The bungalow stood on the very margin of the land. On that forgotten beach day followed night and night followed day with only the normal changes and chances of the seasons to mark the flight of time, and age and exposure had set their mark upon the lonely building. A broad verandah on the seaward side had suffered most. The once white balustrade was now parti-coloured, for the chunam plaster1 had flaked off the red earthenware pilasters, and the matting on the floor was rotted by the salt air. Pillars of brick and chunam supported the parapet of the flat roof, from whence could be seen to the right and left the long monotonous sweep of sandy shore: finest golden sand, where the ocean breakers hurled themselves upon it; finest teasing wind-blown sand where, beyond their reach, low creeping salt shore weeds and coarse reedy grass strove in vain to bind it together.
Beyond the palm-fringed bend of the shore were a few poverty-stricken fishing villages of mud huts with high peaked roofs of palm-thatch, and naked fishermen in quaint conical grass caps would sometimes pass the bungalow on their humble errands, busy bobbins in hand, making endless lengths of new netting as they walked. Should they catch sight of a white-clad figure on the verandah, hands would go to foreheads in salutation, but no one willingly strolled too close to the faded walls. In their simple way they had grown to take a pride in this bungalow, but the fear and superstition which once determined their attitude had taken long to conquer. The wrath of the goddess of their village had been aroused times without number, yet the bungalow was not destroyed nor its inhabitants slain. They were immune, it seemed, but the dumb servant who purchased fish somehow gave it to be understood that the dread gods had done their worst and could find no greater punishment short of death to inflict.
Several years had now passed since the bungalow had been retrieved from hopeless ruin. A maistry carpenter had come with his coolies, and had painted shutters and window-frames, and repapered the half-doors between the rooms. They spoke an outlandish tongue, and the fisher-folk could glean no information. Almost immediately bullock-carts had arrived one night from beyond the broken jackal-haunted jungle. For a few hours the villagers had listened to shouts of drivers and creaking of wheels, and then the carts had vanished, leaving no trace.
Through the silent rooms the sea-breeze blew strongly. The split bamboo matting on the floors rose a little now and then. Unused frills rippled in response to it, and the soft dresses of the two Englishwomen, who were quietly sewing, fluttered with gentle rustlings.
They were seated at an embroidery frame, and beneath their busy fingers a silken design was growing daily in beauty. They worked in silence, but presently the younger one put down her needle and wandered out into the verandah. She raised her cramped arms above her head, and her muslin draperies fell away in graceful folds, for she was clothed in a long soft sari of Indian hand-woven cloth of a deep cream colour, over a skirt and jacket of dull yellow silk. Her face and neck gleamed pearl-like beneath a crown of bronze-gold hair fastened in a loose Indian knot.
“Silvia!” called a soft voice from the room behind her.
“Yes, Mother?” replied the girl, turning listlessly and retracing her steps. “Have we not done enough for this morning? Let us stop.”
“I’ll just finish this corner. Is the ‘Padre’s’ room ready?”
“Yes, Mother,” said the girl again.
The older woman worked on for a minute and then laid aside her implements and carefully fastened down the linen cloth which covered the embroidery. She rose in her turn and stepped out into the verandah. There the sea-breeze played amongst the folds of her white robes, lifting the loose sleeves from thin blue-veined wrists, and tearing at her strange immovable head-gear. Silvia’s mother wore something which completely hid her head and face and neck, shaped like the head-piece of a Moslem burqa with an opening through which glanced tragic brown eyes. This white linen garment was made in one piece with a sleeved bodice, so that no accident could move it unawares, and through all the years that Silvia could remember, she had never, since earliest childhood, looked upon her mother’s face.
Passing through the house to another verandah at the back, mother and daughter stood looking out into the hot sunshine. As far as eye could see there stretched into the distance low jungle scrub, only relieved by scattered palmyras and the occasional lifted taper of a flowering aloe. This apparently unbroken surface was, however, deceptive, for a small backwater lay hidden in its bosom, such as are called “tamparas” on this Coromandel Coast, with an outlet to the sea a mile or more to the northward.
Behind the bungalow, servants’ go-downs and storerooms surrounded a small courtyard, and stores had perforce overflowed into the bungalow itself. One or two rooms were given up to large packing-cases and crates, which made their appearance across the jungle in bullock-carts at lone intervals.
The servants numbered two. Amu the mute looked after some scraggy fowls, and tended a flock of goats which supplied them with milk and meat. A faithful ayah completed the establishment. She had long since added cooking to her duties, and lived in this solitude with uncomplaining patience. She now appeared at the cook-room door.
“Listen, Amma! The dorai gáru comes.”
They all stood still, and from far away, felt rather than heard, came the sounds of a trotting pony. Old Tai disappeared to her duties, and mother and daughter stood watching. It was plain to see that the rider was a very welcome guest. Silvia’s pale face lit up with eagerness and her mother’s shrouded form grew alert.
They saw him at last, first a large pith sun-hat above the distant thorn bushes, then a white drill coat, and finally the whole man astride a country tat. The kind grave face was flushed with heat and exertion as he carefully guided his mount amongst the nullahs.
There was no need to call for Amu. He and Tai were at the foot of the verandah steps before the visitor could dismount. Tai held a glass of milk in readiness, and Amu waited to lead away the pony and unstrap the dorai’s slender baggage.
On the verandah stood his country-women.
“Oh! Father Damien! How glad we are that you have come!”
He held out a hand to each. “Silvia, my child---and Christine!”
After a few happy moments they led him through the broad verandah to his room, where Amu was doing his anxious best for the visitor’s comfort.
In the cool of that first evening, Silvia and Father Damien (as they called him, although he was a layman) walked along the shore to the fishing village. The man’s form, middle-aged but still vigorous, and the girl’s slight draped figure were familiar to the fisher-folk, and the children from the huts scampered out to stare and salaam. They were great believers in the dorai’s medicines and Silvia’s bandaging. A certain spot a short distance from the hamlet was called the Dispensary. Beyond it the girl had never been allowed to venture, nor had she been encouraged to pick up the patois. “She can learn nothing good from them,” her guardian had urged. “No girl under twenty should be allowed to learn an Indian language and given the run of a village by herself. I will go with her someday when they take my lessons on sanitation to heart. Meanwhile her bandaging and dispensing at a safe distance are a very great boon to them, and an occupation for her.”
Today, however, Silvia looked at them without interest, and Father Damien watched her anxiously. Since his last visit a listlessness, deeper and more permanent, was settling down upon her. His kind heart ached over her strange fate, and he felt that his share of responsibility was heavy, for had he not acquiesced in Christine’s almost crazed determination to hide in the wilderness? That acquiescence had been given freely and inevitably in the years gone by, in the midst of the stress and strain of unique and heart-breaking circumstances, when commonplace standards of conduit did not seem to apply. It took on a different aspect now that Christine’s little daughter was a woman grown, and was bearing her share of the tragedy.
Christine had trodden a via dolorosa indeed. She had trodden on sharp thorns, she had drunk a bitter cup, but should thorns and bitter cup be Silvia’s portion too? Should this strange and dreamy life of utter solitude be the only one that she would ever know? The world was almost as empty for her as for Eve in the garden of Paradise, but for books and the education that the Padre was able to give her. The packing-cases that had come across the jungle were heavy with books, and whole rooms in the bungalow were given up to them. Shelf after shelf had been added, and Silvia’s mental history could be traced from the picture-books of early years, through graded lesson-books to novels, history, biography and drama. There were expensive books of good pictures too. Needlework and drawing had gone hand in hand. Father Damien had mapped out her education with the heart of an enthusiast, full of pity for her hapless fate, and, undisturbed as she was by outside attractions, the child’s powers of concentration had been almost uncanny.
As he and Silvia now retraced their steps along the beach, the sun was setting behind the palms which fringed the shore, and the quick night shadows settled down upon them. A white figure stood against the verandah balustrade, so cold, so unearthly, so motionless that they could not tell whether she was watching them or whether the tragic eyes were bent on the far horizon of dark and heaving ocean. A sharp sigh escaped Father Damien unawares, and Silvia looked up quickly.
“Do not be sad, Father Damien,” she said. “Mother is happier nowadays. She does not weep at night, as she did when I was younger, and of late she has sometimes laughed. Tai, when she heard her, came running in and threw herself at her feet, and kissed my mother’s knees. It was a strange and wonderful scene, for Mother looked at me and said, ‘Laugh, too, Silvia;’ and I hardly knew how, for we only know what laughter is when you are here. A lump came in my throat and I cried instead of laughing, and then I went away and drew a picture of Mother and Tai. I will show it to you.”
A lighted lamp was brought into the room behind the still white figure, which presently turned and vanished indoors. Supper was ready, and Tai had put her whole loyal heart into her cooking that night.
The days that followed were full ones for Silvia. From dawn she was busy with books. She was tireless and eager, and Father Damien gave her of his best. Every word, every problem seemed written on her mind with indelible pen, but her knowledge had its sharply defined edge. “I do not know what that is,” the girl would say, and her tutor would spend patient hours searching amongst the books for pictures and illustrations.
“Where is this world we read about, Padre?” asked Silvia. “Have we no part nor lot in it? Are we lost, or thrown away, or banished? When the carts came last time I would have questioned the drivers, but they could not understand, and Tai kept them away. Why are we on this lonely shore all by ourselves? Why do you teach me so much and fail to tell me that?”
“It was a promise I once gave, my child,” said Father Damien sadly.
She waved her hand towards the shelves. “Are we different from the men and women in those books? As different as the fisher-folk are from us? Father Damien, sometimes I feel as if I cannot stay in this body any longer. Something here aches and chokes me.”
She placed her two hands one above the other on her breast, while the colour mounted softly into her cheeks, and a look, half-longing, half-terrified, came into her eyes.
Father Damien’s sharp sigh escaped him again. “Have patience a little longer, my child; this strange life cannot continue for ever. I must speak to your mother.”
“Christine,” he said later in the evening when Silvia had gone to bed. “Something must be done. The child will lose her reason.”
“Alas! what can I do?” Christine’s thin hands were wrung together; the tragic dark eyes were straining through their aperture, then, without another word, the mother of Silvia slipped away into her bedroom, and, as was her invariable custom, locked the door behind her.
In her closed room Christine moved to the lamp which stood upon a country-made three-legged table, and carried it to a heavy teak-wood chest of drawers. Here she set it down, and, as if she had forgotten the reason for its change of position, left it there and paced to and fro upon the whispering matting. At first she moved slowly, then, as her thoughts began to come hurrying and racing, her steps quickened to an agitated tramp. At last, hot and tired, she threw herself into a chair and slipped off her strange covering. The head thus revealed was one which no human eye had looked upon for many years. The hair was snow-white but abundant. The skin was pale as alabaster, hidden as it had been from light and air. The eyes with their black eyebrows and eyelashes glowed like burning coals of fire. There was a small looking-glass on the dressing-table, and Christine went to it, and turning her head this way and that, scrutinized some livid marks upon her cheeks.
At last she turned away, and finding a key, unlocked a drawer in the bureau and took out a worn letter-case and a strapped bundle of papers. With these in her hands Silvia’s mother sat down near the lamp and fell into a painful reverie, fingering the while portions of what had once been a complete diary. The past came back to her recollection with the vividness of yesterday. Ah me! the pity of it!
One Christmas season long ago, Christine had arrived in India. Colonel Seaton, her father, had journeyed to the coast to meet her and take her home. They had trekked by bullock-cart into the Mufassil, travelling mainly by night and resting in dák bungalows by day. Her father taught her to shoot, and at earliest dawn they wandered over broken country, and by the margins of cool tanks replenishing the food supplies of the caravan, for teal and snipe were plentiful.
When at last they reached home, where her mother was awaiting her, dim recollections of her childhood were stirred up. There was the banyan tree with the hanging roots which the mali (gardener) had knotted together to make a swing, the flying foxes which clung to its top-most branches, and made night hideous with their clamour, the three palm trees in a row up which she had many a time watched the climbers mounting with circling rope and strong flexible feet. As of old, there was a white cow with swinging dewlap tethered by a long rope to the scarlet-blossomed flame-of-the-forest tree,2 and among the servants who came from their go-downs to bid Missy welcome she recognized the ayah of her childhood.
Christine’s mother was not robust, but by husbanding her strength was able to make her house a centre of kindly hospitality. She kept open house for many an Englishman on his way through the station into the dim beyond, for shooting or Government affairs, and tiger skins and other trophies found their way back into her drawing-room.
“What exactly is Father’s work, Mother?” Christine had asked one day. “He has no regiment, nor military work of any kind here, yet he is always busy and often harassed.”
“He is a Political Agent.” Her mother glanced round before completing her sentence. “He is in the secret service.”
“What is that?” asked Christine.
“Hush. It is better not to know very much.”
Mrs. Seaton shivered a little, and her daughter dimly understood that nervousness was one of the causes of her lack of robust health. Sleeplessness and anxiety are tiresome guests and apt to sap vitality. There was so little to do, so few distractions, that Mrs. Seaton had much leisure for thought, but she encouraged Christine to keep up her accomplishments, her needlework and music, and to ride and shoot with her father. The girl was full of glowing health and loved open air and exercise, so in the villages round the station the two were a familiar sight riding together before the day grew hot, or camping out in the foothills after sambur and antelope.
Then into her life had ridden Adrian. He came one day at sundown. The ladies were sitting on the dim verandah while the servants were bringing lighted lamps into the drawing-room behind them. Two men rode through the gateless entrance of the compound, and, dismounting before they reached the porch, left their ponies with a syce and walked to the foot of the verandah steps. Seeing ladies, they stopped apologetically and hesitated, but Mrs. Seaton rose to greet them with a smile of welcome.
“I’m afraid we are intruding. We have lost our way, and the villagers told us of this bungalow.” The speaker had a slightly foreign accent, and raised full black eyes to her face.
“Do come in,” she answered cheerfully. “We are only too glad to see people in this out-of-the-way place. We are expecting my husband in any minute. This is my daughter.”
The two men bowed, and Christine held out a frank hand to each in turn. Any change in the daily monotony was welcome. She was obviously pleased to see them.
The full gaze of the first speaker rested upon her for a moment, but his companion held her glance with the light of friendly grey eyes. Mrs. Seaton clapped hands for a servant and ordered refreshments, and soon all were seated and chatting comfortably.
In the evening Colonel Seaton returned. He had met baggage-carts on the way and was not surprised to see strangers, but Christine noticed his lack of cordiality and his non-committal air. After dinner there was one of the rare opportunities for music and singing, and the strangers withdrew to their newly pitched tents, with a promise to join father and daughter in an early-morning ride.
Colonel Seaton kissed Christine good-night slowly and thoughtfully. His hand lingered on hers, and he pulled her down on the long arm of his verandah chair.
“What do you think of them, Chris?”
“It is good to see anyone new, Father,” she answered. “I like Mr. Scott the better of the two, but that is probably only because he seems more Anglo-Saxon.”
Her father watched her musingly.
“The man who calls himself Selby isn’t English enough, eh?”
“Why do you say that, Father?” asked Chris-tine somewhat sharply. “ Don’t you like them? Why shouldn’t his name be Selby?”
“Yes, why not?” said her father, reaching for matches and cheroot cutter. “Well, good-night, Chris. Tell ayah to wake you at five.”
On the ride next morning Scott had devoted himself to amusing her, while Selby and her father were soon deep in shikari lore. She thought the latter’s suspicions of the day before were allayed, but he kept the dark stranger by his side, and she had no opportunity to speak to him. She turned to Adrian.
“Do you and Mr. Selby work together?”
“We have been together now for a month or so,” answered her companion. “I’ve been lent to the Archaeological survey. Selby is keen on that sort of thing, and asked permission from my chief to join us. He is in some ways an expert, but I think he must have dabbled in the ‘Black Art’ in the distant past.”
Adrian laughed, a clear, boyish, care-free laugh.
“He gets funny moods. He is almost ‘spooky’ at times, but he is interesting for all that.”
“Is he in one of the services, then?”
“He seems to be a millionaire-at-large, but is very reserved, and we really don’t know what his job is. He is fond of shikar, and grubbing about with our diggers. He intrigues Mr. Rees with sudden unexpected bits of information.”
Christine looked at the young Englishman at her side, tall and fair and friendly, and contrasted him with the man riding with her father. The latter was of medium height and middle-aged. His hair curled black and crisp, but though his complexion was swarthy, it had the clearer hue of a West Indian from the other side of the world, rather than of a man born and bred in India and sharing Indian blood. He was amusing her father, she could see, for laughter floated back to them from the pair in front; but, nevertheless, when they met again in the evening her father contrived to prevent his sitting near her or getting into conversation. Christine was quite content, for Adrian Scott was far more to her taste.
“Rees has gone for a short trip into the hills,” she heard Selby saying. “He has been very busy with a Buddhist stupa---not a large one, and cleared of relics in some bygone time, but many slabs of stone lie only half buried, and the carving on them is good. They once formed part of the railing of the ambulatory, the procession path for pilgrims. He is trying to determine the exact era to which they can be ascribed.”
“Stupas are relic shrines, are they not?” asked Mrs. Seaton.
Selby turned his full black gaze upon her with almost exaggerated politeness. He laughed a little.
“Yes. He is fired by the thought of finding another Lanja Dibha like the one at Bhattiprolu in the Guntur District. That one was found to be of solid brickwork. Three large stone receptacles were in it, each containing a crystal casket. There were also found gold flowers, trisulas, trinacrias, and amethyst beads and pearls. And then they lighted upon a relic casket of beryl containing three bits of bone.”
“Will he succeed, do you think?”
Selby seemed doubtful, but seeing they were all interested, he continued.
“The slabs he is now occupied with resemble those found at Dharanikota, also in the Guntur District, in what is called the Amaravati stupa. They seem to date from the Hindu-Buddhist period, and the carving represents dagobas, or scenes in the life of Buddha, and the Játakas.
“Pity our ignorance, Selby,” murmured Colonel Seaton.
“The Játakas are legends of Buddha’s previous incarnations, Mrs. Seaton. But I am afraid I must be boring you?”
“Not at all. Except for the little we have read about it, the subject is new to us, and even books are scarce here.”
“May I be allowed to lend you some, Miss Seaton?” asked Scott, seeing that Christine was following the conversation closely. “If you once get interested, it is a fascinating study historically.”
“Perhaps so,” said the girl languidly. “But don’t ask me to become interested in the idols and that sort of thing. They are so hideous, so inane, and so complicated. It seems such a waste of time bothering about them.”
“You have to bring your historical sense to the rescue if you are to get keen on them.” Adrian smiled at her. “Besides, there is so little to do in this God-forsaken land unless one turns round and tries to understand it a little better. The people are so much more interesting if you can realize all the centuries that he behind them. They do what they do because of their ancestors. In a sense they are so little responsible for their beliefs and customs, that one can regard their aberrations without irritation.”
Colonel Seaton put his cigar-stump into his ash-tray and got up.
“Have you ever met a man called Damelin?”
Adrian shook his head.
“He retired from the I.C.S. (the Indian Civil Service) last year, but he is so keen on the people that he came back after only a year at home to work amongst them. It is the depressed classes he is after. I hear he has been nicknamed ‘Father Damien.’ He can speak their ‘bit’ and is a bit of a doctor, as well as being half a parson. He was lay trustee to the church in nearly all his stations, and has preached many a sermon. Good ones too!”
“We haven’t come across him yet. I wonder how he would account for my odd experience, eh, Selby?”
“Couldn’t say,” replied the other indifferently.
“What was that?” asked Christine. Selby, without looking up, listened attentively in spite of his assumed nonchalance, and Colonel Seaton studied him from the shadowed edge of the verandah.
“A short time ago I was stopping with Smith of the Police,” said Adrian. “There was another man there, a coffee planter taking a holiday. We were in camp. Smith was rather close as to his affairs, but we gathered that he was there in the interests of the Khonds, or some hill-tribe or other, who wander off their own premises once in a way, moved by Heaven knows what in the line of religious manias.”
Colonel Seaton nodded. Smith was in the secret service, and his job had nothing even remotely to do with Khonds.
“He got a wire calling him off suddenly. The planter chap, a man named Sidney, said he had not seen much of native life on the plains, and wanted to watch some heathen ceremonies of which his servants had told him. So we rode in the afternoon to a large village a few miles away, and found a great crowd of people there. I think there had been some kind of epidemic, and the villagers had set up four female idols, and had been busy worshipping them for about three months, bringing flowers and cocoanuts and such things. They were now all excited and shouting. There were nautch-girls in a booth, working themselves up into a frenzy and pretending they were oracles. A sinister old brahmin pujári was in charge of the tamásha. Smith insisted on going right up to them. He stood and watched the nautch-girls, and all the time the pujári glowered at us. It seemed he was going off duty that evening with his special godling, a small figure made of turmeric; the nautch-girls also were moving off, but the pujári said something to them and they stayed on. He could not wait, it seemed, being a brahmin, for later on there were to be animal sacrifices made to the other three goddesses, which were queer little clay images. Smith wanted to stay, but it was a horrid sight to see the wretched goats brought and decapitated. Men of the washerman caste officiated, and the ryots carried off rice soaked in blood to sprinkle about on their fields to keep off evil spirits. They did not like our being there, especially as the omens went wrong. They poured water out of a brass vessel on the first goat to be killed. If it shivered they would know that the goddess was propitiated, but it didn’t shiver. They wasted several goats like that. Then the nautch-girls began to get frenzied again. They shrieked out and pointed to us, and before I could stop him a fellow came up and touched my forehead with that filthy blood! Sidney dodged him. We had had enough by then, and got off home. Ugh!”
“It served you right,” said Christine’s father, “for giving way to vulgar curiosity!”
“But what I want to know is why the pujári told the nautch-girls to get an oracle about us, for Smith said he often had to watch these idol tamáshas in the course of his work, and they never took any notice of him.”
“The planter was not touched, then?” asked Selby.
“No. He escaped that indignity. It wasn’t fair, was it, Miss Seaton?”
“I suppose you are a sort of Hindu now? The servant of a little image of turmeric!”
“Perhaps she is the handmaiden of another one, and she of yet another one, and you are really initiated into the whole boiling!” added her father with a laugh.
“Thanks very much, sir. I’ll decline the honour,” answered Adrian, and the two men rose to go.
They seemed in no hurry to move camp, for shooting expeditions into the foot-hills were easily obtainable. Selby was a man of leisure, and Scott had leave. One day he and Christine sought her parents to tell them that they were in love with each other, and wished to marry.
Colonel and Mrs. Seaton felt confident that she would be passing into a good man’s care, so they gave their willing consent and blessing. They were in no hurry to lose their daughter, but she, when married, would be in camp near them for some time.
The next event was a visit from Mr. Damelin, which occurred on the day succeeding Selby’s departure, so that the two men did not meet. He was an old friend, and had known Christine as a little child. He was a man full of interests, with leisure now from official work for philanthropic ventures, and into these he poured his wealth of information about the country and the people, his not inconsiderable knowledge of medicine, and his whole-hearted love for God and His poor.
Christine, sitting in her quiet bedroom by the sea-shore, with only the booming of the long rollers on the beach breaking in upon the stillness, forced herself to pass in review the few peaceful years succeeding her marriage: the birth of Silvia, the hot seasons spent in flower-embowered hill bungalows, the sun-filled hours in perfect climates, and lastly, the cold-season camping-places off the beaten track of tourists and Government officials, amidst the fragmentary remains of bygone civilizations. She had been happy and content with Adrian and Silvia until the blow fell.
She stirred in her chair, and the packet of papers slipped to the floor. Picking them up mechanically, she moved nearer to the lamp, and unfastened the strap which held them together. The faded writing on the sheets stained by age and climate was her own. This was the diary she had light-heartedly commenced, in order to fill some, at least, of the many hours of enforced leisure. Such small happenings were recorded: Silvia’s baby-sayings, the visits of “Father Damien,” rides and conversations, and the moving to new camping-grounds. Such small insignificant details they seemed, but the sum total was the record of a happy normal life.
She turned over the pages.
”Jan. the seventeenth.---The camp is moving tomorrow. We are sorry, for the next camp will be in the domain of the Rajah of Narayanpalli, and although he has been courteous to the Archeological people, his reputation is against him.
”Jan. the Eighteenth.---Baba did not enjoy riding in the dhooly with Tai. Adrian took her up on his saddle, to her delight and ayah’s indignation. Camp moving was great fun this time. Clouds and fresh wind made riding pleasant. Picnic tiffin was all that could be desired, and dinner and tents were ready for us in a large mango tope.”
Christine sighed and turned over the leaves. The entries were becoming less placid and commonplace, and a bewildered note was creeping into them.
“Jugglers and snake-charmers came into the camp this evening. Adrian wanted me to see their tricks, but the men themselves were unpleasant and did not stay long. They tried to play the scorpion trick on Tai, who had Baba in her arms, but Adrian interposed in time. Mr. Rees, who has a flair for ethnology, was curious about them. Behind their jugglers’ patois of Hindustani and Telugu he thought he detected archaic words and phrases. Adrian thinks they are quite ordinary everyday scoundrels. I noticed they lingered amongst the tent khalásis long after they were paid and dismissed. Tai grumbled about it.”
“We are encamped in an ancient dismantled rose-garden, a sweet unexpected spot. The country round is not flat, but broken by rifts and nullahs and miniature ravines. There are a few scattered mounds which the survey people are anxious to dig in, and hope the Rajah will smile on their efforts and make it easy to hire labour. The boundary wall of our rose-garden is still visible in places, but everyone seems to help themselves freely to building material from it, so its disappearance is only a matter of time. Our tents are just within the charmed border; the servants’ tents are outside it, at which little fact they display undisguised relief. Tai knows why, but will not tell me. The flowering trees and shrubs, and the old rose-bushes, all untended and untrained, are yet full of blossom and sweetness. Adrian has set coolies to dig out the choked runnels that intersect the garden, so that our bath water can flow down and water a part of it. Fresh water is scarce, or we could make great improvements.”
“Mr. Selby has turned up again. He greeted Adrian as an old friend and congratulated him on his marriage and his little daughter. Nothing, however, will induce Baba to go to him or to take toys or flowers from his hands. Absurd Tai sniffs and murmurs a pet proverb of hers, ‘A hole at the bottom, a cover at the top!’”
“Mr. Selby is rather mysterious. He comes and goes from his camp with very little apparent reason. If he is here for shooting, as he says, he missed a splendid opportunity this week, and gave the thinnest apology for breaking his engagement with Mr. Rees and Adrian, who had counted on the extra beaters he had promised to provide. I remember Father did not like him.”
This was the last entry in the diary. Christine sat forward in her chair lost in painful reverie, for events, unexpected and tragic, had crowded in upon this happy home life and overwhelmed it.
She remembered how one cool evening she and Adrian had wandered through the rose-garden, pleased with the result of their care, and picturing to themselves the walled-in sweetness of olden days, when harem ladies had Strolled along its walks and gathered flowers for garlands, and for distilling attar, or had rested in the marble summer-houses. Adrian was annoyed to see that the jugglers were squatting near a little thicket of pampas grass where there was a white ants’ nest, apparently engaged in snake-charming, for one of them played a reed flute, and the head of a large cobra appeared from a hole beneath the tall grass.
That evening Tai had seemed uneasy. She hinted that the garden precincts were not safe at night. Would Scott sahib not move his tents, if only a furlong away? Adrian had laughed, but the ayah’s fears began to work on Christine’s imagination and gave her bad dreams. She was to know before very long the reason for Tai’s nervousness, when they became involved in a maze of intrigue and deception. Black magic! “Father Damien” had, in later years, assured her with his whole heart that it had no real existence, but Christine was only half-convinced. Before her rose vividly as in a waking vision the scenes and persons into whose tragedy she had been precipitated. If only Adrian had not been so free from suspicion, so open and honourable that he seemed incapable of detecting deceit! And yet---would she have had him otherwise?
In the rose-garden, covered over with a tangle of lovely flowering bougainvillea, was a stone fountain. The aqueducts which fed it had long since fallen into disrepair, and any water that might have found its way thither percolated through cracks and fissures, and was lost before reaching its destination. Frogs, centipedes and scorpions, lizards and chameleons held high revel amongst the cool stones; and where sparkling spray had once caught rainbow hues in the sunlight, honey-birds hovered and glanced and darted, and butterflies fluttered in the breeze. Christine, strolling near it one evening with her baby-girl and Tai, stopped to pick blossoms, and was annoyed to come again within sight of the snake-charmers, squatting with their flat baskets a short distance away.
“Send them away, Tai,” she said sharply. “I’m sure they are thieves and budmashes. They must not be allowed in the camp.”
Tai called from her place by her mistress’s side, and with voice and hand and head indicated that they must remove themselves.
The snake-charmers merely grinned and did not stir. Then one of them spoke.
“What is he saying? Why don’t they go?”
“Those humbug men, Ma’am. Nonsense word telling. ‘Tales of brinjals growing on a banyan’ (travellers’ tales).”
“What do they say?”
“They telling: ‘This big witches’ night. Plenty demons coming. Thunder coming. Earth shaking. Missis plenty ’fraiding. Missis give rupees and make friends quickly,’ those men telling. Making crows out of a feather, those bad men.”
“Ayyo! Ayah-ma! What nonsense! Where is the thunder to come from?” Christine looked up at the serene sky, that should be innocent of storm-clouds for many months yet. The sun was setting in a fiery mist of dust-laden atmosphere. The sickle of the new moon was gathering light to itself. Jackals began to bark and howl in the distance. A rat scurried to its hole.
But something seemed to be stirring underfoot. Yes! the earth was moving! Silvia felt giddy and clung to her mother’s skirt. A fragment of stone fell with a rattle from the fountain carving. Another stone cracked with a sharp grating sound, and Tai prostrated herself on the path in the abandonment of fear and supplication, calling on the gods to protect them.
“Get up, Tai! Let us get back to the tent,” said Christine, and in spite of herself her voice trembled. “Earthquakes can’t hurt us here in open country. But how in the world did they know, Tai?”
Tai got up silently. Speech was beyond her, and Christine, refrained from looking back as a gust of coarse laughter came from the group of snake-charmers. The laughter seemed to frighten Tai as much as the earth tremor. She muttered incantations and prayers without stopping.
At the tent door Christine met a syce from Adrian with a chit. She must not wait dinner for him, as he had, out riding, come across a runner with a letter from Selby asking for his help. So urgent was the call that he had gone to Selby’s camp without any delay. The servants, butler and mati, must stay by her tents until his return.
Christine ate her lonely dinner with a book for companion. Tai sat in the bedroom tent crooning Silvia to sleep and fanning her with a long-handled palm-leaf fan. All was still and peaceful.
An hour passed, and then came the sound of hoofs. It was Adrian returning. He called a syce to take his pony and came striding to the tent door. Christine started to her feet at the sight of his face.
“What is the matter?”
For answer Adrian came to her and took her back to the circle of light cast by the lamp on the dining-table.
“Look here, Chris. Selby is in the deuce of a tight fix. We must help him. Any white man would. But the bother is I can’t do it without you. I don’t think there is much risk, but it is an extraordinary business.”
“I’ll come, Adrian! What are we to do? Tai will be here with baby, and butler can stay in this tent with a lantern.”
“That will be all right, in case we are very late back. Now look at this, Chris.”
Adrian took from his pocket a folded piece of yellow parchment, and spread it out on the white table-cloth. A faint scent of sandal-oil lingered on it, and mingled with the smell of the ancient wax that covered its surface.
“Bismillah! In the name of God!” he read, translating the Arabic writing at the head of the parchment. “I can’t understand all this closely written Urdu. It is interspersed with Arabic, too. But this is the point. Do you see this hobgoblin figure parcelled out in numbered squares? It is apparently just one of their diagrams used in exorcism; but look now.”
He held the parchment against the lamp globe, and in the place of the figure there appeared what seemed to be a map.
“That is the plan of an old Moghul palace in the town. Some of it exists still, and is divided up into separate dwelling-houses. Alterations, of course, have been made in adapting them, and the outlines of the palace are hard to trace. Selby says a great deal of it has disappeared, above ground. Do you see this long line that windy and twists and goes back upon itself, and ends at---just nothing?”
“Yes,” said Christine. “What is it?”
“It’s a passage, and where do you think it ends? At that cracked old fountain over there in the rose-garden.”
“And somehow or other we have to get down it and along. We’ll have to take a lantern and matches---plenty of matches. By the way, are those snake-charmers still prowling about?”
“I think they’ve gone. I sent butler to shoo them away.”
Adrian laughed. That was so like Christine!
“I hope he has shooed to some purpose. We don’t want spectators. Get strong shoes on, Chris, and a dark jacket and wrap your hair up. It may be dusty and dirty along that underground passage.”
“Yes, but what is all the trouble about, Adrian? And why am I wanted?”
“I’ll tell you as we go along. Selby, silly ass! has been treasure-hunting, and he has got himself well and thoroughly imprisoned right in the heart of the town. It is a perfect rabbit-warren of alleys and courtyards and vaults. He does not know exactly where he is, but he thinks he is not far from the end of this long winding passage. He contrived to get a note written to enclose with the map for me, and he says that the passage ends in a dwelling-house, and we may need to go through the women’s quarters.”
Adrian stopped for a moment. “Honestly, I don’t like taking you, Chris. Would you rather not come? The point is, we may have to traverse that zenana in order to emerge anywhere, and I can’t go blundering into it without warning. At least, that would be a foolish thing to do in this fanatical town, and would not help Selby. We must appear to be innocent explorers, having found this garden entrance to the passage, and you can arrange for me to be smuggled through while the inmates hide away for a few minutes.”
“Oh, Adrian, what about the poochies? Even up above in the fountain, how they scampered and scuttled when the earth shook this afternoon!”
“What do you mean?”
“The snake-charmers said there was going to be an earthquake, and lo and behold, it came that very minute! The stones moved and rolled down, and the ground shivered, and those horrid men laughed.”
“Someone must have been tinkering underground with the entrance. I hope it hasn’t fallen in! I’ll have something to eat while you get ready, and then we’ll make a start.”
Half an hour later, husband and wife, with lantern held low for fear of snakes, found their way to the fountain. There Christine held it, while Adrian, his hands encased in riding-gloves, pulled at the entwining creepers, disturbing armies of insects.
“The plan does not give much help,” he muttered, “but I’ve an inkling of how to get in from such of the writing as I could understand. Ah, here is what I want. Stand back, Chris; I’m going to heave.”
He put out more force than was necessary, however, for the big stone slid away quite easily, and Adrian nearly fell over. The lantern light disclosed a narrow downward sloping fissure, such as could hardly be called a passage, and yet signs of man’s handiwork were evident. It was not entirely natural. Adrian took the lantern and held it at arm’s length before him.
“It is all right, Chris, if we can squeeze through. It is much wider further on.” He turned round and looked at his wife. “It is a silly business. I hate taking you. You will get hot and tired and in a horrid mess. Look here, you go back to the tent and send Tai and butler. She can help with the zenana people if there are any.”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Here I come.” Chris clambered over the trailing dislodged bougainvillea, and followed closely behind Adrian and the lantern through the uneven irregular cleft. The stones on either side were most awkwardly angular.
“Somebody has been monkeying with this entrance. Here is a broken pick. Oh! look out!”
Adrian had stepped upon a solid-looking boulder, and it had slid under his feet, throwing him forward and making him nearly drop the lantern. With a quick movement he had caught Christine’s hand, and got her past it safely. Then, with stifling dust and clatter, the walls fell in behind them.
Blinded and half-choked, they scrambled on into the widening passage.
“We have to go on now, whether we like it or not. What a horrid accident!”
“But I’m glad I’m in here with you. We’ll soon get through it if we keep on steadily. Isn’t it baking hot?”
“It is not far below the surface, or it would be cooler. Keep close to me and look out for snakes and scorpions.”
The passage, as on the plan, wound, curved and twisted. They advanced without speaking, and kept steadily on for a few minutes. At one point there was a recess, a small room, and Adrian lifted his lantern to cast light into it.
“Oh! Adrian! What is that?”
He hastily lowered his light and went on. The recess had held an idol, the black goddess Kali, made hideous with red paint.
“I gathered that we should be making for a Mohammadan quarter. That idol does not seem like it. You aren’t nervous, are you, Chris?”
“Not very, with you, Adrian. After all, we are quite a harmless exploring couple. That is our excuse if anyone resents our trespassing.”
“That is the way to look at it,” said her husband, relieved. “Let us stop for a moment and see where we are.”
He gave the lantern to Christine and unfolded the parchment once more.
“That idol recess is marked, I see. We are more than half-way through. Do you notice that we get puffs of fresh air? I wonder how it is managed?” Adrian raised his lantern to the ceiling, but learned nothing. They stumbled on cautiously without further speech until Christine said she would like to rest, and hear more of what they were setting out to do.
“It is a pity that Rees is away,” said Adrian. “He would probably say this subterranean method is silly, and would ride into the town and find the Tahsildar. But Selby was urgent that I should not do that. For some reason he wished to avoid publicity, and said that traversing this passage was the worst part of what we had to do. With money in our hands the rest would be simple. We must be guided by circumstances.”
They got up after a while and walked on, not without misgivings, but at length arrived at the end of the passage. A door made of rough planks and fitted into grooves in the walls and ceiling barred the way. There was no handle or means of moving it.
“Supposing there is no one within hearing on the other side,” whispered Christine anxiously.
Adrian knocked loudly and waited. He knocked again and again.
“I shall have to go back for that pick, Chris,” he said.
“Oh, don’t, Adrian! I can’t stay here in the dark all alone.” Christine was really frightened now.
“Listen! I hear something.”
The sound was near at hand. Someone was dragging open the door at last. It slid slowly and clumsily back into its grooves, revealing a cellar-like room with one long slit of a window near the ceiling, through which faint moonlight was palely shining.
Adrian, lantern in hand, stepped through the doorway, and saw before him a young man, a short squat hillman, but dressed in a loin-cloth, and with his topknot covered by a turban, the costume of the plains. He had a scrap of paper with Selby’s writing: “Follow the bearer.” There was no sign of a zenana or women’s quarters of any kind.
“Whose premises are we on?” demanded the Englishman in Telugu. For only answer their guide shook his head, and opening his mouth, pointed in. It was with a shock of compassion that they saw he had no tongue.
As if the soft look of pity on Christine’s face touched some fountain of sorrow and ruth, the man, after listening intently for a moment, began vigorously signing to them to retrace their steps. He fell at their feet supplicating them by signs to save themselves and him. But retreat was impossible. They must go forward now.
So the dumb man rose to his feet and led the way through a second door, which led into an empty courtyard. Their lantern rays and the pale moonlight lit up the carved stone pillars which supported a balcony close railed with a wooden paling, zenana fashion. A pungent scent of spices burning in an unseen brazier assailed them, and they heard the distant throbbing of Indian drums. A brahmin priest passed through the courtyard and disappeared, and almost immediately Selby joined them. He came forward eagerly.
“Mrs. Scott, this is good of you!” he cried.
“I think it needs explaining,” said Adrian curtly.
“I am anxious to explain. Will you come upstairs?”
He turned and led the way up a steep unbalustraded brick stairway, and through a square-cut hole in the floor of the upper storey leading to a bare moonlit balcony.
“Amu is bringing chairs. I’m sorry to keep you standing, Mrs. Scott, but my tale is soon told. If, when you have heard me out, you are still willing to help me, I shall be very grateful. If not, you can get back to the tents without further delay. First I must tell you that I bought this house, such as it is, to make a home for my wife. She is an Indian lady, Mrs. Scott. We were married last year.”
“Oh, why did you not tell us before, Mr. Selby?” cried Christine warmly. “I should have come to see her long ago.”
“Thank you. I am sure of it, but my wife was shy of meeting strangers until she could speak English. And now I am a prisoner in this dreadful house. I am, as it were, bound hand and foot, and my wife is in the gravest danger. We are desperately in need of help---immediate help. We are bound body and soul. Your kind heart, Mrs. Scott, will show you the way to save her even yet!”
Adrian bit off an inclination to whistle. Was the man quite sane? He seemed free to come and go. He seemed in perfect health. Christine, however, would be better out of this, whatever Selby’s trouble was.
“When I brought my wife here last year from her native city,” he continued, “we thought we had cut loose from all her family entanglements. She was a brahmin, a widow, and free to settle her own affairs, but the priests of that place must needs follow us up. Her family guru is the most persistent. He got a footing in the house, and now he is master of it.”
Adrian raised his eyebrows and said nothing. Was Selby English that he could speak like that?
The latter paced the verandah floor in momentary silence, and again they heard the throbbing tom-toms.
When he next spoke it was with difficulty. “I want to ask you two English people who have lived in the daylight all your lives, do you believe in witchcraft and magic?”
“Do we, Chris?” asked Adrian, half-laughing.
“Yesterday I should have answered ‘no,’” said Christine, “but what about the snake-charmers and their earthquake, all to order, and the falling in of the fountain entrance?”
Selby startled them by a sudden exclamation. “What is that you are saying?” he demanded violently.
“Steady, old man!” said Adrian, as Christine’s face changed colour. “Someone seems to have damaged the opening by the fountain, for it all fell in after us. We can’t get back that way, I fear, without difficulty. We saw a pick lying on the ground, thrown down and forgotten.”
There was undoubtedly a strain of foreign blood in Selby. The Englishman in him seemed to vanish before their eyes, and a frenzied, lowering countenance confronted them, in which anger and fear strove for the mastery. Fear is selfish and cruel. Selfishness and cruelty looked out at them from his haunted eyes, but a spark of manhood still lingered.
“You must get back somehow, Scott. With that line of retreat open you were both quite safe tonight, but now I don’t know. Quick! there is no time to lose.”
“Come, with us!”
“The guru is with my wife. I can’t leave her, and I can’t get her away unseen. No; you must go, and leave us to our fate.”
On this Adrian began again to think the man was mad. There seemed no one about, and nothing of which to be afraid. Yet the heavy atmosphere became suddenly charged with mystery, and Selby was in a state bordering on terror. Then there was Amu. How had he lost his tongue?
“Come along, Chris, let’s be off.” Christine, nothing loath, hurried after her husband down the steep brick stairs as fast as semi-darkness would permit, across the courtyard and empty room, and into the passage. They pushed on past the shrine of Kali without speaking, and were making good progress when the lantern went out.
“Mati must have stolen the oil! I saw all the lamps filled this morning.”
“We have matches. Come along,” was all the answer Adrian made. As they stumbled on was it laughter that they heard behind them?
The end of the passage was reached at last, and a flare made by setting light to a handkerchief revealed the complete blockage of the entrance. The pick was out of sight, buried beneath the debris. There was nothing to do but to stumble back again with the aid of more matches; but now, as they neared the recess in which was the shrine of Kali, the light of a cresset shone out into the passage, and they heard the metallic clang of a temple bell.
“There is someone there,” said Adrian, much relieved. “I’ll soon have you out of this, Chris.” In the stronger light they proceeded quickly, and came to a standstill near the shrine. Christine caught at her husband’s arm and shrank close to his side, for there was something very gruesome in the scene before them. In her niche stood the ferocious four-armed spouse of shiva: Kali, the black one. The figure of the goddess seemed alive. The flickering light sent waves of apparent movement across her vermilion-painted face. Her eyes seemed alight with awful merriment. Het mouth appeared to widen in a cruel smile as her protruding tongue caught the gleam. With his back turned to them stood a man dressed in loin-cloth and sacred thread, ash-smeared across his chest and forehead---a priest of Kali-ma engaged in worship.
The Englishman interrupted him without ceremony. He had never yet been able to discover anything sacrosanct about an unclothed brahmin.
“Lo!* brother,” he called in Telugu. “Tell me how to get out of this place?”
The brahmin turned his back on Kali and came towards them. He displayed no surprise, and answered laconically:
“The dorai-gáru must return by the way he came.”
“That is impossible. You must show us another way.” A faint expression of satisfaction crept into the man’s face.
“Follow me, then, and keep close to the wall, for the shrine is holy.” He turned and led the way through the recess to the back of the image where there was a low door, and picking up the cresset, he preceded them through it and held the light high above his head.
They had emerged into a large stone chamber. The light revealed huge square-cut pillars carved in bold relief with the grotesque images of Hindu mythology. There was Indra, the king of the gods, seated on a recumbent elephant; the sun-god Surya in his chariot; and Yama, the king of the dead, with his awful noose. They were pillars of living rock, and only appeared to support the roof, which needed no support, being one with the solid earth. There were small rock-hewn rooms at the side of this hall, and from one of them emerged two saffron-robed devotees, with bald heads and deeply sunken eyes. They stood against the huge grotesque carving of the wall in silence.
A fresh reviving breeze blew in upon them here, and the priest led the way down the length of the hall, between the rows of pillars, to a carved square entrance. They found themselves on a small stone terrace. Adrian stepped out and looked about him. Below and on both sides he saw a perpendicular cliff-face carved by the hand of man in prodigal fashion. Every square foot was wrought into a sort of imagery, grotesque and ancient. The hillside above rose for a few yards only. The overhanging brow was covered with coarse grass and cactus bushes.
Adrian’s trained eye took in this much at a glance. He looked up to take his direction from the stars, but they were hidden by gathering storm-clouds. He turned to address the priest.
“How do we get into the town from here?” He found himself addressing space, for the priest had silently departed. Only Christine, white and tired, was at his side, and in the vast hall the motionless devotees still stood watching them. The cressets cast flickering shadows upon the carved figures, which seemed alive with sinister movement. Then suddenly, to their great relief, from out of the distant gloom came Selby and a woman. He drew his companion forward and presented her.
“This is my wife, and we hope you will accept out hospitality for the night.” His voice shook, in spite of a strong effort after self-control.
His companion came nearer, and with a graceful movement of bangled arms drew aside a sari of tawny brown and gold, and displayed a beautiful kindly face. She salaamed, and held out welcoming hands to Christine and led her across the hall, the two men following closely behind. It was clear that the Indian wife of Selby had not been touched by the fear that was making her husband even now moisten his dry lips before speech would come.
“Pull yourself together, man,” said Adrian, glancing at him. “Why do you live next door to such a place if it gets on your nerves like this?”
“Would to God we were well out of it!” returned the other.
“Bring Mrs. Selby and come back to our tents with us straight away, then. We can get through the town from your house. It can’t be far.” But the man only shook his head. “Would to God we could!”
The corridor they were now traversing led them by a different route. They did not pass the shrine of Kali, but, lighted by a cresset that the woman took from a wall niche, found their way up a long flight of shallow rock steps ending in an ordinary trap-door, which clanged to behind them. Very soon they were once again in the courtyard of Selby’s house.
“We are never alone. That is the curse of it. These priests are always watching us.”
Adrian looked up and saw the priest of Kali on the opposite side. Behind him was the short passage that would lead to the ordinary heavy iron-Studded house-door. It looked black in the gloom. The light flickered on the priest’s shaven head.
“Now let us be off home,” cried Adrian. “Persuade Mrs. Selby to come, Chris. We have left the tents and the child long enough.”
He stepped off the verandah curb into the courtyard, moving straight for the front door. The priest shifted a pace or two for him to pass, or to be himself beyond the reach of contaminating touch, no one cared which; and Adrian drew up sharply---confronted by an unbroken wall!
“Where’s the door?” he shouted, when his startled breath came back.
“That’s it, where is the door?” Selby’s voice behind him was full of bitterest disappointment. Adrian swung round to look at him.
“It is their witchcraft. We are like rats in a trap.”
“It was there a moment ago. I’ll find it, or know the reason why.”
But no amount of thumping disclosed the door. The wall appeared blank and unbroken. They wandered round into rooms on either side of the courtyard only to find that, Indian fashion, they had either no windows, or only tiny, high ventilators, and depended on the courtyard for light and air.
“Wake up, man, Selby! We can’t stay here all night. How did you get in?”
“I got in through the front door right enough,” said Selby moodily. “That was two days ago. I tell you what it is, Scott”---he caught Adrian’s arm with a shaking hand---“they are up to some devilry. They have bewitched us so that we cannot find the door, or they have bewitched the bricks and mortar so that the door has ceased to be. How could I tell that we should be priest-haunted when I rented this house?”
“How did you get word to me?"
“Amu managed it.”
“Let us call Amu, then. If he got out, we can.”
But Amu was nowhere to be seen, and the imprisoned people stared blankly at each other.
“Have you tried climbing on the roof?” cried Adrian in exasperation.
“It can’t be done. You’ll see by daylight. The wooden pillars of the verandahs are far in from the eaves. It is a tiled roof, not a cemented one.”
“There will be a hue and cry for us tomorrow,” said the Englishman. “Only a few hours remain until dawn. Perhaps my wife had better try and get some sleep.” He watched the ladies disappearing, and then sat down resignedly and took off his boots.
Christine never knew what happened in the next few hours. Her hostess gave her a rasái and pillows, but sleep was far from her. In the tents ayah and the other servants would be waiting, and wondering at their absence. Silvia might be calling for her. But there was nothing to be done now but to wait patiently for daylight. A little lamp lit the scantily furnished room, with its few mats and bolsters and stools, and she could hear Adrian’s voice not far away. At last her eyes closed and she slept.
She awoke with a feeling of oppression, of coming back to consciousness from an immense distance at great cost and difficulty, a struggling upwards to light and understanding. Her eyes opened. She could see, but could not move hand or foot. She was again in the large, hewn-out stone hall amongst the carved gigantic figures of India’s gods. Before her a yellow-robed ascetic had been making mystic passes with outstretched hands. Then she saw the others.
Selby and his Indian wife lay prone before a lighted shrine. A bell tinkled, a conch was blown, and something terrible was happening to them, for when they rose up and turned in her direction, their faces were not the faces she knew.
Fierce emotions raged there. Hate and lust and evil looked out of their bloodshot eyes. Demon-possessed they seemed, and though the wild, fierce gestures of the woman borrowed still a vestige of grace from her flowing draperies, Selby in his modern clothes looked wholly grotesque. Christine’s terrified gaze left them to fasten on Adrian, who was suddenly jumping to his feet not far away. He did not see her, but fully awake, spoke sharply to the swaying figure before him.
“Pull yourself together, you fool. We must get the women out of this. Where is Christine?”
Selby took no notice. His face, horribly distorted, was the face of a fiend, as he pointed to a naked, ash-smeared ascetic who was approaching Adrian with a cup in his hand and signing to him to drink. In another moment the ascetic and the cup were sent flying by a disdainful push of the Englishman’s arm. And then the yellow-robed priest turned and fixed mesmeric eyes upon him.
Christine, unable to move, saw Adrian glance round until his eyes were fixed upon the opening which led to the balcony on the carven precipice they had admired a few hours before. A look of surprise came into his face.
“Hullo, Christine!” he said. “You are out there! I didn’t know we could get into the street that way.”
He strode quickly forward, no one preventing him, and lightly vaulted over the low parapet. The priest and the faqir with a refilled cup turned to her. No one even glanced again at the balcony, but far below, at the feet of India’s gods, an Englishman had gone to a clean death, lord of his own soul to the last.
The numbness passed from her limbs. The power of speech returned. A shrill cry of terror rang out. “Adrian, Adrian!”
Christine sprang up. A very little more and she would lose her reason, but of one thing she was certain. To drink of that cup meant selling her soul to the devil. Evil unspeakable would possess her. Even now the other victims were losing before her very eyes all resemblance to the man and woman she knew.
“I will not drink it!” she cried, and for the second time the wooden cup was sent rolling and spinning upon the rock floor.
On that Selby’s wife had come to her. The erstwhile gentle hands were strong as steel springs. The flying brown-gold draperies were like clouds bewildering her. She was drawn through unspeakable horrors to the lighted shrine of Kali, and the steel hands tried to force her to her knees, to the ground in low obeisance. They succeeded, for at this point Christine fainted. She lay along the ground in merciful oblivion, while someone came and pressed with firm and purposeful hands a metal disc of ancient workmanship upon each pallid cheek.
A voice cried, “She is Kali’s own!” and the priest and ascetics took up the cry as they prostrated themselves before the image of the blood-thirsty demon, and the smoke from the wind-blown cressets mingled with the fumes of unholy incense.
*### * ***
A few days later Christine awoke in her own tent, weak and ill, but fully conscious. Tai was sitting by her bed waving a large palm-leaf fan. Her finger went to her lips as her mistress tried to speak. She saw no one else for two days, but she heard the servants’ subdued voices beyond the door-flaps as food and cooling drinks were sent in to her. She wondered idly where little Silvia was. Her face was sore and swathed in bandages. She did not enquire about it. Tai eased it with something soothing and said nothing. Christine lay and puzzled about Adrian’s long absence, but she did not ask for him. On the third day her mother came, bringing a doctor. The camp broke up, and she was moved by palanquin to her old home. Silvia was already there, having been taken by Mr. Rees himself.
When the invalid’s strength began to return and she was allowed to sit up in a long chair, she noticed that the mirror had gone from the room. She knew that there was something serious the matter with her face, and when Father Damien came to see her, questions she had not wished to ask her mother came crowding into her mind. Father Damien had come prepared to answer questions.
“Is Adrian dead, Padre?” she asked quietly. He nodded without speaking. How much did she know? The doctor had warned him not to outrun her knowledge too suddenly.
“Tell me how I was brought back here from that house in the city, Father Damien.”
“A man who was dumb came here the morning after you had gone, and made the servants understand that they were wanted. Mr. Rees took butler and Tai and followed the man through obscure streets to a house in the town. How you got there puzzled them completely. They had already sent out search-parties into the country round about. The servants said you had gone out for a moonlight stroll and had not returned, so Rees could only think that you had been kidnapped. When they found you an Indian woman was tending you who seemed in great trouble and distress of mind. The house had some English furniture in it, and English things about, but there were no servants except the dumb man Amu. The Indian woman was quite distracted.
“Ah! That was Mr. Selby’s wife.”
Mr. Damelin continued speaking in low, matter-of-fact tones.
“Butler procured a palanquin, and when you were safely in camp, Amu led him to a ravine, at the foot of which he found his master. It will comfort you, my child, to know that his passing had been instantaneous.”
Christine laid her face in her hands.
“Selby’s wife and Amu are under arrest,” he went on. “Selby had laid a dák to Bombay and was well on his way, but Rees sent a runner after him. He could not have known that his wife would be arrested.”
“He won’t come back,” said Christine, with a flash of intuition. At this moment she remembered him only as she had seen him nervously trying to hurry them away down the passage to the garden fountain. There were long blank spaces in her memory still.
The doctor, who had seen her scarred face, allowed no one but himself and Tai to dress it. The ayah, usually so talkative, was stricken into awed silence. “God help her to bear the shock when it must come,” said the doctor to Mrs. Seaton.
The day came, and with it Father Damien. Christine shut herself up with her grief and refused to be comforted. The memory of that fearful night came back with dreadful clearness, and she lay on her bed, hour after hour, stupid with horror.
Then the strong friend had taken her in hand. He drew from her every detail, pieced together what seemed incoherent raving, and soothed her with hope, and the need to live sanely for Silvia’s sake.
One day, in secret loneliness, Christine took off her bandages, and saw with horror-stricken eyes, tattooed indelibly on either cheek, the awful and foolish figure of Kali Maya.
Police investigation solved the mystery of the underground temple. Certain houses in the town were connected by a network of secret passages with a small Hindu Buddhist rock-hewn chaitya or temple, opening on the face of a carved precipice. The secret of these alleys had been strictly kept by the brahmins, but when it suited their purpose, Selby had been made to send Adrian the plan of the exit into the old Moghul rose-garden beyond the town. A sept of yogis, fanatical and occult, whose tentacles reached out through the Hindu community by means of the gurus, or family priests, had taken possession of the temple. Adrian had innocently aroused their enmity, and was marked on his forehead for service to the goddess. Selby’s wife was in their power, and partly under their influence. Selby had, it seemed, sold his honour to them in exchange for knowledge, and had become their tool and victim. Amu, the devoted slave of the brahmin wife, was afraid of Selby, for far into hot still nights he had watched him, unseen himself, performing strange pujás, muttering strange mantras,3 comparing parchments marked with Strange figures. The dumb hill-man, who knew not of the existence of a continent called Africa, could not know that the comparison of Indian magic and African voodoo sorceries had been at first Selby’s hobby, then his undoing.
Whether or not there existed malign spirits behind these evil things, Selby had come to embody them in his mind as real and powerful. The blood of some remote African ancestor circulated in his brain. He had listened to its attractive whisper even when his European blood had called a halt, and bidden him lay aside these studies as puerile and unclean. His Indian wife had not been afraid. Indeed, to her the search for knowledge of gods and their ways with men shone as virtue. If they pleased and honoured the gods, great would be their reward both here and after death. She had great personal need of all that the gods could do on their behalf, for she had, for Selby’s sake, broken through her obligation of perpetual religious widowhood. She had been out-casted and reviled for his sake. She had bereft herself of relatives and shelter, and had not regretted it. There had been one exception, for her family guru had followed them to the new house that had been purchased. (He had known the former owner, and had pulled all the strings of the transaction.) His suave flattery and friendliness had been very welcome, for he was a link with her own Hindu world of thought. She could not suspect falseness who had never practised it, or bitter antagonism and hatred when she had never harboured unkind thoughts. But her brain had reeled and her soul had become sick unto death when the frenzy of that fearful night had subsided, and she saw with sober eyes and knew with sober knowledge that she had skirted the very mouth of hell. Life with that behind her was impossible. Her next incarnation could not be worse, it might be better; therefore “Áfium” the sleep-bringer must come to her aid.
Her husband’s train of thought had been far more tortuous and less free from misgiving. For a long while he had been conscious of powers outside himself and beyond his handling which struck across his path from time to time, most sinister when apparently most meaningless. For instance, the family guru could read his thoughts and often when these thoughts were simple and disconnected, the inscrutable eyes quietly fixed upon him would make them join together like a puzzle picture, and a ready-made plan to be worked out and carried forward sprang into his mind.
The survey camp’s appearance in the vicinity was a pleasant enough surprise. To lead an Englishman’s open life again amongst other Englishmen came to him as a healthy relief, and the hope that young Mrs. Scott would befriend his wife was a sincere one. But hard upon the heels of their arrival, as if indeed it had been the signal for some intangible web to be drawn closer, the guru’s eyes became more troublesome, the very house seemed bewitched in order to thwart his outgoing. He was beginning to doubt his own senses, and how would that end?
He thought of Adrian with a great desire to unburden himself of all the occult knowledge he possessed, to talk it all over with someone beyond its confines, to bring it into the light of day and then leave it alone for ever. At this time Amu had picked up an old yellow piece of parchment, covered, it had seemed, with the dust of ages in some long unswept corner, which soon gave up its secret, the passage to the old Moghul rose-garden, to his expert eye. He hastened to explore it, but never got further than the shrine of Kali. The passage ended there for him in a wall of solid earth. On hearing this Amu shook his head in perplexity, for he had gone without difficulty to the end. That very day the front door had disappeared completely, and Selby’s nerves were thoroughly shaken. Then the guru’s eyes were turned his way, and he remembered the episode at the village festival, where Adrian had been marked by the nautch-girl with the blood sign of the goddess. A certainty grew in his mind that Adrian would be powerful to help him. He was initiated into Kali’s worship. He had borne her mark. His eyes would be as the eyes of the goddess herself. Here Selby stopped short abruptly in his reverie. Was he a Hindu that he should think like this? The goddess was an idol. Her priests were only men, and bad ones at that. How could he, an Englishman, be such a fool? But the door had vanished, and the guru stood near where it should have been, smiling a slow smile.
Before the police investigation Selby disappeared and thus escaped arrest. His Indian wife, poor beautiful creature, effected her own escape by the aid of a pellet of opium. Amu was released, for from him no information was to be gained, and later on he attached himself to Christine and would take no denial.
Another year passed by, and Christine’s parents died within a month of each other. Mr. Damelin tried to persuade her to take Silvia to England, but this she refused to do, or even to meet people. She hid herself and her face in absolute retirement. She even threatened to destroy herself if she could not be hidden. There was a strain of madness in this, but by the doctor’s advice he had promised to honour her privacy, hoping that time would work a change. Her one desire was to live in seclusion, so her friend made arrangements for her to take Silvia and Tai and Amu to the lonely bungalow by the seashore, hoping that it would not be for long. But year succeeded year and no change came in her determination. He arranged his work in a way that left him free to come and go; to try, as far as lay in his power, to save the child from being wholly sacrificed.
Now, on this evening so many years later, when the baby daughter was a woman grown, Christine sat reviewing her life with all its perplexity and strangeness.
As she waited there, with the recurring boom of the great waves breaking on the beach, so familiar and so unnoticed, and with the sea-breeze blowing in upon her and causing the lamp to flare and smoke, a feeling of compunction crept over her. Was she indeed guilty of cruel selfishness to her daughter? Had she considered her when as a little child incapable of choosing for herself she had brought her to share this isolation? At first she had thought only of herself. The mental shock she had received had filled her with one dominant, all-compelling idea. Since she might not die, death in life should be her portion. Hitherto Silvia had seemed quietly content. Her companionship had eased the mother’s strain, and their few interests had been wholly shared. As a matter of fact, Christine, without knowing it, was recovering her poise. At this moment she could almost forget what had been her secret obsession, that somehow and for some obscure spiritual reason, the powers of evil had fastened upon her as a victim. She, Christine, had been singled out, and driven away, another Cain, branded with this infamous mark of the Beast.
The light began to flicker out. The oil was exhausted in the lamp. Christine lit a protected night-light, and slowly prepared for bed.
Silvia left the bungalow while the sun was still below the horizon. She had a few cool hours before her, and enjoyed the fresh dawn wind blowing strongly over the level land. Leaving the sea behind she wandered over the coarse grass, dreaming, as she often dreamed, of a life very far removed from this, a life peopled with men and women, who were doing the deeds and thinking the thoughts of which she read in books. The birds were hardly disturbed by her passing. Squirrels and chameleons stopped their frisking to watch her. Silvia did not even see them, so abstracted were her thoughts, until she reached an inlet of the backwater, where under a thatched shelter lay a little coracle. She loosed it and pushed it out into the shallow stream with a deft paddle, disturbing tiny brilliantly coloured fish of strange shapes at the sandy margin.
The girl was not unhappy, but her mind was filled with a yearning restlessness, an immense questioning. She sometimes felt now that she must wander away and away, and seek an answer for herself. As far as eye could see was rough, broken, unprofitable country. The backwater lay placidly reflecting the blue sky, with morning ripples playing over its surface, but it led her nowhere. It was not large, and at the outlet where it joined the sea were only a few fishers’ huts similar to those she knew. Still the fisher people did sometimes journey inland. She would go with them! But could she? What of the sun? And what about food? No, she would wait for the coming of the carts, and contrive to slip away then. But how could she leave her mother? Where would the carts take her? And what would she do when she arrived anywhere? With a sigh the bewildered girl gave up the notion as too difficult. She must stay where she was then, and read and sew until she died.
The coracle shot out from the narrow inlet into the middle of the broader water, and at that moment the sun rose over the sea and touched the world with splendour. Colour deepened all around---gold and blue and emerald. Silvia loved colour. Her paddle rested, and dripped unheeded into her tiny craft while she drank in the fresh beauty of the well-known scene. Gulls flew across the intervening land to the open sea. A kite poised in the golden air, and a blue jay alighted and began foraging for food among the cunning grasshoppers.
Her gaze wandered along the margin of the water until, with arrested breath, she saw what she had never seen before---a young man with face and hair the colour of her own. He was nearly dressed after bathing. A towel lay at his feet, and at sight of her he hastily struggled into a coat.
It would be difficult to say which of them was mote startled. To Owen Rees, this unlooked-for apparition of a golden girl was bewildering. He remembered that he had not yet shaved; that his coat pocket was badly torn; that his shoes had not been pipe-clayed for a week. To Silvia the sight of him marked an epoch. If he had dropped from Mars she could not have been more surprised. She held her paddle poised. Her little skiff was almost motionless, then it slowly turned in the wind until she was facing the inland shore and opposite the stranger.
Young Rees suddenly realized that he was frankly staring, and had made no salutation. He bowed, rather sheepishly, but the girl made no movement. Perhaps she had not noticed. He picked up his sun-helmet and raised it with a flourish. She must see that surely.
Silvia waved her hand in reply, as she was accustomed to wave to Father Damien, and waited for the stranger to speak. Owen found this unusually difficult, so unexpected was the encounter in this deserted place. “Where do you come from?” sounded inquisitive. “Do you live near here?” sounded inane. “Who are you?” sounded cheeky, so he said, “How do you do!”
Silvia listened to the pleasant young voice, but had no use for the remark. It was in her first French Reader, and led nowhere. She kept her boat steady with a touch of her paddle, but when the stranger stepped down to the water’s edge, she silently backed away.
“Good-morning,” said Owen. “May I help you to land?”
“No, thank you,” she called out, finding her voice at last. Then behind him she noticed a tethered pony. He must have come by the way that Father Damien came, and with that thought she roused herself and shot across the blue water to her creek and was hidden from view by the tall reeds.
Rees, watching the spot where she had been lost to view, began to think he was dreaming. Who and what was she? Where did she live? Could it be in that solitary, derelict bungalow which the sunlight now revealed to him amongst the distant palm-trees? He mounted his pony to ride round the end of the backwater and follow her, but checked himself at the thought that it might annoy her. The sun, too, was getting hot, and he had a long ride before he could reach his tent for breakfast. There was, however, no reason why he should not bathe here every morning. Or, perhaps, not bathe, he would fish!
Silvia tied up her boat and ran home, yellow draperies flying. Her mother and Father Damien were not in the bungalow. She saw them walk-ing along the shore deep in conversation, and, heedless of Tai’s “Missy, bath ready,” ran through the house and along the sands. They saw her coming, and Christine stopped short with a fast-beating heart. What could have happened on that dreaming shore to rouse the child from her languid listlessness?
“Mother!” she called, between her panting breaths. “Mother, I’ve seen a man!”
“The carts!” exclaimed Father Damien.
“They are a week too soon.”
“A man, Padre! Like you, in a sun-topi!”
“An Englishman!” Christine gasped, and though her face was hidden in its burqa-like sheath, she swayed uncertainly, and sat down upon the sand.
Silvia was dancing with excitement.
“Where is he?”
“I left him at the backwater. He talked to me. He began at the very beginning and said, ‘How do you do?’” Silvia dropped on the sand at her mother’s side and went off into a peal of laughter.
“How did he come, Silvia?"
“He had a pony."
“Didn't you ask him where he came from?"
“No; I couldn't think of suitable words," said the girl quaintly.
“Well, we must go in now. The sun is getting too high for your unprotected heads." Father Damien gave Christine a hand to help her to rise, and then took her arm under his.
“Run on ahead, my child," he added. "I want to speak to your mother."
Silvia flitted away, and he turned to his companion.
“The world is beating at your door, Christine. It is astonishing to me that this has not happened sooner. But now we have reached a turning-point, and must think how we are to meet new circumstances. India is shrinking every year, what with new railways and canals and trunk roads. Your isolation was bound to be broken into sooner or later.”
“I thought things out last night, Father Damien,” Christine answered. “Perhaps I have done wrong all these years, but, indeed, I could not help it. Now I begin to feel differently. The fear and terror are leaving me, and there is Silvia’s life to consider. If I were to die, what would happen to her?”
“I have never seen your face since the accident, Christine. Will you make a brave beginning now and show it to me?”
Christine shrank away.
“It is the mark of the Beast! How can I show you?”
Father Damien replied in level, matter-of-fact tones. “There is something tattooed on your cheeks, I gather, but why should you call it the mark of the Beast? That is a mark upon our souls, my dear. I’ve seen plenty of tattooing. It isn’t pretty. It is sometimes grotesque, but it is only skin deep after all. If you can once make the effort, you will have won the victory.”
Christine turned away from him, and stood looking at the sea. She remained silent for a while. Father Damien could only guess at her mental struggle.
“When you see it you will think me accursed, Father,” she whispered.
“That could not possibly be, I know you too well. Your life here has been harmless, although, forgive me, perhaps staying so long has been selfish. Make the effort, Christine; make it now.”
He watched her breathlessly as her thin hands stole slowly to the border of her enveloping disguise. Slowly she raised it. The sheath of white calico gradually peeled off, until with a final effort it was shaken clear of her head and thrown to the ground.
Then Christine turned to her friend and stood silently before him, with dark eyes full of anguished questioning. Would horror or disgust creep into his countenance? Ah! Then she would know the extent of her curse.
Father Damien saw before him the ghost of the young woman he remembered long ago. Snow-white hair, skin like blue-veined marble dark eyes full of feeling---he saw it all, and on either cheek the cause of all this woe. He stepped nearer to her, and placing a kind hand on her shoulder, examined the marks with the assumption of quite natural interest and curiosity. He did not make the mistake of belittling the disfigurement. She would see through that and gain from him no comfort. Instead he displayed a lively concern.
“You poor Christine!” he said. “I see what it is, a heathen tattoo of some kind. If you had more colour in your face it would not show out so much. We must see what can be done for it. But, my dear, it is emphatically not a thing to be ashamed of, except as a disfigurement. If we knew all, it is perhaps the mark of a martyr.”
His kind eyes looked down into hers, and Christine, feeling suddenly happy, stooped to pick up and readjust her wrap.
After breakfast Father Damien called for his pony, saying he intended to see for himself who Silvia’s man might be. His pupil watched him start with lively interest, but her mother withdrew to her room to rest and think. Changes were imminent, and she did not feel ready to meet them. She could not suddenly take up the thread of ordinary life. Where would they live? How would they be received? How were they to buy clothes? Would she have enough money? These difficulties would be as yet quite beyond Silvia’s comprehension. She had seldom seen money, and her clothes were all one pattern. Perhaps Father Damien could find them a cottage in some hill station, where Silvia would meet other girls and learn to become like them.
The Padre jogged along through the scrub at an easy pace, keeping a look-out for signs of strangers. He came upon some tents a few miles away. It was not a large camp. The tents were small and serviceable. A few servants and a syce emerged as he drew near. An Englishman also emerged and came forward to meet him.
“Morning, sir,” said he cheerfully. “May I offer you some breakfast, or lager beer?”
“Many thanks, I have breakfasted, but I could do with a drink.” Mr. Damelin gave his pony to the syce and held out a friendly hand to his host of the moment, who turned to where deck-chairs and a table stood beneath the raised door-flap.
“Take the chair, sir. Boy, fetch a stool. I smashed my second deck-chair only yesterday, and thought it wouldn’t matter much. Do you live in these parts?”
“I’m staying with friends. Just nowadays I am a sort of free-lance missionary. You, I presume, are in one of the services?”
“No such luck. I’m a free-lance amateur archaeologist. My pater finances me, he is so keen on it. He left India years and years ago when I was a kiddy at school. Our fellows are coming in a few days. I came on ahead to make enquiries and collect evidence.”
“Of what are you in search?”
“Our people believe there is an ancient temple in this neighbourhood, older than the ruins at Ennore near Madras. What is your opinion?”
“I can’t say that I know the district very thoroughly, but I’ve not seen any sign of a temple or of ruins. This part would be too far north to be included in the great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar, I suppose. That extended, you will remember, from Kistna to Cape Comorin before it was overthrown by the Muslims in the sixteenth century, and in the Bellary district there are extensive remains of a great city in late Dravidian style.”
“Yes, I’ve seen them.”
“This part is quite uninhabited except for the fishermen along the coast.”
“Is there a mission station there?”
“Oh no. Nothing of that sort.”
Mr. Damelin looked up suddenly and smiled as he surprised the look of intense curiosity on the young man’s face.
“My friends are two ladies who live there all alone.”
“Yes, a Mrs. and Miss Scott. They have lived there for many years. The mother is somewhat of an invalid. I stay with them constantly.”
“I suppose it was Miss Scott whom I met this morning?”
“Yes, there is no one else.”
Owen Rees stared into the sunshine. He wanted to ask questions, but his dignified guest might resent them.
“You had better stay, sir, until the afternoon. I can give you old papers and magazines to read. Here are my cheroots, and there is my camp-bed. Perhaps I may be allowed to ride back with you this evening?”
“Isn’t it rather far for an evening call? Come over in the morning. I’ll look out for you at the backwater.”
“Thanks. I’ll do that. And, by the way, I have not told you my name. Rees, Owen Rees.”
“Rees! I know the name. I knew a man named Rees many years ago in the Archaeological survey.”
“That was my pater. Odd that you should know him, Mr.---?”
“Damelin. Yes, I met him out Narayanpalli way about sixteen years ago. I had friends in those parts, and one in especial who was working with your father at the time. Adrian Scott. Did you ever hear of him?”
“Any relation of your friends here? Yes, my father spoke of him sometimes. Didn’t he come to a mysterious end or something?”
“He was murdered. We never found out who was guilty, or why Scott was the victim. Somehow he and his young wife became mixed up in some Hindu intrigues and sorceries. He was killed, and she was branded. That is why she lives here in solitude. They seem to have been the victims of unscrupulous mesmerism. Did your father ever come across that sort of thing elsewhere?”
“I’ll write and ask him. But what a tragedy!”
“I mention it so that you will not be surprised that poor Mrs. Scott veils herself. She may not feel inclined to meet you tomorrow.”
Rees nodded thoughtfully and said nothing. Since coming to India he had realized the sadness of broken and hidden lives. There were men and women in lonely hill valleys amongst the great mountain ranges, living unknown and unwanted, but of all the sad tales he had ever heard this was the saddest and strangest.
Silvia was up earlier than usual the following morning. She had awakened with the feeling that it was a day of days. She was to meet someone from the great unknown world, to talk to one who might have stepped out of any of her books, one who had done things and seen things of which she had only read. She stood on the landward verandah, and shaded her eyes to scan the empty distance. Once she ran out in the direction of her little boat-house, but hesitated, she knew not why, and came slowly back to the house.
Tai also was excited, and hurried Amu through his morning duties with quite vehement gestures. For the sake of her mistresses Tai had settled down in the wilderness, but no one knew how homesick she had sometimes been for her old life, for the scents and sounds of the bazaars, the gossip around the servants’ camp fire behind the tents, the chaffering with hawkers, and managing of household funds. She cooked a good fish molee for breakfast, and took infinite trouble with the coffee. If a young Master was coming, of course he would marry Missy, and Tai must uphold the honour of the bride’s family.
Having jumped to this hasty conclusion she looked up at Missy, who was restlessly pacing from room to room, and for the first time became dissatisfied with the Indian sari Missy was wearing, and the Indian fashion of her hair. She shook her head and pondered. What would young Master make of it? Would he think her young Missy was country-born, and not real English Missy? Tai sighed as she thought of the risks to Silvia’s chance of pleasing him. Yet she could do nothing. The English clothes had long since disappeared, and the ladies had worn saris for several years.
When Father Damien went down to the back-water, Christine set out the embroidery frames and called Silvia indoors. They made an effort to work, but not a very successful one. Silvia’s deft fingers were contrary this morning, and Christine’s shaking hands were useless.
“What shall I say to him, Mother?”
“Say anything that you would say to Father Damien. This Mr. Rees is much younger, but he will talk about the same things. Don’t speak too much, Silvia. Listening is easier, and will be safer until you know him.”
“It will be easier, I’m sure! Oh, there they are! Mother, what shall* I say?”
The ponies drew near, and voices sounded at the verandah steps. The two men, talking cheerfully, came into the bungalow. With an effort known only to herself Christine rose and held out a hand to the stranger. Her knees shook under her, and she did not stir to meet him, but young Rees strode forward and took her hand. The strange veiled figure filled him with a shocked surprise. Then he turned to Silvia.
“This is my daughter. This is Mr. Rees, Silvia.”
The girl held out a hand in silence.
Owen Rees, on his part, could think of no remark worth making. He was not usually at a loss, but he saw before him now two ladies whose lives had been of the strangest. One of them was veiled, and the other was the prettiest girl he had ever seen --- a vision of gold, who looked him frankly in the face and smiled.
Father Damien handed Christine to a chair and sat down beside her. This critical situation must be kept normal. This great first effort of hers must be made a successful one.
“Mr. Rees says the survey party are only a few days’ journey away, and may be expected in the neighbourhood soon. Will they camp where you are now, Rees?”
“No, I’m striking camp tomorrow and going further south. I’ve quartered the ground near my present camp, but somewhere near it to the southward we hope to find traces of a buried temple. We hear persistent rumours of it. A quaint old sádhu came to see me yesterday with some ancient parchments. We had them all spread out, and my camp servants tried to help me with his language. He seemed anxious to stay, but the chuprassi, and my Boy, and the tent-men wished for either the camp or the sádhu to be shifted. This old man has planted himself beneath a tree, with his belongings all about him and I think he means to stay there.”
Christine shivered but remained silent. Silvia listened with a puzzled expression creeping into her face, which Rees noted, but could not account for. He did not realize how new to her were even the tones of a strange voice, and that his idioms were like another language. How could a sádhu plant himself?
The breakfast which Tai announced to be ready was delicious, well-cooked and well served, and Owen saw with secret amazement that there seemed no servants but this old ayah woman, and a helper behind the scenes, a queer dumb man-of-all-work.
“It is quite easy to see that there are ladies here,” he remarked to his silent partner. “My camp fare is different from this.”
“Why is that?” ventured Silvia in a soft tentative voice.
“There is no one to see that it is properly served, but we shall have a lady in our party when the rest of the camp arrives. My chief’s wife has just returned from England.”
“What is she like?”
“I have never met her. Their name is Campion. She has brought out their youngest kiddy.”
“Kiddy?” said Silvia.
“Child,” said Rees, smiling at her.
“Oh!” said Silvia and was silent again. Hitherto she had only seen the native fisher-children, solemn, and only too often, unhealthy little folk, squatting in the sand and playing with shells and small crabs. Skin diseases and swollen bodies were frequent amongst them. She much preferred the bright-eyed, skipping little kids which frisked around Amu’s goats, and would sometimes take food from her hands.
Rees glanced across the table, drawn by the dark eyes that watched him from behind the white head-dress on the older lady. He saw that she was not eating, and noticed for the first time how immovable was her burqa-like sheath. An uncomfortable silence fell.
“Will you go out on to the verandah?” said Christine at last. You can smoke there, and we will join you presently. Come, Silvia.”
They passed out of the room, and Christine entered her own, whither Tai followed her with a tray. Silvia sat down near her embroidery frame in the sitting-room, and the two men passed her on their way to the verandah. The sea-breeze carried the smoke of their cheroots into the room, and the girl, after knotting and tangling her silk in an unaccountable way, soon gave it up and went to the window-door. Rees rose to his feet, and Father Damien, reaching across to another chair, pulled it into a comfortable position for her.
Silvia sat down and gazed out to sea. A far-off, dreamy look came into her face. The wind lifted her hair and played amongst the soft folds of her yellow sari. Her pose was instinctive, for she had never seen another woman of her own age, and the blend of natural and acquired manners so inevitable in other girls was entirely absent. Yet every movement was graceful.
“I wonder she can stick it,” thought Owen. “What does she do all day? What does she think about? I’m afraid that pretty head must be rather empty.”
He rose and knocked his cheroot ashes over the balustrade edge, only to get them blown back over his jacket. The sun was getting hot, and he must be off. Father Damien passed through the bungalow to call for the pony, and the young people were left alone together.
“When Mrs. Campion arrives, will you come and visit our camp, Miss Scott?”
“Miss Scott?” repeated Silvia, puzzled. “Oh, I’m Miss Scott! How funny! This is the first time I have ever been called so. I am ‘Silvia’ to Mother and Father Damien, and ‘Missy’ to Tai.”
“And you have never met anyone else?”
“No,” said Silvia simply. “I read about people, and long to meet them, and now at last I have met you. I have seen no English women at all, for I have not really seen Mother since I was a little child. Will they be like me?”
A compliment rose to Owen’s lips, but remained unspoken. He thought to himself, “I hope to goodness Mrs. Campion is one of the right sort. If she is stiff and unsympathetic, or if she is vain and selfish, this child will learn nothing and be made miserable.”
He rode back to camp in the growing heat across the thirsty scrub, his thoughts busy with those he had just left, and he determined to do his utmost to try and ease the self-chosen rigour of the mother’s lot, and to bring her back to civilization and common human interests; and to bring this banished girl into his world, to watch her becoming an ordinary mortal girl, a comrade and friend, and less of a fairy visitant with thoughts he could not fathom.
Near his tent the pony shied, for the sádhu was seated on his tiger-skin, half hidden by a thorn bush near the track, which was no track, but a sandy nullah. He seemed lost to the world around him, his forehead fresh covered with ash-smears, a wisp of loincloth and a necklet of little brown berries his sole clothing.
The rider pulled up and watched him. The fixed stare from the unwinking eyes did not waver. The thin hands resting on the knees of the crossed legs did not move. The rigid body seemed almost untenanted by its soul.
“How are we to understand such people?” thought the young man as he passed on. “He seems harmless enough. I won’t have him molested. He can stay here if he wants to when we strike camp tomorrow.”
“Very good, sar,” said his Boy, hearing these sentiments when getting Master’s tea; but later on in the tattie cooking-shed his attitude was somewhat different, as he and the cook sat smoking their Coconada cigarettes.
“Bubbles do not rise to the surface unless the bottom is reached,4 Tambi (little brother). What is the holy one here for? Answer me that.”
“Why make a crow out of a feather, Appa? One holy man is of no consequence. He is like a pepper-corn in the tooth of an elephant. The big Master and the big camp will be arriving soon, and perchance this holy one may be truly holy and not, as you think, a worker of bad magic.”
“The paddy-bird is a saint, yet it kills fish,” grunted Boy, and they smoked in silence until with yawns and shaking down of hair-knots each rolled himself in a sheet, head and all, and went to sleep.
Then, and then only, when the camp was still, and even the chaukidar on duty outside Master’s tent was asleep, did the sádhu, with a cautious glance around, bestir himself from his cramped position, and, fetching a compass which enabled him to circle the complete camp, paced it with measured paces and with muttered mantras---words of rhyming nonsense, could anyone have heard them. But the sádhu was entirely in earnest. At the four cardinal points of the camp he stooped and buried an extraordinary assortment of bones, including the feet bones of dead men, for he had been sent out by a holy brahmin conclave to weave spells round this camp, to drive it from the spot within seven days. When he returned to his tiger-skin, a platter of cooked food stood near it. Someone, then, had been wakeful, but the eyes of the truly pious are holden, and would not impiously spy upon him. The sádhu stretched himself out beneath the stars and slept, and Boy, watching furtively through a slit in his close-drawn sheet, felt relieved and slumbered also.
“Is that your sádhu friend?”
Campion of the Archaeological Survey turned in his deck-chair under the flap of Owen’s tent, and looked across the glaring foreground in the direction to which his companion pointed. He had sent forward a runner in time to prevent Rees striking camp, and had himself ridden on ahead of the rest of his party. His wife in her dhooly was resting during the heat of the day with her servants beneath a shady mango tope. They would be joined there by the slow camp carts, and would endeavour to hurry them on to their destination in time for the tents to be set up before nightfall.
The sádhu sat cross-legged beneath his thorn bush, with his hands upon his knees, looking at the end of his nose, and beginning to disbelieve his own spell.
“Where does he come from?”
“I should think most probably from the temple of Jagannath in Orissa, but Boy says that when he was in Hardwar with his last master thousands of sádhus came there from all parts for the Kumbh Mela, but he can’t say to which of the septs this one belongs. There were Nirbanis and Bairagis, Buddi Udasis and Chota Udasis and Numballas. Police were drafted into the town to keep order. The Mela does not last long, fortunately. They and the pilgrims come from all parts of India. They come and go by road and rail.
“We’ll go to Hardwar one of these days, and see what information we can glean.”
“What about this locality?”
“There seems nothing here. When Mrs. Campion is rested I propose that we go further south. I’ve ridden to the coast. For miles there are only fisher-folk, until we touch the fringe of cultivation again. But there was a time when this part was not so deserted. I found these in the sand one day.”
He turned to a locked dispatch box and produced a handful of small gold bangles and anklets, and from a rupee-bag, fastened with one red tape, shook out a few forehead ornaments and chains such as Hindu women wear.
“Where did you find these?”
“Do you see that solitary casuerina? Due south of that my pony stumbled amongst buried building debris; I found these and kept them ‘chup.’ The debris looked like the ruins of a small shrine. I don’t think these trinkets have been lying loose for very long. They are not over-much tarnished. The theory I formed was that the temple had fallen into disuse and disrepair, and that the roof had fallen in quite recently and smashed open some coffer or recess in which they had been deposited. They are not ancient, are they, sir?”
“I think not, but how came they there in such an uninhabited spot? No one but coast fisher-men about?”
Campion turned round in his deck-chair to look at him.
“Explain,” he remarked laconically.
“Well, there is a bungalow by the seashore.”
“Well! Out with it!”
“Two English women live there.”
Campion turned his eyes away, and got up. He thought: “Poor chap, he has had a touch of the sun. These boys never will take proper care of themselves.”
“He thinks I’ve gone off my dot.” Owen grinned to himself. “Well, let him!”
The carts came creaking in at last, in the late afternoon, and the tents were up and dinner ready by the time Mrs. Campion’s dhooly swung into sight. The curtains were drawn back, and a cheerful-faced woman holding a two-year-old boy smiled and waved to them. Her English colour was still bright upon her cheeks, and the boy was the picture of health. Campion steadied the dhooly as the bearers shifted the poles from their padded shoulders, and Owen lifted the child out, and was duly introduced.
“Ayah losted, Daddie,” chirped the boy in his father’s arms.
“He can talk?” cried Owen.
“He’ll talk your head off,” said his father. “What have you done with poor ayah, son?”
Mrs. Campion answered.
“Ayah’s dhooly ought to have kept up with us, but of course she is heavy. Still, I had the boy, and they had the odd man to relieve them.”
“I dare say she isn’t far behind. We’ll take charge of him while you get ready for dinner. There is another half hour of daylight yet before we need send out lanterns to meet her.”
The boy was undressed and put to bed, and dinner long since over before the gleam of lanterns reappeared, preceding ayah’s dhooly through the star-lit dark. Why the delay? Ayah was voluble with indignation, the bearers sullen and perplexed.
“I velly sensible, sar. Mary Ayah good Christian. Not ’fraiding pujá-men. Plenty hum-bug making those heathen people all. I telling, ‘My master and my missis plenty angry getting.’ ‘Go on quickly,’ I telling those donkey people. They ’fraiding, much ’fraiding.”
The bearers had gone aside, and finding the cook at the edge of the lantern-light, were all talking at once with much gesture. Ayah had more to say.
“Across the path some pujá-mark done put, sar. Nothing at all. I not ’fraiding. These men not crossing. Carrying dhooly off path. Long way round coming. Shaking, shaking. Ayyo! hundred times shaking!”
“Poor Ayah! Well, get your rice now. Little Master is asleep and Missis will excuse you tonight. You will be rested by the morning.”
The Campions had been settled down for some days before Father Damien rode across the scrub to make his salaams. They took to each other at first sight. Campion wondered where he had sprung from. He had not given a second thought to Rees’ talk of a bungalow and English women, beyond commenting to his wife on Owen’s health.
“I am staying with friends on the coast,” said the visitor. “You have heard of them from Rees, no doubt?”
Husband and wife looked at each other, and Mr. Damelin caught a slight grin on Owen’s face. He misunderstood it and stiffened.
“I am, however, leaving shortly, and you, no doubt, are constantly moving camp and will soon be much further south,” he said coldly.
There was a short silence. Campion hastened to break it.
“Rees said he had met two ladies, but we thought he had invented them. The illusions of loneliness, poor chap, and all that!” His disarming smile relieved the tension.
“I see,” said his guest apologetically. “But, Mrs. Campion, my friends are very lonely indeed, and if you will be so good, it will be a real kindness to break in on their seclusion.”
“A mystery, Mr. Damelin?”
“Well, an extraordinary story lies behind it all. The upshot is that the mother is only just emerging from a state at one time not far removed from insanity, and the daughter, a charming girl, has been hidden away in complete isolation, and she is now eighteen.”
“She needs a woman friend more than anyone I have ever known,” he said, looking at Mrs. Campion with questioning eyes; and she answered with a smile full of kindly resolve. “Thank God she is the right sort,” he thought, and turned to speak to the child who was watching him with grave interest.
“Shall I go over in the dhooly to see them?” asked the child’s mother.
“As a first step, may I bring Silvia to you? We have talked it over, and her mother feels unequal at present to coming with her. Did Rees describe her to you?”
“I’m afraid I didn’t give him a chance,” said his chief.
“She has a badly scarred face, which has so worked upon her mind that she thinks that it implies a curse upon her. She has worn a head covering for many years. Silvia, even, has not seen her since babyhood.”
“What caused it?”
“I must tell you the whole story some day.”
“You may rely on us to help you,” said Mrs. Campion warmly. “Poor things! I’ll do my very best to befriend them. And here comes tiffin.”
Silvia in her little skiff was keeping it just off the shore of the shimmering backwater. Owen Rees, armed with fly fishing-rod, was standing on the margin. He was making casts, but with no expectation of catching anything, for the ripples from Silvia’s paddles effectually frightened the fish away. He did not tell her this.
“I can’t see anything,” he remarked, shading his eyes with his hand and scanning the clear distance.
“There they are,” said Silvia, pointing. “I can hear them too.”
There came the faintest echo of a cart-man’s cry, and a creak of wheels. Something almost imperceptible moved between the clumps of prickly pear bushes and spiky aloes. A little sand was blown away behind it.
“What good eyesight you have!”
“We live for the coming of the carts,” she said simply, lowering her bright gaze to her companion’s face.
“Great heavens!” he said to himself. This girl, for all the years of her remembered life, had had this for her only excitement---the coming of the carts!
The coracle shot away from the shore. She did not invite him to the bungalow, so Owen wound up his line, untethered Nelson, the pony, and rode slowly campwards. After a while he met the creaking carts. The drivers were sitting on the cross-poles, from whence it was easy to dig strong toes into the flanks of the lazy bullocks. There was no track; the beasts floundered about, making a way for themselves, whilst their loads of packing-cases jostled about under the tall, narrow bamboo and matting hoods.
“Whither away, brothers?” he sang out.
The drivers ceased their grunting to salaam. They gave the solitary rider a frank country stare, but did not answer his question.
“Quite right,” thought the young man. “They know their job.”
“Silvia’s visit to us was to take place when the carts came,” said Mrs. Campion at tiffin-time.
“They will take a long time getting here,” said Owen dubiously. “It is a pity she can’t ride.”
“We’ll teach her some day.”
The following morning Silvia came. She started at earliest dawn. First there was the climb from the chair into the back of the narrow straw-strewn cart, in which Tai had spread a rasái, and placed cushions. It was like a long, narrow bed with high, dusty matting walls. There was a feeling of climax in the air, and only Father Damien’s normal manner anchored them all to realities. Christine, on the verandah steps, stood silent. Never before had her child left her side for a whole day since she was an infant. Into Tai’s patient heart a thrill of new life began to quiver. She would wake up soon from this long half-life, faithfully borne, but dreary in retrospect. Father Damien turned to watch Amu. Had this strange creature some mysterious sense unknown to others? He seemed to be listening to something they could not hear; he was dumb, but the expression on his face was as if he had just spoken with voiceless speech to someone invisible. He was uneasy and unhappy. Father Damien patted him kindly on his bare shoulder, but was startled at the profound expression in the man’s dog-like eyes. Whatever the cart-men thought---and after all these years it may be supposed that they noticed a change in procedure---they made no sign, but yoked in their rested animals with uncouth cries and shouts. Jumping to their perches, and twisting and pulling at the ropes attached to the bullocks’ nostrils, they were off at last. The empty carts went first, then Silvia’s vehicle, and Father Damien drew up the rear. He called back reassuringly to Christine, who turned and went slowly indoors.
The carts had to go in single file, and Silvia, after waving to those she left behind, looked about her. She could just see the back of Father Damien’s sun-topi over the high ridge in the front of his cart, and, over the ridge of her own, the head and bare shoulders of her driver and the plunging, swaying tops of the carts in front. Her own cart began to plunge and sway, first this side, then that. The rough wooden spring-less floor jolted and bumped beneath her. Her elbows were grazed, her head knocked by the sides of the cart cover, and in half an hour’s time poor Silvia was reduced to such misery as she had never experienced before. She lay at full length, and rolled even then. She dug her fingers into crevices of the cart-top, only to get them rasped and pinched. There were to be two or more hours of this! Oh, why had she ever started!
After a long spell of silent endurance on her part, the drivers blew on their horns and pulled their beasts to a standstill. They were stopping to eat their rice. How quiet the world seemed when the endless creaking of the grass covers and the groaning of the solid wheels ceased! She roused herself to sit up, and slipped to the end of her cage to look out. It was a place of absolute solitude. No dwellings were in sight. The bungalow had long since disappeared, and the flat plain stretched away to the foot of low, distant hills with nothing to break its monotony but bushes and familiar trees. Palms, casuerinas, and aloes, many of them with their tall, candle-like flowers in bloom, grew in whichever direction she glanced; and amongst them the small animal life of the jungle scampered and whisked. Chameleons and grey squirrels went about their usual affairs. Bright butterflies hovered, and high in air kites quested for their food.
The ceasing of movement and the silence were a merciful relief. Father Damien came to her, and was really concerned to see her white face.
“I didn’t know the carts were like this,” sighed Silvia faintly. “I shall die, Father Damien, in another hour!”
“Jump down, and we’ll walk a little way. The sun is still low.”
Silvia dangled her feet over the edge and slid off into soft, sandy soil. They walked on, leaving the men to finish their food, and followed the slight indications of the route.
“Whom shall we meet today, Padre? Shall I know what to do and say?” asked the girl nervously as they trudged along through the coarse grass.
“There are only the Campions and young Owen Rees,” he answered reassuringly. “The latter you know, and the Campions are very friendly and pleasant. You will soon be quite at home with them. The time will soon pass.”
“Then the return journey!” cried Silvia ruefully.
“If it makes you feel so ill we must find another way after today. But perhaps you will get used to it. If not, I must send for a pony and teach you to ride.”
“I should like that,” she answered; “but what about Mother?”
“In the old days she could ride well.”
“Ah! those old days!” The girl fell silent. Her mother knew all about this world they were going to meet. Why had they been so cut off from it all?
The sun grew ever hotter and higher as they walked. Silvia pulled a length of her sari, which was well padded as a proteCTion, over her head, but before long they stopped to wait for the carts.
“Stand on my hand, Silvia, and I’ll mount you,” said Mr. Damelin, smiling. “That is right. You will easily mount a pony.”
Back in the bandy again, and another long period of discomfort to be endured; on and on until thought was blurred in misery.
Then came a sudden halt. They had not arrived, surely? If so, it was nearer than she had thought.
The cart-men were all talking at once in loud voices---excited, frightened voices. Why had they stopped? Silvia raised her giddy, aching head, but could see nothing but the forward carts, with her own behind them brought to a standstill. Father Damien was far behind.
The men crowded to the end of her cart, and all shouted together, pointing to something out of her sight, and salaaming in a supplicating fashion. She could now see Father Damien kneeling up in his bandy and leaning out in front by the driver. He jumped out and walked to the head of the caravan. After more excited conversation he returned to her.
“There is a red streak in front of us,” he said. “The men say it was not there yesterday, yet the place seems absolutely deserted. It is made of red rice.” He did not tell her that it was blood-soaked.
“What is it?”
“They say it forbids them to go any further along this way. Nothing will induce them to cross it.”
The men stood around, obstinately determined.
“They won’t go any further. They will stop here and wait for our return, or will fetch a wide compass to the camp. It will add considerably to the journey. Shall we go back?”
“Oh no!” cried Silvia. “We must not go back! Let me get out and walk. Have we still far to go?”
“More than a mile, and the sun is very hot.”
“I’m well protected. Mother sewed the padding in double.”
Silvia jumped down out of the cart for the second time, and carefully adjusted her sari.
“Anything is better than that bandy,” she sighed. Walking was difficult and rough, and the sun was growing very powerful, but the girl stepped out quickly. There was very little change in the scene. Aloes, cactus, prickly pear, and palms seemed to be everywhere. They trod on short, coarse grass, and in the distance could see low red hills in isolated groups. Before long a pony and rider came in sight, and Owen Rees joined them, and at last the camp was reached.
A woman and child in large pith sun-hats stood watching for them. Silvia’s heart beat painfully as she hung back.
“There they are. Come along, Silvia.” Father Damien laid a firm hand on her elbow. There was no way of retreat.
The child, by this time, had caught sight of his playfellow. He shouted and, escaping from his mother, came toddling towards them.
“Give me a ride, Uncle Rees. I want a ride!”
Silvia caught her breath and stood transfixed. Here was something more wonderful and sweet than she had ever even dreamed. A small, small Englishman, everything small about him, but with eyes full of light and colour, and speaking words she could understand.
The baby-boy hurled himself upon Rees, and balancing against his leg, turned to look at the strange apparition of someone like his mother dressed like Mary Ayah. His large blue eyes grew rounder and larger.
The girl forgot in a moment everything and everybody save this wonderful small creature at her feet. She knelt down and held out her hands to him. The two men flood still watching, for it was a moment of poignant beauty. Silvia’s yellow sari draped itself in graceful folds over her bent form. Her face was glowing with life and feeling. Her eyes, shining like stars, were fixed on the child’s chubby face. The little fellow hesitated for just one moment, and then with a laughing shout toddled to her and held up trustful arms.
The world breaks in all too soon on such moments. The boy’s sun-topi had to be retrieved, and Father Damien caught anxiously at the padded length of Silvia’s sari and readjusted it. The sun did not cease to shine hotly because it was forgotten.
Mrs. Campion came forward and gave Silvia a welcoming kiss. Her eyes were not quite dry, and her smile was wholly kind.
“Come out of the sun,” she said. “You must be hot and tired. I thought you were coming by bullock-bandy?”
Silvia went into the tent, too full of new emotions to speak. The child and this woman, not much older than herself, seemed to have stepped out of books and come to life. Words would not form in her mind, but she fastened sweet eyes on Mrs. Campion’s pleasant face, and silently held her hand in both of her own. A long minute passed, and then her new friend began briskly preparing for her comfort and refreshment. There was a splash of water in the bath-room cubicle, as Mary Ayah superintended the water-man, and before long, rested and refreshed, Silvia joined the tiffin party in the dining-tent.
Cheerful conversation went on around her, but the girl was silent. The baby-boy was not there. Mrs. Campion guessed at her thoughts.
“Tony has had his breakfast and now goes to sleep for an hour or two. Then he wakes up fresh for the evening and does not get over-tired.”
“Yes. I remember when Tai carried me off for a long midday sleep,” said Silvia softly.
“Was Tai your ayah?”
“She is our ayah still. She cooks and does everything for us in the house. Amu looks after our fowls and goats, and draws the water.”
“I see,” said her hostess. “Amu is your outdoor man-of-all-work.”
“Yes, but he is dumb.”
“Poor man! How unfortunate for him! Father Damien tells me that you read a great deal. Is your mother a great reader too?”
“Yes, but it is I whom Father Damien teaches. Mother loves doing embroidery. We both work at it.”
“I hope your mother will allow me to come and see her,” said Mrs. Campion in her most matter-of-fact tone.
Silvia started, and looked uncomfortable. She had not thought somehow of her mother’s part in these new events. She glanced at Mr. Damelin and saw that he was listening.
“Mrs. Scott asked me to arrange it,” he said, smiling reassuringly at Silvia. “She is hardly strong enough to come to you here, but if you and Tony will pay her a few days’ visit she will be very pleased.”
Silvia opened astonished eyes. She had never learned to hide her feelings.
“Do you know anything about Mother?” she asked anxiously. “We never see anyone, and she is . . .”
“Somewhat of an invalid,” finished Mr. Damelin.
The girl felt it was all bewildering, and fell silent again. When tiffin was over Mrs. Campion took her to rest comfortably in a long chair in the coolest part of the tent. Tony was sleeping soundly in his crib, and ayah went away to her rice.
“Mrs. Campion,” said Silvia shyly, “Mother has something wrong with her face. She always keeps it covered. I never remember seeing her, and I don’t know how she will meet strangers.”
She was speaking about her normal life, and could not realize what a picture of tragedy and mystery it conveyed to her hearer.
“We must not intrude,” answered the latter, “but I hope your mother will really like us to accept her invitation. Tony loves the sea and digging in the sand.”
Silvia’s face brightened, and they sat on, gently fanning to keep off the eye-flies, while from without came the subdued sound of voices from the cooking-shanty, and the occasional raucous cawing of a hungry, thieving crow. By tea-time Mrs. Campion had succeeded in getting her visitor to chatter freely and even gaily, but her own heart was full of regret that this sweet girl should have been deprived of her proper English upbringing. What could she do for her? How make up to her the lost years? It depended so much upon the mother’s frame of mind. Still, she would await developments, and do her best.
Tea was a more successful meal. Tony sat near his father, and engaged most of Silvia’s attention. Campion continued his conversation with Mr. Damelin.
“We intend to go south in a fortnight, quartering the locality for temple ruins. Rees goes tomorrow with some of our fellows to dig in a spot of his own.”
“By the way, Mrs. Campion,” said Father Damien, “the dhooly men you are kindly lending us are not too superstitious, I hope? I told you that the bandy drivers jibbed at something. It was a line of red rice all across the track. Nothing would induce them to go over it. That is why we left them and walked on.”
“Our men are as superstitious as they can possibly be!” exclaimed her husband. “How do you account for it, Damelin? A similar red line was put across the track which my wife came by the other day. Her dhooly passed the spot clear, but ayah was taken miles out of the way because the bearers would not cross it.”
Father Damien looked suddenly grave. “What people live round here?” he asked.
“There are only a few very scattered Panchama hamlets. A Zemindar lives away to the north-east. We haven’t seen any Europeans for weeks, but we have a permanent visitor, a quaint old pujári, who sits and stares in front of him all day long.”
Father Damien raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. He knew that sometimes a far-flung web of mystery and intrigue crept over localities. India has her secret societies, her religious coteries, her wandering mischief-mongers. She goes on playing her own game silently below the surface.
Mrs. Campion considered. “How would it do if Silvia rode my pony as far as this mysterious line, and the dhooly men with the empty dhooly went round their own way to the other side of it. Can you ride, Silvia?”
“No, but I should like to try,” Silvia answered, glowing with pleasure. “Is it difficult?”
“My pony is very quiet. A syce can lead it, if you like. You must take my husband’s horse, Mr. Damelin, and one of the dhooly men can bring it back in the morning.”
“We are giving you a great deal of trouble. And now we had better prepare to get off in good time, to get home before dark.”
Very soon the empty dhooly was started off on its roundabout way, and the riders mounted and set off at a walking pace, for Silvia’s seat was uneasy, and the ground rough and broken. She turned to wave farewell. Tony was in his father’s arms signalling a vigorous good-bye, and his mother, under the tent-flap, was watching and smiling. Presently Owen Rees caught them up. He was only riding out to investigate the red line.
The journey in the dhooly was soon accomplished. Silvia and Father Damien came within sight of the bungalow as the sun was setting. Three figures stood watching them. Then Tai and Amu disappeared, leaving a solitary one on the verandah. Silvia peeped out as well as she could without upsetting the equilibrium of her palanquin. Who was this stranger with a crown of snow-white hair? Where was her mother? Was this wonderful day to be more wonderful yet? The dhooly swung along until the men stopped and lowered her gently. The girl felt as if her heart would burst.
“Oh, Mother!” she cried, and running hid her face upon the loved shoulder.
Mr. Damelin took his horse and called to the dhooly men to come to the go-downs. Mother and daughter were alone in the fast-fading light.
“Mother, you are beautiful,” sobbed the girl. “Why have you hidden from me all these years?”
Christine looked away to the darkening sky where the first stars were beginning to throb and glitter. All apprehension, all misgiving dropped from her like a cloak. It was a great deliverance. In her heart there settled a profound peace.
“My face, Silvia? What is it like to you?”
Silvia raised her head and scanned her mother’s cheeks.
“The marks look something like the clay images the fisher-folk make,” she answered. “But we will braid your hair over them, Mother. We will write to Calcutta for lace, and I will make something for you to wear. Poor Mother! I wish I had seen it before. How you must have dreaded this moment, and indeed there is no cause for dread!”
In the go-down the dhooly men, having eaten their rice, talked whilst they chewed their betel. Tai was busy in the bungalow, but the voiceless Amu sat and listened. He heard the story of the red streaks, and of the pujári who had attached himself to the dorai’s camp, and began to be sore afraid. When all slept, he went creeping about in the dark doing his morning duties. He placed food ready for the goats, and noiselessly drew water from the well. Then, making a small bundle of cold rice, he attached it to the end of a long bamboo and set out, a lonely, pathetic figure under the quiet stars, towards the unknown country to the south.
The first thing that broke Father Damien’s slumber next morning was Tai’s voice, raised to an unusual pitch, scolding the dhooly bearers. They emerged one by one, cleaned their teeth and rinsed their mouths, shook down and fastened up again their topknots, and listened in silence to the ayah’s harangue. They had not murdered Amu. Why should they? Women’s chatter was like the hissing of wood in the fireplace!
A word here and there caught his attention. No Amu? He was soon out on the back verandah questioning them all. It was clear that Amu had gone, and further questioning pointed to the idea that he had been disturbed by their talk. Something had frightened him sufficiently to stir him out of this, his loving allegiance of many years, and, voiceless as he was, to face again the world from which he had so long remained hidden.
He would not starve. An ascetic’s rosary and begging-bowl would carry him from one end of India to the other with food to spare. But the question arose, from what mysterious enemy had he fled?
Tai was indignant and unhappy. How were her mistresses to live in comfort without Amu? She herself must draw water and attend to the goats in future, but she was no longer young, alas!
“It seems the beginning of the end of our life here, Father Damien,” was Christine’s comment. “Poor Amu! he was faithful and affectionate. It grieves me to think that he has left us like this, without any reward or good wishes. We must get a stranger in his place, for Tai cannot do the work of two. But who will come and live in this quiet, desolate spot?”
“Mrs. Campion might be able to suggest somebody when she comes here,” said Father Damien, but without conviction. He, too, realized that this was the beginning of the changes that must soon occur. They must be guided by circumstances. Already Christine seemed less conscious of her marred face, and more normal in her outlook. She even seemed to look forward to this once-dreaded meeting. When she was ready for it, another home must be found for them in new surroundings, and Silvia would come into her kingdom.
Mrs. Campion and the boy came a few days later, bringing servants with them. The fisher-folk paused in their toil to gaze at the newcomers. They would watch with dull, curious eyes the little boy paddling at the extreme edge of the inrushing foam attached to a firm strap. When the erstwhile hooded lady appeared with her crown of snowy hair and marks that they seemed to recognize upon her face, many drew near and bowed before her with folded hands and finger-tips touching their foreheads. She was beloved of the goddess. She could intercede for them, that death and disease might be driven away, and good luck attend their fishing-nets. Christine shrank from it, but joined the padre as he gathered them about him, and tried in what he knew of their uncouth patois to tell them of a God in heaven who loved them and whose love would cast out fear. Suddenly Christine felt a kinship with these dark neighbours. Had she not also need to remember and trust in a God who casts out fear? Fear hath torment. It had ruined her life and nearly swamped the life also of her daughter. Henceforth Love should conquer and keep Fear at bay.
She watched Silvia and the child as they played together. She watched the expression on Mrs. Campion’s face. These three human beings had never been afraid. They lived in a world tenanted only by visible things. All the dread unknown, all the dread unseen did not exist for them, and now it seemed that she, too, might forget her fears and live with them in the sunshine and open air, where mysteries were dissolved in light.
A few miles to the south of the camp the country gradually changed its appearance. The sparse, arid jungle was less monotonously flat. Low hills sent down spurs towards the sea-coast, and after heavy rains short-lived streamlets fell in miniature cascades and lost themselves in the sandy soil. But vegetation seized the chance offered and spread itself along like broad green ribbons wherever the soil retained any moisture. Wild areca-nut palms and the lovely pink and mauve stems of the castor-oil plant delighted the eye. There, too, grew custard-apple trees, Sita’s trees, the Hindus called them; and “tin trees” rattled their thin pods in the wind.
The tents gradually travelled southward. A few days were spent in each new camping-ground, and the men with their guns wandered at dawn through haunts of wild pig and jungle-fowl. They met with no signs of ancient temples or rock carving. The pujári had been left behind. He was last seen contemplating the end of his nose in his usual spot, apparently oblivious to the bustle and clatter of the departing camp men and servants. There had been some trouble on the southward road, for the drivers of the baggage carts would not cross a newly placed red line across the track. Rees himself had urged the bullocks across while the men scrambled into the scrub, giving the track a wide berth and joining him much further on. Nor would they explain, but salaamed submissively and resumed their seats on the cross-trees.
One evening the party gathered round the dinner-table placed in the open. They had left the hilly country behind and were on flat scrub-land again. The tents were stuffy, and the still air outside did not disturb the lamps. Hurricane lanterns lit the short distance to the cooking-tent, from which the cook sent savoury dishes in spite of His meagre equipment. Tony was in his cot asleep, with his ayah seated near mechanically fanning him. The lamp threw ever deepening shadows behind the diners. Presently they rose, and, drawing deck-chairs beyond the range of the busy servants, sat under the stars. Mrs. Campion loved these still evenings. The men smoked peacefully. She picked up some knitting and silently plied her needles, thinking the while of the lonely bungalow on the seashore which they were leaving further behind at every move. She wondered how Silvia and her mother were managing with only the help of old Tai, for as yet she had been unable to send them any servants. Owen had ridden across country more than once and spent a night there, but now, as they travelled ever further away, this became more difficult. He was restless.
“I don’t like leaving them, Mrs. Campion,” he said. “Old Tai was ill the last time I went, and the ladies had no one to do anything for them. Silvia was milking the goats. She did it remarkably well.”
“Was Mr. Damelin not there?”
“He had just gone. He is to return to help them pack up finally when he can come with a convoy of transit carts.”
“They haven’t much to bring away, have they?”
“They may as well bring away their furniture as leave it to decay. Then there are quantities of books. They must all be packed. Silvia loves them all.”
“Where do they think of going?”
“That is the puzzle,” said the young man, with a look of perplexity. “Mr. Damelin, when he is at home, lives a busy missionary life, thronged with people from morning to night. If they go there direct, Mrs. Scott is almost certain to revert to her head covering. She lives in dread of meeting people.”
“Why shouldn’t they join us here, and trek with us to the end of the season?”
Rees sat up.
“Mrs. Campion! You are a thorough-going brick!”
“I don’t see why not,” said Campion from his comfortable chair, “except that we’ll need another tent.”
“They can have mine,” said Owen. “The servants must double up a little more and give me one of their small ones.”
Campion grinned across at his wife, and threw away the end of his cheroot.
“That is settled, then, if they will come. Now how to get them here and let the padre know?”
“Could you not send him a line by the post-runner? He is due tomorrow.”
“Good. And can they leave the bungalow just as it is? Would not the fishermen break in and steal?”
“They wouldn’t go into the bungalow to save their lives, but I daresay we could lock it up somehow until the transit carts come.”
Mrs. Campion had been silent for a few minutes, shielding her eyes from the lantern rays and peering into the darkness.
“Look, John! Isn’t that our old pujá-man?”
“Boy!” called the master. “Send him away! He must not come hanging about the camp any more.”
“Sar!” responded the butler, as he hastened forward with much show of official alacrity, and with violent gestures waved the pujári off. Just beyond the circle of lantern light, however, his attitude changed to one of abject apology for thus unceremoniously treating a holy man. The ascetic’s bent back thereupon straightened itself, and its owner chuckled in his face with an insolent leer. This was no pujári, but an altogether low-caste snake-charmer.
“Begone!” shouted the butler, filled anew with virtue and authority.
The man slunk away without protest, but looking back and seeing the servant disappearing, he turned and searched for his footmark. Then extracting a small black snake from his basket, he held it so that it glided across the footprint, after which he imprisoned it again. Thus was the power of the snake put upon the unsuspecting serving-man.
After leaving the bungalow on that night of misgivings, Amu had gone several miles without stopping or looking back. He was a creature of instincts. Connected thought only came to him when his world was placidly monotonous. He was a short, sturdy hill-man with the features of a Khond, and in his mind were stored primitive fears and taboos perforce kept to himself. In his hill fastnesses long ago on a night of terror, into his hut had come two fugitive dacoits or robbers with police hard on their heels. The pursuers were below in a ravine, but outposts were crashing and hacking their way through virgin undergrowth to try to surround their quarry. The front of the hut was visible from below, and the dacoits had been seen to enter, but when at last the precipitous cliff had been scaled, the police found only a recently injured hill-man, who would have bled to death but for their timely succour, and a small hole hastily hacked out of the wall of rough planks at the back, by which the all-but-murderers had escaped for the time being. They died quickly and unpleasantly before long, for they had in their flight damaged a small sacred tree behind the hut, and Dondu Penu, the godling of punishment, would not stand that.
Amu had been taken down to the plains and there he had remained. His own people had no further use for him, or wife to give him, so he followed any occupation that offered until his value as a safe repository of secrets occurred to some far-seeing Hindu guru. At any rate, he lacked neither food nor shelter. He was faithful with an affectionate faithfulness to anyone who treated him well, and Selby’s wife had been his kindest patron. Dim memories of the strange events of long ago floated unbidden through his mind as he strode along in the moonlight, hitting ground and bush as a polite hint to Sir Snake to glide from his path. He had left the bungalow from an instinct of pure panic, but as it fell away out of sight behind him, and he was alone under the moon and stars in the dim mysterious immensity of the world, a loneliness such as he had never experienced before wrapped him round and made him shiver. Living with Tai and the two English women all these years had caused Amu to grow out of his inherited awareness of the unseen world. On the seashore he had forgotten the many spiteful little gods and goddesses, to whom on his hills he had had to give offerings of cocoanuts and curds, or they would, in painful ways of their own, have enquired the reason for his neglect of them. Years ago he had tried to guard the bungalow on the landward side by enlisting the help of the doorkeeper god, Danderi Penu, for a fee of fowls and eggs, but Tai had sacrilegiously laid hands on these and carried them to the kitchen and cooked them, and Danderi Penu had done nothing! Tai went scathless. So Amu had snapped his fingers at Danderi Penu ever since, and had tried to understand Father Damien’s lessons about a great and good God of the whole earth, One who loved him, even dumb Amu, and wished him well and not ill; who asked for no fowls and eggs, cocoanuts or ghee, but only that he, Amu, should try to love and reverence Him in return and be faithful to his doraisánis.
This last thought pulled him up. He was running away and leaving them because he was afraid of something. They were only women, although so wonderful, and he was the bow-and-arrow bearer! For untold generations behind him his forefathers had roamed the hills and jungles for food and pleasure, but had always been alert to guard the women and babes in their rude leaf shelters or caves from wild animals or wild men. Something of inherited cunning came back to him now as he pondered over the talk of the dhooly bearers. These pujá people of the plains who put red rice streaks across paths, did they do it for worship or for mischief magic? He began to shake like a leaf at the latter thought. Magic to him meant something all-powerful, unescapable, fear, dreadful torments, sickness, blindness, death. If these sorcerers came to know about the big mistress who had neglected the great goddess Kali all these years, although marked for Kali’s own, surely they would soon leave the dorai’s camp and strike across to the seashore to her undoing.
Amu stood still and considered his bearings. He had walked steadily for some hours in a direction far to the south of the late camp. He turned and began to strike northward, but the moon was setting, and it would be quite dark for a few hours. One cannot walk over scrub in the dark, even with an end in view. To walk aimlessly would be folly. So he stopped just where he was, rolled himself up like a corpse in his unwound turban, and fell fast asleep.
A few days must pass before Mr. Campion could receive Father Damien’s reply, but he dispatched a runner immediately to Mrs. Scott and Silvia bearing his wife’s invitation, and the next day Rees rode over to them. The distance between was growing ever longer as the camp moved southward, and the sooner they came now the better. A pony and dhooly could be placed at their disposal, and a tonjon, or carrying-chair, was improvised for Tai. Silvia was delighted at the near prospect of change, and old Tai heaved a sigh of relief. Christine alone seemed to hesitate.
“Mother, we must go!” exclaimed Silvia. “Every day we spend here now is endless. I feel as if I cannot bear it any longer. I ache to go away from here and see our friends again.”
“We may never come back again, Silvia. It has been our home and shelter for all these years,” said her mother gently.
“I know, Mother,” said the girl penitently. “But wherever you are will be home to me, and we shall have our books again before very long. The fisher-children, though, won’t get their doses. They won’t keep well. That is a pity. I’ll go and pay them a last visit.”
Pulling her padded length of yellow sari over her head, she picked up her medicine basket, and though it was early afternoon and the sun still hot, tripped away along the sands to the medicine-giving rendezvous. The children saw her coming and shouted the news along the shore. Boys and girls dressed in the scantiest wisps of clothing came scampering to meet her with calls and laughter, and waited while she drew out the things she had brought for them---sulphur ointment, carbolic lotion, castor oil, and quinine. She doled them all out liberally, and it was in the midst of this occupation that Owen found her. Every time they met her appearance gave him fresh delight. Here was she, like a kind fairy, dealing with the needs of these children who stood before her like one extended smile. She waved her hand, and with salaams they scampered off again to their play.
The two stood watching them.
“I suppose they play all day and learn to swim and sail a catamaran,” said Rees, smiling down at her. “Quite a happy life, don’t you think? It sounds idyllic. ‘There was a little darkie-boy upon a sandy shore!’ Do you know the rest? A crocodile ate him up!”
Silvia laughed and then grew grave. “Father Damien will not let me go to the villages, but he goes, and generally comes back very sad and impatient. He says they are like naughty babies. Instead of taking his doses they carry offerings of rice to a foolish clay image under a stone shelter. Look! there are some of them going out to fish.”
In the distance two men were to be seen, each carrying a long, heavy log of wood. At the edge of the water they stopped and tied them together with cocoanut fibre rope, and then pushed out with deft paddles through the boiling surf. A great wave confronted them. They were caught by it and tumbled back again upon the beach. Again they pushed off, and this time rode out all the three great rollers in succession. Then, when safely beyond the backwash and the reach of the breakers, they drove the catamaran into the open sea with a few strong strokes, and unfurled their sail of golden brown.
“I suppose there are sharks?”
“Yes,” answered Silvia. “A dead one was washed up the other day, but we seldom hear of any accidents anywhere along the coast. The fishermen are clever.”
Rees watched her as her eyes travelled wistfully along the shore. How had she been able to bear life in these solitudes, and yet to be so sweetly reasonable and self-possessed now? Doubtless it was Mr. Damelin who had wrought this in her. The ladies could not realize, as Owen did, the self-denial that their “Father Damien” had practised. He had never left that part of the country for more than a few months at a time all these long years, and had given up on their account research work that was his heart’s delight. But the place where his missionary work was centred had also gained by his continued presence. With his wide and varied knowledge of the people, his standing as an ex-Government servant, and his enthusiasm for the uplift of the depressed málas and madigas, and other low-caste folk, he had been a tower of strength there, honoured and revered. That was indeed a life worth living, thought the young archeologist, more worth while than delving amongst old stones and inscriptions. It was the building-up slowly of a new nation which would gradually shed the trammels and grave-clothes of a dead and unholy past, and learn to live in the light of Truth. Something of this he said aloud to his companion, and Silvia’s eyes again grew wistful.
“I know nothing about nations,” she murmured. “I cannot even picture a crowd of people. Whatever shall we do, Mother and I, when we have to go amongst them?”
“It will come by degrees,” said Owen comfortingly. “You will not feel strange for long, and your friends will rally round you. Mrs. Campion will not let you down.”
“Let me down?” queried the girl.
“Leave you in difficulties,” said Rees with a smile, and jumping up he held out a hand to help her to rise. “I see Tai on the verandah, and that means tea-time, I think, doesn’t it?”
“I’m quite ready for it,” laughed Silvia. “These fisher-children always make me thirsty!”
The next day packing began. Many of the cases had been used for firewood, but there were enough in which to begin placing the better and most-loved volumes. When the embroidery frames were covered up and fastened securely, there remained little else to do, for the packing of saris was the simplest matter possible. Only clothes and embroidery frames and a few books were to go with them into camp, the rest being left for future removal.
“That which is in the paddy is rice,” said the butler sententiously. “You ask too many questions, little brother.”
“‘I’ll watch the sheep without wages,’ said the wolf,” crooned the cook’s assistant under his breath.
“One may cry ‘wolf’ too often. If a scorpion stings a jester, who believes it?” answered the butler loftily. He picked up his master’s boots and carried them away with dignity, leaving the unconvinced cook’s mati peeling potatoes outside the cooking-shanty. Cook’s mati squatted on his heels and continued his task, muttering to himself. He was a Telugu, and butler came from Tanjore and was a Tamil man, so each secretly despised the other. If asked why, they could only have given as a reason that they were foreigners to each other, with numberless slight differences in customs and manners and tastes in food. They were both lacking in caste, but even beyond the barriers, in the outer darkness of carelessness, there are degrees of dignity, little steps of ascent and descent quite invisible to caste people or to Europeans. But one thing they had in common---absolute faithfulness to their master’s interests. His honour was their honour, his wishes their law.
Butler lifted the chick which hung at the doorway of Mr. Campion’s small office tent, and finding him busy with his papers, and the post-runner waiting, put down the boots and departed noiselessly.
“Wait outside there a minute, Boy,” called his master without looking up. He continued writing, sealed a packet which he handed to the post-peon, and then called butler in again.
“Two doraisánis are coming to us here in camp, Boy. They will use Rees dorai’s tent, and he will have the next best one you can find.”
“Very good, sar.”
“We are moving camp again in a few days. Your mistress will want plenty of help with bazaar stores. You had better arrange for more coolies for carrying. Send a chit by the post-peon to that village head-man who supplied those we have already. And now what is this that ayah tells me about another snake-charmer?”
Butler shrugged his shoulders and spread out his palms.
“I telling to that man Master’s orders. ‘Go!’ I telling. He going, sar, but coming back again. I think he humbug man, sar. No harm doing any one. Cook’s mati, he not liking that man.”
“What does he know about him?”
“That man telling, ‘I good cooly cook, Master any time wanting.’”
“What is he trying to find out, Boy?”
“All Master’s business asking. Why Master giving sack to last cooly-gang maistry, and cooly-gang of Oddés (diggers)? Why Master not finding big temple and digging quickly?”
“That man silly brain got, sar; I no notice taking.”
“Well, find him and bring him here.”
“Very good, sar.”
When the servant had gone Campion pushed away his papers and sat back in his chair, looking out under the raised flap of the tent-opening. The other tents being out of sight to right and left, there was an uninterrupted view. He went to the tent door and looked out. It was oppressively hot, but they were encamped in the best shade that could be found under some wilted cashew-nut trees. As far as eye could see there were no habitations, no villages. In the east, in the direction of the coast, were groves of palmyra trees, with occasional cocoanut and dwarf date palms. He could see screw pines and casuerinas and cactus, everywhere cactus and thorn bushes. The spurs of the hills they had left behind, which were the outposts of the Eastern Ghats, were brown with scorched-up bracken, with here and there bold bluffs of laterite showing above the bamboos at their foot. The south-west monsoon would before long be coming up from the Malabar coast, and camp life would be impossible for the ladies. Should there be anything in this snake-charmer’s babble, there must be no delay in investigating it.
The man appeared at this moment, brought by Boy as if he were a naughty child, and bidden where to stand and when to salaam to the dorai gáru. He looked harmless and abject enough, and waited to be addressed, with enquiring eyes fixed on the butler.
It was difficult to make out exactly what information he hoped to convey. To the servant’s Tamil ears the uncouth patois of the ceded districts on the Orissa border held strange obscurities, but this seemed clear, that the sparsely populated country over which he roamed as he followed his calling had delivered up to him some of its secrets. The old men and old women repeated tales handed down to them from their fathers’ forbears of an earthquake caused by the power of the gods; of the sea coming to eat up the land in revenge for the neglect of the cocoanut offerings due to it at the appointed festivals; of the vast inundation which had covered the country for several miles, sweeping away villages and cattle, and drowning all who could not escape; and of how the venerated temple near the shore had been covered by the waters, winch in retreat had somehow swept down earth upon it sufficient to choke it on the landward side. Not content with that, the revengeful sea had pushed about its shifting sands, every tide carrying a sandbank on its shoulders and hurling it on the temple. The old people spoke of the frantic pujáris, the ceaseless offerings of buffaloes and goats which were all in vain; for with every tide the sand rose and filled the shrine and hid it away from mortal eyes. It was said that some who fled from before the rising waters took refuge in a smaller temple inland where the pujári demanded from them their jewels. The women therefore hastily stripped themselves of all that they had with them and offered them up to the god of that place, and the waters were stayed.
Campion, who was not inclined to give much credence to these old wives’ fables, felt his interest suddenly aroused, for he remembered that Rees had stumbled upon the indications of a stone building in the wilderness, and had found jewels there.
“Ask him where the small temple was, Boy.”
The snake-charmer waved his hand vaguely in the general direction of the hills to the north.
“And where was the big temple that was covered over by the sea?”
The man tilted his head towards the distant palmyras which marked the coast-line on the east, but wriggled his hands with the sign that he did not know any more, and at a hint from his master the butler edged him out of the tent.
This was food for reflection indeed. Campion sought his wife, to talk over the necessary arrangements. The visitors’ comfort would have to be considered, but they might be moving now almost at once. Mrs. Campion rightly guessed at the great disappointment it would be to Silvia not to come as arranged, and that a long delay would damp her mother’s courage. So when they arrived a few days later it was to share in the bustle of departure. The plan now was to journey to the coast. The sea air would be good for Tony, in any case. They could camp where it was most convenient while the ground was being thoroughly quartered, and then must be guided by circumstances. Should the search be successful, a large native camp would come into being. Gangs of Oddés, or Wudders, as they were often called, would come for the digging, with camp followers innumerable. A dák must be laid to keep up a constant supply of food, and the solitudes would be noisily invaded. The Oddés were an hereditary caste of tank diggers. They were skilled in sinking wells and constructing tank-bunds. Their wives would work alongside, carrying away earth in baskets on their heads. Children would crawl about or play in the sunshine. It would be better then for the dorais to be unhampered by the care of a large party, and Mrs. Campion and her guests would go to seek monsoon quarters elsewhere.
Before the tents were struck Campion and Rees rode out towards the line of palmyras on the horizon which marked the coast-line, looking for the best route across the scrub. It lay on all sides, dour and monotonous, but tinged with beauty by the early morning sunlight, and after a time they came upon traces of an abandoned road leading mysteriously through that long stretch of desolate land to some unknown destination. Taking a small camp equipment with them, they followed it up. There were no habitations along the route, but in a hollow which had once been a village tank, surrounded now by mud hummocks which had once been huts, they spied a little water. The broken brickwork of a well lay scattered around, and a trickling stream of water from a spring therein found its way through the silt into the sun-baked depression. Rees dipped in his finger and put it to his tongue. The water was brackish.
“This is a bit of corroboration of the snake-charmer’s story,” said his chief with satisfaction.
“How is that, sir?”
“The inundation of the sea left a deposit of salt behind it. The villagers, such of them as escaped, could not return, for their water-supply was destroyed, so the country was left deserted. It is a pity, too, for this soil would grow good cotton. We will follow up this road and see if there are more villages. It is a broad track, out of the ordinary. It may have been a pilgrims’ way to the temple we hope to find.”
The riders neared the coast and sniffed joyously the salt, full breath of the sea, while their trained eyes scanned the ground. Campion pulled up.
“Look, Owen!” he cried. “Can you see anything in particular?”
“Only a long break in the palmyras, and ground slightly more hummocky in the interval.”
“That’s our temple! Come along!”
The horses broke into a canter over a smooth stretch of bare ground where sand and soil were mixed into a fine loam. A line of sand dunes still hid the sea, and the scrubby thorn bushes ceased altogether. They walked their mounts up an easy incline from the crown of which the endless vista of shore came into view. Sand met earth just there, and the sand was bound by a girdle of spinifex grass bending low in the strong morning breeze. There was no sign of buildings or habitations of any kind, but Rees watched his chief and said nothing, for the latter was in high spirits, striding to and fro making mental calculations. With his back to the sea he stared along the route they had come. The road appeared to have led straight to this raised spot.
“I think we are standing right on the top of the building we seek,” he remarked at last “Why should the earth have silted up just here unless it had met with an obstruction? There is no other mound like it in sight. It can’t be far below the surface. Let us scoop a bit.”
They were soon rewarded, for not far down a great chip of stucco broke off at a touch from its unseen bed, and revealed itself as a piece of Hindu moulding.
“This is the place right enough! I think we have made a first-rate find at last!”
“Hurrah!” said Owen.
They started inland at a walking pace, for their minds were already busy mapping out the ground for the native camp that would soon be on the spot. Water must first be found. An advance gang of Wudders would dig deep wells before the excavating began. The organization would have to be complete, as all food must be brought from a distance. The ladies’ tents could be pitched well away.
“We’ll get Damelin to come to us for a holiday!” remarked Campion, and on arriving in camp the following day they found that gentleman already there, and prepared to be enthusiastic over the discovery. He would come with pleasure if he might bring a travelling dispensary, and be allowed to preach and teach. He willingly proffered his help in any useful way as interpreter or arbitrator, and was glad to be near when Christine commenced her ordeal of coming out of retirement.
The trek to the coast was soon accomplished, and there were a few days of undisturbed enjoyment and peace ere the forerunners of the cooly gangs put in an appearance. When digging commenced, the plan was to excavate on all sides at once, but on the seaward side the sand was more easily removed, and the work progressed more rapidly. Father Damien’s dispensary was soon started, and there Silvia spent many happy hours. The cooly women watched her with kind, curious eyes, and taught her Telugu words with much laughter and good humour. Father Damien produced a lantern one evening, and showed slides illustrating the life of Jesus, and taught the hushed but unintelligent audience in his forceful, sympathetic manner. The large encampment was orderly and well managed. Water had been found, and there was constant coming and going of village carts bearing grain and vegetables for the coolies. The girl found much to interest and amuse her.
She stood watching the digging one day with Rees for companion. The sturdy women, with their bright eyes and red betel-stained teeth, passed to and fro with their hip-swinging gait, carrying away earth or sand in small baskets on their heads, lifted up for them and placed on their head-pads by the men. It seemed a hopeless task to expect such little loads to make a difference to the whole, but the quiet, unhurrying work began to tell before long, and a small chamber was completely unearthed and cleared of silt. Then the head of a breakneck flight of stone stairs was disclosed, and the work of digging went steadily on. Sometimes Christine would come with Mrs. Campion and Tony, but always the sari was drawn across her cheeks. Tony’s playground was usually the clean, wind-swept shore, where his mother and ayah could keep him from contact with the cooly children and their infectious ailments.
“The chief thinks we are now at the top storey of three,” said Owen. “If so, the rooms below will be much larger, but possibly quite easy to clear out, especially if filled up only with sand. We shall have to race the monsoon before long.”
“I am looking forward to going to the hills,” answered Silvia, “but Mother would rather stay here or go back home. She dreads meeting more people. Mrs. Campion thinks a doctor might improve her face, and encourages her to think so too, but we can’t tell yet.”
“She undoubtedly had a very great shock in the old days,” said Rees thoughtfully.
“There are so many things I want to do and see,” said Silvia wistfully. “I am impatient to go, and yet I do not know how I shall talk to other girls. They will know everything and I nothing.”
“You will meet other men too,” said Owen ruefully.
Silvia’s direct gaze rested on him while she pondered this remark.
“What will they talk about?”
“Heaven knows!” What would they talk about, he wondered---golf, tennis, theatres? His little friend would be tongue-tied and silent. Well, all the better for him! He would get “leave” and go with them and teach her to play tennis himself. In that way he would get a second innings.
They turned away and strolled to the little group of white tents which was their present home. The servants were busy getting breakfast. Tony, fresh from his tub, was playing with his father in the shade. Mrs. Campion and Christine were watching from the tent door, and in the distance Mr. Damelin could be seen striding along with his two catechists in close attendance bearing their books and medicine chest. Walking at his side and keeping up to him with an easy lope was a familiar figure, but now looking tired and haggard. Amu!
They drew near the tents, and the dumb man slipped away to his own place amongst the servants, and soon Tai’s voice was heard in excited expostulation. For only possible answer Amu picked up a pot and began scouring it, as if to show that he intended to stay for the present; and grumbling still, but at the bottom of her kind heart very glad of his return, Tai supplied him with a good meal of softened food and pepper water.
When the hot days cooled into star-spangled evenings and work was ended, the deck-chairs were drawn out from the shade of the tents into the soft sea-breeze, and the hours of discomfort were almost forgotten. The nights were not silent, but distance lent a kind of privacy and mellow peace. The servants were always talking, relating endless tales. When their voices became too insistent, a shout from their masters stilled them to whispers for a time. The cooly camp, too, was wakeful far into the night. A tom-tom would throb and a voice would be raised in trickling song, or the cry of a child would break the stillness. There would sometimes be harsh sounds of quarrelling, when toddy had been smuggled in. In the dimness Christine’s spirits began to revive. She would join in the talk with growing animation, and everyone rejoiced. Quiet conversation about the day’s interests taught them all to know each other better. Silvia, learning every day to picture more truly the world into which she was about to enter, was perfectly happy, playing with Tony and helping Mr. Damelin with his patients. She was becoming a good rider, too, for the long, level sands at low tide made a splendid riding track. They were not very many miles in a direct line along the shore from the now completely deserted bungalow. It would be possible to return there should the monsoon drive its outer fringes of rain from the south-west before they were prepared to go to the hills. Knowing this, Mr. Campion did not hurry the ladies away. Their departure would break up the pleasant camp, for Father Damien would escort them over the wilderness to the railway, leaving him and Rees to solitary hard work. The deepening excavations needed their superintendence and care. From where they sat under the stars a few red lights marked out the site. Not much could be seen above ground level, but on all sides of the temple a wide and ever-deepening trench revealed its form. Means had to be devised of preventing the sand from falling into the wide, hollow depression on the seaward side. On the opposite side a narrow portico was being unearthed, with flat stone door-posts and lintels grotesquely carved. Gods and godlings and heroes looked out once more along the pilgrims’ way and over the country which feared and revered them. Their wide, unseeing eyes and set, wide smiles seemed to mock the busy diggers, and tell them that their buried life had been just as congenial to them as this sudden resurrection. The diggers were filled with awed curiosity, but they were not widely versed in the mythology being thus unfolded. Their village gods were altogether humbler folk---servants, no doubt, of these mighty ones. They stared at the god Varuna riding his crocodile, at Yama on his buffalo, to whose stone garments still adhered patches of orange-coloured pigment; and at the great god Indra, clothed in red, elephant-mounted, with lightning for his weapon, and holding his sharp knife poised.
From the servants’ shelters a figure crept silently away into the night, but returned to the tents at a call and revealed itself as Amu. The hill-man looked stronger for the few days’ rest and feeding, and after humbly salaaming, seemed anxious to slip away. He shook his head vehemently to deny any intention of again deserting, and was allowed to go. Mr. Damelin was thoughtful.
“Amu is not like other people,” he remarked. “I believe he has more senses on the alert than we have. Perhaps he has an animal instinct for danger. He is now on the track of someone, I feel sure, some old enemy of his, perhaps. Some long-buried blood feud may be cropping up again. But since he cannot tell us we must let him go his own way. I think he is true to his salt.”
Amu, meanwhile, was striding out into the darkness, guided by some obscure instinct through bush and thorn. He covered several miles in a short time and joined the pilgrims’ way again near the deserted village. There he squatted down with pricked ears amongst the earthy hummocks. Slight sounds rewarded him, and guided by these he stole through the uneven ruins until he found what he sought. Sleeping on the ground, surrounded by odds and ends of property, lay a Hindu faqir and, at a slight distance near his round baskets, a snake-charmer. Both were breathing the heavy breaths of narcotic sleep, dead to the world. Amu could have killed them where they lay. His eyes gleamed and his fingers twitched, but something held him back. He had lived with people who would not be pleased with such a night’s work. He would be uneasy before his mistress with bloodstained hands. Mingled with these thoughts there was also a sense of caution. He was as one bitten by a snake, who would for ever fear a rope. Softly as a prowling cat he drew near and turned over the faqir’s belongings: an odd assortment of roots, thin plates of copper engraved with unknown characters, glass beads made magical by mantras, all his stock-in-trade of amulets for the credulous. Amu turned these over cautiously and lighted upon a small pot of dark substance. This he recognized and put in his own wallet, for it was an enchanted mixture for rubbing on a man’s hands and eyes in order that he might discover treasure. The faqir had remedies, too, for in another place Amu found bats’ claws, worn by women and children for night fever, and cotton seed, administered for hydrophobia; but what he was really searching for was not there, some indication that this faqir was in the employ of the brahmin priests of Juggernaut in Orissa. The snake-charmer was beneath his notice. With an uncivil gesture of utmost contempt Amu passed him by and strode off into the darkness.
His travels occupied a full week. Food was given to him ungrudgingly as he went, for who would deny a dumb man? Through a region of villages and cultivation inland Amu strolled and listened and pried. He was doing amateur detective work, and thoroughly enjoying it, ever seeking for signs of brahmin influence of the sort with which he had become so sadly familiar. The search was rewarded at last, for on the road he met an advance party of pilgrims, faqirs, and mendicant brahmins, and a few old and withered bairági women. He could not ask them whither they were bound, but it was soon evident by the direction of their journey. Someone was making known far and wide the story of the excavated temple. The bazaars would know through the trade and traffic of the maistries’ camps, but these bairágis came from far; no Telugus were they, but from further north, beyond the border. Amu’s mind could go no deeper than the notion of search for treasure. A searching for salvation even in the Hindu sense of freedom from endless rebirths and torments was beyond his ken, but this he did grasp---that should the Orissa brahmins determine to take over the temple, they would stick at no crime which might assist them. Amu, without further hesitation, headed for the camp.
“Just look at them doing pujá to their spades!” exclaimed Silvia. “Those were the very men to whom Father Damien preached yesterday.”
Mrs. Campion, holding Tony by the hand, paused and stood watching a group of coolies who had prostrated themselves with outstretched arms before a small pile of spades, in front of which were placed little earthen saucers of ghee and curds. They took no notice of the English women, but continued speaking in rapid sentences, a jumble of meaningless words.
“Does Father Damien do them any good?” asked the girl doubtfully.
“He certainly does,” rejoined Mrs. Campion. “They don’t stop doing pujá in a day, but he sows seeds of better thoughts in their dull minds. They are frightened of their own gods, but after a time begin to understand that the great God of whom he speaks is quite different and wishes them well.”
“And, anyhow, they are cured of their fevers,” added Silvia.
They were walking along the sand ridge between the beach and the coolies’ lines. Tony every now and then darted off to pick up shells--- delicate pink ones---and stopped to rub his little bare legs where the shore grass pricked him. He was growing very pale in the heat, but was well and sturdy for all that. Silvia moved in a gentle, languid way, but her face was bright. She was looking forward to their long journey to the Nilgiris, and the change of scenery. It would be like entering a fascinating new world full of flowers and sweet scents and changing views, instead of the endless sea and endless scrub which her eager eyes had had to be content to look upon since childhood. She was impatient of the delay in starting, but the time of departure was not far distant now. On the western horizon the heavy monsoon clouds were banking every evening. Soon there would be a long trek by cart and dhooly, then the railway journey for her wonder and delight, and then people. People from her books alive and walking about! Fascinating but alarming thought! Would her mother grow happier? she wondered. Would she meet people and forget the past?
“Look, Silvia!” said Tony’s mother, shading her eyes with her hand. “Can you see anything unusual beyond the cooly lines?”
Silvia looked with her far-sighted eyes. “There are people coming. The ordinary bazaar people with food.”
“Are there not more of them than usual?”
“They seem just like those who always come.”
“Perhaps so,” said Mrs. Campion. “But I thought they were somehow different.”
They strolled back to the tents for breakfast, and another peaceful day passed over their heads.
They often remembered it afterwards, for their days of peace, had they but known it, were numbered.
Mr. Damelin came back from his medical ministrations that evening with a thoughtful face. He said he had noticed strangers amongst the permitted inhabitants of the camp, and still bands of wanderers were making their way hither. This would need guarding against, for camp discipline could not be extended indefinitely, and the health of everyone depended upon that.
Campion and Rees went off to interview their maistries and inspect the cooly gangs, and found it as Father Damien had said. Strangers were filtering in, who came right up to the excavations and stared in open-mouthed astonishment and awe. Every morning and evening added to their number. What could have brought them?
“I’ve got it!” exclaimed Owen. “They are pilgrims!”
“Good heavens! Then these are but the forerunners of a great host. Why did not I foresee this? We must send for a guard, or our work will be completely stopped and ruined. It will be at least two weeks before we can get help.”
“Can’t we head them back, sir? The place won’t be fit for the ladies to stay in.”
“No, indeed! We shall have to pack them off to the hills. It is quite time too.”
“Shall we stay on?”
“We ought to do so. If the countryside pours down here they may do a good deal of damage.”
Returning to the tents they found Mr. Damelin interviewing some of the newcomers, villagers from the cultivated country, simple people and harmless, but bearing food to last them some time, and talking of a great pujá on a set day of the moon.
“There is someone behind this, I’m afraid,” he said. “I wish Amu could speak!”
As if he had known that he would be wanted, Amu appeared at that moment and signed to Father Damien to follow him. The contrast between them was striking as they walked away together---the Englishman with his intellectual face and dignified bearing, and the squat, uncouth hill-man. The short tropical twilight came to an end, and Amu made signs of satisfaction. He led the way to a far corner of the cooly camp, and stopped to point through the gloom at an ash-smeared faqir, seated on his leopard-skin and looking straight in front of him. Then walking away, he secretively pulled out of a bag at his waist the small pot of magic treasure-finding paste. It meant nothing to the dorai gáru, who shook his head, but Amu enlightened him by rubbing some on his own eyes and hands, and kneeling down to search in the dust.
“Treasure?” asked the Englishman.
The mute nodded, and explained by signs that the stuff had belonged to the faqir, but was now his property since he was in possession. He then went through a pantomime with great gravity. Someone was over the faqir. Someone of great power and very determined, someone with the trident-like mark of Vishnu on his forehead. He, with others, was to be feared. From the north they would come. Father Damien was good at guessing today.
Amu answered with the twist of his neck which signifies assent all over the south, and strode without further gestures to his own place.
The others were seated under the stars in the open when Damelin joined them.
“We are going to be invaded, I fear,” he said, sinking into the vacant deck-chair. “Amu says there are brahmins coming in search of treasure. Our friend the faqir has already arrived.”
“Amu says?” laughed someone.
“His gestures speak. He is a sharp little chap. Can you trust your maistries, chief?”
“They can be trusted in their own job. Outside of that I wouldn’t trust them further than I can throw them. You can’t follow the workings of the Hindu mind. At least, I can’t, even after years in the country.”
Damelin nodded. “One has to remember one thing, and that is that they are for ever afraid of something or somebody. Veiled from their sight are terrible powers intent on harming them---if not in one way, then in another; if not now, then later on. He stopped abruptly, for Christine had grown white and begun to shiver in spite of the heat. How could he have been so thoughtless?, He changed the subject:
“Let us have some cheerful music. Mrs. Campion, won’t you sing to us?”
“If Owen will bring out his banjo I will,” she answered with quick perception, and immediately sang in a sweet, cultivated voice old English ballads that they all knew well. Then to his banjo, Rees sang in a clear tenor the air that he was often whistling, “Drink to me only with thine eyes.”
“Adrian used to sing that years ago,” said Christine softly. “Do you remember, Padre?”
“I remember quite well.”
They fell silent and sat listening to the booming of the surf upon the beach. A few sea-gulls settling down for the night uttered their discontented wailing. The servants were going to rest, and clearing their throats with disagreeable noises. Tony stirred in his sleep in the tent close by and uttered a cry, which was speedily hushed by his ayah’s soothing voice. The cooly lines had grown silent. The chaukidars were in their places for the night, keeping watch and ward over the master’s tents. The stars pulsed and glittered overhead. It was a peaceful scene, homely and secure, but when she kissed Silvia good-night in their hot tent Christine shivered once again.
They awoke to the rattling of the palmyra fronds overhead. The tents were pitched where a patch of shade from these high tops sheltered them through many hours of the ever hotter growing days. They would have been unbearable but for this alleviation, and for the cool afternoon sea-breeze. The hot breath of the land wind in the mornings had been growing stronger as the days passed, but now the palmyras were answering to something out of the usual course. A strong wind from the north-east was lifting little eddies of dry sand and whirling them along playfully.
“Very nice indeed!” said Mrs. Campion contentedly, but her husband was not so pleased.
“It is cyclonic,” he grumbled. “This strong north-easter is not due yet awhile, not until the November monsoon, in fact. It may bring about a bad storm, and we shall get the full brunt of it.” The wind was certainly blowing very vigorously, catching the tops of the big combers and covering them with spray and foam, and bringing the tides higher up the shelving beach.
At breakfast-time a maistry appeared and awaited his master’s convenience at a respectful distance. His news was this, that the coolies were fast deserting, and the gangs were melting away.
Many had gone in the night with their families. Others were sullen and disinclined to work. There was a panic spreading amongst them.
“Let them go,” said Campion. “Some will stay, no doubt, and we must shore up the banks quickly. If the work has to be closed down for a time, fewer men will be needed. What are they frightened about?”
The maistry shrugged his shoulders, but turned and spoke rapidly to the butler, who paused with plates in his hands. After much questioning and many head movements the servant prepared to explain.
“Why ’fraiding, this man not knowing, sar. Plenty pilgrims coming, and priests and pujá people to make big feast and tamásha at temple, but coolies not stopping. They are silly buffaloes, maistry telling.”
“Let them go, maistry. Let them thin themselves out today, and tomorrow we will make sure of the necessary number. Some will stay for higher pay and batta, no doubt.”
The dorais returned to their inspection soon after this. The work had been so interesting and so well done that it was disappointing to have to leave it now. On the seaward side a great and broad trench had been cleared of sand, and the banks shored up with strong planks laboriously carted over the jungle on rough, solid-wheeled country carts. The little temple stood swept out and empty. The topmost storey, with its stucco moulding broken in places, seemed to have been the chief shrine. A figure of Kali had been discovered in it, overthrown and discoloured and dripped. Pious hands had replaced it on its pedestal and adorned its neck with garlands of marigolds. There seemed to be an attempt at worship, too, for the silver sound of a little temple bell reached them through a narrow doorway leading out to a small, hardly perceptible balcony. Across the intervening gap they could just see dimly the figure of a naked, ash-smeared ministrant; while down below in the larger room from which steep stone stairs led up aloft, through the stone pillars excavated with such care, could be seen a seated guru surrounded by a silent crowd.
“When did these fellows come? Who gave them leave to take possession like this?” Campion was thoroughly annoyed. How could his men possibly continue the work of excavating? There were almost certainly vaults still to be found beneath the present level, and he had hoped that beneath this site might be found the remains of buildings older yet, the origin of which might stretch into the heroic days of Indian history. Now with the monsoon coming, brahmin priests in possession, and the site established as a place of pilgrimage, work would have to be closed down. Even as they watched a stream of people entered the hall from the pilgrims’ way on the further side, made prostrations to the haughty guru, and mounted the stairs with their offerings for the shrine above. A batch of coolies paused, hesitated, and sat down to confer. The trouble was spreading amongst them.
“Why not send Tony and the ladies to the old bungalow,” suggested Mr. Damelin at tiffin-time, “and leave for the hills from there?”
Christine, who had been growing restless and depressed, brightened at this. After all, the bungalow was her home, and of late she had felt curious eyes upon her. There were those who tried to get glimpses of her face when she met them. She had overheard more than one comment from the fast-growing number of strangers and devotees. Only the kind but urgent persuasions of all her friends prevented her from again assuming her calico sheath. Silvia was disappointed, but said nothing, and a hasty packing up began amidst the flapping of the tent canvas and the gritty coating of sand which overlaid everything. A tent was sent on ahead along the shore with necessaries for a midday halt. Tai and Amu would start with this that evening, and Tai would complete the journey to the bungalow next morning, leaving Amu in charge of the tent until the servants arrived. Tai said, “Very good, ma’am,” and forthwith collected her things into a bundle, but Amu had again disappeared. Old Tai must be content with the cook’s mati, and that cheerful servant, being quite ready for a change of scene, strode off jauntily beside her tonjon or carrying-chair, and disappeared into the haze.
The next day the cooly lines were nearly deserted, and the pilgrims’ way was filled by two streams of people going in opposite directions. The pilgrims who invaded the vicinity had no semblance of camp discipline. They were just an ever-growing mob, intent on being at the sacred spot in time for the great new-moon pujá. The strong sea-wind was blowing lustily, and clouds were banking up. The tides were running high, for at this time of the year the waters are forced up into the Bay of Bengal by the south-west monsoon, and the unaccountable north-east wind was opposing and fretting them.
Amu, questing about after his manner, watched the brahmin priests arrive and take possession. He saw the goats, which were kept alive for some non-brahmin sacrifice of the common people. He watched and listened when a whispered rumour began to spread that the white-haired lady in the tents was marked with the sign of the terrible goddess, and would have her part to play in bringing blessings upon them. The hill-man turned this over in his slow brain and decided not to leave the place before his mistress. With a grunt of satisfaction he watched from afar the departure of Tai. In a few hours now the doraisánis would be out of harm’s way, and he with them.
There were others also who watched the movements amongst the English tents. The dorais were welcome to go when once the big pujá had been accomplished, but until then the priests of Kali had need of them. They might even now know where treasure was stored. Without mantras and without magic the dorais could find these things at will. They must find but should not keep, and the secret devotee of Kali, the woman who bore her mark, must be brought once more into her service.
The next morning, in a tearing wind which made the ponies restive, the party prepared to start. After a hasty early tea, pillows and cushions were placed in the dhoolies, Mrs. Campion and Tony climbed into theirs, and the bearers lifted them up and started off. Silvia was about to mount her pony, but could not see her mother, whose dhooly was waiting empty. A few curious bystanders had drawn near.
“Where is Mother?” Mr. Damelin looked round. “She was here a moment ago. She has gone back into the tent for something.”
Moments lengthened into minutes, and Silvia followed her into the tent, and then the men outside heard a cry of dismay:
“Father Damien, please come here quickly!”
Mr. Damelin strode in after her, but stopped just inside puzzled, for Christine had thrown herself upon her camp-bed and was sleeping soundly.
Her daughter shook her. “Wake up, Mother; we ought to be starting.” But Christine slept on, with peaceful, even breathing. They called to her and shook her, but made no impression. Amu appeared at the tent-opening with wide, frightened eyes, and, creeping in, crouched by the bedside watching.
“What is the matter?” called Campion from outside. His wife would wonder why she was being left to proceed alone.
“Come in here one moment, Campion.”
He strode in, followed by Rees, and they all stood round the bed.
“Shake her again, Silvia. Try splashing a little cold water.”
“Do you think she is ill, Padre, or is this some sort of hypnotic sleep?” Campion asked.
Damelin shook his head. “Has she ever been like it before, Silvia?”
“No, Father Damien.”
“Well, what is to be done?” exclaimed the chief.
Mr. Damelin was silent for a moment, and then made his suggestion.
“You and Silvia ride on after Mrs. Campion. We will keep Tony’s ayah here until this afternoon, and then Rees and I will follow you with Mrs. Scott in a dhooly, awake or asleep. You will have had tiffin and gone on to the bungalow. We will camp down half-way and follow in the morning.”
“One of us must be back here by the morning. You had better stay, Rees. The place cannot be left with maistries in sole charge. But why not take Mrs. Scott in the dhooly now?”
Mr. Damelin shook his head.
“She is better here for the present. We will give her a chance of waking naturally. She must not be startled if it can be prevented.
“I can’t leave her!” cried Silvia.
“It will only be for a few hours, my dear. We will try and reach the half-way camp before nightfall, but if you stay, you may have to ride a long way in the dark.”
Silvia bent over her sleeping mother, and kissed her lightly, then very reluctantly mounted and rode away with Mr. Campion. They caught up with the dhooly, and, riding on, found the half-way camping-place in charge of cook’s mati, who had a meal ready for them. Tai had already gone on to the bungalow with her bearers to make all ready for their arrival that evening.
Tony’s ayah sat on the floor by Christine’s bed-side and watched her compassionately. She was puzzled about this doraisáni gáru, who was unlike any she had yet met with in her long years of service. What had those bad pujá people done to her in the old days to spoil her face, and nearly frighten her wits away? And now here they were again, upsetting Master’s business and disturbing the quiet camp life. She had watched the pujáris from afar, and two sets of ideas about them were struggling in her mind. “These people bad people. I not really ’fraiding, but---” She started when Amu’s anxious, puckered face appeared at the tent entrance, and she motioned him to go away. Mr. Damelin looked in once or twice. The hours were passing, and he sincerely hoped that Christine would waken of her own accord, so that they might start in good time. He went round the camp with Rees, and heard orders given to the maistries for the night, and then they stood watching from a distance the activities now taking place in the temple. A conch-shell was being blown---strange sound in that spot. A new shrine had been erected some way off, and little bleating goats were herded together there in a miserable group, waiting for they knew not what. There were no brahmins round that place of sacrifice, but very dark and casteless men who chewed betel and shouted to each other.
Later on ayah went to her rice, leaving Amu on guard at the tent door. The day seemed passing normally except for Christine’s strange and prolonged sleep, but the servants knew that, awake or asleep, she was to be placed in a dhooly in the early afternoon and carried carefully away. Perhaps movement would not harm her, and the pilgrims were becoming tiresomely inquisitive. They were beginning to hover round the tents, and to pry in on the sleeping lady. The chaukidars shouted in vain, and the dorais mounted guard themselves; but in ever-growing numbers fresh groups came up, more curious and more persistent.
Then suddenly came a climax. They began to swarm, and the voiceless Amu was hustled aside. Some secret message seemed to run through the groups gathered on the pilgrims’ road and round the temple, for a mass of humanity bore down upon the tents---not menacing, only curious and intent, driven by some power they felt bound to obey. Rees and Damelin dashed for their firearms, but were caught in the tide and carried away with it. When by fierce struggling they extricated themselves and ran to look for Mrs. Scott, they found her tent empty. Christine had been spirited away.
“Quick, Rees! Get the tent khalásis and the maistries together and comb out the crowds from the shore inland. I’ll post men on the outskirts and see that she is not carried into the jungle.”
They both hurried away, anxious, but relieved to see that there was nothing sinister in the crowd. These pilgrims were peaceful, illiterate villagers at home, but here they seemed subject to mass impulses, and although quiet now, there was no knowing to what any trouble might lead. Damelin strode off to surround the whole tribe of them with a cordon of watchers, all too thinly spaced, and Rees went straight to the temple. He was, indeed, borne thither in the press which soon surrounded him, nearly overpowering him with the smells of garlic and cocoanut oil.
It was as well that he wished to go to the temple, for he was powerless to extricate himself. Over the heads of the bare-shouldered crowd his eyes searched everywhere, until he was at last carried by them through the carved stone doorway into the interior itself. And there he saw Christine! She was placed crouched before the idol shrine. Her eyes, still dazed with sleep, were opening on the horrid image, with such a look in them as he dreaded to see. Wrenching a way for himself, Owen strove to reach her, but was violently seized and drawn backwards. He was conscious of hypnotic eyes fastened on his, eyes from which he could not escape, and after a dazed moment succumbed to an overpowering inclination to sleep. His heavy eyelids drooped, and he slipped off into blackness.
How long he lay thus he could not tell, but after a time sight and hearing returned to him. A bell was tinkling near at hand; a sickly odour of ghee and jasmine garlands assailed him, and in the darkness of the crowded shrine he saw the priests of Kali prostrate before her image. Someone held a wooden cup to his lips, but he jerked it aside and spilt the liquid down his coat. He rose giddily to his feet. What was he doing there in the midst of this heathen rout? From his dim corner he could see the sunshine beyond the carved openings. Through one he could see the shored-up yellow sand of the beach, and Silvia standing there with her syce! Why should Silvia be there?
In almost a natural voice Owen heard himself calling out to her:
“Hullo, Miss Scott! Why have you come back? Can I get out that way?”
He strode to the opening, but was arrested by a sound from the dimness behind him---the voice of Christine, but such a voice as he had never heard before, so full was it of horror and fear.
“Stop, Adrian! Stop! For Heaven’s sake, Stop!”
The voice rose to a shriek, and he turned to see a woman with a crown of snowy hair scrambling over and amongst the kneeling multitude, trying in a frenzy to reach him. She succeeded in laying clutching hands on his arm, and he put out a hand to steady her, for she was swaying and about to fall. His eyes were set and unblinking still, and he turned again to the opening.
“I didn’t know we could get out that way,” he murmured. “Come, Mrs. Scott, Silvia is waiting for us.”
“Adrian! Adrian!” shrieked the voice at his side, and the hands that held him were like steel; but even at that moment their hold gradually relaxed and Christine sank slowly down at his feet.
Now to the man, half-bemused, came lifelong instinct to his aid. His own concerns came second to rendering assistance to a woman. Very gently and carefully he laid the still form on the ground and looked about for something with which to revive her. The worshippers were thickly thronging towards the idol in the recess. They paid no heed to him, nor attempted to make way for him. He must carry her out, not the way he had come, but to where he had seen Silvia a few minutes ago. He stooped to lift her up, but she was heavier than he had thought, and then a strange thing happened. The exertion, the effort, and the concentration of his mind on this purpose began to sweep the mists from his brain. He lifted her and strode to the open air, but when there, with a shock which brought him completely to his senses, he saw that the group outside had vanished, and he was about to step out with his burden from the ledge of the upper shrine into the deep sandy trench below. . . .
On turning in search of the steep stone stairs to the lower hall, Owen, carrying Christine, stumbled against Amu, who with anxious face made a way for him amongst the crowding devotees. They pushed their way out inch by inch, nor turned to see the deep malignant eyes of the priest before the shrine. The face of the battered image, too, seemed set in a cruel smile, but Amu resolutely looked away from it. His allegiance was here with the mistress he had served so faithfully. Though the hair on his neck should bristle with fear, he would not desert her now. Out into the evening light they bore her, but could find no comfort there, for the wind was freshening to a sudden hurricane, and from heavy storm clouds lightning began to play incessantly, while the first heavy drops of rain fell. Was she dead? They could not tell, but carried her up the excavated incline. There were broad planks lying about, and Owen placed her gently down on one of them. He signed to Amu to lift an end of it, and he took up the other, but a step was all they had time to take.
A step was all, for suddenly the end of all things seemed to be upon them! A great cry on every side rose into shrieks of horror and amazement. “The sea is coming! The sea is coming!”5
One instant’s vision of a great wall of water tipped with foam was all that Owen comprehended; the next moment they were in it, submerged, carried along, mere straws on the tide. All feeling and thought left him. Darkness and the shadow of death had come upon him, and upon those crowds of hapless people. With the swirl of water in his ears he knew that this meant death. On and on the rushing ocean bore him, and it seemed hours before connected thought entered his brain, then an idea lodged there. He was holding tightly to something, and every now and then he could breathe great gulps of air. But borne along at a great speed he narrowly missed the trunks of upstanding palmyra trees. These in their turn were uprooted or snapped off, and came bearing down upon him. How was it that he did not die? He opened his eyes. He was alone with a plank in his grasp---alone in a wide waste of rushing, foaming water, luridly phosphorescent, boiling, swirling, lifted by the raging wind into sheets of spray. The others? Damelin, Christine, the servants, coolies, pilgrims, where were they? He dared not think, but bent his returning powers to the task of clinging to his plank of safety, his one hope of survival.
It seemed as if hours passed over hrs head. Darkness of night and storm came upon him. Would his strength hold out? The water was not cold, and the thought came to him at last that the race was less swift and strong. It seemed lessening its force. He began to float almost quietly along, then touched solid ground and crawled on hands and knees up a dry, grassy slope.
Never afterwards did Owen forget the blessed feel of dry grass and earth. To him it was as home is to a long lost wanderer, like his mother’s breast to the heart of a doomed man.
Merciful sleep or unconsciousness overtook him as he lay, and well it was for Owen Rees that he was out of the water before it began to recede. This it did at first slowly, but, gathering speed with every passing minute, it was soon like a vast, frothy mill-race, and back with it he might have been borne, back to the authentic ocean whence it had emerged for this titanic joke.
For three hours the waters covered the land, and for those three hours and many more he lay in stupor. Then the comforting fingers of the sun stole over him to awaken him, to drive the chill from his frame and to lay soft and pleasant warmth upon his racked imagination. He moved and sat up, almost too spent to care to live, yet with strong young life in him still.
And what a scene met his eyes! Uprooted trees, unroofed and washed-away mud huts, a scoured and water-swept land from which soon the sun would be drawing up moisture and leaving salt behind; with vegetation ruined and wells spoiled and left brackish. Desolation complete.
Like seaweed washed up by the waves the edge of the flood was fringed with the burden it had tried to carry but had at last thrown down--- bodies of animals, bodies of men and women, and with them some of the possessions they would need no more.
Owen crawled yet further up the slope and lay still until he heard the sound of human voices. From the green and pleasant land beyond the flood came villagers and the officials of village life, amazed and awestruck, but kindly. Human speech seemed just then like sounds of sweetest music. Someone found him. A dorai! Oh, treat him well, for great will be the joy of the sircar, and great the reward! Rude but well-intentioned hands lifted and bore him to a village hard by, laid him on a string bed, and gave him a tin mug of coffee. Someone, more thoughtful, had the bed moved into the shade, and there they stood round him, Staring and smiling, pleased that he was alive.
Later on he feebly enquired the name of the village. Heavens! It was fourteen miles inland!
All that day he lay between waking and sleeping, hardly daring to face the question as to the fate of all his friends. He had escaped by a miracle. After hours of search the villagers returned to him and shook their heads. No one else had been cast up alive, no English bodies had been seen. He tried to think of the Campions and Silvia, and to form an opinion as to whether they had reached the bungalow in time, but with returning strength came terrible anxiety. Tomorrow he must find out for himself, and meanwhile all along the line of flotsam went many searchers, and back to him again came word that he only from amongst them all had the great gods spared.
*### * ***
Campion and his wife, Silvia and Tony had reached the bungalow in the late afternoon. The storm-clouds beating their way up the sky made them hurry over the last few miles, for rain and nightfall on the open shore would both be unpleasant. Tony was tired and missed his ayah. Silvia was silent, and anxious about her mother. They had hoped that the second party would overtake them at the half-way camp, but as they did not appear cook’s mati was left behind there with many instructions as to the doraisáni’s comfort. A chance of his lifetime, this was, to show how well he would be able to fill the rôle of head cook in the near future, so cook’s mati cheerfully set about concocting soup and entrée with one knife, two cocoanut spoons, and a few spare pieces of split bamboo for implements. It would be a very wet and unpleasant camp if the rain came down, but after digging a trench round the tent and seeing that the ropes were secure, the first party had reluctantly to leave.
At the bungalow Tai was waiting for them. The child was put to bed, and the travellers sat down to a meal. After dinner they remained inside the house, for the verandah was feeling the force of the strong gale from the sea which had been so trying to them in coming along the exposed shore. The dhooly-bearers and syces were comfortably settled in the servants’ quarters, and, when the first great drops of rain fell, thought themselves lucky to have a roof over their heads. Presently Campion went to the verandah doors to close them against the coming storm, and then his startled eyes saw an awe-inspiring sight. The level of the ocean was rising! Like a tidal bore on the Severn, he thought. No! An “upenna” of the Coromandel Coast!
“Quick! The roof!” His sharp cry brought the ladies to their feet. With one stride, it seemed, he had reached Tony’s cot in the bedroom and snatched him up, and dragging the sleepy Tai from the floor, he raced up the brick stairs after his wife and Silvia. They were only just in time ere down upon the devoted walls came the shattering force of the flood. With a bang and a roar that rocked the old building to its foundations, the ocean raced past them, not, it seemed, in waves, but in one boiling, urgent mass of water.
For a long minute thought would not travel beyond the immediate overwhelming present. They had snatched their lives from the very jaws of death. So unexpected was the catastrophe so unspeakably amazing, that they stood with white faces and stared into each other’s eyes. Their house-top seemed to be a large raft heading rapidly out to sea. The illusion was strong that it had broken its moorings and was drifting away with them to mid-ocean.
“Where are we going, Daddy?” Tony clung round his father’s neck. He, at any rate, felt safe in that sure grasp. Tai was the next to recover her voice. She raised her brown, bangled arms high over her head, and prayed to the good God she had learned to love and trust. The English people, silent and more reticent, were lifting up their hearts to the same God with no less fervour. There came a gasp from Silvia.
“Owen!” she exclaimed. “Mother!” They stood huddled together looking into each other’s blanched faces by the dim light. What were they to think? As far as sight could penetrate was ocean, resistless and implacable.
“He hath set them their bounds which they shall not pass,” murmured Mrs. Campion, hardly knowing what she said. Her husband kept his thoughts to himself. Just beneath them the go-downs and cook-room were the graves of the men they had brought with them. Poor cook’s mati, left all alone, must have been caught up and swept away like a mere speck on the tide. Campion wished his thoughts would stop there, and not travel further along the shore to the camp with its teeming life---pilgrims, coolies, women and children, and their own intimate friends, Damelin, Rees, and Silvia’s mother.
He looked up at the girl. Silvia was gripping the parapet wall and staring with strained eyes into the darkness and storm in the direction from which they seemed to be fast travelling. She was sanding quietly, for her mind was nearly blank. This seemed like an awful, impossible dream from which they must soon awaken happy and relieved. Tony’s mother stepped to her side, and put her arm round the girl’s tense waist. They stood thus for hours. There was nothing else to do.
At length Tony fell asleep on his father’s shoulder. Tai cowered away from the blinding flashes of lightning, but the others neither moved nor spoke. Their quietness somehow reassured the ayah, who crept away alongside the parapet wall and peered into the murk and gloom. They heard her voice from a short distance.
“Sar! Ma’am! We are not moving so fast!” It was true. Their raft appeared to be slowing up. It wavered, it halted, and then began to swim back again the way they seemed to have come, at first slowly, and then with ever-increasing pace. Illogical as it seemed, it was mightily reassuring; and presently the day dawned and the clouds swept themselves away from curtaining the serene blue sky. The light fully revealed the turbid waters, which rushed by them strewn with uprooted palmyra trees and debris, until suddenly good solid earth appeared, to which they seemed to be rushing headlong for an inevitable crash.
It never came. They were anchored fast, Steady and secure, and beyond the familiar beach, now harassed and altered, the chained ocean once more sank to rest.
Campion handed the sleeping boy to the comforting arms of the ayah, and went down the steep roof stairs into the house. They could hear him paddling and splashing about below, for the water had not had time to drain off. His first thought was for immediate needs---tinned food of any sort, and rugs and bedding to put out into the sun to dry. Everything seemed spoiled. The pleasant, home-like rooms were caves of filth and slime. Furniture had been carried away, or stood smashed against the broken verandah balustrade. The high-water mark of the tide on the walls was within a few feet of the ceiling. A moment’s delay in escaping would have left them drowned like rats in a trap. While profoundly thankful for himself, the man’s heart ached for the girl who had lost her all. Then and there he determined that he and his wife should take her as a daughter, to guard and care for as their own.
“Where do you keep your stores, Silvia?” Campion’s voice sounded reassuringly matter-of-fact, and signing to Tai to stay where she was with the child, his wife and Silvia crept down into the interior and joined him. There seemed to be nothing left undamaged. Beds and bedding were soaked, the crockery was smashed, and the young owner stood silently staring at it all.
“We’ll take what we can up to the roof to dry, and then we must explore your cupboards.”
“The stores are in a locked go-down,” said Silvia. “Tai has the key. I’ll get it.”
She turned and ran up to the roof once more, and husband and wife exchanged hurried whispers.
“Keep her with you away from the go-downs,” he said. “There are those poor fellows there. I must go alone and see what can be done about them. Keep her busy until I come back.”
He made his way to the back verandah and down the ruined steps and on into the cook-room courtyard through indescribable confusion, but could find no trace of the syces and dhooly-bearers. They must have run out into the open air at the first alarm and been carried away by the flood to certain death. Relieved not to find their dead bodies, he returned for the key and opened the store-room door, to be met by a rush of imprisoned water which knocked him off his feet.
A shout of laughter from the roof made him look up. Tony was awake and watching.
“You can come down, ayah,” called his father. “Baba can go to his mother. I want you here.”
Heaving long and deep sighs Tai presently joined him in a search amongst the tumbled stores. Tins of all shapes and sizes lay heaped up, but unspoiled. There was food enough for weeks.
“If Master has matches I drying firewood in the sun,” said Tai. “Ayyo! What a bad business!” She scrambled towards the cook-room with heartfelt groans. This was Tai’s way of expressing awed admiration for the power and might of Heaven. “Ayyo! No pots! no water!”
“What’s that?” called the master.
“Sar, no water got. Sea-water only in well. Ayyo! This plenty bad business!”
“You are right, ayah. Plenty bad business.” Campion stared thoughtfully around. “Any soda-water got, ayah? What are those cases over there?”
“Lemonade or soda. Master please see writing.”
There were cases of both lemonade and soda-water, and breaking open one of the latter, Campion returned to the bungalow to find much drying going on in the hot sunshine. They breakfasted on biscuits and tinned fruit, but Silvia was pale and silent. To keep her occupied her friends suggested searching in drawers and almirahs for more things to be dried and saved. Alas! the books were all spoiled, but even some of these were carried to the sunny edge of the verandah to be dried. And so that first long, strange day wore away towards evening.
When Silvia slept husband and wife held anxious council. It seemed unlikely that anyone would know of their plight. They would probably be considered lost with the rest of the camp, and search would be made for their bodies much further south. Who could know of this lonely bungalow save Damelin, and he would be amongst the missing.
“We shall have to walk over the scrub. There is nothing else to be done,” Mrs. Campion remarked.
“It is impossible. None of you could do it, not even Silvia. You couldn’t safely walk in the sun by day, and you couldn’t possibly get very far by night. No, that won’t do, but I could go alone, walking all night, and could bring bullock-carts back with me. Would you be afraid to stay here alone?”
“Oh, my dear! Supposing we are drowned or supposing you don’t come back!”
“Nerves, old girl! Cheer up. You aren’t going to be drowned, and what will prevent my coming back? Even the jackals and snakes will have perished. I must get you out of this, and then we must consider what is to be done about that poor girl. I wonder if she knows of any relations in England?”
“She must stay with us as long as she wishes. Poor Silvia!”
They stood together silently for a time in the early dawn looking out at the scene around them. The lifelessness of the shore was complete. Of fishing villages no trace remained. The palmyras which had marked their sites were uprooted or broken; the backwater where Silvia had amused herself in her little boat was unrecognizable. Sand and seawrack and pools of brackish water disfigured the jungle as far as eye could see. No living creatures moved save sea-gulls and paddy-birds. With a sigh of commiseration for the poor lost fishermen, Mrs. Campion turned to begin making preparations for her husband’s departure. Soda-water and portable food and a hurricane lantern were necessaries, and taking with him a second pair of boots, he set out in the early evening through the desolation. They watched him until he finally disappeared, and then went indoors again to arrange for the night. Silvia was painfully silent. Tai went about shaking her head and sighing. “My poor Missis!” she said. “Where is she now?” The little boy, the only one who was happy and unconcerned, was the greatest blessing to them all, and his mother was relieved when Silvia suddenly picked him up and held him in her arms.
On the following day there seemed nothing left to do. The stores had been sorted out, cooking utensils improvised, things dried and mended, and Tony taken for a short walk over the tumbled ground before the sun was hot. Mrs. Campion’s cheerful common sense still triumphed, but never before had she felt such a waif, so abandoned in an inhospitable world. Should any accident befall her husband, what then? He might break a leg or dislocate an ankle all alone there in the jungle, and might even now be lying out helpless with the merciless sun beating down upon him, and with the nearest villages many miles away across the pathless scrub.
It did not do to think of such things. She bestirred herself to superintend Tai’s efforts at cleaning up, and to encourage Silvia in taking charge of the child. The feel of his little arms about the neck was the best medicine, for she was anxious about Silvia. She remembered her instinctive cry, “Owen! Mother!” and that her only other friend, Mr. Damelin, might be amongst the missing. How could she hold out any hope? Could it be possible that the flood had not overwhelmed the camp, and that even now a rescue party might be on its way to them, and all anxiety and trouble at an end? Her husband had not thought so. She must keep this surmise to herself for the present.
The day wore on, and from the water-logged land the hot sun drew moisture. The air did not seem wholesome, and fresh anxiety grew up in her mind as she dosed the whole party with quinine and longed for her husband’s return.
They were indoors having tea that afternoon---queer tea, made with soda-water---when Tai burst in upon them breathlessly.
“Missy, the Reverend comes!”
Silvia jumped to her feet and flew out to the back verandah, followed quickly by the others. They all stood listening and looking. Mrs. Campion could hear and see nothing, though she saw by the girl’s expression that Tai had not been mistaken. They could both hear something which filled them with hope.
“Listen, Amma!” said Tai. “We can hear his pony’s feet!”
And then from far away she too began to catch the sound of a trotting pony. Fitfully came the beats, more felt than heard. It might be her husband coming back again with succour. It might be anybody. Who was it? Before she could distinguish anything the far-sighted eyes of Silvia and the ayah had discovered what they sought. Silvia’s voice sounded flat.
“It isn’t Father Damien, Tai. It is an Indian in a turban.” Her disappointment was so unbearable that she turned away and went indoors, leaving the rest to watch the ever-nearing rider.
He did not come in a straight line, but halted sometimes, and sometimes struck out to tight and left as obstacles lay in his path; but though progress was uneven, it was sure, and with an exclamation of relief the watchers saw that an English face was beneath the Indian head-dress. It looked very white and drawn and anxious as the eyes seemed to count and recount the group on the verandah steps. The pony halted, and the rider leapt to the ground. There were hasty questions and answers, and Silvia, indoors, stood still with a fast-beating heart, for the voice was one that she knew, a voice that had been ringing in her ears day and night, the one voice above all others that she had learned to love.
In another moment Owen Rees was by her side. She turned to him with outstretched hands, and he knew without any mistaking that she was his.
Campion had started on his long, difficult tramp with more outward appearance of stoutness of heart than he inwardly felt. After many miles of marching he would cross the line of their southward journey with the camp, and, if the flood had spared them, would eventually come to villages and hamlets, but in the dark his progress was slow and uncertain. It was, however, his only course, and with good fortune he hoped to return to the bungalow before many days had passed. The water-logged ground made going difficult. Sea-wrack and shore-wrack lay tangled in confusion, and when the daylight faded he struggled on in ever-growing fatigue. The sudden darkness fell, and the night wind sighed and whispered over the harassed ground. The lonely traveller lighted his hurricane lamp, and, guided by the stars, kept stolidly on, for every slow mile put behind him was a mile gained. Floundering into water-filled nullahs, Stumbling against fallen tree-trunks, he seemed to be advancing at a mere snail’s pace. Then to cheer him would come a stretch of level, unencumbered ground where the going was easy and his breath came more evenly, and the stars pulsed brilliantly overhead, companionable and friendly, aiding the sickle moon to relieve the otherwise utter darkness.
Campion’s care was mainly concentrated on the ground beneath his feet. It needed almost undivided attention, but looking up at one time, while he stood to take breath, he saw a homely yellow light that could not be a star burning near the ground. Nor could it belong to a village unless he was many miles out of his reckoning. He raised his lantern and swung it gently to and fro, and saw with joyful wonder that the distant light was being used as a signal. Three times it was darkened and glowed out again. He signalled in return and made towards it, reserving his surmising. As he drew near a dark object loomed up before him, from which came voices. Who could there be so surprisingly safe in the midst of desolation? Then he saw and understood. It was a coasting dhow or dhony, which had been carried ashore on the tidal wave and was now stranded and firmly imbedded in the ground.
The vessel seemed to tower above him in the darkness. Atilt and mastless, battered and punished though it was, its crew had found it an ark of safety, and so had a few waifs who had been rescued alive from the waves and storms. Huddled, distraught and spent, they lay in the tiny cabin more dead than alive, but responding to the rough kindness of the Muslim sailors. When the Englishman with his lantern came within the circle of the ship’s light, a gasp of surprise greeted him. Had he dropped from heaven? Only by a miracle could he thus appear to them, dry and healthy, in the midst of a drowned land! From the Ná-Khudá downwards, the crew were inclined to regard him as an angel visitant sent in the form of an English dorai for their succour. A short rope-ladder was let down for him, and many tried to help him over the awkward edge and stood salaaming low.
The Ná-Khudá, or captain of the vessel, presently ordered his men to withdraw, and, spreading a mat, invited his guest to be seated and to share a hookah with him. His speech was Deccani Hindustani, racy with Tamil idiom, and he described himself and crew as Labbay Muslims trading up and down the coast. He had a few passengers on board, traders in beads and precious stones. Worn out with past fears and emotions, they were lying asleep neat their treasures in such sheltered nooks as the small dhony afforded. He narrated how they had been driven towards the coast by the untimely gale, and then the sea had risen and borne them inland. They knew they were over the land by the palmyra trees, standing or overthrown, which nearly wrecked them more than once. For a few minutes, indeed, the vessel had become involved in a floating mass of fronds, and when the flood disentangled them again it was to find that a few half-drowned men were clinging desperately to the rope that formed a hand-hold round the ship’s side. These they had quickly helped to safety; and soon afterwards the waters had retreated, and carried them back to sea. By the compass they had found themselves being swept further north, how many miles they did not know, until, finally, with a bump and a jar, they were aground, and the sea withdrew herself to their undoing.
Such was his tale. The Englishman looked at the strong, weather-beaten face and grey beard of the Mohammadan, whose life was saved, but whose means of living had been destroyed. They were brothers in misfortune. Perhaps he could help him later on in return for present hospitality. Then at the Ná-Khudá’s invitation he lay down to get some sleep.
The awakening came all too soon, it seemed. The first grey streak of dawn was stealing into the sky; the stars in the east were paling one by one, and the whole ship’s company was astir and over the side. There came a sound like a muezzin’s call, and lo! a line of Muslim worshippers stood on the ground near by, prepared, when the fingers of the “false dawn” shot into the sky, to worship Allah as their custom was. Something of reality, surely, would steal into their hearts behind the Arabic prayers they ignorantly murmured---thankfulness and praise that they were spared to turn their faces once more Mecca-wards. The traders and fugitives were with them on the ground, and, last of all, the Englishman leapt down, and there, amongst the fugitives, he recognized the familiar face of poor faithful Amu the mute. The Arabic ritual began. The line of worshippers moved in unison, and Campion laid a friendly hand on Amu’s bare shoulder, and with him also knelt down to pray to God.
When prayers were over coffee was served out, and the warm sun put life again into the faintest-hearted. The ship’s captain was for wandering off immediately on pilgrimage to Nagur, near Negapatam, to offer up the sum of money which, in his extremity, he had vowed to give to his highness Qádir Wali Sahib, the sailors’ saint and protector, whose tomb was there. He did not yet grasp, as Campion did, the extent of the surrounding desolation, but at length consented to go with his company in search of the nearest inhabited villages, from whence food and bullock-carts could be procured. They set out then, a little band of wayfarers, on their long day’s trek, and Amu, following his new master, learnt from him that his young mistress and Tai were saved.
The Nilgiri Hills, those realms of beauty, lay bathed in glorious sunshine, which lighted up range behind range, slopes leading up to higher tree-clad slopes, and ravines down which splashed the slender silver threads of remote streams. From the higher crags, wind-swept and pure of air, down into the warm, scented luxuriance of tropic solitudes those streamlets fell, where their sound filled the humid air with voiceless speech. Where tree-ferns grew, and monkeys swung on festooned creepers, no other sound was heard save the screech of some bright-plumaged bird, or the crashing of undergrowth where wild forest things played together. Higher up the signs of human life were visible. Wood-cutters’ villages clung to precarious slopes, glinting here and there where the sun caught a new roof of flattened-out kerosene tins. The eye could range over masses of dense natural jungle, and rest upon tea plantations and coffee estates, with comfortable bungalows nestling amongst the folds of the hills, whose higher tops were often lost in mist and cloud.
In a garden filled with brilliant flowers wandered Silvia, picking at will. Her eyes were satiated with the feast of colour. Her fingers wandered lovingly amongst the cool, firm stems. Now and again she stood still, and looked away into the great spaces of light and air across the deep, wide valley before her, where a solitary eagle hung suspended, to the purple Droog beyond, which jutted out, a mighty verdure-clad rampart, above the foot-hills far below, and the pink and opalescent plain. From the verandah of a pleasant bungalow Mr. and Mrs. Campion watched her. The mimosa bushes tossed yellow balls of fragrance round her. Above her head the scarlet hibiscus trees in full blossom were a-flutter with happy pairs of crested hoopoes. At her feet were flowers of English planting---geraniums and hydrangeas, mignonette and fuchsia. The girl, having gathered her fill, turned towards the house. The year that had passed since their coming had wrought its beneficent work on Silvia. Gone was the yellow sari, and in its place she wore a white frock of usual cut, and a muslin-covered sola topi. Her cheeks glowed with healthy colour. Her whole being seemed well-poised and firmly knit. Tony came running out, and putting the flowers down on the verandah step, she chased him for a romp on the side of the bungalow where the shade lay cool and wholesome. Their voices and laughter rang out gaily. Amu rested on his spade to look up and watch them. Tai, making beds indoors, nodded a contented head. Missy could hold her own amongst all the young ladies of the place. She could ride and play tennis, and go to parties, just as poor Missis had done in the old days.
Alas! poor Missis! Poor, poor Missis! The faithful Tai wiped away a tear with the corner of her sari as she heaved a sigh. And the Padre too! Gone, quite gone!” That man too good, God wanting that man in heaven,” thought the old ayah. But she rejoiced to see her Missy happy and well loved. “Young Master will be coming up to marry Missy soon. Young Master very good. Old ayah can die happy now.”
Note.---All a’s in Indian words not accented are to be pronounced like u in “but”; ú like oo in “look.” Exceptions: “bandy “ “chunam,” “mati,” “nullah,” which are Anglicized words.
Chunam. Mrs. F. E. Penny describes it as follows: A cement made from a small bivalve of a whity-grey colour. The shells are gathered at the mouths of rivers by ‘muckwas’ (the fishermen on the Coromandel Coast). They are ground into a fine powder which is made into a kind of cement. This is plastered over brickwork, and when dry takes on a fine polish, presenting every appearance of pure white marble.” ↩
Poinciana Regia. Hindustani, julmohr, or peacock tree. ↩
Mantras = incantations. They may be preservative or destructive. There is a saying that “the gods are under the power of mantras.” They are used by priests and brahmins, doffers and mid-wives, charlatans and soothsayers. They are used to discover stolen property, thieves, hidden treasure, and for foretelling future events. ↩
There is no smoke without fire. ↩
Inundations on the East Coast of India. Four great inundations of the East Coast are known to history. In 1706 an easterly wind brought over the land a flood which covered the country for three hours. Villages and trees and paddy fields were swept away and destroyed. All fresh-water springs and wells were spoiled and rendered brackish, and great quantities of salt were left on the ground.
The inundation of 1787 was probably not caused by an earthquake, as some supposed, but by a combination of other causes---the south-west monsoon, a violent north-east gale, the configuration of the coast itself, and peculiar circumstances of the tides at the time.
The cyclone of 1839 from Vizagapatam to Nursapore was accompanied by a tidal wave which came wrecked vessels four miles inland. There was great loss of life. Cattle and crops were destroyed, and the ground made unfit for cultivation.
The tidal wave at Masulipatam in 1864 was accompanied by a violent storm of wind and rain. A vast wave 13 feet above high-water mark swept in from the sea. A watchman at the tidal lock, clinging to a tree trunk, reached safety at last 14 miles inland. Thirty thousand people perished. ↩