The Sanyasi

Chapter I

Peroo the Sanyasi

“Tumpetty, tumpetty, tumpetty.”

The song of the tomtom filled the morning air. An English girl, issuing from the auction-yard of Affleck, the Australian horse-dealer, stopped and looked towards the sound.

She stood midway where the entrance opened on the Mount Road, Madras, just clear of the arch. The measured beat of the drum awoke long-slumbering memories. She forgot the mob of half-broken walers within the yard, and took no heed of the victorias, broughams and dog-carts blocking the road. The sound of the drum held her under a spell.

A shout, a clatter of hoofs inside the yard drowned the tomtom. Out of the crowd of pedestrians passing to and fro on the road darted a native of strange appearance. With wild gestures and incomprehensible phrases, he flung a warning arm above his head. There was a confused scramble under the archway, and she felt herself drawn by a firm hand out of harm’s way.

A terrified horse, which had escaped from its syce, was struggling in the dust. She turned to see who had saved her from what might have been a serious accident. She beheld the strange figure of a wandering ascetic, one who had renounced the world and spent his life in contemplation and in performing the will of the gods.

The right arm of the Sanyasi was still extended towards the horse, which regained its feet and stood trembling in every limb. The syces sprang to its head, sharing in some measure the terror of their charge.

The ascetic was of fair complexion and regular features. His well-knit figure showed no signs of fasting, but the dreamy abstracted expression of the eyes marked the devotee. He, as well as the English lady, had barely escaped being overthrown by the runaway horse in its endeavour to regain its freedom. The death of a Sanyasi at the very gateway of the yard would, in the opinion of the syces, bring disaster upon the stable and all who belonged to it. It was a miraculous deliverance from evil, and, lest he should curse them for their carelessness in allowing the horse to break loose, they salaamed apologetically, saying—

“Swami Iyah! The horse is possessed of a devil, and has the strength of an elephant.”

“To whom does it belong?”

“It belongs to the English lady standing beside you; she has just now bought it.”

“There are marks upon its body for good and evil “ he replied, as his gaze rested on the animal.

“The Sanyasi speaks true words. Never was horse so blessed and cursed. See the turn of the hair, Iyah.”

The syce who spoke touched a curl on the chest where the hair met in a miniature whorl. They seemed to have forgotten the presence of Miss Desormieux, who was listening with charmed ears to the language of her youth. Though absent from India so many years, she had not forgotten it, and she felt once more in touch with the people of the land.

“It is not a mark that bodes well for its rider,” replied the Sanyasi.

“But see here, Iyah; this is the wealth mark, and its owner will have much money. Yet the horse has an evil spirit, and it will require the help of the gods to subdue it.”

“And is it on that account that none of you will serve the lady?”

There was silence amongst the grooms, broken by the rattle of the carriages as they drove away with native gentlemen, who had attended the monthly sale. How did the Sanyasi know that Miss Desormieux had asked for a syce at the stables, and that none had offered their services?

“If the swami commands me---I am but the dust beneath his feet---I will serve the lady,” said the syce who had pointed out the signs written by Fate upon the animal.

“It is commanded. Take service with her, and see that the service is good. She will repay you well.”

“How do you know that?” asked Averine Desormieux, haughtily, and yet with a smile upon her lips.

She used the same mode of speech towards the Sanyasi as he had adopted in speaking to the syce, which was that of a superior to an inferior. The men started at the sound of her voice, staring at her with apprehension and wonder. Here was an English lady, newly arrived from the far West, able to understand and speak their language! And she dared to hold the great man in contempt, talking to him as if he were a low caste syce! Verily, she was a bold woman to buy a horse that had a devil, and speak to a Sanyasi without honour all in one morning! Those who served her would need the good will of the gods to protect them. In dread of his anger they again salaamed.

“Iyah, we throw ourselves before your pious footsteps and pray for your favour. Grant us good luck, and the English lady as well, since she is to be the mistress of one of us by your own order.”

The Sanyasi showed no sign of annoyance at the indignity that had been put upon him.

“May your cooking-pots never want rice, nor your wives, sons. Take the horse to its new abode; treat it well, and no harm will come to you or its owner.”

He turned and looked at Averine. His body was bare to the waist, and on his breast were smeared the sacred ashes worn by all ascetics. His glossy black hair, combed into waving locks, hung over shoulders almost as fair as those of a European. Whatever his vows were, they did not include uncleanliness. His loincloth of salmon colour was spotless, and a faint scent of sandalwood lingered about it. Averine gazed at him with curiosity. He had made no reply to her question as to how he knew that she would prove a good mistress. Apparently, he had no intention of giving one, for after a close comprehensive scrutiny, in which abstraction had no part, he turned away abruptly and continued his march. His watchful attendant recommenced the measured beat of the tomtom, and the red dust curled in little cloudlets round his feet as he disappeared in the golden haze of sunshine, and was lost in the throng of the Mount Road.

Miss Desormieux was about to get into the brougham that awaited her when an Englishman, bronzed from an open-air life in the colonies, issued from the stable-yard.

She waited for him to approach, and then said, with a laugh that had the ring of a challenge in it---

“I bought the horse after all, Mr. Vansittart. It’s beauty was irresistible.”

“It is not fit for a lady to ride.”

“So the syces say; they think it has a devil, so I shall call it Raksha.”

“A name it fully merits. But I wish you would let me put it up for sale again. There is another to be sold to-morrow which would suit you admirably.”

He spoke with great earnestness, and there was a troubled look upon his face. But though the intention was good, Averine did not appreciate it. She thought that he was overstepping the limits of their acquaintance in presuming to give her advice unasked. She replied coldly---

“Thanks; you are very kind, but the animal pleases me.”

“It is unsafe---absolutely unsafe for a lady.”

“There I differ from you.”

He hesitated, and a frown crossed his forehead. Had he followed the impulse of the moment he would have turned on his heel and left her without another word. But as his eyes dwelt on the face still tinged with the roses of the English climate---they had deepened at his words, in anger he supposed---he was tempted to try once more to dissuade her from risking her life.

“The beast has a pedigree worthy of the name you have bestowed on it. It comes of a long line of buck-jumpers; good trappers, but useless for the saddle.”

“I have already told you that I have taken a fancy to the animal. Besides, if what you tell me of the pedigree is correct, you should be the last person to dissuade me from buying it. It should not be necessary for me to remind you that you would find it no easy task to get rid of a horse with such a character, and that you should proportionately welcome a ready purchaser.”

She spoke in a cold, indifferent tone, as if desirous of emphasizing the fact that this was a business transaction and nothing more. But her concluding words were uttered with a suspicion of a challenge in her eyes.

Vansittart drew himself up, and again a shade of annoyance crossed his features. The implied rebuke was not lost upon him; he felt as if he were being told to remember his position and not presume upon it. He found himself unable to meet her calm questioning gaze. With an effort he pulled himself together.

“Can you credit me with no interests outside those of my profession?” he asked, without raising his eyes.

“I fail to understand you,” said the girl. “You are saying either too much or too little.”

He looked up quickly, and was beginning to speak, when he checked himself suddenly. Apparently he read no encouragement in her frank but puzzled expression.

“I mean,” she continued, seeing his evident hesitation, “that if you are concealing any further tricks that it may have, or any unpleasant incidents in its career, I think that it is only due to me to state them and allow me to use my own judgment.”

“Of that I can set your mind at rest,” he replied, with emphasis. “I have been perfectly frank with you, and you know as much about the animal’s history now as I do myself. It has its good points, I admit, clean limbs, and a sound wind. As far as appearances go, it is fit for a king. But it has an awful temper; you can see it in its eye. And it should not be necessary for me to remind you,” with a touch of returning good-humour and raillery in his voice, “that the combination of wickedness and beauty is a dangerous one, especially in the fair sex.”

“I suppose you think that that argument is conclusive?” she cried, with slightly heightened colour. “But, unfortunately for your logic, my new purchase is not of the softer sex. You evidently believe that beauty and wickedness are in some mysterious way connected. May I ask if you suspect every good-looking girl you meet of having a wicked eye?”

Averine put this question with a bright smile. She had unconsciously fallen back upon verbal quibbles, and refused to admit, even to herself, the possibility that her judgment was at fault.

“You wilfully misunderstand me,” replied Vansittart, suppressing a smile. “It is no good arguing with you.”

Like many another man, he found it impossible to be vexed with her. Nothing but his anxiety for her safety had caused him to remonstrate in this earnest fashion;---at least, so he told himself.

“Well, I am glad that you have discovered that.” She was laughing now, flushed with the joy of victory. “And for goodness’ sake don’t pull a long face at me any more. I formed my opinion of the horse half an hour ago, and I see no reason to alter it. It is my private belief,” she continued, with increasing merriment, “that your knowledge of horseflesh is not much greater than your knowledge of women; and that is not oppressingly burdensome.”

With this Parthian shot she jumped into the brougham and was driven off along the Mount Road towards one of the palatial mansions beyond the cathedral. The road was broad and level, and the greater part of it bordered with trees. The morning air was full of dust, which shone like rich red gold in the blazing Indian sun and cast a gilded glamour over the landscape.

With slow tread the Sanyasi paced the dusty road, taking notice of no one. Many a passer-by stopped to look after him, but, stare as they might, no man nor woman could bring a spark of fire to those large brown eyes that gazed, dreamy and unobserving, from beneath a heavy fringe of black lashes. Possibly the glance of the ascetic dwelt for a moment or two with soft gentleness upon a child that unwittingly ran under his feet, and the firm lips curved into a smile of rare sweetness. But for the most part he seemed not to hear the hum of life around him.

The tomtom-beater walked a few paces behind his master. He was a youth of about fourteen, the son of a Mahratta family of Tanjore. Across his back was slung a sack-like satchel which contained the personal property of the Sanyasi. A pile of cooking vessels in which he prepared the master’s food was poised upon his head. With his disengaged hands he beat the drum in easy rhythm, setting a pace with his drumming that was leisurely and free from haste. The sound of the tomtom penetrated the Venetian blinds of the brougham in which Averine sat.

“Tumpetty, tumpetty, tumpetty.”

Once again memory awoke. Her father and the old home, gone for ever, surged back upon her brain with insistent vividness. She lifted the blind and looked out. Her eye fell on the figure of Peroo, as he walked before his disciple. Suddenly she remembered that it was he who had checked the horse; how, she did not know. The syces said that he had used magic. And it was his grip upon her arm that had drawn her out of reach of the struggling animal. He had saved her from a nasty accident. And what had her gratitude been? Only a careless question spoken in a contemptuous manner, calculated to degrade him in the eyes of the low caste stablemen. Compunction seized her, and, on the impulse of the moment, she pulled the check-string, calling impatiently to the syce to open the door.

Springing out into the soft red dust, she swept towards the approaching Sanyasi. He steadily pursued his way by the side of the road under the shadow of the trees, turning aside for no one. She placed herself full in his path and obliged him to stop.

“Salaam, Iyah,” she cried, using the honorific which she had heard on the lips of the syce. “I have to thank you for saving my life. Be assured that I am grateful. Will gold carry my gratitude; or,” she added with quick intuition, “are words of more value to the Sanyasi?”

One of his rare smiles illuminated his face, making her wonder at the sweetness of his expression. There was a chance likeness to a smile she remembered on the face of one who was gone.

“The Sanyasi has gold enough for all his wants; he can never be aught but a poor man, living on the alms of the people. Yet he possesses the wealth of the whole world when he lifts his alms-bowl.”

“Then I can only give you words. Here is my hand, the hand of a friend who owes a debt which is difficult to pay,” she replied, falling easily into his figure of speech.

He hesitated before he took it. Perhaps he thought of his caste. Possibly he was not accustomed to the English habit of shaking hands. But it was of a moment’s duration. He clasped her fingers tightly in his own, his eyes resting upon her face with the expression of a wanderer who looks at a beautiful flower. At the touch of his hand another wave of memory surged through her brain. The west coast with its luxuriant growth of palms and ferns, its moist heat, its flashing thunder-storms, its monsoon-driven sea, its wild beach with rank torn sea-weed, its still lagoons and back-waters, its inland wall of blue cloud-laden hills.

The vision fled as suddenly as it came. Lifting his head and tossing back his hair, the Sanyasi turned the palm of her hand upwards. She felt his fingers tremble as he fixed his eyes in close study on the lines.

“The lady was born on the west coast,” he said, stating a fact rather than making a suggestion.

“Yes! Ah! now I remember! the words that you spoke to the horse were in the language of the west coast.”

He did not respond, but continued his examination of her hand.

“You are of the old soldier and merchant race of Desormieux.”

She searched his face, but could not recall his features.

“Have we met before, brother?”

She used the Tamil term so common amongst all castes of Madras.

He started slightly and dropped her hand. “Go your way,” he said brusquely, as he turned aside to resume his march. “The path of the Englishwoman is not the path of the Sanyasi.” Then, as an after-thought, he added softly, “The favour of the gods go with you, little sister.”

He moved quickly along the road, the crowd, that had gathered in idle curiosity, parting to let him pass through. His disciple took up the tale of the drum and followed unconcerned behind. One of the boy’s earliest lessons had been to show no surprise at anything that happened, and to ask no questions.

A light cart, drawn by a fast-trotting bullock passed as the Sanyasi dropped Averine’s hand. Its occupant, black of skin, gorgeous of turban, eyes nearly starting from his head, craned his neck out of the back of the cart as it passed.

“Our Missie! out in the sun! talking to a Sanyasi! what can it mean?”

He was inclined to doubt his eyes. But Mrs. Dunbar’s brougham, containing Miss Desormieux, rolled swiftly by, overtaking the little bullock; and Miguel, Mrs. Dunbar’s butler, was satisfied that he had not been deceived. It was Miss Desormieux whom he had seen, and she was certainly talking to the heathen ascetic.

Chapter II

The East Calls

Miss Desormieux claimed to be English, and would have been annoyed had any one hinted that she was otherwise. She was certainly one of the latest products of English education and training, a self-contained girl, able to look after her own interest without much assistance.

She was twenty-two years of age, and consequently in possession of her fortune, which was large. Marriage at present was a mere incident of the future, a possibility that she kept in the background as being unnecessary to the accomplishment of her happiness.

At the age of sixteen she fell in love with her music-master, whom she discovered to be engaged to a woman nearly twice her age. Six months later her devotion was transferred to the artist who taught her painting. He turned out to be a married man, and the father of four very commonplace children. At seventeen she thought of no one but the professor of singing, who came twice a week to give her instruction in the management of her voice. He had been jilted by one of his pupils, and was a woman-hater. Before she was eighteen Averine’s attitude towards the male sex found its balance. She was pleasant, gracious, and easily accessible to friendship; but flirtation and courtship made no progress under her bantering tongue and quizzical eye.

Her father had been a merchant on the west coast. He traded in all sorts of commodities---cardamoms, pepper, rice, sugar, hides, coffee, and the various products of the forests of the western ghats.

The name Desormieux was Swiss. The first Desormieux came to India as an officer in the regiment De Meuron, Swiss mercenaries, who fought in the interests of the Dutch. Later, when the regiment transferred its allegiance to the English on the conquest of Ceylon, Desormieux wielded his sword on behalf of the English, and took part in the capture of Seringapatam. He married a lady of Colombo, who boasted of pure Dutch descent. The children were sent to England for education. The eldest son held a commission in the Honourable East India Company’s army; the second went into its civil service; the third and fourth sons were free merchants, and traded on their own account. This routine became traditional in the Desormieux family, and was followed closely by each succeeding generation.

Averine’s grandfather married a Portuguese, whose blood was as blue as that of the Dutch ancestress. Their fourth son, Averine’s father, true to the tradition of the family, was started in life as a merchant. He took to wife an Englishwoman, whose yellow hair and fair Saxon beauty captivated the handsome, dark-eyed merchant. For once, and once only, he forgot his cardamoms and hides, his timber and pepper, and abandoned himself to the charm of love’s young dream. He courted in true merchant fashion with sparkling diamonds and lustrous pearls.

The wooing was of short duration. He married and returned to his money-making. Children were born, and his wife passed her life in a soft mellow existence absolutely free from care. As her husband had showered diamonds and caresses in his courtship, so he lavished his wealth in luxuries. The best house, servants, wines, clothes, horses and carriages were hers; there was no limit. If but the shadow of a trouble approached, she was shielded without being suffered even to dream that a cloud had threatened to overshadow the horizon.

But Death envied the couple their happiness. Suddenly He stood by the bedside, and stretching out a beckoning finger, cut short an ideal existence, turning Desormieux’s life into bitterness and ashes.

The merchant was left with several children, all boys but one, the last. She was a dazzling little image of her mother, and he named her Averine, after an ancestress. The child was as the apple of his eye, being a link between himself and the wife who had been so dear. For this reason he could not bring himself to part with her till she was fifteen. He gave her, as he had given her mother, the best of everything. Trustworthy English nurses and accomplished French governesses were engaged to tend and teach her. But, in spite of European supervision, the child grew up with the East before her eyes, the East in her ears, and the East in her soul. She understood the languages of the people who surrounded her; and her large-hearted cosmopolitan soul turned to them with a rich sympathy, the more strange since no drop of country blood ran in her veins. This overflowing sympathy with creation shed a golden light upon her life, beautifying many things which for the ordinary individual possessed no charm. The material wealth which surrounded her from babyhood enlarged her heart by enabling her to follow its best dictates.

At the age of fifteen Averine went to England for her education. It lasted four years. At the end of that time she was to join her father on the west coast. Before she sailed there came a telegram to say that he was dead. A few hours of illness, a hasty summons to the nearest medical man, and he was gone.

By the advice of her eldest brother, a captain in the army, she remained in England, much against her will. She made her home with him, and when she was twenty-one she was put in full possession of the wealth apportioned to her by her father’s will. Life seemed to have lost some of its richness, and her soul was filled with longings which she could not define. When the birds sang amongst the blossoms of May, when soft balmy breezes brought the scent of growing vegetation, her spirit leaped and went out to the tropics. When the hot days of summer suggested luxurious idleness, she heard the mysterious call of the country of her birth. She struggled against it, and gathering some friends together, sought the Thames. There, with a happy party, she lounged away a few weeks in a bower of flowers, listening to the lapping of wavelets against the side of the house-boat. Whilst her companions thought only of the sedges and the river, she sat dreaming of the passionate beat of the monsoon-driven surf upon the west coast of India.

In August she went to Folkestone, where her brother had taken a house for his family. One day she stood on the Lees looking out over the Channel. The mail-boat passed outwards to Calais.

“See, Averine, there is the Calais boat. It carries the passengers for the Indian mail. They will pick up the ship at Marseilles to-morrow,” said her brother.

A sudden light sprang into the eyes of the girl. She gazed after the ship and caught her breath in a little gasp.

“Oh!” she cried. “That is what I want! I must go! I must go! I can bear it no longer!”

Captain Desormieux slipped his arm into hers and drew her away from the cliff.

“I should like to see the East again for some reasons; but”---he glanced towards a group of happy children playing near their mother---“I should have to leave them.”

“There is no reason why I should not go. I will go to my godmother, Mrs. Dunbar. I will telegraph that I am starting at once, in a few weeks. My heart has awakened; the deadness is gone. I shall live, yes, I shall live once again!”

Early in October Captain Desormieux stood on the platform at Charing Cross. The Indian mail was just starting. He regarded his sister with a shade of anxiety.

“I don’t quite like your going alone. Be careful how you cultivate acquaintances.”

He was considering the probability of her falling a prey to some clever fortune-hunter.

“Do you think that I shall fall among thieves?” she asked with a smile.

“On the whole, no,” he replied critically. “Yet such a thing is possible.”

She laughed at his fears, and he took it as a sign of confidence and security.

“Take care, the foot of the mountaineer may slip,” he said by way of warning.

“But the monkey that lives amongst the branches knows how to save himself from a fall. Have I ever been without wealth?”

Occasionally the figurative speech of the East, which was familiar to their childhood, slipped into the conversation when brother and sister were together.

“You cannot have a better friend than Mrs. Dunbar. Let her be your father and your mother, as they say out there, and I shall have no fear for your welfare.”

The carriage doors were closed, and the train started. Captain Desormieux was prepared to catch the usual last word, last look; but there was none. She scarcely saw him. Her adieux had been spoken, and already her eyes were fixed on the future. The golden sunlight of the East, the green palm-trees, the brown-skinned multitude, rose on the wings of childish memories and obliterated all else.

Chapter III

The Goldsmith’s Wife

Warm sunshine flooded the earth. It touched the red-tiled roofs of the native houses, the green climbing gourds that embowered their low verandahs. It whitened the mosques and gilded the temple towers, intensifying the gay cotton clothing of the people into vivid patches of colour. The city and all within it revelled in the warm rays with careless happy gaiety, from the children and dogs playing together in the dust, to the bright-plumaged birds and gorgeous butterflies fluttering about the trees and flowers.

The streets of Madras are neither paved nor provided with flagged footpaths. For the most part they are broad roads of red laterite, along which at intervals are built villages of unbaked bricks. Between the villages, and standing aloof in their own grounds, are the palatial residences of the Europeans. It is literally true of Madras that the poor man lives at the rich man’s gate. The compounds are well wooded, and along the roads trees lift their crowns of foliage and cast a grateful shade across the way. There is width and elbow room everywhere, except where the clustering native houses gather thickly together and push stalls into the streets. Perhaps, too, in Blacktown, where the merchants have their offices, the streets are narrow. But even there the cocoanut palm raises its feathery head, from some small back-yard, high above the roofs, and waves its fronds in the sea-breeze.

It is in the Mount Road that most of the European shops are to be found, as well as Affleck’s stables and auction-yard. Beyond are the hotels, the cathedral, and the horticultural gardens. In places the road broadens out into noble proportions, and there is ample room for the sweetmeat-seller to spread his little store, for the grass-cutter to stop and deposit her heavy load upon a resting-stone, and give her back a few minutes’ relief. There is room for the traveller to unroll his grass mat and lay out the greenleaf platters of rice, brought ready cooked for his wayside meal; room for the Mahommedan to spread his carpet and say his prayers, with face towards the setting sun. The sauntering native policeman interferes with no one. In the matter of the street, he lives and lets live, rarely requesting the tired traveller to move on. His eye is wide awake, however, to his own interests. The careless cartman, journeying without a light after sundown, is stopped and fined. The driver protests, and is given the choice of paying a small sum, which finds its way into the policeman’s pocket, or of going to court, where he will be more heavily fined. The latter will also entail delay. So he pays the Indian constable without a murmur, and borrows a match of him to light his oil lantern.

Branching off from the Mount Road are streets that lead to the sea, and to the old ruined town and seaport of Myliapore. Down one of these the Sanyasi bent his steps as Averine drove away. Choosing a spot where the road was wide, he seated himself under the shade of a sacred banyan tree, his face towards the East, his pot of water by his side, and his alms-bowl in front.

Passers-by checked their steps and stopped to look. Clerks on their way to office and shop counted it a lucky day to have found the Sanyasi in their road. Grass- cutters, their heads set towards the inland country where the grass grew, smiled in happy confidence; not only would they be successful in finding grass, but they might also expect a good market. Half-clothed coolies and smartly-dressed shop-assistants alike, were not indifferent to the good luck of the moment, and dropped coins into the bowl unsolicited,---not that the Sanyasi might live, but that the gods might shower favours for alms given to one of their devotees.

But who was he? Where had he come from? No one recognized him as one of the brotherhood of ascetics who visited Madras in triennial tours through the Presidency. Somehow, the rumour went forth that the stranger was from Malabar, the home of the astrologer and the magician. The story was told of how he saved himself that very morning from being dashed to pieces by a runaway horse at Affleck’s stables. The maddened beast was upon him when he lifted his hand and spoke magic in a west coast tongue. At the sound of his voice the animal fell on its knees and did pujah. The story grew, and the news went abroad that a man of renowned sanctity, a seer of miraculous power, a worker of marvels, and an astrologer deeply learned in the mysteries of the stars, had arrived.

“Haste is of the devil,” “No man runs but a thief,” says the Oriental. Every man, woman, and child had time to stop and listen to the strange Sanyasi. Yet no one is free from criticism, not even the gods themselves; and there were those amongst the crowd who professed to doubt his sanctity and his renown.

“He is but a valluvan, a village astrologer, who can impose upon the poor herdsmen; we are not so easily deceived,” said Royadu Charlu, a rich goldsmith, who lived in the Luz.

He was passing by in his gharry accompanied by his youngest and favourite wife, who, being a Hindu woman of Madras, was not purdasheen, or secluded. They were on their way to the market near the Central Station. Seeing the crowd Royadu Charlu stepped from the carriage to discover what kind of Sanyasi sat there. His wife, without asking permission, followed close upon his heels.

“Yes, truly,” replied one of the bystanders, who was acquainted with the goldsmith, and belonged to his caste. “If he had been of the sacred brotherhood we should have heard of his visit. At least they would have known of it at the Myliapore temple.”

“We have so many of these valluvans begging about our streets. The municipality should take notice of it. I will myself write to the papers this very day.”

Royadu spoke loudly, and two or three people joined in the scoffing laugh led by the other man. His wife stood behind him and let her fine eyes rest full upon the Sanyasi.

Valluvan or no valluvan, the man hath the form of Krishna,” she said.

Her husband turned on her with anger, saying, “Get back to the gharry, woman.”

In seeming obedience she left him, only to return, however, and seek a place in the crowd where she would be hidden from her husband’s view. His attention was fixed upon the Sanyasi, who began to speak, muttering muntras, or incantations, to himself.

The ears of the bystanders were strained to catch the words as they fell from Peroo’s lips. They were Sanskrit, and therefore unknown to the listeners. The goldsmith started, and pressed forward to hear. Surely that was his own name, Royadu Charlu, that was repeated so frequently in the muntras. How did the Sanyasi know him? He was but a passer-by. As the goldsmith gradually worked his way into the front rank of the crowd, the fringed eyelids of the ascetic flickered and lifted. Royadu became conscious of the fact that his eyes were fixed upon himself, not on his face, but upon his breast. It seemed to the uneasy goldsmith that the ascetic’s gaze penetrated to his heart and liver; and in that gaze he read the story of his life and destiny from the cradle to the grave. Fear seized him and the colour forsook his face.

“Ho! Royadu Charlu, what ails you?” cried his friend, noting the change that had come over him. “Is your liver turning to water?”

The goldsmith did not reply; he was regarding the Sanyasi with something very different from scorn upon his fat countenance.

“Swami, was it the cursing of me and my family that I heard?” he asked.

The shadow of a smile hovered round Peroo’s lips as he replied gently, “Nay, son; this mouth curseth not.”

“My tongue slipped,” said the goldsmith, with an attempt at propitiation and apology, which was accepted by the Sanyasi.

“The tongue is a little thing of no shape nor beauty; yet, like the bullet of the sepoy’s rifle, it can do great hurt.”

“How did you know my name, Iyah? Have we seen you before?” asked Royadu, curiosity getting the better of his fear.

“More knowledge fills this brain than is requisite for, this poor body’s needs. Go in peace, son, and do not think scorn of the lowest creature if he belongs to the gods. Even the unclean dog serves the swami Veerabadra; and does not Doorga herself go out with the jackal when she would pass over the rice swamps?”

A considerable crowd had gathered round the Sanyasi by this time. The people stood respectfully silent listening to his words with a mixture of curiosity and awe, so often seen on the faces of an Indian street crowd. Some of the older men cast reproachful glances at the goldsmith. He had dared to show disrespect to a Sanyasi at the risk of rousing his anger, and calling forth a curse which might include the whole company. Before they could express their sentiments, Peroo began to recite a story in Tamil, the language of the people, and all dispute and conversation ceased in their eagerness to hear what he had to tell.

“Two blind men travelled towards the great temple of Rama, in the south. An elephant strode by them. As it passed it touched the first with its trunk. He shook with fear as he cried to his companion, ‘Ho! brother, how near have I been to death! That was a snake, a monster snake that just now went by us.’

“The other, whose face had been switched by the elephant’s tail, laughed with scorn. ‘Snake, indeed! It was no snake---it was a vile sweeper, and he has defiled me with his broom as he passed. Oh, that I had eyes, I would slay him, and give his out-caste body to the crows!’

“The men stood still and listened. Lo! the mighty beast trumpeted as it swung along.

“‘Heardest thou that sound?’ said each to the other. ‘It was neither snake nor sweeper, but a great king who passed. Since we made no obeisance, nor stood out of the path as he went by, he trumpets for his sepoys to return and kill us. Let us overtake him, fall at his feet and ask his pardon.’

“Together they ran in pursuit of the big beast, which being neither king nor sweeper, nor even snake, but an elephant, took no heed of their presence. On the contrary he trod upon their prostrate bodies and crushed them to death. Therefore, oh, hearers! forbear to form hasty judgments and to act upon them, lest you bring about your own destruction.”

As the Sanyasi finished, he glanced at Royadu Charlu who slunk away towards his gharry, where his wife with nimbler feet arrived before him. She stood by the door to allow her lord and master to pass in before her. He had no suspicion that she had been otherwise engaged than in waiting there till he chose to come.

The sun passed the zenith and shone in the western sky. Group after group gathered and dispersed, many dropping coins into the bowl. Sometimes the Sanyasi related a fable that they could comprehend; sometimes he recited muntras. Occasionally he relapsed into silence and remained in deep contemplation, from which no one dared to disturb him. Then it was that the people went on their way, speaking with hushed voices of the miracles which perhaps might be performed at sunset. The aspen-like leaves of the peepul-tree under which he sat, quivered in the soft sea-breeze, reflecting a thousand gleams of sunlight. With each passing vehicle the red dust rose and circled round the head of the motionless figure like a halo of gold. The hours went by, and those who journeyed out in the morning considered themselves fortunate in finding him still seated under the sacred tree as they retraced their steps.

A woman approached with two tired children hanging to her skirts, whilst a third slept in her arms. She was travel-stained, and her face was lined with sorrow and starvation. She dragged herself along wearily, and when she arrived before the Sanyasi she salaamed to the very dust. The children followed her example. They were weak and limp, with thin little bodies, and with heads that seemed too big for them. Peroo took no notice and made no sign that he was aware of their presence.

She moved a few yards further on, and seated herself just beyond the shade of the tree that covered the Sanyasi. So great was her humility that she did not venture to share the shadow of the branches which sheltered the great man. She held out a thin bony hand to the passers-by, occasionally asking for alms in a weak voice. The children lifted their anxious faces and watched eagerly for a small copper coin, the fraction of a farthing. Unless some charitable soul gave them two or three of these they would be unable to purchase rice-water, the cheapest form of nourishment they could procure. Supperless to bed they had often been before, and supperless could go again, to awake to another hungry day of weary marching and begging, if it were so willed by the gods. But oh, how hungry they were, and how sick they felt!

“Give, give, kind sir; we die of starvation!” cried the pathetic voice of the eldest, as she held out her hand to a passing clerk from one of the Mount Road shops.

But the well-fed Hindu in neat turban, tweed coat and muslin cloth, took no notice of the sad little group. Yet when he walked by the Sanyasi he dropped a silver bit into the bowl.

A grass-cutter carrying a bundle of grass on her head and a reaping-hook at her waist, staggered by.

“Sister, my children cry for food! Give but a pice, a single pice, that I may buy some rice-water!”

“Woman, I have hungry children clamouring at home like crows for food. It would be wrong to rob them to feed strangers.”

But though she refused to give, yet she too dropped a coin in the Sanyasi’s bowl; for she had found grass in plenty and was sure of a good market. The sun, in its declining, steeped the woman and her children in its glowing rays, lavish with its warmth, as though to compensate for the coldness of her fellow-beings. A carriage containing some Englishmen rolled by.

“Iyah! Iyah!” pleaded the children from the foot-way.

The coachman cracked his whip, a cloud of golden dust rose from hoofs and wheels; but no shower of gold fell round the waifs and strays. The mother’s heart sank. She had dared to hope that a drop from the stream of charity that flowed so freely towards the holy man might be spared for her. She was not presumptuous enough to be envious; she knew that he only received his due. But she hoped against hope that a crumb might fall her way.

The flying-foxes that had hung in deep sleep all day long in a neighbouring tree stirred and stretched their leathern wings with a whimpering cry. The sun still dazzled their weak eyes; but in another half-hour the great ball of fire would sink below the horizon of palms in the west, and they might take their flight to the big tanks, where the banyan trees were thick with scarlet figs.

The Sanyasi heard them. It was a sign that his hour of retirement was approaching. He lifted his waterpot and poured the last drop down his throat. The woman rose and drew near, leaving her infant amongst the wayside leaves. She knelt before him, touching the dust with her forehead, the two elder children imitating her.

“Swami! lord!” she cried, performing an act of worship.

She did not beg, nor show by any sign that she expected help from him. She merely craved his blessing upon her wretched lot, a word or two that would avert further evil and perhaps bring better luck. She was aware that he could not, if he would, bestow upon others the alms of the people. By so doing he would be rejecting their offerings, and would bring curses instead of blessings on the givers. It was time she sought some shelter for the night, some deserted corner under a wall; or, if fortunate, she might possibly crawl beneath a cart in a shed, and so obtain protection from the night air and its fever touch. If the Sanyasi gave his blessing, good luck would attend her. A syce superintending his horse’s supper might allow her hungry children to dip their fingers in the boiled beans.

“Swami, Iyah!” she said once more.

She was about to turn away, when Peroo raised his hand with an imperious gesture, and arrested her departure.

Chapter IV


“Daughter, have you received alms to-day?” asked the Sanyasi, his eyes no longer contemplative, but resting compassionately on the humble group before him.

“None, my lord, none! I am but as a worm that crawls in the shadow of the Sanyasi; and no one looks upon me and my misery.”

“Why are you here?”

She glanced up in awestruck surprise that he should condescend to show an interest in her and her belongings. She knelt again, with hands folded together, the children following every action with a gravity beyond their years.

“Iyah, the brahminy bull should not be troubled with the complaints of the dhoby’s donkey. The poor story of our misfortunes is unworthy of your attention. Bid us depart, and I will take my wretched self and family out of your honour’s sight.”

“Since when have the children eaten?”

“Last night, with a little money that I begged, I bought some pounded ragi (millet), and made cakes on the ashes of a fire of dead leaves. This morning, at daybreak, we had the good luck to find a few plantains that had been dropped from one of the market-carts coming into town during the night. Already the crows had half devoured them. We drove the birds away, and ate thankfully. Since then we have had nothing to eat.”

“And where is the father of your children?”

“Dead, Iyah. The sickness took him six months ago.”

“What was he?”

“A village snake-charmer.”

“And your husband’s brother, who should now be giving you shelter---where is he?”

“He, too, died in the same way.”

“Your own people?”

“They went to Ceylon, and I am on my way to seek them. There came a man from the island. He said, ‘Why stay here where rice is dear? There is plenty in the far south, beyond Adam’s Bridge.’ So they departed, leaving me with my husband. He had a small piece of land, a cow, and a buffalo. The money-lender took all, showing me a paper, whereby he claimed everything in payment of a debt. The door was shut in my face, and I was told to go. My fate is evil, for he that is dead was a hard-working man, with a good reputation for snake-charming. If only my son had been old enough, he would have taken the place of his father. He has some skill already with snakes; but he could not hold the plough; and now we are but beggars on the road.”

Once more a ready crowd gathered to listen in idle curiosity. Amongst them was Royadu Charlu’s young wife. She had returned home alone from the market, whilst her husband went on to his place of business in Blacktown. After the midday meal she slipped out, saying that she was going to see a neighbour; but her steps turned in the direction of the Sanyasi. As the widow finished speaking, Royadu’s wife said in a voice that was heard by the bystanders as well as Peroo---

“Surely, woman, you have done something in this life or another to anger the gods. The great ones err not; their wrath is just. Even now you offend by addressing the Sanyasi, their chosen one. See, in his form he is like Krishna; Rama himself shines in his face.”

Her bold gaze rested with open admiration on Peroo’s well-built figure. He lifted his eyes from the poor creature at his feet and let them rest with cold displeasure upon the goldsmith’s wife. It was only for a moment, however.

“Rise, widow of the snake-charmer. Tell the children to gather some dry sticks from the wayside, and the Sanyasi will kindle a fire. Alms and money he cannot give. He is poor, as poor as the widow and the orphan; he has to look to the hand of the stranger for his daily bread. Ashes are his symbol; ashes alone can he give. If the gods add what men withhold from the beggar, perhaps the Sanyasi’s ashes may bring food and shelter to her who has need of them.”

The crowd drew in closer, and one of the bystanders said to the bewildered woman in a voice that trembled with suppressed excitement---

“Do what he commands. Bid the children gather sticks, and we shall see a miracle.”

“A miracle, a miracle! A deed of magic!” was whispered from one to the other.

The little ones were set to work without delay. They were less alarmed than their mother, not having experienced the mysterious powers of ascetics. The elder wrapped her fragment of blue cloth about her, and began to pick up twigs and dried leaves from amongst the dusty herbage that grew by the roadside. The boy, an under-sized lad with a half-starved body, assisted her.

The Sanyasi swept a space on the warm, dry ground with his open palm, clearing away pebbles and loose sand. Not satisfied with this, he brought a handkerchief out of the folds of his cloth, and used it as a duster, flicking and dusting the space till it was as clear of loose substances as a deal table.

“Have you a platter or drinking-cup, woman!”

She opened a small bundle that contained all her possessions, and produced a plate roughly cut out of tin, an article too valueless to pawn. He placed the plate in the centre of the prepared spot, and covered it with the handkerchief. Waving his hands above, he repeated muntras, and spoke to the gods on behalf of the beggars. The children brought a handful of sticks, and were told to get more whilst Peroo continued his chanting.

The crowd, which was increasing, looked on in breathless expectation. Each minute drew fresh sightseers, till the road was in danger of being blocked. Bullock-carts stopped at a little distance, and their drivers joined the assembly, asking innumerable questions. Jutkas, drawn by wiry Mahratta ponies, were pulled up in the road, the closely packed occupants craning their necks to catch a sight of what was going on in the street. One or two broughams, containing native gentlemen, turned aside that their owners might see the wonder-working Sanyasi. The goldsmith was not amongst the number; but his wife managed to push her way into the front row, now that there was no jealous husband to fear. Her gaze dwelt more often upon the magician than upon the plate.

The children passed through the throng with another bundle of sticks, which Peroo received still reciting, and he signed to them to gather more. Removing the handkerchief from the plate, he built a pile, laying the sticks east and west. He handled them daintily, using a finger and thumb, and keeping the rest of his fingers open, so that the empty palm was visible. He muttered more incantations and muntras, some of them in that mysterious language which he had used when the flight of the runaway horse was arrested.

The pile was fired and blown into a flame which was fed continually with leaves and sticks. The blue smoke curled upwards in the evening air, enveloping the magician and partially hiding him from view. But they could still hear his incantations, the chanting rising and falling with the increase and decrease of the smoke.

Gradually the sticks and leaves were consumed, the flames died down, and the smoke cleared away, revealing the tin plate which now held a heap of glowing ashes. The chanting ceased, and the Sanyasi with head bent forward between his outstretched arms, fell into a trance from which none ventured to rouse him. The embers faded and the red glow disappeared as they cooled. Still the people waited and watched for the miracle.

Suddenly Peroo started up like one awaking from a dream. He glanced round with uncomprehending eyes at the crowd and rose as if to depart, apparently unconscious of his last act. No one dared to touch the plate; least of all its owner, who was still prostrated with her children before him. Royadu Charlu’s wife was the first to speak, and the crowd listened with surprise to her bold words. Not another in the assembly would have dared to address the magician.

“My lord, give me the beggar’s plate. It is of more value than gold since the Sanyasi has laid his hand upon it.”

There was no sign that he heard her voice; but as he stood, he turned with the slow dreamy movement of the waker who still feels oppressed by the mantle of sleep, and spoke to the widow at his feet.

“Daughter, take the plate. Those ashes are all that the Sanyasi has to give. Through them may the gods have compassion on the orphans of the snake-charmer.”

Trembling, she drew the mean little plate towards her. A few charred sticks remained unconsumed. With one of these she stirred the precious ashes. It was known to the people that gold might on rare occasions be found in the ashes shaken from a pipe which had been smoked by a magician, or on the hearth where the sacred man had built his fire. The crowd pressed round her, and fixed their eyes in eager expectation which was not disappointed. As the grey flaky dust fell aside, they cried---

“Gold! Gold! The Sanyasi has made gold for the beggar woman! See, how thick it lies beneath the ashes!”

Their eyes glistened with greed but none ventured to touch it. It was safe from the thief’s fingers. The boldest and most hardened criminal dared not lay hand upon the precious ashes, lest he should invoke a terrible curse upon himself and all his family.

The Sanyasi did not wait to be thanked. He looked for neither gratitude nor reward in return for his services. The good that he did was not his doing but the work of the gods. He was only an instrument in their hands. He never refused a summons to perform magic over the sick, and was always ready to cast out devils, place charms upon new tools, and work spells for the good of those who desired them. He took no fees, and seemed peculiarly indifferent in the matter of reward. All human passions had long since been laid aside. Anger, love, jealousy, hatred, pride, and greed of gain, might have touched his boyhood. But they were like the fiery shafts of light playing round the sun at its rising; they had long since been quenched in the full light and fervent heat of his sanctity. The buzz of awestruck admiration amongst the crowd awoke no thrill in his soul. An expression of calm contemplation rested on his fine features as he passed through the crowd into the middle of the road.

The sun had set and darkness had gathered along the roads. Carriages rolled by, some going to the club in the Mount Road, others to the Boat Club by the Adyar, where the Europeans assembled to read and smoke, to row upon the beautiful lagoon or backwater honoured by the name of river, or to sit in the verandahs of the quaint old bungalow rented as the club-house.

As Peroo emerged from the crowd, a light cart with red wheels passed him. Averine Desormieux handled the reins, and by her side sat Arthur Stormond, a civil servant employed in the Secretariat. The horse, a fast Australian cob, shied violently, not merely swerving from its path, but stopping short in the rapid trot. Stormond was thrown forward but did not lose his balance. Averine, perhaps, with more experience of the possibilities of the cob, was firmer in her seat.

“Confound the man! Get out of the way, can’t you?” cried Stormond, surprised out of his usual self-control.

He spoke in words used in addressing low caste syces and coolies. Averine peered down at the Sanyasi on whom fell the full light of her lamps. She recognized him as her acquaintance of the morning. Half in fun she touched her forehead with the right hand whilst she held the snorting cob with her left.

“Salaam, Iyah! The gods be thanked that I did not kill you with my wheels, brother!”

She laughed, but there was earnestness and intention in her action.

“Miss Desormieux! how can you address a dirty beggar in that way?” remonstrated Stormond, with a sharpness of tone that nettled her. She did not consider the shaking which he had just received.

She turned to Peroo, who had not moved except to step back out of reach of the wheels, and again saluted him in Indian fashion.

“Good night, brother; good night!” she said.

There was a strain of mischief in her action which was meant to further shock the propriety of the man who sat by her side. Shaking the reins she allowed the impatient horse to fly forward towards the club.

“It is outrageous to speak in that manner to a creature of his class. It puts strange ideas of their own importance into their heads, and they presume to beg on the strength of it,” he said.

His lecture amused her. “I am a great believer,” she said, “in encouraging the lower classes. It teaches them self-respect.”

He did not perceive that she was making fun of him, and he replied with earnest superiority: “That sort of thing is all very well for England---in moderation, of course; but it would never do here.”


“Equality of the classes is impossible in this country. Nothing on earth could make that man, for instance, your equal.”

“I don’t agree with you. Dress him, educate him, and give him wealth---Nature has given him good looks---and he might make a very presentable figure.”

“You speak like a new arrival who knows nothing of India,” he said, with a sigh which made her smile.

“What is the man? What is his trade?” she asked.

“He is a Hindu and an ascetic. These men have usually no education, and they are of barbarous habits. They wander up and down India, penetrating even as far as Ceylon, preying upon the people in the name of religion, and living the life of vagabonds.”

She flicked her whip at some fire-flies that fluttered across the road from the creeper-covered fence to the palm grove on the opposite side. “Strange,” she said, “how widely different human opinions maybe. Now, this very morning I asked Miguel, Mrs. Dunbar’s butler, to tell me what a Sanyasi was---I believe that is the term by which that kind of ascetic is known?”

“Yes, that’s the name for them; and, if I had my way, I would make every man of them take out a licence---and a pretty stiff one too---before I would allow them to wander up and down as they do.”

She waited patiently till he had finished, and then continued her story. “Well, as I was telling you, Miguel said that the Sanyasi was a man of deep learning, who had renounced the pleasures of the world, subdued all evil passions, and devoted himself entirely to his god. He lives in poverty on the alms of the charitable, who find thereby a welcome means of propitiating the deity. He never begs---you made a mistake when you called him a beggar---and he passes his life in holy contemplation. You can scarcely say more for one of the saints of the Church, can you?”

She glanced at him with a twinkle in her eye, but he saw nothing of it in the darkness.

“Your informant was a Hindu, of course,” he replied contemptuously.

“No, indeed! Miguel is a Roman Catholic, born and baptized in the Faith, and from all accounts a most excellent and trustworthy servant. He took care to let me know that, though he extolled the virtues of the Sanyasi, he had nothing to do with him or any of his kind. The priests forbid it. Nevertheless, I am sure that he holds the Sanyasi in great awe and respect; this one particularly so, since he saved my life this morning. I am inclined to believe,” she continued with deliberation, “that I am of Miguel’s opinion. I have a great respect for him, not to say awe, after the way in which he stopped that horse.”

“It was not his doing; the animal fell as it turned out of the yard. It distresses me to hear you, Miss Desormieux, addressing such words to that dirty scoundrel. Fortunately, he does not understand English, and you know nothing of Tamil.”

A hearty laugh greeted this protest. Stormond had no intention of being narrow and intolerant; but his profession perhaps fostered impatience with anything that approached lawlessness. Law and order were as the breath of life to him. Irregularity was distressing; it upset the balance of the world, and put it out of joint. He believed in the good old principle taught in the Church catechism---that it is incumbent on every one to do his duty in whatever station of life it may please God to call him; but he would have added another clause---“and to remain in it.” To climb out of that station and enter a new field was not to be tolerated, especially amongst the lower orders. India, according to him, was too big a place for advanced opinions to be fostered. Let her millions with their inherited caste rules keep their places, otherwise they would get out of hand, and bring trouble to those who had to govern them.

Averine held a creed that was diametrically opposed to this. Whereas Stormond looked at a native as a creature to be despotically ruled for his individual good, she regarded him as a sensitive personality swayed by passion and emotion over which he did not pretend to exercise any control---a trait that made him full of interesting possibilities.

Their arrival at the Adyar Club put an end to the discussion. Mrs. Dunbar had already reached the spot, and Averine found her seated in the grounds, listening to the strains of a military band. Here they met many acquaintances, and conversation flowed freely. Stormond hovered round, as did several other men. Miss Desormieux was a favourite, being a good dancer and a pleasant companion. She was also the best-dressed girl in Madras, for the excellent reason that she had plenty of money and good taste.

Stormond, after due consideration, had come to a conclusion. Although he had only known Averine a few weeks, he felt that in her he had found the woman he wanted for a wife. He allowed himself to fall in love in a well-regulated fashion which accorded with his nature. Having no doubt as to the state of his feelings he determined to propose. Averine had the happy knack of being charming to all alike. When she spoke to a friend of either sex, she was never distrait or preoccupied. It seemed to her companion that her attention was centred on him, and that he, of all people, was the one she most desired to see. It was due to good nature, a desire to please and an inherited courtesy, the gift of some French ancestress who found a place in the Desormieux pedigree. Stormond was not troubled as to the success of his suit.

“Averine, it is time we were starting homewards. Are you coming with me?” said Mrs. Dunbar.

“I think I will drive back as I came,” she replied.

She was listening with much amusement to a talc about the exchange of two horses.

“Will you give me a lift back, Miss Desormieux?” asked Stormond.

“With pleasure; but I must hear the end of Captain Woodville’s story. Yes; and what happened?”

“The Padre put his new horse into the dog-cart, and there was an awful scene. The brute flew along the cantonment roads as if the evil one himself was behind it. When it reached the maidan it felt that there was elbow-room for independent action and took a bee-line for the Golden Rock, landing the Padre and his cart in a bed of prickly-pear.”

“And the other?”

“Went into training at once and electrified the Colonel’s stable with its deliberate paces, its fine rocking-horse style, and its cow-like amiability. Affleck got two letters which he said were records in their way. The Colonel expressed his annoyance without reserve, and he is a master of language. The Padre was careful to avoid all expression of anger; but somehow----Affleck couldn’t say how---his letter cut him up the most.”

“How had the mistake happened?”

“Servants, as usual. They minister to our comfort, it is true, but half our woes may be laid to their door. The syce who was sent to the Colonel wished, for private reasons, to go into the service of the Padre; the other was rather pleased to join the Colonel’s racing stud. So they just changed the addresses on the horses and walked them off accordingly. Since then Affleck has been very chary of sending horses by rail without one of his European assistants or a trustworthy servant belonging to the buyer. He had to give the Padre a new cart.”

“Poor Padre! What a trick to serve him? But if the syces wanted to change, why did they not do so without changing the labels on the horses? It would have been simple enough.”

“So simple that it was beyond the grasp of their crafty minds. Such a straightforward proceeding as merely changing places would, in their opinion, be sure of detection.”

Averine rose to depart. “Do you suppose that all servants are up to tricks of that sort?” she asked.

“Every one of them. You may be quite sure, Miss Desormieux, that your own servants play guardian angel to you much more often than you suppose.”

“Indeed they don’t!. Mrs. Dunbar would soon find them out if they played any tricks in her house,” replied Averine, confidently.

Captain Woodville laughed as she said good-bye, and promised to tell her another and a more amusing story of how a servant once thought for himself, and of the disasters that followed thereon, if she would only stay a little longer. But seeing a look of impatience upon Stormond’s face, she refused to listen, and was soon spinning homewards behind the fast-trotting cob.

Chapter V


Horace Dunbar and Averine’s father were friends and neighbours in their youth on the west coast. They married about the same time, and their wives, though widely different in character, formed a friendship too.

Trouble came to the Dunbars, and Desormieux held out a timely and helping hand, by which Dunbar not only tided safely over the crisis, but gained a footing in the firm for which he worked, and was made a partner. After years of faithful service, he was now at the head of the great mercantile firm, Dunbar, Hillingdon & Co.

Later the tables were turned, and Desormieux needed help. His wife was away on the hills when an old trouble, such as a man weaves for himself out of his own passions in thoughtless youth, suddenly presented itself at his very door. Mrs. Dunbar assisted him to set matters straight, and faithfully kept his secret. Mrs. Desormieux returned, and soon afterwards the much-longed-for daughter was born. Desormieux asked Mrs. Dunbar to stand sponsor, an office gratefully accepted by the childless woman. When Averine proposed to pay her a visit her heart gave a throb of delight, and her preparations could not have been more thoughtful and loving had the girl been a real child instead of the God-given daughter at the font.

There was another member of the Dunbar household who received Miss Desormieux as one of the family. This was Miguel, the butler, who had been in Mrs. Dunbar’s service many years. Though he wrote his name Miguel, he pronounced it Miggle. A very governor-general in his way, he ruled her domestic establishment with an iron hand tempered with wisdom and mercy. Miguel was a great man, not only in his own estimation and in the eyes of the household, but also in the bazaar, where he was known as the liberal purchaser on behalf of an opulent master. It was equally notorious that he was a man of means himself, having various sums of money out at interest, and being the owner of a group of butticas, or native shops, in the village of Teynampet on the Mount Road.

The back verandah of the Dunbars’ was spacious and wide, with a terrace roof supported on pillars. The floor was raised five feet from the ground, placing it out of reach of monsoon rains. A second verandah, built of bamboos and palm-leaves, afforded further protection from sun and rain. Here Miggle reigned supreme, and exercised his function as grand vizier to the mistress every morning when she gave the orders for the day.

In the privacy of the boudoir, where mistress and man became confidential, the dignity necessary to inspire respect in the back verandah was dropped, and Mrs. Dunbar called him “Boy,” the title by which he was known when he first entered her service. Before the servants, especially at table, she uttered a sonorous “Butler,” to which he stood at attention with an air of noble deference, to the envy and admiration of the rest of the table servants. When annoyed and displeased, she addressed him as “Miggle,” which reduced him to a condition of chastened sorrow, and if in fault to one of dignified repentance. On very great occasions, such as when she announced the important fact that she would shortly go to England for a few months, leaving him in charge of the keys, and holding him responsible for the master’s comfort, she used his full title, “Butler Miguel.”

By no means handsome, Miggle’s black face was redeemed from ugliness by a pair of small twinkling eyes, shrewd, and sharp-sighted. An uneven set of white teeth were prominently visible every time he spoke or smiled. It was a magnificent world-embracing smile, such as might have adorned the image of a Hindu god. A large turban of white and gold covered his head. The turban was always spotlessly clean and beautifully folded; it seemed in a sort of way to balance the smile. Mrs. Dunbar had noted the set of the turban, when she engaged him nearly a quarter of a century ago, and was influenced in his favour by its neatness. In those days there was no gold upon it. The gold had come with years of prosperity; first a small thread, but increasing in breadth proportionately with his master’s advancement in the firm; until now, when Mr. Dunbar stood at the head of it, the turban contained as much gold as it was possible for one of muslin to show.

Through all the length of years Miggle served his master and mistress with a grand fidelity, identifying himself with their interests, and making their griefs and joys his own, after the manner of the “first sorts” Madras butlers. Needless to say, that he remembered his own interests as well as theirs. And he had his little weaknesses.

The worst of these was cock-fighting. It is scarcely known to what extent this form of sport is practised in retired corners of gentlemen’s compounds, as well as in the native villages and bazaars. The fowls look like scraggy bantams, with particularly long sinewy legs. This was Miggle’s weakest point, and it was one for which his mistress had no toleration.

Mrs. Dunbar was quite alive to the fact that she possessed a treasure in Miggle, but she was not weak enough to spoil him, nor to allow the old servant to merge into the tyrant. Therefore there were occasions in the privacy of the boudoir when they fell out; when Mrs. Dunbar spoke sharply and Miggle overstepped the limits of his usual courtesy and allowed his tongue to border on impertinence.

It was in connection with a set of old chairs that the most serious breach occurred. When promotion in the firm brought Mr. Dunbar from the west coast to Madras, his wife, with thrifty mind, was on the look-out for second-hand furniture at the monthly auctions, which were almost the only means of obtaining furniture at a reasonable price. She fell in love with a set of carved blackwood chairs exhibited for sale in an auction-room. Taking Miggle with her on the box of the carriage, she drove there one morning, and pointed out the particular articles she coveted. He was to bid for them on the day of the auction, as he would probably obtain them cheaper than an English gentleman. The native dealers were always ready to bid against a European in the hope of reselling to him afterwards at a profit.

On the morning of the sale Mrs. Dunbar went into her back verandah for her usual interview with Miggle, and on this occasion to give him final orders about the chairs. He was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is the butler?” she asked.

No one knew; if it was known no one dared to say that Miggle had not returned from market. The mistress was wont to be very angry when cook and butler lingered. A fast-trotting bullock and a little light covered cart had been provided on purpose to carry them and their purchases to and fro, so there was no excuse.

“Go and ask his wife where he is.”

Two or three of the lower servants ran to do her bidding. Miggle lived in the best and most commodious of the servants’ dwellings near the kitchen. He ruled his wife as despotically as he ruled the household, and she lived in wholesome awe of his displeasure. Not knowing where her lord and master was, she gave the first excuse that came into her mind. The messengers hurried back with the reply.

“The butler’s wife says that he has gone to see his mother, who is sick.”

Mrs. Dunbar tossed her head in a manner that foreboded an uncomfortable ten minutes for Miggle the next morning. Her husband was just starting for the office. She caught him as he was about to get into the carriage.

“That idiot Miggle has forgotten all about the auction to-day. Will you look in at the room; and, if he is not there, do your best to secure those chairs. I have set my heart upon them.”

“Very well, my dear.”

Mr. Dunbar glanced through the correspondence at the office, set his clerks to work, and went to the sale. He looked around at the throng of purchasers. They were mostly dealers from Blacktown, with a sprinkling of Eurasians. There was not another Englishman besides himself. The natives were bare to the waist and wore no turbans. Their heads were shaved except for the lock of hair left on the crown of the head, which was usually plaited into a neat pigtail. Miggle was nowhere to be seen. Indeed, there was not a man amongst the crowd of native buyers who had the appearance of being a servant, not a sign of a white-coated, neatly turbaned butler like his own.

The chairs were put up, and Mr. Dunbar bid for himself. He was much annoyed by the native dealers bidding against him. One fat black scoundrel, with pigtail unplaited and flowing in a wavy disorderly lock over his bare shoulders, was most persistent in bidding against him. However, Dunbar was determined to have the chairs, cost what they might, as his wife had set her heart upon them. They had already risen far beyond their value. Shaking his fist at his opponent, he made a rise of twenty-five rupees. His plunge was successful; the dealer was staggered, and the chairs were his.

At dinner that evening he turned to Miggle, who stood behind his chair, and said: “Butler, why were you not at the auction to-day? Didn’t the mistress tell you to go and bid for those chairs?”

“Yes, sir; I was there too, sir. I plenty bidding for those chairs, as Missus telling. She said, ‘Butler, buy those chairs, never mind who bidding.’”

Mr. Dunbar turned and gazed at him in astonishment, scarcely believing his ears.

“You! I didn’t see you there, nor any one like you.”

“Master done see me all the time,” Miggle replied, with an air of injured innocence and resentment. “I only stop bidding when master shake his fist and get angry.”

“Then it was you with your hair down and no turban and coat!”

Miggle’s smile, which had been scarcely visible, broadened out into its widest, as he replied with vast pride and self-satisfaction: “That was me only, sir.”

Mr. Dunbar turned his back on him in manifest disgust as he exclaimed: “A most disgraceful figure for a respectable butler to cut, upon my word!”

Miggle was deeply hurt at this totally unexpected attack on the part of his master. The smile slowly faded as he tried to explain his conduct. “I never dressing like butler when buying at auction-room, sir. Plenty charge those people making to gentlemen’s butlers.”

Mr. Dunbar made no reply and the dinner was finished in unusual silence. Miggle reserved himself for the morning when he meant to have it out with the mistress. But the whole establishment felt the cloud that had fallen on the heads of the house. The table servants were hustled through their work; the cook received a hint that the dinner was not up to the usual mark; the cook scolded the water-woman because she had not enough hot water for washing up; the water-woman boxed the ears of the cook-boy for neglecting to feed the fire with wood; and the boy threw a chunk of firewood at the pariah-dog that haunted the kitchen for scraps. The dog went howling down the carriage-drive to seek shelter and consolation in the road. Mr. Dunbar, sitting in the verandah with his after-dinner cigar, idly wondered what had happened to the poor beast. Thus, in India, does the wrath of the head of the house often reach the very lowest and most unoffending member of his establishment.

The next morning the formalities of the back verandah were gone through, and Miggle followed his mistress into the boudoir with his daily-account book. When the accounts were delivered up to date and the last item entered, Mrs. Dunbar turned to her faithful factotum with a wrath which was none the less for having been so long suppressed.


He moved uneasily, knowing the signs and preparing himself for the storm.

“Miggle, you fool!”

His small black eyes sparkled with the just anger of injured innocence. Still he did not speak. His mistress continued: “Do you know that owing to your folly those chairs have cost me two hundred rupees,---two hundred rupees? You are a fool, Miggle; I had better have asked the dog-boy to do my business.”

Her reproach stung him; it was unmerited, and too much for his silent endurance. “Missus asked me to buy. Then Missus, not trusting me, asked master. What does master know about buying at auctions? He knows office work only; so he giving fool-price for those chairs,---old chairs, and one of them broken! If master can do butler’s business, then I had better go. Can’t stop in this house to be called dog-boy.”

Both mistress and man were very angry by this time. The allusion to master’s folly was a piece of impertinence Mrs. Dunbar would not stand. She replied with some heat: “Oh, you can go! Take yourself off when you like, and I will find a man with more sense than to bid against his own master!”

“Missus give warning?”

No smile lightened the ugly face now, and there was a suspicion of pathetic remonstrance in his tone. Mrs. Dunbar was too much put out to notice anything but the uplifted head held high in virtuous indignation, which implied that she, and she alone, was responsible for the folly committed by her husband.

“Yes; I give warning. This day month you leave me. You can go back to the verandah; I have nothing more to say, except to tell you to be careful not to lose the character you have so far earned by any more acts of folly during the month.”

A hush of awe and consternation fell over the establishment when the news went forth that Miggle was leaving. Genuine sorrow was felt by all the servants. Even the ayah, who was usually at daggers-drawn through jealousy with the whole race of butlers and Miggle in particular, expressed her regret. For there was no doubt that he was a good servant to his master and mistress; and a temperate kind-hearted though rigid overseer to the gang of underlings, the peons, the table and lamp men, the cook and his assistant, the waterman and woman, the punkah-pullers, gardeners, coachmen, syces, grass-cutters, dhobies, sweepers and dog-boys with their various families. He ruled them with a superb imperialism, punishing and rewarding, often with his own hand, fining and giving presents through his mistress according to deserts.

The day arrived for Miggle’s departure. Nothing short of his biggest turban and finest muslin coat were worthy of the occasion, whilst Mrs. Miggle draped herself in her best silk cloth. At the usual hour when Mrs. Dunbar appeared in the back verandah to give out the stores, write the orders, and settle the affairs for the day, Miggle stood before her with patient resignation upon his swarthy countenance. He gave over charge to his successor, accounting for everything for which he had been responsible, down to the smallest item; not a tin pot nor a cooking basin was missing.

He handed her the keys in silence. She placed his wages in his hand, together with a written character, customary on the parting of mistress and servant. He salaamed low, standing on the top step of the back verandah. His wife below under the palm-leaf shelter imitated her husband’s example, and put the corner of the cloth to her eye.

With head erect and with a firm conviction of his own innocence, Miggle made a magnificent departure. All eyes followed him, and most were moist with tears. Mrs. Dunbar and her new chief were forgotten in the emotion of the moment. The entire population of the compound, with several outsiders, who had come in to witness the scene, lined the carriage drive, bowing and salaaming with the greatest respect. No Governor could have resigned office with greater dignity, or more impressive mien. A hired gharry stood outside in the road. Into this he stepped, leaving his wife to scramble in after him as best she could. A slash of the whip across the back of the ancient crock between the shafts, a cloud of golden dust in the morning light, and Miggle disappeared off the Dunbar horizon.

It would take volumes to relate the various vicissitudes of the household during the next four months.

The first man was nothing more nor less than a common peculating thief, a creature held in contempt by the better class of servants. Not content with the time-honoured perquisites agreed upon by the community of Madras butlers, he stooped to petty thefts worthy only of the dog-boy and the punkah-puller. He stole candles, tea, soap, bread, butter, odds and ends of crockery, dusters, and towels. One day Mrs. Dunbar caught him in the act of emptying the sugar-basin into the pocket of his coat, and he left in a hurry.

The second man drank and took bhang, an intoxicant which maddened as well as rendered him incapable. In his cups he was a perfect Bedlamite; and more than once, when he was most needed for a dinner-party, Mrs. Dunbar had to lock him into a godown with the aid of the syces, until the madness was over. When sober he was stupid beyond measure, and incapable of executing the simplest order.

The third quarrelled perpetually with the cook, whilst his wife fought tooth and nail with the kitchen-woman.

The fourth was a timid shadow of a man, whom the rest of the establishment treated with contempt, and abused as they choose, robbing their employers under his very nose. The various families living in the compound brought all sorts of additions to their circle under the name of relations, but in reality as boarders. The servants’ quarters, as well as the stables, became as noisy and twice as disorderly as the bazaar, the compound not being included in the beat of the policeman.

One morning Mrs. Dunbar came down to breakfast oppressed as usual with thoughts of her morning’s work. It was becoming her daily task to supervise a dozen thieves who possessed no conscience, instead of one who at least knew his limits.

The breakfast was laid with extra care. The house was quiet; the wrangling had ceased in the kitchen; the grass-cutters had departed to gather grass; and each syce was busy at his work. The table servants were clean and tidy; but what pleased her most was the sight of the breakfast ready upon the table. For weeks this had not been the case; and Mr. Dunbar, a punctual business man, had been sorely tried by the delays which made him late at office. Had the poor creature who called himself butler turned over a new leaf? There was certainly a sprightliness about him which she had never seen before. She was encouraged to hope that a reformation had set in at last.

After breakfast she went into the back verandah to “do” store-room, and begin her task of supervision.

Someone in a magnificent white and gold turban salaamed with a flourish before her. He lifted his head and she beheld the welcome---yes, welcome sight of Miggle’s broadest grin.

“What do you want?” she asked, in as stern a voice as she could command, trying in vain to hide the sudden joy she felt at beholding his familiar figure again.

“I come back,” he replied simply, but with a decision and finality that spoke volumes.

“So I see,” said Mrs. Dunbar.

“Can’t do business with other ladies. Too much plenty trouble giving, and ayahs making bobbery and humbug. So I come back.”

“Very well, take the keys and give out the sugar and flour to the cook, and the horse-food to the syces,” she said with a sigh of relief.

Miggle took up the reins of government then and there in true masterly fashion. He found a place for the incompetent man whom he ousted. To tell the truth, that individual was thankful to go to a smaller establishment. In ten days’ time Miggle reduced the unruly mob of domestics to order, and cleared the compound of boarders and hangers-on, who had no right to houseroom. One of the dog-boys rebelled and was impertinent. He was a recent arrival and knew nothing of the old régime. Miggle reported him as selling the dog’s rice. Mrs. Dunbar, never doubting for a moment, dismissed him at Miggle’s suggestion, thus making him an example. He was not guilty of dishonesty in the matter of the dog’s rice, but he had other faults not so easy to define, and got no more than he merited.

Once, and once only, did Miggle and his mistress fall out again seriously. This time it was over cock-fighting. Miggle possessed a special breed of fowls, which gained him a reputation in the native sporting world of Madras, and brought about many meetings at sunset, which were full of pleasure and excitement. There was a little betting, too, which added to their interest. In addition to the betting, he made a profit over the sale of young birds. His trade in game-fowls was perfectly legitimate. His wife attended to them, and the special food needed was purchased out of his own pocket.

But Mrs. Dunbar hated the very name of cock-fighting. She held it to be a cruel sport, though the Indian method is far less cruel than the old English plan. She also considered it wrong because it was accompanied by betting. She did her best to suppress it by having every game-fowl in the compound that came across her vision, caught then and there, and killed for currying. Her husband laughed at this practical way of enforcing principles; but it worried the butler, and put him to a great deal of inconvenience. For the fowls had to be kept somehow, and a corner found for the hen-coops which would escape the eye of the mistress. He knew her habits fairly well, and took care that the birds should be out of sight when she was looking round.

One evening she returned from her drive before the sun was down, a most unusual proceeding. She brought a friend, to whom she was anxious to show the garden. Tempted by the beauty of the grounds with the grass and handsome trees, the ladies wandered far beyond the garden beds. Strolling along they turned a corner where the guavas and lime bushes grew thickly. A strange sight met their eyes. Miggle, with a few choice spirits, was trying conclusions with some new fowls that were pitted against a couple of Miggle’s veterans. Each pair was in the thick of the battle, and the excitement was intense. At the appearance of Mrs. Dunbar the men sprang to their feet and seized their respective birds. She said nothing, but the glance she cast at Miggle warned him that he must prepare for a battle of another kind the next morning, if he wished to save his favourites from the cooking-pot. The fowls were put out to board with a friend that very evening.

In the privacy of the boudoir he received a long lecture on the iniquity of the sport, which he took in silence.

“I won’t put up with it,” she concluded. “It is a shocking bad example to the whole compound. You think that because I took you back, you may presume upon it. You can go! I give you warning to leave me this day month.”

Miggle regarded his mistress with pained eyes. The time was passed for such a thing as a month’s warning. After their experience it was not to be thought of; it was sheer madness and folly.

“What?” he cried, in indignant surprise. “Missus giving warning after serving so many years? No, missus can fine, but can’t give warning. That bringing too much trouble only.”

Indeed it was true, and Mrs. Dunbar knew it. So she fined him, and he paid the fine---it was a heavy one---with satisfaction. Although she knew that it was the best course for the happiness of both, she did not admit it. She took the money, saying, “Now, mind, Miggle; next time this occurs, you go.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied cheerfully, with his broadest grin, as he left her sanctum.

Chapter VI

A Proposal

There was one point on which Averine showed firmness. She refused to allow Mrs. Dunbar to provide her with horse-flesh. In India a lady requires a horse as much as she needs a pair of boots. In fact she could more easily dispense with her walking shoes than her carriage. Miss Desormieux had already purchased a neat turn-out, the dog-cart with the red wheels and fast-trotting cob; she was now the happy possessor of a riding-horse which, as far as eye could see, was an exceptionally handsome animal of perfect paces.

She had been talking of the horse during dinner; but did not think it necessary to prejudice her listeners against it by giving Vansittart’s account of its buck-jumping proclivities.

When dinner was ended the two ladies rose and left Mr. Dunbar to smoke his cigar and read his evening paper, whilst they sought the comfortable lounges in the verandah that opened on to the drawing-room. As soon as they were seated Averine told her godmother of her drive home with Arthur Stormond and of all he had to say. When she had finished, Mrs. Dunbar remarked, with something very like an amused smile: “If you wished to avoid proposals, my dear, you should not have come out to India.”

“I gave him no encouragement,” protested Averine.

“You drove him to the Adyar Club and allowed him to return with you,”

“Does that alone constitute encouragement to speak? If so the men out here rush headlong to their fate on very slight ground.”

She uttered the words with a touch of impatience. Stormond had somehow annoyed her, not in the mere fact of having asked her to be his wife, but in his manner of doing it, taking her affirmative as certain. He honestly loved her, and there was in his opinion no ground for her refusal. He held a desirable post in the Secretariat; he was a good-looking man, pleasant in manner, and always well dressed; his family was unexceptional; he had expectations;---and yet she had refused him! He would not believe his ears and hinted that he had not heard aright. When she said at last in desperation that she did not love him, he gazed at her in amazement. However, the truth was made plain at last, and there was nothing to be done but to accept it. But he took pains to explain that her state of feeling towards him would adjust itself satisfactorily in time if she would only say Yes. On receiving another negative he sighed, murmuring something to the effect that perhaps he had been a little premature; if she would permit it, he would come again. Without being in the least disconcerted he went back to their ordinary conversation as if nothing had happened. Averine could not help admiring his imperturbability and confidence, two admirable traits in a politician but most embarrassing in a suitor. Something of this she endeavoured to explain to Mrs. Dunbar.

“Do you think that every man to whom I may chance to give a seat in my dog-cart, will presume on the privilege and ask me to be his wife?”

Mrs. Dunbar laughed in her motherly way. “Each generation knows its own signs of the times. Perhaps it will be your mission to teach the men of Madras that such a privilege is not a sufficient foundation for proposing. I am convinced that it was enough for my husband. I offered to drive him home from a picnic one moonlight evening with the result that I eventually took his name.”

Averine smiled as she thought that the proposal was probably as good as made before the offer came of the drive home.

“They will all rush on the same fate as has overtaken Mr. Stormond if they interpret my offers of a lift as he has done,” she said.

“What was there about Mr. Stormond that you did not like?” asked Mrs. Dunbar, presently.

She would not have objected to such a match if there had been any love on the girl’s side. He was one of the eligibles of Madras and was smiled on by most mothers who possessed marriageable daughters.

“He is masterful,”---pause---“conventional,”---pause---“cut to a pattern, and a bit of a faddist.”

“Give me an instance.”

“This very evening as we were going to the Adyar we passed a Sanyasi. I met him in the morning by the Waler stables, and somehow or other he saved my life. I don’t know what he did. The syce said it was magic. He stopped the new horse which had broken loose and was rushing out of the gateway where I stood. Instead of knocking me over, the animal fell at our very feet at the uplifting of the Sanyasi’s arm. I thanked him of course; and when I saw him in the street this evening, I greeted him an the natives did---so---with the words ‘Salaam, Iyah!’ Mr. Stormond objected and gave me a lecture on the necessity of keeping the lower classes in their places.”

“I am not surprised that Mr. Stormond objected. The lower classes of this country are not ready to be levelled up.”

“Why, godmother, you are as bad as Mr. Stormond! The Sanyasi fascinated me. Had I been alone I should have got out of my cart and joined the crowd to listen to his words. He had just finished talking to the people. I am sure from their excitement that he had been performing some wonderful bit of magic. They were all so interested, so happy. They had time to enjoy the luxury of their emotions. I thought of the cold grey streets of London, enveloped in misty smoke, and the hurrying grimy people, who are too busy to listen or to look or to laugh, too self-absorbed to find any pleasure in the life that surrounds them.”

Averine dropped into silence as pictures passed before her eyes and she mentally compared sunny visions of warm colour and gaiety with the cool grey and brown tints of England. Her heart opened instinctively to the East with its strange allurements, and she yielded to its fascinations. Her reverie was broken by her companion’s voice.

“Arthur Stormond may be something of a faddist in his way, but he is a man of taste. For instance he is a collector of curios. But the curios must have a history. He has a chunk or conch shell of Travancore, which is extremely valuable. The spiral goes to the right instead of to the left, a very rare occurrence. Of course there was a tragedy connected with it. He showed me an agate stone of an oval shape in which Siva was supposed to reside. He really is a very interesting man.”

“I admit that he is interesting, but——”

Dunbar joined them at this point in the conversation and Averine stopped short in her speech.

“Who is interesting?” he asked, as he settled himself in a chair.

Averine left Mrs. Dunbar to reply.

“Mr. Stormond.”

“You are right. He is more than interesting---he is clever. Gems are his special delight, not as jewels to wear, but as curiosities. He is very keen on Government taking up diamond mines and working them again. They used to be one of the most profitable articles of commerce in the old Company days. But it is too speculative to please our present rulers. Stormond will go anywhere to pick up a rare gem. Only let him know that there is a ruby over in Burmah, unique and priceless, than off he goes to hunt it up, ferret out its history, and, if possible, gain possession of it. He uses all his privilege-leave over gem-hunting. I met him once in the wilds of Ceylon. I was buying cardamoms, but he had heard of a wonderful alexandrite——”

“What is that?” asked Averine.

“A stone that looks blue by daylight and fiery red by lamplight. A Singhalese professed to have dug it out of a gem-pit. But it was cut; and rumour said that he had stolen it with violence. Stormond begged me to tell him where and how he could find the man. He was in a hurry, as he had to dine with a planter some miles away. ‘My good fellow,’ I said, ‘you had better be starting for his bungalow at once. You can’t dine in those clothes.’ ‘I have a change with me; I shall dress in the bullock-cart---but tell me about this man;’ and he harked back to the Singhalese.”

“What was the end of it?” asked Averine.

“Truly characteristic of Stormond. He arrived in time for dinner, being as usual faultlessly dressed; he secured the alexandrite, got the man run in for the theft, and paid the money to the heirs of the original owner, the robbery having been committed some ten years ago.”

Mrs. Dunbar laughed as she said, “Mr. Stormond knows what he wants, and takes care that he gets it.”

Averine tightened her lips and tossed her head; small signs in themselves, but they did not escape the eye of her godmother.

“By the way, my dear,” said Dunbar, addressing his wife, “Anderson refused to put Vansittart up for the club.”

“I feared that would be the case,” replied Mrs. Dunbar.

“Why should he refuse?” asked Averine. “Is not Mr. Vansittart a gentleman in every sense of the word?”

“He is the son of an old Company’s servant, and one of the best fellows that ever stepped,” replied Dunbar, heartily.

“Then I do not understand Mr. Anderson’s action.”

“It is because of his trade; it has nothing to do with the man. I knew his father years ago, as proud as a Lieutenant-governor, and almost as powerful. He married the daughter of Sir Jonathan Gibson, who was Chief-Justice of the Presidency.”

“In these days trade has nothing to do with the private life of a man,” exclaimed Averine, ruffling with indignation. “You have asked him here to dine several times. Only last Sunday he was a guest on the footing of an old friend.”

“We are all saturated with conservatism in India. It takes the place of caste.”

“Supposing that Mr. Vansittart were rich, enormously wealthy through his horse-dealing---would he then be eligible for membership in your club?”

“If he were a man of capital, he would not be rough-riding, and his position would be altogether different. At present he is only a paid assistant of the firm. He has no share in the business---nothing but his salary, and, perhaps, a commission on the sales.”

“I think Mr. Anderson is right,” said Mrs. Dunbar.

But Averine was not at all of her opinion. “I was rather off-hand with Mr. Vansittart this morning at Affleck’s stables. He wanted to over-rule me in the matter of the new horse. Next time I meet him I shall offer him a seat in my cart.”

Mrs. Dunbar looked at her with a twinkle in her eye. “And there will be another broken heart, I suppose. However, we are told that men’s hearts are like crab’s claws; when they are broken they grow again.”

Dunbar turned the conversation on to the pearl fishery in Ceylon, which was to take place the following February. The oyster-bed had been examined, and pronounced fit for a fishery, which promised to be exceptionally good. Pearls were one of the exports which the firm sent to Paris, and he was naturally interested in the subject.

“I should like, if possible, to go to the fishery myself and buy pearls on the spot. Last time we missed our opportunity by leaving it to native agents; consequently, we received a very poor lot.”

“If you do go to Ceylon, Horace, I think I shall take a run down to Trichinopoly with Averine. Mrs. Worthington is very anxious we should pay her a visit.”

“Ah, do; and show Averine the big temples down there.”

“That would be delightful,” said Averine. “We must certainly do as you suggest.”

Chapter VII

A Scorned Woman

When Averine and her companion passed on towards the Adyar Club, the eyes of the Sanyasi dwelt for a few seconds on the red wheels of the cart, which was soon lost in the growing darkness. He heard the salutation of the English lady, and anticipated the remonstrance of the man who sat by her side. Her words caused the blood to tingle in his veins; his heart beat, and a hot flush mounted to his forehead. Had he indeed subdued all human passions? If so, what was the meaning of the fire that burnt in those eyes, which but a few minutes ago were devoid of all expression, except of passionless contemplation?

He took the same direction as the cart had taken, and entered the Mowbray Road. An old woman, with a child in her arms, drew near.

“Iyah, stop for one little minute and look upon my grandchild. It is very sick.”

He turned and examined it. The child was weak and wasted with fever. Bringing it out into the night air was not the way to cure it

“Where is your house?”

“Close by, Iyah. But I have no money to pay for medicine or magic.”

“The Sanyasi does not want money; lead the way.”

Trembling with surprise and delight, she hobbled towards a group of mud houses clustered at the edge of a palm grove. He entered the room she occupied, and bade her sweep the floor. Her neighbours, full of curiosity, crowded in uninvited, and seated themselves in a circle.

Laying the child upon a mat the Sanyasi pursued the ordinary methods of relieving malarial fever. He finished by giving it a dose of medicine, largely composed of quinine. The grandmother, who was the only guardian left to the little orphan, regarded the medicine with indifference. Her faith was pinned to the performance of spells, without which, in her opinion, the best medicine in the world would be of no avail. She offered a few copper coins, all she could afford in her poverty, and then seated herself with the rest of the company to enjoy the magic.

Peroo drew a diagram on the floor round the child with chalk; made passes over its head; burnt powder that emitted blue smoke, and thoroughly fumigated the room. Each act was greeted with a murmur of approval by the spectators. Occasionally the child wailed fretfully, when he chanted muntras, and it fell asleep. Finally he covered it with a cotton rug, telling the old woman to let it sleep till the morning, when she must give it another dose of the white medicine. The women prostrated themselves, marvelling at his condescension as he left the house. His heart was stilled, and the blood no longer raced in his veins.

A moon that was nearly full, rose out of the sea and shone across the palms casting beams of white light upon the road. The Sanyasi needed no guiding light, however; his lodging was not far off. Following the Mowbray Road, be turned into a footpath, through a tangle of luxuriant vegetation. Plantains, sugar-cane, and cocoanuts grew in profusion, and the banyan trees, the feature of this road, stretched their grey arms across, forming an arch of glossy foliage.

A few yards from the road was a small wayside temple, so hidden amongst the wealth of vegetation that were it not for its goparum tower, upreared above the trees, it would not have been seen. Here it was that Peroo had made his little camp. He was unknown to the pujaris of the temple, and when he first arrived, his welcome was not effusive. Now, however, that a miracle had been performed, the news of which had been carried hot-foot by an eager spectator, the pujaris entreated him to enter the building. But he firmly refused their belated offers of hospitality, and sought the spot they had assigned to him when he first begged a shelter, a hoary old tree in a corner of the compound. Already the pujaris were inwardly cursing their short-sightedness. Late as it was a little crowd of worshippers arrived bringing their offerings, which they left in the hands of Peroo’s disciple, instead of placing them in the charge of the temple servants.

The Sanyasi’s attendant having tomtomed his master to his seat by the roadside, had returned to the temple to prepare food. A fire was now burning brightly, casting a red glow with its tongues of flame on the steamed rice and savoury curry that was waiting. Nothing but water passed the lips of the Sanyasi from sunrise to sunset; he ought, therefore, to have been hungry. But neither the smell nor the sight of food roused any pleasurable anticipations in the ascetic. The lad counted the money in the alms-bowl, and put it safely away at the bottom of the satchel. Then he glanced at Peroo, who had seated himself on the other side of the tree, and seemed about to fall into a trance. A pujari belonging to the temple heard the chink of the coins. He approached the boy and said: “It is usual to leave something with the temple people where the Sanyasi rests.”

The lad replied sharply: “It is usual for the temple people to give food and shelter to the Sanyasi. This food I bought with the gifts thrown to my master. This tree grew by the favour of the gods, and the power of the sun and the rain.”

A party of women came up, and handed him an offering of sugar, camphor, and butter. They passed on before Peroo and made a low salaam, whilst the boy added their offerings to the pile.

“Whence comes your master?” said the pujari. “He is a stranger to us. Yet, small as our temple is, we thought that we knew all the holy men upon this road.”

“I know no more than you whence he comes; but people say that he was born on the west coast. Now we shall at last eat. These worshippers with their offerings give trouble; may those silly chattering women be the last. If my master had been invited to eat and sleep within the temple we should not have been troubled thus.” He pointed to the heap of offerings under the tree. “Seeing that he is not the honoured guest, is it a matter of surprise that they refuse to leave their gifts with those who refused to shelter a worker of miracles?”

“A long tongue often makes a short life, youngster,” replied the other, walking away with an assumption of dignity which failed to hide his disappointment.

There were no more visitors, and the boy crept nearer to his master. “Father, I have prepared the curry and rice.”

“It is well, my son; let it wait.”

“But it is not good to wait. It is more than twelve hours since my master has eaten. Eat and live, that you may be my teacher these many years to come.”

The boy turned the rice out of the pot into a large platter which he had woven out of stout banyan leaves, fastening them together with shreds of tough grass. The vegetable curry, with its rich gravy of oiled butter, he poured into a shallow brass bowl. The green chutney of pounded herbs, ginger, and tamarind was not forgotten.

“It is ready, sir.”

The lad glanced hungrily at the food. The Sanyasi caught the glance, and understood it.

“This mouth will eat that the son may eat also.”

Whilst he ate, the boy took the waterpot and filled it with fresh water from the temple well. The moon rose high above the cocoanut palms, and shed white patches of light with a tropical vividness that showed colour as well as light and shade. Large bats fluttered round the tower of the temple, hawking the heavy winged moths that sought the sweet trumpet blossoms of datura in the temple garden. In the distance the jackal raised its melancholy cry, varied by sharp hungry barks, as it nosed its way in quest of dainty morsels, on the outskirts of the native bazaars. In silent abstraction the Sanyasi made his evening meal. When he had finished, the boy brought water and poured it over his hands and feet. He spread a grass mat, laid out a hard little pillow with a folded sheet, and then touched his forehead: “Father,” he said, “the bed is prepared.”

But the Sanyasi, contrary to custom, was not ready for sleep, and he said kindly: “Go, son; this frail body has all it needs; the presence of the disciple is no longer necessary. Eat, sleep, rest, with a cool heart. The good son will one day become a great man.”

The eyes of the lad shone with a sudden brightness. Rare indeed were words of praise from the lips of his master. But the Sanyasi had bestowed something more than praise. His quick, sensitive ear detected a new note, a note of sympathy, a touch of warm human emotion which he had never heard before. It was the voice of the father rather than that of the teacher. It thrilled through the whole being of the disciple, who had lost both his parents. He fell at Peroo’s feet and pressed his forehead to the dust.

“Iyah, my master is good to this poor worm.”

Peroo laid his hand gently on the bowed head. “The good---if it seem to be good, my son---pass on to others. The evil of this life, let it die, so that it may go no further, and do no more mischief. Now eat, and seek the sleeping mat and pillow.”

“One word, one humble request, Iyah. Let me stay always with my teacher, as if he were my own father.”

“They treat you well where I place you?”

“Oh yes; and I go to school with the boys and learn many things. But I would rather be with you, sir.”

The Sanyasi regarded him with a softened eye and paused before he replied.

“It cannot be,” he said at length. “The Sanyasi is alone; he can have no ties of blood; he may make no relations with man, for he belongs to the gods. Therefore, son, what you ask is impossible.”

“As the master wills; but it is hard to bear. For seven months I live under the protection of my teacher. Then, like a cloud in the morning sun, he passes, by the will of the gods, out of my sight, out of my life, and I see no more of him until five months have gone by. Father, whither goes my teacher?”

He asked the question with bated breath, trembling at his own temerity. His head uplifted for a moment as he put the question---was bowed again to the dust as he listened for the reply.

“Son, it is not for the disciple to know these things.”

“Is it the tomb?” he whispered in awe. “Once I saw my master laid out as if dead. They placed him in a tomb, and the masons built up the entrance with bricks and mortar, covering the top with earth. The ryots ploughed with their bullocks and planted corn over the spot. My widowed mother, who is dead, wept, and I with her, for we thought that he must die. When the corn was green we came again. The ryots dug the earth away, and the masons broke into the brickwork. The tomb was opened, and there lay the master asleep, just as we had last seen him. Again we wept, my mother and I, whilst they lifted him out. Aiyoh! he sat up and asked for water! It was my mother’s hand that gave the cup. After drinking, he stepped forth as though he had but slept from sunset to sunrise. Is it the tomb that calls the teacher from the disciple and swallows him for five whole months of the year?”

“Yea, lad, perhaps it is a tomb that swallows this poor body, but not a tomb of chunam and bricks. Go now and eat; it is not good to show too much curiosity; true knowledge comes best without asking questions.”

Raman moved away with a sigh. How often he had tried to penetrate the mystery which others were as eager to solve as himself, but which was so successfully guarded. He was hungry, and his curiosity gave way to the feelings of the moment, for the curry, though of his own making, was excellent. Before beginning to eat he returned. Peroo had not altered his position, and his dreamy gaze was fixed on the moonlit landscape. A mile away the sea murmured along the sandy shore.

“There is more rice than I need, father.”

“Give what remains to the woman and her children who sit under the trees on the opposite side of the road.”

The Sanyasi again fixed his eyes with the abstracted look the boy knew so well. For hours he would remain thus, an arm upon each knee, his hands drooping from the wrists, his body motionless. Raman did not know whether he slept at such times, or whether he communed with the spirits of the air; whether they were the moments of abstraction that gave birth to the miracles which startled the village world into wonder and worship, or whether they were periods of rest. Of one thing he was certain; when once the fit of contemplation had thoroughly taken hold upon him, the Sanyasi could neither see nor hear his disciple, and further questioning was useless.

The boy proceeded with his supper, swallowing the curry and rice with more relish than his master. His appetite was excellent, for he had made but small progress in the conquest of sensuousness; the act of eating was still a keen pleasure. As he lived to a great extent in the present, the fact did not disturb him. If it was the will of the gods that he should become a Sanyasi like his teacher, his human passions would die within him in due course of time. So he finished his meal without any effort of renunciation.

The green platter still held some rice, which he built into a neat pile to carry to the road as he had been directed. The boom of the sea breaking on the shore grew fuller as the silence of night enveloped the earth. The traffic along the road was at an end except for an occasional pony-cart or brougham. In the moonlight Raman distinguished the figure of a woman standing where the footpath joined the road.

“Little brother,” she whispered, in soft coaxing tones, “people say that the wonder-working Sanyasi rests under the shadow of the temple here.”

“He sits over yonder,” he replied curtly.

“I wish to see him.”

“He is in deep contemplation; the gods talk with him; it is not good that he should be disturbed.”

He eyed her with suspicion, and remained standing in the path, barring the way. He knew that his master took no heed of the opposite sex, except where sickness and want were concerned. In this respect the boy followed his master’s example closely, and scorned all women with an impudence that was entertaining.

“I would speak to him for a few minutes,” she said, holding out a piece of silver which the boy pretended not to see.

“Did he tell you to come?”

“He bade me be here by the time the moon rose above the palm trees, and looked down through the branches of the banyans. I have come at his bidding; take me to him.”

“Nay, that I will not. My master and I want no women about us. I will tell him you are here; wait till I return.”

She laughed in a manner that made the lad’s blood boil. There were jasmin flowers in her hair; jewels sparkled on her neck and arms, and her silken draperies wafted the scent of roses on the night air.

“Wait at the bidding of a boy! not I!”

Certainly she had not the appearance of one who was accustomed to wait for favours, but rather the air of one who granted them. Pushing past the lad, she went swiftly towards the temple. Her keen young eyes were quick to discover the figure of the ascetic seated under the tree.

Raman glanced after her with hesitation and anger. Two children ran from the opposite side of the road lifting their hands with quaint obeisance, and begging his lordship to bestow on them the fragments of his supper. With gracious condescension, such as he had often seen his master use towards inferiors, he helped the rice and returned for the curry. There was sufficient for an ample supper. The boy watched them as they devoured the food, murmuring their gratitude by frequently addressing him as lord and swami, and he felt something of the gratification that warms the benefactor’s heart, forgetting the woman.

Minamal, the goldsmith’s wife, glanced cautiously round. She was unobserved, the pujaris being inside the temple busy with their food. She approached the Sanyasi who sat where the lad had left him, his face upraised, and his eyes gazing into unfathomable depths of meditation. A network of moonlight penetrated the branches above and illuminated the statuesque figure. Minamal stepped before him and stood motionless. Her bold glance dwelt upon the firm limbs and handsome features of the Sanyasi.

“I came to ask pardon, Iyah, for my husband’s words to-day. It was his ignorance that made him call the favoured of the gods, a valluvan. He is but a dull pumpkin-head, a poor sort of husband for a young woman like myself.”

Peroo, without noticing her, began to recite in a sing-song voice---

“The elephant passed and the blind man cried that a sweeper had defiled him with his broom.”

As he spoke his eyes returned from the contemplation of the unseen and fixed their gaze upon the woman. She drew nearer and trembled, her heart beating wildly, but not with fear. Women like herself, the wives of wealthy men of good caste, favoured the guru and the ascetic. She was from Trichinopoly, where the temples are large, and the pujaris numerous, and where the women are taught to seek the pujari for the benediction of the gods.

“Have pity on me, worker of wonders! I am childless. Many wise men have I consulted and entreated for the one blessing we married women crave. But the gods have not granted my prayers. You, Iyah, are wiser than any I have met before. An offering, a little pujah, and perhaps I may be made happy.”

He interrupted, asking roughly: “Did your husband send you?”

She felt that his eyes burned with an inquiry that searched her very soul. In mute entreaty she dropped upon her knees and extended her arms towards him.

“Did he send you?”

“He bade me come this very evening.”

Taking a pastille from the folds of his cloth he lighted it. An aromatic smoke arose and filled her nostrils.

“Look into the smoke, woman, and watch the glowing point where the fire smoulders.”

She did so, and he waved his hands slowly before her vision. Blue wreaths of smoke floated towards the moon. The pastille was slowly consumed and the fire died out. Minamal knelt in a trance, her arms thrown forward, her unseeing eyes fixed on the Sanyasi.

The lad had fed the widow’s children, thrown away the leaf platters they had used, and washed the cooking pots. He sought his master to ask if his services were required before wrapping himself in his sheet for the night’s sleep.

“My son,” said Peroo, without moving. “Royadu Charlu’s house is in the Luz, near the tank.”

“I know, sir. It is but a short distance.”

“Bid him come; tell him that his presence is needed at the temple. The strange Sanyasi calls him on business that concerns himself.”

Raman ran to do his bidding. The goldsmith had eaten his evening meal two hours ago, and after a talk with the confidential clerk who kept his books, he was preparing to lie down for the night. His cot was in the verandah, where he usually slept. Bamboo blinds lined with blue calico hung between the massive pillars that supported the terraced roof and screened off the night air, making the spot as private as a bedroom.

He was not pleased to be summoned at such an hour. The lamps of the house were extinguished; his women’s quarters were silent, and his whole household was asleep. Not daring, however, to refuse such a call, he wrapped himself in a shawl and followed the messenger, grumbling by the way. This inconvenience was probably meant as a punishment for his careless words in the morning; perhaps the Sanyasi intended to extort a sum of money under threat of misfortune. Royadu Charlu did not feel the same reverence for the devotees of his religion which his fellow caste men showed in Trichinopoly. Nor did he approve of the encouragement given by the women of the household to the men of the temple.

When he reached the spot where the Sanyasi sat in the checkered moonlight and saw his wife with her arms extended towards the ascetic, his face darkened. He looked at Peroo, cold as the image within the temple, and drew a breath of relief.

“The messenger hade me come, Iyah. I am here.”

“Royadu Charlu, the mother-in-law’s ears are dull and her sight fails. Lead home her who calls herself childless, and let her sleep amongst her children. The temple is no place for her without the older women of your family.”

He laid his hand upon Minamal’s shoulder, and she drew a deep breath as if she awoke out of sleep.

“Awake, woman; the evil dreams are gone. Women who dream as the wife of the goldsmith has dreamed to-day are best kept within their husbands’ houses by bar and by bolt.”

She rose with a bewildered air and looked around, starting at the sight of her husband standing close by. He seized her roughly by the arm, and shook her till her wandering senses returned. The spell was broken; she was wide awake now. She turned furiously upon the Sanyasi, but he was once more steeped in meditation. His lips moved, and the recitation reached her ears.

“The blind man presumptuously followed the elephant. Not seeing the way, he fell under the feet of the great beast and was crushed.”

Minamal bit her lips. The grasp upon her arm gave pain. Moreover, a deadly hatred, the sudden hatred of a woman scorned, flamed within her heart; but she did not speak. Silent and brooding over her wrongs, she was hurried home by the angry husband. She sought comfort in schemes of revenge, which were not lessened when in due course she received punishment at the hands of her mother-in-law.

High caste and low, husbands are all alike in the East. Their domestic troubles are not aired in a court of law and made common property in the columns of a newspaper. A strong-armed female relative metes out punishment, and takes good care that the culprit does not find the opportunity to trip again.

Chapter VIII

The Buck-Jumper

The stars were still shining; the full moon, growing mellow on the western horizon, threw broad patches of light and shadow over the level landscape.

Averine, dressed in her riding habit, stepped out of the red-wheeled cart at the gates of Government House, Guindy, where the hounds were to meet. Her new horse, sent on ahead, was there ready for her to mount. The animal behaved like a lamb, utterly belying the character given to it by Vansittart. He was also there, riding a large black horse that was for sale. It was part of his duty to bring the animals belonging to his employer to the notice of likely purchasers. There was no better opportunity of doing so than by taking them out with the hounds, to which Affleck was a liberal subscriber.

Vansittart loved horses. He had been brought up with them from his boyhood, his father having settled in Australia on retirement. But much as he loved them he hated his present position. Most of all did he dislike mixing with the civilians and officers in his character as rough-rider and horse-dealer. He felt instinctively that he was not in his right place. The son of his father should have held a commission in a cavalry regiment.

Affleck paid flying visits occasionally to Madras. He was there at this present moment. It was his suggestion that Vansittart should join the club, and urged by Affleck, Vansittart approached his father’s old friend, Anderson on the subject. The refusal to put his name up was courteous but firm. As an old friend he advised him not to make any further attempt so long as he held his present post.

He was feeling sore and hurt as he watched the hounds move away to covert. He did not look for any acquaintances, but rode off moodily by himself. The sky in the east brightened with the dawn of an Indian morning. A clatter of hoofs hurrying up from behind made him turn. He met the smile of Averine who was pressing forward to his side.

“See how well my new horse carries me, Mr. Vansittart.”

He ran his eyes critically over the animal. “It is a handsome beast; I hope it will go on as well as it has begun. Did you have any trouble in mounting?”

“None at all.”

“Did you find a syce?”

“Yes, there he is.”

She pointed to a strong-limbed man who ran behind them, and who, when the hounds went away, would calculate to a nicety where he might expect to meet his mistress. Vansittart nodded approval.

“I know him; Arokian, a good syce.”

There was a welcome sound within the covert; the hounds had found, and conversation was at an end.

“Give me a lead, Mr. Vansittart; the country is all new to me.”

“You know Miss Jenkins? She is out this morning, and can give you a better lead than I can; she will follow to the end, which I cannot undertake to do.”

The jackal led straight across a bit of open country and promised to give the hounds some work. Averine heard the advice but did not seek Miss Jenkins’s society. On the contrary she kept close to the black horse.

There was a check at a thicket, and Vansittart warned her against thorns, especially the prickly pear which patched the ground here and there. By-and-by the hounds picked up the scent, and after another run of twenty minutes they killed in the open.

The hounds drew a second covert and found again. The jackal broke at the end furthest from Madras, and went off towards some low hills in the south. Vansittart pulled up.

“Good morning, Miss Desormieux; I must return; my horse has had enough, and I have an appointment to keep.”

She swung Raksha’s head round immediately. “I shall be glad to come with you, for I, too, have had enough. Where are we?”

“About a mile from the road. When we reach it we shall find your cart and our syces waiting about under some shady tree.”

The sun was high above the horizon, a ball of fire in a cloudless sky. Averine, flushed with her ride, patted the neck of her steed and praised it again.

“Why did you give poor Raksha such a bad character? He does not deserve it,” she said.

“Wait and see,” he replied shortly.

Vansittart was ill at ease. He was not indifferent to the woman by his side, but he told himself over and over again that he, a poor man, could never be anything to her. A rich wife would be intolerable to a man of his pride. He determined not to singe his wings. Yet he could never find courage to refuse Mrs. Dunbar’s frequent invitations, nor to turn a deaf ear to the voice that haunted his dreams when sleep held him fast.

Averine, on the contrary, felt strangely at her ease. The morning air and brisk gallop with the hounds combined to put her in the best of spirits. But most of all, she was delighted with the paces of her new mount, which so far had proved Vansittart’s judgment to be at fault. She had no intention of crowing over her companion. Not only did she feel that she could afford to be magnanimous, but she instinctively perceived that he was depressed and distrait. Recalling the conversation with the Dunbars on the previous evening, she not unnaturally came to the conclusion that Vansittart was smarting under the social ostracism that had been suggested by the action of Mr. Anderson; and her heart went out in sympathy to the unoffending victim of social conservatism.

“By-the-by,” she remarked, “I have not apologized for my rudeness to you at our last meeting. Of course you know it was only my fun. You must have thought me a coward for running away after firing my shot, and not waiting for your reply. To tell the truth, I think I was really just a little afraid of you, and, womanlike, sought safety in flight. But you will forgive me, won’t you?”

She turned towards him with a winning smile, and Vansittart felt his heart beating. Her graciousness in victory appealed to him even more strongly than her waywardness and independence had done on the previous day. This, he could not help thinking, was doubly hard, inasmuch as he had been endeavouring to steel his heart against her. With an effort he controlled himself and spoke in slow and even tones.

“There is nothing to forgive, Miss Desormieux. I had no right whatever to force my opinion upon you. Moreover Raksha appears to have vindicated his character this morning and to have thoroughly justified your judgment. To be candid with you, however, I am not by any means satisfied, and my opinion remains unaltered. It is impossible to judge a horse’s temper on the strength of a short run, such as we have had this morning.”

“You are difficult to please,” she interrupted.

“I merely reserve my judgment,” he replied. “But whatever happens, I trust you understand that it is my sincere wish that yours will turn out to be right and mine wrong in this matter.”

“Thank you, I take that as a great compliment.” She laughed as she added, “I have never before met a man who preferred another’s welfare to the correctness of his own opinion.”

Vansittart perceived that the ice was getting thin, and wisely held his peace. Notwithstanding his efforts to maintain the conversation in a neutral zone, he had twice found himself during the last ten minutes in deep waters. He glanced at her, wondering if she was conscious of his embarrassment. But she was so perfectly innocent of any intention to flirt that he put it down to a natural desire to please, and to show a little kindness to one who had suffered at the hands of Fortune. She broke the silence that had fallen between them.

“I hope you know where we are, because I am sure I do not. I have no desire to wander far afield in the blazing sun. What would people say if we got lost?” she went on with merry chatter. “You men, you know, are terrible scandal-mongers; it is my firm conviction that the club exists for no other purpose than that of gossip and iced drinks.”

Vansittart smiled in spite of himself. “Not being a member of the club, I must refuse to be included in your sweeping indictment. But may I suggest that women have been known to gossip occasionally?”

“Oh, of course you say that! I might have expected it. Men always do put the blame on the women. I suppose it is one of the characteristics they have inherited from Adam together with original sin. But seriously, do you know where we are?”

Vansittart raised his hunting-crop and pointed straight ahead. “Yonder is the old Madras Road. In a few minutes we shall be under the shade of its banyan-trees.”

There in the distance was the broad highway with its strings of country bullock-carts, its zigzagging swaying jutkas, its pedestrians plodding light-hearted on their way, living only in the present, resting at night under the grand old trees. Amongst the latter Peroo and his disciple were moving at an easy pace to the measure of the tomtom.

When the Sanyasi announced his intention of leaving that morning, the pujaris entreated him to stay longer. The story of his miracle had spread all over Madras. Numbers of people came up from Blacktown to see him, none venturing to approach without a gift. Such offerings as rice, sugar, butter, camphor, could not be taken on the road; they had to be left at the temple. Well might the authorities desire to keep Peroo with them though they knew nothing of his history.

The Sanyasi passed the red-wheeled cart, the syce making a respectful salaam. A little further on he came upon Arokian waiting for his mistress. He stopped and asked where she was. The syce pointed out the two figures riding at a walking-pace in the distance.

“See, Iyah, she is there. The devil-possessed beast has borne her safely so far.”

“And you are serving her well?”

“I am as the dust beneath her feet, for she is a good mistress. Yesterday she advanced me a month’s wages, and I was fitted at the shop for the best clothes they had.”

“It is well,” replied Peroo, moving on.

“May I speak a word, Iyah?” said the syce, following him. “If the Sanyasi would come and cast out the devil the missie would ride in safety and I should keep a good place. But if the horse behaves ill, she will sell it and I shall lose my situation. It has the marks of good and bad luck upon it.”

Peroo made no reply; his eyes were fixed upon the two riders.

“Iyah,” pleaded the syce, keeping close to his heels, “if money is needed I can borrow in the bazaar.”

They were moving at a pace which would bring them to that part of the road which Vansittart and his companion would strike when they reached it. Miss Desormieux was speaking.

“Raksha has behaved like a gentleman. To-morrow we will have a scamper by the sea.”

Her words seemed to awake the slumbering demon in the horse. It laid back its ears and with tail down began to lift its heels.

“Take care, keep your seat, Miss Desormieux!” cried Vansittart.

His knowledge of horse-flesh enabled him to read the signs. Unless he was very much mistaking the brute meant buck-jumping.

“Tumpetty, tumpetty, tumpetty,” drummed the tomtom with thoughtless cheerfulness in the road. Raksha’s heels beat a measure to its strains. Averine sat firmly, warned in time, and smiled at the anxiety exhibited by her companion. She had had no experience of an Australian buck-jumper’s capability. Vansittart, on the contrary, knew that this was no game of play. Raksha meant business, and would not be satisfied till Averine was out of the saddle. It was merely a question of time and endurance.

They were near the road. The drumming ceased as Peroo came to a sudden halt. Turning aside he left the road and went swiftly towards the bounding creature, Arokian following closely.

With a vicious squeal Raksha threw all its energies into a leap which no woman and but very few men could have withstood, and hurled Averine from the saddle. She fell at the feet of the Sanyasi, and lay unconscious on the ground.

Peroo sat by her side, and raised her head from the coarse, rough herbage. Vansittart, who had watched the scene with agonised eyes, unable to help or to save her, threw himself off his horse, and knelt on the other side.

“Water! she wants water!” he said.

“There,” replied Peroo, pointing to a group of palms about two hundred yards away.

Vansittart hurried off in the direction indicated. Water to bathe her forehead and mix with the raw whisky in his flask he must have. In his concern for Averine he did not notice the curious fact of the ascetic having a knowledge of English.

Arokian was busy with the horse, which, having effected its purpose, began to crop the grass with the mildness of a tame bullock. He had no difficulty in catching it. Leading it up to the Sanyasi, he said, “You see, Iyah, what an evil heart the horse possesses.”

“Lead it home, and this evening the Sanyasi will come.”

The moment Vansittart’s back was turned, Peroo drew a screw of paper from one of the hiding-places in the folds of the salmon-coloured cloth, and pressed a pinch of powder between the lips of the unconscious girl. He lifted her up into a sitting position, letting her head fall forward, and then brought it back to lean upon his arm. Her eyes unclosed, and she fixed them upon her companion. Gradually her senses returned; recognition came at last and smiling, she said faintly, “It is my Sanyasi.”

He replied in Tamil, using the familiar greeting of the vernacular, “Little sister, live.”

There was an odd taste in her mouth, but the clouds were clearing from her brain. “The horse threw me; help me on to my feet, Iyah.”

Her hands closed over his, and he drew her up with tender care. She noted his eyes as they scanned her face. They were of a hazel-brown, such as are often to be seen in some of the fairer races of India.

“It has a devil; ride it no more, sister.”

She laughed, still supporting herself by a firm grip upon his arm. “It shall carry me to-morrow morning, and learn better manners.”

They spoke in Tamil, she scarcely knowing that they used the language of the country. Vansittart ran up with the water.

“Thank God!” he cried. “You are not hurt? I thought that brute would have dashed you in pieces. You kept your seat longer than I expected.” He turned to Peroo, who, with eyes lowered, stood motionless. “You can go; here is a rupee for you.”

“The Sanyasi asks for no money. The alms of the Hindus more than suffice for his needs. Are you the lady’s chosen husband?”

Vansittart had very little knowledge of the language and that little entirely dealt with the stable. Averine glanced at him and perceived that he had not comprehended the question. Her colour returned to her cheeks as she replied, “He is only a friend. I have no husband and do not desire one.”

“Yet he would marry you if he could?”

“Such things must not be spoken of. He is too poor to think of a wife.” She was very thankful that Vansittart could not understand Tamil; the Sanyasi’s questions were most embarrassing. She knew enough of the country not to be surprised at them. His curiosity was simple and natural. “Go, Iyah; you have again done me a service. There is my cart; I will drive home to her who is as a mother to me.”

Again she placed her hand in his, and again he was strangely moved, the blood throbbing through his veins.

“Tumpetty, tumpetty,” began the tomtom as he reached the road; but Peroo stopped it and stood beneath a tree whilst Averine stepped into the cart. She offered Vansittart a seat, which after a moment’s hesitation, he accepted, leaving his horse to be brought home by the syce. He took the reins, for though much recovered, she was not fit to drive and they started homewards.

“My son,” said Peroo, as he gazed after them, “the day has not been propitious. Once did the disciple sneeze.”

“’Twas the dust, father.”

“Once did these feet stumble; and now the devil-possessed horse has caused the English lady to fall across our path. Such ill omens must not be disregarded, and the steps these feet have trod must be retraced.”

“As it seems good, so do, my master,” replied the boy, to whom it mattered not where they went.

When they had gone a little distance Vansittart asked, “Was that the Sanyasi you met yesterday?”

“Yes; it is odd that I should see him again and so soon. He was looking at me so strangely when I regained my senses.”

“What did he say to you?”

She laughed, and her colour deepened as she replied, “Oh, nothing of consequence.”

“I wish I could understand their language; it is such harsh crack-jaw stuff.”

“I was born with it in my ears and lived steeped in it until I was fifteen. It was the language of the servants. I can never forget it. In England, when I was trying to learn German, it came on my tongue instead of the words I wanted. I used to dream that I heard it being spoken. Now the dreams have become realities. It is like magic when the people talk around me. I not only understand their words, but every sign and gesture.”

“I observe that you are in sympathy with them; but in that respect you are peculiar.”


“In your power of sympathy, which is great. You did not shrink from the Sanyasi, or object to his being so close to you.”

“I was actually leaning on him when you came up with the water. I was so dazed with the fall that I was thankful for the support of his arm.”

“He was a cleaner man of that class than I have ever seen before. Did he tell you anything about himself?”

Vansittart’s curiosity was roused, and he would have liked to have heard what the ascetic said, but he did not wish to press her to repeat it.

“Nothing whatever. All I know about him I heard from the butler, and he didn’t know much.”

Vansittart, resigned to the inevitable, was becoming more at his ease. He studiously gave his attention to the cob all the same and kept his eyes on the road. There was a pause in the conversation which he did not break. He wondered where her thoughts were. They were still upon Peroo.

“There is something about that man which puzzles me,” she said presently, puckering her brows in an ineffectual effort of memory. “I do not remember ever having seen him before, yet his face seems familiar.”

“You probably saw a Sanyasi like him when you were very young, too young to remember time and place.”

“Perhaps;” but she was not satisfied with his explanation.

Not far from St. George’s Cathedral they turned into a large compound, beautifully wooded; the fine square house where Mrs. Dunbar lived stood in its centre. She was in the verandah directing a gardener in his operations amongst the foliage plants. She smiled as they pulled up under the porch, but her smile hid a shade of annoyance. Averine had lost no time in putting her threat into execution of offering the Australian a seat in her cart.

“I have had a spill,” cried the girl, in a cheerful voice that dispelled all anxiety. “ I feel quite well; indeed, I never felt better. I am in tune with everything and I walk upon air.” She was unsuspicious of the cause of her exhilaration, the homoeopathical dose of hemp and datura which Peroo had administered. “Good-bye, Mr. Vansittart, I must go and change for breakfast or I shall be late. Drive yourself to the hotel and come to tea this afternoon.”

She disappeared, leaving him to explain what had happened.

“Try and persuade her to sell the horse, Mrs. Dunbar,” he said, with more anxiety in his face than he was aware of.

“I will do my best, but she is a wilful young woman. She has had her way since she was a baby. You had better come and have tea as she suggests, and you can add your entreaties to mine,” replied Mrs. Dunbar, looking the son of her old friend up and down with eyes that were full of kindness.

Vansittart sent the cob along at a spinning rate towards the hotel, where he was boarded and lodged for a moderate sum that was fixed in accordance with his means. He found his chief waiting, for he was late. Choosing a cool corner of the smoking-room, he called for cigars and iced drinks. Mr. Affleck, a prosperous, good-natured colonist, who rarely lost his temper and never seemed in a hurry, greeted him in friendly fashion, plunging at once into business.

“How did the black horse go? Will it make a decent hunter?”

“First rate, and it will do equally well as a charger; stands firing like a rock.”

“Colonel Pendleton has just been to see me about it. I think he means to buy. You will see him at the stables after breakfast. Say that the price is a thousand rupees, not an anna less.”

“The horse is well worth it.”

One of the hotel servants, barefooted, silent and attentive, brought a tray on which was a variety of cigars and cigarettes. He held it before Affleck, who took his time over his choice. Cigars in India are apt to be worm-eaten.

“So Anderson wouldn’t put your name up for the club, Vansittart. I m sorry, I should like you to have got in as you will have to be in Madras a good deal.”

The young man frowned as he replied rather bitterly: “Is it likely that these men here want rough-riders amongst them? Might as well ask them to accept cow-boys.”

Affleck having chosen his cigar, proceeded to nip off the end.

“Come, come, lad; you must not be bitter. Now I will tell you what I will do.” The servant handed him a box of matches. “I will put you on a different footing altogether in the place. As my agent here, it is absolutely necessary that you should take some sort of position amongst the merchants. After Government they are my best customers. I will make you a junior working partner in the firm; and I will let them know it by adding your name to mine. That will do away with all notion of rough-riding.”

Vansittart, to whom the tray was now being handed, looked up with surprise and pleasure. Yet he would not allow himself to be carried away by the words. Partnerships in such a concern were not to be had for mere service. He therefore treated the offer in a business-like manner, and asked: “What money will you require me to put into the concern?”

“A mere nominal sum---say two thousand pounds. Or we will make it rupees---twenty thousand rupees, which is less than two thousand pounds at the present rate of exchange.”

Vansittart’s eyes fell upon his cigarette as he lighted it. He threw the match-box back upon the tray, drew a few whiffs and replied quietly: “It is very good of you, sir, to make the offer; but my father left me nothing. He had his pension, which was a good one. What little property he could gather together went to my mother and sisters. I could no more produce twenty thousand than twenty lacs of rupees. The things must go on as they are, and I must continue rough-riding.”

“Can’t you raise the money somehow?”

“Borrow? No, thanks; besides I have no security to offer.”

The men were silent, each busy with his thoughts. The blocks of crystal ice clanked pleasantly against the sides of the big tumblers as the servant poured in the sparkling soda-water. Affleck was inclined to lend him the money and let him pay it off as he could. He was considering it, and whilst taking time for consideration, he said carelessly and half in fun: “Pick up a decent woman with some money, and set up house here in Madras as my partner. She would soon make your position assured if she was anything of a social success.”

Vansittart did not reply. The words grated on him and he could not trust himself to speak. Affleck felt instinctively that he had said the wrong thing.

“Look here, Vansittart, we won’t mix up women in the affair. If you like to give me a note of hand, I will advance the money and you shall pay me off at your convenience.”

The annoyance was not so easily extinguished however. Vansittart was conscious that his chief’s offer was exceptionally generous, and that he ought to be duly grateful. But the suggestion that he should marry for money had set his teeth on edge. He replied without any show of irritation, but with a decision that ended the matter: “It is extremely kind of you, most generous---but impossible. Such an arrangement would not be to my taste. I am determined not to borrow money. There’s the dressing-bell for breakfast. I must go and change. About this black horse and Colonel Pendleton?”

Affleck dropped at once into the business that they had in hand and talked of nothing but stable affairs. As to the partnership, it was not mentioned between them again. Vansittart dismissed it from his mind as an impossibility; but Affleck thought more than once of it with regret. An arrangement of the kind would relieve him of the necessity of making visits to Madras, which were becoming irksome in his advancing years.

Chapter IX

The Reading of the Hand

Averine escaped with marvellously few bruises. She felt somewhat stiff, but it was due more to the violent bucking of the horse than the actual fall. A good gallop the next morning would probably put her right.

Lunch over, Mrs. Dunbar went to her room to lie down for an hour according to custom. At the end of that time she dressed for the evening drive. Tea was served before the carriage came up. The servants usually followed their mistress’s example of taking forty winks, lying upon mats in the back verandah.

To-day Miggle sat up cross-legged on his own especial mat of fine grass, his turban laid aside and his long white coat replaced by a loose jacket of tussore silk. Two syces squatted on their heels before him. They were Miss Desormieux’s servants, and they once more repeated the whole story of her ride that morning, her fall, and the help given by the Sanyasi.

“The worker of wonders said that he would come this very afternoon and cast out the devil,” one of them concluded.

“At what hour?” asked the butler, with mixed feelings. He was a Christian by birth, and, as has already been stated, belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. He was strictly forbidden by his priest to have any communication with pujaris, gurus, or Sanyasis. He broke the rule sometimes but set matters right by confession followed by a gift of candles. These he purchased with his own money conscientiously; he would scorn to pilfer such things from his mistress’s store-room. The priest heard his confession, reproved him for his back-slidings, accepted the offering, and duly gave him absolution with many warnings not to repeat the sin; and in Miggle’s own words made him a Christian again.

“He comes about four o’clock. I have prepared a place under the big tamarind tree beyond the stables. The Sanyasi’s visit will only bring good luck, sir.”

Miggle grunted. He had not much faith in the blessings of a Sanyasi; but he believed implicitly, Christian though he was, in his power of cursing.

“I will come and hear what the caster-out of devils has to say of the horse.”

He dismissed the syces and composed himself for a shortened nap.

Tea was served in the drawing-room which opened into the front verandah. It was a noble room with an excellent boarded floor where many a dance had taken place. Easy chairs and couches, rich Persian rugs, handsome cabinets, inlaid tables, groups of ferns, palms and eucharis lilies filled it with comfort and beauty. In a large open window where the sea-breeze wafted the curtains to and fro, and brought in the scent of Persian roses and oleander blossom, the tea-table was set. Miggle himself brought the teapot at the first sound of Mrs. Dunbar’s foot upon the stairs.

“I shall want some more cups; and tell the verandah peon to show callers in here. You need not wait, butler.”

She was always considerate for the servants, and never expected one man to do the duty of two.

He gave the order to the peon, warned the table servant whose business it was to attend to the afternoon tea, to have the kettle boiling in case another teapot was wanted, and sauntered to the stables. There he cast an eye over the open carriage to see that the cushions had been arranged, that the carriage was free from speck of dust, and the horses were properly harnessed. He gave a critical glance at the coachman and two syces and at their buttons which were apt to be left separated from their buttonholes. After an affable chat with the coachman he made his way to the back of the outbuildings. It was time for the arrival of the Sanyasi.

The tamarind which was to serve as an audience-hall was a fine spreading tree standing at the edge of the compound. Although the foliage of the tamarind is much finer than that of the English acacia, the shade is so thick that the sun’s rays rarely penetrate through the centre. On that account it is a favourite resort in villages and compounds where it serves as a general meeting-place.

This particular tree was hidden from the house by intervening groups of buildings, one being the kitchen and servants’ quarters, another comprising stabling for a dozen horses, carriage-houses in proportion, and dwelling-rooms for the necessary syces and coachmen. Mr. Dunbar kept a pair of horses for himself, a pair for his wife, a riding hack, and a useful animal for single harness to do night work or morning shopping. In addition to these were Averine’s new purchase and the cob. Each horse had its syce and grass-cutter and each carriage its coachman, except the cart which Averine drove herself.

Under the shade of this tree the inhabitants of the compound gathered to gossip and gamble, to look on at a cock-fight organised by the butler and the head-coachman who drove the evening carriage. Here the ayah and the butler’s wife played pacheesee; the dressing-boy and the lamp-servant spent their spare moments over an old pack of cards; and the peons retailed the latest news of the moves and promotion of Government officers.

Here the chetty sat on pay-day and received the bulk of the wages paid by Mrs. Dunbar into each man’s hand on the first Saturday of the month. In return he provided them with rice and food-stuff for the month, and repaid himself the exorbitant interest he charged on small sums of money he had advanced on account for weddings and burials in the family.

Here, too, the butler, with his coat laid aside and his flowing draperies wound tightly round his waist, administered a sound thrashing to the younger members of the community who broke his rules and “gave trouble.” Sometimes it was done at the request of the parents. The ayah’s son, a promising young imp of fourteen, more than once received a castigation in this way; not that he had committed any one breach of the laws, but he had been generally troublesome, especially in playing truant from school. “Plenty beat, then nice sense coming,” she remarked as she made her request. Her sentiment met with the butler’s fullest approval; so with the watermen to hold the boy’s head and the sweeper to hold his heels, Miggle was able to satisfy the mother, who with a little group of sympathetic spectators, looked on with approbation. The yells emitted by the “patient” under the operation scarcely reached the house, as they were deadened by the intervening buildings. If by chance a faint echo caught the ear of the mistress and awoke her curiosity, she was easily persuaded that it was only a bazaar bobbery in the road.

Near the tamarind there was a convenient hole in the milk-hedge that divided the Dunbar compound from the adjoining grounds. Every afternoon, while the mistress was out driving, the servants of the neighbouring establishments crept through the hole to smoke and gossip, retailing the news of the morning markets and the evening bazaars, discussing their masters’ affairs in detail with even more interest than their own. The company was always orderly, and none dared to show his face who did not enjoy the favour of the butler.

Peroo arrived with his attendant, but the tomtom was silent. English gentlemen forbade the use of it on their premises, most of them having a peculiar objection to the sound. Miggle, standing aloof, sent one of the peons, a caste man, to meet him and conduct him to the tree. The smooth bare ground---nothing grows under a tamarind.---had been swept in preparation; but Raman swept it afresh and spread a small blue rug on which the Sanyasi seated himself. After the recitation of a few muntras he looked round. He was present for an important ceremonial; it was no time for abstraction and meditation.

The news that there was to be a casting out had spread by means of Arokian with the rapidity known only in the East. Curiosity was further aroused when it was understood that no less a person than the magician who had made gold for a beggar was to be the operator. The servants at the club and the hotels, even the scarlet-coated peons of Government House, had heard of it. Little groups of two and three slipped through the milk-hedge, or walked singly from the road to the stables. Some friends of the cook happened to look in upon him; and the waterman as well as the gardeners had callers. In the space of half an hour a crowd of about a hundred gathered at a short distance from the tree, all tingling with the fearful knowledge---no matter what their creed---that a miracle-working Sanyasi was present, and was about to make magic.

The party of butlers, who came by express invitation, greeted Miggle in European fashion, each man unconsciously imitating his own master with grave dignity. Mr. Dunbar’s butler was affable and condescending. He shook hands with his compeers, and also with one or two dressing-boys and table-servants who were married men---family men, he called them---and Roman Catholics of the highest respectability. Cooks (heathen mostly), peons (Mahommedan and caste Hindus), coachmen and so forth, he welcomed with a precision and regard to their status, which a member of council might have envied. He received the greetings of all with his broadest smile.

Leading the way to the tamarind tree, he placed himself before the Sanyasi with a curious mixture of humility and generous tolerance. One of the caste peons took upon himself the duty of introducing him.

“The butler of the big English merchant makes salaam.”

Peroo looked up at him with a keen searching glance.

“Ho! Master of the merchant’s servants! Let those who are friends of the Sanyasi be seated, that they may hear what he has to say.”

The company arranged themselves in a circle, observing a careful order of precedence. The Hindu peons being the only people with any real claim to caste, placed themselves near the great wonder-worker. The house-servants, headed by Miggle, sat opposite; the rest of the company completed the circle, the sweepers alone being left out. They, of their own will, stood on the outskirts and did not presume to sit. They had to observe great care lest their shadows fell on the higher caste, and held themselves ready to retire at a given signal if it should be thought necessary. While the assembly was thus settling down to make an afternoon of it, Peroo spoke.

“When Rama placed the sun in the sky he said, ‘Shine, O sun! on the good.’ The great fire-lord replied, ‘Sir, if I withhold my rays from the evil-doers and shine only on the good, the good will suffer, seeing that they grow together like the betel vine and the curry leaf.’ ‘Thou hast spoken wisely, O sun! Shine, then, on all, for the gods will take care of the good, while the evil will meet with their deserts because of their evil,’ So, my lord the sun looked down upon the earth and did his appointed duty. He called the sleeping rice from its bed of mud; the cocoanut from the heart of the palm; and bade the butterfly kiss the blossom, and the bird rejoice in the ripe fruit. A worm writhing among the roots of the rice heard the sun’s voice as it bade the corn send up the green ear. ‘That call was to me also; why should not I partake of the warmth as you do?’ ‘Because it is death to you to venture into the sun’s full rays. Besides, the mud that envelopes you, and which is the breath of your life, is the messenger of the sun. It gives you all the warmth you need; more would only bring you destruction.’ The worm curled in angry jealousy and withdrew itself from its bed in the roots of the rice. ‘I will have nothing less than the gods give you,’ he cried presumptuously. Wriggling his way to the surface, he upreared his loathsome head and stared with sightless eyes at the great fire ball. The fierce rays beat him down, shrivelling him to death, a mere cake of mud.”

“The Sanyasi is the sun,” exclaimed a young syce who had seated himself in a prominent position, led thereto by his overweening curiosity and a lack of respect for the older men near him.

“See that you do not venture into the sun’s rays unless he calls for you,” cried the voice of the ascetic.

The bold speaker withdrew and took shelter behind a broad-shouldered coachman, while the Sanyasi busied himself over an earthen gallipot. With his eyes upon the powders he was mixing, Peroo continued his recitation.

“No harm will the great fire-ball do to those who are not presumptuous. Does he not shine alike upon the elephant and upon the dog, the Brahmin and the pariah, the Hindu and the Christian? Your master’s daughter has bought a horse “ he stopped and looked round inquiringly.

“She is not the child of his wife but his daughter by adoption,” said Arokian, who being Miss Desormieux’s servant, thought that he had a right to speak for her.

“Your talk is like crows’ talk on the stable-roof,” said Miggle, contemptuously. If information concerning the affairs of his master were required by the Sanyasi, it should come from himself. “We Christians do not adopt children like the heathen. The custom has its use and doubtless is suitable for a heathen; I do not wish to say aught against it, Iyah. But we Christians have children given to us by our priests at the naming. Do I not remember when this child was born? Her father, to whom my mistress had been exceeding kind, gave the child at the pouring of water, at the naming, saying, ‘Be also her mother, her church-mother, her God-given mother; when he of the white robes speaks before the water sprinkling, answer him for her; she is too young to speak for herself.’ And by that deed the missie is my mistress’s god-daughter.”

“What had your mistress done to gain so great a gift?” asked one of the butlers.

“That is a long-ago tale. It happened when the father of our missie was young and lived on the west coast near to my master.”

“Hold!” cried the Sanyasi, advancing towards the butler. “Give here your hand and keep the tongue silent. The tale is written on the palm.”

At the approach of the Sanyasi, Miggle placed his hands together as he was wont to do before his priest and raised them in humble salutation. The seer caught them in his grip and bent over the palms in close examination.

“I see a fair Nair woman, tall beyond her sisters, with eyes that shine like the brown tourmaline of Ceylon. Her skin is the colour of the golden corn at its reaping. Her limbs are moulded like the snake-gourd. She stands with her cloth bound round her waist among the yellow marigolds of the merchant’s garden. As he comes forth with dog at heel and gun upon his shoulder, she steps forward and falls at his feet.

“‘My lord! my master! Death has taken my father and my mother; I come to seek protection.’

“‘Go to your people, sister. The bungalow of an Englishman whose house is not kept by a wife is no place for you.’

“‘Sir, I have no people; the sickness has slain them all.’

“She lifts her face and the man sees that it is very beautiful.”

The Sanyasi paused, apparently lost for the moment in deep contemplation. The butler’s hands slipped from his grasp, and the listeners whispered among themselves. But they were instantly silenced as his voice fell on their ears again.

“Ho! that is not all. Your hands again, controller of these servants.”

He possessed himself of Miggle’s black fingers which were becoming cold and clammy with fear.

“A year later the merchant gives order to prepare his house for his bride. The Nair woman is told that the ties which made him her husband did not make her his wife. She stands again among the marigolds. She weeps because she is leaving the bungalow which has sheltered her for twelve months.

“She holds out the fair child that lies in her arms. The blood mounts to his face as he says: ‘For his sake you shall have hearth and home, cooking-pot and rice. There is a hut on the other side of the mountain with white Mysore cows and a flock of goats. So long as you stay there unseen by any of my household, so long shall you call it yours.’

“Then she weeps again and departs to the hut; for the gods have willed that it should be so with the Hindu women when the Englishman brings home a wife of his own nation.”

Again the Sanyasi relapsed into thought, and Miggle would gladly have been released. But the reading was not at an end. Poring over the yellow palms the seer unfolded the tale to the end, striking awe into the heart of the butler by the accuracy of the details which he believed were only known to himself.

“Seven years later, when four sons were born to the merchant by his fair wife whose hair was like the beams of the morning sun, the Nair woman breaks her word and stands for the third time among the marigolds before the bungalow. Forth comes the master, a terrible anger on his countenance. What he will say who can tell? The thunderstorm looks black, but the lightning is averted by Rama’s will. Even as he opens his mouth to speak, the lady who feeds you, and whose servants you are, drives to the door. She looks at the Nair woman still fair and beautiful; her eyes rest sorrowfully on the boy by her side. Then she turns to the Englishman.

“‘This, my friend, will kill her who calls you husband.’

“He covers his face with his hands, and his pale skin grows paler as he says: ‘The folly of a man’s youth follows like an evil shadow at his heels throughout his life. What can I do?’

“‘Trust me, and I will work all to a good end. Woman, come now to my house, and we will talk business, good business for the child at your side. You are right; he should no longer be left to grow up among the cows and goats on the mountain side.’”

The Sanyasi’s grip on the trembling fingers tightened.

“Wisely and well planned she who was childless for her who was husbandless. She made the Nair woman’s happiness. By her advice the merchant sent the two to a large town. There the boy attended a school where Brahmin lads go; but he never forgot his mountain home, where he roamed with the herdsmen after the cows and the goats in mist and sunshine. Miguel, butler of the lady’s household, has Sanyasi spoken truth or falsehood?”

“It is true, all true, Iyah; though I know not where the tale has been read,” replied Miggle, with some trepidation.

“And it was as a reward for this deed that the missie here was given to your mistress?”

“It is so, Iyah.”

Again Peroo bent over the palms. “Many years have you served in the merchant’s house, and only once did you leave.”

Miggle shifted uneasily as he sat on his heels and replied hastily: “There is no talk of parting between us; the mistress is a good lady.”

“And you serve her faithfully. Continue so to do and there will be ease and comfort in your old age; a sum of money, partly a gift from the master, a shop and a good trade to bring more money when the merchant retires to England and lives no longer in India.”

The reading was ended, and Peroo returned to his gallipot. At that moment the peon on duty in the verandah came running towards the group.

Chapter X

Black Art and Exorcism

“The mistress calls for the butler; and the missie sends order to Arokian to bring the riding-horse. Many visitors have arrived. Colonel Jenkins’s lady and daughters, and he of the horse auction stables,” said the peon.

Miggle rose to his feet at once and departed in answer to Mrs. Dunbar’s summons. Arokian followed with the horse shortly afterwards. The rest of the assembly remained seated, and the strain of attention being relaxed, tongues began to wag. But the talking was more or less subdued; the presence of the Sanyasi was not forgotten for a moment.

“The missie will sell the horse to the Australian horse-master,” suggested the cook.

“Say rather that she will make a gift of it, for she is wealthy,” amended a peon.

The cook snorted with superior knowledge and replied with a touch of scorn: “English ladies do not make gifts to gentlemen unless they are promised in marriage.”

He considered himself one of the house servants, whereas the peon was only an attendant in the verandah, whose experience extended no further than showing visitors into the drawing-room, and carrying notes and messages. The peon did not venture to pursue the subject, feeling that he might very soon get out of his depth.

“Possibly the mistress will bestow her God-given daughter upon the horse-dealer,” said Peroo, who was stirring his gallipot over the fire.

“That is not the custom of the English. Their women choose for themselves,” remarked the cook, with a confidence which had increased with the silencing of the peon.

“It is so,” said the syce who groomed the cob of the red-wheeled cart. “Yesterday, as we left the Adyar, Mr. Stormond of the Government service asked her in marriage. Running by the side of the cart, I heard what was said. They thought that I could neither hear nor understand; but it was plain talk of eye as well as lip. Fire burned in the gentleman’s face; and missie’s mouth was as when she says ‘No’ to my request for leave. Moreover, she too was displeased, for she struck the cob sharply with her whip.”

“May be, then, that missie has herself chosen the Australian,” said the cook.

“Or is ready to choose if he do but ask,” rejoined the syce.

His story was heard with the deepest interest, and he was justly proud to be the centre of attention for the minute. But his self-satisfaction was of short duration. A white-coated servant, who had hitherto been silently smoking, broke into the conversation.

“Idle talk and a waste of breath! He refuses to marry. This very morning the big horse-master came to our hotel and talked to Mr. Vansittart. He said, ‘Why not become a family man? The gentlemen will think more of you and buy more horses if you take a wife.’ But he was angry. I saw it in his face as I handed him the tumbler, though he did not show it in his speech. He said, ‘How can I marry, who have no money?’ It is true; he has but little money, and is a second-class boarder only at the hotel where I serve. Then his master said, ‘See here. I will give you a partnership if you will marry, and I only ask twenty thousand rupees.’”

The hotel boy had followed most of the conversation of the morning, and where he had missed portions, through attention to his duties, he filled in with details drawn from his own imagination. He was not a little proud to find that he had gained the ear of the Sanyasi, who asked, “What reply did Mr. Vansittart make to the big horse-master?”

“He said, ‘As soon could I give you twenty lacs of rupees!’ After Mr. Affleck had departed, I could see that the heart of the assistant burned hot within him, and his liver turned over with disappointment. When he went to his room I followed close to call the waterman to bring hot water for the bath. I heard him say, ‘Shall I, a beggar of a horse-dealer, ask a woman to pity me and be my wife? No; never!’ Therefore, Iyah, is it likely that he will ask the missie in marriage?”

“And she? Does she desire him for a husband?” asked the ascetic, stirring the gallipot over the fire.

“Who can tell where the grasshopper will jump when the foot falls near it? Or which way a woman will take when there is a man? Yet what can she do if the man says, ‘I will not’?”

“If he were rich——”

“Iyah, if the crow had the colours of the peacock, would he share the fate of the crow?”

The conversation drifted to the affairs of a butler who was in trouble about some stolen jewels, and of a murder and suicide in Blacktown.

There was a sound of wheels along the carriage-drive and shortly after Miggle returned, followed by Arokian leading the horse. The verandah peon and the afternoon tea attendant, whose duties ceased with the departure of Mrs. Dunbar and her guests, were not far behind. The palatial residence was left in charge of one old woman, who had strict orders to watch the carriage-drive and bring news of the approach of a chance caller.

“What orders?” asked one of the butlers.

“Concerning the horse, none. Mr. Vansittart said much evil about the animal. He prayed missie to let him put it up at auction again, promising that there should be no loss; but she would not.”

“More than that,” cried the syce, who stayed to listen with the horse still held by the head-rope. “Our missie laughed, looking at him of the auction yard with eyes wherein were sparks. It was the laugh of the women of our country when they wish to make our hearts shake within us. When he most entreated her to sell, she asked if he thought that she had the heart of a timid young hen. ‘To-morrow I will ride again,’ she cried. ‘Arokian, lead the horse to the stable, and at six in the morning bring it to the door saddled.’ I saw the red blood stain the cheek and brow of Mr. Vansittart. But he had no power to turn her will, nor dare he let his tongue speak. The tongue is harder to govern than a horse; but he has strength, that man from the horse country in the far south; and he kept silence.”

“The horse, therefore, Iyah, is to stay here,” said Miggle, addressing the Sanyasi who had been a silent listener to the syce’s tale. “There is need of help in subduing the devil which is in the horse, lest our missie, whose father was good to the people of the land, should come to harm. We will reward the worker of wonders,” he added, mindful of the fact that the ceremonies of his own creed had to be paid for.

Peroo relinquished his hold on the small bamboo spoon, and lifted his eyes from the seething-pot on the embers which his disciple fanned.

“Head of the merchant’s household, the Sanyasi requires no reward. Is it not set down in the book of time, which is written on the hearts of men and which has no beginning and no ending, that the Sanyasi must live only on the alms thrown into his dish? This is not an occasion of alms-giving. The syce said that the horse was possessed of a devil. These eyes have seen that it is so, once at the stables, and once when the missie sat in the saddle. To preserve her life has the Sanyasi come to drive out the devil.”

“And what is our missie to a Hindu worker of magic?” asked Miggle, with a touch of jealousy that he could not repress.

It was for him to bestow benefits on the daughter of the house; it did not seem befitting that they should be showered upon her as a direct gift from the ascetic. He had not forgotten the vision that met his eye in the Mount Road, of his missie standing in the sun, and talking to the Sanyasi. But he regretted the words the moment they left his lips; they were presumptuous and inquisitive. He shivered under the steady gaze of the seer who had so lately read his hand.

“The great fire-ball shines on all alike, on Brahmin and on pariah, on Mahommedan and on Christian. Does the sun ask payment? No; nor does the Sanyasi ask a reward for deeds bidden by the gods.”

Miggle received the reproof with a dignified humility, and salaamed in silence. The company felt that his manners would have graced a rajah, and that they did credit to the establishment as well as to the whole race of butlers.

“Have the guests departed?” asked Peroo.

“They have all gone---Mr. Vansittart, Mr. Stormond who also came, and Colonel Jenkins’s lady with her three daughters.”

“Those English missies made many smiles at the Australian horse-master,” said Arokian to the company generally. “And the Colonel’s lady gave him pity when our missie laughed at his offer to sell the horse, and said he was too kind. There are five daughters born to Colonel Jenkins and but one son. When a man has to seek five sons-in-law, he cannot expect them to be all colonels and collectors; one of them may well be an Australian horse-dealer.”

Shumah (‘shut up’)!” said Miggle, who though he could gossip with the best, checked it in inferiors when it contained no fresh information. “See to the horse. The worker of magic will soon commence.”

Arokian led Raksha to a little distance and with the assistance of a few friends securely tethered it by head and heel-ropes to pegs driven with special care beforehand into the ground. Some long green freshly-cut bamboos, heavy with sap and jagged with careless trimming, were lying near the uneasy animal. That very morning, after its return, it had experienced a foretaste of the treat in store which the syces hoped to assist in giving under the direction of the Sanyasi. It was not forgotten by the animal. It laid back its ears, squeezed down its tail like an ill-tempered mule, and lashed out with a cow-kick at a syce who was passing near.

Luckily the heel-rope held, otherwise the man’s chest would have been battered in by the iron-shod hoof. Another syce, seeing the wicked kick, seized one of the long bamboos, and brought it with full force down upon the animal. The jagged bamboo curled round the poor beast’s back with the cruel touch of a pliant saw. It plunged tearing at its head-rope, and then gathered itself for a buck-jump that should surpass all other efforts and secure freedom. The confining heel-ropes frustrated its endeavours and it fell helpless and quivering in every limb.

Three syces armed with bamboos approached as near as was compatible with safety, and prepared to do battle with the devil. It was not the horse they intended to beat, but the evil spirit that was in it. They would have served one of their own species in exactly the same manner had they proof of possession.

But even as the instruments of torture were uplifted over the trembling animal, as it struggled vainly to get upon its feet, a voice like a thunder-clap arrested their action.

“Stay!” cried Peroo, who had risen from his mat and was striding towards them from the ring of spectators. “Is it the syces’ business to cast out this devil?”

There was an eloquent silence that thrilled every heart with fear lest the magician should be angered and shower curses around him.

“If it was the syces’ business, why was this poor body obliged to retrace its steps? Already it had started on the great journey south to the pearl fishery to bless the boats, and to keep the divers from the devils of the sea.”

“It was for the lord of the Sanyasis alone to cast out the devil. We are but the dust beneath his feet,” cried the men in chorus, almost as frightened now as the horse.

“Then let this mouth speak the magic words; let these hands make the mystic signs which shall drive the evil one hence. Learn, all you that are here awaiting miracles,”---by this time fear had brought them all to their feet with hands folded in propitiation,---“that the true Sanyasi neither feels pain nor inflicts pain. The highest creature to the lowest, even the worm in its loathsome mud bed, may feel the warmth of the sun’s rays and benefit thereby. But let there be no presumption.”

He returned to the mat under the tree and resumed his brewing, muttering incantations over the gallipot as the mess advanced towards the completion of its cooking.

Miggle, perturbed and ill at ease, strode towards the offending syces.

“Arokian! son of a buffalo! do you want the curses of the Sanyasi to fall upon us all? Take that---and that---for the stupid mud-head you are.”

He pounded the officious syce on his shoulders with some resounding thumps, which elicited grunts of satisfaction from the company. Arokian himself was duly grateful, though the butler’s hand was not a light one. If punishment were merited---and from the Sanyasi’s reproof there could be no doubt about it---it was safer to receive it corporeally from Miggle than spiritually from the magician. With abject prayers for pardon, Arokian and his accomplices slunk into the circle and hid themselves behind some of the other stablemen.

The mess in the pot, which had the appearance of thickened treacle, was cool by this time. Peroo manipulated the ropey stuff with his fingers, kneading it into balls with unceasing incantations. As each bolus was formed he lifted it to his lips, breathed a spell over it, and marked it with a magic sign. A whisper went round that it was one of the seven deadly charms which no devil could resist. Only a Sanyasi of deepest learning could make the sign. The slightest error in its formation would cause the spell to work backwards upon the magician. The balls were piled into a little pyramid, all except the last, which he retained in his hand.

An awed hush fell on the whole concourse as the magician, with carefully measured steps, slowly approached the horse.

The sun was already dipping below the horizon, and a pale planet shone in the eastern sky. The coppersmith bird was silent, and the noisy crows had gone to roost mindful of the rapid coming of the night.

On the disappearance of its assailants with their murderous bamboos, Raksha ceased struggling and was quiet, except for occasional quiverings. Peroo signed to his audience to keep back, a direction the butler took care to see properly carried out.

The Sanyasi drew near to the recumbent animal with gentle movements, walking round it at first in a large circle. As he walked he chanted spells and made signs with his hands. Raksha snorted uneasily, eyeing him with suspicion, which was allayed when it saw no stick and heard no words of abuse. After completing several circles, each smaller than the last, Peroo reached the animal’s head. Very quietly he stooped and laid his hand upon the head-rope. Raksha gave a slight start and opened its mouth, an opportunity seized by the watchful magician. A loop was slipped over the lower jaw and tightened until the mouth opened sufficiently for the bolus to be jerked down.

There was a slight struggle, but the heel-ropes held. The firm but gentle hold upon the head restored the confidence of the horse. Its terrors died away as the hand of the Sanyasi moved rhythmically before its eyes, keeping time to the weird chant of the charm. The strange intonation which was neither song nor recitation had an effect that was peculiarly soothing, and which subdued all turgid emotion in man and beast.

Having swallowed the bolus, the horse licked its lips as though the dose were anything but disagreeable, and made no further attempt to rise. The contracted limbs unbent; the feet strained less at the heel-ropes; the stiffened forelegs relaxed and lay folded over as if in restful sleep. Its eyes, no longer roving wildly in terror of bodily pain, watched the gentle movements of the magician with curiosity rather than fear. The chanting became softer and the movements slower, till they ceased.

There was a deep silence, the silence of awed expectation, which held the concourse of superstitious orientals like an Arabian Night’s spell. The mantle of night was fast covering the earth, and the moon was not yet above the horizon. The disciple under the tree fanned the dying embers into flames which illuminated the dark shade of the foliage.

Peroo signed to the syces to unfasten the heel-ropes at the pegs and leave the ends loose. They obeyed, keeping a mute dog-like watch on his every motion.

“Let every one cover his nose and mouth. The devil is about to be driven forth, and no man is safe from him, caste or pariah, Christian or Mahommedan. By the nose and mouth will he go; by the nose and mouth will he seek a fresh abode,” said the Sanyasi, in a clear quiet voice.

Again the quivering silence rested upon them while they awaited a demonstration of the supernatural.

Suddenly Peroo gave a loud shout, shaking the head-rope violently. Raksha, startled and nervous, gathered its feet together and bounded up, snorting and sneezing from a pinch of snuff that had been sprinkled unseen by the spectators under its nostrils. It turned its head from right to left, mindful of the bamboos, and trod the ground uneasily, too much occupied with sneezing to think of kicking. But as neither syce nor bamboo was visible, and as the firm hold upon its head grew firmer, the horse calmed down into quietude.

There was a flapping among the upper branches of the tree, as though some flying-fox had been disturbed by the shout and frightened away from its meal of tamarind fruit. The Sanyasi lifted a hand towards the tree, keeping the other upon the horse.

“Owm! Oom! Hoom! Depart from this horse, evil one! depart! Dwell no more in the bodies of men and animals. For a lac of years thou art a tree devil. Owm! Oom! Gloom! Howm!”

The last syllable died away like the note of a ’cello string struck by the finger.

The women---timid spectators, whose curiosity had brought them to the outskirts of the crowd---trembled and cowered at the sound of this fearful exorcism. With one hand covering the mouth, they drew their cloths over their heads with the other. The butler’s wife, forgetful of her priest’s oft-repeated injunction, murmured a prayer under her breath: “ Iyah! Master of devils! protect us!”

The syces, careful to observe the precaution enjoined by the magician, whispered among themselves that they had caught a glimpse of the evil one as he tore his way through the animal’s nostrils. Miggle and his friends, the neighbouring butlers---both hands pressed closely over nose and lips to make things as safe as possible---turned a yellow-ochre colour at this manifestation of the Sanyasi’s power. The gardeners retired to a distance. Since the tree and all the compound was more or less under their special care, they feared that they might be more accessible to the devil, should he object to the prolonged residence amongst its branches to which he had just been condemned.

Henceforth it would be dangerous to approach the tree between sunset and sunrise except with pujah and sacrifice. During the day the evil one would be harmless; but woe betide the creature that should be rash enough to venture beneath its branches during the night.


He ran at Peroo’s call.

“Tie a cloth over its nose. The devil is gone, and it is well done. On no account, now, or at any future time, let the horse come under the shadow of this tree, lest the devil enter again. Such horses as these are the delight of some demons; there is such strength in their heels, such power in their kicks. Be careful to do nothing that may bring the evil one back. The horse must not be beaten lest it opens its mouth to cry out.” Peroo walked under the tree once more, but no one offered to follow him. “Son, the Sanyasi must resume his journey to-night.”

The boy had already put together the few properties of his master. He slung his tomtom over his neck, and stood ready to begin the long tramp back to the point at which they had arrived in the morning.

Peroo gathered the pile of balls, some three dozen, and wrapped them in a fragment torn from his salmon-coloured cloth. Advancing towards Miggle, whose companions fell back, he said---

“Chief servant of the merchant’s house, take these and keep them safely in this piece of cloth which has enwrapped the body of the Sanyasi. There is a charm upon the balls and the cloth which will prevent the devil from returning. Every second morning let the horse be made to swallow one. If by any evil chance the devil should return, then the missie must not be allowed to ride again. There be several ways---the shoeing-smith knows---a lame horse finds it hard to kick, and moreover, makes ill-riding for a lady.” Miggle wagged his head in violent affirmative. “In three months, if the Sanyasi be within reach, let Arokian seek him if he be needed. Or persuade the missie to let the horse be broken to harness. She is a good missie, and beautiful to look at. See that no harm comes to her.”

He ceased speaking, and Miggle’s watchful eyes noted the abstraction that was gathering in the devotee’s face. The butler placed his hands together and bowed low with the usual greeting, an example that was quickly followed by the rest of the company.

Far down the Mount Road came the roll of carriages, bringing the English home from the beach and the club. The Sanyasi passed along the ranks of the assembly and stood at the open gate of the drive, the boy by his side. He had not long to wait. A victoria turned into the compound. The light of the lamps fell upon the figure of the ascetic standing motionless by the gate-post. Averine leaned forward with an exclamation.

“Why, it is my Sanyasi! Salaam, brother! “ she cried, placing her hands together and lifting them, just as the butler and his friends had so recently done, and as she had seen the people greet him in the streets.

“Salaam, little sister! the gods of all the people of the world keep you!” came back the reply, as the carriage rolled on, and Peroo stepped out into the road.

Raman trotted cheerfully behind, dividing his attention between some rice cakes and the beating of his tomtom. The Sanyasi’s thoughts---but who dares to fathom the mind of the seer and the magician?

It was with great gratification that Miggle heard of the encounter at the gateway of the compound, duly reported by the coachman. The benediction of the ascetic made the safety of his missie sure and certain. It was a good thing to have secured it. But again the question presented itself, why did the Sanyasi interest himself thus in an English lady? The great fire-ball might shine alike on all, but the full rays of an Indian sun were not always beneficial to English ladies.

Chapter XI

The Post-Mortem

It was January; the north-east monsoon rains were over, and the weather ideal. Averine was fully engaged with gymkhanas, tournaments, regattas, races, in the afternoons; dinners, dances, and theatricals in the evenings; riding, and outdoor games in the mornings. Her life was passed in a delightful whirl of amusement.

Arthur Stormond might never have been refused, to judge by the cheerful assiduity with which he continued to seek the society of Miss Desormieux. Harry Vansittart, on the other hand, wore the unmistakable air of a disappointed man, although no proposal had escaped his lips. Yet he, as well as several others, had frequently been offered a seat in the red-wheeled cart.

Mrs. Dunbar was just a little worried by the uncertainty and doubt into which she was thrown. Was Averine in love with the Australian? There was no reason why she should not marry him if he took her fancy. Averine would delight in the colonial life, which she could lead half the year in Australia if she chose; and she would thoroughly enjoy the other six months spent in India.

When she noted the look of pleasure on her goddaughter’s face at the chance appearance of Vansittart, she made up her mind to speak out boldly, and bring on the backward lover. No sooner had she come to this decision than her confidence was shattered by a sudden preference shown for the faithful Stormond. A decided flirtation between Norah Jenkins and the Australian seemed to show that he was fancy free. But if this were the case, why did he sometimes look so wretched and unhappy? It was a question Mrs. Dunbar was unable to solve. Of course Stormond was socially a much better match for Averine than Vansittart, although the position of the latter was far from unsatisfactory. Anderson’s refusal to put his name up for the club made little difference to his social standing. He received quite as many invitations as he could accept; and he rejoiced in several good friends like the Dunbars and Jenkinses, who remembered his father, and admitted him to their houses as a family friend. It was known that Affleck liked him, and men said that his prospects were good. He must some day be taken as a partner into the firm, for the excellent reason that Affleck could not do without him; and this meant wealth.

Another matter that disturbed Mrs. Dunbar’s peace of mind was Arthur Stormond’s attitude of happy confidence. She liked him; he had his good points. At the same time she felt that he was not the man to make Averine happy. Her incorrigible Bohemianism, the result of the mixed blood in her veins of the old European ancestors who came out to the East, would be a constant source of annoyance to a man like Stormond, who delighted in the intricate order and regularity of a Government servant’s life. Averine with her disregard of conventionalities would be a firebrand by his side, subverting every rule and etiquette of the service.

“I must take her away,” said Mrs. Dunbar one Sunday to her husband, as they enjoyed their weekly tête-à-tête in the boudoir. “ I don’t want Mr. Stormond to subject himself to another possible refusal; still less do I wish to see the dear child break her heart over a man who is too poor and too proud to be her husband.”

“Don’t worry yourself, old lady,” replied her husband looking at her through the blue smoke of his cigar. “Young people can manage their own affairs just as well as we did in our generation.”

“I want to see her as happy as you and I are, Horace.”

“And so she will be when she has made her choice.”

“Not with Arthur Stormond,” she rejoined with some emphasis.

“Then take her away. There’s that pressing invitation from Mrs. Worthington to go to Trichinopoly which you think of accepting whilst I am away at the pearl fishery.”

“Ah yes; I will write at once. When are you going to Ceylon?”

“I must be there early in February and shall not return till the middle of March if the fishery turns out good.”

“That will suit me exactly; and when I return I shall not give the men time to flutter around again; but I will pack up and carry her off to Ootacamund.”

He smiled with amusement as he said: “Take care that you are not out of the frying-pan into the fire. There are two regiments at Trichinopoly, to say nothing of the civilians and the railway people. As for Ooty, it is just a repetition of Madras as soon as Government moves up.”

“Will you be able to join us there?” asked Mrs. Dunbar, who never liked leaving her husband for long.

“I dare say that I can get a few weeks.”

“And how are you going to manage at the fishery?”

“I must have a camp, tents and so forth. I hate going, the stench is beyond description; but the opportunity is not to be lost, and with such large interests at stake I had better go myself.”

“Can you get on all right in camp with the chokra to do head-boy business?”

Dunbar replied by asking, “Do you want the butler with you?”

“I think he had better come with me. The fishery offers such temptations. His one weakness is his love of sport and speculation. I am sure that he could not resist buying oysters, and then he would be of no use to you.”

“His work would be done all the same, faithfully and thoroughly. I think you are a little hard on him, my dear. He will be terribly disappointed.”

But Mrs. Dunbar was firm in her determination to keep Miggle in the paths of virtue by not letting him go in the way of temptation. Her husband always allowed her to do as she liked, so he did not interfere; but he felt sorry for the man, knowing what a paradise of speculation and excitement the pearl fishery camp was to every native, from the pearl merchant to the humblest cooly.

On Monday morning she announced her plans to the butler with the usual ceremony after the accounts had been given.

“Miguel, butler!”

He stood at attention, his head erect, his grin broad and confident in pleasant expectation. The office peons had brought the news of Mr. Dunbar’s intentions; he could therefore guess what was coming.

“In a fortnight’s time I shall go to Trichinopoly with Miss Desormieux to stay at the Collector’s house.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Your master will start about the same time for the pearl fishery in Ceylon, where he has business.”

Miggle’s eyes glistened in eager anticipation. “Missus taking ayah and chokra. I go with master to Ceylon. Plenty trouble at that place; chokra never looking after master properly.”

Mrs. Dunbar eyed him for a brief second, during which a keen shaft of anxiety struck through his heart. His face fell and the grin relaxed as she replied---

“No, butler; that is not the arrangement. You are to come with me to Trichinopoly and the chokra goes with master.”

“Very stupid servant that chokra; can’t trust him with master and all the camp things; plenty thieves——”

His objections were cut short. “It is my business to make plans, and yours to carry them out. The chokra will go with master, and you will come with me.”

“As missus please,” he replied with resignation.

Did she read the bitter disappointment written upon his faithful countenance? If she did, she gave no sign, but proceeded remorselessly with the business of the morning, announcing her intention of giving a large dinner-party two days before she left.

Miggle and his mistress were at one in this matter. Frequent as were the charming informal little parties of ten or twelve, often arranged at the eleventh hour, Mrs. Dunbar was not satisfied unless she also invited her friends to stately entertainments which were at once the pride of Miggle and the cook, as well as a great pleasure to the hospitable host and hostess. Guests to the number of thirty-six usually sat down; occasionally the number swelled to forty. But the butler never failed. From start to finish the dinner was a complete success.

Miggle took the usual orders, listened attentively to the customary warning to secure the best turkey, gram-fed mutton, snipe, teal, florican and fish, that money could command; and made suggestions here and there as to the introduction of a new dish, hitherto unseen even upon the Governor’s table. The order was written for tins of peaches, asparagus, paté-de-foie-gras, mushrooms, olive farcies, and other delicacies.

Mrs. Dunbar dismissed her factotum and assured herself that she had done rightly in not allowing him to go to the fishery. Yet at the bottom of her heart she felt sorry for his disappointment. How well he served her, she alone knew. The dinner-party was safe in his hands; he would spare himself no pains to make it a complete success. It seemed a little hard that she should reward his faithful service by denying what he most desired. Again she reminded herself that she had only done her duty.

No more was said about the departure of the family. Miggle concentrated his thoughts upon the dinner, which bid fair to number forty guests, besides others who were to come in for a little dancing and supper afterwards.

But somehow the broad grin faded, and the bird-like eyes grew less bright. Mrs. Dunbar awoke to the unpleasant reality a week later that her butler’s health was failing. She watched him narrowly. There was no doubt about it; he was flagging. Once she asked if he ailed anything. He replied hastily that he was well---well enough. Two days later he did not appear as usual behind his master’s chair at dinner.

The second in command, an excellent capable man, who might very well have filled the post of butler in another house had he not been content with his present situation, took Miggle’s place, imitating with admirable gravity the dignity of his superior. On inquiry, he informed Mrs. Dunbar in a stage whisper that the butler was a little sick, “Yed paining only;” and that he would be quite well by to-morrow morning. However when morning came there was no Miggle.

“Where’s the butler?” demanded Mrs. Dunbar, as store-key in hand, she stood in the centre of the back verandah.

“Butler very sick,” replied the vice-president of the establishment.

“Sick?” repeated the mistress in a voice that made him jump.

“Yes, ma’am, very sick.”

Miggle had never had more than a couple of days’ illness at a time, ever since he entered his mistress’s service. On rare occasions the familiar catarrh in some form or other laid him low. But forty-eight hours’ rest and retirement always put him right and brought him back to his duties smiling and cheerful.

Mrs. Dunbar remained in deep thought for the space of sixty seconds. Then she gave her orders for the day, completing her usual round without the omission of a single detail. Instead of retiring to her boudoir, she said to the ayah, who was passing through the verandah: “Go and tell the butler’s wife that I am coming to see her husband.”

She put on a large sun-hat, a most imposing headgear of pith and muslin, took out her black spectacles, and opened a covered umbrella with portentous deliberation. Sweeping down the broad steps of the back verandah, she sailed towards the servants’ quarters, accompanied by the acting butler, whose presence was commanded, and by the cook and several inferiors who followed uninvited out of curiosity.

Mrs. Miggle was at the door weeping gently. Her husband with neither turban nor smile was lying upon a low cot covered with a striped cotton rug. He greeted his beloved mistress with a groan.

“Ah! ma’am! I think I die! I was never sick like this before,” he wailed in a weak voice.

“Poor Miguel! I am so sorry to see you so ill. We must send for the doctor,” replied Mrs. Dunbar, in a soft gentle voice which made the tears fall again from the eyes of Mrs. Miggle. “Have you any fever?”

She laid her hand on his forehead; it was quite cool.

“Plenty fever got,” moaned Miggle.

“And pain too, I fear, from the look of your eyes.”

“Yes, ma’am; plenty bad pain here---and here,” he replied, brimming with self-pity as he passed his hand vaguely over various parts of his portly figure.

“Never sick like this before,” said Mrs. Dunbar, with infinite concern. “I am afraid you are very bad, butler. What am I to do about my dinner? I shall have to put it off.”

“No, ma’am; can’t put it off. Turkey ordered; advance given to shikarees for game; done buy gram-fed sheep; cook knowing; he very good man and can do every thing proper,” replied Miggle, faintly.

“Yes’m,” corroborated the cook, eagerly. “I can do everything same as the butler telling.”

“But, Miguel!” cried Mrs. Dunbar, in consternation, if you die, what am I to do without you?”

“I plenty sorry to leave missus and die,” whimpered Miggle, moved almost to tears at the thought of such a catastrophe.

“I shall have to go to Trichinopoly without you.”

“Chokra very good man; nicely serving missus.”

“And who is to go to Ceylon with the master?”

Miggle groaned, and his wife sobbed audibly. The little circle of domestics looked on in sympathy, their faces composed to the solemnity of the moment.

“My good old butler! You have been a faithful servant to me for all these many years. Nothing that I can do shall be left undone. Order anything that you fancy from the kitchen. I will send you a bottle of master’s best port wine. And if you die, I promise faithfully that you shall be post-mortemed. The post-mortem doctor is coming to the dinner-party. I will speak to him myself about the post-mortem” she continued with increasing earnestness, and a decision which Miggle knew of old as adamant “If necessary, I will be present myself. Yes, Miguel, if you die, be assured that I will have you post-mortemed.”

The last sentence was shot at him in a crescendo of zeal and determination which electrified the little group, and sent cold chills down the back of the patient. Without another word Mrs. Dunbar departed and sailed back unattended to the house, smiling to herself.

Mrs. Miggle ceased sobbing; the cook looked at the second in command with an expression of awe and wonderment.

“Post-martem? what is post-martem?” he asked.

The other replied in Tamil: “Post-mortem is cutting up into small small pieces when any man dies without drinking proper medicine. It is a Government order given to the hospital doctors. After post-mortem, the pieces are shut up in a box and put in the ground.”

Here the butler’s wife shrieked. The prospect of seeing her beloved spouse put through such a fearsome process was too much for her. She fell upon the floor and kicked violently in hysterics.

It was the best tonic that could have been administered to the patient, who had turned yellow at the terrible words of his mistress. He sprang off the cot, seized her by the arm and shook her.

“Fool of a woman! Daughter of a shrieking owl! Go to the kitchen and ask the kitchen-woman to make me a basin of hot coffee. It will ease the pain I feel.”

From that hour Miggle began to mend. His appetite returned by degrees, and he was able to sit up. Mrs. Dunbar sent him soup and port wine, embrocation, and quinine.

On the second morning after her visit, Miggle was waiting as usual in the verandah to see to the giving out of stores. He was conscious of having made his recovery without lost of dignity in the eyes of his superiors and inferiors. His smile was chastened by illness, and his voice had the modulation of convalescence. But he was able to fulfil all his duties; and he assured Mrs. Dunbar that the malady had quite gone. He would be able to superintend the dinner-party in person. It should certainly outdo all others, and be the best she had ever given. Was the hospital doctor going to be one of the guests? There was no need for missus to speak about any post-mortem. And when would missus start for Trichinopoly? He was ready to go when missus pleased.

But Mrs. Dunbar knew how to be magnanimous.

“Butler,” she said in her finest tones of command tempered with generosity, “I have changed my mind. The chokra will come with me to Trichinopoly, and you will go with your master to the pearl fishery. I can trust no one else but you to look after our master, and see that he comes to no harm.”

Chapter XII

The Phoonghee

The day of the dinner-party arrived. Miggle, restored to health, was busy amongst his crew of underlings with the preparations. He kept every man to his duty, and, what was more difficult, to his own especial work. Mr. Dunbar went to the office as usual. There was a choice little tiffin, punctual to the moment, for the two ladies; and at half-past four the carriage came round to take them to the gymkhana ground.

As ill luck would have it, on that same afternoon the mail from Burmah arrived. It brought Ragoo, the butler’s cousin. Ragoo was a heathen, his father having remained in the faith of his ancestors when Miggle’s parents were converted to Christianity. The difference in faith made no difference to their friendship. The two cousins followed the same calling, and shared the same love of sport. Yet there was a marked dissimilarity in their dispositions. Miggle chose service with a lady. Ragoo, with the love of roaming often found in his class, preferred living with a bachelor. He had been north with a commissariat officer; south to the tea estates of Ceylon. He had made voyages to England and Australia, and proved himself an excellent servant on board ship. His last field of exploration was Burmah, where he took service with a man in the Public Works’ Department.

His master was road-tracing in Upper Burmah towards the frontier of China.

In his wanderings Ragoo saw much sport from his point of view---chiefly buffalo fights and cock-fighting. Near the borders of China he came across a wonderful breed of game-fowls, peculiar to the villages of a certain district. With true sporting instinct he was not satisfied till he had secured a promising young cock. It travelled with the camp as one of master’s curry chickens, Ragoo taking good care that a proxy was always ready at currying time. The Public Works’ man went on leave, and his servant seized the opportunity of paying a visit to his people.

Hearing that Mr. Dunbar was still in Madras, he hurried there, his fowl in a bamboo cage carried by a cooly. He arrived between five and six, and received a warm greeting from his “elder brother,” as he was accustomed to call Miggle. After a palaver over coffee and tobacco, Ragoo suggested a trial of the Phoonghee, as he called his bird. Miggle replied regretfully that he was too full of business with the dinner-party to find time for it.

Ragoo was disappointed; he was anxious to proceed on his journey by the night train. Miggle’s fowls had a great reputation. If he could boast that his was superior, it would add greatly to its value. He expressed his disappointment, and began to brag of the wonderful fighting qualities of his bird. He offered to bet that the Burmese could beat the Madrasees all round the compound in fifteen minutes.

“The very look of the Phoonghee will make yours run away like jackals.”

This was more than the flesh and blood of a sportsman could stand. Miggle felt that his honour was at stake, and he rose at once.

“Bring your cock to the corner of the stable yard where I keep mine, and we can at least compare them. You will see how mistaken you are.”

The preparations for the evening were all made, and the butler’s presence was not required for an hour or more. The cook was well ahead with his work; the floral decorations of the table were done; the ice-machine was ready; the wine decanted; and Miggle himself was dressed all but his white belt and gloves.

Ragoo lifted the Phoonghee out of its coop; it was indeed a beautiful bird, with tawny red plumage touched here and there with metallic blue-black which suggested strength. The cocks belonging to Miggle were of a paler red, and had the appearance of being less combative and of a milder disposition. But he knew their staying- powers..

“Huh! My bird is ready to fight this minute, but yours look tame and more fit for currying than fighting,” said Ragoo, running his eye over them critically.

This was enough for Miggle. His fowls fit for currying, indeed!

“Hi! Arokian!” he called. “Bring your stable broom and sweep a clear space.”

Mindful of his dress, Miggle turned up drapery and sleeves, so that there should be no crumpling nor soiling. The best bird was carefully selected, the stakes produced and placed in the hands of the brougham coachman, and the trial began.

Twenty minutes flew by unheeded, so intense grew the interest. A great many feathers had flown, and a little blood was drawn. The Phoonghee acted in an aggressive manner, and Ragoo felt certain of victory. But Miggle’s cock was not suffering from the effects of a recent sea-voyage, and it possessed an endurance before which its opponent was obliged to give way.

There was increasing excitement. Ragoo, flush with his recently paid wages, insisted on doubling the stakes. Miggle, confident of victory, accepted the offer. Another ten minutes passed whilst the struggle continued. At the end of that time the Burmese cock fled ignominiously round the circle kept by the spectators, his opponent in hot pursuit.

Miggle rose the winner, supremely happy in his victory. Ragoo paid his bet, and gladly accepted an offer from the butler to take charge of the Phoonghee for a while. It had proved itself a good fighter, and no one could say what it might do under more favourable circumstances.

“Is the bird for sale?” asked Miggle.

“No,” replied the other, shortly.

“Where are you going this evening, brother?” asked the butler.

“To see my sister at Cuddalore.”

“And afterwards?”

“I will come back here.”

“You will not find us in Madras.”

“Going to the hills with your mistress, of course. That comes of serving a lady. The horse and the carriage must needs go where the coachman drives.”

“The chokra accompanies the mistress; I follow master.”

“And where is he journeying?” asked Ragoo, with curiosity.

“To the pearl fishery.”

“The fishery?” echoed Ragoo, a sudden light leaping into his eyes.

“The Ceylon pearl fishery,” repeated Miggle, rolling the words out with the delight of creating a sensation.

“Would it be possible to take me, brother?” asked Ragoo; he could not hide the eagerness he felt.

“Impossible!” replied Miggle, with a decision which ought to have killed all hope in the breast of the other.

But, even as he uttered the word, he made up his mind that the presence of his cousin at the camp would be advantageous in more ways than one. Ragoo had been to a pearl fishery before, and had gained valuable experience. An extra servant would have to be engaged. He was just the one for the post, as he could do butler’s work if required. But, if he went, he must understand that it would be as a subordinate. Therefore Miggle again repeated the word, “Impossible!”

“I could do cook’s business.”

“The cook is coming; it is settled,” replied Miggle in a discouraging tone.

Ragoo was silent for a few moments. “Then let me have dressing-boy’s place,” he urged.

“My wife’s sister’s nephew has spoken for it.”

Ragoo watched a small boy who was tenderly washing the stained and disordered plumage of the Phoonghee. The child was the son of the kitchen-woman, and he was allowed to make himself useful, and at the same time gather instruction by serving the kitchen servants. Lately he had been permitted to help with the care of the fowls.

“The birds fought well,” remarked Ragoo, presently. “I am of opinion that the Phoonghee is really stronger than yours; but it needs rest and good food.”

“I will see that it has the best.”

“If you are pleased with the bird and find that it improves, I should be glad to give it to you. I have no use for it, as I shall be moving about. Besides, I return to Burmah when my master comes back from leave and can get more of the same breed. I do not offer it to you now because I cannot tell at present whether it is worthy of your acceptance, brother.”

Miggle grunted, and his eyes rested approvingly on the new bird.

“My wife’s sister’s nephew is full young, and the fishery is not a good place for young men; too much gambling,” said Miggle, as though he were considering his moral duty toward a relative.

“I am sure---quite sure the Phoonghee will be able to beat all the other fowls in Madras when it has recovered from the voyage.”

Again there was a pause. The roll of carriage-wheels in the distance warned the men that the mistress would soon be back.

“It is only chokra’s or matey’s work that is required in camp. That is not business to which you are accustomed,” remarked Miggle, as he rearranged his dress and settled his turban on his head at the correct angle.

“But I am ready to do it,” replied the Ragoo, repressing all sign of the anxiety he felt.

“We start in three days’ time,” said Miggle, as he prepared to walk to the house.

“I shall be ready. Singhalese are great cock-fighters, but I will wager a hundred rupees that your bird, the Phoonghee, will beat them all. We must certainly take it with us.”

Miggle returned to his duties in the back verandah with satisfaction. He had secured just the very man he wanted for camp-work at the fishery, one whose advice would be invaluable in the purchase of oysters, and who could fill any post, from head-boy to tent-lascar. It would set him free to speculate as much as he would. He had also gained possession of one of the finest game-cocks he had ever seen.

Ragoo on his part was more than satisfied. His journey to the fishery would be paid, and his wages ensured which would leave a handsome margin for betting and pearl fishing.

*  *  *

It was a merry party, for all its state, that sat round the long table in the lofty spacious dining-room. They were mostly old friends and intimate acquaintances. Averine was taken in by Captain Woodville, who belonged to the regiment stationed at the Fort. On the other side sat the Assistant Commissioner of Police.

“The hounds have been doing well lately, Miss Desormieux. How did you get on at the last meeting? Getting to know the country?” said Captain Woodville.

Averine gave him a description of the last run, which he had missed.

“You have a first-rate mount; no wonder you were always in at the death.”

“The horse was said to be possessed by an evil spirit when I bought it. The first time I rode, it threw me; but since then there has been no sign of vice. On the contrary, I find it inclined to be torpid at starting. But we soon warm up to our work, and the animal’s behaviour is beyond criticism.”

“What are you going to do with it while you are away?”

“Mr. Stormond has offered to keep it exercised. I am afraid to let a native ride it.”

“Stormond doesn’t look as if he could handle a buck-jumper,” rejoined her companion, with a good-natured laugh.

“Wasn’t there a curious little incident connected with the horse, Miss Desormieux, when you first bought it?” asked the Police Commissioner.

“Yes, it happened at the gate of the yard.”

She told the story of the horse, and its escape from the syce, and how the Sanyasi drew her out of reach of its hoofs as it fell; and of their second meeting when she was thrown.

“Have you seen the man lately?” he asked.

“No, why?” she replied.

“He has disappeared most mysteriously. I am afraid that he is a thief. The wife of a rich goldsmith living in the Luz, has made a complaint that as she was walking along the Mowbray Road one evening, he stopped her and took a gold bangle from her arm, threatening to curse her and her whole family if she resisted.”

“My Sanyasi didn’t look as though he were a thief; do you think that the story is true?”

“The woman’s husband declares that it is true. The bangle is gone and cannot be found. He describes his wife as a timid foolish woman, and he has forbidden her to go out alone for the future. He tells me that he met her by chance on the very evening of her loss, and accompanied her home. Unfortunately, she did not mention the loss till her husband missed the jewel from her arm. She was too frightened by the threatened curses to speak. Of course there was a hue and a cry; but by the time the case was in our hands the Sanyasi had disappeared. However, we hope to catch him. His tomtom-beater is being closely watched.”

“Where is he?”

“At a village near Tanjore.”

“Does the lad know where the Sanyasi is?”

“Not in the least. He says that his master disappears in this most mysterious fashion at least once a year. He also asserts that the Sanyasi has the strange power of putting himself into a long sleep, simulating death. The Hindus regard it as a manifestation of the deity.”

“Is the Sanyasi aware that he is under suspicion?”

The Police Commissioner laughed. “I fancy that he is. It fully accounts for his disappearance and deprives it of all mystery.”

“Oh! I hope he won’t get into trouble. Do you know, I took quite a fancy to him. He was young and handsome and clean.”

“Three virtues rarely possessed by ascetics, Miss Desormieux. Therefore I am all the more inclined to believe that he is a rogue and a thief.”

Chapter XIII

A Stray Feather

Miggle, silent and alert, his eye everywhere, saw the courses come in and go out. He handed no dishes himself. His duty was not to do the work, but to see it done. The second in command took round the wine with the soup and fish, Miggle standing behind his master’s chair, and keeping a critical eye upon his subordinate. On the appearance of the entrées, he left his post of observation to attend to the champagne. This was always the prerogative of the butler, and no other servant would dream of handing round the “simkin” but the chief.

He was assisted by the second, who enfolded the bottles in serviettes and handed them as they were required. Mrs. Dunbar was particular in having the glasses properly filled, so that her guests had something more to drink than froth and dregs. She trusted Miggle entirely; but for all that her eye followed him in his round of the table, while she still lent her ear to her companion’s conversation.

The butler worked his way steadily down from the lady whom his master took in to dinner to the gentleman who sat on Mrs. Dunbar’s right. As he approached, her eye caught sight of a speck upon his white coat at the back of the neck. How unusually careless of him to wear a coat that was marked with iron-mould on such an occasion! As he leaned forward to fill the glass of her right-hand neighbour, she had a closer view of the spot.

It was not iron-mould; it was the stray feather of a fowl. Her glance lingered upon it as she recognised the colour,---that peculiar tawny red tint which belongs to the fighting-cock and not to the curry-chicken.

The astute lady read the tale of her butler’s backsliding as easily as an open book. He had been cock-fighting again in spite of her prohibition.

Miggle filled the glass and lifted his head as he passed on towards her. He caught the tail of a glance that heralded danger, and in an instant divined that something was wrong. As he poured the champagne into her glass he said: “Did Missus speak?”

“No, Miggle,” was the reply, short and sharp.

The tone conveyed volumes; something had gone amiss, very much amiss. What could it be? His mastery over himself was equal to his mastery over the household. He finished filling the glasses with the same scrupulous care that had marked him at the beginning. He helped the cook to carve the turkeys, the ham and the saddle of mutton; marshalled in the various servants who bore the vegetables and sauces; and cast a searching eye over the whole table, the guests and the attendants, to discover, if possible, what was wrong. He failed to detect a single flaw; every thing was correct to the smallest detail. Could it be that his own dress was in any way disarranged? The mistress was looking at him. Was his turban unfolded? He caught the second for a brief moment behind the large screen which hid the entrance of the dining-room into the back verandah.

“My turban? anything wrong?”

The other scanned him with a rapid glance, and took away from the collar of his white coat the tell-tale feather.

“You stupid mud-head to let me go in and wait at table like that!” he whispered angrily as he recognised the feather.

He knew exactly what to expect, and determined to face the situation. He never perverted the truth where there was a chance of discovery. The inherited teaching of Hindu forefathers still ran strong in his veins, that a lie was no sin until it was found out. No amount of Christian teaching could convince him to the contrary. No use to swear that the mistress was mistaken; what she had seen, she had seen; and she was astute enough to know what it meant. His one anxiety was lest it should lead her to alter the arrangements and deprive him of the visit to the pearl eldorado of Ceylon.

However, there was no time to think about it now. He threw himself with greater zest than ever into his duties, and carried the dinner through with éclat. Before the ladies left the table, the drawing-room was cleared by a band of noiseless helpers. Rugs were quickly rolled up and carried away; tables pushed into corners; chairs taken out into the verandahs. When the hostess and her guests came in half a dozen men were giving the boards a final polish, whilst Miggle stood behind them, a statue of efficiency.

Vansittart was a good dancer, but he did not seek Averine at first, seeing that she was surrounded by men who eagerly begged for dances. Later on he found himself next to her in a set of lancers, and he asked her for a waltz. He scarcely hoped that she would say Yes, thinking that probably others had already secured her as a partner. But to his surprise she gave him one, and he was presently whirling round the room to the strains of the “Blue Danube.”

For a few moments neither of them spoke; both were occupied with their own thoughts. The Australian was wondering why he found it so difficult, resolve as he might, to stifle his love. During the last few weeks he had been meeting Averine frequently in spite of his efforts to keep away. But he guarded his secret jealously, taking care to preserve a cold, not to say indifferent attitude in her presence; and he flattered himself that neither by word nor glance had he betrayed his feelings. Yet, now that he held her in his arms and they swung round to the quickening strains of the Strauss masterpiece, he realised with dismay that his good resolutions were crumbling to pieces.

Averine was not altogether at her ease. Among all her admirers,---and they numbered not a few,---there were none more to her liking than the handsome young horse-dealer; and he was markedly backward in his advances. There were times, it is true, when she caught in his eyes an expression of dumb yearning, or it might be of sorrowful regret; but these were momentary, and were almost invariably succeeded by periods of reserve and coldness. It was impossible to decide whether he was attracted or not.

To add to her perplexity Stormond continued to be quietly insistent in his suit, and her girl friends emphatically declared that she would be foolish to refuse him. At all events she determined to discover Vansittart’s sentiments this evening. If he really cared for her, she fancied she could make a very good guess as to the reason of his silence.

More couples had joined the ring, and dancing was becoming a trifle cramped. Vansittart backed her skilfully into a corner.

“Shall we stand out for a minute?” he asked. “I always like the beginning and end of a dance, but the middle is apt to be crowded. Or perhaps,” he added, “you have had enough, and would rather find a seat.”

“No, indeed!” she exclaimed excitedly, “I would much rather go on again, when there is a little more room. You are quite right about the beginning and end being the best. In England I always insisted on dancing right through, when I had a good partner; but in this climate your plan is undoubtedly the best.”

They stood and watched the dancers as they swept by. Some moved with ease, seeming to keep the circle of the room without collision; others jerked and zig-zagged like house-flies on the wing, the gentlemen laboriously guiding their unhappy partners into rather than out of danger. Captain Woodville, with one of Norah Jenkins’s sisters, went past in perfect rhythm to the inspiring music.

“Talking of good partners,” she resumed, “you cannot think how much difference it makes to a girl’s enjoyment when she is well guided. It so happens that, until this dance, I have been unfortunate this evening in that respect.”

“I fear in your kindness to me, you are sacrificing strict truth to compliment.”

“I never pay compliments that I do not mean, Mr. Vansittart,” she cried quickly; “and please do not pretend that you think that you cannot dance. I hate pretence of any kind. Shall we go on again?”

He led her forward without trusting himself to reply. The room was clearer now, and he threw himself into the delightful intoxication of the moment. They were undoubtedly a handsome couple. More than one pair of eyes followed them with glances of admiration.

As the sound of the music died away, Vansittart led his companion through the verandah and out into the garden. There was no moon, but the bright starlight of the tropics relieved the darkness of the compound, and rows of Chinese lanterns illuminated the flowers and shrubs near the house. The fresh night air dispelled the spirit of languor which had possessed him in the ballroom. His determination to keep silence returned with increased vigour.

To do him justice it was not pride alone which tied his tongue; had that been the case, love must have prevailed over pride. His motives were largely unselfish, though he knew it not. He was sufficiently a man of the world to be aware of what society says and thinks of a rich woman who has married a poor man; and he was sufficiently a man of honour to refuse at all costs to place the woman he loved under criticism.

Averine chattered volubly, informing him of her approaching visit to Trichinopoly.

“Now I have told you what I am going to do during the next few weeks, you must return the compliment and tell me where you will be.”

“In Australia probably before you return. We do not import many horses during the hot weather.”

“And you stay in Madras till you sail?”

“No; I have to make a journey up-country. I am to take a horse to Trichinopoly to a rich native named Vytalingum. He is paying a high price for it. These wealthy natives are some of Affleck’s best customers. I shall enjoy the trip, as I have never been inland.”

“Are you to be the guest of the man who has bought the horse?”


“How I should like to stay in the house of a rich rajah! What would you say if I married one?” she asked recklessly.

He was startled, not to say shocked, at her wild proposition.

“Preposterous! absurd!” he ejaculated. “When you have been in the country longer you will realize the absurdity of such a suggestion.”

“Qui vivra verra!” she replied mockingly. “But seriously, talking of marriage, can you explain what has happened with regard to Norah Jenkins and Captain Woodville? A month ago they were tremendous friends; in fact, we all declared that it was an obvious match. But now they seldom exchange a word, unless it be a part of the polite amenities and inanities of social life. You may not have observed the fact, but they have not danced once together to-night.”

Vansittart was rather taken aback by her question. After a moment’s hesitation he replied: “I am not in Miss Jenkins’s confidence, though I may reckon myself an old friend of the family, but I know Woodville rather well. I do not think it will be a breach of confidence on my part if I tell you what must shortly be known to every one in Madras---if, indeed, it is not public property already. Woodville was and is desperately in love with Miss Jenkins; and rumour says that she is equally attracted towards him. Unfortunately Woodville has nothing but his pay, and Miss Jenkins, as you know, is one of a large family. Woodville suddenly realised what he was doing, and pulled up short. He felt, and rightly, that he had no business to bring poverty into the life of the woman he loved. That is all.”

“Oh! but not all, surely. And yet——” she hesitated and looked searchingly into his eyes with an anxiety that puzzled him. “Will you forgive me if I am perfectly candid?---And yet surely you have yourself on more than one occasion, attempted to console her? Sometimes we have wondered if you were to be the happy man.”

“Certainly not!” cried Vansittart, momentarily thrown off his guard. “How can you, of all people, ask me such a question?” He stopped suddenly and bit his lip, but proceeded hurriedly, to cover his embarrassment. “What I mean is, Miss Jenkins is far too much attached to Woodville to be able to think of another man for some time to come,---even supposing that I was sufficiently traitor to my friend to try to supplant him. No, indeed! Miss Desormieux, I thought that you would have known me better by this time than to have credited me with such conduct.”

His indignation did not displease her. On the contrary she seemed to enjoy it. She said softly: “Poor Norah!”

Her tone struck a chord in his heart, and he continued: “I pity them from the bottom of my heart; they are both suffering acutely. I seem to have heard,” he continued, his eyes following the undulating flight of a fire-fly over the dark foliage of a wax-flower, “that a great philosopher once defined pity as being simply fear lest similar misfortunes might overtake one’s self. Perhaps my sympathy for Woodville and Miss Jenkins is not entirely free from selfishness.”

She did not speak, but waited for him to say more. The fire-fly had crept under a glistening leaf, and its tiny lamp was hidden. He turned and looked at her again as he said: “From the man’s point of view, there is only one thing worse than falling in love with a girl who is penniless---I mean, of course, for a poor man.”

“And that is?”

“To fall in love with a girl who has plenty of money.”

“Oh!” said Averine, quietly. “You appear to have thought out the question.”

“Naturally,” he replied, pulling himself together, and adding with a laugh, “Am I not one of the poor men?”

She did not answer his question; her thoughts went back to Norah and Captain Woodville.

“I must say that I do not think much of Norah if she cannot love him sufficiently to face poverty with him.”

“There is no question of that,” he replied quickly. “Woodville has no intention of asking her to do so.”

“Then I think still less of his love for her,” she retorted defiantly.

“You do him an injustice,” he insisted quietly. He had his feelings under perfect control now. “It is precisely because he loves her so much, that he will not ask her to spoil her life for him. You women with ample means do not realise what a life of poverty entails.”

“And you men do not in the least understand a woman’s heart.”

She rose from her seat as though she would end the conversation. He offered his arm instantly.

“You would like to go back to the ball-room.”

“Yes, I have promised Mrs. Dunbar to play an extra.”

They walked to the verandah in silence. Vansittart felt that there was nothing more to be said. He had burned his boats with a vengeance. Before they entered the ball-room Averine spoke.

“There is just one more question I should like to ask. Are you defending Captain Woodville’s behaviour as being a friend, or would you do the same in his position?”

“I think that his conduct is unexceptionable. But stay, there is one flaw. In my opinion matters ought never to have gone so far. He made a mistake---costly to both of them---in not concealing his love altogether.”

On this occasion she allowed him to have the last word. Arthur Stormond stood by the piano, and Vansittart noted his presence there. Averine saw the direction of her companion’s eyes and said---

“Mr. Stormond is my partner for this dance. He is going to turn over my pages. How do you like him, by-the-by? He is rather pleasant, and has plenty to say.”

“He is an excellent fellow,” replied Vansittart, with a heartiness which irritated her.

“But a faddist.”

“Who of us is without fads, Miss Desormieux?”

“His is collecting curios. What is yours?”

“Colonial independence,” he replied, with a laugh which had a faint touch of bitterness in it.

“And pride,” she added, as she left him.

In another minute the first notes of the next dance were struck, and once more the big drawing-room filled with circling couples. When it was over Stormond offered his arm for the usual stroll between the dances. A sofa half hidden amongst the ferns and palms proved attractive.

“The other day I secured a wonderful vina; it has a unique history.”

He told her an interesting story of how he found and acquired the historical musical instrument. When he had finished he said in exactly the same tone of voice and without altering in expression or manner---

“Miss Desormieux, I asked you to be my wife some time ago, and you refused me.”

She started, and turned on him with a look of dismay, which by no means disconcerted him. He continued smoothly---

“No, don’t speak; I am not making the same request again. I merely wish to say that I shall beg for the privilege of doing so at some future time; perhaps after your visit to Trichinopoly.”

Averine’s confidence was restored, and she laughed. “You are a rash fellow, allow me to assure you. You are the most orderly civilian in this orderly Presidency. I am the most unconventional woman you ever met, ready to shake hands and make friends with a Hindu ascetic in the public street. You might as well choose an electric eel for a wife. You would live in an atmosphere of shocks if you linked your life with mine.”

“We will talk of that by-and-by; it is not necessary to pursue the subject further now that I have your permission to speak again. In addition to the vina I have bought a most beautiful bit of jade. It came into my possession in an extraordinary way, through exchanging a worthless little brass image of the monkey-god for it.”

He passed from one topic to the other with easy equanimity which bewildered, whilst it touched her sense of humour. She felt that, after all, there might be a second curio added to his collection, if he continued to pursue her with this steady persistence. Was the man impervious to the negative? Would she yield before his persistence? Occupied with her thoughts, she only half followed his story. The music re-commenced and he concluded with the words---

“I left no stone unturned until I secured the treasure.”

As she rose to rejoin the dancers she said in a tone that was half pathetic, half comic—

“And you will leave no stone unturned until you secure this treasure as well.”

Before he could protest or consent she was whirling round the room in the arms of the Assistant Commissioner of Police.

*  *  *

When Mrs. Dunbar came down to breakfast the next morning she found everything in order, with no sign of the night’s festivities. The drawing-room was rearranged; the dining-room was restored to its normal condition. Nothing escaped the lady’s appreciative eye; Miggle was certainly one in a thousand.

But though she fully intended to give him his measure of praise, which in itself was a joy and reward to her faithful servitor, she could not overlook the revelation made by the feather. It was unpleasant to have to scold and reprove, but this was a case of conscience and principle. It was her duty to keep Miggle in the path of virtue, and she was not going to shirk it.

The business of the morning over, directions given for the departure south, and the mead of praise liberally bestowed, Mrs. Dunbar turned in her chair to face the man who stood at her elbow. He lifted his head and prepared himself for the encounter.


“Yes, ma’am. I know what missus is going to say.”

“Miggle, you have been cock-fighting again.”

“Yes, ma’am. I telling true word only because I am plenty sorry to vex missus. Last evening whilst missus was out driving, one man bringing fowls to sell. Plenty busy indoors, so I send word, can’t come and see; can’t buy, because my missus never allowing game-fowls in the compound. But that man was a bad fellow. He stop and take out his birds. By the time I got there those fowls nicely fighting---I mean plenty fighting and pulling out feathers.”

“H’m, and you turned him out?”

Miggle assumed an angelic expression of contrition and sorrow, at the same time lowering his voice to a confidential tone.

“I tell true word only; I stop and look at those fowls. Missus mustn’t be angry. I pay fine, bigger fine than last time.”

Here he produced a little pile of rupees and placed them upon her writing-table by the side of the house-books. He did it with the air of one who had fallen but made reparation. Mrs. Dunbar felt that he had her at a disadvantage. She could not administer the scolding after amends had been made. He had entirely disarmed her wrath and indignation. All she could say was---

“Very well, butler; don’t let it occur again.” She counted the rupees. “This seems rather a large sum for you to fine yourself,” she continued, doubtfully. “It is half a month’s pay.”

Miggle, with virtuous self-abnegation, would not allow of the smallest reduction in the sum he had fixed.

“Missus take all. Ten rupees is a big fine, but cock-fighting very bad.”

“You sent the man away, of course?”

“Yes, ma’am, directly the birds done finished fighting. Very good fight,---but cock-fighting very bad business.”

She looked up at him sharply as she replied. “Yes, very bad indeed, and I won’t have it; you understand, Miggle, I won’t allow it in the compound. Every game-cock that I see shall be killed.”

“Yes, ma’am, I know; I often telling cook so. He’s too fond of cock-fighting, that man.”

He left the room unabashed and beaming with satisfaction. Fining himself had proved a complete success frustrating any change of plan on the part of Mrs. Dunbar, and strangling in its birth the well-merited lecture. His anxiety over the visit to the pearl fishery was at an end; he did not grudge the money with which it had been purchased.

In addition there was the gratification of knowing that his beloved mistress, though she was ignorant of the fact, had shared with him the stakes won over the cockfight. The sum he placed upon her table was exactly half his winnings.

Chapter XIV

The Blasted Tree

Royadu Charlu’s house in the Luz was a fine building erected at the end of the sixteenth century by a rich Portuguese Don. The Don traded at the flourishing port of St. Thoma whilst he lived in Oriental luxury at his garden-house in the Luz. Some of the out-buildings had fallen, but there still remained a block of spacious rooms which more than sufficed for the goldsmith’s family.

The compound, green with luxuriant grass, might have been a glade transplanted from some tropical forest. Noble trees surrounded it, casting deep shadows across the sward. A garden, rank with semi-cultivation, grew in front of the jealously screened verandah and windows. Jasmines, tuberose-lilies, oleanders, daturas, flourished in profusion amidst flowering shrubs and pomegranates. A tall hedge thickly foliaged fenced the grounds on three sides. At the back of the house there was a mud wall six feet high, securing the privacy of the women’s quarters, which opened on that side. Between the carriage-drive,---barred by a heavy gate---and the fence some cows and goats were tethered. Although the thorn-hedge appeared to be impenetrable, there were certain little maze-like tracks through which the servants and market-coolies passed to save themselves the trouble of drawing the heavy bolts of the gate. Anandu Charlu’s various female relatives also preferred this means of egress.

Minamal being young and beautiful, besides first favourite with her husband and mother of two handsome boys, was an object of jealousy to all the other women of the household. She had received corporal punishment as a reward for her escapade, and was under the close supervision of the sister of her husband’s mother, a widow with sharp eyes and still sharper tongue. Royadu had given his aunt strict injunctions never to allow her to leave the garden and grounds unattended. Her every movement was watched, and petty tyranny ensued which fanned the flame of sulky anger that burned within her heart.

The greater part of her wrath was directed against the man who had scorned her and exposed her conduct. The gurus and sanyasis of the south were not like Peroo. Truly he must be an impostor, she thought, as her husband had at first suggested.

Brooding over means of revenge, she determined to bring a charge of theft against him. It might not be proved, but the mere fact of setting the police upon his heels would cause him annoyance, if nothing else. Like most native women in affluent circumstances, self-control was not one of her attributes. No sooner did the brain suggest than the thought was put into action regardless of consequences. Her anger also found vent in ill-temper, and the female portion of the household was kept in a ferment of irritation.

The loss of one of the most valuable of the family jewels, a bangle that had been worn successively by each favourite, produced another note of discord which touched her husband as well as his relatives. His wealth was not so enormous as to make him indifferent to the loss. Partly crediting his wife’s story, he gave his own version to the police to save her reputation, and to hide what he believed to be the fact, that she had given the bangle to the Sanyasi.

Minamal’s tantrums had tired out the patience of every woman in the establishment. When she asked if she might walk out in the compound one afternoon, the goldsmith’s mother gladly bade her begone; and sent her widowed sister to watch behind the jungle growth of bushes in the garden.

The bold bright eyes of the young wife were swimming with tears of vexation. There was to be a feast before long at the Myliapore temple. In addition to the religious ceremonies, attractive in themselves from the number of pujaris who took part in them, there was a fair. Does any country exist where the female pulse will not quicken at the prospect of shopping? To wander amongst the decorated booths of a fair or a bazaar is as great a treat in the East as in the West. The refusal of permission to go to the Myliapore temple feast was a terrible disappointment upon which she had not calculated.

“It is all the doing of the Sanyasi! I wish my eyes had been burnt out ere they fell upon him! Oh! but he was a fine man, with his broad forehead and full mouth! What lips to curve into a smile! And to think that there are lips upon which Minamal cannot bring that token of love!” she said with a stamp of her foot. “The man must be blind! Yet his eyes were like the depths of a pool in the Cauvery when the floods have gone and the river sleeps in its sand-bed.”

The cows were browsing on the luscious grass; a black robin sang amongst the oleanders, and the “seven sisters” twittered and foraged for their evening meal amongst the fallen leaves beneath the banyan trees. Minamal, who of late had been confined to the grounds, took her usual way beyond the shrubs and wandered disconsolately towards the thorn hedge. Dare she venture through one of those well-known tracks? She approached nearer and then turned to look towards the house. A gleam of white shone through the hibiscus bushes that grew on the outer edge of the garden. It was the dress of the widow who watched.

“Oh! that wicked Sanyasi! May the police catch him and give him no rest from pain till he delivers up the jewel! Ha! ha! Little he knows where it is hidden!”

“Daughter! It is known to the Sanyasi where the jewel lies,” said a terrible voice behind her.

Speechless with terror she turn to gaze spell-bound at the figure that confronted her. Stern, indeed, were the eyes that fixed hers as he continued: “What was the fate of the man, who, having crossed the path of the king cobra with safety, rashly turned and trod upon it?”

“Iyah! forgive!” she faltered.

“There is no forgiveness till amends are made.”

“It is true that I have lost the jewel. I had it on my arm before I slept that evening at the temple. It was gone when I awoke. How then can I make amends?”

“See, daughter, there is a young peepul tree standing over there between the hedge and the carriage drive. It is the tree that the gods delight in; they keep it under their special care. Yet it is no more free from the Sanyasi’s power than is the wife of Royadu Charlu.”

He paused for her to speak, to make her confession; but she remained silent before him, fearful yet unsubdued, inspired with the mulish obstinacy of a wilful revengeful nature. She lifted her eyes to his with a sparkle of defiance. She was beginning to recover herself.

“The wife of Royadu Charlu is in the power of no man but that of her husband. The time is past for the Sanyasi to command,” she said, with a dainty toss of the head. Such arts, however, were thrown away upon her companion.

“The jewel must be returned to Royadu Charlu before the sun sets to-morrow.”

He spoke gravely and gently. She took his gentleness for weakness, and her courage revived.

“How can I return what I have not got?” she asked with a smile that was lost upon him.

He took her hand, and she let it lie passively in his firm grasp. Perhaps, even now, suggested vanity, she might captivate him. How she would plague and provoke him if she succeeded! He should be properly punished until he was subdued to very abjectness! His voice fell on her ear again.

“The jewel lies hidden within reach of this hand, in a spot known to the goldsmith’s wife. At this very moment she could produce it if she so willed. Look at the peepul tree over there, green in its fresh young growth, beautiful in foliage and limb as the woman whose hand lies here. No harm has the tree worked to man or beast; nay, rather has it done good in giving shelter to the cattle as they fed this morning in its shade.” He lifted a hand towards the peepul tree and raised his voice menacingly. “Yet the Sanyasi lays a curse upon the tree. Fade, O tree! Droop and die, leaves that now glisten in the sun! Turn into firewood, where you will crumble to ashes and become the sport of the winds.”

Minamal’s courage once more ebbed under the influence of the terrible words; and her confidence in herself was shaken. What was the meaning of this curse laid upon a tree in the compound? Such a thing was folly; merely the swaggering bombast of an impostor! She took heart again in the thought that she was perfectly safe from bodily assault. The widow would be watching with all eyes from the scarlet shoe-flower bush. Secure in this knowledge, she replied impertinently---

“And what does it matter to me if the tree dies? There are plenty more in this compound.”

“And what does it matter if the wife of Royadu Charlu fades and dies in like manner? There are plenty more women in the world, young and beautiful, ready to wed the goldsmith. If the jewel is not returned by sunset to-morrow, the wife of Royadu Charlu shall droop and die. See, the mother-in-law calls.”

She turned hastily as he dropped her hand, and to her dismay, discovered the two sisters gesticulating to her to come back to the house. The Sanyasi’s words struck terror to her heart for all her show of courage. She must not let him leave with that dreadful curse upon his lips. Even the words of an impostor might bring evil if pronounced with certain incantations. She looked round to beg him to recall what he had said; but he was gone as suddenly and as mysteriously as he had come. Fear seized her, and she fled trembling to the house. At the same moment the goldsmith’s carriage entered the gate of the compound, bringing him home from his house of business.

As Minamal ran in at the back of the bungalow, her mother-in-law swooped down upon her, wrathful and alarmed.

“Wicked girl! with whom have you been speaking out there in the compound?”

“With no one,” she replied in an injured tone. “There was no one to talk with but the goats and cows.”

“Oh! impudent daughter-in-law! Do you dare to tell lies to my face? I saw a man with my own eyes.”

Regardless of consequences, Minamal added fuel to the fire by her reply.

“The eyes of the mother-in-law see further than those of other women; but the tongue of the favourite wife reaches furthest.”

“The tongue will not save you this time, hussy!” answered the old woman, furiously.

Determined to be beforehand with her version of the story, she sought her son at once, taking the widow with her to bear witness to the truth of her words.

“My son, my tongue will be blistered by that which I must speak; but can a mother see her child place his foot upon the grass where the snake lies and hold her peace? This afternoon Minamal walked in the compound, we watching in obedience to your directions to see that no harm came. As she walked there appeared before her the Sanyasi who has taken the gold bangle. He spoke bold words to her, doubtless commanding her to leave you. He seized her hand and pointing to the south bade her follow. The wheels of your carriage sounded as we ran, my sister and I, and caught her by the cloth. The two guilty ones, terrified at your approach, parted hastily, promising to meet again to-morrow. The Sanyasi vanished at our upbraidings as you drove in at the gate.”

Royadu’s heavy face darkened with anger as he listened to the tale.

“What am I to do with such a woman? She seems beyond the management of mother and aunt.”

“Send her to her people at Trichinopoly, and tell them that unless they teach her better behaviour you will not allow her to return. They will break her spirit and see to her proper punishment, lest the disgrace of a rejected wife and daughter fall upon them.”

He sighed, for he was much attached to the wilful beauty. He thought of the Sanyasi’s presence again in the place, and came to the conclusion that perhaps it would be best to send her away for a while, until the man was caught and convicted of theft.

“Very well, she shall go to Trichinopoly. Now I will write to the police and tell them that the man is close at hand. They ought to catch him by this time to-morrow.”

His mother left the room well pleased with the result. By this arrangement she and the whole household would be able to go to the Myliapore temple feast without the trouble and anxiety of doing sentry-go over an insubordinate and sulky woman. Minamal found that for once the tongue of the favourite wife failed to over-reach the power of the mother-in-law. She received the verdict with a gush of tears, which mollified her husband, though it did not allay his jealousy.

At ten o’clock Royadu Charlu departed as usual to business, going to market on his way.

Minamal watched him drive away with envious eyes. It was a long time since he had taken her with him, permitting her to drive back with the purchases, after dropping him at his office. As the carriage stopped for the opening of the gate, she noticed that he put his head out of the window and looked earnestly at something in the compound.

Idle curiosity led her out to see what had attracted his attention. Her eye fell upon the peepul tree, and a shock thrilled through her whole being.

The tree was drooping!

The aspen-like foliage, instead of quivering in the morning light as if mounted on wires, hung limply down in deadly sickness. Was some dreadful worm gnawing at its roots?

Her heart stopped in its beating as the words of the Sanyasi surged back upon her memory.

“Fade! O tree! Droop and die, leaves that now glisten in the sun! . . . If the jewel is not returned by sunset to-morrow, the wife of Royadu Charlu shall droop and die.”

The colour forsook her face; her limbs trembled beneath her as she staggered back to the house, the curse ringing in her ears. She sank upon a mat in the verandah with a moan.

“What ails you?” asked the widow, faithful to her trust.

“I feel sick; something has turned my liver; my heart throbs and burns, and the strength runs out of my bones.”

“It cannot be the sun at this time of the year,” exclaimed the older woman, peering into her face and feeling her forehead.

“It is not the heat; it is fear!” whispered Minamal. “The peepul tree between the carriage-drive and the hedge is fading. It foretells a death.”

The widow ran to see the marvel that had happened. It was true as Minamal said. She called her sister; they were followed by various other members of the family, young and old. Before long the house was deserted, and there was a circle of gazers round the tree. What did it mean? It was a portent of evil, a sign that some disaster was about to fall upon the house.

Then the mother-in-law called to mind the Sanyasi. This was another piece of his magic. Ah! now she remembered! It was to the tree that he pointed and not to the south, as she had told her son. There must be some connection between the tree and the charge brought against the magician. She shivered as the suspicion crossed her mind that this was but the beginning of a series of maledictions; a long list of misfortunes inflicted as a punishment for their temerity in setting the police to dog his footsteps.

She kept her counsel, however, and leaving the company still staring in open-mouthed wonder, she sought Minamal. It was high time that she had assistance. The curse had already begun its work. The unfortunate girl, overwhelmed with a deadly fear, was violently ill in a manner that precluded all sham.

“Oh, mother! I shall die!” she wailed. “I shall die!”

The old lady busied herself with remedies, and tried to sooth and comfort, whilst she smothered her own fears.

“The tree fades because it wants water.”

Minamal caught eagerly at the suggestion. “Tell the gardener to give it water. I cannot revive so long as the tree droops.”

The order was given, and the peepul was deluged, though the ground was still moist round its roots from the north-east rains. An hour later the mother-in-law went out to look at the tree. Its leaves not only hung limp from their twigs, but they had begun to wither, curling under the scorching rays of the sun. She was obliged to tell her daughter-in-law the truth, for the news was burning on the lips of the whole household. There were those amongst them who were ready to aver that the bark was shrivelling as well as the leaves. She was surrounded by a little circle of sympathizers, who watched her with consternation, audibly prophesying an early death for herself and the tree.

“Tell those women to go,” said Minamal, suddenly, to her mother-in-law. “I have something to say which is only for your ear.”

The verandah was cleared in a trice.

“Mother, the Sanyasi cursed the tree as he stood by my side.”

“Why did he curse the tree, daughter?”

“Because of the lost jewel. It is here, and he knew that I had it.” She drew it from the satchel that was fastened to her gold belt. Even with the terrors of death upon her, the girl was unable to adhere strictly to the truth. “I lost it and I was frightened. I thought you would beat me for my carelessness. I searched for it; and when I found it I dared not tell, because the matter was then in the hands of the police. I feared my husband’s anger, too. Yesterday the worker of wonders appeared suddenly before me. He told me that I, and I alone, knew where the jewel was. Unless it was restored by sunset to-day, he said that I should die like the tree.”

Minamal covered her face and wept aloud in fear and self-pity. Her mother-in-law heard the tale in horror, too much alarmed for the consequences of the deed to be angry.

“Oh, daughter! what evil have you not brought upon my poor son! He has set the police upon the worker of wonders, believing in his guilt. Last evening he sent a letter to the inspector; and by this time they have doubtless taken the Sanyasi. His curse upon us will be tenfold.”

She added her wailing to the sobbing of Minamal. The sound of their distress brought back the widow, to whom the bangle was shown. There was a short consultation, and a message was despatched to the goldsmith, requesting him to return at once as his wife was very ill.

It was not long ere he was driven in all haste to his disordered home. His mother related what had happened with tolerable accuracy, there being no time for embellishment, and the matter sufficiently sensational in itself.

“I must go at once to the Police Commissioner’s house to show the bangle, and to release the Sanyasi if he be already taken. Truly this girl is a firebrand in my house. As soon as she is well enough, let her go to Trichinopoly for a while, that we may have a little peace and rest.”

The tree did not die, nor did Minamal. The entire household, including the goldsmith himself, believed that the timely restoration of the bangle was the salvation of them all; the Sanyasi finding that he was no longer “wanted” by the police, removed the curse.

The tree suffered temporarily from asafoetida cunningly inserted into its tap-root, whereby the flow of sap was checked or paralysed; and Minamal’s indisposition was entirely due to her own evil conscience and fright.

Chapter XV

A Rich Merchant Buys a Horse

Mrs. Dunbar and Averine departed south; a day or two later Dunbar left Madras for Colombo, where he was to stay with a friend, whilst Miggle went on ahead to prepare the camp at the fishery.

About the same time Vansittart took the train for Trichinopoly. He arrived at dawn, before the sun appeared above the horizon. The morning felt chilly with a heavy dew, and he was glad of a cup of hot tea in the refreshment-room before seeking the horse-box which contained the horse ordered by Vytalingum.

The syce, who had ridden in the groom’s compartment, was already opening the doors. The horse was safe, and none the worse for its journey. Vansittart had just assured himself of the fact when a native gentleman came up. He wore a tweed suit of the best English cut, well-made boots, a collar and tie of the latest fashion. The only part of his dress which marked his nationality was his turban of fine muslin folded like that of a native gentleman at the Mysore court.

“You are Mr. Vansittart?” he asked.

“That is my name.”

“The horse is for me. I hope Mr. Affleck has done his best to secure me a reliable animal.”

He spoke English fluently, an accomplishment he shared with a great number of natives of South India. The schoolboys of Trichinopoly chatter English in the streets amongst themselves for practice, as they run to and from the missionary colleges.

“I am sure that you will find the horse perfect in every respect, Mr. Vytalingum,” replied Vansittart. “We were fortunate in having it for sale just when you required it.”

“I have brought one of my syces to show your man the way. As soon as we have seen the horse safely out of the station, I will drive you to my house. I have my carriage here.”

A little later Vansittart took his seat in a smart mail phaeton drawn by a fast waler, also one of Affleck’s importations.

“This is the cantonment. The English church is on our left. Over there are the regimental lines.”

They turned sharply to the right, spinning through the fresh morning air towards the town. Vytalingum pointed with his whip to a large house standing a little way off the road.

“That is Mr. Worthington’s house; he is the Collector.”

Vansittart’s eyes sought the spot with an eagerness that did not escape his companion.

“You know him, perhaps,” he asked.

“No,” said the Australian, “I have not had the pleasure of meeting him.”

“He has friends from Madras whom you have probably met, Mrs. Dunbar and Miss Desormieux. I have had several business transactions with Mr. Dunbar’s firm, and in days gone by with Miss Desormieux’s father. Here is the English club. Now we leave the cantonment behind, and begin to enter the town. Before us is the Rock with its enormous temple. My house is on the other side, between the Rock and the Cauvery river.”

The rays of the morning sun gilded the strange isolated hill and the hoary temples of granite that crowned its summit. Clouds of dust arose in the narrow streets and the pace became slower as they traversed the densely thronged way. The high caste women of South India are not purdahshin or hidden behind the purdah. Numbers of Brahmin women in silk cloths---their delicate refined features tinted with saffron---bore brass pots upon their hips as they passed to and from the well with a supply of water for the day. Every one, from the highest caste to the lowest, seemed to smile with a careless happiness telling of absolute freedom from anxiety. Chattering, laughing, gesticulating, never in haste, the townspeople began their day oblivious of yesterday, indifferent to the morrow, and keenly appreciative of the present. The sun steeped them in its glory, enriching their souls with joy as it enriched their clothing with colour. They revelled in its warmth and light like happy sun-birds that knew no other land and desired nothing better.

The long straight street went to the very foot of the Rock. A turn to the left brought them along the edge of the sacred tank, on two sides of which stood the big colleges of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel and the Society of Jesus. Hundreds of Brahmin boys receive an education equal to that of an English public school at these colleges.

“That was my school,” said Vytalingum, pointing to one of them.

They drove through the main-guard gate, a picturesque relic of the old fort long ago demolished, and passed round the outskirts of the town. Here vegetation grew rank and thick: they were approaching the river Cauvery, the Nile of South India, which fertilises the land twice a year and blesses mankind with a double harvest.

Vytalingum drew up at a modest-looking house embowered in trees. It was surrounded by a luxuriant garden enclosed by a high wall. He opened a small gate in the wall with a latch-key and they entered, leaving the carriage to be taken round by the public road to some stables at the back. A narrow path---shaded by a brilliant flamboyant tree, ablaze with masses of scarlet blossom---led to a portico and verandah, both of which were screened by trellis-work thickly overgrown with creepers. A cool subdued light filtered through the green foliage excluding the glare and the dust. It was a little oasis of peace and privacy in the midst of a densely populated town, a bower of flowers fit for a princess.

They mounted the steps under the portico, and Vansittart’s host led him through the centre room, where a table was laid for breakfast, and opened a door on the right. The Australian found himself in a well-furnished bedroom.

“When you have taken your bath, you will find breakfast ready on the table. For the present I will ask you to excuse me.”

Before Vansittart could express his thanks his host was gone. The house was curiously quiet except for the faint hum of the town beyond its walls. Everything that he could need was prepared; he looked round for sign of a servant, but saw none. A well-appointed little repast awaited him as he emerged from his room. He was hungry, and did justice to the excellent coffee, eggs, game, preserved and fresh Indian fruits upon the table.

Still he saw no attendant, and a long-forgotten old fairy tale came back to his memory that he had heard in his childhood.

When he had finished he rose and went to the verandah, curious to see what an Indian garden was like inland. Excepting just round the house, where trees, shrubs, creepers and flowers bloomed in marvellous profusion, every portion of the ground was utilised for the growth of fruit and vegetables. The ground was intersected by a net-work of masonry channels, down which the muddy waters of the Cauvery ran. Cocoanut palms lifted their plumed heads above the spreading flamboyants, shutting out the view and hiding the broad reaches of the river not far distant, where it encircled with its two arms the sacred island of Srirungam. Birds twittered in the trees and large butterflies fluttered lazily over the azure blossoms of the ipomea.

“Are you ready for a smoke?” said the voice of his host behind him.


“Then come upstairs to my writing-room.”

A narrow stone staircase opened on to the verandah by a strong panelled door which was fastened with a padlock. At the top there was another door secured by a lock which could be turned on either side. As Vytalingum turned the key on the inner side he said---

“By this means we are perfectly private and free from prying eyes.”

“You seem to be singularly free all over the house. I have not seen a servant since my arrival; yet I have had my wants ministered to with more comfort than at the hotel where we have half a dozen domestics.”

“I like to do without them. They are a most inquisitive class of people; don’t you find them so?

“I was not aware that they were more inquisitive in India than elsewhere,” replied the Australian, lighting his cigarette.

His companion glanced at him with an amused smile.

“I assure you that they know all about their master’s concerns, and actually take a greater interest in then affairs than in their own. Reserve is not a characteristic of the Hindu.”

“Now, I should have said that it was,” replied Vansittart.

“Call it rather duplicity, which is not reserve. They make an art of duplicity; it is a second nature with them; they cannot help themselves. It is a moral impossibility for a servant or a cooly to relate the history of an incident with all its details correct and unembellished. But to return to their inquisitiveness. I can give you proof of how your men at the stables gossip. Mr. Affleck has lately contemplated taking you into partnership; is it not so?” Vansittart sat up and stared at his companion in astonishment as he continued, “And you refused his offer, chiefly on account of your being unable to fulfil his conditions?”

“How the deuce did you hear that? You have not been in Madras, have you?” asked Vansittart, sharply.

Vytalingum laughed in a low gentle manner which precluded all offence.

“You brought the news with you. Your own syce emptied himself of information on the way here, and my man carried it to my ears just as those culverts in my garden carry the river water into every corner.”

“But how did the stable-men know?” asked Vansittart.

“Through the servants who wait upon you. It is simple enough with you English. Your lives are as open as the day; your lips speak your thoughts. As a rule duplicity is not the characteristic of the Englishman.”

He looked earnestly at his companion, though his words were spoken lightly. Vansittart received the compliment to his race in awkward silence. Presently he said, “We inherit all that from our British ancestors, I suppose.”

Vytalingum caught his breath in something like a sigh, which was quickly followed by the ready smile that sat so well upon his fine features.

“Don’t you find the straight open path in life just a little dull? Are there not moments when you would like to break away from the trammels of such an existence?”

He waited with interest for Vansittart’s reply, which was given thoughtfully.

“No, I cannot say that I have ever felt it. Mine is not a complex nature; I have never wanted to be otherwise than what I am. There have been moments when I have been tempted to take a short cut to wealth and cast aside the slow plodding career of steady work.”

“When was that?”

“I am an Australian colonist; so I have seen something of the gold-fever in men around me, and I am not sure that I did not feel it at one time in my own veins.”

“But you did not give way to it?”

“No, the horse-trade seemed on second thoughts to be sounder; so I resisted the temptation.”

Vytalingum smoked in silence for a while; and Vansittart, occupied with the thoughts raised by the other’s questions, leaned back in the long-armed chair, perhaps to dream of the fortune which had never been his. He was suddenly recalled to the present by his host.

“About this partnership, Mr. Vansittart; I can advance you the money if you care to have it. The sum may seem large to you, but it is nothing to me. I shall be happy to lend it to you at the Government rate.”

“It is very kind of you,” replied Vansittart, in some surprise. “I have no security to give.”

“Your partnership would be sufficient.”

“Thank you, no. I have seen so many men put mill-stones round their necks in that way, that I have determined from the first not to be tempted to borrow.”

“Against your principles; another of your inherited limitations.”

He held out the little silver box that contained the cigarettes with a smile that deprived his words of any offence. Vansittart was interested in the man. There was something about him, he could not tell what, that made him different from any others he had met. A large number of native gentlemen came to the stables, paying frequent visits and asking innumerable questions before they concluded a purchase. As most of them spoke English and insisted on personal interviews with Affleck or his assistant, Vansittart had had some experience, and was able to form a judgment. He came to the conclusion that Vytalingum’s education was better than that of the others.

“You pointed out the college where you were educated. It must be good of its kind; it has given you a thorough mastery over our language,” he said with a touch of curiosity.

“The colleges here are excellent. I had to take my Bible lesson, however, with the rest, although we were mostly Hindu and caste boys.”

“Was your father educated there?”

There was a pause, and Vansittart feared that he had been too inquisitive. But the pause was only momentary. His companion replied without any show of reserve: “My father belonged to the north; he was never in Trichinopoly. My mother brought me here after she lost him, chiefly for education, and I was a student for twelve years. At the end of that time I travelled in India as well as out of it. Three years later I took up the business of a merchant, buying and selling whatever came to hand---rice, cocoanuts, sugar-cane, tobacco. I had sufficient capital to start, my father having made ample provision for me.”

“And this is your home? I don’t know that I was ever in a more peaceful retreat.”

Vansittart looked round him with appreciation.

“When I am in Trichinopoly. But I am away for several months of the year.”

Vytalingum rose and went to a large iron safe which he opened.

“How would Mr. Affleck like to be paid? I can give you a cheque, or notes. Or would you like to take the value in gems? Here are some sapphires which I have lately received from Ceylon. They are steadily rising in price as the demand is increasing, so many of the gem-pits being exhausted.”

He brought out a bag and poured upon the blotting-pad a little heap of the precious stones. Vansittart handled them with the interest all men must feel in precious stones, but shook his head.

“I could give you pearls as well,” continued Vytalingum. “Sapphires require pearls or diamonds for the setting if they are for ladies. You would probably have a good sale for them in Australia.”

“I am afraid they are of no use to us. We don’t know enough of their real value to turn the money over with the same success which would attend you,” replied Vansittart.

“Then you would prefer a cheque?” said Vytalingum, sweeping the gems back into their cotton bag. It was not a matter of much importance to him whether Affleck took them or not. “By-the-by,” he exclaimed, as if struck by a sudden thought as he swung the iron door to and locked it, “I am very anxious to speculate at the pearl fishery. I cannot possibly go myself. It has suddenly struck me that perhaps you might be my agent in the matter.”

Truly his host was a man of surprises. Vansittart stared at him in astonishment and exclaimed, “I know nothing of pearls!”

“It requires no knowledge whatever. The most ignorant cooly may speculate, but he will not suit me. My agent must possess all those instincts which are yours by inheritance, invincible truth, incorruptible honesty. I wonder if you and I can do a deal?”

He returned to his seat and helped himself to another cigarette.

“I am not a man of capital; I represent labour,” said Vansittart.

“Exactly so; I have capital and require labour, skilled labour of a special kind accompanied by special qualities. It seems to me that you are just the man I want. Can you get six weeks’ leave?”

“Certainly, if I ask for it. Our business is just over for the season, and I feel sure that Affleck could spare me for a short time.”

Vytalingum continued to unfold his plans with a deliberation which enabled him to study his companion.

“This is what I propose. The fishery has been nursed for the last four years, and promises to be exceptionally fine. I should like to invest a lac of rupees. You would have to take the money down,---gold will be best,---deposit it at the Kutchery, buy the oysters as they are auctioned, and see to their proper decomposition, and filtration. It requires the closest personal supervision even with trustworthy assistants. I warn you that it is unpleasant work, extremely unpleasant. There are the discomforts of tent life on a barren desolate shore far removed from any town; the heat, the flies, the stench, and the anxiety.”

“And what do you offer in payment for my labour?”

“A half-share in the profits.”

Vansittart knew so little about the trade that he was still at a loss.

“What are the usual profits?” he asked.

“They may be anything from five to a hundred per cent. It is a big gamble, and depends entirely upon your luck. A lac is a hundred thousand rupees, as you know. We might leave off with another hundred thousand, in which case you would take half of it. If the luck went against us, we might make only ten thousand, in which case your share would be only five.”

Even five thousand seemed a large sum to a man who had nothing but his salary.

“It is high payment for my labour,” said Vansittart at last.

“You won’t be of that opinion after living six weeks on a torrid beach covered for more than a mile with rotting oysters!” said Vytalingum, with a twinkle of amusement in his brown eyes.

“With plenty of tobacco, I suppose it can be made endurable,” replied Vansittart, who felt the offer to be tempting, since it involved no risk, and might be regarded in the light of a holiday.

His companion watched him in silence for some moments.

“Well?” he asked presently.

“How soon ought I to start?”

“To-morrow; the fishery begins at once, and there is no time to lose. If you cannot hire a decomposing shed, you will have to build one as quickly as possible. But, if you will consent to go, I will make all the necessary preparations, and provide you with a tent, tent-lascars, servants, and watchmen. These last will help to carry the oysters to your kottoo, or shed, and to filter afterwards, as well as watch by day and by night. It will be best to take my people, rather than strangers. They will be responsible to me for their good behaviour. But I warn you not to trust them too much. They do not possess an inheritance of the nobler qualities to keep them from falling when temptation offers,” he concluded, with a laugh.

“It is very good of you to make such a liberal offer to a perfect stranger,” said Vansittart, almost dazzled at the prospect suddenly presented to him of acquiring wealth by one of the short roads of the East.

Vytalingum held up his hand, on which sparkled a valuable diamond ring.

“Wait till your nostrils are filled with the scent of the fishery, Mr. Vansittart. I shall be surprised if you do not consider even a lac of rupees dear at the price.”

He rose and went to his writing-table, where he made out the cheque.

“Will you write to Mr. Affleck about your change of plans, and enclose this? We will telegraph this afternoon when we drive out. I have to see the Collector on business, and I hope you will come with me.”

Vansittart followed him down the narrow stairs, and they parted in the verandah, the Australian having the sitting-room to himself, till he was disturbed by an old man, who was apparently the only servant tolerated by his strange host. This ancient servitor laid the lunch without a word, and with the silence of a ghost. The food was anything but ghostly. It was thoroughly European in all its details, except for a most excellent curry, such as is not often found except in the house of a native gentleman.

At four o’clock the mail phaeton stood at the garden gate, and Vytalingum appeared prepared for the drive. Punctual to the hour of appointment, they arrived at Mr. Worthington’s house. Vytalingum was conducted by a servant to the Collector’s private room. Vansittart remained in the carriage, unable to make up his mind whether he would send in his card to Mrs. Dunbar, or remain where he was. The question was solved by the appearance of Averine in the verandah. She uttered an exclamation of pleasure as she recognised him.

“Mr. Vansittart! this is a surprise! But of course, how stupid of me! you told me that you would be in Trichinopoly. Do come in.”

He descended from the carriage and followed her into the drawing-room, where Mrs. Dunbar and Mrs. Worthington sat. He told them how he had come up with the horse and was Vytalingum’s guest. Mrs. Worthington was much interested in a feminine way to hear how the native merchant entertained him, and was astonished to find that he was quite as comfortable as if he were the guest of a European.

“My husband thinks very highly of him. He is of good caste, well educated, and one of our most advanced native gentlemen, foremost in all philanthropic works.”

“I find him a most interesting man. I put it down to his having had an exceptionally good education,” replied Vansittart.

“There are others here who have had the same advantages, but are very different. In some respects Vytalingum has the instincts of an Englishman; yet in habit and mode of life he is a thorough native, observing caste rules most strictly, and refusing to eat and drink with Europeans.”

“I suppose that he is to be trusted?”

“In every respect, I should say. Why do you ask?” Vansittart looked from Mrs. Worthington to his old friend, Mrs. Dunbar, who had sat silent hitherto, but attentive to the conversation. He addressed himself to both the ladies, occasionally glancing at Averine.

“Vytalingum has made an odd proposition: that I should go to the pearl fishery as his agent and buy oysters for him. He offers me extremely liberal terms “

“Accept them,” said Mrs. Dunbar, with decision.

“I have practically done so.”

He told them something of the arrangements; they were loud in their congratulations. Vansittart glanced at Averine; but she maintained silence.

“You must join my husband in his camp,” said Mrs. Dunbar. “It will be pleasant for him to have a companion. He hates going, and I doubt if he will be there when you arrive. But the butler will look after you, and I shall be glad to think that Miggle has some one to work for. It may help to keep him out of cock-fighting and speculating in pearls.”

Vansittart gladly accepted her kind invitation, and Mrs. Dunbar promised to telegraph to the faithful Miggle that very evening. There was a sound of voices in the verandah. They all rose and joined Mr. Worthington and Vytalingum. Whilst the Collector was speaking to the Australian, Averine advanced towards the native gentleman, and her hostess introduced him. She saw a tall man of about thirty, of the fair complexion that belongs to Arabian or northern races. He wore the black frock coat and grey trousers so much affected by well-born natives. The turban gave an Oriental touch, and subdued the European dress. He was quite at his ease with Averine, to whom he at once addressed himself.

“I think I had the pleasure of knowing your father, Miss Desormieux, some years ago. He was on the west coast, I believe.”

“Ah, yes!” cried the girl, with sudden emotion. “Were you living near my old home? It was such a lovely place.”

“India does not contain a more beautiful spot,” he replied, with an enthusiasm almost equal to hers. “My home was not there. I had business with him, and on two or three occasions we met.”

“He died whilst I was in England,” said Averine, sadly. “It was just before I should have come out to him to keep house. When did you last meet?”

“About six months before his death. He was not well then, and ought to have returned to his own country. But he could not make up his mind to relinquish business, and he would not take a partner.”

“Yet he could so easily have retired!” she replied, regretfully.

“He was a generous and, in most respects, a just man, and he was mourned by many friends,” answered Vytalingum.

Something in his tone displeased her. Was he criticising her father, or was it his peculiar choice of language? She lifted her head and replied, with some pride: “My father was never otherwise than the soul of justice.”

“A man may unconsciously do an act of injustice and be unaware of the fact.”

“If my father has committed any injustice where reparation can be made, remember that his daughter is ready to make it.”

He looked at her strangely, as though words were burning on his lips, but he hesitated to utter them. She returned the look; but with her it only indicated a cold displeasure.

“I shall not forget what you have said, Miss Desormieux,” he replied, with a gentleness that entirely disarmed her annoyance.

With one of those sudden warm impulses which were peculiar to her, she said: “Tell me---tell me what——”

She was interrupted by Mrs. Dunbar.

“I want to speak to you about business, Vytalingum.”

Her quick incisive words put an end to the conversation. As her godmother drew the native aside, she moved to where the Worthingtons stood talking to the Australian. A few minutes later Vytalingum and Mrs. Dunbar rejoined the circle, as it was time for the two gentlemen to take their departure.

“Such deeds, Vytalingum, are beyond reparation,” she was saying.

“But not beyond consolation,” he replied, in a voice that trembled with an emotion he could not hide.

Chapter XVI

The Pearl Fishery

The afternoon sun was turning the sapphire sea to a rich purple. It gilded the crests of the waves as they fell with a gentle wash upon the sandy shore of Ceylon. Inland the hot air, clear as crystal, quivered over marsh and lagoon, beyond which was the great forest belt of palms and trees that encircles the Island.

Dunbar’s camp was pitched by his discerning butler to windward of that particular part of the beach where the oyster sheds stood. In these kottoos would presently lie thousands of shell-fish in every stage of decomposition.

Miggle cast a critical eye over the two tents prepared for his master, one for a dining and sitting-room, the other for a bedroom. The inspection was satisfactory; he passed on to the al fresco kitchen near the servants’ tent, where the cook busied himself with the evening meal, spoke a few words to him, warned the kitchen-woman to have the kettle boiling, and retired to a small enclosure behind the third tent. Here a shelter of bamboo poles and palm leaves was erected, and privacy was secured as well as protection from the rays of the sun.

A wicker hen-coop stood on the shady side of the hut. It contained the Phoonghee. The rest of the game-fowls Miggle had sold or put out to board with a kindred spirit before he left Madras.

His wife accompanied him to Ceylon to cook his curry and tend his precious fowl with the assistance of the small urchin. Of the Dunbar establishment, besides the cook, there was the kitchen-woman, the mother of the urchin, and three peons. The second in command had been left in charge of the house, and the chokra was “travelling boy” at Trichinopoly. The offices of these two were united for camp service in the person of Ragoo. In addition there were half a dozen coolies who fetched the supplies from the nearest depot, and made themselves handy in all kinds of ways as servants’ servants. The camp was as orderly as the house, and the domestics went about their work as quietly and as expeditiously as if they were at home. Ragoo took his share and performed all the duties of an underling, although it was long since he had served in that capacity. Miggle’s all-embracing smile was like the Indian sun. It warmed them to their work and shed around a cheerfulness that lightened the duties he rigorously enforced.

The telegram, announcing the addition of Mr. Vansittart to the camp, was followed by a letter containing fuller instructions from Mrs. Dunbar, which had all been carried out. The preparation for his comfort was complete, and his arrival might be expected at any hour. Mr. Dunbar was still staying in Colombo, and had no intention of coming to the fishery at present. This fact Vansittart had learned from Dunbar himself on his way through Colombo, where he had made a short halt.

Miggle and Ragoo sat outside the hut, having seen the Phoonghee take its bath with the assistance of the imp, a process which made its copper plumage shine with increased glossiness. When the Phoonghee had eaten and stretched its wings with a defiant crow to its enemies in the fishing town, it was replaced in its coop; and Miggle once more brought out his mistress’s letter. He re-read it for the twentieth time to Ragoo, who had no mistress to send him long epistles. On rare occasions he received a telegram, short and peremptory, leaving much to be guessed, from a careless and impatient master, who often forgot to send the money necessary for the execution of the order.

“The mistress says, have everything comfortable.”

“It is done, brother,” remarked Ragoo.

“‘If the master is not there, serve Mr. Vansittart as though he were your master,’” read Miggle.

“You have given him the master’s bed, he not being here, and his chair; and have sent his bullock coach to meet the gentleman; what more can you do?”

Miggle grunted in self-satisfaction; it was comforting to feel that his efforts were recognised though only by a fellow-servant.

“This is a great favour that the mistress is showing to Mr. Vansittart,” he remarked confidentially.

“And no doubt she has reason. The English ladies who live a long time in our country are far reaching and over-wise. They have eaten of the jack-fruit, and do not judge by its shell. They know,---aye, truly, brother,---they know nearly as much as we do.”

Miggle wagged his head in solemn assent as he thought of the post-mortem incident. Yet in the matter of game-fowls——

“Nearly as much, but not all,” he replied.

“What is her reason?” asked Ragoo.

“It has to do with our missie,” said Miggle, after a pause.

He glanced to right and left to see if any one was within hearing distance.

“Perhaps,” assented Ragoo. “Does she speak or the missie?”

“Not one word. She gives other reasons,---he is the son of her old-friend, therefore she wishes to do him a service; he is the friend of our master, therefore we must obey him. There is too much talk. When the mother-bird runs from the nest with broken wing, and many cries of being crippled, it does not say, ‘Here are my eggs.’ No,” he continued thoughtfully, “when the mistress talks much of one matter it means that she is thinking most of another. We will do her bidding, and will look well after our missie’s husband that is to be. By so doing we shall best please the mistress.”

“As you will, brother; I am here to please you and myself. But as for women---I care not whether they are pleased or no. Shoes are useful things, but it is not every man who needs a pair.”

“They make the going easier,” remarked Miggle.

“If the way be rough, yes. But they are clogs where the way is smooth; and too often the chuckler leaves a nail whereby the foot is blistered and torn.”

The jingle of bullock-bells in the distance brought both men to their feet. A few minutes later the coach rattled up to the camping-ground. Miggle met Vansittart with a beaming welcome.

“Everything is ready, sir. Very glad to see master. Shall I bring tea or whiskey-and-soda?”

“Neither at present,” replied Vansittart, as he stepped out and stretched his cramped limbs. “Where is the kutcherry?”

“Over there, sir,” answered Miggle, pointing to the mushroom town of bamboo, palm-leaf and corrugated iron called fishery town, which stood a little distance from the beach.

“I must go at once to deposit this money. Have you a fresh pair of bullocks by any chance?”

“Yes, sir, I will have them changed at once.”

He called the peons; directed one to watch the cashbox, heavy with gold; despatched a second to order the bullocks to be sent round; whilst a third, with the assistance of Vansittart’s servant, conveyed the luggage into the sleeping tent. Three minutes later Miggle brought some tea, the cook, hearing the bells that gave warning of the guest’s arrival, having made it without waiting for the order to be given. Thus are the Englishman’s wants ministered to by good Indian servants almost before he can utter them.

The fresh bulls were yoked, and Vansittart, after hastily swallowing his tea, returned to the carriage. Miggle seated himself by the driver.

“You need not come, butler,” said Vansittart.

“I wish to come to show this man where to drive, please, sir.”

The kutcherry, or Government office, was a substantial building guarded by police. It was only a temporary erection like the rest of the town; but it was strong, and its arrangements as methodical as those of a kutcherry in a big town. The chief part of the contents of the cashbox were deposited in the safe-keeping of a paternal Government, and Vansittart felt relieved of one of his responsibilities. Miggle stood at the door of the coach.

“Is master going to buy oysters?” he asked in a low tone, confidential, but tempered by deference.

“Certainly, that’s what I am here for.”

“Then a kottoo will be necessary.”

“Yes, I thought of building one.”

“Too late to build, and all the best places taken. I know of a kottoo for sale. Will master come and see it?”

Vansittart offered no objection; so they jogged over the rough newly-made road from town to beach, and he was introduced to the scene of his future labours.

Usually quiet and deserted, except for fishermen, gulls and fishing eagles, the solitary shore was now thronged with humanity from all parts of the East. Along the shore were built sheds of various sizes. The divers’ boats, some two hundred in number, were lying at high-water mark. The auction of the day’s catch was just over, and the buyers were occupied in placing their purchases in the sheds. There was a vast crowd, and Vansittart looked in vain for a white face. Europeans do not often favour the fishery; the work of seeking for the pearls is unsuited to them, and they can ill bear the discomforts of the life.

The first two days’ fishing had been successful, and already there were rumours of good finds in the specimen oysters which had been opened before decomposition had set in. The results promised well for speculators, and fired the hopes of the prospective buyers.

Miggle led the way to a large kottoo not far from the Government shed. It was strongly built, and just the kind Vansittart required. He examined it closely, the butler pointing out its many advantages.

“It will suit me exactly, if I can get it for a reasonable price. Where is the owner?”

“He is outside, sir.”

“Tell him to come and see me to-morrow morning,” said Vansittart, who was fatigued with travel, having had a day in the train, a night in a small steamer, more train, and a long jolting journey in a bullock cart.

Miggle’s face fell. “It would be best to speak now. A native trader made an offer for it this morning.”

“Very well,” replied Vansittart, who had heard something from Mrs. Dunbar of her butler’s capabilities.

The owner was a Tamil who had speculated in the building. As he did not understand English, Miggle acted as interpreter. Negotiations were opened by a speech which would have startled Vansittart could he have understood it.

“My master says that your shed is of no use. All the time we have been inside he has been calling me a fool and a mud-head for bringing him here to look at it.”

The man glanced at Vansittart, who had the appearance of being anything but angry. But then, all Englishmen are mad, and who can account for their appearance or their words?

“What will he give me for it?”

“He does not want to buy.”

“Will he give me three hundred rupees?”

“The shed is too small.”

“Or perhaps we might say ten rupees less?

“It is a rotten tumble-down place which your grandmother and her sisters must have built when your grandfather went pearl fishing fifty year’s ago.”

Here Vansittart requested to be told what they were talking about. Miggle returned to the English tongue, and replied glibly----

“That man asking three hundred rupees, sir. It is too much.”

“What is it worth?”

Miggle had learned all the gossip of the place in a few days. Amongst other matters he had taken especial pains to inform himself of the particulars of the kottoos for sale or hire, as soon as he received news of the Australian’s visit, well aware that he could have but one object in coming to the fishery.

“It cost him thirty rupees, sir; and his brother gave the wood, being employed in a timber-yard in Colombo.”

“Make him an offer.”

Miggle returned to his mother-tongue. “The master says that you are a cheat, the son of a cheat. He doesn’t want your kottoo and he won’t give more than thirty rupees for it.”

“It cost me a hundred in materials alone.”

“Including what your brother gave you from his master’s timber yard in Colombo?”

The man shifted uneasily on his feet for a moment or two; but he understood how to bargain and was in no way discouraged. The suspicion of a smile came round the corners of his mouth as he replied---

“Never mind my brother in the timber-yard. I will take two hundred and fifty.”

The butler folded his hands behind his back, heaved a sigh, as much as to say “the saints give me patience with such a block-head!” and answered---

“My master is a poor man, a very poor man. If he spends all his money on the kottoo, there will be none left to buy oysters. He will give forty rupees.”

“I paid the carpenters forty rupees alone for the building.”

“The carpenters were shoe-makers who built that shed; so badly is it put together. My master will need to spend forty more upon it before he can use it.”

Miggle cast a scornful depreciative glance at the strong neat kottoo.

“It is the best kottoo on the beach.”

“You shall have forty-five rupees, not an anna more.”

“Two hundred is my last price, and it is very little profit I shall make out of it.”

They were perfectly good-humoured over their bargaining, but all the same intensely in earnest. How Vansittart wished that he knew their language. He felt so helpless standing there; yet he would not have had the patience to continue the bargaining step by step as Miggle was doing.

“What does he say?” he inquired presently.

“Still plenty too much asking. But I plenty more talking if master can wait a little longer.”

Immediate possession of the shed would enable Vansittart to begin purchasing oysters the very next day. He desired, therefore, more than a little, to conclude the business without delay. But he knew enough of the native character not to show a spark of eagerness. His fatigue gave him an air of indifference which was advantageous. He replied that he could wait, and turned to watch the varied groups of humanity scattered over the beach. The owner of the kottoo scanned the Australian with an eye that fain would have fathomed the length of his purse as Miggle spoke.

“The master says that we waste his time talking of the price of a thing that he does not want. Why should he buy a kottoo when he has ordered materials to come by sea from Colombo to build one?”

“I will take a hundred and ninety.”

The butler lifted a hand in gentle surprise at his obduracy. They continued haggling, Vansittart vainly trying to understand the uncouth language they used, though his eyes still rested upon the animated scenes of the beach. The price was beginning to reach more reasonable limits when the man showed symptoms of obstinacy. Miggle turned to Vansittart.

“Very sorry, sir; owner saying he can’t sell. No use stopping any longer.”

“Then let us be going. The sun is down and it will soon be dark.”

He began to move towards the spot where the bullock coach waited.

“There, see what you have done in your folly! I told the master that you asked a hundred and twenty rupees. He said that I was a fool to talk to you any longer; for his part he should go to the camp. I must follow, for I am but his servant.”

“Call him back; there is plenty of time for more talk. Ask him if he will give me a hundred and ten.”

“It is useless.”

“Then a hundred.”

“Sir!” called Miggle. “Please come back. The man says that he will sell the kottoo for a hundred rupees.”

“Oh?” said Vansittart, retracing his steps. “Tell him that I will take it. I am sure that I can’t build one cheaper.”

“Wait one little minute, sir, and I will speak another word.” He turned to the man with a look of lofty annoyance. “My master says, why do you call him back for such fool-talk? His last offer was seventy-five---too much for such a poor place. This is his very last word--- see, the night comes on; our food waits and we must go;---he will give eighty rupees and no more.”

There was a note of genuine finality about this last offer which did not escape the ear of the seller. He maintained an eloquent silence, and Miggle knew that the bargain was as good as concluded, although the man presently remarked in an injured tone that he could not let it go at such a loss.

“Well?” said Vansittart.

“Master can have the kottoo for eighty rupees. It is a very fair price for a strong well-built shed like that.”

“Good; tell him to come to the tent to-morrow morning, and I will pay him.”

Miggle turned to the owner, who was congratulating himself on having sold it for just double what the native trader had offered for it, and more than double what it had cost to build.

“The master says that he is paying a fool-price in giving you eighty. You are an extortioner, and I ought not to have offered you such a sum. Nevertheless, if you come to speak with him to-morrow morning perhaps he will pay you the money.”

“I will come,” replied the man, well pleased with his bargain, but trying to look as if he had just lost a fortune.

“Is he satisfied?” asked Vansittart, noting the expression on his face.

“Yes, sir; very pleased.”

“So am I; for this saves me a lot of trouble and time. What is he going to do with the money?”

“He will buy oysters of the divers, and sell again in the bazaar to poor people who take only a few. He will do a very good business, always doubling, and more than doubling, his money.”

“That’s what I want to do, butler,” said Vansittart, stopping in his walk, and looking earnestly at Miggle.

Chapter XVII

Blessing the Pearl Divers

They resumed their way in silence, each busy with his own thoughts. Vansittart had made his first step on the road which might lead to fortune; and if fortune came? but he would not trust himself to look further. He needed his whole attention for the work in hand.

The evening was pleasantly cool, now that the sun was below the horizon. Vansittart, tired of the jolting coach, preferred to walk along the shore. He was followed by Miggle, who kept respectfully a pace behind. They passed slowly through the throng. Here a family party prepared to eat the evening meal; there men and women rolled in sheets, slept on the soft sand, a stone or a heap of sand serving as a pillow. Others having eaten, were gossiping or registering bets on the catch of the morrow. The hush of rest and repose after a day of excitement was upon the fishery town as well as upon the beach. They came to the last of the kottoos, and the groups were fewer, ceasing suddenly about fifty yards further on. The Oriental hates to be alone lest he should become the sport of evil spirits.

“Are you going to buy oysters, butler?” asked Vansittart, when they had left the crowd behind.

He did not see the light that sprang into the small bird-like eyes, nor the expression of eagerness which his question brought upon his companion’s face. Yet it was not new to him; he had known it often enough in the land of his adoption when the gold fever pulsed through the veins of strong men.

“Plenty other work to do, sir,” replied Miggle, cautiously.

“Surely there cannot be much work in the camp; but buying oysters needs money.”

“I have a little money;” he came closer so as to be almost abreast, and dropping his voice he continued: “If I buy just a few, a small few, will master please give a little corner in the kottoo to keep the oysters?”

Vansittart turned, and looked the man up and down. The butler did not shrink from his scrutiny, but continued---

“Master, please give one little corner. Can’t bring oysters into camp; too much big smell making.”

There was a pause, during which the Australian took counsel with himself, and at the same time measured his companion with that swift, searching, comprehensive glance seen more often in the colonies than in the old country. If he granted the request, it would be necessary to take the butler into his confidence and enlist his help; they would have to work together. If he refused, he would lose the opportunity of securing the services of a trustworthy interpreter. Already the butler’s co-operation had proved valuable, in the acquisition of the kottoo. He decided to enlist his help.

“If I give you room for your oysters, butler, will you assist me in my work?”

“Yes, sir; I can help plenty and master can help me. I know that master is our missie’s friend. I will help the same as if our missie had given order. Sir, I promise.”

He spoke with a solemnity that was convincing. There are different codes of honesty amongst natives, and their codes of honesty differ from those of the European. Miggle spoke the truth according to his lights. His intention---nay his fixed determination---was to be faithful to his mistress, and in that was included fidelity to the man who was one day to be the husband of his mistress’s god-daughter. Vansittart’s ear recognised the ring of honesty. He also understood the allusion to Miss Desormieux; but he knew that no impertinence was intended.

“You shall have your corner, and in return you shall help me as you have already done this afternoon.”

Miggle put both his hands together and touched his forehead. He was deeply grateful for the favour and also for the trust which Vansittart reposed in him by granting it. The possibility of obtaining such a concession had been in his mind ever since he led Vansittart to the kottoo; but he had hardly dared to hope for the attainment of his desire. As they walked on again, Vansittart asked---

“What money have you?”

“Some of my own and some belonging to all the servants in Mrs. Dunbar’s house. Everybody put something into my hand. Even the sweeper gave five rupees.”

The butler had apparently gained the confidence of the whole household; it was another testimony to his integrity, thought the Australian. They turned off the beach and picked their way through the scrubby vegetation that bound the loose sand together and joined it to the turf. The chatter of the crowd, as they left it behind, grew fainter, and the twilight rapidly deepened into the shadows of night. The butler, feeling that the dignity of the master need no longer be maintained now that they were out of sight, drew up abreast.

“Has master ever been at a pearl fishery before?” he asked.

“No, this is my first trial.”

“Ah!” There was a vast amount of expression in the little ejaculation. “Ragoo, my friend, who is doing matey business in the camp, has been at a fishery. He can help; he knows as much about the oysters as the divers.”

“Is he to be trusted?”

“He is my little brother, the son of my father’s brother.”

What more was needed? When Miggle promised fidelity, his promise embraced the fidelity of the whole of his family, as well as all those over whom he had any control. There was no necessity, therefore, to say more.

“I must begin buying to-morrow; what time is the auction?”

“In the afternoon, sir. The boats go out at nine in the evening---master must come after dinner and see them go---and the divers begin work at daylight. They fish all the morning and bring the catch in at two. The divers get one-third of the fish. They are very clever, and their oysters are always the best. Plenty of natives buy of the divers because they sell a little cheaper than Government. There is no time to talk and wait and make bargain.”

“Where do they hold their auction?”

“Just outside the Government kottoo. But I thinking that it will be very difficult business for master to buy. Plenty pushing and squeezing, and making false claims. It will be better to let me buy—me only. Master can give the order about quantity, and I will bid.”

The man’s voice trembled with suppressed excitement as he made his proposition, and his heart beat as he watched for the nod of approval which followed his speech.

Mrs. Dunbar was fully aware of the advantages she had conferred on Vansittart when she sent him to the camp. But she little dreamed that by so doing she had brought about Miggle’s open participation in the gamble, and placed her butler in a position to invest on behalf of himself and his fellow-servants. In addition, he would have the delirious pleasure of buying largely for another---a friend of the family----which would be almost as great a pleasure as purchasing for himself. It surpassed cock-fighting or even buffalo-fights.

“Yes, you shall try your hand at it, and if you manage as well as you did over the kottoo, I shall have nothing to complain of.”

The tents gleamed white in the purple darkness as they approached the grassy mound on which the camp was pitched. The empty bullock-carriage went round to the back of the camp, and the sound of the bells floated through the night air as the animals shook themselves free from the yoke.

Vansittart threw himself into the long restful cane chair satisfied that he had made a good beginning, and that without losing any time.

He did justice to the excellent dinner, and would willingly have sought his bed after the cigar that followed. But Miggle stood at his elbow with an invitation he could not resist, to go and see the departure of the boats for the pearl banks.

Onoe again in the fresh night air fatigue vanished and the heaviness of sleep left his eyelids. Was the restless fever of speculation already upon him? It had undoubtedly seized his companion, who led him at a brisk pace back to the beach. A young moon lying like a golden cradle in the western sky lighted their way.

A strange scene met their eyes. The sands which not two hours ago were somnolent and quiescent, had awakened into life and movement. The motionless sleepers had donned their sheets as shawls and forsaken their pillows of sand. The groups, gossiping or supping, had dispersed to mingle with the crowd of spectators pouring in from the fishery town close at hand.

Divers numbering over five thousand stood about the boats, patiently waiting for the conclusion of the magicians’ ceremonies. Fires burned along the shore, and over their lambent flames the pujaris made incantations to protect the divers and the boats from devils. Here a coloured tongue of fire leaped at the sprinkling of powder, illuminating the wondering and awe-struck faces of the spectators. There a Sanyasi threw limes about him with fierce imprecations against the evil spirits of the deep. On all sides rose the chant of incantation with the beat of tomtom, the murmur of the crowd, and the crackling and snapping of the fires. Over it all came the soft boom of the sea falling in regular rhythm along the shore. Streaks of phosphorus marked the edge of the curling breakers and spread in sheets of shimmering light over the smooth sands.

“What are they doing?” asked Vansittart, interested to hear his companion’s impression of the striking scene.

“Making prayers to the devils, the same as we”--- there was a sublime superiority in the use of the pronoun which placed himself within the pale of Christianity “as we tell prayers to the saints.”

“The saints will be angry at being forgotten,” suggested Vansittart.

“The saints are never angry; they are only sorry. The devils would be angry if the boatmen went without pujah, and in sharks’ bodies would kill the divers.”

“But your priests teach you that devil-worship is wrong.”

“Wicked for us and giving us many years in purgatory if we worship. But for these people there is no purgatory.”

“What is there, then?”

“After they die they go into horses, bullocks, dogs and jackals, which is plenty bad, much worse than purgatory.”


There was no shadow of ridicule or scorn for Miggle’s simple beliefs; on the contrary, there was a ring of sympathy in the interest shown.

“They are in the hands of men and not of God. But it is not good to speak of these things, sir; it is priests’ talk.”

Miggle closed his lips firmly, but Vansittart would not take the hint.

“Ought not some one to tell them that they should make their prayers to God?”

The butler glanced at him with a sharp inquiring look. His mistress had on more than one occasion spoken to him about his religion, but the subject had never passed his master’s lips. This Australian gentleman was not quite the same in many ways as the Englishmen with whom Miggle had been brought into contact. Although in his quiet way he was masterful and strong, he was a man amongst men, and not a ruler amongst people. His early years in the colonies were responsible for this. Instead of answering the strange question with a ready affirmative, such as he would have given to his mistress under the good old rule of “what missus wishing, that only I saying,” Miggle replied with another question uttered with bated breath.

“If everybody told prayers to God, who would speak to the devils?”

Vansittart was silent; he was getting out of his depth.

“I know, sir. We all know it, heathen and Christian. In England there are no devils. But this country is full of them. It is necessary that some one should speak to them, and God sent the pujaris to do it.”

At nine o’clock the magicians ceased; the evil spirits were propitiated and misfortunes averted. The divers took their places and the boats glided through the waves towards the pearl banks. Each craft carried its oil lamp, which cast a reflection upon the restless water as the boat tossed on the waves. The rowers bending leisurely to their spade-like oars, pulled away from the shore, chanting the rowing song of their ancestors which centuries have not changed.

Vansittart watched the fleet till it was swallowed up in the darkness of the night. He turned to go back to the camp. Already the scene had faded. The fires were out, the magicians were gone, and the multitude, so lately quivering with excitement and awe, had dispersed to seek their sleeping mats once more. The fishery town gradually sank into slumber beneath the stars; and when later the southern cross rose above the forest belt and looked with its four gem-like eyes over the still lagoons at the shore, not a sound disturbed the stillness of the tropical night, save the cry of a bird upon the marsh and the wash of waves upon the sand. All were asleep within the camp, none more soundly than Vansittart; all but one.

Midway between the tents and the sea sat a motionless figure gazing across the ocean. It was Peroo, the Sanyasi; and by his side lay his disciple wrapped in the slumber that comes to the young after a long journey.

Chapter XVIII

A Monster Pearl

Mindful of the mistake about the chairs, Miggle took care to prepare Vansittart for his general appearance and conduct as an agent at the auction. He explained that if he bought as a gentleman’s servant, the prices would be charged accordingly. If he went in the guise of a trader, the community would understand that he was acting in his own interest quite as much as in that of his master, and the traders would not combine against him.

When Vansittart’s eye first fell upon the portly figure with shaven head, pigtail neatly plaited this time, bare shoulders and voluminous muslin drapery flowing from a silver belt, he did not recognise him.

“I just showing master my dress”---want of dress he might have said---“that there may be no mistake. When the divers sell, how many shall I buy?”

Vansittart named a figure but added, “You must see what the oysters are like before you buy. There is no great hurry; I can wait for a fall in the price if it is advisable.”

Miggle wagged his head in warm approval of his caution. He was ready to prove himself worthy of the confidence Vansittart placed in him, and in his own words was not going to pay a fool-price for the fish.

“When the auction begins, master must go to the kottoo and stay there till the oysters are all carried in.”

Accompanied by Ragoo and a little band of assistants peons, coolies, and watchmen, Miggle took his way to the large Government shed where the oysters were deposited on the arrival of the boats. After division the divers sold their share outside by auction.

A crowd of eager purchasers clamoured round the auctioneer. Moormen and Afghans jostled Malays and Burmese, Singhalese and Tamils pressed against Arabs and Hindus, in their anxiety to secure the oysters. A European would have had no chance of making himself heard in that yelling, surging mass. Through the crowd went Miggle, worming his way to right and left, never looking back or losing a step gained; deaf to abuse impervious to entreaty until the front rank was reached; and weaker men, who had waited longer, were displaced. He had no scruples in taking a prominent place by the side of the wealthy traders; was he not himself in a position to plunge as deeply as any one present in the dangerous waters of speculation?

Close at his heels crept the wiry little Ragoo, who bore the squeezing with the equanimity of an india-rubber ball. Ragoo’s dress was similar to that of a cooly. There was no occasion for him to assume the appearance of wealth affected by Miggle in the silver belt and the fine muslin drapery. Slipping under Miggle’s arm, his quick eye scanned the oysters. A pinch on the elbow was a signal to bid; an impatient fillip with the finger warned him to desist.

Outside the densely packed circle of buyers was an enormous crowd of spectators, men, women, and children. There was a babble of half a dozen tongues, a dominant note rising here and there as brother shouted to brother, or father to son, in the ring round the auctioneer. Every colour of the rainbow, every variety of material enriched the picture, which had for its setting the sapphire blue of the sea, the azure of the sky, the yellow sand, the green marsh, and its gleaming lagoon. The whole was steeped in sunshine which intensified all that it touched with its generous flood of golden light.

Vansittart waited patiently by his kottoo, smoking and thinking of the strange turn so unexpectedly given to fortune’s wheel. It was barely three months ago since Affleck offered him the partnership. The sum of money asked seemed impossible of attainment by what Vansittart considered honourable means. Yet here he was with a prospect of making it in a few weeks; ay, and double that sum if the fates were propitious.

And what then?

He recalled Averine’s words the night of the dinner-party and dance, when she had given him the opportunity of speaking. With his exalted ideas of honour, to say nothing of his pride, he had refused to avail himself of it to plead his love. More than that, in his anxiety to avoid any difficulty that might arise through her own generous impulses, he had been rash enough to admit in veiled language that he had no intention of pressing his suit; and his last words encouraged her to look elsewhere. At the bottom of his heart he knew as well as Mrs. Dunbar that a man of Stormond’s temperament would not make a girl of Averine’s character happy.

What a difference it would make if the two thousand pounds which would purchase the partnership were within his grasp! The partnership was worth a good deal more than that, and with it he would not be ashamed to ask any girl to share his life. And it might be his in a few weeks! But what use would it be if she had taken him at his word?

He flung away the end of his cigarette, and took a few impatient steps upon the shore to look for signs of Miggle. A tomtom sounded behind him. He turned and saw a pujari walking slowly along the beach, absorbed in contemplation. His features were powdered with sacred ashes, and his head was tied round with a salmon-coloured handkerchief in place of a turban. He passed beyond the kottoo, and seated himself on the sand with his face towards the sea. His disciple ceased drumming, and threw himself down behind his master.

Vansittart had no time to look at the ascetic; his attention was drawn elsewhere. A procession of coolies bearing baskets of oysters on their heads approached from the direction of the Government shed. Behind the gang walked Miggle with the swagger of a millionaire, his shaven head protected by a red umbrella, his snowy muslin cloth shining in the sun; he formed a spot of brilliant scarlet and white upon a brilliant scene.

“I done buy a big lot for master and a small lot for myself. Ragoo says that we have got the best of the divers’ oysters, and he knows. He is watching at the auction place till all the fish are carried here.”

Backwards and forwards went the coolies; backwards and forwards went Miggle, true to his trust, thorough in detail, magnificent in appearance, smiling, happy, and autocratic, till every oyster was safely stored within the kottoo, and he had seen Vansittart bar and lock the door.

The presence of the Sanyasi did not escape the notice of the butler and his assistants. It was a good omen, Ragoo declared. When the Australian presently bent his steps towards the tent, Ragoo crept softly up to the motionless figure, and dropped two coins into the bowl held by the boy, one for himself, and one on behalf of Miggle, who was a passive, but not an active, abettor in this little act of propitiation.

And now the watchman’s work began. Never for a moment, day or night, was the kottoo left unguarded. Vansittart, at the butler’s suggestion, paid frequent visits during the day. Miggle, Ragoo, and the peons, whose interest in the safety of the oysters was as great as Vansittart’s, though their stakes were but a hundredth part of his, took their turn at watching with the watchmen at night.

There were moments of recreation, passed in cock-fighting when Vansittart was on duty during the day; and there were moments of sleep snatched at odd times and in strange attitudes; a sleep which recruited and refreshed as much as the bed and blanket slumber of the European. Not only was the camp living under the spell of excitement, but the fishery town was equally enthralled.

The quietest period of the day was during the morning hours before the arrival of the boats. It was a short space of breathing time before the important work of washing began. The pearls were still in the oysters, and the pearl merchants were idle. Those whose kottoos were unfinished had leisure to attend to the provision of tubs and buckets, bolts and locks.

After having seen to his various duties in the camp Miggle managed to find an occasional hour for sport. The Phoonghee was turning out a great success. Now and then Ragoo regarded the beautiful bird with a regretful eye; but as it had been the means of bringing him to the fishery under such exceptionally good circumstances, he was satisfied with his bargain.

Some of the Singhalese traders, who were not speculators in pearls, but did an excellent business as purveyors of the necessaries of life, had brought their game-fowls with them. They were ready at any convenient moment to try conclusions with the Phoonghee. Freed from the disapproving and watchful eye of the mistress, Miggle had fewer difficulties to contend with as to time and place. Pleasant little meetings were held at the back of the camp, and various fowls were pitted against the Burmese champion. After each victory the Phoonghee strutted more proudly, and its crow grew more defiant. Miggle ever ready to back his favourite, made a nice little sum. But it is only just to say that his gratification did not lie in the rupees that the Phoonghee won for him, but in the sportsman’s pride of ownership. The champion belonged to him.

And when each battle was over, and the combatants separated, before material damage was done, Mrs. Miggle assisted by the imp, tenderly salved the bird’s scratches and washed its wounds. Many were the offers made for the Phoonghee, but Miggle would listen to none. He looked forward to the time when he should return to Madras, and with the new champion beat all the game-fowls within a radius of ten miles, establishing such a reputation as should make him the envy of every sportsman of the bazaars.

In spite of his idleness, Vansittart did not find the time hang heavy on his hands. The event of the day was the return of the boats, followed by the daily auction. Every afternoon when the fishery folk gathered round the auctioneer, and the strident voice of the crowd rose above the sound of the falling waves, Miggle, in his character of millionaire, attended the divers’ sales, a conspicuous figure marked by the red umbrella. Under the guidance of Ragoo he bought so successfully, that Vansittart spent very little of his money at the Government sales.

At the end of eight or nine days, the sun had done its work on the first batch of oysters. There arose an effluvium which filled the air and penetrated every spot that lay to leeward of the kottoos. The Australian began to understand the absence of Europeans. Each day that passed he returned to his kottoo with increasing repugnance. The evil scent pursued him to the camp, and hung about his clothes, haunting him day and night, even though the tents were pitched to windward of the beach. Miggle watched him with anxious eyes as he turned from his food and refused to eat.

“Oysters making master feel bad?” he asked, as the soup came from the table untasted, and a plump teal cooked to a turn shared the same fate.

“Yes, it’s a horrible smell, butler. I don’t know how I shall be able to bear it for another three or four weeks,” Vansittart replied, feeling as if a cord were round his throat.

“Will master try a little medicine same like what we take?”

“Oh! anything you like, butler. A glass of Government carbolic acid or tar seems to me the only thing to kill the stench,” he replied recklessly.

Miggle disappeared and returned presently with a dark ointment of uninviting appearance. He directed him to anoint his nostrils and smear it outside as well as inside.

In half an hour Vansittart discovered that either the scent had grown less powerful, or that he had lost his sense of smell. Miggle, watchful and attentive, brought him some whiskey-and-soda. A little later he appeared with some savoury curry and rice. It was part of his own evening meal, and the Australian ate it with a relish that surprised himself and gratified the anxious butler. It was peppery and highly-flavoured with onions and garlic. Vansittart could scarcely taste the spice and seasoning; for his palate was equally paralyzed. From that time his health was no more affected. He could detect the effluvium, but by using the ointment he was not overwhelmed by it, even when the abominable work of washing the decomposed oysters began and it increased tenfold.

It was a great event when the tubs were filled for the first time with sea-water, and the oysters separated from their shells. They were washed and washed again by busy hands, whilst Miggle, Ragoo, and Vansittart kept close watch. As the fish were gradually dispersed in fragments, and the loathsome maggots swept away with each fresh douche of water, the gleam of a pearl here and there in the sand at the bottom of the tubs caught the eyes of the eager workers. Their fingers could with difficulty be restrained from picking them out. But even now the washing was not complete. The cleansing sea-water was poured in and out again, brightening the pearls and increasing their lustre.

Miggle, as interpreter, instinctively took the lead. By his direction the seething water hissed and bubbled in a continuous stream, carried by the hand of the willing and patient cooly. Vansittart would have called a halt long before; but Miggle, despotic and arbitrary had his way.

At length the washing was ended, and the pearls picked out by hand. They were rubbed and polished on cloths. If their lustre did not satisfy the critical taste of Miggle and Ragoo, they were returned to their briny bath. After extracting the pearls, the sand at the bottom of the tubs was spread out to dry, to be sifted for the seed pearls, which eluded the grasp of the fingers.

And now came the momentous question of keeping the pearls in safety. Vytalingum had provided Vansittart with a belt of webbing, to which was attached a number of small wash-leather bags. Miggle and his master in the privacy of the tent, placed the pearls in the bags. When full, each bag was in turn sewn up by Miggle himself, who, like all natives, was expert with the needle and thread. The belt was worn by Vansittart day and night.

There was very little time for cock-fighting now, and the Phoonghee grew proud and overbearing. Its crow penetrated to the fishery town, and provoked an answering chorus of defiance which caused its comb to blush a deeper red. Miggle had his own oysters to wash, few compared with Vansittart’s, but quite as important. Moreover, Dunbar was expected shortly, pearls being plentiful in the market.

All day long in the sunshine, or sheltered only by a roof of palm-leaves, the merchants were seen sorting pearls, sifting them with brass sieves, examining their colour, their shape, size, and lustre, bargaining all the while with good-humour and patience, interspersed with the abuse which means purchasing, but is not to be taken as personal. Yet with all this cheerfulness and good-humour, the free and open display of pearls, the passing of money from hand to hand, gave rise to a natural distrust which human nature cannot fail to exhibit where large stakes are involved. The pearls that gleamed in the sun, the money that chinked in the palm, presently disappeared, cunningly hidden from the fingers of the thief in some fold or pocket which brother kept secret from brother, and friend hid from friend. As the little leather bags gradually filled, Vansittart felt something of the fever of distrust in his own soul, though his faith in the butler remained unshaken.

“Does master see the Sanyasi sitting there?” asked Miggle one morning as Vansittart unlocked the door of the kottoo.

He nodded as he glanced at the motionless figure with face turned to the sea.

“He comes morning and evening,” said Miggle.

“Who is he?”

“A stranger and a great magician,” Miggle continued in a low voice. “The divers of the boats blessed by him find the best oysters. It is well for us when he sits over there. He brings us good luck. Sometimes he comes close to our kottoo,”---the kottoo was joint property in his eyes. “It would be well for us if he would bless the kottoo.” The butler suddenly remembered that he and his master were Christians, and as such ought not to have dealings with Hindu ascetics. He hastened to put himself straight. “My friend Ragoo says so; Ragoo is a very good man, but he is a worshipper of idols.”

Vansittart smiled as he replied, “I don’t think that we require his blessing. But let the Sanyasi sit there by all means, if you think he won’t rob us.”

Miggle started in veritable alarm, and lifted a warning hand in protest against the rash words.

“Aiyoh! sir; mustn’t let such words come from master’s lips. He hears and knows everything.”

“He can’t hear us where he is sitting now.”

The Sanyasi happened to look round, and seeing the two men by the kottoo, perhaps disturbed by their voices, he rose to his feet.

“Yes, sir, see! He has turned his head; he knows.”

“How can he know?”

“He talks with his gods and they make it known,” he whispered.

Miggle actually trembled as the Sanyasi walked slowly past them. He certainly turned his head---it was no imagination on the part of the butler---and let his eyes rest on Vansittart. The Australian gazed after the well-proportioned figure with a flash of recognition. It was the ascetic who had come to Averine’s help when Raksha threw her. There was a grave anxiety on the face of the butler as he bent in a lower salutation than he had ever given his priest.

“He is angry because master called him a thief. We shall have no more luck; or if we have luck, it will not fall to master.”

Vansittart laughed at Miggle’s fears, saying to his further consternation, “Do not trouble yourself with such thoughts. I think it means good luck. We shall have a better find to-day than we have yet had.”

At this moment they were joined by their band of washers, who began work at once. They had come to the best batch of oysters, according to Ragoo, who was their oracle, and were full of the liveliest anticipations as to the result. To the uninitiated the bivalves gave no promise. Many of them had parasitic growths on their shells; and besides being mis-shapen, the shells were bored with worms. Had Vansittart been buying at the auction he would have passed them over as worthless, and left them to other purchasers.

When Ragoo’s quick eyes fell upon them, the little man gripped the round elbow of his companion, signing to him to bid with an urgency in his excitement which was highly impolitic. Miggle did not move a muscle. He uttered a quiet “shumah” in an undertone, and assumed his most indifferent manner. He bid calmly, and presently secured the lot at the current price. These oysters were brought in by the boats under Peroo’s spells.

The silence of expectancy fell upon the workers as directed by Miggle they washed, carrying the limpid seawater with swift steps, tearing the shells apart and brushing the rotten flesh of the fish writhing with life into the tubs. Eagerly each rugged shell was scanned before it was laid upon the heap, an exclamation here and there denoting that a pearl in the silvery lining of the shell was seen, a pearl which would have to be cut out by the knife of the skilful pearl carver. But these were of small consequence compared with those which were yet undiscovered in the tubs. Filtering the slimy mass between their fingers, the pearls could be felt and their size gauged by the washers.

Suddenly a cooly, stirring the water in one of the tubs with a long bare arm, uttered a sharp cry which drew all eyes upon him. Miggle divined the cause of his excitement and cried---

“Touch not the pearls; your business is with the fish, son of an ass.”

If he had not been present there would have been instant disorder. In the confusion some of the most valuable pearls would have been slipped into the mouths of the washers, opportunity making the thief. Miggle’s voice sounded again, quelling the murmur and the restlessness.

“Stand up all of you! Up! up!”

The forceful nature of the man brought every man to his feet including Vansittart, who did not understand what was happening.

“Show your hands!” ordered the butler.

Palms were extended, empty and dripping.

“What was it that made you cry out? a sea-snake?” he asked sharply of the cooly who had disturbed them.

Trembling with excitement, the man replied, “A large pearl; I felt it with the fish as it passed through my fingers. It is enormous, as big as the egg of a fowl.”

“Shoo!” ejaculated Miggle, in contemptuous disbelief. “Who ever heard of a pearl as big as a hen’s egg?” He turned to explain matters to Vansittart. “The cooly says, sir, that there is a large pearl in his tub. Will master dip his hand for it, or shall I?”

Vansittart’s eye rested on the loathsome mass of wriggling life and decaying fish within the tub for an instant.

“You may dip your hand, butler.”

Miggle spoke to the gang who pressed forward with curiosity. “Stand back and let us see what this tub produces.”

He rolled his sleeve up to his shoulder and plunged an arm into the tub. He groped amongst the sand and filth whilst the spectators stood in breathless silence. With a short grunt he closed his hand upon something and slowly brought it up.

Opening his fingers he held out to Vansittart with an indescribable air of solemn triumph a magnificent pearl. It was perfectly spherical and of dazzling lustre, a gem fit for a king’s crown.

A chorus of smothered exclamations greeted the sight; each man longed to handle it, each head was bent forward to examine it, but none dared to lay a finger upon it. Even Vansittart himself was conscious of a quiver passing through his frame as his eyes rested upon this wonderful treasure.

Spell-bound, silent after the first cry of wonder, the company continued to feast their eyes, oblivious for the moment of all other sights and sounds. There was a slight noise at the door of the kottoo, which was closed but not barred. None took notice of it in their intense preoccupation. The door slowly moved on its hinges. Still the assembly remained with fixed eyes, seeing nothing but the pearl. The butler was the first to lift his head. There in the doorway stood Peroo, the Sanyasi, his eyes flashing with a singular light, and fixed upon the pearl like the rest.

Instinctively Miggle’s fingers closed, hiding it from sight. The spell was broken. The washers looked up half conscious of a strange presence. But the door was shut as noiselessly and as swiftly as it had been opened. No one but the butler saw the calm inscrutable face with its steady comprehensive gaze at the new-found treasure.

Chapter XIX

Miggle Seeks the Aid of the Magician

“Get to your work! get to your work! we waste time!” cried Miggle, recalled to the duties of the moment.

The men fell to their washing immediately, and there was no opportunity for further remark. Vansittart looked at the butler, but Miggle raised his hand as a warning to be silent. It was necessary to concentrate their whole attention upon the washers, who were beginning to pick out the pearls. The find was exceptionally good, and Vansittart’s heart beat as he realised that fortune was at last smiling upon him. There were no more monster pearls; but many were equal to the monster in the beauty of their lustre and shape.

When the work was finished and the coolies rose to depart, a request was timidly put forth by the man who had found the pearl, that it might be again exhibited. Miggle hesitated, and looked to his master for instruction. No sooner did Vansittart learn their desire than he acquiesced.

“By all means, let them see it again,” he said.

It was still in the butler’s possession. He drew it forth from the innermost corner of an inner pocket. There was a murmur of applause as the wondrous pearl was once more displayed. It was the size of a hazel nut, and in form, a perfect sphere. Its chief beauty however, lay in its marvellous lustre. Silky and white it gleamed with the purity of snow. Not a speck marred its satin surface; not a flaw broke its symmetry. Like a marble of wondrous alabaster it rested upon Miggle’s hand.

The cooly who had first felt the pearl in his tub was almost as proud and quite as happy as the butler. For many a day to come the tale of the find would make him a hero in the eyes of his companions; and with each relation of the story the pearl would grow till it became as big as his head. Assuredly he possessed that gift prized so highly in the East, a lucky hand. One day perhaps it would bring him a fortune as it had brought the master.

“Shall I take the pearl?” asked Vansittart. Then, seeing a shadow cross the face of the butler, he added kindly, “No, you had better keep it till we return to the camp. I know it will be safe with you.”

He could not have chosen a more acceptable means of rewarding his devoted helper than by this display of confidence in the butler’s honesty. Even Ragoo was impressed when a little later Miggle and Vansittart walked together like partners and equals towards the white tents, and he followed with the peons and coolies.

“Did I hear the door of the kottoo open just after we found the big pearl?” asked Vansittart, as soon as he was alone with the butler.

Miggle glanced to right and left before replying, to satisfy himself that they were out of reach of all ears.

“Sir, the Sanyasi looked in at the door as the pearl lay on my hand.”

“Did he notice it?”

“The eye of the magician is like the sun; it sees everything.”

“Look here, butler, you must be careful about that man. I am inclined to believe that he is a thief.”

This was the second time Vansittart had called him a thief. A little thrill of horror went through the butler as the rash words were spoken.

“Please, sir, the man is no thief. Master mustn’t call the Sanyasi a thief.”

“I have no fear of such men except as thieves. They have no power to curse a white man. Did you ever hear of any Englishman who suffered harm through a Sanyasi?”

Miggle kept silence. There was a story well known in the bazaars of Madras of a European who had offended an ascetic, and who died in a mad-house. But he did not care to speak of it. It brought ill-luck to discuss such matters. Christian though he was, he knew that magicians understood the language of animals and birds; and that demons spoke to them in the whispering of the leaves and moanings of reeds, telling them continually what people said and did. Just now it was a time to court the favour rather than the displeasure, if his master would only believe it, of those mysterious beings who worked magic and spells.

“If I find the man prying about the kottoo, I shall tell him to take himself off,” said Vansittart, presently.

“He will do good and not harm, sir. Please say nothing. If the Malays think that he has taken our kottoo under his protection they will not dare to steal our oysters. The snake does not bask near the mongoose. But sir, if he curses our kottoo, the door will open of itself to let in the thief.”

His voice trembled under the power of his fears. Vansittart, having respect to his companion’s susceptibilities, forebore to say anything further on the subject of the Sanyasi’s honesty.

“Why should the Sanyasi take the kottoo under his protection?” he asked.

Miggle glanced at him, and after a moment’s pause said: “I think---I don’t know---I think it is because of our missie.”

“Miss Desormieux!” exclaimed Vansittart, in surprise. “What can he have to do with her?”

“Once I saw them talking in the road; and when missie fell off the horse---master will remember---the Sanyasi was there. Our missie has spoken nicely, and the Sanyasi looks on her with favour,” he paused again aware perhaps that he was on delicate ground, but seeing no sign of annoyance on the face of the other, he continued, “and on all her friends with favour. Therefore master mustn’t give offence.”

Vansittart smiled in spite of himself. “Very well, butler. I will not call the Sanyasi a thief till I find that he deserves the name. Meanwhile we must be more careful than ever over our store of pearls. Remember that I am responsible for them to the Trichinopoly merchant.”

“Yes, sir, I know; and master will carry them safely so long as no evil eye or ill wish is cast upon him. The mud lies at the bottom of the pool till the hand of the fool stirs it.”

The last sentence was uttered in his mother-tongue. No impertinence was intended, but Miggle was sorely tried by Vansittart’s careless attitude towards the Sanyasi.

An excellent lunch of fish and game was on the table. The Australian was about to sit down when the jingle of bullock-bells fell on his ear. He went to the door of the tent and met Dunbar, who had arrived a couple of hours earlier than he was expected. He held a handkerchief to his nose.

“How are you, Vansittart?” he cried.

“Very well indeed, thanks.”

“You are used to this abominable smell, I suppose. It is positively awful.”

Vansittart smiled as he replied: “It isn’t half so bad here as it is on the beach or in the fishery town. I have got used to it, and your butler has given me something to destroy my sense of smell.”

“Good heavens, man! You don’t mean to say that you have been taking drugs! How do you know that your sense of smell is not destroyed altogether?”

Dunbar’s forebodings were met with a hearty laugh. Such fears did not trouble the colonial.

“Come in and have some lunch. I was just going to sit down when I heard the bullock-bells.”

But between fatigue and the smell of the oysters, Dunbar had very little appetite. However, he took his seat presently, and did his best to swallow some mullagatawny soup, asking questions the while about the fishery, about Miggle’s behaviour, and about the camp arrangements, all of which received satisfactory answers.

“Well, I am very glad that you have been comfortable in camp. My wife will be delighted to hear that the butler has been of service. If you hadn’t employed him, I dare say the scoundrel would have been cock-fighting and betting all day long. He has the best breed of game-fowls in Madras. But I can tell you that when the mistress comes across any of them in the compound, it means a bad half-hour for him in her sanctum. Yet she is immensely proud of him in her secret heart. By-the-by, she and Averine are still at Trichinopoly with the Worthingtons.”

“I hope---is Mrs. Dunbar well?” asked Vansittart, his thoughts more with Miss Desormieux than with the merchant’s wife.

“Perfectly well; and so is Averine. They are having a gay time of it. The Rajah is giving a succession of entertainments. Several people have come up from Madras for the festivities.”

“Very pleasant life for Miss Desormieux,” remarked Vansittart, who was eager for news which he yet dreaded to hear.

“Stormond is up there too; came up for a few weeks on special duty.”

The Australian was silent, hoping that Dunbar would say more without being asked if there was more to tell. Apparently there was not; for the conversation was carried in another direction by Dunbar who asked---

“How are pearls going, Vansittart?”

“There are some fine ones in the market, I am told. The speculators are holding out for a good price as the pearls are mostly of excellent quality.”

They talked fishery news for another ten minutes and then Vansittart rose to go.

“I must be off to the kottoo.”

“Are you still buying oysters?”

“Only for another two or three days.”

“You must show me your pearls, Vansittart. Perhaps I might buy them of you.”

“It would be convenient, but I can’t sell without consulting Vytalingum.”

“Of course not. I will make him an offer if the pearls suit me.”

“Can you spare the butler? He has been acting as my agent at the auctions, as he understands the lingo and I do not.”

“Certainly. Butler!” called Dunbar.

Miggle, dressed for the fray, was outside the tent door. He hesitated about showing himself, remembering his master’s remarks on a former occasion. Dunbar settled the question for him by following Vansittart out of the tent. He surveyed his butler in silence with a grim smile.

“So that’s it! and you think that the auctioneer is deceived?”

Miggle conquered his momentary shyness, as he replied, “He understands, sir.”

“But why the deuce have you got that big red umbrella over your head?”

The butler lifted the flaming insignia of dignity and honour a little higher, as he answered, “That, sir, is for pomp.”

They went their respective ways to kottoo and beach, and Dunbar sank into a cane lounge to take forty winks after his fatiguing journey.

Later, when dinner was over, Vansittart asked the butler for the big pearl. He handed it over to its owner, and as he did so, Dunbar being for the moment out of hearing, he said---

“The news of master’s good luck is already known in the fishery town. There is too much talk, and it is likely to bring the evil eye upon us. This evening as I walked along the beach, an old Afghan widow looked after me pointing with her finger and saying, ‘There goes he who buys oysters for himself and the white man, an unholy partnership. How long will Allah smile on such Christian dogs?’”

“The evil eye cannot touch me any more than the Sanyasi’s curse,” replied Vansittart, kindly.

“Still it is not good to draw upon us the eyes of men who come from strange countries. The eye breeds thought, thought breeds action; the actions of such men are not good but evil.”

Vansittart remained silent. There was wisdom in the butler’s words. Although he had no fear of the evil eye, he possessed a reasonable dread of the thief. He was debating in his own mind the wisdom of keeping the pearls on his own person when Dunbar entered the tent and asked to see them.

Miggle returned to the hut, where he found Ragoo waiting for him. It was near the time when the boats should be starting. They walked together to the beach and watched the pujaris at work, a never-failing source of interest, not to say awe. At nine o’clock the little fleet moved across the water towards the pearl banks, and the silence of night quickly enveloped beach and town.

Peroo had taken two or three boats under his protection. He had not sought them, but the boatmen had entreated him to give his services, as they were unable to secure those of any other pujari. Having concluded his ritual he retired to a spot apart from the rest of his caste, to whom he was a stranger. When he first appeared there was some curiosity as to his antecedents. Raman was ready to tell them of himself and of his home near Tanjore; but of his master he knew nothing, except that he moved up and down the country for seven months of the year, talking to the people under the big trees of the villages and occasionally doing magic, but worshipping at no temple. Once an ascetic asked Peroo at what temple he presented his offerings. He replied readily, at the temple of Srirungham near Trichinopoly. The pujari looked at him, saying that he had been there frequently but had never seen him, to which remark Peroo made no reply. Though they knew so little of him, they were not inclined to take him for an impostor. Impostors were always greedy over money. The same belief which was current in Madras held good at the fishery, that he was an astrologer from the west coast and a magician of exceptional powers. The exercise of great power meant great exhaustion. This would account for his apathy and love of retirement. So they let him go his own way without interfering, saying that it was unwise to stir the slumbering tiger or to tread upon the dormant snake.

Ragoo and Miggle approached the motionless figure seated near the fire upon which Raman had cooked the evening meal. Ragoo led the way, for the butler felt himself on delicate ground. In the first place, conscience told him that he had no business there at all. Secondly, his knowledge of how a Sanyasi should be approached and propitiated by a worshipper was gained by hearsay and not by experience. He was accustomed in his own Church to prefer all requests with an offering of candles and a piece of money. A Sanyasi required no candles and asked for no money; had he not the power of making gold? and were not the spirits that guarded treasure under his command? He therefore left the ritual to Ragoo who had suggested the visit.

That individual expressed a confident hope that the Sanyasi, having once acted in favour of the merchant’s family, might be persuaded to work a spell on behalf of the Australian to protect him from misfortune. Emboldened by such hope, he advanced into the light of the flickering fire, placed his hands together and made the usual salutation. Miggle kept a few yards behind, and closely imitated his cousin’s action. They stood still and waited for a sign which they might interpret as encouragement to speak.

Peroo raised his head, and fixing his eyes upon the men, said in a low penetrating tone, that vibrated through their quaking hearts, “The Sanyasi has neither the power nor the will to do what the gods forbid.”

He had answered the unspoken request, and the answer was in negative.

“Iyah! we ask but a small thing,” said Ragoo.

“The brahminy kite calls for the god Krishna all day long as it circles in the air. The whole world hears its mournful cry of ‘kyang! kyang!’ But the gods do not come in obedience to the call of kites, even though they be their own birds.”

“We do not call the gods; we only ask the Sanyasi to do pujah, to protect our kottoo,” urged Ragoo.

“It is well said ‘our kottoo,’ for you have bound your fortunes with those of the man who has bought the kottoo. But the Englishman asks no help from the Sanyasi. To him the Sanyasi is a rogue and a thief.”

“The tongue spoke without the consent of the head. On the second occasion he took back his words, Iyah.”

“Nevertheless, he has twice called the Sanyasi a thief. Does a man ask a panther to guard the sheep? The Englishman will not ask the Sanyasi to protect his kottoo, because he believes that he is a thief.”

Here Ragoo prostrated himself, touching the ground with his forehead in abject fear of the magician’s wrath. Miggle, struggling between his duty as a Christian and the inherited instincts of a hundred generations of idolaters, retired a few paces, feeling unequal to the situation. He mentally vowed candles by the dozen to his own Church, and one of his best pearls for the Virgin’s crown if the interview should turn out successful.

“Our master thinks ill of no one, Iyah. He is from Australia where all men are equal, and where no pujah is done. We ask the Sanyasi to protect him and the kottoo from evil.”

He laid a coin at Peroo’s feet. Miggle gaining courage as he heard the money chink, advanced and added his offering of a similar value. As he did so the Sanyasi addressed him---

“Oh, butler of the merchant’s household! did not the Sanyasi cast the devil out of the horse?”

“It was so, Iyah, and our missie rode in safety.”

“There is no devil in the kottoo, or the Sanyasi would cast it out. There is no devil in the master; there is naught but ignorance and folly. It is always so with Englishmen. They see a thief where there is no thief; they sleep when the true robber approaches. The Sanyasi cannot give sight to men who shut their eyes in heavy slumber. The traveller must chose his own path.”

“But the hand of the woodman may cut away the thorns and keep the path clear for the unwary traveller,” replied Ragoo.

“Return to the camp and let your hand be as the hand of the woodman. So long as you guard the horse-dealer, no harm shall happen to you or the butler. Your fortunes are bound up with his; see that you watch and work for him. Walking to and from the camp, washing the oysters, watching the coolies, cause weary limbs and a tired brain. The hot sun makes his eyes heavy with sleep. He needs your care, for trouble is not far off.”

“Iyah, we be worms beneath your feet; do not say that there is trouble for our master,” cried Miggle.

“When the banyan puts forth leaves and flowers in plenty, plenty may be prophesied for men in the harvest field and in the garden. When the wood-apple blossoms a storm may be foretold. When the mango is loaded with fruit there will be a scarcity of rice. As you read the trees whereon is written the future of the seasons, so the Sanyasi reads the fate of men in signs that are only known to him.”

“What evil does the Sanyasi read?” asked Ragoo.

“There are evil men gathered in the fishery town, the long-fingered Afghan, the sly snake-like Malay. Beware of the thief that prowls by night. How does the master carry his pearls?”

“In a belt round his waist.”

“It will be by night and not by day that misfortune will overtake him.”

“If the Sanyasi will perform the pujah, the offerings shall be good,” said Ragoo, who had set his heart on having a little magic done, either at the kottoo or at the camp.

“His fate is in the hands of his servants. Go; the Sanyasi bids you go. Do men try to gather rice when the field is bare? Why ask the Sanyasi for what he cannot give? The stag that stays by the dry pool looking for water which is not there, falls a prey to the tiger.”

Not daring to stop a moment longer, they crept back to the camp. They were disappointed in the result of their visit. Ragoo with his wider experience of magicians and pujaris was less disturbed than his companion. But upon Miggle had fallen a great responsibility. The safety of Vansittart’s property rested in his hands. The Sanyasi had said that if evil befell one it would assuredly overtake the other. As they passed, silent and noiseless, towards the servants’ quarters a voice greeted them from the tent.


“Yes, sir.”

Vansittart approached, and as he came up with them he said, “I want your needle and thread.”

“For the pearls, sir?”

“For the large pearl only. Mr. Dunbar has taken the rest into his own keeping and given me a receipt for them. He will write to the Trichinopoly merchant, and buy them or return them as Vytalingum may decide.”

“And the big pearl, sir?” said Miggle, with an anxiety he could not repress.

“It is too large for your master. He will have nothing to do with it. I will sew it into one of the bags on the belt, if you will fetch the needle.”

Miggle continued his way to the hut where he kept the sewing materials. Already Vansittart felt the relief of not having to carry so much treasure upon his person. With these, and a few more to be purchased the next day, Dunbar declared that he had sufficient for his purpose and did not wish to invest further. He had no doubt about coming to terms with Vytalingum. Thus he would be able to leave the fishery two or three days later, and return to Colombo, where other business half transacted was needing his presence. He hoped Vansittart would forgive him for running away so soon; the camp was at his service for another ten days; the butler would not be required until Mrs. Dunbar returned to Madras.

“And as for the pearls you find in the daily washing, let me advise you to send them to my address in Colombo by registered post. They will go quite safely. The post carries thousands of rupees’ worth every day. I will give you or Vytalingum a receipt,” concluded Dunbar.

“And you won’t take the big one?”

“No; keep it till you see Vytalingum.”

“Shall I send it to him by post?”

“Too risky. He is not at Trichinopoly just now, my wife tells me. He has gone off on one of his mysterious journeys, no one knows where, and it is not safe to send the pearl to his house.”

With this Dunbar went to bed, and Vansittart awaited the butler’s return to sew the big pearl into the belt.

Miggle appeared presently with the needle and a piece of thread.

“Shall I do it, sir? Master can’t use the needle. Ever since a small boy, I learning to sew.”

But Vansittart preferred to use the needle himself. He took it from the butler and tried to push the thick thread through the eye. It was not an easy task to his unaccustomed fingers. Miggle meanwhile put on his spectacles.

“Here, hold the belt. This is the bag in which I wish to place the pearl. It is the smallest.”

“Where is the pearl, sir?”

Vansittart took it out of his waistcoat pocket. Miggle held the mouth of the bag open. Somehow, in trying to put it in, the pearl slipped from Vansittart’s fingers---he still held the unthreaded needle---and fell on the ground. It did not roll far on the tent carpet. Miggle picked it up and dropped it into the bag.

At last the refractory thread was forced through the eye, and Vansittart, taking back the belt to which the bag was attached, moved along the mouth with clumsy stitches. Backwards and forwards went the needle till even Miggle’s critical eye was satisfied that the pearl was safely sewn into its wash-leather receptacle. Nothing but a sharp knife could free it from its hiding-place.

The butler gave a sigh of relief, as he watched Vansittart go towards the sleeping-tent where Dunbar was already wrapped in slumber.

“I wish our master had taken all. Mr. Vansittart is under the displeasure of the Sanyasi. The rats will find the grain let a man hide it as he will, when he is foolish enough to offend the cat,” said the butler to himself as he went to his hut.

Chapter XX

A Thief in the Night

Mr. Dunbar valued the large pearl at half a lac of rupees. He added that it might be worth more if sold direct to a native prince, a course Vytalingum would probably pursue. The pearl represented half of the value of the profits; he congratulated Vansittart on his success.

“You will pocket a nice little sum over the transaction.”

“I do not feel as if I had earned it.”

“Not after a month’s residence in this awful stench?” Existence at the fishery was durance vile to Dunbar. The Australian smiled as he replied, “I am used to it; but perhaps Vytalingum will not take your view of the matter. As he found the capital, he ought to have the larger share of the profits.”

“I know him better than you do. He is an odd mixture with mixed blood in his veins. That sort of thing tells, and you will be treated liberally whilst he drives a bargain with me. The knowledge that I am rich and you are poor will have the same effect upon him as upon a generous Englishman. It will tighten his purse to me, and open his heart to you.”

The merchant relapsed into silence. It was the day before his departure for Colombo. A paragraph of a letter received that morning from his wife troubled him. It ran thus---

“Prepare Harry Vansittart for news of Averine’s engagement to Mr. Stormond. He has again proposed, and I fear from her delay in giving him an answer that she means to accept him. When she first came to us, marriage had no place in her thoughts; but now she dwells more upon it as if it fascinated her. Perhaps it is the desire to be settled in life that unconsciously attracts. I am not at all satisfied that she is in love with Mr. Stormond. In any case Harry Vansittart ought to be warned. I am sure that he is interested, to say the least of it, in all that concerns her. She is in the best of spirits and Mr. Stormond seems equally happy.”

Mrs. Dunbar had given her husband a task that was not at all to his taste. But as he invariably endeavoured to carry out her every wish, he took the letter from his pocket and glanced through it by way of refreshing his memory.

“By-the-by, Vansittart, my wife tells me that Averine is---er---is seeing a good deal of Stormond, and that we must not be surprised if---er---we hear that she is engaged to him.”

He looked at his companion who replied quietly, “I have noticed that Stormond was attracted.”

“I wish she had chosen any one else,” rejoined Dunbar, speaking more to himself than to Vansittart.

The latter almost immediately left the tent. The news disturbed him more than a little, though it did not come as a surprise. For the hundredth time he recalled their conversation on the night of the dance. What else could he have expected?

He strode moodily over the grass towards the kottoo where the washers waited for him to unlock the door. If Vytalingum kept faith with him he might speak at once. But did she love him?

The blood surged to his temples as he remembered how reserved and reticent he had been; how often he had allowed other men to take his place; how readily he had stood aside in silence, giving them the opportunity of speaking the words he longed to say himself.

Where is the man who does not believe that---given a fair field---he can win a woman’s love? Vansittart was no different from others. Already he was impatient to test his power. Fortune was at hand; the old barrier was gone; he was free---free at last to seek the love of the woman who filled his heart.

A sudden thought stirred his soul with fear. Whilst he courted fortune another was straining every nerve to forge links which once rivetted could never be broken. Perhaps at this very moment the fatal words were spoken which would divide their lives for ever.

A mad desire seized him to go at once to Trichinopoly; to ask her to wait---to keep herself free a little longer.

It was impossible. He could not be faithless to his trust and desert the kottoo. He must remain at the fishery till the work was finished. He calmed himself under the dictates of his better judgment. There was the post; he could write all that he wished to say. He sighed; a declaration of his passion sent by post was not the way to win a woman whom he had never wooed. He craved the opportunity to show his devotion, his worship, his adoration. He would compel her to love him if he could only see her, touch her hand, look into her eyes and speak.

Mechanically he watched the washers at the tubs collected the pearls, locked the kottoo, and returned to lunch. In abstracted silence he received the last batch of oysters and heard Miggle’s assurance that the divers would bring in no more worth buying. The butler eyed him uneasily; something was wrong with the young master. Was the prophecy of the Sanyasi already working?

At dinner Vansittart said little. The absent mind and preoccupied manner did not escape Dunbar’s notice; but he was not surprised. The news communicated at the breakfast table was sufficient to produce all that he saw. With the butler it was different. He knew of nothing to cause perturbation in the Australian’s mind and he regarded his abstraction with increasing anxiety.

“He is disturbed by bad news,” said Ragoo, as he smoked a cigar with Miggle by the camp fire after the evening meal.

“That cannot be; he has received no letter, and there has been no messenger to the camp with news.”

“Is he plagued by women? They are like canker-worms in a man’s heart if he once gives them entrance.”

Ragoo, not being a “family man” was apt to be severe on the sex.

“He has no wife,” replied Miggle, shortly.

“In the matter of marriage we men are not favoured by the gods,” continued Ragoo, as he blew a cloud of smoke towards the glowing embers of the camp fire. “If a man would look upon his own image in a son, he must burden himself with a wife and a mother-in-law, as the water-carrier burdens himself with his two pots.”

Miggle did not reply immediately; his thoughts were elsewhere, Ragoo having put them on a new track. It enabled him to make a shrewd guess at the reason for Vansittart’s abstraction.

“Perhaps it is our missie who places fire in his heart,” he remarked presently.

“What says the mistress in her letters to the master?”

“I cannot tell; for the master never leaves them in the drawers of his writing-table, but carries them constantly in his pockets.”

“A troublesome habit which is found only with Englishmen who are married. My master throws everything upon his table, and when I dust I place them all in order. According to their contents I arrange to have everything ready, the saddle-horse, the dog-cart, the office box of papers, his dress suit, his tennis flannels or the old shooting coat. Also through the peons who carry them to post I know whether the letters have been answered, and if not I lay them on his writing-pad, that he may see them. It makes confusion and difficulty when there is secrecy.”

Miggle lent but half an ear to his companion. He was still busy with thoughts of Miss Desormieux.

“The master had a letter by this morning’s post from Trichinopoly. The news---whatever it was---came in that; and it has made the Australian sad, as men grow sad when their hearts burn.”

“Is he a man who would be acceptable to the missie?” asked Ragoo.

Miggle lifted a hand with a negative wave. “Who can say how the missie will choose?” he said with a gesture indicative of irresponsibility.

“Do not trouble yourself,” responded Ragoo. “Women are like the clouds in the sky: now black, now golden. They are blown by the winds, but are ruled by no man. They give their blessing here, and show a frowning face there, as they will. Who can say how a woman will choose where a man is concerned? We people of the country do well not to leave the choice of a man in the woman’s hands.”

Dunbar retired to rest soon after dinner; but Vansittart, in no humour for sleep, stretched himself at full length in his cane lounge outside the tent. As he lay there, so still that he might have been sunk in deep slumber, his brain was busy with all the things he should have done, and all the words he should have said. If the fates were propitious, there was yet time, and his heart refused to abandon itself to despair.

The air was soft, and the moon, now on the wane, was not yet risen. But darkness was relieved by brilliant stars such as are only seen in the tropics. Low on the horizon in the south the Southern Cross, recumbent in its rising, gleamed like molten gold through the inland haze. The sea curled along the shore, each long wave chanting its own song as it fell. A restless bird cried to its mate amongst the reeds, and the frog in the brackish pool chinked to a neighbour in the swamp. The hum of busy life was stilled in the fishery town. Each man slept with his treasure hidden in his bosom, the knife ready at hand to guard against the thief.

Vansittart rose and entered the tent, where the lamp still burned upon the dining-room table. Taking up his pen, he debated in his own mind whether he should write. He went carefully over the facts. Stormond had followed her to Trichinopoly, where he was renewing his suit. Averine was allowing him to hover around her. Probably she was also allowing him ground for hope; possibly she had already given the desired assent.

And why should she not give it? Why should she wait? he asked himself impetuously.

He clenched his hand and brought it down upon the table with a sudden inspiration which flashed through his mind like a ray of golden light. She was waiting waiting for him, Vansittart, to speak. She was giving him, little as he deserved it, a second chance!

His pen travelled rapidly over the paper as he poured out his soul to the woman he loved. The trammels with which he had bound himself at the promptings of pride fell away. Passion took possession of him, and shook him to the very centre of his being.

His first intention was to plead his cause in a few temperate words, asking her to come to no decision until he could see her. But his heart thrust aside moderation. It went to her in leaps and bounds, and he wrote on till long past midnight. At length he threw down his pen. Without daring to look at the wild words he had written, he pushed the pages into an envelope, which he fastened and addressed.

Exhausted by emotion he sought his bed, rejoicing in the breaking of a long silence. A strange content and peace crept over him as he closed his eyes in a deep, blissful sleep, his arms thrown above his head, and the coverlet cast aside.

An hour later he moved uneasily, as though disturbed by a mosquito, rolling on to his side without waking. The light purdah that hung before the opening of the tent swung to and fro, as though a dog had pushed its way out beneath it. A few seconds later a shout rang through the camp, rousing the sleepers into sudden wakefulness. Vansittart started up, and bounding to his feet, drew aside the curtain of the tent door.

“Hallo!” cried Dunbar from his corner, as he lifted his head from the pillow. “Is that you, Vansittart? What’s the matter?”

“Somebody called, and the voice seemed to come from the servants’ quarters.”

“Some one yelling in his sleep,” remarked Dunbar drowsily.

“I will go and see.”

Vansittart walked quickly in the direction of Miggle’s hut. He was astonished to find the camp in an uproar the various servants rushing hither and thither in the pale light of the old moon, not knowing what they were about. Turbanless, and wrapped in a sheet, Miggle met Vansittart near the hut.

“What is the matter, butler?”

“The watchman shouted thief, sir. Your belt, is it safe?”

Vansittart clapped his hand to his waist.

“Good Heavens! It is gone!”

“Perhaps master has left it under the pillow.”

“No, butler; I was wearing it round my waist, as usual. I never unfasten it at night.”

“Better go and look inside the tent, and I will run quietly round to the back of the camp, where the thief may be hiding till the bobbery is over.”

Vansittart acted on his advice, and returned to the tent. As he entered Dunbar was dropping off to sleep again. He was speedily roused by the startling words that fell from Vansittart’s lips.

“My belt has been stolen whilst I was asleep.”

“That does not matter, since I relieved you of your pearls. They went to Colombo by yesterday’s post, and are quite safe.”

“The big pearl is gone.”

Dunbar uttered an exclamation and sprang out of bed.

“By jingo! I forgot the big pearl. But how could the belt be stolen off your person? You must have dropped it, Vansittart.”

He seized a hurricane lamp from the hand of a peon who entered at that moment, and began to search round the tent. Too bewildered to suggest anything better, Vansittart assisted; but they found no trace of it. Dunbar began to lose his temper.

“Where’s the butler? What is the watchman doing? What are the peons about?”

At the sound of their master’s voice some of them approached and began to explain how they had been aroused by a cry of ‘Thief!’ how each had gone in search of the thief, but without success. The babel of voices confused and irritated him.

“Vansittart, will you kindly call the butler for me? These men have lost their heads.”

When Vansittart left him, on the first alarm, to search for the belt in the tent, Miggle hastily cast off the white sheet. Stooping down so as to avoid being seen against the sky, he crept towards the outskirts of the camp.

On the shore side grew some scrubby marine plants and coarse grass. To landward stretched a wide expanse of swampy marsh, where reeds with feathery plumes broke the monotony of colour. Here and there a stunted palm showed that the ground was firmer and better drained, affording foothold to men and animals.

The butler passed round the spot where the bullocks were tethered. They remained lying down; but their herdsmen, roused by the commotion, had joined the throng of servants near the tents. Turning his back on the camp, Miggle picked his way over the rough herbage, stopping now and then to listen. There was a slight stir in the thick grass ahead. He was no coward, but he hesitated as he thought of the Malay’s knife and the ready use of it. He paused under the shadow of a stunted palm, and crouched in the grass. Steps approached, and as the soft tread came nearer, a figure loomed before him out of the dimness of the night into a pale ray of moonlight.

It was Peroo, the Sanyasi.

The eyes of the magician were fixed upon the butler who trembled beneath their gaze.

“Butler of the merchant’s household, the young master has lost the pearl belt.”

“Knower of all things, it is so.”

“And you search for the thief---a wise proceeding for an unarmed and naked man!”

“I thought I might catch a glimpse of him and be able to set the police on his track,” explained Miggle, rather lamely.

“He is gone; by this time safely hidden in the marsh, or lost in the mazes of the fishery town. He dropped this as he fled.”

The Sanyasi held out the missing belt.

“Where was it found?” asked Miggle, fear striking into his heart.

“Not ten steps from this spot. If the master asks the same question, tell him that you picked it up here by this palm. Say also that you saw nothing of the thief.”

The two men looked at each other in silence for the space of a few seconds; then Miggle spoke.

“The thief was a Malay?”

“A Malay who carries the curse of the Sanyasi.”

“The curse lies on the head of the Malay, Iyah?” said the butler, uneasily.

“On the head of him who stole the belt.”

“And the young master---what of him? Has the evil passed with the loss of the belt?” asked Miggle.

He was still anxious and ill at ease, as though something weighed upon his mind. He felt rather than saw the piercing gaze of the Sanyasi, that searched his very soul and laid its secrets bare.

“So long as his servants are faithful, evil will not seize him, though it may not be far off. Depart, for they call in the camp for the butler.”

“A moment, Iyah; I have one little word to say---one more question to ask.”


Although they were safe from listening ears, the butler lowered his tone to a whisper. The Sanyasi listened, and the shadow of a smile swept across his lips. His eyelids flickered as he answered---

“The evil has passed for the present; but beware lest it catch you, O servant of the Englishman!”

The speaker turned, and was lost in the dimness that precedes dawn.

A little later Miggle, decently clothed in coat and turban, stood before the two gentlemen. He held out to Vansittart the pearl belt without a word. The Australian seized it with an ejaculation of astonishment. He held it to the lamp which Mr. Dunbar still carried. The belt was safe, but the little wash-leather bag that contained the pearl was gone. It had been severed from the belt by means of a sharp knife. An exclamation of dismay fell from the lips of the servants, whilst their master gave expression to a single word. Then followed the silence of consternation.

At that moment the Phoonghee, according to the custom of its species, raised its voice to warn the world that dawn was not far oft. Miggle heard the crow. He turned his head, as if in obedience to the call, and when Dunbar lifted his eyes from the belt to ask where it had been found, Miggle was not present to answer the question.

Chapter XXI

The Fate of the Letter

“The scoundrel of a thief! We shall have little chance of finding him, I fear. Lucky for you, Vansittart, that he did not knife you as you lay asleep,” said Dunbar.

“He wanted the pearl, not my life,” replied the Australian, as he flung the belt from him in bitter vexation.

“I can assure you that if you had uttered a word, or shown by a single movement that you were not sound asleep, the knife would have found its way into your heart.”

“It is strange that I should not have felt something. He unfastened three buckles, and managed somehow to remove the belt from underneath me. I must have been sleeping heavily.”

“Those Malays will have the coat off your back without your knowing it, they are such clever rascals,” said Dunbar.

“I wonder where the butler found the belt. Butler!”

There was a little delay before Miggle appeared. As soon as his master’s eye fell upon him he asked, sharply---

“Where did you find the belt?”

“At the back of the camp, near the marsh, sir.”

“What were you doing out there?”

“Looking for the thief, sir. That was the only way he could slip off without being seen.”

“Did you catch a sight of him?”

“No, sir; he was gone, done gone. He cutting pearl-bag off, and throwing belt away as he ran.”

“Who first gave the alarm?”

Miggle hesitated before replying. “I don’t know, sir.”

“Was it the watchman?”

“No, sir; the watchman says that it was Mr. Vansittart who called.”

“I did not call. I was awakened by the same shout that the watchman heard,” said the Australian.

“Ask the peons if they gave the alarm.”

The peons denied having seen anything of the thief, or having cried out “Thief.”

“Some one must have seen or heard him to have given the alarm,” asserted Dunbar, looking at Miggle in the vain hope of an elucidation of the mystery.

“These people are common people; they tell plenty lie-words,” said the butler, contemptuously. “Shumah! shumah!” he continued, as the men began to chatter amongst themselves.

“Call the watchman, and let us hear what he has to say.”

The watchman repeated his story without variation. It had a ring of truth in it, and there was no reason to disbelieve him. He was sitting as usual at the entrance of the dining-tent. A shout seemed to come from the tent where the gentlemen slept. He recognised the word used as “thief,” and it was repeated. He assured his master that he saw no one. At the sound he rose instantly to his feet, and found that others had been roused like himself.

“We must send for the police; some one must go at once.”

Sleep came no more to the members of the camp that night, and all awaited the break of day with impatience. The servants made a fire near their quarters, though the night was not cold, and in its cheerful light they discussed the matter from every point of view. Miggle took no part in the conversation, though he listened with interest to the different theories advanced. He repeated the simple story of how he found the belt, but had no suggestion to offer except the one already expressed---that a Malay had stolen it, and had got rid of it as soon as he was able to detach the purse containing the pearl.

Dunbar summoned the head constable, and they were closeted together some time. The police officer put many questions concerning the various members of the camp. Hearing that some of them were from Trichinopoly, his suspicions were aroused; but they were soon set at rest by Vansittart, who assured him that he employed none of the thief caste on his staff of workers.

“The kullars are as clever as the Malays at thieving it is a feature of their caste. They are expected, if they are true kullars, to take part in one robbery at least during twelve months.”

Here Miggle appeared at the tent door with hot coffee and buttered toast, a welcome sight to the Englishmen. The darkness of the night was passing with tropical rapidity, and the rays of the rising sun pierced the grey sky in the east.

“Come in, butler,” said his master, as Miggle paused at the door, doubtful about intruding upon a conversation which he knew must be of a confidential nature. “We shall be very glad of chota hazri.”

He set the tray upon the table, and poured out the steaming fragrant coffee. As he handed a cup to Dunbar the latter asked---

“Have we any of the Trichinopoly thief caste in the camp?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you think that the pearl has been stolen by any one belonging to the camp?”

“No, sir. But if master wishes, I can call everybody up to the tent, and the constable can make search.”

“I will do it at once,” interposed the constable. “Call every man, woman and child in the camp. Let them come this very moment.”

“Certainly,” acquiesced Dunbar. “See to it at once, butler.”

Ten minutes later a row of men, with two or three women and children, were ranged outside the tent. The head constable cast a rapid glance along the line. Not one of them appeared a thief to his critical eye. They might be pilferers and perquisite hunters; but they were not the kind of men to burden themselves with the robbery of a pearl which would be recognised at a glance, and would be as difficult to dispose of as a bank-note of high value.

At the head of the row stood Miggle, resplendent in his best white and gold turban. By his side was his wife, shy, but secure in her innocence. The butler claimed no exemption from the ordeal. The line ended with the small urchin, the Phoonghee’s attendant. In place of a turban, which he did not possess, he had twisted a greasy kitchen cloth round his shaven head. A string encircled his bare waist, threatening to cut him in two, and supporting his only article of attire. Pride sat on the features of the imp---pride and awe---as he caught the gleam of gold in the butler’s turban. He was going to be searched by a gorgeous policeman for a pearl as big as his head. It was an honour worth a lifetime of cuffs and kicks.

The search began with the butler, who with grave dignity took off his turban and unrolled it to the very end; coat, shirt, each garment was removed and thoroughly examined by the two police peons told off for the duty. Mrs. Miggle was requested to empty her betel-bag and shake out the folds of her saree. Next to her came Ragoo. Down the long line of servants, peons, coolies, watchmen, and tent-lascars went the policemen, bringing strange treasures to light, but not the missing pearl.

In close imitation of the butler’s dignity, the imp at the end of the row gravely unfolded the dish-cloth and shook it violently; spread out his fingers and toes like a dodo, and opened his mouth uninvited to an enormous width, showing a ruby tongue and a fine set of pearly teeth, but nothing else.

After the personal search, the little band was kept in close formation by Miggle until their quarters had been overhauled. More treasures were unearthed, a few coins, some small bits of silver jewellery, shells and cheap curiosities bought in the fishery town to delight the family on return; but no pearl. At the hut there was not much more to be seen. Miggle’s store of pearls had been handed over to his master, who was to pay him when he reached Madras. Only one pearl remained, the one destined for the Virgin’s crown in the church of St. Thoma. It was one of his best, but it was a modest little pearl compared with the one which was lost.

The bustle round the hut disturbed the Phoonghee. The bird thrust its head through the bars of the coop and eyed the officers of the law uneasily, uttering querulous remonstrances in its own language. They took no notice of it, having other and more important matter on hand; but Dunbar’s attention was drawn to it, and he said—

“Hullo! butler, that’s a fighting-cock you have there!”

“Yes, sir; Ragoo brought it from Burmah.”

“It’s a real beauty,” replied Dunbar, regarding the bird critically. “But you must not let the mistress see it or she will assuredly order it to be killed and curried.”

“Yes, sir, I know,” replied Miggle, with a return of the old smile, completely vanished since the robbery.

The search was thorough but fruitless. At nine o’clock the police departed. The head constable was firm in his belief that the camp followers had nothing to do with it. The thief, he said, was probably a Malay, who by this time was securely hidden in the mazes of the fishery town. When Vansittart inquired what chance there was of recovering his treasure, the officer shook his head, saying that he could give him but little hope. The man would be off by boat, carrying his loot to Siam or China, and the pearl would never be heard of again.

Sick at heart Vansittart sat down to his breakfast. The washing of the oysters was not completed. There was another week before him of the loathsome occupation, another seven days of maggots, flies and filth.

It was Dunbar’s last day in camp; by the time Vansittart returned from the kottoo he would be gone, would, he earnestly hoped, have put a broad stretch of sweet vegetation between himself and the foul oysters. He looked up at the Australian with concern as he held out a hand in farewell before starting for the beach.

“Would you like me to remain on a day or two, Vansittart?” he asked.

“No, thanks, not for my sake. We cannot do anything more about the pearl. I shall send the pearls I find to your agent by post daily. No more belt for me!”

Dunbar’s eyes sought the writing-table, where a closed letter lay addressed but unstamped.

“What about that letter on my desk? Is it to be posted? If so I will stamp it and send it off with mine presently.”

Vansittart’s heart sank with a sudden rush of thought. In the excitement and vexation caused by the loss of the pearl, he had forgotten his letter of the night before. The blood forsook his face, but his reply was given in a quiet voice that did not falter.

“No, the letter is not for post.”

He took it from the table and thrust it into his pocket. A few minutes later as he strode moodily towards the kottoo the wind carried a number of tiny fragments of paper along the sands and hid them in the rough grass.

That same evening when the fishery had sunk into quietude and slumber, Miggle stole from the camp. Walking down to the beach he turned towards the spot where the Sanyasi had bivouacked apart from the throng. He stopped short with a smothered ejaculation of surprise. The ashes upon the open hearth were cold, the spot was deserted and Peroo was gone.

Chapter XXII

A Surprise for Averine

“And you think that you would be happy with such an unconventional wife as myself, Mr. Stormond?” asked Averine.

They were seated under a banyan tree in Mr. Worthington’s garden. The tea-table was spread but the tea was not yet made. The colour suffused her cheek as she let her eyes rest on the man before her. Something in her expression disturbed his equanimity. He could not define its nature. Was it doubt? But doubt, as a rule, was a stranger and rigorously excluded from his life. Before replying he paused.

“I am quite sure,” he said at length, and with deliberation.

Stormond, as far as he was concerned, was making no mistake. He did not desire a wife who would expect him to worship her all day long. He had his profession, and it occupied the whole of his attention as well as the best hours of his day. He returned from office tired, too tired to talk sometimes. His wife would therefore lead the greater portion of her life independently of him. She should be self-reliant and dignified, a woman of the world, acting in such a manner that every action, no matter how original would be graceful. He was of opinion that in Averine he had found just the woman he wanted. As for her Bohemianism, he believed that it might be eliminated from her character by force of circumstance and by a little delicate guidance on his part. He repeated his words with conviction.

“Yes, I am quite certain.”

Averine turned her eyes away in perplexity, puckering her brow as she faced two questions which had lately sprung up in her mind. Was she plunging headlong into folly in considering marriage at all? Or, in rejecting marriage, was she about to throw away an opportunity of entering a new life with new possibilities, new aims and wider sympathies? His voice broke into her reverie.

“There is one point on which I have said too little.”

“What is that?”



She uttered the monosyllable with the suspicion of a gasp as she suddenly realised that it was a point on which she also had thought too little. There was silence during which Stormond was conscious of an increasing feeling of uneasiness. That she would take her own way and her own time in accepting him, he was ready to believe; but he never doubted that success would attend him in the end, until this moment when the anticipated affirmative was not uttered. Moreover, her exclamation was chilling and disconcerting.

“Love has come into my life at last,” he continued, with more emotion than he had hitherto exhibited. “I have no doubt about myself and my love for you.”

“Is it as great as your love for your profession?” she asked.

There was a strain of irony in her tone which should have been a danger-signal, but it escaped his ear.

He was a man in whom even love could not efface self. Now, at the crucial moment, when his heart beat with an emotion he had never felt for any other woman he was thinking more of himself than of her.

“I cannot compare one with the other, or even place them side by side.”

“Would your love be sufficient to make you give up your profession?”

His eyes dwelt on her with a puzzled expression; they were blind to the vague longing that lay in hers.

“Dearest, you put things so strangely. There would never arise an occasion to give up one for the other. Besides a man’s love lies far apart from his profession.”

“I think not. Unless they touch, unless a man can take his wife into his profession, there cannot be sympathy; and where there is no sympathy, there cannot be love,” she asserted.

“But if a woman loves her husband she will have sympathy with him, even though she has nothing to do with his profession,” he replied.

“And if there is no sympathy, one is justified in believing that there is no love,” she returned quickly.

He was unable to follow the working of her mind as she groped blindly in attempting to fathom her heart. Anxious to get away from the abstract side of the question and once more consider it in a personal light, he said---

“I do not forget what you told me in Madras. I replied that love would come; I promised to be patient and to wait. Sometimes I think that you do love me. At other times my heart misgives me.”

The best part of the man was evident as he spoke. The husk of conventionality fell away and laid bare the honest Englishman, greatly to Stormond’s advantage had he only known it. There was a ring of genuine emotion in his concluding words which pierced her heart. He was so faithful, so persistent. Women like persistent lovers, and appreciate fidelity in men and dogs. Averine intertwined the fingers lying in her lap, as she said more to herself than to her lover---

“Oh! I wish I knew!”

“What?” he asked with breathless eagerness.


Footsteps approached over the dry gravel, and she stopped abruptly. Mrs. Dunbar advanced, extending a hand of welcome to Stormond, but speaking to Averine.

“Here is news from Ceylon; but not good news.”

The girl rose instantly to her feet, the colour forsaking her cheeks.

“Who is ill? who is dead?” burst from her lips.

“No one, dear; do not be so alarmed.”

She controlled herself, and replied in a more even tone---

“You looked so concerned, I feared a tragedy.”

“Well, it is a tragedy in its way, although it does not concern us personally. My husband writes that after a run of luck at the pearl fishery, Mr. Vansittart has lost a large pearl worth half a lac. He was robbed in the night; the pearl was taken from his person whilst he was asleep. It happened ten days ago; the police were communicated with at once, but they have heard nothing of it, and fear that it is irrevocably lost. It represents Mr. Vansittart’s share in the profits. The small fortune that was within his grasp is gone, and there will be very little left after his expenses are paid.”

“Except his trade,” put in Stormond.

“And his pride,” added Averine, under her breath.

“I am sorry for him, after all the trouble and hard work that he has had at the fishery,” said Mrs. Dunbar seating herself in happy ignorance that she was disturbing a conversation momentous to the civilian and perhaps to his companion. It was time for tea, and Stormond knew that for the present there would be no chance of further pleading. Even as was his temperament he felt the suspense, as he was about to depart for Madras in another twenty-four hours, and would fain have learned his fate before he left.

Mrs. Worthington joined them to dispense tea to her guests. As they drank it the carriages came round to take the ladies for their evening drive; Mrs. Worthington to an appointment, Mrs. Dunbar to make a call or two. Stormond rose to go.

“May I beg for your company at the club after you have paid your calls? I will have ices and cup ready at any time you like to mention.”

He looked at Averine, but Mrs. Worthington replied, readily accepting his invitation for herself and her guests.

“Are you engaged to play golf?” she asked.

“No, I am going into the town to call on a native merchant who has a wonderful cat’s-eye stone for sale. I have been to his house several times, but have never found him at home. This afternoon I shall make another attempt. If we come to terms I will show it to you this evening. What time may I expect you?”

“Soon after half-past six,” replied Mrs. Worthington.

As they walked towards the house where Stormond’s carriage stood under the porch, he managed to say to Averine in a low tone---

“May I hope to see you by yourself this evening?” She looked up at him suddenly, her eyes flashing with a hidden emotion which again puzzled him. Was it anger or love?

“Yes! yes! Mr. Stormond, we will continue the conversation which has been interrupted. But you must be quite sure that you wish to add me to your collection of curios.”

His heart gave a bound, though there was a sting in her words. He pressed her hand, which was quickly withdrawn, and drove away with mixed feelings difficult to define.

As Averine entered her room to prepare for the drive, the ayah handed her a note.

“Any messenger waiting?”

“No, missie; which hat missie wearing?”

Receiving no answer, the ayah placed three hats on the dressing-table with veils and gloves to match, so that her mistress could choose for herself.

But Averine took no heed of wearing apparel just now. She was absorbed in the letter written by an unknown hand. She read it through to the end---re-read it with eyes in which shone a variety of emotions, astonishment and indignation preponderating. The ayah stood by the dressing-table waiting with the patience characteristic of her race.

“Go; you need not stay; I am not ready for my hat,” said Averine, as she brushed past on her way to Mrs. Dunbar’s room. She entered in her haste unbidden, with the privilege of a daughter.

“Mrs. Dunbar, I have received a letter from a man who---who——”

She stopped as if the words choked her. Mrs. Dunbar looked round quickly, detecting agitation in her tone. She approached and laid a calming hand upon Averine’s.

“Who says?” she said, gently.

“Who signs himself——”



The name was spoken in a muffled voice as it it choked her. There was silence, and Mrs. Dunbar slipped an arm round the slender waist in tender sympathy,

“Oh! how dare he! how dare he!”

Still the elder lady held her peace, and Averine’s head drooped. The girl bit her lip in an effort of self-control whilst she beat her foot angrily upon the floor.

“He claims my father as his! my dear father! who belonged only to us, who loved but one woman in his life and that was my mother! He dares to tell me that my father had another wife, who married him by the laws of her people before he met my mother.”

She stopped short, unable to proceed, and pushed the letter into her hand. As Mrs. Dunbar read, she gave a little sigh of relief. She could not have embroidered the truth herself; but she was grateful to the man who had felt no scruple in thus tempering the wind.

“My dear child,” said Mrs. Dunbar, in calm even words that were not without their effect. “Your father did not begin his life when he first met your mother. I know well that she was the only woman he ever loved. But before he met her his life was his own; and---and if”---she laid an emphasis on the “if”---“another woman entered his life, called him husband and bore him a son, it is not for you to resent it by showing anger against the man who owes his existence to him.”

“It cannot be true! It is impossible to believe it!”

“You are taking it too much to heart, Averine. If the man’s claim is just, what of it? What does it matter to you?”

“Say it is false! Oh! godmother! I cannot share my dear father with any stranger! Say it is false!”

“Child, it is true.”

Again there was silence between them, and Averine hid her face on Mrs. Dunbar’s shoulder.

“Be just and generous towards the dead. What right have you to criticise his actions, especially those before you were born, before your mother became known to him? Believe that he acted for the best according to his judgment, and forbear to criticise a parent. After all, why should it distress you to think that your father had a former wife?”

Mrs. Dunbar shrank from the use of the word “wife” in connection with the Nair woman, yet wife in good faith had the Nair woman believed herself to be by the rules of her own religion. It was impossible to speak of the liaison in any other way to Averine.

“I thought he belonged entirely to us,” said Averine, more calmly.

“And you were jealous! You wanted him all to yourself; a selfish sentiment, unworthy of his daughter!”

Mrs. Dunbar’s words began to bear fruit.

“It is all so sudden, so strange, so unexpected.”

“I can understand that it has been a surprise, I might say shock. He asks you to call and see him; but that, of course, is impossible. You must write and tell him so.”

Mrs. Dunbar spoke without thought. She had effectually dispersed Averine’s anger by placing the matter in a reasonable light, and by pointing out that there was no insult in the story to the memory of her father. Surprise passed away rapidly, and jealousy vanished with anger. In place of these emotions there remained feminine curiosity. As Mrs. Dunbar met Averine’s glance, she instantly recognised that she had made a mistake in dictating any line of conduct, above all in declaring that the visit was impossible. With a girl like Averine, who followed the dictates of her heart on the impulse of the moment, and whose independence of action almost amounted to eccentricity, it was fatal to speak of impossibilities. She was prepared, therefore, for her next speech.

“If he is not an impostor, and if as you say, his story is true, why should I not go and see him?”

“There is nothing to be gained on either side by such a visit. He is not in want and requires no help.”

“No, he says he is rich through my father.”

“I cannot understand, then, why he should have made his existence known to you,” said Mrs. Dunbar, with an expression of annoyance on her face which she was unable to conceal.

“He tells me in the letter what his reason is for making the request,” replied Averine, pointing to the note which Mrs. Dunbar still held. “He longs to see me and speak with me. Surely the wish is perfectly natural.”

“You forget that his mother belonged to this country, and that his position is in consequence very different from yours. There cannot be any equality or social intercourse between you.”

Again Mrs. Dunbar was conscious that her words were not well chosen, and were certainly not calculated to appeal to a girl of Averine’s character.

“Yet we are brother and sister.”

“Half brother and sister,” corrected Mrs. Dunbar, who was regarding her with a troubled expression.

All trace of indignation and astonishment had disappeared and nothing remained but that feminine quality which was the undoing of the mother of mankind. Each moment it increased. Who was this man who claimed kinship? What was he like? Would he resemble her father? Her own brothers all bore the image of their sire. She was the only child who possessed her mother’s features, hair and eyes. A great longing seized her to look at him, to speak with him, to hear his voice.

“Godmother,” she said after a pause, “I must go.”

“There is no occasion; it would be best not.”

“I want to see him. There can be no harm in our meeting once.”

Mrs. Dunbar’s eyes dwelt upon her with affection in which was mingled sadness. She replied in a tone that was impressive.

“Averine, you are of age; you are no longer a child. Yet you have received a shock, a distinct shock. If you carry out your intention you must be prepared for another.”

“You know him?”

“I have known him ever since he was a child; but I have met him only at long intervals.”

“Have you seen him lately?”

Her questions came with breathless rapidity and her fingers closed convulsively upon the firm hand of her old friend.

“Yes, a few weeks ago.”

“What is he like?”

“To all intents and purposes he is a native gentleman.”

Averine clasped her hands with a little movement which might have been a trick of the French ancestress, as she replied---

“Oh! I must see him at once! this very afternoon! He asks me to call with you; you will come, will you not?” she pleaded as Mrs. Dunbar did not respond.

“There is the other call which we intended to make.”

The girl drew herself away. Her mouth was set and her eyes shone with determination.

“If you do not wish to come I will go alone. I will send for a carriage at once and drive to his house. I have no fear of meeting the son of my father. For father’s sake I will go and will hold out to him the hand of a sister.”

It was useless to attempt to divert her from a purpose when once Averine had made up her mind. Aware of this Mrs. Dunbar wasted no more time in further argument.

“Very well; put on your hat and gloves and we will start, for we are late.”

As Mrs. Dunbar stepped into the carriage a few minutes later, followed by Averine, she said to the coachman---

“Drive to the house of the merchant, Vytalingum.”

Chapter XXIII

The Australian Squares Accounts with the Native Merchant

On the morning of that same day Vytalingum sat in the verandah of his house. The roof of the porch blazed with flame-coloured bignonia; the stone pillars were hung with festoons of pink antigone creeper; and the trellis that screened porch and verandah was curtained with the azure ipomea, blue morning-glory, the flowers of which rival the ethereal blue of the sky.

Vytalingum loved his flowers, but at that particular moment they were far from his thoughts. His handsome face was still, except for the brown eyes that moved restlessly under their flickering lids, a habit that marked the stir of emotion within the man. In their depths shone a light of expectancy as he listened for the wheels of his own brougham which had been sent to the station to meet Vansittart. The Australian was coming to give an account of his stewardship before proceeding to Madras.

He had not long to wait. A carriage stopped at the garden gate, the door was opened by the old servant, and Vansittart strode towards the house. Vytalingum met him at the top of the steps.

“How are you, Mr. Vansittart? I am very glad to see you safe back again.”

The Australian shook hands with his host, took an offered chair and sat down.

“I have fared well, and I have fared ill. Good fortune attended me at first, and then came the worst bit of luck that could befall a man short of losing his life.”

“Ah! I know! I have learned through your letters the misfortunes that have happened. Tell me the story whilst we smoke and drink coffee.”

Vytalingum moved from the verandah to the dining-room and back again, ministering to the needs of the traveller. He smoked, but he did not touch the cup which he had prepared for himself. He took a seat with his back to the light, and listened in silence to the tale told by the Australian.

“You did all you could, I suppose, to find the thief?”

“I left no means untried.”

“And you have heard nothing more of the pearl?”

“There was a curious rumour in the fishery town just before I left. A Malay was ill with fever and delirious. People said that he spoke strange words and raved of a curse, laid upon him in consequence of his having stolen my pearl.”

A low laugh broke from Vytalingum as he listened. “How could that be?” he asked. “You, with your inherited instincts and Christian teaching, would forgive him.”

“Not an easy matter I can assure you,” responded Vansittart, with some warmth.

“Now, if he had stolen it from me, it would have been very different. Of course I should curse him by all the gods of my mother’s people, if I were true to my inherited instincts.”

“Perhaps you have already cursed him. But I do not suppose for a moment that the scoundrel dreads the curse of either of us.”

Vytalingum again was moved to laughter low and gentle. “Who laid the ban upon him?” he asked.

“The story goes that as the thief was sneaking away from the camp with his loot, he met a magician, one of the many who go there to bless the boats of the divers. The magician cursed him then and there, turning the pearl into a white sandstone.”

“Was the magician known?”

“He was a stranger at the fishery; but no evil was reported of him. Now and then I saw him near the kottoo; but Dunbar’s butler assured me that he meant no harm. On the contrary, all the men in our camp seemed to have the greatest respect for him, and stood in awe of his spiritual powers. There must be a great fascination in the exercise of such a power.”

“Assuredly there is,” replied Vytalingum, quickly.

“They work on the fears of the people by their tricks, of course. It must be all imposture.”

There was a questioning note in Vansittart’s tone which caught the ear of his companion.

“It is all real both to people and pujari for the time being, even though the miracles are performed by natural means. The Sanyasi believes himself to be the instrument of the gods, and the people believe they hear the divine voice in him.”

“Personal influence and superstition,” said Vansittart, but without a trace of contempt or scorn.

“Hypnotism and spiritualism you call it in England. But we are in advance of you in one respect. We do not pretend to have dealings with any but evil spirits, and those we do our best to restrain.” Then, seeing a look of wonder on the face of the other, he added, “I am speaking generally, being a Hindu by religion. But to go back to the pearl fishery. What was the name of the magician who cursed the Malay?”

“They called him Peroo.”

“Peroo?” replied Vytalingum, slowly. “I think I know the man.”

“Do you believe that he was the thief?”

“No, he is not the man to do such a thing. The police are right, probably, in their conjecture that it was a Malay. You are fortunate in not having felt his knife.”

“So Mr. Dunbar told me,” observed Vansittart.

“I am thankful that you did not lose your life as well as the pearl. We must make the best of it. I have written to Mr. Dunbar to accept his offer. We shall have a smaller sum to divide; that is all.”

Vansittart raised his hand in protest. “The loss must fall upon me; not upon you. What profit is there on the pearls taken by Mr. Dunbar?”

“Half a lac.”

“Mr. Dunbar valued the big pearl at half a lac; possibly it might have fetched more if sold without the assistance of the middle man. It represents my share, and since it is lost we must consider that my share is gone.”

But Vytalingum would not listen to such a proposal. “Not at all! You were appointed my agent; I took the risk and must share in the loss as well as the gain.”

The other shook his head. “It is no use talking, Vytalingum. Mr. Dunbar told me that you would behave towards me with the generosity of an Englishman——”

“Did he say that?” burst from the lips of the native.

He was strangely moved, and his eyes shone with an emotion suddenly called into life by the words of the Australian.

“He did, and apparently he knew you better than you know me. You must allow me to behave like an Englishman also. I cannot take anything more than the cost of my trip, which has already been paid out of your money.”

The eyes of the merchant dwelt upon his companion for a while as though he would read his innermost soul.

“Do you realise all that this loss entails? It will destroy your hope of entering into a partnership with Mr. Affleck.”

“I realise it all.”

Vansittart’s lips closed firmly. For the last ten days he had faced the situation. As the wind scattered the fragments of paper by the sea-shore the battle began. Heart-ache and useless longings, regret and vain repentance that he had not been more careful, were beaten down, together with those dreams, which for a short while ran riot through his brain. By this time he was master of himself; and Vytalingum saw no more than the natural chagrin a man might feel at the loss of a fortune which was once within his grasp. Desirous of taking the conversation into safer and less personal waters, Vansittart drew some papers from his pocket, and placed them upon the table by the side of Vytalingum.

“These are the accounts. I should like you to look through them before I leave.”

“There is no hurry. You will stay the night with me? No? You would prefer to go back by the night mail? Very well, so you shall; it leaves at ten o’clock. We will go through these papers at once.”

Half an hour later Vytalingum left Vansittart to himself as usual, to spend the greater part of the day alone, promising to join him when the heat of the day was over.

He had finished his cup of afternoon tea and was prepared to stroll with his host in the shaded garden when voices in the verandah fell on his ear. Vytalingum apparently was receiving visitors. Not wishing to intrude upon them, Vansittart passed out by a side door and found himself in a maze of beautiful ferns and palms. The peacefulness of the garden soothed his troubled spirit and banished the fishery with its fever of speculation, its restless life, and its loathsome surroundings, like an evil dream.

Chapter XXIV

The Call of the Gods

Averine walked up the steps of Vytalingum’s house with a throbbing heart. She was followed closely by Mrs. Dunbar, who had resigned herself to the inevitable and was prepared to efface herself for an hour. In the centre of the room stood Vytalingum. Except for the turban, his dress was thoroughly English. Averine advanced towards him with agitation, both hands extended.

“Brother, I have come.”

His voice trembled as he replied: “The God of our father bless you, little sister, for this act of graciousness.”

The two looked into each other’s eyes, unmindful of the presence of Mrs. Dunbar, who retired to the verandah feeling that she had no part in such a meeting. As Averine scanned the features of the man who clasped her hands, her spirit was strangely moved. They were the features of her father; but the brown eyes belonged to the Indian mother. The figure was familiar, the tall upright form, the set of the head, the easy carriage, were her father’s, but the olive skin indicated a foreign race. Fascinated, spell-bound, each studied the other, too much moved to speak the words which trembled on their lips. Averine was the first to recover herself.

“Your letter was a surprise. I never dreamed that my father had——”

“Another son,” said Vytalingum, quickly filling in the slight pause.

“I am glad---yes, I am glad that I know it,” she continued, with growing approval. “You gave no hint of your identity when we met at Mr. Worthington’s house.”

“Ah, you remember my visit! I was master of my desire then, and kept silence.”

“What was your desire?” she asked softly.

“It was that I might meet a sister as I do now; stand face to face with my father’s daughter, and hold her hand in mine.”

“And why should you not do so? there was nothing wrong about the wish.”

“I had given a promise that I would never make myself known to my father’s children; but now that he is dead the bands of the promise are loosened, and I have dared to speak.” He brought a chair into which she sank. “I am alone in the world without brother or sister of my own. I have taken no wife. There are moments when my loneliness, my isolation is almost more than I can bear. At such times my heart cries out to my father’s people; but until now the silence has not been broken.”

“You have your mother’s family,” said Averine, her eyes shining with pity.

A shadow crossed his face. “They were cut off from me by circumstances that happened before my birth. I know none of them, and they are not aware of my existence.”

The sadness of his tone pierced her heart, and tears gathered under her lashes.

“Have you no friends?”

He laughed with a touch of bitterness. “Friendship as you know it, does not exist in this country, except among relatives. Therefore I have no friends.”

It was difficult for her to comprehend the exceeding great loneliness which had surrounded the life of this strange half-brother. She returned to the subject which was of deep interest for them both.

“When we met, you mentioned having seen my father shortly before his death. Tell me about him.”

He seated himself near her, where he could watch her face, and related the story of his visit to the west coast. She listened with shining eyes and parted lips as he described the man beloved by both. As he talked he emphasised his words with gestures that were familiar. In trick and turn of manner she saw her father again. Even the voice bore a certain resemblance to the voice that was hushed in death. When he had finished she said—

“Brother, why should you not come to England and take your place amongst us? You would find there the kinship and love for which you now crave. I can answer for my brothers that they will honour the son of our father.”

But Vytalingum knew better than she did how he would be regarded. There was another reason why he should remain in the land of his birth. An expression of pain crept into his face as he said---

“Do you remember when we met at Mrs. Worthington’s I gave utterance to something which you resented. I honoured you for defending the memory of the dead; but I am obliged to repeat it. Our father did me an injustice. He gave me being, he gave me education, he gave me wealth; but he denied me his religion. I am a heathen, a worshipper of strange gods, the gods of my mother.”

He bowed his head and was silent. Averine heard his confession with dismay. She was appalled and shocked. With the buoyancy of youth that would conquer all things, she was beginning to hope that in spite of his mixed blood, his Indian education and instincts, he was capable of transformation, and there would be little difficulty in adopting the country of his father. But his words dispelled the dream and opened a yawning gulf between herself and the newly discovered half-brother.

“Why were you never baptized? I cannot believe that father would wilfully neglect his duty towards any one of his children.”

“He left me to my mother, who claimed a right to bring me up in her own faith. She belonged to a race on the west coast, which puts women before men in such matters. She was a Nair, proud and headstrong, following the dictates of her own desires, and submitting to no rule. In some respects I inherit this trait.”

“And father let her have her own way, just as he let my mother have hers,” said Averine.

“Perhaps it was that; or it might have been indifference. Whatever it was it caused him to commit an injustice, and it made me what I am, instead of what my inherited instinct suggests that I should be.”

He paused, and his eyes gazed beyond her with the abstracted look of one who tried to pierce the phantom world of dreams. Averine waited for him to tell her more. Upon his features gathered the rapt expression of the devotee, and he was gradually transformed into another being. His voice sounded a new note---a note of exaltation and enthusiasm.

“Yet there are times when my mother’s nature dominates the inheritance from my father; when I am obliged to obey the call of the gods.”

Spell-bound with a new wonder, she watched his rapid movements. The turban was cast aside and the long black locks unknotted. He sprang to his feet and shook the glossy hair over his shoulders. Dipping his fingers into a saucer that stood upon the side-board, he passed them over his forehead, leaving three horizontal lines, the mark of his god.

“Have you seen me thus? Do you know me?” he cried, turning upon her with eyes in which flashed the fire of fanaticism.

The Europeanized native gentleman had vanished, and in his place Averine beheld Peroo, the Sanyasi.

“Salaam, little sister; the favour of the gods go with you,” he said in the soft speech of the west coast.

She did not shrink as rising from her seat she faced the strange yet familiar figure. The handsome Sanyasi of the streets fascinated rather than repelled. Horror found no place in the tumult of her mind, nor even repulsion. But there was a difficulty which at first she was unable to overcome. It was impossible to realise that this heathen devotee was her father’s son. She seemed to be looking at him across a gulf that had suddenly yawned at their feet. Vytalingum was possible, but Peroo! She lifted her hands to her eyes to shut out the sight, crying in a voice of distress---

“Brother! Why do you pretend to be something that you are not?”

Her note of anguish recalled him to himself. The fanatical light in his eyes faded, the rapt expression of the ascetic which had so suddenly illumined his features disappeared. With a handkerchief he brushed away the symbol on his forehead. The shining locks were swiftly knotted and pushed beneath the folds of the turban.

“Did I alarm you? Forgive me; I would not hurt a hair of your head or cause you a moment’s pain,” said the gentle voice of Vytalingum at her elbow.

She removed her hands from eyes that were moist with conflicting emotions. The prosperous merchant of Trichinopoly stood before her once more, and Peroo the Sanyasi was gone. She caught her breath in a sigh of relief which reached his ear.

“I was not alarmed, I was startled,” she replied with unsteady voice.

“I did not mean to startle you,” he returned regretfully. “I wished you to know me for what I am. What you see me now, I am for some months of the year. Then comes a period of restlessness,” he continued in tones that appealed to her pity and sympathy, “when I seem to hear the gods calling. My loneliness maddens me. In vain I fight against the summons; it is a command that cannot be disobeyed. At night, the Sanyasi with his alms-bowl creeps forth unseen from the garden gate; he seeks his disciple; he gathers the people round him in sun and shade, making their joys and sorrows his, and bringing good into their worthless lives if the gods permit. Then for a time he is happy.”

Averine recalled the scenes in the roads of Madras, the dust and the sunshine, the crowd of wondering men and women, the miracles and the magic that were so dear to their hearts. She looked up at him with a glance in which he read the sisterly kindness for which he yearned.

“Then it was you who drew me out of the way of the horse at the stable yard?” she cried with sudden enlightenment.

“It was I,” he replied with the rare sweet smile that occasionally illuminated the face of Peroo, the Sanyasi. “Most fortunate for both of us the horse fell as it tried to turn aside from my uplifted arm.”

“I little guessed,” she cried, giving herself up to the wonder and romance of his revelation. “Nor did you?” she added with a note of interrogation in her voice.

“I knew that you were Miss Desormieux.”

“Of course! I remember how you read my hand, and told me who I was. I thought that you were an Indian palmist, a magician, as the syces called you.”

“So I was; so I am still, as much as other men are who claim to be such. Vytalingum, the merchant, saw the name of Desormieux in the passenger lists to be found in English papers, where he looks for quotations of the English and foreign markets. The name is not common, and Peroo, the Sanyasi, went down to Madras to see Desormieux’s daughter, thinking that a sight of her would suffice. But she was gracious, more gracious than Englishwomen are wont to be to the natives of India, and the meeting stirred him with longings and with love of kith and kin. He returned here with the memory of the fair sister hugged to his heart; and Vytalingum prayed for the boon which you have granted.”

She was deeply moved by his story, and forgot the circumstances of his surroundings in her pity. She thought only of how balm might be brought to the lonely spirit.

“Brother, it is not too late to amend the past. Come to England with me,” she pleaded. “Join the people of your father’s nation. Be one with us, his children, and with us worship his God. You will find work and joy amongst the poor of his land. There is room, oh, there is room for all in the service of our father’s God!”

He listened with bent head and charmed ears as she drew a vivid picture of the labours of self-devoted men in large English towns. She spoke of the need of labourers in the field of Christian philanthropy. He had wealth, he was free from family ties and duty, he was filled with the single-hearted love for his fellow-men who were weak and frail; why should he not cast aside the trammels of his mother’s race and religion, and rising on the wings of enthusiasm and zeal, seek better things in the land of his father? Her passionate entreaty stirred his soul, and the possibility of such a life held him entranced.

She ceased and there was silence. The coppersmith bird repeated its monotonous chant under the scarlet blossom of the flamboyant. The subdued hum of the busy town floated in through the azure ipomea---the creaking bullock-carts, the rattling pony-jutkas, the shrill cries of the street hawkers, and the buzz of human voices.

From the river there was wafted a single sound; it was the roll of the tomtom coming from the riverside temple under the palms. The sound flung its tendrils round his heart and bound him body and soul to the land of his birth. The bathing ghat with its crowd of worshippers moving down the steps to the rhythmic beat of the drum, the sunlit pools of limpid water, the broad ribbon-like channel of the sacred Cauvery river gleaming in its bed of yellow sand, the green palm groves of the island of Srirangam, the brown old temple towers that looked out towards the river over dense masses of foliage,---rose before his eyes in a dazzling vision, obliterating the pictures conjured up by the English girl.

Peroo, the Sanyasi, beckoned, and Vytalingum, the merchant, obeyed the call. Together they fell back into the warm, sunny embrace of the East from which there was no return.

“It is too late,” he said at length, his low voice vibrating through his listener. “It is too late! When once the banyan tree builds its forest of stems, not even the gods themselves can transplant it.”

But she would not take this for his answer; she refused to let him go without another effort. Extending both her hands towards him, she entreated again.

“Come! Oh, brother, come! You shall begin a new life with me.”

He shook his head sadly. Her solicitude was sweet; but his gods spoke to him in the voice of the tomtom and forbade him to listen.

“My father planted the young tree in an Indian garden, and left it to the care of the Indian gardeners,” he said. “It has come to maturity and must bear the fruit of the country. What is done cannot be undone.”

She rose to her feet in her agitation, and drawing near, she placed both her hands on his. With pleading eyes that were hard to resist, she looked into his.

“We can try; together we can try.”

“Impossible. It is too late!”

With a delicate courtesy such as her own father might have used, he bent over her hand and kissed it. So stirred were they by the emotions that shook them both, that they did not hear a step upon the verandah. At the sound of Mrs. Dunbar’s voice, however, Averine turned, still clasping Vytalingum’s hands. Stormond advanced into the room, staring from one to the other in blank astonishment which he was unable to hide.

Chapter XXV

Stormond Finds a Flaw

“Miss Desormieux!”

Vytalingum drew back, allowing Averine’s hands to fall from his grasp. As he released her she turned to the civilian without any show of embarrassment, and said---

“What has brought you here, Mr. Stormond? Were you looking for me?”

Stormond did not reply immediately; speech failed him; he had received a distinct shock. As he entered the verandah and stopped for a moment to speak to Mrs. Dunbar, his eyes travelled beyond that lady and witnessed Vytalingum’s act of worship. He would gladly have believed that his vision played him false; but, as if in confirmation of the truth, he read emotion of an unusual kind on each face, and he noted the unclasping of hands as they drew apart.

“I---I---have come to see the owner of the cat’s-eye. I was not aware that you were here. Are you also buying gems?” he said, addressing Averine.

He was recovering himself fast, and with the chivalrous instinct of good-breeding he endeavoured to shield the confusion which he imagined she must feel through the entrance of a third person at such a moment, and that person himself. But his well-meant attempt to assist a girl of Averine’s character in a dilemma was thrown away, and he was the recipient of another shock as she said composedly---

“No, I am here for something very different; I came to make the acquaintance of my brother, my half-brother, Vytalingum.”

It had always been the pride of Stormond that he never exhibited surprise under any circumstances, and that he possessed the command of a diplomatist over temper and feeling. Again there was a pause; at the end of it the civilian was master of himself.

“I am sorry to have intruded. The servant at the gate told me to enter, saying that his master was at home.”

“And so he is. Vytalingum will show you the cat’s-eye with pleasure, I am sure.”

“I will not trouble him now; I will call again tomorrow morning.”

He looked from Averine to the merchant, who answered instantly---

“Allow me to come and see you; I will bring the stone with me. I am sorry to find that you have had the trouble of calling before; I have been away from home for the last six weeks.”

“Thanks; I shall expect you at the club where I am staying. Good evening, Vytalingum.” He turned to Averine. “We shall meet again presently, Miss Desormieux?”

“Certainly; at the club as arranged.”

He rejoined Mrs. Dunbar in the verandah still preserving an unruffled manner which was far from indicating his true state of mind. She accompanied him to the gate, chatting about subjects that were trivial and inconsequent, and carefully avoiding the one with which their minds were filled. To his was presented the vision of a native half-brother-in-law, whose existence might perhaps be ignored with any other wife, but who would have to be reckoned with if he married Averine. Mrs. Dunbar was wondering what effect the revelation would have on the civilian, and she smiled grimly as she thought of a Government servant with such a connection.

“It was not necessary to tell Mr. Stormond of our relationship,” remarked Vytalingum, when they were once more alone.

She smiled as she lifted her head with a little gesture of pride.

“I am not ashamed, nor are you.”

“No,” he answered thoughtfully; “but though Englishmen often make ties with the country, they are never proud of it; on the contrary, they may regard it with very different feelings. I should have been satisfied if you had kept silence.”

“It was best that he should know. If he had not come here this afternoon and seen for himself how matters stood, I should have told him this evening.”

Through the open doorway they watched Mrs. Dunbar. Both were aware that the interview must come to an end when she returned; they had trespassed sufficiently upon her patience.

“When may I see you again?” he asked.

“We leave for Madras in a few days, and from there we go to the hills.”

“You are not returning to England?”

“Not unless you will come with me,” she answered quickly, hope once more flashing into her eyes. “If you will consent, we will start by the next ship that sails.”

“I cannot; I have work to do.”

“What is it?”

“Peroo, the Sanyasi, is to perform a miracle, an act of self-sacrifice such as his class occasionally undertake for the good of the people.”

“You are running no risk? Tell me what it is.”

“It is believed that if a Sanyasi will allow himself to be buried until the green ear springs above his grave the clouds will open. The time approaches for the river to rise. In June the muddy torrent begins to pour down from the hills bringing fertility to the land. For the last two years the river has partially failed, but if the Sanyasi will give his strength to the gods, they will send the rains that fill the river.”

“Is there no risk?” she cried in apprehension.

“None,” he replied, smiling at her anxiety, which was nevertheless sweet. “None, if Vytalingum sees to the proper preparation of the grave.”

“And when it is over we will meet again.”

His face lighted up with pleasure. No woman save his own mother had ever expressed a desire to see him again. The soft delight of a sister’s solicitude thrilled through his soul as he uttered the words: “If you will permit it, little sister, we will meet again.”

“Well, Vytalingum,” said Mrs. Dunbar’s voice at the doorway. “So you have at last broken your word which you have kept so faithfully these many years.”

Reproach was killed by the sympathy of her tone. No one knew better than Mrs. Dunbar how the friendless lad had grown into the still more solitary man; how the sin of the father had been visited on the son, leaving him disowned by relatives, to all intents and purposes the impostor Royadu Charlu had once called him, without a real right to caste or religion. Only under cover of half the truth was he now received by a sister to whose love and sympathy he had no right. From the depth of her large-hearted motherly soul she pitied the son of her old friend.

“There comes a time when silence is unendurable. My father and mother are both dead, and there is no longer any need for it.”

“It may be so. The deed being done we will not discuss it; silence once broken cannot be mended. Come, Averine, we must be going. We must not keep our host at the club waiting.”

Vytalingum accompanied them to the garden-gate. He stood for a moment or two watching the carriage until they were lost to sight by a bend in the road. There was a shadow of regret upon the grave face from which the smile had vanished. As he turned to retrace his steps the sound of the tomtom was again wafted from the river. He remained motionless, his ear listening to the beat. Then all signs of regret faded, the rapt look crept into his eyes, and Peroo, the chosen of the gods, communed with Vytalingum.

Stormond met Averine and Mrs. Dunbar at the club portico, and assisted them to alight. Mrs. Worthington had already arrived. The ices and cup were ready, and were served on a table placed in a retired nook amongst the ferns and crotons just outside the building. Stormond played the host to perfection. There was no trace of restraint or awkwardness in his manner. Neither by word nor look did he betray the fact that he had received a shock which had been followed by a conflict within himself, in which the best part of the man had triumphed. He dispensed the light refreshments, talking easily as he did so. When they had finished, the two elder ladies fell into an animated discussion regarding the affairs of a local charity, of which Mrs. Worthington had attended a committee meeting that evening. Averine and Stormond were left to themselves.

“Have some more cup, Miss Desormieux; it is iced to perfection.”

She refused his offer, and he relieved her of the empty glass. Pushing his chair further back so as to be nearer he asked---

“Did Vytalingum show you the cat’s-eye?”

“No, but he would have done so had I expressed a wish to see it. Our attention was too much absorbed by other topics.”

By which he understood that she was not afraid to touch on the subject.

“I should like to have had your opinion on the stone. From all accounts it is a wonderfully perfect gem, showing twin rays, each narrow and sharply defined.”

“If the cat’s-eye is perfect in every respect and flawless, it should meet with your approval. You have a fastidious taste in all things, Mr. Stormond, and it would be a mistake on your part to disregard its promptings.”

He allowed his glance to rest upon her for a few moments. Then he said quietly: “I believe you are right. It is not my fault but my misfortune to be fastidious. But,” he continued more earnestly, whilst a shade of anxiety crept into his tone; “I am not so foolish as to despise the cat’s-eye because it is first cousin to quartz, nor the diamond because of its relationship to carbon.”

“Yet the relationship exists, and must be reckoned with,” rejoined Averine, quickly.

“At least they are not flaws.”

“And therefore, you think, would not lessen the value of the gem? I differ from you.”

“If the gem is perfect, its relationship to quartz or carbon matters nothing,” he said, with increasing earnestness.

“I do not agree with that sentiment,” she replied decisively. “So long as the diamond is not brought into contact with the carbon, nothing can dim its brightness. But coal clouds all that it touches, and the diamond that must come into contact with carbon cannot please a fastidious taste.”

“Averine!” his voice was low and passionate. “I do not care a straw for relationships. It is yourself that I want “

In the darkness of the twilight she laid her hand gently but firmly on his arm.

“Believe me, Mr. Stormond, I am wiser than you. Since I have seen Vytalingum, I have come to a knowledge of myself. I know that I do not love you, and that I can never be your wife.”

There was silence, during which the conflict again raged within the man, the head saying she was right, the heart rebelliously crying out for its idol. It was true. Averine, with such a relative, was not the most suitable wife for a man in Stormond’s position.

“Mr. Stormond, will you kindly call my carriage?” said Mrs. Worthington.

He started up to do her bidding. As they drove away he said to himself, “Perhaps, after all she is right.” But his heart ached none the less for the wise verdict of reason.

Chapter XXVI

The Working of the Philtre

Miggle returned to Madras like a patriarch from the wilderness, bringing his train of tents, camp-furniture lascars, servants, and followers safely back to his master’s house in the Mount Road. He arrived twenty-four hours before his mistress, and at once picked up the reins from the second in command. Everything was handed over in perfect order. The horses looked well, the dogs were flourishing, the cows showed no falling off. As for the garden, it was as fresh and as blooming as industrious gardeners could make it. The only exception was Miss Desormieux’s horse.

It was lent to Stormond, who took it out three or four times before going to Trichinopoly. The horse went badly, and he put it down to the heavier weight. Possibly a heavier hand upon the sensitive mouth had also something to do with it. Believing that the animal would be the better for more exercise, he asked a friend to ride it occasionally. The change of riders did not suit, and it lost its temper. A severe fit of buck-jumping with the overthrow of the rider was the result, and Raksha was returned to the Dunbar stables in disgrace.

“The devil has come back upon the horse,” said Arokian, as he drew off the jool in the stable-yard, and displayed the shining well-groomed coat which was his pride.

“It was not well done to let another ride it,” replied Miggle.

“Is the medicine given by the Sanyasi finished?”

“There is but one ball left, and it will be no use without some more——”

“Some more pujah,” concluded Arokian, not quite as the butler intended.

The latter was thinking that one dose would not have much effect; the former had no faith whatever in any medicine without the performance of spells.

“When will the Sanyasi come again?” asked Arokian, with some anxiety. If the horse proved useless it would be sold, and he would lose a good place.

“I cannot tell; but until he comes we must not let the missie ride. Take the horse to the blacksmith, and I will meet you there after the marketing is done.”

Miggle drove to Blacktown in his little bullock-cart with the cook for company. He encountered several old friends in the market who greeted him warmly, and plied him with numerous questions. There was much to tell and much to hear. The story of his pearling operations on behalf of his master and himself widened their eyes; the finding and subsequent loss of the monster pearl was received with ejaculations of sympathy. He had also something to say to his sporting friends; how the Phoonghee had fought many a battle, always coming off winner; how the Singhalese game-fowls were a poor lot, possessing neither endurance nor pluck. Congratulations poured in upon him, and he received those concerning the pearl-fishing with unalloyed pleasure, as was indicated by his broadest smile. But allusions to the Phoonghee brought a shadow across his face and dimmed the smile in an unaccountable manner.

“Will you sell the Phoonghee?” asked the Club butler, a man of wealth and standing, but no sportsman.

Miggle glanced at him contemptuously. “The bird is not for sale,” he replied shortly.

“Your mistress will give you trouble if you allow her to see it. She is like a policeman, and has her eyes everywhere.”

“Why do you not give her a philtre?” asked a tall young butler, a recent addition to their ranks.

He had worked well as a table-servant, showing signs of promise, and his discerning mistress had just promoted him. He was puffed up with pride, and was anxious to make his mark amongst the older men.

“A philtre!” cried Miggle, with scorn. “That is a woman’s trick not worth talking about.”

“Woman’s trick!” repeated the other, warmly. “It is nothing of the kind! I gave my mistress one in her tea---it was a good one, and cost a rupee---and see what has happened! She has made me butler, and trusts me with the keys.”

“How am I to give the mistress a philtre that will conquer her anger against cock-fighting?” asked Miggle, unable to resist his curiosity, but his tone still bearing trace of scorn.

“See, here, I have a little powder left. It is exactly like sugar. Take a feather from the breast of the fowl, and sprinkle the powder over it. Would it be possible to put it in her early morning tea?”

“No,” said Miggle, shortly.

He could mentally see his mistress crushing and pulverising the being who attempted to work spells upon her.

“Place it under her pillow; it will be sufficient. Then let her eyes fall on the Phoonghee the first thing in the morning, and see if she does not regard the bird with favour.”

He tendered the paper deferentially, eager to ingratiate himself with the older man. But Miggle turned his back, and walked off without deigning to reply. The cook, whose sympathies were with his chief, and who made a little money by backing the fowls, held out his hand.

“Give it to me; I will talk to the kitchen-woman, and we will see what can be done. It would be greatly to our benefit if the mistress could be brought to look with favour on the keeping of game-fowls in the compound.”

Miggle had several matters to transact that morning, and there was fortunately no occasion to hurry home. The master and mistress were expected in the evening in time for dinner. He therefore sent the cook back with the purchases, hired a jutka, and continued his journey on his own business.

The blacksmith was next visited. Raksha was there, handsome and innocent in appearance, gentle as a lamb, and with no sign of vice. But the butler and the syce both knew the horse. Moreover, there were the unlucky marks which betokened ill-luck for those who crossed its back.

After a consultation with the blacksmith, which concluded with the passing of some silver, the animal’s off fore hoof was pared thin, its shoe replaced, and a blunt nail driven deep into the sensitive hoof. A satisfactory condition was thus brought about, making the morning ride impossible for a while. Raksha limped home as a man might who had a stone in his shoe.

From the blacksmith’s Miggle drove to St. Thoma, where he had a long interview with the particular priest who governed his spiritual affairs. The pearl was presented for the Virgin’s crown, together with some highly ornamental wax candles, painted red and gold. Miggle confessed penitently that he had been in the company of a Sanyasi. But he pleaded in extenuation of his sin that it was necessary in the interests of his master. To have avoided the Sanyasi and disregarded his warnings, would have brought trouble and disaster worse than had already happened.

The good padre did not ask for any details. Perhaps he knew more of the butler and his doings than was suspected by that worthy. Miggle came of a long line of idolaters; he lived in a heathen land, and was surrounded by an atmosphere of superstition. But he was a faithful servant according to his lights, honest of purpose and a steady man.

So the Father readily gave him absolution with many admonitions to avoid Sanyasis and pujaris, and warned him against relapsing into the evil ways of his forefathers. The pearl and candles were accepted, and a day appointed for the dedication of the gem. He also gave him permission to bring as many of his heathen friends and relatives as could be persuaded to come to witness the ceremonial.

Miggle heaved a sigh of relief as he left the church and drove back to his mid-day meal. He was filled with the delightful sensation of having been pardoned; and he beamed with the satisfaction of returning to the paths of respectability and virtue; wrong had been done, but it was forgiven, and he could hold up his head with the best again.

Glowing with self-sufficiency, conscious that the preparations were as complete as mortal man could make them, he received Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar and Miss Desormieux with mingled pride and homage. Mrs. Dunbar might never have left the house, so thoroughly in working order did she find it.

The trip to Trichinopoly had been pleasant and enjoyable, but she was delighted to be back once more. The weather was warm, and Averine’s colour gone. There was also a droop of sadness about her which went to Mrs. Dunbar’s motherly heart. At times her anger rose against Vytalingum for having made Averine a partaker in his sorrow; at another moment she felt annoyed with Vansittart.

Dunbar had joined his wife on the railway without breaking his journey from Colombo. She had found neither time nor opportunity to tell him of the meeting between Averine and Vytalingum; nor to learn from him what he thought of Vansittart’s prospects, now that the pearl was stolen.

The next morning Mrs. Dunbar was up early. By seven o’clock she was in the garden amongst her flowers. The sun had brought them into full blossom, and some of the more delicate plants were already suffering from the approach of the hot season. However, the inspection was satisfactory, and the anxious gardeners were made happy with a few words of approval. From the garden she moved to the stables, where the horses were led out by their grooms. Their satin coats showed signs of careful marlishing and good food, as the animals were turned about in the morning sun. The coachman was praised, and told to commend the syces for their work. Raksha was brought out last. The moment the horse appeared her quick eye detected a slight limp.

“What have you done to that horse?” she demanded of Arokian.

“That other gentleman plenty riding over hard ground. Horse jumping and kicking and hurting itself.”

The butler was absent at the market so she could not obtain any explanation beyond that given by the syce which was confirmed by the coachman.

“How long has the horse been lame?”

“Twenty days, ma’am.”

“You must take it to the blacksmith and let him look at its shoes. I will give the order to the butler when he returns.”

“Yesterday the butler went to the farrier and I took the horse by his order. The farrier done take shoe off. He says horse cutting foot on a piece of rock when it kicked with that master. The farrier gave medicine to dress the foot. In a few days the horse will be quite well.”

“H’m, show me the medicine,” said Mrs. Dunbar.

“Butler got locked up in store-room,” lied Arokian with ease and interest.

He was enjoying himself immensely, and was conscious that his ready tongue was rousing the admiration of the rest of the stable company, and winning the warm approval of the coachman.

Mrs. Dunbar said no more but moved on to glance at the cows. They were in excellent condition and there was nothing to complain of. From the cowshed she would naturally pass the servants’ quarters and the kitchen to reach the house.

Now the cook had carried out his little plan with the philtre hoping to benefit both himself and the butler. He enlisted the aid of the kitchen-woman who carried the hot water upstairs to the ladies’ rooms night and morning. A feather was procured from the Phoonghee; some of the magic powder was sprinkled over it with certain ceremonies enjoined by the young dabbler in the black art, and it was wrapped in paper. The kitchen-woman found an opportunity of placing it under Mrs. Dunbar’s pillow and the secret was kept until the result should be learnt.

Having perfect faith in the efficacy of the charm, the kitchen-woman proceeded to complete the details which she had heard from the cook were necessary. Seeing that the mistress was likely to pass the kitchen before long, she brought the Phoonghee out from the dark corner of the kitchen where the cook had hidden the coop, and placed it in the full light of the sun, telling her son to stay by it.

The Phoonghee rejoicing in the beams of the morning after the dim smokey kitchen, showed its pleasure by a succession of triumphant crows.

Mrs. Dunbar stopped to say a few words to the butler’s wife and to express a hope that she did not suffer much discomfort at the fishery camp. As she approached the kitchen her ears were assailed by a loud crow. She quickened her steps and stopped before the coop. The child stood by its side as he had been directed, placed his hands behind his back as he had seen the butler stand, put his pigeon-heels together, and glanced from his charge into the face of the mistress with a pride that burst from every pore.

“Butler’s yen,” he said, introducing her to the champion with grave confidence.

He was very pleased with his effort at English and could not understand the frown that rested on her brow. The kitchen-woman peeped furtively from behind the kitchen door to watch the working of the charm. She was not quite so happy in her mind as the boy. But Mrs. Miggle witnessing the scene from a distance was overwhelmed with fear and consternation.

Mrs. Dunbar did not utter a word. With a parting glance, severe and ominous, at the offending fowl she turned abruptly and walked towards the house. The Phoonghee sent another triumphant crow after her, when Mrs. Miggle ran hastily to the spot, seized the cage, jolting the end of the crow into a cackle of alarm, and carried the doomed bird back to its hiding-place in the kitchen.

“Oh, woman, you have brought evil upon the bird! She who rules us will order its death,” she wailed.

“Be comforted; she will not command it to be killed. It was but the completion of a charm which the cook and I have worked with a philtre.”

The kitchen-woman felt bound to divulge the cook’s secret by way of consolation. The story allayed the fears of Mrs. Miggle to a certain extent, but it did not set her mind at rest. They agreed to say nothing to the butler of the occurrence. If the charm proved successful he would be told in due time by the cook.

Mrs. Dunbar and Miggle finished the customary round of household business after breakfast as methodically as if the thread of their existence had never been interrupted. Then followed the inquiry about the horse. It was sent for and Arokian brought it to the back verandah. Miggle explained that missie had lent the animal to Mr. Stormond and he passed it on to another gentleman. It behaved badly, throwing its rider and laming itself.

“Yesterday I went with the horse to the farrier. The shoe was taken off and he found the place where the hoof was bruised. It is nicely healing but still hurting, so that missie cannot ride yet. Arokian, lift the foot and show the mistress where it is paining.”

The syce did as he was told, pressing his finger upon that part of the hoof where the nail irritated. The horse winced and the foot was lowered.

“The hoof has been pared, I see,” remarked Mrs. Dunbar.

“The farrier took off the shoe and cut away the torn part. Then he put the shoe on loosely. In a week’s time the horse is to go back to him and he will be able to put the shoe on properly. He says that the foot will be quite well by that time. His charge was only three rupees, which I paid.”

“And he gave you some stuff to put on it; let me see it.”

Arokian produced an old jam-pot in which was a greasy concoction of neat’s foot oil and bazaar turpentine. Mrs. Dunbar examined it without suspicion. She was satisfied that the horse was lamed accidentally, but that it was only temporary trouble. Averine would have to go without her morning ride for the present; but as the sun was increasing in power each day that passed, she did not regret the accident.

“Keep the leg in wet bandages,” she said, and Arokian was dismissed with his charge.

Mrs. Dunbar went from the verandah to her boudoir, Miggle following in attendance. The accounts took some time as they included the expenditure at the camp. They were entirely satisfactory from beginning to end, and Mrs. Dunbar was not behindhand in expressing her approval. But when the business of the morning was over she turned in her chair and faced the butler with a look that he knew of old.


“Yes, ma’am.”

“You have a fighting-cock in the kitchen; whose is it?”

“Mine only.”

“You must get rid of it. You must sell it or give it to one of your friends.”

“Can’t sell that fowl, ma’am.”

“Then give it away to some one in Blacktown.”

Mrs. Dunbar was acting with what she considered to be remarkable moderation on her part. She watched him with surprise as his head went lower and the habitual smile disappeared.

“Can’t give the bird to any one; too valuable.”

“You refuse to obey me! I am ashamed of you, Miggle. You have been in bad company at the fishery, and learned bad ways. I ought never to have allowed you to go.”

The butler preserved silence.

“The bird must be got rid of; will you sell it or give it away?”

“Can’t, ma’am; can’t let any one else have it!” cried Miggle, in a distressed tone.

Mrs. Dunbar felt that her leniency was not appreciated. She deeply regretted the necessity of acting with severity on her arrival home, but his obstinacy left no other course open. Game-fowls on the premises she would not tolerate; it was vexing to find that the butler expected anything different.

“Miggle, I have given you a chance of saving the bird. You refuse to take it. I now order you to kill it this evening, and we will have it for dinner to-morrow. You will charge it in the account as a first-sort capon.”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Miggle, in a voice that was scarcely audible.

Now that she had issued its death-warrant she looked for an entreaty that its life might be spared, and was still prepared to assent if he would agree to the sale or gift of it to a friend. But Miggle advanced no such request. If the bird might not remain in his possession he would rather it died. Such triumphs as it had won for him should never belong to another.

He left the boudoir in silence and returned moodily to his godown. Before he reached the door he began to call for his wife. Her delay in giving an immediate reply was irritating. Pushing his way into the small chamber, he found her seated before the curry-stone, grinding curry-stuff.

“Fool of a woman! did I not call?”

“And I was coming, husband,” she replied, somewhat alarmed by the unexpected exhibition of temper. He was so rarely anything but good-humoured.

“Coming, indeed! when I find you seated here! When my master returns to the house, the mistress goes to meet him. She does not walk, she flies. When I call, you do not stir, but sit there like a log. Take that, you stupid cooly of a woman!”

He thumped her on the back, but the blow was not heavy. It was not intended to hurt, but merely to show she was in the wrong, and merited punishment. If the mistress would fly to meet the master at the sound of his carriage wheels, the butler’s wife could surely come when she was called. She was getting fat and lazy, and needed correction.

He felt better after he had thus relieved his feelings, and went to the kitchen. He carried the bird out into the sun, opened the wicker door of the cage and let it loose. The Phoonghee, released from the confining coop, strutted about, stretching and flapping its wings with delight. The small boy brought a plate of food which it condescended to eat from his hand. Plunged in deep thought, Miggle sat and watched the bird, sighing now and again. A little later he was joined by the cook.

“The mistress has ordered the fowl to be killed,” he said presently.

“But that cannot be permitted!” remonstrated the cook in surprise and dismay. “We must get a capon from the market to-morrow morning; she will never know the difference.”

“It is fate; the bird must die. But it is a pity. I had hoped---yet there is no help for it.”

Between writing notes and directing the ayah concerning repacking for the hills, Mrs. Dunbar was busy all the morning. She and Averine were going to an hotel at Ootacamund. Dunbar was obliged to remain in Madras for the present; he could not leave the office; and Miggle stayed with him to take care of the house and his master.

In spite of being fully occupied, Mrs. Dunbar could not forget the Phoonghee. How foolish it was of Miggle not to comply with her request and sell the bird! She thought of its handsome plumage and of the little keeper of the butler’s “yen.” A smile crossed her face as she recalled the child’s inordinate pride. Perhaps she had been a trifle hard in ordering the cock to be killed. But unfortunately there was no other course to pursue whilst Miggle remained obdurate.

A string of callers between twelve and two o’clock caused her to forget the Phoonghee. After lunch, she went to her room to lie down. Once more the handsome bird came to her mind. She felt that she had been a little hasty. If she waited a few days Miggle might find some means by which it could be removed without proceeding to extremities. She determined to give it a reprieve. At four o’clock she came downstairs, and taking her umbrella from the stand walked across to the kitchen.

A sad sight met her gaze; the reprieve had come too late. The proud bird was dead, its throat having been cut by Miggle himself in the privacy of his own back-yard.

The small boy was seated just outside the kitchen door, with the limp body of the bird across his bare knees. Tears coursed down the child’s face as he plucked away the beautiful plumage from the breast in obedience to the directions of the cook. Miggle stood near watching the operation with eyes that were suspiciously moist.

“What is this, butler?” demanded Mrs. Dunbar, aghast at the sight. “I ordered the fowl to be killed to-night. Why have you not carried out my orders?”

“No time after dinner, ma’am. Better to kill it now to hang properly and make tender,” replied Miggle, in a choked voice.

“I wish you had not been so hasty,” she said in sharp annoyance. “I came to tell you that I have changed my mind, but I am afraid that I am too late. I did not wish the bird to be killed at all; I hoped that we might find some other way of settling the matter.”

Mrs. Dunbar’s gaze was riveted on the child at her feet. Occasionally he lifted the lifeless head with its glazed eyes and regarded it with mournful affection, or he tenderly smoothed the gay plumage on its back where it was still intact. A fresh burst of silent tears welled from his beady eyes each time that he did so.

Though Mrs. Dunbar was autocratic, and often inclined to be imperious, she possessed a keen sense of justice. She felt that she had acted hastily, not to say tyrannically, in this case. Being, after all, a kind-hearted woman, the consciousness disturbed her more than a little. The sight of the blood-stained body of the arrogant fowl, that had so lately sounded its jubilant crow in her ears, was a real shock. She looked from the imp to her faithful servant, resigned and submissive to her decree without murmur or reproach, and her heart smote her.

“I am sorry for this, butler,” she said at length, in a gentle voice.

The sympathy was too much for him; he could not reply. A tear escaped and fell on his breast. The child, recognising a note of pity, though he did not understand her words, began to sob audibly. At the same time he plucked at the feathers with an industry that increased with his weeping. Mrs. Miggle crept up to the scene, and placed herself timidly behind her husband. She shed tears almost as copiously as the child. But they did not blind her to the marvellous fact that the philtre was working. Wonder mingled with awe filled her mind as she noted that regret had already overtaken the mistress at the death of the bird. The kitchen-woman came silently out of the kitchen; the waterman left his pots behind a corner of the building and drew near to look on; syces, gardeners, and peons pressed forward with noiseless steps to see and commiserate.

The eyes of the assembly were centred on the dead bird as it lay across the small boy’s lap. Its feathers flew under his restless fingers, and his tears fell on the white skin bared by his efforts. With something suspiciously like a tear in her own eye, Mrs. Dunbar spoke again.

“You have been too hasty, butler, in carrying out my order. It is a pity; but the deed is done and cannot be undone.” She turned to depart. “Butler, we will not have roast fowl for dinner to-morrow. But you may charge it in the account as a first-class roasting fowl. It was a fine bird, and deserved a better fate.”

When she was gone a hum of voices arose as the cook, the kitchen-woman, and his wife all endeavoured to tell Miggle the story of the philtre. The cook finally gained his ear as having been the chief mover in the plot, and related how the mistress had slept upon the charmed feather; how her eyes had fallen upon the Phoonghee in the early morning; and how the spell must assuredly have worked to have caused her to reverse the order. Had the feather and the powder been introduced into the teapot from which she took her early morning tea, undoubtedly the charm would have been complete. As the cook finished his story he reproached the butler for his haste. The spell was working---but slowly, and the life of the fowl might have been spared. It was a mistake to carry out commands of any kind until they were repeated two or even three times.

“The master calls three times, and the chokra goes, knowing that he is wanted. Let the mistress speak three times before her orders are executed, otherwise it is apt to bring disaster. Haste is the brother of a devil and the companion of a thief.”

“The fowl was fated to die,” said Miggle, unmoved by the reproaches of the cook.

“And since it is dead we must make the best of it. If it is not to be served on the master’s table, I will curry it for our supper. These game-fowls make excellent curry with plenty of green ginger and tamarind. We will give the mistress a roast saddle of gram-fed mutton instead; it is a joint that always pleases.”

Chapter XXVII

The Barber Who Would Be a Brahmin

Minamal, the goldsmith’s wife, left her comfortable home in the Luz with mixed feelings of pleasure and regret. She lost the feast at Myliapore, but there was the larger one at the temple of Srirangam, which fully compensated in some respects for that which she had lost. Life cannot be all feasting and fairing, even in the sunny East, and there were moments when Minamal was decidedly dull. Her father had taken a new wife since her own marriage, a girl of about the same age as herself, with some pretensions to personal beauty. Minamal, instead of being first favourite as in her husband’s household, was only one of a crowd of relations.

After the first fortnight they let her see that her father’s house was no longer her home. And lest she should be at all blind to the fact, they expressed themselves freely and without reserve on the subject.

However, there were certain crumbs of enjoyment to be gathered. She was free from the jealous supervision of a mother-in-law. On the other hand, there was a big brother, who had decided opinions as to what her conduct should be, and of whom she stood in wholesome awe. He said but little; but he had no intention of allowing her to bring disgrace upon herself, or to give her husband the smallest excuse to repudiate his responsibilities. A cast-off wife in the house was almost as bad as a widow. The fear of her brother’s anger weighed heavily; it tried her far more than the spying of two old women, and she soon tired of the house of her father.

At the temple there were many pujaris; but there were also crowds of worshipping women from all parts of India. Many of them were fair-skinned beauties with large gem-like eyes, in whose presence her own darker charms went for naught. Native women soon lose their youth, and Minamal, though barely twenty-five, realised with a sharp pang of jealousy that her power of attraction was on the wane. She was eclipsed by younger and prettier matrons. Her ill-regulated passionate soul was stirred with anger as she saw others preferred before her. She sustained another disappointment in the absence of Peroo. Her complete failure to make an impression upon the ascetic, the awe with which he had inspired her through his terrible curse upon the tree, only increased her desire to see him again and make another attempt to awake his interest.

Often when watching the pujaris at Srirangam, her thoughts wandered to the man whom she had so boldly compared with Krishna. Vainly her eye sought his familiar form amongst the crowd. At the sound of a tomtom in the road she would turn her head and linger to let the traveller overtake her. But it was always a stranger; more often than not an old man worn with his asceticism, too much absorbed in his religion to keep himself clean, completely impervious to the blandishments of the softer sex.

But one day, when for the moment his image was not before her eyes, she started visibly. In a figure seated under a palm near a small riverside temple she recognised Peroo. Raman, the tomtom-beater, was by his side, and together they watched the bathers splashing the gleaming water over themselves on the ghat below and wringing out their wet silken cloths in the warm sunshine. She approached unnoticed until she actually stood between him and the scene upon which he gazed.

“Salaam, Iyah; Krishna comes back to live upon earth again, to the great joy of his worshippers,” she cried, as her heart throbbed and her bold eyes sparkled with pleasure.

He comprehended the flattery and it did not please him.

“The gods do not smile on women who leave their husbands,” he said severely.

“It was not my will. My father desired to show me his young wife and child, and my husband bade me come.”

She glanced sideways, then lowered her eyes with a pretty trick of the curling lashes. It was rarely without its effect on the opposite sex, but failure attended her efforts on this occasion. The Sanyasi remained silent and his gaze went back to the shining sands of the river-bed with the look of abstraction which removed him from the touch of all human passion. She knew that she ought to take her departure, but his rebuffs only strengthened the infatuation of his presence.

“The bracelet was found under a mat where my little son had thrown it in play. The tree faded, but it did not die.”

He made no sign that he heard. Some bathers returned from their ablutions, seating themselves on the upper steps of ghat. The usual obeisance was made to the ascetic as they looked expectant towards him. Would he speak? Who could say when the peacock would call or the Sanyasi preach, since both belonged to the gods?

The palm fronds rustled in the breeze blowing from the sea up the broad bed of the river. Plumes of elephant-grass on the bank beyond the ghat, swayed in the wind like the combed locks of some giant asleep in the sun. White egrets and brown waders paddled industriously in the shallows, whilst the speckled king-fishers hovered over the deeper pools. The Sanyasi emerged from his abstraction and began to recite.

“The barber of the Maharajah of Trichinopoly, before ever the English came to the land, was fortunate enough to find favour in the sight of his master for the excellence of his work. As a reward the Maharajah promised to grant him any request that he might make.

“‘Sire,’ said the barber, ‘I would be a Brahmin.’

“The Maharajah sent for the heads of the caste.

“‘I command you to make this man a Brahmin. If you do not execute my order I will drive you from the island of Srirangam and I will give it to the barber.’

“The Brahmins were greatly troubled, for the Maharajah was a passionate man, kind and generous in his cooler moments, but brooking no opposition when his mind was set upon a purpose. They took the barber to the temple, caused him to go through many ceremonials, with frequent bathing, fasting and prayer. But neither ceremonial nor prayer availed. Nothing---not even the sacred waters of the Ganges---can change the blood that runs in the veins of a man. The pariah will tremble at the sight of a stick even though he sit on a throne; the wanton will lift her bold glance to the men even though she be followed by ten mothers-in-law.” The eyes of the speaker dwelt upon Minamal with cold severity, bringing a hot flush of anger to her brow. “The barber will think of a razor whenever he sees a man’s head in spite of all the ablutions and prayers he may make to the gods. The Brahmins despaired of executing the commands of the Maharajah, and their lives were full of misery through dread of his displeasure. For this island is the richest spot in all India, oh, ye people; and it has always been sacred to the caste.”

There was a murmur of applause, but Minamal frowned and an evil light flashed under her eyelids.

“The time for the completion of their task arrived. The Maharajah sent word that he would come and see the barber eating with the Brahmins, that he might know that his commands were fulfilled. His message brought dismay and consternation. To eat in public with a barber! was ever such pollution heard of? and they cried before the mulasthanum, the inner shrine of the temple.

“The Maharajah had a jester, the son of one of the dancing girls of the temple. He was a favourite at court, and many a time had turned a cry of pain into a laugh of joy by his wit. His mother sought him and told the trouble which had befallen the Brahmins.

“‘Do not let them grieve about so small a matter. Leave it to me and I will convince the Maharajah of the folly of such a thing. Say nothing, but let them appoint a day when the Maharajah may come to Srirangam and see the barber eat in their company.’

“On the day fixed the Maharajah rode across the river on his elephant. As he entered the road that leads to the temple, his progress was arrested by a crowd.

“‘Who stops the way?’ cried the Maharajah, wrathfully.

“‘Your jester, sire; he does pujah on the road.’

“‘Has the rascal turned pujari? It must be a strange pujah; let me see it.’

“The crowd fell back, and the Maharajah beheld the jester with a black dog tied to a string. Four Brahmins made offerings of camphor and butter, while smoke and flame arose from a sacred fire in the midst of them. The jester dragged the dog round the fire without ceasing.

“‘Ho, fool! what are you about?’ cried the Maharajah.

“‘Sire, I am making this black dog white since my wife desires a white dog.’

“‘Idiot! was ever a black dog made white by offerings and muntras?’

“‘Sire, I never heard of one. But if a barber by the same means can be made into a Brahmin, why should I not make this black dog white as my wife desires?’

“The Maharajah remained silent. Turning his elephant, he rode back to the palace. He sent for the barber, and caused him to be severely punished.

“‘Thus,’ said the Maharajah, ‘shall the monkey fare that asks for wings to fly with Krishna’s bird.’”

Again the goldsmith’s wife scowled as the Sanyasi rose and turned his back upon her. Raman sprang to his feet and began to beat his drum. Together the two moved slowly away in the direction of the temple.

“It is the strange Sanyasi, he who has made the vow,” said a young woman, spreading out part of her orange-coloured saree in the sun to dry, whilst the rest of it was draped about her in graceful folds.

“What vow?” asked Minamal, her curiosity aroused.

“He is to be buried alive in a field between the temple and the river, that the gods may be persuaded to send us a full flood. Last year and the year before there was only a little water, and we gathered but one crop in the twelve months. This year, if the gods be appeased, we shall have two harvests. In the days of that Maharajah who would have made a barber a Brahmin but for his jester, it would have been a true burial from which there would be no return. But the British Raj forbids such things now. So the Sanyasi will lie there till the corn springs above his head, and the gods will take his strength but not his life.”

Minamal was aware of the wonderful powers of the Sanyasi; he could curse and he could bless. The performance of such a miracle would not surprise her. She inquired indifferently whether the tomb was already prepared.

“Not yet, but the masons are building it fast by the order of Vytalingum, the rich merchant, who also bears the cost. Oh, I hope they will make it strong! Such a good man ought not to die if the gods will be content with his strength.”

“What if the Sanyasi were to die?” asked Minamal.

The other shrugged her shoulders with the resignation of the fatalist.

“Then it will be said that the gods loved him so well that they took him in spite of the orders of the English to the contrary, and we shall have a full flood.”

“It would be best for all, it seems, if he did die,” remarked Minamal, who contemplated the possibility of his death with the vindictiveness of a woman for a second time scorned.

“Not for all; he is good to the village people. He works spells over their sick children and takes no fee. He casts out devils, no matter what their caste. But for that very reason he is the right person to find favour with the gods.”

“It will be a great tamasha; I must see the burial,” remarked Minamal, thoughtfully.

“Ah! but he will not die! These holy men know how to make the sacrifice without losing their lives. I shall go to the opening of the tomb. A big feast will be made for the Brahmins and for the poor of all castes. Vytalingum, the merchant, is giving the money for it.”

Minamal returned for the mid-day meal, after which she sat idly dreaming in the shade of the courtyard. She had no occupation, as her assistance was not required in the house. When in sheer disgust at her own idleness she offered her help in some small domestic matter, it was rejected. The refusal of her assistance had a meaning which she did not fail to perceive,---she was an intruder whose presence they resented. In addition, life was intolerably dull; she was tired of herself and heartily sick of her people. The longing to return to Madras increased. The jealous husband, the stern mother-in-law, the spying aunt, no longer seemed unbearable. She only awaited permission to return, and this had been requested in a letter written by her brother, who hinted at the same time that the proper place for his sister was her husband’s house.

The air grew cooler as the sun inclined towards the western horizon. Minamal robed herself in a saree of rich purple silk, pushed a cluster of jasmin flowers into her luxuriant tresses, and delicately touched her oval face with saffron powder. The toilette completed with many a glance in the pocket-mirror, she wandered to the evening bazaar before the old palace gate. But shops have not much attraction for women whose pockets are empty, and the goldsmith’s wife, with bitterness in her heart, moved away. Passing through the old main-guard gate, she followed the road leading to the island, and sauntered over the bridge. The river flowing down from the west reflected the crimson and gold of the setting sun as the flaming ball slowly sank behind the palms. A few minutes later it was hidden, and the landscape clothed itself in the warm purple shadows of approaching night.

As Minamal drew near the Srirangam end of the bridge, her eye was quick to note the form of the Sanyasi on the opposite side. He was wrapped in contemplation and his gaze went eastwards to the distant sea. In the opalescent sky a planet newly risen shone with a clear steady light. It seemed to look at him with the purity of his sister’s eye. Was it beckoning him away from the gods of his mother? Her words echoed in his ear, but his heart replied again and again, Can a barber be made a Brahmin? can a black dog be washed white?

There was a footstep in the soft red dust behind him; the scent of jasmin flowers filled his nostrils, and he felt the soft lingering touch of drapery sweep over his bare arm as Minamal, her eyes aflame with unholy passion, breathed into his ear, “Come---for the servants of the gods can do no wrong.”

He shrank as though a snake had drawn its scaly length over him, wrenching himself from her detaining grasp with unusual roughness.

“Woman, it is time you returned to your husband’s house,” he said sternly. “The milk left by the cat often draws the snake. Misfortune follows those who hug evil to their hearts closer than the shadow at their heels. Get back to your home without delay. As the tree faded, so shall the snake come, and with the coming of the snake the door will close in your face.”

For the moment she shrank back alarmed at the violent withdrawal. His words awed her! she was repelled yet fascinated, and would have replied, but he walked quickly away in the direction of the temple. She stamped her foot, making the silver bangles lying on her shapely instep ring again.

“Take care, Iyah; even the gods themselves may feel the thorn of the prickly pear if they handle it too roughly,” she muttered, as she retraced her steps in the deepening twilight.

The following morning there was a letter from the Luz. Her brother’s face darkened as he read it. He strode to the inner courtyard where Minamal sat in the verandah, gossiping idly with one of the members of the family. The moment her eyes fell upon the open letter she rose to her feet. A ten-rupee note was enclosed, and her brother held it with the envelope in his left hand.

“He has sent the money for my return! Give it me; I will leave by the night mail,” she cried, holding out an eager hand.

“Not at all! On the contrary the money is for us---to keep you here,” he replied grimly.

“What!” she screamed. “To keep me here? I will not stay another day!”

“I do not know where you can go if you leave us.”

“I will go back to my husband.”

“He says that he does not want you---at present. You forgot to close the door behind you, sister, when you left him, and a snake has crept in.”

“A snake!” she repeated, her heart giving a bound of fear.

“A snake in the shape of a dancing-girl who has come on a three months’ visit. At the end of that time the dancing-girl goes back to her temple, and perhaps you may return---that is to say, if you will promise to make less trouble in the house. Meanwhile he sends us ten rupees a month for your food. The house is full enough of women.” He glanced round at the bevy of aunts, sisters, nieces, a wife with two children, a young step-mother with a baby in her arms, and an old grandmother, who was querulously demanding to be told what he was talking about. “But I suppose you must stay. Let me tell you, however, that the cow which leaves her stall must be content with what she finds in the jungle.”

“A dancing-girl! Oh, the cursed rat! the evil snake! I should like to squeeze the life out of her!” A torrent of abuse fell from her lips as rage, jealousy, and mortification rent her in turn. “I will go back to-morrow! I will not suffer such treatment! She shall leave the house! I myself will turn her out and brand her with a fire-stick! “

“Better stay here quietly and allow your husband to forget his anger. This new plaything will amuse him and his annoyance will pass, so that you may hope to be restored to favour when she is gone. But if you force yourself where you are not wanted, we shall have you on our hands always. What mischief have you been at to bring this curse upon you?”

Chapter XXVIII

The Sacrifice

The concluding words uttered by her brother came back to Minamal after the storm of passion was spent. Having exhausted herself in a vituperation of her husband, his whole family, and the dancing-girl, she relapsed into sulky silence, and sat brooding over her injuries. Occasionally she gave, way to a violent fit of weeping, of which no one took much notice beyond staring at her with more curiosity than sympathy.

“What mischief have you been at to bring this curse upon you?”

She had perpetrated no evil. It was the sly snake of a dasi who had done the evil, creeping into the house in her absence, and enchaining her husband’s foolish heart. Suddenly the warning of the Sanyasi flashed across her mind.

“The milk left by the cat often draws the snake. . . . As the tree faded, so shall the snake come.”

Who else but the Sanyasi sent the snake? It was he who had laid the curse upon her. He alone was the cause of all her misery.

She ground her teeth in rage; she clutched her hair; her cloth was twisted until it was likely to be torn in ribbons. If she had dared, she would have screamed curses upon him as well as the dancing-girl. But the family would not have tolerated such a thing, and she bit her lips in a silence that was sharp pain.

They served the mid-day meal, but she refused to eat. When she asked instead for something to drink, water was brought in which rice had been boiled. The men of the family who came in for their food returned to the various scenes of their labours; one, a schoolmaster, to his class, another to a shop, others to their desks in railway or Government offices.

The women having eaten and talked her affairs threadbare, composed themselves for their afternoon sleep. Minamal threw herself upon a mat and closed her eyes with the rest; but no sleep came, though her head ached with spent passion and grief. Presently she rose and drawing her saree over her head, she left the house, taking her way towards the sacred island. Turning off the road, she crossed some fields and arrived at the spot where the grave was being prepared for the entombment of the Sanyasi. Peroo was nowhere to be seen, but Vytalingum the merchant stood by its side talking to the workmen. She hid amongst some sugar-cane until he left, and not until he was out of sight did she dare to approach the spot.

The grave resembled a small room sunk in the ground. The floor was bricked as well as the walls and the greater part of the roof. The whole was carefully plastered throughout. Only the best workmen were employed, for the life of the devotee depended on the perfect execution of the masonry and plastering.

The chamber was nearly finished and would be ready by the following day. In twenty-four hours the entombment was to take place, and Peroo, retired to some secret place unknown even to his disciple, was said to be preparing himself for the ordeal.

The workmen were busy at the corners, searching for cracks and crevices and for weak spots in the plaster. Here and there they replastered, pressing the mortar down with their trowels and smoothing the surface again and again.

“Why do you go over your work so often?” asked Minamal.

“To keep out the ants. If we leave but the smallest crack they will find their way in,” replied one of the older men.

“And what then?” she asked, with a curious light flashing into her eyes.

“It will be bad for the Swami,” he answered, stopping in his work to talk. “I remember hearing my grandfather speak of a Sanyasi who refused to allow the pujari to see that all was safe. The grave was opened in fourteen days’ time from the burial——”

He laughed grimly without completing his story.

“And the holy one was gone?” asked one of his fellow men.

“By the will of the gods, truly was his flesh gone. Nothing was left but the whitened bones. Never had they better crops than in that year. But, get on with your work, men. That corner over there must be plastered again; there is a small crack at the top.”

They fell to work again, but Minamal watched their toil no longer. With swift steps she hastened back to the town where the evening bazaar was just beginning to fill. The masons concluded their task as the sun set, and left all in readiness for the mysterious ceremony fixed for the following day.

After their departure the goldsmith’s wife, as though drawn to the spot by a fascination she could not resist, crept once more through the fields of rice and sugar cane to the grave. The big slab of stone lay by its side ready to cover the tomb. She glanced round, wondering if Peroo or Vytalingum would come, but there was no sign of either. Crouching at the corner of the grave where the mortar had so recently been used, she sent up an evil prayer to the gods that they would take the Sanyasi, his strength and his life, and make his living grave a grave of death.

The hour approached for the incarceration of Peroo. The pujaris from the temple were present, and also a few wandering Sanyasis who were in the neighbourhood. A large concourse of people gathered round the spot, superstitious and curious.

The temple pujari consented to superintend the ceremonial, although Peroo was not known to them as one of their regular visitors. They had received a letter from Vytalingum, who was a frequent benefactor, asking them to take a prominent part in the entombment. The preparations, he assured them, were complete; they would of course see that the chamber was properly covered with the slab of stone and sealed. When the masons had finished their task, they might receive the wages which he now sent with the letter. At the end of twelve days the tomb was to be opened in the presence of the pujaris who had assisted at the burial, and means were to be adopted to restore the Sanyasi. He regretted that he would be unable to attend the ceremony.

And now in the glowing afternoon sun they awaited the coming of Peroo.

Seated on a charpoy and borne on the shoulders of the younger pujaris, the Sanyasi approached. His head was bare, the glossy black locks flowing in waves over his back. Round his waist a salmon-coloured cloth was bound; garlands of flowers hung about his neck; sacred ashes besmeared his breast, and on his forehead was the mark of his god.

The road which he passed was lined with sight-seers who joined the ranks of the crowd that followed. With chant and beat of drum---Raman foremost amongst the tomtom-beaters---the procession moved slowly towards the grave.

The talk of the men ceased and the chatter of the women was hushed, as Peroo stepped from the charpoy, and watched it as it was lowered into the grave. Then he turned towards the river and stretched out his arms with a face transformed under the fire of fanaticism and subtle Indian drugs.

“Oh, gods of the people! Oh, ye gods of the rulers of the people! Send blessings upon the good. Let evil only pursue the evil. Take what the Sanyasi has to give and let the people have peace and plenty.”

His strong clear voice rang through the crowd, reaching every ear. Minamal trembled and drew her saree closer over her head. It was as though Krishna himself had spoken.

Slowly he descended into the little chamber whilst the tomtom-beaters filled the air with the roll of their drums. Two pujaris followed to compose him for his immolation and close his eyes and ears. Louder rose the chant of the muntras, quicker rolled the tomtoms. The Sanyasi sank into a strange sleep that simulates death and lay like a dead man upon his bier. A few more passes were made as the arms were straightened by his side as if for burial. They sprinkled sacred water and wafted live charcoal, which smoked with some burning drug. Silent and still in the dreamless sleep of the strange hypnotism known to the Eastern magician rested the Sanyasi at the feet of the gods of his mother.

Once more the services of the masons were needed. They placed the heavy stone slab over the opening and securely mortared it down. Baskets of earth were brought by the willing hands of worshippers; the pujaris sowed corn that had been soaked for three days, and watered it with water drawn from the sacred Cauvery river.

Forming themselves once more into a procession they moved away to the sound of the tomtom. The sightseers, satisfied that there was nothing more to be seen, returned to the town, speaking in awed voices of the sacrifice. Minamal was one of the number. A strange light burned in her eye as she walked apart from the others silent and thoughtful. He, the scorner, was buried; she prayed that it might be the grave of death. A dead Sanyasi would be powerless; he could neither attract nor curse. But would he die or live? The gods alone knew what would happen.

Night passed and the sun rose, warming the scarcely cooled earth and awakening dormant life into activity. The pujaris came to moisten the ground above the grave with the sacred water, that the grain might the sooner spring into green blade. All was well in the secluded field where the Sanyasi slept, and having fulfilled their task they retired to the temple.

But was all well within the grave? On the morning of the second day a tiny insect entered the chamber at the upper corner where Minamal had sat after the workmen left on the eve of the burial. It moved timidly---pausing, hesitating, retracing its steps and advancing again, after the manner of the ant. With the unerring instinct of its species it led the way towards the bier---the pioneer of an infernal work. Millions upon millions followed in a never-ceasing stream that passed to and fro day and night until the task was completed, and Peroo’s soul had fled to the God of his father.

*  *  *

On the thirteenth day the pujaris assembled to open the tomb. Again a crowd of people filled the field eager to see, ready to shout his praise when the Sanyasi who had performed a miracle should be lifted from the grave. The grain had sprung into tender green blade witnessing to the fact that the soil had not been touched. Men shovelled the earth with the grain from the opening and laid bare the slab. Chipping the mortar away, the masons levered up the heavy stone that covered the mouth. The pujaris pressed forward, pushing the workmen aside; they peered in and then fell back with the faces of men who had received a shock. Others took their places only to fall back in like manner, stricken with the same horror. What was it? asked the breathless surging crowd.

The fate---the one dreaded fate feared by all who practised his art, had overtaken Peroo. In place of the body, fair of limb, perfect of feature, there lay a skeleton on the bier.

The people broke the awful silence of fear and amazement with a great cry. It was not a cry of grief but of joy. Peroo the Sanyasi had made a sacrifice to the gods and it had been accepted. In wild fanatical excitement they shouted again and again. Truly the river would rise; the waters would roll down the distant mountains in full flood, bringing such crops for harvesting as had not been known for years. There was no regret for the man who had ministered to them in trouble. Others could be found to work spells over the sickbed and cast devils out of the tormented. No one but Peroo had offered to appease the gods, and him the gods had taken. It was well. Who but a madman would murmur?

Minamal was among the crowd that had assembled to see the grave opened. Her heart throbbed, and a wild triumph possessed her soul. Where was his scorn? Where was his curse? She was safe from both. Feminine curiosity, not unmixed with vindictiveness, took her to the fatal corner. A string of ants passed continuously along a little pathway trodden smooth by myriads of feet. Some of the soil shovelled aside had disturbed the track, causing the ants to swarm in confusion broadcast over the ground. One of them crossed her naked instep, and with unerring instinct distinguished an enemy. It darted its acrid poison under her skin. She started with a sudden horror. The triumph of the moment vanished, and a guilty conscience began its work. She glanced wildly at the pujaris who were about to lift the bier with its terrible burden from the grave. What if the Sanyasi rose then and there and denounced the deed by which he had been slain? She trembled as she shook the insect from her foot; then turning, slipped through the crowd and fled across the fields towards the town.

At the door of her father’s house stood her elder brother, a frown upon his brow, whilst an ominous silence reigned within the women’s quarters. In his hand was a telegram.

“My husband has sent for me?” she cried, with a gasp of relief. Here was prompt evidence, she thought, of the removal of the Sanyasi’s curse.

“Husband, indeed! You have no husband. Here is a telegram from your mother-in-law to say that he is dead, and that you are a widow.”

“A widow? It cannot be true!”

The words choked her, and she clutched wildly at her throat.

“It is quite true. The dancing girl was evil enough, but that was an evil which would pass. This is much worse; it will follow you closer than your shadow all your life.”

They were the very words of the Sanyasi, and she seemed to hear his voice as her brother uttered them.

“You must lay aside your ornaments,” he continued, not unkindly. He was but doing his duty in seeing to the safety of the jewels which were hers no longer. “I will send them to your brother-in-law. To-morrow the barber-woman will come and shave your head! and the next day you are to go to the house of your husband’s brother, where you will serve according to the custom of our people, and where you will find your mother-in-law and your children. Truly, sister, you must have committed some great evil to bring such a misfortune as this upon your head.”

As he concluded she fell fainting at his feet. The dreaded curse of joyless widowhood had overtaken her, proving the truth of the Sanyasi’s words of warning.

“Misfortune follows those who hug evil to their hearts closer than the shadow at their heels.”

Chapter XXIX

Miggle Plays Providence Again

Peroo was still a prisoner within his tomb when Vansittart stood in the verandah of the hotel, debating in his mind a question which presented itself each day. Should he make an attempt to see Miss Desormieux before sailing for Australia? or would it be wiser to keep away from temptation?

Before he left Trichinopoly he learnt certain facts from Vytalingum, facts that were astounding, but true. The confidence shown by his host placed him in a peculiar position with regard to Averine. He was made a sharer in a secret which belonged to her; and it was done without her permission. Was she aware that he had been admitted into her confidence in this irregular fashion? and if so, did it meet with her approval?

These questions were constantly in his mind; at one moment he ardently desired to express sympathy; at another there was the fear of intrusion. And if she were inclined to accept sympathy what good could come of it? His position was unaltered; he was still the horse-dealer’s assistant with nothing but a modest salary and an honoured name; whilst she was the possessor of wealth, spending more on her laces and gloves than he drew as his hard-earned wages. He decided for the fiftieth time that it would be best not to meet.

A servant broke into his reverie, asking if he would see Mr. Dunbar’s butler. He bade the men bring Miggle in.

The butler entered and salaamed. He began to speak at once in a pompous voice which was intended to reach the ear of the lingering servant who had ushered him in. Vansittart had no opportunity of uttering a word.

“I have called to see your honour, hearing that you were to leave in a few days for Australia. If master should be wanting to go to the pearl fishery next time it is opened, I shall be very pleased to attend your honour. If master has any old clothes to give away——”

By this time the hotel attendant was satisfied that he came only to beg for further favours, and that the conversation was not worth listening to. If the request for old clothes was complied with, the butler would be seen carrying them away. Vansittart looked up in some surprise. It was odd that a butler, occupying such a position as Miggle’s, should be begging for cast-off clothes. He was still further mystified when Miggle abruptly lowered his tone, and said: “Please, sir, let me come into your bedroom; I have something for your ear only.”

Vansittart rose and led the way up a broad staircase, at the foot of which stood one or two servants. Miggle followed, thanking him in advance, and begging in a high pitched voice for a character-note, stating that he had served at the fishery camp in the capacity of head-boy and manager.

As soon as they reached the bedroom and Vansittart had closed and locked the door, Miggle’s attitude underwent a complete change. He made no further allusion to old clothes or character-notes. Taking from an inner pocket a small calico bag, he untied the string that closed its mouth, reversed it carefully over the palm of his hand; and from its depths there rolled out the missing pearl.

It shone with a purity and lustre which seemed to the astonished Australian to be enhanced. It was a noble gem in size, proportion and appearance. Admiration was mingled with wonder as he gazed at the treasure lying in the outstretched hand of the butler.

“Take it, sir; it is yours.”

“Where in the wide world did you find it?” asked Vansittart, scarcely daring to believe that he once more beheld his treasure.

“I done find it.”

“But where? where?”

Miggle’s face was a picture. The solemnity of the moment was passed. They were secure in the privacy of the bedroom. He drew himself up to his full height, placing his hands behind his back, whilst his broadest, happiest smile beamed across his ugly features as he replied: “In the crop of my best fighting fowl.”

“The Phoonghee?”

“Yes, sir, the Phoonghee; the same that master saw by the hut in the camp.”

“How did it get there?” asked the bewildered Australian.

“I pushed it down the Phoonghee’s throat the morning of the robbery before the police made the search.”

“You! You were not the thief?”

The words burst from Vansittart’s lips in the excitement of the moment. He fastened his eyes upon the man with a sharp scrutiny which appeared like an accusation to the butler.

“I a thief, sir!” replied Maggie, with some warmth. “No, sir, I never thieve, sir! It was a Malay who stole the belt. The Sanyasi saw him as he was leaving the camp. He laid a curse upon him, so the man found a stone in the belt instead of a pearl.”

“How did the pearl come into your possession?”

Vansittart was completely puzzled. It was difficult to understand how a pearl belonging to one person could come into the possession of another without being stolen.

“Sir, do you remember the night when you called me to bring needle and thread. That time! changing the pearl for a stone, and master sewing the stone into the belt. The fishery camp was full of thieves. It was not safe for master to carry the pearl.”

“Then why did you not ask me for it, if you thought that you could guard it better yourself?”

“No, sir; that would have been no good. Then the thief would have come to me, and perhaps have got the pearl in spite of all my care. Better to let all the thieves believe---and the camp people too---that master was keeping the pearl, and wearing it night and day in his belt.”

“So you did not trust me?”

“The Sanyasi said that evil would catch me if evil caught the master. What could I do? So I took the pearl and gave master the stone to carry. That Malay thief was plenty frightened when he saw the stone. He was sick with fright.” Miggle grinned with delight as he thought of the thief’s discomfiture. Then he returned to the charge which was implied in Vansittart’s question as to whether he was the thief. There was a sting in it which dimmed his pleasure in having been the restorer of the lost treasure. “No, sir, I never was a thief, not even when I was a small dog-boy. I never stole the pearl. I took it only. I took it to keep safe and take care, as master can see for himself.”

The case seemed so clear to Miggle; he could not comprehend why Vansittart did not respond heartily and exonerate him from all suspicion.

“Why did you put it down the Phoonghee’s throat?” asked the Australian.

“After the robbery the police had to make search. It was necessary to clear everybody’s character in the camp from suspicion. I must be searched with the rest. So I ran to the coop and pushed it down the throat of the bird into the crop in the early morning before it was light. Then and then only I knew that it was safe. It is good for pearls to lie in the crop of a fowl for a few weeks. It makes them whiter and more valuable.”

“Was it known to the Sanyasi that you had the pearl?”

“Sir, the priest says that we cannot look at or even think of a Sanyasi without sin. But whatever the priest says, it is all the same true that nothing is hid from the Sanyasi. Everything is known to him and all his words come true.”

As the butler explained matters in his own way Vansittart ran his eye critically over him. He had strange notions of honesty not quite in accordance with the European code. He was not a thief, yet he and he alone had taken the pearl. Honesty went by tortuous paths in India.

Far from being troubled by any doubt as to the rectitude of his conduct, Miggle felt that he was steeped in virtue by this crowning act of fidelity. He had fulfilled the directions of the Sanyasi to safeguard the property of the Australian; he had averted evil from himself; he had executed the commands of his mistress and served her friend as he would have served her son and if this was not sufficient, he had obtained absolution from his Padre. Vansittart regarded the figure of the complacent Miggle in silence which he broke by an attempt to express his gratitude.

“Well, butler, I hardly know what to say. I am truly glad to have the pearl, for it represents my profits in the fishery.”

“Master will hand it over to the jewellers at once?” Even now the butler felt a certain amount of responsibility, which would not cease until the gem was in safer hands than those of the Australian. The latter smiled as he answered---

“We have no Malays here. And no one will suspect that you, who begged for old clothes on the stairs, could have brought me such a pearl. How am I to reward you?”

“I don’t want any reward, sir; the mistress gave me the price of the fowl, since it was by her order that it was killed.”

“Is there nothing that you would like to have?”

Miggle’s eye glistened as he replied in his most insinuating tones---

“Could master bring me a good fighting-cock from Australia next time the horse-ships come? A couple of hens and a young cock with some Brahmapootra blood, reared in Australia, where they have plenty far to run for their food, making nice strong legs? These are said to be good fighters.”

“What will your mistress say?”

“I can manage that, sir,” replied Miggle, with a knowing wag of the head.

“Very well, butler; you shall have the best that are to be had in Australia. Is there anything more that I can do for you?”

The butler paused thoughtfully.

“Our missie,” he said impressively.

“What of her?” asked Vansittart, the colour suffusing his face as a sudden rush of thought swept over his brain.

“The horse is not safe for her to ride. The gentleman who rode it whilst she was away had a bad fall.”

“At its old tricks again?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then Miss Desormieux must on no account be allowed to ride.”

“The horse is lame, sir,---for the present.”

“Lame? I must come and look at it. There cannot be anything the matter with its hoofs; it has beautiful feet.”

“Only a little lame till missie goes to the hills, please, sir,” said Miggle, apologetically.

“Oh! that is how you play Providence to missie!”

Vansittart burst into a hearty laugh, in which Miggle joined decorously with his smile.

“The coachman says that the horse would go well in harness. It would be better for missie to drive than ride it. If master could persuade our missie to send the horse to Mr. Affleck’s stable, it might be broken to harness and ready for missie when she returns from the hills.”

“I will see Mr. Dunbar about it.”

But this did not meet with Miggle’s approbation.

“It would be better to see missie.”

“Very well.”

Still he lingered.

“Our missie will be at the boat club this evening, the order being given for the carriage. If master is going, perhaps he will speak to missie at once.”

Vansittart did not reply and Miggle took his silence as an affirmative.

“I may take my leave?” he said, making the usual salaam.

“Yes, butler; and believe me, I am very grateful.”

Oh, wily butler! Was it only the horse that was in your mind when you sent the Australian hot-foot to find your missie? Or was it but the completion of your self-imposed task of playing guardian angel in your faithful fashion to your employers?

Half an hour later Vansittart was driving his dog-cart towards the Adyar, bound for the boating club of which, being less exclusive than the other club, he was a member.

Mrs. Dunbar and Averine were seated on one of the benches near the landing-stage. They were surrounded by a little group of men. Only a few hours ago Vansittart would have moved away in another direction, but now everything was changed. He joined the gathering without hesitation. As soon as Mrs. Dunbar’s glance fell upon him she said---

“How do you do, Mr. Vansittart? Why have you not been to see us and make your salaams on your return from Ceylon?”

“I will come to-morrow, if you will allow me,” he responded heartily.

“So sorry to hear of your loss at the fishery,” she continued.

“What loss did he have?” asked one of the bystanders.

Mrs. Dunbar told the tale as she had it from her husband. Vansittart remained silent, but his eyes sought Averine’s. The attention of the group was riveted for the moment upon the elder lady. He drew near to Averine.

“May I take you for a row on the river?” he asked.

She rose at once with a slight lifting of the eye-brows, but at the same time a heightening of colour. He helped her into the boat in silence, arranged the cushions, and took the sculls. In leisurely measure he pulled out into the still lagoon, putting a long stretch of gleaming water between themselves and the numerous groups dotted about the beautiful grounds of the club.

Without allowing her eyes to rest for a moment upon his, she was yet conscious of his every movement. In vain she tried to fathom his mind, to gauge his heart. Only a few weeks ago she would have burst into bantering speech. But now she carried a secret in her breast which made her dumb. The discovery of the strange half-brother opened out new duties, new ties, new responsibilities. The silence became unendurable. Assuming a level tone indicative of an indifference she was far from feeling, she asked---

“Did you stop at Trichinopoly on your way up?”

“Yes, to give an account of my doings at the fishery to Vytalingum.”

The mention of his name set her heart beating.

“I am sorry you lost the big pearl; it was most unfortunate.”

“The pearl is found,” he said quietly.

“Found! Where?” she cried with astonishment.

A smile curved his lips as his thoughts went back to Miggle.

“The butler restored it this afternoon.”

“Miggle! Surely he was not the thief?”

He took a few vigorous strokes, making the water ripple under the prow of the boat. Then, drawing the sculls across his knees, he told her with quiet enjoyment the story of the butler’s honesty. As she listened to the wonderful tale she grew more at ease. It was a relief when the ripple of her laughter mingled with the silvery bubbling of the water beneath the keel.

“The recovery of the pearl means a great deal to you,” she said presently with returning thoughtfulness.

“It means,” he answered earnestly, “that though not rich, I am no longer a poor assistant. Affleck will admit me as a partner in the business.”

She did not reply immediately. He pushed the sculls out and dipped the blades into the water again. The image of the casuarina trees on the shore, with their graceful larch-like foliage, was mirrored on the broad reach of the river. The western sky was curtained in crimson and gold. Eastwards boomed the surf over the glittering sands of the St. Thoma beach that yellowed in the evening light. He was looking at her with eyes in which burned a question---and she knew that it was there. But she resisted his mute pleading and resolutely kept her eyes upon the river. Lightly, yet not without a touch of bitterness, she said---

“Though deprived of your poverty, you will still have your pride; so all is not lost to you.”

She was startled by his reply. It was but the passionate utterance of her name, but it compelled her to forget the river, the beauty of the sunset, all else save the man who was searching her face for the response he craved. Longing yet dreading to hear the words which could no longer be kept back, she listened whilst he poured the story of his love, his doubts and fears, his diffidence, and now his ardent hope, into her ears.

Lower sank the sun behind the casuarinas, and the sky gathered warm rosy purples on the horizon. The white egrets flapped sleepily away from the shallows to their roosting-place; and black bats flitted towards the club garden, where moths hovered round the datura blossom and moon-flowers. With head bowed and eyes again averted Averine remained unresponsive.

“You know that I love you,” he repeated passionately. “How could I tell you so whilst I was so poor? Nothing but my poverty kept me silent.”

“And your pride,” she added with a sudden uplifting of the head. “Perhaps, if you knew all, pride would still counsel silence.”

There was pride on her side now. The man whom she married must accept her with all her belongings. Vytalingum had undoubtedly been a shock to Arthur Stormond. Would Vytalingum come between her and Harry Vansittart? Her eyes followed the flight of a water-fowl as it skimmed the glassy surface and marked it with streaks of purpling ripples.

“What if I know all there is to be known? Will you forgive me for being a sharer in your secret?”

She turned to him and stretched out her arms, a sudden joy illuminating her features.

“How did you learn it?” she asked softly, in tones that thrilled him.

“From Vytalingum himself. I was in the house when you paid him that visit. He said that I ought to know it. Perhaps he guessed——”

“Did he tell you all?”

“Yes, all,” he repeated.

She little knew that the all with him included even more than was known to herself. Vytalingum had judged the Australian correctly; he did not attempt to embroider the ugly facts which had been the curse of his own life. He had also disclosed the identity of Peroo.

The mists were clearing fast. Vansittart’s tongue was no longer tied, and as he opened his heart without reserve, Averine read her own aright, and cast out the last drop of doubt and bitterness.

It was dark when they returned to the landing-stage. Mrs. Dunbar sat patiently waiting, hoping many things when she saw that they had gone out in the boat together.

“You are late, Averine,” was her greeting, but there was no reproach in her tone. She looked from one to the other with quick discerning eyes. “Come home and dine with us, Mr. Vansittart. I want to hear more of your pearling experience.”

A fortnight later came the news of the fate which had overtaken Peroo. Dunbar made a hurried visit to Trichinopoly, but returned only to confirm the tale. To Averine it was a real grief as well as a shock, although she never learnt the details of his death. She, as well as the rest of the world, looked upon it as one of those unaccountable accidents, attributed by the Hindu to fate, and by the European to chance, which might befall any man. There was no suspicion of foul play, and the widow escaped punishment for her crime, except such as she received at the hands of the gods.

Though Vytalingum disappeared for ever, and Peroo fell a victim to the machinations of a scorned woman, Averine once again heard the echo of the voice of her father’s son.

A short time before her wedding, Dunbar placed a letter in her hand. It was from Vytalingum, having been written the day after Vansittart left Trichinopoly. She seemed to hear him speaking as she read the words.

“I have directed Mr. Dunbar to pay the sum of money he owes me for the pearls to your friend, Mr. Vansittart.

“Good-bye, little sister. Your path and mine lie far apart. I belong to another people and to other gods. If they allow of it we shall meet. Already the longing is in my heart to look upon your face again; and perhaps Peroo may be permitted to greet you once more from the road as you roll by in your carriage. The desire of man and the will of the gods do not always dwell together. If the boon is denied, take herewith the blessing of your God and mine. And may it also rest upon the man of your choice.”

The End