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The temple in the tope online

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knew very little beyond the broad fact that some great
religious event was shortly to take place. Having
failed to elicit any information from those who might
have helped him to get a truer idea of the drift of affairs
he had taken his gun and set off with the apparent
object of shooting game, but really with the intention
of working gradually back to the nearer environs of
the tope, where he hoped to find a convenient shelter
for watching the temple without rousing any suspicions
as to his motives.

But again, so far as his real object was concerned,
his efforts had been all but useless. He had seen
nothing whatever of the girl whose presence he had
begun to crave for, nor had he been able to notice any-
thing unusual going on in or about the Hindu shrine.

A priest-like person or two had crossed and re-crossed
the court, the deep resonant twang of a stringed instru-
ment accompanying the lyrical prayer o an unseen
devotee had floated through the great entrance, and
more than once the glitter of a woman's apparel had
flashed across the sun-lit space, but otherwise a peaceful
quietness with no suspicion of fermenting evil had
lain over the place.

With vigilant eyes he" had watched from his covert
fifty yards away amongst the trees, but all to no



purpose ; and about noon he was just beginning to
consider the advisability of leaving his post of espial,
when a splendid sambur with a beautiful head stepped
softly out of the undergrowth on to a small footpath
that lost itself in the jungle near by. For a moment
the noble brute held up its head proudly, sniffing the
air with impatience, and gazing with a dull reddish
light of suspicion in its large eyes ; then, as it caught
sight of the half-recumbent figure of Duncan at the
foot of a tree, it made as if it would spring back into
safe cover but it was too late. Duncan had seen it
come out, and as his gun spat forth its death-carrier
from the choke bore, with a report that rumbled away
among the hills in a thousand echoes, the great sambur
kicked up the earth around, and, with a gasping snort,
rolled over into the long grass.

As Percival stepped over to inspect the fallen animal
three or four dark bodies, armed with knives and spears,
leaped up from the cover of the thick undergrowth
and began to hurry away. At first he was much sur-
prised and inclined to be angry at the thought that
his movements had been under surveillance ; but,
recognising them as men belonging to one of the wilder
tribes of the forest, and thinking that they had probably
been tracking the very game he had just brought down,
he persuaded them to return and carry the dead animal
to his tents, and after that thought no more of the
matter, beyond the fact that it might have gone badly
with one of them if his shot had missed the sambur.

When the men had departed with their burden he
sat down again beneath the tree where he had been
resting most of the morning. He had decided to wait
and watch a little longer on the chance that something
might still transpire ; and he had not waited long
when a low sound made him look up sharply. He had
been dreaming of a woman sad, beautiful and pure
a woman with the soft supple outlines of a girlish figure
a woman with eyes and lips that held the power to



sweeten his life with edenic joys ; and now as he
looked up at the soft frou-frou of silken skirts and the
low musical tinkle of bangles he beheld a woman tall,
splendidly proportioned and magnificent in her beauty
but only as the panther is reckoned so.

A brilliant red sari that sparkled with gold and
silver spangles clothed her from head to foot ; gold
gleamed around her waist and arms ; while two tiny
diamonds in her nostrils sent out tantalizing flashes
with every movement she made. Her white teeth
gleamed as she smiled, while behind the two intensely
black eyes there smouldered the dull glow of fierce
unruly passions.

With startling suddenness she stood there before
him bold, smiling, seductive, tempting.

It was not the first time that he had seen this
woman who was the very antithesis of the dream she
had broken. During his former visits to this temple
tope she had more than once crossed his path and
shown by her advances that he had in some way caught
her fancy. But he had had nothing to do with her
then, and he wanted nothing to do with her now,
so, suppressing the exclamation of annoyance that rose
to his lips, he got up from his recumbent position with
assumed carelessness, glanced past her with marked
indifference, and walked away towards his camp. In
passing her, however, he had not failed to note that
bitter look of disappointment on her face and the
angry gleam in her eyes which warned him of possible
trouble ahead.

All this had taken place before noon, and now,
towards three o'clock in the afternoon, he was resting
on the cool side of his tent, and dreamily looking out
over the great quadrangular clearing towards the partly
screened temple at the other end.

In the centre of this open space stood an idol on a
raised mound of earth and stones. It was not a
beautiful object, nor in any way an attractive one


simply a coarse, roughly-hewn piece of granite without
form or beauty, but probably with a reason both
dark and sinister. Duncan had wondered, as he passed
by it in the morning, what significance it possessed
for its worshippers ; for, in spite of its unattractive
appearance, it was evident, from the remnants of
offerings around it and from the many stains of red
powder and saffron, that it was much venerated as an
object of worship.

Now, as he sat watching the shimmering heat-waves
playing about it, a strange experience befel him. He
did not fall asleep, of that he was perfectly sure. He
was conscious, or rather subconscious, of all that was
going on around of the regular stroke of a wood-
cutter's axe in the distance of the crowing of a
jungle-cock somewhere in the scrub near his camp
of the troops of monkeys that were beginning to
invade the glade of the chokra's maladroitness amongst
the tea-things under the veranda on the other side
of the tent. He was even able to follow the animated
talk of the servants over the dressing of the dead
sambur, and the keen bargaining of the forest-tribesmen
for their special portion of the game. And yet, as he
idly watched those waves of heat and light, dancing,
quivering, undulating and vibrating around the rude
stone image, it seemed as though the invisible stroke
of some magician's wand had suddenly dimmed the
intense glare of the afternoon sun, and, in the semi-
obscurity, conjured up before his eyes events that were
vitally connected with himself and the secret deeds of
this uncanny spot.

As he watched and wondered he saw the indistinctly
familiar figure of a Brahmin standing in an attitude of
great reverence before the shapeless stone. After
remaining in this position for some time, the man bent
down in the humblest of all Eastern salutations and
began to invoke the deity in an impassioned prayer ;
and, as the broken sentences were wafted over to


Duncan, he seemed to hear the words desire, love,
revenge and sacrifice repeated many times.

Then for a flash the oscillating waves seemed to
return, but only to take the forms of men and women
swaying, bending and circling around the mud mound.
The priest was gone ; and in his place within the
circle of swirling beings stood the great athletic out-
line of a white man, dressed in clothes that had been
in vogue more than twenty years before. Over his
arm hung the helpless and apparently lifeless body
of a woman whose face was turned away ; on his face
was written a proud, brave fury as he faced the swaying
crowd. The vision of the woman made Duncan
tremble ; the face of the sun-burnt, white man made
him wonder, for the likeness of his features he had
seen somewhere before.

Then once more the scene changed swiftly. Both
idol and man disappeared ; but the form of the woman
lay stretched upon the ground and over her bent the
figure of the Brahmin whom he had seen at the begin-
ning. Then for the first time Duncan realised who
it was, and began to understand the great antipathy
which had welled up in him against this man during
that momentary encounter at the temple entrance.
He had never seen him before, yet instinct had warned
him then that in Ramayya, the priest's brother, he
had met with something inhumanly pitiless. And now
as the Brahmin bent to gaze into the face of the defence-
less woman his features glowed horribly with a smile
of devilish triumph, while the horror-stricken eyes of
the woman looked up at him in dumb despair. With
a terrible feeling of helplessness Duncan recognised
the girl whom he loved or thought he did.

But, before he could move to come to her assistance,
priest and girl had dissolved back into the undulating
waves around the idol. As he continued to look
helplessly for them he beheld a new form lying within
the gyrating circle of shadowy worshippers the form


of a man, slighter in build than the one whom he had
seen so proudly facing the crowd, yet whose likeness
was so great that he might well have been taken for the
same in his youth.

Duncan wondered about the near resemblance and
the familiarity of the features, and it was only slowly
that he came to realise that the latter were those of
his friend, Guy Wrencroff, of the Indian Medical
Service, whom he was expecting shortly to join him
for a few days" shooting around the temple tope.

Duncan at last stretched himself. Everything was
going on as it had been doing a few minutes before.
The sun was blazing down upon the open square, the
servants were still employed in their heated discussion,
and the chokra was bringing in the things for tea.
He felt convinced that he had not only not been to sleep,
but that he had never even closed his eyes. An im-
pudent monkey with a young one clinging beneath it
had been stealthily moving towards the tent to steal
whatever it might find, and he had kept his eye on its
movements till it had taken up the position which it
was still occupying, with eyes fixed greedily upon the ,
open tent door but afraid to come nearer on account
of his own watchfulness.

" Too much sun this morning," he muttered to
himself, as he wiped the hot perspiration from the
back of his neck.

But the next moment he was on his feet gazing
with a keen interest in the direction of the idol.

Volumes of smoke were rising from a bowl of burning
incense in front of the sacred stone.

" That's curious," he said. " I wonder who has
set that going ? It wasn't there a few minutes ago.
Nor was that garland of leaves and flowers on the
stone ! "

Feeling sure that the girl would again visit the place
where he had seen her for the first time, Duncan, after
spending some time on the divisional line, made his


way towards the stream just before sunset. He was
not disappointed. As dusk began to fall she came
out of the temple gate and glided towards the enchanted
spot. She wore now, as she had done the previous
evening, the jewelled tiara, Shivite pendant, the mystic
circlets and a golden belt ; but her dress was somewhat
different, being made of some soft white material,
which closely draped her slender form. Her small
feet were sandalled and were as fair as those of Sicilian
women. In her hair she wore a bunch of white and
red flowers plucked from the forest creepers.

At first, when she saw Percival waiting, she hesitated
as if in doubt ; and then, with a short, swift glance at
him, she continued her way to the gurgling stream,
where she filled the native brass pot which she carried.
He moved forward to speak to her ; but she saw the
movement, and, gathering up her veil, she turned
swiftly and hurried away. She had not gone far,
however, when she stopped, took the bunch of flowers
from her hair, and, without looking back, threw them
on the ground. What interpretation was he to place
upon this unexpected action ? Was deep calling unto
deep spirit answering spirit ? Had something told
her of the tumultuous feelings, which that first vision
of herself had evoked, and was she now in her own
sweet way telling him that she was there to be wooed
and won ? That swift, shy glance had given him a
momentary glimpse of the beauty of her soul, as the
bursting petals might do of the sweetly perfumed
heart of some lovely flower. Any lingering doubts
of her possible connivance at the wicked purposes of
the temple priests disappeared. With heart pulsating
fiercely he sprang forward ; and, when she looked
back from the temple steps with a smile on her lips,
he was holding the discarded flowers in his hand.
For some minutes he stood watching the entrance
through which she had disappeared, then turned to go.
As he did so, a bitter mocking laugh jarred on his


highly strung nerves, as a harsh discord might jar
out in the midst of an entrancing symphony. He
swung round in the direction of the unpleasant sound,
and there, standing under a tree and looking at him
with an insolent sneer about her lips was the woman
whose acquaintance he had refused in the morning.
One fierce look which she cast towards the temple
entrance showed something of the jealousy which had
sprung up in her heart against the girl who had just
entered there, and revealed the innate cruelty of a
woman who would seize the first opportunity to hurt
those whom she hated. Annoyed at her presence,
and oppressed by the dark presentiment that she would
seek a means of making the girl pay for her disappoint-
ment, he turned away in anger. As he did so the
scoffing laugh rang out a second time.



" HALLO, Percy ! How are you shot anything yet ? "
asked a pleasant, jovial voice from somewhere amongst
the long grass. It was the morning after the events
already recorded. Percival was out on one of the
Indian trails that led by shorter cuts from the main
track to the sacred rendezvous.

He had been so intently occupied with trying to
find a way out of the increasing complications of the
problem which was facing him that, for the time being,
he had completely forgotten about the arrival of his
friend. So the sudden vision of the latter 's face,
flushed with exercise and amusement, burst upon him
as a pleasant surprise.

They were very old chums, these two ; and, by a
happy combination of circumstances, had remained


more or less in close touch with each other from the old
happy-go-lucky school days till now, when we find
them near the temple in the tope under vastly different
conditions from those amidst which they had spent
their youth.

They had, during the years they had been in India,
paid repeated visits to each other's bungalows and had
occasionally spent a holiday together visiting the hill-
stations or places of interest in southern and northern
India ; but this was the first convenient opportunity
that Wrencroff had found to pay a much-desired visit
with his friend to this wild spot which, so far as civilising
influences were concerned, still remained almost un-
touched in its primitive savagery, but which nevertheless
had for him a personal claim that made it intensely

" What kind of a journey have you had ? And
how in the world did you manage to hit off this place
so well ? " asked Duncan, after a hearty welcome to
his newly-arrived friend.

" Oh, we travelled two days in the ordinary bullock-
carts fairly comfortably, I should say, judging from
the nature of the roads ! By dawn, however, I had
had more than enough of them, so by way of making
the journey shorter and more interesting I proposed
a march as straight as possible through the jungle.
Fortunately we picked up rather a capable jungle-
walla, and well ! after a few struggles he has man-
aged to get me here. There he is standing over there !"

Leaning carelessly against a tree, but watching with
a curious expression in his fine grey eyes, was a splendid
specimen of one of the forest-tribes. In his right hand
he carried a spear a long-shafted, wonderfully carved
weapon with its blade hidden in a leather sheath that
guarded against the deadly poison with which it was
stained ; from his other hand trailed two dead peacocks
still gloriously cymophanous as the sunlight played
upon their bright-hued feathers.


Taller by some inches than Duncan himself, and at
least fifteen to twenty years older, the jungle-dweller
looked the very picture of physical strength and daring.
Around his loins hung the customary cloth and adorn-
ments of his people, otherwise his body well oiled
against the difficulties of tracking remained uncovered,
revealing in its massive protrusions of muscles and
tendons an existence of strenuous physical efforts.

On both forearms, and in the centre of his chest,
were the highly-coloured tattoos of a cobra ; while
suspended from his neck was a small deerskin pouch,
probably containing a charm against the evil spirits of
the forest or the machinations of enemies.

" Not a bad-looking fellow," remarked Duncan, as
he noted with the eye of an athlete the fine physical
development. " Is he going to stay ? He might be

" I think he will, if I ask him," replied the other.
" For some reason or other he seems to have taken a
great fancy for me."

As he finished speaking, Wrencroff moved over to
the man whose grim, scarred countenance beamed
with intense satisfaction at the proposal. Kneeling
down he touched Wrencroff's feet with his forehead,
and expressed his great anxiety to serve the two white
chiefs till they had no further use for him.

" Come along, Guy, the sun is pretty high," cried
Duncan, seeing that the jungle- walla had agreed to
stay. " Let us make straight for the tents. You
must need a drink badly, and a rest also. You can't
have had much sleep during the last three or four days."
" Oh, I'm all right, thanks ! All the same I agree
heartily to the suggestion."

" I wonder," said Duncan, as they picked their way
along the all but invisible footpath, " what those
dreadful scars are which that jungle-walla carries about
with him. He looks as if he had been almost cut to
pieces in a battle."


" Yes," answered the other. " They make one
wonder what the poor beggar's history has been.
Perhaps he'll be willing to tell us something later on
when he gets more accustomed to us. Wild as he
looks, there's something unusually intelligent about
him, and I fancy we're not the first civilised people he
has seen."

Half an hour later the two men were comfortably
seated in long canvas chairs under the cool shade of
the mango trees. Large Indian coojas of water and
cooling drinks of various kinds stood within their easy
reach. The heat was steadily working towards its
maximum ; but a cool breeze was moving softly
amongst the trees, and, for a moment, there seemed
but little inclination to succumb to the drowsy inertia
that comes with the midday heat.

" By Jove ! " murmured Wrencroff after a short
silence. " Doesn't that old shrine make a fine picture
out there in the middle of those trees, with the dark,
gloomy hills as a background. It is even a much
more magnificent sight than your description led me
to imagine."

' Yes ; it is undoubtedly a very fine scene. One
has to give the ancient Hindus credit for their topo-
graphical knowledge and their insight into the poetical
attractions of their country's beauty spots. All the
same I am inclined to think that that old temple is
only a whited sepulchre, and has some rotten unclean-
ness about it which would surprise a good many of us
if we only knew where to look for it."

After this Duncan lapsed into thoughtful silence.
He began to think what effect the revelation of his
recent experiences would have upon his friend, and
whether it would be to any good purpose to tell him
about them.

" It's a bit strange, Percy ; but now that I have seen
the place it almost seems as if I had been here before.
There's something uncommonly attractive to me, if


not familiar, in that old temple and its setting. But I
suppose it's simply on account of having heard so
much about it from one source or another. It was, you
know, around this place where the Colonel spent so
much of his time towards the end. It must have
been rather exciting in his day, I imagine."

" Oh, I had forgotten all about him," replied Duncan,
pulling himself together, and beginning to take an
interest in his companion's talk.

" Wasn't Colonel Wrencroff your uncle ? " he asked,
after a slight pause.

" Well, no, not exactly. He was one of my father's
cousins. You may remember the painting of him as a
young man which hangs in the hall at home. I am
supposed to bear a great resemblance to him. After
some years of extraordinary adventures he built a
small fort for himself somewhere about twenty miles
from here, and I thought that it might be possible for
us to pay a flying visit to it, as it has one or two inter-
esting things about it. Report has it, however, that
it was all ransacked and burnt down about the time of
his death. Under any condition the place is likely
to be a pile of ruins by now. His last letter, which I
have brought with me, throws a sort of romantic halo
over the scenes of his exploits. If you'd care to hear
it I'll get it and read it to you. What do you say,
Percy ? "

" Yes, do, old man. We've nothing else to do, and
it will help us to pass the time," answered Duncan.

Wrencroff went over to the tent, and returned a few
minutes later with a packet of papers that looked
somewhat the worse for wear. When he had settled
himself down in his long easy chair, he picked out a
letter dated some fifteen years back, and proceeded to
read as follows :

" DEAR OLD JACK, As it does to all men sooner or
later the end begins to draw near, and long before you


receive these last lines of mine, I shall be no more.
I am not quite forty years old yet, so it is not old age,
nor is it disease which has laid hold of me, but a thrust
which I received in a skirmish during a night attack
some days ago. It was not at all a serious wound in
itself. Under ordinary circumstances and with moder-
ate care I should have rallied, but the blade belonged
to a man of the hills, and was poisoned. But why
murmur ? Fata viam invenient, and one blindly assists
them. I was indeed suspicious when it happened,
but as there was some doubt about it, I hesitated to
undergo the drastic antidote which I have seen pull
the natives through under similar circumstances . . .
now, I fear, it is too late. More than one symptom
makes me feel sure that the end cannot be far off.
However, I have lived a fair span of man's life, enjoyed
many of its good things, been through strange experi-
ences experiences that do not fall to the ordinary
man's lot, and more seldom still to that of the European
seen life at its best and at its worst, and shall now
die content a tolerably good Christian, I hope.

" In leaving this world on so short a notice, however,
I leave one very important matter incomplete, and the
one regret that makes death distasteful at this moment
is due to the uncertainty connected with that unfinished
purpose. It is with the hope of making the details of
this matter clear to you, and with the object of invoking
whatever assistance you may be able to lend in the
attempt to set it right, that I now make haste to write
this somewhat lengthy letter before death or paralysis
sets in and forestalls my intention. I should like to
feel certain that you will some day receive this letter,
but I fear that that pleasure has been denied me.
The chances are about even, as deadly enemies lie in
wait all around, and the young hillman who will carry
it to its destination may very likely fall in the attempt.
He is a brave man and a faithful servant, and as it will
not only serve his own purpose to outwit our common


enemy, but will also provide him with an opportunity
to make some return for all that I have done for him,
he will undoubtedly do his utmost to carry out my

" My letters, dear Jack, have, I fear, ever been few
and far between, and it must be now quite five years
since I dispatched the last one to you on the eve of my

Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 3 of 24)