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TRISTRAM SAHIB



MILLS & BOON'S

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His LOVE STORY. BIG TREMAINE. MARY MORELAND.
LA. R. WYLIK THE TEMPLE OF DAWN. Hu

TRISTRAM SAHIB. THE RED MIRAGE. DI\H.



TRISTRAM SAHIB



BY

I. A. R. WYLIE

AUTHOR OF

'THE THMPLE OF DAWX," "THE RAJAH'S PEOPLB*



This kiss to the whole world"

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony



MILLS & BOON, LIMITED

49 RUPERT STREET

LONDON W.I



Firtt Published 1915



CtpyrigKt 191C in {he United States of America by I. A. R. \Vvui



Stack
Annex

^5"



TRISTRAM SAHIB



BOOK I
CHAPTER I

THE STORY OF KURNAVATI

"^TVHUS it came about that, for her child's sake, the

_|_ Rani Kurnavati saved herself from the burning

pyre and called together the flower of the Rajputs

to defend Chitore and their king from the sword of Bahadur

Shah."

The speaker's voice had not lifted from its . brooding
quiet. 'But now the quiet had become a living thing
^repressed, a passion disciplined, an echo dimmed with its
passage from the by-gone years, but vibrant and splendid
still with the clash of chivalrous steel.

The village story-teller gazed into the firelight and was
silent. Swift, soft-footed shadows veiled the lower half
of his face, but his eyes smouldered and burnt up as they
followed their visions among the flames. He was young.
His lithe, scantily-clad body was bent forward and his
slender arms were clasped loosely about his knees. Com-
pared with him, the broken circle of listeners seemed half
living. They sat quite still, their skins shining darkly
like polished bronze, their eyes blinking at the firelight.
Only the headman of the village moved, stroking his fierce
grey beard with a shrivelled hand.

" Those were the great days ! " he muttered. '' The
great days ! "

The silence lingered. The Englishman, whose long,
white-clad body linked the circle, shifted his position. He
lay stretched out with a lazy, unconscious grace, his head



2 TRISTRAM SAHIB

supported on his arm, his eyes lifted to the overhanging
branches of the peepul tree, whose long, pointed leaves
fretted the outskirts of the light and sheltered the solemn,
battered effigy of the village god like the dome of a temple.
A suddenly awakened night-breeze stirred them to a
mysterious murmur. They rustled tremulously and secretly
together, and the clear cold fire of a star burnt amidst
their shifting shadows. Beyond and beneath their whisper-
ing there were other sounds. A night-owl hooted, a herd
of excited, lithe-limbed monkeys scrambled noisily in the
darkness overhead, chattered a moment, and were mis-
chievously still. From the distance came the long, hungry
wail of a pariah dog, hunting amidst the village garbage.
These discords dropped into the night's silence, breaking
its placid surface into widening circles and died away.
The peepul leaves shivered and sank for an instant into
grave meditation on their late communings, and through
the deepened quiet there poured the distant, monotonous
song of running water. It was a song based on one deep
organ note, the primaeval note of creation, and never
changed. It rose up out of the earth and filled the dark-
ness and mingled with the silence, so that they became one.
The listeners heard it and did not know they heard it. It
was the background on which the night sounds of living
things painted themselves in vivid colours.

The Englishman turned his face to the firelight.

" Go on, Ayeshi," he said, with drowsy content. " You
can't leave the beautiful Rani in mid-air like that, you
know. Go on."

"Yes, Sahib." The young man pushed back the short
black curls from his neck and resumed his old attitude of
watchfulness on the flames. But his voice sounded louder,
clearer.

" Thereafter, Sahib, the need of Chitore grew desperate.
In vain, the bravest of her nobles sallied forth the armies
of Bahadur Shah swept over them as the tempest sweeps
over the ripe corn, and hour by hour the ring about the
city tightened till the very gates shivered beneath the
enemy's blows. It was then the Rani bethought her of a
custom of her people. With her own hands she made a
bracelet of silver thread bound with tinsel and gay with
seven coloured tassels, and, chposing a trusty servant, sent
him forth out of Chitore to seek Humayun, the Great
Moghul, whose conquering sword even then swept Bengal



THE STORY OF KURNAVATI 3

like a flail. By a miracle, the messenger escaped and came
before Humayun and laid the bracelet in his hands, saying :

" ' This is the gift of Kurnavati, Rani of Chitore/

" And Humayun looked at the messenger and asked :

" ' And if Humayun accept the gift of the Rani Kurna-
vati, what then ? '

" ' Then shall Humayun be her bracelet-bound brother,
and she shall be his dear and virtuous sister/

" And Humayun looked at the gift and asked:

" ' And if I become bracelet-bound brother to the Rani
Kurnavati, what then ? '

" ' Then will the Rani of Chitore call upon her dear and
reverend brother, according to the bond, to succour her
from the cruel vengeance of Bahadur Shah/

" And because the v heart of Humayun loved all chivalrous
and noble deeds better than conquest and rich spoils, he
took the bracelet and bound it about his wrist, saying :
' Behold, according to the custom, Humayun accepts the
bond, and from henceforth the Rani Kurnavati is his dear
and virtuous sister, and his sword shall not re^t in its
scabbard till she is free from the threat of her oppressors/
And he set forth with all his horsemen and rode night and
day tiU the walls of Chitore were in sight."

" Well- ? " The story- teller had ceased speaking and

the Englishman rolled over, cupping his square chin in his
big hands. " Go on, Ayeshi."

" He came too late." The metal had gone from the
boy's voice, and the firelight awoke no answering gleam in
his watching eyes.

" The Rani Kurnavati and three thousand of her women
had sought honour on the funeral pyre. The grey smoke
from their ashes greeted Humayun as he passed through
the battered gates. The walls of Chitore lay in ruins and
without them slept their defenders, clad in saffron bridal
robes, their faces lifted to the sun, their broken swords red
with the death of their enemies. And Humayun, seeing
them, wept."

Ayeshi's voice trailed off into silence. The headman
nodded to himself, showing his white teeth.

" Those were the great days," he muttered, " when men
died fighting and the women followed their husbands to

the " He coughed and glanced at the Englishman.

" But ours are the days of the Sahib," he added, with great
piety, " full of wisdom and peace."
1*



4 TRISTRAM SAHIB

"Just so." The Sahib rose to his feet, ^stretching him-
self. " And, talking ot wives, Buddhoos, if thou dost not
give that luckless female of thine the medicine I ordered,
instead of offering it up to the village devil, I will mix
thee such a compound as will make thy particular hereafter
seem Paradise by comparison. Moreover, I will complain
to the Burra Sahib and thou wilt be most certainly degraded
and become the mock of Lalloo, thy dear and loving brother-
in-law. Moreover, if I again find thirty of thy needy
brethren herded together in thy cow-stall, I will assuredly
dose thy whole family. Hast thou understood ? "

The headman salaamed solemnly.

"The Dakktar Sahib's wishes are* law," he declared
fervently.

".I should like to think so. And now, Ayeshi, it is
time. We have ten miles to go before morning. Give me
my medicine-chest. I see that Buddhoos has a longing
eye on it. Come, Wickie ! " c

The last order was in Errglish, and a small, curious shape
uncurled itself from the shadows at the base of the tree and
t rotted into the firelight. The most that could be said of
it with any truth was, that it had been intended for a dog.
Many generations back there had been an Aberdeen in the
family, and since then the peculiarities of that particular
strain had been modified to an amazing degree by a series
of mesalliances. In fact, all that remained of the Aberdeen
were a pair of bandy legs and a wistful, pseudo-innocent
eye. Nevertheless, it was evidently an object of veneration .
The village elders made way for it, regarding it with gloomy
apprehension as it leisurely stretched itself, yawned, and
then, with the dignity which goes with conscious yet modest
superiority, proceeded to follow the massive white figure
of its master into the darkness.

The headman salaamed again deeply and possibly thank-
fully.

" A safe journey and return, Sahib ! "he called.

The Sahib's answer came back cheerily through the still-
ness. He looked back for an instant at the patch of fire-
light and the sharply cut silhouettes of moving figures, and
then strode on, keeping well to the middle of the dusty
roadway, his footsteps ringing out above the soft -accompa 1 1 i -
ment of Ayeshi's patter and the fussy tap-tap of WickiVs
unwieldy paws. He whistled cheerfully. So long as the
k'cping, odoriferous mud-huts of the village bound them



THE STORY OF KURNAVATI 5

in on either hand, he clung tenaciously to his disjointed
scrap of melody, but, as they came out at last into the open
country, he broke off, sighing, and stood still, his arms
outstretched, breathing in the freedom and untainted air
with a thirsty, passionate gratitude.

There was no moon. The luminous haze which poured
out over the limitless space before them was a mysterious
thing, born of itself without source, without body. Its
pallid, greenish clarity stretched in a ghostly sea between
the earth and the black, beacon- studded sky, distorting and
magnifying, as still water distorts and magnifies the rocks
and tangled seaweed at its bed. It lapped soundlessly
against the cliff of rising jungle land to the right, and be-
neath its quiet surface the shadow of the village temple
floated like a sunken island, its slender Sikhara alone rising
up into the darkness, a finger of warning and admonition.
It was very still. The voice of the invisible, swift-flowing
river had indeed grown louder, but it was a sound outside
this world of shadows and phantoms. It beat against ,the
protecting wall of dreams, unheeded yet ominous aijd
threatening in its implacable reality.

The two men crossed the path which encircled the village
and made their way over the uneven ground towards the
temple. As they drew nearer, the light seemed to recede,
leaving the great roofless manderpam a shapeless ruin,
whilst the Sikhara faded into the black background of
the jungle. The Dakktar Sahib whistled softly ; a horse
whinnied in answer, and the amazing Wickie bounded for-
ward as though recognising' an old acquaintance. The
Sahib laughed under his breath.

" We know each other, Wickie, Arabella and I," he said.
" A wonderful animal that, Ayeshi."

" Truly, a noble creature, Sahib," Ayeshi answered very
gravely.

A minute later they reached the carved gateway of the
temple where two horses had been casually tethered. They
stood deep in shadow, but the strange, unreal light which
covered the plain filled the manderpam with its broken
avenue of pillars, and threw into sharp relief the carved
gateway and the figure seated cross-legged and motionless
beneath the arch. Both men seemed to have expected the
apparition. Ayeshi knelt down before it and placed a bowl
of milk, which he had been carefully carrying, within reach
of the long, lifeless-looking arms.



6 TRISTRAM SAHIB

" For the God thou servest, Holy One," he said, and
for a moment knelt there with his forehead pressed to the
ground.

The old mendicant seemed neither to have heard nor seen.
He was almost naked. The bones started out of the
shrivelled flesh, and the long, matted grey hair hung about
his shoulders and mingled with the dishevelled beard, so
that he seemed scarcely human, scarcely living. Only for
an instant his eyes, half hidden beneath the wild disorder,
flashed over the kneeling figure, and then closed, shutting
the last vestige of life behind blank lids.

The Dakktar Sahib bent down and placed a coin in the
upturned palms.

" That also is for thy God, Vahana," he said, with grave
respect. Receiving no answer, he turned away and
untethered his horse, a quadruped which even the solemn
shadow could not dignify. It must have stood over
seventeen hands high and its shape was comically suggestive
of a child's drawing six none too steady lines representing
legs, back, and neck. The Dakktar Sahib whispered to it
tenderly and reassuringly : " Only ten miles, Arabella,
on my word of honour, only ten miles. And you shall have
all to-morrow. I know it's rotten bad luck, but then I
have got to stick it, too it's our confounded, glorious duty
to stick it, Arabella, and you wouldn't leave me in the
lurch, would you, old girl ? " Then came the crunch of
sugar and the sound of Arabella's affectionate nozzling in
the region of coat pockets. The Dakktar swung himself
on to her lengthy back. " Now, then, Ayeshi ; now then,
Wickie ! "

The three strange companions trotted out of the shadow,
threading their way through the long, coarse grass in the
direction of the river ; but once the Englishman turned in
his saddle and looked back. By some atmospheric freak,
the temple seemed to have drawn all the green phosphores-
cent haze into its ruined self and hung like a great, dimly
lit lamp against the wall of jungle. The Dakktar Sahib
lingered a moment.

"They must have dreamed wonderfully in those old
days," he said, wistfully. " To have built that think of
it, Ayeshi ! To have given one's soul an abiding expression,
to wake the souls of other men thousands of years hence
to bring a lump into the throat of some human being long
after one's bones have crumbled to dust. Well well > ,



THE STORY OF KURNAVATI 7

He broke off with a sigh. " And you believe that to-night
the Snake God will drink your milk, Ayeshi ? "

" He or his many brethren, Sahib. He lies coiled about
the branches of the highest tree in the jungle and on
every branch of the forest another such as he keeps guard
over his rest."

" No man has ever seen him, Ayeshi ? "

" No man dares set foot within the jungle, Sahib, save
Vahana, and he is a Sadhu, a holy man. He has sat be-
fore the temple for a hundred years, and none have seen
him eat or heard him speak."

" You believe that, Ayeshi ? "

The boy hesitated a moment, then answered gravely :

" Yes, Sahib. My people have believed it."

" Your people ? Well that's a good reason one of
our pet reasons for our pet beliefs, if you did but know it,
Ayeshi. There's not such a gulf between East and West,
after all." He rode on in silence, and then turned his head
a little as though trying to distinguish his companion's
features through the darkness. " Who are your people,
Ayeshi your father, your mother your brothers ? You
have never spoken of them. Are they dead ? "

" I do not know, Sahib. I have never known father or
mother or brethren."

The Dakktar Sahib nodded to himself.

" You are not like the other villagers," he said. " One
feels it one doesn't talk in the same way to you. Tell
me, Ayeshi, have you no ambitions ? "

" None but to serve you, Sahib."

The Englishman threw back his head and laughed.

" Well, that's a poor sort of ambition. Why, I might
get knocked on the head any time typhoid, cholera,
enteric I'm cheek by jowl with the lot of them half the
days of my life. And then where would you be, Ayeshi ? "

" I should follow you, Sahib."

" That sounds almost biblical. And what for, eh ? "

" Because of this, Sahib Suddenly and passion-

ately, he discarded the English language which he used
with ease and plunged into his own vernacular. " Behold,
Sahib, there is the snake-bite on my arm, the wound which
the Sahib cleansed with his own lips. Is that a thing to
be forgotten ? A life belongs to him who saves it."

" Pooh, nonsense ! " The Englishman leant over his
saddle. " For the Lord's sake, Wickie, keep away from



8 TRISTRAM SAHIB

Arabella's hoofs ! Are you a dog or an idiot ? Ayeshi,
you don't understand. That sort of thing's my job there,
now, you've nearly run us into the river with your silly
chatter '

They drew rein abruptly. It was now close on the dan n,
and the darkness had become intensified. The stars seemed
colder and dimmer. Where they stood, their horses snuffing
nervously at the unknown, they could hear the steady
hurrying of the water at their feet, but they could see
nothing. The Englishman patted the neck of his steed
with a comforting hand. " In a year or two, there will be
a bridge across," he said. " Then Mother Ganges won't
have such terrors for us."

" Mother Ganges demands toll of those who curb" her,"
Ayeshi answered solemnly.

" You mean, that no bridge could be built here ? "

" I mean, Sahib, that the price will be a heavy one."

The Dakktar Sahib made no answer. Suddenly he
laughed, not as though amused but with a vague embarrass-
ment.

" That was a fine story you told us to-night, Ayeshi. I
don't know what there was about it something that made
one tingle from head to foot. I've been thinking of it on
and off all the time. Those were days when men did mad,
splendid things bad too worse than anything we do,
but also finer. Sometimes one wishes but it's no good
wishing. The Rani Kurnavati and her bracelet are gone
for ever."

" Humayun also is dead," Ayeshi said, in his grave way.

" You mean ? Yes, that's true, too, I suppose.

But oh Lord " he lifted himself in his saddle with a
movement of joyous, fiery vitality " though I'm no
Great Moghul, worse luck, still, if a woman sent me her
bracelet and she were being murdered on the top of Mount
Ararat, I'd "

"The Sahib would come in time," Ayeshi interposed,
gently and significantly.
The Englishman dropped back in his saddle.

" Well, anyhow, Arabella, Wickie, and I would have a
good shcft at it," he said, gaily. He turned his hm>< -
head eastwards and touched her gently to a trot. " But
it's no good bragging. No one's going to make either of us
bracelet brother. That's not for the like of us. And
meanwhile, we've got eight miles to go and the dawn will



THE STORY OF KURNAVATI 9

be on us in an hour. I wish we'd got the seven-league
boots handy. But you don't know the story of the seven-
league boots, do you, Ayeshi ? I'll tell it you as we go
along. A story for a story, eh ? "

" Yes, Sahib."

They trotted off along the bank of the river, Arabella
slightly in advance,. Wickie skirmishing skilfully on either
hand, the Dakktar Sahib's voice mingling with the song
of the waters as he told the story of the seven-league boots.

Behind them the temple had sunk into profound shadow.

Vahana, the mendicant, still sat beneath the archway.
He took the bowl of milk and drained it thirstily. The
coin he spat on with a venomous hatred and sent spinning
into the darkness.



CHAPTER II

TRISTRAM THE HERMIT

Bourse, all that one can do is to hope," Mrs.
Compton said, ruffling up her dark, curly hair
with a distracted hand. "I don't know who it
was talked about hope springing eternal in the something-
something, but he must have lived in Gaya. If we hadn't
hope and pegs in this withered desert >- "

".My dear," her husband interposed, " in the first place,
Gaya isn't a desert. It's the Garden of India. In the
second place, no lady talks about pegs certainly not in
the tone of devout thankfulness which you have used.
Pegs is are masculine. They uphold us in our strenuous
hours, of which you women appear to know nothing ; they
soothe our overwrought nerves and prepare the way for
a tipensh old age in Cheltenham. Praise be to Allah ! "

Mrs. Compton sighed and surveyed the curtain which she
had been artistically draping. Her manner, like her whole
wiry, restless personality, expressed a good-tempered
ibility.

" Anyhow, they keep you human and grant us luckless
females a lucid interval in which we can call our souls our
own. What you men would be like if you didn't have your
drinks and your tubs and all your other multitudinous
creature comforts well, it doesn't stand thinking about.
Archie, do you like the curtain tied up with a bow or
oh, of course, it's no use asking you, you materialistic
lump." She turned from^ie long, lean figure sprawling
on the wicker chair by the^R'andah window and appealed
to the second member of her audience.

Mr. Meredith, you're a clergyman, you ought to have
a soul. Do you like bows or don't you ? "

Meredith looked up with a faint smile on his grave face.

10



TRISTRAM THE HERMIT 11

" I like bows, Mrs. Compton. I hope it's a good sign
of my artistic and spiritual development ? "

" Yes, it is. I. like bows n^self. Ob, dear " She
stopped suddenly. " But supposing she's a horror !
Supposing she paints and smothers herself in diamonds,
and gets hilarious at dinner, and has a shrill voice ! Good-
ness knows, I don't boast about our morals; but we're im-
moral in our own conventional way, so that it becomes
almost respectable, and anything else would shock us
frightfully. You know, I think we're running an awful risk."

Captain Compton guffawed cheerfully, and the smile
still lingered in Owen Meredith's pleasant eyes.

" I shouldn't worry, my dear lady," he recommended.
" After all, some of them are the last thing in respectability.
It belongs to their profession. They're bound to be physic-
ally perfect, and physical perfection goes with morality.
Besides, I understand that there can be genius mthat sort
of thing, and that she's a genius."

" Well, genius doesn't go with respectability, anyhow,"
Mary Compton retorted. "A professional dancer and a
guest of the Rajah's ! What can one hope for ? "

Meredith compressed his lips and passed his hand over
his black hair with a movement that somehow or other
revealed the Anglican. A look of what might have been
habitual anxiety settled on his square, blunt features, and
he found no answer.

Captain Compton got up, stretching himself.
. "The Rajah's the best guarantee we could have," he
said lazily. "He's a harmless type of the little degenerate
princeling who apes the European and lives in a holy terror
of doing the wrong thing. He wouldn't set Gaya by the
ears for untold gold. I know just what's happened. He
saw Mile. Fersen dance and he sent her a bouquet
very respectfully and gave a supper-party in her honour
also very respectable and assured her of a warm, respect-
able welcome in Gaya should she ever visit India. Well,
she's come as why shouldn't she ? and he's trying to do
the handsome and the respectable at the same time. You
don't suppose old Armstrong would have written about her
if everything wasn't quite all right." He pulled out
his cigarette case and looked round -helplessly for the
matches. " My dear, you will find that she is not only a
perfect lady, but that our ways will shock her into fits ?
and that we shall have to live up to her."



12 TRISTRAM SAHIB

Mrs. Compton gave him the matches with the air of a
nurse tending a peculiarly incapable child.



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