W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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what like the departure of a Nawab. Chief Kassim
and a dozen officers had clanked down the marble
steps from the palace with him and stood lined up at
the gates raising their deep voices in full-throated
salaams and blessings of Allah upon his head.

The horsemen of the guard, spears to boot-leg,
fierce-looking riders of the plain, were lined up four
abreast. The nakara in the open court of the palace
was thundering a farewell like a salute of light artil

The tonga with Bootea had gone on before with a
guard of two out-riders.

All that day they travelled to the south, on their
left, against the eastern sky, the lofty peaks of the
Vindhya mountains holding the gold of the sun till
they looked like a continuous chain of gilded temples
and tapering pagodas. For hours the road lay over
hard basaltic rocks and white limestone; then again
it was a sea of white sand they traversed with its
blinding eye-stinging glare.

At night, when they camped, Barlow had a fresh
insight into the fine courtesy, the rough nobility that
breeds into the bone of men who live by the sword
and ride where they will. The Pindaris built their
camp-fires to one side, and two of them came to where


Caste 237

the Sahib had spread his blankets near the tonga and
built a circle of smudge-fires from chips of camel-dung
to keep away the flies. Then they went back to their
fellows, and when Barlow had pulled the blanket over
himself to sleep the clamour of voices where the horse
men sat was hushed.

And Bootea had been treated like a princess. At
each village that they passed some would ride in and
rejoin the cavalcade with fowl, and eggs, and fruit,
and sugar cane, and fresh vegetables; and a mention
of payment would only draw a frown, an exclamation
of, "Shookur! these are but gifts from Allah. There
has been more than payment that we have not cut
off the kotwal's head, not even demanded a peep at
the money chest. We are looked upon as men who
confer favours."

It was the second day one of the horses in the tonga
showing lameness, or perhaps even weariness, for the
yoke of the tonga across their backs did not ride with
the ease of a man, the jamadar went into a village and
came forth with his men leading two well-fed horses.
Again when Barlow spoke of pay for them the jamadar
answered, "We will leave these two with the unbeliev
ers, and a message, in the name of Allah, that when
we return if the horses we leave are not treated like
those of the Sultan there will be throats slit. Bis-
millah! but it is a fair way of treating these unbe
lievers; they should be grateful."

The road ran through the large towns of Bhopal
and Sehore, and at each place Jamadar Jemla ex
plained to all and sundry of the officials that the Patan,

238 Caste

meaning Barlow, was a trusted officer with Sindhia and
they were escorting a favourite for Sindhia's harem.
It was a plausible story, and avoided interference, for
while the Pindaris might be turned back if there was
a force handy, to interfere with a lady of the King's
harem might bring a horde of cut-throat Mahrattas
down on them with a snipping off of official heads.

On the fourth day, and now they were on a good
trunk road that ran to Indore, and branching to the
left, that crossed the Nerbudda River at Mandhatta,
they were constantly passing pilgrims on their way
to the Temple of Omkar. In the affrighted eyes of
the Hindus Barlow could read their dread of the Pin
daris; they would cringe at the roadside and salaam,
as fearful were they as if a wolf-pack swept down the

The jamadar would laugh in his deep throat, and
twist his black moustache with forefinger and thumb,
and call the curse of Mahomet upon these worshippers
of stone images and foul gods. He loved to ride stir
rup to stirrup with the Englishman, and Barlow found
delight in the man's broad conception of life; the
petty things seemed to have no resting place in his
mind, unless perhaps as a matter for ridicule. The
sweep of a country with free rein and a sharp sword,
and always the hazard of loot or death was an engross
ing subject. Even the enemy who fought and bled and
died, were like themselves by Allah! men; but the
merchants, the shop-keepers, and the money-lenders,
who cringed and paid tribute when the Pindaris drove
at them in a raid, were pigs, cowardly dogs who robbed

Caste 239

the poor and gave only to the accursed Brahmins and
their foul gods. He would dwell lovingly upon the
feats of courage of the Rajputs, lamenting that such
fine men should be excluded from heaven, dying as
they did such glorious deaths, sword in hand, because
of their mistaken infidelity; they were souls lost be
cause of being led away from a true god, the one god,
Allah, through false priests.

"Mark thou, Sahib," Jemla said once, "I do not
hold that it is a merit in the sight of Allah to slay
such except there is need, but when it is a jihad, a
question of the supremacy of a true god, Allah, or the
Sahib's God which no doubt is one and the same
as against the evil gods of destruction and depravity
such as Shiva and Kali, then it is a merit to slay the
children of evil. Mahomet did much to put this
matter right," he declared; "he made good Musselmen
of thousands who would otherwise have been cast
into jehannum (hell), at times holding the sword over
their heads as argument. Therein Mahomet was a
true prophet, a saver of souls rather than a destroyer
of such."

By noon they were drawing toward Mandhatta,
and when they came to where the road from Indore
to Mandhatta joined the one they were travelling,
there was an increase in the stream of pilgrims and
Barlow could see a look of uneasiness in the jamadar's

There was a grove of wild mango trees on the
left, running from the road down to a stream that
gurgled on its way from the hills to the Nerbudda

240 Caste

river, and Jemla said, "We might camp here, Sahib,
for there is both good water and fire-wood."

They could see, as they rested and ate, a party of
Hindus down by the stream where there was a shrine
to Krishna that nestled under a huge banyan that was
like the roof of a cave from which dropped to earth to
take roots hundreds of slender shoots, like stalactites,
and whose roots, creeping from the earth like giant
worms, crawled on to lave in the stream. When they
had finished eating, Jemla said, "That is a temple of
the Preserver;" then he laughed a full-throated sneer:
"Allah kafiz! (God protect us), give me a fine-edged
tulwar, and mine own is not so dull methinks yon
grinning affair of stone would not preserve a dozen of
these infidels had there been cause for anger."

"What do the pilgrims there, for they go, it would
seem, to Omkar?" Barlow queried.

"There has been a death perhaps it was even a
year ago, and at a shrine of Krishna, especially this
one that is on a water that is like a trickle of holy
tears to the sacred Narbudda, straddhas (prayers for
the dead) are said. Come, Sahib, we will look upon
this mummy, the only savour of grace about the infidel
thing being that it perhaps brings to their hearts a
restfulness, having the faith that they have helped the
soul of the dead."

Barlow rose from where he sat and they went down
to where a party of a dozen were engaged in the
service of an appeal to the god for rest for the soul of
a dead relative. The devotees did not resent the ap
pearance of the two who were garbed as Moslems.

Caste 241

The shrine was one of those, of which there are many
in India, that, curiously enough, is sacred to both
Hindus and followers of the Prophet. On a flat rock,
laved by the stream, was an imprint of a foot, a
legendary foot-print of Krishna, perhaps left there as
he crossed the stream to gambol with the milkmaids
in the meadow beyond. And it was venerated by the
Musselman because a disciple of Mohammed had at
tained to great sanctity by austerities up in the moun
tain behind, and had been buried there.

But Barlow was watching with deep interest the
ceremonial form of the straddha. He saw the women
place balls of rice, milk, and leaves of the tulsi plant
in earthenware platters, then sprinkle over this flowers
and kusa-grass; they added threads, plucked from
their garments, to typify the presenting of the white
death-sheet to the dead one; a priest all the time mum
bling a prayer, at the end of the simple ceremony
receiving a fee of five rupees.

As the two men turned back toward their camp
Jemla chuckled: "Captain Sahib, thou seest now the
weapon of the Brahmin; his loot of silver pieces was
acquired with little effort and no strife; as to the rice-
balls the first jackal that catches their wind will have
a filled stomach. It is something to be thought of in
the way of regard for a long abiding in heaven that
such foolish ones will not attain to it. The setting
up of false gods, carved images, I was once told by a
priest of thy faith, is sufficient to exclude such. It
makes one's tulwar clatter in its scabbard to see such
profanation in an approach to God."

242 Caste

Then Jemla spoke of the matter that had engendered
the troubled look Barlow had observed: "The Captain
Sahib has intimated that the One" and he tipped his
head toward the girl "would proceed to the temple
of Omkar to make offerings at the shrine?"

"Yes, she goes there."

"There will be a hundred thousand of these infidels
at Mandhatta, and when they see fifty Pindaris, tulwar
and spear and match-lock, there will be unrest; per
haps there will be altercation they will fear that we
ride in pillage."

"I was thinking of that," Barlow replied; "and it
would be as well that you turned your faces home

"We have received an order from our Chief that
our lives are at the disposal of the Captain Sahib,
and we will drive into the heart of a Mahratta force
if needs be, but if it is the Sahib's command we will
ride back from here," Jemla said.

"Yes; there is no need of a guard for the Gulab
now just that the tonga carries her as far as she
wishes it," Barlow concurred.

"Indeed we are not needed; those infidels come to
worship their heathen gods, not to combat men, and
Mandhatta is but a matter of twelve kos now," Jemla

When Captain Barlow, and Bootea in the tonga,
drew out from the encampment to proceed on their
way the Pindaris rode on in front, and then, at a
command from Jemla, wheeled their horses into a con
tinuous line facing the road, stirrup to stirrup, the

Caste 243

horsemen sitting erect with their tulwars at the salute.
As Barlow passed a cry of, "Salaam, aleikum! the
protection of Allah be upon you," rippled down the
line. Then the horsemen wheeled with their faces to
the north. Jemla swept a hand to his forehead and
from his deep throat welled a farewell, "Salaam, bhai!


The jamadar's tribute from man to man, one en
cased in a dark skin and one in a white, was akin to
the tribulation that would not be driven from Barlow's
mind over the Gulab, that in their case made the
matter of a skin colourisation the bar sinister. He rode
in a brooding silence. And now the way was one of
ascent toward the pass through the Vindhya moun
tains; a red gravelly undulating formation had given
place to basaltic rocks. They passed from groups of
mhowa trees and left behind a wide shallow stream,
its bed dotted with pools fringed by great kowa trees,
and its banks lined by a thick green cover of jamun
and karonda. Thorny babul thrust their spiked
branches out over the roadway, white with tufts of
cotton torn by its thorns from bales, loose pressed,
on their way to market in buffalo carts; "Babul-the
thief," the natives called this acacia. Higher up a
torch-wood tree gleamed as if sprayed with gold, its
limbs, lean and bare of foliage, holding at their ex
tremities in wisp-like fingers bright, yellow, solitary
blooms. From a tendu tree a pair of droll little brown
monkeys chattered and grimaced at the clattering cart.

A spotted owlet, disturbed by the driver's encourag
ing, "Pop-pop! Dih-dih-dih! Ho-ho-ho! children of
jungle swine; brothers to buffalo!" addressed to the
horses lagging in the climb, fluttered away with his
silly little cackle.

These incidents of travel were almost unnoticed of
Barlow. All up the climb the retrospect was with him,


Caste 245

claiming his thoughts. Just that all that was in evi
dence, a pigment in the skin, caste; and yet reacting
away back to God's mandate against the union of the
white and black. And verily a sin to be visited even
unto the third and fourth generation, for the bar
sinister would be upon his children; they would be
half-castes with all of the opprobrium the name carried.
Even the son of a king, the offspring of such a union
would be spoken of in mess and drawing-room as a
half-caste: the indelible sign would be upon him, the
blue tint to the white moons in his finger nails.
Barlow shuddered. Why contemplate the matter at
all it was impossible. Nana Sahib had named the
barrier when he had spoken of varna, meaning colour,
as caste, a shirt-of-mail that protected from disaster.
Sometimes as he dropped back past the tonga the
face of Bootea would appear beneath the lifted curtain,
and though on the lips would be a sweet ravishing
smile, the eyes were pathetic, full of heart hunger.
Sometimes he vowed that he would put off the parting
dream on; carry her on to her people at Chunda.
Then he would realise that this was cowardice, a desire
flooding his sense of nobility into a chasm of possible
disaster; not fair to the girl; the animal mastery of
male over female, the domination of sex. Beyond
doubt, wrapped in his arms, not even the omnipotence
of the gods would take her away from him. If there
were less innate nobility in his avatar, if he were like
men that were called red-blooded men, yet lacking
the finer sensibility, this might be; not a villainous
rush, just drifting. That was it, the superlative excel-

246 Caste

lence of the Gulab; the very quality that attracted,
was the shield, the immaculate robe that clothed her
and preserved her like a vestal virgin from such viol
ation. Barlow could not word all these things; sub
consciously they swayed him like the magnetic
needle, always toward the pole of right.

When they had topped the pass and descended into
the valley of the Narbudda, clothed in arboreal beauty,
passed from a forest of evergreen sal to giant teak
trees with huge umbrella-like leaves that formed a
canopy over the straight column-like boles of eighty
feet, and on amidst topes of wild mango and wild date,
down, down, to the lower levels where the dhak jungles
gave way to feathery bamboo and plantain and waving
grass, the sun, like a great ball of molten gold, was
splashing its yellow sheen upon the waters of a stream
that hurried south to Mother Narbudda.

There was a small village of Gonds, or Korkus, like
a toy thing, the houses woven from split bamboo,
nestling against the billowing hills.

"Here we will rest and eat," Barlow said to the

"As the Sahib wishes," she answered, and smiled at
him like a child.

The huge medallion of gold had slid down in the
west from the dome through which were shot great
streamers of red and mauve, and a peacock perched
high in a sal tree far up on the mountainside sent
forth his strident cry of "Miaou! miaou! miaou!" his
evening salute to the god of warmth.

As the harsh call, like an evening muezzin, died out,

Caste 247

the sweet song of a shama, in tones as pure as those of
a nightingale, broke the solemn hush of eventide.

Barlow turned his face to where the songster was
perched in the top branches of a wild-fig, and Bootea
said in a low voice: "Sahib, it is said that the shama
is a soul come back to earth to sing of love that men
may not grow harsh."

Soon a silver moon peeped over the walls of the
Vindhya hills, and from the forests above the night
wind, waking at the fleeing of the sun, whispered down
through feathered sal trees carrying the scent of bal
sam and from a group of salei trees a sweet unguent,
the perfume of the gum which is burnt at the shrines
of Hindu gods.

When they had eaten, Barlow said: "I wonder,
Gulab, if this is like kailas, the heaven those who
have passed through many transitions and become
holy, attain to."

"It is just heaven, my Lord," she replied fervently.

"And to-morrow I will be plodding on through the
sands and dust, and I'll be all alone. But you, little
girl, you will be making your peace with Omkar and
dreaming of the greater heaven."

"Yes, it will be that way; the Sahib will not have
the tribulation of protecting Bootea, and she will be in
the protection of Omkar."

There was so much of pathetic resignation in the
timbre of the girl's voice, for it was half sigh, that
Barlow shivered, as if the chilling mist of the valley
had crept up to the foothills. Why had he not treated
her as an alien, kept all interest in abeyance? His

248 Caste

self recrimination was becoming a disease, an afflic

He rose, muttering, "Damn! I'm like the young
wasters that swarm up to London from Oxford and
get splashed with the girls from the theatres that's
what I'm like."

As he strode over to where his horse was tethered,
munching his ration of grain, Bootea followed him
with her eyes, wondering why he had broken into
English; perhaps he was chanting an evening prayer.

When Barlow came back he fell to wishing that they
were at Mandhatta so that he would start on the rest
of his journey in the morning; he dreaded the long
evening with the girl. He could have sat there with
Elizabeth, although their marriage hovered on the
horizon, and talked of trivial things: of sport, of
shooting; or damned the Executive sitting beneath
punkahs in offices with windows all closed, far away
in Calcutta. Or could have traversed, mentally,
leagues of sea and rehabilitated past scenes in London.
It would be like talking to a brother officer. But
with the Gulab, and the hush and perfume of the
forest-clad hills, and the gentle glamour of moonlight,
his senses would smother placid intellectuality; he
would be like a toper with a bottle at his elbow mock
ing weak resolve.

Then the girl said something: a shy halting request
that set his blood galloping: "Sahib, it is not far to
Mandhatta four kos, or perhaps it is five; would it
be unpermitted to suggest that we go there, for the
moon is beautiful and the road is good."

Caste 249

"All right, girl!" and remembering that he had
spoken in English, he added, "It will be expedient,
for you will there find shelter."

"Yes, Sahib, Guru Swami will be there, and I am
known of him; and there are places where one may

"I'll tell the driver to hitch up," Barlow declared,

But she laid a detaining hand upon his arm: "Sahib,
the sweetest thing in all Bootea's life was the time she
rode on the horse with him. Then, too, the moon,
that is the soul of Purusha, smiled upon her. Would it
be permitted to Bootea just one more happiness, for
to-morrow to-morrow "

The girl turned away, and seemed busy adjusting
her gold-embroidered jacket.

"So you shall, Gulab," Barlow declared. And he,
too, thought of the sweetness of that ride where she
lay like a confiding child in his arms; and also for
him, too, was to-morrow to-morrow; and for him,
too, just one more foolish, useless happiness just a
sensuous burying of his face in flowers that on the
morrow would have shrivelled.

"I'll send the tonga on ahead," he declared, "and
we'll just have that jolly old farewell ride together,
girl I'd love it."

Now she turned back to him and her face was placid,
soft, content, as though Mona Lisa had stepped out
from the painted canvas, and, now embodied, was there
listening to the sigh of the night-wind through the
feathered sal forest.

250 Caste

With ejaculations of "Bap, bap, bap! Shabdz!" and
queer gurgling clucking of the throat, and a sonorous
rumble from the wide, low wheels, the driver drove
the tonga on into the moonlight. Barlow had saddled
his horse and thrown his blanket loosely behind the
saddle. The air was chilling, but his sheepskin coat
would turn its cold breath; the blanket was for Bootea.

As he had done once before, his feet in stirrups, he
reached down a hand and swung the girl up in front
of him. Then he enveloped her in the blanket as she
nestled against his chest, arms about his waist. Her
warm body was like a draught of wine and he mut
tered, "My God! I shouldn't have done this!" But
he knew that he would have had that ride if devils
had jeered at him from the jungle that lined the road.

As the horse swung along in leisured walking stride,
the girl seemed to have gone to sleep; her cheek lay
against Barlow's shoulder, and he could feel the pulsat
ing throb of her heart. Once a sigh came from her
lips, but it was like a breath of deep content. Barlow
felt that he must talk to the girl; his senses were
rampant; he was sitting like the lotus-eaters drinking
in a deadly intoxication.

But it was Bootea who broke the silence as though
she, too, felt herself slipping. She took from beneath
her vestment a little bag of silk and taking from it a
ruby she put it in Barlow's hand, saying: "Here is the
'Lamp of Akbar;' it protects and gives power."

"Where did you get this magnificent ruby, girl it
is of great value?" Barlow queried in amazement.

"Do you remember, Sahib, when Bootea asked for

Caste 251

the turban of Hunsa, the time it was stripped from his
head, and the paper of message found hidden in it?"

"Yes, you said you would take it back to the Bagrees
to show them that Hunsa was dead."

He could hear the Gulab chuckle. "That was but
the deceit of a woman, Sahib; the simple things that a
woman says to deceive a clever man. I knew that
Hunsa had the ruby sewn in a corner of the turban,
and when I had taken the stone I burned the turban
in the fire, for it was like Hunsa very dirty."

"Where did Hunsa get it?"

"When the Bagrees killed the jewel merchant, that
time the Sahib saved Bootea, he stole it from the other
decoits, hiding it in his turban, because the Dewan
wanted it."

"But I don't want the stone I can't take it,"
Barlow expostulated.

"It is for a service, Sahib. Nana Sahib will assur
edly cause Ajeet to be put to death if Bootea does not
return to his desire, but the Sahib can buy his life
with the ruby of great price."

"But if it were stolen would not Nana Sahib demand
it, and then kill Ajeet?"

"No; it was not his ruby; and to obtain it he will
set Ajeet free."

"I'll do that, Gulab," Barlow agreed, and the girl's
hand pushed up from the folds of the blanket to
caress his cheek, and her face nestled against his

The fingers thrilled him, and, though he had made
solemn vow that he would ride like an anchorite, he

252 Caste

bent his head and kissed her with a claiming warmth
that caused her to cry out as if in misery.

Presently a whimsical fancy swayed the girl, and
she said, "Ayub Alii!"

Barlow laughed, and answered: "Bismillah!"

"So, Afghan, riding thus, it is not disrespect, just
that we be of different faith, Hindu and Musselman."

"If it were thus, we'd not part at Mandhatta. And
as to the faith, thou wouldst become a follower of the

"Yes, Bootea would. If she could go forever thus
she would sacrifice entrance to kailas. But this is
heaven; and perhaps Omkar, when I make the sacri
fice I mean offering will listen to Bootea's prayers,
and and "

"And what, Gulab?" Barlow asked, for the girl
turned her face against his breast, and her voice had

Their thoughts were distracted by a din in front
that shattered the solemn hush of the night. There
was a thunderous beat of tom-toms, the shrill rasping
screech of conch-shells, and in intervals of subversion
of instrumental clamour they could hear women's
voices, high-pitched, singing the scahailia (song of joy).
Loud cries of "Jae, Jae, Omkar!" rose in a chorus from
a hundred swelling throats.

At a turning around a huge banyan tree they saw the
flickering flames of torches, and Barlow knew that
plodding in front was a large body of pilgrims.

He quickened his horse's pace, drawing Bootea
closer to hide her from curious eyes, and as he passed

Caste 253

the Hindus he knew from their scowling faces and cries
of, "It is a Kaffir a barbarian!" that they took him
for a Mussulman, perhaps one of Sindhia's Arabs.

At the head of the procession, carried on a platform
gaily decorated with gaudy cloths, borne on the
shoulders of four men, was a figure of Ganesha. The

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