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that his philosophy was, after all, seriously defective.
It had failed, or, at least, seemed likely to fail, as a
means of bringing him safely to the realisation of his
hopes and dreams, and, what was more serious still,
at a most terrible crisis in his self-seeking career, it
had left him deprived of the hopefulness of the all-
propitiating pantheist, and also of the stoical indifference
of truer fatalism.

Once before in his egoistical independence he had
overreached himself, and, to his great sorrow, missed
the straight course to his destiny ; and now when he
had seemed on the very eve of success some hostile
grahi or impish spirit had turned all his schemes topsy-
turvy and left him stranded stripped of all he held
most dear, and bemoaning the fact that he had not
propitiated more of the traditional spirits of earth and
heaven and hell, who are said to turn men's prudence
to foolishness and lead them blindly into the very
dangers which they seek to avoid. For, indeed, he
had lacked wisdom and foresight when, forsaking his
usual policy of clinging close to the sanctuary of the
temple, he had wandered farther than he intended
in his search for the powerful medicinal roots which
were at last to drag the long-hidden secret from his
victim. Had he been a less consummate villain, the
Sannyasi's condition might have been considered
pitiable : for he had not only missed a second time
the Colonel's wealth which he had striven so many
years to discover, but had lost, as we shall shortly see,
all that he had hoarded in the temple vaults, and was
in serious danger of losing his infamous life also. But
it needed more than human intelligence to find grounds
for pity in the Sannyasi's condition, and the Nagite



joo THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

brothers were, after all, very human, and dealt out
their sense of justice under the stern principles of the
Lex Talionis.

It was night the third night from the Shiva-ratri
and the moon had just sunk below the horizon, leaving
the forest trembling in darkness that rumbled with a
gathering storm.

But the storm that swept through the trees snapping
the mighty branches like twigs, and the darkness that
deepened till the form of the earth was obliterated,
were but trifles compared with the darkness in which
the Sannyasi lay, and the deadly struggle through
which he was passing. For he lay bound and bleeding,
near the sacred symbol of the Nagites, in the heart
of the mountain peak where daylight never entered.
Unknown terrors, persuasion, threats, promises, and
finally torture had been brought to bear by Chirtha
and Yellum in order to drag from him the secret of
the Colonel's prison ; but he had denied the knowledge,
until a threat from Chirtha to sever certain nerves
and tendons in his arms and legs, drew from him an
exclamation that amounted to a confession. To the
despair of the two brothers he had borne all their in-
genious devices without a murmur. None knew his
real character better than they. Naga, their father, had
impressed his treachery upon their minds from the
time that they had learnt to handle a bow ; the Colonel
had often told them of the terrible things he had suffered
at his hands. A thousand things told them that his
asceticism was all false and that the mainspring of his
life was lust of wealth. And so they had been un-
prepared for the fortitude with which he had borne
their attempts to extort from him the knowledge they
desired. The threat to destroy the power of his arms
and legs had drawn from him the first signs of wavering
and given them a clue to the kind of treatment he
dreaded most of all.



NEMESIS 301

For a few moments the brothers consulted together,
and then proceeded to light a forest torch ; for they
had so far carried on their work in the intense darkness
of the cave, hoping thereby to create a greater state of
terror in the Sannyasi's mind.

In the light of the resinous torch the rough, jagged
walls of the mountain cave had a most ghostly appear-
ance, and brought to the eyes of the Sannyasi a look
of terror which the darkness had failed to produce.
His mind went back to another prison and the tortures
which he himself had inflicted within its walls, and an
irresistible shudder passed over him, as he wondered
what fate was awaiting him here in this subterranean
temple for, though he had never been in it before, he
recognised the dreaded chamber of the Nagites by the
painted bronze cobra that stood two or three feet
away, glaring ominously at him through the two large
diamonds which stood for its eyes.

Having stuck the burning torch into a hole in the
wall the brothers proceeded to light others, which they
fixed in different parts of the cave until the place was
a blaze of lights. They then brought two curious
chests, and, after some difficulty, opened them, and
poured the contents out upon the floor of the cave.
To most people the sight that met their gaze would have
seemed too wonderful to be true : bracelets, belts,
tiaras, precious stones, gold, silver, and strange coins
poured forth in a confused heap. But the Nagite
brothers seemed perfectly indifferent to the fabulous
treasure which they were handling, and the Sannyasi
almost yelled in agony as he watched them flinging
the different articles upon the ground. To him they
represented the supreme efforts of a lifetime and the
price for which he had bartered his caste and creed.
Fearful lest they should be discovered during the
constant searches which the police were carrying out
in and around the temple, he had transferred them



302 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

for the sake of greater security, as he had thought,
behind the screen of slimy creepers in the hollow near
the temple wall only to find them here in the hands
of his deadly enemies. To see them exposed thus
to the gaze of the two brothers, and to know that they
might do with them as they willed, was greater torture
to the Sannyasi than anything which they had yet
inflicted upon him in the shape of physical pain.
Chirtha seemed to understand something of the
mental agony through which he was passing. With
supreme indifference he took up a beautiful row of
pearls, held it up for his brother's inspection, and
then, taking up a piece of rock he began slowly to
pound them, one by one, to dust.

The Sannyasi uttered a groan. The brothers looked
at him questioningly, with a suggestion of surprise.

" Ye are ignorant and foolish to do that," he said
with a bitter laugh.

" Why ? " asked Chirtha carelessly, as he broke
another pearl.

" It was the gift of a rani who wished for an heir
and and got one."

" What is that to us ? " asked Yellum scornfully, as
another pearl crumbled to powder.

" It would buy much forest and many cattle,"
answered the Sannyasi with a swift glance at their
faces.

" We do not want the cattle," answered Chirtha.
** As for the forest it is ours already. The mountain
peak also will be ours again, now that the Lingites
have been caught in their own net."

" It is worth ten thousand rupees. Why are ye so
mad as to destroy it ? " said the Sannyasi with fierce
impatience.

Chirtha put down the rock and held up the remaining
half of the row of pearls.

" See," he said, watching the Sannyasi closely ; " it



NEMESIS 303

is thine if thou wilt tell us that which we desire to know,
and all this also," he added, pointing to the heaps of
jewelled ornaments. " But if thou wilt not, then let
the burden of that which is to be rest with thyself."

" How can that be revealed which is not known ? "
asked the hypocritical Sannyasi with sullen stubbornness.
" Thou wilt not, then ? " demanded Yellum threaten-
ingly.

The Sannyasi closed his eyes and remained silent.
" See ! " said Chirtha fiercely. " When the White
Chief, our father, escaped from the temple he told us
that which made our ears tingle and our hearts burn.
We would have slain thee long ago, so fierce was our
anger, but the Chief held back our hands saying :
' Wait till the child be found.' The daughter of the
Chief is now safe with her people, and our hands are
free. But though we would prefer to slay thee, we
love our father the White Chief, and we would give
thee thy life for his. Tell us where he is so that we
may go to him and deliver him, and thou mayst go
in safety with thy wealth if not, we will drag the
knowledge from thee limb by limb."

But the Sannyasi remained with eyes closed, in-
different to both appeal and threat.

The brothers sat down beside him, one on each side.
Their hands moved lightly over his limbs as if they
were massaging him to sleep. But sleep was far from
the thoughts of the Sannyasi, and the Nagites felt
him shudder beneath their touch. Then Chirtha
chuckled softly to himself. The Sannyasi's sullen
determination to keep his eyes closed had given him
the inspiration he needed. He bade Yellum bring a
slit of the burning torch ; and when the latter had
brought it, he took it, and slowly singed off the eye-
lashes of one of the Sannyasi's eyes. The Sannyasi
writhed in his bonds but showed no other sign of
giving way. Then Yellum at a sign opened the ascetic's



3 04 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

eye, and for a moment the burning stick hung threaten-
ingly over the dark pupil ; but the Sannyasi's endur-
ance was at an end. He yelled out in his terror, and
protested frantically that if they ruined his sight they
would ruin the only chance they had of ever learning
what they wished to know ; for once blind he would
rather die than live.

Chirtha put aside the miniature torch and smiled
grimly, for the game seemed at last to the righteous.

The immediate danger of the dreaded mutilation
being past, the Sannyasi lay panting, with his wicked
eyes fixed upon the faces of the Nagite brothers.

" Ye desire knowledge that I alone possess ; what
is it ye desire to give in return ? " he demanded, his
eyes burning with the light of avarice.

" Thy life," answered Chirtha.

" And the wealth thou lovest," added Yellum.

" That is to say you would add nothing to what is
already mine," he said, assuming the stolid look that
usually preceded a lapse into stubborn silence.

" Thou hast forfeited them," said Chirtha coldly.
" They are no longer thine ; yet we would give them
back to thee for the life of our father the White
Chief."

" And how shall I know that ye will not take them
again, when the White Chief is restored to you ? "
demanded the Sannyasi with a sneer.

" We will swear "

" Swear ! " interrupted the ascetic scornfully. " By
what ? What gods have ye to swear by ? "

" We are not false like the temple priests," was the
ironical rejoinder of Yellum. " If we swear we keep
our oaths as thou well knowest. What wouldst thou
have us swear by ? "

The Sannyasi looked at them curiously. He knew
perfectly well, as Yellum had suggested, that faithful-
ness was one of the characteristics of their tribe. But



NEMESIS 30 5

there was one being for whom they had a strange
reverence and a pathetic affection beyond all others.

" By the honour of your White Chief," he said slowly.

" Tsa I " ejaculated the brothers together. " It shall
be as thou hast said by our father, the Chief, thou
shalt go unharmed."

The Sannyasi once more breathed freely. They had
promised, and they would certainly keep their word.

For some minutes the brothers sat patiently waiting
for him to speak.

" Time passes, swami, and we wait for thy words,"
said Chirtha, irritated by the silence.

A look of triumphant avidity stole into the face of
the Sannyasi.

" The price ye would give for the knowledge ye
desire is too little," he said curtly.

An exclamation of surprise broke from the lips of
the Nagite brothers. The Sannyasi laughed harshly.
" Think ye," he said, " that I count the life of the
White Chief so small a thing as ye would make it ?
Add to those " (pointing to the heaps of jewels) " half
the wealth he possesses, and I will reveal the secret
your hearts burn to learn."

" How can we give that which belongs to the Chief ? "
asked Yellum angrily.

" It is for his own life."

" Ah, but he has been willing to lose his life to guard
it, as thou well knowest," answered Chirtha.

' True, but there is a reason for which he would give
both life and wealth in order to have a few days' free-
dom," answered the Sannyasi.

" And that ? "

" Ramayya's intention."
' What is that ? "

" To slay his daughter before her marriage with the
Collector Dora."

" Oh, ho ! " exclaimed the Nagites in surprise.



3 o6 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

" Even so we cannot do that which thou demandest,"
answered Chirtha quickly.

The Sannyasi chuckled behind the sullen look he
assumed ; for he had seen the rapid interchange of
glances between the brothers and had learnt what he
had desired to know the Nagites' knowledge of the
hiding place in which the White Chief had stowed his
wealth.

" Enough ! " he answered, as if stating his terms
for the last time.

" Give me a part of the gold and jewels now, and
swear in the name of the Chief to tell him that his life
was given for half his wealth. I have spoken," and
the Sannyasi turned his head, and closed his eyes.

For some time the two brothers spoke in a low voice
at the end of the cave ; then they came to him, and,
without a word, lifted him up and carried him along the
passage that led to the Rishi Umbrella. Near the place
where Chirtha had drawn the iron gate across the pas-
sage they laid him on the ground and left him in the
dark. After a long painful suspense they returned and
carried him back to the cave. Near the place where
he had lain before they had carried him into the
passage, was a heap of uncut precious stones, two or
three small bars of gold, and some large bars of silver.
His eyes glistened at the sight of them, but his innate
lust for wealth was insatiable, and he would have still
lingered to strike a better bargain, had not the fierce
curtness of the Nagite brothers warned him that they
were in a dangerous mood, and might retract the
promises they had already made, and fall back upon
some terrible form of torture to quicken the confession
they were eager to learn.

" Ye have sworn on the head of the White Chief ? "
he said.

" And we will keep the oath," was the answer.

L< While searching the temple, the foreigners and the



NEMESIS 367

police found the secret path that runs beneath the
temple," said the Sannyasi.

" We know it ; we were with them when they passed
along it," answered the Nagites.

" Ah ! then ye will have little difficulty in finding
that which ye seek. Go to the ancient well beyond
the temple walls. Open the entrance to the secret
way, descend the steps and follow the stream to the
steps that ascend to the temple. Instead of mounting
the steps that lead to the garbhaliam, remove the stone
step in the centre of the stairway. There is a door be-
hind, open it with the key ye will find in my hair and
creep through the opening. The White Chief lies within."

Chirtha almost snatched the key from the head of
the Sannyasi, as he removed the painted half of the
cocoa-nut shell that surmounted his verminous hair.

" Come, let us haste ! " he cried to his brother.

" And I," suggested the Sannyasi ; " am I to remain
bound like this ? "

' Yes ; thou needst fear naught. If thy words are
true, Yellum will return to release thee," said Chirtha,
as the brothers turned to go.

" If they are false," he added, coming back to the
Sannyasi and looking down upon him with terrible
eyes, " we will deal with thee as thou deservest."

The Sannyasi almost laughed with joy as he heard
their footsteps die away in the distance. His fertile
mind had been at work as to the means of becoming
possessed of the White Chief's wealth, since the moment
he had gleaned the information that its hiding place
was no secret to the brothers. He had trembled at
the thought that one of the brothers might stay behind,
or that they might be tempted to extinguish the torches
before they left. But fortunately for the Sannyasi
neither of these dreaded events had occurred, and now
he was alone, to seek at leisure for that which he panted
after as a desert tracker pants for water.



3 o8 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

Two or three of the torches had died down to a
smoulder, but one was still burning brightly the one
the brothers had probably used in getting the little
heap of jewels and, what was still more important,
was within easy reach for the purpose which had
already taken shape in the Sannyasi's mind. He
wriggled up to it, and placed himself so that it might
burn off the bonds around his wrists. The flame
burnt his flesh also, but he clenched his teeth and
bore the pain stoically for the sake of the reward that
awaited him. His wrists free, the rest was easy ;
and soon he found himself at liberty to search without
restraint. He seized the friendly torch that had
freed him, swung it into a bright flame, and moved
about the cave with wild eyes and throbbing pulse.
He had something like four hours to find the treasure
he was seeking for, but during that time he must
secrete as much as possible in some other place and
get away before Yellum's return. If he did not succeed
as well as he hoped, he would, of course, wait in the
passage somewhere, and deal with the unsuspecting
Yellum as it might seem best.

With the great predominant passion of his nature
sharpening his senses to a point of inspiration, he
moved towards the far side of the cave where the rock
cistern with its ceaseless lapping sound seemed to call
him to itself. Terrible stories of the petrifying powers
of this subterranean lake had come to the Sannyasi's
ears ; but as he looked out across its dull surface,
streaked here and there with the light of his torch,
the reality seemed even more dreadful than the
embellished description sometimes given by those
who had heard of its existence. He shivered as he
thought of a ghostly hand stretched out between the
streaks of light to draw him down into its dark abysmal
depth. Fate or instinct drew his eyes towards the
roughly hewn path along the rocky wall on his right.



NEMESIS 309

As he stood looking at it with a growing suspicion, a
tiny red dot on the ledge above made his heart beat
more quickly. With slow careful steps he worked his
way up and along the dangerous pathway until he
reached the point that had attracted his attention.
Here he found, as he had expected, a small piece of
smouldering torch on a slightly broader part of the
rocky ledge. For an hour or more he clung to the
spot, held as it were by a magnet, beating on the
rocks and clawing in the crevices. But he found
nothing, and almost maddened by despair, he aban-
doned the broader ledge and moved a few yards
farther along the pathway. Hardly had he renewed
his search when his fingers came in contact with some-
thing loose. With trembling fingers and bated breath
he tried to remove it like a loose stone, but found as he
drew it out that it was a kind of drawer or long tray,
and the next moment his eyes were feasting on a
wonderful array of uncut rubies and diamonds
many of which he remembered to have seen years
before when, as Raymond the overseer, he had been a
trusted member of the Colonel's household. The
supreme moment of his life had come. Uncut as they
were the jewels gleamed and glittered beneath the
flaming torch, and he would have hugged them gladly
to his breast as if they had been his natural offspring.
But the time was short and it was necessary for him
to get them away before Yellum's return. He tried to
pull the tray out of its receptacle ; but it was much
longer than he had thought it to be, and in his blind
avidity he stepped back, forgetful of his precarious
position on the narrow ledge. For a second he hung
suspended over the whispering water with his toes
spasmodically clinging to the edge of the ledge. But
strive as he might he could not recover his balance.
Slowly the drawer slipped from its place ; the
torch fell from his nerveless fingers, and, with | a



3io THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

shriek, he fell backward amidst a shower of precious
stones.

The Sannyasi was by no means a poor swimmer,
and, in spite of his ignorance of his surroundings and
the awful darkness that enveloped him, he might
possibly have succeeded in finding some way of escape
out of his miserable predicament. But he had woven
the last thread into the web of his life. Maddened by
his misfortune and somewhat startled by the length
of time it took to rise to the surface, he made two or
three vigorous strokes beneath the water, and, without
knowing that he had done so, passed beneath a section
of the wall hollowed out into a sort of cave. Here
he swam to and fro seeking for something to hold on
to or some place of safety. But there was neither.
Moreover, the roof was so low in places that his head
was every now and then forced down into the water.
Gradually it dawned upon his intelligence that the
supreme moment of his destiny had also been the signal
of his doom. The thought terrified him, and he began
to cry out till the unseen cavernous walls echoed and
re-echoed his frenzied shrieks. Physically exhausted
and mentally torn by doubts and fears he at last lay
quite passive. For a while the Stygian water held him
in its pitiless embrace, lapping softly all round him
with a gurgling sound like the laughter of a legion of
triumphant spirits ; tantalising visions of power and
pleasures untasted seered his brain ; vices, frauds,
hypocrisies, and unmentionable crimes passed like
spectres before his mental gaze ; then death seized
him, and carried his soul to await its final judgment.



CHAPTER XXXVII THE DEATH OF A HERO

RATHER more than two miles from the city walls, a
straggling spur of the red limestone ridges ends abruptly
in a pear-shaped konda or hill. Standing out as it
does in the midst of a vast plain it is a prominent land-
mark for miles around to wayfarers making towards the
city. Like many other conspicuous features in this
wild bit of country, where nature's mad' moods have
left so many monstrous freaks, the curiously-shaped
konda has, at some time or other, worked upon the
religious instincts of the people until some " virtue-
seeking " ascetic, more pious than the rest, conceived
the idea of adorning its almost inaccessible summit
with a shrine to Shiva, and then of fixing his own
permanent habitation beneath its shadow.

But, although the two or three hundred feet below its
rugged top are sufficiently steep to cool the virtuous
ardour of many of those who would like to pay a visit
to the scared monolith and the traditional grave of
the Hindu stylite who erected it, yet, below this point,
a part of the hill slopes downwards in undulating
curves till, half a mile away, it reaches the level of the
plains. Over the middle of this antenniform member
of the pear-shaped hill passes, like a bright broad
ribbon, the main road of the district as it runs due east
in the direction of the Black Hills. On the city side
the road rises steadily till it reaches its highest point
on the undulating ridge, then with a sudden turn and
a sharp drop it descends to the level of a tank bund
on the other side of the konda.

311



312 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

Thus, travellers coming from the east, on reaching
the highest point of the road after rounding the sharp
bend, suddenly find themselves looking down upon the
city that stands between its two rivers about a mile
and a half away.

On the second day after the Sannyasi's fatal dis-
covery, two wayfarers, who had been toiling with slow,
painful steps up the steep bank that ascends from the
tank bund, arrived on the crest of the ridge and rested
there a moment, scanning the low stretch of country
that lay between them and the city. They had evidently
come far and suffered much in the coming.

Hunger was written unmistakably upon their sunken
cheeks ; utter weariness and dejection were visible in
every move\nent of their limbs ; a feverish anxiety
gave an unnatural brilliancy to their eyes, and, had it
not been for the powerful motive that urged them on
to still further action, they would in all probability
have collapsed where they stood.

An acute observer, watching the face of the older
man, might have seen the look of disappointment in
his fine grey eyes change slowly to an expression of
incipient despair, as he measured the distance to the
city.

" So near . . . and yet so far ! " he murmured
hopelessly to himself. " To be within sight and yet
to lack the power to shield or warn ! To lie still and
look helplessly on while their revenge is wrought ah !


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Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 23 of 24)