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departure to the Nizam's territory. But, though more
than twenty years have gone by since I left England to
further the interests of the East India Company and to
seek my own fortune by the way, I have tried to make
my letters, as few as they have been, keep you more or
less informed of the great events which have marked
my career out here, and you will no doubt be able to
recall some of the descriptions of those lively scenes
which we passed through in those early days. How
the memories of those stirring events crowd back upon
me at this moment as I write this, my last letter !
Those long winter months, for example, which we
passed amongst the Afghans, driven sometimes almost
to despair by the attacks of overwhelming forces upon
weak and unprovisioned garrisons and by the daily
reports of merciless massacres ; yet, desperately striving
to maintain the British power and influence which,
during the retrograde movement forced upon us,
seemed doomed to annihilation.

" Afterwards when things had righted themselves
in Afghanistan, and the prestige of the English had
again been asserted came those restless, uncertain
days in Scinde when the air was heavy with doubts and
gloomy fears and everyone felt that trouble was brewing
again, but no one knew exactly where to look for it,
until disloyalty and disaffection were discovered in high
quarters and the war with the Amirs, who had been
doing their best to stir up fanaticism amongst their
co-religionists, became inevitable.

" I have since heard that the ultimatum to the Amirs,
and the subsequent annexation, were called at the time


' An unnecessary display of military power,' ' An
uncalled for provocation,' ' A self-glorifying aggres-
sion,' ' A ruthless shedding of blood for a worthless
annexation,' and a host of other grossly abusive terms.
But it is always easy for those who sit at home in peace
and comfort, and without any great sense of respon-
sibility/ to pass adverse judgments on the settlement of
frontier problems. But we, who were on the spot, and
not only saw the difficulties, but felt the danger creeping
nearer, know that those who regarded it as anything
but a prudent measure were both ill-advised and badly

" What was it those at home were demanding that
those who held the reins of authority out here should
calmly sit still and watch their countrymen mercilessly
' cabuled ' ? It almost seems so ; for dreadful rumours
and veiled threats were running to and fro like wild-
fire, one's own sepoys and servants spoke of the pressure
that was being brought to bear upon them to throw in
their lot with the followers of the Amirs, and it was the
common talk of the bazaars that the Baluchis, gather-
ing from the mountains, were to treat the English in
the same way as the Afghans had treated them in Kabul.
But apart from the strength and safety which it gave
to the position of the English, subsequent events
proved that the policy of the Governor-General and
Commander of the Forces was not only a wise measure
but also a humane one ; for the Scindians themselves
were the first to hail with joy the proclamation of their
annexation. They had lived for generations under
the grinding tyranny of the Baluchis and were only
too glad to place the protection of their lands and wealth
and wives in the charge of more beneficent rulers.
And therein, for those who care to read and learn, lies
to a great extent the secret of our power in India to-day.
The history of the British in India will no doubt teem
with wonderful achievements of military genius, splen-
did deeds of personal valour and heroism, and the


execution of gigantic schemes conceived by remarkable
men, but these alone do not account for the spectacle
which the British power in India presents to the world.
There is still another factor the will of the millions.
Had this been at all unfavourable towards the English,
it would have been impossible for them to maintain
for any length of time the advantages gained by their
military exertions ; but, wearied to death by the
depredations of unscrupulous adventurers, smarting
under the degrading tyranny of despotic chiefs, divided
by racial interests, and exposed by their caste obligations,
the great masses of the people themselves have wished
to be annexed by a Power whose honour, justice and
humanity they could depend upon.

" But more difficult and much more serious than the
subjugation of the Amirs in Scinde were the fierce,
stubborn struggles of the Sikhs near Ferozepore and
Aliwal, and later on around Mooltan, Chillian wallah
and Goojerat. There have not been wanting those who
called this also ' an unjust annexation,' but willy or
nilly, out of sheer self-protection, were we forced into
that great conflict with the plundering hordes off the
Sutlej, and, as you may remember, it was during the
earlier skirmishes that I myself was fortunate enough
to win some little distinction, and in the second cam-
paign was unlucky enough to fall foul of a blow that
laid me up for many months after.

" After a very tiresome convalescence, circumstances
took me to Madras and then on to Mysore, and, more
or less in the capacity of a political agent, I spent some
years between these two important places, until chance,
with a special opportunity, carried me to Haidarabad.
Here, while negotiating a delicate mission, the sudden
death of a person of high rank with whom I was in
communication took place under suspicious circum-
stances, and the intrigues of a hostile party having
succeeded in entangling me in the affair, it was only by
the timely assistance of a friend and under the disguise


of a Mohammedan that I managed to escape a serious
charge and possibly an unjust imprisonment.

" Some time after this, accident brought me into
touch with an old acquaintance who had taken to
dealing in precious stones. He was greatly in need of a
partner who knew the ways and languages of the people,
and, at length, finding his generous offer congenial to
my own inclination, I joined fortunes with him to find
myself, on his death a few months later, left sole owner
of our little speculation.

" My search for and dealing in precious stones brought
me again in close contact with many of my old friends
and enemies, the Rajahs, Nawabs and Zemindars ;
and, after many months of exciting adventures amongst
them during which I was twice dacoited and stripped
of all I possessed, once decoyed into a harem with the
hope of claiming my jewels as a ransom, and finally
condemned to death on false evidence I retired to this
lonely spot on one of the highest peaks of the Black

" It is in connection with events which have occurred
since I came here that I am now, on the verge of the
grave, busily engaged writing to you, when I ought,
perhaps, to be looking towards other and less worldly


" SOME four years ago, having heard that there were
diamonds and rubies to be found in this neighbourhood,
I got the necessary permission, procured a few suitable
men, and started a settlement. For a short time
everything went swimmingly ; the men worked well
and, though isolated, seemed content with good pay
and just treatment. We did not do badly, but there
were frequent signs of leakage, and a growing suspicion


in my own mind of the presence of a traitor in the
camp. Besides a large number of coolies and domestic
servants I had managed to pick up and bring with me
a man who spoke a broken form of English and laid
claim to European connections. He was very dark and
knew very little about European ways and I was very
sceptical of his Eurasian pretensions, but he was very
useful in procuring and overseeing the coolies ; and,
as he always seemed willing and loyal, we got on very
well together. One day, while superintending the
operations which were being carried out some miles
away, I was surprised to hear the shouts of a great
tumult that was taking place somewhere below the
plateau on which I was standing.

" Searching around for the cause I soon caught sight
of a large Hindu temple all but hidden away in the trees
that surrounded it. In an open space of ground, not
far from the temple, I was able to make out a dark
shapeless mass of something around which excited
crowds of men and women were moving rapidly to and
fro. On bringing my glasses to bear upon the centre
of attraction I found it to be a huge pyre upon which
the people were placing the dead body of a man. Near
by I was able to make out the person of a young girl,
who was evidently in a most pitiable condition of mind.
At first I thought it was only the usual signs of Hindu
grief, and when some of the crowd began to handle her
somewhat roughly I concluded that she was merely
undergoing the customary ill-treatment meted out to
the unfortunate girls whose husbands die before them.
But when I saw her dragged against her will towards
the dead man's pyre, then I suddenly realised that an
attempt was being made to carry out the old suttee
ceremony which has been gradually dying out since
Lord Bentinck's decree against the murderous custom.
I called some of my men, explained the position, and
made them handsome offers for their assistance in
helping me to release the unfortunate girl. Some of


them hung back from fear of the temple authorities or
from superstitious motives, but the bearer of this letter
and one or two others offered themselves readily. We
rushed down the hill without further delay, but I was
soon staggered to see dense smoke arising from the
direction of the pyre and to hear the wolfish cry of the
crowd, which warned us that the work of murder had
already begun. We hurried on, however, with all the
speed possible, and soon reached the edge of the in-
human crowd. Many of them had never seen a
European before, and were so surprised at our appear-
ance that they parted right and left before they had
time to understand our motive. As Naga, the bearer
of this letter, was about to follow me through the
broken crowd, three or four hillmen standing by caught
sight of him, and, with a bloodthirsty cry rushed at
him with their knives, and the next moment he and his
companion were lost to sight in a hand-to-hand fight
against great odds, with some hereditary foes against
whom they had a long-standing blood feud. One of
the priests near the pyre seemed to grasp the position
very quickly ; for he ceased his fanatical chant and
called on the people to slay the foreign devil who had
come to pollute them and their ancient temple. He
was a Brahmin of about thirty years of age, whose face
has often come back to my memory or imagination as
the incarnation of deep and treacherous villainy.
Roused by his appeal to guard against religious pollution
some of the braver uttered angry growls and began
to close in around me just as I caught sight of the girl
lying in the midst of the smoke, bound hand and foot.
The terror in her eyes showed that she had not even
been shown the mercy of a drug. It was then or
never ; the flames had not mounted yet, but they were
beginning to get a grip of the lower branches and would
soon be touching the girl's clothing. I pulled my pistol
and fired at the priest obstructing my approach
whether I hit him or not I never knew. Later events


led me to suspect that I missed him. The next moment
I had the girl in my arms and was helping my two
faithful attendants to fight a way through the crowd.
We were soon after reinforced by more of my men who
helped us to get away ; and that evening we were able
to convey the girl to our little fortress about twenty
miles away from the place that had all but proved to
be her crematorium.

" She was a girl belonging to a very high caste Brah-
min family, about fifteen years of age, slimly built and
in features much nearer to that delicate form of beauty
that one sometimes meets with among Parsee ladies
than to the Aryan perfections of the females of her own
people. In time I learnt that she had been married
when about eight years of age to a man on the wrong
side of seventy the former priest of the temple at the
foot of the hills.

" She was very ill for some time ; and indeed many
weeks went by ere she could even attempt to walk
about. As soon as she could do so, however, she came
forward and fawned at my feet with eyes that overflowed
with gratitude.

" About this time I had to go away for some time
to the Nizam's, and after fortifying the camp as strongly
as possible, and warning all to guard against possible
retaliation on the part of the priests, I left the place in
charge of my lieutenant, the would-be-Eurasian, and
gave private instructions to Naga to watch with un-
ceasing vigilance every step of the sick girl.

" When I returned a few months later I found her
strong, and in my eyes she appeared more beautiful
in form and feature than any other Eastern woman
that I had ever seen. It was soon evident that, in her
own little way, she had begun to idealise me, and as I
grew very fond of her I determined to make her my
wife. By good fortune I picked up a wandering padre,
and built him a little church to try his hands on the
coolies in my lines. He was a very good sort, and


many a pleasant evening we spent together over our
cheroots, for he had ever a good breezy yarn to tell of
East or West. Poor fellow, he has gone now and no
doubt rests in the peace he preached. They said it
was cholera that carried him and three or four others
off in the night but I know better. It was some
murderous hand that poisoned the little pool of water
that supplies the fort. However, that is by the way,
though I should like to tell you more about him. Three
or four weeks after he had been living with us, little
Sundaram and I were married according to the rites of
the good old country.

" She was the sweetest and most lovable little creature
in the world, with an inexhaustible mine of women's
pretty devices for catching a man's fancy. I had
thought myself twenty years past that sort of thing,
yet I learnt to love the sound of her silken saris, and
the light fall of her footsteps, till more jealous eyes of a
lover never followed the coming and going of his maid.

' The poison of my festered wounds has begun to
work more rapidly than I expected, and as it is a case
of vita fugit I must hasten apace if I would come to the
main point of my epistle ere it be too late.

" Sundaram and I were happy happier than I had
ever looked to be with a woman in this world, after the
light-headed flippancy of little Doris in Kent. Thus
matters went on smoothly for a year or so in our little
fort : I carrying on my dealings in precious stones and
accumulating a great store of wealth in the secret
hiding places on the hill ; Sundaram ever on the
threshold of the bungalow to welcome me back from
my wanderings with the sweetest of smiles. And so
it came about that our baby was born. A lovely child,
perfect in mould, and with a skin as soft and as fair as
that of any little Saxon. Never had I so much joy as
those two years during which mother and child seemed



to grow more lovely each day in the eyes of an infatuated

" But the blow was coming a blow that was as sure
in its deadly aim as it was terrible in its suddenness.

" For two years and more we had guarded vigilantly
against any attempt at revenge on the part of the
priests, or any sudden attack by the neighbouring
hill-tribes who, we knew, were being tampered with.
But nothing happened, and our fears, or rather my
fears, were slowly lulled into a sense of security. Sun-
daram, however, would never be quite convinced that
her people had forgotten her, and whenever I tried to
persuade her that they would simply regard her as an
outcast and leave her severely alone, she would shake
her head sadly, and though her eyes were full of trust
and love, yet they were apprehensive of the danger
that might be hovering near. So for her sake the watch
was always kept, and time passed by, bringing with it
the first lisping sounds of our baby. Then the blow
fell ; one day I returned after a night's absence and
staggered on the threshold of my bungalow at the sight
of the brutal deed that met my gaze.

" Lying helplessly against a bamboo couch in the
centre of the room was the body of my wife. I thought
at first, as I bounded forward, that she was dead ; but
she was not. Her eyes opened as I drew near, and
she smiled as she recognised me ; but her teeth and
little hands were tightly clenched, and from her mouth
and nostrils trickled tiny streams of red blood. Her
whole expression was that of one utterly exhausted
after terrible agony. Overturned near the head of
her couch was the cooja she usually drank from ; at the
moment I thought nothing of it, and it was only later,
when one of my dogs rolled over amidst horrible
convulsions after lapping up the water that had oozed
from it, that I recognised in it my wife's death-cup.

" Meanwhile I glanced round for the child from which
Sundaram was seldom parted even for a moment. It


was gone. I looked into my wife's eyes they were
filled with tears, and the pathetic look in them told
me that she knew it was gone, and how. Everything
that I could do to ease her physical torture and relieve
the tension of her tetanic condition I did but to no
purpose. She never spoke again. With the knowledge
that I would have bought at the price of all my jewels
she passed away an hour later, and, had I lived to a
hundred years, I should never have forgotten the
infinity of pathos and pleading in her eyes.

" Well, Jack, the hour-glass seems to have nearly
run out. Indeed, I thought but now that it had
ceased altogether, only Naga came just in time to
give me a powerful stimulant ; and I think by its
aid that I shall be able to finish this letter to one who
has remained a constant friend in spite of the lapse
of years and the separation of many thousands of miles.

" For days after my double loss I was wellnigh
beyond myself with grief, and almost eaten up with a
burning desire for immediate revenge. I searched
everywhere ; I examined all ; I offered fabulous
rewards ; I bribed and baited each and every one in
turn ; I visited the temple and passed under many
disguises amongst the Brahmins connected with it ;
but failed to find the faintest clue.

" Amongst my own people I soon discovered that
there was deadly enmity between my old lieutenant,
the Eurasian, and Naga, my protege. Naga had often
insinuated secret dealings on the part of the overseer
with certain tribesmen of the hills and even with people
connected with the temple ; while Raymond, as the
Eurasian was called, had often accused Naga of causing
strife between his coolies and certain tribesmen of
the forest whom Naga secured for forest labour. And
so when Naga, who had been absent with me when
the terrible deed occurred, fell upon Raymond in a


paroxysm of rage and grief and accused him of villain-
ous connection with my troubles, I knew that it was
largely the outcome of the bitter antipathy between
them. Nevertheless, there was something inexplicable
between them which so impressed me to the disadvan-
tage of Raymond that from that time I was never
quite so trustful towards him as I had been up till
then. Whether my child is alive to-day, or dead, I
know not. But I am convinced that those who were
concerned with the suttee ceremony, are also responsible
for its disappearance and for my wife's murder. They
are also connected with the attack on the fort which
took place three days ago.

" I should like to give you a description of this almost
impregnable fort, and of the fight which by some
treachery or other we would have lost recently had
it not been for the magnificent fighting of Naga, but
I fear that I have not the strength to do so. It is
strange that Raymond, who held the only other entrance
beside the one which we defended, has not been seen
since. Whether he was killed or captured, or ventured
too far out and escaped into the forest we know not
Naga curses him and swears that he is the traitor who
opened the way for the man who thrust at me from



" I begin to find a difficulty in piecing together the
threads of my narrative : my memory is becoming
hazy, and my thoughts seem hopelessly jumbled, and
my hand also answers but jerkily in response to the
greatest efforts that I can make. Yet there is still
something of the greatest importance that I must
inform you about the secret holds of my accumulated

" It has long been the custom of these people to
tattoo upon the forehead of their children a miniature
symbol of their deity. My wife learnt to love the
little of our religion that the poor padre had taught


her, and she pleaded hard to place the sign of it upon
our child's forehead, but I objected to it though it
grieved me much to refuse her anything ; so she had
it placed in the centre of the child's breast.

" You have your own ties and responsibilities in the
old country, and, though it takes much less time to
reach this country than what it did when I first came
out, I doubt much whether you will ever see your way
to come out East, or dream of carrying on the search
for this lost child of mine. I, however, leave sufficient
wealth to enable you to send others in your place.
One-third of this wealth is to come to you and your
children, and the remaining two-thirds are to come
to my child if ever found. In the event of its death,
or of its not being found within the next ten years,
two-thirds of my wealth are to come to you, and the
remaining third is to be used for furthering civilisa-
tion in India in any way you may think fit. Naga,
my servant, is aware of one hiding place some miles
from here. While trying to accomplish a transit of
some of my precious possessions through the forest,
we were surrounded by our old enemies, and had to
abandon everything in a cave known to Naga and his
people. I doubt whether it is at all safe there, but
Naga thinks it is. There is, however, a ... large
store ... of ... rupees . . . and stores ... in two
. . . places in the fort . . . one . . . God . . . rock
. . . east corner bungalow . . . the other . . . tree
. . . small room . . . good-bye . . . Jack . . . blind
. . . God's hands . . . GUY."

The writing had wandered about vaguely at this
point : the last lines scrawling across the ones above,
as though written by one suddenly struck with blind-

As WrencrofF finished reading the lengthy epistle
Duncan's eyes had simply dilated with concentrated
attention, great drops of perspiration standing thick
upon his brow.


" Great Scott ! " he murmured as the last jerky
sentence died away. " It almost looks like Provi-

" What the old Colonel's death ? " inquired Wren-
croff with a little laugh. " Why, I thought that

was just the most unfortunate " he continued ;

but, as he was about to finish the sentence, he glanced
up and saw the peculiar expression on the other's

" I say, old man ! what's the matter with you ? " he
asked with surprise.

Duncan laughed a forced little laugh.

" I don't quite know," he answered hesitatingly.
" Probably my imagination has gone wool-gathering,
but it is all very strange. By the way, was the Colonel's
child a boy or a girl ? I did not quite grasp which,
from the letter."

" That we could never make out. As you see, he
made rather an important slip there and forgot to
mention the fact. My people wrote out to some
agents in Madras, and later on even went to the expense
of sending a sort of private detective to investigate the
matter, but they failed completely to find any trace
of the child or the wealth referred to. The business
was so expensive that, in the end, they had to abandon
the search. The final conclusion was that it must have
been carried off when the place was burnt down and ran-
sacked, and that some traitor amongst the Colonel's
servants was at the root of all his troubles. He had
evidently made all arrangements for the dispatch of
the letter, and his attendant Naga, who delivered
it to his agents, must have been prepared for all
emergencies. Even he was never found again ; though
some steps must have been taken to find him. There

Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 4 of 24)