Colonel J. MacDonald Smith
Indian Staff Corps

who was Special Assistant to the Agent
in Ganjam at Russellkondah
from 1870 to 1878

In Grateful Recognition of
His Assistance



  • Martin Waldingham, Assistant to the Agent in Ganjam.
  • Mrs. Waldingham, his mother.
  • Ivy Waldingham, his cousin.
  • Mr. And Mrs. Woodhurst, Assistant Superintendent of Police and his wife.
  • Rosabelle Woodhurst, their daughter.
  • Sir James Raydon, a retired civilian.
  • Krishna Sao, a Hindu zemindar.
  • The Rajah of Ellanore and Members of His Family.
  • Dondia, the headman or Mazzu of a Khond village.
  • Guruswamy, an old pujari.
  • Phulmoni, his granddaughter.
  • Sam, butler to the Assistant Agent.
  • Don Juan, the cook-boy.
  • The Panwa, a village trader.
  • Servants, Peons, Mahouts, Villagers, Etc.

The scene is laid partly in the Eastern Ghats, where the meriah or human sacrifices formerly took place; and partly at Russellkondah [Bhanjanagar], the headquarters of the district.


Chapter I

Martin Waldingham, the Special Assistant to the Agent in Ganjam—to give him his full title—sat in his camp chair under the shade of a forest tree. Behind him, flecked with sunlight, rose the white canvas tents that served for his habitation for more than half the year.

The ground chosen for the camp was a tope of trees, crowning a spur of the hills which enclosed the valley. Beneath the luxuriant foliage the tents were at no time during the day exposed to the full glare of the sun. The air was cool and pleasant in spite of the tropical sun. On all sides stood the Eastern Ghats, their slopes covered with jungle, their masses bathed in the quivering ether of a transparent ultramarine blue that is never seen in England.

In the lap of the valley nestled a Khond village, its mud huts built in rows. The centre was an open space covered with short grass and intersected with irregular footpaths; it corresponded with the village green of the old country, and often reminded Waldingham of his home. Winding through the valley in shining reaches a river made its way to the plains below. In rocky torrents it tumbled down the hillsides, roaring thunderously underneath those distant masses of sun-bathed foliage. The valley deprived it of its voice and stilled its impetuosity. It swept round the village with whispering ripples, leaving bars of sand and smooth patches of mud, where the sandpipers and kindred waders held their revels.

There was silence in the valley and on the hill, except for the laugh of the jungle crow, and the scream of the eagle soaring invisible in the blue overhead. It was the noonday hour when man and beast take a short rest after the midday meal. The late breakfast that served as lunch was over, and the servants of the camp had retired to eat their curry and rice, and to snatch forty winks if fate should be propitious. Waldingham was indulging in a smoke before beginning his afternoon’s work. He had never contracted the habit of sleeping in the day—a habit that has its advantages in a tropical climate. Whilst he consumed his tobacco he re-read a letter received a few days ago from the Assistant Superintendent of Police.

The Assistant Agent was not touring for pleasure by any means. At the same time it could not be said that he derived no enjoyment from his surroundings. Blessed with health and a contented disposition, life for him was full of interest, whether his lines were cast in the heart of London or in the depths of the Indian jungles. At present his attention was fully occupied with the doings of the hill tribes he governed in the name of the Agent, who in his turn represented no less a person than H.I.M. the Emperor of India.

The morning had been taken up by a long ride with visits to three or four distant hamlets. By the aid of an interpreter the headman made known the villagers’ requests, grumbled at the enforcement of the laws for the preservation of the forests, prayed for a remission of the land tax, and related details concerning the latest quarrel over irrigation rights.

Waldingham had listened patiently as was his wont, and replied in tones of kindliness that he would look into the matters brought to his notice, and lay them before the Agent, if he found them worthy of his attention.

The people were gratified in having been permitted to state their grievances fully and without haste; and they returned to their various occupations content to let things rest. “Haste is of the devil”; and the luxury of a grievance or a disputation would be cut short if it did not spread itself over a certain period of time.

When the pipe was finished there was plenty of work to be done; correspondence, the reception of more Khond headmen who were expected to arrive with a budget of complaints-injuries they termed them—which would have to be heard with patience through the interpreter, a patience it was hard to preserve when suspicion was aroused that only half the men said was being rendered into English. Even as he smoked he was not idle. The letter held in his hand related to a matter that was not of a private or personal nature. It referred to the lost heir of a Rajah.

His thoughts were diverted from the subject by the sound of shouting. It came from the village lying below. The stillness was suddenly broken and the dozing population was roused in its entirety. Discordant voices rose and fell. Men, women, and children emerged from the mud huts wide awake with excitement, and gathered into restless groups on the village green. All talked at once, each endeavouring to shout down the other with question and answer. It was a sound that the Indian official, responsible for the peace and order of his district, dreaded to hear; and it awoke in Waldingham the alertness of the Englishman to face a crisis and act on his own responsibility. What did it mean? Riot? a free fight? a drunken orgy?

Rising from his chair he picked up his sun-topee and passed out into the broad white light of the Indian sun. His first thought was of an irrigation quarrel over the waters of the stream. That very afternoon two rival cultivators were to appear before him, and state their case in the matter of a certain bund or dam, and its precise height. If the discussion of rights had begun between the interested parties before they came into his presence, there would probably be violence on both sides.

He glanced down at the sunlit village. Little knots of people stood upon the green, while others ran to and fro to tell some wonderful piece of news. Then they dispersed, making their way swiftly towards the wooded slopes of the half-deforested hill above.

On each side of the broad shining pools of the river lay the deserted fields of the Khonds. Here dark glistening foliage of castor-oil plants reflected back a thousand glittering points of light; there the tender green of the upspringing grain spread in an emerald carpet, forming one of those violent contrasts that charm the eye in the East.

Waldingham was puzzled. The noise that had disturbed him was indicative of no ordinary village riot. Something unusual had occurred; but whatever it might be, it was not a fight. The conviction was a relief to his mind; and more in curiosity than anxiety he called a peon. A couple of these useful messengers should have been on duty within hail; but none appeared in answer to the summons. He moved towards the kitchen tent and called again. His “Boy,” a man of forty, named Sam, who in camp combined the office of cook and butler, came out, followed by a youth with a saucepan in his hand.

“Where’s Arokiam? Where’s the other peon? Where’s the interpreter?” demanded Waldingham.

“They are gone to the village to hear the news, sir.”

“What news?”

“The news that has made the bobbery.”

“Have the village people been drinking?”

“No, sir,” replied Sam with decision. “This is not the right season for drinking. Everybody got proper time to be sober and proper time to be drunk. This is not the hillman’s time to be drinking; too much business got.”

“Then what is the row about?”

“That’s what the interpreter and peons have gone to find out from common-herd people in the village. I think something has been done found. These hillmen make plenty of bobbery and fuss when anything is lost or found.”

Sam spoke contemptuously. By religion a Roman Catholic he had been born and brought up a townsman. The hill tribes he regarded as nothing less than savages, inferior to the villagers of the plains, for whom he had nothing but pity and contempt. The fine physique of the Khonds excited no admiration, and as he understood but few words of their language he had no conception of their intelligence, their marvellous knowledge of Nature, and the high order of the senses they shared in common with the higher animals. The hillmen read the face of Nature as an open book; and wondered in their turn at the stupidity of the men of the plains, who were blind to the promise of the clouds and deaf to the voice of the wind. They smiled with mild surprise at the question so often put by the servants of the great sahib, would it rain before sunset? and replied without so much as a glance at the heavens or a moment’s thought; and their reply never failed to be correct.

“Why do you think that something has been found?” asked Waldingham.

“Two days ago, while your honour was out riding, Guruswamy, the old Khond with the white hair on his breast, came here and told the interpreter and the peons that to-day a great discovery would be made by the woodcutters in the jungle. That man is a plenty humbug sort of a fellow. All the same he can tell strange things when he likes. Therefore I think that the woodcutters have found something.”

“Shall I go and see, sir?” eagerly asked the imp who held the saucepan.

“Get back to your work,” commanded Sam in his mother-tongue, making a backward movement with his foot that filled the boy with apprehension, and caused him to retire inside the kitchen tent. There he set the saucepan down on the ground, and proceeded to clean the interior by the aid of some fine sand and his toes, standing up in it as if it were a footbath.

Waldingham returned to his chair, satisfied that the noise he had heard was not the result of a riot of any kind, and would therefore lead to no evil result, He refilled his pipe and took up the letter that he had been studying. This was the story that it told; and his opinion was asked by the writer as to its veracity:

The only son and heir of the Rajah of Ellanore, an estate lying at the foot of the Eastern Ghats, had lately died. He was a promising boy of sixteen. Preparations had been made for his marriage with the daughter of a neighbouring Rajah. A few days before the date fixed for the concluding ceremony the boy was seized with cholera, which ended after a single day’s illness in death. The musicians, hired to play songs of rejoicing, tuned their tomtoms and pipes to a funeral note for the dirge of sorrow. The nautch girls, summoned to chant the wedding hymns, were replaced by a band of wailing mourners. The Rajah felt his loss keenly. Not only was he much attached to his son, but he cordially hated the man who, failing a son, was his heir. It was no mild dislike, but a burning Oriental hatred, implacable and unconquerable. The mere thought that he would succeed deprived the Rajah of rest. Sorrow was forgotten, and he had no leisure for the indulgence of grief in the contemplation of the individual who was to inherit the rich lands of Ellanore and its title. Even in the few days that had elapsed since the death of the boy, the heir presumptive had found an opportunity of asserting his rights and of making certain demands on the strength of them. The situation was intolerable. The women were left to wail and bemoan the calamity, while the Rajah sought the Assistant Superintendent of Police. In a long interview he poured out a strange tale. The son who had just died was not his only child. There was another, he declared, with a vehemence that carried conviction, born three years before this one, a delicate feeble boy with a big head and puny body. He had a large forehead and protruding eyes in which-as his father expressed it-no sense sat. As long as there was no other, this boy was treated as the heir, and his mother, the Ranee, occupied an important position in the zenana. When, three years later, a second son was born of another wife, the elder gradually dropped out of favour. The younger child was strong of limb and full of intelligence. At the age of a year and a half his father, yielding to the influence of the second wife, nominated him as his heir.

From that time the elder son was openly neglected. His mother, who had hill blood in her veins, did not know how to retain her position in the household. Perhaps she did not care. The other women, seeing that she and her son were no longer in favour with the Rajah, despised her and held her up to scorn. Food and clothing were not denied her, however, and she suffered no open persecution. All the same she led a miserable existence and her only pleasure was in her child. Utterly indifferent to any remarks that might be made upon herself, she exhibited sensitiveness to comments, adverse or otherwise, that were passed upon him and resented them. At the back of her mind there lingered many of her mother’s hill superstitions; and under the influence of these she believed that the child could not thrive where so much hostility and jealousy were shown. To escape from the presence of the second wife she used to leave the house in the morning, carrying food with her, and wander with the child far afield, sitting in the sun, or sheltering under a rock or tree to eat the midday meal. Something, she knew not what, always drew her towards the distant hills; and sometimes she would venture a little way up one of the lower spurs. The open-air life had a beneficial effect upon the boy. His body grew of a size to match his head; and when bird or butterfly crossed his path, the vacant expression of the eye vanished. From his mother, who had had it from her mother, he learned much of that mysterious jungle that covered the hill tops; of the fierce gods and goddesses that ruled the destinies of the hillmen; of the powerful beasts that roamed in the forests; of the wonderful eggs laid by strange birds in the recesses of the crags; of the evil spirits that lived in rocks and trees; of hillmen who could turn themselves into wolves and bears and destroy their enemies as they journeyed through the woods. The boy listened with rounded eyes in which intelligence had dawned. People might laugh at him in the zenana if they liked, and say that he was as stupid as the night owl; his mother knew better. This despised son of hers would one day be cleverer than his father, and stronger than his brother who had supplanted him. Then it would be seen whether he could be kept out of his rights. Her dreams for his future were suddenly cut short by a catastrophe that darkened her whole life.

One day she returned from her long outing beating her breast and tearing her hair. The boy, she said, had fallen into the river and been carried away by the stream. She was distracted with grief and beside herself with remorse for her carelessness in letting him stray. When asked to point out the spot where he had disappeared she seemed too bewildered and confused to find it. No one grieved over the incident except the unfortunate woman herself. After the first outpouring of sorrow she gradually dropped back into still greater retirement, sitting for hours by herself, brooding over his memory, or searching uselessly every spot that their feet had touched in their wanderings. No one pitied her. Pity for a woman who has fallen out of favour with her husband is not to be found in the zenana, even if she be the Ranee herself. On the other hand no one troubled her. The second wife had no further cause for jealousy; and her husband forgot her very existence.

After the death of the second son she placed herself in the path of the Rajah as he was leaving the zenana, and prayed him to hear her story. With a sudden new-born fire the whole nature of the woman changed, and a passionate outpouring of words fell on his startled ears. Her son was not dead! She had lied to him! The depths of the river never knew him! On the day that she returned distracted with grief, she had not been near the river, but had gone towards the hills. They had eaten their midday meal together; and overcome by fatigue they lay down to rest. The child fell asleep, and she herself closed her eyes. She awoke with a start to find the sun low down in the sky and the boy gone. She called to him and searched everywhere, until the approaching darkness obliged her to turn her steps homewards. Fearing her husband’s anger at her carelessness she had invented the tale of his drowning.

The Rajah listened with varying emotion. The possibility of having a living son stirred him strangely. He questioned his wife upon the exact locality where the loss had occurred. It was at the foot of the hills, where the bamboo forests came down to the level land and joined the thorn-bushes between the hills and the cultivated fields. He asked if she thought it possible that the boy could have wandered up the hill and have lost himself in the jungle. She did not know. Higher up there were leopards in the forest, and snakes, and who could tell what other fearsome beasts. On the other hand—here she glanced at her stern-faced lord and master with an inward trembling—there were the hillmen. The child might have been found by a party of traders carrying fish and salt up the ghats,

The Rajah started. The suggestion took hold of his mind and he seized upon it with eagerness. Yes! the child must have strayed from her side while she slept. It was more probable that he had been found by a party travelling into the hills than that he had been destroyed by wild beasts. Being too young to explain who he was, the boy had been carried on with the party. Perhaps they had looked for a reward to be offered. Perhaps they had taken a fancy to the boy and adopted him as their own.

There was no reason why he should not still be living. Infinite possibilities, lying behind this supposition, presented themselves to his subtle mind, and to his wife’s astonishment he left her without a single word of reproach. No time was lost in taking his story to the Assistant Superintendent of Police with an earnest request that he would give him assistance in his search. In reply to the question whether the mother could recognize her son after so many years had elapsed, the Rajah assured Mr. Woodhurst that there were certain marks upon his body to which she could swear.

Waldingham laid down the letter and knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” he thought to himself. “It is got up to spite the rightful heir, who assuredly is a most disagreeable young man. The cunning Rajah knows that while the nephew is living, Government will not countenance the adoption of a stranger; and this is his device to introduce one. Presently we shall be presented with a youth to whom the whole zenana will swear; and we shall be asked to recognize him as the heir. Then the trouble will begin with the other man. I must write to Woodhurst and tell him that the identity will have to rest on a very secure foundation before we can permit the supersession of that young bounder. No! no! we know what tricks these Rajahs can be up to!——”

His thoughts were scattered by the sound of footsteps and he turned to see who was approaching. With a smile of welcome he extended his hand to his visitor.

“Good afternoon, Krishna Sao,” he said heartily.

“Are you very busy, sir?” asked the zemindar.

“I can spare you a quarter of an hour, it mustn’t be more, as I have several letters to write. What is it? You have brought me news, I am sure.”

Chapter II

Krishna Sao was a successful product of the modern system of education. In his case it had been an entire success and had bred neither discontent nor ambition that could not be fulfilled. As a boy he had been sent by his father, a rich zemindar of Ganjam, to live with a merchant uncle in Calcutta that he might attend one of the colleges. Not being a candidate for a post under Government he had escaped the disappointment of unsuccessful competition. Although he had never been to England, he had acquired a good knowledge of the English language and adopted many Western habits. He was well-read; and when in Calcutta joined himself to a party who advocated reform in religious matters. Attempts had been made to proselytise him, but he had resisted every effort. “Reform and purify the Hindu faith if you like, but don’t try to graft a strange and foreign growth on the hoary old stock of our ancestors. New fashions sit badly on our time-honoured institutions. You may refine, but you cannot reform our art, our architecture, our sculpture, our philosophies or our faiths. They fit into the mosaic of our being in this tropical land of exuberance; they are in harmony with our inaccessible mountain peaks, our uncontrollable floods and our devastating cyclones. They are part of a massive whole, rugged in its entirety but stable and enduring,” was the gist of his reply to all such attempts.

As for politics, he was content to let the burning questions of home rule and self-government alone. Since fate had decreed them a master, it was better that India should be ruled by the English than by the Russian or the Muhammadan. One or the other would undoubtedly hold the reins if the English retired from the field.

Being a man of means he had enough to occupy his mind without troubling himself about religion or politics; the working of his zemindary at the foot of the hills; looking after his ryots and seeing that he was not cheated of his dues; and the management of other ventures involving the accumulation of riches.

While resident at his uncle’s house in Calcutta he found himself in a commercial atmosphere. Money and the means by which it might be made were constantly under discussion among his seniors. The boy listened, and as he listened, a temperament naturally inclined to speculation was fostered. When he inherited his father’s lands he was not content merely to gather his rents and reap the interest due on the money advanced for agricultural purposes. His active mind craved for more and he started an agricultural bank. Success attended his efforts. At the end of eight years, when he was still under forty, he found himself the possessor of considerable wealth.

He paid a visit to Calcutta and joined his old circle of friends. The fascination of speculative ventures laid hold of his mind. Just then nothing was thought of or talked about but rubber and its possibilities. Gold mines, cotton-presses, grain, coal, hides, spices, were all forgotten in the visions of wealth opened out to the proprietor of rubber plantations. Krishna Sao was bitten by the fever; and he returned to Ganjam, secretly nursing a scheme that should multiply his lacs into crores. This was nothing less than the planting up of the slopes of the Eastern Ghats with rubber. The returns might not be so rapid as in other countries where the rainfall was heavier; but the yield, when it did come, would be steady and of a fine quality. Without disclosing his intentions to his friends he acquired the necessary rights to exploit a certain portion of the forest, and set about clearing the land without further delay. For this purpose he employed the hillmen of the district.

The work of felling the undergrowth and thinning out the forest had now been going on for some time; and there was every prospect of the young trees being planted in time to receive the benefit of the next monsoon rains. The fact that the venture was breaking new ground and was purely speculative, added zest to his undertaking. To ensure success he spared no pains and left nothing undone that money or brains could effect to forward his scheme. He had built himself a small house in the village, that he might remain on the spot and keep an eye on the operations of the woodcutters, Later on, when the planting-up was finished, the house would be the residence of the manager of the estate.

In appearance Krishna Sao was good to look at. Endowed by nature with a fine, well-knit figure, his regular features denoted a man of good birth and caste. In manner he showed the training of the city. From the Europeans, who filled the professorial chairs of his college, he acquired a certain polish that set him at ease in the society of the English officials of the district in which his property was situated. The knowledge that he had no favours to ask of them paved the way to establishing friendly relations. There was no apprehension that he would take advantage of the situation by preferring a request difficult to grant. Invariably courteous and self-respecting, he found men like Waldingham and Woodhurst ever ready to greet him with cordial geniality.

To Waldingham he had lately become well known by reason of propinquity and the absence of all other companions. The Englishman welcomed him in the idle hours of the evening when the day’s work was done. Sitting by the open fly of the tent, the dim lamp behind them and the starlit night in front, they talked of many things—the latest act of the Home Government regarding India, the Viceroy’s last speech, the punishment awarded to sedition-mongers, the distribution of troops throughout the country and the probable effect of a European war upon the East. The unrest that disturbed the land was frequently discussed—an unrest that is never more than lulled—an unrest that existed when the Englishman’s bulldog worried the sacred bull of Onore--and will continue to exist as long as there is a Brahmin in the country to be jealous of the far-reaching influence of the foreigner among the masses. Those who knew nothing of Asia and its deeply rooted civilizations would have marvelled to hear what one of the sons of Asia had to say on all these subjects. Religion often found a place in their conversations. The last words on the comparisons of creed, and on the parallel lives of the world’s prophets and saints were known to the Hindu, who was an intelligent reader. The characteristics given by races in all ages to the Deity and the various rituals by which humanity approached the Divine Presence were freely discussed. These were subjects that possessed a peculiar fascination for Krishna Sao; and he sometimes left Waldingham, who was no theologian, to chew a cud that was difficult of digestion by putting some such question as this

“Are we not all looking to the same God under differing modes of thought?”

A book had lately appeared in England that created some stir. It was in the form of a novel; and the scene of the story was laid in the future. There was a tale of love running through it, which was of little consequence compared with the teaching of the book. The pith of it lay in the fact that the world sought a new revelation. Education had levelled all nations. The savage had been tamed and civilized; the brotherhood of man had been established; a universal language had been adopted; and the people of the earth were in accord as to mode of government, social laws and occupation. There remained but one point of difference—religion. Although all nations had agreed on one form of government, one rule of conduct, one method of life, they still retained the religious faiths of their respective ancestors, with the attendant rituals. And although many little coteries of the more learned and scientific were content, the great masses of the different nationalities craved for a new revelation of the Deity, a revelation that should broadly satisfy the religious instincts of the whole world.

One after another the leaders of the various cults offered the God of their own peculiar sect; each preacher in turn assured all those who would listen to him, that his definition was the only one that would satisfy all requirements; but all were rejected on the plea that the definition was too narrow and confining, too much choked with human personality and trammelled with ritual. In their perplexity the people of the earth sent up a great cry for “Light! Light!” and in answer to it came a mysterious messenger, who, on the wings of a powerful aeroplane, flew to the four corners of the earth. He preached a gospel of simplicity that found favour in the eyes of all.

“Wander not from your own lands,” he said. “Turn back to the faith of your forefathers. Seek not for what is new and foreign. Deep down in the very heart of your own country lies the foundation of the true faith as it was originally revealed to man. Cast aside the rust of ages! Clear away the rank growth of ignorant teaching! You will find the one true God, who revealed Himself to his people at the beginning; Who has not changed with man’s changing ritual; Who has not lost divine force with man’s loss of faith; Who has not become less pure, less holy by man’s debased conceptions of Him. He remains firm and unchangeable throughout the ages whatever man in his ignorance may conceive of Him. He is here with you, present in you, about you, ready to be seen and felt and known by all who have the power to open their eyes and look. Search Search, and ye shall find Him!-aye! in your very midst!”

Thereupon each nation sought—and found—the faith as it was delivered to it in the ancient ages. Some found quickly; others, whose faith was deeply buried under long centuries of superstition and ignorance, discovered less quickly and with more labour.

This was the part of the story that Krishna Sao desired to discuss with Waldingham. The gossamer web of a love-story had little attraction for him; but the religious element of the book caught his attention and set him thinking deeply. He held out the volume.

“I have read it, and when you have time, sir, I should like to talk it over. In one or two points it interests me greatly.”

“I shall be at liberty after sunset;-the usual time.”

“I can’t manage it this evening.’

“Any other will suit me; I shall be here another five or six days,” replied Waldingham.

“I was going to ask if you would come out with me this afternoon,” said Krishna Sao a little diffidently. “There is going to be a sacrifice in the jungle; I thought you might be interested to see it.”

“What sacrifice is it?”

“It is a blood sacrifice to the earth deity of the Khonds.”

“Isn’t it unusually early for their pujah? They don’t hold their feasts as a rule till their agricultural operations are over.”

“This is a special occasion; and the pujah must take place immediately or I shall get no more work done. You heard some shouting in the village a little time ago?”

“Yes; what was it? No disturbance over the irrigation, I hope.”

“No; it was the result of excitement and, perhaps—joy. A discovery has been made by the woodcutters in the jungle, I have over a thousand Khonds at work, clearing the ground for the young rubber plants. About three-fourths of their task is finished. The last portion lies in the very heart of the forest where the river divides and forms an island. Formerly there must have been a foot-bridge across one of the gorges, as the remains of its foundations were found; and we made use of them to throw over a wire bridge. The river was too deep on either side to ford; and until we bridged it afresh, no man has had access to the island for many years past. The old Khond, Guruswamy, was very much opposed to the making of the bridge. I think he must have known by tradition what was hidden there. After the bridge was finished he still persevered in his endeavour to dissuade his younger fellow-tribesmen from touching the undergrowth. It was particularly thick, I suppose from the fact that the ground is unusually fertile. Urged on by the overseers the woodcutters set to work and the scrub was removed, disclosing in the very centre of the island an old meriah post, where formerly human sacrifices were offered up to the earth goddess. It was then observed that some of the oldest trees were those usually planted in the sacred groves of the Khonds.”

Waldingham had been smoking and listening intently.

“No wonder they were excited,” he remarked with some seriousness. “Is there a likelihood that they will resent the felling of the trees?”

“I do not intend to cut down any of those that formed the original grove. There are not many left standing, and what there are will form shade for my young rubber plants. Nor shall the post be touched.”

The Englishman regarded his companion with some curiosity.

“You have no superstitions about the earth goddess, Krishna Sao? They knocked all that sort of thing out of you at Calcutta, eh?”

“I am not a Khond, and the manifestations of the Deity in the form of an earth goddess does not appeal to me.”

“Then why preserve the meriah post and respect the relic of a barbarous custom? You have leased the land and have the permission of Government to clear it for agricultural purposes. I should have thought that it would have been to your advantage, as well as to the advantage of the people, to do away with any object that recalls a rite no longer legal. Human sacrifice has been abolished for more than half a century; and the hill people have learned to be content with pigs and buffaloes as substitutes. It would be a thousand pities—” here the anxiety of the Government official peeped out—“to revive the memory of it even as a tradition.”

“I assure you, sir, that no harm will come of the preservation of the grove,” replied Krishna Sao with emphasis. “If I demolish the post and fell the trees great harm may overtake my enterprise. It is the Khonds who are felling and clearing and holing the ground, not myself; and if they believe that the desecration of the sacred spot, dedicated to the goddess from time immemorial, will cause that deity to curse their labours, they will work unwillingly, and in such a half-hearted manner as to bring about the very result that they fear. I have ordered my overseers to mark out the boundary of the grove as far as they are able, and to level the ground round the meriah post, so that the post may be seen and preserved. The people are wild with joy. They look upon me as their benefactor. They are never tired of telling me that if the post and grove were destroyed, nothing but dire misfortune would overtake every woodcutter on the staff, his village, his fields and his family. The whole community turned out to see the wonderful sight and hear the good news. Messengers have been despatched to the neighbouring villages to call together the families of all the men I employ. Work has stopped for the present except to complete the clearing of the grove; and this afternoon there is to be a sacrifice.”

Krishna Sao ceased speaking and the two men looked at each other. The Hindu read disapproval on the face of the Assistant as the latter remarked—

“I suppose it will end in a drunken riot.”

“In whatever way it may end, it is of no use to fight against the gods, sir.”

“Even those you don’t believe in?”

“The enlightened Hindu professes no unbelief. We do not deny your God and the manifestation of Himself in your Christ; nor do we deny the existence of Allah; nor of Buddha. Why, then, should we deny any other god, whether of India or of any other country?”

Krishna Sao’s eyes rested on the book he had brought, some of which he would like to have quoted had there been time; but he knew that this was not the right moment in which to discuss the immanence of God. He must wait for a more suitable opportunity. All that was necessary just now was to convince the English Government officer that no mischief would be made by allowing the woodcutters to hold a special pujah.

“It is not wise, though it may be temporarily expedient, to retrogress in the matter of religious superstition,” said Waldingham, dogmatically.

“Is this retrogression? Is it not rather an act of veneration?” asked the Hindu eagerly. “I have read that even the enlightened English venerate ancient buildings wherein their forefathers have worshipped God according to the ritual that then prevailed. We have no right to deny to these people an act of veneration by which they commemorate the ancient worship of the Deity.” His tone altered and he added more lightly. “I don’t profess, however, to have any sentiment in the matter. If I were not making use of their labour, I should be indifferent to the fate of the old meriah post. Disheartened and despondent workers never made for success in any part of the world; and my band of labourers must be reassured and encouraged to believe that the earth goddess will bless their labours, and at the same time protect them from evil. I am entirely in their hands.”

“What arrangements have been made?”

“I have provided a sacrificial animal at my own expense; it is a proof of my sympathy and goodwill. Pujah is to be performed by the old Khond, Guruswamy, the lineal descendant of the pujari who used to perform the human meriah sacrifice. I came up this afternoon to ask if you would like to see the ceremony. As I am so closely interested in the land, the people have requested me to be present. I am not to take any part in it; I shall merely look on; and if the Assistant Sahib would care to accompany me, no objection would be made. It will be worth seeing, as the ritual will be different from what is employed under the humanitarian conditions of the present day.”

“How so?”

“The old Khond has promised the people that it shall be in every respect but one, a true meriah sacrifice. The exception is the creature offered up. It will be a pig instead of a human being. It will be cut up just as the meriah boy or girl was cut up; and small portions of its flesh will be buried in the various plots of land that are to be planted up with rubber. Even the overseers, who are Telugus from the plains, have caught some of the enthusiasm, and assure me over and over again that it will bring success.”

“It is more likely to bring a fanatical riot,” murmured Waldingham to himself. Aloud he said—

“Perhaps on the whole it will be as well for me to be present, since there is no objection. I can at least keep order by my presence. I only hope the people won’t turn it into a drunken orgy after the fashion of their regular pujahs.”

“There is not much fear of that. Liquor is scarce with them until the flowering of the mohwa tree. Their arrack is made from the petals and it is consumed as soon as it is ready, They have no store of it, and no means of importing any other kind of arrack in time for the occasion, You need not be anxious on that point.”

“What hour have they fixed for it?”

“Half an hour before sunset. I will meet your honour in the village at half-past four. It will take us some time to walk to the island.”

“All right, I’ll be there. Now for this irrigation dispute. I wonder if the men have come.’

“No Khond will be here on business to-day, sir. They are all preparing for the sacrifice. Their heads are full of it, and they can think of nothing else.”

“Then I must get through some of my correspondence.”

Krishna Sao took up his walking-stick and departed as he came. Waldingham glanced after his lithe figure, clad in a well-fitting suit of tweed, his legs neatly swathed in puttees, and his feet protected by good English socks and boots. On his head he wore a small black turban that fitted closely, the gold embroidered end of the puggeree falling over his brown neck and white linen collar.

“A good sort,” commented Waldingham. “I must have some more talks with him. A man of that kind, however, ought not to be pandering to the superstitions of these half-civilized and wholly ignorant hillmen.”

Chapter III

Sam sat just outside the kitchen tent in such a position as to enable him to keep an eye on the interior, to glance occasionally towards his master, and to take a survey of the camp from time to time, Sam was a great believer in the power of the eye and the strength of the human voice. Under the direct influence of these potent factors his duties were faithfully performed and his master lived in comfort. He was smoking a roughly rolled cigar of coarse, country-grown tobacco.

Inside the tent the imp, who gloried in the title of the Assistant Sahib’s cook’s matey, was still busy with the pots and pans that had been in use for the lunch. His name was Juan, to which in an idle moment Waldingham had added Don. The boy took it as an honour and the rest of the household adopted it. Don Juan he became, and no one ever spoke of him in any other way.

Don Juan had a big shaven head with a tuft of hair on the top of it. His eyes were round and black, showing a good deal of the whites when stirred by any emotion. His ears, abnormally large, were slightly pointed, giving him an expression of acute attention not unmixed with curiosity. An enormous mouth, adorned with a perfect set of teeth, spread over the lower part of his face; and its size was not lessened by the broad grin in which it was usually set. A thin neck, a round body suggestive of ample meals, and bony limbs completed his gnome-like figure.

He was the proud possessor of a scarlet flannelette coat, lined with cheap chintz of sky-blue, and a pair of popinjay green trousers, very full at the waist, where they were drawn in by a string, and very tight from the knee downwards to the ankle. They were the gift of his master at Christmas. But these garments, which were the joy and pride of his life, were much too precious to be taken into everyday use. Occasionally they hung from a hook on the tent-pole; but more often for greater safety they were rolled into a tight ball and reposed in one of the saucepans not then in use. Sometimes they were hidden in one of his master’s boots that was awaiting the application of the blacking-brush, or were stuffed into an empty pudding-basin. When busily engaged at his duties among the pots and pans, helping to prepare “master’s grub,” he was content to wear nothing but a diminutive loin cloth. In the early morning or after sundown, when the air of the hills was damp and chilly, he clothed himself in a vest that had once formed part of the wardrobe of an English lady. His mother had bought it for him in the bazaar one day, after he had complained to her that he felt the cold in camping with his master. Being blind she could not see its shape; but she could feel its soft woolly texture, and had no doubt as to its suitability. A tea-cloth wound closely round his loins kept the garment from excessive bagging and dropping off altogether.

At night he slept in a table-cloth destined for the dhoby, and drew an empty potato-sack round him if he felt cold; but he seemed to share a goblin’s immunity from physical discomforts. He felt neither cold nor heat, neither the matey’s beatings nor the kicking of the peons. His body was the seat of emotion rather than physical sensation. He bristled with fear, curiosity, surprise, delight; and in the secrecy of his heart he harboured the ambition of a giant. In his day-dreams over the scrubbing of saucepans he saw himself the benevolent dispenser of favours to all mankind, the benefactor of creation, rendering signal service to every one, from his master down to the very fowls that accompanied the camping party in order that the new-laid egg might never be wanting on the breakfast table, Added to these qualities he possessed an astounding pride in his personal appearance. It enabled him to wear the baggy vest with a swagger worthy of a better fit. It was not his clothes, however, that caused him anxiety, since the munificent Christmas gift of his master had ensured a right royal outfit for all festive occasions. It was his head that required consideration. He had great difficulty when in camp to keep it as closely shaven as he would wish. By coaxing and wheedling, by a variety of little attentions, he prevailed on first one and then another, in the absence of the barber, to give him a lather and a scrape with a bit of broken glass, before the vigorous growth of coarse black hair reached his eyes and ears. Sometimes it was the syce, sometimes one of the mahouts. The only person who had rejected his overtures with contempt was the matey, the man for whom he was obliged to slave more than for any one else on the establishment.

When work was slack in the camp Sam gave Don Juan a couple of hours “off duty,” as he termed it. Then was the occasion to put on the green trousers and scarlet coat, to tie a dishcloth round his head way of a turban, and to sally forth, cane in hand in close imitation of Sam’s deportment. With unbounded gratification he swaggered down to the village and displayed his resplendent person before the staring children of the hillfolk. His body swelled with pride and he listened to their comments and gathered the words: “Big master’s little butler.”

Don Juan’s dress was folded and put away in an empty pie dish, and he was wearing nothing but a fragmentary kitchen towel, black with much saucepan use and scorched into holes by its service in the handling of baking-dishes. The village barber had given him a hasty shave that very morning in return for the gift of an empty tin that had once contained a tongue—tins being one of the kitchen-boy’s perquisites when no other member of the camp needed them and his head shone like a black billiard-ball. The saucepan he had been at work upon when his master called Arokiam was shining inside and out as it rested upside down upon the mat. The lid had been polished with equal assiduity; the crockery had been washed and wiped; and as far as the work strictly relating to the kitchen was concerned there remained little else to do but to keep the camp fires alight. But Don Juan had many masters.

The matey, whose duty it was to attend to the table, fill the lamps, clean the silver and knives, was one of his severest taskmasters. This individual entered the tent as Arokiam and the interpreter returned from the village. He threw down a handful of knives and the knife-board at the feet of the kitchen-boy, and without a word joined Sam outside, taking a seat on the striped cotton rug between Sam and the door of the tent.

The boy squatted on his heels and began to polish the knives, stopping every now and then to listen to the conversation or to glance with complacent admiration at his arm, a limb he considered to be perfect in form and strength. Now and then he passed a caressing hand over his bald pate and fingered the well-oiled tail of hair that had been left. He still retained the heathen belief that at the dissolution he would be caught up to heaven by that plait of coarse hair. The smile was on his lips, ever ready to expand on the slightest provocation, and to disappear only when with knotted brow he passed his thumb delicately along the edge of the knife he polished. Then his lips were pursed till they assumed the shape of a closed sea-anemone. His head moved from side to side in critical consideration of the steel, and his black eyes were screwed up to pin-points. It was his ears, however, that indicated the precise spot where his attention was centred. Although they had no automatic movement they gave the impression of being cocked; and cocked they were in the direction of the idle gossiping group gathered round Sam. Arokiam had come back with great news.

“Then Guruswamy spoke true when he said that a discovery would be made?”

“It came true, every word of it, even to the blood below the post,” replied the second peon.

“What blood?” asked two or three voices at once.

“The blood of the people slain there. After the overseers left to eat their rice, Guruswamy directed Dondia, the headman, or Mazzu of the village, to dig at the foot of the post. He cast aside the weeds and turf, slicing off the top as one slices a yam. When it was cleared the old Khond bade him dig, he and his son Indra, and they dug.”

“What did they find?” asked one of the mahouts, who with his three fellow elephant-drivers had left the animals to hear the news.

Arokiam had been deputed by the interpreter to tell the tale. The knife-cleaning behind the party ceased, and all ears were listening for the reply.

“They found blood—moist wet blood that had turned black and thick. The overseers said that it was nothing but the mud of the island; but the old Khond put his hand to it, smelt it, tasted it, and he declared that it was blood. It had lost its colour by long burial. Is it not well known that all blood that has been shed some time and exposed to the weather turns black? None of us doubted that he knew better than the overseers what it was. The hillmen were convinced when they saw him fall upon his face and make a low salaam to the blood. Aye, and more than that! He repeated some of the pujah that was said by his father and grandfather when the sacrifice was offered and supplication was made to the earth goddess. In the old days the goddess spoke to them at the spot through the mouth of the river. If she was pleased, she lifted up her voice and roared among the rocks in the gorge on either side. If she was not satisfied the river ran in silence and refrained from its thunder.”

“And did the river speak?” asked an eager treble voice inside the tent.

“Shuh! Get on with your knives. It’s a wonder to all that the master consents to feed such an idle little devil,” said the matey with crushing scorn.

A knife moved rapidly for a few moments but ceased as Arokiam continued.

“We all heard the thunder of the waters rise and fall as we listened. The sound came on the breeze and died away with the wind. She is satisfied! she is pleased the earth goddess smiles!” cried the old Khond. Then he called up all the men naming each in turn and beginning with Dondia Mazzu. He bade them take up as much of the blood as the right hand could hold, and carry it to their houses. To-morrow it is to be planted in their fields. We left them gathering it with greedy fingers.”

“Will none of it be planted in the new ground opened by the zemindar?” asked Sam.

“His ground is to have the flesh of the pig.”

“They have strange heathen ways, these people,” commented the butler not without a shadow of contempt in his voice. “Do they ever make sacrifices now?” asked the matey.

“Of animals, yes; pigs and buffaloes.”

“And of boys and girls as in the old days?” inquired a mahout.

“Shuh! what a foolish question to ask!” replied Sam in a superior manner, as though it reflected on his master’s honour to suppose that the laws enforced by him in his sovereign’s name could be transgressed in that fashion, “Was not the meriah sacrifice put down in the Company’s days? The barracks are still standing where the troops were quartered that assisted in suppressing it. Not for fifty years has the meriah been performed.”

Sam fixed the rash inquirer with a steady eye that held him silent, Another mahout was not so easily suppressed.

There was the killing of a girl in the jungle twenty-five years ago by the people of a hill village further in the hills,” he remarked.

“That was brought in as murder. One of the judges from Madras came up to make inquiry, and he brought it in as murder,” pronounced Sam.

None of the circle dared call it anything else in the face of this authoritative statement. In the pause that ensued the voice inside the tent was heard once more.

“There was nothing left of her but bones and blood!” it announced, gloatingly.

Sam reached out for a small cane and handed it without a word to the matey, who was nearest to the entrance of the tent. That person leaned back without losing his place upon the rug and struck at the operator behind the knife-board. The cane fell with a noisy clatter on the board and the knives jumped and rattled. Don Juan with an experienced and calculating eye accurately judged its range and dodged it warily. Clasping his hands to his bald head, he made as though he suffered agonies from its sting. His elders were satisfied that punishment had been administered, and as Arokiam took up his tale again the cane was laid aside. The matey settled himself comfortably to hear the rest of the news.

“There is to be pujah this afternoon before sunset. It has been arranged by Guruswamy with the zemindar’s consent.”

“If they want a meriah they can have that idle little devil at the knife-board,” remarked Sam, whose indignation still smouldered at the disclosure of the breach of those very laws that his master upheld.

A thrill of fear passed through Don Juan’s small frame. The smile disappeared and his eyes grew round like the poached eggs of some small bird. He caught up a couple of knives and passed them rapidly to and fro over the leather. A frown of intense preoccupation rested on his brow as with riotous imagination he tried to picture himself like the murdered girl, denuded of flesh, with nothing left of himself but “bones and blood.”

“A pig, a large village pig, purchased by the zemindar from the headman himself, is to be sacrificed, continued Arokiam.

“And Guruswamy is to be the pujari,” added the interpreter.

“Did you ask, brother, whether he had ever been present at a meriah sacrifice?” inquired Sam, respectfully of the interpreter.

“I did; and he said that when he was nine or ten years old, he saw with his own eyes the last that took place before the rite was finally suppressed. It was a great ceremony. The young man who was sacrificed was nineteen. He had been bought when only three years old of a panwa trader, who caught him in the plains. The panwa belonged to the village down there,” he pointed to the collection of mud houses in the valley. “He lived in the hut at the far end where the present trader lives, and he was the grandfather of this man. He travelled up and down the ghats just as this one does, carrying away the ginger, linseed, myrabolams, and castor-oil of the Khonds, and bringing them salt and other things from the plains in exchange. Thirty rupees were given by the headman for the child; and the boy was kept in his house and treated as his son. When he was sixteen years of age, the old Dondia Mazzu bestowed his daughter on him as wife. For three years they lived together happily, the meriah favoured by the whole village. As was usual, no request was denied; and whatever he desired was offered freely, even to the favourite daughter of the headman. It was thought that perhaps the time for sacrifice might be put off indefinitely. Whenever a meriah was required one was found elsewhere. So the boy was left to grow into a man, to marry and have children. Then came the trouble with Government. The order went forth that there were to be no more meriah sacrifices. Now the old headman had paid for the boy. Thirty silver rupees was the price. Guruswamy said that they had been very hard to gather, first in small copper coins, which were turned into large ones. Then the large copper pieces were changed into small silver bits, till at last the rupee came. One after another they were built up till there were thirty large shining silver coins. Was all that trouble and service taken on behalf of the earth goddess to be lost? Even the meriah himself agreed that the sacrifice ought to be made, if the people would retain the favour of the goddess and enjoy full harvests with plenty of corn and oil and mohwa spirit. And he went about sadly with a silent mouth and downcast eyes. His wife with her third child at her breast was frequently in tears. Then came the news that the Government order had reached some of the villages lying on the edge of the hills and nearest to headquarters; and that sepoys were marching with the sahibs to catch the meriahs and take them to the plains. The old Dondia Mazzu talked seriously with the father of Guruswamy, who was by a long inheritance the village pujari. The next day mohwa spirit was sent to the headman’s house; and the meriah drank, looking sadly at his weeping wife with the children at her feet. A little before sunset they carried him up the valley where there was a meriah post. The people of that village had not heard of the new Government order and they received Dondia Mazzu with great kindness. The ceremony was shortened because there was need of haste. The earth goddess drank the blood as it fell at the foot of the post and ate the flesh in the fields; and the harvest was rich that season. The next day the Government officer arrived with the order; but he found no meriah for the sepoys to take away; nor was he told of what the headman had done. Nothing is wrong until it is found out and forbidden. The headman gave the necessary promise to the officer that no more meriahs should be bought; and the Englishman went away to make a good report of the village.”

“And Guruswamy was there and saw it all with his own eyes?”

“He remembers it as if it happened only yesterday. His father bade him look well and store every detail of the ceremony in his mind, so that if ever the English went away from the country he might be able to perform the meriah pujah. He gave him a few grains of rice to hold in his hand; and when the Khonds ran off, each with his bit of flesh, Guruswamy crept forward and dipped the grain in the blood. He has it still. It is wrapped in a tiny piece of calico and is hidden in the knot of hair that he, like all these hill people, wears on the top of his head. All his life has he treasured this relic of the last meriah sacrifice, and it has acted as a powerful charm. He has been delivered from the power of wild beasts. It has saved his house from fire and kept away small-pox. Thieves have never dared to trouble him. His pigs have multiplied; and his goats and cattle never failed to yield plenty of milk. Even when the harvest has been poor, as has frequently been the case in these days when no meriahs are offered, his fields have given him a good return. They are the best in the valley and the drought does not touch them. Truly the blood of the meriah has served him better than a bag of diamonds or a chest full of gold. It was the memory of its many virtues that made him call the people to-day to take up the old blood lying at the foot of the post.”

The cleaning of the knives had ended, and Don Juan’s ears were cocked to the fullest extent to hear the wonderful tale. If he was taken to be sacrificed this evening at the old meriah post, would his young red blood serve as a charm to keep away evil beasts and demons, the dreaded small-pox, the terrible fire? It was almost worth dying to acquire so much importance and merit. He took up the knives and wiped them one by one on the kitchen cloth that he had knotted like a skirt round his waist. On one or two he breathed, and then wiped them again as though fastidiously anxious to obtain the highest polish. He laid them with the board by the side of the matey without a word, and passed out of the tent unnoticed to attend to the camp fire, on which the kettle was to be boiled for afternoon tea. In the pause that ensued, as Arokiam ceased speaking, Don Juan volunteered a piece of news on his own account.

“The master is going to see the sacrifice made on the island this afternoon.”

“Shuh!” ejaculated Sam. “Our master never wastes his time by going to heathen feasts. There are plenty in the plains at Russellkondah which he can see if he likes. Why should he trouble to go to a pujah made by the common hill people?”

“Nevertheless he is going. As I swept behind his chair and round the tent, I heard the zemindar sahib ask him to go,” persisted Don Juan across the flames. He was feeding the fire on the opposite side to that on which his fellow servants sat.

“They spoke English, and what do you know of English?” asked the matey, contemptuously.

Don Juan’s eyes twinkled. He had often entreated his companions from Sam downwards to teach him English. It had been promised but never performed, and he despaired of obtaining the lessons he so ardently desired. Being a person of resource, he endeavoured to acquire a knowledge of the language from no less an individual than the master himself by seizing every opportunity of serving him personally. When Waldingham called for anything Don Juan ran with what he guessed it to be. If wrong Waldingham repeated the word. “The riding-whip, the whip! you imp! the thing that I use so! and so!” The action was plain, and back went the indefatigable searcher after knowledge to look for the whip. As he handed it to his master, he acquired a piece of English that was never forgotten. In this manner he learned much more of the language than Sam or any one else was aware of. In the same way he picked up Khond words and sentences from the children during the scanty moments of leisure that he spent on the village green. By pantomime, grins and other tricks, he made himself understood, and managed to comprehend the chatter of the little hillfolk. As he cleaned his master’s boots, polished the knives, rubbed up the camp forks and spoons, stirred saucepans, washed dishes and plates, and fed the cooking fires, he repeated the words to himself that he had learned; and once gained they remained for ever in his memory.

“Have you been ordered to go out with the master this afternoon?” asked Sam of the interpreter.

Before the latter could reply, Waldingham’s voice was heard calling for the peon. Arokiam rose to obey the summons.

“Perhaps he is going to give the order now,” put in Don Juan, as he poked up the fire with a stake and sent a shower of sparks into the air.

The mahouts prepared to return to their charges tethered at a little distance under the mango trees. The big beasts swung their trunks to and fro in lazy contentment, and flapped their huge ears with a rapping sound, as of thick canvas blown against the mast of a boat by a fitful summer breeze. The matey picked up the knives and board and looked through the blue smoke at Don Juan.

“The kettle for the master’s tea had better be boiling at the proper time,” he said in a voice of warning

“Therefore am I busy making up the fire,” retorted the boy, scattering a lot of hot ashes in the direction of the speaker, and causing the fire to flare up with unnecessary heat.

The matey bestowed a wrathful glance upon him and turned to depart. Sam, still seated on the rug, threw aside the end of his cigar and adjusted the black velvet cap that for convenience replaced in camp the more dignified turban. Arokiam was seen hurrying back. The mahouts stopped to listen, and the matey stood still to hear what orders had been issued.

“The zemindar has departed. The master wishes to have tea as soon as possible. He is going to see the pujah, and will be back a little later than usual to dinner. The interpreter is to go with him; and there are to be two lanterns ready to show the way back.”

“Will the pony be wanted?” asked the syce.

“The master will walk, and you will carry one of the lanterns?”

“Said I not that his honour was going to the pujah?” cried the irrepressible Don Juan as he settled the firebricks to support the kettle.

“One that is born a crow can never say anything but caw-caw, even though he lives in the house of a rajah,” remarked Sam, severely. “When the tea is made, you will get the potatoes ready and begin the preparation for dinner.”

“Dinner is to be late; are we then to begin to cook earlier than usual?”

“You will begin when I give orders, and that is now. Everything must be prepared so that there is only to dish up when I come back.”

Don Juan blew through a bamboo blowpipe at the hot ashes under the kettle, and deftly distributed the heat to hasten the boiling. He looked up at Sam, as that individual leisurely divested himself of his coat and proceeded to don the old garment in which he carried on his culinary operations.

“If everything is prepared in time, perhaps the worshipful butler will allow this poor worm to go and see the pujah in the forest,” said Don Juan in between his blasts. “I will run all the way there and all the way back, and will only be gone one little minute.”

“Pah! it is no place for you. What would the good padré say if I were to allow you to be present at a heathen pujah? He would fine you a dozen candles, you! whose wages will not buy one! since your widowed mother needs all you earn. She cannot work, for she is blind. What would she do if your money went in candles to keep your evil little soul out of purgatory? She would starve and it would be all the fault of her wicked son. I told her you were a little devil, and of no use to any one.”

Although Sam spoke severely he was not ill-disposed towards the boy. On the contrary, he favoured him in many ways.

Don Juan’s face clouded over to unwonted seriousness. He always looked sad when allusion was made to the poor woman who was his mother; and he recalled her in her blindness groping after his thin body and holding him closely in her trembling arms. Her children had forsaken her and this, her youngest, was her sole support. How dear he was to her heart was only known to herself, as she waited and listened for his return at the end of the camping season. Don Juan glanced up at his chief with a wistful eye.

“If only I could learn English, I might take a better place and earn more money. As matey I could get eight rupees a month instead of five. Then there would be enough for candles as well as my mother. Oh! my good and generous father! if only you would give me just a little English teaching, I could learn, oh! so quickly! to understand all the sahibs say!”

“Can a crow that is born black ever be made white? Do your work and attend to your duties; and be thankful that you belong to the household of the Assistant-Agent. There are many who would pay me half the five rupees for the privilege of serving in his honour’s establishment,” said Sam with condescension.

Don Juan applied himself to his task of blowing up the fire. As he watched the tongues of flame set up by his blowpipe under the black bottom of the kettle, he saw visions in the glow. They were not of himself as a fleshless skeleton hanging from the meriah post; nor of a patient, unrepining mother waiting in her lonely darkness for his coming. A gorgeous panorama presented itself before his mental sight, of himself grown older, the scarlet flannelette exchanged for a resplendent crimson cloth lined with blue satin, the green trousers replaced by flowing muslin drapery. His head—shaved every day by an obsequious barber—was covered by a turban that gleamed with gold. He saw himself at the head of the Agent’s establishment, speaking fluent butler’s English and enjoying the confidence of his master; and ruling a horde of servants with autocratic sway surpassing Sam’s best manner. If only he could obtain some charm or talisman with which he could turn Sam’s heart towards him and make his hard task-master, the matey, more kind and less exacting! If only his superiors would listen to his prayers and teach him English, his dreams might be fulfilled!

How and where was he to find such a talisman?

If he had lived in the old days, when his parents were still heathen worshippers of devils, before the Government order came out about the meriah sacrifices, he might have obtained some such charm as that possessed by Guruswamy. Even now there might be merit in the mud—that he firmly believed to be the discoloured blood of bygone meriahs—discovered at the foot of the post. He knew that he had been baptized, and had no business to allow his mind to dwell upon idolatrous rites and heathen spells; but when riches came, as they assuredly would by and by to the trusted head of the Agent’s household, he could give many candles, and perhaps buy a sparkling ruby for the crown of the Blessed Virgin Mary that would atone for all youthful sins. If he could slip away and leave the boiling of the kettle to the matey, whose legitimate duty it was, he might be in time to secure a morsel of the mud. By the following morning, when he would be sent out to bring in wood and vegetable from the village, it would all be gone, scraped away by the eager crowd of villagers, who required charms for themselves, their children, their houses, their fields. His busy brain formed endless schemes for the future as well as for the present; and when not pursing his lips to his bamboo blowpipe, they widened out into a confident smile of anticipation.

The kettle spat, fizzled, and relieved itself of steam. He laid down the pipe and ran off to where the matey was cutting thin slices of bread-and-butter.

“Kittle biling! I done come for tea sarsepan!” he said in English.

“What talk!” exclaimed the matey with contempt. “Done come for tea-part, sar!” he corrected, to the boy’s intense delight.

He retired to the camp fire repeating this phrase of elegant butler—language until he had it by heart; and when he had poured the water on the tea, he carried the tea-pot back proudly and set it down with the remark he had often heard the matey himself make.

“Tea done made, sar!” which was received in silence; and he returned to give the whole of his attention to Sam, as he prepared the soup and vegetables, the cutlets and crumb chops, and the pudding for the master’s dinner that evening.

Chapter IV

Waldingham drank his tea and strolled down to the village to keep his appointment. The interpreter with the peons and the syce, carrying lanterns for the return journey, accompanied him. It had been as Krishna Sao had prophesied; no irrigation disputants had arrived to lay their grievances before him that afternoon. One and all sank their differences in a common point of interest. They could think and talk of nothing else but the great discovery in the jungle. The quarrel would keep. The longer it lasted the more likelihood there was of bringing forward fresh evidence. If the Assistant Agent departed before it was settled, would he not come again? So the disputants joined the excited throng, gathered balls of black mud from the alluvial deposit on the island, and stored them to bury in their respective fields, in the firm belief that they would prove an acceptable offering to the earth goddess and ensure her favour. Something of the old fervour of their ancestors thrilled through them as they ran, eagerly clasping the moist mud as though it were the veritable flesh of the freshly slain meriah.

As Waldingham reached the village, the headman emerged from his house, followed by his son. The Khond was a fine specimen of the hillman. A well-developed muscular body, upright as one of his own forest trees, and capable of immense endurance; long limbs, large hands and feet, he stood before the Assistant Agent a noble example of semi-civilization. His long, coarse, black hair was combed and twisted into a knot on the top of his head, projecting above his forehead like a horn. It was not unbecoming or out of place in a man who was half a savage—but only half. His loins were bound by a coarse cotton cloth. When occasion demanded more covering over the broad shining shoulders, the cloth was capable of expansion into a shawl-like garment. In the cold weather a dark blanket of rough wool kept him warm and dry. An axe with a curved blade and pointed head was carried over the shoulder. Small jewels of gold adorned his nostrils and ears, being a man of importance in the village; and round his neck hung old brass ornaments that would have delighted a collector. His hand grasped a staff nearly as tall as himself; and it lent dignity to his pose as he stopped at sight of the Assistant, the representative of authority, and made a salaam.

His son, following close upon his heels, imitated his father’s example. In dress and mode of doing his hair Indra was like his parent; but the younger man was not endowed with so strong a frame as the older, nor did he appear capable of the same endurance. There was a dreamy expression in his eye that contrasted sharply with the alert watchful look of his more experienced parent.

Waldingham glanced from one to the other and conjectured that the youth’s mother was probably a woman of the plains, who had voluntarily followed the stalwart hillman to his home in the hills and borne him a son. In manner Indra was in every respect a Khond and a favourite with his father. His popularity did not stop there. The villagers all smiled upon him and welcomed him to their dwellings whenever he chose to go. As a child they had petted him; and now as a man they regarded him with favour. He accepted the benefits offered as his right, being the son of the headman; at some future day he would be the Mazzu of the village himself.

Dondia spoke and Waldingham turned to his interpreter. It was always a matter of regret to the Assistant that he did not understand the Khond language. He was doing his best to learn it; but he had little time for study. The fear that when he had succeeded in acquiring a knowledge of it sufficiently to speak, he would be transferred to another district, the home of another language, cooled his ardour. He could make himself understood if only short, simple sentences were required; but when a man came with a long story, and there were explanations, he was obliged to seek the aid of the interpreter.

“What does he say?” asked Waldingham with a touch of impatience he could not suppress, impatience with his own shortcoming, not with the clerk, who did his duty to the best of his ability.

“He wishes to inform your honour that there will be no trouble with the people this afternoon. Guruswamy has assured them that the earth goddess will consider the pig as meritorious a sacrifice as any that the forefathers of the Khonds ever offered. Your honour being present will see for himself that the laws of the Sirkar will not be broken.”

“He understands that we hold him responsible for the good behaviour of the men of his village?”

“He understands, sir.”

“Tell him that he must inform any of the headmen of other villages who happen to be present, that they too will be held responsible for any breach of the peace by their men.”

Dondia received the information respectfully and replied—

“All will be quiet and orderly. The animal is a pig, and the flesh will be buried in the zemindar’s land. Why should his honour look for trouble?”

Dondia’s eyes rested on the Government official with a level gaze in which no sign of fanaticism appeared. Waldingham returned it with one of close scrutiny and was satisfied. He moved on across the village green.

At the end of the open space there stood a noble cotton tree. Under the shelter of its boughs was a black stone dedicated to the goddess of small-pox. The tree, planted at the foundation of the village with curious ceremonies, was looked upon by the people as an emblem of what their community should be. The branches represented the families, the thorny twigs being the sons, who should presently grow into boughs themselves. The trunk indicated endurance and length of life in the individual as well as in the race. The brilliant red blossoms were likened to the daughters, who should draw the best of youths from the neighbouring tribes as husbands. The prolific fruit was the progeny that should be born of such unions.

In every village the cotton tree was a centre where members of both sexes gathered to talk and gossip, to plan and scheme, after the manner of humanity throughout the old world and the new. The Khond women do not observe the purdahshin habits of the north. Their liberty is unfettered by any rule of seclusion, and they come and go as they please. The young men, on the contrary, are under restraint. All those who are unmarried are locked up for the night in a house set apart especially for the purpose. A group of women sat by the devil-stone, their children playing near them.

Krishna Sao had been waiting for Waldingham under the shade of the tree. He stepped forward and joined the Englishman. The women were silent and their eyes followed the two men with curiosity. One of them rose to her feet and stood while they passed, an attractive figure in that little assembly. She was sixteen years of age. Her regular features and full curved lips formed a striking contrast to those of her companions, whose high cheekbones, small eyes and flat noses had nothing to commend them in the opinion of the European. She wore a number of brass ornaments polished to look like gold. Necklaces of beads enwreathed her neck and bosom, clothing the nakedness of her supple body. A coloured cloth of stout cotton material was girded round her waist in the form of a skirt. Her eyes, full and lustrous, were turned upon Waldingham and Krishna Sao. The former passed without seeming to notice her presence; the latter shot a swift glance in her direction and caught her eye, which was instantly lowered as became a modest Khond maiden.

At a little distance behind followed Dondia and his son. The village headman ignored the presence of the women, striding by as though they were but a flock of goats. Indra essayed to imitate his father’s example; but his eyes turned involuntarily towards the upright standing figure separated from the rest, and it seemed to him to be the embodiment of feminine beauty. The fact that the eyes were lowered, though the head was uplifted, did not alter his estimation.

Women were not permitted to take part in any religious ceremony. If they were led to the spot by curiosity, they must steal there unseen, and keep themselves carefully concealed from view, lest the earth goddess should be angered and refuse to accept the sacrifice.

A long string of men and boys came behind Dondia and his son. The path leading to the spot had already been trodden by many feet and was not difficult to find. The fields of grain were passed by means of raised bunds. Beyond these were patches of the castor-oil plant, which grows with less cultivation than the millet. Then came low scrub and long coarse grass in big tussocks, round which the path wound. The jungle was entered and the mountain track became steeper and rougher. Here and there stood an old forest tree stretching its patriarchal arms over a sturdy growth of young shrubs and seedlings. Large spaces had been cleared and the bushes piled into heaps ready for burning; but most of the forest trees had been left intact to afford shade for the young rubber plants.

A deep ravine lay to the left, and in its depths the river coursed over a bed of rocks. The roar of the waters rose in the valley, and Waldingham could hear that it was never far from their track. Ferns and creepers, tufts of wild ginger, coarse far-reaching strands of bramble still remained between them and the stream, hiding it from their view. These were to be cleared away later when the pujah was over.

Krishna Sao, leading the way over a shoulder of the hill, turned down a precipitous path, and Waldingham caught a glimpse of an open space some fifty feet below. A wire bridge spanned the torrent from an overhanging crag of rock to a boulder on the other side. Beneath it the water foamed and tumbled impetuously. The Assistant had had his experience of wire bridges before now, and managed to walk across in safety, supporting himself by a wire handrail that swayed and bent under his touch.

On the island a partial clearance had been made. The rich alluvial deposit was soft and moist underfoot. Beds of tender, delicate fern, richer in growth than the fern on the hillside, stretched beneath the shrubs and saplings where the knife had not yet been. Overhead the boughs of the mango and peepul tree, the bur and dammar—all sacred to the meriah—spread their foliage in rugged unchecked length, weaving a lacework of wood and foliage against the sky. The hoary stems were grey and russet-green with lichen and moss. Bushy parasites of mistletoe appearance flourished in masses, and long-armed creepers linked the trees in a tangled bond of arboreal companionship.

Indra glanced round the spot with awe and fear. This was his first visit. If it were true that this was a meriah grove, then it must be haunted by the spirits of the dead victims, whose cries had gone up to appease the fierce deity of the earth. Those spirits were her servants, her companions in the mysterious halls where she dwelt. They were happy for they had served her, and they rejoiced when she was made glad by the shedding of blood. He wondered in his dreamy fashion if she, the great mother of the earth, was satisfied to be fed with the blood of pigs and goats instead of the blood of men. The old Khond had told him many tales of bygone meriahs, who had been offered up, tales which Guruswamy had heard from the lips of his grandfather and his parents, eye-witnesses of the things they spoke of.

There was one that lingered in his mind. It was of a young man who had been permitted to grow up to manhood before he was sacrificed. He was aware of the fate that awaited him, and looked forward to it with a religious fervour amounting to fanaticism. Was it not a noble thing to die that the world might live, that men might be saved from famine and starvation? Every drop of his blood, every particle of his flesh would cause the earth to yield a thousand-fold. Where his blood fell children would be born; where his flesh was hidden the fruits of the earth would multiply; where the ashes of his bones were scattered the pasture would teem with cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats. In preparation for the sacrifice he was washed and clothed in new garments. Garlands of flowers were hung about his neck, and he drank of the mohwa spirit, the liquor that should mercifully deaden his senses and do away with the awful fear that is worse than death itself. In his zeal and fanaticism he desired to take an active part in the ceremony, so he drank sparingly, and the people contended for what remained over in the bowl. Having touched his lips the liquid was rendered sacred and would bring good luck to the fortunate possessors. Every object that came into contact with his body acquired merit; even the petals that fell from the wreath that he wore were prized as charms and amulets.

The procession was formed and they would have carried him as was the custom with the victims who were drugged; but he said, “Let me walk. I go willingly. In suffering death do I not become a god? Let me share your rejoicings.” So they left him at liberty; and he danced and sang with them until the moment came for binding him to the meriah post. Then suddenly the fear of death swept over him, and blotted out every other thought but the frantic desire to escape. Before they could divine his intention he seized an axe, and turning on the headman, whose privilege it was to take the first piece of flesh from his body, he cleft his head asunder. Then dashing through the foaming river that skirted the grove he fled. Some said that he reached the plains; others that the earth goddess caught him and took his life. Indra thought of the craven spirit with a hot flush of anger. Had it been his destiny to serve his fellow tribesmen by dying for them, he would not have ran away. Firm and fast would he have stood at the post and prayed the pujari to bind him; would have bidden the eager crowd to come with their knives; would have stretched out his arms that they might take the gift which would bring down blessings upon the people and upon his memory in the future.

The sound of distant screams disturbed his train of thought and brought him back to reality. Unconsciously he had followed his father and he found himself in a prominent position before the post.

Meriah Post

It was a curious contrivance made out of two trunks of trees. One of the trunks stood upright, its base firmly fixed in the ground possibly by its own roots. The top of the tree had been cut off at a height of about ten feet from the base. The end was bluntly pointed and grooved. The second beam was in a horizontal position. It was pierced in the centre with a circular hole. The pointed end of the upright post was inserted through the opening, and the beam rested on the groove. A rough kind of pivot was formed on which the horizontal beam could be made to swing round with a circular motion. One end of the beam still retained some of the lateral roots that had been purposely left intact. One of greater length than the others hung down like an elephant’s trunk. Two others, shorter in length than the first, projected above at an angle, like two ears. A clumsy outline was formed suggestive of an elephant’s head with its trunk and ears. In past days this likeness had given the meriah post the name of the elephant’s head.

The people continued to stream in, some returning from their fields close by, others coming from neighbouring hamlets. They gathered round in a wide semicircle, ranging themselves in quiet orderly fashion, eager to see all that there was to be seen, and ready to take part in the ceremony as soon as the moment arrived.

At the sound of distant squealing a murmur of excitement rose, and heads were turned in expectation towards the wire bridge.

Chapter V

The ground round the meriah post had been beaten down and levelled except beneath the elephant’s trunk. Here a shallow saucer-like depression was made by the removal of the earth. Guruswamy, clothed in clean white drapery, was standing a little in advance of Dondia, awaiting the arrival of the victim. His dark blood-shot eyes gave Waldingham the impression that the old man had been drinking; but this was not the case. It was something stronger than mohwa spirit that caused the eyes to glitter with that strange light, and the lips to tremble. A latent spirit of fanaticism was being fanned into vitality. It carried him back to the days of his boyhood and stirred old memories that had slept for many a long year. To him the squeals of the hog were the screams of the human victim; the Khonds were the tribesmen of his father’s day waiting for their shred of quivering flesh. In fancy he saw a human figure roughly crucified, with body bound to the tree and arms extended on those terrible outspread roots. In fancy he heard the approving voice of the earth goddess as she accepted the sacrifice and promised her devotees the fruits of a full harvest. Waldingham caught sight of the old man’s face illumined by the western sun and read what was in his mind; he turned to Krishna Sao.

“I wish this pujah could have been avoided. No good can come of it. The meriah sacrifice still lives in the memory of the older men by tradition if not by actual experience. That old Khond there, who is going to conduct the ceremony has seen the real thing in his childhood unless I am very much mistaken; and if he had his way, it would not be a pig that would be offered up for sacrifice to-day.”

“You need have no fear of any evil result, sir,” Krishna Sao reassured him once again. “The people are sober and quiet. Not one of them has been drinking, and not one will lose his head over the pujah.”

“I am not so sure of that. There is a look of madness in Guruswamy’s eye. Even that quiet inoffensive son of the headman has an expression on his face that I haven’t seen there before. They are the sons of their fathers, inheriting their instincts as well as their traditions.”

The squeals became louder, and two men appeared on the bridge, carrying between them a large black pig slung upon a pole. It hung head downwards by its hind feet, and it protested against this indignity and discomfort at every step. It was no easy matter for the men to bring their burden across in safety. Occasionally the animal struggled violently and jerked its body in its efforts to release itself. The bridge swayed under each footstep, and the men had to swing together in perfect unison to avoid being shaken off into the rapids below. The assembly watched their progress breathlessly, and a murmur of satisfaction arose from the multitude as the hindermost man stepped down on to the island.

Guruswamy, bearing a garland of flowers in his hand, advanced to meet them. He threw the wreath over the pig, and greeted the animal with the quaint old-fashioned apologies that were offered to the human victim.

With the assistance of Dondia and his son, the pig’s jaws were bound so that its piercing shrieks were modified. Still struggling and protesting, it was lifted up and held against the root end of the horizontal beam; its body was bound to the elephant’s trunk and its fore legs extended along the elephant’s cars. Many hands were ready to assist, but none ventured to come forward until called by name.

“Poor brute! I hope they will make short work of it!” said Waldingham, with a ray of pity for the unfortunate beast.”

“Its death will be instantaneous as soon as the knives are used,” replied Krishna Sao, whose teaching had not included pity for the sacrifice offered to the gods.

The old Khond was left to complete the ceremony. A pot of oil was handed to him, and he anointed the pig, and hung more garlands round its neck.

Then he stood a little way from the animal, and in a high nasal chant, gave one of those strange orations that were a conspicuous feature in the old days of the meriah sacrifice. Half in legend, half in prayer, he first told the story of the origin of blood sacrifice; how by the accidental cutting of the finger of a saint and the fall of his blood upon the ground, it was discovered that the earth could be rendered fertile. Where the drops touched the soil, vegetation sprang up and brought forth fruit. Children were procured from elsewhere; their blood was sprinkled and their flesh planted, with the result that not only did the earth yield a rich harvest, but cattle and sheep multiplied and many sons were born to the people.

The old pujari began his story in a low voice; but as he proceeded the chant became more shrill and penetrating, so that not a word was lost by the listening assembly. His shining eyes, full of religious fervour, rolled round upon the people; the lean arms were outstretched and his whole body trembled with emotion. It was an impressive sight. Even Waldingham himself, with his strong vein of commonsense, was stirred. There was nothing childish or farcical about it; and as he listened to the prayer that followed, he felt that it must reach the heart of every listener.

“Oh, Earth goddess!” cried the pujari in penetrating tones that trembled with emotion. “Oh, Earth goddess! we pray thee not to forget us! We are poor and unable to give thee what is due to one so mighty; but what we have we present in humility. Drink the blood that we are about to shed and give us of thy best store. Eat the flesh we offer and grant our petitions. Let our houses be filled with children; let cattle crowd our pastures; let our sheep cover our fields. We entreat thee to give us of thy store. Let our swine plough the earth all round our villages; let our poultry hide the thatch on our roofs by their numbers; let our heads be bruised with the quantity of brass pots hanging from our beams; let silk be so common that the very rats may make their nests of its shreds; let the sky blacken with the eagles that come to eat up the remains of slaughtered animals. Oh! Earth goddess, Mother Tari Pennu! Hear us and grant our prayer! Give! give! give! we beseech thee!”

The people echoed the last words, repeating frequently the name of the goddess.

With his defective knowledge of the language, Waldingham was unable to follow every word in the oration; but he had no difficulty in guessing at the substance of it. There was a haunting note of entreaty in the old man’s voice, a despairing cry to the deity that came from the inmost spirit of the man. Waldingham had seen the sacrifice of animals in the plains, the spilling of blood, the decapitation of pigs and buffaloes; the heaps of gore-sodden rice; but he had never heard a petition so nearly approaching the prayer of a more enlightened nation. It was addressed to an invisible power not represented by any uncouth image or stone. The Deity propitiated and appealed to was the Power that lay behind the upspringing sap of the mohwa tree, the growing grain, the luscious grass; the Power that secreted the oil in the castor plants, and produced the banana and mango fruit; the Power that created the day and night, that caused the rain to fall and the sun to shine; the Power that dwelt in man and enabled him to see his own image in the child playing on the floor of his house. Waldingham turned to his companion.

“It is a pity that the religious energy of these hillmen is misdirected,” he remarked.

“Is it misdirected?” Krishna Sao asked in a tone that indicated that he differed from the Assistant. “In my opinion it is properly directed but ignorantly addressed. Their estimation of the Creator and Preserver is at fault. It is due to ignorance and not to the wilful perversion of a fundamental conception. According to the teaching of your own priests, the ignorance of the masses is pardonable in the eyes of the Deity; and, though they err, they are forgiven.”

The sun sloping towards the west penetrated the shades of the meriah grove, and the golden rays caught the meriah post with its bound victim still living and unharmed. The crags forming the gorge of the river stood out above the crowns of the forest trees. Foliage and rock in their masses were bathed in the warm rich light. Below, the foaming rapids tumbled among the shadows, gleaming white like snow. Overhead, birds of the hawk and kite species sailed and hovered with screams that seemed to echo the stifled cries of the sacrificial animal. As Waldingham glanced round at the scene, strangely beautiful in its remote wildness, he was conscious of a jarring note. It was not the nasal intonation in which the pujari made his passionate appeal that grated on the ear; nor the presence of a mass of half-civilized humanity in that exquisite retreat of mountain, forest and stream. Krishna Sao had implied that the ignorant worship of these people was not unacceptable to the Deity and that it was properly but ignorantly directed; but was it properly directed? The jarring note was the consciousness that their conception of the attributes of the Deity, was widely different from his own. Mingled with their worship was the propitiation of influences that might be evil. Unless the earth goddess was mollified by the infliction of pain and death upon one of her creatures, she would withhold her favours. It was a false conception, not an ignorant conception of the attributes of the Almighty. A small voice awoke within him and asked the ancient embarrassing question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In the cry of the unhappy victim he seemed to hear an entreaty for the setting right of a wrong, an appeal to his humanity to enlighten that ignorance which gave rise to such gross misconceptions of the God of all nations. And he was not the first by any means. Other men who have gazed at India’s thousands worshipping and propitiating strange uncouth ideals have asked themselves the same question.

He glanced at his companion as they stood together on a slab of rock that raised them above the heads of the people and gave them a view of the meriah post. On Krishna Sao’s face rested the expression of imperturbability usually seen on the countenance of men of good caste. He did not wear the Brahmin’s thread, but he had come under Brahminical influence. There was nothing in the scene that jarred upon his finer susceptibilities. He accepted the Khonds’ definition of the Deity as correct from their point of view. In his opinion the masses required their religious exercises to be of a lower form than that which satisfied the intellectual races. A higher and more spiritual definition of the Supreme Being would fail to command their devotion and their worship. It was a mistake to try and raise their conceptions. Why, indeed, should the existing condition of religion in India be changed until the alteration of habits and mode of thought demanded it? Throughout the length and breadth of the country the people were satisfied with their religions and found comfort in the exercise of their rituals. Was it wise to unsettle their beliefs? He was troubled by no sense of duty unperformed towards God and his neighbour; the question that had presented itself to the mind of the Englishman did not occur to him. If he had thought about it at all, he would have considered that his whole duty towards these people lay in leaving them in the undisturbed possession of their traditional faith, and in forwarding the expression of their faith by the donation of the sacrificial animal. Waldingham read part of what was in his mind and kept silence, knowing that no sympathy was to be found in his direction.

The prayer was ended, and it was followed by a short space of silence, when all eyes were turned towards the roaring torrent in which the goddess was supposed to indicate her acceptance of the people’s supplication. At a signal from Guruswamy Dondia approached carrying a long piece of rope. It was fastened to the other end of the horizontal beam to which the pig was bound. A crowd of men seized the rope and circled round the post causing the beam to revolve laterally with its burden. Faster and faster they ran, urged on by the fanatical pujari, who flung his arms about with wild stimulating gesture. Faster swung the “elephant’s head,” the pig hushed to grim silence in its terror.

The ritual was nearing completion. Every Khond’s hand sought the curved knife at his waist to release the weapon ready for use. The bar ceased to revolve. Dondia and his fellows fell back breathless, wild-eyed, panting. In unconscious sympathy the onlookers quickened their breath and panted in acute anticipation.

Guruswamy, with a crouching step as of some wild beast about to spring, approached the pig. The small terrified eyes watched him in deadly fear. With a quick movement the arm was uplifted and the blade of the knife flashed in the light of the sun. The first incision was made. It was a signal to Dondia Mazzu to take what was his right. As headman he bounded forward, closely followed by others. There was a confused mass of struggling humanity clustering round the sacrifice, all striving to obtain the magical fragment that was to quicken the earth into fertility.

As each secured his treasure he darted off towards the bridge. The slender wire structure swayed and bent perilously under the rush of many feet. Still they pressed forward and still they streamed away until the last disappeared; and the sacrifice, that had so lately been a living pig, stood out in the bright sunset light, a fleshless skeleton, hideous in its ghastly condition. Only the old Khond pujari and Dondia’s son remained. A group of awe-struck boys stood apart, not daring to approach nearer. The sun went down behind the hills and the sky glowed with crimson and orange. In its light the figure of Indra, motionless and solitary, formed a striking contrast to the crucified skeleton.

Waldingham stepped down from his perch on the rock; his attendants, who had been silent witnesses, followed to the bridge. Other spectators had taken cover behind some bushes, and they remained hidden until they saw the Assistant confronted by the son of the headman. Then, seizing the opportunity, they stole away, hurried over the bridge, and made for the camp. Waldingham stopped when he found himself face to face with Indra.

“Well! What is it? What would you say?” he asked.

“You saw the sacrifice, excellency,” said Indra, in the language of the plains, which Waldingham understood better than the tongue of the hill tribes.

“I saw it,” replied the Englishman, noting that his face had caught some of the fire that had lighted up the eye of the pujari.

“And the flesh of the meriah is carried away to the plantations of the zemindar, sahib. It was well done by the old Guruswamy; but it was not sufficient, and it will not avail. The earth goddess will not be deceived. It should not have been a pig, excellency; it should have been a young man,” said Indra, with an imperiousness not common to the Khond.

“That was forbidden long ago by the Government,” replied Waldingham, with a touch of sternness in his voice.

“Laws are sometimes broken when the call of the gods is stronger than the commands of men. It is said in the plains, which we visit sometimes with the trader, that the English will not be here always. When they are gone it is promised that we shall have our meriahs again. The panwa people still exist; they will bring us children as in the old days. And who shall pity them? Can any fate be happier or more noble than to die so that the earth may stretch forth a full hand to the living? Then, and then only, will famine cease and food be cheap again.”

“That will do, Indra,” said Waldingham, as he checked the rapid and excited speech. “You are not talking as your father would. You forget that it is not good even to speak of breaking the law. There is but a small step between speaking and acting. Keep the tongue silent, and let it not be a whip to drive the body into evil.”

Indra drew back with lowered eyes as he heard the warning and recognized the severity in the Government officer’s voice. He knew that he had gone too far and that he had been carried away by his excitement. He murmured an apology and asked for forgiveness; then, breaking into his mother tongue, he muttered something that Waldingham did not understand. “What does he say?” he asked of the interpreter.

“He wishes to know what is to be done if the monsoon rains fail. The crops will wither, and the young plants, put in by the zemindar sahib, will die if the earth goddess refuses to eat the flesh of the pig.”

“Tell him that the zemindar sahib will plant more young trees,” replied Waldingham, turning to depart by way of the wire bridge.

“And that there shall be a buffalo instead of a pig next time,” added Krishna Sao over his shoulder as he followed. “I will take good care,” he went on to himself, “that the people have all they want in that respect. Ten pigs and twenty buffaloes shall be supplied if they will only work with courage and faith. What is the good of fighting the ignorance of the uneducated?”

Chapter VI

When the master with his attendants left the camp after tea they were watched by the whole establishment. The moment he was out of sight there was a stir of activity among them, from the head servant down to the imp presiding over the saucepans.

Sam buttoned up his coat to the chin, settled his velvet cap on his head, pulled on a pair of stout canvas shoes that had once belonged to Waldingham, and took up his walking-stick. The matey divested himself of the long skirted garment, in which he appeared before his master, and slipped on an old Norfolk-jacket, much stained by its former owner on sporting excursions in the jungle. The mahouts, giving a last look to their charges and a fresh supply of forage, followed on the heels of the matey with a couple of tent lascars, whose duty it was to bring supplies daily to the camp.

The place was deserted except for Don Juan, who, with legs apart and hands on his hips, watched them go, just as a short time previously they had watched their master depart. The boy gazed after them enviously until the last straggler had disappeared. He climbed to the top of a boulder a little higher up, from which he had a full view of the village green. From this point of observation he caught a glimpse in turn of Waldingham, the peons and interpreter, Dondia and his son, and other villagers, as they passed across the open space and turned towards the cotton-tree. A few minutes later the second party emerged from the hill path, and traversed the green. Don Juan’s sharp eyes counted every individual, and never left the group until each had vanished behind the mud huts in the direction of the jungle.

He drew a deep breath of relief, stretched himself to his full length, and bounded back to the camp with the exhilaration of a slave released from his fetters. He was in no doubt as to what he should do with his liberty. The dinner was sufficiently prepared to be left to itself for a time; and the fires, well supplied with logs of wood, did not need any attention for the present. They would smoulder without going out until Sam returned.

His first act was to take his holiday suit out of the pie-dish and put it on. He borrowed a turban belonging to the matey, and, having fixed it well over his ears, he strutted to the office tent in close imitation of Sam’s important manner when he went to receive orders every morning from his master.

A cigar end thrown aside by Waldingham lay on the ground. Don Juan picked it up, helped himself to a match from the box lying on the table and lighted it. Now it was his master on whom he modelled his behaviour. He flung himself back in the cane chair, stuck his legs upon the elongated arms, and proceeded to smoke, holding the cigar end between his fingers, as he had seen his master hold it, removing it from his lips with a sweep of the hand and expelling the smoke in a leisurely fashion, as if he were experiencing keen enjoyment.

For the moment Don Juan in his imagination was no less a person than the Assistant Agent himself; and with a royal imperialism undreamed of by Waldingham himself, he ruled the district. The chiefs and headmen of the Khonds came to him and salaamed with old-fashioned grace not usual in these levelling days of advanced thought. In the name of the Sirkar he ordered them to bring him fruits, betel and sweets. The zemindar presented him with a gold ring and silver-headed cane. Led on by his richly-coloured fancy, he called aloud to the absent and unconscious Sam, who seemed to make reply of “Coming, sar!” as he ran to receive his master’s orders. Don Juan sat up and solemnly interviewed the butler, directing him to fine the matey and give him a beating for being an idle and good-for-nothing fellow—a high-handed proceeding that Waldingham would never have suggested, no matter how provoked he might be. Further, as soon as they returned to headquarters at Russellkondah, Don Juan ordered the matey to be dismissed, and Juan Fernandez, sometimes known as Don Juan, was to be established in his place. This little piece of visionary justice afforded the imp immense satisfaction, and he repeated it twice, finally sending the matey to prison for purloining the tea and sugar.

He threw away the cigar end and entered the tent, where he examined the papers on the writing-table, just as he had seen Sam peer at them, striving to master their contents, knitting his brows and holding the letters up to the light. Don Juan could neither read nor write English at present, but his expression was none the less wise as he scanned the documents.

From the office he went to the dining tent. The careful majordomo had not neglected to lock up the liquor, which was fortunate, as the boy would have undoubtedly tasted the whisky if he had had the opportunity; but the matey had forgotten to place the sugar basin under lock and key; and Don Juan helped himself liberally, putting the white lumps into his coat pockets.

The sleeping-tent was next visited. A looking-glass afforded him fully ten minutes of unalloyed delight as he stood before it, smoothing down the scarlet coat; craning his neck round to see how it fitted in the back, and readjusting the turban, which had a tendency to extinguish him altogether. This pleasure exhausted, he turned and contemplated his master’s bed. Sam had made it and covered it over with a large eider-down quilt of printed cotton. Don Juan hesitated—not in doubt, but in the pure luxury of anticipation. Removing his turban, he lay down upon the bed, stretching his limbs luxuriously and closing his eyes as if in sleep. Careful to carry out the programme followed by his master, he yawned as if just awaking from slumber, and called loudly for the early morning tea. In fancy he could hear Sam replying, “Yes, sar; coming, sar! and he could see the butler hustling the lethargic matey, who in his turn was harrying and worrying no less a person than Don Juan himself in the darkness of the early morning. Familiar, indeed, was the scene, enacted, as it was, daily throughout their camp life.

Having exhausted the pleasures of his master’s tent, he strolled off to that part of the tope where the pony was tethered. He spoke to the pony severely, as he had heard the syce speak, when the animal showed signs of remonstrance during the grooming process. Abuse of its dam and sire was heaped upon its head in the severest style; and a stick was flourished as the syce was wont to flourish a bamboo cane at the first sign of kicking or biting on the pony’s part. The animal laid its ears back, squeezed its tail down and lashed out at its visitor. Don Juan took care to keep well out of its reach as he walked round it in a circle, the pony following his movements, its heels always presenting a formidable front. Once only did he succeed in meeting it face to face, and then it opened its mouth and made a dash at him as if to bite. It was lucky, on the whole, that the heel-ropes held, When he was tired of dodging round the pony, he threw a clod of earth at it, which it received on its iron-shod hindfeet and scattered into a hundred bits, uttering a squeal that sounded like a cry of triumph at the defeat of an enemy. Being a country-bred it seemed to understand exactly how to deal with attentions of the kind, and rather to enjoy the fun of repelling them than otherwise.

Don Juan retired from the fray equally satisfied. He had manifested his authority and shown the animal what it might expect were he its master. He walked to the other side of the tope to the spot where the elephants—used for the transport of the tent equipage—were tethered. A strong band of hide encircled a hind-foot of each and confined it to a mango-tree by a chain. Three of the big beasts were passed by without a word.

To trifle with their tempers would be unsafe and Don Juan wisely left them alone. They, on their part, took no notice of him, but went on eating the grain that had been left by the mahouts for their evening meal. It was nearly finished, and was to be followed by the heap of green herbage, served out by the mahouts with a liberal hand before they left.

The fourth elephant was a small female, a docile, intelligent creature, that carried the master when he wanted to cross a piece of country too rough for the pony to negotiate.

Don Juan stopped before Motee, the pearl, as she was called, and salaamed solemnly. She grunted, and turned up her trunk hastily in a grudging acknowledgment of his greeting, going back to the business of devouring her supper. He was not satisfied with her behaviour. Had he not donned his best clothes and borrowed a turban to pay her a visit of ceremony? Surely he was worthy of a more polite recognition than a hasty salaam. He growled and scolded in reproach, this time in imitation of her mahout, an amiable little man, who had but one weakness, and that was drink. Taking up a position immediately in front of her, Don Juan made an elaborate genuflexion, touching the very ground with the back of his hand before he raised his fingers to his forehead.

Motee understood perfectly well what was required of her, and on any other occasion except in the middle of a well-earned supper, she would have duly expressed her respect. But, being only an elephant, she did not comprehend that the mahouts had given themselves leave of absence; she feared their return, when the rice buckets would be carried away, whether the rice was entirely finished or not. She was anxious to secure the last few pearly grains that remained at the bottom.

Don Juan, in his sudden accession to power, was autocratic, and not inclined to tolerate neglect. He drew the bucket aside, as though he intended to remove it altogether, an action that was received with snorts of remonstrance. Again he salaamed, and Motee, bowing to the inevitable, returned his salutation in her best manner. He was satisfied at last, and replaced the bucket so that she could finish her meal in peace. When every grain had been eaten, he put the receptacle aside and drew closer.

Motee was his one friend in camp, the only being in the world who treated him with dignity and respect. The salaam exacted was the same as that with which she greeted the master when he visited the lines. She made no distinctions, but was, if anything, inclined to be more attentive to the cook-boy than to the Assistant Agent. She had her reasons for this. Her master brought no dainty morsels in the shape of crusts of bread, biscuits, bananas, and, above all things, no sugar. He contented himself with providing sugar-cane, which was impartially divided between the four beasts by the mahouts. On the other hand, Don Juan took care to remember Motee on all occasions, and cemented their friendship with some offering or other that met with her approval. The treasure that found favour in her eyes was a lump of sugar. It was a taste that was shared by the boy, who was equally partial to the sparkling white cubes. It was not often that they were attainable, as the dinner tent, where the basin was always kept, was forbidden ground to him. His duty was to sweep outside and not inside; and such an opportunity as this was very rare.

Motee seemed to guess that some treat was in store, and, in pleasant anticipation, she swung her trunk, the delicate instrument of her emotions, backwards and forwards.

Don Juan passed his small hand caressingly over it, and murmured words of endearment.

“Motee, light of my heart, pearl of the jungle, do you love your little master? Would you carry me through the forest if there was no mahout to drive me from your side, best-beloved?”

He laid his cheek against the rough skin as his hand sought the pocket where the sugar lay. He drew forth a couple of lumps; one he put into his own mouth; the other was seized by the delicate proboscis that was capable of picking up the smallest grain of rice, and it was crunched between the large grinders. In the hope of receiving another, she turned up her trunk and made a salaam.

“No, Motee, my beloved, not yet. Sugar is intended only for those who do their duty. As Sam says, work first, pay last. Ho! thy foot, Motee, pearl of the universe, lend me thy foot. I would take a ride on my favourite beast.”

He made a sign which the animal understood. She extended one of her fore-feet, holding it stiff and rigid. Don Juan held out his hand, and she inclined her head sideways until he could get a grip of her ear. Balancing himself by this means, he ran up the extended leg till he was level with her shoulder. By a twist of her trunk she lifted him on to her neck. The big head began to nod and the trunk to sway as the boy settled himself down comfortably. He arranged his coat and fixed his borrowed turban more firmly on his shaven head; then he gave the word of command to start.

The elephant, wise beast that she was, knew that she was securely bound to the tree by an iron chain that could not be broken, and made no attempt to burst her bonds; but the little master must have his ride, tether or no tether; so she began to tread the ground, nodding her head with each step, as though she were marching with her load of tent-poles and camp furniture.

“Faster, faster! pearl of my heart. Your honourable lord, the rajah, would hasten home to the ranee, his mother. Faster, faster! Moon of the forest, my queen!”

In obedience to the imp’s commands Motee quickened her movements, throwing up her trunk and trumpeting as he pommelled her head with seeming violence, but never sufficiently hard to hurt her. The fetters rattled and the leaves of the tree rustled as the stem trembled at the tightening and releasing of the chain. Don Juan was in a whirl of delight. His disappointment over the sacrifice of the pig was forgotten. In his vivid imagination he was nothing less than an Eastern prince of the old autocratic days, before the English had curtailed the arbitrary power with which the sceptre was wielded, a maharajah making a royal progress through his dominion on his favourite elephant. Around and behind tramped his attendants and men-at-arms. The clanking of the chain was the clash of the Sepoys’ weapons; the rustling of the leaves was the swish of the silken garments of his servants; the snorts and sympathetic trampling of the other elephants, disturbed by Motee’s antics, represented the shouts of the admiring crowd as it knelt to watch him pass.

It was a gorgeous pageant while it lasted. Even Motee herself was glorified in Don Juan’s imagination with a silver howdah and trappings of gold embroidered velvet.

Visions, however fascinating and beautiful, must fade, even as the sunset colours die away out of the western sky! and the grey realities of life force themselves back upon our attention. Don Juan’s triumphant progress through the gilded fairyland of his dreams came to an end when Motee was tired of step-dancing at his bidding. She extended her leg as a hint that it was time to dismount, and he clambered down by the aid of the big ear. As his feet touched the earth he became once more the cook-boy, master only of a kingdom of cooking-pots and smoky fires.

The sun dipped behind the hills where by-and-by the rubber trees were to flourish under the benign influence of the earth goddess of the hillmen. In perfect confidence Don Juan leaned against the leg that had been his ladder and prepared to share the remainder of his treasure with his pearl. Two lumps, and only two, were extracted each time; and Motee’s greedy little eyes were quick to observe that the bigger of the two invariably fell to her lot. The last time the hand sought the pocket only one lump was produced, and that was a small one. It was bestowed on Motee ungrudgingly; and when it was finished she was allowed to put the end of her trunk into the pocket itself and suck up the white dust that remained.

He dared not risk remaining with the elephants any longer. If the mahouts returned, which might be the case at any minute, there would be trouble. This was not his first exploit with Motee in their absence by any means. He never lost an opportunity of mounting her. It could be accomplished whilst her keeper slept off his potations if the other men were not present; but it was rare indeed that he could enjoy such a ride as she had given him that afternoon. One day perhaps the opportunity might arise when the ride could be taken in the jungle, when the hide band might be unstrapped and Motee allowed to wander in reality at her rider’s will. How it was to be accomplished he could not conceive. “Nothing less than the entire absence of the camp—the autocratic Sam, the prying tale-bearing matey, the scornful peons, the contemptuous syce—for at least half a day would be necessary to bring it about. He took up a position in front of the animal.

My best beloved!. My beautiful pearl! My moon of delight! I must leave thee. Salaam to thy master, the mighty rajah, who holds thy life in his hand. When the saints are favourable there shall be sugar again in this same pocket.”

He kissed her on her rough trunk and her little eyes blinked with elephantine affection; for the odd couple loved each other with a curious love. Then stepping back, he went down on his knees and touched his forehead to the ground, his hands extended in front. Motee also went down on her knees—and not without difficulty because of her fetters—the long trunk was extended and passed with infinite tenderness over the small body that lay prone in front of her. With a sigh of content he sprang to his feet and hurried back to the camp fire, whilst the elephant turned her attention to the heap of forage as yet untouched that lay beside her.

The wood under the saucepans had lost its redness and had grown grey with dead ash. If Sam came back and found the fire in that condition, the bamboo cane, ever ready to hand, would be brought into action. He caught up the blowpipe without waiting to divest himself of his holiday garments, filled his thin cheeks with wind and applied his lips to the bit of hollow bamboo. The ashes flew upwards in a cloud and the charred wood responded with a warm glow.

The golden glory of the sunset sky faded rapidly and the stars came out. A half moon brightened into burnished silver, and a large planet shone where the gold had turned to a transparent green. Lights twinkled in the village below, as the women followed the example of the cook-boy and blew up the fires under the currypots.

The flame established, Don Juan threw down the blowpipe with the intention of lighting the kitchen lantern. On the cessation of his own noisy blasts he became aware of a sound that had hitherto escaped his ear. It was the chant of bearers; and the men with their burden were close at hand. He recognized the chant. It was the song of the Police Sahib’s men. With open mouth and rounded eyes he gazed in expectation of seeing no less a person than the Assistant Superintendent of Police himself. It was not his awe-inspiring figure that stepped down from the carrying chair, but the missie herself, his daughter, Miss Rosabelle Woodhurst, known to the boy, although she, of course, was not acquainted with so humble an individual as Don Juan, cook’s matey to the Assistant Agent.

Rosabelle shook out her skirt and came straight towards him with a light, swift tread. “Where is your master?” she asked.

“Walking in the jungle, sar!” replied Don Juan, still round-eyed and wondering.

“Walking in the jungle at this time of the day!” she repeated in some surprise.

Don Juan wagged his head in assent, at the imminent danger of losing the borrowed turban. He wanted to say so much, but words failed him. He would have explained his master’s mission, with details drawn from his own fertile imagination, if only he had command of sufficient English. He had to content himself with saying

“Yes, sar! walking only.” Then with sudden inspiration he asked: “I go catch?”

She laughed lightly at the expression and glanced round at the deserted camp enveloped in the shadows of the tope.

“Where are the rest of the servants?”

“Walking in the jungle.”

“A strange time for the camp to be taking exercise.”

Don Juan did not understand the remark; but in close imitation of Sam, who always received his master’s speeches with “Yes, sir!” “No, sir!” and “Very well, sir!” he replied.

“Very well, sar!“which had the effect of making Miss Woodhurst laugh again.

The bearers had drawn round the couple, and one of them spoke to the boy in the language of the plains. Don Juan’s tongue was no longer tied, and he explained with a voluble outpouring what had happened.

“Go and call the master, if you know where to find him.”

“I can’t leave the cooking fire.”

“We will take care of the fire. Run fast; the missie has travelled far, and has not eaten since this morning.”

Don Juan gave the bearers a few directions, took off the borrowed turban and replaced it carefully by the matey’s coat, salaamed to Miss Woodhurst in his best manner, and said

“I go catch our master. I carry back quick from jungle walking.”

It was a long speech and afforded him great gratification. The wonderful missie smiled kindly at him and replied

“Go!” And he darted off down the hill towards the village.

Chapter VII

On the whole fortune seemed inclined to favour Don Juan. He had never in his most sanguine moments dared to anticipate the possibility of a visit to the scene of the sacrifice that evening. The remote chance of stealing away to the spot in company with some of the village boys had been contemplated, if Sam should send him to fetch firewood on the following morning. The chances were that the mahouts would be commissioned to bring in the firewood with the forage for the elephants.

Now there was no need for secrecy, no need to scheme and contrive. He could swagger along as he chose, singing and shouting all the way if so minded. His eagerness to be there in time to see the last of the ceremony lent speed to his feet. The way was plain in the twilight to his sharp eyes; and there was nothing to impede his progress but encounters with the hillmen as they ran, holding a warm wet fragment of pig’s flesh in a close grip. The thud of running feet and the sound of panting breath warned him in time to step out of the way of each fanatic.

He glanced at the figures, dimly discernible in the silvery moonlight, with a kind of awe. He knew without actually seeing it that there was blood on the closed fists. To his vivid imagination it was not the flesh of the pig that was so carefully carried. It was the precious human flesh, the dainty morsel beloved by the dread earth goddess who controlled the fruits of all lands belonging to the hillmen.

Near the wire bridge he met Sam, followed by the matey and mahouts. The butler stared at him in blank astonishment.

“You little devil! What are you doing here?” he demanded in a voice that usually caused Don Juan’s heart to thump.

“I go to give the master a message from the police miss,” replied the boy, dodging the outstretched hand of the matey put forth to stop his progress.

“The police missie! Where is she?” asked the astonished butler.

“At the camp asking why the butler has gone into the jungle; why the matey is not there to make tea. She is hungry and very angry, not having eaten since this morning. Hurry back to camp, my father, lest she report evil of you to the master. It is against the matey that her anger chiefly burns because of the tea.”

This parting shot was fired from a distance, the boy not considering it safe to remain within reach. A mahout might have been commissioned to carry on the message, if Sam had had sufficient presence of mind to give the order. The thought of a lady in the camp, and an unmarried one into the bargain, and all the demands that it meant upon his resources, scattered his senses; it took time to gather them again.

Don Juan continued his way with as much speed as was possible. His one anxiety was to reach the island before his master left it, as it was probable that Waldingham, in the kindness of his heart, would bid the boy to return with him, so that he might have the company of the peons. He arrived at the bridge and passed over without difficulty, his slight weight making very little impression upon the suspended wires. As he jumped off the last slat he came upon Waldingham, who was just about to cross.

“Sar! sar! One lady come to camp, sar! asking for master.”

“What?” exclaimed Waldingham, startled.

“One lady, English, asking for master,” repeated Don Juan, backing away from the bridge, and taking shelter behind Krishna Sao.

Waldingham hesitated, and then resumed his walk, aware that the best way of elucidating the mystery was to go back to the camp and see for himself. He passed over the bridge and as soon as he reached the track on the other side, he quickened his pace. The peon carrying the second lantern sent a query after the retreating form of the boy, but received no answer, and Don Juan felt safe under cover of the dim light. He watched the party with the swaying lanterns until they had all gained the other side of the river; then he turned and made his way towards the centre of the island.

The crowd, as has been said, had cleared away, and there remained only a few village boys, who still lingered, unable to tear themselves from the fascinating spot. Guruswamy had lighted a small lamp. It was his province to keep watch and ward over the gruesome remnants of the sacrificial animal until the morning, when they would be burned with certain ceremonies, as the bones of the meriah were burned. He was sitting at a little distance from the post, his head sunk low, and his long thin arms extended over his knees. He was feeling the effect of the reaction after the fires of his zeal and enthusiasm had burned out.

Don Juan joined the boys and demanded from them an account of what had happened. He insisted on being told how much blood had fallen, whether the pig had cried out under the knife, and various other ghastly details, interesting to the average boy of all nations. They replied, aiding their mother-tongue with pantomime when they thought they were not understood; and he had his fill of horrors that were more than satisfying. He inquired if they had secured any relic that might be regarded as a charm; but they answered that they had not dared to approach near enough to attain anything that might be called a treasure. One of the boys had picked up a flower that had fallen from the pig as it was carried, but his big brother had deprived him of it, and taken it away with him.

Don Juan grunted in imitation of Sam when information was imparted by one of the under-servants; and having extracted all that he wanted to know for the present, he turned his back on the boys and proceeded upon an inspection on his own account. Making a wide circuit he arrived on the other side of the meriah post exactly opposite to the spot where Guruswamy had seated himself.

The village boys followed cautiously. Every eye was upon the old pujari. If he awoke and found them too close to the sacred post, he might curse them then and there. One of them ventured to hint that it would be wiser not to approach nearer; but Don Juan had his own designs to carry out.

He divested himself of his coat and trousers, rolled them into a tight ball, and laid them under a bush. He crept on his hands and knees towards the post, holding himself close against the ground. He advanced about six inches at a time and between each movement he stopped, fastening his eyes on Guruswamy’s motionless figure. Closer and closer he drew to the skeleton remains hanging at the end of the beam. His hands were passed carefully over the ground as he progressed, in search of something, some morsel of the sacrificial animal, a tuft of bristles, a piece of hoof, a tooth, a fragment of bone.

The pujari moved, drawing up one hand to support his head, which drooped in slumber. In an instant Don Juan’s body lay flat and motionless, the pale palms turned downwards, the head like a small boulder, the back a slight excrescence of the soil. He might have been a portion of the black soil, an unconsidered lump of earth. In breathless wonder, not unmixed with fear, the village boys gazed at him with the stealthy watchfulness of one of the wild beasts of their own jungles.

The pujari uttered a snore, and once more Don Juan lifted himself sufficiently to move on all fours. Nearer and yet nearer he crept to the post. Again the hands with their keen sense of touch were spread out to feel the surface of the ground in every direction. A small object brushed his fingers. He drew it to him with a furtive movement, instinctive to Hindu boys. It was soft and hairy, not as large as a half-grown mouse. After feeling it with as much secrecy as if he were under the sharp inquisitive eyes of his pet aversion, the matey, he pressed it to his cheek and passed it over his bare arm. Apparently he was satisfied with his find. It was stowed away in a tiny betel-bag attached to the string that kept his loin-cloth in position. As soon as it was secured he retreated, observing the same caution as in advancing. The watchers waited breathlessly for his return, straining their eyes through the darkness to discover what he was doing.

Arrived at the bush he sprang to his feet, seized his bundle of clothes, which he tucked under his arm, and darted off towards the river. The troop of boys followed close at his heels. As soon as they had safely passed over the bridge, they plied him with questions in a broken language of Khond and the vernacular of the plains. Had he found anything? What was it? Why did he run so fast? To which he replied that he had found nothing; that when he was close to the meriah post he had heard a terrible groan and the sound of eating and drinking, the crunching and lapping of some famished creature. He was a Christian and not a heathen. If the earth goddess ate and drank, it did not matter to him; but by her groan he was warned to depart, as she did not approve of strangers.

The boys drew nearer to Don Juan, as though they found comfort in placing themselves under his wing. They were amazed at his courage and terrified lest Tari Pennu should stretch out an angry hand towards the disturbers of her repast. They fell over each other in their anxiety not to be last in the crowd, with all the horror felt by an English child as it draws its feet into bed in the dark, convinced that a bogie will clutch at them.

At the village each boy hurried off to the mud hut claimed as his ancestral mansion, carrying an embellished tale, which was listened to with wide eyes and strained ears. Each individual boy had heard the groan of anger and the noise of eating and drinking. No one doubted the truth of the story, which spread all through the village and electrified the entire population.

As for the inventor of the miracle, he scudded up the hill to the camp as fast as his legs would carry him. He was not without misgivings that his absence might be resented, and the wrath of the butler aroused, because he had not trotted home at the heels of his master. He had an excuse ready on the tip of his tongue, but it was not required. The camp, usually so quiet and orderly, was in a turmoil. The matey with the blowpipe was blowing up the fire under the kettle. The butler, with the assistance of the mahouts, was busy rearranging the furniture of the sleeping and office tents; and the syce was gossiping with the bearers at the spot where the pony was picketed.

Don Juan had time to put away his holiday clothes unobserved in a new hiding-place. As the matey ran off with the boiling kettle to make the tea, the treasure-trove was extracted from the betel-bag. The restless black eyes, that shone like a robin’s, glanced round on all sides before the fingers were opened. Holding it down close to the fire to catch the light of the flame he made a feint of blowing up the hot ashes as he examined the strange object. It was nothing more nor less than the tip of the pig’s tail, a fragment of coarse skin to which was attached a tuft of bristly hairs--a charm of incalculable value, since it was actually a part of the sacrificial animal. Good fortune was on his side. It was probably due to its presence on his person that he had escaped a scolding for his delay in returning. This was better than a flower or a mud ball containing a few drops of blood. By the morning light the old pujari would have found it and taken possession of it, to sell dearly as a potent charm to some village maiden.

The matey bustling back with the kettle, Sam scurrying towards the kitchen tent, the bearers approaching with inquiries as to how soon their food could be prepared, recalled Don Juan’s wandering attention to present needs. He quickly stowed away his treasure in its hiding-place, stuffed the betel-bag into the fold of his loin-cloth, and turned his thoughts to the chief business of his life, becoming once more the unrepining slave of saucepans.

*  *  *

When Waldingham strode up the hill it was quite dark except for the light of the young moon. The hills were of a deep madder-brown massed together against the translucent green of the western sky. He did not know who his visitor was. It might be the Eurasian wife of one of the police inspectors with her family travelling down to Russellkondah; or it might be the civil-surgeon with his wife going up into the hills on a shooting excursion. He was unprepared for the voice that greeted him out of the dim shadows of the tope, a voice that suddenly stirred his blood and made his pulse throb.

“Is that you, Mr. Waldingham? I have lost my way in the jungle.”

“Miss Woodhurst!” exclaimed the Assistant Agent.

“The same; a lone woman seeking your hospitality.”

“But how is this? Why are you lost?”

“My bearers took a wrong turning, I suppose.”

They walked together into the dining-tent. Waldingham struck a match and lighted a candle.

“Sam! Sam!” he called to the distracted servant. “Bring a lamp.”

He drew forward a camp chair. “Sit down, Miss Woodhurst; here’s a comfortable seat.” He glanced at her as she flung herself with a weary gesture into it. “You look tired,” he observed.

“I am tired and very hungry. I’ve had nothing since breakfast. Do you think the butler could give me a little tea?”

Sam’s name was uttered again, coupled with that of the matey. The former, dropping a burden of rugs and blankets, came hastily and short of breath, to inform his master that the tea was being prepared. Waldingham brought out the gingerbreads and foraged for some cheese biscuits in the box that served as a sideboard cupboard. Whilst he busied himself with a nervous haste that was not natural to him, he was trying to reduce his chaotic mind to something like order.

“Where’s your father?” he asked, clattering the lid of the tin biscuit-box in his vain endeavour to close it.

“At Russellkondah,” was the reply, delivered from the depths of the lounge chair.

“Then how on earth—what——” he stopped in confusion, and a low laugh of amusement fell from her lips. However much disturbed he might be, it was evident that she was rather enjoying the situation. “‘How on earth did I come?’ and ‘what brought me here?’” she repeated. “My bearers carried me here, answers your first question; and hunger answers the second.”

“Why didn’t you order tea as soon as you arrived?”

“There was no one to order it of. The person left in charge of the deserted camp informed me that you and your servants were out ‘jungle walking,’ so I had to wait. The imp might have come to my assistance, but I sent him to tell you of my arrival. Don’t look so distressed, Mr. Waldingham. I shall not die on your hands of my hunger; I am much more likely to eat you,” she said, sitting upright and throwing off the attitude of excessive fatigue which seemed to disturb him. “It might have been worse. Instead of the camp being visited by a lone lost woman, it might have been raided by wild beasts, and its protector, the fire goblin, devoured. I am harmless and amenable to advice—provided it is acceptable and reasonable from my point of view,” she concluded, glancing up at him as he stood before her.

“You say that your bearers lost their way.”

“To begin at the beginning, I must tell you that I am supposed to be on a shooting expedition got up for the edification of Sir James Raydon. My father promised to go with us; but at the last minute he was detained by a rajah who had lost or found—I forget which—his heir. Mother would not hear of disappointing Sir James, so we started with Mr. Bantry in father’s place. The camp was pitched half-way up a hill they call Tullamullee. We have had five days of it. During the day Sir James and Mr. Bantry shoot. In the evening they amuse us or mother and I amuse them, whichever way you choose; Mr. Bantry falls to mother’s share. They knew each other when they were young, and they reminisce by the hour together.”

She paused, and her eyes dwelt contemplatively upon a moth that fluttered round the candle. Waldingham was leaning against the camp table; his eyes were upon her and there was perplexity in their depths. He ventured no remark, and she continued

“It is a pity, a great pity that Sir James’ wife died. She was carried off by cholera in Bombay three years ago. I remember the circumstances well. Bombay oysters. I had just arrived in the country and the event made a great impression on me. We were to have stayed a few days with Lady Rayden before joining father. Poor thing!”

“I should say, poor Sir James!” remarked Waldingham.

She shot a quick glance at him that covered words unspoken.

“As you like,” she replied, with evident distaste for the subject.

“What has Sir James’ widowhood to do with your losing your way?”

“Oh! by-the-by, I was telling you how I came to lose my way, wasn’t I? Here’s the tea. Hand me the bread-and-butter, and envy me my appetite.”

He ministered to her needs, poured out the tea at her bidding, and dispensed the milk with a lavish hand that sent despair into Sam’s troubled mind. It was all the camp could produce for the evening’s need, which included coffee and a white sauce.

“As I was telling you, we are, or rather were, on a shooting excursion,” she continued, as she stirred her third cup of tea. “This morning, Sir James proposed that we should meet them with lunch at some place in the jungle, the whereabouts of which he explained carefully to mother. We started with the tiffin-baskets and bearers. I was last in the procession. One of my men pricked his foot with a thorn, and we had to stop while it was extracted and the foot bound up. It bled a good deal. When he was able to start again mother and the bearers were out of sight. They had completely disappeared. We tried to follow their tracks; but, as there was no path and they had straggled instead of walking in line, we soon lost all trace of them. It seemed madness to go on. I ordered the men to turn back; and they seemed relieved and pleased to do so. I don’t understand much of their language, but I gathered this, that they did not relish going into the forest without a guide.”

“They were quite right,” observed Waldingham, who was conscious of a feeling of indignation. It was outrageous in his opinion that Rosabelle should have been left behind in this manner. He would not admit that the fault lay quite as much with the girl as with her mother. A shout from the bearers would have drawn attention to the accident, and the party would have waited.

“We retraced our steps some distance, or what we imagined to be our steps, when we suddenly came into a valley that was quite strange. The bearers were puzzled. They put me down and talked together, pointing vaguely to the four points of the compass in the most disquieting manner. There was no doubt as to what had happened. They had lost themselves. At the bottom of the valley—we were on a slope above it—there was a cluster of huts with a few fields round them. I showed the men the huts, and tried to tell them to go there and ask the way to camp. I repeated the word ‘camp, camp’; but they were very stupid, and shook their heads, as much as to say that the village people would not know any more than we did where our camp was. I ended the discussion by walking to the village myself.”

“You don’t understand the language of the hillmen.”

“No; but I intended that they should understand mine,” she said, her lips closing on the words with determination. ‘Camp! camp!’ I said, throwing as much inquiry into my voice as I could. They repeated the word, puzzled at first, then one of them ran to a hut at the end of the village and unearthed a real old Father-Christmas of a man. It seemed that he understood the bearers’ language.”

“The panwa trader, to be found in every village,” commented Waldingham. “Well, what did he say?”

“There was a long palaver, and he gave the men yards of instructions how to find the camp. We started and had no further difficulty. We passed through tracts of jungle and up the bare sides of hills. We climbed over boulders and forded two mountain streams. Finally, after sunset, we arrived at the camp safe enough; only the camp happens to be yours and not my mother’s and Sir James’.”

She uttered a little laugh and leaned back with some contentment. The anxiety that might have been in her face was plainly visible on Waldingham’s. Already he could hear Sam busy. That excellent servant, without waiting for orders was turning his master’s sleeping tent upside down in his endeavour to make a spare room of it, without depriving its rightful owner altogether of sleeping accommodation. Sam’s resources were taxed to the uttermost. Blankets and sheets could not be halved, and there was but one mattress and one camp cot. Fortunately he had a spare pillow, a waterproof rug and plenty of palm-leaf coverings, used in travelling for the protection of the camp kit.

In the silence that ensued Waldingham could hear Sam issuing his orders to the mahouts, who moved and carried the furniture at his direction. However hospitably inclined a man may be, it is extremely difficult to extend that hospitality in camp to a young woman who brings neither her chaperone nor her ayah.

“I am afraid your mother will be very anxious,” he observed.

“I am sure of it,” replied Rosabelle, complacently.

“She will think that you are lost in the jungle.”

“With my body-guard of six strong bearers, the devoted servants of my father?”

“She will have spent a very unhappy afternoon.”

His efforts to place the matter before her in its true light were not successful. She laughed at the thought of her mother making herself unhappy over anything, least of all over a somewhat independent daughter.

“My absence will not be discovered till sunset or even later—not until the party returns to camp.”

“You will be missed at lunch, surely.”

“It will be taken for granted that I have returned to camp; and until she finds out her mistake, I am afraid poor mother’s feelings will be simply those of annoyance and anger.”

“I don’t see why she should be angry,” remarked Waldingham, whose thoughts were wandering to his resourceful servant.

Rosabelle lifted her eyes to his face, and noted the abstraction. A spirit of perversity, mingled with recklessness, underlaid her placidity. Deep within burned a resentment unsuspected by her host.

“Perhaps you don’t,” she said.

“I can imagine her being annoyed and much disturbed by your disappearance. She will be annoyed by the stupidity of your bearers; and more than a little disturbed when she finds out where you have taken shelter.”

“That she will never find out—never! I shall go to Russellkondah to-morrow morning early, after having spent the night in a—in a—” she glanced out at the trees dimly discernible against the grey sky of night, “in a tope near a village; and I shall join father, who will send a message to say that I am safe.”

“Do you think that Mrs. Woodhurst—or Sir James—will be satisfied with those bald statements?”

Rosabelle sprang up suddenly, so suddenly that Waldingham was startled. Her fingers were clenched over her palms; a light came into her eyes, and she stamped her foot with the impatience of one who could endure the existing state of things no longer. Her suppressed emotion found vent in a youthful expression learned of schoolboy brothers.

“Hang Sir James!”

She caught his eye and saw the blank astonishment of his face. Then, being young, and possessed of a strong sense of humour they both burst into laughter.

Chapter VIII

Rosabelle was the only daughter, but not the only child of her parents. There were three brothers younger than herself. Two were being educated; the eldest had left school and was beginning to feel his feet, although he was not yet self-supporting. She had been taken from school at the age of seventeen, just as she was beginning to realize and appreciate the value of tuition.

A year of vegetation was passed with an aunt of limited means, and then her mother appeared. There were a few weeks of busy shopping with a theatre now and then; some short farewell visits to friends and relatives; the voyage, and with it her introduction to a new world.

It was on the journey out that she received her first proposal. It came from an ineligible subaltern still in receipt of an allowance from his father. Rosabelle, attracted but not really in love, was intensely sorry for the man, as she reluctantly gave her answer in the negative at the command of an annoyed mother.

Impossible! Preposterous! Why, the foolish creature will not get his captaincy for years, and he mustn’t dream of marriage before promotion! What are the young men thinking of nowadays? The impecunious propose; and the men of means, who might marry, won’t look at the girls! They ought to be taxed, and taxed heavily, if they are not married when they draw a sufficient income to keep a wife and family.”

Rosabelle regarded her mother with surprise mixed with trepidation as she enunciated these drastic propositions. She had been separated from her parents long enough to have lost touch, and did not know how much value should be attached to the expression of worldly wisdom of this kind. She began with an over-anxiety to live up to their ideal; and found, in common with the daughters of other Anglo-Indians, that it was an impossible ideal, completely out of reach. She conquered her hyper-sensitiveness and perhaps erred on the other side, taking all that her mother said as “only mother’s way.”

Nevertheless she found that Mrs. Woodhurst was a power to be reckoned with, and indisputably a power in the house. Even her father deferred to his wife in all matters that were not connected with his profession. Rosabelle possessed his peace-loving disposition; but with it there was something approaching to the will of her mother. Hitherto that will had had nothing to rouse it into action; it had not put forth its full strength nor been brought into direct opposition to her mother’s. The little wave of insubordination, that passed over her when she was instructed to refuse the subaltern, vanished under the cold doctrines of prudence preached at every opportunity by her mother.

She learned for the first time that at her father’s death she would be unprovided for; and if not married she would have to do something for a livelihood. She recalled that band of strenuous women who taught in the college where she received such education as she had had, and she shuddered. They earned their own living because they were obliged; they thought of nothing else, as far as she could see, but the history, the literature and languages that formed the bases of their lectures. They never went to dances or tennis parties, where there were men, to her knowledge. She would have listened incredulously if any one had told her that they had their moments of relaxation in a world that was undreamed of by their pupils; that they could laugh and talk or even flirt when opportunity offered, dance and play tennis with the zest of youth.

“You must marry a man who can keep you,” reiterated the anxious mother. “The most that your father and I can do for you is to give you a good outfit and send you to your husband properly dressed. After that, however much we might wish to help, we could not. We married young, before we knew what we were about. Our expenses increased more quickly than our pay; and it has been a struggle—Heaven only knows how great—to keep out of debt. Your father had a run of bad luck that kept back promotion; and others, cleverer than himself, were put over his head. He has lost ground that he can never recover. Believe me, Rosabelle, it is a huge mistake to tie yourself to a poor man. All the love in the world won’t pay school bills. Either marry well or work for your living.”

There were tears in her eyes as she tendered the worldly advice, envying in her secret heart those women whom fortune had blessed; they had no need to give such counsel to their daughters. As if to compensate for the neglect of fortune, Rosabelle was well dowered by nature. Given the opportunity, she ought to make a good if not a brilliant marriage.

How many mothers similarly placed have brought out their daughters with hopes that have not been fulfilled! They have been obliged to see what they fully believed were favourable chances allowed to slip away and vanish, whilst youth played with youth in utter carelessness of the future. In the struggle with poverty and the approach of enforced retirement on an income lessened by more than one half, the breaking of young hearts and the blighting of young lives seemed mere foolishness of talk, compared with the dire necessity of making provision against the dull cheerless future of restricted means and petty economies.

Mrs. Woodhurst had known Sir James Raydon for many years, and been a friend of his wife. She had pitied him profoundly when he was widowed. She had never actually counselled remarriage, but other friends had done so; and the idea was not distasteful to a nature that was affectionate and in need of somebody to love. Another hope urged him on. He might yet live to see a son to bear his name and inherit the wealth that he had gathered together in the East.

The wife of the Assistant Superintendent of Police was fully alive to possibilities; and the excursion into the forest, which she had designed in her husband’s name for his amusement, had another object besides the killing of deer and leopards and the shooting of small game.

That Sir James was attracted was no secret; but he was not a man to throw his heart at the feet of a girl young enough to be his daughter without ground for hope. Mrs. Woodhurst felt that nothing was secure, nothing certain. To preach prudence and worldly wisdom at this particular juncture to a girl of Rosabelle’s temperament would have been fatal. As it was, Rosabelle was not without her suspicions that the expedition had an object other than the pursuit of big game. She had persevered, in consequence, in remaining closer to her mother’s side than that lady desired, and had refused Sir James’ offer of a seat on his elephant in one or two of his excursions into the jungle.

Perhaps the most trying part of the twenty-four hours was the evening. The beating of the jungle and shooting of game of all kinds, down to the harmless green pigeon and jungle-fowl, must perforce end at sunset, unless they sat up for a tiger. Dinner was served at seven, and from eight to ten there was nothing to do but to chat or play bridge. Somehow it usually happened that Sir James fell to Rosabelle’s share, whilst her mother dropped into conversation with Bantry.

Rosabelle had been out in India three years. During that time her father had been stationed at Russellkondah, in Ganjam. There she had met the usual residents of an up-country station. She had played tennis and golf, had danced and acted in private theatricals, and was voted by all to be good company.

Waldingham had only been in Russellkondah a year; for more than half that period he had been absent in the district. Woodhurst also had his duty in the district. In former days his wife used to accompany him; but now that she had a daughter she elected to stay at headquarters, or go on a round of visits to friends in Madras and Bangalore while her husband was absent.

Waldingham and Rosabelle were excellent friends when they met. He was attracted by a certain straightforwardness that contrasted at times strongly with her mother’s diplomacy. He was inwardly amused at her truthfulness, so different from the conventional speeches of some of the more experienced women.

“No, I can’t dance with you again,” she had said to his entreaty for a fourth waltz at a dance given by the Agent’s wife.


“No; forbidden; then seeing a blank expression on his face, she added, “no objection on mother’s part to you personally. She simply forbids me to dance with any man more than three times.”

“And you are obedient?”

“Why should I not be? A refusal to comply with a reasonable request on her part would be ungracious, and might make her unhappy.”

“And what about my unhappiness?”

Rosabelle let her eyes rest on him for just five seconds, during which time he felt himself under close scrutiny.

“Unhappiness sits lightly on you and may easily be swallowed up in a pipe, I should say. Besides, if it comes to that, I would rather cause you unhappiness than mother.”

“Thank you!” he replied nettled.

These passages of arms had not tended to lessen the attraction he felt; an attraction, he told himself, that was nothing but good-fellowship and friendliness. He was not in love; oh, dear no! He smiled as he gave way to a very rare fit of introspection. He had finished with love and all that sort of thing years ago, when he left Oxford, and lost his heart to his friend’s sister, a girl who had married a man in the Army soon afterwards. Love, the revolutionary disturber of a man’s peace, was done with, like whooping-cough and measles; and he was ready to acquiesce when his mother unfolded a scheme that she had been nursing in her brain ever since he was a boy. It was that he might marry a cousin, a good deal younger than himself, the only child of the elder branch of the Waldinghams who had inherited the family estate. She was still in her teens and had just left school. When he was last at home on furlough he had played with her, as young men play with girls before they are women, and he had told her that he intended to return and marry her after she had left school. His heart smote him as she raised her soft, shy eyes to his and said in a simple childlike manner that she would like nothing better. She would love to go to India! And what would the girls say when she told them about it! Oh! he must give her a ring or they would never believe her! So he purchased a pretty turquoise trifle, with which she was enchanted; and she went back to her schoolfellows bursting with the important news that she was engaged to her cousin.

Waldingham laughed and kissed her in a cousinly fashion. He could not look upon the incident as serious, or consider it altogether in the light of an engagement. Yet, in a way he felt bound; and it was an open secret at Russellkondah that Waldingham was not a free man.

Rosabelle knew of it; and the effect it had upon her was to remove all trace of reserve on her part. She regarded him as appropriated and bound to another quite as much as if he had been a married, man. He would not therefore, being an honourable man, make love to her any more than the Agent himself; and he would not construe friendliness on her part into anything more than mere friendship. The belief that he was an engaged man had something to do with her complacency and ease when she found herself his guest in camp. It had something to do with her gaiety as she took her seat at the dinner-table. And yet at the back of it was a disquietude that was gradually making itself felt, no matter how much she tried to stifle it.

The dinner was excellent. It was a little later than usual, having been delayed by the addition to the menu of a cheese savoury and fritters.

Before dinner was served, Sam had conducted “the police missie” to the sleeping tent, and proudly displayed all his preparations.

“Where will your master sleep?” she asked.

“In the office-tent. I shall make comfortable bed for master,” he added as he detected signs of doubt upon her face.

This was the first time she had seriously considered the ways and means of a bachelor’s camp. Apparently she was to have the use of his tent and all its appurtenances, and he was to turn out.

“I am afraid I am putting you to a good deal of inconvenience,” she said apologetically as the soup was placed on the table.

“Not at all. I am thankful, indeed, that you found your way here, and did not attempt to reach Russellkondah. You would have been benighted on the ghat.”

“And mauled by a leopard, or carried off by a man-eater?”

“More likely that you would have absorbed such a supply of fever germs as would have sent you home sick in a month’s time.”

She troubled no more over the immediate future, but gave herself up to the enjoyment of the present. Her escapade was not without its excitement, added to which there was the reaction following on five solid days of endurance of Sir James’ attentions. When dinner was ended Waldingham said—

“You won’t mind if I smoke? We will sit at the entrance of the tent. I don’t think that the night air will be too cold.”

He settled her down comfortably with a couple of cushions, lingering over their adjustment and spreading of a rug over her knees. He, too, was enjoying the situation far more than was good for his peace of mind. He looked down upon her as he filled his pipe, standing a little behind her chair where she could not see his face.

The thought of Sir James, tall and stout, with bald head and elderly ways, deliberately selecting a girl for the express purpose of making her an ornamental figure-head to his household, and a healthy mother of his children, irritated him. Of course it was no business of his; but he might in the name of friendship be allowed to take an interest in Rosabelle; he might be permitted to wish her well. To wish her well was to hope that a man of a more suitable age would win her. She would make a good wife—from the male point of view. She was good-tempered, full of fun; she dressed well and knew how to preserve her own dignity in the company of the other sex; a pleasant sort of a girl for a man to find waiting at home for him; and at the back of her there could not fail to be a staff of well-trained servants, an orderly house and adequate commissariat. If he were free—but he was not free.

“Mr. Waldingham!”

He awoke from his musings.

“Miss Woodhurst!”

“I am in a little difficulty.”

“In what way?”

“Would it be possible for me to start on my journey to Russellkondah to-night?”

“No; it is out of the question; quite impossible.” She was silent and he smoked on, turning over in his mind the reasons that lay behind her thought. Was she afraid of Sir James taking umbrage at this disregard of the conventions? A girl must have a strong personality to be able to carry off a compromising situation and silence all gossiping tongues. There were one or two women at Russellkondah whose very leniency and excuses for “dear Rosabelle’s thoughtlessness” would be intolerable.

“I think you said that your visit here was to be kept a secret,” he remarked.

She levelled her eyes at him in a way he was beginning to know. “I am a bad hand at suppressing the truth.”

“As I am aware,” he rejoined with a smile at memories of the past.

“It is easier to tell the plain, simple story, and if I could have managed to make it merely an account of a pleasant dinner, there would be nothing to which mother—or—or—any one else could take exception.”

It was impossible to confess that her mother’s vexation would be exactly commensurate with Sir James’ feeling. If he thought lightly of it, Mrs, Woodhurst would let it drop; but if he left them with any sign of coldness, not to say displeasure, Rosabelle would have a bad time. She sighed unconsciously. Waldingham glanced at her and put down the disturbance of her mind to the fear of losing her wealthy suitor. Yet even as he did so, he was not sure whether he was doing her justice or not. There was no other reason why she should sigh. He knew nothing positively of the contingencies that loomed before her mental visions of her return to England when superannuation should overtake her father at no distant period; of that terrible necessity to support herself, when life, which was now all play, would be one long grind of dull, hard work; but he might have had a suspicion that pressure of some kind was being brought to bear by her mother.

“I am afraid it is absolutely necessary for you to stay here until sunrise to-morrow morning. I shall say nothing about it. It was you who proposed secrecy; and I really don’t see why it should not be carried out.”

“I thought only of myself and you when I suggested secrecy. I forgot the existence of my six bearers and your staff of camp servants. No; the best way in the end will be to make a clean breast of it, and take the consequences. That was my plan at school, and it saved trouble in the end and spared me endless anxiety.”

She laughed, and throwing aside all signs of uneasiness, resumed the happy humour she had shown at dinner. They chatted on, he readily falling into her mood. An hour passed more quickly than it had ever done when Sir James had been her companion. Waldingham looked at his watch.

“Hallo! it’s nine o’clock!” he exclaimed in surprise. “I had no idea that it was so late.”

“Late!” she repeated.

“Yes; I have an appointment to meet a zemindar, who is sportingly inclined, to go with him to a waterhole or pool up in the hills. By-the-by, I wonder if you will mind being left. You will be perfectly safe here under Sam’s care. There are peons and mahouts, besides your own men, and the rest of my establishment to serve as a bodyguard; so you will have no reason to be nervous.”

“You are going ‘jungle walking’ again, as that imp expressed it?” she said somewhat blankly.

“With your kind permission,” he replied, as he knocked the ashes out of his pipe and rose from his seat. “I must change into my shikar kit. I’ll come and say good night before I start, if you will stay here a little longer. Not very tired, I hope?”

He looked into her face as he tucked up a corner of the rug and pushed back a cushion that seemed in danger of falling to the ground. Then he turned away abruptly and hurried out into the darkness.

In fifteen minutes he was back again dressed for his night excursion. “Shall I see you in the morning?” she asked.

“Not if you start early. I shall be still busy among the wildfowl when your bearers are ready. Don’t let the men be later than seven in getting away. You will be wise to leave earlier, if possible. Sam will give you breakfast and put up some food for the day. It is a long journey. Do you think that you could ride the pony with my saddle? It would relieve the bearers, and you would get on more quickly. Take the pony to the point where the path begins to grow steep. He is sure-footed and quiet, and will carry you safely. When you arrive home you can do as you please about mentioning me——” he hesitated and then proceeded. “Sam would have done just the same to make you welcome, whether I had been here or not. The fact of your having passed the night in my camp may be inconvenient to hide; but my presence here for dinner need not be mentioned or if mentioned it will not be a serious matter.”

He spoke awkwardly and not very coherently. She listened without comment; and when he extended his hand she took it, merely repeating his good night. She made no attempt to thank him for his hospitality, nor to apologize for having practically driven him out of his camp

She heard him call his men; and a lantern flickered into view. One of the mahouts carried his gun, and they departed. The light became dim as it receded, and the figures that followed it were soon lost in the shadows of the tope.

Sam’s voice recalled her wandering thoughts. The gaiety of the evening had vanished; and, now that there was no one but the butler and his subordinates to observe her, the troubled expression returned.

“What a good fellow he is!” she said to herself as she followed Sam and thought of his master. “Of course, he need not have turned out as early as this; he has made an excuse for giving me his camp.”

The butler placed the lantern on a small table. “Missie will keep this light burning all night. I shall bring my mat and lie down at the door. If missie is frightened in the night and calls, I shall hear.”

He dropped a purdah before the entrance as he left the tent, and she was alone. She glanced at the cot with a curious reluctance to take possession of it. A folding camp-chair, spread out to its furthest notch, seemed more inviting, and she threw herself into it.

How hard it was to struggle against the overpowering flood of circumstance on which she was being carried! Her little effort to break away from the meshes of the net that her mother was weaving round her seemed only to draw the strands tighter. Moreover it had brought trouble and inconvenience to another. Her endeavour to escape from the inevitable question that would be asked, and find refuge with her father was frustrated. She had thought that it would be easy to reach the big station; but after obliging her men to take what she believed to be the path that would lead to the plains, she discovered that she was completely lost. Then she had relinquished her project of running away, and had tried to regain Sir James’ camp, with the result already described. Her absence for a whole night would of necessity disturb the party, and possibly Sir James might start out to look for her. They must meet again and that soon. Then he would either propose or he would go away, never to return in the character of a suitor.

He was a man she could have loved if she had been blind. Why should his personality get upon her nerves? Why should she be so hypersensitive to his bald head, his portliness, his spectacles? They were not real defects; they were not signs of weakness; but merely of matured manhood. He could hold his rifle straight; he could see with the glasses, which he had worn since he was a boy, better than many men of half his age. The bald head was constitutional, and characteristic of the Raydon family; he had been bald at the age of thirty.

She made a desperate appeal to her reason and tried to school herself into love; but love is not to be drawn by the chains of reason, however strongly the links may be forged. Love, like the soft south wind, will not obey any summons, but comes and goes at will. As Rosabelle sat there listless, but wakeful, trying to keep her mind upon the many advantages offered by a marriage with Sir James, she was unconsciously dwelling upon her absent host. Where had he betaken himself? Was he spending an uncomfortable night in the fever-haunted jungle which he had deprecated so strongly in her case? or had he really gone on a shikar expedition with the zemindar? She was inclined to be irritated with him for his desertion. At the same time she was conscious that he had done the only possible thing to save her from the gossip of Russellkondah, the displeasure of her mother and of her elderly lover.

For more than an hour she remained quiet and still, dropping now and then into pleasant day-dreams in which Sir James found no place; at other moments trying to force herself to accept what she was beginning to believe was the inevitable.

She heard the murmur of voices near the kitchen tent. It was not until they died away into silence that she moved from her seat. Her toilet could only be slight. Wrapped in a large rug she lay down, dressed, on the bed. Youth prevailed and sleep came quickly to refresh and recoup her exhausted physical energies.

*  *  *

Sam returned from seeing the uninvited guest to her tent with a disturbed mind. This invasion of the camp was not to his taste. Still less did he approve of Waldingham’s departure into the darkness of the night with the avowed intention of staying away till the morning. Nothing had been said of the shooting expedition till Waldingham called for his shikar suit and thick boots, and Sam was sceptical as to the appointment. Shikar expeditions were not usually made up in that casual and sudden manner. Then there was the lady, left in his, Sam’s, charge. Now that she had come to the camp, it would surely have been more seemly if his master had remained to protect her. However, the English were strange people, and though he had served them all his life he still found them occasionally incomprehensible.

The evening meal for the servants, provided at the expense of the Assistant sahib, was dealt out with a generous hand, and the bearers were more than reconciled to the long tramp imposed upon them by the caprice of their missie. The curry pots were empty, and the entire party, including the guests, was seated round an open fire, built and sustained for the express purpose of warming the company.

Don Juan, with a supply of sticks by his side and his indispensable blowpipe, squatted by it and kept it bright and glowing. The pots and platters had been washed and the work of the day was finished. Most of the men were smoking; and when the cigars were burned to the very end, all would seek their mats and blankets.

“Tell us, butler of his honour, why the master has taken his gun and left the camp. Was the bed that was made in the office tent not to his mind?” asked one of the peons.

Sam did not reply, and the speaker continued in an aggrieved tone.

“The bed was comfortable enough. I, who helped to spread the palm leaves and straw, should know it. The missie herself might have rested on it, and would have slept with as much ease as if she had been in her own bed in her father’s house. Why should she not have made use of it? It would have been more seemly than turning the master out of his tent. Has he done this thing because he would ask a favour of the police sahib?”

“These sahibs know their own business, and it is not for talk of their doings that we draw our wages. Let there be no gossip of this matter in the bazaar,” said Sam. He turned to one of the bearers. “How was it that you lost your way? The jungles of these parts are well known to all those who serve the police master.”

“It was the missie’s own doing; not ours,” replied the man, with a touch of indignation in his tone. “When we would have gone to the right, she cried out to us to take the left. What could we do? we are her servants and it was not for us to speak.”

“The missie is tired of the company in our camp. The big fat sahib talks too much to her. He would do better to talk to her mother,” remarked another bearer with a broad grin, as though he had a glimmering of the difficulties that beset his young mistress.

“Shuh!” ejaculated Sam. “The elephant alone knows the thoughts of its brain; and to the Englishman alone is known the designs that are in his head. It is a pity that you were not in time to see the sacrifice made in the jungle by the hillmen,”

“Ayoh! it was a fine sight!” echoed two or three voices.

Sam’s device was effectual, and the conversation was safely guided into fresh channels. The bearers had already received a full account of the affair from the syce and the mahouts; but the visitors were quite ready to listen to the story again, if any one else was inclined to relate it. They were the devotees of a village deity that loved blood; and to appease her voracious appetite they assisted yearly in the slaying of buffaloes and goats.

“It will bring the rain in its season, without doubt,” remarked one of them as the tale ended. “Was there any sign that the sacrifice was received with favour?”

“The hillmen said that they heard the voice of the earth goddess in the river, and that she was pleased,” replied one of the mahouts who, like the bearer, was a heathen.

“Did you notice anything?” asked another of the matey.

“No; the butler and I are Christians. Is it likely that the swami would speak to us?”

“She speaks to the beasts,” said the mahout, with the decision of one who knows. Motee heard her voice. She has trodden the earth on all sides in her terror.”

“And the pony heard also,” said the syce. “There are marks of hoofs everywhere. The earth is kicked up as though he lived in fear throughout the hour of the shedding of blood.”

As they talked Don Juan’s eyes rolled this way and that. He came out of the wood smoke; with mouth and eyes rounded into an excellent semblance of dread and terror, he said—

“May this worm speak one little word to the most honourable company?” As no one made any objection he proceeded, giving full play to his imagination.

“Just before the sun went down behind the hills the air was filled with a sound as of pouring water.”

“That was the blood,” remarked one of the mahouts.

“Then I heard another sound, as of some thirsty person drinking. Afterwards there was a deep, deep noise, such as a big, strong man makes in his sleep when he has evil dreams. It came from under the earth and it rolled like thunder down to the fields of the hillmen. Then the pony cried and put its head down to the very ground in a low salaam and reared high in the hind quarters with feet to the sky. The elephants screamed and Motee trembled and trod the ground with her feet, as though one in authority commanded her to walk. It was terrible to see her. Even the birds of the air shrieked; and all the dogs in the village cried out as if the women poured hot water on their backs and burned them with fire-sticks.”

“Where were you at the time?” demanded Sam, suddenly, as he fixed the passed master of fiction with a doubting eye.

“Oh! sar! master butler must please forgive. This poor worm tells true word only! This foolish lump of mud was sitting without permission on your honour’s most honourable mat.”

Don Juan fell on his face and touched the instep of the butler with his forehead.

“Shall I beat him for you?” asked the matey with a touch of eagerness that made Don Juan tremble.

“His howls will wake the missie. Leave it till to-morrow,” was the reply.

Sam had no cruelty in his nature and he often stood between his fellow-servant and the boy. The mahouts demanded further details of the doings of their charges. Don Juan introduced some howling jackals into his tale, and a few mysterious screams proceeding from the direction of a certain tree on the edge of the tope, said to be the favourite haunt of a tree-devil. He would have continued half the night embroidering an already overcharged story had the butler permitted it; but as the tobacco was finished, Sam ordered the whole party to bed, and Don Juan was silenced.

Chapter IX

When Waldingham arrived at Krishna Sao’s habitation, a temporary erection of mud and palm-leaves, he found its owner indulging in the western habit of lying in a long-armed chair. A lamp stood on a camp table, bare except for a book that had been thrown down by the reader. The door was ajar, as if a visitor were expected even at that late hour.

Waldingham hailed him as he strode up the little pathway. The light from the lamp fell in a narrow band across the path and caught a small object lying near the threshold. The visitor picked it up, and was about to enter, when he bethought himself of his escort, and turned to dismiss the men.

“Put the gun against the wall by the door and the cartridge-bag by its side. After you have delivered the message in the village, you can go back to camp. Yes; take the lantern with you; I shall not want it.”

“Good evening, sir,” said Krishna Sao, advancing to meet him.

A Hindu shows no emotion. The surprise he felt at seeing the Assistant Agent at that time of night was not distinguishable in voice or manner as he politely welcomed his guest.

“I have come to have a chat,” said Waldingham. “An unexpected visitor has arrived at the camp, tired with a long journey. I have offered my sleeping-tent, and may as well spend part of the time with you, if you are in no hurry to retire to bed.”

“I am delighted, sir,” replied Krishna Sao.

“I have brought my gun. I thought I would go and have a look for wild fowl at sunrise on that pool on the other side of these hills. Perhaps you would like to come with me. Look here,” he opened his hand and displayed a small jewel, a red stone set in gold, such as Hindu women wear in the nostril. “I picked it up close to your door.”

“It must have been dropped by the woman who brings the water for the bungalow,” said Krishna Sao. “May I call your men back and give them a message for Dondia Mazzu about beaters? We must have a few of the hillmen with us.”

“By all means.”

He went towards the men, leaving Waldingham standing at the entrance. As the zemindar walked quickly in their direction, his eyes upon their light, he failed to detect the presence of a shadowy figure that slipped away into the darkness. The Englishman caught a glimpse of it. “The kitchen woman going back to her hut, after her work,” he said to himself, without giving the matter another thought.

When Krishna Sao returned they entered the house together, and Waldingham placed the jewel on the table, while his host pulled forward a canvas camp chair. There was a second room with an open doorway, through which could be seen a charpoy—a wooden bedstead laced with rope; a thick woollen mat was spread upon it instead of a mattress; and the sheet and blanket with the pillow remained rolled up until the occupier should himself unfasten the bundle.

“May I smoke?” asked Waldingham.

“Certainly, sir. It was a strange ceremony this afternoon that those hillmen performed; but everything passed off quietly,” remarked Krishna Sao, with a pardonable satisfaction, as he leaned back in his chair. The Assistant Agent had doubted the people, and his doubts had been groundless.

“I see lights in the village still, as if they had not yet settled down after all the excitement. A sacrifice among Khonds is not an everyday occurrence.”

“It is very gratifying to them when it does come. It leaves them with fresh confidence and renewed hope that the mysterious power expressed in nature will continue to smile smile upon them.”

Waldingham did not reply immediately. He was recalling the scene of the sacrifice, the enthusiasm of the people, their wild onslaught that left the unfortunate animal a bare skeleton, the religious zeal of the old pujari, the blind faith exhibited by him and the people throughout the whole ceremony. It had impressed him, even though he had regarded the bloodshed with something like disgust. There was that within it which lifted it above pantomime and foolish child’s play. The heart of the people had been unconsciously revealed.

“It is strange how idolatrous mankind clings to the idea of sacrifice,” he observed.

“The idea is not confined to the worshippers of idols—in this case there is no idol and never has been one; the deity is unseen—you have it in your own religion,” replied Krishna Sao.

“You mean in Christ.’

“Yes; yours was a sacrifice of blood, and the victim was a human being. He died, like the meriah of old, that men might live.”

“In the next world,” added Waldingham. “He was the only sacrifice, once offered; a sacrifice that is never to be repeated.”

“There were martyrs and saints following Him. They died for their faith; were they not also sacrificed?” asked Krishna Sao.

“They were self-sacrificed to the cause of righteousness.”

“And as for the present day,” continued Krishna Sao, with the deep pleasure that a Hindu takes in argument apart from conviction; “You still offer sacrifices to your God; but they are not of blood. Your sacrament, in which you receive a portion of bread and wine, is called by the priests of your Church a sacrifice.”

“It is a commemoration of the original sacrifice made by the Saviour.”

“Pardon me; it has been spoken of as a sacrifice in itself from the earliest times. One of the tutors of my college in Calcutta lost no opportunity of discussing these matters with me, always in the hope that he would bring me to his view of religion and ultimate conversion to Christianity. In many things we were agreed; but there were points on which we differed fundamentally and eternally, and he was unable to convince me that I was wrong or that he was right.”

“What were they?” asked Waldingham, whose attention was not centred on the conversation. He could not detach his thoughts from the form that might at that very moment be lying upon his couch; and he was more inclined to listen than to be drawn into religious argument.

“One of them was our respective conception of the Deity. He defined God as an ideal Personality, a God of mercy, love and order, Who directed and governed all things for good. We do not limit our god Brahm to a personality of virtuous perfection. To give Brahm a personality would at once place a limit on the absoluteness of the Divine Essence. To be all-powerful and all-pervading, the Deity must, in the opinion of the educated and intelligent Hindu, be all-embracing—an Absolute Eternal Being, the Almighty Essence from which emanates creation, preservation and destruction. There can be nothing outside It; It cannot be limited or supplemented, and so in Its essential nature It cannot be personal.”

“And yet India admits the possession of thirty-three millions of personal gods and goddesses,” observed Waldingham.

“Our sacred books tell us that Brahm did not desire to exist merely in self-contemplation. The Great Spirit wished to see Itself; and to do this Brahm expressed Itself in nature and in avatars—incarnations—just as your God expressed Himself in Christ. The Spirit brooded on the face of the waters, your Bible says, and the result of the brooding was the Creation. We say that Brahm pervaded the universe and saw Itself in countless forms. Wherever I look I see evidence of a great unknown Force. It produces the trees and grass, sustains the blue arch of heaven with the sun, moon, and stars, draws water from the clouds and builds up men like yourself, capable of governing your less well endowed fellow men for their good. It lies in and about the whole world; without It nothing can exist; and what exists would dissolve into nothing if It withdrew Itself. Our own sacred books declare It to be the Ego seated in the hearts of all beings, the beginning, the middle and the end of all existing things. It is in us, about us, above us. It goes by a thousand names and man gives It a thousand forms; but all unite throughout the ages in one great belief—It is greater than ourselves and therefore to be respected and worshipped. You asked me this afternoon if I believed in the deity of the Khonds. I have as much faith in the Power that finds expression for these hillmen in the earth goddess as I have in the Power that we call Vishnu or Siva, that you call God, that the Jews call Jehovah.”

“If the world in its present condition is an expression of the Deity, it is very far from being perfect. According to your theory God is the God of evil as well as of good.”

“Granting that the Deity is an Essence all powerful, all embracing and absolute, where else can evil come from? The professor used to assure me that God overrules evil but does not will it. That He created the devil good and the devil fell. If He can overrule it, and if He is all powerful, why does He not annihilate it? The existence of evil outside Himself and acting independently and antagonistically destroys the idea of absoluteness. We cannot reconcile such a thought with our Brahm.”

“That is merely because you are fatalists,” replied Waldingham. “The moment you admit the possibility of the freedom of the will, the difficulty and apparent contradiction disappear. The gist of the opening chapters of our Bible, stripped of the pictorial setting, is clearly the revelation that God endowed human beings with free will and made them responsible beings, able to discern good and evil, and able of their own initiative to choose the one or the other.”

“What do you mean by good or evil?”

“Obedience to the law of righteousness, or the reverse. Allowing this, there is no contradiction whatever in the existence of evil outside and independent of God; nor is it irreconcilable with His absoluteness. Evil—that is, opposition to the Creator’s will—is a natural consequence of God’s self-limitation in giving man free will. Moreover a world without evil or the possibility of evil is practically unthinkable. You say, ‘Why does not God annihilate evil?’ Suppose He did, what would be the result? He would annihilate good as well. What moral value would good possess, if there were no possibility of evil? Human action would then be neither moral nor immoral, strictly speaking, since it would sweep on with the regularity and orderliness of a well-constructed machine. And this is virtually the position which your philosophers have been driven to adopt owing to their pantheism or identification of God with all that exists, good or bad; and also to their refusal to recognize the power of free will in human beings. But I do not profess to have studied these theological difficulties. I am merely arguing by the light of common sense. If you are interested in the subject you ought to look up the treatises of western philosophers and divines, who have reasoned out the whole question from a purely scientific and intellectual standpoint, quite apart from what we call revelation.”

“Yes, I admit,” replied Krishna Sao, “that your conclusions are logically tenable, granting the premises you assume; but free will is precisely what we deny. I have been given to understand that some of your great western thinkers have denied it too. Even on your own hypothesis, surely the Divine Being is ultimately responsible for—if not actually the author of evil? You yourself say that He endowed mankind with that very faculty of free will which is responsible for evil. In which case, as I said before, evil does ultimately come from God; and it does not exist independently and outside Him. Surely there is an inconsistency in your argument.”

“Perhaps there is,” said Waldingham, who felt that he might easily get out of his depth in a subject that he had not studied very closely. “But if it is a question of inconsistency, you will pardon me if I point out a glaring inconsistency in your own expressions. You began by emphatically denying personality to the Deity, and in the next breath informed me that Brahm ‘did not desire’ something or other, and ‘wished’ to do something else. How on earth do you imagine that consciousness of such a kind does not necessarily involve personality? You can hardly charge me with inconsistency after that! The truth is, human language is utterly inadequate to express attributes of the Deity; and sooner or later we are bound to fall into anthropomorphisms and anthropopathies, no less than the old worthies who composed the Hebrew Psalms. But tell me on what points did you and your professor agree?” he asked, avoiding further combatting of the subtle Hinduism of his native friend.

“It was in the belief that in the earliest ages there was an original revelation of the Deity to man. By some mysterious and unrecorded means God not only revealed Himself, but implanted the necessity of offering sacrifices as dutiful efforts to please. This book which I have been reading contains the same theory. The revelation was carried into the world as the people scattered. Some preserved its purity. Others through ignorance and intellectual deterioration allowed it to become overgrown with superstitions, like the ancestors of the Khonds. In each succeeding age the idea of sacrifice, deeply implanted in all human nature, was interpreted according to the intelligence of the race. The pig satisfies the Khonds. Your sacraments and spiritual worship, satisfy you. My pilgrimages and gifts to the temple are sufficient for me.”

“Did not your English friend try to teach you that his way was the true way?”

“He did; but he could not convince me. I was ready to allow that his way was best for him and his co-religionists. I, being the heir and inheritor of a faith hoary in comparison with his, prefer to remain true to its traditions, even though a certain amount of error may have crept into it. Nor can any other man alter my convictions. My contention is that the form of worship and of sacrifice is immaterial as long as it follows custom and tradition. You and I, sir, are pressing towards the same goal, but we are not travelling along the same road; and there is little doubt that we shall arrive there in due time, although our paths have been different and our sacrifices diverse.”

Waldingham looked at Krishna Sao, the inheritor of “a hoary faith,” of which he was manifestly proud, and thought of the difficulties such a man presented to the ordinary missionary who might not be a learned Oriental scholar nor an abstruse theologian.

“The idea of sacrifice in the abstract seems to be the one point that we hold in common,” said Waldingham. “It is a pity that we cannot make the detail of its practice more in accord.”

“There is one kind of sacrifice in which we are in accord; that is self-sacrifice. A woman, whether she is of European or Asiatic extraction, will show it as a wife and mother. A man will show it in his patriotism.”

The silence of the night was broken only by the distant roll of a tomtom in some hut.

There was no wind, and the foliage of the trees hung motionless. It seemed as though the earth goddess slept after her feast.

“Do you object to the teaching of the missionary?” asked Waldingham.

“Not altogether,” replied Krishna Sao. He spoke honestly, for he had no reason to do otherwise with the Assistant Agent. “I know what the Brahmins think of Christianity, but I don’t agree with them.”

“What is that?”

“They fear it as a power that they are unable to reckon with. If the truth be told, it is the only thing about the English rule that they really distrust, for it strikes at the very root of their existence. When India accepts the faith of Christ, it will no longer have any need of the twice-born. This knowledge is at the bottom of their opposition to the introduction of western ways and western thought. It is the secret source of the unrest which puzzles the English politicians in England.”

He uttered the words in a detached manner, as though he were only a spectator.

‘You, apparently, are not troubled by any such fear.”

“I am not a Brahmin,” replied Krishna Sao, with a short laugh. “I make use of his services when I go to the temple; and I employ a young Brahmin accountant to manage my estate accounts. If I were one, I should not be so tolerant of the missionary.”

“It appears to me that your old tutor’s arguments were not entirely lost upon you.”

“Possibly; he opened my eyes to the fact that the missionary is clearing the ground and preparing the way for reform. If he will not be too drastic in his measures, too sweeping in the denunciation of our old faith, too prejudiced to recognize the germs of truth that lie in it, he may hope to see a great leavening. In my opinion he would be wise if he made more use of our own classics, and built upon the foundation that is laid there. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Divine Song, he will find piety and devoutness such as he preaches from his own sacred book. The song has been translated into the vernaculars, and is well known by the educated. Let him make it his standpoint, and many will listen who will turn from the Bible alone.”

“It is the story of the Redemption that the missionary comes to India to preach; and that can only be taught from the Bible.”

“The New Testament was founded upon the Old. Is there any reason why it should not be founded upon reformed Hinduism? but nothing can be done in a hurry. Our instincts are conservative, and haste only brings disaster, as we have seen in political matters. It is certain that the more intelligent Hindus have had their consciences pricked. They are beginning to understand the nature of sin. I don’t say that by the pricking of conscience and better knowledge of what sin really is, they intend to reform their ways at once; but it is an advance towards clearing the ground for the establishment of a more enlightened form of religion.”

“There is danger in knocking down old faiths without the substitution of new,” remarked Waldingham. “The Romans put down the practices of the Druids in Britain, but left the Celts without a religion. We put down suttee and human sacrifices for humanitarian reasons, and it is highly important that we should bestow upon the people something in exchange. We look to the missionary to supply this want, and to give them a real substitute for their gross superstitions. Up to the present, success has been chiefly among the uneducated masses and the lower castes.”

“The masses are ready to listen without much understanding. They accept the teaching with the mind of a child. If I were working for the conversion of India, I should let them alone, and leave them to the performance of their blood sacrifices, until their intelligence was enlarged by education. If your God is a God of love and mercy, the ignorant and childish creatures may safely be left in the hands of the Creator. It is not the masses who are seething with new thoughts, such as the brotherhood of man, the elevation of women, the emancipation of the out-castes, but the orthodox Hindus, who inherit an ancient civilization and a subtle intellect. Already we are asking ourselves if life is to move in a circle of eternal rebirths; or may we look for the progress preached by the missionary, which promises to bestow upon us—when the weary round of incarnations is ended—something better than the loss of personality?”

“Christ’s teaching was delivered to the masses, the intellectual class rejected it,” observed Waldingham.

He had been interested in probing the mind of an educated Hindu who was untouched by enthusiasms, religious or political. At the same time he had wondered whether Krishna Sao was sincere or whether he talked for the sake of argument. Whatever his motive might be, the Englishman recognized in the Indian a type of man produced by the modern system of Indian education.

“It was from the intellectual class that St. Paul was drawn, the chief exponent of Christ’s doctrines,” rejoined Krishna Sao.

“You need a St. Paul to come to you in India.”

“Perhaps; but he must not be an Englishman. He must be one of us.”

The time slipped by as they talked. In the village the voices of the night died away into silence. Lights were extinguished and the village folk, worn out with excitement and fatigue, lay down upon their mats to sleep. The stars shone out with a brilliancy only seen in the clear air of tropical mountains. Jupiter, gleaming with the light of a miniature moon, illuminated the darkness and seemed to cast a faint shadow on the whitened path.

It was time to compose themselves for sleep, if they intended to snatch a few hours before starting for the distant pool. Waldingham refused the offer of the charpoy, and Krishna Sao retired to the inner room, leaving the Assistant Agent, at his own request, in the sitting-room.

The air was close and impregnated with the fumes of tobacco and paraffin. Waldingham rose and set the door, which had been left ajar, open to admit the fresh night wind. The evening breeze had died down and the atmosphere was very still. He drew his canvas chair close to the door, stretched it out to its fullest extent. Then he turned out the lamp, extinguishing it completely; and lying down in the chair, closed his eyes with the determination of going to sleep.

He had passed many nights under less favourable circumstances. Here he had a roof over his head, and was protected from the damp. The bungalow was new and clean, and inhabited by a man of refined habits. He wondered whether Rosabelle was asleep; whether she was sufficiently protected from the chilly hill air of the night; whether she would feel any alarm at being left alone with only Sam in charge. He would have liked to have breakfasted with her, and to have superintended the start in the early morning. Sam was an efficient servant with his own underlings, but he might not be able to exercise the same authority over the police servants. The bearers, knowing that there was a long day’s journey before them, would require a substantial meal before they started, and they would take their time over it. He wished that he had arranged to carry Rosabelle home on Motee. Yet, perhaps, on second thoughts it would be more to her advantage if he effaced himself altogether.

He fell asleep in the middle of his cogitations, a deep dreamless sleep that brought rest and recuperation to the young muscular body.

Krishna Sao, on entering his room, placed a screen—roughly made of palm-leaf—against the doorway that led from the sitting-room to his own chamber. It served as a door as it leaned in front of the entrance. He unrolled his blankets, divested himself of his turban and coat, and seated himself on the charpoy.

Apparently sleep was far from his eyes. He sat motionless, his head bent in a listening attitude. The sense that was alert to straining-point was the sense of hearing. Now and then he tilted his head to a different angle, as the feet of some small rodent scuttled round the base of the house outside, or a night bird cried to its mate high up in the air overhead. Sometimes a bat uttered its piercing squeak or an owl rustled the foliage of the tree that overshadowed the bungalow. Presently the deep regular breathing of the Englishman fell on his ear. Noiselessly he rose, removed the screen and entered the room where Waldingham slept. His hand sought the jewel that still lay on the table where it had been placed by the finder, and he passed out into the darkness of the night.

Half an hour later he returned with silent footfall, a dissatisfied expression on his face. He replaced the jewel, for which he had found no recipient. He stood for a few moments behind the canvas chair, listening in curiosity to the regular breathing of his guest.

“They are wonderfully made, these Englishmen,” was his inward comment. “Are we able to fathom their nature or is there something held in reserve of which we know nothing? It was the same with my tutor as it is with this man. Is he a god to regulate his life as he does? or is he a devil beyond comprehension?”

With an unsatisfied sigh Krishna Sao re-entered his room. This time he wrapped himself in his sheet and drew the blanket close. Slumber came at last, deep and dreamless as the slumber of the Englishman.

Chapter X

Waldingham awoke with a curious sensation of having been touched on the hand. He was lying in the same position as that in which he had fallen asleep, his head resting on the canvas back of the chair, his arms extended on the wooden arms, and his hands hanging slightly over the curves. Something had brushed his right hand, something soft and warm.

He did not move except to turn his head slightly to the right. There was a faint rustle at the doorway, His eyes followed the sound and he glanced up at the starlit sky, still without stirring, fully expecting to see a dark form rise between him and the patch of dim light.

“Who’s there?” he called loudly.

The noise startled the intruder, who departed in sudden alarm; and he fancied that he could detect the sound of retreating feet outside the bungalow.

“It must have been a jackal,” he said to himself.

The call aroused Krishna Sao, who came to the screen.

“What is the matter, sir?” he asked. .

“I thought I heard something moving in the room. It touched me, for I woke suddenly. Probably it was a jackal or a village dog.”

“Most likely,” was the short reply, uttered without any curiosity.

“What time is it?”

The Hindu struck a match and looked at his watch. “A quarter to three.”

We must start soon, as we have a long walk to the pool, and the birds will be moving at the very first streak of dawn.”

Krishna Sao with turban and coat came out of his room; relighted the lamp and went into the back verandah, which was nothing more than a roughly constructed lean-to of palm-leaf. Close against the mud wall and completely enveloped in his blanket lay his servant, so deeply buried in sleep that it took some time to rouse him.

“Get up! get up! and warm us some coffee,” he repeated over and over again, until the man comprehended what was wanted of him.

Meanwhile Waldingham rose from his chair and stretched himself. His sleep had refreshed him. He passed the left hand over the back of the right, as if to efface the sensation that had disturbed him. The beast must have smelt his hand and touched him with its nose. Yet the impression left upon him was not of a dog’s cold nose, but of something warm and living. It was possible that its bushy tail might have swept across his hand. But the sensation was not what he fancied a jackal’s brush would cause. Although the touch was sufficiently gentle to awake him without a start, he fancied that there had been a slight pressure as of a human hand laid upon his.

Was it the hand of a thief? and if so what was he in search of? Englishmen in India do not carry gold on their persons, and the watches they wear in the district are of one of the baser metals, serviceable, but of no intrinsic value. There was nothing that could have been taken from his person. Moreover, if it had been a thief he would have seen his figure silhouetted in the doorway as he retreated. The light from the stars was enough to show any object that intervened of the height of a man. A dog or a jackal he would not have seen, as it would have been below the skyline and indistinguishable. He remembered his rifle and turned to look for it. It leaned against the wall where the peon had placed it, and the bag of cartridges lay by its side. The first thought of a thief would have been the gun and the ammunition, both of which were safe.

The hot, fragrant coffee was acceptable, and when it had been served with a tin of brown biscuits, produced by Krishna Sao from his store box, the servant was despatched to the village to collect the men who were to serve as beaters.

A quarter of an hour later the two sportsmen walked through the silent hamlet towards the headman’s hut. On their way they passed a small house in which burned a lamp. A girl blew up the flames of a fire in the little open yard.

“Is your grandfather still out?” asked Krishna Sao, in broken Khond.

“He watches by the meriah till the sun rises,” was the reply.

“Do you expect him home that you make a fire?”

“I make the fire to warm coffee for my aunt, who carried food to him. He could not eat until midnight had gone, and she has only just returned,” replied the girl, with a strange mixture of defiance and deference in her tone.

“Who is that girl?” asked Waldingham, as they continued their way.

“She is the granddaughter of the old pujari, Guruswamy.”

“And her husband?”

“She has none. Here is Dondia Mazzu’s house, and here are the men waiting for us,” he added with satisfaction.

The headman appeared as they approached, and Krishna Sao conversed with him and listened to what seemed to be of the nature of an explanation of some kind.

“He says, sir, that he cannot come with us himself. There are ceremonies that he must perform with Guruswamy at sunrise. They have to burn the bones of the pig to carry out the true meriah rites to the end. Indra, his son, will take his place. The young man is anxious to go with his father, but that is impossible. His presence would meet with the old pujari’s disapproval for some reason or other; I cannot tell you what it is; and Dondia is glad of the opportunity of sending him with us.”

Figures drew near out of the darkness and a little group of a dozen or so of Khonds gathered silently like animals of the forest. Each was wrapped in his rough blanket as the morning air was chilly. Two or three carried bows and arrows of a primitive pattern. Every man had an axe as well as a strong knife. Patiently, and without a word of comment, they stood, waiting for the order to move, as well-trained dogs might stand, hanging on their master’s permission to begin the hunt. Lastly, Indra appeared. He addressed himself to Dondia in rapid, eager speech.

“My father, once again I beg you to let me come with you; let me help to burn the sacrifice; let me do service to the earth goddess. Yesterday I was not permitted to take flesh nor even to approach within reach of the offering. What have I done to be shut out thus from all participation in the sacrifice?”

“My son, the moment has not yet arrived.”

“Will it ever arrive as long as you live, my father?”

“It will; most assuredly it will. One day your turn shall come.” Dondia looked at him with a peculiar expression in his eyes, which did not escape the quick observation of Krishna Sao, who gathered a good deal of what was passing between the two men. Waldingham did not know sufficient Khond to follow the thread or to comprehend Indra’s request. “One day you shall make the offering. One day you shall claim favours at the hands of the earth goddess and they shall be granted—all and more than you ask shall be showered upon us. Go, my son; it is the will of the goddess that you hold back now. The time is coming when there shall be no holding back.”

Krishna Sao smiled under cover of the darkness, and cried—

“Come, come, Indra! It is time we were off, or the sahib will be disappointed; the wild-fowl will have flown.”

The semicircle of figures that had listened intently to the words spoken by father and son fell back into the order of march, Indra leading the way and walking by himself a yard or two away from the rest of the hillmen. Among the latter there was a low-voiced murmur of comment, accompanied by gratified glances at the son of their chief as he marched somewhat sulkily at their head. Their sympathies were for some reason or other with the older man. They had perfect faith in the interpretation of Tari Pennu’s will by the pujari; and if he had forbidden Dondia to permit his son to take a part in the ceremonies there must be no opposition to his decree.

Every Khond is a true sportsman at heart. The instinct was implanted in Dondia’s son; and as he neared their destination, the anticipation of a good bag conquered his disappointment and ill-humour.

The walk lasted an hour, and the path was not easy to travel by starlight. They reached the pool in good time. It lay like a sheet of glass in the lap of a small valley, reflecting the stars upon its unrippled surface. The unsuspecting birds, teal, widgeon, and wild duck, were still asleep, their heads tucked under their wings, Overhead large bats fluttered, darting down upon the foolish moths that forgot all danger in the intoxication of the scent of the night flowers. At one end of the lake the bank rose precipitously, and forest trees, growing down to the very edge of the crag, hung over the water, their stems covered with moss and their roots with fern. The shadows beneath were black and impenetrable.

At the other end there was a swamp through which the surplus water escaped by a number of little streamlets hidden in the rank grass. They flowed silently, meandering through beds of sedge and rush—a maze of secret waterways to the shy birds and an inexhaustible feeding ground.

Indra, completely recovered, put himself at the head of his men, and placed them to the best advantage along the shore of the pool. They now only had to wait for the approach of dawn.

There is something peculiarly fascinating in the awakening of nature in the jungle. As if by magic the creatures of the night disappear. Waldingham felt the spell as he watched and listened. A faint twitter of birds came like a whisper from the sedges, and was echoed in the branches of the trees. The morning breeze blew down upon the glassy surface of the pool, rippling the water into tiny waves that formed lines of clouded silver.

The message of the wind was carried to the brooding wild-fowl. The sounds increased with the snapping of bills and the rustle of plumed feathers. Faint splashings warned the sportsmen that they must be ready. Rays of light shot upwards behind the mountains in the east and Indra signalled to his men to begin to move.

With the firing of the first shot there was confusion among the startled inhabitants of the lake. As the birds flew headlong to the forest or the swamp for cover, the hillmen beat them back towards the guns. Many fell into the water. Before they ceased fluttering a Khond dashed in and retrieved them. Indra, an expert swimmer, was frequently in the water. With unerring sight he marked down the game, reached it with a few long strokes, seized it and flung it ashore.

They worked steadily from the high bank towards the swamp, where the birds congregated, and it was increasingly difficult to flush them. Instinct told the wild fowl that they would find a surer refuge in the labyrinth of reeds and rushes than among the unfamiliar branches of the forest trees. The ground, too, was more difficult for the shooters as well as the beaters; and wounded birds that fell in the long grass were not so easily recovered.

Indra, more often in the water than out of it, continued to plunge in fearlessly, in spite of the fact that the bottom at this end was covered to a depth of several feet with a thick growth of waterweed.

“Call Indra back to shore,” said Waldingham to Krishna Sao. “We have done very well, and he has been in the water long enough.”

The sun mounted above the hills and dispersed the greys and golds of early dawn. A deep sapphire blue replaced the purples of the sunrise; and through the limpid atmosphere the vivid greens of the forest trees shone undimmed. The leathern-winged bat crept to its roosting-place in a warm recess among the rocks; and the drowsy moth sheltered itself under the broad leaf of the wild ginger. Butterflies sat with outspread wings upon the half-opened buds that were beginning to respond to the first kiss of the morning sun. The jungle was thronged with living things and pulsated with every form of life.

Waldingham withdrew the cartridge from his gun and handed gun and ammunition to one of the Khonds to carry. His eye rested appreciatively upon the beautiful scene; and he wondered if it had ever been marred by the hand of man in such a ghastly ceremony as had spoiled the beauty of the island on the previous day. He was suddenly recalled from the contemplation of nature by a cry. He turned to see Indra struggling in the water.

“Go to his assistance, one of you,” called Krishna Sao to the Khonds. “Quick! or the man will be drowned !”

Not a single Khond stirred. At the first sound of Indra’s shout for help they had drawn together, not at the nearest spot, but at a little distance away, where the ground was slightly higher than the swamp. From this point of vantage they watched the struggling man, as they might have watched a keen swimming contest, except that their faces wore an expression of awe and fear. In vain the son of their headman called to them to come to his assistance; in vain he entreated for help. In his terror of death Indra screamed; but they stood motionless as though they had been turned to stone. Yet they could all swim like the waterfowl.

“Quick! quick! the weeds have him! They have seized his feet! They are drawing him down to the bottom! Fools that you are! He will drown if you do not help him!” shouted Krishna Sao, angrily.

Still they did not stir. They were strong, muscular men, every one of them true men of the jungle, able to cope with any difficulty connected with forest or flood. They were courageous, alert, capable in their own province, undaunted by any obstacle that nature might present; yet they stood inanimate, unmoved. when any one of them might with an extended arm and a few careful strokes rescue him.

Krishna Sao, angry and alarmed, took one of them by the shoulder and attempted to push him towards the water. The man resisted strenuously with an expression of abject fear upon his countenance, and fell to the ground. He placed his hands together, bent his head and touched his forehead, just as he had prostrated himself before the sacrifice yesterday. His example was followed by all the Khonds; and as they fell on their faces they uttered the appeal that they had repeated after Guruswamy.

It was the prayer that the offering might be found acceptable in the eyes of the goddess.

Meanwhile Waldingham had realized the danger, and the necessity of taking immediate action. He ran to that part of the bank nearest to Indra and shouted encouragement to him to keep afloat. Hastily he threw aside his clothes, including his thick shooting boots. Aware of the risk he ran in venturing to rescue a struggling man from an unseen enemy, he dared not enter the lists encumbered in any way with heavy clothing.

With each struggle the clinging weed was winding its long strands more closely round the right leg of the young Khond. He felt himself being drawn down by those shining vegetable tentacles as surely as if he had been in the grip of an octopus. Once locked in the embrace of the weedy tomb beneath him, he could never be freed. Indra understood his position; and notwithstanding the fact that the fear of death, common to all the animal world, was upon him, he kept his head.

He exercised all his ingenuity to avoid the entanglement of the left leg. A cold, soft strand swept across his instep now and then, sending a shiver of fright through him. Like dogs, the jungle men swim deep; they do not understand the art of keeping near the surface like an expert English swimmer.

Lower and lower still he sank, till his chin was beneath the surface and his shouts were well-nigh stifled. Frantically he beat the water with his arms, turning despairing eyes towards the prostrate group of his fellow-tribesmen on the shore.

There was a plunge and Waldingham struck out towards him.

The Khonds heard the splash. They looked up and saw that the Englishman had gone to the rescue of the headman’s son. The awe that had been in their faces changed to one of absolute terror, as once again they fell to the ground, touching their breasts and foreheads to the earth with abject propitiatory utterances. How dared any man thwart the will of the earth goddess? Disgusted with the gift of a pig, when the offering should have been nothing less than a human being, was she not stretching out her hand to take what had been withheld? And now the Englishman, with the madness of his race, was about to try and snatch the victim from her grasp! It was not weed that held him fast, but the long fingers of Tari Pennu. Unseen beneath the waters she had stretched out her hand; and when he should have struggled sufficiently to gratify her bloodthirsty instinct, she would slowly and surely draw him down through the soft mud and feed upon his life and blood. How could a human being, even though he was of another nation, and one of the ruling race, overcome the will of the earth goddess? It was useless to oppose her. The attempt would only anger her, and she would pour out the vials of her wrath on their unhappy village.

The Assistant Agent, troubled by no such qualms of superstition, and alive to the fact that nothing but strenuous exertion would save the man, struck out towards him with long sweeping strokes, his feet breaking through the wavelets on the surface, his hands and arms immersed but a few inches. He seized Indra by his horn of hair, forced his head above water so that he could get his breath, and shouted “Knife! knife!”. The drowning man understood; and while the Assistant Agent supported his head, he drew the knife worn at his waist and slashed at the confining strands. It was no easy task, as Waldingham dared not tread water lest he too should be caught in the toils. He was obliged to swim in a circle until he felt a relaxation of the strain, and was able to move with his burden from the spot. As soon as Indra realized that he was released a reaction ensued. The fear of death had been so great that his condition was limp and nerveless. He had not the strength to move his arms and legs, but trailed through the water like a log in the hands of his rescuer.

As Waldingham brought the drowning man towards the shore the hillmen groaned in an agony of fear, and not one of them would venture to rise and hold out a hand to assist in the landing. Krishna Sao, however, was at the brink. He had already divested himself of his coat preparatory to entering the water; but Waldingham shouted to him to stay where he was. The water was deep to the very shore of the pool, and there was no standing place. Moreover, there were weeds at the bottom of sufficient length to prove troublesome. It would have been a difficult matter to lift Indra out in his comatose state without assistance from the bank.

“Hold him up while I get ashore,” said Waldingham. “Keep him as far out of the water as possible or we shall have his feet in the weeds again.”

Together they hauled the half-drowned and now unconscious man to land. There were long green ribbons round his ankle and calf, reaching to his knee,

“A near shave,” remarked Waldingham, as he shook himself and dried his body to the best of his ability with his handkerchief. “There is a flask of whisky in my coat pocket. Get it out and pour a little down his throat.”

While he talked, he rapidly clothed himself, thanking his lucky stars that he had had sufficient foresight to throw off his garments before going to the rescue. To have walked home in wet clothes would have meant certain fever.

“That’s right! Now turn him over and lift his arms above his head; bring them down again to his side, and repeat the process. I am afraid he has swallowed a lot of water. Up again well above his head and down to his side.”

Indra was naked to the waist, and wore only a small loin-cloth. His blanket had been thrown to one of his companions when he entered the water. Waldingham lent his assistance to this “first-aid” treatment, and after ten minutes’ perseverance they were rewarded by signs of animation.

“That’s all right!” exclaimed Waldingham with relief. “I was afraid he was going to die partly of fright and partly of drowning. I should never have been able to look his father in the face again if the boy had met with his death in retrieving my birds.”

“It takes a great deal to kill these hillmen,” remarked Krishna Sao, as he poured more whisky down Indra’s throat. “I wonder what made him faint?”

“Pure funk; and it was only natural. He was face to face with death when that villainous weed laid such a tight hold on him. I can quite understand his fainting; but what puzzles me is the behaviour of those Khonds. Look at them; they seem terrified even now that we have pulled him out of the water, and put some life into him. There is no further danger. They can’t really be alarmed now.”

Krishna Sao smiled as he glanced at the group. They had risen to their feet and stood huddled together, as though they sought safety in each other’s company. Their hands were pressed palm to palm and their eyes were fastened on the son of their headman.

“They are frightened out of their wits. As they themselves would express it, their bones have turned to water, and their muscles have melted away.”

“Are they scared because the boy has been so nearly drowned?” asked Waldingham.

“No; because the boy has been saved. They believe that the earth goddess had him in her grip; and that you have dared to thwart the law of nature, the Power that ordains nothing less than drowning for a man who ventures among water-weeds and gets out of his depth. Not one of them, as you saw, would stretch out a finger to save him. Even now they will not come too near, lest they should be mixed up in the affair and held responsible for thwarting the divine call for a sacrifice. Look at them when I ask one of them to bring Indra’s blanket.”

He shouted for the cumblie which was needed for the patient; he had begun to shiver as consciousness returned more fully. There was a movement among them, but not one stirred. With his curious smile of tolerance that had more sympathy in it than annoyance, Krishna Sao rose from his knees and went towards the group. The blanket was handed to him without a word.

“Have no fear,” he said reassuringly. “There is no offence, since it is the deed of the Englishman, who obeys a God stronger than the earth goddess of the Khonds.”

They listened and looked at him doubtfully. They were comforting words, but only partly convincing. It was Guruswamy alone who could say how the earth goddess would regard the act. Until his decision was given fear and dread would be their portion.

Chapter XI

They started for camp without further delay. Indra, wrapped in his blanket, walked with the two sportsmen. The young Khond’s eyes wore a dreamy expression, as though his brain had not quite recovered from the shock it had received. His physical powers were unimpaired; but the nervous system was disorganized. It was for this reason, perhaps, that he avoided the hillmen and preferred to remain near his rescuers. Human nature has many traits in common with wild animals. Among savage or only partially civilized people the sick avoid the company of the healthy with a curious instinctive distrust. Indra seemed to be experiencing this distrust of his fellow tribesmen; and he was careful to maintain his solitary state, keeping the group at some distance behind, and allowing Waldingham and Krishna Sao to lead the way without actually joining them.

“I am sorry this has happened,” remarked the Assistant Agent.

“So am I,” replied the zemindar, quickly. “I should not have thought twice about it, if Indra had been alone with us. It is the presence of those fellows behind us, who are so carefully holding aloof, that will complicate matters.”

“I don’t see why their presence need trouble you.”

“They are the witnesses of the accident, and their version of the story will carry weight with the villagers, who will adopt their view.”

“That the direct act of the deity has been interfered with.”

“Yes, and with success. It will discourage my coolies more than a little, and undo all the good of the pig sacrifice. It would have been better for my interests, indirectly, if the man had been drowned.”

“You surely wouldn’t have stood by and have seen him drown?” exclaimed Waldingham, looking at Krishna Sao with some surprise.

“Didn’t I help to pull him out, sir? and by thus taking an active part in his rescue, I have placed myself in opposition to the earth goddess. I have nullified the virtue I acquired in the eyes of the hillmen by my gift of the pig. No!” he continued a little ruefully. “This humanitarianism is the result of my western education; and it is very disturbing when I knock up against the old primitive beliefs of the uneducated. Even if I could explain my act of humanity, the hillmen are not sufficiently enlightened to understand the reasons. Now, in your case, you, being an Englishman, they do not look for a reason. They regard you and your nation as inexplicable. If you were not the ruling race, they would simply put you out of their path, and laugh to scorn your queer notions about the sanctity of human life.”

“All the more need that they should be taught something better.”

“It may come in time—perhaps. Meanwhile, I suppose that it is inevitable that I, as one of the pioneers of the new gospel of humanitarianism, must suffer. I have two lacs of rupees involved in this venture. It is making a large demand on me, as a Hindu, to expect me to carry out humanitarianism at the expense of risking so much capital. If the boy had gone into the jungle without us and lost his life with no possibility of a rescue, I should have been more confident in the success of my venture. Of course, I should have regretted the death of a promising young Khond; but after all the loss of a hillman is no great calamity. If he is fated to die, he will die, whatever you and I may do in the humanitarian cause.”

“With all your modern education, Krishna Sao,” said Waldingham, with a laugh in which there was no offence, “we have only to scratch you to find the true Hindu.”

“I have no wish to be considered otherwise than as a true Hindu; though I have advanced notions on some subjects, I am none the less orthodox for that,” rejoined Krishna Sao, with a touch of national pride.

He was not offended. The bond of friendship existing between the two, the result of companionship in the jungle, stood the stress of good-humoured chaff. The speech was taken more as a compliment than as criticism. It was a testimony to the purity of his descent, of which he was justly proud. Krishna Sao came of a long line of ancestors, men who boasted of possessing education and civilization when Waldingham’s ancestors were every whit as much men of the jungle as the Khonds; when the Englishman’s progenitors were groping darkly after the mysteries of the unknown Deity and finding terrible expression in sacrifices that resembled the meriahs of the hill tribes of India.

They stepped out at a steady pace, thinking little of the individuals who followed noiselessly behind them. They did not see Indra stumble as he climbed down a steep, rocky bit of the path; nor hear the smothered exclamation behind the hand that covered the mouth of every Khond who had witnessed it. At any other time the tripping of a foot would have passed unnoticed. Now it bore a significance that was full of serious import. It showed that the earth goddess was wakeful; and that she was watching for her opportunity to take what was her right.

The difficulties of their journey ended as soon as they reached a point above the village, from which they could look down upon the smiling little hamlet basking in the tropical rays of the morning sun.

Here the path became well defined and smooth with the tread of the coolies going to and from their work. The ground had been cleared; but patches of scrubby jungle still remained, clinging round huge boulders lying on the hill side.

As they passed one of these patches, a little spotted owl dashed blindly from a thorn bush and flew shrieking across their way.

“Another sign of bad luck in the eyes of the Khonds,” remarked Krishna Sao, observing the bird.

He glanced round and smiled as he noted how the men halted in their walk and talked among them.selves.

“Isn’t the owl a sign of bad luck to you as well?” asked Waldingham.

“Yes; and I suppose I ought to be duly impressed by its appearance; but it seems to me that it has come a little late in the day. I ought to have met it as we went out.”

“Would you have turned back?”

“If I could have guessed what our experience would have been, most assuredly I should have allowed you to go on your shooting excursion alone.”

“In which case I should have been drowned; for I could not have lifted Indra out of the water without assistance; and I could not have left him, having got him as far as the bank. Do you think those men would have seen me drown without raising a finger to help?”

“I am afraid they would as long as you retained a hold on Indra. They would have looked upon you as sacrificed to the desire of the earth goddess, and they would not have dared to help you.”

“Then I am very glad indeed that the owl did not appear,” said Waldingham.

“The ruling force that governs your fate favoured you at my expense and withheld the bird,” replied Krishna Sao.

Waldingham glanced at him, wondering how much he believed in the omens of his race, and how sceptical his education had made him. Did he believe that there was anything behind the accident? and how much in earnest was he when he had expressed his opinion that it would have been to his interest if Indra had been drowned? At any rate he was convinced that his superstition was not as great as that of the Khonds, and it would be an advantage that the rest of the village should hear Krishna Sao’s version of the tale.

“Come with me to Dondia Mazzu’s house,” he said, “and help me to explain how it all happened. I can’t speak Khond.”

“Nor can I to any great extent. I wonder how Dondia Mazzu will regard it?”

They found the headman in. He had only just returned from the island. Guruswamy was with him. The old pujari looked haggard and exhausted with his night of watching, and the subsequent ceremonies. It was evident that the sacrifice had been full of meaning for him; and that in the performance of all the rites he had been living in the past. The reaction was setting in, and the fire had died from his eyes. His limbs were limp and his head drooped.

Before Krishna Sao could finish his story, the Khonds, who had accompanied the sportsmen, burst in with a voluble account of what had happened. Their tale had a different effect from the zemindar’s.

Dondia listened in silence, his eyes dwelling on his son with a strange expression, into which awe crept as the Khonds talked. At the conclusion the headman folded his hands palm to palm and fell on the ground, unconsciously imitating the action of the hillmen when they saw Indra struggling in the water.

Guruswamy awoke from his abstraction as the words reached his ears and penetrated his brain. The fire returned to his eyes; and when Dondia prostrated himself before his son, the old pujari lifted his arms and hailed the young man in his own tongue as the chosen of the gods, blessed him, and prayed him in the name of the earth goddess to continue to live among them until she should claim him for her own. He was not to work and labour as they laboured, but was to live a life of ease as the adopted son of Tari Pennu.

Indra’s eyes were fixed upon Guruswamy with the expression of the mystic who hears the divine call. Fanaticism was kindled; and he believed that in the pujari’s voice he heard the voice of the goddess herself, bidding him dedicate himself to her. Again the hillmen prostrated themselves as they had prostrated themselves before the pig crucified upon the meriah post.

Waldingham was not satisfied with the turn matters had taken, and he was becoming impatient with what seemed to him pure childishness. He addressed Indra, and expressed a hope that he was not feeling any bodily discomfort from having been so nearly drowned. He received no answer; but Dondia rose to his feet and said something that he did not understand,

“What does he say?” he asked Krishna Sao.

“He hopes that no bad fortune will overtake the honourable Assistant Agent,” answered Krishna Sao, with his smile of detachment and toleration.

“I have no fear of evil. I suppose it is his way of expressing his gratitude for the rescue of his son.”

“Natives untouched by European influence never express gratitude,” remarked the zemindar.

“Because they feel none,” rejoined Waldingham quickly. “What they experience is a sense of gratification and satisfaction when benefits are conferred.”

“In this case I doubt if there is any satisfaction. They accept the circumstances because, like all of us, they are fatalists; but all the same they regard the whole affair as very serious. And what nation is there under the sun that does not look upon the thwarting of the Divine will as a grave offence, whether he be a Christian, a Muhammadan, a Hindu, or a follower of any other creed?”

They moved away and stepped on to the village green. From this point the camp on the hill came into view. As Waldingham caught sight of the white tents he stopped short. An elephant was descending the hill. It was not one of his own. On its back, seated in a howdah, were two people. One was a portly middle-aged Englishman in a shikar suit and a large sun topee. The other was a slim girlish figure that drooped under an umbrella. Her eyes were cast down, and she looked neither to the right nor the left. It conveyed to his mind an impression of despair and resignation. Suddenly his heart smote him for having forsaken her, and by his absence forged anew the fetters she had striven to break. Was there something more than mere accident in her visit? Had she in reality and almost unconsciously sought his protection from her lover, her parents, herself?

Somehow, Waldingham could not have explained why, the ceremony of the day before came back upon his mind with the suggestion of sacrifice. He smiled grimly as he connected Sir James’ title and wealth with the meriah post to which the victim was bound.

“There is your visitor departing. If you hurry to the belt of jungle at the foot of the hill you will catch him before he turns off towards the ghat,” said Krishna Sao.

“He was not my visitor,” replied Waldingham, with the Englishman’s instinctive dislike to leave any one under a wrong impression,

The zemindar made no further remark. His innate good breeding prevented further comment; but it could not keep back sundry thoughts or stop him from drawing conclusions. If the man was not the visitor, then it must have been the woman.

He watched the party with curiosity and studied the figure seated behind Sir James until they disappeared behind the trees. She was young. She could not be his sister, for he had none in India. He had run away from her; why? He, Krishna Sao, would not have run away from a woman in those jungles who was young and comely! On the contrary——. He smiled again to himself and gave up considering the incomprehensible Englishman whilst his thoughts wandered elsewhere.

When the elephant with its burden passed out of sight Waldingham moved forward and met Guruswamy’s granddaughter, who was returning from the river with a pot of water on her head. She carried herself erect, the dripping jar swinging smoothly with the movements of her hips. The water gently lapped the sides of the earthen vessel with a pleasant sound. Her hands were free. One lightly touched the beads upon her breast; the other moved in rhythm with her tread. As she approached, the hand on the necklace was raised to the forehead and she saluted the two men. The white teeth gleamed between the full lips, and the dark eyes were lifted to the Englishman’s face.

Waldingham’s thoughts were with Sir James and his companion. In the self-conscious Phulmoni, he only saw one of the women of the village; and he gave her the most cursory of glances as he passed. She noted his abstraction and avoided the eye of the zemindar, who not only read the indifference of his companion but also what was behind the girl’s glance. He stopped.

“I will bid you good morning, sir. I should like to find out from the headman when the villagers intend to return to their work.”

“Oh! Good morning, Krishna Sao. Come and see me again soon,” said Waldingham, still somewhat abstracted.

The zemindar turned sharply on his heel and followed the girl.

“Little avails it for the jungle bird to sigh for the notice of the peacock. She had better be contented with the grey bird that lives in the same tree,” he said as he came up with her.

She uttered no articulate word, but an exclamation, half contemptuous, half impatient, fell from her lips. It caught his ear and stung him. She was of a lower caste than himself.

“The royal bird mates with his own kind. He has no thought for the common birds of the jungle. Perhaps if one went to him in his loneliness, he might listen to her singing. As he walked in the forest this morning, he said that the granddaughter of Guruswamy was fairer than all the maids of the hills.”

By the time he had finished speaking he had overtaken and slowly passed her. He detected the quiver that shook her supple body as he uttered the last words, and he glanced round into her face with an expression of amusement as though his sense of humour was touched. She remained silent and he hung back to let fly yet another shaft,

“The jackal sought and found nothing in the bungalow. She should seek in the tent; not in the house.”

He continued his way without waiting for a reply. A casual observer would not have been aware that anything had passed between them unless he had overheard the sound of the man’s voice.

When Waldingham arrived at the top of the hill on which his camp was pitched, he was suddenly conscious of fatigue, and an unusual sense of depression for which he could not altogether account.

Sam, watching for his coming, hastened to meet him to report on the events of the night and morning. The missie had slept; he had watched outside the tent and had served her with tea as the sun rose. Just as she was about to start the big Bombay sahib arrived on his elephant. He had given the gentleman some tea and toast; and after a hasty meal they had departed.

“Did he make any remark or ask you any questions?” inquired the Assistant Agent,

“He said that I had acted quite properly, and he gave me five rupees.”

Waldingham wondered how much Rosabelle would tell Sir James. She could do as she pleased. The secret, if secret it was to be, was safe. He had a vague misgiving that the whole affair had been a failure; and for that very reason she would say nothing more than was necessary. Again the disagreeable thought thrust itself upon him that even in keeping her secret he was assisting at the immolation of an unwilling and innocent victim who was to suffer that others might profit.

*  *  *

Rosabelle had heard the shout of Sir James’ mahout with mixed feelings. The call was followed by the well-known accents of the big Bombay sahib, as Sam had termed him. He inquired if Miss Woodhurst was there. Whilst he dismounted she had breathing time to hide the surprise that she felt at his appearance, and she was able to greet him as she issued from the tent with composure. From her manner he might have supposed that she had been expecting him all the morning.

“I am so glad that you have brought the elephant. I was dreading the long journey to Russellkondah in the chair,” she said, as she answered his eager questions as to her health.

“You intended to go to Russellkondah, then?”

“To be sure. I have no wish to be lost in the jungle a second time, I can assure you. I had a most unpleasant, not to say anxious day, yesterday.”

“Not more anxious than I had after I discovered your absence from camp. I can’t think how it happened. Your mother could not enlighten me. She could not remember where she had last seen you.”

She gave him the story of her journey. It was identical with the tale she had told Waldingham, and strictly true. She had come to the point where she had arrived at the camp when Sam entered with tea for Sir James.

“I have brought your honour chota hazri. Will master stay and take big breakfast with missie?”

Sir James turned to Rosabelle, who replied instantly,

“We had better not wait. The butler has packed up some lunch. There will be enough for us both.”

“I gave the missie dinner last night,” continued Sam. “Master being out in the jungle, missie was able to use his tent. I ordered the syce to saddle the pony for missie to ride part of the way; but now it will not be wanted.”

“Where has your master gone?”

“On the other side of those hills,” replied Sam readily, pointing in an opposite direction to the one from which Sir James had come. “He went with the zemindar of Kotai, and they took beaters with them.”

“Tell your master that Miss Woodhurst is very much obliged for all that has been done.” Ten minutes later they were moving down the hill.

“How did you know that I was here?” asked Rosabelle, as soon as they had started.

“A hillman brought this letter early.”

He handed her a note written in a firm, clear hand. It purported to come from Sam, butler to his honour the Assistant Agent, who begged to inform his excellency, Sir James, that Miss Woodhurst had arrived at his master’s camp. The honourable Assistant Agent had gone on a shikar expedition. In his master’s absence he had done his best to make the missie comfortable. She would start for Russellkondah early the next morning.

“These south Indian servants speak and write English wonderfully well,” remarked Sir James.

She studied the firm writing, and kept her counsel.

“Their knowledge of English has its advantage. With this letter the butler was able to set your mind at rest. Was mother very anxious?”

“Not as anxious as I was. She could not realize the many dangers you ran. If I had only known how near you were, I should have come over last evening.”

“Near !” exclaimed Rosabelle.

“Barely eight miles. There is Tullamullee,” he said, pointing to a peak that rose behind the range forming the valley.

She did not know whether to be glad or sorry that he had been left in ignorance. If he had come he would have found Waldingham with her; and he might have suspected some design in her escapade. Under the circumstances he showed no other feeling but profound regret and concern that she had been lost in the jungle.

Throughout the long ride he was gentle and kind, showing her fatherly consideration at every turn. His kindness was a reproach. She repented of her revolt, and tried to make amends by a responding gentleness and docility.

Sir James, sitting in front and swaying with the movements of the big beast, had little opportunity of studying her face. Perhaps if he had seen the downward droop of the mouth and the hopelessness of the eyes, he might not have felt so complacent about the future.

Chapter XII

Krishna Sao went back to his bungalow to bathe, to say his prayers, to sit in contemplation for a short time, and to take his food according to the rules prescribed by his caste. Invocation, praise or prayer preceded every ceremony from the ablutions to the final sip of water that followed the excellent vegetable curry provided by his attendant. He repeated the prayers, ordained to be used throughout, with little thought of their meaning. Even the time he spent in orthodox contemplation was not a period of real introspection. There was no uplifting of the spirit, no drawing near with faith, no communion with a sympathetic, personal Father. The mind was made as nearly as possible a blank, and the brain was centred on the impersonal Power that pervaded the universe.

The prayer used constantly by all Hindus was repeated many times in a classical language, which even Krishna Sao with all his education could not understand, although he probably knew something of its meaning. It ran thus: “OM! Earth! Sky! Heaven! Let us meditate upon that excellent Vivifier, the Light Divine, which enlightens our understanding!” He did his best not to allow mundane thoughts to intrude themselves as his lips repeated the prayer. The discussions he had carried on with Waldingham were set aside, and his own lapse into humanitarianism was forgotten.

His religious duty was a thing set apart from moral life as it is known to the European. The performance of his religious ceremonies and the preservation of his caste constituted the whole of his moral duty. If he neglected these, it was not a sin against his impersonal Deity, but a sin against himself, for which he would have to suffer in the future by rebirth in a lower existence.

His prayers, ablutions and contemplation concluded, he was ready for his food, which was prepared and eaten in the kitchen. There was still a rite or two to perform. The image, representing the god his fathers had worshipped, was taken out of the little basket in which it was kept. His servant brought the required elements, water, sugar, camphor, oil, and sandalwood paste; and he bowed down and worshipped.

He was hungry after his morning’s walk; but this fact did not prevent him from making an oblation to the gods and praying that the food might benefit him. He sat upon a mat and he was served upon a plate made of leaves, which was afterwards thrown away. The meal was eaten in silence with closed doors; and it was finished with the repetition of another grace after a draught of water.

It was only on the conclusion of the meal—when he had washed his hands and drawn on his coat—that he permitted himself to think as the Englishman thinks; that is, to turn matters over in his mind and look at them in their different aspects. For religious thought with the Hindus is but a blank stagnation of the reasoning sense. The mind is centred on a fixed and unchangeable point that lulls it into complete inactivity. If carried to excess the exercise may produce self-hypnotism and an ecstasy, which has a demoralizing effect upon the mental equilibrium.

The zemindar had nothing of the mystic in his nature and was not in the least likely to exceed in any religious exercise. He turned readily to a subject that was in every respect mundane. His curiosity was raised as to the extent and depth of Waldingham’s religion.

The English professor of his early days practised his religion by attending his church every Sunday. In the eyes of the Hindu this church-going was the equivalent of the daily ablutions and prayers that filled his own life. Waldingham did not go to church, for the excellent reason that there was no church to attend in the jungle. What ceremonies did the Englishman use to replace the attendance at church? As far as could be discovered by observation, he used none. Was this because he cared very little for his religion? It could not be the case, His effort to save the Khond was founded on the teaching of his Christ-God.

There was another point that puzzled Krishna Sao; and which raised his curiosity intensely. This was the moral constitution of the Englishman. Only ascetics—yogis and fakirs—could claim to have the human emotions under complete control. This victory over self was not to be attained except after a long course of austerities, contemplation and religious rites. The Englishman could not possibly have killed all desire by either of the two methods practised by the yogis—over-indulgence or atrophy by austere deprivation.

He was confident that Waldingham was constituted precisely like himself. The white skin made no difference whatever in the senses. The pangs of hunger and thirst must be felt in the same proportion by the man of the West as by the man of the East. It was claimed for the West with its higher civilization that men suffered more acutely from their emotions than the less refined races. It was impossible to suppose that Waldingham did not suffer from his appetites every whit as much as he, Krishna Sao, did; yet they were held under control and curbed. The Hindu was not in ignorance as to why they were thus controlled. It was at the dictates of a religion, which in his heart of hearts Krishna Sao regarded with a certain measure of contempt, that human nature was kept within bounds. The Englishman’s religion forbade him to indulge in any appetite to excess, and instructed him to regulate his life according to prescribed moral rule. That this teaching was not always followed he was well aware; and it made it more difficult for him to believe in Waldingham’s integrity.

Religion did not interfere with the indulgence on the part of Krishna Sao of any appetite or desire that was prompted by nature; and he found it hard to understand why it should interfere with the Englishman’s rule of life—so difficult was it of comprehension that he doubted the evidence of his senses. Was it possible that Waldingham played a deep and cunning part? Would he stand firm under fierce temptation? The zemindar smiled sceptically. He would like to test him and find out for himself if, under pressure, he would succumb.

It was about half-past two o’clock when he sallied forth into the village to inquire about the workpeople. He had been indulgent over the defection caused by the sacrifice. He considered that a couple of days were sufficient to restore their balance and bring them back to their duties on the slopes of the hills. They should be ready to muster in full force not later than dawn on the following day.

He went first to Dondia’s house; but the headman was not at home. The village panwa or merchant had arrived at noon, he was told, and the headman had gone to transact business with him under the big cotton tree, where the market was held weekly.

He strolled on to the further end of the village, and found a concourse of people, men, women, and children, beneath the spreading branches of the patriarchal tree. They were gathered round the old Hindu panwa, who combined in his person the trade of weaver with the itinerary hawking of goods up and down the ghats.

He had just returned from one of his periodical visits to the plains, whither he had carried the surplus grain, tobacco, gall-nuts, ginger, turmeric, bees-wax and honey of the Khonds. In exchange he had brought them salt and dried fish, together with various foreign articles that were becoming more in request as each year passed—small looking-glasses, combs, bangles, beads and betel-bags of bright-coloured chintz that served as pockets for the women. There were knives and axeheads for the men; and for the old Guruswamy the panwa had brought a wonderful pair of horn spectacles that he had purchased in the bazaar at the town of Ganjam.

The young men and women tried on the glasses; but they put them off hastily. The lens made their eyes water. When Guruswamy adjusted them on his nose, and declared with vehemence that was convincing that his sight had returned, they regarded him with awe. It was not the glasses themselves that had restored his sight, but his own magical power. By the aid of the mysterious Force, whose exponent he was, he had endued the spectacles with virtue. From thenceforth the glasses were sacred to the use of the old pujari, whose curse would fall on the daring hand that touched them.

Krishna Sao mingled with the crowd, listening idly to the gossip of the men who had driven the loaded bullocks up the ghat. There was news on both sides to be retailed as the mats were spread for the display of the newly imported treasures. The wonderful story of the revived meriah rites over the sacrifice of the pig was even more entrancing to the listeners, who had missed the ceremony, than the tales they brought of the great world that lay at the foot of the hills.

Dondia Mazzu exercised his privilege of adjusting and settling affairs between the villagers and the trader; and he had his hands full for the whole of the afternoon. His son, accompanied by other young men, examined the knives and axes with a critical eye, as they demanded news from the men in charge. Nothing could be taken without consultation with the old trader; but selections might be made.

“The police were busy when we left. They had much private talk with the panwa,” said one of the coolies.

“What was it?” asked Indra. “A murder or a robbery of jewels?”

“It was neither. A big rajah, the Rajah of Ellanore, has lost his son. A few weeks ago the boy and his mother, the Ranee, were walking near a hill path. A big strong trader came down upon them like an eagle upon a field rat. The boy was carried away shrieking; and the mother, hurt with her struggles to keep the boy, was left fainting. The next day she drowned herself in the well.”

The tale had already suffered by repetition.

“What did your master say?

“That the screams must have come from the eagles sailing in the sky, and that the Ranee lied. What do panwas want with children nowadays? Has not the English Government abolished the meriah? In the old time it was one of the duties of the panwa to steal children for that purpose. Now what good are they? They would only make more mouths to feed in the village if we had them.”

“What said the police?”

“That the child was undoubtedly stolen, and that it must be found. These are the words of the Rajah, and he is too great a man to be contradicted.”

“The rich man’s word is always true,” remarked Indra as he strode away moodily.

He was not greatly interested in the tale, his thoughts being occupied with another matter. He had more than once begged his father to choose him a wife; and he had mentioned the granddaughter of Guruswamy as being suitable, Dondia put him off with vague excuses, and a promise to comply with his wishes later on. This was not the season for marriage. When the crops were harvested and the work finished for the zemindar, he would talk about it.

Meanwhile Phulmoni moved about the village unfettered by any restraining rule of the purdah. In the opinion of Indra she was not behaving like a modest maiden, although he could bring no definite charge against her of having outraged the proprieties. It was her general bearing of independence that roused his ire. Her aunt was too much occupied in household duties and in attending to the wants of Guruswamy—querulous and exacting in his old age—to look after her niece. Indra considered that as her future husband he had a right to be jealous of the liberty she exercised.

Krishna Sao watched him with the smile of the disinterested observer that was peculiar to the zemindar when his mind was not concentrated upon a directly personal matter. He could see that he found no favour in the eyes of the girl. He was equally alive to the fact that his own advances, less honourable than those of Indra, had been rejected. He had recovered his disappointment since it had been merely a passing fancy; but it had left behind it a sting that gave rise to a desire for some small revenge, some act that should make her smart in her turn. As he glanced after the figure of the young Khond, he came to the conclusion that his little shaft could not be launched through him.

“He ought to have been the son of Guruswamy, the sacrificial instinct is strong within him. His eyes are the eyes that see visions, and his ears hear the voice of the deity. Women are not attracted by the devotees of the gods; and the thoughts of Guruswamy’s granddaughter fly elsewhere.”

He glanced towards the spot where Phulmoni leaned over a mat, on which were laid out some gleaming bangles and ornaments of brass. The smile on his lips broadened slightly as a suggestion presented itself to his mind. He drew nearer and overheard the old aunt speaking in tones of annoyance.

“Jewels are not for such a troublesome girl as thou art. There will be time enough to purchase them when arrangements have been made between Dondia Mazzu and the grandfather.”

Phulmoni picked up a string of old brass beads strung upon a yellow cord. They shone with the lustre and colour of gold, so subtly had the brass worker mingled the metals. She fingered the smooth oblong baubles with a lingering desire that annoyed the old woman.

“It is useless to waste time in vain wishes. There are many articles to be taken in exchange for the honey and wax and oil that we entrusted to the panwa. The glasses alone will eat up all the honey. They are as costly as jewels. Come away, girl. It is folly to let the heart melt away with desire that cannot be fulfilled.”

Phulmoni shrugged her bare shoulders, and the brown satin skin gleamed like the beads in the flecks of sunlight that filtered through the foliage. She did not follow the old dame, as the latter hobbled off to the spot where Guruswamy was bargaining for a fair and liberal exchange with the trader of the produce entrusted to his care. Two or three villagers stood by waiting their turn of huckstering. Dondia, aware that his services as umpire would be required until sunset, had seated himself on a grass mat. He remained silent until the bargaining had been fined down, and demand and offer approached within measurable distance. The final decision was in his hands, and they abided by his decree without further argument. As soon as one case was settled another came on, beginning as before with extravagant demands and ridiculous offers.

Phulmoni ran the beads through her fingers with a true feminine love of jewellery, handling them with the same affection as that with which European women handle pearls. The pretty Khond girl found the necklace of barbaric beads every whit as alluring as the finest pearls, and she could not bring herself to drop them back upon the mat.

A voice at her side startled her, and the beads fell with a metallic ring at her feet. The man in charge reached out a long arm, picked them up and laid them out in the centre of the mat. A ray of sunlight caught the necklace and turned it to gold.

“It is a pretty ornament, and would look well on the neck of any woman,” said Krishna Sao, in a low voice.

“If given by my grandfather it would suit me,” replied the girl with a toss of the head.

“Or by the big sahib up yonder in the tent.”

She shot a swift glance at him, and half turned away.

“The sahib has no need of jewellery,” she said defiantly.

“He would have it thought so. The tiger does not proclaim its intentions to the doe when he would stalk her. This morning as he walked with me down the hill, he said that the neck of Guruswamy’s granddaughter was made to carry many strings of beads; and he asked me where such beads could be bought. I told him that the panwa would bring some. The rupees that fill his pocket were ready to hand. It is not seemly that he should come into the village and drive bargains with the panwa. When I offered to do it for him, the rupees were brought forth instantly. See; I have them here.”

He showed her a handful of shining silver coins, no common sight among a people who exchanged their produce in kind. She glanced at them attracted yet distrustful.

“The peacock lives alone and thinks not of the jungle bird,” she replied in his own words.

“He lives alone, but his loneliness makes him sad. A little company—at the right time, and in the right place, when no one is near——”

Some chattering girls had also been attracted by the sight of the beads and they drew near to inspect them more closely. One of them took up the necklace and laid it on her brown bosom. The bright yellow beads harmonised with the tint of the skin, and were as becoming to her in their way as the white pearl is to the neck of the fair woman of the West.

A sudden fit of jealousy seized Phulmoni. She could not bear to see the coveted beads on any other neck than her own. She felt inclined to snatch at them, and wrest them from the grasp of the ugly maiden, who was beaming with smiles in her fancied possession.

“My father will buy them for my wedding,” asserted the girl with confidence. “There is a bullock that will be ready for the panwa next time he goes to the plains. He may as well let us have the beads; he can take the bullock when he is ready for it.”

“Other things have to be bought for a wedding besides beads,” said another girl.

“We have plenty for all,” replied the ambitious maid, with a pride that caused Phulmoni another pang of envious jealousy.

She knew that the boast was without a proper foundation; the girl could not speak with certainty that the necklace would be bought by her father; yet the bare possibility of its passing out of her reach and into the possession of another was disturbing. It was still more so when the beads were presently thrown down with a depreciatory remark that deceived no one. Depreciation of goods exposed for sale in the East is always understood to be the first step towards making an offer and entering into a long course of bargaining.

Krishna Sao extended his hand. “Let me look at the necklace,” he said.

All eyes were turned upon him and the babbling tongues were silenced. Phulmoni, with her head thrown back after her wont, strolled away, and wandered towards the spot where Guruswamy, with the assistance of his daughter, was making his selection of dried fish according to his compact with the panwa.

Krishna Sao glanced after her with amusement. He was no longer in doubt that the opportunity would soon be given for testing the hold that religion exercised upon the Englishman; and for discovering whether he would stand firm or whether the promptings of human nature would prevail.

Later in the afternoon the prospective bride decoyed her father to the mat of jewellery. The necklace of brass beads was gone. Another lay in its place, neither so rich in colour nor so handsome in shape.

It was a cloudy night, and there was a threatening of rain in the air. The young moon in the west was hidden in a bank of cloud. Krishna Sao, with no thought of being a traitor, no sense of shame in playing the part of spy, crept up the little hill on which the camp was pitched. Five minutes before he had seen a dark shadow precede him. It stealthily approached the tent in which the Assistant Agent slept. Once more he caught sight of the form, as the intruder stood for some seconds to listen to the regular breathing of the sleeping man inside. The fly of the tent was gently drawn aside and the figure disappeared.

The zemindar quickened his steps and moved noiselessly round to the other side opposite to the entrance. From this position he could hear what was said inside the tent.

There was silence. The soft rainy wind blew in gusts, and the leaves of the trees overhead responded with a rustle that gradually died away with the lulling of the breeze. Beetles hummed and grasshoppers chirruped in the grass. High above the trees nightbirds passed on silent wing and called to each other in their flight. Moths fluttered stupidly against the watcher, and realizing their mistake dashed wildly away.

The regular breathing stopped suddenly and a voice, startled and confused, called for a light. There was a little cry as of some frightened creature captured and made prisoner. A third call for Sam, sharp and imperative, brought the butler from the office-tent where he was sleeping. He carried a lantern that he kept burning all night, and he ran hastily to his master’s tent. He had not stayed to put on his cap, but with shaven head and blanket wrapped round him, the faithful servant obeyed the summons.

As he came to the entrance Waldingham emerged leading Phulmoni by the arm,—Phulmoni sullen and ill-tempered, somewhat puzzled, and a little frightened at the unexpected course events had taken. He looked into her face by the light of the lamp. There was a slight pause, as though he required a moment to gather together his scattered senses; and then he said in clear distinct tones that reached the ears of the curious listener—

“This woman has come with a message from her grandfather. I cannot go and see him now. It is too late. Let one of the peons carry the lantern and take her back to the village.”

He released the arm he was holding, and uttered the word “Go” in the Khond tongue. His tone was stern and severe, and the girl understood it. A dull anger was burning within her, and it found expression in action. She tore at the necklace resting on her bare bosom and cast it at his feet with a little cry, half of anger, half of fear.

Sam caught it up quickly; and, hustling her away from the tent, literally drove her in the direction of the village. Sulkily she walked in front; patiently he followed close at her heels. He would trust the business to no peon. Sam was neither blind nor deaf; and he gave a pretty shrewd guess at the reason of her presence. He was puzzled all the same. It was impossible to believe that she would have dared so much without some kind of encouragement; and it was equally impossible, knowing his master as he did, to believe that the least shadow of encouragement had been given.

They passed into the belt of jungle that clothed the foot of the knoll. As they emerged close to the village they encountered Phulmoni’s aunt, who gripped the girl by the arm with mixed feelings of anger and relief. Sam threw the necklace of brass beads into the hands of the truant and turned back without a word. As he passed his master’s tent Waldingham’s voice hailed him. The Englishman had solved in his own mind the mystery of his nocturnal visitor in Krishna Sao’s bungalow.

“To-morrow morning be up in good time. We will move to the other side of Tullamullee.”

“Very good, sir,” was the reply given in a voice that showed cheerful and ready acquiescence.

When all was quiet the zemindar returned to his bungalow. He was thoughtful and, on the whole, satisfied.

“It is difficult to believe, even though I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears. Though they have no caste, no ablutions, no rites as we have, their God holds them with a strong hand.”

From the direction of Guruswamy’s hut came sounds of distress and anger, with railing and vituperation. The Khonds have their own way of punishing girls who abuse their liberty. Phulmoni received a salutary lesson at the hands of her tired old relative, who stood to her in the place of a mother. Krishna Sao on his way home heard the noise with a feeling of satisfaction. The pride of the belle of the village had been humbled, and her slight of his advances was revenged.

The morning broke grey and cloudy. The spirits of the villagers rose, and they forgot their regret over the salvation of Indra by the Englishman. The heavy downpour that followed soon after daybreak was an evidence that Tari Pennu had not hidden her face in wrath; and they were ready at the bidding of their headman to take up the work of felling and clearing and planting in the new rubber plantations.

Chapter XIII

Sir James left Russellkondah without speaking. Once or twice he seemed on the verge of declaring what was very close to his heart; but each time he contemplated the attempt, his mind misgave him. Something in Rosabelle’s manner deterred him. She was, if anything, sweeter than ever, ready to listen and talk, almost too deferential, too submissive in her attitude. Once in conversation Waldingham’s name was mentioned, and Sir James inquired, with his eyes unconsciously bent upon Rosabelle, how soon he would be back from his camping expedition.

“Not for another two or three months,” said Mrs. Woodhurst. “He usually turns up some time in June. This is March.”

“Is he taking long leave, this year?”

“Not that I know of.”

“I understood that he was going to England to be married;—at least, that is the station gossip, as perhaps you know,” he concluded apologetically.

Rosabelle’s eyes were upon the piece of fancy work that she held in her fingers. She was looking pale; the glowing vitality, that was one of her chief charms, was not as apparent as usual. Her cheek remained colourless, and she seemed as though she had not heard his remark.

“No one quite knows the true facts about that engagement,” said Mrs. Woodhurst, dropping into a confidential tone. “It is some kind of promise made to his mother, added to a little flirtation and fun between himself and a cousin, who inherits the ancestral acres. Many a marriage has come to pass with a beginning as slight as this; but whether there is any serious intention in this case it is impossible to say.”

Sir James was satisfied that no attachment existed on the part of Rosabelle. He did his best, as far as his innate refinement would allow him, to discover if he had any rivals either at Russellkondah or at home; but there seemed to be none. If he had no rivals, why need he fear discomfiture? Yet instinct told him that no words of his could bring the love light into her eyes or the tell-tale colour to her cheek. So he departed without confiding his hopes to herself or her mother.

“We may meet in May at Ootacamund,” he said, as he held the hand of his hostess and thanked her for her hospitality. “I shall spend the hot weather there for the sake of the hunting. If you and Miss Woodhurst happen to be on the hills at the same time, I shall be glad to lend her a mount.”

The wife of the Assistant Superintendent of Police looked up at him with a gleam of gratitude in her anxious eyes.

“If my husband is well enough for me to leave him, I may be able to manage it.” She glanced at Rosabelle. “It would be more for my daughter’s sake than my own. She needs a change now and then.”

“It would be better still if she could go to England—and remain there,” he added as an after thought. Then taking refuge in generalities he continued, “India is not a country for young people, it tries the strongest of them.”

Presently he bade them good-bye and departed. When he was gone Mrs. Woodhurst sighed deeply and unconsciously. The girl heard it with a sinking of heart known to herself. She understood its origin and all that it implied. They were alone, Woodhurst having gone on one of his rounds of inspection in the district. After an interval of silence, Mrs. Woodhurst said—

“Rosabelle, dear child, I hope you made a good lunch. I was obliged to have the fish and the game cooked in the middle of the day on account of Sir James. We can manage without them for dinner to-night, as your father is not at home.”

These petty economies practised in secret were deadening in their effect upon a light, joyous temperament like Rosabelle’s. They seemed fetters that linked her to a sordidness that her soul abhorred. She hated plain work; and she detested with her whole heart any garment made by herself. She could have stitched willingly enough at shirts for poor Eurasian boys; but to cut out and plan and sew in secret for herself, as her mother desired, to save the expense of a dirzee, was repugnant and distasteful. To wear the garment with an air of having received it from a good English dressmaker went still more against the grain.

In the same way she disliked the small economies that entered into her mother’s housekeeping.

“You must try and make that bodice look as if it had just come out from home,” said her mother, as she examined the work Rosabelle had produced. “I noticed that Mrs. Devonport was wearing a number of buttons of the same material. Luckily I have kept the foundations of those that came off my heliotrope dress.”

“Oh, mother!” murmured Rosabelle, in the last stage of suppressed exasperation. How she loathed it all!

“Well, dear?” said Mrs. Woodhurst in mild surprise. “You must give a little time to these matters. Clothes won’t make themselves. They are worth a little sacrifice of time and trouble. You mustn’t think that life is to be all pleasure, with no responsibilities, no duties. Life is full of duty, especially the life of a wife and mother.”

“Duty!” thought Rosabelle in a rebellious spirit. “Duty is another name for sacrifice.”

As if her mother divined what was in her mind she continued.

“Every woman has to sacrifice herself if she would fulfil her mission. She cannot be a good wife without self-forgetfulness, self-devotion. She certainly cannot be a good mother without the constant consideration of another’s welfare before her own; and the sacrifice of herself and her inclinations on behalf of that other. We all go through with it generation after generation. We begin from the earliest times by giving way to our brothers and sisters; and we continue it to the end of our lives in our devotion to our husbands and our children.”

There was a pause, during which Rosabelle stitched to the chink, chink of the coppersmith bird in the neem tree near the bungalow. Among the branches of the mango trees at the end of the compound, the koil, one of the Indian cuckoos, repeated its insistent note. Interpreted by her present mood it seemed to be uttering a running chorus to her mother’s moralization.

“Sacrifice! sacrifice!! sacrifice!!!” it said, raising its voice with each repetition till it literally screamed the word into her brain.

“I hope one day to see you happily married,” continued Mrs. Woodhurst, in placid ignorance of the tension of the girl’s nerves.

“You have been a good daughter, Rosabelle; you will make a good wife and a conscientious mother, or you are no child of mine. I don’t want to hurry you into marriage; but I do want you to understand that life is not a rosy path of pleasure, where you may wander at will, choosing only what takes your fancy, and rejecting what may appear dull and colourless.”

Rosabelle lifted her eyes from her work, and there was a spark of remonstrance in them as she said.

“I don’t wish to give up my liberty just now.”

The hot weather bird burst into another series of shrieks. “Sacrifice! sacrifice!! sacrifice!!!” it cried.

“I don’t think you realize what you mean,” continued her mother in a voice that seemed akin to the voice of the koil. “Your liberty here in your father’s house is not obtained without its price, which is the economy that you have to practise. If you marry a man with money, you never need touch a needle or eat a dinner prepared with economy. Believe me that there is nothing in this world that has not its penalty and its reward. Even your dances cannot be enjoyed except at the cost of your strength. Fatigue and lethargy are the result. There are always compensations for all sacrifices made for the good of others. The mother is more than compensated by the joy she feels in her children.”

“And the wife?”

“In the love and devotion of her husband.”

Rosabelle thought of the love and devotion that such a man as Sir James might be capable of showing; how he might strew costly roses in the path of life, and fill it with constant sweetness. The vision was alluring, but there was something within her that revolted—not against the attainment of material luxuries from such a man, but against the price that would have to be paid. Instinctively and without consciousness youth cried to youth and refused to be satisfied with age. The subjective, subconscious self, whose two instincts are self-preservation and the propagation of its species, revolted against the imposition by the objective conscious self of any other law than the natural law, and refused to accept any mate but the one selected by instinct.

To Rosabelle’s intense relief a note was brought in and handed to her. It was from one of the ladies of the station to ask if she would join in a game of tennis. Gladly, she put away her work and ran off to her room to dress. Her mother’s eyes followed her with a wistful expression unseen by the girl. Fleeting doubts assailed the anxious woman. Was she doing right to press on the matter? It meant so much to them all. There was just money enough in the bank to take her husband home by a cheap route; but there was not enough to pay the passage of the daughter as well. If it came to a crisis and her husband was ordered to England, two courses were presented, one of which Rosabelle would have to follow; to marry, or to take a situation as a governess until her father could return and once more offer her a home.

Would Sir James make the proposal? Not unless she followed him to the hills. By hook or by crook she must manage to accomplish her visit to Ootacamund, and trust to Providence that her daughter would be brought to see the matter in the right light.

The cry of the koil came from the mango trees; but Mrs. Woodhurst could not interpret its constant reiteration.

“Sacrifice! sacrifice!! sacrifice!!!”

Chapter XIV

At the end of March Woodhurst came in from the district for a week. He wanted to see his wife and daughter before they left for Ootacamund; and he had business to transact with the Rajah of Ellanore.

The heir had been discovered, not in the hills among the Khonds, but on the coast at Ganjam. The tale told was circumstantial and complete. The child had wandered as the mother suggested; and had been found climbing the hill by a panwa travelling with his string of bullocks and his coolies. Seeing no one near to claim him, he carried the child on with him to the village in the hills from which he had come. There he remained until the season came round for the usual departure to the plains. The little boy was perfectly happy in the family of the panwa, and seemed to thrive in the keen hill air.

As he did not wish to adopt him altogether, he carried the boy back to Ganjam, and made many inquiries after his relatives. None were to be found; so he handed him over to the childless wife of a merchant, who took a fancy to him and offered to adopt him. So pleased was she with her bargain that she gave the trader a present of thirty rupees.

The Rajah offered to produce the man later in the year. The trader had been obliged to return to the hills with his purchases, that he might keep faith with the Khonds of his village. In the meantime the Rajah had procured a written testimony to the story, and an accurate description of the child found by the panwa, which corresponded in every respect with the description given by the Ranee of her lost son. The tale was further confirmed by the production of a small jewel, which the Rajah himself had presented to the child on his second birthday. This had fortunately been preserved by the panwa among his family treasures. The goldsmith who made it was hunted up, and swore to its identity.

In addition the mother of the boy was brought, and gave her testimony. All the witnesses were examined by Woodhurst, who questioned each apart, without being able to find a flaw in the evidence. The mother swore positively that she recognized her son without doubt. In the arm-pit of the right arm there was a birth-mark. It was in the shape of a crescent, and was stamped upon the brown skin in a dull blue-black colour. This mark was borne by the young man who accompanied the Rajah. The Assistant Superintendent of Police could see it for himself if he would condescend to look.

The woman who had adopted the boy told her tale, and it corroborated all that the panwa had said. In fact the history was complete in every detail; and for the present Woodhurst could not do otherwise than accept it. His own men assured him repeatedly that there was no mistake. The discovery had been quite easy as soon as the loss of the boy was made known. If the Ranee had invited the assistance of the police when the loss occurred, she would have recovered her son immediately; but for reasons already related she had hidden the truth, and made a false statement about accidental drowning. It was a foolish thing to do, said the officers of the law. The child might have been carried off to Calcutta or Bombay, in which case it would have been lost for ever. In Ganjam the difficulty of tracing him had not been great, especially as no secret had been made by the wife of the merchant of his having been a waif.

The young man, who accompanied the Rajah, bore a family likeness to his new-found father. He was not without education, being destined to follow the trade of his adopted parent; and his manners were gentle if tinged slightly with servility. He was pleased with the turn of Fortune’s wheel, by which he was raised from the merchant’s office to the inheritance of a title and an estate. The Rajah was delighted, and seemed as though he could not make enough of him. The richest embroidered coat, the finest jewels, the most magnificent turban had been brought out of the family chests to clothe and adorn his person. As he sat in the drawing-room of the Assistant Superintendent of Police, his father could not take his admiring eyes from him.

At the Rajah’s bidding the garments were laid aside and the birthmark was displayed. The Ranee, her saree drawn over her head, swore to it, describing it in every detail. In length it was three fingers deep; she laid her hand over it and her three fingers covered it exactly. Its breadth in the fullest part was one finger. Again she illustrated her description by placing her finger against the crescent. Ah! indeed! he was her son, her only son, restored to her by the good will of the gods. She cracked the joints of her knuckles over his head to avert evil from her beloved one.

“For the present the matter must remain as it is,” said Woodhurst, when the inquiry was at an end. “I must make further investigations and send the evidence to the Assistant Agent before we can recommend his honour to certify to Government that the identity of your new-found son is established.”

“I have no fear that every thing will be satisfactorily proved,” replied the Rajah, confidently.

“Meanwhile there is nothing to prevent you and your household from receiving the young man as your son. I am afraid your nephew will not be best pleased.”

A gleam of malice lighted up the eye of the Rajah as he answered—

“I have no sympathy with him and his disappointment. He showed none to me when my other son died. I assure you, Mr. Woodhurst, that he is a low fellow with depraved habits and vices that make him utterly unworthy of being my heir. For the sake of my family and the people of my estate, I am thankful that they have been spared the future infliction of such a ruler as he would prove himself.”

He spoke with a vehemence that was unusual in one of his position, and his words were convincing.

No sooner had the Rajah driven away in state with his escort of outriders, followed by a couple of broughams containing the women, than the disinherited nephew appeared and asked for an audience with the Assistant Superintendent of Police. He was excited and voluble.

The Rajah’s story was false; utterly false from beginning to end. The child had been drowned, as the Ranee had originally declared. His body had been found by a herdsman a couple of miles down the river, where the stream had carried it and deposited it upon a sandbank. The man had taken the ornaments from the corpse and then thrown it into mid-stream. There was rain that night, and a freshet carried the body still further down the river into deeper water, where it was lost. This young man, produced from the bazaar of Ganjam, was the son of a half-sister of the woman who claimed to have purchased him from the panwa. The sister died, and the little boy was sent in charge of the panwa to Ganjam, and a sum of money was given to the trader for having executed the commission. It was all quite plain and simple, and could easily be proved in every detail.

Woodhurst observed that there was a likeness between the Rajah and his new-found son.

“It is natural that there should be a likeness,” replied the nephew. “The mother of the boy was an illegitimate daughter of the old Rajah.”

“Can you produce any of the jewels said to be found on the body of the boy by the herdsman?” asked Woodhurst.

“Here is a silver bangle. Show it to my uncle’s wife, and see what she says.”

He took from his pocket a handsome silver anklet, shaped like a snake, with two heads instead of a tail, and handed it to him.

This is a trick, I assure you, sir,” continued the Hindu, earnestly. “My uncle hates me. I have been educated in Calcutta; he has had no education at all. I can ride and manage a horse; he would fall out of the saddle at the first step a horse took. I can hold a rifle and shoot straight; I can use a sword with effect; he knows no more of the use of weapons than one of his zenana women. Therefore is he jealous of me, and afraid lest I should supplant him in the affections of his people. He hates me with a deadly hatred that would compass my death if he dared to bring it about; but he dare not. He is a coward as well as a thief and a liar, and he has deceived you. I beg of you, sir, to make more inquiries. Ask how much money the foster-mother has received to induce her to give up her adopted son. Ask how much your own men have received to back up the tale. Above all, show the anklet to my uncle’s wife, and see what she says at the sight of it.”

The perplexed officer dismissed the disappointed man with promises to investigate thoroughly every detail, and to leave no stone unturned to sift the evidence. He further informed him that the Agent would not be easily satisfied, and that nothing would be done in a hurry. Mr. Waldingham, the Assistant Agent, did not return to the cantonment until June. The affair must be brought to his notice before it was sent on to the higher authorities.

The following day Woodhurst went himself to the Rajah’s house. No obstacle was placed in the way of his admission; and after a delay of ten minutes, during which he was left by himself in a room bare of furniture except for two or three chairs, some mats and cushions, the Ranee appeared.

He spoke her language and had no difficulty in making himself understood. He began by asking her a few unimportant questions which she answered after a little hesitation. His chief object was to restore confidence. Then without a word of warning he produced the silver anklet and laid it in her shrinking hand. She stared at it as though a message had come to her from the grave. He began to question her, but she fell to weeping over the jewel and moaning “My son! my baby! my little lost son!

In vain he asked when she had last seen the anklet; where it was lost; whether the child was wearing it when she missed him. He could get nothing out of her; and in despair he took the jewel out of her limp fingers before she was aware of his intention, and replaced it in his pocket. There was no doubt in his mind of her recognition of it. When it was removed from her sight she became more coherent and checked her tears.

“You recognize the anklet as having belonged to your son?” he asked with the patience that is necessary with the uneducated.

“Aiyoh! I remember the day he lost it.”

Woodhurst looked keenly at her, as though he would penetrate the very depths of her mind.

“The day when he fell in the river,” he said.

She gave him a frightened look, her suspicions suddenly roused, and she relapsed into silence. It was useless to question her further. Some vague dread held her mute.

The news of the police officer’s arrival had been carried to the Rajah, who hastened from his apartments to the reception-room, into which Woodhurst had been shown. As he entered he cast a glance of sharp inquiry at his wife.

“Have you discovered anything further?” asked the Rajah, after a moment’s silence.

“Nothing of any importance. I wished to ask the Ranee one or two questions, but she seems unable to reply.”

“Perhaps I could give you the information you require. Though my wife is not purdahshin, she lives a very retired life and is highly nervous in the presence of strangers.”

Woodhurst felt that it would be diplomatic to formulate some questions giving sufficient excuse for his visit without having to produce the anklet.

“I should like to know why she did not tell the true story of the loss of the child in the first instance. What object had she in concealing the facts?”

“She was afraid that I should blame her for having wandered so far from home. It was an irregular act; I should not have permitted her to go to the foot of the hills unattended, had I known her intentions; but she shall speak for herself.”

He turned and addressed a few words to her, and bade her tell the Assistant Superintendent all that she could remember, and keep nothing back.

Woodhurst cross-examined her closely about her actions on the day of her loss. Encouraged by her husband she gave once more the details of the day, from the time of starting to the moment of her return. Woodhurst could not succeed in shaking her testimony or in catching her in a single contradiction of herself.

“And you feared at first that he had fallen into the river.”

“No; I was too far from the river. I was close to the foot of the hills,” she said with more decision than she had hitherto shown.

The Rajah nodded his head with approval, and she took courage to reply at greater length to the next question.

“Did you go to the river sometimes?”

“I often went, because the boy loved the water. He would stand in the shallow pools and call to the birds, but his heart was towards the hills, and his eyes were often fixed on their jungle-covered heads. They spoke to him and he understood, just as he understood the talk of the birds and beasts. It was not to the river that he wandered when he left me, but to the hills.”

The Ranee’s persistence in her story was somehow convincing. If it had been an invention there must have been a slight a slight inaccuracy here and there in the minor details. Woodhurst was satisfied that he had obtained all the information that could be drawn from her for the present. He put a few questions to the Rajah before leaving, without letting him know that any accusations had been made against him by the nephew.

“How has the foster-mother taken her loss of the boy she adopted?” he asked casually, as though in idle curiosity.

“She knows that it is for his good, so she has accepted her fate.” Here the Rajah smiled with a cunning gleam in his eye as he contemplated his visitor. “Of course, I have not taken him away without compensation, if money and jewellery can compensate for such a loss. I have given her several sums of money,” continued the Rajah with a frankness that was calculated to disarm any suspicion of bribery. “Possibly I may give her more if my son wishes it. He is much attached to her as, indeed, he ought to be; for she has shown him a mother’s care. I have also rewarded the men who were instrumental in restoring the boy to me.”

If Woodhurst had not had a long experience of the Oriental mind, he might have felt slightly embarrassed by this frank confession. Under the circumstances it merely informed him of the fact that the Rajah was fully aware of the accusations made against him by his relative. Woodhurst’s face betrayed nothing, and he asked no questions as to the sum of money given. In fact, he seemed utterly indifferent to the action of the Rajah in this matter, and the latter supposed that his mind was occupied with other thoughts.

“What dress was the child wearing on the day you lost him?” he asked of the Ranee, who remained standing as she waited for the word of dismissal from her husband.

“He had on a black velvet cap embroidered with gold; coat and trousers of dark blue satin, and English shoes.”

She glanced at her husband with a deprecating look as much as to say, “I hope I have given the correct reply.”

“Was he wearing any bangle or anklet?”

There was a slight pause and she shifted her position with a nervous movement that did not escape the eyes of the men.


“What other jewellery did he wear besides the gold jewel given by his father?”

“He—he had a bangle on the right arm,” she replied in a hesitating manner, as though her memory failed her in this respect.

“Can you recall its shape and pattern?”

“It was probably in the form of a snake with two heads instead of a tail,” replied the Rajah for her. “It is a common pattern with our ladies.”

Woodhurst rose to go. He had elicited all the information that was possible for the time and he had imparted nothing, although the suspicions of the Rajah as to the object of his visit had been raised. The latter rose with alacrity. He was relieved that the interview had come to an end. Accompanying his visitor to the threshold, the furthest point etiquette would permit him to go, he called loudly for the carriage, and took an impressive farewell. The Ranee crept back to the women’s quarters with even greater relief. Throughout the visit she had dreaded the production of the anklet. For a reason best known to the Englishman it remained safely hidden in his pocket. Should she be confronted with it again, she intended to deny all knowledge of it. As she sat brooding in idleness, whilst the women of the house prepared the evening meal, she wondered ceaselessly how the silver ornament had found its way into the hands of the Assistant Superintendent of Police.

On his return Woodhurst wrote a note to the Rajah’s nephew, asking him to bring the man who had found the body with the anklet, to his office.

His request was complied with, and the next morning the Hindu appeared with a herdsman. Woodhurst questioned the man closely as to time and place of his discovery of the body, and why he had kept it secret. The man admitted that he had done wrong. He acted in haste, and having thrown the body back into the water, no other course was possible. He had no wish to get into the hands of the police. They gave trouble whether a man was guilty or innocent.

Woodhurst interrupted him to inquire if the body was clothed or if it was naked.

Yes; the child was clothed in a dark satin coat and pair of trousers. What was the colour? Black or dark blue? he could not tell which, as the garments were stained with the river water and long immersion. Was there any mark on the body? None that he could see.

He did not remove the clothes; he merely took the anklet that hung loosely about the foot. It had been in his possession ever since. When he heard of the loss of the Rajah’s son, he remembered his discovery and mentioned it in the bazaar.

“As soon as I listened to this man’s story,” said the nephew, “I felt certain that my suspicions about my uncle were true. He is a man full of deceit. If the English Government knew of half his wickedness, it would compel him to resign; and it would raise me to the throne. The English are easily deceived, and are like children in the hands of a clever liar.”

“We must have proof before we condemn any man,” remarked Woodhurst, who knew how much value to attach to abuse of this kind from an interested party.

“Is not the anklet and this man’s testimony sufficient proof that the Rajah is foisting a false heir upon you to spite me and do me out of my rights? If the English were not here——”

“As we are here,” interrupted the police officer with a touch of severity in his tone that was a warning against the utterance of rash and disloyal sentiments, “We need not discuss what would be done in our absence. Rest content for the present with my promise that the matter shall be thoroughly sifted. As I told you before, Mr. Waldingham returns in June, and he will go into it with me. If we are not satisfied, the claim will be disallowed, and you will be recognized as the rightful heir.”

Chapter XV

It was the end of June. Waldingham had just returned from his long spell of camp life. He rode in from the last camping ground, having started early on Motee and covered half the distance before lunch.

The ride on the elephant was unpleasant. He had a suspicion that Cassim, the mahout, was the worse for liquor. It was confirmed as he watched his departure back to camp. Cassim was a small, wiry man with a merry twinkling eye and a weak smiling mouth. As soon as he found himself free from his master’s presence, he no longer made any attempt to hide his condition. Before he was out of sight he gave up all guidance of the animal and laid himself down on the pad to sleep off his excesses. He had taken the precaution to fasten a cord to the girth that kept the pad in position, and into this he slipped his legs. It was insecure and inefficient; but Motee understood what was required of her. She carried him with as much care as a native woman carries a pot of water on her head. Where the road was uneven she turned her trunk on one side or the other, according as she felt that he needed support. Had he rolled off, she would have been equal to the task of helping him to mount again; but there was little fear of his falling.

Every now and then she stopped to crop a fresh piece of tender foliage, always mindful of her duty. However much her attention might be diverted from the business of the day by alluring herbage, she never deviated from the path or lingered more than a few minutes. She seemed aware that in stopping she had wasted precious time, and quickened her steps accordingly. She was ever careful of the debauched little mahout, upon whose good offices she depended for her food, and preserved his equilibrium as though he were a valuable bit of china.

Waldingham could not help laughing as he watched the pair until they were lost to sight in the scrub.

“I must get rid of that fellow if he doesn’t turn over a new leaf. I don’t wish to dismiss him; he is honest over the food and does not steal the rice; and as a rule, he does his work well and without fail. The elephant looks in splendid condition and loves him like a brother. I must have a talk about Cassim with Sam.”

Dismissing the subject from his mind, he seated himself under the shelter of a cliff of rock to rest before mounting the pony that awaited him. From where he sat he could see the level country between the hills and the Bay of Bengal. A haze of heat lay over the broad fields and lakes, reservoirs that looked for a speedy replenishment of their waters from the bank of heavy cloud hanging in the south-west.

A few preliminary showers had given ample promise of the monsoon rain. Men turned their eyes to the golden-headed masses of vapour, looming above the haze, with a confident anticipation of the fulfilment of their hopes.

Russellkondah was hidden by a lower intervening hill; but the yellow sand of the river bed, with its tiny line of silvery water, a narrow meandering stream in the broad winding course, was visible.

Waldingham’s thoughts were centred on the little English colony of the station. He wondered if he should find Rosabelle in her father’s house. Had she gone to the hills for April and May? He hoped so. The heat of the plains for those two months was trying throughout the whole of India except on the hills; and even there people found a tropical sun overhead that was not to be trifled with.

If she had gone to Ootacamund she would be thrown again into the society of Raydon, from whom she could not escape. He recalled her sudden little ebullition of temper, the stamp of her foot, and the forcible schoolboy expression of “Hang Sir James!” that broke from her lips as he mentioned his name. If the elderly lover were pressing his suit upon her quietly and insistently, her power of resistance must give way. It was the old story that formed the theme of so many works of fiction; except that in this case there was only the one lover. The poor suitor had not appeared to throw his weight into the balance on the other side.

His mind went to his own affairs, and he sighed. Somehow they did not give him pleasant food for rumination. He rose to his feet and called to the syce to lead the pony after him. The hill air still blew crisp and cool. A little walking would be acceptable after the ride on the elephant, especially as the path from this point was steep. Sitting in the saddle at an angle was not conducive to comfort.

He strode down the cooly track as though he would leave all unpleasant thoughts behind. They were not so readily disposed of, however; for they sat close and compelled him to carry them along with him, that he might face them in all their naked truth.

Was he or was he not engaged? He had never seriously proposed to his cousin; never definitely asked her to be his wife; never listened with a heart that stood still in suspense and doubt for her answer of yes or no. He had never regarded her as possibly occupying a position in his household in India; had not seen her in imagination by his side, taking her place among the other married women of the station. The utmost he had accomplished by way of looking into futurity was a vague picture of himself as master of those broad acres at home, the gentle little Ivy Waldingham somewhere in the vicinity, a necessary if somewhat uninteresting adjunct to the ancestral halls.

She had not emerged from the long-haired, short-skirted schoolgirl when last he saw her. He imagined her as still running about the lawn with a number of adoring and foolish dogs at her heels, their tongues out and their eyes lifted to their mistress with all the abandonment of canine affection; or she was sitting under the shade of the copper beeches between the lawn and the park, eating chocolate and studying the Boy’s Own Paper, a periodical she infinitely preferred at that period to any publication intended for girls.

He recalled the incident of the ring and her delight in the jewel. There was more affection in her eyes for the pretty stone than for the donor, although he was the recipient of proper little expressions of gratitude.

It was his mother who had gradually shaped his destiny. She spoke of the alliance constantly, as if it were a matter definitely arranged. Ivy was often staying with her, and she was even more frequently the guest of her niece at Waldingham Court. It was Mrs. Waldingham who was careful to see that the heiress was suitably dressed; that she owned a properly appointed household of servants; that horses and motors were not only purchased with judgment but also used.

When the girl’s education was completed, Mrs. Waldingham made it her business to introduce Ivy into society and initiate her into the delights of a London season. At the same time the diplomatic mother was careful to guard her son’s interests by hints dropped among gossiping friends, to the effect that though still too young to be married, the heiress was promised to her cousin. It was a match that gave satisfaction to the whole family. The couple were suited to each other; and in due course of time her son would come home on leave to claim his wife. Mrs. Waldingham never failed to express her entire gratification at the prospective alliance. He was her only son, her only child. Ivy was the sole offspring of her dead brother-in-law. It was so suitable in every way that the two should be united.

Her friends agreed with her, and at the same time warned their own sons that there was little chance in that direction. They rallied the gentle undemonstrative Ivy on her absent lover; and she passed through her season singularly free from any marked attention from the opposite sex. She accepted the situation with a meek complacency that with the elder women provoked the expression, “How sweet Ivy Waldingham is! Her cousin is a very fortunate man.”

The Assistant Agent was not kept in ignorance of the march of events. Every mail brought long epistles from his mother which he read dutifully at his leisure. Occasionally he received short cousinly notes from the girl herself. He was in the habit of smiling at his mother’s castles-in-the-air, as he called them; and now and then he allowed himself to wonder how it was all going to end. He had little leisure for dreams, and his speculations were usually cut short by the advent of a peon with a business letter that required his immediate attention. The matter was laid aside without further trouble with the inward assurance that somehow it would end all right.

He loved his mother with the devotion of a son who realizes that he has a double place to fill—that of the lost father as well as his own. It was at her bidding and direction that he went to Rugby and finally entered the Indian Civil Service. She arranged the programme and mapped out his career for him. Now in the same way she was arranging his marriage.

For the first time the spirit of revolt stirred within him. He felt that it might be impossible to carry out his mother’s wishes, and he was troubled. Duty and inclination, which had hitherto gone hand in hand, had arrived at a parting of the ways before he was aware of it; and the knowledge of the disunion was something more than disconcerting.

For an hour and a half he strode on without knowing how far he had gone, nor how fast he had walked. He was bathed in moisture and suddenly conscious that he had reached a lower elevation. The crisp breeze that swept round the summits of the hills had vanished, and the warm enervating calm of the valleys prevailed. Palms appeared in the scrub and the vegetation had a scorched appearance, in spite of the shower of the previous night. The sun bore down with all the fervour of the plains, licking up the precious moisture and turning the mud into powdery dust.

Waldingham made for the shade of a banyan tree, standing a little way off the track, and sat down to wait for the pony and the syce, whom he had outdistanced.

As he rested on a grey boulder, he marshalled his chaotic mind into something like order, with the result that he arrived at a determination. This state of things must be ended. He must write to Ivy and explain definitely that he could not marry her. If any reason were required, it would be sufficient to say that the very fact of her being an heiress made it impossible. People would justly declare that he had married her for her money. What had passed between them had only been the fun of a schoolboy and schoolgirl. Now that she was no longer a child, she would be able to see for herself that there were obstacles in the way of such an unequal union. If the circumstances were reversed and he had inherited the estate, the situation would be different; and a marriage, provided that they loved each other, would be suitable. He had no hesitation in taking this course, since he was certain that no real emotion could have been roused on either side. In imagination he wrote a magnificent letter, convincing and conclusive, and settled the affair without trouble or difficulty.

The letter to his mother was not so easily composed. The excuse that he would be considered a fortune-hunter would carry neither weight nor conviction with her. The ancestral acres had always seemed to her to belong by right of inheritance to the male branch rather than to the female. She had often expressed the opinion that the estate ought to have been left to her son; and that Ivy should have been dowered with a portion that would have been enough to keep her in comfort if not in affluence. Waldingham knew that any appeal on the score of the marriage being mercenary would fail.

He might plead a want of love on both sides. Mere cousinly affection was not sufficient foundation upon which to build up a happy marriage. Putting aside his own lack of emotion, he could say with truth that Ivy herself was not in love with him. The mother’s obvious answer to this would be that it was a matter of opinion; and that he could not gauge the depth of his cousin’s affection at that distance, Let him come home at once and see if there was any absence of love on the part of the gentle Ivy, a girl who had ever been obedient to her aunt’s slightest wish.

There was one other argument against the alliance. It was the most potent of all, and had the additional advantage of being true. He was not in love with his cousin. He shrank from basing his objection upon it because of the inevitable catechism that must ensue.

How do you know that you are not in love? Has your knowledge come by experience? Are you suddenly convinced that you are not in love with one woman because you are in love with another?

He knew his mother so well. In fancy he could hear her putting these pointed and embarrassing questions with her direct gaze fastened upon him; he could feel the dreaded silence that would follow those questions as she waited for his reply.

The clatter of hoofs on the path brought back his wandering thoughts, and he mounted the pony,

Five o’clock in the evening saw him at his own bungalow, tired and burdened with the consciousness that he had an unpleasant task to perform.

After a refreshing bath and a change into a clean white suit, a tonic in itself to exhausted man in the tropics, he went into his sitting-room. It was swept and dusted into a spic and span condition by the servant left in charge, a major-domo, who with the assistance of his wife was capable of cooking and serving a meal in the butler’s absence. During the residence of the Assistant Agent in the plains this man filled the office of cook; when the master was away he became caretaker, kept the bungalow aired and clean, looked after the gardener, and fed the fowls.

Waldingham asked him a few questions and received from him a pile of correspondence. There were long blue and white envelopes containing official documents that would wait; yellow covers that brought advertisement leaflets; and square court missives with invitations to tennis, golf and dinner; pamphlets, newspapers and magazines. Lastly there was the English mail, consisting of two or three illustrated papers and half a dozen letters. He took up the latter and glanced at each by the light of the big standard lamp, placed between the writing table and a comfortable cane lounge. He chose out two for immediate consideration. One was from his mother; the other bore the half-formed hand-writing of his cousin. On second thoughts, he threw this last with the rest of the correspondence on to the table; it would very well keep till after dinner.

Before settling himself down to read what his mother had to say, he lighted a cigarette. Then pushing up the cushions of the lounge he dropped back upon them with a wearied indrawing of the breath. It was not for pleasure that he had taken up his mother’s letter.

The envelope contained more than the usual number of sheets, and the pages were closely written. Her news was startling and bewildering, so disturbing, in fact, that the cigarette went out and was mechanically thrown aside before it was a quarter consumed.

Mrs. Waldingham informed him in the midst of a perfect maze of matter extraneous to the subject, that she intended paying him a visit. She had a reason for doing this which she did not hide. She was bringing out his future wife. Before she left India she hoped to have the extreme joy of seeing them united. A few months ago, he would remember, she asked him to apply for leave and come home. He replied that as he could only obtain three months, he thought it would be wiser to go to the hills, to Ootacamund or Coonoor, and defer the journey home until he could take at least six months’ or a year’s furlough. She quite understood the wisdom of his argument; and had decided that since the mountain would not come to Muhammad, Muhammad would come to the mountain.

Here she became almost playful, a mood he knew of old and hated, for it meant determination to get her way, and a degree of obstinacy against which nothing could prevail.

Then she unfolded her plans. She wished Ivy to see a little of the world before she settled down; and she intended to travel, gradually going westwards. She thought of running over to America first. From there she would go viâ the continent to Japan. She would not ask him to meet her, since leave was a difficulty. She and Ivy would be quite safe in their wanderings if they employed one of the travelling agents. It was all made so easy nowadays. They would leave England in a couple of weeks’ time and visit a friend in New York. From there perhaps go to Boston to some more friends; then to the Canadian lakes; and by easy stages to San Francisco or one of the towns on that coast; by steamer to Japan, possibly giving Hongkong and Shanghai a glance; to the Straits and Colombo, with a run up to Newara Eliya; by steamer from Colombo to Calcutta and from there to Ganjam, reaching Russellkondah at the end of September.

“Heavens! Mother must be mad!” was his comment as he put down the sheets that contained the astounding programme. “I must wire and stop her.”

He took up the letter, and turned the pages. It was no easy matter to find his way about in it. “We leave here in a fortnight’s time,” it said.

The mail letters had been lying on his table awaiting his return for the past five or six days. They had taken seventeen days to come from London to India. That being the case, Mrs. Waldingham and Ivy must have already started and were by this time in New York. As if anticipating a possible objection to her arrangements, his mother had given him no address to which he could wire or write, except that of an agent in Tokio, to whom letters might be sent, said Mrs. Waldingham, to await her arrival.

What good would it be to send an urgent appeal to her to turn back after she had reached Japan? Having got as far as that they could only come on; but it was sheer folly and madness. Who with any knowledge of the climate would dream of paying a visit to the plains of India in the month of September? The moist damp heat was trying to the strongest constitution; and fever lurked even in places that did not bear an evil reputation.

Besides, if they came, how was he to accommodate a couple of ladies—each requiring a separate suite of rooms in his bachelor establishment? a small bungalow that was furnished chiefly with camp kit, that could not boast of a drawing-room, and that had only one spare bedroom. His mother was accustomed to a certain amount of comfort that, even in England, where everything was attainable, might be said to amount to luxury. He glanced round at the bamboo matting, the whitewashed walls, the large doorways and roughly-made window-frames, and he could see her dainty figure shudder at the sight. He was in camp every year from October to the end of June, and if he possessed anything in the way of luxuries and comforts, they were to be found in his camp equipage, and not in the deserted bungalow.

To be sure, he might furnish and make preparations; but what was the good of spending time and money over putting up new curtains, recovering chairs and sofas with cretonne, laying expensive carpets, all for the space of a fortnight or three weeks? In the middle of October he must be off again on his rounds through the hills, journeyings in which women could find no place.

If they were determined to come to India, they must go straight to the hills to Ootacamund; he would get a month’s privilege leave, and join them at the hotel. He must write at once for rooms. It was not easy to secure them as late as this; he could only hope for the best. In any case he must send his mother a very plain and decided intimation that it would be absolutely impossible to receive her and his cousin at Russellkondah.

Then came the perplexing problem. What was to be his attitude when he met them? Was he to accept without a word of protest the situation into which his mother had gradually driven him? Was he to sell himself for the sake of those acres coveted for him by his mother. Was he to sacrifice himself on the altar of filial affection? Was he to give up his liberty of choice so that a possible son might inherit wealth in the indefinite future? Was there any duty towards posterity?

The thought opened out a wide field of speculation. He was conscious that certain sacrifices of inclination, born of the promptings of nature, had already been made when the advances of Phulmoni were so sternly rejected. In that respect he had certainly been influenced by a vague sense of duty to posterity. Now that he was called upon to act for the benefit of that posterity and pursue a course that reason pointed out as eminently desirable, he rebelled.

What had happened to cause him to revolt? A year, or even six months ago he would have submitted with the same old boyish complacency to the decrees of the mother who had ruled his life. Since the day when Rosabelle had come suddenly and unexpectedly out of the jungle, dined with him, sat in his camp chair and chatted with him of nothing in particular, occupied his deserted tent and bed—the latter given up at the sacrifice of his own comfort—something new had entered into his life. Something more than chivalry was roused as he tucked the rug round her feet and readjusted the cushions behind her head. His heart awoke at sight and touch with a tale of its own. Filial duty was not everything. The sacrifice demanded might be too great. It might mean nothing less than death, the death of the spirit in a loveless marriage. A man had no right to take upon himself a greater burden than he could bear at the bidding of another human being; he was not required to sacrifice his heart’s blood in the name of God or man.

The old words of the catechism he learned at his mother’s knee came back upon him. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. It did not say “to the annihilation of thyself.” There was no command in the name of religion and duty for self-immolation. He must claim the right of manhood to choose a partner and mate for himself; and not allow an overstrained sense of filial duty to lead him into a false and irrevocable step.

He would write to Tokio to Ivy as well as to his mother and positively state his intentions, which were that he would not marry his cousin.

He took up his pen to do so at once, feeling that the only way to peace of mind lay through immediate action. He had not written more than the words “Dearest Mother,” with which he had begun his letters ever since he first went to school, when the servant entered with the announcement—

“Soup on the table, sir!”

Chapter XVI

The servants who had accompanied the Assistant Agent in his eight months’ tour through the district were even more pleased than their master at finding themselves once more in the congenial warmth of the plains.

Waldingham had watched Motee’s departure with the order of things reversed. Her mahout was in her charge; she was not in his; and he had smiled in spite of his annoyance. Had his thoughts been less occupied he might have wondered how the incapable little Cassim was going to bring the elephant and her load of camp kit safely down the steep ghat road; but the difficulties of moving his camp were obscured by personal matters of more importance; and Sam was left to manage the transportation as well as he could.

The other mahouts lent a hand in arranging and distributing the loads. In this there was no confusion. The move was made so frequently that rules and habits became firmly fixed; and Motee’s share always comprised the kitchen utensils, the crockery and glass. She was more tractable and less clumsy than the larger beasts, and therefore less likely to smash the earthen vessels by bringing the baskets that contained them into collision with the trunks of trees and the rugged corners of rocks or of precipices. Being smaller in bulk and not so tall as her companions, she took less room for herself and gave greater space for her load.

Don Juan, with his head turbanned unusually tight in a dishcloth, and his loins girded to their utmost endurance with a teacloth, was expected to tramp with the rest of the servants on the homeward path until the foot of the hills was reached. There they were to be met by bullock carts hired at the expense of the master; and the rest of the journey was made slowly but in greater comfort.

When the time came for the start Motee’s mahout lay like a log upon the ground,

“This stupid fellow is of no use to us,” grumbled Sam, in some perplexity.

“I shall have to report his conduct to the master. What are we to do?”

He looked to the three other drivers for a reply. Each had his own charge with its burden, requiring full and undivided attention,

“If the beast were without a load she would follow, but with all the pots and pans on her back how can she walk without guidance? We cannot give it. Chandra and Rama and Mari are fools when they carry goods. They are only fit to be trusted with their own forage. Their mothers were buffaloes and their grandmothers black slugs that lived and died in mud, so stupid are they! and so necessary is it that they should have guidance!”

One of the mahouts approached the prostrate figure, and touched it anything but lightly with his great toe, Cassim rolled over and made a futile effort to sit up. He uttered something inarticulate and fell back helplessly with a foolish laugh,

“Pah! no good talking to the son of a pig! We must tie him on to the elephant’s back; but how he is to remain there in safety, who can say?”

Don Juan, looking on with a broad grin, ventured to make a remark.

“Leave him behind; he can walk home when he wakes.”

The mahouts glanced at Sam, inclined to act on the suggestion; but the Assistant Agent’s butler had lived long enough with his master to know that such an act, bordering on inhumanity, would not be approved of. If no other danger lurked in the forest, the probability of getting fever was enough to urge the necessity of bringing the man home with him.

“Shuh! Talk sense or be silent,” said Sam with more irritation than usual.

Don Juan gave his superior a swift look; he had made a mistake and must rectify it.

“There is an empty fowl-basket in which he can lie, since he is so small,” he said less flippantly.

The mahouts uttered an exclamation of approval. Motee was ordered to her knees again. The basket was unfastened from her back; the mahouts seized Cassim with little ceremony and pushed him head-foremost into the receptacle. No attention was paid to his feeble remonstrances against such treatment. The basket just fitted him as he lay curled round against its sides like an inebriated tom-cat. It was hoisted on to Motee’s back and made fast, whilst Cassim, vaguely aware that he was mounted; entreated Motee incoherently to walk warily and not to shake him to pieces.

The goad, the sign of his office, had fallen from his hand. Don Juan picked it up as the knots were being tightened in the rope that bound the basket. Motee received the word of command to rise; the boy, without giving sign of his intention, sprang upon her neck, tucked his legs behind her ears and established himself in the place of authority, from which no one could dislodge him except by bringing the animal to its knees again.

“I will drive her, excellency! I will take care of your honour’s most honourable pots and pans, and not one shall be broken,” cried the boy earnestly. “See! she obeys me! Salaam, Queen of my heart! my best beloved! Salaam to his excellency, the butler.”

Motee obeyed him.

“Now lead the way, my beloved. Let us go back to our home where there are sacks of rice and chaldrons full of curry.”

The docile beast moved forward a little way and stopped again at the boy’s word of command.

“Let be;” said Sam. “But he must not walk first, for he does not know the way.”

“The boy is a little devil; and if he brings about an accident to the glass and crockery, we will beat him within an inch of his life,” said the matey, with some animosity.

“He will manage all right,” said the senior mahout. “It is better than letting the animal walk alone.”

He advanced towards Motee and her new driver, and he gave some urgent orders that even Don Juan with all his impudence dared not disregard.

So to the cook-boy’s intense delight he realized one of his dreams; he rode Motee without her fetters, and guided her steps safely through the long grass, the thorny scrub, the entangled forest, down the boulder-strewn sides of the hills, across the rocky water-course and through the shining pools in the sandy beds of the rivers; and brought her to the foot of the hills without so much as the cracking of a water jar or the chipping of a cup or tumbler.

As he rode he gave full rein to his imagination. Once more he was a maharajah making a royal progress through his kingdom. The boulders, the forest trees, even the scraggy thorn bushes of the scrub were his subjects, bowing and salaaming to him and him alone, as he passed with his escort, one elephant in front and two behind.

Motee’s action was not rough, but Don Juan’s bones ached before he arrived at the end of his long ride. Not a word escaped his lips to express his fatigue; and the mahouts could not but admire his endurance, although they said nothing. The pace of the elephants did not suit the servants, who took their own time and their own path, shortening the distance for themselves by following tracks not negotiable by the big beasts. The plains were reached at last, where the going was easier. Motee swung along without requiring anything more than the lead given her by the elephant in front.

A warm greeting awaited Don Juan as he stepped off his perch, when the elephant knelt at the bidding of the mahout. A pair of arms were stretched blindly to enfold his form, and eager loving hands stroked and massaged the sore muscles.

“How is it that the elephant has brought my son home to me? Is he a rajah that they have given him so honourable a steed?” asked the delighted woman.

“The mahout was asleep with too much drinking. So stupid was he that he could not sit up. The butler said that since the pots and pans of the kitchen were in my charge, it would be fitting that I should drive in Cassim’s place. I brought to his honour’s notice that I was not born to drive elephants.”

Here Don Juan stretched his limbs and yawned as he imagined in princely indifference to the advice offered by a subject. His mother believing every word that fell from his inventive lips took another view of the matter.

“What said the butler? Did he order you to be beaten by the matey,” she asked with some anxiety.

“Beaten! I! the honourable cleaner of the noble cooking pots of his Excellency the Assistant Agent! he exclaimed with a magnificent scorn that impressed his mother deeply. “No! The bamboo is kept for the sweeper-boy. I have found favour in the sight of the butler, and he no longer allows that black-hearted matey to trouble me. I am learning to speak English so that I may take the matey’s place. Listen! I can say, ‘Bring the tea-part! The master is garn jungle-walking! Done brought riding-whip and sun-topee, sar!”

“Ah!” she ejaculated, drawing in her breath with admiration. “It sounds like the master’s own talk! But tell me, my son; what did they do when you refused to drive the elephant?”

Her smooth, elastic hands passed over his spine and shoulders, removing with a magical touch the aches and pains. He settled himself luxuriously under the soothing manipulation, and answered with unabashed assurance that was convincing—

“The honourable butler requested me to oblige him by taking the mahout’s place. All things come easy to thy son, my mother. They would have left the sleeping mahout behind in the forest to be devoured by a passing tiger; but I commanded them to put him into an empty fowl basket; and we fastened it on the elephant with the baskets containing the kitchen things. I guided the elephant in safety, leading the way where the path was difficult, and only giving place to the big elephant Chandra when we drew near to the cantonment. To me were entrusted not only the sleeping mahout but also the master’s own drinking vessels, the cups and tumblers which, Oh, my mother! are the same shape as the drinking vessels of the great Emperor, who rules over us from the far-off country called Home. One day I will go there and drink from the same kind of cups and tumblers.”

Thus babbling as the spirit moved him, unfettered by responsibility towards the truth, he fell asleep.

The following day the servants, having rested from the fatigues of the march, returned to duty. Two events happened that had an influence on the life of Don Juan. One was the development of fever on the part of the matey, and his departure for Madras. Sam’s long absence had put him out of touch with the bazaar world of Russellkondah, and he was unable to secure a satisfactory successor.

In his dilemma he allowed Don Juan, at his earnest request, to act in the sick man’s place. The boy acquitted himself so ably that Sam did not trouble himself to find another matey. Waldingham made no objection, and so the second dream came true. Don Juan had had a real ride on Motee, and was installed as acting matey in the household of the Assistant Agent.

Of course, all this was the direct working of the charm. Although he told his mother many things that were true as well as invented by his fertile brain, he was silent on the subject of his precious amulet. Now that he was in a warmer and drier climate the tip of the pig’s tail was drying satisfactorily. For the sum of three pies, equal in value to one farthing, he bought a small charm bag. The bristly treasure was coaxed and rolled into small compass; and when dry enough it was sewn up by Don Juan himself in the bag and attached to his person by a strong cord, sufficiently long to allow of it resting inside the fold of his loin-cloth. To its possession he attributed all his good luck. It gave him confidence and encouraged him to every effort towards success. He rose to the responsibilities of his new position, and though nothing in the world would ever eliminate the imaginative spirit of romance, he was careful to be truthful and honest in all matters that concerned his master’s interests. Being in charge of the sugar he no longer purloined it. Motee had to be content with the ghee and treacle sweets of the bazaar, bought with a spare farthing now and then out of his increased wages. To tell the truth, she preferred them to the more refined lump sugar. The ginger-bread biscuits were regarded as sacred to his master’s use; and the cake for afternoon tea was untouched until its remnants were so stale that Sam himself gave permission for them to be eaten. The cigar ends were Don Juan’s legitimate perquisites. The larger he consumed himself. The smaller he bestowed upon his understudy, a boy younger than himself, who was now the cook’s matey.

There was another to enjoy the tit-bits besides Motee, and this was his mother. She was permitted to occupy a little room next to the fowl-house, a room she kept tidy and always ready for her beloved son. He shared in the food prepared in the kitchen for the servants, and by an arrangement with the butler was allowed to reserve a portion for his mother. He was in the habit of carrying it to her himself, and spending the half hour of leisure in her company. Sometimes he talked; at other times he took his siesta. It added not a little to his pleasure to hear the knives being rubbed on the knife-board by another boy, whilst he extended himself in lazy ease upon his mother’s mat with her pillow under his head. The flannelette coat and green trousers were exchanged for white cotton garments that made him look older; and the extemporized dishcloth turban was replaced by a black velvet cap that added a new dignity to his appearance.

The second event influenced the life of Don Juan more indirectly. This was the arrival of a travelling company of native actors. They set up a tent, stained and frayed with much travelling, and gave a daily representation of the thrilling story of Harichandra, the noble king who lost his kingdom by maintaining the principles of truth. He was obliged at last to leave his throne. His queen, Chandramadi, and her son became servants. The son was bitten by a snake and died; and the king, who had taken the place of watchman at the burning ground, was obliged to cremate his own child. The parts were played by men; and the actor who personated Chandramadi, the unfortunate queen, wrung all hearts by the representation of the mother’s grief.

Don Juan slipped away after his work was done and sat among the audience entranced. He wept with the queen; he boiled with indignation at the indignities offered to the truth-loving king: and he grieved deeply when the prince was bitten by the cobra and succumbed.

He crept back to his master’s bungalow between two and three in the morning with swollen eyelids, slipped into his mother’s room and sobbed himself to sleep. The next day he managed to find time to go to the tent; and there he had the good luck to see the young man who played the part of Chandramadi. The company stayed a month at Russellkondah, and Don Juan had other opportunities of improving his acquaintance with his new actor friend. Life seemed dull and colourless when the troupe moved on to another place.

The weeks slipped away quickly. July and August passed. The great golden headed masses of vapour still lay on the horizon, or fleeted across the sky, flying on the wings of the south-west wind in shreds of spent mist. The promises of clouds are as unstable as those of human beings. In other words the monsoon failed. The air of the plains was hot and unhealthy, and cholera showed itself in the heart of the big towns. The gods were angry and turned their faces away from man, whispered the Hindus.

Woodhurst, enfeebled by constant attacks of fever, clung nevertheless to his work. If he took leave his salary would be lessened. As it was, it only just sufficed to cover all his liabilities at home and in India. The school bills must be paid. He and his wife and daughter must continue to live; and their expenditure could not be cut down beyond a certain point to suit a diminished salary, It was cheaper to remain in India; and whilst he was away in the district, it cost no more for wife and daughter to stay on the hills than to keep up the establishment in Russellkondah. He felt sometimes like a worn-out old horse that had done only half its journey, and for whom there was no alternative but to continue going until the end was reached. What that end was to be he did not stop to think.

The camping was finished and he settled into a quiet bachelor life until Mrs. Woodhurst should come back. One day soon after Waldingham’s return he sought him at his bungalow.

“I have been trying to arrange for you to interview the son of the Rajah of Ellanore,” he said, as he sank into a chair in the sitting-room, called by Sam the office.

“I am quite ready—anxious, I might say, to see the man. Have you been able to shake the testimony on either side?”

Waldingham lighted a cigarette, and called for tea, as it was just four o’clock.

“Both adhere to their stories and overwhelm me with witnesses. The nephew seems to have done everything, to establish his accusation of fraud against his uncle, but produce the body of the drowned child. If I pressed the matter, I feel sure that I should be confronted with a basket of sodden bones, and half a dozen witnesses behind them, to swear that they were found in the river bed, close to the spot where the body was said to have been last seen.’

“And the Rajah?’

“He is secure behind the birthmark, to which the mother and half the women of the zenana testify.”

“If he is so secure, why does he put off bringing the boy to see me?”

“He says that he has been busy with the ceremonies that ought to have been performed when the boy reached manhood.”

“Did not his foster-parents see to that at the right period?”

“They were of a different caste from the Rajah, and he is not satisfied. The fact is that the whole household, including the Rajah himself, have been glad of an excuse for spending money and making a tamarsha.”

“What do you think about the case?” asked Waldingham, as Don Juan brought in the tea-tray with the air of a lord chamberlain bearing the royal crown on a velvet cushion.

“I am inclined to believe that the Rajah’s story is true, and that the nephew’s is trumped up.”

“A birthmark is usually convincing. There can be no two alike.” He turned to Don Juan, who stood at attention waiting for further orders. “That’s all right. I’ll call if I want any more toast,” he said.

“Verrigood, sar,” replied the new matey, in close imitation of Sam.

“Then the age of the young man seems correct, continued Woodhurst. And another point in his favour is his likeness to the Rajah.”

Waldingham took up some papers and glanced through them.

“The likeness is accounted for by the nephew, I see.”

“Have you seen the nephew?”

“More frequently than I desire. He is constantly calling, and he usually leaves behind a fresh suggestion. His latest is that the child was murdered and thrown into the river at the instigation of the mother of the favourite son. He has produced a couple of old women to witness to the fact that the elder child was very unpopular on account of his backwardness; and that the elder Ranee was also unpopular because she was what they called a jungle woman.”

“She was the daughter of a Rajah.”

“Yes; but her mother belonged to one of the hill tribes. In those old days I fancy that the Rajahs living round these hills carried things with a high hand; and if the daughter of a chief pleased a man, she was introduced into the zenana, whether her father liked it or not.”

“What liars these people are!” said Woodhurst, with a sigh. It was the sigh of a sick man who was weary of his work.

Waldingham, full of health and vitality, regarded the matter from another point of view.

“It is the breath of life to them and no sin according to their religious teaching. If you consider it a combat of the wits, you will find it absolutely interesting. I look upon the unravelling of these knots as a kind of game. It amuses me, even when I am bunkered, as seems to be the case at present. Do you think that an interview can be managed this week? Tell the Rajah that his nephew calls on me frequently and brings a very plausible tale. It will stir him up and perhaps give him a fright.”

“Where will you see him?”

“Here at my own house. He shall have a formal reception that I am sure will gratify him; and only the caste peons shall be in attendance. My servants understand the necessity of keeping themselves in the background.”

They drank their tea and appreciated the cook’s hot scones. Before Woodhurst left the Assistant Agent put a question as carelessly as was consistent with politeness, and waited with unusual anxiety for the reply.

“Have you had good news from your wife and daughter on the hills?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Woodhurst is very well. She is not very happy about me and my constant attacks of fever. I tell her in every letter not to worry. Anxiety never cured any one. I am taking as much care of myself as I can. The work must be done, and she can’t do it for me; or I am sure she would relieve me of it. For Rosabelle’s sake as well as her own, I have begged her to remain at Ooty until the weather is cooler. Have you heard that cholera has broken out in this place as well as in others?”

“Yes; I am sorry for it. It is due to this unfortunate failure of the monsoon rains.”

“The newspapers have got hold of the information, and are making the most of it. I believe there are only three cases at present in the town, and those are isolated. Anyway it would be unwise to let my wife and daughter return until we have a clean bill of health. By-the-by, I shall fix eleven o’clock in the morning of Thursday—this is Tuesday—will that suit?”

“Perfectly; and if I don’t hear to the contrary, I shall know that it is arranged.” The Police Officer drove away, and, as Waldingham watched him go, he wondered how much longer he would be able to run between the shafts. “I suppose it is money, or rather the want of it, that keeps him here.”

It was but a short step from Woodhurst’s affairs to his own; and he fell to thinking of his mother and her schemes for his future. By this time she should be nearing Tokio; perhaps she was there already, and knew the worst. With infinite difficulty he had written decisively to both the women. To his mother he had endeavoured to soften his refusal to fall in with her wishes; but to Ivy he was more explicit. A marriage without love, he said, was impossible. She must be convinced of the truth of this fact, if she would consult her own heart, and put all worldly considerations aside. He loved her with a brotherly love, but nothing more. He was sure that she would understand how such a confession must put an end to all talk of marriage. He was sorry that his mother should be disappointed. He finished his letter by expressing his gratitude to her for all her kindness to his mother, and hoped that she would continue her good office as an adopted daughter.

He relied on this letter, if the girl had any proper pride, to clinch the business; and having despatched it, he was sensible of a weight being removed from his mind as he realized that he was free. With this realization came the recognition of the greatness of the burden that his mother in the name of duty had imposed upon him.

Again the thought of the unfortunate animal carried to the meriah grove by the Khonds crossed his mind. He wondered what its feelings would have been, had it escaped before the cords bound it, and before the knives of the fanatics gleamed with a murderous light above its quaking body. With what relief it would have scampered away into the jungle! with what grunts and shrieks of delight it would have burrowed under cover of the ferns and thorns of the forest, free to choose its own companions, its own path, its own mate!

He was free to choose. As soon as Rosabelle returned he would exercise that freedom and make his choice.

Chapter XVII

It was the evening of the day fixed for the interview between Waldingham and the Rajah with his newfound son. The visit had been paid and the Rajah had departed with a stampede of outriders, a jingling of harness, a rattling of loose spokes of carriage wheels, a cloud of dust and a great deal of superfluous shouting to clear the road of an imaginary crowd.

Dinner was over and the servants had eaten their food with the usual silence observed at their meals. It was left to another kitchen boy to put the finishing touches to the saucepans. Don Juan, in close imitation of his revered superior, formed one of the magic circle seated just outside the cook-room door. He no longer insinuated his person on sufferance into the company, but took his place as his right. Even if the matey returned by-and-by to oust him from the coveted position and send him back to scullion duties, for the present he was matey; and he jealously assumed all the privileges that pertained to the office.

A butler from a neighbouring house had dropped in for a gossip, hoping to glean news of the Rajah’s visit. The servants of the Assistant Agent were bursting one and all with information; but they had no intention of giving it away lightly, and the visitor understood that he would gain nothing by showing curiosity; nor had they learned every detail.

“What news is there in the bazaar to-day?” asked Sam.

“The sickness continues, but it is no worse.”

“Was there any talk at your master’s table as the dinner was served?”

“My master said that the police sahib had the appearance of one who was very sick and needed leave. The mistress answered him at once, asking how he could take leave as long as the missie desired to stay in India. They talked of the marriage she might make with the big Bombay sahib if she stayed long enough on the hills.”

“No wonder that the Assistant Superintendent of Police is ill. He is having too much trouble,” remarked Sam, with a wise wag of the head.

The visitor put on an air of simple ignorance that fired every one present with a desire to feed him with the latest items of gossip, and asked where the trouble was.

“It is out in the district and in the cantonment,” said Sam. “The failure of the rains has brought dearness of provisions and trouble to all, villagers and townsmen alike. The bazaar men are trading on it, and have raised the price of kerosine oil as well as rice, saying that the flow of the oil in the wells has been less on account of less rain having fallen.”

“The rain has failed on the hills as well as in the plains,” added Don Juan, who could never remain silent long, even in the presence of his superiors.

“Why has it so happened?” asked the visitor.

“The master says that there was too much wind. It blew the clouds away and sent them high up into the sky where they melted,” replied Sam.

“The people who come from the hills to the market say that it is the doing of the earth goddess,” broke in Don Juan, eagerly. “The clouds gathered, as we could see for ourselves, and they were fat with rain; but the earth goddess caused the wind to blow them away across the sea to Burmah, where they had peace, and were delivered of their moisture.”

“Jungle talk of the heathen!” remarked Sam, with a virtuous contempt that did not altogether hide his interest.

Don Juan’s tongue needed little encouragement, and he continued—

“I talked with one of the Khond boys who came down with the old panwa from Dondia Mazzu’s village. They say it is all the doing of our master.”

“Our master! Shuh!” exclaimed Sam, with some indignation.

Don Juan did not flinch at the angry glance directed towards him. He intended to finish his tale.

“Did not our master save Dondia Mazzu’s son from drowning in the pool up in the mountains? The Khonds who were present saw it all. The arms of the goddess came out of the lake. She had long green fingers that multiplied into many hundreds. Those men who went with the master as beaters saw them moving under the water among the weeds; and she shook the weeds so that they entangled the legs of Dondia’s son and held them fast. When she would have drawn him down into her embrace, as I draw a kid by a rope, our master pulled him away, crying to his God to help him. It is well known that the God of the Christians is stronger than the gods of the heathen; and when our master cried, ‘Good God! he will drown!’ Tari Pennu was obliged to let go her hold. The Khonds heard her groan in anger as she sank through the mud at the bottom of the lake into the earth. From that time, they say, there has been wind when there should be rain; shadow when there should be sun; cold when there should be heat. Ask any hillman you see in the bazaar and he will tell you that it is a true word only that I speak. It is well known throughout the hill district that this is so.”

The cook corroborated the tale. Only that morning he had seen the panwa and heard it. Don Juan, encouraged by support, would have given more details drawn from his hill acquaintances and embroidered by his own fertile imagination, but an interruption occurred, and attention was diverted by the advent of Souba, the caste peon. He appeared out of the darkness of the night from the direction of the bungalow. He had just returned from a mission on which he had been sent by his master, and to which he had added a little affair of his own.

“Have you seen the master?” asked Sam, mindful of his duties at all hours of the day and night.

“I have just come from speaking with him,” he replied.

He was above the pariah servants in caste, but he was their equal in his service; and he could gossip with them, though he might not share their food. His caste did not suffer by taking a seat on a mat set apart for his use.

“It is reported that the Rajah left in anger to-day,” remarked Sam, as the newcomer settled himself comfortably in the circle.

“That is true. The things that happened to-day will place a ball of fire in the Rajah’s heart and make him more sick than a fever.”

“Is it permitted for us to know what they were?” inquired the butler politely.

All ears were strained to catch the reply, and the visitor congratulated himself on the tale he would have to tell his friends as well as the bazaar men the next day. The shopkeepers would forget to haggle in their eagerness to hear how the Assistant Agent had angered the Rajah of Ellanore, and how the Rajah had driven away in a fit of furious wrath.

“If there is time to relate what happened, it shall be told at once,” said the peon, with a deliberation that whetted the appetite. “It is known to all you of the household how we waited for his arrival for more than an hour. The police sahib said eleven was to be the hour; but the Rajah is a great man; it was but fitting to his dignity in the eyes of his people that he should be at least an hour late; even though it was an Englishman and a Government officer who waited.”

“Hmph!” ejaculated Sam in disapproval, but he made no remark; he had his full share of curiosity concerning the proceedings of the morning, from which he had been rigorously excluded by reason of his birth in the pariah ranks; and he avoided an interruption to the flow of words.

“As soon as I saw the dust rising from the approaching carriage wheels, I gave the signal for you all to retire to the kitchen. You hid yourselves just in time. The carriage turned into the compound and drove up to the front verandah. I notified to his honour the arrival of the Rajah and his son, and his honour came out into the verandah, where he stopped and made the same salaam as was made by the Rajah. The door of the carriage was opened; but neither of their highnesses would move. ‘His excellency will perhaps come a little nearer,’ the Rajah said.”

“And our master, what did he do?” asked Sam with jealous anxiety for his employer’s dignity.

“He observed great care, as was only right and proper. He descended one step. The Rajah made a move to rise without haste and again waited. Our master descended another, and the Rajah put his foot on the top step of the carriage and again waited. The master understood, and went down yet another step. The Rajah also went down to the second step of the carriage and they were level.”

Sam uttered a grunt of satisfaction. It was reassuring to learn that the Assistant Agent had preserved his dignity and not permitted the Rajah to take any advantage.

“Our master stood aside and held out his hand. The Rajah moved on to the same step, thus maintaining his equality; and having shaken hands they proceeded side by side to the centre room, where chairs of equal pomp had been already placed on the tent carpet spread for the occasion, as you know.”

“And the Rajah’s son, what of him?”

“He followed, and sat on the third chair on the other side of the master.”

“Was our master satisfied with the looks of the Rajah’s son?”

“He spoke kindly to him and to the Rajah; and there was pleasant visiting talk for a proper time. Then the Rajah explained again all the reasons for believing that this man was his son. The chief reason was the birth-mark. The gods had marked the boy with a new moon under the right arm. It is a lucky mark, and places the bearer of it under the protection of the god, Chandra. Our master asked many questions, and then told the son of the Rajah to take off his coat; he wished to see with his own eyes the moon-mark.”

“Did the Rajah forbid it?”

“On the contrary, he said that it was his desire that his excellency should see the mark and examine it for himself. As the young Rajah removed his coat, the master looked at me. I had my orders and was ready.”

“What kind of clothes was the Rajah’s son wearing?” asked the visitor.

“A coat of embroidered velvet was outside. His shirt and vest were of pink silk of European make, that must have come from Calcutta. When the garments were removed he lifted his right arm.”

“And the mark?” cried more than one voice as he paused in his tale.

“It was there, plainly enough to be seen in blue-black.”

“What said his honour?” asked Sam, whose belief in his master was even to the extent of crediting him with second sight where the interests of Government were concerned.

“His honour said nothing; but the Rajah smiled like a man who sees his enemy die. It was he who spoke. He said ‘Sir, please look! The boy’s mother declares that the length of the moon was three fingers.’ The Rajah laid three fingers of his slender hand against it and they covered it exactly. And its width in the thickest part was one finger.’ Again he showed that this was the right measurement.”

“Was the master surprised?”

“He did not show any astonishment. He said, ‘It is long since the boy was lost. How can his mother remember the exact size?’ To which the Rajah replied. ‘It so happened that, only two days before he was lost, she measured it as he lay with his arms thrown up above the head sleeping by her side.’ Then the master turned to me and said, ‘ Bring!’ Quickly I brought a basin with water into which his honour had put some medicine. There was a sponge in the basin. Still more swiftly did he seize the sponge in one hand and the uplifted arm of the young Rajah in the other, and washed the mark. Lo! when he moved the sponge the mark of the new moon was gone! It was but paint!”

There were exclamations of astonishment on all sides as the peon glanced round at their faces with the keen pleasure of the successful historian. So absorbed had his hearers been in his story that no one had noticed the little scullion, who had crept up close behind his predecessor to listen with the rest.

“No wonder that the Rajah had a ball of fire placed within him! What had he to say to the master?” asked Sam, unable to disguise his pride and satisfaction at the cleverness of the Assistant Agent.

“He could utter nothing. Fear was on his face; fire entered his heart, and his knees were like grass in the wind. There was no waiting for the master to conduct him step by step to the carriage with many salaams. Without a word he departed, the master following at a short distance, and speaking as he walked. ‘This is a bad business, Rajah; a cheat, which the English Government will not permit. Keep the young man in your family, if you wish; but your heir is your nephew until the man is found whose birth-mark, the new moon, cannot be rubbed out.’ I accompanied them to the verandah, and called up the carriage. When it appeared the Rajah showed great anger towards the syces and coachman and outriders, saying he would have them beaten. Straightway in fear of what should be done to them they whipped and spurred their horses. One man lingered a moment to ask what had happened. ‘My master has brought shame and dishonour upon your master, I said. ‘Wherein?’ he demanded. ‘That can be learned for nothing less than fifteen rupees,’ I answered. He ran off after the carriage. Later in the day he met me again with five rupees, saying that it was all he could raise in the Rajah’s household for they see little of their money, those people, and I told him what had happened.”

“The Rajah’s servants should leave him as we leave our masters if our wages are not paid, making excuse that our parents are ill,” said the cook.

“He owes them too much for it to be possible. They would lose their wages altogether. By staying on they can draw from the Rajah’s steward as they draw from the sowcar when they need money badly; but the whole amount is never paid up.”

“It is a bad system,” remarked Sam, who, being a good servant and necessary to his master, had no fear of dismissal.

“They do not think so,” replied the peon. “The Rajah may beat them, but he cannot dismiss them because of his debt. They are not like us, frequently looking for new masters when sickness comes and leave is taken; as must shortly be the case with the Assistant Superintendent of Police.”

“It is certain then that this is not the son of the Rajah?” asked the visitor.

“Who can say? The women of the zenana declare that it is the son of the Rajah.”

“Then why was the mark put under his arm?”

“To satisfy the English Government,” replied the peon, with an air of superior knowledge, as of one who was privileged to see behind the screens. “With the English,” he went on to explain,” there must be a reason for everything. The Rajah doubtless thought that the birthmark would please them. It was simple and easy to see; and if there had been time it could have been properly tattooed. The master would have shown wisdom if he had accepted it, and not caused all this trouble with his sponge and his medicine. The Rajah would have departed pleased and satisfied, and would have left a present of twenty-five rupees for the servants of the Assistant Agent’s household. Now that is all I have got, a paltry five rupees.” He flung down the coins on the mat on which the butler was seated. “Keep it for yourselves; I want none of it. It is no present, but only the sum for which I sold the news to the Rajah’s household.”

“Since our master is English, how could he behave in any other way than as an Englishman?” demanded Sam, who did not brook tamely any criticism of his employer’s method of ruling. In his eyes Waldingham was upright and just beyond reproach, as incapable of error as the twice-born Brahmin.

“They are a strange race, impossible to understand. They ask for proofs, and when they get them they kick them to pieces as if they were so many curry pots, even though it is to everybody’s disadvantage. It would have been better for all concerned if the claim had been allowed. The boy is gentle and kind, and has been well brought up. He would have made a good ruler by-and-by. Now the Rajah’s people will have to put up with his nephew, a man who will oppress the ryots and meddle with their women. The English make much trouble when there need be none.”

Souba rose to go to his house, where his food awaited him. He had spent a long and tiring day in the execution of his master’s business and his own.

“Nevertheless, they are good masters,” said Sam, still jealous of Waldingham’s reputation. “They pay our wages regularly and never use the stick.”

The peon being attached to the office of the Assistant Agent was not like a servant; he had no personal interest in Waldingham.

“They would be better still if they did not get sick and go on furlough or retire, leaving their servants and dogs and horses to suffer the misfortune of being forsaken.”

He walked away into the warm darkness of the night with the superiority that is unconsciously assumed by the caste man in the company of his inferiors, even though he be not a Brahmin.

“A moon! a young moon soon after its birth! What a strange mark!” observed the visitor.

“It was a good invention and it was a pity there was not time to have it tattooed,” said the cook. “Will this matter be kept from the ears of the Rajah’s nephew?”

“Is it likely?” demanded Sam. “If the servants of the Rajah were willing to give ten rupees——”

“Five, the peon said,” corrected the cook.

“Ten is a more likely sum—the Rajah’s nephew will give fifty.”

“Souba will have to be quick about it, or the others who have bought the news will be before him.”

“Shuh!” ejaculated Sam in scorn of their want of perspicacity.“It is done! It is done! Would a man of Souba’s knowledge and experience sell the tiger’s skin before cutting off the whiskers and claws? Would he give us five rupees without the asking, if he had not kept ten times that amount for himself?”

“It would have been better for you all if his honour had not used the sponge,” remarked the visitor, as he too rose to return to his house. “There would have been the present of the Rajah to divide instead of that contemptible sum of five rupees.”

“Our master never makes a mistake. The trouble that he has given to-day will save greater trouble that would have come if he had permitted a false claim,” said Sam, with conviction; and lest there should be any further criticism he dismissed his staff to their sleeping-mats.

After his interview with the peon Waldingham strolled down to the club. Now that he was within easy reach of his fellow men, he lost no opportunity of enjoying their society. Several bachelors made it a custom to dine at the club, but Waldingham preferred to join them after dinner. The club-house possessed a wide verandah, which was used for smoking. There was a card-room and a billiard-room, as well as the dining and reading-rooms. In the hot weather the men drew towards the more open verandah and were content to sit in the big cane lounges and chat. Soon after his arrival the police officer came in. He looked tired and enfeebled by frequent attacks of malaria.

“Hallo, Woodhurst!” said one of the men, as the police officer joined them. “Had a busy time lately, I suppose, with this failure of the monsoon. Does it mean a famine?”

“Not quite; the famine will depend on whether we get our share of moisture in the next monsoon. Things are quite bad enough. I sincerely hope that they will not be any worse. As it is Government keeps calling for reports.”

“What do they do with them when they get them? Do they send you a bag of rice for every famine-wallah on the relief works?” asked a merchant who had invested in grain.

“Waldingham and the P.W.D. men in charge of the relief works have to see to that. My reports concern the state of crime and the number of murders and robberies that are committed under pressure of the present scarcity.”

“I am glad to say that I settled one affair to-day that was giving us considerable anxiety,” said Waldingham, from the depths of his chair and through a cloud of tobacco smoke.

“What was that?” asked the merchant.

“The claim of the Rajah’s newly discovered son. He brought the boy to see me this morning, and showed me with great pride the birth-mark on which his claim rested. It was a work of art. The only mistake was in not using an indelible pencil. It came off with the application of a sponge and some liquid ammonia.”

“The Rajah must have been rather sick about it.”

“He was; I was sorry for him. The young fellow is a decent sort of man, and would make a far better successor to the estate than the nephew. But we can’t wink at these little deviations from the path of justice, and I was bound to expose the fraud.”

“What made you suspect that it was a fraud?”

“The Rajah had been so careful to give the measurements and to demonstrate them when the arm was exposed. With all his cunning he overlooked the fact that a birth-mark increases in size with the growth of the person. If it was three fingers long when he was a boy of three years old, it would be at least four when the child reached the age of nineteen or twenty.”

“We may have a poison case to deal with next,” remarked Woodhurst. “The Rajah will die suddenly of cholera if the nephew can succeed in corrupting his cook.”

“Or his son may die,” added the merchant.

“The son is safe enough now that his claim is disallowed,” said Waldingham. “The boy will drop into obscurity, and possibly may be sent back to Ganjam to his parents who sold him to the Rajah. We shall suddenly be confronted with another youth and a fresh set of evidence, more carefully cooked than the other.”

“I am beginning to think that the child was drowned after all,” observed Woodhurst. “There was no doubt that his mother recognized the anklet when I showed it to her.”

“I was inclined to the same opinion,” said the Assistant Agent, “until I interviewed the Ranee. She explained that the anklet was lost in the river when the boy was paddling; and she sticks to her story of having missed him after she awoke at the foot of the hills.”

“Does she swear to the birth-mark?”

“Positively; and no cross-examination can shake her evidence on that point. She says that she gave the boy the name of Chandra with his father’s consent, because of the crescent under his arm. Chandra means the moon.”

“It’s such an unlikely mark. One has heard of blotches and moles of different shapes and sizes; but I never heard of a well-defined crescent,” remarked the merchant.

“I’ve heard of it, I am sure,” exclaimed Waldingham, with a puzzled wrinkling of the brow. “But where I can’t remember. Probably it occurred in some book I read as a boy; and the sub-conscious part of the brain has stored it up in its lumber-room, the limbo of our forgotten experiences that help us to take life without surprise. Perhaps it will come back to me in a dream.”

“You don’t think that the story of the mark was invented like the mark itself?” asked Woodhurst.

“No; I feel sure that part of the tale is true; but whether the boy was drowned or whether he is still in the land of the living, has yet to be proved. Come and have a game of billiards, Woodhurst.”

“No thank you; I am too tired.”

“I’ll play,” said the merchant. “Woodhurst ought to take leave. It would give him a new lease of life,” he remarked, as they moved away towards the billiard-room. “I suppose there are difficulties in the way with his family, and money is tight.”

Waldingham did not answer. The subject was not pleasant. He knew too well the cost at which the new lease of life could be obtained—the cost of a girl, who should give herself up to wealth and luxury and an old man. He shuddered inwardly. It was monstrous: worse than the ignorant sacrifices of the heathen hillmen.

Chapter XVIII

Krishna Sao remained in Dondia Mazzu’s village until his young plants arrived. Just at the time of planting some heavy showers fell. The Khonds, encouraged by what they believed to be the direct favour of the earth goddess, worked hopefully on behalf of their employer. In the same spirit they laboured in their own fields. The sound of the hissing rain lulled to rest the fears that had been roused by the rescue of Indra. After all, the earth goddess was satisfied with the sacrifice of the pig, and she would not withhold her benefits.

He stayed for the completion of his design. As his eye passed with close scrutiny over the newly opened ground, his satisfaction increased. The plantation had every appearance of being a promising venture; and he thought he saw a little gold mine of wealth in it. If his expectations were fulfilled, he proposed in his mind to take up more land and form a company.

One sunny morning after a heavy shower he stood on the slopes above the village. The hills were clear and distinct, a good omen, prognosticating rain in the near future.

Phulmoni and her aunt, bearing each a load of firewood on their heads, passed him on their way back to the village. The older woman was leading. She carried herself erect. Her burden was firmly borne, the swaying of her hips alone showing how great was her load. She covered the ground quickly with the smooth even gait that is neither a run nor a walk, peculiar to the burden-bearing races. According to custom she took no notice of the Zemindar. Had she been one of his coolies,“eating his rice,” as they termed it, she might have raised a hand to make a salaam; but Guruswamy, though he cultivated his fields with his own hand, took no service and declined to hire himself out.

Phulmoni was some ten yards behind her aunt. Her burden was less heavy although she was the stronger of the two. She was wearing the brass bead necklace that she had torn from her neck in her rage and disappointment, and thrown at the feet of the Assistant Agent. Feminine vanity proved stronger than pride, and the baubles were irresistible. Krishna Sao noted the necklace and a smile hovered about his lips.

“The beads are becoming to the pujari’s granddaughter,” he remarked. “It is a pity that the moment was so ill-chosen.”

She halted and half turned, her load swinging round with the movement. She raised her hand to steady it. “Ill-chosen?” she repeated, not catching his meaning.

“Were not the servants there to see and hear all that passed? The shy bird was frightened, and the next day he left this forest for another. He spoke with me before he departed. ‘There are women,’ he said as he bade me farewell, ‘who have no sense.’ He comes again as surely as the moon returns in its season. Next time if the hour be better chosen——”

He smiled, leaving his sentence unfinished, and the girl turned angrily on her heel to follow her relative. An expression of contempt and anger fell from her lips, and her eyes flashed her wrath boldly at him. Her emotion only served to broaden his smile.

For all her contempt her passions were roused. The words fell on strangely fertile ground and sprang up in a wild rank growth of ill-regulated thoughts. The village belle had dared to lift her eyes to a perilous height; and her mind dwelt on the fair skin, the brown hair, the perfectly moulded figure of the European with intense passionate longing. It was the longing of the black panther for a tawny mate; and she suffered as the sex must suffer where there is no exercise of self-repression. The disciplined English woman, with the inherited restraint that Christianity has imposed upon her, knows little of the torment of baffled instincts that have never been subject to control.

As Phulmoni traversed the mountain path she felt inclined to cast her load to the ground and run off to the solitary places of the forest, where she might exhaust herself in passionate abandonment. An imperious call uttered more than once by her impatient guardian subdued the desire. She continued her way towards her grandfather’s house, catching her breath in tearless sobs and giving no reply to the fretful questions directed at her by her aunt.

That evening, after Guruswamy had eaten his evening meal, his daughter spoke to him of her niece.

“It is time we married the girl. She is out of hand. To-day she stopped on the hillside to speak with his honour, the zemindar. What can she have to say to him that is good? We can do nothing against such a man as he is rich and masterful and handsome.”

Guruswamy grunted to imitate that he had heard her words; but he uttered no comment.

“Dondia Mazzu’s son is ready to marry. It is quite time that you began to talk about it. There are three pigs and a dozen good fowls and the two buffalo calves. She has jewellery already, and we might buy more. The new beads that she is wearing are good, better than any that we have.”

“They were given by his honour, the Assistant Agent,” remarked the old man, with some satisfaction.

“That is so: He saw that her fancy was taken by the beads, and to please you, her grandfather, he gave them.”

“By which deed he showed that he was gratified with the way in which I performed the meriah sacrifice,” added the pujari with pardonable pride.

“There need not be much expense over the marriage,” continued his daughter, returning to the subject that was uppermost in her mind.

Guruswamy grunted, but not in assent.

“It is customary,” he said, “to look for husbands for our daughters in another village.”

He was talked down by the eager woman, who went on with rapid speech.

“This boy is suitable, and he desires the marriage. The girl is old, full old for a man of another district. We have allowed the matter to rest too long. There will be trouble if we do not marry her, and quickly, too. Already the people are talking.”

“What do they say?”

“That which is untrue, utterly untrue—that she has been seen near the zemindar’s house.”

“Pah! women’s tongues run like water among pebbles—much noise over what is of no consequence.”

“Nevertheless, it is time she was married; I shall tell her so. Her spirit must be broken; and by a mother-in-law, who is the proper person to do it.”

Phulmoni had been busy washing the pots in the yard. She entered, bearing a pile of small brass vessels. On her appearance her aunt attacked her with more warmth than judgment.

“Daughter, your grandfather is arranging for your marriage with Dondia Mazzu’s son. You are a fortunate girl to have so handsome a husband. For the future it is your grandfather’s command that you speak to no man, least of all to your future husband. If your conduct is not modest and in accordance with the custom of our village maids who are about to be married, the headman will refuse to allow his son to bring you home as a wife. What will be your fate then? You will be left on our hands like a broken curry-bowl for which there is no use. Then, indeed, will I have to cut a bamboo far reaching and strong; for it will have constant work to do.”

Phulmoni pouted with her eyes cast down, and listened in a silence she dared not break. Guruswamy, without comment, retired to his corner, grumbling at the folly of women who worried about domestic affairs just as a man was going to his sleeping-mat. Who could attend to business after an evening meal? He unrolled his blanket, adjusted his pillow, and growled till he snored. The aunt sought her pillow behind a screen, and Phulmoni was obliged to follow. For some time the flow of words continued, alternating between glowing accounts of the personal qualities of the prospective bridegroom and the terrors that awaited a contumacious unmarried woman. The girl may have heard or she may not. Hers was not a nature to find relief in speech; it could only be satisfied with deeds. As her aunt extolled one man with a plainness of description that was truly Oriental, her thoughts were centred on another, undreamed of by her relatives.

She brooded over the announcement made so abruptly, and her mind evolved a plan that might possibly frustrate the design. She watched her opportunity and seized it. Her grandfather went down to his fields the next morning. They lay in the dip of the valley where there were two or three natural springs of water. When other men’s land was dried and caked, his was soft with an underlying moisture that partially saved his crop. These springs he regarded as the direct gift of the earth goddess, bestowed upon him as a reward for his cherishing the relic of the last meriah.

She found him seated on his heels, leisurely pulling out a few weeds that had sprung up among the grain. She sat down by his side and began to speak. Her words fell like red ashes upon the old man’s ears. He ceased from his labour and his eye followed the finger that was pointed to the clouds.

“Listen, my father! You are wiser than any other man in the village. When you first performed the meriah you thought and the people believed that Tari Pennu was satisfied with the pig. She was not! I say that she was not! See the clouds! They are there, not to give us rain, but to mock us. They show themselves, big with their burdens, only to laugh at us. A pig! a common village pig that was not even purchased by the worshippers! the gift of one who knows not Tari Pennu! to whom the price was as nothing! My father, is trouble and misfortune to come upon us because you are old and Dondia Mazzu is afraid? The meriah ceremony was properly performed, but the right victim was withheld. The earth goddess was mocked, not worshipped. Will she eat swine’s flesh when there is other flesh to be had?”

“Shuh, girl! It is foolish talk; it is dangerous talk. Go back to your aunt and feed the fire under the curry-pots.”

“Nay, father; it is not foolishness. It is known to be true. The women whisper it as they cut firewood and fill their water-pots. For nine days the clouds looked at us with their golden heads. Do they come closer? Do they climb higher to fall again on our heads?”

“Last night it rained for half an hour.”

“Half an hour! What is that to the thirsty rivers and the dried fields that are bricks instead of soft mud?”

She kicked with her ringed toe the crumbling soil of the field, breaking it up into warm dust. Then she stooped and whispered a name in his ear.

“It was promised! Years ago it was promised,” she said impressively. “The promise is unperformed. Did not Tari Pennu endeavour to take with her own hand that which was hers? The God of the Englishman was too strong for her; and she was angered—not with the man who opposed her; his God will protect him; but with us, who have no god but the god of our forefathers.”

The fierce words, pregnant with dreadful suggestion, did not fall on deaf ears. The old light of fanaticism was kindled anew in the eye of the pujari, and he gazed into her face with the look of the seer, muttering to himself

“The girl speaks the truth; but the way is hard.”

She caught the words, and continued with increased vehemence—

“Can the Englishman sit always near our village to watch? There must be secrecy. It must not be spoken of among the men who go down the hill with the panwa. And when it is done who will dare to tell? Will not the curse of Tari Pennu herself pursue the babbler who cannot keep his mouth closed?”

As she pleaded her face changed and grew wonderfully like her grandfather’s. There was the same light of fanaticism kindled in the eye. The lips were firmly shut in the tenacity of purpose that marked the old man; but, in addition, vindictiveness appeared on the sulky mouth, which was not on the mouth of the pujari. He saw nothing of the evil intention underlying the suggestion; his thoughts had gone back to his youthful days, when he heard matters talked of, which under the peaceful rule of Britain, were well-nigh forgotten. Phulmoni had not learned the wisdom of letting sleeping dogs lie.

She left him sitting upon his heels. The busy old hands that had been pulling out the weeds hung limp and idle over his knees as he remained deeply buried in thought. The girl glanced round at him once or twice as she retraced her steps to the village, and a smile of grim satisfaction curved her lips. Tossing her head, she said to herself—

“If they would have chosen a husband for me, they should have done so two years ago. Now I choose for myself; and Indra, foolish, dreaming Indra, is not my choice. He is the choice of the earth goddess. Let her have him. My desires go elsewhere, and a wheaten-coloured child shall one day lie in these arms.”

Her mind was filled with mad dreams, and she did not see Krishna Sao as he was going towards his plantations. He noted her abstraction, and guessed where her thoughts had flown. The evil, sulky expression was gone; the lines on her forehead were smoothed away, and the corners of the full and passionate mouth curved into an expression that no man could misread. In fancy she was looking down upon a fair babe upon her breast. He did not stop her nor do anything to attract her attention. His mind dwelt upon an uncompleted experiment, and he regretted Waldingham’s departure. There might have been other opportunities of testing the teaching of the Englishman’s God-Christ had he stayed.

It was not Guruswamy, but his daughter, Phulmoni’s aunt, who broached the subject of the marriage in the headman’s family circle. Dondia’s second wife, a young woman with three fine healthy children at her knee, was the first to whom the anxious old lady spoke about it. The visit was not a casual call. A small tray of fruit and sweetmeats, some parched corn and betel leaves were accepted as an earnest of serious intention.

“The girl needs marriage, and speedily,” said her aunt. “My father has neglected the matter too long. There will be trouble if a husband is not found at once; and there should be a young mother-in-law with a strong arm. Mine is not strong enough. The other evening the girl strayed too far in the jungle to gather wood. Doubtless the lazybones slept. Long after dark I missed her and started out to look for her as soon as my father had gone to his mat. I found her returning at her ease. My arms ached sadly next morning. She is strong, and I could not bring the stick down in the proper place to hurt her because of her fighting.”

“Where did she buy the new brass beads? They are the envy of the whole village.”

“His honour, the Assistant Agent, bought them of the panwa. He was pleased with my father’s management of the meriah pig sacrifice, and with his maintenance of good order. He presented the beads as a marriage gift to the girl.”

They discussed the prospective alliance at great length, and in conclusion the headman’s wife said—

“It is Indra’s wish. He has frequently begged my husband to speak to your father and push on the marriage. We know that in accordance with the old custom of our tribe, a wife should be sought elsewhere; but nothing can be denied to one in Indra’s position. That which is given to him is given to the earth goddess. Is he not her child?”

“Years ago it was so,” replied the daughter of the pujari. “But since the rule of the English has been established all that is changed.”

“May we not still honour the favoured of the gods?” asked the other.

“To be sure. Therefore may we proceed with this business.”

There was silence between the women. A thought had occurred to both, but it took time to bring it out in words.

“What if the earth goddess claims her own?” asked Guruswamy’s daughter.

Her companion did not reply immediately. When she did, it was in the form of another question. “What if the earth goddess is given her own?”

“Ah! bah! that can never be. It is no longer allowed. But if it came to pass, it would be now as it was then. Men were never wanting who would take the wife and babe of Tari Pennu’s chosen to their homes to cherish and keep. The deed brought good fortune; the cows never died, nor were the goats taken by leopards where they lived.”

The headman’s wife rose to her feet as a sign that the visit was ended.

“I will lay all that you have said before my husband, and he shall talk the matter over with your father.”

“Nothing must be said of a further gift to the earth goddess,” said the daughter of the pujari. “That was done and finished when the pig was given.”

“Not a word shall pass my lips,” the other assured her.

The old woman departed with an easy mind, pleased with the first step that had been made. It was satisfactory to feel that there was no opposition in the bridegroom’s family. She was quite alive to the honour of the alliance, and she regretted that her father had not approached Dondia Mazzu on the subject a couple of years ago. As she walked home her mind was busy with various castles in the air. Her niece would occupy a position of importance in the village among the women as the wife of the son of the headman. The latter was one of the largest holders of cultivated land, and could well afford to set aside a certain portion for his son if he chose. Guruswamy might perhaps be induced to add a small piece of his. Then there would be the children. The girl would feel settled with motherhood, and the bamboo would be no longer needed; but even as she dreamed of future benefits, the girl was returning from her interview with her grandfather. The seed she had sown in his mind, if it took root, would deal a death-blow to the whole scheme.

Ten days later Krishna Sao departed. He installed a manager in the little bungalow. Half a dozen labourers were sufficient to keep the work going now that the planting was done. As he took a last look round he could not feel otherwise than pleased with his venture. All that was required was rain, a steady, moderate downpour lasting a fortnight or three weeks. His eye sought the clouds. He was not a hillman, and was satisfied with their promise. He would return after the promise had been fulfilled, when he confidently hoped to find the young plants established.

Chapter XIX

The time passed away, and what should have been a weeping July, with hours of continuous downpour, was nothing but a month of dry gusty gales. Hot blasts from the sunburned plains swept up the valleys exposed to the south-west. The upspringing crops of the cultivated ground and the fruits of the forest, upon which the people also depended, failed. The rubber trees hung limply, drooping for want of moisture. In sullen dejection the hillmen watched the failure of nature, and whispered ominously among themselves. This was only what might be expected. Tari Pennu had turned away her face in displeasure and refused to bestow her benefits.

There was nothing to be done. It was beyond the strength of man to hold the clouds and force them to yield their precious burden. As is always the case with semi-civilized humanity, the enforced idleness bore evil fruit. The tribes had opportunity to drink. It was not the season for indulgence. The time chosen for their orgies was usually after the harvest had been safely garnered. This season there would be no harvest. They kept away from their drought-stricken fields and sought forgetfulness in the fiery spirit distilled from rice, which the panwa, foreseeing that a demand would be probable, had taken care to store within his house. Though there was no corn to give in exchange for the liquor, the Khonds still possessed herds of cattle and goats, pigs and fowls. The dryness affected the pasturage; it was difficult to keep the animals in good condition. The villagers were therefore more ready to part with them. For the barrels and jars of arrack brought up the hills there passed down the ghats the sturdy beasts of the afflicted hillmen.

Under the influence of drink men’s tongues were loosened and they talked. The talking was not confined to the village. All were agreed that the failure of the monsoon was due to one cause alone, which was nothing more nor less than the displeasure of the earth goddess. In her anger she had influenced the god of rain, Pidzu Pennu, and he had held back the precious moisture. Various were the reasons given at first for the conduct of Tari Pennu by those who were not aware of what had happened in Dondia Mazzu’s village.

There had not been a sufficient shedding of blood in sacrifices, said one. The animals were ill-chosen, said another. They were of the wrong colour, said a third; or born at an unlucky hour, declared a fourth.

In Dondia Mazzu’s village alone was the secret known. No one there asked why the earth goddess was offended. All knew that she had been insulted by the offer of a pig instead of a man.

The secret passed from mouth to mouth, spreading throughout the district from village to village, till it became no secret but an established fact. Men met together; they drank and talked; drank and quarrelled; drank and made friends again over the one point on which they were agreed—Tari Pennu was angry, because the old pujari had offered her an insult by reviving the meriah rites without the proper meriah sacrifice; and by so doing he had roused her thirst for human blood. When she would have taken her due with her own hand, the Englishman, by the aid of his more powerful God, had snatched away the victim. Guruswamy was to blame in the first place, and the Government officer in the second. Each in his way had deprived the goddess of her rights.

For he was her own, her very own. Had he not been dedicated to her from the beginning? Had he not been solemnly given to her by the headman? Had he not been regarded by the people as sacred to Tari Pennu and treated by them in accordance with the old custom, when the meriah destined for sacrifice was the cherished pet of the village?

Government, it was true, had abolished the meriah sacrifice; and it could no longer be practised except at the risk of capital punishment; but it could not banish Tari Pennu; nor could it punish her for taking what was her own. Her wrath in the eyes of her worshippers was natural.

Gloomier grew the expression of the faces of the hillmen as they brooded over their misfortunes under the fumes of the fiery spirit. Angry glances were cast at Guruswamy, and the bolder men asked how the wrath of the goddess was to be averted.

The headman, having been the supporter of the pujari, did not escape criticism. He felt that he shared in the unpopularity of the other, although he was not held to be equally responsible. He too drank; and often after deep potations his eye rested with a curious expression upon his son Indra. Sometimes he urged the young man to drink too; but in this respect Indra was not like his fellow tribesmen. He partook of the liquor sparingly, saying that it was not to his taste.

One morning early, before Dondia had obscured his reason by his potations, his son spoke to him on the subject that was nearest his heart.

“My father, the marriage is not yet fixed. The wrath of the goddess and the failure of the rains need not put it off.”

“It is the doing of Guruswamy,” replied the headman gloomily. “If you had been any other man——”

He stopped and fixed his bloodshot eyes upon his son.

“Any other man!” echoed the son, whose brain was clear, sharpened rather than obscured by the modest draughts of liquor that were forced upon him. Wherein am I different from other men?”

Had Dondia been quite sober he might not have answered as he did; but the fiery spirit had broken down all restraint, all caution.

“Are you not dedicated to the earth goddess? From the very earliest you were promised. The time has come to give. As long as we hold back what is the gods, we shall bring nothing but misfortune upon our heads.”

“Then let me be married to the granddaughter of Tari Pennu’s pujari; let me be as his son; let me learn to make the sacrifices as he makes them; let my life indeed be dedicated to the services of the earth goddess.”

He drew himself up to his full height and spoke with eyes aflame. The spirit of devotion was upon him. He stretched his hands towards the parched fields and cried with the voice of a prophet of old.

“Hear me, Tari Pennu, goddess of the earth! I give myself to thee. From this hour I am thy servant to minister to thy needs.” He turned to the headman, ““Father, I go to the people to call them to a great sacrifice, a sacrifice of blood that shall satisfy her; that shall cause her to open her hand and give freely. Guruswamy and I together will perform the pujah, and it shall surpass all that has gone before.”

Dondia heard him with parted lips and widened eyes. The words penetrated his dulled brain and were as a divine call. The wife of the headman, busy with her cooking-pots in the yard, ceased from her work and drew near.

“He speaks true words, husband! Let him go to Guruswamy. Together they may turn away the wrath of the gods, and bring a plentiful supply of the next season’s rains. Perhaps, too, when men hear what you have done, they will cease from blaming you.” She addressed Indra, who stood with parted lips and visionary eyes waiting for his father’s permission to forsake the paternal roof and give himself to another. Go, my son, and may the earth goddess hear you and have mercy on us before we and our children starve; and before we see all our flocks and herds exchanged for the drink that only brings stupidity and sleep.”

She fell at the feet of her step-son with a plaintive cry of propitiation. Her little children followed her example in ignorance and fear. Dondia, deeply impressed, was sobered for the moment.

“Go, my son, go! The pujari will instruct you. He will know what is best to be done. Remember that you give yourself to the earth goddess in the name of the people, and there must be no drawing back. Salaam, my lord, salaam!”

He too made the obeisance, and Indra remained erect like a man in a dream. Without a word he left the house. Dondia gazed after him through the open door and muttered, “It is well; it is the will of the gods.” Then he stretched out his hand for the liquor, and drank his fill.

On his way to Guruswamy’s hut Indra passed a group of villagers loafing idly on the green. He stopped and addressed them, startling them out of their lethargy and rousing their torpid, sodden brains with a torrent of fierce words.

“A sacrifice! A sacrifice!” he cried. “The earth goddess calls for a sacrifice! I go now to Guruswamy to speak of it with him. It must be noble, great, acceptable! Blood! Blood! Blood must flow in a river to assuage the thirst of her who curses us!”

The men listened in dumb amazement, asking no questions. They watched him until he was out of sight, and then their tongues were loosened.

“He! He himself, speaks!” “Nay, but it is the goddess herself who speaks through him!” “It is truth what he says!” “A sacrifice! A sacrifice!” “Blood! Blood!”

Guruswamy was sitting idle like the rest. There is no sadder sight than the sight of the inactivity that overtakes a people paralyzed by drought and impending famine. There is nothing to be done but to wait for death or relief. The drought is everywhere and it is impossible to fly from it. No effort of man can guide the clouds or compel them to yield their moisture. Despair reigns supreme as inevitable ruin is faced with the helplessness of fatalism.

Despondency had seized the old pujari. He had confidently believed that success would attend the revival of the meriah rites; it was a bitter disappointment to see the failure of the monsoon. Yet he would not admit that he had done wrong. His fault, if there were any fault at all, lay in not having done enough.

Into his melancholy brooding Indra burst suddenly. The burning sun shone down upon the young Khond and lightened up the glowing ecstatic vitality that pulsed through his frame. He was the embodiment of the perfect human animal, sound in limb and fully developed, without a blemish, a fitting devotee to the service of the gods.

“The earth goddess has turned away her face in wrath, honoured lord! My father has just told me that from my early days, earlier than I can remember, I have been dedicated to her service.” The old pujari looked up at him with bent brows.

“He has said that?”

“He has! and I have come to place myself in subjection to the honourable pujari of Tari Pennu, that I may learn from him how best she may be served; how a sacrifice of blood may be made that will not mock the deity, but shall satisfy her!” he cried in ringing tones. “My marriage must be hastened. I shall enter this house as a son. Teach me, father, and I will obey.”

Guruswamy placed his hands together as he had placed them before the meriah. A wonderful joy shone upon the old face that was lifted to the speaker. Then rising he cracked his knuckles over Indra’s head, to ward off the evil spirits, and called down a blessing on the man who was willing to offer himself to the earth goddess for the sake of the people.

“Did your father say how the goddess could be best served?” asked the old man, gazing into his face with earnest inquiry.

“I know! I know! No need to tell me how. I shall follow in the footsteps of Guruswamy, the pujari, whose forefathers made the true sacrifice of the meriah to the earth goddess. He shall show me how to please her.”

Indra placed the palms of his hands together and fell to the earth before the pujari. He bent his head until his forehead touched the instep of the old man.

“Teach me, oh! my father!Teach me how to please her. Teach me how to make the acceptable sacrifice, which shall compel her to turn and smile upon us, bless our fields, our houses, ourselves!”

The eyes of the old pujari glistened with the light that had glowed in their depths on a former occasion.

“My son! I will teach thee! It is the decree of Tari Pennu herself. By thy mouth has she spoken, Listen!”

Indra raised himself from the ground and assumed a sitting position close to his instructor. Long they sat there, Guruswamy speaking in a low voice; Indra listening with the fanaticism of the devotee. So low did the voice fall that the strained ears of Phulmoni on the other side of the wall failed to catch the words.

Suddenly there was a cry, and Indra sprang to his feet. The girl could hear the voice of the grandfather in soothing tones as he calmed the excited young Khond and prevailed upon him to sit down again and listen to the rest of the story. Her lips parted in a cruel smile, and she uttered a low laugh, malicious and vindictive.

Half an hour later Indra left the hut to return to his own house. He had to pass through the little yard where Phulmoni sat polishing a brass lota. For the first time in his life he ignored her presence and seemed unaware that she was within sight. One thought alone filled his mind to the exclusion of all others, including the union he desired with the pujari’s granddaughter. Everything else was dwarfed or obliterated in this superlative idea. He had a mission to fulfil. He was the chosen of the gods. Through him misfortune was to be averted and happiness gained for the multitude at a tremendous cost. His spirit was raised above worldly considerations. Visions of self-sacrifice, self-devotion filled him with a strange ecstasy that made all things seem unreal.

A few minutes after he had disappeared, Guruswamy issued from the hut and walked slowly and deliberately towards the village green where the Khonds were congregated. Of late he had avoided his fellow men. Now he sought them. They were very different in appearance from the men who busied themselves on the slopes of the hills among the rubber plants. Many were sullen and silent. Some showed fear in their faces. The greater number spoke with thickened speech. All were more or less excited in manner; and not one could be considered entirely sober. The nobility that marks the hillman—with his stalwart form, his natural dignity and courageous bearing—was temporarily extinguished. The men who confronted the pujari were dangerous animals, their semi-savage intellects clouded by drink, and their minds dominated by a cruel and inhuman superstition.

He glanced at them and read them aright. They were moved by a deep displeasure that had not as yet found expression or culminated in action. It required courage to face them in their present mood; but a Khond among his own people is no coward. Guruswamy felt the old brave spirit rise within him. He drew a sharp breath to still the beating of his heart, and held up his hand as a signal that he begged for a hearing.

With averted faces and scowling brows they silently accorded him what he asked for. Some squatted on their heels; others remained standing, without troubling themselves to turn towards the speaker. Most of them carried a light axe with a curved blade across the shoulder, a formidable looking weapon with which a skull might be cleft with ease.

He began with slow, quiet speech, explaining what he openly told them they ought to have known. He was but the servant of the deity that governed the universe. A servant could not command; he had not even as much as the standing of a son, who might demand favours of an indulgent father. A slave, such as he deemed himself in the service of the goddess, could only supplicate, using such methods as seemed most likely to be acceptable.

He was interrupted by murmurs from the gathering crowd; and one old man asked why, if he was not certain of the favours of the goddess, he had ventured to approach her with a mockery of the old rites.

The white-bearded pujari fixed the bold inquirer with his eye and replied with marked restraint that the gods must be approached in a tentative manner. The offering had been made with a view of sounding Tari Pennu. Unfortunately she had not received it favourably; but the fault did not lie with the pujari. Here he gazed round at his hearers with a severity that equalled theirs. The fault lay at their door; they were responsible for all that had happened. It was a bold line to take, and carried the contest into the very heart of the enemy’s camp.

All eyes were turned upon him with inquiry. He confronted his hearers with renewed courage, as he assured them that it was not because there was anything wanting in the rites and ceremonies of the sacrifice, nor in the quality of the victim, that it had failed. The fault rested entirely with the people themselves, the worshippers. Did they believe that in carrying the flesh to the earth, they carried what was most acceptable to the deity? No! They recognized it only as pig’s flesh, and at the bottom of their hearts they despised it. What was the good of a sacrifice without faith? The spirit in which they offered it was the spirit in which it was received.

With that wonderful power of oratory that belongs to the hillman the old man launched invective after invective on the heads of his hearers. They, and they alone, were the cause of all that had happened. His words rang out, his face worked with emotion, and he spoke like one who possessed the spirit of prophecy.

His harangue was not without effect; a hum of murmurs indicated that the crowd was divided in opinion. The noise did not check the marvellous flow of words which continued with increasing volubility. Suddenly a shrill voice cried in penetrating tones.

“He speaks the truth. It is Tari Pennu herself who has revealed to him what was in our hearts.”

A chorus of assent greeted the assertion. Encouraged by the approval expressed, the same voice asked—

“What shall be done to restore the favour of the mighty one?!”

“That is what I am come to tell you if you have sense to listen. The people, who were stupid enough to offer pig’s flesh as pig’s flesh when they ought to have had faith and offered the flesh as the true meriah, have no sense; they cannot understand. Therefore I depart to a village on the other side of the mountains where men and women are wiser. There I will offer the meriah flesh and blood according to the ancient rites; and rain shall fall there in torrents, whilst here you and your families, your cattle and your crops shall die of thirst.”

He turned away with a gesture indicating that he washed his hands of followers who were too dense to understand, too thick-headed to be saved from the consequences of their own stupidity.

His action had an extraordinary effect upon the superstitious villagers. The crowd had increased; women and children as well as a number of boys and men had been drawn to the spot by curiosity. They were held by something stronger. Fear had them in its grip. Their misfortunes were not so great but that they might be greater, if their pujari left them in anger. The tide of public opinion had turned; and the women, whose brains were not dulled by drink, spoke out freely.

“He tells us the truth,” cried a sturdy matron; her voice was a power in the village. “The offence lay with the men and not with the pujari. Call him back; tell him that we would hear what he has to say.”

A sudden clamour was raised to recall him; but Guruswamy was an experienced actor in his way. He knew the value of scornful displeasure and he assumed an injured attitude.

“Nay? the blame is put upon me by the buffalo-headed men of this place, and I will not stay another night with them.”

The clamour increased, and the old man whose voice had been the first to rise in reproachful questions was the one to take action. He laid a restraining hand upon the arm of the pujari, with a humble entreaty that he would not forsake them in their distress.

Guruswamy paused as if in doubt; then made a feint of tearing himself away. The tone of the people changed to one of anxious solicitation. He gazed round at the sea of eager faces with a quickening pulse. Yes! the old power was still behind him. He had caught their ear and conquered their antipathy, He had only to speak and they would be with him to a man whether drunk or sober.

He suffered himself to be overruled, and once again allowed them to gather round with ears strained to catch every word that should fall from his lips. It was a triumph; but he took care to hide it under an assumption of injury.

The threads of his oration were skilfully gathered up at the point where he had dropped them. After reproaching them yet once more for their lack of faith, he opened out the design by which the favour of the offended deity should be restored. His utterances were of the same import as those of Indra. He preached the necessity of a sacrifice, a great sacrifice worthy of the name. Lest they should fall into the same error again, there should be a proper substitute for the pig. He would tell them what it was later on. A solemn warning was given, and he entreated them to follow his directions in every detail. Unless they promised this he could not answer for the consequences. It was still possible by stupid blundering to bring down further misfortune upon their heads.

As he looked round upon the faces of the hillmen he knew that he had not only won the day, but that he had voiced a desire that lay deep within them. The women’s minds caught the suggestion, and a chorus of approval showed that they were with their pujari heart and soul. Drink-sodden as were the men, their senses were not entirely deadened. A master idea pierced through the fog like a shaft of fiery light and took possession of them. It was not revenge; nor a vendetta, as is often the case with the hill tribes; it was not war; it was not rebellion. The desire of the people was for a sacrifice that would amply propitiate the mysterious deity governing the powers of nature. Hitherto no one had dared to express that desire in words except Indra. Now it was expressed for them by none other than their own pujari, Guruswamy.

The speaker could feel that his hearers were swayed by his words; he was conscious that animosity was dead and his old power was permanently re-established. His spirit rose and the old fanaticism flamed forth. The apprehension roused by their discontent vanished; he was the leader once more; and his followers would help him to carry out the great and fearful design that owed its origin to a bold suggestion made by his own granddaughter. In their gratitude the Khonds would protect him; and if occasion arose they would assist him to hide from the arm of the law in the depths of their own jungles.

He knew that Indra was impressed; it would not take long to bring him to the necessary point of self-sacrifice. The people were eager; and he? Was he not ready? aye, and glad to be the instrument of a revival that could not fail to satisfy and propitiate the Power they called Tari Pennu.

The pujari passed on to Dondia Mazzu’s house. There was a long talk carried on in low tones, and the subject of it was not the marriage of the headman’s son.

“In my house I can perform all the ceremonies to prepare him that were customary of old. There must be no violence and no pollution. His work in the village and on the land must cease. This time we must leave nothing undone to ensure success.”

Dondia looked at Indra, who was a silent listener. “You hear, my son?”

Indra did not reply, and Guruswamy divined the meaning of his silence.

“The chosen of the gods comes as my son, the welcome husband of my granddaughter, since that is his desire. What matters forms and ceremonies? The devotee of Tari Pennu cannot err; his every act is holy. By-and-by, when the sacrifice has been made, the girl will be asked in marriage as eagerly as if she took a hundred head of cattle to her husband.”

The light shining in Indra’s eyes softened into a human expression.

“Be it so; I will come,” he replied gently.

A few days later, garlanded and clothed in new garments, the son of the headman was carried in procession to the house of the pujari. There were music and tomtoming; and for a few hours the villagers abstained from drink that they might take part in his dedication. The gloomy look upon their countenances gave place to one of hope. The news of the dedication had spread; and men and women arrived from neighbouring villages full of curiosity, praying to be permitted to join in the rites of the great sacrifice.

There would have been a struggle over the honour of carrying him had not Dondia Mazzu himself claimed the privilege. The procession with its undisciplined following perambulated the village, stopping here and there that the people might make obeisance and prostrate themselves. As a leaf or petal fell from the garlands that encircled Indra’s neck half a dozen hands were stretched out to seize it.

The sun had set and darkness was creeping over the mountains when the pujari’s house was reached and Indra entered. No one was invited to come in. Even his father took his leave without attempting to cross the threshold. The crowd waited until the door was closed against them, when they quietly departed to their own homes, and once again drank deep of the coarse liquor.

“Daughter!” cried the old pujari as he shut the door. “Lead forth the girl. The chosen of the gods waits with impatience.”

There was no reply. He called again with no result. Uttering an exclamation of anger he sought for the woman and the girl behind the screen that divided the little room. He found no one. The house was empty; so also was the yard. In fear and apprehension he ran out into the jungle behind the hut, shouting for them by name. The only response to his cry was the laugh of the jungle crow as it settled to its roosting-place among the thick foliage of the wild mango trees; and the shriek of the night-jar hunting the small rodent among the tussocks of grass on the hillside.

Within the hut Indra sat by the new mat and pillow that had been provided as his marriage bed. He could not sleep; his blood boiled and his mind was in a tumult. Every incident that occurred was no longer the common outcome of the day’s course. It was controlled directly by the hand of Tari Pennu. This was her first demand; this was the beginning of the sacrifice he had promised to make in her name.

Between two and three o’clock in the morning Indra fell to the ground in the sevenfold prostration.

“Oh! Mother of the earth! I submit as thy son. I give myself to thee. Take all and bless the people, my father’s people, who suffer under thy displeasure.”

For some minutes he lay thus; and as he lay, the peace of mind that has never failed the devotee flooded his whole being. He rose and went to the mat, placing his head on his solitary pillow. In a few seconds sleep came, a sleep that was full of rest and peace.

Chapter XX

After an absence of four months Krishna Sao came back to the hills to learn the best and the worst that fickle fortune had to offer him. It was indeed a sorry sight. The plants, brought from the Straits at considerable expense and trouble, were dying. Many of them were past recovery. Even if rain fell within a few hours it could not save them. The earth cracked and crumbled into powder round their roots; and the big trees, left standing for the purpose of shade, were half denuded of their leaves. The old foliage was falling; but the new, which was to replace it, was poor and thin.

Accompanied by the man he had left in charge, the zemindar visited every slope and every valley. Being a philosopher in his way and a fatalist, he was not overwhelmed by his misfortune. At the same time he could not regard such a loss as this with equanimity.

His manager was a man from the plains, a Hindu by religion. He understood the language of the hillmen sufficiently to comprehend their replies when he put questions about the work in the plantations; and he could make himself understood in the market and in the field. “Will every plant die?” asked Krishna Sao.

“No, sir; a great many will live if we have rain with the north-east monsoon. Of course, if that fails——”

“My venture will be killed out entirely,” said the hapless owner, as he ruefully completed what his subordinate hesitated to put into words. “What percentage shall I lose in any case?”

“The trees that were planted with the early showers will survive—always providing we have the November rains. Those planted latest will suffer most. I am afraid your honour must be prepared to lose a quarter of the plants.”

“That is better than losing all. What do the Khonds say to the state of affairs? I suppose they are suffering quite as much as I am?”

“More in many cases. The harvest will be a failure. There will be a little to gather in; but of so poor a quality as to be insufficient to supply them with food until the next crop is ready. Unless the grain merchant allows them credit they will starve.”

“Meanwhile, I note by their appearance that they have been indulging in the weakness of the hill tribes, and have been drinking. When I arrived yesterday afternoon I saw a procession going round the village. What was it?”

“Your honour doubtless knows that I speak but the truth when I say that all misfortunes are due to the wrath of the gods? The Khonds believe, and rightly, that the present trouble has been caused by the earth goddess, to whom offence was given by the offering of the pig. A pig is of no account with us. Our people make sacrifices of blood, and the animals used are buffaloes. The head of the beast is cut off and the blood falls upon a large heap of rice that gathers and holds it. It is thus distributed among the people; and wherever it is planted or treasured it brings good fortune. Fields become fertile; flocks and herds multiply, and children are born. If we use pigs at all, we impale them upon the four corners of the sacred cart that passes through the village in procession with music and tomtoms. Your honour has perhaps seen the ceremony.”

“Blood sacrifices were not taught by my guru. The Brahmins, who were my instructors, used nothing but flowers and fruit in their worship.”

There was silence for a time as they climbed another slope.

“Do the Khonds think of sacrificing a buffalo?” asked the Zemindar.

“They are planning to offer the earth goddess some kind of sacrifice. It is to be made by the young man who was carried through the village yesterday in procession, as your honour saw.’

“And the victim will be a buffalo, for which they will expect me to pay as I paid for the pig?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

The words were uttered in such a manner as to cause Krishna Sao to stop and face his manager.

“You don’t know; but you have your thoughts. What are they? Speak; it matters nothing to you nor to me what the hillmen do,” he said sharply, and in a tone of command.

“Indeed, sir, I know nothing; I am unable to say what the Khonds intend to do. Your honour is aware that I am a stranger here and not in their confidence,” replied the man with some embarrassment.

“It will not be a buffalo?”

“Possibly not.”

“Nor a pig? Nor goats?”

“I cannot say.”

Again there was silence, and this time it lasted longer as Krishna Sao strode on in front buried in deep thought.

“And you believe with these men that the shedding of blood in sacrifice will cause the earth to yield, and will save my plants as well as the crops of the Khonds?”

“Most assuredly,” answered the manager, with restored confidence. “We know that the pouring out of the life-blood upon the earth, the gift of life to the soil, will cause it to yield back a hundredfold. It is proved with us year after year. We cannot therefore but believe that when the Khonds give the life-blood to their goddess, it will be returned to them a hundredfold.”

“It was not returned apparently in the matter of the pig.”

“The pig was a mistake, as I have pointed out to your honour. At the time the people despised it; they were well aware that the offering was not what it ought to have been, and they would make amends.”


Again Krishna Sao stopped and faced his companion with keen inquiry, as though he would probe the matter to its very depth; and again he was met by a silence that was even more eloquent than words.

He turned to look at his property. Below them stretched a slope of a hundred and fifty acres. It was the most promising part of the plantation; but the young rubber trees were manifestly in a bad way.

“It is a pity: I have lost thousands of rupees over this venture,” he said with resignation.

“The greater part of these trees will recover if we get the proper rainfall. Next month there should be showers, and the month following heavy rain.”

“I hope it will come.”

‘If the sacrifice of the Khonds finds favour in the eyes of their gods, it will come,” replied the man with conviction. “We must remember that it cannot benefit them without benefiting your honour.”

“I will give them a buffalo, the finest, healthiest animal that can be bought. You may tell them so.”

“They do not want a buffalo.”

“The sacrifice ought to be a buffalo. I shall speak to Dondia Mazzu and the old Guruswamy about it.”

“I beg you to do nothing of the kind, sir,” said the manager in sudden agitation. “It will only bring harm. Some have actually said that it gave offence to permit the presence of your honour and the Englishman at the ceremony on the island. This time the sacrifice will be made secretly, with only the hillmen present.”

He looked into his employer’s face with anxiety. Krishna Sao made no response; and his companion inferred from the silence that he was not in accord with him.

“Sir, let the Khonds do as they please. See, we have suffered enough!” He stretched his hand out towards the parched plantation. “Why should we suffer more—you with the loss of your trees and I with the loss of my employment. Dead trees need no care. The plants must live, to benefit me as well as yourself. Through their roots they must draw in the life that is to cause them to bear fruit. They must grow strong so that the rubber juice may be plentiful to bring money into your pocket and a living wage to me. Why should we interfere? Why should we add to the misfortune that has already descended upon them and upon us? If the sacrifice is not performed by the hillmen as they desire to perform it, they must see their wives and children starve, their cattle and goats die or be driven away by the grain merchants, their fields barren and the forest bare of its nuts and fruits. Would you bring evil upon the people as well as upon yourself by meddling with matters that were best left alone, and of which we should remain in ignorance, asking no questions?”

Krishna Sao listened in the attitude of a man who heard willingly. Yes, indeed! His manager spoke but the truth. Why should he interfere? Although he did not offer blood sacrifices himself, he could not deny their efficacy when offered by those whose custom it was to make them. If his property lay in that part of the country where they were not usual, then to offer blood sacrifices would be absurd and unnecessary; but here, in the heart of the hillmen’s district, who could say how his plantations might be affected by customary religious ceremonies. As his manager had said, that which benefited the Khonds could not fail to benefit him as well.

His mind went to Indra and he recalled the dreamy expression of his eyes. It was possible that the self-devotion of the young Khond might be of such a nature as to exonerate all others from responsibility. A man’s life was his own to do with it what he chose. He had a right to devote it to the State in military service; he could devote it to the rearing and preservation of a family; or he might offer himself to the gods in service at the temple. No one had any right to interfere in the disposal of a man’s life from the Hindu’s point of view.

He walked on in silence; and the manager took comfort in the fact that his employer had not deputed him to buy an animal for the Khonds.

In Guruswamy’s hut there was wailing and trouble. The girl had been found at daybreak hiding among some rocks by the river. She refused to return at the bidding of her aunt and threatened to drown herself, a threat she had no intention of carrying out. It had required the help of two or three village women to bring her back, and in the execution of it there had been some rough usage.

Bound with fibre rope she was hustled and driven to her grandfather’s house, where she was thrust in a corner of the yard. The old woman missed her services more than a little, as she had to prepare the midday meal unassisted, sweep and wash up, bring water and wood, and keep the fire going. All this had to be done, moreover, after a night of anxious search upon the hillside.

Indra sat brooding over the future and all that it held for him. His sleep had refreshed and strengthened him. In every event, no matter how trivial it was, he believed now that he saw the finger of the deity. It was the doing of Tari Pennu herself that the girl had proved refractory and had not yielded to his wishes. The goddess would share him with no one. He had submitted, but not without a smouldering anger against the woman who had thwarted him.

He rose to his feet and went out into the little yard, where he stood for a few minutes contemplating the overworked woman and the whimpering girl.

“Loose her, mother,” he said; “let her do her share of the work. It is too hard for you alone.” Then turning to Phulmoni he continued in a stern tone, Girl! fear nothing. It shall be as you wish. I belong to no one but Tari Pennu, and in her name I renounce you. By my mouth she speaks. I command you to render service in the house of your grandfather. Do not dare to disobey or to run away again. You have angered the goddess by your foolishness. By my mouth she declares that a husband you shall never have, since you have rejected the chosen of the gods; nor shall you have the desire of your heart—that which you hug in secret and tell to no one.”

The old woman untied the rope that bound her niece. She felt the girl shiver as the prophetic words fell on her ears. Both women glanced at the young Khond with an expression of fear as he left them. He did not seem to them like one of themselves, a villager and an ordinary hillman; he was not besotted with drink and he spoke like a man in authority. Phulmoni glanced after his retreating figure with something more than curiosity. He had spurned her with scorn instead of praying abjectly for the boon she might grant. The prize was slipping from her negligent fingers; and in the loss she was aware for the first time of its possible value. She tossed her head with renewed confidence. It would only be necessary to smile at him, and he would return a supplicant.

“Fool! daughter of a dhoby donkey, granddaughter of a jungle pig!” began the aunt as soon as Indra was out of hearing. “Why did you run away and bring us to shame? There is not another girl in the village who would have behaved so stupidly—refusing an honour from him who belongs to Tari Pennu! What is the result? He has cursed you. He says that you shall never have a husband nor see the desire of your heart. His words will come true. I have heard my mother say in the old days that every word spoken by him who was dedicated to Tari Pennu came true. Good fortune attended those whom he touched. It was lucky to secure even a shred of his clothing, a blossom that he had worn; and she whom he embraced was most blessed of all; to her was given every wish of her heart. What is the desire of your heart, foolish girl? You may be sure that Tari Pennu will never grant it.”

As Phulmoni listened a cold shiver again ran through her. She had not looked upon it in this light. The desire of her heart was a fair-skinned babe. It was impossible that Indra could give her such a treasure. The awful thought struck her for the first time that she had erred; that if she had made a concession to the earth goddess, the favour of the Englishman might have been gained. There was yet time to amend. It was quite true what Indra said; any girl in the village would have been proud to have been chosen as his mate.

The feminine mind is versatile; before the midday meal was ready Phulmoni’s attitude towards her lover was entirely changed, and she was no longer burning with indignation at the unceremonious disposal of her person by her guardians.

Indra followed the mountain path till he came to the wire bridge. He passed over it and stood alone upon the island. Before him was the meriah post. He recalled the scene that took place six months before, the ceremony in which for some mysterious reason he was not allowed to participate. He knew the reason now. He was reserved for something greater.

Pride, enthusiasm for the cause, devotion to the deity he was to serve, filled his mind to the exclusion of all other emotion. The personal indulgence of desire was lost in the all-absorbing longing to please the earth goddess. Then and there he could have immolated himself upon the meriah post; but the time was not ripe for the sacrifice. Many rites must be performed before the supreme act took place.

The clear waters of the river, unsullied by swollen torrents, ran with a gentle murmur low among the rocks that formed its bed. To the ears of the devotee it was the voice of Tari Pennu, soft and gentle in her pleasure, giving expression to her delight as a woman might croon over her first-born.

He pictured himself bound to the post, his back to that terrible elephant’s head, his face towards the crowd, his arms raised and tied by his own black hair to the ears of the post. There was no horror in the thought. Fear and terror were swallowed up in the sublime idea of the sacrifice. It would not be death even though they stripped the flesh from his bones; and left him as bare as the skeleton of the pig. He would still live in the mysterious halls where Tari Pennu reigned, and from which no man desired to return.

He was not to be quite as the meriah of old, who was drugged and carried passive and unconscious to the post. Tari Pennu would not accept a victim who offered resistance either in the old days or in these. It must be a voluntary offering. Neither Guruswamy nor Dondia Mazzu could lift a finger to coerce a man to be tied to the post against his will. Such an act would go by the ugly name of murder; nor could they carry him there stupefied with drugs and unconscious. That, too, would be regarded by the law as nothing less than murder. He must give himself willingly and in the full possession of his senses; and he must seem to all appearances to plunge the knife into his heart with his own hand. He was ready to do it, ready to take his own life that others might live, that there might be plenty where there was now scarcity, happiness where there was suffering, and life in exchange for death. He stretched out his arms in the bright morning sunlight and on his face shone the sublime happiness of the martyr.

“Oh! Mother of the earth! fountain of all that sustains life! I give myself to thee! I am thine! Take me! Let me live with thee that my fellow men may live and not die!”

Krishna Sao and his companion looked across the river and caught sight of the figure standing near the old meriah post. No words passed between the zemindar and his companion; but a glance that was eloquent of much was exchanged. In it Krishna Sao read the confirmation of all his suspicions.

He walked on considering the question with the old detached criticism that stripped facts of their gloss and laid them bare. The question that has troubled mankind from the earliest ages presented itself to his mind, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

He would acknowledge no duty on his part towards mankind. It was no part of his moral or religious training If religion taught him anything, it was a masterly non-interference with the decrees of fate.

He had interfered once in the cause of humanity for no particular reason except that an example was set before his eyes. He followed a lead without knowing why; it was not at the dictate of religion nor the prompting of a natural instinct. The result was disaster,—so the hillmen said,—and it might be presumed that they knew the mind of their deity. Why had he tried to avert a fate that must sooner or later overtake the son of the headman? It would have been better to have allowed him to perish, since his preservation cost him and the people so much. Should he interfere a second time and endeavour to arrest a certain course of events that he knew were impending? Should he take steps by which the deity, already angered, would be rendered still more vengeful? No! no! It was madness to repeat the action fraught with so much misfortune. Better let matters run their inevitable course, If it was fated to happen, it would happen; and no good could be done by opposing the higher powers that governed the destinies of men.

Chapter XXI

Neither the Rajah of Ellanore nor his nephew lost any time in forwarding their respective interests. A few weeks after the exposure of the false birthmark the Rajah intimated to the authorities that he had discovered a fresh clue. The panwa’s tale was quite correct as far as it went. It was the woman who had deceived him. She had foisted upon him her nephew, and had sent away the rightful heir into hiding. It was supposed that he had been despatched to Burmah under the pretence of entering a merchant’s office, where he might learn something of commercial business. The young man had gone readily enough, it was further stated, as he was in ignorance of his true parentage. As soon as it was possible to communicate with him, he would be asked to return. The birthmark was visible under the right arm. It was from this mark that the false one had been drawn from memory by the scheming aunt. The Rajah protested vehemently that he had been the victim of deception and not the promoter of it.

The nephew brought another tale, backed by half a dozen witnesses. The bones of a child had been found in the bed of the river where the sands were usually covered by water. Owing to the drought the river was very low and the skeleton was discovered by a man who was digging a hole for water. People were not wanting who could swear that they had seen the body at that very spot, and that in size it was similar to the one that was rifled of its anklet by the herdsman.

Waldingham was interviewed at different hours by the Rajah and his heir. He heard their tales with patience; and dismissed them with the promise that he would inquire into the matter. After the lapse of some weeks he wrote to Woodhurst to say that he had seen both the men several times, and asked what he thought of the case. Receiving no answer he rode over one afternoon to the Assistant Superintendent’s house.

He dismounted and ran up the verandah steps, according to his custom when Mrs. Woodhurst was not there, to seek him in his sitting-room. In most Indian bungalows the rooms open into the centre room, which is a drawing-room. To his astonishment as he made his unceremonious entrance unannounced, a figure rose, and his name was uttered in a voice that never sounded quite like other voices in his ears.

“Mr. Waldingham!”

“Miss Woodhurst! I thought you were on the hills. I am so pleased to see you.”

The words, spontaneous and unreserved, were spoken with unguarded warmth. This was the first time he had seen her since his emancipation. By now his cousin must have received the letter sent to Tokio in which he claimed release from his fictitious engagement. Rosabelle was not deaf to the note of pleasure in his voice nor blind to the more impressive manner that marked his greeting. She was far from feeling the calm with which she managed to give him a reply.

“We came back yesterday.”

“It was sooner than your father anticipated surely. The most trying month, September, is still before us. This is only the first week of it.”

“You will be sorry to hear the reason for our return.”

“What is it? Nothing wrong I hope,” he rejoined quickly, as he held her hand a few seconds longer than was necessary.

“My father is laid up again with fever; and this time the doctor says that he must go away on sick leave, or he will not answer for the consequences. He is utterly incapacitated for duty of any kind. As you know, in Government service, if a man cannot work, he has no choice but to take leave and let another man do his work.”

“Where do you think of going? To England?”

“I am afraid we cannot manage the journey home just yet; mother proposes to go back to the hills, where we will stay for a month. At the end of that time we shall be able to tell whether father can return here, or whether furlough to England will be absolutely necessary.”

“Of course furlough would be the right thing for him,” said Waldingham. “The wonder is that he has been able to hold on as long as this.”

“I know that he ought to have gone home at the beginning of the hot weather; but——”

She stopped with a look of distress upon her face. He was quick to note it, and cursed his foolish tongue inwardly. It was well known in the station why Woodhurst had not taken furlough.

“I wish I could be of assistance,” he said with some hesitation. It was difficult to offer the only substantial help that would smooth the way to a return to the old country. He had no right to expect that a favour of that kind would be accepted; yet the longing to assist was strong. ““I—I—” he stopped in sheer desperation. The words refused to come.

“It is very good of you; I know you would help us if it were possible. You were ready when I last appealed to you. Do you remember? It was too bad of me to turn you out of your tent. I was very grateful, though I had no opportunity of expressing my thanks. Sam told you, of course, how Sir James came with his elephant and carried me off.”

She talked on to give him time to recover his self-possession, but her little device did not avail much.

“Rosabelle! will you give me the right to help you. I have the money lying idle. It would be more than enough to carry you all home in comfort. If I might be allowed——”

“No! no! Mr. Waldingham! Please don’t put temptation in mother’s way,” she cried in agitation. Accepted favours from other men are already lying heavy on our shoulders—on my shoulders. I venture to say as much to you, as I know you are a friend on whom I can rely. I will not, I cannot bear any more.”

He moved closer to her. “Are you still free, Rosa? free to accept a favour from some one who is more than a friend?”

She drew back with a sudden shrinking, as though she feared herself even more than she feared her companion.

“Don’t! don’t!” she cried in a choking voice. “You make it so hard for me. You know that we can never be anything but friends. We can’t even be that, if you speak to me so! You have no right to——”

“Give me the right,” he interrupted fiercely.

“How can I give you what you cannot accept? You are bound to another woman.”

There was indignation in her voice as she accused him.

“By heaven I am not! I am free!”

They stood gazing wildly into each other’s eyes with the unspoken love that needed no speech, no assurance, blazing with all the fire of youth. It told the secret of their hearts.

“And you?” he continued. “I will not have what has been promised to another man. Has Sir James spoken?”

‘No; not yet,” she replied breathlessly.

“Thank God!”

His arms were outstretched; but they were speedily dropped, as Mrs. Woodhurst’s voice fell on his ear and her figure appeared in the doorway of her husband’s room.

“Mr. Waldingham! this is an unexpected pleasure! How good of you to come and inquire after my poor husband. I am afraid he is very ill.”

As she uttered the words she advanced and offered her hand with an air of eclipsing her daughter, and absorbing the undivided attention of the visitor. Rosabelle moved away into the verandah, where she stood looking out at the sunlit plants in the garden without seeing colour or form. Waldingham’s declaration had raised a tumult of emotion which she found difficult to control. He was free! She had given no promise, although her mother had done much to entangle her by a course of action that implied the giving of a promise as soon as it should be demanded. Providence had been kind, indeed; but oh! why had her mother entered the drawing-room at that supreme moment? It took but a short minute to recover her self-possession, and she turned back into the room. Her mother was speaking in even tones, that fell on her excited brain with the metallic tink-tink of the coppersmith bird, uttering its eternal note in the flamboyant tree that shaded the porch; and of the cry of the koil, “Sacrifice! Sacrifice!! Sacrifice!!!”

“We are going to the hills immediately. Dear Sir James has been so good and proved himself more than a friend. He has taken a house at Ootacamund; and I have just had a telegram from him asking us to come at once and stay with him as long as we like. He promises to look after my husband and do all that he can to make him well. It has relieved my mind more than I can say, to know that there are comfortable quarters ready for the invalid. Hotel life is so trying to a sick man. Poor Rosabelle is terribly upset by seeing her father in this prostrate condition. She is unaccustomed to sickness of any kind. I am afraid you found her scarcely herself.”

She did not wait for any comment from her hearer, but called to her daughter.

“Go to your father, Rosabelle. He ought not to be left alone even for five minutes.” Then to Waldingham she said: We have no nurse for him. Such a luxury does not exist in the station. In Ooty I shall be able to get skilled assistance which will go far towards curing him. I think good nursing is as necessary as good medical advice; don’t you agree with me, Mr. Waldingham?”

She might monopolize the conversation, but she could not hold his undivided attention. His eyes were upon the figure of the girl as she moved in the direction of the sick man’s room. She reached the door and paused, glancing at Waldingham, who took a few steps towards her and held out his hand.

“I shall see you again, Miss Woodhurst; I must see you,” he continued, his voice assuming a masterful intonation. He clasped her hand as though the hand already belonged to him. “I have something to say. If you cannot spare the time from your duties by your father’s side now, I will come to-morrow morning.”

“Rosabelle will be busy packing——” interposed Mrs. Woodhurst, a frown of annoyance on her brow.

“I shall have time to see you all the same. Let it be to-morrow morning as soon after breakfast as you like,” replied the girl, with a decision that her mother felt was an unspoken challenge.

Mrs. Woodhurst was diplomatic. She kept her annoyance to herself and gave no sign that she detected anything unusual in the manner of either. The situation puzzled her. Waldingham was known to be half engaged, and therefore not in a position to propose marriage to any girl. Why should he want to interview Rosa? Her weapon of offence as well as defence was her tongue, and she did not neglect to use it. She began to speak again before her daughter had disappeared.

“I am afraid we cannot wait for my husband to give over charge to the man who is to act for him. He is too ill. The doctor sanctions his departure as soon as we can make the arrangements; he thinks it unwise to run any risk by unnecessary delay. I must get the house in some kind of order; as the man who acts will take it off our hands; and he will also be glad to have our staff of servants. Were you anxious to see my husband on business? It is impossible. Any talk about his work increases the fever and makes him light-headed. I have strict orders not to allow him to open his mouth on the subject.”

“I am very sorry to hear it,” was all Waldingham could say. He found it difficult to get in even that trivial remark, so persistent was the flow of words.

“I won’t ask you to stay longer. I know time is precious to all you hardly-worked men,” continued Mrs. Woodhurst, holding out her hand in unmistakeable fashion. “Naturally I am very anxious to go back to my poor invalid. I will send you a note to-morrow morning to give you news of him. Don’t trouble to come over to inquire. Boy!” she raised her voice to call the servant. “Tell Mr. Waldingham’s syce to bring the horse.”

“When do you expect to get away?” asked Waldingham; as he permitted her to take his hand.

“Not before to-morrow evening. Perhaps we shall not be able to leave as soon as that. I must put away several things of my own which I don’t want on the hills and cannot allow a stranger to use. I will let you know in my letter to-morrow morning whether my husband is fit for the journey, or whether he will be obliged to stay for another day or two.”

Waldingham rode away with varied emotions. His inclination had been strongly in favour of standing his ground and demanding an interview then and there; but he was of a peace-loving disposition, and had no wish to create a disturbance by insisting on doing something that was contrary to the desire of his hostess. Mrs. Woodhurst had not been very lucid as to her movements, and her statements were slightly contradictory. She was in haste to remove her husband, and yet she might not be able to get away for a day or two. At any rate, the following morning would suffice to make everything plain and straight between himself and Rosabelle. He was sure that she understood what he was going to say, and that she was ready to listen. The information she had given him was in itself reassuring. She was not engaged. He had made it clear to her that he was free. With such a definite understanding they could well afford to wait for the final sealing of the compact.

His dismissal by her mother was galling: but it would have been unseemly to have resented it with the invalid lying so near. The resentment roused by her manner was swallowed up in the knowledge that he was loved. That knowledge brought joy in which there was no place for any sordid emotion. He felt that he could forgive anything and everything. With a wholesome healthy appreciation he revelled in his happiness, hugging it to his heart, and worshipping the image of his beloved with a new licence that raised him to a seventh heaven of bliss.

The horse with unaccustomed freedom took its road homewards unguided, and went at its own pace—a pace that did not err on the side of rapidity. Scarcely knowing where he was, the Assistant Agent found himself at his own house with the syce holding the stirrup for him to dismount. Like a man in a dream he mounted the steps of the verandah. One of his peons met him with the mail bag containing the afternoon delivery. He received the contents mechanically. It was not the day for the English mail; the letters were probably of an official character without interest beyond the office. He glanced through them carelessly, and his attention was arrested by the recognition of his mother’s handwriting.

It was some weeks since he had heard from her. The last letter bore the American stamp, with the postmark of San Francisco. She spoke then of waiting for a steamer to take her to Japan. He had been looking for a communication from Tokio, feeling sure that she would not be silent, whatever his cousin might be.

Waldingham sat down in the verandah; throwing his whip and gloves upon a small table near. Don Juan, attentive to his new duties, entered silently and carried them away. Knowing his master’s tastes, he brought the cigar-case and matches, and placed them within reach. He stopped and looked at his master, waiting silently for any possible expression of a want or a desire. The boy’s observant eyes told him that nothing would be demanded at present, for the simple reason that his master’s attention was fully absorbed by the letter he was reading. Placing his heels together and his hands behind him he stood motionless after the manner of the Indian servant, “waiting for order.”

The letter explained that Mrs. Waldingham had arrived in Ceylon, and was staying at the Queen’s Hotel, in Kandy, with her niece. She had comfortable quarters, and expressed her pleasure at having met again some people who had been doing much the same tour as herself. She had crossed from Liverpool to New York with them; lost sight of them when she turned northwards; discovered them again at San Francisco; lost them when she went to Singapore; and had encountered them once more at Colombo. Together they had come up to Kandy, a most charming place. Ivy had taken a great fancy to the girl, a Miss Alderstoke, who was quite as much of an heiress in her way as Ivy herself, although Miss Alderstoke’s parents were still alive, and there was a son as well as a daughter. They were all four most charming companions.

Waldingham bent his brows over the closely written pages. It was strange that no mention was made of his letters to Tokio. He plodded on with filial patience, wading through descriptions that were decidedly mixed. The writer passed from one subject to another with perplexing frequency. New York became entangled with Quebec; Toronto with San Francisco; Singapore with Colombo. The heat and the presence or absence of palm trees seemed to link the different places together, regardless of latitude and longitude, and leave her mind hopelessly confused.

Suddenly in the midst of a long involved description he came upon this paragraph. “After all, we did not go to Tokio. We decided to avoid Japan; as we heard that a case of cholera had appeared upon one of the ships of their navy. I was so afraid dear Ivy might take it. She is not very strong, and is so susceptible of colds and those kind of complaints.” Here she branched off into a discursive account of the Straits.

Waldingham read the description that followed with his eyes; but his brain refused to take in anything more than the fact that the letters upon which so much depended, had never been received. It was probable that his mother had forgotten that she had given him an address at that town; and it was quite certain that if she remembered the fact, she had not troubled to send instructions to the agent to forward them to Ceylon.

For several minutes he sat like one stunned, hearing and seeing nothing, conscious only of a vague sense of impending catastrophe. He pulled himself together with an effort and forced himself to finish reading the letter. He only half followed the rambling paragraphs; but when he reached the last page, his attention was once more riveted. “I am pleased to tell you that we found all our boxes safe at Colombo; I mean those that we ordered out to meet us. Need I say that they contain dear Ivy’s trousseau, and the cake, and several very handsome wedding presents. Now that the event is so near, I have sent the announcement of the engagement and approaching wedding to the leading English papers at home. I was sorry not to be able to name a date. I had to be content with saying that the wedding would be solemnized at the cathedral at Madras, some time in the month of October; and that the ceremony would be performed by the bishop, assisted by the archdeacon. You must see to this without delay, as it would be disappointing if there were any hitch at the last moment. I rely upon you to procure the licence—it had better be a special licence and the marriage must take place on our arrival in Madras. I have had enough of sight-seeing and travelling, and intend to return to England viâ Bombay at once. You and dear Ivy can go to Ooty immediately after the ceremony and spend your honeymoon there.”

Waldingham was only human, and he was a man, a very ordinary man with no pretensions to being any better than his fellows. He rose to his feet with a bound and an emphatic swear-word on his lips, in spite of the fact that the chief actor in the drama was his own mother.


Don Juan, who was still voluntarily on duty, waiting to execute any order that might be given by his master or to usher in a caller, was startled, and replied in some trepidation

“Verrigood, sar!”

Waldingham was too much perturbed to be conscious of the boy’s presence, or to notice the comment of his faithful little attendant. He strode to his sitting-room, flung the disturbing letter upon the table, took up his pen, and began to write. It was but a few lines, and the note commenced abruptly.

“I told you this afternoon that I was free. God knows that I believed that I spoke nothing but the truth. I find now that I was wrong. I must see you again, and will call to-morrow morning, as I promised.”

Don Juan was despatched to fetch a peon, and the note was sent to Rosabelle. The sun was dropping in the west. A deep orange haze lay over the distant hills. The overheated air held in suspension a fine, powdery dust, which nothing but a heavy discharge from the clouds would bring to earth again. It lay upon the foliage of the trees and obliterated the little green that had survived the drought, turning the landscape into a monochrome of gold with every degree of light and shade. It was a weird but glorious scene, the western sun touching the clouds with a crimson finger; yet to Waldingham’s sight the glory seemed suddenly to have departed, and the whole earth to have turned grey and sombre.

From the native town there came the roll of tomtoms and the wail of horns. Waldingham called Don Juan.

“Where’s the butler?”

“Gone to church, sar.”

“To church! This isn’t Sunday!”

“No, sar. This day heathen people making big sacrifice of blood. Our church got plenty busy too, making saint and Virgin Mary sacrifice. By-an’-by good rain coming.” Then as Waldingham did not reply Don Juan seized the opportunity of airing his English and indulging in the delight of imparting information at the same time. “Our church doing proper pujah only. Heathen people killing buffaloes and pigs and making nasty mess. Everybody too much drinking.”

“Consoling themselves like the Khonds,” said Waldingham to himself.

“Yes, sar! verrigood, sar!” replied the attentive Don Juan.

“When will the butler be home?”

“Six o’clock, sar. The common servants—mahouts and syce and gardener and milkman and dhoby and barber going to-night to heathen feast. All doing pujah and getting nicely drunk.” His English failed him, and he continued in the vernacular. “We of the Holy Church never kill buffaloes and make all night tamarsha with drink.”

Waldingham was too preoccupied with his own affairs to note the lofty contempt with which his little servitor spoke of the servants who were native to the place and heathens. Usually the boy amused him with the assumption of his butler’s manner; but now life held nothing humorous. The information his mother’s letter contained sat like a nightmare upon him; and he required time to realize all that it meant.

“Tell the syce that I shall not want the pony again; I shall not go to the club. You need not wait. I will call if I want anything.”

Don Juan departed into the back verandah; and having dismissed the waiting syce, he sat down in such a position as to have a view of the porch through the open doors.

Waldingham lighted a cigar and threw himself back in the long-armed verandah chair. What was he to do? Repeat the letter he had sent to Tokio? It would be a difficult task, more difficult than when he first wrote. Preparations had been made unknown to himself and without his consent, Ivy apparently approving. If she was not actually in love with him, she must at least be enamoured of the idea of marriage. Something must be done. He was not going to take the situation tamely and without a struggle. His mother might make all the preparations in the world; he still had a will of his own, and thanked Heaven that he possessed sufficient courage to act. He must write and refuse to be coerced into a marriage where there was no love—at least on his side. It was imperative that he should see Rosabelle first; as it would depend upon her as to whether he could plead that he was engaged to another woman. Would she allow him to consider himself betrothed to her before he had shaken himself free? Failing this, would she promise to wait? would she acknowledge her love? He recalled her look and the tone of desperate longing in her voice as she cried, “How can I give what you cannot accept?” Love, nothing but a great and whole-hearted love, lay behind the words. With all his perplexity the memory quickened his pulse and raised a golden shaft of hope that lightened the burden of anxiety lying upon his shoulders.

The sun sank behind the hills and darkness crept over the land, a soft, warm, enervating darkness, through which came the sound of the tomtoms in the bazaar. The monotony of the drumming seemed to suggest the hopelessness of the fatalist and the cessation of progress. For more than a thousand years India had been tomtoming and shedding blood in sacrifice to propitiate the gods; and though the people continued to tomtom and sacrifice, they had arrived at the belief that what was ordained to happen from the beginning would happen, in spite of all efforts of man to avert his fate. He tried to shake off the mood that had fallen upon him, and regretted that he had not gone to the club. After all it would have been better to have faced his fellow men and their trivial gossip than to face his own thoughts.

A motor-car with a trail of dust glided into the compound and drew up under the porch. He rose from his seat and went forward to the top of the steps.

“Krishna Sao! I am delighted to see you! How are you?”

His pleasure at the sight of his visitor was genuine. Had he been given his choice he could not have chosen one who would have been more welcome, He called to Don Juan to light the lamp and bring out a comfortable chair.

Chapter XXII

Krishna Sao no longer wore puttees, thick boots and a suit of English-cut tweed. He was richly dressed in a long satin coat of royal blue; it was lined with pale, straw-coloured silk and embroidered with gold. The garment fitted like a frock-coat. Grey trousers appeared below its long skirts; and his feet were covered with silk socks and patent leather boots. Little jewellery was shown, no more than a European might have worn. A fine diamond on his finger, a sapphire in the straw-coloured tie, gold sleeve links, and a modest watch-chain were all that were displayed. A turban of fine white muslin embroidered with gold was bound round a pointed cap of dark blue. It was neatly and closely tied and the ends of the muslin puggaree hung down behind sufficiently long to touch his shoulder.

“I have been wishing to see you, sir,” he said, as he took the chair Don Juan had pushed forward with a deep salaam.

The obsequiousness of the boy showed the effect that the clothes had made upon him. As he was arranging the seat for the visitor his eyes took in every detail of the dress. In his next dream of the royal estate he would clothe himself in the same costume, adding a necklace of diamonds and possibly a crown of gold. “Bring a match, Don Juan, and light the lamp,” said Waldingham again. Then turning to his visitor he asked after his rubber venture. “It must be suffering from this failure of the south-west monsoon.”

Krishna Sao drew in his breath with the suspicion of a sigh, the only indication that he felt the misfortune.

“I must confess to failure. The plants looked so well when I left the hills that I was full of confident hope. I installed a manager in the little bungalow and everything promised favourably. He did his best; but he could not compel the rain to fall.”

“That’s beyond the power of any man,” answered the Assistant Agent.

“After leaving the hills I went to Calcutta on business. On my return to Ganjam I heard rumours of disaster and went to see for myself how I stood.”

“Well? What percentage will you lose?”

“A quarter of the trees are beyond recovery and must be replaced.”

“Vexing; but these calamities can’t be helped; one must take them as they come,” remarked Waldingham, not without a touch of conventionality.

“Then you do believe in fate?”said Krishna Sao; with a keen glance at the Englishman.

“I didn’t mean that. I was thinking that no man had yet discovered a means of governing the weather. As far as the rainfall and the sunshine are concerned, we are all obliged to be fatalists. There is no choice in the matter.”

“In other words, we must submit to what is sent by the gods,” corrected the zemindar, with a certain amount of resignation in his voice.

“I hope that the hillmen are of the same opinion,’. said Waldingham. “What are they doing?”


“I’m sorry to hear it. Drink dulls their intellects and makes them unmanageable and possibly violent.”

“They have nothing else to do. Largely as I am involved, I am better off than they are. I have other irons in the fire. With the hill people their fields are their all. If their crops fail and their cattle die, ruin stares them in the face.”

“Let us hope that the November rain will come. I think there is nothing that the officials dread more than having to deal with famine.”

“The people are all looking for the rain and hoping for the best. In most of the villages they seem resigned.”

“Is there any discontent, any open grumbling among them?” asked the Assistant Agent, quick to note that Krishna Sao spoke with reservation.

“In Dondia Mazzu’s village, from which I have drawn the greater part of my labour, the people are expressing their discontent rather freely. They attribute the failure of the rain to the displeasure of the earth goddess. She was offended, they say, first by the revival of the meriah rites without the human sacrifice; and secondly by our rescue of Indra, the son of the headman.”

Krishna Sao’s eyes dwelt upon the features of the Assistant Agent with an expression of curiosity, as though he were studying a subject that puzzled him.

Don Juan had returned softly. Instead of lighting the lamp where it hung, he found it necessary to take the receiver out of the glass lantern, place it on the floor and readjust the wick. Never was lamp more troublesome and refractory; nor matches more difficult to strike. With the usual indifference of the Anglo-Indian to the presence of servants, his master seemed unconscious of his presence.

“I am very glad indeed that the meriah rites were considered unsatisfactory,” said Waldingham, “And that they were unproductive of good. We need not fear their repetition. I was against the revival, as you will remember.”

Don Juan’s face turned for a moment towards the speaker; and the full lips rounded into the semblance of the closed sea-anemone. Krishna Sao refrained from comment, and a smile answered the remark.

The Assistant Agent continued—

“As for our rescue of the young fellow, there was nothing else to be done from our point of view.”

“From your point of view, sir,” corrected Krishna Sao; with a laugh.

“Oh! come now! Krishna Sao, I am not going to allow you to label yourself otherwise than human. You would not—you could not have seen him die before your eyes without making an effort to save him.”

“We discussed this question on our way home that very day, if I remember right; and we agreed at the time that I had been influenced by a humanitarianism that was opposed to fatalism, and therefore contrary to Hindu teaching.”

“You do not regret the action?” said Waldingham; leaning forward in the dim twilight, not yet illuminated by the dilatory Don Juan, to read the expression on the face of the visitor.

“I am not sure,” the zemindar replied with a deliberateness that emphasized his words. “My young plants were a sorry sight; and if the Power that governs nature could be propitiated, I should rejoice. I stand to lose or gain everything during the next three months. If the rain is plentiful, my loss will be of no consequence. If it fails, not only shall I lose everything, but I shall have to abandon my venture. I cannot afford to plant up the land afresh.”

“And if the young Khond had been allowed to drown, do you really suppose that the rain would have fallen?”

“The Khonds believe it. They know their own hills and their own gods. Who am I to deny that they have reason for their belief?”

“For at least half a century they have been satisfied with the sacrifice of animals. Let them continue with their animals and arrange for a holocaust of pigs.”

“Pigs are out of favour,” replied Krishna Sao, with his detached smile of amused criticism, which raised a suspicion in Waldingham’s mind that his native friend had very little belief in the creed of the masses.

“Give them a buffalo.”

“They won’t accept it from me. One of the errors made by the pujari is supposed to have been the acceptance of the sacrificial beast from one who was not even a co-religionist.”

“Perhaps they will take money to purchase a buffalo,” suggested the Assistant Agent.

Don Juan had succeeded in getting the obstinate wick to light. It was kept low while he mounted the steps and replaced the receiver inside the hanging lantern. As his master uttered these words his birdlike eyes rolled round upon him and his companion; and the mouth was pursed still tighter.

Krishna Sao, leaning back in the chair, his elbow upon the arm and his hand touching his clean-shaven chin, uttered a low laugh.

Was it possible that no suspicion crossed the mind of the Englishman? or did he put the suspicion aside because of the trouble and anxiety it might occasion? In any case Krishna Sao did not feel either responsibility or duty devolving upon himself. However much the Assistant Agent might doubt the zemindar’s belief in his own faith and in the more degraded creeds of the masses, the latter was by no means an atheist. He had a strong faith in the Power underlying nature, called by himself Brahma; by the Khonds the earth goddess. This mysterious Being was to be approached through sacrifice and prayer, formulated according to the intellect of the worshipper. If the sacrifice and prayer were acceptable in the eyes of that mysterious Power, a favourable response might be looked for. From his own point of view, he considered it to be nothing short of fatal to his own interests to interfere between the worshippers and the worshipped.

The twilight rapidly merged into the warm, breathless night. The koils and the coppersmiths had gone to roost in the banyan and neem trees. The dry, dead leaves in the withered grass crackled as a snake moved beneath them on its way to the tank in search of the unwary frog. Bats fluttered under the verandah roof in pursuit of the foolish moth attracted by the light of the lamp. From the distant bazaar came the wail of the horn and the beat of the tomtom, as the people of the plains attempted to propitiate the God who governed nature, with the ritual used by their ancestors, a superstitious ritual of bloodshed.

“Poor beast!” said Waldingham, after a brief silence.

“What beast do you allude to?” asked Krishna Sao, whose thoughts were not with any sacrificial animal, but with Indra.

“The poor brute of a buffalo that those bloodthirsty hillmen will hack to pieces in their abominable ceremony. It is barbarous to think of. I feel inclined to go to its rescue from sheer pity, though it is only a brute beast with no understanding that suffers. The old ceremony must have been a sickening sight for any man who possessed a single grain of humanity.”

“It is possible to carry pity to excess. It leads to sentimentality, which in a nation as well as in a man is enervating,” remarked Krishna Sao.

“To be without pity is to be savage and unchristian.”

“I am not a Christian.”

“At the same time you are not a savage; therefore you ought not to be without pity. You proved that you possessed pity when you helped me to drag Indra out of the water.”

“Where human beings are concerned perhaps I have pity,” said the zemindar slowly. “I differ from you in one respect. My pity is for the community and not for the individual. I would not hesitate to sacrifice the individual for the general good of the community.”

Waldingham laughed as he observed that Krishna Sao therein expressed the true spirit of the military leader, to whom it was nothing less than disastrous to consider the life of the unit. The mind of the Hindu was still busy with the dissection of his own motives and he continued—

“If I had been convinced, as those Khonds were who refused to help, that it would have been for the general good of the hillmen collectively, to let Indra perish——” he paused as if the analysis of his own motives was not an easy task—“I think I should have allowed him to drown.”

“Not with me there to drown with him!” cried Waldingham, with a strong touch of remonstrance in his voice.

As far as it was possible with the divergence of inherited opinion on several vital points, a certain bond of friendship was established between the two men, the result of propinquity and circumstance; and it hurt Waldingham’s sense of loyalty to hear Krishna Sao indulging in what he considered to be unmerited self-depreciation.

“Ah! now you have arrived at the true motive of my action,” replied the zemindar, less seriously. “It was the salvation of your life that prompted the deed. The earth goddess did not want you; she only wanted the young Khond. It would have been waste to let you die, and a grief to me to lose you.”

Waldingham leaned forward and gazed into his eyes. They shone with a strong, friendly affection that nothing could extinguish. He was reassured, and said confidently and with an earnestness that impressed his hearer—

“No! Krishna Sao! no! I can’t believe it of you. I am ready to take my oath that you would never stand by, an inactive spectator, and look on at the death struggles of a human being when you might help him. Something within you would pierce the superstition that hangs like a dense cloud over the half-civilized Khond and partially clouds your own moral horizon, and you would feel obliged in the name of humanity to act.”

“Don’t credit me with the virtues of the West, sir,” said Krishna Sao, moved by this evidence of his companion’s regard. “Remember, as I have before warned you, that I am a Hindu, inheriting the instincts of generations. I am as my ancestors were.”

“No! and again no!” cried Waldingham, vehemently. “The ages cannot stand still. You of this present day cannot envelope yourself in the cloak of convictions that enwrapped your ancestors. Time and circumstance have been too strong for the present generation and for you. The spirit of yearning for the truth which characterizes the day cannot be ignored. The cloak of obsolete belief is cast aside; the questioning and doubting of your forebears are gone; and you are stirred by the spirit of confident inquiry that marks the age. If you were true to yourself and your advanced instincts, my presence would have made no difference in your action. I say that you would have saved the man whether I had been there or not.”

The zemindar smiled and raised his hand deprecatingly.

“How much do you think your example had to do with it?”

“Nothing!” replied Waldingham, promptly and conclusively. “Why, in the name of all that is true and good, should not a Hindu act like an Englishman where it is only a question of humanity? This is not a religious question.”

“I am not so sure of that,” rejoined the zemindar.

There was silence between them, the silence that comes when the train of thought runs evenly in the minds of those who do not need the assistance of words to guide it. Krishna Sao was the first to break it.

“To return to the subject of the hillmen and their sacrifices. You yourself said that a nation must have its religion. Nothing but religion can satisfy human needs and aspirations, especially where there is semi-civilization. Therefore the Khonds must exercise their religion; and until they are given something better, it must take the form of these blood sacrifices. Is it not better to leave them to their own devices?”

He waited with curiosity for the reply. It was not given immediately.

“It seems that we have no alternative,” said Waldingham at last.

“It has always been the policy of the British Government to allow the free exercise of religion in this country; and the policy has made for peace.”

“Yes; and the Government will continue to leave the people in freedom as long as the religious practices do not involve loss of human life.”

They talked on for a little time and then Krishna Sao rose to go. He lingered over the leave-taking longer than usual, as though he still had something to say. Whatever it was, the impulse was resisted. He turned away abruptly as though afraid of himself, entered the car, and glided off into the darkness with the words left unspoken.

He had been more than a little touched by Waldingham’s defence of himself against his own self-depreciation; and by the Englishman’s unwillingness to allow that the standard of humanity was lower in him than it was in the European. By so doing the Assistant Agent had unconsciously set up a standard of duty towards his neighbour that was foreign to Hinduism. Krishna Sao recognized it as a high ideal; higher than that which he had been taught by his religious instructors.

The contemplation of this ideal troubled him. He had experienced an uneasiness on more than one occasion after a talk with his English friend. At times the hopelessness of ever attaining such an ideal depressed him. At other moments, as had been the case in the forest, the example set by the Englishman stimulated him into an effort to shake off his fatalism and to exercise his free will for the benefit of others.

The car moved swiftly and smoothly through the hot air of the tropical evening towards the domain where Krishna Sao and his ancestors had lived in opulence—and since the English rule was established, in peace. There were some miles to traverse, which the motor would soon cover. He wanted time to think; to reconcile himself to a line of action prompted by the consideration of self at the expense of others.

He had paid a visit to the Assistant Agent with a definite purpose. His purpose had failed, and he was inwardly rejoicing at its failure. A sense of duty towards his neighbour, imbibed with his Western teaching, had impelled him to take action. He had made it his business to inform Waldingham, in an apparently casual manner, that the Khonds of Dondia’s village were dissatisfied, and by no means resigned to their fate; that they were drinking; and that they had determined on offering another sacrifice of blood to the earth goddess. The victim in this case was not to be a pig, nor a goat, nor a buffalo. The inference was surely plain; but the Assistant Agent gave no sign that he had made it.

Why was this?

There were two answers to the question. Either he guessed it and did not choose to let it be seen that he had made his own deductions; or he had not guessed it, and still remained in ignorance of the sinister meaning of the information imparted to him by the zemindar.

If the former was the case, then Krishna Sao’s duty was done.

If the latter, then his duty, according to the standard of the Englishman, was not done.

Here the terrible theory of fatalism intruded itself with forceful insistence. He had done his part, and had given Waldingham an opportunity of learning what was impending. If it had been the will of that Higher Power, which both he and the Englishman believed in after their own fashion, the eyes of the latter would have been opened and he would have understood.

Krishna Sao knew nothing of the personal trouble that distracted the mind of the Assistant Agent. At any other time Waldingham would have been quick to read between the lines without having the suspicions—they were only suspicions that had arisen in Krishna Sao’s active brain—put into bald language. He would have grasped the situation and taken action at once, as he took it when Indra’s life was once before in danger.

The fatalism prevailed. It seemed a direct dispensation from the unknown mysterious Deity that the Government official should be blind. Let things take their course. Let the Khonds make the sacrifice that should satisfy their gods. Let their prayer go up in their own way. The Supreme Being Who governed all things visible and invisible would understand. There was no sin where there was no sinful intention. What would it involve? The voluntary death of Indra. Death nearly took him in the lake; now it would succeed, and everybody would be benefited by it. It was folly to interfere further.

Having come to his decision he was conscious of relief from a tension of the mind that had tried him more than a little. The battle was over and victory was on the side of Hinduism. Western humanity was laid low and silenced. He revelled in his conquest. The Khonds might slay whom they pleased. What did the life of a hillman matter to him? After all it might not take place. He had no definite information that a human sacrifice was contemplated.

By leaving Waldingham in his ignorance, he had condemned Indra to death. Like the bats fluttering blindly out of the darkness into the dazzling light of the lamps, this thought presented itself with strange vividness and force. Close upon its heels came another. What would the Assistant Agent say when the ghastly deed was perpetrated? Waldingham’s words recurred.

“The ages cannot stand still.” “You cannot envelope yourself in the cloak of superstitions that enwrapped your ancestors.” “I would take my oath that you would never stand by and look on at the death struggles of a human being when you might help him.” “Why, in the name of all that is true and good, should not a Hindu act like an Englishman?”

Ah! why, indeed?

They had nearly reached their destination when the chauffeur was startled by an order, short, sharp and decisive.

“Drive back to the Assistant Agent’s bungalow.”

On the zemindar’s departure Waldingham’s thoughts had returned to his own personal affairs. The mesh woven by his mother for his entanglement enveloped him on all sides. Nevertheless he was determined to cut it at all costs and free himself. His interrupted interview with Rosabelle had extinguished any fragment of apathy and indifference to the future that might have lingered after writing to Tokio. He must see her again and come to an understanding. She should know the truth; and he was sure that in knowing it, she would consent to wait until he was free to come forward and claim her. His mother would feel it. She had brought it upon herself, however, and had no one to thank for it but herself. So deeply immersed was he in his own affairs that he forgot the people over whom he ruled in the name of his chief and his sovereign; he forgot the hillmen and their trouble, and their repulsive sacrifices of blood.

He was startled by the sight of the two dazzling lamps of the car as it entered the open gateway for the second time that evening. At the sound of the horn Don Juan, busy in the dining-room laying the cloth for dinner, appeared in the doorway. On recognizing the visitor he hastened to bring out the chair that had already been replaced in the sitting-room.

Waldingham rose in some surprise, and met Krishna Sao on the top of the steps.

I have come back to have a further talk with you, sir.”

“Glad to see you at any time.”

“I’m not keeping you from your dinner?”

“It isn’t ready yet; and it can wait.”

“It’s about Dondia Mazzu and the people of his village.”

“Ah, yes!” replied Waldingham, his senses once more alert. “You said that they were drinking; not contemplating a feud or raid upon another village, I hope.”

“Not that I know of.”

“Is it something to do with their superstitions?”

“Yes,” was the reply, and Krishna Sao broke off with a short laugh, as though he spoke unwillingly. Waldingham’s perception quickened, and he asked with the keenness of the official.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong at present; but from what I have heard, I fear a wrong intention on the part of the hillmen. They intend to make another and more effective sacrifice to the earth goddess, a sacrifice of blood.”

Waldingham uttered an exclamation of disgust.

“So you told me. I have a vivid recollection of the last. It was a horrid sight—the helpless victim, its horde of savage assailants, its stifled shrieks, the rush with the gleaming knives, and the bare bloody skeleton with nothing but the head and bones left as they drew away from it. What unfortunate beast has been chosen this time?”

“It is not a pig—nor a goat.” He paused, and then added, “And it is not a buffalo.”

The two men looked at each other in the lamp light, and Waldingham said in a low voice—

“Good God! You don’t mean——”

“I have no definite information to give you beyond what I have already stated. I draw my own conclusions, and I leave you to do the same. I have reason to believe that the meriah rites will be performed this time with greater solemnity than ever, and that blood will be shed to propitiate the earth goddess.”

“It will be murder.”

“No; it will be suicide. Why have I told you this?” asked Krishna Sao, dreamily, his eyes searching the darkness of the night between the white pillars of the verandah. “I don’t know; I am unable to say, any more than I can say why I helped you to pull Indra out of the arms of the earth goddess, and defeat the fate that ought to be written upon his forehead.”

Without waiting for comment or further question, Krishna Sao turned and went swiftly down the steps to the car. As it swung once more out of the compound, the Assistant Agent entered the house and nearly fell over the form of Don Juan, who, tablespoon in hand, had arrested the laying of the cloth to listen to the tale of the zemindar.

“Go and call Sam. Tell him to come at once.”

In less than two minutes the butler answered the summons.

“I must go into camp at once, and you must start with the camp kit before sunrise to-morrow.”

“The place, sir?”

“Monkey Hill, about ten miles from Dondia Mazzu’s village.”

“There is very little water there, sir. It would be better if we could go to our old ground above the village. The river is still flowing, though it is very low.”

Waldingham considered the question, but decided against it.

“It will be best for my purpose to go to Monkey Hill. I shall not stay long. Tell the mahouts that the elephants will be wanted, and they must see that there is enough rice. Where are the men?”

“At their heathen feast, sir,” replied Sam, not without a shade of anxiety on his face.

“Call them back at once, and set them to work at their packing. Now, Don Juan, bustle up and put the dinner on the table. We must all be off to-morrow morning before sunrise.”

Chapter XXIII

Sam contemplated the prostrate bodies of the two mahouts by the light of the kitchen lamp, and sighed in grave perplexity. It was past midnight. The camp kit was ready for loading up. The difficulty lay with the elephant drivers. Both were hopelessly intoxicated with a mixture of hemp and opium, peculiar to the Muhammadan taste. Cassim, Motee’s mahout, was missing altogether, lost in some disreputable slum of the native town, where he was dreaming of palaces and houris. His fellow mahouts were too stupid to be able to indicate the locality where he was likely to be found.

“Pour more water,” directed the butler, as Don Juan brought a fresh can. Gently—let it run over his face only.”

The boy deftly soused one of the inanimate figures. The only response was a groan.

“Let be for a little time. After sleep he may wake,” suggested Don Juan.

Sam’s silence gave consent; and, after a final splashing of water, the men were left in peace.

“You will have to ride Motee again. I haven’t time to look for Cassim, We must lie down now till three o’clock. Cover up the mahouts or they will get fever.”

Sam assisted Don Juan to tuck them into their blankets; after which deed of charity the butler and the boy lost no time in seeking their own pillows. Don Juan unrolled his mat and laid it near the pan of charcoal that was to heat the water for the early tea. Kneeling down, rosary in hand, he “told” his prayers, and was asleep as soon as his head was settled on his hard little straw pillow.

At three o’clock Sam’s wife woke him. She had some hot steaming coffee ready, with freshly made rice cakes. While her husband hastily swallowed his early meal, she went to the back verandah and roused the boy.

“Here, drink this coffee. It is time to get up.” She lighted the charcoal for him from her own fire, turned up the lamp that had been left burning, and went back to her room.

With much shaking and calling the mahouts were roused. They were sobered, but unusually stupid from the effects of their debauch. They knew nothing of Cassim, except that he had asked them to feed and water Motee for a couple of days. He intended to absent himself for forty-eight hours, in the belief that the elephant would not be required, and that his absence would not be discovered.

At four o’clock the party started, Waldingham following a little later on the pony, with the syce carrying his lunch. The hottest part of the journey was accomplished before the sun was high above the horizon. As soon as he mounted the lower spurs of the hills, the air cooled perceptibly. The heated blasts of the plains gave place to currents of a fresher atmosphere no longer impregnated with the smell of scorched grass, sunburned leaves and dust.

He spent the noontide in the forest, and resumed his journey on foot, the pony and syce following at his heels. It was a long tramp; but before the last flare of crimson had died out of the evening sky, he reached the camping-place, known to his establishment as Monkey Hill.

As he walked and rode, a great question exercised his mind to the exclusion of all other matters. How would it be best to set about the prevention of the contemplated sacrifice of the headman’s son? He had no definite information to act upon. He and Krishna Sao had drawn a conclusion from what at best could only be called a surmise. It would be unwise to rush into the midst of the people with an accusation he could not prove; nor could he demand the person of Indra, inflamed as they were with drink. It would only push them into the commission of an act of violence towards Indra or himself. What he must endeavour to accomplish was the prevention of crime without an open rupture of the peace.

He had gathered from the zemindar that there was not likely to be any compulsion, any forcing of the young man against his will. All that happened would be of a voluntary nature that would compromise no one, and only render the man himself liable to restraint, as soon as he openly committed an act that could be considered suicidal. To allay suspicion Waldingham had come without a police escort, trusting to his own diplomacy to prevent violence. The knowledge of the presence of the police would cause deception, and possibly a disappearance of the chief persons concerned. If once they retired into the remote recesses of their own forests, neither he nor the police would find them.

It would be politic if he were to allow it to be thought that there was another reason for his presence on the hills at that particular spot. With this object, on arrival in camp he informed the peons, who were not slow in imparting the information to the rest of the company, that he had come to report on some Government land. It was not altogether a fabrication on his part. A report was required, but not in a violent hurry; as a request had been made for land by some speculative natives, who were anxious to follow the example of Krishna Sao and plant up with rubber. The report had been called for as the authorities were unwilling to accede to the request, until it had been ascertained how the venture of the zemindar prospered. It was a matter that he had intended to deal with on his next camping season.

Don Juan hovering within earshot heard the explanations given to the tired peons; and smiled. He had come to his own conclusions, which he had confided to Sam, and he shrewdly guessed that some sort of rescue was intended, although he could not tell how his master was going to set about it.

All the members of the party were fatigued, and Don Juan was slightly stiff after his ride up the ghat. Motee had behaved admirably, and had obeyed her driver with exemplary docility. Sam was footsore. A bullock-cart took him to the foot of the hills; but from there he was obliged to walk with the rest.

“This is strange doing for our master to come out into camp four weeks before the usual time; and for what? Just to look at a piece of land that could be seen as easily three months hence,” grumbled the younger peon, who did not love his work in camp.

“It is the Government order,” remarked Arokiam indifferently.

Long service under many Assistant Agents had rendered him hardened to the changes and vagaries exhibited by a Government official. The order of the Sirkar was indisputable, however incomprehensible it might be.

“The land cannot run away. What he sees now, he could have seen when it was our turn to come here. Is there no other reason? It was said in the bazaar, by one of the panwas from the hills, that when the zemindar dug the holes for his plants, a gold-bearing rock was found. Perhaps it is to examine the rock that he has come.”

“Others will have done that by this time,” remarked the syce, with a laugh.

“No man may take gold out of the ground without a licence; and no licence has been applied for at the Kutcherry. If there is digging without a licence, then the police will catch the man and he will be put in prison,” said Arokiam, who claimed to be an authority on the law of the Kutcherry, because he was the senior peon.

“We have brought no police with us,” remarked the younger peon, by way of objecting to the suggestion of an illicit search for gold. He always opposed his senior as a means of asserting himself.

“The police can easily be called. A letter sent to the police sahib by the coolies, who carried up the supplies from the market, would bring us the police in twelve hours,” said Arokiam, with a contempt he did not attempt to hide.

“If he sends a letter,” remarked one of the mahouts, “we shall know that it is the search for gold that is at the bottom of this inquiry.”

“The Khonds, it is said——” began Don Juan. He was checked by an impatient exclamation from Sam, who shot at him a glance of warning. The peons laughed, and the younger observed—

“Though the crow do duty as the peacock, its tongue remains the tongue of a crow. The new matey chatters like the cook-boy.”

Don Juan kept his temper, and would have answered back with another proverb, but he was addressed by Sam.

“To-morrow morning you must be up early and go to the nearest village to find a milkman. The master must have fresh milk for his coffee at the big breakfast.”

The butler moved away in the direction of the tent where Waldingham had just dined, and Don Juan followed to clear the table after the last course. As was usual, Sam waited for orders, as the boy carried off a tray of crockery and glass to be washed.

“Will there be any message to send back by the bazaar coolies, sir? They leave to-morrow morning before sunrise.”

“No—yes! By-the-by, there will be a letter.”

Waldingham stood up lost in thought. For the first time; in the bustle of leaving the cantonment so abruptly, he remembered the engagement that he had made with Rosa and had not kept. What would she think of him? Nothing evil, he reassured himself. She had too much sense to allow his silence to mislead her. A letter would explain; and when she learned it was to save the life of a man that he had failed to keep his appointment, she could not but approve. He sat down to the camp-table that had to serve for dinner as well as for a writing-table, and poured his heart out in his first love-letter. He told her of his difficulties: how his mother had involved him. He blamed himself for his early indifference to his future. Until he met her and learned to love her, that future seemed of no consequence. Now all was changed; and he prayed her to wait for a few short weeks. At the end of that time he would be free to speak to her parents; and they would be married with as little delay as possible. He wrote a great deal more in the old style, which is ever new to young lovers. Half an hour later Sam found him still scribbling. On seeing the butler he brought his letter to a close.

“Let the coolies take this note to the house of the Assistant Superintendent of Police,” he said, handing him an envelope that held more than one sheet.

Sam was puzzled, and came to the conclusion that it was a missive to warn the authorities to be ready to despatch a body of men on the shortest notice. He returned to the camp fire.

“Here is a letter for the police sahib. Deliver it immediately and without delay. It is important, and should reach the sahib as soon as possible.”

The last sentence was repeated for the sole purpose of impressing the messengers with the necessity of care in carrying the letter. As the envelope was hidden in the folds of the bearer’s turban, there were comment and speculation among the servants as to its contents.

“Undoubtedly it is to summon the police,” said the younger peon.

“The police! Who wants the police? If there is a man to catch and beat, cannot we do it ourselves without their assistance, if the master gives the order?” said one of the mahouts, who was morose and combative under the influence of the sobriety that followed his debauch.

“If we can catch the gold-seeker, we can do better than beat him,” remarked the younger peon.

There was a laugh, in which the syce and coolies joined. They all understood what was meant.

“How big a fine could we make it?” asked one of the mahouts.

“Fifty rupees, at least, with a promise of more if we showed him a hiding-place,” said the other mahout.

“Is it certain that we are looking for——” began Arokiam, glancing at Sam, who had been silent so far.

“Cease chattering, or the master will send out an order for silence, and I shall get into trouble,” cried Sam, cutting short the gossip.

Don Juan glanced at his chief with admiration. How clever he was! He wondered if he would ever attain to such consummate skill in throwing dust in the eyes of inquisitive underlings. Perhaps it came by practice. He must lose no opportunity of trying his hand at the same kind of diplomacy. He wondered if Arokiam had any suspicion of the real errand that had brought them there; and so wondering he fell asleep.

The whole camp was astir before daybreak. After taking some food, the two coolies left for the plains, carrying the letter for Rosabelle in the full belief that they were bearing an important summons for a body of armed constables—a belief that was shared by the rest of the camp.

Don Juan performed his duties as matey, and prepared the early tea for his master. When the toast had been made, and the boiling water poured into the teapot, Sam appeared.

“I will carry in the chota hazri. You must go to the village, where we usually buy our milk, and order in a daily supply. Take a can with you, and bring back sufficient for the big breakfast. The master does not like tinned milk. See the milk drawn, and be careful that the village man plays no tricks with water.”

Don Juan bound his waist-cloth closely round his hips; put on a little black velvet cap; and armed himself with a long staff. The tin was slung over his shoulder.

“I will get back as soon as I can. It is a long walk of more than an hour,” said the boy.

“There is plenty of time, if you do not loiter when you get there. Be careful what you say, and listen with both ears for news.”

Don Juan wagged his head knowingly, confident in himself and his powers of deception. He departed, striding out with all the importance of possessing superior knowledge that even the head peon, Arokiam, was ignorant of. In spite of his swagger, his heart beat fast as he passed through forest land, and over open patches where the dried grass crackled under his feet as he walked. The forest was lonely and silent, and the open spaces seemed deserted by every living creature. Yet he knew that the living creatures were there; and that they watched him from their secret hiding places as he passed.

He crossed several beds of small mountain torrents, dry and waterless with the drought. His eye searched keenly on all sides for a tawny skin with black stripes or spots that mark the feline species, dreaded more than all else. The grey demons that sat in the shape of dead tree-stems above the watercourses, and the prismatic scaled snake, searching for a cool spot under the heated rock, had less terror for him than the tiger and leopard. Big birds of prey sent forth fiend-like shrieks as they sailed and circled in the dazzling blue sky overhead, and, early as it was, eddies of warm soft air swept up from the plains, causing the dry vegetation to rustle as though unseen reptiles dragged their length beneath it.

He trudged on: the master wanted milk for breakfast, and milk must be procured. Though he was tempted more than once to turn back with a tale of having lost his way, he resisted the inclination, and quickened his pace as he climbed the last ridge.

A little ejaculation of satisfaction escaped him as he caught sight of blue smoke rising from a valley below. He ran down the slope, the milk tin rattling with each step, and arrived at a dry watercourse, where some women were laboriously drawing muddy water from a hole in its bed.

Don Juan strode up to them with a lordly air, and demanded in broken Khond language to be told where he could get the best milk in the village. Instead of answering his questions, they plied him with others. Who was he? Where had he come from? What sahib commanded milk to be brought? The only reply he made was to mention the Assistant Agent, in whose name he repeated his demand for milk. He must have it immediately, and it must be of the best quality. A little girl of the company was deputed to lead him to the house of the panwa.

“Milk, milk!” exclaimed one woman, who seemed to be an authority among them. “You might as well ask us for silver rupees! Our men have sold their starving beasts to the panwa for the stuff that makes them forget their sorrows.”

Don Juan did not stay to listen, but followed his little guide to the trader’s house, a man who is to be found in every Khond village. On the way he passed through the hamlet, and attracted a large following of boys and men, all full of curiosity to know his errand. The many questions that were asked obtained no reply. Full of importance he marched at the head of his followers, as though he were a recognized leader of men. The journey with all its perils was, in his opinion, well worth making when he thus found himself the centre of attraction.

The panwa was not only able but willing to give him what he required; and he promised a moderate daily supply, which Don Juan assured him would be liberally paid for. The conversation was carried on in the language of the plains, and Don Juan’s tongue ran fast. Some of the men drew near to listen to the boy’s replies to the panwa’s catechising. Yes; it was earlier than usual for his honour’s visit to the hills. He had come up on special business. Here Don Juan closed his lips as though it was far too important a subject to discuss with ordinary people.

“Bring the buffalo nearer that I may see the milk fall into my tin,” he commanded, as he seated himself before the animal. The panwa’s son, who was drawing the milk, obeyed without a word.

“Tell me, little butler of the Assistant Agent, why his honour has come thus early? He cannot bring the clouds with him,” said the trader.

“That is nobody’s affair but ours. We of his honour’s house do not speak of his honour’s business.”

“After the can has been filled, my son shall give you a drink of buttermilk, cool and refreshing,” said the panwa, persuasively. “Is it anything concerning the Khonds?”

“The Khonds!” repeated Don Juan, with splendid scorn. “Is my master’s time to be taken up with nothing but business about the Khonds? We have other and greater things to occupy our attention.”

“’Tis a murder, perhaps.”

“A terrible and ghastly murder,” said the boy unblushingly, giving rein to his imagination.

Thereupon he described the details of an uncommitted crime that showed him to be a master of fiction. His hearers were held spellbound for another five minutes.

“Why, then, has he come up the hill if the murderer has taken refuge, as you say, on the sea?” demanded the panwa, his curiosity still unsatisfied and his suspicions roused. By way of inviting further confidence, he called to his wife to bring the buttermilk.

“If I tell the true reason, there must be no chattering,” said Don Juan, using an expression he had often heard on the lips of the butler.

“I shall be as dumb as the rock on the hillside.”

“We are upon the tracks of a gold-digger, who has no licence from Government to dig.”

“A gold-digger!”

“A man who has found a quantity of gold, and keeps it secret. He has asked for land, which he says he will plant with rubber as the zemindar has planted the hills near Dondia Mazzu’s village; but that is not his real intention. He wishes to dig for gold. There is plenty hidden in these hills; if one only knows where to look for it.”

His words created a great sensation, and the panwa, his greed suddenly kindled, repeated—

“Gold, gold! Where is it to be found?”

“On the other side of Monkey Hill, where we are encamped,” said Don Juan, with an assurance that was deceptive. “If you will send your son back with me, I can point out the hill where it is believed that the gold-digger has found his treasure and is watching it.”

The prospect of having a companion on the journey prompted him to make alluring promises.

“If the gold is there, why should it not belong to the person who finds it?” asked the panwa, who knew quite well how the law stood.

“Gold and treasure of all kind lying in the earth belong to the Sirkar. Therefore the Assistant Agent has come to take possession of it, and catch the gold-digger to carry him off to prison.”

“If that were so, he would bring the police with him,” remarked the panwa, shrewdly.

“The police have been sent for. The coolies who brought up our meat and vegetables from the market, took back a letter to the Assistant Superintendent of Police, in which his honour asked for ten constables and an inspector with as little delay as possible.”

“What does he say? What news does he bring?” demanded one of the Khonds, who had been listening intently to the conversation without fully comprehending it. The word “police” was understood, however, and his curiosity made him clamour with the eagerness of a child for an explanation.

“His excellency the Assistant Agent has come up the hill on special duty, and there are fifty police-constables following at once to help him,” said the panwa, looking at the man intently.

His words created a sensation. There was a hum of voices, and a torrent of questions poured forth from half a dozen mouths. Don Juan’s mind misgave him. A false move had been made, and his attempt to imitate his chief and divert attention had failed.

“In which direction will the police search?” asked the panwa, sharply.

“They will search the hill that I will point out to your son.”

“Is it in the direction of Dondia Mazzu’s village?”

“No, it is not. It is on the other side, and can be seen from a point between this village and Monkey Hill. As I have told you, I will show it to your son, if he will come with me. As he has to bring us milk this afternoon, it will be as well that he should learn the path. Now that the tin is full, I will depart. Give me the drink of buttermilk that you promised; and I will go.”

The Khonds were grouped together, and their voices rose in excited speech. Don Juan inquired what it was that agitated them, but could get no answer. It was evident that some important point was under discussion.

The panwa’s son was not at all averse to accompanying him part of the way back. The boy’s father whispered a few words before they started, giving him strict injunctions to gather all the information he could from Don Juan concerning the newly discovered gold, and the real object of the police. As a means to this end, the trader’s son began by detailing all the news he could think of. Don Juan thus learned a good deal.

“So the meriah will be performed again in a week’s time,” he remarked thoughtfully. “I should much like to see it. I could not go when the pig was killed, as I had to take care of the camp.”

Come with me; I shall go, though my father is not a Khond. In the old days it was my grandfathers who provided the meriah boys and girls. They caught them on the plains and sold them to the headmen.”

“The master will have moved camp by that time. If there is any change, and they have the pujah sooner, you can come and tell me.”

“It is a long way to walk.”

Don Juan pulled out of his waist-cloth a bright-red betel bag, and displayed one or two of the treasures it contained. It was like showing his companion a gold watch, so rare are these trifling luxuries of the plains among the hill people.

“Rather than miss the sight I would part with my new bag, bought with my wages. You see this?” He extracted a withered object to which was attached a few bristles. “It is the tip of the pig’s tail that was killed on the meriah post. It is strong to do all that I wish. By its strength I can put a devil on anybody who does not please me; or I can blind or deafen where I choose.”

Don Juan rolled his eyes round at his companion, who shrank back in visible terror.

“Little master, I will tell you everything.”

“Then great shall be your reward,” said Don Juan, magnanimously. “There is the top of the hill where the gold-digger hides.” He pointed out a peak haphazard that rose on the horizon of hills.

“And our camp lies over there. Now, go back and bring the milk for the afternoon meal in good time. You will find me waiting for news. Let your tongue tell true words, or, by this”—he held up the bag that contained the charm—“I will make bad luck sit on your shoulders for the rest of your days.”

Chapter XXIV

When breakfast was over Waldingham ordered the pony to be saddled. Under ordinary circumstances he would have given the animal twenty-four hours’ rest after its long march of the day before. Both men and animals felt the fatigue of their first day’s exertions after the inaction of three months’ residence in the plains, and all needed a rest; but he was anxious to pay a visit to Dondia’s village and judge for himself whether Krishna Sao was correct. If there was any religious function impending, forbidden or otherwise, it would give rise to excitement and ferment among the hillmen which they could not hide if taken unawares. He knew them sufficiently well to recognize anything abnormal in their condition and he flattered himself that he could gauge their mood and intentions with a little careful observation. It was important that he should pay his visit before they got wind of his presence in their neighbourhood.

The pony was a strong, country-bred animal, hardy and enduring; but it had its limitations. The march up had told upon it, and it moved sluggishly under him. The syce also showed signs of being footsore and fatigued. At the end of seven miles the animal was unmistakably dead-beat.

Waldingham dismounted and gave the syce directions to wait in the shade of a large tree until his return. He started on foot to complete his journey, a distance of about three miles. The path was easy to find, and, though the trees were partially denuded of their leaves, there was a little welcome shade from the thick stems and branches that tempered the rays of the sun.

He arrived at the village, and walked straight to the house of the headman. Dondia was sober; but his bloodshot eyes betrayed recent excesses. He expressed no surprise at the sight of the Assistant Agent, who appeared thus without warning. Greetings were exchanged in the usual fashion, and the manner of the Khond was respectful. Without being asked to do so, Dondia despatched a messenger to the panwa to ask for his services as interpreter. The village trader appeared immediately, and the Assistant Agent was able to inquire after the welfare of the community and learn the news. The story that he knew only too well was told, of drought and the consequent withering of crops; of the loss of seed and general impoverishment, with bitter complaint of the hardships they were all undergoing, they, and their wives, and children, their cattle, and goats, pigs, and fowls.

In the middle of this relation of woes Indra arrived, and made his salaam to the Government official. He was closely followed by Guruswamy. Waldingham glanced at the headman’s son with keen inquiry. He was perfectly sober, and showed no sign of excess. Guruswamy was also sober. The latter took up the tale from Dondia’s mouth, and informed his honour that a marriage had been made between his daughter and the son of the headman; and that Indra had come to live with him as his son, that he might succeed as the village pujari. He, Guruswamy, was growing old; it was time that a successor was nominated; and as he had no son to succeed him, he had adopted Indra, who was to be initiated in his new duties on the occasion of the approaching sacrifice. Was his honour aware that in a week’s time there would be a sacrifice to the earth goddess, and that a fine buffalo would be killed? Would his honour like to see the animal? It was being fed and specially tended in preparation for the ceremony.

All this information was volunteered, and Waldingham found that no inquiry was needed. It poured forth spontaneously, and without any trace of reserve or of the suppression of facts.

He strolled to the big cotton tree at the end of the village, the patriarchal emblem of the community, and seated himself on a slab of stone. The Khonds silently gathered round him, observant and respectful. Two or three might have been the worse for liquor; but of this he was not sure, since they remained quiet and undemonstrative in any way. They were probably recovering more slowly from the effects of their drunkenness than their fellows.

The visit was eminently satisfactory. He could detect nothing in confirmation of the suspicions raised by the zemindar. He attributed it to the fact that when they were under the influence of drink they might have talked wildly; and the talk gave colour to the thought that a human sacrifice was contemplated. Now that they were sober, wiser counsels prevailed; and it was evident that these wild notions had been rejected. An animal had been set apart for sacrifice, and Indra would be the new pujari. As he departed and climbed up the hill above the island and its meriah grove, he was sensible of relief from an anxiety that had lain heavily upon his mind.

The pony was somewhat rested; and with its head set in the direction of the camp, it went cheerfully, although at no great pace. Lunch was ready on his arrival; and after it was eaten he was glad to sit down in his canvas chair. He dropped off to sleep, from which he was roused by a voice at his elbow.

“Sir, sir! I ask master’s pardon!”

He looked round, and met Don Juan’s eyes rounded with consternation and alarm.

“Oh, it’s you! What do you want? Why don’t you go to the butler?” said Waldingham, not best pleased at being awakened from a siesta which he considered had been fairly earned.

“Please, sir, I must speak one little word.”

“Speak on,” said Waldingham, resigning himself to his fate.

“To-day, this very day, the Khonds of Dondia Mazzu’s village make sacrifice,” said the boy in his mother tongue.

“Nonsense, Don Juan,” he replied sharply. “I was over there this morning. They told me that they were going to have their tamarsha a week hence. They showed me the buffalo.”

“Sir, it is not a buffalo they mean to kill.”

“You have got hold of the wrong story.”

“No, sir, I speak true words only. This morning news was taken from the village where the milk was bought, that your honour had come up the hill and would be likely to pay a visit. All things were made ready so that master might be satisfied. The buffalo will be killed afterwards when the bones are burned; but to-night”—his voice sank in awe and terror—“they will bury man’s flesh in their fields. This afternoon at sunset Indra, the headman’s son, will be tied to the post, and will die like the pig.”

Waldingham sat up and listened, no longer scornful or incredulous. He knew the cunning of the Oriental, and he recalled the fact, which had escaped his attention at the time, that the Khonds had shown no astonishment at seeing him. On the contrary there was every appearance that they were prepared for his visit. If this were the case, there might be something in the story told by Don Juan. He bade him repeat it from the beginning.

It was to the effect that when he went to the village where he procured the milk in the early hours of the morning, the news that it was required for the Assistant Agent created alarm among the Khonds. From the panwa’s son he learned that there was a definite intention to repeat the meriah rites. Under the guidance of Guruswamy something unusual was to be introduced into the ceremonial, something that they were keeping secret. A messenger had been despatched with all speed, as he had already told his honour, to warn Dondia Mazzu and Guruswamy that the Assistant Agent might appear in their midst at any moment.

“What makes you think that the meriah sacrifice will take place to-day?”

“The panwa’s son, who has just brought the milk for master’s tea, says that a message was received as he was starting, calling the men of the village to the island where the old meriah post stands. They must be there before sunset.”

“Why should he tell you all this?” asked Waldingham, looking keenly at the boy, and wondering if he was speaking the truth.

“Master must not be angry with this poor lump of mud. This worm bought the news of the panwa’s son. With my new betel-bag and a small brass box I purchased the news.” Noticing Waldingham’s expression of surprise, he continued: “I wished very much to see the meriah. Last time the butler ordered me to stay and take care of the camp; so I could not go. This time I thought perhaps the butler might give leave for half a day. That panwa boy speaks the truth. They will kill the son of the headman on the post at sunset this evening. It was settled for next week when the moon will be bigger; but the hillmen are frightened because master has come; and they have arranged to kill Indra to-day, knowing that your honour cannot, with one tired pony, pay a second visit.”

The boy’s tongue ran fast in his own language; and conviction was taking hold of Waldingham. His fatigue and drowsiness disappeared, and he sprang from his chair with a shout for Sam.

“Is the boy here who brought the milk this afternoon?” he asked, as the butler hurried up to the tent.

“No, sir; he started back immediately.”

Waldingham lowered his voice. “Have you heard Don Juan’s tale?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is it true?”

Sam looked at the small matey, whose eyes were fixed on his in earnest verity.

“May be, sir. I can’t say for certain; but I think it is true.”

“I suppose I must have the pony out again; and I must take the peons to help.”

“The pony is very tired, and the peons cannot reach Dondia Mazzu’s village by sunset,” said Sam, in as great perplexity as his master.

“May this worthless insect speak one little word?” asked Don Juan, his eyes sparkling with excitement.

“What have you to suggest, you imp?” cried his master in a tone that carried encouragement.

Waldingham’s brain was already busy with the problem. It was one of those crises which occur sometimes in the East, when a man has to act promptly and decisively, and without the possibility of obtaining advice. A false step may involve disaster, and judicious action may save many lives.

“There is the elephant.”

“By George, the boy is right! Motee, of course, can do the journey easily. Tell one of the mahouts to put the pad on at once. I must get off without delay, or I shall be too late.”

His presence, he trusted, would be sufficient to deter the people from any open act of violence. If only he could show himself in time, they would abandon their evil intention, in fear of being punished by the law. He must ride straight to the island. If the murder was perpetrated it would take place there. Sam returned, closely followed by Don Juan.

“The mahouts are both out with the larger elephants gathering fodder,” he said.

“What am I to do?” asked Waldingham, pacing to and fro impatiently. “I can’t walk there, if I would; I should be too late.”

Don Juan spoke again. “If his honour will trust his noble body to this insignificant son of a poor blind woman, I will guide Motee safely to the island. Did I not bring her up the ghat only yesterday?”

“Can he be trusted, Sam?” asked Waldingham; in eager doubt.

“I think so, sir. It is the only means we have. There is no time to wait for the mahouts. They will not come in till sunset, as they have some distance to go to find sufficient forage.”

“And then it will be too late.”

“The pony cannot do it.”

“There is no choice. Go and get the pad onto the elephant. The syce will help; and be as quick as you can. It is ten long miles to Dondia’s village, and not an easy path for a big beast like an elephant.”

In less than a quarter of an hour Waldingham was mounted behind the quaint figure of his little mahout. Don Juan wore the scarlet coat, green trousers, and black velvet cap. In his hand he carried the goad, resting the end of it upon his thigh with the steel point upwards, and the cruel hook on a level with his head. At his word of command the obedient beast swung off at an easy pace. The Assistant Agent watched the boy’s handling of the elephant with no little anxiety, in spite of Sam’s assurance that she would prove docile and manageable.

The large feet trampled over the dry crisp herbage of the hillside, startling small animals of the deer kind, which bounded away with a rattle of hoofs over the hard ground; a troop of thin, melancholy monkeys, resting after a fruitless search for jungle nuts, chattered with agitation as they heard the crackling of the scrub close to the spot where they were hidden. Lizards of the same tint as the grey, sunlit rocks started forward, and shot away into security, as Motee picked her steps across the dry nullahs and watercourses. Sometimes progress was slow; at other times, where the hillside was open and clear of trees, they moved more swiftly.

The boy spoke often to his charge; adjuring her to behave with propriety, and to remember that she had the great honour of carrying his most honourable excellency, the Assistant Agent, the wisest, most just, most revered ruler that the district had ever known. The soft native tongue was not unmusical; and Waldingham allowed the words to flow; as they encouraged the beast and sustained the good spirits of the boy. More than once he glanced anxiously at the sun. It was beginning to fall towards the west. When it touched the hilltops of the valley in which Dondia lived, those cruel knives would gleam above the head of an all-too-willing victim, who in his fanaticism might even have given the death thrust with his own hand.

“Get on as quickly as you can,” said Waldingham presently, unable to restrain his impatience.

“Hurry, my beloved! Queen of my heart! The treasured pearl of our household! His honour would hasten still faster. I will not hurt thee; but learn by this that I hold the goad in my hand.”

He hooked the curved end of the formidable instrument of torture over the edge of her ear without piercing the tender skin; the obedient beast with a snort quickened her pace.

“Are you sure that you have taken the right path?” asked Waldingham later, in the boy’s language.

Don Juan pointed to a watercourse larger than they had yet seen, down which flowed silently a narrow stream. It worked its way so deeply among the boulders that it was lost to view, and was reached with difficulty by the thirsting animals of the forest.

“There is the river that flows through Dondia Mazzu’s village. We shall arrive by way of the forest, and our coming will not be seen. We shall not pass through the village.”

“What point are you making for?”

“The old meriah post on the island. If there is truth in the panwa boy’s tale, it is there that we shall find Indra and all the people assembled.”

Waldingham could formulate no plan of action until he knew what the situation was. He had no escort of police to protect him; he would have to rely on his own personal influence, on prompt and unexpected action, and on the natural dominance of the ruler over the ruled. He congratulated himself for the first time on the fact of his having been present on the former occasion. A knowledge of the exact site of the meriah post, and of the geography of the island was of great assistance.

The elephant stopped at a signal from its driver; and Don Juan, leaning back, said in a low voice—

“We are near the bank of the river; on the opposite side from the village. The water is low, and the bed of the river on this side of the island is smooth. What is master going to do when we find Indra?”

“Carry him away; if possible.”

“On the elephant?” asked Don Juan, his lips pursed into a round O at the magnitude of the suggestion.

“Go softly, and keep the elephant’s head towards the crowd until I give the signal to return,” said Waldingham.

“My queen of the forest, tread the ground like the tiger without a sound, and move like a snake through the jungle. Step warily, pearl of my life, beloved of my heart!”

Lower went the sun, throwing slanting shadows that pierced the depths of the forest. Waldingham could hear a murmur of human voices in the distance raised in unusual excitement. Don Juan’s story was correct. The Khonds had assembled in the grove, and there could be but one reason for gathering at that spot. It was sacrifice.

Chapter XXV

It was some time since Indra had taken up his residence in Guruswamy’s hut. His manner was dignified and respectful to the three inmates. The disappointment of the first night was a forgotten incident. Phulmoni’s eyes often rested on the regular features that were more refined and delicate than those of his neighbours, yet possessing a strong cast of the hillman. At the end of two days she was piqued by his indifference to her presence. A little later the desire for conquest seized her, and by a number of wiles and little artifices she tried to attract his attention. When the indifference merged into an apparent unconsciousness of her presence, the desire became a craving that was a positive torment to her untutored nature. In vain she placed herself in his line of vision. The large lustrous eyes of the dreamer passed over her person unseeing. In vain she offered small domestic services. They were accepted with no more consciousness than if her aunt or her grandfather offered them. The animosity she had experienced on his arrival died down, and in its place there sprang up a passion that took deep root in her contrary heart. It was fed with an intense desire to conquer and prevail.

Her relatives placed no obstacle in the way of her blandishments. By venerable tradition she would be blest indeed if she could gain his favour. It was sheer madness on her part to spurn him when he might have been won. It would bring misfortune unless she could retrieve the false step. She must have been bewitched to have acted as she did.

The days passed and various ceremonies were performed, pronounced by Guruswamy to have been practised in the old days. The date of the sacrifice was fixed to take place at a time when the moon would be nearing the completion of its second quarter. It was the date when the monsoon usually broke.

With the performance of each bit of ritual, the ecstasy that had taken hold of Indra grew, until he was absorbed in a visionary world that was outside the common village life. The ties of kindred were broken, and Dondia was no longer his father, but the headman of the village, at whose decree he was given to the earth goddess. He was deeply impressed; and the attitude of the villagers added to the impression. They bore themselves as though they were in the presence of the deity, rendering him worship and homage such as they offered to their gods. It was a seductive pleasure, this playing at being divine; a pleasure that has had its attractions for weak human nature in all ages.

Phulmoni realized that an opportunity was gone which would never recur, and she began to mope and fret. She was often in tears; but tears had no more effect on the devotee than her wiles and blandishments. Suddenly the thought assailed her that he was to die. Not very long ago she was entreating her grandfather to remember the past; to do his duty; and in mercy to the suffering people to propitiate the goddess. Now she lost no opportunity of urging the wisdom of substituting an animal. It was possible that the Government official might arrive on the scenes; then there would be trouble.

It had the effect of causing her grandfather to single out a buffalo as a sacrificial victim to be ready for any emergency of the kind. It would be required later if not immediately. Phulmoni knew the tradition of the earth deity’s service, and her mind misgave her that the buffalo would not be used as a substitute, but as a supplement to the great deed.

One day she found Indra seated in the shadow of the house. His eyes, unseeing earthly things, were fixed upon the visions that floated through his brain. They were blind to the glorious sunshine that bathed the landscape. If it had not been for those large open eyes, she might have thought that he slept, so still and motionless did he remain.

“My brother, life is very good!” she whispered, halting close to the spot where he sat.

“Aye, so good that the great mother would have some of it!”

An exclamation of impatience escaped her lips.

“The great mother has learned to feast upon pigs and goats and buffaloes. It is a pity to awaken her taste for other food. Brother, let us live together; you shall serve her by slaying the beasts whose flesh she desires. My grandfather is old. His hand is no longer strong to strike or his arm to hold and bind the sacrifice. Some one must do it. Why should it not be Indra?” The soft pleading fell on hardened ears,

“That is not the manner in which I choose to serve her. Go, girl. Your work awaits you. Do it while you can. At the appointed time Tari Pennu will call me, and I shall answer.”

He stood up before her a perfect specimen of his race, such a mate as any Oriental woman might be proud to win. Phulmoni advanced a step or two, irresistibly drawn, and opened her arms, lifting her face to his with the abandonment of ardent appeal. He met the gaze coldly and with disdain.

“I belong to another and a worthier one than thou art.”

Turning away abruptly he walked into the jungle, where he might find solitude and strengthen his spirit against the weakness of the flesh.

Then came the news that the Assistant Agent had arrived in the vicinity, and a consultation was held with the result already described.

As they watched Waldingham’s departure, Guruswamy looked at Indra,

“The ceremony must take place this afternoon. To-morrow he will bring his camp, and will sit down over our village; and he will wait until it is too late to make the sacrifice. Thereby will total ruin fall upon us.”

“To-day, to-day! let it be to-day, father!” cried Indra, with sudden inspiration.

The spirit of fanaticism blazed fiercely. He felt that the hour was come when he could face the ordeal with readiness and courage. His enthusiasm was communicated to those who heard him, and his words ran from mouth to mouth, till a shout rose that would have startled the Assistant Agent had he not passed safely over the crest of the hill.

“To-day, to-day! The meriah sacrifice is to be performed to-day! The meriah himself has spoken it!”

There was much to be done. The ceremonial of six days had to be cut short and crowded into as many hours. There were ablutions, anointings, and garlandings. New clothes were blessed and put on with solemn ceremony. Messengers were despatched to various villages to summon those who had begged to be allowed to take part in it. The excitement was intense, and it was not lessened by the fiery spirit that was poured down every throat.

After his first outburst Indra became calm and quiet. He followed the directions of the old pujari without a word, and performed the various acts demanded of him, omitting nothing even of the most trivial nature. With his exalted idea of self-sacrifice and worship, he had not contemplated all that it involved. From the very beginning he had never once faced the naked idea of grim death, a personal death, painful and horrible. Once or twice, as they bathed his limbs and loaded his neck with wreaths woven of the leaves of their sacred trees, the memory of the squealing pig came upon him with an abrupt and unwelcome vividness. Shuddering, he thrust the vision aside, and forced his mind back to the ideal of sacrifice and all that it promised for his fellow-men. Details of the ceremony he had witnessed sprang up again and again, only to be beaten down and resolutely ignored.

The sight of Phulmoni weeping did not stir him. On the contrary it rather strengthened his purpose. Once she drew near and whispered in his ear.

“There is still time. Run away with me. I know of many holes in the river bed where thou mayst hide until escape can be made. Then together we will go to the plains and live in safety and happiness.”

He turned upon her fiercely and loaded her with bitter reproach, asking her if she would destroy her village and bring dire misfortune upon it.

“Go, get away where my eyes cannot look upon you. The heart of Tari Pennu burns with anger when you speak such words. Take care that she does not claim you in the forest or upon the hillside.”

His words had a prophetic ring in them, and the girl fled terrified. She took care to keep herself out of his sight for the rest of the day.

At five o’clock Indra issued from Guruswamy’s house, clothed in new garments and decorated with flowers and sacred leaves. The old pujari had done all in his power to persuade him to drink the soft seductive mixture that had been prepared in accordance with the old custom. The drugs mingled in it would have lulled his senses into semi-consciousness, and deadened the terror of anticipation. He refused to touch it, beyond putting his lips beneath the lip of the cup, and allowing a drop or two to fall upon his tongue. The rest was thrown to the crowd. Eager hands were extended to catch the precious drops in the belief that they carried a magic charm with them.

Dondia met him at the entrance of the small yard of Guruswamy’s house.

“Swami, let these unworthy arms carry the beloved of the gods to the grove. It is unseemly that he should walk.”

“I wish to walk. See, my father, I have the use of my limbs and can guide my feet. Let me walk with the worshippers as one of them. Have no fear that I shall lose courage or run away. I shall move quickly towards the grove, so anxious am I to serve our mother.”

His request was reasonable, and he was permitted to take his way without hindrance. It would have been a difficult matter to escape had he been inclined to make the attempt. He was surrounded by a crowd of Khonds, who hedged him in; and it would have been impossible for an unarmed man to break through their ranks.

A strange procession passed through the village, halting here and there that women and children, whose presence in the grove was forbidden, might bend a knee before the beloved of the gods.

They reached the wire bridge and passed over to the other side. Indra, walking like a man in a dream, bent his steps straight towards the old meriah post, with its clumsy cross beam in the rude shape of an elephant’s head, the hattimunda of the Khonds. He stopped before it and placing his hands together, he cried—

“Earth mother, I come! Of my own free will; I come! For the good of my brothers; I come! Give them freely of thy store; for my sake!”

As he stood there the people gathered in a semicircle before the post, silent, watchful, expectant. When the last man had crossed the bridge, Indra slowly turned and faced the assembly. He placed himself with his back against the rugged old root-end of the horizontal beam, and raised his arms towards the ears of the elephant’s head.

It was one of those beautiful days when the sun in his descending scattered liquid gold broadcast over the landscape, gilding grey rock and brown tree-stem, and turning the dry, hot earth into a field of gold; as though he would hide with his luminous paint and gorgeous colouring the mischief that he had wrought with his fiery beams. The golden rays touched the figure of the meriah victim as he stood like a statue modelled in warm bronze; and the people took it as a favourable omen given by Tari Pennu herself.

Guruswamy and Dondia advanced together, and the pujari bound his arms whilst the headman raised and supported him. The cords used to bind him were the strands of his own long luxuriant hair, combed and oiled until it shone in the sun like the sleek coat of a black steed. The fingers that twisted the tresses round the weather-beaten ears of the elephant’s head trembled to such an extent that it was with difficulty the knots were tightened sufficiently to hold up his weight.

At last it was done. Guruswamy withdrew and signed to Dondia Mazzu to let go his hold. Even now the headman dealt tenderly with the son whom he had given to the gods. He withdrew his support gently, allowing Indra’s weight to fall gradually upon his bound arms.

It is strange how a sudden pang of sharp physical pain will upset the mental balance. At the unexpected sting of the lash or cut of the knife, all the higher intellectual feelings disappear, and a strong subconscious instinct of self-preservation asserts itself, dominating every other sensation.

Indra’s weight on his own arms strained his muscles; and the strands of hair cut into his flesh, He lifted his head and glanced round with an expression in his eyes that was new. The ecstasy of the devotee was gone, and in its place reigned a very human terror. Guruswamy; watching from a little distance, noted the change. In a low voice, that reached the ears of the headman only, he said,

“The victim may not struggle. If he struggles or cries out, be ready, even though the sun may not have touched the edge of the hills. It was unwise of him not to drink of the medicine we prepared.”

“It still remains to swing him. The people will not be satisfied unless they take part in the swinging.”

In haste Guruswamy began to speak, and the crowd gradually hushed its murmuring. It was the same kind of oration that he had given before the pig; and at the sound of his voice the memory of that last meriah sacrifice came back to the excited brain of the victim. He saw the pig tied where he was tied; he heard its stifled cries, and he caught the gleam, the real gleam, of knives that were held ready now as then for the deadly work.

As the pain produced by the tension of the muscles increased, he stirred with a writhing motion of the body and drew up his legs. The pujari broke off in his speech and took a step towards the post. Indra knew what it meant: the death stroke was imminent.

In the abject terror that overcomes all living creatures suddenly brought face to face with death, he screamed for mercy and help. He was no longer the exalted devotee, ready to sacrifice his life for the good of the people. He was nothing but a scared human being, struggling to escape.

Once before, when Waldingham was by the side of the lake, he had heard that shriek. With the same promptitude as he answered it then, he replied to it now. Motee felt the prick of the goad, and dashed forward at the bidding of her driver, with a crash and a scream that seemed to echo the cry of the victim.

Before Dondia and Guruswamy had time to hack and slash, a formidable beast appeared, as if sent by the gods themselves, interposing its body between them and their victim. On its back it bore the still more powerful Government official, by whose word they could be imprisoned in that dreaded gaol, where the hill breezes, which are the breath of life to the hillman, never entered.

The pujari in sheer astonishment and dismay fell back with his companion into the ranks of the worshippers, and an ominous silence prevailed.

With violent efforts Indra tore and strained at the knots that the fingers of the old pujari had drawn none too tightly. The oiled hair slipped and one arm was loose. The crowd saw it, and there was an ugly murmur. Waldingham would have dismounted to lend assistance, but Don Juan protested.

“Keep seated, please; sir. I can’t make Motee kneel here for you to get on again. The people are making too much bobbery.” He spoke to the elephant in soothing tones, using his own language. “Quietly, softly, my queen! Mistress of the forest, have no fear. Tread gently, nearer, nearer, nearer still!” he cried, urging the intelligent beast to approach the post.

The last restraining strand gave suddenly, and Indra found himself on his feet below the hattimunda, free!

“Here, this way!” shouted Don Juan. “Come here, quickly, or the people will catch you.” He gave the old order to Motee, who extended a stiffened leg and bent down her ear till he could reach it.

“Mount, mount! Catch her by the ear! Mount by her foot!”

The crowd was no longer silent; the murmur was fast merging into an angry roar of protestation. Indra heard it, and with the fear of death still dominating every other instinct but that of the preservation of life, he followed Don Juan’s directions.

Waldingham leaned forward with a ready hand; and the obedient animal assisted with its trunk. In a marvellously short space of time Indra, exhausted and half fainting, lay across the pad, his arms extended, his hands gripping the pad.

The Assistant Agent gazed down upon his panting, prostrate body, and for a moment the crowd was forgotten in sheer astonishment; but only for a moment.

There was a movement among the most forward members of the assemblage, and an angry surging betokened an intention of rescue on the part of the crowd. Don Juan recognized it, and spoke to the elephant.

“March, march, my beloved! Thou carriest thy lord. March with royal steps and salute thy rajah!”

At the same time he restrained her from moving, and she understood that he was at his old games, the end of which invariably meant a lump of sugar or a sweetmeat. She lifted her feet and trampled the ground, raising her trunk and sending forth a sonorous trumpeting. The frightened crowd paused and fell back.

“Be ready, sir, and hold Indra tight. We must get away quickly before they think to throw their axes. Speak, speak, my queen! Again, again! Now, forward, forward with all speed!”

The last loud trumpet ended in a scream as she felt the goad once more. She darted back by the way she came, crashing through the jungle towards the river. Before the Khonds could combine and decide on any aggressive action, Motee had crossed the river-bed and had disappeared.

‘To the village, to the village! They will carry him back to the village!” cried Guruswamy, beside himself with a raging fanaticism that extinguished all reason. “Throw your axes at the elephant. Stop it! and tear Indra down. He must die! He must die! He must die!”

He led the way to the bridge in the full belief that the elephant would be met at the ford below the village. He could think of no other course for the Assistant Agent to take but to bring Indra back to his father’s house. He was followed by a crowd of men inflamed with drink, and mad with the old thirst for blood that had swayed their forefathers, and prompted many ghastly deeds before a benevolent Government interfered.

A girl, eager for news, and acting in her wilfulness contrary to all tradition, was coming up the path that led from the village to the island. She was torn by conflicting emotions, in which the passion of desire mingled with the passion for revenge. She could not rest; and though the women warned her that her presence would be unwelcome to the worshippers, she was drawn towards the spot. What was the fate of the man whom she had scorned; and who had scorned her in return?

She met the crowd, led by the pujari and the headman. Their hands were empty, and their knives unsullied. She laughed aloud in their faces.

“Ah! He has escaped yet again!” she screamed. “Tari Pennu will have to starve even as we starve. She will have to content herself with the pig and the buffalo after all.”

A crowd not under control is liable to a sudden change of opinion. At no time does it stop to consider, but it is borne along on the wild impulse of the moment. Consequences are not reckoned with. A voice is raised and a suggestion is made. Before a note of warning can be struck, action is taken; and the deed, whether for the credit or for the shame of the people, is done.

*  *  *

Tari Pennu’s terrible appetite was sated; but not exactly as Guruswamy had planned. She was fed with flesh that was neither pig’s nor goat’s nor buffalo’s flesh.

That night, as if in answer to their prayers, the clouds suddenly gathered on the crests of the hills and in the valleys. They swept downwards and upwards and met in one of those sharp September showers which are the forerunners of the monsoon.

The rain was heaviest and the thunder loudest over Dondia Mazzu’s village.

Chapter XXVI

Twenty-four hours later Waldingham stepped into his bungalow with a sigh of relief. Not until he reached the foot of the hills did he dare to congratulate himself on the success of his mission. One of two events was to be dreaded. Indra might repent of his cowardice, and make an attempt to escape back to the village. Once restored to the hands of the villagers it would be hopeless to expect to achieve a second rescue. He would disappear, together with more than half the men of the place. They would return, but without Indra. A second contingency to be dreaded was the presence of the headman in the camp, supported by his villagers, with a demand for the restitution of his son.

If the demand were refused, as it undoubtedly would be, the Assistant Agent must prepare himself for violence, and an attempt on the part of Dondia to rescue the meriah by the aid of his followers.

The striking of the camp was hastened; and before daylight the elephants were loaded and driven off towards the plains. If he had only known it, he need not have feared a rescue. The people were satisfied. Perhaps for his own peace of mind it was as well that he should remain in ignorance. Nothing could bring the dead back to life; no act of retribution could restore the flesh to the bones that Dondia and Guruswamy burned in the meriah grove at the very hour when the elephants began their homeward march in the early dawn. The knowledge that after all, though he had saved Indra’s life, the will of the people had been executed, and the cruel appetite of their deity sated, would have been disturbing. It would have necessitated action on the part of the law, with a protracted inquiry; and no convictions would have been made. The Khonds to a man would have denied that the act took place. In the absence of witnesses, though every man in that wild savage crowd had held a piece of the flesh in his hand, the principal actors would escape.

Without a suspicion of what had occurred behind his back, the Assistant Agent dismissed the Khonds from his mind as soon as he had put several miles between himself and them; and he turned his attention to his charge. As Indra had lain across the elephant, his arms extended above his head, Waldingham recalled another scene that was enacted on the banks of the mountain pool. At his direction Krishna Sao raised the arms of the unconscious man to promote respiration. He remembered now where he had seen the crescent birthmark. It returned like a flash of lightning, and he blamed himself for not having recalled it sooner. The Rajah’s tale and the Ranee’s confirmation of the story, with the description of the birthmark, contained nothing but the truth. This was undoubtedly the missing man, who as a child had either strayed from his mother, or been stolen by the travelling merchant. The lisping boy had probably pronounced his name in such a way as to make it sound like Indra.

Never once did Waldingham, on that journey back to the bungalow, lose sight of his charge. His one anxiety was to restore Indra to his parents as quickly as possible. To this end he despatched a messenger to Ellanore the next morning to summon the Rajah to his house. He begged him to come not later than the following day, as he had an important communication to make.

The curiosity of the great man was roused; and before the clock struck ten on the second morning after their return, the clatter of outriders heralded his approach. With a rattle of hoofs and harness the carriage drew up under the porch; and the peons ran in to Waldingham’s room to announce the arrival. There was a twitter of excitement among the whole household. The restoration of the heir would not go unrewarded; and though the Government official was above remuneration, his servants were not prohibited from taking a present if it were offered.

With Sam’s assistance Waldingham had made his preparations. It was only seemly that the Rajah’s son should be suitably clothed when his father’s eyes first fell upon him. Some garments had been bought in the bazaar on the previous day. Indra’s long hair, by which his arms had been fastened, was combed and tied into a knot, that was hidden beneath a neat turban of fine white muslin adorned with gold embroidery such as the Rajah himself wore.

With his usual courtesy the Assistant Agent came to the verandah to receive his visitor. The Rajah was in so great a hurry to hear what he had to say, that he showed an inclination to dispense with some of the ceremony. Waldingham, however, omitted nothing; and when he had seated him in the chair of honour, he opened the conversation with an inquiry as to how he was prospering in his search for his heir. He noted that the Rajah was not smiling with his customary bland good-nature, and that he had a harassed look. The numerous applications made by people, who professed to be able to find his son for him if only he would supply them with the funds necessary for them to prosecute the search, worried him more than a little. He was credulous and at the same time suspicious; and the anxiety was beginning to affect his health.

“Well, Rajah! How does your search for an heir get on?” asked the Assistant Agent.

“Pretty well; but there is some confusion. At present I am instituting inquiries about ten young men who all claim to wear the birthmark and to be my son. The one that went to Burmah seems to be the most likely; but he says that he cannot return to India in less than a month’s time.”

“I am afraid you are being deceived. That young fellow in Burmah will turn out to be another impostor. He had better remain there.”

“Meanwhile, my nephew gives plenty of trouble. The other day he beat the headman of my stables, because he refused to let him have the riding-horse I keep for my own use. It is very quiet, and its paces are easy. I could never accustom myself to any other.”

“All right, Rajah, we’ll soon send that nephew of yours about his business. I have a pleasant surprise for you. I have found your son and heir; and I congratulate you on being the father of so fine a man.”

The Rajah was unable to speak for astonishment. He could not believe his ears, and was only able to stare at the speaker with rounded eyes and open mouth. Without another word Waldingham rose and went into his office-room; from which he presently emerged leading a handsome young man, clothed in a long satin coat and imposing turban. Indra saluted the Rajah with dignity mingled with reserve.

“My son!” gasped the Rajah. “How am I to know that this is my son?”

There was a pathetic note in the inquiry that touched the Assistant Agent, and made him anxious to prove the truth of what he said for the sake of the troubled parent.

“Take off your coat and show the Rajah the mark of the moon under your arm.”

He complied with the request, baring himself to the waist. The arm was lifted, and there, plainly to be seen, on the rich brown skin, was the black crescent. The Rajah’s eyes sparkled with delight; but even now he dared not believe in his good luck. He laid his fingers against the crescent.

“It is larger than the size mentioned by the boy’s mother,” he observed with a troubled voice.

“Of course it is larger,” replied Waldingham, reassuringly. “When she measured it her son was small, and his limbs were small. He has grown, and the mark has grown with his growth.”

“Ah! I had not thought of that,” he cried with relief. Then stretching out his arms he uttered the name that had been given when the boy was born. “Chandra, my son, Chandra!”

At the name Indra turned and looked into his father’s eyes, repeating softly—

“Chandra, Chandra! That was my name, but they called me Indra.”

“Because you pronounced your name imperfectly,” said Waldingham. “Put on your shirt and coat again, and let your father see you dressed like a Rajah’s son.”

Well, indeed, might the Rajah be pleased and proud, for a more noble-looking man it would have been hard to find in the district. The open-air life in the hill village had done much for him. Tall and straight, he stood half a head above his father with the bearing of a prince.

“My boy! Come home with me to your mother. I can see her face in yours. You look at me with her eyes. Together we will go to the temple and make an offering such as they have never had before.”

“The offering will not be your life, Indra,” said Waldingham. “Tari Pennu does not live on the plains, and there is no need to offer blood to your father’s god.”

The story of the escape had to be told; and whilst Waldingham related it he could not but smile as he watched the happy Rajah, his eyes scarcely ever leaving the form or features of the newly-found son. It was not till more than an hour later that the Assistant Agent was able to dismiss them both. Indra’s reserve was fast disappearing under his father’s happiness in his discovery; and it was evident that the man of simple tastes, bred in the freedom of the hills, would prove a far better successor than the Rajah’s nephew, who had fathomed every vice, and discarded every virtue.

*  *  *

On his return Waldingham found no letter from Rosabelle; but this did not trouble him. He felt certain that the explanation sent by the coolies would be sufficient to satisfy her that all would come right in time.

The following morning three letters arrived which were momentous. One was in answer to his application for a few days’ casual leave. The leave was granted, and he could meet his mother in Madras as he hoped. The second was from his mother herself. She announced her arrival at an hotel in Madras, and expressed a desire to see him as soon as possible. The third was from Mrs. Woodhurst; and as he read it through his pulse quickened, and a dull anger kindled deep within him. She informed him that her husband was no better, and would not be able to return to his work at Russellkondah. He had applied for a year’s furlough on the advice of the doctor. Dear Rosabelle was very happy. She had accepted Sir James Raydon’s offer of marriage, and the wedding was to take place on their arrival in England.

Waldingham remained very still for the space of half an hour, the prey of conflicting emotions over which he seemed to have no control. Sometimes he traced meaningless figures on his blotting-pad. Sometimes his eyes were fixed upon the sunlit landscape visible through the open doors. He saw and heard nothing. At the end of his moody dream he called Sam.

“You remember sending a letter of mine by the market coolies to the police sahib’s house?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Was the letter safely delivered?”

Yes, sir; the butler took it in and promised to give it to the new master as soon as he arrived.”

“What?” he cried, so sharply that Sam was startled.

“Mr. Woodhurst and family had gone to the hills when the coolies got to the house. Mrs. Woodhurst left orders that all letters were to wait for the new master. He comes to-day.”

“All right, Sam, you can go.”

He took up Mrs. Woodhurst’s letter; and read it through again.

“Rosabelle might have waited! It was not as if she were ignorant, even though she did not get my second letter. She knew, she knew! It is the old story. I had no chance against such odds.”

He remained at his writing-table, apparently busy with his correspondence; but beyond signing some official papers very little was accomplished. When lunch was over he summoned the butler once more.

“Pack up my portmanteau. I am going down to Madras by the night mail. I shall be back in less than a week.”

He rose from the table with a laugh in which there was more bitterness than mirth.

“What is written on a man’s forehead, Krishna Sao would say, will come to pass. I may as well fall in with my mother’s wishes, and marry my cousin Ivy.”

*  *  *

The master was gone, and the whole household felt as if a bank-holiday had suddenly arrived. Two or three servants from neighbouring bungalows dropped in to hear the great news of how the Rajah’s son was found and rescued and restored to his father. Don Juan, having taken an active part in the rescue, was a person of some importance. He was able to describe the whole affair from beginning to end at first hand. The story had been told in scrappy sections at various odd moments between the performance of his many duties as matey; but there had hitherto been no opportunity of relating the details consecutively and without interruption.

As they sat under the neem trees that shaded the kitchen buildings at the back of the house, no call could come from the verandah or office to disturb them. The turban and white coat necessary in their personal service were laid aside and easy old garments assumed. At a signal from Sam, Don Juan began his tale.

“It was I, Don Juan, who told the master that the Khonds were going to kill Indra at sunset. At first he would not believe me; but when I explained, he understood. The pony was tired, so he ordered me to drive Motee, the elephant, to the island.”

“Would she obey you?”

“Motee went as if she were driven by St. Joseph himself. She chose her steps over the rough places with wisdom. The master’s heart and liver were not shaken like potatoes in a boiling pot. He rode easily, often giving me a word of praise. ‘Well done, little devil of a Don Juan!’ he said, as we crossed the sixth nullah. My heart swelled with coolness and pride at his praise.

“That is not the master’s usual mode of speaking,” observed Sam, with a suspicion that the boy was drawing on his imagination.

Don Juan actually had the temerity to wink at his chief as he continued his story.

“The guidance and management of the elephant was left to me; and I went straight to the island where stands the meriah post.”

“How did you reach the island?” asked one of the listeners.

“The water in the river was low; and we were able to cross on the opposite side to the place where the wire-bridge hangs. Motee walked warily, the water coming up to her ribs only, where usually it is five times as deep. We were hidden by the jungle so that none could see us till we were close to the meriah post. We were but just in time. Indra was bound upon the hattimunda by his hair. The crowd awaited the signal to seize the rope to swing him round before cutting him to pieces. By the aid of the goad I caused Motee to make a dash forward. She crashed through the jungle like a rock from the hilltop, and, taking her stand close to the hattimunda, she trumpeted like a burst of thunder from the sky.”

Exclamations of “Ah ha!” “Yemmah!” “Hoh!” fell on the ears of the delighted boy. The encouragement was sufficient to fire his imagination; he proceeded with a tale that would have astonished his master could he have heard it.

“At the sound of Motee’s voice the hillmen were filled with sudden fear. They fell to the ground as if the earth goddess herself had appeared in their midst. The master commanded me to speak. I stood up on the elephant’s neck and cried out to them that the great King Emperor himself, living beyond the seas, had sent for Indra, the son of the headman to be the chosen companion of his own son. The prince desired to learn the use of the bows and arrows, and the axe; and Indra was to be his teacher.”

“And what did they reply?”

“That the King’s commands must be obeyed. Then I ordered Indra to loosen the knots in his hair that fastened him to the post; and when he was free I showed him how to mount the elephant by the aid of her foot and her ear.”

“And what said the people?”

“We did not wait to hear. As soon as we had Indra safely on the pad between us, his honour directed me to return to the camp as quickly as possible.”

“Was there no pursuit?”

“Before the hillmen could raise themselves to their feet, we crossed the river and were out of sight. The master gave me great praise for the good sense I showed.”

“The Rajah bestowed a good reward?”

“It was a trifle,” said Don Juan, indifferently. “The reward was not due to me, but to the butler. Was it not by his order that I drove the elephant? He spoke the good word for me by which his honour permitted me to take Cassim’s place. I have been matey and mahout to his excellency, the Assistant Agent,” concluded the boy, with pardonable pride.

“And now you will be nothing but cook’s boy, since I have come back,” said a voice behind him that was familiar.

All eyes were turned upon the new-comer, who had stolen up to them unnoticed. It was his old enemy, the matey; and Don Juan’s heart sank to the very depths. According to custom the man had a claim to be restored to his old position, as he had neither given notice nor been dismissed by his master. By the same unwritten law, Don Juan had a claim upon his former position, and became once more the washer of dishes and cleaner of saucepans.

“I have come back to my work,” said the matey to Sam.

The butler nodded in acquiescence.

“The boy has filled your place while you have been away, and he has given satisfaction,” remarked the cook.

“When I have received my arrears of pay, I will reward him,” said the matey in a tone that was intended to be magnanimous.

“Absent servants take no pay,” said Sam; decisively. “The boy has received the wages that are due for the work he has done, as is only just.”

It was as though a brilliant day had suddenly been overcast by a murky fog. The buoyant cheerful spirit, the vivid imagination were extinguished, and a dull, dead level of misery loomed before him. Having tasted glorious liberty, and enjoyed a wage that, compared with a scullion’s earnings, was wealth, he shrank from a return to his former position. Not even his affection for Sam could reconcile him to the life of persecution that must ensue on the return of his old enemy.

The story of the rescue having been told in all its details, the company readily turned their attention to the new arrival. They plied him with questions about the big Presidency town where he had been living, and Don Juan was forgotten in the absorbing interest roused by the matey’s news. Even Sam, who had his share of curiosity concerning the great town in which he was born and bred, forgot his faithful acting-matey, and did not observe him slip away a little later in the direction of the little room where the blind mother lived.

Enfolded in his mother’s arms the poor boy unburdened himself of his trouble.

“Mother, it will be hard to stay and work under that man, too hard for me to bear. I must go and seek work elsewhere. To-day the Rajah sent his servant to place in my hands a reward for helping to restore his son to me. I give it to you.”

He counted into her lap eight sovereigns, which she secreted cunningly in her cloth. Two he kept for himself.

“The butler will pay you my wages up to to-day. After the money is spent you must use one of the sovereigns. I shall return before you have spent them all.”

“My son, my son! You will not leave me!” she pleaded, her arms closing round him in a despairing embrace.

Together they wept while the company was still being regaled with tales of the distant city. The next morning as the cook’s boy, who had taken Don Juan’s place, was sweeping the back verandah, Sam strolled up with leisurely steps. “Why are you here?” he asked.

“Don Juan has not come to do the work, so I have done it lest the honourable butler should be angry.”

“Where is Don Juan?” asked Sam, with sudden misgiving.

“He is not here, most excellent sir.” He observed that the matey had drawn near to listen. “Like the night bat, that vanishes with the coming of the sun, he has disappeared at the arrival of the honourable matey.”

This diplomatic speech paved the way for a better understanding between the upper and the lower servant than had existed between Don Juan and the matey.

Sam made inquiries after the boy, but was unsuccessful in learning what had become of him. The blind woman could only weep and say that he was by her side when she fell asleep. When she awoke he was gone. She prayed the butler to be allowed to remain in the godown. As the room was not required for any one else her prayer was granted, more for her son’s sake than her own; for Sam had a soft place in his heart for the quondam cook boy.

Chapter XXVII

It was with an unusual heaviness of mind that Waldingham journeyed down to Madras to meet his mother. The outlook was grey and colourless. Sometimes he blamed himself for not having kept his appointment with Rosabelle. It was his opportunity, and he had omitted to seize it. He had allowed duty to intervene. The life of a man hung in the balance. To save that life everything else had been swept aside, including his own interests. As far as he knew at the time it was only a hillman who was in jeopardy, a man of no importance; but with the Englishman’s consideration for human life, the hillman became a person of moment; for whom every other thought was thrust aside. Whatever result his action might have upon his own life, he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had done the right thing.

Sometimes a deep-seated anger burned within him against Rosabelle. She ought to have known; she ought to have understood, whether she had received his letter or not. A serious matter of this kind ought not to hang on the mere delivery of a letter. He assured himself that she fully comprehended the situation. She acted deliberately with a clear mind, taking a course that was manifestly best in her own interests. A man with a title and wealth was a much better match for a penniless girl than a junior member of the Indian Civil Service. As the wife of Sir James Raydon she would live in a comfortable home in England; but as the wife of an Indian civilian she would have to spend her life in the tropics with no permanent home. She would have to part with her children, and see them at rare intervals. Of course it was best in every way to marry Raydon rather than the Assistant Agent.

As he argued thus a small voice cried again and again—

“You are unjust in your anger and hard upon her. From all you have seen, you have no right to accuse her of selfishness.”

“The proof of it is in her marriage to this man,” replied the wounded pride within him, as he smarted under the sting of his disappointment.

“I shall marry Ivy and forget that there ever was such a person as the self-seeking Miss Woodhurst. I shall take care not to let her see that I have been hit. Hang it all! The world would get on a great deal better without all these women in it!”

Thus he passed through many moods, taking snatches of sleep during the night as the train roared and rumbled through the warm September air.

On his arrival he drove to the club, where he deposited his luggage. From there he went to the hotel, a large untidy place, managed by a perplexed native, who knew nothing of the lines on which a modern hotel should be run.

As Waldingham entered, the proprietor was being interviewed in the central room by an irate dame from up-country, an old resident, and very much of an old campaigner. For the time being she seemed to have taken possession of the establishment. At that moment she was soundly rating the unfortunate man on the indifferent quality of the food. Crumb-chops and spatch-cock belonged to the dâk bungalow, and were unworthy of such an hotel as he owned, she was saying in no measured tone. She would not tolerate their presence on the table again. It was the cook’s fault, was it? Let him bring the cook. The cook spoke only Tamil. That did not matter in the least, she spoke Tamil herself as fluently as any native. Bring the cook, and she would talk to him like a mother-in-law.

Waldingham smiled and passed on up the broad staircase to his mother’s private sitting-room.

It was not with an altogether steady pulse that he entered. Would Ivy expect him to embrace her? Would she look for the impatient lover? He smiled grimly as he assured himself that she would be disappointed. To run round the garden after a saucy schoolgirl and give her a scrambled kiss was one thing. To play the devoted lover in cold blood was quite another.

The room was empty, and he was granted a welcome respite. One at a time was his desire; his mother first, and afterwards his cousin.

At the end of five minutes an elderly lady swept in from a side door, and sailed up to him with extended arms. He was conscious of a cloud of scented lace hovering about his shoulders as her arms went round his neck; and a soft, powdery cheek was brushed affectionately against his clean-shaven face.

“Hallo, mater! so you’ve got here all safe!” he cried with a genial cheerfulness he did not feel.

“My darling boy, after so many years! This is indeed a sad, sad meeting!”

Her emotion was genuine. She drew away from him gently, and dabbed her eyes with more lace that served as an inadequate handkerchief.

“Not at all, mater. Cheer up! I’m very glad to see you, as glad as a man can be who is up to his eyes in business. By George, they work us hard enough nowadays; and the harder we work the more they cut down our pay!”

As he talked Mrs. Waldingham composed herself, stopped her tears, and seated herself at an open doorway leading into a deep verandah with lofty pillars.

“You are looking very well, dear Martin, in spite of your hard work.”

“I am glad to say that I can return the compliment. Tell me how you have enjoyed your travels,” he said, wishing to set her at her ease.

“The travelling was not difficult, and of course the places we saw were interesting. To enjoy them one should have an undisturbed mind and congenial companions.”

She sighed deeply and glanced at him as though in expectation of an expression of sympathy. She had only half his attention. His eye wandered round as she talked, attracted to the side-doors leading from the sitting-room into the bedrooms. At any moment his cousin might appear; and the longer she delayed her coming the more his curiosity was raised. It was rapidly overcoming his reluctance to meet his fate. He began to wonder why Ivy was hiding herself, and whether she was seized with a shy fit.

“Is my cousin—is Ivy with you?” he asked.

“No; she is not,” jerked out Mrs. Waldingham.

“She is out shopping perhaps.”

“No; she is not!” snapped his mother, in a manner that was entirely novel to her son.

“Perhaps you will explain,” he said quietly.

She rose from her chair with a tragic air and began to pace the room, waving a large fan slowly to and fro. Posing came as naturally to her as eating and sleeping. She posed now, and he gathered rightly that she was suffering from an injury.

“I distrusted them from the very beginning! I knew when they assured me that I need not be anxious that there was every cause for my anxiety. Ivy was always so weak! She has been deplorably rash and foolish.”

“What has she done?” asked Waldingham, bewildered.

“Done!” repeated Mrs. Waldingham, in a solemn voice as she stopped short suddenly and glanced at him over her handkerchief. “What has she not done? It was all the palms and the lake!”

“What palms? What lake?”

“The Kandy lake. It is so beautiful; and the drives round it are so lovely! There was a moon, too, to make matters worse; a young crescent moon that reflected itself most immorally in the water! I look upon the moon as a standing menace to all young people who have any romance in them. I assure you, Martin, it was not my fault; I did my best——”

The tears gushed forth again, and her son had to exercise his patience. The memory of bygone days returned. The greater the dilemma, the more incoherent his mother became. He recalled his method of extracting information when she was in distress. He tried the old plan.

“I am sorry Ivy is ill—and in hospital.”

Mrs. Waldingham ceased weeping, and replied in some indignation.

“You are quite mistaken, Martin. You always had a weakness for jumping to wrong conclusions. She is quite well and in no hospital, unless you can call an impudent husband’s arms a hospital.”

“Husband! By George! She’s married!” cried Waldingham, with excitement. “Who’s the man? A parson, I bet!”

“Wrong again, as usual. Captain Alderstoke is in the army. I suspected him all along. He was on leave, travelling with his people. I told you about them in my letter from Kandy. They have heaps of money, which only makes their conduct more disgraceful. They might as well have left Ivy and her little fortune for you. She has disappointed me more than I can tell you,” concluded his mother, with symptoms of tears again.

“Good old Ivy! If she were here I’d give her a kiss. I’ll go to Orr’s and buy her a diamond ring for a wedding present.”

Mrs. Waldingham regarded him with grave displeasure.

“I think, Martin, that your conduct is absolutely unseemly. For a man in love, as you are with your cousin, to rejoice in the faithlessness of his affianced wife is disgraceful. It is worse; it is positively indecent.”

“Cheer up, mater,” said Waldingham affectionately. “Tell me all about it. Where was Ivy married?” There was a happier smile on his face than had been seen for some hours past.

“At Colombo. She left Kandy a day or two before I did, saying that she could not be parted from her dear friend, Elsie Alderstoke, his sister. The sly little cat! I was entirely deceived because he had gone to Colombo, pretending to be interested in the old fortifications. Fortifications, indeed! He went to get the licence; and they were married the next morning. She wore the wedding dress I had chosen for your bride; and they ate the cake I had ordered from England for your wedding breakfast. It is shameful, abominable! and here am I left deserted and alone!’

“Good old Ivy!” murmured Waldingham again. “She has cut the gordian knot for me with a masterly decision that puts me to shame. It’s all right, mater,” he said, raising his voice. “You have me still; and I may tell you now that long ago I made up my mind to remain a bachelor. I like my work, and I don’t want to be bothered with a wife. All that sort of thing will do when I retire. You go home and look round. You can mark down two or three nice-looking girls with a little money, and I’ll go in and win.”

“How soon do you retire,” asked his mother, severely,

“Oh—er—in—er—about seventeen years,” he replied, his enthusiasm slightly damped.

“Meanwhile what am I to do?”

“Be grannie to Ivy’s children, of course! You’ll make a most picturesque effective grandmother; and you’ll be just as pleased when you get used to the idea, whether the children are mine or any other man’s, as long as they are Ivy’s.”

She paused to consider the matter from his point of view. After all the prospect was not so bad as it might have been. There was no reason why her relationship with her niece should not continue along the pleasant lines on which it had always run. Ivy was still her niece, and might play the part of daughter by-and-by when they were reconciled.

“I meant them to be yours,” she said after a slight pause.

“We can’t have all we want in this world,” he replied, a little ruefully. “I never did like women, as you know—”

“Nonsense!” she cried, sharply. “You were always a favourite with the women.”

“That was when I was young and foolish. I am a confirmed old bachelor now. Don’t forget the fact, mater. Old bachelors never make good husbands; they are too selfish. There’s the lunch bell. Come along, and we’ll go for a drive afterwards. You shall help me to choose my wedding present for Ivy. By-the-by, where is she?”

“At Ootacamund. Here is her letter. You will see for yourself what the silly girl says; and how infatuated she is over the man.”

She drew a letter from her pocket, and he read it at the table.

“Lucky girl! She has found her blue bird and no mistake!” he said as he gave it back.

With lunch Mrs. Waldingham’s spirits improved. It was an excellent meal, showing the good effect of the attack upon the proprietor and manager. She was much attached to her son, and finding that he did not take the catastrophe—as she still chose to term it—to heart, she was soon in a more cheerful frame of mind, ready to laugh at his jokes and reminiscences of earlier days.

The ring was bought; and on their return to the hotel he wrote a letter of congratulation to his cousin, that had the merit of being genuine and cordial from beginning to end.

As his mother bade him good night before he departed to the club, she said—

“I must leave for Bombay by the mail train to-morrow evening. As soon as I knew of Ivy’s perfidy——”

“Ivy’s jolly good sense, I should say!” interrupted Waldingham.

“I wired to Bombay for a berth in an earlier steamer; and I must be off not later than to-morrow.”

“And I must go back to my work,” said her son. “I only took a few days’ casual leave. I’ll apply for six months’ furlough and come home next year. You and I will have a good time together, mater. You’re the only woman I want in my life.” The warm affectionate words sent a glow through the heart of the disappointed woman. She looked at him with shining eyes.

“You are angelic, perfectly angelic, to bear your disappointment so patiently and without anger. Any other man would have raged and stormed at the mere thought of another robbing him of his only love.”

He left her speech uncontradicted, feeling that it would be useless to assure her that he had never been in love; and what was more, that he was immensely relieved at the turn events had taken. He promised to spend the next day with her, and see her off by the evening train from the Central station.

*  *  *

The platform was crowded with natives, and there was a perfect babel of voices as each traveller shouted directions to his companions. No one heeded what was said, and no one listened for an answer. Waldingham pushed his way through the people, and found the compartment which he had secured for his mother. He entered the carriage with her and arranged her various properties to her liking, chatting as he did so, always in a cheerful strain. Mrs. Waldingham had recovered from her distress, and there was no sign of any more tears at the failure of her pet scheme.

The bell rang and he returned to the platform to wait for the final whistle of the guard.

The big engine, with its caged chimney and cowcatcher, steamed out of the station, carrying its load of chattering humanity in the tightly packed third-class carriages; and its contingent of Europeans, tired and wearied with the noise and bustle of getting off.

The station was strangely quiet, the porters having disappeared with the cessation of their platform duties. A man began to put out some of the lamps and close the doors of the waiting-rooms.

Waldingham watched the train as it glided away into the darkness. The effort to maintain a cheerful indifferent spirit was no longer necessary, and he sighed somewhat heavily. He was going back to the old round of work. The season for camping would soon begin, when he would have long evenings without company, and too much time for thought.

As he walked down the platform towards the entrance, where the carriage he had hired awaited him, he overtook a girl moving more slowly in the same direction. She too had been seeing friends off by the mail.

“Mr. Waldingham!”

He started at the sound of her voice, checked his steps for a moment and hurried on, lifting his hat as he passed. She spoke again.

“Stop, Mr. Waldingham I I want to speak to you.”

Rosabelle’s manner was dignified and imperative; but in her voice was a note of desperation that caught his ear and arrested him. He turned, saying rather awkwardly—

“Miss Woodhurst! I thought you were at Ootacamund.”

“I have been staying there with my mother. After taking father to the hills he became suddenly worse, and the doctors ordered him off home at once. He and mother have just left for Bombay, to catch the steamer.”

She named the boat by which his mother was travelling.

“And you? Are you not going with them?”

“I remain in India till they return.”

Then the gay spirit of the confirmed bachelor, that he had assumed in his mother’s company, returned, and he said gaily—

“I hope you will be very happy. I came down to Madras to meet my mother. She brought me news of my cousin. You, of course, have heard of our boy and girl engagement. My cousin has settled it all out of hand, and relieved my mind more than I can tell you by throwing me over and marrying another fellow.”

Rosabelle’s eyes were fixed on his with strange inquiry.

“Did you learn this news after meeting your mother?”

“Yes,” he replied carelessly.

“Then you came down to Madras to be married?”

“I did; and am rejoiced to find myself jilted.”

He laughed, and his gaiety sounded hard and metallic. It did not ring true in her ears. She detected the false note, and her pulse throbbed with a quickened beat.

“It may be galling to one’s pride to be jilted,” she replied, echoing his tone and manner. “It is better, however, than marrying the wrong person. Here is my brougham. I will wish you good-bye, and better luck next time you contemplate matrimony.”

Her words stung him. He had not intended to allude any further to her engagement. Congratulations from him could not be otherwise than bitter, after what had passed between them. He could not resist saying—

“Before you go, let me congratulate you on your engagement.”

“My engagement? Ah! yes; but how did you know? Mrs. Comyn’s children are charming little people, I am told; and they have a delightful home on their tea estate on the hills.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” asked Waldingham, forgetting his rôle of gay bachelor and woman-hater in his astonishment.

“My engagement as governess to Mrs. Comyn’s children until my father and mother return,” she replied, with the suspicion of a smile about the corners of her mouth.

“And what about Sir James Raydon?”

“He thinks he is suffering from the same misfortune as yourself. He has no one to blame for it but himself, since he was foolish enough to take my mother’s reply to a question which I alone could answer. I was sorry for him——”

They were standing on the steps of the station entrance. Rosabelle’s brougham, borrowed from the friend with whom she was staying, stood below with its lamps lighted, the patient syce holding open the door. Close behind was drawn up Waldingham’s conveyance. The rest of the carriages that had thronged the enclosure had disappeared.

“Get into the brougham, Rosa,” said Waldingham, impetuously. “We can’t stand here discussing our affairs. I have a lot to say.”

He led her by the arm down the steps and put her in the carriage.

“Here, syce, tell my man to follow.”

He jumped in after her, without asking for permission. The door was closed and they drove off into the darkness.

“Did you get my letter, a long letter that I wrote from camp to explain the note I sent?” he demanded.


“Oh, well, never mind! Bother letters now I’ve got you to myself. This will explain everything.”

And thereupon he showed her how the jilting and the jilted might console themselves. Apparently she understood what he meant; but she was not going to allow him to think that he was winning in an easy canter.

“I am not sure——” she began when he gave her an opportunity of speaking.

“But I am,” he replied unabashed.

“That’s all very well,” she said severely. “I have to remember your admission that you came down to Madras to be married to your cousin.”

“Rosabelle, don’t be hard on a fellow! I didn’t care what became of me. There was no letter from you in answer to mine; and I had just received one from your mother to say that you were going to be married to Sir James.”

She looked at him with troubled eyes. “Did mother really say that? She had no right to do so. I took time to think it over, it is true; but I knew all along, after I saw you that day at our house, what my answer must be. I don’t think he had much hope; but you see he was so kind-hearted. Without his help father could not have gone home, and it seemed so cruel to refuse bluntly.”

Where is Sir James?”

“Still at Ootacamund. He goes to England next month.”

There was so much to say that both were astonished when the brougham drew up at the house.

“You wished me better luck next time. I’ve got it!” he said triumphantly, as he entered his own carriage to drive back to the club.

“So have I!” she replied, lifting her love-lit eyes to his at the carriage window in a dream of happiness.

Chapter XXVIII

A year’s furlough, and the girl of your heart to spend it with! What more could a man desire? What prospect could be happier or more inviting?

Such was the thought of the Assistant Agent as he finished handing over charge to his successor. He was leaving Russellkondah in time to spend Christmas on the hills. Early in January the wedding was to take place from the house of Mrs. Comyn. She was sorry to lose Rosabelle; but what woman in this world does not find an interest in weddings! Mrs. Comyn was delighted to play the mother, and she was charmed with her little daughters as Rosabelle’s prospective bridesmaids. After a short honeymoon in the country, Waldingham proposed to go with his bride to the South of Europe; and from there they would visit England when the weather grew warmer and more congenial to the Anglo-Indian.

It was the day before Waldingham was leaving Russellkondah. His successor was taking on the bungalow and the staff of servants, including Sam. There was much to do in the way of clearing out properties that had accumulated during his residence. He was busy tearing up private papers and emptying the drawers of his writing-table when a voice disturbed him. He glanced round and saw Don Juan standing in the doorway. “I beg your honour’s pardon. This worm comes to throw himself and his poor old blind mother before your excellency’s pious footsteps.”

Don Juan salaamed and bowed low. He wore a long coat of his favourite colour, vivid as the emerald green of the paddy-field. It was voluminous in its skirts, capacious in its dimensions, and it blazed with glittering tinsel of red and green and gold. Below appeared crimson satin trousers, and on his head was a wonderful cap surrounded with a gilt band representing a crown. The whole was suggestive of the stage properties of a travelling company of actors. A wonderful necklace of glass balls, such as adorn Christmas trees, hung round his neck. He bore himself with a magnificent air, as though the spirit of the drama was upon his shoulders; he was living in the fanciful world of the stage rather than in the real world of a work-a-day life.

“Hallo, Don Juan! Is that you?”

“Yessir! I am your honour’s most humiliated”—he meant humble—“lump of mud, who once served your excellency as his worthless and obscene”—he meant obscure—“cook’s matey, matey and mahout.”

“What are you doing now?” asked Waldingham, running his eye over the extraordinary figure that posed before him.

“I am acting Maharajah in Ramaswamy’s company of play-actors, travelling through the Madras Presidency. We have had the honour of performing before their Highnesses the Maharajahs of Mysore and of Travancore.”

“Where are you performing now?”

“In Russellkondah, and, therefore, hearing that master was taking leave, I come to make my salaams. May master have a long life, and get a good place in Heaven.”

“Thank you, Don Juan. I am glad to hear that you are doing well. Playing at being a king is better fun than blowing up fires and cleaning saucepans. Is there anything that I can do for you? I owe you something for helping me through with the rescue of Indra.”

“We are commanded to appear before the Rajah of Ellanore and his son for three days next week,” said Don Juan, with some pride. “Master has an old red dressing-gown——”

“The one with the yellow cuffs? You would like to have it for your acting. I shall be very pleased to give it to you.”

The boy salaamed with an exaggerated theatrical manner that made his late master smile.

“Truly your excellency is good to this poor worm!”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I sometimes play the part of the English sahib, as he dines and sleeps and drives out to the Court House; but I have no proper dress,” replied Don Juan, with a grin that showed all his white teeth.

“Did you ever see me go to the Court House in my dressing-gown?” asked Waldingham, with a laugh.

“No, sir; but common-herd people don’t know, and this will do for sleeping and eating and smoking and driving out to pay visits.”

Waldingham summoned Sam, and the dressing-gown was handed over to the delighted boy, who considered that he had acquired a valuable asset to the company’s wardrobe, and an inspiring piece of stage property.

In return for the garment Don Juan presented the butler with a free pass to the best seats in the ramshackle old tent that did duty as a theatre for the company.

As he departed he cast a contemptuous glance in the direction of his old enemy the matey, who was cleaning the silver in the back verandah assisted by Don Juan’s successor. Without deigning to greet him the boy swaggered off by way of the front door as he had entered, an assumption that left the lower servants speechless with amazement, and brought a smile of amusement to the butler’s face.

Towards the evening Waldingham had another visitor. Krishna Sao, learning that he was taking furlough, came to wish him well.

“You have heard, perhaps, that I am going to be married,” said his host presently.

“I was told so. May your wife keep your heart cool, and bear you a son like yourself.”

The Assistant Agent expressed his thanks, and inquired after the welfare of the plantation. Rain had fallen during the months of October and November, and the plants had revived. After all there would be a smaller loss than he anticipated.

“There is no more talk of meriah sacrifices, I hope?” remarked Waldingham.

“They will have no further temptation to perform them. You heard of the fate of the meriah post?”

“No. What happened to it?”

“It was washed away by a big flood. By clearing the jungle round it, it was left exposed to the force of the water; and when the flood subsided, the post was gone.”

“I am glad of it. What do the people say?”

‘They look upon its disappearance as a sign that the earth goddess is satisfied, and that she requires no more human sacrifices.”

“A matter of congratulation for us,” remarked Waldingham. “I was very grateful to you, Krishna Sao, for your timely warning. You were quite correct in your suspicions. The people had every intention of murdering Indra.”

“How did you learn his story?”

“After his rescue it all came out. He was found as a child wandering at the foot of the hills. The panwa brought him up to Dondia’s village and sold him to the headman for the old price of the meriah, twenty-five rupees. I don’t believe that there was any intention of sacrificing him in the old way when the purchase was made. He was bought under the impression that the presence of a meriah child, even though it was never sacrificed, would bring good luck to the village. The discovery of the old meriah grove and post suggested the real thing, especially as there happened to be a scarcity of rain at the time. The suggestion caught the minds of the Khonds, and they actually prepared to put it into execution.”

“As far as Indra was concerned their intention was frustrated,” observed the zemindar.

“It has always surprised me,” said Waldingham, “that the Khonds took the rescue so quietly. I expected to have no end of trouble, and perhaps a little violence. It was my sudden and timely appearance on the scene that made the rescue successful; and for that I have you to thank. Indra owes his life to you.”

“Don’t thank me, sir; I ought to have done more,” said Krishna Sao, in a protest that seemed to be drawn from him in spite of himself.

“What more could you have done?”

“I could have gone with you and given you my assistance; though I admit that I should have objected to go without an escort of police.”

“There was no necessity for your help this time. I was able to effect my purpose single-handed, and without even the aid of the police,” replied Waldingham, with a touch of British pride.

“And that purpose was the salvation of a man’s life; not the prevention of a sacrifice.”

“Exactly so. They might slaughter as many animals as they chose without transgressing the law of God or of man; but to commit murder on any pretence whatever was to break both the Divine and the human law.”

Krishna Sao looked at the Englishman with a curious expression. He still found the man an enigma. Waldingham represented the race that ruled India; and to the Hindu he seemed a strange mixture of the simple mind combined with an astonishing force of character. It required more than a little courage to face the Khonds. Krishna Sao knew their capability for evil when they were under the influence of drink and suffering from what they considered a wrong. He would have refused, as he had just told his companion, to go into their very midst unarmed and unprotected by the police. Waldingham had done it without a second thought of the risk he was running; and he had effected his purpose, to the best of his belief, in its entirety when he saved Indra’s life. The Hindu, with his keener perception, knew that his success had only been partial.

He wondered in his detached manner whether the efforts of the English would be as successful if they had more knowledge of the inner workings of the minds of the people over whom they ruled. With his love of probing and testing, Krishna Sao had still a few questions to put. The very contentment and quiet of the village told its own tale to the Oriental of a purpose accomplished and an end fulfilled. Had it crossed Waldingham’s mind as well?

“Was there no inquiry or attempt to punish Dondia and the pujari?” he asked.

“No; because no crime was committed. It was best to hush the matter up. The old pujari, Guruswamy, knew that he had been in the wrong. He took care to disappear with his daughter before my later visit to the village. Dondia looked sheepish and guilty. But as all was quiet, and the people contented and happy, it was best to pass it over. After all I had not much proof of any evil intention. Indra was unhurt, even though he was bound upon the post.”

“Was anything known of Guruswamy; where he had gone and what had become of his granddaughter?”

“I was told that they were in Orissa, where he was making a marriage for the girl in another tribe.”

No good could be done by throwing any other light upon the disappearance of Phulmoni. The Assistant Agent was content; the people were content; why should he disturb this contentment? What did principles matter when the desired end was attained?

This is just where the East differs from the West; and as long as the Hindu gods reign in the hearts of the people, the poet’s words will remain true: that East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.

The End