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Her freedom has been strictly limited to a few rooms,
and the houses of the harems in which she has lived
and they have been frequently changed for greater
security have been prison-like and guarded by deaf-
mutes drawn from Turkish seraglios. Nevertheless,
by means of bribery and liberal gifts, by threats of
torture and death, and by the use of unlimited dis-
guises, I have sooner or later traced the house in which
they had confined her, and, in spite of gates and bars,
found means of communicating with her. But for
these short stolen intervals her spirit would have been



PURUSHA-MEDA 191

broken and crushed long ago. They have kept her
hopes alive and given her strength and wisdom to
guard her womanhood.

" Though known to her only as the ' Servant of the
Dead,' it has, nevertheless, fallen to me to be to her
father and mother in one, and to be tutor to her mind
as well as physician to her body and soul. And so,
unconscious though she is of the real nature of the bond
between us, danger and misfortune have drawn her close
to me with a sense of filial love and affection ; while
for me she is the centre of all that makes life dear and
desirable.

" Is it surprising, then, that I often tremble with
doubt and dismay when I think of the day that she
must learn the truth ? How will she bear that revela-
tion ? Will it destoy the dreamy ideals of the mountain
chief whom she has learnt to picture as her western
sire ? God grant not !

" Day and night, since my child was stolen away,
I have searched in vain to solve the problem of the
priests' action until to-day. I have heard, as you
have, the story of the horoscope and the Yogi's dream ;
and I soon learnt the current expectation of a dedica-
tion of unusual magnitude and mysterious import.
But the horoscope, I knew, was false, and the dedication,
though a plausible explanation, left much unsolved.
Everything, as one knows, is done to undermine the
womanhood of a dasi doomed to dedication ; but the
strife between Ramayya and his half-brother revealed
to me the fact that the high-priest guarded his captive
as if his life depended upon her honour. What was
the meaning of his attitude ? That it had some vital
connection with the Yogi's dream I gathered from
snatches of angry conversation ; but I could never
discover exactly how. In some way, and at some
appointed time, Stella, my daughter, was to be made
the scapegoat of her parents' sacrilege and bring a boon



i 9 i THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

to the high-priest this, after long search, I knew to
be correct ; but beyond this all was hidden in the
secret thoughts of the priests. Then came the
explanation of it all in an interview which I witnessed
between Ramayya and his brother this morning,
through the aperture by which we saw their Rasapana
ceremony two nights ago. Up till now there has been
a severe conflict between Ramayya and his brother
over the possession of Stella. Now they are agreed.
Ramayya is urging on his brother to carry out his
original intention, which seems to have been somewhat
shaken by the unexpected presence of Europeans, and
by the dacoits' failure to get them out of the way till
it was accomplished. But Ramayya is insistent and
inexorable ; for his hate is the hate of a demon. Soon
after moonrise Stella must die die a victim of the
highest of their ancient sacrifices, the sacrifice known
in the Brahmanas as the Purusha-meda, still carried on
throughout India under different symbolic forms, but
seldom carried out literally from fear of Mohammedan
and European reprisal.

" The Yogi, it seems, promised the temple priest
increased life, wealth, and offspring, if, at a certain
fixed time, to be appointed by other Yogis, he offered
to Durga the virgin sacrifice referred to in the
Brahmanas.

" The sacrifice, he explained, would have to be five-
fold in all its characteristics, and strictly dependent
upon the astrological prognostications of the Yogis
whom he would consult. Many years passed without
any news of the Yogi and his promised consultation.
At last, however, a message came from Benares, which
he had reached after a long pilgrimage. The auspicious
time had been sought for by the most learned sastris
and astrologers whom he had met on his journey, and
they had unanimously agreed that it would fall during
the same fivefold combination that occurred when



PURUSHA-MEDA 193

the horoscope of the temple priest was drawn up.
According to the priest's horoscope, Jupiter, the planet
presiding over the fortunes of the temple, was in one of
its twelfth-year signs ; a comet with a brilliant nucleus
was visible in the sky from sunset to moonrise ; Soma,
the moon-god, rose over the hills in such a way that a
single beam passed through the central pagoda and
played upon the sacred pool ; the constellation Mriga
(Orion), the visible manifestation of the god Praja-
pathi, and the Great Bear, known as the seven Rishis,
were in a special position favourable for human
and animal propagation and pyromantic omens and
spells.

" If any one of this five-fold combination should be
lacking, the sacrifice, said the message, would be
useless, as the time would be inauspicious.

" The festival itself should be penta-diurnal ; the
middle day, counting from the waning of the moon, to
be the day of the sacrifice.

" On each day a victim, or an elevenfold substitute,
should be offered, the virgin being the central offering
of the Purusha-meda.

" The combination falling, as it was expected to do,
in the most auspicious of the five Vedic seasons, would
be irresistible, provided that the comet, a sign por-
tentous of evil and indicative of hostility, had been
counteracted by a special Santi ceremony, and that
the seven Rishis inert till brought into contact with
their consorts the Pleiades had been assisted by the
necessary sacred fire.

" This, then, was the fate assigned by the temple
priest to Stella, my daughter to be the virgin required
by the Purusha-meda for extraordinary boons, and
this was the explanation of the mystery which sur-
rounded his efforts to protect her life and honour.
He is old and childless, and there is nothing in the
nature of cruelty and wickedness which he would

G



i 9 4 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

hesitate to carry out so long as they offered some hope
of overcoming his misfortune. The persistency with
which he has guarded Stella, and the nature of the
ceremonies which they have been recently performing,
show how deadly earnest he is and to what extent his
hopes have been, and are, built upon the efficacy of the
rite. If the astrological signs are present they will
use every means possible to carry out the ancient
sacrifice selected by the Yogi. And if Stella is to be
saved from their murderous hands, she will have to
be rescued from the temple before moonrise ; for the
only sign that seems to be doubtful in the minds of
the priests is the presence of the comet. Should that
be missing, the high-priest may avoid the actual
sacrifice, hoping to accomplish it during Jupiter's next
cycle what Ramayya will do I fear to think. So
search the heavens at sunset, if you have not found a
better way before then. If the comet is visible,
hesitate no longer, but strain every nerve to accom-
plish that which I shall have failed to do. When the
time comes do not be deterred from acting promptly
by any false hope that Stella herself may be able to
find some way of leaving the temple unseen by those
whose purpose it is to keep her there. The priests are
too deeply versed in intrigues not to have foreseen
and provided against the possibility of such an attempt,
and every step that she takes will be carefully noted
by temple dasi or Lingite spy. Even the little freedom
which she has enjoyed since they brought her to this
temple has been more apparent than real ; and, so I
have gathered to-day, was simply given to her in order
that her unusual appearance might make a great
impression upon the people during the festival ; for,
according to the original scheme, she was to have been
allowed to mix with the people, so that, in the event
of the sacrifice being called into question later on by
any of the Government officials, the priests might



PURUSHA-MEDA 195

have witnesses to testify that it had been a voluntary
act of self-immolation.

" Lacking other means of entrance, it is my intention
to try a secret passage that passes beneath the temple
to the Shivite idol in the garbhaliam, beneath the
central pagoda. But think not of me only of her
safety. Beware the marble image of Durga that
stands beneath the gilded canopy. There is some
secret mechanism connected with it which is to play
an important part in the sacrifice God only knows
what ! The Nagites are waiting and will answer
Yellum's call ; and I think you will need them, for the
priests are prepared for a struggle. Use the subtlety
of the East as well as the daring of the West, for they
will not hesitate to kill my daughter if they find them-
selves in danger of losing her. In the event of my
death I leave her to your joint care and protection ;
and my wealth, which is considerable, I bequeath to
you to divide equally. Chirtha will reveal to you its
hiding-place. Do what you can to help the Nagites
in their troubles ; but in God's name take care of my
child for whom I have tried to do so much, and yet
have done so little !

" Yours faithfully.

" GUY WRENCROFF."

Duncan stared into his companion's face for a
moment in silence after finishing the letter. Wren-
croff's fair boyish face was like his nature open and
ingenuous ; so that it was not difficult for his friend
to read the signs of the astonishment, amounting almost
to incredulity, which he was now experiencing.

" Well, Captain WrencrofF," remarked Duncan at
length, with a quizzical look, " what do you think of
that for a stunner ? "

" It is a stunner, and no mistake. Good heavens !
to think the old Colonel was all the time shut up in



196 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

that temple, when we all thought he was dead and
gone long ago ! And to think we hadn't the least
suspicion of the real character of the jungle-walla. . . .
Jove ! He must be a wonderful man to have obliterated
himself in such a way during all these years with the
hope of rescuing his daughter."

" Yes," agreed Duncan. " There's no doubt that
he is a most extraordinary man. I'd give a good deal
to know that nothing evil has happened to him. But I
am afraid his failure to appear before now is an ominous
sign. He evidently felt, when he wrote this, that he
was about to run a more serious danger than usual ;
and it looks as if his fears have proved correct. How-
ever, we'll hope not, and meanwhile do what we can
to find both him and his daughter."

" Yes," answered Wrencroff thoughtfully. " I'd like
to do everything possible to find them. It will make
up to some extent for the indifference which he must
think we showed about his affairs long ago. But I
know my pater really couldn't do more he often told
us so with great sorrow both for want of funds and
for want of something more definite to go on."

" I'd like to see that hill overlooking the eastern side
of the temple," said Duncan. " If we set off before
sunset we might be able to get some idea of what is
going on in the court, and afterwards see if there is
anything like a comet in the sky."

" And Lloyd ? " suggested Wrencroff.

" If he's not here before we start I'll leave him a
note explaining the position. I'll also tell Yellum to
send for his Nagites, so that he may have them close
at hand in case of emergency."



CHAPTER XXV A NAUTCH NEOPHYTE

To Ida had fallen the victory and the spoil. The
tyrannical beldam had ceded all claims to her unfor-
tunate daughter-in-law, and the latter had been handed
over, body and soul, to the tender mercies of the temple
pyromantic.

To an intelligent observer, it might well have been a
foregone conclusion that it would be so ; for at times
the chief dasi was like one possessed with an unholy
spell over those whom she wished to ensnare. In
spite of her infamous capriciousness, there was no
throwing Ida off the trail of a desired victim she
would cling to it like a sleuth-hound ; for she could
brook neither opposition nor defeat, and, in the con-
summation of her desires, her will could be as unbend-
ing as iron. Woe to man, woman or child that came
within the range of her need, for she had all the secrets
of sex, superstition, magic and priestcraft to work her
purpose, and, sooner or later, her victims were all
swept remorselessly into the baneful clutches of her
insatiable appetite !

The young girl's beauty, and the promise of still
further development, had, in a fateful moment, caught
Ida's sinister glance, and so in spite of a few female
qualms and a little opposition on the part of the male
members of her Brahmin sub-caste she had become
an established member of the temple precincts.

So far as the girl's mother-in-law had been concerned
the thing had been easy enough ; for she had seized
on Ida's suggestion with avidity well pleased with the

197



198 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

belt of silver which now encircled her shrunken body
as an earnest of other good things to come. Further,
she was exceedingly glad to find an opportunity to get
rid of the child altogether ; for she could only be a
burden upon her own slender resources, and an obstacle
in her future attempts to attach herself to some of her
caste relations ; then again, as a childless widow, the
girl was very unlucky to all with whom she came in
contact, and as time went on must inevitably become
a cause of disgrace amongst jealous and slanderous
females. But the most powerful reason was, perhaps,
the fact that she intensely disliked her ; she could
hardly bear the sight of her and this because her son
had openly shown a genuine love and, no doubt, a
little partiality for the wishes of his girlish wife. To
some it may seem unnatural and terribly unjust ; but
in India, because a girl is married to a man, it does
not at all follow that she should therefore aspire to
the rule in her own household. There may be, and
generally is, a mother-in-law ; and if so, woe to the
girl who asserts herself, or even shows a tendency to
seek and to centre in herself the best and the strongest
affections of her husband ! For most mothers expect
to find in their son's wife a domestic drudge without
any ambition or will of her own and often an object
on which to vent their spite and bad humours.

Should one of the hired Deva-dasis seek to wean his
love away during the marriage festivities, that would
only be according to the common order of things and
be generally accepted as an honour due to the god-
dess of Kama ; but for a wife to try and win his
love. . . . ! " Out on her for a shameless hussy ! "
would be the cry of most mothers. " Let her perform
her household slavery and bear his children ! . . . for
what else did he marry her ? "

And, perhaps, it is not surprising that they should do
so. For custom compels the girl to be married before



A NAUTCH NEOPHYTE 199

she is twelve, and how could such a child attempt to
guide the intricate requirements of her husband's
household (who might be any age) or be expected to
feel genuine affection and admiration for him, or
partake in his intellectual pursuits !

And this child had been very unfortunate ; for her
husband had cared for her sufficiently to show it
openly in the presence of his mother, and the girl
herself had not always been diplomatic in her attitude.
Moreover, she had been, as girls often are in the East,
a precocious child, with a quiet sense of dignity that
refused to acquiesce calmly in a selfish tryanny carried
on unceasingly. And the result had been inevitable
household disturbances ; but with the uncommon
difference that her husband, instead of beating her
into submission to his mother's outrageous exactions,
had defended her frequently from personal violence.

There had been less eagerness with the other females
of the caste. They were too ignorant and superstitious
to explain rightly their reluctance ; but for many
reasons, they were not at all sure that it was wise or
fitting to hand her over completely to Ida's keeping.
After all she was only fourteen, and, though they had
ill-treated her according to an ancient custom, there
was still a little humanity in some of their breasts as
they thought of their own little daughters. But the
steel-like glints of Ida's eyes and the biting sarcasm
of her retorts soon reduced them to silence, and fright-
ened them not a little. And then there was the vivid
contrast which their superstitions and their religious
ceremonial had combined to produce the ill-luck and
disgrace of a widow's presence compared with the gain
and virtue of her dedication to the service of the temple
and its adherents. It was a plausible argument and the
priestess was not slow to make the most of it.

This young, childless widow, as Ida pointed out,
would only have to submit to the usual fate of those



200 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

in a similar position. In the end Ida's sophistry, half-
veiled threats and seductive promises carried the day,
so that both men and women agreed that it was for
the child's glory and their own good that she should
be dedicated to the goddess and that immediately ;
for the priestess had a purpose, and would grant no
delay.

When Ida had approached to lead her away, the
young child ignorant though she was of the dasi's
intentions had shrunk back from her as one does in-
stinctively from a poisonous reptile. But that had not
availed much ; for she had been forcibly uprooted
from her girlish home and associations and set down
in an environment she could not yet understand an
environment in which she would probably soon fade
away ; for by instinct and training she belonged to a
sphere vastly different from Ida's, and all that the
Deva-dasis could teach her would be weakened by the
memory of a husband's kind love and the sanctity of a
wife in her legitimate home.

And now, as the evening of the great festival drew
to a close, the girl-widow, overcome with mental
distress and physical pain, and bordering on a state
of hysteria, sat or rather crouched in the colonnade
where Nakshatram or, as we know her now, Stella,
the daughter of Colonel Wrencroff had dreamed her
dreams and found dark shadows instead.

Near to the child knelt Stella an unconscious, but
touching picture of Samaritan pity and kindness. The
girl's distress hurt her horribly. She understood it only
too well. Her womanly instinct told her that she was
unsophisticated and untainted by vice a child naturally
clean and clinging. And now the utter defencelessness
and hopelessness of her future 1 It was all so inhuman.
Instead of being kindly and sympathetically treated
for her misfortune, she had been brutally oppressed by
her husband's own people, and then ruthlessly sold



A NAUTCH NEOPHYTE 101

into the hands of a tribe of human parasites. Would
deliverance never come to these people ? Were they
to be dominated for ever by the cruel grinding customs
of their caste-system and the fiendish demands of their
bloodthirsty gods and goddesses ? Stella held the girl's
small, shapely foot in her hands massaging gently, for
the unfortunate widow had been stung by a scorpion
and for nearly an hour Stella had spent all her energy
in trying to subdue the agony. At last the gland had
gone down and the pain had been reduced to the point
of puncture.

" Amma ! " murmured the young widow timidly.

" What is it, child ? " asked Stella kindly, noting the
little catch in the girl's voice. " Is the pain coming
back ? "

" No : it has all gone now ; but I am afraid."

" Of what ? "

" What is it, amma, they are going to do to-night ?
Is it true they are going to give the temple god another
wife ? "

" Ah ! " exclaimed Stella ; and something in her
voice made the girl look into her eyes with a puzzled
expression on her own tear-stained face.

" Art thou also afraid ? " she asked, dropping the
more distant form of respectful speech, as she suddenly
realised that they were sisters in distress.

Stella laughed a soft, sad laugh that suggested
inexplicable things.

" I think, I am a little," she answered, smiling
bravely. " It is all so strange and weird. But we
must try and be brave, and God, the real God, who is
strong and kind, will watch over us."

" But, amma, what is it makes thee afraid also ? I
am a widow, and sometimes, it is said, they will even
burn widows because they make such mischief. But
thou ! who would hurt one so kind and gentle as
thou ? And thou art beautiful too, so that all who see



202 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

thee will love thee for thy fairness, which is as great
as that of the foreigners in the tents under the trees."

" Ah ! " said Stella with a new light in her splendid
eyes ; " thou hast seen the white rulers then ? "

" Yes ; one of them spoke kindly to me this morning.
Gangamma, who became a dancing girl because my
husband would not marry her, was pulling my hair
and cursing me. And the white stranger, who was
passing our way, stopped, and spoke to her so harshly
that she fled away in fear. And now I think I begin
to understand many things spoken by the people.
Thou art the one whom they wish to dedicate to the
god, and there is something between thee and the
white men in the tent. Is it not so, amma ? "

" Yes," answered Stella softly, as the rich warm
blood swept upward to her pale cheeks. " Thou hast,
indeed, understood rightly ; for one is of my own
blood, and of the other I am the sworn wife."

" But if that is so, why art thou here ? " asked the
girl wonderingly.

" Because these temple Brahmins stole me away
from my home when I was a child, and since then I
have been purdahed so that none of my people knew
whether I was alive or dead. And now, under the
pretence that I am one of their own people, they wish
to dedicate me as one of the Deva-dasis of the temple."

" And these kinsmen of thine, amma, do they not
know that thou art in the temple ? "

" Yes," answered Stella quietly, her face again grown
pathetically white ; " they are now aware that I am
alive and living in the temple."

" But if so, why have they not come and taken thee
away ? " inquired the young widow, whose voice had
dropped almost to a whisper in her terror of the un-
known forces about her.

" I do not know ; but I think they have tried and
failed. There are many dangers to guard against, and



A NAUTCH NEOPHYTE 203

they may not have found a way yet to do what they
think best."

" But, amma, if they do not come quickly what
then ? The people, I heard, were only to wait for the
moon, and after that the gates are to be opened and
the new wife of the god worshipped."

" Ah, child, God alone knows that which is to be ;
but I think the white rulers will come if not . . . ! "
and Stella shuddered.

" If not ? " demanded the trembling child.

" Then thou shalt promise me something, little one,
for the love I have shown thee, wilt thou not ? "

" I, amma ! What good can an unlucky widow do
for anyone ? Yet thou hast been kind to me, and I
would give my life to help thee."

" Thou art, indeed, a grateful child," said Stella, as
she touched the girl's hair caressingly. " And dost
know, little one, that thou art very pretty as fair also
as I am."

" Nay," answered the young widow with a pathetic
smile ; " 'tis but thy kindness makes thee say so."

" Yet, methinks, thy husband must have often told
thee so," replied Stella gently.

" 'Tis true," was the softly spoken answer. And the
girl's eyes filled with tears at the memory of things that
were gone from her life for ever.

" Tell me," she asked after a moment's silent weep-
ing ; " what is it thou wouldst like me to do ? "

" I would have thee promise me, that if aught
happen to me, thou wilt do thy best to find an oppor-
tunity to seek out the two strangers in the tent."

" And then, amma ? "

" Give them a message from me."

" And that ? "

" That I, Nakshatram, was faithful in all things to
him who chose me as his wife, and that my spirit will
wait for his through all the yugas to come."



204 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

" But thou, Nakshatram, what of thee ? " asked the
sobbing child.

" I I shall be dead rather than polluted by their
hideous rites," answered Stella quietly.

" But," objected the widow, " thou wilt wait patiently
and see wilt thou not ? Even when the people enter
the temple there may be some way to escape. Thy
kinsmen may be waiting till then, thinking that it will


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