Part 3 out of 6
This is to be borne in mind: it was the man's first love. Theretofore
the habits of a thinker had set his feet in paths apart from those of
other men. Pretty women he had always admired--from a discreet
distance; that distance abridged, he had always found himself a little
afraid of and dismayed by them. They were the world's disturbing
element; they took men's lives in the rosy hollows of their palms and
moulded them as they would. While Amber had desired to mould his own
life. The theme of love that runs a golden thread through the drab
fabric of existence had to him been an illusion--a hallucination to
which others were subject, from which he was happily, if unaccountably,
exempt. But that had been yesterday; to-day....
In the afternoon the _Poonah_ touched at Diamond Harbour, landing the
majority of her passengers. Amber was among those few who remained
When the steamer swung off from the jetty and, now aided by a
favourable tide, resumed her progress up the river, he replaced his
notice on the bulletin-board with one offering a hundred guineas for
the return of the photograph before they docked in the port of
Calcutta; the offer of fifty guineas for its return to the Great
Eastern Hotel remained unaltered.
His anticipations were not disappointed; positively nothing came of it.
All afternoon the _Poonah_ plodded steadily on toward the pall of smoke
that hemmed the northern horizon. The reedy river banks narrowed and
receded, gorgeous with colour, unvaryingly monotonous, revealing
nothing. Behind walls of rank foliage, dense green curtains almost
impenetrable even to light, the flat and spongy delta of the Ganges lay
decorously screened. If now and again the hangings parted they
disclosed nothing more than a brief vista of half-stagnant water or a
little clearing, half-overgrown, with the crumbling red brick walls of
some roofless and abandoned dwelling.
In the lavender and gold and scarlet of a windless sunset, Calcutta
lifted suddenly up before them, a fairy city, mystic and unreal with
its spires and domes and minarets a-glare with hot colour behind a
hedge of etched black masts and funnels--all dimmed and made indefinite
by a heavy dun haze of smoke: lifted up in glory against the evening
sky and was blotted out as if by magic by the swooping night; then
lived again in a myriad lights pin-pricked upon the dense
The _Poonah_ slipped in to her dock under cover of darkness. Amber,
disembarking with Doggott, climbed into an open ghari on the landing
stage and was driven swiftly to his hotel.
As he alighted and, leaving Doggott to settle with the ghariwallah,
crossed the sidewalk to the hotel entrance, a beggar slipped through
the throng of wayfarers, whining at his elbow:
"Give, O give, Protector of the Poor!"
Preoccupied, Amber hardly heard, and passed on; but the native stuck
leech-like to his side.
"Give, hazoor--and the mercy of God shall be upon the Heaven-born for
Now "Heaven-born" is flattery properly reserved for those who sit in
high places. Amber turned and eyed the man curiously, at the same time
dropping into the filthy, importunate palm a few annas.
"May the shadow of the Heaven-born be long upon the land, when he shall
have passed through the Gateway of Swords!"
And like a flash the man was gone--dodging nimbly round the ghari and
across Old Court House Street, losing himself almost instantly in the
press of early evening traffic.
"The devil!" said Amber thoughtfully. "Why should it be assumed that I
have any shadow of an intention of entering that damnable Gateway of
An incident at the desk, while he was arranging for his room, further
mystified him. He had given his name to the clerk, who looked up,
"Mr. David Amber?" he said.
"We were expecting you, sir. You came by the _Poonah_?"
"There's a note for you." The man turned to a rack, sorting out a small
square envelope from others pigeon-holed under "A."
Could it be possible that Sophia Farrell had been advised of his
coming? Amber's hand trembled slightly with eagerness and excitement as
he took the missive.
"An Eurasian boy left it for you half an hour ago," said the clerk.
"Thank you," returned Amber, controlling himself sufficiently to wait
until he should be conducted to his room before opening the note.
It was not, he observed later, superscribed in a feminine hand. Could
it be from Quain's friend Labertouche? Who else?... Amber lifted his
shoulders resignedly. "I wish Quain had minded his own business," he
said ungratefully; "I can take care of myself. This Labertouche'll
probably make life a misery for me."
There was a quality in the note, however, to make him forget his
resentment of Quain's well-meant interference.
"My dear Sir," it began formally: "Quain's letter did not reach me
until this afternoon; a circumstance which I regret. Otherwise I should
be better prepared to assist you. I have, on the other hand, set afoot
enquiries which may shortly result in some interesting information
bearing upon the matters which engage you. I expect to have news of the
Fs. to-night, and shall be glad to communicate it to you at once. I am
presuming that you purpose losing no time in attending to the affair of
the goldsmith, but I take the liberty of advising you that to attempt
to find him without proper guidance or preparation would be an
undertaking hazardous in the extreme. May I offer you my services? If
you decide to accept them, be good enough to come before ten to-night
to the sailors' lodging house known as 'Honest George's,' back of the
Lal Bazaar, and ask for Honest George himself, refraining from
mentioning my name. Dress yourself in your oldest and shabbiest
clothing; you cannot overdo this, since the neighbourhood is
questionable and a well-dressed man would immediately become an object
of suspicion. Do not wear the ring; keep it about you, out of sight.
Should this fail to reach you in time, try to-morrow night between
eight and ten. You would serve us both well by _burning_ this
immediately. Pray believe me yours to command in all respects."
There was no signature.
Amber frowned and whistled over this. "Undoubtedly from Labertouche,"
he considered. "But why this flavour of intrigue? Does he know anything
more than I do? I presume he must. It'd be a great comfort if.... Hold
on. 'News of the Fs.' That spells the Farrells. How in blazes does he
know anything about the Farrells? I told Quain nothing.... Can it be a
trap? Is it possible that the chap who took that photograph
The problem held him in perplexity throughout the evening meal. He
turned it over this way and that without being able to arrive at any
comforting solution. Impulse in the end decided him--impulse and a
glance at his watch which told him that the time grew short. "I'll go,"
he declared, "no matter what. It's nearly nine, but the Lal Bazaar's
In the face of Doggott's unbending disapproval he left the hotel some
twenty minutes later, having levied on Doggott's wardrobe for suitable
clothing. Dressed in an old suit of soft grey serge, somewhat too large
for him, and wearing a grey felt hat with the brim pulled down over his
eyes, he felt that he was not easily to be identified with his
every-day self--the David Amber whose exacting yet conservative
"correctness" had become a by-word with his friends.
Once away from the Great Eastern he quietly insinuated himself into the
tide of the city's night life that tirelessly ebbs and flows north of
Dalhousie Square--the restless currents of native life that move
ceaselessly in obedience to impulses so meaningless and strange to the
Occidental understanding. Before he realised it he had left
civilisation behind him and was breathing the atmosphere, heady and
weird, of the Thousand-and-One Nights. The Lal Bazaar seethed round him
noisily, with a roaring not unlike that of a surf in the hearing of him
who had so long lived separate from such scenes. But gradually the
strangeness of it passed away and he began to feel at home. And ere
long he passed in a single stride from the glare of many lights and the
tumult of a hundred tongues to the dark and the quiet hush of an alley
that wormed a sinuous way through the hinterland of the bazaar. Here
the air hung close and still and gravid with the odour of the East,
half stench, half perfume, wholly individual and indescribable; here
black shadows clung jealously to black and slimy walls, while lighter
ones but vaguely suggestive of robed figures glided silently hither and
yon; and odd noises, whispers, sobs, sounds of laughter and of rage,
assailed the ear and excited the imagination....
At a corner where there was more light he came upon a policeman whose
tunic, helmet, and truncheon were so closely patterned after those of
the London Bobby that the simple sight of them was calculated to revive
confidence in the security of one's person. He inspected Amber shrewdly
while the latter was asking his way to Honest George's, and in response
jerked a white-gloved thumb down the wide thoroughfare.
"You carn't miss it, sir--s'ylors' boardin'-'ouse, all lit up and
likely with a row on at the bar. Mind your eye, guv'nor. It ayn't a
plyce you'd ought to visit on your lone."
"Thanks; I've business there. I reckon to take care of myself."
Nevertheless it was with a mind preyed upon by forebodings that Amber
stumbled down the cobbled way, reeking with filth, toward the
establishment of Honest George. Why on earth should Labertouche make an
appointment in so unholy a spot? Amber's doubts revived and he became
more than half persuaded that this must be a snare devised by those
acute intelligences which had instigated both the theft of the
photograph and that snarled mock-benediction of the mendicant.
"I don't like it," he admitted ruefully; "it's so canny."
He stopped in front of a building whose squat brick facade was lettered
with the reassuring sobriquet of its proprietor. A bench, running the
width of the structure, was thick with sprawling loafers, who smoked
and spat and spoke a jargon of the seas, the chief part of which was
blasphemy. Within, visible through windows never closed, was a crowded
barroom ablaze with flaring gas-jets, uproarious with voices thick with
One needed courage of no common order to run the gauntlet of that rowdy
room and brave the more secret dangers of the infamous den. "You've got
to have your nerve with you," Amber put it. "But I suppose it's all in
the game. Let's chance it." And he entered.
Compared with the atmosphere of that public-room a blast from Hell were
sweet and cooling, thought Amber; the first whiff he had of it all but
staggered him; and he found himself gasping, perspiration starting from
every pore. Faint with disgust he elbowed his way through the mob to
the bar, thankful that those about him, absorbed in the engrossing
occupation of getting drunk, paid him not the least heed. Flattening
himself against the rail he cast about for the proprietor. A blowsy,
sweating barmaid caught his eye and without a word slapped down upon
the sloppy counter before him a glass four fingers deep with
unspeakable whiskey. And he realised that he would have to drink it; to
refuse would be to attract attention, perhaps with unpleasant
consequences. "It's more than I bargained for," he grumbled, making a
pretence of swallowing the dose, and to his huge relief managing to
spill two-thirds of it down the front of his coat. What he swallowed
bit like an acid. Tears came to his eyes, but he choked down the cough,
and as soon as he could speak paid the girl. "Where's the boss?" he
"Who?" Her glance was penetrating. "Oh, he's wytin' for you." She
nodded, lifting a shrill voice. "Garge, O Garge! 'Ere's that Yankee."
With a bare red elbow she indicated the further end of the room.
"You'll find 'im down there," she said, her look not unkindly.
Amber thanked her quietly and, extricating himself from the press round
the bar, made his way in the direction indicated. A couple of billiard
tables with a small mob of onlookers hindered him, but by main strength
and diplomacy he wormed his way past and reached the rear of the room.
There were fewer loafers here and he had little hesitation about
selecting from an attendant circle of sycophants the genius of the
dive--Honest George himself, a fat and burly ruffian who filled to
overflowing the inadequate accommodation of an armchair. Sitting thus
enthroned in his shirt-sleeves, his greasy and unshaven red face
irradiating a sort of low good-humour that was belied by the cold
cunning of his little eyes, he fulfilled admirably the requirements of
the role he played self-cast.
"'Ere, you!" he hailed Amber brusquely. "You're a 'ell of a job-'unter,
ain't you? Mister Abercrombie's been wytin' for you this hour gone.
'Know the w'y upstairs?"
His tone was boisterous enough to fix upon Amber the attention of the
knot of loafers round the arm-chair. Amber felt himself under the
particular regard of a dozen pair of eyes, felt that his measure was
taken and his identification complete. Displeased, he answered curtly:
"This w'y, then." Honest George hoisted himself ponderously out of his
arm-chair and lumbered heavily across the room, shouldering the crowd
aside with a high-handed contempt for the pack of them. Jerking open a
small door in the side wall, he beckoned Amber on with a backward nod
of his heavy head. "Be a bit lively, carn't you?" he growled; and
Amber, in despite of qualms of distrust, followed the fellow into a
small and noisome hallway lighted by a single gas-jet. On the one hand
a flight of rickety steps ran up into repellent obscurity; on the other
a low door stood open to the night.
The crimp lowered his voice. "Your friend's this w'y." He waved his fat
red hand toward the door. "Them fools back there 'll think you're
tryin' for a berth with Abercrombie, the ship-master. I 'opes you'll
not tyke offense at the w'y I 'ad to rag you back there, sir."
"No," said Amber, and Honest George led the way out into a small,
flagged well between towering black walls and left him at the threshold
of a second doorway. "Two flights up, the door at the top," he said;
"knock twice and then twice." And without waiting for an answer he
lurched heavily back to his own establishment.
Amber watched his broad back fill the dimly-lighted doorway opposite
and disappear, of two minds whether or not to turn tail and run.
Suspicious enough in the beginning, the affair had now an exceeding
evil smell--as repulsive figuratively as was the actual effluvium of
the premises. He hung hesitant in doubt, with a heart oppressed by
those grim and silent walls of blackness that loomed above him. With
feet slipping on slimy flags he might be pardoned for harbouring
suspicions of some fouler treachery. The yawning mouth of the narrow
doorway, with the blackness of Erebus within, was deterring at its
best; in such a hole a man might be snared and slain and his screams,
though they rang to high Heaven, would fall meaningless on mundane
ears. Honest George's with its flare of lights and its crowd had been
With a shrug, at length, he took his courage in his hands--and his
life, too, for all he knew to the contrary--and moved on into the
blackness, groping his way cautiously down a short corridor, his
fingers on either side brushing walls of rotten plaster. He had
absolutely nothing to guide him beyond the crimp's terse instructions.
Underfoot the flooring seemed to sag ominously; it creaked hideously.
Abruptly he stumbled against an obstruction, halted, and lighted a
The insignificant flame showed him a flight of stairs, leading up to
darkness. With a drumming heart he began to ascend, counting twenty-one
steps ere his feet failed to find another. Then groping again, one hand
encountered a baluster-rail; with this for guide he turned and followed
it until it began to slant upwards. This time he counted sixteen steps
before his eyes, rising above the level of the upper floor, discovered
to him a thin line of light, bright along the threshold of a door. He
began to breathe more freely, yet apprehension kept him strung up to a
high tension of nerves.
He knuckled the door loudly--one double knock followed by another.
From within a voice called cheerfully, in English: "Come in."
He fumbled for the knob, found and turned it, and entered a small,
low-ceiled chamber, very cosy with lamplight, and simply furnished with
a single chair, a charpoy, a water-jug, a large mirror, and beneath the
latter a dressing-table littered with a collection of toilet gear,
cosmetics and bottles, which would have done credit to an actress.
There was but a single person in the room and he occupied the chair
before the dressing-table. As Amber came in, he rose; a middle-aged
babu in a suit of pink satin, very dirty. In one hand something caught
the light, glittering.
"Oah, Mister Amber, I believe?" he gurgled, oily and affable. "Believe
me most charmed to make acquaintance." And he laughed agreeably.
But Amber's face had darkened. With an oath he sprang back, threw his
weight against the door, and with his left hand shot the bolt, while
his right whipped from his pocket Rutton's automatic pistol.
"Drop that gun, you monkey!" he cried sharply. "I was afraid of this,
but I think you and I'll have an accounting before any one else gets in
Shaking with rage, Amber stood for a long moment with pistol poised and
eyes wary; then, bewildered, he slowly lowered the weapon. "Well," he
observed reflectively, "I'm damned." For the glittering thing he had
mistaken for a revolver lay at his feet; and it was nothing more nor
less than a shoehorn. While as for the babu, he had dropped back into
the chair and given way to a rude but reassuring paroxysm of gusty,
"I'm a fool," said Amber; "and if I'm not mistaken you're Labertouche."
With a struggle the babu overcame his emotion. "I am, my dear fellow, I
am," he gasped. "And I owe you an apology. Upon my word, I'd forgotten;
one grows so accustomed to living the parts in these masquerades, after
a time, that one forgets. Forgive me." He offered a hand which Amber
grasped warmly in his unutterable relief. "I'm really delighted to meet
you," continued Labertouche seriously. "Any man who knows India can't
help being glad to meet the author of 'The Peoples of the Hindu Kush.'"
"You did frighten me," Amber confessed, smiling. "I didn't know what to
expect--or suspect. Certainly,"--with a glance round the incongruously
furnished room--"I never looked forward to anything like this--or you,
in that get-up."
"You wouldn't, you know," Labertouche admitted gravely. "I might have
warned you in my note; but that was a risky thing, at best. I feared to
go into detail--it might have fallen into the wrong hands."
"Whose?" demanded Amber.
"That, my dear man, is what we're here to find out--if we can. But sit
down; we shall have to have quite a bit of talk." He scraped a heap of
gaily-coloured native garments off one end of the charpoy and motioned
Amber to the chair. At the same time he fished a cigar-case out of some
recess in his clothing. "These are good," he remarked, opening the case
and offering it to Amber; "I daren't smoke anything half so good when
at work. The native tobacco is abominable, you know--_quite_
"At work?" questioned Amber, clipping the end of his cigar and lighting
it. "You don't mean to say you travel round in those clothes?"
"But I do. It's business with me--though few people know it. Quain
didn't; only I had a chance, one day, to tell him some rather startling
facts about native life. This sort of thing, done properly, gives a man
insight into a lot of unusual things."
Labertouche puffed his cigar into a glow and leaned back, clasping one
knee with two brown hands and squinting up at the low, discoloured
ceiling. And Amber, looking him over, was amazed by the absolute
fidelity of his make-up; the brownish stain on face and hands, the
high-cut patent-leather boots, the open-work socks through which his
tinted calves showed grossly, his shapeless, baggy, soiled
garments--all were hopelessly babu-ish.
"And if it isn't done properly?"
"Oh, then----!" Labertouche laughed, lifting his shoulders
expressively. "No Englishman incapable of living up to a disguise has
ever tried it more than once in India; few, very few, have lived to
tell of the experiment."
"You're connected with the police?" Amber's brows contracted as he
remembered Rutton's emphatic prohibition.
But Quain had not failed to mention that. "Officially, no," said
Labertouche readily. "Now and again, of course, I run across a bit of
valuable information; and then, somehow, indirectly, the police get
wind of it. But this going _fantee_ in an amateur way is simply my
hobby; I've been at it for years--and very successfully, too. Of
course, it'll have its end. One's bound to slip up eventually. You can
train yourself to live the life of the native, but you can't train your
mind to think as he thinks. That's how the missteps happen. Some
day...." He sighed, not in the least unhappily.... "Some day I'll dodge
into this hole, or another that I know of, put on somebody else's
rags--say, these I'm wearing--and inconspicuously become a mysterious
disappearance. That's how it is with all of us who go in for this sort
of thing. But it's like opium, you know; you try it the first time for
the lark of it; the end is tragedy."
Amber drew a long breath, his eyes glistening with wonder and
admiration of the man. "You don't mean to tell me you run such risks
for the pure love of it?"
"Well ... perhaps not altogether. But we needn't go into details, need
we?" Labertouche's smile robbed the rebuke of its sting. "The opium
simile is a very good one, though I say it who shouldn't. One acquires
a taste for the forbidden, and one hires a little room like this from
an unprincipled blackguard like Honest George, and insensibly one goes
deeper and deeper until one gets beyond one's depth. That is all. It
explains me sufficiently. And," he chuckled, "you'd never have known it
if your case hadn't been exceptional."
"It is, I think." Amber's expression became anxious. "I want to know
what you think of it--now Quain's told you. And, I say, what did you
mean by 'news of the Fs.'?"
"News of the Farrells--father and daughter, of course." Labertouche's
"But how in the name of all that's strange--!"
"Did I connect the affair Rutton with the Farrells? At first by simple
inference. You were charged with a secret errand, demanding the utmost
haste, by Rutton; your first thought was to travel by the longer
route--which, as it happens, Miss Farrell had started upon a little
while before. You had recently met her, and I've heard she's rather a
striking young woman. You see?"
"Yes," admitted Amber sheepishly. "But--"
"And then I remembered something," interrupted Labertouche. "I recalled
Rutton. I knew him years ago, when he was a young man.... You know the
yarn about him?"
"A little--mighty little. I know now that he was a Rajput--though he
never told me that; I know that he married a Russian noblewoman"--Amber
hesitated imperceptibly--"that she died soon after, that he chose to
live out of India and to die rather than return to it."
"He was," said Labertouche, "a singular man, an exotic result of the
unnatural conditions we English have brought about in India. The word
renegade describes him aptly, I think: he was born and bred a Brahmin,
a Rajput, of the hottest and bluest blood in Rajputana; he died to all
intents and purposes a European--with an English heart. He is--was--by
rights Maharana of Khandawar. As the young Maharaj he was sent to
England to be educated. I'm told his record at Oxford was a brilliant
one. He became a convert to Christianity--that was predestined--was
admitted to the Church of England, a communicant. When his father died
and he was summoned to take his place, Rutton at first refused.
Pressure was brought to bear upon him by the English Government and he
returned, was enthroned, and for a little time ruled Khandawar. It was
then that I knew him. He was continually dissatisfied, however, and
after a year or two disappeared. It was rumoured that he'd struck a
bargain with his prime-minister, one Salig Singh. At all events Salig
Singh contrived to usurp the throne, Government offering no objection.
Rutton turned up eventually in Russia and married a woman there who
died in childbirth--twenty years ago, perhaps. The child did not
survive its mother...." Labertouche paused deliberately, his glance
searching Amber's face. "So the report ran, at least," he concluded
"How do you know all this?" Amber countered evasively.
"Government watches its wards very tenderly," said Labertouche with a
grin. "Besides, India's a great place for gossip.... And then," he
pursued tenaciously, "I remembered something else. I recalled that
Rutton had one very close friend, an Englishman named Farrell--"
"Oh, what's the use?" Amber cut in nervously. "You understand the
situation too well. It's no good my trying to keep anything from you."
"Such as the fact that Colonel Farrell adopted Rutton's daughter, who,
as it happens, did survive her mother? Yes; I knew that--or, rather,
part I knew and part I guessed. But don't worry, Mr. Amber; I'll keep
"For the girl's sake," said Amber, twisting his hands together.
"For her sake. I pledge you my word."
"And now ... for what purpose did Rutton ask you to come to India?
Wasn't it to get Miss Farrell out of the country?"
"I think you're the devil himself," said Amber.
"I'm not," confessed Labertouche; "but I am a member of the Indian
Secret Service--not officially connected with the police, observe!--and
I know a deal that you don't. I think, in short, I can place my finger
on the reason why Rutton was so concerned to get his daughter out of
Amber looked his question.
"You read the papers, don't you, in America?"
"Rather." Amber smiled.
"You've surely not been so blind as to miss the occasional reports that
leak out about native unrest in India?"
"Surely you don't mean----"
"I assuredly do mean that the Second Mutiny impends," declared
Labertouche solemnly. "Such, at least, is my belief, and such is the
belief of every thinking man in India who is at all informed. The
entire country is undermined with conspiracy and sedition; day after
day a vast, silent, underground movement goes on, fomenting rebellion
against the English rule. The worst of it is, there's no stopping it,
no way of scotching the serpent; its heads are myriad, seemingly. And
yet--I don't know--since yesterday I have hoped that through you we
might eventually strike to the heart of the movement."
"Through me!" cried Amber, startled.
Labertouche nodded. "Just so. The information you have already brought
us is invaluable. Have you thought of the significance of Chatterji's
'Message of the Bell'?"
"'_Even now,_'" Amber quoted mechanically, "'_The Gateway of Swords
yawns wide, that he who is without fear may pass within; to the end
that the Body be purged of the Scarlet Evil._'" He shook his head
mystified. "No; I don't understand."
"It's so simple," urged Labertouche; "all but the Gateway of Swords. I
don't place that--yet.... But the 'Body'--plainly that is India; the
'Scarlet Evil'--could anything more fittingly describe English rule
from the native point of view?"
Amber felt of his head solicitously. "And yet," he averred plaintively,
"it doesn't _feel_ like wood."
Labertouche laughed gently. "Now to-night you will learn something from
this Dhola Baksh--something important, undoubtedly. May I see this
Unbuttoning his shirt, Amber produced the Eye from the chamois bag.
Labertouche studied it for a long time in silence, returning it with an
air of deep perturbation.
"The thing is strange to me," he said. "For the present we may dismiss
it as simply what it pretends to be--a token, a sign by which one man
shall know another.... Wear it but turn the stone in; and keep your
hands in your pockets when we're outside."
Amber obeyed. "We'll be going, now?"
"Yes." Labertouche rose, throwing away his cigar and stamping out its
"But the Farrells?"
"Forgive me; I had forgotten. The Farrells are at Darjeeling, where the
Colonel is stationed just now--happily for him."
"Then," said Amber, with decision, "I leave for Darjeeling to-morrow
"I know no reason why you shouldn't," agreed Labertouche. "If anything
turns up I'll contrive to let you know." He looked Amber up and down
with a glance that took in every detail. "I'm sorry," he observed, "you
couldn't have managed to look a trace shabbier. Still, with a touch
here and there, you'll do excellently well as a sailor on a spree."
"As bad as that?"
"Oah, my dear fallow!"--it was now the babu speaking, while he hopped
around Amber with his head critically to one side, like an inquisitive
jackdaw, now and again darting forward to peck at him with hands that
nervously but deftly arranged details of his attire to please a taste
fastidious and exacting in such matters--"Oah, my dear fallow, surely
you appreciate danger of venturing into nateeve quarters in European
dress? As regular-out-and-out sahib, I am meaning, of course. It is
permeesible for riff-raff, sailors and Tommies from the Fort, and soa
on, to indulge in debauchery among nateeves, but first-class
sahib--Oah, noah! You would be mobbed in no-time-at-all, where we are
"All right; I guess I can play the part, babu. At least, I've plenty of
atmosphere," Amber laughed, mentioning the incident of the peg he had
not consumed over Honest George's bar.
"I had noticed that; a happy accident, indeed. I think"--Labertouche
stepped back to look Amber over again--"I think you will almost do. One
He seized Amber's hat and, dashing it violently to the floor,
deliberately stamped it out of shape; when restored to its owner it had
aged five years in less than half as many minutes. Amber laughed,
putting it on. "Surely you couldn't ask me to look more disreputable,"
he said with a dubious survey of himself in the mirror.
His collar had been confiscated with his tie; his coat collar was
partially turned up in the back; what was visible of his shirt was
indecently dirty. His polished shoes had been deprived of their
pristine lustre by means of a damp rag, vigorously applied, and then
rubbed with dust. An artistic stain had been added to one of his
sleeves by the simple device of smudging it with the blacking from his
shoes. As for his hat, with the brim pulled down in front, it was
nothing more nor less than shocking.
"You'll do," chuckled Labertouche approvingly. "Just ram your hands
into your trouser pockets without unbuttoning your coat, and shuffle
along as if nocturnal rambles in the slums of Calcutta were an everyday
thing to you. If you're spoken to, don't betray too much familiarity
with the vernacular. You know about the limit of the average Tommy's
vocabulary; don't go beyond it." He unbolted and locked the door by
which Amber had entered, putting the key in his pocket, and turned to a
second door across the room. "We'll leave this way; I chose this place
because it's a regular rabbit warren, with half a dozen entrances and
exits. I'll leave you in a passage leading to the bazaar. Wait in the
doorway until you see me stroll past; give me thirty yards lead and
follow. Keep in the middle of the way, avoid a crowd as the plague, and
don't lose sight of me. I'll stop in front of Dohla Baksh's shop long
enough to light a cheroot and go on without looking back. When you come
out I'll be waiting for you. If we lose one another, get back to your
hotel as quickly as possible. I may send you word. If I don't, I shall
understand you've taken the first morning train to Darjeeling. I think
As Amber left the room Labertouche extinguished the lamp, shut and
locked the door, and followed, catching Amber by the arm and guiding
him through pitch darkness to the head of the stairs. "Don't talk," he
whispered; "trust me." They descended an interminable flight of steps,
passed down a long, echoing corridor, and again descended. From the
foot of the second flight Labertouche shunted Amber round through what
seemed a veritable maze of passages--in which, however, he was
evidently quite at home. At length, "_Now go ahead!_" was breathed at
Amber's ear and at the same time his arm was released.
He obeyed blindly, stumbling down a reeking corridor, and in a minute
more, to his unutterable relief, was in the open air of the bazaar.
Blinking with the abrupt transition from absolute night to garish
light, he skulked in the shadow of the doorway, waiting. Beneath his
gaze Calcutta paraded its congress of peoples--a comprehensive
collection of specimens of every tribe in Hindustan and of nearly every
other race in the world besides: red-bearded Delhi Pathans, towering
Sikhs, lean sinewy Rajputs with bound jaws, swart agile Bhils, Tommies
in their scarlet tunics, Japanese and Chinese in their distinctive
dress, short and sturdy Gurkhas, yellow Saddhus, Jats stalking proudly,
brawling knots of sailormen from the Port, sleek Mahrattas, polluted
Sansis, Punjabis, Bengalis, priests, beggars, dancing girls; a blaze of
colour ever shifting, a Babel of tongues never stilled, a seething scum
on a witch's brew of humanity....
Like a fat, tawdry moth in his garments of soiled pink, a babu loitered
past, with never a sidelong glance for the loaferish figure in the
shadowed doorway; and the latter seemed himself absorbed in the family
of Eurasians who were shrilly squabbling with the keeper of a
vegetable-stall adjacent. But presently he wearied of their noise,
yawned, thrust both hands deep in his pockets, and stumbled away. The
bazaar accepted him as a brother, unquestioning, and he picked his way
through it with an ease that argued nothing but absolute familiarity
with his surroundings. But always you may be sure, he had the gleam of
pink satin in the corner of his eye.
Before long Pink Satin diverged into the Chitpur Road, with Amber a
discreet shadow. So far the latter had been treading known ground, but
a little later, when Pink Satin dived abruptly into a darksome alleyway
to the right, drawing Amber after him as a child drags a toy on a
string, the Virginian lost his bearings utterly and was thereafter
helplessly dependent upon the flutter of Pink Satin, and unworried only
so long as he could see him, in a fidget of anxiety whenever the
labyrinth shut Labertouche from his sight for a moment or two.
It was quiet enough away from the main thoroughfare, but with a
sinister quiet. Tall dwellings marched shoulder to shoulder along the
ways, shuttered, dark, grim, with an effect of conspirators, their
heads together in lawless conference. The streets were intolerably
narrow, the paving a farce; pools of stagnant water stood in the
depressions, piles of refuse banked the walls. The fetid air hung
motionless but sibilant with stealthy footsteps and whisperings....
Preferable to this seemed even the infinitely more dangerous and
odorous Coolootollah purlieus into which they presently passed--nesting
place though it were for the city's most evil and desperate classes.
In time broad Machua Bazaar Street received them--Pink Satin and the
sailorman out for a night of it. And now Pink Satin began to stroll
more sedately, manifesting a livelier interest in the sights of the
wayside. Amber's impatience--for he guessed that they neared the
goldsmith's stall--increased prodigiously; the shops, the stalls, the
thatched dance-halls in which arose the hideous music of the nautch,
had no lure for him, though they illustrated all that was most evil and
most depraved in the second city of the Empire. He was only eager to
have done with this unsavoury adventure, to know again the clean walls
of his room in the Great Eastern, to taste again the purer air of the
Without warning Pink Satin pulled up, extracted from the recesses of
his costume a long, black and vindictive-looking native cigar, and
lighted it, thoughtfully exhaling the smoke through his nose while he
stared covetously at the display of a slipper-merchant whose stand was
over across from the stall of a goldsmith.
With true Oriental deliberation Pink Satin finally made up his mind to
move on; and Amber lurched heavily into the premises occupied by one
Dhola Baksh, a goldsmith.
A customer, a slim, handsome Malayan youth, for the moment held the
attention of the proprietor. The two were haggling with characteristic
enjoyment over a transaction which seemed to involve less than twenty
rupees. Amber waited, knowing that patience must be his portion until
the bargain should be struck. Dhola Baksh himself, a lean,
sharp-featured Mahratta grey with age, appraised with a single look the
new customer, and returned his interest to the Malay. But Amber
garnered from that glance a sensation of recognition. He wondered
dimly, why; could the goldsmith have been warned of his coming?
Two or three more putative customers idled into the shop. Beyond its
threshold the stream of native life rolled on, ceaselessly fluent; a
pageant of the Middle Ages had been no more fantastic and unreal to
Western eyes. Now and again a wayfarer paused, his interest attracted
by the goldsmith's rush of business.
Unexpectedly the proprietor made a substantial concession. Money passed
upon the instant, sealing the bargain. The Malay rose to go. Dhola
Baksh lifted a stony stare to Amber.
"Your, pleasure, sahib?" he enquired with a thinly-veiled sneer. What
need to show deference to a down-at-the-heel sailor from the Port?
"I want money--I want to borrow," said Amber promptly.
"On your word, sahib?"
"What manner of security can you offer?"
"A ring--an emerald ring."
Dhola Baksh shrugged. His eyes shifted from Amber to the encircling
faces of the bystanders. "I am a poor man," he whined. "How should I
have money to lend? Come to me on the morrow; then mayhap I may have a
few rupees. To-night I have neither cash nor time."
The hint was lost upon Amber. "A stone of price----" he persisted.
With a disturbed and apprehensive look, the money-lender rose. "Come,
then," he grumbled, "if you must----"
A voice cried out behind Amber--"_Heh_!"----more a squeal than a cry.
Intuitively, as at a signal of danger, he leaped aside. Simultaneously
something like a beam of light sped past his head. The goldsmith
uttered one dreadful, choking scream, and went to his knees. For as
many as three seconds he swayed back and forth, his features terribly
contorted, his thin old hands plucking feebly at the handle of a
broadbladed dagger which had transfixed his throat. Then he tumbled
forward on his face, kicking.
There followed a single instant of suspense and horror, then a mad rush
of feet as the street stampeded into the shop. Voices clamoured to the
skies. Somehow the lights went out.
Amber started to fight his way out. As he struggled on, making little
headway through the press, a hand grasped his arm and drew him another
"Make haste, hazoor!" cried the owner of the hand, in Hindustani. "Make
haste, lest they seek to fasten this crime upon your head."
MAHARANA OF KHANDAWAR
Both hand and voice might well have been Labertouche's; Amber believed
they were. And the darkness rendered visual identification impossible.
No shadow of doubt troubled him as he yielded to the urgent hand, and
permitted himself to be dragged, more than led, through the reeking,
milling mob, whose numbers seemed each instant augmented. He had
thought, dully, to find it a difficult matter to worm through and
escape, but somehow his guide seemed to have little trouble. Others,
likewise, evidently wished to get out of sight before the arrival of
the police, and in the wake of a little knot of these Amber felt
himself drawn along until, within less than two minutes, they were on
the outskirts of the crowd.
He drew a long breath of relief. Ever since that knife had flown
whining past his cheek, his instinct of self-preservation had been
dominated by a serene confidence that Pink Satin was at hand to steer
him in safety away from the brawl. For his own part he was troubled by
a feeling of helplessness and dependence unusual with him, who was of a
self-reliant habit, accustomed to shift for himself whatever the
emergency. But this was something vastly different from the run of
experiences that had theretofore fallen to his lot. In. the foulest
stews of a vast city, with no least notion of how to win his way back
to the security of the Chowringhee quarter; in the heart of a howling
native rabble stimulated to a pitch of frenzy by the only things that
ever seem really to rouse the Oriental from his apathy--the scent and
sight of human blood; and with a sense of terror chilling him as he
realised the truth at which his guide had hinted--that the actual
assassin would not hesitate an instant to cry the murder upon the head
of one of the Sahib-logue: Amber felt as little confidence in his
ability to work out his salvation as though he had been a child. He
thanked his stars for Labertouche--for the hand that clasped his arm
and the voice that spoke guardedly in his ear.
And then, by the light of the street, he discovered that his gratitude
had been premature and misplaced. His guide had fallen a pace behind
and was shouldering him along with almost frantic energy; but a glance
aside showed Amber, in Labertouche's stead, a chunky little Gurkha in
the fatigue uniform of his regiment of the British Army in India. Pink
Satin was nowhere in sight and it was immediately apparent that an
attempt to find him among the teeming hundreds before the goldsmith's
stall would be as futile as foolish--if not fatal. Yet Amber's impulse
was to wait, and he faltered--something which seemed to exasperate the
Gurkha, who fairly danced with excitement and impatience.
"Hasten, hazoor!" he cried. "Is this a time to loiter? Hasten ere they
charge you with this spilling of blood. The gods lend wings to our feet
"But who are you?" demanded Amber.
"What matter is that? Is it not enough that I am here and well disposed
toward you, that I risk my skin to save yours?" He cannoned suddenly
against Amber, shunting him unceremoniously out of the bazaar road and
into a narrow black alley.
Simultaneously Amber heard a cry go up, shrill above the clamour of the
mob, screaming that a white sailor had knifed the goldsmith. And he
turned pale beneath his tan.
"You hear, hazoor? They are naming you to the police-wallahs. Come!"
"You're right." Amber fell into a long, free stride that threatened
quickly to distance the Gurka's short, sturdy legs. "Yet why do you
take this trouble for me?"
"Why ask?" panted the Gurkha. "Did I not stand behind you and see that
you did not throw the knife? Am I a dog to stand by and see an innocent
man yoked to a crime?" He laughed shortly. "Am I a fool to forget how
great is the generosity of Kings? This way, hazoor!"
"Why call me King?" Amber hurdled a heap of offal and picked up his
pace again. "Yet you will find me generous, though but a sahib."
"The sahibs are very generous." Again the Gurkha laughed briefly and
unpleasantly. "But this is no time for words. Save your breath, for now
we must run."
He broke into a springy lope, with his chin up, elbows in and chest
distended, his quick small feet slopping regardlessly through the
viscous mud of the unpaved byway. "Hear that!" he cried, as a series of
short, sharp yells rose in the bazaar behind them. "The dogs have found
the scent!" And for a time terror winged their flight. Eastern mobs are
hard to handle; if overtaken the chances were anything-you-please to
one that the fugitives would be torn to pieces as by wild animals ere
the police could interfere.
They struck through stranger and more awful quarters than Amber had
believed could be tolerated, even in India. For if there were a better
way of escape they had no time to pause and choose it. From the racket
in their rear the pursuit was hot upon their trail, and with every
stride, well-nigh, they were passing those who would mark them down
and, when the rabble came up, cry it on with explicit directions.
And so Amber found himself pounding along at the heels of his Gurkha,
threading acres of flimsy huts huddled together in meaningless
confusion--frail boxes of bamboo, mud, and wattles thrown roughly
together upon corrupt, naked earth that reeked of the drainage of
uncounted generations. Whence they passed through long, brilliant,
silent streets lined with open hovels wherein Vice and Crime bred
cheek-by-jowl, the haunts of Shame, painted and unabashed, sickening in
the very crudity of its nakedness.... There is no bottom to the Pit
wherein the native sinks.... And on, panting, with labouring chests and
aching limbs, into the abandoned desolation of the Chinese quarter, and
back through the still, deadly ways which Amber had threaded in the
footsteps of Pink Satin--where the houses towered high and were
ornamented with dingy, crumbling stucco and rusty, empty, treacherous
balconies of iron, and the air hung in stagnation as if the very winds
here halted to eavesdrop upon the iniquities that were housed behind
the jealous, rotting blinds of wood and iron.
By now the voice of the chase had subsided to a dull and distant
muttering far behind them, and the way was clear. Beyond its age-old,
ineradicable atmosphere of secret infamy there was nothing threatening
in the aspect of the neighbourhood. And the Gurkha pulled up, breathing
like a wind-broken horse.
"Easily, hazoor!" he gasped. "There is time for rest."
Willingly Amber dropped into a wavering stride, so nearly exhausted
that his legs shook under him and he reeled drunkenly; and, fighting
for breath, they stumbled on, side by side, in the shadow of the
overhanging walls, until as they neared a corner the Gurkha stopped and
halted Amber with an imperative gesture.
"The police, sahib, the police!" he breathed, with an expressive sweep
of his hand toward the cross street. "Let us wait here till they pass."
And in evident panic he crowded Amber into the deep and gloomy recess
afforded by a door overhung by a balcony.
Taken off his guard, but with growing doubt, Amber was on the point of
remonstrating. Why should the police concern themselves with peaceful
wayfarers? They could not yet have heard of the crime in the Bazaar,
miles distant. But as he opened his lips he heard the latch click
behind him, and before he could lift a finger, the Gurkha had flung
himself bodily upon him, fairly lifting the American across the
They went down together, the Gurkha on top. And the door crashed to
with a rattle of bolts, leaving Amber on his back, in total darkness,
betrayed, lost, and alone with his enemies....
Now take a man--a white man--an American by preference--such an one as
David Amber--who has led an active if thoughtful life and lived much
out of doors, roughing it cheerfully in out-of-the-way corners of the
world, and who has been careful to maintain his physical condition at
something above par; bedevil him with a series of mysterious
circumstances for a couple of months, send him on a long journey,
entangle him in a passably hopeless love affair, work his expectations
up to a high pitch of impatience, exasperate him with disappointment,
and finally cause him to be tripped up by treachery and thrust into a
pitch-black room in an unknown house in one of the vilest quarters of
Calcutta: treat him in such a manner and what may you expect of him?
Not discretion, at least.
Amber went temporarily mad with rage. He was no stranger to fear--no
man with an imagination is; but for the time being he was utterly
foolhardy. He forgot his exhaustion, forgot the hopelessness of his
plight, forgot everything save his insatiable thirst for vengeance. He
was, in our homely idiom, fighting-mad.
One instant overpowered by and supine beneath the Gurkha, the next he
had flung the man off and bounded to his feet. There was the automatic
pistol in his coat-pocket, but he, conscious that many hands were
reaching out in the darkness to drag him down again, found no time to
draw it. He seemed to feel the presence of the nearest antagonist, whom
he could by no means see; for he struck out with both bare, clenched
fists, one after the other, with his weight behind each, and both blows
landed. The sounds of their impact rang like pistol-shots, and beneath
his knuckles he felt naked flesh crack and give. Something fell away
from him with a grunt like a poled ox. And then, in an instant, before
he could recover his poise, even before he knew that the turned-in
stone of the emerald ring had bitten deep into his palm, he was the
axis of a vortex of humanity. And he fought like a devil unchained.
Those who had thrown themselves upon him, clutching desperately at his
arms and legs and hanging upon his body, seemed to be thrown off like
chips from a lathe--for a time. In two short minutes he performed
prodigies of valour; his arms wrought like piston-rods, his fists flew
like flails; and such was the press round him that he struck no blow
that failed to find a mark. The room rang with the sounds of the
struggle, the shuffle, thud, and scrape of feet both booted and bare,
the hoarse, harsh breathing of the combatants, their groans, their
whispers, their low tense cries....
And abruptly it was over. He was borne down by sheer weight of numbers.
Though he fought with the insanity of despair they were too many for
him. He went a second time to the floor, beneath a dozen half-nude
bodies. Below him lay another, with an arm encircling his throat, the
elbow beneath his chin compressing his windpipe. Powerless to move hand
or foot, he gave up ... and wondered dully why it was that a knife had
not yet slipped between his ribs--between the fifth and sixth--or in
his back, beneath the left shoulder-blade, and why his gullet remained
Gradually it was forced upon him that his captors meant him no bodily
harm, for the present at least. His wrath subsided and gave place to
curiosity while he rested, regaining his wind, and the natives squirmed
away from him, leaving one man kneeling upon his chest and four others
each pinioning a limb.
There followed a wait, while some several persons indulged in a
whispered confabulation at a distance from him too great for their
words to be articulate. Then came a croaking laugh out of the darkness
and words intended for his ear.
"By Malang Shah! but my lord doth fight like a Rajput!"
Amber caught his breath and exploded. "Half a chance, you damned thugs,
and I'd show you how an American can fight!"
But he had spoken in English, and his hearers gathered the import of
his words only from his tone, apparently. He who had addressed him
"It was a gallant fight," he commented, "but like all good things hath
had its end. My lord is overcome. Is my lord still minded for battle or
for peace? Dare I, his servant, give orders for his release, or----"
Here Amber interrupted; stung by the bitter irony, he told the speaker
in fluent idiomatic Hindustani precisely what he might expect if his
"lord" ever got the shadow of a chance to lay hands upon him.
The grim cackling laugh followed his words, a mocking echo, and was his
only answer. But for all his defiance, he presently heard orders issued
to take him up and bear him to another chamber. Promptly the man on his
chest moved away, and his fellows lifted and carried Amber, gently and
with puzzling consideration, some considerable distance through what he
surmised to be an underground corridor. He suffered this passively,
realising his impotence, and somewhat comforted if perplexed by the
tenderness accorded him in return for his savage fight for freedom.
Unexpectedly he was let down upon the floor and released. Bare feet
scurried away in the darkness and a door closed with a resounding bang.
He was alone, for all he could say to the contrary--alone and unharmed.
He was more: he was astonished; he had not been disarmed. He got up and
felt of himself, marvelling that his pocket still sagged with the
weight of the pistol as much as at the circumstance that, aside from
the inevitable damage to his clothing--a coat-sleeve ripped from the
arm-hole, several buttons missing, suspenders broken--he had come out
of the melee unhurt, not even bruised, save for the hand that had been
cut by the emerald. He wrapped a handkerchief about this wound, and
took the pistol out, deriving a great deal of comfort from the way it
balanced, its roughened grip nestling snugly in his palm.
He fairly itched to use the thing, but lacking an excuse, had time to
take more rational counsel of himself. It were certainly unwise to
presume upon the patience of his captors; though he had battered some
of them pretty brutally and himself escaped reprisals, the part of
wisdom would seem to be to save his ammunition.
With this running through his mind, the room was suddenly revealed to
his eyes, that had so long strained fruitlessly to see. A flood of
lamplight leaped through some opening behind him and showed him his
shadow, long and gigantic upon a floor of earth and a wall of stone. He
wheeled about, alert as a cat; and the sight of his pistol hung steady
between the eyes of one who stood at ease, with folded arms, in an open
doorway. Over his shoulder was visible the bare brown poll of an
attendant whose lank brown arm held aloft the lamp.
One does not shoot down in cold blood a man who makes no aggressive
move, and he who stood in the doorway endured impassively the mute
threat of the pistol. Above its sight his eyes met Amber's with a level
and unwavering glance, shining out of a dark, set face cast in a mould
of insolence and pride. A bushy black beard was parted at his chin and
brushed stiffly back. Between his thin hard lips, parted in a shadowy
smile, his teeth gleamed white. Standing a head taller than Amber and
very gracefully erect in clothing of a semi-military cut and of regal
magnificence, every inch of his pose bespoke power, position, and the
habit of authority. His head was bound with a turban of spotless white
from whose clasp, a single splendid emerald, a jewelled aigret nodded;
the bosom of his dark-green tunic blazed with orders and decorations;
at his side swung a sabre with richly jewelled hilt. Heavy white
gauntlets hid his hands, top-boots of patent leather his legs and feet.
At once impressed and irritated by his attitude, Amber lowered his
weapon. "Well?" he demanded querulously. "What do you want? What's your
part in this infamous outrage?"
On the other's face the faint smile became more definite. He nodded
nonchalantly at Amber's pistol. "My lord intends to shoot?" he enquired
in English, his tone courteous and suave.
"That's as may be," retorted Amber defiantly. "I'm going to have
satisfaction for this outrage if I die getting it. You may count on
that, first and last."
The man lifted his eyebrows and his shoulders in deprecation; then
turned to his attendant. "Put down the light and leave us," he said
curtly in Hindustani.
Bowing obsequiously, the servant entered and departed, leaving the lamp
upon a wooden shelf braced against one side of the four-square,
stone-walled dungeon. As he went out he closed the door, and Amber
noted that it was a heavy sheet of iron or steel, very substantial. His
"I presume you know what that means," he said, with a significant jerk
of his head toward the door. "It'll never be shut on me alone. We'll
leave together, you and I, if we both go out feet first." He lifted the
pistol and took the measure of the man, not in any spirit of bravado
but with absolute sincerity. "I trust I make my meaning plain?"
"Most clear, hazoor." The other showed his teeth in an appreciative
smile. "And yet"--with an expressive outward movement of both
hands--"what is the need of all this?"
"What!" Amber choked with resentment. "What was the need of setting
your thugs upon me--of kidnapping me?"
"That, my lord, was an error of judgment on the part of one who shall
pay for it full measure. I trust you were not rudely treated."
"I'd like to know what in blazes you call it," snapped Amber. "I'm
dogged by your spies--Heaven knows why!--lured to this place, butted
bodily into the arms of a gang of ruffians to be manhandled, and
finally locked up in a dark cell. I don't suppose you've got the nerve
to call that courteous treatment."
He had an advantage, and knowing it, was pushing it to the limit; for
all his nonchalance the black man was not unconscious of the pistol;
his eye never forgot it. And Amber's eyes left his not an instant.
Despite that the fellow's next move was a distinct surprise.
Suddenly and with superb grace, he stepped forward and dropped to one
knee at Amber's feet, bowing his head and offering the hilt of his
sword to the American.
"My lord," he said swiftly in Hindustani, "if I have misjudged thee, if
I have earned thy displeasure, upon my head be it. See, I give my life
into thy hands; but a little quiver of thy forefinger and I am as
dust.... An ill report of thee was brought to me, and I did err in
crediting it. It is true that I set this trap for thee; but see, my
lord! though I did so, it was with no evil intent. I thought but to
make sure of thee and bid thee welcome, as a faithful steward should,
to thy motherland.... Maha Rao Rana, Har Dyal Rutton Bahadur,
Heaven-born, King of Kings, Chosen of the Voice, Cherished of the Eye,
Beloved of the Heart, bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of the
Body, Guardian of the Gateway of Swords!... I, thy servant, Salig
Singh, bid thee welcome to Bharuta!"
Sonorous and not unpleasing, his voice trembled with intense and
unquestionable earnestness; and when it ceased he remained motionless
in his attitude of humility. Amber, hardly able to credit his hearing,
stared down at the man stupidly, his head awhirl with curiously
commingled sensations of amazement and enlightenment. Presently he
"Get up," he said; "get up and stand over there by the wall and don't
be a silly ass."
"Hazoor!" There was reproach in Salig Singh's accents; but he obeyed,
rising and retreating to the further wall, there to hold himself at
"Now see here," began Amber, designedly continuing his half of the
conversation in English--far too much misunderstanding had already been
brought about by his too-ready familiarity with Urdu. He paused a
little to collect his thoughts, then resumed: "Now see here, you're
Salig Singh, Maharana of Khandawar?" This much he recalled from his
conversation with Labertouche a couple of hours gone.
"Hazoor, why dost thou need ask? Thou dost know." The Rajput, on his
part, steadfastly refused to return to English.
"But you are, aren't you?"
"By thy favour, it is even so."
"And you think I'm Rutton--Har Dyal Rutton, as you call him, the former
Maharana who abdicated in your favour?"
The Rajput shrugged expressively, an angry light in his dark, bold
eyes. "It pleases my lord to jest," he complained; "but am I a child,
to be played with?"
"I'm not joking, Salig Singh, and this business is no joke at all. What
I'm trying to drive into your head is the fact that you've made the
mistake of your life. I'm not Rutton and I'm nothing like Rutton; I am
an American citizen and----"
"Pardon, hazoor, but is this worth thy while? I am no child; what I
know I know. If thou art indeed not Har Dyal Rutton, how is it that
thou dost wear upon thy finger the signet of thy house"--Salig Singh
indicated the emerald which Amber had forgotten--"the Token sent thee
by the Bell? If thou are not my lord the rightful Maharana of
Khandawar, how is it that thou hast answered the summons of the Bell?
Are the servants of the Body fools who have followed the hither, losing
trace of thee no single instant since thou didst slay the Bengali who
bore the Token to thee? Am I blind--I, Salig Singh, thy childhood's
playmate, the Grand Vizier of thy too-brief rule, to whom thou didst
surrender the reins of government of Khandawar? I know thee; thou canst
not deceive me. True it is that thou art changed--sadly changed, my
lord; and the years have not worn upon thee as they might--I had
thought to find thee an older man and, by thy grace, a wiser. But even
as I am Salig Singh, thou art none other than my lord, Har Dyal
Salig Singh put his shoulders against the wall and, leaning so with
arms folded, regarded Amber with a triumph not unmixed with contempt.
It was plain that he considered his argument final, his case complete,
the verdict his. While Amber found no words with which to combat his
false impression, and could only stare, open-mouthed and fascinated.
But at length he recollected himself and called his wits together.
"That's all very pretty," he admitted fairly, "but it won't hold water.
I don't suppose these faithful servants of the Bell you mentioned
happened to tell you that Chatterji himself mistook me for Rutton, to
begin with, and just found out his mistake in time to recover the
Token. Did they?"
The man shook his head wearily. "Nothing to that import hath come to
mine ears," he said.
"All right. And of course they didn't tell you that Rutton committed
suicide down there on Long Island, just after he had killed the babu?"
Again Salig Singh replied by a negative movement of his head.
"Well, all I've got to say is that your infernal 'Body' employs a giddy
lot of incompetents to run its errands."
Salig Singh said nothing, and Amber pondered the situation briefly. He
understood now how the babu's companion had fallen into error: how
Chatterji, possessing sufficient intelligence to recognise his initial
mistake, had, having rectified it, saved his face by saying nothing to
his companion of the incident; and how the latter had remained in
ignorance of Rutton's death after the slaying of Chatterji, and had
pardonably mistaken Amber for the man he had been sent to spy upon. The
prologue was plain enough, but how to deal with this its sequel was a
problem that taxed his ingenuity. A single solution seemed practicable,
of the many he debated: to get in touch with Labertouche and leave the
rest to him.
He stood for so long in meditation that the Rajput began to show traces
of impatience. He moved restlessly, yawned, and at length spoke.
"Is not my lord content? Can he not see, the dice are cast? What profit
can he think to win through furtherance of this farce?"
"Well," curiosity prompted Amber to ask, "what do you want of me,
"Is there need to ask? Through the Mouthpiece, the Bengali, Behari Lai
Chatterji, whom thou didst slay, the message of the Bell was brought to
thee. Thou hast been called; it is for thee to answer."
"To the Gateway of Swords, hazoor."
"Oh, yes; to be sure. But where in thunderation is it?"
"That my lord doth know."
"You think so? Well, have it your own way. But suppose I decline the
Salig Singh looked bored. "Since thou hast come so far," he said, "thou
wilt go farther, hazoor."
"Of thine own will. Those whom the Voice calleth are not led to the
Gateway by their noses."
"But," Amber persisted, "suppose they won't go?"
"Then, hazoor, doth the Council of the Hand sit in judgment upon them."
The significance was savagely obvious, but Amber merely laughed. "And
the Hand strikes, I presume?" Salig Singh nodded. "Bless your heart,
I'm not afraid of your 'Hand'! But am I to understand that compulsion
is not to be used in order to get me to the Gateway--wherever that is?
I mean, I'm free to exercise my judgment, whether or not I shall
go--free to leave this place and return to my hotel?"
Gravely the Rajput inclined his head. "Even so," he assented. "I caused
thee to be brought hither solely to make certain what thou hast out of
thine own mouth confirmed--the report that thou hadst become altogether
traitor to the Bell. So be it. There remains but the warning that for
four days more, and four days only, the Gateway remains open to those
summoned. On the fifth it closes."
"And to those who remain in the outer darkness on that fifth day, Salig
"God is merciful," said the Rajput piously.
"Very well. If that is all, I think I will now leave you, Salig Singh,"
said Amber, fondling his pistol meaningly.
"One word more," Salig Singh interposed, very much alive to Amber's
attitude: "I were unfaithful to the trust thou didst once repose in me
were I not to warn thee that whither thou goest, the Mind will know;
what thou dost, the Eye will see; the words thou shalt utter, the Ear
will hear. To all things there is an end, also--even to the patience of
the Body. Shabash!"
"Thank you 'most to death, Salig Singh. Now will you be good enough to
order a ghari to take me back to the Great Eastern?"
"My lord's will is his servant's." Salig Singh started for the door the
least trace too eagerly.
"One moment," said Amber sharply. "Not so fast, my friend." He tapped
his palm with the barrel of the pistol to add weight to his peremptory
manner. "I think if you will lift your voice and call, some one will
answer. I've taken a great fancy to you, if you don't know it, and I
don't purpose letting you out of my sight until I'm safely out of this
With a sullen air the Rajput yielded. From his expression Amber would
have wagered much that there was a bad quarter of an hour in store for
those who had neglected to disarm him when the opportunity was theirs.
"As you will," conceded Salig Singh; and he clapped his hands smartly,
crying: "Ohe, Moto!"
Almost instantly the iron door swung open and the lamp-bearer appeared,
"Tell him," ordered Amber, "to bring me a cloak of some sort--not too
conspicuous. I've no fancy to kick up a scandal at the hotel by
returning with these duds visible. You can charge it up to profit and
loss; if it hadn't been for the tender treatment your assassins gave
me, I'd be less disreputable."
A faint smile flickered in Salig Singh's eyes--a look that was not
wholly devoid of admiration for the man who had turned the tables on
him with such ease. "Indeed," he said, "I were lacking in courtesy did
I refuse thee that." And turning to the servant he issued instructions
in accordance with Amber's demands, adding gratuitously an order that
the way of exit should be kept clear.
As the man bowed and withdrew Amber grinned cheerfully. "It wasn't a
bad afterthought, Salig Singh," he observed; "precautions like that
relieve the mind wonderfully sometimes."
But the humour of the situation seemed to be lost upon the Rajput.
In the brief wait that followed Amber shifted his position to one
wherefrom he could command both the doorway and Salig Singh; his
solicitude, however, was without apparent warrant; nothing happened to
justify him of his vigilance. Without undue delay the servant returned
with a light cloak and the announcement that the ghari was in waiting.
His offer to help the American don the garment was graciously declined.
"I've a fancy to have my arms free for the present," Amber explained;
"I can get it on by myself in the ghari." He took the cloak over his
left arm. "I'm ready; lead on!" he said, and with a graceful wave of
the pistol bowed Salig Singh out of the cellar.
Moto leading with the light, they proceeded in silence down a musty but
deserted passage, Amber bringing up the rear with his heart in his
mouth and his finger nervous upon the trigger. After a little the
passage turned and discovered a door open to the street. Beyond this a
ghari could be seen.
Amber civilly insisted that both the servant and his master leave the
house before him, but, once outside, he made a wary detour and got
between them and the waiting conveyance. Then, "It's kind of you, Salig
Singh," he said; "I'm properly grateful. I'll say this for you: you
play the game fairly when anybody calls your attention to the rules.
Good-night to you--and, I say, be kind enough to shut the door as you
go in. I'll just wait until you do."
The Rajput found no answer; conceivably, his chagrin was intense. With
a curt nod he turned and reentered the house, Moto following. The door
closed and Amber jumped briskly into the ghari.
"Home, James," he told the ghariwallah, in great conceit with himself.
"I mean, the Great Eastern Hotel--and _juldee jao_!"
The driver wrapped a whiplash round the corrugated flanks of his horse
and the ghari turned the corner with gratifying speed. In half a minute
they were in the Chitpur Road. In fifteen they drew up before the
It was after midnight and the city had begun to quiet down, but Old
Court House Street was still populous with carriages and pedestrians,
black and tan and white. There was a Viceregal function of some sort
towards in the Government House, and broughams and victorias, coaches,
hansoms, and coupes, with lamps alight and liveried coachmen--turn-outs
groomed to the last degree of smartness--crowded the thoroughfare to
the peril and discomfort of the casual ghari. The scene was
unbelievably brilliant. Amber felt like rubbing his eyes. Here were
sidewalks, pavements, throbbing electric arcs, Englishmen in evening
dress, fair Englishwomen in dainty gowns and pretty wraps, the hum of
English voices, the very smell of civilisation. And back there, just
across the border he had so recently crossed, still reigned the
midnight of the Orient, glamorous with the glamour of the Arabian
Nights, dreadful with its dumb menace, its atmosphere of plot and
counterplot, mutiny, treason, intrigue, and death. Here, a little
island of life and light and gay, heedless laughter; there, all round
it, pressing close, silence and impenetrable darkness, like some dark
sea of death lapping its shores....
In a cold sweat of horror Amber got out of the vehicle and paid his
fare. As he turned he discovered an uniformed policeman stalking to and
fro before the hotel, symbol of the sane power that ruled the land.
Amber was torn by an impulse to throw himself upon the man and shriek
aloud his tale of terror--to turn and scream warning in the ears of
those who lived so lightly on the lip of Hell....
A Bengali drifted listlessly past, a bored and blase babu in a suit of
pink satin, wandering home and interested in nothing save his own bland
self and the native cigarette that drooped languidly from his lips. He
passed within a foot of Amber, and from somewhere a voice spoke--the
Virginian could have taken an oath that the babu's lips did not
move--in a clear yet discreet whisper.
"To-morrow," it said; "Darjeeling."
Amber hitched his cloak round him and entered the hotel.
"Badshah Junction, Mr. Amber ... Badshah Junction ... We'll be there in
'alf an hour ..."
Inexorably the voice droned on, repeating the admonition over and over.
Mutinous, Amber stirred and grumbled in his sleep; stirred and,
grumbling, wakened to another day. Doggott stood over him, doggedly
"Not much time to dress, sir; we're due in less than 'alf an hour."
"Oh, _all_ right." Drowsy, stiff and sore in bone and muscle, Amber sat
up on the edge of the leather-padded bunk and stared out of the window,
wondering. With thundering flanges the train fled from east to west
across a landscape that still slept wrapped in purple shadows. Far in
the north the higher peaks of a long, low range of treeless hills were
burning with a pale, cold light. A few stars glimmered in the cloudless
vault--glimmered wan, doomed to sudden, swift extinction. Beside the
railroad a procession of telegraph poles marched with dipping loops of
wire between. There was nothing else to see. None the less the young
man, now fully alive to the business of the day, said "Thank God!" in
"Even a tonga will be a relief after three days of this, Doggott," he
observed, surrendering himself to the ministrations of the servant.
It was the third morning succeeding that on which he had risen from his
bed in the Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta, possessed by a wild anxiety
to find his way with the least possible delay to Darjeeling and Sophia
Farrell--a journey which he was destined never to make. For while he
breakfasted a telegram had been brought to him.
"_Your train for Benares_," he read, "_leaves Howrah at nine-thirty.
Imperative_." It was signed: "_Pink Satin_."
He acted upon it without thought of disobedience; he was in the hands
of Labertouche, and Labertouche knew best. Between the lines he read
that the Englishman considered it unwise to attempt further
communication in Calcutta. Something had happened to eliminate the trip
to Darjeeling. Labertouche would undoubtedly contrive to meet and
enlighten him, either on the way or in Benares itself.
In the long, tiresome, eventless journey that followed his faith was
sorely tried; nor was it justified until the train paused some time
after midnight at Mogul Serai. There, before Amber and Doggott could
alight to change for Benares, their compartment was invaded by an
unmistakable loafer, very drunk. Tall and burly; with red-rimmed eyes
in a pasty pockmarked face, dirty and rusty with a week-old growth of
beard; clothed with sublime contempt for the mode and exalted beyond
reason with liquor--a typical loafer of the Indian railways--he flung
the door open and himself into Amber's arms, almost knocking the latter
down; and resented the accident at the top of his lungs.
"You miserable, misbegotten blighter of a wall-eyed American----" At
this point he became unprintably profane, and Doggott fell upon him
with the laudable intention of throwing him out. In the struggle Amber
caught his eye, and it was bright with meaning. "Pink Satin!" he
hissed. "He's gone ahead.... You're to keep on to Agra.... Change for
Badshah Junction, Rajputana Route.... Then tonga to Kuttarpur....
Farrell's there and his daughter.... That's right, my man, throw me
His downfall was spectacular. In his enthusiasm for the part he played,
he had erred to the extent of delivering a blow in Doggott's face more
forcible, probably, than he had intended it to be. Promptly he landed
sprawling on the station platform and, in the sight of a multitude of
natives, but the moment gone by his shrieks roused from their sleep in
orderly ranks upon the floor, was gathered into the arms of the
stationmaster and had the seriousness of his mistake pointed out to him
forthwith and without regard to the sensitiveness of human anatomy.
And the train continued on its appointed way, bearing both Amber and
the injured Doggott.
Thus they had come to the heart of Rajputana.
In the chill of dawn they were deposited at Badshah Junction. A scanty
length of rude platform received them and their two small travelling
On their left the Haiderabad express roared away, following the night,
its course upon the parallel ribbons of shining steel marked by a
towering pillar of dust. On their right, beyond the sharp-cut edge of
the world, the sun had kindled a mighty conflagration in the skies. On
every hand, behind and before them, the desert lay in ebbing shadows, a
rolling waste seared by arid nullahs--the bone-dry beds of
long-forgotten streams. Off in the north the hills cropped up and stole
purposelessly away over the horizon.
They stood, then, forlorn in a howling desolation. For signs of life
they had the station, a flimsy shelter roofed with corrugated iron, a
beaten track that wandered off northwards and disappeared over a
grassless swell, a handful of mud huts at a distance, and the
ticket-agent. The latter a sleepy, surly Eurasian in pyjamas, surveyed
them listlessly from the threshold of the station, and without a sign
either of interest or contempt turned and locked himself in.
Amber sat down on his upturned suit-case and laughed and lit a
cigarette. Doggott growled. The noise of the train died to silence in
the distance, and a hyena came out of nowhere, exhibited himself upon
the ridge of a dry desert swell, and mocked them sardonically. Then he,
like the ticket-agent, went away, leaving an oppressive silence.
Presently the sun rose in glory and sent its burning level rays to cast
a shadow several rods long of an enraged American beating frantically
with clenched fists upon the door of an unresponsive railway station.
He hammered until he was a-weary, then deputised his task to Doggott,
who resourcefully found him a stone of size and proceeded to make dents
in the door. This method elicited the Eurasian. He came out, listened
attentively to abuse and languidly to their demands for a tonga to bear
them to Kuttarpur, and observed that the mail tonga left once a day--at
three in the afternoon. Doggott caught him as he was on the point of
returning to his interrupted repose and called his attention to the
unwisdom of his ways.
Apparently convinced, this ticket-agent announced his intention of
endeavouring to find a tonga for the sahib. Besides, he was not
unwilling to acquire rupees. He scowled thoughtfully at Amber,
ferociously at Doggott, went back into the station, gossipped casually
with the telegraph sounder for a quarter of an hour, and finally
reappearing, without a word or a nod left the platform for the road and
walked and walked and walked and walked. Within thirty yards his figure
was blurred by the dance of new-born heat devils. Within a hundred he
disappeared; the desert swallowed him up.
An hour passed as three. The heat became terrific; not a breath of wind
stirred. The face of the world lost its contours in wavering mirage.
The travellers found lukewarm water in the station and breakfasted
sparingly from their own stores of biscuit and tinned things. Then, in
the shadow of the station, they settled down to wait, bored to
extinction. Lulled by the hushed chatter of the telegraph sounder,
Doggott nodded and slept audibly; Amber nodded, felt himself going,
roused with a struggle, and lapsed into a dreary mid-world of
In the simple fulness of Asiatic time a tonga came from Heaven knew
where and roused him by rattling up beside the platform. He got up and
looked it over with a just eye and a temper none the sweeter for his
experience. It was a brute of a tonga, a patched and ramshackle wreck
of what had once been a real tonga, with no top to protect the
travellers from the sun, and accommodation only for three, including
The Eurasian ticket-agent alighted and solicited rupees. He got them
and with them Amber's unvarnished opinion of the tonga; something which
was not received with civility by the driver.
He remained in his seat--a short, swart native with an evil countenance
and, across his knees, a sheathed tulwar--arguing with Amber in broken
English and, abusing him scandalously in impurest Hindi, flinging at
him in silken tones untranslatable scraps of bazaar Billingsgate. For,
as he explained in an audible aside to the ticket-agent, this sahib was
an outlander and, being as ignorant as most sahibs, could not
understand Hindi. At this the Eurasian turned away to hide a grin of
delight and the driver winked deliberately at Amber the while he
broadly sketched for him his ancestry and the manner of his life at
home and abroad.
Thunderstruck, Amber caught himself just as he was on the point of
attempting to drag the driver from his seat and beat him into a more
endurable frame of mind. He swallowed the hint and gave up the contest.
"Oh, very well," he conceded. "I presume you're trying to say there
isn't another tonga to be had and it can't be helped; but I don't like
your tone. However, there doesn't seem to be anything to do but take
you. How much for the two of us?"
"Your servant, sahib? He cannot ride in this tonga," asserted the
"He can't! Why not?"
"You can see there is room for but two, and I have yet another
"At the first dak-bungalow, Sahib, where the mail-tonga broke down last
night. This tonga, which I say is an excellent tonga, an _aram_ tonga,
a tonga for ease, is sent to take its place. More than this, I am
bidden to go in haste; therefore there is little time for you to decide
whether or not you will go with me alone. As for your servant, he can
follow by this afternoon's mail tonga."
Upon this ultimatum he stood, immovable; neither threats nor bribery
availed. It was an order, he said: he had no choice other than to obey.
Shabash! Would the sahib be pleased to make up his mind quickly?
Perforce, the sahib yielded. "It'll be Labertouche; he's arranged
this," he told himself. "That loafer said he'd gone on ahead of us."
And comforted he issued his orders to Doggott, who received and acceded
to them with all the ill-grace imaginable. He was to remain and follow
to Kuttarpur by the afternoon's tonga. He forthwith sulked--and Amber,
looking round upon the little Tephet that was Badshah Junction, had not
the heart to reprove the man.
"It's all very well, sir," said Doggott. "I carn't s'y anything, I
know. But, mark my words, sir--beggin' your pardon--there'll be trouble
come of this. That driver's as ill-favoured a scoundrel as ever I see.
And as for this 'ere ape, if 'e smiles at me just once more, I'll give
'im what-for." And he scowled so blackly upon the Eurasian that that
individual hastily sought the seclusion which the station granted.
Amber left him, then, with a travelling-bag and a revolver for company,
and the ticket-agent and his bad temper to occupy his mind.
Climbing aboard, the Virginian settled himself against the endless
discomforts of the ride which he foresaw; the tonga was anything but
"an _aram_ tonga--a tonga for ease," there was no shade and no breeze,
and the face of the land crawled with heat-bred haze.
To a crisp crackling of the whip-lash over the backs of the two sturdy,
shaggy, flea-bitten ponies, the tonga swept away from the station,
swift as a hunted fox with a dusty plume. The station dropped out of
sight and the desert took them to its sterile heart.
On every hand the long swales rolled away, sunbaked, rocky, innocent of
any sign of life other than the trooping telegraph poles in the south,
destitute of any sort of vegetation other than the inevitable ak and
gos. Wherever the eye wandered the prospect was the same--limitless
expanses of raw blistering ochres, salmon-pinks, and dry faded reds,
under a sky of brass and fire.
Amber leaned forward, watching the driver's face. "Your name,
tonga-wallah?" he enquired.
"Ram Nath, sahib." The man spoke without moving his head, attending
diligently to the management of his ponies.
"And this other passenger, who awaits us at the dak-bungalow, Ram
Nath--is he, perchance, one known both to you and to me?"
Ram Nath flicked the flagging ponies. "How should I know?" he returned
"One," persisted Amber, "who might be known by such a name as, say,
"What manner of talk is this?" demanded Ram Nath. "I am no child to be
amused by a riddle. I know naught of your 'Pink Satin.'" He bent
forward, shortening his grasp upon the reins, as if to signify that the
interview was at an end.
Amber sat back, annoyed by the fellow's impudence yet sensitive to a
suspicion that Ram Nath was playing his part better than his passenger,
that the rebuke was merited by one who had ventured to speak of secret
things in a land whose very stones have ears. For all that he could say
their every move was watched by invisible spies, of whom the
rock-strewn waste through which they sped might well harbour a hidden
legion.... But perhaps, after all, Ram Nath had nothing whatever to do
with Labertouche. Undeniable as had been his wink, it might well have
been nothing more than an impertinence. At the thought Amber's eyes
darkened and hardened and he swore bitterly beneath his breath. If that
were so, he vowed, the tonga-wallah would pay dearly for the
indiscretion. He set his wits to contrive a way to satisfy his doubts.
Meanwhile the tonga rocked and bounded fiendishly over an infamous
parody of a road, turning and twisting between huge boulders and in and
out of pebbly nullahs, Ram Nath tooling it along with the hand of a
master. But all his attention was of necessity centred upon the ponies,
and presently his tulwar slipped from his knees and clattered upon the
floor of the tonga. Amber saw his chance and put his foot upon it.
"Ram Nath," he asked gently, "have you no other arms?"
"I were a fool had I not." The man did not deign to glance round. "He
hath need of weapons who doth traffick with the Chosen of the Voice,
"Ah, that Voice!" cried Amber in exasperation. "I grow weary of the
word, am Nath."
"That may well be," returned the man, imperturbable. "None the less it
were well for you to have a care how you fondle the revolver in your
pocket, sahib. Should it by any chance go off and the bullet find
lodgment in your tonga-wallah, you are like to hear more of that Voice,
and from less friendly lips."
"I think you have eyes in the back of your head, Ram Nath." Amber
withdrew his hand from his coat pocket and laughed shortly as he spoke.
"There is a saying in this country, sahib, that even the stones in the
desert have ears to hear and eyes to see and tongues withal to tell
what they have seen and heard."
"Ah-h!... That is a wise saying, Ram Nath."
"There be those I could name who would do well to lay that saying to
"You are right, indeed.... Now if there be aught of truth in that
saying, and if one were unwisely to speak a certain name, even
"The echo of that name might be heard beyond the threshold of a certain
Amber grunted and said no more, contented now with the assurance that
he was in truth in touch with Labertouche, that this Ram Nath was an
employee of the I.S.S. The wink was now explained away with all the
rest of the tonga-wallah's churlishness. Since there was a purpose
behind it all, the Virginian was satisfied to contain his curiosity.
Nevertheless he could not help thinking that there must be some
fantastic exaggeration in the excessive degree of caution that was thus
tacitly imposed upon him.
He looked round him, narrowing his eyes against the sun-glare; and the
desert showed itself to his eyes a desert waste and nothing more. The
day lay stark upon its lifeless face and it seemed as if, within the
wide rim of the horizon, no thing moved save the tonga. They were then
passing rapidly over higher ground and seemed to have drawn a shade
nearer to the raw red northern hills. Amber would have said that they
could never have found a solitude more absolute.
The thought was still in his mind when the tonga dipped unexpectedly
over another ridge, began to descend another long grade of dead,
parched earth, and discovered some distance ahead of them on the
wagontrack a cloud of dust like a tinted veil, so dense, opaque, and
wide and high that its cause was altogether concealed in its reddish,
glittering convolutions. But the Virginian knew the land well enough to
recognise the phenomenon and surmise its cause, even before his ears
began to be assailed by the hideous rasping screech of wheels of solid
wood revolving reluctantly on rough-hewn axles guiltless of grease. And
as the tonga swiftly lessened the distance, his gaze, penetrating the
thinning folds, discerned the contours of a cotton-wain drawn by twin
stunted bullocks, patient noses to the ground, tails a-switch. Beside
his cattle the driver plodded, goad in hand, a naked sword upon his
hip. Within his reach, between the rude bales of the loaded cart, the
butt of a brass-bound musket protruded significantly.... All men went
armed in that wild land: to do as much is one of the boons attendant
upon citizenship in an unprogressive, independent native State.
Deliberately enough the carter swerved his beasts aside to make way for
the tonga, lest by undue haste he should make himself seem other than
what he was--a free man and a Rajput. But when his fierce, hawk-like
eyes encountered those of the dak traveller, his attitude changed
curiously and completely. Recognition and reverence fought with
surprise in his expression, and as Ram Nath swung the tonga past the
man salaamed profoundly. His voice, as he rose, came after them,
resonant and clear:
"_Hail, thou Chosen of the Gateway! Hail_!"
Amber neither turned to look nor replied. But his frown deepened. The
incident passed into his history, marked only by the terse comment it
educed from Ram Nath--words which were flung curtly over the
tonga-wallah's shoulder: "Eyes to see and ears to hear and a tongue
withal ... sahib!"
The Virginian said nothing. But it was in his mind that he had indeed
thrust his head into the lion's mouth by thus adventuring into the
territory which every instinct of caution and common-sense proclaimed
taboo to him--the erstwhile kingdom of the Maharana Har Dyal Rutton. It
was, in a word, foolhardy--nothing less. But for his pledged word it
had been so easy to order Ram Nath to convey him back to Badshah
Junction to order and to enforce obedience at the pistol's point, if
needs be! Honour held him helpless, bound upon the Wheel of his
Destiny: he must and would go on....
He sat in silent gloom while sixty minutes were drummed out by the
flying hoofs. The hills folded in about the way, diverting it hither
and yon with raw, seamed spurs, whose flanks flung back harsh and heavy
echoes of the tonga's flight through riven gulch and scrub-grown
valley. And then it was that Ram Nath proved his mettle. Hardened
himself, he showed no mercy to his passenger, and never once drew rein,
though the tonga danced from rock to ridge and ridge to rut and back
again, like a tin can on the tail of an astonished dog. As for Amber,
he wedged his feet and held on with both hands, grimly, groaning in
spirit when he did not in the flesh, foreseeing as he did nine hours
more of this heroic torture punctuated only by brief respites at the
end of each stage.
THE LONG DAY
One travels dak by relays casually disposed along the route at the whim
of the native contractor. Between Badshah Junction and Kuttarpur there
were ten stages, of which the conclusion of the first was at
hand--Amber having all but abandoned belief in its existence.
Slamming recklessly down the bed of an ancient watercourse, the tonga
spun suddenly upon one wheel round a shoulder of the banks and dashed
out upon a rolling plain, across which the trail snaked to other
farther hills that lay dim and low, a wavy line of blue, upon the
horizon--the hills in whose heart Kuttarpur itself lay occult. And, by
the roadside, in a compound fenced with camel-thorn, sat an aged and
indigent dak-bungalow, marking the end of the first stage, the
beginning of the second.
It wore a look of Heaven to the traveller. In the shade of its veranda
he read an urgent invitation to rest and surcease of sunlight. He
approved it thoroughly; the ramshackle rest-house itself, the sheds in
the rear for the accommodation of relays, the syce squatting asleep in
the sunshine, the few scrawny chickens squabbling and scratching over
their precarious sustenance in the deep hot dust of the compound, even
the broken tonga reposing with its shafts uplifted at a piteous angle
of decrepitude--all these Amber surveyed with a kindly eye.
Ram Nath reined in with a flourish and lifted a raucous voice, hailing
the syce, while Amber, painfully disengaging his cramped limbs, climbed
down and stumbled toward the veranda. The abrupt transition from
violent and erratic motion to a solid and substantial footing affected
him unpleasantly, with an undeniable qualm; the earth seemed to rock
and flow beneath him as if under the influence of an antic earthquake.
He was for some seconds occupied with the problem of regaining his
poise, and it was not until he heard an Englishwoman's voice uplifted
in accents of anger, that he remembered the other wayfarer with whom he
was to share his tonga, or associated the white-clad figure in the dark
doorway of the bungalow with anything but the khansamah, coming to
greet and cheat the chance-brought guest.
"Where is that tonga-wallah who deserted me here last night?" the woman
was demanding of Ram Nath, too preoccupied with her resentment to have
eyes for the other traveller, who at sight of her had stopped and
removed his pith helmet and now stood staring as if he had come from a
land in which there were no women. "Where," she continued, with an
imperative stamp of a daintily-shod foot, "is that wretched
"Sahiba," protested Ram Nath, with a great show of deference, "how
should I know? Belike he is in Badshah Junction, whither ha returned
very late last night, being travel-worn and weary, and where I left
him, being sent with this excellent tonga to take his place."
"You were? And why have I been detained here, alone and unprotected,
this long night? Simply because that other tonga-wallah was a fool, am
I to be imposed upon in this fashion?"
"What am I," whimpered Ram Nath, "to endure the wrath of the sahiba for
a fault that is none of mine?"
"I beg your pardon, sir," said the girl, turning to Amber, "but it is
very annoying." She looked him over, first with abstraction, then with
a puzzled gathering of her brows, for he was far from her thoughts--the
last person she would have expected to meet in that place, and very
effectually disguised in dust and dirt besides, "The tire came off the
wheel just as we got here, late yesterday evening, and in trying, or
pretending to try, to fit it on again, that block-head of a
tonga-wallah hammered the rim with a rock as big as his head and
naturally smashed it to kindling-wood. Then, before I could stop him,
he flung himself on the back of a pony and went away, saying that it
was the will of God that he should return to Badshah for a better
tonga. Since when I have had for company one stable-syce, one
deaf-and-dumb patriarch of a khansamah and ... the usual dak-bungalow
discomforts--insects, bad food, and a terrible fear of dacoits."
"I am so sorry, Miss Farrell," Amber put in. "If I had only been
The girl gave a little gasp and sat down abruptly in one of the veranda
chairs, thereby threatening it with instant demolition and herself with
a bad spill; for the chair was feeble with the burden of its many
years, and she was a quite substantial young person. Indeed, so loudly
did it croak a protest and a warning that she immediately arose in
"Mr. Amber!" she said; and, "Well ...!"
"You'll forgive me the surprise?" he begged, going up on the veranda to
her. "I myself had no hope of finding you here."
"But," she protested, with a pretty flush of colour--"but I left you in
the States such a little while ago!"
"Yes?" he said gravely. "It seems so long to me.... And when you had
gone, Long Island was a very lonely place indeed," he added, with
Her colour deepened and she sought another chair, seating herself with
gingerly decision. "I'm sure you don't mean me to assume that you've
followed me half round the world?"
"Why not?" He brought another chair to face her. "Besides, I haven't
seen anything of ... India for a good many years."
"Ma'am?" he countered with affected humility.
"You're spoiling it all. I was so glad to see you--I'd have been glad
to see any white man, of course----"
"Much obliged, I'm sure."
"And now you're actually flirting with me--or pretending to."
"I'm not," he declared soberly. "As a matter of solemn fact, I had to
come to India."
"You _had_ to?"
"On a matter of serious business. Please don't ask me what, just yet;
but it's very serious, to my way of thinking. This happy accident--I
count myself a very happy man to have been so fortunate--only makes my
errand the more pleasant."
She regarded him intently, chin in hand, her brown eyes sedate with
speculation, for some time. "I believe you've been speaking in
parables," she asserted, at length. "If I'm unjust, bear with me;
appearances are against you. There isn't any reason I know of why you
should tell me what brought you here----"
"There's every reason, in point of fact, Miss Farrell; only ... I can't
explain just now."
"Very well," she agreed briskly; "let's be content with that. I am glad
to see you again, truly; and--we're to travel on to Kuttarpur in the
"If you'll permit----"
"After what I've endured, this awful night, I wouldn't willingly let
you out of my sight."
"Or any other white man?"
She laughed, pleased. "I presume you're wondering what I'm doing here?"
"You were to join your father in Darjeeling, I believe?" he countered,
"But I found he'd been transferred unexpectedly to Kuttarpur. So, of
course, I had to follow. I telegraphed him day before yesterday when I
was to arrive at Badshah Junction, and naturally expected he'd come in
person or have some one meet me, but I presume the message must have
gone astray. At all events there was no one there for me and I had to
come on alone. It's hardly been a pleasant experience; that incompetent
tonga-wallah behaved precisely as though he had deliberately made up
his mind to delay me.... And the tonga's nearly ready; I must lock my
She went into the bungalow, leaving him thoughtful, for perhaps.... But
the back of Ram Nath, as that worthy busied himself superintending the
harnessing in of fresh ponies, conveyed to him no support for his
half-credited hypothesis that this "accident" had been carefully
planned by Labertouche for Amber's especial benefit.
He vexed himself with vain speculations, for it was perfectly certain
that he would get nothing in the way of either denial or confirmation
out of Ram Nath; and, presently, acknowledging this, he called the
khansamah and ordered a peg for the sake of the dust in his throat.
The girl joined him on the veranda in due course, very demure and sweet
to look upon in her travelling-dress of light pongee and her pith
helmet, whose green under-brim and puggaree served very handsomely to
set off her fair colouring. If she overlooked the adoration of his
eyes, she was rather less than woman; for it was in them, plain to be
seen for the looking. The khansamah followed her from the bungalow,
staggering under the weight of her box and kit-bag, and with Ram Nath's
surly assistance made them fast to the front seat. While Amber gave the
girl his hand to help her to her place, and lifted himself to her side
in a mute glow of ecstasy. Fate, he thought with reason, was most kind
They rattled headlong from the compound, making for the distant hills
of blue. The girl drew down her puggaree, with its soft, thin folds
sheltering the pure contours of her face from the dust and burning
sun-glare. He watched her hungrily, holding his breath as the thought
came to him that he was seated elbow to elbow with the woman who was to
be his wife, his hand still a-tingle with the reminiscence of her
gloved fingers that had touched it so transiently. She caught his
intent look and smiled, her eyes lustrous through the veiling.
She was very tired after her night-long vigil, and after a few words of
commonplace as they drew away from the station, he forebore to weary
her with talk, and a silence as sweet as communion lengthened between
them as the stage lengthened. He was very intent upon her presence; the
consciousness of her there beside him seemed, at times, almost
suffocating. He could by no means forget that she had in a curious way
been assigned to him--set aside to be his wife, the partner of all his
days; and she tolerated him kindly, all unsuspicious of the
significance of his advent into her life.... If she were made to
suspect, to understand, what effect would it have upon their relations,
slight and but lately established as they were? Would she shrink from
or encourage him?
His wife! He wagged his head in solemn stupefaction, trying to
appreciate the intangible, the chimerical dream of yesterday resolved
into the actuality of to-day; realising that, even when most intrigued