W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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claiming to be a messenger from the British rather
than as one sent to murder the Chief.

Kassim bellowed an order subduing the tumult;
then he asked: "What art thou, a Patan, or as the
woman says, an Englay?"

"I am a Sahib," Barlow answered; "a Captain in
the British service, and came to your Chief with a
written message of friendship."

Kassim pointed to the blood on the floor: "Thou
wert a good messenger, infidel; thou hast slain a fol
lower of the Prophet."

But Bootea raised a slim hand, and, her voice trem
bling with intensity, cried: "Commander, Amir Khan
was not slain with the dagger, he was killed by the
towel. Look you at his throat and you will see the

"Bismillah!" came in a cry of astonishment from
the Commander's throat, and the marble walls of the
Surya-Mahal (room of audience) echoed gasps, and
curses. Kassim himself had knelt by the dead Chief,
and now rising, said: "By Allah! it is true. That
dog " his finger was thrusting like a dagger at Bar

But Bootea's clear voice hushed the rising clamour:
"No, Commander, the sahibs know not the thug trick

200 Caste

of the roomd, and few thugs could have overcome the

"Who then killed him speak quick, and with the
truth," Kassim commanded.

He was interrupted by one of Hunsa's guards, cry
ing: "Here, where go you you had not leave!" And
Hunsa, who had turned to slip away, was jerked back
to where he had stood.

"It is that one," Bootea declared, sweeping a hand
toward Hunsa. "About his waist is even now the
yellow-and-white roomal that is the weapon of Bhow-
anee. With that he killed Amir Khan. Take it from
him, and see if there be not black hairs from the beard
of the Chief in its soft mesh."

"By the grace of Allah it is a truth 1" the Com
mander ejaculated when the cloth passed to him had
been examined. "It is a revelation such as came to
Mahomet, and out of the mouth of a woman. Great
is Allah!"

"Will the Commander have Hunsa searched for the
paper the Sahib has spoken of?" Bootea asked.

"In his turban " Kassim commanded "in his tur
ban, the nest of a thief's loot or the hiding-place of
the knife of a murderer. Look ye in his turban!"

As the turban was stripped from the head of Hunsa
the Pindari gave it a whirling twist that sent its many
yards of blue muslin streaming out like a ribbon and
the parchment message fell to the floor.

"Ah-ha!" and a man, stooping, thrust it into the
hands of the Commander.

The Pindari who held the turban, threw it almost

Caste 201

at the feet of Bootea, saying, "Methinks the slayer
will need this no more."

Bootea picked up the blue cloth and rolled it into
a ball, saying, "If it is permitted I will take this to
those who entrusted Hunsa with this foul mission to
show them that he is dead."

"A clever woman thou art it is a wise thought;
take it by all means, for indeed that dog's head will
need little when they have finished with him," the
soldier agreed.

Kassim had taken the written paper closer to the
light. At sight of the thumb blood-stain upon the
document, he gave a bellow of rage. "Look you all!"
he cried holding it spread out in the light of the lamp;
"here is our Chief's message to us given after he was
dead; he sealed it with his thumb in his own blood,
after he was dead. A miracle, calling for vengeance.
Hunsa, dog, thou shalt die for hours thou shalt die
by inches, for it was thee."

Kassim held the paper at arm's length toward Bar
low, asking: "Is this the message thou brought?"

"It is, Commander."

Kassim whirled on Hunsa, "Where didst thou get
it, dog of an infidel?"

"Without the gate of the palace, my Lord. I found
it lying there where the Sahib had dropped it in his

"Allah! thou art a liar of brazenness." He spoke
to a jamadar: "Have brought the leather nosebag of
a horse and hot ashes so that we may come by the

202 Caste

Then Kassim held the parchment close to the lamp
and scanned it. He rubbed a hand across his wrin
kled brow and pondered. "Beside the seal here is
the name, Rana Bhim," and he turned his fierce eyes
on Barlow.

"Yes, Commander; the Rana has put his seal upon
it that he will join his Rajputs with the British and
the Pindaris to drive from Mewar Sindhia the one
whose Dewan sent Hunsa to slay your Chief."

"Thou sayest so, but how know I that Hunsa is
not in thy hand, and that thou didst not prepare the
way for the killing? Here beside the name of the
Rana is drawn a lance; that suggests an order to kill,
a secret order." He turned to a sepoy, "Bring the
Rajput, Zalim."

While they waited Bootea said: "It was Nana Sahib
who sent Hunsa and the deceits to slay Amir Khan,
because he feared an alliance between the Chief and
the British."

"And thou wert one of them?"

"I came to warn Amir Khan, and "

"And what, woman the deceits were your own peo

"Yonder Sahib had saved my life saved me from
the harem of Nana Sahib, and I came to save his life
and your Chief's."

Now there was an eruption into the chamber; men
carrying a great pot of hot ashes, and one swinging
from his hand the nosebag of a horse; and with them
the Rajput.

"Here," Kassim said, addressing the Hindu, "what

Caste 203

means this spear upon this document? Is it a hint
to drive it home?"

The Rajput put his fingers reverently upon the
Rana's signature. "That, Commander, is the seal, the
sign. I am a Chondawat, and belong to the highest
of the thirty-six tribes of Mewar, and that sign of the
lance was put upon state documents by Chonda; it
has been since that time it is but a seal. Even as
that," and Zalim proudly swung a long arm toward
the wall where a huge yellow sun embossed on gypsum
rested "even that is an emblem of the Children of
the Sun, the Sesodias of Mewar, the Rana."

"It is well," Kassim declared; "as to this that is in
the message, to-morrow, with the aid of a mullah, we
will consider it. And now as to Hunsa, we would have
from him the truth."

He turned to the Gulab; "Go thou in peace, woman,
for our dead Chief had high regard for thee; and
Captain Sahib, even thou may go to thy abode, not
thinking to leave there, however, without coming to
pay salaams. Thou wouldst not get far."


When the two had gone Kassim clapped his hands
together: "Now then for the ordeal, the search for
truth," he declared.

Hot wood-ashes were poured into the horse-bag,
and, protesting, cursing, struggling, the powerful Ba-
gree was dragged to the centre of the room.

"Who sent thee to murder Amir Khan?" Kassim

"Before Bhowanee, Prince, I did not kill him!"

At a wave of Kassim's hand upward the bag of
ashes was clapped over the deceit's head, and he was
pounded on the back to make him breathe in the deadly
dust. Then the bag was taken off, and gasping, reel
ing, he was commanded to speak the truth. Once
Kassim said: "Dog, this is but gentle means; torches
will be bound to thy fingers and lighted. The last
thing that will remain to thee will be thy tongue, for
we have need of that to utter the truth."

Three times the nosebag was applied to Hunsa, like
the black cap over the head of a condemned murderer,
and the last time, rolling on the floor in agony, his
lungs on fire, his throat choked, his eyes searing like
hot coals, he gasped that he would confess if his life
were spared.

"Dog!" Kassim snarled, "thy life is forfeit, but the
torture will cease; it is reward enough speak!"

But the Bagree had the obstinate courage of a bull-

Caste 205

dog; the nerves of his giant physical structure were
scarce more vibrant than those of a bull; as to the
torture it was but a question of a slower death. But
his life was something to bargain for. Half dead from
the choking of his lungs, with an animal cunning he
thought of this; it was the one dominant idea in his
numbed brain. As he lay, his mighty chest pumping
its short staccato gasps, Commander Kassim said:
"Bring the dog of an infidel water that he may tell
the truth."

When water had been poured down the Bagree's
throat, he rolled his bloodshot eyes beseechingly
toward the Commander, and in a voice scarce beyond a
hoarse whisper, said: "If you do not kill me, Prince,
I will tell what I know."

"Tell it, dog, then die in peace," Kassim snarled.

But Hunsa shook his gorilla head, and answered,
"Bhowanee help me, I will not tell. If I die I die with
my spirit cast at thy shrine."

Kassim stamped his foot in rage; and a jamadar
roared: "Tie the torches to the infidel's fingers; we
will have the truth."

Half-a-dozen Pindaris darted forward, and poised
in waiting for the command to bind to the fingers of
the B agree oil-soaked torches; but Kassim moved
them back, and stood, his brow wrinkled in pondering,
his black eyes sullenly fixed on the face of the B agree.
Then he said: "What this dog knows is of more value
to our whole people, considering the message that has
been brought, than his worthless life that is but the
life of a swine."

206 Caste

He took a turn pacing the marble floor, and with
his eyes called a jamadar to one side. "These thugs,
when they cast themselves in the protection of Kali,
die like fanatics, and this one is but an animal. Tor
ture will not bring the truth. Mark you, Jamadar,
I will make the compact with him. Do not lead an
objection, but trust me."

"But the dead Chief, Commander?"

"Yes, because of him; he loved his people. And
the knowledge that yon dog has he would not have

"But is Amir Khan to be unavenged?" the jamadar

"Allah will punish yonder infidel for the killing of
one of the true faith. Go and summon the officers
from below and we will decide upon this."

Soon a dozen officers were in the room, and the
sowars were sent away. Then Kassim explained the
situation saying: "A confession brought forth by tor
ture is often but a lie, the concoction of a mind crazed
with pain. If this dog, who has more courage than
feeling, sees the chance of his life he will tell us the

But they expostulated, saying that if they let him
go free it would be a blot upon their name.

"The necessity is great," Kassim declared, "and
this I am convinced is the only way. We may leave
his punishment to Allah, for Allah is great. He will
not let live one so vile."

Finally the others agreed with Kassim who said
that he would take the full onus upon himself for

Caste 207

not slaying the murderer, that if there were blame let
it be upon his head. Then he spoke to Hunsa: "This
has been decided upon, dog, that if thou confess, reveal
to us information that is of value to our people, the
torture shall cease, and no man's head in the whole
Pindari camp shall be raised against thee either to
wound or take thy life."

"But the gaol, Hazari Sahib?"

"No, dog, if thou but tell the truth in full, that
we may profit, to-morrow thou may go free, and if any
man in the camp wounds thee his life will pay for it.
Till noon thou may have for the going; even food for
thy start on the way back to the land of thy
accursed tribe. By the Beard of the Prophet no man
of all the Pindari force shall wound thee. Now speak!
quick, for I have given a pledge."

There were murmurs amongst the jamadars at Kas-
sim's terms, for their hearts were full of hate for the
creature who had slain their loved chief. But Kassim
was a man famous for his intelligence. In all the
councils Amir Khan had been swayed by the Kazan's
judgment. It was an accursed price to pay, they felt,
but the Chief was dead; to kill his slayer perhaps was
not as great a thing as to have Hunsa's confession
written and attested to. All that vast horde of fierce
riding Pindaris and Bundoolas had been gathered by
Amir Khan with the object of being a power in the
war that was brewing the war in which the Mahrat-
tas were striving for ascendency, and the British
massing to crush the Mahratta horde. It had been
Amir Khan's policy to strike with the winning force;

208 Caste

perhaps his big body of hard-riding sowars being the
very power that would throw the odds to one or other
of the contenders. Their reward would be loot, un
limited loot, so dear to the heart of the Pindari, and
an assignment of territory. To know, beyond doubt,
who had instigated the murder of the Chief was pre
cious knowledge. It might be, as the Gulab had said,
Sindhia's Dewan, but there was the English officer
there at that time; and the message of friendship may
have been a message of deceit and the true object
the slaying of Amir Khan who was looked upon as a
great leader.

Hunsa had lain watching furtively the effect of the
Commander's words upon the others; now he said, "I
will tell the truth, Hazari, for thou hast given a
promise in the name of Allah that I am free of death
at the hands of thy people."

"Wait, dog of an infidel!" Kassim commanded:
"quick, call the Mullah to write the confession, for
this is a sin to be washed out in much blood, and the
proof must be at hand so the guilty will have no plea
for mercy. Also it is a matter of secrecy; we here
being officers will have it on our honour, and the
Mullah, because of his priesthood, will not speak of it:
also he will bear witness of its sanctity."

Soon a Pindari announced, "Commander Sahib, here
is the holy one," and at a word from Kassim the priest
unrolled his sheets of yellow paper, and sitting cross-
legged upon a cushion with a salaam to the dead Chief,
dipped his quill in a little ink-horn and held it poised.

Then Hunsa, his eyes all the time furtively watching

Caste 209

the scowling faces about him, fear and distrust in his
heart over the gift of his life, but impelled by his
knowledge that it was his only chance, narrated the
story of Nana Sahib and the Dewan's scheme to rid
the Mahrattas of the leader they feared, Amir Khan;
told that they knew that the British were sending over
tures for an alliance, but that fearing to kill the mes
senger unless it could be done so secretly it would
never be discovered they had determined to remove
the Chief. When he spoke of the other Bagrees, Kas-
sim realised that in the excitement of fixing the murder
upon one there they had forgotten his troop associ
ates, and a hurried order was passed for their cap

Of course it was too late; the others, at the first
alarm, had slipped away.

When the confession was finished Kassim com
manded the Mullah to rub his cube of India ink over
the thumb of the deceit and the mark was imprinted
on the paper. Then he was taken to one of the cave
cells cut out of the solid rock beneath the palace, and
imprisoned for the night.

"Come, Jamadars," Kassim said and his voice that
had been so coarse and rough now broke, and sobs
floated the words scarce articulate "and reverently
let us lay Amir Khan upon his bed. Then, though
there be no call of the muezzin, we will kneel here,
even without our prayer carpets, and pray to Allah for
the repose of the soul of a true Musselman and a great
warrior. May his rest be one of peace!"

He passed his hand lovingly over the face of the

210 Caste

Chiei and down his beard, and his strong fearless eyes
were wet.

Then Amir Khan was lifted by the jamadars and
carried to a bed in the room that adjoined the surya

When they had risen from their silent prayer, Kas-
sim said: "Go ye to your tents. I will remain here
with the guard who watch."


Captain Barlow and Bootea had gone from the scene
of the murder through the long dim-lighted hall, its
walls broken here and there by niches of mystery,
some of them closed by marble fretwork screens that
might have been doors, and down the marble stairway,
in silence. Barlow had slipped a hand under her arm
in the way of both a physical and mental sustaining;
his fingers tapped her arm in affectionate approbation.
Once he muttered to himself in English, "Splendid
girl!" and not comprehending, the Gulab turned her
star-eyes upward to his face.

At the gate the soldier who had accompanied them
spoke to the guard, and the latter, standing on a step
bellowed: "Ho, ye Pindaris, here goes forth the Afghan
in innocence of the foul crime! Above they have the
slayer, who was Hunsa the thug; and, Praise be to
Allah! they will apply the torture. Let him pass in
peace, all ye. And take care that no one molest the
beautiful. Gulab. The peace of Allah upon the soul
of the great Amir Khan!"

A rippling thunder of deep voices vibrated the
thronged street, crying, "Allah Akbar! the peace of
God be upon the soul of the dead Chief!"

A lane was opened up to them by the grim, wild-
eyed, bandit-looking horsemen, tulwar over shoulder


212 Caste

and knives in belt, who called: "Back ye! the favoured
of the Commander passes. Back, make way! 'tis an

The faces of the soldiers that had been wreathed
in revenge and blood-lust when Barlow had been
brought, were now friendly, and there were cries of
"Salaam, brother! salaam, Flower of the Desert!" for
it had been spread that the Gulab had discovered the
murderer, had denounced him.

^Brave little Gulab!" Barlow said in a low voice,
bending his head to look into her eyes, for he felt the
arm trembling against his hand.

She did not answer, and he knew that she was

When they were past the turbulent crowd he said,
"Bootea, your people will all have fled or been cap

"Yes, Sahib," she gasped.

"Perhaps even your maid servant will have been

"No, Sahib, they would not take her; her home is

By her side he travelled to where the now deserted
tents of the deceits stood silent and dark, like little
pagodas of sullen crime. A light flickered in one tent,
and silhouetted against its canvas side they could see
the form of a woman crouched with her head in her

"The maid is there," Barlow said: "but it is not
enough. I will bring my blankets and sleep here at
the door of your tent."

Caste 213

"No, Sahib, it is not needed," the girl protested.

"Yes, Bootea, I will come." Then with a little
laugh he added: "The gods have ordained that we take
turns at protecting each other. It is now my turn;
I will come soon."

She turned her small oval face up to look at this
wonderful man, to discover if he were really there,
that it was not some kindly god who would vanish.
He clasped the face, with its soul of adoration, in his
two palms and kissed her. Then fearing that she
would fall, for she had closed her eyes and reeled, he
took her by the arm, opened the flap of the tent, and
steadied her into the arms of her handmaid.

It was a fitful night's sleep for Barlow; the beat
of horses' hoofs on the streets or the white sands be
yond was like the patter of rain on a roof. There
were hoarse bull-throated cries of men who rode hither
and thither; tremulous voices floated on the night air
wild dirges, like the weird Afghan love song. Some
times a long smooth-bore barked its sharp call. At
sunrise the Captain was roused from this tiring sleep
by the strident weird sing-song of the Mullah sending
forth from a minaret of the palace his call to the faith
ful to prayer, prayer for the dead Chief. And when
the voice had ceased its muezzin:

" Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar;
Confess that there is no God but God;
Confess that Mohammad is the prophet of God;
Come to Prayer, Come to Prayer,
For Prayer is better than Sleep."

214 Caste

the big drums sent forth a thundering reverberation.

He could hear the voices of the two women within,
and called, "Bootea, Bootea!"

The Galub came shyly from the tent saying,
"Salaam, Sahib." Then she stood with her eyes
drooped waiting for him to speak.

"It is this, Bootea," Barlow said, "do not go away
until I am ready to depart, then I will take you where
you wish to go."

"If it is permitted, Sahib, I will wait," she answered
as simply as a child.

Barlow put a finger under her chin, and lifting her
face smiled like a great boy, saying: "Gulab, you are
wonderfully sweet."

Then Barlow went to the serai, looked after his
horse, had his breakfast, and passed back into the
town. He saw a continuous stream of men moving
toward the small river that swept southward, to the
east of the town, and asking of one the cause was told
that the ahirid (murderer) for now Hunsa was
known as the murderer was being sent on his way.
The speaker was a Rajput. "It is strange, Afghan,"
he said, "that one who has slain the Chief of these
wild barbarians, who are without gods, should be
allowed to depart in peace. We Rajputs worship a
god that visits the sin upon the head of the sinner,
but the order has been passed that no man shall harm
the slayer of Amir Khan. Perhaps it is whispered in
the Bazaar that Commander Kassim coveted the

Barlow being in the guise of a Musselman said

Caste 215

solemnly: "Allah will punish the murderer, mark you
well, man of Rajasthan."

"As to that, Afghan, one stroke of a tulwar would
put the matter beyond doubt; as it is, let us push for
ward, because I see from yonder steady array of
spears that the Pindaris ride toward the river, and I
think the prisoner is with them. It was one Hunsa,
a thug, and though the thugs worship Bhowanee, they
are worse than the whangs who are of no caste at

As Barlow came to where the town reached to the
river bank he saw that the concourse of people was
heading south along the river. This was rather
strange, for a bridge of stone arches traversed by the
aid of two islands the Nahal to the other side. A
quarter of a mile lower down he came to where the
river, that above wandered in three channels over
a rocky bed, now glided sluggishly in one channel. It
was like a ribboned lake, smooth in its slow slip over
a muddy bed, and circling in a long sweep to the bank.
On the level plain was a concourse of thousands,
horsemen, who sat their lean-flanked Marwari or
Cabul horses as though they waited to swing into a
parade, the march past. The sowars Barlow had seen
in the town were in front of him, riding four abreast,
and at a command from their leader, opened up and
formed a scimitar-shaped band, their horses' noses
toward the river. As he came close Barlow saw Kas-
sim in a group of officers, and Hunsa, a soldier on
either side of him, was standing free and unshackled
in front of the Commander. Save for the clanking of

216 Caste

a bit, or the clang of a spear-haft against a stirrup,
or the scuffle of a quick-turning horse's hoofs, a silence
rested upon that vast throng. Wild barbaric faces
held a look of expectancy, of wonderment, for no one
knew why the order had been passed that they were
to assemble at that point.

Kassim caught sight of Barlow as he drew near,
and raising his hand in a salute, said: "Come close,
Sahib, the slayer of Amir Khan, in accordance with
my promise, is to go from our midst a free man. His
punishment has been left to Allah, the one God."

Without more ado he stretched forth his right arm
impressively toward the murky stream, that, where it
rippled at some disturbance carried on its bosom rib
bons of gold where the sun fell, saying:

"Yonder lies the way, infidel, strangler, slayer of a
follower of the Prophet! Depart, for, failing that, it
lacks but an hour till the sun reaches overhead, and
thy time will have elapsed thou will die by the tor
ture. You are free, even as I attested by the Beard
of the Prophet. And more, what is not in the cove
nant," Kassim drew from beneath his rich brocaded
vest the dagger of Amir Khan, its blade still carrying
the dried blood of the Chief "this is thine to keep
thy vile life if you can. Seest thou if the weapon
is still wedded to thy hand. It is that thou goest
hand-in-hand with thy crime."

He handed the knife to a soldier with a word of
command, and the man thrust it in the belt of Hunsa.

Even as Kassim ceased speaking two round bulbs
floated upon the smooth waters of the sullen river,

Caste 217

and above them was a green slime; then a square
shovel just topped the water, and Barlow could hear,
issuing from the thing of horror, a breath like a sigh.
He shuddered. It was a square-nosed mugger (croco
dile) waiting. And beyond, the water here and there
swirled, as if a powerful tail swept it.

And Hunsa knew; his evil swarthy face turned as
green as the slime upon the crocodile's forehead; his
powerful naked shoulders seemed to shrivel and shrink
as though blood had ceased to flow through his veins.
He put his two hands, clasped palm to palm, to his
forehead in supplication, and begged that the ordeal
might pass, that he might go by the bridge, or across
the desert, or any way except by that pool of horrors.

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