S. (Samuel) Foskett.

The temple in the tope online

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FIFTY miles from the temple, following the course that
the bustards might be expected to take in September
that is, over variegated patches of jungle, never turning
to right or left, over rough red ridges, dangerously deep
nullahs, stretches of dingy black cotton soil, and finally
over a great level plain, splashed here and there it may
be with a few oases of green paddy fields beneath
the bunds of ancient tanks, but always grey, and for
ever rolling on into the distant horizon, one comes
at last to a yellow-washed bungalow on the bank of a
broad river. It is not an isolated building. Within
gunshot of its compound gates rise the grim, though
now somewhat dilapidated walls of a huge Mohammedan
harem ; from the terraces on its flat roof other com-
pounds after its own pattern can be seen along the
river bank, also green gardens where mangoes, sweet
limes and guavas grow in profusion, while outside its
gates minarets and monoliths of temple and mosque
lift up their heads in ever-increasing numbers towards
the heart of the city that lies behind the nuptial prison
an ancient city of strange ways and still stranger
history, if someone would only search in its by-ways
and open the sealed door of its archives !

The bungalow at that time was a long, rambling build-
ing of two stories, and, like the city of which it formed


part, had passed through many strange vicissitudes of
fortune, for it had been the scene of many struggles,
and had been tossed about between Hindu and Moham-
medan long before the European came into possession.

It was perched in a most extraordinary manner on
the fort wall that encircled the city. The bedrooms
that were at the east end were built upon a sort of
bulwark projected from the rampart, those on the
west were built partly on the wall and partly off, while
the two sets of apartments were connected by a long
room that ran for fifty feet along the wall itself, which
at this point drops sheer down into the river more
than thirty feet below.

The lower story of the building, formed as it was
by the blank wall of the city and two rows of columns
to support the extra breadth of the rooms and verandas
above, was little more than an open colonnade with
a small store-room at each end, and at this time was
utilised by the padre for his various parochial institutions.

The padre was a man of medium height, with a
solemn cast of features, but with a heart of gold
intensely devoted to his work, and desiring nothing
but to spend and be spent for the welfare of his brethren.
And his wife, though not much more than a girl in
years, was one of the sweetest of God's good women.
Her dark brown hair was, as a rule, drawn tightly back
after the style of the Puritans in the early part of the
nineteenth century ; but this only increased the
Madonna-like cast of her gentle face. As for her eyes
they were greyish, deepening to more certain grey
with a sprinkle of yellow dots, when burnished with pity
for human suffering, and the sweetest of consolations
for man or woman to look into when in trouble. Her
husband adored them, as he adored everything else about
her, for there was neither gush nor sanctimoniousness
about anything that the padre's wife did, yet she was
heart and soul in her husband's work, and those who


knew her at all intimately learnt to admire the quiet
dignity with which she did everything.

Since the time of the padre, the compound around
his bungalow, of which he was exceedingly proud,
has sadly fallen into neglect. Famine-stricken goats
and buffaloes and wood-cutting coolies have long ago
denuded the compound of almost all the trees and
shrubs that once filled it, and only a few gigantic
banyan trees and one or two margosa trees remain to
tell of its former glory.

But the favourite garden of the padre and his wife,
who were horticulturists in their own little way, was
not in the compound at all ; it was situated on the
river bank ; that is, on the top of the bastion which
could be seen from the back veranda. Upon this
discarded piece of defensive earthwork the man and
wife had ingeniously taken to planting oleanders, rose
bushes, crotons, and all kinds of sweet-smelling shrubs
until they had turned the remnants of the ruined
bastion into a veritable Garden of Eden. And, as the
top of the broken bastion was far below the top of
the wall and somewhat towards the east, four o'clock
usually found the garden well sheltered in the shade
of the bungalow above, and still further sheltered from
the glare of the afternoon sky by two trees which had
found it necessary to their own existence to grow at an
angle from the cracks which they had made in the city wall.

It is into this delicious arbour that we wish to con-
duct our reader out of the afternoon heat, about a
fortnight after the events of the last chapter.

Picturesque and pleasant, indeed, was the scene that
met the gaze of two men on that particular afternoon
as they rested for a moment unobserved on the upper
part of the steps.

The padre's wife, dressed in the softest of pink
muslins, sat by the side of a bamboo teapoy putting
the last touches to an exceedingly dainty tea-set that


had come to her from the English parish to which
she herself belonged and in which the padre had for
a time laboured. Wedded unity had evidently brought
her peaceful happiness, for contentment looked out
from her eyes as she watched with quiet amusement
the game of hide-and-seek going on at her feet between
a tiny mite of two years and a tall stately girl with
a very pale but beautiful face. For the moment,
however, the girl's stateliness was not in evidence, for
the laughing child had surrendered to its kneeling captor,
who, having tenderly gathered up the padre's little
daughter into her arms, sat down on the big tent carpet
spread out in the centre of the bastion, and proceeded
to torment the child into shrieks of gurgling laughter.

" You are a torn-boy, dear," said the padre's wife
laughingly. " Whatever will the Collector think when
he finds it out ? "

The girl looked up, a puzzled expression in her
beautiful eyes. Then she smiled, showing the tips of
pearly white teeth.

" He will love me more, I think," she breathed softly.

" Yes ; I'm sure he will. You are really very
beautiful, Stella, and well ! I don't think he will be
able to help himself whatever you may be or do. Ah !
here comes Arthur and " (with a mischievous glance)
" the Collector Sahib."

Stella, with the soft red tint of an Eastern dawn
creeping over the ivory pallor of her cheeks, rose to
her feet. As a rule the proximity of her lover did not
make her self-conscious the bond between them was
too close. Like most women loved genuinely for
themselves she usually forgot herself altogether in the
presence of their mutual love. But to-day she was
nervously conscious of her appearance and the complete
metamorphosis which had taken place in it since he
had last seen her, and she shrank with a tremor from
a possible disapprobation. Hitherto, in the matter of


dress, a compromise had been made with the inevitable
changes, and, as she had done all her life, she had
continued to wear one of her artistic saris. But
to-day for the first time she was dressed in a white
cashmere dress d Vanglaise down to the smallest detail.

With the quick comprehension of a deeply sympa-
thetic woman, the padre's wife, watching with a covert
glance of mixed admiration and affection for the d&-
nouement of her own little plot, saw just the shadow
of a shrinking fear dim the crystal clearness of her
companion's usually brave, fearless eyes.

" Stella, dear," she said, as her hand touched Stella's
with a caressing touch, " I declare you are trembling
like a bird fluttering with fright. But, indeed, there
is no reason to do so you are quite superb. I can't
take my own eyes away from you ! so what about the
husband that is to be ? "

But it was poor comfort for Stella, who seemed for
once afraid to look into her lover's eyes. Had she
done so, instead of trying to hide her sudden access of
shyness under cover of the child's insistent demands
for more play, she would have seen not only a con-
firmation of her hostess's assurance, but also something
in his face that would have reminded her of that first
wonderful meeting near the stream. ,

During the two weeks that had passed she had
made tremendous strides ; inherited instincts and
ideals planted and fostered in her mind by the Colonel,
her father, had already taught her to live in a world
of visions beyond the purdah, and so when the change
had come she had slipped into her new environment
with all the naturalness and adaptability of one born
to it. Little by little, during the years of his stolen
interviews with her, her father had taught her a truth
here and a truth there of religion, knowing that that
was the best and surest way to guard her from the
corrupt influences around her. In the same way


he had tried to leave her a word or a sentence of the
language that ought to have been common to both
in order that she might treasure them up in her mind,
unknown to those around her. And she had treasured
them up as she had been bidden ; but she did not find
them easy to marshal into order. When she spoke
them, it was more or less with hesitation and the faint
suggestion of a lisp a lisp that was as dear to the
man's heart who loved her, as a child's is to its mother.

" You've certainly made a delightful spot of the old
bastion," said Duncan in answer to a remark, as he
dropped into a basket-chair between the teapoy and Stella.

" I am so glad you like it," replied the padre's wife,
smiling. " My husband and I are very fond of it.
Most of the flowers, I am afraid, are going off now
with the approach of the hot weather, but the shrubs
are not doing badly."

" Your plantains and papaws seem to be keeping
alive all right."

" Yes ; the mali says they will both bear fruit next
year if they go on as well as they are doing now."

" What do you think of the view, Duncan ? " joined
in the padre. " Don't you think it's rather fine ? "

" I certainly do," agreed Duncan heartily, as he
followed the direction of the padre's hand, which, in
a sweeping gesture, included the lines of trees and
gardens on both sides of the river, and also the cotton
fields which could be seen stretching away in black
and grey patches to the distant horizon.

" I think you ought to be very grateful for being
here, Mrs. Norton," he continued with a laugh. " You
are really much better placed than the rest of us."

" Oh, we are content enough," laughed back the
padre. " At least for the time being aren't we, Eva ? "

' Yes ; I don't think we could do better here. At
the same time, Mr. Duncan can hardly grumble with
his huge bungalow. Now, as for Mr. Lloyd and


Colonel Jackson they really have serious cause for
complaint. Mrs. Jackson was telling me only yesterday
that they could never get cool during the day, and
that at night time it was so oppressive that they could
not go to sleep."

" That's true, Mrs. Norton," admitted Duncan.
" They are both in the centre of the bazaar. It's a
mystery to me how they exist at all. Their bungalows
are stuffy little places set in the midst of all the pungent
smells of Asia. The Jacksons are coming to-night, are
they not ? "

" Yes ; our little pot-luck dinner is a sort of welcome
back to Captain Wrencroff and Mr. Lloyd after their
long search. You have heard nothing more, I suppose ? "

" Nothing more than a chit to say that they would
be here some time before sunset. They are at one
of the police stations half-way between here and the
Agraharam, trying to find out whether there is any
connection between Ramayya's band of dacoits and a
raid that took place three or four days ago at a place
called Paniram."

" We also received a note this morning from Captain
Wrencroff," said Mrs. Norton ; " but it was only to
say that he was sending us some deer and peacock.
There was nothing in it about Stella's father."

" I am afraid we shall have to give up all hope of
finding him," said Duncan in a voice of sadness. " We
were five minutes too late to save him that is what
it seems to come to."

" How dreadfully sad ! . . . One minute so near to
saving him . . . the next to lose him so completely as
not to know whether he is alive or dead ! "

" And yet, until to-day, I don't think any of us has
lost hope of eventually finding him alive, Mrs. Norton.
You see, if they had wished to kill him it would have
been quite easy to do so long before we entered the
temple, but for some reason or other they had allowed


him to live. The only explanation seems to be that
they wished to keep him in the temple until he had
revealed the secret in connection with his wealth.
While the priest was carrying Stella through the
chamber in which they had confined him, and we were
fighting round the entrance to the garbhaliam which
led into it, he seems to have been roused to such a
passionate outburst of anger by the sight of Ramayya's
success that he burst his bonds, felled Ramayya, and
then tried to escape in order to get our help to rescue
Stella. For the moment that we held his hand through
the opening in the wall made by the displaced idol it
must have seemed to his enemies as if he were about
to escape altogether out of their power. They did not
wish to kill him, and yet they were in great danger of
losing him, and with him the only thing that kept
them back from inflicting upon him the full extent of
their vengeance hence the severed hand to get him
away from us. There can be no doubt that the Sannyasi
was the instigator of the heartless deed. Chirtha and
Yellum are both convinced that the Sannyasi's avarice
is at the bottom of it, and that he probably knows
better than anybody else the real fate of the Colonel."

" Chirtha and Yellum they are the sons of Naga,
Colonel WrencrofFs old servant, are they not ? "

' Yes ; they are Naga's sons by a second wife his
first wife died under very tragic circumstances for
which the priests in the Agraharam were more or less
responsible. That is the reason why the Nagites hate
the temple and all in connection with it. The feud
between the Nagites and the Agraharam was at its
height at the time that Colonel Wrencroff began his
search for diamonds in the Black Hills, and even
before he rescued Stella's mother from the suttee, the
priests had already turned their attention to him in a
hostile manner because he had helped to save Naga
from being killed under the juggernaut car. When


Naga died some years later the Colonel took advantage of
the existence of this feud by making it the cover under
which he tried to rescue his daughter ; for the priests
were under the impression that the Colonel was dead,
and knew nothing of the death of Naga, whose character
and appearance the Colonel had adopted as a disguise."

" Has anything further been discovered in connection
with the Sannyasi or Ramayya, the priest ? "

" No ; the police have searched all over the country
for them even in the semi-purdahed houses of the
Agraharam, where most of the people connected with
the temple live ; but, so far as I know, they have found
nothing to help them. The Sannyasi and the priest
have disappeared as completely as the Colonel himself."

" Perhaps to the same place," suggested Mrs. Norton.

" Yes, that is true," replied Duncan thoughtfully.
" But I do not think there is much chance now of
finding him alive."

" How sad to think that he just missed realising all
his hopes after so many terrible years of waiting and
suffering," replied Mrs. Norton in a low voice of pity.
Duncan was silent for a moment. His love-lit eyes
were dreamily watching Stella's movements. She had
drawn off the padre's daughter, and was now standing
with her near the edge of the bastion, pointing along
the river. Her perfect outline was cut like a silhouette
against the blue sky. Duncan's pulse beat hard as he
realised afresh how beautiful she was.

" Yes, it does seem hard on the poor old fellow," he
answered quietly. " But I suppose we must just
accept it as one of those mysterious problems of human
existence that lie beyond the ken of man's apprehension."

" Ah ! There's the ayah at last," exclaimed Mrs.
Norton, indicating a neatly-dressed native nurse, who
had appeared at the door above the steps. " I really
don't know what to make of her lately. This is the
third time this week that she has been away all day long."


" I'm afraid we've all to get used to that out here,
Mrs. Norton," laughed Duncan. " It's a special failing
of the East. They work well enough for a week or
ten days, then they collapse with a most plausible
excuse if it's not a festival it's a wedding, or a birth,
or a death. It's very difficult to teach them the need
of perseverance, or to drive into their minds a sense
of duty and responsibility. The inherent nobility of
labour, apart from an equivalent reward, does not yet,
I'm afraid, appeal to the Eastern mind."

" In the case of the ayah, it is especially disappointing,
because, up till now, she has been a most exemplary
girl during the two years that she has been with us."

" Ayah ! " continued Mrs. Norton, addressing the
nurse, who had now reached the bastion, " you promised
to be back by noon, didn't you ? "

" Yes, madam," replied the ayah.

: * Well, see ! it is now past five o'clock."

" It is true, madam, but I wishing to come even
before noon, only that relative woman get very sick
and ask me to wait till she get better."

" Do you mean the new relative who recently dis-
covered you ? "

" Yes, madam, it is the same only."

" Well, ayah, I hope you will not want to go to see
her again to-morrow ? "

" No, madam. I never wishing to go myself ; she
only calling me. But to-morrow ! "

" Well ? " asked Mrs. Norton, glancing at Duncan
with a look of despair.

" That relative woman ! " said the ayah hesitatingly.

" Yes ? "

' Want to see master."

" Oh," exclaimed Mrs. Norton in surprise, as she had
expected a request for further leave. " Why ? I hope
she does not want to take you away ? "

" No, madam. She never thinking of that."


" Well, what is it she wants to see me about ? " asked
the padre, who had been listening with an amused smile.

" A marriage," answered the ayah, whose dark
complexion became suffused with a dull red glow.

" Oh ! " again exclaimed Mrs. Norton in surprise. " So
she wants to arrange a marriage, does she with whom ? "

" Her nephew," answered the girl, drawing her veil,
so that only her dark glistening eyes were visible.

" All right, ayah, go and look after baby," said Mrs.
Norton, with a reflection of her husband's amused smile.
" Master will see her to-morrow." And the ayah hurried
away to hide her confusion in her assiduous attentions to
baby Norton, much to everybody's quiet amusement.

" I'm afraid I must be going, Mrs. Norton," said
Duncan, rising.

" Oh, I'm sorry you've to go so soon," answered the
padre's wife, also rising, and holding out her hand.

" So am I very," replied Duncan, laughing ; " but
I've one or two things to do before dark. What time is
dinner ? "

" Eight, prompt," put in the padre. " That is, if
the others have arrived."

" Good ! I shall be up to time." And, with a last
exchange of glances with Stella, Duncan departed.


NOTWITHSTANDING her innate goodness of heart and
saintliness the padre's wife had a few weaknesses.
She loved floral decorations, silver candlesticks, bon-
bon dishes, finger bowls, antique ornaments and
eastern curiosities, and in consequence she loved her
pot-luck dinners, because they gave full scope to follow
the trend of her artistic tastes.


To-night her table was a glory to behold. Ferns,
grasses, and flowers hung over the rim of dainty Indian
vases and filled the room with their wonderful mixture
of perfumes. A mass of roses crowded the upper
part of a tall, stately epergne in the centre of the table,
while curious fruits and sweetmeats filled the lower
dishes. A silken centre-piece, resplendent with gold
and silver spangles, gave a still whiter purity to the
spotless linen. The sparkle of glass alternated with
the bright gleam of silver cutlery, and the coming and
going of plates and dishes. Around the gaily decorated
table sat ten animated Anglo-Indian faces, and behind
each man stood a boy in braided turban and white
clothes watching jealously for the next need of his
master, while over all the punkah moved softly to and
fro with a suggestion of cooler climes.

The soup, a product of the tail-end of the padre's
experiment in the tomato line, had disappeared, and
cooling drinks were being supplied to the thirsty diners
with the second course.

" What can that noise be ? " asked Mrs. Jackson,
listening attentively to a curious rumble that made
itself heard above the conversation going on around
the table. " It is as if there were a riot in the town."

The rest of the company had also heard it, and were
trying to make out the nature of the sound.

" It's the Shiva-ratri, to-night," said Duncan slowly,
as he listened to the ominous rumble. " They are
probably having one of their processions through the
town. I can hear the tom-toms. I hope there 'snot going
to be any trouble to-night ! what do you think, Lloyd ?"

The latter, with a puzzled expression on his face, was,
like the rest, trying to distinguish the nature of the noise.

" Last year," he said slowly, " there was a big row,
and unfortunately some were killed ; but that was
owing to the fact that the Mohammedan festival and
the Shiva-ratri coincided. When I left the town just


now everything was quiet, and the inspectors said that
there was no danger of trouble as the Mohammedans
were not at all concerned in the festival. I think it
must be a procession, though it does sound as if they
were getting out of hand."

As they listened, however, the angry roar died away,
and, as the silence that followed remained unbroken,
conversation around the padre's table soon became
general again.

" By the way," said Duncan, speaking to Lloyd,
who was on the other side of Stella, " how is that
Rajput ? I suppose they are taking good care of him."

" No ; I'm afraid there's no need to do that any
longer," answered Lloyd quietly.

" Oh ! how's that ? " asked Duncan, surprised.

*' For the simple reason that he's dead."

" Dead ! "

" Yes ! "

" Are you sure ? " *

" I saw his body before coming on here."

" Good heavens ! What has happened to him ? "

" There was a raid on the prison, and a daring attempt
to rescue him while most of the constables were out
in the town guarding against trouble during the Hindu
procession. The constable on guard was nearly killed,
and the Rajput was getting away when the former shot
him. There was a woman in the affair, but unfor-
tunately she got away."

" I'm very sorry, indeed, to hear that," said Duncan.
" I was hoping that we would get him to confess some-
thing that would enable us to capture the whole gang."

Lloyd shook his head doubtfully.

" I don't think he would have told us anything.
They have questioned him two or three times while
he has been in prison ; but, beyond acknowledging
the fact that he was himself an outlaw, he has con-
sistently rebutted all the suggestions that were put to


him with a view to implicating others. He told a funny
story about Wrencroff and the temple priest, Ramayya."

" H'm," exclaimed Wrencroff who had been listen-
ing. " What was that ? "

The D.S.P. laughed heartily.

" He swore that Ramayya had nothing whatever
to do with the dacoits, and maintained that the scene
which took place on the plateau was simply a * fake ' to
frighten you awayfromthe neighbourhood of the temple."

" By Jove ! that's an ingenious explanation," ex-
claimed Wrencroff, looking somewhat puzzled.

" Yes," answered Lloyd, smiling. " They're diffi-
cult to get hold of at any time. When they stand by
each other it's practically impossible. This dacoit
seems to have been the most unscrupulous villain ever
heard of in this District ; but I'm afraid nothing would
have induced him to betray his companions especially
the priest, who seems to have had a tremendous influence

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Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 20 of 24)