Red Pepper

The Zanána Mystery

Glossary

  • Farangi, a European (“Frank”).
  • Diwán, Prime Minister.
  • Mufussil, up country.
  • Burqua, an enveloping garment with eye-holes.
  • Gosha, secluded (as applied to Moslem women).

NOTE. All “a’s” in Indian words not accented are to be pronounced like “u” in “but.”

Chapter I

Along the narrow overhanging streets of a large Indian city a thin and furtive-looking Muhammadan was hastening as well as his upward-peaked red shoes would permit him. The street was full of the usual loiterers; and to a man in a hurry, they were peculiarly exasperating. Children played marbles right in his path; a Brahmini bull sauntered along, and stopping to steal from a vegetable booth, filled up quite half the roadway with his sacred bulk; faqirs too must be contented with some notice, but his evident haste saved him from their importunity; and ‘Ali Baksh threaded his way through bazaars and lanes deep into the heart of the Moslem quarter.

His eyes were on the ground as he went—a favourite pose. His sallow face was not under complete control just now, for no one was watching him. His moving, muttering lips caused the thin and henna-dyed beard to move also, and yet no audible words came. He was going to the house of the man he thoroughly hated and feared, the man who had held the whip-hand over him for ten long years, since the day his spies had grubbed up some already half-forgotten but damning secrets. This was the husband of his young bhánji, his sister’s daughter; and he was bound to go, for word had come to him that she was dying.

Death is oft-times sudden in Hindustan. Only last week he had seen the beautiful girl in perfect health. It was permitted for them to meet in a room half-way between the Zanána and the men’s quarters, and he had given into her own hands her mother’s loving presents, and told her news of the home she had left for ever in distant Álimpur, her birthplace.

‘Abbási Begum had been well. But now, as he pondered over that last interview, he remembered how nervous and unhappy she had seemed, in spite of the assumed brightness of the moment. She had been overjoyed to see someone from home, to inquire after the young brothers and sisters growing up there without her. She had cried a little for her mother, and then had hastened away in answer to some imperious call from beyond the curtain.

Thinking of these things he arrived at the entrance of the house he sought. A gateway giving on the street opened into a spacious courtyard in which a servant or two lingered; but there was nothing to indicate that the master of the house was an extremely rich man, as he well knew him to be. Yúsuf Beg had inherited great wealth, and had let it accumulate in Farangi banks, and double itself in Farangi merchant enterprises, until he could hold up his head amongst the merchant princes of Bombay and not be ashamed.

The quiet of the courtyard as ‘Ali Baksh entered it was suddenly broken by a sound from within. An uplifted voice began reciting the Súratu Yá Sín, the chapter of the Qurán1 always read to ease the soul’s departure at the moment of death. The single voice was joined by other voices repeating together loudly the “comfortable words” and the “words of testimony,”2 in the hope that the dying one might recall them and repeat them either aloud or mentally, and ‘Ali Baksh knew that he was too late.

The servants in the courtyard stood in respectful silence. Loud wailing in shrill women’s voices came from within; then a door was opened and someone gave quick orders which the men hastened away to obey. They did not know ‘Ali Baksh or what his business was, and the funeral arrangements were urgent, for according to custom the shrouding and burial of the dead must take place before midnight.

Within it was evident that the corpse­washers had begun their work. The loud reciting voices had died away and water was being drawn from the well. The door leading to the Zanána opened again and the husband of the dead girl came out. He had not received word of ‘Ali Baksh’s arrival, and stared at him with a gasp of dismay. The next moment, with instant self-control, he saluted him gravely and with solemn dignity as became his sad position. ‘Ali Baksh on his part was a model of courteous sympathy. With eyes downcast and slightly nodding head he murmured platitudes about the Will of Alláh, and bade the sorrowing one be comforted. He consented to be one of the bearers of the dead as became his kinship, and over the aromatic hookahs scarcely anything else was said.

Yúsuf Beg was a man of about thirty years of age, with a scheming, calculating look that made him seem older. He was thin and dark-complexioned; a man in no way noticeable save for his eyes, which were a clear index to his character for those who could read them. Of this he seemed to be aware, for he kept them habitually turned away. Just now in their obscure depth lurked something very like fear. They could look cruel and remorseless at times; calculating and clever at other times; dulled with opium sometimes; but kind never. Inordinate love of riches had driven out kindness long ago. Poor ‘Abbási Begum had come to know this, and her girlish dreams of being the light of her husband’s eyes, the queen of his harem, had faded sorrowfully away to to a strict mother-in-law.

The funeral took place a few hours later. Torches lit the way, first to the mosque and then to the distant Muhammadan burial-ground, stark and unadorned, apparently uncared for, a waste and dismal place. The bereaved husband allowed no delay. At the Mosque he led the prayers and recited the creed with a steady voice, but the deliberate ways of the bearers seemed to get on his nerves. Seeing ‘Ali Baksh’s questioning look he said he must catch the midnight mail for Bombay. He had engagements with which nothing must interfere. ‘Ali Baksh of course did not believe this, for what engagement is there which cannot give place to a funeral in India, but he courteously agreed.

It was at last over. The dead girl was laid in the hasty unlined grave, in the shallow trench made to fit her form below the general level of the grave floor, and boards were so placed slant-wise over her that the tender body should not be immediately crushed by the weight of the returned earth. The grave­diggers received their fees; the faqir who lived in the cemetery obtained his due, a large fee and the cloth that covered the bier; the mourners and onlookers dispersed, and the cemetery was left again to darkness and silence.

‘Ali Baksh returned through the streets to his lodging thoughtfully. A few moments he spared in contemplation of his sister’s sorrow when the news should reach her, but the recollection of his enemy’s uneasiness filled his mind.

At his lodging door there rose up from the ground almost under his feet a burqa-clad woman who put out a detaining hand and caught his coat. No one was in sight, and the dark street was only feebly lighted by a few oil lamps. The houses on either hand were shut and silent. He hesitated and then stopped.

“Huzoor,” said a muffled voice through the calico garment, “I can tell you something worth your while to know, but not here.”

“Who are you?” asked the Muhammadan softly.

“I am of the household of Yúsuf Beg,” came the same muffled voice. “I would speak with your honour, just two-three words, for justice requires it.”

“Whither shall we go then?”

“Follow me, Huzoor.” The veiled woman moved as silently as a shadow down the dim street. It was not quite deserted but no one noticed them. She led the way to a small open space where a few trees surrounded an ancient Moslem tomb, forming a small tope, and in the dark shade removed her burqa.

“Your honour will remember me. I am Zuleikha.”

‘Ali Baksh looked coolly down into the face of a middle-aged and plain Moslem servant woman. She winced beneath his glance and pulled up the muslin sári which her burqa had shifted until she could partly veil her face with it. This woman was afraid of ‘Ali Baksh, for she knew too much about him and dreaded his enmity; but she hated Yúsuf Beg with a bitter, concentrated hatred, and she would willingly betray the one to reap a reward from the other.

“Speak then,” said the Moslem curtly.

The woman glanced into the deep shadows on either side. She began to tremble and shiver. What she had to tell filled her with horror.

‘Ali Baksh made a movement of impatience. Zuleikha licked her dry lips and spoke.

“Your bhánji is not dead, Huzoor.”

“What?” shouted the man.

Zuleikha made a warning sound and shrank back further into the shade, but no one had heard them.

“What?” he repeated more gently.

“I speak the truth, and I only know it. I and Yúsuf Beg only. He threatened and forced me to put her into a death-like trance. Even her breathing stopped, but she was not dead, Huzoor. The stopped breath returns but the sleep continues. He has locked me up elsewhere this whole day, and I escaped to-night to find your bhánji buried! Huzoor, I will not be guilty of her blood, come and save her!”

For one moment ‘Ali Baksh felt his will and power to move paralysed. The enormity of this cold-blooded deed against his own flesh and blood seemed to stop thought and feeling. He mastered himself at last and a wave of incredulity swept over him.

“You lie, woman! “ he said angrily. “You make up a child’s tale to extort reward from me. Go!”

For answer Zuleikha slipped to the ground at his feet. She poured out a torrent of supplication, using the most sacred words and binding oaths. She was not lying. She was frantically in earnest. He could not but believe.

“What then shall we do?”

“Come to the cemetery, Huzoor. We must dig before daylight,” said the woman.

With this she turned and hurried swiftly away. The Muhammadan overtook and preceded her, and leaving the town behind them they were soon out in the darkness beyond. ‘Ali Baksh would have stopped, but Zuleikha pointed to a twinkling cresset in the distant cemetery enclosure and hastened towards it as best she could.

“It is the faqir’s light, Huzoor. Your honour must bribe him to help us and say nought, for we cannot dig alone.”

It was an eerie place in the darkness. Stealthy scampering feet betokened prowling jackals at their vile work. Square-built tombs loomed faintly into sight on every hand as their eyes grew accustomed to the star-lit obscurity. It seemed a demon-haunted spot. The faqir was rolled in his sheet asleep, but they roused him and procured spades. All three worked frantically. The two men dug and the woman removed the earth with a basket, until at last their spades struck the slanting planks. The cloth that covered them was removed; they were gently raised one by one and ‘Ali Baksh jumped down into the grave with a light in his hand.

“Look, O burying-ground man! Was the corpse laid thus?”

His voice from the yawning pit sounded hollow and awe-struck. The faqir stooped and looked in and with a scream of horror prepared to take flight, but Zuleikha clutched him firmly and bade him stay.

“Before Alláh, I can swear that the corpse was laid as is ever done, on its back with face to Mecca. Now what do I see? O holy questioning angels,3 what is this?”

Zuleikha stooped in her turn and craned her neck to look.

The entranced girl had awakened and sat up, and was now lying on her face half in, half out of the crevice, stone dead, and, by this time, cold.

Chapter II

Starlight was giving place to earliest dawn when the ill-assorted couple left the unhallowed spot and returned to the city. Zuleikha followed behind but ‘Ali Baksh signed to her to come up to him.

“What was his motive, think you?”

“He has gone to complete arrangements for a very illustrious wedding, Huzoor,” said Zuleikha. “A new-style wedding in which the bride must be the sole and only one. The dowry is worthy of a princess. The connection will bring him much power. This I overheard last week when he spoke with the Begum Sahiba, his mother.”

“Is she a party to this murder, think you?”

“God forbid,” said Zuleikha fervently. “No, Huzoor, he is too clever to tell his designs to any one; but I, Zuleikha, have the two eyes that God has given me and they see much. Now, O Nourisher-of-the-poor, what can your slave do? I cannot return whence I came. My lady is dead. I am a stranger here in this far country.”

‘Ali Baksh looked at her thoughtfully. In his future plans she might be of use, but it was also in her power to upset them. She had better be near his hand and under his influence: moreover, her life would not be safe here if the faqir told tales.

“Listen, woman,” he said curtly; “I am now Diwán in Álimpur. I can protect you there in your adversity. I will take you first to my sister to console her in her grief; and then mayhap her Highness the Ráni may need a new tiring-woman. There in the palace you will be safe.”

The woman nodded. A place in the palace would answer her purpose, for if ‘Ali Baksh the Diwán followed Yúsuf Beg with his hatred, she would follow them both, and seeing what she would see, and hearing what she would hear, humble Zuleikha the serving-woman would also grip power and rupees. After arranging when to meet him at the railway station she slipped away like a shadow and disappeared.

‘Ali Baksh returned to Álimpur and entered upon his duties as Diwán. The Rajah relied on his Prime Minister’s business methods and did not trouble himself much with the cares of his little State. The Diwán gathered in the revenues, the Rajah spent and enjoyed them. Fortunately, his tastes were not extravagant, and his people prospered. The Diwán accompanied him to Madras when he went to pay his respects to the new Governor; and there ‘Ali Baksh one day found a scheme of revenge and personal enrichment suddenly full grown in his head. How his designs would affect other lives did not trouble him, for he was a thorough-going egoist. Selfish and cynical, his natural crookedness was masked beneath a guise of grave and authoritative dignity. The Rajah, an open-minded, kindly gentleman, liked and trusted him, and he was generally received at the Rajah’s valuation, and courted and flattered for his powers of usefulness and favour. He spoke English with a somewhat jerky pronunciation but with a good choice of words, and was in the Rajah’s train when the visits of ceremony were exchanged with Government House. He was almost equally at home in the European clothes that it was convenient to wear in Madras. Curly-pointed shoes gave place to neat boots; flowing cotton coats, one above the other, gave place sometimes to European suits; but with turban unchanged the man looked much the same: silent, courteous, inscrutable. The Diwán was a busy man. Wirepulling and intriguing took up much of his time, and his post near the Rajah gave him a hold both over useful tools and frightened victims. The murder of his young niece was constantly in his thoughts, for her mother had nearly died of grief at the news of her death, as she supposed, from fever. News came of Yúsuf Beg’s most advantageous re-marriage; and ‘Ali Baksh kept his spies busy and his own keen brain alert until such time as the Will of Alláh should place the sword of Justice in his hand, to be lifted against the murderer who was his enemy; the sword of Justice, the edge of which could only be turned aside if the manslayer thought fit to buy for himself time for repentance. Life in the scales weighs heavy. ‘Ali Baksh laughed softly to himself.

There were several ways in which he could work, but care was needed. It would be fatally easy to lose his victim into the hands of the Sircar,4 whose justice was meted out without the finesse which he admired in himself, and which he was determined at all costs to exercise now. Yúsuf Beg should rue the day when he turned ‘Ali Baksh into an enemy.

Then in a flash a plan suggested itself. Like so many Indian visitors to Madras he had gone to “eat” the evening air on the Marina, and had paced up and down the broad smooth pathway watching the carriages and riders passing to and fro. A hired carriage had driven slowly by, and looking at it at first indifferently, he had started forward with an exclamation of the profoundest astonishment. There before his eyes, dressed in foolish Farangi clothes, rode the very double of his young dead niece, ‘Abbási Begum. When her eyes turned in his direction he almost expected to hear her call to him, and it was with difficulty that he controlled his own startled countenance. But the girl’s eyes travelled over him indifferently, and then she turned with a smile and spoke to her mother. It was ‘Abbási Begum’s smile that the young Anglo-Indian displayed. Except for the accident of dress he could not see the smallest difference. ‘Ali Baksh left the pathway and wandered over the wide shelving beach to the edge of the sea. There, with his feet sinking into warm, dry sand, he sat for a long while motionless on a broken native boat. No one disturbed him. The sky was suffused with the glow of sunset, the spires and houses of St. Thomé gloomed a darker violet. The moon rose out of the sea and spread a silver pathway across it. All around him was peaceful beauty, but in ‘Ali Baksh’s heart was darkness and unrest.

The hired carriage, the number of which he had noted, had driven along the Marina to the suburb of St. Thomé; and thither the following morning went the Diwán of Álimpur, not in state, but on foot in Moslem dress. He went to the Mosque a short distance inland behind the old Portuguese Settlement, where the open road winds through paddy fields to Royapettah; and after very orthodox prayers and prostrations, sat on the low wall of the Mosque enclosure in a friendly and conversational manner. Here he learned who the girl was and the grain of her father’s character. Where would he and his like be if there were no greedy, grasping people in the world? In all his experience he had as yet encountered no door which could not be unlocked with a silver key.

Chapter III

On the verandah of an untidy bungalow in St. Thomé a middle-aged Anglo-Indian woman wielding a palm leaf fan sank into a long deck-chair, and put her stockingless feet in their down-at-heel slippers on a low cane stool.

“Theresa!” she called. “Theresa!”

“Well, mother?”

“Come in, child! Come in out of the sun. You will get quite black. Why do you not take more care of your complexion? At your age I was quite pink and white, people thought I had just come out from ‘Home.’”

By which Mrs. Fernandez meant to say that people had thought her a pure-blooded Englishwoman.

Theresa sauntered up the verandah steps and sank into another long chair. The sun­light glinting through the bamboo trellis-work of the porch made patterns on her white dress and glossy black hair. She turned gentle smiling dark eyes on her mother. She was a beautiful girl: her complexion not much darker than a dark Italian, her shadowed eyes full of mystery, her hair thick and abundant. But there was no mystery in Theresa’s life. Her childhood had been spent in the untidy bungalow, and the good Portuguese Sisters in the Convent of Santa Maria had taught her all she knew. She was their apt pupil in the fashioning of beautiful lace, but in schoolwork Theresa had disappointed them. Through the long hot days when from the schoolroom door she could see the lizards and chameleons panting in the coarse grass, and the humming­birds flitting from flower to flower on the tall hibiscus, the languid girl had gently, but persistently avoided exerting herself, until at last patient Sister Lucia had said that Theresa should make lace and tend the flowers in the chapel, because of arithmetic and French no more could be instilled.

“I am hiring a bandy this evening, and we’ll go to the bandstand,” said her mother. “Put on your best dress, Theresa, and make yourself smart. John Harris will be there, no?”

The girl blushed. It seemed as if her mother could read her thoughts. She would don her pink silk gladly for John Harris.

Down the garden path came a stout middle-aged man, very hot, very sunburnt. Theresa resigned her seat to her father and went in to fetch him some soda-water and a cheroot, after which she left her parents together and wandered to the Convent gates along the dusty road.

“Well?” asked Mrs. Fernandez, fanning herself.

“All in good time, my dear. Let a man cool down,” rejoined her husband as he lay back to smoke. “I tell you Theresa can make our fortunes. Can you keep a secret, Mrs. Fernandez?”

“Of course, I am veree close,” asserted that lady.

“Then listen.” He pulled his chair nearer and glanced through the room behind him to make sure no one was within ear-shot.

“The Prime Minister of the Rajah of Álimpur wants to engage a governess for the Palace Zanána. He has seen Theresa and thinks she will be a suitable one. He will open his money-bags and make our fortune.”

Mrs. Fernandez sat up, puzzled. This seemed quite a straightforward offer, but there must be something behind it. Natives did not open their money-bags for nothing, and she distrusted them by instinct.

“But Theresa?” she queried doubtfully.

“What about her?” rejoined the man. “She must go if I order her, or she is not too old for a beating.”

“The Sisters have taught her too much religion,” said Mrs. Fernandez irritably. “I thought she would be a companion to me by now, but the child listens and stays quiet and disapproves of half the things I say. I can hardly talk but she looks shocked and scared. She won’t be the Diwán’s catspaw without a fuss. What does he want her for?”

“That is not your business; and I’ll have no nonsense when the time comes, so Missy had better look out,” remarked her father. He snapped his teeth together rather viciously and re-lit his cigar.

“If the girl has a little fortune John Harris will marry her. Then she is settled and my anxieties are over,” mused her mother.

Mr. Fernandez looked up sharply. “Not a word to him, mind. These straight-laced Protestants do not understand business.”

Presently Theresa returned and prepared for the evening drive. The hired bandy was of the old-fashioned palanquin shape. The Venetian shutters were broken and the whole sadly lacked paint. The raw-boned horse and the untidy Muhammadan driver in an old red fez did not add dignity to it, but the occupants were quite contented, for their hats and frocks were gay.

The band played. Groups of soldiers stood about eyeing the Eurasian belles who flicked their fans coyly. Eurasian youths, much smartened up, sauntered about the gravel path, jealously watching the maidens’ undisguised preference for the fair-haired Englishmen. Theresa was much sought after, but she would not alight until John Harris offered his arm for a stroll, and then her mother sat back with a sigh of relief and fanned herself contentedly.

Once round the bandstand they paced and nearly half round again ere a word was spoken. John Harris was a man of a stolid type, content to walk in silence. Theresa could not think of anything to say. This man’s thoughts were a closed book to her. He was an Englishman from “Home,” a being almost of another race. Of his life she knew nothing, and he on his part knew very little of hers; but it was something that they were the best­looking couple there and were walking together, the envied of all.

The quick dusk fell. The bandsmen began packing up their instruments and stands, and the bandy-drivers straightened their backs and gathered up their reins. The strollers dispersed. John Harris brought Theresa back to her mother and their evening’s outing was over. This was the normal life of the domiciled community; languid days followed by simple evening pleasures. Money was scarce but wants were few. No one was averse to living on the native food of the country, which was cheap and plentiful; and one’s social standing was vindicated by drives to the bandstand and occasional balls, culminating in that glittering event, the “Dignity” Ball at Government House, which cut a clear line of cleavage between the recipients of the necessary scale of salary (below which invitations were not issued) and those unfortunate low-class people who were not eligible. Theresa would go of course this year, and Mrs. Fernandez would make a good match for her by hook or by crook.

They jolted home through the gathering dusk. Oil lamps at the roadside made patches of light, throwing the intervening spaces into deeper gloom. Palm trees rattled and whispered overhead and fireflies glanced and twinkled in myriads round some favoured tulip tree. Bullock carts, dangerously ill-lighted, followed each other along the edge of the road, their drivers sitting silently on the shafts within reach of the bullocks’ tails. Lighter and finer carriages overtook them and passed. Their horse had a shoe loose and the cloppety-clop of his heavy movements sounded loudly in the still air. It was all so humdrum.

Theresa was unusually quiet. She was thinking of John Harris and wishing she had been able to summon up more to say to him. The other girls had promenaded chattering and laughing, while she had passed a solemn speechless time. If he applied for her and they were engaged, would he always be as silent?

“Oh my! I’m tired, mother,” she yawned. “Whatever do girls talk about? I had nothing to say. I told him about Sister Lucia and the Convent, but he didn’t say much or ask questions. Then I asked him about ‘Home,’ if it was nice, and he said it was all right. I asked him if he lived in London, and he said no, in the country. His mother is alive and writes to him sometimes, and he writes to her. Then I couldn’t think of any more to say.”

“You should have gone on talking to him about himself, silly! You have no spirit, Theresa. If a man didn’t talk to me when I was a girl, I tossed my head and left him.”

“Oh mother, I wouldn’t dare,” said her daughter admiringly. “He looked so big and strong and solid, and I felt so small and stupid.”

“You are a veree pretty girl, Theresa,” said her mother complacently. “Men like walking with pretty girls even if they don’t talk much. John Harris must apply for you this season and we must set to work on your trousseau. Your father has some folly in his head and this business may get put off unless we manage well. I’ll send an invitation to Harris to come to supper. That will give him an opportunity to speak to your father.”

“What shall we have to eat, mother? If we make prawn curry there will be knives enough for a second course, cutlets or something. Then we could have stewed guavas. What do you think?”

“Yes, prawn curry of course, but stewed guavas are veree common. I shall buy tinned apricots in the bazaar.”

Theresa laughed softly. This was to be quite a special supper. She felt as if her engagement festivities were about to begin.

“I shall wear my rainbow blouse,” she murmured to the passing shadows.

“Your father is getting in with natives,” remarked Mrs. Fernandez irritably, in the pause that followed. “Why, he talks about—Oh my! I’m not to tell you yet. It is a secret.”

“Oh, do tell me. I’m veree close. I won’t tell any one else,” begged Theresa.

“No, my dear. Your father would be veree angry. And look, here we are at home.”

The bandy turned in at their narrow, unimportant gateway, and jolted up the uneven, unkept drive. The master of the house was smoking on the verandah with a whisky-soda to his hand on a rickety bamboo table, and a newspaper on his knee. He looked up, but did not rise; and his wife and daughter hastened by him to see to their household duties. Mrs. Fernandez trimmed the lamps herself and kept the oil under lock and key; she had no mind to supply all the tin lamps in the servants’ go-downs. After this came supper, and then early to bed. There were no mosquito curtains in the close bedrooms, and no punkahs, but they were not missed. Mosquitoes do not much trouble residents of long standing, and the night breeze, puffing gently through the open slats of the Venetian window-shutters, made the air cool enough for their comfort.

Mr. Fernandez lay awake thinking of the rise in life a fortune of rupees would bring them. Mrs. Fernandez planned out a wedding-dress for Theresa, and then fell comfortably asleep. Theresa herself slept the quiet sleep of a care-free, innocent girl, while a scorpion scuttled unheeded across her floor, and a praying mantis clung with its long legs to her bed-post, and seemed to crane its long neck to watch her with solemn beady eyes.

Chapter IV

The mail train from Tuticorin to Madras with steamer passengers from England threaded its way across the Tinnevelly plains, through paddy cultivation and groves of palmyra palms. To Leslie Thurston this first glimpse of India was intensely interesting. After a hot night in an upper berth she had just descended in a cloud of pale blue dressing-gown, and sitting on the lower berth near the feet of her still dozing chaperone, gazed with an artist’s trained appreciation at the level shafts of sunlight across the tender vivid green of the young rice, and the cultivators who wended their way single-file across the narrow bunds, or stood watching the train, their dark forms casting long shadows. Mrs. Carroll stirred and sat up, looking at her watch.

“Quick, Leslie, and dress, my dear,” she said. “We shall soon be at the place where early tea is brought round to the carriages, and anybody may come by and see us.”

Leslie gathered up her belongings and disappeared into the tiny dressing-room, emerging before many minutes were past dressed and presentable, and while her chaperone retired in her turn she rolled up her rugs and fastened up her upper berth out of the way, and then continued her scrutiny of the countryside. They flashed through the small station of Panruti and unexpectedly drew up just beyond it. Heads appeared through the carriage windows and questions passed to and fro, but no explanation reached her until the train pushed slowly back into the station and came to a standstill.

“The signals are against us. The Pinakini river is in flood, and the engineers are making sure of the bridge.”

The speaker was a tall well-knit man of about thirty. In a cool suit of Burma silk, with carefully whitened shoes, he looked spruce and comfortable, and Leslie noted the contrast when unbrushed heads and rumpled forms appeared on the platform, suddenly awakened from sleep and curious to hear the cause of the delay. The Indian third-class passengers too were noisily calling to each other and to men on the platform. She was keenly interested in the whole scene.

“What are they saying, Mr. Harwood?” she called. “Are they frightened? They are making a great clatter.”

Lewis Harwood smiled and bowed, and coming to the side of her compartment stood listening to the vociferous Tamil.

“They are not frightened, not a bit. They trust the railway completely and don’t mind the delay. Time is no object. That dark man there, with no jacket and his turban off, and back hair shaken loose, is telling all and sundry about some family marriage arrangements. That other chap is rattling off the history of a great haul of rupees lately come his way. Marriages and rupees, Miss Thurston, fascinating subjects all the world over.”

His pleasant eyes glanced along the platform, taking in numberless traits of caste and custom as yet hidden from Leslie. There is endless variety and interest in an Indian crowd for the seeing eye and kindly heart.

Mrs. Carroll, completely dressed, slipped out from the dressing-room and joined them.

“What about tea? It is waiting for us on the other side of the river, and I’m frightfully thirsty, aren’t you, Leslie?”

“My throat is absolutely full of dust,” rejoined Leslie dismally. “It is hot standing still, isn’t it?”

“It is cool early morning, Miss Thurston,” laughed Harwood; “but we shall have to see about tea. Heaven knows when we shall get across.”

He moved off to examine the resources of the station, but returned with a rueful face, to say that there was no tea or food to be had. It was not safe to drink the local water or milk. After a while a few bottles of soda-water were produced and shared between them all with much good-humoured grousing, and a tedious hour was spent until the train at last was allowed to proceed.

Leslie Thurston settled down as comfortably as the hot and dusty railway carriage would allow. There was nothing to show the world that this girl of five-and-twenty was already considered a clever artist. She was good­looking and well bred, and Mrs. Carroll had gladly consented to bring her to India. Leslie was her own mistress. Both her parents were dead. Her private income enabled her to pursue her art without anxiety as to ways and means, but she disliked being quite independent. She missed something of the home life of her girl friends. The ties which one or two professed to find irksome she would gladly have welcomed. There were sometimes dark moments when the realisation of her isolation swept over her, but no one knew of these heart shrinkings, for an inborn reticence veiled from the world her deep and loving nature. To her friends and acquaintances Leslie Thurston was merely a pleasant girl, full of energy and interest in life, clever, modest, and well educated.

Mrs. Carroll was to meet her husband in Madras, and had arranged to stay there for a few days to show Leslie something of the life of this charming South Indian capital. Mr. Carroll, however, was delayed, and the ladies were transplanted from their hotel to the spacious house of a friend in the Adyar.

The early-morning rides and tennis parties, the long days of quiet leisure in shady rooms through which the sea breeze found free passage, the social afternoons and evenings, made a happy introduction to life in India, but Leslie saw for herself how hard the men worked, and the numberless duties that fell to the lot of a popular hostess. She smiled to think of the oft-heard remark in England, “People do not feel the heat in India because everything is done for them.” This was the cool season and the tempered heat was never oppressive, but her sketching expeditions were ruthlessly confined by her elders to early mornings or late afternoons. “You must not play tricks with the sun,” was their invariable and final answer.

She especially loved the Adyar river when the shadows of the palm trees lengthened and the fisher-folk waded out to attend to their nets. Then the sea-gulls clamoured on the bar, and high overhead the kites poised in the blue ready to swoop down upon their quarry. It was surely the most peaceful river in the world. The calm water reflected the serene sky. Sounds of human life came from the distant shore mellowed and sweetened by space. The low banks with their feathery clumps of bamboo and palms seemed the boundaries of a land in which “it seemed always afternoon.”

One evening a moonlight picnic was arranged and the party in boats rowed gently to the bar, where dinner was served. On the farther side broke the tumultuous waves. The sea and river were traversed by a shining pathway of moonlight. The brine was sticky on lips and hair. The stiff sea breeze was cool enough to cause the lightly clad ladies to seek their wraps. With singing and banjo-playing the refreshing hours sped away, while the wonderful moonlight shed a still radiance over the scene. India seemed a land of dreams. The stir of life was far away. The teeming city bazaars seemed to belong to another world. Why did not the Indian folk come out to enjoy their own moonlit river instead of staying in their close, cramped houses and streets?

Mrs. Carroll, kind-hearted though she was, did not feel much interest in native life; but Leslie remembered the kindly comprehending look in Harwood’s eyes, and his ready translation of passing remarks in the railway station, and though she said nothing it seemed to her that her friend kept closed the pages of a book of thrilling interest. The key of course was the language. How could any one get very far who only spoke English in this land?

The servants’ English was sufficient for the daily affairs of the house, and some of the men and nearly all the ladies were content with the merest smattering of Tamil. She remembered hearing a doctor speak warmly of a woman missionary who had spoken to patients in his hospital in fluent, idiomatic Tamil, but Mrs. Carroll had called it “Love’s labour lost,” and Mr. Carroll was of opinion that girls should not be of a too inquiring mind in India. Leslie felt that these friends of hers ought to know best, yet all around her lay a world of mystery which she longed to understand.

Chapter V

While Leslie Thurston was enjoying the new and pleasant experiences into which she had entered, not many miles away Theresa Fernandez was finding life very dull and empty. For some reason her father had peremptorily forbidden the afternoon drives to the cheerful bandstand, and the days succeeded each other without any agreeable break or putting on of bright ribbons. Mrs. Fernandez was gloomy, but said nothing. As papa would not pay for the bandy there was no help for it but to stay at home. To walk was impossible. Their white dresses would be coloured up to the knees by that abominable red dust on the roads, and the other girls would giggle at the family parsimony. Theresa wept in secret, for she had hoped for such a good time this cold season, with bright visions of a brilliant marriage at the end of it with a man really from “Home” and fair as fair; instead of which her father took an unwonted interest in her embroidery and urged her to spend more time at the convent to acquire new accomplishments, more complicated crochet, if that were possible, and more variegated wool-work. He seemed anxious to see violently staring mufflers and brilliant caps. Sister Lucia was scandalised. Any one could knit, but her favourite pupil made the finest lace of any of the girls and the most intricate embroidery. Mr. Fernandez must be crazy not to perceive the difference.

Mrs. Fernandez went about the slight duties of her household with pursed lips. Her husband kept her in the dark these days, and she was dying of curiosity to know how the great fortune of rupees was to be acquired and what would be Theresa’s part. Fernandez spent much of his time in the Muhammadan quarter and came home reeking of hookah smoke. He divulged his plans in his own good time.

“Maria, my dear, pack up your bundles and be ready to travel with Theresa the day after to-morrow,” said he in high good humour one evening, sitting back in the long verandah chair with his legs extended on the arms. His drill coat was unbuttoned at the neck. His scant black hair was matted with heat, but content was written all over his self-satisfied face.

Mrs. Fernandez gasped.

“Oh my! What mad talk, Fernandez! Why do you say such veree strange things?” This was for the benefit of the listening Theresa.

Mr. Fernandez was too happy to snub her, and the time to explain to Theresa had come.

“You have heard of the Muhammadan Rajah of Álimpur? Well, he is a veree enlightened man and keen on female education and all that, and he wishes the members of his Zanána to be educated, a little, not too much, and who but Theresa is so suitable to do it? It is a veree good post. She will earn a good salary, but of course she cannot go alone. I told the Prime Minister that firmly. ‘Her mother must stay with her,’ I said. ‘My daughter is a white girl, and I will not trust her to black people!’”

“Oh my! Did you say that?” said Mrs. Fernandez admiringly.

“I didn’t say it, silly one. What foolish talk. He understood that those were the thoughts in my mind. I said ‘Of course my daughter will be quite safe in the Zanána of his Highness. I give her up without hesitation, but her mother will miss her and grieve sadly. Both the ladies shall therefore travel to Álimpur, and my wife will pay her respects to the Ráni and return at the Ráni’s pleasure.’ That was right, no?”

“I am to stay then? Of course I cannot leave Theresa alone. But Ayyo! Fernandez, what about you?”

“I shall be all right,” murmured the man. “Mother Gompertz will come and look after me. I’ve arranged that. Her coffee is good.”

“Yes, and extravagant,” snapped the perturbed mistress of the house. “What a muddle shall I find on return!”

“You need not worry about that,” rejoined her husband with an enigmatical smile. “I may be able to give you your carriage next year, madam. What would you say to a pair of horses?”

“My!” gasped his wife, relapsing into a dazed silence.

Half an hour later Theresa found her surrounded by piles of much-used finery. Gay hats, tumbled blouses, knots and streamers of ribbons, lay in confusion. The hats were two or three years behind the London fashions, but that was an unknown detail. The ribbons, magenta and yellow, and the rainbow blouses all suited Theresa, and Mrs. Fernandez could not help sighing as she realised that her daughter’s chances of matrimony were receding by at least one year, for were they not going to an up-country place, to an Indian house where no eligible young man could possibly see her? Still, Theresa was young and had time to spare, and with a dowry at her back could look high. She herself had had no dowry and Fernandez had been her portion. Theresa had only half her former good looks to be sure, but the Sisters had made a real lady of her. She would make a good match some day. Theresa entered into the plans for her present disposal with alacrity. If she could not go to the bandstand she might as well be up-country earning money. What and whom she was to teach did not trouble her very much. She supposed her father knew, and she would be told in good time; so after a last visit to the convent to say farewell and receive Sister Lucia’s prayers and good wishes, she found herself one evening, a bright-eyed, happy girl, being bustled with her mother into a second-class railway compartment, and waving good-bye to the fast receding figure of her father as the train drew out of the clattering station.

Chapter VI

It so happened that Mr. and Mrs. Carroll and Leslie Thurston were travelling by the same train and to the same place.

At eight o’clock a stop of half an hour was made to allow time for dinner. The first-class carriages drew up opposite the station dining-room, and the travellers made their way thither. Mrs. Fernandez, followed by Theresa, also alighted. The older woman with an uncomfortable air, half shy, half defiant, seated herself near the party of first-class passengers, who, truth to tell, took no notice of her. The table appointments, a crude imitation of an ordinary European dining-room, puzzled them both. The numerous implements, knives and forks, and especially the knives, seemed so unnecessary, but as the meal advanced they discovered their uses and felt more at ease. The gentleman at the head of the table was not conversational, but the ladies sipping station lemonade kept up a running stream of small­talk which she could only half follow, for their remarks concerned things from a world other than her own. This was a peep into high life, the world in which Government officials lived, in which ladies came and went to England every few years, and talked familiarly of such things as polo and golf and tennis. She frankly listened, and Theresa too was so engrossed that she began hacking at her savoury with a spoon, as though it were merely curry. Her hasty movement to cover this accident drew attention to her and Leslie’s trained glance noted with pleasure the dark, heavily fringed eyes and the soft contours of the girl’s pretty face. Their eyes met and Leslie smiled in apology. Theresa flushed and felt pleased, she scarcely knew why. Mrs. Fernandez was pleased too, but shyness made her look almost resentful, and Leslie, checked, turned again to her own party.

Álimpur, although a place of some note in former Indian history, had now settled down to a sleepy life shorn of its ancient glory. The town proper with primitive streets of picturesque house-fronts was filled with a mixed population, half Hindu, half Mussalman. These opposing elements rarely clashed, for the Rajah held a more than usually strong hold on the obedience of his co-religionists, and he also knew that in any religious riot he would stand to lose prestige with Government. The Hindus, traders and money-lenders alike, were alive to their own interests in keeping the peace, and furthermore, the town was near the borders of the Nizam of Hyderabad, where peacefulness has become an instinctive habit to a Hindu. So in different quarters of the town the two elements existed side by side. To the outward eye the distinction was marked by mosques and minarets in the Moslem region, and the numberless signs of Hindu worship, tanks, shrines, and mythological carvings, in the other.

The inhabitants, too, were clearly recognisable. The Muhammadans were more of the swash-buckler type, with bristling moustachios and beards, and quaint daggers carried in girdles; while the Hindus were beardless for the most part, and had quiet manners.

On one side of the town lay the Civil Station. Here in somewhat bleak bungalows the few European families foregathered. Mr. Carroll was not a permanent resident, but he had rented a bungalow and settled down for a year or two, for he was engaged in research work, and this small place, free from social interruptions, suited him.

Leslie felt depressed and mildly horrified when she first met her new neighbours gathered in the Club. The heat had played its usual dismal part in washing the colour out of the women’s faces and drawing the strength and energy from their limbs. The children too, white and large-eyed, seemed pitiful little things, but they were on the whole healthy and happy, for every mother there watched over her children with unremitting care, and though their faces were pallid they were stronger than they looked. The newcomers were warmly welcomed. Their arrival was like a breath of outer air, a breeze direct from England.

The Rajah’s abode lay on the farther side of the town on a slight eminence commonly known as the New Fort. No one could tell when it was new, for it was distinctly dilapidated and out of repair in many of its less conspicuous quarters, but it was no doubt the successor to the Old Fort which lay a mile or more away upon a beautifully wooded hill, now deserted but for small jungle animals, monkeys, and snakes. Winding paths led to massive crumbling gateways, serrated battlements peeped through luxurious tropical undergrowth, or barred the head of many a dried watercourse. Parts of the palace could still be traced in broken arches and paved floors. The Zanána baths, with remains of ancient pipes, were clearly indicated, and the Forest officers had even placed hinged doors and barred the window spaces of a small vaulted suite of rooms, which, with very slight repair, made a convenient shooting lodge.

Seen from the town this wooded hill broke the sky-line near at hand, and as the eye ranged further, slighter hills with the ruins of mud fortresses came into view. The land was widely cultivated, and the peasants were a hard-working, impoverished class with few pleasures and fewer opportunities of bettering their lot. The English community had only such pleasures as they contrived to create for themselves, golf and tennis confined to short morning and evening hours, and billiards and cards at the Club. On special occasions when District officers and engineers rode in from their distant posts, dances and dinners were possible. Shooting expeditions and picnics at the Old Fort were amongst the pleasantest of these tamáshas; and the Rajah in return for his occasional visits to the Club sometimes gave a fête in his palace, at which he spared no pains to make his European guests at home.

Leslie found much to occupy her, for her position as the only English girl within twenty or thirty miles meant, she found to her amusement, the fulfilling of many engagements. Mrs. Carroll, like so many good and kind women in the Mufussil, kept open house; and lonely men from trying and distant jobs had only to ride in and appear on the verandah to be made welcome for as long as they felt able to stay; and somehow in these days they felt less difficulty in staying, and contrived to snatch more frequent opportunities. These Englishwomen scattered over the wide and dreary land build better than they know.

But apart from social duties there was painting. The girl would ride off with a syce in attendance and spend happy hours at dawn in places where everything was new and strange. The peasants salaamed to the picture­making Miss Sahiba when she wandered near their fields and palm-fringed tanks, and for a few pice would stand and have their pictures painted. The children lost their shyness and sat down to stare at her in silence, and the women with poised water-pots greeted her affectionately. Leslie in return would smile and forbid her syce to drive them away, and in these solitary places the India of the open country began to draw her heart to understand and love it.

On occasional Sundays, Service was held in the simple station church. A visiting chaplain took it in his rounds, and every one attended who could do so. Leslie looked for the two Anglo-Indian travellers who had alighted from the train at the railway station ten miles away, but on no occasion did they appear. They had been met by native servants of a different type and had driven off in a slow-moving bullock-wagon which the Carrolls’ tonga had left far behind in a cloud of dust. Mrs. Carroll thought they might be a contractor’s wife and daughter, but knew nothing about them. Leslie remembered them from time to time, for something in the girl’s face had attracted her, and fitted in with a plan she was forming for a picture.

Chapter VII

The Rajah’s palace covered a large area, for the surrounding walls enclosed, besides the palace itself, its gardens and stables, a small village of dependants. Through the massive principal gateway nothing could be seen but a large rectangular courtyard, lounged in all day by servitors and horse-keepers and watchmen. On two sides of this lay offices and store-rooms, but on the side facing the entrance, arched doorways led into a fine suite of reception-rooms; and when Theresa and her mother, tired and dusty from their journey, had been led through these, they reached a large enclosed compound. The upper-storied wing of the building overlooking this was evidently their destination. Shuttered or barred windows and railed verandahs, with bright cloths hanging to dry in the sun, children’s voices amongst the bushes, and servant-women in evidence, told them that this was the heart of the palace, the Zanána; and here they were left to wait in a small bare room furnished with just two chairs.

Mrs. Fernandez was ill at ease, and when no less a person than the Rajah himself came to bid them welcome, her manner had become difficult and hostile. The Rajah, on his part, laid aside his dignity and cordially shook hands.

“You are welcome, Mrs. Fernandez and Miss Fernandez,” he said, in his careful, jerky English. “I will take you to my wife and you must have rest and refreshment, for you are tired of course.”

So saying, he led the way through a small courtyard in which a fountain played in a stone basin, up a steep flight of stone steps to a balcony, and paused before a curtained doorway, through which even the master of the house did not pass unannounced. He clapped his hands and the curtain was instantly drawn aside. An elderly servant woman salaamed deeply to the Rajah and led them to the Ráni’s room. Here, surrounded by her women, the lady sat; a plump fair woman with a cheerful face, dressed in a silken sári and loaded with jewels. She rose and came to meet her husband and receive her guests. Her greeting was easy and pleasant, and giving her very awkward visitors each a hand she led them to her own divan and bade them be seated. The Rajah did not stay long, for his unexpected visits were not always convenient. There were ladies there who had to flee his presence and were even now waiting behind half-closed doors until they could emerge on his departure. His exit was immediately followed by the appearance of a small crowd of women of all ages who gathered round the Ráni and the visitors in frank curiosity. Mrs. Fernandez felt ruffled, and Theresa shy, as several outstretched hands felt the material of their dresses and remarks were passed on their appearance as if they were merely puppets introduced for amusement. Their knowledge of Hindustani too was rusty, for it was many years since their home had been in Bengal, and they found it difficult to understand and answer the Ráni’s questions. After a time a Tamil ayah was called, and they were committed to her care, and allowed to depart to their quarters.

The ayah led them across the compound where the children were playing to a small two-roomed bungalow, furnished throughout in European fashion, and already containing their luggage. Theresa was delighted. The sitting-room and bedroom were both clean and comfortable, and a Tamil servant, the ayah’s husband, was preparing a meal. Her mother was not so pleased. All this trouble on their behalf betokened a long banishment from home. This teaching post could not be thrown up oversoon, and they were anchored in this rambling palace perhaps for many months. She almost lost sight of the fact that to Fernandez it was the means to an end. In this sunny, warm, everyday world the hints that he had dropped about a fortune of rupees and a carriage and pair seemed to be only moonshine. Well, money or no money, Theresa should not be made a tool of by natives if she could prevent it. This virtuous resolution half-formed, Mrs. Fernandez felt more comfortable, and changing her dusty clothes for a loose white dressing-gown, sat down to a good meal and well-made coffee; after which the ayah was sent to procure soap­nuts to wash Theresa’s long hair; and thus they took possession.

The next day the Ráni sent for them. She and the Rajah were alone, and the latter prepared to do all the talking.

“You see, Miss Fernandez, the ladies are dull here. They have leisure for education, and you must teach them.”

“Very well,” said Theresa shyly.

“My daughter is a veree accomplished girl,” interjected Mrs. Fernandez. “She has been well taught at the convent.”

The Rajah bowed politely.

“Miss Fernandez must form a little school. The young ones can learn arithmetic and sewing, and Her Highness desires to learn English. Please ask for anything you wish. I have given orders, and one of the Zanána carriages is always at your disposal. And now I will take my leave.”

As before, the Rajah’s departure was the signal for a gathering together of Zanána inhabitants. The Ráni sat apart on a raised divan, and serving-women hastened to attend on her. One prepared an aromatic hookah, another sat at her feet and massaged them skilfully, while yet another waved a large palm­leaf fan.

Mrs. Fernandez watched the Muhammadan women distastefully. It was plain to see that she would never be happy amongst them. There was no room for them and their like in her scheme of life. Her round of interests was narrow, too narrow for a sympathetic understanding of another class of people. She made up her mind to write to Fernandez immediately and demand to return. Until then the Rajah must get her some novels to read, and she would begin making Theresa’s trousseau. The little two-roomed bungalow was comfortable enough; so with a badly concealed yawn, and an unfashionable salaam to the Ráni, she took her departure.

Theresa, the centre of an inquisitive group, glanced round nervously on being thus left alone. The Ráni’s daughters stood somewhat proudly aloof; but there were others, girls and young women and children, who had never seen a foreigner before, and were full of curiosity.

“Miss Sahib is young, yet she wears few jewels.”

“Yes, she is pretty.”

“Why is she dressed in white?”

“When is your father going to arrange for your marriage, Miss Sahib?” asked another. Theresa, thinking of John Harris, answered truthfully that she did not know. The Muhammadans glanced at each other and smiled, for her unabashed answer seemed to them bold and unmaidenly. This Farangi was wanting in modesty not to hide her face at mention of marriage.

The Ustádni, the Zanána Qurán teacher, was the most persistent questioner. She was a middle-aged widow, dressed in widow’s white, and held a privileged position although accounted a servant. Her duties were over for the day, for the girls learning to read the Qurán and to recite the daily prayers had done their allotted portions. This Farangi Miss did not display any teacher’s dignity. What could she have learnt in her few years to make her presence there of any benefit?

“What can you teach these girls, Miss Sahib?” she inquired scornfully. “You cannot teach them to read and write in their own language, for you do not know it properly.”

Theresa turned gentle, disarming eyes on the speaker.

“I can teach them arithmetic and English and embroidery. When shall I begin?”

“Begin now,” called the Ráni from her place. “Rábia, Mariam, Zuleikha, fetch the slates and embroidery frames and wool.”

“Begin with my daughters, Miss Sahib,” she added. “The others can wait.”

The young ladies thus called upon drew near without any enthusiasm. Theresa found that even to write figures was beyond them and put the slates aside. The embroidery frames would need fixing, and the material stretching, so she turned her attention to the wool.

“What can you teach us, Miss Sahib?”

“What do you want to make?”

“We don’t know, you must tell us that.” The speaker was quite serious and Theresa felt bewildered. She had had no experience of teaching, nor of people outside her own community.

The Ustádni looked down upon her disdainfully. A fine teacher indeed!

The young Anglo-Indian rose and went across to the Ráni’s divan.

“I would like to go back to the bungalow now, Your Highness, and talk to my mother. I will come again when you wish and bring things I have made to show you. Then you can choose what is to be taught. About arithmetic; at school we always learnt in classes. May I make a class of the children and teach them in another room? They will never learn in here with so many people joining in.”

“That is sensible talk,” murmured the Ráni. “Very good, Miss Sahib, go now and come again to-morrow.”

So Theresa escaped to breathe freely in her mother’s company, and to unpack her handiwork and implements.

“Oh my!” she said plaintively. “What a crowd of them! However shall I manage, mother? They don’t really want to learn, they only want to pass the time. Whatever do they do all day?”

“They do a good deal of mischief, I’ll be bound,” said Mrs. Fernandez grimly. “Trust these shut-up Zanána people for intriguing. Don’t you let them talk to you, my girl. You are here to teach them if you can. Stick to that, and to the young ones. The older ones are mischief-mongers and I don’t trust them. That teacher is a deep one, I’m sure. I don’t like her.”

But in this Mrs. Fernandez wronged the Ustádni, who was in no way different from others, excepting in her acquired knowledge of Quránic matters and her assumed dignity. She was certainly far less deep than the three humble serving-women who watched their mistress’s every mood and slavishly did her bidding.

Chapter VIII

The novelty of Theresa’s presence soon wore off, and her morning appearance in the Zanána was followed by a languidly collecting group of girls. The Ráni’s three daughters, spoilt children of ten to thirteen, always took precedence. She was expected to give them most attention. But other girls were there, half-sisters, whose mothers were nikah wives of the Rajah, orphan cousins too, and poor relations who made this their home and who would never want for food and shelter. They made a gay and pretty group had Theresa had eyes to see. There were brilliant petticoats, silken sáris of many hues, bare feet adorned with tinkling anklets, and slender arms adorned with bracelets. There were refined and intelligent faces, and complexions of varying fairness. But Theresa was of the country, and did not notice anything picturesque in her pupils.

They were now standing or sitting with Berlin wool in their hands, and their young teacher was patiently trying to get them to manage refractory knitting-needles and obstinate crochet-hooks.

“You must not knit so tightly, Fátima Begum,” she remarked for the hundredth time, as she started a looser and more manageable row.

“There is a shaitán in the wool,” grumbled the girl. “Look how it sticks to my hands.”

“No, there isn’t; see how easy it is.” Theresa’s needles clicked and twinkled and Fátima Begum watched in hopeless admiration.

Sometimes the Ráni sent for her, and Theresa sat upon the divan with an English primer and taught Her Highness to spell “cat” and “dog.”

“Don’t get mixed up with their nasty ways, Theresa,” counselled Mrs. Fernandez in the little bungalow. She would have been puzzled to explain her meaning, for anything apparently more open to inspection than the normal life of the palace did not exist; but she was distrustful and suspicious by habit and on principle, and there was always the lurking memory of Fernandez’ underground scheming.

“Such silly nonsense. Why can’t we go home and live like Christians?” she grumbled. “Here there is no priest, no church, no nothing. The Rajah did ask if we would like to go to the Station church, but they are heretics. What would Father Anthony say?”

“Couldn’t we go, mother? We could but do penance afterwards.”

Theresa was weary for a sight of the outside world. The compound, surrounded by its high wall, was the only place where they were able to walk about, and there were only natives in it, the Rajah’s stewards and servants. The shaky drives in a Zanána carriage were better than nothing, but the shutters would not let down, and though they could see out, they could not be seen, which was very uninteresting and one-sided, nor did she like to be mistaken for a native lady, not even for the Ráni herself. In the English church she would be able to feel once more that she belonged to another community, and she could say a paternoster and think of the convent chapel in St. Thomé.

“Your father says ‘No,’” said Mrs. Fernandez with a sigh. “He has never been shut up between four walls, that is very plain. I shall insist on going home in another month.”

“But I haven’t taught them much, mother. They are so dreadfullee slow and clumsy. Sister Lucia would faint at sight of their needlework. I’ve brought this scarf home to make tassels. Look at it! “

Mrs. Fernandez looked, and gave a disdainful shrug of her shoulders.

“Who is to wear it?”

“The Rajah himself, no less,” laughed Theresa.

“My! What a shocking scarf. I like that yellow bit and the magenta, but look at that long brown strip and that ugly black line.”

“They would do it, mother. I said yellow and magenta onlee, but they would have blue and those other colours as well.”

“You are the teacher. You shouldn’t have let them.”

“What does it matter?” said Theresa listlessly. “They can be very tiresome sometimes. I couldn’t bother about it.”

“You are tired and losing your prettiness,” said her mother. “Your father must fetch us away. I won’t stay on and on here for any amount of money. Your father is veree obstinate, but we will pack up and go if he doesn’t arrange for us.”

Theresa said nothing, but she felt tolerably certain that her mother would find it hard to move unless someone made arrangements for her. Mrs. Fernandez had been shifted about by someone all her life.

Chapter IX

The monotony of Zanána life had a break soon after this. The Rajah gave one of his periodical European parties.

The party proper hardly concerned the Zanána, for the womenfolk would have to be content with watching the festivities from afar, through the chinks of closely shuttered windows, or from behind pardahs slung across verandahs and furnished with convenient peepholes. Still, it was exciting, for the compound was filled with gardeners who adorned the shrubs and smaller trees with paper flowers, and festooned garlands and Chinese lanterns from tree to tree, or suspended them from branches high overhead.

The paths and drives were marked out with small glass jars filled with oil, in which floating wicks were lighted at sundown. The verandahs and cornices of the building were picked out with them too, making a fairy palace. The children danced and skipped about all day, exclaiming at each new sight. The ladies spent hours turning out jewel-boxes and choosing robes, for the English ladies would be asked to visit them, so it was an occasion for display, if only to enhance the contrast, for Farangi ladies had few jewels and quite simple, uninteresting dresses. The fashion of them was what entertained the Zanána. They were pinched in here, and puffed out there, you never saw anything so funny. They walked in shoes with high heels that tilted them all up, and not one of them had smooth and well-kept hair. It was always pulled this way and that, any way but the right way, sometimes frizzled out like a Syedee,5 and not even a decent black colour. It was dust colour generally or nearly white like the hair of aged ones. Their eyes too were seldom a good brown, but light, like cats’ eyes. And their manners! No one had ever taught them to salaam properly. They were positively ignorant of all the conventions, and yet they were quite at ease even before the Ráni. Outside in the compound they laughed and talked with the Sahibs. They allowed the Sahibs to fetch them food and drink, and remained seated even when the Rajah Sahib himself went amongst them. Theresa, their own Miss, had better manners, for she rose with all her pupils when the Rajah entered, and salaamed to the Ráni quite gracefully and respectfully.

At this point in the chatter a hubbub arose at the far end of the compound, hidden from the palace by a thick grove of tamarind trees. The children came running in screaming. Servants shouted and gesticulated and then ran in the direction of the noise and did not return. A new sound reached them, the roar of a caged wild beast. “Shábásh! Oh shábásh!” The animals had arrived for the empty menagerie in time for the tamásha!

Leslie welcomed the palace invitation, for she had often wished to penetrate its hidden mysteries. She had ridden past the massive gateway and seen the outermost courtyard with the lounging retainers, but beyond it lay the unknown; and the lumbering Zanána carriages with their closed shutters had only increased her curiosity. All the local English people and a few District officials would be there, for the Rajah Sahib was a good sportsman and much liked. They met on the common ground of Shikar, and although social intercourse in the European sense was not possible, since the Indian ladies were perforce left out of it, still, as men they had many interests in common.

“It is an evening party, but not very evening dressy,” said Mrs. Carroll just before dinner.

“Why is that?” asked Leslie.

“It is an Indian house. They are shocked at us enough as it is for our ordinary goings-on, and their ladies, shut up as they are, really are scandalised if we are not careful. It is always rather uncomfortable.”

“It is going to be very thrilling. I’m longing to see beyond the entrance. The Rajah never mentions his wife and family. Why doesn’t he?”

“That would be dreadfully bad form. Our Rajah knows better. Come along, Leslie, and get ready. Highish neck, longish sleeves, and all the jewels you can muster.”

Outside the palace entrance flambeaux at short intervals startled the carriage horses, and lit up an inquisitive crowd of townsfolk and villagers intent on seeing all that was to be seen. An improvised bodyguard was lined up just inside the entrance, armed with quaint swords and old-time muskets, muzzle-loaders and breech-loaders. Each man had some piece of uniform proudly worn.

“It’s wonderful! “ murmured Leslie. “Just look at that man with a three-cornered hat, and that helmet like a coal-scuttle with a chain in front and a tuft on the top. And just look at those other men with epaulettes and gold braid! Are they meant to be in fancy-dress, Mr. Carroll?”

“Not at all. They are quite serious, and very pleased with themselves. They are wearing old-time infantry uniforms. There is the Rajah waiting to receive us.”

The Rajah’s dress was simplicity itself, for he wore the evening court-dress of a Hyderabadi noble, a long plain black coat buttoned up to the chin, with a spotlessly white and carefully shaped turban sloping away from his forehead. Superb diamonds flashed from his fingers, however, as he shook hands and turned to escort Mrs. Carroll into the large reception-rooms, brilliantly illuminated by hanging glass chandeliers filled with candles. Here he left them with his deeply salaaming Prime Minister. Other Muhammadan gentlemen stood about in groups, far more gorgeously attired than the Rajah. The English girl’s artist-eye soon took in the extravagant details. There was a stout elderly man with a bushy, blue-black beard, in a green plush coat which reached to his knees. There were elegant young dandies in pale blue or yellow silk, with upward crisped moustachios and roaming eyes. She turned and followed Mrs. Carroll to a swinging sofa, which gave out musical sounds as they moved upon it. A singing sofa! Round the walls were expensive toys and models, even large dolls. A finely formed Saracenic arch, quaintly ornamented with ostrich eggs like bubbles, led into another apartment, which the Rajah had furnished as a smoking-room, and there was a buffet with European drinks.

The ladies were served with coffee and sherbet and moved about to inspect the Rajah’s treasures. This was expected of them. The Englishmen did not know many of the Moslems, although there were some who had joined in shooting expeditions and knew a little English. Conversation was disjointed and dull, but the Rajah worked hard to unite his guests. The bushy-bearded man came and stood by Leslie, regarding her with a fatherly interest that she found most disconcerting.

“I can’t understand what he is saying, Mr. Carroll,” she cried in genuine discomfort.

Mr. Carroll was at her side instantly with an Englishman’s parrying eye on the Muhammadan. “He has seen you out painting, Miss Thurston. He was asking you about it, on the off-chance that you would know Hindustani, I suppose. He is Muhammad ‘Ali Sháh Sahib. I know him quite well.”

“What is he asking?”

“He is inviting you to visit his Zanána and bring your paintings to show his ‘house.’”

“Could I, do you think?” asked Leslie dubiously. The burly form in the green plush coat with the distinct smell of musk and betelnut excited a strong antipathy.

“You will go into the palace Zanána presently and will see what it is like. Then we can decide. Of course you can’t go alone. I’ll explain your hesitation as well as I can.”

The guests were all assembled by this time and the Rajah invited the ladies to visit the Ráni while he took the men to see his newly-acquired wild animals. He left them at the curtained entrance where women servants met them and escorted them into the inner recesses of the palace.

The Ráni had decided upon making this a somewhat stately affair, a sort of Durbar. She was seated upon a raised daïs on a sofa, in the middle of a semicircle of empty chairs. Behind her sat her three young daughters and on either hand, spaced out, stood other Moslem ladies and servants. The ladies stood on the daïs, the servants on the floor, in imitation of a miniature court. Gravity was, of course, correct etiquette and they were all grave to dullness.

To the Englishwomen’s surprise and relief they were met at the door by Mrs. Fernandez and Theresa: a welcome sight, for former visits had been almost speechless.

Mrs. Fernandez asked their names, and then presented them to the Ráni, who stood to receive them and shook hands. Mrs. Carroll was invited to the seat of honour on the sofa at the Ráni’s side, the other ladies were placed on either hand, and Leslie found herself at the end of one line near Theresa, who shyly looked on.

The girls recognised each other, and spoke together while the other ladies were carrying on a difficult translated conversation with the Ráni.

“We wondered where you were,” said Leslie. “You came here to Álimpur when we did. Do you live here?”

“Mother and I live in a little bungalow in the compound. I am the governess,” said Theresa shyly.

“How interesting! What do you teach them?” Leslie’s eyes wandered to the girls behind the Ráni, and a group of children in the background. Their bright sáris made a pleasing patch of colour, and jewels glinted and flashed and tinkled as their owners craned their necks this way and that to take in all the scene.

“I try my best, but I’m not good at teaching,” said the girl truthfully. “Sister Lucia at the convent taught me to make lace and do embroidery quite nicely, but these people are so dull. They make a horrid mess even of simple knitting. That woman over there in the white sári is the Qurán teacher. She makes them learn with a stick. You should see how different they are when they come to me.”

“That is hard lines,” laughed Leslie. “Can’t you be severe too?”

“I teach the Ráni English. Listen, Miss Thurston, she is going to try to speak it.”

Leslie’s eyes turned to the head of the daïs. There was a distinct pause, and then Her Highness began.

“How do you do? I am very glad to see you.” The courtiers held their breath. Would the English ladies understand?

“I am quite well, thank you,” said Mrs. Carroll in reply. “It is very kind of you to invite us to come to this Tamásha.”

An audible murmur of courtier-like pride in their mistress ran through the ranks of the ladies-in-waiting, and the Ráni looked relieved and pleased. She had exhausted all the topics of conversation that occurred to her, the ages and numbers of the children in the Station, the employment and salary of the husbands of her guests and their own ages. She knew nothing of their lives, they had no one topic of common interest; so she signed to her servants, who came forward with trays of garlands made of fine gold strands bound with red cotton and looped with tinsel flowers and tassels. From the glittering mass the Ráni took the garlands one by one and placed them on the necks of her English guests. Other serving-women stepped on to the daïs to shower rose-water from long-necked guldáns, and to smear sandal-oil somewhere amongst the laces of the evening gowns. The older ladies hastily presented handkerchiefs, but Leslie was caught unawares, and gazed with silent dismay at the oily marks just below her chin. The pungent smell too was overpowering. The room was hot and airless. She was glad the visit was nearly over. The Ráni spoke once more. “Good-bye, when will you come again?”

This only required an evasive answer of politeness, and the English ladies shook hands, and stepping down, followed Mrs. Fernandez to the door.

“I am to show you out into the compound,” she said. “The Rajah will be there and all the gentlemen. Oh my! This is a hot place, no? I’ll come out too as soon as I can.”

She fell silent and led the way without further remark, for she felt shy and awkward with these Station ladies.

Leslie would have liked to stay behind, for through the half-drawn curtain she saw the tableau instantly break up. The Ráni with a yawn pulled her feet up under her on the sofa, and held out a delicate jewelled hand for the tube of the silver hookah placed near her by an obsequious slave-woman. The chairs were carried away, no longer needed, and a flurry of brilliant butterflies seemed to crowd round the gentle Theresa, chattering all together, and plying her with questions. Perhaps it was as well that Leslie could not understand, for the eldest pupil was holding out a hand with an anguished expression of comic dismay.

“Bring water, quickly, bring water, Amína. She touched my hand!”

And Her Highness allowed herself a sly smile at the little piece of impertinence, although she felt bound to reprove her daughter.

“Naughty one, was not the Farangi’s hand cleaner than yours?”

Chapter X

The cool air outside was wonderfully refreshing as the Englishwomen left the Zanána rooms and entered the compound. It was so large and held such fine clumps of trees, that the fact that it was surrounded by a high wall was not immediately noticeable. When carefully cleared of gardeners and loungers it made a secluded spot for the palace ladies to walk in, and the younger palace children scampered along its paths in comparative freedom. Now the quiet stars could scarcely be seen, for the twinkling footlights along its alleys threw up a bright glare, and the palace front overlooking this garden was picked out with fairy lights like a firework display. Some had blown out or been overturned, and a smoky smell of oil crept along here and there.

One brilliantly lighted spot drew all eyes, and there a crowd of men were assembled. A space had been cleared and a garlanded maypole erected. Sounds of piercing Indian music met them, and glimpses of much-dressed moving figures could be seen pacing slowly through some mazy rhythm. The coming of the ladies was noticed by a knot of Englishmen who came forward.

“So here you are at last!”

“What is going on here?”

“It is a nautch. You won’t like it. We’ll leave these Moslems to their own pleasures. Come and see the animals.”

Mr. Carroll’s lead was ably seconded by the other men, relieved to have an awkward situation so easily surmounted; for there are nautches and nautches, and this happened to be of the kind they would not care for ladies to see. When the Rajah presently looked up and found his English guests had wandered away he bit his lips with vexation. He had timed the nautch to be over before the pardah-party, but now he hastened to make amends and do the honours of his garden.

“Have you forgotten me, Miss Thurston?”

Leslie looked round, and straight into the pleasant face of Lewis Harwood. He smiled down at her.

“When did you come? I thought you were miles away.”

Harwood did not answer for a moment. So Miss Thurston had taken the trouble to wonder where he was!

They paced along the light-edged pathway, beneath the lantern-bedecked mango trees, and amongst paper-flowered shrubs.

“I thought you were miles away,” she repeated.

“So I ought to be, but I’ve had a lucky bout of fever, and our doctor swears by this particular belt of higher-lying country as an antidote. I don’t know what he rests his theory on, but I am quite content.”

He certainly looked it at that moment as he glanced at the girl by his side.

“I’ve only a fortnight’s sick leave and then I must report. Have you been out on shikar, Miss Thurston? James of the Forest Department is putting me up, and he could arrange for a ladies’ day, I’m quite sure.”

“Mr. James has been a real pest,” laughed Leslie. “He keeps on asking and Mrs. Carroll doesn’t like shikars.”

“He does, does he?” murmured Harwood. James was far too forward a young man and must be looked after. “You haven’t been out then yet?”

“No, I’ve been too busy painting. There is endless work here. There is a picture whichever way one looks. It’s lovely!”

“You are a lucky girl to have an engrossing hobby. Most girls find Mufussil life dreadfully dull and rush off to the Hills for months together, leaving us poor beggars to our own dreary company.”

“It isn’t a hobby. It is my life-work!” Leslie tried to be properly indignant.

“I apologise, but you forget I haven’t seen any of your pictures yet. That is a treat you promised me on board ship.”

“Did I? You may certainly see them if you would care to do so. Do you know, Mr. Harwood, we have just come from the Zanána. I would love to paint in this palace. There are some fine archways in the large reception-rooms and quaint pieces of furniture, a swinging, singing sofa for instance. If I could group some of the ladies in their bright silks and jewels, I’d have a picture ready for next Academy, supposing they would hang it. Could I ask the Rajah?”

“I’m sure he would be pleased to let you paint in the palace, but not to paint the Muhammadan ladies. That would never be allowed, most improper! I am even doubtful about the children. You will have to paint the Rajah himself.”

“That would never be allowed, most improper!” laughed Leslie. “Why not suggest that Mr. Bluebeard there in the green plush coat should form the pièce de résistance?”

“He would be charmed. Shall I ask him?”

“Hush! don’t attract his attention,” whispered Leslie. “Don’t bring him back to me. That other man is called the Prime Minister. Why do they go in for such misleading names?”

“But he is the Prime Minister. He has heaps of work to do, and plenty of cares and worries, I’ll be bound. He is coming to speak to you, Miss Thurston. Shall I head him off?”

“Hush! Don’t stop. Perhaps he won’t come if we look straight ahead.”

A slight, thin man had detached himself from a group of Moslems on their right. His face was sallow and foxy-looking, with thin red-dyed beard and furtive glance. He passed Leslie with his eyes on the ground, but his seeming respect irritated her far more than a frank stare would have done, especially as she noticed that he went straight across the grass to intercept Theresa and her mother and made them a mock-deferential salaam.

“I could get very fond of the women: I don’t like the men,” she mused aloud. “What is the matter with them? I’m glad you all are not like that.”

Lewis Harwood laughed.

“I dare say we are all very much alike at bottom. They grate on you so badly because they don’t know how to behave to Englishwomen. It seems to you that everything they do, or omit to do, is wrong; whereas they are probably trying not to embarrass you, as you must naturally be timid and shy in the presence of men!”

“Yes, dreadfully so!” laughed Leslie; “but all the same I wish they would look one in the face properly.”

“It would be better,” assented Harwood. “Would you like to follow the others and see the animals?”

“If they don’t smell too badly. I’ve had more than a double dose of scent of different sorts to-day.”

“We’ll come away if you don’t like them, but James tells me there is a fine young tiger and a black panther. They are very restless and untamed still. The Rajah makes this his hobby and is a good judge. There they are!”

Mrs. Fernandez and Theresa, having escaped from the Zanána to enjoy the scene in the compound, had been sauntering about, glad of the chance to see something entertaining after the monotony of the last few weeks. They had stopped and watched the nautch-girls, seeing nothing but slow and meaningless posturings. Mrs. Fernandez did however notice the glances cast upon her daughter by the Muhammadan men, and drew her hastily away into the vicinity of the other ladies. They were met and stopped by ‘Ali Baksh. A long tussore silk coat fitting closely to his thin form was his unobtrusive dress, but he wore on his turban as a sign of rank a band of embroidered velvet, bearing a gold plate set with precious stones. He spoke in English.

“I hope you are quite comfortable and happy here, Mrs. Fernandez?”

“Oh, we are comfortable enough, but I am writing to my husband to come and fetch us home—this is such a veree dull place.”

“Ah!” The Moslem stood with his hands at his sides and his eyes on the pathway.

Mrs. Fernandez, as usual, felt nettled.

“Why not? We have our own home, so why should we stay here?”

‘Ali Baksh glanced up at the speaker’s face. Clever as he was he could not be quite certain how much Mrs. Fernandez knew. Her simplicity baffled him. She seemed to have forgotten the promised bribe with which he had allured them here.

“Perhaps the Rajah Sahib would be willing to waive the agreement as to the length of stay,” he suggested mildly.

“I did not sign any agreement. What do you mean?”

“No, but my good friend Mr. Fernandez did on your behalf. He would not like to inconvenience the Rajah.”

“Stuff!” said Mrs. Fernandez rudely. “I shall write again to-morrow and demand to be taken away at the end of the month.”

“Very good,” said the Diwán suavely. “It is Madam’s own business, of course.” With a slight salaam he left them, and they followed the other ladies towards the menagerie.

They met them returning, however, on their way to leave the palace, for it was growing late, and already many of the fairy-lamps had burnt themselves out and were smoking unpleasantly. Leslie stopped to speak.

“The Rajah has kindly consented to my coming again to paint,” she said. “May I ask for you when I come? If you will help me with the grouping of accessories I shall be so grateful. I want to paint some children. Do you think the Ráni would allow it?”

“I don’t know,” said Theresa. “They have such different ideas. But I could dress up for you, Miss Thurston. They would lend me things and it would be fun.”

“They will think you veree improper to have your picture taken,” grumbled Mrs. Fernandez. “And why should you dress up as a native?”

“It would be very kind,” said Leslie. “Good-night and thank you so much. I am coming the day after to-morrow.” She joined her party and drove away, and the palace gradually sank into silence and darkness.

Chapter XI

Next morning Lewis Harwood rode into the Station and called upon Mrs. Carroll with all due ceremony. He found the family assembled for early tea on the verandah and was soon busily engaged in eating crisp toast and plantains. Leslie’s pony was ready saddled and tethered in the shade, and near her chair were her painting materials, strapped together into a convenient load for her running syce.

“I’m going to Rám Chander’s tope this morning,” she said in answer to inquiries. “I’m told one can get from there a good view of the town and New Fort, with the Old Fort in the distance for a background. The syce had better start. I generally leave him far behind and have to wait for him.”

She handed the satchel to the man and watched him start off at an easy jog-trot.

“I’m not quite certain of the way, Mr. Carroll. If I leave the ‘Ali Musjid on my right, on which side of the ruined ‘Íd-gáh should I keep after leaving the road?”

“If you will allow me to come I think I might help you,” said Harwood hopefully.

“But you don’t know the locality nearly as well as I do,” said Leslie.

“I’ve a famous sense of direction, and besides I can inquire.”

“Well, let us start then. I want the early morning light.”

“I came with a message from James, Mrs. Carroll, which I haven’t delivered. He wants to make an important bandobast.6 Never mind, to-morrow will do if I may come over again.”

Mrs. Carroll nodded, smiling. She knew all the tricks of the trade inside-out, and stood watching as he held out his hand for Leslie’s foot and lifted her to the saddle. They rode off down the drive together and she watched them out of sight.

“Match-making?” asked her husband softly, as he stood behind her.

His wife turned and slipped her arm through his.

“Do you remember our early morning rides, Herbert? They were very jolly, weren’t they?”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Carroll teasingly. “You never would own to being tired, and the sun was hot. I got quite thin dancing attendance upon you!”

“Now isn’t that like a man all over?” His wife gave him a slap and went off to attend to her household affairs. The go-down where the grain for the horses was kept must be unlocked, and the grain and other food measured out by the attendant coachman. The cow would by then have been brought to the back verandah. A dummy calf would be propped up near it, and the mistress must inspect the pail before the milk was drawn, and see that the milk was put under lock and key until needed. The cook, home-returned from the early market, must be interviewed and his basket of purchases inspected. The gardeners must be encouraged in their watering or the shrubs would die. The mistress found plenty of work to do. On the back verandah a tailor would soon be squatted cross-legged on a mat with her machine before him on the ground, and Mrs. Carroll called her ayah to help measure off lengths of muslin against his arrival. She stopped in the dining-room to look at some of Leslie’s sketches pinned up on the whitewashed walls. Certainly the girl was clever, and she was such a thoroughly nice girl too. If she married Harwood and settled down in India all her friends would be delighted.

Meanwhile the riders had left the shady Station roads behind them and were trotting leisurely along sandy tracks. The villagers were already busy in their fields. Strings of women with water-pots on their heads were returning from the wells, the slanting sunlight glinting on gleaming nose-studs and bracelets. The ponies shivered and grew restive as the Rajah’s elephants were led past on their morning airing, and they left behind more than one ambling tat7 ridden by well-to-do countrymen. Leslie’s quick eyes were everywhere. She almost forgot her companion as her brain stored up treasure for future use. Harwood on his part was quite content. To feel returning vigour and to be riding amongst fresh scenes with a pleasant girl was a happy way of spending his fortnight’s sick leave.

Far ahead the syce was faithfully loping along and soon they caught him up. There to the right gleamed the minarets of the ‘Ali Musjid surrounded by small whitewashed brick houses and mud huts. To the left as they went forward they must look for the ‘Íd-gáh.

“I don’t know what it is like,” said Leslie. “What is an ‘Íd-gáh?”

“It is a Moslem place of worship, but not like a mosque. In the country they are generally straight lengths of high wall, with little minarets or spires at each end, and in the centre up against the wall is a short flight of steps used as a pulpit. There it is, all by itself on the open maidan. It looks forlorn and deserted, doesn’t it?”

The syce salaamed and spoke in Telugu.

“What is he saying?” asked the girl.

“He says the Muhammadans consider this quite an important place, and use it twice a year, at their Bakar ‘Íd and Ramázan ‘Íd. Those are feast days. He says many holy faqirs come here and very learned Qázis come to preach. The Rajah attends of course and brings handsome presents for the preacher. Bakar ‘Íd occurs soon now.”

“I should like to see it,” said Leslie.

“Not the place for you, Miss Thurston,” said Harwood with decision. “But if you insist on coming, make Carroll come with you and don’t go too near. They wouldn’t like it.”

“They are not very nice to women, are they?” she mused. “I’d hate to be a Muhammadan.”

The syce who was running alongside pointed to a clump of hoary mango trees. That was Rám Chander’s tope, and they cantered the remaining distance and dismounted.

Leslie was delighted. “That is just the view I hoped to get. Quick, syce, let me have my things.”

The syce knew what was required of him and hurried up with his light load. Then he tethered the ponies and sat down to rest a short distance away.

“May I smoke, Miss Thurston?”

“Of course. No, thank you, not for me. The cap of my water-bottle is screwed on frightfully tightly. Can you, Mr. Harwood? Thanks so much. Yes, I’ll have it poured out in that jar. Now I can’t talk, do you mind?”

“Not at all. When you are comfortably started I’ll go to sleep.”

“Yes, do. Everything has to be done so quickly, that is the worst of it.”

The artist in Leslie took control for a full silent hour. At the end of that time she got up and walked about to rest her eyes and get the cramp out of her limbs. The picture was not quite finished.

“I shall have to come again. I’d like to take trouble and do it properly. Isn’t the light gorgeous?”

Harwood came and stood at her side. He tried with the aid of the nearly completed sketch to view the scene through Leslie’s artist eyes. Certainly he had never noticed before how opalescent was the haze of dust which hung over the distant town, nor how blue was the luminous distance.

“I see you have worked in slight hints of the battlements of the Old Fort up there on the hill. One can only just see them on this side. My message from James to Mrs. Carroll concerned the Old Fort. I’m riding over again to-morrow to deliver it.”

“You needn’t,” said Leslie; “I’ll take it.”

Harwood paused to strike a match before replying.

“It is much too long to trouble you with, and also I want to take back a verbal answer, it is much safer than writing. James wants to get up a two days’ picnic at the Old Fort. He says we can make three or four ladies quite comfortable in the little shooting-lodge, and the men can sleep in tents. It is very jolly up there. The air is cooler at night, and we can get some shooting.”

“It sounds delightful, but will Mrs. Carroll go? That is the question.”

“If not, the Padre’s wife from Nallungur will be there. You will like her. She is great fun. Probably some other ladies will come, even if Mrs. Carroll doesn’t care to, so of course you will come, won’t you?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” said Leslie with enthusiasm. “I suppose I may paint?”

“You can paint all day up there if you like. There are endless views and vistas: bits of crumbling wall, old gateways, ruined arches and broken pillars. There is plenty of shade too. It is almost a thick jungle in parts.”

“How perfectly heavenly. What will you shoot?”

“There are jackals and small bears and snakes. James can’t promise us any panthers.”

“Good gracious! I hope not indeed if I’m to sit painting!”

“Some one with a good gun shall mount guard over you,” said Harwood laughing. “Do you suppose we are going to risk losing our one young lady?”

“I suppose I am rather precious,” said Leslie cheerfully. “I’m getting dreadfully spoiled for English life. I shall not take kindly to being one amongst hundreds again,”

“You need not be afraid. You will always be one in a hundred.”

“I’m getting used to that sort of speech too,” she remarked drily. “Let us start homewards now before it gets any hotter.”

“I’ll see you to your gate and then get on back, to be in time for breakfast.” He was not going to risk losing his excuse for to-morrow’s visit. It was better luck than he had expected.

The ride home was somewhat silent. There was no need to wait for the syce so they kept to a steady trot and parted at the Station church.

“Till to-morrow then,” he said, as he turned his pony’s head.

Au revoir,” sang out Leslie as her steed remembered his stable and pulled on his bit.

Chapter XII

The following day Leslie started early for her visit to the palace. She was expected, and a peon led the way into the large salon, and salaaming left her there. She had not long to wait before Theresa joined her, and together they wandered round the room.

“I want to sketch that archway with the ostrich-egg ornaments, and I want to have you reclining on the swinging divan. You will have to represent a Máharáni. Then we want some slave-girls fanning you and waiting on you.”

“Oh my! They will never come here, Miss Thurston. They couldn’t.”

“Couldn’t they if we shut it all up Zanána fashion?”

“They wouldn’t. Perhaps old Ásha Bi might, but she is nearly sixty and very wrinkled and small.”

“Well, we’ll begin by ourselves. Before we bother about dresses let me arrange, you on the singing sofa. Are you comfortable? Could you stay in that position a long time without moving?”

“Yes,” said Theresa dubiously.

“We must try and make you comfortable.”

“It isn’t that, Miss Thurston. I’m not sitting properlee. The Ráni would never recline like this. She never does. She would think it very inelegant and rather improper.”

“It is very graceful.”

“But she would tuck her feet in. She would never have them in this position.”

“Of course you know best,” said Leslie. “You see them every day and know them so well. Do you think I might go into the Zanána with you and see their attitudes for myself?”

“They would be delighted to see you,” said Theresa. “They are so dull, poor things. Any break in the day is a blessing. But they won’t let you paint them. It is against all their religious ideas.”

“I know,” said Leslie thoughtfully. “Perhaps I could speak to the Rajah about it. Could I see him, do you think?”

“There is no need to ask him just about a visit. Shall we go now, Miss Thurston, and ask the Ráni about dresses and jewels? She will lend me things, and you could see how they are worn, and how the Moslem ladies sit. No one could mind that.”

“Very well,” said Leslie. “Let us go. I’ll leave my things here.”

By daylight the rooms and courtyards and balconies had lost much of the glamour of the night of the party, when fairy lights had twinkled and glimmered against mysterious backgrounds. The girls paused at the entrance to the women’s quarters and Theresa went in alone. She came back almost at once and took Leslie in.

“They are having a doll’s wedding,” she said with a little laugh. “They think you will enjoy seeing it.”

“Splendid!” said Leslie. “I shall be able to watch them unobserved.”

They entered a large room with a matted floor. At first sight it appeared unfurnished, but against the walls were a few glass-fronted Almiras full of glass decanters and goblets and long-necked, finely cut jugs. These were all crowded together, but a glance was enough to show that some of them were rare and valuable. There were also framed and glazed arabesques hanging here and there on the walls. As the girls entered sounds of laughter and happy chatter met them. The Ráni was seated amidst a group of brilliantly clad ladies on the floor in the centre of the room, surrounded by children and servants. The latter were going into contortions of flattering laughter, and clapping their hands as gleefully as the youngest there. In the centre were the dolls, wonderfully and fantastically clad. The entire wedding paraphernalia was there too in miniature, and the party was divided into bride’s and bridegroom’s people, and all were going through a long and ceremonious imitation of betrothal and marriage.

One of the standing servant-women made a remark, evidently a witty sally. The whole company laughed heartily, even the children joining in and looking about amongst the elders for the clue. The Ráni was the first to notice the visitors, and a peremptory look from her was enough to check the flow of banter. Somehow Theresa’s presence had that effect. So much that they said amongst themselves did not seem fitting in her presence.

6”Come and sit here, Miss Sahiba,” she said. “Salaam. I am very glad to see you!”

This was in English and the company murmured admiration.

Leslie sat down on the floor and tried to tuck away her feet as she saw Theresa doing. Every one was happy and very friendly, but the doll’s wedding languished, for she herself became the absorbing centre of interest.

“Take off your big sun-hat, Miss Sahiba,” said the Ráni, Theresa translating.

The Moslem ladies looked her all over. Her hair and eyes, face and dress were all subjected to a close scrutiny. The fresh English colour and brown hair and eyes seemed to meet with approval, and her smiles were met by answering smiles.

Theresa was kept busy replying to questions and translating for the Ráni.

“She says she would like to see some of your paintings, Miss Thurston, and she says we may choose what we like for your picture. Sáris or jewels or anything. Hookahs, book­rests, cushions.”

“She is very kind. Thank her for me, Theresa. I wish I could paint those children.”

“She says ‘No, they will grow up in a few years. Their likenesses cannot go abroad.’”

The Ráni sat back against her own cushions and signed for her hookah. Zuleikha, dressed in green skirt and yellow sári, hastened forward with it and crouched to blow up the charcoal embers in the pan. The sunlight caught the silver mountings and the Ráni’s heavy bracelets.

“I’ve got it!” breathed the young artist in a joyful whisper. “Look, Theresa, you can sit just like that. It will do beautifully. Perhaps you could do duty in both capacities if it wouldn’t bore you. You could be first the princess, then her slave, with alterations. I’m so grateful for all your help.”

“I shall enjoy it. Life here is so monotonous. Her Highness is sending for boxes of clothes. Rábia and Mariam have gone to bring them. Here they come!”

We will dress you, Theresa Miss Sahib!” The children crowded round intent on this new amusement. Theresa looked embarrassed when they stripped off her skirt and blouse and pulled down her hair, but when the lovely silken garments were exhibited and Leslie chose the ones she wanted, the girl enjoyed being dressed in them. Mariam was busy with her hair. Rábia produced Kájul to blacken the rims of her eyes, and henna to dye her palms and finger-tips red. Jewels were loaded upon her. Some one even smeared her neck with sandal-oil and sprinkled rosewater.

“Now she is ready. Bring a looking-glass.” The Ráni was as delighted as a child and Leslie was completely satisfied.

“Get them to tell you how to sit, Theresa, and see if they mind my slight alterations.”

Theresa smiled shyly at her lovely image in the looking-glass.

“It is a good thing mother can’t see me,” she giggled.

In the background Zuleikha was furtively watching. “Ya Alláh!” she murmured, half trembling, half exultant. “She is the very living breathing, image. Iblis8 himself could not tell the difference!”

She pulled her yellow sári forward over her smooth hair and busied herself with moving mats and dolls, for there was that in her face which must be hidden from the sharp, inquisitive eyes all around her.

Chapter XIII

Since the evening of the Rajah’s entertainment ‘Ali Baksh, the Diwán, had tried to get into communication with Zuleikha in the Palace Zanána, for if Mrs. Fernandez insisted upon going home at the end of the month he had no time to lose. Zuleikha could not read. The water-women and bazaar-women, who had access from outside, were hardly to be trusted with a message, but he succeeded at last, and for all the rigid etiquette which guarded the women’s quarters, he had speech with her for a moment and appointed a rendezvous behind the lonely ‘Íd-gáh on the plain, if she could somehow contrive to get there undetected.

Zuleikha, had she chosen, could have made herself quite inaccessible, but she had her full share of curiosity, and she had long since fallen into the power of this man and did not dare refuse to speak to him. So clad in a burqa, which was a complete disguise, the woman hied her to the appointed spot.

“How did you come?” asked the Diwán brusquely, as she rose up before him like a shadow. “You could not pass the sentries at the front entrance like that, or slip unobserved through the servants’ quarters?”

Zuleikha threw off her burqa, but drew her sári closely round her face and form. It was easier to talk thus.

“Huzoor, I feigned old Ásha Bi’s walk and came out openly, but there is another way which the crones of the palace know. They whisper and tell fine tales concerning it in the old days, tales they have heard from their grandmothers when His Highness’s father and grandfather sat upon the gadi.9 It is not now available. It is a secret passage hither from the palace compound. Should hand meet hand I will show it to you.”

‘Ali Baksh laughed. This frail woman meant to drive bargains with him then. Well, let it be so, for without her he could do nothing.

There was a clink of money, and hand met hand. Zuleikha salaamed humbly. “Huzoor, the exit is near. I will show you.”

Slipping again into her burqa the woman walked silently away. The Muhammadan followed leisurely with a detached and casual air, as a stranger might perchance follow; but the wide maidan was bare of passers-by, save a few scattered Hindu peasants who paid them no heed. They came to a spot where boulders and large earth-cracks broke the level plain, and where, in the shadowed crevices, vegetation had taken firmer and more flourishing root. Here amongst tangled creepers was a well-concealed passage-way.

“We cannot go without lights, Huzoor,” said Zuleikha, “but this passage leads straight to the palace compound.”

“Where is the entrance then?”

“Huzoor, I speak the truth. The jungle animals’ cages have been built over it. His Highness gave orders and it was done. None noted the trap-door, for of a truth it was covered and hidden by earth at the building time, but Zuleikha knows.” Beneath her veil the woman was grinning.

“It is useless for me,” muttered the man.

“Huzoor, you have no need of it, the whole world is yours. Openly can you come and go. Openly can you work your will. Men are like kings, free and strong. Secret ways are only for slaves and women.”

“O chattering fool, it is not for myself,” said ‘Ali Baksh irritably. “Listen, I have a plan and need your help. It is this.”

Although there was no one within earshot, he spoke in a whisper close to the headpiece of her burqa.

Zuleikha nodded. “But for such a bandobast we needs must get her out, Huzoor, and secretly. Shall she also come in a burqa?”

The Diwán shook his head. “She would be noticed, and furthermore, she would not come in that dress willingly. I must consider this affair. Go home now and keep chup.10 Let not thy woman’s tongue divulge aught.” The Diwán stood quietly, but his eyes were malignant and his fingers were busy.

Zuleikha glanced down at them and shivered beneath her wraps. ‘Ali Baksh was toying with a rumál,11 and was knotting it into the never-to-be-forgotten strangling noose of the Thugs!

The woman having slipped away, our worthy Diwán also returned to the town. His walk was as slow as dignity required, and he courteously returned the humble salutations of the townsmen. His gravity was respectfully noted, for surely the Diwán Sahib was engrossed with the cares of the State, and his thoughts were occupied with high matters beyond their understanding. He walked through the town and entered his own home, and the rest of that day he spent in his mardána,12: “drinking” his hookah and meditating.

Soon after this it was noticed in the palace compound that the Diwin took a great interest in the Rajah’s wild pets. The few keepers who worked in the menageries were flattered and pleased, for this great man praised their labours and asked many questions. He even entered the cages and noted their construction, whilst the beasts were carefully shut off with sliding doors. The black panther’s cage seemed to interest him most. He found what they had not noticed before, an iron ring fixed to a heavy stone slab in the ground. This was put there doubtless to chain some beast to if need be.

“The Huzoor asks could the beasts ever escape? Nay, how could they, Sahib? The bars are strong, the bolts are good. Have they never? No, Huzoor—but when hand meets hand strange things happen. That tiger, now, great lazy creature; after a full meal it is as sleepy and harmless as a mastiff. One can drug them also. This slave has heard how once a tiger prowled round a garden but came back to its cage at a call. Your honour would like to see this sight? You have only to command your slave and it shall be accomplished.”

Ali Baksh answered in a low confidential tone. The keeper dropped his voice in replying, and for a long period they stood in conversation, not without furtive glances all around, and with the unmistakable clink of rupees as hand met hand in the time-honoured fashion of Hindustan.

*  *  *

A letter from the Diwán of Álimpur was forwarded to Yüsuf Beg in Bombay. He thrust it into the pocket of his European coat until such time as his business transactions were ended for the day and he could find leisure to read it undisturbed. It might perhaps be some business connected with the Rajah’s jewels, or some money investment to be entrusted to his hands. But why should ‘Ali Baksh favour him? Instantly the brain behind that respectable Moslem exterior began searching for a reason. What favour in return would the State of Álimpur, or its Diwán, expect from him? For how much would they buy his services? Had they any inkling of the extent of his wealth or was this just a feeler? He would go to Kalaba Point in the cool of the day, to “eat” the sea air and consider the question.

The perusal of the Diwán’s cramped handwriting gave Yúsuf Beg far more food for thought than he had anticipated, and thought of quite a different kind. Nevertheless it was a letter that any one might have read.

After profound salaams, and inquiries after his health, and wishes for his long-continued life, his wife’s Mámu, or maternal uncle, informed him that she had recovered from her illness and would return to him from her mother’s house whenever he made the necessary arrangements. Her mother sent grateful thanks for the long visit that he had permitted her daughter to pay her, and might the blessing of Alláh rest upon him for a good husband. There was apparently nothing in the letter to cause Yúsuf Beg to gasp and stare like a madman; to read it again and again as if he could hardly believe the evidence of his own eyes. Nothing but the inescapable fact that his wife, ‘Abbási Begum, had been dead and buried these several months, and ‘Ali Baksh, her maternal uncle, had assisted at the funeral!

At the extreme verge of the land he stood, where the waters of the Indian Ocean beat upon the shore. On all sides nature had spread a wonderful panorama. Across Back Bay lay Malabar Hill with its mansions and bungalows hidden in greenery. Behind him lay the great restless, crowded city, already piling up like an ant-heap because its island restrictions prevented natural expansion. Beyond the harbour rose the ghauts, shimmering in the evening light; while emerald islands lay like jewels in the blue water. But Yúsuf Beg saw nothing of all this. His acute mind was busy groping after the thoughts and intentions of another mind, equally acute, equally hostile.

Now what could possibly be behind this? He knew that ‘Ali Baksh hated and feared him, and with good reason, for he held ‘Ali Baksh’s reputation in the hollow of his hand. What had transpired to turn the tables on himself, so to speak; to make that astute man risk rousing such a dangerous enemy? He passed in review all that had happened at the time of his young wife’s death. Her uncle had displayed a grave and courteous demeanour. The funeral ceremonies had taken place in a manner highly orthodox and correct. He had gone away for a time leaving word with one of his “ jackals “ that Zuleikha must never be heard of again. The man had drawn his pay and had himself mysteriously disappeared a few weeks later. That was as it should be. When he, Yúsuf Beg, returned, his household seemed to have forgotten ‘Abbási Begum com­pletely. The Zanána was filled with interest and excitement at the news he had sent them of his new betrothed. His mother had stormed at the disappearance of her serving-woman, for which he invented some excuse, and that too was soon forgotten. What then could this missive mean?

Like all who make an idol of money, he put the hope of gain as the most powerful motive that could move an enemy to injure him. Revenge for its own sake took, in his opinion, a second place. If these joined hands he felt it would need all his powers to escape the net that was being spread for his feet. He passed a sleepless night, and pon­dered over his affairs in solitude the greater part of the following day.

In the evening he wrote to ‘Ali Baksh, a letter as innocent as his own. It was by the grace and favour of Alláh that his wife had recovered. He would come himself to bring her home at the time of the coming Bakar‘Íd festival, and would at the same time pay his respects to His Highness the Rajah.

Then he waited for ‘Ali Baksh’s next move. He had not long to wait. The Diwán’s second letter was full of flatteries and good wishes. He would be a very welcome visitor. His coming to honour their humble dwellings would turn them into rose-gardens. Unfortunately the writer had to relate a trifling mishap. The young woman, his Bhánji, had, it seemed, fallen under the spell of a witch, for she slept night and day, a miraculous trance-like sleep, from which no exorcisms or “isms”13 of any kind seemed to have power to awaken her. They were having her removed to a quiet spot, where, without fear of hurting the gosha susceptibilities of others, her husband could himself arrange for her disenchantment as speedily as he saw fit to honour them with his presence.

Yúsuf Beg turned cold on reading this friendly letter. For a whole day and night he could neither eat nor sleep. ‘Ali Baksh had somehow penetrated the secret held close, he had thought, by that distant, long-untended grave. How much did he know or suspect? To what use would he put his knowledge or suspicions? Had he, all unknown to him, rescued ‘Abbási Begum alive from the grave? Could he, Yúsuf Beg, at this critical moment arrange for a counterstroke, and thus save his neck, his suddenly uncomfortable neck?

Or should he run away? What about Afghanistan as a refuge? Or should he go on board the pilgrim ship at anchor in the harbour, now due to sail for Aden and Jeddah? One glance at the already crowded decks decided him against this, for there pilgrims from all parts of India sat surrounded by their bundles and cooking-pots, entitled for the whole voyage to just the amount of deck space that they could cover. To be unrecognised he must not pay for a more comfortable berth, but must mingle with them and share the possible horrors of a deck passage in their company. “They are packed like cattle!” he muttered to himself and turned away.

Perhaps the boldest course would be the safest. He went home and replied to ‘Ali Baksh’s letter. After the usual salaams—might it be known to his honour the Diwán that unforeseen occurrences prevented his coming in person, but someone in his pay, a faithful and devoted soul, would come in his stead, at the time of Bakar ‘Íd. This worthy person had taken faqir’s vows upon him, nevertheless he would seek out the enlightened and illustrious one, the noble Diwán, and being acquainted with a learned Hakim of the Yunáni school of medicine in Álimpur, was empowered to engage him to do all that could be done for the lady’s speedy and much-desired recovery. The rendezvous then should be the ‘Íd-gáh on the maidán, at the time of the Bakar ‘Íd preaching.

The worthy person, the faithful and devoted soul must, of course, be himself. Who else would work whole-heartedly in his interest, and be absolutely above bribery? The next few days saw Yúsuf Beg neglecting his proper business in the busy mart, where, however, no one regretted his absence; and a poorly clad, bare-foot Muhammadan could be seen in the lowest haunts of Byculla and Pydownie, consorting in arrack shops and opium-dens with faqirs and mendicants, learning the passwords and jargon of their trade. More than once he was tempted to leave everything and disappear. These were at the times when his neck was most uneasy. Then again he thought of his great wealth and his new bride; and it almost seemed to him that ‘Ali Baksh and his friendly letters were part of a horrid nightmare from which he would soon awaken to a free and respected life once more.

Chapter XIV

Mr. and Mrs. Carroll were unable to join the picnic party at the Old Fort, but Mrs. Carew from Nallungur had promised to ride over from the other side of the hill, entering by the Hyderabad gate. She was to bring her husband, the Padre, if possible, who was one of the best shots of the district; but failing him the doctor’s wife would come, the two ladies being escorted by a couple of trusty syces. Mrs. Carroll’s ayah was despatched before dawn by bullock-bandy, accompanied by another country-cart filled with mattresses and bedding. James of the Forests was to be responsible for the commissariat with a small army of servants and beaters.

Lewis Harwood came in to escort Leslie, and they rode through the cool, dry wind of early morning leaving the town behind them, and branching off into a sandy track which rose by imperceptible degrees to the foot of the Old Fort hill.

There was a small dak bungalow there, and across the road from it was the crumbling wall of an ancient and long disused Christian burial-ground.

It seemed right to turn aside for a few moments and pass amongst the forgotten graves of their fellow-countrymen. The headstones sloped in many directions. They were weather­beaten and moss-grown but legible. Thick grass and self-planted flowers made a coverlet for the sleepers, and Leslie paused here and there, silently noting the dates, and the ages of the dead.

“There are so many girls of my age and younger. How was that? Young wives, poor things, and young children. ‘Mary Atkins, aged twenty-one. Selina Rozario, aged nineteen.’ How sad it seems even after all these years.”

“Yes. There was a regiment quartered here in the old John Company days. You will see their sentry-boxes of brick up above, placed on the old stone walls near the great gateways. Selina Rozario must have been the wife of a country-born apothecary, for here is his grave. ‘Died of cholera—died of typhoid—died of cholera’ What a tragic list! - Those were hard days for Englishwomen, Miss Thurston.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Leslie softly as she wandered on. “Here are two tiny graves of day-old babies. Poor dear long-forgotten women! And now we come here gaily for picnics, and have every comfort and complete safety.”

“Pioneers, O Pioneers!” Harwood’s sun-topi was in his hand and his grave, kind eyes watched the girl at his side. She too was of the stuff of which pioneers were made; sensible and purposeful and unselfconscious, full of health and physical energy, unselfish and cheerful. The man followed her to the waiting ponies, well content to know that they were to spend the next two days together, and after that as many hours as the gods would grant. He would make the most of this most blessed picnic.

Up the old causeway they rode side by side, carefully guiding their steeds over the rough, uneven surface. High, many-windowed walls, ruined and crumbling, stood on one side of them across a dry ravine filled with boulders and blocks of fallen masonry, the undisturbed home of snakes and lizards. Scorpions basked in the sun, large butterflies and small humming­birds flitted and fluttered and poised. The air was filled with the soft murmur of life as they left the flat plain for this oasis of jungle. The hill climb was quite short, and soon an arched gateway was reached, ruined and tangled with greenery. The stone causeway was too broken for riding farther, and the syces took charge of the ponies while they walked on.

The rest of the party had already arrived. Mrs. Carew and Mrs. Martin had made an early start before daybreak in order to ride up before the sun was hot. Breakfast was laid under the shade of a large old baobub tree, and the men’s tents were being pitched. Mr. James guided Leslie amongst the tent ropes to a flight of broken unbalustraded steps leading up to a higher level, the floor of the ancient Banqueting Hall, and Diwán-i-‘Ám, or Hall of Audience, upon which still stood portions of crumbling pillars. The flagstones underfoot were already growing warm in the hot sunshine as they traversed them to reach a small, mosque-like building, through the window apertures of which the ayah could be seen with two female helpers spreading mattresses upon the floor, and directing a waterman where to carry his chatties of hot and cold water for the Miss Sahib’s bath.

Breakfast was a cheerful meal. The ladies sat on while the men smoked, until the growing heat made it advisable to seek more substantial shelter than the baobub tree afforded. The men wandered off exploring with their guns, and soon shots were heard here and there. The ladies retired to their quarters to rest, and Leslie, overhauling her painting materials, was already dreaming of her work. The place seemed haunted by the past. What scenes of splendour might not those broken pillars have witnessed. What scenes of bloodshed too, as Musalmán ousted Hindu, and Hindu in turn ejected Musalmán; back and forth not once nor twice but many times; until at last Englishmen came and ousted both alike, and brought peace to the countryside, albeit without the glamour of feudal splendour and unrestrained power.

In the cool of the evening the whole party rambled over their domain. They seemed to have the entire hill to themselves, except for small monkeys which watched them suspiciously, chattering overhead amidst the branches, and disturbing the jungle-fowl and parrots. Very cautiously the ladies walked through the long grass. They were not so well protected as were the men from chance snakes, which could be seen gliding away amongst the embedded masonry. Through loopholed walls and by crumbling battlements glimpses of the hot and level everyday world far below could be seen. The few tree-bordered roads of the district wandered like green threads across the plain. No sounds reached them from below. They had stepped up amongst the silent ruins of bygone days. Near the Diwán-i-‘Ám James took them to see what was thought to be part of the ancient palace Zanána. A small and complete room was disclosed, which from the stone water­runnels and remains of antique piping must have been the bathing-place of the princesses. Here and there could still be seen fragments of crumbling plaster which once secured the thousand small mirrors reflecting light and beauty.

Leslie walked in a dream. She was disappointingly silent, but amply atoned for it later, when, dinner over, they sat on the broad stone plinth under the quiet stars. Here with mandolin and songs and cheerful talk the evening hours passed swiftly away.

At that hour a few miles distant Mr. and Mrs. Carroll were sitting quietly on their verandah. They were both reading, but the lamp attracted flying insects, and the mosquitoes were particularly active,—”Missing Leslie no doubt,” grumbled her host. The butler in the drawing-room behind them had closed and fastened all the doors but one, and the other servants had retired to their go-downs for food and sleep. All was still except for the sound of a hastily driven carriage on the road. It slowed down, turned in at their gate, and drew up under the portico.

“What to goodness!” began Mr. Carroll staring. It was a palace Zanána carriage closely shuttered as usual, but the door flew open and out jumped the dishevelled, distracted form of Mrs. Fernandez.

She tried to speak, but only succeeded in wringing her hands. She stumbled up the steps and into the kind arms of the Englishwoman, who led her to a chair.

At last words came, but quite incoherently.

“I always thought Fernandez ought not to have sent us! Oh, what shall I do? This comes of money-grubbing!”

Further speech was cut short by another vehicle driving in hastily and drawing up behind the first one. This was a dog-cart, and down jumped the Rajah. He sprang up the steps. They had never seen him so perturbed. His careful English would not come at command, and he stood gesticulating awkwardly and trying to speak.

“What is it, Rajah Sahib?” asked Mr. Carroll. “Can I be of any service to you?”

“Oh, Mr. Carroll and Mrs. Carroll, I am in a great fix. How it can have happened God only knows. There is no exit from the compound except near the servants’ quarters, and those are always full of people. No one passes the front gates without fifty men seeing. It is a satanic mystery.”

Mrs. Fernandez jumped up and stood staring at him.

Then “Oh, Oh, Oh!” she shrieked hysterically. “Theresa has disappeared!”

Chapter XV

In the drowsy afternoon of the day on which Theresa disappeared she and her mother had called for chairs, and had sat down in the shade of the tamarind trees. It was very still and hot. Except for a chameleon, panting on a patch of brown earth, its colour gradually changing as it stood, everything was hushed and reposeful. Not a servant was to be seen. They were taking their siesta after the heavy midday meal, comforted doubtless with opium. The palace children were all indoors. Mrs. Fernandez yawned, and said she should go in for a nap, but Theresa begged for a short stroll and they sauntered through the thickets of bougainvillea, croton, and hibiscus that the Rajah loved, in the direction of the menagerie. A woman servant from the Zanána caught them up at this point, saying that the Ráni was calling for the Mem-Sahib and would the Miss Sahib go to the menagerie and choose a parakeet as a pattern for embroidery. They must go of course, so Mrs. Fernandez and the Muhammadan woman retraced their steps, leaving Theresa to wander on alone. Soon the girl came in sight of the gaily painted cages. She did not often come here, for the fierce animals frightened her, even imprisoned as they were. There was no sound now. All seemed drowsy or asleep. She went closer to the cages to look at the new marmosets just imported from America. The afternoon sun threw the striped pattern of the bars across the dens and a small, brave mouse was adventuring in and out. The quaint little monkeys were asleep and she moved away. She turned to retrace her steps but suddenly stood still. Every atom of strength suddenly left her. Her knees shook. Her heart raced. Heavens! What was that great yellow animal amongst the bushes she must pass, insinuating its way, muzzle to ground, leisurely slouching about following some scent or other? The tiger did not appear to see her, but how could she dart by it? She could not. She was rooted to the ground. O Holy Mary! What should she do?

The terrified girl, scarcely breathing, cast agonised eyes in the direction of the palace for succour, but all was still. She was absolutely alone.

Then suddenly her glance fell on the cage at her side. It was empty and the barred gate of it was ajar. Without stopping to think that it might be the tiger’s cage she darted in with a great cry of relief and clanged the door to behind her.

The tiger lifted its head and caught sight of her at that moment. With a snarl it crouched and prepared to spring. Theresa clutched at the bars to keep the door shut, for there was no fastening inside. Supposing the beast pawed it open as a cat would, or sprang at her straining fingers!

“Oh, Heaven, help me!” she gasped.

As if an instant answer were vouchsafed, a long bolt from above settled down through its sockets and securely fastened the cage door. The next instant she saw the roaming beast quietly turn to the further end of the long line of cages and pass beyond her sight. There must, then, be some one on the roof who had secured her door and enticed the tiger into another empty den. She shouted and clattered on the bars, but no one heard her. No one came. In this serene and peaceful afternoon she was caged up in a wild beast’s den. “Mother, mother, come back!” she cried.

After a minute or two Theresa paced round and round her prison, but stopped with a hysterical giggle, for she pictured the tiger doing the same thing not far away. She had leisure now to notice and be nearly over­powered by the odour. A wave of sick faintness swept over her, and leaning against the bars for air she closed her eyes and tried to gain some self-control.

At any rate she was safe.

But was she? Even as the thought crossed her mind, and while her eyes were still closed, the girl felt the back of her neck pricking and pringling, the hair beginning to lift. She opened her eyes. This cage was connected with another by a sliding panel, and even as she looked this had begun to move. It was slowly rising inch by inch, and an utterly overpowering smell came through the aperture. With her handkerchief pressed over her nostrils Theresa clung to the bars as waves of blackness swept over her.

After what seemed a long time, but was really only a few seconds, she opened her eyes again and saw the slowly rising panel still moving, and now beneath it gleamed two fiercely wicked green eyes from out a black and crouching form. It must be a nightmare! Theresa laughed. It was a laugh more startling than a scream.

The green eyes drew her, drew her. She could not withhold her gaze from them. A numbness came over her. She was feeling less frightened. This was the end of her life, but it did not really matter; and slowly inch by inch the panel moved.

A slight sound from the further corner reached her through the ever-deepening hypnotic spell. Dreamily the girl looked away from her enemy, and in a moment life and sudden frenzied strength returned in one great rush of energy. In the seemingly solid floor a trap-door had opened. It mattered not that it led down into yawning blackness, a veritable rat-hole. With a cry she sprang across the cage, slid through the opening, and pulled the door down sharply just over her head. At the same instant, with a nerve­shaking snarl, the black panther shot across the intervening space, and landed, baffled and just too late, upon the spot where his prey had disappeared.

In that dark and smothering hole Theresa fainted at last, and this perhaps saved her reason. When consciousness returned, after how long or short a time she did not know, the darkness was relieved by the light of a glimmering, floating-wick lamp and she saw that she was not alone.

A hand reached for hers in the dimness, a cold hand, an Indian hand.

“You are feeling better now, Miss Fernandez. Follow me and I will get you out.”

“But who are you? Where does this passage lead to?” cried the unhappy girl. “I want to go back to the palace to my mother. I won’t go with you along that dark tunnel.”

“If the Miss Sahib would prefer to return the way she came, let me lift the trap-door overhead.”

The sneering, cynical voice was unmistakable, and so were the scratching sounds beyond the trap-door and the deep animal breathings.

“No, no, of course I must go with you,” cried Theresa, relieved to find that the Prime Minister was her captor, much as she disliked him.

“Follow me then, Miss Fernandez, and watch your steps carefully.”

The Diwán, holding his uncertain lamp low down at his side, led the way along what seemed an interminable tunnel. The roof was high enough but the walls were roughly cut, and great lumps of earth had fallen in the way here and there, from behind which earth creatures scuttled and squealed at their approach. Great tarantula spiders glued themselves into crevices and seemed to watch them, but Theresa was past dreading insects as she followed her captor on and on through the bowels of the earth. Fresh air and a glimmer of light came to them from time to time, and expectation roused in vain was lulled into a deadened apathy before the exit was at last reached. The mouth of the tunnel looked like an archway into blazing light, so great was the contrast; but it was in reality well veiled and hidden by thick vegetation and grasses. Just before emerging ‘Ali Baksh felt about for a small bundle from which he produced a worn and soiled burqa. This he handed in silence to the bewildered girl, who put it on obediently.

They then pressed through the screen of greenery and found themselves on the open plain. Theresa had driven near the place once or twice, for there was the ‘Íd-gáh, a landmark for miles around. From the further side of the high ‘Íd-gáh wall there emerged a closed palanquin with four bearers, who shuffled along in the dust to their side.

Theresa hung back. Should she throw off her burqa and run? Would these men kill her if she did? Better be killed than go she knew not whither! ‘Ali Baksh’s right hand was instantly on her arm. His left held a small pistol. He took care that she should see it. Through the latticed eyelet holes she stared frantically round. Then her will and energy collapsed and she climbed limply into the palanquin.

Even before the bearers had time to adjust their shoulder-pads and lift their load with grunts and grumbles, the entrapped girl found, to her relief, that another woman was already in it. There was barely room for the two of them, but the other occupant moved accommodatingly, and, pushing back a burqa similar to her own, disclosed the familiar features of Zuleikha, the Ráni’s serving-woman.

Theresa seized her by the arm, but the woman shook her off impatiently and placed a finger on her lips. She evidently had orders not to talk. The palanquin was borne swiftly through the gathering dusk. Theresa peeped through the closed curtains and saw that they were leaving both town and ‘Íd-gáh behind and making for the Old Fort hill which loomed dark and mysterious before them. ‘Ali Baksh, keeping up as best he could, heard distant sounds of firing and cursed under his breath. Those ubiquitous Farangis had taken possession of the hill. Why had not his spies brought him word? At any moment now he might be seen through field-glasses. At this point the road they followed joined a long-disused path, and at the junction stood an empty house built of sun-dried bricks, and windowless.

No one was in sight, so ‘Ali Baksh signed to the bearers to stop. He paid and dismissed them without requiring them to carry the palanquin into the courtyard. The men, slow-witted Hindu countrymen, walked off without looking back, knowing that whatever else Muhammadans might require of them, this went without saying, that household Zanána arrangements were never to be spied upon. A few furlongs away the bare plain gave place to rough undergrowth, tumbled boulders and broken nullahs. When the Hindus were out of sight ‘Ali Baksh drew aside the palanquin curtains and bade the women alight and follow him. They looked an innocent enough group, a plainly dressed Moslem striding in front, followed by two burqa-clad women; but he did not breathe freely until the shade of over-arching trees was reached and they found themselves in the dry bed of a torrent, which led abruptly upward through the ever-thickening jungle. Up this he led them, striking the ground with a stick to scare snakes from their path. Zuleikha, with muttered prayers and many a stumble, followed him with difficulty, unused as she was to open-air life of any sort. Theresa, frightened and bewildered, followed mechanically. She did not notice the rough­ness of the path, nor the many turns they took through tunnels of greenery. The sun had set and now sudden darkness swallowed them up, but the journey’s end was near, for their guide bade them stand where they were while he felt his way cautiously round an abrupt wall of ancient masonry which barred their path. Returning in a moment he spoke to Zuleikha, who laid hands on Theresa’s burqa. To take it off would be a relief, and the girl was about to throw it back when she found that the woman was merely reversing it. The head-piece was shifted round, dragging her hair over her face, and bringing the eye-holes to the back so that she was completely blind­folded.

‘Ali Baksh felt for her arm through the down-hanging folds and led her a few difficult paces; then stopped and pulled it off altogether.

There was a moment of intense darkness until he struck a match and lighted a small lamp placed ready in a niche. He walked on, lighting another and another, until Theresa could see that they were standing in a small room, whether cave or building she could not tell, furnished according to Indian ideas with mats and bolsters, and cooking implements.

“Make yourself quite at home, Miss Fernandez,” said the Prime Minister suavely. “I promise you that no harm shall happen to you. I have your father’s consent to use you to further my plans, and he is very glad to make a fortune of rupees, you may be sure.”

“It isn’t true!” cried Theresa. “Papa would never consent to my being separated from my mother. He sent her up-country on purpose to be with me. Take me back to the palace. Please do. I’m frightened here, in this unknown place. I’m sure my father never thought you would do anything like this.”

“Of course I did not tell my good friend in Madras all the necessary steps to attaining his fortune,” sneered the Muhammadan. “But you need not be afraid. This woman Zuleikha shall stay with you. She will give you food now, and afterwards you must do as she bids you. I take my leave until the morning. Miss Sahib, salaam.”

In another minute the two women were alone. Zuleikha with subdued grumbles untied a bundle which had been placed in a corner, and lifted from it one by one the rich and scented garments in which Theresa had masqueraded in the palace Zanána. How different were the young girl’s feelings now, as bewildered and helpless, she allowed herself to be dressed by the deft hands of the tiring-woman. The silken, gold-shot garments were heavy with scent of musk and jasmin. The jewels faintly glowed in the light of the floating-wick lamps, but when the change was completed, and her European dress tied in the bundle and secreted out of sight, she sat down and began to cry from sheer fatigue and fright.

“It is too soon to apply the Kajul to your eyes,” said Zuleikha sarcastically. “Don’t cry, Miss Sahib, we are all in the hands of Alláh; and my reward will be lost if you are not returned safely to the Mem-Sahib.”

“But what is all this for?” sobbed Theresa. “First I am nearly killed by the black panther, then I’m stolen and hidden away in this dark cave. I can’t possibly get home from here in the dark, and mother will be demented. I’ve never done any one any harm. What is it all for?”

“Never mind, bichári,”14 said Zuleikha more kindly. “You would like some supper, and then go to sleep.”

She built up a small fire and heated some soup in a tin pot. Theresa drank it and felt better and calmer, and lay down on the rasai that the woman spread for her. The bolster was hard, but sleep soon came in the quiet darkness. Her last thought was that with daylight she would change her dress and set off down the hill and walk to the town. No one should stop her. She was free to come and go. She would not be coerced by ‘Ali Baksh, and she would tell the Rajah himself about this that had happened to her, and then she would make her mother take her home to Madras.

Zuleikha crouched at the foot of the mat watching her quiet, regular breathing. An hour or two must be allowed for the opium-drenched soup to do its work, and then the trance proper must be induced. Could she work the magic unaided? The formula was difficult, but she had succeeded before. She would pray to Alláh for assistance. It was long past the hour for evening Namáz, but Zuleikha unrolled a mat, and placing it to face towards Mecca went through her usual routine of Arabic evening prayer; her slight, enveloped figure casting grotesque shadows on the uneven walls as she moved mechanically through the appointed prostrations.

Chapter XVI

The picnic party had intended to be early astir on the following morning in order to get a good day’s shikar, but long before dawn the men in the tents were awakened by the cries of a palace runner, who, accompanied by a peon with a letter from Mr. Carroll, had come up the hill by lantern-light, hitting the ground to keep snakes away and calling loudly to scare off spooks and evil spirits. Arrived amongst the tents their voices became more apologetic.

“Ayya! Ayya! (sir!) Harwood Sahib! James Sahib! Salaam, Ayya!”

“What is all that noise about? Boy, what do those men want? Send them off, they are too early.” Thus James of the Forests.

A sleepy butler scrambled to his feet in a small tent which he shared with two other servants, and yawning and turbanless went to interview the intruders. In a moment he was quickly winding on his turban and dragging on his white cotton coat to take the runner to his master, for the message from the palace was very urgent.

Harwood’s boy too was roused and sent with his master’s letter, while James sat up on his folding cot and tried to grasp the meaning of the Rajah’s scrawl. The Hindustani words ran into each other. The enlightening dots and dashes were as disowned and un­attached as blown leaves.

“What in thunder is it all about?”

As if in answer Harwood appeared at the tent flap. He had thrust his feet into slippers but was still in pyjamas. Carroll’s letter was in his hand.

“There is a fine bobbery at the palace,” he said. “Miss Fernandez, the Zanána governess, has disappeared. Her mother is at the Carrolls’ bungalow half crazed. The Rajah also has been there in a great state of mind. He’s a good chap. If there has been a palace plot he is not in it. But he very naturally doesn’t want his house overrun by Govern­ment police. Carroll wants us down ek dam.15 We had better take Burnham and Cobb, don’t you think? They know the district.”

“But what about the ladies? We can’t leave them alone. We may or may not be back again this evening.”

“If they are all right for to-day some of us must come back this evening. To-morrow Carew is coming, isn’t he? He can take over charge here, or take his wife and Mrs. Martin home. This has knocked our jolly picnic on the head.”

“Indeed it has. But what can have happened to that poor girl? I should have said the palace was as safe as a prison.”

“Well, I’ll go and dress, and write a note to Mrs. Carew. They need not be bothered yet if the noise those peons made has not wakened them.”

In a very short time the two men were picking their way down the rough pathway, leaving word for Burnham and Cobb to follow. It was earliest dawn, the “false dawn,” when the sun seems to send a reflected light as herald of the coming day. From far away over the level plain could be heard the faintest reverberation of the Muezzin’s call from the minaret of the ‘Ali Musjid. The birds were stirring in the tangled branches near at hand, and the mounted syces, only half awake, were following gloomily. When once on the level ground the few miles to the town were covered at a gallop, and they joined Mr. Carroll at early tea on his verandah.

“I’m sending a wire to the girl’s father,” said the latter, after relating the events of the last evening. “He can’t arrive until to-morrow. Her mother is here in a state of collapse and hysterics. My wife has her hands full.”

“What does the Rajah say?”

“He hasn’t the remotest clue.”

“I suppose he has examined all his servants? There are such swarms of them. A queer-looking lot!”

“He says he has questioned them all, and got nothing from them. He sticks to it that someone must have seen her go out, and, given time, he can use his own methods of getting at the truth. He did not tell us what the Zanána thought. We only have the mother’s word for it that the girl is not hidden away in there. We can’t tell.”

“What do you propose to do, sir?”

“When this leaks out and the Government asks questions, he’ll be furious. I want some one to see the stationmaster and put him on the qui vive, but without exciting suspicions of foul play. He can wire up and down the line. Whoever goes had better take a fresh horse. It is a good ten miles distant. Personally, I think this will draw blank.”

“What is your own idea, then?” asked James.

“I’m lacking in imagination, I know,” answered the older man hesitatingly. “Only one explanation presents itself to me. The girl is a good girl. Just a simple-minded convent-taught Eurasian, but she is pretty and she is young, and some of those yellow-satin sparks we saw at the palace the other evening didn’t exactly take my fancy. But if she has been kidnapped, how was it done? The Rajah is positive that no one can go out or come in without being seen. Will one of you go to the railway station and one come to the palace with me? I promised to go first thing this morning.”

Meanwhile, up on the Old Fort hill Leslie had awakened early and sent the ayah to fetch her a cup of tea and something to eat. She did not know that the men’s camp had been so untimely disturbed, and the two married ladies were still sound asleep. She wished to gain a certain battlemented coign of vantage soon after sunrise and meant to go alone in order to paint undisturbed. With her light load of painting gear she threaded her way through the broken pillars of the Diwán-i-’Ám, and clambered down to a lower level amongst the ruins of the ancient Zanána, her whole attention given to the scene before her, noting with trained eyes the brilliant colours and clear atmosphere; while, here and there framed in over-arching foliage, she caught distant views of the far-stretching plains shimmering in the level shafts of early sunlight. All was quiet as she left the camp behind her. Even the ayah, having made her own early coffee, was drinking it near the cooking fire, shivering a little as the air of this higher region blew fresh and chill on her thinly clad body.

Leslie wandered on until she came to a spot which took her fancy, and unstrapping her things set to work. Wholly absorbed and happy, she sat so still that the small jungle creatures ran here and there, quite near and unafraid. The calls of waking birds overhead, the soft chirrup of insects underfoot mingled with the spirit of the scene and hardly penetrated her consciousness, intent as she was on her growing sketch. It needed some unusual sound to rouse her, and this was presently supplied in a way that made her jump. She was sitting with her back against a creeper-covered wall, part masonry, part living rock, and quite near, perhaps a yard or two away, sounded a perfectly distinct and unmistakable human sneeze.

Leslie jumped up, scattering a lapful of brushes, and stared about her. Overhead a hawk was poised in the blue air. From tree to tree swung a chattering troop of monkeys. The forest sounds were all around her, but no one was in sight.

After several startled minutes she concluded that she had been mistaken, and set to work to gather up her scattered things. Then came that sneeze again, and a woman’s voice muttered “ Al Hamdu’lláh,” almost at her elbow. Fortunately her nerves were good and common sense her great point. If a woman’s voice said, “Al Hamdu’lláh,” a woman must be there somewhere, and she would find her. In another minute she was tearing aside the matted creepers, laying about her with a stout stick as she had seen the forest men do, but nothing was disclosed. The rock surface seemed as firm as it could possibly be, and the stones of the masonry as secure as when it was first built. “I must find a way in,” she thought. “There must be a way up above. What an adventure!”

A difficult scramble brought Leslie, hot and breathless, high above the spot where she had been seated. Here were tumbled boulders which looked as if human foot had never trodden them, so embedded they seemed, so quiet and undisturbed; nevertheless, the girl searched about eagerly, for had she not distinctly heard a woman speak under the very spot where now she stood? Finding no clue, she sauntered on, eyes to ground, until pulled up short by a precipitous and narrow nullah. Here her foothold gave way, and she slid roughly down ten feet or more with a little gasp of dismay. At the bottom, dusty and shaken, she stared incredulously, for a middle-aged Moslem woman, dressed in a homely red sári, was fast disappearing into a narrow opening, pulling a brushwood screen into place behind her.

When she had recovered her breath, Leslie decided to follow. She in turn pulled aside the brushwood screen, and entered a narrow, rock-hewn passage which widened almost immediately into a fair-sized room. Floating­wick lamps were dying down, and daylight was beginning to penetrate through skilfully concealed apertures in roof and walls. She stood still in the entrance until her eyes became accustomed to the half light; then objects, one after another, became apparent. The woman, with her back turned, was crouching over a small charcoal fire upon which was balanced a pot. Other pots and baskets were near her. Leslie’s gaze travelled to a recumbent form on a mat in a corner. It lay still, stretched at full length, shrouded only in an enveloping chaddar, which had fallen back revealing the brilliant hues of sári and petticoat and heavily gold-braided, muslin kurta.16 So still it lay that for a full minute she thought it was a dead woman, until watching intently she noticed the rise and fall of almost imperceptible breathing. It made a picture such as an artist dreams of but seldom sees: “Sleeping Beauty” in real life. Hardly realising her own movements, so intent was she on the vision, Leslie advanced slowly into the centre of the room. From this point the sleeper’s face was visible, and she stopped in amazement.

“It is Theresa Fernandez!”

She had not spoken above her usual tones, but it must have sounded like a thunder-clap in the ears of Zuleikha, who sprang to her feet with a gasping cry, her glass-bangled brown arms raised as if to ward off a blow. All night long had Zuleikha been eerily conscious of the presence of afreets and jinn, induced no doubt by the terrible incantations she had practised on Theresa, and now the simple words nearly killed her with fright, until she realised that this was no white apparition, but a flesh and blood Farangi intruding where she was not wanted.

Leslie stooped over the sleeping girl and gently shook her. There was no answering movement, no slightest disturbance of the unnatural trance-like sleep. She turned to the recovering Zuleikha, pouring out questions in English. The Moslem woman slowly drew near, hostility written on every feature. She stooped and rearranged the drooping sári on the sleeper, gaining time to gather her forces for a battle of wits. Then she looked up into the candid eyes of the newcomer.

“Yihi Fernandez Miss Sahib nahin hai. Yihi ‘Abbási Begum hai” (This is not Miss Fernandez, it is ‘Abbási Begum). “‘Abbási Begum. ‘Abbási Begum,” she repeated with emphasis.

Leslie stared at her incredulously and then emphatically shook her head.

“It is Theresa! I am certain of it! These are the very clothes I helped to dress her in the other day in the palace!” She stopped. Zuleikha could only guess at the meaning of her English speech.

The Muhammadan shrugged her shoulders with a slight hint of insolence, and as if the matter were settled, returned to her cooking. Leslie sat down on the floor and watched Theresa’s slight but even breathing. Then she shook her, and called to her, but all to no purpose.

“‘Abbási Begum soti hai. Chor do, Mem­Sahib” (‘Abbási Begum sleeps. Leave her alone), murmured Zuleikha with unconcern.

Leslie sat down again to think. If she could safely leave Theresa for an hour she could get help from the camp. It was evident that some plot was afoot, but she could not imagine what it could be. Zuleikha was not pleasant, but she did not seem vicious. The entranced Theresa looked peaceful enough. The rock-hewn room was clean and almost homely.

“I’ll fetch bearers at once,” she said to herself with decision, and adjusting her sun- topi, rose to go, but at the entrance she glanced back and her eyes caught on Zuleikha’s face such a look of insolent and wicked cunning that she instantly changed her mind and returned to the mat at Theresa’s side.

“I’ll stay for a while,” she thought. “Some one from the camp will come to look for me about breakfast time, and we can get her away then.”

The hours dragged on slowly. Zuleikha offered her food, but she shook her head. Brighter daylight penetrated indirectly through the slanting and angled apertures, and still Theresa slept on.

As she had conjectured, the hour for late breakfast at the camp revealed Leslie’s absence; and the ayah’s information as to her early start made the ladies somewhat anxious. The servants and tent-men were sent out in every direction while they waited. Harwood’s letter and the sudden departure of their hosts had broken up the picnic, and Mrs. Carew felt responsible for Leslie. After two hours the searchers returned one by one with nothing to show. They were mystified and uneasy, for the whole hill was not more than a mile or two in length, and the Miss Sahib should have heard their shouts.

About two o’clock a syce from the hill galloped into the Carrolls’ compound with an urgent note from Mrs. Carew for Englishmen and dogs. He was sent on to the palace where the gentlemen still lingered, and then indeed was consternation renewed sevenfold. The Rajah looked thoroughly ill and harassed. Harwood stoutly ignored his own symptoms of returning fever.

“I’ll ride back to the Old Fort at once, sir,” he said anxiously.

“Come home for tiffin first,” said Carroll. “If you are knocked up you will be useless. James may be back too, and we can consult him about beaters.”

James returned before the hasty tiffin was over. He found a fresh horse saddled ready for him, Harwood’s syce holding his master’s pony, and three terriers on their leashes.

“What is the next move?” he asked eagerly.

Harwood answered him with white lips, beginning to tremble with ague.

“Miss Thurston has disappeared!”

Chapter XVII

In the rock chamber the weary hours dragged heavily. The distant shouts of searchers had penetrated and deliverance seemed at hand, but no one came near enough to hear an answering shout from within there; and when Leslie once more sought the entrance, Zuleikha had gone towards the sleeping Theresa with an air so menacing that she had hurried back to her side. But what harm could this slight, middle-aged woman do? An athletic girl could easily overpower her surely?

“Dekho, Mem-Sahib” (Look, Mem-Sahib). Zuleikha grinned maliciously, and opening her hand disclosed a small vessel with a single perforation. The English girl had not the remotest notion what it was. Wild thoughts of rapid poisons flashed through her mind. The unknown appeared infinitely dangerous, not to herself, but to the helpless girl on the mat. They seemed to be surrounded by an atmosphere of wickedness and mystery in which any crime might be possible. Moreover she was hungry. The Muhammadan woman had cooked chupatties and was eating them. She once more offered food to Leslie, who took it, feeling reassured to see her eating. Coffee? Leslie shook her head, but the woman drank it, and it seemed good.

The day wore on. Theresa had not stirred one limb. Her soft and scarcely perceptible breathing seemed almost to stop at times and Leslie leaned anxiously over her. At other times she herself slept, her arms on her knees, and her head resting on them. She dreamt that she was outside painting, when a man’s voice sounded startlingly close.

“Here are her painting things. She can’t be far away. She must have fainted or had sunstroke and slipped down through the undergrowth.” There was a loud whistle and the distant bark of terriers.

Leslie sprang up, but the Muhammadan woman was before her.

“Dekho, Mem-Sahib,” she hissed, shaking a little powder into Leslie’s hand.

The voices outside sounded again, coming distinctly through the air apertures.

“Mr. Harwood! Mr. Harwood!” she was on the point of calling out, but bit off the words at her very lips, for Zuleikha had stooped over Theresa and was raising one of the sleeping girl’s eyelids between her thumb and finger, with her little vessel lifted, poised and ready.

Leslie checked helplessly. The powder in her hand was red pepper!

Outside the terriers were crashing here and there, urged down the hill-slope by masters and forest men, who followed them closely, afraid that they would find the missing girl ill and helpless, but certain that the end of their quest was near. The dogs did their best and worked hard, but were puzzled and misled by the crossing trails of small jungle animals. They did not even find the spot where Leslie had climbed the rock-face, for the searchers spent all their time on the downward slope. Their voices gradually withdrew, and Leslie sat down again to think out a plan of action; for it seemed mere folly to stay there helplessly, imprisoned so near home, and by one thin Muhammadan woman! First she must secure that pepper-holder and try and make sure that there was no other dangerous thing at hand. Then she must tie the woman securely up with something, or force her outside away from Theresa, and shout and call until some one heard her. First, then, the pepper-pot.

Zuleikha must have divined her thoughts, for she seated herself at Theresa’s head with one hand on the girl’s face, and glared across at the other girl vindictively. Leslie in all her quiet well-ordered life had never seen such a look. She found herself unconsciously taking mental notes of the fleeting and varied expressions that chased one another over the woman’s watchful face. The room grew suddenly dusk while they waited like this. Zuleikha threw her a box of matches and pointed to the small tumbler lamps in niches in the wall, but did not stir from her place near Theresa’s head, nor raise her hand from the quiet face.

Meanwhile, in the world outside night was approaching. The searchers on the hill were forced to the conclusion that Miss Thurston, as well as the young Anglo-Indian governess, had been kidnapped and spirited away no one knew whither. The servants, with chattering teeth, spoke low together of witchcraft and sorcery, earth spirits and demons. The picnic camp had broken up in gloom. The Nallungur ladies had ridden away under safe escort through the crumbling, ruined Hyderabad gate to their distant Station, and, this responsibility off their minds, the Englishmen rode down once more to consult the Rajah and set the wires in motion. Even if every Zanána in the town had to be searched, the two girls must be found. It was a police matter.

The Rajah was ill with worry. “My people won’t stand it. Their houses are sacred. They’ll riot!” he kept repeating to any one who would listen, wringing his comfortable, jewelled hands. The horns of his dilemma were sharp indeed, for he knew his European friends would leave no stone unturned, if they had to pull his palace down piecemeal and unroof all the houses in the town, and he pictured the result. The head of each family, armed with an ancient and long-unused talwár,17 would brandish it in the face of the Government emissaries, daring them to pass in except over his dead body. For his own part, the palace line of defence was complete, and all the Zanána carriages were brought out, ready in case of invasion, to carry off his family to a garden-house some miles away.

There was another point that puzzled him which so far he had kept to himself. One of the Ráni’s attendants was missing, and though Her Highness gave convincing reasons for this, she seemed vexed and nervous at being questioned. To make matters worse it was the time of the Bakar ‘Íd, or Feast of Sheep, and on the morrow, the tenth day of the month Bakar ‘Íd, he must repair on a State elephant to the ‘Id-gáh to offer Fátiha18 and give countenance to the preachers.

At present, all unconscious of the impending upheaval, every household was busily engaged in cooking and preparing special food, pillau, halwa, chupatties, and offering their family Fátiha in the name of the Prophet. Some were keeping a fast, and all, except the poor and indigent, were preparing sheep or goats for sacrifice. Some were combining to sacrifice a cow or a camel, for those who offer such sacrifices will be carried by these animals as quickly as a horse goes, or as lightning, over the pul Sirāt, the terrible bridge over the eternal fire, that all must cross to reach the bliss of paradise.

On the morrow the heads of families would sacrifice the sheep at home, in commemoration of Abraham’s intended offering up of Ishmael (as Moslems think). They would keep for themselves a portion of this Qurbán, another portion would be sent to relations, and a third given in alms to the poor. This feast brought crowds to the town; religious mendicants, faqirs of many descriptions, and indigent folk anxious for a good meal; and all would wend their way on the morrow to the ‘Íd-gáh, to recite prayers and hear the famous preachers who would address them there.

In bobberies like this of Miss Fernandez’ disappearance the Rajah considered himself fortunate in having a capable Diwán. Many a corner had they rounded together when the cross-currents of creeds and customs and Government requirements toyed with their little ship of state. He sent for him now, and found him, as ever, astute and far-seeing and collected. The Diwán’s counsel was to go slowly. Whatever fuss was made, let the Farangis make it if they must, but let it not be their doing. Then the True Believers could not blame their Rajah; and the Hindu idolaters could not be incensed at him. The Farangis would have all the trouble and expense, and serve them right. But where the girl was, that was the puzzling question. Nevertheless, let His Highness, the Lord of the World, the Light of the Faith, the Nourisher of the Poor, trust to his humble slave, and by the guidance of Alláh, the Revealer of Secrets, and of the Prophet (on whom be peace), even this difficulty would be quickly solved. It would be well, however, to double or treble the palace sacrifices. Let all be done with splendour and munificence, then would the populace acclaim their Rajah, and have sympathy with him in all the vexations that Government might bring upon him.

The palace servants had been closely questioned. Spying and cross-spying and black­mailing had made them all thoroughly uncomfortable. Hardly any one was free from anxiety lest old scores should be reckoned up against them by fellow-servants, and witnesses produced who had seen them taking the young Miss Sahib away in a bullock-cart, or rolled up in bedding, or hidden in a truss of straw. For their part, they did not think one Christian chit was worth all this bother and upset.

Night had fallen on the eve of that memorable Bakar ‘Íd ere the second blow fell on the palace, and they learnt that the search for Miss Thurston had been fruitless. The big gates were shut for the night when riders with lanterns and syces and dogs came straight from the Old Fort hill, and urgently demanded admittance. The Rajah had retired, but was ruthlessly roused. He almost danced with annoyance. Such things had never happened in his town before. He had no precedent to follow as to the best procedure to take. On the one hand was a stern Government to be satisfied; and on the other his Moslem subjects, to whom talk of a house-to-house search would be as spark to tinder. And quite naturally so too. He shared their point of view.

‘Ali Baksh had not left the palace, and his master turned to him for moral support, finding him, as ever, cool and collected. Miss Thurston, he maintained, was lost in the jungle, and had been overlooked by the searchers. Who was there upon the hill to kidnap her? And who would want to?

But although the Diwán kept a calm exterior before the Rajah, his feelings were far more ruffled by this second disappearance. To hide his annoyance he stayed in the background with downcast eyes and expressionless face, but listening to all that the Sahibs had to tell. A thorough search upon the hill was the thing that he least desired. These Europeans were much in the way of worthy Moslems with schemes afoot. Oh, that Iblis19 would fly away with them all!

Chapter XVIII

Álimpur was full to overflowing on the day of the Festival of Bakar ‘Íd.

From far and near faqirs had been attracted thither. Learned maulavis too were assembled, to discuss knotty points of religious law, for the present-day flood of Western customs and modes of life brought many an old-established fatva20 under a tiresome searchlight of common sense, or under a mischievous scrutiny from an entirely new and unheard-of, and therefore infidel, view-point.

The faqirs wandered through the streets of the Muhammadan quarter chanting their religious couplets, and playing their instruments of music, of which the been or vina, a sort of guitar, but having two dried hollow pumpkins fixed to the ends of it with five or seven strings, was a favourite one. “Alláh, Alláh hai baré! Khush raho!” (God, God is great! be happy!) they chanted, salaaming. Or, “May the shadow (i.e. favour) of ‘Ali and the Prophet be upon you, and the people answered, “Salám hai, Shah Sahib.” (Salám, King Sahib). When the faqir’s voice sounded in the street the women in the houses untied the little bags of coin at their waists, and sent out a present by the hand of some non-gosha person. To give alms is one of the Pillars of the Faith, and especially at Bakar ‘Íd is it incumbent, for otherwise the prayers will be kept suspended in mid-air between heaven and earth.

At daylight a great concourse of people began to gather at the ‘Íd-gáh on the maidan outside the city. Thither the Qázi was brought with great pomp and state, accompanied by Bája bajuntar.21 It was a serious, well-ordered crowd, repeating their creed softly all the way. “Alláhu Akbár,” etc. “God is great, God is great. There is no other God save the one true God. God is great. God is great, and praise be to God.”

The Rajah, hiding his cares and anxieties under splendid raiment, his turban with its jewel-encrusted phoenix feather glittering in the sunlight, sat like a statue in the gorgeous howdah on the back of his gaily caparisoned State elephant. The elephant’s trappings alone were worth a fortune. He passed amidst his people, barely noticing their humble prostrations, and drew up near the mimbar, or pulpit of the ‘Íd-gáh, on the steps of which the Qázi, acting now as Khatib, or preacher, was about to commence reciting the Khátba, or sermon, offering glory to God and praise to the Prophet, the people meanwhile having seated themselves on the ground, packed in close masses.

Descending to the lower step of the mimbar the Khátib recounted the virtues of the King (i.e. that one whose coin was current in the realm), and offered up supplications on his behalf. After which the Rajah’s servants presented to him their master’s gift, a robe of honour, while gold and silver flowers were thrown over his head. Again ascending to the middle step of the mimbar the priest offered supplications for the prosperity of their religion, for pilgrims and travellers and sick folk, for forgiveness of Musalmán sins, preservation from misfortune, and freedom from debt. Then, descending from the mimbar, he sat upon a prayer mat, and prayed for the people, who joined in with “Amen.”

After this the whole congregation rose up, and calling out “Dín! Dín!” (Religion! Religion!) let off guns, saluted and congratulated one another, and “kissed hands” with the Qázi. Noise and fun and sport now took the place of the quiet, reverent worship that had gone before. Faqirs in large numbers mixed with the people, who gave in alms cowries, or pice, or larger coins. It was, of course, a men’s crowd. The women were at home where the sheep were to be sacrificed, preparing delicate food and sending trays of it to friends and relatives with kindly greetings.

The Diwán, in attendance on his master, had paid scant heed to the prayers and exhortations. His eyes were searching ceaselessly amongst the throng of rich and poor, grave and gay, lay and religious. Untiringly and patiently he scrutinised the crowd, as one certain to find the object of his search.

In this he was not disappointed. Amongst a group of variously clothed faqirs, one was regarding him attentively. He was wearing on his left upper arm a piece of cloth dyed yellow with turmeric, in which was secreted a small piece of money, his Emám zamini, or Emám’s protection; he carried a Byrága (pillow of victory), a small crooked piece of iron to place under his armpit to lean upon when sitting, and also a bag made of the skin of a lamb. Travel-stained he was, with the foreign air of a man from the northern provinces, and as one newly come to the place he held aloof from the throngs and watched them with a detached air. His eyes and the eyes of the Rajah’s high officer met for a long second, then he deliberately turned to a quieter spot and cleared a small square space wherein he seated himself, with his few properties disposed near him. This became his “takai” or “faqir’s stand”; and the Diwán knew that at any time he chose to return he would find the devotee there, absorbed in meditation or prayer, and allowing the Faithful to acquire merit by supplying his wants.

As the hours passed, the ‘Íd-gáh maidan became gradually deserted. In the town the Bakar ‘Íd sacrifices were being offered. Around the palace gates a large concourse of poor or pious ones were being supplied with food and largesse by the Rajah’s stewards. The usual life of the Muhammadan quarter in festival times flowed on, the inhabitants all ignorant and regardless of the impending search for the two foreign girls which was even now preparing at the end of the tár22 in Madras. The Rajah attended the sacrificial ceremonies in a small private mosque in the palace precincts, outwardly oblivious to the imminent upheaval and consternation about to overtake his people. In the European Station mothers did not allow their children out of sight. Mrs. Carroll soothed and comforted the distraught woman in her charge, and ordered to bed a stern man with drawn, set face, who was alternately burning with a raging temperature, or shaking with chattering teeth in the cold fits of ague. Mr. Fernandez would arrive on the morrow, and they were expecting the Commissioner of Police in person, for to begin this difficult search through the religiously guarded homes of the town would require, in view of the resentment that would be aroused, the fullest possible weight of authority.

In the quiet rock-hewn room in the Old Fort hill two women kept vigil, a thin Muhammadan woman, and an impatient, greatly exasperated English girl. Of all the unheard-of situations Leslie felt that this one was the most maddening. She could have picked up Zuleikha and mastered her by mere athletic strength, yet she dare not venture too near Theresa, and if she but looked towards the cave entrance Theresa’s guardian watched her with fiercely determined eyes, and the brown hand upon the sleeping face seemed to take a more menacing grip. Never once did Zuleikha leave her hold of the pot of red pepper. When she thought Leslie might be hungry she nodded laconically towards the remaining chupatties, but sleep and hunger seemed as far removed from herself as if she had been a witch.

When the evening shadows darkened the jungle outside, and the infiltering light grew dim on this second day, Leslie slept with her head on her arms and dreamt that she herself was Sleeping Beauty, and a fairy prince was gaily but surely searching out her hiding-place. “We cannot afford to lose our one young lady,” she heard him say, and then awoke to the tiresome reality of her position. For twenty-four hours and more Theresa had not stirred a limb, and never once had she caught Zuleikha off her close and dangerous guard. In reality she had herself once or twice slept long and soundly, and the Moslem had softly gone about her slight cooking with a watchful eye upon the girl who could so easily overcome her by physical strength, and must be kept in check by cunning. As to whether she would really drop red pepper into Theresa’s eyes Zuleikha hardly troubled to ask herself. Perhaps she would, for she greatly feared the Diwán, and she had seen it cleverly done more than once; not enough to kill, mind you, or even to blind; and now it was her strongest weapon, indeed, the only one she had.

For some hours Leslie had been realising the alarm and consternation their disappearance would cause. Her head ached with wondering how Theresa had fallen into this plight, and what conspiracy was behind it. On this second evening a doubt crossed her mind for the first time. Supposing it were not Theresa after all, but a poor bewitched lady whose fate she had unexpectedly stumbled across. In the half-light she could almost bring herself to believe this, for Zuleikha gave her no chance now of close scrutiny. Then she would pull herself together at sight of the palace garments and jewels, which one by one, piece by piece, she had noted, with her projected picture in view.

When it was time to light the floating-wick and tumbler lamps, and she had made a good meal of cold rice, eaten messily with unaccustomed fingers, she noticed that Zuleikha began to watch the entrance anxiously. Anything was better than this dream-like, unaccountable waiting, and Leslie sat on the floor, alert and expectant, listening for she knew not what.

At length sounds penetrated. They heard the undergrowth and brushwood in the nullah without scraped aside, and with a word over his shoulder to a companion, the Diwán entered alone.

Leslie sprang to her feet, for here, at last, was someone who could understand English. But with one amazed glance at her, the Muhammadan strode across the room, and seizing Zuleikha by her thin shoulder, shook her violently in a fury of passion. The pepper-pot rolled away and Leslie put it in her pocket. Zuleikha cowered and moaned, speechless with terror and want of breath. Only Theresa slept on, almost as one dead in the midst of this sudden turmoil. The English girl spoke first.

“What is the use of shaking her like that? She couldn’t help my being here.”

“She must have arranged it with Mrs. Fernandez,” spluttered the infuriated man, off his guard for once. “One woman less in the world will not signify. By Alláh, I shall strangle her!”

Zuleikha, released for a moment, crawled to Leslie’s feet, and clung to her knees with noisy, frightened weeping. The girl faced the Muhammadan fearlessly.

“Why have you hidden Theresa Fernandez here, and what is the matter with her? She has not moved for twenty-four hours and more, or eaten anything.”

There was a slight cough outside the entrance barrier, and before replying Ali Baksh strode thither and spoke to someone in a low voice. Then he mastered himself by a strong effort, and stood for a full minute with downcast eyes, and hanging hands hidden in the long sleeves of his outer coat, thinking of his next move in the game.

“Miss Sahiba has spent all that time here then?” he hazarded gently. These English people had no finesse. Miss Thurston would probably blurt out all her tale with a very little encouragement.

But Leslie was thoroughly roused and excited, and saw that she was looked upon in the light of a spoke in the wheel, and that ignorance of her movements was the Prime Minister’s weak point.

“You can find out from this woman,” she answered coldly. “Meanwhile, please to order bearers and a carrying chair or something, and help me to get Miss Fernandez back to the Station. She must see a doctor at once.”

‘Ali Baksh did not reply, but spoke sharply to the cowering Zuleikha, and then ensued a long conversation in Hindustani which Leslie could not understand. However, he seemed mollified towards his accomplice, as he stood pulling his henna-dyed beard in deep thought. A second cough beyond the entrance roused him. When he spoke it was with gentle suavity.

“May I ask Miss Thurston to do me a slight favour? Outside is an old friend of mine who has travelled far to see ‘Abbási Begum there.” He watched the effect of this arrow.

“It is Theresa Fernandez,” said Leslie flatly. “You know that as well as I do.”

“Pardon me, Miss Thurston,” proceeded the Prime Minister in his careful, jerky English. “I saw Miss Fernandez a few hours ago in the palace. She and her mother, and all the English ladies and gentlemen, and, needless to say, His Highness the Rajah, are in paroxysms of grief and dismay at your dis­appearance. ‘Some jungle beast has carried her off,’ they say, and mourn for you as one dead.”

“I couldn’t go and leave Theresa.”

“Pardon me, ‘Abbási Begum. She, however, is in good hands. This woman has nursed her from childhood. Through years of bewitchment she has faithfully watched over her; and now the joyful hour has come when a holy man, a sainted faqir from the far north of Hind, will rouse her from her year-long sleep, and get her restored to a doting husband.”

‘Ali Baksh fixed hypnotising eyes upon his unwelcome visitor, and Leslie struggled with a benumbed feeling that she was losing the thread of her thoughts. Of course it must be a stranger, she was beginning to think, for how in the world could Theresa have got here? But yet, those clothes!

‘Ali Baksh was speaking again. She roused herself to listen.

“My friend has never met a Farangi— I mean an Englishwoman. Furthermore he is holy and may not look upon the waking face of a female, so you will oblige me, Miss Thurston, by dressing in that burqa for a short time.”

Leslie girded at the peremptory tone that was creeping into his voice, but her curiosity was aroused, and when she turned and saw Zuleikha already enveloped and looking out at her through latticed eyelet holes, she quietly followed her example, and with her, turned and sat down, back to the wall.

‘Ali Baksh went to the entrance and admitted the waiting man. In Leslie’s eyes he appeared extraordinary. His scanty clothes were earth-stained and khaki-coloured with dust. His strange possessions hung about him, and round his neck was a long rosary of a hundred beads made of sandal-wood. She did not know he was a dervish or faqir, and wondered in what his holiness consisted. He crossed the cave room, and stood looking down at Theresa in silence. Once he stooped to touch her hand and Leslie started up, but Zuleikha pulled her down and held her arm warningly.

There was nothing alarming in the scene, and yet it was all so mysterious. The faqir turned to the Prime Minister and spoke at some length. Zuleikha was evidently pricking up her ears under her wrappings, but the English girl could not understand a word. The two men presently sat down.

“Now are you satisfied?” said ‘Ali Baksh mildly.

The faqir did not immediately reply. With arm resting on his “pillow of victory” he seemed to go off into a trance-like doze. His eyes grew vacant and unseeing and his form tense. When he spoke at last it was in a soft, caressing voice.

“Your honour’s bhánji died, and was buried with all appropriate ceremony. There are those who can swear to it with proofs that will satisfy all the Judge Sahibs of the High Court.”

‘Ali Baksh’s eyes narrowed.

“Is it worth their while, think you?”

The faqir slightly shrugged his bare shoulders. He showed no sign of perturbation by even so much as the flicker of an eyelid.

“These women,” continued the Diwán evenly, “can swear to their long-continued and faithful service in attending on ‘Abbási Begum.”

“That is no faqir,” said Zuleikha suddenly to herself, under the protecting shadow of her burqa. “Truly ‘Ali Baksh is clever, but the cleverest men are sometimes fools. I will find a way to add to my reward!”

The supposed faqir moved neither hand nor foot. His eyes were fastened on the face of the sleeping woman. Point by point the likeness to his dead wife was minutely correct. Many people would swear to her identity. Serving-women and close male relatives could easily be gathered together by the Law and questioned. Then the neglected grave would be opened to see who had been buried in her place. Would they find the corpse or had ‘Ali Baksh indeed saved her alive? His brain reeled.

“You are rejoiced, no doubt, on your master’s behalf to find the living lady of his harem.” The ironical voice broke in upon his thoughts.

Still the faqir did not stir. His mind was busy uncoiling the tangle of suppositions. He could see now that this was not ‘Abbási Begum, and he therefore knew that ‘Ali Baksh could not really believe her to be alive, for had not he, the bereaved husband, requested him to be one of the bearers of the bier? What, then, could be his object in this masquerade? Not revenge, for his present action tended to clear Yúsuf Beg of any murder charge. Was it then merely for gain? Fool that he was, he had walked straight into the spider’s parlour, to the place where the Diwán was all-powerful.

“Listen, O Yúsuf Beg,” said ‘Ali Baksh smoothly, but aware that the supposed faqir started at the name. “On a time I had a dream. It was dark night, the jackals were abroad. The corpse lights flickered in the cemetery enclosure. For grief of heart, in my sleep, I dreamt I wandered to my young bhánji’s grave to weep for her untimely death. Alas, the jackals had been there! The earth was scratched away.”

A little pulse began beating in the faqir’s cheek. There was a slight working of the tell-tale jaws.

“In my dream I lifted away the planks one by one to see again the form of my niece whom I had loved from her childhood. I dreamt that the questioning angels had been there before me! The corpse had been sitting up, but had fallen over on its face!”

With a low cry of fear the faqir jumped to his feet, but mastered himself and again sat down.

“The interpretation of dreams is with Alláh, my brother. I, a humble Muríd,23 could not aspire to explaining it for you.”

“The dream explains itself,” said the other coolly. “If I felt doubt as to the meaning I could call in the aid of the English. They would unravel any mystery there might be. They would not even hesitate to desecrate the dead by looking into the tomb, although it were a costly tomb, and sealed until the Day of Judgment.”

Yúsuf Beg paled under his brown colour to a sickly hue. The opening of this tomb would result in the digging of another, not costly at all, and at the expense of the Government. ‘Ali Baksh had won the game. He must give in with dignity.

With his back to the burqa-clad women he rose and spoke softly.

“A lakh?” (One hundred thousand rupees.)

“A crore” (One hundred lakhs), replied ‘Ali Baksh firmly.

“Alláh!” murmured the mendicant. “I shall be ruined!”

“Better be a live dog than a dead lion,” suggested the other, watching him.

The faqir answered nothing for he was speechless with fury. He turned to the entrance, paused and looked back.

“I go to my takia near the ‘Íd-gáh. Meet me there to-morrow or the day following and I will give my note of hand. O uncle of my newly found lady, how can I reward you with sufficient thanks?”

The moment he had departed, Leslie jumped up and pulled off her burqa.

“What is it all about?” she asked in utter mystification. “I won’t stay here any longer. I shall go and send help to Miss Fernandez.” She followed the faqir to the entrance, and pushing aside the barriers, stepped out under the quiet stars.

It was a dark night except for the faint radiance of the starlight. Far away upon the hill she heard the howling of a jackal-pack on their nightly hunt; near at hand amongst the wood that crowned the steep nullah down which she had slid, the cough of a bear sounded unpleasantly near. In any case, were there no wild animals on the prowl she could not risk the snakes in the dark, nor could she find her way to the picnic camp, still less to the distant town. She turned back to meet the Diwán’s enigmatical smile.

Chapter XIX

“I shall wait for daylight and then go,” said Leslie angrily. “I think you will get into trouble over this.”

“You came here of your own accord, Miss Thurston,” answered the Diwán mildly. “And now there is nothing but the darkness and distance to prevent your leaving. I am not responsible for your movements. On the contrary, your friends will be grateful to me for finding you. To-morrow there will be riots in the town, for a house-to-house search is to be made for you. I will take you home at daybreak and save the Government great trouble. Perhaps they will give me the Kaisar-i-Hind medal.”

“And Miss Fernandez? What makes her sleep like this?”

“‘Abbási Begum,” corrected the Muhammadan.

“Oh, nonsense!“ said Leslie, fairly stamping her foot. “She shall wake up!”

With the pepper-pot in her own pocket and Zuleikha meekly sitting apart, engaged in cookery, it was safe to approach the sleeping girl. Leslie sat on the mat close at her side and examined her carefully. She could not possibly be mistaken. She gently fingered the jewels and watched the soft and even breathing. She began to shake her.

“Miss Thurston must excuse me,” said the Diwán politely, “but ‘Abbási Begum must not be wakened suddenly, or she awakens mad. There is not much fear of your breaking her trance, but I just warn you.”

Leslie ceased her shaking, but did not deign to look round. She continued her investigations, and started up with an exclamation of triumph. Beneath the heavy, massive necklaces her fingers had found a slender golden chain, a long one, reaching far beneath the silken sári, and at the end of it hung a tiny golden cross.

‘Ali Baksh drew slowly near. He took the chain gently from her hand to examine it, and then quickly, before he could be prevented, snapped it and flung the trinket on Zuleikha’s curry-stone, and hammered it with the heavy roller.

“I stamp upon the cross!” he hissed between closed teeth.

With every instinct outraged Leslie darted forward, but the Muhammadan was too quick for her. He picked up the damaged piece of metal and threw it into Zuleikha’s charcoal fire.

“How could you?” gasped the girl. “How dreadful of you!”

But the next moment the Diwán stood in his usual attitude, eyes downcast, and hands hidden in the sleeves of his outer coat.

“As I was saying, Miss Thurston, to awaken suddenly from a trance is dangerous. ‘Abbási Begum has been in this state so long that she would certainly die or go demented. I must therefore beg you to leave her alone.”

For answer Leslie returned to her friend and called her softly by name. The Prime Minister smiled.

“English people are very obstinate,” he remarked. “Miss Fernandez cannot be in two places at once, and I told you I saw her not long ago in the Station, mourning your loss.”

“I think you must be mad, or else I am,” said Leslie wrathfully. “Please instantly go and get a conveyance of some kind to take us home. You came in the dark so you need not wait for daybreak.”

The Diwán salaamed politely. “I will now take my leave, Miss Thurston. It fits in with my intentions, for the holy faqir who was here just now is sending a clever Yunáni hakim to awaken this sleeping lady, and at daybreak the gári that brings him to the foot of the ghat will serve to carry you to the town.”

“I am not going alone,” retorted Leslie. “Unless you get Miss Fernandez safely home too, the town can be turned inside-out for us. I won’t leave her.”

The Diwán appeared to consider for a moment. “If Miss Thurston would be w[illi]{.ul}ng to travel native-fashion in a palanquin, one conveyance would serve, for ‘Abbási Begum, being a gosha lady, could not travel in a tikka gari. When the hakim has restored her she will go to my house, being my sister’s daughter. Then she will travel to the far country where her husband awaits her. Miss Sahib, salám: I go.”

Leslie did not notice the slight nod to Zuleikha as he passed out.

“Look here,” she said, speaking in futile English as she stood over the Musalmáni, “that is Theresa Fernandez.”

“Sach hai. Sach hai” (True, true), assented the woman mildly. She rose from her crouching position and approached the recumbent girl; then stooped and looked at her narrowly. The hypnotic sleep, so well aided by the secret drugs that she had administered, was at last showing signs of breaking. For the first time since she had closed her eyes Theresa stirred and turned on her side then restlessly moved again as the jewels she wore pressed against her tender skin.

The Muhammadan woman sat down near her and gently massaged the cold, down­dropping hands. She signed to Leslie to take her place and went to fetch a wallet from near the fire stones. Out of this she extracted a mass of some hard substance which she crushed into a tin mug filled with cold coffee. It smelt delicious, but Leslie put out a hand to keep it away. She did not trust any of them, least of all this woman who had kept her at bay for all those long, weary hours. Zuleikha shrugged her shoulders and took a long drink. It seemed harmless enough. She raised the sleeper’s head and held the mug so that the scent rose straight in her face.

“Drink, Miss Sahib, drink. Zuleikha bids you!”

Theresa moved her head slightly, and obediently drank. Then she opened her eyes wide and sat up.

“Oh my!” she said. “What a funny place!”

Leslie began to laugh, and, her relief being very great, nearly laughed herself into hysterics. She put her arms round the young Anglo-Indian girl and kissed her warmly.

“I am so glad you have wakened up,” she said. “Do you feel all right?”

“Yes, but I don’t know where I am! And who am I? Look here!” Theresa stared at her dress.

“Hush, dear,” said Leslie soothingly. “It is your fancy dress. Don’t you remember that I am going to paint your picture dressed in it? Here is the woman with some food for you. Aren’t you hungry?”

“Yes. I’m veree hungry. Why, it is Zuleikha, who came with me here!”

Theresa’s eyes began to look startled and full of fear. Memory was returning to her. Leslie took her hand in a steady reassuring clasp.

“You need not be afraid now. We shall soon go home together. I won’t leave you until you are with your mother, and then you can tell me all that has happened.”

“I want to go to sleep again. I’m ever so sleepy.”

“Oh, pray don’t,” cried Leslie in dismay.

“Sit up now and let us talk.”

Zuleikha had been unwrapping a bundle, and now came towards them with an armful of clothing.

“Change, Miss Sahib,” she said with her usual brevity. “Then have a good sleep.”

“My own clothes, thank goodness,” said Theresa, slowly rising to her feet. She stood wavering for a moment, and caught at Zuleikha’s outstretched hand.

“Your head chakkars (turns round), it will pass, Miss Sahib. Let me unhook the jewels.”

Soon Theresa, comfortably and simply dressed in her own white muslin raiment, was lying on her side sleeping naturally. Leslie joined her and they lay clasped in each other’s arms.

Chapter XX

The stationmaster at Álimpur Road railway station was inclined to be flustered on the day following the Bakar ‘Íd festival. The morning train from the south brought more passengers than he could account for. His pride was touched, for it was his role to be the local edition of the Madras Government Gazette, and usually he could tell his cronies the exact standing and pay of all the European gentlemen who passed through his precincts. This morning, however, there were several for whom he could not account, but the sight of some gun-cases decided his line, and he asserted with an assured air that it was an impromptu shooting-party, got together on account of the rumoured presence of a tiger on the Old Fort Hill. A dark Anglo-Indian accompanied them, which was curious, but he was evidently one of the party, for he made the fourth man to get into the tonga, which rattled off in the direction of the Civil Station.

Mr. Fernandez was in a state of mind bordering on frenzy. His fellow-travellers, with tactful sympathy, did not trouble him with questions or conversation. They could find out all the necessary information on arrival, and the distracted father, it seemed, knew no more than they did. The ten-mile drive was soon accomplished, and the Carrolls’ hospitable bungalow was reached in time for breakfast.

Mr. Fernandez was shown at once to his wife’s room, and their hostess arranged for breakfast to be sent in to them. Poor things, they would long to be alone with each other and their grief. But the minute her back was turned the man began pacing irritably about the room, and hardly deigned to greet his agitated wife.

“Upon my word, you’ve mismanaged this affair badly! Women are all fools!”

“Mismanaged what? You are a demon Fernandez!” shrieked the unhappy mother. “My beautiful Theresa is gone, and you blame me!”

“Listen to me, you idiot. Do you or don’t you want your carriage and pair and all the rest of it?”

“Carriage and pair and no daughter! I would gladly ‘go native’ if I could only have her safely back.”

“Of course she is quite safe, you foolish woman. The Diwán is pledged to that, or I could get him sent to the Andamans.24 It is the fortune that is in danger. Look what reached me in Madras just before I started.”

He felt for a worn letter-case in the pocket of his white drill coat, and produced a telegram.

“Much cry, little wool,” read Mrs. Fernandez over his shoulder. “What does it mean?”

“It means that if there is a great fuss we don’t get a pice,” said her husband angrily. “Why didn’t you keep quiet when Theresa disappeared? You knew that she was here to make our fortunes.”

Mrs. Fernandez gave him a long look and then turned sullen.

“You should have told me more beforehand,” she said gloomily.

“Much good that would have done,” he retorted. “I want some breakfast now, and then I have an appointment to keep.”

“If it is with that ‘Ali Baksh, you must get Theresa back immediately. Don’t you see Fernandez, that if the girl’s good name has gone, we shall never get her married at all? It is men who are fools, not women.”

“Cht!” said Mr. Fernandez into his coffee-cup.

In the drawing-room the other travellers were assembled waiting for breakfast. The bright sunshine was tempered in this pleasant room by the broad verandah and the covered portico, and by the green-painted bamboo chicks which swayed lazily in the gentle breeze. Distant wheels on the road did not attract their notice until they turned in at the compound gateway, and a tikka gári drew up with a scrape and rattle. The Moslem driver whipped up his lean horse and clattered off the moment his fares had alighted. Leslie Thurston and Theresa Fernandez, looking crumpled and tired but cheerful, ran up the verandah steps together and into the midst of an astonished company.

“Here they are! Thank heaven!” Carroll sprang up and his wife threw her welcoming arms round each in turn. “Oh, Leslie, where have you both been?”

Leslie looked up to meet the cool scrutiny of the Police Commissioner’s calm eyes.

“Have you been engaged in some foolish escapade?” he asked coldly.

This was too much! A resentful colour flamed in her cheeks. This was the last sort of speech she was prepared for after her long ordeal.

Mrs. Carroll came to the rescue. “Come and have breakfast. I dare say you are famished. Theresa dear, your parents are here. You must go to them. I’ll send ayah to see after you. Now, Leslie, come along and tell us all about it.”

They sat down under the swaying punkah, the three policemen feeling rather foolish, but Mrs. Carroll jumped up again and hastened out with an apology.

“I had to tell the invalid the good news,” she remarked on her return.

“Who is that?” asked Leslie.

“Mr. Harwood, poor fellow. He has had a bad turn of fever. I dare say he will mend now, but he felt responsible for you, and got a touch of the sun at the most critical moment.”

“I’m sorry. What a bother for him,” said Leslie simply.

Chapter XXI

“Now that we have both the culprits here, let us get the entire hang of the thing before we interview the Rajah,” said the Police Commissioner later on in the verandah. “We will have your story first, Miss Thurston; over again from the beginning, please.”

Leslie, seated in a comfortable basket-chair, related her experiences in order.

“It seems you stumbled accidentally into some plot in full swing. If you had not recognised Miss Fernandez, what would you have thought?”

“I should only have thought that some extraordinary Indian family chose that way to live. You see I am a newcomer and everything surprises me. It is all so unusual.”

“Lucky girl!” murmured her host.

“I only know a word or two of Hindustani. The woman, of course, spoke nothing else, and Theresa was asleep. This was what chained me up.”

The pepper-pot was produced and placed on the table.

The Police Commissioner nodded. “Quite so,” he said.

“What was the faqir like?”

The girl described him in such detail that the men were filled with admiration.

“You would make a splendid detective,” said someone. “Could you pick him out in a crowd?”

“I don’t know,” said Leslie, “but I’ll draw him for you.” She sketched rapidly on a block, and handed the paper round. The Commissioner folded it away in his notebook.

They were presently joined by the Fernandez family, and Theresa’s story was listened to with close attention. Her mother kept quiet, but was armed with strong smelling-salts. The man Fernandez sat, awkward and ill at ease, on the edge of a chair. Englishmen from “Home” always made him feel uncomfortable, and policemen were particularly uncongenial. He answered questions so irritably that the Commissioner began to watch him with veiled attention. To say the least of it, he was taking his daughter’s safety with great coolness. This was the direction in which investigations would have to be made, for neither of the girls had any faint idea as to the reason of the Prime Minister’s actions.

“The Diwán must be arrested without delay. We had better go to the palace immediately, before he gets wind of our arrival. Will you come with us, Carroll, and smooth the Rajah down? We have no quarrel with him.”

The tonga was soon in readiness and the four men drove away amidst a rattle of jingling harness. The ponies had been changed and made good going until the narrow streets of the town were reached. There they were delayed, for the Muhallas were filled with a noisy concourse all trending palace-wards. It was not a festive throng but one in which the note of mourning could already be heard, the official wailing for the dead, the Kalima. “There is no God but God: Muhammad is the Apostle of God. Alláhu Akbár.”

The running syces cleared a way with difficulty, heedless of the muttered curses of those they unceremoniously jostled. “Hat jáo, bhái. Hat!” (Move, brother, move).

Before long they reached and entered the palace. No one prevented them, though a whole posse of servitors was engaged in keeping back the excited crowd. They awaited the Rajah in the large salon amidst his gathered curios. The first glance at him showed that something serious had happened. His eyes were filled with a startled horror not to be accounted for even by the anxiety and per­turbation of the last two days.

“Alas! gentlemen. My faithful Diwán has been murdered! Alláh’s curses be on his slayer!”

After a long and respectful pause the Police Commissioner introduced himself. The good news that the young ladies were found considerably lightened the Rajah’s burden. Now at any rate the town was saved from the dread visitation of which, all unknowing, it stood in danger; but when, in his official capacity, the Commissioner asked to see the body of the Diwán, His Highness was not so pleased. It was no use protesting, however.

There he lay in an unused go-down. The first preparations for his funeral that evening were already commencing. It was dreadful to have Farangis intruding, but it must be endured like all the other discomforts they brought with them.

“He was discovered near the ‘Íd-gáh. There was no one in sight. He was all alone with a faqir’s dagger through his heart. In his hand were three sandalwood beads from a faqir’s rosary, and stuck in his turban was this chit. Háe! He was a faithful servant. I shall build a handsome tomb for him.”

The Rajah produced a piece of paper. On it, in good Urdu handwriting, were written these words—”Dead dogs do not trouble live lions.”

“What sense does it make, Rajah Sahib?” asked Carroll. “Do you know if he had enemies?”

“Not one, I am sure. He was faithful and wise and good. The people say he is a martyr, for did he not expire at the place of prayer? The tomb I shall build shall be worthy of a wali (a saint), for many will come to visit it to offer Fátiha for his soul. For my part, I think he was a true wali. Alas! Alas, my noble friend! How shall I replace thee?”

The Commissioner suggested that their visit was ill-timed and they would ask permission to retire. The thought had come to him that it was indeed a case of “least said, soonest mended.” Why disturb the evolution of a saint? The Rajah knew nothing of the plot, and at present had forgotten all about Miss Fernandez.

He explained his line of action to the other men on their way home. The Diwán was dead. The girls were safe. It would be better to hush it all up than to get their names in the newspapers. “Of course,” he added, the Secret Service men will be set on the track of the murderer, who, by the way, is not a true faqir, if Miss Thurston’s drawing is correct. Do you know much about Fernandez?”

“I never set eyes on him until to-day,” said Carroll. “His wife is decidedly the better half, in my opinion.”

“I think this Diwán’s death will come as rather a shock to him. He has had more to do with this disappearing than he will care to own. I wonder what his bribe was? Officially and publicly we drop the case for the sake of the girls, but that faqir must be arrested and the woman interrogated. Zuleikha, a palace servant: at present that is all we know about her.”

“Are you not going to find that difficult?”

“Yes, it may not be easy. Miss Fernandez was dressed to represent a certain ‘Abbási Begum, at sight of whom a mendicant is made to disgorge a large sum of money, so we may suppose. He prefers to turn murderer, and probably not for the first time in his life.”

“It is extraordinary about the menagerie. You have a clue there, sir, have you not? Some one was closely managing the beasts, unless Miss Fernandez dreamt it all.”

“That reminds me,” said the Police Commissioner. “I’ll have that passage destroyed, and I think the Government Survey people should thoroughly overhaul that Old Fort of yours. Secret chambers are all very well in romances, but in real life the police don’t like them.”

Chapter XXII

The following week the Fernandez family were at home again, in the creeper-covered bungalow in St. Thomé.

Theresa had wandered down the dusty road in the cool of the evening to see Sister Lucia and her school friends. It was good to be back in her natural surroundings. The life in Álimpur would soon seem like a dream. Here were people of her own class in plenty, and the old threads of thought returned of themselves. Would mother take her to the bandstand to-morrow evening?

Mr. Fernandez was smoking in his long verandah chair, which was not less comfortable for being greasy and stained.

“What about John Harris?” asked his wife.

“I’ve been making inquiries,’ said the man. “He can’t marry ‘on the strength,’ and if Theresa brings him no dowry he can’t leave the army and set up in business for himself in this country. He would go Home with the regiment and leave her behind. There would be no free troop-ship passage for his wife. You would not like Theresa left on your hands like a widow, would you?”

“Oh my! What an idea! John Harris is out of the question then?”

John Harris, good man, little knowing how his prospects were being discussed, had, with the near departure of the regiment, begun to remember a blue-eyed, yellow-pigtailed Annie, who had followed him about with open admiration in the village school at home years ago. He wondered if she was still there and unmarried in his native place, and would she remember him, the boy grown into a man and a soldier?

“When you were away,” continued Fernandez, “Mother Gompertz’ nephew came down from the Muffussil.”

“What, young Otto Gompertz? He is an apothecary up Rámnád way? No?”

“He applied for Theresa and I accepted him. It would have been easy to get rid of his suit if that Diwán had played fair with us, and a dowry come into our hands for the girl.”

“But Theresa?” said her mother doubtfully.

“What about Theresa? she must do as she is told. I’ll have no nonsense. The girl must be married, and Otto Gompertz is a veree suitable husband for her. There she comes. Tell her, mother.”

Mrs. Fernandez told her.

Theresa’s gentle heart sank low.

“Otto Gompertz, mother. Why, he’s black!”

Chapter XXIII

The cool afternoon breeze swayed the bamboo chicks gently on Mr. Carroll’s verandah. Leslie was sitting in her favourite place, busy and absorbed with her painting. A tall man, supporting himself by the furniture, with the uncertain step of a newly risen fever patient, came and sat in a long chair where he could watch her and rest at the same time. A servant followed with his pillow and book, and then discreetly and silently vanished. Mrs. Carroll came out to speak to Leslie, but did not accept her invitation to stay.

“You promised to show me your sketches, Miss Thurston,” said the invalid.

“Yes, I did. Shall I bring them now?”

Leslie fetched a crammed portfolio and arranged a wicker chair on which to display them.

“Now that is the view from quite near the rock chamber. That was where I heard the sneeze. It was extraordinary in that solitude. Of course I half thought it was a ghost!”

“And then you must needs pry about into other folks’ secrets!”

“Well, wouldn’t you have?”

“No, certainly not. I should have turned a deaf ear,” said Harwood,laughing. “Weren’t you frightened?”

“It was all so quiet. There seemed nothing to fear. I sometimes wonder now why I didn’t catch hold of that woman and get out. What would a man have done?”

“A man might easily have lost Miss Fernandez her eyes,” he answered gravely. “I’ve known them use red pepper just to punish children. They can do most horrible things and go undetected. I think you two girls had a fortunate escape, take it all together. You were, of course, an accident, but how did ‘Ali Baksh think he was going to hoodwink us all about kidnapping Miss Fernandez? It is a criminal offence. He might have found it safer for himself to make her disappear altogether. He has saved us a deal of trouble by getting murdered!”

“He took care to explain that he had not kidnapped me” said Leslie. “And he never once owned to Theresa. It was always ‘‘Abbási Begum,’ even after I had found her little gold cross.”

“He was a wily beggar, that Diwán.”

“He gave me cold creeps with his polite speech and downcast eyes; and now the poor palace ladies have lost their Miss Sahiba. I think I shall offer myself for the post.”

“Oh no, no,” said the man firmly. “You won’t be allowed to do it, Miss Thurston.”

“Who is to prevent me, pray?” said Leslie cheerfully. “I want to paint in the palace and that would be a good excuse. But how difficult social intercourse is, isn’t it? If I were staying out here in India I should get a munshi and learn the language.”

“Why not do so now? Why not stay?”

“I have a six-months’ return ticket. It mustn’t be wasted. But I think I shall have to come back. Everything is so unique. Do you know, Mr. Harwood, in that rock room, not understanding a word that was said, I realised how helpless and useless one is in India off the beaten track. Now if I had been a missionary and known the language, every­thing would have been as clear as daylight. I am consumed with curiosity to know who ‘Abbd’si Begum is, and I don’t see how we are ever to find out. The Diwán knew it was Theresa, and yet he seemed to be screwing money out of the other man. The only words I caught were ‘lakh’ and ‘crore.’”

Crore, Miss Thurston, and the other man a naked faqir! Are you sure you heard aright?”

“Yes, I’m quite sure of those two words. The faqir nearly fainted. His face was fiendish. I sat shivering inside the burqa, and very thankful I was to be hidden in it. I’ve thought and thought, but I can’t make head or tail of it.”

“Well, the Diwán didn’t get the money after all, and there is one person who knows the whole plot, the woman Zuleikha. I wonder how she became mixed up in it? Did Miss Fernandez know anything about her?”

“She said that once or twice in the palace this woman tried to make up to her, but her mother had warned her to have nothing to do with any of them beyond her teaching, so she took no notice. She thought Zuleikha had some sort of hold over the Ráni, who seemed frightened of her. Poor dear things! What a life they lead, all bunched up together out of sight!”

“How did you get away in the end? I’ve never heard that part of your adventure.”

“We waited for daylight and then scrambled down the hill as best we could. Theresa did not know the way, but she thought they had climbed up a dry water-course in getting there, so with that to guide us we found our way down. It was very rough, but there were lovely views. I should like to go again. We saw an old shaky tikka gári coming along on the level plain. It stopped near an empty native house and we got in and told the man where to drive. The strange thing was he never stopped to be paid.”

“The Diwán had paid him beforehand, no doubt; and you came safely through a first-class adventure.”

“Would you like to see some more sketches?” asked Leslie.

The End


  1. The 36th. 

  2. The Kalimatu-t-taiyib and the Kalimatu-sh-shahádat. 

  3. The angels Munkar and Nakīr, who are said to examine the dead when the mourners have retired. Making the dead sit up they inquire into his religion. If he is bewildered and cannot answer, they torment him with a spiked club. 

  4. British Government. 

  5. Syedee = African. 

  6. Arrangement, bargain. 

  7. Country-bred pony. 

  8. Satan. 

  9. Royal carpet. 

  10. Silent.  

  11. Handkerchief. 

  12. Men’s quarters. 

  13. Names describing the attributes of God, used as short invocations. 

  14. Poor dear. 

  15. Immediately. 

  16. Jacket. 

  17. Sword. 

  18. The first chapter of the Qurán: it is recited as a prayer offered up over oblations. 

  19. Satan. 

  20. Law decision. 

  21. A band of three instruments: a drum and two varieties of an instrument called sháhnáe, one serves as a bass, producing one tone, the other is played upon like a clarionet. 

  22. Telegraph = wire. 

  23. Disciple, learner. 

  24. Andamans, an island penal settlement.