THE NATIVE BORN
THE RAJAH'S PEOPLE
I. A. R. WYLIE
with Illustrations by
JOHN NEWTON HOWITT
In earlier days a preface to a novel with no direct historical source always seemed to me somewhat out of place, since I believed that the author could be indebted solely to his own imagination. I have learned, however, that even in a novel pur sang it is possible to owe much to others, and I now take the opportunity which the despised preface offers to pay my debt—inadequately it is true—to Mr. Hughes Massie, whose enthusiastic help in the launching of this, my first serious literary effort, I shall always hold in grateful remembrance.
I. A. R. W.
May 9th, 1910
CHAPTER I WHICH IS A PROLOGUE II THE DANCING IS RESUMED III NEHAL SINGH IV CIRCE V ARCHIBALD TRAVERS PLAYS BRIDGE VI BREAKING THE BARRIER VII THE SECOND GENERATION VIII THE IDEAL IX CHECKED X AT THE GATES OF A GREAT PEOPLE XI WITHIN THE GATES XII THE WHITE HAND XIII THE ROAD CLEAR XIV IN WHICH MANY THINGS ARE BROKEN XV THE GREAT HEALER XVI FATE XVII FALSE LIGHT
I BUILDING THE CATHEDRAL II CATASTROPHE III A FAREWELL IV STAFFORD INTERVENES V MURDER VI CLEARING AWAY THE RUBBISH VII IN THE TEMPLE OF VISHNU VIII FACE TO FACE IX HALF-LIGHT X TRAVERS XI IN THE HOUR OF NEED XII HIS OWN PEOPLE XIII ENVOI
THE NATIVE BORN
WHICH IS A PROLOGUE
The woman lying huddled on the couch turned her face to the wall and covered it with her hands in a burst of uncontrollable horror.
"Oh, that dreadful light!" she moaned. "If it would only go out! It will send me mad. Oh, if it would only go out—only go out!"
Her companion made no immediate answer. She stood by the wall, her shoulders slightly hunched, her hands clasped before her in an attitude of fixed, sullen defiance. What her features expressed it was impossible to tell, since they were hidden by the deep shadow in which she had taken up her position. The rest of the apartment was lit with a grey, ghostly light, the reflection from the courtyard, in part visible through the open doorway, and which lay bathed in all the brilliancy of a full Indian moon.
"When the light goes out, it will mean that the end has come," she said at last. "Do you know that, Christine?"
"Yes, I know it," the other answered piteously; "but that's what I want—the end. I am not afraid to die. I know Harry will be there. He will not let it be too hard for me. It's the suspense I can not bear. The suspense is worse than death. I have died a dozen times tonight, and suffered as I am sure God will not let us suffer."
Margaret Caruthers bent over the cowering figure with the sympathy which education provides when the heart fails to perform its office. There was, indeed, little tenderness in the hand which passed lightly over Christine Stafford's feverish forehead.
"You give God credit for a good deal," she said indifferently. "If the light troubles you, shall I shut the door?"
Christine sprang half upright.
"No!" she cried sharply. "No! I should still see it. Even when I cover my face—so—I can still see it flickering. And then there is the darkness, and in the darkness, faces—little John's face. Oh, my little fellow, what will become of you!" She began to cry softly, but no longer with fear. Love and pity had struggled up out of the chaos of her despair, rising above even the mighty instinct of self-preservation. Margaret's hand ceased from its mechanical act of consolation.
"Be thankful that he is not here," she said.
"I am thankful—but the thought of him makes death harder. It will hurt him so."
"No one is indispensable in this world."
Christine turned her haggard, tear-stained face to the moonlight.
"How hard you are!" she said wonderingly. "You, too, have your little girl to think of, but even with the end so close—even knowing that we shall never see our loved ones again—you are still hard."
"I have no loved ones, and life has taught me to be hard. Why should death soften me?" was the cold answer. Both women relapsed into silence. Always strangers to each other, a common danger had not served to break down the barrier between them. Christine now lay quiet and calm, her hands clasped, her lips moving slightly, as though in prayer. Her companion had resumed her former position against the wall, her eyes fixed on the open doorway, beyond which the grey lake of moonlight spread itself into the shadow of the walls. In the distance a single point of fire flickered uneasily, winking like an evil, threatening eye. So long as it winked at them, so long their lives were safe. With its extermination they knew must come their own. Hitherto, save for the murmur of the two voices, a profound hush had weighed ominously in the heavy air. Now suddenly a cry went up, pitched on a high note and descending by semitones, like a dying wind, into a moan. It was caught up instantly and repeated so close that it seemed to the two women to have sprung from the very ground beneath their feet. Christine started up.
"Oh, my God!" she muttered. "Oh, my God!" She was trembling from head to foot, but the other gave no sign of either fear or interest. There followed a brief pause, in which the imagination might have conjured up unseen forces gathering themselves together for a final onslaught. It came at last, like a cry, suddenly, amidst a wild outburst of yells, screams, and the intermittent crack of revolvers fired at close quarters. Pandemonium had been let loose on the other side of the silver lake, but the silver lake itself remained placid and untroubled. Only the red eye winked more vigorously, as though its warning had become more imperative.
Christine Stafford clung to a pair of unresponsive hands, which yielded with an almost speaking reluctance to her embrace.
"You think there is no hope?" she pleaded. "None? You know what Harry said. If the regiment got back in time—"
"The regiment will not get back in time," Margaret Caruthers interrupted. "There are ten men guarding the gate against Heaven knows how many thousand. Do you expect a miracle? No, no. We are a people who dance best at the edge of a crater, and if a few, like ourselves, get swallowed up now and again, it can not be helped. It is the penalty."
"If only Harry would come!" Christine moaned, heedless of this cold philosophy. "But he will keep his promise, won't he? He won't let us fall into those cruel hands? You remember what happened at Calcutta—"
"Hush! Don't frighten yourself and me!" exclaimed Margaret impatiently. "Does it comfort you to hold my hand? Well, hold it, then. How strange you are! I thought you weren't afraid."
"I shan't be when the time comes—but it's so very lonely. Don't you feel it? Are you made of stone?"
Margaret Caruthers set her teeth hard.
"I would to God I were!" she said. All at once she wrenched her hand free and pointed with it. Her arm, stretched out into the light, had a curious, ghostly effect. "Look!" she cried.
The red eye winked rapidly in succession, once, twice, three times, and then closed—this time for ever. An instant later two dark spots darted out into the brightly lighted space and came at headlong pace toward them. Christine sprang to her feet, and the two women clung to each other, obeying for that one moment the instinct which can bind devil to saint. But it was an English voice which greeted them from the now darkened doorway.
"It's all over!" Steven Caruthers said, entering with his companion and slamming the door sharply to. "We have five minutes more. Mackay has promised to keep them off just so long. Stafford, see to your wife!" He spoke brutally, in a voice choked with dust and pain. The room was now in pitch darkness. Harry Stafford felt his way across, his arms outstretched.
"Christine!" he called.
She came to him at once, with a step as firm and steady as a man's.
"Harry!" she cried, her voice ringing with an almost incredulous joy. "Oh, my darling!"
He caught her to him and felt how calm her pulse had become.
"Are you afraid, my wife?"
"Not now. I am so happy!"
He knew, strange though it seemed, that this was true and natural, because her love was stronger than life or the fear of death.
"Do you trust me absolutely, Christine?"
"Give me both your hands—in my one hand—so. Kiss me, sweetheart."
In the same instant that his lips touched hers he lifted his right disengaged hand, and something icy-cold brushed past her temple. She clung to him.
"Not yet, Harry! Not yet! Oh, don't think I don't understand. I do, and I am glad. If things had gone differently the time must have come when one of us would have been left lonely. Now, we are going together. What does it matter if it is a little sooner than we hoped? Only, not yet—just one minute! We have time. Do not let us waste it. Let us kneel down and say 'Our Father,' and then—for little John—" Her voice broke. "Afterward—when you think fit, husband, I shall be ready."
He put his arm about her, and they knelt down side by side at the little couch. Christine prayed aloud, and he followed her, his deeper voice hushed to a whisper.
The two other occupants of the room did not heed them. They, too, had found each other. At her husband's entrance Margaret Caruthers had crept back to the wall and had remained there motionless, not answering to his sharp, imperative call. He groped around the room, and when at length his hands touched her face, both drew back as one total stranger from another.
"Why did you not answer?" he asked hoarsely. "Are you not aware that any moment may be our last?"
"Yes," she said.
"I have something I wish to say to you, Margaret, before the time comes."
"I am listening."
"I wish to say if at any period in our unfortunate married life I have done you wrong, I am sorry."
She made no answer.
"I ask your forgiveness."
"I forgive you."
The sound of firing outside had grown fainter, the shrieks louder, more exultant, mingling like an unearthly savage chorus with the hushed voices By the couch.
—"Thy will be done—" prayed Christine valiantly.
Margaret Caruthers lifted her head and laughed.
"Don't laugh!" her husband burst out. "Pray now, if you have ever prayed in your life. You have need of prayers." He lifted his arm as he spoke; but, as though she guessed his intention, she sprang out of his reach.
"No!" she said, in a voice concentrated with passion. "I am not going to die like that. Stafford can shoot his wife down like a piece of blind cattle if he thinks fit—but not you. I won't die by your hand, Steven. I hate you too much."
"Hush!" he exclaimed. "The account between us is settled."
"Do you think I can begin to love you just because we are both about to die?"
"You are my wife," he answered, grasping her by the wrists. "There are things worse than death, and from them I shall shield you, whether you will or not."
"Is it not enough that you have taken my life once?" she retorted.
"What do you mean? How dare you say that!"
"I say it because it is true. I have never lived—never. You killed me years ago—all that was best in me. Save your soul from a second murder."
"If you live, do you know what may lie before you?"
"You talk of things 'worse than death.' What shame, what misery could be worse than the years spent at your side?"
"You are mad, Margaret. I shall pay no attention to you. I must save you against your will."
All through the hurried dialogue neither had spoken above a whisper. Even in that moment they obeyed the habit of a lifetime, hiding hatred and bitterness beneath a mask of apparent calm. Without a sound, but with a frantic strength, Margaret wrenched herself free.
"Leave me to my own fate!" she demanded, in the same passionate undertone. "You have ceased to be responsible for me."
He made one last effort to hold her. In the same instant the firing ceased altogether. There followed the roar and crash of bursting timber, the pattering of naked feet, the fanatic yells drawing every second nearer.
"Margaret!" he cried wildly, holding out his revolver in the darkness. "If not at my hands, then at your own. Save yourself—"
"I shall save myself, have no fear!" she answered, with a bitter, terrible laugh.
From the couch Christine Stafford's voice rose peacefully:
"Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!"
Another voice answered, "Amen!" There was the report of a revolver and a sudden, startling stillness. It lasted only a breathing space. Furious shoulders hurled themselves against the frail, weakly barred door. It cracked, bulged inward, with a bursting, tearing sound, yielded. The moonlight flooded into the little room, throwing up into bold relief the three upright figures and the little heap that knelt motionless by the couch.
The crowd of savage faces hesitated, faltering an instant before the sahibs who yesterday had been their lords and masters. Then the sahibs fired. It was all that was needed. The room filled. There was one stifled groan—no more than that. No cry for mercy, no whining.
Little by little the room emptied again. The cries and bloodthirsty screams of triumphant vengeance died slowly in the distance, the grey moonlight resumed its peaceful sovereignty. Only here and there were dark stains its silver could not wash away.
THE DANCING IS RESUMED.
"Oh, I love India—adore it, simply!" Mrs. Cary exclaimed, in the tone of a person who, usually self-controlled, finds himself overwhelmed by the force of his own enthusiasm. "There is something so mystic, so enthralling about it, don't you think? I always feel as though I were wandering through a chapter of the Arabian Nights full of gorgeous princes, wicked robbers, genii, or whatever you call them. Isn't it so with you, Mrs. Carmichael?"
Her hostess, a thin, alert little woman with a bony, weather-beaten face, cast an anxious glance at the rest of her guests scattered about the garden.
"There aren't any robbers about here—except my cook," she said prosaically. "My husband wouldn't allow such a thing in his department, and in mine he is no good at all. As for the princes, we don't see anything of the only one this region boasts of. He may be gorgeous, but I really can not say for certain."
"Ah!" said Mrs. Cary, with a placid smile. "You have been in fairyland too long, dear Mrs. Carmichael. That's what's the matter with you. You are beginning to look upon it as a very ordinary, everyday place. If you only knew what it is to come to it with a virgin heart and mind-thirsting for impressions, as it were. That is how we feel, do we not, Beatrice?" She half turned to the girl standing at her side, as though seeking to draw her into the conversation.
"It is indeed new for me," the latter answered shortly, and with slight emphasis on the personal pronoun.
"I was about to remark that this is scarcely your first visit to India," Mrs. Carmichael put in. "I understood that your late husband had a government appointment somewhere in the South?"
Mrs. Cary's heavy face flushed, though whether with heat or annoyance it was not easy to judge.
"Of course—a very excellent appointment, too—but the place and the people!" She became confidential and her voice sank, though beyond her daughter there was no one within hearing. "Between you and me, Mrs. Carmichael, the people were dreadful. You know, I am not snobbish—indeed I must confess to quite democratic tendencies, which my family always greatly deplores—but I really couldn't stand the people. I had to go back to England with Beatrice. The place was filled with subordinate railway officials. Don't you hate subordinates, dear Mrs. Carmichael?"
Mrs. Carmichael stared, during which process her eyes happened to fall on Beatrice Cary's half-averted face. She was surprised to find that the somewhat thin lips were smiling—though not agreeably.
"I really don't know what you mean by 'subordinates,'" Mrs. Carmichael said, in her uncompromising way. "Most people are subordinates at some time or other. My husband was a lieutenant once. I don't remember objecting to him. At any rate," she continued hastily, as though to cut the conversation short, "I hope you will like the people here."
"I'm sure I shall. A military circle is always so delightful. That is what I said to Beatrice when I felt that I must revisit the scene of my girlish days. 'We must go somewhere where there is military.' Of course, we might have gone to Simla—I have influential friends there, you know—but I wanted my girl to see a real bit of genuine India, and Simla is so modern. Really a great pity, I think. I am so passionately fond of color and picturesqueness—comfort is nothing to me. As my husband used to say, 'Oh, Mary, you are always putting your artistic feelings before material necessities.' Poor fellow, he used to miss his creature comforts sometimes, I fear."
Her laugh, painfully resembling a giggle, interrupted her own garrulity, which was finally put to an end by a fresh arrival. A slight, daintily-clad figure had detached itself from a group of guests and came running toward them. Mrs. Carmichael's deeply lined, somewhat severe face lighted up.
"That is my husband's ward, Lois Caruthers," she said. "She has been with me all her life, practically. As you are so fond of genuine India, you must let her show you over the place. She knows all the dirtiest, and I suppose most interesting corners, with their exact history."
"Delightful!" murmured Mrs. Cary, with a gracious nod of her plumed headgear. Nevertheless, she studied the small figure and animated features of the new-comer with a critical severity not altogether in accordance with her next remark, uttered, apparently under pressure of the same irresistible enthusiasm, in an audible side whisper: "What a sweet face—so piquant!"
An adjective is a pliable weapon, and, in the hands of a woman, can be made to mean anything under the sun. Mrs. Cary's "piquant"—pronounced in a manner that was neither French nor English, but a startling mixture of both—had a background to it of charitable patronage. It was meant, without doubt, to be a varnished edition of "plain," perhaps even "ugly," though Lois Caruthers deserved neither insinuation. Possibly too small in build, she was yet graceful, and there was a lithe, elastic energy in her movements which drew attention to her even among more imposing figures. Possibly, also, she was too dark for the English ideal. Her black hair and large brown eyes, together with the unrelieved pallor of her complexion, gave her appearance something that was exotic but not unpleasing. Enfin, as most people admitted, she had her charm; and her moods, which ranged from the most light-hearted gaiety to the deepest gravity, could be equally irresistible. She was light-hearted enough now, however, as she smiled from one to the other, including mother and daughter in her friendly greeting, though as yet both were strangers to her.
"I have come to fetch you, Aunt Harriet," she said, addressing Mrs. Carmichael. "Mr. Travers has got some great scheme on hand which he will only disclose in your presence. We are all gasping with curiosity. Will you please come?"
Mrs. Carmichael nodded.
"I will come at once," she said. "I'm sure it's only one of Mr. Travers' breakneck schemes, but they are always amusing to listen to. Lois, come and be introduced. My adopted niece—Mrs. Cary—Miss Cary."
They shook hands.
"Lois, when there is time, I want you to do the honors of Marut. Miss Cary especially has as yet seen nothing, and there is a great deal of interest. You know—" turning to her visitors—"Marut is supposed to have been the hotbed of the last rising."
"Indeed!" murmured Mrs. Cary vaguely. "How delightful!"
Lois Caruthers laughed, not without a shadow of bitterness.
"It was hardly delightful at the time, I should imagine," she observed. "But what there is to see I shall be very glad to show you. Will any day suit you?"
"Oh, yes, any day," Beatrice Cary assented, speaking almost for the first time. "I have nothing to do here from morning to night."
"That will soon change," Lois said, walking by her side. "I am always busy, either playing tennis, or riding, or getting up some entertainment. The difficulty is to find time to rest."
"You must be a very much sought-after person," Beatrice observed, in the tone of a person who is making a graceful compliment. The hint of irony, however, was unmistakable.
"I am not more sought after than any one else," Lois returned, unruffled. "Every one has to help in the work of frivolity."
"I shall be rather out of it, then," Beatrice said coolly. "I am not amusing."
"It is quite sufficient to be willing, good-natured and good-humored," Lois answered.
They had by this time reached the group under the trees, where Mrs. Carmichael and her companion had already arrived, under the escort of a tall, stoutly built man, who was talking and apparently explaining with great vigor. As Lois entered the circle, he glanced up and smiled at her, revealing a handsome, cheerful face, singularly fresh-colored in comparison with the deep tan of the other men.
"That is Mr. Travers," Lois explained. "He is a bank director or something in Madras, and has been on a long business visit north. He is awfully clever and popular, and gets up everything."
"Rich, I suppose?"
Lois glanced up at her companion. The beautiful profile and the tone of the remark seemed incongruous.
"I don't know," she said rather abruptly. "He has four polo ponies. Nobody else has more than two."
"Do you calculate wealth by polo ponies, then?"
"Yes, we do pretty well," she said—"that is, when we bother about such things at all. Most people are poor, and if they aren't, they have to live beyond their income, so it comes to the same in the end."
"Everybody looks cheerful enough," Beatrice Cary observed. "I always thought poverty and worry went together."
"Who is that talking about poverty and worry?" asked a voice behind them. "Is it you, Miss Caruthers? If so, I shall arraign you as a disturber of the peace. Who wants to be bothered with the memory of his empty purse on such a lovely day?"
Lois turned with a smile to the new-comer.
"No, I am innocent, Captain Stafford," she said. "It was Miss Cary who brought up the terms you object to."
"Well, won't you introduce me, then, so that I can express my displeasure direct to the culprit?"
The ceremony of introduction was gone through, on Beatrice Cary's side with a sudden change of manner. Hitherto cold, indifferent, slightly supercilious, she now relaxed into a gentleness that was almost appealing.
"This is a new world for me," she said, looking up into Captain Stafford's amused face, "and I have so many questions to ask that I am afraid of turning into a mark of interrogation, or—as you said—a disturber of the peace."
"You won't ask questions long," he answered, with a wise shake of the head. "Nobody does. Wherever English people go they take their whole paraphernalia with them; and you will find that, with a few superficial differences, Marut is no more or less than a snug little English suburb. A little more freedom of intercourse—a little less Philistinism, perhaps—but the foundations are the same. As to India itself, one soon learns to forget all about it."
He then turned to Lois, who was intent on watching Mr. Travers.
"You weren't on the race-course this morning," he said in an undertone. "I missed you. Why did you not come?"
"I couldn't," she said. "There was too much to be done. We are rather short of servants just now, for reasons—well, that, according to you, ought not to be mentioned on a fine day."
He laughed, but not as he had hitherto done. There was another tone in his voice, warmer, more confidential. It attracted Beatrice Cary's attention, and she looked curiously from Lois to the man beside her. About thirty-five, with a passably good figure, irregular, if honest, features, and an expression usually somewhat grave, he made no pretensions to any exterior advantage. He could apparently be gay, as now, but his gaiety did not conceal the fact that it was unusual. Altogether, he had nothing about him which appealed to her, but Beatrice Cary was inclined to resent Lois' obvious intimacy with him as something which accentuated her own isolation.
"Can you make out what Mr. Travers is saying?" Lois asked, turning suddenly to her. "I can't hear a word, and I'm sure it's awfully interesting. Captain Stafford, do you know?"
"I can guess," he answered, half smiling. "When Travers has a suggestion to make, it usually means that some one has to stump up."
There was a general laugh. Travers looked around.
"Some one has accused me falsely," he declared. "I have a prophetic sense of injury."
"On the contrary, that is what I am suffering from," Stafford retorted. "Since hearing that you have a new scheme, I have been hastily reckoning how many weeks' leave I shall have to sacrifice to pay for it."
Travers shook his head.
"As usual—wrong, my dear Captain," he said. "My scheme has two parts. The first part is known to you all, though for the benefit of weak memories, I will repeat it. Ladies and gentlemen, in this Station we have the honor of being protected from the malice of the aborigine by two noble regiments. We count, moreover, at least thirty of the fair sex and forty miscellaneous persons, such as miserable civilians like myself, and children. Hitherto, we have been content to meet at odd times and odd places. When hospitality has run dry, we have resorted to a shed-like structure dignified with the name of club. Personally, I call it a disgrace, which should at once be rectified."
"I have already contributed my mite!" protested a young subaltern from the British regiment.
"I know; so has everybody. With strenuous efforts I have collected the sum of five hundred rupees. That won't do. We require at least four times that sum. Consequently, we must have a patron."
"The second part of your programme concerns the patron, then?" Captain Webb inquired, with an aspect of considerable relief. "Not yourself, by any chance?"
"Certainly not. If I had any noble inclinations of that sort I should have discovered them a long time ago. No, I content myself with taking the part of a fairy godmother."
"I'm afraid I don't follow," Stafford put in. "What is the fairy godmother going to do for us? Produce a club-house, a patron, or a cucumber?"
"A patron, and one, my dear fellow, whom I should have entirely overlooked had it not been for you."
"It was you who made the discovery that the present Rajah is not, as we thought, an imbecilic youth, but a man of many parts and splendidly adapted to our requirements."
"I protest!" broke in Stafford, with unusual earnestness. "It was by pure chance that, in an audience with the Maharajah Scindia, the late regent of Marut, I got to hear that his whilom ward was both intelligent and cultured. I believe it was a slip on his part, and, seeing that Rajah Nehal Singh has shunned all English intercourse, I can not see that there is any likelihood of his adapting himself or his purse to your plans."
"Oh, bosh!" exclaimed Travers impatiently. "You are too cautious, Stafford. Other rajahs interest themselves in social matters—why not this one? He is fabulously rich, I understand, and a little gentle handling should easily bring him around."
There was a chorus of bravos, in which only one or two did not join. One was Colonel Carmichael, who stood a little apart, pulling his thin grey moustache in the nervous, anxious way peculiar to him, his kindly face overshadowed.
"On principle," he began, after the first applause had died down, "I am against the suggestion. Of course, I have no deciding voice in the matter, but I confess that the idea has not my approval. I know very well that, as you say, other native princes have proved themselves useful and valuable acquisitions to English society. In some cases it may be well enough, though in no case does it seem to me right to accept hospitality from a man to whom we only grant an apparent equality. In this particular case I consider the idea—well, repulsive."
"May I ask why, Colonel?" Travers asked sharply.
"By all means. Because less than a quarter of a century ago the father of the man from whom you are seeking gifts slaughtered by treachery hundreds of our own people."
An uncomfortable, uneasy silence followed. Captain Stafford and Lois exchanged a quick glance of understanding.
"I know of at least two people who will agree with me," continued the Colonel, who had intercepted and possibly anticipated the glance.
"You are right, Colonel," Stafford said. "I bear no malice, and any idea of revenge seems to me foolish. As far as I know, the present Rajah is all that can be desired, but I protest against a suggestion—and what is worse, a practice, which must inevitably lower our dignity in the eyes of those we are supposed to govern."
The awkward silence continued for a moment, no one caring to express a contrary opinion, though a contrary opinion undoubtedly existed.
Beatrice looked up at Captain Webb, who happened to be standing at her side. Her acquaintance with him dated only from an hour back, but an uncontrollable irritation made her voice her opinions to him.
"I think all that sort of thing rather overstrained and unnecessary," she said. "Your chief business is to get the best out of life, and quixotic people who worry about the means are rather a nuisance, don't you think?"
Captain Webb's bored features lighted up with a faint amusement.
"O, Lor', you mustn't say that sort of thing to me, Miss Cary!" he said in a subdued aside. "Superior officer, you know! If you want an index to my feelings, study my countenance." He pretended to smother a gigantic yawn, and Beatrice's cool, unchecked laughter broke the constraint.
Travers look around with a return of his old good-humor.
"Well," he said, "I have two votes against my plans, but, with due respect to those two, who are, perhaps, unduly influenced by unfortunate circumstances, I feel that it is only just that the others should be given a voice in the matter. Do you agree, Colonel?"
Colonel Carmichael had by this time regained his placid, gentle manner.
"Certainly," he agreed, without hesitation.
"Hands up, then, for letting Rajah Nehal Singh go his way in peace!"
Three hands went up—Colonel Carmichael's, Stafford's and Lois'. Beatrice glanced at the latter with a smile that expressed what it was meant to express—a supercilious amusement. Her indifference was rapidly taking another and more decided character.
"Hands up for drawing the bashful youth into Circe's circle!" called Travers, now thoroughly elated. A forest of hands went up. Captain Webb and his bosom comrade, Captain Saunders, who, for diplomatic reasons had remained neutral, exchanged grins. "You see," Travers said, turning with deferential politeness to the Colonel, "the day is against you."
"The Old Guard dies, but never surrenders!" quoted the Colonel good-humoredly.
"The next question is, on whose shoulders shall the task of beguilement fall?" Travers went on, glancing at Stafford. "I suppose you, O, wise young judge—?"
"It is out of the question," Stafford answered at once. "I consider I have done enough damage already."
"What about your serpent's tongue, Travers?" suggested Webb. "When I think of the follies you have tempted me to commit, I feel that you should be unanimously elected."
Travers bowed his acknowledgments with mock gravity.
"Since there are no other candidates, I accept the onerous task," he said, "but I can not go about it single-handed. The serpent's tongue may be mine, but I lack, I fear, the grace and personal charm necessary for complete conquest. I need the help of Circe, herself." His bright, bird-like eye passed over the laughing group, resting on Lois an instant with an expression of woebegone regret. Beatrice Cary was the next in line, and his search went no farther than her flushed, eager face. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "I have found the enchantress herself! Miss——" He hesitated, for an instant unaccountably shaken out of his debonair self-possession. Webb sprang to the rescue with a formal introduction, and Travers proceeded, if not entirely with his old equanimity. "I beg your pardon, Miss Cary," he apologized. "Your face is, strangely enough, so familiar to me that I took you for an old acquaintance—perhaps, indeed, you are, if in our modern days Circe finds it necessary to travel incognito."
Beatrice joined in the general amusement, her unusually large and beautiful eyes bright with elation.
"May I claim your assistance?" Travers went on. "Instinct tells me that we shall be irresistible."
"Willingly," Beatrice responded, "though I can not imagine how I can help you."
"Leave that to me," he said, offering her his arm. "My plans are Napoleonic in their depth and magnitude. If you will allow me to unfold them to you before the dancing begins—?"
She smiled her assent, and walked at his side toward the Colonel's bungalow. On their way they passed Mrs. Cary, who, strangely enough, did not respond to the half-triumphant glance which her daughter cast at her. She turned hastily aside.
"Mr. Travers is no doubt—" she began, in a confidential undertone; but her companion, Mrs. Carmichael, had taken the opportunity and vanished.
The light-hearted, superficial discussion, with its scarcely felt undercurrent of tragic reminiscence, had lasted through the swift sunset, and already dusk was beginning to throw its long shadows over the gaily dressed figures that streamed up toward the bungalow.
On the outskirts of the garden lights were springing up in quick succession, thanks to the industry of Mrs. Carmichael, who hurried from one Chinese lantern to the other, breathless but determined. The task was doubtless an ignominious one for an Anglo-Indian lady of position, but Mrs. Carmichael, who acted as a sort of counterbalance to her husband's extravagant hospitality, cared not at all. England, half-pay and all its attendant horrors, loomed in the near future, and economy had to be practised somehow.
Of the late group only Lois and John Stafford remained. They had not spoken, but, as though obeying a mutual understanding, both remained quietly waiting till they were alone.
"Shall we walk about a little?" he asked at last. "I missed our morning ride so much. It has put my whole day out of joint, and I want something to put it straight again. Do you mind, or would you rather dance? I see they have begun."
"No," she said. "I would rather be quiet for a few minutes. Somehow I have lost the taste for that sort of thing to-night."
"I also," he responded.
They walked silently side by side along the well-kept path, each immersed in his own thoughts and soothed by the knowledge that their friendship had reached a height where silence is permitted—becomes even the purest form of expression. At the bottom of the compound they reached a large, low-built building, evidently once a dwelling-place, overgrown with wild plants and half in ruins, whose dim outlines stood out against the darkening background of trees and sky. The door stood open, and must indeed have stood open for many years, for the broken hinges were rusty and seemed to be clinging to the torn woodwork only by the strength of undisturbed custom.
Stafford came to a halt.
"That is where—" he began, and then abruptly left his sentence unfinished.
"Yes," she said, "it is here. I don't think, as long as we live in India, that my guardian will ever have it touched. He calls it the Memorial. My father was his greatest friend, and the terrible fact that he came too late to save him has saddened his whole life."
Stafford looked down at her. The light from a lantern which Mrs. Carmichael, with great dexterity, had fixed among some overhanging branches, fell on the dark features, now composed and thoughtful. She met his glance in silence, with large eyes that had taken into their depths something of the surrounding shadow. He had never felt so strongly before the peculiarity of her fascination—perhaps because he had never seen her in a setting which seemed so entirely a part of herself. The distant music, the hum of voices, and that strange charm which permeates an Indian nightfall—above all, the ruined bungalow with its shattered door and silent memories—these things, with their sharp contrasts of laughter and tragedy, had formed themselves into a background which belonged to her, so that she and they seemed inseparable.
"Oh, Lois, little girl!" Stafford said gently. "I have always thought of you as standing alone, different from everything and everybody, a stranger from another world, irresistible, incomprehensible. I have just understood that you are part and parcel of it all, child of the sun and flowers and mysteries and wonders. It is I who am the stranger!"
"Hush!" she said, in a voice of curious pain. "Hush! Let us go back. We must dance—whether we will or not."
He followed her without protest. The very rustle of her muslin skirts over the fallen leaves made for his ears a new and fantastic music.
Close behind them wandered the two captains, Webb and Saunders, arm in arm. At the entrance to Colonel Carmichael's Memorial Webb stopped, and, striking a match against the door, proceeded to light his cigar. The tiny flame lit up for an instant the languid patrician features.
"A cigar is one's only comfort in a dull affair like this," he remarked, as they resumed their leisurely promenade. "Awful wine, wasn't it?"
"Awful. The Colonel is beginning to put on the curb—or his lady. It's the same thing."
"It will be better when the club comes into existence," said Webb, blowing consolatory clouds of smoke into the quiet air.
"It is to be hoped so. Spunky devil, that Travers. Wonder how he means to do the trick. He knows how to pick out a pretty partner, anyhow."
"That Cary girl? Yes. Wait till the heat has dried her up, though. She'll be a scarecrow, like the rest of them. By the way, what were her people?"
"Heaven knows—something in the D.P.W., I believe. The mother was dressed in the queerest kit."
"I heard her talking about 'the gentlemen,'" remarked Webb, laughing, as they went up the steps of the bungalow together.
The Memorial was once more left to its shadows and silence. At the edge of the compound a group of natives peered through the fencing, watching and listening. Their dark faces expressed neither hatred nor admiration, nor sorrow, nor pleasure—at most, a dull wonder.
When they were tired of watching, they passed noiselessly on their way.
The Royal apartment was prepared for the suffocating midday heat. Heavy hangings had been pulled across the door which led on to the balcony, and only at one small aperture the sunshine ventured to pierce through and dance its golden reflection hither and thither over the marble floor. The rest was hidden in the semi-obscurity of a starlit night, which, like a transparent veil, half conceals and half reveals an untold richness and splendor.
At either side slender Moorish pillars rose to the lofty ceiling, and from their capitals winking points of light shimmered through the shadows. Fantastic designs sprang into sudden prominence on the walls, shifting with the shifting of the sunshine, and at the far end, raised by steps from the level of the floor, stood a throne, alone marked out against the darkness by its bejeweled splendor. Of other furniture there was no trace. To the left a divan formed of silken cushions had been built up for temporary use, and on this, stretched full length on his side, lay an old man whose furrowed visage appeared doubly dark and sinister beneath the dead white of his turban. His head was half supported on a pillow, and thus at his ease he watched with unblinking, unflagging attention the tall, slight figure by the doorway.
It was the Rajah himself who had let in the one point of daylight. It fell full upon his face and set into a brilliant blaze the single diamond on the nervous, muscular hand which held the curtain aside. Apparently he had forgotten his companion, and indeed everything save the scene on which his eyes rested. Beneath the balcony, like steps to a mighty altar, broad and beautiful terraces descended in stately gradations to a paradise of rare exotic flowers, whose heavy perfume came drifting up on the calm air to the very windows of the palace. This lovely chaos extended for about a mile and then ended abruptly. As though cultivated nature had suddenly broken loose from her artificial bounds, a dark jungle-forest rose up side by side with the flowers and well-kept walks, and like a black stain spread itself into the distance, swallowing up hill and valley until the eye lost itself in the haze of the horizon. Within a few hundred yards of the palace a ruined Hindu temple lifted its dome and crumbling towers into the intense blue of the sky. And on garden, jungle, and temple alike the scorching midday sun blazed down with pitiless impartiality.
For an hour the Rajah had remained watching the unchanging scene, scarcely for an instant shifting his own position. One hand rested on his hip, the other held back the curtain and supported him in a half-leaning attitude of dreamy indolence. Against the intensified darkness of the room behind him his features stood out with the distinctness of a finely cut cameo. A man of about twenty-five years, he yet seemed younger, thanks, perhaps, to his expression, which was extraordinarily untroubled.
Thought, poetic and philosophic, but never tempestuous, sat in the dark, well-shaped eyes and high, intellectual forehead. Humor, sorrow, care, anxiety and doubt, the children of a strenuous life, had left his face singularly unscarred with their characteristic lines. For the rest, beyond that he was unusually fair, he represented in bearing and in feature a Hindu prince of high caste and noble lineage. Between him and the old man upon the divan there was no apparent resemblance. The latter was considerably darker, and lacked both the refinement of feature and dignity of expression which distinguished the younger man. Nevertheless, when he spoke it was in the tone of familiarity, almost of paternal authority.
"Art thou not weary, my son?" he asked abruptly. "For an hour thou hast neither moved nor spoken. Tell me with what thy thoughts are concerned. I would fain know, and thy face has told me nothing."
Nehal Singh let the curtain fall back into its place, and the yellow patch of sunshine upon the marble faded. He looked at his companion steadfastly, but with eyes that saw nothing.
"My thoughts!" he repeated, in a low, musical voice. "My thoughts are valueless. They are like caged birds which have beaten their wings against the bars of their cage and now sit on their golden perches and dream of the world beyond." He laughed gently. "No, my father. You, who have seen the world, would mock at them as dim, unreal reflections of a reality which you have touched and handled. For me they are beautiful enough."
The old man lifted himself on his elbow.
"Thinkest thou never of thyself?" he asked. "In thy dreams hast thou never seen thine own form rise at the call of thy waiting people?"
"My waiting people!" Nehal Singh repeated, with a smile and a faint lifting of the eyebrows. "No people wait for me, my father. So much I have learned. I bear a title, a tract of land acknowledges my rule—but a people! No, like my title, like my power, like myself, so is the people that thou sayest await me—a dream, my father, a dream!" He spoke gravely, without sadness, the same gentle, wistful smile playing about his lips.
The other sank back with a groan.
"The All-Highest pity me!" he exclaimed bitterly. "A child of blood and battle, without energy, without ambition!"
Nehal Singh, who had paced forward to the foot of the throne, turned and looked back.
"Ambition I have had," he answered, "energy I have had. Like my thoughts, they have beaten themselves weary against the bars of their cage. What would you have me do?" He strode back to the door, and, pulling aside the curtain, let the full dazzling sunshine pour in upon them. "See out there!" he cried. "Is it not a sight to bring peace to the soul of the poet and the dreamer? But for the warrior? Can he draw his sword against flowers and trees?"
The old man smiled coldly, but not without satisfaction.
"There is a world that awaiteth thee beyond," he said.
"A world of which I know nothing."
"The time cometh."
Nehal Singh studied the wrinkled face with a new intentness.
"Hitherto thou hast always held a barrier between the world and me," he said. "When the call to the Durbar came, it was thou who bade me say I was ill. When the Feringhi sought my presence, it was thou who held fast my door, first with one excuse, then with another. And now? I do not understand thee."
Behar Asor struggled up into a sitting posture, his features rendered more malignant by a glow of fierce triumph.
"Ay, the barrier has been there!" he cried. "It is I who have held it erect all these years when they thought me dead and powerless. It is I who have kept thee spotless and undefiled, Nehal Singh, thou alone of all thy race and of all thy caste! The shadow of the Unbeliever has never crossed thy man's face, his food thy lips, nor has his hand touched thy man's hand. Thou art the chosen of Brahma, and when the hour striketh and the Holy War proclaimed from east to west and from north to south, then it shall be thy sword—"
Nehal Singh held up his hand with a gesture of command.
"Thou also art a dreamer," he said firmly. "Thy heart is full of an old hatred and an old injury. My heart is free from both. Seest thou, my father, there were years when thy words called up some echo in me. Thou toldest me of the Feringhi, of the bloody battles thou foughtest against them because they had wronged thee; how, after Fortune had smiled faintly, thou wert driven into exile, and I, thy son, bereft of all save pomp and title, placed upon thy empty throne. These things made my blood boil. In those days I thought and planned for the great hour when I should seek revenge for thee and for myself. That is all past."
"Why all past?" Behar Asor demanded.
"Because the truth drifted in to me from the outer world. I saw that everywhere there was peace such as my land, even after thy account, has rarely known. Law and order reigned where there had been plundering and devastation, prosperity where there had been endless famine. More than this, I saw that in every conflict, whether between beast and beast or man and man, it was always the strongest and wisest that conquered. The triumph of the fool and weakling is but a short one, nor is the rule of crime and wickedness of long duration. Why, then, should I throw myself against a people who have brought my people prosperity, and who have proved themselves in peace and war our masters in courage and wisdom?"
Behar Asor struggled up, galvanized by a storm of passion which shook his fragile frame from head to foot.
"Thou art still no more than an ignorant boy," he exclaimed. "What knowest thou of these things?"
"I have read of Englishmen whose deeds outrival the legends of Krishna," Nehal Singh answered thoughtfully. "They fought in your time, my father. Thou knowest them better than I."
The old man ground his teeth together.
"They are dead." There was a reluctant admiration in his tone.
"Nevertheless, their sons live."
"The sons inherit not always the courage of their fathers," Behar Asor answered, with a bitter significance.
Nehal Singh had wandered back to the throne, as though drawn thither by some irresistible attraction, and stood there motionless, his arms folded across his breast.
"Do not blame me," he said at last. "No man can go against himself. Were it in my power, I would do thy will. As it is, without cause or reason I can not draw my sword against men whose fathers have made my heart beat with sympathy and admiration."
Behar Asor sank back in an attitude of absolute despair.
"I am accursed!" he said.
With a smothered sigh, Nehal Singh mounted the steps and seated himself. In his attitude also there was a hopelessness—not indeed the hopelessness of a man whose plans are thwarted, but of one who is keenly conscious that he has no plans, no goal, no purpose. As he sat there, his fine head thrown back against the white ivory, his eyes half closed, his fingers loosely clasping the golden peacocks' heads which formed the arms of his throne, there was, as he had said, something dreamlike and unreal about his whole person, intensified perhaps by the dim atmosphere and shadowy splendor of his surroundings.
Behar Asor had ceased to watch him, but lay motionless, with his face covered by the white mantle which he wore about his shoulders. The first storm of angry disappointment over, he had relapsed into a passive oriental acceptance of the inevitable, which did not, however, exclude an undercurrent of bitter brooding and contempt.
Some time passed before either of the two men spoke. At last Behar Asor lifted his head and glanced quickly sidewise at the figure seated on the throne. Nehal Singh's eyes were now entirely closed and seemed to sleep. Such a proceeding would have been excusable enough in the suffocating heat, but the sight drove the old man into a fresh paroxysm of indignation.
"Sleepest thou, Nehal Singh?" he demanded, in a harsh, rasping voice. "Is it not sufficient that thou hast failed thy destiny, but in the same hour thou must close thine eyes and dream, like a child on whose shoulders rest no duty, no responsibility? Awake! I have more to say to thee."
Nehal Singh looked up.
"I have not slept," he said gravely, "though, as to what concerns duty and responsibility, I might well have done so, for I have neither the one nor the other. Speak, I pray thee. I listen."
Behar Asor remained silent a moment, biting his forefinger. There was something in the action strongly reminiscent of a cunning, treacherous animal.
"Thou hast laughed at thine own power," he said at last, "though I have sworn to thee that, as in my time, so today, the swords that sleep in a hundred thousand sheathes would awake at thy word. They sleep because thou sleepest. Well—thou hast willed to sleep. I can not force thee, and mine own hand has grown too feeble. But since thou hast chosen peace, remember this, that it can last only with thy lifetime. So long thy people will be patient. Afterward—" He shrugged his shoulders significantly.
"Thou hast more to tell me," Nehal Singh said.
"If thou wilt keep peace in thy land, see to it that thou hast children who will carry it on for thee after thou hast passed into the shadow," Behar answered. "Hitherto thou hast led a strange and lonely life, preparing as I willed for the destiny thou hast cast aside. Take now unto thee a companion—a wife."
As though clumsy, untutored fingers which had until now tortured some fine instrument had suddenly, perhaps by chance, perhaps by instinct, struck a pure harmonious chord, Nehal Singh rose to his feet, his weary dreamer's face transfigured with a new light and new energy.
"A wife!" he said under his breath. "A woman! I know nothing of women. In all my life I have seen but two—my mother and a nautch-girl—who cringed to me. I should not like my wife to cringe to me. Are there not such as could be my companion, my comrade? Or are they all servile slaves?"
Behar Asor laughed shortly and contemptuously.
"They are our inferiors," he said, "hence they can not be more than companions for our idle hours. But you will have idle hours enough, and there would be many who would call themselves blessed to share themselves with thee. A great alliance—"
Nehal Singh interrupted him with the old gesture of authority.
"Thou hast said enough, my father," he said. "I will think upon it. Until then—leave me my peace."
With a slow, meditative step he went back to the curtained doorway and, pulling aside the hangings, went out on to the balcony. It was four o'clock, and already the heat of the day had broken. Long rays of sunlight struck eastward across the garden and touched with their faded golden fingers the topmost turrets of the temple. In the distance the shadows of the jungle had advanced and, like the waves of a rising tide, seemed to swallow up, step by step, the brightness of the prospect. Nehal Singh descended the winding stair that led to the first terrace. Thence three paths stretched themselves before him. He chose the central one, and with bowed head passed between the high, half-wild, half-cultivated borders of plants and shrubs. A faint evening breeze breathed its intangible perfume against his cheek, and he looked up smiling.
"A woman!" he murmured dreamily. "A woman!"
The dominion over which Rajah Nehal Singh exercised his partial authority was a tract of unfruitful land extending over about two hundred square miles and sparely inhabited by a branch of the Aryan race which through countless generations had kept itself curiously aloof from its neighbors. The greater number were Hindus of the strictest type, and perhaps owing to their natural conservatism they had succeeded in keeping their religion comparatively free from the abuses and distortions which it was forced to undergo in other regions. Up to the year l8—the state had been to all practical purposes independent. Its poverty and unusual integral cohesion made it at once a dangerous enemy and an undesirable dependent, which it was tacitly agreed to let alone until such time when action should become imperative. That time had come under the reign of Behar Asor—then Behar Singh. This prince, who, his followers declared, could trace his descent from Brahma himself, unexpectedly, after he had been living in hand-in-glove friendship with his European neighbors, proclaimed a Holy War, massacred all foreigners within his reach, and for eighteen long months succeeded, by means of a species of guerrilla warfare, in keeping the invading armies at bay. Partly owing to the unflagging determination of the English troops, partly owing also to the intense hatred with which he was regarded by all Mohammedans, he was eventually overcome, though he himself was never captured. It was believed that he died while fleeing through the vast jungles with which his land was overgrown, and this idea was strengthened by the fact that, though a large reward for his capture was offered, nothing further had ever been heard of him.
From that time the land came under the more or less direct control of the Government. As a concession to the population, Behar Singh's one-year-old son was placed upon the throne under a native regency, but English regiments were stationed at the chief towns, and a political agent resided at the capital. Neither the regiments nor the political agent, however, found any work for their hands to do. A calm, as unexpected as it was complete, seemed to descend upon the whole country, and the officers who had taken up their posts with a loaded revolver in each hand, figuratively speaking, began very quickly to relapse instead into pig-sticking, polo and cards.
The climate was moderate, the vegetation beautiful if unprofitable, and the sport excellent. Thus it came about that a danger spot on the map of the Indian Empire became a European paradise, and that to be ordered to Marut was to become an object of envious congratulations. Not, as Mr. Archibald Travers had with justice complained, that the reigning prince, as in other states, took any part in the general gaiety or in any way enhanced the agreeableness of his capital. As far as was known, no European eyes had ever lighted on him since his childhood. Under one excuse and another he had been kept persistently in the background, his place being taken first by the regent and then by succeeding ministers, until it was generally supposed that the young Rajah was either afflicted with some loathsome disease or mentally deficient, probabilities which the Government, with unpleasant recollections of Behar Singh's too great intelligence, accepted with unusual readiness. There were no causes for suspicion. The Rajah never left the precincts of his palace garden, a piece of land whose cultivation had cost untold sums, and which, together with the Hindu temple, was supposed to stand as the eighth wonder of the world. Fabulous stories were told of the beauty and rarity of the vegetation, and of the value of the jewels which were supposed to decorate the temple and royal apartments. As there was no opportunity of confirming or refuting the statements, they were allowed to grow unhindered.
It was in this small sphere that Nehal Singh spent his childhood, his youth and early manhood. Of the outer world he had seen nothing, though he had read much, his education extending over all European history and penetrating deep into that of his own country. Nevertheless, the picture his mind had formed had little in common with the reality—it was too overshadowed by his own character. As a blind man may be able, through hearsay, to describe his surroundings detail by detail and yet at the bottom be possessed by an entirely false conception, so Nehal Singh, to all appearances well instructed, was in reality as ignorant as a child. The heroes whose figures peopled his imagination were too heroic, the villains too evil, and both heroes and villains were either physically beautiful or hideous, according to their characters.
He had no comrade against whose practical experience he might have rubbed this distorted picture into a more truthful likeness. His only companions had been his native instructors and the priests—men separated from him by a gulf of years and a curious lack of sympathy which he had in vain striven to overcome. Thus he had been intensely lonely, more lonely than he knew, though some dawning realization crept over him on this particular evening as he passed through the temple gates. For a moment he stood with his hands crossed over his breast, absorbed in prayer to Brahma, the Creator, in whose presence he was about to stand. In such an hour, amidst the absolute stillness, under the stupendous shadows of the walls, which had, unchanging, seen generation after generation of worshipers drift from their altars into the deeper shades of Patala, the young prince felt the wings of divine spirits brush close past him, bearing his prayer on unseen hands to the very ear of the golden-faced Trinity who, from his earliest years, had seemed to look down upon him with solemn kindness.
This evening, more perhaps than ever before, every fiber in him vibrated beneath the touch of the holy charm, and the prayer which passed soundlessly over his lips came from a soul that worshiped in fiery earnestness and truth. A minute passed as he stood there, then, removing his shoes, he stepped over the threshold and walked forward between the gigantic granite columns which supported what was left of the dome-shaped roof. There was no altar, no jewel, no figure cut in the hard stone that was not known to him with all their mysterious significance. Here had been spent all his leisure hours; here had been dreamed his wildest dreams; beneath this column he had seen as in a vision how Vishnu took nine times human form and a tenth time came, according to the Holy Writings, with a winged horse of spotless white, and crowned as conqueror.
To-day these things pressed down upon him with all the weight of a tremendous reality. With beating heart he entered at last into the Holy of Holies and stood before the god's high altar, visible only to those of purest caste. His head was once more bowed. He did not venture to look up at the golden figure whose ruby eyes, he knew, stared straight through his soul into every corner of the world and beyond into Eternity. His belief, pure, unsoiled from contact with the world, was a power that had gone out into the darkness and conjured thence the spirits that shrank back from the cold prayer of the half-believer. They stood before him now—these wonderful spirits. He believed surely that, should he dare to raise his eyes, he would see them, definite yet formless, arising glorious out of the cloud of golden reflection from Brahma's threefold forehead.
Thus he prayed, not kneeling, since the god cared only for his soul:
"Oh, Lord Brahma, Creator, hear me! Thou who madest me knowest whither I came and whither I go; but I, who am as the wind that bloweth as thou listeth, as a flower that springeth up in the night and unseen fadeth in the midday heat, I know not thy purpose nor the end for which I am. Lord Brahma, teach me, for my soul panteth after knowledge. Show me the path which I must tread, for I am weary with dreams. Teach me to serve my people—be it hand in hand with the Stranger and his gods, be it alone. Teach me to act, and that right soon; for my childhood days are spent and my man's arm heavy with idleness. Send me forth—but not alone—not alone, Lord Brahma, for I am heart-sick of loneliness. Give me my comrade, my comrade who shall be more to me than—"
He stopped and, obeying an impulse stronger than himself, lifted his face to the idol. It had vanished. In its place stood a woman.
At another and cooler moment, with a mind filled with other thoughts, with a heart untroubled by new and all-powerful emotions, he would have known her, if only from hearsay, for what she was. But with that passionate prayer upon his lips, she was for him the answer, a divine recognition of his need and of his lately recognized loneliness.
Tall, slender, with a pale, transparent complexion, touched like a young rose with the faintest color, dark, grave eyes and hair that seemed a part of the obscured god, whose pure lines, though foreign, harmonized in every detail with the classic beauty of her surroundings, she stood and watched him, as he watched her, in perfect silence.
"Lakshmi!" he murmured at last; and, as though the one word had broken a charm which held them both paralyzed, she smiled, and the smile lit up the Madonna face and made it as human as it had seemed divine.
"Forgive me," she began, speaking in English, "I am afraid I have disturbed you, but—" She paused, apparently confused by the directness of his gaze. The faint pink upon her cheek deepened.
"Who are you?" he demanded in his own tongue.
Her look of non-comprehension steadied him, at least outwardly, though it did not check the fierce, painful beating of his pulses. He repeated the question in pure though hesitating English.
"I am an Englishwoman," she answered at once, "and have lost my way. For hours—it seems hours, at any rate—I have been wandering hither and thither, trying to find my party, with whom I was enjoying an excursion. By some chance I came across this temple, and hoped to meet some one who might help me. You see, I am a stranger in this part of the world. I—I hope I have done no wrong?"
She looked at him pleadingly, but he ignored her question. It never occurred to him to doubt her explanation, or wonder at the unlikeliness of the chance which should have led her through the intricate paths to this hallowed spot.
"You are English?" he echoed. The fever in his blood was subsiding, but, like some great crisis, it was leaving him changed. It had swept him out of the world of languorous, enchanted dreams into a world of not less enchanted reality.
"I fear I am presumptuous," she began again; "but are you not the Rajah? If so, I am certain you must be very, very angry. For the Rajah—so I have been told—does not love the English."
She smiled again, meeting his unwavering gaze with a frank good-humor which for him was more wonderful even than her beauty. No woman—and for that matter, no man—had ever dared to look him in the eyes with such a laughing, fearless challenge.
"Yes, I am the Rajah," he answered. Then, after a pause, he added with great simplicity, "You are very beautiful."
She laughed outright, and the laugh, which rang like the peal of a silver bell through the vaulted chamber, filled him with a sudden sense of her danger. She stood with her back turned indifferently on the golden image, an Unbeliever whose shod feet were defiling the sacred precincts, an object, then, for hatred and revenge—not for him, truly. In his eyes she was still an emissary from Brahma, and thus in herself half sacred; but he knew well enough that such would not be the opinion of the few fierce priests who worshiped in the temple.
"You are not safe here," he said, with an energy which was new to him. "Come!"
He led her hurriedly out of the sanctuary into the great entrance hall. There he slackened speed and waited until she reached his side.
"For a foreigner it is not safe to enter the temple," he explained. "Had any one but myself found you, I could not answer for the consequences."
"They would have harmed me?"
"It is possible."
"That would have been terrible!" she said, glancing at him with eyes that expressed rather a daring courage than fear.
"Most terrible," he assented earnestly.
"Yet—you also, Your Highness, you have also the same reasons for anger. My intrusion, innocent though it was, must have been equally offensive to you."
"No," he said. "That is quite different."
He offered no further explanation, and together they passed out of the two immense gopuras into the evening sunshine.
"I will bring you to the gates which lead on to the highroad," he went on. "Thence one of my servants will conduct you back to the town, where I trust you will find your friends."
"You are most good," she answered gratefully.
They walked side by side between the high walls of cypress and palm. The path was a narrow one, and once his hand brushed lightly against hers. The touch sent a flood of fire through his young veins. He drew back with a courtesy which surprised himself. He had never been taught that courtesy toward a woman could ever be required of him. Of women he had heard little save that they were inferior, in intellect and judgment no more than slaves, and his curiosity had at once been satiated. He sought things above him—those beneath him excited no more than indifference. But this woman was neither an inferior nor a slave. Her free, erect carriage, steadfast, fearless eyes proclaimed the equal. So much his instinct taught him in those brief moments, and his eager curiosity concerning her grew and deepened. Every now and again his gaze sought her face, drinking in with an almost passionate thirst the fine detail of her profile, compared to which his dreams were poor and lifeless. Once it chanced that she also glanced at him, and that they looked at each other for less than a breathing space full in the eyes.
"I fear you are angry, Your Highness," she said earnestly. "I must have offended against your laws even more than I know."
"Why do you think I am angry?" he asked.
"You have scarcely spoken."
"Forgive me! That is no sign of anger. I am still overcome with the strangeness of it all. You are the first English person I have ever met."
She stood still, with an exclamation of surprise.
"Is that possible? I thought all Indian princes mixed with English people. Many, indeed, go to England to be educated—"
"So I have heard," he broke in, with a faint haughtiness. "I am not one of them."
"Yet you speak the language so perfectly!" she said.
A gleam of naive pleasure shone out of his dark eyes.
"I am glad you think so. My—one of my ministers taught me."
They walked on again. Here and there she stopped to look at some curious plant—always a little in advance of him—so that he had opportunity to study the hundred things about her which confirmed his wondering, increasing admiration. Slight as she was, there was yet a gracefully controlled strength in every movement. In his own mind, poor as it necessarily was in comparisons, he compared her to a young doe he had once startled from its resting-place. There was the same fragile beauty, the same grace, the same high-strung energy. In nothing was she like the women painted for him by his father's hand—things for idle, sensuous pleasure, never for serious action.
Plunged in a happy confusion of thought, he had once more relapsed into silence, from which she startled him with a question evidently connected with their previous conversation.
"And so you have lived all your life in this lovely garden?" she said, looking up at him with a grave wonder in her eyes.
"All my life," he answered.
"You have never seen anything of the world?"
"Never." He felt the pity in her tone, and added, with a shamefacedness curiously in contrast with his former hauteur: "But I have read much."
"That is not the same thing," she returned. "No book could make you understand how wonderful and beautiful things are."
He looked at her, and for a second time their eyes met.
"You are right," he said. "Hitherto I have thought myself all-wise. I have studied hard, and I believed there was nothing I did not know. Now I see that there are wonders in the world of which I have never even dreamed."
Her glance wavered beneath the undisguised admiration in his eyes and voice. Then she asked gently:
"Now that you have seen, will you not leave your hermitage? Surely it is wrong to shut one's heart against the world in which one lives. There is so much work to be done, so much to learn, and you have been granted power and wealth, Your Highness. The call upon your help is greater than upon others."
His brows knitted.
"Do you hate us so?" she asked.
"Hate you?" he repeated wonderingly. "Why should I hate you?"
"Yet, from your tone, I judged that you had kept seclusion because intercourse with my country-people meant defilement," she said boldly.
A flush crept up under his dark skin.
"Those are things I can not explain," he said; "but they have nothing to do with hatred. I have heard much of the English heroes. Their deeds of daring and self-sacrifice have filled my heart with love and veneration. I know that they are the greatest and noblest people of the earth. I love great and noble people. I do not hate them."
"I am glad," she said.
They had reached the gates which opened out on to the highroad, and as though by mutual consent both came to a standstill.
"Your Highness has been most good to me," she went on. "I can find my way perfectly now. I am only puzzled to know how I should ever have lost it so much as to have wandered into your garden."
"Some sentry must have slept," he remarked grimly.
"But you will not punish any one?"
"Whoever it was, he was only the servant of destiny, like us all," he said. "No harm shall come to him." He paused, and then added with a slight effort: "One of the sentries shall accompany you."
"No, no," she answered energetically. "That is not necessary. I would rather go alone."
He pointed upward to the sky, whose blue was deepening into the violet shades of night.
"It will be dark before you reach your destination," he said. "Are you not afraid?"
She laughed merrily.
"Of what should I be afraid? There are no maneaters about here, as I understand. As for men, I am prepared to encounter at least six of them. Look!" She drew from the bosom of her dress a small revolver of exquisite workmanship, and held it out to him. "It has all six chambers loaded," she added.
He took the weapon, pretending to examine it; but his pulses had recommenced their painful beating, and he saw nothing but her face.
"Are all Englishwomen so brave and beautiful?"
This time she did not laugh at the simplicity of the question.
"Come and see," she answered boldly. He said nothing, and she went on: "At any rate, I must go now. My people will be very anxious, and I have so much to tell them. They will envy me the privilege I have enjoyed of seeing your wonderful gardens. I shall tell them how kind you have been to a foolish wanderer."
"If the gardens please you, they are always open to you," he said.
She shook her head sadly.
"I am afraid it is not possible. You see, I could not come alone. Propriety will forgive me this once, because it was an accident—a second time, and my reputation would be gone for ever." She held out her hand frankly. "So it must be good-by for ever!"
An instant he hesitated, torn between a deep ingrained principle and desire. Then he took the small hand in his own.
"It will not be good-by for ever," he said. "We shall meet again."
"I should be glad. We have been quite good friends, haven't we? But you see, you will be in a garden into which I may not enter, and I in a world which for you is forbidden ground. I am afraid there is no hope."
"Nevertheless, we shall meet again," he repeated.
"Why are you so certain?"
He smiled dreamily.
"Nothing in this world happens without purpose," he answered. "So much my books and eyes have taught me. We do not drift aimlessly into each other's lives. We are borne on the breast of a strong current which flows out of the river of Fate, and whether we meet for good or evil is according to the will of God. But of one thing I am sure: it must be for good or evil."
For a moment she said nothing. Her face was turned away from him, and when at last she spoke, her voice had lost something of its daring certainty.
"I hope, then, our meeting is for our good," she said.
"I feel that it is," he answered.
He led her past the bewildered, terrified sentry on to the grey, dusty highroad. It was the first time that his feet had crossed the threshold.
"I shall watch you till you are out of sight," he said. "Good-by."
"Good-by—and thank you!"
According to his word, he stood where she had left him, his eyes fixed immovably, like those of a bronze statue, on the slight, elastic figure, as it hurried toward the lights of the distant Station. When at last the purple mist had swallowed her from his sight, he looked up toward the heavens.
Just where the mist ended and the clear sky began, the evening star rose in its first splendor and shone through the dry atmosphere, signaling to its fellows that night was come. One by one others followed. As time passed, the moon in a cloud of silver lifted herself in stately progress above the black outline of the jungle and touched with her first beams the filigree minarets of the temple.
Nehal Singh bowed his head in prayer.
"Oh, Lord Brahma, I thank thee!"
A short-lived breath of evening air caught up the passionate murmur of his voice and mingled it with the rustling of the Sacred Tree whose restless, shimmering, silver leaves hung above his head. He understood their whisper as he listened. It was the accents of the god to whom he prayed, and all the poetic mysticism of his nature responded to the call.
"Oh, Lord Brahma, Creator, I thank thee!" he repeated; then turned, and with head still bowed, passed back through the high marble gates.
ARCHIBALD TRAVERS PLAYS BRIDGE
The ayah put the last touches to Beatrice Cary's golden hair, drew back a little to judge the general effect, and then handed her mistress the handglass.
"Is that well so, missy?" she asked. "Missy look wonderful to-night—wonderful!"
Beatrice examined herself carefully and critically, without any show of impatience. Only a close observer would have noticed that her eyes had the strained, concentrated look of a person whose thoughts are centered elsewhere than on the immediate subject.
"Yes, that will do," she assented, after a moment. "You have done extra well to-night. You can go."
"Not help missy with dress?"
"No, you can go. I shall only want you again when I come back."
The ayah fidgeted with the garments that lay scattered about the room, but an imperative gesture hastened her exit, and she slipped silently from the room, drawing the curtains after her.
Beatrice watched her departure in the glass, and then, turning in her chair, looked at the languid, exhausted figure upon the couch.
"Now, if you have anything to say, mother, say it," she said. "We are quite alone."
"I have a great deal to say," Mrs. Cary began, in a tone of extreme injury, "and first of all, I must ask you not to interrupt me in the way you did just now before the—the what-do-you-call-it?—the ayah. I can not and will not stand being corrected before my own servants."
"I did not correct you," Beatrice returned coldly. "I stopped you from making disclosures to ears which know enough English to understand more than is good for either of us, and whose discretion is on a par with that of our late friend, Mary Jane. It seems impossible to make you realize that English is not a dead language."
"You are very rude to me!" Mrs. Cary protested, in high, quavering tones that threatened tears. "Very rude! Beatrice, you ought to be ashamed—"
"I am not rude. I am only telling you the simple truth."
"Well, then, you are not respectful."
"Respectful!" The reiteration was accompanied with a laugh which brought into use all the harsh, unpleasing notes in the girl's voice. She turned away from her mother, and with one white elbow resting on the dressing-table, began to play idly with the silver ornaments. "No, I suppose I am not respectful," she went on calmly. "I think we are too intimate for that, mother. We know each other too well, and have spoken about things too plainly. People, I imagine, only retain the respect of their fellow-creatures so long as they keep themselves and their projects a haloed mystery. That isn't our case. There are no haloes or mysteries between us, are there?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Mrs. Cary declared plaintively. "There are moments, Beatrice, when I think you talk nonsense."
"I am sure you do!" An ironical smile played an instant round the small mouth, then she went on calmly: "Let us put our personal grievances against each other aside, mother. Revenons a nos moutons. You were saying, when I interrupted you, that you were afraid of Mr. Travers. Why?"
"Why! You know as well as I do. I recognized him at once, and the sight of his face nearly gave me a heart stroke. Of course you remember him. He gave evidence against your poor, dear father when—"
Beatrice Cary held up her hand.
"That is one of the advantages of having discarded the mystery and halo," she said. "We do not need to go into any details concerning ourselves or the past. I know quite well to what you refer. To be quite honest, I did recognize him, only I did not let him see that I did."
"And then you ask why I am afraid!"
"I fail to see what harm he can do us."
"He can tell the truth."
Beatrice Cary rose and began to slip into the white silk dress which hung across the back of her chair.
"The truth!" she said meditatively. "That is something, mother, of which, I fear, you and I will never rid ourselves. It has chased us out of England and out of all possible parts of Europe; and, large though India is, it seems already to have tracked us down. It has a good nose for fugitives, apparently."
Mrs. Cary sat up, mopping her florid face free from tears of irritability.
"You will drive me mad one of these days!" she cried. "You laugh at everything. You laugh even at this, though it concerns our whole future here—"
"Excuse me for interrupting you again. I take the matter very much to heart—so much so that there are moments when I am thoroughly weary of it, and feel inclined to write on a large placard: 'Here standeth Beatrice McConnel, alias Cary, daughter of the—'"
"Be silent!" broke in the elder woman furiously. "Do you really want the whole Station to be taken into our confidence?"
"I am sorry!" with half-sincere, half-mocking contrition. "I am as bad as you are. But, as I say, there are times when I should like to shriek the truth in the world's face, and see what it would do. I don't think anything could be worse than our present life."
"If you did anything of the sort, I should take poison," Mrs. Cary declared.
"No, you wouldn't. We should move on to another continent, and try our luck there, that's all. It's the very futility of truth-telling which prevents me from experimenting in that direction. Perhaps, as you suggest, Mr. Travers will take the task from my shoulders."
Mrs. Cary rose to her feet and came ponderously over to her daughter's side. Her voice, when she spoke, was troubled with genuine emotion.
"Beatrice," she said, "I don't ask respect of you—I don't suppose it would be any sort of good if I did. You haven't any respect in you. But at any rate have some consideration for me. You needn't make my life worse than it is. It's no use your saying to me, 'Give up the money, and hide your head.' I can't. I never could hide my head, and at the bottom I don't believe you could either. It's the way we are made. Ever since I was a little child, and played about in my father's shop, I wanted people to bow down to me and respect me. I meant that one day they should. When I married they did—for a time at least. When the crash came, and—and all the shame, I just ran away from it. I couldn't have done anything else. Ever since then I have been trying to build things up elsewhere, and I had to have money for it. You can't blame me, Beatrice. You aren't any better. You always want to be first in your singing and your painting, you always want the best of what's going. You always want to be admired and successful in everything you do. You take after me in that." A note of curious pride crept into her voice. "So it's just like this, Beatrice—I can't live without position. I may not take poison, but I shall die all the same if I can't play a part in the world. All I ask is that you help me all you can. It's not much. I've been a pretty decent mother to you. You can't say that there was ever a time when I grudged you a pretty frock or a dance—" She stopped in her long speech, yielding to Beatrice's irrepressible gesture of impatience.
"You needn't have gone into so much explanation," the girl said, fastening a small diamond pendant round her white neck. "I know you and I know myself. As to my gratitude, I am fully aware of what I owe you, and am ready to pay. What do you want me to do?"
"Don't go against me."
"I haven't done so yet. I don't mean to. As far as I can recollect, I've pulled us both out of as many scrapes as you have landed us into," Beatrice replied.
"I know. That's why I want you to do your best now."
"To do what?"
"To keep Marut tolerable for us."
"I can't prevent Mr. Travers gossiping if he wants to."
A smile flitted over Mrs. Cary's fat face, robbing it of its good-nature and leaving it merely vulgarly cunning.
"You could if you wanted to."
"Oh, you know! You have a way with men. You could shut his mouth."
Beatrice laughed outright.
"There are moments when you betray your origin in the most painful way, mother," she said cruelly. "A remark like that in Mrs. Carmichael's hearing, and we should find Marut too hot for us without any assistance from Mr. Travers."
"I'm sorry," Mrs. Cary apologized humbly. "It slipped out. What I meant was, that I am sure you could manage him. And you know you could, Beatrice."
Beatrice looked at her reflection in the glass. There was little feminine vanity in the glance—rather a cool judging and appraising, untempered with any personal prejudice.