E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE ADVENTURES OF KATHLYN
Author of The Man on the Box, The Goose Girl, Half a Rogue, etc.
[Frontispiece: It will be a hard trek.]
Indianapolis The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers Copyright 1914 Harold MacGrath
TO W. N. SELIG
I THE GOLDEN GIRL II THE UNWELCOME THRONE III THE TWO ORDEALS IV HOW TIME MOVES V THE COURT OF THE LION VI THE TEMPLE VII QUICKSANDS VIII THE SLAVE MART IX THE COLONEL IN CHAINS X WAITING XI THE WHITE ELEPHANT XII THE PLAN OF RAMABAI XIII LOVE XIV THE VEILED CANDIDATES XV THE SEVEN LEOPARDS XVI THE RED WOLF XVII LORD OF THE WORLD XVIII PATIENCE XIX MAGIC XX BATTLE, BATTLE, BATTLE XXI THE WHITE GODDESS XXII BEHIND THE CURTAINS XXIII REMORSE XXIV THE INVINCIBLE WILL XXV ON THE SLOOP XXVI THE THIRD BAR
It will be a hard trek (Frontispiece)
Where did you get this medal?
Ahmed salaamed deeply.
So they comforted each other.
You'll know how to soothe him.
My arm pains me badly.
And thus Umballa found them.
Kathyln turned the tide.
THE ADVENTURES OF KATHLYN
THE GOLDEN GIRL
Under a canopied platform stood a young girl, modeling in clay. The glare of the California sunshine, filtering through the canvas, became mellowed, warm and golden. Above the girl's head—yellow like the stalk of wheat—there hovered a kind of aureola, as if there had risen above it a haze of impalpable gold dust.
A poet I know might have cried out that here ended his quest of the Golden Girl. Straight she stood at this moment, lovely of face, rounded of form, with an indescribable suggestion of latent physical power or magnetism. On her temples there were little daubs of clay, caused doubtless by impatient fingers sweeping back occasional wind blown locks of hair. There was even a daub on the side of her handsome sensitive nose.
Her hand, still filled with clay, dropped to her side, and a tableau endured for a minute or two, suggesting a remote period, a Persian idyl, mayhap. With a smile on her lips she stared at the living model. The chatoyant eyes of the leopard stared back, a flicker of restlessness in their brilliant yellow deeps. The tip of the tail twitched.
"You beautiful thing!" she said.
She began kneading the clay again, and with deft fingers added bits here and there to the creature which had grown up under her strong supple fingers.
"Kathlyn! Oh, Kit!"
The sculptress paused, the pucker left her brow, and she turned, her face beaming, for her sister Winnie was the apple of her eye, and she brooded over her as the mother would have done had the mother lived. For Winnie, dark as Kathlyn was light, was as careless and aimless as thistledown in the wind.
A collie leaped upon the platform and began pawing Kathlyn, and shortly after the younger sister followed. Neither of the girls noted the stiffening mustaches of the leopard. The animal rose, and his nostrils palpitated. He hated the dog with a hatred not unmixed with fear. Treachery is in the marrow of all cats. To breed them in captivity does not matter. Sooner or later they will strike. Never before had the leopard been so close to his enemy, free of the leash.
"Kit, it is just wonderful. However can you do it? Some day we'll make dad take us to Paris, where you can exhibit them."
A snarl from the leopard, answered by a growl from the collie, brought Kathlyn's head about. The cat leaped, but toward Winnie, not the collie. With a cry of terror Winnie turned and ran in the direction of the bungalow. Kathlyn, seizing the leash, followed like the wind, hampered though she was by the apron. The cat loped after the fleeing girl, gaining at each bound. The yelping of the collie brought forth from various points low rumbling sounds, which presently developed into roars.
Winnie turned sharply around the corner of the bungalow toward the empty animal cages, to attract her father and at the same time rouse some of the keepers. Seeing the door of an empty cage open, and that it was approached by a broad runway, she flew to it, entered and slammed the door and held it. The cat, now hot with the lust to kill, threw himself against the bars, snarling and spitting.
Kathlyn called out to him sharply, and fearlessly approached him. She began talking in a monotone. His ears went flat against his head, but he submitted to her touch because invariably it soothed him, and because he sensed some undefinable power whenever his gaze met hers. She snapped the leash on his collar just as her father came running up, pale and disturbed. He ran to the door and opened it.
"Winnie, you poor little kitten," he said, taking her in his arms, "how many times have I told you never to take that dog about when Kit's leopard is off the leash?"
"I didn't think," she sobbed.
"No. Kit here and I must always do your thinking for you. Ahmed!"
"Yes, Sahib," answered the head keeper.
"See if you can stop that racket over there. Sadie may lose her litter if it keeps up."
The lean brown Mohammedan trotted away in obedience to his orders. He knew how to stop captive lions from roaring. He knew how to send terror to their hearts. As he ran he began to hiss softly.
Colonel Hare, with his arm about Winnie, walked toward the bungalow.
"Lock your pet up, Kit," he called over his shoulder, "and come in to tea."
Kathlyn spoke soothingly to the leopard, scratched his head behind the ears, and shortly a low satisfied rumble stirred his throat, and his tail no longer slashed about. She led him to his own cage, never ceasing to talk, locked the door, then turned and walked thoughtfully toward the bungalow.
She was wondering what this gift was that put awe into the eyes of the native keepers on her father's wild animal farm and temporary peace in the hearts of the savage beasts. She realized that she possessed it, but it was beyond analysis. Often some wild-eyed keeper would burst in upon her. Some newly captive lion or tiger was killing itself from mere passion, and wouldn't the Mem-sahib come at once and talk to it? There was a kind of pity in her heart for these poor wild things, and perhaps they perceived this pity, which was fearless.
"She gets a little from me, I suppose," Colonel Hare had once answered to a query, "for I've always had a way with four footed things. But I think Ahmed is right. Kathlyn is heaven born. I've seen the night when Brocken would be tame beside the pandemonium round-about. Yet half an hour after Kit starts the rounds everything quiets down. The gods are in it."
The living-room of the bungalow was large and comfortable. The walls were adorned with the heads of wild beasts and their great furry hides shared honors with the Persian rugs on the floor. Hare was a man who would pack up at a moment's notice and go to the far ends of the world to find a perfect black panther, a cheetah with a litter, or a great horned rhinoceros. He was tall and broad, and amazingly active, for all that his hair and mustache were almost white. For thirty years or more he had gone about the hazardous enterprise of supplying zoological gardens and circuses with wild beasts. He was known from Hamburg to Singapore, from Mombassa to Rio Janeiro. The Numidian lion, the Rajput tiger, and the Malayan panther had cause to fear Hare Sahib. He was even now preparing to return to Ceylon for an elephant hunt.
The two daughters went over to the tea tabouret, where a matronly maid was busying with the service. The fragrant odor of tea permeated the room. Hare paused at his desk. Lines suddenly appeared on his bronzed face. He gazed for a space at the calendar. The day was the fifteenth of July. Should he go back there, or should he give up the expedition? He might never return. India and the border countries! What a land, full of beauty and romance and terror and squalor, at once barbaric and civilized! He loved it and hated it, and sometimes feared it, he who had faced on foot many a wounded tiger.
He shrugged, reached into the desk for a box of Jaipur brass enamel and took from it a medal attached to a ribbon. The golden disk was encrusted with uncut rubies and emeralds.
"Girls," he called. "Come here a moment. Martha, that will be all," with a nod toward the door. "I never showed you this before."
"Goodness gracious!" cried Winnie, reaching out her hand.
"Why, it looks like a decoration, father," said Kathlyn. "What lovely stones! It would make a beautiful pendant."
"Vanity, vanity, all is vanity," said the colonel, smiling down into their charming faces. "Do you love your old dad?"
"Love you!" they exclaimed in unison, indignantly, too, since the question was an imputation of the fact.
"Would you be lonesome if I took the Big Trek?" whimsically.
They pressed about him, as vines about an oak.
"Hang it, I swear that this shall be the last hunt. I'm rich. We'll get rid of all these brutes and spend the rest of the years seeing the show places. I'm a bit tired myself of jungle fodder. We'll go to Paris, and Berlin, and Rome, and Vienna. And you, Kit, shall go and tell Rodin that you've inherited the spirit of Gerome. And you, Winnie, shall make a stab at grand opera."
Winnie gurgled her delight, but her sister searched her father's eyes. She did not quite like the way he said those words. His voice lacked its usual heartiness and spontaneity.
"Where did you get this medal, father?" she asked.
"That's what I started out to tell you."
"Were you afraid we might wish to wear it or have it made over?" laughed Winnie, who never went below the surface of things.
"No. The truth is, I had almost forgotten it. But the preparations for India recalled it to mind. It represents a royal title conferred on me by the king of Allaha. You have never been to India, Kit. Allaha is the name we hunters give that border kingdom. Some day England will gobble it up; only waiting for a good excuse."
"What big thing did you do?" demanded Kathlyn, her eyes still filled with scrutiny.
"What makes you think it was big?" jestingly.
"Because," she answered seriously, "you never do anything but big things. As the lion is among beasts, you are among men."
"Good lord!" The colonel reached embarrassedly for his pipe, lighted it, puffed a few minutes, then laid it down. "India is full of strange tongues and strange kingdoms and principalities. Most of them are dominated by the British Raj, some are only protected, while others do about as they please. This state"—touching the order—"does about as it did since the days of the first white rover who touched the shores of Hind. It is small, but that signifies nothing; for you can brew a mighty poison in a small pot. Well, I happened to save the old king's life."
"I knew it would be something like that," said Kathlyn. "Go on. Tell it all."
The colonel had recourse to his pipe again. He smoked on till the coal was dead. The girls waited patiently. They knew that his silence meant that he was only marshaling the events in their chronological order.
"The king was a kindly old chap, simple, yet shrewd, and with that slumbrous oriental way of accomplishing his ends, despite all obstacles. Underneath this apparent simplicity I discovered a grim sardonic humor. Trust the Oriental for always having that packed away under his bewildering diplomacy. He was all alone in the world. He was one of those rare eastern potentates who wasn't hampered by parasitical relatives. By George, the old boy could have given his kingdom, lock, stock and barrel, to the British government, and no one could say him nay. There was a good deal of rumor the last time I was there that when he died England would step in actually. The old boy gave me leave to come and go as I pleased, to hunt where and how I would. I had a mighty fine collection. There are tigers and leopards and bears and fat old pythons, forty feet long. Of course, it isn't the tiger country that Central India is, but the brutes you find are bigger. I have about sixty beasts there now, and that's mainly why I'm going back. Want to clean it up and ship 'em to Hamburg, where I've a large standing order. I'm going first to Ceylon, for some elephants."
The colonel knocked the ash from his pipe. "The old boy used to do some trapping himself, and whenever he'd catch a fine specimen he'd turn it over to me. He had a hunting lodge not far from my quarters. One day Ahmed came to me with a message saying that the king commanded my presence at the lodge, where his slaves had trapped a fine leopard. Yes, my dears, slaves. There is even a slave mart at the capital this day. A barbaric fairy-land, with its good genii and its bad djinns."
"The Arabian Nights," murmured Winnie, snuggling close to Kathlyn.
"The Oriental loves pomp," went on the colonel. "He can't give you a chupatty——"
"What's that?" asked Winnie.
"Something like hardtack. Well, he can't give you that without ceremonial. When I arrived at the lodge with Ahmed the old boy—he had the complexion of a prima donna—the old boy sat on his portable throne, glittering with orders. Standing beside him was a chap we called Umballa. He had been a street rat. A bit of impudence had caught the king's fancy, and he brought up the boy, clothed, fed him, and sent him away down to Umballa to school. When the boy returned he talked Umballa morning, noon and night, till the soldiers began to call him that, and from them it passed on to the natives, all of whom disliked the upstart. Hanged if I can recall his real name. He was ugly and handsome at the same time; suave, patient, courteous; yet somehow or other I sensed the real man below—the Tartar blood. I took a dislike to him, first off. It's the animal sense. You've got it, Kit. Behind the king sat the Council of Three—three wise old ducks I wouldn't trust with an old umbrella."
"While we were salaaming and genuflecting and using grandiloquent phrases the bally leopard got loose, somehow. Maybe some one let him loose; I don't know. Anyhow, he made for the king, who was too thunderstruck to dodge. The rest of 'em took to their heels, you may lay odds on that. Now, I had an honest liking for the king. Seeing the brute make for him, I dashed forward. You see, at ceremonials you're not permitted to carry arms. It had to be with my hands. The leopard knocked the old boy flat and began to maul him. I kicked the brute in the face, swept the king's turban off his head and flung it about the head of the leopard. Somehow or other I got him down. Some of the frightened natives came up, and with the help of Ahmed we got the brute tied up securely. When the king came around he silently shook hands with me and smiled peculiarly at Umballa, who now came running up."
"And that's how you got those poor hands!" exclaimed Kathlyn, kissing the scars which stood out white against the tan.
"That's how," raising the hands and putting them on Kathlyn's head in a kind of benediction.
"Is that all?" asked Winnie breathlessly.
"Isn't that enough?" he retorted. "Well, what is it, Martha? Dinner? Well, if I haven't cheated you girls out of your tea!"
"Tea!" sniffed Winnie disdainfully. "Do you know, dad, you're awfully mean to Kit and me. If you'd take the trouble you could be more interesting than any book I ever read."
"He doesn't believe his stories would interest vain young ladies," said Kathlyn gravely.
Her father eyed her sharply. Of what was she thinking? In those calm unwavering eyes of hers he saw a question, and he feared in his soul she might voice it. He could evade the questions of the volatile Winnie, but there was no getting by Kathlyn with evasions. Frowning, he replaced the order in the box, which he put away in a drawer. It was all arrant nonsense, anyhow; nothing could possibly happen; if there did, he would feel certain that he no longer dwelt in a real workaday world. The idle whim of a sardonic old man; nothing more than that.
"Father, is the king dead?"
"Dead! What makes you ask that, Kit?"
"The past tense; you said he was, not is."
"Yes, he's dead, and the news came this morning. Hence, the yarn."
"Will there be any danger in returning?"
"My girl, whenever I pack my luggage there is danger. A cartridge may stick; a man may stumble; a man you rely on may fail you. As for that, there's always danger. It's the penalty of being alive."
On the way to the dining-room Kathlyn thought deeply. Why had her father asked them if they loved him? Why did he speak of the Big Trek? There was something more than this glittering medal, something more than this simple tale of bravery. What? Well, if he declined to take her into his confidence he must have good reason.
After dinner that night the colonel went the rounds, as was his habit nightly. By and by he returned to the bungalow, but did not enter. He filled his cutty and walked to and fro in the moonlight, with his head bent and his hands clasped behind his back. There was a restlessness in his stride not unlike that of the captive beasts in the cages near by. Occasionally he paused at the clink clink of the elephant irons or at the "whuff" as the uneasy pachyderm poured dust on his head.
Bah! It was madness. A parchment in Hindustani, given jestingly or ironically by a humorous old chap in orders and white linen and rhinoceros sandals. . . . A throne! Pshaw! It was bally nonsense. As if a white man could rule over a brown one by the choice of the latter! And yet, that man Umballa's face, when he had shown the king the portraits of his two lovely daughters! He would send Ahmed. Ahmed knew the business as well as he did. He would send his abdication to the council, giving them the right to choose his successor. He himself would remain home with the girls. Then he gazed up at the moon and smiled grimly.
"Hukum hai!" he murmured in Hindustani. "It is the orders. I've simply got to go. When I recall those rubies and emeralds and pearls. . . . Well, it's not cupidity for myself. It's for the girls. Besides; there's the call, the adventure. I've simply got to go. I can't escape it. I must be always on the go . . . since she died."
A few days later he stood again before the desk in the living-room. He was dressed for travel. He sat down and penned a note. From the box which contained the order he extracted a large envelope heavily sealed. This he balanced in his hand for a moment, frowned, laughed, and swore softly. He would abdicate, but at a snug profit. Why not? . . . He was an old fool. Into a still larger envelope he put the sealed envelope and his own note, then wrote upon it. He was blotting it as his daughters entered.
"Come here, my pretty cubs." He held out the envelope. "I want you, Kit, to open this on December thirty-first, at midnight. Girls like mysteries, and if you opened it any time but midnight it wouldn't be mysterious. Indeed, I shall probably have you both on the arms of my chair when you open it."
"Is it about the medal?" demanded Winnie.
"By George, Kit, the child is beginning to reason out things," he jested.
Winnie laughed, and so did Kathlyn, but she did so because occultly she felt that her father expected her to laugh. She was positively uncanny sometimes in her perspicacity.
"On December thirty-first, at midnight," she repeated. "All right, father. You must write to us at least once every fortnight."
"I'll cable from Singapore, from Ceylon, and write a long letter from Allaha. Come on. We must be off. Ahmed is waiting."
Some hours later the two girls saw the Pacific Mail steamer move with cold and insolent majesty out toward the Golden Gate. Kathlyn proved rather uncommunicative on the way home. December thirty-first kept running through her mind. It held a portent of evil. She knew something of the Orient, though she had never visited India. Had her father made an implacable enemy? Was he going into some unknown, unseen danger? December thirty-first, at midnight. Could she hold her curiosity in check that long?
Many of the days that followed dragged, many flew—the first for Kathlyn, the last for Winnie, who now had a beau, a young newspaper man from San Francisco. He came out regularly every Saturday and returned at night. Winnie became, if anything, more flighty than ever. Her father never had young men about. The men he generally gathered round his board were old hunters or sailors. Kathlyn watched this budding romance amusedly. The young man was very nice. But her thoughts were always and eternally with her father.
During the last week in December there arrived at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco an East Indian, tall, well formed, rather handsome. Except for his brown turban he would have passed unnoticed. For Hindus and Japanese and Chinamen and what-nots from the southern seas were every-day affairs. The brown turban, however, and an enormous emerald on one of his fingers, produced an effect quite gratifying to him. Vanity in the Oriental is never conspicuous for its absence. The reporters gave him scant attention, though, for this was at a time when the Gaikwar of Baroda was unknown.
The stranger, after two or three days of idling, casually asked the way to the wild animal farm of his old friend, Colonel Hare. It was easy enough to find. At the village inn he was treated with tolerant contempt. These brown fellows were forever coming and going, to and fro, from the colonel's.
At five o'clock in the afternoon of the thirty-first day of December, this East Indian peered cautiously into the French window of the Hare bungalow. The picture he saw there sent a thrill into his heart. She was as fair and beautiful as an houri of Sa'adi. She sat at a desk, holding a long white envelope in her hand. By and by she put it away, and he was particular to note the drawer in which she placed it. That the dark-haired girl at the tea tabouret was equally charming did not stir the watcher. Dark-haired women were plentiful in his native land. Yonder was the girl of the photograph, the likeness of which had fired his heart for many a day. With the patience of the Oriental he stood in the shadow and waited. Sooner or later they would leave the room, and sooner or later, with the deftness of his breed, he would enter. The leopard he had heard about was nowhere to be seen.
"Winnie," said Kathlyn, "I dread it."
Winnie set down the teacup; her eyes were brimming.
"What can it all mean? Not a line from father since Colombo, five months gone."
"Do you think——"
"No, no!" replied Kathlyn hastily. "Father sometimes forgets. He may be hunting miles from telegraph wires and railroads; it is only that he should forget us so long. Who knows? He may have dropped down into Borneo. He wanted some pythons, so I heard him say."
The elder sister did not care to instil into the heart of her charge the fear which was in her own.
"Who knows but there may be good news in the envelope? Dad's always doing something like that. New Year's!"
The collie, released from the kitchen, came bounding in. In his exuberance he knocked over a cloisonne vase. Both girls were glad to welcome this diversion. They rose simultaneously and gave chase. The dog headed for the outdoor studio, where they caught him and made believe they were punishing him.
Quietly the watcher entered through the window, alert and tense. He flew to the desk, found the envelope, steamed it open at the kettle, extracted the sealed envelope and Colonel Hare's note. He smiled as he read the letter and changed his plans completely. He would not play messenger; he would use a lure instead. With his ear strained for sounds, he wrote and substituted a note. This houri of Sa'adi would not pause to note the difference in writing; the vitalness of the subject would enchain her thoughts. It was all accomplished in the space of a few minutes. Smiling, he passed out into the fast settling twilight.
They were shipping a lion to San Francisco, and the roaring and confusion were all very satisfactory to the trespasser.
Midnight. From afar came the mellow notes of the bells in the ancient Spanish mission. The old year was dead, the new year was born, carrying with it the unchanging sound of happiness and misery, of promises made and promises broken, of good and evil.
"The packet!" cried Winnie.
Kathlyn recognized in that call that Winnie was only a child. All the responsibility lay upon her shoulders. She ripped the cover from the packet and read the note.
"Kathlyn: If not heard from I'm held captive in Allaha. Sealed document can save me. Bring it yourself to Allaha by first steamer.
"I knew it," said Kathlyn calmly. The fear in her heart had, as the brown man had anticipated, blinded her to the fact that this was not her father's characteristic blunt scrawl.
"Oh, Kit, Kit!"
"Hush, Winnie! I must go, and go alone. Where's the evening paper? Ah, there it is. Let me see what boat leaves San Francisco to-morrow. The Empress of India, six a. m. I must make that. Now, you're your father's daughter, too, Winnie. You must stay behind and be brave and wait. I shall come back. I shall find father, if I have to rouse all India. Now, to pack."
When they arrived at the station the passenger train had just drawn out. For a while Kathlyn felt beaten. She would be compelled to wait another week. It was disheartening.
"Why not try the freight, then?" cried Winnie.
"You little angel! I never thought of that!"
But the crew would not hear of it. It was absolutely against the company's rules. Kathlyn could have cried.
"It isn't money, miss, it's the rules," said the conductor kindly. "I can't do it."
Kathlyn turned in despair toward the station. It was then she saw the boxed lion on the platform. She returned to the conductor of the freight.
"Why isn't that lion shipped?"
"We can't carry a lion without an attendant, miss. You ought to know that."
"Very well," replied Kathlyn. She smiled at the conductor confidently. "I'll travel as the lion's attendant. You certainly can not object to that."
"I guess you've got me," admitted the conductor. "But where the dickens will we put the cat? Every car is closed and locked, and there is not an empty."
"You can easily get the lion in the caboose. I'll see that he doesn't bother any one."
"Lions in the caboose is a new one on me. Well, you know your dad's business better than I do. Look alive, boys, and get that angora aboard. This is Miss Hare herself, and she'll take charge."
"Oh, I'll be brave. I've just got to be. But I've never been left alone before."
The two girls embraced, and Winnie went sobbing back to the maid who waited on the platform.
What happened in that particular caboose has long since been newspaper history. The crew will go on telling it till it becomes as fabulous as one of Sindbad's yarns. How the lion escaped, how the fearless young woman captured it alone, unaided, may be found in the files of all metropolitan newspapers. Of the brown man who was found hiding in the coat closet of the caboose nothing was said. But the sight of him dismayed Kathlyn as no lion could have done. Any-dark skinned person was now a subtle menace. And when, later, she saw peering into the port-hole of her stateroom, dismay became terror.
Who was this man?
THE UNWELCOME THRONE
Kathlyn sensed great loneliness when, about a month later, she arrived at the basin in Calcutta. A thousand or more natives were bathing ceremoniously in the ghat—men, women and children. It was early morn, and they were making solemn genuflections toward the bright sun. The water-front swarmed with brown bodies, and great wheeled carts drawn by sad-eyed bullocks threaded slowly through the maze. The many white turbans, stirring hither and thither, reminded her of a field of white poppies in a breeze. India! There it lay, ready for her eager feet. Always had she dreamed about it, and romanced over it, and sought it on the wings of her spirit. Yonder it lay, ancient as China, enchanting as storied Persia.
If only she were on pleasure bent! If only she knew some one in this great teeming city! She knew no one; she carried no letters of introduction, no letters of credit, nothing but the gold and notes the paymaster at the farm had hastily turned over to her. Only by constant application to maps and guide books had she managed to arrange the short cut to the far kingdom. She had been warned that it was a wild and turbulent place, out of the beaten path, beyond the reach of iron rails. Three long sea voyages: across the Pacific (which wasn't), down the bitter Yellow Sea, up the blue Bay of Bengal, with many a sea change and many a strange picture. What though her heart ached, it was impossible that her young eyes should not absorb all she saw and marvel over it. India!
The strange elusive Hindu had disappeared after Hongkong. That was a weight off her soul. She was now assured that her imagination had beguiled her. How should he know anything about her? What was more natural than that he should wish to hurry back to his native state? She was not the only one in a hurry. And there were Hindus of all castes on all three ships. By now she had almost forgot him.
There was one bright recollection to break the unending loneliness. Coming down from Hongkong to Singapore she had met at the captain's table a young man by the name of Bruce. He was a quiet, rather untalkative man, lean and sinewy, sun and wind bitten. Kathlyn had as yet had no sentimental affairs. Absorbed in her work, her father and the care of Winnie, such young men as she had met had scarcely interested her. She had only tolerated contempt for idlers, and these young men had belonged to that category. Bruce caught her interest in the very fact that he had but little to say and said that crisply and well. There was something authoritative in the shape of his mouth and the steadiness of his eye, though before her he never exercised this power. A dozen times she had been on the point of taking him into her confidence, but the irony of fate had always firmly closed her lips.
And now, waiting for the ship to warp into its pier, she realized what a fatal mistake her reticence had been. A friend of her father!
Bruce had left the Lloyder before dinner (at Singapore), and as Kathlyn's British-India coaster did not leave till morning she had elected to remain over night on the German boat.
As Bruce disappeared among the disembarking passengers and climbed into a rickshaw she turned to the captain, who stood beside her.
"Do you know Mr. Bruce?"
"Very well," said the German. "Didn't he tell you who he is? No? Ach! Why, Mr. Bruce is a great hunter. He has shot everything, written books, climbed the Himalayas. Only last year he brought me the sack of a musk deer, and that is the most dangerous of all sports. He collects animals."
Then Kathlyn knew. The name had been vaguely familiar, but the young man's reticence had given her no opportunity to dig into her recollection. Bruce! How many times her father had spoken of him! What a fool she had been! Bruce knew the country she was going to, perhaps as well as her father; and he could have simplified her journey to the last word. Well, what was done could not be recalled and done over.
"My father is a great hunter, too," she said simply, eying wistfully the road taken by Bruce into town.
"What? Herr Gott! Are you Colonel Hare's daughter?" exclaimed the captain.
He seized her by the shoulders. "Why did you not tell me? Why, Colonel Hare and I have smoked many a Burma cheroot together on these waters. Herr Gott! And you never said anything! What a woman for a man to marry!" he laughed. "You have sat at my table for five days, and only now I find that you are Hare's daughter! And you have a sister. Ach, yes! He was always taking out some photographs in the smoke-room and showing them to us old chaps."
Tears filled Kathlyn's eyes. In an Indian prison, out of the jurisdiction of the British Raj, and with her two small hands and woman's mind she must free him! Always the mysterious packet lay close to her heart, never for a moment was it beyond the reach of her hand. Her father's freedom!
The rusty metal sides of the ship scraped against the pier and the gangplank was lowered; and presently the tourists flocked down with variant emotions, to be besieged by fruit sellers, water carriers, cabmen, blind beggars, and maimed, naked little children with curious, insolent black eyes, women with infants straddling their hips, stolid Chinamen; a riot of color and a bewildering babel of tongues.
Kathlyn found a presentable carriage, and with her luggage pressing about her feet directed the driver to the Great Eastern Hotel.
Her white sola-topee (sun helmet) had scarcely disappeared in the crowd when the Hindu of the freight caboose emerged from the steerage, no longer in bedraggled linen trousers and ragged turban, but dressed like a native fop. He was in no hurry. Leisurely he followed Kathlyn to the hotel, then proceeded to the railway station. He had need no longer to watch and worry. There was nothing left now but to greet her upon her arrival, this golden houri from the verses of Sa'adi. The two weeks of durance vile among the low castes in the steerage should be amply repaid. In six days he would be beyond the hand of the meddling British Raj, in his own country. Sport! What was more beautiful to watch than cat play? He was the cat, the tiger cat. And what would the Colonel Sahib say when he felt the claws? Beautiful, beautiful, like a pattern woven in an Agra rug.
Kathlyn began her journey at once. Now that she was on land, moving toward her father, all her vigor returned. She felt strangely alive, exhilarated. She knew that she was not going to be afraid of anything hereafter. To enter the strange country without having her purpose known would be the main difficulty. Where was Ahmed all this time? Doubtless in a cell like his master.
Three days later she stood at the frontier, and her servant set about arguing and bargaining with the mahouts to engage elephants for the three days' march through jungles and mountainous divides to the capital. Three elephants were necessary. There were two howdah elephants and one pack elephant, who was always lagging behind. Through long aisles of magnificent trees they passed, across hot blistering deserts, dotted here and there by shrubs and stunted trees, in and out of gloomy defiles of flinty rock, over sluggish and swiftly flowing streams. The days were hot, but the nights were bitter cold. Sometimes a blue miasmic haze settled down, and the dry raspy hides of the elephants grew damp and they fretted at their chains.
Rao, the khidmutgar Kathlyn had hired in Calcutta, proved invaluable. Without him she would never have succeeded in entering the strange country; for these wild-eyed Mohammedan mahouts (and it is pertinent to note that only Mohammedans are ever made mahouts, it being against the tenets of Hinduism to kill or ride anything that kills) scowled at her evilly. They would have made way with her for an anna-piece. Rao was a Mohammedan himself, so they listened and obeyed.
All this the first day and night out. On the following morning a leopard crossed the trail. Kathlyn seized her rifle and broke its spine. The jabbering of the mahouts would have amused her at any other time.
"Good, Mem-sahib," whispered Rao. "You have put fear into their devils' hearts. Good! Chup!" he called. "Stop your noise."
After that they gave Kathlyn's dog tent plenty of room.
One day, in the heart of a natural clearing, she saw a tree. Its blossoms and leaves were as scarlet as the seeds of a pomegranate.
"Oh, how beautiful! What is it, Rao?"
"The flame of the jungle, Mem-sahib. It is good luck to see it on a journey."
About the tree darted gay parrakeets and fat green parrots. The green plumage of the birds against the brilliant scarlet of the tree was indescribably beautiful. Everywhere was life, everywhere was color. Once, as the natives seated themselves of the evening round their dung fire while Kathlyn busied with the tea over a wood fire, a tiger roared near by. The elephants trumpeted and the mahouts rose in terror. Kathlyn ran for her rifle, but the trumpeting of the elephants was sufficient to send the striped cat to other hunting-grounds. Wild ape and pig abounded, and occasionally a caha wriggled out of the sun into the brittle grasses. Very few beasts or reptiles are aggressive; it is only when they feel cornered that they turn. Even the black panther, the most savage of all cats, will rarely offer battle except when attacked.
Meantime the man who had followed Kathlyn arrived at the city.
Five hours later Kathlyn stepped out of her howdah, gave Rao the money for the mahouts and looked about. This was the gate to the capital. How many times had her father passed through it? Her jaw set and her eyes flashed. Whatever dangers beset her she was determined to meet them with courage and patience.
"Rao, you had better return to Calcutta. What I have to do must be done alone."
"Very good. But I shall remain here till the Mem-sahib returns." Rao salaamed.
"And if I should not return?" affected by this strange loyalty.
"Then I shall seek Bruce Sahib, who has a camp twenty miles east."
"Bruce? But he is in Singapore!"—a quickening of her pulses.
"Who can say where Bruce Sahib is? He is like a shadow, there to-day, here to-morrow. I have been his servant, Mem-sahib, and that is how I am to-day yours. I received a telegram to call at your hotel and apply to you for service. Very good. I shall wait. The mahout here will take you directly to Hare Sahib's bungalow. You will find your father's servants there, and all will be well. A week, then. If you do not send for me I seek Bruce Sahib, and we shall return with many. Some will speak English at the bungalow."
"Thank you, Rao. I shall not forget."
"Neither will Bruce Sahib," mysteriously. Rao salaamed.
Kathlyn got into the howdah and passed through the gates. Bruce Sahib, the quiet man whose hand had reached out over seas thus strangely to reassure her! A hardness came into her throat and she swallowed desperately. She was only twenty-four. Except for herself there might not be a white person in all this sprawling, rugged principality. From time to time the new mahout turned and smiled at her curiously, but she was too absorbed to note his attentions.
Durga Ram, called lightly Umballa, went directly to the palace, where he knew the Council of Three solemnly awaited his arrival. He dashed up the imposing flight of marble steps, exultant. He had fulfilled his promise; the golden daughter of Hare Sahib was but a few miles away. The soldiers, guarding the entrance, presented their arms respectfully; but instantly after Umballa disappeared the expression on their faces was not pleasing.
Umballa hurried along through the deep corridor, supported by exquisitely carved marble columns. Beauty in stone was in evidence everywhere and magnificent brass lamps hung from the ceiling. There was a shrine topped by an idol in black marble, incrusted with sapphires and turquoises. Durga Ram, who shall be called Umballa, nodded slightly as he passed it. Force of habit, since in his heart there was only one religion—self.
He stopped at a door guarded by a single soldier, who saluted but spat as soon as Umballa had passed into the throne room. The throne itself was vacant. The Council of Three rose at the approach of Umballa.
"She is here," he said haughtily.
The council salaamed.
Umballa stroked his chin as he gazed at the huge candles flickering at each side of the throne. He sniffed the Tibetan incense, and shrugged. It was written. "Go," he said, "to Hare Sahib's bungalow and await me. I shall be there presently. There is plenty of time. And remember our four heads depend upon the next few hours. The soldiers are on the verge of mutiny, and only success can pacify them."
He turned without ceremony and left them. With oriental philosophy they accepted the situation. They had sought to overturn him, and he held them in the hollow of his hand. During the weeks of his absence in America his spies had hung about them like bees about honey. They were the fowlers snared.
Umballa proceeded along the corridor to a flight of stairs leading beneath the palace floor. Here the soldiers were agreeable enough; they had reason to be. Umballa gave them new minted rupees for their work, many rupees. For they knew secrets. Before the door of a dungeon Umballa paused and listened. There was no sound. He returned upstairs and sought a chamber near the harem. This he entered, and stood with folded arms near the door.
"Ah, Colonel Sahib!"
"Umballa?" Colonel Hare, bearded, unkempt, tried to stand erect and face his enemy. "You black scoundrel!"
"Durga Ram, Sahib. Words, words; the patter of rain on stone roofs. Our king lives no more, alas!"
"He is dead. Dying, he left you this throne—you, a white man, knowing it was a legacy of terror and confusion. You knew. Why did you return? Ah, pearls and sapphires and emeralds! What? I offer you this throne upon conditions."
"And those conditions I have refused."
"You have, yes, but now——" Umballa smiled. Then he suddenly blazed forth: "Think you a white man shall sit upon this throne while I live? It is mine. I was his heir."
"Then why didn't you save him from the leopard? I'll tell you why. You expected to inherit on the spot, and I spoiled the game. Is that not true?"
"And what if I admit it?" truculently.
"Umballa, or Durga Ram, if you wish, listen. Take the throne. What's to hinder you? You want it. Take it and let me begone."
"Yes, I want it; and by all the gods of Hind I'll have it—but safely. Ah! It would be fine to proclaim myself when mutiny and rebellion stalk about. Am I a pig to play a game like that? Tch! Tch!" He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth in derision. "No; I need a buckler till all this roily water subsides and clears."
"And then, some fine night, Hare Sahib's throat? I am not afraid of death, Umballa. I have faced it too many times. Make an end of me at once or leave me to rot here, my answer will always be the same. I will not become a dishonorable tool. You have offered me freedom and jewels. No; I repeat, I will free all slaves, abolish the harems, the buying and selling of flesh; I will make a man of every poor devil of a coolie who carries stones from your quarries."
Umballa laughed. "Then remain here like a dog while I put your golden daughter on the throne and become what the British Raj calls prince consort. She'll rebel, I know; but I have a way." He stepped outside and closed the door.
"Kit, my daughter? Good God, what is she doing here when I warned her?" Hare tugged furiously at his chains. "Durga Ram, you have beaten me. State your terms and I will accept them to the letter. . . . Kit, my beautiful Kit, in this hellhole!"
"Ah, but I don't want you to accept now. I was merely amusing myself." The door shut and the bolt shot home.
Hare fell upon his knees. "My head, my head! Dear God, save me my reason!"
* * * * * *
The moment Kathlyn arrived at the animal cages of her father she called for Ahmed.
"Ah, Mem-sahib, they say he is dead. I know not. One night—the second after we arrived—he was summoned to the palace. He never came back."
"They have killed him!"
"Perhaps. They watch me, too; but I act simple. We wait and see."
Kathlyn rushed across the ground intervening between the animal cages and the bungalow. There was no one in sight. She ran up the steps . . . to be greeted inside by the suave Umballa.
"You?" her hand flying to her bosom.
"I, Miss Hare." He salaamed, with a sweeping gesture of his hands.
Sadly the wretch told her the tale; the will of the king, his death and the subsequent death of her father in his, Durga Ram's, arms. Yonder urn contained his ashes. For the first time in her young life Kathlyn fainted. She had been living on her nerves for weeks, and at the sight of that urn something snapped. Daintily Umballa plucked forth the packet and waited. At length she opened her eyes.
"You are a queen, Miss Hare."
"You are mad!"
"Nay; it was the madness of the king. But mad kings often make laws which must be obeyed. You will accuse me of perfidy when I tell you all. The note which brought you here was written by me and substituted for this."
Duly Kathlyn read:
"Kathlyn—if not heard from, I'm held captive in Allaha. The royal title given to me by the king made me and my descendants direct heirs to the throne. Do not come to Allaha yourself. Destroy sealed document herewith.
The Council of Three entered noiselessly from the adjoining room. At the four dark, inscrutable faces the bewildered girl stared, her limbs numb with terror. Gravely the council told her she must come with them to the palace.
"It is impossible!" she murmured. "You are all mad. I am a white woman. I can not rule over an alien race whose tongue I can not speak, whose habits I know nothing of. It is impossible. Since my father is dead, I must return to my home."
"No," said Umballa.
"I refuse to stir!" She was all afire of a sudden: the base trickery which had brought her here! She was very lovely to the picturesque savage who stood at her elbow.
As he looked down at her, in his troubled soul Umballa knew that it was not the throne so much as it was this beautiful bird of paradise which he wished to cage.
"Be brave," he said, "like your father. I do not wish to use force, but you must go. It is useless to struggle. Come."
She hung back for a moment; then, realizing her utter helplessness, she signified that she was ready to go. She needed time to collect her stunned and disordered thoughts.
Before going to the palace they conducted her to the royal crypt. The urn containing her father's ashes was deposited in a niche. Many other niches contained urns, and Umballa explained to her that these held the ashes of many rulers. Tears welled into Kathlyn's eyes, but they were of a hysterical character.
"A good sign," mused Umballa, who thought he knew something of women, like all men beset with vanity. Oddly enough, he had forgot all about the incident of the lion in the freight caboose. All women are felines to a certain extent. This golden-haired woman had claws, and the day was coming when he would feel them drag over his heart.
From the crypt they proceeded to the palace zenana (harem), which surrounded a court of exceeding beauty. Three ladies of the harem were sitting in the portico, attended by slaves. All were curiously interested at the sight of a woman with white skin, tinted like the lotus. Umballa came to a halt before a latticed door.
"Here your majesty must remain till the day of your coronation."
"How did my father die?"
"He was assassinated on the palace steps by a Mohammedan fanatic. As I told you, he died in my arms."
"His note signified that he feared imprisonment. How came he on the palace steps?"
"He was not a prisoner. He came and went as he pleased in the city." He bowed and left her.
Alone in her chamber, the dullness of her mind diminished and finally cleared away like a fog in a wind. Her dear, kind, blue-eyed father was dead, and she was virtually a prisoner, and Winnie was all alone. A queen! They were mad, or she was in the midst of some hideous nightmare. Mad, mad, mad! She began to laugh, and it was not a pleasant sound. A queen, she, Kathlyn Hare! Her father was dead, she was a queen, and Winnie was all alone. A gale of laughter brought to the marble lattice many wondering eyes. The white cockatoo shrilled his displeasure. Those outside the lattice saw this marvelous white-skinned woman, with hair like the gold threads in Chinese brocades, suddenly throw herself upon a pile of cushions, and they saw her shoulders rock and heave, but heard no sound of wailing.
After a while she fell asleep, a kind of dreamless stupor. When she awoke it was twilight in the court. The doves were cooing and fluttering in the cornices and the cockatoo was preening his lemon colored topknot. At first Kathlyn had not the least idea where she was, but the light beyond the lattice, the flitting shadows, and the tinkle of a stringed instrument assured her that she was awake, terribly awake.
She sat perfectly still, slowly gathering her strength, mental and physical. She was not her father's daughter for nothing. She was to fight in some strange warfare, instinctively she felt this; but from what direction, in what shape, only God knew. Yet she must prepare for it; that was the vital thing; she must marshal her forces, feminine and only defensive, and watch.
Rao! Her hands clutched the pillows. In five days' time he would be off to seek John Bruce; and there would be white men there, and they would come to her though a thousand legions of these brown men stood between. She would play for time; she must pretend docility and meet quiet guile with guile. She could get no word to her faithful khidmutgar; none here, even if open to bribery, could be made to understand. Only Umballa and the council spoke English or understood it. She had ten days' grace; within that time she hoped to find some loophole.
Slave girls entered noiselessly. The hanging lamps were lighted. A tabouret was set before her. There were quail and roast kid, fruits and fragrant tea. She was not hungry, but she ate.
Within a dozen yards of her sat her father, stolidly munching his chupatties, because he knew that now he must live.
* * * * * *
One of the chief characteristics of the East Indian is extravagance. To outvie one another in celebrations of births, weddings, deaths and coronations they beggar themselves. In this the Oriental and the Occidental have one thing in common. This principality was small, but there was a deal of wealth in it because of its emerald mines and turquoise pits. The durbar brought out princes and princelings from east, south and west, and even three or four wild-eyed ameers from the north. The British government at Calcutta heard vaguely about this fete, but gave it scant attention for the simple fact that it had not been invited to attend. Still, it watched the performance covertly. Usually durbars took months of preparation; this one had been called into existence within ten days.
Elephants and camels and bullocks; palanquins, gharries, tongas; cloth of gold and cloth of jewels; color, confusion, maddening noises, and more color. There was very little semblance of order; a rajah preceded a princeling, and so on down. The wailing of reeds and the muttering of kettle drums; music, languorous, haunting, elusive, low minor chords seemingly struck at random, intermingling a droning chant; a thousand streams of incense, crossing and recrossing; and fireworks at night, fireworks which had come all the way across China by caravan—these things Kathlyn saw and heard from her lattice.
The populace viewed all these manifestations quietly. They were perfectly willing to wait. If this white queen proved kind they would go about their affairs, leaving her in peace; but they were determined that she should be no puppet in the hands or Umballa, whom they hated for his cruelty and money leeching ways. Oh, everything was ripe in the state for murder and loot—and the reaching, holding hand of the British Raj.
As Kathlyn advanced to the canopied dais upon which she was to be crowned, a hand filled with flowers reached out. She turned to see Ahmed.
"Bruce Sahib," she whispered.
Ahmed salaamed deeply as she passed on. The impression that she was dreaming again seized her. This could not possibly be real. Her feet did not seem to touch the carpets; she did not seem to breathe; she floated. It was only when the crown was placed upon her head that she realized the reality and the finality of the proceedings.
"Be wise," whispered Umballa coldly. "If you take off that crown now, neither your gods nor mine could save you from that mob down yonder. Be advised. Rise!"
She obeyed. She wanted to cry out to that sea of bronze faces: "People I do not want to be your queen. Let me go!" They would not understand. Where was Rao? Where was Bruce? What of the hope that now flickered and died in her heart, like a guttering candle light? There was a small dagger hidden in the folds of her white robe; she could always use that. She heard Umballa speaking in the native tongue. A great shouting followed. The populace surged.
"What have you said to them?" she demanded.
"That her majesty had chosen Durga Ram to be her consort and to him now forthwith she will be wed." He salaamed.
So the mask was off! "Marry you? Oh, no! Mate with you, a black?"
"Black?" he cried, as if a whiplash had struck him across the face.
"Yes, black of skin and black of heart. I have submitted to the farce of this durbar, but that is as far as my patience will go. God will guard me."
"Yes, my God and the God of my fathers!"
To the mutable faces below she looked the Queen at that instant. They saw the attitude, but could not interpret it.
"So be it. There are other things besides marriage."
"Yes," she replied proudly; "there is death."
THE TWO ORDEALS
Umballa was not a coward; he was only ruthless and predatory after the manner of his kind. A thrill of admiration tingled his spine. The women of his race were chattels, lazy and inert, without fire, merely drudges or playthings. Here was one worth conquering, a white flame to be controlled. To bend her without breaking her, that must be his method of procedure. The skin under her chin was as white as the heart of a mangosteen, and the longing to sweep her into his arms was almost irresistible.
A high priest spoke to Kathlyn.
"What does he say?" she asked.
"That you must marry me."
"Tell him that I refuse!"
Umballa shrugged and repeated her words. Here the Council of Three interposed, warning Kathlyn that she must submit to the law as it read. There was no appeal from it.
"Then I shall appeal to the British Raj."
"How?" asked Umballa urbanely.
Swiftly she stepped to the front of the platform and extended her arms. It was an appeal. She pointed to Umballa and shook her head. Her arms went out again. A low murmur rippled over the pressing crowd; it grew in volume; and a frown of doubt flitted over Umballa's brow. The soldiers were swaying restlessly. Kathlyn saw this sign and was quick to seize upon its possibilities. She renewed her gesture toward them. It seemed that she must burst forth in their maddening tongue: "I appeal to the chivalry of Allaha! . . . Soldiers, you now wear my uniform! Liberate me!" But her tongue was mute; yet her eyes, her face, her arms spoke eloquently enough to the turbulent soldiers. Besides, they welcomed the opportunity to show the populace how strong they were and how little they feared Umballa. At a nod from their leader they came romping up the steps to this dais and surrounded Kathlyn. A roar came from the populace; an elephant trumpeted; the pariah dogs barked.
Umballa stepped back, his hand on his jeweled sword. He was quite unprepared for any such flagrant mutiny—mutiny from his angle of vision, though in law the troopers had only responded to the desire of their queen. He turned questioningly to the council and the priests. He himself could move no further. His confreres appreciated the danger in which their power stood. They announced that it was decreed to give the queen a respite of seven days in which to yield. It would at least hold the bold troopers on the leash till they could be brought to see the affair in its true light by the way of largess in rupees. Umballa consented because he was at the bottom of the sack. A priest read from a scroll the law, explaining that no woman might rule unmarried. Because the young queen was not conversant with the laws of the state she would be given seven days. Thus the durbar ended.
With a diplomacy which would have graced a better man Umballa directed the troopers to escort Kathlyn to her chamber in the zenana. He had in mind seven days. Many things could be accomplished in that space of time.
"For the present," he said, smiling at Kathlyn, "the God of your fathers has proven strongest. But to-morrow! . . . Ah, to-morrow! There will be seven days. Think, then, deeply and wisely. Your khidmutgar Rao is a prisoner. It will be weeks ere your presence is known here. You are helpless as a bird in the net. Struggle if you will; you will only bruise your wings. The British Raj? The British Raj does not want a great border war, and I can bring down ten thousand wild hillmen outlaws between whom and the British Raj there is a blood feud; ten thousand from a land where there is never peace, only truce. In seven days. Salaam, heaven born!"
She returned his ironical gaze calmly over the shoulder of a trooper.
"Wait," she said. "I wish you to understand the enormity of your crime."
"Crime?" with elevated eyebrows.
"Yes. You have abducted me."
"No. You came of your own free will."
"The white men of my race will not pause to argue over any such subtlety. Marry you? I do not like your color."
A dull red settled under Umballa's skin.
"I merely wish to warn you," she went on, "that my blood will be upon your head. And woe to you if it is. There are white men who will not await the coming of the British Raj."
"Ah, yes; some brave hardy American; Bruce Sahib, for instance. Alas, he is in the Straits Settlements! Seven days."
"I am not afraid to die."
"But there are many kinds of death," and with this sinister reflection he stepped aside.
The multitude, seeing Kathlyn coming down from the dais, still surrounded by her cordon of troopers, began reluctantly to disperse. "Bread and the circus!"—the mobs will cry it down the ages; they will always pause to witness bloodshed, from a safe distance, you may be sure. There was a deal of rioting in the bazaars that night, and many a measure of bhang and toddy kept the fires burning. Oriental politics is like the winds of the equinox: it blows from all directions.
The natives were taxed upon every conceivable subject, not dissimilar to the old days in Urdu, where a man paid so much for the privilege of squeezing the man under him. Mutiny was afoot, rebellion, but it had not yet found a head. The natives wanted a change, something to gossip about during the hot lazy afternoons, over their hookas and coffee. To them reform meant change only, not the alleviation of some of their heavy burdens. The talk of freeing slaves was but talk; slaves were lucrative investments; a man would be a fool to free them. An old man, with a skin white like this new queen's and hair like spun wool, dressed in a long black cloak and a broad brimmed hat, had started the agitation of liberating the slaves. More than that, he carried no idol of his God, never bathed in the ghats, or took flowers to the temples, and seemed always silently communing with the simple iron cross suspended from his neck. But he had died during the last visitation of the plague.
They had wearied of their tolerant king, who had died mysteriously; they were now wearied of the council and Umballa; in other words, they knew not what they wanted, being People.
Who was this fair-skinned woman who stood so straight before Umballa's eye? Whence had she come? To be ruled by a woman who appeared to be tongue-tied! Well, there were worse things than a woman who could not talk. Thus they gabbled in the bazaars, round braziers and dung fires. And some talked of the murder. The proud Ramabai had been haled to prison; his banker's gold had not saved him. Oh, this street rat Umballa generally got what he wanted. Ramabai's wife was one of the beauties of Hind.
Through the narrow, evil smelling streets of the bazaars a man hurried that night, glancing behind frequently to see if by any mischance some one followed. He stopped at the house of Lal Singh, the shoemaker, whom he found drowsing over his water pipe.
"Is it well?" said the newcomer, intoning.
"It is well," answered Lal Singh, dropping the mouthpiece of his pipe. He had spoken mechanically. When he saw who his visitor was his eyes brightened. "Ahmed?"
"Hush!" with a gesture toward the ceiling.
"She is out merrymaking, like the rest of her kind. The old saying: if a man waits, the woman comes to him. I am alone. There is news?"
"There is a journey. Across Hind to Simla."
"The hour has arrived?"
"At least the excuse. Give these to one in authority with the British Raj, whose bread we eat." Ahmed slid across the table a very small scroll. "The Mem-sahib is my master's daughter. She must be spirited away to safety."
"Ah!" Lal Singh rubbed his fat hands. "So the time nears when we shall wring the vulture's neck? Ai, it is good! Umballa, the toad, who swells and swells as the days go by. Siva has guarded him well. The king picks him out of the gutter for a pretty bit of impudence, sends him afar to Umballa, where he learns to speak English, where he learns to wear shoes that button and stiff linen bands round the neck. He has gone on, gone on! The higher up, the harder the fall."
"There are pistols and guns and ammunition and strange little wires by which I make magic fires."
"One never knows what may be needed. You have the key?"
"Hare Sahib's daughter. And Hare Sahib?" with twinkling eyes.
"In some dungeon, mayhap. There all avenues seemed closed up."
"Umballa needs money," said Lal Singh, thoughtfully. "But he will not find it," in afterthought.
These two men were spiders in that great web of secret service that the British Raj weaves up and down and across Hind, to Persia and Afghanistan, to the borders of the Bear.
Even as Lal Singh picked up his mouthpiece again and Ahmed sallied forth into the bazaars Umballa had brought to him in the armory that company of soldiers who had shown such open mutiny, not against the state but against him.
Gravely he questioned the captain.
"Pay our wages, then, heaven born," said the captain, with veiled insolence. "Pay us, for we have seen not so much as betel money since the last big rains."
"Money," mused Umballa, marking down this gallant captain for death when the time came.
"Ai, money; bright rupees, or, better still, yellow British gold. Pay us!"
"Let us be frank with each other," said Umballa, smiling to cover the fire in his eyes.
"That is what we desire," replied the captain with a knowing look at his silent troopers.
"I must buy you."
The captain salaamed.
"But after I have bought you?" ironically.
"Heaven born; our blood is yours to spill where and when you will."
From under the teak table Umballa drew forth two heavy bags of silver coin. These he emptied upon the table dramatically; white shining metal, sparkling as the candle flames wavered. Umballa arranged the coin in stacks, one of them triple in size.
"Yours, Captain," said Umballa, indicating the large stack.
The captain pocketed it, and one by one his troopers passed and helped themselves and fell back along the wall in military alignment, bright-eyed and watchful.
"Thanks, heaven born!"
The captain and his troopers filed out. Umballa fingered the empty bags, his brow wrinkled. Cut off a cobra's head and it could only wriggle until sunset. Umballa gave the vanishing captain two weeks. Then he should vanish indeed.
The next morning while the council and Umballa were in session relative as to what should be done with Kathlyn in the event of her refusal to bend, two soldiers entered, bringing with them a beautiful native young woman, one Pundita, wife of Ramabai, found in murder.
Umballa wiped his betel stained lips and salaamed mockingly. Not so long ago he had been attentive to this young woman—after her marriage. She had sent him about his business with burning ears and a hot cheek, made so by the contact of her strong young hand. Revenge, great or small, was always sweet to Umballa.
To the slave girl who attended Pundita he said: "Go summon the queen. It is for her to decide what shall be done with this woman."
Through the veil Pundita's black eyes sparkled with hatred.
When Kathlyn came in it was at once explained to her that the woman's husband had been taken for murder; by law his wife became the queen's property, to dispose of as she willed. The veil was plucked from Pundita's face. She was ordered to salaam in submission to her queen. Pundita salaamed, but stoutly refused to kneel. They proceeded to force her roughly, when Kathlyn intervened.
"Tell her she is free," said Kathlyn.
"Free?" came from the amazed Pundita's lips.
"You speak English?" cried Kathlyn excitedly.
Kathlyn could have embraced her for the very joy of the knowledge. A woman who could talk English, who could understand, who perhaps could help! Yes, yes; the God of her fathers was good.
Umballa smiled. All this was exactly what he had reason to expect. Seven days of authority; it would amuse him to watch her.
"Tell me your story," urged Kathlyn kindly. "Be not afraid of these men. I shall make you my lady in waiting . . . so long as I am queen," with a searching glance at Umballa's face. She learned nothing from the half smile there.
Pundita's narrative was rather long but not uninteresting. She had learned English from the old white priest who had died during the last plague. She was of high caste; and far back in the days of the Great Mogul in Delhi her forebears had ruled here; but strife and rebellion had driven them forth. In order that her immediate forebear might return to their native state and dwell in peace they had waived all possible rights of accession. They had found her husband standing over a dead man in the bazaars. He was innocent.
Umballa smoothed his chin. Pundita had not told her queen how he, Umballa, had made the accusation, after having been refused money by Ramabai. He secretly admired the diplomacy of the young woman. He did not at this moment care to push his enmity too far. As a matter of fact, he no longer cared about her; at least, not since his arrival at the Hare wild animal farm in California.
"Where is this man Ramabai confined?" demanded Kathlyn.
"In the murderers' pit in the elephant arena."
"Send and bring him here. I am certain that he is innocent."
So they brought in Ramabai in chains. Behind him came a Nautch girl, at whom Umballa gazed puzzledly. What part had she in this affair? He soon found out.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Lalla Ghori, and I live over the shoemaker, Lal Singh, in the Kashmir Gate bazaar. I dance."
"And why are you here?"
"I saw the murder. Ramabai is innocent. He came upon the scene only after the murderer had fled. They were fighting about me," naively. "I was afraid to tell till now."
"Knock off those chains," said Kathlyn. Of Pundita she asked: "Does he, too, speak English?"
"Yes, heaven born."
"Then for the present he shall become my bodyguard. You shall both remain here in the palace."
"Ah, Your Majesty!" interposed Umballa. Pundita he did not mind, but he objected to Ramabai, secretly knowing him to be a revolutionist, extremely popular with the people and the near-by ryots (farmers), to whom he loaned money upon reasonable terms.
"If I am queen, I will it," said Kathlyn firmly. "If I am only a prisoner, end the farce at once."
"Your majesty's word is law," and Umballa bowed, hiding as best he could his irritation.
The next afternoon he began to enact the subtle plans he had formed regarding Kathlyn. He brought her certain documents and petitions to sign and went over them carefully with her. Once, as she returned a document, he caught her hand and kissed it. She withdrew it roughly, flaming with anger. He spread his hands apologetically. He was on fire for her, but he possessed admirable control. He had the right to come and go; as regent he could enter the zenana without being accompanied by the council. But, thereafter, when he arrived with the day's business she contrived to have Pundita near and Ramabai within call. On the sixth day he cast all discretion to the winds and seized her violently in his arms. And, though she defended her lips, her cheeks and neck were defiled. She stepped back; the hidden dagger flashed.
"A step nearer," she cried, low voiced, "and I will strike."
Umballa recoiled. This was no longer Sa'adi's houri but the young woman who had mastered the lion in the railway train. Rage supplanted the passion in his heart. Since she would not bend, she should break. As her arm sank he sprang forward like a cat and seized her wrist. He was not gentle. The dagger tinkled as it struck the marble floor. He stooped for it.
"Since you will not bend, break!" he said, and left the chamber, cold with fury.
Kathlyn sank weakly upon her pillows as Pundita ran to her side.
"What shall I do, Pundita?"
"God knows, Mem-sahib!"
"Are you a Christian?"
And so they comforted each other.
There was a garden in the palace grounds, lovely indeed. A fountain tinkled and fat carp swam about in the fluted marble basin. There were trellises of flowers, too. Persian roses, despite the fact that it was still winter. It was called the garden of brides.
Kathlyn, attended by Pundita, awaited there the coming of Umballa and the council. Her heart ached with bitterness and she could not think clearly. The impression that all this was some dreadful nightmare recurred to her vividly. What terrors awaited her she knew not nor could conceive. Marry that smiling demon?—for something occult told her that he was a demon. No; she was ready to die . . . And but a little while ago she had been working happily in the outdoor studio; the pet leopard sprawled at her feet; from the bungalow she heard the nightingale voice of Winnie, soaring in some aria of Verdi's; her father was dozing on the veranda. Out of that, into this! It was incredible. From time to time she brushed her forehead, bewildered.
In this mood, bordering on the hysterical (which is sometimes but a step to supreme courage), Durga Ram, so-called Umballa, and the council found her. The face of the former was cold, his eyes steady and expressionless.
"Has your majesty decided?" asked the eldest of the council.
"And your decision is?"
"No, absolutely and finally. There is no reason why I should obey any of your laws; but there is a good reason why all of you shall some day be punished for this outrage."
"Outrage! To be made queen of Allaha?" The spokesman for the council stamped his foot in wrath.
"Think!" said Umballa.
"I have thought. Let us have no more of this cat-and-mouse play. I refuse to marry you. I'd much prefer any beggar in the street. There is nothing more to be said."
"There are worse things than marriage."
"What manner of indignities have you arranged for me?" Her voice was firm, but the veins in her throat beat so hardily that they stifled her.
Said the spokesman of the council: "We have found a precedent. We find that one hundred and ninety years ago a like case confused the council of that day. They finally agreed that she must submit to two ordeals with wild beasts of the jungle. If she survived she was to be permitted to rule without hindrance. It would be a matter for the gods to decide."
"Are you really human beings?" asked Kathlyn, her lips dry. "Can you possibly commit such a dreadful crime against one who has never harmed you, who asks for nothing but the freedom to leave this country?"
Pundita secretly caught Kathlyn's hand and pressed it.
"Once more!" said Umballa, his compassion touched for the first time. But he had gone too far; for the safety of his own head he must go on.
"I am ready!"
The four men salaamed gravely. They turned, the flowing yellow robes of the council fluttering in the wind, the sun lighting with green and red fires the hilt of Umballa's sword. Not one of them but would have emptied his private coffers to undo what he had done. It was too late. Already a priest had announced the ordeals to the swarming populace. You feed a tiger to pacify him; you give a populace a spectacle.
That night Umballa did not rest particularly well. But he became determined upon one thing: no actual harm should befall Kathlyn. He would have a marksman hidden near by in both ordeals. What a woman! She was a queen, and he knew that he would go through all the hells of Hind to call her his. Long ere this he would have looted the treasure chests and swept her up on his racing elephant had he dared. Sa'adi's houri!
A thousand times he heard it through the night:
"I am ready!"
HOW TIME MOVES
Meantime Lal Singh was hurrying on a racing camel toward the railway, toward Simla, more than a thousand miles away. He was happy. Here was the long delayed opportunity for the hand of the British Raj: a captive white woman. What better excuse was needed? There would be armed Sikhs and Gurhas and Tommies near Rawal Pindi. Ai! how time moved, how fate twisted! How the finest built castle in schemes came clattering down! At the very moment when he had secretly worked upon the king to throw himself into the protecting arms of the British Raj—assassinated! The council? Umballa? Some outsider, made mad by oppression? The egg of Brahma was strangely hatched—this curious old world!
Ahmed remained hidden in the bazaars, to await the ordeals. Nothing should harm his mistress; he was ready now and at all times to lay down his life for her; in this the British Raj came second. He had sent a courier to Bruce Sahib's bungalow, but the man had returned to report that it was still unoccupied.
And while he bit his nails in futile wrath and smoked till his tongue grew bitter, some miles away there was much confusion in the jungle by the water. Tents were being set up, native bearers and coolies were running to and fro, building fires, carrying water, hobbling the pack elephants. Wandering in and out of this animated scene was a young man, clean shaven, deeply tanned, with blue eyes which were direct, small pupiled, yet kindly. Presently he called to one of the head men.
"Ali, you might send three or four men on to the bungalow to clean up things. We shall make it tomorrow. It's but two hours' ride, but there's no hurry; and besides there's a herd of elephants behind us somewhere. They've come up far for this time of year."
"Any news worth while?"
Ali made a gesture; it signified a great many things.
"Bruce Sahib will not believe."
"Believe what?" said Bruce, emptying his pipe against his heel.
"There is a white queen in the city."
"What? What bally nonsense is this?"
"It is only what I've been told, Sahib. Hare Sahib is dead."
Bruce let his pipe slip through his fingers. "Hare? Good lord!"
"Yes, Sahib. But that is not all. It seems the king went mad after we went to Africa. You remember how Hare Sahib saved him from the leopard? Well, he made Hare Sahib his heir. He had that right; the law of the childless king has always read so in Allaha. The white queen is Hare Sahib's daughter."
Bruce leaned against a tent pole. "Am I dreaming or are you?" he gasped.
"It is what they tell me, Sahib. I know it not as a fact."
"The king dead, Hare dead, and his daughter on the throne! How did she get here? And what the devil is a chap to do?" Bruce stooped and recovered his pipe and swore softly. "Ali, if this is true, then it's some devil work; and I'll wager my shooting eye that that sleek scoundrel Umballa, as they call him, is at the bottom of it. A white woman, good old Hare's daughter. I'll look into this. It's the nineteenth century, Ali, and white women are not made rulers over the brown, not of their own free will. Find out all you can and report to me," and Bruce dismissed his servant and fell to pacing before his tent.
The native who had spread this astounding news in Bruce's camp was already hastening back to the city, some fourteen miles away. He had been a bheestee (water carrier) to the house of Ramabai up to the young banker's incarceration. To him, then, he carried the news that a white hunter had arrived outside the city—"Bruce Sahib has returned!"
Ramabai lost no time in taking this news to Kathlyn.
"Ramabai, I have saved your life; save mine. Go at once to him and tell him that I am a prisoner but am called a queen; tell him I am Colonel Hare's daughter, she who traveled with him on the same ship from Hongkong to Singapore. Go! Tell him all, the death of my father and Umballa's treachery. Hasten!"
Bruce was eating his simple evening meal when Ramabai arrived.
"Yes. Your face is familiar."
"You have been twice to my bank. I am Ramabai."
"I remember. But what are you doing here?"
"I have come for aid, Sahib, aid for a young woman, white like yourself."
"Then it is true? Go ahead and let me have all the facts. She is Hare Sahib's daughter; Ali told me that. Precious rigmarole of some sort. The facts!"
"She is also the young lady who traveled in the same boat from Hongkong to Singapore." Ramabai paused to see the effect of this information.
Bruce lowered his fork slowly. The din about him dwindled away into nothing. He was again leaning over the rail, watching the phosphorescence trail away, a shoulder barely touching his: one of the few women who had ever stirred him after the first glance. In God's name, why hadn't she said something? Why hadn't she told him she was Colonel Hare's daughter? How was he to know? (For Hare, queerly enough, had never shown his young friend the photographs of his daughters.) Perhaps he had been at fault; he, too, had scarcely stirred from his shell. And where was that scoundrel Rao?
"I shall enter the city as soon as I can settle my bungalow. This rather knocks me out."
"No, Sahib; don't wait: come back with me!" Quickly he outlined the desperate straits in which Kathlyn stood. "To-morrow may be too late."
"Ali!" called Bruce, rising.
"The Pasha. No questions. Give him water. Use the hunting howdah. Both guns and plenty of cartridges. That's all." The young man ran into his sleeping tent and presently came forth with a pair of ugly looking Colts; for this was before the days of the convenient automatics. "All aboard, Ramabai!" Bruce laughed; the sound was as hard and metallic as the click of the cartridge belt as he slung it round his waist; but it was music to Ramabai's ears. "Trust me. There shan't be any ordeals; not so you would notice it. . . . Great God! A white woman, one of my kind! . . . All right, Ali; quick work. Thanks!"
"There will be many pitfalls, Sahib," said Ramabai.
"I have some influence with the populace, but Umballa has the army, paid for. The priests and the council are back of him. And, after all, the priests are most to be feared. They can always sway the people through fear."
Bruce laughed again. "Either Kathlyn Hare will be free to-morrow or Umballa and the council meat for the jackals . . . or I shall be," he added, in afterthought. "Now, do not speak till I speak. I wish to think, for I've got to act quickly; I can't make any mistakes when I get there."
Far away a brown figure in clout and drab turban watched the young man. When he saw the elephant with the hunting howdah he knew that he had the information for which his master had detailed him to follow, night and day, the young banker Ramabai. The white hunter was coming hot-foot to the city. He turned and ran. Running was his business; he was as tireless as a camel and could run twenty and thirty miles at a stretch. The soles of his feet were as tough as elephant's hide. Thus he reached the city an hour before Bruce and Ramabai.
When Bruce and the native banker arrived at the gate coolies stood about with torches. Suddenly beyond the gate half a regiment drew up. The officer in charge raised his hand warningly.
"The white hunter is Bruce Sahib?"
"Yes." Bruce spoke the dialects with passable fluency.
"Good. The Sahib will be pleased to dismount."
"I am on my way to the palace."
"That is impossible, Sahib." At a sign from the officer the troopers extended their guns at half aim. It was a necessary precaution. These white sahibs were generally a mad people and were quick to shoot. "Please dismount, Sahib. It is the orders."
Bruce's mahout, who was a Rajput Mohammedan, turned his head to learn what his master had to say. Bruce, pale under his tan, nodded. The mahout reached down with his silver tipped goad and touched the elephant on the knee. The big brute slowly and ponderously kneeled. Bruce stepped out of the howdah, followed by Ramabai, who saw that in some unaccountable manner they had been betrayed. He was sick at heart.
Two troopers stepped forward and took possession of the rifles which were slung on each side of the howdah. Bruce accepted the situation philosophically; argument or protest was futile. Next they took away his cartridge belt. He trembled for a moment with apprehension, but the troopers did not search him further; and he thanked God for the wisdom which had made him strap his revolvers under his armpits.
"What now?" he demanded.
"The Sahib will be given his guns and ammunition the hour he starts back to camp."
"And in the meantime?"
"The Sahib is free to come and go about the city so long as he does not approach the palace. If he is found in the vicinity of the zenana he will be arrested and imprisoned."
"This is all very high-handed."
"Sahib, there is no British Raj here. The orders of the regent and the council are final. Submit."
Ramabai stepped forward. By a kind of clairvoyance he saw what was coming.
"Ramabai, the orders are that you shall retire to your house and remain there till further orders."
"I am the queen's body-guard."
"Ai! Well said! But I do not take my orders from the queen—yet. Obey. The Sahib may accompany you if he wishes; there are no orders against that. The Sahib's elephant will be lodged in the royal stables; the mahout will see that he is fed and watered."
"We have been betrayed," said Ramabai. "I know not how."
"You were followed. A moment," said Bruce, turning to the officer. "I have a servant by the name of Rao. I believe he acted as bearer to the young lady at the palace. What has become of him?"
The officer smiled and shook his head.
"Rao is a prisoner, then," thought the young man. "That black scoundrel Umballa is at least thorough." Aloud he said: "We shall go at once to your house, Ramabai."
And all through the night they planned and planned, but not knowing where the first ordeal was to take place, nor the hour, they found themselves going round in a circle, getting nowhere. To a man of action like Bruce it was maddening. He walked out of the house into the garden and back again at least a dozen times, always to find Ramabai with his head held despairingly in his hands. Another time Bruce opened the door to the street; two troopers squatted on each side of the threshold. Umballa was in earnest. The rear gate was also guarded. How to get Ramabai out, that was the problem.
He slept a little before dawn, and was aroused by voices below. He listened.
"I am Jawahir Lal, the water carrier. Each day at dawn I water the garden of Ramabai to pay a debt."
Bruce looked toward Ramabai, who slept the sleep of the profoundly wearied. A bheestee, perhaps a messenger.
"Go around to the rear gate, which can be opened," said the trooper.
Bruce went to the window overlooking the garden. He saw the water carrier enter through the bamboo gate, heard the water slosh about jerkily as the bheestee emptied his goatskin. He watched the man curiously; saw him drop the skin and tiptoe toward the house, glance to right and left alertly. Then he disappeared. Presently at the head of the stairs Bruce heard a whisper—"Ramabai!"
"Who is it?" Bruce whispered in the dialect.
Ahmed. Who was Ahmed?
Bruce shook Ramabai. "Ahmed is here. Who is he?" he asked softly.
"Ahmed?" drowsily. Then, wide awake enough: "Ahmed? He was Hare Sahib's head animal man. Where is he?"
"Hush! Not so loud. Come up, Ahmed; I am Bruce. Let us speak in English."
"Good!" Ahmed came into the chamber. "To see Bruce Sahib is good. To-morrow my master's daughter is to be carried into the jungle. The Mem-sahib is to be tied inside a tiger trap, bait for the cat. That is the first ordeal."
"Shaitan!" murmured Ramabai.
"Go on, Ahmed."
"The cage will be set near the old peepul tree, not far from the south gate. Now, you, Sahib, and you, Ramabai, must hide somewhere near. It is the law that if she escapes the ordeal from unexpected sources she is free, at least till the second ordeal. I know not what that is at present or when it is to take place. The troops will be there, and the populace, the council, the priest and Umballa. I shall have two swift camels near the clump of bamboo. I may not be there, but some one will. She must be hurried off before the confusion dies away. Must, Sahib. There must be no second ordeal."
"But how am I to get out of here?" asked Ramabai. "Guards all about, and doubtless bidden to shoot if I stir!"
"Tch! Tch!" clicked Ahmed. He unwound his dirty turban and slipped out of the ragged shirtlike frock. "These and the water skin below. A bheestee entered, a bheestee goes out. What is simpler than that? It is not light enough for the soldiers to notice. There is food and water here. Trust me to elude those bhang-guzzlers outside. Am I a ryot, a farmer, to twist naught but bullocks' tails?"
"Ahmed," said Bruce, holding out his hand, "you're a man."
"Thanks, Sahib," dryly. "But hasten! At dawn to-morrow, or late to-night, Ramabai returns with a full water skin. The Mem-sahib must at least stand the ordeal of terror, for she is guarded too well. Yet, if they were not going to bind her, I should not worry. She has animal magic in her eye, in her voice. I have seen wild beasts grow still when she spoke. Who knows? Now, I sleep."
Bruce and Ramabai had no difficulty in passing the guards. The white hunter was free to come and go, and the sleepy soldiers saw the water skin which Ramabai threw carelessly over his head. They sat down against the wall again and replenished the dung fire. Bruce and Ramabai wisely made a wide detour to the peepul tree, which they climbed, disturbing the apes and the parrakeets.
Somewhere near eight o'clock they heard the creaking of wheels and a murmur of voices. Shortly into their range of vision drew a pair of bullocks, pulling a tiger trap toward the clearing. This cage was of stout wood with iron bars. The rear of the cage was solid; the front had a falling door. The whole structure rested upon low wheels, and there was a drop platform which rested upon the ground. An iron ring was attached to the rear wall, and to this was generally tied a kid, the bleating of which lured the tiger for which the trap was laid. The moment the brute touched the bait the falling door slid down, imprisoning the prowler.