W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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The three Mahrattas, Sindhia, Holkar, and Bhonsla,
were plotting the overthrow of the British, and the
Peshwa was looking out of brooding eyes upon Hod-
son, the Resident at Poona.

Up on the hill, in the temple of Parvati, the priests
repeated prayers to the black goddess calling for the
destruction of the hated whites.

Each one of the twenty-four priests as he came with
a handful of marigolds laid them one by one at the feet
of the four-armed hideous idol, repeating: "Om, Par
vati! Om, Parvati!" the comprehensive, all-embracing
"Om" that meant adoration and a clamour for favour.
Even to Nandi, the brass bull that carried Shiva, he ap
pealed, "Om Shiva!"

But down on the rock-plateau, where gleamed in the
hot sun marble palaces, a more malign influence was
at work. Dandhu Panth, the adopted son of the
Peshwa, had come back from Oxford, and the English
believed he had been changed into an Englishman,
Nana Sahib.

Outwardly he was a sporting, well-dressed gentle-


8 Caste

man, such as Oxford turns out; but in his heart was
lust of power, and hatred of the white race that he felt
would make his inheritance, the Peshwaship, but a
vassalage. His dreams of ruling India would fade, and
he would sit a pensioner of the British. The Mahrattas
had been stigmatised by a captious Mogul ruler, "moun
tain rats." As Hindus there was a sharp cleavage of
character; the Brahmins, fanatical, high up in the caste
scale, and all the rest of the breed inferior, vicious,
blood-thirsty, a horde of pirates. Even the man who
first made them a power, Sivaji, had been of ques
tionable lineage, a plebeian; and so the body corporate
was of inflammable material little restraint of breed

And for all Nana Sahib's veneer of English class,
mental development, beneath the English shirt he wore
the junwa, the three-strand sacred thread, insignia of
the twice-born, the Brahmin.

From Governor General to the British officers who
played polo with the Peshwa's son, they all accepted
him as one of themselves ; considered it good diplomacy
that he had been sent to Oxford and made over.

There was just one man who had misgivings, the
Resident at Poona. He was a small, tired, worn-out
official an executive, a perpetual wheel in the works,
always close to the red-tape-tied papers, always.
Strange that one not a dreamer, no sixth-sense, should
have attained to an intuition which it was, his distrust
of the cheery, sporty Nana Sahib. That Hodson's su
periors intimated that India was getting to his liver

Caste 9

when he wrote, very cautiously, of this obsession, made
no difference; and clinging to his distrust, he achieved

After all it was rather strange that the matter had
not been taken out of his hands, but it wasn't. A sort
of departmental formula running: "Commissioner So-
and-So has the matter in hand refer to him." And
so, when a new danger appeared on the distressed hori
zon, Amir Khan and a hundred thousand massed horse
men, Captain Barlow was sent to consult with the Resi
dent. That was the way; a secretive, trusty, brave
man, for in India the written page is never inviolate.

Captain Barlow was sent ostensibly as an assistant
to the Resident, in reality to acquire full knowledge
of the situation, and then go to the camp of Amir Khan
with the delicate mission of persuading him not to join
his riding spear-men to the Mahratta force, but to
form an alliance with the British.

The Resident had asked for Barlow. He had ex
plained that any show of interest, two men, or five,
or twenty, an envoy, even men of pronounced position,
would defeat their object; in fact, believing Nana Sahib
to be what he was, he conceived the very simple idea
of playing the Oriental's Orientalism against him.

Barlow would be the last man in India to whom one
as suspicious as the Peshwa's son would attribute a
subtlety deep enough for a serious mission. He was a
great handsome boy; in his physical excellence he was
beautiful; courage was manifest in the strong content
of his deep brown eyes. Incidentally that was one of

10 Caste

the reasons the Resident had asked for him, though he
would have denied it, even to his daughter, Elizabeth,
though it was for her sake that part of it.

The affair with Elizabeth had been going on for two
or three years; never quite settled always hovering.

Indeed the Resident's daughter was not constituted
to raise a cyclone of passion, a tempest of feeling that
brings an impetuous declaration of love from any man.
She was altogether proper; well-bred; admirable; per
haps somewhat of the type so opposite to Barlow's im
pressionable nature that ultimately, all in good time,
they would realise that the scheme of creation had
marked them for each other. And Colonel Hodson
almost prayed for this. It was desirable in every way.
Barlow was of a splendid family; some day he might
become Lord Barradean.

Anyway Captain Barlow was there playing polo with
Nana Sahib one of the Prince's favourites; and wait
ing for a certain paper that would be sent to the Resi
dent that would contain offers of an alliance with the
Pindari Chief.

And this same hovering menace of the Pindari force
was causing Nana Sahib unrest. Perhaps there had
been a leak, as cautiously as the Resident had made
every move. If the Pindari army were to join the Brit
ish, ready at a moment's notice to fall on the flank
of the Mahrattas, harass them with guerilla warfare,
it would be serious; they were as elusive as a huge
pack of wolves; unencumbered by camp followers,
artillery, foraging as they went, swooping like birds of
prey, they were a terrible enemy. Even as the tiger

Caste 11

slinks in dread from a pack of the red wild-dogs, so
a regular force might well dread these flying horse

And it was Amir Khan that Nana Sahib, and the ren
egade French commander, Jean Baptiste, dreaded and
distrusted. Overtures had been made to him without
result. He was a wonderful leader. He had made the
name of the Pindari feared throughout India. He was
the magnet that held this huge body of fighting devils

Thus with the gigantic chess-board set; the posses
sion of India trembling in the balance; intellects of the
highest development pondering; Fate held the trump
card, curiously, a girl; and not one of the players had
ever heard her name, the Gulab Begum.


The white sand plain surrounding Chunda was dotted
with the tents of the Mahratta force Sirdar Baptiste
commanded. And the Sirdar, his soul athirst for a go
at the English, whom he hated with the same rabid fero
city that possessed the soul of Nana Sahib, was busy.
From Pondicherry he had inveigled French gunners;
and from Goa, Portuguese. Also these renegade whites
were skilled in drill. If Holkar and Bhonsla did their
part it would be Armageddon when the hell that was
brewing burst.

But Baptiste feared the Pindari. As he swung here
and there on his Arab the horse's hoofs seemed to
pound from the resonant sands the words "Amir Khan
Amir Khanl Pin-dar-is, Pin-dar-is!"

It was as he discussed this very thing with his
Minister, Dewan Sewlal, that Nana Sahib swirled up
the gravelled drive to the bungalow on his golden-chest
nut Arab, in his mind an inspiration gleaned from some
thing that had been.

His greeting of the two was light, sporty; his thin
well-chiselled face carried the bright indifferent viva
city of a fox terrier.

"Good day, Sirdar," he cried gaily; and, "How lis
ten the gods to your prayers, my dear Dewani?"

Baptiste, out of the fulness of his heart soon broached
the troublous thing: "Prince," he begged, "obtain from
the worthy Peshwa a command and I'll march against


Caste 13

this wolf, Amir Khan, and remove from our path the
threatened danger."

Nana Sahib laughed; his white, even teeth were
dazzling as the black-moustached lip lifted.

"Sirdar, when I send two Rampore hounds from my
kennel to make the kill of a tiger you may tackle Amir
Khan. Even if we could crumple up this blighter it's
not cricket we need those Pindari chaps but not
as dead men. Besides, I detest bloodshed."

The Dewan rolled his bulbous eyes despairingly:
"If Sindhia would send ten camel loads of gold to this
accursed Musselman, we could sleep in peace," he de

"If it were a woman Sindhia would," Nana Sahib

Baptiste laughed.

"It is a wisdom, Prince, for that is where the revenue
goes: women are a curse in the affairs of men," the
Dewan commented.

"With four wives your opinion carries weight, De-
wani," and Nana Sahib tapped the fat knee of the
Minister with his riding whip.

Baptiste turned to the Prince. "There will be
trouble over these Pindaris; your friends, the English
eh, Nana Sahib"

As though the handsome aquiline face of the Pesh-
wa's son had been struck with a glove it changed to
the face of a devil; the lips thinned, and shrinking, left
the strong white teeth bare in a wolf's snarl. Under
the black eyebrows the eyes gleamed like fire-lit amber ;
the thin-chiselled nostrils spread and through them the

14 Caste

palpitating breath rasped a whistling note of suppressed

"Sirdar," he said, "never call me Nana Sahib again.
The English call me that, but I wait must wait; I
smile and suffer. I am Dandhu Panth, a Brahmin.
The English so loved me that they tried to make an
Englishman of me, but, by Brahm! they taught me
hate, which is their lot till the sea swallows the last
of the accursed breed and Mahrattaland is free!"

Nana Sahib was panting with the intensity of his
passion. He paced the floor flicking at his brown boots
with his whip, and presently whirled to say with a
sneering smile on his thin lips:

"The English can teach a man just one thing to
die for his ideals."

"Yes, Prince, of a certainty the Englishman knows
how to die for his country," Baptiste agreed in a sol
dier's tribute to courage.

"And for another nation's country," Nana Sahib
rasped. "He is a born pirate, a bred pirate we in
India know that; and that, General, is why I am a
Brahmin, because they alone will free Mahrattaland
faith, ideals. Forms! the gods to me are not more
than show-pieces. That Kali spreads the cholera is
one with the idea that the little red-daubed stone Linga
gets the woman a male child, false; these things are
in ourselves, and in Brahm. The priests sacrifice to
Shiva, but I will sacrifice to Mahrattaland, which to me
is the supreme God."

Jean Baptiste looked out of his wise grey eyes into
the handsome face and felt a thrill, an awakening,

Caste 15

the terrible sincerity of the speaker. At times the fero
city in the eyes when he had spoken of sacrifice caused
the free-lance soldier to shiver. A blur of red floated
before his eyes something of a fateful forecasting
that some day the awful storm that was brewing would
break, and the fanatical Brahmin in front of him would
call for English blood to glut his hate. It was the
more appalling that Nana Sahib was so young. Clos
ing his eyes Baptiste heard the voice of an English
Oxonian that perhaps should be chortling of polo and
cricket and racing; and yet the more danger the
youthfulness of the agent of destruction; like a Napo
leon a corporal as a boy. "C'est la guerre!" the
French officer murmured.

Then, as a storm passing is often followed by smiling
sunshine, so the mood of Nana Sahib changed. He
had the volatile temperament of a Latin, and now he
turned to the Minister, his face having undergone a
complete metamorphosis: "Dewani," he said, "do you
remember when a certain raja sent his Prime Minister
and twenty thousand men to punish Pertab for not pay
ing his taxes, and Pertab gave one Bhart, a Bagree,
ten thousand rupees and a village to bring him the
Minister's head which he did, tied to the inside of
his brass-studded shield?"

"Yes, Prince; that is a way of this land."
Nana Sahib drew forth a gold cigarette case, lighted
a cigarette from a fireball that stood in a brass cup, and
gazed quizzically at the Dewan. There was a little
hush. This story had set Jean Baptiste's nerves ting
ling; there was something behind it.

16 Caste

The Dewan half guessed what was in the air, but
he blinked his big eyes solemnly, and reaching for a
small lacquer box took from it a pan leaf, with a finger
smeared some ground lime on it, and wrapping the leaf
around a piece of betel-nut popped it into his capacious

"These Bagrees are in the protection of Raja
Karowlee, are they not?" Nana Sahib asked.

"Yes, Prince; even some of B hart's relatives are
there one Ajeet Singh; he's a celebrated leader of
these deceits."

"And Sindhia took from Karowlee some territory,
didn't he?"

"Yes; Karowlee refused to pay the taxes."

"I should think the Raja would like to have it back."

"No doubt, Prince."

Nana Sahib, holding the cigarette to his lips between
two fingers gazed mockingly at the large-paunched
Brahmin. Then he said: "I see the illuminating light
of understanding in your eyes, Dewani a subtle com
prehension. Small wonder that you are Minister to
the delightful Sindhia. If you are making any prom
ises to Karowlee, I should make them in the name
of Sindhia through Sirdar Baptiste, of course. And,
Dewani, this restless cuss, Amir Khan, might make a
treaty with the English any time. The dear fish-eyed
Resident has been particularly active my spies can
hardly keep up with him. I shouldn't lose any time
Aj>eet Singh sounds promising."

Nana Sahib drew a slim flat gold watch from his
pocket. "I now must leave you two interesting gen-

Caste 17

tlemen," he said, "for I am to play a few chuckers
of polo with particularly, Captain Barlow. He is
jackal to the bloodless Resident. I really thought
a couple of days ago that he would have to be sent
home on sick leave. One of my officers rode him off
the ball in a fierce drive for goal, and by some devil
ish mistake the post hadn't been sawed half-through,
so when Barlow crashed into it it stood up. As he lay
perfectly still after his cropper it looked as though
Resident Hodson had lost his jackal. But Barlow is
one of those whip-cord Englishmen that die of old
age; he was in the saddle again in two days. Well,
au revoir a'nd salaam."

When the clattering scurry of Nana Sahib's Arab
had died out Baptiste turned to the Dewan, saying:

"I will write the letter to Raja Karowlee, but you
must sign it, Sirdar; also furnish a fast riding camel
and a trusty officer," the Dewan answered simply.

"But Nana Sahib was nebulous we may be made
the goat of sacrifice."

"It is a wisdom, Sirdar; but, also, it is from the
Prince an order; and my office is always one of blame
when there are excuses to make it is always that way.
When a head is required the Dewan's is always offered."


In answer to the Dewan's request Raja Karowlee
sent a force of two hundred Bagrees to Jean Baptiste's
camp. Evidently the old Raja had run the official
comb through his territories, for the deceit force was
composed of a hundred men from Karowlee, under
Ajeet Singh, and a hundred from Alwar, led by Sookdee.

The two leaders were commanded to obey Sirdar
Baptiste implicitly; and Baptiste passed an order that
they were to receive a thousand rupees a day for their

In addition there was a fourth officer, Hunsa, who
was a jamadar, a lieutenant, to Ajeet Singh. And if
then and there the ugly head had been cut from his
body, the things that happened would not have hap

From the advent of the Bagrees, even on their way
from Karowlee, Hunsa had been plotting evil. He
was a man who would have shrivelled up, become atro
phied, in an atmosphere of decency he would have

Hunsa caused Sookdee to believe that he should
have been the leader and not Ajeet Singh.

A document was written out by Dewan Sewlal prom
ising that in the event of the decoits carrying out the
mission they had come upon the estate would be re
stored to Raja Karowlee, and that he would be com
pelled to assign to the three deceit leaders villages


Caste 19

within that territory in rent free tenure. The Dewan,
with wide precaution, took care that the document was
so worded that General Baptiste was the official prom-
iser, putting in a clause that he, Sewlal, the Minister,
would see that the General carried out these promises
on behalf of Sindhia.

Baptiste set his lips in a sardonic smile when he
read and signed the paper. However, he cared very
little; no concern of his whether Karowlee attained
to his lands or not it would be a matter of the King
disposes. Even that the Dewan stood in Baptiste's
shadow in 'the affair was another something that only
caused the Frenchman to remark sardonically:

"Dewani, the English sahibs have a delectable game
of cards named poker in which there is an observance
called passing the buck; when a player wishes to avoid
the responsibility of a bet he passes the buck to the
next man. Dewani, you have the subtlety of a good
poker player and have passed the buck to me."

The Brahmin looked hurt. "Sirdar," he said, "you
are the commander of matters of war, which this is.
You stand here in the city of tents as Sindhia; I am
but the man of accounts; it is well as it is. And now
that we have signed the promise the deceits will also
sign, then I will make them take the oath according
to their patron goddess, Bhowanee. They are just
without I will have them in."

When the three jamadars had been summoned to
the Dewan's presence, he said: "Here is the paper of
promise as to the reward from Sindhia for the service
you are to render. You will also sign here, making

20 Caste

your seal or thumb print; then it will be required
that you take the oath of service according to your
own method and your gods."

Ajeet consulted a little apart with Sookdee and then
coming forward said: "We Bagrees are an ancient
people descended from the Rajputs, and we keep our
word to our friends; therefore we will take the oath
after the manner of Bhowanee, beneath the pipal tree.
If Your Honour will give us but an hour we will take
the oath."

A mile down the red road from the bungalow, looking
like a huge beehive with its heavy enveloping roof of
thatch, that was Jean Baptiste's head-quarters, was a
particularly sacred pipal of huge growth. It was an
extraordinary octopus-like tree, and most sacred, for
perched in the embrace of its giant arms was a shrine
that had been lifted from its base in the centuries of the
tree's growth.

And now, an hour later, the pipal was surrounded by
thousands of Mahratta sepoys, for word had gone forth,
the mysterious rumour of India that is like a weird
static whispering to the four corners of the land a mes
sage, had flashed through the tented city that the
men from Karowlee were to take the oath of alle
giance to Sindhia.

The fat Dewan had come down in a palki swung
from the shoulders of stout bearers, while Jean Bap-
tiste had ridden a silver-grey Arab.

And then just as a bleating, mottled white-and-
black goat was led by a thong to the pipal, Nana Sahib
came swirling down the road in a brake drawn by a

Caste 21

spanking pair of bay Arabs with black points. Beside
him sat the Resident's daughter, Elizabeth Hodson,
and in the seat behind was Captain Barlow.

At the pipal Nana Sahib reined in the bays sharply,
saying, "Hello, General, wanted to see you for a
minute called at the bungalow, and your servant said
you had gone down this way. What's up?" he ques
tioned after greetings had passed between Baptiste,
Barlow and Elizabeth Hodson.

"Just some new recruits, scouts, taking the oath
of service," and Baptiste closed an eye in a caution-
giving wink.

A slight sneer curled the thin lips of Nana Sahib;
he understood perfectly what Baptiste meant by the
wink that the Englishman being there, it would be
as well to say little about the Bagrees. But the Prince
had no very high opinion of Captain Barlow's percep
tions, of his finer acuteness of mind; the thing would
have to be very plainly exposed for the Captain to
discover it. He was a good soldier, Captain Barlow
that happy mixture of brain and brawn and courage
that had coloured so much of the world's map red,
British; he was the terrier class all pluck, with per
haps the pluck in excelsis the brain-power not pre

"Who is the handsome native he looks like a
Rajput?" Elizabeth asked, indicating the man who
was evidently the leader among the others.

"That is Ajeet Singh, chief of these men," Baptiste

"He is a handsome animal," Nana Sahib declared.

22 Caste

"He is like an Arab Apollo," Elizabeth commented;
and her tone suggested that it was a whip-cut at the
Prince's half -sneer.

The girl's description of Ajeet was trite. The Chief's
face was almost perfect; the golden-bronze tint of the
skin set forth in the enveloping background of a tur
ban of blue shot with gold-thread draped down to cover
a silky black beard that, parted at the chin, swept up
ward to loop over the ears. The nose was straight and
thin; there was a predatory cast to it, perhaps suggested
by the bold, black, almost fierce eyes. He was clothed
with the full, rich, swaggering adornment of a Rajput;
the splendid deep torso enclosed in a shirt-of-mail, its
steel mesh so fine that it rippled like silver cloth; a
red velvet vestment, negligently open, showed in the
folds of a silk sash a jewel-hilted knife; a tulwar hung
from his left shoulder. As he moved here and there,
there was a sinuous grace, panther-like, as if he strode
on soft pads. At rest his tall figure had the set-up of a

As the three in the brake studied the handsome
Ajeet, a girl stepped forward and stood contemplating

"By Jove!" the exclamation had been Captain Bar
low's; and Elizabeth, with the devilish premonition of
an acute woman knew that it was a masculine's invol
untary tribute to feminine attractivity.

She had turned to look at the Captain.

Nana Sahib, little less vibrant than a woman in his
sensitive organisation, showed his even, white teeth:
"Don't blame you, old chap," he said; "she's all that.

Caste 23

I fancy that's the girl they call Gulab Begum. Am
I right, Sirdar?"

"Yes, Prince," Jean Baptiste answered. "The girl is
a relative of the handsome Ajeet."

"She's simply stunning!" Captain Barlow said, as
it were, meditatively.

But Nana Sahib, knowing perfectly well what this
observation would do to the austere, exact, dominating
daughter of a precise man, the Resident, muttered to
himself: "-Colossal ass! an impressionable cuss should
have a purdah hung over his soul or be gagged."

"One of their nautch girls, I suppose; " Elizabeth thus
eased some of the irritation over Barlow's admiration
in a well-bred sneer.

"Yes," Baptiste declared; "it is said she dances won

"You name her the Gulab Begum, General, 'that is
a Moslem title and, from the turbans and caste-marks
on the men, they seem to be Hindus; I suppose Gulab
Begum is her stage name, is it?"

Elizabeth was exhibiting unusual interest in a native
that is for Elizabeth, and Nana Sahib chuckled softly
as he answered: "Names mean little in India; I know
high-caste Brahmins who have given their children low-
caste names to make them less an object of temptation
to the gods of destruction. Also, the Gulab may have
been stolen from the harem of some Nawab by this

The Gulab suggested more a Rajput princess than
a dancing girl. No ring pierced the thin nostrils of
her Grecian nose; neither from her ears hung circles of

24 Caste

gold or brass, or silver; and the slim ankles that peeped
from a rich skirt were guiltless of anklets. On the wrist
of one arm was a curious gold bangle that must have
held a large ruby, for at times the sun flicked from
the moving wrist splashes of red wine. Indeed
the whole atmosphere of the girl was simplicity and

"No wonder they call her the Rose Queen," Barlow
was communing with himself. For the oval face with
its olive skin, as fair as a Kashmiri girl's, was certainly
beautiful. The black hair was smoothed back from a
wide low forehead, after the habit of the Mahratti
women; the prim simplicity of this seeming to add to

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