The Bronze Bell
Louis Joseph Vance
Part 5 out of 6
"So be it," he assented, with a grave inclination of his head.
Convinced of the thanklessness of any further attempt to convince the
woman against her will, he gave it up, and was grateful for the respite
promised him. In twelve or eighteen hours he might accomplish
much--with the aid of Labertouche. At worst he would find some means to
communicate with the Farrells and then seek safety for himself in
flight or hiding until what he had come to term "that damned
Gateway-thing" should be closed and he be free to resume his strange
wooing. Some way, somehow, he could contrive to extricate himself and
Therefore he told the woman: "Be it so, O Queen! Now, I go."
"And leave me," she pouted prettily, "with no word but that, my king?
Am I not worth a caress--not even when I beg for it?"
He smiled down at her, tolerant and amused, and impulsively caught her
to him. "The point's well taken," he said. "Decidedly you're worth it,
Naraini. And if you were not, the show was!"
And he kissed and left her, all in a breath.
SUNRISE FOR TWO
Amber found his way out of the garden without difficulty; at the
doorway an eunuch waited. The Maharana himself, perhaps in deference to
the dictates of discretion, did not reappear, and Amber had no desire
to see him again. He was eager only to get away, to find a place and
time to think, and to get into communication with Labertouche.
The eunuch bowed submissively to his demand to be shown out, and
silently led him down through the echoing marble corridors and
galleries of the many-tiered palace. They took a different way from
that by which Amber had ascended; had his life depended on it, he could
not have found his way back to the garden of Naraini, but by accident.
As they passed through the lower court of stables he remarked the fact
that the stallions were being led away to their stalls. The
circumstances confirmed Naraini's statement; the hour of their
usefulness was ended for the day--or, rather, for the night.
The Virginian wondered dully if ever he would find himself astride one
of the superb animals. After what he had witnessed and been a part of
there was for him no longer any circumscribing horizon to the world of
possibility. For him the improbable no longer existed. He had met the
incredible face to face and found it real.
In the cavern-like chamber at the water-level Dulla Dad had the boat in
readiness. Amber embarked, not without a sigh of relief, and the
Mohammedan with his double-bladed paddle drove the boat out of the
secret entrance, in an impassive silence. In the stern Amber watched
the indefinite grey light of dawn wavering over the face of the waters
and wondered ...
The boat swung in gently to the marble steps of the bund. Amber rose
and stepped ashore, very tired and very much inclined to believe he
would presently wake up to a sane and normal world.
"Hazoor," the voice of Dulla Dad hailed him. He turned. "Hazoor, I was
to say that at the third hour after sunset to-night this boat will be
in waiting here. You are to call me by name, and I will put in for you,
"What's that? I don't understand.... Oh, very well."
"And I was to say further, my lord, these words: 'You shall find but
one way to Kathiapur.'"
Amber shook his head, smiling. "If you don't mind getting yourself
disliked on my account, Dulla Dad, you may take back to the author of
that epigram this answer: 'You shall find but one way to Jehannum, and
that right speedily.' Good-morning, Dulla Dad."
"The peace of God abide always with the Heaven-born!"
With a single, strong stroke the creature of the palace sent the boat
skimming far out from the bund, and, turning, headed for the palace.
Amber entered the bungalow, to find the khansamah already awake and
moving about. At the Virginian's request he shuffled off to prepare
coffee--much coffee, very strong and black and hot, Amber stipulated.
He needed the stimulant badly. He was sleepy and his head was in a
He sat lost in thought until the khansamah brought the decoction, then
roused and drank it as it came from the pot, without sugar, gulping
down huge bitter mouthfuls of the scalding black fluid. But the effect
that he expected and desired was strangely long in making itself felt.
He marvelled at his drowsiness, nodding and blinking over his empty
cup. Out of doors the skies were hot and blue--white with forerunners
of the sun, and the world of men was stirring and making preparation
against the business of the day; but Amber, who had a work so serious
and so instant to his hand, sat on in dreamy lethargy, musing....
The faces of two women stood out vividly against the misty formless
void before his eyes: the face of Naraini and that of Sophia Farrell.
He looked from one to the other, stupidly contrasting them, trying to
determine which was the lovelier, until their features blurred and ran
together and the two became as one and ...
The khansamah tiptoed cautiously into the room and found the Virginian
sleeping like a log, his head upon the table. His face was deeply
coloured with crimson, as if a fever burned him, and his breathing was
loud and stertorous.
Pausing, the native beckoned to one who skulked without, and the latter
entering, the two laid hold of the unconscious man and bore him to the
charpoy. The second native slipped silver money into the khansamah's
"He will sleep till evening," he said. "If any come asking for him, say
that he has gone abroad, leaving no word. More than this you do not
know. The sepoys have an order to prevent all from entrance."
The khansamah touched his forehead respectfully. "It is an order.
Shabash!" he muttered.
A shaft of sunlight struck in through the window and lay stark upon the
sleeper's face. He did not move. The khansamah drew close the shades,
and with the other left the room in semi-dusk.
Beneath the spreading banian, by the cistern of the goldfish, Naraini
with smouldering eyes watched Amber disappear in the wilderness of
shrubbery. He walked as a man with a set purpose, never glancing back.
She laughed uneasily but waited motionless where he had left her, until
the echo of his boot-heels on the marble slabs had ceased to ring in
the neighbouring corridor. Then, lifting a flower-like hand to her
mouth, she touched her lips gently and with an air of curiosity. The
resentment in her eyes gave place to an emotion less superficial. "By
Indur and by Har!" she swore softly. "In one thing at least he is like
a Rajput: he kisses as a man kisses."
She moved indolently along the walk to the rug beneath the canopy where
he had found her, her lithe, languid, round body in its gorgeous
draperies no whit less insolent than the flaming bougainvillea whose
glowing magenta blossoms she touched with idle fingers as she passed.
The east was grey with dusk of dawn--a light that grew apace, making
garish the illumination of the flickering, smoking, many-coloured lamps
in the garden. Naraini clapped her hands. Soft footsteps sounded in the
gallery and one of her handmaidens threaded the shrubbery to her side.
"The lamps, Unda," said the queen; "their light, I think, little
becomes me. Put them out." And when this was done, she composedly
ordered her pipe and threw herself lazily at length upon a pile of
kincob cushions, her posture the more careless since she knew herself
secure from observation; the garden being private to her use.
When the tire-woman had departed, leaving at Naraini's side a small
silver _huqa_ loaded with fine-cut Lucknow weed, a live ember of
charcoal in the middle of the bowl, she sat up and began to smoke, her
face of surpassing loveliness quaintly thoughtful as she sucked at the
little mouthpiece of chased silver and exhaled faint clouds of aromatic
vapour. From time to time she smiled pensively and put aside the tube
while she played with the rings upon her slender, petal-like fingers;
five rings there were to each hand, from the heavy thumb circlet that
might possibly fit a man's little finger to the tiny band that was on
her own, all linked together by light strands of gold radiating from
the big, gem-encrusted boss of ruddy gold midway between her slim round
waist and dimpled knuckles....
The tread of boots with jingling spurs sounded in the gallery, warning
her. She sighed, smiled dangerously to herself, and carelessly adjusted
her veil, leaving rather more than half her face bare. Salig Singh
entered the garden and found his way to her, towering over her beneath
the canopy, brave in his green and tinsel uniform. She looked up with a
listless hauteur that expressed her attitude toward the man.
"_Achcha_!" she said sharply. "Thou art tardy, Heaven-born. Yet have I
waited for thee this half-hour gone, heavy with sleep though I
be--waited to know the pleasure of my lord."
There was a mockery but faintly disguised in her tone. The Maharana
seemed to find it not unpleasant, for he smiled grimly beneath his
"There was work to be done," he said briefly--"for the Cause. And
thou--how hast thou wrought, O Breaker of Hearts?"
The woman cast the silver mouthpiece from her and clasped her hands
behind her head. "Am I not Naraini?"
"The man is ours?"
"Mine," she corrected amiably. His face darkened with a scowl of
jealousy and she laughed in open derision. "Were I Naraini could I not
divine the heart of a man?"
"By what means?"
"What is that to thee, O Heaven-born?" She snuggled her body
complacently into the luxurious pile of cushions. "If I have
accomplished the task thou didst set for me, what concern hast thou
with the means I did employ? Thou art only Salig Singh, Maharana of
Khandawar, but I am Naraini, a free woman."
"Thou--!" Rage choked the Rajput. "Thou," he sputtered--"thou art--"
"Softly, Heaven-born, softly--lest I loose a thunderbolt for thy
destruction. Is it wise to forget that Naraini holds thy fate in the
hollow of her hands?" She sat forward, speaking swiftly and with
malice. "Thou art pledged to produce Har Dyal Rutton in the Hall of the
Bell before another sunrise, and none but Naraini knows to what a
perilous resort thou art driven to redeem thy word."
"I was lied to," he argued sullenly. "A false tale was brought me--by
one who hath repented of his error! If I was told that Har Dyal Rutton
would be in India upon such-and-such a day, am I to blame that I did
promise to bring him to the Gateway?"
"And seeing that the man is dead, art thou to blame for bringing in his
place a substitute, even so poor a changeling as this man Amber? Nay,
be not angry; do I blame thee? Have I done aught but serve thee to the
end thou dost desire?... Thou shouldst be grateful to me, rather than
menace me with thine anger.... And," she added sweetly, "it were well
for thee that thou shouldst bear always in mind my intimacy with thy
secret. If thou art king, then am I more than queen, in Khandawar."
"I am not angry, Naraini," he told her humbly, "but mad with love for
"And lust, my lord, for--power," she interpolated.
"But if what thou hast said be true--"
"'Who lies to the King, is already a dead man.' Why should I trouble to
deceive thee, Heaven-born? I tell thee, the man is won. The day shall
declare it: this night will he ride with me to Kathiapur. Why didst
thou not tarry to eavesdrop? Indeed thou hast lost an opportunity that
may never a second time be thine--to learn of the wiles of woman."
"There was work to be done," he repeated. "I went to take measures
against thy failure."
"O thou of little faith!"
"Nay, why should I neglect proper precautions? Whether thy confidence
be justified or no, this night will Har Dyal Rutton--or one like
him--endure the Ordeal of the Gateway."
"So I have told thee," she assented equably. "He will come, because
Naraini bids him."
"It may be so. If not, another lure shall draw him."
She started with annoyance. "The Englishwoman of the picture?"
"Have I named her?" He lifted his heavy brows in affected surprise.
"Secret for secret," he offered: "mine for thine. Is it a bargain, O
Pearl of Khandawar?"
"Keep thy silly secret, then, as I will keep mine own counsel," she
said, with assumed disdain. It was no part of wisdom, in her
understanding, to tell him of her interview with Amber. A man's
jealousy is a potent weapon in a woman's hands, but must be wielded
He was persistent: "I will back my plan against thine, Ranee."
"So be it," she said shortly. "Whichever wins, the stake is won for
both. What doth it matter?"
She rose and moved impatiently down the walk and back again, bangles
tinkling, jewels radiant on wrist and brow, ankle and bosom. The man
watched her with sulky eyes until she turned, then bent his head and
stood glowering at the earth and twisting his moustache. She paused
before him, hands on hips, and raised her eyes in silent inquiry. He
pretended not to notice her. She sighed with a pretence of humility
thinly disguised. "Thy trouble, my lord?" she rallied him.
"I have wondered," he said heavily: "will he pass?"
"If not, it were well for thee to die this night, O Heaven-born."
"That was my thought."
"Thou hast little need to worry, lord." Woman-like she shifted to suit
his humour. "He is a man: I answer for that, though ... he is no fool.
Still, when the hour strikes, what he must, that will he endure for the
sake of that which Naraini hath promised him."
"Or for another," Salig Singh growled into his beard.
"I did not hear."
"I said naught. I am distraught."
"Be of good heart," she comforted him still further. "If he doth fail
to survive the Ordeal--Har Dyal Rutton hath died. If he doth survive--"
"Har Dyal Rutton shall die within the hour," Salig Singh concluded
grimly. "But ... I am troubled. I cannot but ask myself continually:
Were it not wiser to confess failure and abide the outcome?"
"How long wouldst thou abide the outcome, my king, after thou hadst
informed the Council of this deception to which thou hast been too
willing and ready a party?... He who misled you died a dog's death. But
thou--art thou in love with death?"
"Unless thy other name be Death, Naraini ..."
"Or if the Council should spare thee--as is unlikely? The patience of
the Body is as the patience of Kings--scant; and its mercy is like unto
its patience.... But say thou art spared: what then? How long art thou
prepared to wait until the Members of the Body shall again be in such
complete accord as now? When again shall all Hindustan be ripe for
revolt?... _Aho!_ Thou wouldst have sweet patience in the waiting,
Salig Singh!... Let matters rest as they be, my lord"--this a trace
imperiously. "Leave the man to me: I stand sponsor for him until the
Gateway shall have received him and--and perhaps for a little
"Thou art right as ever." He lifted his gaze to meet hers and his eyes
flamed. "I leave my life on your knees, Naraini. I love thee and ... by
all the gods, thou art altogether a woman!"
"And thou ... a man, your Highness?" she countered provokingly. "Nay!"
she continued, evading him with a supple squirm, "be content until this
affair be consummated. Wait until the time when an empress shall reign
over all Bharuta and thou, my lord, shall be her Minister of State."
The man's voice shook. "That hour is not far off, my queen. Thou wilt
not keep me waiting longer?"
She gave him the quick promise of her eyes. "Thou shouldst know--thou
of all men, my lord.... But see!" It was necessary to distract him and
she seized hastily upon the first pretext. "The last day of the old
order dawns ... and the dawn is crimson, my lord, as with blood!" Her
soft scarlet lips curled thirstily and showed her teeth, small, sharp
and white as pearls. "I think," she added with somber conviction, "this
omen is propitious!"
She swept away from him, toward the parapet. He took a single step in
pursuit and halted, following her with a glance that was at once a
caress and a threat.
She paused only when she could go no further, and stood in silent
Deep down in the valley the city was stirring from its sleep; the dull
and peaceful humming of its hived hordes rose to her, pulsating in the
still air. Above the eastern ridge the sky was hot and angry, banded
with magenta, scarlet, and cadmium, and shot with expanding shafts of
fierce radiance, like ribs of a fan of fire. In a long and breathless
instant of suspense the hilltops blushed with the glare and threw down
the light to the night mists swimming in the valley, rendering them
opalescent, as with a heart of flame.
With eyes half-veiled by long languorous lashes the woman threw back
her head until her swelling throat was tense. She raised her arms and
stretched them wide. The sun, soaring suddenly, a crimson disk above
the ridge, seemed to strike fire from her strange, savage beauty as
from a jewel. Bathed in its ruddy glare she seemed to embody in her
frail, slight form all that was singular to that cruel, passionate land
of fire and steel. Her face became suffused, her blood leaping in
response to the ardour of the sun.
Her parted lips moved, but the man, who had drawn near enough to hear,
caught two words only.
THE WAY TO KATHIAPUR
Gall and wormwood in his mouth, more bitter than remorse, Amber became
conscious. Or perhaps it were more true to say that he struggled out of
unconsciousness, dragging his ego back by main will-power from the deep
oblivion of drugged slumber. One by one his faculties fought their way
past the barrier, until he was fully sentient, save that his memory
drowsed. His head was hot and heavy, his eyes burned in their sockets
like balls of live charcoal, a dulled buzzing sounded in his ears, his
very heart felt sore and numb; he was as one who wakes from evil dreams
to the blackness of foreknown despair.
He lay for a time without moving. Because it was dark and his memory
not working properly, time had ceased to be for him, and to-day was as
yesterday and to-morrow. The ceiling-cloth above him was blood-red with
light from the sepoys' fire in the compound, and all was as it had been
when he had first lain down the night before. And yet....
Suddenly he raised himself upon the charpoy and called huskily for the
khansamah. Promptly the squat white figure that he remembered appeared
in the doorway. "Bring lights," Amber ordered, peremptory.
"Bring lights quickly--and water." And when the man had returned with a
lamp, which he put on the table, Amber seized the red earthenware
water-jug and drained it greedily. Returning it, empty, to the brown
hands, he motioned to the man to wait, while he consulted his watch. It
had run down. He thrust it back into his pocket and enquired: "What's
"Eight of the evening, sahib."
Amber gasped and stared. "Eight of the ... Let me think. Go and bring
me food and a brandy-peg--or, hold on! Bring a bottle of soda-water and
a glass only."
The khansamah withdrew. Amber fell back with his shoulders to the wall
and stared unwinking at the lamp. He distinctly remembered undressing
before going to bed; he now found himself fully clothed. He felt of his
pocket, and found the emerald ring there, instead of in its chamois
case. Then it had not been a nightmare!
He had a bottle of brandy which had never been uncorked, in his
travelling-kit. Rising, he found it and inspected the cork narrowly to
make sure it had not been tampered with; then he drew it.
The khansamah returned with the glass and an unopened bottle of
Schweppe's, and prepared the drink under eyes that watched him
narrowly. While Amber drank he laid a place for him at the table. When
he left the room a second time the Virginian produced his automatic
pistol and satisfied himself that it remained loaded and in good
In the course of a few minutes the native reappeared with a tray of
food and pot of coffee. These arranged, he stood by the chair, ready to
serve the guest. Then he found himself looking into the muzzle of
Amber's weapon, and became apparently rigid with terror.
"Make no outcry, dog, and tell me no lies, if you value your
contemptible life. Why did you drug me--at whose instance?"
"Answer me quickly, son of vipers!"
"By Dhola Baksh, hazoor, I am innocent! Another has done these
things--he who served you last night, belike, and whose place I have
Now the oaths of India are many and various, so that a new specimen
need not be held wonderful. But Amber sat bolt upright, his eyes
widening and his jaw dropping. "Dhola--!" he said, and brought his
teeth together with an audible click, staring at the khansamah as if he
were a recrudescence of a prehistoric mammal. He caught a motion of the
head and a wave of the hand toward the window, warning him that there
might be an eavesdropper lurking without, and rose admirably to the
"That is a lie, misbegotten son of an one-eyed woman of shame! By the
Gateway at Kathiapur, that is a lie! Speak, brother of jackals and
father of swine, lest my temper overcome me and I make carrion of you!"
"My lord, hear me!" protested the man in an extremity of fright. "These
be the words of truth. If otherwise, let my head be forfeit.... Early
in the morning you returned from the lake, heavy with sleep, and so
soundly have you slept since that hour that no effort of mine could
rouse you, though many came to the door, making inquiry. I am Ram Lal,
a true man, and no trafficker in drugs and potions."
"Even so!" said Amber, ironic. "But if, on taking thought, I find
you've lied to me ... Go now and hold yourself fortunate in this, that
I am not a man of hasty judgment."
"Hazoor!" Like a shadow harried by a wind of night, the khansamah
scurried from the room. But on the threshold he paused long enough to
lay a significant finger upon his lips and nod toward the table.
Amber put away his pistol, sighed from the bottom of his soul, and,
seating himself, without the least misgiving, broke his long fast with
ravenous appetite, clearing every dish and emptying the coffee pot of
all save dregs. Then, with a long yawn of satisfaction, repletion, and
relief, he lighted a cigarette and stretched himself, happily conscious
of returning strength and sanity.
From the khansamah's quarters came an occasional clash of crockery and
pattering of naked feet. Outside, in the compound, the sepoys were
chattering volubly; their words were indistinguishable, but from their
constantly increasing animation Amber inferred that they were keenly
relishing the topic of discussion. He became sure of this when, at
length, his curiosity roused, he went to the window and peered out
between the wooden slats of the blind. The little company was squatting
in a circle round the fire, and a bottle was passing from hand to hand.
He turned back, puzzled, to find the khansamah calmly seated at the
table and enjoying one of Amber's choicest cigarettes.
"Thank God," he said, with profound emotion, "for a civilised smoke!"
"Labertouche!" cried Amber.
The pseudo-khansamah rose, bowed formally, and shook hands with
considerable cordiality. "It's good to see you whole and sound," he
said. "I had to wait until Ram Nath's work began to show results. He's
out there, you know, keeping the bottle moving. I don't believe those
damned sepoys will bother us much, now, but we've got no time at all to
spare. Now tell me what you have to tell, omitting nothing of the
Amber dropped into a chair, and the Englishman sat near to him. "I say,
thank God for you, Labertouche! You don't know how I've needed you."
"I can fancy. I've had a ripping time of it myself. Sorry I couldn't
communicate with you safely before you left Calcutta. But we've not a
minute to waste. Get into your yarn, please; explanations later, if we
can afford 'em."
Inhaling with deep enjoyment, he narrowed his dark eyes, listening
intently to Amber's concise narrative of his experiences since their
parting before the stall of Dhola Baksh in the Machua Bazaar. Not once
was he interrupted by word or sign from Labertouche; and even when the
tale was told the latter said nothing, but dropped his gaze
abstractedly to the smouldering stump of his cigarette.
"And you?" demanded the Virginian. "Have pity, Labertouche! Can't you
see I'm being eaten alive by curiosity?"
Labertouche eyed him blankly for an instant. "Oh!" he said, with an
effort freeing his mind from an intense concentration of thought. "I?
What's there to tell? I've been at work. That's all.... I was jostled
off to one side when the row started in the bazaar, and so lost you.
There was then nothing to do but strike back to the hotel and wait for
a clue. You can figure my relief when you dropped out of that
ticca-ghari! I gave you the word to go on to Darjeeling, intending to
join you _en route_. But you know why that jaunt never came off. I
found out my mistake before morning, wired you, and left Calcutta
before you, by the same train that conveyed his Majesty the Maharana of
Khandawar. Fortunately enough we had Ram Nath already on the ground,
working up another case--I'll tell you about it some time. He's one of
our best men--a native, but loyal to the core, and wrapped up in his
work. He'd contrived to get a billet as tonga-wallah to the Kuttarpur
_bunia_ who has the dÔk-service contract. I myself had arranged to have
the telegraph-babu here transferred, and myself appointed in his place.
So I was able to attach myself to the 'tail' of the Maharana without
exciting comment. Miss Farrell came by the same train, but Salig Singh
was in too great a hurry to get home to pay any attention to her, and
I, knowing you'd be along, arranged that tonga accident with Ram Nath.
He bribed his brother tonga-wallah to bring it about."
"Thank you," said Amber from his heart.
Labertouche impatiently waved the interruption aside. "I looked for you
at the telegraph office this morning, but of course when you didn't
appear I knew something was up. So I concocted a message to you for an
excuse, came down, engaged the khansamah in conversation (I think he
had some idea I was an agent of the other side) and ... he is an old
man, not very strong. Once indoors, I had little trouble with him. He's
now enjoying perfect peace, with a gag to insure it, beneath his own
charpoy. Ram Nath happened along opportunely and created a diversion
with his gin-bottle. That seems to be all, and I'm afraid we mayn't
talk much longer. I must be going--and so must you."
He glanced anxiously at his watch--a cheap and showy thing, such as
natives delight in. Both men rose.
"You return to the telegraph station, I presume?" said Amber.
"Not at all. It wouldn't be worth my while."
"The wires haven't been working since ten this morning," said
Labertouche quietly. Amber steadied himself with the back of his chair.
"You mean they've been cut?"
"Something of the sort."
"And that means--"
"That this infernal conspiracy is scheduled to come to a head
to-night--as you must have inferred, my dear fellow: this is the last
night of your probation. The cutting off of Khandawar from all British
India is a bold move and shows Salig Singh's confidence. It means
simply: 'Governmental interference not desired. Hands off.' He knows
well that we've spies here, that enough has leaked out, unavoidably, to
bring an army corps down on his back within twenty-four hours, if he
permitted even the most innocent-seeming message to get out of the
Amber whistled with dismay. "And you--"
"I'm going to find out for myself what's towards in Kathiapur."
"You're going there--alone?"
"Not exactly; I shall have company. A gentleman of the Mohammedan
persuasion is going to change places with me for the night. No; he
doesn't know it yet, but I have reason to believe that he got an
R.S.V.P. for the festive occasion and intends to put in a midnight
appearance. So I purpose saving him the trouble. It's only a two-hour
"But the risk!"
Labertouche chuckled grimly. "It's the day's work, my boy. I'm not sure
I shan't enjoy it. Besides, I mayn't hang back where my subordinates
have not feared to go. We've had a man in Kathiapur since day before
"And I? What am I to do?"
"Your place is at Miss Farrell's side. No; you'd be only a hindrance to
me. Get that out of your thoughts. Three years ago I found time to make
a pretty thorough exploration of Kathiapur, and, being blessed with an
excellent memory, I shall be quite at home."
Amber made a gesture of surrender. "Of course you're right," he said.
"You're always right, confound you!"
"Exactly," agreed Labertouche, smiling. "I'm only here to help you
escape to the Residency. Raikes and Colonel Farrell have already been
advised to make preparations for a siege or for instant flight, if I
give the word. They need you far more than I shall. It would be simple
madness for you to venture to Kathiapur to-night. The case is clear
enough for you to see the folly of doing anything of the sort."
"It may be clear to you...."
"See here," said Labertouche, with pardonable impatience; "I'm
presuming that you know enough of Indian history to be aware that the
Rutton dynasty in Khandawar is the proudest and noblest in India; it
has descended in right line from the Sun. There's not a living Hindu
but will acknowledge its supremacy, be he however ambitious. That makes
it plain, or ought to, why Har Dyal Rutton, the last male of his line,
was--and is--considered the natural, the inevitable, leader of the
Second Mutiny. It devolved upon Salig Singh to produce him; Salig Singh
promised and--is on the point of failure. I can't say precisely what
penalty he'll be called upon to pay, but it's safe to assume that it'll
be something everlastingly unpleasant. So he's desperate. I can't
believe he has deceived himself into taking you for Rutton, but whether
or no he intends by hook or crook to get you through this Gateway
affair to-night. He's got to. Now you are--or Rutton is--known to be
disloyal to the scheme. Inevitably, then, the man who passes through
that Gateway in his name is to be quietly eliminated before he can
betray anything--in other words, as soon as he has been put through the
'Ordeal,' as they call it, for the sake of appearances and the moral
effect upon the Hindu race at large. Now I think you understand."
"I think I do, thanks," Amber returned drily. "You're quite right, as I
said before. So I'm off to the Residency. But how to get through that
guard out there?"
He received no response. In as little time as it took him to step
backwards from Amber, Labertouche had resumed his temporarily discarded
masquerade. Instantaneously it was the khansamah who confronted the
Virginian--the native with head and shoulders submissively bended, as
one who awaits an order.
Amber, surprised, stared, started to speak, received a sign, and was
silent, the excuse for Labertouche's sudden change of attitude being
sufficiently apparent in an uproar which had been raised without the
least warning in the compound. The advent of a running horse seemed to
have been responsible for it, for the clatter of hoofs as the animal
was checked abruptly in mid-stride was followed by a clamour of drunken
cries, shrieks of alarm, and protests on the part of the sepoys
disturbed in the midst of their carouse. Over all this there rang the
voice of an Englishman swearing good, round, honest British oaths.
"Stand aside, you hounds!"
Amber turned pale. "That's Farrell's voice!" he cried, guessing at the
Labertouche made no answer, but edged toward the khansamah's quarters.
The din subsided as Farrell gained the veranda. His feet rang heavily
on the boards, and a second later he thrust the door violently open and
slammed breathlessly into the room, booted, spurred, his keen old face
livid, a riding-whip dangling from one wrist, a revolver in the other
He wheeled on the threshold and lifted his weapon, then, with a gasp of
amazement, dropped it. "By Heaven, sir!" he cried, "that's odd! Those
damned sepoys tried to prevent my seeing you and now they've cleared
out, every mother's son of them!"
Amber stepped to his side; to his own bewilderment, the compound was
deserted; there was not a sepoy in sight.
"So much the better," he said quickly, the first to recover. "What's
"Wrong!" Farrell stumbled over to the table and into a chair, panting.
"Everything's wrong! What's gone wrong with you, that we haven't been
able to find you all day?"
"I've been lying there," Amber told him, nodding to the charpoy,
"drugged. What's happened? Is Miss Farrell--?"
"Sophia!" The Political lifted his hand to his eyes and let it fall,
with an effect of confusion. "In the name of charity tell me you know
where she is!"
"You don't mean--"
"She's gone, Amber--gone! She's disappeared, vanished, been spirited
away! Don't you understand me? She's been kidnapped!"
In dumb torment, Amber heard a swift, sharp hiss of breath as pregnant
with meaning as a spoken word, and turned to meet Labertouche's eyes,
and to see that the same thought was in both their minds. Salig Singh
had found the way to lure Amber to Kathiapur.
No spoken word was needed; their understanding was implicit on the
instant. Indeed the secret-agent dared not speak, lest he be overheard
by an eavesdropper and so be the cause of his own betrayal. With a
flutter of white garments he slipped noiselessly from the room, and
Amber knew instinctively that if they were to meet again that night it
would be upon the farther side of the Gateway of Swords. For himself,
his path of duty lay clear to the Virginian's vision; like
Labertouche's, it was the road to Kathiapur. He had no more doubt that
Sophia had been conveyed thither than he had of Farrell's presence
before him. And in his heart he cursed, not Naraini, not Salig Singh,
but himself for his inept folly in bringing to India the photograph
which had been stolen from him and so had discovered to the
conspirators his interest in the girl.
He thought swiftly of Dulla Dad's parting admonition: "_You shall find
but one way to Kathiapur_."
"Well, sir? Well?" Exasperated by his silence the Political sprang to
his feet and brought the riding-crop against his leg with a smack like
a gun-shot. "Have you nothing to say? Don't you realise what it means
when a white woman disappears in this land of devils? Good God! you
stand there, doing nothing, saying nothing, like a man with a heart of
"Speak French," Amber interposed quietly. He continued in that tongue,
his tone so steady and imperative that it brought the half-frantic
Englishman to his senses. "Speak French. You must know that we're spied
upon every instant; every word we speak is overheard, probably. Tell me
what happened--how it happened--and keep cool!"
"You're right; I beg your pardon." Farrell collected himself. "There's
little enough to go on.... You disappointed us this morning. During the
day we got word from a secret but trustworthy source to look out for
trouble from the native side. Nevertheless, Raikes and I were obliged,
by reason of our position, representing Government, to attend the
banquet in honor of the coronation to-morrow. We called in young
Clarkson--the missionary, you know--to stay in the house during our
absence. When we returned the Residency was deserted--only we found
Clarkson bound, gagged, and nearly dead of suffocation in a closet. He
could tell us nothing--had been set upon from behind. Not a servant
remained.... But, by the way, your man Doggott came in by the evening
"Gone to the palace to threaten Salig Singh with an army corps."
"You know the telegraph wires are cut?"
"Yes, but how--"
"Never mind how I know--the story's too long. The thing to do is to get
troops here without a day's delay."
"Take Raikes, Clarkson, and Doggott and ride like hell to Badshah
Junction. Telegraph from there. The four of you ought to be able to
fight your way through."
"But, man, my daughter!"
"I know where to find her--or think I do. No matter which, I'll find
her and bring her back to you safely, or die trying. You spoke just now
of a secret but trustworthy source of information: I work with it this
night. I can't mention names--you know why; but that source was in this
room ten minutes ago. He's gone after your daughter now. I follow.
No--I go alone. It's the only way. I know how you feel about it, but
believe me, the thing for you to do is to find some way to summon
British troops. Now the quicker you go, the quicker I'm off. I
can't--daren't move while you're here."
Farrell eyed him strangely. "I'll go," he said after a pause. "But ...
why can't I--"
"There are just two white men living, Colonel Farrell, who can go where
I am going to look for your daughter to-night. I'm one of them. The
other is--you know who."
"One of us is mad," said Farrell with conviction. "I think you are."
"Or else I know what I'm talking about. In either event you only hinder
me now. Please go."
His manner impressed the man; for a moment Farrell lingered, doubting,
then impetuously offered his hand. "I'm hanged if I understand why," he
said, "but somehow I believe you know what you're about. Good-night
and--and God be with you, Amber."
The Virginian followed him to the doorway. Farrell's horse, a docile,
well-trained animal, had come to the edge of the veranda to wait for
his master. Otherwise the compound was as empty as the night was quiet.
Mounting, the Political waved a silent farewell and spurred off toward
the city. Amber passed back through the bungalow to the bund.
It was a wonderful blue night of clear moonlight, quickened by a rowdy
wind that rioted down the valley from the north. The roughened surface
of the lake was dark save where the moon had blazed its trail of
shimmering golden scales. There was no boat visible, and for the first
time Amber's heart misgave him and he doubted whether it were not best
to seek a mount from the stables of the Residency and try to reach
Kathiapur on his own initiative. But his ignorance of the neighbouring
topography was too great a handicap to be overcome; and now that
Labertouche had gone, he was without a friendly, guiding hand. He could
but deliver himself into the hands of the enemy and do what he might
He lifted his voice and called: "_OhÚ_, Dulla Dad!"
There came a soft shuffle of feet on the stones behind him, and the
stunted, white-clad figure of Dulla Dad stood at his side, making
respectful obeisance. "Hazoor!"
"You damned spying scoundrel!" Amber cried, enraged. "You've been
waiting there by the window, listening!"
"Hazoor," the native quavered in fright, "it was cold upon the water
and you kept me waiting over-long. I landed, seeking shelter from the
wind. If your talk was not for mine ears, remember that you used a
tongue I did not know."
"So you were listening!" Amber calmed himself. "Never mind. Where's
"I thought to hide it in the rushes. If the hazoor will be patient for
a little moment ..." The native dropped down from the bund and
disappeared into the reedy tangle of the lake shore. A minute or so
later Amber saw the boat shoot out from the shore and swing in a long,
graceful curve to the steps of the bund.
"Make haste," he ordered, as he jumped in and took his place. "If I
have kept you waiting, as you say, then I am late."
"Nay, there is time to spare." Dulla Dad spun the boat round and away.
"I did but think to anticipate your impatience, knowing that you would
"Ah, you knew that, Dulla Dad? How did you know?"
The man giggled softly, plying a busy paddle. "Am I not of the palace,
hazoor? What are secrets in the house of kings? Gossip of herders and
"And how much more do you know, Dulla Dad?" Amber's tone was ominous.
"I, hazoor? Who am I to know aught?... Nay, this have I heard"--he
paused cunningly: "'_You shall find but one way to Kathiapur_.'"
Amber, realising that he had invited this insolence, was fair enough
not to resent it, and held his peace until he could no longer be blind
to the fact that the native was shaping a course almost exactly away
from the Raj Mahal. "What treachery is this, dog?" he demanded. "This
is not the way--"
"Be not mistrustful of your slave, hazoor," whined the native. "I do
the bidding of those before whose will I am as a leaf in the wind. It
is an order that I land you on the bund of the royal summer pavilion,
by the northern shore of the lake. There will you find one waiting for
you, my lord."
Amber contented himself with a fresh examination of his pistol; it was
all one to him, whatever the route by which he was to reach Kathiapur,
so long as the change involved no delay. But this way across the water
was so much longer than that which he had anticipated that he had time
to work himself into a state of fuming impatience before the boat
finally ranged alongside a pretentious marble bund backed by ragged
plantations of palms and bananas. To the left the white-columned facade
of the Maharana's stately pleasure-house glimmered spectral in the
moonlight. It showed no lights, and Amber very naturally concluded that
it was unoccupied.
He landed on the steps of the bund and waited for Dulla Dad to join
him; but when, hearing a splash of the paddle, he looked round, it was
to find that the native had already put a considerable distance between
himself and the shore. Amber called after him angrily, and Dulla Dad
rested upon his paddle.
"Nay, Heaven-born!" he replied. "Here doth my responsibility end.
Another will presently appear to be your guide. Go you up to the jungly
path leading from the bund."
The Virginian lifted his shoulders indifferently, and ascended to
discover a wide footpath running inland between dark walls of
shrubbery, but quite deserted. He stopped with a whistle of vexation,
peering to right and left. "What the deuce!" he said aloud. "Is this
another of their confounded tricks?"
A low and marvellously sweet laugh sounded at his elbow, and he turned
with a start and a flutter of his pulses. "Naraini!" he cried.
It had been impossible to mistake the gracious lines of that slight,
round figure, cloaked though it was in many thicknesses of white
veiling. She had stolen upon him without a sound, and seemed pleased
with the completeness of his surprise, for she laughed again before he
"Tell me not thou art disappointed, O my king!" she said, placing a
soft hand firmly upon his arm. "Didst thou hope to meet another here?"
"Nay, how should I expect thee?" His voice was gentle though he steeled
his heart against her fascinations; for now he had a use for her. "Had
Dulla Dad conveyed me to the palace, then I should have remembered thy
promise to ride with me to Kathiapur. But, being brought to this place..."
"Then thou didst wish to ride with me?" She nodded approval and
satisfaction. "That is altogether as I would have it be, Lord of my
Heart. By this have I proven thee, for thou hast consented to approach
the Gateway, not altogether because the Voice hath summoned thee, but
likewise, I think, because thine own heart urged thee. Nay, but tell
me, King of my Soul, did it not leap a little at the thought of meeting
With a quick gesture she threw her veil aside and lifted her
incomparably fair face to his, and he was conscious that he trembled a
little, and that his voice shook as he answered evasively: "Thou
shouldst know, Ranee."
"_Ahi!_ Then am I a happy woman, to think that, though thou wert in
open mutiny against the Voice, when I called, thou didst yield.... And
thou art ready?"
"Am I not here?"
"Now of a verity do I know that thou art a man, my king!--a Rajput, a
son of kings, and ... my husband!" Pitched to a minor, thrilling key,
her accents were as musical as the singing of a 'cello. "For thou dost
know what thou must dare this night of nights, and he is a brave man
who can dare so much, unfaltering. Tell me thou art not afraid, my
"Why should I be?"
"Thou wilt not draw back in the end?" Her arms clipped him softly about
the neck and drew his head down so that her breath was fragrant in his
face, her lips a sweet peril beneath his own. "Thou wilt brave whatever
may be prepared for thy testing, for the sake of Naraini, who awaits
thee beyond the Gateway; O my Beloved?"
"I shall not be found wanting."
Lithe as a snake, she slipped from his arms. "Nay, I trust thee not!"
she laughed, a quiver of tenderness in her merriment. "Let my lips be
mine alone until thou hast proven thyself worthy of them." She raised
her voice, calling: "_OhÚ_, Runjit Singh!"
The cry rang bell-clear in the stillness, and its silver echo had not
died before it was answered by one who stepped out from the black
shadow of a spreading banian, some distance away, and came toward them,
leading three horses. As the moonlight fell upon him, Amber recognised
the uniform the man wore as that of the Imperial Household Guard of
Khandawar, while the horses seemed to be the stallions he had seen in
the palace yard, with another but little their inferior in mettle or
"Now," announced the woman in tones of deep contentment, "we will
She turned to Amber, who took her up in his arms and set her in the
saddle of one of the stallions; who, his bridle being released by the
trooper, promptly leaped away and danced a spirited saraband with his
shadow, until Naraini, with a strength that seemed incredible when one
recalled the slightness of her wrists, curbed him in and taught him
"By Har!" she panted, "but I think he must know that he carries
to-night the destinies of empire! Mount, mount, my lord, and bear me
company if this son of Eblis tries to run away with me!"
The sowar surrendered to Amber the reins of the other stallion, and
stepped hastily aside. The Virginian took the saddle with a flying
leap, and a thought later was digging his knees into the brute's sleek
flanks and sawing on the bits, while the path flowed beneath him,
dappled with moonlight and shadow, like a ribbon of grey-green silk,
and trees and shrubbery streaked back on either hand in a rush of
melting blacks and greys.
Swerving acutely, the path ran into the dusty high-road. Amber heard a
rush of hoofs behind him, and then slowly the gauze-wrapped figure of
the queen drew alongside.
"_Maro!_ Let him run, my king! The way is not far for such as he. Have
no fear lest he tire!"
But Amber set his teeth and wrought with the reins until his mount
comprehended the fact that he had met a master, and, moderating his
first furious burst of speed, settled down into a league-devouring
stride, crest low, limbs gathering and stretching with the elegant
precision of clockwork. His rider, regaining his poise, found time to
look about him and began to enjoy, for all his cares, this wild race
through the blue-white night.
Behind them, carbine on saddle-bow, the sowar thundered in pursuit, at
an interval of about a hundred yards--often greater, when the stallions
would have it so and spent their temper in brief, brisk contests for
the leadership. On Amber's left the woman rode as one to the saddle
born, her face turned eagerly to the open road, smiling a little with
excitement beneath the tissue of thin veiling which the speed-bred
breeze moulded cunningly to the contour of her flawless features. The
fire in her blood shone lambent in the eyes that now and again met
Amber's. More than once he heard her laugh low, with a lilt of
For himself he was drunk with the spirit of adventure. Bred of the
moonlit sky and the far shy stars, of the flooding moonlight breaking
crisply against impenetrable shadows like surf against black rocks, of
the tune of hoofs, of the singing wind and sighing waters, a wild and
reckless humor possessed him, ran molten in his veins, swam in his
brain like fumes of wine.
As the tale of miles increased, the valley opened out, and presently
they swung to the west from the northerly track, branching off into a
rougher way through a wilder countryside. Rugged hilltops marched
beside them, looming stark black against the silvered purple of the
sky. They met no one, their road winding through a land whose grandeur
was enhanced by its positive desolation--a land tenanted only by a
million devils of loneliness with naught to do save to fling back
mocking echoes of the road-song of the flying hoofs....
Toward the close of the second hour the valleys began to widen, the
hills to be less lofty and precipitous. The horses swung up gentler
ascents, down slopes less sharp. The road ran for a time along the bank
of a broad and placid river, then crossed it by a massive arch of
masonry as old as history. They circled finally a great, round,
grassless hillside, and pulled rein in the notch of a gigantic V formed
by two long, prow-like spurs running out upon a plain whose sole, vague
boundary was the vast arc of the horizon.
Before them loomed dead Kathiapur, an island of stone girdled by the
shallow silver river. Like the rugged pedestal of some mammoth column,
its cliffs rose sheer threescore feet from the water's edge to the foot
of the outermost of its triple walls. From the notch in the hills a
great stone causeway climbed with a long and easy grade to the level of
the first great gate, spanning the chasm over the river by means of a
crazy wooden bridge.
Above the broken rim of the three-fold walls the moon's unearthly
splendor made visible a vast confusion of crumbling cornices, blank
walls, turrets, domes, and towers, the gnarled limbs of dead trees, the
luxuriant dark foliage of banian and pepal, palm and acacia. But
nothing moved and there was not a light to be seen. These things with
the silence told the tale of death. With the cessation of the ringing
hoofbeats the stillness had closed down upon the riders like a spell to
break the which were to invite the wrath of the undying gods
themselves. Other than the silken breathing of the horses, an
occasional muffled thud or the jingle of a bridle-chain as one pawed
the earth or tossed his head, they heard no sound. The unending hum of
a living city was not there. Sister of Babylon, Nineveh and Tyre, kin
to Chitor and that proud city of the plains that Jai Singh abandoned
when he built him his City of Victory, Kathiapur is as Tadmor--dead.
The shell remains; the soul has flown.
A gasp from the woman and an oath from the sowar startled Amber out of
somber apprehensions into which he had been plunged by contemplation of
this impregnable fortress of desolation. Gone was his lust for peril,
gone his high, heedless joy of adventure, gone the intoxication which
had been his who had drunk deep of the cup of Romance; there remained
only the knowledge that he, alone and single-handed, was to pit his
wits against the invisible and mighty forces that lurked in hiding
within those walls, to seem to submit to their designs and so find his
way to the woman of his love, tear her from the grasp of the unseen,
and with her escape...
Naraini had, indeed, no need to cry aloud or clutch his hand in order
to apprise him that the Eye was vigilant. He himself had seen it break
forth, a lurid star of emerald light suspended high above the dark
heart of the city--high in the air where the moment gone there had been
nothing; so powerful that it shaded with sickly pallor the face of the
woman, who clung shuddering to Amber; so unpresaged its appearance and
so malign its augury that it shook even the skepticism of him whose
reason had been nourished by the materialism of the Occident.
Slowly, while they watched, the star descended, foot by foot dropping
until the topmost pinnacle of a hidden temple seemed to support it; and
there it rested, throbbing with light, now bright, now dull.
Amber shook himself impatiently. "Silly charlatanry!" he muttered,
irritated by his own susceptibility to its sinister suggestion.... "I'd
like to know how they manage it, though; the light itself's
comprehensible enough, but their control of it.... If there were enough
wind, I'd suspect a kite...."
"Thou art not dismayed, my king?"
He laughed, not quite as successfully as he could have wished, and,
"Not I, Naraini," he returned in English: a tongue which seemed somehow
better suited for service in combating the esoteric influences at work
upon his mind. "What's the next turn on the programme?"
"I like not that tone, nor yet that tongue." The woman shivered. "Even
as the Eye seeth, my lord, so doth the Ear hear. Is it meet and wise to
speak with levity of that in whose power thou shalt shortly be?"
"Perhaps not," he admitted, thoughtful. "'In whose power I shall
shortly be.' ... Well, of course!"
"And thou wilt go on? Thou art not minded to withdraw thy hand?"
"Not so that you'd notice it, Naraini."
"For the sake of the reward Naraini offers thee?" she persisted
"I don't mind telling you that you'd turn 'most any man's head, my
dear," he said cheerfully, and let her interpret the words as she
She was not pleased, for her acquaintance with English was more
intimate than she had chosen to admit; but if she felt any chagrin she
dissimulated with her never-failing art. "Then bid me farewell, O my
soul, and go!"
"Up there?" he enquired, lifting his brows.
"Aye, up the causeway and over the bridge, into the city of death."
"Aye, alone and afoot, my king."
"Pleasant prospect, thanks." Amber whistled, a trifle dashed. "And
then, when I get up there--?"
"One will meet thee. Go with him, fearing naught."
"And what will you do, meanwhile?"
"When thou shalt have passed the Gateway, my lord, Naraini will be
waiting for thee."
"Very well." Amber threw a leg over the crupper, handed the stallion's
reins to the sowar, who had dismounted and drawn near, and dropped upon
Naraini nodded to the sowar, who led the animal away. When he was out
of earshot the woman leaned from the saddle, her glorious eyes to
Amber's. "My king!" she breathed intensely.
But the thought of Sophia Farrell and what she might be suffering at
that very moment was uppermost--obtruded itself like a wall between
himself and the woman. He had no further inclination for make-believe,
and he saw Naraini with eyes that nothing illuded. Quite as casually as
though she had been no more to him than a chance acquaintance, he
reached up, took her hand, and gave it a perfunctory shake.
"Good-night, my dear," he said amiably; and, turning, made off toward
the foot of the causeway.
When he had gained it, he looked back to see her riding off at a wide
angle from the causeway, heading out into the plain. When he looked
again, some two or three minutes later, Naraini, the sowar, and the
horses had vanished as completely as if the earth had opened to receive
them. He rubbed his eyes, stared, and gave it up.
So he was alone!... With a shrug, he plodded on.
THE HOODED DEATH
The causeway down which the horsemen of forgotten kings of Khandawar
had clattered forth to war, in its age-old desuetude had come to decay.
Between its great paving blocks grass sprouted, and here and there
creepers and even trees had taken root and in the slow immutable
process of their growth had displaced considerable masses of stone; so
that there were pitfalls to be avoided. Otherwise a litter of rubble
made the walking anything but good. Amber picked his way with caution,
The grade was rather more steep than it had seemed to be from the
plain. Now and then he stopped to regain his breath and scrub a
handkerchief over his forehead, on which sweat had started despite the
cold. At such times his gaze would seek inevitably and involuntarily,
the lotus-pointed pinnacle whereon the Eye was poised, blazing. Its
baleful emerald glare coloured his mood unpleasantly. He had a fancy
that the thing was actually watching him. The sensation was creepy.
For that matter, nothing that met his eye was calculated to instil
cheer into his heart. Desolation worked with silence sensibly upon his
thoughts, so that he presently made the alarming discovery that the
bottom had dropped completely out of his stock of scepticism, leaving
him seriously in danger of becoming afraid of the dark. Scowling over
this, he stumbled on, telling himself that he was a fool: a conclusion
so patent that neither then nor thereafter at any time did he find
reason to dispute it.
After some three-quarters of an hour of hard climbing he came to the
wooden bridge, and halted, surveying it with mistrust. Doubtless in the
olden time a substantial but movable structure, strong enough to
sustain a troop of warriors but light enough to be easily drawn up, had
extended across the chasm, rendering the city impregnable from capture
by assault. If so, it had long since been replaced by an airy and
well-ventilated latticework of boards and timbers, none of which seemed
to the wary eye any too sound. Amber selected the most solid-looking of
the lot and gingerly advanced a pace or two along it. With a soft
crackling a portion of the timber crumbled to dust beneath his feet. He
retreated hastily to the causeway, and swore, and noticed that the Eye
was watching him with malevolent interest, and swore some more.
Entirely on impulse he heaved a bit of rock, possibly twenty pounds in
weight, to the middle of the structure. There followed a splintering
crash and the contraption dissolved like a magic-lantern effect,
leaving a solitary beam about a foot in width and six or eight inches
thick, spanning a flight of twenty and a drop of sixty feet. The river
received the rubbish with several successive splashes, distinctly
disconcerting, and Amber sat down on a boulder to think it over.
"Clever invention," he mused; "one'd think that, after taking all this
trouble to get me here, they'd changed their minds about wanting me.
I've a notion to change mine." He looked up at the cusped and
battlemented gateway opposite him, shifted his regard to the Eye, and
shook his fist vindictively at the latter. "If ever I get hold of the
chap that invented you...!" An ingenious imagination failing to suggest
any form of torture commensurate with the crime, he relapsed into
There seemed to be no possibility of turning back at that stage,
however. Kuttarpur was rather far away, and, moreover, he doubted if he
would be permitted to return. Having come thus far, he must go on.
Moreover, Sophia Farrell was on the other side of that Swordwide
Bridge, and such being the case, cross it he would though he were to
find the next world at its end. Finally he considered that he was
presently to undergo an Ordeal of some unknown nature, probably
extremely unpleasant, and that this matter of the vanishing bridge must
have been arranged in order to put him in a properly subdued and
tractable frame of mind.
He got up and tested the remaining girder with circumspection and
incredulity; but it seemed firm enough, solidly embedded in the
stonework of the causeway and immovable at the city end. So he
straddled it and, averting his eyes from the scenery beneath him,
hitched ingloriously across, collecting splinters and a very distinct
impression that, as a vocation, knight-errantry was not without its
When again he stood on his feet he was in the shadow of the outer
gateway, the curtain of the second wall confronting him. The stillness
remained unbroken but the moonlight illuminated with startling
distinctness the frescoes, half obliterated by time, and they were
monstrous, revolting and obscene, from a Western point of view. A
bastion of the third wall hid the Eye, however; he was grateful for
Casting about, he discovered the second gateway at some distance to the
left, and started toward it, forcing a way through a tangle of scrubby
undergrowth, weeds, and thorny acacia, but had taken few steps ere a
heavy splash in the river below brought him up standing, with a
thumping heart. After an irresolute moment he turned back to see for
himself, and found his apprehension only too well grounded; the
Swordwide Bridge was gone, displaced by an agency which had been prompt
to seek cover--though he confessed himself unable to suggest where that
cover had been found. There was no one visible on the causeway, and
nobody skulked in the shadows of the bastions of the main gate.
Furthermore it seemed hardly possible that in so scant a space of time
human hands could have worked that heavy beam out of its sockets. And
if the hands had been human (of course any other hypothesis were
ridiculous) what had become of their owners?
He gave it up, considering that it were futile to badger his wits for
the how and the wherefore. The important fact remained that he was a
prisoner in dead Kathiapur, his retreat cut off, and--Here he made a
second discovery, infinitely more shocking: his pistol was gone.
Amber remembered distinctly examining the weapon in Dulla Dad's boat,
since when he had found no occasion to think of it. Now either it had
jolted out of his pocket in that wild ride from Kuttarpur, or else
Naraini had managed deftly to abstract it while in his arms by the
summer palace, or when, later, she had shrunk against him in real or
affected terror of the Eye. Of the two explanations his reason favoured
the second. But he made no audible comment, though his thoughts were as
black as his brow and as grimly fashioned as the set of his jaw.
Turning back at length he made his way to the second gateway and from
it to the third, under the lewdly sculptured arch of which he stopped
and gasped, forgetting himself as for the first time Kathiapur the
Fallen was revealed to him in all the awful beauty of its naked
A wide and stately avenue stretched away from the portals, between rows
of dwellings, palaces of marble and stone, tombs and mausoleums, with
meaner houses of sun-dried brick and rubble, roofless all and
disintegrating in the slow, terrible process of the years. Here a wall
had caved in, there an arch had fallen out. The thoroughfare was strewn
with fallen lintels, broken marble screens, blocks of red sandstone,
bricks, and in between them the fig and pipal nourished with the
bebel-thorn, the ak, the mimosa, the insidious convolvulus twining
everywhere. At the far end of the street a yawning black arch rose in
the white, beautiful fašade of a marble temple on whose uppermost
pinnacle the Eye hovered, staring horridly.
As Amber moved forward small, alert ghosts rose from the undergrowth
and scurried silently thence: a circumstance which made him very
unhappy. Even a brilliant chorus of sharp barks from an adjacent street
failed to convince him that he had merely disturbed a pack of jackals,
after all, and not the disconsolate brooding wraiths of those who had
died and been buried in the imposing ruined tombs, what time Kathiapur
boasted ten thousand swords and elephants by the herd.
The way was difficult and Amber tired. After a while, having seen
nothing but the jackals, an owl or two, several thousand bats and a
crawling thing which had lurched along in the shadow of a wall some
distance away, giving an admirable imitation of a badly wounded man
pulling himself over the ground, and making strange gutteral
noises--Amber concluded to wait for the guide Naraini had promised him.
He turned aside and seated himself upon the edge of a broken sandstone
tomb. The silence was appalling and for relief he took refuge in cheap
irreverence. "Home," he observed aloud, "never was like this."
A heart-rending sigh from the tomb behind him was followed by a rattle
of dislodged rubbish. Amber found himself unexpectedly in the middle of
the street and, without stopping to debate the method of his getting
there with such unprecedented rapidity, looked back hopefully to the
tomb. At the same moment a black-shrouded figure swept out of it and
moved a few paces down the street, then paused and beckoned him with a
gaunt arm. "I wish," said Amber earnestly, "I had that gun."
The figure was apparently that of a native swathed in black from his
head to his heels and seemed the more strikingly peculiar in view of
the fact that, as far as Amber could determine, he had neither eyes nor
features although his head was without any sort of covering. He gulped
over the proposition for an instant, then stepped forward.
"Evidently my appointed cicerone," he considered. "Unquestionably this
ghost-dance is excellently stage-managed.... Though, of course, I _had_
to pick out that particular tomb."
He followed in the wake of the figure, which sped on with a singular
motion, something between a walk and a glide, conscious that his
equanimity had been restored rather than shaken by the incident. "You
wouldn't think," he reflected, "that a man like Salig Singh would lend
himself to anything so childish. Still, I'm not through with it yet."
He conceived a scheme to steal up behind his guide and strip him of his
masquerade, but though he mended his pace he got no nearer, and
eventually abandoned it on the consideration that it was probably most
inadvisable. After all, he had to remember that he was there for a
purpose, and a very serious one, and that properly to further that
purpose he must comport himself with dignity, submissively, accepting,
at least with a show of ease, each new development of the affair along
its prearranged lines. And so he held on in pursuit of the black
shadow, passing forsaken temples and lordly pleasure-houses, all marble
tracery and fretwork, standing apart in what had once been noble
gardens, sunken tanks all weed-grown and rank with slime, humbler
dooryards and cots on whose hearthstones the fires for centuries had
been cold--his destination evidently the temple of the unspeakable Eye.
As they drew nearer the leading shadow forsook the shade of the walls
which he had seemed to favour, sweeping hastily across a plaza white
with moonglare and without pause on into the black, gaping hole beyond
the marble arch.
Here for the first time Amber hung back, stopping a score of feet from
the door, his nerves a-jangle. He did not falter in his purpose; he was
going to enter the inky portal, but ... would he ever leave it? And the
world was still sweet to him. His quick, darting gaze registered a
dozen impressions in as many seconds: of the silver splendour spilled
so lavishly upon the soulless corpse of the city, of the high, bright
sky, of dead black shadows sharp-edged against the radiance, of the
fleet flitting spectre that was really a flying-fox....
Afar a hyena laughed with a sardonic intonation wholly uncalled-for--it
was blood-curdling, besides. And down the street a melancholy air
breathed gently, sighing like a soul astray.
"This won't do," he told himself; "it can't be worse inside than out
He took firm hold of his reason and went on across the dark threshold,
took three uncertain strides into the limitless unknown, and pulled up
short, hearing nothing, unable to see a yard before him. Then with a
terrific crash like a thunder-clap the great doors swung to behind him.
He whirled about with a stifled cry, conscious of a mad desire to find
the doors again, took a step or two toward them, paused to wonder if he
were moving in the right direction, moved a little to the left, half
turned, and was lost. Reverberating, the echoes of the crash rolled far
away and back again, diminishing in volume, dying until they were no
more than as a whisper adrift in the silence, until that was gone....
Profound night enveloped him, vast, breathless, without dimensions. One
can endure the blackness that abides within four well-kenned walls; but
night unrelieved by the least gleam of light, night without bounds or
measurements, enfolding one like a stifling blanket and instilling into
the brain the fear of nameless things, quickening the respiration and
oppressing the heart--that is another thing entirely, and that is what
Amber found in the Temple of the Bell. Darkness swam visibly before his
eyes, like a fluid. The sound of his constrained breathing seemed most
loud and unnatural. He could hear his heart rumbling like a distant
Digging his nails into his palms, he waited; and in the suspense of
dread began to count the seconds.
One minute ... two ... three ... four....
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other....
He passed a hand across his face and brought it away wet with
In some remote spot a bell began to toll; at first slowly--_clang_!...
_clang_!... _clang_!--then more quickly, until the roar of its
sonorous, gong-like tones seemed to fill all the world and to set it
a-tremble. Then, insensibly, the tempo became more sedate, the fierce
clamour of it moderated, and Amber abruptly was alive to the fact that
the bell was _speaking_--that its voice, deep, clear, sound, metallic,
was rolling forth again and again a question couched in purest
"_Who is there_?... _Who is there_?... _Who is there_?..."
The hair lifted on his scalp and he swallowed hard in the effort to
answer; but the lie stuck in his throat: he was not Rutton and ... and
it is very hard to lie effectively when you stand in stark darkness
with a mouth dry as dust and your hair stirring at the roots because of
the intensely impersonal and aloof accents of an inhuman Bell-voice,
tolling away out of Nowhere.
"_Who is there_?"
Again he failed to answer. Somewhere near him he heard a slight noise
as of a man moving impatiently; and then a whisper: "Respond, thou
"Art thou come, O Chosen of the Gateway?" the Bell-voice rang.
"I ... I am come," Amber managed to reply. And so still and small
sounded his own voice in the huge spaces of the place that he was
surprised to find he had been heard.
"Hear ye!" rang the Bell. "Hear ye, O Lords and Rulers in Medhyama! O
Children of my Gateway, hear ye well! He is come! He stands upon the
threshold of the Gateway!"
Resonant, the echoes of those awe-inspiring tones died upon the
stillness, and in response a faint sighing rose and, momentarily
growing in volume, became as the roaring of a mighty wind; and suddenly
it was abrupted, leaving only a ringing in the ears.
A great drum roared like the crack of Doom; and Amber's jaw dropped.
For in the high roof of the temple a six-foot slab had been noiselessly
withdrawn, and through it a cold shaft of moonlight fell, cutting the
gloom like a gigantic rapier, and smote with its immaculate radiance
the true Gateway of Swords.
Not six paces from him it leaped out of the darkness in an iridescent
sheen: an arch a scant ten feet in height, and in span double the width
of a big man's shoulders, woven across like a weaver's frame with
ribbons of pale fire. But the ribbons were of steel--steel blades,
sharp, bright, gleaming: a countless array of curved tulwars and
crescent scimetars, broad jataghans, short and ugly kukurees, long
kutars with straight ends, slender deadly patas, snake-like bichwas;
swords with jewelled hilts and engraved and damascened blades; sabres
with channels cut from point to guard wherein small pearls ran singing;
khands built for service and for parade; swords of every style and
period in all the history of India. With their pommels cunningly
affixed so that their points touched and interlaced, yet swung free,
they lined the piers of the arch from base to span and all the graceful
sweep of the intrados, a curtain of shimmering, trembling steel,
barring the way to the Mystery beyond. Which was--darkness.
"O ye Swords!" belled the Voice.... "O ye Swords that have known no
dishonour! O ye Swords that have sung in the grasp of my greatest!
Swords of Jehangar, Akbar, Alamgir! Swords of Alludin, Humayun, Shah
Jehan! Swords of Timur-Leng, Arungzeb, Rao Rutton!..."
The invocation seemed interminable. Amber recognised almost every name
noted in the annals and legends of Hindustan....
"Hearken, O my Swords! He, thy Chosen, prayeth for entry! What is thy
One by one the blades began to shiver, clashing their neighbours, until
the curtain of steel glimmered and glistened like phosphorescence in a
summer sea, and the place was filled with the music of their contact;
and through their clamour boomed the Bell:
"O my Chosen!" Amber started and held himself firmly in hand. "Look
well, look well! Here is thy portal to kingship and glory!"
He frowned and took a step forward as if he would throw himself through
the archway; for he had suddenly remembered with compelling vividness
that Sophia Farrell was to be won only by that passage. But as he moved
the swords clattered afresh and swung outwards, presenting a bristle of
points. And he stopped, while the Voice, indifferent and remote as
always, continued to harangue him.
"If thy heart, O my Chosen, be clean, unsullied with fear and guile; if
thy faith be the faith of thy fathers and thy honour rooted in love of
thy land; if thou hast faith in the strength of thy hands to hold the
reins of Empire ... enter, having no fear."
"Trick-work," he told himself. He set his teeth with determination.
"Hope they don't see fit to cut me to pieces on suspicion. Here goes."
He moved forward with a firm step until his bosom all but touched the
Instantaneously, with another clash as of cymbals, the blades were
deflected and returned to their first position, closing the way. He
hesitated. Then, "That shan't stop me!" he said through his teeth, and
pushed forward, heart in mouth. He breasted the curtain and felt it
give; the blades yielded jealously, closing round his body like cold
caressing arms; he felt their chill kisses on his cheeks and hands,
even through his clothing he was conscious of their clinging, deadly
touch. Abruptly they swung entirely away, leaving the entrance clear,
and he was drawing a free breath when the moon glare showed him the
swords returned to position with the speed of light. He jumped for his
life and escaped being slashed to pieces by the barest inch. They swung
to behind him; and again the drum roared, while afar there arose a
furious, eldritch wailing of conches. Overhead the opening disappeared
and the light was shut out. In darkness as of the Hall of Eblis the
conches were stilled and the echoes ebbed into a silence that held sway
for many minutes ere again the Bell spoke.
"Stretch forth thy hand."
Somewhat shaken, Amber held out an open palm before him. A second time
the gusty sighing arose and breathed through the night, increasing
until the very earth beneath him seemed to rock with the magnitude of
the sound, until, at its highest, it ceased and was as if it had not
been; not even an echo sang its passing. Then out of nothingness
something plopped into Amber's hand and his fingers closed convulsively
about it. It was a hand, very small, small as a child's, gnarled and
hard as steel and cold as ice.
Amber sunk his teeth into his lower lip and subdued an almost
uncontrollable impulse to scream and fling the thing away; for his
sense of touch told him that the hand was dead. And yet he became
sensible that it was tugging at his own, and he yielded to its
persuasion, permitting himself to be led on for so long a journey that
his fingers clasping the little hand grew numb with cold ere it was
over. He could by no means say whither he was being conducted, but was
conscious of a long, gradual descent. Many times he swept his free arm
out round him, but touched nothing.
Abruptly the guiding hand was twisted away. He stopped incontinently,
and possessed himself with what patience he could muster throughout
another long wait tempered by strange sibilant whisperings and
rustlings in the void all about him.
Without any forewarning two heavy hands gripped him, one on either
shoulder, and he was forced to his knees. At the same instant, with a
snapping crackle a spurt of blue flame shot down from the zenith, and
where it fell with a thunderclap a dazzling glare of emerald light shot
To his half-blinded eyes it seemed, for a time, to dance suspended in
the air before him. A vapour swirled up from it, a thin cloud,
luminous. By degrees he made out its source, a small, brazen bowl on a
A confusion of hushed voices swelled as had the sound of that mighty,
rushing, impalpable wind, and died more slowly.
Conscious that his features were in strong light, he strove to exhibit
an impassiveness that belied his temper; then glancing round beneath
lowered eyelids he sought to determine something of the nature of his
surroundings, but could see little. The hands had left his shoulders
the minute his knees touched the floor; he knelt utterly alone in the
middle of what seemed to be a vast hall, or cavern, of which the size
was but faintly suggested. As his eyes became accustomed to the
chiaroscuro he became aware of monstrous images of stone that appeared
to advance from and retreat to the far walls on either hand as the
green light flared and fell, and of a great silent and motionless
concourse of people grouped about the massive pedestals--a crowd as
contained and impassive as the gods that towered above its heads,
blending into the gloom that shrouded the high roof of the place.
In front of him he could see nothing beyond the noiselessly wavering
flame. But presently a hand appeared, as if by magic, above the bowl--a
hand, bony, brown, and long of finger, that seemed attached to
nothing--and cast something like a powder into the fire. There followed
a fizz and puff of vapour, and a strong and heady gust of incense was
wafted into Amber's face. Again and again the hand appeared, sprinkling
powder in the brazier, until the smoke clouded the atmosphere with its
fluent, eddying coils.
The gooseflesh that had pricked out on Amber's skin subsided, and his
qualms went with it. "Greek fire burning in a bowl," he explained the
phenomenon; "and a native with his arm wrapped to the wrist in black is
feeding it. Not a bad effect, though."
It was, perhaps, as well that he had not been deceived, for there was a
horror to come that required all his strength to face. He became
conscious that something was moving between him and the
brazier--something which he had incuriously assumed to be a piece of
dirty cloth left there carelessly. But now he saw it stir, squirm, and
upend, unfolding itself and lifting its head to the leaping flame: an
immense cobra, sleek and white as ivory, its swelling hood as large as
a man's two hands, with a binocular mark on it as yellow as topaz, and
with vicious eyes glowing like twin rubies in its vile little head.
Amber's breath clicked in his throat and he shrank back, rising; but
this instinctive move had been provided against and before his knees
were fairly off the rocky floor he was forced down again by the hands
on his shoulders. He was unable to take his eyes from the monster, and
though terror such as man is heir to lay cold upon his heart, he did
not again attempt to stir.
There was now no sound. Alone and undisturbed the bleached viper warmed
to its dance with the pulsing flame, turning and twisting, weaving and
writhing in its infernal glare....
"Hear ye, O my peoples!"
Amber jumped. The Voice had seemed to ring out from a point directly
He looked up and discovered above him, vague in the obscurity, the
outlines of a gigantic bell, hanging motionless. The green glare,
shining on its rim and partly illumining its empty hollow (he saw no
clapper) revealed the sheen of the bronze of which it was fashioned.
Out of its immense bowl, the Voice rolled like thunder:
"Hear ye, O my peoples!"
A responsive murmur ascended from the company round the walls:
"We hear! We hear, O Medhyama!"
"Mark well this man, O Children of my Gateway! Mark well! Out of ye all
have I chosen him to lead thee in the work of healing; for I thy
Mother, I Medhyama, I Bharuta, I the Body from which ye are sprung,
call me by whatever name ye know me--I am laid low with a great
sickness.... Yea, I am stricken and laid low with a sickness."
A great and bitter wailing arose from the multitude.
"Yea, I am overcome with a faintness, and my strength is gone out from
me, and my limbs are as water; I am sick with a fever and languish; in
my veins runs the Evil like fire and like poison; and I burn and am
stricken; I toss in my torment and murmur, and the sound of my Voice
has come to thine ears. Ye have heard me and answered. The tale of my
sufferings is known to ye. Say, shall I perish?"
In the brazier the flame leaped high and subsided, and with it the
cobra leaped and sank low upon its coils. From the people a mighty
shout of negation went up, so that the walls rang with it, and the
echoes were bandied back and forth, insensibly decreasing through many
minutes. When all was still the Voice began to chant again, and the
flames blazed higher and brighter, while the cobra resumed its mystic
Amber knelt on in a semi-stupor, staring glassily at the light and the
"I, thine old Mother, have called ye together to help in my healing.
From my feet to my head I am eaten with pestilence; yea, I am devoured
and possessed by the Evil. Even of old was it thus with thy Mother;
long since she complained of the Plague that is Scarlet--moaned and
cried out and turned in her misery.... But ye failed me. Then my
peoples were weaklings and their hearts all were craven; the Scarlet
Evil dismayed them; they fled from its power and left it to batten on
me in my sickness."
A deep groan welled in uncounted throats and resounded through the
"Will ye fail me again, O my Children?"
"Nay, nay, O our Mother!"
"Too long have I suffered and been patient in silence. Now must I be
cleansed and made whole as of old time; yea, I must be purged
altogether and the Evil cast out from me. It is time.... Ye have heard,
ye have answered; make ready, for the day of the cleansing approacheth.
Whet thy swords for the days of the healing, for my cleansing can be
but by steel. Yea, thy swords shall do away with the Evil, and the land
shall run red with the blood of Bharuta, the blood of thy Mother; it
shall run to the sea as a river, bearing with it the Red Evil. So and
no otherwise shall I, thine old Mother, be healed and made whole
"Aye, aye, O our Mother!"
The flames, dying, rose once more, and the Voice continued, but with a
change of temper. It was now a clarion call, stirring the blood like
"Ye shall show me your swords for a token.... Swords of the North, are
"We are ready, old Mother!"
With a singing shiver of steel, all around the walls, in knots and
clusters, naked blades leaped up, flashing.
"Swords of the East, are ye loyal?"
"Aye, old Mother!"
And the tally of swords was doubled.
"Swords of the South, are ye thirsty?"
A third time the crashing response shattered the echoes.
"Swords of the West, do ye love me?"
With the fourth ringing shout and showing of steel, a silence fell. The
walls were veritably hedged with quivering blades, all a-gleam in the
ghastly glare of green. Over the sculptured faces of the great idols
flickering shadows played, so that they seemed to move and grimace, as
if with approbation.
Amber was watching the serpent--dazed and weary as if with a great need
of sleep. Even the salvos of shouts came to him as from a great
distance. To the clangour of the Bell alone he had become abnormally
sensitive; every fibre of his being shuddered, responsive to its weird
It returned to its solemn and stately intoning.
"Out of ye all have I chosen and fixed upon one who shall lead ye.
Through him shall my strength be made manifest, my Will be made known
to my peoples. Him must ye serve and obey; to him must ye bow down and
be humble. Say, are ye pleased? Will ye have him, my Children?"
Without an instant's delay a cry of ratification rang to the roof.
"Yea, O our Mother! Him we will serve and obey, to him bow down and be
The Voice addressed itself directly to the kneeling man. He stiffened
"Thou hast heard of the honour we confer upon thee--I Medhyama, thy
Mother, and these my children, thy brothers. Ye shall lead and shall
rule in Bharuta. Are ye ready?"
Half hypnotised, Amber opened his mouth, but no words came. His chin
dropped to his breast.
"Thy strength must be known to my peoples; they must see thee put to
the proof of thy courage, that they may know thee to be the man for
their leader.... Ye are ready?"
He was unable to move a finger.
"Stretch out thine arms!"
He shuddered and tried to obey. The Voice rang imperative.
"Stretch forth thine arms for the testing!"
Somehow, mechanically, he succeeded in raising his arms and holding
them rigid before him. Alarmed by the movement, the cobra turned with a
hiss, waving his poisonous head. But the Virginian made no offer to
withdraw his hands. His eyes were wide and staring and his face livid.
A subdued murmur came from the men clustered round the idols, in
The Bell boomed forth like an organ.
"O hooded Death.... O Death, who art trained to my service! Thou before
whom all men stand affrighted! Thou who canst look into their hearts
and read them as a scroll that is unrolled ... Look deep into the heart
of my Chosen! Judge if he be worthy or wanting, judge if he be false or
true ... Judge him, O Death!"
Before Amber the great serpent was oscillating like a pendulum, its
little tongue playing like forked red lightning, its loathsome red eyes
holding his own. Terror gripped his heart, and his soul curdled. He
would have cried out, but that his tongue clave to the roof of his
mouth. He could not have moved had he willed to.
"Look well, O Death, and judge him!"
The dance of the Hooded Death changed in character, grew more frenzied;
the white writhing coils melted into one another in dizzying confusion;
figure merged into figure like smoke.... The suspense grew intolerable.
"Hast thou judged him, O Death?"
Instantly the white cobra reared up to its utmost and remained poised
over Amber, barely moving save for the almost imperceptible throbbing
of the hood and the incessant darting of the forked tongue.
"If he be loyal, then spare him ..."
The hood did not move. Amber's flesh crawled with unspeakable dread.
"If he be faithless, then ... _strike!_"
For another moment the cobra maintained the tensity. Then slowly, cruel
head waving, hood shrinking, eyes losing their deathly lustre, coil by
coil it sank.
A thick murmur ran the round of the walls, swelling into an
inarticulate cry, which beat upon Amber's ears like the raving of a
far-off surf. From his lips a strangled sob broke, and, every muscle
relaxing, he lurched forward.
Alarmed, in a trice the cobra was up again, hood distended to the
bursting point, head swinging so swiftly that the eye could not follow
it. In another breath would come the final thrust....
A firearm exploded behind Amber, singeing his cheek with its flame. He
fell over sideways, barely escaping the head of the cobra, which, with
its hood blown to tatters, writhed in convulsions, its malignant tongue
straining forth as if in one last attempt to reach his hand.
A second shot followed the first and then a brisk, confused fusillade.
Amber heard a man scream out in mortal agony, and the dull sound of a
heavy body falling near him; but, coincident with the second report,
the brazier had been overturned and its light extinguished as if sucked
up into the air.
In darkness the blacker for the sudden disappearance of the light,
somebody stumbled over Amber--stumbled and swore in good English. The
Virginian sat up, crying out as weakly as a child: "Labertouche!" A
voice said: "Thank God!" He felt strong hands lift him to his feet. He
clung to him who had helped him, swaying like a drunkard, wits a-swirl
in the brain thus roughly awakened from semi-hypnosis.
"Here," said Labertouche's voice, "take my hand and follow. We're in
for it now!"
He caught Amber's hand and dragged him, yielding and unquestioning,
rapidly through a chaotic rush of unseen bodies.
The firing had electrified the tense-strung audience. With a
pandemonium of shrieks, oaths, shouts, orders unheard and commands
unheeded, a concerted rush was made from every quarter to the spot
where the doomed man had been kneeling. Men running blundered into
running men and cannoned off at direct angles to their original
courses, without realising it. Disorder reigned rampant, and the cavern
rang with a thousand echoes, while the Bell awoke and roared a raging
tocsin, redoubling the din. No man could have said where he stood or
whither he ran--save one, perhaps. That one was at Amber's side and had
laid his course beforehand and knew that both their lives depended upon
his sticking to it without deviation. To him a rush of a hundred feet
in a direct line meant salvation, the least deviation from it, death.
He plunged through the scurrying masses without regard for any hurt
that might come either to him or to his charge.
A red glare of torches was breaking out over the heads of the mob
before they gained their destination. Amber saw that they were making
for a corner formed by the junction of one of the pedestals with a
rocky wall. He was now recovering rapidly and able to appreciate that
they stood a good chance of winning away; for the natives were all
converging toward the centre of the cavern, and apparently none heeded
them. Nevertheless Labertouche, releasing him, put a revolver in his
"Don't hesitate to shoot if any one comes this way!" he said. "I've got
to get this door open and..."
He broke off with an ejaculation of gratitude; for while he had been
speaking, his fingers busily groping in the convolutions of the
sculptured pedestal had encountered what he sought, and now he pulled
out an iron bar two feet or so in length and as thick as a woman's
wrist. Inserting this in a socket, as one familiar with the trick, he
put his weight upon it; a carved sandstone slab slid back silently,
disclosing a black cavernous opening.
"In with you," panted Labertouche, removing the lever. "Don't
Amber did not. He took with him a hazy impression of a vast, vaulted
hall filled with a ruddy glare of torchlight, a raving rabble of
gorgeously attired natives in its centre. Then the opening received him
and he found himself in a black hole of an underground gallery--a place
that reeked with the dank odours of the tomb.
Labertouche followed and with the aid of a small electric pocket-lamp
discovered another socket for the lever. A moment later the slab moved
back into place, and the Englishman dropped the metal bar. "If there
were only some way of locking that opening," he gasped, "we'd be fairly
safe. As it is, we'll have to look nippy. That was a near call--as near
a one as ever you'll know, my boy; and we're not out yet. What are you
doing?" he added, as Amber stopped to pick up the lever.
"It isn't a bad weapon," said the Virginian, "at a pinch. You'll want
your gun, and that she-devil, Naraini, got mine."
"Keep the one I gave you and don't be afraid to use it. I've another
and a couple of knives for good measure. That Mohammedan prince whom I
persuaded to change places with me was a walking arsenal." Labertouche
chuckled. "Come along," he said, and drew ahead at a dog-trot.
They sped down a passage which delved at a sharp grade through solid
rock. Now and again it turned and struck away in another direction.
Once they descended--or rather fell down--a short, steep flight of
steps. At the bottom Amber stopped.
"Hold on!" he cried.
Labertouche pulled up impatiently. "What's the matter?"
"Trust me, dear boy, and come along."
Persuaded, Amber gave in, blundering on after Labertouche, who loped
along easily, with the confidence of one who threads known ways, the
spot-light from his lamp dancing along the floor several feet before
him. Otherwise they moved between walls of Stygian darkness.
It was some time later that Labertouche extinguished his lamp and threw
a low word of warning over his shoulder. Synchronously Amber discerned,
far ahead, a faint glow of yellow light. As they bore down upon it with
unmoderated speed, he could see that it emanated from a rough-hewn
doorway, opening off the passage. Before it a man stood guard with a
"_Johar!_" he greeted them in the Mahar form: "O, warrior!"
"_Johar!_" returned Labertouche, panting heavily. He closed upon the
native confidently, but was brought up short by a peremptory sweep of
the sword, coupled with an equally imperative demand for an explanation
of their haste. The Englishman replied with apparent difficulty, as if
half-winded. "It is an order, _Johar_. The woman is to be brought to
the Hall of the Bell."
"You have the word?" The Mahar lowered his sword. "It hath been said to
Labertouche stumbled over his feet, and caught the speaker for support.
The native gurgled in a sodden fashion, dropped his sword, stared
stupidly at Labertouche, and put an uncertain hand to his throat. Then
he lurched heavily and collapsed upon himself.
The secret-agent stepped back, dropping the knife he had used. "Poor
devil!" he said in a compassionate undertone. "That was cold-blooded
murder, Mr. Amber."
"Necessary?" gasped Amber, regarding with horror the bloodstained heap
of rags and flesh at his feet.
"Judge for yourself," said Labertouche coolly, stepping over the body.
"Here," he added, pausing by the doorway, "you go first; she knows
He pushed Amber on ahead. Stooping, the Virginian entered a small, rude
chamber hollowed out of the rock of Kathiapur. A crude lamp in a
bracket furnished all its illumination, filling it with a reek of hot
oil. Amber was vaguely aware of the figures of two women--one standing
in a corner, the other seated dejectedly upon a charpoy, her head
against the wall. As he lifted his head after passing under the low
lintel, the woman in the corner fired at him point-blank.
The Virginian saw the jet of flame spurt from her hand and felt the
bullet's impact upon the wall behind his head. He flung himself upon
her instantly. There was a moment of furious struggle, while the cell
echoed with the reverberations of the shot and the screaming of the
woman on the charpoy. The pistol exploded again as he grappled with the
would-be murderess; the bullet, passing up his sleeve, creased his left
arm as with a white-hot iron, and tore out through the cloth on his
shoulder. He twisted brutally the wrist that held the weapon, and the
woman dropped it with a cry of pain.
"You would!" he cried, and threw her from him, putting a foot upon the
She reeled back against the wall and crouched there, trembling, her
cheeks on fire, her eyes aflame with rage. "You dog!" she shrilled in
Hindi--and spat at him like a maddened cat. Then he recognised her.
"Naraini!" He stepped back in his surprise, his right hand seeking
instinctively the wrist of his left, which was numb with pain.
His change of position left the pistol unguarded, and the woman swooped
down upon it like a bird of prey; but before she could get her fingers
on its grip, Labertouche stepped between them, fended her off, and
quietly possessed himself of the weapon.
"Your pardon, madam," he said gravely.
Naraini retreated, shaking with fury, and Amber employed the respite to
recognise Sophia Farrell in the woman on the charpoy. She was still
seated, prevented from rising by bonds about her wrists and ankles, and
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