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The temple in the tope online

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begun to wander : he had heard a sigh, or thought
he had, and on looking up saw not eyes closely veiled
by long dark lashes but two beautiful stars, softly
glowing with wonder and with love.

Nay, more ; for while he still doubted the evidence
of his senses, two soft arms slipped round his neck,
and a voice, sweeter than all the music he had ever
heard, murmured in his ear : " Ah, thou hast come,
dear one, at last. I knew thou wouldst come back
to me if it were possible for thee to do so ; but my
heart had grown heavy with fear lest some harm had
befallen thee, and when Ramayya carried me into this

place I " And with a shudder the girl clung more

closely to him, and hid her face upon his shoulder.

Once again she felt his strong arms encircle her in
that pulsating embrace that seemed to absorb her
own personality into his in its fierce desire to protect
her from all harm. " Poor little girl ! " he said with
great tenderness. " Poor little Stella ! "

" Stella ! " she repeated slowly, with the faintest
suggestion of a lisp, as she lifted her head and looked at
him in wonder. " Stella what is that Stella which rings
in my ears like something that will never be forgotten ? "

" Stella ! " he repeated slowly, unable to follow the
train of her thoughts ; " it is our word for Nakshatram.
Thy parents called thee so when thou wert a child."


" Aye, that is why Naga called ' Stella ' when they
were taking him away. I did not understand it, for
he has never spoken it before, though he has taught
me many words such as the Maharaja speaks."

:< Thou hast seen Naga, then ? " asked Duncan.

" Yes " ; and as she answered he felt the soft clinging
form tremble again at the memory of something
terrible. " When Ramayya brought me to this place,
there were others here : the temple Sannyasi and
two with torches in their hands, like forest-dwellers.
Suddenly from the place where they were standing
there was a noise like the snapping of a chain, and
Naga, ' The Servant of the Dead,' rushed at Ramayya,
and tried to snatch me from his arms. In a moment
there was a dreadful struggle, but Naga at last got
free and ran towards the garbhaliam. The Sannyasi
and the two forest men followed him, but Ramayya
lay on the ground like one hurt. After a little time
they came back, and I heard Naga moaning and saying :
' Stella ! Stella ! '

" Go on, dear, tell me what followed," said Duncan
hoarsely, as she stopped and drew in her breath quickly.

" The torches had gone out, and it was now quite
dark. I could not see anything. I could only hear
them dragging Naga along. I grew more frightened,
and in my fear I think I called out : ' Naga, Naga,
come back ! ' Whatever it was I said he must have
heard my voice, for he cried back piteously : ' Stella,
my child, Stella ! God help thee. I cannot ! ' After
that I do not remember. His cry was so hopelessly
sad that it seemed to turn my heart quite cold. I
could bear no more. When I opened my eyes again
it was to find my hands in thine, and my fear gone."

It was Duncan's turn to shudder. That pleading,
mangled hand upon the floor of the garbhaliam he
knew now whose it was, and with unspeakable sorrow
realised that he himself had been made an unwilling


instrument in the mutilation of the brave old Colonel.
What would he not have willingly suffered to save the
heroic parent from the misery of that last misfortune ?
And now where was he ? There was certainly no
trace of him in the vault. Without other assistance,
and with Stella with him, it would be impossible to
find him, and unwise to try to do so.

" Come," he said gently ; " we must get out of this
before they begin to move again. They will not be
long in finding some new means of wickedness. If it
is possible we will get help and look for Naga. There
are still troubles before us, dear, but thou wilt trust
thyself to me, wilt thou not, and be as brave as thou
hast been ? "

Her eyes looked into his, shining softly with the
unbounded trust and love she gave him, as sha
answered :

" I fear nothing now not even death so long as
thou wilt keep me near thee."


WE must return to the garbhaliam, where the problem
of life was working to a much less felicitous solution.

Child as she was in years, Kamalakshi was neverthe-
less a woman in experience, for she had learnt things
which no child at her age ought ever to have seen or
heard. Within the fourteen years of her earthly
existence she had stood amidst the unveiled mysteries
of life, disease and death she had been orphaned,
married, widowed and then, with the supreme cal-
lousness of pantheistic thought, she had been handed
over to the inexpressible but not altogether unknown
needs of the temple. What else remained ? To what


summum bonum could she look forward with joy or
hope ? Death, perhaps, with its peace and oblivion !
But even that her creed denied her. For sacrosanct
as she might be as a dasi, her position as such was,
nevertheless, on so low a physical plane that innumer-
able births would be necessary to wipe out its stigma.

Of all this Kamalakshi was dimly conscious as she
lay in the garbhaliam trying to bear her pain. And
Wrencroff knelt near by her, wondering, pitying, and
in no small distress ; for he saw no way of bringing
relief to the brave little widow-girl who had risked so
much for the sake of his newly discovered cousin Stella.

Not till Duncan had disappeared into the vault had
he noticed the red streak across his hand and the damp
spot upon his coat. Startled at the sight, almost in-
credulous, he had hastily given up his idea of following
Duncan, and had gone back to see what had happened
to her.

She was as he had placed her when they first entered
the little shrine stretched upon the marble flags, her
head resting upon her left arm, her right hand upon
her breast. She was moaning like a sick child, and he
tried to soothe her, but failed. He took off his coat
and made a pad of it for her head, and as he tried to
arrange it he saw the big red blot upon the left side of
her white sari, and having sought and found the cause,
he stormed at the dasis for being worthy daughters of
their mother she-devil. But his anger came and went
for what it was worth that is, nothing and his fierce
invectives were thrown away. It was a religion run
mad that was facing him, not an incident, and Durga,
the crowned head of it, was guiding its course, and,
though he was not aware of it, was looking down with
a malignant smile upon the pair who had invaded her
lord's sanctuary.

Outside, in the temple court, the goddess was no
doubt revelling in the destruction going on around her


canopied icon and along the colonnade that ran to the
temple steps, but here in the Maha-Shivcfs holy of
holies was the vicarious substitute of her long-promised
victim, and there was a special vindictive delight in
the way in which she was weaving her black spell over
the rebellious neophyte. The white warrior's child
might owe her neither fealty, nor service, nor love,
and by the strength of her inherent ideals and anti-
pathies might be able to resist her influence ; but not
so with this eastern child. The very flow of her
blood the blood of those who had served the goddess
for generations her religious habits, her innate in-
stincts, her superstitious vows, her past participation
in the festivals, would all tend to bring her into sub-
jection, and the goddess had no intention of abating
one jot of the debt due from such close alliance.
Wrencroff did not quite realise all this ; nor did he
fully understand the deep subtlety of the evil already
done. Though the girl's beauty was only part of the
environment to which she belonged, yet in Wrencroff's
mind she was unconsciously a distinct entity apart from
it. All he saw in her was a young, defenceless girl
suffering from an iniquitous outrage, and with all the
strength of his chivalrous manhood he despised and
hated all that went to make such a thing possible
never thinking that the girl herself might feel differently
about the things to which she belonged, till he saw
her gaze past and beyond him with an uncanny look
that made him shudder. It was a curious, transient
stare, gone almost before he had time to mark it ; for
a paroxysm of agony seized her at that moment, and
she closed her eyes in her effort to overcome it. But
he felt sure he had not been mistaken abject fear,
adoring love, awakening wonder, a wild resolution were
summed up in that one glance. What did it mean ?
Surely not the conclusion that forced itself upon his
unwilling mind such a thing was too pitiful to accept.


Yet, as the spasm passed away, she opened her eyes
again, and, with the unreasonable persistency of a
psychopathic patient, permitted her gaze to travel slowly
back to the same place, where she let it rest, fascinated.
Then she laughed softly a ghastly, incongruous laugh.
Wrencroff followed her gaze, and, for the first time,
saw the Durga idol, with its two burning tapers a
dirty, coarse image that conveyed nothing to him but
crude art and primitive instincts.

But not so with Kamalakshi ; for her it was a living
incarnation of Jagan-Matha the mother of the world
beckoning her to surrender herself. So she laughed
again, murmuring " Kali-amma amma ! " and after
that she laughed again, only much louder ; then,
suddenly, she burst forth into a shriek, and before
Wrencroff had realised her intention she had flung
herself across the garbhaliam to the feet of the goddess,
pulling her hair out in handfuls, and striving to dash
her head against the senseless stone.

Meanwhile, the idol seemed to look down upon her
with the cold indifference of one who had expected

Wrencroff did his best to hold her back from hurting
herself ; but she fought him off with incredible strength,
screaming hysterically, and crying upon the goddess to
take her.

The young shrinking widow, the unwilling neophyte,
was gone, and in her place was a distracted, raving
woman possessed with the devil Durga a woman
whose one object was to immolate herself at the feet of
the goddess.

And Ida, the dasi, with her evil knowledge, had
intended that it should be so.

Partly exhausted by her frantic efforts, Kamalakshi
after some time lay passive beneath Wrencroff's grasp ;
but the sudden change in her mood lasted hardly more
than a few seconds, and she was beginning to struggle


again when suddenly the wild look died out of her
face, and, slipping back quietly into his arms, she
listened for a while. Wrencroff also listened, wonder-
ing whether he, too, were falling a victim to some
mysterious glamour of the idol ; for they had heard a
sound a wonderfully sweet sound, like the whispering
voice of a mother speaking in soothing tones to her child.

Wrencroff looked up sharply at the image ; but it
was cold and expressionless as before. Then came
the voice again, low and clear, thrilling with love as it
murmured : " Kamalakshi ! Kamalakshi ! "

And there, as they turned their eyes towards the
entrance of the vault, stood a vision the vision of a
woman beautiful in form and features, whose glowing
eyes seemed to fill the little chamber with a new light.

Kamalakshi struggled no longer. The temporary
insanity, brought about by an insidious poison, had
fled from her brain before the presence of this dazzling
vision. With a low cry of joy she held out her hands
to Stella, who had crossed the garbhaliam and taken
her into her own arms before Wrencroff had recovered
from his surprise.

Wrencroff looked on in speechless wonder, until
Duncan touched him on the shoulder.

" So that is Stella, the Colonel's long-lost daughter
and my cousin," he said to the latter, musingly.

" Yes, Guy," answered Duncan with a glad note in
his voice as he placed his hand kindly on the other's
shoulder. " She's a new link between you and me.
Thank God we were in time ! A few minutes more
and ah ! you can guess what it would have meant for
me if we had arrived too late."

" Yes, old fellow, I think I can understand," replied

Wrencroff, " and now you've found her ? " he

added, smiling.

" I'll keep her safe in spite of all this ! " answered
Duncan quietly ; and as he spoke his strong jaw squared


sharply, and a new light came into his eyes that might
have caused even Ramayya to stay his hand a moment
in order to count the cost.

" Good old Percy ! You've only got what you
deserve, but you're a lucky beggar all the same. I
thought at first that you had simply been captivated
by an ordinary good-looking girl under romantic con-
ditions. But no ; she is remarkably beautiful. And
I congratulate you my newly-found cousin also."

" What has happened to the little widow ? " asked
Duncan, pointing, with a look of surprise, to the blood
upon her sari.

" Oh, some devilry in connection with that miserable
goddess under the canopy. She is badly hurt, and I
think they've practised upon her what we should call
nowadays injection only in a brutal way. You've
seen women seized, as they say, by the goddess during
the festival, well ! that is what was happening to her
just now when you appeared on the scene. Stella's
influence has in some curious way calmed her for the
moment, but I am afraid the fit will soon return."

" Can't something be done for her ? " asked Duncan.

" Not much, I fear, while we are cooped up in this
hole. I must, however, have some water, and I'm
going now to try to get some."

" How ? " in surprise.

" There's a small pot with rice in it, which has
evidently been placed here as an offering to the goddess.
I'm going to take that to fill it at the pool."

" Good heavens, man ! Look ! you can't even get
through the doorway."

" I'm going to try, all the same," said WrencrofF
with determination, and as he spoke, he took up the
little brass pot and began to work his way through the
crowd of Nagites, who had been steadily driven back
till they were now blocked in a seething mass upon the
steps that led from the temple door down to the pool.


For, while they had been forcing back the dacoits along
the colonnade, a body of Lingites had succeeded in
getting round the far side of the pool and were now
attacking them from behind, in much the same way as
the Nagites themselves had surprised the dacoits.

The court was now ringing with groans, shrieks,
curses and threats of vengeance ; but beyond the walls
the deep rumble of the people's voices had suddenly
died away into a spasmodic murmur of bewildered fear.

Then came the beginning of the end.

With a fierce roar the dacoits broke through the
Nagites, forcing them back into the Lingites behind,
and driving them into the pool, until at last an open
space was left around the door of the garbhaliam.

At the foot of the steps Wrencroff was filling his
pot. Duncan saw his danger of being cut off, and
called to him to come back before it was too late ;
for there was an ancient door to the shrine and with
that closed it might be possible to withstand an in-
definite siege. But the warning had hardly left his lips
when the dacoits, with the Rajput at their head, sprang
towards the shrine. With horror Duncan realised that
he had left his revolver in the vault while helping
Stella through the entrance. He called to Stella to
close the door, and stepped out on to the steps. A
moment's parley might save the position and give
Wrencroff time to get back. But the lieutenant had
no intention of giving the least quarter. These two
Englishmen knew too much and held too many lives
in their hands to be permitted to leave the temple
alive. With a mocking laugh he waved back his men
and raised his sword, as if he himself would settle the
account once and for all ; but his sword rang with a
clash upon the marble floor. Yellum the Nagite had
seen his intention and had sprung upon him from
behind a pillar the next moment the two men were
rolling down the temple steps locked in a fierce embrace.


Duncan picked up the fallen sword. He was an
adept at fencing. It had been a loved pastime with
him in his younger days, and the very touch of the
sword filled him with an immense pleasure as he now
faced the onrush of the furious dacoits. Fortunately
that portion of the colonnade directly above the steps
was both small and narrow, so that as he stood with
his back to the door of the garbhaliam not more than
two, or three at the most, could attack him at the same
time. First one, then another, thrust at him with their
weapons, but, with a little scornful laugh, he parried
all their blows.

" No, no, you rascal ! " he jeered, as a black-browed
ruffian crept along the flags with a knife in his hand
and an evil thrust in his mind. " That is a dirty
trick. So take that as a lesson." And the man rolled
away, yelling, with an open wound in his shoulder.

" And that's for you and you ! and you ! " he
cried mockingly, as he drove three men back, one
after the other, each with a wound, till at last the way
was clear again for his friend, who had just managed
to avoid the dacoit gun intended to cut short his career.

" That was splendid, Percy ! " cried WrencrofT
enthusiastically as he reached Duncan's side. " It
reminds me of the time when you challenged a dozen
of us to drive you off the school platform with single-

" Yes ; it does rather," answered Duncan, smiling
at the memory of his boyish exploits. " Have you got
your revolver, Guy ? "

" Yes ! "

" That's fortunate. I left mine in the vault by
mistake. We'll probably need yours directly, when
they have recovered a little. But I think the best way
to make a successful resistance is for us to slip inside
and take our chance there. The Nagites "

His sentence was never completed ; for at that


moment an event took place that completely changed
the course of their fortunes : there was a dull, lurid
flash, followed by a tremendous uproar, and when
they looked across the temple court they could hardly
believe the evidence of their eyes, for part of the wall
on the far side of the pool seemed to be crumbling in
like the collapse of a pack of cards.

" Steady, there ! " cried a clear, commanding voice.
" Hold back a minute or you will have that gopuram
on the top of you, if you're not careful ! Now, go
ahead ! Capture the dacoits alive if you can if not
send them all to blazes ! "

As the occupants of the court turned their eyes in
the direction of the sound, a body of white uniforms
and a line of gleaming bayonets streamed through the
breach that had been made in the temple wall, and
began to move along the eastern side of the court
towards the central pagoda. In a moment wild con-
fusion reigned throughout the whole of the temple
court : Lingites, priests, dasis, and dacoits, seized with
sudden panic, were falling over each other in their mad
struggle to get away from the unlucky shrine and its
dangerous precincts.

The main object of the police was, if possible, to
surround and capture the dacoits ; but their purpose
was partly frustrated by the seething mass of Lingites
and Nagites between the eastern wall and the temple,
for the Lingites, seeing the police approach, were
fighting desperately to break through the Nagites, who,
however, had it all their own way now that the dacoits
had abandoned the struggle.

Lloyd, the District Officer, sword in hand, was at
the head of his men as they swept round the eastern
side of the sacred pool. Chirtha, the guide, at the last
point of exhaustion, was at his side rapidly explaining
that a large number of the men engaged in the hand-
to-hand fight near the temple steps were his brother


tribesmen who had been set to guard the Collector
Sahib. This was a difficulty which the Superintendent
had not foreseen in choosing the eastern side as his
point of attack and the quickest way of reaching Duncan,
whose critical position on the steps had been the first
thing to attract his attention. To allow his men to
continue the charge, would, he immediately saw,
involve the indiscriminate slaughter of some of the
brave Nagites, whom it was impossible to distinguish
from their enemies the Lingites. So he gave a sharp
order to halt, and then pointing to an oblong space
between two temple buildings asked Chirtha to tell his
fellow tribesmen to separate themselves if possible from
the Lingites, and to drive the latter between the two
buildings. Chirtha gave the Nagite signal, then the
Superintendent's advice. The Lingites heard and
understood, and in their panic a few of them threw
themselves into the pool and swam away to other parts
of the court ; but, between the Nagite spears and
regulation bayonets the majority of the unfortunate
Lingites were soon cooped up in the specified

This of course had taken some little time to accom-
plish, and so by the time Lloyd reached the temple
steps he was not a little disappointed to find that the
dacoits who had surrounded Duncan, and the crowd
that had filled the space about the infamous idol, had
made good their escape by a number of means best
known to themselves.

" Well, Duncan," he said quizzically, when he had
reached the part of the steps where Percy was standing,
" how are you ? You seem to have been having an
exciting time not to mention a narrow escape."

" Yes," answered Duncan, smiling. " We've been
having rather warm work, and I'm very glad that
you've come. I don't think that we could have held
out much longer."


" I got your letter at the tent," said the Superin-
tendent to Duncan, when they had shaken hands. " Is
it really true that there is a girl shut up in the temple ? "

" Yes," replied Duncan. " You've heard the story,
I believe, of a Colonel who lived about here some years
ago, and built for himself a bungalow on one of the
plateaux. His wife, you may remember, was killed,
and his child was carried off by the priests, some
said. The Colonel also was supposed to have been
killed, but, as it turns out, he recovered from his
wounds, and has been living ever since under the
disguise of a native of these hills in the hope of finding
out the whereabouts of his child. Under the pretence
of dedicating this child to the goddess as a dasi, his
daughter, as the child turns out to be, was recently
brought to the temple the real intention being, how-
ever, to offer her as a sort of sacrifice in order to
remove the pollution from the temple which the father
is supposed to have caused by carrying off her mother
from a suttee ceremony. The Colonel had meanwhile
discovered that it was his daughter whom they were
intending to dedicate, and had come here to try to
rescue her with the help of one of the hill-tribes that
he had befriended in days gone by. By a strange
coincidence, Wrencroff, who is related to the Colonel,
and I were also on the spot, though we did not learn
till it was too late the truth about the Colonel and his
presence in the neighbourhood "

" And now ? " asked Lloyd, deeply interested.

" The daughter is safe in there ! " replied Duncan^
pointing towards the half-opened door of the garbhaliam.

" And the Colonel ? "

" Ah ! somewhere in the temple."

" A prisoner ? "
' Yes ; and seriously wounded."

" Whew ! " whistled Lloyd. " We'd better see to
that at once."


" What about our much desired friend, the Rajput ? "
he continued, after giving some orders to a group of
men, who came up to him at that moment.

" He was here a moment ago, just before the wall
was blown up. Ah ! that's Yellum and Chirtha, in
the pool and they have got him between them, but he
is giving them a little trouble. He is wounded or he'd
probably be giving them more."

As Duncan had said, the two brothers were struggling
in the water with the lieutenant of dacoits, who was
making a fierce fight of it to the last. But the well-
deserved fate of the outlaw was sealed. A circle of
Nagites surrounded him with spears ready to deal with the
miscreant should he escape from the hands of their chiefs.

The two brothers, however, at last succeeded in
getting him up the steps and placing him before Duncan
and Lloyd.

" Oh, so you are the scoundrel we've been looking
for so long," remarked the latter, looking at him critic-
ally. " You're not a bad specimen, but you've misused

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Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 18 of 24)