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your gifts, my friend."

The dacoit did not understand, but he guessed
that sarcasm and disapproval lay behind the Euro-
pean's speech. His lip curled in scorn and his eyes
glared cruelly as he looked the youthful officer up and
down for a moment ; then he looked away in stoical

" My own inclination," continued Lloyd to Duncan,
"is to hang him up on the temple gate as a warning
to others. That's what they did with such individuals
until recently ; " but," he continued with a gesture
that disclaimed responsibility for the newer methods,
" I suppose that's not quite in order now."

" No, I'm afraid not," replied Duncan, smiling. " We
are learning to go more slowly nowadays. The old
method was impressive but not always satisfactory."

" Here, Inspector," called Lloyd to a fine-looking


Mohammedan. " Take this man and fasten him up
securely, and get three or four constables to help you
to look after him."

At this moment the door of the garbhaliam was
thrown wide open, and Wrencroff came out looking
white and haggard. Duncan noticed the change that
had taken place in his friend's face, and wondered.
" Oh," he said, turning to Lloyd, " you haven't met
Wrencroff yet, have you ? Let me introduce you to
each other."

Lloyd held out his hand to the doctor.

" I've heard so often about you from Duncan," he
said with a smile, " that it seems as if we knew each
other already. Still, I'm very glad indeed of this
opportunity of making your acquaintance in the flesh."

" It's kind of you to say so," answered Wrencroff.
"I, indeed, have every reason to be glad that we have
had an opportunity of meeting especially under the
circumstances," he added, laughingly including the
temple with a motion of his hand.

" How's the widow-girl," asked Duncan.

" Going, I fear quickly," answered Wrencroff.

" Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. She is a brave little girl."

" It's, perhaps, just as well," remarked Wrencroff
quietly. " She'll probably leave the world with less
bitterness than she would do a few years hence."

" It's a young widow," said Duncan in explanation
to Lloyd, who had not yet understood the reference.
; ' When the priests found that they were going to lose
the Colonel's daughter as a victim for their sacrifice,
they retaliated by trying to offer this girl as a substitute
as she had helped the other to escape. We rescued her,
but, I fear, not to much purpose. She was badly hurt
and well you heard what Wrencroff said just now."

" What is it they've done to her ? " asked Lloyd,
turning towards Wrencroff. " Do you know ? "

" Yes ; that is to say partly ! One has to fill in


the gaps," answered Wrencroff slowly, as he turned,
and, with an angry light in his eyes, pointed towards
the idol of Durga standing in the moonlit space be-
tween the two colonnades. " She says that after
they had taken away the Colonel's daughter they
placed her against the idol so that her bosom rested
on the bust, bound so tightly that she could not even
move. When they had done this the dasis belonging
to the temple began to taunt her with having betrayed
them to the Circar, and told her that she was to receive
an embrace from the goddess that would make her a
faithful dasi for the rest of her life. After that it
seemed to her as if the bust of the idol pressed up
against her bosom and pierced it. There is evidently
something devilishly ingenious about the upper part
of the idol, for she has two large punctures one over the
heart and one through the right lung, and both her breast
and sari show traces of some poisonous substance."

The door of the shrine being now open it was possible
to see what was going on within. The small wicks
in the primitive saucers were flickering feebly ; but
the scene within was vivid enough to leave an indelible
impression upon the minds of the men who saw it.
Stella, one knee on the floor wholly unconscious of
the fact that her profile stood out sharp and clear
like a beautiful cameo set in the plaque of darkness
behind was looking down with wondrous pity in her
eyes, and two diamond-like tears on her dark lashes,
into the face of the neophyte who was reclining with
her head pillowed against her bosom. The child was
making a pitiful effort to speak, and as the three men
drew near and listened they heard her say in a weak
voice :

" It was not the goddess, then, Nakshatram ? "

" No, little one," was the murmured reply.

" There is no such goddess as this terrible Durga, is
there ? "


" No, Kamalakshi. It is the foolish imagination of
those who do not know the real nature of God."

" But there is a God, amma, is there not ? " per-
sisted the child.

" Yes, child. A God holy wise good. Not
wicked, like these gods and goddesses."

" How dost thou know that it is so, Nakshatram ? "
' There is one who has taught me so since I was a
little child. I also know it from my own heart."

" And I, Nakshatram, shall I see this God I who
have not known about Him until now ? "

' Yes, little one."

" And He will be kind to me ? " she asked wistfully.

" He will love thee, child, for thou dost deserve it ;
and thou shalt be happy happier than thou couldst
have been here."

The dying girl sighed softly and lay for a time
without speaking.

" Nakshatram ! " she said a little later, without
opening her eyes.

" I am here, amma."

" I am not afraid now," came in a weak voice. " I
think God is taking care of me already. It would
have been hard to live a widow, and in the temple.

I was afraid of the goddess and Ida, but now ! "

And the girl snuggled like a sleepy child nearer to the
breast that supported her, breathed softly like the
faintest of breezes, and then passed into eternity.

Stella, who had seen death more than once amongst
the young behind the purdah, placed the dead girl
gently upon the marble flags, and reverently covered
the child's face with her sari.

Silently the three men turned away, and gazed down
into the shimmering pool.

" What a rotten shame ! " said Lloyd, after a while,
as if one had been placing a fact before him.

" Yes," answered Duncan after a pause, " and


yet I suppose it will take them fully a century to
see it."

Wrencroff said nothing. There was a stinging pain
in his eyes, and a spasmodic grip on his throat that
would have prevented him from speaking even if he
had wished to do so. He was remorselessly engaged
in sealing down for ever, in the mental lumber-room
of painful things, his brief acquaintance with Kama-
lakshi, the nautch neophyte.

" And the other ; so she is the Colonel's daughter,
is she ? " said Lloyd thoughtfully, as if he were still
pondering over the scene. " She is very beautiful."

" Yes, that is Colonel Wrencroff 's daughter and
my future wife," said Duncan quietly.

Lloyd glanced up at him in astonishment, so that
Duncan could not forbear laughing at his incredulous gaze.

" It's true, nevertheless," he said, answering the
unspoken question.

" By Jove ! " exclaimed the other. " I congratulate
you, Duncan heartily. Your wife will be a remark-
able woman, and, unless I'm grievously mistaken, is
destined to make a great stir in the world."


MORN came at last. The silver paleness of the night
together with its romantic fantasies and its dangerous
uncertainties imperceptibly passed into fuller light.
A rosy blush, speckled with countless vapoury patches,
was stealing over the sky. A cool, refreshing breeze
was blowing across the court where night had hung
heavy with oppressive heat and dread possibilities.
Men, standing at the posts where they had stood all
night long, shook off the drowsiness which had crept


over their senses and stretched themselves under the
touch of the new life which dawn imparts.

In the radiating light of the rising sun the ancient
temple stood, imposing and suggestive, but giving no
hint at the hidden forces which had turned a religious
sanctuary into a den of vice, and proffering no warning
of the plots which were even now being hatched within
its walls for the future misery of those who had
deprived a goddess of her due.

Near the breach in the court wall half a dozen men
in bright turbans and white uniform, somewhat soiled,
stood patiently resting on their rifles a large number
guarded the entrance to the cul-de-sac and lined the
western colonnade, where a batch of prisoners, mostly
wounded Lingites, were lying others, in twos and
threes, stood or moved about as sentinels in different
parts of the court. Altogether there were nearly thirty
of them big, well-set, smart-looking men of various
castes and creeds, but all of them a credit to their
selection and training. There had been little for them
to do during the night. Their bright bayonets had
been sufficiently impressive to overawe the people and
prevent them from attempting any serious form of
violence. Soon after the arrival of Lloyd and his
men, and before the seriousness of the position had
been fully grasped by the greater portion of the people,
there had been a few desultory scrimmages when the
bolder and more fanatical had tried to force a way
into the temple court ; but the determined aspect
of the police had soon cooled their ardour and made
them think better of their rashness. After that, the
unstable enthusiasm of the day, produced by the
insidious methods of the temple sycophants, had
gradually subsided into sullenness. The pilgrims, dis-
appointed in their expectations, worn out by their
exertions and somewhat frightened by the turn
of events, had settled down to wait for further


developments, and had watched and waited till sleep
had mercifully wrapped their senses in the dreamless
oblivion of physical and mental fatigue.

Dawn, when it came, found not a few of their places
empty. They were landowners, many of them, well-to-
do, with much to lose and little desire to lose it. As
far as they were behind the ways and thoughts of
the cities, they had sufficient knowledge to know
that the Kali-yuga, if not done away with for ever,
was at least assuming a phase vastly different from that
which it had borne up till now ; and that customs
once lawful to their grandparents were now, and that
not altogether without reason, forbidden to their
parents' children. So, when sleep had taken the edge
off their fanaticism, a strong sense of self-preservation
had pointed to flight as the surest way of avoiding an
undesirable inquiry into things which they could
neither intellectually explain nor legitimately defend.

The inner circles of temple satellites had long before
this disappeared from the neighbourhood of the temple
and its tope. Most of the priests, dasis and dacoits,
who had dispersed with such extraordinary suddenness
upon the appearance of the police, were now far away
in the hills, or hiding in the purdahed houses of the
Agraharam. Yet they were not all gone. Inside the
gruesome chamber in which we have twice already
seen the esoteric section of the Shivites performing
their mystical rites there was at this moment another
dark ceremony in progress a ceremony destined to
bring forth much evil fruit in the shape of misery and
misfortunes to all those who, in later years, consciously
or unconsciously interfered in any way with the fulfil-
ment of the vow which they were now making in the
name of the bloodthirsty goddess.

Two small lights near the idol were burning suffici-
ently well to reveal Ramayya squatting cross-legged in
front of the goddess, and glaring grimly through one


eye the left being covered over with a cloth at a
small group of figures prostrated full length upon the
ground before him. Three of those prostrated there
were not only closely connected with Ramayya by
blood ties, but were also fanatical Shishyas of his
Tantric teaching ; the others we are already acquainted
with. One was Ida, and she was saying :

" May thy glory be great, Lord of the Shivite Brah-
mins ! "

" Namaskaram, Maha-Guru ! " murmured the Sann-
yasi, who was another.

" Dandam, swami dan dam, swami ! " exclaimed the
young acolyte who had carried the tray with the
sympathetic dummies for the magical rite.

" Ah," said Ramayya, turning his one eye suddenly
upon the acolyte, " thou art sure he was dead ? "

" Yes, swami. I saw the great priest thy brother
lift up his hands to the idol when the Circar men
entered the temple. For a little while he stood so,
calling upon Kali to appear and drive out the men
who were polluting her puja. Then he gave one cry
and fell at the feet of the goddess. When we looked
at him he was quite dead. Seeing the high-priest
was dead the others hurried away from the temple.
I and these, however, came hither to tell thee that
thou wert high-priest at last ; but we found the
Sannyasi trying to bring thee back to life, for thou
hadst been stricken, and for many hours we feared
thy spirit would not return to thy body. So we did
puja and offered neivedyam to thy body, desiring thee
to come back, and hail, swami, hail ! thou hast
heard our prayers and returned."

" Spake I not truly, Ramayya, when I told thee
that thou wouldst reign soon ? " said the temple dan
triumphantly, as she rose to her feet.

" Aye, sister, and, if I mistook not thy words, thou
also saidst ' long '."


" 'Tis true, Lord Priest. Thy reign shall be long
perchance, even longer than thy brother's."

" Thou art, indeed, a faithful dost, Ida," answered
the temple priest, with a leer that made his distorted
face more horrible still.

" And thou wilt keep thy promise ? " asked the
dasi quietly.

" Keep it ? " he exclaimed fiercely. " Aye, and more
than keep it we will renew the vow here before the
goddess. Thy fires have told thee that the Shivite
tiara is a powerful talisman against danger and death
thou shalt have it. Nakshatram thou wouldst have
delivered into thy hands we will give her to thee
alive or dead. As for the Collector and his friends
ho, ho ! thou shalt help us to weave such a web around
their fates that while living they will wish for death,
while dying they will wish to live, when dead they
shall writhe in the consciousness that their spirits are
in our power to use for their own misery and for the ruin
of those whom they would wish to serve. Are ye ready
to take the vow ? " he added after a moment's pause.

" Aye, aye we are ready ? " cried the chorus of

" Durga's vengeance will fall on those who fail."

" We know it," was the prompt reply.

" And you will obey in all things whatever the
nature of the Srimukams ? "

" In all things."

" To the loss of caste ? "

" We will forget our caste if the mandate of our
high-priest require it of us."

" To the loss of wealth ? "

" Aye that also," cried five voices, the Sannyasi's
alone being silent.

" What wealth can there be when one's religion is
defiled by unbelievers ? " asked one of the shishyas


" Who can be without wealth that carries out
Durga's will ? " suggested another.

" To death ? " demanded the raucous voice of the
reprobate hierarch.

' To death ! " was the unanimous reply.

" Let us then swear to the goddess ! " said Ramayya,
rising and facing the idol.

" Listen to us O Kali, Jagan-Matha, Mother of the
world ! " he cried, lifting up his arms. " Look down
upon this thy shrine, which t for the second time has
been defiled by thine enemies, and hearken to our
words. We are thy servants and we would serve thee
and thee only. Yet those who are stronger than we,
have reviled thee and taken away the glory of thy
name. Nevertheless they shall not go free, for we
thy servants shall follow on their heels. Whither
they go, we also shall go. Their pleasure we will
turn to sorrow, their honour we will turn to shame.
The glory of their daughters shall be brought low,
their sons shall be a curse and no blessing to them.
That which they delight in shall bear a canker, and
that which they love shall be utterly taken away from
them. Hearken, O Kali ! and give thy servants wisdom
and strength to perform that which they now swear
to thee. Let thy presence guide and protect us so that
neither pain, nor troubles, nor danger may tempt us from
our task, or wear out the patience that we shall need.

" It may be, O mother, that I thy servant may not
return ; for I must be an exile for many years from the
temple till that which hath happened is forgotten. But,
if so if I and these thy other servants here are overtaken
by death ere we accomplish that which we have sworn
to undertake grant, at least, that we may be so re-
incarnated that we may accomplish in the next life that
which we shall have left undone in this ! Behold we
seal our vow on thy lips with our blood ! "

And Ramayya, having taken a knife from the


acolyte, cut his thumb and pressed the flowing blood
upon the lips of the idol. The Sannyasi, who was
the last to follow his example, had not yet used the
knife when all in the chamber were startled by a
curious noise, as if something were scratching at the
wall. With great presence of mind Ida stepped up to
the idol and blew out the lights. A little later, during
a breathless silence, the sound of voices could be plainly
heard, to the great astonishment of those who thought
themselves hidden in inviolable secrecy.

" Yes ; this is it all right, Lloyd," Duncan's voice
was saying. " When we looked in the other night
there were lights burning, so we were able to see the
place. It's too dark now to see anything. The
Colonel said it was one of the secret chambers of the
temple, and I feel sure that it's connected by some
secret means with the vault behind the garbhaliam."

" Let me see," asked Lloyd, trying to peer through
the opening. " No : one can't see much in there, but
one can smell it. It's like the vault musty. By
Jove ! " he exclaimed as he was about to turn away,
" I heard a noise, I believe like a cough or a sigh."

The men listened intently, but heard nothing.

" It may be the old man," suggested Duncan.
" Wrencroff Colonel Wrencroff are you there ? " he
called through the opening, but only the ghostly echo
of his own voice came back.

" I may have been mistaken," said Lloyd thought-
fully, " or it may have been a rat or some other animal.
However, we'll find out the entrance to that place
somehow or other, and search every other corner of
the building also. You can rely upon us to do every-
thing humanly possible to find some clue to his where-
abouts or proof of his death."

" Have you drawn any conclusions as to the chances
of his being alive or dead ? " asked Duncan, as he put
the stone back into its position in the wall.


" Well ; " answered Lloyd slowly. " It's difficult to
say. The chances I should think are about equal.
His disappearance is in favour of his being alive ; on
the other hand if they have discovered his identity,
alive or dead, they will do their best, I fancy, to keep
him out of our hands."

" Yes ; I think that's true," agreed Duncan. " If
he survives that dreadful mutilation it will probably
be a struggle between their desire for revenge and their
sense of self-preservation. With fanatics of this sort
the latter hasn't, I have found, very much restraining
influence but they may, out of fear for their temple,
hold him back as a sort of ransom."

So, somewhat discouraged by their repeated failures
to find some trace of the Colonel, the two men left
the spot where, without the least suspicion of the
truth, they had stood within three or four yards of
the principal actors of this long-drawn out tragedy
in which the lives of both and, some years later, the
death of one were to be involved and, having worked
their way through the tangled growth on the south
side of the temple, re-entered the temple court by the
western gate.

WrencrofT and Stella, intensely interested in ex-
changing the main outlines of their past, were seated
on the temple steps. The long dark lashes of the latter
were glistening with tears, for Wrencroff had been
telling her as gently as possible the truth about " Naga,
the Servant of the Dead," and had prepared her for
the worst lest Duncan and Lloyd should have found
the brave old man already beyond their assistance.

' Well ? " he asked, looking up questioningly as they

;< Nothing," answered Duncan despondently.

" I'm sorry to hear that," replied Wrencrorf, looking
away quickly to hide the weakness that brought a mist
across his vision.


" What's to be our next move ? " he asked, after a
pause that gave him time to suppress the choking
sensation that gripped his throat at the thought of
the helplessness of the man who had dared and suffered
so much for the sake of the girl sitting at his

" That's for Duncan to decide," remarked Lloyd.
" For my own part the best way, I think, would be for
you two to take Miss Wrencroff as soon as possible
to head-quarters. Her presence here is likely to
complicate matters. And, if you agree with me on
that, the next best thing is to start at once so as to
get away from the forest before dark. I can let you
have half a dozen men or more if you like you can
send back what you don't want when you have shaken
off the dust of the Agraharam. It's as well to give
that dangerous nest as wide a berth as possible."

" And the poor old Colonel ? " suggested Wrencroff.
" I shall feel like deserting him, if I leave the place
before he is found."

" Yes, I can quite understand that ; but then it's
the smaller of two evils. And you will know that
nothing more could possibly be done than what we
are doing. Moreover, I'll keep you posted with news,
and if we discover nothing, it will still be possible for
you to come back in three or four days' time to try
what you can do."

" Well, that is so," agreed Wrencroff reluctantly.
" What is the latest we should start ? "

" Not later than ten, I think."

" That will give us three or four hours to look round
again," said Wrencroff, brightening up a little.

" Yes, come along, and we'll see what we can do
while they are getting breakfast ready. Duncan,"
continued Lloyd with a sparkle of mischief in his eyes,
" will, no doubt, be able to entertain Miss Wrencroff
till we return."


Duncan laughed quietly as he took Wrencroff's place
on the steps.

" Poor little girl," he murmured softly, marking the
tiny diamonds that still clung to Stella's dark lashes,
while his big strong hand closed tightly over the little
white one by his side. " Thou art sad."

The little hand nestled closer to his grasp.

" It is for Naga my father ! "

" Ah, thy kinsman hath told thee all ? "

She bent her head to tell him that it was so. She
did not weep. The purdah had taught her to bury
her griefs deep in her heart. And so they sat, her little
hand nestling in his and her sorrow losing its poignancy
in his love, until her cousin and Lloyd returned from
another fruitless search.

By the time they came breakfast was ready ; and,
in spite of their disappointment, the men ate it with
a will, for they were very hungry ; but upon Stella
they pressed nothing but milk and fruit, for the food
was strange to her as yet.

After that the three men made another attempt,
and at last succeeded in finding the entrance to the
secret chamber, but it was empty and deserted, and
gave no clue to the real object of their search. So
bullock-cart and horses and police escort were got ready
for the jounrey.

" I should have preferred, like Wrencroff, to stay
behind and find the Colonel," remarked Duncan, when
Stella had at last been made comfortable in the cart ;
" but I think it's best to get Stella out of the way before
they have time to invent some new way of hurting her."

" Yes ; I'm sure it is," replied Lloyd. " There are
three police-stations on the road where they will be
able to change your bullocks, and at each of them
I have a man who can ride like the deuce, so you would
know within a few hours if we found anything. We
can, of course, only do our best."


" Thank you," said Wrencroff, shaking his hand
warmly. " I shall ride back as soon as possible after
seeing my cousin comfortably settled at head-quarters."

So the little party, with a jingle of bullock-bells
altogether out of harmony with the sad thoughts that
lingered around the temple, set off on its long and
dusty journey.

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