W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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then slew him like a dog. Of my faith, an oath, 'by
the Beard of the Prophet,' is more binding, I think.
Too many gods, such as the men of Hind have, pro
duce a wavering. But thou hast sworn to the truth
as I am a witness. The delay of an audience was
that thou mightst be well watched before much had
been said, for a child at play hides nothing, and if
thou hadst gone but once to the tent of the Gulab,
Amir Khan would have known.

"But as to this," his hand tapped the document
"it has been said that the British Raj doles out the
lives of its servants as one doles grain in a time of
famine. If an envoy, such as a Raja sends in a way
of pride, came with this, and were made a matter of
sacrifice, perhaps twenty lives would have paid of the
trying, but as it is, but one is the account."

Barlow shot a quick searching look into the Pin-
dari's eyes; was it a covert threat? But he answered:
"It is even so, it was spoken of as a matter for two,

The Chief laughed: "I know, Sahib; thou art pleas
ing to me. Of the Sahibs I have little knowledge, but
I have heard it said they were a race of white Rajputs,
save that they did not kill a brother or a father for
the love of killing. What service want they of Amir

"There are rumours that the Mahrattas, forgetting
the lessons they have received both Holkar and
Sindhia having been thoroughly beaten by the British
are secretly preparing war."

182 Caste

"A johur, a last death-rush, is it not?"

"They will be smashed forever, and their lands

"But the King of Oudh has been promised a return
to glory to join in this revolt. The fighting Rajputs
what of them? Backed by the English they should
hold these black accursed Mahrattas in check."

Barlow rose and, the wary eyes of the Chief on
every move, stepped over to the table and pointed to
a signature upon the document.

"That," he said, "is the signature of the Rana of
Mewar, meaning that he also passes the salt of friend
ship to Amir Khan."

He turned the document over, and there written
upon it was the figure "74^2."

"Bismillah!" the Chief cried for he had not noticed
this before; "it is the tilac, the Rana's sealing of the
document; it is the mystic number that means that
the contents are sacred, that the curse of the Sack
of Fort Chitor be upon him who violates the seal, it
is the oath of all Rajputs tilac, that which is forbid
den. And the Sahibs have heard a rumour that Amir
Khan has a hundred thousand horsemen to cut in
with. Even Sindhia is afraid of me and desires my
head. The Sahibs have heard and desire my friend

"That is true, Chief."

"This is the right way," and the Pindari brought
his palm down upon the Government message. "I
have heard men say that the English were like children
in the matter of knowing nothing but the speaking of

Caste 183

truth; I have heard some laugh at this, accounting it
easy to circumvent an enemy when one has knowledge
of all his intentions, but truth is strength. We have
faith in children because they have not yet learned
the art of a lie. In two days, Captain Sahib, thou
wilt be called to an audience." He rose from his
chair, and, with a hand to his forehead said: "Salaam,
Sahib. May the protection of Allah be upon you!"

"Salaam, Chief," Barlow answered, and he held out
a hand with a boyish frankness that caused the Pin-
dari to grasp it, and the two stood, two men looking
into each other's eyes.

"Go thou now, Sahib; thou art a man. Go alone
and with quiet, for I would view this message and put
it in yonder strong box before others enter."


When Captain Barlow had gone Amir Khan took
up the message and read it. Once he chuckled, for it
was in his Oriental mind that the deceiving of Barlow
as to his knowledge of writing was rather a joke.
Once as he read the heavy silk purdah of the door
swayed a little at one side as if a draught of wind had
shifted it and an evil face appeared in the opening.

Presently he rose from his chair, took the lamp
in one hand and the paper in the other, and crossed
to the iron box in a far corner of the room. He set the
flickering light upon the floor, and dropping to his
knees, drew from his waistband a silver chain, at the
end of which were his seal and keys. His broad
shoulders blanked the tiny cone of light, and behind
through a marble fretwork, a delicate tracery of lotus
flowers that screened the window, trickled cold shafts
of moonlight that fell upon something evil that wrig
gled across the white and black slabs of marble from
beneath the door curtain. The moonlight glistened
the bronze skin of the silent, crawling thing that was
a huge snake, or a giant centipede; it was even like
a square-snouted, shovel-headed mugger that had crept
up out of the slimy river that circled sluggishly the
eastern wall of the palace.

Once as Amir Khan fitted a key in the lock he
checked and knelt, as silent, as passive as a bronze
Buddha, listening; and the creeping thing was but a


Caste 185

blur, a shadow without movement, silent. Then he
raised the lid of the box and paused, holding it with
his right hand, the flickering light upon his bronze
face showing a smile as his eyes dwelt lovingly upon
the gold and jewels within.

And again the thing crept, or glided, not even a
slipping purr, noiseless, just a drifting shadow; only
where a ribbon of moonlight from between a lotus
and a leaf picked it out was the brown thing of evil
marked against the marble. Then the divan blurred
it from sight. From behind the divan to the ebony
chair, and the wide black-topped table the shadow
drifted; and when Amir Khan had clanged the iron
lid closed, and risen, lamp in hand, there was nothing
to catch his eye.

He placed the lamp that was fashioned like a lotus
upon the table, and dropping into his chair, yawned
sleepily. Then he raised his voice to call his bearer:

"Abd "

The name died on his lips, for the brown thing be
hind the chair had slipped upward with the silent un
dulation of a panther, and a deadly roomed (towel)
had flashed over the Chief's head and was now a
strangling knot about his tawny throat; the hard
knuckles of Hunsa were kneading his spine at the
back of the skull with a half twist of the cloth. He
was pinioned to the back of the chair; he was in a
vise, the jaws of which closed his throat. Just a
stifled gurgle escaped from his lips as his hand clutched
at a dagger hilt. The muscles of the naked brown
body behind stood out in knobs of strength, and the

186 Caste

face of the strangler, pan-reddened teeth showing in
the flickering light as if they had bitten into blood,
was the face of a ghoul.

The powerful Pindari struggled in smothering des
peration; and Hunsa, twisting the gorilla hands, sought
in vain to break the neck it was too strong.

Then the chair careened sidewise, and the Pindari
shot downward, his forehead striking a marble slab,
stunning him. Hunsa, with the death-grip still on the
roomal, planted a knee between the victim's shoulder-
blades, and jerked the head upward still the spine
did not snap; and slowly tightening the pressure of
the cloth he smothered the man beneath his knee till
he felt the muscles go slack and the body lie limp

Then Hunsa crossed the roomal in his left hand,
and stretching out his right grasped the Chief's dagger
where it lay upon the floor, and drove it, from behind,
through his heart. He placed the knife upon the floor
where drops of blood, trickling from its curved point,
lay upon the white marble like spilled rubies. He
unfastened the silver chain that carried the keys and
crossed the floor with the slouching crouch of a hyena.
Rapidly he opened the iron box, took the paper Amir
Khan had placed there, and hesitated for a second, his
ghoulish eyes gloating over the jewels and gold; but
he did not touch them, his animal cunning holding
him to the simple plan that was now working so
smoothly. He locked the box and slipped the key-
chain about the dead man's waist; then seizing the
right hand of his victim he smeared the thumb in

Caste 187

blood and imprinted it upon the paper just beside
the seal of the British Raj, muttering: "This will do
for Nana Sahib as well as your head, Pindari, and is
much easier hidden."

He placed the paper in a roll of his turban, blew
out the flickering light, and with noiseless bare feet
glided cautiously to the door. The purdah swung
back and there was left just the silent room, all dark,
save for little trickles of silver that dropped spots
and grotesque lines upon the body of the dead Chief.
It fell full upon the knife flooding its blade into a
finger-like mirror, and glinted the blood drops as if
in reality they had turned to rubies. Without the
purdah Hunsa did not crouch and run, he walked
swiftly, though noiselessly, as one upon a message.
Ten paces of the dim-lighted hall he turned to the
right to a balcony.

Here at the top of a narrow winding stone stairway
Hunsa listened; no sound came from below, and he
glided down. Beneath was a balcony corresponding
with the one above, and just beyond was a domed cell
that he had investigated. It was a cell that at one
time had witnessed the quick descent of headless bodies
to the river below. A teakwood beam with a round
hole in the centre spanned the cell just above an
opening that had all the appearance of a well. Hunsa
had investigated this exit for this very purpose, for he
had been somewhat of a privileged character about the

He now unslung from about his waist, hidden by his
baggy trousers, a strong, fine line of camel hair.

188 Caste

Making one end fast to the teakwood sill he went down
hand over hand, his strong hard palms gripping the
soft line. At the end of it he still had a drop of ten
or twelve feet, but bracing his shoulders to one wall
and his feet to the other he let go. Hunsa was
shaken by his drop of a dozen feet, but the soft sand
of the river bed had broken the shock of his fall.
He picked himself up, and crouching in the hiding
shadow of the bank hurried along for fifty yards;
then he clambered up cautiously to the waste of white
sand that was studded with the tents of the Pindari
horsemen. On his right, floating up the hill in ter
races, its marble white in the moonlight, was the palace
where Amir Khan lay dead. It still held a sombre
quietude; the murder had not been discovered.

He had mapped this route out carefully in the day
and knew just how to avoid the patrolling guards, and
he was back in the narrow chouk of the town that was
a struggling stream of swaggering Pindaris, and darker
skinned Marwari bunnias and shopkeepers. Hunsa
pushed his way through this motley crowd and con
tinued on to the gate of the palace.

To the guard who halted him he said: "If the other
who went up to see the Chief has gone, I would go
now, meer sahib. As I have said, it is a message from
the Gulab Begum."

"I looked for you when I returned from above,"
the guard answered, "but you had gone. The Afghan
has gone but a little since stay you here."

He called within, "Yacoub!"

It was the orderly who had conducted Barlow to

Caste 189

Amir Khan who answered, and to him the guard said:
"Go to the Chief's apartment and say that one waits
here with word from the favourite."

Hunsa sat down nonchalantly upon a marble step,
and drew the guard into a talk of raids, explaining
that he had ridden once upon a time with Chitu, on
his foray into the territory of the Nizam.


Hunsa had come back to the palace in haste so that
the murder of Amir Khan might be discovered soon
after Captain Barlow had left, and that the crime
might be fastened upon the Sahib. As he waited, chat
ting to the guard, there was suddenly a frenzied deep-
throated call of alarm from the upper level of rooms
that was answered by other voices here and there
crying out; there was the hurrying scuffling of feet
on the marble stairs, and Yacoub appeared, his eyes
wide in fright, crying:

"The Chief has been stabbed! he's dead! he's mur
dered! Guard the door let no one out let no
one in!"

"Beat the nakara" the guard commanded; "raise
the alarm!"

He seized his long-barrelled matchlock, blew on the
fuse, and pointing up toward the moonlit sky, fired.
Just within, in a little court, Yacoub, with heavy
drum-stick, was pounding from the huge drum a thun
derous vibrant roar, and somebody at his command
had seized a horn, and from its copper throat a stri
dent shriek of alarm split the air.

The narrow street was now one surging mass of
excited Pindaris. With their riding whips they
slashed viciously at any one other than their own
soldier caste that ventured near, driving them out,
crying: "This is alone for the Pindaris!"


Caste 191

A powerful, whiskered jamadar pushed his way
through the mob, throwing men to the right and left
with sweeps of his strong arm, and, reaching the
guard, was told that Amir Khan lay up in his room,
murdered. Then an hazari (commander of five thou
sand) came running and pushed through the throng
that the full force of the tragedy held almost silent.

The guard saluted, saying: "Commander Kassim,
the Chief has been slain."

"How who?"

"I know not, Commander."

"Who has passed the guard here?"

"But one, the Afghan, who was expected by the
Chief. He went forth but lately."

"A Patan!" Kassim roared. "Trust a woman and
a snake but not a Patan." He turned to the whis
kered jamadar: "Quick, go you with men and bring
the Afghan." To another he said, "Command to
enter from there" his hand swept the mob in front
"a dozen trusty sowars and flood the palace with
them. Up, up; every room, every nook, every place
of hiding; under everything, and above everything,
and through everything, search. Not even let there
be exemption of the seraglio murder lurks close to
women at all times. Seize every servant that is within
and bind him; let none escape."

He swept a hand out toward the Pindaris in the
street that were like a pack of wolves: "Up the hill
surround the palace! and guard every window and

The guard saluted, venturing: "Commander, none

192 Caste

could have entered from outside to do the foul deed."

"Liar! lazy sleeper!" he smashed with his foot
the hookah that sat on the marble floor, its long stem
coiled like a snake "While you busied over such, and
opium, one has slipped by."

He reached out a powerful hand and seized the
shoulder of a Pindari and jerked him to the step, com
manding: "Stay here with this monkey of the tall
trees, and see that none pass. I go to the Chief.
When the Afghan comes have him brought up."

Hunsa had stood among the Pindaris, shoved hither
and thither as they surged back and forth. Once the
flat of a tulwar had smote him across the back, but
when he turned his face to the striker who recognised
him as a man of privilege, one of the amusers, he was
allowed to remain.

The startling cry, "The Chief has been murdered!
the Sultan is dead!" swept out over the desert sand
that lay white in the moonlight, and the night air
droned with the hum of fifty thousand voices that was
like the song of a world full of bees. And the night
palpitated with the beat of horses' feet upon the hard
sand and against the stony ford of the parched river as
the Pindari horsemen swept to Raj gar as if they rode
in the sack of a city.

Hoarse bull-throated cries calling the curse of Allah
upon the murderer were like a deep-voiced hymn of
hate it was continuous.

The bunnias, and the oilmen, and the keepers of
cookshops hid their wares and crept into dark places
to hide. The flickering oil lamps were blotted out;

Caste 193

but some of the Pindaris had fastened torches to their
long spears, and the fluttering lights waved and circled
like shooting stars.

Rajgar was a Shoel; it was as if from the teak
forests and the jungles of wild mango had rushed its
full holding of tigers, and leopards, and elephants,
and screaming monkeys.

Soon a wedge of cavalry, a dozen wild-eyed horse
men, pushed their way through the struggling mob,
at their head the jamadar bellowing: "Make way
make the road clean of your bodies."

"They bring the Afghan!" somebody cried and
pointed to where Barlow sat strapped to the saddle
of his Beluchi mare.

"It is the one who killed the Chief!" another yelped;
and the cries rippled along from mouth to mouth;
tulwars flashed in the light of the lurid torches as
they swept upward at the end of long arms threaten
ingly; but the jamadar roared: "Back, back! you're
like jackals snapping and snarling. Back! if the one
is killed how shall we know the truth?"

One, an old man, yelled triumphantly: "Allah be
praised! a wisdom a wisdom! The torture; the
horse-bucket and the hot ashes! The jamadar will
have the truth out of the Afghan. Allah be praised!
it is a wisdom!"

At the gate straps were loosed and Barlow was
jerked to the marble steps as if he had been a blanket
stripped from the horse's back.

"It is the one, Jamadar," the guard declared,
thrusting his face into Barlow's; "it is the Afghan.

194 Caste

Beyond doubt there will be blood upon his clothes
look to it, Jamadar."

"We found the Afghan in the serai, and he was at
tending to his horse as if about to fly; beyond doubt
he is the murderer of our Chief," one who had ridden
with the jamadar said.

"Bring the murderer face to face with his foul
deed," the jamadar commanded; and clasped by both
arms, pinioned, Barlow was pushed through the gate
and into the dim-lighted hall. In the scuffle of the
passing Hunsa sought to slip through, impelled by a
devilish fascination to hear all that would be said
in the death-chamber. If the case against the Sahib
were short and decisive perhaps they might slice
him into ribbons with their swords Hunsa would then
have nothing to fear, and need not attempt flight.

But the guard swept him back with the butt of his
long smooth-bore, crying: "Dog, where go you?"
Then he saw that it was Hunsa, the messenger of his
Chief's favourite as he took the Gulab to be and he
said: "You cannot enter, Hunsa. It is a matter for
the jamadars alone."

At that instant the Gulab slipped through the strug
gling groups in the street, the Pindaris gallantly mak
ing way for her. She had heard of the murder of the
Chief, and had seen the dragging in of the Afghan.

"Let me go up, guard," she pleaded.

"It is a matter for men," he objected. "The jama
dar would be angry, and my sword and gun would be
taken away and I should be put to scrub the legs of
horses if I let you pass."

Caste 195

"The jamadar will not be angry," she pleaded, "for
there is something to be said which only I have knowl
edge of. It was spoken to me by the Chief, he had
fear of this Afghan, and, please, in the name of
Allah, let Hunsa by, for being alone I have need of

The soft dark eyes pleaded stronger than the girl's
words, and the guard yielded, half reluctantly. To
the young Pindari he said, "Go you with these two,
and if the jamadar is for cutting off their heads, say
that those in the street pulled me from the door-way,
and these slipped through; I have no fancy for the
compliment of a sword on my neck."

In the dim hallway two men stood guarding the door
to the Chief's chamber, and when the man who had
taken the Gulab up explained her mission, one of them
said, "Wait you here. I will ask of Kassim his pleas
ure." Presently he returned; "The Commander will
see the woman but if it is a matter of trifling let the
penalty fall upon the guard below. The mingling of
women in an affair of men is an abomination in the
sight of Allah."

When Bootea entered the chamber she gave a gasp
ing cry of horror. The Chief lay upon the floor, face
downward, just as he had dropped when slain, for
Kassim had said: "Amir Khan is dead, may Allah take
him to his bosom, and such things as we may learn of
his death may help us to avenge our Chief. Touch
not the body."

Her entrance was not more than half observed, for
Kassim at that moment was questioning the Afghan,

196 Caste

who stood, a man on either side of him, and two be

He was just answering a question from the Com
mander and was saying: "I left your Chief with the
Peace of Allah upon both our heads, for he gripped
my hand in fellowship, and said that we were two
men. Why should I slay one such who was veritably
a soldier, who was a follower of Mahomet?"

The man who had brought Barlow up to Amir
Khan when he came for the audience, said: "Com
mander, I left this one, the Afghan, here with the
Chief and took with me his sword and the short gun;
he had no weapons."

"Inshalla! it was but a pretence," the Commander
declared; "a pretence to gain the confidence of the
Chief, for he was slain with his own knife. It was a
Patan trick."

The Commander turned to the Afghan: "Why hadst
thou audience with the Chief alone and at night here
what was the mission?"

Barlow hesitated, a slight hope that might save
his own life would be to declare himself as a Sahib,
and his mission; but he felt sure that the Chief had
been murdered because of this very thing, that some
body, an agent of Nana Sahib, had waited hidden,
had killed the Chief and taken the paper. To speak
of it would be to start a rumour that would run across
India that the British had negotiated with the Pin-
daris, and if the paper weren't found there which it
wouldn't be he wouldn't be believed. Better to ac-

Caste 197

cept the roll of the dice as they lay, that he had lost,
and die as an Afghan rather than as an Englishman, a
spy who had killed their Chief.

"Speak, Patan," Kassim commanded; "thou dwell-
est overlong upon some lie."

"There was a mission," Barlow answered; "it was
from my own people, the people of Sind."

"Of Sindhia?"

"No; from the land of Sind, Afghanistan. We ride
not with the Mahrattas; they are infidels, while we be
followers of the true Prophet."

"Thou art a fair speaker, Afghan. And was there
a sealed message?"

"There was, Commander Sahib."

"Where is it now?"

"I know not. It was left with Amir Khan."

There was a hush of three seconds. Then Kassim,
whose eye had searched the room, saw the iron box.
"This has a bearing upon matters," he declared; "this
affair of a written message. Open the box and see
if it is within," he commanded a Pindari.

"How now, woman," for the Gulab had stepped
forward; "what dost thou here ah! there was talk
of a message from the Chief. It might be, it might
be, because," his leonine face, full whiskered, the
face of a wild rider, a warrior, softened as he looked at
the slight figure, "our noble Chief had spoken soft
words of thee, and passed the order that thou wert
Begum, that whatsoever thou desired was to be."

"Commander," Bootea said, and her voice was like

198 Caste

her eyes, trembling, vibrant, "let me look upon the
face of Amir Khan; then there are things to be said
that will avenge his death in the sight of Allah."

Kassim hesitated. Then he said: "It matters not
we have the killer." And reverently, with his own
hands, he turned the Chief on his back, saying, softly,
"In the name of Allah, thou restest better thus."

The Gulab, kneeling, pushed back the black beard
with her hand, and they thought that she was making
oath upon the beard of the slain man. Then she rose
to her feet, and said: "There is one without, Hunsa,
bring him here, and see that there is no weapon upon

Kassim passed an order and Hunsa was brought,
his evil eyes turning from face to face with the restless
query of a caged leopard.

"There is no paper, Commander Sahib," the jama-
dar said, returning from his search of the iron-box.

"There was none such," Kassim growled; "it was
but a Patan lie; the message is yonder," and he
pointed to the smear of blood upon the marble floor.

Then he turned to Bootea: "Now, woman, speak
what is in thy mind, for this is an affair of action."

"Commander Sahib," Bootea began, "yonder man,"
and she pointed a slim hand toward Barlow "is not
an Afghan, he is a Sahib."

This startling announcement filled the room with
cries of astonishment and anger; tvlisfars flashed.
Barlow shivered; not because of the impending dan
ger, for he had accepted the roll of the dice, but at
the thought that Bootea was betraying him, that all

Caste 199

she had said and done before was nothing a lie, that
she was an accomplice in this murder of the Chief,
and was now giving the Pindaris the final convincing
proof, the reason.

To deny the revelation was useless; they would tor
ture him, and he was to die anyway; better to die

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