Concluding Instalment of an Enthralling Story of Eastern Love and Hate
W. A. FRASER
WHEN the two had gone Kassim clapped his hands together: “Now then for the ordeal, the search for the truth,” he declared. Hot wood-ashes were poured into the horse-bag, and, protesting, cursing, struggling, the powerful Bagree was dragged to the centre of the room.
“Who sent thee to murder Amir Khan?” Kassim asked. “Before Bhowanee, Prince, I did not kill him!”
At a wave of Kassim’s hand upward the bag of ashes was clapped over the decoit’s head, and he was pounded on the back to make him breathe in the deadly dust. Then the bag was taken off, and gasping, reeling, he was commanded to speak the truth. Once Kassim said: “Dog, this is but gentle means; torches will be bound to thy fingers and lighted. The last thing that will remain to thee will be thy tongue for we have need of that to utter the truth.”
Three times the nosebag was applied to Hunsa, like the black cap over the head of a condemned murderer, and the last time, rolling on the floor in agony, his lungs on fire, his throat choked, his eyes searing like hot coals, he gasped that he would confess if his life were spared.
“Dog!” Kassim snarled, “thy life is forfeit, but the torture will cease; it is reward enough—speak!”
But the Bagree had the obstinate courage of a bull-dog; the nerves of his giant physical structure were scarce more vibrant than those of a bull; as to the torture it was but a question of a slower death. But his life was something to bargain for. Half dead from the choking of his lungs, with an animal cunning he thought of this; it was the one dominant idea in his numbed brain. As he lay, his mighty chest pumping its short staccato gasps, Commander Kassim said: “Bring the dog of an infidel water that he may tell the truth.”
When water had been poured down the Bagree’s throat, he rolled his bloodshot eyes beseechingly toward the Commander, and in a voice scarce beyond a hoarse whisper, said: “If you do not kill me, Prince, I will tell what I know.”
“Tell it, dog, then die in peace,” Kassim snarled.
But Hunsa shook his gorilla head, and answered, “Bhowanee help me, I will not tell. If I die I die with my spirit cast at thy shrine.”
Kassim stamped his foot in rage; and a jamadar roared: “Tie the torches to the infidel’s fingers; we will
have the truth from him.”
darted forward, and poised in waiting for the command to bind to the fingers of the Bagree oil-soaked torches; but Kassim moved them back, and stood, his brow wrinkled in pondering, his black eyes sullenly fixed on the face of the Bagree. Then he said: “What this dog knows is of more value to our whole people, considering the message that has been brought, than his worthless life that is but the life of a swine.”
HE TOOK a turn pacing the marble floor, and with his eyes called a jamadar to one side. “These thugs, when they cast themselves in the protection of Kali, die like fanatics, and this one is but an animal. Torture will not bring the truth. Mark you, jamadar, I will make the compact with him. Do not lead an objection, but trust
“But the dead Chief, Commander—?”
“Yes, because of nim; he loved his people. And the knowledge that yon dog has he would not havesacrificed.” “But Amir Khan is to be unavenged?” the jamadar queried.
"Allah will punish yonder infidel for the killing of one of the true faith. Go and summon the officers from below and we will decide upon this.”
Soon a dozen officers were in the room, and the sowars were sent away. Then Kassim explained the situation saying: “A confession brought forth by torture is often but a lie, the concoction of a mind crazed with pain. If this dog, who has more courage than feeling, sees the chance of his life he will tell (is the truth.”
But they expostulated, saying that if they let him go free it would be a bloj upon their name.
“The necessity is great,” Kassim declared, “and this I am convinced is the only way. We may leave his punishment to Allah, for Allah is great. He will not let live one so vile.”
Finally the others agreed with Kassim who said that he would take the full onus upon himself for not slaying the murderer, that if there were blame let it be upon his head. Then he spoke to Hunsa; “This has been decided upon, dog, that if thou confess, reveal to us information that is of value to our people, the torture shall cease, and no man’s hand in the whole Pindari camp, shall be raised against thee either to wound or take thy life.”
“But the gaol, Hazari Sahib?”
“No, dog, if thou but tell the truth in full, that we may profit, to-morrow thou may go free, and if any man in the camp wounds thee his life will pay for it. Till noon thou may have for the going; even food for thy start on the way back to the land of thy accursed tribe. By the Beard of the Prophet no man of all the Pindari force shall wound thee. Now speak quick, for I have given a pledge.”
There were murmurs amongst the jamadars at Kassim’s terms, for their hearts were full of hate for the creature who had slain their loved chief. But Kassim was a man famous for his intelligence. In all the councils Amir Khan had been swayed by the Hazari’s judgment. It was an accursed price to pay they felt, but the Chief was dead; to kill his slayer perhaps was not as great a thing as to have Hunsa’s confession written and attested to. All that vast horde of fierce riding Pindaris and Bundoolas had been gathered by Amir Khan with the object of being a power in the war that was brewing—the war in which the Mahrattas were striving for ascendency, and the British massing to crush the Mahratta horde. It had been Amir Khan’s policy to strike with the winning force; perhaps his big body of hard-riding sowars being the very power that would throw the odds to one or other of the contenders. Their reward would be loot, unlimited loot, so dear to the heart of the Pindari, and an assignment of territory. To know, beyond doubt, who had instigated the murder of the Chief was precious knowledge. It might be, as the Gulab had said, Sindhia’s Dewan, but there was the English officer there at the time; and the message of friendship may have been a message of deceit and the true object the slaying of Amir Khan who was looked upon as a great leader.
ÍUNSA had lain watching furtively the effect of the Commander’s words upon the others; now he said, will tell the truth, Hazari, for thou hast given a omise in the name of Allah that I am free of death at e hands of thy people.”
“Wait, dog of an infidel!” Kassim commanded: “quick, 11 the Mullah to write the confession, for this is a sin to washed out in much blood, and the proof must be at md so the guilty will have no plea for mercy. Also it is matter of secrecy; we here being officers will have it on ir honour, and the Mullah, because of his priesthood, ill not speak of it, also he will bear witness of its snnc-
Soon a Pindari announced, “Commander Sahib, here the holy one,” and at a word from Kassim the priest, trolled his sheets of yellow paper, and sitting erosszged upon a cushion with a salaam to the dead Chief, pped his quill in a little ink-horn and held it poised _ Then Hunsa, his eyes all the time furtively watching ,e scowling fact's about him. fear and distrust, in his ■art over the gift of his life, but impelled by his knowdee that it was his only chance, narrated the story of
of the leader they feared, Amir Khan; told that they knew that the British were sending overtures for an alliance, but that fearing to kill the messenger— unless it could be done so secretly it would never be discoveredthey had determined to remove the Chief. When he spoke of the other Bagrees, Kassim realised that in the excitement of fixing the murder upon one there they had forgotten his troop associates, and a hurried order was passed for their capture.
WHEN the confession was finished Kassim commanded the Mullah to rub his cube of India ink over the thumb of the decoit and the mark was imprinted on the paper. Then he was taken to one of the cave cells cut out of the solid rock beneath the palace, and imprisoned for the night.
“Come, jamadars,” Kassim said—and his voice that had been so coarse and rough now broke, and sobs floated the words scarce articulate—“and reverently let us lay Amir Khan upon his bed. Then, though there be no call of the muezzin, we will kneel here, even without our prayer carpets, and pray to Allah for the repose of the soul of a true Musselman and a great warrior. May his rest be one of peace!”
He passed his hand lovingly over the face of the Chief and down his beard, and his strong fearless eyes were wet.
Then Amir Khan was lifted by the jamadars and carried to a bed in the room that adjoined the surya mahal.
When they had risen from their silent prayer, Kassim said: “Go ye to your tents. I will remain here with the guard who watch.”
/"'CAPTAIN BARLOW and Bootea had gone from the scene of the murder through the long dim-lighted hall, its walls broken here and there by niches of mystery, some of them closed by marble fretwork screens that might have been doors, and down the marble stairway, in silence. Barlow had slipped a hand under her arm in the way of both a physical and mental sustaining; his fingers tapped her arm in affectionate approbation. Once he muttered to himself in English, “Splendid girl!” and not comprehending, the Gulab turned her star-eyes upward to his face.
At the gate the soldier who had accompanied them spoke to the guard and the latter, standing on a step bellowed: "Ho, ye Pindaris, here goes forth the Afghan in innocence of the foul crime! Above they have the slayer, who was Hunsa the thug: and, Praise be to Allah! they will apply the torture. Let him pass in peace, all ye. And take care that no one molest the beautiful Gulab. The peace of Allah upon the soul of the great Amir Khan!”
A rippling thunder of deep voices vibrated the thronged street crying, “Allah Akbar! the peace of God be upon the soul of the dead Chief!”
A lane was opened up to them by the grim, w ild-eyed bandit-looking horsemen, tulwar over shoulder and knives in belt, who called: “Back ye! the favoured of the Commander passes. Back, make way! ’tis an order.”
The faces of the soldiers that had been wreathed in revenge and blood-lust when Barlow had been brought, were now friendly, and there were cries of “Salaam, brother! salaam, Flower of the Desert!” for it had been spread that the Gulab had discovered the murderer, had denounced him.
“Brave little Gulab!” Barlow' said in a low voice, bending his head to look into her eyes, for he felt the arm trembling against his hand.
She did not answer, and he knew that she was sobbing. When they were past the turbulent crowd he said, “Bootea, your people will all have fled or been captured.” “Yes, Sahib,” she gasped.
“Perhaps even your maid servant will have been
“No, Sahib, they would not take her; her home is here.” By her side he travelled to where the now deserted tents of the decoits stood silent and dark, like little pagodas of sullen crime. A light flickered in one tent, and silhouetted against its canvas side they could see the form of a woman crouched wdth her head in her hands.
“The maid is there,” Barlow said: “but it is not enough. I will bring my blankets and sleep here at the door of your tent.”
“No, Sahib, it is not needed,” the girl protested.
“Yes, Bootea, I will come.” Then with a little laugh he added: “The gods have ordained that we take turns at protecting each other. It is now my turn; I will come soon.”
She turned her small oval face up to look at this wonderful man, to discover if he were really there, that it wras not some kindly god who would vanish. He clasped the face, with its soul of adoration, in his two palms and kissed her. Then fearing that she would fall, for she had closed her eyes and reeled, he took her by the arm, opened the flap of the tent, and left her in the arms of her handmaid
It was a fitful night’s sleep for Barlow; the beat of horses’ hoofs on the streets or the white sands beyond was like the patter of rain on a roof. There were hoarse bull-throated cries of men who rode hither and thither; tremulous voices floated on the night air—wild dirges, like the weird Afghan love song. Sometimes a long smoothbore barked its sharp call. At sunrise the Captain was roused from this tiring sleep by the strident weird singsong of the Mullah sending forth from a minaret of the palace his call to the faithful to prayer, prayer for the dead Chief. And when the voice had ceased its muezzin:
“Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar;
Confess that there is no God but God;
Confess that Mohammed is the prophet of God;
Come to prayer, Come to Prayer,
For Prayer is better than Sleep.”
the big drums sent forth a thundering reverberation.
He could hear the voices of the two women within, and called, “Bootea, Bootea!”
The Gulab came shyly from the tent saying, “Salaam, Sahib.” Then she stood with her eyes drooped waiting for him to speak.
“It is this, Bootea,” Barlow said, “do not go away until I am ready to depart, then I will take you where you wish to go.”
“If it is permitted, Sahib, I will wait,” she answered as simply as a child.
Barlow put a finger under her chin, and lifting her face smiled like a great boy, saying: “Gulab, you are wonderfully sweet.”
Then Barlow went to the serai, looked after his horse, had his breakfast, and passed back into the town. He saw a continuous stream of men moving toward the small river that swept southward, to the east of the town, and asking of one the cause was told that the ahiria (murderer) —for now Hunsa was known as the murderer—was being sent on his way. The speaker was a Rajput. “It is strange, Afghan,” he said, “that one who has slain the Chief of these wild barbarians, who are without gods, should be allowed to depart in peace. We Rajputs worship a god that visits the sin upon the head of the sinner, but the order has been passed that no man shall harm the slayer of Amir Khan. Perhaps it is whispered in the Bazaar that Commander Kassim coveted the Chiefship.”
Barlow being in the guise of a Musselman said solemnly: “Allah will punish the murderer, mark you well, man of Rajasthan.”
“As to that, Afghan, one stroke of a tulwar would put the matter beyond doubt; as it is, let us push forward, because I see from yonder steady array of spears that the Pindaris ride toward the river, and I think the prisoner is with them. It was one Hunsa, a thug, and though the thugs worship Bhowanee, they are worse than the mhangs who are of no caste at all.”
AS BARLOW came to where the town reached to the river bank he saw that the concourse of people was heading south along the river. This was rather strange, for a bridge of stone arches traversed by the aid of two islands the Nahal to the other side. A quarter of a mile lower down he came to where the river, that above wandered in three channels over a rocky bed, now glided sluggishly in one channel. It was like a ribboned snake, smooth in its slow slip over a muddy bed, and circling in a long sweep to the bank. On the level plain was a concourse of thousands, horsemen, who sat their lean-flanked Marwari or Cabul horses as though they waited to swing into a parade, the march past. The sowars Barlow had seen in the town were in front of him, riding four abreast, and at a command from their leader, opened up and formed a scimitar-shaped band,
their horses’ noses toward the river. As he came close Barlow saw Kassim in a group of officers, andjlunsa, a soldier on either side of him, was standing free and unshackled in front of the Commander. Save for the clanking of a bit, or the clang of a spear haft against a stirrup, or the scuffle of a quick turning horse’s hoofs, a silence rested upon that vast throng. Wild barbaric faces held a look of expectancy, of wonderment, for no one knew why the order had been passed that they were to assemble at that point.
Kassim caught sight of Barlow as he drew near, and raising his hand in a salute, said: “Come close, Sahib, the slayer of Amir Khan, in accordance with my promise, is to go from our midst a free man. His .punishment has been left to Allah, the one God.”
Without more ado he stretched forth his right arm impressively toward the murky stream, that, where it rippled at some disturbance, carried on its bosom ribbons of gold where the sun fell, saying:
“Yonder lies the way, infidel, strangler, slayer of a follower of the Prophet! Depart, for, failing that, it lacks but an hour till the sun reaches overhead, and the time will have elapsed—thou will die by the torture. You are free, even as I attested by the Beard of the Prophet. And more, what is not in the covenant,”—Kassim drew from beneath his rich brocaded vest the dagger of Amir Khan, its blade still carrying the dried blood of the Chief — ‘this is thine to keep thy vile life if you can. Seest thou if the weapon is still wedded to thy hand. It is that thou goest hand-in-hand with thy crime.”
He handed the knife to a soldier with a word of command, and the man thrust it in the belt of Hunsa.
Even as Kassim ceased speaking two round bulbs floated upon the smooth waters of the sullen river, and above them was a green slime; then a square shovel just topped the water, and Barlow could hear, issuing from the thing of horror, a breath like a sigh. He shuddered. It was a square-nosed mugger (crocodile) waiting. And beyond, the water here and there swirled, as if a powerful tail swept it.
AND Hunsa knew; his evil swarthy face turned as green as the slime upon the crocodile’s forehead; his powerful naked shoulders seemed to shrivel and shrink as though blood had ceased to flow through his veins. He put his two hands, clasped palm to palm, to his forehead in supplication, and begged that the ordeal might pass, or any way except by that pool of horrors.
Kassim again swept his hand toward the river and his voice was horrible in its deadliness: “These children of the poor that are sacred to some of they gods, infidel, have been fed; five goats have been allotted them as sacrifice and they wait for thee. They serve Allah and not thy gods to-day. Go, murderer, for we wait; go unless thou art not only a murderer but a coward, for it is the only way. It was promised that no Pindari should wound or kill thee, dog, but they will help thee on thy way.”
Hunsa at this drew himself up, his gorilla face seemed to fill out with resolve; he swept the vast throng of horsemen with his eyes, and realised that it was indeed true there was nothing left but the pool and the faint, faint chance that, powerful swimmer that he was, and with the knife, he might cross. Once his evil eyes rested on Kassim and involuntarily a hand twitched toward the dagger hilt; but at that instant he was pinioned, both arms, by a Pindari on either side. Then, standing rigid, he said:
“I am Hunsa, a Bagree, a servant of Bhowanee; I am not afraid. May she bring the black plague upon all the Pindaris, who are dogs that worship a false god.”
He strode toward the waters, the soldiers, still a hand on either arm, marching beside him. On the clay bank he put his hands to his forehead, calling in a loud voice: “Kali Mia, receive me!” Then he plunged head first into the pool.
A cry of “Allah! Allah!” went up from ten thousand throats as the Bagree shot from view, smothered in the foam of the ruffled stream. And beyond the waters were churned by huge ghoulish forms that the blood of goats had gathered there. Five yards from the bank the ugly head of Hunsa appeared; a brown arm flashed once, in the fingers clutched a knife that seemed red with fresh blood. The water was lashed to foam; the tail of a giant mugger shot out and struck flat upon the surface of the river like the crack of a pistol. Again the' head, and then the shoulders, of the swimmer were seen; and as if something dragged the torso below, two legs shot out from the water, gyrated spasmodically, and disappeared.
Barlow waited, his soul full of horror, but there was nothing more; just a little lower down in the basin of the sluggish pool two bulbous protrusions above the water where some crocodile, either gorged or disappointed floated lazily.
A ghastly silence reigned—no one spoke; ten thousand eyes stared out across the pool.
Then the voice of Kassim was heard, solemn and deep, saying: “The covenant has
been kept and Allah has avenged the death of Amir Khan!”
COMMANDER KASSIM touched Barlow on the arm: “Captain Sahib, come with me. The death of that foul murderer does not take the weight off our hearts.” “He deserved it,” Barlow declared.
Though filled with a sense of shuddering horror, he was compelled involuntarily to admit that it had been a most just punishment; less brutal, even more impressive —almost taking on the aspect of a religious execution— than if the Bagree had been tortured to death; hacked to pieces by the tulwars oí the outraged Pindaris. He had been executed with no evidence of passion in those who witnessed his death. And as to the subtlety of the Commander in obtaining the confession, that, too, according to the ethics of Hindustan, was meritorious, not a thing to be condemned. Hunsa’s animal cunning had been overmatched by the clear intellect of this wise soldier.
“We will walk back to the Chamber of Audience,” Kassim said, “for now there are things to relate.”
He spoke to a soldier to have his horse led behind, and as they walked he explained: “With us, Sahib, as at the death of a Rana of Mewar, there is no interregnum; the dead wait upon the living, for it is dangerous that no one leads, even for an hour, men whose guard is their sword. So, as Amir Khan waits yonder where his body lies to be taken on his way to the arms of Allah in Paradise, they who have the welfare of our people at heart have, selected one to lead, and one and all, the jamadars and the hazaris, have decreed that I shall, unworthily, sit upon the ghuddi (throne) that was Amir Khan’s, though with us it is but the back of a horse. And we have taken under advisement the message thou brought. It has come in good time for the Mahrattas are like wolves that have turned upon each other. Sindhia, Rao Holkar, both beaten by your armies, now fight amongst themselves, and suck like vampires the life-blood of the Rajputs. And Holkar has become insane. But lately, retreating through Mewar, he went to the shrine of Krishna and prostrating himself before his heathen image reviled the god as the cause of his disaster. When the priests, aghast at the profanity, expostulated, he levied a fine of three hundred thousand rupees upon them, and when, fearing an outrage to the
image these infidels call a god, they sent the idol to Udaipur, he waylaid the men who had taken it and slew them to a man.”
“Your knowledge of affairs is great, Chief,” Barlow commented, for most of this was new to him.
“Yes, Captain Sahib, we Pindaris ride north, and east, and south, and west; we are almost as free as the eagles of the air, claiming that our home is where our cooking-pots are. We do not trust to ramparts such as Fort Chitor where we may be cooped up and slain—such as the Rajputs have been three times in the three famed sacks of Chitor—but also, Sahib, this is all wrong.”
The Chief halted and swept an arm in an encompassing embrace of the tent-studded plain.
“We are not a nation to muster an army because now the cannon that belch forth a shower of death mow horsemen down like ripened grain. It was the dead Chief’s ambition, but it is wrong.”
Barlow was struck with the wise logic of this tall widebrowed warrior, it was wrong. Massed together Pindaris and Bundoolas assailed by the trained hordes of Mahrattas, with their French and Portuguese gunners and officers, would be slaughtered like sheep. And against the war-trained Line Regiments of the British foot soldiers they would meet the same fate.
“You are right, Chief Kassim,” Barlow declared; “even if you cut in with the winning side, especially Sindhia, he would turn on you and devour you and your people.”
“Yes, Sahib. The trade of a Pindari, if I may call it so, has been that of loot in this land that has always been a land of strife for possession. I rode with Chitu as a jamadar when we swept through the Nizam’s territory and put cities under a tribute of many lakhs, but that was a force of five thousand only, and we swooped through the land like a great flock of hawks. But even at that Chitu, a wonderful chief, was killed by wild animals in the jungle when he was fleeing from disaster, almost alone.”
They were now close to the palace, and as they entered, just within the great hall Kassim said: "There will be nothing to say on their part, Captain Sahib; the officers will come even now to the audience and it is all agreed
upon. Thou wilt be given an assurance to take back to the British, for by chance the others have great confidence in me, even more in a matter of diplomacy than they had in the dead leader, may Allah rest his soul!”
And to the audience chamber—where had sat oft two long rows of minor chiefs, at their head on a raised dias the Rajput Raja, a Seesodia, one of the “Children of the Sun,” as the flaming yellow gypsum sun above the dias attested—now came in twos and threes the wild-eyed whiskered riders of the desert. They were lean, rawboned, steel-muscled, tall, solemn-faced men, their eyes set deep in skin wrinkled from the scorch of sun on the white sands of the desert. And their eyes beneath the black brows were like falcon’s, predatory like those of birds of prey. And the air of freedom, of self-reliance, of independence was in every look, in the firm swinging stride, and erect set of the shoulders. They were men to swear by or to fear; verily, men. And somehow one sharp look of appraisement, and one and all would have sworn by Allah that the Sahib in the garb of an Afghan was a man.
As each one entered he strode to the centre of the room, drew himself erect facing the heavy curtain beyond which lay the dead Chief, and raising a hand to brow, said in a deep voice: “Salaam, Amir Khan, and may the Peaee of Allah be upon thy spirit.”
“Now brothers,” Kassim said, when the curtain entrance had ceased to be thrust to one side, “we will say what is to be said. One will stand guard just without for this is a matter for the officers alone.”
He took from his waist the silver chain and unlocked the iron box, brought forth the paper that Barlow had carried, and holding it aloft, said: “This is the message of brotherhood from the English Raj. Are ye all agreed that it is acceptable to our people?”
“In the name of Allah we are,” came as a sonorous chorus from one and all.
“And are ye agreed that it shall be said to the Captain Sahib, who is envoy from the Englay, that we ride in peace to his people, or ride not at all in war?
“Allah! it is agreed," came the response.
He turned to Barlow. "Captain Sahib, thou hast heard. The word of a Pindari, taken in the name of Allah, is inviolate. That is our answer to the message
from the Englay Chief. There is no writing to be given, for a Pindari deals in yea and nay. Is it to be considered, Captain Sahib; is it a message to send that is worthy of men to men?”
‘‘It is, Commander Kassim,” Barlow answered.
“Then wait thou for the seal.”
He raised his tulwar aloft,—and as he did so the steel of every jamadar and hazari flashed upward,—saying, “We Pindaris and Bundoolas who rode for Amir Khan and now ride for Kassim, swear in the name of Allah, and on the Beard of Mahomet, who is his Prophet, friendship to the Englay Raj.”
“By Allah and the Beard of Mahomet, who is his Prophet, wre make oath!” the deep voices boomed solemnly.
“It is all,” Kassim said quietly. “I would make speech for a little with the Captain.”
A S EACH officer passed toward the door ne held out a hand and gripped the hand of the Englishman.
When they had gone Kassim said; “Go thou back, Sahib, to the one who is to receive our answer, and let our promise be sent to the one who commands the Englay army and is even now at Tonk, in Mewar, for the purpose of putting the Mahrattas to the sword. Tell the Sahib to strike and drive the accursed dogs from Mewar, and have no fear that the Pindaris will fall upon his flank. Even also our tulwars and our spears are ready for service so be it there is a reward in lands and gold.”
The Pirfdari Chief paced the marble floor twice, then with his eyes watching the effect of his words in the face of Barlow he said: “Captain Sahib, it is of an affair of feeling I would speak now. It relates to the woman who has done us all a service, which but shows what a perception Amir Khan had; a glance and he knew a man for what he was. Therein was his power over the Pindaris. And it seems, which is rarer, that he knew what was in the heart of a woman, for the Gulab is one to rouse in a man desire. And I, myself, years of hard riding and combat having taken me out of my colt-days, wondered why the Chief, being busy otherwise, and a man of short temper, should entail labour in the way of claiming her regard. I may say, Sahib, that a Pindari seizes upon what he wants and backs the claiming with his sword, but now it is all explained—the wise gentleness that really was in the heart of one so fierce as the Chief—Allah rest his soul! What say thou,
“Bootea is wonderful,”
Barlow answered fervidly; “she is like a Rajput princess.”
Kassim coughed, stroked his black beard, adjusted the hilt of his tulwar, then coughed
“Inshalla! but thou hast said something.”
He turned to face Barlow more squarely : “Captain Sahib, the one who suffered the wrath of Allah to-day last night sent a salaam that I would listen to a matter of value. Not wishing to have the hated presence of the murderer in the room near where was Amir Khan I went lielow to where in a rock cell was this Hunsa.
This was the matter he spoke of, no doubt hoping that it would make me more merciful, therefore, of a surety, I think it is a lie. It is well known, Sahib, that the Rana of Udaipur had a beautiful daughter, and
Raja Jaipur and Raja Marwar both laid claim to her hand; even Sindhia wanted the princess, but being a Mahratta—who are nothing in the way of breeding such as are the Children of the Sun—dust was thrown upon his beard. But the Rajputs fly to the sword over everything and a terrible war ensued in which Udaipur was about ruined. Then one hyena, garbed as the Minister of State, persuaded the cowardly Rana to sacrifice Princess Kumari to save Udaipur,
“All this is known, Sahib, and that she, with the cour-
age of a Rajputni, drained the cup that contained the poison brewed from poppy leaves, and died with a smile on her lips, saying, ‘Do not cry, mother; to give my life for my country is nothing.’ That is the known story, Sahib. But what Hunsa related was that Kumari did not die, but lives, and has the name of Bootea the Gulab.” The Chief turned his eyes quizzically upon the Englishman, who muttered a half-smothered cry of surprise.
“It can’t be—how could the princess be with such men?” “Better there than sacrifice. Hunsa learned of this thing through listening beneath the wall of a tent at night while one Ajeet Singh spoke of it to the Gulab. It was that the Rana got a yogi, a man skilled in magical things, either drugs or charms, and that Kumari was given a potion that caused her to lie dead for days; and when she was brought back to life of course she had to be removed from where Jaipur or Marwar might see her or hear of this thing, because they would fly to the sword
Kassim ceased speaking and his eyes carried a look of interrogation as if he were anxious for a sustaining of his half-faith in the story.
“It’s all entirely possible,” Barlow declared emphatically; “it’s a common practice in India this deceit as to death where a death is necessary. It could all be easily arranged, the Rana yielding to pressure to save Mewar, and dreading the sin of being guilty of the death of his daughter. Even the Gulab is like a Princess of the Sesodias—like a ftajputni of the highest caste.”
“Indeed she Is, Captain Sahib; the quality of breeding never lies.”
“AIITHAT discredits Hunsa’s story,” Barlow said » V thoughtfully, “is that the Gulab was in the protection of Ajeet Singh who was but a thakur at best— really a protector of decoits.”
“To save Kumari’s life she had been given to the yogi, and he would not act out of affection for the girl’s standing as a princess, but to prevent discovery, bloodshed, and, her life. It is also known that these ascetics—in-
fidels, children of the devil— by charm, or drugs, or otherwise, can cause something like death for days—a trance, and the one who goes thus knows not who he was when he comes back,” Kassim argued.
“Well,” Barlow said, “it is a matter unsolvable, and of no importance, for the Gulab, Kumari or otherwise, is a princess, such as men fight and die for.”
There was a little silence, Barlow carrying on in his mind this, the main interest, so far as he was concerned, Bootea; as a woman appealing to the senses or to the
subtlest mentality she was the sweetest woman he had ever known.
There was a flicker of grim humor in Kassim’s dark eyes: “Captain Sahib,” he said, “that evil-faced Bagree has a curious deep cunning, I believe. I’ll swear now by the hilt of my tulwar that he made up the whole story for the purpose of having audience with me, and in his heart was a favour desired, for as I was leaving, he asked that I would have his turban given back to him to wear on his going; he pleaded for it. Of course, Sahib, a turban is an affair of caste, and I suppose he was feeling a disgrace in going forth without it. It appears that Gulab had taken it as an evidence that he had been killed, but when I sent a man for it she told him that the cloth was possessed of vermin and she had burned it.”
“But still, Chief, though Hunsa has an animal cunning, yet he could not make up such a story—he has heard it somewhere.”
Barlow felt his heart warm toward the grizzled old warrior as he, dropping the nebulous matter of Kumari, said: “And to think, Captain Sahib, that but for the Gulab we would have slain you for the murderer of Amir Khan. As a Patan, even if I had wished it, I could not have fended the tulwars from your body. And you were a brave man, such as a Pindari loves; rather than announce thyself as an Englay—the paper gone and thy mission failed—thou wouldst have stood up to death like a soldier.”
He put his hand caressingly on Barlow’s knee, adding: “By the Beard of the Prophet, thou art a man! But all this, Sahib, is to this end; we hold the Gulab in reverence, as did Amir Khan, and if it is permitted, I would have her put in thy hands for her going. Those that were here in the camp with her fled at the first alarm, and my riders discovered to-day, too late, that they hid in an old mudwalled fort about three miles from here whilst my Pindaris scoured the country for them; then when my riders returned they escaped. So the Gulab is alone. I will send a guard of fifty horsemen and they wall ride with thee till thou turnest their horses’ heads homeward, and for the Gulab there will be a tonga, such as a Nawab might use, drawn by well-fed, and well-shod horses. That, too, she may keep to the end of her journey and afterwards, returning but the driver.”
“My salaams to you, Chief, for your goodness. Tomorrow if it please you I will go with your promises to the British.” “It is a command,Sahib —tomorrow. And may the Peace of Allah be upon thee and thy house always!”
He held out a hand and his large dark eyes hovered lovingly over the face of the English-
CAPTAIN BARLOW walked along to the tent of Bootea to tell her of the arrangement that had been made for their leaving camp so that she might be ready. He could see in the girl’s eyes the reflection of a dual mental struggle, -an ineffable sweetness varied by a changing cloud of something that was apprehension or doubt.
“The Sahib is a protector to Bootea,” she said. “Sometimes I wondered if such men lived; yet I suppose a woman always has in her mind a vague conception that such a one might be. But always that, that is like a dream, is broken—one wakes.” Prosaically taking the matter in hand Barlow said, “You would wish to go back to your people at Chunda— is it not so?”
The girl’s eyes flashed to his face, and her brows wrinkled. as if from pain. “Those who have fled will be on their way to Chunda, and they will tell of the slaying of Amir Khan. The Dewan will be pleased, and they will be given honour and rich reward; they will be allowed to return to Karowlee.”
“Yes,” Barlow interposed; “that Hunsá göés hot back will simply h* taken as an affair of war, that he was captured and killed; there will be nobody to relate that you revealed the plot. When you arrive there you, also, will be showered with favours, and Ajeet Singh will owe his life to you; they will set him at liberty.”
“And as to Nana Sahib?” Bootae asked, and there was pathetic dread in her eyes.
“What is it—you fear him?”
“Yes, Sahib, he will claim Bootea; a Mahratta never keeps faith. There will be a fresh covenant, because he is like a beast of the jungle.”
Barlow paced back and forth the small ccnfine of the tent, muttering, “It’s hell!” He pictured the Gulab in the harem of Nana Sahib—in a gaudy prison chained to a serpent. To interfere on her behalf would be to sacrifice what came first, his duty as an officer of the state, to what would be called, undoubtedly, an infatuation. Elizabeth would take it that way; even his superiors would call it at least inexpedient, bad form. For a British officer to be interested or mixed up with a native woman, no matter how noble the impulse, would be a shatterment of both official and personal caste.
“I won’t allow that,” he declared vehemently, shifting into words his mental traverse.
Bootea had followed with her eyes his struggle; then she said; “The Sahib has heard of the women of the Rajputs who with smiles on their lips faced de¿ th, who, when the time of the last danger came, were not afraid?”
“Yes, Gulab. But for you it is not that way. You have said that I am your protector—I will be ”
There was a smile on the girl’s lips as she raised her eyes to Barlow’s. “It is not permitted, Sahib; the Gods have the matter in their lap. For a little—yes perhaps. It is the time of the pilgrimage to the shrine of Omkar at Mandhatta, and Bootea will make the pilgrimage; at the shrine is the priest that told Bootea of her reincarnations,
I related to the Sahib.”
A CURIOUS superstitious chill struck with full force upon the heart of Barlow. Kassim’s story of Kumari revivified itself with startling remembrance. Was this the priest, that, to save Kumari’s sacrifice, had wafted her by occult or drug method from one embodied form into another, from Kumari to Bootea? It was confusing, so overpowering in its clutch that he did not speak of it.
The girl was adding: “It is on the Sahib’s way to Poona; there will be many from Karowlee at Mandhatta and I can return with them.”
This seemed reasonable to Barlow; she would there be in the company of people not at war. And then, erratically, rebelliously, he felt a heart hunger; but he cursed this feeling as being vicious—it was. He smothered it, shoving it back into a niche of his mind, thinking he had locked it up—had turned a key in the door of the closet to hide the skeleton.
He temporised, saying: "Well, we'll see, Gulab; perhaps at Mandhatta I could wait while you made an offering and a prayer to Omkar, and then you could journey on to Chunda.” To himself he muttered in English: “By God! I’ll not stand for that slimy brute, Nana Sahib’s, possession of the girl—she’s too good. I know enough now to denounce him.”
In council with himself, standing Captain Barlow firmly on his feet to face the realities, he realised the impossibility of being anything more to Bootea than just a Sahib who had by fate been thrown into her path temporarily. And then, feeling the sway, the compelling force of a fascinating femininity he almost trembled for himself. Weaker sahibs—gad! he knew several, one a Deputy Commissioner. A beautiful little Kashmiri girl had nursed him through cholera when his own servants had fled. The Kashmiri, who had the dainty flower-like sweetness of a Japanese maid, and practically the same code, had lived in his protection before this. After the nursing incident he had married her, with benefit of clergy, and the result had been hell, a living suicide, ostracism. A good officer, he still remained Deputy Commissioner, the highest official of the district, but the social excellence was wiped out—he was a pariah, an outcast. And the girl who now could not remain just, a native, could not attain to the dignity of a Deputy-Commissioner Mem-sahib.
Barlow knew several such. Of course the drifters he knew also, the white inland beach-combers—men who had come out to India to fill subordinate positions in the telegraph, or the railroad, or mills; and, as they sloughed off European caste, and possessed of the eternal longing for woman companionship, had married natives. Barlow shuddered at mentally rehearsed visions of the degradation. Thus everything logical was on that side of the ledger—all against the Gulab.
On the other side was the fierce compelling fascination that the girl held for him.
Yes, at Mandhatta they would both sacrifice to the gods. Curiously Elizabeth stood in the computation a cipher; probably he would marry her, but the escapement from disaster, from wreck, would not be because of any moral sustaining from her, any invisible thread of love
binding him to the daughter of the Resident. He knew that until he parted from Bootea at Mandhatta his soul would be torn by a strife that was foolish, contemptible, that should never have originated.
AND NEXT day when Barlow, sitting his horse, still riding as the Afghan, went forth, his going was somewhat like the going of a Nawab. Chief Kassim and a dozen officers had clanked down the marble steps from the palace with him and stood lined up at the gates raising their deep voices in full-throated salaams and blessings of Allah upon his head.
The horsemen of the guard, spears to boot-leg, fiereelooking riders of the plain, were lined up four abreast. The nakara in the open court of the palace was thundering a farewell like a salute of light artillery.
The tonga with Bootea had gone on before with a guard of tw'o outriders.
All that day they travelled to the south, on their left, against the eastern sky, the lofty peaks of the Vindhya mountains holding the gold of the sun till they looked like a continuous chain of gilded temples and tapering pagodas. For hours the road lay over hard basaltic rock and white limestone; then again it was a sea of white sand they traversed with its blinc irg eye-stinging glare.
At night, when they camped, Barlow had a fresh insight into the fire courtesy, the rough nobility that breeds into the bone of men who live by the sword and ride where they will. The Pindaris built their camp-fires to one side, and the two of them came to where the sahib had spread his blankets near the tonga and built a circle of smudge-fires from chips of camel dung to keep away the flies. Then they went back to their fellows, and w'hen Barlow had pulled the blanket over himself to sleep the clamour of voices where the horsemen sat was hushed.
And Bootea had been treated like a princess. At each village that they passed seme ore would ride in and rejoin the cavalcade with fowl, and eggs, and fruit, and sugar cane, and fresh vegetables; and a mention of payment would only draw a frown, an exclamation of, “Shookurt these are but gifts from Allah. There has been more than payment that we have not cut off the kotwul’s head, not even demanded a peep at the money chest. We are looked upon as men who confer favours.”
It was the second day, one of the horses in the tonga showing lameness, or perhaps even weariness, for the yoke of the tonga across their backs did not ride with the ease of a man, the jamadar went into a village and came forth with his men leading two well fed horses. Again when Barlow spoke of pay for them the jamadar answered, “We will leave these two with the unbelievers, and a message, in the name of Allah, that when we return if the horses we leave are not treated like those of the Sultan there will be throats slit. Bismillah! but it is a fair way of treating these unbelievers; they should be grateful.”
THE ROAD ran through the large towns of Bhopal and Sehore, and at each place Jamadar Jemla explained to all and sundry of the officials that the Patan, meaning Barlow, was a trusted officer with Sindhia and they were escorting a favorite for Sindhia’s harem. It was a plausible story, and avoided interference, for while the Pindaris might be turned back if there was a force handy, to interfere with a lady of the King’s harem might bring a horde of cut-throat Mahrattas down on them with a snipping off of official heads.
On the fourth day, and now they were on a good trunk road that ran to Indore, and branching to the left, that crossed the Nerbudda River at Mandhatta, they were constantly passing pilgrims on their way to the Temple of Omkar. In the affrighted eyes of the Hindus Barlow could read their dread of the Pindaris; they would cringe at the roadside and salaam, as fearful w'ere they as if a wolf-pack swept down the highw'ay.
The jamadar would laugh in his deep throat, and twist his black moustache with forefinger and thumb, and call the curse of Mahomet upon these worshippers of stone images and foul gods. He loved to ride stirrup to stirrup with the Englishman, and Barlow found delight in the man’s broad conception of life; the petty things seemed to have no resting place in his mind, unless perhaps as a matter for ridicule. The sweep of a country wdth free rein and a sharp sw'ord, and always the hazard of loot or death was an engrossing subject:. Even the enemy who fought and bled and died, were like themselves—by Allah! men; but the merchants, the shopkeepers, and the money-lenders, who cringed and paid tribute when the Pindaris drove at them in a raid, were pigs, cowardly dogs who robbed the poor and gave only to the accursed Brahmins and their foul gods. He would dwell lovingly upon the feats of courage of the Rajputs, lamenting upon such fine men should be excluded from heaven, dying as they did such glorious deaths, sword in hand, because of their mistaken infidelity; they w'ere souls lost because of being led away from a true god, the one god, Allah, through false priests.
“Mark thou. Sahib,” Jemla gfiffé, “I do not hold that it is a merit in the sight of Aliad fkv slay such except there is need, but when it is a jihad, a Question of the supremacy of a true god, Allah, or the Sahib’s God— which no doubt is one and the same—as against the evil gods of destruction and depravity such as Shiva and Kali, then it is a merit to slay the children of evil. Mahomet did much to put this matter right,” he declared; "he made good Mussulmen of thousands who w'oulri otherwise have been cast into jehannum (hell), at times holding the sword over their heads, as argument. Therein Mahomet was a true prophet, a saver of souls rather than a destroyer of such.”
BY NOON they w'ere drawing toward Mandhatta, and when they came to where the road from Indore to Mandhatta joined the one they w'ere travelling, there was an increase in the stream of pilgrims and Barlow could see a look of uneasiness in the jamadar’s eyes.
There was a grove of wdld mango trees on the left, running from the road down to a stream that gurgled on its way from the hills to the Nerbudda river, and Jemla said, “We might camp here, Sahib, for there is both good water and fire-wood.”
They could see, as they rested and ate, a party of Hindus down by the stream where there was a shrine to Krishna that nestled under a huge banyan that w'as like the roof of a cave from w'hich dropped to earth to take root hundreds of slender shoots, like stalactites, and w'hose roots, creeping from the earth like giant worms, crawled on to lave in the stream. When they had finished eating, Jemla said, “That is a temple of the Preserver;” then he laughed a full-throated sneer: “Allah hafiz! (God protect us), give me a fine-edged tulwar,—and mine own is not so dull—methinks yon grinning affair of stone w’ould not preserve a dozen of these infidels had there been cause for anger.”
“What do the pilgrims there, for they go, it would seem, to Omkar?” Barlow queried.
“There has been a death—perhaps it was even a year ago, and at a shrine of Krishna, especially this one that is on a water that is like a trickle of holy tears to the sacred Nerbudda, straddhas (prayers for the dead) are said. Come, Sahib, we will look upon this mummy, the only savour of grace about the infidel thing being that it perhaps brings to their hearts a restfulness, having faith that they have helped the soul of the dead.”
Barlow rose from where he sat and they went down to where a party of a dozen were engaged in the service of an appeal to the god for rest for the soul of a dead relative. The devotees did not resent the appearance of the two who were garbed as Moslems. The shrine was one of those, of which there are many in India, that, curiously enough, is sacred to both Hindus and followers of the Prophet. On a flat rock, laved by the stream, was an imprint of a foot, a legendary foot-print of Krishna, perhaps left there as he crossed the stream to gambol with the milkmaids in the meadow beyond. And it was venerated by the Mussulmen because a disciple of Mohammed had attained to great sanctity by austerities up in the mountain behind, and had been buried there.
But Barlow was watching with deep interest the ceremonial form of the straddhq. He saw the women place balls of rice, milk, and leaves of the lulsi plant in earthenware platters, then sprinkle over this flowers and kusagrass; they added threads, plucked from their garments, to typify the presenting of the white death-sheet to the dead one; a priest all the time mumbling a prayer, at the end of the simple ceremony receiving a fee of five rupees.
AS THE two men turned back toward their camp Jemla chuckled: “Captain Sahib, thou seest now the weapon of the Brahmin; his loot of silver pieces was acquired with little effort and no strife; as to the riceballs the first jackal that catches their wind will have a filled stomach. It is something to be thought of in the way of regard for a long abiding in heaven that such foolish ones will not attain to it. The setting up of false gods, carved images, I was once told by a priest of thy faith, is sufficient to exclude such. It makes one’s tulwar clatter in its scabbard to see such profanation in an approach to God.”
Then Jemla spoke of the matter that had engendered the troubled look Barlow had observed: “The Captain Sahib has intimated that the One” - and he tipped his head toward the girl—“would proceed to the temple of Omkar to make offerings at the shrine?”
"Yes, she goes there.”
“There will be a hundred thousand of these infidels at Mandhatta, and when they see fifty Pindaris. tulwar and spear and match-lock, there will be unrest; perhaps there will be altercationthey will fear that we ride in pillage.”
“I was thinking of that,” Barlow replied; and it would be as well that you turned your faces homeward.
“We have received an order from our Chief that our lives are at the disposal of the Captain Sahib, and wo will drive into the heart of a Mahratta force if needs be, but if Continued on page 40
Continued, from page 29
it is the Sahib’s command we will ride back from here,” Jemla said.
“Yes; there is no need of a guard for the Gulab now—just that the tonga carries ber as far as she wishes it,” Barlow concurred.
“Indeed we are not needed; those infidels come to worship their heathen gods, not to combat men. and Mandhatta is but a matter of twelve kos now,” Jemla affirmed.
When Captain Barlow, and Bootea in the tonga, drew out from the encampment to proceed on their way the Pindaris rode on in front, and then, at a command from Jemla, wheeled their horses into a continuous line facing the road, stirrup to stirrup, the horsemen sitting erect with their tulwars at the salute. As Barlow passed a cry of “Salaam, aleikum! the protection of Allah be upon you,” rippled down the line. Then the horsemen wheeled with their faces to the north. Jemla swept a hand to his forehead and from his deep throat welled a farewell, “Salaam, bhai! (brother).”
THE jamadar’s tribute from man to man, one encased in a dark skin and one in a white, was akin to the tribulation that would not be driven from Barlow’s mind over the Gulab, that in their case made the matter of a skin colourisation the bar sinister. He rode in a brooding silence. And now the way was one of ascent toward the pass through the Vindhya mountains; a red gravelly undulating formation had given place to basaltic rocks. They passed from groups of mhowa trees and left behind a wide shallow stream, its bed dotted with pools fringed by great kowa trees, and its banks lined by a thick green cover of jamun and karonda. Thorny babul thrust their spiked branches out over the roadway, white with tufts of cotton torn by its thorns from bales, loose-pressed, on their way to market in buffalo carts; “Babulthe-thief,” the natives called this acacia. Higher up a torch-wood tree gleamed as if sprayed with gold, its limbs, lean and bare of foliage, holding at their extremities in wisp-like fingers bright, yellow, solitary blooms. From a tendu tree a pair of droll little brown monkeys chattered and grimaced at the clattering cart.
A spotted owlet, disturbed by the. driver’s encouraging, “Pop-pop! Dihdih-dih! Hoh-ho-ho! children of jungle swine; brothers to buffalo!” addressed to the horses lagging in the climb, fluttered away with his silly little cackle.
These incidents of travel were almost unnoticed of Barlow. All up the climb the retrospect was with him, claiming his thoughts. Just that—all that was in evidence, a pigment in the skin, caste; and yet reacting away back to God’s mandate against the union of the white and black. And verily a sin to be visited even unto the third and fourth generation, for the bar sinister would be upon his children; they would be half-castes with all of the opprobrium the name carried. Even the son of a king, the offspring of such a union would be spoken of in mess and drawingroom as a half-caste: the indelible sign would be upon him, the blue tint to the
white moons in his finger nails. Barlow i shuddered. Why contemplate the matter at all?—it was impossible. Nana Sahib had named the barrier when he had spoken of varna, meaning colour, as caste, a shirt-of-mail that protected from disaster.
SOMETIMES as he dropped back past the tonga the face of Bootea would I appear beneath the lifted curtain, and J though on the lips would be asweet ravishing smile, the eyes were pathetic, full of heart hunger. Sometimes he vowed that he would put off the parting—dream on;
I carry her on to her people at Chunda.
I Then he would realise that this was cowardice, a desire flooding his sense of noI bility into a chasm of possible disaster ! not fair to the girl; the animal mastery i of male over female, the domination of sex. Beyond doubt, wrapped in his arms, not even the omnipotence of the gods would take her away from him. If there were less innate nobility in his avatar, if he were like men that were called redblooded men, yet lacking the finer sensibility, this might be; not a villainous rush, just drifting. That was it, the superlative excellence of the Gulab; the very quality that attracted, was the shield, the immaculate robe that clothed her and preserved her like a vestal virgin from such violation. Barlow could not word all these things; subconsciously they swayed him—like the magnetic needle, always towards the pole of right.
WHEN they had topped the pass and descended into the valley of the Narbudda, clothed in arboreal beauty, passed from a forest of evergreen sal to giant teak trees with huge umbrella-like leaves that formed a canopy over the straight column-like boles of eighty feet, and on amidst topes of wild mango ana wild date, down, down, to the lower levels where the dhalc jungles gave way to feathery bamboo and plantain and waving grass, the sun, like a great bu’J of molten gold, was splashing its yellow sheen upon the waters of a stream that hurried south to Mother Narbudda.
There was a small village of Gonds, or Korkus, like a toy thing, the houses woven from split bamboo, nestling against the billowing hills.
“Here we will rest and eat,” Barlow said to the Gulab.
“As the Sahib wishes,” she answered, and smiled at him like a child.
The huge medallion of gold had slid down in the west from the dome through which were shot great streamers of red and mauve, and a peacock perched high in a sal tree far up on the mountain side sent forth his strident cry of “Miaou! miaou! miaou!” his evening salute to the god of warmth.
As the harsh call, like an evening muez in, died out, the sweet song of a shama, in tones as pure as those of a nightingale, broke the solemn hush of eventide.
Barlow turned his face to where the songster was perched in the top branches of a wild-fig, and Bootea said in a low voice: “Sahib, it is said that the shama is a soul come back to earth to sing of love that men may not grow harsh.”
Soon a silver moon peeped over the walls of the Vindhya hills, and from the forests above the night wind, waking at the fleeing of the sun, whispered down through feathered sal trees carrying the scent of balsam and from a group of salei trees a sweet unguent, the perfume of the gum which is burnt at the shrines of Hindu gods.
When they had eaten, Barlow said: "I wonder, Gulab, if this is like kailas, the heaven those who have passed through many transitions and become holy, attain to.”
“It is just heaven, my Lord,” she replied fervently.
“And to-morrow I will be plodding on through the sands and dust, and I’ll be all alone. But you, little girl, you will be making your peace with Omkar and dreaming of the greater heaven.”
“Yes, it will be that way; the Sahib will not have the tribulation of protecting Bootea, and she will be in the protection of Omkar.”
There was so much of pathetic resignation in the timbre of the girl’s voice, for it was half sigh, that Barlow shivered, as if the chilling mist of the valley had crept up to the foothills. Why had he not treated her as an alien, kept all interest in abeyance? His self-recrimina-
tion was becoming a disease, an affliction.
He rose, muttering, “Damn! I’m like the young wasters that swarm up to London from Oxford and get splashed with the girls from the theatres—that’s what I’m like.”
As he strode over to where his horse was tethered, munching his ration of grain, Bootea followed him with her eyes, wondering why he had broken into English; perhaps he was chanting an evening prayer.
WHEN Barlow came back he fell to wishing that they were at Mandhatta so that he would start on the rest of his journey in the morning; he dreaded the long evening with the girl. He could have sat there with Elizabeth, although their marriage hovered on the horizon, and talked of trivial things; of sport, of shooting; or damned the Executive sitting beneath punkahs in offices with windows all closed, far away in Calcutta. Or could have traversed, mentally, leagues of sea and rehabilitated past scenes in London. It would be like talkipg to a brother officer. But with the Gulab, and the hush and perfume of the forest-clad hills, and the gentle glamour of moonlight, his senses would smother placid intellectuality; he would be like a toper with a bottle at his elbow mocking weak resolve.
Then the girl said something: a shy halting reauest that set his blood galloping: “Sahib, it is not far to Mandhatta— four kos, or perhaps it is five; would it be un permitted to suggest that we go there, for the moon is beautiful and the road is good.”
“All right, girl!” and remembering that he had spoken in English, he added, “It will be expedient, for you will there find shelter.”
“Yes, Sahib, Guru Swami will be there, and I am known of him; and there are places where one may rest.”
“I’ll tell the driver to hitch up,” Barlow declared, rising.
But. she laid a detaining hand upon his arm: “Sahib, the sweetest thing in all
1 T f /-T nroo fViû +irvrû oVlû mrlo An flip
horse with him. Then, too, the moon, that is the soul of Purusha, smiled upon her. Would it be permitted to Bootea just one more happiness, for to-morrow— to-morrow—”
The girl turned away, and seemed busy adjusting her gold-embroidered jacket.
“So you shall, Gulab,” Barlow declared. And he, too, thought of the sweetness of that ride where she lay like a confiding child in his arms; and also for him, too, was to-morrow—to-morrow; and for him, too, just one more foolish, useless happiness—just a sensuous burying of his face in flowers that on the morrow would have shrivelled.
“I’ll send the tonga on ahead,” he declared, “and we’ll just have that jolly old farewell ride together, girl—I’d love it.”
Now she turned back to him and her face was placid, soft, content, as though Mona Lisa had stepped out from the painted canvas and now, embodied, was .there listening to the sigh of the nightwind through the feathered sal forest.
WITH ejaculations of “Bap, bap, bap! Shabasl” and queer gurgling clucking of the throat, and a sonorous rumble from the wide, low wheels, the driver drove the tonga on into the moonlight. Barlow had saddled his horse and thrown his blanket loosely behind the saddle. The air was chilling, but his sheepskin coat would turn its cold breath; the blanket was for Bootea.
As he had done once before, his feet in stirrups, he reached down a hand and swung the girl up in front of him. Then he enveloped her in the blanket as she nestled against his chest, arms about his waist. Her warm body was like a draught of wine and be muttered, “My God! I shouldn’t have done this!” But he knew that he would have had that ride if devils had jeered at him from the jungle that lined the road.
As the horse swung in leisurely walking stride, the girl seemed to have gone to sleep; her cheek lay against Barlow’s shoulder, and he could feel the pulsating throb of her heart. Once a sigh came from her lips, but it was like a breath of deep content. Barlow felt that he must talk to the girl; his senses were rampant; he was sitting like the lotus-eaters drinking in a deadly intoxication.
But it was Bootea who broke the silet c? as though she, too, felt herself slipping.
She took from beneath her vestment á little bag of silk and taking from it a ruby she put it in Barlow’s hand, saying: “Here is the ‘Lamp of Akbar;’ it protects and gives power.”
"Where did you get this magnificent ruby, girl?—it is of great value!” Barlow queried in amazement.
“Do you remember, Sahib, when Bootea asked for the turban of Hunsa, the time it was stripped from his head, and the paper of message found Hidden in it?”
“Yes, you said you would take it back to the Bagrees to show them that Hunsa was dead.”
He could hear the Gulab chuckle. “That was but the deceit of a woman, Sahib; the pimple things that a woman says to deceive a clever man. I knew that Hunsa had the ruby sewn in a corner of the turban, and when I had taken the stone I burred the turban in the fire, for it was like Hunsa—very dirty.”
“Where did Hunsa get it?”
“When the Bagrees killed the jewel merchant, that time the Sahib saved Bootea, he stole it from the other decoits, hiding it in his turban, because the Dewan wanted it.”
“But I don’t want the stone—I can’t take itBarlow expostulated.
“It is for a service, Sahib. Nana Sahib will assure''ly cause Ajeet to be put to death if Bootea does not return to his desire, hut the Sahib can buy his life with the ruby of great price.”
“But if it were stolen would not Nana Sahib demand it, and then kill Ajeet?” “No; it was not his ruby; and to obtain it he will set Ajeet free.”
“I’ll do that, Gulab,” Barlow agreed, and the girl’s hand pushed up from the folds of the blanket to caress his cheek, and her face nestled against his shoulder.
The fingers thrilled him, and, thougn he had made solemn vow that be would ride like an anchorite, he bent his head and kissed her with a claiming warmth that caused her to cry out as if in misery.
PRESENTLY a whimsical fancy swayed the girl, and she said, “Ayub Alii!” Barlow laughed, and answered: “Bismillah!”
“So, Afghan, riding thus, it is not disrespect, just, that we he of different faith, Hindu and Mussulman.”
“If it were thus, we’d not part at Mandhatta. And as to the faith, thou wouldst become a follower of the Prophet.”
“Yes, Bootea would. If she could go forever thus she would sacrifice entrance to kailas. But this is heaven; ana perhaps Omkar, when I make the sacrifice—I mean offering—will listen to Bootea’s prayers, and—and—”
“And what, Gulab?” Barlow asked, for the girl turned her face against his breast, and her voice had smothered.
Their thoughts were distracted by a din in front that shattered the solemn hush of the night. There was a thunderous beat of tom-toms, the shrill rasping screech of conch-shells, and in intervals of subversion of instrumental clamour they could hear women’s voices, high-pitehed, singing the schailia (song of joy). Loud cries of “Jae, Jae, Omkar!” rose in a chorus from a hundred swelling throats.
At a turning around a huge banyan tree they saw the flickering flames of torches, and Barlow knew that plodding in front was a large body of pilgrims.
He quickened his horse’s pace, drawing Bootea closer to hide her from curious eyes, and as he passed the Hindus he knew from their scowling faces and cries of “It is a Kaffir—-a barbarian!” that they took him for a Mussulman, perhaps one of Sindhia’s Arabs.
At the head of the procession, carried on a platform gaily decorated with gaudy cloths, borne on the shoulders of four men, was a figure of Ganesha. The obese, four-armed Jovial, son of Shiva, bobbing in the rhythmic stride of his carriers, seemed to nod his elephant head at the horseman approvingly, wishing him luck as was the wont of Ganesha. The procession drove in upon Barlow’s mind the thought that they were nearing Mandhatta; he realised it with a pang of reluctance. It seemed but a matter of just minutes since he had lifted Bootea to the saddle.
It had hurried the Gulab’s mind, too, for at another turn where the road slid into the valley, bringing to their nostrils the soft perfume of kush-kush grass and the savour of jamun that grew luxuriantly on the banks of the Narbudda the Gulab
âskêd: ''The Sahib will marry the young Memsahib who is at the city of the Peshwa?”
Barlow was startled. It was like a voice crying out in the night that shattered a blissful dream.
“Why do you ask that, Gulab?”
“Because it was said. And the Missie Baba’s heart will be full of the Sahib, for he is like a god.” . .
“Is the Gulab jealous of the Missie Baba?” Barlow asked mundanely, almost
out of confusion.
“No, Sahib, because—because one is not jealous of a princess; because that is to question the ways of the gods. If I had been an Englay and he loved me, and the Missie Baba claimed Kim, Bootea would kill her.”
This was said with the simple conviction of a child uttering a weird threat, but Barlow shivered. _
“And now, Gulab,” he persisted, ‘ if you thought I loved you, would you kill the Missie Baba?” ,
“No, Sahib, because it is Bootea s fault. It can’t be. It is permitted to Bootea to love the Sahib, but at the shrine Omkar will take that sin and all the other sins away when she makes sacrifice—”
“What sacrifice, Gulab?” ft
“Such as we make to the gods, Sahib.
Then something curieus happened. The girl broke, she clung to Barlow convulsively; sobs choked her.
He clasped her tight and laid his cheek against hers soothingly, and said, “Gulab, what is it? Don’t go to the Shrine of Omkar. Come with me to your people at Chunda, and if you do not want to remain with them I will have it arranged, through the Resident, that the British will reward you with protection. You ^have done the British Rai a great service.”
“No, Sahib.” The girl drew herself erect, so that her eyes gazed into Barlow s. They were luminous with an intensity of resolve. “Let Bootea speak what is m her heart, and be not offended; it is necessary. There is, at the end of the journey, the place that is called jahannam (hell) for Bootea. The Nana Sahib waits like a tiger crouched by a pool at night for the coming of a stag to drink.”
“The Resident will protect you against the Mahratta,” Barlow declared. _
“Bootea could do that,” and in her small hand there gleamed in the moonlight the sheen of her dagger blade. She thrust it back into her belt.
“What then do you fear, Gulab? he queried.
“Yes, Khudawand. To see you and not be permitted to hear your voice, nor feel your hand upon my face, would be worse than sacrifice. Bootea would rather die, slip off into death with the goodness, the sweetness of to-night upon her soul. There, where the Sahib would be, Bootea s heart would be full of evil, the evil of craving for him. No, this is the end, and Bootea will make offering of thanks— marigolds and a cocoanut to Omkar, and sprinkle attar upon his shrine in thankfulness for the joy of the Sahib’s presence. It is said!” and the girl nestled down against Barlow’s breast again as though she had gone to sleep in content.
But he groaned inwardly: there was something of dread in his heart, her resignation was so deep—suggesting an utter giving up, a helplessness. She had named sacrifice; the word rang ominously in his mind, beating at his fears. And yet, what she had said was philosophy—wise; a something that had been worded, perhaps differently, for a million years; the brave acceptance of Fate’s decree—something that always triumphed over the
NOW they could see the wide silver ribbon of Mother Narbudda lying serene and placid in the moonlight, in the centre of the river’s wide flow the gloomy rock embrasures of Mandhatta Island. Where it towered upward in cliffs and coned hills the summit showed the flickering lights of many temples, and like the song of a storm through giant trees there floated on the night wind the sound of many voices, and the beating of drums, and the imperious call of horns and conchshells.
They came upon the tonga waiting by the roadside, and Barlow, thrusting back the covering from the girl’s face, said :
“Now, Gulab, I will lift you down. We must find a place in the village beyond for you to rest to-night; I, too, will remain there and in the morning we will make our salaams.”
Then he drew her face to his and kissed her.
He slipped from the saddle and lifted the girl down, carrying her in his arms to the tonga.
As they neared the village that was situated on the flat land that swept back from the Narbudda in a wide plain, and nestled against the river bank, they were swept into a crowd such as would be encountered on a trip to the Derby. The road was thronged with people, and the village itself, from which a bridge reached to the Island of Mandhatta, was a town in holiday attire, for to the Hindus the meta of Omkar was a union of festivity and devotion.
Both sides of the main street were lined with booths for the sale of everything; calicoes from Calicut, where these prints first got their name; hammered Benares ware; gold-threaded cotton puggris from Mewar; tulwars and khandas from Bhundi. In some of the little shops, bamboo structures that thrust an underiip out into the street, there was Mhowa liquor, and julabis, and kabobs of goat meat. Open spaces held tiny circuses— abnormal animals and performing goats, and a moon-bear on a ring and strap.
The street was full of gossiping men and women and children dodging here and there; it was an outing where the ryot (farmer) had escaped from his crotched stick of wood that was a plough, and the village tradesman had left his shop, and the servant his service, to feel the joyousness of a holiday. Mendicants were in abundance prowling in their ugliness like spirits in a nightmare; some naked, absolute, others with but a loin-cloth, their lean shrivelled bodies smeared with ashes —sometimes the ashes of the dead—and cow-dung, carrying on their arms and foreheads the red and white horizontal bars of Shiva—who was Omkar at Mand-, hatta. In their hands were either irontongs, with loose clattering ring, or a yak’s tail, or the three-ribbed horn of a black-buck.
Some of the yogis, perhaps Goswamies that had come from the country where Eklinga was the tutelary deity, had their hair braided and woven around their foreheads, holding in its fold lotus seeds; beneath the tiara of hair a crescent of white on their foreheads. A flowing yellow' robe half hid their ash-smeared limbs. A tall Sannyasi—the most ascetic of sects—his lean yellow-robed form supported by a long staff at the end of which swung a yellow bag, strode solemnly along with eyes fixed on a book, the Bhagavad Gita, muttering, “Aum, to the light of earth, the divine light that illumines our souls. Aum!”
TO BARLOW it was like a grotesque pantomime with no directing head. Nautch girls tripped along laughing and chatting, bracelets jingling, and tiny bells at their ankles tinkling musically. It depressed him; it was such a terrible juxtaposition of frivolity and the gloomed shadow of idol worship that lay just the bridge’s span of the sullen Narbudda: the gloomy, broken scraps of the long since deserted forts that cut with jagged lines the moonlit sky; and beyond them again the many temples with their scowling Brahmin priests, and the shrine wherein the god of destruction, Omkar, sat athirst for sacrifice. He shivered as though the white mist that veiled the river crept into his marrow.
The Gulab seemed at home amongst these gathered ones. Two or three times she had bade the driver stop his creeping pace, and looking out from beneath the curtain had questioned a man or woman. At last, as they were stopped by a wall of people watching the antics of some strolling players upon a platform, Bootea spoke to a stout woman who was pressed against the opening into the cart by the mob.
“Lucker khan Bhaina, Bowree," the Gulab said in a low voice, and the woman’s eyes took on a startled look, for it was a decoit password, and the Bowrees were a clan of decoits akin to the Bagrees. From the woman Bootea learned where she could find a good resting place with the family of a shop-keeper. There was no doubt about it, the Bowree woman assured her, for the tonga would impress him, and he was one who profited from the I loot of decoits.
The Gulab was given a place to sleep in the shop-keeper's house that extended back from his little shop. The driver was ordered to return in the morning to the Pindari Camp. Barlow was for keeping the tonga, hoping that perhaps Bootea would change her mind and go on to Chunda, but the girl was firm in her determination to end it all at Mandhatta.
Before Barlow left her to seek some camping place in hut or serai, and food for himself and horse, the girl said: “If the Sahib will delay his going to-morrow for a little, Bootea will proceed early to the shrine to see the Swami—then she will return here, for she would want to see his face once more before the ending.”
“I’ll wait, Gulab,” he acquiesced; “I’ll be here at the tenth hour.” He felt even thenan unaecountablechill of theirparting, for, many being about, he could not take her in his arms to kiss her; but their eyes spoke, and the girl’s were luminous, and sweet with a look of hunger, of pathetic longing, of sublime trust.
As Barlow turned away leading his horse, he muttered over and over, “Gad! it’s incomprehensible that a Sahib should feel this over a—yes, a native woman; it’s damnable!”
He reviled himself, declaring that it was harder on the Gulab than on him—and be was actually suffering. It would be better if he swung to the sadde and fled from the misery that prolongation but intensified. And the girl’s brave resignation in giving him up was wonderful, was so like her.
Then the sight of Mahratta sowars, who, it being Sindhia’s territory, were a guard to watch the pilgrim throng, flashed him back to a sense of duty, his own mission. But it had not suffered because of Bootea; it had benefited through her: but for her the written message from the British would have been lost—stolen by Hunsa, and would have landed in NanaSahib’s hands; and he would have been slain as the Patan, killer of Amir Khan.
But the Gulab was right; from that time forward should she listen to him and go on to Poona, God alone knew where it would lead to—misery. It would be utter ruin morally, officially, in a caste way; even in time passionate enthusiasm, engendered by her lovableness, dulled, would bring utter debasement, degradation of spirit, of man fibre. It was the wisdom of God that entailed upon the union of the white and dark-skinned the bar sinister.
Until he slept, wrapped in his blankets on the sand beside his tethered horse, Barlow was tortured by this mental inquisition. Even in his troubled sleep there was a nightmare that waked him, panting and exhausted, and the remembrance was vivid—Bootea lay beneath the mighty paws of a tiger and he was beating hopelessly at the snarling brute with a clubbed rifle.
IN THE morning Captain Barlow underwent a sartorial metamorphosis; he attained to the sanctity of a Hindu pilgrim by the purchase of a tight-ankled pair of white trousers to replace the voluminous baggy ones of a Patan, and a blue shotwith-gold-thread Rajput turban. He shoved the, Patan turban with its conical fez in his saddle-bags, and wound many yards of blue material in a rakish criss-cross about his shapely head, running a fold or two beneath his chin. The Patan sheepskin coat was left with his horse.
When Bootea came at ten to where Barlow—who was now Jaswant Singh— paced up and down with the swagger of a Rajput in front of the bunnia's shop she stood for a little, her eyes searching the crowd for her Sahib. When he laughed, and softly called, “Gulab,” her eyes almost wept for joy,-for not seeing him at once, a dread that he had gone bad chilled her.
“You see how easy it is, in a good cause, to change one’s caste,” he said.
“With you, Sahib, yes, because you can also change your skin.”
There it was again, the indestructible barrier, the pigmented badge. It drove the laugh from Barlow’s lips.
“Why has the Afghan Mussulman become a Hindu?”, Bootea asked.
“I have no wish to anger these people who are on a holy pilgrimage by going into their temples as a Moslem.”
“You are going to the shrine of Omkar?” the Gulab asked aghast.
“Are you—again?” Barlow parried. “Yes, Sahib, soon.”
“I am going with you,” Barlow declared.
Bootea expostulated with almost fierce eagerness; with a fervor that increased the uneasiness in Barlow’s mind. He had a premonition of evil; dread hung on his soul—perhaps born of the dream of a tiger devouring the girl.
“The Sahib still has the Akbar Lamp— the ruby?” the girl queried, presently.
“I have it safe,” he answered, tapping his breast.
“If the Sahib is not going to the shrine Bootea would desire that we could go out beyond the village to a mango tope where there are none to observe, for_ she would like to make the final salaams in his arms —then nothing would matter.”
“Perhaps we had better go anyway,” Barlow said eagerly—“though I am going over to the shrine with you; for now, being a Hindu, I can pass as your brother —and there there would not be opportunity.”
The girl turned this over in her mind, then said: “No, we will not go to the
grove, for Bootea can say farewell to the Sahib in the cloister where Swami Sarasvati has a cell for vigils.”
THEN asking Barlow to wait she went into the house and soon returned clothed in spotless white muslin. He noticed that she had taken off all her ornaments, her jewellery. The bangle of gold that was a twisting snake with a ruby head, she pressed upon Barlow, saying: “When the Sahib is married to the Englay will he give her this from me as a safeguard against evil; and that it may cause her to worship the Sahib as a god, even as Bootea does.”
The simplicity, the genuine nobleness of this tribute of renunciation, hazed Barlow’s eyes with a mist—almost tears; she was a strange combine of dramatic power and gentle sweetness.
“Now, come Sahib,” she said, “if you insist. It will not bring misery to Bootea but to you.”
Barlow strode along beside the girl in ominous misgivings. Perhaps his presence at the temple would avert whatever it was that, like an evil genie, seemed to poison the air.
There was a moving throng of pilgrims that poured along in a joyous turbulent stream toward the bridge. No shadow of the dread god, Omkar, gloomed their spirits; they chatted and laughed. Of those who would make devotions the men were stripped to the waist, their limbs draped in spotless white. And the women, on their way to have their sins forgiven, were taking final license—the purdah of the veil was almost forgotten, for this was permitted in the presence of the god. Even their beautifully formed bodies and limbs, the skin fresh anointed, gleaming like copper in the sunlight, showed entrancingly, voluptuously, with a new-born liberty.
Once, half way of the bridge, a man’s voice rang out eommandingly, calling backward, admonishing some one to hurry, crying, “It is the ¿urban!”
Barlow started; the kurban meant a human sacrifice. He looked at Bootea— he could have sworn her head had drooped and that she shivered. The girl must have sensed his thoughts, for she turned her eyes up to his, but they held nothing of fear.
Beyond the bridge they passed across a lower level, jungle clad with delicate bamboos and dhak, and sweet-scented shrubs, and clusters of gorgeous oleanders. The way was thronged with white-clothed figures that seemed like wraiths, ghosts drifting hack to the cavern of the Destroyer.
Then they commenced the ascent following the bed of a stream that had cut a chasm through black traprock, leaving jagged cliffs. And the persistent jungle, ever encroaching on space, had out-posts of champae and wild mango, their giant: roots, like the arms of an octopus, holding anchorage in clefts of the rock. And from the limbs above floated down the scolding voices of langoor, the black-faced greywhiskered monkeys, who rebuked the intrusion of the earth-dwellers below. Where the path lay over rocks it was worn smooth and slippery by naked feet, the feet of pilgrims for a thousand years. On the right the mouth of a deep cave had been walled up by masonry. Within, so the legend ran, the High Priest of Mandhatta, centuries before, had imprisoned the goddess Kali to stop a pestilence, making vow to offer to Bhairava, her son,
a yearly human sacrifice. Higher up, approaching the plateau where were the ruins of a thousand gorgeous shrines, both sides of the pathway were lined by mendicants who sat cross-legged, in front of them a little mat for the receipt of alms— cowries, pice, silver; the mendicants muttering incessantly “Joe, Jae, Omkar!” (Victory to Omkar).
In front of the temple within which sat the god, was a conical black stone daubed with red, the Linga, the generative function of Siva, and before it, the symbol of reproduction, women made offering of cocoanuts, and sweets, and garlands of flowers,—generally marigolds,—and prayed for the bestowal of a son; even their postures, carried away as they were by desire, showing a complete abandon to the sex idea. A Brahmin priest sat crosslegged upon a stone platform repeating in a sing-song cadence prayers, and from somewhere beyond a sleep-toned bell boomed out an admonishing call.
Holy water from the sacred Narbudda was poured into the two jugs each pilgrim carried and sealed by the Brahmins, who received, without thanks, stoically, as a matter of right, a tribute of silver.
Towering eighty feet above the temple spire was a cliff, and from a ledge near its top a white flag fluttered idly in the lazy wind. It was the death-leap, the ledge from which the one of the human sacrifice to Omkar leapt, to crash in death beside the Linga.
ALMOST without words Barlow and the girl had toiled up the ascent, scarcely noticed of the throng; and now Bootea said: "Sahib, remain here. I go to speak to the High Priest.”
Barlow saw her speak into the open portal of one of the cloister chambers that surrounded the temple, then disappear within. After a time she came forth, and approaching him said, “The Priest would speak with thee, Sahib; for because of many things I have told him who thou art, though mentioning not the nature of the mission, for that is not permitted.” Barlow’s foreboding of evil was now a certainty as he strode forward.
The priest rose at the Captain’s entrance. He was a fine specimen of the true Brahmin, the intellectual cult, that through successive generations of mental sway and homage from the millions of untutored ones had become conscious of its power. Tall, spare of form, with wide high forehead and full expressive eyes, almost olive skin, Barlow felt that the Swami was quite unlike the begging yogis and mendicants; a man who was by the close alliance of his intellect to the essence of created things a Sannyasi. Larger in his conceptions than the yogis who misconstrued the Vedas and the Law of Manu as imposing an association of filth—smeared ashes, and uncombed, uncleansed hair—as a symbol of piety and abnegation of spirit, a visible assertion that the body had passed from regard— that it, with its sensualities and ungodly cravings, had become subservient to the spirit, the soul.
Swami Sarasvati was austere; Barlowfelt that he dwelt on a plane where the trivialities of life were but pestilential insects, to be endured stoically in a physical way, with the mind freed from their irritation grasping grander things; life was a wheel that revolved with the certainty of celestial bodies.
It wras so curious, and yet so unfailing that Bootea, with her'hyper-intuition, should have found, selected this spiritual tutor from the horde of gurus, byragies and yogis that were connecting links between the tremendous pantheon of grotesque gods and the common people. Here she had come to an intellectual, though no doubt an ascetic; one possessed of fierce fervor in his ministry. There would be no swaying of that will force developed to the keen flexible unflawed temper of a Damascus blade.
Now the priest was saying in the asl (pure) Hindustani of the high-bred Brahmin: “The Sahib confers honour upon Sri Swami Sarasvati by this visit, for the woman has related that, he is of high caste amongst the Englay and has been trusted by the Raj with a mission. That he comes in the garb of my people is consideration for it avoids outrage to their feelings. I am glad to know that the Englay are so considerate.”
“I came, Swami, because of regard for Bootea for she is like a princess.”
The priest shot a quick, searching look into the eyes of the speaker, then he asked, “And w'hat service would the Sahib ask?” The question caught Captain Barlow unaware; he had not formulated anything—it had all been nebulous, this dread. He hesitated, fearing to voice that which perhaps did not exist in the minds of either the priest or Bootea.
The girl perceived the hesitancy and spoke rapidly in a low voice to the priest.
CAPTAIN SAHIB,” the Swami began, “I see that thy heart is inclined to the woman, and it is to be admired, for she is, as thou thinkest, like a flower of the forest. But also, Captain Sahib, thy heart is the heart of a soldier, of a brave man, the light of valour is in thine eyes, in thy face, and I would ask thee to be brave, and instead of being cast in sorrow because of what I am going to tell thee, thou must realise that it is for the good of the woman whose face is in thy heart. To-day she insures to her soul a place in kailas, the heaven of Siva, the abiding place of Brahm, the Creator of all that is.” Barlow felt himself reel at this sudden confirmation of his fears—the blow. The cry “Kurban” that he had heard on'the bridge was a reality—a human sacrifice.
“God!” he cried in a voice of anguish, “it can’t be. Young and beautiful and good, to die—it’s wrong. I forbid such a cruel, wanton sacrifice of a sweet life.” The Swami, taking a step toward the door, swept his long thin arm with a gesture that embraced the thousands beyond.
( “Captain Sahib,” he said solemnly, “if thou wert to raise thy voice in anger against this holy, soul-redeeming observance thou wouldst be torn to pieces; not even I could stop them if insult were offered to Omkar. And, besides, the Englay Raj would call thee accursed for breeding hate in the hearts of the Hindus through the sacrilege of an insult to the High Priest of the Temple of Omkar. This is the territory of the Mahrattas, and the English have no authority here.” Barlow knew that he was helpless. Even if there were jurisdiction of the British, one against thousands of religious fanatics would avail nothing.
The priest saw the torture in the man’s face, and continued: “The woman has
told me much. Her heart is so with thee that it is already dead. Thou canst not take her to thy people, for the living hell is even worse than the hell beyond. If thou lovest the woman, glory in her release from pain of spirit, from the degradation of being outcast—that she judges wisely, and there is not upon her soul the sin of taking her own life, for if she went with thee, proud and high-born as she is, it would come to that, Sahib—thou knowest it. There are things that cannot be said by me concerning the woman; vows having been taken in the sanctity of a temple.” A figment of the rumour Barlow had heard that Bootea was Princess Kumari floated through his mind, but that did not matter; Bootea as Bootea was the sweetest woman he had ever known. It must be that she had filled his heart with love.
Again Bootea spoke in a low voice to the priest, and he said: “Sahib, I go forth for a little, for there are matters to arrange. I see yonder the sixteen Brahmins who, according to our rites, assemble when one is to pass at the Shrine of Omkar to kailas."
His large luminous eyes rested with tolerant placidity upon the face of this man whom he must consider, according to his tenets, as a creature antagonistic to the true gods, and said, in his soft, modulated voice: “Thou art young, Sahib, and full of the life force which is essential to the things of the earth—thou art like the blossom of the mhowa tree that comes forth upon bare limbs before the maturity of its foliage; it is then, as thou art, joyous in the freshness of awaking life. But life means eternity, the huge cycle that has been since India’s birth. Life here is but a step, a transition from condition to condition, and the woman, by one act of sacrifice, attains to the blissful peace that many livings of reincarnated body would not achieve. It is written in the law of Brahm that if one sacrifices his life, this phase of it, to Omkar, who is Siva, even though he had slain a Brahmin he shall be forgiven, and sit in heaven with the Gandharvas (angels). But it is also written that whosoever turns back in terror, each step that he takes shall be equivalent to the guilt of killing a Brahmin.”
The priest’s voice had risen in sonorous cadence until it was compelling.
Bootea trembled like a wind-wavered leaf.
TO BARLOW it was Horrible, the mad infatuation of a man prostrate before false gods, idols, a rabid materialism. That one, to fall crushed and bleeding from the dizzy height of the ledge of sacrifice upon a red-daubed stone representation of the repulsive emblem, could thus wipe out the deadly sin of murder was, even spiritually, impossible.
The priest, his soul submerged by the sophistry of his faith, passed from the gloomed cloister to the open sunlight.
And Barlow, conscious of his helplessness unless Bootea would now yield to his entreaties and foreswear the horrible sacrifice, turned to the girl, his face drawn and haggard, and his voice, when he spoke vibrating tremulously from the pressure of despair. He held out his arms, and Bootea threw herself against his breast and sobbed.
“Come back to Chunda with me, Gulab,” Barlow pleaded.
"No. Sahib,” she panted, “it cannot
"But 1 love you, Bootea,” he whispered. “And Bootea loves the Sahib,” and her eyes, as she lifted herface, were wonderful. “There,” she continued, “the Sahib could not make the nika (marriage) with Bootea, both our souls would be lost. But it is not forbidden,—even if it were and was a sin, all sins will be forgiven Bootea before che sun sets, - and if the Sahib permits it Bootea will wed herself now to the one she loves. Hold me in your arms tight, lest I die before it is time.”
And as Barlow pressed the girl to him, fiercely, crushing her almost, she raised her lips to his, and they both drank the long deep draught of love.
Then the Gulab drew from his arms and her face was radiant, a soft exultation illumined her eyes.
“That is all, Sahib,” she said. “Bootea [jasses now, goes out to kallas in a happy dream. Go, Sahib, and do not, remain below for this is so beautiful. You must ride forth in content.”
She took him by the arm and gently led him to the door.
And from without he could hear a chorus of a thousand voices, its burden being, “The KurbanV’
Barlow turned, one foot in the sunshine and one in the cloister’s gloom, and kissed Bootea; and she could feel his hot tears upon her cheek.
Once more he pleaded, “Renounce this dreadful sacrifice.”
But the girl smiled up into his face, saying, “I die happily, husband. Perhaps Indra will permit Bootea to come back in spirit to the Sahib.”
The High Priest strode to the entrance of the cloister, his eyes holding the abstraction of one moving in another world; he seemed oblivious of the Englishman’s presence as he said:
“Come forth, ye who seek kailas through Omkar.”
As Barlow' staggered, almost blind, over the stony path from the cloister, he saw the group of sixteen Brahmins, their foreheads and arms carrying the w'hite bars of Siva.
Then Bootea was led by the priest down to the cold merciless stone Linga. where she, at a word from the priest, knelt in obeisance, a barbaric outburst of music from horn and drum clamouring a salute.
When Bootea arose to her feet the priest tendered her some mhowa spirit in a cocoanut shell, but the girl, disdaining its stimulation, poured it in a libation upon the Linga.
From the amphitheatre of the enclosing hills thirty thousand voices rose in one thundering chorus of “Jae, jae, Omkar!” and, “To Omkar the KurbanV’
Many pressed forward, mad fanaticism in their eyes, and held out at arms’length toward the girl bracelets and ornaments to be touched by her fingers as a benefic-
But. Swami Sarasvati waved them back, and turning to Bootea tendered her, with bowed head, the pan supari (betel nut in a leaf) as an admonition that the ceremony had ceased, and there was nothing left but the sacrifice.
A S THE girl with firm step turned to A the path that led up through shrub and jungle to the ledge where fluttered the white flag, a tumult of approbation went
up from the multitude at her brave de. votion. Then a solemn hush enwrapped ! the bowl of the hills, and the eyes of the ! thousands were fixed upon the jutting I shelf of rock.
A dirge-like cadence, a mighty gasp of, “Ah, Kuda!” sounded as a slim figure, white-robed, like a wraith, appeared on the ledge, and from her hand whirled : down to the rocks below a cocoanut, cast | in sacrifice; next a hand-mirror, its glass shimmering flickers of gold from the sunlight.
For five seconds the white-clothed figure disappeared in the shrouding j bushes; men held their breath, and women gasped and clutched at their throats as if they choked.
Then they saw her again, arms high held as though she reached for God. And as the white-draped, slender form came | hurtling through the air women swooned ! and men closed their eyes and shuddered.
An Englishman, clothed as a Hindu, lay 1 prone on his face on the hillside sobbing, the dry leaves drinking in his tears» cursing himself for a sin that was not his.