This was the allegorical representation, so
general all over Mewar, of Rana Pertab 1 charging a Mogul prince mounted on an elephant.
Thus Hunsa had seen the tall Patan and i heard him make the request for an audij ence with Amir Khan. It was the walk, ! the slight military precision, that caused ! the decoit to mutter, “No hill Afghan that.”
And when Barlow had come forth the Bagree trailed him up through the chowk; and just as the man he followed came to the end of the narrow crowded way, Hunsa saw Bootea, coming from the opposite direction, suddenly stop, and her eyes go wide as they were fixed on the face of the tall Patan.
“It is the accursed Sahib,’ Hunsa snarled between his grinding teeth. He brooded over the advent of the messenger and racked his animal brain for some scheme to accomplish his mission of murder, and counteract the other’s influence. And presently a bit of rare deviltry crept into his mind, joint partner with the murder thought. If he could but kill the Chief and have the blame of it cast upon the Sahib, who, no doubt, would have his interviews with Amir Khan alone.
During the time Hunsa had been there, several times in the palace, somewhat of a privileged character, known to be connected with the Gulab, he had familiarised himself with the plan of the marble building: the stairways that ran down to the central court; the many passages; the marble fret-work screen niches and mysterious chambers.
Either Hunsa or Sookdee was now always trailing Barlow—his every move known. And then, as if some evil genii had taken a spirit hand in the guidance of events, Hunsa’s chance came. Barlow, who had tried three times to see Amir Khan, one day received a message at the gate that he was to come back that even\ ing, when the Chief, having said his prayers, would give him a private audience.
Hunsa had seen Barlow making his way from the serai where he camped with his horse toward the palace, and hurrying with the swift celerity of a jungle creature, he reached the gate first. His head wrapped in the folds of a turban so that his ugly face was all but hidden, he was talking to the guard when Barlow gave the latter his yellow slip of passport; and as the guard left his post and entered the dim entrance to call up the stairway for one to usher in the Afghan, Hunsa slipped nonchalantly through the gate and sto'od in the shadow of a jutting wall, his black body and drab loin-cloth merging into the gloom.
“TS THE ONE alone?” Amir Kha¿i asked j A when a servant had presented Barlow’s yellow slip of paper.
“But for the orderly that is with him.” “Tell him to enter, and go where your ears will remain safe upon your head.”
The bearer withdrew and Captain Barlow entered, preceded by the orderly who, with a deep salaam, announced: “Sultan Amir Khan, it is Ayub Alii who would have audience.” Then he stepped to one side, and stood erect against the wall.
“Salaam, Chief,” Barlow said with a sweep of a hand to his forehead, and Amir Khan from his seat in a black ebony chair inlaid with pearl-shell and garnets, returned the salutation, asking: “And
what favour would Ayub Alii ask?”
“A petition such as your servant would make is but for the cars of Amir Khan.” The black eyes of the Pindari, deep set under the shaggy eyebrows, hung upon the speaker’s face with the fierce watchful stab of a falcon’s.
Barlow saw the distrust, the suspicion. He unslung from his wasit his heavy pistol took the tulwar from the wide brassstudded belt about his waist, and tendered them to the orderly saying: “It is a message of peace but also it is alone for the ears of Amir Khan.”
The Pindari spoke to the orderly, “Go thou and wait below.”
When he had disappeared the Pindari rose from the ebon-wood chair, stretched his tall giant form, and laughed. “Thou art a seemly man, Ayub Alii, but thinkst I thou that Amir Khan would have fear that thou sendst thy playthings by the ¡ orderly?’
"No, Chief, it was but proper. And you i will know that the message is such that none other may hear it.”
“Sit on yonder divan, Afghan, and tell this large thing that is in thy mind.”
As Barlow took a seat upon the divan covered by a red-and-green Bokharan rug, lifting his eyes suddenly, he was conscious of a mocking smile on the Pindari’s lips; and the fierce black eyes were watching his every move as he slipped a well-strapped sandal from a foot. Rising, he stepped to the table at one end of which the Pindari sat, and placing the sandal upon it, said: “If the Chief will slit the double sole with his knife he will find within that which I have brought.”
“The matter of which you speak, Afghan, is service, and Amir Khan is not one to perform a service of the hands for any
“But if I asked for the Chief’s knife, not having one—”
“True, Chief. And has Amir Khan heard a whisper of reward and a dress of honour from Sindhia’s Dewan for his head?”
The Chief laughed: “I know, Sahib, thou art pleasing to me. Of the Sahibs I have little knowledge, but I have heard it said they were a race of white Rajputs, save that they did not kill a brother or a father for the love of killing. What service want they of Amir Khan?”
“Imhallal but thou art right; if thou hadst asked for the knife thou mightst have received it, and not in the sandal,” he laughed. The laugh welled up from his throat through the heavy black beard like the bubble of a bison bull.
THE Pindari reached for the sandal, and as he slit at the leather thread, he commented: “Thou hast thesubtletyof a true Patan; within, 1 take it, is something of value, and if it were in a pocket of thy jacket, or a fold at thy waist, those who might seek it with one slit of their discoverer, which is a piece of broken glass carrying an edge such as no blade would have, would take it up. But a man’s sandals well strapped on are removed after he is dead.”
“Bismillah!” The Pindari had the paper spread flat upon the black table and saw the seal of the British Raj. He seemed to ponder over the document as if the writing were not within his interpretation. Then he said: “We men of the
sword have not given much thought to the pen, employing scribblers for that purpose, but to-morrow a mullah will make this all plain.”
Barlow interrupted the Chief. “Shall I read the written word?”
“What would it avail? Hereon is the seal of the Englay Raj, but as you read the thumb of the Raj would not be upon your lip in the way of a seal. The mullah will interpret this to me. Is it of an alliance?” he asked suddenly.
“It is, Chief.”
The Pindari laughed: “Holkar would
give me a camel-load of gold rupees for this and thy head: Sindhia might add a province for the sapie.”
“Afghan, there is always a reward for the head of Amir Khan; but a gift is of little value to a man who has lost his life in the trying. Without are guards ready to run a sword through even a shadow, and here I could kill three.”
He raised his black eyes and scanned the form of Ayub Alii. There was a quizzical smile on his lips as he said:
“Go back and sit thee upon the divan. When Barlow had taken his place, the Chief laughed aloud, saying, “Well done, Captain Sahib;thouart perfect as a Patan; even to the manner of sitting down one would have thought that, except for a saddle, thou hadst always sat upon thy
Barlow smiled good-humoredly, saying, “It is even so; I am Captain Barlow. And this,”—he tapped the loose baggy trousers of the Afghan hillman, and the sheepskin coat with the wool inside—“was not in the way of deceit but for protection on the road.”
“It is well thought of,” the Pindari declared, “for a Sahib travelling alone through Rajasthan would be robbed by a Mahratta or killed by a Rajput. But as to the deceiving of Amir Khan, dost thou suppose that he gives to a Patan the paper of admittance, or of passing, such as he gave thee? Even at the audience I was pleased with thy manner of disguise.
Barlow was startled. “Did you know then that I was a Sahib—how did you
“Because thou wert placed in my hand in the way of protection.”
Then Barlow surmised that of all outside his own caste there could be but one, and he knew that she was in the camp, for he had seen her. “It was a woman.
“A rare woman; even I, Chief of the Pindaris—and we are not bred to softness —say that she is a pearl.”
“They call her the Gulab,” Barlow ventured.
“She is well named the Gulab; the perfume of her is in my nostrils though it mixes ill with the camel smell. Without offence to Allah I can retain her for it is in the Koran that a man may have four wives and I have but two.”
“But the Gulab is of a different faith,” Barlow objected and a chill hung over his
The Pindari laughed. “The Sahibs have agents for the changing of faith, those who wear the black coat of honour; and a mullah will soon make a good Mussulmani of the beautiful little infidel. Of course, Sahib, there is the other way of having a man’s desire which is the way of all Pindaris; they consider women as fair loot when the sword is the passport through the land. But as to the Gulab, the flower is most too fair for a crushing. In such a matter as I have spoken of the fragrance is gone, and a man, when he crushes the weak, has conflict with himself.”
IT’S A topping old barbarian, this leader of cut-throats,” Barlow admitted to himself; but in his mind was a horror of the fate meant for the girl. And somehow it was a sacrifice for him, he knew, an enlargement of the love that had shown in the soft brown eyes. As he listened schemes of stealing the Gulab away, of saving her, were hurtling through his brain.
“And mark thee, Sahib, Amir Khan has found favour with the little flower, for when I thought of an audience with her in her own tent—for to be a leader of men, strong by the faith of Mahomet, it is as well to be circumspect—the Gulabwarned me that a knife might be presented as I slept. A jealous lover, perhaps, I think— it would not have been Ayub Alii by any chance?” ,
What Barlow was thinking was, “A most subtle animal, this.” And he now understood why the Pindari, as if he had forgotten the message, was talking of the Gulab; as an Oriental he was coming to the point in circles.
“It was not, Chief,” Barlow answered. “A British officer on matters of state, would break his izzat (honour) if he trifled with women.”
“Put thy hand upon thy beard, Afghan—though thou hast not one—and swear by it that it was not thee the woman meant when she spoke of a knife, for I like thee.”
Barlow put his hand to his chin. “I swear that there was nothing of evil intent against Amir Khan in my heart,” he said; “and that is the same as our oath, for it is but one God that we both worship.”
The Chief again let float from his big throat his low, deep, musical laugh.
“An oath is an oath, nothing more. To trust to it and go to sleep in its guardianship, one may never wake up. Even the gods cannot bind a heart that is black with words. It was one of my own name who swore on the shrine of Eklinga at Udaipur friendship for a Prince of Marwar, and changed turbans with him, which is more binding than eating opium together, then slew him like a dog. Of my faith, an oath, ‘by the Beard of the Prophet,’ is more binding, I think. Too many gods, such as the men of Hind have, produce a wavering. But thou hast sworn to the truth as I am a witness. The delay of an audience was that thou mightst be well watched before much had been said, for a child at play hides nothing, and if thou hadst gone but once to the tent of the Gulab, Amir Khan would have known.
“But as to this,”—his hand tapped the document—“it has been said that the British Raj doles out the lives of its servants as one doles grain in a time of famine. If an envoy, such as a Raja sends in a way of pride, came with this, and were made a matter of sacrifice, perhaps twenty lives would have paid of the trying, but as it is, but one is the account.”
Barlow shot a quick searching look into the Pindari’s eyes; was it a covert threat? But he answered: “It is even so, it was spoken of as a matter for two, but—”
“'T'HERE are rumors that the
1 Mahrattas, forgetting the lessons they have received—both Holkar and Sindhia having been thoroughly beaten by the British — are secretly preparing
“A johur, a last death-rush, is it not?”
“They will be smashed forever, and their lands taken.”
“But the King of Oudh has been promised a return to glory to join in this revolt. The fighting Rajputs—what of them? Backed by the English they should hold these black accursed Mahrattas in check.”
Barlow rose and, the wary eyes of the Chief on every move, stepped over to the table and pointed to a signature upon the document.
“That,” he said, “is the signature of the Rana of Mewar, meaning that he also passes the salt of friendship to Amir Khan.”
He turned the document over, and there written upon it was the figure “74 Yi."
“Bismillah!” the Chief cried, for he had not noticed this before; “it is the lilac, the Rana’s sealing of the document; it is the mystic number that means that the contents are sacred, that the curse of the Sack of Fort Chitor be upon him who violates the seal, it is the oath of all Rajputs—-lilac, that which is forbidden. And the Sahibs have heard a rumor that Amir Khan has a hundred thousand horsemen to cut in with. Even Sindhia is afraid of me and desires my head. The Sahibs have heard and desire my friendship.”
“That is true, Chief.”
“This is the right way,” and the Pindari brought his palm down upon the Government message. “I have heard men say that the English were like children in the matter of knowing nothing but the speaking of truth; I have heard some laugh at this, accounting it easy to circumvent an enemy when one has knowledge of all his intentions, but truth is strength. WTe have faith in children because they have not yet learned the art of a lie. In two days, Captain Sahib, thou wilt be called to an audience.” He rose from his chair, and, with a hand to his forehead, said: “Salaam, Sahib. May the protection of Allah be upon you!”
“Salaam, Chief,” Barlow answered, and he held out a hand with a boyish frankness that caused the Pindari to grasp it, and the two stood, two men looking into each other’s eyes.
“Go thou now, Sahib; thou art a man. Go alone and with quiet, for I would view this message and put it in ^yonder strong box before others enter.”
WHEN Captain Barlow had gone Amir Khan took up the message and read it. Once he chuckled, for it was in his Oriental mind that the deceiving of Barlow as to his knowledge of writing was rather a joke. Once as he read the heavy silk purdah of the door swayed a little at one side as if a draught of wind had shifted it and an evil face appeared in the opening.
Presently he rose from his chair, tooK the lamp in one hand and the paper in the other, and crossed to the iron box in a far corner of the room. He set the flickering light upon the floor, and dropping to his knees, drew from his waistband a silver chain, at the end of which were his seal and keys. His broad shoulders blanked the tiny cone of light, and behind through a marble fretwork, a delicate tracery of lotus flowers that screened the window, trickled cold shafts of moonlight that fell upon something evil that wriggled across the white and black slabs of marble from beneath the door curtain. The moonlight glistened the bronze skin of the silent, crawling thing that was a huge snake, or a giant centipede; it was even like a square-snouted, shovel-head mugger that had crept up out of the slimy river that circled sluggishly the eastern wall of the palace.
Once as Amir Khan fitted a key in the lock, he checked and knelt, as silent, as passive as a bronze Buddha, listening; and the creeping thing was but a blur, a shadow without movement, silent. Then he raised the lid of the box and paused, holding it with his right hand, the flickering light upon his bronze face showing a smile as his eyes dwelt lovingly upon the gold and jewels within.
And again the thing crept, or glided, not even a slipping purr, noiseless, just a
drifting shadow; only where a ribbon of moonlight from between a lotus and a leaf picked it out was the brown thing of evil marked against the marble. Then the divan blurred it from sight. From behind the divan to the ebony chair, and the wide black-topped table the shadow drifted; and when Amir Khan had clanged the iron lid closed, and risen, lamp in hand, there was nothing to catch his eye.
HE PLACED the lamp that was fashioned like a lotus upon the table, and dropping into his chair, yawned sleepily. Then he raised his voice to call his bearer: “Abd—”
The name died on his lips, for the thing behind the chair had slipped upward with the silent undulation of a panther, and a deadly roomal (towel) had flashed over the Chief’s head and was now a strangling knot about his tawny throat; the hard knuckles of Hunsa were kneading his spine at the back of the skull with a half twist of the cloth. He was pinioned to the back of the chair; he was in a vise, the jaws of which closed his throat. Just a stifled gurgle escaped from his lips as his hand clutched at a dagger hilt. The muscles of the naked brown body behind stood out in knobs of strength, and the face of the strangler, pan-reddened teeth showing in the flickering light as if they had bitten into blood, was the face of a ghoul.
The powerful Pindari struggled in smothering desperation; and Hunsa, twisting the gorilla hands, sought in vain to break the neck—it was too strong.
Then the chair careened sidewise, and the Pindari shot downward, his forehead striking a marble slab, stunning him. Hunsa, with the death-grip still on the roomal, planted a knee between the victim’s shoulder-blades, and jerked the head upward—still the spine did not snap; and slowly tightening the pressure of the cloth he smothered the man beneath his knee till he felt the muscles go slack and the body lie limp—dead!
Then Hunsa crossed the roomal in his left hand, and stretching out his right grasped the Chief’s dagger where it lay upon the floor, and drove it, from behind, through his heart. He placed the knife upon the floor where drops of blood, trickling from its curved point, lay upon the white marble like spilled rubies. He unfastened the silver chain that carried the keys and crossed the floor with the slouching crouch of a hyena. Rapidly he opened the iron box, took the paper Amir Khan had placed there, and hesitated for a second, his ghoulish eyes gloating over the jewels and gold; but he did not touch them, his animal cunning holding him to the simple plan that was now working so smoothly. He locked the box and slipped the key-chain about the dead man’s waist, then seizing the right hand of his victim he smeared the thumb in blood and imprinted it upon the paper just beside the seal of the British Raj, muttering: “This will do for Nana Sahib as well as your head, Pindari, and is much easier hidden.”
He placed the paper in a roll of his turban, blew out the flickering light, and with noiseless bare feet glided cautiously to the door. The purdah swung back and there was left just the silent room, all dark, save for little trickles of silver that dropped spots and grotesque lines upon the body of the dead Chief. It fell full upon the knife, flooding its blade into a finger-like mirror, and glinted the blood drops as if in reality they had turned to rubies. Without the purdah Hunsa did not crouch and run, he walked swiftly, though noiselessly, as one upon a message. Ten paces of the dim-lighted hall he turned to the right to a balcony.
Here at the top of a narrow winding stone stairway Hunsa listened; no sound came from below, and he glided down. Beneath was a balcony corresponding with the one above, and just beyond was a domed cell that he had investigated. It was a cell that at one time had witnessed the quick descent of headless bodies to the river below. A teakwood beam with a round hole in the centre spanned the cell just above an opening that had all the appearance of a well. Hunsa had investigated this exit for this very purpose, for he had been somewhat of a privileged character about the palace.
He now unslung from about his waist, hidden by his baggy trousers, a strong fine line of camel hair.
Making one end fast to the teakwood sill he went down hand over hand, his
strong hard palms gripping the soft line. At the end of it he still had a drop of ten or twelve feet, but bracing his shoulders to one wall and his feet to the other he let go. Hunsa was shaken by his drop of a dozen feet, but the soft sand of the river bed had broken the shock of his fall. He picked himself up, and crouching in the hiding shadow of the bank hurried along for fifty yards; then he clambered up cautiously to the waste of white sand that was studded with the tents of the Pindari horsemen. On his right, floating up the hill in terraces, its marble white in the moonlight, was the palace where Amir Khan lay dead. It still held a sombre quietude; the murder had not been discovered.
He had mapped this route out carefully in the day and knew just how to avoid the patrolling guards, and he was back in the narrow chouk of the town that was a struggling stream of swaggering Pindaris, and darker skinned Marwari bunnias and shopkeepers. Hunsa pushed his waythrough this motley crowd and continued on to the gate of the palace.
To the guard who halted him he said: “If the other who went up to see the Chief has gone, I would go now, meer sahib. As I have said, it is a message from the Gulab Begum.”
“I looked for you when I returned from above,” the guard answered, “but you had gone. The Afghan has gone but a little since—stay you here.”
He called within, “Yacoub!”
It was the orderly who had conducted Barlow to Amir Khan who answered, and to him the guard said: “Go to the Chief’s apartment and say that one waits here with word from the favourite.” Hunsa sat down nonchalantly upon a marble step, and drew the guard irrio a talk of raids, explaining that he had ridden once upon a time with Chitu, on his foray into the territory of the Nizam.
HUNSA had come back to the palace in haste so that the murder of Amir Khan might be discovered soon after Captain Barlow had left, and that the crime might be fastened upon the Sahib. As he waited, chatting to the guard, there was suddenly a frenzied deep-throated call of alarm from the upper level of rooms that was answered by other voices here and there crying out; there was the hurrying scuffling of feet on the marble stairs, and Yacoub appeared, his eyes wide in fright, crying:
“The Chief has been stabbed! he’s dead! he’s murdered! Guard the doors let no one out—let no one in!”
“Beat, the nakara," the guard commanded; “raise the alarm!”
He seized his long-barreled matchlock, blew on the fuse, and pointing up toward the moonlit sky, fired. Just within, in a little court, Yacoub, with heavy drumstick, was pounding from the huge drum a thunderous vibrant roar, and somebody at his command had seized a horn, and from its copper throat a strident shriek of alarm split the air.
The narrow street was now one surging mass of excited Pindaris. With their riding whips they slashed viciously at any one other than their own soldier caste that ventured near, driving them out, crying: “This is alone for the Pindaris!” A powerful, whiskered jamadar pushed his way through the mob, throwing men to the right and left with sweeps of his strong arm, and, reaching the guard, was told that Amir Khan lay up in his room, murdered. Then an hazari (commander of five thousand) came running and pushed through the throng that the full force of the tragedy held almost silent.
The guard saluted, saying: “Commander Kassim, the Chief has been slain.”
“I know not, Commander.”
“Who passed the guard here?”
“But one, the Afghan, who was expected by the Chief. He went forth but
“A Patan!” Kassim roared. “Trust a woman and a snake, but not a Patan.” He turned to the whiskered jamadar: “Quick, go you with men and bring the Agfhan.” To another he said, “Command to enter from there”—his hand swept the mob in front—“a dozen trusty sowars and flood the palace with them. Up, up; every room, every nook, every place of hiding; under everything, and above everything, and through everything, search. Not even let there be ex-
emption of the seraglio—murder lurks close to women at all times. Seize every servant that is within and bind him; let none escape.”
Tie swept a hand out toward the Pindaris in the street that were like a pack of j wolves: ‘‘Up the hill—surround the
palaee! and guard every window and rat-run!”
The guard saluted, venturing: “Commander, none could have entered from outside to do the foul deed.”
“Liar! lazy sleeper!”—he smashed with his foot the hookah that sat on the marble floor, its long stem coiled like a snake— “While you busied over such, and opium, one has slipped by.”
He reached out a powerful hand and seized the shoulder of a Pindari and jerked him to the step, commanding: “Stay here with this monkey of the tall trees, and see that none pass. I go to the Chief. When the Afghan comes have him brought up.”
HUNSA had stood among the Pindaris, shoved hither and thither as they surged back and forth. Once the flat of a tulwar had smote him across the back, but when he turned his face to the striker who recognised him as a man of privilege, one of the amusers. he was allowed to remain, The startling cry, “The Chief has been murdered! the Sultan is dead!” swept out over the desert sand that lay white in the moonlight, and the night air droned with the hum of fifty thousand voices that was like the song of a world full of bees. And t he night throbbed with the beat of horses’ feet upon the hard sand and against the stony ford of the parched river as the Pindari horsemen swept to Rajgar as if they rode in the sack of a city.
Hoarse bull-throated cries calling the curse of Allah upon the murderer were like a deep-voiced hymn of hate—it was continuous.
The bunnias, and the oilmen, and the keepers of cookshops hid their wares and crept into dark places to hide. The flickering oil lamps were blotted out; but some of the Pindaris had fastened torches to their long spears, and the fluttering lights waved and circled like shooting stars.
Rajgar was a Shoel; it was as if teak forests and the jungles of wild mango had rushed its full holding of tigers, and leopards, and elephants, and screaming monkeys.
Soon a wedge of cavalry, a dozen wildeyed horsemen, pushed their way through the struggling mob, at their head the jamadar bellowing: “Make way—make the road clean of your bodies.”
“They bring the Afghan!” somebody cried and pointed to where Barlow sat strapped to the saddle of his Beluchi mare.
“It is the one who killed the Chief!” another yelped; and the cries rippled along from mouth to mouth; tulwars flashed in the light of the lurid torches as they swept upward at the end of long arms threateningly; but the jamadar roared: “Back, back! you’re like jackals snapping and snarling. Back! if the one is killed how shall we know the truth?” One, an old man, yelled triumphantly: “Allah be praised! a wisdom—a wisdom! The torture; the horse-bucket and the hot ashes! The jamadar will have the truth out of the Afghan. Allah be praised! it is a wisdom!”
At the gate straps were loosed and Barlow was jerked to the marble steps as if he had been a blanket stripped from the horse’s back.
“It is the one, Jamadar,” the guard declared, thrusting his face into Barlow’s; “it is the Afghan. Beyond doubt there will be blood upon his clothes—look to it, Jamadar.”
“We found the Afghan in the serai, and he was attending to his horse as if about to fly; beyond doubt he is the murderer of our chief,” one who had ridden with the
“Bring the murderer face to face with his foul deed,” the jamadar commanded; and clasped by both arms, pinioned, Barlow was pushed through the gate and into the dim-lighted hall. In the scuffle of the passing Hunsa sought to slip through, impelled by a devilish fascination to hear all that would be said in the death-chamber. If the case against the Sahib were short and decisive—perhaps they might slice him into ribbons with their swords—Hunsa would then have nothing to fear, and need not attempt flight.
But the guard swept him back with the butt of his long smooth-bore, crying: “Dog, where go you?” Then he s£w that it was Hunsa, the messenger of his Chief’s favourite—as he took the Gulab to be—and he said: “You cannot enter, Hunsa. It is a matter for the jamadars
A T THAT instant the Gulab slipped A through the struggling groups in the street, the Pindaris gallantly making way for her. She had heard of the murder of the Chief, and had seen the dragging in of the Afghan.
“Let me go up, guard,” she pleaded.
“It is a matter for men, ” he objected. “The jamadar would be angry, and my sword and gun would be taken away and I should be put to scrub the legs of horses if I let you pass.”
“The jamadar will not be angry,” she pleaded, “for there is something to be said which only I have knowledge of. It was spoken to me by the Chief, he had fear of this Afghan, and, please, in the name of Allah, let Hunsa by, for being alone I have need of him.”
The soft dark eyes pleaded stronger than the girl’s words, and the guard yielded, half reluctantly. To the young Pindari he said, “Go you with these twp, and if the jamadar is for cutting off their heads, say that those in the street pulled me from the door-way, and these slipped through; I have no fancy for the compliment of a sword on my neck.”
In the dim hallway two men stood guarding the door to the Chief’s chamber, and when the man who had taken the Gulab up explained her mission, one of them said, “Wait you here. I will ask of Kassim his pleasure.” Presently he returned; “The Commander will see the woman, but if it is a matter of trifling let the penalty fall upon the guard below. The mingling of women in an affair of men is an abomination in the sight of Allah.”
When Bootea entered the chhmber she gave a gasping cry of horror. The Chief lay upon the floor, face downward, just as he had dropped when slain, for Kassim had said: “Amir Khan is dead, may Allah take him to his bosom, and such things as we may learn of his death may help us to avenge our Chief. Touch not the body.”
Her entrance was not more than half observed, for Kassim at that moment was questioning the Afghan, who stood, a man on either side of him, and two be-
He was just answering a question from the Commander and was saying: “lieft your Chief with the Peace of Allah upon both our heads, for he gripped my hand in. fellowship, and said that we were two men. Why should I slay one such who was veritably a soldier, who was a follower of Mahomet?”
The man who had brought Barlow up to Amir Khan when he came for the audience, said: “Commander, I left this one, the Afghan, here with the Chief and took with me his sword and the short gun; he had no weapons.”
“Inshallal it was but a pretence,” the Commander declared: “a pretence to gain the confidence of the Chief, for he was slain with his own knife. It was a Patan trick.”
The Commander turned to the Afghan: “Why hadst thou audience with the Chief alone and at night here—what was the
Barlow hesitated, a slight hope that might save his own life would be to declare himself as a Sahib, and his mission; but he felt sure that the Chief had been murdered because of this very thing, that somebody, an agent of Nana Sahib, had waited hidden, had killed the Chief and taken the paper. To speak of it would be to start a rumour that would run across India that the British had negotiated with the Pindaris, and if the paper weren’t found there—which it wouldn’t be—he wouldn’t be believed. Better to accept the roll of the dice as they lay, that he had lost, and die as an Afghan rather than as an Englishman, a spy who had killed their Chief.
“Speak, Patan,” Kassim commanded; “thou dwellest overlong upon some lie.” “There was a mission,” Barlow .said; “it was from my own people, the people of Sind.”
“No; from the land of Sind, Afghanistan. We ride not with the Mahrattas;
they are infidels, while we be followers of the true Prophet.”
“Thou art a fair speaker, Afghan. And was there a sealed message?”
“There was, Commander Sahib.” “Where is it now?”
“I know not. It was left with Amir Khan.”
There was a hush of three seconds. Then Kassim, whose eye had searched the room, saw the iron box. “This has a bearing upon matters,” he declared; “this affair of a written message. Open the box and see if it is within,” he commanded a Pindari.
HOW now, woman,” for the Gulab had stepped forward; “what dost thou here—ah! therewastalk of a message from the Chief. It might be, it might be, because,”—his leonineface.full whiskered, the face of a wild rider, a warrior, softened as he looked at the slight figure,—“our noble Chief had spoken soft words of thee, and passed the order that thou wert Begum, that whatsoever thou desired was to be.”
“Commander,” Bootea said, and her Voice was like hereyes, trembling, vibrant, “let me look upon the face of Amir Khan; then there are things to be said that will avenge his death in the sight of Allah.” Kassim hesitated. Then he said: “It matters not—we have the killer.” And reverently, with his own hands, he turned the Chief on his back, saying, softly, “In the name of Allah, thou Testest better thus.”
The Gulab, kneeling, pushed back the black beard with her hand, and they thought that she was making oath upon the beard of the slain man. Then she rose to her feet, and said: “There is one without, Hunsa, bring him here, and see that there is no weapon upon him.” Kassim passed an order and Hunsa was brought, his evil eyes turning from face to face with the restless query of a caged leopard.
“There is no paper, Commander Sahib,” the jamadar said, returning from his search of the iron -box.
“There was none such,” Kassim growled; “it was but a Patan lie; the message is yonder,” and he pointed to the smear of blood upon the marble floor.
Then he turned to "Bootea: “Now, woman, speak what is in thy mind, for this is an affair of action.”
“Commander Sahib,” Bootea began, “yonder man,”—and she pointed a slim hand toward Barlow—“is not an Afghan, he is a Sahib.”
This startling announcement filled the room with cries of astonishment and anger; tulwars flashed. Barlow shivered; not because of the impending danger, for he had accepted the roll of the dice, but at the thought that Bootea was betraying him, that all she had said and done before was nothing—a lie, that she was an accomplice in this murder of the Chief and was now giving the Pindaris the final convincing proof, the reason.
To deny the revelation was useless; they would torture him, and he was to die anyway; better to die claiming to be a messenger from the British rather than as one sent to murder the Chief.
Kassim bellowed an order subduing the tumult; then he asked: “What art thou, a Patan, or as the woman says, an Englay?” “I am a Sahib,” Barlow answered; “a Captain in the British service, and came to your Chief with a written message of friendship.” «
Kassim pointed to the blood on the floor: “Thou wert a good messenger,'infidel; thou hast slain a follower of the Prophet.”
But Bootea raised a slim hand, and, her voice trembling with intensity, cried: “Commander Amir Khan was not slain with the dagger, he was killed by the towel. Look you at his throat and you will see the mark.”
“Bismillah!” came in a cry of astonishment from the Commander’s throat, and the marble walls of the Surya-Mahal (room of audience) echoed gasps and curses. Kassim himself had knelt by the dead Chief, and now rising, said: “By
Allah! it is true. That dog—” his finger was thrusting like a dagger at Barlow.
BUT Bootea’s clear voice hushed the rising clamour: “No, Commander,
the sahibs know not the thug trick of the roomal, and few thugs could have overcome the Chief.”
“Who then killed him—speak quick, and with the truth,” Kassim commanded.
He was interrupted by one of Hunsa’s guards, crying: “Here, where go you— you had not leave!” And Hunsa, who had turned to slip away, was jerked back to where he had stood.
“It is that one,” Bootea declared, sweeping a hand toward Hunsa. “About his waist is even now the yellow-andwhite roomal that is the weapon of Bhowanee. With that he killed Amir Khan. Take it from him, and see if there be not black hairs from the beard of the Chief in its soft mesh.”
“By the grace of Allah it is a truth!” the Commander ejaculated when the cloth passed to him had been examined. “It is a revelation such as came to Mahomet, and out of the mouth of a woman. Great is Allah!”
“Will the Commander have Hunsa searched for the paper the Sahib has spoken of?” Bootea asked.
“In his turban—” Kassim commanded —“in his turban, the nest of a thief’s loot or the hiding-place of the knife of a murderer. Look ye in his turban!”
As the turban was stripped from the head of Hunsa the Pindari gave it a whirling twist that sent its many yards of blue muslin streaming out like a ribbon and the parchment message fell to the
“Ah-ha!” and a man, stooping, thrust it into the hands of the Commander.
The Pindari who held the turban threw it almost at the feet of Bootea, saying, “Methinks the slayer will need this no more.”
Bootea picked up the blue cloth and rolled it into a ball, saying, “If it is permitted I will take this to those who entrusted Hunsa with this foul mission to show them that he is dead.”
“A clever woman thou art—it is a wise thought: take it by all means, for indeed that dog’s head will need little when they have finished with him,” the soldier agreed.
Kassim had taken the written paper closer to the light. At sight of the thumb blood-stain upon the document, he gave a bellow of rage. “Look you all!” he cried holding it spread out in the light of the lamp; “here is our Chief’s message to us given after he was dead; he sealed it with his thumb in his own blood, after he was dead. A miracle, calling for vengeance. Hunsa, dog, thou shalt die for hours— thou shalt die by inches, for it was thee.” Kassim held the paper at arm’s length toward Barlow, asking: “Is this the message thou brought?”
“It is, Commander.”
Kassim whirled on Hunsa, “Where didst thou get it, dog of an infidel?” “Without the gate of the palace, my Lord. I found it lying there where the Sahib had dropped it in his flight.”
“Allah! thou art a Har of brazenness.”
He spoke to a jamadar: "Have brought I the leather nosebag of a horse and hot ashes so that we may come by the truth.” Then Kassim held the parchment close to the lamp and scanned it. He rubbed a hand across his wrinkled brow and pondered. “Beside the seal here is the name, Rana Bhim,” and he turned his fierce eyes on Barlow.
“Yes, Commander, the Rana has put his seal upon it that he will join his Rajputs with the British and the Pindaris to drive from Mewar Sindhia—the one whose Dewan sent Hunsa to slay your Chief.”
“Thou sayst so, but how know I that Hunsa is not in thy band and that thou didst not prepare the way for the killing? Here beside the name of the Rana is drawn a lance; that suggests an order to kill, a secret order.” He turned to asepoy “Bring the Rajput, Zalim.”
While they waited Bootea said: “It was Nana Sahib who sent Hunsa and the decoits to slay Amir Khan, because he feared an alliance between the Chief and the British.”
“And thou wert one of them?”
“I came to warn Amir Khan, and—” “And what, woman—the deeoits were your own people?”
“Yonder Sahib had saved my life— saved me from the harem of Nana Sahib, and I came to save his life and your • Chief’s.”
Now there was an eruption into the chamber; men carrying a great pot of hot ashes, and one swinging from his hand the nosebag of a horse; and with them the Rajput.
“Here,” Kassim said, addressing the Hindu, “what means this spear upon this document? Is it a hint to drive it home?” The Rajput put his fingers reverently upon the Rana’s signature, “That, Commander, is the seal, the sign. I am a Chondawat, and belong to the highest of the thirty-six tribes of Mewar, and that sign of the lance was put upon state documents by Chonda; it has been since that time—it is but a seal. Even as that,”— and Zalim proudly swung a long arm toward the wall where a huge yellow sun embossed on gypsum rested—“even as that is an emblem of the Children of the Sun, the Sesodias of Mewar, the Rana.” “It is well,” Kassim declared; “as to this that is in the message, to-morrow, with the aid of a mullah, we will consider it. And now as to Hunsa, we would have from him the truth.”
He turned to the Gulab; “Go thou in peace, woman, for our dead Chief had high regard for thee; and Captain Sahib, even thou may go to thy abode, not thinking to leave here, however, without coming to pay salaams. Thou woulds’t not get far.”
To be Concluded