W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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the girlish effect. A small white-and-gold turban, even
with its jauntiness, seemed just the very thing to check
the austere simplicity. The girl's eyes, like Ajeet's,
were the eyes of some one unafraid, of one born to a
caste that felt equality. When they turned to those
who sat in the brake they were calmly meditative;
they were the eyes of a child, modest, but with the un
abashed confidence of youth.

Elizabeth, perhaps unreasonably, for the three of
them sat so close together in the brake, fancied that the
Gulab's gaze constantly picked out the handsome Cap
tain Barlow.

An imp touched Nana Sahib, and he said: "I'd
swear there was Rajput blood in that girl. If I knew
of some princess having been stolen I'd say she stood
yonder. The eyes are simply ripping; baby eyes, that,
when roused, assist in driving a knife under a man's
fifth rib. I've seen a sambhur doe with just such eyes

Caste 25

cut into ribbons a Rampore hound with her sharp

"Well, Prince," Elizabeth said, "I suppose you know
the women of this land better than either Captain Bar
low or myself, and you're probably right, for I see in a
belt at her waist the jewelled hilt of a dagger."

Nana Sahib laughed: "My dear Miss Hodson, I
never play with edged tools; and Captain "

But Nana Sahib's raillery was cut short by a small
turmoil as the bleating goat of sacrifice was dragged
forward to a stone daubed with vermillion upon which
rested a small black alabaster image of Kali; while
a guru, with sharpened knife, hung near like a falcon
over a quivering bird. Three times the goat's head was
thrust downward in obeisance to the black goddess;
there was a flash of steel in the sunlight, and hot blood
gushed forth, to dye with its crimson flood the base of
the idol.

A Bagree darted forward and with a stroke of his
tulwar clipped the neck from a pitcher and held it
beneath the gurgling flood till it was filled.

From where Elizabeth sat she looked across the
shoulder of Nana Sahib as they watched the sacri
fice; she saw him quiver and lean forward, his shoulders
tip as though he would spring from the brake. His
face had drawn into hard lines, his lips were set tight
in intensity across the teeth so that they showed be
tween in a thin line of white. The blood seemed to
have fascinated him; he was oblivious of her presence.
She heard him murmur, "Parvati, Parvati! There is
blood, blood wait, thou, Parvati."

26 Caste

The bay Arabs perhaps their sensitive nostrils
drank in the smell of fresh blood sprang into their
collars as if they would bolt in fright. The two syces,
squatting on their heels at the horses' heads, had sprung
to their feet, and now were caressing the necks of the
Arabs as they held them each with a hand by the bit.

There was a curious look in the Prince's eyes as he
turned them on Elizabeth; a mingling of questioning
and defiance was in them.

Now the holder of the pitcher stood up and the
guru drew upon it four red lines and dropped through
its shattered mouth a woman's bracelet of gold lacquer
beads. Then the pitcher was placed upon the Kali
shrine; raw sugar was inclosed in a cloth and tied to
a branch of the pipal.

The voice of the Bagree Chief, somewhat coarse
in its fulness, its independence, now was heard saying:
"Sirdar Sahib, and Dewan Sahib, we men of the nine
castes of the Bagrees now make the sacred oath.
Come close that ye may observe."

Jean Baptiste edged his horse to the side of the road,
and the Dewan, heaving from the palki, stood upright.

Ajeet dipped a tapering finger in the pitcher of blood,
touched the swaying bag of sugar, and laying the hand
against his forehead said, in a loud voice:

"If I, Ajeet Singh, break faith with Maharaja Sind-
hia, may Bhowanee punish me!"

Sookdee and Hunsa each in turn took the same sol
emn oath of allegiance.

As Hunsa turned from the ordeal and passed the
Gulab Begum to where the Bagrees stood in line, Nana

Caste 27

Sahib said, "Do you know, General, what that baboon-
faced jamadar made oath to?"

"The last one, my Prince?"

"Yes, he of the splendid ugliness. He testified, 'If I
fail to thrust a knife between the shoulder-blades of
Ajeet Singh may Bhowanee cast me as a sacrifice.' '

"He is jamadar to the other, Prince but why?"

"He looked upon the Rose Lady as he passed, and as
the blooded finger lay upon his forehead he looked
upon Ajeet, and in his pig eyes was unholiness."

The cold grey eyes of the Frenchman rested for a
second upon the burning black eyes of the speaker, and
again he shivered. He knew that the careless words
meant that Hunsa was an instrument, if needs be. But
the Prince's teeth were gleaming in a smile. And he
was saying: "If the play is over, Sirdar, turn your
mount over to the syce and pop up here beside Captain
Barlow I'll tool you home. The Captain might like
a peg."

The bay Arabs swirled the brake along the smooth
roadway that lay like a wide band of coral between
giant green walls of gold-mohr and tamarind; and some
times a pipal, its white bole and branches gleaming like
the bones of a skeleton through leaves of the deepest
emerald, and its roots daubed with the red paint of
devotion to the tree god. Here and there a neem, its
delicate branches dusted with tiny white star blossoms,
cast a sensuous elusive perfume to the vagrant breeze.
Once a gigantic jamon stretched its gnarled arms across
the roadway as if a devilfish held poised his tentacles
to snatch from the brake its occupants.

28 Caste

When they had swung in to the Sirdar's bungalow
and clambered down from the brake, Elizabeth said:
"If you don't mind, General Baptiste, I'll just drift
around amongst these beautiful roses while you men
have your pegs. No, I don't care for tea," she said,
in answer to his suggestion. There was a mirthless
smile on her lips as she added: "I'm like Captain Bar
low, I like the rose."

The three men sat on the verandah while a servant
brought brandy-and-soda, and Nana Sahib, with a
restless perversity akin to the torturing proclivity of
a Hindu was quizzing the Frenchman about his re

"You'll find them no good," he assured Baptiste
"rebellious cusses, worthless thieves. My Moslem
friend, the King of Oudh, tried them out. He got up a
regiment of them Budhuks, Bagrees all sorts; it
was named the Wolf Regiment that was the only
clever thing about it, the name. They stripped the uni
forms from the backs of the officers sent to drill them
and kicked them out of camp; said the officers put on
swank; wouldn't clean their own horses and weapons,
same as the other men."

Then he switched the torture made it more acute;
wanted to know what Sirdar Baptiste had got them for.

The Frenchman fumed inwardly. Nana Sahib was
at the bottom of the whole murderous scheme, and
here, like holding a match over a keg of powder, he
must talk about it in front of the Englishman.

When the brandy was brought Nana Sahib put a
hand over the top of his glass.

Caste 29

"Not drinking, Prince?" Barlow asked.

"No," Nana Sahib answered, "a Brahmin must diet;
holiness is fostered by a shrivelled skin."

"But pardon me, Prince," Barlow said hesitatingly,
"didn't going across the black-water to England break
your caste anyway so why cut out the peg?"

"Yes, Captain Sahib," the Prince's voice rasped
with a peculiar harsh gravity as though it were drawn
over the jagged edge of intense feeling, "my caste was
broken, and to get it back I drank the dregs; a cup of
liquid from the cow, and not milk either!"

Baptiste coughed uneasily for he saw in the eyes of
Nana Sahib smouldering passion.

And Barlow's face was suffused with a sudden flush
of embarrassment.

Perhaps it had been the sight of the blood sacrifice
that had started Nana Sahib on a line of bitter thought;
had stirred the smothering hate that was in his soul
until frothing bubbles of it mounted to his lips.

"I was born in the shadow of Parvati," Nana Sahib
said, "and when I came back from England I found
that still I was a Brahmin; that the songs of the
Bhagavad Gita and the philosophy of the Puranas was
more to me than what I had been taught at Oxford.
So I took back the caste, and under my shirt is the
junwa (sacred thread)."

A quick smile lighted his face, and he laid a hand on
Barlow's arm, saying in a new voice, a voice that was as
if some one spoke through his lips in ventriloquism:
"And all this, Captain, is a good thing for my friends
the English. The Brahmins, as you know, sway the

30 Caste

Mahrattas, and if I am of them they will listen to me.
The English boast and they have reason to that
they have made a friend of Nana Sahib. Here, Bap-
tiste, pour me a glass of plain soda, and we'll drink a
toast to Nana Sahib and the English."

"By Jove! splendid!" and Captain Barlow held out
a hand.

But Baptiste, saying that he would find Miss Hodson,
went out into the sunshine cursing.

"Now we will go back," Nana Sahib was saying as
the French General brought Elizabeth from among the
oleanders and crotons.


The day after the Bagrees had taken the oath of
allegiance to Sindhia the jamadars were summoned
to the Dewan's office to receive their instructions for
the carrying out of the mission.

In writing the Raja of Karowlee for the deceits,
Dewan Sewlal had not stated that the mission was
for the purpose of bringing home in a bag the head
of the Pindar Chief. As the wily Hindu had said
to Sirdar Baptiste: "We will get them here before
speaking of this dangerous errand. Once here, and
Karowlee's hopes raised over getting territory, if they
then go back without accomplishing the task, that ra
pacious old man will cast them into prison."

So when the Bagree leaders, closeted with Baptiste
and the Dewan in a room of the latter's bungalow,
learned what was expected of them they, to put it
mildly, received a shock. They had thought that it
was to be a decoity of treasure, perhaps of British treas
ure, and in their proficient hands such an affair did not
run into much danger generally.

The jamadars drew to one side and discussed the
matter; then Ajeet said: "Dewan Sahib, what is asked
of us should have been in the written message to our
Raja. We be deceits, that is true, it is our profession,
but the mission that is spoken of is not thus. Hunsa
has ridden with Amir Khan upon a foray into Hydera
bad, and he knows that the Chief is always well


32 Caste

guarded, and that to try for his head in the midst of
his troops would be like the folly of children."

The Dewan's fat neck swelled with indignation; his
big ox-like eyes bulged from their holding in anger:

"Phut-t-t!" he spat in derision. "Bagrees!" he
sneered; "descendants of Rajputs bah! Have you
brought women with you that will lead this force? And
danger!" he snarled he turned on Sookdee: "You
are Sookdee, son of Bhart, so it was signed."

"Yes, Dewan, it is true."

"You are the son of your mother, not Bhart," the
Dewan raved; "he was a brave man, but you speak of
danger bah!"

The Dewan's teeth, stained red at the edges from
the chewing of pan, showed in a sneering grin like a
hyena's as he added: "Bah! Ye are but thieves who
steal from those who are helpless."

Ajeet spoke: "Dewan Sahib, we be men as brave
as Bhart we are of the same caste, but there is a
difference between such an one as he took the head of
and a Pindari Chief. The Pindaris are the wild dogs
of Hind, they are wolves, and is it easy to trap a

But the Dewan had worked himself into a frenzy at
their questioning of the possibilities; he waved his fat
hands in a gesture of dismissal crying: "Go, go!"

As the jamadars stood hesitatingly, Sewlal swung to
the Frenchman: "Sirdar Sahib, make the order that I
cease payment of the thousand rupees a day to these
rebels, cowards. Go!" and he looked at Ajeet; "talk
it over amongst yourselves, and send to me one of your

Caste 33

wives that will lead a company lend your women your

Ajeet's black eyes flashed anger, and his brows were
drawn into a knot just above his thin, hawk-like nose;
suppressed passion at the Dewan's deadly insult was
in the even, snarling tone of his voice:

"Dewan Sahib, harsh words are profitless " his
eyes, glittering, were fixed on the bulbous orbs of
the man of the quill "and the talk of women in the
affairs of men is not in keeping with caste. If you pass
the order that we are not to have rations now that
we are far from home, what are we to do? Think you
that Raja Karowlee "

"Do! do! if you serve not Sindhia what care I what
you do. Go back to your honourable trade of thieving.
And as to Raja Karowlee, a man who keeps a colony of
cowards what care I for him. Go, go!"

The jamadars with glowering eyes turned from the
Dewan, even the harsh salaam they uttered in going
sounded like a curse.

And when they had gone, Baptiste was startled by
a gurgling laugh bubbling up from the Dewan's fat

"Sirdar," he chuckled, "I've given that posing Raj
put a poem to commit to memory. Ha-ha! They have
two strong reasons now for going their shame and
lean stomachs."

"They won't go," Baptiste declared. "When a man
is afraid of anything he can find a thousand reasons
for not making the endeavour. If Sindhia will give me
the troops I will make an end of Amir Khan."

34 Caste

"And make enemies of the Pindaris: that we do not
want; we want them to fight with us, not against us.
The great struggle is about to take place; Holkar and
Bhonsla and Sindhia, perhaps even the King of Oudh,
leagued together, the accursed English will be driven
from India. But even now they are trying to win
over Amir Khan and his hundred thousand horsemen
by promises of territory and gold. With the Chief out
of the way they would disband; he is a great leader,
and they flock to his flag. You saw the Englishman,
Captain Barlow?"

"Yes, Dewani. Good soldier, I should say."

"Well, Sirdar, we think that he waits here to under
take some mission to Amir Khan. You see, no office
can be conducted without clerks, and sometimes clerks

The Frenchman twisted nervously at his slim grey
moustache. "I comprehend, Dewani," he said pre
sently; "it is expedient that Amir Khan be eliminated."

"It would be a merciful thing," Sewlal added "it
would save bloodshed."

"Well, Dewani, I must depart now. It will be in
teresting to see what your Bagrees do, especially when
they become hungry."


For two days the Bagrees sat nursing their wrath
at the reproaches of Dewan Sewlal.

And the Dewan, in spite of his bold denunciation of
the decoits, was uneasy. If they went back to Karow-
lee with a story of ill treatment, of broken promises,
that hot-headed old Rajput would turn against Sindhia.
And the present policy of the Mahratta Confederacy
was to secure allies in the revolt against the British
which was being secretly planned. The Dewan was,
also afraid of Nana Sahib. He saw in that young man
a coming force. The Peshwa was actually the ruler of
Mahrattaland; he had a commanding influence because
he was the head of the Brahmins the Brahmins were
the real power and his adopted son, his inborn subtle
nature developed by his residence in England, now had
great influence over him. The Dewan knew that; and
if he failed to carry out this mission of removing the
dangerous one from Nana Sahib's path it might cost
him his place as Minister.

In his perplexity the Dewan asked Baptiste to for
mulate some excuse for getting Nana Sahib up to
Chunda some matter affecting the troops, so that he
might casually get a sustaining suggestion from the
wily Prince.

It so happened that when Nana Sahib swung up the


36 Caste

gravelled drive to the Sirdar's bungalow on a golden
chestnut Arab, Sewlal was there. But when, presently,
Baptiste's durwan came in to say that Jamadar Hunsa
of the new troops was sending his salaams to the Dewan,
the latter gasped. He would have told the Bagree
to wait, but Nana Sahib, catching the name Hunsa,

"By all means, my dear Baptiste, have that living
embodiment of murder in. His face is a delight. You
know" and he smiled at the General "that that
frightfulness of expression is the very reason why the
genial Kali has such a hold upon our people. You've
seen her, Baptiste; four arms, one holding a platter
to catch the blood that drips from a head she suspends
above it by another arm; the third hand clasps a sword,
and the fourth has the palm spread out as much as to
say, 'That is what will happen to you.' '

The Frenchman shivered. He was snapping a finger
and thumb in mental torture.

But Nana Sahib chuckled: "Her tongue protrudes
thirsting for more blood "

But the Sirdar protested: "Prince pardon, but "

"My dear Baptiste, when the Hunsa comes in observe
if these things are not all stamped by Brahm on his
frontispiece; he fascinates me."

The Dewan, devout Brahmin, had been running his
fingers along a string of lacquered beads that hung
about his neck, muttering a prayer against this that
was like sacrilege.

When the jamadar was shown into the room his face
took on a look of uneasiness. It but added to the

Caste 37

ferocity of the square scowling massive head. His
huge shoulders, stooped forward as he salaamed, sug
gested the half-crouch of a tiger even the eyes, the
mouth, induced thoughts of that jungle killer.

Nana Sahib, a sneer on his lips, turned to the Min
ister: "Play him, Dewani, as you love us. There is
some rare deviltry afloat."

"Why have you come, Jamadar?" the Dewan asked.

Hunsa's pig eyes shifted from Sewlal's face to roam
over the other two, and then returned a question in

"Tell him," Nana Sahib suggested, "that he has
nothing to fear from us."

The jamadar was troubled by the English exchange,
but the Dewan explained: "The Prince says you are
to speak what is on your mind."

"It is this, Sahib Bahadur," Hunsa began, "there is
a way that the head of Amir Khan might be obtained
as a gift for Maharaja Sindhia. Then Raja Karowlee
would be pleased for he would receive his commission
and we would be given a reward."

"What is the way?" Sewlal queried.

"The Chief of the Pindaris, after the habit of Mos
lems, is one whose heart softens toward a woman who
is beautiful and is pleasing to his eye."

"Ancient history," Nana Sahib commented in Eng
lish, "and not confined to Musselmen."

"Speak on," the Dewan commanded curtly.

"When I rode with Amir Khan," Hunsa resumed,
"in loot there fell to the Chief's share a dancing girl,
and Amir Khan, perhaps out of respect to his two

38 Caste

wives, would visit her at night quietly in the tent
that was given her as a place of residing."

"Amir Khan seems to be less a Pindari and more
a human than I thought him," Nana Sahib commented

"The world is a very small place, Prince," Baptiste

"But why has Hunsa brought this tale to men of
affairs?" Sewlal queried.

Hunsa cast a furtive look over his shoulder toward
the verandah, and his coarse voice dropped a full
octave. "The Presence has observed Bootea, the one
called Gulab Begum, who is with Ajeet Singh?"

"Ah-ha!" It was Nana Sahib's exclamation.

"Yes," the Dewan answered drily.

"If a party of B agrees were to go to the Pindari
camp disguised as players and wrestlers, and the Gulab
as a nautchni, Amir Khan might be enticed to her tent
for she causes men to become drunk when she dances.
Once she danced for Raja Karowlee, and, though he
is old and fat and has more of wives than other posses
sions he became covetous of the girl. It is because
of these things, that Ajeet keeps her within the length
of his eye. Thus the Gulab would hold Amir Khan
in her hand, and some night as he slept in her tent I
would crawl neath the canvas and accomplish that
which is desired."

"By Jove!" Nana Sahib exclaimed, "this jungle man
has got the right idea. But if Ajeet goes on that trip
he'll never come back Hunsa will see to that."

Then the son of the Peshwa took a quick turn to

Caste 39

the door and gazed out as if he had his Arab in mind
something wrong; but a sweet bit of deviltry had
suddenly occurred to him. He had noticed the young
Englishman's interest in Bootea; had known that the
girl's eyes had shown admiration for the handsome
sahib. A woman by Jove lyes. If he could bring the
two of them together; have the Gulab get Barlow sen
sually interested she might act as a spy, get Barlow
to talk. No instrument like a woman for that purpose.
Nana Sahib turned back to where the Dewan had been
questioning Hunsa.

"That description of the Gulab as a nautch girl
tickles my fancy, Dewani," he said. "Between our
selves I think the Resident's jackal, the impressionable
young Captain, was rather taken with her. I'm giv
ing a nautch this week, and the presence of Miss Gulab
is desired commanded."

"But Ajeet "

Nana Sahib smiled sardonically. "You and Hunsa
are planning to send her on a more difficult mission,
so I have no doubt that this can be accomplished. The
Ajeet should esteem it an honour."

The Dewan, also speaking in English, said, "I doubt
if Ajeet would consent to the girl's going to the Pindari

Nana Sahib swung on his heel to face Baptiste. "Sir
dar, when you give an order to a soldier and he refuses
to obey, what do you do?"

"Pouf, mon Prince," and Jean Baptiste snapped a
thumb and finger expressively.

"See, Dewani?" Nana Sahib queried; "I like Hunsa's

40 Caste

idea; and you've heard what the Commandant

The Dewan turned to the Bagree, "Will Ajeet consent
to the Gulab acting thus?"

Hunsa's answer was illuminating: "The Chief will
agree to it if he can't help himself."

There was a lull, each one turning this momentous
thing over in his mind.

It was the jamadar who broke the silence; somewhat
at a tangent he said: "As to a decoity, Your Honour
said that we being of that profession should undertake

The Dewan roared; the burden of his expostulation
was the word liar.

But Nana Sahib laughed tolerantly. "Don't mind
me, Dewani; fancy all the petty rajas and officials
stand in with these deceits for a share of the loot I
don't blame you, old chap."

Hunsa, taking the accusation of being a liar as a
pure matter of course, ignored it, and now was drooling
along, wedded to the one big idea that was in his

"If a decoity were made perhaps it might even hap
pen that one was killed "

"Lovely! the 'One' will be, and his name is Ajeet,"
Nana Sahib cried gleefully.

But Hunsa plodded steadily on. "In that case
Ajeet as Chief would be in the hands of the Dewan;
then it could be mentioned to him that the Gulab was
desired for this mission."

"That might be," the Dewan said quietly. "I will

Caste 41

demand that Ajeet takes the Gulab to help secure Amir
Khan, and if he refuses I will give them no rations so
that he will go on the decoity."

"No, Dewan Sahib/' Hunsa objected; "say nothing
of the Gulab, because Ajeet will refuse, and then he
will not go on a decoity, fearing a trap. If you will
refuse the rations now, I will say that you have prom
ised that we will not be taken up if we make a decoity;
then Ajeet will agree, because it is our profession."

"I must go," Nana Sahib declared; "this Hunsa
seems to have brains as well as ferocity." He con
tinued in English: "If you do go through with this,
Dewan, tell Hunsa if anything happens when they make
the decoity and if I'm any reader of what is in a
man's heart, I think something will happen the Ajeet
tell Hunsa to bring the Gulab to me. I like his idea,
and we can't afford to let the girl get away. Don't for
get to arrange for the Gulab at my nautch"

When Nana Sahib had gone Baptiste diplomatically
withdrew, saying in English to the Minister: "Dewan
Sahib, possibly this simple child of the jungle would feel
embarrassment in opening his heart fully before a
sahib, so you will excuse me."

This elimination of individuals gave the Dewan a
fine opportunity; promises made without witnesses were
sure to be of a richer texture; also surely the word of a
Dewan was of higher value than the word of a decoit
if, at a future time, their evidences clashed.

Then Hunsa was entrusted with a private matter
that filled his ugly soul with delight. He assured Sew-
lal that Sookdee, if he were promised, as he had been,

42 Caste

full protection, would join in the enmeshing of Ajeet

Sewlal pledged his word to the jamadar that no mat
ter if an outcry were raised over a decoity they would
be protected the matter would be hushed up.

Hunsa knew that this was no new thing; he had been
engaged in many a decoity where men of authority

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