The Bronze Bell
Louis Joseph Vance
Part 4 out of 6
by the adventure of which she was at once the cause and the prize, even
though he had met and been charmed by her before becoming enmeshed in
its web of incident, he had thought of her with a faint trace of
incredulity, as though she had been a thing of fable, trapped with all
the fanciful charms of beleaguered fairy princesses, rather than a
living woman of flesh and fire and blood--such as she proved to be who
rode with him, her thoughts drowsily astray in the vastnesses of her
inscrutable, virginal moods.
To think that she was foreordained to be his wife was not more
unbelievable than the consciousness that he, her undeclared lover, her
predestined mate and protector, was listlessly permitting her to delve
further into the black heart of a land out of which he had promised to
convey her with all possible speed, for the salvation of her body and
soul.... Yet what could he do, save be passive for the time, and wait
upon the turn of events? He could not, dared not seize her in his arms
and insist that she love him, marry him, fly with him--all within the
compass of an hour or even of a day. For words of love came haltingly
to his unskilled tongue, though they came from a surcharged heart, and
to him the strategy of love was as a sealed book, at whose contents he
could but guess, and that with a diffidence and distrust sadly
handicapping to one who had urgent need of expedition in his courting.
With a rueful smile and a perturbed heart he pondered his problem. The
second stage wore away without a dozen words passing between them; so
also the third. The pauses were brief enough, the ponies being
exchanged with gratifying despatch. The tonga would pull up, Ram Nath
would jump down ... and in a brace of minutes or little more the
vehicle would be _en route_ again, Amber engaged with the infinite
ramifications of this labyrinthal riddle of his, and the girl
insensibly yielding to the need of sleep. She passed, at length, into
Thus the morning stages flowed beneath the tonga, personified in a
winding ribbon of roadway, narrow, deep-rutted, inexpressibly dusty,
lined uncertainly over a scrubby, sun-scorched waste. Sophia napped
uneasily by fits and starts, waking now and again with a sleepy smile
and a fragmentary, murmured apology. She roused finally very much
refreshed for the midday halt for rest and tiffin, which they passed at
one of the conventional bungalows, in nothing particularly unlike its
fellows unless it were that they enjoyed, before tiffin, the gorgeous
luxury of plenty of clean water, cooled in porous earthen jars. Amber,
overwhelmed by the discovery of this abundance, promptly went to the
extreme of calling in the khansamah to sluice him down with jar after
jar, and felt like himself for the first time in five days when, shaved
and dressed, he returned to the common living-room of the resthouse.
The girl kept him waiting but a little while. Lacking the attentions of
an ayah she had probably been unable to bathe so extensively as he, but
eventually she appeared in an immeasurably more happy state of body and
mind, calling up to him the simile, stronger than any other, of a tall,
fair lily after a morning shower. And she was in a bewitching humour,
one that ingenuously enough succeeded in entangling him more thoroughly
than ever before in the web of her fascinations. Over an execrable
curry of stringy fowl and questionable rice, eked out with tea and
tinned delicacies of their own, their chatter, at the beginning
sufficiently gay and inconsequent, drifted by imperceptible and
unsuspected gradations perilously close to the shoals of intimacy. And
subsequently, when they had packed themselves back into the narrow
tonga-seat and Again were being bounced and juggled breathlessly over
shocking roads, the exchange of confidences continued with unabated
interest. Amber on his part was led to talk of his life and work, of
his adventures in the name of Science, of his ambitions and
achievements. In return he received a vivid impression of the lives of
those women who share with their men the burden of official life in
British India: of serene days in the brisk, invigorating, clear
atmosphere of hill stations; of sunsmitten days and steaming nights in
the Deccan; of the uncertain, anchorless existences of those who know
not from one day to another when they may be whisked half across an
Empire at the whim of that awful force simply nominated Government....
For all the taint upon her pedigree, she proved herself to Amber at
heart a simple, lonely Englishwoman--a stranger in a sullen and
suspicious land, desiring nothing better than to return to the England
she had seen and learned to love, the England of ample lawns, of
box-hedges, and lanes, of travelled highways, pavements and gaslights,
of shops and theatres, of home and family ties....
But India she knew. "I sometimes fancy," she told him with the
conscious laugh that deprecates a confessed superstition, "that I must
have lived here in some past incarnation." She paused, but he did not
speak. "Do you believe in reincarnation?" Again he had no answer for
her, though temporarily he saw the daylight as darkness. "It's hard to
live here for long and resist belief in it.... But as a matter of fact
I seem to understand these people better than they're understood by
most of _my_ people. Don't you think it curious? Perhaps it's merely
"That's the birthright of your sex," he said, rousing. "On the other
hand, you have to remember that your father is one of a family that for
generations has served the Empire. And your mother?"
"She, too, came of an Anglo-Indian family. Indeed, they met and courted
here, though they were married in England.... So you think my insight
into native character a sort of birthright--a sense inherited?"
"Perhaps--something of the sort."
"You may be right. We'll never know. At all events, I seem to have a
more--more painful comprehension of the native than most of the English
in this country have; I seem to feel, to sense their motives, their
desires, aspirations, even sometimes their untranslatable thoughts. I
believe I understand perfectly their feeling toward us, the governing
"Then," said Amber, "you know something his Highness the Viceroy
himself would give his ears to be sure of."
"I know that; but I do."
"And that feeling is----?"
"Not love, Mr. Amber."
"Much to the contrary----?"
"Very much," she affirmed with deep conviction.
"This 'Indian unrest' one reads of in the papers is not mere gossip,
"Anything but that; it's the hidden fire stirring within the volcano we
told ourselves was dead. The quiet of the last fifty years has been not
content but slumber; deep down there has always been the fire, slow,
deadly, smouldering beneath the ashes. The Mutiny still lives in
spirit; some day it will break out afresh. You must believe me--I
_know_. The more we English give our lives to educate the natives, the
further we spread the propaganda of discontent; day by day we're
teaching them to understand that we are no better than they, no more
fit to rule; they are beginning to look up and to see over the rim of
the world--and we have opened their eyes. They have learned that
Japanese can defeat Caucasians, that China turns in its sleep, that
England is no more omnipotent than omniscient. They've heard of anarchy
and socialism and have learned to throw bombs. Only the other day a
justice in Bengal was killed by a bomb.... I fancy I talk," the girl
broke off with her clear laugh, "precisely like my father, who talks
precisely as a political pamphleteer writes. You'll see when you meet
"Do you take much interest in politics?"
"No more than the every-day Englishwoman; it's one of our staples of
conversation, when we've exhausted the weather, you know. But I'm not
in the least advanced, if that's what you mean; I hunger after
fashion-papers and spend more time than I ought, devouring home-made
trash imported in paper-covers. I only feel what I feel by instinct--as
I said awhile ago."
Perhaps if he had known less about the girl, he would have attached
less importance to her statements. As it was, she impressed him
profoundly. He pondered her words deeply, storing them in his memory,
remembering that another had spoken in the same manner--one for whose
insight into the ways of the native he had intense respect.
As the slow afternoon dragged out its blazing hours, their spirits
languished, and they fell silent, full weary and listless. Towards the
last quarter of the journey their road forsook the spacious, haggard
plain and again entered a hilly country, but this time one wherein
there was no lack either of water or of life: a green and fertile land
parcelled into farms and dotted with villages.
Night overtook the tonga when it was close upon Kuttarpur, swooping
down upon the world like a blanket of darkness, at the moment that the
final relay of ponies was being hitched in. The sun dipped behind the
encircling hills; the west blazed with the lambent flame of fire-opal;
the wonderful translucent blue of the sky shaded suddenly to deep
purple lanced by great shafts of mauve and amethyst light, and in the
east stars popped out; the hills shone like huge, crude gems--sapphire,
jade, jasper, malachite, chalcedony--their valleys swimming with mists
of mother-of-pearl.... And it was night, the hills dark and still, the
sky a deeper purple and opaque, the ruddy fires of wayfarers on the
roadside leaping clear and bright.
With fresh ponies the tonga took the road with a wild initial rush soon
to be moderated, when it began to climb the last steep grade to the
pass that gives access to Kuttarpur from the south. For an hour the
road toiled up and ever upward; steep cliffs of rock crowded it,
threatening to push it over into black abysses, or to choke it off
between towering, formidable walls. It swerved suddenly into a broad,
clear space. The tonga paused. Voluntarily Ram Nath spoke for almost
the first time since morning.
"Kuttarpur," he said, with a wave of his whip.
Aloof, austere and haughty, the City of Swords sits in the mouth of a
ravine so narrow that a wall no more than a hundred yards in length is
sufficient to seal its southerly approach. Beneath this wall, to one
side of the city gate, a river flows from the lake that is Kuttarpur's
chiefest beauty. Within, a multitude of dwellings huddles, all
interpenetrated by streets and backways so straitened and sinuous as
scarcely to permit the passage of an elephant from the Maharana's herd;
congested in the bottom of the valley, the houses climb tier upon tier
the flanking hillsides, until their topmost roofs threaten even the
supremacy of that miracle in white marble, the Raj Mahal.
Northwards the palace of Khandawar's kings stands, exquisite, rare, and
marvellous, unlike any other building in the world. White, all white,
from the lake that washes its lowest walls to the crenellated rim of
its highest roof, it sweeps upward in breath-taking steps and wide
terraces to the crest of the western hill, into which it burrows, from
which it springs; a vast enigma propounded in white marble without a
note of colour save where the foliage of a hidden garden peeps over the
edge of a jealous screen--a hundred imposing mansions merged into one
monstrous and imperial maze.
Impregnable in the old days, before cannon were brought to India,
Kuttarpur lives to-day remote, unfriendly, inhospitable. Within its
walls there is no room for many visitors; they who come in numbers,
therefore, must perforce camp down before the gates.
Now figure the city to yourself, seeing it as Sophia was later to see
it in the light of day; then drench it with blue Indian night and stud
it with a myriad eyes of fire--lamps, torches, candles, blue-white
electric arcs, lights running up and down both hillsides and fringing
the very star-sheeted skies, clustering and diverging in vast,
bewildering, inconsequent designs, picking out the walls and main
thoroughfares, shining through coloured globes upon the palace
terraces, glimmering mysteriously from isolate windows and balconies;
and add to these the softly illuminated walls of a hundred silken state
marquees and a thousand meaner canvas tents arrayed south of the
city.... And that is Kuttarpur as it first revealed itself to Amber and
But for a moment were they permitted to gaze in wonderment; Ram Nath
had little patience. When he chose to, he applied his whip, and the
ponies stretched out, the tonga plunging on their heels down the steep
hillside, like an ungoverned, ungovernable thing, maddened. Within a
quarter of an hour they were careering through the city of tents on the
parked plain before the southern wall. In five minutes more they drew
up at the main city gate to parley with the Quarter Guard.
Here they suffered an exasperating delay. It appeared that the gates
were shut at sundown, in deference to custom immemorial. Between that
hour and sunrise none were permitted to pass either in or out without
the express sanction of the State. The commander of the guard
instituted an impudent catechism, in response to which Ram Nath
discovered the several identities and estates of his charges. The
commander received the information with impartial equanimity and
retired within the city to confer with his superiors. After some time a
trooper was sent to advise the travellers that the tonga would be
permitted to enter with the understanding that the unaccredited
Englishman (meaning Amber) would consent to lodge for the night in no
other spot than the State rest-house beyond the northern limits of the
Amber agreed. The trooper saluted with much deference and withdrew. And
for a long time nothing happened; the gates remained shut, the postern
of the Quarter Guard irresponsive to Ram Nath's repeated summons. His
passengers endured with what patience they could command; they were
aware that it was necessary to obtain from some quarter official
sanction for the opening of the gates, but they had understood that it
had already been obtained.
Abruptly the peace of the night was shattered, and the hum of the
encampment behind them with the roar of the city before them was
dwarfed, by a dull and thunderous detonation of cannon from a terrace
of the palace. The tonga ponies, reared and plunged, Ram Nath mastering
them with much difficulty. Sophia was startled, and Amber himself
stirred uneasily on his perch.
"What now?" he grumbled. "You'd think we were visitors of state and had
to be durbarred!"
Far up on the heights a second red flame stabbed the night, and again
the thunder pealed. Thereafter gun after gun bellowed at imperative,
"Fifteen," Amber announced after a time. "Isn't this something
extraordinary, Miss Farrell?"
"Perhaps," she suggested, "there's a native potentate arriving at the
northern gate. They're very punctilious about their salutes, you know."
Another crash silenced her. Amber continued to count. "Twenty-one," he
said when it seemed that there was to be no more cannonading. "Isn't
that a royal salute?"
"Yes," said the girl; "four more guns than the Maharana of Khandawar
himself is entitled to."
"How do you explain it?"
"I don't," she replied simply. "Can you?"
He was dumb. Could it be possible that this imperial greeting was
intended for the man supposed to be the Maharana of Khandawar--Har Dyal
Rutton? He glanced sharply at the girl, but her face was shadowed; and
he believed she suspected nothing.
A great hush had fallen, replacing the rolling thunder of the State
ordnance. Even the voice of the city seemed moderate, subdued. In
silence the massive gates studded with sharp-toothed elephant-spikes
With a grunt, Ram Nath cracked his whiplash and the tonga sped into the
city. Amber bent forward.
"What's the name of that gate, Ram Nath--if you happen to know?"
"That," said the tonga-wallah in a level voice, "is known as the
Gateway of Swords, sahib." He added in his own good time: "But not
_the_ Gateway of Swords."
Amber failed to educe from him any satisfactory explanation of this
That same night Amber dined at the Residency, on the invitation of
Raikes, the local representative of Government, seconded by the
insistence of Colonel Farrell. It developed that Sophia's telegram had
somehow been lost in transit, and Farrell's surprise and pleasure at
sight of her were tempered only by his keen appreciation of Amber's
adventitious services, slight though they had been. He was urged to
stay the evening out, before proceeding to his designated quarters, and
the reluctance with which he acceded to this arrangement which worked
so happily with his desires, may be imagined.
Their arrival coincided with the dinner-hour; the meal was held half an
hour to permit them to dress. Raikes put a room at Amber's disposal,
and the Virginian contrived to bathe and get into his evening clothes
within less time than had been allowed him. Sophia, contrary to the
habit of her sex, was little tardier. At thirty minutes past eight they
sat down to dine, at a table in the garden of the Residency.
Ease of anxiety was more than food and drink to Amber; his feeling of
relief, to have convoyed Sophia to the company and protection of
Anglo-Saxons like himself, was intense. Yet he swallowed his
preliminary brandy-peg in a distinctly uncomfortable frame of mind,
strangely troubled by the reflection that round that lone white table
was gathered together the known white population of the State; a census
of which accounted for just five souls.
In the encompassing, exotic gloom of that blue Indian night--the kind
of night that never seems friendly to the Occidental but forever teems
with hints of tragic mystery--the cloth, lighted by shaded candles,
shone as immaculate and lustrous as an island of snow in a sea of
ink--as a good deed in a naughty world. Its punctilious array of
crystal and silver was no more foreign to the setting than were the men
who sat round it, stiff in that black-and-white armour of civilisation,
impregnable against the insidious ease of the East, in which your
expatriate Englishman nightly encases himself wherever he may be, as
loath to forego the ceremony of "dressing for dinner" as he would be to
dispense with letters from Home.
Raikes presided, a heavy man with the flaming red face of one who
constitutionally is unable to tan; of middle-age, good-natured, mellow,
adroit of manner. On his one hand sat Amber, over across from Sophia.
Next to Amber sat Farrell, tall and lean, sad of eye and slow of
speech, his sun-faded hair and moustache streaked with grey setting off
a dark complexion and thin, fine features. He wore the habit of
authority equally with the irascibility of one who temporizes with his
liver. Opposite him was a young, mild-eyed missionary, too new in the
land to have lost his illusions or have blunted the keen edge of his
enthusiasms; a colourless person with a finical way of handling his
knife and fork, who darted continually shy, sidelong glances at Sophia,
or interpolated eager, undigested comments, nervously into the
The table-talk was inconsequent; Amber took a courteous and easy part
in it without feeling that any strain was being put upon his
intelligence. His attention was centred upon the woman who faced him,
flushed with gaiety and pleasure, not alone because she was once more
with her father, but also because she unexpectedly was looking her
best. If she had been well suited in her tidy pongee travelling
costume, she found her evening gown no less becoming. It was a black
affair, very simple and individual; her shoulders rose from it with
intensified purity of tone, like fair white ivory gleaming with a
suggestion of the sleek sheen of satin; their strong, clean lines
rounded bewitchingly into the fair, slender neck upholding the young
head with its deftly coiffed crown of bronze and gold....
Tall, well-trained, silent servants moved like white-robed wraiths
behind the guests; the dishes of the many courses disappeared and were
replaced in a twinkling, as if by slight of hand. They were over
plentiful; Amber was relieved when at length the meal was over, and
Miss Farrell having withdrawn in conformance with inviolable custom,
the cloth was deftly whisked away and cigars, cigarettes, liqueurs,
whiskey and soda were served.
Amber took unto himself a cigar and utilised an observation of the
Political's as a lever to swing the conversation to a plane more likely
to inform him. Farrell had grumbled about the exactions of his position
as particularly instanced by the necessity of his attending tedious and
tiresome native ceremonies in connection with the _tamasha_.
"What's, precisely, the nature of this _tamasha_, Colonel Farrell?"
"Why, my dear young man, I thought you knew. Isn't it what you came to
"No," Amber admitted cautiously; "I merely heard a rumour that there
was something uncommon afoot. Is it really anything worth while?"
"Rather," Raikes interjected drily; "the present ruler's abdicating in
favour of his son, a child of twelve. That puts the business in a class
"There's been one precedent, hasn't there?" said the missionary,
pretending to be at ease with a cigarette. "The Holkar of Indore?"
"Yes," agreed Farrell; "a similar case, to be sure."
"But why should a prince hand over the reins of government to a child
of twelve? There must be some reason for it. Isn't it known?" asked
"Who can fathom a Hindu's mind?" grunted Farrell. "I daresay there's
some scandalous native intrigue at the bottom of it. Eh, Raikes?"
The Resident shook his head. "Don't come to this shop for information
about what goes on in Khandawar. I doubt if there's another Resident in
India who knows as little of the underhand devilment in his State as I
do. His Majesty the Rana loves me as a cheetah loves his trainer. He's
an intractable rascal."
"They grease the wheels of the independent native States with
intrigue," Farrell explained. "I know from sore experience. And your
Rajput is the deepest of the lot. I don't envy Raikes, here."
"The man who can guess what a Rajput intends to do next is entitled to
give himself a deal of credit," commented the Resident, with a short
"I've travelled a bit," continued Farrell, "and have seen something of
the courts of Europe, but I've yet to meet a diplomat who's peer to the
Rajput. You hear a great deal about the astuteness of the Russians and
the yellow races, and a Greek or Turk can lie with a fairly straight
face when he sees a profit in deception, but none of them is to be
classed with these people. If we English ever decide to let India rule
herself, her diplomatic corps will be recruited exclusively from the
flower of Rajputana's chivalry."
"I'll back Salig Singh against the field," said Raikes grimly; "he'll
be dean of the corps, when that time comes. He'd rather conspire than
fight, and the Rajputs--of course you know--are a warrior caste. I've a
notion"--the Resident leaned back and searched the shadows for an
eavesdropper--"I've a notion," he continued, lowering his voice, "that
the Rana has got himself in rather deep in some rascality or other, and
wants to get out before he's put out. There's bazaar gossip.... Hmm! Do
you speak French, Mr. Amber?"
"A little," said Amber in that tongue. "And I," nodded the missionary.
The talk continued in the language of diplomacy.
"Bazaar gossip----?" Farrell repeated enquiringly.
"There have been a number of deaths from cholera in the Palace lately,
the grand vizier's amongst them."
"White arsenic cholera?"
"That, and the hemp poison kind."
"Refractory vizier?" questioned Farrell. "The kind that wants to
retrench and institute reforms--railways and metalled roads and so
"No; he was quite suited to his master. But the bazaar says Naraini
took a dislike to him for one reason or another."
"Naraini?" queried Amber.
"The genius of the place." Raikes nodded toward the Raj Mahal, shining
like a pearl through the darkness on the hill-side over against the
Residency. "She's Salig's head queen. At least that's about as near to
her status as one can get. She's not actually his queen, but some sort
of a heritage from the Rutton dynasty--I hardly know what or why. Salig
never married her, but she lives in the Palace, and for several
years--ever since she first began to be talked about--she's ruled from
behind the screen with a high hand and an out-stretched arm. So the
"I've heard she was beautiful," Farrell observed.
"As beautiful as a peri, according to rumour. You never can tell; very
likely she's a withered old hag; nine out of ten native women are, by
the time they're thirty." Raikes jerked the glowing end of his cigar
into the shrubbery and reverted to English. "Shall we join Miss
They arose and left the table to the servants, the Resident with Amber
following Farrell and young Clarkson.
"Old women we are, forever talking scandal," said Raikes, with a
chuckle. "Oh, well! it's shop with us, you know."
"Of course.... Then I understand that the _tamasha_ is the reason for
the encampment beyond the walls?"
"Yes; they've been coming in for a week. By to-morrow night, I daresay,
every rajah, prince, thakur, baron, fief, and lord in Rajputana, each
with his 'tail,' horse and foot, will be camped down before the walls
of Kuttarpur. You've chosen an interesting time for your visit. It'll
be a sight worth seeing, when they begin to make a show. My troubles
begin with a State banquet to-morrow that I'd give much to miss;
however, I'll have Farrell for company."
"I'm glad to be here," said Amber thoughtfully. Could it be possible
that the proposed abdication of Salig Singh in favour of his son were
merely a cloak to a conspiracy to restore to power the house of Rutton?
Or had the _tamasha_ been arranged in order to gather together all the
rulers in Rajputana without exciting suspicion, that they might agree
upon a concerted plan of mutiny against the Sirkar? This state affair
of surpassing importance had been arranged for the last day of grace
allotted the Prince of the house of Rutton. What had it to do with the
Gateway of Swords, the Voice, the Mind, the Eye, the Body, the Bell?
"By the way, Mr. Raikes," said the Virginian suddenly, "what do they
call the gate by which we entered the city--the southern gate?"
"The Gateway of Swords, I believe."
Farrell, on the point of entering the house, overheard and turned. "Is
that so? Why, I thought _that_ gateway was in Kathiapur."
"I've heard of a Gateway of Swords in Kathiapur," Raikes admitted.
"Never been there, myself."
"A dead city, Mr. Amber, not far away--originally the capital of
Khandawar. It's over there in the hills to the north, somewhere. Old
Rao Rutton, founder of the old dynasty, got tired of the place and
caused it to be depopulated, building Kuttarpur in its stead--I
believe, to commemorate some victory or other. That sort of thing used
to be quite the fashion in India, before we came." Raikes fell back,
giving Amber precedence as they entered the Residency. "By the way,
remind me, if you think of it, Colonel Farrell, to get after the
telegraph-clerk to-morrow. There's a new man in charge--a Bengali
babu--and I presume he's about as worthless as the run of his kind."
Amber made a careful note of this information; he was curious about
In the drawing-room Raikes and Farrell impressed Clarkson for
three-handed Bridge. Sophia did not care to play and Amber was ignorant
of the game--a defect in his social education which he found no cause
to regret, since it left him in undisputed attendance upon the girl.
She had seated herself at a warped and discouraged piano, for which
Raikes had already apologised; it was, he said, a legacy from a former
Resident. For years its yellow keys had not known a woman's touch such
as that to which they now responded with thin, cracked voices; the
girl's fine, slender fingers wrung from them a plaintive, pathetic
parody of melody. Amber stood over her with his arms folded on the top
of the instrument, comfortably unconscious that his pose was copied
from any number of sentimental photogravures and "art photographs." His
temper was sentimental enough, for that matter; the woman was very
sweet and beautiful in his eyes as she sat with her white, round arms
flashing over the keyboard, her head bowed and her face a little
averted, the long lashes low upon her cheeks and tremulous with a
fathomless emotion. It was his thought that his time was momentarily
becoming shorter, and that just now, more than ever, she was very
distant from his arms, something inaccessible, too rare and delicate
and fine for the rude possession of him who sighed for his own
Abruptly she brought both hands down upon the keys, educing a jangled,
startled crash from the tortured wires, and swinging round, glanced up
at Amber with quaint mirth trembling behind the veil of moisture in her
"India!" she cried, with a broken laugh: "India epitomised: a homesick,
exiled woman trying to drag a song of Home from the broken heart of a
crippled piano! That is an Englishwoman's India: it's our life, ever to
strive and struggle and contrive to piece together out of makeshift
odds and ends the atmosphere of Home!... It's suffocating in here.
Come." She rose with a quick shrug of impatience, and led the way back
to the gardens.
The table had been removed together with the chairs and candles;
nothing remained to remind them of the hour just gone. The walks were
clear of servants. Their only light came from the high arch of stars
smitten to its zenith with pale, quivering waves of light from the moon
invisible behind the hills. Below them the city hummed like a disturbed
beehive. Somewhere afar a gentle hand was sweeping the strings of a
_zitar_, sounding weird, sad chords. The perfumed languor of the night
weighed heavily upon the senses, like the woven witchery of some
Pensive, the girl trained her long skirts heedlessly over the
dew-drenched grasses, Amber at her side, himself speechless with an
intangible, ineluctable, unreasoning sense of expectancy. Never, he
told himself, had a lover's hour been more auspiciously timed or
staged; and this was his hour, altogether his!... If only he might find
the words of wooing to which his lips were strange! He dared not delay;
to-morrow it might be too late; in the womb of the morrow a world of
chances stirred--contingencies that might in a breath set them a world
They found seats in the shadow of a pepul.
"You must be tired, Mr. Amber," she said. "Why don't you smoke?"
"I hadn't thought of it, and hadn't asked permission."
"Please do. I like it."
He found his cigarette-case and struck a match, Sophia watching
intently his face in the rosy glow of the little, flickering flame.
"Are you in the habit of indulging in protracted silences?" she rallied
him gently. "Between friends of old standing they're permissible, I
"A day's journey by tonga matures acquaintanceships wonderfully," he
"Indeed?" She laughed.
"At least, I hope so."
He felt that he must be making progress; thus far he had been no less
inane than any average lover of the stage or fiction. And he wondered:
was she laughing at him, softly, there in the shadows?
"You see," she said, amused at his relapse into reverie, "you're
incurable and ungrateful. I'm trying my best to be attractive and
interesting, and you won't pay me any attention whatever. There must be
something on your mind. Is it this mysterious errand that brings you so
unexpectedly to India--to Kuttarpur, Mr. Amber?"
"Yes," he answered truthfully.
"And you won't tell me?"
"I think I must," he said, bending forward.
There sounded a stealthy rustling in the shrubbery. The girl drew away
and rose with a startled exclamation. With a bound, a man in native
dress sped from the shadows and paused before them, panting.
Amber jumped up, overturning his chair, and instinctively feeling for
the pistol that was with his travelling things, upstairs in the
The native reassured him with a swift, obsequious gesture. "Pardon,
sahib, and yours, sahiba, if I have alarmed you, but I am come on an
errand of haste, seeking him who is known as the Sahib David Amber."
"I am he. What do you want with me?"
"It is only this, that I have been commissioned to bear to you, sahib."
The man fumbled hurriedly in the folds of his surtout, darting quick
glances of apprehension round the garden. Amber looked him over as
closely as he could in the dim light, but found him wholly a
stranger--merely a low-caste Hindu, counterpart of a million others to
be encountered daily in the highways and bazaars of India. The
Virginian's rising hope that he might prove to be Labertouche failed
for want of encouragement; the intruder was of a stature the Englishman
could by no means have counterfeited.
"From whom come you?" he demanded in the vernacular.
"Nay, a name that is unspoken harms none, sahib." The native produced a
small, thin, flat package and thrust it into Amber's hands. "With
permission, I go, sahib; it were unwise to linger----"
"There is no answer?"
"None, sahib." The man salaamed and strode away, seeming to melt
soundlessly into the foliage.
For a minute Amber remained astare. The girl's voice alone roused him.
"I think you are a very interesting person, Mr. Amber," she said,
resuming her chair.
"Well!... _I_ begin to think this a most uncommonly interesting
country." He laughed uncertainly, turning the package over and over.
"Upon my word----! I haven't the least notion what this can be!"
"Why not bring it to the light, and find out?"
He assented meekly, having been perfectly candid in his assertion that
he had no suspicion of what the packet might contain, and a moment
later they stood beneath the window of the Residency, from which a
broad shaft of light streamed out like vaporised gold.
Amber held the packet to the light; it was oblong, thin, stiff, covered
with common paper, guiltless of superscription, and sealed with
mucilage. He tore the covering, withdrew the enclosure, and heard the
girl gasp with surprise. For himself, he was transfixed with
consternation. His look wavered in dismay between the girl and the
photograph in his hand--_her_ photograph, which had been stolen from
him aboard the _Poonah_.
She extended her hand imperiously. "Give that to me, please, Mr.
Amber," she insisted. He surrendered it without a word. "Mr. Amber!"
she cried in a voice that quivered with wonder and resentment.
He faced her with a hang-dog air, feeling that now indeed had his case
been made hopeless by this contretemps. "Confound Labertouche!" he
cried in his ungrateful heart. "Confound his meddling mystery-mongering
"Well?" enquired the girl sharply.
"Yes, Miss Farrell." He could invent nothing else to say.
"You--you are going to explain, I presume."
He shook his head in despair. "No-o...."
"I've no explanation whatever to make--that'd be adequate, I mean."
He saw that she was shaken by impatience. "I think," said she
evenly--"I think you will find it best to let me judge of that. This is
my photograph. How do you come to have it? What right have you to it?"
"I ... ah...." He stammered and paused, acutely conscious of the voices
of the Englishmen, Farrell, Raikes, and young Clarkson, drifting out
through the open window of the drawing-room. "If you'll be kind enough
to return to our chairs," he said, "I'll try to make a satisfactory
explanation. I'd rather not be overheard."
The girl doubted, was strongly inclined to refuse him; then, perhaps
moved to compassion by his abject attitude, she relented and agreed.
"Very well," she said, and retaining the picture moved swiftly before
him into the shadowed garden. He lagged after her, inventing a hundred
impracticable yarns. She found her chair and sat down with a manner of
hauteur moderated by expectancy. He took his place beside her.
"Who sent you this photograph of me?" she began to cross-examine him.
"I'm sorry I can't tell you just now."
"Oh!... Why did he send it?"
"Because...." In his desperation it occurred to him to tell the
truth--as much of it, at least, as his word to Rutton would permit.
"Because it's mine. My friend knew I had lost it."
"How could it have been yours? It was taken in London a year ago. I
sent copies only to personal friends who, I know, would not give them
away." She thought it over and added: "The Quains had no copy; it's
quite impossible that one should have got to America."
"None the less," he maintained stubbornly, "it's mine, and I got it in
"I can hardly be expected to believe that."
"You persist in saying that you got it in America?"
"After you left the Quains."
"How?" she propounded triumphantly.
"I can't tell you, except vaguely. If you'll be content with the
substance of the story, lacking details, for the present----"
"For the present? You mean you'll tell me the whole truth--?"
"Sometime, yes. But now, I may not.... A dear friend of mine owned the
photograph. He gave it me at my request. I came to India, and on the
steamer lost it; in spite of my offer of a reward, I was obliged to
leave the boat without it, when we got to Calcutta. My friend here knew
how highly I valued it----"
"Because I'd told him."
"I don't mean that. Why do you value it so highly?"
"Because of its original." He took heart of despair and plunged boldly.
She looked him over calmly. "Do you mean me to understand that you told
this friend you had followed me to India because you were in love with
"Precisely.... Thank you."
She laughed a little, mockingly. "Are you, Mr. Amber?"
"In love with you?... Yes."
"Oh!" She maintained her impartial and judicial attitude admirably.
"But even were I inclined to believe that, your whole story is
discredited by the simple fact that through no combination of
circumstances could this picture have come into your possession in
"I give you my word of honor, Miss Farrell."
"I wish you wouldn't. If you are perfectly sincere in asserting that,
you force me to think you----"
"Mad? I'm not, really," he argued earnestly. "It's quite true."
"No." She shook her head positively. "You say you obtained it from a
man, which can't be so. There were only a dozen prints made; four I
gave to women friends in England and seven I sent to people out here.
The other one I have."
"I can only repeat what I have already told you. There are gaps in the
story, I know--incredible gaps; they can't be bridged, just now. I beg
you to believe me."
"And how soon will you be free to tell me the whole truth?"
"Only after ... we're married."
She laughed adorably. "Mr. Amber," she protested, "you are
dangerous--you are delightful! Do you really believe I shall ever marry
"I hope so. I came to India to ask you--to use every means in my power
to make you marry me. You see, I love you."
"And ... and when is this to happen, please--in the name of impudence?"
"As soon as I can persuade you--to-night, if you will."
He was obliged to laugh with her at the absurdity of the suggestion.
"Or to-morrow morning, at the very latest," he amended seriously. "I
don't think we dare wait longer."
"Why is that?"
"Delays are perilous. There might be another chap."
"How can you be sure there isn't already?"
He fell sober enough at this. "But there isn't, is there, really?"
She delayed her reply provokingly. At length, "I don't see why I should
say," she observed, "but I don't mind telling you--no, there
isn't--yet." And as she spoke, Farrell called "Sophia?" from the window
of the drawing-room. She stood up, answering clearly with the assurance
that she was coming, and began deliberately to move toward the house.
Amber followed, deeply anxious. "I've not offended you?"
"No," she told him gravely, "but you have both puzzled and mystified
me. I shall have to sleep on this before I can make up my mind whether
or not to be offended."
"And ... will you marry me?"
"Oh, dear! How do I know?" she laughed.
"You won't give me a hint as to the complexion of my chances?"
She paused, turning. "The chances, Mr. Amber," she said without
affection or coquetry, "are all in your favour ... _if_ you can prove
your case. I do like you very much, and you have been successful in
rousing my interest in you to an astonishing degree.... But I shall
have to think it over; you must allow me at least twelve hours' grace."
"You'll let me know to-morrow morning?"
"You've already been bidden to breakfast by Mr. Raikes."
"Meanwhile, may I have my photograph?"
"Mine, if you please!... I think not; if my decision is favourable, you
shall have it back--after breakfast."
"Thank you," he said meekly. And as they were entering the Residency he
hung back. "I'm going now," he said; "it's good-night. Will you
remember you've not refused me the privilege of hoping?"
"I've told you I like you, Mr. Amber." Impulsively she extended her
He bowed and put his lips to it; and she did not resist.
OVER THE WATER
Ram Nath, patient and impassive as ever, had the tonga waiting for
Amber before the Residency. Exalted beyond words, the American
permitted himself to be driven off through Kuttarpur's intricate
network of streets and backways, toward a destination of which he knew
as little as he cared. He was a guest of the State, officially
domiciled at the designated house of hospitality; without especial
permission, obtained through the efforts of the Resident, he could
sleep in no other spot in the city or its purlieus. He was indifferent,
absolutely; the matter interested him as scantily--which is to say not
at all--as did the fact that an escort of troopers of the State, very
well accoutred and disciplined, followed the tonga with a great
jangling of steel and tumult of hoofs.
He was in that condition of semi-daze which is the not extraordinary
portion of a declared lover revelling in the memory of his mistress's
eyes, whose parting look has not been unkind. Upon that glance of
secret understanding, signalled to him from eyes as brown as beautiful,
he was building him a palace of dreams so strange, so sweet, that the
mere contemplation of its unsubstantial loveliness filled him with an
exquisite agony of hope, a poignant ecstasy of despair. It was too much
to hope for, that she should smile upon him in the morning.... Yet he
Unconscious of the passage of time, he was roused only by the pausing
of the tonga and its escort before the Gateway of the Elephants--the
main octroi gate in the northern wall of the city. There ensued a brief
interchange of formalities between the sergeant of his escort and the
captain of the Quarter Guard. Then the tonga was permitted to pass out,
and for five minutes rattled and clattered along the border of the
lake, stopping finally at the rest-house.
Alighting in the compound, Amber disbursed a few rupees to the
troopers, paid off Ram Nath--who was swift to drive off city-wards, in
mad haste lest the gates be shut upon him for the night--and entered
the bungalow. An aged, talkative, and amiable khansamah met him at the
threshold with expressions of exaggerated respect, no doubt genuine
enough, and followed him, a mumbling shadow, as the Virginian made a
brief round of inspection.
Standing between the road and the water, the rest-house proved to be
moderately spacious and clean; on the lake-front it opened upon a
marble bund, or landing-stage, its lip lapped by whispering ripples of
the lake. Amber went out upon this to discover, separated from him by
little more than half a mile of black water, the ghostly white walls of
the Raj Mahal climbing in dim majesty to the stars. A single line of
white lights outlined the topmost parapet; at the water's edge a single
marble entrance was aglow; between the two, towers and terraces,
hanging gardens and white scarp-like walls rose in darkened confusion
unimaginable--or, rather, fell like a cascade of architecture, down the
hillside to the lake. A dark hive teeming with the occult life of
unnumbered men and women--Salig Singh the inscrutable and strong,
Naraini the mysterious, whose loveliness lived a fable in the land, and
how many thousand others--living and dying, working and idling, in joy
and sadness, in hatred and love, weaving forever that myriad-stranded
web of intrigue which is the life of native palaces ...
The Virginian remained long in rapt wondering contemplation of it,
until the wind blowing across the waters had chilled him to the point
of shivering; when he turned indoors to his bed. But he was to have
little rest that night. The khansamah who attended him had hardly
turned low his light when Amber was disturbed by the noise of an angry
altercation in the compound. He arose and in dressing-gown and slippers
went to investigate, and found Ram Nath in violent dispute with the
sergeant of the escort--which, it appeared, had builded a fire and
camped round it in the compound: a circumstance which furnished food
Amber began to suspect that the troops had been furnished as a guard
less of honour than of espionage, less in formal courtesy than in
demonstration of the unsleeping vigilance of the Eye--kindly assisted
by the Maharana of Khandawar.
A man who, warmed by the ardour of his first love, feels suddenly the
shadow of death falling cold upon him, is apt to neglect nothing. Amber
considered that he had given Ram Nath no commission of any sort, and
bent an attentive ear to the communication which the tonga-wallah
insisted upon making to him.
Ram Nath had returned, he asserted, solely for the purpose of informing
Amber in accordance with his desires. "The telegraph-office for which
you enquired, sahib, stands just within the Gateway of the Elephants,"
he announced. "The telegraph-babu will be on duty very early in the
morning, should you desire still to send the message."
"Oh, yes," said Amber indifferently. "I'd forgotten. Thanks."
He returned to his charpoy with spirits considerably higher. Ram Nath
had not winked this time, but the fact was indisputable that Amber had
_not_ expressed any interest whatever in the location of the
Wondering if the telegraph-babu by any chance wore pink satin, he dozed
off on the decision that he would need to send a message the first
thing in the morning.
Some time later he was a second time awakened by further disputation in
the compound. The troopers were squabbling amongst themselves; he was
able to make this much out in spite of the fact that the sepoys,
recruited exclusively from the native population of Khandawar, spoke a
patois of Hindi so corrupt that even an expert in Oriental languages
would experience difficulty in trying to interpret it. Amber did not
weary himself with the task, but presently lifted up his voice and
demanded silence, desiring to be informed if his sleep was to be
continually broken by the bickerings of sons of mothers without noses.
There followed instantaneous silence, broken by a chuckle and an
applausive "Shabash!" and nothing more.
Amber snuggled down again upon his pillow and soothed himself with the
feel of the pistol that his fingers grasped beneath the clothes.
A bar of moonlight slipped through the blinds and fell athwart his
eyes. He cursed it bitterly and got up and moved his charpoy into
shadow. The sibilant lisping of the wavelets against the bund sang him
softly toward oblivion ... and a convention of water-fowl went into
stormy executive session out in the middle of the lake. This had to be
endured, and in time Amber's senses grew numb to the racket and he
dropped off into a fitful doze....
Footfalls and hushed voices in the bungalow were responsible for the
next interruption. Amber came to with a start and found himself sitting
up on the edge of the charpoy, with a dreamy impression that two people
had been standing over him and had just left the room, escaping by way
of the khansamah's quarters. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and went
out to remonstrate vigorously with the khansamah. The latter naturally
professed complete ignorance of the visitation and dwelt with such
insistence upon the plausibility of dreams that Amber lost patience and
kicked him grievously, so that he complained with a loud voice and cast
himself at the sahib's feet, declaring that he was but as the dust
beneath them and that Amber was his father and mother and the light of
the Universe besides. In short, he raised such a rumpus that some of
the sepoys came in to investigate and--went out again, hastily, to
testify to their fellows that the hazoor was a man of fluent wrath,
surprisingly versed in the art and practice of abuse.
Somewhat mollified and reflecting, at the same time, that this was all
but a part of the game, to be expected by those who patronise
rest-houses off the beaten roads of travel, the Virginian returned to
his charpoy and immediately lapsed into a singularly disquieting
dream.... He was strolling by the border of the lake when a coot swam
in and hailed him in English; and when he stopped to look the coot
lifted an A.D.T. messenger-boy's cap and pleaded with him to sign his
name in a little black book, promising that, if he did so, it would be
free to doff its disguise and be Labertouche again. So Amber signed
"Pink Satin" in the book and the coot stood up and said, "I'm not
Labertouche at all, but Ram Nath, and Ram Nath is only another name for
Har Dyal Rutton, and besides you had better come away at once, for the
Eye thou dost wear upon thy finger never sleeps and it's only a paste
Token anyway." Hearing which, Amber caught the coot by the leg and
found that he had grasped the arm of Salig Singh, whose eyes were both
monstrous emeralds without any whites whatever. And Salig Singh tapped
him on the shoulder and began to say over and over again in a whisper...
But here Amber another time found himself wide awake and sitting up,
his left hand gripping the wrist of a native and his right holding his
pistol steadily levelled at the native's breast. While the voice he
heard was real and no figment of a dream-mused imagination; for the man
was whispering earnestly and repeatedly:
"_Hasten, hazoor, for the night doth wane and the hour is at hand_."
"What deviltry's this?" Amber demanded sharply, with a threatening
But the native neither attempted to free himself nor to evade the
pistol's mouth. "Have patience, hazoor," he begged earnestly, "and make
no disturbance. It is late and the sepoys sleep; if you will be
circumspect and are not afraid--"
"Who are you?"
"I was to say, '_I come from you know whom_,' hazoor."
"In the matter of a certain photograph, hazoor."
"By thunder!" Labertouche's name was on Amber's lips, but he repressed
it. "Wait a bit." He gulped down the last dregs of sleep. "Let me think
This last was an afterthought. As it came to him he dropped the pistol
by his side and felt for matches in the pocket of his coat, which hung
over the back of a bedside chair. Finding one, he struck it noiselessly
and, as the tiny flame broadened, drew his captive nearer.
It was a fat, mean, wicked face that stood out against the darkness: an
ochre-tinted face with a wide, loose-lipped mouth and protruding eyes
that blinked nervously into his. But he had never seen it before.
"Who are you?" He cast away the match as its flame died and snatched up
"I was to say--"
"I heard that once. What's your name?"
"Dulla Dad, hazoor."
"And who are you from?"
"Hazoor, I was not to say."
"I think you'd better," suggested Amber, with grim significance.
"I am the hazoor's slave. I dare not say."
"Now look here--"
"Hazoor, it was charged upon me to say, _'I come from you know whom.'_"
"The devil it was.... Well, what do you want?"
"I was to say, '_Hasten, hazoor, for the night--_"
"I've heard that, too. You mean you're to lead me to somebody,
somewhere--you can't say where?"
"Aye, hazoor, even so."
"Get over there, in the corner, while I think this over--and don't move
or I'll make you a present of a nice young bullet, Dulla Dad."
"That is as Allah wills; only remember, hazoor, the injunction for
The man, a small stunted Mohammedan, sidled fearsomely over to the spot
indicated and waited there, cringing and supplicating Amber with
eloquent gestures. The Virginian watched him closely until comforted by
the reflection that, had murder been the object, he had been a dead man
long since. Then he put aside the revolver and began to dress.
"Only Labertouche would have to communicate with me by such stealth,"
he considered. "Besides, that reference to the photograph--"
He slipped hurriedly into his clothing and ostentatiously dropped the
pistol into his right-hand coat-pocket. "I'm ready," he told the man.
"Lead the way; and remember, if there's any treachery afoot, you'll be
the first to suffer for it, Dulla Dad."
The Mohammedan bowed submissively. "Be it so, my lord," he said in
Hindi, and, moving noiselessly with unshod feet, glided through the
door which opened upon the bund, Amber close behind him.
That it was indeed late was shown by the position of the moon; and the
sweet freshness of early morning was strong in the keen air. The wind
had failed and the lake stretched flawless from shore to shore, a sheet
of untarnished silver. Over against them the palace slept, or seemed to
sleep, in its miraculous beauty, glacier-like with its shining surfaces
and deep, purple-shadowed crevasses. There were few lights visible in
the city, and the quiet of it was notable; so likewise with the wards
outside the walls and the lakeside palaces and villas. Only in a
distant temple a drum was throbbing, throbbing.
In the water at their feet a light boat was gently nosing the marble
bund. Dulla Dad, squatting, drew it broadside to the steps and motioned
Amber to enter. The Virginian boarded it gingerly, seating himself at
the stern. Dulla Dad dropped in forward and pushed off. The boat moved
out upon the bosom of the lake with scarce a sound, and the native,
grasping a double-bladed paddle, dipped it gently and sent the frail
craft flying onward with long, swift, and powerful strokes, guiding it
directly toward the walls of the Raj Mahal.
Two-thirds of the way across the Virginian surrendered to his mistrust
and drew his pistol. "Dulla Dad," he said gently; and the man ceased
paddling with a shudder--"Dulla Dad, you're taking me to the palace."
"Yea, hazoor; that is true," the native answered, his voice quavering.
"Who awaits me there? Answer quickly!"
"Hazoor, it is not wise to speak a name upon the water, where voices
"Hazoor, I may not say!"
"I think, Dulla Dad, you'd better. If I lose patience--"
"Upon my head be your safety, hazoor! See, you can fire, and thereafter
naught can trouble me. But I, with a single sweep of this paddle, can
overturn us. Be content, hazoor, for a little time; then shall you see
that naught of harm is intended. My life be forfeit if I speak not
"You have said it," said Amber grimly, "Row on." After all, he
considered, it might still be Labertouche. At first blush it had seemed
hardly credible that the Englishman could have gained a footing in that
vast pile; and yet, it would be like him to seek precisely such a
spot--the very heart of the conspiracy of the Gateway, if they guessed
The boat surged swiftly on, while again and again Amber's finger
trembled on the trigger. Though already the white gleaming walls
towered above him, it was not yet too late--not too late; but should he
withdraw, force Dulla Dad to return, he might miss ... what? He did
nothing save resign himself to the issue. As they drew nearer the
moonlit walls he looked in vain for sign of a landing-stage, and
wondered, the lighted bund that he had seen from over the water being
invisible to him round an angle of the building. But Dulla Dad held on
without a pause until the moment when it seemed that he intended to
dash the boat bows first against the stone; then, with a final dextrous
twist of the paddle, he swung at a sharp angle and simultaneously
checked the speed. Under scant momentum they slid from moonlight and
the clean air of night into a close well between two walls, and then
suddenly beneath an arch and into a cavernous chamber filled with the
soft murmuring of water--and with darkness.
Here the air was sluggish and heavy and dank with the odour of slime.
Breathing it, seeing nothing save the spectral gleam of moonlight
reflected inwards, hearing nothing save the uncanny lapping and purring
of the ripples, it was not easy to forget the tales men told of palace
corruption and crime--of lovers who had stolen thus secretly to meet
their mistresses, and who had met, instead, Death; of assassins who had
skulked by such stealthy ways to earn blood-money; of spies, of a
treacherous legion who had gained entry to the palace by such ways as
this--perhaps had accomplished their intent and returned to tell the
tale, perhaps had been found in the dawn-light, floating out there on
the lake with drawn, wan faces upturned to the pallid skies....
It was Dulla Dad's voice, sleek with fawning. For all the repulsiveness
of the accents, Amber was not sorry to hear them. At least the native
was human and ... this experience wasn't, hardly.... He leaned toward
the man, eyes aching with the futile strain of striving to penetrate
the blackness. He could see nothing more definite than shadows. The
boat was resting motionless on the tide, as if suspended in an abyss of
night, fathomless and empty.
"Well, what now?" he demanded harshly. "Be careful, Dulla Dad!"
"Still my lord distrusts me? There is naught to fear, none here to lift
hand against you. Your servant lives but to serve you in all loyalty."
"My lord may trust me."
"It seems to me I have--too far."
"My lord will not forget?"
"Be sure of that, Dulla Dad.... Well, what are you waiting for?"
"We are arrived, hazoor," said the native calmly. "If you will be
pleased to step ashore, having care lest you overturn the boat, the
steps are on your left."
"Where?... Oh!" Amber's tentative hand, groping in obscurity, fell upon
a slab of stone, smooth and slippery, but solid. "You mean here?"
"And what next?"
"I am to wait to conduct you back to your place of rest."
"Um-m. You are, eh?" Amber, doubtful, tried the stone again; it was
substantial enough; only the boat rocked. He struck a match; the
short-lived flame afforded him a feeble, unsatisfactory impression of a
long, narrow, vaulted chamber, whereof the floor was half water, half
stone. There was a landing to the left, a rather narrow ledge, with a
low, heavy door, bossed with iron, in the wall beyond.
Shaking his head, he lifted himself cautiously out of the boat. "You
stay right there, Dulla Dad," he warned the native, "until I see what
happens. If I catch you trying to get away--the boat'll show up nicely
against the opening, you know--I'll give you cause for repentance."
"I am here, hazoor. Turn you and knock upon the door thus"--rapping the
gunwale of the boat--"thrice."
Amber obeyed, wrought up now to so high a pitch of excitement and
suspense that he could hardly have withdrawn had he wished to and been
able to force Dulla Dad to heed him. As he knuckled the third signal,
the door swung slowly inward, disclosing, in a dim glow of light, stone
walls--a bare stone chamber illumined by a single iron lamp hanging in
chains from the ceiling. Across the room a dark entry opened upon a
passageway equally dark.
By the door a servant stood, his attitude deferential. As the
Virginian's gaze fell upon him he salaamed respectfully.
Amber entered, his eyes quick, his right hand in his pocket and
grateful for the cold caress of nickelled steel, his body poised
lightly and tensely upon the balls of his feet--in a word, ready.
Prepared against the worst he was hopeful of the best: apprehensive, he
reminded himself that he had first met Labertouche under auspices
hardly more prepossessing than these.
The clang of the door closing behind him rang hollowly in the
stillness. The warder moved past him to the entrance of the corridor.
Amber held him with a sharp question.
"Am I to wait here?"
"For a moment, Heaven-born!" He disappeared.
Without a sound a door at Amber's elbow that had escaped his cursory
notice, so cunningly was it fitted in the wall, swung open, and a
remembered voice boomed in his ears, not without a certain sardonic
inflection: "Welcome, my lord, welcome to Khandawar!"
Amber swung upon the speaker with a snarl. "Salig Singh!"
"Thy steward bids thee welcome to thy kingdom, hazoor!"
Dominating the scene with his imposing presence--a figure regal in the
regimentals of his native army--the Rajput humbled himself before the
Virginian, dropping to his knee and offering his jewelled sword-hilt in
token of his fealty.
"Oh, get up!" snapped Amber impatiently. "I'm sick of all this damned
tomfoolery. Get up, d'you hear?--unless you want me to take that pretty
sword of yours and spank you with it!"
A quiver, as of self-repression, moved the body of the man at his feet;
then, with a jangle of spurs, Salig Singh leaped up and stood at a
distance of two paces, his head high, his black eyes glittering
ominously with well-nigh the sinister brilliance of his vibrating
"My lord!" he cried angrily. "Are these words to use to one who offers
thee his heart and hand? Is this insolence to be suffered by a Rajput,
a son of Kings?"
"As for that," returned Amber steadily, giving him look for look, "your
grandfather was a _bunia_ and you know it. Whether or not you're going
to 'suffer' what you call my insolence, I don't know, and I don't much
care. You've made a fool of me twice, now, and I'm tired of it. I give
you my word I don't understand why I don't shoot you down here and now,
for I believe in my heart you're the unholiest scoundrel unhung. Is
that language plain enough for you?"
For an instant longer they faced one another offensively, Amber cool
enough outwardly and inwardly boiling with rage that he should have
walked into the trap with his eyes open, Salig Singh trembling with
resentment but holding himself in with splendid restraint.
"As for me," continued Amber, "I suspect I'm the most hopeless ass in
the three Presidencies, if that's any comfort to you, Salig Singh. Now
what d'you want with me?"
A shadowy smile softened the blackness of the Rajput's wrath. He
shrugged and moved his hands slightly, exposing their palms, subtly
signifying his submission.
"Thou art my overlord," he said quietly, with a silky deference. "In
time thou wilt see how thou hast wronged me. For the present, I remain
thy servant. I harbour no resentment, I owe thee naught but loyalty. I
await thy commands."
"The dickens you do!" Amber whistled inaudibly, his eyes narrowing as
he pondered the man. "You protest a lot, Salig Singh. If you're so much
at my service ... why, prove it."
By way of reply Salig Singh lifted his sword in its scabbard from its
fastenings at his side and, with a magnificent gesture, cast it
clanking to the floor between them. A heavy English army-pattern
revolver followed it. The Rajput spread out his hands. "Thou art armed,
my lord," he said, "I, at thy mercy. If thou dost misjudge my purpose
in causing thee to be brought hither, my life is in thy hands."
"Oh, yes." Amber nodded. "That's very pretty. But presuming I chose to
"Thou art free as the winds of the morning. See, then." Salig Singh
strode to the outer door and threw it open. "The way of escape is
clear--not even locked."
The lamplight fell across the stone landing and made visible the
waiting boat with Dulla Dad sitting patiently at the oar.
"I see," assented Amber. "Well?"
Salig Singh shut the door gently. "Is there more to say?" he enquired.
"I have shown thee that thou art free."
"Oh, so far as that goes, you've demonstrated pretty clearly that
you're not afraid of me. Of course I know as well as you do that at the
first shot Dulla Dad would slip out to the lake and leave me here to
die like a rat in a corner."
"Thou knowest, lord, that no man in Khandawar would do thee any hurt.
Thy person is sacred--"
"That's all bosh. You don't expect me to believe that you still stick
to that absurd fiction of yours--that I'm Rutton?"
"Then mine eyes have played me false, hazoor. Shabash!" Salig Singh
"Well, then, what do you want? Why have you brought me here?"
"Why didst thou come? There was no force used: thou didst come of thine
own will--thine own will, which is the will of the Body, hazoor!"
"Oh, damnation! Why d'you insist on beating round the bush forever? You
know well why I came. Now, what do you want?"
"My lord, I move, it seems, in the ways of error. A little time ago the
words of the Voice were made known to thee in a far land; thou didst
answer, coming to this country. A few days agone I myself did repeat to
you the message of the Bell; thou didst swear thou wouldst not answer,
yet art thou here in Kuttarpur. Am I to be blamed for taking this for a
sign of thy repentance?... Hazoor, the Body is patient, the Will
benignant and long-suffering. Still is the Gateway open."
"Is that what you wanted to tell me, Salig Singh?"
"What else? Am I to believe thee a madman, weary of life, that thou
shouldst venture hither with a heart hardened against the Will of the
Body? I seek but to serve thee in thus daring thy displeasure. Why
shouldst thou come to Bharuta [Footnote: India.] at all if thou dost
not intend to undergo the Ordeal of the Gateway? Am I a fool or--I say
it in all respect, my lord--art thou?"
"From the look of things, I fancy the epithet fits us both, Salig
Singh. You refuse to take my word for it that I know nothing of your
infamous Gateway and have no intention of ever approaching it, that I
have not a drop of Indian blood in me and am in no way related to or
connected with Har Dyal Rutton, who is dead--"
"I may not believe what I know to be untrue."
"You'll have to learn to recognise the truth, I'm afraid. For the final
time I tell you that I am David Amber, a citizen of the United States
of America, travelling in India on purely personal business."
The Rajput inclined his head submissively. "Then is my duty all but
done, hazoor. Thrice hath the warning been given thee. There be still
four-and-twenty hours in which, it may be, thou shalt learn to see
clearly. My lord, I ask of thee a single favour. Wilt thou follow me?"
He motioned toward the arched entrance to the passageway.
"Follow thee?" Amber at length dropped into Urdu, unconsciously
adopting the easier form of communication now that, he felt, the issue
between them was plain, that the Rajput laboured under no further
misunderstanding as to the reason of his presence in Khandawar.
"There is that which I must show thee."
"My life be forfeit if thou dost not return unharmed to the rest-house
ere sunrise. Wilt thou come?"
"To what end, Salig Singh?"
"Furthermore," the Rajput persisted stubbornly, his head lifted in
pride and his nostrils dilated a little with scorn--"furthermore I
offer thee the word of a Rajput. Thou are my guest, since thou wilt
have it so. No harm shall come to thee, upon my honour."
Curiosity triumphed. Amber knew that he had exacted the most honoured
pledge known in Rajputana. His apprehensions were at rest; nothing
could touch him now--_until_ he had returned to the bungalow. Then, he
divined, it was to be open war--himself and Labertouche pitted against
the strength of the greatest conspiracy known in India since the days
of '57. But for the present, no pledge of any sort had been exacted of
"So be it," he assented on impulse. "I follow."
With no other word Salig Singh turned and strode down the corridor.
FROM A HIGH PLACE
The passageway was long and dark and given to sudden curves and angles,
penetrating, it seemed, the very bowels of the Raj Mahal. It ended
unexpectedly in a low arch through which the two men passed into an
open courtyard, apparently given over entirely to stables. Despite the
lateness of the hour it was tenanted by several wideawake syces,
dancing attendance upon a pair of blooded stallions of the stud royal,
who, saddled, bridled and hooded, pawed and champed impatiently in the
centre of the yard, making it echo with the ringing of iron on stone
and the jingling of their silver curb-chains.
Salig Singh paused, with a wave of his hand calling Amber's attention
to the superb brutes.
"Thou canst see, hazoor, that all is prepared!"
But Salig Singh merely smiled enigmatically, and shaking a patient
head, passed on.
A second arch gave upon a corridor which led upwards and presently
changed into a steep flight of steps, of ancient stone worn smooth and
grooved with the traffic of generations of naked feet. At the top they
turned aside and passed through a deserted hanging garden, and then,
through a heavy door which Salig Singh unlocked with a private key,
into a vast, vacant room, with a lofty ceiling supported by huge,
unwieldy pillars of stone, sculptured with all the loves and wars of
Hindu mythology. At one end the fitful, eerie flare of a great bronze
brazier revealed the huge proportions of an ivory throne, gorgeous with
gems and cloth of gold, standing upon a daïs and flanked by two
motionless figures which at first sight Amber took to be pieces of
statuary. But they quickened, saluting with a single movement and a
flash of steel, as the Maharana drew nearer, and so proved themselves
troopers of the State, standing guard with naked swords.
"There is no need, perhaps, to tell thee, hazoor," Salig Singh
muttered, bending to Amber's ear, "that sitting upon this throne, in
this Hall of Audience, for generations thy forefathers ruled this land,
making and administering its laws, meting out justice, honoured of all
men--and served, my lord, for generations by my forebears, the faithful
stewards of thy House; even as I would prove faithful...."
"Interesting," Amber interrupted brusquely, "if true. Is this what you
wanted to show me?"
"Nay, hazoor, not this alone. Come."
The Rajput led him out of the hall by way of a small doorway behind the
throne, and after a little turning and twisting through tortuous
passages they began to ascend again, and so went on up, ever upwards,
the flights of steps broken by other corridors, other apartments, other
galleries and gardens, until at length they emerged into a garden laid
out in the very topmost court of all--the loftiest spot in all
It was a very wonderful garden, a jungle of exotic plants and shrubs
threaded by narrow walks that led to secluded nooks and unsuspected
pleasaunces, and lighted by low-swung festoons of dim lamps,
many-coloured. A banian grew curiously in its midst, and there also
they found a great tank of crystal water with a bed of brilliant
pebbles over which small golden gleaming fish flashed and loitered.
Here, where the walls of acacia, orange, thuia and pepal shut out every
breath of wind, the air was dense with the cloying sweetness of
jasmine, musk and marigold....
"My lord," said the Maharana, pausing, "if thou wilt wait here for a
little, permitting me to excuse myself--?"
"All right," Amber told him tolerantly. "Run along."
Salig Singh quietly effaced himself, and the American watched him go
with an inward chuckle. "I presume I'll have to pay for my impudence in
the end," he thought; "but it's costing Salig Singh a good deal to hold
himself in." He was for the time being not ill-pleased with this phase
of his adventure; he had a notion that this must be a sort of very
private pleasure-ground of the rulers of Khandawar, and that very few,
if any, white people had ever been permitted to inspect it. What the
Maharana's next move would be he had not the least suspicion; but since
he must be content and abide the developments as they came, he was
minded to amuse himself. He moved away from the cistern, idling down a
path in a direction opposite that taken by Salig Singh.
An abrupt turn brought him to the outer wall, and he stopped to gaze,
leaning upon the low marble balustrade.
From his feet the wall fell away sheer, precipitous, a hundred feet or
more, to another hanging garden like that which lay behind him. From
this there was another stupendous drop. On all sides the marble walls
spread over the hillsides, descending it in great strides broken by
terraces, gardens, paved courts, all white and silver and deep violet
shadow, with here and there a window glowing softly yellow or a web of
saffron rays peeping through the intricacies of a carved stone lattice.
Far below, on the one hand, the lake lay like a sheet of steel; on the
other the city stretched, a huddle of flat roofs not unlike an armful
of child's building blocks. At that great height the effect was that of
peering over the upper lip of an avalanche of masonry on the point of
tumbling headlong down a mountainside to crush all beneath it.
In the hush there rose to Amber a muted confusion of sounds--the
blended voices of the multitude that inhabited the hidden chambers of
the palace: the pawing and shrill neighing of the stallions in the
lower courtyard, a shivering clash of steel against steel, somewhere
the tinkle of a stringed instrument and a soft voice singing, a man's
accents weighty with authority, the ripple of a woman's laugh--all
relieved against an undertone like a profound sigh, waning and waxing:
the breathing of the Raj Mahal ...
Amber turned away to rejoin Salig Singh by the cistern. But the Rajput
was not there; and, presently, another path tempting him to unlawful
exploration, he yielded and sauntered aimlessly away. A sudden corner
cloaked with foliage brought him to a little open space, a patch of
lawn over which a canopy had been raised. Beneath this, a woman sat
alone. He halted, thunderstruck.
Simultaneously, with a soft swish of draperies, a clash of jewelled
bracelets, dull and musical, and a flash of coruscating colour, the
woman stood before him, young, slender, graceful, garbed in
indescribable splendour--and veiled.
For the space of three long breaths the Virginian hesitated,
unspeakably amazed. Though she were veiled, it were deep dishonour for
a woman of a Rajput's household to be seen by a stranger. It seemed
inexplicable that Salig Singh should have wittingly left him in any
place where he might encounter an inmate of the zenana. Yet the
Maharana must have known.... Amber made an irresolute movement, as if
to go. But it was too late.
With a murmur, inaudible, and a swift, infinitely alluring gesture, the
woman swept the veil away from her face, and looked him squarely in the
eyes. She moved toward him slowly, swaying, as graceful as a fawn, more
beautiful than any woman he had ever known. His breath caught in his
throat, for sheer wonder at this incomparable loveliness.
Her face was oval without a flaw, and pale as newly-minted gold, with a
flush of red where the blood ran warm beneath the skin. Her hair was
black as ebony and finer than the finest silk, rich and lustrous; her
jet-black eyebrows formed a perfect arch. Her mouth was like a
passion-flower, but small and sweet, with lips full and firm and
scarlet. Her eyes were twin pools of darkness lighted with ardent inner
fire. They held him speechless and motionless with the beauty of their
unuttered desire, and before he could collect his wits she had made him
captive--had without warning cast herself upon her knees before him and
imprisoned both his hands, burying her face in their palms. He felt her
lips hot upon his flesh, and then--wonder of wonders!--tears from those
divine eyes streaming through his fingers.
The shock of it brought him to his senses. Pitiful, dumfounded,
horrified, he glared wildly about him, seeking some avenue of escape.
There was no one watching: he thanked Heaven for that, while the cold
sweat started out upon his forehead. But still at his feet the woman
rocked, softly sobbing, her fair shoulders gently agitated, and still
she defied his gentle efforts to free his hands, holding them in a
grasp he might not break without hurting her. He found his tongue
"Don't!" he pleaded desperately. "My dear, you mustn't. For pity's sake
don't sob like that! What under the sun's the trouble? Don't,
please!... Good Lord! what am I to do with this lovely lunatic?" Then
he remembered that he had spoken in English and thoughtfully translated
the gist of his remonstrances, with as little effect as if he had
spoken to the empty air.
Though in time the fiercest paroxysm of her passion passed and her sobs
diminished in violence, she clung heavily to him and made no resistance
when he lifted her in his arms. The error was fatal; he had designed to
get her on her feet and then stand away. But no sooner had he raised
her and succeeded in disengaging his hands, than soft round arms were
clasped tightly about his neck and her face--if possible, more
ravishing in tears than when first he had seen it--pillowed on his
breast. And for the first time she spoke coherently.
"_Aie_!" she wailed tremulously. "_Aie_! Now is the cup of my happiness
full to brimming, now that thou hast returned to me at last, O my lord!
Well-nigh had I ceased to hope for thee, O Beloved; well-nigh had this
heart of mine grown cold within my bosom, that had no nourishment save
hope, save hope! Day and night I have watched for thy coming for many
years, praying that thou shouldst return to me ere this frail
prettiness of mine, that made thee love me long ago, should wane and
fade, so that thy heart should turn to other women, O my husband!"
"Husband! Great--Heavens! Look here, my dear, hadn't you better come to
your senses and let me go before--"
"Let thee go, _Lalji_, ere what? Ere any come to disturb us? Nay, but
who should come between husband and wife in the first hour of their
reunion after many years of separation? Is it not known--does not all
Khandawar know how I have waited for thee, almost thy widow ere thy
wife, all this weary time?... Or is it that thy heart hath forgotten
thy child-bride? Am I scorned, O my Lord--I, Naraini? Is there no love
in thy bosom to leap in response to the love of thee that is my life?"
She released him and whirled a pace or two away, draperies swirling,
jewels scintillating cold fire in hopeless emulation of the radiance of
her tear-gemmed eyes.
"Naraini?" stammered Amber, recalling what he had heard of the woman.
"Aye, my lord, Naraini, thy wedded wife!" The rounded little chin went
up a trifle and her eyes gleamed angrily. "Am I no longer thy Naraini,
then? Or wouldst thou deny that thou art Har Dyal, my king and my
beloved? Hast thou indeed forgotten the child that was given thee for
wife when thy father reigned in Khandawar and thou wert but a boy--a
boy of ten, the Maharaj Har Dyal? Hast thou forgotten the little maid
they brought thee from the north, _Lalji_--the maiden who had grown to
womanhood ere thy return from thy travels to take up thy father's
crown?... _Aie_! Thou canst never forget, Beloved; though years and the
multitude of faces have come between us as a veil, thou dost
remember--even as thou didst remember when the message of the Bell came
to thee across the great black waters, and thou didst learn that the
days of thy exile were numbered, that the hour approached when again
thou shouldst sit in the place of thy fathers and rule the world as
once they ruled it."
A denial stuck in Amber's throat. The words would not come, nor would
they, he believed, have served his purpose could he have commanded
them. If he had found no argument wherewith to persuade Salig Singh, he
found none wherewith to refute the claim of this golden-faced woman who
recognised him for her husband. He was wholly dismayed and aghast. But
while he lingered in indecision, staring in the woman's face, her look
of petulance was replaced by one of divine forgiveness and compassion.
And she gave him no time to think or to avoid her; in a twinkling she
had thrown herself upon him again, was in his arms and crushing her
lips upon his.
"Nay," she murmured, "but I did wrong thee, Beloved! Perchance," she
told him archly, "thou didst not think to see me so soon, or in this
garden? Perchance surprise hath robbed thee of thy wits--and thy tongue
as well, O wordless one? Or thou art overcome with joy, as I am
overcome, and smitten dumb by it, as I am not? _Aho, Lalji!_ was ever a
woman at loss for words to voice her happiness?" And nestling to him
she laughed quietly, with a note as tender and sweet as the cooing of a
wood-dove to its mate.
"Nay, but there is a mistake." He recovered the power of speech
tardily, and would have put her from him; but she held tight to him. "I
am not thy husband, nor yet a Rajput. I come from America, the far land
where thy husband died.... Nay, it doth pain me to hurt thee so, Ranee,
but the mistake is not of my making, and it hath been carried too far.
Thy husband died in my presence--"
"It is so, then!" she cut him short. And his arms were suddenly empty,
to his huge relief. "Indeed they had warned me that thou wouldst tell
this story and deny me--why, I know not, unless it be that thou art
unworthy of thy lineage, a coward and a weakling!" Her small foot
stamped angrily and on every limb of her round body bracelets and
anklets clashed and shimmered. "And so thou hast returned only to
forswear me and thy kingdom, O thou of little spirit!" The scarlet lips
curled and the eyes grew cold and hard with contempt. "If that be so,
tell me, why hast thou returned at all? To die? For that thou must
surely come to, if it be in thy mind to defy the behests of the Voice,
thou king without a kingdom!... Why, then, art thou here, rather than
running to hide in some far place, thinking to escape with thy
worthless life--worthless even to thee, who art too craven to make a
man's use of it--from the Vengeance of the Body?... Dost think I am to
be tricked and hoodwinked--I, in whose heart thine image hath been
enshrined these many weary years?"
"I neither think, nor know, nor greatly care, Ranee," Amber interposed
wearily. "Doubtless I deserve thine anger and thy scorn, since I am not
he who thou wouldst have me be. If death must be my portion for this
offence, for that I resemble Har Dyal Rutton ... then it is written
that I am to die. My business here in Khandawar hath concern neither
with thee, nor with the State, not yet with the Gateway of Swords--of
the very name of which I am weary.... Now," and his mouth settled in
lines of unmistakable resolve, "I will go; nor do I think that there be
any here to stop me."
He wheeled about, prepared to fight his way out of the palace, if need
be. Indeed, it was in his mind that a death there were as easy as one
an hour after sunrise; for he had little doubt but that he was to die
if he remained obdurate, and the hospitality of the Rajput would cease
to protect him the moment he set foot upon the marble bund of his
But the woman sprang after him and caught his arm. "Of thy pity," she
begged breathlessly, "hold for a space until I have taken thought....
Thou knowest that if what thou hast told me be the truth, then am I
widow before my time--widowed and doomed!"
"Aye!" And there was real terror in her eyes and voice. "Doomed to
_sati_. For, since I am a widow--since thou dost maintain thou art not
my husband--then my face hath been looked upon by a man not of mine own
people, and I am dishonoured. Fire alone can cleanse me of that
defilement--the pyre and the death by flame!"
"Good God! you don't mean that! Surely that custom has perished!"
"Thou shouldst know that it dieth not. What to us women in whose bodies
runs the blood of royalty, is an edict of your English Government?
What, the Sirkar itself to us in Khandawar?" She laughed bitterly. "I
am a Rohilla, a daughter of kings: my dishonour may be purged only by
flame. _Arre_! that I should live to meet with such fate--I, Naraini,
to perish in the flower of my beauty.... For I am beautiful, am I not?"
She dropped the veil which instinctively she had caught across her
face, and met his gaze with childish coquetry, torn though she seemed
to be by fear and disappointment.
"Thou art assuredly most beautiful, Ranee," Amber told her, with a
break in his voice, very compassionate. And he spoke simple truth. "Of
thy kind there is none more lovely in the world ..."
"There was tenderness then in your tone, my lord!" she caught him up
quickly. "Is there no mercy in thy heart for me?... Who is this woman
across the seas who hath won thy love?... Aye, even that I know--that
thou dost love this fair daughter of the English. Didst thou not lose
the picture of her that was taken with the magic-box of the sahibs?...
Is it for her sake that thou dost deny me, O my husband? Is she more
fair than I, are her lips more sweet?"
"I am not thy husband," he declared vehemently, appalled by her
reversion to that delusion. "Till this hour I have never seen thee; nor
is the sahiba of any concern to thee. Let me go, please."
But she had him fast and he could not have shaken her off but with
violence. He had been a strong man indeed who had not been melted to
tenderness by her beauty and her distress. She lifted her glorious face
to him, pleading, insistent, and played upon him with her voice of
gold. "Yet a moment gone thou didst tell me I was greatly gifted with
beauty. Have I changed in thine eyes, O my king? Canst thou look upon
this poor beauty and hear me tell thee of my love--and indeed I am
altogether thine, _Lalji_!--and harden thy heart against me?... What
though it be as thou hast said? What though thou art of a truth not of
the house of Rutton, nor yet a Rajput? Let us say that this is so,
however hard it be to credit: even so, am _I_ not reward enough for thy
"I know not thy meaning, Ranee, I--"
"Come, then, and I will show thee, my king. Come thou with me.... Nay,
why shouldst thou falter? There is naught for thee to fear--save me."
She tugged at his hand and laughed low, in a voice that sang like
smitten glasses. "Come, Beloved!"
Unwillingly, he humoured her. This could not last long.... The woman
half led, half dragged him to the northern boundary of the garden,
where they entered a little turret builded out from the walls over an
abyss fully three-hundred feet in depth. And here, standing upon the
verge of the parapet, with naught but a foot high coping between her
and the frightful fall, utterly fearless and unutterably lovely,
Naraini flung out a bare, jewelled arm in an eloquent gesture.
"See, my king!" she cried, her voice vibrant, her eyes kindling as they
met his. "Look down upon thy kingdom. North, south, east, west--look!"
she commanded. "Wherever thine eyes may turn, and farther than they can
see upon the clearest day, this land is all thine ... for the taking.
Look and tell me thou hast strength to renounce it ... and me,
A little giddy with the consciousness of their perilous height, his
breath coming harshly, he looked--first down to the lake that shone
like a silver dollar set in velvet, then up the misty distances of the
widening valley through which ran the stream that fed the lake, and out
to the hills that closed it in, miles away, and then farther yet over
the silvered summits of the great, rough hills that rolled away
endlessly, like a sea frozen in its fury.
"There lies thy kingdom, O my king!" The bewitching voice cooed
seduction at his shoulder. "There and ... here." She sought his hand
and placed it firmly upon her bosom, holding it there with gentle
pressure until he felt the thumping of her heart and the warm flesh
that heaved beneath a shred of half-transparent lace.
Reddening and a little shaken, he snatched his hand away. And she
"From the railway in the north to the railway in the south, all the
land is Khandawar, Beloved: thine inheritance--thine for the taking ...
even as I am thine, if thou wilt take me.... Look upon it, thy father's
kingdom, then upon me, thy queen.... Yea!" she cried, throwing back her
head and meeting his gaze with eye languorous beneath their heavy
silken lashes. "Yea, I am altogether thine, my king! Wilt thou cast me
aside, then, who am faint with love for thee?... Never hast thou
dreamed of love such as the love that I bear for thee. How could it be
otherwise, when thou hast passed thy days in the chill exile of the
North? O my husband, turn not from me--"
He pulled himself together and stood away. "Madam," he said with an
absurdly formal bow, "I am not your husband."
She opened her arms with infinite allure. "It is so little that is
asked of thee--only to ascend thy father's throne and be honoured of
all Bharuta, only to wield the sceptre that is thine by right, only to
reign an undisputed king in two kingdoms--Khandawar and thy Naraini's
"I am very sorry," he returned with the same preciseness. "It is quite
impossible. Besides, it seems that you leave the Sirkar altogether out
of your calculations. It may not have occurred to you that the Supreme
Government of India may have something to say about the contemplated
He saw her bite her lips with chagrin, and the look she flashed to his
face was anything but kind and tender. "_Arre!_" she laughed
derisively. "And of what account is this frail, tottering Sirkar's will
besides the Will of the Body? Of what avail its dicta against the
rulings of the Bell? Thou knowest--"
"Pardon, I know nothing. I have told thee, Ranee, that I am not Har
She was mistress of a thousand artifices. Brought to a standstill on
the one line of attack, she diverged to another without the quiver of
an eyelash to betray her discomfiture.
"Yea, thou hast told me," she purred. "But I, Naraini, _I_ know what I
know. Thou dost deny thyself even as thou dost deny me, but ... art
thou willing to be put to the proof, my king?"
"If you've any means of proving my identity, I would thank you for
making use of it, Ranee."
"There is the test of the Token, _Lalji_."
"I am not aware of it."
"The test of the Token--the ring that was brought to thee, the signet
of thy House. Surely thou hast it with thee?"
Since that night in Calcutta Amber had resumed his habit of carrying
the Token in the chamois bag. Now, on the reflection that it had been
given him for a special purpose, which had been frustrated by the death
of Dhola Baksh, so that he had no further use for it, he decided
against the counsels of prudence. "What's the odds," he asked himself,
"if I do lose it? I don't want the damn' thing--it's brought me nothing
but trouble, thus far." And he thrust a hand within his shirt and
brought forth the emerald. "Here it is," he told the woman cheerfully.
"Now this test?" "Place it upon thy finger--so, even upon thy little
finger, as was thy father's wont with it. Now lift up thine arm, so,
and turn the stone to the west, toward Kathiapur."
Without comprehension he yielded to this whim, folding up his right arm
and turning the emerald to the quarter indicated by Naraini.
The hour had drawn close upon dawn. A cold air breathed down the valley
and was chill to them in that lofty eyrie. The moon, dipping towards
the rim of the world, was poised, a globe of dull silver, upon the
ridge of a far, dark hill. As they watched it dropped out of sight and
everything was suddenly very bleak and black.
And a curious thing happened.
Naraini cried out sharply--"_Aho_!"--as if unable to contain her
Somewhere in the palace behind them a great gong boomed like thunder.
A pause ensued, disturbed only by the fluttering of the woman's breath:
for the space of thirty pulse-beats nothing happened. Then Naraini's
fingers closed like bands of steel about Amber's left wrist.
"See!" she cried in a voice of awe, while the bracelets shivered and
clashed upon her outstretched arm, "The Eye, my king, the Eye!"
Amber shut his teeth upon an exclamation of amaze. For just above the
far, dark mountain ridge, uncannily brilliant in the void of the pale,
moonlit firmament, a light had blazed out; a vivid emerald light,
winking and stabbing the darkness with shafts of seemingly supernatural
"And thy ring, lord--look! The Token!"
The great emerald seemed to have caught and to be answering the light
Naraini called the Eye; in the stone's depths an infernal fire leaped
and died and leaped again, now luridly blazing, now fitfully a-quiver
as though about to vanish, again strong and steady: even as the light
of the strange emerald star above the mountains ebbed and flowed
through the night.
Naraini shuddered and cried out guardedly for very fear. "By Indur, it
is even as the Voice foretold! Nay, Heaven-born"--she caught his sleeve
and forcibly pulled down his hand--"tempt not the Unseen further. And
put away this Token, lest a more terrible thing befall us. There be
mysteries that even we of the initiate may not comprehend, my lord. It
is not well to meddle with the unknown."
The ring was off his finger now and the woman was cramming it into his
coat-pocket with tremulous hands. And where the Eye had shone, the sky
was blank. They stood in darkness, Amber mute with perplexity, Naraini
clinging to his arm and shaking like a reed in the wind.
"Now am I frightened, lord of my heart! Lead me back to the garden, for
I am but a woman and afraid. Who am I, Naraini, to see the Eye? What am
I, a weak woman, to trespass upon the Mysteries? I am very much afraid.
Do thou take me hence and comfort me, my king!" She drew his arm about
her waist, firm, round, and slender, and held it so, her body yielding
subtly to his, her head drooping wearily upon his shoulder.
They moved slowly from the turret and back along the lighted walks of
the garden, the woman apparently content, Amber preoccupied--to tell
the truth, more troubled than he would have been willing to confess. As
for the intimacy of their attitude, he was temporarily careless of it;
it meant less to him than the woman guessed. It seems likely that she
inferred a conquest from his indifference, for when they had come back
to the tank of the gold-fish beneath the banian she slipped from his
embrace and confronted him with a face afire with elation.
"See now how thou art altogether controverted, _Lalji!_" she cried
joyfully. "No longer canst thou persist that thou art other than thy
true self, the lord of Naraini's heart, the king returned to his
kingdom.... For who would dare give the lie to the Eye?... Indeed," she
continued with a low, sighing laugh, "I myself had begun to doubt, my
faith borne down and overcome by thy repeated denials; but now I know
thee. Did not the Bell foretell that the Eye should be seen of men only
when Har Dyal Rutton had returned to his kingdom, and then only when he
wore the Token? Even as it was said, so has it been.... And now art
thou prepared to go?"
"To Kathiawar--even to the threshold of the Gateway?... There is yet
time, before the dawn, and it were wise to go quickly, my king; but for
one night more is the Gateway open to receive thee. Thou didst see the
saddled stallions in the courtyard? They wait there for thee, to bear
thee to Kathiawar.... Nay, it were better that thou shouldst wait,
mayhap, for the hours be few before the rising of the sun. Go then to
thy rest, heart of my heart, since thou must leave me; and this night
we shall ride, thou and I, together to the Gateway."
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