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" You have not told me yet who you are."

" I am Chirtha of the Nagite tribe. Naga, the head-
man, tell me never to leave the footsteps of the Sahib.
So I am always near, though the Lingites keeping good
eyes in every corner. But they are not real forest-tribe
they are low-caste from villages and they cannot
see even though the Nagites never leave their shadow.
I willing to wait till darkness come to help Sahib
escape ; but bad words come to Chirtha's ears, and it
seemed better going now. There will be running and
risk, but what matter ? It is sometimes easier dying
one way than other, and these people always giving
bad death. Is Sahib feeling quite ready ? "

" Yes ; and I shall certainly never die a victim of
their horrible goddess. But tell me first what I am to

" Chirtha will creep first and see if way clear. If
no one near, we will move in long grass ; but if one
see, then we run for mountain path. Near the pool
of water there is Nagite temple which we will go in.
After that it will be easy for Chirtha to find way."

At one point in their perilous descent the peculiarity
of the view was so sudden and unexpected that Wrencroff
laboured under the delusion that he had come to the
edge of the world and was peeping over it. He was
not a good mountain-climber, and the view made him
light-headed ; but he knew that their boats were irre-
vocably burnt behind them, and, come what might,
they must go forward.

" You are a brave man, Chirtha. And I shall never
forget your help and kindness, if we manage to get
safely out of this difficulty."

" It is good of Sahib to say so," answered the youth,
his face lighting up with pleasure. " But the Nagite
Chief gave order and I only obey. Every Nagite die
gladly to help Chief."

" I only hope that I may find a suitable occasion


later on to show my gratitude. However, Chirtha, let's
get this beastly business over or I shall lose my nerve."

The attention of the Nagite was riveted on some-
thing that was taking place on the other side of the

" Sahib, look . . . look ... the Nagite Chief ! "
he cried excitedly, as he pointed to the mountain path
on the other side of the gully.

Wrencroff lifted his weary eyes and followed the
direction of Chirtha's finger. That which he saw in-
fused new life into his exhausted frame. Away down
on the zigzag path was a moving mass of dark bodies
armed with glittering spears, and marching at their
head was his friend Duncan, accompanied by the guide
who had led him to the temple and was now called by
Chirtha the " Chief of the Nagite tribe."

They had seen Chirtha and were answering his

" Let us go, Sahib ! " said the Nagite exultantly.

So Wrencroff, gladdened by the sight of his friend's
rally, braced himself for the last effort.


IT was morning the morning after the incidents
recorded in the last chapter. The sun was shining
brightly at an angle that warned those who were in-
terested in such insignificant details as the lesser
divisions of time that it was near eight o'clock. Bullock-
bells chimed and tinkled to the accompaniment of
excited voices and merry laughter. The tope around
the Shivite temple was steadily filling with a blaze of
bright colours. Children romped everywhere ; tired
women sang soft lullabies to their peevish infants ;


slim girls, just passing into womanhood, looked out
of eyes that dilated with strange anticipations ; men
laughed, joked, smoked, wrestled or busied themselves
in setting up temporary covers of bamboo poles and
palm leaves.

White and stately stood the Collector's tents amidst
the group of palmyras that dotted the centre of the
huge glade now and then causing a little awe in the
minds of the venturesome youths, but in no way inter-
fering with the legitimate pleasure and the increasing
festivities of the visitors to the sacred resting-place of
the ancient rishis.

Wrencroff had slept a deep dreamless sleep since
Duncan had dosed him with brandy the evening before.
His long, unbroken rest had greatly refreshed him,
though it had left him with an unusual pallor over his
countenance and a jaded appearance as a souvenir of
his terrible experiences. He had just finished relating
the latter to Duncan, who, though he had already
received a general idea of his friend's adventures from
Chirtha the guide, was greatly surprised at some of
the revelations which Wrencroff was able to make.
His astonishment was indeed great on learning the
identity of the dacoit chief and on hearing the descrip-
tion of the personal characteristics of his lieutenant,
who was, he explained, a Rajput by caste.

" By Jove ! " he murmured, " this is a bit of good
luck. You have hit upon two men who have been
badly wanted for some time. It is news indeed to
hear that that rogue of a priest is the real chief. That
is a trump card for us in more ways than one. I'll
write to Lloyd at once and tell him to bring his men
up here as quickly as possible. He's pitched near the
Agraharam and is hunting this gang with a few picked men.
If everything goes well he can be here before dark."

" You have not told me yet," said Wrencroff, " how
you came to be on the mountain path."


" That's true," answered the other ; " but we'd
better have some breakfast first. You must be pretty
well starving. I'll tell you as we go along," and as he
spoke he rang the call-bell.

" What about breakfast, boy ? " he asked when the
butler made his appearance.

" Coming, sir ! "

*' But, hang it, boy, you told me that a quarter of an
hour ago."

" Yes, sir. It done come then . . ."

" But where is it ? " asked the Collector with in-
creasing irritability.

" Coming, sir now ! But that chokra boy no more
any good. He demned funny servant, spilling master's
eggs all over, and never learning his business," replied
the major-domo in a tone of disgust.

" Well, then, teach him better or get another, but
go and bring breakfast now ! Doctor Sahib very

Fortunately, however, for everybody concerned, the
unlucky chokra appeared at that moment with the
breakfast things, and Wrencroff was soon on the way
to satisfy his hunger.

And while he ate and drank Duncan related how
Naga the Chief had rallied his tribe, and how they
had tracked the dacoit band first to the grove and
then to the mountain peak.

" But where is his tribe now ? " asked Wrencroff in

" Goodness only knows ! They seem to have dis-
appeared in the night as mysteriously as they came
together the night before. But they can't be far away,
for he holds them ready to come to our assistance in
case we should need their help to-night."

" But who is this jungle-walla ? " inquired Wrencroff.

" Oh ! I have very little doubt about that. He
must be the hillman referred to by Nakshatram


' The Servant of the Dead ' as he called himself, or in
other words, Naga, the Colonel's servant, who had
charge of that last letter which was sent to your pater.
That would, of course, account for his peculiar attach-
ment to yourself."


BRIGHT, joyous and expectant were the crowds that
streamed incessantly into the temple grove. Super-
stitions had not yet had time to canker their exuberant
spirits, and religion, in its true sense, had no place in
their hearts or minds. The aim of one and all was
centred on the pleasures of a fete or on the unrestrained
licence of a novel tamash.

If the gods spake it was for the priests to read the
oracle by their wisdom, and to arrange the ritual
handed down by tradition from their ancestors the
demi-gods ; but as for the people themselves they were
unlearned and understood neither the one nor the

They had come to enjoy ; and the more hardened
would probably go away temporarily satiated by the
strange freaks and fancies of their goddess as inter-
preted by the priests ; whereas the more tender in
years, and those whose souls moved naturally towards
the good and pure, would return to their homesteads
feeling contaminated, and, perhaps, just a little fright-
ened, by all they had seen and done in the name of
a god.

But at present the systemised wickedness underlying
the Tantric sophistry was hidden away under sancti-
monious practices till nightfall ; passions were still
nascent ; dormant fanaticism had yet to be evoked
by methods ever effective amongst superstitious crowds


dominated by an unscrupulous priesthood ; insidious
temptations had not yet been set to trap the weak and
the unwary all these were to come later, but for the
moment simple glee and innocent mirth appeared to
inspire the gaily-dressed crowd of pilgrims.

Fresh batches appeared every minute : some on
foot, some in bullock-carts decorated with leaves and
flowers, some on small pack-ponies richly caparisoned
or with legs gaudily painted green and yellow.

To the inexperienced onlooker it was a wonderful
spectacle of crowded activity and brilliant lustre :
women hurrying to and fro with their great brass pots
filled with water from the sacred streams or beginning
to burnish the curry pots and cooking vessels with a
view to the evening meal ; men performing their semi-
religious ablutions or helping to clear a convenient
camping ground for their families ; drivers preparing
grain and fodder for their cattle or leading them away
to graze ; attendants rushing about seeking for twigs
and dried branches for the fires ; priests, ascetics and
mendicants arranging their paraphernalia in convenient
spots from which they might catch the attention of
the credulous and inquisitive ; musicians strumming
their vinas or tapping their drums and cymbals to
gain an audience ; quacks, idol-sellers, fruit vendors,
dealers in scents and powders setting out their wares
under the trees and raising insistent cries to draw
the notice of the negligent and all this amidst a blaze
of red, white, purple and yellow, which were the
favourite colours worn by the pleasure-seeking bands
of Shivites.

It would not be correct, nor would it be just, to
leave the impression that this vast concourse was
solely composed of the followers of the Vamacharin
sect, otherwise known as the left-hand worshippers of
the goddess Durga. Tantrika ritual in its last and
worst development never was brought into general


practice amongst the masses. It was never, in reality,
much more than the unnatural outburst of the mad
few. Its doctrines led to moral, physical and social
suicide, and those who were depraved enough to indulge
in it had strong motives for hiding its terrible ravages
in the darkest secrecy. But though the mass of
the people were never initiated into its central rites,
yet, under its insidious influence, Hindu sculpture,
philosophy and morals sank to their lowest level.

As the morning advanced the excitement increased,
the dresses became more brilliant, and the whole grove
grew resplendent with the glitter of jewels and rich
brocades. Silks of the rarest kind worth at least a
hundred rupees a yard, and nine yards at that to a
cloth and linen of the finest texture from the hand-
looms of purdahed captives, were gradually brought
out and exchanged for the less expensive travelling
cloths which had been soiled on the way, nearly all
being covered with marvellous patterns, and inter-
woven with gold and silver strands according to the
wealth of the wearers.

The progress of the festival and the rising enthusiasm
of the people were marked, as they ever are, by a com-
mensurate volume of musical sounds : the beating of
drums, the blowing of strange horns and shrill pipes,
and the twanging of stringed instruments swelled
slowly to that extraordinary combination of notes
which Eastern ears alone can recognise as a grand
symphonic arrangement.

Bards, pujaris, and priests seized the opportunity to
practise their arts on the gullibility of the pilgrims
whenever a family or a group seemed inclined to listen.
The bards erected miniature stages, and, by means of
puppets, played one of the love episodes or heroic
adventures of the god and goddess ; the pujaris brought
lighted thuribles and a small swing or cradle in which
the goddess reclined in the form of Mahavidya, the


source of knowledge, or as Matrt, the chief of divine
mothers, or as Yogini, the goddess of magical powers ;
and the would-be recipients of favours were expected
to present fruits, flowers, lights or jewels to her. As for
the priests they interested their patrons by reading to
them sections of the Kali-puranas, the Kaulopanishad
and the hand-manuals of Durga-puja.

There were other touches to this vivid picture of
popular Hinduism, some pitiable, some revolting,
some despicable, each according to the degree of
misfortune, hypocrisy or roguery that appeared to be
underlying it. Devotees deformed and disfigured
crawled in and out amidst the merry-making groups ;
destitute beggars cringed and cried in a woeful manner ;
Sannyasis, in weird contrast to the gay, restless throngs,
sat in self-mortification speechless and motionless
as if dead to sight and sound ; men stained with sin,
women with blighted lives, youths stricken with disease
sought pathetically for new means to propitiate the
unseen powers.

Mysticism, newly-gained sanctity, unreasonable
emotionalism, superstition and downright iniquity
worked together to produce the desired fanaticism.

Bells tinkled ; temple panderers proclaimed the
virtue of the offerings to be made during the Durgite
worship at night ; mystics worked themselves up into
ecstasies and trances ; secret participators in the temple
profits worked on the feelings of the people ; priests
began to practise sorceries and all forms of occult
science so that even before it was noon the credulous
crowds of pilgrims were in a mood to see and to hear
anything that priestcraft might invent.

" You devil ! you daughter of a pig ! you bad
woman ! you have killed my son with your wicked
wishes and your witcheries," shrieked an old woman
in a frenzy, as she gave violent tugs at the dishevelled
hair of a slim young girl of thirteen to fourteen years


of age. " You always hated me and tried to wean
his love away from me, and now you have made me
childless. You wicked, disobedient daughter-in-law !
May Durga catch you and eat you up ! " And the old
termagant, having vented her spite and her strength
upon the newly-made child-widow, flung herself on the
ground and dug her bird-like claws into the earth in
the madness of her grief. And the poor child sat by
in a huddle of torn rags and bleeding limbs shuddering
convulsively with terror, pain and sorrow. But her
misery was by no means at an end. Other females
of her caste considered it necessary to appease the
spirit of the dead man by spitting at her, scratching
her or throwing biting sarcasms at her helplessness.
She was a beautiful girl : tall, slender, and exceedingly
fair for a southerner ; her features were small and
regular, and her eyes large and gentle, and, at this
moment, pathetically pleading, like those of a doe in

Standing near by, and watching this household
tragedy with a curious look, was a tall, magnificent
woman gorgeously dressed. A woman seldom for-
gotten once seen, and always present at any important
festivity ; for it was Ida, the chief of the temple dasis.
Her dark eyes glittered strangely as she noted the
unusual beauty of the young widow.

" What is it, mother ? " she asked as the old woman
lay in a passive heap on the ground.

" Uyyo uyyo I " she wailed. " My son is dead and
it is all owing to that wild-cat there ! "

' That is bad, indeed ; but come, mother, tell me
how it happened ? "

" We were coming to the temple they were in one
bandy, we were in another. About dawn we came to
a nullah with a stream in it. The banks were very
steep for the bandies. Their bandy was going first.
When we got to the nullah we found their bandy


overturned near the stream ; and when we looked my
son was found under the wheel. We lifted him up
but he was dead. And now who will protect me ?
We were in debt, and the money-lenders will now
take all we had. I shall have no home and no one to
help me. It is all her evil doing. Even when he was
alive she used to make his anger fall on me out of
jealousy. I will now tear her cheeks 1 "

" Nay ; nay, mother ! That is not wise. Why mar
her beauty when it will make thee rich ? "

" Make me rich ! " gasped the old woman in sur-

" Aye ; come with me and I will show thee a way
pleasing to the goddess." And the temple dasi led
the wretched old mother-in-law aside to a more secluded


Two hundred yards from the temple wall, in~a place
where the trees hung together in an almost impene-
trable tangle, the ground rose to a steep bank, then
sloped down into the mysterious hollow which, the
reader may remember, was referred to in an earlier
part of this story. It was evidently an artificial excava-
tion, and had probably been scooped out by Hindu
pioneers in their search for a spring, or it may have
been made after the building of the temple with some
deeper purpose in view. Whatever may have been
the original motive that brought it into existence, time
had endowed it with a sinister appearance and an evil
name. Few, indeed, were the priests or pilgrims who
paid the place a personal visit ; fewer still were those
who ventured to descend into its dismal gloom in the
face of the fatal curses of its vindictive gnomes.


Down each side of the hollow a narrow, slippery
stairway of stone led to the pool at the bottom. After
the manner of wayside wells, a small stone recess had
been built into the wall midway down each set of stone
steps. Both steps and recesses had long been over-
grown with weeds and mosses, while two of the recesses
had practically lost all resemblance to their original
shape owing to the collapse of the granite flags which
had formed their roofs ; and, in many places, the stone
steps had disappeared altogether, either into the water
below or under the accumulated heaps of decayed
vegetation. The little recess on the same side as the
temple wall was in good repair, so was the one on the
opposite side of the hollow ; but closer inspection
would have revealed the fact that whereas the former
was by no means abandoned either as an oratory or a
refectory, the latter was little if ever used, and was
decidedly repellent, hidden as it was behind a slimy
mass of fungoid plants and creepers.

It was the need of still further philosophical reflec-
tion which led the Sannyasi to seek the solitude of the
gloomy hollow ; it was inspiration whether divine or
devilish remains to be seen which guided him, con-
trary to habit, to search for still deeper seclusion in
the slimy alcove on the side of the hollow farthest from
the temple wall.

The Sannyasi was a great fatalist, and ever since he
had witnessed the unexpected meeting between Naga
and Nakshatram, his mind had been solely occupied
with the strange twists and turns which a man's course
might take on the way to his final fortune. As a
religious tenet the Sannyasi 's fatalism was not strictly
orthodox, for he did not believe in the existence of
either gods or demons ; nor was it the philosophical
conception of the irresistible sum of the laws of the
universe. He laboured under the impression that he
was destined to become incalculably rich. He had


been bred on the idea, for the astrologer who drew up
his horoscope had foretold it ; he had himself foreseen
it in a succession of dreams ; his various tests had
proved it ; Ida had read it in her fires ; the temple
mantra-sastri had found it amongst the jumble of his
symbolical diagrams. How the Sannyasi harmonized
his belief in these extraordinary revelations with his
denial of all forms of spirits, good or bad, only he
himself could explain to the full satisfaction of those
who might differ from him. Inconsistent, however, as
his theory and his practice might seem, the corribina-
tion of these two contradictory principles is frequently
found amongst his modernised brethren.

There are two kinds of sannyasis : one is a genuine,
devout ascetic or anchorite, whose one idea is to
renounce the world, and to seclude himself from all
temptation to indulge in physical pleasures ; the other
and commoner example is a religious sham who
seeks through public penance the means of greater
indulgences. The temple Sannyasi belonged to the
latter order. He looked forward to the time when he
would take himself and his ill-gotten riches to some
desirable spot where he could spend the last twenty or
thirty years of his life in supreme bliss.

But he was obsessed with the craving to increase the
tremendous hoard which he had already made by his
hypocritical practices. If there was a matter at all on
which his mental equilibrium was not quite perfect it
was this monomaniacal desire for increased wealth.

There had been a time when riches untold had lain
within his grasp ; but he had stupidly let them slip
through his fingers, and it was since then that he had
adopted the garb of a sannyasi, or rather, that he had
dropped the scanty garments of a Brahmin. For years
he had abandoned hopes of ever hearing again anything
of that which he had permitted to go by, and then, by a
simple turn of the wheel of fate, he had seen a movement


and heard a sound which had brought back the
agony of his loss, but at the same moment revived his
dead hopes. For the expressive ejaculation which had
escaped the " Servant of the Dead," and the proud,
fearless way in which he had thrown back his head as
he looked around for his enemies, were traits peculiar
to one whom he had long thought of as dead ; and
the very fact that he was not so was another proof
that fate still held to its original decree, and purposed
to bring back into his power the principal possessor
if not the only possessor of the secret connected with
the hiding-place of the treasure which was to realise
all his dreams and fulfil his destiny.

Such was the nature of the Sannyasi's meditations.
And, as he sat in his gruesome den, calculating curious
probabilities and eliminating unlikely possibilities, fate
took a more freakish turn than ever, and, though it
upset his calculations, it left him with the helm in his
hands, and a straight course to his destiny. A gurgle
of satisfaction rolled softly along the throat of the
Sannyasi, but was not permitted to go farther, for
there, on the opposite side of the hollow, a dark form
was moving softly and silently down the steps towards
the little recess in the wall and the form was that of
the man known as Naga the Hillman, and Chief of the
Nagite tribe.

When he reached the little stone chamber he hesi-
tated. Terrible memories crowded back one on top of
the other till his mind whirled with the mere recollec-
tion of infernal deeds. He shuddered in spite of a
fierce restraint over his feelings, and great beads of
perspiration stood out all over his body. Intrepid and
daring as his spirit had ever proved itself to be, his
heart quailed before the task which he had set himself,
and only the utmost necessity had induced him to
enter a place so loathsome to him that he felt his old
scars must presently reopen and shed tears of blood in


protest. But if need be, a man must ; and Naga had
come to the end of all his resources. Experiences in-
describable, by the side of which death had dwindled
to a trifle, had overtaken him in the place whither he
must now go ; and these he must risk again, perhaps
worse, if he would bring help to the idol of his
passionate affection. He hesitated involuntarily at the
remembrance of broken and tortured years gone by ;
but, nevertheless, he was determined to risk them all
over again, not once, but as often as Nakshatram should
need succour. He had tried every possible means of
gaining an entrance into the temple, and had failed.
Whichever way he approached the walls either priest,
spy, Lingite or dacoit seemed to be on the alert. Even
his tribesmen had been unable to come to his assistance.
To avoid suspicion, and to give himself a better chance,
he had been compelled to keep them at a distance ;
and now, driven to desperation, and unknown to any-

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Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 13 of 24)