W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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passion for the rose I am called Gulab."

"Lovely the Rose! that's just what you are, Gulab.
But the attar is so costly! Are you a princess in dis

"No, Sahib, but one brought me many bottles of it,
the slim, long bottles like a finger; and a drop of it
lasts for a moon."

94 Caste

"Ah, I see," and Barlow smiled; "you have for
lover a raja, the one who brought the attar."

The figure in the cloak shivered again, but the girl
said nothing. And Barlow, rather to hear her voice,
for it was sweet like flute music, chaffed: "What is he
like, the one that you love? A swaggering tall black-
whiskered Rajput, no doubt, with a purple vest em
broidered in gold, clanking with tulwar, and a voice
like a Brahmini bull full of demand."

The slim arms about his waist tightened a little -
that was all.

"Confess, Gulab, it will pass the time; a love story
is sweet, and Brahm, who creates all things, creates
flowers beautiful and sweet to stir love," and he shook
the small body reassuringly.

"Sahib, when a girl dances before the great ones to
please, it is permitted that she may play at being a
princess to win the favour of a raja, and sing the love
song to the music of the sitar (guitar), but it is a
matter of shame to speak it alone to the Presence."

"Tell me, Gulab," and his strong fingers swept the
smooth black hair.

The girl unclasped her arms from about Barlow's
waist and led his finger to a harsh iron bracelet upon
her arm.

At the touch of the cold metal, iron emblem of a
child marriage, a shackle never to be removed, he
knew that she was a widow, accounted by Brahmini-
cal caste an offence to the gods, an outcast, because if
the husband still lived she would be in a zenanna of

Caste 95

gloomy walls, and not one who danced as she had at
Nana Sahib's.

"And the man to whom you were bound by your
parents died?" he asked.

"I am a widow, Sahib, as the iron bracelet testifies
with cold bitterness; it is the badge of one who is
outcast, of one who has not become sati, has not sat
on the wood to find death in its devouring flame."

Barlow knew all the false logic, the metaphysical
Machiavellians, the Brahmins, advanced to thin out
the; undesirable females, women considered at all
times in that land of overpopulation of less value than
men, by the simple expedient of self-destruction. He
knew the Brahmins' thesis culled from their Word of
God, the Vedas or the Puranas, calculated to make the
widow a voluntary, willing suicide. They would tell
Bootea that owing to having been evil in former incar
nations her sins had been visited upon her husband,
had caused his death; that in a former life she had
been a snake, or a rat.

The dead husband's mother, had Bootea come of an
age to live with him, though yet but a child of twelve
years, would, on the slightest provocation, beat her
even brand her with a hot iron; he had known of it
having been done. She would be given but one meal a
day rice and chillies. Even if she had not yet left
her father's house he would look upon her as a shame
ful thing, an undesirable member of the family, one
not to be rid of again in the way of marriage; for if
a Hindu married her it would break his caste he

96 Caste

would be a veritable pariah. No servant would serve
him; no man would sell him anything; if he kept a
shop no one would buy of him; no one would sit and
speak with him he would be ostracised.

The only life possible for the girl would be that of
a prostitute. She might be married by the temple
priests to the god Khandoka, as thousands of widows
had been, and thus become a nun of the temple, a pros
titute to the celibate priests. Knowing all this, and
that Bootea was what she was, her face and eyes hold
ing all that sweetness and cleanness, that she lived in
the guardianship of Ajeet Singh, very much a man,
Barlow admired her the more in that she had escaped
moral destruction. Her face was the face of one of
high caste; she was not like the ordinary nautch girl
of the fourth caste. Everything about Bootea sug
gested breeding, quality. The iron bracelet indicated
why she had socially passed down the scale there was
no doubt about it.

"I understand, Gulab," he said; "the Sahibs all un
derstand, and know that widowhood is not a reproach."

"But the Sahib questioned of love; and how can one
such know of love? The heart starves and does not
grow for it feeds upon love what we of Hind call the
sweet pain in the heart."

"But have none been kind, Gulab pleased by your
flower face, has no one warmed your heart?"

The slim arms that gripped Barlow in a new tight
ening trembled, the face that fled from the betraying
moonlight was buried against his tunic, and the warm
body quivered from sobs.

Caste 97

Barlow turned her face up, and the moonlight showed
vagrant pearls that lay against the olive cheeks, now
tinted like the petals of a rose. Then from a service
point of view, and as a matter of caste, Barlow went
ghazi. He drooped his head and let his lips linger
against the girl's eyes, and uttered a superb common
place: "Don't cry, little girl," he said; "I am seven
kinds of a brute to bother youl"

And Bootea thought it would have been better if
he had driven a knife into her heart, and sobbed with
increased bitterness. Once her fingers wandered up
searchingly and touched his throat.

Barlow casting about for the wherefore of his mad
ness, discovered the moonlight, and heard the soft
night-air whispering through the harp chords of trees
that threw a tracery of black lines across the white
road; and from a grove of mango trees came the gentle
scent of their blossoms; and he remembered that statis
tics had it that there was but one memsahib to so many
square miles in that land of expatriation; and he knew
that he was young and full of the joy of life; that a
British soldier was not like a man of Hind who looked
upon women as cattle.

There did not obtrude into his mental retrospect as
an accusation against this unwarrantable tenderness
the vision of the Resident's daughter almost his
fiancee. Indeed Elizabeth was the antithesis in physi
cal appeal of the gentle Gulab; the drawing-room per
haps; repartee of Damascus steel fineness; tutored
polish, class, cold integrity these things associated
admirably with the unsensuous Elizabeth. Thoughts

98 Caste

of her, remembrances, had no place in glamorous,
perfumed moonlight.

So he set his teeth and admonished the grey Turco
man, called him the decrepit son of a donkey, being
without speed; and to punish him stroked his neck
gently: even this forced diversion bringing him closer
to the torturing sweetness of the girl.

But now he was aware of a throbbing on the night
wind, and a faint shrill note that lay deep in the
shadows beyond. It was a curious rumbling noise,
as though ghosts of the hills on the right were playing
bowls with rounded rocks. And the shrilling skirl
grew louder as if men marched behind bagpipes.

The Gulab heard it, too, and her body stiffened, her
head thrust from the enveloping cloak, and her eyes
showed like darkened sapphires.

"Carts carrying cotton perhaps," he said. But
presently he knew that small cotton carts but rattled,
the volume of rumbling was as if an army moved.

From up the road floated the staccato note of a staff
beating its surface, and the clanking tinkle of an iron
ring against the wooden staff.

"A mail-carrier," Barlow said.

And then to the monotonous pat-pat-pat of trotting
feet the mail-carrier emerged from the grey wall of

"Here, you, what comes?" the Captain queried,
checking the grey.

The postie stopped in terror at the English voice.

"Salaam, Bahadur Sahib; it is war."

"Thou art a tree owl," and Barlow laughed. "A war

Caste 99

does not spring up like a drift of driven dust. Is it
some raja's elephants and carts with his harem going
to a durbar?"

"Sahib, it is, as I have said, war. The big brass
cannon that is called 'The Humbler of Cities/ goes
forth to speak its order, and with it are sepoys to feed
it the food of destruction. Beyond that I know not,
Sahib, for I am a man of peace, being but a runner of
the post."

Then he salaamed and sifted into the night gloom
like a thrown handful of white sand, echoing back
the clamp-clamp-clamp of his staff's iron ring, which
was a signal to all cobras to move from the path of him
who ran, slip their chilled folds from the warm dust
of the road.

And on in front what had been sounds of mystery
was now a turmoil of noises. The hissing screech,
the wails, were the expostulations of tortured axles;
the rumbling boom was unexplainable; but the jungle
of the hillside was possessed of screaming devils.
Black-faced, white-whiskered monkeys roused by the
din, screamed cries of hate and alarm as they scur
ried in volplaning leaps from tree to tree. And pea
cocks, awakened when they should have slept, called
with their harsh voices from lofty perches.

A party of villagers hurried by, shifting their cheap
turbans to hide faces as they scurried along.

The Gulab was trembling; perhaps the deceits, led
by Hunsa. had come by a shorter way; for they were
like beasts of the jungle in this art of silent, swift

100 Caste

"Sahib," she pleaded, "go from the road."

"Why, Bootea?"

"The one with the staff spoke of soldiers."

He laughed and patted her shoulder. "Don't fear,
little lady," he said, "an army doesn't make war upon
one, even if they are soldiers. It will be but a wed
ding party who now take the wife to the village of her

"Not at night; and a Sahib who carries a woman
upon his saddle will hear words of offence."

Though Barlow laughed he was troubled. What if
the smouldering fire of sedition had flared up, and
that even now men of Sindhia's were slipping on a
night march toward some massing of rebels. The
resonant, heavy moaning of massive wheels was like
the rumble of a gun carriage. And, too, there was
the drumming of many hoofs upon the road. Barlow's
ear told him it was the rhythmic beat of cavalry
horses, not the erratic rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat of native

With a pressure upon the rein he edged the grey
from the white road to a fringe of bamboo and date
palms, saying: "If you will wait here, Gulab, I'll see
what this is all about."

He slipped from the saddle and lifted her gently to
the ground saying, "Don't move; of a certainty it is
nothing but the passing of some raja. But, if by any
chance I don't return, wait until all is still, until all
have gone, and then some well-disposed driver of a
bullock cart will take you on your way." Putting his
hand in his pocket, and drawing it forth, he added:

Caste 101

"Here is the compeller of friendship silver; for a
bribe even an enemy will become a friend."

But the Gulab with her slim fingers closed his hand
over the rupees, and pressed the back of it against her
lips saying, "If I die it is nothing. But stay here,
Sahib, they may be "

She stopped, and he asked, "May be who, Gulab?"
"Men who will harm thee."

But Barlow lifting to the saddle passed to the road,
and Bootea crumpled down in a little desolate heap
of misery, her fingers thrust within her bodice, plead
ing with an amulet for protection for the Sahib. She
prayed to her own village god to breathe mercy into the
hearts of those who marched in war, and if it were the
Bagrees, that Bhowanee would vouchsafe them an
omen that to harm the one on a white horse would
bring her wrath upon their families and their vil

Captain Barlow reined in the grey on the roadside,
for those that marched were close. Now he could see,
two abreast, horses that carried cavalry men. Ten
couples of the troop rode by with low-voiced exchanges
of words amongst themselves. A petty officer rode
at their heels, and behind him, on a bay Arab, whose
sweated skin glistened like red wine in the moonlight,
came a risiladar, the commander of the troop. A little
down the road Barlow could see an undulating, sway
ing huge ribbon of white-and-pink bullocks, twenty-
four yoke of the tall lean-flanked powerful Amrit
Mahal, the breed that Hyder AH long ago had brought
on his conquering way to the land of the Mahrattas.

102 Caste

And beyond the ghost-like line of white creatures was
some huge thing that they drew.

The commander reined his Arab to a stand beside
Barlow and saluted, saying, "Salaam, Major Sahib
you ride alone?"

Barlow said: "My salaams, Risiladar, and I am but
a captain. I ride at night because the days are hot.
My two men have gone before me because my horse
dropped a shoe which had to be replaced. Did the
Risiladar see my two servants that were mounted?"

"I met none such," the commander answered.
"Perhaps in some village they have rested for a drink
of liquor; they of the army are given to such practices
when their Captain's eye is not upon them. I go with
this" and he waved a gauntleted hand back toward
the thing that loomed beyond the bullocks that had
now come to a halt. "It is the brass cannon, the like
of which there is no other. We go to the camp of
the Amil, who commands the Sindhia troops, taking
him the brass cannon that it may compel a Musselman
zemindar to pay the tax that is long past due. Why
the barbarian should not pay I know not for a tax of
one-fourth is not much for a foreigner, a debased fol
lower of Mahomet, to render unto the ruler of this
land that is the garden of the world. He has shut
himself and men up in his mud fort, but when this
brass mother of destruction spits into his stronghold
a ball or two that is not opium he will come forth or
we will enter by the gate the cannon has made."

"Then there will be bloodshed, Risiladar," Barlow

Caste 103

"True, Captain Sahib; but that is, after a manner,
the method of collecting just dues in this land where
those who till the soil now, were, but a generation or
two since, men of the sword, they can't forget the
traditions. In the land of the British Raj six inches
of a paper, with a big seal duly affixed, would do the
business. That I know, for I have travelled far,
Sahib. As to the bloodshed, worse will be the tram
pling of crops, for in the district of this worshipper
of Mahomet the wheat grows like wild scrub in the
jungle, taller than up to the belly of my horse. That
is the whyfore of the cannon, in a way of speaking,
because from a hill we can send to this man a slaying
message, and leave the wheat standing to fill the bellies
of those who are in his hands as a tyrant. Sirdar Bap-
tiste was for sending a thousand sepoys to put the fear
of destruction in the debtor; but the Dewan with his
eye on revenue from crops, hit upon this plan of the
loud-voiced one of brass."

Then the commander ordered the advance, and
saluting, said: "Salaam, Captain Sahib, and if I meet
with your servants I will give them news that you
desire their presence."

When the huge cannon had rumbled by, and behind
it had passed a company of sepoys on foot, Barlow
turned his horse into the jungle for Gulab.


Bootea's eyes glistened like stars when, lowering a
hand, Barlow said: "Put a foot upon mine, Gulab, and
I'll swing you up."

When they were on the road she said: "I saw them.
It is as the runner said, war is it so, Sahib?"

"The Captain says that he goes to collect revenue,
but it may be that he spoke a lie, for it is said that
a man of the land of the Five Rivers, which is the
Punjaub, has five ways of telling a tale, and but one
of them is the truth and comes last."

The girl pondered over this for a little, and then
asked: "Does the Sahib think perhaps it is war against
his people?"

That was just what was in Barlow's mind since he
had seen the big gun going forth at night; that per
haps the plot that was just a whisper, fainter than the
hum of a humming bird's wing, was moving with swift
silent velocity.

"Why do you ask that question? Have you heard
from lips perhaps loosened by wine or desire aught
of this?"

When she remained without answer, Barlow tapped
his fingers lightly upon her shoulder, saying, "Tell me,

"I have heard nothing of war," she said. "There
was a something though that men whispered in the

"What was it?"


Caste 105

"It was of the Chief of the Pindaris."

She felt the quivering start that ran through Bar
low's body; but he said quietly: "With the Pindaris
there is always trouble. Something of robbery of a
raid, was it?"

"I will listen again to those that whisper in the
dark," she answered, "and perhaps if it concerns you,
for your protection, I will tell."

"I hope those men didn't fall in with my two chaps,"
Barlow said, rather voicing his thoughts than in the
way of speaking to the girl.

"The two who rode they were the Captain Sahib's

Barlow started. "Yes, they were: I suppose I can
trust you."

"And the Sahib is troubled? Perhaps it was a mes
sage for the Sahib that they carried."

"I don't know," he answered, evasively. "I was
thinking that perhaps they might be messengers, for
our sepoys are not stationed here, and come but on
such errands."

"And if they were killed, and the message stolen, it
would cause trouble?"

She felt him tremble as he looked down into her

"I don't know. But the messages of a Raj are not
for the ears of men to whom they have not been sent."

Barlow had an intuition that the girl's words were
not prompted by idle curiosity. He was possessed of
a sudden gloomy impression that she knew something
of the two men who rode. And it was strange that

106 Caste

they had not been seen upon either of the roads. The
officer spoke of them frankly, and not as a man hiding

Suddenly he took a firm resolve, perhaps a danger
ous one; not dangerous though if his men had really
gone through.

"Gulab," he said, and with his hand he turned her
face up by the chin till their eyes were close together,
"if the two bore a message for me, and it was stolen,
I would be like that one you loved was lost."

The beautiful face swung from his palm and he
could hear her gasping.

"You know something?" he said, and he caressed the
smooth black tresses.

"I did not see them, Sahib."

They rode in silence for half a mile and then she
said, "Perhaps, Sahib, Bootea can help you if the
message is lost."

"And you will, girl?"

"I will, Sahib; even if I die for doing it, I will."

His arm tightened about her with a shrug of assur
ing thankfulness, and she knew that this man trusted
her and was not sorry of her burden. Little child-
dreams floated through her mind that the silver-faced
moon would hang there above and light the world for
ever, for the moon was the soul of the god Purusha
whose sacrificed body had created the world, and
that she would ride forever in the arms of this fair-
faced god, and that they were both of one caste, the
caste that had as mark the sweet pain in the heart.

And Barlow was sometimes dropping the troubled

Caste 107

thought of the missing order and the turmoil that
would be in the Council of the Governor General
when it became known, to mutter inwardly: "By Jove!
if the chaps get wind of this, that I carried the Gulab
throughout a moonlit night, there'll be nothing for me
but to send in my papers. I'll be drawn; my leg'll
be pulled." And he reflected bitterly that nothing on
earth, no protestation, no swearing by the gods, would
make it believed as being what it was. He chuckled
once, picturing the face of the immaculate Elizabeth
while she thrust into him a bodkin of moral autopsy,
should she come to know of it.

Bootea thought he had sighed, and laying her slim
fingers against his neck said, "The Sahib is troubled."

"I don't care a damn!" he declared in English, his
mind still on the personal trail.

Seeing that she, not understanding, had taken the
sharp tone as a rebuke, he said, "If I had been alone,
Gulab, I'd have been troubled sorely, but perhaps the
gods have sent you to help out."

"Ah, yes, God pulled our paths together. And if
Bootea is but a sacrifice that will be a favour, she is

If the girl had been of a white race, in her abandon
of love she would have laid her lips against his, but
the women of Hind do not kiss.

The big plate of burnished silver slid, as if pushed
by celestial fingers, across the azure dome toward the
gloomed walls of the Ghats that it would cross to dip
into the sea, the Indian Ocean, and mile upon mile
was picked from the front and laid behind by the

108 Caste

grey as he strode with untiring swing toward his bed
that waited on the high plateau of Poona.

The night-jars, even the bats, had stilled their wings
and slept in the limbs of the neem or the pipal, and
the air that had borne the soft perfume of blossoms,
and the pungent breath of jasmine, had chilled and
grown heavy from the pressure of advancing night.

The two on the grey rode sleepily; the Gulab warm
and happy, cuddled in the protecting cloak, and Bar
low grim, oppressed by fatigue and the mental strain
of feared disaster. Now the muscles of the horse
rippled in heavier toil, and his hoofs beat the earth
in shorted stride; the way was rising from the plain
as it approached the plateau that was like an immense
shelf let into the wall of the world above the lowland;
a shelf that held jewels, topaz and diamonds, that
glinted their red and yellow lights, and upon which
rested giant pearls, the moonlight silvering the domes
and minarets of white palaces and mosques of Poona.
The dark hill upon which rested the Temple of Parvati
threw its black outline against the sky, and like a bur
nished helmet glowed the golden dome beneath which
sat the alabaster goddess. At their feet, strung out
between forbidding banks of clay and sand, ran a
molten stream of silver, the sleepy waters of the Muta.

"By Jove!" and Barlow, suddenly cognisant that
he had practically arrived at the end of his ride, that
the windmill of Don Quixote stood yonder on the hill,
realised that in a sense, so far as Bootea was con
cerned, he had just drifted. Now he asked: "I'm
afraid, little girl, your Sahib is somewhat of a fool,

Caste 109

for I have not asked where you want me to take you."
"Yonder, Sahib," and her eyes were turned toward
the jewelled hill.

As they rose to the hilltop that was a slab of rock
and sand carrying a city, he asked: "Where shall I
put you down that will be near your place of rest, your

"Is there a memsahib in the home of the Sahib?"
she asked.

"No, Bootea, not so lucky nobody but servants."
"Then I will go to the bungalow of the Sahib."
"Confusion!" he exclaimed in moral trepidation.
Bootea's hand touched his arm, and she turned her
face inward to hide the hot flush that lay upon it.
"No, Sahib, not because of Bootea; one does not sleep
in the lap of a god."

"All right, girl," he answered "sorry."
As the grey plodded tiredly down the avenue of
trees, a smooth road bordered by a hedge of cactus and
lanten, Barlow turned him to the right up a drive of
broken stone, and dropping to the ground at the veran
dah of a white-walled bungalow, lifted the girl down,
saying: "Within it can be arranged for a rest place
for you."

A chowkidar, lean, like a mummified mendicant,
rose up from a squeaking, roped charpoy and salaamed.
"Take the horse to the stable, Jungwa, and tell the
syce to undress him. Remember to keep that mon
key tongue of yours between your teeth for in my
room hangs a bitter whip. It is a lie that I have not
ridden home alone," Barlow commanded.


As Barlow led the Gulab within the bungalow she
drew, as a veil ; a light silk scarf across her face.

Upon the floor of the front room a bearer, head
buried in yards of pink cotton cloth, his puggri, lay
fast asleep.

As Barlow raised a foot to touch the sleeper in the
ribs the girl drew him back, put the tips of her fingers
to her lips, and pointed toward the bedroom door.

Barlow shook his head, the flickering flame of the
wick in an iron oil-lamp that rested in a niche of the
wall exaggerating to ferocity the frown that topped
his eyes.

But Bootea pleaded with a mute salaam, and rais
ing her lips to his ear whispered, "Not because of
what is not permitted not because of Bootea

With an arm he swept back the beaded tendrils of a
hanging door-curtain, the girl glided to the darkness
of the room, and Barlow, lifting from its niche the iron
lamp, followed. Within, she pointed to the door that
lay open and Barlow, half in rebellion, softly closed
it. As he turned he saw that she had dropped from
their holding cords the heavy brocaded silk curtains

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