W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

Caste online

. (page 9 of 16)
Online LibraryW. A. (William Alexander) FraserCaste → online text (page 9 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

killed the brute when I had the chance."

"I did not know that Hunsa had proposed this
neither did Ajeet; for they wanted to get him in their
power through the decoity so that if he refused per
mission he might be killed. And now Ajeet is trapped
through the decoity and Bootea is going to the Pindari

"You're not going to betray Amir Khan, have him
murdered!" Barlow cried, aghast at the villainy, at
the thought that one so sweet could be forced to com
plicity in such a ghastly crime.

"No, Sahib, to save his life, for if I do not go now
Ajeet will be killed, and all the others put in prison
because of the decoity. Worse will happen Bootea,
she will be placed in the seraglio of Nana Sahib."

"Damn it! they can't do that!" Barlow exclaimed
angrily. "I'll stop that."

"No, the Sahib can't; and he has a mission, he is
not of the service of protecting Bootea."

"You can't save Amir Khan's life unless you betray
the Bagrees to him?"

"Yes, Sahib, I can. Perhaps the Chief will like
Bootea, and will listen to what she says. Men such
as brave warriors always treat Bootea not as a
nautchni so I will ask him not to come to the tent
at night because of ill repute. Hunsa will not be able

Caste 147

to slay him unless it is a trap on my part to get him
from the watching eyes of his men. If Hunsa be
comes suspicious, and there is real danger, I will
threaten that I will expose him to the Chief. If we
come back because we have failed in our mission,
having tried to succeed, it will not be like refusing to
go; and perhaps there will be mercy shown."

"Mercy!" Barlow sneered; "Nana Sahib knows
nothing of mercy, he's a tiger."

"But if I refuse to go another nautchni will be sent,,
perhaps more beautiful than I am, and she would
betray the Chief, and perhaps all would be killed."

"By Jove! you're some woman, you're magnificent
you're like a Rajputni princess."

A slim hand was placed on Barlow's wrist and the
girl said, "Sahib, I am just Bootea, please, please!"

"And that's your reason for taking this awful chance,
to save Ajeet and the others is it?"

"There is another reason, Sahib." The girl dropped
her eyes and turning a gold bangle on her wrist gazed
upon a ruby that had the contour of a serpent's head.
Presently she asked, "Will the Sahib go to Khureyra
and have a knife thrust between his ribs?"

Barlow was startled by this query. "Why should
I go to Khureyra, Gulab?"

"To see Amir Khan."

"What makes you say that?"

"Because it is known. But the Chief is not now
there he has taken his horsemen to Saugor."

Again this was startling. Also the information was
of great value. If the Pindari horde had left the

148 Caste

territory of Sindhia and crossed the border into Saugor
they were closer to the British.

Barlow patted the girl's hand, saying, "My salaams
to you, little girl."

He felt her slim cool fingers press his hand, but he
shrank from the claiming touch, muttering, "The
damned barrier!"

Suddenly Barlow remembered Bootea had spoken
of another reason for going to the Pindari camp. He
puzzled over this a little, hesitating to question her;
she had not told him what it was, but had asked if
he were going there; the reason evidently had some
thing to do with him. It couldn't be treachery she
had done so much for him; it must be the something
that looked out of her eyes when they rested on his
face, the unworded greatest thing on earth in the way
of fealty and devotion. Possibly this was the grand
motive, the reason she had given being secondary.

"You said, Gulab, that you had another reason for
this awful trip; what is it?" he asked.

The girl's eyes dropped to the ruby bracelet again;
"To acquire merit in the eyes of Mahadeo, Sahib."

"To do good acts so that you may be reincarnated
as a heaven-born, a Brahmini, perhaps even come back
as a memsahib."

At this her big eyes rose to Barlow's face, and he
could swear that there were tears misting them ; and
sensing that if she had fallen in love with him, what
he had said about her becoming a memsahib had hurt.
Perhaps she, as he did, realised that that was the

Caste 149

barred door to happiness that she wasn't of the white

"Yes, Sahib," she said presently, "a Swami told me
that in a former life I had been evil."

"The Swami is an awful liar!" Barlow ejaculated.

"The holy ones speak the truth, Sahib. The Swami
said that because of having been beautiful I had
caused deaths through jealousy."

"Oh, the crazy fool!" Barlow declared in English;
"and it's all rot! This is the reason you spoke of,
Gulab good deeds; is it the only other reason?"

The girl turned her face away, and Barlow saw her
shoulders quiver.

He rose from the chair, and lifting the girl to her
feet held her in his arms, saying: "Look me in the
eyes, Gulab, and tell me if you are going through this
devilish thing because of me."

"Bootea is going to the camp of Amir Khan because
Hunsa and the others have been told to kill the Sahib;
and she will see that this is not accomplished."

Barlow clasped the girl to his breast and smothered
her face in kisses: "You are the sweetest little woman
that ever lived," he said; "and I am a sinner, for this
can only bring you misery."

"Sahib it can't be, but it is not misery. The sweet
pain has been put in the heart of Bootea by the Sahib's
eyes, and she is happy. But do not go as a Sahib."

Barlow cursed softly to himself, muttering, "India!
Even dreams are not unheard!" Then, "What made
you say that?" he queried.

150 Caste

"It is known because that is the way of the Sahib.
He knows that where he sleeps or eats, or plays games
with the little balls, that there are always servants,
and it is known that Captain Barrle is called the Patan
by his friends."

"St. George and the Cross!" he ejaculated.

"If I were thus would they know me?" he asked.

"There would be danger, but the Sahib knowing of
this, could take more care in the way of deceit. But
Bootea will know the eyes will not be hidden."

Then he thought of Hunsa, and asked, "But aren't
you afraid to go with that beast, Hunsa?"

The girl laughed. "The deceits have orders from
the Dewan to kill him if I complain of him; but if
they do not he is promised the torture when he comes
back if I make complaint. If the Sahib will but wait
a few days before the journey so that Bootea has
made friends with Amir Kahn before he comes, it
will be better. We will start in two days."

"I'll see, Gulab," he answered evasively. "You are
going now?"

"Yes, Sahib it has been said."

"I'll send the doorman with you."

"No, Bootea will be better alone," she touched the
knife in her sash; "it must not be known that Bootea
came to the Sahib."

Barlow took her arm leading her through the bath
room to the back door; he opened it, and listened
intently for a few seconds. Then he took her oval
face in his palms and kissed her, passionately, saying,

Caste 151

"Good-bye, little girl; God be with you. You are

"The Sahib is like a god to Bootea," she whispered.

As the girl slipped away between the bushes, like
something floating out of a dream, Barlow stood at
the open door, a resurge of abasement flooding his
soul. In the combat between his mentality and his
heart the heart was making him a weakling, a dis
honourable weakling, so it seemed. He pulled the door
shut, and went back to his bed and finally fell asleep,
a thing of tortured unrest.


Barlow was up early next morning, wakened by
that universal alarm clock of India, the grey-necked,
small-bodied city crow whose tribe is called the
Seven Sisters noisy, impudent, clamorous, sharp-eyed
thieves that throng the compounds like sparrows, that
hop in through the open window and steal a slice of
toast from beside the cup of tea at the bedside.

He mounted the waiting Cabuli pony and rode to
the Residency. He had much to talk over with
Hodson in the light of all that had transpired in the
last two days, and, also, he had a hope that Elizabeth
would be possessed of an after-the-storm calm, would
greet him, and somehow give him a moral sustaining
against his lapse in heart loyalty. Mentally he didn't
label his feeling toward Elizabeth love. Toward her
it had been largely a matter of drifting, undoubted
giving in to suasion, more of association than what was
said. She had class; she was intellectual; there was
no doubt about her wit it was like a well-cut dia
mond, sparkling, brilliant no warmth. When Barlow
reflected, jogging along on the Cabuli, that he probably
did not love Elizabeth, picturing the passion as typified
by Romeo and Juliet as instance, he suddenly asked
himself: "By Jove! and does anybody except the pater
love Elizabeth?" He was doubtful if anybody did.
All the servants held her in esteem, for she was just,
and not niggardly; but hers was certainly not a dis-


Caste 153

position to cause spontaneous affection. Perhaps the
word admirable epitomised Elizabeth all round. But
he felt that he needed a sort of Christian Science
sustaining, as it were, in this sensuous drifting some
thing to make his slipping appear more obnoxious.

As he rode up to the verandah of the Residency he
saw Elizabeth cutting flowers, probably to decorate
the breakfast table. That was like Elizabeth; instead
of leaving it to the mahli (gardener), with the butler
to festoon the table, she was doing it herself. It was
an occupation akin to water-colour painting or lace
work, just the sort of thing to find Elizabeth at

Barlow was possessed of a hopeful fancy that per
haps she had not ridden expecting that he would call
on the Resident; but as always with the Resident's
daughter he could deduct nothing from her manner.
She nodded pleasantly, looking up, a gloved hand full
of roses, and, as he slipped from the saddle, relinquish
ing the horse to the syce, she fell in beside him as far
as the verandah, where they stood talking desultory
stuff; the morning sun on the pink and white oleanders,
the curious snake-like mottling of the croton leaves,
and the song of a dhyal that, high in a tamarind, was
bubbling liquid notes of joy.

"The Indian robin red-breast makes one homesick,"
Elizabeth said.

"Home ", but the girl put a quick hand on his
arm checking him ; the action was absolutely like Eliz
abeth, imperious. A small, long-tailed, brown-breasted
bird had darted across the compound to a mango tree

154 Caste

from where he warbled a love song as sweet and rich
toned as the evensong of a nightingale.

The dhyal, as if feeling defeat in the sweeter carol
of his rival, hushed.

"The shama" Elizabeth said; "when I hear him I
close my eyes and picture the downs and oaked hills of
England, and fancy I'm listening to the nightingale or
the lark."

Barlow turned involuntarily to look into the girl's
face; it was an inquisitive look, a wondering look;
gentle sentiment coming from Elizabeth was rather a
reversal of form.

Also there was immediately a reversal of bird form,
a shatterment of sentiment, a rasping maddening note
from somewhere in the dome of a pipal tree. A Koel
bird, as if in derision of the feathered songsters, sent
forth his shrill plaintive, "Koe-e-el, Koe-e-el, Ko-

"Ah-a-a!" Barlow exclaimed in disgust "that's
India; the fever-bird, the koel, harbinger of the hot-
spell, of burning sun and stifling dust, and throbbing

He cursed the koel, for the gentle mood had slipped
from Elizabeth. He had hoped that she would have
spoken of yesterday, give him a shamed solace for the
hurt she had given him. Of course Hodson would
have told her all about the Gulab. But while that,
the service, was sufficient for the Resident, Elizabeth
would consider the fact that Barlow knew Bootea well
enough to have this service rendered; it would touch
her caste also her exacting nature.

Caste 155

Something like this was floating through his mind as
he groped mentally for an explanation of Elizabeth's
attitude, the effect of which was neutral; nothing to
draw him toward her in a way of moral sustaining,
but also, nothing to antagonise him.

She must know that he was leaving on a dangerous
mission; but she did not bring it up. Perhaps with
her usual diffident reserve she felt that it was his
province to speak of that.

At any rate she called to a hovering bearer telling
him to give his master Captain Barlow's salaams.
Then with the flowers she passed into the bungalow.
She had quite a proppy, military stride, bred of much

Barlow gazed after Elizabeth ruefully, wishing she
had thrown him a life belt. However, it did not
matter; it was up to him to act in a sane manner, men
of the Service were taught to rely on themselves.
And in Barlow was the something of breeding that held
him to the true thing, to the pole; the breeding might
be compared to the elusive thing in the magnetic needle.
It did not matter, he would probably marry Elizabeth
it seemed the proper thing to do. Devilish few of
the chaps he knew babbled much about love and being
batty over a girl that is, the girls they married.

Then the bearer brought Hodson's salaams to the

And Hodson was a Civil Servant in excelsis. He
took to bed with him his Form D and Form C even
the "D. O.", the Demi Official business, and worried
over it when he should have slept or read himself to

156 Caste

sleep. Duty to him was a more exacting god than
the black Kali to the Brahmins; it had dried up his
blood atrophied his nerves of enjoyment. And now
he was depressed though he strove to greet Barlow

"It's a devilish shindy, this killing of our two chaps,"
he burst forth with; "I've pondered over it, I've
worried over it; the only solace in the thing is, that the
arm of the law is long."

"I think you've got it, sir," Barlow encouraged.
"When we've smashed Sindhia and we will we'll
demand these murderers, hang a few of them, and send
the rest to the Andamans."

"Yes, it has simply got to wait; to stir up things
now would only let the Peshwa know what you are
going to do we'd show him our hand. And I don't
mind telling you, Captain, that he is an absolute
traitor; and I believe that it^s that damn Nana Sahib
who's influencing him."

"There's no doubt about it, sir."

"No, there is not!" the Resident declared gloomily.
"The two dead sowars must be considered as sacrifice,
just as though they had fallen in battle; it's for the
good of the Raj. If I get hauled over the coals for
this I don't give a damn. I've pondered over it, almost
prayed over it, and it's the only way. There's talk
of a big loot of jewellery by these deceits, and the kill
ing of the merchant and his men, but I've got nothing
to do with that. The one wonderful thing is, that we
saved the papers. That little native woman that
brought them to you must be rewarded later. By the

Caste 157

way, Barlow, I took the liberty of explaining all that
to Elizabeth, and I think she's pretty badly cut up
over the way she acted. But you understand, don't
you, Captain? I believe that if it had been my case
I'd have, well, I'd have known that it was because the
girl cared. Elizabeth is undemonstrative too much
so, in fact; but I fancy well, never mind: it's so long
ago that I took notice of these things that I find I'm
trying to speak in an unknown tongue."

The little man rose and bustled about, pulling out
drawers from the cabinet and shoving them back again,
venting little asthmatic coughs of sheer nervousness.
Then coming up to Barlow he held out his hand saying:
"My dear boy, God be with you; but don't take
chances will you?"

At that instant Elizabeth appeared at the doorway:
"Captain Barlow will have breakfast with us, won't
he, father it's all ready, and Boodha says he has a
chop-and-kidney curry that is a dream?"

"Jupiter!" Hodson exclaimed; "fancy I'm getting
India head; was sending Barlow off without a word
about breakfast. Of course he'll stay thanks,

The tired drawn parchment face of the Resident be
came revivified, it was the face of a happy boy; the
grey eyes blued to youth. Inwardly he murmured:
"Elizabeth is wonderful! I knew it; good girl!"

It was a curious breakfast mentally. Elizabeth
was the Elizabeth of the verandah. Perhaps it was
the passionate beating of the pillow the day before,
when she had realised for the first time what Barlow

158 Caste

meant to her, that now cast her into defence; encased
her in an armour of protection; caused her to assume
a casualness. She would give worlds to not have said
what she had said the day before, but the Captain
must know that she had been roused by a knowledge
of his intimacy with the Gulab. Just what had oc
curred did not matter not in the least; it was his
place to explain it. That was Elizabeth's way it
was her manner of thought; a subservience of impulse
to propriety, to class. In the light of her feeling when
she had lain, wet-eyed, beating the pillow, she knew
that if he had put his arms about her and said just
even stupid words "I'm sorry, Beth, you know I love
you" she would have capitulated, perhaps even in the
capitulation have said a Bethism: "It doesn't matter
we'll never mention it again."

But Barlow, very much of a boy, couldn't feel this
elusive thing, and rode away after breakfast from the
bungalow muttering: "By gad! Elizabeth should have
said something over roasting me. Fancy she doesn't
care a hang. Anyway I'll give her credit for that
she doesn't hunt with the hounds and run with the
hare. If it's the prospect of sharing a title with me,
a rotter would have eaten the leek. Yes, Elizabeth is


Dewan Sewlal was in a shiver of apprehension over
the killing of the two sepoys; there would be trouble
over this if the Resident came to know of it.

But Hunsa had assured him that the soldiers and
their saddles had been buried in the pit with the others,
and that nobody but the decoits knew of their advent.

Then when he learned that Ajeet Singh had been to
the Resident he was in a panic. But as that British
official made no move, said nothing about the decoity,
he fancied that perhaps Ajeet had not mentioned this,
in fact he had no proof that he had made a confession
at all. But Ajeet's complicity in the decoity where
the merchant and his men had been killed, gave the
Dewan just what he had planned for the power of
death over the Chief. As to his own complicity he had
taken care to speak of the decoity to no one but Hunsa.
The yogi had been inspired, of course, but the yogi
would not appear as a witness against him, and Hunsa
would not, because it would cost him his head.

So now, at a hint from Nana Sahib, the Dewan seized
upon Ajeet, voicing a righteous indignation at his crime
of decoity, and gave him the alternative of being
strangled with a bow-string or forcing the Gulab to
go to the camp of Amir Khan to betray him. Not
only would Ajeet be killed, but Bootea would be thrust
into the seraglio, and the other Bagrees put in prison
some might be killed. Ajeet was forced to yield to


160 Caste

these threats. The very complicity of the Dewan
made him the more hurried in this thing. Also he
wanted to get the B agrees away to the Pindari camp
before the Resident made a move.

The mission to Amir Khan would be placed in the
hands of Hunsa and Sookdee, Ajeet being retained as
a pawn; also his wound had incapacitated him. He
was nominally at liberty, though he knew well that if
he sought to escape the Mahrattas would kill him.

The jewels that had been stolen from the merchant
were largely retained by the Bagrees, though the
Dewan found, one night, very mysteriously, a magni
ficent string of pearls on his pillow. He did not ask
questions, and seemingly no one of his household knew
anything about the pearls.

When the yogi asked Hunsa about the ruby, the
Akbar Lamp, Hunsa, who had determined to keep it
himself, as, perhaps, a ransom for his life in that
troublous time, declared that in the turmoil of the
coming of the soldiers he had not found it. Indeed
this seemed reasonable, for he, having fled down the
road to the Gulab, had not been there when they had
opened the box and looted it.

So the Dewan sent for Ajeet, Hunsa and Sookdee,
and declared that if the Bagree contingent of murder
did not start at once for the Pindari camp he would
have them taken up for the decoity.

It was Ajeet who answered the Dewan: "Dewan
Sahib, we be men who undertake all things in the
favour of Bhowanee, and we make prayer to that god
dess. If the Dewan will give fifty rupees for our

Caste 161

pooja, to-morrow we will make sacrifice to her, for
without the feast and the sacrifice the signs that she
would vouchsafe would be false. Then we will take
the signs and the men will go at once."

"You shall have the money," the Dewan declared:
"but do not delay."

That evening the Bagrees made their way to a
mango grove for the feast, carrying cocoanuts, raw
sugar, flour, butter, and a fragrant gum, goojul. A
large hole was dug in the ground and filled with dry
cow-dung chips which were set on fire. Sweet cakes
were baked on the fire and then broken into small
pieces, a portion of the fire raked to one side, and
their priest sprinkled upon it the fragrant gum, calling
in a loud voice: "Maha Kali, assist and guide us in
our expedition. Keep calamity from us who worship
Thee, and have made this feast in Thy honour. Give
us the sign, that we may know if it is agreeable to
Thee that we destroy the enemy of Maharaja Sindhia."

When the Bagrees had eaten much cooked rice and
meat-balls, which were served on plantain leaves, they
drank robustly of mhowa spirit, first spilling some of
this liquor upon the ground in the name of the goddess.

The strong rank native liquor roused an enthusiasm
for their approaching interview of the sacred one.
Once Ajeet laid his hand upon the pitcher that Hunsa
was holding to his coarse lips, and pressing it down
ward, admonished:

"Hunsa, whilst Bhowanee does not prohibit, it is an
offence to approach her except in devout silence."

The surly one flared up at this; his ungovernable

162 Caste

rage drew his hand to a knife in his belt, and his eyes
blazed with the ferocity of a wounded tiger.

"Ajeet," he snarled, "you are now Chief, but you are
not Raja to command slaves."

With a swift twist of his wrist Ajeet snatched the
pitcher from the hand of Hunsa, saying: "Jamadar, it
is the liquor that is in you, therefore you have had

But Hunsa sprang to his feet and his knife gleamed
like the spitting of fire in the slanting rays of the set
ting sun, as he drove viciously at the heart of his
Chief. There was a crash as the blade struck and
pierced the matka which Ajeet still held by its long

There was a scream of terror from the throats of the
women; a cry of horror from the Guru at this sacrilege
the spilling of liquor upon the earth in anger at the
feast of Bhowanee.

Ajeet's strong fingers, slim bronzed lengths of steel,
had gripped the wrist of his assailant as Bootea, dart
ing forward, laid a hand upon the arm of Hunsa,
crying, "Shame! shame! You are like sweepers of
low caste eaters of carrion, they who respect not
Bhowanee. Shame! you are a dog a lapper of

At the touch of the Gulab on his arm, and the scorn
in her eyes, Hunsa shivered and drew back, his head
hanging in abasement, but his face devilish in its

Ajeet, taking a brass dish, poured water upon the
hand that had gripped the wrist of Hunsa, saying,

Caste 163

"Thus I will cleanse the defilement." Then he sat
down upon his heels, adding: "Guru, holy one, repeat
a prayer to appease Bhowanee, then we will go into
the jungle and take the auspices."

The Guru strode over to Hunsa, and holding out his
thin skinny palm commanded, "Jamadar, from you a
rupee; and to-morrow I will put upon the shrine of
Kali cocoanuts and sweet-meats and marigolds as
peace offerings."

Hunsa took from his loin cloth a silver coin and
dropped it surlily in the outstretched hand, sneering:
"To Bhowanee you will give four annas, and you will
feast to the value of twelve annas, for that is the way
of your craft. The vultures always finish the bait
when the tiger has been slain."

Soon the feathery lace work of bamboos beneath
which they sat were whispering to the night-wind that
had roused at the dropping of the huge ball of fire
in the west, and the soft radiance of a gentle moon was
gilding with silver the gaunt black arms of a babool.
Then the priest said: "Come, jamadars, we now will
go deeper into the silent places and listen for the voice

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryW. A. (William Alexander) FraserCaste → online text (page 9 of 16)