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The temple in the tope online

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the illicit object behind the so-called sacred ceremony.
He made one suggestion which was somewhat startling."

" And that ? "

" His reference to the possible revival of their ancient

Indescribable isn't it ? " asked Wrencroff.
" Yes ; but I didn't quite grasp whether he really
meant the old sakti-puja, or simply the revival of
some of their ancient ritual. Still, most of these
priests do belong to the Tantric sect of Durga worship,
and on occasion go in for many weird forms of magic


and mysticism and for all sorts of outrageous cere-
monies. This is said to be one of the occasions on
which caste distinctions are completely ignored. That
may also explain to some extent the partial seclusion
of their women. They, no doubt, try to keep their
own wives out of the orgies which they work up for
other people's benefit, and experience has probably
taught them to observe a form of purdah on the principle
of ' Ab olio expectes quod alteri feceris.' '

' Then, perhaps," suggested Wrencroff, " they hope
to make this dedication simply the occasion for carrying
out the old licentious rite. If her beauty is really all
that you describe, it may have been that which has
suggested the idea to them."

' That is quite likely," answered Duncan thought-
fully. " But I still think the real purpose is much
deeper something which has been brooding in the
mind of the older priest for many years, and which is
now on the point of being realised."

" I wonder," remarked Wrencroff with malicious
triumph, " what the effect upon them will be when
they discover that their miserable schemes have been
defeated ? "

' Yes ; I, too, should like to see their faces when
they find that the Colonel's little daughter has after
all slipped out of their poisonous fangs. But, all the
same, I am not at all sure about our methods of helping
her to do so. The only reasonable way I can see out
of the difficulty is for you to set off about dusk with
our horses and some of the servants. About half a
mile from here the footpath, you may remember,
joins the bandy-track. Your best plan will be to
wait there until I come with your new cousin ; then,
if all goes well, we can put her into one of the bullock-
bandies which I will have sent on beforehand. If there
are any signs of a pursuit, we shall have to manage
somehow with the horses and go along as rapidly as
possible. You will want your revolver, of course."


" But how will you come ? " objected Wrencroff,
who would have very much preferred to be by his
friend's side from the start in case of need.

" Oh, that is, I fear, one of the weak parts of my
suggestion," replied the other doubtfully. " The forest
line is frightfully rough and round about, so we shall
have to come as well as we can along the foot trail
till we reach you. I shall have with me my boy and
one of the Mohammedan peons the jungle-walla also
if he turns out reliable."

" They will try to make it hot for us, I suppose, if
they find out our plans before we get away," suggested

" There's no doubt about that. Even granting that
we succeed in getting her away safely, I am afraid we
must make up our minds for some sort of a rumpus
later on. The temple priest is likely to have no end
of influence and secret emissaries to do his will, not
only for the sake of unlimited bribery, but also from
sheer religious fanaticism. You saw for yourself this
morning the power of their mantras."

" Yes ; I can quite realise that they will be in no
frame of mind to let things rest," replied Wrencroff

" In carrying out their revenge," continued Duncan,
" time counts as nothing it is opportunity for which
they wait. You know how they retaliated upon Colonel
Wrencroff, and even now, after nearly twenty years,
they still brood over the matter. In a case like this,
which involves some of their tenderest susceptibilities
on caste and pollution, neither the loss of every pos-
session nor the sacrifice of every natural relation would
be allowed to stand in the way. It is quite probable
that fear alone may drive them to seek for some
expiatory ceremony to propitiate the spirit of the
defunct Brahmin, and to appease the anger of the
temple god."

Duncan had just finished speaking when a little


sound, like a suppressed cough, drew the attention of
both towards the side of the tent where the heavy
canvas had been drawn over the entrance to keep out
the glare of the sun.

" What's that ? " asked Wrencroff quickly.
Duncan had risen and stepped quietly to the door.
The canvas, however, had been tied down on the
outside, and he could not pass through.

" I must see who that was," he answered hurriedly,
as he moved towards the opposite chick. But as he
stepped up to it, his butler appeared on the other side,
and, lifting the light reed curtain aside, said in his
usual laconic style :

" Brahmin priests come from temple to see Sahibs."
Both men involuntarily started at the unexpected
announcement. The struggle had begun sooner than
they expected. The priests were, no doubt, playing a
bold stroke to win ; and both realised that if they
meant to succeed in what they had undertaken, it
would have to be diamond cut diamond the bold,
defiant courage of the West against the deadly pliancy
of the Eastern subtlety. In a second the two friends
had thrown off all signs of the emotion into which
the butler's words had surprised them, had assumed
an air of indifference, and were holding themselves in

" All right, boy ! Lift the door well up, so that it
will not touch them, and ask them to come in," said
Duncan in a careless tone.

A pause ensued, during which the primitive lords of
creation were evidently having a struggle to overcome
their reluctance to run the dangers of defilement in the
unclean foreigner's tent. The men settled down in
their easy chairs, and waited, wondering what the
outcome of the parley between the butler and his
former religious task-masters would be.

" Sahibs waiting to see Gurus," they heard him say


" Thow knowest our customs, servant of the Sahibs.
Tell thy masters that we would see them here. It is
not our way to enter into their low-caste dwellings.
We are high-caste holy Brahmins," said a familiar
rasping voice.

" Our white Sahibs very high caste also," answered
the butler, in a supercilious voice, which the English-
men marked with satisfaction. " It is not their custom
to come and talk with people in the sun."

" Go, thou pariah, and bear to them our request !
We have something of importance to say to them,"
replied the same voice angrily.

" Who pariah ? " demanded the servant, evidently
trembling with outraged dignity.

" Thou ! " came back the sneering reply.

" What ! " gasped the offended butler. " Am I
dirty like coolie ? Am I naked like heathen Brahmin ? "
And as he walked off in anger he called back in
English : " Go and be demned ! Take the Sahibs
your own dirty message ; and may they kick your
black bodies outside again ! "

For a few moments there was silence, and Duncan
was about to ring for the butler when the shadow of
one of the Brahmins darkened the transparent chick.

" Come in 1 " he called in the language of the

The little curtain was thrust aside, and Ramayya
stepped in, followed by an old man with parched
brown skin, bent with age or physical weakness. They
had no turbans and the upper part of their bodies was
quite naked, so that the three parallel lines of vibuthi
or sacred ashes stood out distinctly across forehead,
breast and arms. The sacred thread hung from their
shoulders, and around the neck of each was suspended
a potent charm marked with the Shivite symbol.

Ramayya, on entering the tent, made a sweeping
salaam ; and, as he did so, permitted his coal-black
eyes to glance swiftly all round, as if he would, in that


one, quick, comprehensive look, take a lasting impres-
sion of all the details of the Collector's sleeping abode.

After returning the salaam Duncan pretended to
write for a few seconds. He had had some insight
into the younger man's character ; but of the older one
he had learned nothing as yet ; and he wished to give
him time to speak, and, if possible, to pick up some
clue to his character or the real significance of his
visit. But neither spoke ; they stood there, in the
respectful attitude of the East, waiting for the man of
power to give them permission to speak by opening up
the conversation.

" You are the priests of the temple, are you not ? "
he asked quietly, putting away his pencil, and looking
the younger man steadily in the face. The latter 's
cruel lips twitched slightly, as he answered in a depre-
cating voice :

" I Baboo Sahib ! I am only the younger brother
of the high priest. I am come with him to pay my
humble salaams to your Highness ! " As he spoke he
made a salaam almost to the ground, while the older
man put his hands together, and bent his head in
reverent acknowledgment.

" The Lord Sahibs, we have heard, killed two tigers
this morning," said the latter in a quavering voice.
" They were evil spirits that wandered about our
sacred temple. But as Rama killed the evil Rakshasa,
and saved the people from his ravages, so the foreigners
have destroyed the fierce enemy of Shiva's servants,
and they will no longer fear to come to worship at his
temple." The priest paused, struggling painfully with
an asthmatical cough. Then continued :

' The Sahibs are great people and we thank
them." And the old man bent his head again over his
folded hands.

" The great Priest," answered Duncan, " has spoken
kindly. Will he be pleased to speak further ? His
words can only be the words of wisdom when spokenso."


" If the Circar Lord will be gracious and show
favour, the poor priest his servant will not waste his
time by one word more than is good for his peace."

" Speak on, Priest of the Brahmins, according to
thy will. We listen with pleasure. If thy heart is as
the words thou hast spoken, we shall part in peace."

" Then the Lord Sahib will permit his servant to
speak boldly ? "

" The learned Priest is free to speak as he thinketh
fit," answered Duncan.

" It were better, then, for the Collector Sahib and
his companion to go away from here at once."

" And why ? " asked the Collector with assumed

" The Sahibs will not be at ease. A festival is near,
and many will come and rest under these trees for a
few days. They will make much noise. It is customary
for them to do so when they worship their gods. But
the Sahib will be disturbed, and the people themselves
will be afraid of his anger, and so lose their pleasure
in the festival."

" Thy words are wise, Priest," answered Duncan.
" But be not disturbed in thy mind. Let the people
make as much noise as they please, and let them find
pleasure in their festival. If the people are happy we
shall not be angry. On the contrary, we shall rejoice
to see them glad."

" Let the Sahib be patient, if his servant speak still
more plainly. He does not quite understand our
customs. There is a great difficulty which he has not
seen. The people have never seen a stranger at their
festivals, and the Sahibs' lives may not be safe if they
are annoyed. A crowd may hold back an angry man,
but what man can hold back an angry crowd ? The
Circar Lord may see for himself that I am weak, and
have not the strength to hold them back."

" Fear not, learned Priest. The servants of the Circar
are accustomed to great crowds, and we shall see to


it that this one has no occasion to be angry with

" If the Sahib thinks so," said the old man, lifting
his hands in a gesture expressive of hopelessness,
" there is no need for me to say more," and with a
salaam he turned with the other towards the door.

As they were on the point of stepping out, however,
the younger priest turned back, his eyes gleaming with un-
repressed hatred as he looked at the two friends, and said :

" The two Sahibs belong to a wonderful people.
They know many things that we know not, and per-
chance they are led to think that we are like pariahs,
and know nothing. But let them remember that we
are the children of the ancient rishis, and that we
have from them means of knowledge which the fairer
Sahibs are ignorant about otherwise they would not
remain to-day. Their fates have been read in the
temple, and they are dark and troublesome from
to-night. The gods have been petitioned and pro-
pitiated in vain. They are angry and the cause always
points to the Sahibs' tent. So let them be aware, and
take warning. They expect the moon to-night perhaps
they would seek more tigers. But let them be careful.
The gods are angry, and it is their will that the moon
shall not shine on the desired beauty of the lotus-
flower to-night."

With a short, sharp ejaculation like a hiss the man
passed through the doorway and disappeared, leaving
the light reed curtain flapping to and fro over the spot
where he had stood like an evil wizard calling down
curses upon the heads of his enemies. Doubtful as to
the exact meaning of the man's rapid figurative speech,
Wrencroff glanced up inquiringly at his friend, whose
greater knowledge of the language found no difficulty
in reading the veiled threat behind the priest's warning.
As he did so the question in his eyes suddenly gave
place to a look of surprise, and his lips opened slightly
in an exclamation of wonder.


Duncan had seen the rapid change, and, following
the direction of his eyes, was just in time to see the
corner of the canvas wall closed down, and something
dark withdrawn.

" What was that ? " he exclaimed, rising.

" A hand scarred, and with part of the thumb
hacked off," replied Wrencroff slowly, as though not
quite sure of the evidence of his eyes.

" I thought so. It must have been the jungle-walla's."
' Yes ; it's not often one sees a hand like that."

" That explains the little noise we heard just before
the priests came in. He must have been lying up
against the tent, eavesdropping. I wonder why ? "
answered Duncan, with a dark look on his face.


THE two friends looked at each other in silence for
some time. It was one of those moments during
which feeling seems best expressed and communicated
by sympathetic understanding. Both felt instinctively
the nature of the danger that was near, and the diffi-
culties likely to confront them ; yet neither felt the
need of putting their thoughts into words. Each was,
in his own way, endeavouring to keep himself under
control, so as to look at things reasonably. All at once
the tent seemed to become unbearably oppressive for
both, so Duncan rose and threw back the swinging
chick of coloured reeds.

In the centre of the glade, sparsely studded with
low date trees, the midday sun was once more pouring
down its stream of fierce rays, somewhat suggestive of
the cruel glitter in the priest's eyes. The hum of
forest life had, to a large extent, died down under
the increasing heat ; while, under the shade around the


servants' tent, two or three idle men lay restlessly
trying to force themselves to sleep.

Relaxation seemed to be the order of the moment
everywhere. As one glanced over in the direction of
the temple, one felt that even there they were only
dreamily concocting the mischief that was to be wrought.
In the Collector's tent alone was there anything like
resistance against the forest siesta ; and there it was
tense and watchful.

" Perhaps it would be just as well to have that
forest guide in here to learn more about him," at last
suggested Wrencroff with a shake, as if he were trying
to throw off an unpleasant train of thought into which
he had been unwillingly drawn.

" Yes ; I believe you are right," said Duncan. " I
was just thinking of calling for him. Whoever he is, it
will be to our advantage to have him on our side, or,
at least, to know on whose side he is."

As he spoke, he touched a bell for the peon sitting
near by in attendance, and, when the latter appeared
in answer to the summons, bade him bring the forest
guide to the tent. But, apparently, the jungle-walla
had completely disappeared ; he was not in the camp,
and no one had seen anything of him since early morn-
ing ; and, though a second search was made for him
in every likely place after tiffin, no one succeeded
in finding any traces of him. So the two men were
compelled to comfort themselves with the thought that
he must have departed in the inconsequent manner
of untutored tribes, and that, as their conversation
had all been in English, he must have gained little or
nothing by his attempt at eavesdropping.

According to the plan already agreed upon, the
servants, excepting the tent lascars and the bandy-
men, had been taken more or less into confidence,
and, more than once, warned as to the necessity of
acting with the greatest caution, and of being on
their guard against any who might seek to tamper with


them. And now, after having waited impatiently for
the long hot afternoon to wear away and the time of
action to come, Wrencroff had gone with the cart and
horses, the frightened grass-cutter had been kept
incessantly under surveillance, and, with the last
fiery tint of the sunset, Percival himself was preparing
to make his way to the rendezvous near the stream.

But in spite of all precautions ; in spite of the hope
that the girl, Nakshatram, would somehow or other
manage to disarm the suspicions of her guardians, and
find her way safely to the appointed place, his heart
was heavy, and beat with a nervous apprehension ;
for the words came ringing back in his ears, with all
the sting that suppressed hatred had dared to throw
into them : " The moon shall not shine on the desired
beauty of the lotus-flower to-night."

A few minutes' walking brought him to the spot
agreed upon, and, almost simultaneously with his
arrival there, the thick darkness of the forest night
closed in around him.

An hour passed painfully away. Though the moon
was still hidden beyond the sombrous peaks, the
chaotic darkness gradually dissolved, and the outlines
of the trees became more and more distinct. With
the increasing light the hope of seeing the girl that
night was dying away, when something flew past his
face with a peculiar whirr, and struck the leaves above
his head with a soft thud. At first he gave the incident
little more than a passing thought, thinking that some
flying insect, roused from its perch by the increasing
light, had taken refuge in the tree.

But after a little time a dull glimmer on the swaying
leaves caught his eye, and, as his mind went through
a rapid process of reasoning, his hand involuntarily
sought the revolver which he had placed in his pocket
before starting.

Closer examination confirmed what the association
of ideas had subconsciously suggested. Those dripping


leaves were the earnest of the future hatred of deadly
enemies the hatred of men who would strike relent-
lessly from behind the unknown. The sight of that
dull reflection of the moonlight had sent his thoughts
back swiftly to scenes in this very forest a man with
his cheek and mouth half eaten away, a woman with
terrible furrows across her breast, a young fellow
rolling in agony with a marred hip and each time the
history had been the same : a bamboo used after the
fashion of a syringe, and some corrosive compound
known only to the native doctors.

It was a ghastly memory of these which had tempted
him to fire in the direction whence the squirt seemed
to have come. But a momentary reflection made him
pause before pressing the trigger, and, thinking that
he saw a dim figure flitting from tree to tree, like one
seeking a covered retreat, he made a dash in the direc-
tion it seemed to be taking. The undergrowth, how-
ever, increased at every step, and, as the long sharp
thorns began to tear his hands and face, he soon recog-
nised the wisdom of taking warning from the sad
experience of the hasty Roman who found to his grief
that " Festinatio tarda est"

But even delay itself in this case meant defeat, and
by the time that he had worked his way through the
tangled maze of jungle vegetation, the fleeting form
of his enemy had completely disappeared. The little
adventure, he soon found, had led him towards one
of the side gates of the temple, so, still grasping his
revolver, and prepared for any further surprises, he
continued in the same direction. He had come to the
conclusion that it would be best to enter the temple
precincts at once, and make some definite attempt to
get the girl away.

Somewhat to his astonishment, however, he found
the great wooden door closed and barred. With some
difficulty he made his way round to the main gopuram,
expecting to find this entrance wide open as usual,


as he was perfectly sure that he had never seen the
trace of a gate on this side of the temple walls. If
possible, then, his surprise was even still greater when
he saw that his resolution had been checkmated by
means of a great iron structure whose fittings plainly
showed that it was part of the very entrance itself.
Examination revealed the fact that what he had for-
merly thought was a band of iron embedded in the arch
of the gopuram gateway, had, in reality, been the
bottom of a heavy sliding portcullis.

The use of this piece of secret mechanism to-night,
and the incident which he had just passed through,
showed plainly that he had not only implacable foes
to deal with, but Eastern minds of a subtlety difficult
to cope with, and priests who had a great deal of local
knowledge and any amount of evil influence by which
they would endeavour to crush the enemy who was
attempting to frustrate their plans.

Nevertheless, in spite of the possibility of a lurking
enemy or a hidden snare, he proceeded to examine the
other walls of the temple court, and not only found
the third entrance closed and barred as in the case
of the first, but also noticed that the walls had been
strongly repaired wherever they had been formerly
dilapidated. In some places where they might be
accessible they had been ingeniously spiked.

It was evident that, for the time being at least, the
temple authorities had forestalled his intentions.

With considerable difficulty he picked his way along
the wall behind the temple, and as he went, his mind
revolved a number of schemes by which he might
accomplish his object in spite of the subtle opposition
of these temple hypocrites. There was no sign of a
pathway. It was all wild trailing brushwood under
foot and thick foliage overhead. Moreover the mountains
rose up close by and increased the obscurity by the dark
shadows which they threw over this side of the temple.

Suddenly he stood upright and his jaw closed with


the grim determination of a strong man in danger. A
noise, close by, had fallen upon his ear.

" It is I, the forest guide, who led the Sahib's friend
through the pathless forest," came in a low, steady
voice which Duncan had no difficulty in recognising.

" Where art thou, friend," answered Duncan quietly,
failing to fix the exact position of the owner of the voice.

" My salaams are for the Sahib's feet," came back
the almost whispered answer, as the dark form of the
jungle-walla loomed up immediately in front of him.

" The Sahib has the heart of a lion ; but does he
not desert his wisdom in following where his eyes see
not ? " asked the man in the respectful language of
his people.

" Thou hast well said," answered Percival ; " but
sometimes necessity leadeth whither wisdom would

" True ! But 'tis said that a woman and not neces-
sity draweth the white Collector to the Hindu's temple."

" It may be so, jungle-walla. For one of thy tribe
thou seemst to know much. Perhaps thou canst also
tell me why it is that the priests guard her so closely ? "

" The Collector Dora may be sure that what these
priests do hath nothing good in it," answered the man
with an angry growl.

" 'Tis the truth of thine own words that hath led
me hither to-night. The girl is not of their kind or
caste, and we would see no ill come to her."

" The Sahib hath spoken well ; but what can he do
when those against him have eyes where he sees not,
and a spear that is long and poisoned and nothing but

Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 7 of 24)