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At that moment nearly twenty miles away in the
opposite direction, on the road that led to the Agra-
haram, a bullock cart was toiling along as quickly as
the pair of tired bullocks could take it. A dark curtain
at either end cut off the occupants from any inquisitive
stare of the passers-by. Inside the bandy, Stella was
slowly waking from a heavy sleep. She felt, as people
feel after a long delirium, a curious lightness in her
head, and the motion of the bandy made her lie passive
for some time, afraid to open her eyes. With a painful
effort she strove to piece the facts of life together in
order to understand where she was and what had
happened ; but for a long time she failed to do so,
until at last her mind seemed to become clearer and
she perceived that she was in some sort of a vehicle.
Then she suddenly grew frightened and opened her
eyes with a start, to find Ida's cruel black eyes gazing
into her own, and the dasi's mocking laugh ringing in
her ears.

In her fright she struggled to get up, but Ida put her
merciless hand upon her throat, and pressed her back.

" Ha, ha ! " laughed the dasi cruelly. " Thou canst
not escape from Ida this time. Let it be plain between
thee and me ! Death alone shall deliver thee from
my hands. I would kill thee now, with joy, only we


have prepared something better for thee and thy white

Suddenly the bandy stopped with a jerk near a
little hamlet nestled among some trees on the road-
side. Many voices talked rapidly ; feet hurried to
and fro ; bullocks bellowed stubbornly ; the bandy
moved about unsteadily, and to the accompaniment
of all, Ida's voice kept up a continual reiteration of
" Jeldi-jeldi " (quickly, quickly). Stella realised that a
change of bullocks was taking place ; her brain was
still partly fogged with the narcotic that had kept her
asleep up till now, but instinct warned her that she
might not have another opportunity to appeal for
assistance, so with the strength of the desperate she
threw off Ida's hand which still clutched her throat,
and sat up and screamed for help. The mocking smile
on Ida's face changed to a terrible look of hatred.

" See, you daughter of a pariah," she hissed. " Be
quiet ! If thy lips open again they will soon close for

Stella looked, as a bird might look at a snake, and
as she looked she saw the point of a dagger descend
to within an inch of her breast. And the dagger was
that which she herself had carried for years as a gift
from the " Servant of the Dead."

" Even now if anyone comes in answer to thy call
they will find thee dead," smiled Ida. But no one
came. The bullocks lurched forward into their slow,
swinging gait, while the frightened girl sank back again
into the unconsciousness from which she had never
fully recovered.

" We have been done ! " said Duncan, as he gazed
across the table with sunken eyes and pallid cheeks.

" Thoroughly ! " answered Lloyd, with bitter dis-
appointment in his voice. " It was the cutest false trail


imaginable. Especially that piece of lace handkerchief
with ' Eva ' worked upon it. One does not expect
that sort of thing out in the East. We might have
still been in that miserable Shiva-puram searching in
impossible places had it not been for the inspector's

It was now past noon, and they were back in the
padre's bungalow partaking of a hurried lunch while
fresh horses were being brought round. They were all
drinking more than eating, for they were very thirsty,
and the fears and disappointments in their minds made
food unpalatable.

" I've not heard yet what that inspector had to say.
What was it ? " asked Wrencroff, turning to Lloyd.

" It seems that he had ridden about ten miles along
the main road when he met a post-peon and a taliari.
He spoke to them, and they told him that about eight
o'clock they had seen a bullock-cart having a lame
bullock changed at a small wayside village. The
bullocks were giving some trouble, and, as they swerved
to one side, the purdah over the end of the cart was
thrown open, and they saw someone dressed in a green
cloth with silver trimming. When they had got some
distance away from the bandy they heard a scream ;
but they were not sure whether the scream came from
the bandy or one of the huts on the roadside, and as the
bandy had moved on again they continued their journey."

" How far do you think that bullock-cart will have
travelled by now ? "

" It depends largely on the bullocks," remarked the
padre ; " but, reckoning according to the usual rate
they will be at least thirty miles from here. The
bullocks round here are all very ponderous and seldom
go more than three miles an hour, and often not so
much, so I don't think they will be farther."

" Anyway, that means they'll be in the Agraharam
before night," suggested Wrencroff, with an anxious look.


" Yes," said Lloyd slowly ; "I'm afraid they can
reach the place before dark, if that is their object."

" What do you think the real distance is from here,
Lloyd ? " asked Duncan in a strained voice.

" Fully forty-five miles by the near way, nearer fifty
by the main road."

" It is necessary to overtake that bandy before it can
reach the Agraharam. You see that, don't you ? "

" Yes," answered Lloyd, mentally noting the terrible
ravages which a few hours had wrought on Duncan's face.

" Then I mean to do so," was the quiet reply, and
Duncan's powerful jaw seemed to grow squarer than ever.

" Oh, we are coming also," broke in Lloyd and

" I, too, would like to come," said the padre ; " but,
as you see, my pony's done for, and there's no likeli-
hood of getting another animal that would keep up
with yours."

A few minutes later they were riding between the
two rows of tamarind trees that lined the road for a
mile or so beyond the town.

" It will be best to go steadily for the first ten miles,"
said Duncan, as they cleared the outskirts of the city.
" After that we might try to get all we can out of them."

Soon after leaving the avenue of tamarind trees they
rose steadily round the base of a hill, then dipped
down again to the level of a large tank. From this
point the road ran like a broad white ribbon across the
scorching plains, and the three men cantered on without
speaking, with eyes half closed against the dancing
waves of light, and topees jammed down over the
napes of their necks to protect them against the
blistering rays of the sun.

It was well past three o'clock when their horses
white with foam and themselves streaming with per-
spiration they drew up at the door of a small flat-
roofed building on the roadside.


" Get the constables to change the saddles at once ! "
said Lloyd to a sub-inspector who came out to meet
them. " By the way," he added, as the man turned
to carry out his order, " you received the inspector's
message, I suppose ? "

" Yes, sir."

" Well, have you seen or heard anything of that
bandy which we are in search of ? "

" No, sir ; it did not pass this station. There is a
shorter cart-track from Kalvarum which your honours
have passed on the main road, and this joins the main
road again about ten miles farther on, near Paniram.
I have myself just come from Paniram, but the man
whom your honour placed there some days ago to watch
the road says that no bandy with a mem-sahib in it
has passed to-day."

" You are sure he can swear to that ? "

" Yes, sir ; he says that he has never been away
from his hut, and that he has examined every bandy
that has passed."

" Then he could give you no help what-
ever ? "

" I think not, sir ; but there was one thing which
your honour might like to know."

" What was that ? "

" The Swami's elephant passed along the road early
this morning from that side, and, while I was there,
it passed again on its way back."

" Was it carrying anything ? " asked Duncan, who
was listening to the conversation between the D.S.P.
and the sub-inspector.

' Yes, your honour a howdah."

" Could you see what was in it ? "

" No, your honour. It was all covered in with

" Where had it been to ? " asked Lloyd.

" I called to the mahout and asked him where he


had come from, but he would not listen," replied the

" There is no village on the road between here and
Paniram, is there ? "

" No, sir ; there is no village whatever, either on the
road or off, between here and the village of Paniram."

" Did the Swami's elephant pass this station while
you were at Paniram ? "

" No, sir ; we would have seen it, had it passed along
this road. But neither I nor the constables saw it."

" Then it must have gone down the bandy-track to
Kalvaram, don't you think, otherwise you would have
passed it on your way to Paniram ? " suggested Duncan.

" I think so, your honour."

Duncan looked at Lloyd questioningly.

" Yes ! " said the latter in answer to Duncan's
unspoken question.

" There has evidently been some kind of an ex-
change, and it is scarcely worth while looking for that
purdahed bandy any longer."

The sun had already been set some time. The red
flush in the sky had faded to a dull grey. The rect-
angular buildings of the Agraharam, perched as they
were on the brow of a small hill, stood out for a moment
sharp and clear against the pallid sky. Up the hill to
the Agraharam the Swami's huge elephant was swinging
along majestically between four and five miles an hour.
To those in the howdah which it carried haste was
evidently of the utmost importance, for the mahout
was yelling frantically, and prodding the great beast
mercilessly with his steel prong. The cause lay be-
hind, in the three dark objects moving along the straight
white road more than a mile away. A little time
before, when they had first appeared upon the horizon,
it would have been impossible for most to tell what


the three black points were, but Ida, whose eyes were
like those of a hawk, had recognised them almost imme-
diately as horsemen. They were the three English-
men, coming like the wind, with the inspector's mad
pony giving the pace. The men had caught sight of
the elephant as it rose on the higher ground above
the plains, and, knowing that their one chance of
saving Stella lay in the few furlongs between the ele-
phant and the top of the hill, they were urging their
horses to the limit of their powers, and the noble
beasts, understanding that some great service was
being required of them, were spending their last bit
of strength to do it. The elephant was now only about
two furlongs from the entrance to the Agraharam, but
it was for ever going a shade more slowly, while the
horsemen crept steadily nearer and nearer. Furious
threats and wild promises mingled in the torrent of
abuse which Ida hurled at the mahout to make him
increase the animal's pace. In her excitement she
had thrown back part of the curtains which had been
arranged to hide the occupants of the howdah, and her
face twitched with the desire to break into malignant
joy, but an incipient fear as to the final result kept
her under restraint. With a fierce grip she held the
Colonel's dagger in her right hand, revolving in her
mind a plot by which she would consummate her
revenge to the greatest possible misery of her pursuers
if they drew too near before the Agraharam was reached.
At last the horsemen were quite distinct, though still
some distance off, and the elephant was now within
a furlong of the entrance to the village. Ida could
restrain herself no longer.

" Ah ! see," she cried, pointing towards the approach-
ing Englishmen, " there is thy white maharajah, as
thou didst call him in thy sleep. See how he comes ;
ay, he comes quickly, but nevertheless too late, for
thou wilt be safe with Ramayya before he reaches the


Agraharam. Jeldi, thou fool," she cried to the mahout.
" Thou must put us down safely at the Swami's door,
and get far away before they come. I will surely cut
thine ears off if thou failest."

But the mahout had no desire to have his ears clipped.
With shrill cries he urged the elephant on more quickly,
and, as the men reached the bottom of the hill, led
his colossal beast up one street and down another of
the closely-packed Agraharam, and finally stopped at
a heavy door set in a high wall. Almost before the
elephant had got down on to its knees, half a dozen
men had surrounded it, and, having helped Ida and
dragged Stella out of the howdah, hurried them through
the door, which they then closed, and disappeared.

" Ah ! " cried Ida with fiendish triumph, turning
upon Stella as they stood alone in the big empty court
surrounded by its high wall. " Have I not kept my
word, thou daughter of a pariah ? Have I not taken
thee out of the very hands of thy Collector Sahib ?
Ho, ho ! he will soon gnash his teeth in despair."
And Ida broke out into a long, cruel laugh. " Hearken ! "
she cried again. And the hoofs of the three English-
men's horses beat with a painful thud on Stella's
paralysed senses, as they clattered through the badly-
paved streets of the Agraharam.

" It can't be far away," called out Lloyd to the
others, as they rode up and down the narrow streets,
where the houses were all painted with broad stripes
of white and brown."

" There it is ! " cried Duncan, pointing down a
street, narrower than the rest.

" The road to the temple leads across the fields
on the other side ; they may be hoping to get away
to the temple, or into the forest under cover of the


The three men swung round into a single file down
the narrow street, and, for a moment, lost sight of
the elephant, which had disappeared amongst a perfect
warren of houses. When they saw it again it was
going away across the fields at a big stride, screaming
wildly with its trunk in the air, as if the mahout were
torturing it to go still faster. In a few seconds the
men had galloped up to it, and were calling upon
the mahout to stop. With a meekness unlooked for the
man obeyed, and the next moment the elephant was
going down on its knees.

" Pull those curtains aside," ordered Duncan sharply.

The man did so.

Duncan almost fell out of his saddle on seeing the
empty howdah.

" Damn ! " muttered Lloyd under his breath.

Wrencroff looked on in speechless amazement.

" Done again ! " muttered Duncan hopelessly.

" Not quite so badly, I think, as in Shiva-puram,"
remarked Lloyd. " I could stake my life on the fact
that Miss Wrencroff was in that howdah. Look how
frantically the mahout was urging on his beast."

" But it's almost as bad as if Stella had not been in
the howdah at all," groaned Duncan. " See how the
darkness is coming on. How is anyone to find out
where they have hidden her in such a cursed hole
as this ? "

Matters, indeed, looked very black and discouraging
for the three Englishmen ; they had not the faintest
clue to help them beyond the suspicion that Stella
must have been in the howdah ; they were all worn
out by riding and faint with hunger ; their horses also
were thoroughly done even the inspector's wild-cat,
whose energy had seemed inexhaustible, was hanging
her head low ; moreover, they knew only too well that
the Agraharam would give them as little assistance
as possible, and might even go further and show active


hostility against them, for its very existence was bound
up with the priests and the traditions of the temple.

" I think it will be best to take that mahout along
with us. He has certainly a most evil-looking face,
and I feel convinced that he could tell us the thing
we want to know," said Lloyd, eyeing the man with
a look of disapproval.

" How will you take him ? " asked Wrencroff dully.

" Oh, I will truss him up all right to my bridle,"
replied the D.S.P., preparing to dismount.

At that moment, however, the attention of the three
men was attracted by a dark figure running towards
them from the direction of the village. Lloyd watched
the man's approach with eagerness.

" Ah ! here comes the Nagite whom we set to watch
the Agraharam in case they should be tempted to bring
Colonel Wrencroff here. He has evidently something
important to tell us."

*' What is it ? " he asked, as the Nagite drew near.
" We seek the daughter of the Nagite chief. They
have stolen her again, and brought her back to the
Agraharam. Hast thou seen aught of her ? "

" The Swami's elephant," answered the Nagite,
pointing to the animal, " brought her to the priest's
house but a few minutes ago. I was there watching,
according to the Dora's commands, and saw the ser-
vants of the priest carrying the white chief's daughter
into his dwelling."

" And now ? " asked Duncan unsteadily.

" She is behind the walls of the Swami's den. Let
the Doras follow quickly in the steps of the Nagite,
for the panther will not delay a second time in de-
stroying what it has already wellnigh lost."

And once more the men gathered up their reins,
gripped their saddles, and urged their tired beasts to
follow closely in the steps of the running Nagite.


In the courtyard of the priest's house dishonour and
death were closing round Stella, like a net from which
it was impossible to escape. Death she had never
feared, and both Ida and the priest had long under-
stood that she would gladly have chosen it before
the other ; but now it was not even an alternative,
and the sweetness for them and the bitterness for her
lay in the thought.

" See, Ramayya, my friend, I have brought thee
the bride thou hast desired ! " And the courtyard
vibrated with Ida's mocking laugh, as she pointed to
Stella standing in the middle of the court, with her
long green satin dress falling around her, and the
darkness rapidly enveloping her.

Ramayya had just come from within. For a moment
he hesitated in the doorway, looking down upon the
girl. Behind him lay a dark passage that ran in and
out like a burrow amidst endless rooms. His face
was lit with the evil passions that seldom left it. Under
his shaven skull his eyes, like Ida's, gleamed with the
uncanny light of a wicked triumph.

" Thou hast done well, Ida," he said in his dis-
agreeable voice. " Thou shalt have a queen's dowry
and a queen's privileges for thy service."

Stella's eyes were fixed on his in her terrible effort
to read the fate for her that he was conceiving in his
mind, yet she did not notice that he had moved towards
her till she felt his cruel grip upon her arm.

" Thou wilt remember the night in the temple, no
doubt, when I told thee thou wouldst crawl at my
feet for mercy and love," he said. " Have I not
kept my word ? But I will not taunt thee yet with my
victory. There will be time enough for that. Come ! "

Stella looked round like a dumb animal seeking to
escape from the slaughterer's knife. In two or three
minutes she knew that it would be too dark for any-
one to find her. Yet there seemed no possibility of


escape. She was at her hereditary enemy's mercy,
or rather there was no suggestion of mercy with
Ramayya or Ida she was in his power, and an object
for his maddest caprice. His very hold made her
turn weak and faint. His face frightened her as it
had never done before. With an involuntary move-
ment she obeyed his order, and moved towards the
dark entrance to his house. The darkness within
awaited her, and the thought beat upon her brain
that once she had entered it she must never see light
or life again.

" Ah ! " laughed Ramayya ironically, as he watched
her dumbly obey his order. " Hadst thou followed
Ramayya's word so willingly hitherto, thou wouldst have
saved thyself much misery to come, Nakshatram."

But Stella's apparent meekness had been but part
of a woman's desperate resolve. Before he had even
suspected her intention she had twisted her arm,
slipped from his hold, and sped along the court. At
the far end of the court a large descending well was
in process of construction, the steps had not yet been
built, but for the use of those who had begun to draw
water two long planks had been set over the top of
the well. Before Ramayya had recovered from his
surprise Stella was standing in the centre of the planks.

" See, thou wicked priest," she cried. " God de-
fends the weak. Thou mayst conquer, but not as thou
desirest. When thou "

As she looked towards them an unexpected sight met
her gaze. The knife, which Ida had drawn again on
seeing her victim rush across the court, fell with a ring
from the dasi's hand, while the dasi herself struggled
in the clutch of a dark form like that of a forest-dweller.
Simultaneously a revolver shot rang through the
court. Ramayya, the priest, who was running towards
Stella, staggered, but recovered himself immediately,
and, as two or three forms dropped down from the


court wall, he disappeared into the dark entrance of
his house.

A moment later, Stella was lying unconscious in
Duncan's arms, while Lloyd and Wrencroff were
engaged in helping the Nagite to secure the dasi.

" It's time this she-devil was sent to penal servitude
to get her out of harm's reach. It was almost worth
the trouble coming so far to get hold of her alone,"
remarked the D.S.P. with satisfaction.

" I feel so dreadfully tired," said Wrencroff, with
irrelevance, " that I could go right off to sleep on the

"So could I," replied Lloyd; "only we'd better
not do so. There may be trouble yet. The best thing
to do will be to procure some bandies and taliaries
from the village and get away from this place as quickly
as possible. I gave my sub-inspector instructions to
follow us up with as many men as he could get hold
of, and to try to bring some food with him ; so I
expect we'll meet them somewhere on the way as we
go along."

" Yes ; I think that's the best and safest plan,"
said Duncan, who had heard Lloyd's advice. " So
we'll send the Nagite to bring the kurnam to see what
he can do in the way of providing us with the things
we need."


PARADOXICAL as it may seem, the world-forsaking,
Mukti-seekmg Sannyasi was suffering the torments of
the damned. Such an experience ought, theoretically,
to have been beyond the range of possibility for one
who had been engaged for many years in deadening
the physical senses. But in the case of the temple


Sannyasi, the practice of Yoga, as has been already
pointed out, was simply a garb assumed to disguise
depraved tendencies. During the years that he had
practised it, he had, it is true, succeeded in inuring
himself to certain forms of physical pain ; but he had
accomplished this after the manner of a charlatan,
and, with a view to the future, had taken care to
preserve all his senses intact. Notwithstanding the
strange things which the credulous pilgrims had seen
him undergo, and their implicit faith in his super-
human power to bear physical suffering, there were
weak spots in the Sannyasi's armour through which it
was possible to inflict exquisite pain.

The Sannyasi's philosophy, as we have seen, was
somewhat peculiar to himself ; it was, in fact, centred
wholly in himself. He distrusted everything but the
reality of his own existence, and the truth of the
horoscopic prophecy. Without belief in the action,
good or bad, of supernatural beings ; without fear of
retribution ; unfettered by any moral standard of
conduct, and with an indefinite idea of immediate
oblivion after death the Sannyasi had felt himself
free to use every means that might tend to fulfil the
prophecy. Judged from an egoistical point of view,
his system was beautifully simple and effective ; from
another point of view, however, the Sannyasi's prin-
ciples were a grave danger to the community, and the
Sannyasi himself a most treacherous individual.

In spite of his depravity, the Sannyasi was con-
scious at times of the enormity of the treacherous
dealings which he had had with friend and foe alike,
and, if there was one thought which tortured him
more than the prospect of losing the wealth which he
had accumulated in the temple, it was the occasional
nightmare that someone might deal with him as he
had dealt with others, and deprive him of the life
which he loved for the sake of the wealth he possessed


and the pleasures to which he had looked forward so
many years.

Two days after the incident in the Agraharam we
find the Sannyasi painfully distressed with the doubt

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Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 22 of 24)