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The temple in the tope online

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circle, or chakra, as it is called, of Durga's great nature
worship had been formed, and Nakshatram was in the
middle of it.

Instinctively she realised her peril.

In a few more seconds these men and women would
collapse, insane and insensible to all sense of human

With her thoughts flying towards her white lover her
hand sought for the hillman's friendly dagger.

It was gone !

She had no time to reason how, for the next moment
she was swept off her feet and carried round in the
great swirling circle with the thought beating on her
brain that her last hope had been stolen from her.

Then something wonderful happened : a bright
gleam, like the passing of a white wing, sped silently
through the moonlight. A death-like rattle rolled
through the court the pujarVs drum stopped in the
middle of its mad roll with a sort of gulp the sickly
gyrations ceased with a staggering motion and, as


Nakshatram tried to steady herself against a dusty
monolith, she saw priest and dasis gazing with fear
towards the now satiated goddess.

" See, it is the spear of the cursed Naga tribe,"
cried the voice of Ramayya. " They have returned
to keep their word and have their revenge."

With shrieks of terror, rage and disappointment the
unnatural Durgites fled towards the central pagoda.

Standing where they had left her in their sudden
flight, Nakshatram saw the black figure of the pujari
lying stretched at the feet of the goddess with a spear
still quivering in his breast.

And the shaft of the spear was long and supple and
marvellously carved to represent a cobra with a slightly
expanded hood.


" NAGA ! " she gasped.

The fiendish revellers, spurred by a drunken vision
of a well-merited vengeance, had hardly disappeared
behind the main block of the temple buildings when
the dark form of a man of unusual proportions moved
noiselessly from under the trailing branches of the
banyan tree.

With eyes that blazed forth a terrible fury he glanced
round as if searching for a hidden foe, then swiftly
crossed the moonlit space behind the tree and the
fantastical idol. For a moment he lingered near the
limp and huddled body of the dying musician ; and,
as he gazed down at it, his grim silhouette stood out
like that of an avenging spirit looking with fierce satis-
faction at a deed well done or well begun ; then,
with an impatient gesture he wrenched away the spear
from its deadly hold and turned to approach the still
trembling girl.


" Naga ! " she repeated. " Is it really thou ? "
And, as the broken sentence escaped from her lips, a
motionless figure, squatting cross-legged after the
manner of a Buddha idol, in one of the niches of the
wall, seemed to wink its eye at the strange twists of

" 'Tis I, little amma. 'Tis Naga, thy slave ! "

For a space they looked into each other's eyes like
those who would read at a glance the sum total of
inexpressible things hidden away in the heart. And
the man's heart pulsated with a thrill of gladness as
he beheld the exquisite beauty of this child of strange
destiny whose life and honour he had guarded so
rigorously from behind the shadows of the unseen ;
while to the woman's face there came the soft glow of
affectionate admiration and trustfulness almost filial in
their nature.

" Nay," she answered gently, referring back to the
lingering slur upon his last word. " That were indeed
a poor name for one who has been so faithful a friend
and foster-parent all these years. Without thy ceaseless
vigilance and timely help how many times would life
have been still more unbearable than it has been amidst
these pitiless followers of a bloodthirsty goddess ? And
now, once more, hast thou come to save me from
things much worse than death."

As she spoke all the fierceness seemed to die out of
the man's deeply-scarred face, and there was a pleading
pathos in his voice as he answered :

" It is, indeed, a great reward, Nakshatram, if I find
but the place of a faithful dog in thy heart."

" Reward ! " she exclaimed. " 'Tis but little return
that I can ever give thee for all that thou hast done
and suffered for me. Would God the dead, whose
memory thou lovest so well, had lived if only to
thank thee for thy faithful kindness."

" The dead ! Ah, I too could wish the dead had
lived to see thee. For thou art beautiful, little one,


in mind and body, and the dead would have died
gladly in knowing it. They have done their worst in
this hell-born place, but thine existence is still as sweet
as that of a lily untouched by the parasites in the
swamp around. I too could wish the dead had lived
then, indeed, had Naga been happy ! "

At that moment a shriek of mad laughter came
indistinctly from the vaults of the central pagoda.

" Ah ! " breathed Naga scornfully. " The wild
beasts are back at their play. The fumes of the bhang
are clouding their fears and soon they will be lying
helpless in the goddess's drunken sleep. Fear not,
little amma, thou art safe from their fangs to-night
at least."

" And to-morrow, my friend ? " she asked mean-

' To-morrow ? Perchance it will be the end of many
weary waiting years for Naga if Naga lives."

" If not ? "

" Others will take his place."

" God forbid ! But the others who are they ? "

" There are many, but the white ruler in the tent
at the temple gate is one." He spoke slowly as if to
watch better the effect of his words.

She uttered an exclamation of surprise, and a new
light came into her eyes, as he completed the latter
part of the sentence.

" So thou knowest him also, Naga ? 'Tis well.
Tell me what thou knowest about him when thou
sawest him last, and how he fared ? Ramayya, the
false one, said but now that he was wounded and that
his wounds were poisoned. Is it truly so, or has
Ramayya's tongue followed its usual fashion of lying ? "

Fear quickened her speech and the hillman was not
slow to mark the paling of her cheeks at the mental
pictures her own words suggested.

The intense anxiety behind her words could not but
sadden him. She was the only thing on earth on which


all the love of his strong and passionate nature was
concentrated. For her sake he had risked his life time
after time against terrible odds, and for her sake,
during the seventeen years of her troubled existence,
he had suffered things far beyond her conception.
And now, for the first time, he saw the veering of her
deepest affections towards another. He had looked
forward to a day, however distant, when he would be
able to get her away from the vile intrigues of these
cursed enemies, and visions of his old age spent quietly
amidst the warmth of her strongest affections had
passed through his mind. But now, another had come
to usurp his place in her life and affections. The light
in her eyes, the tremor in her voice told him that her
heart was no longer her own ; for good or evil she
had let it go out to one whose will and word she would
eagerly obey, even though they drew her away from
him to the other end of the world and that in spite
of all he had suffered for her, and in spite of all the
love which worshipped the ground on which she stood.

It was hard, terribly hard, that he and his feelings
should be consigned to the wild and, for him, purpose-
less life of the forest. But, he acknowledged to himself,
it was natural. He had himself kept bright the light
of hope in her breast by means of visions of the future,
and so was it wonderful if, with the advent of the first
similitude of his own created ideals, her wonderfully pure
but strongly romantic nature had moved spontaneously
towards the love-call of the white Collector ?

It would indeed be hard to lose her ; but then how
often had he been prepared to lose everything even
his life for her sake ; and, if he only knew that she
would be perfectly happy with the one her heart had
chosen, his own love for her was such that he would
gladly seek any form of oblivion that would ensure her

If pain and doubt quivered in his heart he showed
no outward signs of them as he answered quietly :


" I saw the white ruler near the temple wall less
than an hour gone, and he went unharmed. He waits
without for a means of entrance. Heaven, not his
wisdom, saved him from the trap that Ramayya had
set to catch him."

" Thank God ! " she murmured. " 'Twas I who
bade him seek me at moonrise ; and, since Ramayya
came with his cruel words, my soul has been oppressed
with dark fears for his safety. His nature is too straight
to follow the crooked windings of these Durgites*

For a moment there was silence while he watched
this new look in her face, marvelling within himself
at the strength of these forces which had been roused
so recently within her.

" When I would have sought him at moonrise, near
the stream where we first met, the way was no longer
open for me to do so, for the gates were all barred in
a way that told me that I was indeed a captive. Since
then I have done little but tremble for him, not for
myself, even though that happened which thou thyself
witnessed. So thou see'st, Naga," she continued with
a pathetic smile, " his life counts much in mine."

" And so," asked the hillman, with the whimsical
look of one who is not sure whether he will like what
he has asked for, " thou art willing to leave thy old
Naga to follow in the foot-trail of the white ruler ? "

" Willing to follow ? " she asked with that soft ripple
of laughter that rang like a chime of bells in the heart
as well as the head of Percival Duncan. " My heart
is impatient to go to him, but not, my friend, to leave
thee. I would have thee also go with us. To leave
thee behind would be like leaving part of myself.
So promise, Naga, that if it be God's will that we
should get out of the coils of these serpents, thou
wilt not desert thy little amma for thy wild life of the

There was a glad light in the tollman's eyes as the



voice he loved more than anything else on earth pleaded
thus temptingly with him.

" There would be naught else for Naga to do but
to lie down and die, if thou shouldst have no further
use for him," he at last replied.

" Then, it shall be as I say," she said, smiling at
him. " Whither I go thou shalt come also, to take care
of his life as thou hast taken care of mine. Let us leave
this place at once while they are hidden in the temple.
Thou hast spoken of to-morrow, but why not now ? "

He shook his head sadly.

" It is impossible. Though the priests are mad with
their puja, yet the gates are barred, and the place well
guarded "

" But, Naga," she interrupted him hurriedly, " why
should we not go back by the way thou thyself hast
come ? I hate this place. Every minute here is like
a life of torture. I would dare anything rather than
stay in it another night. See, I can be brave as thou
knowest. Whither thou leadest I will not fear to
follow, and," she added with a smile, " beyond the
temple there is the Collector Sahib."

He sighed heavily at her words.

" Would that it were possible to do so, my little
one ! But thou, how couldst thou pass along the tops
of the trees like the squirrels, or silently under the
grass like a snake thou who hast been cooped up for
years like a deer in a cage ? Nay, we must try some
surer way than that. Thou knowest how many times
we have failed hitherto. We must not fail this time ;
for the priests have ripened their plans for something
unusually evil. Night and day the forest is alive with
the Lingites, whose murderous deeds widowed so
many Nagite wives ; while the pilgrim passes and the
roads are unceasingly watched by their friends the
dacoits. Hast thou by any chance heard what it is
they purpose to do during this festival which they are
preparing with so much care in honour of Shiva ? "


" Ramayya, the priest, has said more than once
that the time had come to dedicate me to Shiva."

" God curse them for the spawn of the devil," cried
the hillman in a voice trembling with rage. " Did he
tell thee, little one, why they had chosen thee, and
how it was to be done ? "

" He said it was to remove an old pollution of the
temple connected with my mother ; but he said nothing
of the manner of it beyond that they intended to
perform the dedication at the festival which is to be
held the day after to-morrow. He showed me a way
to escape the dedication, but the way led to his own
wicked self, and I tried to make him understand that
he was as hateful to me as his mother-goddess."

" They are all devils incarnate," replied the hillman
through his teeth. " May God's judgment fall quickly
upon them and their evil den ! But thou art not so
helpless as they think. The Nagites are collecting,
and we wait "

Suddenly the hillman broke off in his angry speech,
and bent his head forward as if he were trying to
separate all the murmurs of the forest into intelligible

" Listen," he said hoarsely, " that is the Nagite
warning of danger." A sharp sibilant sound came
from the top of the banyan tree, and, as they both
listened breathlessly the distant hoot of an owl fell
on their ears, and was repeated at intervals as though
the bird were coming nearer. Then silence fell on
the forest.

The man's face, grown tense with the approach of
the sound, relaxed, and he groaned as he said : " He
has fallen into a trap."

" What is it ? " asked the girl, shuddering with
incipient fear.

" The priest's watch-dogs have not watched in vain ;
something has happened, and "

" To the Collector Sahib ? " she could hardly gasp.


" Nay ! to his friend."

" His friend ! " she exclaimed, wonderingly.

" Ay ; the Collector Sahib was not alone. There
was another with him one whose voice and face
brought back to me strange visions of the past. And
well it might be so, for he is of thine own father's
blood, and near of kin to thyself. In form and features
he is thy father made young again a sapling, lithe
and full of promise, but untried, for the strife and
danger which made thy father what he was have passed
him by, and left him still pliant."

" Ah," she exclaimed, " then thy promise has at
last been fulfilled, and they have come from that
distant land to seek me. Is it not so ? "

" Aye ; it has at last come true. Like thee, I have
often wondered why they came not sooner, and have
had bitter thoughts against thy father's people. But
it seems they sent someone who could find no trace of
thee or me, for thou wert closely purdahed, while I I
was chained in my prison beneath the temple. Even
the fort where we lived when thou wert a child has
disappeared, and by the time that I was free those who
had come to seek had returned to their native land
with empty hands.

" By chance the Collector Sahib and his companion,
thy kinsman, seem to have found thee here, and
to-night they were to have made an attempt to get thee
out of this jackals' lair ; but others seem to have
outstripped the white men's wisdom. Evil has fallen
to the share of thy relative ; and, if we are to get thee
away to-morrow, much must be done before dawn.
Fear not, little amma, for more than one pair of eyes
are watching over thee. Do not enter the temple-
keep to the open and if danger threatens thee give
the Nagite call. Moreover, Ramayya's brother, the
chief priest, has some scheme of his own. He wishes
thee no evil before the festival. I have not been able
to fathom the depth of his desires, but I heard him


utter a mantra over his brother to keep him from
hurting thee. Be brave, daughter of the Mountain
Chief, and Naga will return this time with his tribe
to help him."

He gave her a long look of inexpressible love and
loyalty, and turned away. As he did so a glint on the
ground caught his eye, and with an exclamation of
pleasure he stooped down and picked up the little
jewelled dagger which had played such an important
part that night.

" See ! " he said ; " thy little friend is here. I saw
Ramayya slip it from thy girdle as the dasis sur-
rounded thee. Keep it close, for it might still do thee
a kind service."

She looked him steadily in the face as she took it
from him.

" I shall be patient and brave as thou hast ever
taught me the daughter of the Mountain Chief should
be. But, Naga, if I fear, it will not be for myself.
It will be for him whose heart beats now with mine
thou wilt see that no harm comes to him ; is it not

" If it lies in Naga's power thou shalt see thy chosen
one again."

" And Naga one thing more before thou goest,
for there is a great hunger in my soul for my little
mother. Heardest thou what Ramayya said of her ? "

" Nay," he answered, and there was a queer gulp in
his throat. " I came not till those daughters of Kali
were beginning their freaks. What said the false-
hearted priest ? "

" He said she was to have been burnt at the suttee,
but the Mountain Chief with whom she mated came
and carried her away."

" For once the liar has spoken the truth in his
rage," answered the hillman bitterly. " Thy mother,
Sundaram, belonged to the highest of this land. She
was beautiful beyond compare, and her nature was as


gentle as a dove's. Her very beauty and purity made
the vampires of this cursed shrine crave to destroy
her. When the warrior who took her refused to let
them work their wicked will upon her, they turned
their floods of hate upon him, and invoked both gods
and devils to curse him and the helpless child whom
he had made his wife. The time has come for thee
to learn what has been hidden so long from thy know-
ledge for thy good. A little more patience, amma,
and thou shalt know all if Naga lives if not, keep
still the warm place in thy heart for his memory, when
thou learnest the contents of those papers which thou
hast guarded so faithfully."

As he dragged himself away unwillingly from her
presence, he made the peculiar sibilant noise which she
had heard once before that night. Almost instan-
taneously two black forms like huge monkeys slipped
along the gigantic branches of the banyan tree, and
dropped softly to the ground. For a moment he stood
giving them directions, then suddenly disappeared.
The two black shadows crossed the open space, gazed
down with hatred at the body of the pujari near the
idol, then spat on it.

" Linganna, the head of the Lingite murderers, has
at last been bitten by the cobra's poisoned fang," said
one fiercely, as they lifted it and carried it towards the
temple pool.

" Aye," answered the other as the body slipped into
the sacred water ; " may all the Lingites follow quickly
in his trail."

A few minutes later, as the leaves of the tree up
which they disappeared were settling down to rest, the
motionless Buddha-like figure in the niche of the wall
gave a little gurgle of satisfied wonder as at another
strange twist of destiny ; then noiselessly moved
towards the central pagoda.

Had one been near enough to distinguish him from
the shadows of the colonnade he would have recognised


the temple Sannyasi whose mental condition had
always been a matter of doubt in the mind of the
District Collector.


SOMEWHAT more than a mile away from the temple in
the tope, and towards the open plains, the deep but
narrow course of a mountain torrent crossed the rough
road that traversed the forest along the foot of the
hills. The water that came down in it flowed from a
spring on one of the higher ridges, and, as a rule, was
little more than two or three feet in depth at this point.

Near the stream the forest track broadened out
into a large irregular open space, then tapered back
gradually into its normal width of a dozen yards, and
rose steadily over uneven ground till it reached the
point where we first met with Duncan listening to the
distant splash of the cascade.

A chatram, or rest-house, had been built on this
open space by some pious pilgrim for the use of his
weary wayfaring brethren. After the manner of its
kind, it was simply a long, three-walled, flat-roofed
building of mud and stone, with a miniature temple
built into the main wall, and a sacred tree at each
corner of the open side. Age and ill-usage had
damaged it sadly, but, for those who cared to use it
for such, it still provided a convenient halt during
the midday sun, and a slight protection against the
inclemency of the weather or the prowling of animals
at night.

About the time that Duncan set out for the rendez-
vous near the stream, Wrencroff and his little party
arrived at the open space near the chair am. As an
hour at least must elapse before Duncan and his


companion could reach this open space which had
been agreed upon as their meeting-place, and as it
was necessary to save the animals as much as possible
for the long and trying journey before them, Wrencroff
ordered the bullocks to be unyoked, and fodder to be
supplied to them and the horses. By the time this
was done the dusk had already begun to obliterate
the clear outline of the more distant objects. After
seeing his orders carried out, Wrencroff took up his
position against a large boulder near the stream, and,
having nothing else to do, was beginning to dravr
mental pictures of this cousin of his whom he was so
soon to meet, when his attention was drawn towards
his Mohammedan peon, who was saying in a suppressed
voice : " Kya hai, kya hai ? " with reference to some-
thing he had noticed on the forest line.

" A man lame ! " remarked the syce, after a pause,
during which all eyes were fixed upon the advancing

" No, no ! " objected the bandy-driver. " It is a
man and a woman and the woman is lame."

And, following their gaze along the forest line,
Wrencroff himself was able to distinguish the two
forms as they slowly approached. To judge from their
slow and limping gait they had travelled far and were
very weary. It was soon evident that the woman was
not lame but blind. The man was guiding her by
means of a long pole which she held on to with her right
hand ; while with the left she balanced an ordinary
earthen cooking-pot on her head.

Arrived at the chatram, the man muttered a swami
and a grunt of approval at having arrived at their
journey's end ; then, having unslung the dirty cloth
in which their food was tied up, he dropped the bundle
on the floor, and settled himself down by its side.
With the uncertain movements of the blind the woman
groped her way into the chatram y and followed his


" Who are you ? " at last asked the syce, when the
pair seemed to have recovered somewhat from their
fatigue, and were preparing to share the cold rice now
spread out on two plates of dried mango leaves.

" Sudras from Rangapuram," answered the man as
he began to twirl the rice into a convenient ball before
dropping it into his mouth.

" Rangapuram ? " inquired the bandy-man with
genuine interest. " Rangapuram in the west over
the Red Hills ? "

" Aye ; 'tis fifty miles to the Agraharam which we
passed before noon. Is it known to thee, friend ? "
and the man's weary eyes lighted up with pleasure in
anticipation of a new acquaintance.

" Know it ? " exclaimed the other with a touch of
scorn in his voice. " 'Tis my wife's own village. She
is the daughter of Maduva-reddy."

" Oh, ho, Maduva-reddy ! 'Tis the village munsiff
himself, and he lives in the terraced house by the
village gate. Is it not so ? "

' That is he," answered the bandy-driver with
evident pride.

" Ubba ! " murmured the stranger in surprise and
admiration. " Thou are indeed fortunate to have one
so rich for a father-in-law."

" True, friend ! " replied the other, who was a man of
no mean standing in his own village. " May Bhagava
keep him safe, for he has been good both to me and my
wife ! But tell us what it is that brings thee here ? "

" Uyyo ! " breathed the stranger dolefully. " 'Tis
said that a gold bangle to the goddess of the temple will
bring a boon, so my wife brings one as she has been grow-
ing blind for some months and would be cured again."

" Oh, ho ; oh, ho ! " murmured the listeners in the
S3 r mpathetic fashion of the country.

The dusk had turned to darkness by now, and, with
the deepening of the gloom, the men's voices dropped
to a whisper.


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Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 10 of 24)