I. A. R. (Ida Alexa Ross) Wylie.

Tristram sahib online

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and that this companionship of a day was just a link in a
long, unbroken chain of days. It was so simple, so natural.
He felt no constraint, scarcely any excitement, just an all-
pervading peace. They had always known, each other,
always shared their days, their thoughts and desires. He
did not think about it. It filled his senses with a well-
being, a rare and exquisite content.

She gave an exclamation and held up something in the
palm of her little hand. He took it from her. It was a
bracelet made of seven threads of seven different colours
and bound with a silver clasp. The boy-merchant shrugged

" It is nothing nothing, Mem-Sahib."

" Do you remember ? " she asked.

He nodded not looking at her now.

" The Rani Kurnavati "

" Yes that night when we sat by the moonlight and

Ayeshi told us her story " She laid an extravagant

sum on the tray. " There, that is all I want."

The amazed merchant gasped his blessings after her.


She walked on, threading her way through the aimless
crowd, inspecting her purchase with a thoughtful pleasure.

"I wanted to give it you," Tristram protested, ag-

" And I didn't want you to," she retorted. " You have
given me enough, Major Tristram."

Her solemn reversion to his title amused him. He
watched her smilingly as she snapped the bracelet about
her wrist.

" What have I given you ? "

" The cup. Have you forgotten ? I was so miserable
because I forgot to thank you. I'd never been remorseful
in my life before, but I was remorseful about that."

"I'm sorry. Remorse is ghastly. And I hadn't ex-
pected thanks."

" You didn't expect to live. Ought I to give the cup
back ? "

" No."

" But your mother ? "

" I have told her," he said gravely.

They reached the confines of the village. The high grass
had been trampled down under the passing of a monstrous
animal. Through the dazzling blaze of sunlight they
could see a black mass swarming along the banks, a huge,
writhing octopus whose tentacles groped towards the
temple with greedy, hurrying persistency. And in the
midst of it, like a restless, menacing eye, the Triumvirate
flashed backwards and forwards in evil, delirious triumph.

" They're bringing up their offerings now," Tristram
said, rather grimly. " The Snake God and his retinue
will have food enough for months to come. It's a queer
thing no one has seen these serpents in the memory of
man, and yet it's true enough that native sceptics who
have ventured inside the jungle have either never returned
or come out raving madmen. There is madness connected
with the whole thing a kind of delirium which we English
don't understand. It's in their blood, just as it's in the
blood of some families to respond to supernatural influences
which others don't even feel. Anyhow, we'd better keep
clear of them to-day."

" I have made my plan," she answered, with sedate

He knew now where she was going. They made their
way in silence down the length of the river, touching the


monster only there where its tentacles reached up to the
temple, and came at last to the green-shadowed backwater.
Tristram held aside the branches of the trees for her to
pass through, and their eyes met.

"Isn't this a fitting place to celebrate our day ? " she
asked, " here, where a certain romantic Hermit beheld a
vision and was not afraid ? "

" Visions are not terrifying," he answered.

" But the reality ? "

She did not seem to expect an answer. The boughs of
the trees had swung back into their place. They stood
together at the edge of the water, looking down into its
tangled depths, listening to the silence. Nothing had
changed. It was as though time had fallen asleep, and
they were still living in that first day of their meeting.
The dense foliage of the trees walled them in from the
heat and glare and tumult. The dull murmur that came
to them from time to time seemed no more than the sough-
ing of a rising wind. The peace of it laid itself upon their
senses like a cooling hand.

They sat down in the fresh grass, talking softly and only
a little, fearing to disturb the sleeping spirit of the place.
Tristram unpacked his basket and produced the day's
provisions, over which they laughed subduedly. It"
appeared that he was cook as well as doctor, and she made
wry faces over the probable ingredients of his dough -cakes.
For her humour had lost its keenness and had become
very young and a little tremulous. He responded loyally
and easily. There was no constraint between them, no
sense of trouble. They were comrades together, respond-
ing light-heartedly to the appeal of the sunlight, and the
flowers burning brightly in the cool shadows. They did
not know as yet that their real life lay beneath the surface
of that easy comradeship in a great stillness where their
own voices did not penetrate.

But that stillness mastered them at last, flowing quietly
and mightily over their broken, careless talk. The sun-
light, falling aslant through the trees touched the green
MC 'in of a high palm and began its upward journey. Tris-
tram watched it. He had slipped lower down the bank,
where he could see his own bulk shadowed darkly in the
\\aicr and the pale, ghostly reflection of the woman behind
him. At first, he had lain full length on his elbow looking
at her frankty, fearlessly, as she sat above him, her hands


clasped about her knees, her fair small head bent a little
from p the light, so that her eyes seemed dark and more
serious than her lips. Now he had turned away from her
and watched the passing of the sunbeam. A kind of panic
had gripped him. The time was passing. He had begun
to realise dimly that what they had set out to do was
impossible a defiance of the law of life. A day cannot
be set apart from its fellows either for joy or sorrow. It
is bound up with them by whatever menace or promise
they hold, and the menace of yesterday and to-morrow
touched him like the breath of a chill wind.

He pointed out on to the water and saw that his hand
shook. His pulses had begun to beat heavily, thickly.

" The lotus-flower has gone," he said.

"It is dead. It's so long ago it seems only yesterday
to us. Do you remember asking me if I wanted it ? You
were glad because I let it live out its life."

' ' How did you know that ? "

"I knew that you loved living things."

" Isn't that a love common to us all ? "

She gave a short laugh out of which the joyful irrespon-
sibility had died.

" Men love ideas the fetishes of their intellects. Or
they love their cabbage-patch, or their country. Life and
humanity are nothing to the majority. But you cared
for everything." It was a long time before she spoke
again, and then her voice had changed. It sounded Ian -
guid indifferent. " It must be terrible to kill," she

He stirred, drawing himself up.

"The unforgettable sin," he saicL

" Unforgettable ? Have you ever known any one who
had killed ? "

" Yes. It was worse than killing. He smashed his
man crippled him for life."

" Perhaps he didn't care."

" He cared desperately. He thought of life as I do "

She laughed again.

" Another Tolstoy an ! Well, he was punished, I sup-

" Oh, yes, he was punished. Not by the law. He had
no belief in that Fetish of Justice an eye for an eye.
His life was of value to another. Of what use would it
have been to have smashed it with the rest ? He found


the only way to make good the damage he had done and
he took it."

He spoke firmly, as a man does who has fought through
to a clear issue. He heard her move he fancied that she
had held out her hand as though to touch him, and that
her hand had dropped.

"Perhaps he was mistaken," she said. "Some one once
said to me there is a curse on us that we are damned to
destroy. Perhaps the life he took was justly taken
perhaps it was a bad, valueless life "

He turned impetuously, with an intensity of feeling far
removed from his previous impersonal deliberation.

" You can't tell," he said. " That's the ghastly part of
it you can't tell. You find a piece of broken glass on
your road. You grind it under foot or throw it away and
think you've done your fellow creatures a service. And
then a child comes along crying for its lost treasure. It
doesn't matter that you were justified. The thing had
its value, ^after all, and you smashed it. You hurt some
one "

" Some one is always hurt," she interrupted.

A mist of passionate introspection passed from his eyes,
and he saw her face very pale, with a blue shadow about
the lips. He started; almost touching her.

" You're ill tired ! " he stammered.

" A little it was the heat and the crowd "

He looked at the light on the green stem of the palm,
as though to a warning hand. It had reached the end of
its journey and had grown dim. He got up, holding him-
self desperately erect. ," It's the end of the Feast," he
said, " the end of our tiny."

But she shook her head broodingly.

"You can't tell that either only the gods know the
end, Tristram Sahib."

Something had wrapped itself about their senses. They
had talked of impersonal things and save for that one
break of his without emotion. But the emotion had been
there, below the surface, crushed out of sight by an effort
of the will which left them no physical consciousness. It
walled them within themselves as the trees and dense
foliage walled them in from the heat and tumult.

Thus the storm broke on them without warning. It had


risen little by little with the dull boom of an angry sea.
They had heard nothing. But there had been a silence so
tense, so prolonged that they looked at each other, won-
dering,, waiting, though they did not -know it, for the
scream that ripped through, tearing down the barriers
of their unconsciousness, forcing a breach through which
the full fury of the sound bore down upon them.

Sigrid had risen instantly to her feet.

" Tarantella ! " she breathed. " Tarantella ! "

He did not wait to speak. He pushed through the under-
growth, not knowing that she had followed him. On the
fringe of the coppice he turned and found her at his elbow.

" Something's happened/' he said briefly. " We can't
stay here we've got to get back to the village "

She nodded. A minute before she had looked ill, almost
broken. Now the colour burnt in her cheek, she held
herself lightly, strongly, and her eyes shone as they swept
the scene before them.

" Shall we get through ? "

" I don't know I don't know what's happened. It may
be nothing "

" You don't believe that yourself. It is something.
Anyhow, we've got to try for it "

The fear was in him, not in her. Even then, striding at
her side, bracing himself for whatever lay before them, he
wondered at her, thrilled at the joyous adventurousness
in her. Her head was erect and she was smiling faintly.
The howling of the frantic, demented mob which swept
backwards and forwards across the plain did not seem
to touch her. He felt how, with the coolness of a general,
she was measuring the distances, their chances. He saw
the tightening of her lips and that she had measured

"If it's us they're mad with, it will be a close finish,"
she said, with a low laugh.

He scarcely heard her. He was watching the men and
women who overtook them and ran past. Their faces
were unknown to him. They looked back at him with
the wild-eyed curiosity of animals. As yet it was only
curiosity. They were as ignorant as himself as to the
passion which had broken through the crust of restraint
and now raged in a mad whirlpool between the temple
and the river. But the infection of frenzy was upon
them. They muttered as they ran past broken sentences


in a dialect which he could not understand. They were
pilgrims from distant provinces. He knew that they were
in the majority and. that he could have no hold over
them. They would sweep the rest with them even his
own people.

The sprawling mass of life which had hugged the bank
of the river turned and rolled back. In an instant, it had
blocked the narrow passage on which he had based his
hope of escape.^ He could see the golden effigy swaying
madly above the crowd like a bright, sinister barque on a
black, raging sea, now flung back, now forward, but still
drawing steadily nearer. Through the wild uproar of
voices the dull thud of a drum persisted. It was as though
in that frenzied movement there was a purpose a blind,
demented will to an end.

He stopped short.

" We can't go on it's too late we must make a dash
back and try for the bridge " ^

" It is too late," she answered simply.

He saw then what she had seen. They were cut off.
From left and right, the streams of hurrying men and
women converged upon them, sweeping them forward as
an Atlantic roller tosses driftwood on its crest. For an
instant they were separated. He fought his way savagely
back to lier side, and caught her to him with the roughness
of panic.

Mic looked up at him, smiling tranquilly, inscrutably.
' Afraid, Tristram ? "

' Yes horribly hideously if I had lost you "

1 You didn't. I'm not afraid."

' I can't forgive myself "

' Why should you ? I am very happy."

' \Ve must keep together. Give me your hand."

She gave it him. He remembered how it had lain in his
once before, how the splendid vitality and strength of it
had thrilled him. It thrilled him now, it burnt like fire
through his nerves. They stood facing each other, holding
their ground, swept into a moment's oblivion of all else but
themselves. There was exultation in that grave, brief
contemplation. The panic had died out of the man's <
He no longer pitied her or feared for her. He felt the joy
of their new, fierce comradeship.

' If it were only myself I could be glad

" Be glad 1 " she cried back. " Isn't it worth it ? "


A wave of frantic humanity forced them forward. They
held together. He heard her laugh the eager, triumphant
laugh of men in the glory of battle. " No one can separate
us now ! " she said.

" No one ! " he answered gladly.

He knew it was true. Nothing, so it seemed to him,
could break the steel link of their hands. But he had
grown calmer. He had got to save her. The instinct
which dajnns the weak acceptance of annihilation burnt up
clearly in him. He gave ground to the force behind him,
keeping his feet with the utmost exertion of his strength,
striving to force a passage towards the village. It was a
vain effort. Faces were turned to him. He read their
expression. The mere curiosity had become distrust a
furtive antagonism as yet unarmed with purpose. A fakir,
wild-eyed, bespattered with filth, his emaciated arms flung
up in imprecation, leered up at him.

" Kill ! Kill ! Kill ! "

It was no more than a whisper. But it passed from lip
to lip. They were pushed on, the circle about them tight-
ening in a strangling noose. For all her courage, he knew
that the woman beside him was weakening. He heard her
voice, strained and breathless.

" Don't let me go under don't let me go under "

He knew the horror that had forced the appeal from her
the terror which can change a man's heart to water
the horror of those pitiless trampling feet of those mad
mob rushes under w r hich a human body can be stamped
out of recognition. He threw one arm about her. He
no longer resisted. It was better to go on to be for-
gotten. But the stench of those hot, dust-laden bodies
sickened him. It was the smell of hatred of madness.
It sapped his strength. It was like the breathing in of a
hideous poison.

They swept on. They had reached the densest part of
the crowd. Above them he could see the golden image,
swaying dangerously from the shoulders of its staggering
bearers. A ray of red light from the sinking sun was on
the face nearest to them. Its frozen cruelty seemed to
have drawn life into itself to be sucking up a horrible
vitality from the very passions to which it had given birth.
To Tristram's blurred vision the eyes blazed the mouth
gaped with a grotesque lust of hatred.

It was then he saw Meredith with his shoulders to the


base of the altar, his arm raised, shielding his facn
half-naked fakir sprang at him and dragged the arm
down, and Tristram saw what had been done. The face
was blotted out with blood. The lips were moving. In
one clenched hand was an open Bible. Through the
hellish pandemonium Tristram caught a single sentence :

" Father, forgive them '

Tristram flung the man in front of him aside. He had
felt the tense revival of strength in his companion like an
electric current through all his nerves. They had got to
stand together to go down with the man of their race,
for good or evil uphold him.

" We're coming ! " Tristram shouted. " Hold on ! "

Meredith turned his head in their direction. Perhaps
he saw them through the veil of blood. He made a gesture
urging them back, and in the same instant the man whom
Tristram had flung a^ide revealed his face.

It was Lalloo, the money- lender.

" Dakktar Sahib ! " he said.

" Damn you let me go past ! "

The old man smiled iniperturbably, shrugging his
shoulders. The whisper, " The Dakktar Sahib," ran like
an undercurrent of sound beneath the screams and <
of the swaying, tossing multitude. A woman spat in
Meredith's disfigured face. Tristram lurched forward,
but already they had lost ground. Some new force had
them in its grip. They were bound in a revolving circle
of which Lalloo had become the pivot. Tristram looked
about him. He recognised faces which seemed to have
sprung from nowhere. There was Mehr Singh, the corn-
dealer, and Seetul the weaver, Peru the village ne'er-do-
we ll me n with whom he had lived and suffered. He
cursed at them in their dialect, and they regarded him
stolidly. He shook Lalloo fiercely with his free hand.

" Let us get out of this I've got to get back to my
friend do you hear. I've got to help him do you hear,
you lying, grasping old man ? "

Lalloo shrugged his shoulders.

The circle rolled on. Meredith and the shining figure
of the three-faced god had gone down in the black tumult.
Tin i<>;ir of voices began to fade like thunder, rolling
faintly in the distance. A breath of fresh air fanned their
faces. The circle broke suddenly scattering in all direc-


Tristram still held Lalloo by the shoulder.

" You you saved us," he stammered thickly. " You
saved us didn't you know me better than that "

Lalloo rubbed his thin dark hands and smiled vaguely.

" What have I done, Sahib ? " he said. " What have
I done ? " And with an amazing facility freed himself
and glided into the shadow of the deserted village.

They went on, not speaking, not looking at each other,
sick with the horror of that which they had left behind
them. At the door of Tristram's hut a man came running
towards them. It was the Captain of the native regiment,
cursing volubly.

" Tristram where the devil have you been ? What's
happened ! What set them off ? "

" Meredith preaching the love of God to Siva."

" Oh, damn the parsons ! " He mopped his face in
helpless exasperation. " Well, I've had a nice time of it.
Men vanished into thin air. They've been queer for months
now they've gone. Anyhow, I shall have to stick to it
overawe them with my presence and all that." Even in
that moment, his English good-humour prevailed. " Give
us a hand, Tristram you've influence with them. What's
happened to Meredith ? "

" I don't know "

" Well, we'll try and get him out. Miss Fersen, you
stay quietly in there. There's no getting away just
yet. If neither of us get back, there'll be relief from
Gaya as soon as they get wind of this shindy. Come on,
Hermit ! "

Tristram held open the door for her.

" You won't mind my going ? I may be able to

" I want you to go. I am not afraid."

"I know.'"

They avoided each other's eyes. For one moment at
least they had expected death perhaps willed to die
and in that moment had dared to live.

She went past him, closing the'door after her.

Night came on. It rose blackly out of the far corners
of the,hut, creeping stealthily and soundlessly up the walls.
as water rises in a closed lock. She had sat and watched
it and listened to the deep, encircling silence beyond which


was sound indefinable, subdued, continuous. Once it
had come nearer and instinctively she had sprung up.
bracing herself then rolled back again, with a thwarted.
muffled murmur.

She had fed the stray pup and put it to sleep on Wickie's
old bed. A disreputable, ill-bred-looking tabby had crept
slyly in through the open window and had eyed the intruder
with disapproving curiosity, then settled herself down as
one accustomed to eccentricities. Sigrid had laughed a
little at the interlude. It had seemed grotesque and hum-
drum, a kind of satire on that which the sound painted on
the gathering darkness.

Presently it was quite dark. She got up and lit a candle,
and held it high above her head. The name threw a pale
circle of light down on the surface of the still black waters
which eddied round her. It gave life to an eerie process ion
of formless, soft-footed shadows. She watched them slide
past, from darkness to darkness. Then she went baek
to the table and sat there with her chin in her hand, her
wide eyes fixed broodingly on something far beyond the
tiny pillar of light.

An hour passed. She got up and moved restlessly about
the room. In the struggle, her helmet had been knocked
off and her hair loosened. She let it down and smoothed
its fair softness with her hands. There was no glass in
the place. She took the candle to the carved table against
the wall, and knelt down so that she could see a faint
reflection of herself in the glass of the big photograph.
She began to do her hair with fastidious, delicate carefulness.
When it was done she took the photograph and held it
to the light. There was a pile of letters on the table.
The envelopes bore the same handwriting strong and
clear, yet not with the strength and clearness of youth.
It had an indefinable affinity with the old face that looked
out at her with its serene, smiling wisdom from the wooden
photo-frame. She counted the letters, lingering over
them, as though their touch brought her secret know-

The cat, sleeping by the wall, lifted its head. A minute
later, it got- up, arching its back, its fur bristling, its eyes
bla/.ing in the darkness. She glanced towards it, aroused
by its soft, menacing hiss of anger and fear. Then sud-
denly the silence around her shivered and broke. She.
turned and slipped into the second room. There was a:i


old hunting-knife lying among the debris of their hastily
prepared picnic. She snatched it up and ran back,
placing herself against the wall with the light between her
and the door.

The sound that rushed down upon her was a new thing
more terrible than the roar which had beaten persistently
against the outer wall of her consciousness. It was like
rain and wind and water tearing through a narrow gully.
It came on swiftly, gathering speed and violence. It
came with a rush down the village street nearer and nearer
the patter of countless running feet the gasp and groan
of hard-drawn breath, stifled mutterings, the shrill scream
of a woman breaking off into a choking gurgle. Nearer
in a headlong torrent right to the closed door. She drew
herself up, her lithe body tense and prepared and it
swept past. It raced on in a ceaseless torrent. She heard
the jolt of a heavy body sent reeling against the walls of
the hut and a little whimpering sound that was like a
child 'scrying. Behind the deluge there was a fresh sound
the clatter of horses' hoofs at the gallop.

The door opened and closed. She had taken an involun-
tary step f orward to meet whatever was to come, the knife
clenched in her right hand ; but, as she saw Tristram, she
relaxed with a short, shuddering sigh and her hand sank.
He stood leaning with his shoulders against the door,
staring at her. His clothes were torn and blood-stained.
There was something wild and violent in his face which
she had never seen before the look of a fighter straight
from a struggle in which every nerve and sinew has been
put to a dire test in which all the primitive passions of
men have risen like wolf-hounds tugging at the leash.
The sleeve of his shirt had been ripped to the elbow, and she
saw the grand curving line of his shoulder, expressive of an
immense, tutored strength.

Online LibraryI. A. R. (Ida Alexa Ross) WylieTristram sahib → online text (page 17 of 33)