The Heart of Hindustan

Dedicated to the Memory of
Shekh Amír Ali
Some Time
Tahsildár of Pílíbhít in Ruhelkhand
A Ruler of Men
A Faithful Servant of the State

Book the First — Saláh Sháh the Fakír

Chapter I

Recreations of a Hot Weather Evening

In front of the Magistrate’s house at Háfizganj was a grass plot, preserved by lavish irrigation from withering under the scorching sun and dust: a patch of green amidst an arid tract on the Upper Ganges plain. Here one evening in May, stood Mr John Martin, the Officiating Magistrate, hoping to catch a whiff of a cooler breeze; but all day the fierce dry wind had blown, and the dust-laden air was still heated from the furnace of the day. With hands clasped behind his back, he watched the copper-coloured sun, which, sinking behind the black stems of the mango trees, spread a dull red glare over the desolate scene. But the damp scent from the grass trampled beneath his feet recalled his home. “Mid-day in England now,” he murmured, and thought of the spring in the islands of the western seas; of the sweet air, the meadows of the Thames under a genial sun; of water splashing over a weir, and the lapping waves beneath a boat’s keel:—The yearning of the exile:—after many days he will return to his home—to find it has vanished with the days of his youth, and that he has left his best, with his heart, in the land of his exile.

A clatter of hoofs aroused him from his flight to the west with the sinking sun, and Slade, the Assistant Superintendent of the Police, rode up, a comely young man of four-and-twenty, dressed in a well-fitting suit of fawn drill.

“Hulloa, Martin, not ready?” exclaimed Slade, and, turning to the group of servants in the veranda:—“Now, Bihári, bring your master’s boots. Sharp!”

Martin looked up at the young man with the smile that greets the welcome visitor, and, stroking the sleek neck of his chestnut Arab horse, he replied:—

“You want to show the paces of your new purchase. But no ground for a gallop is to be found in this hard-baked waste.”

“You don’t know the place yet,” replied Slade. “I will take you for a spin between the sand hills and the clay bottoms, where you may fall soft.”

A quiet Kabul horse, heavy shouldered, and Roman nosed, was led up.

“Let loose the dogs,” called Martin to an orderly, as he mounted and moved off to join Slade, who was waiting near the gate.

A couple of greyhounds, followed by a black and tan terrier and a bull bitch, rushed through the garden. Slade’s Arab, startled, swung sharply round, bounded forward, and before his rider could check him, was close to the cactus hedge.

“Over then!” cried Slade; and the horse cleared the hedge and ditch on to the dusty road, and was with difficulty pulled up in the field beyond.

“Confound your dogs, Martin!” cried the much-heated Slade, riding back to Martin, who stood in the road half-alarmed, half-amused. “You forget some horses have more nerves than that fiddle-headed Kábuli jackass of yours.”

“No harm done, my boy,” replied Martin, in a soothing tone. “He cleared the hedge and ditch like a buck! As fine an Arab as I have seen.”

Slade was mollified, but grumbled:—

“Thermometer at a hundred; air of blazing dust;—and you start us on a steeple-chase! Phew!” Horse and rider were drenched in perspiration. “But ‘Akbar’ will do, don’t you think?”

“Do!” returned Martin, laughing. “A thousand-rupee Arab is well fitted to do for an Assistant Policeman. Why, you young rascal, how are you going to pay for him?”

Slade replied in a tone of gravity:—“It is a great mistake to buy inferior horses. Now, take your own case, Martin. You get small profit from that ugly quadruped: your exercise is a duty, not a pleasure. But a horse like this.” (He caressed his steed affectionately, and continued with increasing animation.) “A delight to feel him under you! His springing gallop sends the blood coursing, expands your lungs, intoxicates you; and every cobweb gathered of a dreary day is swept from your brain.”

“’Tis the freshness of the youth on the horse, my boy,” replied Martin.

“Change mounts and feel the magic, my decrepit senior by seven years,” retorted Slade. “But consider the matter as merely judicious outlay. The interest on the thousand I owe for Akbar is ten rupees a month,—and that is the cost of my pleasure—and cheap at the price. Now, you—you paid three hundred to the Kábuli horse-coper for that stiff-legged bone-shaker,—and might get as much joy out of a liver-pill! Straight shoulders, fetlocks like stilts! He has knuckled over twice in the last hundred yards.”

What Martin might have replied to his fluent-tongued qompanion was lost, for his horse knuckled over again, and, punished by a jerk of the reins and a dig of the spurs, broke into a trot. They were riding along the broad trunk- road, and about fifty yards in front of them the terrier, Jock, was beating out the tufts of coarse dry grass, which fringed the road-ditch. He now gave tongue, and Slade, whose senses were as alert as the terrier’s, caught sight of a jackal cantering across the fields towards a clump of bright green shísham trees.

“Gone away!” he shouted. “Call up the dogs, Martin.” He leapt the ditch and galloped over the rough ground to cut off the jackal from the cover.

Martin, catching a spark of his companion’s eagerness for the chase, whistled to the dogs, and, with due circumspection, crossed the ditch to the open field. The terrier was already in full cry after the jackal, running swiftly towards the trees. But Slade reached the cover before him, and, with cracking whip and shouts, turned him back to the open plain. Then the greyhounds caught sight of the quarry, and, followed by the lumbering bull-dog, Mumps, pressed him closely. He doubled back, and his swift pursuers shot past. But the turn brought him close to the terrier, who gripped him bravely, and dog and jackal rolled over together, biting, struggling, yelping, till the silently pursuing Mumps seized the jackal’s throat in his unrelaxing jaws. In a moment Slade was beside the struggling group, and with strokes of his loaded whip put an end to the jackal’s torture.

He looked round and saw Martin limping on foot beside his grey steed.

“Hulloa, old man! Had a pip? Hurt?”

“Not much,” was the reply. “Broke through a rat-hole.” Slade’s impulse was to ask what he could expect if he persisted in riding that Kábuli brute, but he said sympathetically:—“Shaken a bit, eh? Rosinante’s knees broken, I see. Well, ride my horse home. A babe might manage him now.”

Martin, who was badly shaken, reluctantly consented, and they turned homewards. Slade slung the dead jackal over the broken-kneed horse, and plodded along by his side, his disgust at the ugliness of the brute tempered by pity for his broken knees. The dogs followed with hanging tongues and drooping tails, Jock with one ear torn to ribbons, and the greyhound bitch limping with broken claw.

It was now nearly dark, but the heat was still oppressive, and the light following wind bore with them the dust raised by their feet. Martin sat limp upon his saddle, inwardly cursing his folly for joining that scapegrace of a youngster in a jackal hunt. But Slade, though pinched by his riding boots and half-suffocated by the dust, trudged on, cheering his comrade by desultory remarks on the run, the accident, the state of the dogs, with such imperturbable good-humour, that Martin recovered his equanimity.

“By the way,” he said, at length, “I got a letter from young Blyth, who is joining us as assistant. He should arrive at midnight. I have sent a dog-cart down the Sháhgarh road to bring him in. You know him, don’t you?”

“He was at Marlborough with me,” replied Slade. “I remember he used to play football.”

“The Commissioner says he is a smart fellow, and will be a desirable addition to our reduced party. Come round for a swim and dinner, and stay to welcome your old school-fellow.”

“To dinner?” replied Slade, doubtfully. “I think not. That talkative fellow Woods has come in, and will turn up at your dinner. He spoils the fun with his ‘metapheesics,’ and you and he will combine to badger me. Besides, I have a leg of club mutton for dinner myself.”

“Bring it with you,” said Martin. “Bring your ice too, and I will supply choice wines to be cooled. If Woods drops in, I will keep him in order. So come and help us to pass the time till midnight.”

Slade yielded to persuasion, and shortly afterwards they arrived weary and dusty at the house.

Chapter II

How the Ronáhi Town Council Managed Mischievous Spirits

Five-and-Twenty miles to the north of the District headquarters at Háfizganj lies Ronáhi, a flourishing market town situate in the midst of a loamy plain where grow rich crops of wheat and sugar-cane. The suburbs are shady with orchards of mangoes and oranges, plantains and guavas, and beyond these stretch the market-gardens where, except during the rains, the slow revolving water-wheels never cease to creak.

The main street, known as Inayatganj, passes, with many windings, through the heart of the town, from the Háfizganj Gate on the south, to the Ganges Gate on the north, and here, in innumerable little shops, are concentrated the commercial interests of the District. Here too, where the street widens to form a little piazza or square, is situated the Moghal Fort, and within it the Court House of the Tahsildár, the Indian officer, who administers this portion of the District under the English Magistrate at Háfizganj. A towered-gateway or barbican, with ponderous doors of teak-wood studded with iron bosses, opens into a spacious court-yard shut in by lofty brick walls of great thickness; and within this enclosure, under the shade of a tamarind tree, stands a low stucco building with terraced roof and clumsy plaster columns. The Fort was erected by an officer of the Dehli King when the Marhatta raiders swept over Hindustan, and the stucco building by the first British Magistrate to accommodate the multifarious business of his Indian subordinate.

Here, on the morning after the unlucky jackal hunt, and ere the sentry over the Treasury had struck six on the gong, sat Shekh Rafat Ali, Tahsildár of Ronáhi, busy dictating orders to a clerk squatted beside him on the little white covered dais: a broad-built man of sixty, with square forehead and bushy grey brows, under which his deep-set eyes looked with clear glance upon those he addressed, resolute and unfaltering. He wore a full beard trimmed squarely and dyed to a glossy black; but his moustache was closely clipped, exposing a coarse mouth and regular teeth stained red with betel juice. It was the countenance of a man of action, alert, energetic, and self-reliant, sweetened with an expression of good-humour.

While disposing of routine business with his clerk, Rafat Ali’s thoughts were occupied with an affair of grave import to his administration. It was the Eighth day of the month of Muharram, and rumours were rife throughout the town of probable disturbances in connection with the sacred processions of the Tenth. It had been Rafat Ali’s boast and pride, that however great might be the tension in the District between the followers of Islám and the misbelieving Hindus, in Ronáhi never during his rule had the great processions caused riots in the town. He held that it was incumbent on an administrator to deal with a religious dispute at its very inception, and by persuasion, threats, and, if need be, stern measures, combined together by the tact which only long official experience and knowledge of men can give, to smother the perilous spark at its first glimmer. He had called a meeting of his satellites, the Town Councillors, to aid him in dealing with the crisis.

The first to arrive was the banker, Bábu Baijnáth, a Brahman of the noble Gor sept, a man of slender figure, light complexion, and finely cut features, clean shaven except of the glossy moustache. He bore himself with dignity, and his manner and speech were those of a refined gentleman.

“Have you gathered anything regarding Pandit Sheonáth’s case?” inquired the official, when the ceremonious greetings had been disposed of, the clerk dismissed, and the banker had taken his seat on the white cloth of the dais.

The banker explained that he had returned late from Mathura, and heard only a general account of what had happened.

“Ah, in these cases details are all important,” replied the Tahsildár. “That sour fellow Sheonáth has chosen this critical season to start two quarrels with his Mahomedan neighbours. Either enough to kindle the flame of riot.”

“I noticed the man in the court-yard as I entered,” replied the banker.

The Tahsildár nodded, and the banker continued:—“He is a surly fellow, more amenable to threats than reason.”

“With your help, Bábu Sáhib,” said the Tahsildár, with a smile, “we will apply the appropriate motive to turn the pandit gently towards the path of peace.—Then as to his antagonists,—That heretic Háji Hasan is no doubt the moving spirit of the mischief.”

“Mír Háji Hasan’s family has always been well esteemed,” remarked the banker, deprecatingly. He respected noble birth even in a Muslim.

“True,—Sayids, once rich and powerful, now poverty stricken and sour,—a household of widows and husbandless women with but one man among them, Háji Hasan’s old father. We subscribe doles for their support.”

“I thought the Mír Sáhib was employed in the Dakhan,” said the banker.

“The Nawáb Lutfulla of Baragáon took him in his train to Holy Mecca, and he has lately returned home:—mischievous as ever a Shiah!—But as to the quarrel. You of course know the ruined mosque by the great well in the Sayids’ ward?”

“I know the heap of bricks,” replied the banker, cautiously. “The weavers down there assert it is the ruin of a mosque destroyed by the Marhattas.”

“The mosque was built by Háji Hasan’s ancestor, who founded the house,” said the Tahsildár, emphatically. “Well, that sower of mischief, Sheonáth, has bought the adjoining plot of land and begun to dig the foundation for a shrine to Shiva.”

“Then I suppose his Mahomedan neighbours allege he is encroaching on the precincts of the ruined mosque,” suggested the banker, with a quiet smile.

“Exactly,” replied the official, and continued:—“Well, no report of the matter reached me until Háji Hasan complained to me yesterday, and when I went down to the spot I found the hot-headed weavers already ablaze at the insult to the Faith. Sheonáth’s excavation is stopped, and the parties to the dispute come to court this morning.”

“Then the watchman did not report the dispute?” remarked the banker.

“A misbegotten creature appointed by the young Superintendent of Police without consulting me,” answered the Tahsildár, sharply. “The Kotwál has got him in hand, and I think he will trouble us here no more.”

“I trust not,” said the banker, with a faint smile. “ ut as to the other affair? I hear that the weavers wish to lop the holy pípal tree on Sheonáth’s grounds for the passage of their táziya.1 My people are much excited on the subject.”

“The fact is,” proceeded the Tahsildár, “no táziya has come from the Sayids’ ward since the cholera year, when the weaver family who used to make it, died out. But I know for a fact, it was always carried into the Square through the lane under Sheonáth’s house, which has since then become obstructed by the overhanging branches of his pípal tree.”

“I know the tree well,” said the banker, gravely. “It was invested with the sacred thread four years ago.”

“Yes, I heard that,” replied the Tahsildár, a contemptuous smile fluttering over his lips. “Well, those ill-starred weavers are coming to court this morning, to demand to have their way cleared of the obstructing branches.”

“If the sacred tree is cut, then a riot is inevitable,” said the banker, very gravely. “Our Hindu fanatics will pelt the táziyas to the blare of the conch-shells.—Cannot the weavers carry their táziya to the place of interment by the cart-track?”

“They will not forego their prescriptive right to march through Sheonáth’s lane direct to the Square.”

“Why not raise the obstructing branch by a prop?” suggested the banker.

“Neither by prop nor rope can that branch be raised.”

“The bough cannot be lopped,” replied the banker, firmly. “If, out of a spirit of mischief and obstinacy, the weavers refuse to take the other route,—well, their táziya must remain where it stands.”

“In that case,” replied the Tahsildár, quietly, “we shall incur grave difficulty. Every táziya maker will take part with the weavers, and not a single táziya will be moved from the House of Mourning. Our people will sit at home gloomy and brooding sedition; at least the Muharram festival will be spoilt; and it is only too likely some blackguard carder or weaver will defile one of your temples;—and then, Bábu Sáhib, you know what will happen.”

“I remember the riots thirty years ago, when the Grain Market was sacked and burnt,” remarked the banker.

“With your help, Bábu Sáhib, we will find the way of peace,” replied the Tahsildár, with his confident smile. “If you and I cannot hold the scale evenly between the rivals, I know not who can.”

Three other Town Councillors now arrived: Lála Madan Lál, a fussy little man with cunning eyes, by trade grain-merchant and money-lender;—and two Mahomedan gentlemen,—Shekh Sher Muhammad, a wealthy timber-merchant, remarkable for his full white beard and bulk of twenty stone; and Khán Bahádur Khán, a broad-chested Pathán noble, of fine presence and easy resolute demeanour, who inherited his fair complexion from his Kandahári ancestors.

The ceremonious morning greetings being disposed of and the four Councillors seated at their ease on the dais, the Tahsildár inquired first of Sher Muhammad what news he brought.

“My people are much agitated,” he replied. “The report runs that Sheonáth has erected a lingam on the ruins of the Sayids’ mosque.”

“They say, however,” put in Bahádur Khán, “that he was prevented from doing so by a Fakír, who has pitched his tent by the old mosque. The meddling of a crazy darwesh bodes mischief.”

“One of my men told me,” reported the Hindu grain-dealer, “that a sacred pípal tree was to be mutilated for the weavers’ procession, but I assured him that I knew well our Tahsildár Sáhib would permit no such an outrage to the feelings of pious folk.”

The little council was now joined by a tall man in uniform, the chief of the town police, by name Thákur Naráyan Singh, an old soldier who had stood by his officers when his regiment mutinied, and who, on the re-settlement of the provinces, had been promoted into the new police. He took his seat beside the little grain-dealer, and in reply to the Tahsildár, reported that Sheonáth’s brother had departed soon after midnight for Háfizganj, followed an hour afterwards by one Ahmad Husain, a connection of Háji Hasan’s. They had no doubt both gone to demand the Magistrate’s intervention in the dispute in the Sayids’ ward; he, the Kotwál, proposed to despatch a report at eight o’clock which would be in the Magistrate’s hands before the two complainants were able to approach him.

“Ere eight o’clock strikes this affair must be arranged,” said the Tashildár, with decision. “We will report the fact of the dispute and its settlement simultaneously.”

Then turning to the stout Sher Muhammad:—“And now, your counsel, Shekhji, how is the weavers’ táziya to be got out?”

“In former days it was always carried through Sheonáth’s lane, that I know well,” replied Sher Muhammad, positively; and then added, in a conciliating tone:—“Nevertheless, let there be no harsh measures, but rather counsels of peace. Surely, any fool may blow a spark of discord to a flame, which will baffle the wisest ruler in its quenching.”

The council murmured approval of the venerable Shekh’s wise saw; but Khán Bahádur interposed with a mischievous twinkle of his eyes:—

“The weavers’ claim to pass through Sheonáth’s lane may, I think, be easily rendered futile.”

“In what way?” asked the Tahsildár, as the Pathán paused.

“Let the Shekh Sáhib offer to lead their procession.”


“Neither the Shekh Sáhib nor a bullock can squeeze through the narrow pass.”

But no smile of approval greeted the Pathán’s little joke at the expense of his bulky friend. The grain-dealer interposed deferentially:—

“May I be allowed to suggest that the Khán Sáhib, in his humorous way, gives us a shrewd hint? he would artfully enlarge the procession until it grows too big to pass in all its glory through that narrow pipe of a lane. By such a bait, skilfully dandled, may the weavers be diverted from the path of mischief. If, then, the Khán Sáhib’s elephant were offered to bear their banners, this end might be attained, for the procession could then only enter through the Ganges Gate.”

“What do you say to that, Khán Sáhib?” asked the Tahsildár.

“The elephant is at your service,” replied Bahádur Khán, with a grim smile. “He is a bit mast now, so his noble heart will not resent the degradation. Should he, however, trample down weavers, táziya and all—well, the rabble will be the fewer.—But I warrant, if the Shekh Sáhib bestrides his neck, the beast will be docile as a yoked bull in the well-run.”

Sher Muhammad gravely declined the offer. After some further debate it was decided, at the banker’s suggestion, that the Tahsildár and his two Mahomedan coadjutors should first deal in private with Háji Hasan and the táziya-makers. The Kotwál and the two Hindu councillors accordingly retired, and the Sayid, Mír Háji Hasan, was admitted to the presence,—a tall gaunt man with high narrow forehead, prominent cheek bones, thin lips and scanty beard, clothed in white garments of meagre folds and a carefully folded green turban. He saluted the three Mahomedan gentlemen with a grave salám, and stood silent on the clay floor at the edge of the carpet, until the Tahsildár politely invited him to be seated.

“We need your advice, Mír Sáhib,” said the Tahsildár.

The Sayid bowed silently in acknowledgment of the honour, and the Tahsildár continued:—“About the route to be followed by the procession from your ward. On the one hand, the True Faith must be upheld in honour before the unbelievers;—on the other, discords must not disturb the harmony of the holy Festival of Muharram.”

“Sir,” said the Sayid, in a respectful tone, but with quiet dignity, “you are doubtless aware that I have nothing to do with the táziya, which comes from the house of Núru, the headman of the weavers.”

“We are here among friends,” returned the Tahsildár, deprecatingly.

“Sir,” continued the Sayid, quietly, “I have but lately returned home after a long absence, and have no influence,—nor, as you are aware, any interest in the procession.—But you, Sir, are master here, and whatever you order, the headman will doubtless obey.”

“True, Mír Sáhib, but before issuing my order, I think fit to consult you as a Háji, a Sayid, and chief man of the ward.”

But the Sayid replied with suave reticence:—“I acknowledge the honour, but I am a recluse unacquainted with affairs, and endowed with no wit to set forth what is not already clear to an official of wisdom and experience.”

“Come, come, Mír Sáhib,” interposed Sher Muhammad, in a conciliatory tone. “Let me remind you that the Tahsildár Sáhib wishes you well, as we all do, for are you not of the line of the Prophet (whom God bless!)? He knows well, as we all do, that if any turmoil springs up in your ward, the Magistrate of Háfizganj will surely hold you responsible, and your household will be troubled while you tarry about the Faringi Court, and perhaps in jail.”

Then Bahádur Khán took up the word with bluff good nature:—“Don’t be a fool, Mír Sáhib. If this coil is tangled by your folk, you will bear the cost of the unravelling.—’Tis true, and there I am with you,—these miscreant Hindus have grown mighty insolent of late, and if I saw my way fairly secure from the heavy hand of our Faringi governors, to sack their treasures and send some of them bleating to hell, I would call on you and yours to aid in the wholesome lesson. But for that, brother, neither time nor occasion is fit.—But, a riot between our wretched weavers and carders and a gang of Hindu blackguards,—pshaw! no decent man in the town will come out of such base turmoil with anything better than soiled garments and debts for lawyers and bribes.”

The Sayid, after a moment’s silence, unbent a little and replied:—”The head weaver’s táziya is made, all due ceremonies to the Eighth Day complete: the táziya cannot lie in the House of Mourning.”

“Assuredly not,” ejaculated Sher Muhammad, and the Sayid continued:—

“The weavers maintain that Sheonáth has maliciously obstructed their ancient passage through the lane, and they cannot yield their right to go that way without loss of honour and stain to the Faith.”

“You mean the fellows will take out their táziya by their old route, or refuse to move it?” said the Tahsildár.

“I fear so,” replied the Sayid.—“They maintain openly that the idol-worshipping Hindus seek merely to dishonour the Faith, for, as to the obstructing branch,—they well know, a gardener prunes his pípal tree when and how he pleases.—The poor fellows are waiting outside now to petition for the removal of the obstruction.—The branch, they say, would be severed with a swift axe, if it hindered the way of the Magistrate’s buggy.”

There was a brief pause during which the Tahsildár eyed the Sayid keenly beneath his heavy brows. He then spoke in the sharp tones of a master addressing a presumptuous inferior.

“You have tarried long abroad, brother, and forgotten, so I deem, our ways in Ronáhi and see not whither things tend. You step on quaking sand; beware lest it yield to engulf you!—But there is yet time,—though but a span,—and you may still escape to the firm bank,—if you will it.”

The Sayid looked uneasily at the official, whose voice rang out with a stern menace.

“You are keen of wit, too, brother, and a brief word should suffice to enlighten you.—Weigh then these facts:—If the weavers urge further their claim, my report will go to the Magistrate at Háfizganj, giving the facts: that the obstructing branch has been in position for at least ten years when the masonry wall was built round it; that in former days the weavers’ táziya never exceeded four feet in height, and passed below the branch; that the poor fools have been encouraged and instigated by some persons of influence in the ward to add three feet to its height—doubtless moved by a spirit restless for mischief. Further, that the leading man of the ward, a Sayid and Háji, whose influence over the silly folk who dwell under his shadow is potent,—he declines to intervene to save them from their folly and our town from a marred festival. But he has a private quarrel with the owner of the sacred tree, which these impetuous fellows seek to lop.”

The Tahsildár paused, but when Háji Hasan was about to protest with some vehemence, he continued:—“Pshaw, brother, we are among ourselves and your protests waste of breath. The upshot is, briefly,—unless you undertake to urge these base-born weavers to a peaceful settlement, I send you with my report to the Magistrate this very morning.”

“You have been misled, Mír Sáhib,” put in Sher Muhammad, gently. “Surely you will weigh with nice scales the words of our Tahsildár.”

“Surely you have been heedless, forgetful of the ways of our Faringi rulers,” chimed in Bahádur Khán, grimly. “Unwittingly you have set your foot in a bog, and unless you leap back swiftly, surely your loins will be strained and your resources exhausted in your struggle to get out.”

Now for ten years Mír Háji Hasan had wandered abroad, until at length an irrepressible longing for his old home in the quiet suburb of Ronáhi had drawn him back. The comforts of the poverty-stricken household to which he returned were meagre, but they were the comforts of the only home he had known, and the loving care of his mother and aunts was inexpressibly soothing. He shrunk from the prospect of becoming again a wanderer, and the vision of the dreary little prison in Háfizganj was ghastly. He had not calculated on the vigorous intervention of Shekh Rafat Ali, whose version of the facts would assuredly be accepted as correct by the all-powerful authority at Háfizganj. He swiftly decided that he must yield with the best grace he could.

“Sir,” he replied to the Tahsildár, “you well know I am one who do not countenance the táziya processions. But had I been aware of the facts as now so clearly revealed by your acumen, I should have reasoned with Núru the headman, and now consistently with the Faith and the honour of the Prophet (whom God bless!) I am ready at all times in your service.”

“That is well, Mír Sáhib,” replied the Tahsildár, suavely. “I felt sure that a man of your worth and lineage could have erred merely from defect of knowledge and experience.”

“Surely, surely,” murmured Sher Muhammad.

“Now to the points,” continued the Tahsildár, and he marked them off by crossing his index fingers: “first, the branch cannot be lopped; secondly, the stature of the táziya cannot be curtailed, nor can it be dragged prone beneath the branch: this would disgrace the Faith and yield a triumph to the Infidel Hindu.”

“That is true,” assented the Sayid.

“Nor, thirdly, can it be left to moulder in the House of Mourning.”

“The brooding táziya maker surely hatches mischief,” remarked Sher Muhammad.

“This, then, is the issue,” continued the Tahsildár, “the thing must be carried out, undocked and with honour, but by a new route.—Now to bear it direct for interment by the river over the deserted fields and forego its triumphant march through the main street and Square,—this will give occasion to the Infidels to scoff and score a victory over the Faith.”

Gruff sounds of approval sprung from the depths of the chests of the three listeners.

“There is indeed another route,” he continued, and looked inquiringly at Sher Muhammad as though expecting him to speak.

“Aye, truly,” said the stout councillor, thus appealed to. “By the Pási huts to the Ganges Gate, but a long round, and the suggestion made, no doubt insidiously——”

But the wary official checked an indiscretion by promptly breaking in with decision and a tone of surprise.

“Long, Shekhji?—Yes, through the whole of Inayatganj from the Ganges Gate to the Háfizganj Gate “

Then the Tahsildár paused a moment, and Bahádur Khán exclaimed with energy, a sarcastic smile on his lips:—

“Every thieving Infidel in the shops shall witness its magnificence. What! creep into the Square through a by-lane, when they can march in triumph from beginning to end of the great mart of Ronáhi. Nay, then let Núru and his folk come to me, for I will furnish an elephant draped with gold embroidered cloth to bear the pennant before their procession,—a tusker, too broad and tall to pass through any lane in the city;—forsooth, what the Shekh Sáhib is among men, that is Fateh Jang among elephants!”

“Beware lest the base weavers become puffed up with pride and insolence,” said Sher Muhammad, dubiously. “Yet surely the advice of our Tahsildár is excellent.”

But the Sayid eagerly grasped at this easy escape from a difficulty in which his restless disposition had involved him.

“Surely the plan is admirable,” he said quickly. “Núru and his comrades are waiting in the court-yard, and if the Tahsildár Sáhib will instruct them——”

“Nay, nay, Mír Sáhib, you are hasty,” interrupted the Tahsildár. “Would you have Sheonáth and his friends thank me with insolent effusion for saving their honour? No, no, this matter must be settled by you with those ill-starred weavers, and settled of their free choice, not otherwise.—-You will see that the weavers destroy their present petition, and get one written anew on the terms just settled. It will be expedient to have the Khán Sáhib’s approval of the document before it is brought in.”

The Sayid, after a moment’s reflection, said softly:—“I, too, have a complaint against Sheonáth.”

“Yes,” replied the Tahsildár. “As to an encroachment on the mosque precincts. Yes; I will see justice done in your case.”

Then the Sayid bowed in silence and left the council chamber.

Chapter III

Tactful Persuasion

After the Sayid’s departure, the Tahsildár recalled the Kotwál with the two Hindu councillors, and explained to them briefly the proposal of the weavers to take their procession through the town by an entirely new route.

“You are, of course, aware,” he added, “that any departure from precedent is attended with risk.”

“Very true,” remarked the Kotwál. “But, on the other hand, to revive a custom long in abeyance is also risky.”

“They are fickle and headstrong, these weavers,” remarked Sher Muhammed.

“Precedent is surely the guide of the prudent,” chimed in the grain-dealer sapiently.

“Mír Háji Hasan has undertaken to see whether their plan is feasible,” said the Tahsildár, a faint smile curling his lips. “Meanwhile, let us confer with Pandit Sheonáth, and perhaps with the help of the Bábu Sáhib and the Lála (he smiled affably to the banker and grain-dealer) we may find means not only of satisfying his claim to erect new buildings, but also those of his neighbours who seek to protect the old mosque.”

“I am at your honour’s service with head and eyes,” said the little grain-dealer.

Here Khán Bahádur Khán left the council on plea of business, and Pandit Sheonáth was admitted,—a tall, spare man of fifty, of yellow complexion, and sour ascetic aspect. His saffron waist-cloth hung in ample folds to his knees; a muslin vest was tied loosely across his chest, a string of brown beads was fastened round his throat; and on his forehead three horizontal lines freshly drawn with grey ash, proclaimed his caste. He bowed with grave dignity, and stood below the dais waiting to be addressed.

“Your dispute regarding the boundary between your land and the mosque has occurred very unseasonably, Panditji,” said the Tahsildár.

“I have committed no encroachment,” replied the Pandit. “The boundary was demarcated by Harsukh Lál from whom I bought the plot, and I have kept well within it.”

“Whether or not the vendor’s plan and measurements were correct, this much is certain, Pandit: you have drifted into a nasty quarrel; and unless the dispute can be settled without recourse to law, you will bear the smart whether in the end you win or lose your suit.—You remember Pandit Básdeo? He fought his suit up to the High Court, and when at last he got a decree, he could recover no costs from his destitute adversaries, and in the end he was pinched to buy flour to bake his bread. He died of vexation, and his widow now starves amidst ruined walls.”

“I merely claim my right in self-defence, Bábu Sáhib,” replied the Pandit. “The Mír Sáhib has incited the weavers to dishonour me——”

“Leave the weavers out of the question,” said the Tahsildár. “They will be held in due check, rely upon that.—We have to deal with your building projects.—You know that the Mír Sáhib is within his rights in proposing to restore his ancestors’ mosque.”

“The project to rebuild the mosque is a mere pretext, Tahsildár Sáhib,” replied the Pandit, hastily.

The Tahsildár waved his hand imperiously to silence him, and continued: “Now, if you erect a Shrine to Shiva adjoining the mosque, a source of ceaseless discord will spring up, and for you, at least, there will be little peace.”

“Unless a settlement is come to promptly a mad market we shall have in Ronáhi,” said the banker with decision.—“Now, give heed to me, Pandit:—The practical question is not of rights here or rights there, but how to adjust an unfortunate quarrel between old neighbours, both reasonable men.”

The Pandit remained silent, with a stubborn countenance as of one determined not to be cajoled out of his rights; and the banker continued, with increased severity:—

“Unless this dispute is amicably settled and promptly, it will assuredly bring upon us the plague of bitter strife and bloody riot. If this disaster befall our town, I know well how Mr Ellis will deal with the man who kindled the mischief—and so does the Tahsildár Sáhib and the Lála here too.”

The Tahsildár and the grain-dealer both nodded assent, and the banker continued with animation:—

“The day before Mr Ellis left here on a few months’ leave, he summoned us to his house at Háfizganj. ‘What about the Muharram processions this year?’ he asked. ‘Will you guarantee there shall be no disturbances?’ We assured him that we would do so, provided we were allowed free hands to nip any quarrel in the bud. Then he departed, relying on us.

“Now, when he shall return and find we have failed him, I will tell the Pandit what Mr Ellis will do.—He will stalk into the court-yard here early one morning, addressing our Tahsildár Sáhib with ceremony, as he does when a storm is a-brewing, and he will take a chair in the open under the tamarind-tree, where all folk can see and hear him, and then, speaking between his teeth, he will send orderlies to bring without fail every man of our Town Council. We shall stand before him with clasped hands, while he will sit in silence, tugging his red moustache and biting the ends, and looking at each of us in turn, and the glare of his eyes will stiffen our limbs, but the constables, messenger men, the guard, and a rabble of suitors will grin behind him in pleasing anticipation of the storm to burst upon us,—but not a sound, not even the scratch of the writer’s pen, will be heard. At last he will break the silence, speaking in clear slow tones so that every soul in the court-yard may hear: ‘I have a word for you, gentlemen, about the riots. You knew of that wretched affair of Sheonáth’s,—a feeble spark at first to be stifled by a child’s hand, and yet you to whom I gave the trust permitted the conflagration to spread.—Let me hear some defence of your slackness, or folly, or malice.’

“Then we shall look from one to the other helplessly; then all will speak at once; then perhaps the ready tongue of Lála Madan Lál will prevail to explain, that Sheonáth was a stubborn madman, who would give no ear to our counsel; one who persists at all costs in demanding every tittle of what he styles his rights, heedless as a mad buffalo to the voice of friendly conciliation. ‘Bring the fellow before me,’ cries Mr Ellis; and straightway the Pandit is hustled in between two constables, and with turban awry and with untied vest, he stands breathless before the crowd, while Mr Ellis folding his arms and glaring under his bent brows calls upon him to explain before the whole assembly why he refused to accept us as conciliators in his disputes with his neighbours, the people of Islám.

“Such will be the charge heavy upon you, Pandit,—and what your reply? That you distrust us? Then your face will be black before the assembly. That you were willing to accept our intervention?—You dare not tell the lie in our face.

“But he, Mr Ellis, speaks with his cutting tongue:—‘Then Pandit Sheonáth,’ he cries, ‘you abandoned the way of peace and stepped wilfully in the path of trouble, and trouble, by God, you shall have.’ And his shafts of ridicule will prick like wasp stings, and every mean badge-bearer, every waterman and sweeper here will chuckle, and carry the gibes into the market-place, where the little weaver boys will sing ribald songs of the mockery of the surly Pandit.—And then—with a face as black as a tanner’s, you are dragged to the Kotwáli to sit there until the constables have dined at leisure, and the sun is high for your long slow walk over the dusty road to Háfizganj.”

A murmur of approval broke from the lips of the councillors, and as the Pandit glanced round under his brows, he read in ominous characters that what the Banker confidently foretold, they would assuredly bring to pass.

“Bábu Sáhib,” he replied, addressing the banker in a depressed tone. “None knows better than you that the mere shadow of a threat falling on things we deem holy kindles a fire in the meekest heart; the flame mounts to the brain and transmutes humility to frenzy.—Now the counsel of a wise friend has restored me to reason, and I cannot doubt but what you and our Tahsildár Sáhib advise, that will be best.—This only, I would urge, that Mír Háji Hasan and the weavers are bent on my humiliation.”

While the Pandit was speaking, Bahádur Khán returned to his seat, and communicated in a whisper with the Tahsildár, who now turned to address the Pandit:—

“As to the Sayid and the weavers,” he said quietly, “ I would remind you, Panditji, that for many generations they have lived in peace under the shadow of your house. I cannot but think that some malicious person has been poisoning your mind against them. But sit you down here a moment. I am told that the weavers’ headman, Núru, is without, and demands admission on urgent business. We will attend to him first, and then proceed to a quiet discussion of your affair.”

The headman was admitted; a thin old man, whose face, almost black, was lighted up by beady eyes and softened by a whispy white beard. He stood before the little council in an awkward attitude, holding up a sheet of stamped paper.

“What is this urgent business of yours, Núru?” demanded the Tahsildár, suavely.

“A petition for your honour,” replied the man, and bowing profoundly, he handed the paper to Sher Mahammad to deliver to the official. It set forth in formal terms, that Núru, headman of the weavers, and his comrades, makers of the táziya in the Mír Sáhib’s ward, craved permission for their procession with an elephant to enter the town by the Ganges Gate, and thence march through Inayatganj to the burial-place by the river beyond the Háfizganj Gate.—-After making some inquiries of the petitioner and endorsing his answers, the Tahsildár notified the approval of his council, subject to any orders the British authority at Háfizganj might issue.

Sheonáth, with suppressed indignation at the interruption of his business, had seated himself apart, expecting an application from the weavers for the lopping of his sacred tree. He emitted a sigh of relief when he realised the tenor of the petition, and that his sacred tree was no longer threatened with mutilation.

“Now, about your case, Pandit,” said the Tashildar, turning to Sheonáth, who arose at once and bowed with relaxed brow. “I understand you wish us, as friends of both parties, to settle your difference with Mír Háji Hasan.

“Then you must get a petition written asking us to do so. Bábu Baijnáth will, I am sure, aid you to draw up the document, and we will deal with the matter at once.”

The banker beckoned to Sheonáth to follow him, and went out, leaving the Tahsildár in close conference with the grain-dealer. Ere long they both returned, Sheonáth bearing a formal application to the Tahsildár to arbitrate on the boundary dispute, in association with Sher Muhammad, the banker and the grain-dealer.

“You have acted with discretion,” said the Tahsildár to Sheonáth, when the petition had been duly verified, witnessed and signed. “The question now is, whether the Mír Sáhib will accept our decision as final?”

“No doubt he will,” affirmed Bahádur Khán. “He is in attendance. Let him be summoned.”

The Sayid expressed his assent to the proposed arbitration, and after formal record had been made of his acceptance, the Tahsildár at once opened the proceedings with practical brevity, as follows:—

“The fact from which we must start is known to all and not disputed: the mosque of which the ruins adjoin the Pandit’s house, was built by Mír Sáhib’s ancestor; the Mír Sáhib has a right to rebuild it and restore it to its original use.”

“I have no rights over the site of the ruins,” admitted Sheonáth.

“Permit me to question the Pandit,” said the little grain-dealer, quietly intervening. “I understand you admit their right to restore the mosque?”

“The mosque was defiled by the Marhattas,” began Sheonáth.

“That circumstance concerns the people of Islám, not us,” replied the grain-dealer sharply. “I want you to answer my question, yes or no: Do you dispute their right to restore the mosque?”

“But, Lála Sáhib,” said Sheonáth, in a tone of remonstrance, “they have no intention of restoring it.”

“We will deal with that after: be pleased to answer my question, yes or no.”

Sheonáth thus pressed admitted the right of the Sayid to restore the ancestral mosque.

“Very good,” said the grain-dealer, and continued “You know that the south-east corner of the mosque is used for ablutions before prayer?”

Sheonáth looked doubtfully at his questioner, who continued:—“And you know that the south-east corner abuts on the site you have chosen for your shrine.—Thus when the mosque is restored on its old lines, the drainage from the wash-house will pollute the approach to your shrine. And think, any dirty weaver boy will be able to squat in the wash-house, splashing foul water towards the shrine, and insulting it with obscene gestures.—Will not this be so, Pandit?”

“If the mosque is restored. It is but a bit of waste ground with scattered bricks,” exclaimed the Pandit.

“Stick to the point, Pandit,” interposed the banker.

“Good,” continued the grain-dealer. “Now you follow me? If you persist in building the shrine on the spot you have selected, you must protect it from the wash-house by a lofty wall.”

Sheonáth, unable to deny this, preserved a gloomy silence, while the grain-dealer looked round with a bland smile and continued:—

“Clearly then it will be expedient for you to choose a site on the extreme south-east of your plot of land,—you have ample room over there.”

“But the restoration of the mosque is a mere pretext—” began Sheonáth.

Háji Hasan would have broken in, but the grain-dealer anticipated him:—

“A pretext, forsooth! The Mír Sáhib here will tell you that contributions have already been made towards the work, and a sure way of stimulating people to subscription will be persistence in your original plan.”

Sheonáth, unable to contest this assertion, remained silent, and the grain-dealer turned triumphantly to the little council:—

“Surely then, the case is clear: the conclusion hangs link on link from the Pandit’s own admissions.”

“Quite clear,” said the banker,

“Quite clear,” echoed the Tahsildár. “I feel sure the Pandit when he drew out his plans never contemplated the possibility of the old mosque being restored.”

“The Pandit is not a man to seek a vain quarrel,” said Sher Mahammad, positively.

“Then I sum up thus,” continued the Tahsaldar, assuming his severe judicial manner:—“The Pandit shall erect a wall at least eight feet high on the northern boundary of his site adjoining the mosque with no aperture whether for light, drainage, or ingress and egress. The actual boundary line between the sites we will lay down upon the spot.”

A formal proceeding having been drawn up and executed, the case was closed, and the little council broke up, leaving the Tahsildár and the Kotwál to draft separate but harmonious reports to the District Authorities at Háfizganj.

Chapter IV

Reports of Riot

While this business was transacted five-and-twenty miles away at Ronáhi, Mr John Martin, the officiating Magistrate of Háfizganj, was lingering over the tea-tray in the west veranda of his house in conversation with his newly arrived Assistant, Vincent Blyth,—a young man of barely four-and-twenty, of ruddy complexion, blue eyes, soft beard and moustache, and auburn hair curling over the temples.

“So you find us here,” Martin had explained, “our staff reduced to the lowest limit to afford an example of the efficiency of youthful rulers: I, Cayley Ellis’s junior by ten years, am called upon to administer the district with full responsibility and minimum allowance, while on you, after but eighteen months’ experience gathered in that worst of schools, the provincial headquarters, will devolve the grave burden of my former judicial work. Then as to the police,—our worthy Superintendent, Colonel Brown, has gone to sport with Amaryllis under the rhododendron shade in the hills, and we enjoy meanwhile the services of young Slade—a terrier watch-dog—you never can be sure at what quarry he will next fly out.

“But I doubt not we shall pull through with credit, and grapple successfully with the crisis of the Muharram festival, although the Hindus have lately grown uppish, and the air has consequently become charged with electricity, which a slight error of judgment may suffice to conduct upon our official heads.—The great processions, you know, take place the day after to-morrow—the Tenth of Muharram.”

The young Magistrate then proceeded to explain to Blyth his plans for the superintendence of the processions in the several towns of the District,—plans based on the comfortable assumption that no special complications had arisen. He had hardly completed his exposition when an orderly announced that the head-clerk had come with urgent dispatches from the town of Rudauli.

“Some mischief up,” muttered Martin, and ordered the official to be admitted.

“I hear there has been a riot at Rudauli,” explained the head clerk, “and this special despatch from Thákur Lachhman Singh will no doubt give details.”

“Let us hear it,” said Martin. The clerk opened the cover with deliberation, glanced over the contents, then read out a report from the Deputy-Magistrate in charge of the town, to the effect that a party of Hindus had assembled about mid-night in a private house to listen to a recitation by a Brahman from Kankhal. During the entertainment some one of the party had blown the conch; and thereupon the Mahomedans of the ward, irritated that their dirges over the táziya in the House of Mourning should be interrupted by the blatant sound, assembled about the house with angry remonstrance; a dispute arose, blows were exchanged, and a club fight ensued between the rival factions, resulting in serious injury to several men on both sides. Some arrests had been made, precautions against further riot had been taken, but the Deputy Magistrate recommended that an English officer should come at once to the spot, as both Hindus and Mahomedans were greatly excited and ready on a slight pretext to renew the combat.

The Court-Inspector now arrived in haste, bearing a red envelope, which he had just received from the Mahomedan Sub-Inspector at Rudauli. It contained a report to the same effect as that from the Deputy-Magistrate, but added the detail, that while the Mahomedans were quietly remonstrating with their neighbours for interrupting their funeral hymns by sounding the conch, some evil disposed person had again blown it, in open derision.

“This is an ugly business,” exclaimed Martin, turning to Blyth. “Confound it. All my nice plans upset! I must start at once for Rudauli—five-and-twenty miles under the blazing sun against this infernal hot wind. Where is that fellow Slade? Har Saháe,” he turned to the Police Inspector. “Seek out Mr Slade, and send him to me—sharp.—And you, Blyth, get dressed. We will have breakfast. I will see how you can be best employed.”

He rapidly issued orders to his head-clerk and hurried into the house.

Half-an-hour later they were seated at the breakfast-table in the subdued light of the spacious dining-room, where the hot dry wind entered fresh and fragrant through the wet grass screens in the western doorways.

“Now as to our plans,” said Martin. “There is danger that the disturbance at Rudauli may excite the Ronáhi factions. Now old Rafat Ali is a capable man—Ellis reposes the greatest confidence in him—he has much experience in dealing with these affairs,—still, as I have said before, he is a Musalman—his son, the Háfiz, is a bigot,—and he will, of course, be exposed to mischievous domestic influences in a contest for predominance between Hindus and Musalmans. So, on the whole, I think it prudent to send an English officer out to hold the balance, and give full confidence to the Hindus that they will be fairly dealt with. I shall send Slade, and I want you to go with him to check any indiscrete interference with Rafat Ali, who will resent dictation from Slade, not being his subordinate. Now, as both Slade and Rafat Ali will be under your orders, you will see that they work together without friction.”

They were interrupted by the clatter of hoofs under the porch, and the arrival of Slade, booted and spurred.

“Join us at breakfast,” said Martin, welcoming the young policeman. “We can talk business meanwhile. But first let me introduce our new assistant, Vincent Blyth, who came in after we broke up last night.”

The two young men exchanged salutations with a certain constraint.

In a few words Martin explained the position at Rudauli and Ronáhi, and added:—

“I must start at ten o’clock, and if any despatch from Rafat Ali comes in later, send it after me by a horseman. Read the despatch, and you and Blyth must use your own judgment whether to go out to Ronáhi at once or wait until the cool of the evening. Blyth has charge as Magistrate, and you will look after the police arrangements under him.”

“Then no time is to be lost,” cried Slade. He stood up, and tossed off his tumbler of brandy and soda water at a draught. “We must be ready to start at once. Have Blyth’s horses arrived?”

“My saddle horse came in yesterday,” answered Blyth.

Slade nodded approval:—“A man should always keep a fresh horse ahead.—March him off to Ronáhi at once, but let the groom rest at the well half-way during the heat of the day.—I will lay out horses to drive to Ronáhi.—Bye, bye! I will arrange to send off our servants and traps in a pony cart at once.”

And he clanked out of the room in high spirits at the prospect of an expedition.

At ten o’clock the expected despatch from Ronáhi had not come, and Martin drove off without it in face of a tearing hot wind, which threatened to blow back the leather hood of his buggy. At noon the despatch came, reporting that the Tahsildár, with the assistance of the Town Council, had settled the dispute regarding the route for the weavers’ táziya to the satisfaction of all parties. The two young men accordingly decided to defer their departure until the evening.

It was about an hour before sunset when they left Háfizganj in a high-wheeled dog-cart, and Blyth’s first experience of a drive on a hot afternoon in May was not agreeable. The rays of the declining sun beat fiercely on his left side and scorched his cheek, unprotected by the straight brim of his pith hat; while the fiery blast of a dust-laden wind, crossing the rapid motion of the cart, stung his face and parched his lips. Slade, however, having slouched the wide brim of his double felt hat over his left cheek, seemed indifferent to the discomfort, and discoursed cheerfully all the way, refreshed whenever they changed horses by cool drinks from the ice-basket which his foresight had provided. He had much to tell about the affairs and officers of the District, especially about the redoubtable Mr Cayley Ellis, the Magistrate, now temporarily absent from his charge. He adopted an easy patronising tone to his superior officer, and enjoyed his position as mentor.

As to the business which was taking them to Ronáhi, he was now disposed to treat the matter lightly. “If there is a row before we arrive,—all the better; we get the fun without the responsibility. If the row breaks out after we appear on the scene,—then old Martin, and the Commissioners, and the rest of them up to Government, will be down on us and there will be inquiries, reports, and plague without end to sicken one, even if we get off with only a wigging. That is their little way.—For my part, I can’t understand why the powers above us fuss over keeping the peace between the Hindus and Mahomedans. If they have a free fight, why—it don’t hurt us, and they have what they want.”

Blyth inquired as to Rafat Ali.

“He is the sly fox of the District,” replied Slade. “Ellis and Martin have a great notion of him, and I will lay a gold mohar that before you have been twenty-four hours in Ronáhi, you will succumb to the wily Asiatic—as your betters have done before you. I dare say if he was my subordinate he would manage me. Perhaps? But, you see, I passed the first twelve years of my life about an indigo-factory in Tirhút, and was behind the scenes with very sharp young ears and eyes. And when I came out to the country again I had another eighteen months among the planters before I got into the police. So I have seen a deal of these native officials stripped of their court dress—and I know them much better than ever you full-fledged officials will.—No: I don’t think the cunning fox of Ronáhi could manage me,—and he don’t try to.”

Blyth was silent, beginning to feel a little ruffled at the superiority which his junior so easily assumed. It was now more than an hour after sunset, but the eight-day moon shone brightly as they stopped on the high bank of the Barei River, where Shekh Rafat Ali and a party of leading residentswere assembled to escort them across the sands and bridge of boats to the town on the opposite bank. Slade leapt nimbly from the cart; greeted the Kotwál heartily; nodded affably to the Tahsildár; shook hands with Khán Bahádur Khán, and patted him on the shoulder in a patronising way; and then gave a general off-hand salute to the rest of the notables. Shekh Rafat Ali with a due deference, through which, however, a certain kindly patronage might have been discerned, promptly took possession of the youthful Magistrate, introduced the Khán Sáhib and other notables, and then offered to drive him over the sands and bridge to the town, while Slade followed in the Khán Sáhib’s victoria. The young man took his seat in the buggy, prepared, after Slade’s prediction, to be circumspect and reserved in his intercourse with the “crafty fox.”

“We have about a mile to drive,” explained the Tahsildár, when they had trotted down the narrow cutting in the cliff and the horse began to toil slowly through the sand. “This heavy track is a serious inconvenience to our town.—I tried to persuade Mr Ellis to allot funds for a planked causeway,—but he laughed, and refused to believe I really wanted to ease the communication between the headquarters and my charge.—You, sir, no doubt, know that Mr Ellis likes to give things a humorous turn.”

“I have never met Mr Ellis,” said Blyth. “Of course, I know him well by reputation.”

“We have had the good fortune to be ruled here by many officers of ability,” continued Rafat Ali, “but none, I think, of such quick apprehension and just temper; one so keen to discern and encourage merit in his subordinates. I may say, without presumption, that he has treated me with the greatest consideration.—You know, sir, he loves converse, and in camp has often kept me talking until after midnight.—I remember well the last time he was here, he asked me what I regarded as the first qualification needed by a ruler, and my answer was, without doubt, ability to impress his people with a feeling of respectful awe.”

“I should have rather said, a determination to do justice,” said Blyth.

“Nay, sir,” replied the Tahsildár, “order must be maintained even at the cost of justice; and men are ever evildoers when unchecked by the hand of the stern ruler.”

“You would reverse the old saying,” returned Blyth. “We were taught:—‘Let justice be done even though the heavens fall.’”

“Mr Ellis made the same remark,” replied the Tahsildár, laughing, “and in reply I gave him the motto:—‘Let there be order in the State though justice perish.’”

Blyth, unwilling to interrupt the loquacity of the old official, listened with politeness until an opportunity occurred of inquiring about the business in hand. Then Rafat Ali, adopting a lucid official style, brief and to the point, gave the essential details of the dispute in the Sayids’ ward, and explained the settlement which had been made.

“Everything here is now peaceable, and I doubt not that the day after to-morrow our processions will pass through the streets without let or hindrance.”

“You have heard of the riot at Rudauli?” asked Blyth.

“And that Mr Martin has gone out there,” replied the Tahsildár. “There are many seditious people there,—both Hindu and Mahomedan, and they have grown insolent, lacking timely check.—However, we here are not concerned with them.—My people, as you may be aware, look down on the Rudauli folk as mere rustics.”

Then Blyth, recalling Martin’s instructions, said:—“I do not want to interfere with your arrangements, and rely upon your calling on me if you need my help. You know the saying:—‘Depute a wise man and give him a free hand.’”

Shekh Rafat Ali, who had feared the rash zeal of youth might shatter his shrewd devices, was now at ease, and after some further remarks, said confidentially:—“Just now things have need to be touched delicately. You, sir, no doubt, know Mr Slade, one apt to be hasty both in speech and action. You will, I hope, pardon my suggesting the prudence of guarding against his interference in our arrangements without first consulting you.”

Blyth, not insensible of a glow of self-importance, assured the old official that the zealous police-superintendent would be held in due check.

They now rattled over the floating bridge, up the steep ascent to the town and entered Inayatganj. A few dim lanterns, hung at the corners, and innumerable little lamps in the shops lit up the high street, crowded at this hour with buyers and sellers and strollers, who, standing aside to let the carriages pass, respectfully saluted the Tahsildár and his companion.

At the Square they turned to the left down a narrow lane and shortly after emerged into an open space or compound, in front of a large stucco edifice, with a deep veranda supported on massive pillars. From this veranda numerous glass and Venetian doors opened into lofty rooms, now brilliantly lighted up by chandeliers and wall lamps. The Tahsildár explained to Blyth that the house was known as the Kothi Mubárik Bunyád, after Mubárik Khán, grandfather of Bahádur Khán, who had built and furnished it in European style for the residence of English gentlemen who honoured Ronáhi with a visit.

The Khán Sáhib now drove up with Slade, and after an exchange of courtesies with the Indian gentlemen, the two young Englishmen entered the house, where a dinner of many courses had been prepared by the dignified old butler of the Khán Sáhib’s establishment.

Chapter V

Whisperings of Satan

“A word with you, Khán Sáhib,” said the Tahsildár to Bahádur Khán, as they turned away from the house together. “Let me drive you home.”

He bowed to the other notables who had escorted the British officers to the house, and took his seat in the buggy with the Pathán gentleman by his side.

“You know Mr Slade well,” he began.

“He manages horses like a rough-rider, and is a keen sportsman,” replied Bahádur Khán.

“Quick with his tongue as well as his whip,” suggested the Tahsildár.

“True,—quick of temper.”

“And reckless,” said the Tahsildár, and added:—“I have not the honour to please him.”

“Some malicious whispers, doubtless,” replied the Khán Sáhib, smiling. “Provide some good shooting to propitiate the young gentleman.”

“The practical point is this,” continued the Tahsildár, gravely. “And be it spoken between ourselves:—I do not quite trust our Kotwál, Naráyan Singh; he is a Rájput of rebellious spirit, and may exert an evil influence on his officer, who in his turn may mislead our youthful Magistrate to interfere in our arrangements.”

“Quite possible,” agreed Bahádur Khán. “Mr Slade may, moreover, himself issue indiscreet orders to his police.”

“You are right,” replied the Tahsildár. “Now, the young Assistant seems well disposed, and will not himself interfere with our arrangements.”

Bahádur Khán understood the drift of the wary officer’s speech, and, after a moment’s deliberation, replied:—“A man from my village across the Ganges reports that a leopard has killed a calf there and is still lying in the dense scrub.”

“Capital!” exclaimed the Tahsildár. “Make arrangements to start with Mr Slade at daybreak,—and perhaps the pursuit of the leopard may prove a long business.”

“I will do my best,” replied the Khán Sáhib, chuckling, pleased both at the plot and the prospect of beating up the leopard with young Slade as his comrade. “But Mr Blyth?”

“Oh, he is engaged to go over the town with me, and will not be induced to leave his post.”

“That is well,” said Bahádur Khán. “Meanwhile you will, no doubt, be able to speak a good word for me to the young gentleman.”

“Surely. Before I come round in the morning to fetch him, you will be well on the road with Mr Slade.”

Bahádur Khán assented, and then alighted at the great portal of his residence,—a fort in the midst of the town, and the Tahsildár drove on through the narrow lanes to his own house, satisfied that he had adopted every precaution to lead the stream of events into a peaceful channel.

But there remained one disturbing element with which the sagacious official had neglected to deal,—the Fakír, Salár Shah, commonly known as Saláru.

On the east side of the town lies the Sayids’ ward, a quiet hamlet separated by a strip of waste land and a cart track from the town, with which it communicates by a narrow lane leading past Sheonáth’s house to the Square. On the town side of the cart track, and near Sheonáth’s house, is a well, surmounted by a handsome masonry platform now much dilapidated, and adjoining the well lies a heap of ruins, the remains of the Sayids’ mosque. On the farther side of the track, under the shadow of Mír Háji Hasan’s house and of a tamarind tree, dwell the weavers.

On the night of Blyth’s arrival in Ronáhi, the weavers, as usual during the nights preceding the great Feast of the Tenth of Muharram, were assembled near the shed of their headman’s house. Here was lodged the frail structure of bamboo, paper, and tinsel, which represents the shrine of the martyred Husain at Karbala, to be borne in funeral procession on the Tenth to its burial place in the river sand. They sat round a fire in front of the House of Mourning lamenting, and listening to dirges and recitations from the Book of Martyrs.

On each of the preceding nights of Lamentation, the Fakír, Salár Sháh, had been a prominent figure at the aláo fire, but on this night his gaunt figure and sonorous voice were missed. At length, Núru, the headman, curious to ascertain the cause of the holy man’s absence, went to seek him at his abode, a grass hut on the site of the ruined mosque about two hundred yards distant, and here he found him brooding, in darkness and solitude.

“Why are you not at our recitations to-night, Sháhji?” asked Núru, respectfully, squatting down in front of the meditative Fakír.

“What concern have I with your táziya?” demanded Salár Sháh, coldly. “Why should I join in dirges over a bier that will never be honoured with burial?”

“I don’t understand,” said Núru. “The day after tomorrow we shall bear it to the place of burial.”

“The road is closed against you,” replied the Fakír, sharply.

“Not so,” replied Núru. “Our dispute was settled this morning. Our procession, led by the Khán Sáhib’s elephant, will enter Inayatganj by the Ganges Gate——”

But the Fakír interrupted him harshly “The way to the Square is through Sheonáth’s alley. That infidel has blocked it.” He spat on the ground as he named the Brahman.

“But, Sháhji,” urged Núru, in mild remonstrance, “you are misinformed. We ourselves chose the route, for the elephant cannot pass through the alley.”

“Elephant or no elephant,” replied the Fakír, angrily, “what man of sense and honour will consent to bear his holy táziya through the huts of sweepers and tanners, amidst the filthy herds of the Pási pigs, and the muck of the brick-makers? Surely a new way of honouring the Martyrs—to bear the sacred bier through the ordure of the town! May the herd of swine scare your elephant and cast your táziya in the filth! Then will Sheonáth and his friends stand by jeering, while the boys, gathered at the Ganges Gate, are shouting—‘Make way for the bier of the Pási’s pig.’”

“We merely follow the cart track to the Ganges Gate,” pleaded Núru.

“Pshaw!” exclaimed the Fakír, contemptuously. “You know surely that the elephant is a good Musalmán and abhors the unclean beast. He will swing round at the stench, dash through the crowd of mourners and drive the bearers in terror to cast down the bier and flee.—Aye, surely that will happen, for Azim Ali the maháwat is a good friend of mine, and one strict to the Rule of our Faith.”

“But, Sháhji, by no other road can the elephant enter the bazaar,” urged Núru.

“Sheonáth and his friends are chuckling together,” continued the Fakír, scornfully. “They have closed for ever the ancient path. Surely the idol-worshippers rejoice!”

“But, Sháhji, our elephant cannot pass through the narrow alley,” again urged Núru.

“Fool!” exclaimed the Fakír. “The elephant can wait beyond Sheonáth’s, where the lane is broad; there the banner bearers can mount and march to the Square followed by the táziya.”

Núru pondered a moment to grasp this new suggestion, before he replied:—“Aye, surely, that could be managed. But the Khán Sáhib lent the elephant only if we agreed to march through Inayatganj from the Ganges Gate. The Mír Sáhib insisted on this also.”

“Ah, the Mír Sáhib may have said so,” replied Salár Sháh, scornfully. “I am quite sure he never meant you to let the idolaters gain an advantage over you.—But you, Núrulla, you are fool enough to expose the Faith to contempt, and nevertheless deem you glorify the Prophet (whom God praise!).”

The harassed weaver sat silent in painful doubt. Lured by the promised splendour, he had omitted to consider the triumph which the change of route would confer on his Hindu opponents. A vision of calamity arose vividly before him: he saw a foul heard of swine rush out from the Pási huts; heard the trumpet of the startled elephant; saw his frantic retreat, the scattered procession, and the fall of the holy táziya, to be defiled in the road-side filth. Then the jeering faces of the Hindus appeared; he heard the bitter reproaches of his brethren, and felt his honour as headman lost for ever.

“Sháhji,” he exclaimed at last, “I must speak with the Mír Sáhib at once. We must go out by the lane as our forefathers have gone before us.”

He left in silence, and slowly, with hanging head, went towards the great dilapidated house, where the Sayids dwell. As he reached the gate Mír Háji Hasan himself came out.

“Mír Sáhib, I have a request,” said the weaver, bowing to the ground.

“As to what?” demanded the Sayid, sharply.

“Our táziya——”

“With that I have nothing to do——”

“I much need your advice,” pleaded the weaver.

“I have none to give,” replied the Sayid, roughly. “Get you to your brethren and the Tahsildár, whose advice you sought.” And having thus spoken, he re-entered the house and barred the door.

Then Núru stood and pondered. The Sayid had encouraged him to make the táziya, and even offered suggestions for its design. Doubtless now, like the Fakír, the Sayid was secretly incensed with him for yielding the point of honour, the passage through Sheonáth’s lane. Perhaps he had even incited the Fakír to speak? With hands clasped behind him, and slow steps, he returned to Salár Shah, whom he found still seated as he left him in front of his little mat-built shelter, where the faint light of an oil wick was now burning.

“What did the Mír Sáhib say?” demanded the Fakír.

The weaver repeated the Sayid’s words, and added:—“And yet it was the Mír Sáhib himself who encouraged me.”

“Pshaw!” said the Fakír, contemptuously. “You are a dullard, Núru. He has given you advice and clear.”

“How so?”

“To go to your brethren and the Tahsildár. Surely that is enough. Let your brethren understand clearly how the case stands,—as you do yourself now,—and one and all will refuse to take part in your procession. At dawn one and all will hasten to inform the Tahsildár that they refuse consent to the new arrangement, and with one voice they will claim their ancient right to pass through Sheonáth’s alley to the Square.”

“You think the Mír Sáhib meant this?”

“I know him well.”

“Then, Sháhji, you must speak to my people. I am dull of wit and slow of speech.”

“Nay, but even from your poor words they will comprehend the shame of marching amidst the huts and styes of Pásis, and the filth of tanners and sweepers. If they do not—well, what matter the deeds of such brutes as they? Nevertheless, those of them who choose, can come to me.”

So Núru arose and returned to his brethren, who were still assembled around the aláo fire. A quiet, inoffensive man, he felt borne by a mysterious force helpless into a stream of troubles.

Chapter VI

The Young Ruler Encounters Salár Sháh

The first cirrus-cloud, resting motionless over the horizon, was touched with the yellow gleam of approaching dawn, when Blyth, sleeping in the eastern veranda, awoke startled, and in the dim light discerned Slade standing by the bed-side.

“Bahádur Khán sends word that a leopard has killed a calf, and if we start at once we may bag her.”

Blyth, under the influence of dreams, had expected news of disturbances in the town, and exclaimed, with a sense of relief:—“Is that all?”

“Twelve miles off across the Ganges,” continued Slade. “Horses are out, and we can get there in an hour.”

But Blyth objected that he had arranged to go over the town with the Tahsildár.

“Time for that when we return,” said Slade.

“We might be out all day,” answered Blyth. “That happened to me in Karári, and we never saw the beast at all.”

“Well,” replied Slade, chilled by Blyth’s indifference, “ there is nothing for us to do here—except play piquet. However, as this business is new, I suppose you are keen about it. But as for me, our police arrangements are settled by routine orders issued year after year, and my man Naráyan Singh tells me there is nothing further to be done.”

Blyth hesitated, and then said:—“Well, you know best. Still, Martin might want you at Rudauli.”

“Not he,” replied Slade. “He will keep things straight, and, in any case, I shall be back in the afternoon.—So I’ll start at once.”

And the young police officer hurried through the house, calling loudly for his servants.

Then Blyth lay still, gently fanned by the breeze fresh from the dews of the river valley, and watched the fading of the stars and the spread of the grey light. But when the bustle of preparations and departure ceased, and silence prevailed, he became depressed in mind: he had weakly allowed Slade to depart before discussing the situation with the local officials; he had failed to grasp the realities of his new position. He knew the importance which Government attached to the successful management of the great festival of the Mahomedan year, and this fact should have guided him to act with great circumspection. A painful distrust of his own capacity for administration oppressed him.

Then as the red flush tinged the flecks of cloud, his servant brought tea and a letter from Martin, who wrote that he had decided to remain in Rudauli until after the processions of the following day, and relied upon the two young men to manage affairs in Ronáhi without his help.—Thus, then, the responsibility of dealing with any difficulties which might now arise lay entirely on Blyth; he felt this as a stimulant, and recovered the confidence which, had inspired him the night before.

At sunrise the Tahsildár’s old buggy drew up at the gate of the compound, and the ceremonious official alighted to walk up the drive, where Blyth, followed by the groom with his saddle horse, met him half-way.

“It was rumoured that your honour drove away before dawn with Khán Bahádur Khán,” said the Tahsildár, when the morning salutes were disposed of.

“Mr Slade went,” replied Blyth. “The leopard deserved killing; and no doubt you and I can manage the business here.”

“Assuredly,” answered the Tahsildár. “Mr Slade is a keen sportsman.—Will you let me drive you in my buggy? for in truth my days for riding are almost passed. The last time I rode with Mr Ellis, he forbade me again to imperil the dignity of the Tahsildár on the precarious saddle.”

“Mr Ellis is careful of a faithful servant of the State,” replied Blyth, laughing, and mounted the rickety buggy beside the Tahsildár.

They drove slowly through the streets and lanes while Rafat Ali discoursed in a pleasant voice on the localities by which they passed and of the people dwelling therein. Thus they perambulated the town from the riverside below the Barei bridge, where the táziyas were to be buried, to the Ganges Gate at the further extremity of the town. Now, as they were returning through Inayatganj passed the entrance to Sheonáth’s lane, they came upon a carriage and pair, from which two Hindu gentlemen alighted, and then stood bowing with much ceremony to the Tahsildár and young Magistrate by his side.

“Two gentlemen of our Town Council, who met you on your arrival last night,” explained the Tahsildár. Then turning to them,—“I will join you here shortly.”

“We will wait at Pandit Sheonáth’s,” replied Bábu Baijnáth. “The parties are already there with Shekh Sher Muhammad.”

Blyth, recalling the name Sheonáth mentioned both in some reports which Martin had received from Ronáhi and in the Tahsildár’s statement, inquired what business was in hand.

“Oh, nothing of importance,” answered the Tahsildár, carelessly. “These two gentlemen are joining me to settle a boundary dispute. There will be time enough for their business after I have seen your honour home.”

But Blyth, suspecting that the Tahsildár was bent on diverting his attention, replied:—“But I understand the parties are waiting. Let us walk down, and I can ride back alone. I see my horse standing in the shade.”

He alighted and entered the narrow lane, followed at a respectful distance by the Tahsildár and the two Hindu gentlemen.

“I have explained to his honour the services you two gentlemen rendered to the State in the time of trouble,” began the Tahsildár, with easy volubility. “This, sir, is Bábu Baijnáth, upon whom Lord Canning bestowed a dress of honour and two villages confiscated from rebels.—And this is Lála Madan Lál, a sincere friend, like his father before him, of the British Government. Twice the rebels broke into his house and maltreated his father for aiding the escape of some half-caste fugitives from Fatehgarh—descendants of the renowned Colonel Gardener, of whom doubtless your honour has heard.”

Then Madan Lál broke in, as the Tahsildár paused:—“Sir, but for the prompt action of Bábu Baijnáth, my father would have expired in the hands of the rebel Sipáhis. They were proceeding to extremities, when the Bábu Sáhib sent a timely warning to their commander that British troops were marching upon the town. The Sipáhis at once left our house in panic, and hurried out of the Ganges Gate to escape the British troops, who entered the town an hour later from the Eastern Gate.—Thus was my father saved and the town preserved from the terrors of a battle in its very midst.”

“We streamed out to welcome the British troops,” said Bábu Baijnáth. “Surely the rule of those rebel Sipáhis was worse than that of the Marhattas.”

The little party, headed by Blyth, now emerged from the lane into the full blaze of the sun, now an hour above the horizon.

“We are indeed fortunate that your honour should visit our poor house,” exclaimed a voice, and the white clothed figure of Sheonáth bowed low before Blyth. “This is the pípal tree.”

But Blyth, unable at first to understand the man’s broad vernacular, turned to the Tahsildár for an explanation.

“This is one of the parties to the boundary dispute about which I spoke,” replied the Tahsildár.

“May God promote your honour to the office of governor,” exclaimed Sheonáth. “Will you just glance at my pípal tree?”

“The question of the pípal tree has been settled,” said the Tahsildár, with asperity.

“Well, since I am here,” said Blyth, good-humouredly, “let me see this famous tree.” And he moved back into the shade, where Sheonáth pointed to a branch which had grown through the masonry, and, with twigs and leaves of brilliant green, overhung the lane.

But meantime a report had reached the weavers that the Magistrate had come to inspect the obstructing branch, and Núru the headman, followed by his brethren, came hurrying up.

“Hear what I have to say,” cried Núru, pushed forward by his brethren. “From the days of our forefathers our táziyas have been carried every year through this lane to the Square.”

“Your honour will see the justice to our claim,” cried the chorus of his brethren.

Then Bábu Baijnáth pulled Sheonáth aside:—“You are a fool, Pandit. The dispute was settled in your favour, and you proceed to reopen it.—Let the Magistrate understand at once that the Tahsildár has done justice.”

The man took the hint and cried:—“The Tahsildár has done justice and saved our religion and honour.”

“The Hindus are trampling on us,” cried one of the weavers. “Your honour alone can do justice here.”

“From remote ages our procession has passed through to the Square,” cried the chorus.

Then Blyth, somewhat dazed at suddenly finding himself for the first time in a crowd of shouting and gesticulating claimants for justice, turned to the Tahsildár:—“I understood the road for the procession had been settled with the agreement of these people. But tell the fellows that if they wish, they can come to me at eleven at the house.”

“You hear what his honour says,” cried the Tahsildár, in an imperious voice which compelled silence. “He will hear any statement you wish to make at his office in the Khán Sáhib’s mansion.—Get back to your looms at once.”

The bulky Sher Muhammad now joined the peons in pushing back the clamorous weavers, and the Tahsildár, with Blyth, moved onward.

The weavers gathered in a group beyond the road, where in front of their huts the long warps were being prepared for the loom.—Blyth called to his groom to bring his horse, apprehending that his further presence might hinder the settlement of the dispute between the Sayid and Sheonáth, and prove otherwise inconvenient.

“Then I will leave you to settle your business,” he said, turning to the Tahsildár. “And I shall be glad if you will come to me at eleven with the latest news.”

Waving adieu to the Town Councillors he rode off, followed by the Kotwál, who had just come up. But as he passed the ruins, he observed a little mat-hut, and in the front of it, seated negligently on a couch, a long-limbed, gaunt man of ascetic aspect, pinched nose, and thin iron-grey beard. He wore a conical cap bound by a ragged turban, beneath which loose locks of hair fell over his high, narrow forehead. The rest of his dress consisted of a black jacket and closely tied waist-cloth. He looked at Blyth with an insolent expression on his face, and remained without changing his lounging attitude. Surprised by the man’s disrespectful demeanour, Blyth rode close up to him, looked down into his dark eyes, and demanded who he was.

“I am a traveller,” replied Salár Sháh, returning a steady glance without rising.

“Your name?”

“I am a servant of God.”

“Stand up, you ill-bred dog!” cried the Kotwál, angrily, hurrying up. “Stand and bow to the Magistrate!”

Salár Sháh arose slowly, and standing to “attention” in a negligent manner, gave a military salute.

“This is Saláru Fakír,” explained the Kotwál. “He came from eastwards some time ago.”

Blyth now recalled the name of the Fakír mentioned in the police report as charging Sheonáth with encroaching on the precincts of the mosque. It struck him as strange that the man had not joined the group in front of Háji Hasan’s house, where the Tahsildár was about to deal with the dispute. A dangerous man, he thought, to be left at large with these excited weavers. He turned sharply to the Kotwál:—

“Take that fellow to the police station. Inquire into his means of livelihood, and bring him to me with your report at eleven o’clock. He is clearly a vagrant bearing his house on his back.”

Two constables at once took charge of Salár Sháh.

About five-and-twenty paces away the Tahsildár and his companions were interested witnesses of the scene, and judging from Blyth’s sudden movement, expected to see him lash the Fakír with his horsewhip.

The banker whispered to the grain-dealer:—“That Fakír’s stiff back will be crooked ere the young Assistant sets him free.”

“Surely,” replied the grain-dealer. “And our Tahsildár may find the young officer less amenable than he expected.”

But Núru the weaver thought sadly:—“If we escape from our Tahsildár, we may fall under the weight of a heavier hand.”

Blyth, followed by the Kotwál, mounted on a Bhútia pony, rode through the outskirts of the town towards the Háfizganj Gate. He now understood clearly that the weavers were sulky in consequence of the new arrangement made for their procession, and he realised that serious difficulties might arise if they persisted in taking their procession by their old route.

“Kotwál Sáhib,” he called to the police officer, who was following silently at a respectful distance, “what do you know of Núru, the headman of the weavers?”

“A quiet, peaceable man,” replied the Kotwál.

“Then what induced him to make a táziya this year?”

“In former times one was always made in the weavers’ ward.—Now, old Núru has two wives: he had no children by his first, and married his younger brother’s widow. Both these women pressed him to start táziya building—they agreed in this at least,—for doubtless your honour is aware of the bitterness between rival wives. The poor fellow was pestered into it.—I understand too that Mír Háji Hasan encouraged the project.”

“Then this Núru is not likely to get up a quarrel.”

The Kotwál shook his head doubtfully. “In matters of religion weavers are excitable folk. They ponder much as they sit bowed over the loom.—Then, as a class, they are very poor now, and are full of mischief.”

“What has made them so poor?”

“People use English cloths; pedlars carry them to every village. Many looms are idle, and their unlucky owners have gone as day labourers to dig the canals.”

“Poor devils! Is there anyone here in a position to influence them?”

“Well, only the Mír Sáhib,” replied the Kotwál. “But he too is mischievous, prone to stir up strife secretly.”

“And this fellow, Salár Sháh, what do you know of him?”

“He settled here a couple of months ago, shortly after Háji Hasan’s return. As you saw, sir, he has set up his tent amid the ruins, and every night he places a lamp in headstones of the tombs where, he says, lie the remains of two Sayids who suffered martyrdom when the Marhattas wrecked the town. He gives out that he was bred in Rohelkhand, and that he has wandered long from Lahore to Dacca and Haidarábád of the Dakhan.”

“Find out what he was doing last night among the weavers,” said Blyth. “Surely the man is a treacherous darwesh.”

“The fellow is doubtless a rebel at heart,” replied the Kotwál. “May be, sir, you marked how he stood to attention and saluted.”

“Aye, he did,” exclaimed Blyth. “Controlled by long habit when taken unawares.”

“No doubt an old soldier of the Honourable Company,” said the Kotwál. “And, then, surely a rebel in the Great Mutiny.”

Then Blyth, after a pause:—“You must have in your office the list and descriptive roll of the mutineers who were excepted from the General Amnesty? Look it up, and let me hear the result.”

They now entered Inayatganj, and Blyth, dismissing the Kotwál, rode on rapidly to the shelter of the mansion by the river.

Chapter VII

The Old Councillor and Young Ruler

Shekh Rafat Ali, the astute Tahsildár of Ronáhi, left behind by Blyth in the Sayids’ ward, was conscious that dangerous elements had been introduced into the situation by the action of the young Magistrate, and he could not foresee the course which the young Magistrate’s crude zeal for what he would call “justice” might induce him to take in dealing with the weavers’ attempt to reopen the question of their procession. It was clearly very important to prepare the young officer to glide imperceptibly into the right path.

Influenced by these considerations, he hurried through the delimitation case to a successful issue, returned home for hasty refreshment, and then drove over at once to pay his visit to the young Magistrate.

Blyth, who had just finished breakfast, and was lounging under the swaying pankha, rose to greet the old official, who, barefooted, was bowing respectfully in the doorway.

“Take a seat here, Tahsildár Sáhib,”said Blyth, pointing to a chair and laying his lighted cheroot aside.

“I felt sure your honour would wish to be informed at once that the boundary dispute had been settled,” said the Tahsildár, when he had taken his seat. “But your honour’s cheroot?”

“If you do not mind the smoke?” replied Blyth, smiling. “I feared the cheroot might be as disagreeable to you, as the smell of your hukka to me.”

“Not at all,” said the Tahsildár. “Mr Ellis, moreover, commended the habit of smoking in council as conducive to deliberation.”

“Did you agree with him?”

“I thought,” replied the Tahsildár, smiling, “that a better check for a hasty tongue was that adopted by the Maulavi of Benares, who taught me to read the Holy Kurán. As a young man he had become involved in many troubles through his quick speech and biting tongue. To control this evil habit, he trained himself to repeat under his breath, before speaking, the following verse:—‘O true believers, let not men laugh other men to scorn, who, may hap, are better than themselves.’—My old master acquired the reputation of a sage.”

“Men are prone to infer wisdom from deliberation,” replied Blyth.

“You, sir,” returned the Tahsildár, with a twinkle in his eyes,—“you are doubtless acquainted with the couplet:—‘He soon has cause to grieve, who acts without forethought and deliberation.’”

“Yes,” answered Blyth,laughing. “I know your moral poets are rich in warnings against haste. I could wish they dwelt more on the danger of hesitation and delay.—But, tell me, how was the boundary dispute decided?”

“I have brought the written decision with me.” Receiving a sign from Blyth he read it out, and then remarked:—“As you will guess, persuasion and threats were both needed before we brought those two ill-conditioned fellows to terms.”

“I guess as much,” said Blyth. “But suppose, now, that Sheonáth had obstinately persisted in his right to build his temple steps down to the verge of the old mosque; what would have happened?”

“If it had been permitted,” answered the Tahsildár. “If, I say, he had been permitted, which I cannot think possible here in Ronáhi—but if so, then, erelong the site of his shrine would surely have been defiled with bones of kine and filth, and a riot, disastrous to the town and all concerned, would have followed.

“You, sir, have never witnessed the speed with which our fanatics become inflamed with frenzy and transform a tranquil bazaar into a hell of tumult.—Constant vigilance is needed to prevent them kindling the fire, and the rabble of Mahomedans, no less than Hindus, are ever ready to spread it.—My experience of these tumults and their distressful consequences began very early, when, as a little boy, I looked down on the great riot at Benares.”

“When was that?” inquired Blyth. “I never heard of it.”

“Long ago, when I was a child,” replied the Tahsildár, ever ready to tell a story. “Mr Bird was Magistrate of Benares—you have, no doubt, heard of that distinguished man?”

Blyth nodded.

“My father was his Kotwál at the Sikraul cantonment at the time of those unfortunate Muharram processions, but I had been taken to my grandmother’s house in the city, where, from a balcony, we were to see the grand procession pass. I recall even now the first rattle of the drums, the cries of the mourners and the flutter of the banners, as they turned into the street far above our house, and streamed under our balcony. I clapped my hands with delight as I watched the brave show through the open stone work. The leaders had passed a little beyond our house, when, without a warning, there emerged from the opposite lane the Hindu procession of the Janam Ashtami,—and the two rival processions dissolved into one gesticulating, shouting, excited crowd. Then I saw the first blow,—a naked Gosáin, swinging aloft his iron-shod club, struck the bare skull of a mourner, and the man fell beneath the trampling feet. But in a moment two of the fallen man’s comrades drew swords upon the Gosáin, and, with lopped wrist and face gashed, he too sunk below the surging tumult. The women about me screamed and fainted, and I buried my head in my grandmother’s lap and saw no more.—-But I had witnessed the first blow in the great riots, when the Mahomedans split with fire the holy shaft of Bhairava, and the Hindus burnt our Imámbára to the ground. A mad bazaar! both sides excited to frenzy! The tombs of the Saints were defiled with accursed flesh, and a cow was slaughtered over the well of Visvayeva’s temple.—The Hindus were innumerable, our people few, and but for the arrival of troops from cantonments, every Musalmán in the town would have been slaughtered and his dwelling burnt.—I recollect well my father saying, that when the Pánde Sipáhis marched down to the city, he expected them to mutiny and join their Hindu brethren, but he was wrong, the men were one and all true to the Great Company’s Salt, ready to shoot down, if need be, jogi and gosáin. They were a noble band, and the first rule in the soldier’s creed was to obey.

“Well, sir, though half a century has passed and I have dealt with many riots since, and have witnessed the terrors of the Great Mutiny,—yet the memory of that day is as vivid as ever. I had seen a throng of quiet people suddenly transformed into a mob of maniacs, rending and fighting like dogs and wolves.

“And the like may happen even in this town, if slumbering animosities are awakened. My folk, sir, are the weaker party here; their houses would be burnt and their sacred places defiled; and neither your presence nor all my efforts would suffice to quell the fury of the fire: it would blaze to exhaustion.—And we have within reach no loyal troops to intervene and save my people.”

Blyth, impressed by the little history and the grave tones of the old official, felt as though, standing on the brink of a volcano, he heard the ominous rumbling warning of an eruption at hand.

“Your experience of these disastrous riots began early,” he said, after a pause. “Doubtless you now feel confidence in your skill to avert any such catastrophe here.”

“The prime need in these affairs is to check the occurrence of anything likely to excite antagonism.—Vigilant foresight, and prompt action.”

Then, after a brief pause, he continued:—“You, sir, no doubt remarked the conduct of the weavers this morning?”

“I gathered they had objections to the agreement entered into by their headman.”

“Exactly. They are foolish, fickle folk.—Yes, probably some mischief-maker suggested to them that the Magistrate had come down because our arrangements for their procession had not the approval of the higher authorities.”

“In that case,” said Blyth, promptly, “I will issue a proclamation laying down the new route you have determined.”

“At present, it will suffice if you make them understand that any further representations of theirs must be addressed to our Town Council. This will strengthen our hands, and, supported by your presence, I will undertake to lead them into the way of peace.”

“So let it be,” acquiesced Blyth. “I do not wish to interfere, if I can avoid doing so.”

An orderly now entered to report that one Niáz Ahmad was present.

“A man of mine,” explained the Tahsildár. “With your permission he may be admitted.”

A thin old man of quiet aspect entered, and, bowing low, waited in silence until the door was closed. He then reported in a smooth voice, hardly above a whisper, that he had learnt through the women that during the night Núru the headman, in conference with the weavers, alleged that Saláru Fakír deemed they would be dishonoured and become the laughing-stock of the town if their procession passed through the dwellings of the tanners and sweepers and the huts of the swine-herding Pásis. The men had become much excited over the discussion, and finally resolved to maintain their ancient right to pass through the lane which had been obstructed by their enemy Sheonáth, or to let their táziya lie to rot in the House of Mourning.”

“It is worse than I thought,” said the Tahsildár, with grave face. “No threats will move these fools. I see that spawn of the author of mischief, that Saláru Fakír, is the prime cause of this.”

“It is a pity you did not remove him before,” remarked Blyth.

“An oversight,” said the Tahsildár, reflectively. “These fellows must now be led, not driven.”

“Is there any valid ground for their objection to the new route?” asked Blyth.

“It is frivolous,—but specious,” replied the Tahsildár. “Yes, insidious, addressed to these fools. You can hardly understand how sensitive to ridicule these fellows are.”

Then, after a moment’s reflection, he said sharply:—“We must hinder them from publicly urging these grounds of objection to the new route. This is important and urgent, for if they once assert it, they cannot recede without disgrace. Every poor fool among them will feel this. We must entice or drive them back to their work before they have committed themselves. Yes, and the only man who can do this is Mír Háji Hasan,—and Shekh Sher Muhammad must at once summon him. The Shekh is waiting here to pay his respects to your honour.”

Blyth nodded in assent, and the Tahsildár continued:—

“Meantime, while these fellows are held in suspense, I will, with your honour’s permission, deal with Saláru to induce him to undo his mischief. It was well, very well, your honour had the man seized.”

An orderly now announced that the Kotwál was in waiting.

“He has no doubt come to report on that Fakír,” Blyth explained to the Tahsildár.

“With your permission,” replied the Tahsildár, “we will first send for Sayid Háji Hasan. Any delay in checking the weavers may be fatal. May I call in Sher Muhammad?”

The bulky Shekh of the bushy white beard entered with dignity, and, after repeating the usual phrases of politeness, settled down into the largest chair in the room, which the alert orderly had provided for him. With hands folded over his ample belt, he waited to be addressed.

“The Tahsildár Sáhib has urgent business to communicate,” said Blyth, and thereupon Rafat Ali in a low tone explained the matter.

“But I have just learnt,” replied Sher Muhammad, deliberately, “and my information is no doubt correct—Háji Hasan left the town immediately after we settled his business, an hour ago.”

“So,” said the Tahsildár, smiling grimly, “the Mír Sáhib’s nostrils are keenly alive to the scent of mischief.—Gone, and where?”

“To Yahyápur.”

“Ah, yes; his family have some freehold plots there.”

“And as to the weavers,” continued the Shekh; “they entered the compound in a cluster just as I came in. Khwurshid Ali, the petition-writer, was with them.”

“They have come up as I ordered them this morning,” said Blyth.

“They are better here than amidst the chattering crowd of my office,” said the Tahsildár. “Khwurshid Ali is a dependant of mine, and will let us know how far the business has gone. Perhaps the Shekh Sáhib will bring him in here quietly.”

Sher Muhammad, receiving a sign of assent from Blyth, at once departed on his mission.

“Háji Hasan has assuredly made up his mind that these weavers have got beyond control and are bent on mischief,” remarked the Tahsildár. “Nothing else would have started him on the road at mid-day. He sees in flight safety from present and future worries, as well as an alibi.”

“Shall I send a mounted orderly to bring him back?” suggested Blyth.

The Tahsildár smiled under his beard at the crude suggestion, and replied:—

“Nay, we will manage without him, and not give him an overweening sense of his importance.”

From a lean petition-writer, escorted by Sher Muhammad, they now learnt that the weavers had come to him in an excited mood, declaring that they would never agree to the arrangement made by their headman; he had acted without consulting the brotherhood, and they desired to present a petition to the Magistrate, declaring this. The petition-writer, however, well knowing that the arrangement had been made by the Tahsildár, advised them to wait until that officer came out from his interview with the Magistrate, when they could first consult him. He had not yet learnt the ground of their dissatisfaction.

“You are a man of discretion,” said Blyth. “This is no matter in which an official petition should be presented to me. I will settle directly with the men.”

“They will be pleased to hear that,” said the Tahsildár. “Meantime let them sit apart and wait until his honour calls them. The Shekh Sáhib will kindly go with you to give his honour’s message.”

“And please see that they communicate with no one,” added Blyth. “There is a sheltered place under the banyan tree by the river.”

Sher Muhammad left with the petition-writer to execute the orders, and the Tahsildár arose, saying:—

“And, now, shall I send in the Kotwál?”

“No, stop here,” said Blyth. “You must hear what he has to say about this fellow Salár Sháh, before you can deal with him.”

Chapter VIII

The Subduing of Salár Sháh

The Kotwál was now admitted, and, after saluting the young Magistrate, stood leaning his left hand on his sword hilt, for his rank did not entitle him to the honour of the chair. He reported that Salár Shah had certainly been for many years a religious mendicant. The roll of the rebels excepted from the General Amnesty had been found, and in some respects Salár Sháh’s appearance agreed with the description of one Haidar Khán, the man who murdered the Aspinalls in the Bareilly Square by order of the rebel Nawáb.”

“Let me see the roll,” said the Tahsildár, taking the paper from the Kotwál. “You asked him where he was living when the Mutiny broke out?”

“In Haidarábád of the Dakhan,” replied the police officer.

“There are points of resemblance,” remarked the Tahsildár, meditatively. “Where is the man?”

“In the lock-up at the Kotwáli.”

“Did you notice where those weavers were sitting as you came in?” asked the Tahsildár.

“Under the banyan tree on the river bank.”

“Is anyone in communication with them?”

“Shekh Sher Muhammad is dozing there in his chariot. No one else.”

“Good,” said the Tahsildár, and turning to Blyth:—“I think it would be well if the Fakír was brought up at once for examination; the Kotwál Sáhib can send him by the drive so that the weavers at the back will not see him.”

The Kotwál looked to Blyth for orders and asked “What entry shall I make regarding the man’s arrest?”

“That the man is a vagrant, that nothing can be ascertained as to his antecedents, and that he was detained by my orders,” Blyth replied, promptly, adapting the circumstances to the law. “Add, that you find some points of resemblance between his appearance and that of a proclaimed offender, and send him to me at once with the papers for orders.”

The Kotwál saluted, turned on his heels and marched out of the room.

“We have this fellow in our hands,” said Blyth. “He should be compelled to lead the weavers’ procession by the route laid down.”

“He is a man hard to move either by threat or persuasion. I know the fanatics well.”

“The threat of hanging for the murder of the Aspinalls might bend his stiff back,” suggested Blyth.

“It might be so,” replied the Tahsildár, reflectively, and he thought the young man was an apt pupil in indirect administration.—“With your permission, I will see what I can do with him.”

“Then go into the little room at the back,” said Blyth. “I will send him to you there.”

Blyth was now left alone in the great central room. He lit a cheroot, and paced up and down pondering on the exciting game; a game of chess with living pieces, each movable only through its own perceptions and emotions. On the one side a group of poor weavers, bent on maintaining at all hazards the honour of their religion and guild, simple but fanatical men, easily moved by the impulse of the moment. On the other, the keen-witted, resolute, but tactful, old official, Rafat Ali, seeking a means of obtaining their assent to follow the path, which they now regarded as the path of an ignominious surrender. And the agent to be employed to influence them—this naked religious mendicant, whose insidious words had excited them to rebellion: he who raised the storm was to be compelled to allay it.

Meantime the Tahsildár, accompanied by his orderly, Báz Khán, a stalwart Pathán with a bushy beard of jet black,—went into the little room to prepare for his interview with Salár Sháh. French windows opened on to the east veranda, and the field stretching down to the river bank, where, a couple of hundred yards away, the weavers were seated beside Sher Muhammad’s bullock chariot under the shade of the banyan tree. He took his seat with the window on his right and a table in front of him, and directed Báz Khán to stand behind his chair and watch Salár Sháh’s movements, for the man was an enthusiast not unlikely to break out in frenzy and violence.

Then the door on the left opened to admit Salár Sháh, hand-cuffed, in charge of the Kotwál.

“You may leave the prisoner with me, Kotwál Sáhib,” said the Tahsildár, quietly, and the police officer saluted and retired at once.

The Fakír stood erect, his thin lips drawn tightly together, his eyes expressing defiance, and the nostrils of his beak-like nose expanding and contracting as he breathed.

“Your servant, Sháh Sáhib,” said the Tahsildár, with polite greeting.

“May the shadow of Ali and the Prophet rest on you,” was the Fakír’s dignified reply.

“Sit down, Sháh Sáhib,” continued the Tahsildár, pointing to the rug on his left front.

The man did so at once, and the light fell strongly upon his boney face, deep-set eyes and sharply-cut jaw with its thin beard.

He was a man of five-and-forty, but aged prematurely.

“Tell me now, Sháh Sáhib,” asked the Tahsildár, after contemplating the man’s countenance for a few moments. “What induced you to dissuade those fools of weavers from taking their procession by the route to the Ganges Gate? “

“Nay, Shekh Sáhib,” replied the man scornfully. “Am I a Muharram Fakír, a Chatni Sháh that I should concern myself with such matters?”

But the Tahsildár shook his head, smiling:—“Come, come, brother, last night sitting in your hut you persuaded Núru that his name and his táziya would become a byword among the heathen if he marched by the tanners’ huts.”

Then the Fakír replied in an Arabic tag from the Kurán:—“God knows the secret thoughts of the heart of man.”

“Come, Sháh Sáhib,” replied the Tahsildár, good-humouredly. “Pray reserve your scraps of the Holy Kurán for the ignorant, and listen to me.—You are in a very dangerous position, and I want you in the first place to understand that I wish if possible to protect you, for you are a disciple of the Pír-i-Dastagír.”

But the Fakír again replied sententiously with an Arabic text:—“God punishes whom He sees fit to punish, and pardons whom He pleases.”

“Surely your perversity will bring a calamity upon you and no glory to Islám,” returned the Tahsildár, with a ring of quiet severity in his voice, but without a trace of irritation. Then for a few instants, he watched the face of the unmoved Fakír. Satisfied with his scrutiny, he turned to Báz Khán and ordered him to leave the room and stand on guard in the veranda.

“Now, Sháh Sáhib,” began the Tahsildár, in a grave tone. “We are alone and I can speak,—and you will give heed to my warning voice.”

He slowly unfolded a sheet of yellow paper, with ink faded from age, which contained the descriptive roll of the rebels who were excepted from the General Amnesty issued after the Great Mutiny of 1857. He then read out deliberately:—

“Haidar Khán, son of Jangbáz Khán, of Bareilly, by order of the rebel Nawáb slaughtered the two Aspinalls in front of the Kotwáli in Bareilly.—Description: Age 35; dark complexion; high cheek bones; spare beard; almond eyes; long jaw; scar of tumour on the left side of his neck.”

As he read, or pretended to read each item, he checked it by scrutiny of the figure before him, and as he slowly enunciated the last point, he pointed to the scar on the man’s neck.

The corners of the Fakír’s mouth twitched, his eyes drooped, and he yawned with ostentation.

“You have heard,” continued the Tahsildár. “Item by item the description fits, even to the scar, and the age, for now your years are not less than five-and-forty. You will understand then the peril, for you have been informed against as the proclaimed murderer Haidar Khán, the man who slew the Faringi clerks in the Bareilly Square.”

The man shifted nervously on his feet but made no reply, and the Tahsildár continued:—

“The orders of the Magistrate will be to send you in chains to Bareilly, there to be confronted with the many people who knew the blood-stained ruffian, Haidar Khán.”

He paused, and with his sharp black eyes noted that his victim tightly clutched his clasped hands and cramped his toes.

“It is a mistake: I am not the man,” muttered the Fakír.

“Denial will avail not at all against the roll which you have heard,” answered the Tahsildár. “Here, written down to the very scar.—Sent in chains to Bareilly where there await your coming, the noose from the hand of the scavenger, and a fire for your carcase on the Rámganga sands.”

Then Salár Sháh drew a long breath, the beads of perspiration burst from his forehead, the hand-cuffs clinked from the tremor of his convulsively clasped hands, and he was held under a spell by the piercing glance and grim countenance of the old official.

There was a long pause, broken by the loud cough of Báz Khán, still leaning against the pillar and watching the scene through the glass door.

The Tahsildár bent forward, his eyes constantly fixed on those of the Fakír, and he spoke with a softened voice, barely audible:—

“But hear further, Sháh Sáhib!—No less than you, do I cherish the honour of Islám. Nothing will be gained but something lost by delivering you over to the vengeance of the Faringi.—But if you would have me release you, you must act under my orders at once. Choose! Shall I report my conviction that you are the bloody rebel Haidar Khán,—or what?”

The chest of the Fakír expanded with a deep breath, emitted in a broken sob; his eyes fell and his head sank.

“You are the master,” he muttered, in a toneless voice, and then bowing his head low over his manacled hands, he added:—“I am your bondman.”

“Then be of good cheer, brother,” said the Tahsildár, cheerfully. “You shall serve me in a small matter in return for the great boon of freedom which I will bestow.—Did I say serve me? nay, rather, you shall return from the crooked way into which the whispers of Satan have seduced you.”

“Wherein have I erred, Shekh Sáhib?” demanded the Fakír, in a low voice.

“In the matter of leading Núru astray. What secret motive the Father of Mischief planted in your heart, I know not.—But surely the Mír Sáhib,—of the blood of the Prophet (whom God praise)—surely Mír Háji Hasan has been your friend, and your requital to him lacks humanity.”

“In what have I injured the Mír Sáhib, who was my benefactor?” asked the Fakír.

“So it is with such as you,” replied the Tahsildár. “You see not the most manifest issue of your actions.—How? Did not the Mír Sáhib with the great Pathán, Bahádur Khán and Sher Muhammad the noble Shekh, did not they join in laying down the route for the weavers’ procession? Know you not that the Magistrate looks to the Mír Sáhib to carry through the settlement, and if he fails, as by your insidious counsel may happen,—he, with the pack of weavers, will be marched in custody to the Faringi Court at Háfizganj, and not a man of them all will be left here to remove the bier from the House of Mourning? All this worry, expense and worse, will the Mír Sáhib owe to your mischief-making counsels.—But assuredly, on the ill-starred Salár Sháh the heaviest calamity will fall,—for his ashes crumbled in the scavenger’s hand will be swept down Rámganga stream.”

The Tahsildár paused, and the Fakír bent his head over his clasped hands again, and muttered:—“I am your bondman.”

“Truly is it written:—‘How often has a man with one rash word destroyed a people and confused a world,’” quoted the Tahsildár sententiously in Persian. “It is for you to show the truth of that other verse, that strife is stilled and changed to friendship by tactful speech. Nay, and you do not, ‘Verily I fear for you the punishment of the Great Day.’”

“God is Great,” said the Fakír, in a subdued tone, with eyes still fixed on the ground. “In what way can your servant help?”

Very simply,” replied the Tahsildár. “What you have done, you must undo. This confusion has been brought about by your insidious counsel to the old fool Núru the weaver. You have laid upon you the task of inclining his heart to the right course: you shall persuade him and his fellows that it is fit and expedient for them to march as laid down by the Mír Sáhib and Khán Bahádur Khán with my approval.”

“I am ready in your honour’s service,” said the Fakír, looking up with a wan expression on his countenance.

“You can prevail on them?”

“Surely they are as wax to be moulded by crafty words,” answered the man, with a faint smile. “If need be, I will bind on the green turban, and myself lead their foolish procession.—But one plea I must urge; I am not the man Haidar Khán.”

“I have told you my conviction,” replied the Tahsildár, coldly. “It will surely go hard against you in the Bareilly Court. But, what matters? we understand: whether or not, I pledge my word, you shall be released here a free man, if you fulfil your engagement.”

The Fakír, who had now recovered his self-possession, raised his hands to his forehead in sign of silent acquiescence, and then said:—

“But in custody, what can I do?”

“You shall be taken at once to where the weavers are gathered. You see them there yonder under the banyan tree.”

“What has brought them?” asked the Fakír.

“They have come in a body to protest against the settlement made for them. It will be for you to check them. When they come before the Magistrate, he will hear their consent,—a consent of their own free will, devoid of all coercion.—When the words are spoken, I guarantee your release.—One word more. From here you go into the presence of the Magistrate. See that your demeanour is respectful, and that you address him with fair words.”

“Shekh Sáhib,” answered the man, with a curl of the lip, “on this path I have entered; I follow straight to the end.”

“And see that you speak as I lead, and give an intelligible account of yourself in answer to the Magistrate’s questions.”

“To speak truth is easier than to lie,” replied the Fakír, gravely.

At a call from the Tahsildár, two constables appeared and led away the Fakír, who marched between them with his former defiant demeanour.

Chapter IX

An Incident of the Great Rebellion

Blyth, pacing up and down the room, and ruminating on the events of the morning and the means at his disposal for overawing an excited crowd, had smoked through a second cigar, when Shekh Rafat Ali returned bearing a self-satisfied expression on his face.

“Well, what is the result?” asked Blyth, beckoning the Tahsildár to a seat.

“That stiff Fakír is now amenable to reason. He was no doubt under the influence of bhang,—you know, sir, these Fakírs are much addicted to the drug.”


“He has come to reason, and has promised to undo his mischief by persuading the weavers to accept the arrangement made for their procession.”

“Can he do it?”

“I have no doubt he can; and I have promised him free release if he succeeds.”

“But what of his identification with the outlaw Haidar Khán?”

“He will no doubt give you a satisfactory explanation on this point,” answered the Tahsildár. “And as to the roll, it was drawn up in vague general terms ten years ago, and innumerable tall lean fellows of five-and-forty would be found to answer the description. The pretext for his detention was useful, and we need not let him suspect the identification is incomplete.”

“Then let him be brought in at once,” ordered the young Magistrate.

Salár Shah was again introduced between two constables, and bowed respectfully.

“With your honour’s permission,” said the Tahsildár, “the constables need not remain.”

Blyth gave the necessary order.

“May your honour’s rule prove lasting,” was the Fakír’s greeting, and he bowed with dignity before the young officer.

“I have already explained to his honour that you were intoxicated with bhang,” said the Tahsildár.

“I recovered my senses while conversing with the Tahsildár Sáhib,” said the man readily.

“You were formerly a soldier in the Company’s service?” began Blyth.

The Fakír looked at the Tahsildár as though unable to catch the meaning of the question disguised under a foreign intonation.

“His honour asks what regiment you belonged to?” explained the Tahsildár.

“The Sixty-Seventh,” answered Salár Shah, promptly.

“Where were you quartered when the Mutiny broke out at Meerut?” asked Blyth, and the Tahsildár explained.

“I was at my home in Nagína,” was the prompt reply. “But when my furlough expired and I returned to join my regiment at Agra, I found it had been disbanded, and that the Governor, Mr Colvin, with his people, had taken refuge in the Fort.”

“So much is true,” whispered the Tahsildár to Blyth. “The Sixty-Seventh Regiment did not munity, but was disbanded at Agra.”

“The man must then have relations or acquaintances at Nagína, who can give information regarding him,” said Blyth; and the Fakír answered at once:—

“I left there ten years ago, and have never seen the place since.—All my relations and friends were massacred by the British after the battle on the Gángan Canal. I have since been a disciple of the Pir-i-Dastagír, Hazrat Sayid Abdul Kádir.”

The Fakír drew himself up proudly as he rolled out the sonorous titles of the saint of his sect.

“Massacred by the British!” exclaimed Blyth. “They were then rebels?”

“Not so,” answered the man decidedly. “They were one and all men of peace and quiet citizens of Nagína.

“Who then were your folk that they were slaughtered without offence? How could this happen?”

“I will tell you,” replied the Fakír. “But may I sit down? I am somewhat faint with fasting and distress.”

Receiving Blyth’s permission, the Fakír with a deep sigh and muttering the holy name “Allah,” settled down on his heels, passed his hand several times over his forehead and eyes, as though to clear away a mist, and began slowly:—

“We were five in our house, emigrants to Nagína from Ambála,—my father and mother, my elder brother, his wife and myself. My father had started in trade just outside the town on the Najíbábád Road, and sold timber, firewood and thatching grass. My brother lived with him, but I took service with the Great Company.—Now when I found my regiment at Agra had been disbanded, and that the whole country was in tumult, I hastened home to Nagína, for I knew the rebels were over-running Rohelkland from the Ganges to the Sárda, and I thought my folk might need my aid. So I lived with my father for nine months tranquilly amidst the turmoil; we were even left unmolested when the rebel Nawáb of Najíbábád sent his men to sack our town and burn out the Bishnoi moneylenders. Yes, the Nagína folk were ground down by both parties—first by our neighbours, the Patháns of Najíbábád, and then, as I will tell you, by the British with their Sikh soldiery.

“It was one morning when the mangoes were in bloom.—I remember this well for the great walled garden, known among us as the Bishnoi Grove, adjoined our yard, and whenever I smell the sweet scent of those flowers, I recall that bloody morning.—Now Nagína was held by a party of rebels, and they learnt that the British force was moving down upon them from the fort Pathargarh, which, your honour well knows, lies to the east of Najíbábád. A detachment of the rebels had been defeated in the forest north of the fort, and had fallen back upon the line of the Gángan Canal, where their friends from Nagína joined them, determined to hold out to the last. The site of the battle was only three miles from our house; I heard the firing, and soon after the rebels came flying back across country, a beaten panic stricken mob with no stomach for fight. And they fled through the town without tarrying, away to the eastward, and nothing stood between the Great Company’s forces and the town.

“Now you must know that before the battle the chief people of Nagína had secretly agreed, that if the rebels were defeated—and of that they had little doubt,—they were all to assemble in the Bishnoi Grove near our house to meet the British officers and beg them to protect the city from being sacked by the Sikhs; for the citizens were not rebels, but only helpless before the bands of mutineers in the town.

“So they hurried to don their best cloths and gathered in the walled garden on the main road. With my father I stood peeping out of our house, and saw a regiment of white men with skirmishers out, moving down the road. We waved our white cloths; the crowd in the Grove waved theirs; and one I saw in front of the gateway on the high road, wildly flapping his white turban.—Then a calamity befell; a shot was fired on the British by some stray rebel in hiding near the Grove; a skirmisher replied; then shots rattled right down the advancing line; the smoke hung low in the still air; cries and shouts came from the Grove,—defiance or terror, in the confusion who could tell? The British charged in line to the Grove; from the right flank the Sikh soldiery rushed on with fixed bayonets, leapt the wall, and before an order could be given or signs exchanged, they and the British had shot down or bayonetted every man in the Grove. Some fled through to our woodstacks, but were pursued and slain. And this brought our fate, for the soldiers’ eyes were blind with rage and blood.

“My father and brother were shot down in front of the hut at the first fire of the skirmishers. I with the women fled into the house and barred the door. We heard blows struck on the timbers and cries of death; the thatch caught fire; and then I broke through a screen at the back and leading the women I crept out; but my old mother fell, stifled by the smoke; and I and my brother’s wife escaped alone—two out of five—hidden away with others in a culvert below the Gángan Canal. Now when all was quiet we ventured out; and I learnt that the British Colonel had proclaimed in the market-place that he grieved for the bloody work in the Bishnoi Grove—it had arisen from a fatal mistake. But we had lost everything; the fire had destroyed our house and stock, and of five of us, I only remained.”

“But your brother’s wife escaped?” said Blyth, when the man ceased.

“Not so,” he answered “The pangs of labour came upon her even as we lay crouched in hiding; she bore a dead child and died ere twenty-four hours passed.—Then I buried my people and became a disciple.”

Salár Shah spoke the last words with his old defiant air, and bowed his head in silence.

Then Blyth moved to sympathy by the tragic story, felt convinced of its truth. The Tahsildár said in a low tone:—“So much I know, that his account of the attack by General Jones is correct. A cousin of mine was a writer attached to the column; from him I had the story; and I know that there is hardly one of the old Nagína families that did not lose some of its members by that unfortunate mistake in the Bishnoi Grove. But such is the disaster of war: men, frenzied with bloodshed, will rage like wolves among sheep.”

But Blyth was intent on his purpose, which the Fakír was to serve, and the emotion of pity was passing.

“A bitter calamity fell upon your house,” he said. “But as the Darwesh hold, all things come from God, the scourge even as the blessing.”

The Fakír bowed silently, and Blyth continued:—

“And now to the point. Here at least the guilt has been yours; for under your insidious counsel these weavers are excited to rebel against the settlement made for them through their headman. You will now undo your mischief, and at once you shall be released to wander away, whither you please.”

“I am the bondman of your honour, and of the Tahsildár Sáhib,” replied Salár Sháh.

“The weavers are assembled yonder under the banyan tree on the river bank,” said the Tahsildár. “He can deal with them at once.”

“That will be best,” acquiesced Blyth, and turning to Salár Sháh:—“Those weavers will perhaps give evidence as to your character and good behaviour since you have been here among them.”

“I have dwelt among them an inoffensive disciple for many weeks,” said the Fakír.

“Good. You shall be taken down to confer with them at once.”

Blyth summoned the Kotwál and gave the necessary orders.

Chapter X

How Salár Sháh Led the Weavers into the Path of Peace

It was a little before noon, and the hot wind blowing in full force rustled noisily through the boughs of the great banyan tree, under which the weavers were assembled waiting the summons to lay their grievance before Blyth. A little apart under the thickest shade, Sher Muhammad was seated in his well-cushioned four-wheeled chariot, by the side of which the handsome pair of fawn bullocks lay drowsily with their backs to the wind.

Báz Khán the Tahsildár’s orderly was seen to stroll slowly across the open ground from the mansion, his head and face enveloped in a voluminous white turban as protection against the wind and dust.

“I am to bring you greeting from the Tahsildár Sáhib,” he said, addressing Sher Muhammad. “Important business engages the Magistrate, but he hopes shortly to be at leisure to see you.”

“Oh, I can wait,” replied the good-humoured gentleman.

“But, Khán Sáhib,” said Núru the headman, addressing the stalwart orderly with much respect. “When shall we be called up to lay our case before his honour? It is very urgent now.”

“Brother,” replied Báz Khán, laughing. “The business of each man is urgent for him. If the noble Shekh Sher Muhammad has to wait, surely then Núru the weaver may sit in patience.”

“That is true,” admitted the old weaver, and resumed his sitting posture.

“Just signal to that water-carrier to bring a fresh draught from the well,” said Sher Muhammad. “The water is pure and cool. The Khán Sáhib’s father used to boast the water sweetest in all Ronáhi.”

“Even now the ladies of the household will drink no other,” remarked Báz Khán,—and shouted in a trumpet voice to the water-carrier, who was sitting under the masonry canopy of the well.

A constable was now seen approaching from the house, escorting Salár Sháh, still hand-cuffed.

“What offence has the Sháh Sáhib committed?” inquired Núru.

“The Fakír?” replied Báz Khán. “A vagrant with house on back.”

“Bring your prisoner into the shade here,” said Sher Muhammad to the constable.

Then the water-carrier came up bearing his water-skin glistening with the cool moisture. He filled Sher Muhammad’s capacious pewter vessel; poured a thin stream into the hands of the Fakír, who, after rinsing them, drank deep draughts as one whose throat is parched and feverish.

“I have been badly treated, Shekh Sáhib,” said the Fakír, turning to Sher Muhammad. “Some base-born scoundrel has defamed me.”

“Malicious hearts are many,” replied Sher Muhammad, sententiously. “But, no doubt the Magistrate will hear patiently what you have to say.”

“He listened with patience and understanding,” returned the Fakír. “But as you see I am still in bonds. He demanded witnesses to my character. I said, Núru the headman and all his folk knew me well. You will speak up, Núru?”

“What do you want me to say?” inquired the old weaver.

“You know the truth,” answered the Fakír. “Tell him, you know me as a servant of God; that I dwell apart, meditating on the words of the Prophet and the glory of Ali (whose names be praised).”

“Nay then, so much we can affirm on the Holy Kurán.”

“And that I am supported in this world by the alms of the faithful, and do hurt to no living thing.”

“We can take the Name of God and speak this,” said the weaver.

“Then you may all of you petition the Magistrate to let me free at once to bear in your procession the spear-headed banner of the Martyrs, Hasan and Hasain.”

“Oh, our procession!” exclaimed Núru, testily. “I wish I were well rid of it! “

“Sháh Sáhib,” cried one of the weavers, leaping eagerly to his feet. “You know well, Pandit Sheonáth has plotted and bribed the Tahsildár to compass our dishonour.”

“We will never move our táziya from the House of Mourning unless justice is done,” cried another weaver.

“Aye, better the bier of Hasain be left to rot above ground than suffer this slight to our Faith!” cried a third clamorously.

“Silence!” called Sher Muhammad in a stentorian voice. “What idle prate is this? Who is the base knave that dares defame our Tahsildár Sáhib?—Why, you perfidious scoundrels, did not I with the great Khán Sáhib and your own Mír Sáhib, decide your case yesterday?”

“We had no part in that,” replied the leader of the malcontents. “Our headman is timid, and he was driven by threats to consent.”

“He was cunningly deceived,” cried another.

“Aye, truly has it been said, that no prudent man trusts the faith of a weaver,” said Sher Muhammad, scornfully.

“You pack of liars! Your own headman settled the whole arrangement for the procession with the Mír Sáhib, and then of his own free will, he came to us to confirm it.—Speak up, you, Núrulla, was this so?”

The headman, however, hung his head in silence.

“What, you too!” exclaimed Sher Muhammad. “Are you too a traitor to your bond?”

“Shekh Sáhib,” answered the old weaver in a deprecating tone. “I pray you ask the Sháh Sáhib here what happened last night to make them reject the agreement.”

“Why do you refer to me?” demanded the Fakír. “I only know that yesterday morning you were all bragging of a grand march through the great bazaar, from the Ganges Gate to the Háfizganj Gate, and of the gay trappings the Khán Sáhib’s elephant would bear. I even thought I might myself sit in high dignity on the tusker’s broad back bearing aloft the banner of the Martyrs.”

Núru looked at the Fakír with blank amazement.

“And pray,” interposed Sher Muhammad, “what has the Sháh Sáhib to do with the weavers’ táziya?”

“Aye, truly, what have I to do with their táziya, that they turn to me to cover their perfidy?” cried the Fakír.

“What?” exclaimed the first weaver. “Speak out, Sháh Sáhib. Tell the Shekh Sáhib how you opened our eyes to our errors last night.”

“Aye, how for the glory of Islám you dissuaded us from going out by the tanners’ huts,” cried another.

“God, God!” exclaimed the Fakír. “What lies are these knaves weaving to save their skins! “

“He dares not speak before the Shekh Sáhib,” cried a weaver.

“He dreads the wrath of our mighty Tahsildár,” cried another.

“Who says I fear to speak?” demanded the Fakír, in a strident voice. “What have I, a naked darwesh, to fear? What can they give or take? A trick of weavers’perfidy to throw the blame of your own treachery on a friendless wanderer! But, beware! you dogs. God is with me, and you are the tools of Satan.—Look up, you, Núrulla the Faithless; speak out, and what is false shall become manifest.”

Thus adjured the headman spoke:—“God is my witness, Sháh Sáhib, I speak truth, but my head swims amid this confusion.—It was last night, I came to your hut and inquired with respect and humbly, why you sat apart while the dirge of Hasain was recited at our bonfire, and you cried shame upon us to consent to bear the bier of the Martyrs through the herds of the Pásis pigs——-”

But the Fakír interrupted him:—“Of that I know nothing. If you did come, if I did prate folly, you came as a fool to a madman, for I had taken bhang and was utterly devoid of sense. I know not what you said or I said, and remember nothing till I was arrested this morning.”

“Drunk with bhang, he yet spoke truth,” cried the leader of the malcontents. “He found words for us.”

“What matter the mutterings of a drugged Fakír?” interposed Sher Muhammad, contemptuously. “But, you, Núru, speak up plainly. You did use to be a man of peace and sense. What is the hitch in this matter?”

“It is thus, Shekh Sáhib,” answered the headman, “and it was the Fakír, drugged or not, who opened our eyes. We wish one and all to march with the Khán Sáhib’s elephant through Inayatganj. But if we carry our táziya through the huts of the skinners and the muck heaps of the brick makers, where the swine gorge,—we shall be dishonoured, and every Hindu unbeliever will jeer at us.”

“So there lies the hitch!” exclaimed Sher Muhammad. “Truly a fancy bred in the brain of a drunken beggar!—Defilement in passing the huts. Why, the way is open for six wagons abreast, and a thousand times I have driven by in my chariot, and never yet suffered a shadow of inconvenience.—Nay, surely in this you strain after a pretext to give trouble. An ill-starred weaver race, with not the wit of a buffalo among you! “

“Nay, Shekh Sáhib,” interposed the Fakír, deprecatingly. “They are indeed witless folk, but their craft is shallow, mostly folly—and yet they will see reason too, when their blood is cool.—Let me speak with them!”

“I lack patience to deal with them further,” said Sher Muhammad.

“Come then, Núru, listen to me,” said the Fakír, addressing the headman. “You remember the death of Háji Hasan’s brother?”

“How could I forget that?” replied the man.

“Then tell me where was he buried?”

“In the grave-yard outside the Ganges Gate.”

“Then by which road was his corpse borne?”

“We went past the skinners’ huts.”

“Good,” continued the Fakír, complacently. “And when any of your folk die, their biers are borne out by that same road.”

“You speak the truth, Sháh Sáhib.”

“Again, your marriage train went last month beyond Ganges, did it not?”

“It did,” replied Núru.

“That too went and came by the same track,” continued the Fakír. “Now give heed to this, you headman of the weavers, and you too, his brethren. Were the mourners of the Sayid’s household dishonoured; were your mourners stung with insults? was your bride defiled; when each and all of these passed the skinners’ huts, the rubbish for the brick-burners?”

The Fakír asked these questions in a smooth monotonous voice, audible to all, and the weavers winced and shifted on their feet.

“Tell me, I ask of you who know,” he continued. “When the Sayid’s bier was borne hence into Inayatganj, did Hindu blackguards jeer at it, or did they stand aside with respect as it passed?”

The weavers were silent, and the Fakír now raising his voice to a tone of solemn exhortation, continued:—“All this you have seen and known, and yet you feign that when with wailing and grief you bear out the bier of Husain by that same path, it will be thereby defiled and exposed to the jeers of the infidels! Verily it is clear to all who hear you, that in wit, the weaver and buffalo are as one.”

“It was the Sháh Sáhib himself who warned us against going that way,” said a weaver.

“The whisper of Satan!” replied the Fakír, sharply. “Satan who speaks through the mouth of one in a trance to mislead the Faithful. Surely you know that Iblís when he was respited, declared before God, saying, I will wait for men in the narrow way. Was it not he who spoke to Adam, saying, I am one who counsels you aright? And straightway by deceit he caused Adam to fall. Verily, my brothers, the hints of Satan find ready hearing in the ears of those who lack wit!”

His voice waxed loud as he recited sonorous scraps from the Kurán, interpreting them in terse Hindi, and the weavers hung their heads in silence, all except the leader of the malcontents, who broke the silence with some hesitation:—

“All the Sháh Sáhib says may be true, nevertheless, why are we hindered from going with our táziya the way our forefathers have gone from ancient days?”

“Is not the answer to this captious fellow clear to each and all of you?” replied the Fakír, promptly, and he looked round triumphantly. “I see it is so, but I will put the answer in words that will make it clearer. When your táziya and your banner and its train were the meanest in Ronáhi; when the bier of Husain was as that of a weaver’s brat,—then it was fit to sneak up a lane and creep by a side way into the Square. But that is changed. Your táziya is adorned with a blue and gilded dome, its sides are spangled with tinsel, and in the whole town is not another its equal. With drums four abreast and the elephant draped in his scarlet mantle, the banner bearers of the Martyrs and the throng of mourners will fall in at the head of Inayatganj, and thence march proud and splendid through the whole city.

“Now what is the change? I will tell you.—You have not lost an old right,—no, it is a new privilege you have gained,—a privilege which the far-seeing Mír Sáhib has won for you, and which will pass on to your children.—And yet, forsooth, such is your perversity,—you suspect him of plotting with the infidel, when he has worked for the greater honour and glory of your cause.—Fools; who mistook the deceits of Satan for the counsel of God!”

There followed a long pause, which was broken by Sher Muhammad:—

“God be praised, we have one here who is endowed with the gift of speech, and speaks words clear to the comprehension of the dullest of wit. Is this not so, Núru? Even I myself see these matters plainer than ever before.”

Núru looked round at his fellows, and gathering that their opposition was broken, he replied:—

“I set my mark to the deed of agreement yesterday, as your honour knows. That still holds good.—It was ignorance, and the whispers of Satan that deluded us.”

“You hear his words, your headman’s words, fellows,” said Sher Muhammad, addressing the men.—“What say you now? Do you speak,—your tongue wags easily.” He pointed to the leader of the malcontents.

“Nay then, I have nought to urge,” answered the man. “The words of the Sháh Sáhib cut clean and lay bare the very heart of this matter.”

“We know but little and did not understand,” murmured his fellows.

“An ox is not more witless,” muttered the Fakír, and then in a loud voice:—“But let not my case be forgotten. I claim you, Núru, and the rest, as my witnesses and sureties before the Magistrate. These fetters are galling, even to one such as me.—You must one and all speak for me, that I may be freed without delay.”

Then Sher Muhammad left the group under the banyan tree, and with slow step and dignified bearing, returned to the mansion to report to the Tahsildár the result of the long conference with the weavers, and the successful issue was communicated to Blyth.

The young officer had grown restless awaiting the conclusion of the Fakír’s mission, and now, eager to bind down the unstable weavers by public approval of their agreement, he went out to the veranda and watched the little crowd cross the open space in answer to his summons. The weavers, still excited by their discussion with the Fakír, gathered below the veranda, and in reply to Blyth’s questions eagerly proclaimed that they were satisfied with the new arrangement made for their procession on the morrow.—This matter disposed of, Blyth listened to their generous affirmations of the unimpeachable character of the pious Salár Sháh, and readily found sufficient grounds for the man’s immediate release.

Then Salár Sháh, his hand-cuffs removed, stretched his arms with a long drawn sigh of relief, and, standing in front of Blyth, looked in his face with recovered dignity and said:—

“I ate the salt of the Great Company and shed my blood in fight with the Khálsa at Chiliánwála and Gújarát:—now I am a beggar without kin and house. I have served our British Rulers here again at your honour’s bidding, and now, I am once more free to wander naked through the world. I go to repeat the Name of God, for I know that all here is a play and vain trifling, but hereafter it will be well for those who fear and honour God.”

“May God be your guard,” replied Blyth, and the Fakír with a haughty salute turned on his heels and strode away.

Chapter XI

The Heart of the Fakir

All business having been disposed of, Blyth reclined under the swaying pankha in the great central room of the mansion. It seemed that every precaution for preventing disturbance of the great festival had been adopted, and he abandoned himself to the idle musing on the rapid succession of events since his arrival in the district but thirty-six hours before. Soon the figure of Salár Sháh emerged clearly into his mental vision, and he saw him as the man had stood looking up when released;—the tall gaunt figure and pinched grim face, the yellow eye-balls with black pupils contracted under the sun-light, the short upper lip with moustache close clipped, at first drawn up with a sarcastic smile and then relaxed wearily. Perhaps, thought Blyth, a man with a biting sense of a supreme reality after death, and yet, under the stress of unconscious will, clinging to the life he deemed a mere shadow;—and thus pondering, he fell asleep, undisturbed by the chirrup of the lizard on the cornice, and the rasping of the pankha-cane through its orifice in the wall.

Nearly three hours elapsed before he was awakened by the announcement of a visitor, and as he sat up dazed with sleep, a short thick-set figure appeared, clad in buff riding boots, and breeches, and a grey flannel coat. A square strong face and heavy forehead were set off with much tawny hair, powdered grey, like his shoulders, from a long ride through the dusty air.

“I beg pardon,” he said, with difficulty discerning Blyth in the twilight room. “I thought Slade was here.”

“He should be back soon,” answered Blyth.

“Then let me introduce myself,” replied the visitor. “I think I address Mr Blyth. I am Woods of the Canals. I was at one of my bungalows about twelve miles away, and heard there was some chance of a row here, so I came to offer my services and see the fun!”

“That was very sporting of you,” said Blyth. “I fear though we can’t provide you with the fun of a row—but we can at least give you a hearty welcome. And first what will you take to quench your thirst? We have ice.”

“I’ll have a bath first,” replied the visitor. “My men and traps are with me. Could you raise some tea for me afterwards?”

“We are dependent on Khán Bahádur’s man,—a grave senior of girth and dignity, but he produces whatever I call for.”

“Ah, old Akbar Khán,” said Woods, smiling. “The Bará Miyán, or worthy senior, as we call him. A man of infinite resource, formerly a butler to the great governor Thomason, of whom he tells many legends. But don’t disturb yourself, I know my way about, and they tell me the little west room is vacant.”

Woods’ servants had already begun to unload his elephant of miscellaneous bundles,—guns, bedding, provision basket, office box, etc., and to arrange them in the room, where the splashing of water for a bath could be heard. The portly Akbar Khán appeared to salute the Canal officer as a friend, and receive cordial greetings and inquiries as to son and grandson, and the progress of his rheumatism. He promised a repast of tea, fresh goat’s milk and cakes.

Blyth was much impressed with the promptitude with which his visitor’s two servants converted the bare room into a comfortable bed and dressing-room, with everything needful in its proper place.

“Your men know their work well,” he remarked when Woods, washed and trimmed and clad in speckless white, sat down to his tea.

“At least they know my ways,” said Woods. “They think themselves indispensable, and there I agree with them. They served me through the Mutiny and will hold on until I lie under the sod or sail to the West—both one to them. Faithful fellows, who in fair weather and rough, have performed their humble duties with steadfast patience.

“You have been lucky in your men,” said Blyth.

But Woods smiled at the word “lucky,” and replied:—

“Nay, there are many such, for the standard of loyalty to the House is high among them. But as there are masters and masters so there are servants and servants, and it is not the fools who pick up the good things of the world;—if they hap on them by chance they know not how to use them.—Now that fellow of mine, Budh Singh, I have always flattered myself that I showed remarkable discrimination in taking him on.”

“How did it happen?” asked Blyth.

“A good many years ago,” replied the engineer, “I was a youngster at the Thomason Engineering College, and went up to the camp of some friends of mine, who were making surveys for the Ganges Canal near Hardwár. They had got together a line of elephants to beat the forests across the Ganges, and I remember we padded three tigers and a leopard in two days. Well, Budh Singh, a hill-man from Garhwál, was hanging about the survey party to pick up any odd job, and one day he came out with us on a pad elephant. We got into a scrimmage over a tiger in some long grass, and the elephant, which Budh Singh was riding, swung round so roughly that the young fellow was nearly pitched off. Then I heard him abusing the maháwat like a pickpocket for not controlling the elephant: the brute had shaken off his new shoes which he had stuck under the pad rope; and he insisted on alighting to find them. Now the wounded tiger was lying in the long grass, elephants were trampling and screaming, and, worst of all, four or five cocked rifles were wavering in excited hands. But the fellow slid off at the risk of being kicked to pieces, and picked up his shoes close to where we found the tiger growling, with broken back. I swore at him in good set terms for his rashness, but he replied angrily: ‘What, was I to leave behind the shoes I bought only this morning in Kankhal?’ I thought there was good stuff in the lad, and he has been in my service ever since.”

“But his act was foolhardy,” said Blyth.

“But consider a moment the situation,” replied Woods. “The tiger hwaw-hwawing in the heavy grass, elephants kicking and screaming, maháwats shouting, guns going off rather recklessly at any movement in the grass, and a man clinging to a jolting pad elephant convenient for a tiger to claw off. Now a fellow under such conditions must have an unusually cool head to notice, not only that his shoes have fallen from a loop, but to note where they fell in a sea of grass. Now, this is a rare quality, and a fundamental quality, while his rashness in alighting was the accident of youth and inexperience, which would depart in good time. Then, too, note his persistency in compelling the unwilling maháwat to stop, and the promptness of his action.”

“No doubt that is true,” admitted Blyth. “But a man with these masterful qualities would have been wanting in the docility needed for a good servant.”

“True, and until he became my headman he gave constant trouble. Now he rules my establishment—and me, too, I dare say—and all goes smoothly in the household.”

Then, after a pause, Blyth said:—“You are, I see, a keen student of our people; I wonder could you throw any light on the characters of two men who have much interested me here: one of them an enigmatical Mahomedan Fakír, and the other, a man you no doubt know, Rafat Ali, the Tahsildár!”

“As to the latter I know him well,” replied Woods, laughing. “I can pick him to pieces and put him together like a Chinese puzzle.”


“Then, first of all, he has the quality I noted in my man Budh Singh. However tumultuous and dangerous his position, his head keeps cool;—I mean his intellect is undisturbed, working as surely as in quiet surroundings. Then note his constant alertness. Many men, you know, are dull in perception from pre-occupation with the current of their thoughts; but Rafat Ali’s observation is constantly awake, and he notes everything essential, like a skilled scientific observer, and forgets nothing once noted.”

“These are surely the qualities indespensable for successful men of action,” suggested Blyth.

“True; in him they are well-developed, and he is emphatically a man of action.”

“Well,” said Blyth, “such are his tools or weapons, keen, well-polished and ever ready for action. For what purposes does he employ them?”

“For the advancement of himself and his family, and to gratify himself in the exercise of power and the pride of position. He is loyal to the British Government, because his clear judgment leaves no doubt that through those now in authority, he can best attain his ends. He has no religious fanaticism or class prejudice to lead him astray from his duty as a public servant; he has no grasping desire for wealth to entice him to dishonesty; and he knows well that a reputation for trustworthiness is indispensable to his advancement. Then, he is one of those, who delight in seeing work well done,—as a gardener loves to see his borders trimmed neatly with no slovenly spots. He has been an official since he was a boy—he began as a police-station clerk on eight rupees a month, and has risen steadily, and ere long he will be a Deputy-Magistrate with the title of Khán Bahádur. Public business has become a second nature to him, and he performs it with something of the instinctive persistence of a beaver building his dam.”

“And his temper?” suggested Blyth.

“His good humour is imperturbable, based no doubt greatly upon his sense of power,—for those who are secure in this are not easily disturbed by antagonists; but he knows well, too, how much a genial word facilitates the transaction of business. Lastly, he is a staunch supporter of his subordinates as long as they serve him well,—for he knows this is the best means of securing zealous service.”

“So much then for Rafat Ali,” said Blyth, after a meditative pause. “I should add, that his sense of humour, easy courtesy, and pleasant speech, make him one of the most agreeable of men to deal with. But now as to my deeper enigma, Salár Sháh, the darwesh.”

“Let us try to unravel the skein. Tell me about him.”

When Blyth had related all he knew of the man, Woods lighted a cheroot and paced the room in meditation. At last, stopping in front of Blyth, he asked:—“Most men of this class take hemp juice in some form or other. Was he under its influence when you first came upon him?”

“I think not,” answered Blyth; “and the police who had him in custody never suggested it.”

Woods resumed his walk, and then stopping again:—“The material for judgment is meagre, but still the skilful psychologist should be able from a few actions to construct a character—as a paleontologist builds up a complete skeleton from a few bones.

“Now, you remember the story of S. Peter? While JESUS was under examination in the court of the High Priest, Peter sat outside with the crowd, and being taxed by a girl with being an associate of JESUS, he declared with an oath that he knew him not. Now, remember, this was the very Peter of whom it was said:—‘Upon this rock I will build My Church’; the man whose force of character had made him a leader among the disciples. Well, this is a typical instance of the weakness of a strong man under a sudden stress.

“Now, remembering this, we cannot infer that your man is not deeply imbued with religious zeal, because alone, absolutely unsupported, to escape from a great peril, he undid what a short time before he had done, and probably did, out of pure zeal for the cause of Islám. That he is a man of much force, is shown by his dominant influence over the weavers; by his gift of speech and the marked impression he made on you. His spontaneous interference with the weavers’ affairs, indicates restless energy. Clearly, moreover, both the Tahsildár and the Kotwál were much impressed by the man.

“Thus a character of strong will and much intellectual and moral energy is indicated. Now it is, of course, possible that a man of his character would assume the garb of the darwesh as an easy way to an idle life of wandering;—but this is very improbable. You noted pride in his eye and demeanour; an eager, resolute face; the thin features, firm lips and movements of a man of energy. Such a one does not set up in trade as an idle hypocrite to batten on scraps.

“No, there is strong reason to believe that the man is a religious fanatic—in short, an enthusiast, just as was the typical Simon Peter.

“Well, let us pursue that analogy. You remember what Peter did after the Denial: he went out and wept bitterly in the anguish of remorse. Now, if my reading of your man’s character is correct, he too will suffer pangs of remorse for what he has done. But to a man of his restless energy impotent tears will afford no satisfaction; in action alone can such a man find relief; in action whereby his zeal for the True Faith will be made manifest. Only in this way can he find relief from the sense of degradation by which he is oppressed.”

Woods resumed his seat, pulling hard to rekindle his half-extinguished cheroot. Then Blyth, pondering for a while, said:—“You put into definite words what I felt dimly. But it had not occurred to me that his revulsion of feeling would impel him to some fanatical act. This puts a grave aspect on the case.”

“You can, if you like, test the truth of my reading of the man’s character,” replied Woods. “If I am right, you will find that Rafat Ali has set a watch on the man, if he has not already driven him out of the town.”

Blyth looked at his watch:—“It is now six o’clock. Let us walk into the town and see how things progress. We will call at the Tahsildár’s office on the way.”

The large French windows and Venetian shutters were thrown open, and the cooler air of the evening streamed in, as the two Englishmen walked across the enclosed garden, and passed by the lane into Inayatganj.

The bazaar was filled with country people who had come to witness the spectacle to take place at midnight—the march of the mimic shrines to and from the Square. The crowd respectfully made way for Blyth and his companion to pass into the court-yard of the tahsíl, where Rafat Ali met them. Woods greeted the official with much cordiality, and between them some good-humoured banter was exchanged, while the people in the court-yard pressed round in a little crowd.

“We will not detain you,” said Blyth. “We merely strolled down to see the busy bazaar. All is going well?”

“Under your honour’s auspicious star, all goes well,” was the reply.

“One point,” said Blyth, moving apart with the Tahsildár. “What has become of Salár Sháh?”

The Tahsildár smiled slightly as he replied:—“He departed by the Ganges Gate at two o’clock.”

“Gone away on his wanderings?”

“It is not expedient for him to remain here. He had a hint to clear out at once; and should he perchance reappear, he will be invited to abide in this court-yard.”

“You distrust his temper?”

“Undoubtedly: his impulses are incalculable.”

Then Blyth rejoined Woods, and they agreed that their reading of the Fakír’s character had received a striking confirmation.

Chapter XII

Salár Sháh’s Last Act

Shekh Rafat Ali watched the two Englishmen strolling through the crowd, and seeing that they passed across the head of the lane leading to the mansion, and proceeded onwards towards the grain-market, he signed to his Pathán orderly, Báz Khán, to follow them. He then returned to his office for a few minutes to give some orders before going to his private residence. He had but just emerged from the Tahsil gate into the busy Square, when confused shouts reached his ear from the direction of the grain-market. He stood still to listen, and the shouts grew into a confused tumult of cries as from a riot.

“They are fighting down in the grain-market,” cried a bystander.

“Run up to the barbican roof,” said the Tahsildár, sharply to one of his orderlies. “See what is up in the grain-market.”

Then a shrill voice was heard shouting—

“Rescue! rescue! They are killing the two Englishmen.” And a breathless youth rushed through the crowd to the Tahsildár.

“What did you see? Speak!” demanded the Tahsildár, gripping the lad’s arm.

“From the top of the scaffold I looked up the grain-market. The two Englishmen were running pursued by Club men! “

“Fool!” exclaimed the Tahsildár. “Cease your shouting.” And he pushed the excited boy back into the gateway.

Then a market woman, bare-headed, ran forward crying:—“Clubs are swinging in the grain-market! They lie in blood!”

“There is a crowd in the grain-market,” shouted the orderly from the roof of the barbican. “I can see the hat of the Canal officer in the midst of the crowd!”

The Kotwál now hurried up with some constables.

“There is a riot round the Magistrate in the grain-market,” said the Tahsildár, addressing him. “Run down swiftly with your men. I will follow. Stand aside!” he cried in a voice of thunder to the bystanders, and the Kotwál started at a double followed by his men.

“Jamadar! Turn out the Treasury Guard and follow me.” And the Tahsildár with a posse of watchmen and orderlies was about to follow the Kotwál. But at the same moment there was a trampling of horses from the direction of the Ganges Gate, a clatter of wheels and shouts from running footmen. “Make way there! Make way!” and the crowd divided to admit a victoria and pair of horses returning with Slade and Bahádur Khán from their expedition across the Ganges. On the box beside the coachman the body of a leopard was bound.

“Stop!” cried the Tahsildár to the driver, stepping forward, and as the carriage drew up he leapt in. “Drive with all speed to the grain-market.”

The man at once obeyed the imperative voice, and the Tahsildár turned to Slade who was looking at him with surprise:—“I fear Mr Blyth may have been assaulted. He went down there in the crowd.”

He stood up on the first seat, holding by the bar of the box, and Slade beside him; while Bahádur Khán stood on the back seat grasping the hood for support; and in front the loose head of the dead leopard swayed to-and-fro scattering drops of clotted blood. They overtook the Kotwál’s party and then followed by them and the Treasury Guard with their muskets, they proceeded in a strange and tumultuous procession through the crowded street.

Meantime, attracted by the decorations of the shops and the aspect of the motley crowd, Blyth and Woods had strolled idly down Inayatganj towards the grain-market.

“There are no signs of any coming disorder to-night,” remarked Woods. “Every shop has its goods displayed; the money boxes are on the ledges; and here are the women in their little bevies chattering over the preparations for the great illumination.”

They now came to the wider part of the long street and the shops of the Hindu grain-dealers. Here the crowd was less dense, and the sleek dealers, clothed only in their waist cloths, were lounging about in the cool of the evening on cane stools and couches, chatting in groups of two or three.

Suddenly the quiet was broken by shouts of terror: “Run! Fly! A madman!” and some men fled towards the two Englishmen as though in terror of their lives.

Woods, followed by Blyth, leaped on to the platform of a shop, and thence looking over the heads of the people, they saw a wild naked figure, dashing to the right and left, and striking at the stout grain-dealers with a short stabbing weapon.

“Good God!” exclaimed Blyth. “Salár Shah!”

“Get back into the shop, sir,” said a deep voice, and he now first became aware of Báz Khán beside him on the platform. “Get back. That is Saláru, mad. He stabs whom he meets.”

Then the Pathán grasping his heavy staff ready for the fray, leapt down into the street.

“Stand aside, brothers!” he cried. “I will sober the madman!”

Blyth and Woods, armed only with their light walking canes, followed, and as the stream of panic-stricken fugitives opened out, they saw the Fakír savagely ripping up a tradesman as the unlucky man stumbled over a stool; then Báz Khán’s staff crashed down and the Fakír fell like a pole-axed ox. Planting one foot on the fallen knife, the Pathán stood over his victim ready to strike again. But the strong arm and iron-shod staff had done their work completely, and the Fakír lay senseless, with gaping mouth and twitching limbs.

“You have killed him!” exclaimed Blyth.

“If he dies at least he cheats the gallows,” replied Báz Khán, leaning negligently on his staff over the fallen man.

“Bravo, my brave fellow!” cried Woods, heartily patting the Pathán on the shoulder. “A good workman-like blow struck in the nick of time.”

The Pathán saluted with a grim smile. But Blyth, who had never witnessed blood-shed before, could not speak, and for a moment felt sick at the aspect of the wounded Hindu bathed in blood and groaning as he lay prone, close to the distorted figure of his assailant. But he was aroused by the sharp voice of Woods ordering a bystander to fetch the native doctor with lint and bandages for wounds, and to summon the Kotwál with all speed;—and he turned impulsively to give aid to the victim of the fanatic’s knife. But Slade now broke through the crowd, and pulled him back as he leant over the wounded man.

“Good God, are you hurt?” he cried, his face pale with excitement.

Blyth pointed to the prostrate body of the Fakír:—“He ran amuck! No, I am safe.”

“Saláru Fakír!” ejaculated the Tahsildár, coming up. “Thank God, you are safe!” he exclaimed, addressing Blyth; and then looking at the fallen man, with a contemptuous glance:—“That fellow will never meddle with our business again.”

Bahádur Khán pushed the body with his foot much as he would have done to a stricken deer to test whether life was extinct:—“I think he has his quittance,” he remarked to Báz Khán.

Then Slade, very pale, took the staff from Báz Khán, and with affected easy patronage:—Yours is a fine club and you wield it well. Next time I am in a riot, I’ll send for you.”

“Your servant,” replied the Pathán, saluting, with a grin. “When clubs are swinging, set me in the midst!”

Slade had turned away from the body of the Fakír: at the sight of the right arm splashed with blood to the elbow, the hand tightly clasped as though still holding the murderous knife, the upturned eyeballs and gaping frothy mouth, he had grown faint; and now as he returned the staff to Báz Khán, and he saw his own hand wet with blood, he staggered back with swimming head.

The alert Tahsildár interpreted the young man’s agitation at once, and supported him with quick hand.

“Pardon me,” he said. “You are exhausted by the fatigue and heat of a long day. Will you not drive back to the house with Mr Blyth, and leave me and the Kotwál to settle this business?”

Blyth seized Slade by the arm and helped him into the carriage. “Sit still a moment,” he said. “I will rejoin you directly.”

“I understand several men have been stabbed,” he said to the Tahsildár. “We have sent for the native doctor.”

“He is here,” said Woods, as the doctor with his assistant bustled up. “Now, Blyth, take my advice. Leave the Tahsildár and Kotwál to settle this business: they will get on better without you. There are too many masters here.”

The Tahsildár gathered the meaning of the words spoken in English.

“It will be best for you, sir, to accompany Mr Slade. We can deal with this matter. One thing only,” he added in a low voice, drawing the young officer aside into the open space cleared by the police. “There will be ugly rumours through the town. The figure of Mr Slade fainting in the carriage with blood-stained hands will confirm them. The minds of the people will be distressed and the festival to-night may be spoilt or even disturbed. Let me beg of your honour to ride with me through the town that every one may see you and confidence be restored. See, your own coat is splashed with blood from the unlucky madman. I will join your honour at the tahsil as soon as I have seen to the wounded and other matters here. But, in truth, the only remedy we can apply is the surgeon’s bandage and the sweeper’s broom.”

Amidst the tumult the quiet voice of the Tahsildár and his calm demeanour had the effect of checking Blyth’s excitement; he acquiesced without hesitation, and called Woods to accompany him. But the Canal officer declined, saying:—“I am nobody; and shall not be in the way. Moreover, my skill in bandaging will be in demand.”

“Blyth,” said Slade, faintly, when they drove off. “If Rafat Ali had not caught me by the arm I should have fallen over that wretch’s body.”

“You are faint after the long hunt and need refreshment,” replied Blyth.

“No, it is not that,” returned the other. “But when that brute Bahádur Khán kicked the poor devil as one might kick a dead dog,—I saw the throat heave as in swallowing and bloody foam oozed from the mouth,—and my inside turned over.”

The young policeman shuddered again.

“Well, one has to get used to bloodshed as other things. That’s all. But let that pass now,—and tell me how you got the leopard.”

“Oh, curse the leopard,” exclaimed Slade, with a flash of recovery. “Your adventure is worth most. Tell me how it happened.” And when Blyth had explained briefly, his companion remarked with a touch of his patronising manner:—“Now, if that madman had run at you with his knife, you know what you ought to have done?”

“Not run away, I suppose,” replied the other, smiling.

“The best defence is to lunge your cane straight in the man’s face and kick him in the stomach.”

“I will try your plan next time, and always wear heavy boots,” answered Blyth, gravely, as they drove up to the house.

Then leaving Slade to get his bath and refreshments, he hurried to the stable, anxious to perambulate the town without delay, for the twilight had now turned to-night illuminated by the ten days’ moon.

Chapter XIII

The Expiation of a Fakir

When Blyth rode into the court-yard through the barbican gate, the Tahsildár was waiting, and, standing by him, a stout hill pony ready saddled and two men with lanterns.

“You intend to ride?” remarked Blyth. “But you said Mr Ellis had forbidden you to risk yourself again in the saddle.”

“True,” replied the old official, smiling benignantly. “But that was when I attempted to follow him across country; and, moreover, Mr Ellis is the first to condone the breach of a rule in an emergency.”

He had hardly mounted his short legged steed, when Shekh Sher Muhammad with the banker Baijnáth and Lála Madan Lál came hurrying up.

“An evil report reached me,” said Sher Muhammad.

“But I see it was false,” he added, glancing at Blyth.

“His honour is then safe!” explained Bábu Baijnáth.

“How report lies!” exclaimed Madan Lál.

“A drunken beggar hurt some people in the grain-market,” explained the Tahsildár, carelessly. “My man Báz Khán knocked him down and the Kotwál has him in custody.”

“We heard that his honour——”

“Mere lies,” interrupted the Tahsildár. “But pray return to your people and let them know the facts, for the false report may spoil the assembly in the Square to-night.”

Blyth nodded a dismissal to the Town Councillors, and, followed by the Tahsildár, rode out into the Square. They passed through Inayatganj to the Ganges Gate, stopping from time to time to speak with many of the leading men. Then, after making a loop through the brazier’s market, they rode down the lane to the Sayid’s ward, where they found Mír Háji Hasan himself, seated on the platform in front of his house, with a group of weavers gathered about him. They all started up as the lantern carriers approached them, and the Sayid, recognising his visitors, came forward.

“What are you conferring about with the weavers?” inquired the Tahsildár, after he had introduced the Sayid to Blyth as a well-wisher of the British Government.

“I have but just returned home,” replied the Sayid. “The fellows have a strange tale of Saláru Fakír.” Then, approaching the Tahsildár, he said in a low tone:—“That he attacked his honour (pointing to Blyth) and became a martyr.”

“Mere rubbish!” said the Tahsildár.

“Where is Núru the headman?” asked Blyth, and the old man came forward. “What story about Saláru have your people brought?”

“Mere chatter of fools!” said the Sayid.

“Let us hear it,” persisted Blyth.

But Núru hung his head, repeating the Sayid’s contemptuous words. The Sayid himself then explained that a rumour had reached them that the Fakír had entered the grain-market followed by a leopard, and the people had fled in terror, until three Englishmen had barred his way. Then shouting “For the Faith,” he struck down the first of the three, while his leopard attacked the second; but the third,—who had been identified as Blyth—shot first the leopard and then Salár Sháh. He had then driven away, carrying the slain leopard and his surviving companion, but leaving behind the two dead bodies to be carried to the hospital.

“Sir,” said the Tahsildár, laughing, “believe me, there is no story too absurd for these people to credit. In time your honour will be magnified into a Rustam and the madman into Sháh Madár himself. Nay, the more marvellous, the more easily will they credit it. Come, now, Núru, speak truth for once: you gave full belief to that story?”

“I was inquiring into the facts,” replied Núru, evasively.

“Well, I will tell you the facts,” said the Tahsildár, and at once repeated the bald version of the occurrences which he had given to the Town Councillors.

Then one of the weavers said to the headman in half audible tones:—“Whatever the Tahsildár Sáhib says is assuredly true, but I saw with my own eyes—I saw the Magistrate and the wounded Englishman with him in a carriage, and the dead leopard was beside the coachman.”

“And for myself,” said another weaver, “I can swear to it—I once saw a Madária Fakír leading a tiger by a chain.”

It was not until the Tahsildár had accounted in detail for the presence of the dead leopard, that the weavers reluctantly abandoned the marvellous version of the occurrences over which they had gloated.

“Say what we may,” said the Tahsildár as they rode away, “if Saláru’s body is buried here they will make a shrine of his tomb. His body shall go to Háfizganj for a post-mortem examination and be lost in an unknown grave.”

“Then is the wretch dead?”

“The native doctor said the base of his skull was fractured and he would shortly give up the ghost. Báz Khán’s staff is heavy.”

They then proceeded on their way to complete the round of the city.

It was late ere Blyth returned to the Khán Sáhib’s mansion. Slade, wearied out, had dined and gone to bed, but Woods, who had returned but a few minutes before, was waiting for Blyth and they sat down to dinner in the veranda, where the fresh breeze from the river valley cooled the air and the moon shone upon them.

“Will you not go down to see the night march of the táziyas to the Square?” asked Woods.

“I think not,” replied Blyth. “I have had more than enough of the sour-smelling streets; and Rafat Ali hinted I should be rather in the way.”

“I have no doubt he thinks so,” replied Woods, smiling, “He knows that young Englishmen in authority are more skilful in driving than in leading a crowd of very impressionable people. For Rafat Ali believes in the efficacy of what he calls ‘hikmat-amali,’ or practical cleverness: cajolery, persuasion, all in good humour, and as a last resource only, intimidation. But what of Salár Sháh and his victims?”

“Two have died in hospital; the other three, though seriously wounded, may recover; but the wretch himself is dead.”

“I hoped he might recover sufficiently to give me an opportunity of talking to him as to the motives which drove him to this outbreak. The case is of much interest.”

Blyth felt a shock at the unemotionable, if scientific spirit, in which his companion spoke of the ghastly occurrence. He replied with some warmth in his tone:—

“Motives? A confused tumult of passion and illusion, what else?”

But Woods continued with the coolness of a pathologist discussing an “interesting case”:—

“I have been piecing together scraps of information and have constructed a very plausible hypothesis of the ideas and feelings which influenced him. I wish I could have tested it by an hour’s quiet talk with him.”

“But surely,”replied Blyth, “you might, with equal hope of success, attempt to interpret a nightmare dream from the restless movements of the sleeper.”

“That would depend upon the character of the data,—just as in the case we are discussing,” returned Woods, confidently. “For example: when your sleeping dog barks and jerks his legs as in running, you infer at once that he dreams of the chase. Again: when the sleep-walker, Lady Macbeth, rubs her hands together as though washing, and mutters, ‘What, will these hands ne’er be clean?’ you guess at once the nature of her dream.”

“Well, I see you have thought the matter out; may I hear how you have interpreted the hieroglyph, and what was the Rosetta stone which gave you the key?”

“I will tell you,” answered Woods, and lighted his cheroot from the fire-ball held by the servant. “You remember when we were discussing the character of this Fakír, that I referred to the Apostle Saint Peter as an instance of an impulsive man with deep religious sentiments, who, confronted by sudden danger, denied his faith, and then immediately after was overwhelmed with remorse for what he had done. Now, I should like to remind you of a typical instance of the effect of remorse from the same sacred record.”

“Could you not adduce an instance based on fact rather than the myths of Judaea?” remarked Blyth, drily.

“My lad,” replied Woods, gravely, “those records are treasures of humanity; they offer types of conduct suited to all time.”

“Then,” said Blyth, “admitting for the occasion that this is so, I suppose you are referring to Judas. There is a strange story in the Acts, that he bought a field with the blood-money, and then falling head foremost burst asunder.”

“Yes, to Judas, the Betrayer; but I refer to the reasonable version of his end which is given in the Gospel of St Matthew; that related in the Acts seems to me spurious. The narrative in the first Gospel is quite clear. When Judas realised the awful result of his betrayal, he repented, and cast the blood-money before the priests who had bribed him. Thus, his first act in order to clear himself of guilt was to abandon the profits which his sin had brought him: the first indispensable step towards purification from guilt is to utterly abandon the sinful gain.

“Then the next step; this was obviously to repair the evil done; but this was impossible, and the only form of reparation left to Judas was that of expiatory suffering: to make atonement for the life he had taken by the sacrifice of his own. Thus, the death of Judas inflicted by his own hand was an atonement for the evil he had done.

“Now, taking this typical case as a guide, we note that repentance compels the sinner to abandon the profit of his sin, and to repair the evil done, and if this is impossible, to make an atonement by expiatory suffering. Now apply this to the case of your Fakír; and consider what he was likely to do under the circumstances.

“When we were discussing the case this afternoon, we found reason to believe that the man was a religious enthusiast of the character of the Apostle Simon Peter, and consequently, if in a moment of weakness, he sinned, he would straightway bitterly repent. And this enthusiast it was who had deliberately incited the weavers to maintain their indefeasible right to carry their holy image through the ancient pathway. But the one motive capable of inducing a man of this character to act thus, must have been the glory of Islám through the defeat of the heathen, who had set up their accursed idol, the pípal tree, to bar the way of the sacred procession. He had then acted under the influence of the most holy of motives. Then there came upon him, as upon Saint Peter, the hour of temptation; a threat of imprisonment and death was held over him,—to which I am quite sure that Rafat Ali gave the most appalling shape,—and the man yielded, persuaded the weavers to forego their sacred right, and thus cleared the way for the triumph of the Infidel.

“Pangs of remorse must have racked him as soon as he realised the import of his acts. Then his impetuous heart must have burnt passionately to make atonement and to abandon all he had gained by his sin, to cast at the feet of those from whom he had taken it, the bribe paid for his treachery. But what was this bribe? How had he profited by his apostasy? It was his own life: he had sinned to save his life. And the expiation demanded? Clearly it was this, to deliver his life once more to those from whom he had so basely accepted it. This supreme abandonment was imperiously demanded from him: the life he had preserved by his sin must be yielded up into the hands of those who had granted it.

“But, as we noted in our typical case, yet another condition must be fulfilled to make atonement complete; he was imperatively required to repair the evil he had done: he had basely brought about the triumph of the unbeliever, and this triumph he was bound to mar.

“Now I think it is easy to see that under the influence of these fundamental ideas, his heated imagination would have suggested that both these conditions would be fulfilled,—and that too without the delay which his soul abhorred,—by sending many souls of the unbelievers to Hell, and by dying, as he did, or on the gallows.”

“But,” interposed Blyth, breaking in on the psychologist’s exposition. “Surely he would have been first prompted to slaughter Sheonáth, who had opposed the passage of the sacred procession.”

“I admit, of course,” replied Woods, “that there were many possible methods of turning the balance of account once more against the infidels. But, as to your suggestion, an attack on Sheonáth must seem to contaminate the action against the Idolaters as such with a taint of personal vengeance. And there was a practical objection to a design against him; it would delay action because cunning and deceit were needed for its accomplishment. But passionate remorse demands immediate action. And then, think! to dash into the crowded market, where the half-naked Hindu merchants are lounging at ease suspecting no danger; to deal death right and left among them;—what a vent this afforded for the passion of the man burnt with remorse! and what a wide-spread punishment would it inflict upon the Idolaters!”

“You have certainly indicated some possible method in his madness,” remarked Blyth. “Something more than homicidal mania.”

“Homicidal mania is a mere phrase to cover ignorance,” replied Woods, decisively. “But I will show you how the man’s conduct after his release is in harmony with my hypothesis. I find that after you set the man free, Rafat Ali spoke to him in private and then dismissed him in charge of Báz Khán. He slung his water-pot over his shoulder and stalked out of the town by the Ganges Gate, where Báz Khán left him. About a mile up the road is a grove, where an old Fakír has taken up his abode near a Mahomedan tomb now become a shrine. Here Salár Sháh sat down in the shade and signed to the old man to bring water. And when he had taken a deep draught he retired to the further end of the grove, where he sat long motionless as one engaged in religious meditation; he had taken no food for two days, and was, perhaps, in that state of mental exaltation which often arises from semi-starvation, an exaltation accompanied by extraordinary clearness of mental vision. Not till evening did he move, when he rejoined the old shrine keeper, but merely to bid him adieu. Asked whither he was going, he replied simply, ‘I too will be a Martyr,’ and departed at once, slowly walking in the direction of the town. The old man then noticed that Salár Shah had left his water-pot lying by the well, and called after him. ‘Keep it for the use of travellers,’ was the reply. ‘I have no further need of it.’

“I traced him next to the little shop outside the Ganges Gate, where miscellaneous articles and cutlery are sold. Here he purchased the gardener’s pruning-knife, his weapon. You remember, I remarked to you when I picked it up, that it was quite new. Thence he crossed the fields to the river, skirting the town, and must have passed under the cliff here at the very time we were discussing his character, for I find him next at the bridge of boats. Not long before the deed, the toll-keeper saw him climb up the bank and walk in the direction of the grain-market, erect, with eyes fixed in front of him, heeding nothing—and what followed, we ourselves witnessed.

“Now, I am quite convinced of this,” continued Woods, after a pause. “It was during his long meditation in the grove that the anguish of remorse overwhelmed him. His persuasion of the weavers to yield up their sacred right became magnified into a deadly sin. He had been a traitor to his ideal, the domination of Islám; by his practical denial of his Faith he had saved his life, and the only possible expiation was the sacrifice of this wage of iniquity,—the life he had basely preserved. The immolation of the Hindus assumed the aspect of a compensation demanded to satisfy a sacred claim, and his own death, the repayment of the wage of sin.”


Book the Second — The Fair Badámo of Banára

Chapter I

A Case of Sudden Death

When all business arising out of the great Feast of the Tenth of Muharram had been disposed of, the little group of British officials at Háfizganj relapsed into the somewhat dull routine of the hot season, until they were suddenly aroused to a keen interest in the affairs of Banára (a village some fifteen miles from headquarters), where strange events occurred affecting some of the principal personages of Ronáhi.

About the middle of June the hot wind dropped; the still air in the Courts and offices became foul, and the sultry heat suffocating at night.

One evening Martin and Blyth sat lounging in long chairs on the little lawn, hoping the breeze might stir the stagnant air, and herald the rain, which had already fallen on the west coast and the northern hills. The prospects were favourable for an early breaking of the monsoon on the arid Ganges plain in the midst of which they lay gasping.

Then Slade drove up, brisk in movements, and joined the languid pair.

“How can you fellows sit here without a pankha!” he exclaimed; and calling to the servants in the veranda to bring hand pankhas, he threw himself impatiently into a chair.

“A few more stifling nights like last will kill some of us,” he continued. “You had better make early arrangements for decent funerals. Your foresight may be rewarded, Martin.”

“What has dashed your spirits?” asked Martin. “Try a cool drink and a cheroot.”

“The hotter it gets the more the work and worry,” grumbled Slade.

“What new form of worry?” asked Martin, languidly.

“Old, but in a new shape: my Sub-Inspector at Tigri,” replied Slade, lying back negligently in his chair.

“What, young Shaukat Ali, son of old Rafat Ali?” exclaimed Martin, becoming interested.

“That’s the man, an incompetent youth,” replied Slade, “put in office over senior and experienced men simply because he is son of Rafat Ali.”

“Rafat Ali has strong claims on us,” said Martin, quietly.

“Yes, but he should not be rewarded at the cost of my police,” returned Slade, aggressively.

“A man of good connections raises the status of police officers,” replied Martin.

“Rafat Ali began as a clerk at the police station,” retorted Slade.

“We are concerned with his present rank and position,” replied Martin, with asperity. “Governor Pitt started as a penniless adventurer in Madras, but his son, Lord Chatham, was not required to begin from the same low grade.”

“Young Shaukat Ali is not a budding Pitt,” retorted Slade.

“I think he has the making of a good officer,” replied Martin, decisively. “Ellis thought so, when he appointed him.”

Slade smoked in silence and Martin continued:—“And you will remember, Ellis asked you to lead the young fellow in the right way.”

Slade replied only by a nod of acquiescence, and Martin added:—

“But, of course, tact is needed to manage a spirited young fellow.”

“Quite true,” answered Slade. “But you and Ellis sniff the agreeable incense of patronage, while I have to handle the clumsy instrument you foist upon me.”

Martin, growing irritated at the critical tone of his subordinate, inquired with a certain asperity what fault the police had to find with Shaukat Ali.

“A complaint about him came in by post?” replied Slade.

“Well?” queried Martin impatiently, as Slade paused. “Who was the complainant?”

“The paper was signed, Ráj Naráyan, Brahman of Banára, and charged Shaukat Ali with having hushed up a murder.”

“You should have informed me at once,” said Martin, sharply.

But Slade, bent on teasing his senior, glanced at him humorously out of the corners of his eyes, and replied with deliberation:—“An unauthenticated charge through the post. Do you wish me to send in to you every anonymous complaint about my men?”

“As Rafat Ali’s son was involved you should have at once informed me,” said Martin.

“In departmental business the young fellow should be treated like any other officer in charge of a police station,” replied Slade, briefly. “But, of course, if you order, I can refer to you every matter affecting him.”

“It was merely necessary to mention the affair to me when you came over to my office,” answered Martin, in a sharp voice.

“My dear Martin,” returned Slade, suavely, “if you had not been so bent on shielding young Shaukat Ali from an imaginary persecutor, you would have understood that I have now come over to speak to you about this same business.”

Slade drew hard at his cheroot and continued in a tone of gentle admonition:—

“But pray, listen to words of wisdom even from me, Martin. If you suffer prickly heat to disturb your equanimity, which we all regard with admiration, the society at Háfizganj will be deprived of the very basis of concord, and it will split up into what Blyth calls a number of disintegrated and mutually repellant units,—another instance of the instability of the homogeneous.—Is that the right phrase, Blyth?”

Blyth laughed, remarking, “Surely no philosopher ever bore prickly heat patiently.—But, get on to the facts of your case.”

“With Martin’s permission then,” answered Slade, nodding amiably to the Magistrate. “Well, as I said, yesterday I received by post a charge against Shaukat Ali in connection with a case which occurred in Banára.”

“That is one of Bahádur Khán’s villages,” interpolated Martin, and Slade continued:—

“The alleged facts were stated with remarkable brevity and clearness:—A woman named Badámo, wife of Tej Chand, a Kahár living in the village, had an intrigue with one Asad Khán, a relation of Bahádur Khán. One night Tej Chand, suspecting that his wife was with her lover, went after her, and was beaten to death by Asad Khán and his Patháns. Shaukat Ali came to make an inquiry into the death of the Kahár, but in collusion with Asad Khán, he hushed up the murder and ordered the body to be burnt.”

“So much for the document signed Ráj Naráyan Brahman. But I may remark for the information of young Mr Blyth, that the pretty name Badámo means the Lady with the Almond Eyes. Well, I looked up the diaries received from the Tigri police station, and found recorded, that at 9 A.M. on the 12th May, the Banára watchman made a report that one Tej Chand Kahár had that morning been killed by a fall from a tree. The Sub-Inspector—your young friend, Martin—noted against the entry in the diary, that he was about to visit the neighbourhood to inquire into a case of cattle-lifting and would look into the occurrence at Banára also.—In the diary of the following day, the Sub-Inspector on his return to the station, recorded that as Tej Chand’s death was accidental he had permitted the deceased’s relations to dispose of the body. Finally,” concluded Slade, “I find that the formal certificate of the inquest on Tej Chand’s body was received in my office and despatched to the Deputy Magistrate in charge of the division, who endorsed it as seen and returned it to my office.”

“Did not the report explain how Tej Chand came to be up the tree, how he fell, and what the tree was?” inquired Blyth.

“No details whatever were given,” answered Slade. “Well, of course, I was not disposed to take any open action against Shaukat Ali on what was probably the spiteful lie of an anonymous wretch.—But the communication was so concisely worded, written in Hindi characters, in a stiff hand, such as a man would write who is employed in copying Sanskrit manuscripts. It impressed me as something special.”

“Well, what did you do?” asked Martin.

“I went over to the Revenue Settlement office and spoke privately to the Deputy Collector in charge. He produced the list of the Banára tenants, and among them I found the name of Ráj Naráyan Brahman, by whom the letter was signed.”

“It is common to append the name of a real personage to such letters,” observed Martin.

“I did not hurry to summon Ráj Naráyan,” said Slade, drily, and continued, “I learnt further from the Deputy-Collector that Asad Khán has charge of this village for his uncle Bahádur Khán. He told me also that a month ago when he was encamped in the village, the headman had privately informed him that Badámo, the wife of Tej Chand, was a woman of dissolute character and likely to bring trouble to the village.”

“Was not her name mentioned in the police report?” inquired Martin.


“The facts undoubtedly excite suspicion,” said Martin. “I should have sent an Inspector at once with private instructions. Everyone in your office must know that information has reached you; Asad Khán and company will have got wind of an inquiry impending and be on their guard. Prompt action was indispensable to get any evidence.”

Slade, with a smile and air of easy superiority, replied:—“In the first place, Martin, the clearly written address in Hindi caught my eye when the post bag was opened. I took the letter myself, and noticing the name, Shaukat Ali, I put it quietly in my pocket and spelt it out in private by my own unaided efforts. The cover bore the Ronáhi postmark and disclosed neither the name of the writer nor the contents, and except to the Deputy Collector, I have given no hint as to the scent I am following. Finally, as Shaukat Ali was to come to see me to-day about some other business, I thought it fair to give him an opportunity of privately explaining the case before I began an inquiry, which would attach suspicion, perhaps quite unjustly, to your promising young police officer. See?”

Slade looked impudently at Martin, and blew a cloud of smoke in his direction.

“Yes, I grant you were circumspect,” said Martin. “Well, you spoke with Shaukat Ali this afternoon.”

“Yes, he came to my office this morning, and I ordered him to call at my house this afternoon.”


“I hope you think that was circumspect too?”

Martin laughed good naturedly; “ Of course. But get on.”

“I said nothing to him about the letter or the charge,” continued Blyth. “But I pointed out to him that his report regarding the death of Tej Chand was so meagre that I could make nothing of it. He is a conceited young jackass, but I did manage to extract an intelligible account from him. In the first place, remember that he took with him to Tigri the station-clerk, Bihári Lál, a sharp fellow of experience and a ready writer. On arriving at the landlord’s homestead he found Asad Khán there and was taken by him to view the dead body. It lay under the tree, just as it was reported to have been found that morning, bruised and scratched as from a fall, and near it lay some branches snapped from the tree. Asad Khán said the deceased had climbed the tree apparently to fix a flag dedicated to the spirit which abides there. The fall had apparently burst the man’s spleen. As to the deceased’s wife, Shaukat Ali declared that he had heard nothing, except that she was away at her father’s house: he knew not whether there were any children or relations, or who was his heir. I inquired regarding many other details, but he could give me little or no definite information.

“Well, I told Shaukat Ali, I considered his inquiry had been conducted in a very superficial way; that I must lay the matter before you, and that you would probably wish to see him in the morning. He replied, in his jaunty way, that the case was perfectly clear; no grounds of suspicion arose, and he had hurried off to Rasúlpur to inquire into a case of cattle-lifting. So there are the facts for you Martin, and I await your orders for dealing with your young gentleman.”

“That sharp Kayasth Bihári Lál may be at the bottom of the mischief,” said Martin. “We will send out Inspector Mádho Prasád to make an inquiry. Meantime order Bihári Lál to be at my house to-morrow morning at six o’clock. I will get his version of the case before he learns that further inquiry is to be made.”

“I thought of going to the village myself,” said Slade.

“Not in such suffocating heat as this,” replied Martin. “And Mádho Prasád will probably worm out the facts alone.”

While Martin was speaking, the stagnant air was disturbed by gusts of wind, and little vortices of dust were whirled up in the corners of the grounds; a shudder passed through the stiff mango leaves, and the crows and mainas fluttered hither and thither chattering fussily. Then the servants ran out crying that a dust-storm was rushing down.

The three Englishmen had been too much absorbed in their discussion to notice its approach. They now beheld a vast cloud, dark brown in hue, rolling swiftly from the west; the roaring of a great wind and the groaning of the trees heralded the storm; and ere they could take refuge in the veranda, they were enveloped in darkness and stifling dust. They ran into the house, where, though the doors and windows were closely bolted, the torrid air was filled with impalpable dust, driven through every crevice by the raging storm. Then a torrent of rain burst down, and the doors thrown open admitted sweet draughts of clean moist air.

The storm proved the precursor of the monsoon; and towards morning steady rain fell upon the arid plain of Háfizganj.

Chapter II

How the Police Conducted the Inquest

The following morning at six o’clock John Martin was seated in the veranda of the Magistrate’s house sipping a cup of tea, and leisurely going through the contents of the morning post bag, when Slade rode up on his Arab steed, booted and spurred.

“I have sent Inspector Mádho Prasád off to Banára,” said Slade, when he had taken his seat at the tea-table. “I intend to follow him after we have examined the station-clerk, who is waiting here now.”

Martin thought the experienced Inspector would be in no way aided in the inquiry by the presence of his impetuous superior officer, but, unwilling to damp the young man’s zeal, he kept his opinion to himself.

“Mádho Prasád thinks the mystery is probably apparent only, and arises entirely from the carelessness of young Shaukat Ali,” continued Slade.

“The Inspector is perhaps wary to prepare the way, lest he would fail in getting to the bottom of the case,” said Martin, drily.

“I thought you had a high opinion of Mádho Prasád,” replied Slade, ready at once to defend his subordinate.

“Of course I have,” replied Martin, smiling. “But two of the most influential men in the district are affected, indirectly at least—old Rafat Ali and your sporting comrade, Bahádur Khán——”

“They must be early in the field to circumvent me,” said Slade, confidently.

Martin laughed quietly at the suggestion of a contest between the impetuous young police officer, and the wary old Tahsildár allied with the daring Bahádur Khán.

Having completed their little meal of tea and fruit they were ready for the interview with the clerk of the Tigri police station, one Bihári Lál, a keen-witted man of the writer caste, as ready with his tongue as his pen. But from this cautious and astute person they could elicit nothing to throw any further light on the affair;—if there was any foul play in connection with the death of Tej Chand, it seemed clear from his account, that nothing transpired during the inquiry to suggest it. He was accordingly ordered to remain at the police-office until further orders, and then Slade, eager for a gallop through the cool air of the morning, and to begin an inquiry in which he had become much interested, mounted his Arab and followed by Martin’s benedictions rode rapidly away.

An orderly now announced that Shaukat Ali had come to pay his respects, and a young man of about four and twenty advanced towards the veranda with an easy careless demeanour, his left hand thrust into his girdle and his right swinging an ample kerchief; a graceful figure dressed in a flowing white robe, a white turban carefully tied, and patent leather shoes of European pattern with silver buckles. His eyes were large and bright, and his oval countenance, adorned by a silky beard and moustache, was expressive of much cheerful good humour. He stood before the veranda plinth waiting for Martin to look up from the paper he was reading.

“Ah, Shaukat Ali, you have come in from Tigri?” said Martin, vaguely.

The young man raised his hand to his forehead and made a graceful but somewhat familiar bow.

“Your honour remembered me,” he said, with a pleasant smile.

As an independent gentleman, before accepting a subordinate office in the police, Shaukat Ali had frequently been Martin’s companion in the pursuit of black-buck and other game, and a certain degree of familiarity had grown up between them. The young man had enjoyed the privilege of a chair in their interviews, but now, as a mere Sub-Inspector of Police, he was required by etiquette to stand in the presence of the Chief Magistrate of the district. Martin felt the awkwardness of their changed relations, and was not quite pleased with the young man’s easy style of greeting him. He arose from his seat and standing while he spoke, addressed him with a harsh ring in his voice:—

“I hear from the Superintendent that your inquiry into the death of a Kahár at Banára was very defective.”

The young man winced at the tone and turn of phrase, but replied in a soft voice:—“Your honour will pardon me, but no circumstances transpired to excite suspicion of violence. If anything has since come to light to change the aspect of the case,—that is a matter of which I am entirely ignorant.”

“Of course you knew Asad Ali before you went to Banára?” said Martin.

“For many years,” replied the young man; “Khán Bahádur Khán married an aunt of his.”

“Rather a dissolute fellow is he not?”

“Hardly that, though perhaps a bit of a libertine,” replied Shaukat Ali. “Otherwise, an honest, respectable man enough. He was in the village when the death occurred, and knew well all the circumstances of the case.”

“May he not have had some interest in concealing the real facts?”

“What concern should he have with the death of poor wretch of Kahár?” replied Shaukat Ali, a smile of superior wisdom flitting across his countenance.

“What about the Kahár’s wife?”

“His wife?”

“Yes. Was she in the village?”

“She was absent at her father’s house.”

“Who told you so?”

“Asad Khán himself. Had she been at home, of course I should have seen her.”

Martin paused a moment, reflecting, and then asked quickly:—“Of course you went with Asad Khán into his quarters at the village?”

“Oh yes. Bahádur Khán has a big homestead in Banára.”

“Well now, did you notice whether he had any woman with him there?”

Shaukat Ali smiled complacently as he replied:—“I did go into the woman’s enclosure with Asad Khán, for it was unoccupied. But Asad Khán’s bed was there and on the ground beside it I noticed many fragments of glass bangles. I laughed, pointing to these, and asked who his visitor had been. He said, a gipsy dancing girl from the encampment in the next village.”

“Was there a gipsy camp?”

“Yes, in Rasúlpur. They had been there some time.”

“Then of course you know whether they had any pretty dancer with them.”

“I had been myself to their camp to report on them,” replied the young man, complacently. “One girl only was with them, and I happened to know that she was dancing that night at a feast in Tigri, and so could not possibly have been with Asad Khán at Banára,—I laughed at Asad Khán and remarked that he was very discreet to call his visitor a gipsy.”

“Who was his visitor then?

“I was not inquisitive, and Asad Khán was evidently not disposed to tell.”

“You are quite sure there was no other girl with the gipsies?”

“None other to attract Asad Khán: he is dainty in his tastes.”

Shaukat Ali’s easy, unembarrassed manner and speech impressed Martin that if there was any iniquity connected with the Kahár’s death, the young man had no suspicion of it, and erred, if at all, from heedlessness and inexperience. The asperity of his manner relaxed, and, after a few words of kindly admonition, he dismissed Shaukat Ali, directing him to remain at headquarters until further orders. But the information regarding Asad Khán’s unknown paramour appeared to him so important that he dispatched a mounted orderly with a letter to Slade, suggesting this might afford a useful clue.

Chapter III

Clues from the Village Watchman and Priest

At about eight o’clock in the morning, Slade cantered up to his police station in the little town of Tigri, where his second horse stood under the pípal tree ready to bear him to Banára. He was in high spirits after the morning ride, for the soft east wind, laden with the scent of moist earth, had been a delight to breathe and feel after the torrid heat of the long drought; and the light soil of the unmetalled road, consolidated by the heavy rain, had afforded long stretches for galloping, which the Arab had enjoyed no less than his rider.

The Head Constable and his half-dozen men, dressed in red turbans, ill-fitting blouses, and trousers of ungainly cut, stood to attention before the gateway, and received their officer with awkward military salutes; while some village watchmen, who had been lounging under the shade of the wall, leapt to their feet and holding their iron-bound staves in their left hands bowed to the ground with hand to forehead.

The leading gentleman of the town, the venerable Mufti Tafazzul Husain, hurried up arrayed in fresh white garments, and followed by a few untidy attendants.—Him Slade first saluted with good-humoured courtesy, and then turning to his Head Constable, inquired whether Inspector Mádho Prasád had been heard of in the neigbourhood that morning, and receiving a reply in the negative, he ordered the station-diary to be brought out for his inspection. While it was being fetched, he turned to chat with the old Mahomedan gentleman, who had come to welcome him to the little town.—He was a man of tall, lean figure, shaven face, high narrow forehead, and languid eyes. He wore a black silk cap gold-embroidered, with high oval crown, the symbol of his hereditary office, now long obsolete; and indeed he still bore by courtesy his old official title of Mufti, a venerable relict of the great judicial system of the Dehli kings, which withered away under British rule.

“The rain has fallen copiously and the ploughs are already on the ground,” remarked the old gentleman in a refined voice, when the greetings of courtesy were disposed of. “Will your honour make any stay in our town?”

“I am merely passing through on my way to Banára,” replied Slade.

“It is my good fortune to have been at home to-day. A report reached us that our dárogha, Munshi Shaukat Ali, and his clerk had been suspended from their offices.”

“A false report, Mufti Sáhib,” replied Slade.

“Such rumours are mostly inaccurate,” said the old gentleman.

The Head-Constable now returned with the station-diary.

“Read the entries made since six o’clock yesterday evening,” said Slade, and he ran through the routine record until he came to an entry at seven o’clock that morning.

“I see the Banára watchman came in. Has he gone back?”

“He is there,” replied the Head-Constable, pointing to one of the watchmen, beside whom Slade now noticed, a robust man with a grey beard, who was evidently waiting to transact some business with the police. He was a Hindu of dark complexion, but well-moulded features, clothed in a loose waist-cloth, cotton jacket, and turban crumpled and stained as from a journey. Slade called him up and inquired who he was.

“I am a Kahár,” answered the man respectfully. “My name is Múlchand, but they call me Mulu, and I dwell in Ujháni.”

“Well, what brings you here?”

“I have a daughter married in Banára hard by here,” replied the man. “I was in service at Sítápur, where news reached me that her husband had died from a fall, and that she herself had disappeared. So I came over to Banára yesterday to inquire.”

“Oh, then you have just come in with the Banára watchman?” said Slade.

“Yes,” replied Múlchand. “Old Manku brought me.”

“Then you shall return to Banára with me,” said Slade, quickly. “Old Manku shall lead the way at once.”

“I have something to communicate,” said the venerable Mahomedan gentleman in a low tone. Slade moved apart with him at once, alert for information.

“It is for your ear alone,” continued the old gentleman. “It is hearsay merely and general rumour, but assuredly not devoid of some foundation.”


“Blood has been shed at Banára.”

“Did you hear any detail?”

“It was the talk of my household, gathered from a weaver-woman who does the errands and brings gossip of the bazaar. Blood had been shed there, and hush money paid—so much she reported, nothing further. Your honour knows, I am a true friend to the British rule, and so I repeat exactly what I have heard.”

“The rumour has reached me,” said Slade, “ and I am hurrying to Banára to investigate.”

“Then the facts will surely be brought to light, though the influence of the Patháns is all powerful in the village, as you are no doubt aware.”

“I will find means to open the rustics’ mouths,” replied Slade, smiling confidently. “I will not forget that you mentioned the rumour, Mufti Sáhib.”

He bade adieu to the old gentleman, and called up Múlchand, ordered the watchman to lead the way, and leapt into the saddle of his fresh horse.

Passing out of the lanes, they emerged on to an open upland, where many ploughmen were preparing the ground for the autumn millets. The watchman with staff over shoulder strode along the narrow footpath some twenty yards in advance, and Slade followed meditatively at a footpace, behind him Múlchand with his canvas wallet slung at his back, and his blanket borne on a long staff.

When they had reached the open fields, Slade turned to Múlchand.

“Lay hold of my stirrup,” he said. “There is no listener to overhear us, so tell me the whole truth of this business without fear.”

“Justice is in your honour’s hand,” said the man.

“Let me hear then exactly what you know of your son-in-law’s death.”

“I come from Sítápur where I serve the great banker and treasurer Lála Lachhmi Naráyan, who is perhaps known to your honour.” He looked at Slade with inquiring eyes, feeling his way.

“Nay, I know him not,” replied Slade, laughing. “But had I been stationed in Sítápur, your master would surely have known my signature.”

“He is the friend and banker of most of the British officers there,” continued Múlchand.

“Truly a useful office and pleasant on both sides,” replied Slade. “When I come to Sítápur I will not fail to make your master’s acquaintance. But now about this affair in Banára?”

“As I told your honour, my home is in Ujháni of Rohelkhand, and my daughter went from there to marry one Tejchand of Banára.—There are two houses of Kahárs there beside that of my son-in-law, so I went to them as my brethren to inquire after my daughter, who, as I told your honour, was reported to have disappeared after her husband’s death.”

“What did you learn?”

Múlchand hesitated a moment before proceeding with his narrative, and then spoke in a very low voice, lest he should be overheard by the watchman, who was trudging on stolidly some thirty yards ahead.

“I will tell all I learnt from Dhaunkul, whose house adjoined that of my son-in-law. He related, that early in the morning there came to him one of the landlord’s servants—the landlord is the great Khán Bahádur Khán of Ronáhi.—The man told him that Tejchand was lying insensible under a pípal tree to the west of the village, and he ordered Dhaunkul, as one of his brethren, to look to him at once. So Dhaunkul ran across to call my daughter.—But he found her not in her house; nor was a soul there, for my daughter was not blessed with any child. Then with two more of our brethren, he ran out to the pípal tree, which standsover the shrine of the deota, and there amid broken branches lay Teja dead. Then the landlord’s man, the Pathán, Fateh Khán it was,—told them that when before sunrise he went out into the field, he heard a crash of breaking branches and a cry, and going up to the spot he found Teja lying dead, and he left him as he fell. By his side lay a stick with a red cloth tied to it, and the Pathán suggested that Teja had perhaps climbed up to fix the flag for an offering to the deota, and so falling met his death.”

“And your daughter?” inquired Slade.

“Dhaunkul knew that she was at home quarrelling with Teja the night before. Perhaps she had run away in anger—gone home or elsewhere.” The old man paused, and then added in a lower voice:—“But justice is in the hands of our British rulers. The Patháns are high-handed, and my brethren humble folk.”

“I understand,” said Slade. “You noted something which makes you suspect foul play. Speak up. What was it?”

“Dhaunkul said the body was cold.”


“If Teja had fallen from the tree when the Pathán said he fell, the body must surely have been still warm. And then, why should he have gone out before daylight to fix a flag for the deota?”

“What did Dhaunkul reply when you spoke of these suspicions?”

“My brethren said:—Teja is dead, we shall suffer trouble and gain no profit by throwing doubt on the story told by the Patháns.”

“What have you done about your daughter?”

“Dhaunkul told me to go to the great Khán Sáhib in Ronáhi and beg his help.—But I first went to the watchman, and bade him come to the police-station to report that my daughter was lost.”

“What was the girl’s name?”

“Badámo we called her, and she was very tall and well-favoured.”

“Now, tell me without false shame, Múlchand, did your daughter ever run away before?”

The man hesitated before replying: “It is as you suspect. Twice she ran away from her husband, but she came to her home at Ujháni.”

“Come now, Múlchand, let me hear the truth of these secret things.—Did you hear in the village that young Asad Khán had been after your daughter?”

“Asad Khán?”

“Yes, the landlord’s agent.”

“They told me nothing of that.”

Slade pondered awhile in silence, and then ordering Múlchand to follow at a distance, he rode forward to overtake the watchman,—a gaunt old man whose black face, almost fleshless, bore a thick white stubble of a beard.

“Is that Banára yonder?” he inquired, pointing to a grove in the horizon.

“I am hard of hearing,” replied the watchman, looking up with impassive countenance.

“Blear-eyed old idiot!” muttered Slade, and shouted to him, “If you are deaf, how do you keep watch and ward?”

“All through the night, I go my rounds,” replied the old man. “I never sleep.”

“I think you never wake,” cried Slade. He drew up his horse, and grasping the man’s ear, pulled his face round—a withered face with skin like polished leather. “Now listen to me, you old rogue; you know well how Teja was killed——”

“My lord,” exclaimed the man, dropping his staff and clasping his hands in prayer. “My lord, for fifty years I have eaten the salt of the Great Company——”

“For how many years have you eaten the Khán Sáhib’s salt?”

“For three generations we have served,—I and my father and grandfather before me.”

“Take heed then,” said Slade, resting the butt of his riding-whip on the man’s head, “if you lie to me you are the last of your race who shall eat your salt in Banára.”

“I am the slave of the Great Company,” exclaimed the man meekly.

Slade released his hold. “Come then,” he said, “do you walk by my side and tell me the truth of this affair of Teja and his wife Badámo.”

“My lord,” said the watchman, “what I know I can tell, neither more nor less, and who am I, a village simpleton, to deceive my masters?”

“Well, speak up.”

“It was fifteen days ago, and when morning began to dawn I finished my rounds at my own hut in the east of the village. Then my son blew up the embers to kindle the hukka, and we smoked together until the daylight spread upwards. Then there came one of Asad Khán’s men, sent by his master to tell me that a Kahár had fallen from the pípal tree on the west side, and was hurt, and perhaps dead. So I drank a cup of water, bound fast my turban, and, with my staff in hand, hurried to the place named, on the further side of the village, and there I found people gathered about a dead body.—-It was Tejchand’s, and lay among some twigs broken from the tree, and on his left side was a bruise.—Then every one there said his spleen had burst from the shock of a fall off the tree.”

“Who saw him fall?”

“Fateh Khán himself had seen him fall.—Then Asad Khán ordered me to report the death at Tigri, and I hurried straight on my way there, without waiting to take my morning meal.”

Slade stopped his horse. “Come now, old man; Asad Khán passed the night in the homestead, and you must know that Badámo, wife of the dead man, lay with him.”

“As to that I do not know,” answered the watchman promptly.

Slade tapped him on the skull with his riding-whip: “You are lying, you rogue.”

“My lord,” replied the watchman humbly. “So much only do I know, that some gossips have said that Asad Khán cast his eye on the woman.”

“She is a well-favoured wench, that Badámo, is she not?”

The old watchman’s eyes twinkled as he looked up:—“There is not her like in the village—nay, or Rasúlpur either. If your honour only could see her!”

“Well, what has become of her since?”

“Ah, if I knew! She is gone off—perhaps with a lover. If I knew I would tell at once.”

Slade, perceiving that the old man was inclined to be loquacious on this subject, asked more gently:—“Let me hear more about this fair wench of Banára.—When did she first come to your village?”

“She has dwelt only two years here with her husband, Teja, who was long in service at a banker’s in Dehli, while his father and brothers lived at home here on their land. But the cholera came, and all the folk of his house were stricken—not one remained. Then Teja returned to his home, and with him his wife,—his trouble: for, look you, the woman is strong and lusty, and he, the ill-starred Teja, a weak creature, often ailing. Such a wench surely brings trouble to a village, and so I reported secretly to our officer at Tigri.”

“Who is her lover?”

“Perhaps more than one. She is secret and crafty.—Only so much can I tell from my own knowledge:—one man I have noted hanging about the house—the family priest, Ráj Naráyan, a tall fellow.”

“Ah, say you so?” said Slade, laughing. “To the stout Brahman every Kahár woman is free.”

The old watchman nodded and chuckled audibly: “These matters are well-known to your honour.”

They had now arrived within a few hundred yards of the grove behind which lay Banára, and the rain began to fall. Slade cantered forward leaving the two men, and hardly had he reached the trees, when the falling torrents drove him to seek shelter under a thatched shed at the further end of the wide grove. The watchman and Múlchand with blankets over their heads, hurried after, but in the blinding rain they lost sight of Slade, and took the lane leading to the landlord’s homestead situated in the middle of the village.

Slade led his horse under a lean-to shed, where a buffalo cow was tied to a manger, and a yoke of small bullocks tethered beside a light chariot.

But his entrance disturbed a large watch-dog from his sleep in the straw, and the beast, dashing out into the rain, turned again to bay at the intruder. Two other dogs quickly joined him from the lane, and the pack advanced, barking savagely towards Slade, who, standing with back to the wall, lashed them off with his riding-whip. A black face hooded under a blanket peeped round the corner from the lane, and a Chamár woman stepped out cautiously to ascertain the cause of the disturbance in the cattle-shed.

“Call off the dogs!” shouted Slade. But the woman fled with a cry of terror, and the dogs bayed with increased fury just out of reach of his whip.—Slade felt the position humiliating, and mentally resolved never again to venture into a village without a revolver to silence the village cur. He was contemplating mounting his horse to ride through the downpour, when a tall man under a hooded blanket came out of the lane, drove off the dogs, and approached Slade with respectful bow.

“Who are you?” demanded Slade.

“I am a Brahman,” replied the man, standing under the eaves where the water streamed on his blanketed head. “My house adjoins here,” said the man politely. “I will fetch the umbrella.”

Slade nodded assent. He fastened the bridle of his horse to the chariot, and then under the shelter of a mat umbrella followed his guide down the lane to the house. The door opened into a thatched entrance hall, the walls of which were decorated with dabs of ochre and white lines; at one end was a wooden dais covered with blue striped cloth, where some books and papers were lying. A couple of cane stools and a bamboo cot completed the furniture.

The Brahman threw his drenched blanket over the cot, and then covering a stool with a clean cloth, drew it forward and invited his guest to be seated. He was an athletic man of forty, with clean cut regular features, close shaven, and complexion of the light colour of wheat grains.

“I did not recognise your honour,” said the Brahman.

“I am the Police Superintendent,” replied Slade. “But sit down, and when the rain ceases you shall show me the way to the landlord’s homestead.”

The Brahman with a grave bow took his seat on a low stool. Then Slade, noticing the Hindi books and documents and the small soft hands as indications of the man’s occupations, continued:—

“You surely are Ráj Naráyan?”

“At your honour’s service.”

“Tell me then, Pandit, how do you manage to live in this little place?”

“I have some rent free land,” replied the Brahman, “and many clients summon me to perform sacred functions. I am a padre.”

“I understand,” said Slade, smiling at the word. “You mean a parohit (family priest).”

“Your honour’s visit will bring luck to my poor house,” said the Brahman.

“You sent me a letter, did you not?”

The man shook his head with surprise. “If one was delivered in my name, it was not from me.”

“Truth?” said Slade.

“Truth, why should I lie?”

“Then about this Kahár woman, named Badámo, who, as you well know, has disappeared. I have reason to suspect that you can tell where she is hidden.”

“Nay, I know nothing of her,” answered the man, with rough decision.

Then lowering his voice, Slade said, “They say the fair Badámo was a favourite of yours.”

“Never,” replied the man indignantly. “Who has maligned me?”

Slade shook his head and replied, “Secret information, which I must not disclose. But, Pandit, you are a man of position, and respect is due to your position, so I would not act on the information without first speaking privately with you.”

“Your honour has treated me with great consideration,” replied Ráj Naráyan. Then rising from his seat and squatting on his heels close beside Slade, he continued in a whisper:—“The Patháns must have started these lies about me; who else would do so? But your honour knows the old jingle—Musalmán beimán—liars from birth they. And here in the village none dares disclose what they choose to be hidden. But in your honour’s ear, for you alone, I can speak.” The man paused and looking around anxiously, added:—“May I speak for your honour’s ear alone?”

“Speak then, Pandit,” assented Slade, and the man continued:—“There is a whisper through the village, that, the woman’s husband, Tejchand Kahár his name,—was murdered by Asad Khán, the lover of Badámo. Even the children mutter it; every woman says this under her breath, at the mill, by the well, and in the fuel-yard.”

But Slade, eager to extort some definite information from the Brahman, replied coldly:—

“Nay, Pandit, I fear you play the old old trick, and charge Asad Khán to divert suspicion from yourself.”

“I protest, I speak truth! your honour must give heed to me.”

“Not so loud, Pandit. My information is that you, Ráj Naráyan, are the lover. But, as I said, I could not act on this until you have had an opportunity of clearing yourself in private.”

The Brahman clasped his hands in prayer, bowed over them; and continued earnestly:—

“I beseech your honour to sift this matter yourself, for if the Patháns combine with the Musalmán police officer at Tigri,—their old friend from Ronáhi, where his father rules,—then I shall hardly escape. Not a soul here will speak openly of these things, and even I dare not accuse them. My house would be burnt down, my cattle driven off,—and, for myself, surely on some dark night I should be stricken dead by a Pathán clubman.”

“But here we are alone, Pandit,” urged Slade, in a more conciliating tone. “Tell me then exactly what you know yourself.”

“Of the actual facts I know nothing myself,” replied the Brahman. “But a clue I can give.—Facing the Patháns’ homestead you will find the houses of the Chauháns, the cousins Baldeo Singh and Kishan Singh. They were at home on the night of Teja’s death, and must know well all that happened. They only among us here do not live in terror of the Patháns. Then, there is the watchman’s son,—Mohna Pási—he can be forced by terror to disclose everything:—let him be flogged till he speaks all he knows.—And, as to the wench Badámo, send swiftly to Asad Khán’s house in Ronáhi, for surely there and no where else will she be hidden.”

Slade deliberated before he replied:—“But, Pandit, you are starting me on a new track which leads far away from you and your complicity.”

“I have spoken truth, every word. I swear even by my son’s head!” exclaimed the man in an earnest voice.

“Before I go off on this new line of inquiry,” continued Slade, “you must tell me exactly what report is current as to the mode of Teja’s death. I will then judge whether or not you are leading me astray.”

“The rumours, spoken only in secret and under breath, have reached me,” answered the Brahman, with some hesitation. “It is thus they speak:—At midnight Teja went to the homestead clamouring for his wife, who was in company there with Asad Khán. But the Patháns, growing angry, beat him, and he died. Such are the facts as borne through the village in rumour, and what more likely than that the unlucky man met his death thus, and that Badámo was hurried away lest in her terror she should reveal the deed. And, as your honour knows, there is no heir of Teja in the village to call for justice.” The man paused a moment, and then continued in a louder tone with some passion:—“Nay,—in truth I will speak it even to your honour’s face;—the rule of the Great Company is set at naught here, and the Patháns are free to rob and murder and ravish unhindered.—And as for me,—if they learn that I have revealed these things,—I shall be utterly uprooted from my home, where I and my fathers have dwelt for four generations, safe under the rule of the Dehli kings, of the Ruhelas, and the Marhattas—to perish at last under the British rule.”

The storm had now ceased, and Slade arose to depart:—“Listen then, Pandit, and be of good comfort. If you have spoken the truth,—if, I say, and I hope it is so,—then what you have said to me shall be known to none. I act on it, but whence I gathered my information will be concealed from all.”

He mounted his horse, and guided by a lad summoned by the Brahman, he rode through the narrow lanes to the landlord’s homestead.

Chapter IV

What the Dead Man’s Brethren Revealed

Meantime the Inspector of Police, Pandit Mádho Prasád, a stout man of fifty, mounted on a Tibetan pony, and followed by his retinue of two constables, a groom and cook, had ridden into Banára. He was a noticeable man of masterful demeanour, with keen watchful eyes beneath bushy grey brows, and wore his thick beard trimmed square to the face. By caste a Kashmíri Brahman, his complexion was that of a dark-haired European.

He entered the village from the east side, and drew rein before the watchman’s hut, whence in reply to his call, a tall young man, his limbs lean and bony, came forth, naked except for his narrow tightly bound waistcloth. His black face was shaven except the upper lip, and over his temples and ears hung snaky locks of rumpled hair. Bowing profoundly before the officer, he explained that the watchman his father had gone to the police-station with a stranger, who had some report to make, he knew not what about, an affectation of ignorance which at once excited the Inspector’s suspicion.

“How many houses of Kahárs have you in the village?”

“Three only,” replied Mohna. “Are Kahárs to be impressed for government service?”

“Perhaps. Whose houses are they?”

“There is Dhaunkul’s,” answered Mohna, counting them off on his index finger. “And then there is Kishna’s, and a third.”

“Well, and the third?” asked the Inspector, as the man hesitated.

“The third? that is deserted, for Teja is dead!”

“But what of his family?”

“He had no children, and his wife left the village.”

“Then why did you tell me there are three houses of Kahárs here, when there are two only?”

“Indeed, Máharáj, I forgot,” replied the man meekly, clasping his hands.

“But,” continued the Inspector, “I remember that a couple of years ago, there lived here a Kahár named Rúpchand, whom they called the Chaudhri.—He laid out bearers to carry me across to Ujháni, a well-to-do man with land and cattle and a hired man to till.”

“Oh, Rúpchand,” replied Mohna. “That was Teja’s father. He died of cholera.”

“Then what became of the property when Teja died?”

“Dhaunkul has charge of it until Teja’s uncle comes to claim it.”

“But, the property belongs to the widow, as there are no children, and the uncle is living apart. How came she to abandon it?”

“Máharáj,” replied Mohna, “I know nothing of that.”

“Was his wife with him when he died?”

“That is unknown to me,” replied Mohna.

The Inspector laughed:—“Young man, if you wish to succeed your father as watchman, you must learn to know more of these village matters.—But come, lead the way to Dhaunkul’s.”

Mohna ran into his hut and reappeared dressed in a ragged blue jacket with red piping, and ample-red turban, and, shouldering his iron-bound staff, led the way through the lanes which run behind the back walls of thatched cottages. They passed a few women and children carrying water jars; a couple of men seated watching a wheelwright repairing a plough; a schoolmaster surrounded by half a dozen boys chanting in shrill voices;—but the men were all afield ploughing after the first rain-fall of the previous night. From the lanes they emerged upon the open space around which stand some larger houses, tile-roofed and partly built of brick. One side of this square is occupied by the landlord’s homestead and granary, with its enclosure walls of sun-dried clay, protected by a tiled coping against the wash of the rain. A masonry gateway with timber folding-doors and a dwelling-room above, looks upon a clay platform, shaded by a wide spreading tamarind tree. Right and left of the gateway are lean-to sheds for horses and cattle.—The door was locked, and Mohna reported that the landlord’s man who had charge, one Fateh Khán, had gone to Ronáhi that morning.

“So the field is clear,” thought the Inspector, as he dismounted. Directing his men to take up their quarters under the shed, he proceeded on foot with Mohna alone to the Kahárs’ houses, which lie on the north-west side of the village at some distance from the granary. Here he came upon two men mending a casting net, and near them under the shed was a gaily decorated palankin of the kind used to carry the child-bride and bridegroom in a marriage procession.

The Inspector sent Mohna back to the granary, to procure the fuel and flour needed to prepare the morning meal for his men, and went forward alone to speak with the net-makers.

“Which of you is Dhaunkul?” he asked, and the elder of the two men,—a sturdy fellow of dark complexion, wearing a loosely hung waist-cloth and an embroidered cap set jauntily on the shaven crown of his head,—recognising the Inspector, bowed down to touch his feet with profound respect, and signified that he was himself the man sought; that his companion was his son, and that his cousin Kishna was in the adjoining house.—The younger man brought forward a little cot to serve as a seat for the Inspector, and Kishna at the same time came up.

“Teja, who died here about a fortnight ago, left a widow,” began the Inspector, when the three men were seated on the ground in front of him. “I want to find her.”

“No doubt your honour met her father Múlchand at Tigri,” said Dhaunkul, and receiving a reply in the negative, he explained that Badámo’s father, Múlchand, had arrived the night before in search of his daughter, and, finding no traces of her, had gone at dawn with Manku the watchman to report her loss to the police. He was expected to return to take his morning meal with them.

Regarding the death of Teja, Dhaunkul’s account was in substance identical with that given to Slade by Múlchand; but nothing was said of the fact that when the Kahárs found the dead body it was already cold; and nothing suggested to throw doubt upon the version of the occurrence made public.

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the mounted orderly bearing Martin’s letter to Slade, which was endorsed with an order to the Inspector to open it, if Slade was absent. It briefly informed him that on the night of Teja’s death, a woman had been with Asad Khán in the homestead, whose identity he wished to conceal.

The Inspector was now convinced of the existence of a conspiracy to conceal the facts connected with Teja’s death and the disappearance of his widow:—the watchman’s son Mohna had been evasive and reticent; the Kahárs were embarrassed and depressed in their manner, and their usual loquacity checked; then too a woman of Badámo’s character would certainly have attracted the young Pathán, and might well have been in his quarters on the fatal night. He had been disposed at first to regard the anonymous letter as a mere attempt to cause annoyance to Asad Khán,—for he knew that the young Sub-Inspector, Shaukat Ali, was not a man deliberately to conceal a serious crime.—But the aspect of the case was now changed, and he grew eager to unravel the mystery.

After directing the mounted orderly to unsaddle and rest at the landlord’s homestead, he proceeded to visit the house of the deceased Teja. A wall eight feet high and a strong door surrounded a yard with thatched huts and sheds occupied by a milch cow, her calf and two plough cattle. Various rustic implements and furniture were about, and the place bore unmistakable signs of being the residence of a peasant in easy circumstances. In a corner of the back wall, the Inspector noticed a bamboo cot, upon which a little cane stool had been placed, and he remarked that here the coping tiles had been broken. He mounted the stool, and found himself standing breast high above the wall looking on to a buttress, which sloped easily to the level of the ground, where tiles from the coping were scattered. It was easy to escape from the house by climbing over from the stool. Dhaunkul stated positively that everything in the house including the cot and stool was precisely as it had been left by the deceased. He stated further that during the hot nights, Teja always slept on the threshold outside the enclosure door, and no one could enter or leave the house without disturbing him. His wife Badámo slept inside alone.

They were now standing in the middle of Teja’s courtyard, and, the rain beginning to fall, the Inspector took a seat on a stool under the shelter of a little chamber, and ordered the two Kahárs, Dhaunkul and Kishna, to sit on the floor by his side.

“Tell me one thing more, Dhaunkul,” he began. “When you heard of Teja’s death, did you come over here first?”

“I did,” replied the man. “The house was empty and door open.”

“Any signs of disturbance?”

“None whatever: everything was in order just as we now see it.”

The Inspector folded his arms across his breast, and sat silent for a few moments, knitting his brows in meditation.

“When you found Teja’s body,” he asked at last, “what clothing was he wearing?”

“He was naked but for his loose drawers; his head was bare, and not even his langoti (loin girdle) was bound on beneath his drawers.”

“In fact,” said the Inspector, “just as a man lies through a hot night.”

Dhaunkul nodded assent, and Kishna gave a decided affirmation.

“Come then, Dhaunkul, and you, too, Kishna, consider this: no Kahár would climb a tree to fix a flag to the deota without having bound in his girdle.”

He turned fierce penetrating eyes from one man to the other. They shifted their feet nervously, and after some hesitation, replied vaguely:—“Who knows?”

“You know, my men,” said the Inspector, in a low stern voice.

He was again silent, weaving together the scattered facts into a consistent whole.

“Yes, I have it,” he exclaimed at length:—“Now listen to me, you two men. This secret you seek to hide is brought to light; attempt at concealment is vain, and those who hinder me shall smart. Look you!” He pointed to the corner where the stool stood upon the cot. “She got over there, while Teja was sleeping outside the yard door. Perhaps he was awakened by the sound of those tiles breaking;—in any case, he went into his house, where a light was burning, there in that niche” (he pointed to a little lamp-recess where a charred wick lay in an oilless saucer). “His wife was gone, but the cot and stool in the corner showed how she had slipped away. He leaped over the walls to pursue her; followed her to Asad Khán’s, where he was seized by the Patháns;—and the ill-starred wretch died from their blows.

“That is the riddle solved.—Now, you Dhaunkul, and you too, Kishna, you both know exactly how all this happened—and your women know it still better. Now give heed to this:—if you will not speak out, I must find means of loosening your women’s tongues; and, forsooth, they will not be unwilling to tell of Badámo’s scandalous ways.”

But Dhaunkul clasped his hands, and fell at the Inspector’s feet, crying:—“Maharáj, the Patháns will uproot us from the village.”

“Beware lest taking part with the Patháns you fall under the heavy hand of our rulers,” said the Inspector, in a threatening voice. “Look up, Dhaunkul, and take in well what I say.—Am I to turn to the women, or will you speak the truth as you know it.”

The two Kahárs exchanged glances, and looked furtively at the stern countenance frowning in silence awaiting their answer. Then it was Kishna who spoke:—

“We are in your hands, Máharáj, and without your protection we shall surely perish; for they have slain Teja, and borne away his wife, and us too they will harass until we abandon our homes.—But now we are helpless with none to aid us except our rulers at Háfizganj, and what I know I will tell.”

Then after some hesitation he related as follows:—“It was fifteen nights ago, and very sultry, and during the first watch I sat smoking with my son outside our door, just across the lane where you came upon us. We could hear Badamiya’s voice reviling her husband, and Tijua trying to appease her in a quiet tone; for Tijua was a meek man. We could not distinguish the words clearly,—but there were gibes and taunts and words to soothe anger.—After a while he strolled over to us and took a pull at our hukka. I remarked to him that Badamiya was sharp of tongue to-night; but he merely answered, so it was, and then, taking a drink of water from my cup, he left us. I heard the clink of his door chain as he fastened it to the staple outside, and the sound of his cot as he pushed it close to the door, as he always did before sleeping.

“Then a little before midnight I woke up to find him standing by me; his wife had gone, he said; she must have gone to Asad Khán. ‘Come with me, Kishna,’ he said. ‘Come with me to the Patháns’ homestead. We will arouse Fateh Khán, and demand that Badamiya be delivered to us.’ But I said, Tijua, this is folly. If she is with Asad Khán there, his men will pour on us gibes and foul abuse, and if we persist, they will beat us. There are many Patháns with him, and we are weak and helpless. And then I asked further:—How can we be quite sure that she is there with young Asad Khán? Then he begged of me, saying, we will creep round to the back under the wall of the woman’s yard, and if my wife is there, we shall surely hear her voice.—So he spoke, but I knew that young Mohna, the watchman, was lurking about, and would strike us down in the dark as thieves, and then the Patháns would set upon us. So I said, listen to me, Tijua. Best to let Badamiya go; she is strong, and you are weak; and she will never submit to be under your hand. Let her go her own way. But if she comes back, we will send her in disgrace to her father’s house in Ujháni. Why will you run to ruin after a harlot? But he would not listen, and wept, crying that his heart clung to the woman, and without her his house was a waste. He wept very much and prayed me to come, saying: You shall come and be my witness that she is there with Asad Khán. We will afterwards go to the great Khán Sáhib in Ronáhi, and he will protect my house. I can frighten Badamiya with threats of taking her to her father, who will beat her. But if I alone am witness against her, she will declare, I am an idiot and dreamer, and she and not I shall be believed! So I agreed at last, making him promise that he would only go and listen with me under the wall, and then come back silently as we went. Then I bound up my loins tightly, and wound my turban about my head and face, thick and firm, and followed Tijua; first to his house. The lamp was still burning there in the niche, and he showed me how she had climbed in and out while he slept outside. Then we went up to the homestead, where by the light burning under the shed by the gateway, we saw several men lying asleep on their cots, and in front was the crouched figure of Mohna, grasping his stick between his hands on which his head rested. This gave us courage, for we knew we should not meet him lurking in the dark at the back. So we slunk round without noise to the back wall, where a light from within shone upwards to the tile-coping. He grasped my hand tightly, and we stood listening. We heard a woman’s laugh from the yard. ‘Badamiya!’ he whispered. Then the jingle of bangles, and Asad Khán’s voice laughing and joking, but only a word or two could we distinguish, until some words of Badamiya came clear, crying, ‘Put out that light!’ and Asad Khán laughed, refusing. Then the noise of a scuffle, and the jingle of bangles and laughter,—and the light vanished from the coping. And all the while I held Tijua, and his hand became cold and stiff in mine, and he groaned. I feared he would cry out, and that the Patháns would fall upon us, and I knew the moon would soon rise above the trees, so I pulled him to come. But the miserable man crouched down under the wall and would not move, but whispered: ‘Do you go, you have heard, and can bear witness. Leave me to follow.’ Then in moving I cracked a fallen tile, and terror filled me, and I left him, and fled through the darkness to my house.

“No one stirred. I sat at my door waiting for Tijua, and fell off into a dose.—But cries from the homestead awoke me, noise as of oaths and confused clamour, and I saw the moon had risen. I awoke Dhaunkul, and we listened;—then all grew still again, and we lay down to sleep. But in the morning Tijua lay dead under the pípal tree at the shrine, and how he met his death, who can say?

“That is all. And, Máharáj, I will lay my hand on my son’s head, what I have spoken is true—every word.—And now, Máharáj, do what you think fit, but unless you protect us from the Patháns we must surely perish;—we are in your hands.”

The two Kahárs bowed down their heads on the Brahman’s feet.

“Máharáj,” cried Dhaunkul again, “the great Khán Sáhib does what he choses unchecked. He will shrink from no misdeeds to protect his nephew, Asad Khán.”

“Fear nothing,” said the Inspector. “The arm of our Rulers is far reaching, and shall shield you. But tell me now,” he continued: “Why did you not relate this to the young Shekh Sáhib from Tigri, who came to make an inquiry?”

“He came indeed and with him his clerk,” replied Dhaunkul; “and he laughed and dined and joked with his friend Asad Khán. But Mohaniya, the watchman’s son, came to us, and said, we must speak as the Khán Sáhib wished. As for Tijua, he was dead; what good could come of bringing more trouble into the village, and weary days of hanging about at the Farangi Courts? So when we went to the Shekh Sáhib, where he was sitting under the tamarind with Asad Khán, we answered only what was asked.”

“What did he ask?”

“He asked only if we knew that Teja had fallen from the tree, nothing else. And we said, Fateh Khán knew that, not we, for Fateh Khán it was who called us up. Then all the Patháns and the watchman and his son said the same: Tijua fell from the tree and burst his spleen: that was all. So we sat by silent,—for we dared not stand up to oppose the Patháns,—and indeed what availed it? Tijua was dead. And the Shekh Sáhib said to us: the manner of Tijua’s death was clear; and he gave us permission to take the body. Then Asad Khán sent us a load of wood to build the pyre, and Mohna hurried us away, down to the river, where the fire kindled swiftly in the strong west wind, and we cast the ashes into the stream.”

Chapter V

The Specious Tale of the Bailiff

The rain had now ceased, and the Inspector Bábu Mádho Prasád arose to leave the hut.

“No one need learn what you have told me,” he said to Kishna. “Watch for Badámo’s return, and let me hear at once, but secretly, when she comes.”

As he stepped out into the lane, a man with a blanket hooded over his head, came out of the palankin shed.

“That is Fateh Khán,” Dhaunkul whispered to the Inspector.

“Well, Fateh Khán,” called the Inspector, saluting the man as an old acquaintance. “Your blanket is soaked through. Whence come you, hurrying out in the storm?”

“I had gone to a village,” replied the man vaguely. “But hearing you had honoured Banára I made haste back to meet you.—I have ordered grass and grain, flour and firewood—everything needed for your service. But the Superintendent Sáhib himself, is he to honour us with a visit? His groom sits under our pent-house, and old Manku left him riding hither.”

“He has probably taken shelter from the storm, as I did,” replied the Inspector. “We will wait his arrival at the homestead.”

As they emerged from the lane into the village square, Slade rode in from the opposite side. He leapt nimbly from his horse, saluted the Inspector with a nod, and drawing him out of ear-shot of the bystanders, in rapid sentences communicated the substance of what he had learnt from Badámo’s father and the Pandit. He concluded eagerly:—“We will at once call up the two Chauháns, and examine the watchman’s son Mohna.”

But the wary Inspector checked his young officer with quiet deliberation. “I think,” he said, “it will be best first to extract from Fateh Khán a detailed statement of what he knows. Hereafter he will more skilfully adapt his story to any hard-facts which may come to light. As to the young scamp Mohna, he is meantime under observation, and the Chauháns can wait our leisure.” And he proceeded to communicate the result of his colloquy with the Kahárs,

“Evidence is rapidly accumulating,” exclaimed Slade, cheerfully.

“Yes, we have some important clues,” admitted the Inspector, “but not much yet to lay before the magistrate as evidence.”

Slade followed by the Inspector now walked towards the gate-house of the homestead, where Fateh Khán, divested of his blanket, was superintending the delivery of the firewood and earthen pots required for cooking dinners for the Inspector and his followers. Under the long pent-house flanking the gate-house, the watchman’s son was squatted alone in charge of a constable, while the old watchman himself sat with Múlchand apart, debarred from any communication with his son. Through the open door the Inspector’s servant could be seen in a recess, cooking his master’s midday meal.

By order of the Inspector, Fateh Khán now led the way into the courtyard, and placed seats under a deep shed, where they could hold confidential converse with him in private.

“This is Fateh Khán,” said the Inspector, introducing the man to Slade, when they had taken their seats. “He has been many years here as bailiff for Khán Bahádur Khán, who, I believe, places trust in him.”

The Pathán bowed low, and stood respectfully before them, waiting to be addressed. He was a wiry man of fifty, with full grey beard and bushy brows, and short upper lip contracted to expose broken teeth set in receding gums. His dress consisted of a dirty white turban, and long loose cotton coat and drawers of the same dingy hue.

“As you already know,” continued the Inspector, “the Superintendent Sáhib has come to inquire into the disappearance of one Badámo, the widow of Teja, whose death occurred a fortnight ago.”

“Nothing will remain hidden from his honour,” replied Fateh Khán, readily. “Had the great Khán Sáhib, my master, known Banára was to be honoured with a visit, he would have been here himself to help in clearing up the mystery. However his nephew Asad Khán will arrive shortly about some business, and he, I am sure, will do his best to assist his honour.”

“What business calls Asad Khán here to-day?” asked Slade.

“He has to arrange for ploughing the home-farm,” answered Fateh Khán.

“His presence will be welcome,” remarked the Inspector, and then at a sign from Slade, he continued:—

“The missing woman’s father has come in search of her. Can you give us any clue to her whereabouts?”

“This much I do know,” replied Fateh Khán, with the air of one eager to impart precise information. “The woman twice before ran away from her husband. Possibly she again deserted him before he was killed by the fall from a tree. It is well-known to everyone in the village, that his wife had taken a violent dislike to her husband, who indeed was but a poor creature.”

“Of course then she had a lover,” suggested Slade.

“Aye, truly,” replied Fateh Khán, smiling pleasantly. “The ways of such wenches are not unknown to your honour.”

“And the man she favoured must be well known in the village,” continued Slade.

“Truly love and musk cannot be hidden,” replied Fateh Khán.

“Whom do gossips connect with her?” asked Slade.

“We do not like to speak of these things, and so get a neighbour into trouble,” replied Fateh Khán, deprecatingly. “Nevertheless, from your honour I cannot conceal that the gossips have linked her name with that of Pandit Ráj Naráyan. The Pandit is a stout fellow with a sick wife,—and no doubt your honour knows the ways of such folk.” He smiled confidentially, and added deprecatingly:—“But I speak of gossip only,—not of things I know.—Only this much I can state of my own knowledge: She was not in the village on the morning of Teja’s death, and the Kahárs were sure that she had been at home the night before. Now, what I think very probable is this: During the night she ran away, for the third time. Then Teja, finding his house empty, was stricken with despair, for he was much attached to the woman; and, broken-hearted, he put an end to his misery by casting himself from the lofty tree. Who knows? It may have been so, for he was a weak and sickly wretch, with little heart to fight against his lot.”

“But,” suggested the Inspector, “if he had missed his wife as you suggest, he would surely have come to you.”

“Ah, sir,” replied the Pathán, “when a man’s heart is worried over a woman, who can say what he will do and what he will not do? And then the wretch’s mind must have been distraught. What wonder if he wished to die? And this too must be borne in mind, that black shame alights on a Kahár whose wife becomes a harlot.”

“Yes, that is true,” assented Slade. “But as to Teja’s death, are you quite sure he was not a victim of foul play?”

“The poor wretch!” exclaimed Fateh Khán, in a tone of pity. “He had not an enemy; his house was not rifled; nay, not a thing was touched. But let me tell you what I myself saw and heard, exactly as I told the young Shekh, Shaukat All. It was this:—At the first streak of dawn I went outside the village, and was some hundred yards from the pípal tree—the big one where these Hindus have a shrine for their deota. All was still, and no air stirred the leaves. Then a cry broke the silence, a shriek of terror, and there followed the crash of breaking branches, and a thud as of a body falling on the ground. Then all was still again, and while I stood and listened, the daylight grew clear. There lay Teja, under the big tree,—dead. I left him as I found him, and hurried to tell Asad Khán, my master, who lay that night here in our quarters.”

“Was anything lying by the body?” Slade inquired.

“I took no heed, except of a broken branch, perhaps snapped in the fall. But when I returned with his brethren the Kahárs, I noticed a stick bound with a yellow rag, such as these foolish rustics fix on a tree over a shrine. But whether Teja brought it with him, or it lay there before, or he broke it with the branch as he fell, that no one can say.”

Then Slade thought, somewhat taken aback by the man’s coherent story and simple manner of narrative:—“If this fellow’s story is false, it has at least an aspect of truth, which might easily have deceived young Shaukat Ali.” Then changing the point of attack, he inquired of Fateh Khán where he slept on the night of Teja’s death.

“Here was my cot,” he replied at once, pointing to the middle of the courtyard. “The night was hot and we slept out in the open.”

“And Asad Khán, where was he?”

“His cot was in there,” replied Fateh Khán, pointing to an inner-yard or women’s enclosure.

Slade’s eyes sparkled as he thought he had caught the crafty old Pathán off his guard.

“Was there any woman with him?” he asked.

But the man’s face remained impassive under Slade’s searching eyes, and he replied without hesitation:—“Sir, he was alone.”

“Then why did he sleep in that sultry corner instead of lying in the open?”

“He had accounts to make out,” replied Fateh Khán. “But here the wind made his lamp flicker, and drove him inside out of the draught.”

“An accomplished liar,” thought Slade. “If indeed he is lying.” Then turning to Fateh Khán, he ordered him to open the door to the women’s quarters.

A little door, fastened by a chain and staple, opened into an enclosure about thirty feet square, with a narrow veranda room at one end. The only furniture consisted of a couple of earthen jars and a dilapidated stool, and there were no marks of the place being at present in use. Slade mounted the stool and looked over the wall on to a piece of waste land, where there grew some stunted shrubs of the prickly plum. A little heap of rubbish,—ashes, broken pottery, and so forth,—lay close to the wall, evidently thrown out of the yard, and among this he noticed something glittering.

He stepped down, and having ordered the Inspector to see that Fateh Khán was prevented from communicating with the villagers, he went round the building to the dust-heap. Here he found four pieces of narrow bangle made of black glass (chúri) such as country women wear. The segments fitted together, leaving one small fragment to complete the circle. Then he reflected, that small things thrown over a wall will often lodge in the coping; and returning to the enclosure he found the missing fragment of the bangle stuck beneath the inner edge of a loose tile. Clearly then the woman’s bangle had been broken inside and thrown out with the rubbish.

Chapter VI

The Chauhán Head-Man Speaks

“Now about those two Chauháns, Baldeo Singh and Kishan Singh, whom Ráj Naráyan mentioned; what do you know of them?” said Slade to the Inspector, when the latter had made a precise note as to the circumstances under which the broken bangle had been found.

“I know something of the men and their history,” replied the Inspector. “I made their acquaintance a couple of years ago, when a gang of dakáits broke in the house of a grain-dealer and money-lender in Rasúlpur. Baldeo and Kishan were no doubt both concerned in that affair, but I could get no evidence against them. This happened when Mr Ellis first came to Háfizganj, and put fear into the hearts of these Chauháns and other turbulent folk.

“The fact is that their ancestors held Banára and other villages as lessees under the Emperor Akbar’s land settlements, until they were ousted by the Ruhelas about a century ago, in favour of Bahádur Khán’s family. The Chauháns have never forgotten that they were once masters, where they are now mere tenants, and have consequently given much trouble to the Government and the Patháns whenever occasion served. In the Great Rebellion they gathered their brethren, and paid off many old scores. Kishan Singh’s father was hanged in Háfizganj for those exploits.”

“Then they may be inclined to speak out as to Teja’s affair,” remarked Slade.

“They may perhaps tell more than they know, if they reveal anything at all against the Patháns,” replied the Inspector, drily. “I have a shrewd suspicion, that the letter signed Ráj Nariyan was sent at their instigation.”

“To annoy Asad Khán?”

“No other motive is intelligible,” replied the Inspector, smiling. “Teja was neither their tenant nor their servant, no more to them than the Potter’s ass.”

They went out into the square, where a little group of villagers had now assembled. On the opposite side, facing the gate-house, was a large building enclosed by massive but crumbling walls of brick and sun-baked clay, and a wide gate with heavy folding doors, in one leaf of which was a narrow wicket. Under a pent-house to the right of the door sat the two Chauháns waiting for Slade; two broad-shouldered men, aged between forty and fifty, with coarse strongly marked features, and resolute bearing.

They both stepped down to the roadway, and met Slade with respectful bows, saluting the Inspector with a muttered “Máharáj.”

“We have waited here as ordered,” said Baldeo Singh, the elder of the cousins, on whose jaw was a scar as of a sabre slash.

“This is the Superintendent Sáhib,” said the Inspector, in reply, and turning to Slade:—“Your honour may know Baldeo by the scar. He will tell you that the blow was struck by a rebel horseman in the Great Mutiny, but others report that he brought it back when he returned with his brethren after pillaging the Tigri moneylenders in those wild days.”

Baldeo Singh smiled grimly, as he replied:—“Old tales, Máharáj, and Mr Ellis knows, none so well, that we are loyal subjects of our British Rulers.”

“Yes, but what did he tell you when he came here about the Rasúlpur dakáiti?” asked the Inspector, laughing.

“Mr Ellis has always been indulgent to us Chauháns,” replied Baldeo Singh, showing his teeth in a broad grin.

“Did he not tell you that the fumes of your wickedness were mounting to the throne of the Almighty?” asked the Inspector.

“Máharáj,” replied Baldeo Singh, with a deprecating smile, “you well know that Mr Ellis declared that there was no evidence connecting us with the Rasúlpur gang.”

“Yes, and he told you that the hemp was growing to twist the rope for your neck,” retorted the Inspector, with a grim laugh. “But come, the Superintendent Sáhib would have some talk with you, so set chairs under the shed, and we will converse at ease.”

At a sign from Baldeo Singh his cousin fetched a couple of cane stools from the house, and spread a white cloth over the one for Slade. He was followed by a boy with a brass bowl of warm milk and a saucer of sugar candy for Slade’s refreshment. The young officer accepted, saying:—

“But understand, Baldeo and Kishna, though I drink your cow’s milk and eat your sweet candy, I may have to make an ill return for your hospitality. On these terms, I drink.”

“Sir,” replied Kishan Singh, bowing gravely, “the power is in your hands, and we are your bondmen.” Then seeing Slade draw a cheroot from his case, he produced a fragment of fuel smouldering with acrid smoke, and with strong lungs, blew it into a glowing spark for Slade to kindle his damp cheroot. The Inspector took the unoccupied stool, and the two Chauháns squatted on the clay floor in front, waiting for the officials to open the business.

At a sign from Slade, the Inspector began:—

“Now, you, Baldeo, and you too, Kishna, give heed to my words. You wish to be stamped as loyal men,—men that is who stand by our British Rulers when the call comes; and Mr Ellis knows how to reward loyal service, and how to deal with those who refuse it when demanded. Is that so, or is it not?”

“It is truth,” replied Baldeo Singh, and his cousin echoed the words.

“Good then,” continued the Inspector. “Now the Superintendent Sáhib has himself come here to ascertain how Tejchand Kahár met his death. By force or craft the facts shall be brought to light.”

The two Chauháns murmured inarticulately, waiting for further development.

“You no doubt think it strange his honour should take such trouble over the death of a poor wretch of a Kahár; but remember, that our Rulers esteem the rights of the weakest, such as they are, to have claims to vindication no less strong than those of the proudest.”

“Justice is in the hands of our Rulers,” said Baldeo Singh, sententiously, and his companion murmured assent.

“Now to the facts,” continued the Inspector. “We have proof that on the night of Teja’s death, his wife was with Asad Khán over there.” (He pointed to the landlord’s granary.) “We know further that about midnight Teja tracked her to the hut, there in the corner by the plum trees. He was seized by the Patháns, and died in their hands, apparently from a burst spleen.

“Such then are the facts. Now the affair occurred within a hundred paces of where we are sitting now, and where you, on that hot night, lay on your cots. You heard the cries, and the sound of the scuffle,—and the question now is, whether you are prepared to speak out as loyal men, and tell his honour exactly what you heard and saw? or do you stand by those who would hinder the inflexible will of our Rulers to protect the weak?”

“You hear, Baldeo Singh, and you too, Kishan Singh,” said Slade, sternly. “Do you choose to aid or obstruct us?”

The Chauháns shifted uneasily on their feet, gripped their clasped hands tight, and exchanged glances. Then Baldeo Singh spoke with quiet deliberation, and not without dignity:—“Máharáj—his honour should know well that no one here will lightly bring down on his head the wrath of the Patháns. He should know too that we Chauháns dare for good cause to stand, even alone, against them; nevertheless we will not idly for a whim expose our goods and lives to the attacks of their craft and lawyers in the British Court, and to their fire-brands and clubs here at home. And in this matter on which you touch—Teja and his harlot of a wife are no concern of ours;—and of her too the village is well rid.”

“Well, what further?” demanded Slade, as the Chauhán paused.

“I would explain that Teja’s death, whether he fell by the hand of man or the hand of God, was no matter affecting us. He was not our man, but the Khán Sáhib’s; and if neither his master nor our Rulers in Háfizganj moved to vindicate the wretch’s rights, there surely was no ground for us to take action in the matter. There are Kahárs enough and more than enough, without Tijua.”

“Aye, that is the truth,” chimed in Kishan Singh. “And when the young Shekh from Tigri came, we went about our business undisturbed, while he sat over yonder with Asad Khán, and ate and drank and smoked and laughed merrily—two comrades cheek by jowl.”

“Granted,” said Slade. “I do not gainsay your plea. But understand, I have now come to intervene on behalf of the Rulers of the land, and now those who refuse to disclose what they know, will assuredly have cause to rue their obstinacy.”

“Máharáj,” said Kishan Singh, turning to the Inspector, “we wish his honour to comprehend that we are loyal to the Great Company.”

“Aye,” chimed in Baldeo Singh. “And who are we to set our wills against so great a Power?”

“Let then his honour command, and we obey,” added Kishan Singh.

“But one thing I must beg,” continued Baldeo Singh, quickly. “We are no informers against the Khán Sáhib; we bear no coward tongue to whisper in base spite. Nay, let the Khán Sáhib know that we speak, not of our free will, but compelled by our Rulers, and not otherwise. Then, call hither Fateh Khán, and let him hear what we speak and why we speak.”

“Aye, let this be done,” cried Kishan Singh. “We are Chauháns, and men of honour, and not spies and informers, but our Rulers’ hand is strong and we obey. Aye, bid Fateh Khán come, and Mohna Pási, and the old idiot too, Manku the watchman.”

“That is fair,” replied Slade, and he ordered the Inspector to call the men named.

While Slade was speaking there debouched from the west lane into the open, a horseman, followed by an old man on a pony and a couple of sturdy men, loins girt and legs bare, striding resolutely with cudgels over their shoulders. The leader, a tall man, well under thirty, sat his grey horse with a certain easy grace, and, his right hand resting on his hip, he looked keenly around at once, taking note of the group with Slade at the Chauháns’. His complexion was as fair as that of an Afghan; his eyebrows arched; his nose straight but rather wide at the nostrils; and about his strong mouth and jaw curled a moustache and crisp beard. A white tunic bound by a buff belt; a loose embroidered turban with fringed end hanging negligently down his back, leather gaiters and cotton drawers, completed his costume.

“There comes Asad Khán,” exclaimed Baldeo Singh. “If we are to speak out, he too shall hear us.”

“Call him over here,” said Slade to the Inspector. “Call him and the others named also.”

The Inspector, beckoning to a constable, stepped out to meet the new arrival. The young Pathán threw his rein to one of his men, sprung from his horse, and after exchanging a couple of words with the Inspector, strode across the square, his left hand thrust into his belt, his right swinging his riding-whip.

He drew up at the foot of the Chauháns’ platform, and with a half military salute, greeted Slade, who nodded and smiled good-humouredly in return, and said:—

“You are agent of Khán Bahádur Khán, I think?”

Asad Khán saluted again as he replied: “The Khán Sáhib is my uncle on the maternal side.”

“You come opportunely,” said Slade. “We have on hand some business affecting you. Take a seat. Now, Kishna, draw up that cot for the Khán Sáhib.”

“Had I known your honour was coming, I should have been here to receive you,” replied Asad Khán, taking the proffered seat.

“Who is the old man with you—he on the pony?” asked Slade.

“That old fellow—oh, one of my servants,” replied Asad Khán. “A cook when needed and what not?”

The Inspector now came up, bringing Fateh Khán with the old watchman and his son, and these three by Slade’s order took seats on the ground facing him.

“Now, Baldeo Singh,” he said. “The audience you demanded is assembled, and the time has come for you to speak.”

The Chauhán looked for a while silently from Asad Khán to Fateh Khán, and then began:—

“Answer me one question, Fateh Khán; how long have you dwelt in our village?”

“Some twenty years,” replied the man.

“That is true,” said the Chauhán, “and for two years and more the Khán Sáhib here, Asad Khán, has known us well. Tell me then, if ever through those long years, I have been a spy and informer?”

“I never heard you accused of the baseness,” replied Fateh Khán, in a sullen tone.

“And you never heard it of me?” said Kishan Singh, and the old Pathán shook his head.

“Now, Máharáj,” continued Baldeo Singh, turning to the Inspector, “will you and his honour here declare whether I have given so much as a hint regarding this affair of Tijua and his wife.”

“Not a word,” replied the Inspector. “But the point we are concerned with is this: You and your cousin, Kishna, know the facts, and if you are loyal men you will speak out; if not, then you are traitors with whom Mr Ellis will have to reckon.”

“When you threatened us thus,” said Baldeo Singh, “what did I answer?”

“That what you were compelled to reveal you would speak straight out in the face of Asad Khán and Fateh Khán, not otherwise.”

The two Patháns sat silent, Asad Khán playing nervously with his beard and Fateh Khán fixing a baleful eye on the Chauháns.

“The Khán Sáhib will understand, that of our free will we spake not a word,” continued Baldeo Singh.

“Speak out what you know then,” said Slade. “And if you lie, Fateh Khán will know it, and Mohna will call out, and neither here nor there will you find a refuge.”

“Let Fateh Khán spit in our faces if we lie,” exclaimed Kishan Singh.

Then Baldeo Singh, taking up the word, and addressing the Inspector, spake thus:—“In this way then it came about. The night was very sultry, so our cots were set out here, where a little air was moving—mine on this spot and Kishna’s over there. About midnight, the moon, risen above yonder trees, shone on my face from which my sheet had slipped, and I awoke, and kindled my hukka from a live coal smouldering there in the corner. Then Kishna hearing the gurgling woke too, and we sat side by side smoking on my cot, just where his honour is seated now,—in the full moonlight, and we could see, as his honour sees now, along the side wall of the granary to the corner where the women’s yard is. Then looking idly up there while Kishna smoked, I whispered to him:—‘See, who is that moving under the wall?’ for I saw a figure creep stealthily out of the shadow near the plum trees by yonder corner. It is not the watchman, I whispered again:—Surely a thief. And we sat silent and motionless, while the figure crept on in the shadow, and when it reached the corner just there, we saw him stand up, and he came quickly across the open to us. It was Tijua, and he threw himself at our feet, and whimpered ‘Dohái Thákur sáhib ki! I crave justice of the Thákurs! Save my honour! Asad Khán has dragged my wife away;—he has her locked in there; he has dragged her away and will dishonour her.’ Then Kishna remarked:—‘I take it, that little force was needed to draw her to the Pathán’s couch.’ But Tijua cried: ‘I have none but you to help me. Not a soul dare give me aid, none but a Chauhán will lift a hand before the Patháns. Ilie here at your feet a suppliant, for even now Asad Khán is drugging and dishonouring my wife. If you will not help to rescue her, I must die.’

“Is not that what he said, Kishna?” asked the speaker turning to his cousin.

“Aye, the truth,” acquiesced Kishan Singh, approvingly, “Those were his words, even as he spoke them.”

Baldeo Singh continued:—”And so Tijua lay at our feet here weeping, and I answered him according to my knowledge, and said: ‘Tijua, I know your wife Badamiya and her craft. Twice she has fled from your house, and twice she has been restored perforce. She is one who to-day ogles the Brahman and to-morrow the Pathán—a stroller in the streets and lanes with bare head. Let her go her way, Tijua. You are not man enough to govern her, and she brings bane to your house. Cast her off!’”

Then as Baldeo Singh paused, his cousin nodded approval, muttering, “ In truth, so you spake: your very words.”

Baldeo Singh continued:—“Now when I had spoken, Tijua stood up, silent a little while before he spoke, saying:—‘Thákur Sáhib, if a woman of your house strayed away to the Patháns, what would you do?’ Then Kishna handled his club which lay there by the cot, and gave the answer: ‘You know well, Tijua: we should strangle her and batter out the life of him, and fling their bodies into the river.’”

Kishan Singh with a grim expression on his face murmured, “I said that; but I added also,—‘But where is a Kahár and where a Chauhán ?’”

And Baldeo Singh continued:—“And Tijua hearing the words of Kishna, cried out:—‘Before a Thákur and Pathán what honour has a Kahár?’ And he again sank down at our feet weeping, and begged us to come and demand his wife’s release.

“But Kishna answered, and I with him:—‘We will not thrust hands into this matter. Let the harlot go, and never more stain your house by her presence. To-day her lover is a Pathán; another will follow, and so without end.’

“Then again Tijua stood up, and drew breath deeply, and muttered:—‘No one will heed me, and I am helpless. Life and death are one to me. How long shall I live to bear this torment?’ Then he snatched the club from Kishna and turned to go. But Kishna gripped his hand, saying:—‘Take heed, Tijua! Alone you are helpless. Why cry your shame through the village? Get you home, and in the morning, call her father to deal with her;—or if you have heart for it, strangle her with your own hand.’ But the wretched Tijua shook his head, and answered in a low voice:—‘I go my way now. You will give no help. What will be, will be. But yield me the club.’ Then I bade Kishna to let him go, saying:—‘If he knows his honour is lost, he knows the worst.’

“Then Kishna relaxed his hold and let him depart unhindered, with the club grasped in the middle unhandily. So we watched him creep round under the shadows, to avoid Mohna, who sat dozing in front of the gate-house. After a while he came in sight again, yonder under the wall by the plum bushes, and we could see that he bore a stool and set it firmly against the wall. We watched closely: he mounted the stool, vaulted on to the wall, and was lost to our sight.”

Kishan Singh drew a deep breath, and added:—“He had leapt inside. And at once we heard a woman’s shriek, and the shout of an angry man.”

“Aye, we heard that,” continued Baldeo Singh, taking up the story, “and Kishna touched my shoulder. ‘Brother’ he said, ‘shall we follow the wretch?’ But I said, ‘Be still: we will not get entangled in strange concerns. If he be slain or his wife or Asad Khán,—each has brought his fate on himself.’ But Kishna answered:—‘’Tis well; but there is some heart in the Kahár lad, and perchance he will strike his blow ere he fall.’

“We drew back into the shadow. Then Mohna leaped up with a shout of thieves! and the Patháns in the gatehouse cried, clubs in hand! but the screams of the woman we heard over all. Then the cries ceased, and we heard men talking loud; then these too were hushed.—But soon Fateh Khán came out and looked cautiously round. We were hidden in the dark shadow, and he saw no one.”

Fateh Khán, who had hitherto sat silent and impassive, now exclaimed savagely:—“A lie! all lies of these Chauháns, from old days enemies of our people!”

“A lie! thou father of craft!” cried Kishan Singh, springing to his feet.

“Be still, Kishna,” said his cousin, seizing his arm and pulling him back to his seat. “We speak as we are bidden by our masters, and Fateh Khán knows it.”

“Let him speak to the end,” said Slade, in a stern voice to the old Pathán, laying the butt-end of his whip on the man’s shoulder with a menace. “Go on, Baldeo Singh.”

“For a long time all was still. Then the bullock chariot, ready yoked, was brought out, and a woman appeared at the gateway,—we knew it was Badamiya, the wife of Tijua, for there is none other so tall in the village. She mounted the chariot, the curtains were drawn close, and she was driven away, out there by the westward lane.

“Then we thought of Tijua, what had befallen him, and we waited. At length Fateh Khán and Mohna came out bearing something heavy slung in a sheet—it might have been a corpse——”

“It was the wretch’s body,” ejaculated Kishan Singh.

“Perhaps, but we saw not inside the sheet,” said Baldeo Singh. “But they bore their burden off to the westward—in the direction of the deota’s shrine, there where Tijua’s corpse was found in the morning.—Then Kishna whispered in my ear: ‘He died his death, it was well done. But Badamiya the harlot has escaped.’

“Then we lay down and slept in the cool till dawn.”

Chapter VII

The Watchman’s Son Completes the Story

The Chauháns ceased speaking, and under the spell of their words, the little assembly sat for a while in silence.

Slade gazing meditatively at the prickly plum bushes near which the tragedy had been enacted, pulled hard at his cheroot. Fateh Khán fixed his eyes upon his master’s countenance, watchful to check him from committing himself by rash speech before they had determined on the best line for defence. Mohna, the watchman’s son, furtively looked at Slade, with the eyes of a boar at bay waiting for attack before striking in defence.

The first to break silence was Asad Khán. During the Chauhán’s narrative, he had maintained a forced smile of easy confidence on his lips, seated motionless except when he nervously fingered his beard. But the smile now faded from his face, and he spoke with strained voice from a dry mouth.

“The relations between our house and these Chauháns must be well known to you, sir; and their specious story will not deceive your intelligence. But until you command me to speak in my defence, I am silent.”

But these words opened the lips of the old watchman, Manku, and he broke out vehememtly, addressing Baldeo Singh:—

“Thákur Sáhib, I call on you to bear witness for my lad, Mohna. You have known him from a child, and he has ever served you with ready hand. He was alone, and the Patháns are ruthless. Never of his own free will would he have concealed this blood and misled our Rulers!”

“Khudáwand, my lord!” cried Mohna, taking up the word at once. “What the old man says is true. It was Fateh Khán and his men: they raised their clubs, and threatened to pound me to death unless I lent a hand to hide this blood.”

“What?” cried Fateh Khán, turning savagely to Mohna, who quailed before him. “You!—you born of a sow, and breeder of swine. Are you too leagued with the lying Chauháns?”

“You would drag down my lad in your own ruin,” cried old Manku. “What? Is not all laid bare, and shall he not save his head?”

“Good, good, enough!” muttered Fateh Khán. “The craft of these Chauháns shall be shown forth in court, and the penalty of perjurers awaits them.”

“Liars, perjurers!” exclaimed Kishna Singh, fiercely. “Nay, but your cunning tricks shall hardly slip the noose from your neck!”

“Be still, Kishna,” cried Baldeo Singh, grasping his cousin’s shoulder. “Let old Fathu play his stale tricks to the end.”

Slade now intervened, ordering Fateh Khán to be removed to the homestead in custody. Then turning to the old watchman:—

“Did I not say you were the last of your race to keep watch and ward in Banára?”

“My lord, my master!” cried the old man, snatching his turban from his head and grovelling at Slade’s feet. “The lad was helpless in the hands of the Patháns.”

“My lord, you are our master,” cried Mohna, crouching beside his father. “I but saved dear life. They are many, I but one.”

“Speak then,” said Slade. “Speak out, and I will judge the measure of your guilt.”

“Tell his honour everything, my son,” said old Manku, with trembling hands adjusting his turban over his withered fleshless head. “Truth and falsehood cannot be hidden from him.” Then turning to Asad Khán, he muttered deprecatingly: “My boy must save himself.”

Asad Khán shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

“Speak out freely, my son,” urged the old man; and Mohna, thus adjured, after shifting his position so as to turn his back to Asad Khán, began:—

“My lord, the high hand of the Pathán is known through all the country side, and here we dwell under the shadow of their clubs.—So when they bade me bring grass and corn for the young Khán Sáhib’s horse and bullocks, I came swiftly, and ran backwards and forwards fifty times on their errands, until the first watch of the night was passed, and I went home to my old father. He, my lord, is deaf and blind and weak, and knew nothing—nothing of what happened that night. When I had taken food I left him at our house out there, far on the east side of the village. I watched all night at the homestead as Fateh Khán bade me, saying, thieves were on foot, and goods and money in the treasure chest, and cattle and horses under the pent-house. I beat my rounds—then sat awhile in the shadow over there, betwixt the tamarind tree and the gate-house. Fateh Khán lay near the light burning in the niche of the gateway, and his two men slept right and left of the door.”

“Where was Asad Khán?” asked Slade, interrupting.

“Twice he called Fateh Khán, and then through the gateway I saw the Khán Sáhib sitting by a lamp over account-books.”

“Well, continue!”

“What I saw, I can tell; nothing more,” continued Mohna. “And my lord is master, and will know that of all that happened my old father saw nothing and heard nothing; he is blind and deaf, and slept through all.”

“A good watchman!” remarked Slade. “But get on.”

“I sat crouching yonder in the dark, the moon not risen. Then the Khán Sáhib’s servant approached from the lane.—See yonder there is the man, old Muna Miyán, sitting near his horse. He came followed by two women, and went forward to whisper to Fateh Khán, and then beckoned to the women, who stepped into the light from the lamp: the tall one I saw was Badámo Kahárin,—there is not another like her in the village,—and the other, Muniya, the barber’s wife. Badámo went through the house with old Muna Miyán, and the barber’s wife returned in silence whence she came.

“So I sat on my watch sleepless, till the moon stood above the trees. It was then that the din and tumult broke out,—first shrieks for help from a woman, and I sprung up. Then cries and sounds of struggling in the back-yard. I ran thither and mounted a stool and leapt on the coping. The woman Badámo was crouched in the corner, shrieking, while Asad Khán grappled a man on the ground throttling him and trampling him with his knees. Then Fateh Khán and his men burst in, and I leapt down into the yard, and Asad Khán rose to his feet, but Tijua lay still on the ground, groaning and senseless. The men cast him out into the court-yard, and he lay there gasping a little while, and then he was dead.”

Mohna ceased and fell prostrate at Slade’s feet, crying:—“My lord, my master! What I saw I have told neither more nor less. But my old father lay at home all the while, and of all these things I told him not a word.”

Chapter VIII

The Pathán Gallant

A profound silence prevailed in the little assembly under the Chauháns’ shed, while the watchman’s son bowed abjectly at the feet of Slade, until the latter spoke after some deliberation:—

“Tell me one thing more. Teja carried a heavy weapon, and struck blows——”

“Aye and hard,” replied Mohna, eagerly interrupting. “The woman’s head was bloody, and the Khán Sáhib here cried his shoulder was broken.”

“He carried my club,” cried Kishan Singh, breaking in. “Wire bound and with brass studs. Why did you not bring it back to me?”

“How should I know whose club Tijua used?” returned Mohna, indignantly.

“You, Khán Sáhib, must surely know who took it,” continued Kishan Singh, turning to Asad Khán. “A sound bamboo staff polished and mounted——”

But Asad Khán, who had now recovered his self-possession, interrupted, contemptuously twirling his moustache:—“So then you Chauháns are in league with Kahárs and Pásis, a truly noble alliance!”

“Pshaw, Khán Sáhib, these are stale tricks!” replied Kishan Singh. “One of your men has stolen the club, and must be made to give it up.”

“Perhaps in searching through the granary we may lay hands on it,” said Slade, interposing. “Meantime, hold your peace.” Then turning to Asad Khán:—

“What of the blow on your shoulder? A Chauhán’s club though wielded by a Kahár should leave its mark where it struck. Show me your shoulder.”

At the command to strip before the rustics, an expression of pain and indignation came over the young Pathán’s face, and was at once observed by Slade. The smile excited by the pertinacity of the callous Chauhán, faded from his lips, and he added quickly, but in a changed tone:—“Well, not now. I will see to that later. Come aside with me.”

He touched Asad Khán on the arm, and led him into the open space, where they could speak without hearers. He had been moved to pity by the fate of the unhappy Tejchand; but now, he yielded to a sudden feeling of sympathy for the gallant young Pathán, who had heedlessly involved himself in a network of penal lies. The fatal result of the blow struck in self-defence against the attack of the aggrieved husband, was a misfortune which might befall any adventurous spirit; and the crime itself was, thought Slade, certainly not heinous, almost venial.

“You were unlucky in your affair with the Kahár woman,” he said. “But when fate overtook Teja, could you not see that the bare truth was your best defence? The man attacked his wife with deadly intent, and you injured him in defending her life.”

Asad Khán looked at Slade with an inquiring glance; hesitated a moment as he tried to penetrate his motives; then, feeling reassured, he replied:—“Had your honour come yourself to inquire into the matter, I might have done so. But with your police to deal with, it was impossible; they would have made out a charge of murder and abduction, from which escape would have been very difficult. Then, too, your honour will understand this: I wished to avoid any disclosure regarding the Kahárin?”

“What? to save Badámo’s character?” exclaimed Slade, with a sceptical smile.

“What would your honour have done in a like case?” replied Asad Khán, with confidence. “Where a woman is concerned such strange motives are at work. You know my uncle, Khán Bahádur Khán? Well, he will tell you, I could not have acted otherwise.”

The young Pathán had now quite recovered his self-control, and watched Slade’s countenance to interpret the effect of his words. Noting a sceptical smile, he added in a low tone:—“My uncle, the Khán Sáhib, assured me that your honour would fully comprehend my position,—but these ill-starred police—never!”

Slade nodded, doubtful whether or not this gallant young fellow was playing on his foibles, and asked:—“Was the woman hurt?”

“The blow cut to the bone, and her head was bathed in blood. Had I not thrown the man off, he would have slain her.”

“Where is she now? Of course she must be produced.”

“She dared not go to her father’s, he would have maltreated her,” answered Asad Khán. “Her husband was dead, and no one in the world had any claim to her.—But on me, you will understand, she had a claim for refuge, and much more.” He lowered his voice to a whisper, dropping his eyes and speaking with hesitation. “And, your honour,—but this I speak for your ear alone, I could not find it in my heart to part from her.—-I placed her in my own house at Ronáhi.”

Then Slade remembering the Inspector’s surmise:—“But you heard we were in search of her, and were not simpleton enough to detain her longer in your house.”

The young Pathán smiled approval of Slades acumen:—“As your honour guesses. She went with quick trotting bullocks to Rasúlpur this morning, and from there she could easily find her way to her house here.”

“But how did you learn I was coming?” asked Slade.

“Information of matters concerning the Khán Sáhib travels quickly to him from the offices at Háfizganj,” replied Asad Khán, with a deprecating smile. “But who can say through what channel?”

The inspector, followed by old Múlchand and Dhaunkul, now approached:—“Pardon me,” he said. “Dhaunkul has just informed me, that Badámo is now in her own house.”

“That is well,” said Slade, and he drew the Inspector aside. “Asad Khán tells me the woman has been living with him. Can we induce her to tell the plain truth as to Teja’s deadly attack?”

“She will tell a tissue of lies to explain her flight, and return,” replied the Inspector.

“We must make her understand that her lover will be best served by a simple statement of the facts.”

The Inspector signed to Dhaunkul to approach, and learnt from him that the woman on her return had at once, with eager volubility, related, that she had quarrelled with Teja; in a passion of rage he struck her with a club, and she lost consciousness. When long after she recovered her senses, Teja had disappeared. She ran away resolved never to return. But she dared not seek a refuge at her father’s house, for he had twice dragged her back; so she hid away in many places until, hearing that Teja was dead, she returned to claim his property which was hers of right.

“So that is her specious story,” remarked Slade. “Then we will go to her house. Maybe she will be more amenable to reason there than elsewhere.”

Directing Asad Khán and Múlchand to accompany him, Slade with the Inspector followed Dhaunkul through the lanes to the little group of houses where the Kahárs dwelt. Ordering Asad Khán to wait at the palankin-shed, Slade went with the rest of the party to the house of the deceased Teja.

“Badamiya!” shouted Dhaunkul at the door. But as no answer came to repeated calls, Slade ordered Múlchand to let the woman know he wished to come inside to speak with her.

“She is sulking in the shed, and will give no heed to me,” reported Múlchand. Then without further ceremony Slade, followed by the Inspector and the two Kahárs, entered the house, where Badámo sat crouched on a cot under the shed with her head closely covered by her veiling sheet.

“Stand up, you hussy!” cried her father, shaking her roughly by the shoulder. “What! have you become a lady of the veil since you have found a Khán Sáhib for a lover?”

She made no reply, but clutched her veiling sheet more tightly.

“Strip off the widow’s veil,” exclaimed Dhaunkul, angrily. “What cover is needed for a harlot’s head?”

Then Slade, seizing Dhaunkul by the ear, pulled it impressively:—“Silence!” he cried. “Who permits you to abuse that unlucky woman in my presence? Go outside!” and he pushed him to the door.

Badámo now arose at once, and falling at Slade’s feet, cried in a soft voice, very pitifully:—“You are my lord and master.—I am a helpless forsaken widow! There is none in the whole world to aid me. See here, how brutally I have been stricken!”

Crouched at his feet she drew off her veiling sheet, and looking up at Slade with tearful eyes displayed a raw scar on the side of her head.—He saw her broad forehead, arched brows over lustrous almond eyes with heavy lips and long lashes; straight nose and pouting lips; long curved chin deeply dimpled, and a full and shapely bust.

Slade was conscious of a shock of surprise and admiration, but he spoke without hesitation and with perfect calmness, pursuing his design:—

“Listen, Badámo! Yonder, outside the door, is Asad Khán. He has told me how savagely Teja attacked you and him over there in the homestead. Had Teja come armed with a bill-hook instead of a club, neither you nor Asad Khán would have lived to tell the tale.”

“My lord,” cried the woman passionately. “He struck me down here,—here, on the very spot where you stand, and through a whole watch of the night I lay bleeding and senseless. He left me for dead, and for very terror of his deed he threw himself from a tree and died. And now they harass me on all sides with lies, and unless you protect me, I must leap down the well and die.”

She clasped Slade’s feet, bowing her forehead, and her jet black hair unloosed fell in a wild mass over his feet.

“Come, come,” exclaimed Slade, shrinking back disturbed. “Stand up and speak sense, and then I will see what I can do to help you.”

“Do you hear? Stand up and obey his honour!” cried her father, grasping her shoulder roughly to draw her back.

“Lay no hand on me!” she cried fiercely, but she covered her head and stood up erect, in stature nearly equal to Slade himself.

“Let her sit yonder on the cot “ said the Inspector, interposing gently. “Sit you quietly there, Badámo, and then tell his honour all you have to tell.”

“What do you dread?” asked Slade, when she was seated. “From what peril am I to protect you?”

“My lord, from all the village,” she exclaimed rapidly. “The Pandit Ráj Naráyan sets them on. He tried again and again to seduce me, and when I drove him away in disgust and anger, he cried that he would torment me until I submitted.”

“You lying hussy!” cried her father.

“Come, Badámo,” interposed the inspector in a soothing tone. “Give heed to my words, and put aside the foolish story you have learnt by rote. Listen! Asad Khán is himself here. He has told us that Teja attacked you yonder in the granary.”

“It is a lie!” cried Badámo, vehemently. “You too are in league with Ráj Naráyan. If his honour will give no help, I am indeed forlorn and death and life are one to me.”

“Listen to me, Badámo,” said Slade, in a coaxing tone. “You ask for my protection. Well, against whom or what?”

“I will cling to the skirt of your garment for protection,” she cried. “I claim justice. It is justice at your hands I demand.”

She moved forward again to prostrate herself at his feet, but he checked her by a sharp voice and gesture:—“Sit still, or I will not hear you!—Now, tell me, clearly and distinctly, what you wish me to do for you.”

“My lord, my master,” she answered, in a softer tone. “Dhaunkul’s wife and Kishna’s wife here;—they pour on me foul abuse; they threaten that the Kahárs will kill me if I abide here. They say my husband’s uncle is coming to drive me out, and take all I have. Then my old father will drag me away and sell me to marry some boy, or some old man whose wife is dead or barren.”

“Ah, I catch her drift now,” said the Inspector. “She fears that her father will force her to another match.”

“I will never go with my old father!—My lord, I beg you will not deliver me into the hands of the old man!” said Badámo, now more collected in manner.

“A young widow cannot live alone!” said Slade quietly. “If you remain here you must marry your husband’s uncle.”

“Never!” she cried, angrily. “His sharp-tongued wife would revile me day and night.”

“Good, then listen to me,” said Slade. “Asad Khán——”

But she broke in vehemently:—“Asad Khán! Asad Khán! I know not Asad Khán.”

“Be still and listen,” said Slade, sharply, “Asad Khán has been seized by the police, and is charged with slaying your husband.”

“It is a wicked lie!” cried Badámo. “Aye, a trick of that foul pandit. I told you: he threatened me with this. My lord, my master! False it is, all false!”

She clasped her hands, and as she leant forward her veiling sheet fell back, exposing her face streaming with tears.

“That man, my husband, would have battered and trampled me to death; but he—the Khán Sáhib—held him back, hurled him to the ground, and saved my life. Oh, your honour must see justice done here, and protect him—the Khán Sáhib—against this plot. That man came to slay me, I say; his blood lies on his own head.”

“That is exactly what Asad Khán told us,” said Slade, encouragingly, as she paused to take breath, “And it is surely the truth. You can serve him best now by telling the whole truth.”

But his hasty words checked the flood of her speech, and terrified at the indiscretion her passion had driven her to commit, she shrank back, and drew her garment closely over her head. Then it was, in the pause of speech and movement which followed, that she first realised how completely the arrest of Asad Khán on the charge of murder, had changed her position and prospects. She had fallen an easy victim to the young Pathán; but she had now lived for many days under his protection, and become his devoted slave. And in Asad Khán’s sentiments towards her, a development, even more far reaching, had resulted;—her voluptuous beauty; her complete devotion; the tragic death of her husband; her narrow escape from death, and her sufferings under the wound;—all this had combined to cast a halo of romance over her, and to transform a mere vulgar intrigue into a passionate attachment. She had solemnly adopted the religion of Islám, and the Kázi had been summoned to read the marriage ceremony, between them. It was then that the news of the impending inquiry rendered necessary the adoption of measures to baffle the police.

But now all the skilful combinations had failed; Asad Khán was seized as a murderer; and, separated from him, she was to be thrust back helpless into the sphere which she loathed.—She clutched her veiling sheet about her, sunk her head on her knees and swaying her body backwards and forwards, uttered moans and low inarticulate sounds, heedless of all about her.

Slade felt a lump rising in his throat as he turned to the Inspector:—“Her father shall take charge of her. Let him be bound over to produce her in court.” Then leaving the Inspector to complete the formalities, he suddenly put an end to a colloquy, which had become painful and futile, and stepped out to the little platform in front of the house door. Asad Khán was still leaning negligently against a prop of the palankin-shed, and at the house-door beyond, stood a group of Kahár women silent and scared, with children clinging to their skirts and near them sat the little old man who had ridden into the village behind his master Asad Khán.

Behind a mask of indifference the young Pathán concealed a tumult of emotion. He had heard the voice of Badámo raised in anger and distress, and clenched his hands and ground his teeth, as with difficulty he checked his impulse to hurry to her side. Why had he not followed out his first plan to flee with this woman from the district, and disappear in Hyderabad or Indore? He saw in prospect for himself a cell in the dreary prison of Háfizganj; and meanwhile this woman, to whom his heart clung, would be dragged away by her relatives and forced to mate another boor. Then Slade came out alone, and a gleam of hope flashed upon Asad Khán.

With hanging head and depressed demeanour, he slowly crossed the roadway to where the young officer was standing in silent debate as to the next step to be taken.

“What are your orders for me?” he asked, in a low voice. “Your honour cannot but be aware now, that I am guiltless,—a victim of misfortune.”

Slade discerned the agitation of the young Pathán under the assumed humility, and replied with some sympathy in his tone:—“You played a bold game, Asad Khán, and have lost. But as to the future, no one need despair of acquittal before our Judge and the High Court over him. Put your trust in the craft of barristers and pleaders.”

While he was speaking, the Inspector joined them, and then loud screams with sounds of struggling arose in the house, and Badámo, bare-headed and dishevelled, rushed forth to throw herself at Slade’s feet.

“Save him! my lord, my master,” she cried, clinging to Slade. “My old father lies! They cannot hang him. He saved me from violence and death. What else could he do?”

Crouching at his feet, she broke into inarticulate cries and sobs.

“What have you done to her?” demanded Slade of her father, who now stood by scared at his daughter’s violence.

Before Múlchand could reply, the woman cried, rising to her knees:—“He casts foul abuse on him. He threatens to have him hanged, and to sell me to a Chaudhri Ját. My lord, my lord, if he is to die, let me die with him.”

Asad Khán, who had stood by stiff and motionless with hands tightly clasped, could no longer restrain his impulse to protect the woman. He stepped quickly to her side, and placing one hand on her shoulder with the other drew the hood of her sheet over her head.

“Shame upon you!” he said in a low voice. “Shame that you come forth naked before men. Go back, and leave me to settle this!”

At the sound of his voice and touch of his hand, the woman’s passion subsided at once. She stood still in silence for a moment, and then with drooping head and lagging feet obedient to his order returned to the house.

“May I speak one word apart to your honour?” said Asad Khán, turning to Slade. “I beg you to come with me to her.”

The young officer acquiesced without hesitation, and led the way into the house, where Badámo now closely veiled was standing in the court-yard.

“Listen to what I have to say,” said Asad Khán addressing her in a low voice. “You are heeding me?”

Badámo murmured inarticulately, and he continued: “His honour will himself tell you that there is no danger for me from the hangman’s rope.”

“None whatever,” said Slade.

“You hear that?” continued Asad Khán. “Then ere long I shall be free to rejoin you.—Now tell his honour this. Did you not repeat the Kalama with me and join our Faith?”

“I did,” answered Badámo, in a voice hardly audible:—“I know one God only and his Prophet, whose name is blessed.”

“You hear that, sir?” continued her lover.—“Will you now permit her father to drag her away; to revile and ill-treat her, and sell her to some wifeless churl? She is a widow, a Musalmáni, and free!”

“Speak then, Badámo,” said Slade. “Speak for yourself. Whither would you go?”

“Where will you dwell until I return to you?” interposed Asad Khán. “Will you go with your father, or shall my old servant Muna Miyán take you to my people in Ronáhi?”

“I am a Musalmáni,” she answered distinctly. “With Kahárs and Hindus I have no part. Let the old man take me.”

“Good,” said Slade. “So it shall be.” He called the Inspector to bring the woman’s father into the house. And when they were grouped in a circle round the tall veiled figure, Slade addressed the Inspector and Múlchand with unwonted deliberation:—

“A most important point bearing on the position and future of this woman has come to light. I wish you to hear her statement.” Then turning to the woman, he continued:—

“Now, Badámo, it is for you to speak out before your father and the Inspector. Speak that all may hear. You told me that you had become a Musalmáni, abandoned your own people, and refuse to return to them!”

“I will die rather,” she cried vehemently. “Among them is no place for a Musalmáni. I pray your honour, let old Muna Miyán take me to the Patháns in Ronáhi!”

“My lord,” said Múlchand. “She says there is no place for a Musalmáni in our dwelling. That is so. She has brought shame on our house; let her go that we may never again set eyes on her.”

“You have then no claim whatever on her?” asked the punctilious Inspector.

“Claim? No!” exclaimed Múlchand. “Send her to her new brethren.”

“Muna Miyán!” shouted Asad Khán, in a stentorian voice, and forthwith his old servant appeared. “Take this woman to my house in Ronáhi.—She shall dwell there under your care until I return. Such is the order of his honour.”

“She must execute a bond to appear in Court when called upon,” put in the Inspector, as the old servant silently took up his position by Badámo.

But the woman herself sunk weeping at Slade’s feet; “Me you have saved; it is in your power to save him too.”

At a sign from Slade, the Inspector and Múlchand went out. Asad Khán stooped over the woman and whispered a few words in her ear; for an instant she clung to his arm, and was then left alone in the house with old Muna Miyán.

The investigation as far as Slade was concerned had now been completed, and he mounted his horse to ride back to Háfizganj.


Book the Third — The Baffling of Justice

Chapter I

The Old Official and the Young Ruler

On the Sunday of Slade’s excursion to Banára, Blyth passed the afternoon in the veranda of the Magistrate’s house, reading Persian with the venerable Sayid, Maulvi Nazar Ali. The soft moist breeze fluttered the pages of the folio volume which lay open on the table before them.

This lean old scholar with stooping shoulders, wrinkled face, long silver beard and quiet dreamy eyes, had once held a distinguished position among the men of letters of Dehli and Lucknow. But at length the atmosphere of worldliness and intrigue of those great cities, and the progress of modern ideas among his people, became intolerable to his simple piety, and he retired to Ronáhi to dwell a dependent and friend of Rafat Ali’s eldest son, the scholar and devotee, Háfiz Amir Ali.

“Please translate these verses,” said Blyth, checked in his progress by a quotation in archaic Arabic. The old scholar read out the sonorous lines in a voice that seemed to caress the harmonious measures, loath to let them pass from the tongue until their last sweetness was exhausted,—and then interpreted them in rhythmic Persian:—

Eager my camel I’ve pressed through unknown tracts of the desert,
Boundless shimmering plains, with the phantom mirage in the distance
Ridden have I with devouring hosts, hearts craving for battle,
Dauntless, greedy of fame snatched amid imminent perils;—
Under what skies has my sword not flashed?—yet ever my heart yearned,
Ached to be back once more in the tent pitched under the date-palm.

Blyth noted the flush on the withered cheek, and the sudden gleam in his quiet eyes, as the old man recited the verses.—

“Maulvi Sáhib,” he said, after a pause, “surely I think the vanished world of the poets so fills your imagination that the currents amid which we live, flow past you unheeded.”

The old scholar examined his pupil’s countenance, and answered vaguely:—

“For old men the present is haunted by the spectres of the past.”

“But what of the future which you yourself are shaping through the hearts of your disciples?” continued Blyth.

“I have no sons,” replied the Maulvi, with a deprecating smile as one who would avoid a serious discussion. “And is my own future here? Your honour will recall the verse of the poet Wali: O Sayid, fear not the day of judgment, for that brings no peril to the race of the Prophet.”

“But surely,” urged Blyth, seriously, “although your personal interest in this world ceases with your own life, and you have positive assurance of Heaven hereafter—still you would not, like a Hindu ascetic, limit your sympathies to the narrow sphere of your welfare here, and your own salvation hereafter.”

“Sir,” replied the old scholar gravely, “it is written: the will of the Master is best: ‘God abides with those who are patient.’—But assuredly, I would not have you believe that my sole care is my own welfare in the Two Worlds. That is not so; only I have learnt to know my own sphere and work only within it?’

“And that sphere?”

The old scholar looked inquiringly in Blyth’s young face, and reading therein gravity and sincerity, replied with a new decision in voice and manner:—

“The light of Islám shines dimly in our age, but I doubt not that in God’s time, it will once more blaze with brilliance through the world. Meanwhile it is the task of the Sayid and Maulvi to tend the smouldering flame; to keep alive in the hearts of the Faithful, memory of a glorious past; to preserve the texts of the Sacred Book, and safeguard the wisdom of our great teachers from perishing amid the laxity and temptations of to-day. So shall he best serve the cause of Islám and fulfil a sacred trust.”

“I understand,” said Blyth, surprised at the quiet old scholar’s sudden animation. “You dwell in the past assured that thereby you keep more pure the knowledge which your disciples need.”

“Yes, that is my conviction, and on it my purpose in this life is founded,” replied the Maulvi, his former gentle and deprecating manner changed to stern decision. “For you should know that since the death of the Emperor Aurangzeb, the Faith of the Prophet and his Successors has been tainted by contact with Heathendom and corrupted by infidel thought,—even as our race succumbed before the Heathen Mahrata and Sikh.—We had surely been extirpated but for the divinely ordained intervention of the other branch of the Children of the Book:—it was the arms of the Farangi, of your people, that drove back the Mahrata and Ját, and checked the Khálsa of Ranjít Singh, and saved the remnant of the Faithful. Then a respite was granted us; we were left free to pray and free to teach, free to live our own lives unmolested under your Rule. A period of long peace and full liberty has been vouchsafed to us, and now it behoves us to cleanse ourselves from the contamination of the Heathen, to return to the pure doctrine of Islám and the wisdom of our great Doctors, and live in confident hope of the coming day, when our Faith shall again shine forth as the light of this Land which our Fathers won.”

The old man paused in his animated speech, looking dreamily over the wide plain visible through the scattered trees of the compound, and then continued:—

“Let me tell you how I first became conscious of a sacred mission confided to my charge. It was while I was a student at Dehli, and sat at the feet of the great Dakhani doctor, Maulvi Khwurshid Ali. One day we were gathered around our master, when a youth, one of our number, hurried in with dismay on his countenance, for he was bearer of the news that the citadel of Multán had fallen, captured by the Sikh soldiery of Ranjít Singh—the sacred precincts, where for a thousand years Islám had reigned supreme, had been defiled. A great sadness fell upon us, for the last link which bound us with the great past of our race had now been snapped. But when night fell, and we were again assembled, the master brought forth the ‘Scroll of Victory’ of Muhammad Ali Kúfi, wherein is writ the history of Muhammad Kásim, how with his Arab followers he captured Multán, overthrew the temple of the Idolaters, raised the mosque of Assembly over the ruins, and established Islám—this in the ninety-second year of the Flight. ‘Now,’ cried the master, ‘the light of the Prophet has been quenched in our days, exactly eleven hundred and forty-one years after it was first kindled in the citadel of Multán. And our people live all unconscious of the gathering darkness, for they have strength left only to live and rear their feeble offspring, and barely for this. What days and men were those, what days are ours!’

“Then as we sat around him in silence and sorrow, the conviction grew firm in my mind, that the task of my life must be to cherish and keep pure the doctrines of our people, to preserve these from corruption amidst the ruin of our temporal sway.”

“A noble purpose,” said Blyth, looking with respect on the old scholar’s countenance, now lighted up with enthusiasm. “And you have earnest disciples?”

“Few, very few,” replied the Maulvi, sadly. “But one above all, the Háfiz, son of my worthy protector, Shekh Rafat Ali.—But there are not wanting some, too, of mature years, who, like the Arab warrior whose verses we repeated,—have seen at last the vanity of the things for which they have battled, and who turn with me to the doctors and poets of our glorious past, and these few

“Pine for the homeland,
Yearn to be back once again in the tent pitched under the date-palm.”

As he ceased speaking, a servant announced that Shekh Rafat Ali, Tahsildár of Ronáhi, desired to pay his respects. Blyth restrained an expression of impatience at the unwelcome interruption, and the Maulvi arose to make way for the official.

“Pray don’t hurry away,” said Blyth, and he ordered a chair to be placed for his visitor, who entered, bowing deeply to Blyth, and saluting the Maulvi with a respectful salaam.

“But I see I interrupt your reading with my friend the Maulvi,” he said.

“Our abstruse text can wait,” replied Blyth. “And indeed we were engaged in an interesting discussion. I had charged the Maulvi Sáhib with neglect of the world we live in for the sake of Arabic and Persian lore; of being one of those who choose not to live but to know. But I have now learnt that I was unjust, and that his devotion to these studies arises from a practical perception of the needs of your people.”

Rafat Ali glanced inquiringly at the old scholar, who had bent over his book, and now looked up with the deprecating smile.

“It may be,” remarked Rafat Ali, “that like many of us, our venerable friend devotes his days to the pursuit he loves, and now finds plausible grounds for his taste.”

“As we do for our religious faith,” returned Blyth, with a smile. “It affords consolation to our hearts, and, somewhat idly perhaps, we seek a rational basis.”

The old scholar looked grave, for he detected a tone of levity in this reference to a sacred subject. But Rafat Ali, quick to adapt his conversation to the humour of those in authority, replied:—

“On that point there is no doubt much to be said, but, in my opinion, the essence of the matter is clear, aye, and with due respect to our respected Maulvi Sáhib, beyond controversy. We receive our Faith from our fathers, who have bequeathed it to us as their most precious treasure. For the Faith they fought and died the martyr’s death. That Faith we drew in at our mother’s breast, and from birth to death, its rules and observances are intertwined with our lives. We know and feel its truth; and if we encounter objections which we cannot answer, we ascribe this to our lack of wit, not to error in our father’s creed.”

The Maulvi nodded his approval, but Blyth remarked:—“The only objection I could offer is that your apologetics apply to the Creed of the Christian and the Muslim equally, and afford no measure to test their relative truth.”

But the words aroused the old scholar again to rapid speech.

“Sir, permit me to speak on this, and at least recall what doubtless you already know.—We, who are Children of the Book, Jew, Christian and Muslim,—acknowledge one and the same God.—Each in his own tongue recites the words of the Prophet (blessed be his name). ‘There is no majesty and no might save in Allah, the glorious, the great! Verily we are from Allah and to him we return.’ By his will Ísa the son of Miriam revealed in Jewry matters on which his predecessors the Hebrew Prophets had been silent; and when the six hundred years of the dispensation of Ísa were complete, it was His will that the succession of the Prophets should be closed by the delivery of a Kurán to Muhammad the holy. Thus was the true Word revealed through Adam and Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus,—those Prophets endowed with constant spirits;—and any discrepancy between their doctrine and that of Muhammad (whose name is blessed) springs only from our own ignorance and feeble wit. And verily the time will come when the errors will vanish, and the great revelation from Adam down to the last of the Prophets of God, shall be made manifest before all mankind, as one concordant whole.”

The old scholar spoke as one who gives utterance to profound truths held and realised as living convictions, and Blyth was moved to that reverence for a cherished faith which checks the impulse to the controversy of reason: to cavil would have been profane.

Then Rafat Ali took up the word:—“Surely our Maulvi speaks well and wisely: from one great stem of Holy Truth spring many branches: there is truth for the people of Islám and for those of the Christian faith. Let each cherish the creed of his fathers, and respect those who worship Allah in other ways.”

Blyth had started the subject with a certain levity, in the spirit of one under the influence of the passing rationalistic conceits of the Benthamites. He was now conscious of a reproach under the grave words of his visitors, and felt abashed.

“Your words inculcate a generous toleration,” he said, after a brief pause. “It should enable the various sects to dwell side by side, not in rivalry, but in harmonious co-operation.” Then to relieve the strain he changed the subject, turning to Rafat Ali:—“Your son Shaukat Ali was with me this morning. Have you seen him since you came in?”

“I met him when I alighted a short time ago,” replied Rafat Ali. “And now that your honour has mentioned my son, may I say a word on his behalf?—As you know, the youth has recently entered the service of the State. He needs now a patron interested in his advancement, and, sir, I cherish a hope he may find such a patron in your honour. As for myself, my long and faithful services, especially during the arduous days of the Great Rebellion, are well known to our Rulers. But the day cannot be far when I must sink into the dark shadow of retirement; and then, too, our old and trusted Rulers will depart, and new officers succeed, who know not the old servants of the State, and the just claims of our families. Hence I would look to your honour to protect my son. For I know that step by step you will rise to high dignity among our Rulers, and it will be within your power to extend the hand of timely help to the boy.”

The old official looked with anxious eyes upon the young magistrate, but the answer he received disappointed him.

“Surely,” replied Blyth, “your son will now need nothing but his merits to secure further promotion.”

“Ah, sir,” answered Rafat Ali, “there are indeed some though very few, of such eminent ability that no obstacle can hinder their progress to high rank. And there are others, too, so feeble or untrustworthy, that in spite of the best of patrons they needs must sink into obscurity.”

“Yes, that is true,” admitted Blyth, and Rafat Ali, changing his point, rapidly continued:—-

“Mr Ellis himself showed the greatest consideration for me and mine, and would have provided for my eldest son, Háfiz Amir Ali, but he chose the corner of retirement, and to dwell in converse with learned and pious men such as our friend here, the Maulvi. So I claimed of Mr Ellis a double share of patronage for my son, Shaukat Ali.”

“Were you not asking a good deal?” said Blyth, with a smile.

“That would depend on the services already rendered to the State by our family. May I ask, did you ever hear of Mr Ellis’ father? He was a great pillar of the state, and died at his post during the Great Rebellion. He was blessed with a family of seven sons, and under the benevolent rule of the Great Company six of them have received high appointments, and the seventh, still a young man at College, will no doubt be equally fortunate. Now, Mr Ellis would mete out to the sons of faithful servants of the state the generous patronage which he and his brethren received from the Great Company. He knows well that there is no reward so highly valued by us as the advancement of our sons;—and none of our Rulers secures such zealous service as Mr Ellis.

“And surely your honour cannot but be aware, that none of us can exercise strict and honest power without exciting enmity among our countrymen, who are ever watchful for opportunities to wreak their spite on our sons,—the easiest way of inflicting anguish on a father’s heart.

“But all this will become more clear to your honour hereafter, and you will understand that the best and most just reward for the good services of the father lies in the advancement of the son.”

The old official ceased, and again with anxious countenance looked at Blyth for a favourable expression. But the young man was cautious of incurring indefinite responsibility, and hesitated to become official godfather of a youth of whom he knew little. He replied:—

“You speak from a wide experience of what is needed for the advancement of a young man in public service. And as to your son, I feel sure of this, that one whose father has so well deserved of the state, will not fail for want of patrons who for his father’s sake will watch over his career.”

Rafat Ali had hoped that his plea, urged with earnestness and sincerity, would have met with a more generous response, but neither face nor voice revealed his disappointment, as he replied:—

“I feel confident then that I may leave my boy in your honour’s charge. Were he a fool or a scamp, I should expect nothing; but I know well that he lacks neither honesty nor industry, and that his capacity is above the average. His faults are those of a youth with high spirits, and for these the best remedy is ever found in the kindly admonition of a wise patron. Nay, but I assert boldly, he is a good lad, and our Maulvi here will confirm my words, for he has taught him from boyhood.”

Blyth looked toward the old scholar, who interpreted his glance as permission to speak.

“The Shekh Sáhib speaks less than truth, sir, checked by modesty. My pupil is indeed a youth of happy disposition; his heart is simple and his intentions honest; he is one fitted by nature for friendship and love, and surely never was son more dear to his father and mother—the bright lad of the cheerful heart. When he erred, it was from heedlessness, never from vice.”

Then turning to Rafat Ali: “Did you ever relate to his honour the lad’s adventure in the well?”

Rafat Ali’s eyes glistened, and his features softened, as his venerable friend sang the praises of his favourite son.

“What was that?” asked Blyth, and the old scholar related with much animation:—

“It was one of those emergencies which in a single moment test the character. When it happened he was a boy of barely fourteen years. One evening he went with his comrades to capture pigeons in a dry well, where, as you no doubt are aware, they nest in the crevices at the sides. The boys bound a stick to the end of a rope, and Shaukat, boldest of the little band, was lowered by his comrades into the well. With one hand he grasped the cord, with the other he searched the crevices, drew the pigeons from their nests, and secured them in a sack slung from his shoulder. When he had filled the sack with the struggling birds, he called to his comrades to draw in the cord, and he had nearly reached the well’s mouth, when he noticed a crevice which he had overlooked, and bade his comrades hold fast. He thrust in his hand, and like a flash, there darted forth from the dark recess a black snake, and coiling round his arm raised his hooded head with hissing jaws. His comrades stricken with terror let slip the rope, but they drew it in again with a violent jerk, and the cobra shaken off fell to the bottom of the well. But our boy, in the terrible emergency, never relaxed his grip of the cord, and held out his right arm straight and rigid, conscious that a single movement would excite the startled snake to strike with deadly fangs.

“Now, sir, think how firm was the heart and cool the head of that boy: if, like his comrades above, he had for a single instant loosened his grip of the rope, he must have fallen with the cobra into the narrow pit, head-long, to certain death. And when we heard the tale, we wept and said, surely the boy Shaukat is born to great things.”

The father’s eyes were filled with tears, and there was a tremor in his voice as he exclaimed:—“Alhamdo lillah! Praise to God for his safety. We were proud of our boy, but the lad laughed, saying, surely that snake guarded a hidden treasure, which some day he would bring to light.”

“Indeed, it was a fair augury of future excellence,” said Blyth, warmly. “May the son prove worthy of his sire, and fulfil the promise of the boy!”

After a few formal words, Rafat Ali, satisfied with the impression he had made upon the young officer, departed to seek an interview with the District Magistrate, John Martin.

Chapter II

A Bias to the Magistrate

John Martin, the acting Magistrate of Háfizganj, was reclining in a long chair under the slowly swinging pankha, when the Tahsildár of Ronáhi was announced. He had passed the long morning writing a judgment in a complicated suit, and delayed breakfast until midday when he had completed his task. He felt now that he had a well-earned right to take his ease through the Sunday afternoon, and the announcement of a visitor found him happily oblivious of the hard facts of official life under the potent spell of Balzac’s Peau de Chagrin.

He turned angrily to the orderly:—“How often am I to repeat my order, that my door is closed to all visitors on Sunday afternoon?”

The man replied timidly with clasped hands:—“The Tahsildár insisted that your honour must be informed that he had important business to lay before you connected with to-morrow’s meeting of the Road and Ferry Committee, and inquires at what hour he may attend.”

“At six o’clock in the morning,” said Martin, irritably, and turned to his book. But then he reflected that nothing but very urgent business would have brought the wary old official at this inconvenient hour. With a sigh he laid down his book and directed the man to admit the visitor.

“Well, what is it, Rafat Ali?” he said gruffly. “I felt sure you would not intrude on Sunday afternoon without pressing business.”

“It is a grave matter which must be dealt with before our meeting in the morning,” replied Rafat Ali, taking the proffered chair. “But I fear, I come at an inconvenient season:—permit me to return in the early morning? The Committee will not assemble until seven o’clock.”

But Martin, feeling his Sunday afternoon’s recreation lost beyond recovery, ordered the Tahsildár to proceed to business. It appeared that in checking certain Road accounts he had found reason to suspect a Clerk of the Works of peculation, and the question now was whether the accounts should be held back until the inquiry had been completed, or laid before the Committee for orders. He produced many documents, giving lucid explanations of their bearings, and the patient labour and perspicacity with which he had unravelled a complicated system of fraud made a strong impression on Martin. His irritation at the interruption vanished, and when the case was complete he desired to make some reparation for the brusqueness of his first reception.

“I suppose you have seen your son, Shaukat Ali, since you came in,” he said, as Rafat Ali collected his papers.

“I found him at my friend Kázi Khaliluddín’s, where I am putting up.” He proceeded to tie up his documents and prepared to leave.

“I am sorry to have had to suspend him temporarily from his office,” continued Martin.

“I did not understand from my son that he had been suspended from office,” replied Rafat Ali, gravely.

“I have not passed any written order,” said Martin. “The matter has not yet gone beyond Mr Slade and myself!”

“I acknowledge gratefully your honour’s thoughtful regard for our feelings,” replied Rafat Ali, warmly. “May I be permitted to learn with what fault my son is charged?”

“No definite charge has yet been brought against him, but we have some reason to believe that either through the negligence or dishonesty of the officer who conducted the inquiry, the real facts of a serious crime were not brought to light.”

“And the officer who made the inquiry?” asked Rafat Ali, as Martin paused.

“Was your son with the Station-Clerk, Bihári Lál. The case occurred at Banára.”

Rafat Ali pondered for a few moments with frowning brow and set mouth, and then said meditatively:—“Banára is one of Bahádur Khán’s villages, managed by his nephew Asad Khán, a light-headed fellow, but not dishonest. Some old Chauhán proprietors live there as tenants, troublesome fellows. My son told me he had made an inquiry there concerning the death of a Kahár. Now, of one thing I have not the least doubt; if my son’s report did not set forth the facts, this must have been due entirely to his inexperience: he is incapable of deliberate deception.

“But without touching on the facts, of which I have at present no sufficient information, I would venture to remind your honour, that it was with great reluctance and in deference to the express wish of Mr Ellis, that I allowed the boy to accept an office in the police. And I need hardly mention to an officer of your honour’s experience, that my enemies, necessarily many, have now an easy opening for an attack on me through my son. But may I ask what reason there is to suspect foul play in connection with the Kahár’s death?”

Martin hesitated before replying:—“For your own ears only then. We received information that Asad Khán had an intrigue with the dead man’s wife, and this led to the murder.”

Rafat Ali reflected again before speaking:—“There has been a scandal in Bahádur Khán’s house, of which, of course, I heard. His nephew, Asad Khán, has some fugitive Hindu woman living under his protection, which, as your honour knows, is not in itself remarkable. But he converted her to Islám, and has determined to marry her. Now, as the young man was bethrothed into Bahádur Khán’s family—the Khán Sáhib is furious over his nephew’s folly. I think it is not impossible that the woman may be the very Kahárin from Banára.”

“Had I known this before I should have sent at once to Ronáhi,” exclaimed Martin.

“I could have ascertained everything connected with the woman within an hour,” remarked Rafat Ali, in a dry tone. “One point more, sir—about Bihári Lál, the Clerk who accompanied my son on the inquiry. The man was formerly clerk to our Magistrate’s Bench at Ronáhi, but I got him removed because his influence over Sher Muhammad and the rest of the Bench was mischievous. He is as ready with his tongue and pen as only a Kayasth can be, and—quite untrustworthy; a crafty fellow, who would easily mislead a simple-hearted and inexperienced youth like my son.”

“I had the man here this morning,” said Martin. “A sharp capable fellow, and resolute too. But I knew nothing of his previous history.”

“Your honour will excuse my intruding on your Sunday leisure,” said Rafat Ali, preparing to leave. “I can only add, that if my son were unfaithful to his salt, I could never forgive him; but if he were unjustly treated, I think I could never more serve the State.”

The old official’s voice trembled with emotion, and Martin, rising from his chair, laid his hand sympathetically on his shoulder:—“You know your son well, and are convinced of his honesty. No doubt then his conduct will be speedily cleared of any suspicion.”

While he was speaking, the clatter of horses’ hoofs on the drive, announced the return of Slade, who, with his usual impetuosity, came striding through the veranda, boots and breeches bespattered with mud.

“What news then, Slade?” asked Martin, eagerly.

“Successful, completely,” replied the young man, and then recognising Martin’s visitor he stopped short.

“Anything against our old friend’s son?” asked Martin, hoping to be able to reassure Rafat Ali at once.

“Doubtful—matter very complicated,” was the reply.

Rafat Ali, who had been standing respectfully to take leave, now bowed and departed; but although he understood no spoken English, he had gathered enough from the demeanour of the two officers to infer that the inquiry made by the Superintendent of Police had not cleared his son of blame. He was conscious, however, that he had successfully maintained his predominant position over the acting Magistrate, and had carefully prepared his mind to receive favourably such defence of his son’s conduct as might be needed hereafter.

Ere night-fall he learnt that Asad Khán, arrested on a charge of murder or culpable homicide, would be brought before the Magistrate’s Court in the morning. Khán Bahádur Khán had already arrived in Háfizganj, and Rafat Ali accordingly went at once to the Khán Sáhib’s lodgings to ascertain from him the real facts of the case.

Chapter III

The Art of Dilatory Pleas

On the following morning John Martin, after presiding at the Road Fund Committee, proceeded to deal with the miscellaneous business of district administration. A couple of Clerks, seated on the dais right and left of the Magistrate’s desk, read out papers alternately, each endorsing the orders he received, while his colleague brought forward the next case. Before however he had disposed of the multitude of references of the day, Inspector Mádho Prasád entered, and took his seat on the dais carpet to await the Magistrate’s leisure.

“What brings you, Mádho Prasád?” inquired Martin, in a pause between the rapid reading of the Clerks.

The Inspector stood up to salute and replied:—“The Superintendent of Police has ordered me to bring up a case from the Tigri police-circle for orders.”

“From Banára?”

The Inspector replied in the affirmative, and explained that he had been instructed to request that Martin would call the case for hearing in his own Court.

Martin rumpled his hair meditatively. He was extremely averse to trying original criminal charges; but this case was too important to be entrusted to a native Deputy-Magistrate, and young Blyth, his assistant, was not yet empowered to try grave offences; so, after grumbling mentally at the wretched organisation which deprived him of a Senior Assistant Magistrate, he dismissed his Clerks, and turned to the Inspector.

“The accused are in custody charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder,” explained the Inspector. “With your honour’s permission, a subsidiary charge may be drawn up against them of fabricating evidence and giving false information to the police. I am also directed to state that Mr Slade will send a special report regarding the conduct of the Sub-Inspector, who made the original inquiry.”

“Who are the accused?” inquired the Magistrate.

“One Asad Khán, nephew of Khán Bahádur Khán of Ronáhi, and with him, as aiding and abetting, is the village bailiff, Fateh Khán.” The Inspector paused, and added in a low voice for the Magistrate’s ear alone:—“It is most important to record the evidence of the witnesses before the friends of the prisoners have an opportunity of tampering with them. Khán Bahádur Khán is here, and as your honour is aware, much concerned about his nephew.”

Martin nodded, and ordered the Inspector to deliver the detailed report of the police investigation to the Clerk of the Court, to be read out to him before the case was called up for hearing, a dilatory procedure against which the Inspector would have protested strenuously had he dared, for there were many witnesses to be examined, and the morning hours were already advanced. It was, however, Martin’s usual method in serious cases, and the Inspector sat patiently while Martin listened to the long report and made copious notes. When at length this tedious preliminary was finished, and the accused brought into Court, the Inspector desired to call as first witnesses the old watchman and his son, but Martin again caused delay in getting at the heart of the charge, by insisting that the deposition of Kishna Kahár should be taken first, as his statement afforded the first link in the chain of evidence. The solemn affirmation had been administered and the witness’s name, residence and so forth recorded, when amidst a rustle of interest the distinguished Pleader, Kázi Bashíruddin, came into the Court, and stated that he had been instructed to defend both the prisoners; as, however, he had but just arrived from the head-quarters of the Division, he had not yet had time to confer with his clients.

Here followed a comedy of not infrequent occurrence. The Pleader’s object was to obtain an adjournment before the witnesses were examined, in order that the friends of the defendants might have an opportunity of tampering with them. The police, and the Magistrate himself, were under no delusion as to his real purpose; and of this the Pleader was well aware; and yet etiquette required each party to pretend that the application for adjournment was made solely in the interests of justice.

The Kázi urged at as great length as possible that his clients had been arrested and hurried into Court without being able to take any legal advice; that not only had he had no opportunity of consulting with them, but he was unacquainted with the facts, and that therefore it would be only fair to the defendants to adjourn the hearing until next day. The Inspector objected strenuously that all the witnesses were in attendance, it would be unfair to detain them; that the learned counsel could well gather the facts as the case proceeded, etc., etc., and the Magistrate thereupon ruled that no sufficient ground for adjournment was shown. The Pleader then urged that the hearing should be adjourned for an hour at least, to enable him to consult with his clients. To this the Magistrate reluctantly gave his assent, and the Pleader, provided with a list of the witnesses, retired with the two prisoners into a quiet corner of the veranda of the Court House.

The Inspector looked at his watch: it was past ten o’clock; the case would not be called on again until past eleven, and the Magistrate would rise from his Court at mid-day. He realised that the defence had won the first bout in the match, and, with suppressed indignation, he hurried over to the Police office to report to Slade, who, after giving vent to some acid remarks as to Martin’s cumbrous procedure, wrote a polite little note expressing a hope that Martin would complete the depositions before rising from Court; the witnesses had given their evidence with the greatest reluctance, and unless their statements were taken down at once could not be trusted to repeat them. But Martin objected to receive irregular communications regarding cases before him in his judicial capacity, and after glancing at the note, tore it up, and proceeded without reference to it.

Thus it happened that the eleventh hour had long struck before Kishna Kahár, the first witness, was again brought before the Court, and it was mid-day before the painstaking Magistrate had recorded the one deposition, and that too of a witness of merely subsidiary matters. The Pleader then intimated that he had many questions to ask the witness; but Martin had been at work since six o’clock; he had taken no refreshment beyond a cup of tea and toast in the early morning, and was now faint and irritable. He ordered the case to be adjourned until the morning. The Inspector urged timidly that the case might be resumed in the afternoon, but Martin refused such an irregularity, and fixed eight o’clock in the morrow for the hearing.

The distinguished Pleader bowed pleasantly to the Magistrate, looked at the baffled Inspector with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and the court closed.

Chapter IV

Manipulating the Chief of the Police

On leaving the Magistrate’s Court, Inspector Mádho Prasád ordered the witnesses to accompany him to the house of the Superintendent of Police; that officer wished, he said, to put some further questions to them. They were thus prevented from holding any communication with the defendants’ powerful friends, who were lying in wait.

Slade was still lingering over the breakfast-table, when his Inspector arrived to make his report. His first impulse was to concern himself no further about the case: if the prosecution failed owing to the dilatory procedure of a feeble Magistrate, he was in no way responsible. Personally, moreover, as a matter of private sentiment, he would not have regretted Asad Khán’s escape from the law. But, after giving vent to his irritation in somewhat strong language, he reflected that the discharge of the prisoners would not only deprive him of credit as a young officer rising to distinction, but would also in the esteem of the whole district, stamp him with the stigma of defeat. Moreover, the conviction of the offenders was a necessary preliminary to the punishment of his two subordinates, Shaukat Ali and his Clerk. Failure would thus not only affect his own reputation, but weaken his hold over the police of the District.

“If during the night these reluctant witnesses are exposed to the threats and bribes of the defendants’ friends, the prosecution must break down,” said the Inspector, with decision. Slade puffed his cheroot in thoughtful silence.

“Not only Khán Bahádur Khán, but Shekh Rafat Ali also is interested in destroying our evidence,” added the Inspector, in a low voice.

“A dangerous combination,” said Slade. Then after a pause, he said sharply, “We must isolate the witnesses; we have no authority to lock them up, have we?”

“None, they have executed recognisances to appear in Court, and meantime are free to go where they please.”

“Part of the monstrous procedure by which we are hampered in bringing criminals to justice,” exclaimed Slade, irritably. “But we must get round these pedantries. First, as to the old watchman and his son, they are our men, and we have a latent charge against them of fabricating evidence. Lock them up in the Police Lines. Then, the two Chauháns,—you can invite them to your own quarters in the Lines; feast them liberally, and if they want to leave the Lines tell them that I have forbidden it. Should they persist, bring the fellows to me. Finally, as to the Kahárs, quarter them under guard in the Zanána enclosure here—it is unoccupied. The sentry will see no one approaches them.”

Slade strode up and down the room smoking his cheroot, excited with the new phase of the contest, and determined to baffle the old fox, Rafat Ali.

But hardly had the Inspector left to carry out the orders, than Bahádur Khán was announced and at once admitted to an interview. He entered with an air of depression, very different from his easy self-confidence. He bowed to Slade in a grave ceremonious manner, and after a few words of greeting plunged at once into his subject.

“Your honour will have heard of my misfortune,” he said.

“No,” replied Slade, in surprise. “Not a general attachment under the order of Court.”

Bahádur Khán smiled sadly:—“That would not have affected my honour. Perhaps you did not know that the ill-starred Asad Khán is my nephew—almost a son to me.”

“I was sorry he got into the scrape,” replied Slade. “He had only himself to blame.”

“No doubt, but that is no consolation. He was to have married my daughter. In fact he is a fine young fellow—a Pathán within and without.”

“I was, I admit, favourably impressed by him,” said Slade.

“This unlucky affair is a serious blow to me,” continued Bahádur Khán.

“I can quite understand that.”

“And,” continued Bahádur Khán, “I come to you for advice, presuming on the great kindness I have received at your hands.”

“How can I aid you in the matter?” asked Slade.

“In this way: The case has now passed out of your hands into the Magistrate’s Court; Mr Martin will deal with it as he thinks fit without reference to your honour or any one else: such is his habit. Now, no one is so well acquainted with the facts as yourself, none can so well advise what is best to be done on behalf of the unlucky youth.”

Slade laughed good-humouredly as he replied:—“But you know as well as I do, Khán Sáhib, my business is to see that the true facts of the case are proved in Court, and not to aid you in rebutting them.”

“Quite true,” replied the Pathán. “But first I would ask your own opinion on the main point that touches my house: has my nephew done anything to stain his honour?”

“But,” replied Slade, smiling again, “the question for me is simply whether or not your nephew has committed an offence under the Penal Code.”

“Quite true,” returned the Pathán. “But for me that is not the first question. You know well that we Patháns of the Bangash tribe are proud folk. The point is, if his act was not punishable under your Penal Code, would you consider him dishonoured by what he has done?”

Slade smoked a while in silence before he replied:—“Well, Khán Sáhib, as you press me, and for old acquaintance’ sake—to speak the naked truth, I should not think any the worse of him. I saw the Kahár woman—perhaps you have seen her?” (Bahádur Khán shook his head negatively.) “One of the handsomest between Patna and Dehli. Small blame to him for bearing her off, and less to her, that she preferred the gallant young Pathán to her wretched mate. Then as to the Kahár’s death—Asad Khán had no choice but to repel the man’s attack as best he could.”

“Then,” said Bahádur Khán, “you really think none the worse of my nephew for this affair.”

“Well, no, barring our Penal Code,” admitted Slade.

“Then,” said Bahádur Khán, in an earnest tone, “except in a legal sense, your honour must regard him as blameless. Look then at the treatment he receives: arrested like a common felon; locked up now with the blackguards of the bazaar; threatened with the abominable degradation of the common jail; his beard and hair to be clipped, to be fed at a trough, and set to disgusting tasks, carpet-making, weaving, God knows what trivialities! And all this cruel ignominy for a young man’s escapade! And then, consider this too, sir, not only he, but I and all my family suffer a taint of dishonour through his degradation.”

The turn given to the case was unexpected by Slade, and he made no reply, smoking vigorously. But Bahádur Khán saw the effect he had produced and continued with rising warmth.

“To subject a youth of an old and honourable family to this ignominy; to blacken our faces before the whole brotherhood; to treat us thus, who, for seventy years, since your rule came, and throughout the Great Rebellion, have been unswerving in loyalty;—this is tyranny!—You will forgive my frank words, I speak what I feel——”

“Khán Sáhib;” said Slade, gravely; “I have merely to execute the laws,—and before the law there is no privileged class: they are the same for gentle and simple, rich and poor.”

“You will excuse my dissent,” replied the Pathán, with dignity. “But your laws are not the same for the gentle and the simple; for the penalty, which is light for the wretched weaver, falls as a crushing blow on us Patháns; as a stroke on the head is a trifle to a Sweeper, but for one of us it leaves a stain which even complete revenge cannot wipe off. But the Council which sits in Calcutta and Simla, knows not us nor our feelings and honour: it is for our own Rulers, for you, sir, who are set over us, to discriminate and protect our good fame.”

In his heart, Slade was in full sympathy with the Pathán nobleman: it was harsh, even cruel, to deal with Asad Khán as a common felon; there was something radically wrong in a system which brought about this result. Every native gentleman in the District would regard the sentence of Asad Khán to hard labour in the prison as a cruel act, and would rejoice if he escaped. And he reflected rapidly that if, acting under the strict rule of law, he allowed the witnesses their freedom through the night, they would speak no word in Court tending to the conviction of the prisoners. Why should he exceed his legal powers by detaining the witnesses under surveillance, and thereby render himself liable to a criminal prosecution? Only because his own reputation was bound up with success! A poor, selfish reason.

He leant back in his chair and smoked his cheeroot meditatively, while Bahádur Khán watched his countenance with keen eyes.

Then involuntarily his thoughts turned to the means by which the friends of Asad Khán might be allowed access to the witnesses. It was clearly impossible for him to modify the strict and definite orders he had given for their complete isolation; after his interview with Bahádur Khán this would be open to an evil interpretation. For a moment he felt relieved that only one course was open to him to pursue, that which he had adopted so vigorously. He was about to speak,—when a thought flashed on his mind,—a thought of impish mischief:—his eyes wrinkled, and his decision was taken. He spoke with deliberation with eyes fixed on the expectant face of his visitor:—

“As I told you, Khán Sáhib, I much regret the trouble in which your family is involved, and if the Court acquits your nephew, I shall congratulate you heartily. If, however, the evidence before the Court is as complete as it was before me—you can only plead Asad Kháns youth, inexperience, and previous good character, and that he acted under stress of the attack, and afterwards in a panic. I think the Court will let him off lightly.

“But of course there is a fair chance that he may be acquitted entirely:—the witnesses were most reluctant to give any evidence; not one of them desires to see Asad Khán sent to hard labour in jail. It is impossible then to foresee what legal evidence may come before the Court to-morrow. Your wisest course then will be to advise Asad Khán to reserve his defence entirely until the witnesses have been examined. Your Pleader will then shape the defence with reference to the definite statements the witnesses make on oath before the Court.”

Bahádur Khán raised his hand to his forehead and bowed:—“I felt sure,” he said gravely, as he took his leave, “I could reckon on your advising me in this unfortunate affair. You will forgive my having come to you, for whom else should I have addressed?”

Slade left to himself took a few turns up and down the room, smoking meditatively; and then walked across to the Magistrate’s house.

Martin and Blyth, who had lighted their cheroots after a late breakfast, greeted him warmly, and after some desultory conversation on the news from the outside world, the conversation as usual drifted into official affairs. Slade inquired whether Martin had yet had time to read his note animadverting on Shaukat Ali’s conduct.

“I glanced through it,” replied Martin, “and I am inclined to think you have made out at least a prima facie case against him. It is a capital report.”

“He ought to be prosecuted with his clerk for the negligence in duty,” said Slade.

“I doubt whether the case will be strong enough for that,” replied Martin.

“Come, Martin,” said Slade, somewhat brusquely. “I don’t think you would hesitate to send him for trial if he were not Rafat Ali’s son?”

But Martin replied blandly, “I certainly would not institute a prosecution, unless I am quite sure the evidence was complete.”

“In any case I hope you will send on my report to the Inspector General of Police.”

“Oh, of course,” replied Martin. “But we must prove the facts which he is charged with having garbled, before we deal with him for garbling them.”

“I suppose so,” returned Slade. “However, I do know the facts probably better than you ever will now. So I am in a position to judge, and am convinced of his misconduct. You know, of course, that the witnesses gave their evidence with the greatest reluctance. Nevertheless, if you had taken down their depositions this morning, you would have got the whole truth out of them. I can’t say what they will state in Court to-morrow after reflecting at leisure on the folly of incurring, and gratuitously too, the displeasure of the Patháns,—not to speak of old Rafat Ali’s. Of course, I am keeping all of them locked up for the night to prevent their being tampered with, but I can’t guard against their solitary meditations bearing ill-fruit. At least Bahádur Khán’s people shall not have an opportunity of bribing and threatening them. They are safe under lock and key, though they don’t like it.”

“But, my dear Slade,” said Martin, in a tone of serious remonstrance. “You have no authority whatever to keep those witnesses in confinement. If the High Court gets wind of your proceedings, there will be trouble,—and we may trust that sharp fellow Bashíruddin to make a point of it.”

“Nonsense,” replied Slade. “If I don’t isolate them, I shall have no evidence to bring into Court to-morrow. They will deny all they said before me.”

“Well, you are doing a very risky thing,” said Martin, seriously. “And in any case, if you do commit such an irregularity, you should not tell me about it.”

“That’s like you fellows,” returned Slade. “You are all glad enough to take advantage of our ‘excessive zeal,’ provided we leave you an opportunity of declaring with virtuous indignation, you never sanctioned such gross irregularities.”

Martin, irritated at the tone of the young police-officer, replied with asperity:—“In the present case then you will understand, I do not sanction the illegal restraint of the witnesses.”

“Then,” returned Slade, abruptly; “your orders are that the witnesses must not be kept under restraint?”

“As Magistrate, I certainly cannot approve of any illegal procedure.”

“Well, you are responsible, not I,” replied Slade, in an indifferent tone. “May I then call in Mádho Prasád? I saw him waiting outside when I came in.”

Martin nodded with an impatient gesture, and at Slade’s call, the Inspector came into the room.

“Mádho Prasád,” said Slade, addressing the Inspector in an imperative tone. “As to the witnesses in the case against Asad Khán; the Magistrate’s orders are, that they are not to be kept under restraint; he will not sanction any irregular procedure. You will at once release them all from surveillance, and order them to appear in Court to-morrow at seven o’clock, as they are bound to do under their own recognisances.”

The Inspector looked with an expression of surprise from Slade to Martin.

“You hear the orders,” continued Slade, in a peremptory voice. “I pass them on from the Magistrate. Please to execute them at once, and report to me that they have been carried out.”

The Inspector looked to Martin, who continued to puff his cheroot in silence. He then saluted and left the room.

“I hope you are satisfied now,” said Slade, turning to Martin with an odd expression, in which a spirit of mischief strove for predominance with irritation. “I think you will hardly get evidence as to the real facts which your favourite Shaukat Ali is said to have garbled. Ta! ta! I can’t stay now.”

He nodded and left the room by the veranda window with a sarcastic grin on his face. But he had not gone many steps before he returned to the window with a look of mock gravity. “I say, Blyth,” he called.

“What is it?”

“What is the Greek for the well known text: the letter kills but the spirit gives life?”

“Tτὸ γὰρ γράμμα ἀποκτείνει, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ζωοποιεῖ” replied Blyth, laughing.

“Good boy! Go up!” cried Slade. “Just expound that text to John, will you?”

With this parting shaft he left rapidly, whistling the “British Grenadiers.”

Chapter V

The Old Official Pleads for His Son

On the following morning at eight o’clock the Banára case was again called up for hearing before the Magistrate, and the Inspector’s gloomy anticipations of failure were amply fulfilled. While the outline of the statements of the witnesses remained unchanged, the details connecting Asad Khán directly with the death of the unlucky Kahár were modified with great ingenuity to indicate that the death resulted from accident or more probably suicide. With such skill was the adaptation of the evidence carried through, that it was generally thought to show the master hand of Shekh Rafat Ali himself. The facts which appeared in evidence were entirely in harmony with the defence which the experienced Pleader Kázi Bashíruddin laid before the Court with engaging frankness, when the case for the prosecution closed. It would, he thought, save time and trouble to the Court, if he briefly explained the real facts of the case, as he had now ascertained them from his clients. He could not claim that Asad Khán had been free of blame, nay, he was ready to admit that he had acted with folly. He admitted frankly on behalf of his client, that he had an intrigue with the woman Badámo, and that on the night in question she had visited him in the granary. She complained bitterly to him of the misery of her life with her wretched husband, whom she loathed, and begged Asad Khán to remove her once for all to his house in Ronáhi: she had rather die than live longer the life she had led with her husband. Asad Khán yielded to her persuasions, and promised to send her off secretly before dawn. But about midnight there was a false alarm of thieves, just as had been described by the witnesses; all the men about the granary were aroused, and Asad Khán decided to send off Badámo in his bullock chariot at once in charge of his old body servant. In the morning, before he had risen from his couch, his foreman Fateh Khán came to him hurriedly and reported that Tejchand, the husband of Badámo, was lying dead under the great pípal tree at the deotas shrine: he had evidently met his death by a fall from the tree, where he had climbed to affix a flag to propitiate the spirit that dwelt there. Asad Khán did his duty by despatching the watchman at once to fetch the police, and directed morever that the body must lie undisturbed until they arrived. Well, they came and made a regular inquiry which proved to their satisfaction that the deceased had died from the fall. Now in that inquiry neither the Kahárs nor the Chauháns revealed that Tejchand had been lurking about the precincts of the granary, and that it was probably his footsteps which had aroused the cry of thieves. There could be no doubt now, that the unfortunate deceased knew that his wife was in the house with Asad Khán. As shown by the witnesses he was a feeble, weak-minded creature, if not an idiot, at least imbecile, and strangely infatuated over his stalwart wife. It seemed then not improbable, that receiving no aid from his brethren or the Chauháns, the poor creature fell into an agony of distress and despair, and did actually climb the tree and fling himself down to perish over the shrine of the spirit, which had withheld from him the aid he sought.

Now as to the perverted statements of these facts made before the young Superintendent of Police,—it was well known that the Chauháns of Banára had a long standing feud with the Patháns, and their influence over the witnesses had been apparent. As to the Chauháns themselves, they had not unnaturally hesitated to repeat before the Magistrate the easy lies by which they had misled the young Mr Slade.

This officer, the Pleader pointed out, was young and inexperienced in conducting such an inquiry; the Chauháns played upon his feelings, and induced him to accept their statements without subjecting them to any test. He had little doubt that if that old and skilful officer, Inspector Mádho Prasád, had been permitted to conduct the inquiry without the interference of his superior, the attempt of the Chauháns to implicate Asad Khán would have failed at once, even if it had been made at all before so wary an officer as the Inspector, whose honesty and acumen were so well known.

In conclusion he urged that there was no evidence before the Court to connect his clients with the crime with which they were charged. If, however, the Magistrate thought fit to order further inquiry by a competent officer, evidence would probaby be discovered in the village to confirm the true version, which he had the honour to submit to the consideration of the Court.

The Inspector next arose to apply for a remand over a week to enable the police to investigate the circumstances which had induced the witnesses to modify the statements they had made before the Superintendent of Police. The application was granted. Both defendants were then released on their own recognisances to appear in Court on the date fixed, an order which left no doubt on the minds of all concerned that the Magistrate considered the charge against them had completely broken down.

Such indeed was Martin’s view. The prosecution had failed because he had refused to sanction the irregular procedure necessary to prevent the prisoner’s friends from tampering with the witnesses. He was conscious too that if he had consented on the first day to sit in Court an hour longer to record the depositions, the charge against the prisoners would in all probability have been proved. He thought of young Slade’s disappointment at the futile result of his skill and energy in working out a serious crime, and felt some twinges of conscience. But a sober review of the circumstances under which he had himself acted, demonstrated to his satisfaction that he could not have acted otherwise, and that the failure was a misfortune due to no fault of his.

When however, in the afternoon, he took up the papers to consider the conduct of young Shaukat Ali, he felt he was on firm ground. Although the legal proof had broken down, yet in dealing with Shaukat Ali as an investigating officer, he could assume the actual facts of the Kahár’s death to be those laid bare in Slade’s report. As to these there could be no doubt whatever. It was abundantly clear that an intelligent police-officer, upon receiving the report of the Kahár’s death, would have suspected that not improbably it resulted from violence, and would have at once instituted an inquiry such as that conducted by Slade, when the real facts would have been elicited. But Shaukat Ali had accepted without test any story Asad Khán and his men chose to tell him. The case against the young officer was put pithily by Slade: “Either Shaukat Ali did see that the death might have been the result of criminal violence, or he did not. In the latter alternative, he is too stupid for the government service; in the former his neglect was a deliberate omission, with a view to protect his friend Asad Khán.” Martin pondered long over the details, and failed to discover grounds sufficient to exonerate Shaukat Ali. Before however passing any order, he resolved to hear privately what Shekh Rafat Ali and his son had to tender in defence. Special consideration was due to the position of the old official.

Martin received father and son seated at his writing-table with the papers spread out before him. A chair was placed for the old Tahsildár, and beside him his son took his stand quite unembarrassed, with a pleasant smile on his countenance.

Martin entered on the business at once without any preliminary remarks, saying:—“I have received a report from the Superintendent of Police regarding your son’s conduct in connection with the death of a Kahár at Banára, and before passing any order I wish to hear what you have to urge on his behalf.”

“We are very grateful to your honour,” replied the Tahsildár. “My son tells me he made a full statement to you the day before yesterday.”

“The facts of the case had not then been ascertained,” replied Martin, in a brief judicial tone; and then proceeded to set forth the facts and the grounds for believing that Shaukat Ali had deliberately abstained from making a thorough investigation.

“Here are the papers and the original report sent in by your son,” he said in conclusion, handing the bundle to Shekh Rafat Ali. “The Superintendent of Police considers that your son’s conduct of the inquiry can only be explained by culpable negligence, or a deliberate intention to shield his friend Asad Khán.”

Young Shaukat Ali made a movement to speak, but his father checked him by a severe glance; and then slowly adjusting his spectacles, proceeded to go through the papers with the rapid glance of a skilled reader, and the keen perception of a powerful mind long trained in unravelling complex affairs.

“May I be permitted to draw your attention to the first stage of the case?” said Rafat Ali, with deliberation. “At nine o’clock the village watchman reported that one Tejchand had that morning met his death by a fall from a tree. My son at once started to make an inquiry in the village. On the following day he records his return after having ascertained that the death was accidental. Next there is the record of the inquest on the body, held by him with three assessors, namely, Fateh Khán and two Kahárs, Dhaunkul and Kishna, who find the death to have resulted from the fall. The finding is duly signed and witnessed. Now I note that these papers were laid before the Superintendent of Police, read by him, and forwarded for information to the Deputy-Magistrate in charge of the Circle, by whom they were simply deposited as requiring no further orders. Now the point I would stress is this: that neither the Superintendent nor the Deputy-Magistrate considered the circumstances reported to be prima facie open to suspicion; they both accepted without demur the opinion of the local police and the assessors, although these expressions of opinion were supported by no details whatever.”

“Yes, that is so,” admitted Martin, as the old official, pausing, looked up with steady glance and grave countenance.

“But,” continued Rafat Ali, “I understand that Mr Slade, and you, sir, also, consider that the original report itself naturally suggested a suspicion that the deceased might have died from the violence of the landlord’s men. I would therefore as against this lay stress on the fact that no suspicion of this nature was excited in the minds of either Mr Slade or the Magistrate, to whom the papers were sent for orders.”

“True, replied Martin. “Both officers, however, relied on the report of the local police-officer who had gone to the village. But I am not sure that I follow you.”

“My point is this,” replied the Tahsildár, encouraged: clearly the case against his son had not been finally closed. “I will put the point in alternatives:—either the first report was open to suspicion, or it was not. If it was not, then the first part of the case against my son falls altogether to the ground. If, on the other hand, the initial report was open to suspicion, then the Superintendent received from my son no document which could reasonably remove such suspicion from his mind. He should have himself perceived that the case was open to doubt, as he alleges my son should have done, and at once have ordered a thorough investigation and detailed report to be made. The same remark applies equally to the Deputy-Magistrate, before whom the papers of the inquest came. But since neither of these highly placed and experienced officers regarded the matter as prima facie doubtful, I do not see how my son can be accused of culpable neglect in taking the same view as they did.”

“But,” returned Martin, “the cases are really not parallel. Your son made an inquiry in the village, and then reported that the death was accidental. The Superintendent accepted this report as final.”

“You will pardon me, sir,” replied the Tahsildár. “Let me state briefly the point upon which I first lay stress, and I think you will admit it. I maintain then that there was nothing in the original report of the death of Tejchand which necessarily suggested to an intelligent officer the occurrence of a crime—and I prove this by showing that the report, and the merely formal papers which followed it, excited no such suspicion in the minds of the Superintendent and the Deputy-Magistrate. I think, therefore, that when the Superintendent charges my son with negligence or stupidity in not suspecting at once there was something grave behind the report, convicts himself and the Deputy-Magistrate equally.”

“They, however, not unnaturally accepted your son’s finding that the death was accidental,” urged Martin again.

“No doubt,” replied the Tahsildár, promptly. “And my son’s action was similar to theirs in that respect. In the village he found his old school-fellow, Asad Khán, whom he had long known as a man of honour. Asad Khán, being in a position to know the facts, assured my son that the Kahár was killed by the fall. My son accepted his statement just as Mr Slade and the Deputy- Magistrate accepted my son’s.”

Rafat Ali looked at Martin with a humorous twinkle in his eye, and paused.

“But you forget the possible motives,” said Martin. “If the death was caused by violence of the landlord’s people, then of course Asad Khán would conceal the facts.”

“But, as I have already shown, there was no antecedent reason to suspect this,” replied the Tahsildár, gently. “Moreover, there were circumstances connected with the report which tended to check any suspicion. The death occurred that very morning; it was reported to the police without delay, and within an hour of receiving the information my son was on the spot. Not a soul came forward to throw any doubt on the version brought by the watchman.”

He paused again with an anxious eye fixed upon Martin’s attentive countenance.

“So far then as to the circumstances before the actual inquiry commenced,” replied Martin. “But now as to the inquiry itself. Fateh Khán was the only witness to the fall, and in this man’s statement there were certain points which should assuredly have suggested the necessity of a searching inquiry.”

Rafat Ali glanced at the bundle of papers for a minute, and then said quietly:—“Yes, as you have remarked following the Superintendent,—it was improbable that the deceased should have climbed a lofty tree before sunrise merely to fix up a flag to the Demon of the Shrine; and improbable that he should have climbed at all dressed merely in loose drawers without his tight-bound waist-cloth.”

“Yes,” replied Martin. “The deceased was not wearing his loin-cloth.”

“So I gather from the evidence,” said the Tahsildár, turning over the papers. “Now here again I would remind you, sir, that in the brief report of the inquest sent in by my son, he states nothing as to the deceased’s motive for climbing the tree, and yet his report was accepted by the Superintendent and passed on without comment. But apart from this point, which I leave for your honour to deal with,—I learn from my son that there was no distinct assertion that the man climbed the tree to fix up a flag,—it was merely suggested as a possible explanation on which no one present threw a doubt. There were many strips of rags bound to the tree, and one at least on a stick lying by the deceased. Now whether or not a Kahár might have acted as suggested, I cannot myself undertake to say:—we Muslim give little heed to these superstitions of the Hindus. They perform many grotesque rites; paint stones, bind trees with twine, stick up rags from their garments here, there, anywhere; at stated hours of the night smash water-pots on cross-roads. Why, then, I ask, should my son have rejected as improbable the statement that an ignorant villager believed that he performed a spell of magic potency by going at a certain hour in the morning to a haunted tree and binding a rag to a certain branch while he muttered God knows what gibberish. Sir, the folly of these people in their superstitions is beyond the scope of reason to measure. Permit me to ask your honour,—can you yourself affirm that the wretch might not have acted as suggested?”

“I should have at least inquired as to the existence of such a practice,” replied Martin.

“True,” replied the Talsilddr, “but only if any antecedent suspicion existed in your mind. If not I think even you, sir, might have done as my son did, inferred from the suggested explanation, that the alleged act was not unusual.”

“Well, yes,” said Martin. “I admit there is weight in the considerations you urge as to this point. But now as to the other point, the deceased’s clothing or absence of clothing.”

“Here again, I must plead our ignorance of the customs of these poor folk,” replied the Tahsildár, now speaking with decision, conscious of the progress he had made. “Consider the point yourself; would the mere fact that the deceased wore loose drawers and no tight dhoti have excited any suspicion in your mind?”

“I think not,” admitted Martin.

“And consider this too: on such a sultry night the deceased would have worn nothing but loose drawers. Perhaps he went outside the village before dawn for a necessary purpose, and then the idea occurred suddenly to him, to tie a rag high up on the tree—perhaps even a rag on a stick he picked up suggested the action.”

He paused, careful not to urge more than was needed to stimulate the Magistrate’s attention to weak points: he knew well that a doubt discovered is more corroding than one learnt.

“I trust,” he continued, “I am not wearying your honour.”

“You have suggested some important considerations bearing on your son’s good faith.”

“I will venture to say, sir,” said the Tahsildár, “that two out of three officers would have acted as my son did,—and as Mr Slade and the Deputy-Magistrate themselves did on receiving his report. No, sir, the alternative put by Mr Slade, that either my son must have been stupid or dishonest, is no necessary alternative at all—there is a third possibility, and that the truth,—that he in good faith and with ordinary intelligence saw no reason to prolong an inquiry to prove a fact which was already sufficiently apparent. My son was on his way to inquire into a serious case of cattle-lifting in which immediate action was urgent, and he disposed of the business in Banára as quickly as possible in order to go on to more important affairs. Sir, precisely in the same way, Mr Slade and the Deputy-Magistrate accepted my son’s brief report of the inquest as sufficient, and passed it over to deal with more pressing work. As you know well, sir, a busy official’s time is too limited, and he passes over quickly what seems clear and simple, in order to secure leisure to deal with weighty matters. The result is inevitable; occasionally a serious case will be overlooked; but this risk must be incurred, or business will be blocked by prolonged inquiry into trivial matters.”

Martin, who had throughout given his serious and sympathetic attention to the pleas of the father in defence of his son, now began to collect the papers of the case as a sign that the discussion was closed. “I will weigh all you have urged, Shekh Sáhib, and rest assured that it is my desire that your son should be shown to have been free from blame.”

The old official handed back the papers of the report, bowing low. He knew that he had planted the seeds of doubt in a mind favourable to the development of all elements, however subtle, which hinder resolute action.

“One point more may I be permitted to submit?” he said, after resuming his seat, now speaking in a deprecating manner. “It affects, not indeed the merits of the case itself, but my son’s relation to his superior officers. It seems that private information reached Mr Slade which gave him the clue to the facts of the case. Now had this clue been communicated to my son, he would have brought to light the circumstances of the Kahár’s death precisely as the Inspector has done. He was however suspended from office on a suspicion, which I have shown to be groundless, and the inquiry conducted in his absence.”

“This was unavoidable under the circumstances,” replied Martin, with a tinge of asperity in his voice.

“Had he been allowed to accompany the Inspector he would have escaped the stigma which is now attached to him,” returned the Tahsildár, gravely, and, after a slight pause, continued:—“Sir, you are aware that I was very reluctant to allow him to begin his official career in the Police service. I now regret that I was persuaded against my better judgment, and I trust you will permit him to resign. I cannot expose him to such peril a second time, when he may not be under the orders of a magistrate so discriminating as your honour, and when I may not be by his side to aid him.”

“Here is my application to be permitted to resign,” said his son, offering the document to Martin. “I admit candidly that I allowed myself to be misled by Asad Khán; it was misfortune, not dishonesty. But, I might err again, and with your honour’s permission I will withdraw from a position in which there lurks such peril to a man of honour.”

The young man spoke with quiet dignity, and laid the document on the table.

“I will consider what is best to be done,” said Martin, and signed to the father and son to retire.

“Look you, my son,” said Rafat Ali, softly, to the young man, as they walked down the drive to their carriage standing at the gate. “Had this business fallen into the hands of Mr Ellis, your clerk Bihári Lál would have been convicted of bribery, you would have been dismissed for incapacity, and Asad Khán with his gang would hardly have escaped penal servitude. As it is,—we owe thanks to God the Gracious.”

Chapter VI

A Frank Opinion

On the following morning the rain fell in a continuous stream, and Slade, provided with no occupation, in place of his morning ride, paced the veranda of his bungalow with restless strides. He had learnt from the Inspector that Martin had tamely accepted the cunningly modified evidence of the witnesses, and made no attempt to trap them into statements which might support a prosecution for perjury. Martin was a “Legal pedant,” and Slade’s irritation against him was not diminished by the fact that he himself had laid the snare by which his senior had been so easily caught. He was brooding gloomily over the case when an orderly from the Magistrate’s office brought a cover containing Martin’s decision respecting Shaukat Ali.

“At least he might have waited until the case against Asad Khán was closed,” thought Slade, as he tore open the envelope:—“But of course the old fox of Ronáhi must not be kept in suspense!”

He read the decision eagerly, with darkening brow, as he gathered that the arguments inculpating Shaukat Ali, which he had martialed with so much care and complete conviction, were one by one rejected as insufficient to prove the young man’s guilt. Martin concluded:—“It is to be regretted that the Sub-Inspector of Police, Shaukat Ali, did not subject Asad Khán’s version of the Kahár’s death to a searching scrutiny. It is also unfortunate that both the Superintendent of Police and the Deputy-Magistrate accepted without demur his bare report of the result of the inquiry, unsupported by any details whatever, as sufficient in a case of this nature. But I am unable to find any other cause for the omission on the part of the Sub-Inspector than that which, no doubt, affected the higher authorities when they dealt with the report:—the case was passed over amidst the press of urgent business as apparently unimportant” He accordingly passed an order that both the Sub-Inspector and his clerk should be sent back to their posts.

As Slade read the memorandum, he expressed his irritation in sharp volleys of oaths. He was convinced that the reasons he had set forth with so much warmth conclusively proved Shaukat Ali’s connivance with Asad Khán; and these Martin brushed aside to make way for elaborate special pleadings in order to exculpate the son of his favourite. He even implied that so far as Shaukat Ali was guilty of carelessness, Slade himself was equally in fault; a conclusion extremely exasperating to the zealous police-officer.

He called for his cloak, and taking a large mat umbrella from one of his men, hurried through the rain to Martin’s house, determined to make an attempt to bring him to reason before accepting “the muddle-headed” judgment.

Martin was seated at ease in the veranda, not pleased to be disturbed, for the heavy rainfall having delayed all the district post-bags, he was enjoying a rare leisure, and reading the English papers received by the last mail.

“You are bold to come through this downpour,” he said without laying down his paper. “Take a cup of tea!”

Slade declined the tea, but lit one of Martin’s cheroots, and then plunged at once into his subject:—

“I want to have a talk about this charge against young Shaukat Ali.”

“Haven’t you received my orders disposing of it?” replied Martin, glancing sidelong at Blackwood’s Magazine, which he still held in his hand.

“Yes, of course, and that has brought me here,” explained Slade, brusquely. “I cannot understand your view.”

“And yet I put it clearly.”

“It seems to me you have laid yourself out to be Shaukat Ali’s advocate.”

“Nonsense, Slade,” replied Martin, laying down his journal, as a disagreeable discussion seemed inevitable. “You made out the best case for the prosecution: I considered your arguments with the greatest care, and then explained fully my reasons for considering them insufficient. I thought you would have been glad to find I was able to acquit your man.”

“But you know well I consider he ought to be punished.”

“What, even after reading my note on the case?”

“Yes, even after that,” returned Slade, with a curl of the lip. “Do you really think to exculpate him by urging that I was equally guilty?”

“I have not done so.”

“Yes, you have,” retorted Slade. “You stamp both me and the Deputy-Magistrate as careless for passing over the original bare report without ordering further inquiry. The scamp took us in by a cunningly devised report, and so we are as much in fault as he was.”

“You are perverting my words,” replied Martin. “Please read and digest what I have written.”

“And as to the rest of your defence of the man, you play the old trick,” continued Slade, hotly. “You take up each line of argument separately, and because alone it does not prove the man’s guilt, you reject absolutely the cumulative effect of all taken together.”

“It is useless to discuss the matter further,” replied Martin, with asperity. “I have, after the most careful consideration, formed a definite opinion on definite grounds, and if you are unable to see the force of these, I really cannot help you further. All you have to do now is to carry out my orders, and direct both Shaukat Ali and his clerk to be reinstated.”

Slade smoked for some minutes in silence while Martin returned to his magazine.

“I think, Martin,” said the young man at length, speaking with gravity, “you have not considered how seriously my position here is affected by the way you have dealt with this business. You reject my opinion, that of the head of the District police, that Shaukat Ali was guilty of culpable negligence, and remark that in so far as he was in fault at all, so was I. In future, not one of my subordinates will care a kauri for my opinion.”

Here was a point on which Martin could sympathise with the young officer: it did not touch the justice of his finding.

“I really am sorry,” he said, laying aside his paper. “Sorry, I mean that I should seem to have disparaged your work. Any such intention was far from my mind. And, as a matter of fact, you know well, that in nine cases out of ten, I have been able to give you most cordial support.”

“Oh, in merely routine matters,” replied Slade. “But I worked out the evidence against Asad Khán myself; and the prosecution fails;—I publicly recorded my opinion that my subordinates had misconducted themselves; and they are to be reinstated, as free from blame.”

“It was no fault of yours that the evidence broke down in Court,” said Martin, anxious to say something to mollify the young officer.

Slade winced as he thought of his own share in bringing about this result, but then recalling Martin’s stupid “legal pedantry,” he answered: “I Know that: if you had recorded the evidence at once as I pressed you, the case against young Asad Khán would have been proved up to the hilt as it was before me. No, this was one of the many cases in which good police work is made futile by the cumbrous manner in which you Magistrates deal with it in Court.”

Martin made no reply to this attack: cautious of becoming involved in a discussion on the merits of his own dilatory legal procedure. Slade continued:—

“The worst impression will be made in the District, and when Ellis returns, he’ll have some stinging remarks to make on it. Of course people will say the influence of Bahádur Khán and Rafat Ali saved the men. You may cover reams of foolscap in young Shaukat Ali’s defence, but you’ll not change the belief of every man in the District that he got a bribe from Asad Khán. And I must say, your finding is nothing but an elaborate defence for Rafat Ali’s son.”

But this remark was too much for Martin’s easy temper:—“Please then, understand, Slade, I have dealt with the case to the best of my ability, with perfect impartiality, and I must ask you without further discussion to accept my finding and carry out orders.”

“You refuse to reconsider the matter?”

“There is absolutely no ground for doing so.”

“Then,” said Slade, rising, “my only course left is to send on the matter to the Inspector-General of Police. At all events I shall get rid of young Shaukat Ali.”

Martin shrugged his shoulders, and Slade giving him a nod went into the house. But hardly had he disappeared than Martin’s asperity softened and he shouted after him.

“Well, what now?” demanded Slade, looking back through the door.

“You are a hot-blooded young devil,” cried Martin. “Dine with us to-night, and let drop this business until to-morrow.”

Slade nodded and departed.

His hopes to found claims to promotion on the energy and perspicacity of his inquiry into the Banára case were disappointed. He would have borne this with more equanimity had he not been conscious of having himself deliberately initiated the train of circumstances which led to the failure of the prosecution. When Ellis on his return to his charge at Háfizganj called for the file of the case, Slade felt some anxiety lest his own share in the defeat of justice should be suspected. Fortunately, however, Ellis’s attention was chiefly directed to the occurrences which brought about the resignation of young Shaukat Ali, and Slade found some consolation from the acute Magistrate’s remarks on the skill the police had shown in collecting evidence, and the mismanagement of the case in Court.


Book the Fourth — The Rájpúts of Tikori

Chapter I

The Return of Cayley Ellis

In the middle of July, John Martin looked expectantly to the return of Ellis to enable him to escape from his arduous duties on the sultry plain to the club-house above the mountain lake, amid the forest of oak, cedar and rhododendron; and there with the help of cool fresh air and merry company, to restore his flagging spirits and soothe his irritable nerves.

The last month had indeed been a period of grave anxiety to the District authorities. On the 18th of June the rains ceased; the hot west wind once more swept over the plains, scorching the land and blasting the young crops. Among a peasantry, restless in enforced idleness, crime and litigation increased to a degree which taxed the energy of Martin and his small staff almost to the breaking point. Woods, the Canal officer, passed day after day exposed to the burning wind, endeavouring to lead on to the parched rice-fields every precious gallon of water from a temporary dam across the Barei river.

At last, in the middle of July, the wind shifted, and, a few days before the arrival of Ellis, rain fell abundantly; the dread spectre of famine vanished, and the people, abandoning their quarrels and the law courts, returned eagerly to their field-work. Martin once more breathed at leisure, and began to wind up his business before making over charge of the District.

On the night fixed by Ellis for his arrival, the four English officers assembled at the Magistrate’s house. The dinner was prolonged to a late hour, and afterwards the talk flowed on ceaselessly in the breezy veranda, until, when the gong of the Treasury Guard had sounded an hour before midnight, Slade’s sharp ears caught the sound of distant wheels:—“Listen,” he said. “The trot of a heavy pair, not the scramble of the posting hacks.”

“Rája Raghunáth Singh was here this morning,” explained Martin. “He was to drive out the first stage to meet Ellis.”

“I know the tramp of his bay pair,” said Slade, rising.

They now assembled in the porch, and a barouche with powerful bay horses drove up rapidly bringing Ellis seated by Rája Raghunáth Singh, the great Rájpút landlord of Tikori. There followed many native officials and gentlemen who had met Ellis at the District boundary on the Sháhgarh road.

Slade opened the carriage door almost before the horses drew up.

“Hurrah, Ellis!” he cried, “welcome back from the great Bilat!”

The new arrival grasped the young officer’s hand, resting on it as he leapt nimbly from the carriage, and cried heartily:—

“Sound in wind and limb, lad, eh? All well, Martin? Your letters reached me at Poonah, and I had time enough to digest them in the bullock-carriage on the Deccan road. Many thanks for them.—How do you do, Woods? No fever this season, I hope?—is that Blyth? Glad to find you here. Martin’s letters were your best introduction to me.” He shook the young Assistant’s hand cordially, and then turning to the Rája, who was standing by the carriage door:—” I will not detain you longer, Rája Sáhib, but expect you to-morrow at eleven.”

The native officials of rank now approached to congratulate the Magistrate on his safe return, and were dismissed with a few kindly words, mingled with some good-humoured banter, addressed to each individually. Then, taking Slade by the arm, he led the way into the house, passing through the rows of orderlies and servants, each of whom, bowing low, hoped to be honoured by the special notice of the great man.

As they entered the brilliantly lighted dining-room, Blyth examined with interest the new arrival. He saw a spare figure above the middle height, with square shoulders and upright carriage; a ruddy face with blue eyes, uncut tawny beard, and long drooping moustache. Over a high narrow forehead the red-brown hair curled thickly. The nose was straight, the nostrils thin and sharply cut, and the brow and outer angles of the eyes marked with a mesh of fine wrinkles. His countenance and manner indicated restless energy and indomitable resolution; one likely, thought Blyth, to be content in no company in which he did not play the leading part; a troublesome subordinate, but probably a good master.

As Ellis took his seat at the head of the dinner-table, and the servants hurried to serve refreshments, the hour of midnight struck unheeded.

Having rapidly disposed of the first questions and answers of a returning friend, Ellis plunged into eager conversation with Woods regarding the irrigation works, which led to an endless discussion of two rival schemes. Woods was in favour of a modest project,—“to dam the Barei above Ronáhi”; but Ellis contended fiercely for an ambitious undertaking, “to tap the river at Ramghát,” a work requiring millions for its completion. Blyth listened with astonishment to the eagerness which Ellis threw into the debate. Every attempt to divert his attention failed. Blyth tried to elicit his opinion of the Suez Canal works, Slade to get some news of London doings, and Martin to learn something of the many friends of his, whom Ellis had met; but all in vain, for Ellis was bent only on ruthlessly tearing to pieces the “peddling” scheme which Woods persistently defended. Martin, who had strongly supported the smaller scheme, sat silent while the battle raged between the two obstinate combatants. Slade got up, walked about, and finally retired to bed.

“You are an obstinate fellow, Woods,” exclaimed Ellis, good-humouredly, when at last Woods rose to go. “I have given you three excellent reasons and you remain unconvinced. We will thresh the matter out to-morrow when I have all my papers.”

It was now long past one o’clock, and Ellis, becoming aware that Blyth was yawning stealthily, bade him go to bed, and then, finding Martin’s eyes glazing, lit a fresh pipe, and went off himself.

Chapter II

Cayley Ellis and His Young Assistant

As the clock by his bedside struck six, Blyth was awakened by the voice of Ellis shouting to his servant for a pipe. The door between the two rooms was wide open to allow the air to circulate freely, and as Blyth turned lazily, he saw Ellis lying on his back, his head propped by pillows, while his servant brought him a short clay pipe ready filled with tobacco. Ellis stuck the pipe into his mouth and his servant, ducking his head to avoid a blow from the wide swinging pankha hung low over the bed, endeavoured to hold a piece of glowing charcoal to the bowl.

“Stop the pankha, you idiot!” cried Ellis, irritably, and then having kindled his pipe, he stretched himself at ease and caught sight of Blyth watching him sleepily.

“I hope you don’t object to the smell of cavendish at this early hour,” he said.

“No, provided I have not to smoke it myself,” answered Blyth, and then Ellis without any preliminary plunged into his subject:—“Did you ever meet a man more obstinate in defence of a bad case than Woods?”

Blyth laughed:—“Naturally he objected to have his own particular bantling strangled. Perhaps you don’t know, too, that Martin has reported most favourably of his project.”

Ellis, dressed in his light sleeping suit with bare feet, came at once to Blyth, and took a seat at the foot of his bed.

“You don’t want the pankha, do you?” he said, and when the boy had stopped pulling, he continued:—“Martin is a man of lovable character, and like the rest of us, has the defects of his good qualities. Of course Woods talked him over. Fortunately, however, I met the Chief Engineer at Karári yesterday, and now the matter is in abeyance until Government receives my report.”

“It will be a great disappointment to both Martin and Woods if the scheme is rejected.”

“Why to Martin?”

“He was at great pains to support the scheme. I helped to check the statistics.”

“Cold blasts of reason have no compassion for toil wasted on building card-castles,” replied Ellis, laughing.

“Briggs, the Settlement officer, wrote a long note supporting it.”

Ellis gave a scornful snort:—“He was not likely to see beyond the fact that so many thousand acres would be transferred from the ‘dry’ to the ‘irrigated’ schedule.”

“The Commissioner and Chief Engineer both agreed with Woods,” urged Blyth.

“They have no detailed knowledge of the villages, nor of the great advantages of the other project.”

“Athanasius against the world,” remarked Blyth, laughing.

Ellis smoked meditatively with his eyes fixed on young Blyth’s face, with rumpled auburn hair over the brows and mischievous laughter in the eyes.

“Persistent will is no doubt the potent factor in determining events,” the young man added.

A grim expression gathered in Ellis’s eyes under wrinkled brows, as he replied:—

“You imply that I am the obstinate man likely to get his way, though the weight of evidence is on Woods’ side.”

“I would not venture to judge the merits,” answered Blyth. “But Woods’ scheme at least has the advantage of being practicable——”

“Let me impress upon you a rule, fundamental for your official conduct,” replied Ellis, his brow unbending. “Spare no pains in ascertaining your facts; ponder over your inferences with untiring patience, and when you have reached a decision, believe implicitly in its correctness; brush aside or crush objections, and then with persistent energy you will carry your point.”

“But you would exclude the possibility of new light from other minds,” objected Blyth.

“My dear lad, we are not here to dally with academic questions. We are men of action, with a limited time to decide upon a determinate course. Vacillation is a fatal defect: rather incur the risk of pursuing a wrong course than remain inactive, when a decision final and irrevocable is demanded.”

A servant now brought in tea, and Ellis, taking his cup, emptied it at a draught, while Blyth reclining sipped his leisurely.

“I have been lately reading the District Reports of the Mutiny,” said Blyth. “And to my surprise, I find that few of our officials showed capacity for independent action.”

“That should not be a matter of surprise,” replied Ellis. “Few men are endowed with the original genius needed to cope with entirely new conditions. I would even go further and assert, that such men are too restive and impatient of control for the ordinary routine of official life. It is part of the price we pay for an orderly graded administration: we have no places for the stamp of man we need in a crisis.—Nevertheless some brilliant things were done here and there in the districts. But at headquarters, in the Agra Fort, I admit, we were a helpless, headless body. We staggered about like children released from leading strings; we clung to routine when routine had lost its purpose; we could initiate nothing—nothing but that futile expedition to Aligarh, where, by the way, I had the narrowest shave of being cut up.”

“How did that happen?” inquired Blyth.

“I will tell you,” replied Ellis, kindling a fresh pipe, which his servant brought. “Did you ever hear of de Kantzow? A fine fellow; when the 9th Native Infantry mutinied at Mainpuri, they were checked from plunder and murder by his indomitable courage alone.—Well, he commanded a little band of volunteer cavalry recruited from the fugitives in the Agra Fort, and I became one of his troopers. In August news came of a body of rebels and mutineers gathered near Aligarh, and a little force under Montgomery was sent out against them. Our squadron, eager for blood, rode with them as their cavalry. For four days we marched down the Grand Trunk Road undisturbed, and then came upon the enemy: a band of Gházis holding a walled garden, and with them a body of mutineer cavalry lurking outside to sweep down on our right flank. We were only five and twenty sabres all told, and de Kantzow led us at a gallop straight for the mutineers. They fired their carbines wildly, fled in panic like hares, and escaped unharmed, for our horses were too worn out to pursue. Well, I give you my word, I breathed again only when those rascals broke, for when de Kantzow gave orders to draw swords, I found mine jammed in the confounded regulation scabbard. I tugged at it till I was black in the face, and then pounded on with the rest, my revolver in fist for close quarters. When we returned and drew bridles, I dismounted and began to hammer out my scabbard with a brick; then suddenly came the shouts of ‘Din! Din! ‘—the Gházis dashed out of the garden—and I found myself left alone, for our troop had drawn off to take them on the flank. Almost before I realised my position, a Gházi was leaping straight at me, a lanky fellow, his head and face bound in a ragged green turban. I can see him now with his fixed eyes, shouting and waving his talwár, bent on blood and death. I stood my ground and blazed at him with my revolver, missed him twice, and before I could fire a third time, he was close on me. By good luck the third bullet struck his sword arm, and his raised talwár fell rattling at my feet. He sprang forward to grapple, but my last bullet knocked him in a heap, and he rolled against me,—shot through the neck.

“It was luck, no skill; for I take it, a steady aim is rare, when a swordsman is rushing on to cut you down.”

“What became of the rest of the Gházis?” asked Blyth.

“The guns drove them into the garden where our men finished them all off with the bayonet.”

Here Ellis’s watchful servant came forward with a live coal to rekindle his master’s pipe, and Blyth looked on at the process meditatively. Then in his speculative way, he remarked: “I doubt whether any one can be sure of his capacity to meet imminent peril with a cool head to observe, and firm heart to act, until he has been put to the test.”

“Probably not,” said Ellis. “But I venture to say that like most young Englishmen, you feel confident you would not run away.”

“At least the idea is odious.”

“No doubt,” replied Ellis, laughing. “Now I myself have fled like a hare before the hounds, and I fancy I know pretty well what the hare’s feelings are. Shall I tell you how the shameful thing happened?—Well, it was when the Mutiny broke out, and I was a youngster of three years standing in the service. One memorable day, I and another young fellow had been left in charge of the District offices, and we were busy with our usual routine work, just as though the Sepoys at Meerut had never mutinied and gone off to Dehli. A shot outside the Court startled us; we ran into the veranda, and saw that our Treasury Guard had mutinied. Three of them took pot shots at us, and the plaster of the back wall dusted our heads, ‘Run! Save yourselves!’ shouted our clerks, dodging behind the veranda pillars. No second warning was needed. My comrade and I rushed into the Court room, out again by the back door, and ping! ping! came the bullets, cutting the ground as we ran across the open with no thought but to leap into the shelter of the wall in front of us. There we paused, listening, not knowing whither to fly. All was still, for the guard were bent only on looting the Treasury and joining the Dehli rebels. Well, thus it happened that I fled in panic, and I’m not a bit ashamed of it.”

“But you retreated judiciously,” said Blyth. “Just as on the Aligarh Road you stood your ground with discretion.”

“I saved my skin on both occasions,” replied Ellis. “I had no choice in either affair: if I had run at Aligarh, the long-legged devil would have cut me down; if I had stood to face the mutineers in the Court veranda, I should have been riddled with musket balls. There was small credit in either proceeding that I see.”

“How did you escape finally?” inquired Blyth.

“Oh; after hiding a while in the city, we got a boat to float us down the river to Agra, where we found a refuge in the Fort with the rest of the headless herd.”

The morning letters were now brought in, and Ellis went off to his writing-table.

Chapter III

The Troubles Of Rája Raghunáth Singh

Soon after ten o’clock Ellis, having completed the various formalities involved in taking over charge of the District from Martin, turned to the next item in the business of the day,—his interviews with the native gentry and officials.

His writing-table was placed in the middle of the large drawing-room, now stripped of all the decorations and furniture, with which Mrs Ellis had adorned it. The wide folding doors to the veranda were thrown open to admit the breeze, for Ellis fretted within closed rooms, and was indeed never quite comfortable in any other dwelling than a tent.

He utilised a few spare minutes to begin a letter to his wife. His pen ran rapidly without pause, as he chatted of his drive across the Deccan to Nágpur, and of the gossip gathered on his journey; and as he wrote he smiled and murmured softly. Thus quite absorbed in the business in hand, he was unaware of the approach of an orderly, who at length ventured to cough in a subdued tone.

“Well?” muttered Ellis, interrogatively, after gazing at the man for a couple of seconds.

“Sir, according to orders, Rája Raghunáth Singh of Tikori is in attendance.”

Ellis looked at the man in silence for a moment, his forehead wrinkled by an ominous frown. “Sarjít Singh,” he said, addressing the man by his name. “I ordered you never to come before me with the end of your turban hanging down your back.”

“I came in haste and forgot,” replied the man, endeavouring to tuck in the offending fringed end. “May your servant be pardoned!”

“Send the Jamadár,” replied Ellis, briefly, and the crest-fallen man left hurriedly to fetch the head-man of the orderlies, a Mahomedan with a white beard and the dignity of a drum-major. He bowed, waiting in silence for orders.

“Muhammad Khán,” said Ellis, severely, “I told you to see that the orderlies came on duty properly dressed.”

“Sarjīt Singh came over hurriedly from the Court house,” replied the head-man. “I was engaged with Mr Martin and saw him not.”

“You will send him to do duty in the Record office for a week, and let me have young Zálim Singh in his place.—Now bring in the Rája, and afterwards you can attend on Mr Martin until he leaves the District.”

The head-man bowed in silence and retired with dignity. Ellis resumed his chatty letter until his visitor appeared followed by his confidential agent, Pandit Rám Prasád.

Rája Raghunáth Prasád was a man over sixty, with full white beard and moustache. His wrinkled face was roughly hewn and the lips heavy, but it was marked with an expression of strength and dignity. His once burly form had become thin, but he stood erect and square-shouldered, and looked Ellis straight in the face as he bowed and took his seat.

His companion was a man of five-and-thirty, his forehead square and broad, his nose straight with finely cut nostrils; his eyes large and keen under arched brows. In figure he was tall and muscular with limbs clean and flexible from the regular use of the clubs and extension exercises. Bowing low to the Magistrate, he took his stand behind his master’s chair.

“I hope, Rája Sáhib,” said Ellis, when the ceremonious greetings were disposed of, “I hope you suffered no inconvenience after waiting so long on the road last night.”

“While waiting for your honour the time could not seem long,” replied the Rája, courteously.

“And yet they say a minute seems an hour while we wait for one we are anxious to meet,” said Ellis, laughing.

“That is true,” replied the Rája, gravely.

“But now, my time is limited,” said Ellis, “for I have still many matters to go into with Mr Martin before he leaves us, pray tell me at once the urgent matter you had to communicate.”

“Probably you have heard of the trouble that arose in my village, Dalelganj?” said the Rája.

“Mr Martin mentioned it casually in one of his letters, but without details.”

“Then with your permission, my agent, Pandit Rám Prasád, will explain the occurrences.”

Ellis, who hitherto had taken no notice of the agent, now addressed him in English, with which the Rája was unacquainted:—

“Well, Rám Prasád, have you succeeded in keeping the estate affairs fairly straight?”

“I do my best, sir,” replied the agent in English, with correct accent. “None knows better than you, sir, what the difficulties are: every subordinate accustomed to embezzle and every tenant to cheat.”

“But what of the eldest son?”

The agent shook his head and answered—“Women and wine, sir, as the poet says. But he will sow his wild oats.”

“What does his honour say?” inquired the Rája.

“Tell me about this business at Dalelganj,” said Ellis in Hindustani. “You have the fluent tongue in the Rája’s business.”

Rám Prasád replied in the same language, speaking in a melodious voice with the intonation and choice words of a cultured gentleman:—“Your honour has visited Dalelganj, and will remember that it lies on the border of the district adjoining the strip of dhák forest, dense with the undergrowth of thorny karela,—The villagers are Ahírs, born robbers and cattle lifters, whose brotherhood formerly owned the village. But in our days the law rules, and cattle lifters are harried by the police. Then they quarrelled among themselves over their shares and took to litigation; debts increased, but their old extravagance in marriage festivals remained unchecked. Thus they fell deep in the books of their Banker, Bábu Baijnáth of Ronáhi, and the inevitable end came: he executed a decree against them; they forfeited their rights as proprietors, and became the Banker’s tenants. This was two years ago.”

“I heard of the matter when I first came here,” said Ellis. “Baijnáth told me he got no rent from them—stiff-backed fellows!”

“They drove his men from the village.”

“So I heard,” remarked Ellis. “Baijnáth got decrees for arrears—mere waste paper.”

“Exactly. When the bailiff came to attach their movables, he found bamboo cots and earthen pots, nothing else, and not a soul dared to bid for these. The judgment debtors could not be found, and no one ventured to hunt for them in the dhák thickets.”

“A suitor’s troubles begin when he gets his decree,” remarked Ellis, drily,

“Orders of ejectment were useless,” continued Rám Prasád. “Not a soul dares take over the land of an Ahír, and the next season the old tenant ploughs as before.”

“They are sturdy fellows, the Ahírs of Dalelganj,” remarked Ellis, smiling. “Not to be tamed by a Ronáhi Banker.”

“So he found. The civil laws of the British government do not extend to Dalelganj.”

“Did he attempt to attach their crops?” asked Ellis.

“No one would have made a bid for them, nor dared to carry them away at the risk of a pitched battle with the Ahírs. No one knows better than your honour that the face of a landlord is black before the District authorities if he causes a riot.”

“Baijnáth is a man of discretion,” remarked Ellis. “Well, what method did he adopt?”

“He came to Tikori to ask the advice of the Rája Sáhib.”

Raghunáth Singh nodded approvingly, and his agent continued:—“The village is one of the most fertile on our country side, and adjoins our estate.”

“That is true,” said Ellis. “On the south side away from the dhák forest, a tract of our richest loam.”

“As a result of the conference,” continued the agent, “we agreed to take the village off his hands for the amount of the debt due to the Banker from the Ahírs. The price was low, and the village rounded off our estate.”

“You thought you could bend the stiff backs of those Ahírs, I suppose,” said Ellis.

“I knew that the Rája Sáhib would have the support of our Government in enforcing his rights,” replied Rám Prasád, with gravity.

“When did you take over the village?”

“In March.”

“Just after I left for England?”

“Yes,” replied Rám Prasád, and continued:—“In May our bailiff Usmán Khán was sent to the village to collect the rents, and warn the Ahírs that they must pay their arrears or give security, otherwise they would be ejected under the decree, and their holdings transferred to the Chauháns of the next village. Your honour remembers our Chauháns of Biháripur?”

“Yes: sturdy fellows too,” replied Ellis.

“Well, as the reckless daring of these rebels is notorious, Usmán Khán took a guard of six men, and at dawn assembled the Ahírs in conference at the house of Kesri Singh, their head-man, and let them understand at once that the Tikori Rája was not a Ronáhi Banker to be baffled by a gang of turbulent tenants. The whole brotherhood gathered around, clamouring, headstrong from the impunity they have enjoyed under our Government and the Banker’s rule. Kesri Singh would promise nothing, grew angry and abusive, and threatened to slay the Rája himself if he came to the village. At his savage voice and threats there arose a cry of ‘Clubs!’ and a whole band, thirty or forty in all, suddenly attacked our men. A desperate fight followed, and our men escaped from the village with difficulty, leaving behind one of their number dead, and bearing away Usmán Khán himself and another, both badly wounded. When they got clear of the huts into the open fields, a fire broke out on the west of the village; the wind rose rapidly with advancing day, and every house was burnt out. How the fire caught we know not for certain. I myself believe that the Ahírs, mad with excitement, fired the thatches themselves to cover their own murderous attack by a false charge against our men. They came straight in here to the Magistrate’s court, and laid a false charge against our men.”

“What charge did they make?” inquired Ellis.

“That before dawn the Rája had come with me to the village on an elephant, bringing two score clubmen; he had fired the thatches; cut down the men who resisted, driven out the rest, and threatened to kill every man of them who returned to the village. They brought in the dead body of their leader, old Kesri Singh.”

“Whom they had killed themselves?” remarked Ellis, drily.

“I cannot aver that,” replied Rám Prasád, calmly. “Our men had to deal heavy blows, if one of them was to come back to tell the story. At the same time, I admit that the Ahírs may possibly have themselves killed the old man as your honour suggests. . . . However, the truth of our men’s version was amply proved when the Inspector of Police made his inquiry, and five-and-twenty of the Ahírs were sentenced by the Sessions Court to penal servitude.”

“And now, Rája Sáhib,” remarked Ellis, drily, “you will no doubt be able to hold your new acquisition in peace, and find your bargain with the Banker not unprofitable.”

“I am only anxious to impress upon you, sir,” replied Raghunáth Singh with gravity, “what I have already impressed on the Commissioner, that this riot in my village occurred in spite of my endeavours to settle the matter quietly, first by remonstrance, and then by law. It was fortunate for us that the case went before a discriminating judge, Mr Bellasis, who saw through the tissue of lies which those crafty Ahírs endeavoured to spin around me. As you are aware, the High Court on appeal had no hesitation in confirming the sentence. But I have many enemies to spread perverted stories of these occurrences and I was anxious therefore without loss of time to lay the whole facts before your honour.”

“Who cultivate the Ahírs’ fields now?” asked Ellis.

“Except a couple of families they have all departed,” replied Rám Prasád. “The women and children of some of the convicts are still in the village, and we have thatched their huts for them and given them other aid. But the fields have now been taken over by our Chauháns of Biháripur, and for the first time the tillage will do justice to the rich soil.”

“It was well for you that the Revenue was assessed last year,” remarked Ellis.

“We thought of that when we took the village,” replied Rám Prasád, frankly.

“Is there any other matter you wish to discuss, Rája Sáhib?” inquired Ellis, turning to Raghunáth Singh.

“A matter for your private ear,” replied the Rája. “With your permission, Pandit Rám Prasád may withdraw.”

At a nod from Ellis the agent left the room, and Raghunáth Singh drew his chair closer to the table.

“I placed my son Bharat Singh under your honour’s protection,” he began in a low tone.

Ellis nodded.

“My age is advanced; I grow feeble, and would retire from the world for religious meditation and penance.”

“You have still a duty to perform in the management of your great estates,” said Ellis.

“It is true, for I cannot trust my son.” Then looking anxiously round the room, he whispered:—“My life is in danger from my son, Bharat.”

“Please explain,” said Ellis.

“Twice he has drawn his sword upon me.” The Rája laid his hand on Ellis’s arm. “Twice—and a third time his passion may drive him to extremity.”

“I am much grieved to hear this,” replied Ellis. “I have, as you know, always looked on Bharat Singh as a capable young man.”

“He was a good boy as a student at College,” replied the Rája, and then pausing with a pained expression on his wrinkled countenance, he again leant forward over the writing-table and whispered:—“If I do not reveal the pain of my heart to you, to whom should I reveal it? for I come to you as a friend, and the son of my dear friend, your honoured father—not to the Magistrate.”

“Listen then, Rája Sáhib,” replied Ellis, placing his hand on the Rája’s arm as it lay outstretched on the table. “If I am to help, you must tell me frankly what lies between you and a son so hopeful.”

“I rely fully on your honour’s affection for my son, and my trust in your discretion is complete.” He was silent awhile, hesitating how to begin, and when he spoke it was with halting voice:—“It has been a matter of deep regret to me that you have been absent recently. My son might have been checked earlier.—He has resided much at Dehli, associating there with young English officers. He rides boar-spearing with them, joins in their horse-races, and has entertained them. He squandered money, and I thought that the worst. But unfortunately he fell in with the daughter of a Eurasian clerk, the wife of a man of the same class engaged on the Persian telegraph line. I think your honour knows well that when men of our race take such whims into our heads, we rest not until they are gratified. No doubt jewels made the woman pliant, and her father was easily bribed to close his eyes.

“My agent at Dehli sent me information, and I went over there to put an end to the connection which threatened to bring disgrace upon us. I found Bharat infatuated, beyond my control, and in answer to my threats, actually declared he would turn Christian and marry the woman.—But in fact the wench was married already, and while I was in Dehli, her husband returned home and came with clamour to my son’s residence. Fortunately Rám Prasád was there at the time, and able to restrain Bharat’s violence. He appeased the husband with soft words, while the woman was passed out by a side gate, where however she was seen by his friends and taken home. They threatened a criminal charge for abduction of a married woman.”

“The Deputy Commissioner of Dehli, I know, thinks highly of those peculiar provisions of the Penal Code,” remarked Ellis, with a faint smile.

“Rám Prasád told me that,” replied the Rája. “So I sent him at once to open negotiations with that wretched clerk, her husband, and the base pandar, her father. Rám Prasád was convinced that they had deliberately laid a plot to ensare Bharat and extort money; but we had to accept the position, and pay heavily to induce them to take no further steps. They drove a hard bargain.”

“What of the woman?”

“That ill-starred Bharat would not consent to abandon her! She was driven from her husband’s house and took refuge with my son.”

“They sold her. A horribly disgraceful business.”

“But that is not all,” continued the Rája. “You will remember that my son married a niece of Rája Dalel Singh of Katahr, and she bore him one son.—-Well, when this nasty business was settled, I insisted that he must return with me to Tikori, to live for a while at least with his wife; but, I speak it with shame, the infatuated youth refused to leave this Eurasian creature. My wrath broke out beyond control, and I reviled him as one who would bring disgrace on an honourable house. Stung to madness by my words, he sprang up and snatched a sword to strike me. But I gripped his throat, and the unhappy boy sank at my feet, weeping. Then I grew weak and sat by him weeping, for I was stricken with horror at my violence and my son’s.”

The Rája paused, and with head sunk on his bosom remained silent. Ellis waited for him to continue:—

“Thus my son’s heart was softened, and hearkening to my voice, he returned with me to his home. But a new trouble arose. His young wife—whom we loved and cherished as our dearest—had suffered in silence under her husband’s neglect. She received him with anger and taunts, and charged him with being a Christian and unclean. None of our race, sir, are patient; our anger is easily kindled. Surely with gentle words and a little patience he might have appeased her. But, alas! under the sting of her words, he turned upon her with anger; and she fled down the steep stairs to me and his mother where we sat below. But in her haste, she tripped and fell headlong, dashed insensible at our feet. At her scream my son followed, beheld her seemingly dead in my arms, and burst into a torrent of grief.—The women bore her away, while my son and I sat side by side in silence crushed under the calamity.”

“What followed?” inquired Ellis, in a low tone. “She recovered, I hope.”

“We summoned Kálicharan the Baid, replied the Rája. “We consulted Nil Mani, the Native doctor. She recovered her senses, but expired next day; and darkness fell upon our house.

“The mother of Bharat Singh cursed him, and he sat, broken-hearted, and refusing all food until the pyre had burnt out and the ashes gone down the Ganges. Then his mother softened to him; she set out food for him, and under her soothing hand he slowly recovered.

“But our troubles were not at an end:—his little boy, a weakly child; perhaps his food was not cared for during the confusion of the household,—perhaps the nurse fed him with sour milk,—who can tell? His mother had watched and tended her child with ceaseless care, jealous of any interference. He fell ill and died a week after his mother.”

“When did this happen?” asked Ellis.

“In April, shortly after your honour left us.”

“What has Bharat Singh been doing since?”

“For a month he lived with us in peace. We then opened the question of his marrying again, and as we pressed him, he grew restless and morose. Many English letters came to him from Dehli. One night he told me he must arrange to find a home for that Eurasian woman before he could discuss the question of marriage; she had threatened to come to Tikori, and unless he could appease her, she would make a scandal. I forbade his going, for I knew he would again fall into her toils. He would not heed me. I threatened to confine him in the fort, and call the Magistrate from Háfizganj to prevent his rushing to such folly. Then he broke into a fit of wild anger, gripped my throat, and shook me from my feet. But his mother ran forward, and he released me, crying, ‘If the old man thwarts me, there will be bloodshed.’

“He departed without another word, and I have not seen him since. I dare not approach him lest in a fit of passion he should be guilty of a terrible crime.”

“He is in Dehli?”

“He lives there with that Eurasian woman, and but little lacks that he should turn Christian and shame our house.”

The old man paused awhile, sitting with dejected mien, and then added:—“I have told all my trouble. It is for you to help me to recover my son. A word from you will influence him.”

“One thing more,” said Ellis. “Your son has no doubt acquired a taste for European strong drinks.”

“It is so.”

“Well, Rája Sáhib,” said Ellis, in conclusion, “what I can do to bring the young man to reason shall be done. Rely on this. But I must think over the matter, and obtain information from Dehli before I can act.”

“One word only,” replied the Rája. “My son must never know that I disclosed these secret troubles.”

Ellis nodded, and the Rája took a ceremonious leave. Then Ellis, having rekindled his pipe, resumed his chatty letter to his wife in England.

Chapter IV

Rafat Ali on the Extirpation of the Ahírs

John Martin departed for his holiday to the Hills after breakfast, and ere the sound of his carriage wheels had died away, Ellis was immersed with Woods in the Documents relating to the irrigation scheme. Having concluded this discussion, Ellis summoned Slade to give an account of his police administration; and after a brief interview sent the young officer on his way wearied with the strain of answering searching questions, and temporarily depressed by being told that he should have been better acquainted with several matters on which his information was vague.

Then followed an interview with Shekh Rafat Ali, with whom Ellis had many important matters to discuss.

The preliminary ceremonial and kindly inquiries being disposed of, Ellis at once entered on business.

“I have been disappointed to find that your son, Shaukat Ali, was unsuccessful at Tigri,” he said.

“Your honour knows well the difficulties that encompass a police-officer,” replied Rafat Ali, speaking with the hesitation he adopted when feeling his way. “I think, however, I can explain the causes beyond his control which led to his failure in the Banára case; and you are of course aware that Mr Martin acquitted him of blame.”

“Listen to me, Rafat Ali,” said Ellis, sharply. “I have seen the papers of the case, and discussed your son’s conduct both with Mr Martin and Mr Slade.—The whole question as to his behaviour lies in a nutshell. He went to the village to make an inquiry, but when he arrived there, he joked and feasted with his friend Asad Khán, and treated the Kahár’s strange death as a matter of trifling importance. While he swaggered about as the Shekh Sáhib’s son, filled with boyish conceit, no genuine inquiry was made; nothing tested, nothing turned over. He failed simply because he was a heedless young ass.—But the lad has a good disposition and some capacity; if he will get rid of his levity and treat his work as his first object in life, he will make a useful official. I will see that he gets another chance, and this time in the Revenue Department.—So now let me hear no more excuses for his failure at Banára.”

Shekh Rafat Ali rose from his seat, and bowed low, with both hands raised to his forehead.

“Now for the next matter,” continued Ellis. “As to that riot last April in Dalelganj, when the Ahírs were burnt out. What do you know of that affair?”

“It was the most serious riot we have had for some years,” replied Rafat Ali. “Bábu Baijnáth does not often err in his loan transactions, but he certainly did in dealing with those Ahírs.”

“They were too tough for him to control,” said Ellis.

“Exactly. They were better off after he foreclosed his mortgages than before. They continued to hold their lands, and paid neither rent nor revenue.”

“The Bábu Sáhib turned the tables on them, when he transferred his rights to the Tikori people,” remarked Ellis.

“True, but that was a poor compensation for a Banker, who has lost his money.”

“But surely the Rája paid him his price?”

“Baijnáth had a deed of sale registered; but my information is that no money actually passed.”

“Who was your informant?”

Rafat Ali drew his chair closer to the table, and replied in a low tone:—“As you are aware, the village was not in my circle. But Bahádur Khán has an estate adjoining Dalelganj, and he is a man who prides himself on knowing the secret history of every affair of notoriety.”

“He not infrequently retails versions more ingenious than true,” remarked Ellis.

“In this case, he was in a position to know the facts. Well, the Khán Sáhib told me that Baijnáth came to him about his difficulty with the Dalelganj Ahírs, and ended by offering to sell him the village, if he would pay the interest on the mortgage money,—no great sum. He urged that the Khán Sáhib was the only man who could straighten those truculent Ahírs. The offer was tempting, but the Khán Sáhib refused on the ground that it was impossible to tame the Ahírs without becoming involved in criminal business, and this, as long as your honour was in the District, was a risk he dared not incur. At the time, of course, none of us knew you were to leave us. Now, shortly after this offer, Rám Prasád, the agent, came over to Ronáhi, and was entertained by the Khán Sáhib. In the course of conversation and half in joke, he suggested to Rám Prasád that the Rája might get Dalelganj as a gift from the Banker; he could then expel the Ahírs, and settle Chauháns in their place. Your honour knows that the Khán Sáhib’s tongue runs freely recounting his own cleverness.”

“He has a reckless tongue,” remarked Ellis. “What next?”

“This happened at the time your honour was preparing to make over charge of the District. A couple of days after your departure, I heard incidentally that Baijnáth had sold Dalelganj to the Tikori people. In the evening Bahádur Khán came to my house for a chat, and I remarked that his suggestion to Rám Prasád had been adopted, and inquired what price had been paid. “Not a Kauri,” he replied, laughing. “He will pay the price in lawyers’ fees and police bribes. There will be fine fun in Tikori before a week is out.”

“What were the real facts of the riot?” asked Ellis.

“It came about a few days after Bahádur Khán’s prattle, but as Dalelganj was outside my jurisdiction, I made no special inquiry. However, when I heard that two score or so of the Ahírs were under trial for rioting and burning their own village, I did compliment Bahádur Khán on his gift of prophecy. He replied that the Rája’s agent, Rám Prasád, was an astute fellow, and resolute too: he would no doubt conduct the case against the Ahírs to a successful issue. But in reply to my inquiry as to the actual occurrences he answered evasively: it was a tangled affair; it might be unravelled in Court; and so forth.”

“You inferred, I suppose, that the version of the occurrences given by Raghunáth Singh’s people was not the true one,—-at least in Bahádur Khán’s opinion.”

“Undoubtedly,” replied Rafat Ali, smiling complacently. “The common report is that under orders of Rám Prasád, that dare devil Usmán Khán came to the village before dawn with a band of fifty clubmen, set fire to the thatched roofs on the windward side, and prevented the Ahírs from checking the flames or rescuing their goods and cattle. Then the Ahírs attacked Usmán Khán’s men, who retreated, bearing their dead and wounded to the Police Station at Bilsi. This is the version accepted on the whole countryside, and it is probably correct.”

“Did many of the Ahírs’ families perish in the flames?”

“Bed-ridden folk and children, and all their property.”

“The blast of the west wind was a good ally to Usmán Khán,” said Ellis, frowning. “I suppose the Ahírs had no witnesses to support their case in Court?”

“None but their own brethren. They moreover spoilt their defence by persisting that the Rája himself mounted on an elephant directed the attack.”

“What judgment do your folk pass on the treatment of the Ahírs?”

“There are many who think the District is well rid of that pestilent gang, the Dalelganj Ahírs,” answered Rafat Ali.

“I suppose you agree with Bahádur Khán in this opinion.”

“Out of evil comes good,” answered Rafat Ali, with a smile. “Without the assistance of Usmán Khán’s daring and Rám Prasád’s craft, the police and the law were unable to suppress that lawless band. The punishment at least fell where it was due.”

Ellis laughed cynically:—“A whole clan, young and old, guilty and innocent, was extirpated. The Court were perverted to aid in the horrid deed;—and some of you would justify this!”

“Sir!” replied Rafat Ali. “Not justify; but the deed is done and past redeeming, I would dwell on the benefits which have resulted.”

“And you would plead, that as the law failed to destroy a nest of hornets and place the Rája in possession of the rights which it decreed to him, he was justified in seizing them by his own strong arm.”

“Sir, the old ways before the coming of the Great Company are not yet quite passed away; those Ahírs belonged to the old days, and so they were dealt with.”

Ellis made no reply, smoking in silence.

“You heard that Bharat Singh’s wife died in the Tikori fort?” he asked, suddenly.

“I did hear it mentioned,” replied Rafat Ali, indifferently.

“Did any rumours reach you as to circumstances of her death?”

“None. But since I have been promoted in the Settlement office here, I hear little gossip.”

“Listen then,” said Ellis, in a low tone. “I wish to learn the details of the lady’s death. As you know she was a niece of Rája Dalel Singh of Katahr, and it is not unlikely that something may be known in the Katahr household.”

“If any rumours are current in Katahr I can easily ascertain them.”

“Men come and go from Tikori. Get them sounded with discretion.”

Rafat Ali intimated in silence that he understood; and then Ellis turned the conversation to the progress of various schemes in which he was interested.

Chapter V

Events at Tikori and Dalelganj

Ellis was profoundly impressed by what he had heard regarding the riot at Dalelganj, and was impatient to burrow down to the real foundation of fact. He procured for inspection the record of the trial before the Court of Session, with the subsidiary papers of the proceedings before the Committing Magistrate and the Police; and was already immersed in these voluminous files when Shekh Rafat Ali was announced and admitted to an interview.

“Now, Rafat Ali,” he said, as soon as his visitor was seated by the writing-table. “To the point at once. I have no time for a chat this morning.”

“At your command,” replied Rafat Ali. “Then as to the manner of that lady’s death——”

Ellis nodded.

“Last night I discovered that a man in my service is intimate with a certain Kahár woman, employed in the house of Inspector Mádho Prasád.”


“I warned him privately that the connection must be broken off, for I objected to a man of mine incurring the risk of a public scandal. I then learnt from him that the woman came from Tikori, and had a mother employed in the Rája’s family.”

“In the Ráni’s apartments?”

“Exactly. I then drew the man on to talk, and so lighted on information of importance. His paramour had told him that one night her mother had come home bewailing the death of her mistress, the little Ráj Kumári, wife of Bharat Singh:—the lady had fallen off the roof into the court-yard and expired next morning. When the girl asked how the accident happened, her mother angrily bade her be silent, and wary, for if their tongues wagged, they would incur the wrath of the Rája. My man suggested casually that the Little Lady might have leapt down from sheer misery, or possibly been removed for infidelity; there must surely be some mystery to be hidden.”

“You are quite sure he said that the lady fell from the roof?”

“Quite; he repeated the woman’s very words,” answered Rafat Ali, confidently.—“I learnt further that the old woman had been dismissed from the Ráni’s service after the death of the little boy.”

“You could ascertain nothing further?”

“I do not trust my man: he would let the Rája know that I have been making inquiries as to his private affairs.—But if that old woman has been dismissed in disgrace, she may from spite be a willing talebearer.—A spiteful heart will open the lips of a servant to reveal the secrets of the women within the walls; nothing else will.”

Ellis meditated for a few seconds and then said:—“The Kahár woman’s account of the death differs in important particulars from that given me by the Rája. There is clearly a mystery to be unravelled.—Now, you have business at Tikori connected with the Survey. Take an early opportunity of going over there, and see if you can extract information from that old Kahár woman or others of the hangers on.”

The task was congenial to Rafat Ali’s inquisitive mind, and brought a welcome diversion to the dull work of checking the Revenue Survey.

Left alone again, Ellis turned to the record of the trial of the Ahírs before the Court of Session. It was clear that on the bare evidence as recorded one conclusion only was possible:—The Ahírs had been the aggressors; they had attacked the landlord’s men, killed one and caused grievous hurt to others, and the wounds they themselves received had been dealt by Usmán Khán’s party in self-defence. Nevertheless, Ellis formed a decided opinion that the case for the prosecution had not been properly sifted, and the case for the defence never presented to the Court in its full strength. At no stage of the proceedings had there been the thorough investigation indispensable to unravel a case fabricated by a man of Pandit Rám Prasád’s ability, when supported by the influence and wealth of the Tikori Rájpúts. Whether therefore the version of the riot given by Usmán Khán’s party or that given by the Ahírs was true, was a question not to be settled by the perusal of the records. He laid these aside, and remained alert to gather facts bearing on the case as occasion offered.

When Baijnáth, the Banker of Ronáhi, came to pay a ceremonial visit, Ellis led him to speak of the affairs of Dalelganj, and both his admissions and denials left no doubt that there was a secret history connected with the case, which he was too prudent to disclose.—Ellis ascertained further that among the Chauháns of Biháripur, the village adjoining Dalelganj, the accepted version of the occurrences was distinctly favourable to the Ahírs’ story; a saying had indeed now become current, that the Tikori Rája had extirpated the Ahírs by fire and club and the Farangi Courts.

Having to go on business to the headquarters of the Division, Ellis took the opportunity of visiting the Ahír convicts, who were still detained in the jail there, awaiting transfer to the Central Prison at Mawána. He heard their story from their own lips, and probed them with many questions, and came away strongly impressed with the substantial truth of their statements. There had been a gross miscarriage of justice, and the whole occurrence was fairly summed up in the current saying of the country folk above quoted. But whether or not it was advisable for him to take further steps to release the Ahírs, and attempt to bring the real criminals to justice, was not clear. There were complications in the matter which required careful weighing; and he laid the question aside, until he had an opportunity of discussing it with some one whom he could trust,—and he chose young Blyth as the touchstone.

Chapter VI

Circumstances Alter Cases

On the evening of his return from the Divisional headquarters, Ellis found Blyth in his room pouring over the Sháhnáma, and inquired what he was going to do.

“Slade has gone to exercise some horses on his racecourse,” replied Blyth. “I thought of riding out there.”

“Come for a drive with me,” suggested Ellis. “We may fall in with the irrepressible Slade at the point where his galloping ground crosses the Ronáhi road.”

Blyth exchanged his white cotton jacket for one of light flannel, and rejoined Ellis in the porch, where a heavy dogcart with high wheels was standing.

“You are a prudent youth,” remarked Ellis, with a smile, noticing the change of garment.

“No doubt you have found the precaution unnecessary,” said Blyth, and Ellis replied, laughing:—

“I would justify my carelessness by the example of the natives, who clothe themselves in cottons or nothing, at this season.—Would you like to drive?”

Blyth took the hint at once and mounted the cart.

“Driving checks the current of one’s thoughts,” explained Ellis. “And I like to look about me.”

“There is little variety to attract one.” Blyth swept his whip round the unbroken plain east and west of the Ronáhi Road.

They drove in silence for a few minutes, and then Ellis cried:—

“Stop! pull up! Look at the grey hawk hovering low over the bájra field. Rain-quail are crouching there.”

Blyth now noticed a boy with a dog walking through a green crop, and a few yards in front of them he saw the hawk hovering. A small brown bird flew up with a whirr from the boy’s feet, and was struck by the hawk and borne away swiftly, while the boy drew back, startled at the rapid swoop of the pinions which almost brushed his face.

“A pretty bit of sport,” remarked Ellis, as they drove on again.

“Had you been driving and I gazing around, I should not have noticed the hawk,” said Blyth, laughing.

“Oh, in time you too will get an open eye for the outside world. You shall be instructed in woodcraft, and delivered from your brooding over miserable books. And, by the way, to begin, you would be better employed in the morning beating about with a gun for rain-quail than studying obsolete lore with the old Maulvi.”

“Surely,” answered Blyth, with a flush, “a knowledge of the religion and culture of our people is not only interesting but useful.”

Ellis laughed scornfully:—“If a foreigner having to deal with the everyday affairs of English country folk were to read theology with an erudite parson who lived in his library; and thought this study a useful preparation for a judicious settlement of disputes between the village grocer, the farmer and the squire, and for subduing the exuberance of the village bully; well, if he did this, you would think him a very odd fellow.”

Blyth’s flush of annoyance passed off. He laughed good-humouredly at this grotesque parallel, and Ellis continued:—“The fact is, Blyth, you have had more than enough of book learning, and need to cultivate a practical outlook on men and things about you. However, as a first step, we will make a sportsman of you.”

“I fear I shall be nothing more than a poor amateur,” said Blyth.

“You don’t know how keen you will become after you have tasted blood. But of that hereafter. Now I want your opinion on a question of practical ethics, on which your unblunted moral sense may throw some light. You must have heard of the bloody riot in Dalelganj.”

“I remember the trial soon after I joined the District. The judge was to have dined with us afterwards, but was too exhausted.”

“The day was very hot, was it?”

“One of the most stifling of the year.”

“Did your hear anything from Slade about the police inquiry?”

“Nothing special. He boasted much of his success in prosecuting the rioters to conviction.”

“He would be sure to do that. Well, I have been looking into the circumstances of the case, and I am convinced that the Ahírs were wrongly convicted. You know the general facts?”

“Yes,” answered Blyth, “Raghunáth Singh’s men went to collect the rents, the Ahírs claiming to be masters of the village, attacked them; killed one or two, battered others to a jelly, and afterwards set fire to the village to cover their own violence by a false charge against the Rája’s men.”

“Exactly, that was the case on which they were convicted and narrowly escaped hanging.”

Ellis then briefly explained the grounds on which he founded his opinion that there had been a gross miscarriage of justice in the case,

“But surely,” urged Blyth, when Ellis ceased, “surely the fact that the case for the prosecution was accepted as true, and the defence as false, first in the police inquiry, next by the Committing Magistrate, then by the Session’s Judge, and finally on appeal by the High Court; surely this must outweigh these extraneous considerations, though they do excite such strong doubts.”

“Well, Blyth,” replied Ellis, “as to the police inquiry, you may be quite sure the Rája’s people would not have engaged in such a daring enterprise unless they knew they could square the police. That is a matter of course. Then as to the Deputy Magistrate, between ourselves he is a duffer, and in cases for the Sessions, it is his easy way to accept the view of the District Superintendent, and send them on for trial. Then as to the Judge, old Bellasis;—he is deaf, irritable, and not over acute. Moreover, he is strongly prejudiced in favour of the landlord’s authority, and has indeed more than once put it on record that our odious democratic notions are exciting the tenantry to an agragian revolution. Recollect that the Ahírs were not defended by any pleader; the witnesses for the prosecution were not subjected to any skilful cross-examination, while those for the defence were easily involved by the Rája’s pleader in discrepancies and confusion. I could give you a dozen instances of the deficiency in the investigation. Finally, as to the High Court:—the appeal went before a barrister-judge, who has no local experience to enable him to see anything outside the record, and he had no representative of the appellants to assist him. On the bare record the men were undoubtedly guilty, and the confirmation therefore adds nothing to the weight of the judge’s decision.”

“I understand then,” said Blyth, “the police were bound to accept the Rája’s version of the occurrences, then the magisterial inquiry was conducted by a duffer who simply followed the police case. The trial at the Court of Session was held before a deaf, prejudiced effete old fellow oppressed by the awful heat and pestilential air of the Court; and finally, the High Court appeal came before an English barrister ignorant of native life and utterly lacking the imagination needed to supplement the defective record.”

“Well, yes,” replied Ellis, with a laugh, “that is not a very extreme statement of my opinion. Now, however, to come to the practical point on which I want your opinion. I am convinced that the case was a plot to exterminate the Ahírs, suggested by the bold Bahádur Khin to the crafty Rám Prasád—and the question now is what should I do? You see, Blyth, those Dalelganj Ahírs are a turbulent lot of rascals. They are in constant communication with the Gújar cattle-lifters of the Upper Doáb, and play into the hands of the Mewáti gang across the river. They had legally forfeited all their rights in the village, and held on in defiance of our Civil and Revenue Courts. They have been a pestilent nuisance, and I have long been on the watch to catch them. It is a good thing for the District that they have been turned out, and for the Government Revenue that their lands are now under the ploughs of those Chauhán peasants of Biháripur. In short, these robber Ahírs and their ways were an anachronism in these peaceable days; they were untamable and had to be turned out, and the rough old method of Raghunáth Singh was probably no worse for them than the slow grinding process of law courts.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Blyth, startled at the implication. “Do you really mean that the atrocious deed of the Tikori people should be condoned, because it has cleared the District of a gang of pestilent ruffians? Usmán Khán and his men came to the village at night; fired the houses, reckless who might be burnt; they killed and wounded the villagers who attempted to stem the flames and rescue old people and children and cattle; they corrupted the police; and those Ahírs who escaped the fire and clubs, have by skilful perjury been condemned to a convict’s life. It is too atrocious! I do not understand how you can hesitate a moment in taking steps to punish the perpetrators of such an outrage.”

Ellis smiled quietly at the outburst, and replied:—“We must first of all firmly grasp the fact that such evidence as we could now procure would be quite insufficient to convict the Rája or any of his people.”

“It is, at least, not too late to inflict upon the Rája your displeasure and that of Government.”

“Strike him off the Darbár list? Well, as to that it would be impossible to show that he had a direct hand in the business. Usmán Khán and his gang would appear to have acted with excess of zeal. We could compel the Rája to dismiss them, when they would speedily find engagements elsewhere, and be replaced by their brethren in the Rája’s service.”

“It is a disgrace to our administration that such atrocity should escape punishment.”

“Hardly that,” replied Ellis. “It is rather an inevitable result of the conditions under which we work,—our strict legal procedure and indispensable instruments.”

“At least then,” replied Blyth, “the victims of the plot should be set free without delay.”

“But consider first what would happen if those four-and-twenty Ahírs were released. Bear in mind that they have forfeited their land and rights, and have no fit place to live, in our realm of peace and order. They are as untamable as wolves. Then as to their own view of their position: they accept defeat as a phase in the fortune of war, not as a great wrong; almost as natural as the devastation of their crops by storm. They will welcome release as affording an opportunity to renew their struggle against those whom our law must support. They will warn their Chauhán successors to clear out of their fields; they will recklessly beat down all opposition; and some, if not all, will soon be in jail again, or fugitives in the jungles. They might easily join the bold outlaw Kharak Singh, the Bundela, who is giving trouble down in Hamírpur.—You must have heard of him?”

“I heard there had been some gang-robberies down there.”

“His history affords a good instance of what such brave fellows are capable of. This Kharak Singh boasts his descent from the warrior chief of Chatarsál, and is a man whom his great ancestor would not have been ashamed to own. His lordly extravagance involved him deeply in debt, and at length his last village was sold under a Civil Court decree, and bought by a neighbouring landowner and money-lender, one Mohan Chaube. Then the proud Bundela, reduced to absolute destitution, betook himself to the jungles, like bold Robin Hood, and became a robber and outlaw, and many of his clansmen and other turbulent spirits joined him. He started work by waylaying the sleek Mohan Chaube, murdering him with great brutality; and now, for eight months, he and his gang have infested the border country, raiding and robbing to their heart’s content. Government have cut roads through the jungle, reinforced the police, and sent native troops to aid. Some day, perhaps by a woman’s treachery, the robber chief will be caught, but meantime he leads a life which he rates much higher than the festering idleness in which his brave spirit fretted before he was driven from his lands by law and chicanery. Small blame to him! But you see, Blyth, under our system he is a practical anachronism.

“Now, as to our Ahírs of Dalelganj: they are men of the same spirit as the Bundela outlaw. Let them loose, bereft of the land their people have held for generations, and their best and most attractive refuge will be Kharak Singh’s gang; but probably they will lay themselves out first to pay off their score to the Tikori Rája. They are hunted wolves, like Kharak Singh, capable of any atrocity.

“Let me tell you the last feat of that outlaw; I heard it as I was coming up. His gang surrounded the house of a grain merchant in the neighbourhood of Jhánsi, and, as the man had the imprudence to offer resistance, they killed him off hand. Then they hung up his old wife by the heels naked over a slow fire, and with unspeakable atrocities tried to induce her to show the hidden treasure. But she was staunch and died under their hands, disclosing nothing. They then set fire to her house, fastened the door, and departed, leaving the young grandchild to perish in the flames.

“That is the way our Ahírs will go: desperate men bent on striking terror by desperate deeds.”

Ellis paused, looking at Blyth for an expression of opinion.

“Then in your opinion,” he said, “serious mischief would result from their release from prison, and but little good to them.”

“Little good to them!” exclaimed Ellis. “Why, lad, art thou sprung from Quaker stock? What! they would once more rejoice in their strength as young lions; their hearts would bound with joy in the pursuit of sweet revenge! To strike down their foes, secure too soon in their triumph; to harass the creatures of the blighting law which filched their lands and cast them in jail to rot;—this they would deem a noble purpose, and crowned with a victory worth all their toil, if they could wet their swords with the blood of the Tikori Rája.”

Blyth made no reply but flicked the whip, meditating over the practical problem. Night had now closed in; and the stars shone with extraordinary brilliancy; and while his young companion pondered, Ellis sank into unwonted quiescence, gazing round the dim wide plain, and vast spangled dome of the heavens, oppressed by the immensity of space.

“It seems to me,” said Blyth at length, “that the action to be taken necessarily follows from the fact that you have reason to believe that an atrocious crime has been committed.”

“I have no doubt whatever,” replied Ellis, “that a grave offence was committed by the Rája’s men and with his assent.”

“That being so,” continued Blyth, “I think you are bound to do the utmost to bring him to justice.”

“But,” replied Ellis, “I know well that attempts to procure sufficient evidence against him will be utterly futile. It is moreover extremely improbable that any Court would convict Usmán Khán and his gang on such evidence as could be now procured. Remember the Ahírs made it the chief point in their story that the Rája himself and Rám Prasád directed the attack. Their own original statements and those of their witnesses were a tissue of truth and falsehood, which it is impossible to disentangle to the satisfaction of a Court. Not a soul will give evidence for the Ahírs except men of their own brotherhood, whose evidence was utterly discredited. The rest of the country folk are well pleased to be rid of the gangs, and will not face the displeasure of the Tikori people.”

“Then,” said Blyth, “you must bring to the notice of government the circumstances which throw doubt upon the justice of the conviction, and at least procure the release of the prisoners.”

“Consider then the method we must employ,” replied Ellis. “I laboriously draw up a report, which Government will refer to the High Court, and through that channel it will reach the Sessions Judge. These tribunals will require very convincing evidence before admitting their error, and will not readily consent to recognise an officious District Magistrate as an irregular Court of appeal. But consider the grounds on which I base my convictions. In the first place, old Bellasis, the Judge, is deaf and impatient, and in the terrible heat was especially irritable and hasty. Now, as the Ahírs had no trained legal assistance, the only cross-examination to which the witnesses for the prosecution were subjected, was that of the judge himself. Well, I found that the first witness was examined by him at great length, but his questions were calculated rather to expand the evidence than to check it; when he examined the succeeding witnesses he appears to have overlooked the questions put to the first, and proceeded to inquire for further details. Then as the inquiry advanced, the spontaneous action of the judge steadily dwindled, until the last witness is recorded as making nothing but a bare statement. Further, I know well how the Judge’s Court is conducted, and that each witness knew exactly what his predecessor had said: a deaf judge absorbed in recording evidence, and Court officials not unwilling to oblige the powerful Tikori Rája.

“Now, consider what sort of treatment my report will meet with at the hands of the High Court and the Judge when I set forth in detail, that the case was never properly tried; that the Appellate Court was dull in not perceiving this;—and that I have discovered this because from hearsay and district gossip, I have convinced myself beforehand that the Courts were wrong.

“Why, my dear Blyth, I should be jumped upon by the combined judicial authority of the Province, who would furnish Government with welcome reasons for avoiding a judicial scandal, and the danger following the release of those devils of Ahírs!”

“Then,” exclaimed Blyth, “can nothing be done to remedy the wrong?”

“I can make some of our police smart for their hand in the case,” replied Ellis.

“And what more?”

“A nest of hornets has been destroyed, and room made for hives of honey bees,” answered Ellis, calmly. “At last the countryside is free from a gang of untamable marauders, and the rich soil of Dalelganj will now for the first time bear crops of cane and wheat under the busy ploughs of the Chauhán peasantry.”

“I suspect you are not really sorry for the result,” said Blyth.

“Between those Ahírs and the peaceful society in which we live was ceaseless war; they have been subdued, while our civil law was powerless, by the sharp measures advised by our bold friend, Bahádur Khán of Ronáhi. That is the Ahírs’ view of the result, and I am not disposed to quarrel with it. There, Blyth, you have the whole case. What do you think should be done?”

“I am not satisfied,” replied Blyth. “A searching inquiry among the neighbouring villages, and especially among the women of the Ahírs families, might reveal some clue and good evidence, and I should not rest until such an inquiry had been made.”

“We have many and pressing duties,” remarked Ellis, “and to devote time to one involves neglect of others—and the pursuit would be vain.”

“It is all important to prevent our Courts from being made instruments of oppression,” said Blyth, sententiously.

This was a sounding generality for which Ellis felt contempt: when talk drifted into windy phrases it ceased to be fruitful or interesting. He closed the discussion with the remark:—“The gist of the matter then is that with my conviction as to the futility of further inquiry, you would do precisely as I shall: let the matter rest. Now let us talk of something else.”

Chapter VII

The Heir of Tikori

Ellis’s interest in the House of Tikori arose not only from his duty as the Chief of the District, but also from sentimental associations. Some twenty years before his father had administered the wide Doáb District, of which the Háfizganj magistracy formed a portion, and within this extended area, the whole of the great Tikori estates was included. Out of the official intercourse between the Administrator and Rája Raghunáth Singh, had sprung a relation of intimacy and even friendship. Bharat Singh, the heir of the House, then a child of five, who was wont to accompany his father on visits to the powerful British officer, became a favourite of Mrs Ellis and playfellow of her two younger children. While Cayley Ellis was at Eton he received many letters from his mother in which mention was made of the bright-eyed, intelligent little Bharat; his impetuosity and good nature; his affection for the little brother and sister, and in one, he remembered, she described their childish games during the Christmas camp on the bank of the Great River. Rája Raghunáth Singh, on his side also, cherished an affectionate remembrance of the two English children, the playfellows of his son, and his first question of Cayley Ellis when he met him on the Sháhgarh Road, related to Bessie and Walter, as he still named the two youngest of the numerous Ellis brethren.

By the advice of the elder Ellis, the Rája had given his son an education in English under the superintendence of a sober scholar from Bengal, and the intelligent child had learnt to read and write English almost as soon as his native tongue. Later on, again under the advice of the elder Ellis, the young nobleman had been sent to the English College at Bareilly, at that period under the wise control of the gentle scholar and quiet disciplinarian, Mr Templeton. Thus the education of the young Rájpút had been determined by the influence of the elder Ellis, and Cayley, ever ready to fulfil obligations falling upon him as a member of a distinguished family, felt, in some measure, personally responsible for the young man’s career.

After his interview with the Rája, Ellis wrote to the Deputy-Commissioner of Dehli regarding Bharat Singh, and the reply was to the effect that the young man was a keen sportsman and bold rider, popular among the officers of the garrison, losing his money freely over horse-racing. The worst the Deputy-Commissioner had to report of him was, that he had become entangled with a Eurasian woman, and the rumour that he had turned Christian. Personally the Deputy-Commissioner was favourably impressed with the young man’s demeanour; he strongly recommended he should be separated from his Eurasian paramour and her connections; and he had accordingly ordered him to go at once to Háfizganj in answer to Ellis’s summons.

In the early morning following the drive and discussion with Blyth, Ellis was seated in the veranda, running rapidly through the contents of the post-bag, when an orderly announced the arrival of the Kuwar Sáhib, Bharat Singh.

Coming round the corner of the house, and passing from the brilliant sunshine into the long morning shadow, a tall young man of athletic figure approached. He wore a white tunic of European cut over an embroidered silk vest of a silver grey shade, and twill riding-breeches with buff leggings. His dark grey turban was of ample folds, bound on after the manner of Indian cavalry officers, with the gold fringe hanging down his back. The expression of his dark olive countenance was frank and open; the features were massive with broad arched eyebrows and well-opened eyes of unusual brightness; but the nose was coarse and wide; the lips, covered by a silky moustache, were too full, and the mouth large.

“Glad to see you again, Bharat Singh,” said Ellis in English, as the visitor made the ceremonious bow of an Indian gentleman greeting one of higher rank.

“I received the message with which you honoured me,” replied Bharat Singh in English. “And I have hastened from Dehli to present myself.”

“Come and sit by me,” said Ellis, pointing to a chair. “I must run through these letters, and then we will have a talk.”

The young man sat watching Ellis open cover after cover and endorse the orders on the enclosures, and he began to grow restless. He stretched his legs, tapped his leather gaiters with his riding-cane, and ostentatiously suppressed a yawn. Ellis gazed at him for an instant with the glazed eye of one who from absorption in thought marks not the object in the retina,—and then proceeded to endorse a paper with unusual deliberation. Bharat Singh ceased to fidget in his chair.

“Now, young fellow, I am ready for you,” said Ellis, throwing the last paper into his office-basket. “You come from Dehli?”

“I left yesterday morning, and came direct here. I hope you left Mrs Ellis quite well.”

“Your old playfellow, Walter, sent his remembrances to you with a new hunting-crop as a present,” replied Ellis. “But, come outside under the shade, where we can talk at our ease.”

In the midst of the grounds were a couple of mango trees, and on their west side in the thick shade, chairs were arranged on a large square of carpet. There, beyond ear-shot of the many listeners of a Magistrate’s house, Ellis was wont to sit in confidential chat with morning visitors. He was ever eager to escape from four walls into the open, and the moist monsoon wind was blowing fresh, rustling through the stiff foliage.

“It is a year since we met,” said Ellis, when they were seated. “You are not so stout.”

“I take much exercise,” replied the young man. “I keep my weight down for pig-sticking.”

“Good. You have lived at Dehli lately?”

“Yes,” replied the young man, and continued volubly. “In Tikori and these country places nothing is going on. Life is quite slow. There is only my old Bengali Pandit and the old Munshi to talk with; the rest are mere rustics.”

“When do you propose to return to Tikori?”

“Oh, I cannot say. I have nothing to do in Tikori, but in Dehli I have lots of engagements.” And he began to fidget in his chair, a little irritable under Ellis’s questions.

“What engagements?” inquired Ellis, briefly.

“Beg pardon, I have not understood,” was the reply.

Ellis disliked conversing with Indian gentlemen in English: they were unable to adapt the nice ceremonious forms of their own language to the stiff English phrases, and often seemed impolite merely from this inability. He had done enough in recognition of the young man’s knowledge of English, and now took advantage of his failure to understand to continue the dialogue in Hindustani.

“Does not your father want you in Tikori?” he inquired.

“Why should he want me?” answered the young man. “He has his favourite Rám Prasád to manage his estates, his guru to guide his devotions, and Usmán Khán to obey without question, and, God knows who not besides.”

Ellis looked at the young man for a moment with a frown, and then spoke gravely, but with kindly tone: “Listen to me, Bharat Singh. My father and your father were close friends, and for you, my father had a paternal affection. My mother always remembers you with kindly thoughts. And as to myself, now that I hold the place held by my father, I will not allow the boy he cared for, aye, and even educated, to wander into a wrong course. You understand? Well, then tell me in confidence, what has occurred between you and the Rája, your father, that you speak of him in such a flippant tone?”

“I see that my father has made some complaints about me,” replied Bharat Singh.

“I wish you to understand,” said Ellis, quietly, “that if I can bring about a reconciliation between you, I shall be glad to do so!”

Then after a pause he continued:—“I have heard that during my absence the sudden death in your house and the loss of your only son have fallen as a heavy calamity on you. The lady was a daughter of Rája Dalel Singh of Katahr, I think.”

“She was his niece,” replied Bharat Singh, shifting uneasily on his chair.

“What was the boy’s age?”

“Not a year old.”

“I hear your mother suffered bitterly from the bereavement.”

“She loved the lady as her own daughter, and the child was the bright jewel of her house,” answered Bharat Singh, in a softened tone.

“In the days when my mother was here, she often visited the Tikori Fort. Even now she remembers the Ráni with affection.”

“I remember Mrs Ellis’s visit well,” said Bharat Singh, smiling, as at a pleasant memory. “My mother put on all her jewels and loaded me with ornaments, and many trays of garlands and flowers and sweetmeats were prepared. I expected to see the great lady arrive in a blaze of scarlet and jewels, and when she appeared in a grey riding-dress and plain black hat without a jewel or ribbon, I was sadly disappointed, and it was not until my mother held out my hand for Mrs Ellis to clasp, and said, in future I should have two mothers, the lady of the great Commissioner as well as herself—only then was I really convinced who the lady was.”

“I see you recollect well, though you were barely five years old. You will then understand my personal interest in you and your house. Let me then remind you of what I well know is a greater trouble to your honoured mother than the recent bereavements: it is the climax of her distress to feel that you have turned away from your home, and the ways of your ancient house, and become estranged even from her.”

Under the influence of early memories and the kindly tone of Ellis, the young man had become expansive, but he now shrank back into himself and was silent.

“You are aware of the report that you have abandoned the faith of your fathers and turned Christian,” added Ellis.

“It is false, utterly false,” exclaimed Bharat Singh, indignantly.

“Come, Bharat Singh, you know that they taxed you with apostasy when you were last at Tikori. You know that it is the common talk of the zanána, and has reached your mother’s ears?”

“She cannot credit such lies,” said Bharat Singh.

“You have never been near her since these rumours reached her. Why have you not been to her in her distress?”

“I cannot live at Tikori,” replied the young man.

“Say rather you are bound down at Dehli,” replied Ellis; “you have become entangled there with the cast-off wife of some Eurasian clerk.” Bharat Singh was silent.

“Now, I know nothing whatever of this woman,” continued Ellis, quietly, after a pause. “She may be all that is excellent, her husband may have been a brute, and her desertion of him quite justifiable. The practical point I am interested in is, whether you intend to make this connection permanent, or contemplate breaking off?”

Bharat Singh, who had expected severe reprobation, was not prepared with an answer, and murmured that he did not understand.

“Well, the matter is simple enough,” said Ellis. “This woman has abandoned her husband and family, is entirely dependent upon you, and if you cast her off, she has no choice between starvation and a life of infamy.”

“In any case I should provide for her,” put in Bharat Singh, eagerly.

“Then you have already contemplated bringing this connection to a close,” replied Ellis. “I am very glad to hear it. I could not regard with equanimity the succession of the abandoned wife of a Eurasian clerk to the noble daughter of the House of Katahr. If your father speaks to me of the matter, I can at least reassure him on this point. I know he has accepted as true the common report at Dehli regarding the origin of your connection with this woman.”

“What report?” asked Bharat Singh, eagerly.

“It is well-known there that the woman was the ready assistant in a plot to ensnare you; to extort money from you by threats of exposure and prosecution before the Magistrate.”

“From whom did you hear that?”

“You must be yourself aware that the report goes that you were the victim of a plot, and the woman the decoy bird.”

“It was a lying report.”

“You fell into the trap, and are heedless and headstrong enough not to be aware of it even now.”

“It is utterly false,” exclaimed the young man indignantly.

“No doubt the fair lady has persuaded you to disbelieve what everyone else knows to be the fact.”

“I tell you, sir, there was no snare—none whatever, except what I myself laid.”

Ellis shrugged his shoulders and smiled contemptuously.

“Your honour thinks I am a mere fool,” ejaculated Bharat Singh, hotly.

“I know you are heedless, and might be an easy victim to a clever gang.”

“Not to be led into a trap by Kiráni clerks, sir,” he exclaimed, with rising indignation. “I would not have you believe this of me—that I was a mere puppet to be jerked on their strings.”

“Well,” replied Ellis, quietly, “it may be as you say. But in these cases the simple victim often believes himself a match for rogues. Nevertheless, as you so strongly assert, perhaps, after all, you were the knave and not the fool in this business.”

“At least, not the fool; I would not have you think that of me. And if you will permit, I will tell you how this came about, and you will be convinced I was no simpleton.”

“I am open to conviction,” replied Ellis. “Speak freely then, and the matter need not go beyond ourselves.”

The young man sat silent awhile, meditating how he could best explain that he had been the villain and not the victim. He began in a timid manner, but gained confidence as he proceeded. Many suggestions and inquiries and skilful encouragement from Ellis at length elicited the whole story, which was in substance as set forth in the following chapter.

Chapter VIII

A Knave, Not a Fool

About six months ago—it was a few days after I entered the house I rent at Dehli near the Moti Bazaar,—I went for an evening drive on the Karnal road. About three miles out, just beyond Narain Das’s garden, I passed a hackney carriage in which a young lady and an old Eurasian remained seated, while the driver boy dismounted to examine one of the back wheels. On my return I found the carriage still where I left it, the axle now propped on some bricks, while the old man and the boy endeavoured to jerk the wheel round. The young lady, seated on a cushion placed on a heap of road-metal, was watching them with sad countenance. I drew rein, and, learning that the wheel was jammed in the axle-box, I sent my groom with his spanner to help unscrew the nuts. But this was of no avail, and it became evident that the aid of a blacksmith was needed to loosen the jammed wheel. Meanwhile, exchanging a few words with the old Eurasian, I learnt that his daughter was out for the first drive after illness, and quite unable to walk home. I offered to send out a blacksmith in a pony-cart from the Sabzi Mandi, when, if the wheel could not be adjusted on the road, he and his daughter could drive back in the pony-cart. But the young lady, addressing her father in English, objected that the jolting of the springless pony-cart would be intolerable. Then, as I had one spare seat in my buggy, I offered to drive the young lady home, leaving her father to follow in the pony-cart. After some hesitation they accepted my offer, and I drove back with the young lady by my side.

“On the way we exchanged only such words as were required to guide me to her residence near the police-barracks in the Kudsia road: she seemed to heed me no more than her coachman. But I noticed how much she enjoyed the swift easy motion of my Calcutta built buggy, after the slow jolting of the wretched vehicle in which she had driven out.

“She alighted at her house, gave me a nod, said ‘Thanks,’ and left me without further ceremony. It is probable that I should have thought no more of the occurrence, but for a casual remark made to me that night by an acquaintance, for the lady had asked me no question as to who I was or where I came from; and I on my side had felt no special interest in her.

“But it happened that a horse of mine was entered for the Races to be held next morning, and that night I attended the Lotteries at the Club. As I entered the room, one of the officers of the garrison with whom I had become intimate, bantered me about the very pretty Eurasian girl I had been driving about. When I endeavoured to explain, he only laughed and twitted me the more, and I ended by falling in with his humour.

“But his words had the strangest effect upon me. I had completely forgotten the incident, when I entered the room, intent only in backing my horse; now the figure of the young lady suddenly arose before me with extraordinary vividness. I bought in my horse and hurried away, with a new project shaping itself in my mind: I would win her by myself for myself alone; no crafty barber’s wife should go between; no gold or jewels or promise of wealth should be flashed before her eyes.

“Next morning at dawn I walked alone to the Kudsia road, and from servants lounging about easily learnt all I needed regarding my new acquaintances. The father, a widower, was Clerk in the Military Store office, and his daughter was the wife of a man who had been long absent, employed on a new telegraph line beyond the Indus.

“Soon after nine o’clock I was again on the ground, and intercepted the father at the corner of the Queen’s Park on his way to his office in the fort. I inquired politely in English how he had got home after the accident, and we easily fell into conversation. I told him that I had come from Bareilly to visit some friends, and was looking out for a Clerkship in a government office. The buggy I drove had been lent to me by a rich schoolfellow. I was ready, I said, to pay down a fee of three months’ salary to any one who procured a suitable post for me. He at once became interested; and invited me to come to his house that evening with specimens of my handwriting. The hour struck ten, and he went through the Lahore Gate into the Fort.

“That evening I found him lounging in his veranda, while his daughter, seated by his side in a low chair, was engaged in needlework. I dared not look at her, lest the glitter of my eyes should betray me; but I watched her deft fingers at their work, and my heart throbbed painfully. She wore a white cotton dress with little bunches of red ribbon.

“The old man expressed approval of my writing and fluent English speech, and said that though extra hands were often wanted in his office, candidates were many; would I pay him four months’ salary if I got a post through his recommendation? To this I demurred, but after some chaffering I accepted his terms, provided the post was permanent; and it was agreed that I should come to his house daily, morning or evening, to ascertain whether he had found any opening for me. Business thus disposed of, he referred to the fine horse and trap I had been driving; his daughter, he said, had never enjoyed anything so much as the drive home; never before had she ridden in anything better than the rattling hackney coach. He wondered whether I could borrow the trap again for him to take his daughter for a drive. At this the young lady looked up for the first time, and remarked, it would be indeed delightful to drive in that easy buggy, but her father was short-sighted and timid, had never driven anything except an ekka-pony, she would not trust herself with him behind the restive horse which I drove. Then, with my eyes fixed on the ground, I answered, that I could get my friend’s old coachman to take the young lady for a drive in the morning; he would be glad of a little present of eight annas. The lady accepted eagerly; and I went on my way elated, aware of nothing till I reached home.

“All night the sound of her voice, the quick motion of her hands, and the click of the knitting-needle haunted me. Then when the hour of six had struck, I drove out towards the Muttra road, but in Faiz Bazaar I drew rein, gave my groom a letter to deliver near the post-office, and bade him return home with the answer. I drove away slowly alone, making a long round by Circular Road and Sháh Bastion, and as the appointed hour struck, I drew up at the house in the Kudsia road. The lady stood ready dressed in the veranda, where her father was lounging as usual. But when I explained that unfortunately the coachman had been required to drive his master out to the Kutb Minár, and that I had only come round to prevent the lady being kept waiting longer, she was greatly disappointed and seemed ready to weep. But her father said, if I could spare the time, why could not I take her for a few minutes’ drive myself. In a moment more, she was seated by my side, and we swung swiftly round the old cemetery into the Civil Lines.

“With eyes fixed on the horses’ ears, I drove onwards, hardly heeding whither, and I dared not speak. But the lady leant back in the carriage with hands loosely folded in her lap, a quiet smile on her lips, and in silence enjoyed the rapid motion. At length, drawing a deep sigh, she spoke, saying, it was time to return homewards, and I became aware that we had already crossed the Canal bridge near the Race-course. I found my voice and replied, it was a pleasure to drive her, and we could go out as far as she pleased. But she pressed to return; so I alighted, and raised the hood for shelter from the sun, now high in the heavens, and she was able to recline in the corner out of sight as we drove back. As we approached her house she regretted the delightful drive was over, and I found courage to reply that I would gladly take her out again, and would borrow a four-seated dogcart with room for her father too. She was pleased at this proposal.

“On the following morning I went to them in a badly balanced dog-cart, and with the lady in front and her father in the back seat drove the roughly trotting horse swiftly. But the bar of the jolting cart bruised her, and her father grew dizzy from riding with his back to the horse. They exchanged seats and both were uncomfortable as before. There was no pleasure in riding in the cart, said the lady; she would not care to come out again unless we drove in the buggy with its spring cushions. I smiled secretly at the success of my stratagem, and remarked, it was unfortunate we could not all three drive together in the buggy.

“Thus was established the practice between us: I drove out with the lady alone three or four times a week, and there is hardly a road outside the City which in the early morning hours we did not traverse. And every evening I called asking news of the promised appointment, growing daily more pressing as my little money was nearly exhausted. I begged him to bring me copying work, and gave him money to bribe other clerks to help me.

“Meantime the lady’s reserve wore away, and she prattled of many things as we drove. She was now always in the veranda waiting when I made my evening call, and I often sat in converse with her there before the old man came in from his work. She spoke so pleasantly, knew so many things that she had learnt in the Convent where she had been educated, that a new world was opened to me in her company.

“Never before had I been so absorbed in any pursuit, never so happy. Day by day our intimacy increased, and I dreaded lest any rash expression should prematurely break from my lips to destroy the airy castles I had built. Then I resolved to cease my visits for a while and note her manner on my return.

“I was not disappointed; her pleasure at seeing me again was undisguised; I saw her face flush. But I reproached her father angrily for having done nothing for me, notwithstanding the money I had paid him, and I declared that as my resources were now exhausted I must depart to seek a post at my home in Bareilly. The lady joined me in my reproaches, and eagerly pressed her father to find employment to keep me in Dehli. Finally I consented to remain one day more. I arose to leave, and she held out her hand to me for the first time; I clasped it, and for a moment our eyes met. Then it was I promised to come the following evening and take her for a last drive, for the morning after I had determined to depart.

“I came full of hope as the sun hung low and red through the dust of the City. She was waiting ready dressed and alone, for her father had been detained late in his office. I brought my groom, for the time of concealment had passed, and I cared not if my name and position became known. To her remark on his smart livery, I gave a trivial answer; she took her seat by my side, and we drove rapidly out to the Muttra road. She asked me much of my home in Bareilly, and my people, and I answered vaguely, grew silent, and tears filled my eyes. She inquired anxiously what ailed me, but my voice was choked, and she laid her hand on my arm with distressed countenance. When I was able to speak I exclaimed that in the morning I must depart, and perhaps never see her again. She said many things in a broken voice, and urged me not to go.

“We were now far in the country, the sun had set, and the air was grey and still. On the right of the road was a solitary tomb, standing with unbroken dome amidst a wilderness. I drew up suddenly and bade the groom see to the harness. He leapt down and said the hames had slipped from the collar on to the horse’s shoulder. I requested the lady to alight, for the traces had to be unhooked, and the horse was restive. She stood by, but as we handled the horse he was startled, backed down the slope; the strap of the harness snapped, the traces dangled from the shaft, the horse plunged, and overturned the buggy on a heap of road metal.

“The lady stood by anxious while we released the horse unhurt, but the buggy was too much damaged for use. So I tethered the horse to a tree, and despatched my groom to bring out a carriage from the nearest bazaar.

“Thus was I left alone with the lady sitting in the gathering darkness under the shadow of the great tomb, and the bats and owls flew past and the night-jar called, and a fox barked, but no other living thing was near. Then I spread the rug and cushions for her seat, and felt her tremble. But I fell at her feet and spoke with passion. She listened, and I knew that I had won her heart.

“An hour later the groom returned with the closed carriage which I had stationed ready in the little Bazaar, and we drove slowly back to the city.”

Chapter IX

Counsels of Prudence

While encouraging the young man to complete his confession, and defence, Ellis leant back in his chair, smoking his cigar in long meditative whiffs.

“Surely,” exclaimed Bharat Singh, as Ellis remained silent, “surely I have now convinced you that I was no victim to a plot of Eurasian Clerks. I won the lady alone, unaided, as a penniless candidate for a small clerkship. I was the falcon that struck the quarry, and bore it away.”

“You are proud of the feat,” remarked Ellis.

“Had the lady been the decoy bird to lure me into their nets, never for a day should she have dwelt beneath my roof,” answered Bharat Singh, decisively. “I hope you, sir, no longer think so meanly of me.”

“I admit,” replied Ellis, “you were the knave of the play, and not the fool.”

“And surely that is the better part,” said Bharat Singh.

“Yes, for a man and a prince: one who bears the name of Singh should be rather a strong beast of prey than a sheep to be fleeced; but the highest will be neither one nor the other,” answered Ellis. Then after a pause he added:—“But now to the present: the excitement of the chase is passed, the zest of clandestine meetings is changed to the monotony of daily unimpeded intercourse. In such cases as this, a man commonly begins to weary of a woman from the very day of secure possession. Tell me then frankly, would not her departure be a relief?”

The glow of his first passion had rekindled in Bharat Singh’s bosom as he recalled his successful pursuit, and now the Ellis’s words fell upon him as a cold shock. He made no reply.

“Listen then, Bharat Singh,” continued Ellis. “Will you drift on the slave of a past error, too weak and pitiful to free yourself from a coil which will hamper your life, and render you unfit to succeed to the seat your fathers filled? The time has come to act as a master and cast off the encumbrance, even though you tear your flesh in the process. I gather from your own words and demeanour, though you yourself do not realise it: your infatuation has subsided, and you can now see clearly, that the permanence of this connection is quite incompatible with the claims of your rank and family. And as to the lady,—her just demands for maintenance and consideration, must be generously met. Think of the matter in the light of my words, Bharat Singh; be a man not to be subdued by the ghost of a dead passion. It is your duty to marry a lady of your own tribe, and to this obligation this bond of yours must give way. But we will talk no more of the matter now. Stay here for a few days. I want you to make the acquaintance of our new assistant, and to arrange with Slade to get up a District Race Meeting. Your father is to come to me the day after to-morrow, and he is desirous as you are that the dissensions between you should cease.”

Bharat Singh arose and bowed:—“I feel, sir,” he said, “you have my true interests at heart.”

“Come and see me again this evening at about six o’clock,” said Ellis. “We will have another talk. Now Shekh Rafat Ali is waiting to settle some important business with me.”

Chapter X

The Little Lady of Tikori

Shekh Rafat Ali’s secret inquiries regarding the death of Bharat Singh’s wife had brought to light facts which he was anxious to communicate to Ellis without delay.

Through a relative employed in Katahr he learnt that when the news of the lady’s sudden death reached her father, he departed hurriedly to Tikori, and on his return spoke openly of Bharat Singh as an ill-starred youth, who had caused the death of both his wife and child. An old nurse of the Katahr Fort had been heard bewailing the fate of his foster-daughter, who had perished from the violence of the madman she had wedded. The sinister rumours regarding the lady’s death were sufficient to justify further inquiry, and accordingly Shekh Rafat Ali proceeded to Tikori, ostensibly on business connected with the Revenue Survey operations, and took up his quarters in the little Road Bungalow within half a mile of the Fort.

The current gossip of the neighbourhood was always a matter of interest to him, and, together with many trifles, he learnt that, as a result of quarrels among the servants employed in the Rája’s household, an old serving woman had been dismissed charged with being a witch; and he easily identified her as the mother of the Kahárin, whose chatter in Háfizganj had first excited his suspicions as to the circumstances of the lady’s death. The secrets of the household are the choice treasures of an old servant, which, after ignominious dismissal, she is not unlikely to display to a judicious inquirer.

In the evening Shekh Rafat Ali went to the Kahár’s hamlet to check the survey map, and ran his testing line through the house, which in the Record bore the old widow’s name. There in the yard, crouched upon a cot with head covered, he observed a woman rocking herself and moaning in a manner obviously intended to attract his attention.

“Has there been a death here?” he asked the village accountant, pointing to the mourner.

“A silly creature!” said the Rája’s overseer, taking up the word. “She was dismissed from our house for misconduct, and nows sits moaning over her own folly.”

“Why do you weep, old woman?” said Rafat Ali, in a kindly tone, approaching her. “What loss do you bewail so bitterly?”

She replied with vague words of lonely widowhood and cruel oppressors; and thereupon a bystander, one of her brethren, spoke for her:—“She is a widow, sir, my sister-in-law. The unlucky creature moans and weeps all day because she has been dismissed from the Fort, where she served for very many years. When my brother died, she made no such fuss as now.”

“I was charged falsely, my lord,” cried the woman, drawing back her hood. “They lied from spite against an old and faithful servant. I was unjustly beaten, and now my honour and old service are lost, and to live or die is all one to me.”

“Well, well,” said Rafat Ali. “Why weep? For a sturdy body such as you, there is work in abundance.”

“My face has been blackened by the craft of liars,” she replied, beginning to moan again.

“Do you know why she was turned out?” asked Rafat Ali, turning to the Rája’s overseer.

“I suppose she got into some quarrel with her fellow-servants,” replied the man indifferently. “She is a silly old creature.”

But the woman, catching the words, turned upon him with angry volubility:—“Do you dare call me names?—You, you the misbegotten son of a jackass. Your braying when you open your jaws tells of your father. But, who chooses may abuse a forlorn widow, driven forth on the world in disgrace.”

She threw herself at Rafat Ali’s feet.

“My lord’s name is known as one who protects the widow and orphan. My lord! in my old age this wrong has fallen upon me. Wherever I go folk point their finger at me and call me witch, and ask if my head is healed from the sweeper’s shoe. I cling to my lord’s skirt for help in my trouble.”

“You should go to the Rája Sáhib,” said Rafat Ali, sympathetically. “He will do what is just.”

“They drove me away,” she replied. “Though the Rája Sáhib would surely do justice if he knew all.”

Then Rafat Ali with easy good nature turned to the woman’s brother-in-law:—“’Tis very hard to be cast out in old age after so many years’ service; and service so prolonged must surely have been faithful. I will hear what she has to say for herself, and I may perhaps be able to ask the Rája Sáhib at least to hear her story himself. Take her up to the bungalow at once and wait there for me.”

The man grasped his sister-in-law roughly by the shoulder, and led her away.

Then Rafat Ali completed his work, dismissed the survey party, and, returning on his elephant, overtook the old woman and her companion as they were entering the bungalow gate. He beckoned to them to follow.

Now the gardens of the Tikori Rája are celebrated for their mangoes, and two baskets of the choicest kinds were standing in the veranda for the disposal of the great Shekh Sáhib.

“Look you,” he said, turning to the Káhar. “Do you want a job? Those mangoes must be carried through the cool of the night to my house at Ronáhi, and I give a liberal hire for their quick transport.”

The Kahár readily consented to carry the fruit, and saying he must start without delay in order to reach Ronáhi before sunrise, hastened away to fetch his yoke and slings.

Rafat Ali now proceeded at once to deal with the old woman. He pushed a stool to the closed end of the little veranda at the outer edge, and, having ordered his trusty man Báz Khán to warn off intruders, directed the old woman to sit against the inner veranda wall facing the light. She settled down on her heels, and, bowing her head to the ground, muttered that the great Shekh Sáhib was her protector, he alone;—then looking up anxiously displayed the face of a woman of fifty, with strongly marked coarse features and wide almost toothless mouth, and an ugly cast in her left eye.

Rafat Ali scrutinised her countenance keenly, and remarked in a quiet undertone:—“You say the Ráni Sáhiba has turned you adrift after many years’ service.”

“Never for a day have I been absent since my child was born, she now mother of a wedded daughter, and five strong boys,” answered the woman. “Old and feeble I have no place to abide.”

“Well, not feeble,” replied Rafat Ali. “What excited the mistress’s displeasure?”

“Lies only!” exclaimed the woman. “They plied her with lies and kindled her anger against me.”

“Don’t scream,” interrupted Rafat Ali, in his quiet steady voice. “I am not deaf.”

“By the Grace of God, my lord’s ears are keen, and his body lusty, though grey hairs streak his beard,” she replied in a soft tone. “It was a good star that guided my lord to my dwelling.”

“Come then, tell me how your trouble came about, and beware that you speak truth, for I am one to distinguish lies from truth as curds from butter.”

“Aye, truly, and folk say, none can cheat the great Shekh Sáhib of Ronáhi.”

“That is true, old woman, I read the face and the voice, as a Maulvi or Pandit the written words of his book. But speak if you need help and promptly, for my leisure is scanty. And moderate your voice that your words reach no other ears than mine.”

The old woman again bowed her head to the ground, and then with fluent tongue spoke:—

“My lord knows that some three months ago the Little Lady, wife of the Kuwar Sáhib, Bharat Singh, died suddenly—Ráj kare wuh kambakat dulhá,—Perish that ill-starred bridegroom!” she ejaculated bitterly, and then, after a pause, continued:—“Her babe was then my nursling, for his own nurse had gone to her home,—only eight months old and a sickly babe, but so sweet, my lord, he would lie in my lap and laugh and crow and toss his little legs to the sky,—I loved him as my own child. But his mother, the Little Lady, could not bear him away from her sight, and grew jealous if he smiled up at me. But the Little Lady was hurt and perished, the unhappy one! and I know not how or why, but from that very hour the babe began to wither. I think that amidst the trouble of that dreadful time, a Masán, some baleful sprite, must have frowned upon the dear babe, or maybe the evil eye of that black Bangáli doctor blighted him. I did my best for my nursling,—there was no one to aid me. I sung many charms over him, and the old Sweeper, Kalú, who knows strong spells to quell the Masán, muttered his magic songs circling round the babe with burning straws. All the time the old Ráni Sáhiba lay weeping by the dead bride, heedless, and cursing her own son. But at last the Rája Sáhib himself saw the plight of the babe, and he aroused his Ráni, and then she snatched the child from my arms, crying I was one of baleful breath, born under an evil star. Then I crept into a corner and wept, for I loved his little feet and hands, and his sweet laugh made my heart leap with joy. But in three days the babe’s soul fled, and the old Ráni sank down stricken, near to die of grief. But when she arose again from her couch my presence had become hateful to her, and I slunk downcast about the house shunning her eyes.

“Now it had so happened that before the great disaster fell upon the house, the babe’s own foster-nurse had been called away to tend her own sick child, and finding him stricken by a Masán, she carried him to a shrine on the Ganges, where a holy man drove out the sprite, and made the child whole by the force of a strong spell which none but he knows. And after many days when she returned and learned all, she turned on me, and cursed me, crying that under my evil eye the babe had perished; and she proclaimed this before the Ráni Sáhiba and all our folk; had she been there, she said, she would have summoned the holy man from the shrine by the Ganges; for his potent spell would have vanquished my evil influence and saved the babe, as it had saved her child. Then she raved and called me vampire and hell-hag, till at last I turned upon her, and laid bare her head and spat upon her. She screamed aloud in terror that she was stricken with venom as from the deadly bish-khopra. None of the women dared lay hands on me, and at the Ráni’s call, old Kalú the Sweeper dragged me forth, while the Ráni cried, never again should I bring my evil eye within the walls; if I showed my face a stripping and the Sweeper’s shoe awaited me!

“So I fled to my own house and sank down senseless on my cot.”

Her voice broke in sobs, and laying her head to the ground at her listener’s feet, she besought his aid for a lone widow driven forth naked and hungry after a life spent in faithful service.

Rafat Ali waited until the paroxysm subsided, and then, in his quiet voice, asked if she had seen the Ráni since her dismissal.

“Twenty times have I sat weeping at the gates,” replied the woman. “The warders thrust me away with curses for a witch.”

“It is as you say, old dame,” said Rafat Ali, sympathetically. “A cruel hand has rent the web of your old age. But so much I understand; your calamities sprang from the mishap which befell the Little Lady. All your disasters flowed from hers.”

“That is so, my lord. Her death brought a blight upon our household.”

“Explain, then, how that disaster came about. You have left me in the dark as to the prime cause of all your troubles.”

“Ah, my lord, of that none of the household will speak, and none will carry the shame abroad, not one who eats the salt of the Tikori Rája. Yet none of them all saw what I saw, and can tell what I know.”

“So I gathered from your curses on the head of the Kuwar Sáhib, Bharat Singh,” said Rafat Ali. “But speak now, for unless I know all from the first link in the chain, I cannot judge of your guilt or innocence.”

“Nay, then, why should I not speak out to my lord?” replied the woman, lowering her voice. “But let it not be known that I have spoken! let it not be known, unless it be your wish for me to die under their hands, strangled one dark night.”

“Good dame,” answered Rafat Ali, “what you speak of these secret things is for mine own ears only.”

“I have grasped your skirt, my lord,” she replied. “In my trouble none other has spoken a kind word to me.”

“Then as to the mishap that befell that Little Lady from Katahr?”

“It was thus, my lord,—-the guilt was on his head, the Kuwar Sáhib’s—and his mother cursed him as she lay weeping over the dead body of the bride. My lord no doubt knows Kuwar Bharat Singh?”

Rafat Ali nodded assent.

“After the birth of his son, the Kuwar Sáhib was much away from home, and rumours came more and more thickly of his evil ways in Dehli. At last we heard that he had eaten of the flesh of kine with Faringis, and become a Christian. Then the Ráni Sáhiba wept in secret over her shameless son, and the Little Lady sat with dry eyes and hot mouth, burning, burning with anger at the defilement of the father of her boy. Not for many months had he come near her, and she was as a widow. Then more evil reports reached her through some women’s gossip, that he had taken a Faringi woman, and lived with her at bed and board. She wept with grief and passion hearing this, and cried, never more should he be her husband; he might live with Sweepers and Christians, never again with her. But the Ráni Sáhiba spoke soothing words, assuring her that the tale was false, and that the Rája was departing even that day for Dehli to bring his son home. Now while the Rája was away the Little Lady sat all day brooding and silent, but always nursing and cherishing her babe, not enduring him out of her sight. Then a letter came from the Rája Sáhib, a letter to the Ráni, and perhaps it was not intended the Little Lady should know all. But the Ráni told it to the bride, and I, seated near with the babe in my lap, listened. He wrote that the evil reports of his son were false; he had not eaten at the table with Faringis; he had merely taken a boyish fancy for a Kiráni woman, a passing freak soon to be forgotten. But the Little Lady shut her lips tight, and shook her head, and after a while cried bitterly, and I saw that she burnt with anger,—though she spake little.

“Now two days after we sat on the lofty roof of the Fort playing with the babe,—she, the Little Lady, and I, none other was by. And it happened as I looked through the battlements down the Jaláli road, that I saw our carriage approaching at a gallop, four horses with outriders, and side by side in the carriage were the Rája Sáhib and his son. I called to the Little Lady joyfully, to come and catch the first glimpse of her husband. But her face grew dark, she sat motionless, and exclaimed bitterly, she had no husband, she was as one abandoned. But I fell down before her and cried:—‘Good Lady, harden not your heart. He is your lord, and it is your honour and virtue to serve him. You can have but one husband in this life, and behold, he comes now bright with youth and strength to embrace you. See, he has left the Faringi witch; and what matters it? whether it be a Pátur dancer from Rámgarh or a Faringin of Dehli,—it is but the brief pastime of a young prince, and he returns to his wife, the mother of his son, and the one real solace of his life.’ But with angry voice she bade me cease my idle chatter, and, taking the babe in her lap, sat rocking it. Ah, my lord, the women of the house of Katahr are like the men, hard and fierce and proud as the Race of the Sun.

“I listened and heard the grating of the carriage wheels and the tramp of the horses in the Courtyard, and the confused noise of the arrival; then his voice in our apartments below, and the glad greeting of his mother. ‘Lady,’ I said, beseeching her, ‘will you not rise to meet him?’ But she crouched down on the carpet beside the low parapet wall, and the child, escaped from her lap, lay laughing and throwing out his limbs beside her. Then one of our women ran up the steep stairs and cried breathlessly to her to come down: the Ráni was calling her. But she only answered, without moving:—‘I sit here with my child.’ A short time of silence; then a heavy step mounting the stairs slowly, and I knew the Kuwar Sáhib was approaching, so I crept aside into the latticed chamber in the corner fearing to meet him, for a sudden terror fell upon me.

“At the door of the staircase he stopped, looking at her, but she kept her eyes fixed on the child lying beside her, making no sign. ‘I have come back,’ he said; but she spoke not in answer, nor looked up. He strode across the roof, and kneeling beside her took her hand. ‘Touch me not,’ she cried, snatching it away. ‘You have eaten the flesh of kine, you have become a Christian; your touch is pollution.’ He laughed, and asked who had told such lies of him. But she answered: ‘It is true. No daughter of Katahr was ever mated to a Christian or Muslim. Leave me. Go back to your Faringi harlot, the unclean to the unclean.’ Again he laughed, bitterly now, saying she was a poor silly thing, and knew not what she chattered. Then her anger increased, and she cried:—‘You may laugh and show your teeth. But I swear by the head of my child, never again will I be your wife until you are purified of sin by the penance imposed by our holy Guru. Never!’ And she drew herself away. But he is one whose temper kindles to a flame, like smouldering straw in the wind. ‘Listen to me; lady,’ he said angrily, ‘I came back to my wife without pause from Dehli, but if this be your humour, I return as swift as I came.’ And he stood up to go. But the child, who had lain quiet with wide staring eyes, suddenly broke into a cry as of terror, and through the lattice I saw him bend down as though he would take it in his arms. I think he would have soothed and kissed it, for I saw his face was softened. But she,—perhaps she thought he would carry it away,—she sprung to her feet, pushed him back violently, crying, the child was hers, her only child, none other would be born to her. ‘Beware, lady,’ he said sternly, ‘the child is mine, and I will keep it until you come to your senses.’ But she yielded not and repelled him, and between them lay the little one screaming in terror. Then I saw his brow darken and his teeth set, and with his left hand he thrust her back, with his right he grasped the child. But—that I had perished before I saw the deed!—they were close to the parapet; she tottered against it, and, with a shriek, fell over headlong, crashing down on the marble pavement of the yard. Voiceless and rigid with horror, I saw him leap to the parapet, and then with a wild cry he turned and fled down the stairs.

“I took the little one in my arms and followed, where lay the Little Lady in her blood on the white marble, and her husband beside her clasping her crushed body and moaning.

“Ah, the pitiful sight! the pitiful sight! Rather had I died than live to see it.”

The woman ceased speaking and wept and moaned over the memory of the miserable scene. But when she grew quiet, Rafat Ali asked:—

“The Ráni learnt you had seen all?”

“She questioned me, and I told as I have now told once again.”

“Did she not charge you, that your evil eye brought this calamity upon them?”

The woman hesitated before replying:—“Not then, my lord, not then. It was afterwards when that black hag of a nurse poisoned her mind against me.”

Then after a pause Shekh Rafat Ali addressed her in a voice of quiet severity:—

“Listen then, good dame, and give heed to my words. First, as to what you have told me, beware, lest any know you have spoken it; and beware too, never again open your lips to tell the tale: in silence only lies your safety.

“And as to your unhappy case, it stands thus: never will the Ráni and her folk cease to fear your baleful influence: rather than dwell with you, she would abandon her home. And the Rája Sáhib would answer your pleadings and tears with cool words of no comfort, saying, ‘Good Dame, we know that ’tis no fault of the musk rat that it taints all it touches; but we drive him away, and if he perish, there is a noxious creature the less. See then, you cannot return; the house would vomit you forth as poison, ere the gate closed behind you.’

“Such, unhappy one, is the inevitable doom of fate, to be borne with patient heart. But know this, that the less you brood and bewail over it, the easier will it be to bear.”

Then pausing a moment, he added in slow impressive voice:—“And know this too:—folk may hate one possessed of the evil eye, but they stand in dread of her rare power.

“Now enough. Take this money to meet your present wants, and begone quickly, and ponder well all the words I have spoken.”

The woman silently tied the coins in the corner of her sheet, bowed her forehead to the ground, and departed.

Chapter XI

The Convicts Escape

Shekh Rafat Ali’s report regarding the death of Bharat Singh’s young wife cleared away a dark suspicion, and Ellis now felt confident of being able to reconcile father and son, and divert the latter from idleness and dissipation to the duties of the heir to a great estate.

After the interview with Shekh Rafat Ali, he was employing a few leisure minutes, while the tardy breakfast was being served, in writing to his wife, when an orderly brought a letter from the Magistrate of the adjoining District of Sháhgarh. It enclosed the following telegram from the Superintendent of the Central Prison at Mawána:—“Umra, Bhagua, and Lál Singh, Ahírs of Dalelganj, escaped from prison on Monday night. Inform Magistrate Háfizganj immediately.” The telegram had reached Sháhgarh, the nearest telegraph-office to Háfizganj, on Tuesday, but, by the mistake of a Clerk, it had been sent out to the Magistrate of Sháhgarh, at a bungalow in the north of his District, and forwarded by him, through the road police, passing from hand to hand, and thus only reached its destination on Thursday morning, more than thirty-six hours after despatch from Mawána.

“Read that,” said Ellis, tossing the telegram to Blyth, who now entered.

“Are these the Dalelganj Ahírs convicted in Raghunáth Singh’s case?” asked Blyth.

“Three of the leaders.”

“I see the telegram was despatched from Mawána at six on Tuesday evening.”

“Yes; and it reaches us some fifty-four hours after the escape on Monday night.”

“Had they been recaptured we should have heard,” remarked Blyth.

“They had not been caught for eighteen hours after their escape, and probably had got clear of the Mawána District. Now, consider this, Blyth; Mawána Prison is about 100 miles from Dalelganj as the crow flies, a distance those hardy Ahírs with their long legs would easily cover in thirty hours. They have had nearly double that time at their disposal, ample for lurking, skulking, getting food; and I will wager a gold mohar to a cracked kauri, they have been in Dalelganj already!”

“Surely those fellows will not be so silly as to take cover where the police will be sure to hunt them out.”

“Their women and children in the village will feed them, and put them on the track of their brethren in Gwalior. As to cover, there is enough at this season in the thorn forest by Dalelganj. But for us the practical point is, if they don’t come to Dalelganj;—well, then may good luck attend them elsewhere. Now, we must at once warn the Tikori people that the convicts have escaped; they will know what to do.”

“You fear they may attack the Rája and fly to the jungles to Kharak Bundela?” suggested Blyth.

Here Slade entered, brisk and smartly dressed in well-fitting white jacket, and trousers strapped over patent leather boots.

“Are we to have your company at breakfast?” asked Ellis, cordially. “Here is iced hock-cup to tempt you.”

“The best of draughts at this season,” answered Slade. “Police reports have been more tedious than usual. I really could not face a solitary breakfast.” They settled down to the meal accompanied by an animated discussion on Slade’s project to establish a billiard club. When they had lighted their cheroots, Ellis inquired of the young police-officer whether any special reports had come in.

“The usual burglaries of the moonless night,” answered Slade. “Brass pots and the like carried off. But from the Bilsi station comes a report of a murder, or something like it.”

“No report has reached me,” said Ellis.

“Your clerk now waiting outside has probably got it in his bundle,” replied Slade. “Yesterday a watchman reported that a man of his village had been found lying dead in his bed, killed by sword slashes. The Sub-Inspector started to make an inquiry, but the site is eight miles from the police-station, and his further report has not come in.”

“Who was the murdered man?”

“I didn’t notice his name, but by caste, a Chauhán.”

“And the village?”

“It was eight miles to the north-west of the station, I forget the name.”

“My good lad,” said Ellis, impatiently, “we need to know the people among whom the murder happened, not the cardinal point. But come, one village about eight miles from Bilsi in that direction is Dalelganj.”

“Yes, that was the name.”

“So a Chauhán of Dalelganj slain in his bed! Perhaps now you can recall the Chauhán’s name?”

Slade shook his head, looking crestfallen: “I remember that the report described him as the headman of the Chauháns.”

“So!” exclaimed Ellis, with a little whistle. “Sure enough the handy work of those Ahírs.”

“What Ahírs?” asked Slade.

Ellis gave him the telegram from Mawdna prison.

“Don’t you understand?” cried Ellis, impatiently as Slade looked up, puzzled. “Before those Dalelganj Ahírs were extirpated by Raghunáth Singh—and by your police and our stupid courts—before this, there was no Chauhán headman in the village; so the murdered man is the chief of the new settlers,—the very first man upon whom those Ahír devils would wreak their vengeance.”

“I don’t believe those runaways would have been such fools as to come here,” said Slade, positively. “They have connections right through the Native States among the cattle-breeders across to Málwá and Bhikanír.”

“Vengeance is sweet, my lad,” said Ellis. “To none sweeter than those bold Ahírs. Have a mounted man ready to take a letter to the Tikori people at once. Inspector Mádho Prasád must go to Dalelganj to pick up the clues, and if he does not get on the tracks of Umra, Bhagua, and Lál Singh, he’s not the man I take him for. Order him to come to me for instructions as soon as he’s ready to start. I will write to the Rája myself.”

Ellis gave his orders sharply, and arose to go to his office. Slade, whose self-complacency had been abashed, now recovered his wits.

“Stop a moment,” he said. “I learned from Bharat Singh this morning that the Tikori carriage-dak with pairs of horses is laid out on the Tikori road, and I intended going out by it in the morning to visit the Bilsi Police Station. Now, how would it be if I start at once? I can take Mádho Prasád with me to Bilsi, where he can get a horse to ride over to Dalelganj.”

“Not a bad idea,” said Ellis, pondering a moment. “Yes, the wind has swung round to the west, and we shall have a break in the rains.” Then his eye falling on Blyth, who had been smoking his cheroot in silence, he added: “Yes, and you go too, Blyth. You have been sitting too close over your books and look peeky. I will see to your work. Drive out to the Tikori Road Bungalow, a breezy place. Stop there to-night and to-morrow night if you like. Take your guns, and you may pick up rain-quail. I’ll order my man to pack a basket of provisions and a box of ice, and cool liquors. Now, Slade, bustle about, give orders, and get your things straight. You must start by two o’clock.”

Ellis called for his hat and went across the compound to his office, leaving the two young men to make rapid preparations for their journey.

Chapter XII

The Ahírs Return

The Bilsi Police Station lies twenty miles from the District headquarters at Háfizganj, and eight miles beyond is the little town of Tikori, dominated by the Residence of the Chauhán nobleman, Rája Raghunáth Singh. The road, raised and bridged throughout, was metalled only for the first six miles, and beyond that point the surface was soft from the recent rain. Notwithstanding, therefore, the relays of strong horses, the heavily-laden carriage made but slow progress, and the sun was already sinking when it drew up at the Bilsi Station.

A constable, cooking his dinner, stripped to his waistband, started up, and at his call the Sub-Inspector of Police ran out, hastily adjusting his turban, and half-a-dozen constables followed him at intervals.

“Confound them!” exclaimed Slade. “No sentry on duty, and no more discipline than in a cook-shop. Ali Muhammad shall answer for this, the scoundrel!” Then, seeing the Sub-Inspector, “What, Ali Muhammad, are you back already from Dalelganj?”

“I have but just returned,” replied the police-officer.

“Then what news as to the murder?”

“I have no clue to the perpetrator,” answered the man. “I have ascertained that the headman was sleeping alone on a little thatched platform outside his house. During the night no disturbance was heard, but in the morning his wife found him lying dead. His skull was almost severed through his sheet. He must have been killed in his sleep, and died without uttering a cry. I worried the villagers all last night, but could extract nothing from them but the suggestion that in the dark the assassin mistook the headman for some other person. I have left a constable behind to lurk about to pick up information.”

“Did you hear anything of the Ahírs, Umra, Bhagua and Lál Singh?” asked Slade.

“They were convicted in the riot case, as your honour will remember.”

“They escaped from Mawána prison on Monday night.”

“Oh, ho!” ejaculated the Sub-Inspector.

“Have they been in the village?”

“No,” answered the police-officer. “Had they been there I should have heard.”

“How many Ahír families are left there?”

“Three only, some old women and widows.”

“You had better go out there at once,” said Slade, turning to Inspector Mádho Prasád.

“It is too late,” answered the Inspector. “We cannot cross the flooded water-courses nor follow the path in the dhák-forest at night.”

After some discussion it was arranged, that the Inspector should not start for Dalelganj until an hour before dawn; Blyth drive on at once to carry the information to the Rája; while Slade devoted an hour to inspecting his police-station, and, having completed this, he could mount one of the police horses and arrive at the bungalow in time to dress for dinner.

On both sides of the causeway beyond Bilsi the flooded rice-fields spread like a wide lake, reflecting the red splendour of the closing day on its ruffled surface. Blyth, not displeased to have escaped for a while from Slade’s incessant chatter, leant back in the barouche watched the fading of the gleam over the waters, and sank into a restful reverie, which bore him far away from his surroundings and the purpose of his solitary drive. He was glad of a short respite from the foul air of the Háfizganj Court-house, and from the drudgery of petty criminal cases. Moreover, the constant society of Ellis interesting as it was, had its irksome side. He was impatient of repose, and restlessly eager to discuss, dispute, and impose his own ideas. Always braced to action himself, he expected every one about him to maintain the same high pressure, and to be keenly interested in any work or subject which absorbed him for the time being. In the early morning, at meals, over the evening cheroot and walk or drive, his talk was incessant, and of a kind which demanded constant intellectual alertness and discussion on the part of his companion. Thus young Blyth felt relieved to be away for a while from this dominating personality, and the solitary drive afforded him a brief mental holiday.

It was dark, and the sinking moon obscured by clouds, when the barouche entered the mango groves of Tikori, in the midst of which the little Road Bungalow is built, and drew up in front of the gate pillars. Blyth, aroused from his reverie, could dimly discern the white walls of the house against the dark foliage, but the coachman’s loud call for the watchman brought no reply, and no light was visible.

“I know where the fellow hides the key,” said the orderly, who, with a couple of servants, had accompanied them from Háfizganj.

“The place is notorious for its big black snakes,” said the coachman. “So look out how you go.”

“What care I for snakes!” exclaimed the orderly.

He struck a match and opened the carriage lamp to light it, but cried with an oath to the coachman:—“No candle, you mean beast.”

“Try the other. Candles were there when we drove at the Agra fair,” replied the coachman imperturbably.

“Eight months ago!” exclaimed the orderly, opening the second lamp to find only verdigris. “You care well for your master’s carriage.”

“I never drive with lamps on our roads,” said the coachman, quite undisturbed.

Blyth ordered the packages to be unloaded, candles taken from them, and an entrance effected to the bungalow, while he himself drove on to the Fort to bear his letter to the Rája.

As he spoke there came the loud sound of a temple bell, such as is rung before the symbol of Máhádeo during worship.

“What bell is that?” asked Blyth of the coachman.

“The bell from our temple by the Hanumán Táláo,” answered the man. “Our Rája Sáhib will soon be coming across himself.” He pointed to the dark grove on the opposite side of the road.

“How do you know?” asked Blyth.

“This is Thursday, the seventh day of the Bhádon moon,” replied the man. “It is the rule of the Rája Sáhib to worship at Máhádeo’s Shrine by the Hanumán tank twice on this day, once in the morning at dawn and again at sunset; and a little while after the bell has sounded, he leaves the shrine to walk back to the Fort. About two hundred yards further the path from the temple strikes the road.”

“Drive on as far as the path,” said Blyth. “No doubt he will have lanterns with him.”

“Aye and torches,” replied the coachman, moving on at a foot pace.

He drew up at a spot where the grove was cleared to the left of the road, and the light of the setting moon disclosed on the right hand a track debouching on to the road from the dark grove, where a faint flicker of fire was visible.

“There is the Fort,” said the coachman, pointing to a dark mass some distance in front. “But, see, there are the torches moving. The Rája Sáhib is coming.”

Through the black tree stems Blyth now discerned a faint light, moving it seemed far in the depth of the grove. As it approached, he distinguished two lights, one preceding and the other following a group of men. Again he lost them, as though some dense bushes had intervened; then the leading light again emerged, and he saw that it was a bright lantern borne by a man. But at that moment, a dark figure sprang from the gloom and struck the lantern, and the silence was broken by the crash of glass and metal, and a cry of terror; then from the darkness arose wild confused shouts and cries of “Márá gayá!” and strange yells of triumph.

Blyth sat, with wildly beating heart, transfixed by the sudden shock.

“Someone is being killed,” said the coachman, sitting undisturbed upon his box.

“Strike! Strike! Hold! Ward!” came incoherent cries from out the pitchy darkness. Blyth sprang impetuously from the carriage, and, heedless of the dim danger, ran in the direction of the cries. But in the darkness under the trees, his foot tripped over a knotted root; as he staggered, a blow on the shoulder brought him to the ground, and his unseen assailant fell over him, but arose again in an instant and fled. As Blyth struggled to his knees, he felt a smooth staff lying on the ground; he grasped it, and rising to his feet, found himself uninjured and in possession of the fugitives’ iron-bound club. He listened an instant to the incoherent cries, and then shouted:—

“What people are there? What has happened? I am coming. Show the light. It is I, the Magistrate.”

“Run! run! help!” cried a voice, and then another. “Oh, you people of the temple, bring lights!”

Lights now approached from the extreme distance, borne by men running and shouting, and Blyth moved on cautiously in their direction, calling “Quick with those lights.”

The Brahmans of the Temple, bearing a couple of flaming torches, now drew near, and their lights fell on a group of three men kneeling over a prostrate figure,—Rája Raghunáth Singh, bathed in blood from a sword cut over his right temple.

“Who has done this?” cried Blyth.

“Our lanterns were struck from our hands,” answered a man. “We know not; they came and went in the darkness.”

“See, my wrist is broken,” cried one of the attendants, holding up his maimed arm. “A tall man, with face bound up, sprang forward and struck, and my lantern fell.”

“Another smashed my lantern,” cried his comrade; “ see, there lie the fragments. There were many, and we were helpless.”

The shouts of the coachman and grooms had by this time attracted attention in the Fort and village, and men bearing lanterns came hurrying up. Meantime Blyth commanded order among the noisy group around the wounded man, made a compress of the torn end of a turban, drew the lips of the gaping wound together, and bound it firmly round the unconscious victim’s head. The bleeding being stanched, he had the body placed in the carriage and accompanied it on foot to the Fort.

As the procession approached the gate, the Rája’s agent, Rám Prasád, came forward with dismayed countenance. Blyth seized him by the arm.

“What has happened, sir?” exclaimed the agent, aghast at the aspect of Blyth with torn garments bespattered with blood and dirt.

“Stand by here!” said Blyth, in English. “These fellows have lost their heads. Stand by, and see my orders obeyed. The Rája has been badly wounded by an unknown hand. Summon his body-surgeon, and order your men to bring out a cot and bear the Rája into the house.”

Rám Prasád stood a moment dazed by the noise of the bystanders and by the bloody spectacle, and then, realising the situation, gave sharp orders to carry out Blyth’s directions.

“Send word to the Ráni,” added Blyth.

“The news has reached her; listen!” answered Rám Prasád. The voices of women wailing arose from the women’s apartments, and amidst their cries the Rája, still insensible, was carried through the gateway.

“Now,” continued Blyth, “show me to a room where you have a lamp and writing materials, and order your swiftest rider to be ready to carry a despatch to the Magistrate at Háfizganj. Inspector Mádho Prasád is at the Bilsi Police Station, your man must stop there on his way and report to him what has happened. You can write a note yourself for the Inspector. And stop, Mr Slade is due at the Bungalow; send a man to summon him to me here at once.”

Ram Prasád led Blyth through the fortified gateway, and up a narrow staircase lighted by a little lamp, to a room over the gateway itself. A brightly burning lamp of European pattern displayed a table with books and writing materials, a couple of chairs, and a padded dais littered with many bundles of estate papers and loose documents.

“This is my office,” said Rám Prasád. “Here is all you need.” And he hurried away to execute the orders.

The sultry air of the room was tainted with mustiness mingled with the scent of sandal-wood, and no breeze entered from the three windows opened on to the courtyard. The beads of sweat dripped from Blyth’s forehead, and his wet hand stained the sheet of paper as he wrote.

“What a pestilent place!” he muttered, endeavouring to drive off the mosquitoes which began, with ravenous buzzing, to settle on his neck and ears. Then, to his relief, a boy, bearing a hand pankha, appeared, and silently took up his position at the back of his chair; and freed now of his venomous assailants, and refreshed by the fanning, Blyth was able in comparative comfort to complete his letter to Ellis. Never, he thought, had he been as grateful for a fan; and he noted the presence of mind of Rám Prasád, who, amidst the confusion, had provided this relief.

While Blyth was writing his letter the noises had subsided, and the wailing of women ceased, and for a while an odd silence prevailed. Suddenly, however, as he finished his letter, the wailing broke out again with cries unintelligible to him. The sway of the fan ceased, and Blyth, looking round, beheld the boy standing rigid.

“What has happened?” he asked.

Un ki ján nikas go! His soul has fled!” answered the boy in a toneless voice, and began to sway his fan vigorously once more.

Chapter XIII

The Capture of a Fugitive

The shock of a sudden and violent death fell on Blyth: seated motionless, listening to the piercing cries of the women and the confused murmurs in the courtyard, he saw in his mind’s eye, the tall spare figure of Rája Raghunáth Singh, his head carried erect and his black eyes gleaming under his thick white brows; then the figure vanished, and he saw him again beneath the flickering torches prone in a muddy pool, his twitching limbs, fallen jaw, and the shaven head bathed in blood from a gaping wound.

He was aroused by the loud voice of Slade overbearing the tumultuous sounds; and the young police-officer burst impetuously into the room, streaming with perspiration, and splashed with mud head to foot.

“They told me you had been knocked about,” he cried. “But you’re sound still, eh?”

Blyth briefly related what had happened, and as he finished Pandit Rám Prasád entered.

“It is over,” he said. “The Rája has passed away.”

“I feared the wound had cut deep into the brain,” replied Blyth. “Now, the mounted messenger for Háfizganj!”

“He is at the gate,” answered the agent. “I have given him a letter to deliver to the Kuwar Sáhib, and told him to warn our men with the relays of horses on the road to be ready to bring him at once. This is the order calling Inspector Mádho Prasád here—perhaps Mr Slade had better sign it.”

“You have written to him to start at once on receipt?” asked Slade. “We must have him without delay to consult. But stay, before your messenger starts, let us examine the man I have caught.”

“What man?” asked Blyth.

“I’ll tell you directly. Rám Prasád, order the head-constable to bring up his prisoner.”

A burly Thákur, head-constable of Tikori, emerged from the dark staircase into the light, followed by two constables with the prisoner, a tall gaunt man, deep chested, naked, except for a narrow strip of loin cloth. His shaven head was gashed, and the blood still trickled down his temples and over his eyes, for his arms were doubly bound behind his back, and no attempt seemed to have been made to stanch the blood. His face, recently close shaven, now bristled with stubble brindled with grey, and his eyes glared under bushy, bloody brows, like those of a wild boar at bay.

“The Rája’s men have recognised the prisoner,” reported the head-constable. “Usmán Khán knew him at once—he is Lál Singh.”

“That’s the man,” said Rám Prasád, positively. “Lál Singh Ahír of Dalelganj. But how came he from the Mawána jail?”

“He escaped on Monday with two other of his comrades, Umra and Bhagua,” explained Blyth.

“Oh, ho!” exclaimed Rám Prasád. “They surely are the murderers.”

“What a catch!” cried Slade, examining the prisoner. “Sure enough, I know him now,—Lál Singh.” Then touching the man lightly on the shoulder: “Why, Laluá, we are old acquaintances. Had I known who you were when we met, I believe I would have let you slip away.”

The Ahír’s jaw set firmly, his brows contracted as he looked the young officer in the face, and he seemed about to speak, but he staggered back fainting into the constable’s arms.

“Take him into the air,” said Slade to the head-constable. “He is exhausted. Wash and dress his wound, and let him have refreshment. We will talk to him later.”

“The despatch to Ellis must not be delayed,” said Blyth. “I have added the last news.”

“Add, too, that I have caught Lál Singh, and that the other two escaped convicts have been in Dalelganj. Ellis was right in his forecast.”

The letters having been despatched and orders given for the immediate summoning of all witnesses of the Rája’s death, the two young Englishmen, preceded by a lantern, made their way through the crowd of excited villagers and retainers to the little Road Bungalow. Here, much to Blyth’s relief, the servants, undisturbed by the turmoil, had quietly prepared the rooms for their masters; the bath water was ready, clean clothes spread out, and the dinner-table laid under the pankha.

“Now for your story, Slade,” said Blyth, when, bathed and dressed, they were seated at the little dinner.

Slade refreshed himself with a second deep draught of iced cup, and began:—“I take it our adventures have been fairly divided this time. Well, when you drove on, I thought to catch my Sub-Inspector in many irregularities by examining his records, but the air in the office, foul with a stinking lamp, soon drove me out, and I sat down outside to chat with Mádho Prasád. But ere long the Constable arrived,—the man whom the Sub-Inspector had left behind in Dalelganj to pick up information. He brought with him a cattle-boy, whose chatter had let out important information. Mádho Prasád at once took the boy in hand, and the tale he extracted was this. Early this morning, while he was herding cattle on the edge of the river valley, now covered with the floods, the boy noticed an old Ahír woman with a bundle attempting to cross the water to a piece of bushy high-land, which stood out as an island in the flood. But the water was too deep, and she returned to sit down. In answer to the boy’s question, she said that she wanted to carry the bundle of food across the stream to some boatmen on the island, and offered him a pice if he would take it over and place it under a thatch on the opposite side of the island. She tied the bundle on his head, and he swam across, clinging to the tail of one of his buffalo. He found the old thatch on the far side of the island, facing the deep stream, and noted the burning embers and signs of habitation. There he left the bundle, and hid himself in the long grass at the back to watch. Some time elapsed, and then two men came out of the tamarisk bushes, and went into the thatched hut. The boy knew them well,—they were the Ahír leaders,—Umra, wearing a sword thrust through his girdle, and Bhagua, bearing an iron-bound club. The boy was terrified lest he should be discovered, for he well knew he would be slain at once and his body cast into the flood. He crept away hastily, and rejoined the old woman, telling a lie to explain his prolonged absence.

“So much for the boy’s tale. Clearly prompt action was needed to catch the convicts on the island; so we decided to raid the place at daybreak—Mádho Prasád with the Bilsi police from the Dalelganj side; while I, with the Tikori men, reinforced by two men from Bilsi, crossed the deep stream on a boat above the island.

“This settled, I mounted one of the police horses, and, followed by the two constables with their loins girt up ready for action, started to join you at dinner, and organise with the Tikori police for the joint attack.

“Now I daresay you noticed the road about a couple of miles from here—on either side of the causeway is a tract of low land under deep floods. Growing eager for the cool drink I knew you would have ready to quench my raging thirst, I put my horse to a canter, but the clumsy brute stumbled, and we came down in a heap, breaking the saddle girth. Those fellows never look to their old straps! However, as I was only a couple of miles from here, I pulled myself together and started cheerfully to foot it.

“Well, perhaps you noticed as you drove by—or probably you did not, as you don’t keep your eyes alert. Half way across the causeway are some stunted acacias, which throw a shadow over the road from each side. Out in the open there was light enough, for the sky had cleared, and the stars were reflected from the great sheet of water; but under the acacias was darkness, and I walked with caution slowly over the soft surface, keeping a keen look-out ahead to the light at the end of the avenue. I had nearly emerged, when I saw a figure on the open road running swiftly towards me. Perhaps some fugitive, I thought, my head full of the escaped Ahírs. I drew aside closer under the trees on the left, and stood behind the dark dun horse to hide my white clothing. The runner entered the shadow, stopped, as though to listen, and then moved on at a walk. I grasped my hunting-crop with the leaded end ready for action. As he passed an open space between the trees, I could just distinguish a man naked and bare-headed; his hands seemed to hang listlessly by his side, bearing no staff. Perhaps, I thought, after all only a harmless necessary watchman with a message from Tikori. So I advanced into the middle of the road, crying, ‘Stand!’

The man started back, gave forth one inarticulate cry like a wild beast, and endeavoured to spring past me. But I struck hard, and by good luck in the darkness, my leaded hammer crashed upon his bare skull. He staggered and fell, and in an instant I was on him, astride, a knee on each arm and seat heavy on his stomach, pinioned him down while I gripped his wind-pipe. He writhed violently until I throttled him senseless, while I shouted, shouted till my voice cracked, for my two men who were following. At last I heard their answering cries, and the quick splash of their feet as they dashed through the puddles.

“We bound his strong arms behind his back before he recovered his senses, and then splashed water on his face, and sat him up facing the breeze until he recovered. I thought for a while I had done for him, and had qualms lest after all he should turn out to be a harmless wanderer, though bare-headed and stripped to his wisp of a loin cloth. He refused to speak, except to call for water, which he drank eagerly from Sher Singh’s lotah. Then on we marched, and hearing of your troubles, hurried to the Fort.

“That’s my tale, and there, I take it, is the explanation as to how I came off unhurt.”

He pointed to a heavy staff of male-bamboo shod with iron, which stood in the corner of the room, the weapon which Blyth had picked up in the grove.

“The man who knocked you down, and lost his club as he fell over you, was no doubt the unarmed man I seized. If he had carried that staff when I met him, the end might have been different. So here’s to our good luck, and may the merry war-dance of to-night be repeated again ere long.”

Slade emptied his tumbler at a draught, and set it down with a deep sigh of satisfaction, heedless in the ardour of combat of the fate which had relentlessly pursued the Ahírs of Dalelganj. But Blyth, when he retired to rest, and the pain of his bruised shoulder prevailed over his weariness to keep him awake, was haunted by the tragedy to its culmination almost before his eyes, and he sought in vain for some justification in current morality for his persistent hope that the two comrades of Slade’s victim might make good their escape to the gang of the bold outlaw, Kharak Singh Bundela.

Chapter XIV

The Lady from Dehli

At about six o’clock on that same Thursday evening, Kuwar Bharat Singh left the residence of the Tikori Rája in the Háfizganj bazaar to pay his promised visit to the Magistrate. He went on foot, for he professed a liking, real or affected, for the evening exercise of his English friends, and he felt a mischievous pleasure in shocking the old retainers of the house, who regarded the practice as undignified for a nobleman of his rank.

As he walked slowly along the crown of the broad highway his thoughts ran swiftly over his morning interview with Ellis. He would have felt deeply humiliated if Ellis could regard him as a feeble victim fleeced by a gang of Eurasian clerks. He thought with satisfaction of his skill in convincing Ellis of his masterly capture of the lady in the guise of a penniless clerk. Ellis could no longer look on him contemptuously as the silly fool snared into the toils by a too obvious bait. Then his thoughts lingered on the zest of his patient pursuit, and the first delight of her companionship. And yet, what Ellis urged, was true: ere long the connection must be broken off. He was under no bond, had given her no promise. His reconciliation with his father would be followed by negotiations for his marriage with a lady of his own rank, and necessitate prolonged residence at Tikori. Could his Eurasian mistress be left in solitude at Dehli? She had already vexed him with complaints of the appalling monotony of her life in his absence; she had no companions, no occupations, and the days of her loneliness oppressed her like a nightmare. Such were her words, and he knew they were true; and he had been so closely bound by her to the house that he had felt caged, and fretted for freedom. But if his absence was prolonged, to what temptation would she not be exposed in the depressing solitude of the dark house in the Dehli lane? Such women have but one resource—a lover. Surely, then, thought Bharat Singh, but with a pang, it would be best at once to set her free, and be free himself. Mr Ellis was right—a man should put a speedy term to such a passing whim as this, but with a generous hand to salve wounded vanity. His thoughts played persistently round the idea of her loneliness, and its inevitable consequences; and he grew resolute to take steps at once to terminate the connection.

He was now passing the Travellers’ Rest house, which stands in a little courtyard by the high road, nearly opposite the gate of the Magistrate’s residence; a compact building with tiled roof, fronted by a narrow stucco veranda on to which the glazed doors of the rooms opened. He glanced idly at the house, but his eyes falling on an old man-servant moving some bundles in the veranda, he stopped with an expression of surprise. His footman, who was following close at his heels, ejaculated at the same time:—“Surely, old Dila Rám! Hulloa, Dilua, how came you here?”

The man thus addressed looked up, and hurried forward to meet Bharat Singh, and bowing low, explained—

“I was sending a messenger to inform my lord. The lady has just arrived.”

“What has happened?” demanded Bharat Singh with a heavy frown. “Where is she?”

“In the corner room,” answered the old man. “Her woman is with her.”

“But what brought you?” asked Bharat Singh, impatiently.

“It was yesterday afternoon, my lord,” replied the man, glancing timidly at his master’s angry face. “The lady called me and Núr Bakhsh to her, and said the orders were for her to follow you here, to Háfizganj. We obeyed, and left by train last night. If my lord is displeased, I am at least free from fault,—I obeyed.”

Bharat Singh stood silent a moment, in doubt how to act. Within an hour Ellis would hear of her arrival; and his indignation would be grave at the effrontery implied in the presence of the woman in the public Rest-House, almost at the door of his residence! She must be removed and sent back to Dehli without a moment’s delay!

“Not a word to a soul as to who the lady is,” he said peremptorily to his two servants. “You understand? Pass on the order to Núr Bakhsh and the nurse, and beware!”

He crossed the little courtyard with heavy step, and, entering the veranda, called to the woman servant to let her mistress know he had arrived.

“Come in, come in,” called a soft voice in English. Raising the hanging screen, he entered a little whitewashed room barely furnished with a few chairs, a table, and bedstead. A couple of trunks, half unpacked, stood open, and articles of women’s attire were scattered on the bed, and on the table stood a tray of tea and toast, as yet untouched.

He had hardly closed the door and dropped the screen when the lady hurried out of the dressing-room, and advanced as though to embrace him; but he stood with angry frown and hands clasped behind his back. She checked herself at the door, and her arms sunk to her side.

“Send that woman away,” he said, glancing at the woman-servant, who had followed her mistress. She signed to the servant to leave, and then remained standing on the threshold with downcast eyes;—a slight, graceful figure, wearing a fresh white dressing-gown bright with bunches of pink ribbon. Her oval face was of a light olive hue, the features small and delicate, but the long sweep of the eyebrows was very strongly marked and the eye deep, giving a certain dignity to the forehead, wanting in the lower part of her countenance. Her raven hair, brushed smoothly over the temples, flowed in a loose mass over her shoulders, as though she had been disturbed in the act of arranging it.

“What has happened to bring you here, Inez?” demanded Bharat Singh, coldly, standing with one hand resting on the table and the other thrust in his belt.

“You must forgive me,” she exclaimed pitifully. “I feared you would be angry; but I dared not remain there.”

“Can you not explain? What has happened?” he demanded impatiently.

“Oh, please don’t be angry,” she pleaded. “I thought I should lose you for ever.”

“But why?”

“And then I was insulted, yes, insulted by your men,” she continued, an angry ring rising in her voice. “But, sit by me here, and I will tell you all.”

His vexation at the irksome position in which her arrival placed him had strengthened his half-formed resolution to cast off this “young man’s passing folly” at which Ellis had sneered. But now her indignant cry that she had been insulted by his men, aroused his swift anger, that under his roof she should be treated with any shadow of disrespect. Then the tearful eyes, wan from the long journey; the nostrils quivering with the hardly-suppressed sob, her pitiful attitude touched him, and he advanced to her side where she had sunk down on a chair at the foot of the bed.

“Insulted you!” he said in a softer tone; “who has dared?”

“I will tell you; but sit down here on the bed by my side,” she answered in a broken voice.

He complied, saying, “But speak quickly; I have urgent business with Mr Ellis.”

She shuddered, and exclaimed:—“Him! him! Oh, I fear him!”


“Listen quietly: I will tell you,” she answered. “Early yesterday morning you left me. I made you angry by my persistent clamour, beseeching you to remain at least one day more. It was hardly an hour after your train had left, when I heard a noise of quarrelling below, and listening, recognised my father’s voice remonstrating in indignant tones with the porter at the gate. Totá Singh, the Sikh, was the man on duty; I heard him driving my father away with abuse. I ran down and angrily ordered Totá Singh to admit him at once, but the fellow insolently barred the way, said you had given orders he was not to enter the house. My father cried the man was lying in order to extort a porter’s fee, and Totá Singh fell into a passion, and before the whole house bespattered my father and me with filthy abuse I cannot repeat.”

Her eyes flashed angrily as she spoke, and her face grew pale.

“I said you would flog him to death, but he scoffed, saying I should be dismissed from service for a more open-handed successor when you returned, and likely enough before that.”

Bharat Singh ground his teeth in wrath had the Sikh watchman been present he would have cut him down.

“Am I to be treated thus?” she cried.

“Totá Singh shall pay a heavy penalty inside the gates at Tikori,” muttered Bharat Singh under his breath. “But what further happened?”

“At last the headman, Faiz Bakhsh, came up, and silenced the man; but meanwhile others of your people had stood by grinning and jeering, not one moving to protect me. Never, never will I enter the house until that man and his fellows are flogged for their insolence!”

She burst into a flood of tears, and Bharat Singh, unable to restrain his impulse of pity and indignation at her treatment, drew close, stroking her long hair, speaking soothing words, and promising that not one of the scoundrels should cross his threshold again. But there was a base, sordid element underlying the whole occurrence, which jarred his nerves sorely, and checked the full expansion of his feelings.

Recovering her self-possession she continued:—

“I led my father to my room, and learnt things that filled me with dread. You remember a clerk named Philip Thomas,—he used to come to our house and talk of finding a post for you. He is employed in the Deputy-Commissioner’s office. He told my father that while he was bringing some business before the Deputy-Commissioner in his private room, a sudden call drew the Deputy-Commissioner away, and Thomas was left alone for a few minutes standing by the office table, where lay many papers. Among them he noticed a letter from Mr Ellis and a reply, which the Deputy-Commissioner had just written and was reading over when Thomas went in. Of course Thomas read them. Mr Ellis’s letter requested the Deputy-Commissioner to send you home to Háfizganj at once; you had been entangled at Dehli by some Eurasian hussy, and the connection must be broken off without delay. The Deputy-Commissioner replied that he had seen you; that you had promised to go at once to Mr Ellis; and he added, a report was current that you had taken to drinking brandy and turned Christian.”

“That then started the lie!” exclaimed Bharat Singh, angrily. “What else was written?”

“So much he could read as the letters lay open on the table, no more.”

She paused for him to speak, but he sat frowning in silent vexation.

She continued in low, tremulous voice:—

“But I understood all. There was a plot to separate us; to keep you away and cunningly degrade me in your esteem. My father once served under Mr Ellis, and he says Mr Ellis never abandons his purpose; he would use craft, force, any means to attain his end, and he had now determined to tear you from me for ever, and nothing we could do would baffle him. We were helpless; it would be prudent to make the best bargain we could with you, and not start a vain opposition and perhaps forfeit all our claim. I was so angry at his words that I drove him from me.”

Bharat Singh had risen restlessly from his seat and now stood beside her, his hand resting upon the back of her chair, over which her long hair flowed. His spirit now rebelled against Ellis’s assumption of authority. She had seen through the plot with unerring intuition; while he had allowed himself to be cajoled and drawn out and treated as a boy. His heart had grown soft at her pitiful state, and he resented the callous demand for the sacrifice of his affections. Involuntarily his hand moved to rest upon her shoulder.

“Bharat Singh,” she murmured, “for you I left my people and all my old life and friends; apart from you there is no place left for me to rest.” And then raising her voice:—“Now you are angry because I have followed you. But how could I stay to be insulted there, and heart-sick with dread for you here? Ah, I feared that alone you could not defeat that man’s purpose to drive me from you,—so I came. Oh, what else could I do?”

She clasped his hand, and he did not withdraw it.

“But,” he said at length, still struggling against the old spell, which a few minutes before he had resolved to cast off. “But why not have sent a letter by one of your servants? Oh, why did you come yourself here, where there is no place for you?”

She released his hand at once, and, springing to her feet, turned to face him with flashing eyes:—“No place for me! No place for me where you are! I am become a mere useless encumbrance to be thrust away into dark places, smothered! aye, like a corpse, to be cast into a pit!”

Her despairing cry, followed by the burst of passion which lighted her with a fiery beauty, broke through the remnant of his prudent resolutions. He grasped her hand; but she thrust him from her and strode across to the farther side of the room, where, turning with clenched hands and streaming hair thrown back from her face, she cried:—

“Reviled by the Mazbi Sweeper at your gate! degraded before the household! I come to you for protection, the only one in the world on whom I have a claim! And you—you ask me why I come? My God! My God!”

As she spoke, her face had grown very wan; he sprang to her side in time to save her from falling, and held her unconscious in his arms. His heart now filled with pity; he carried her to the bed in the inner room, and revived her with tender words;—all his good resolutions were vanquished, and once more he was completely dominated by his love. She threw her arms round his head, and pressed him to her bosom, feeling like one who, in a dream hurled into a dark abyss, returns to light and reality.

“Let us depart quickly,” she said. “It was his doing. He cast over you the spell that deadened your heart to me. He is bent on separating us. I cannot rest while he is near you.”

“Listen then,” he answered. “If we leave at midnight we can reach the railway in time for the morning train to Dehli. I will write to him that I am called away on urgent business.”

“But why not leave at once?” she urged. “Oh, I dread his evil power! He will learn I have come; he will seize you and drive me away.”

He laughed at her terror. “We cannot get a carriage before midnight; my own horses are out on the Tikori road; and as I came by I heard the bugle of the post carriage to Sháhgarh. Six hours must now pass before another can follow.”

“Then you will stay with me?” she pleaded.

“I have unfortunately much to arrange before we can depart, and I must go now to Mr Ellis on business as I promised.”

“Oh, not to him,” she exclaimed. “He will poison your mind once more; change you again from your own dear self.”

He laughed lightly. “He is no magician of mystic spells, and I am my own master. All will be well. Meantime, see you get refreshment. You have eaten nothing since you left Dehli; faintness from want of food fills you with alarm. Be ready to start after eleven. I will send my man, Dila Rám, to you. ‘

She hung her head in silence, very languid, feeling her power over him once more slipping away. He kissed her and departed swiftly, leaving her alone in that depressing little room, now gloomy with the shade of evening. She pressed her hand to her slowly beating heart, and sank weeping and helpless on the pillow.

Chapter XV

Cayley Ellis

Bharat Singh was justified in his surmise that the arrival of an unusual visitor in the Rest House would be speedily reported to Ellis. In fact, only a few minutes had elapsed after the young man entered the house, when Ellis, strolling out to the high road, where the west wind now blew freshly, passed the gate, and was intercepted by the ancient servant who catered for travellers. In reply to Ellis’s inquiry, whether any visitors had arrived, the man, with a certain air of mystery, stated that a lady had come from Dehli; and he added, lowering his voice, her servants were from the Tikori household, and, in fact, the Kuwar Sáhib was himself now in the house with her. Ellis gave the man a nod, and strolling back he noticed, among a group of servants sitting inside the gateway, the orderly with the gold-embroidered sword-belt who habitually attended Bharat Singh. His quick mind grasped the situation at once. It was improbable that Bharat Singh should have invited his paramour to visit him at Háfizganj, and had he done so, he would never have committed the indecency of lodging her in the Traveller’s Rest House at the Magistrate’s gate, instead of the spacious Tikori Residence in the Háfizganj bazaar. The woman must have come of her own impulse, pursuing her lover, lest he should escape from her toils. He returned home, and, dismissing the incident from his mind to be dealt with when Bharat Singh called, he sat down to beguile his solitude with the humour of the “Biglow Papers,” his favourite book for the time being.

Dusk had closed in, and the lamp was brought out to the little platform in the middle of the ground where he was sitting, when Bharat Singh arrived.

“I expected you earlier,” said Ellis, when the young man had taken his seat.

“Unfortunately I was detained by urgent business,” explained his visitor, shifting uneasily.

“Perhaps you have heard the news about those Dalelganj Ahírs?” said Ellis, and proceeded to give an account of the convicts’ escape from the Mawána jail, and the measures he had adopted to arrest them if they returned to the District. He led Bharat Singh into a discussion as to their probable conduct, and listened with encouraging attention to the young man’s opinions, which indeed showed considerable acuteness, and in substance coincided with those Ellis himself had formed. He then expressed his suspicions as to the facts of the Dalelganj riot, and aroused the young man to a strenuous defence of the justice of the conviction. Ellis listened gravely to his arguments, and stimulated him to develop them at length. Thus Bharat Singh’s thoughts were turned into new currents; he was flattered by the deference with which the Magistrate listened to his opinions and arguments; and the unhappy lady at the Rest House and her urgent claims upon him drifted further and further away from his consciousness, until they seemed things quite apart from the main current of his vital interests.

When at length the young man arose to take his leave, Ellis stopped him, saying:—

“There is one matter I should like to impress upon you, and it may help you in a present difficulty. You are a man who has, at least will have shortly, important duties to fulfil, both as a leader among your own people and as one to whom the British Government will look to aid in the administration of this District. You have not only the natural capacity, but the training also to carry you far. Whatever meaner folk may do, men in your position must not allow their public obligation to be hindered by the interference of any woman.

“Now this morning you confided to me your unfortunate entanglement with a Eurasian woman, and I advised you quite frankly how you were bound to act with due recognition of your position and obligations. I now learn that this person has pursued you here. The position she places you in now must be most distressing; but I hope confidently, after what passed between us this morning, you will harden your heart to a firm resolution, and dismiss her without delay—to Delhi or elsewhere.”

Bharat Singh, startled by the sudden turn, and subdued by the severe yet kindly tone, replied hastily:—

“I found her here but an hour ago. I was very angry, and ordered her return to Dehli at once.”

“Ah, you can realise now how such an unfortunate connection hampers a man,” replied Ellis. “Unless you shake her off very soon, she will encumber you more than you know. The separation won’t become easier by being deferred. Don’t be soft. Now, good-night. I shall see you in the morning, and meantime, if any information as to those Ahírs reaches you, bring it to me at once.”

Then Bharat Singh departed, feeling dimly that he was being made a victim by the woman at whose feet a short time before he had lain, begging forgiveness.

A carriage in waiting at the gate drove him rapidly to the Tikori Residence, and as he passed the Rest House he leant back, shrinking lest he should see her seated by a lamp in the veranda, and watching for his return. He began now to realise the grave importance of this affair of the Dalelganj Ahírs. Ellis had evidently discovered the real facts of the riot, and he might possibly act upon his discovery with disastrous consequences to the prestige of the Tikori family. Rám Prasád, the astute agent who had so successfully carried out Bahádur Khán’s bold plan, must be consulted without delay. Then there was a serious personal danger to his father from the revengeful spirit of the escaped convicts; this Bharat Singh fully comprehended, though with Ellis he had thought fit to argue against the contingency.

Thus his thoughts flew rapidly, and he was vexed by the recurrent consciousness of his promise to depart for Dehli that night, hampered at a moment of emergency by an encumbrance against which Ellis had solemnly warned him. But the issue became clear;—the information received from Ellis had entirely changed the position since his promise had been given; his presence at home was now necessary; he must remain, and she must depart alone.

Meantime Ellis, after a solitary dinner, had filled up the hours until nearly midnight by disposing of the office work, which he generally reserved for the morning hours. He disliked a solitary evening, and missed young Blyth’s company, for which he found reading a dull substitute; his pipe and iced brandy and soda both lacked zest without a good talk.

He had but just fallen asleep, when he was aroused again, and beheld his servant by his bedside, lantern in hand, holding out a letter; a mounted man from Tikori had brought it express for immediate delivery. Ellis recognised Blyth’s writing, tore open the cover, and glanced rapidly over it by the dim light.

“What o’clock is it?” he demanded, leaping from his bed with a heavy frown. “Is the bearer of the letter here?”

“He galloped off to the bazaar to deliver a letter to Kuwar Bharat Singh.”

“Order the sentry to arouse the jamadár and orderlies. Light the lamps. Look sharp!—and, stay! get my things ready to start for Tikori at dawn.”

The man hurried away, and Ellis, after a moment’s reflection, put on his slippers, and went into the veranda, where a lamp was burning. He called loudly for Muhammad Khán, the jamadár of the orderlies, and the man came running forward, adjusting his head-dress.

“Where are your men?” he asked sharply.

“Sarjít Singh is here,” replied the jamadár. “The others have gone home for the night.”

“News has come that Rája Raghunáth Singh was assassinated last night in the Hanumán Bágh.”

“Tobáh! Tobáh!” exclaimed the man with horror. “Who was the murderer?”

“The Dalelganj Ahírs, who escaped from Mawána jail.”

“Sir,” said the old jamadár, solemnly, after a moment’s pause. “It was his fate. They were brutally treated, those Dalelganj Ahírs,—harried, and robbed, and burnt, and driven innocent to jail. God is great! They have repaid their debt.”

“Listen!” ordered Ellis. “The Tikori horses are ready on the road. I shall go out there at once with Bharat Singh. Let one of the police guard—Rám Singh is fleet of foot—order him to run to Bharat Singh——”

“Excuse me,” said Muhammad Khán, interrupting deferentially. “But Bharat Singh is even now across the road at the Rest House, and is about to leave for Sháhgarh in a post-carriage. See, the lights are moving.”

“How do you know?”

“I was sleeping over there with my old uncle, and the rattle of a post-carriage driving up woke me. Bharat Singh with some Farangi lady was waiting in the veranda, while his man packed things into the carriage. Look! They are moving off.”

Ellis could now discern by the lights in the veranda of the Rest House that a carriage was moving. It passed out of sight into the shadow of the roadside trees.

“Run! Stop that carriage!” he cried. The jamadár seized a lantern from the veranda floor, and ran down the drive. Then Ellis, taking a second lantern from his servant, followed, shouting as he went to arrest the attention of the driver, who was sounding his bugle as his ponies broke into a trot.

Chapter XVI

A Double Release

Through the glazed doors of her room the fugitive lady from Dehli watched Bharat Singh, after he left her, until he disappeared in the twilight gloom beyond the white pillars of the Magistrate’s grounds. Then her spirits sank again, and her anxiety gathered renewed force. Her father had imbued her mind with his own exalted notion of Mr Ellis’s potent influence; and now, while she cowered helpless in the gloomy chamber, she felt this daemonic power working to sever her from her lover. He would compel Bharat Singh to abandon her in the desolation of the bat-haunted Rest House; or, he would force her alone into the post-carriage to be whirled helpless to some remote place and abandoned. What would he not dare to effect his purpose?

She paced the room awhile, a prey to gnawing anxiety, and then sank into a chair to await the return of Bharat Singh from his interview. She felt faint, but could take no refreshment but fragments of toast and a cup of cold and sodden tea.

When the darkness closed upon her, she placed a chair in the veranda to watch for her lover. A carriage with bright lamps drove past to the Magistrate’s house, one of the Tikori carriages, she was told by the old house servant. Shortly after, it drove back, and by the flash of the lamps she discerned Bharat Singh’s orderly seated by the coachman. It disappeared swiftly in the direction of the bazaar. He had driven away without a word to comfort her! She returned to the room, where a light was now burning, and oppressed by her lonely terror called her woman servant. From her she learnt that one of the men, who had been to the Tikori Residence in the bazaar, reported that Bharat Singh had ordered all things to be ready for departure at midnight, including provisions on the journey for the lady as well as himself. The barfi sweatmeats made by a confectioner in the Háfizganj bazaar were celebrated, and he had told his man to get a supply of this dainty. The depressed lady discerned hope under this chatter, and her spirits again revived;—but the dull aching of her heart was persistent.

Then, while she packed her clothes and rested wearily, the time crept on till the hour of midnight struck, when she took her seat in the veranda ready dressed for the journey. But another hour of dreary expectation elapsed before the sound of carriage wheels reached her ears; then, with a little exclamation of joy, she distinguished the scrambling trot of the post-horses and the nimble of the heavy carriage, and Bharat Singh leapt from the carriage and hurried to her.

“Come inside,” he said quickly. “The servants will load the luggage.”

She followed, and fell upon his neck weeping and murmuring half inarticulate words of the terrible anxiety she had endured during his long delay, and her delight at his arrival.

“Let us not remain an instant longer in this place,” she exclaimed, holding his hand. “All the time you have been away I have been haunted by an awful dread: that man seemed always dragging you away from me; I felt it all; oh, there is no safety until we are away!”

“Sickly fancies,” he answered, with hesitating voice. “Mr Ellis has no power over me or you either in this matter. But listen to what I have settled.”

She looked up, anxiously clutching his arm.

“Listen. A matter of the utmost importance has arisen; my presence here is urgently needed. It affects the safety of my father, his life, and our estate.”

“I don’t understand,” she exclaimed.

“I am sending my headman, Púran Prasád, to Dehli with you. He has orders to send Totá Singh and his gang to Tikori at once. They shall one and all be brought to reason in the Fort. They will be replaced by your servants, the men you choose. You shall pay them, and every one in the household shall in future be your dependent, under your absolute control.”

She had listened with dismayed countenance, grasping little of his explanation beyond its dreaded import. “You are not coming!” she cried. “You are sending me back alone?”

“On Saturday, or Sunday at latest, I follow,” he said, looking anxiously upon her as with wan face and quick breathing she drew back. “Meantime Púran Prasád will install you as absolute mistress.”

“Never! never!” she broke in. “I cannot, I will not! Hide me away where you please, in any dark corner of your house. If I leave now, he, that man, will drive me away for ever!”

She sank upon her knees, and grasping his hands pressed them to her face.

“Listen, I beg you listen,” he pleaded, in a half-stifled voice. “Inez, Inez, let me explain the difficulty in which I am placed.”

“No, no,” she cried. “Oh, but a few hours ago you were by me, loving me, and you saw the perils as I do, and were eager to fly from them. He has but cast a spell on you; this business—he feigns it, to separate us, and then his craft will thrust a barrier between us for ever. Oh, I am begging even for my life, for if you abandon me, I die.”

She sank at his feet, terror and despair in her voice and abject helplessness in her posture. His heart yielded to the plea for pity, and he shuddered, as under a vague terror of some awful impending calamity. He clasped her in his embrace, murmuring through sobs:—

“My darling, my darling. You are right. What avail all these things if you are miserable. Let my father set his own guard; as he struck, so may he be stricken. Come, come, my little woman. See, the carriage stands ready for both. Come, not a moment longer will we linger.”

He hurried her out.

“You are to remain here,” he said abruptly to his man, Púran Prasád, who stood ready to mount the box. “I must go myself to Dehli. Await my orders at our house.”

He aided the lady to ascend, threw coins to the servants of the Rest House, quickly followed her into the carriage, and closed the sliding doors with a loud slam. The lumbering vehicle rolled down the path to the road, the driver blew his warning bugle with strident discord, and the three ponies broke into a canter over the broad highway to Sháhgarh.

“We are safe!” exclaimed Bharat Singh, pressing his companion to his side.

“Safe at last!” she answered joyfully, drawing closer.

Then suddenly, above the rattle of the wheels, they heard the shouting of men, and she started from his side with a cry of terror. Louder shouts followed and the carriage stopped.

Bharat Singh dragged open the sliding door, and with an oath called on the coachman to drive on.

“Stop, stop,” cried Muhammad Khán, springing to the door. “By order of the Magistrate!”

“Drive on, you—,” shouted Bharat Singh, savagely, pushing the orderly’s hand from the door.

The coachman raised his whip to urge on the horses, but Muhammad Khán sprang forward, seized the bridle, and shouted “Stand, you dog, stand, or I knock you off the box.” Then, turning to Bharat Singh, he said, in a commanding voice:—“The Magistrate himself is calling from the gate. Come out to him!”

Ellis himself now hastened forward, and stood before the open door of the carriage with his lantern. Bharat Singh alighted in silence, and confronted Ellis with dignity, as though to demand by what authority he had been arrested.

“Bharat Singh,” said Ellis, in a quiet distinct voice, devoid of excitement, “you will excuse my detaining you, when you learn the news which has just reached me: your father has been murdered.”

“Murdered!” exclaimed Bharat Singh, half incredulous, and he held himself upright and stiff, awaiting further explanation.

“Cut down last night as he was returning from the temple in the Hanumán Bágh,” continued Ellis, in the same quiet distinct tone. “I shall start for Tikori at once, and you must come with me.”

While they were speaking the Tikori horseman, who had brought the despatch, galloped forward from the bazaar, and drew rein by the little crowd around the carriage.

“The man with the letter for the Kuwar Sáhib, exclaimed Muhammad Khán, and called to the horseman to advance.

“Read the letter,” said Ellis. “Rám Prasád has, no doubt, given you details.”

Bharat Singh broke the seal with quick hand, while Muhammad Khán held up the lantern for him.

Meanwhile the lady in the darkness shrank back silent terrified and hardly breathing in the corner of the carriage. The image of calamity which had haunted her seemed realised: in the very moment of escape her lover was torn from her by this man. For an instant in the gleam of the lantern she saw Ellis, bareheaded, with wild hair, great red beard, eyes flashing under terrible bent brows—the very shape of the Red Fiend, who haunted the ravine of the Jumna, the terror of her childhood. She sank back paralysed, with cold lips and fluttering heart, while Bharat Singh slowly read the letter.

A suspicion had flashed through his mind, that this report was but a pretext to stop his flight. But the despatch from Rám Prasád left no room for doubt, and, realising the situation, Bharat Singh recovered his self-control.

“They have captured one of the assassins,” he said, turning to Ellis.

“Yes, Lál Singh, and the others can hardly escape, for every road and ferry is watched.”

“But now to act,” continued Ellis. “Your presence at Tikori is required immediately: your mother needs you, and the affairs of the house. We must leave at once. A rider has already gone up the road to warn your men with the relays of horses that we are coming.”

Bharat Singh stood silent. The duty devolved upon him could not be deferred; his mother’s distress; the obsequies of his father; the administration of their affairs; all imperatively demanded his presence; and now, with quiet resolution, he turned to Ellis.

“I shall be ready to leave when the carriage comes up. I understand you have ordered everything necessary.”

“Everything,” replied Ellis. “Come into the house with me now.”

Bharat Singh hesitated a moment, and then in a low voice:—“One moment. There is a lady in the carriage whom I was to escort to Dehli.”

“I understand,” replied Ellis, gravely. “She will now go alone. The head of the Tikori House has other calls upon him. Send her on her way.”

“Call up Búran Prasád!” cried Bharat Singh. But his headman was already standing in the little crowd, and advanced to his master.

“Mount the box. You must go to Dehli and carry out my directions exactly as I ordered before.”

Then with heart violently beating, but fixed resolution, he returned to the open door of the carriage, and looked into the dark interior, whence came no sound or motion.

“Inez,” he said softly. But no answer was returned. He felt her hand lying relaxed in her lap, and a deadly chill fell upon him. She had sunk back into the corner of the carriage, and now his groping hand touched her face, turned aside upon the pillow, and he felt a half-open, breathless mouth.

“A lantern!” he cried. “She has fainted.” He snatched the lantern from Muhammad Khán, and its rays fell upon a wan face, with open glazed eyes.

“Dead!” he cried, in a voice of horror, and, dropping the lantern, he sank down on the lifeless body.

The passionate heart was still,—and the young chief of the Tikori House was free.

The End

  1. A model of the shrine of the martyr Husain at Karbala, which is borne in procession through the town on the 10th Muharram.