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a heart to meet it ? "

" Nevertheless, I would, if possible, see something of
this hornet's nest before rousing it up," said Duncan.

' The Dora Sahib's will is done already. If he
would see into the black hearts of these Shivites, let
him follow, and look at that which they think them-
selves alone see."



98 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

" If I understand thee aright, my friend, thou dost
not love these priests any more than I do ? "

" I why should I ? They have done their worst
against me and mine. They think me dead ; but I
live live to see the Maha-Praboo crush them out of
existence as they have mercilessly crushed others.
I ! ... I hate them all," he murmured huskily as he
began to lead the way.

For some distance the forest guide moved noiselessly
along the dead unbroken wall ; and Duncan followed
as cautiously as he could. Each fall of his footstep,
however, seemed to start a thousand echoes, as the
twigs snapped under his weight, or the pebbles rolled
away from under the touch of his boots. At last,
when they had arrived at the centre of the wall, the
jungle- walla stopped. For a few seconds, he permitted
his hands to roam over the masonry ; then, having
warned Percival to keep strict guard over himself, he
drew him towards the opening which he had made by
withdrawing a stone. Duncan looked through the
hole as he was directed, and shuddered at the ghastly
sight that met his gaze. The ordinary thickness of the
temple wall might have been from three to four feet
in extent ; but at this particular spot it had evidently
been hollowed out to form an alcove to hold one of
the usual images set up in the chambers attached to
the temple, and so it was comparatively easy for Duncan
to watch the miserable scene that was in progress on
the other side of the little aperture.

On more occasions than one he had met with people
concerned in family feuds who had accused each other
of being Vamacharins or left-hand worshippers of the
dreaded goddess Durga, or Kali, as she was sometimes
called ; he had also occasionally found traces of the
horrible mysteries of some of these devotees who aimed
at supernatural powers by magical rites, imprecations
and blood sacrifices. But as a rule so much secrecy
was observed to hide these Tantrika cults from the



DEMONS BEHIND DARKNESS 99

uninitiated that it was almost impossible for the out-
sider to find out anything definite with regard to their
observances. And so it happened that now, for the
first time, and that almost by accident, in the depth
of this primeval forest, he was beholding one of their
mystical rites. The place itself into which he was
peering evidently a secret recess of the temple and
one often used for similar ceremonies to that now in
progress looked unearthly in the flickering light of one
or two forest torches, and might well have stood for a
model of some chamber of horrors as conceived in the
lower regions. In the centre of the low-ceilinged room
covered with the dust of ages and stained with the
crimes of generations of fanatical devotees was a
grotesque figure of the bloodthirsty goddess Kali,
scintillating with jewels that adorned her neck and
arms. Around this monstrous idol was a body of
priests whose oily bodies swayed to and fro rhythmic-
ally to the sound of a low chant. Within the circle,
and immediately in front of the idol, with a ceremonial
candelabrum on each side of him, was the old temple-
priest who had visited Duncan's tent. In one hand,
which he held towards the idol, was a brazen vessel
in which incense burned ; in the other a human skull
containing an elixir of mercury and mica, with which
he touched his lips. Outside the circle, a man with
wild looks and matted hair, whose origin was evidently
from one of the lower tribes, sat beating softly on a
tom-tom, and muttering incantations over a large basket
of rice streaked with blood.

As Duncan gazed on the horrible scene the chant
became louder and more mournful, and the swaying
body of priests circled with growing rapidity around
the great image each one seizing a handful of rice as
he passed the basket.

Suddenly two lights near the idol which had been
burning low flared up, and Percival saw with horror
the motionless body of a young child stretched across



ioo THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

the lap of the goddess ; for a second only he saw all
the awful details of the place the roughly hewn walls,
the brutal outline of the goddess, the changing lights
in the eyes of the mad priests, the wizened skin of the
old man, the helpless infant then, one after the other,
the lights flickered out, the torches were knocked over,
and the place became shrouded in darkness.

There was something dreadfully fascinating in the
scene which Duncan had just witnessed, and he would
have lingered on in the hope of seeing the denouement
of this unearthly rite ; but the forest guide drew him
away from the aperture with a sign that warned him
that it would be dangerous to remain longer.

" What is it they are performing ? " he asked in a
low voice.

'* The Rasapana Ceremony " the guide answered
with a queer thrill in his voice. " The old viper feels
the burden of age, and would be young again with the
poison of strong fangs."

The moon was now well up over the hills, shedding
a silvery coating over all things.

Soon after disentangling themselves from the thick
undergrowth in the near vicinity of the temple they
were able, without much difficulty, to find their way
to the main path that branched from the divisional
line past the temple towards the glade. Here, as if
by mutual consent, they hesitated ; for each was
ignorant of the other's plan of action, and neither
had as yet decided upon the best course to be
followed.

On turning towards the guide, Duncan was struck
with the curious expression upon the latter's face :
he was gazing towards the temple, and about his eyes
and mouth there was a dreamy wistfulness and tender-
ness that was so striking that it almost seemed to
endow the fierce man of the forest with a new person-
ality. " Hath the Sahib enough trust in the chief to
the Cobra Tribe to reveal to him the matter that lies



DEMONS BEHIND DARKNESS 101

in his heart, and what it is that he would do with the
fair woman in the temple ? "

Before Duncan could find an appropriate answer to
the unexpected question a strange noise, coming from
the temple, rang through the night air. It might have
been the last muffled burst of that death-like chant in
the secret recess of the temple, or it may have been
the strangled cry of some animal. Whatever it was,
it was certainly uncanny, and both bent forward
expecting it to be repeated. But they heard nothing
more of it ; silence reigned over the forest again.

At last the jungle-walla lay flat upon the ground and
after listening intently uttered a sound like the cry of
a night-bird. A moment later Duncan was surprised
to hear the echo of it coming back from a dozen points
among the hills.

When the guide rose to his feet there was the light
of battle in his eyes.

" The wild beasts are beginning to move, and there
is work for the Chief of the Cobras to do. It is better
that he should go alone. Let the Sahib wait till the
moon is higher and he shall have news then before,
if necessary. Let him wait in patience at his tent
till the jungle-walla returns ! " Saying this the man
moved quickly away and disappeared amongst the trees.

Duncan hesitated. He wanted to do something
definite at once towards rescuing the girl, and so was
greatly tempted to follow in the guide's wake. But
the night had taught him that he was only a child
where the treacherous forest was concerned.

Moreover, the intimate knowledge of the temple
neighbourhood which the jungle-walla possessed, and
the glimpses of his character which he had seemed to
catch, began to inspire him with confidence. On
reflection he came to the conclusion that it would be
better to follow his advice. So he began to pick his
way along the broader track that led back to the glade
in which his camp was pitched.



CHAPTER XII SHADOWS AND DREAMS

UNDER the name of religious ceremonies strange and
unearthly scenes had been enacted within the grim
walls of this forest shrine whose origin was shrouded
in the accumulated myths of ages. As in many other
popular resorts of the Shivite pilgrims, men had,
generation after generation, carried on the Tantrika
rites in its secret corners, and heaven alone knew to
what extent wickedness had run riot there in days
gone by.

From ancient times, however, a more public form of
ceremony had always accompanied and completed
their great nature worship ; but this, for many years
now, had fallen into disuse from a fear lest the Western
rulers, who were known to hate these dark and cruel
customs, might some day attack the shrine and ruin
for ever its ancient sanctity.

Consequently the place, which was exceedingly
difficult to reach, though still claiming thousands of
devotees, was gradually losing some of its former
popularity, and attempts had been made to revive its
attractions. This had been done from time to time
in the customary way ; but now a novel attempt was
being made by means of the girl who had in so strange
a fashion proved to be Wrencroff's cousin. Though
the story which the Sannyasi had told Duncan had
been concocted to mislead the temple worshippers, yet
there was this much truth in it that she was closely
connected with the priests. It is even likely that some
wandering ascetic, who knew the circumstances under
which the temple had been polluted, did actually



SHADOWS AND DREAMS 103

prophesy that the pristine glory of the temple would
be revived and the wishes of the priests fulfilled, if the
girl were dedicated to the god under certain special
conditions.

And now, prison-like and pitiless, the great barriers
of masonry rose up darkly all round the temple pre-
cincts, while towering high above them the four
pyramidal gopurams with their gilded apices stood out
ominously against the dazzling canopy of the moon-lit
sky. The cold, mysterious stillness of an Eastern night
hung over the temple court. Though one felt that life
throbbed elsewhere and that eyes peered vigilantly
from behind a thousand secret covers, yet nothing
visibly moved. It was one of those pauses during
which the possibilities of nature make themselves felt
in fleeting moments of exquisite pleasure or indescrib-
able fear.

Meanwhile in the midst of these grotesque shadows
and shifting moonbeams, as if unconscious of the
hidden danger and the net which was being gradually
drawn around her, was the girl whom the jungle-walla
had called the " fair woman of the temple." She was
lying on a couch of Indian silks under one of the marble
colonnades built along the inside of the temple walls.
Her hair trailed in a great dark stream along the soft
white material in which she was clothed ; and, as she
reclined there with her small white face resting lightly
on her hand and her lips parted sufficiently to reveal two
perfect rows of glittering white teeth, she looked indeed
like a veritable nymph of the woods. She was gazing
dreamily into the shimmering water of the pool, and a
wondrously soft light came and went in the depths of
her beautiful grey eyes, as she thought of the sudden
vision near the stream and the meeting over the dead
tiger. Her life had been strange and lonely. With
inherited instincts that put her out of sympathy with
her surroundings and made her yearn for things that
she had never seen, except in imagination, she had felt,



104 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

and been regarded as, an alien amongst people who
differed from her in almost everything. Often she had
been treated as a slave by most of the women in the
purdahed establishment in which she had for years been
secluded ; some of them had treated her brutally as
they might have done a young and childless widow,
and more than once she had even been in peril on
account of the jealousies of some of the older and less
good-looking. But she had borne all patiently under
the advice of her guardian and protector from the hills,
who had always warned her of danger, and, whenever
he had found her sad and miserable, had buoyed her
up with the vision of a maharajah coming from the far
West to carry her away as his wife. He had, among
other things, told her that she had seen a maharajah ;
but she could not remember it. Yet somehow she had
made pictures of one in her mind, and he was always a
tall, strong man with a whitish face like her own, only
bearded with bright hair, and with a dress she had never
seen in her life until, strange to say, the maharajah near
the stream appeared in one like it. After all, the
hillman, as he had styled himself, had been faithful to
the will of the dead and had kept her safe until he had
come.

Now she would go away with him, as soon as he
could get her out of the power of these priests, and they
would live in one of the big white bungalows, which the
hillman had described to her. Her heart told her
that he would always treat her kindly as he had done
after killing the tiger.

Just then a shadow moved across the water. She
looked towards the temple in the centre of the court,
and, as she watched a figure creeping along the colon-
nade, she put her hand swiftly near her belt and waited.

The shadowy figure disappeared into the deeper
shadows ; but her keen hearing marked the stealthy
approach. Oh, how weary she felt of this kind of life
where all was darkness and mysterious !



SHADOWS AND DREAMS 105

Why was it people did not do those things which all
might know and understand ? How was it that these
priests with their evil ways had so much power and
influence over others whom they used only for their
own purposes ? What was it they expected of her at
the coming festival ? What did they mean to do with
her ? Would they give her sleeping medicine and then
burn her as they sometimes did the widows, or would
they make her perform some dreadful ceremony with
the idol of the great god and then leave her here in the
forest to look after him ? Would they cut off her
beautiful hair, as some of the women tried to do at the
fatal marriage ceremony when the old priest had pre-
vented them by terrible threats ? Then there were
those dreadful stories which the women in the purdah
used to tell in the evenings, of the awful things that had
been done in the temples. Surely these could not be
true ! Rather than have anything to do with them
she would use the hillman's gift. But there was still
the big white God he had told her about the God
that was so wonderful and so much stronger than these
cruel, spiteful gods. He would come to her help now
that the maharajah had come ! What was the latter
doing at this moment ! Perhaps he was angry because
she had not gone to the stream as she promised to do !
^But then she would show him that it was not at all her
fault. They had watched her all day ; and after
sunset she had not been able to find a way out because

all the exits had been closed. To-morrow ! At

that moment a dark form stepped from the shadow of
the marble column and stood between her and the
moonbeams playing on the temple pool.

She rose to her feet and faced it fearlessly. It was,
as she had expected, that of the priest's younger brother.
He had come straight from the rasapana ceremony in
the temple recess, and there was a touch of unbridled
madness in his attitude. His ghastly head, stripped of
all its hair and dully reflecting in the moonlight, had



106 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

the appearance of a skull with two green lights in its
sockets.

" Nakshatram ! " There was something dreadful
even in the way he spoke.

" Well ! " she answered haughtily. Repressed anger
vibrated in the word ; for she knew that this man was
vile to the core and would have no mercy on her. She
had scorned both prayers and threats. Her attitude,
cold and regal, as she stood before him with the folds
of her soft sari trailing on the marble pavement, held
him speechless for a little while.

" Speak ! " she went on tauntingly. " The panther
prowls to prey on what ? "

" You must come ! " he said, making an effort to
speak calmly.

" Whither ? " she asked mockingly.

" To the temple."

" And why ? "

" There is Durga-puja a sacrifice to the goddess that
she may be favourable towards the festival, and let it
pass well."

" Then go and serve her. I do not love her as thou
who art her priest ! "

" But it needs a woman."

" Then seek one."

" I do."

" Go ! " she cried angrily, pointing towards the
temple. " Thinkest thou that I, who am of the blood
of the white rajahs, would share with thee thy vile
worship ? "

" Of the blood of the white rajahs ! " he repeated, in
astonishment. " Who told thee so ? "

" One who may yet make thee answer for much."

" And yet in spite of him thou shalt still come with
me."

" Never never ! " she answered.

" Thou shalt ! And crawl at my feet to be per-
mitted."



SHADOWS AND DREAMS 107

She laughed scornfully.

" Ah ! dost thou think that this foreign infidel who
prowls round the temple will help thee ? " he asked
with a sneer.

" What is it to thee that which I think ? "

" This ; I tell thee that he shall never have thee
nor thou him."

As he answered his teeth gleamed, and his face
twitched in a horrible grimace.

" And who will stand in the way ? "

" I ! "

" Thou ! " and again she laughed scornfully. " One
crushes a snake without pity, when it crosses one's path."

" But sometimes the snake bites first without pity."

The cool assurance in his voice made her feel suddenly
faint. Instinct told her that the Collector was un-
learned in the depth of guile to which this man could
descend. But she bravely took up the challenge again
and steeled her voice to a note of mockery.

" And thou ? " she said.

" I ? I have bitten already."

A cold feeling swept over her again and a cry rose
to her lips ; but she repressed it, and answered coldly.

" Thou art false, and, according to thy wont, liest."

His only answer was a cruel low laugh. For a
moment they watched each other the one disdain-
fully, the other with bright green lights gleaming in his
repulsive head.

" Go ! " she at last said, with a movement of con-
tempt.

He drew nearer. She did not flinch ; but she was
alert and quivering.

" What wouldst thou ? " she demanded curtly.

" Thee ! I go not alone," he answered hoarsely.

" And I I go not with thee. No never ! Wouldst
thou know why ? "

" Speak if thou wilt I doubt not thy tongue burns
to move like all women's when they are angry."



io8 THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

" Because I hate thee, as I have told thee before.
Thy heart is as dark as night without the stars."

" 'Tis a mite that maketh no difference," he said with
a sneer.

" Nevertheless, there is one that doth."

" Which ? "

" The Collector Sahib in the temple tope," she
answered quietly.

" Chee ! Hast not heard the wise saying that ' a
mite becometh less than a mite by leaving its place
empty ' ? "

" And the Collector ? "

" Will go as he came, but by another way."

" If thou art so wise and wouldst have me believe thy
dark sayings, tell me by what path the Collector will go
back whence he came ? "

The words were apparently spoken lightly ; but
behind was the wit and desperation of a woman who
seeks to know the nature of the danger that surrounds
her lover.

" By that which the temple oracle hath pointed out
to-night," he replied with an evil smile that contorted
his face into a demon's.

" The wicked inquire at evil oracles and receive that
which they seek. Doth not the wise saying speak so ?
Thine oracle is like thyself false ! " she answered
angrily.

f? " Thou wilt think otherwise when the sun findeth the
white jackal dead, and his den deserted. Take heed
lest to-morrow thou find thyself scorned as to-day thou
art sought."

Her face was very white and her limbs trembling as
she turned fiercely upon him and answered :

" I, too, have an oracle. Listen to it. The white
stranger shall not go away empty-handed, nor shall he
die at least, not until thou hast long been lost in the
oblivion of thy creed."

" Chee, chee ! " retorted the priest impatiently.



SHADOWS AND DREAMS 109

" The temple oracle hath more than one wisdom where-
with to speak. If the foreign devil die not, another
shall die in his place."

" Who ? "

' Thou ! "

" Perhaps ! I do not fear the big sleep. It were
better to have entered it long ago, than to dwell in this
place of evil deeds and dark secrets."

" Yet there is a way to escape both temple and
death," he suggested eagerly.

" How, dark priest ? "

" Obey and follow that which I will show thee," he
answered.

She laughed, and the priest was quick to hear the
bitterness and mockery behind the sound. The green
light flickered again in his wild eyes as she said :

" Ever back to thyself, O Priest ! Temple, oracle,
festival are all for thy purpose. I tell thee it shall
never be. Thou knowest better than I how deep are
the shadows that lie between me and thee, and why it
is my desires can never be as thine. Thou knowest the
past which is all hidden from me, and even of the
present I am but a child in knowledge, as thou art
aware. Yet, though I understand naught and thou
all, there is, nevertheless, that which warns my spirit
to shun thee as the fawn shuns the wild beasts. Go !
thou left-handed worshipper of Durga. Seek thine own
lair and thine own kind ! "

" Beware ! " cried the priest, quivering with anger
under the sting of her words. " It is in my power to
make thee take back the bitterness of thine own speech.
Hark ! Thou mayst hear for thyself the circle of
priests as they do their puja to the goddess. Her spirit
has taken possession of them, and who can answer for
them while they are her slaves ? "

" Well, what is it to me ? I serve not the goddess
as thou dost," she answered with assumed carelessness.

" Thy words will be less proud if the priests bid thee



no THE TEMPLE IN THE TOPE

join their circle. There is one who may quickly show
them why thou shouldst. 'Tis for thee to choose."

" Go ? black-hearted Shivite. Thy soul will perish
in the evil it hath sought. I fear neither thee nor thy
brother Vamacharins. There are others stronger than
they. Thou also beware ! For the God I serve is not
Durga. 'Tis one thou knowest naught of, but one thou
mayst well fear."

" Thou wilt regret thy words."

" Never ! "

The priest watched her with gleaming eyes as she
turned aside with a contemptuous shrug. Then, like
a wild beast ready to spring on its prey, he drew
stealthily nearer to her. The arches of his eyes and
the corners of his mouth began to twitch convulsively
as the eyelids half veiled the green lights.

" Nakshatram," he said hoarsely. " Come ! Let it
be peace with thee and me."

" Peace ? " she asked bitterly. " When heardest
thou of peace between the slayer and his victim ? "

' Thou wilt repent too late like thy mother ! "

" My mother ? " she cried, springing round and
facing him with a new light in her eyes. " So thou
knewest her ? "

He laughed at her question a low cruel laugh that
made her shiver.

" She too was beautiful," he said, after a slight pause
during which he watched her closely ; " but not as
thou."

" Ah ! "

Again he paused as if taking a cruel delight in the
painful suspense into which his words had thrown her.

" Speak on, priest. It is not oft thy words have
made me wish to hear more. Thou hast said she was
beautiful ? "

' Yea ; as our women are counted. It has long been
the custom of our temple priest to take a child-wife in
his old age. Thy mother was chosen to bring back the



SHADOWS AND DREAMS in

youth of the old priest of her day, and to accompany
his soul to moksha. As he was of our family I saw her
often, but not so often as I should have liked. The old
man was jealous and I was young, and she more beauti-
ful than any other of our caste. The old priest died,
however, and I would have taken her in spite of much
opposition, for all knew that I might succeed some day
to the temple."

" And she ? " asked the girl breathlessly.

" She ? " he answered with a laugh that made her
shudder. " Oh ! she preferred the suttee."

" The suttee \ " exclaimed the horrified girl with tears
in her eyes. " Was she burnt, then ? "

So great was the conflict of passions that swept over
the priest that he was unable to articulate the words
that rose to his lips. " Nay ! " he at last burst forth
in an angry snarl. " All had been prepared ; the



Online LibraryS. (Samuel) FoskettThe temple in the tope → online text (page 8 of 24)