S. (Samuel) Foskett.

The temple in the tope online

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over the gang."


Meanwhile, in the colonnade below, a momentous
conversation was taking place between a tall woman
in a dingy sari and Mrs. Norton's ayah. The latter
was a little, plump body of about seventeen years, not
blessed with too much intelligence, but bubbling over
with animal spirits of a kindly nature. Belonging to
a social stratum a little above the ordinary ruck of
pariahs, she had lost her parents in an epidemic of
smallpox two years before, and, though not a Christian,
was likely to become one under the supervision of the
padre's wife. But human nature is human nature all
the world round, and romance, which evidently forms a
big element in it, will find its way into a maid's heart as
well as into the heart of her mistress. Dressed in a white
sari with a narrow gilt edge she sat now in the shade of
the colonnade, her ample bosom rising and falling, as
the older woman talked to her in a subdued whisper.


" I have seen Razulu," said the woman in the dingy

" Amma I " murmured the maid, trembling with

" Ay, it is true ; thou hast enchanted him. He
cannot sleep at night for thinking of thee ; in the day
time he cannot work because he dreams."

" Ukka ! thou meanest well ! But how can I know
that it is as thou sayest ? "

" Is he not my own nephew ? " scornfully asked the

" 'Tis true. Yet thou mayest be mistaken."

" Mistaken ! chee ! Have I not seen his eyes since
he was a child ? Was it not he, himself, who came
all the way to my village to seek me out and tell me the
trouble that was in his heart, and was it not through
him that I, thy mother's sister, found thee out ? And
further, see what thy Razulu hath sent thee ! " said
the woman, holding out a beautiful gold bangle.

" Ubba ! " ejaculated the girl, her black eyes gleam-
ing with pleasure. " Razulu sent it to me ? "

" Ha, ha ! " laughed the woman, with just the faintest
suspicion of irony. ' ' Thou dost not believe even now ? "

" Nay, say not so, amma," answered the ayah,
wavering between doubt and certainty.

" Then put it on thy wrist, child ; it will add to thy
beauty. Men, as thou wilt learn, love to see the
baubles they buy adorn the women they love. And
Razulu will see the value thou puttest on himself by
thy wearing his gift."

" Ah, he will come then ? " asked the girl, modestly
arranging her veil, as if the would-be bridegroom were
already on the threshold.

" Ay, he is impatient to see thee, and will be on the
bastion to-night, as I promised thee this morning.
To-morrow he will ask the padre for thee. Thou wilt
not fail us then to-night ? "


" Nay ; I will come, amma. But it will not be easy ; for
the Collector's missy sleeps in the room above the steps."

" But thou, thou also sleepest with her, dost thou
not ? What difficulty is there to prevent thee from
coming when she hath fallen asleep ? "

" The door it is a heavy door with bolts and chains,
and the missy may wake, for she ever sleepeth lightly."

The older woman laughed contemptuously, as if she
would scorn such a small barrier to an intrigue.

" Thou must use wisdom in thy love affairs, daughter.
Canst thou not go now and place the door so that
it will open without telling the world that thy lover
waits for thee outside ? But see ! I have also brought
thee a little powder in case of need, to help thy missy
to sleep less lightly. Put a little of it in her cooja
or somewhere where she can breathe it, and then thou
mayest come and go without fear."

So the two women parted. The ayah, palpitating
with strange hopes, and without a more evil thought
than the ayah who places opium under her finger nail
for her charge to suck so that her own siesta may
remain unbroken, ascended to the bedroom above the
bastion, where she sprinkled the soporiferous substance
in accordance with her companion's directions, then sat
down, with an inimitable air of innocence, to wait for
the Collector's missy coming to bed.

Coffee was now being handed round in the big room
where the three ladies were sitting waiting for the men,
who were finishing their cheroots. Suddenly the sound
which had attracted their attention during dinner broke
out again on the night air.

" Don't like that noise," Duncan remarked to Lloyd
as he handed the latter a match.

" Nor I I ..." Before he could express his opinion,
his servant came up to him and whispered in his ear.


" I'll come now and see him," he said to the man, as
he rose from the table. " Excuse me a moment,
Duncan. I'll be back directly."

A few minutes later the D.S.P. returned looking very

" What is it, Lloyd ? " asked Duncan, noting the
look of anxiety on the other's face.

" There's an inspector downstairs ; he says they're
working up to mischief in the town."

" I thought so. Is it serious ? "

" Yes ; the whole town apparently."

" What has done it ? "

" Oh, that wretched system of mammul. The
Hindus want to carry their idols past the big mosque
at midnight. They say that their fathers did it long
before the mosque was built, and that it's necessary for
the success of their festival. The Mohammedans
object and are preparing to resist. Some of them have
gone to the Hindu temple and threaten to smash the
idols if the procession is carried out. The real motive,
however, seems to be a desire on both sides to retaliate
for the deaths that took place last year. I suspect
also that there are some special wire-pullers with an
interest of their own probably some of those who
tried to rescue the Rajput. I must get away now and
change, and see what can be done to prevent anything
in the way of a repetition of last year's melee."

" Just wait a minute, and I'll come with you,"
replied Duncan.

While Lloyd was making his apologies, and explain-
ing the reason of his hurried departure to the padre's
wife, Duncan went in search of Stella. As he stood a
moment at the entrance to the long room making some
suggestions to Lloyd, he saw her standing near one of
the doors on the opposite veranda, watching him with
big open eyes as if she suspected the presence of some
new danger. Her green satin dress with its silver


trimming, veiled in its rose-coloured net, fell in a long
train around her.

Duncan led her out on to the veranda, then, turning
and looking into her troubled eyes, said quietly :

" Dearest, I must go ; I am sorry, for I wanted to be
with you to-night one of the very few now left before
you will come to me altogether."

" It is the sound which comes in the air, is it not ? "
she asked in a voice that trembled.

" Yes, dear ; but it is nothing. Only, I must say
good-bye, as there will not be time to return."

" Ah ! " she breathed sadly. " I wish you not to
go. There is some danger. I feel it as I felt it in the
temple. Ah ! why must you go you that love and are
loved ? Why go to those who care not whether you
live or die. You say it is nothing then stay. But it
is something. I see it in the two faces as you talk."
Then slipping away into the vernacular speech, as she
was apt to do whenever she was excited, she continued :
" Ah ! I understand very well. Thy face is even now
quite cold ; it is saying, ' I will go whatever Stella say.'
And I I must obey thee and be silent whenever thy
face is so. But see I shall die quickly if aught happen
to thee."

Duncan held her closely to himself for some minutes,
looking into the troubled depths of her beautiful eyes.

" Nay, sweetheart, fear not. I will return quite safe
to-morrow. I would not leave thee now if I could stay ;
but duty calls and it is necessary to go. So be brave,
little one, as thou well knowest how to be."

" Ah ! I can be brave sometimes, if it is for myself
only. But now," and she put her hand near her heart,
" something tells me not to let thee go from me. But
it shall be as thou thinkest best."

So Duncan kissed the soft lips which pressed upon his
own, and with a wrench dragged himself away from the
spot leaving her leaning against the veranda railings


with white face and terror-stricken eyes, and ears that
listened with a painful tension to the angry cries beating
upon the night air.


FORTUNATELY, Duncan and Lloyd arrived together at
the principal zone of the city's disturbance in time to
avert an impending disaster. The main thoroughfare
leading through the heart of the city past the mosque
was already crowded with an almost impassable barrier
of excited Mohammedans determined to resist any
outrage upon their religious scruples ; the rest of the
bazaar and side streets were seething with angry groups
of Hindus of the agricultural classes drawn from the
neighbouring villages. Under cover of the darkness
of the night regrettable incidents had already occurred
here and there throughout the congested areas where
rival parties had found argument unavailing. Every
man's hands had come to the point of itching to be at
his neighbour's throat, so that very little more in the
way of excitement would have sufficed to turn the
bazaar into a pandemonium and the city into a blaze.

The appearance of the two European officials, with
their strict impartiality, their cool assurance, and their
evident determination to maintain peace and order,
had, however, turned the scale in favour of com-
promise, and, after an hour's secret anxiety and many
diplomatic moves, a temporary armistice had at last
been arranged between the would-be belligerents the
Mohammedans agreeing to the procession and promis-
ing not to do anything to arouse the prejudice of the
Hindus, on condition that the latter made no sound
with their drums and horns within fifty yards of each
corner of the mosque, and veiled and lowered their idols


as they passed the building. With equal good fortune
the police, drawn from both races, had worked loyally,
uninfluenced by racial feelings ; and so the procession had
come and gone without any further regrettable incidents.

But unrest had continued to prevail throughout the
city till it was almost dawn, and so the two men had
been kept to their saddles practically all through the
night. The butler's cock was crowing out the false
dawn when Duncan arrived back at his bungalow, so
tired that he had almost passed into sleep before his
head touched the pillow.

His sleep had not yet brought him the rest he needed,
when, with an effort that made his heart thump pain-
fully, he found himself striving to break through a
dream in which Stella, pursued by enemies, seemed to
be the exciting factor.

His chota-hazri of coffee and plantains was already set
upon a small table near his bed, and his boy was engaged
in lifting the mosquito net, when he opened his eyes.

" Halloa, boy ! What's this ? " he exclaimed with
a yawn, as he caught sight of a neatly-folded paper
amidst the plantains.

" Letter for master. Padre's chokra done bring it
just now."

" That's curious," thought Duncan to himself as he
proceeded to open the little chit bearing his name in
the small handwriting of the padre's wife. " Whatever
can she have to say at this time of the morning ? " And
he opened out the little note with uncertain fingers
and tried to read the message through lids that were
only half-opened.

" Good Lord ! " he exclaimed a moment later, start-
ing up in bed, his eyes protruding almost from their
sockets, as he made a mental effort to grasp the meaning
of the faintly scented chit.

"I'm dreaming ! or drunk ! or mad ! Good
heavens, the thing's impossible ! Poor Stella ! and I've


been sleeping here like a dog while she has been in
trouble. But what in the world is it that the padre's
wife has to say ? Why couldn't she write in her chit
what has happened. Poor little girl ! and you pleaded
with me last night not to go away, as if you felt that
danger was lurking somewhere near. But I had to,
dear. It was duty, and one has to do it whatever it
may cost."

" Master going riding ? " asked his boy, astounded
at the sudden frantic haste with which Duncan was
getting into his clothes.

' Yes ; tell the syce to saddle the fastest pony in the
stable the brown arab, if it is all right. Quick ! . . .
I'm in the biggest hurry I've ever been in my life."

As he put the last touches to his toilet he again
glanced at the note which had caused him so much
disturbance, to see if he could penetrate to the deeper
meaning that lay between the written lines ; but, like
a woman in great trouble or perplexity, Mrs. Norton
had slurred over the one important thing which he
most anxiously desired to know.

" DEAR MR. DUNCAN " (so it ran), " Please come
at once without delay ; something dreadful has hap-
pened to Stella. Oh, please, do come quickly ! I am
so distressed I scarcely know how or what to write.

" Yours sincerely,


Ten minutes later Duncan was standing in the
veranda of the padre's bungalow. On the way from
his own place he had tried to steel himself to meet
unflinchingly the blow that awaited him, and all that
remained to tell of the terrible brain-beat that had
kept time to the pattering of his pony's hoofs were the
deep creases about his mouth and the drawn, angular
appearance of his face.


It was soon evident to him that Eva Norton had also
been passing through a severe crisis. With haggard
eyes and blanched cheeks she came out to meet him.

" Oh ! " she exclaimed in a low, gasping voice.
' You have come at last ! "

' Yes," answered Duncan ; "I came as soon as I
received your note. What is it that has happened to
Stella ? "

" She has gone," answered Mrs. Norton, and her
voice sounded as if all the life had been washed out
of it by bitter tears.

" Gone ! " he exclaimed.

" Yes."

" But, I don't understand, Mrs. Norton. Stella
gone ! when ? where ? "

' We do not know. I found her room empty, when
I went to call the ayah. At first we did not suspect
anything wrong, as she is an early riser, and sometimes
goes down into the compound after chota. It was the
ayah's absence which made us begin to think that
something must have happened to Stella."

For a moment Duncan was silent. The terrible
throb had come back in his brain, and he found it
difficult to maintain a clear line of thought through
the jumble of ideas crowding into his mind.
' Where's the padre ? " he asked suddenly.

" He has gone to bring Mr. Lloyd. He ought to be
back in a few minutes."

Her voice broke on the last word, and Duncan for the
first time realised how near she was to a breakdown.

" Please sit down, Mrs. Norton," he said in a kind
voice as he drew forward a chair for her. " I am very
sorry to see you so distressed ; but perhaps the position
is not altogether hopeless. If you could please tell me
all that has occurred since we were here last night it
might help me to see matters in a better light."

But the padre's wife had very little, indeed, to tell


him. Stella had completely disappeared, that was all
she could say when or where or how no one had the
faintest idea. One thing, however, seemed to point to
the fact that she had been gone many hours, for her
bed had not been slept in and the dress which she had
worn at dinner had also disappeared with her.

" But the ayah always slept with her, didn't she,
Mrs. Norton ? " asked Duncan unsteadily.

" Yes, always."

" And last night ? "

" She was with Stella when I went in to say good
night. But this morning we found the door leading
to the river quite wide open, and, later on, the ayah
herself lying in a sort of stupor in the garden on the
old bastion."

" Has she recovered yet ? "

" Yes, after a great deal of trouble ; but she is still
rather stupid. We have asked her about Stella, but
she is quite unable to tell us anything. Last night,
the relative whom she referred to while we were on
the bastion seems to have come to talk to her about
the marriage which is being arranged for her with the
woman's nephew. While they were talking, she says
they both became sleepy as they sat on the bastion,
and after that she does not remember anything
at all."

" This new relative of hers is quite a new acquaint-
ance, is she not ? " asked Duncan, a suspicion suddenly
suggesting a vital connection between the newly-gained
relative and Stella's disappearance.

" Yes ; until recently the ayah did not even know
she had such a relative."

" Have you seen the woman at all ? " asked Duncan

" Only once, and that hardly for a moment. She is
an unusually tall woman, with a good-looking face, but
something very disagreeable about it."


" Ah ! " exclaimed Duncan. " Had she very black,
bold eyes ? "

" Yes, I think that describes them exactly. It was
the eyes which gave one the unpleasant feeling."

" I thought so ! " groaned Duncan. " It is Ida, the
temple dasi. She has simply made a fool of the
credulous ayah, with whom she can have no family
connection whatever."

" Here is Arthur," said Mrs. Norton as the sound of
horses' hoofs beat upon the gravelled path. " Mr. Lloyd
and Captain Wrencroff are with him," she added, point-
ing down to the three riders approaching the bungalow.

" Captain Wrencroif was out riding when I came, so
I suppose they have picked him up on their way here,"
said Duncan as he went down to join the men in the

A few minutes later the four friends were holding a
consultation down by the river as to the best course to
be followed in their search for Stella.

" There isn't the slightest doubt that they must have
gone by the river," remarked the padre. " They could
not possibly have passed through the long room and
out by the front entrance without waking some of us
or the peons who sleep in front."

" But how do you think they got away by the river ? "
asked Lloyd.

" There was a basket-boat here last night and I
think they must have made use of it to carry Miss
Wrencroff off."

" Could you recognise the boat again ? "

" It would be difficult to do so, as they are all much
alike. But there are very few boats on the river now
that it is drying up ; so the difficulty of distinguishing
this particular one is not so great as it might have
been. It is quite possible that the boat used last night
may be found within a mile from here, as the water
straggles about in streams both higher up and lower


down, and the boats, at this time of the year, keep to
the deeper parts."

" I'm sure I could recognise the boatmen again," said
Duncan. " One of them was an extraordinary dwarf-
like fellow with great muscles ; the other had evidently,
from the appearance of his face, had smallpox."

" If, as Duncan thinks, she has fallen into Ida's
hands again, they are hardly likely to go back to the
temple just now," said Wrencroff. " The question
then is, where are they most likely to have gone to ?
Would it be possible for them to hide Stella in the
city itself ? "

" Yes," replied Lloyd doubtfully ; " with the help of
friends it might be possible to do that. But I do not
think they would risk the danger. Their object would
be to get her away as far as possible. The temple, I
agree, is altogether out of the question."

" There's the Agraharam," suggested Duncan.

" Yes, that's true, and I am myself inclined to think
that they must have dropped down the river till they
were clear of the city and then made for the Agraharam,
or some other place of safety. If you are all ready
we'll ride to the ford near the city gate, and see if we
can find any trace of that boat."

So the others having agreed, they sought their horses,
and, after Lloyd had given instructions to an inspector
who was waiting in the compound, they rode for the
city gate that overlooked the common ford lower down
the river. Having spent some time trying to glean
information about the basket-boats, and, failing to do so,
they began to follow the course of the river down stream.

" I say," suddenly cried the padre when they had
reached a place where the deeper water spread out into
a number of shallow channels ; " look over there
under the trees, on the other side of the river. What
is that dark object lying on the ground ? "

" Yes ; you're right, padre that's a basket-boat, if


I'm not very much mistaken. Come on, all of you ! "
cried Lloyd. And as he finished speaking, his horse,
with the others in its wake, splashed through the
stream, then raced over the stretch of sand that lay
between them and the trees on the far bank."

" Yes, that's it ! " cried the padre when they had
reached the spot where the huge coracle was lying.

" There's no doubt it was in the water last night,"
said Lloyd, pointing to the water that still remained in
the bottom of the boat.

" Oh, that's all right," said Duncan. " The next
step is to get hold of the people to whom it belongs."

" That won't be quite so easy, I fear," said Lloyd.
" However, we'll find out in a few minutes what can
be done. There are some constables coming across.
They'll know where to find the men who run these
boats. Meanwhile, we'd better look round and see if
we can find out for ourselves whether Miss Wrencroff
came with the boat or not."

So the men dismounted and began to search on all
sides of the boat to see whether they could discover
anything that would go to confirm the padre's suspicion
that the basket-boat brought by the fishermen the day
before had been used as the means of kidnapping Stella
from the bungalow.

The constables, who had been sent by the inspector
to give assistance to the D.S.P., had crossed the river
and were approaching the place where the coracle was
lying, when Lloyd, who was busy scooping the water
out of the bottom, called the others to him, and, with
much satisfaction, showed them two small pearl buttons
which he had found in the boat. There was now no
longer any doubt that the boat was the one they were
in search of ; but, beyond helping to establish this
fact, the little ornaments did not give much assistance
towards solving the greater difficulty which now faced


On being questioned, the police assured them that
the only community of fishermen within ten miles on
this side of the river was about half a mile down stream
in a grove of tamarind trees, the tops of which could
be seen from the place where they were standing. So
Lloyd ordered some of them to go and find out the
owners of the boat and to bring them back as quickly
as possible, while the others were told off to go and
search for traces of the lady who had been carried off
from the padre's bungalow. Half an hour later, to the
great excitement of the four Englishmen, two important
discoveries had been made. The owners of the boat
had been found. According to their story the boat
had disappeared the day before while they were all in
the city watching the festival ; and the fact that it
was missing from its place amongst the other coracles
kept on the river bank had only been noticed a little
before the arrival of the police in their hamlet, and a
quarrel was going on between the owners and those
suspected of having had a hand in its disappearance
when the police arrived. The joy and the relief of
the boatmen on seeing their boat again was too genuine
to suspect them of having had any hand in Stella's
abduction, and the one hopeful source of definite in-
formation seemed to have failed the four friends alto-
gether, when one of the constables appeared with a
small evening shoe in his hand. He had found it, he
explained, about a mile away on the bandy- track going
to Shiva-puram, and had run all the way back with it.

" Shiva-puram how far is that ? " asked Lloyd.

" Oh, I know that place," said the padre. " It's
about ten miles from here. It's simply crammed with
Shivite temples. The road is about as rough as it can
be all hills and jungle."

" I've heard of it also," said Duncan. " It's an in-
dependent sort of place and belongs to a small zemindar.
The whole of the inhabitants are Brahmins, I believe."


" Well, what do you say ? " asked Lloyd. " Don't
you think we had better go there. It's the only place
which suggests itself at present."

" Yes ; it does seem the likeliest place. What do
you think, Guy ? " asked Duncan.

" I agree with Lloyd. We have nothing else to go
on, so far, but the shoe."

" Let's go, then ! "

And the four men mounted their horses and rode
away along the rough road that led to Shiva-puram.

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Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 21 of 24)