W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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of the window.

His limbs were numb from the long ride with the
weight of the girl's body across his thighs; he was
tired; he was mentally distressed over the messengers

Caste 111

he had failed to locate, and this, the almost forced
intrusion of Bootea into his bedroom, the closed door
and the curtained windows, her doing, was just another
turn of the kaleidoscope with its bits of broken glass
of a nightmare. He dropped wearily into a big cane-
bottomed Hindu chair, saying: "Little wilted rose,
cuddle up on that divan among the cushions and rest,
while you tell me why we sit in purdah"

The girl dragged a cushion from the divan, and plac
ing it on the floor beside his chair, sat on it, curling
her feet beneath her knees.

Barlow groaned inwardly. If his mind had not been
so lethargic because of the things that weighted it,
like the leaden soles upon a diver's boots, he would
have roused himself to say, "Look here, a chap can't
pull a girl who is as sweet as a flower and as trusting
as a babe, out of trouble and then make bazaar love
to her; he can't do it if he's any sort of a chap."
All this was casually in his mind, but he let his tired
eyes droop, and his hand that hung over the teak-
wood arm of the chair rested upon the girl's shoulder.

"Bootea will soon go so that the Sahib may sleep,
for he is tired," she said; "but first there is something
to be said, and I have come close to the Sahib because
men not alone whisper in the dark but they listen."

The hand that rested on Bootea's shoulder lifted to
her cheek, and strong fingers caressed its oval.

"Would the Sahib sleep, and would his mind rest
if he knew where the two who rode are?"

Barlow sat bolt upright in the chair, roused, the
lethargy gone, as if he had poured raw whisky down

112 Caste

his throat. And he was glad, the closed door and the
drawn curtains were not now things of debasement.
Curious that he should care what this little Hindu
maid was like, but he did. His hand now clasped
the girl's wrist, it almost hurt in its tenseness.

"Yes, Gulab," and he subdued his voice, "tell
me if you know."

"They are dead upon the road beyond where you
saved Bootea."

"Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"It was too late, Sahib; and if you had gone there
they would have killed you."


"That, I cannot tell."

"You must, Gulab."

"No, Bootea will not."

Barlow stared angrily into the big eyes that were
lifted to his, that though they lingered in soft loving
upon his face, told him that she would not tell, that
she would die first; even as he would have given his
life if he had been captured by tribesmen and asked
to betray his fellow men as the price of liberty.

He threw himself back wearily in the chair. "Why
tell me this now, to mock me, to exult?" he said,
reproach in his voice.

"But it is the message, Sahib, that is more than the
life of a sepoy, is it not?"

Again he sat up: "Why do you say this do you
know where it is?"

She drew from beneath her bodice the sandal soles,
saying: "These are from the feet of the messenger who

Caste 113

is dead. The one the Sahib beat over the head with
his pistol dropped them, and he was carrying them
for a purpose. The Sahib knows, perhaps, the secret
way of this land."

In the girl's hand was clasped the knife from her
girdle, and she tendered it, hilt first: "Bootea knows
not if they are of value, the leather soles, but if the
Sahib would open them, then if there are eyes that
watch the curtains are drawn."

Barlow revivified, stimulated by hope, seized the
knife and ran its sharp point around the stitching of
the soles. Between the double leather of one lay a
thin, strong parchment-like paper.

He gave a cry of exultation as, unfolding it, he saw
the seal of his Raj. His cry was a gasp of relief.
Almost the shatterment of his career had lain in that
worn discoloured sole, and disaster to his Raj if it had
fallen into the hands of the conspirators.

In an ecstasy of relief he sprang to his feet, and
lifting Bootea, clasped her in his arms, smothering her
face in kisses, whispering: "Gulab, you are my pre
server; you are the sweetest rose that ever bloomed!"

He felt the pound of her heart against his breast,
and her eyes mirrored a happiness that caused him
to realise that he was going too far drifting into trou
bled waters that threatened destruction. The girl's
soul had risen to her eyes and looked out as though
he were a god.

As if Bootea sensed the same impending evil she
pushed Barlow from her and sank back to the cushion,
her face shedding its radiancy.

114 Caste

Cursing himself for the impetuous outburst Barlow
slumped into the chair.

"Gulab," he said presently, "my government gives
reward for loyalty and service."

"Bootea has had full reward," the girl answered.

He continued: "We had talk on the road about the
Pindaris; what did they who whisper in the dark

"That the chief, Amir Khan, has gathered an army,
and they fear that because of an English bribe he will
attack the Mahrattas; so the Dewan has brought
men from Karowlee to go into the camp of the Pin
daris in disguise and slay the chief for a reward."

This information coming from Bootea was astound
ing. Neither Resident Hodson nor Captain Barlow
had suspected that there had been a leak.

"And was there talk of this message from the Brit
ish to ?" Barlow checked.

"To the Sahib?" Bootea asked. "Not of the mes
sage; but it was whispered that one would go to the
Pindari camp to talk with Amir Khan, and perhaps
it was the Sahib they meant. And perhaps they knew
he waited for orders from the government."

Then suddenly it flashed upon Barlow that because
of this he had been marked. The foul riding in the
game of polo that so nearly put him out of commis
sion it had been deliberately foul, he knew that, but
he had attributed it tc a personal anger on the part
of the Mahratta officer, bred of rivalry in the game
and the fanatical hate of an individual Hindu for an

Caste 115

"Now that a message has come will the Sahib go to
the Pindari camp?" Bootea persisted.

"Why do you ask, Gulab?"

"Not in the way of treachery, but because the Sahib
is now like a god; and because I may again be of
service, for those who will slay Amir Khan will also
slay the Sahib."


Barlow's voice was drowned by yells of terror in
the outer room.

"Thieves! Thieves have broken in to rob, and
they have stolen my lamp! Chowkidar, chowkidar!
wake, son of a pig!"

It was the bearer, who, suddenly wakened by some
noise, had in the dark groped for his lamp and found
it missing.

"Heavens!" the Captain exclaimed. "Now the cook
house will be empty the servants will come!" He
rubbed a hand perplexedly over his forehead. "Quick,
Gulab, you must hide!"

He swung open a wooden door between his room
and a bedroom next. Within he said: "There's a
bed, and you must sleep here till daylight, then I will
have the chowkidar take you to where you wish to go.
You couldn't go in the dark anyway. Bar the door;
you will be quite safe; don't be frightened." He
touched her cheek with his fingers: "Salaam, little
girl." Then, going out, he opened the door leading
to the room of clamour, exclaiming angrily, "You fool,
why do you scream in your dreams?"

"God be thanked! it is the Sahib." The bearer

116 Caste

flopped to his knees and put his hands in abasement
upon his master's feet.

Jungwa had rushed into the room, staff in hand, at
the outcry. Now he stood glowering indignantly upon
the grovelling bearer.

"It is the opium, Sahib," he declared; "this fool
spends all his time in the bazaar smoking with people
of ill repute. If the Presence will but admonish him
with the whip our slumbers will not again be dis

The bearer, running true to the tenets of native
servants, put up the universal alibi a flat denial.

"Sahib, you who are my father and my mother, be
not angry, for I have not slept. I observed the Sahib
pass, but as he spoke not, I thought he had matters of
import upon his mind and wished not to be disturbed."

"A liar by Mother Gunga!" The chowkidar
prodded him in the ribs with the end of his staff, and
turning in disgust, passed out.

"Come, you fool ! " Barlow commanded, returning to
his room, and, sitting down wearily upon the bed, held
up a leg.

The bearer knelt and in silence stripped the putties
from his master's limbs, unlaced the shoes, and pulled
off the breeches.

When Barlow had slipped on the pyjamas handed
him, he said: "Tell the chowkidar to come to me at
his waking from the first call of the crows."


An omen of dire import all thugs believe is to hear
the cry of a kite between midnight and dawn; to hear
it before midnight does not matter, for the sleeper in
turning over smothers the impending disaster beneath
his body. But Captain Barlow had put up no such
defence if evil hung over him, for when the chowkidar
stood outside the door calling softly, "Captain Sahib!
Captain Sahib ! " Barlow lay just as he had flopped on
the bed, his tiredness having held him as one dead.

Gently the soft voice of the chowkidar pulled him
back out of his Nirvana of non-existence, and he called
sleepily, "What is it?"

"It is Jungwa," the watchman answered, "and I
have received the Sahib's order to come at this hour."

Then Barlow remembered. He swung his feet to
the floor, saying, "Come!"

When the watchman had walked out of his sandals
to approach in his bare feet, the Captain said, "Is
your tongue still to remain in your mouth, Jungwa,
or has it been made sacrifice to the knife for the sin
of telling in the cookhouse tales of your Sahib and
last night?"

"No, Sahib, I have not spoken. I am a Meena of
the Ossary jat. In Jaipur we guard the treasury and
the zenanna of the Raja, and it is our chief who puts
the tika upon the forehead of the Maharaja when he
ascends to the throne. Think you, then, Sahib, that
an Ossary would betray a trust?"


118 Caste

Barlow fixed the lean saffron-hued face with a
searching look, and muttered, "Damned if I don't
believe the old chap is straight!" "I think it is true,"
he said. "Shut the door." Then he continued: "The
one who came last night is in the next room and you
must take her out through the bathroom door, for
there is cover of the crotons and oleanders, and then
to the road. Acquire a gharry and go with her to
where she directs you."

"Salaam, Sahib ! your servant will obey. And as to
the chota hazri, Sahib?"

"By Jove! right you are, Jungwa"; for Barlow had
forgotten that the little breakfast, as it was called.

Then he ran his fingers through his hair. To send
the Gulab off without even a cup of tea was one thing;
to admit the bearer to know of her presence was an

The wily old watchman sensed what was passing in
his master's mind, and he hazarded, diplomatically,
"If the One is of high caste she will not eat what is
brought by the bearer who is of the Sudra caste, but
from the hands of a Meena none but the Brahmin
pundits refuse food."

Barlow laughed; indeed the grizzled one had per
ception he was an accomplice in the plot of

"Good! Eggs and toast and tea. Demand plenty
say your Sahib is hungry because of a long ride and
nothing to eat. But hurry, I hear the 'seven sisters'
(crows) calling to sleepers that the sun is here with
its warmth."

Caste 119

Then the bearer entered, but Barlow ordered him
away, saying, "Sit without till I call."

As he slipped into breeches and brown riding boots
he cursed softly the entanglement that had thrust upon
him this thing of ill flavour. Of course the watchman,
even if he did keep his mouth shut, which would be
a miracle in that land of bazaar gossip, would have
but one opinion of why Bootea had spent the night
in the bungalow. But if Barlow squared this by speak
ing of a secret mission, that would be a knowledge
that could be exchanged for gold. Perhaps not all
servants were spies, but there were always spies among

"Damn the thing!" he muttered; but he was help
less. The old man would give no sign of what, no
doubt, was in his mind; he would hold that leathery
face in placid acquiescence in prevalent moral vagary.

Then he tapped lightly on the wooden door, calling
softly, "Bootea Bootea!"

When it was opened he said: "Food is coming,
Gulab. A man of caste brings it, and it is but eggs
from which no life has been taken, so you may eat.
Then the chowkidar will go with you."

Jungwa brought the breakfast and put it down,
saying, "I will wait, Sahib, outside the bathroom

"Here is money ten rupees for whatever is needed.
Be courteous to the lady, for she is not a nautchni."

"The Sahib would entertain none such," the chow
kidar answered with a grave salaam.

"Damn the thing!" Barlow groaned.


An hour later Barlow, mounted on a stalky Cabuli
polo-pony, rode to the Residency, happy over the
papers in his pocket, but troubling over how he could
explain their possession and keep the girl out of it.
To even mention the Gulab, unless he fabricated a
story, would let escape the night-ride, and, no doubt,
in the perversity of things, Resident Hodson would
want to know where she was and where he had taken
her, and insist on having her produced for an official
inquisition. The Resident, a machine, would sacri
fice a native woman without a tremor to the official

Barlow could formulate no plausible method; he
could not hide the death of the two native messengers,
and would simply have to take the stand of, "Here
is this message from His Excellency and as to how I
came by it is of as little importance as an order from
the War Office regulating the colour of thread that
attaches buttons to a tunic."

He turned the Cabuli up the wide drive that led to
the Residency, the big white walled bungalow in which
Hodson lived, and shook his riding crop toward Eliza
beth who was reading upon the verandah. He swung
from the saddle, and held out his hand to the girl,
saying cheerily, "Hello, Beth! Didn't you ride this
morning, or are you back early?"

The novel seemed to require support of the girl's
1 20

Caste 121

hand, or she had not observed that of the caller. Her
face, always emotionless, was repellent in its com
posure as she said: "Father is just inside in his office
with a native, and I fancy it's one of the usual dark
things of mystery, for he asked me to sit here by the
window that he might have both air and privacy;
I'm to warn off all who might stand here against the
wall with an open ear."

"I'll pull a chair up and chat to you till he's "

"No, Captain Barlow " Barlow winced at this
formality "Father, I'm sure, wants you in this mat
ter; in fact, I think a chuprassi is on his way now to
your bungalow with the Resident's salaams."

Barlow laid his fingers on the girl's shoulder: "I'm
ghastly tired, Beth. I'll come back to you."

"Yes, India is enervating," she commented in a flat

Barlow had a curious impression that the girl's grey
eyes had turned yellow as she made this observation.

"Ah, Captain, glad you've come," Hodson said, ris
ing and extending a hand across a flat-topped desk.
"I'm I'm well pull a chair. This is one Ajeet
Singh," and he drooped slightly his thin, lean, bald
head toward the B agree Chief, who stood stiff and
erect, one arm in a sling.

At this, Ajeet, knowing it for an informal introduc
tion, put his hand to his forehead, and said, "Salaam,

"Tulwar play, sir, and an appeal for protection to
the British, eh?" and Barlow indicated the arm in the

122 Caste

Still speaking in English Hodson said: "As to
that, " he pursed his thin lips, "something dreadful
has happened; this man has been mixed up in a decoity
and has come for protection; he wants to turn Ap

"The usual thing; when these cut-throats are likely
to be caught they turn Judas; to save their own necks
they offer a sacrifice of their comrades."

"Yes," the Resident affirmed, "but I'm glad he came.
Perhaps we had better just sit tight and let him go on
he's only nicely started. I've practically promised
him that if what he confesses is of service to His
Excellency's government I will give him our condi
tional pardon, and use what influence I have with the
Peshwa. But I fancy that old Baji Rao is mixed up
in it himself."

He turned to the deceit: "Commence again, and
tell the truth; and if I believe, you may be given pro
tection from the British; but as to Sindhia I have no
power to protect his criminals."

The decoit cleared his throat and began: "I, Ajeet
Singh, hold allegiance to the Raja of Karowlee, and am
Chief of the Bagrees, who are decoits."

The Resident held up his hand: "Have patience."
He rose, and took from a little cabinet a small alabas
ter figure of Kali which he placed upon the table, say
ing in English to Barlow, "When these decoits con
fess to be made Approvers, half of the confession is
lies, for to swear them on our Bible is as little use
as playing a tin whistle. If he's a B agree this is his

Caste 123

In Hindi he said: "Ajeet Singh, if you are a Bagree
deceit you are in the protection of Bhowanee, and you
make oath to her."

"Yes, Sahib."

"This is Bhowanee, that is your name for Kali,
and with obeisance to her make oath that you will tell
the truth."

"Yes, Sahib, it is the proper way."


The jamadar with the fingers of his two hands
clasped to his forehead in obeisance, declared: "If I,
Ajeet Singh, tell that which is not true, Mother Kali,
may thy wrath fall upon me and my family."

Then Hodson shifted the black goddess and let it
remain upon a corner of his table, surmising that the
sight of it would help.

"Speak, now," the Resident commanded; and the
jamadar proceeded.

"Dewan Sewlal sent to Raja Karowlee for men for
a mission, and whether it was in the letter he sent that
thugs should come I know not, but in our party were
thugs, and that led to why I am here."

"What is the difference, Ajeet," Hodson asked
sharply. "You are a decoit who robs and kills, and
thugs kill and rob ; you are both disciples of this mur
derous creature, Kali."

"We who are deceits, while we make offerings to
Kali, are not thugs. They have a chief mission of
murder, while we have but desire to gain for our
families from the rich. The thugs came in this wise,
Sahib. Bhowanee created them from the sweat of

124 Caste

her arms, and gave to them her tooth for a pick-axe,
which is their emblem, a rib for a knife, and the hem
of her garment for a noose to strangle. The hem of
her sacred garment was yellow-and-white, and the
roomal that they strangle with is yellow-and-white.
They are thugs, Sahib, and we are deceits."

"A fine distinction, sir," and Barlow laughed.

"Proceed," Hodson commanded.

"We were told by the Dewan to go to the camp
of the Pindaris and bring back the head of Amir

"Lovely!" Barlow muttered softly; but Hodson
started, a slight rouge crept over his pale face and
he said, "By Gad! this grows interesting, my dear

"Absolutely Oriental," Barlow added.

Then when their voices had stilled Ajeet continued:
"But Hunsa had ridden with the Pindari Chief and he
knew that he was well guarded, and that it would be
impossible to bring his head in a basket, so we refused
to go on this mission. The Dewan was angry and
would not give us food or pay. Through Hunsa the
Dewan sent word that we must obtain our living in
the way of our profession, which is decoity."

"I wonder," Barlow queried.

But Hodson, nodding his head said: "Quite pos
sible; and also quite probable that the dear avaricious
Dewan would claim a share of the loot if it were of
value, jewels especially." He addressed Ajeet, "I have
nothing to do with this; I am not Sindhia."

"True, Sahib Bahadur, but a decoity was made upon

Caste 125

a merchant on the road and he and his men were
killed, but also two English sowars were slain."

"By heavens!" The cool, trained, bloodless ma
chine, that was a British Resident at a court of in
trigue, was startled out of his composure; his eyes
flashed to those of Barlow.

But the Captain, knowing all this beforehand, had
an advantage, and he showed no sign of trepidation.

Then the thin drawn face of the Resident was flat
tened out by control, and he commanded the deceit to
talk on.

"I tried to save the two sepoys, and one was a ser
geant, but I was stricken down with a wound and it
was in the way of treachery."

Ajeet laid a hand upon his wounded shoulder, say
ing, "When the two sepoys rode suddenly out of the
night into our camp, where there in the moonlight lay
the bodies of the merchant and his men, the Bagrees
were afraid lest the two should make report. They
rushed upon the two riders, and it was then that I
was wounded. I would have been killed but for this
protection," and Ajeet rubbed affectionately the beau
tiful strong shirt-of-mail that enwrapped his torso.

"And observe, Sahib, the wound is from behind,
which is a wound of treachery. As I rushed to the
two and cried to them to be gone, a ball from a short
gun in the hands of some Bagree smote me upon the
shoulder, and this, " he again touched the shirt-of-
mail, "and my shoulder-blade turned it from my
heart. Even then Hunsa thought I was dead. And
he was in league with the Dewan to obtain for Nana

126 Caste

Sahib a girl of my household, who is called the Gulab
because she is as beautiful as the moon."

At this statement Barlow knew why the man he
had beaten with his pistol had tried to seize the Gulab.
It was startling. The leg that had rested across a
knee clamped noisily to the floor, and a smothered
"Damn!" escaped from his lips. What a devilish
complicated thing it was.

Ajeet resumed: "Hunsa rushed to where the Gulab
was in hiding and helped the men who had been sent
by Nana Sahib to steal her. Then he came back to
our camp saying that many men had beaten him, and
that he had been forced to flee."

At this vagary Barlow chuckled inwardly.

"What of the two soldiers?" Hodson asked; "why
were they here in this land and at the camp of the

"I know not, Sahib."

"Were the bodies robbed by your men they would
be did they find papers that would indicate the two
were messengers?" and the Resident's bloodless fin
gers that clasped a pen were trembling with the sup
pression of the awful interest he strove to hide, for he
knew, as well as Barlow, what their mission was.

"Yes, Sahib, they were stripped and the bodies
thrown in the pit with the others. Eight rupees were
taken, but as to papers I know nothing."

"Where is the woman you call the Gulab?"

"She will be in the hands of Nana Sahib," Ajeet
answered; "and because of that I have come to con
fess so your Honour will save my life from him for he

Caste 127

will make accusation that I was Chief of those who
killed the soldiers of the British; and that the Sahib
will cause to have returned to me the Gulab."

The Resident took from a drawer a form, and his
pen scratched irritably at blanks here and there. He
tossed it over to Barlow saying, "I'm going to give
this decoit this provisional pardon; perhaps it will
nail him. What he has confessed is of value. You
translate this to him while I think; I can't make mis
takes I must not."

Captain Barlow read to Ajeet the pardon, which was
the form adopted by the British government to be
issued to certain thugs and deceits who became spies,
called Approvers, for the British.

"You, Ajeet Singh, are promised exemption from the
punishment of death and transportation beyond seas for
all past offences, and such reasonable indulgence as your
services may seem to merit, and may be compatible with
your safe custody on condition: ist, that you make full
confession of all the decoities in which you have been en
gaged; 2nd, that you mention truly the names of all your
associates in these crimes, and assist to the utmost of your
power in their arrest and conviction. If you act contrary
to these conditions conceal any of the circumstances of
the decoities in which you have been engaged screen any
of your friends attempt to escape or accuse any innocent
person you shall be considered to have forfeited thereby
all claims to such exemption and indulgence."

When the Captain had finished interpreting this the
Resident passed it to the decoit, saying: "This will

128 Caste

protect you from the British. You are now bound to
the British; and I want you to bring me any papers
that may have been found upon the two soldiers.
Bring here this woman, the Gulab, if you can find her.

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