S. (Samuel) Foskett.

The temple in the tope online

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quietly as he looked up from the gleaming blade into
her anxious eyes.

' Thou hast learnt something from the writing on
the knife is it not so ? " she asked eagerly, bending
forward to see the characters which had hitherto con-
veyed to her nothing but an impression of baffling

" Yes ; there is a name engraved upon the blade."

" And the name ? "

" Is the name of one of my countrymen who lost a
child years ago amongst these hills."

" Ah ! Tell me quickly ! this child of thy
countryman, was it a son or a daughter ? "

' That we do not know yet ; but it lies in thy
power to prove whether the child was a daughter or
not, and whether thou thyself art the lost daughter of
the stranger who lived in a fort on one of the peaks
of the Black Hills."

" But how ? " she asked, in a voice that died to a

' The lost daughter carries a small red cross on her
bosom which her mother placed there when she was a
child is that not so ? "

She bent her head in acknowledgment ; the colour
deepened on her cheeks, and there was a glad light in
her eyes as she asked breathlessly :

" Ah, thou knowest something of my little mother
is it not so ? And thou wilt tell me about her, and

why ? " Again her speech was checked by the

noise which had attracted her attention already. This
time it came from behind her, and even Duncan was


quick enough to catch the sound of it sufficiently well
to know that it was something more than the passing
of an animal.

Grasping his rifle in an angry grip, he sprang forward
in the direction from which it had come. But the girl
saw his movement and in a second was by his side
holding him back.

" Thou must not follow," she gasped. " What canst
thou do ? I have seen something of their ways and
know that thy heart could never understand their
treacheries. They are able to snare thee in a hundred
ways thou canst not dream of stay ! "

He looked into her pleading eyes as she clung to
him, and in the depths of those glorious orbs saw that
which made his heart beat with a new rhythm. His
arms swept round her, and the next moment his lips
were resting on hers.

" Thou art mine," he said, holding her near. ' Thou
wilt give me the right to take the dead one's charge
now and always, wilt thou not ? and promise thy life
and love to me ? "

His voice, in spite of his effort to control it, vibrated
in a way that thrilled her being and told her that his
love was hers.

" 'Tis thine, my Rajah," she answered quietly.
" All I have to give I give to thee by my little mother's
red cross."

" Then thou must come with me now," he said, and
there was the joyous sound of a new experience in his
voice as he spoke. " Thou wilt be safe with me
and happy. I have servants and friends to protect
thee from the evil intentions of any of thine enemies."
He would have led her away in the direction of the
tents ; but she stood still, shivered, and glanced round.

" It would be of no use to do so," she said in a low
voice. " I must go back to the temple. The forest is
alive with hillmen. I have seen them coming and
going during the past few days, and they will now be


watching everywhere by order of the priests. If we
go now death could come to thee from every tree.
And further, there are things in the temple which I
must get, and papers that the secret servant bade me
keep till death. Thou must think of some way to
avoid the vigilance of the priests by to-night. I will
be near the stream at moonrise. But guard thyself
well, for thou knowest not these priests of Shiva ;
and, now that thou hast shown me a new way of life,
I fear a hundred times more for thee than for myself."

The breaking of branches and the shouting of
excited voices warned him that the servants were
seeking him.

" Perhaps thou art right," he said as he kissed her
again. " It may be that we are mistaken in the noise
we heard. If it be in thy power, fail me not to-night.
I shall make all ready, and be waiting for thee ! "

As his servants broke through the trees on the one
side, she glided away towards the temple on the other,
leaving him regretfully gazing after her, as he had
done when her beauty had fled from him the first
time. But this time his heart was torn, not by a low
ringing laugh, but by the premonition of tears and
sorrow to come.


GREAT excitement prevailed amongst the wood cutters
and the coolies as they came on slowly through the
trees ; and the steady rise and fall of one of their
field songs, " Uyyo, uyyo, swami ! " which they were
solemnly chanting, warned the Collector that it was
to the swing of some great burden they were singing.
He began to wonder what it could mean. He had
heard nothing after the solitary crack of Wrencroff's
rifle in fact, he had for the time being forgotten all


about him and, knowing something of the dangers of
the place, he could hardly repress the momentary feel-
ing of fear that swept over him as his thoughts flew
back to his friend's whereabouts. But whatever doubts
he might have experienced on the score of Wrencroff 's
safety were quickly set at rest by Guy's timely appear-
ance. By dint of tugging and tearing, the doctor at
last succeeded in escaping from the thorny clutches of
some creepers amongst which he had become en-
tangled, and, with a final bound, arrived into view on
the opposite side of the stream, looking the worse for
wear, but with a countenance beaming with pleasure.
" I say, Percy," he cried, gesticulating wildly ; " I

say, old man, we've got it, and it's ! "

Suddenly he broke off in the middle of the sentence
and gazed towards the animal in the water ; then, as
if he did not quite believe the evidence of his eyes, he
turned slowly towards the advancing group of singing
coolies who, Duncan now saw for the first time, were
carrying a dead tigress.

In spite of the gloomy possibilities which were
beginning to occupy his mind, Duncan at once grasped
the situation, and unable to resist the humour of the
scene he answered with a laugh :

" No, no ! You've been lucky enough to bag its
mate. Heard your rifle some time ago, but thought
you had gone after something else. Couldn't follow
as I had my hands full with this one. However, I'm
very glad indeed, Guy, that you've managed to secure
one so easily this time, and congratulate you. You
must have put in an excellent shot."

After giving directions for the dead animals to be
conveyed to the camp, the two men set off by a shorter
cut for the tents. Wrencroff was excited and would
have liked to talk freely about the night's vigil and
its substantial results ; but the other's moody silence
somewhat damped the ardour of his conversational
tendency ; so, after a few casual remarks, both began


to pick their way silently through grass and thorn,
marking with more or less vigilance the likely lairs of
big or small game.

But it was habit rather than interest that led Duncan
to step softly and avoid as much as possible all manner
of noise. His heart was not in the sport, and his mind
was most certainly uninfluenced by the usual glamour
and excitement that surrounds the unexplored habitats
of big game both lingered round a woman and the
means for carrying her away in spite of the surveillance
of any number of priests.

As Collector and Political Agent he had enjoyed
exceptional opportunities for studying life and character
in India, and, from his knowledge and personal experi-
ence of both, he realised only too well that the scheme
forming in his mind was a daring one ; not only would
the attempt to achieve it involve a great deal of personal
danger for his companion and himself, but, granting
that he accomplished his immediate object and suc-
ceeded in getting the girl away to some safe retreat, he
would still have to reckon with the revenge that would
be set in motion upon his baukling the long-fostered
plans of the temple authorities.

Such thoughts, and his growing uncertainty about
the girl's safety, kept him in gloomy silence and dulled
the intense pleasure which he would otherwise have
felt for the results of the night's sitting.

WrencrofT and he had covered almost half the distance
from the scene of the kill to the camp, and were approach-
ing a deep rift over which they would have to cross,
when a short, sharp, sibilant note of warning came from
the deep shadow of a tree and caused them to halt.
They waited expectantly for some seconds, but no
further sound came to them beyond the distant shouts
of the servants. So perfect was the stillness that
reigned over the place that both had begun to doubt
whether they had not been mistaken in the meaning of
the sound which had seemed to them like a signal, and


were about to move on again, when a great black
figure wriggled noiselessly from under the brushwood,
and, with a great salaam, the guide who had conducted
Wrencroff to the forest glade rose up before them.

It was evident that he was under the influence of a
great passion : his grey eyes seemed almost blood-red
with the fire that burned fiercely behind, and his
lips and cheeks were quivering, while his right hand
appeared as though it would crush the spear which it

Warning them, by an expressive gesture, to follow
him closely but not to make the slightest sound, he led
the way through a thick piece of brush which, though
apparently impenetrable, was in reality traversed by a
thin trail. They had received no hint whatever as to
what they were about to stalk, but from the guide's
attitude it was evident to both that they were in for
something unusually novel, and even Duncan's interest
was at last keenly roused by the man's impressive
manner. So with the trained caution of experienced
forest rovers they followed silently in the jungle-
walla's wake ; while the latter, as if trying to take every
possible precaution against their making the slightest
sound, removed a dried twig here, bent an obstructing
creeper there, and again removed the overhanging
branches wherever they obstructed the way. In this
way they arrived at length on the far side of a gigantic
tree whence the warning sound had come to them.

At this spot the forest guide signed to them to bend,
and then to creep ; and, as they worked their way
around the foot of the tree towards the place where he
himself had been lying, he directed their gaze into the
rift below.

They looked, expecting to see some great beast of the
forest, or perhaps some fine specimens of deer quietly
grazing there ; but, instead of what they expected, a
curious scene of Eastern barbarism met their astonished


Ramayya, the priest's brother, was standing proudly,
scornfully, erect in the little open space below, and
lying full length at his feet, so that all his members
should touch the ground at the same time, was one of
Duncan's grass cutters.

The Brahmin was speaking in a clear cutting voice,
and each word as he uttered it was distinctly heard by
the three silent watchers above. He was paraphrasing
one of the Sanscrit slokas or sacred verses which
describe the superiority of his caste.

' Thou knowest, son of a pariah dog, that the world
belongs to the gods, that the gods are moved by mantras,
and the mantras lie in the secret knowledge of the
Brahmins. Therefore the Brahmins are really the gods
of the world."

" Swami, thy words are true ! " answered the grass-
cutter, in terror.

' Thou knowest then that I being a Brahmin, and
a priest among Brahmins, have power to do that which
I have just told thee."

' Thine is the power of a god, Swami. If it so please
thee thou canst do as thou hast said and more !
Amma, amma ! I am but a bit of dirt, what can I
do ? " whined the wretched man.

" Hold thy peace, thou miserable outcast, and listen
to what I have to tell thee. The masters whom thou
servest are foreign devils. They wish to defile our
ancient temple which the rishis, our ancestors, built,
and also to destroy our caste ; so they would carry off
the woman whom the god has chosen as his own dasi."
'Tis true thy slave knoweth it. But what can
he do, the white devils never see him ? They never
look . . . ! "

" Silence, thou senseless one. Thou canst do as I
bid thee. Thou canst watch all ; thou canst find out
their words ; and, when thou hast learnt aught thou
canst come swiftly to me and make it known. If thou
art idle the evil eye will seek thee out. . . . 1 "


" No, no, maha-guru \ " interrupted the man hur-
riedly at the dread reference. " Thy black servant will
do all as thou hast said."

" If thou failest," continued the priest threateningly,
" thine eyes will fall out, thy body shall swell, and thy
heart and brain shall burst and yet, though thou be
like one already dead, thou shalt not die quickly."

" No, no ! " shrieked the terrified servant. " Thy
will . . . thy will . . . everything will surely be as
the swami wishes."

" Nevertheless," answered the priest coldly, " I
must put thee under the mantra so thou forget not."

" No, no ! mercy . . . mercy, Ayya ! "

" Maha Eshvara and Kalee !
For right and left eye ' Irn ' shall be :
Yam rule thy heart thy limbs ' Tarn, Dam ' ;
Brahma Brahmam . . . Moksham . . . Marnam :
Gods, demons, men, each, all shall see
Thy faith or faithlessness to me."

And the Brahmin having uttered this famous Tantric
spell, which forbids any fuller translation on account
of the elastic interpretation of the mystic syllables,
disappeared, leaving the grass-cutter grovelling on the
ground sand afraid to lift up his head.

Duncan and WrencrofF had watched the little scene
with intense interest. It revealed to them the un-
pleasant fact that the temple people were already
taking serious precautions against any possible move
on their part. Having waited a little to make sure
that the Brahmin had really left the place, and seeing
that the coolie was oblivious of everything but his
own fear, they rose and slipped back to the path which
they had been following when the guide's signal had
attracted their attention.

; * Where's our man ? " at last asked Wrencroff,
surprised to find that he too had disappeared.

" Goodness only knows," answered the other, peering


about through the trees. " He seems to have taken
himself off like a spirit. It's wonderful how these
jungle-wallas get about in a place like this, often, as
he did just now, without even the rustling of a leaf.
However, I suppose one has just to take their silent
ways as a matter of course and get used to them."

" I wonder what's going to happen next " laughed
back Wrencroff. "I'm sure there is mystery even in
the atmosphere of your temple in the tope ; and if
feelings go for anything I fancy we're going to learn a
thing or two before we leave it."

His words, though lightly and carelessly spoken, had
a curious effect upon Duncan. His thoughts flew back
to the dream-like experience which he had undergone
while resting during the midday heat in the tope.
Again he saw the changing scenes of that vision pass
before his mental gaze, but, more distinctly than all the
rest, there came back to his mind the picture of a man
lying unconscious or dead amidst the worshippers of a
heathen idol, and the face of the man was the face of
him who stood before him now, the one to whom he
had given the greatest affection of his boyhood and the
strongest friendship of his manhood, and for whom he
would willingly sacrifice all that he possessed. Were
coming events casting their shadows before to warn
him that the light-hearted and loyal chum of his early
school days was to imperil his life for his own and
another's sake in the impending struggle with the
temple priests ; and, incidentally, was he, in that
struggle, to pay with a broken life the long postponed
debt which his blood relation the Indian Colonel owed
to the outraged prejudices of his Hindu enemies ?


THEY had had their bath and chota-hazri, and now
the two men lay back in their canvas chairs smoking
cheroots and trying at the same time to get something
like a true idea of their position. Even Wrencroff's
excitement about the night's vigil and the bagging
of the two tigers had died down and given way to
other interests when Duncan described to him his
strange adventure with the girl, and the discovery of
Colonel Wrencroff's name on the dagger which she had
shown to him.

" I'm very eager to see this wonderful Eastern
cousin of mine," said Wrencroff ; and then, with a
twinkle of mischief in his eyes, he added : " I shall
begin to think soon that you have been bewitched and
that this lovely temple divinity is all a myth. By the
way, I suppose you mean to marry her when you
can ? "

" Yes," replied Duncan with a smile. " We'll get
her to head-quarters first and put her under the care
of one of the ladies there. The padre's wife will be
only too willing to help us in the matter, and then
after that, as soon as possible ! You'll, of course,
stand by me till it's over, won't you, Guy ? "

" I'll do that, old man, with the greatest of pleasure,
as you know. But why in the name of reason didn't
you bring the girl along with you. I can't imagine how
you let her go again. That tricky old temple doesn't
seem to me to be the place to let any girl enter when
you're interested in her. Who's to say what those
rogues will do now that their suspicions are roused."



Duncan laughed uneasily.

' Yes ; I fear you are right there," he replied.
" But there was no time to weigh pros and cons ; our
meeting was over in a few minutes. There were
things in the temple which she wanted, and she seemed
determined to return to the place with the hope of
putting them off the scent. Moreover, the thought
passed through my mind at the time, that there would
be good reasons for entering the temple forcibly, if
matters did not work out as smoothly as we wished."

His face seemed drawn and haggard as he spoke.
It might have been the result of sitting up during the
night, but Wrencroff thought to himself that the cause
was more mental than physical.

" Any way," he suggested after a short pause, during
which both had been thinking along the same lines,
" I suppose we ought to make some sort of preparations
for to-night oughtn't we ? "

' Yes," replied Duncan ; " but that is just where
the most difficult part comes in. The forest track is
about as bad as it possibly can be, and every yard for
ten miles might hide a trap and every shrub a hornet's
nest. What plan those scoundrels in the temple will
follow, it is impossible to say ; but it is evident that
they mean to frustrate any attempt at a rescue, if they
can do so. I have twice surprised a number of forest
men watching my movements, and I have every reason
to believe that the forest must be swnrming with them,
simply with the object of finding out what we intend
to do. The priests will, I imagine, for their own sakes,
try every possible means of escaping an open rupture ;
but once they are forced to strike, they will do so
without mercy, and without quarter."

" Can you trust any of your servants ? " asked the
doctor in a grave and somewhat doubtful tone.

Again Duncan laughed uneasily.

' You saw what happened in the rift, and who knows
how many of them have been tampered with in the


same way ? Still I think we have a few two peons,
who are Mohammedans, and my boy."

" And the jungle-walla what do you think of
him ? " suggested Wrencroff. " Do you think he is
safe ? Judging from the fury in his eyes he would
seem to have a special grudge against that evil-looking
Brahmin. I almost expected him to send his great
spear at him."

" He would be the most useful of the lot, if we could
trust him. He must know the forest as we know our
bungalows, and would be able to warn us of things
others would not even suspect. It all depends whether
he has any connection with the temple and the people
around here. On that account it is a little risky having
anything to do with him ; but we can call him in later
and try to find out more about him."

" Have you any idea," asked Wrencroff, " how many
priests or Brahmins about the temple we have to deal
with, or any definite proofs that they mean to do the
girl a personal injury ? "

" No ; but the girl has instinctively felt some great
danger closing in around her, and prepared herself
for it. She has been closely purdahed most of her
life, and is, I imagine, extraordinarily ignorant of the
world as it really exists. She knows very little about
the real plans of the priests, but what little they have
revealed to her has evidently made her fear that they
intend to gain their ultimate object by means of a
dedication to the temple god and she has no doubt
learnt what that means during her experiences behind
the purdah."

" What do you think their real motive is revenge ? "

" That, partly ; but, seeing that the Colonel is
dead, there must be stronger motives, and the only one
I can think of is that they hope to make the dedication
of the girl in some way atone for the pollution which
the temple is supposed to have suffered by Colonel
WrencrofFs interference in the suttee ceremony."


" That Brahmin with the ghoulish face seems to
have a special interest in the girl perhaps he hopes
to make it an occasion for getting her in some way
for himself. I can quite imagine the scene : a mad
festival ... a woman paralysed by fear . . . and that
human hyena. . . ."

" Yes ; that is what she also fears. But I think she
is prepared for him," answered Duncan. " I only
hope fate will give me a suitable opportunity to settle
old scores with him, later on," he added with a vicious
snap of his strong mouth.

" The score is a heavy one, and I too should like
to get in a few thrusts among these temple parasites
for the sake of the old Colonel and his daughter,"
answered Wrencroff slowly.

The light-heartedness had died out of his face, and
there was a fearlessness in his blue eyes, and a new
sternness about his mouth which made Duncan think
of the furious colonel as he had faced the crowd in his
midday dream.

" By the way, what sort of a man is this Ramayya's
brother," he continued. " Have you ever seen
him ? "

" No ; but I have heard something about him and
his evil influence in the District. He is the head of a
large Agraharam about fifteen miles from here, and
the whole brood of Brahmin dependents is as notori-
ously lawless and tyrannical amongst the surrounding
villages as they are famous for their wealth and the
unusually strict purdah of their women."

" But isn't that rather against the custom in these
parts ? " asked Wrencroff in surprise.

' Yes ; I should say it is altogether against the
usual practice. But this villainous family is somewhat
isolated in a stretch of low-lying land surrounded by
hills and forests, and for generations seems to have
carried on a number of customs peculiar to itself.
I suspect that the close seclusion of their women is


somewhat in the nature of a protective measure against
retaliation. The temple priest himself is, no doubt, a
close connection of the one who was burnt at the suttee
ceremony nearly twenty years ago, and must have
been the chief instigator of that affair. Judging from
the recent restorations and the preparations made
in the temple, it looks as if some great attempt were
being made to revive the waning influence of their
ancient priestly power."

" Then there's the Sannyasi you spoke about and
the story he retailed to you ? "

" I hardly know what to think about him. He
may be a deep rogue, or he may be simply one of the
usual Hindu fanatics with a touch of the sun. The
story he told might be one which the priests have
instructed him in to tell the people in order to rouse
their religious enthusiasm, or it may have been invented
on the spur of the moment to explain in a plausible
way the presence of such a girl here and the reason of
this unusual festival. Their dedications are of course
within the protection of the law, provided the woman
to be dedicated has reached the legal age, and the
most ignorant pujari is fully aware of the Government's
great reluctance to interfere in any way with their
religious privileges. So the Sannyasi may have been
trying the usual method of throwing dust in the official's
eyes with a view to drawing my suspicions away from

Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 6 of 24)