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one but himself, he had determined to try a way known
to none but the principal characters of the temple.

For an hour he had watched patiently from a cover
above the hollow. Laughter, shouts, and shrill sounds
of musical instruments told of the rising enthusiasm
and excitement in the tope on the other side of the
temple. But neither voice nor step had approached
his place of concealment ; the only sounds in the near
neighbourhood were the cluck of a jungle-fowl, the
play of some fan-throated lizards amongst the fallen
leaves, and the whispering of the light breeze as it
moved through the trees ; no sign of human life ; no
suspicion of the silent Sannyasi watching with blood-
shot eyes from behind his screen of creepers. With a
last sweeping glance that tried to pierce every possible
point of danger, the hillman turned, and, with a sound
like an invocation, took the first step in his last desperate
chance to rescue Nakshatram from the toils of the
false-hearted Shivite priests.



178 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

A large, polished marble slab formed the back wall
of the little chamber. With some difficulty Naga at
last succeeded in extracting two huge iron bolts which
kept it upright in its place. He then put his hands
into two niches on the edge of the slab, and struggled
with all his strength to move it along after the manner
of a sliding panel. But pull or push as he might, it
resisted all his efforts till he was nearly driven to
despair with the thought that it might be jammed or
fastened in some manner unknown to him. For a
few moments he rested, breathing hard and maddened
by the want of a new plan of action. He did not
know that Duncan had sent for the assistance of the
police. Even had he known, the knowledge would
probably have brought him little comfort. For he had
all his Nagite warriors raging with a long pent up
desire for revenge, and waiting for a suitable moment
to swoop down upon the priests and their satellites.
But he did not dare to call them yet. A threat,
breathed into his ears years ago, had often restrained
him from seeking the help he desired, and still made
him tremble for Nakshatram's life. An organised
search for her, or an official attack upon the false
harem where she had been held a captive, would have
involved her death long ago. From the beginning
this game of life and death had been one of fiendish
subtlety versus all the craft and cunning that parental
love could develop for the safety of its child, and so
the game would have to be played to the end or, at
least, till Nakshatram was safe, or dead. With one
fierce, frantic exertion he dug his fingers into the
niches and struggled with the marble slab, determined
to seek elsewhere for an entrance if his efforts proved
useless. But it answered with a jerk, and then moved
slowly and heavily along the groove in which it was
fixed, revealing, as it did so, a set of stone steps
descending into the poisonous, dank darkness below.



TRAPPED AND TAKEN 179

Naga placed the iron bolts upon a stone shelf in the
wall, stepped through the grimy opening, drew the
slab back till it left only a narrow slit through which a
faint streak of light glimmered, then cautiously began
his blind journey down the invisible steps. The farther
he proceeded the more difficult and the more horrible
it became.

At last he arrived at the foot of a second set of steps,
which he ascended with some difficulty. From the
top of the steps he proceeded along a narrow passage,
feeling his way along the rough wall till he came to
what appeared to be a circular hole. Into this aperture
he entered on his hands and knees, and crawled along
the ground for about ten yards, at which point he
stood erect, and looked around with an irresistible
shudder. He was in a dimly lighted vault, with massive
granite pillars, filthy with the grime of ages.

Without delay he moved excitedly to the far end of
the grim crypt, working his way round heaps of broken
pedestals, and fragments of idols that had formerly
portrayed the dissolute gestures of gods and goddesses.
With trembling hands he fumbled in the dim light
along the dusty, cobwebbed wall. At last he succeeded
in finding what he sought a combined lever and
fulcrum attached to a chain. All his hopes hung on
the next move. With heart thumping and head
throbbing he pulled with the strength and viciousness
of a man on the verge of madness. As he tugged and
heaved, the heavy wall seemed to give ever so little,
and then slowly swing inward towards him. As slight
as the movement was it gave him joy and steadied his
mind, for it seemed to promise final success to his
plans. Before attempting to proceed with his work,
however, he glanced through the opening which he
had already made and gasped ! He was looking into
the garbhaliam or holy place beneath the central
pagoda, and through that into the temple court where



i8o THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

the sacred pool lay shimmering in the sunlight ; and
the gap through which he was gazing had been caused
by the removal of that part of the wall to which the
Buddha-like representation of the god Shiva was
attached. But the sight which made him gasp was the
figure of the Sannyasi sitting at the entrance of the
garbhaliam, wrapped as it were in deep meditation.

Had he seen the idol move or not ? That was the
terrible question which rose in Naga's mind. Even if
he had not, he would soon notice the gap already
made. It was impossible to close the opening without
attracting his attention by the noise ; it was apparently
impossible to open it wide enough to let himself out
in time to prevent the ascetic from making known his
presence in the most sacred part of the temple. Long
before he could reach the Sannyasi, the latter could
warn his brother Shivites, and he would be caught like
a rat in a trap.

The ascetic sat motionless, with his eyes fixed upon
the opening as if he did not see it ; but there was an
ironical expression upon his face, like that of the devil's
when he plays the last trump card for the soul of his
victim. Whatever it might mean there was no time
to be lost. Nakshatram's one chance of escape lay in
his own unfettered freedom. He turned, and fled back
as fast as he could by the way he had come. As he
did so imagination carried the echo of a mocking laugh
along the grimy walls. Then a terrible fear sprang up
in his heart. All his years of patient waiting, hoping,
scheming, seemed to be crumbling to pieces over his
head. And when at last he mounted the steps that
led to the mysterious hollow he groaned in the terrible
anguish of his spirit for the streak of light that had
filtered through the narrow slit was gone, the slab
was immovably fixed back in its groove, and, batter as
he might, he could never make any impression upon it.

It had closed upon him like the top of a coffin.



CHAPTER XXIV PURUSHA-MEDA

THE painful, dazzling glare of another cloudless day
was gone. The bright splashes of broken sunbeams
that filtered through the tops of trees to the open
glade, and played over those richly endowed with
jewels, had lost their power to hurt. Even a brisk
breeze had sprung up, relieving the tension of the
heated atmosphere ; but it had come too late to cool
the fevered brains of the fanatical occupants of the
tope. With devilish ingenuity natural reserve and
modesty had been so well undermined that moral
restraint was hardly any longer deemed necessary by
those who found it irksome. The feelings of the
people were now beyond all control, ready to run riot,
and no one could say whither they might wend, or
what they might not demand.

In spite of the fact that the day had been proclaimed
a strict fast, intoxicants and narcotics had played no
small part in this subtle process of moral degradation.
It is true that so far as food was concerned the people
had not broken their fast, and would, no doubt, con-
tinue their strict observance of the religious mandate
until moonrise ; but to be freed from earthly cares
and troubles, and to be endowed with godlike powers
and faculties, such as the soma drink is able to impart,
was something virtuous and desirable, and so opium,
bhang, toddy, and arrack or sura as it is called in
the ritualistic language of the Brahmanas had been in
constant demand, and as constantly supplied from
sources that were apparently inexhaustible. Curds,

181



1 82 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

whey and sugar-cane had also been freely partaken
of, for these were necessary to preserve the senses in
their stimulated condition and to ward off the inebria-
tion and grosser intemperance to be indulged in later.
As for the deified extract of the soma plant the earthly
incarnation of the moon-god that was a special
monopoly of the temple, and, with few exceptions,
could only be bartered for at the old Vedic price the
gift of a girl to be a dasi y or a herd of cattle such as
kings offer for divine gifts.

In the Collector's tent also, though everything
seemed quiet enough so far as outward appearances
went, feelings were ready enough to burst forth into
violence ; for suspense and uncertainty had created a
severe nervous tension, which the two men were eagerly
waiting to end with the first suitable opportunity for
action.

The coloured reed curtain over the entrance had
been rolled up, and Wrencroff and Duncan were sitting
at the open tent door watching the complicated pro-
gramme now in progress not from any desire to
increase their ethnological knowledge, but from sheer
inability to do the only things they wished to do.

Like the jungle-walla they had done all they could,
and, little suspecting how utterly that individual had
failed in his self-imposed mission, they were now
speculating as to the cause of his non-appearance and
waiting with growing impatience for some sign of Lloyd
and his police.

" Didn't the jungle-walla say when he was likely to
return ? " inquired Wrencroff.

" Well, no ; I can't say that he did. He is somewhat
taciturn, and, for some reason or other, keeps back a
good deal that he might explain. Still, as he asked
me not to do anything serious till he returned, he
naturally gave me the impression that he would be
back soon."



PURUSHA-MEDA 183

' Then what is your plan, Percy, if he doesn't turn
up soon ? "

;< Well ; it would be unwise, I think, to make any
definite move now before Lloyd comes. With him we
shall be in a better position to force or fight a way into
the temple. A dozen steady fellows will go a wonderful
distance towards keeping a riotous crowd in hand. It's
not the people so much as that rascal of a priest and his
dacoits whom we have to fear. If there are many of
them our chances of success will hang largely upon
the strength of Lloyd's police. I was depending also
a good deal on the help of Naga's tribe, but if he fails
to return in time, goodness only knows how they are
to be got together."

" I hope we'll succeed in catching Ramayya at the
start," said Wrencroff thoughtfully. " He is really
more like a devil than a man, and, if he once slips
through our fingers, I fancy we might as well say
' good-bye ' to him."

" Yes ; so do I," agreed Duncan. " He is evidently
the prime leader of the wickedness of this place, and
so long as he is at large we shall have no end of trouble,
with him. If we can only rescue your cousin, and, at
the same time, lay hands on both him and the Rajput
we shall not do badly. Ah ! there's Chirtha coming
out of those trees." And as he spoke Duncan pointed
through the open door on the opposite side of the tent.

Wrencroff rose and moved towards the door.

" No," he said, as he looked out ; " it's not Chirtha,
but someone very much like him."

Almost before Duncan could cross the tent and join
his companion the forest-dweller for such he un-
doubtedly was had swiftly glided across the open
space between the trees and the tent. In form and
feature he was an exact copy of Chirtha ; but he was
not quite so muscular, nor was he as old as the guide
who had saved WrencrofFs life.



1 84 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

" Thy name, jungle-walla ? " asked Duncan, as the
man put his hands together and saluted in the fashion
of the forest.

" Yellum," replied the youth, releasing a letter from
the strands of his hair and handing it to them.

" Who sent this ? " asked both men together, viewing
with surprise and curiosity the unusual address : " To
the Two Sahibs in the Tope."

" Naga, the Chief," answered the young giant.

" Ah ! where is he ? " asked Duncan in a tone of
relief.

" We know not. He gave it to us at noon, bidding
us carry it to the Sahibs in the tent if he failed to give
the Nagite signal midway between noon and sunset.
We waited longer, hoping he would return, but he has
not done so ; therefore we have brought the paper."

" How many are you ? " asked Wrencroff.

" We are six here. The others are waiting in a
secret place for the Chief's call. Their spears have
been sharpened to pierce the cruel hearts of the
Lingites."

" Sit under the veranda of that tent till we see what
this letter contains," said Duncan, pointing to the
Swiss tent.

" I've seen that style of writing before," remarked
Wrencroff, as the man turned to follow their advice.

" Yes ; so have I but where ? " answered Duncan
in a puzzled voice.

" Good heavens ! it's impossible," exclaimed Wren-
croff, as the other proceeded to break the seal.

" What's impossible, Guy ? " asked Duncan, looking
up in surprise.

" That the writing is the same," answered the other
incredulously.

" As which, man ? "

" As that in the Colonel's letter to my pater."

" What ! It can't be. And yet yes ! you've got



PURUSHA-MEDA 185

it, Guy. It's either the same or very much like it.
We had better read it, however, and see what it's
about and whether it gives any explanation. Sit down,
and I'll read it aloud :

" MY FRIENDS As I sit here, on the plateau of a
small conical hill overlooking the eastern side of the
temple, and look down into the court below, watching,
with a curious mixture of pleasure and pain, the
moving outline of the being in whom all my earthly
hopes and love are centred, my thoughts grow confused
with strange questions, and my mind fills with many
gloomy forebodings. It may be that age has suddenly
made itself felt now that others have come to share
the burden of this deadly strife, or it may be the con-
sciousness that the success or failure of long years of
weary watching and toil is trembling in the balance.
To most, life brings nothing but the common struggle
for existence. To work, eat, rest and, maybe, enjoy
that is the sum of their daily life : of the deep bitter-
and-sweet draught of life and the ever-changing face
and form of death they know little or nothing. There
is a sameness over all they do and feel : day by day
they float, as it were, along the same placid stream,
meeting, perhaps, a few cross-currents and an occa-
sional rapid which involves a little more care and
exertion, but, otherwise, drifting peacefully along
through much the same scenes and experiences towards
the end of their life's journey.

" With me, however, as with the favoured and the
unfortunate few, it has been different : life has been
a restless, changing, boisterous sea full of terrible
scenes, wild doings, constant dangers, maddening
excitements and dreadful deaths.

" As I sit here my thoughts go back twenty years
to one of those startling scenes, witnessed from this
very plateau. In the space of a moment I see myself



1 86 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

deliberately, yet without prevision of that which was
to come, taking the wheel of destiny into my hands
and giving a new course to my fortunes. And now,
with the future that then was, written in the past,
and weighed down with the consequences of that
moment's decision, I ask myself could I have acted
otherwise than I did ? Was it my duty to interfere in
a long-established religious custom ? Was I justified
in preventing a sacrificial rite that had been performed
thousands of times before ? And, in the face of all
that has happened since, my conscience answers in
the affirmative. All my instincts of humanity, all the
teaching, training and traditions of the West, drove
me to snatch a helpless child from a fiendish torture.
Not to have lifted a hand to stay that brutal murder
would have been to brand myself for ever as a cad and
a coward. And yet, nearly all that has occurred during
those twenty years has been the direct fruit of that
indisputably humane act.

" The struggle, of which that white slim figure in
the temple court forms the pivot, is no reincarnation
of religious antipathies of another birth, but simply
the murderous climax of the hatred which that act
roused in the hearts of the heathen Durgites when
baulked of their helpless prey.

" Ah, that white figure in the court ! As gentle as
a dove, as pure as a child ! It makes me groan in
anguish as I think of her long captivity and the wicked-
ness they have plotted against her. How much she
is to me, and yet, what a little I have been able to
accomplish for her ! As I watch her, East and West
in one, and ponder upon her origin and the diabolical
plots and passions and hatreds that encircle her, I
ask myself whether the love that gave her birth was
in any way an unnatural one. Is every attempt to
transgress the boundary between East and West doomed
to similar chaos and misery ? Is the racial chasm a



PURUSHA-MEDA 187

divine limit impassable and eternal ? In spite of
much, I answer nay ! The division and the struggle
focused as it is in Ramayya and myself apparently
racial, is in truth moral. A moral difference arising
from religious principles fundamentally antagonistic.
And till the difference is abolished till the religious
principles which inevitably work out to inhuman deeds
and distorted characters are uprooted, till the basis
of moral conduct is one the racial chasm will continue
to divide. It is said that the mixture of East and
West produces all the evil of both and the good of
neither. It is false false as a general principle
applied to the best of both, though it may be true
when one or both are of the lowest types of their
nation. I say this for a reason which you no doubt
begin to understand. To me that white figure in the
temple court is the world. What she will be to you,
God only knows. In body and soul she is like a white,
spotless rose, and to your chivalry and protection I
bequeath her in the event of my death. I speak of
death, I hardly know why, unless it be some inexplicable
premonition of impending evil. At least it is this
irresistible feeling, together with a frightful discovery
which I have just made, which impels me to write
and reveal things which I could well wish to hold back
a little longer.

' To you I am known as the jungle-walla and head
of the Nagite tribe and so I am, in a sense. But the
real and hereditary head of the Nagite tribe is, or
ought to be, Chirtha, the brother of Yellum, and eldest
son of Naga the Chief. The headship, for me, is only
a disguise a means to serve a purpose, that purpose
being the rescue of my daughter Nakshatram from the
hands of these fiendish Durgites. For, as incredible
as it may seem from what you know, I am in reality
Colonel Wrencroff, and Stella, to give her her real
name, is my daughter.



i88 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

" In the letter which I wrote to my cousin just on
fifteen years ago I told him that I had been wounded
by the thrust of a poisoned spear. That is true, and
I wrote that letter as I thought on my death-bed.
But either the blade was imperfectly poisoned, or
the antidotal remedies used by Naga, my servant,
were effective ; for I recovered, but only after a long
sickness during which I suffered a strange mental
aberration. When I recovered, I found myself im-
prisoned in one of the secret vaults of the temple.
The mental aberration, I soon found, had to some
extent saved my life ; for Ramayya, who was one of
the principal movers in my imprisonment, had from
superstitious motives withheld his hand. So, seeing
that it was to my benefit to do so, and hoping some
day to take advantage of an unguarded moment,
I pretended to be still out of my mind. Beyond
Ramayya and his brother, there were few who knew
of my presence beneath the temple. There was one,
however, whom I have good cause to curse, and that
was Raymond, my traitorous overseer, who, I found,
had been nothing but a spy in my household. He
now lives about the temple as a Sannyasi, but a bigger
scoundrel has never walked upon the earth. Often
when Ramayya, in his mad fits, would have put an
end to my existence, he used whatever influence he
had to restrain him from doing so ; but not from any
reasons of humanity. His whole being is dominated
by one single impulse avarice. From beginning to
end, since the time that he came into contact with
me, he has hoped to become possessed of the wealth
which he knew I possessed. He has exhausted every
form of physical and mental torture to extort from me
the knowledge of its hiding-place, and it would make
the strongest man's flesh creep to learn the methods
he used. But I, knowing that the moment he learnt
it would be the last one, with hope to bring deliverance



PURUSHA-MEDA 189

to my child, bore his afflictions and kept the secret
locked in my own mind, though under the cover of
my assumed insanity I ever found means to keep alive
his hopes of ultimately discovering it.

" Nearly five years I spent in this dungeon, most
of the time chained to a pillar to me it seemed an
eternity in some infernal region. Sometimes I was used
as a sort of oracle, sometimes as a means of sport
during their orgies ; at other times I was tortured or
starved, or taunted about the death of my wife and
the destiny of my daughter. It is indeed strange that
I live ; stranger still that I really remained sane.

" Meanwhile, Naga, my faithful servant, in searching
for traces of my lost daughter, learnt by accident of
my own imprisonment, and, after a long, patient
search, he succeeded at last in reaching my place of
confinement. With his assistance I escaped. My
disappearance is still a mystery to the temple priests.
Even to-day they have not, so far as I know, the least
suspicion that I am still alive ; for since then, with a
hope of lulling their suspicions and fears to rest, I
have lived under the disguise of a Nagite. Soon after
my escape Naga and I made an attempt to carry off
my child from one of the houses in the priests' Agra-
haram, where she had been closely purdahed since they
had stolen her away five or six years before. Our plans
miscarried and Naga was captured. He was handed
over to be dealt with by his old hereditary foes the
Lingites. The following day chanced to be the first
of the ten days' festival in honour of the goddess.
Linganna, the headman of the tribe, took advantage
of this, and of the fact that the crops were withering
on account of the late rains, and worked the people
up to propitiate the goddess by sacrificing Naga
according to the ancient sacrificial rite of the plough.
During the night I had collected together as many of
the Nagites as possible with the hope of attacking the



1 9 o THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

village and rescuing Naga during the melee. But,
early as we arrived, the Lingites had nevertheless been
before us, and were just finishing the first act in their
devilish scheme of revenge. In the middle of a large
square field between the Agraharam and the forest,
Naga had been buried up to his armpits in a pit of
loose soil. Four pairs of young, untamed bulls tethered
to their primitive ploughs were being held in check
till the mad, four-cornered race had been arranged.
The cruel, ignominious plight of their chief maddened
the Nagites to a blinding fury. They swept down
upon the unsuspecting, jeering crowds in an irresistible
phalanx of glittering spears, dealing out a merciless
retribution. At last Naga was dragged out of his
death-trap. But he was mortally hurt and never
recovered. Before we could reach a safe place in the
hills he died died asking me to take charge of his tribe
till his sons were grown to manhood, and calling upon his
tribesmen to swear implicit obedience to my commands
and inviolable secrecy with regard to my identity.

" Since that time I have lived under the disguise
of Naga the Hillman ; and since that time Stella,
though unaware of the fact that she is my daughter,
has been aware of my vigilance and protection. It
has often been possible for me to help and advise her
but seldom possible for me to attempt to get her away.


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Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 14 of 24)