For The Salt He Had Eaten by Talbot Mundy
First published in Adventure magazine, March 1913
Reprinted in Told in the East, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
To the northward of Hanadra, blue in the sweltering heat-
haze, lay Siroeh, walled in with sun-baked mud and listless. Through a wooden
gate at one end of the village filed a string of women with their water-pots.
Oxen, tethered underneath the thatched eaves or by the thirsty-looking trees,
lay chewing the cud, almost too lazy to flick the flies away. Even the
village goats seemed overcome with lassitude. Here and there a pariah dog
sneaked in and out among the shadows or lay and licked his sores beside an
offal-heap; but there seemed to be no energy in anything. The bone-dry,
hot-weather wind had shriveled up verdure and ambition together.
But in the mud-walled cottages, where men were wont to doze through the
long, hot days, there were murmurings and restless movement. Men lay on
thong-strung beds, and talked instead of dreaming, and the women listened
and said nothing—which is the reverse of custom. Hanadra was what it
always had been, thatched, sun-baked lassitude; but underneath the thatch
there thrummed a beehive atmosphere of tension.
In the center of the village, where the one main road that led from the
main gate came to an abrupt end at a low mud wall, stood a house that was
larger than the others and somewhat more neatly kept; there had been an
effort made at sweeping the enclosure that surrounded it on all four sides,
and there was even whitewash, peeling off in places but still comparatively
white, smeared on the sun-cracked walls.
Here, besides murmurings and movement, there was evidence of real
activity. Tethered against the wall on one side of the house stood a row of
horses, saddled and bridled and bearing evidence of having traveled through
the heat; through the open doorway the sunshine glinted on a sword-hilt and
amid the sound of many voices rang the jingling of a spur as some one sat
cornerwise on a wooden table and struck his toe restlessly against the
Another string of women started for the water-hole, with their picturesque
brass jars perched at varying angles on their heads; and as each one passed
the doorway of this larger house she turned and scowled. A Rajput, lean and
black-bearded and swaggering, came to the door and watched them, standing
proudly with his arms folded across his breast. As the last woman showed her
teeth at him, he laughed aloud.
"Nay!" said a voice inside. "Have done with that! Is noticing the Hindu
women fit sport for a Rajput?"
The youngster turned and faced the old, black-bearded veteran who
"If I had my way," he answered, "I would ride roughshod through this
village, and fire the thatch. They fail to realize the honor that we pay them
by a visit!"
"Aye, hothead! And burn thy brother's barn with what is in it! The Hindus
here are many, and we are few, and there will be burnings and saberings a-
plenty before a week is past, if I read the signs aright! Once before have I
heard such murmurings. Once before I have seen chapattis sent from house to
house at sunset—and that time blood ran red along the roadside for a
month to follow! Keep thy sword sharp a while and wait the day!"
"But why," growled another deep-throated Rajput voice, "does the Sirkar
wait? Why not smite first and swiftly?"
Mahommed Khan moved restlessly and ran his fingers through his beard.
"I know not!" he answered. "In the days when I was Risaldar in the Rajput
Horse, and Bellairs sahib was colonel, things were different! But we
conquered, and after conquest came security. The English have grown
overconfident; they think that Moslem will always war with Hindu, the one
betraying the other; they will not understand that this lies deeper than
jealousy—they will not listen! Six months ago I rode to Jundhra and
whispered to the general sahib what I thought; but he laughed back at me. He
said 'Wolf! wolf!' to me and drew me inside his bungalow and bade me eat my
"Well—what matters it! This land has always been the playground of
"There will be no new conquerors," growled the old Risaldar, "so long as I
and mine have swords to wield for the Raj!"
"But what have the English done for thee or us?"
"This, forgetful one! They have treated us with honor, as surely no other
conquerors had done! At thy age, I too measured my happiness in cattle and
coin and women, but then came Bellairs sahib, and raised the Rajput Horse,
and I enlisted. What came of that was better than all the wealth of Ind!"
He spread his long legs like a pair of scissors and caught a child between
them and lifted him.
"Thou ruffian, thou!" he chuckled. "See how he fights! A true Rajput! Nay,
beat me not. Some day thou too shalt bear a sword for England, great-
grandson mine. Ai-ee! But I grow old."
"For England or the next one!"
"Nay! But for England!" said the Risaldar, setting the child down on his
knee. "And thou too, hot-head. Before a week is past! Think you I called my
sons and grandsons all together for the fun of it? Think you I rode here
through the heat because I needed the exercise or to chatter like an ape or
to stand in the doorway making faces at a Hindu woman or to watch thee do it?
Here I am, and here I stay until yet more news comes!"
"Then are we to wait here? Are we to swelter in Siroeh, eating up our
brother's hospitality, until thy messengers see fit to come and tell us that
this scare of thine is past?"
"Nay!" said the Risaldar. "I said that I wait here! Return now to your own
homes, each of you. But be in readiness. I am old, but I can ride still. I
can round you up. Has any a better horse than mine? If he has, let him make
"There will be horses for the looting if this revolt of thine breaks
"True! There will be horses for the looting! Well, I wait here then and,
when the trouble comes, I can count on thirteen of my blood to carry swords
"Aye, when the trouble comes!"
There was a chorus of assent, and the Risaldar arose to let his sons and
grandsons file past him. He, who had beggared himself to give each one of
them a start in life, felt a little chagrined that they should now refuse to
exchange horses with him; but his eye glistened none the less at the sight of
their stalwart frames and at the thought of what a fighting unit he could
bring to serve the Raj.
"All, then, for England!" he exclaimed.
"Nay, all for thee!" said his eldest-born. "We fight on whichever side
"Disloyal one!" growled the Risaldar with a scowl. But he grinned into his
"Well, to your homes, then—but be ready!"
The midnight jackals howled their discontent while heat-
cracked India writhed in stuffy torment that was only one degree less than
unendurable. Through the stillness and the blackness of the night came every
now and then the high-pitched undulating wails of women, that no one
answered-for, under that Tophet-lid of blackness, punctured by the low-hung,
steel-white stars, men neither knew nor cared whose child had died. Life and
hell-hot torture and indifference—all three were one.
There was no moon, nothing to make the inferno visible, except that here
and there an oil lamp on some housetop glowed like a blood-spot against the
blackness. It was a sensation, rather than sight or sound, that betrayed the
neighborhood of thousands upon thousands of human beings, sprawling,
writhing, twisting upon the roofs, in restless suffering.
There was no pity in the dry, black vault of heaven, nor in the bone-dry
earth, nor in the hearts of men, during that hot weather of '57. Men waited
for the threatened wrath to come and writhed and held their tongues. And
while they waited in sullen Asiatic patience, through the restless silence
and the smell—the suffocating, spice-fed, filth-begotten smell of
India—there ran an undercurrent of even deeper mystery than India had
Priest-ridden Hanadra, that had seen the downfall of a hundred kings,
watched through heat-wearied eyes for another whelming the blood-soaked,
sudden flood that was to burst the dam of servitude and rid India of her
latest horde of conquerors. But eight hundred yards from where her high brick
walls lifted their age-scars in the stifling reek, gun-chains jingled in a
courtyard, and, sharp-clicking on age-old flagstones, rose the ring of
Section Number One of a troop of Bengal Horse Artillery was waiting under
arms. Sabered and grim and ready stood fifty of the finest men that England
could produce, each man at his horse's head; and blacker even than the night
loomed the long twelve-pounders, in tow behind their limbers. Sometimes a
trace-chain jingled as a wheel-horse twitched his flank; and sometimes a man
spoke in a low voice, or a horse stamped on the pavement; but they seemed
like black graven images of war-gods, half-smothered in the reeking darkness.
And above them, from a window that overlooked the courtyard, shone a solitary
lamp that glistened here and there upon the sleek black guns and flickered on
the saber-hilts, and deepened the already dead-black atmosphere of
From the room above, where the lamp shone behind gauze curtains came the
sound of voices; and in the deepest, death-darkest shadow of the door below
there stood a man on guard whose fingers clutched his sword-hilt and whose
breath came heavily. He stood motionless, save for his heaving breast;
between his fierce, black mustache and his up-brushed, two-pointed beard, his
white teeth showed through parted lips. But he gave no other sign that he was
not some Rajput princeling's image carved out of the night.
He was an old man, though, for all his straight back and military
carriage. The night concealed his shabbiness; but it failed to hide the
medals on his breast, one bronze, one silver, that told of campaigns already
a generation gone. And his patience was another sign of age; a younger man of
his blood and training would have been pacing to and fro instead of standing
He stood still even when footsteps resounded on the winding stair above
and a saber-ferrule clanked from step to step. The gunners heard and stood
squarely to their horses. There was a rustling and a sound of shifting feet,
and, a "Whoa,—you!" to an irritated horse; but the Rajput stayed
motionless until the footsteps reached the door. Then he took one step
forward, faced about and saluted.
"Salaam, Bellairs sahib!" boomed his deep-throated voice, and Lieutenant
Bellairs stepped back with a start into the doorway again—one hand on
his sword-hilt. The Indian moved sidewise to where the lamplight from the
room above could fall upon his face.
"Salaam, Bellairs sahib!" he boomed again.
Then the lieutenant recognized him.
"You, Mahommed Khan!" he exclaimed. "You old war-dog, what brought you
here? Heavens, how you startled me! What good wind brought you?"
"Nay! It seems it was an ill wind, sahib!"
"What ill wind? I'm glad to see you!"
"The breath of rumor, sahib!"
"What rumor brought you?"
"Where a man's honor lies, there is he, in the hour of danger! Is all well
with the Raj, sahib?"
"With the Raj? How d'you mean, Risaldar?"
Mahommed Khan pointed to the waiting guns and smiled.
"In my days, sahib," he answered, "men seldom exercised the guns at
"I received orders more than three hours ago to bring my section in to
Jundhra immediately—immediately—and not a word of
"Orders, sahib? And you wait?"
"They seem to have forgotten that I'm married, and by the same token, so
do you! What else could I do but wait? My wife can't ride with the section;
she isn't strong enough, for one thing; and besides, there's no knowing what
this order means; there might be trouble to face of some kind. I've sent into
Hanadra to try to drum up an escort for her and I'm waiting here until it
The Risaldar stroked at his beard reflectively.
"We of the service, sahib," he answered, "obey orders at the gallop when
they come. When orders come to ride, we ride!"'
Bellairs winced at the thrust.
"That's all very fine, Risaldar. But how about my wife? What's going to
happen to her, if I leave her here alone and unprotected?"
"Or to me, sahib? Is my sword-arm withered? Is my saber rusted home?"
"You, old friend! D'you mean to tell me—"
The Risaldar saluted him again.
"Will you stay here and guard her?"
"Nay, sahib! Being not so young as thou art, I know better!"
"What in Tophet do you mean, Mahommed Khan?"
"I mean, sahib,"—the Indian's voice was level and deep, but it
vibrated strangely, and his eyes glowed as though war-lights were being born
again behind them—"that not for nothing am I come! I heard what thy
orders were and—"
"How did you hear what my orders were?"
"My half-brother came hurrying with the news, sahib. I hastened! My horse
lies dead one kos from Hanadra here!"
The lieutenant laughed.
"At last, Mahommed? That poor old screw of yours? So he's dead at last,
eh? So his time had come at last!"
"We be not all rich men who serve the Raj!" said the Risaldar with
dignity. "Ay, sahib, his time was come! And when our time comes may thou and
I, sahib, die as he did, with our harness on! What said thy orders, sahib?
Haste? Then yonder lies the road, through the archway!"
"But, tell me, Risaldar, what brought you here in such a hurry?"
"A poor old screw, sahib, whose time was come—even as thou hast
"Mahommed Khan, I'm sorry—very sorry, if I insulted you! I—
I'm worried—I didn't stop to think. I—old friend,
"It is forgotten, sahib!"
"Tell me—what are these rumors you have heard?"
"But one rumor, sahib-war! Uprising—revolution—treachery
—all India waits the word to rise, sahib!"
"Mutiny among the troops, and revolution north, south, east and west!"
"Here, too, in Hanadra?"
"Here, too, in Hanadra, sahib! Here they will be among the first to
"Oh, come! I can't believe that! How was it that my orders said nothing of
"That, sahib, I know not—not having written out thy orders! I
heard that thy orders came. I knew, as I have known this year past, what
storm was brewing. I knew, too, that the heavenborn, thy wife, is here. I am
thy servant, sahib, as I was thy father's servant—we serve one Queen;
thy honor is my honor. Entrust thy memsahib to my keeping!"
"You will guard her?"
"I will bring her in to Jundhra!"
"Nay, sahib! I, and my sons, and my sons' sons—thirteen men all
"That is good of you, Mahommed Khan. Where are your sons?"
"Leagues from here, sahib. I must bring them. I need a horse."
"And while you are gone?"
"My half-brother, sahib—he is here for no other purpose—he
will answer to me for her safety!"
"All right, Mahommed Khan, and thank you! Take my second charger, if you
care to; he is a little saddle-sore, but your light weight—"
"Sahib—listen! Between here and Siroeh, where my eldest-born and
his three sons live, lie seven leagues. And on from there to Lungra, where
the others live, are three more leagues. I need a horse this night!"
"What need of thirteen men, Mahommed? You are sufficient by yourself,
unless a rebellion breaks out. If it did, why, you and thirteen others would
be swamped as surely as you alone!"
"Thy father and I, sahib, rode through the guns at Dera thirteen strong!
Alone, I am an old man—not without honor, but of little use; with
twelve young blades behind me, though, these Hindu rabble—"
"Do you really mean, Mahommed Khan, that you think Hanadra here will
"The moment you are gone, sahib!"
"Then, that settles it! The memsahib rides with me!"
"Nay, listen, sahib! Of a truth, thou art a hot-head as thy father was
before thee! Thus will it be better. If the heavenborn, thy wife, stays
behind, these rabble here will think that the section rides out to exercise,
because of the great heat of the sun by day; they will watch for its return,
and wait for the parking of the guns before they put torch to the mine that
they have laid!"
"The mine? D'you mean they've—"
"Who knows, sahib? But I speak in metaphor. When the guns are parked again
and the horses stabled and the men asleep, the rabble, being many, might dare
"You mean, you think that they—"
"I mean, sahib, that they will take no chances while they think the guns
are likely to return!"
"But, if I take the memsahib with me?"
"They will know then, sahib, that the trap is open and the bird flown!
Know you how fast news travels? Faster than the guns, Sahib! There will be an
ambuscade, from which neither man, nor gun, nor horse, nor memsahib will
"But if you follow later, it will mean the same thing! When they see you
ride off on a spent horse, with twelve swords and the memsahib—d'you
mean that they won't ambuscade you?"
"They might, sahib—and again, they might not! Thirteen men and a
woman ride faster than a section of artillery, and ride where the guns would
jam hub-high against a tree-trunk! And thy orders, sahib—are thy
"Orders! Yes, confound it! But they know I'm married. They
"Sahib, listen! When the news came to me I was at Siroeh, dangling a
great-grandson on my knee. There were no orders, but it seemed the Raj had
need of me. I rode! Thou, sahib, hast orders. I am here to guard thy wife
—my honor is thy honor—take thou the guns. Yonder lies the
The grim old warrior's voice thrilled with the throb of loyalty, as he
stood erect and pointed to the shadowy archway through which the road wound
to the plain beyond.
"Sahib, I taught thy father how to use his sword! I nursed thee when thou
wert little. Would I give three false counsel now? Ride, sahib—
Bellairs turned away and looked at his charger, a big, brown Khaubuli
stallion, named for the devil and true in temper and courage to his name; two
men were holding him, ten paces off.
"Such a horse I need this night, Sahib! Thy second charger can keep pace
with the guns!"
Bellairs gave a sudden order, and the men led the brute back into his
"Change the saddle to my second charger!" he ordered.
Then he turned to the Risaldar again, with hand outstretched.
"I'm ashamed of myself, Mahommed Khan!" he said, with a vain attempt to
smile. "I should have gone an hour ago! Please take my horse Shaitan, and
make such disposition for my wife's safety as you see fit. Follow as and when
you can; I trust you, and I shall be grateful to you whatever happens!"
"Well spoken, Sahib! I knew thou wert a man! We who serve the Raj have
neither sons, nor wives, nor sweethearts! Allah guard you, Sahib! The section
waits—and the Service can not wait!"
"One moment while I tell my wife!"
"Halt, Sahib! Thou hast said good-by a thousand times! A woman's tears
—are they heart-meat for a soldier when the bits are champing? Nay!
See, sahib; they bring thy second charger! Mount! I will bring thy wife to
Jundhra for thee! The Service waits!"
The lieutenant turned and mounted.
"Very well, Mahommed Khan!" he said. "I know you're right! Section!
Prepare to mount!" he roared, and the stirrups rang in answer to him. "Mount!
Good-by, Mahommed Khan! Good luck to you! Section, right! Trot, march!"
With a crash and the clattering of iron shoes on stone the guns jingled
off into the darkness, were swallowed by the gaping archway and rattled out
on the plain.
The Risaldar stood grimly where he was until the last hoof-beat and bump
of gun-wheel had died away into the distance; then he turned and climbed the
winding stairway to the room where the lamp still shone through gauzy
On a dozen roof-tops, where men lay still and muttered, brown eyes
followed the movements of the section and teeth that were betel-stained
From a nearby temple, tight-packed between a hundred crowded houses, came
a wailing, high-pitched solo sung to Siva—the Destroyer. And as it
died down to a quavering finish it was followed by a ghoulish laugh that
echoed and reechoed off the age-old city-wall.
Proud as a Royal Rajput—and there is nothing else on God's green
earth that is even half as proud—true to his salt, and stout of heart
even if he was trembling at the knees, Mahommed Khan, two-medal man and
Risaldar, knocked twice on the door of Mrs. Bellairs' room, and entered.
And away in the distance rose the red reflection of a fire ten leagues
away. The Mutiny of '57 had blazed out of sullen mystery already, the sepoys
were burning their barracks half-way on the road to Jundhra!
And down below, to the shadow where the Risaldar had stood, crept a giant
of a man who had no military bearing. He listened once, and sneaked into the
deepest black within the doorway and crouched and waited.
Hanadra reeks of history, blood-soaked and mysterious.
Temples piled on the site of olden temples; palaces where half-forgotten
kings usurped the thrones of conquerors who came from God knows where to
conquer older kings; roads built on the bones of conquered armies; houses and
palaces and subterranean passages that no man living knows the end of and few
even the beginning. Dark corridors and colonnades and hollow walls; roofs
that have ears and peep-holes; floors that are undermined by secret stairs;
trees that have swayed with the weight of rotting human skulls and have
shimmered with the silken bannerets of emperors. Such is Hanadra,
half-ruined, and surrounded by a wall that was age-old in the dawn of written
Even its environs are mysterious; outside the walls, there are carven,
gloomy palaces that once re-echoed to the tinkle of stringed instruments and
the love-songs of some sultan's favorite—now fallen into ruins, or
rebuilt to stable horses or shelter guns and stores and men; but eloquent in
all their new-smeared whitewash, or in crumbling decay, of long-since dead
intrigue. No places, those, for strong men to live alone in, where night-
breezes whisper through forgotten passages and dry teak planking recreaks to
the memory of dead men's footsteps.
But strong men are not the only makings of an Empire, nor yet the only
sufferers. Wherever the flag of England flies above a distant outpost or
droops in the stagnant moisture of an Eastern swamp, there are the graves of
England's women. The bones that quarreling jackals crunch among the
tombstones—the peace along the clean-kept borderline—the
pride of race and conquest and the cleaner pride of work well done, these are
not man's only. Man does the work, but he is held to it and cheered on by the
girl who loves him.
And so, above a stone-flagged courtyard, in a room that once had echoed to
the laughter of a sultan's favorite, it happened that an English girl of
twenty-one was pacing back and forth. Through the open curtained window she
had seen her husband lead his command out through the echoing archway to the
plain beyond; she had heard his boyish voice bark out the command and had
listened to the rumble of the gun-wheels dying in the distance—for
the last time possibly. She knew, as many an English girl has known, that she
was alone, one white woman amid a swarm of sullen Aryans, and that she must
follow along the road the guns had taken, served and protected by nothing
more than low-caste natives.
And yet she was dry-eyed, and her chin was high; for they are a strange
breed, these Anglo-Saxon women who follow the men they love to the lonely
danger-zone. Ruth Bellairs could have felt no joy in her position; she had
heard her husband growling his complaint at being forced to leave her, and
she guessed what her danger was. Fear must have shrunk her heartbeats and
loneliness have tried her courage. But there was an ayah in the room with
her, a low-caste woman of the conquered race; and pride of country came to
her assistance. She was firm-lipped and, to outward seeming, brave as she was
Even when the door resounded twice to the sharp blow of a saber-hilt, and
the ayah's pock-marked ebony took on a shade of gray, she stood like a queen
with an army at her back and neither blanched nor trembled.
"Who is that, ayah?" she demanded.
The ayah shrank into herself and showed the whites of her eyes and
grinned, as a pariah dog might show its teeth—afraid, but scenting
"Go and see!"
The ayah shuddered and collapsed, babbling incoherencies and calling on a
horde of long-neglected gods to witness she was innocent. She clutched
strangely at her breast and used only one hand to drag her shawl around her
face. While she babbled she glanced wild-eyed around the long, low-ceilinged
room. Ruth Bellairs looked down at her pityingly and went to the door herself
and opened it.
"Salaam, memsahib!" boomed a deep voice from the darkness.
Ruth Bellairs started and the ayah screamed.
"Who are you? Enter—let me see you!"
A black beard and a turban and the figure of a man—and then white
teeth and a saber-hilt and eyes that gleamed moved forward from the
"It is I, Mahommed Khan!" boomed the voice again, and the Risaldar stepped
out into the lamplight and closed the door behind him. Then, with a courtly,
long-discarded sweep of his right arm, he saluted.
"At the heavenborn's service!"
"Mahommed Khan! Thank God!"
The old man's shabbiness was very obvious as he faced her, with his back
against the iron-studded door; but he stood erect as a man of thirty, and his
medals and his sword-hilt and his silver scabbard-tip were bright.
"Tell me, Mahommed Khan, you have seen my husband?"
"You have spoken to him?"
The old man bowed again.
"He left you in my keeping, heavenborn. I am to bring you safe to
She held her hand out and he took it like a cavalier, bending until he
could touch her fingers with his lips.
"What is the meaning of this hurrying of the guns to Jundhra,
"Who knows, memsahib! The orders of the Sirkar come, and we of the service
must obey. I am thy servant and the Sirkar's!"
"You, old friend—that were servant, as you choose to call it, to
my husband's father! I am a proud woman to have such friends at call!" She
pointed to the ayah, recovering sulkily and rearranging the shawl about her
shoulders. "That I call service, Risaldar. She cowers when a knock comes at
the door! I need you, and you answer a hardly spoken prayer; what is
friendship, if yours is not?"
The Risaldar bowed low again.
"I would speak with that ayah, heavenborn!" he muttered, almost into his
beard. She could hardly catch the words.
"I can't get her to speak to me at all tonight, Mahommed Khan. She's
terrified almost out of her life at something. But perhaps you can do better.
Try. Do you want to question her alone?"
"By the heavenborn's favor, yes."
Ruth walked down the room toward the window, drew the curtain back and
leaned her head out where whatever breeze there was might fan her cheek. The
Risaldar strode over to where the ayah cowered by an inner doorway.
"She-Hindu-dog!" he growled at her. "Mother of whelps! Louse-ridden
scavenger of sweepings! What part hast thou in all this treachery?
The ayah shrank away from him and tried to scream, but he gripped her by
the throat and shook her.
"Speak!" he growled again.
But his ten iron fingers held her in a vise-like grip and she could not
have answered him if she had tried to.
"O Risaldar!" called Ruth suddenly, with her head still out of the window.
He released the ayah and let her tumble as she pleased into a heap.
"What is that red glow on the skyline over yonder?"
"A burning, heavenborn!"
"A burning? What burning? Funeral pyres? It's very big for funeral
She was still unfrightened, unsuspicious of the untoward. The Risaldar's
arrival on the scene had quite restored her confidence and she felt content
to ride with him to Jundhra on the morrow.
"Barracks? What barracks?"
"There is but one barracks between here and Jundhra."
"Then—then—then—what has happened, Mahommed
"The worst has happened, heavenborn!"
He stood between her and the ayah, so that she could not see the woman
huddled on the floor.
"The worst? You mean then—my—my—husband—
you don't mean that my husband—"
"I mean, heavenborn that there is insurrection! All India is ablaze from
end to end. These dogs here in Hanadra wait to rise because they think the
section will return here in an hour or two; then they propose to burn it,
men, guns and horses, like snakes in the summer grass. It is well that the
section will not return! We will ride out safely before morning!"
"And, my husband—he knew—all this—before he left
"Nay! That he did not! Had I told him, he had disobeyed his orders and
shamed his service; he is young yet, and a hothead! He will be far along the
road to Jundhra before he knows what burns. And then he will remember that he
trusts me and obey orders and press on!"
"And you knew and did not tell him!"
"Of a truth I knew!"
She stood in silence for a moment, gazing at the red glow on the skyline,
and then turned to read, if she could, what was on the grim, grizzled face of
"The ayah!" he growled. "I have yet to ask questions of the ayah. Have I
permission to take her to the other room?"
She was leaning through the window again and did not answer him.
"Who's that moving in the shadow down below?" she asked him suddenly.
He leaned out beside her and gazed into the shadow. Then he called softly
in a tongue she did not know and some one rose up from the shadow and
"Are we spied on, Risaldar?"
"Nay. Guarded, heavenborn! That man is my half-brother. May I take the
ayah through that doorway?"
"Why not question her in here?"
The mystery and sense of danger were getting the better of her; she was
thoroughly afraid now—afraid to be left alone in the room for a
"There are things she would not answer in thy presence!"
"Very well. Only, please be quick!"
He bowed. Swinging the door open, he pushed the ayah through it to the
room beyond. Ruth was left alone, to watch the red glow on the skyline and
try to see the outline of the watcher in the gloom below. No sound came
through the heavy teak door that the Risaldar had slammed behind him, and no
sound came from him who watched; but from the silence of the night outside
and from dark corners of the room that she was in and from the roof and walls
and floor here came little eerie noises that made her flesh creep, as though
she were being stared at by eyes she could not see. She felt that she must
scream, or die, unless she moved; and she was too afraid to move, and by far
too proud to scream! At last she tore herself away from the window and ran to
a low divan and lay on it, smothering her face among the cushions. It seemed
an hour before the Risaldar came out again, and then he took her by
"Heavenborn!" he said. She looked up with a start, to find him standing
close beside her.
"Mahommed Khan! You're panting! What ails you?"
"The heat, heavenborn—and I am old."
His left hand was on his saber-hilt, thrusting it toward her respectfully;
she noticed that it trembled.
"Have I the heavenborn's leave to lock the ayah in that inner room?"
"The fiend had this in her possession!" He showed her a thin-bladed dagger
with an ivory handle; his own hand shook as he held it out to her, and she
saw that there were beads of perspiration on his wrist. "She would have
"Oh, nonsense! Why, she wouldn't dare!"
"She confessed before she—she confessed! Have I the heavenborn's
"If you wish it."
"And to keep the key?"
"I suppose so, if you think it wise."
He strode to the inner door and locked it and hid the key in an inside
pocket of his tunic.
"And now, heavenborn," he said, "I crave your leave to bring my half-
brother to the presence!"
He scarcely waited for an answer, but walked to the window, leaned out of
it and whistled. A minute later he was answered by the sound of fingernails
scrabbling on the outer door. He turned the key and opened it.
"Enter!" he ordered.
Barefooted and ragged, but as clean as a soldier on parade and with huge
knots of muscles bulging underneath his copper skin, a Rajput entered, bowing
his six feet of splendid manhood almost to the floor.
"This, heavenborn, is my half-brother, son of a low-born border-woman,
whom my father chose to honor thus far! The dog is loyal!"
"Salaam!" said Ruth, with little interest.
"Salaam, memsahib!" muttered the shabby Rajput. "Does any watch?" demanded
the Risaldar in Hindustani. "Aye, one."
"Is he of whom I spoke."
"Where watches he?"
"There is a hidden passage leading from the archway; he peeps out through
a crack, having rolled back so far the stone that seals it." He held his
horny fingers about an inch apart to show the distance.
"Couldst thou approach unseen?"
The Rajput nodded.
"And there are no others there?"
"Has thy strength left thee, or thy cunning?"
"Then bring him!"
Without a word in answer the giant turned and went, and the Risaldar made
fast the door behind him. Ruth sat with her face between her hands, trying
not to cry or shudder, but obsessed and overpowered by a sense of terror. The
mystery that surrounded her was bad enough; but this mysterious ordering and
coming to and fro among her friends was worse than horrible. She knew,
though, that it would be useless to question Mahommed Khan before he chose to
speak. They waited there in the dimly lighted room for what seemed like an
age again; she, pale and tortured by weird imaginings; he, grim and
bolt-upright like a statue of a warrior. Then sounds came from the stairs
again and the Risaldar hurried to the door and opened it.
In burst the Risaldar's half-brother, breathing heavily and bearing a load
nearly as big as he was.
"The pig caught my wrist within the opening!" he growled, tossing his
gagged and pinioned burden on the floor. "See where he all but broke it!"
"What is thy wrist to the service of the Raj? Is he the right one?"
"Aye!" He stooped and tore a twisted loin-cloth from his victim's face,
and the Risaldar walked to the lamp and brought it, to hold it above the
prostrate form. Ruth left the divan and stood between the men, terrified by
she knew not what fear, but drawn into the lamplight by insuperable
"This, heavenborn," said the Risaldar, prodding at the man with his
scabbard-point, "is none other than the High Priest of Kharvani's temple
here, the arch-ringleader in all the treachery afoot—now hostage for
He turned to his half-brother. "Unbind the thing he lies with!" he
commanded, and the giant unwrapped a twisted piece of linen from the High
"So the big fox peeped through the trapdoor, because he feared to trust
the other foxes; and the big fox fell into the trap!" grinned the Risaldar.
"Bring me that table over yonder, thou!"
The half-brother did as he was told.
"Lay it here, legs upward, on the floor.
"Now, bind him to it—an arm to a leg and a leg to a leg.
"Remove his shoes.
"Put charcoal in yon brazier. Light it. Bring it hither!"
He seized a brass tongs, chose a glowing coal and held it six inches from
the High Priest's naked foot.
"Courage, heavenborn! Have courage! This is naught to what he would have
done to thee! .... Now, speak, thou priest of infidels! What plans are laid
and who will rise and when?"
The close-cropped, pipe-clayed non-commissioned officer spurred his horse
into a canter until his scabbard clattered at young Bellairs' boot. Nothing
but the rattling and the jolting of the guns and ammunition-wagon was
audible, except just on ahead of them the click-clack, click-click-clack of
the advance-guard. To the right and left of them the shadowy forms of giant
banyan-trees loomed and slid past them as they had done for the past four
hours, and for ten paces ahead they could see the faintly outlined shape of
the trunk road that they followed. The rest was silence and a pall of
blackness obscuring everything. They had ridden along a valley, but they had
emerged on rising ground and there was one spot of color in the pall now, or
else a hole in it.
"What d'you suppose that is burning over there?"
"I couldn't say, sir."
"How far away is it?"
"Very hard to tell on a night like this, sir. It might be ten miles away
and might be twenty. By my reckoning it's on our road, though, and somewhere
between here and Jundhra."
"So it seems to me; our road swings round to the right presently, doesn't
it? That'll lead us right to it. That would make it Doonha more or less.
D'you suppose it's at Doonha?"
"I was thinking it might be, sir. If it's Doonha, it means that the sepoy
barracks and all the stores are burning—there's nothing else there
that would make all that flame!"
"There are two companies of the Thirty-third there, too."
"Yes, sir, but they're under canvas; tents would blaze up, but they'd die
down again in a minute. That fire's steady and growing bigger!"
"It's the sepoy barracks, then!"
"Seems so to me, sir!"
"Halt!" roared Bellairs. The advance-guard kicked up a little shower of
sparks, trace-chains slacked with a jingle and the jolting ceased. Bellairs
rode up to the advance-guard.
"Now, Sergeant," he ordered, "it looks as though that were the Doonha
barracks burning over yonder. There's no knowing, though, what it is. Send
four men on, two hundred yards ahead of you, and you and the rest keep a good
two hundred yards ahead of the guns. See that the men keep on the alert, and
mind that they spare their horses as much as possible. If there's going to be
trouble, we may just as well be ready for it!"
"Very good, sir!"
"Go ahead, then!"
At a word from the sergeant, four men clattered off and were swallowed in
the darkness. A minute later the advance-guard followed them and then, after
another minute's pause, young Bellairs' voice was raised into a ringing shout
"Section, advance! Trot, march!"
The trace-chains tightened, and the clattering, bumping, jingling
procession began again, its rear brought up by the six-horse
ammunition-wagon. They rode speechless for the best part of an hour, each
man's eyes on the distant conflagration that had begun now to light up the
whole of the sky ahead of them. They still rode in darkness, but they seemed
to be approaching the red rim of the Pit. Huge, billowing clouds of smoke,
red-lit on the under side, belched upward to the blackness overhead, and a
something that was scarcely sound—for it was yet too distant—
warned them that it was no illusion they were riding into. The conflagration
grew. It seemed to be nearly white-hot down below.
Bellairs wet his finger and held it extended upward.
"There's no wind that I can feel!" he muttered. "And yet, if that were a
grass-fire, there'd be game and rats and birds and things—some of 'em
would bolt this way. That's the Doonha barracks burning or I'm a black man,
which the Lord forbid!"
A minute later, every man in the section pricked up his ears. There was no
order given; but a sensation ran the whole length of it and a movement from
easy riding to tense rigidity that could be felt by some sixth sense. Every
man was listening, feeling, groping with his senses for something he could
neither hear as yet nor see, but that he knew was there. And then,
far-distant yet—not above, but under the jolting of the gun-wheels
and the rattle of the scabbards—they could hear the
clickety-clickety-clickety-click of a horse hard-ridden.
They had scarcely caught that sound, they had barely tightened up their
bridle-reins, when another sound, one just as unmistakable, burst out in
front of them. A ragged, ill-timed volley ripped out from somewhere near the
conflagration and was answered instantly by one that was close-ripped like
the fire of heavy ordnance. And then one of the advance-guard wheeled his
horse and drove his spurs home rowel-deep. He came thundering back along the
road with his scabbard out in the wind behind him and reined up suddenly when
his horse's forefeet were abreast of the lieutenant.
"There's some one coming, sir, hard as he can gallop! He's one of our men
by the sound of him. His horse is shod—and I thought I saw steel when
the fire-light fell on him a minute ago!"
"Are you sure there's only one?"
"Sure, sir! You can hear him now!"
"All right! Fall in behind me!"
Bellairs felt his sword-hilt and cocked a pistol stealthily, but he gave
no orders to the section. This might be a native soldier run amuck, and it
might be a messenger; but in either case, friend or foe, if there was only
one man he could deal with him alone.
"Halt!" roared the advance-guard suddenly. But the horse's hoof-beats
never checked for a single instant.
"Halt, you! Who comes there?"
"Friend!" came the answer, in an accent that was unmistakable.
"What friend? Where are you going?"
One of the advance-guard reined his horse across the road. The others
followed suit and blocked the way effectually. "Halt!" they roared in
The main body of the advance came up with them.
"Who is he?" shouted the sergeant.
"We'll soon see! Here he comes!"
"Out of my way!" yelled a voice, as a foamed-flecked horse burst out of
the darkness like an apparition and bore straight down on them—his
head bored a little to one side, the red rims of his nostrils wide distended
and his whole sense and energy, and strength concentrated on pleasing the
speed-hungry Irishman who rode him. He flashed into them head-on, like a
devil from the outer darkness. His head touched a man's knee—and he
rose and tried to jump him! "His breast crashed full into the obstruction and
horse and gunner crashed down to the road.
A dozen arms reached out—twelve horses surged in a clattering
melee—two hands gripped the reins and four arms seized the rider, and
in a second the panting charger was brought up all-standing. The sergeant
thrust his grim face closer and peered at their capture.
"Good—, if it ain't an officer!" he exclaimed. "I beg your pardon,
And at that instant the section rattled, up behind them, with Bellairs in
"Halt!" roared Bellairs. "What's this?"
"Bloody murder, arson, high treason, mutiny and death! Blood and onions,
man! Don't your men know an officer when they see one? Who are you? Are you
Bellairs? Then why in God's name didn't you say so sooner? What have you
How many hours is it since you got the message through from Jundhra?
Couldn't you see the barracks burning? Who am I—I'm Captain O'Rourke,
of the Thirty-third, sent to see what you're doing on the road, that's who I
am! A full-fledged; able-bodied captain wasted in a crisis, just because you
didn't choose to hurry! Poison take your confounded gunners, sir! Have they
nothing better to engage them than holding up officers on the Queen's trunk
"Supposing you tell me what's the matter?" suggested young Bellairs,
prompt as are most of his breed to appear casual the moment there was cause
to feel excited.
"Your gunners have taken all my breath, sir. I can't speak!"
"You shouldn't take chances with a section of artillery! They're not like
infantry—they don't sleep all the time—you can't ride through
them as a rule!"
"Don't sleep, don't they! Then what have you been doing on the road? And
what are you standing here for? Ride, man, ride! You're wanted!"
"Get out of the way, then!" suggested Bellairs, and Captain O'Rourke
legged his panting charger over to the roadside.
"Advance-guard, forward, trot!" commanded the lieutenant.
"Have you brought your wife with you?" demanded O'Rourke, peering into the
"No. Of course not. Why?"
"'Of course not! Why?' says the man! Hell and hot porridge! Why, the whole
of India's ablaze from end to end—the sepoys have mutinied to a man,
and the rest have joined them! There's bloody murder doing—they've
shot their officers—Hammond's dead and Carstairs and Welfleet and
heaven knows who else. They've burned their barracks and the stores and
they're trying to seize the magazine. If they get that, God help every one.
They're short of ammunition as it is, but two companies of the Thirty-third
can't hold out for long against that horde. You'll be in the nick of time!
Hurry, man! For the love of anything you like to name, get a move on!"
Bellairs was thinking of his wife, alone in Hanadra, unprotected except by
a sixty-year-old Risaldar and a half-brother who was a civilian and an
unknown quantity. There were cold chills running down his spine and a
sickening sensation in his stomach. He rode ahead of the guns, with O'Rourke
keeping pace beside him. He felt that he hated O'Rourke, hated everything,
hated the Service, and the country—and the guns, that could put him
into such a fiendish predicament.
O'Rourke broke silence first.
"Who is with your wife?" he demanded suddenly.
"Heaven knows! I left her under the protection of Risaldar Mahommed Khan,
but he was to ride off for an escort for her."
"Not your father's old Risaldar?" asked O'Rourke.
"Then thank God! I'd sooner trust him than I would a regiment. He'll bring
her in alive or slit the throats of half Asia—maybe he'll do both!
Come, that's off our minds! She's safer with him than she would be here. Have
you lots of ammunition?"
"I brought all I had with me at Hanadra."
"Good! What you'll need tonight is grape!"
"I've lots of it. It's nearly all grape."
"Hurrah! Then we'll treat those dirty mutineers to a dose or two of pills
they won't fancy! Come on, man—set the pace a little faster!"
"Why didn't my orders say anything about a mutiny or bringing in my
"Dunno! I didn't write 'em. I can guess, though. There'd be something like
nine reasons. For one thing, they'd credit you with sense enough to bring her
in without being told. For another, the messenger who took the note might
have got captured on the way—they wouldn't want to tell the sepoys
more than they could help. Then there'd be something like a hurry. They're
attacked there too—can't even send us assistance. Told us to waylay
you and make use of you. Maybe they forgot your wife—maybe they
didn't. It's a devil of a business anyhow!"
It was difficult to talk at the speed that they were making, with their
own horses breathing heavily, O'Rourke's especially; the guns thundering
along behind them and the advance-guard clattering in front, and their
attention distracted every other minute by the noise of volleys on ahead and
the occasional staccato rattle of independent firing. The whole sky was now
alight with the reflection of the burning barracks and they could see the
ragged outlines of the cracking walls silhouetted against the blazing red
within. One mile or less from the burning buildings they could see, too, the
occasional flash of rifles where the two companies of the Thirty-third,
Honorable East India Company's Light Infantry, held out against the
"Why did they mutiny?" asked Bellairs.
"God knows! Nobody knows! Nobody knows anything! I'm thinking—"
"Forrester-Carter is commanding. We'll settle this business pretty
quickly, now you've come. Then—Steady, boy! Steady! Hold up! This
poor horse of mine is just about foundered, by the feel of him. He'll reach
Doonha, though. Then we'll ask Carter to make a dash on Hanadra and bring
Mrs. Bellairs—maybe we'll meet her and the Risaldar half-way—
who knows? The sepoys wouldn't expect that, either. The move'd puzzle 'em
—it'd be a good move, to my way of thinking."
"Let's hope Carter will consent!" prayed Bellairs fervently. "Now, what's
the lay of things?"
"Couldn't tell you! When I left, our men were surrounded. I had to burst
through the enemy to get away. Ours are all around the magazine and the
sepoys are on every side of them. You'll have to use diagonal fire unless you
want to hurt some of our chaps—sweep 'em cornerwise. There's high
ground over to the right there, within four hundred yards of the position.
Maybe they're holding it, though—there's no knowing!"
They could hear the roar of the flames now, and could see the figures of
sepoys running here and there. The rattle of musketry was incessant. They
could hear howls and yells and bugle-calls blown at random by the sepoys, and
once, in answer as it seemed to a more than usually savage chorus from the
enemy—a chorus that was punctuated by a raging din of intermittent
rifle-fire—a ringing cheer.
"They must be in a tight hole!" muttered Bellairs. "Answer that, men! All
together, now! Let 'em know we're coming."
The men rose in their stirrups all together, and sent roaring through the
blackness the deep-throated "Hip-hip-hur-r-a-a-a-a-a!" that has gladdened
more than one beleaguered British force in the course of history. It is quite
different from the "Hur-o-a-o-a-u-r-rh" of a forlorn hope, or the
high-pitched note of pleasure that signals the end of a review. It means
"Hold on, till we get there, boys!" and it carries its meaning, clear and
crisp and unmistakable, in its note.
The two beleaguered companies heard it and answered promptly with another
"By gad, they must be in a hole!" remarked Bellairs.
British soldiers do not cheer like that, all together, unless there is
very good reason to feel cheerless. They fight, each man according to his
temperament, swearing or laughing, sobbing or singing comic songs, until the
case looks grim. Then, though, the same thrill runs through the whole of
them, the same fire blazes in their eyes, and the last ditch that they line
has been known to be a grave for the enemy.
"Trumpeter! Sound close-order!"
The trumpet rang. The advance-guard drew rein for the section to catch up.
The guns drew abreast of one another and the mounted gunners formed in a
line, two deep, in front of them. The ammunition-wagon trailed like a tail
"That high ground over there, I think!" suggested O'Rourke.
"Thank you, sir. Section, right! Trot, march! Canter!"
Crash went the guns and the following wagon across the roadside ditch. The
tired horses came up to the collar as service-horses always will, generous to
the last ounce of strength they have in them.
The limbers bumped and jolted and the short-handled whips cracked like the
sound of pistol-practise. Blind, unreconnoitered, grim—like a black
thunderbolt loosed into the blackness—the two guns shot along a
hollow, thundered up a ridge and burst into the fire-light up above the
mutineers, in the last place where any one expected them. A howl came from
the road that they had left, a hundred sepoys had rushed down to block their
passage the moment that their cheer had rung above the noise of battle.
"Action—front!" roared young Bellairs, and the muzzles swung round
at the gallop, jerked into position by the wheeling teams.
"With case, at four hundred!"
The orders were given and obeyed almost before the guns had lost their
motion. The charges had been rammed into the greedy muzzles before the horses
were away, almost—and that takes but a second—the horses
vanish like blown smoke when the game begins. A howl from the mutineers told
that they were seen; a volley from the British infantry announced that they
were yet in time; and "boom-boom!" went both guns together.
The grapeshot whined and shrieked, and the ranks of the sepoys wilted,
mown down as though a scythe had swept them. Once, and once only, they
gathered for a charge on the two guns; but they were met half-way up the rise
by a shrieking blast of grape that ripped through them and took the heart out
of them; and the grape was followed by well-aimed volleys from behind. Then
they drew off to sulk and make fresh plans at a distance, and Bellairs took
his section unmolested into the Thirty-third-lined rampart round the
"What kept you, sir?" demanded Colonel Forrester-Carter, nodding to him in
answer to his salute and holding out his right arm while a sergeant bandaged
"My wife, sir—I—"
"Where is she? Didn't you bring her?"
"Where is she?"
"Still at Hanadra, sir—I—"
"Let the men fall in! Call the roll at once!"
"There was nothing in my orders, sir, about—" But Colonel Carter cut
him short with a motion and turned his back on him.
"Much obliged, Sergeant," he said, slipping his wounded arm into an
improvised sling. "How many wagons have we here?"
"All shot dead except your charger, sir."
"Oh! Ask Captain Trevor to come here."
The sergeant disappeared into the shadows, and a moment later Captain
Trevor came running up and saluted.
"There are seven wounded, sir, and nineteen dead," he reported.
"Better than I had hoped, Trevor! Will you set a train to that magazine,
please, and blow it up the moment we are at a safe distance?"
Trevor seemed surprised, but he saluted and said nothing.
"O'Rourke! Please see about burying the dead at once. Mr. Bellairs, let me
have two horses, please, and their drivers, from each gun. Sergeant! See
about putting the wounded into the lightest of the wagons and harness in four
gun-horses the best way you can manage."
"Very good, sir."
"Which is your best horseman, Mr. Bellairs? Is his horse comparatively
fresh? I'll need him to gallop with a message. I'll dictate it to Captain
O'Rourke as soon as he is ready. Let the gunner stay here close to me."
Bellairs sought out his best man and the freshest-seeming horse in
wondering silence. He felt sick with anxiety, for what could one lone veteran
Risaldar do to protect Mrs. Bellairs against such a horde as was in Hanadra?
He looked at the barracks, which were still blazing heavenward and
illuminating the whole country-side, and shuddered as he wondered whether his
quarters at Hanadra were in flames yet.
"It's a good job old Carter happened to be here!" he heard one of his men
mumble to another. "He's a man, that is—I'd sooner fight under him
than any I know of!"
"What d'you suppose the next move is?" asked the other man.
"I'd bet on it! I'll bet you what you like that—"
But Bellairs did not hear the rest.
A bugle rang out into the night. The gunners stood by their horses. Even
the sentries, posted outside the rampart to guard against alarm, stood to
attention, and Colonel Carter, wincing from the pain in his right arm, walked
out in front of where the men were lined up.
Captain O'Rourke walked up and saluted him.
"I've arranged to bury them in that trench we dug this evening, sir, when
the trouble started. It's not very deep, but it holds them all. I've laid
them in it."
"Are you sure they're all dead?"
"I've burnt their fingers with matches, sir. I don't know of any better
way to make sure."
"Very well. Can you remember any of the burial service?"
"'Fraid not, sir."
"Um! That's a pity. And I'm afraid I can't spare the time. Take a firing-
party, Captain O'Rourke, and give them the last honors, at all events."
A party marched away toward the trench, and several minutes later
O'Rourke's voice was heard calling through the darkness, "All ready,
"Present arms!" ordered the colonel, and the gunners sat their horses with
their hilts raised to their hips and the two long lines of infantry stood
rigid at the general salute, while five volleys—bulleted—
barked upward above the grave. They were, answered by sniping from the
mutineers, who imagined that reprisals had commenced.
"Now, men!" said Colonel Carter, raising his voice until every officer and
man along the line could hear him, "as you must have realized, things are
very serious indeed. We are cut off from support, but now that the guns are
here to help us, we could either hold out here until relieved or else fight
our way into Jundhra, where I have no doubt we are very badly needed. But"
—he spoke more slowly and distinctly now, with a distinct pause
between each word—"there is an officer's lady alone, and practically
unprotected at Hanadra. Our duty is clear. You are tired—I know it.
You have had no supper, and will get none. It means forced marching for the
rest of this night and a good part of tomorrow and more fighting, possibly on
an empty stomach; it means the dust and the heat and the discomfort of the
trunk road for all of us and danger of the worst kind instead of safety
—for we shall have farther to go to reach Jundhra. But I would do the
same, and you men all know it, for any soldier's wife in my command, or any
English woman in India. We will march now on Hanadra. No! No demonstrations,
His uplifted left hand was just in time to check a roar of answering
"Didn't I tell you so?" exclaimed a gunner to the man beside him in an
undertone. "Him leave a white woman to face this sort o' music? He'd fight
all India first!"
Ten minutes later two companies of men marched out behind the guns,
followed by a cart that bore their wounded. As they reached the trunk road
they were saluted by a reverberating blast when the magazine that they had
fought to hold blew skyward. They turned to cheer the explosion and then
settled down to march in deadly earnest and, if need be, to fight a
rear-guard action all the way.
And in the opposite direction one solitary gunner rode, hell-bent-for-
leather, with a note addressed to "O. C.—Jundhra." It was short and
to the point. It ran:
Have blown up magazine; Mrs. Bellairs at Hanadra; have gone
to rescue her.
(Signed) A. FORRESTER-CARTER (Col.) per J. O'Rourke
The red glow of barracks burning—an ayah from whom a
dagger has been taken locked in another room—the knowledge that there
are fifty thousand Aryan brothers, itching to rebel, within a stone's throw
—and two lone protectors of an alien race intent on torturing a High
Priest, each and every one of these is a disturbing feature. No woman, and
least of all a young woman such as Ruth Bellairs, can be blamed for being
nervous under the stress of such conditions or for displaying a certain
amount of feminine unreasonableness.
She stood shivering for a minute and watched spellbound while Mahommed
Khan held the hot coal closer and even closer to the High Priest's naked
foot. The priest writhed in anticipation of the agony and turned his eyes
away, and as he turned them they met Ruth's. High priests of a religion that
includes sooth-saying and prophecy and bribery of gods among its rites are
students of human nature, and especially of female human nature. Knowledge of
it and of how it may be gulled, and when, is the first essential of their
calling. Her pale face, her blue eyes strained in terror, the parted lips and
the attitude of tension, these gave him an idea. Before the charcoal touched
him, he screamed—screamed like a wounded horse.
"Mahommed Khan, stop! Stop this instant! I won't have it! I won't have my
life, even, on those terms! D'you hear me, sir!"
"Have courage, heavenborn! There is but one way to force a Hindu priest,
unless it be by cutting off his revenues—he must be hurt! This dog is
unhurt as yet—see! The fire has not yet touched his foot!"
"Don't let it, Mahommed Khan! Set that iron down! This is my room. I will
not have crime committed here!"
"And how long does the heavenborn think it would be her room were this
evil-living pig of a priest at large, or how long before a worse crime were
committed? Heavenborn, the hour is late and the charcoal dies out rapidly
when it has left the fire! See. I must choose another piece!"
He rummaged in the brazier, and she screamed again.
"I will not have it, Risaldar! You must find another way."
"Memsahib! Thy husband left thee in my care. Surely it is my right to
choose the way?"
"Leave me, then! I relieve you of your trust. I will not have him tortured
in my room, or anywhere!"
Mahommed Khan bowed low.
"Under favor, heavenborn," he answered, "my trust is to your husband. I
can be released by him, or by death, not otherwise."
"Once, and for all, Mahommed Khan, I will not have you torture him in
"Memsahib, I have yet to ride for succor! At daybreak, when these Hindus
learn that the guns will not come back, they will rise to a man. Even now we
must find a hiding-place or—it is not good even to think what I might
find on my return!"
He leaned over the priest again, but without the charcoal this time.
"Speak, thou!" he ordered, growling in Hindustani through his savage black
mustache. "I have yet to hear what price a Hindu sets on immunity from
But the priest, it seemed, had formed a new idea. He had been looking
through puckered eyes at Ruth, keen, cool calculation in his glance, and in
spite of the discomfort of his strained position he contrived to nod.
"Kharvani!" he muttered, half aloud.
"Aye! Call on Kharvani!" sneered the Risaldar. "Perhaps the Bride of Sivi
will appear! Call louder!"
He stirred again among the charcoal with his tongs, and Ruth and the High
Priest both shuddered.
"Look!" said the High Priest in Hindustani, nodding in Ruth's direction.
It was the first word that he had addressed to them. It took them by
surprise, and the Risaldar and his half-brother turned and looked. Their
breath left them.
Framed in the yellow lamplight, her thin, hot-weather garments draped
about her like a morning mist, Ruth stood and stared straight back at them
through frightened eyes. Her blue-black hair, which had become loosened in
her excitement, hung in a long plait over one shoulder and gleamed in the
lamp's reflection. Her skin took on a faintly golden color from the feeble
light, and her face seemed stamped with fear, anxiety, pity and suffering,
all at once, that strangely enhanced her beauty, silhouetted as she was
against the blackness of the wall behind, she seemed to be standing in an
aura, shimmering with radiated light.
"Kharvani!" said the High Priest to himself again, and the two Rajputs
stood still like men dumfounded, and stared and stared and stared. They knew
Kharvani's temple. Who was there in Hanadra, Christian or Mohammedan or
Hindu, who did not? The show-building of the city, the ancient, gloomy,
wonderful erection where bats lived in the dome and flitted round Kharvani's
image, the place where every one must go who needed favors of the priests,
the central hub of treason and intrigue, where every plot was hatched and
every rumor had its origin—the ultimate, mazy, greedy, undisgorging
goal of every bribe and every blackmail-wrung rupee!
They knew, too, as every one must know who has ever been inside the place,
the amazing, awe-inspiring picture of Kharvani painted on the inner wall; of
Kharvani as she was idealized in the days when priests believed in her and
artists thought the labor of a lifetime well employed in painting but one
picture of her—Kharvani the sorrowful, grieving for the wickedness of
earth; Kharvani, Bride of Siva, ready to intercede with Siva, the Destroyer,
for the helpless, foolish, purblind sons of man.
And here, before them, stood Kharvani—to the life!
"What of Kharvani?" growled Mahommed Khan.
"'A purblind fool, a sot and a Mohammedan,"' quoted the priest
maliciously, "'how many be they, three or one?'"
The Risaldar's hand went to his scabbard. His sword licked out free and
trembled like a tuning-fork. He flicked with his thumbnail at the blade and
muttered: "Sharp! Sharp as death itself!"
The Hindu grinned, but the blade came down slowly until the point of it
rested on the bridge of his nose. His eyes squinted inward, watching it.
"Now, make thy gentle joke again!" growled the Risaldar. Ruth Bellairs
checked a scream.
"No blood!" she exclaimed. "Don't hurt him, Risaldar! I'll not have you
kill a man in here—or anywhere, in cold blood, for that matter!
Return your sword, sir!"
The Risaldar swore into his beard. The High Priest grinned again. "I am
not afraid to die!" he sneered. "Thrust with that toy of thine! Thrust home
and make an end!"
"Memsahib!" said the Risaldar, "all this is foolishness and waste of time!
The hour is past midnight and I must be going. Leave the room—leave
me and my half-brother with this priest for five short minutes and we will
coax from him the secret of some hiding-place where you may lie hid until I
"But you'll hurt him!"
"Not if he speaks, and speaks the truth!"
"On those conditions—yes!"
"Where shall I go?"
The Risaldar's eyes glanced toward the door of the inner room, but he
hesitated. "Nay! There is the ayah!" he muttered. "Is there no other
"No, Risaldar, no other room except through that door. Besides, I would
rather stay here! I am afraid of what you may do to that priest if I leave
you alone with him!"
"Now a murrain on all women, black and white!" swore Mahommed Khan beneath
his breath. Then he turned on the priest again, and placed one foot on his
"Speak!" he ordered. "What of Kharvani?"
"Listen, Mahommed Khan!" Ruth Bellairs laid one hand on his sleeve, and
tried to draw him back. "Your ways are not my ways! You are a soldier and a
gentleman, but please remember that you are of a different race! I can not
let my life be saved by the torture of a human being—no, not even of
a Hindu priest! Maybe it's all right and honorable according to your ideas;
but, if you did it, I would never be able to look my husband in the face
again! No, Risaldar! Let this priest go, or leave him here—I don't
care which, but don't harm him! I am quite ready to ride with you, now, if
you like. I suppose you have horses? But I would rather die than think that a
man was put to the torture to save me! Life isn't worth that price!"
She spoke rapidly, urging him with every argument she knew; but the grim
old Mohammedan shook his head.
"Better die here," he answered her, "than on the road! No, memsahib. With
thirteen blades behind me, I could reach Jundhra, or at least make a bold
attempt; but single-handed, and with you to guard, the feat is impossible.
This dog of a Hindu here knows of some hiding-place. Let him speak!"
His hand went to his sword again, arid his eyes flashed.
"Listen, heavenborn! I am no torturer of priests by trade! It is not my
life that I would save!"
"I know that, Mahommed Khan! I respect your motive. It's the method that I
The Risaldar drew his arm away from her and began to pace the room. The
High Priest instantly began to speak to Ruth, whispering to her hurriedly in
Hindustani, but she was too little acquainted with the language to understand
"And I," said the Risaldar's half-brother suddenly, "am I of no further
"I had forgotten thee!" exclaimed the Risaldar.
They spoke together quickly in their own language, drawing aside and
muttering to each other. It was plain that the half-brother was making some
suggestion and that the Risaldar was questioning him and cross-examining him
about his plan, but neither Ruth nor the High Priest could understand a word
that either of them said. At the end of two minutes or more, the Risaldar
gave an order of some kind and the half-brother grunted and left the room
without another word, closing the door noiselessly behind him. The Risaldar
locked it again from the inside and drew the bolt.
"We have made another plan, heavenborn!" he announced mysteriously.
"Then—then—you won't hurt this priest?"
"Not yet," said the Risaldar. "He may be useful!"
"Won't you unbind him, then? Look! His wrists and ankles are all
"Let the dog swell!" he grunted.
But Ruth stuck to her point and made him loosen the bonds a little.
"A man lives and learns!" swore the Risaldar. "Such as he were cast into
dungeons in my day, to feed on their own bellies until they had had enough of
"The times have changed!" said Ruth.
The Risaldar looked out through the window toward the red glow on the sky-
"Ha! Changed, have they!" he muttered. "I saw one such burning, once
The most wonderful thing in history, pointing with the
surest finger to the trail of destiny, has been the fact that in every
tremendous crisis there have been leaders on the spot to meet it. It is not
so wonderful that there should be such men, for the world keeps growing
better, and it is more than likely that the men who have left their
footprints in the sands of time would compare to their own disadvantage with
their compeers of today. The wonderful thing is that the right men have been
in the right place at the right time. Scipio met Hannibal; Philip of Spain
was forced to meet Howard of Effingham and Drake; Napoleon Bonaparte, the
"Man of Destiny," found Wellington and Nelson of the Nile to deal with him;
and, in America, men like George Washington and Grant and Lincoln seem, in
the light of history, like timed, calculated, controlling devices in an
intricate machine. It was so when the Indian Mutiny broke out. The struggle
was unexpected. A handful of Europeans, commissioned and enlisted in the
ordinary way, with a view to trade, not statesmanship, found themselves face
to face at a minute's notice with armed and vengeful millions. Succor was a
question of months, not days or weeks. India was ablaze from end to end with
rebel fires that had been planned in secret through silent watchful years.
The British force was scattered here and there in unconnected details, and
each detail was suddenly cut off from every other one by men who had been
trained to fight by the British themselves and who were not afraid to
The suddenness with which the outbreak came was one of the chief assets of
the rebels, for they were able to seize guns and military stores and
ammunition at the very start of things, before the British force could
concentrate. Their hour could scarcely have been better chosen. The Crimean
War was barely over. Practically the whole of England's standing army was
abroad and decimated by battle and disease. At home, politics had England by
the throat; the income-tax was on a Napoleonic scale and men were more bent
on worsting one another than on equipping armies. They had had enough of
India was isolated, at the rebels' mercy, so it seemed. There were no
railway trains to make swift movements of troops possible. Distances were
reckoned by the hundred miles—of sun-baked, thirsty dust in the hot
weather, and of mud in the rainy season. There were no telegraph-wires, and
the British had to cope with the mysterious, and even yet unsolved, native
means of sending news—the so-called "underground route," by which
news and instructions travel faster than a pigeon flies. There was never a
greater certainty or a more one-sided struggle, at the start. The only
question seemed to be how many days, or possibly weeks, would pass before
jackals crunched the bones of every Englishman in India.
But at the British helm was Nicholson, and under him were a hundred other
men whose courage and resource had been an unknown quantity until the
outbreak came. Nicholson's was the guiding spirit, but it needed only his
generalship to fire all the others with that grim enthusiasm that has pulled
Great Britain out of so many other scrapes. Instead of wasting time in
marching and countermarching to relieve the scattered posts, a swift, sudden
swoop was made on Delhi, where the eggs of the rebellion had hatched.
As many of the outposts as could be reached were told to fight their own
way in, and those that could not be reached were left to defend themselves
until the big blow had been struck at the heart of things. If Delhi could be
taken, the rebels would be paralyzed and the rescue of beleaguered details
would be easier; so, although odds of one hundred or more to one are usually
considered overlarge in wartime—when the hundred hold the fort and
the one must storm the gate—there was no time lost in hesitation.
Delhi was the goal; and from north and south and east and west the men who
could march marched, and those who could not entrenched themselves, and made
ready to die in the last ditch.
Some of the natives were loyal still. There were men like Risaldar
Mahommed Khan, who would have died ten deaths ten times over rather than be
false in one particular to the British Government. It was these men who
helped to make intercommunication possible, for they could carry messages and
sometimes get through unsuspected where a British soldier would have been
shot before he had ridden half a mile. Their loyalty was put to the utmost
test in that hour, for they can not have believed that the British force
could win. They knew the extent of what was out against them and knew, too,
what their fate would be in the event of capture or defeat. There would be
direr, slower vengeance wreaked on them than on the alien British. But they
had eaten British salt and pledged their word, and nothing short of death
could free them from it. There was not a shred of self interest to actuate
them; there could not have been. Their given word was law and there it
There were isolated commands, like that at Jundhra, that were too far away
to strike at Delhi and too large and too efficient to be shut in by the
mutineers. They were centers on their own account of isolated small
detachments, and each commander was given leave to act as he saw best,
provided that he acted and did it quickly. He could either march to the
relief of his detachments or call them in, but under no condition was he to
sit still and do nothing.
So, Colonel Carter's note addressed to O. C.—Jundhra only got two-
thirds of the way from Doonha. The gunner who rode with it was brought to a
sudden standstill by an advance-guard of British cavalry, and two minutes
later he found himself saluting and giving up his note to the General
Commanding. The rebels at Jundhra had been worsted and scattered after an
eight-hour fight, and General Turner had made up his mind instantly to sweep
down on Hanadra with all his force and relieve the British garrison at Doonha
on his way.
Jundhra was a small town and unhealthy. Hanadra was a large city, the
center of a province; and, from all accounts, Hanadra had not risen yet. By
seizing Hanadra before the mutineers had time to barricade themselves inside
it, he could paralyze the countryside, for in Hanadra were the money and
provisions and, above all, the Hindu priests who, in that part of India at
least, were the brains of the rebellion. So he burned Jundhra, to make it
useless to the rebels, and started for Hanadra with every man and horse and
gun and wagon and round of ammunition that he had.
Now news in India travels like the wind, first one way and then another.
But, unlike the wind, it never whistles. Things happen and men know it and
the information spreads—invisible, intangible, inaudible, but
positive and, in nine cases out of ten, correct in detail. A government can
no more censor it, or divert it, or stop it on the way, than it can stay the
birthrate or tamper with the Great Monsoon.
First the priests knew it, then it filtered through the main bazaars and
from them on through the smaller streets. By the time that General Turner had
been two hours on the road with his command every man and woman and child in
Hanadra knew that the rebels had been beaten back and that Hanadra was his
objective. They knew, too, that the section had reached Doonha, had relieved
it and started back again. And yet not a single rebel who had fought in
either engagement was within twenty miles of Hanadra yet!
In the old, low-ceilinged room above the archway Mahommed Khan paced up
and down and chewed at his black mustache, kicking his scabbard away from him
each time he turned and glowering at the priest.
"That dog can solve this riddle!" he kept muttering. Then he would glare
at Ruth impatiently and execrate the squeamishness of women. Ruth sat on the
divan with her face between her hands, trying to force herself to realize the
full extent of her predicament and beat back the feeling of hysteria that
almost had her in its grip. The priest lay quiet. He was in a torture of
discomfort on the upturned table, but he preferred not to give the Risaldar
the satisfaction of knowing it. He eased his position quietly from time to
time as much as his bandages would let him, but he made no complaint.
Suddenly, Ruth looked up. It had occurred to her that she was wasting time
and that if she were to fight off the depression that had seized her she
would be better occupied.
"Mahommed Khan," she said, "if I am to leave here on horseback, with you
or with an escort, I had better collect some things that I would like to take
with me. Let me in that room, please!"
"The horse will have all that it can carry, heavenborn, without a load of
"My jewels? I can take them, I suppose?"
He bowed. "They are in there? I will bring them, heavenborn!"
"Nonsense! You don't know where to find them."
"The ayah—will—will show me!"
He fitted the key into the lock and turned it, but Ruth was at his side
before he could pass in through the door.
"Nonsense, Risaldar! The ayah can't hurt me. You have taken her knife
away, and that is my room. I will go in there alone!"
She pushed past him before he could prevent her, thrust the door back and
"Stay, heavenborn—I will explain!"
The dim light from the lamp was filtering in past them, and her eyes were
slowly growing accustomed to the gloom. There was something lying on the
floor, in the middle of the room, that was bulky and shapeless and
"Ayah!" said Ruth. "Ayah!"
But there was no answer.
"Where is she, Risaldar?"
"She is there, heavenborn!"
"Is she asleep?"
"Aye! She sleeps deeply!"
There was, something in the Rajput's voice that was strange, that hinted
at a darker meaning.
"Ayah!" she called again, afraid, though she knew not why, to enter.
"She guards the jewels, heavenborn! Wait, while I bring the lamp!"
He crossed the room, brought it and stepped with it past Ruth, straight
into the room.
"See!" he said, holding the lamp up above his head. "There in her bosom
are the jewels! It was there, too, that she had the knife to slay thee with!
My sword is clean, yet, heavenborn! I slew her with my fingers, thus!"
He kicked the prostrate ayah, and, as the black face with the wide-open
bloodshot eyes and the protruding tongue rolled sidewise and the body moved,
a little heap of jewels fell upon the floor. Mahommed Khan stooped down to
gather them, bending, a little painfully, on one old knee—but stopped
half-way and turned. There was a thud behind him in the doorway. Ruth
Bellairs had fainted, and lay as the ayah had lain when Risaldar had not yet
locked her in the room.
He raised the lamp and studied her in silence for a minute, looking from
her to the bound priest and back to her again.
"Now praised be Allah!" he remarked aloud, with a world of genuine relief
in his voice. "Should she stay fainted for a little while, that
He stalked into the middle of the outer room. He set the lamp down on a
table and looked the priest over as a butcher might survey a sheep he is
about to kill.
"Now—robber of orphans—bleeder of widows' blood—
dog of an idol-briber! This stands between thee and Kharvani!" He drew his
sword and flicked the edges of it. "And this!" He took up the tongs again.
"There is none now to plead or to forbid! Think! Show me the way out of this
devil's nest, or—" He raised the tongs again.
At that minute came a quiet knock. He set the tongs down again and crossed
the room and opened the door.
Mahommed Khan closed the door again behind his half-brother
and turned the key, but the half-brother shot the bolt home as well before he
spoke, then listened intently for a minute with his ear to the keyhole.
"Where is the priest's son?" growled the Risaldar, in the Rajput
"I have him. I have the priestling in a sack. I have him trussed and bound
and gagged, so that he can neither speak nor wriggle!"
"I said to bring him here!"
"I could not. Listen! That ayah—where is she?"
"Dead! What has the ayah to do with it?"
"This—she was to give a sign. She was not to slay. She had leave
only to take the jewels. Her orders were either to wait until she knew by
questioning that the section would not return or else, when it had returned,
to wait until the memsahib and Bellairs sahib slept, and then to make a sign.
They grow tired of waiting now, for there is news! At Jundhra the rebels are
defeated, and at Doonha likewise."
"How know you this?"
"By listening to the priests' talk while I lay in wait to snare the
priestling. Nothing is known as yet as to what the guns or garrison at Doonha
do, but it is known that they of Jundhra will march on Hanadra here. They
search now for their High Priest, being minded to march out of here and set
an ambush on the road."
"They have time. From Jundhra to here is a long march! Until tomorrow
evening or the day following they have time!"
"Aye! And they have fear also! They seek their priest—listen."
There were voices plainly audible in the courtyard down below, and two
more men stood at the foot of the winding stairway whispering. By listening
intently they could hear almost what they said, for the stone stairway acted
like a whispering-gallery, the voices echoing up it from wall to wall.
"Why do they seek him here?"
"They have sought elsewhere and not found him; and there is talk—
He claimed the memsahib as his share of the plunder. They think—"
Mahommed Khan glared at the trussed-up priest and swore a savage oath
beneath his breath.
"Have they touched the stables yet?" he demanded.
"No, not yet. The loot is to be divided evenly among certain of the
priests, and no man may yet lay a hand on it."
"Is there a guard there?"
"No. No one would steal what the priests claim, and the priests will not
trust one another. So the horses stand in their stalls unwatched."
The voices down the stairs grew louder, and the sound of footsteps began
ascending, slowly and with hesitation.
"Quick!" said the Risaldar. "Light me that brazier again!"
Charcoal lights quickly, and before the steps had reached the landing
Mahommed Khan had a hot coal glowing in his tongs:
"Now speak to them!" he growled at the shuddering priest. "Order them to
go back to their temple and tell them that you follow!"
The priest shut his lips tight and shook his head. With rescue so near as
that, he could see no reason to obey. But the hot coal touched him, and a
Hindu who may be not at all afraid to die can not stand torture.
"I speak!" he answered, writhing.
"Speak, then!" said the Risaldar, choosing a larger coal. Then, in the
priest's language, which none—and least of all a Risaldar—can
understand except the priests themselves, he began to shout directions,
pitching his voice into a high, wailing, minor key. He was answered by
another sing-song voice outside the door and he listened with a glowing coal
held six inches from his eyes.
"An eye for a false move!" hissed Mahommed Khan. "Two eyes are the forfeit
unless they go down the stairs again! Then my half-brother here will follow
to the temple and if any watch, or stay behind, thy ears will sizzle!"
The High Priest raised his voice into a wail again, and the feet shuffled
along the landing and descended.
"Put down that coal!" he pleaded. "I have done thy bidding!"
"Watch through the window!" said the Risaldar. "Then follow!"
His giant half-brother peered from behind the curtain and listened. He
could hear laughter, ribald, mocking laughter, but low, and plainly not
intended for the High Priest's ears.
"They go!" he growled.
Once again the Risaldar was left alone with the priest and the unconscious
Ruth. She was suffering from the effects of long days and nights of
nerve-destroying heat, with the shock of unexpected horror super-added, and
she showed no disposition to recover consciousness. The priest, though, was
very far from having lost his power to think.
"You are a fool!" he sneered at the Risaldar, but the sword leaped from
its scabbard at the word and he changed that line of argument. "You hold
cards and know not how to play them!"
"I know along which road my honor lies! I lay no plans to murder people in
"Honor! And what is honor? What is the interest on honor—how much
The Risaldar turned his back on him, but the High Priest laughed.
"'The days of the Raj are numbered!" said the priest. "The English will be
slain to the last man and then where will you be? Where will be the profit on
The Risaldar listened, for he could not help it, but he made no
"Me you hold here, a prisoner. You can slay or torture. But what good will
that do? The woman that you guard will fall sooner or later into Hindu hands.
You can not fight against a legion. Listen! I hold the strings of wealth.
With a jerk I can unloose a fortune in your lap. I need that woman
"For what?" snarled the Risaldar, whirling round on him, his eyes
"For power! Kharvani's temple here has images and paintings and a voice
that speaks—but no Kharvani!"
The Rajput turned away again and affected unconcern.
"Could Kharvani but appear, could her worshipers but see Kharvani
manifest, what would a lakh, two lakhs, a crore of rupees mean to me, the
High Priest of her temple? I could give thee anything! The power over all
India would be in my hands! Kharvani would but appear and say thus and thus,
and thus would it be done!"
The Risaldar's hand had risen to his mustache. His back was still turned
on the priest, but he showed interest. His eyes wandered to where Ruth lay in
a heap by the inner door and then away again.
"Who would believe it?" he growled in an undertone.
"They would all believe it! One and all! Even Mohammedans would become
Hindus to worship at her shrine and beg her favors. Thou and I alone would
share the secret. Listen! Loose me these bonds—my limbs ache."
Mahommed Khan turned. He stooped and cut them with his sword.
"Now I can talk," said the priest, sitting up and rubbing his ankles.
"Listen. Take thou two horses and gallop off, so that the rest may think that
the white woman has escaped. Then return here secretly and name thy price
—and hold thy tongue!"
"And leave her in thy hands?" asked the Risaldar.
"In my keeping."
"Bah! Who would trust a Hindu priest!"
The Rajput was plainly wavering and the priest stood up, to argue with him
"What need to trust me? You, sahib, will know the secret, and none other
but myself will know it. Would I, think you, be fool enough to tell the rest,
or, by withholding just payment from you, incite you to spread it broadcast?
You and I will know it and we alone. To me the power that it will bring
—to you all the wealth you ever dreamed of, and more besides!"
"No other priest would know?"
"Not one! They will think the woman escaped!"
"And she—where would you keep her?"
"In a secret place I know of, below the temple."
"Does any other know it?"
"No. Not one!"
"Listen!" said the Risaldar, stroking at his beard. "This woman never did
me any wrong—but she is a woman, not a man. I owe her no fealty, and
yet—I would not like to see her injured. Were I to agree to thy plan,
there would needs be a third man in the secret."
"Who? Name him," said the priest, grinning his satisfaction.
"My half-brother Suliman."
"He must go with us to the hiding-place and stay there as her
"Is he a silent man?"
"Silent as the dead, unless I bid him speak!"
"Then, that is agreed; he and thou and I know of this secret, and none
other is to know it! Why wait? Let us remove her to the hiding-place!"
"Wait yet for Suliman. How long will I be gone, think you, on my pretended
"Nay, what think you, sahib?"
"I think many hours. There may be those that watch, or some that ride
after me. I think I shall not return until long after daylight, and then
there will be no suspicions. Give me a token that will admit me safely back
into Hanadra—some sign that the priests will know, and a pass to show
to any one that bids me halt."
The priest held out his hand. "Take off that ring of mine!" he answered.
"That is the sacred ring of Kharvani—and all men know it. None will
touch thee or refuse thee anything, do they have but the merest sight of
The Risaldar drew off a clumsy silver ring, set with three stones—
a sapphire and a ruby and an emerald, each one of which was worth a fortune
by itself. He slipped it on his own finger and turned it round slowly,
"See how I trust thee," said the priest.
"More than I do thee!" muttered the Risaldar.
"I hear my brother!" growled the Risaldar after another minute. "Be ready
to show the way!"
He walked across the room to Ruth, tore a covering from a divan and
wrapped her in it; then he opened the outer door for his half-brother.
"Is it well?" he asked in the Rajput tongue.
"All well!" boomed the half-brother, eying the unbound priest with
"Do any watch?"
"Not one! The priests are in the temple; all who are not priests man the
walls or rush here and there making ready."
"And the priestling?"
"Is where I left him."
"In the niche underneath the arch, where I trapped the High Priest!"
"Are the horses fed and watered?"
"Good! How is the niche opened where the priestling lies?"
"There is the trunk of an elephant, carved where the largest stone of all
begins to curve outward, on the side of the stone as you go outward from the
"On which side of the archway, then?"
"On the left side, sahib. Press on the trunk downward and then pull; the
stone swings outward. There are steps then—ten steps downward to the
stone floor where the priestling lies."
"Good! I can find him. Now pick up the heavenborn yonder in those great
arms of thine, and bear her gently! Gently, I said! So! Have a care, now,
that she is not injured against the corners. My honor, aye, my honor and
yours and all our duty to the Raj you bear and—and have a care of the
"Aye," answered the half-brother, stolidly, holding Ruth as though she had
been a little bag of rice.
Again the Risaldar turned to the High Priest, and eyed him through eyes
"We are ready!" he growled. "Lead on to thy hiding-place!"
The guns rode first from Doonha, for the guns take
precedence. The section ground-scouts were acting scouts for the division,
two hundred yards ahead of every one. Behind the guns rode Colonel
Forrester-Carter, followed by the wagon with the wounded; and last of all the
two companies of the Thirty-third trudged through the stifling heat.
But, though the guns were ahead of every one, they had to suit their pace
to that of the men who marched. For one thing, there might be an attack at
any minute, and guns that are caught at close quarters at a distance from
their escort are apt to be astonishingly helpless. They can act in unison
with infantry; but alone, on bad ground, in the darkness, and with their
horses nearly too tired to drag them, a leash of ten puppies in a crowd would
be an easier thing to hurry with.
Young Bellairs had his men dismounted and walking by their mounts. Even
the drivers led their horses, for two had been taken from each gun to drag
the wounded, and the guns are calculated as a load for six, not four.
As he trudged through the blood-hot dust in clumsy riding-boots and led
his charger on the left flank of the guns, Harry Bellairs fumed and fretted
in a way to make no man envy him. The gloomy, ghost-like trees, that had
flitted past him on the road to Doonha, crawled past him now—slowly
and more slowly as his tired feet blistered in his boots. He could not mount
and ride, though, for very shame, while his men were marching, and he dared
not let them ride, for fear the horses might give in. He could just trudge
and trudge, and hate himself and every one, and wonder.
What had the Risaldar contrived to do? Why hadn't he packed up his wife's
effects the moment that his orders came and ridden off with her and the
section at once, instead of waiting three hours or more for an escort for
her? Why hadn't he realized at once that orders that came in a hurry that
way, in the night-time, were not only urgent but ominous as well? What chance
had the Risaldar—an old man, however willing he might be—to
ride through a swarming countryside for thirty miles or more and bring back
an escort? Why, even supposing Mohammed Khan had ridden off at once, he could
scarcely be back again before the section! And what would have happened in
Supposing the Risaldar's sons and grandsons refused to obey him? Stranger
things than that had been known to happen! Suppose they were disloyal? And
then—blacker though than any yet!—suppose—suppose
—Why had Mahommed Khan, the hard-bitten, wise old war-dog, advised
him to leave his wife behind? Did that seem like honest advice, on second
thought? Mohammedans had joined in this outbreak as well as Hindus. The
sepoys at Doonha were Mohammedans! Why had Mahommed Khan seemed so anxious to
send him on his way? As though an extra five minutes would have mattered! Why
had he objected to a last good-by to Mrs. Bellairs? . . . And then—he
had shown a certain knowledge of the uprising; where had he obtained it? If
he were loyal, who then had told him of it? Natives who are disloyal don't
brag of their plans beforehand to men who are on the other side! And if he
had known of it, and was still loyal, how was it that he had not divulged his
information before the outbreak came? Would a loyal man hold his tongue until
the last minute? Scarcely!
He halted, pulled his horse to the middle of the road and waited for
Colonel Carter to overtake him.
"Well? What is it?" asked the colonel sharply.
"Can I ride on ahead, sir? My horse is good for it and I'm in agonies of
apprehension about my wife!"
"No! Certainly not! You are needed to command your section!"
"I beg your pardon, sir, but I've a sergeant who can take command. He's a
first-class man and perfectly dependable."
"You could do no good, even if you did ride on," said the colonel, not
"I'm thinking, sir, that Mahommed Khan—"
"Risaldar Mahommed Khan?"
"Of the Rajput Horse?"
"Yes, sir. My father's Risaldar."
"You left your wife in his charge, didn't you?"
"Yes, sir, but I'm thinking that—that perhaps the Risaldar—
I mean—there seem to be Mohammedans at the bottom of this business,
as well as Hindus. Perhaps—"
"Bellairs! Now hear me once and for all. You thank your God that the
Risaldar turned up to guard her! Thank God that your father was man enough
for Mahommed Khan to love and that you are your father's son! And listen!
Don't let me hear you, ever, under any circumstances, breathe a word of doubt
as to that man's loyalty! D'you understand me, sir? You, a mere subaltern, a
puppy just out of his 'teens, an insignificant jackanapes with two
twelve-pounders in your charge, daring to impute disloyalty to Mahommed Khan!
—your impudence! Remember this! That old Risaldar is the man who rode
with your father through the guns at Dera! He's a pauper without a pension,
for all his loyalty, but he went down the length of India to meet you, at his
own expense, when you landed raw-green from England! And what d'you know of
war, I'd like to know, that you didn't learn from him? Thank your God, sir,
that there's some one there who'll kill your wife before she falls into the
"But he was going to ride away, sir, to bring an escort!"
"Not before he'd made absolutely certain of her safety!" swore the colonel
with conviction. "Join your section, sir!"
So Harry Bellairs joined his section and trudged along sore-footed at its
side—sore-hearted, too. He wondered whether any one would ever say as
much for him as Colonel Carter had chosen to say for Mahommed Khan, or
whether any one would have the right to say it! He was ashamed of having left
his wife behind and tortured with anxiety—and smarting from the snub
—a medley of sensations that were more likely to make a man of him, if
he had known it, than the whole experience of a year's campaign! But in the
dust and darkness, with the blisters on his heels, and fifty men, who had
overheard the colonel, looking sidewise at him, his plight was pitiable.
They trudged until the dawn began to rise, bright yellow below the
drooping banyan trees; only Colonel Carter and the advance-guard riding.
Then, when they stopped at a stream to water horses and let them graze a bit
and give the men a sorely needed rest, one of the ring of outposts loosed off
his rifle and shouted an alarm. They had formed square in an instant, with
the guns on one side and the men on three, and the colonel and the wounded in
the middle. A thousand or more of the mutineers leaned on their rifles on the
shoulder of a hill and looked them over, a thousand yards away.
"Send them an invitation!" commanded Colonel Carter, and the left-hand gun
barked out an overture, killing one sepoy. The rest made off in the direction
"We're likely to have a hot reception when we reach there!" said Colonel
Carter cheerily. "Well, we'll rest here for thirty minutes and give them a
chance to get ready for us. I'm sorry there's no breakfast, men, but the
sepoys will have dinner ready by the time we get there—we'll eat
The chorus of ready laughter had scarcely died away when a horse's hoof-
beats clattered in the distance from the direction of Doonha and a native
cavalryman galloped into view, low-bent above his horse's neck. The foam from
his horse was spattered over him and his lance swung pointing upward from the
sling. On his left side the polished scabbard rose and fell in time to his
horse's movement. He was urging his weary horse to put out every ounce he had
in him. He drew rein, though, when he reached a turning in the road and saw
the resting division in front of him, and walked his horse forward, patting
his sweat-wet neck and easing him. But as he leaned to finger with the girths
an ambushed sepoy fired at him, and he rammed in his spurs again and rode
like a man possessed.
"This'll be another untrustworthy Mohammedan!" said Colonel Carter in a
pointed undertone, and Bellairs blushed crimson underneath the tan. "He's
ridden through from Jundhra, with torture waiting for him if he happened to
get caught, and no possible reward beyond his pay. Look out he doesn't spike
The trooper rode straight up to Colonel Carter and saluted. He removed a
tiny package from his cheek, where he had carried it so that he might swallow
it at once in case of accident, tore the oil-silk cover from it and handed it
to him without a word, saluting again and leading his horse away. Colonel
Carter unfolded the half-sheet of foreign notepaper and read:
Dear Colonel Carter:
Your letter just received in which you say that you have blown up the
magazine at Doonha and are marching to Hanadra with a view to the rescue of
Mrs. Bellairs. This is in no sense intended as a criticism of your action or
of your plan, but circumstances have made it seem advisable for me to
transfer my own headquarters to Hanadra and I am just starting. I must ask
you, please, to wait for me—at a spot as near to where this overtakes
you as can be managed. If Mrs. Bellairs, or anybody else of ours, is in
Hanadra, she—or they—are either dead by now or else
prisoners. And if they are to be rescued by force, the larger the force
employed the better. If you were to attack with your two companies before I
reached you, you probably would be repulsed, and would, I think, endanger the
lives of any prisoners that the enemy may hold. I am coming with my whole
command as fast as possible.
Your Obedient Servant,
A. E. Turner Genl. Officer Commanding
"Men!" said Colonel Carter, in a ringing voice that gave not the slightest
indication of his feelings, "we're to wait here for a while until the whole
division overtakes us. The general has vacated Jundhra. Lie down and get all
the rest you can!"
The murmur from the ranks was as difficult to read as Colonel Carter's
voice had been. It might have meant pleasure at the thought of rest, or
anger, or contempt, or almost anything. It was undefined and indefinable.
But there was no doubt at all as to how young Bellairs felt. He was
sitting on a trunnion, sobbing, with his head bent low between his hands.
"Come, then!" said the High Priest.
Mahommed Khan threw open the outer door and bowed sardonically.
"Precedence for priests!" he sneered, tapping at his sword-hilt. "Thou goest
first! Next come I, and last Suliman with the memsahib! Thus can I reach thee
with my sword, O priest, and also protect her if need be!"
"Thou art trusting as a little child!" exclaimed the priest, passing out
ahead of him.
"A priest and a liar and a thief—all three are one!" hummed the
Risaldar. "Bear her gently, Suliman! Have a care, now, as you turn on the
"Ha, sahib!" said the half-brother, carrying Ruth as easily as though she
had been a little child.
At the foot of the stairway, in the blackness that seemed alive with
phantom shadows, the High Priest paused and listened, stretching out his left
hand against the wall to keep the other two behind him. From somewhere beyond
the courtyard came the din of hurrying sandaled feet, scudding over
cobblestones in one direction. The noise was incessant and not unlike the
murmur of a rapid stream. Occasionally a voice was raised in some command or
other, but the stream of sound continued, hurrying, hurrying, shuffling along
to the southward.
"This way and watch a while," whispered the priest.
"I have heard rats run that way!" growled the Risaldar.
They climbed up a narrow stairway leading to a sort of battlement and
peered over the top, Suliman laying Ruth Bellairs down in the darkest shadow
he could find. She was beginning to recover consciousness, and apparently
Mahommed Khan judged it best to take no notice of her.
Down below them they could see the city gate, wide open, with a blazing
torch on either side of it, and through the gate, swarming like ants before
the rains, there poured an endless stream of humans that marched—and
marched—and marched; four, ten, fifteen abreast; all heights and
sizes, jumbled in and out among one another, anyhow, without formation, but
armed, every one of them, and all intent on marching to the southward, where
Jundhra and Doonha lay. Some muttered to one another and some laughed, but
the greater number marched in silence.
"That for thy English!" grinned the priest. "Can the English troops
overcome that horde?"
"Hey-ee! For a troop or two of Rajputs!" sighed the Risaldar. "Or English
Lancers! They would ride through that as an ax does through the
"Bah!" said the priest. "All soldiers boast! There will be a houghing
shortly after dawn. The days of thy English are now numbered."
"Ay, by those, there! Come!"
They climbed down the steps again, the Rajput humming to himself and
smiling grimly into his mustache.
"Ay! There will be a houghing shortly after dawn!" he muttered. "Would
only that I were there to see! . . . Where are the sepoys?" he demanded.
"I know not. How should I know, who have been thy guest these hours past?
This march is none of my ordering."
The priest pressed hard on a stone knob that seemed to be part of the
carving on a wall, then he leaned his weight against the wall and a huge
stone swung inward, while a fetid breath of air wafted outward in their
"None know this road but I!" exclaimed the priest.
"None need to!" said the Risaldar. "Pass on, snake, into thy hole. We
"Steps!" said the priest, and began descending.
"Curses!" said the Risaldar, stumbling and falling down on top of him.
"Have a care, Suliman! The stone is wet and slippery."
Down, down they climbed, one behind the other, Suliman grunting beneath
his burden and the Risaldar keeping up a running fire of oaths. Each time
that he slipped, and that was often, he cursed the priest and cautioned
Suliman. But the priest only laughed, and apparently Suliman was sure-footed,
for he never stumbled once. They seemed to be diving down into the bowels of
the earth. They were in pitch-black darkness, for the stone had swung to
behind them of its own accord. The wall on either side of them was wet with
slime and the stink of decaying ages rose and almost stifled them. But the
priest kept on descending, so fast that the other two had trouble to keep up
with him, and he hummed to himself as though he knew the road and liked
"The bottom!" he called back suddenly. "From now the going is easy, until
we rise again. We pass now under the city-wall."
But they could see nothing and hear nothing except their own footfalls
swishing in the ooze beneath them. Even the priest's words seemed to be lost
at once, as though he spoke into a blanket, for the air they breathed was
thicker than a mist and just as damp. They walked on, along a level, wet,
stone passage for at least five minutes, feeling their way with one band on
"Steps, now!" said the priest. "Have a care, now, for the lower ones are
Ruth was regaining consciousness. She began to move and tried once or
twice to speak.
"Here, thou!" growled the Risaldar. "Thou art a younger man than I—
come back here. Help with the memsahib."
The priest came back a step or two, but Suliman declined his aid, snarling
vile insults at him.
"I can manage!" he growled. "Get thou behind me, Mahommed Khan, in case I
So Mahommed Khan came last, and they slipped and grunted upward, round and
round a spiral staircase that was hewn out of solid rock. No light came
through from anywhere to help them, but the priest climbed on, as though he
were accustomed to the stair and knew the way from constant use. After five
minutes of steady climbing the stone grew gradually dry. The steps became
smaller, too, and deeper, and not so hard to climb. Suddenly the priest
reached out his arm and pulled at something or other that hung down in the
darkness. A stone in the wall rolled open. A flood of light burst in and
nearly blinded them.
"We are below Kharvani's temple!" announced the priest. He led them
through the opening into a four-square room hewn from the rock below the
foundations of the temple some time in the dawn of history. The light that
had blinded them when they first emerged proved to be nothing but the flicker
of two small oil lamps that hung suspended by brass chains from the painted
ceiling. The only furniture was mats spread on the cut-stone floor.
"By which way did we come?" asked the Risaldar, staring in amazement round
the walls. There was not a door nor crack, nor any sign of one, except that a
wooden ladder in one corner led to a trapdoor overhead, and they had
certainly not entered by the ladder.
"Nay! That is a secret!" grinned the priest. "He who can may find the
opening! Here can the woman and her servant stay until we need them."
"Here in this place?"
"Where else? No man but I knows of this crypt! The ladder there leads to
another room, where there is yet another ladder, and that one leads out
through a secret door I know of, straight into the temple. Art ready? There
is need for haste!"
"Wait!" said the Risaldar.
"These soldiers!" sneered the priest. "It is wait—wait—
wait with them, always!"
"Hast thou a son."
"Ay! But what of it?"
"I said 'hast,' not 'hadst'!"
"Ay. I have a son.
"In one of the temple-chambers overhead."
"Nay, priest! Thy son lies gagged and bound and trussed in a place I know
of, and which thou dost not know!"
"Since by my orders he was laid there."
"Thou art the devil! Thou liest, Rajput!"
"So? Go seek thy son!"
The priest's face had blanched beneath the olive of his skin, and he
stared at Mahommed Khan through distended eyes.
"My son!" he muttered.
"Aye! Thy priestling! He stays where he is, as hostage, until my return!
Also the heavenborn stays here! If, on my return, I find the heavenborn safe
and sound, I will exchange her for thy son—and if not, I will tear
thy son into little pieces before thy eyes, priest! Dost thou
"Thou liest! My son is overhead in the temple here!"
"Go seek him, then!"
The priest turned and scampered up the ladder with an agility that was
astonishing in a man of his build and paunch.
"Hanuman should have been thy master!" jeered the Risaldar. "So run the
bandar-log, the monkey-folk!"
But the priest had no time to answer him. He was half frantic with the
sickening fear of a father for his only son. He returned ten minutes later,
panting, and more scared than ever.
"Go, take thy white woman," he exclaimed, "and give me my son back!"
"Nay, priest! Shall I ride with her alone through that horde that are
marching through the gate? I go now for an escort; in eight—ten
—twelve—I know not how many hours, I will return for her, and
then—thy son will be exchanged for her, or he dies thus in many
He turned to Suliman. "Is she awake yet?" he demanded.
"Barely, but she recovers."
"Then tell her, when consciousness returns, that I have gone and will
return for her. And stay here, thou, and guard her until I come."
"Now, show the way!"
"But—" said the priest, "our bargain? The price that we agreed on
—one lakh, was it not?"
"One lakh of devils take thee and tear thee into little pieces! Wouldst
bribe a Rajput, a Risaldar? For that insult I will repay thee one day with
interest, O priest! Now, show the way!"
"But how shall I be sure about my son?"
"Be sure that the priestling will starve to death or die of thirst or
choke, unless I hurry! He is none too easy where he lies!"
"Go! Hurry, then!" swore the priest. "May all the gods there are, and thy
Allah with them, afflict thee with all their curses—thee and thine!
Up with you! Up that ladder! Run! But, if the gods will, I will meet thee
again when the storm is over!"
"Inshallah!" growled Mahommed Khan.
Ten minutes later a crash and a clatter and a shower of sparks broke out
in the sweltering courtyard where the guns had stood and waited. It was
Shaitan, young Bellairs' Khaubuli charger, with his haunches under him,
plunging across the flagstones, through the black-dark archway, out on the
plain beyond—in answer to the long, sharp-roweled spurs of the
Risaldar Mahommed Khan.
Dawn broke and the roofs of old Hanadra became resplendent
with the varied colors of turbans and pugrees and shawls. As though the
rising sun had loosed the spell, a myriad tongues, of women chiefly, rose in
a babel of clamor, and the few men who had been left in. Hanadra by the
night's armed exodus came all together and growled prophetically in
undertones. Now was the day of days, when that part of India, at least,
should cast off the English yoke.
To the temple! The cry went up before the sun was fifteen minutes high.
There are a hundred temples in Hanadra, age-old all of them and carved on the
outside with strange images of heathen gods in high relief, like molds turned
inside out. But there is but one temple that that cry could mean—
Kharvani's; and there could be but one meaning for the cry. Man, woman and
child would pray Kharvani, Bride of Siva the Destroyer, to intercede with
Siva and cause him to rise and smite the English. On the skyline, glinting
like flashed signals in the early sun, bright English bayonets had appeared;
and between them and Hanadra was a dense black mass, the whole of old
Hanadra's able-bodied manhood, lined up to defend the city. Now was the time
to pray. Fifty to one are by no means despicable odds, but the aid of the
gods as well is better!
So the huge dome of Kharvani's temple began to echo to the sound of
slippered feet and awe-struck whisperings, and the big, dim auditorium soon
filled to overflowing. No light came in from the outer world. There was
nothing to illuminate the mysteries except the chain-hung grease-lamps
swinging here and there from beams, and they served only to make the darkness
visible. Bats flicked in and out between them and disappeared in the echoing
gloom above. Censers belched out sweet-smelling, pungent clouds of sandalwood
to drown the stench of hot humanity; and the huge graven image of Kharvani
—serene and smiling and indifferent—stared round-eyed from the
Then a priest's voice boomed out in a solemn incantation and the
whispering hushed. He chanted age-old verses, whose very meaning was
forgotten in the womb of time—forgotten as the artist who had painted
the picture of idealized Kharvani on the wall. Ten priests, five on either
side of the tremendous idol, emerged chanting from the gloom behind, and then
a gong rang, sweetly, clearly, suddenly, and the chanting ceased. Out stepped
the High Priest from a niche below the image, and his voice rose in a
wailing, sing-song cadence that reechoed from the dome and sent a thrill
through every one who heard.
His chant had scarcely ceased when the temple door burst open and a man
"They have begun!" he shouted. "The battle has begun!"
As though in ready confirmation of his words, the distant reverberating
boom of cannon filtered through the doorway from the world of grim realities
"They have twenty cannon with them! They have more guns than we have!"
wailed he who brought the news. Again began the chanting that sought the aid
of Siva the Destroyer. Only, there were fewer who listened to this second
chant. Those who were near the doorway slipped outside and joined the
watching hundreds on the roofs.
For an hour the prayers continued in the stifling gloom, priest relieving
priest and chant following on chant, until the temple was half emptied of its
audience. One by one, and then by twos and threes, the worshipers succumbed
to human curiosity and crept stealthily outside to watch.
Another messenger ran in and shouted: "They have charged! Their cavalry
have charged! They are beaten back! Their dead lie twisted on the plain!"
At the words there was a stampede from the doorway, and half of those who
had remained rushed out. There were hundreds still there, though, for that
great gloomy pile of Kharvani's could hold an almost countless crowd.
Within another hour the same man rushed to the door again and shouted:
"Help comes! Horsemen are coming from the north! Rajputs, riding like
leaves before the wind! Even the Moslems are for us!"
But the chanting never ceased. No one stopped to doubt the friendship of
arrivals from the north, for to that side there were no English, and
England's friends would surely follow byroads to her aid. The city gates were
wide open to admit wounded or messengers or friends—with a view,
even, to a possible retreat—and whoever cared could ride through them
unchallenged and unchecked.
Even when the crash of horses' hoofs rattled on the stone paving outside
the temple there was no suspicion. No move was made to find out who it was
who rode. But when the temple door reechoed to the thunder of a sword-hilt
and a voice roared "Open!" there was something like a panic. The chanting
stopped and the priests and the High Priest listened to the stamping on the
stone pavement at the temple front.
"Open!" roared a voice again, and the thundering on the panels
recommenced. Then some one drew the bolt and a horse's head—a huge
Khaubuli stallion's—appeared, snorting and panting and wild-eyed.
"Farward!" roared the Risaldar Mahommed Khan, kneeling on young Bellairs'
"Farm twos! Farward!"
Straight into the temple, two by two, behind the Risaldar, rode two fierce
lines of Rajputs, overturning men and women—their drawn swords
pointing this way and that—their dark eyes gleaming. Without a word
to any one they rode up to the image, where the priests stood in an
"Fron-tt farm! Rear rank—'bout-face!" barked the Risaldar, and
there was another clattering and stamping on the stone floor as the panting
chargers pranced into the fresh formation, back to back.
"The memsahib!" growled Mahommed Khan. "Where is she?"
"My son!" said the High Priest. "Bring me my son!"
"A life for a life! Thy heavenborn first!"
"Nay! Show me my son first!"
The Risaldar leaped from his horse and tossed his reins to the man behind
him. In a second his sword was at the High Priest's throat.
"Where is that secret stair?" he growled. "Lead on!"
The swordpoint pricked him. Two priests tried to interfere, but wilted and
collapsed with fright as four fierce, black-bearded Rajputs spurred their
horses forward. The swordpoint pricked still deeper.
"My son!" said the High Priest.
"A life for a life! Lead on!"
The High Priest surrendered, with a dark and cunning look, though, that
hinted at something or other in reserve. He pulled at a piece of carving on
the wail behind and pointed to a stair that showed behind the outswung door.
Then he plucked another priest by the sleeve and whispered.
The priest passed on the whisper. A third priest turned and ran.
"That way!" said the High Priest, pointing.
"I? Nay! I go not down!" He raised his voice into an ululating howl. "O
Suliman!" he bellowed. "Suliman! O!—Suliman! Bring up the heaven-
A growl like the distant rumble from a bear-pit answered him. Then Ruth
Bellairs' voice was heard calling up the stairway.
"Is that you, Mahommed Khan?"
"Good! I'm coming!"
She had recovered far enough to climb the ladder and the steep stone stair
above it, and Suliman climbed up behind her, grumbling dreadful prophecies of
what would happen to the priests now that Mohammed Khan had come.
"Is all well, Risaldar?" she asked him.
"Nay, heavenborn! All is not well yet! The general sahib from Jundhra and
your husband's guns and others, making one division, are engaged with rebels
eight or nine miles from here. We saw part of the battle as we rode!"
"It is doubtful, heavenborn! How could we tell from this distance?"
"Have you a horse for me?"
"Ay, heavenborn! Here! Bring up that horse, thou, and Suliman's! Ride him
cross-saddle, heavenborn—there were no side-saddles in Siroeh! Nay,
he is just a little frightened. He will stand—he will not throw thee!
I did better than I thought, heavenborn. I come with four-and-twenty, making
twenty-six with me and Suliman. An escort for a queen! So—sit him
quietly. Leave the reins free. Suliman will lead him! Ho! Fronnnt! Rank
"My son!" wailed the High Priest. "Where is my son?"
"Tell him, Suliman!"
"Where I caught thee, thou idol-briber!" snarled the Risaldar's half-
"Where? In that den of stinks. Gagged and bound all this while?"
"Ha! Gagged and bound and out of mischief where all priests and priests'
sons ought to be!" laughed Mahommed Khan. "Farward! Farm twos
In went the spur, and the snorting, rattling, clanking cavalcade sidled
and pranced out of the temple into the sunshine, with Ruth and Suliman in the
midst of them.
"Gallop!" roared the Risaldar, the moment that the last horse was clear of
the temple-doors. And in that instant he saw what the High Priest's
whispering had meant.
Coming up the street toward them was a horde of silent, hurrying Hindus,
armed with swords and spears, wearing all of them the caste-marks of the
Brahman—well-fed, indignant relations of the priests, intent on
avenging the defilement of Kharvani's temple.
"Canter! Fronnnt—farm—Gallop! Charge!"
Ruth found herself in the midst of a whirlwind of flashing sabers, astride
of a lean-flanked Katiawari gelding that could streak like an antelope, knee
to knee with a pair of bearded Rajputs, one of whom gripped her bridle-rein
—thundering down a city street straight for a hundred swords that
blocked her path. She set her eyes on the middle of Mahommed Khan's straight
back, gripped the saddle with both hands, set her teeth and waited for the
shock. Mahommed Khan's right arm rose and his sword flashed in the sunlight
as he stood up in his stirrups. She shut her eyes. But there was no shock!
There was the swish of whirling steel, the thunder of hoofs, the sound of
bodies falling. There was a scream or two as well and a coarse-mouthed Rajput
oath. But when she dared to open her eyes once more they were thundering
still, headlong down the city street and Mahommed Khan was whirling his sword
in mid-air to shake the blood from it.
Ahead lay the city gate and she could see another swarm of Hindus rushing
from either side to close it. But "Charge!" yelled Mahommed Khan again, and
they swept through the crowd, through the half-shut gate, out on the plain
beyond, as a wind sweeps through the forest, leaving fallen tree-trunks in
"Halt!" roared the Risaldar, when they were safely out of range. "Are any
hurt? No? Good for us that their rifles are all in the firing-line
He sat for a minute peering underneath his hand at the distant, dark,
serried mass of men and the steel-tipped lines beyond it, watching the
belching cannon and the spurting flames of the close-range rifle-fire.
"See, heavenborn!" he said, pointing. "Those will be your husband's guns!
See, over on the left, there. See! They fire! Those two! We can reach them if
we make a circuit on the flank here!"
"But can we get through, Risaldar? Won't they see us and cut us off?"
"Heavenborn!" he answered, "men who dare ride into a city temple and
snatch thee from the arms of priests dare and can do anything! Take this,
heavenborn—take it as a keepsake, in case aught happens!"
He drew off the priest's ring, gave it to her and then, before she could
"Canter!" he roared. The horses sprang forward in answer to the spurs and
there was nothing for Ruth to do but watch the distant battle and listen to
the deep breathing of the Rajputs on either hand.
There could be no retreat that day and no thought of it.
Jundhra and Doonha were in ruins. The bridges were down behind them and
Hanadra lay ahead. The British had to win their way into it or perish. Tired
out, breakfastless, suffering from the baking heat, the long, thin British
line had got—not to hold at bay but to smash and pierce—an
overwhelming force of Hindus that was stiffened up and down its length by
small detachments of native soldiers who had mutinied.
Numbers were against them, and even superiority of weapons was not so
overwhelmingly in their favor, for those were the days of short-range rifle-
fire and smoothbore artillery, and one gun was considerably like another. The
mutinous sepoys had their rifles with them; there were guns from the ramparts
of Hanadra that were capable of quite efficient service at close range; and
practically every man in the dense-packed rebel line had a firearm of some
kind. It was only in cavalry and discipline and pluck that the British force
had the advantage, and the cavalry had already charged once and had been
General Turner rode up and down the sweltering firing-line, encouraging
the men when it seemed to him they needed it and giving directions to his
officers. He was hidden from view oftener than not by the rolling clouds of
smoke and he popped up here and there suddenly and unexpectedly. Wherever he
appeared there was an immediate stiffening among the ranks, as though he
carried a supply of spare enthusiasm with him and could hand it out.
Colonel Carter, commanding the right wing, turned his head for a second at
the sound of a horse's feet and found the general beside him.
"Had I better have my wounded laid in a wagon, sir?" he suggested, "in
case you find it necessary to fall back?"
"There will be no retreat!" said General Turner. "Leave your wounded where
they are. I never saw a cannon bleed before. How's that?"
He spurred his horse over to where one of Bellairs' guns was being run
forward into place again and Colonel Carter followed him. There was blood
dripping from the muzzle of it.
"We're short of water, sir!" said Colonel Carter.
And as he spoke a gunner dipped his sponge into a pool of blood and rammed
Bellairs was standing between his two guns, looking like the shadow of
himself, worn out with lack of sleep, disheveled, wounded. There was blood
dripping from his forehead and he wore his left arm in a sling made from his
"Fire!" he ordered, and the two guns barked in unison and jumped back two
yards or more.
"If you'll look," said General Turner, plucking at the colonel's sleeve,
"you'll see a handful of native cavalry over yonder behind the enemy—
rather to the enemy's left—there between those two clouds of smoke.
D'you see them?"
"They look like Sikhs or Rajputs," said the colonel.
"Yes. Don't they? I'd like you to keep an eye on them. They've come up
from the rear. I caught sight of them quite a while ago and I can't quite
make them out. It's strange, but I can't believe that they belong to the
enemy. D'you see?—there—they've changed direction. They're
riding as though they intended to come round the enemy's left flank!"
"By gad, they are! Look! The enemy are moving to cut them off!"
"I must get back to the other wing!" said General Turner. "But that looks
like the making of an opportunity! Keep both eyes lifting, Carter, and
advance the moment you see any confusion in the enemy's ranks."
He rode off, and Colonel Carter stared long and steadily at the
approaching horsemen. He saw a dense mass of the enemy, about a thousand
strong, detach itself from the left wing and move to intercept them, and he
noticed that the movement made a tremendous difference to the ranks opposed
to him. He stepped up to young Bellairs and touched his sleeve. Bellairs
started like a man roused from a dream.
"That's your wife over there!" said Colonel Carter. "There can't be any
other white woman here-abouts riding with a Rajput escort!"
Bellairs gripped the colonel's outstretched arm.
"Where?" he almost screamed. "Where? I don't see her!"
"There, man! There, where that mass of men is moving! Look! By the Lord
Harry! He's charging right through the mob! That's Mahommed Khan, I'll bet a
fortune! Now's our chance Bugler!"
The bugler ran to him, and he began to puff into his instrument.
"Blow the 'attention' first!"
Out rang the clear, strident notes, and the non-commissioned officers and
men took notice that a movement of some kind would shortly be required of
them, but the din of firing never ceased for a single instant. Then,
suddenly, an answering bugle sang out from the other flank.
"Advance in echelon!" commanded Colonel Carter, and the bugler did his
best to split his cheeks in a battle-rending blast.
"You remain where you are, sir!" he ordered young Bellairs. "Keep your
guns served to the utmost!"
Six-and-twenty horsemen, riding full-tilt at a thousand men, may look like
a trifle, but they are disconcerting. What they hit, they kill; and if they
succeed in striking home, they play old Harry with formations. And Risaldar
Mahommed Khan did strike home. He changed direction suddenly and, instead of
using up his horses' strength in outflanking the enemy, who had marched to
intercept him, and making a running target of his small command, he did the
unexpected—which is the one best thing to do in war. He led his
six-and-twenty at a headlong gallop straight for the middle of the crowd
—it could not be called by any military name. They fired one ragged
volley at him and then had no time to load before he was in the middle of
them, clashing right and left and pressing forward. They gave way, right and
left, before him, and a good number of them ran. Half a hundred of them were
cut down as they fled toward their firing-line. At that second, just as the
Risaldar and his handful burst through the mob and the mob began rushing
wildly out of his way, the British bugles blared out the command to advance
The Indians were caught between a fire and a charge that they had good
reason to fear in front of them, and a disturbance on their left flank that
might mean anything. As one-half of them turned wildly to face what might be
coming from this unexpected quarter, the British troops came on with a roar,
and at the same moment Mahommed Khan reached the rear of their firing-line
and crashed headlong into it.
In a second the whole Indian line was in confusion and in another minute
it was in full retreat not knowing nor even guessing what had routed it.
Retreat grew into panic and panic to stampede and, five minutes after the
Risaldar's appearance on the scene, half of the Indian line was rushing
wildly for Hanadra and the other half was retiring sullenly in comparatively
dense and decent order.
Bellairs could not see all that happened. The smoke from his own guns
obscured the view, and the necessity for giving orders to his men prevented
him from watching as he would have wished. But he saw the Rajputs burst out
through the Indian ranks and he saw his own charger—Shaitan the
unmistakable—careering across the plain toward him riderless.
"For the love of God!" he groaned, raising both fists to heaven, "has she
got this far, and then been killed! Oh, what in Hades did I entrust her to an
Indian for? The pig-headed, brave old fool! Why couldn't he ride round them,
instead of charging through?"
As he groaned aloud, too wretched even to think of what his duty was, a
galloper rode up to him.
"Bring up your guns, sir, please!" he ordered. "You're asked to hurry!
Take up position on that rising ground and warm up the enemy's retreat!"
"Limber up!" shouted Bellairs, coming to himself again. Fifteen seconds
later his two guns were thundering up the rise.
As he brought them to "action front" and tried to collect his thoughts to
figure out the range, a finger touched his shoulder and he turned to see
another artillery officer standing by him.
"I've been lent from another section," he explained: "You're wanted."
"Over there, where you see Colonel Carter standing. It's your wife wants
you, I think!"
Bellairs did not wait for explanations. He sent for his horse and mounted
and rode across the intervening space at a breakneck gallop that he could
barely stop in time to save himself from knocking the colonel over. A second
later he was in Ruth's arms.
"I thought you were dead when I saw Shaitan!" he said. He was nearly
"No, Mahommed Khan rode him," she answered, and she made no pretense about
not sobbing. She was crying like a child.
"Salaam, Bellairs sahib!" said a weak voice close to him. He noticed
Colonel Carter bending over a prostrate figure, lifting the head up on his
knee. There were three Rajputs standing between, though, and he could not see
whose the figure was.
"Come over here!" said Colonel Carter, and young Bellairs obeyed him,
leaving Ruth sitting on the ground where she was.
"Wouldn't you care to thank Mohammed Khan?" It was a little cruel of the
colonel to put quite so much venom in his voice, for, when all is said and
done: a man has almost a right to be forgetful when he has just had his young
wife brought him out of the jaws of death. At least he has a good excuse for
it. The sting of the reproof left him bereft of words and he stood looking
down at the old Risaldar, saying nothing and feeling very much ashamed.
"Salaam, Bellairs sahib!" The voice was growing feebler. "I would have
done more for thy father's son! Thou art welcome. Aie! But thy charger is a
good one! Good-by! Time is short, and I would talk with the colonel
He waved Bellairs away with a motion of his hand and the lieutenant went
back to his wife again.
"He sent me away just like that, too!" she told him. "He said he had no
time left to talk to women!"
Colonel Carter bent down again above the Risaldar, and listened to as much
as he had time to tell of what had happened.
"But couldn't you have ridden round them, Risaldar?" he asked them.
"Nay, sahib! It was touch and go! I gave the touch! I saw as I rode how
close the issue was and I saw my chance and took it! Had the memsahib been
slain, she had at least died in full view of the English—and there
was a battle to be won. What would you? I am a soldier—I."
"Indeed you are!" swore Colonel Carter.
"Sahib! Call my sons!"
His sons were standing near him, but the colonel called up his grandsons,
who had been told to stand at a little distance off. They clustered round the
Risaldar in silence, and he looked them over and counted them.
"All here?" he asked.
"Whose sons and grandsons are ye?"
"Thine!" came the chorus.
"This sahib says that having done my bidding and delivered her ye rode to
rescue, ye are no more bound to the Raj. Ye may return to your homes if ye
There was no answer.
"Ye may fight for the rebels, if ye wish! There will be a safe-permit
Again there was no answer.
"For whom, then, fight ye?"
"For the Raj!" The deep-throated answer rang out promptly from every one
of them, and they stood with their sword-hilts thrust out toward the colonel.
He rose and touched each hilt in turn.
"They are now thy servants!" said the Risaldar, laying his head back. "It
is good! I go now. Give my salaams to General Turner sahib!"
"Good-by, old war-dog!" growled the colonel, in an Anglo-Saxon effort to
disguise emotion. He gripped at the right hand that was stretched out on the
ground beside him, but it was lifeless.
Risaldar Mahommed Khan, two-medal man and pensionless gentleman-at-large,
had gone to turn in his account of how he had remembered the salt which he