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The temple in the tope online

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is, of course, always the doubt that the Colonel went
off his head during his last illness, and wrote under a
delusion. But that seems hardly likely as the letter
is intelligible enough till the end, and, even then, the


disconnected sentences seem to bear out the facts of
the writer."

Duncan was quiet for a little time after Wrencroff
ceased speaking ; then, with a curious catch in his voice,
he said : " My sudden remark seemed to surprise
you just now, Guy. If, however, I tell you something
of its origin, it may not seem quite so strange to you.
At more than one point in the letter I seemed to see a
connection between it and something that has happened
lately. It may be that it is only imagination on my part,
but it would certainly explain one thingthat has very much
puzzled me. However, listen and judge for yourself."

So Duncan told the story of his meeting with the
girl at the stream, of her Western fairness in its Eastern
setting, and of her history and destiny as detailed to
him by the Sannyasi.

Guy WrencrofT listened to the recital of the story with
as keen an appreciation as that with which Duncan
had listened to the reading of the letter. When it was
finished both sat on in silence, but more or less in
suspense. Guy had caught some insight into Percival's
feelings about the girl, and was afraid of treading on
dangerous ground till he had received permission to do
so ; Duncan thought he saw, and wished to find, a
connection between the two stories, but was doubtful
as to how Guy would regard it.

" There's a strange feature about the whole affair
which we've never been able to explain," remarked
Wrencroff after a few minutes.

" And that ? " asked Duncan.

" Well, my father, as Colonel Wrencroff was fully
aware, was never very well off. How was it, then,
that he made no immediate provision for my father
to undertake the search which he himself had so much
at heart ? He must have fully realised the great expense
it would involve ; yet nothing accompanied the letter,
and there is no mention of anything in the way of
financial aid."


" Yes, it does seem strange. But it may be accounted
for by the fact that the Colonel's death came sooner
than he expected. There is, however," he added,
" one important clue which may make the whole matter
much simpler as regards the child."

" What is that ? " asked Wrencroff eagerly.

" Why, the little red cross," answered Duncan.

" By Jove, yes ! " replied Wrencroff excitedly.
" Let's look for the red cross which Sundaram placed
upon the breast of her child ! "


IT was past midday ; the remainder of the camp lunch
had been cleared away, and the two men were preparing
to take their siesta. Suddenly the cigar which Duncan
was endeavouring to light remained suspended on the
way to his mouth, and the flickering match died out.
Commotion of some sort or other had begun to disturb
the woodland peace of the camp. What could it mean ?
whom did it concern ? The growing sound puzzled
him the more because it was the time that quietness and
drowsiness usually took possession of all things. More-
over, there was the unmistakable sound of a struggle
just outside the tent door, and presently there came
the moaning voice of a man as he whined piteously,
" Saheeb, saheeb ! " while, mingled with the weeping
voice, rose the angry expostulations of Sahib's butler.

Duncan lifted the tent door and looked out. The
sight which met his gaze was comic, however serious
the cause might be. Held down to the ground by his
head servant, and striving to wriggle out of his hands
towards the door of the tent, was one of the hired
bandy-men. The man's face, contorted with real or
pretended grief, might have been pitiable to behold


but for the decidedly funny picture of the irate butler
sitting on the spine to which it belonged. Grouped
round the servants' pall, or peeping from behind the
trees, were the rest of the coolies and servants watching,
with great gusto and diverse expressions, for the
denouement of the conflict.

" What's the matter, boy ? " he demanded in a tone
of annoyance, thinking that it was some stupid quarrel
between the two men ; but the annoyance was more
assumed than real, for he could scarcely resist the
inclination to smile at the ridiculous scene.

" Just now," breathlessly answered the butler, who
prided himself on his knowledge of English, " tiger
done kill this bandy-man's bullock. He want to go
in tent and tell master without any waiting. But I
telling him both Sahibs dead-tired sleeping and must
tell at tea-time. But this man demned mighty fool
and never listening."

In spite of his evident preoccupation, Duncan's
interest was roused by the butler's words. He knew
something of Wrencroff's great keenness in the tiger
line ; though the latter had succeeded in bagging two
or three panthers, his tiger-hunts had always been
most disappointing, so Duncan had looked forward
eagerly to giving his friend an opportunity of securing
one of the magnificent species of feline monsters during
their forest-outing.

" Do you think, boy, that there's any truth in the
man's story ? " he asked, when the servant at last
realised that there was no longer any occasion to hold
on to his captive.

" This man not very big rogue," answered the
butler in his unconscious superiority. " So I think
may be tiger come and catch bullock. As master
knows himself, plenty people never wishing to come
into this jungle too much tiger frighten them."

" Hallo ! what's that about tigers ? " cried Wren-
croff, springing off his cot, and coming to the tent door.


" Do they mean there's a chance of coming to close
quarters with one, Percy ? "

" Yes ; it seems likely that there will be a chance of
doing so. I'm trying to get some information from
this poor beggar here, but he is hardly reliable in his
present condition."

" Saheeb ! Saheeb ! " moaned the wretched bandy-
man, still on his knees. " See, I am only a very poor
coolie. I have no sandals not even a white turban.
I have no other bull for the dead one's place. . . .
What can we do now, Saheeb, but die for want of rice ?
Dora, Dora ! " And the man put his hands together,
and touched the ground with his forehead in token of
supplication for whatever gods or men might grant in
order to retrieve his loss.

" Hold thy peace ! " replied Duncan sternly. " Thou
shall have the price of thy bullock and more ! Only
see if thou canst tell us more about the matter without
mingling thy words with groans."

By means of a few leading questions they were at
last able, from a torrent of incoherent exaggeration
according to which the bandy-man had played an
heroic part to elicit the fact that the bullock had
really been killed. According to the description given,
it appeared that the great beast's onslaught had been
made something like a quarter of a mile away from the
camp, among thick undergrowth, near a small pool
around which the men had been grazing their bullocks.

" What do you say, Guy ? " asked Duncan at last.
" Do you feel inclined to sit up for this one ? It is
possible that it will come back for the carcass soon
after dusk they generally do ; but there is, of course,
the chance that it may be late in coming, in which case
I advise the machan."

" Right you are, Percy ! " answered his companion
with eagerness. " As you know, I'm very keen on
taking advantage of all the chances that come our
way, and we may not get such a good one again during


our stay here. So we'll try our luck, and, if we fail,
hope for better things." And Wrencroff rubbed his
hands in glee, and his fair blue eyes glistened at the
prospect of a night's adventure with the animal he
desired so much to bag.

So orders were given, and arrangements were made
accordingly ; some wood-cutters who happened to be
near were instructed to set up, as quickly and as
carefully as possible, a large machan a roughly made
platform, constructed of bamboos and covered with
leaves and branches within sight of the spot where
the kill had taken place. After tea Duncan set out
alone to inspect the preparations which were being
made, Wrencroff having decided to rest till dusk, as
he had already experienced two wakeful nights.

The spot was an ugly one more so even than the
embellished story of the bullock-man had led them to
expect. The fatal pool of stagnating water lay in a
small hollow, thickly surrounded by a tangled mass of
parasitic creepers, dead branches, and long spear-grass.
The only approach into this all but impenetrable maze
was that along which the dead animal had evidently
been tempted by the smell of dank vegetation a tiny
pathway beaten down by the thirsty forest-dwellers in
search of water.

It had been found impossible to build a machan large
enough to hold both men, so the wood-cutters had set
up a small one in the fork of a tree which overhung the
kill and, when Duncan arrived on the scene, they
were busily engaged in fixing up a second one over
two dead stumps a few yards away from it. After
expressing his satisfaction at the progress of the work,
and having given a few further instructions to the men
engaged in it, Duncan, with the hope of seeing the girl
again near the favourite stream, made a large detour
in that direction on his way back to the camp. His
hope, however, was not realised. He had resolved to
find some means of speech with her, but time passed


and no signs of her presence were granted to him.
With regret he watched the great sunbeams filtering
horizontally through the trees, and reckoned less than
half an hour to the time when Wrencroff and he should
be silently watching from their posts upon the machans.
Reluctantly, he turned to enter the temple glade ; as
he did so he gave one sweeping glance amongst the
trees that he was about to leave behind, and was just
in time to catch a glimpse of two dark figures hurrying
along a small path that trailed in and out about the
place where he had been standing.

" I wonder," he murmured to himself, as he strode
angrily towards the tent, " whether that was simply
coincidence or not. I could swear they were the same
men whom I dislodged yesterday near the sambur."

It was drawing towards midnight and both the men
were beginning to feel uncomfortable and impatient
in their strained positions. The situation was becoming
unbearable, and the limit of endurance was so near
that neither would have been able to hold out a minute
longer without doing something to relieve the tension
of his position, when the soft crushing of leaves warned
them that the tiger was near. It had approached from
behind Duncan's machan, so that for some time it
remained invisible, making desperate efforts to drag
the carcass away wholesale. Apparently intense hunger
had made it violently impatient, for, after a few attempts,
it abandoned its original purpose with a growl, and
began to gorge itself with a snarl of satisfaction.

At last it swerved round towards the water, and
as it stood for a second distinctly outlined with its
fangs buried in its prey, both rifles rang out simul-
taneously. As the double flash died away it sprang
round, screamed so that the forest seemed to vibrate
with its yell, and then disappeared into darkness.

" Was it hit ? " asked Wrencroff excitedly, as the


echoes died away. " Something stung me in the back
just as I was going to fire, and I'm not sure that I got
in as good a shot as I might have done."

" Think so ! " answered Duncan quietly. " Better
not talk. May be near. Light too dim to stalk."

The machans were low down and probably accessible
to the tiger ; on the other hand, even the bravest of
shikaris would scarcely have cared to trust himself
to the long and treacherous grass ; so the two men,
having tried to make themselves as comfortable as
possible, fell into watchful silence.

Moonlight was breaking into dawn when they got
down and straightened themselves out. There was no
tiger to be seen anywhere near, but closer examination
soon revealed the fact that the tiger had been at least

" The best way," remarked Duncan, " will be to
send for an elephant and some beaters. There's an
elephant in a village some miles away on the edge of
the forest, and we can no doubt get a number of wood-
cutters to do the beating. It's rather a doubtful
business following a wounded tiger on foot through
this sort of jungle. The trail, however, seems to be
making towards the stream, so we might follow it as
far as it goes in our direction. It's just as well to
make sure which side it lies on. But for heaven's sake
keep your eyes open and shoot straight whatever

After stalking carefully for about a quarter of an
hour, they lost all traces of the wounded tiger at a
place where the stream made a sharp bend. According
to agreement Wrencroff had been watching more
particularly along the right side of their course, and
Duncan the left.

Just before reaching the bend of the stream, the
latter became aware of the fact that his companion had
moved away some distance to the right. Fearing that
he might have gone off on a false trail, he did not


attempt to follow, or even try to keep his friend in
sight, but continued his own search, peering carefully
into every dark spot or hollow. As he followed the
turn of the stream, suddenly a new light came into
his eyes and he stood upright, his rifle hanging loosely
by his side, and himself watching a vastly different
scene from that for which he had been seeking. The
temple girl, whose existence had bothered him all night
much more than that of the tiger, was on the other
side of the stream, bending over and dreamily playing
with the water much in the same way as he had first
seen her.

She was only a short distance from him, and he
stood watching her in silence, wondering how he was
to get nearer to her without frightening her away as
he had done twice already.

Suddenly a rifle-shot rang out in the distance. As
it died away he saw a ghastly thing occur. The girl,
startled by the noise, lifted herself up and looked at
him. Hardly had she done so when, on the opposite
side of the stream and directly in a line with her, he
saw the huge form of the wounded tiger rise from a
low piece of ground where it had been crouching. It
balanced itself on three legs, and the next instant it
was in the air. The girl saw it and sank in a faint to
the ground. As the great beast reared itself for the
spring, Duncan had lifted and fired his rifle more by
instinct than will, and when he looked again, through
the dissipating smoke, the tiger was plunging in the
stream, trying to find a footing for a second leap.
For a moment it stood erect within a few feet of tlie
unconscious girl, made a violent effort, and then rolled
over, an inert mass, into the gurgling water.


WITH scarcely more than a second glance at the animal
to make sure that it was really dead, Percival passed
on through the stream towards the girl. He had
almost reached her side, when the fainting-fit of fear
seemed to pass away, and she rose with an effort to
her feet. She smiled as he drew nearer ; and, though
this reassured him and told him that her terror had
gone, yet he could not but notice the effects of the
ghastly shock in the deathly pallor of her face and the
involuntary shudders that still swept over her.

With rapid intuition her mind had grasped the full
significance of the situation, and, whatever she might
have thought or felt about him before, the eloquent
eyes that looked into his revealed the hero-worship of a
woman's heart that might learn to love him quickly.

According to the pretended horoscope and the old
Yogi's dream, her destiny was that she should be the
companion of a god.

Was this he ? a human lover whom her heart could
understand and idolise, and not, after all, the cold,
fickle god whose brutish instincts and cruel nature
were so glaringly sculptured on the temple walls ?
Was this great athletic man in bear-skin leggings, with
the handsome but powerful face, the white king of
her dreams for whom the guardians of her destiny had
preserved her from many an evil fate ? That she had
been exceptionally guarded amidst an environment
from which the inherited instincts of her womanhood
had shrunk with intense aversion, she was only too
painfully aware. But the reason of her apparent



immunity had ever been a mystery to her. Had this
great man, who had just saved her from the cruel fangs
of the dead beast, come to lift the veil from her past
and to lead her into the future ? Her eyes were full
of inquiry as she tried to pierce the unknown, and her
mind was only subconscious of the fact that his arms
had slipped round her and that he was drawing her
closer to himself. For a moment she lay still in his
arms, while he gazed into her small white face sur-
rounded by the wonderful ripples of dark brown hair.
But when he bent towards it she sprang back, holding
him at arm's length. The soft questioning light was
still in her eyes, and there was a tremulous quiver upon
her lips as she asked breathlessly, " Art thou he ? "

Astonished by the unexpected question, and striving
to follow the train of her thoughts, he watched her face
with a puzzled look ; but she did not seem to under-
stand his difficulty in finding the connection.

" Who ? " he asked, after a lapse of silence. " Of
whom thinkest thou ? "

" Of him who was to come from some distant land
to seek me art thou really he ? " she answered, and
he could not but note the painful expectancy behind
her voice and the signs of unshed tears in her eyes.

" I come from a distant country, 'tis true, fair lady,
as thou see'st. But whether or not I am he whose
coming thou hast seemingly looked for I cannot say. Yet
tell me something of the mystery that seems to enshroud
thee, and perchance I may be able to assist thee."

She laughed softly ; but there was a note of sadness
in the sound which did not escape the listener.

" How shall I tell the Maharajah that which I know
not ? He can see for himself that I am not as all this,"
and as she spoke she made a sweeping gesture that
comprehended the wild forest, the symbolism of her
dress, and the Shivite temple.

" I know it, amma knew it when I first saw thee.
Thou wert like a Western star fallen, by some ill-chance,


from heaven into the midst of the idolatrous evils of
an Eastern shrine. But tell me what thou knowest of
thyself, and most important of all who told thee
that one from a distant land should seek thee ? "

" One who, because of the will of the dead, says he
serves and watches till that other from a distant land
takes his place. One that comes and goes like the
wind, staying not in any place from fear of deadly
enemies. Even in my childhood he was there to keep
me from many evils, to nurse me secretly when sick,
and to guard me as I grew older from the cruel blows
of jealousy. When the old priest of this temple would
have married me to his nephew, it was this secret friend
who came to warn me that it was all false, and nothing
but a covering to keep me from the foreigner. He
came with others, when the priest in spite of warning
was carrying on the lying ceremony, slew the young
Brahmin bridegroom, and tried to carry me away.
But they surrounded him in the forest and wounded
him, and after that they kept me still more closely in
purdah. But in spite of all he has come and has gone,
and has often been near when none, not even I,
suspected his presence. 'Twas he who told me that
my people were other than these, and that some day
one would come to claim me."

" Thy friend, lady, would seem faithful to thee and
to the dead one's charge. Canst thou not tell me,
what he is, and why the dead chose him ? "

" Of the dead I know naught as yet ; of the living
I know little, beyond his faithfulness. His knowledge
has been as secret as his coming and going ; yet the
time is near, I think, for him to speak plainly."

" If they have guarded thee so long behind the
purdah, how comes it that thou wanderest here like
one that is free ? And," continued Duncan, " canst
thou tell me what the temple Sannyasi means when
he says that thou wilt shortly become the wife of the
god Shiva ? "


At the latter part of the question the girl shuddered,
and glanced round with a quick, frightened look.
Evidently the very whisper of this idea brought a
paralysing horror to her.

" Who shall tell the Maharajah the dark counsels of
a priest's soul ? " she asked in a tremulous voice, " or
the cruel desires of the evil spirits ? Does he think
the temple priests will be more merciful than the
panther with its prey, or their hearts more open than
the bloodthirsty man-eaters, with the helpless girl
whose life or soul may buy their evil desires ?

" They have told me that the temple was polluted
many years ago, and that so long as the curse remains
over it, the aged priest will not recover from his sick-
ness. Nothing less than a new wife will satisfy the
god, they say ; and so to stay his anger and remove
the pollution they would have me perform the ancient
rites. But the ' Servant of the Dead ' hath taught me
from childhood that god and priests are alike as false
as night that hideth a yawning pit. My heart also
tells me that their desire and purpose are deeper than
their words. Yet I do as one that believeth, for I
have none to guide but the secret one whose promises
have never failed."

" And if he who is to come from a distant land," again
asked Percival, " should come too late or coming findeth
not in thee that which he desireth, what then ? "

A troubled expression passed over her countenance
as if some new idea had startled her heart, and slowly
a strange smile contracted her lips as she made a
gesture towards the temple that might have expressed

" But," asked Percival slowly, trying to see the effect
of his words upon the small face that was now slightly
averted, " if he tell thee that he loves thee and would
claim thee as his wife what then ? "

She lifted her head and looked with shining eyes
into his ; but as the answer rose to her lips she checked


it, and listened intently for a few seconds. Then she
laughed a bitter laugh.

" We are not subtle enough for those who have
watched us," she said quietly.

" We have been spied upon ! " he exclaimed in
surprise at the fact, and at her quick perception of it.
" By whom ? "

" By some of the priests or perhaps by their spies.
In this forest I have learnt to fear everything even
the seemingly harmless leaves of the trees ; more than
all else I fear the priest's brother, Ramayya. My
heart tells me that it was he who but now glided like
a snake through the wood. He is ever like an evil
shadow in my path, and I fear his wicked will even
more than that of his brother. Now that he hath seen
thee with me he will never rest till he hath tried to
kill thee."

Percival laughed the quiet, assured laugh of the
man who fears no one.

" Fear not on my account, amma. I have dealt
with worse than this black-hearted worshipper of
Shiva. But of thyself I feel not so sure."

" The priest's brother will not dare, I think, to touch
me yet awhile," she answered. " For some reason he
stands in awe of the aged priest whose interest it seems
to be to guard me from Ramayya's evil desires, at least
till the ceremony is to be performed after that I know
not. When evil comes I have the gift of the dead
one's servant." As she spoke she drew from a fold in
her dress a small dagger. He held out his hand, and
unhesitatingly she placed the dangerous little weapon
in it. It was an Indian dagger with a beautifully
jewelled handle, and he was in the act of examining
the latter when some marks on the blade caught his
sight. He looked at them closely, and as he did so
he uttered an exclamation a little expressive sound
which he had the habit of murmuring whenever he
found an inspired solution to an intricate problem.


She was watching him anxiously as he examined the
little steel blade, and knew from his expression that
he had found something there which he had looked

;< What is it ? " she asked with a little gasp.

' The ' Servant of the Dead ' gave thee much more
than a dagger when he gave thee his gift," he answered

Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 5 of 24)