Beat off in our last fight were we?
The greater need to seek the sea;
For Fortune changeth as the moon
To caravel and picaroon.
Then, Eastward Ho! or Westward Ho!
Whichever wind may meetest blow.
Our quarry sails on either sea,
Fat prey for such bold lads as we.
And every sun-dried buccaneer
Must hand and reef and watch and steer,
And bear great wrath of sea and sky
Before the plate-ships wallow by.
Now, as our tall bow takes the foam,
Let no man turn his heart to home,
Save to desire land the more,
And larger warehouse for his store,
When treasure won from Santos Bay
Shall make our sea-washed village gay.
Fibby and Tarvin ate their breakfast together, half an hour later, in the blotched shadows of the scrub below the wall. The horse buried his nose into his provender, and said nothing. The man was equally silent. Once or twice he rose to his feet, scanned the irregular line of wall and bastion, and shook his head. He had no desire to return there. As the sun grew fiercer he found a resting place in the heart of a circle of thorn, tucked the saddle under his head, and lay down to sleep. Fibby, rolling luxuriously, followed his master’s example. The two took their rest while the air quivered with heat and the hum of insects, and the browsing goats clicked and pattered through the water-channels.
The shadow of the Tower of Glory lengthened, fell across the walls, and ran far across the plain; the kites began to drop from the sky by twos and threes; and naked children, calling one to another, collected the goats and drove them to the smoky villages before Tarvin roused himself for the homeward journey.
He halted Fibby once for a last look at Gunnaur as they reached the rising ground. The sunlight had left the walls, and they ran black against the misty levels and the turquoise-blue of the twilight. Fires twinkled from a score of huts about the base of the city, but along the ridge of the desolation itself there was no light.
‘Mum’s the word, Fibby,’ said Tarvin, picking up his reins. ‘We don’t think well of this picnic, and we won’t mention it at Rhatore.’
He chirruped, and Fibby went home as swiftly as he could lay hoof to stone, only once suggesting refreshment. Tarvin said nothing till the end of the long ride, when he heaved a deep sigh of relief as he dismounted in the fresh sunlight of the morning.
Sitting in his room, it seemed to him a waste of a most precious opportunity that he had not manufactured a torch in Gunnaur and thoroughly explored the passage. But the memory of the green eyes and the smell of musk came back to him, and he shivered. The thing was not to be done. Never again, for any consideration, under the wholesome light of the sun, would he, who feared nothing, set foot in the Cow’s Mouth.
It was his pride that he knew when he had had enough. He had had enough of the Cow’s Mouth; and the only thing for which he still wished in connection with it was to express his mind about it to the Maharajah. Unhappily, this was impossible. That idle monarch, who, he now saw plainly, had sent him there either in a mood of luxurious sportiveness or to throw him off the scent of the necklace, remained the only man from whom he could look for final victory. It was not to the Maharajah that he could afford to say all that he thought.
Fortunately the Maharajah was too much entertained by the work which Tarvin immediately instituted on the Amet River to inquire particularly whether his young friend had sought the Naulahka at the Gye Mukh. Tarvin had sought an audience with the King the morning after his return from that black spot, and, with the face of a man who had never known fear and who lacks the measure of disappointments, gaily demanded the fulfilment of the King’s promise. Having failed in one direction on a large scale, he laid the first brick on the walls of a new structure without delay, as the people of Topaz had begun to, build their town anew the morning after the fire. His experience at the Gye Mukh only sharpened his determination, adding to it a grim willingness to get even with the man who had sent him there.
The Maharajah, who felt in especial need of amusement that morning, was very ready to make good his promise, and ordered that the long man who played pachisi should be granted all the men he could use. With the energy of disgust, and with a hot memory of the least assured and comfortable moments of his life burning in his breast, Tarvin flung himself on the turning of the river and the building of his dam. It was necessary, it seemed, in the land upon which he had fallen, to raise a dust to hide one’s ends. He would raise a dust, and it should be on the same scale as the catastrophe which he had just encountered — thorough, business-like, uncompromising.
He raised it, in fact, in a stupendous cloud. Since the State was founded no one had seen anything like it. The Maharajah lent him all the convict labour of his jails, and Tarvin marched the little host of leg-ironed kaidies into camp at a point five miles beyond the city walls, and solemnly drew up his plans for the futile damming of the barren Amet. His early training as a civil engineer helped him to lay out a reasonable plan of operations, and to give a semblance of reality to his work. His notion was to back up the river by means of a dam at a point where it swept around a long curve, and to send it straight across the plain by excavating a deep bed for it. When this was completed the present bed of the river would lie bare for several miles, and if there were any gold there, as Tarvin said to himself, then would be the time to pick it up. Meanwhile his operations vastly entertained the King, who rode out every morning and watched him directing his small army for an hour or more. The marchings and counter-marchings of the mob of convicts with baskets, hoes, shovels, and pannier-laden donkeys, the prodigal blasting of rocks, and the general bustle and confusion, drew the applause of the King, for whom Tarvin always reserved his best blasts. This struck him as only fair, as the King was paying for the powder, and, indeed, for the entire entertainment.
Among the unpleasant necessities of his position was the need of giving daily to Colonel Nolan, to the King, and to all the drummers at the resthouse, whenever they might choose to ask him, his reasons for damming the Amet. The great Indian Government itself also presently demanded his reasons, in writing, for damming the Amet; Colonel Nolan’s reasons, in writing, for allowing the Amet to be dammed; and the King’s reasons for allowing anybody but a duly authorised agent of the Government to dam the Amet. This was accompanied by a request for further information. To these inquiries Tarvin, for his part, returned an evasive answer, and felt that he was qualifying himself for his political career at home. Colonel Nolan explained officially to his superiors that the convicts were employed in remunerative labour, and, unofficially, that the Maharajah had been so phenomenally good for some time past (being kept amused by this American stranger), that it would be a thousand pities to interrupt the operations. Colonel Nolan was impressed by the fact that Tarvin was the Hon. Nicholas Tarvin, and a member of the legislature of one of the United States.
The Government, knowing something of the irrepressible race who stride booted into the council-halls of kings, and demand concessions for oil-boring from Arracan to the Peshin, said no more, but asked to be supplied with information from time to time as to the progress of the stranger’s work. When Tarvin heard this he sympathised with the Indian Government. He understood this thirst for information; he wanted some himself as to the present whereabouts of the Naulahka; also touching the time it would take Kate to find out that she wanted him more than the cure of any misery whatever.
At least twice a week, in fancy, he gave up the Naulahka definitely, returned to Topaz, and resumed the business of a real estate and insurance agent. He drew a long breath after each of these decisions, with the satisfying recollection that there was still one spot on the earth’s surface where a man might come directly at his desires if he possessed the sand and the hustle; where he could walk a straight path to his ambition; and where he did not by preference turn five corners to reach an object a block away.
Sometimes, as he grilled patiently in the river bed under the blighting rays of the Indian sun, he would heretically blaspheme the Naulahka, refusing to believe in its existence, and persuading himself that it was as grotesque a lie as the King’s parody of a civilised government, or as Dhunpat Rai’s helpful surgery. Yet from a hundred sources he heard of the existence of that splendour, only never in reply to a direct question.
Dhunpat Rai, in particular (once weak enough to complain of the new lady doctor’s ‘excessive zeal and surplusage administration’), had given him an account that made his mouth water. But Dhunpat Rai had not seen the necklace since the crowning of the present King, fifteen years before. The very convicts on the works, squabbling over the distribution of food, spoke of millet as being as costly as the Naulahka. Twice the Maharaj Kunwar, babbling vaingloriously to his big friend of what he would do when he came to the throne, concluded his confidences with, ‘And then I shall wear the Naulahka in my turban all day long.’
But when Tarvin asked him where that precious necklace lived, the Maharaj Kunwar shook his head, answering sweetly, ‘I do not know.’
The infernal thing seemed to be a myth, a word, a proverb — anything rather than the finest necklace in the world. In the intervals of blasting and excavation he would make futile attempts to come upon its track. He took the city ward by ward, and explored every temple in each; he rode, under pretence of archæological study, to the outlying forts and ruined palaces that lay beyond the city in the desert, and roved restlessly through the mausoleums that held the ashes of the dead kings of Rhatore. He told himself a hundred times that he knew each quest to be hopeless; but he needed the consolation of persistent search. And the search was always vain.
Tarvin fought his impatience when he rode abroad with the Maharajah. At the palace, which he visited at least once a day under pretence of talking about the dam, he devoted himself more sedulously than ever to pachisi. It pleased the Maharajah in those days to remove himself from the white marble pavilion in the orange garden, where he usually spent the spring months, to Sitabhai’s wing of the red-stone palace, and to sit in the courtyard watching trained parrots firing little cannons, and witnessing combats between fighting quail or great grey apes dressed in imitation of English officers. When Colonel Nolan appeared the apes were hastily dismissed; but Tarvin was allowed to watch the play throughout, when he was not engaged on the dam. He was forced to writhe in inaction and in wonder about his necklace, while these childish games went forward; but he constantly kept the corner of an eye upon the movements of the Maharaj Kunwar. There, at least, his wit could serve some one.
The Maharajah had given strict orders that the child should obey all Kate’s instructions. Even his heavy eyes noted an improvement in the health of the little one, and Tarvin was careful that he should know that the credit belonged to Kate alone. With impish perversity the young Prince, who had never received an order in his life before, learned to find joy in disobedience, and devoted his wits, his escort, and his barouche to gambolling in the wing of the palace belonging to Sitabhai. There he found grey-headed flatterers by the score, who abased themselves before him, and told him what manner of king he should be in the years to come. There also were pretty dancing-girls, who sang him songs, and would have corrupted his mind but that it was too young to receive corruption. There were, besides, apes and peacocks and jugglers — new ones every day — together with dancers on the slack-rope, and wonderful packing-cases from Calcutta, out of which he was allowed to choose ivory-handled pistols and little gold-hilted swords with seed pearls set in a groove along the middle, and running musically up and down as he waved the blade round his head. Finally, the sacrifice of a goat in an opal and ivory temple in the heart of the women’s quarters, which he might watch, allured him that way. Against these enticements Kate, moody, grave, distracted, her eyes full of the miseries on which it was her daily lot to look, and her heart torn with the curelessness of it all, could offer only little childish games in the missionary’s drawing-room. The heir-apparent to the throne did not care for leap-frog, which he deemed in the highest degree undignified; nor yet for puss-inthe-corner, which seemed to him overactive; nor for tennis, which he understood was played by his brother princes, but which to him appeared no part of a Rajput’s education. Sometimes, when he was tired (and on rare occasions when he escaped to Sitabhai’s wing it was observable that he returned very tired indeed), he would listen long and intently to the stories of battle and siege which Kate read to him, and would scandalise her at the end of the tale by announcing, with flashing eye —
‘When I am king I will make my army do all those things.’
It was not in Kate’s nature — she would have thought it in the highest degree wrong — to refrain from some little attempt at religious instruction. But here the child retreated into the stolidity of the East, and only said —
‘All these things are very good for you, Kate, but all my gods are very good for me; and if my father knew, he would be angry.’
‘And what do you worship?’ asked Kate, pitying the young pagan from the bottom of her heart.
‘My sword and my horse,’ answered the Maharaj Kunwar; and he half drew the jewelled sabre that was his, inseparable companion, returning it with a resolute clank that closed the discussion.
But it was impossible, he discovered, to evade the long man Tarvin as he evaded Kate. He resented being called ‘bub,’ nor did he approve of ‘little man.’ But Tarvin could drawl the word ‘Prince’ with a quiet deference that made the young Rajput almost suspect himself the subject of a jest. And yet Tarvin Sahib treated him as a man, and allowed him, under due precautions, to handle his mighty ‘gun,’ which was not a gun, but a pistol. And once, when the Prince had coaxed the keeper of the horse into allowing him to bestride an unmanageable mount, Tarvin, riding up, had picked him out of the depths of the velvet saddle, set him on his own saddle-bow, and, in the same cloud of dust, shown him how, in his own country, they laid the reins on one side or the other of the neck of their cattle-ponies to guide them in pursuit of a steer broken from the herd.
The trick of being lifted from his saddle, appealing to the ‘circus’ latent in the boy breast even of an Eastern prince, struck the Maharaj as so amusing that he insisted on exhibiting it before Kate; and as Tarvin was a necessary figure in the performance, he allured him into helping him with it one day before the house of the missionary. Mr. and Mrs. Estes came out upon the verandah with Kate and watched the exhibition, and the missionary pursued it with applause and requests for a repetition, which, having been duly given, Mrs. Estes asked Tarvin if he would not stay to dinner with them since he was there. Tarvin glanced doubtfully at Kate for permission, and, by a process of reasoning best known to lovers, construed the veiling of her eyes and the turning of her head into assent.
After dinner, as they sat on the verandah in the starlight, ‘Do you really mind?’ he asked.
‘What?’ asked she, lifting her sober eyes and letting them fall upon him.
‘My seeing you sometimes. I know you don’t like it; but it will help me to look after you. You must see by this time that you need looking after.’
‘Thank you,’ said Tarvin, almost humbly.
‘I mean I don’t need looking after.’
‘But you don’t dislike it?’
‘It’s good of you,’ she said impartially.
‘Well, then, it will be bad of you not to like it.’
Kate had to smile. ‘I guess I like it,’ she replied.
‘And you will let me come once in a while? You can’t think what the rest-house is. Those drummers will kill me yet. And the coolies at the dam are not in my set.’
‘Well, since you’re here. But you ought not to be here. Do me a real kindness, and go away, Nick.’
‘Give me an easier one.’
‘But why are you here? You can’t show any rational reason.’
‘Yes; that’s what the British Government says. But I brought my reason along.’
He confessed his longing for something homely and natural and American after a day’s work under a heathen and raging sun; and when he put it in this light, Kate responded on another side. She had been brought up with a sense of responsibility for making young men feel at home; and he certainly felt at home when she was able to produce, two or three evenings later, a Topaz paper sent her by her father. Tarvin pounced on it, and turned the flimsy four pages inside out, and then back again.
He smacked his lips. ‘Oh, good, good, good!’ he murmured relishingly. ‘Don’t the advertisements look nice? What’s the matter with Topaz?’ cried he, holding the sheet from him at arm’s length, and gazing ravenously up and down its columns. ‘Oh, she’s all right.’ The cooing, musical sing-song in which he uttered this consecrated phrase was worth going a long way to hear. ‘Say, we’re coming on, aren’t we? We’re not lagging nor loafing, nor fooling our time away, if we haven’t got the Three C.‘s yet. We’re keeping up with the procession. Hi-yi! look at the “Rustler Rootlets”— just about a stickful! Why, the poor old worm-eaten town is going sound, sound asleep in her old age, isn’t she? Think of taking a railroad there! Listen to this:—
“Milo C. Lambert, the owner of ‘Lambert’s Last Ditch,’ has a car-load of good ore on the dump, but, like all the rest of us, don’t find it pays to ship without a railroad line nearer than fifteen miles. Milo says Colorado won’t be good enough for him after he gets his ore away.”
‘I should think not. Come to Topaz, Milo! And this:—
“When the Three C.‘s comes into the city in the fall we shan’t be hearing this talk about hard times. Meantime it’s an injustice to the town, which all honest citizens should resent and do their best to put down, to speak of Rustler as taking a back seat to any town of its age in the State. As a matter of fact, Rustler was never more prosperous. With mines which produced last year ore valued at a total of $1,200,000, with six churches of different denominations, with a young but prosperous and growing academy which is destined to take a front rank among American schools, with a record of new buildings erected during the past year equal if not superior to any town in the mountains, and with a population of lively and determined business men, Rustler bids fair in the coming year to be worthy of her name.”
‘Who said “afraid”? We’re not hurt. Hear us whistle. But I’m sorry Heckler let that into his correspondence,’ he added, with a momentary frown. ‘Some of our Topaz citizens might miss the fun of it, and go over to Rustler to wait for the Three C.‘s. Coming in the fall, is it? Oh, dear! Oh, dear, dear, dear! This is the way they amuse themselves while they dangle their legs over Big Chief Mountain and wait for it:—
“Our merchants have responded to the recent good feeling which has pervaded the town since word came that President Mutrie, on his return to Denver, was favourably considering the claims of Rustler. Robbins has his front windows prettily decorated and filled with fancy articles. His store seems to be the most popular for the youngsters who have a nickel or two to spend.”
‘I should murmur! Won’t you like to see the Three C.‘s come sailing into Topaz one of these fine mornings, little girl?’ asked Tarvin suddenly, as he seated himself on the sofa beside her, and opened out the paper so that she could look over his shoulder.
‘Would you like it, Nick?’
‘Then, of course, I should. But I think you will be better off if it doesn’t. It will make you too rich. See father.’
‘Well, I’d put on the brakes if I found myself getting real rich. I’ll stop just after I’ve passed the Genteel Poverty Station. Isn’t it good to see the old heading again — Heckler’s name as large as life just under “oldest paper in Divide County,” and Heckler’s fist sticking out all over a rousing editorial on the prospects of the town? Homelike, isn’t it? He’s got two columns of new advertising; that shows what the town’s doing. And look at the good old “ads.” from the Eastern agencies. How they take you back! I never expected to thank Heaven for a Castoria advertisement; did you, Kate? But I swear it makes me feel good all over. I’ll read the patent inside if you say much.’
Kate smiled. The paper gave her a little pang of home-sickness too. She had her own feeling for Topaz; but what reached her through the Telegram’s lively pages was the picture of her mother sitting in her kitchen in the long afternoons (she had sat in the kitchen so long in the poor and wandering days of the family that she did it now by preference), gazing sadly out at white-topped Big Chief, and wondering what her daughter was doing at that hour. Kate remembered well that afternoon hour in the kitchen when the work was done. She recalled from the section-house days the superannuated rocker, once a parlour chair, which her mother had hung with skins and told off for kitchen service. Kate remembered with starting tears that her mother had always wanted her to sit in it, and how good it had been to see, from her own hassock next the oven, the little mother swallowed up in its deeps. She heard the cat purring under the stove, and the kettle singing; the clock ticked in her ear, and the cracks between the boards in the floor of the hastily built section-house blew the cold prairie air against her heels.
She gazed over Tarvin’s, shoulder at the two cuts of Topaz which appeared in every issue of the Telegram — the one representing the town in its first year, the other the town of today — and a lump rose in her throat.
‘Quite a difference, isn’t there?’ said Tarvin, following her eye. ‘Do you remember where your father’s tent used to stand, and the old sectionhouse, just here by the river?’ He pointed, and Kate nodded without speaking. ‘Those were good days, weren’t they? Your father wasn’t as rich as he is now, and neither was I; but we were all mighty happy together.’
Kate’s thought drifted back to that time, and called up other visions of her mother expending her slight frame in many forms of hard work. The memory of the little characteristic motion with which she would shield with raised hand the worn young-old face when she would be broiling above an open fire, or frying doughnuts, or lifting the stove lid, forced her to gulp down the tears. The simple picture was too clear, even to the light of the fire on the face, and the pink light shining through the frail hand.
‘Hello!’ said Tarvin, casting his eye up and down the columns, ‘they’ve had to put another team on to keep the streets clean. We had one. Heckler don’t forget the climate either. And they are doing well at the Mesa House. That’s a good sign. The tourists will all have to stop over at Topaz when the new line comes through, and we have the right hotel. Some towns might think we had a little tourist traffic now. Here’s Loomis dining fifty at the Mesa the other day — through express. They’ve formed a new syndicate to work the Hot Springs. Do you know, I shouldn’t wonder if they made a town down there. Heckler’s right. It will help Topaz. We don’t mind a town that near. It makes a suburb of it.’
He marked his sense of the concession implied in letting him stay that evening by going early; but he did not go so early on the following evening, and as he showed no inclination to broach forbidden subjects, Kate found herself glad to have him there, and it became a habit of his to drop in, in the evenings, and to join the group that gathered, with open doors and windows, about the family lamp. In the happiness of seeing visible effects from her labours blossoming under her eyes, Kate regarded his presence less and less. Sometimes she would let him draw her out upon the verandah under the sumptuous Indian night-nights when the heat-lightning played like a drawn sword on the horizon, and the heavens hovered near the earth, and the earth was very still. But commonly they sat within, with the missionary and his wife, talking of Topaz, of the hospital, of the Maharaj Kunwar, of the dam, and sometimes of the Estes children at Bangor. For the most part, however, when the talk was among the group, it fell upon the infinitesimal gossip of a sequestered life, to the irritation and misery of Tarvin.
When the conversation lagged in these deeps he would fetch up violently with a challenge to Estes on the subject of the tariff or silver legislation, and after that the talk was at least lively. Tarvin was, by his training, largely a newspaper-educated man. But he had also been taught at first hand by life itself, and by the habit of making his own history; and he used the hairy fist of horse-sense in dealing with the theories of newspaper politics and the systems of the schools.
Argument had no allurements for him, however; it was with Kate that he talked when he could, and oftenest, of late, of the hospital, since her progress there had begun to encourage her. She yielded at last to his entreaties to be allowed to see this paragon, and to look for himself upon the reforms she had wrought.
Matters had greatly improved since the days of the lunatic and the ‘much-esteemed woman,’ but only Kate knew how much remained to be done. The hospital was at least clean and sweet if she inspected it every day, and the people in their fashion were grateful for kinder tending and more skilful treatment than they had hitherto dreamed of. Upon each cure a rumour went abroad through the country-side of a new power in the land, and other patients came; or the convalescent herself would bring back a sister, a child, or a mother with absolute faith in the power of the White Fairy to make all whole. They could not know all the help that Kate brought in the train of her quiet movements, but for what they knew they blessed her as they lay. Her new energy swept even Dhunpat Rai along the path of reform. He became curious in the limewashing of stonework, the disinfecting of wards, the proper airing of bed-linen, and even the destruction by fire of the bedsteads, once his perquisite, on which smallpox patients had died. Native-like, he worked best for a woman with the knowledge that there was an energetic white man in the background. Tarvin’s visits, and a few cheery words addressed to him by that capable outsider, supplied him with this knowledge.
Tarvin could not understand the uncouth talk of the out-patients, and did not visit the women’s wards; but he saw enough to congratulate Kate unreservedly. She smiled contentedly. Mrs. Estes was sympathetic, but in no way enthusiastic; and it was good to be praised by Nick, who had found so much to blame in her project.
‘It’s clean and it’s wholesome, little girl,’ he said, peering and sniffing; ‘and you’ve done miracles with these jellyfish. If you’d been on the opposition ticket instead of your father I shouldn’t be a member of the legislature.’
Kate never talked to him about that large part of her work which lay among the women of the Maharajah’s palace. Little by little she learned her way about such portions of the pile as she was permitted to traverse. From the first she had understood that the palace was ruled by one Queen, of whom the women spoke under their breath, and whose lightest word, conveyed by the mouth of a grinning child, set the packed mazes humming. Once only had she seen this Queen, glimmering like a tiger-beetle among a pile of kincob cushions — a lithe, black-haired young girl, it seemed, with a voice as soft as running water at night, and with eyes that had no shadow of fear in them. She turned lazily, the jewels clinking on ankle, arm, and bosom, and looked at Kate for a long time without speaking.
‘I have sent that I may see you,’ she said at last. ‘You have come here across the water to help these cattle?’
Kate nodded, every instinct in her revolting at the silver-tongued splendour at her feet.
‘You are not married?’ The Queen put her hands behind her head and looked at the painted peacocks on the ceiling.
Kate did not reply, but her heart was hot.
‘Is there any sickness here?’ she asked at last sharply. ‘I have much to do.’
‘There is none, unless it may be that you yourself are sick. There are those who sicken without knowing it.’
The eyes turned to meet Kate’s, which were blazing with indignation. This woman, lapped in idleness, had struck at the life of the Maharaj Kunwar; and the horror of it was that she was younger than herself.
‘Achcha,’ said the Queen, still more slowly, watching her face. ‘If you hate me so, why do you not say so? You white people love truth.’
Kate turned on her heel to leave the room. Sitabhai called her back for an instant, and, moved by some royal caprice, would have caressed her, but she fled indignant, and was careful never again to venture into that wing of the palace. None of the women there called for her services, and not once but several times, when she passed the mouth of the covered way that led to Sitabhai’s apartments, she saw a little naked child flourishing a jewelled knife, and shouting round the headless carcass of a goat whose blood was flooding the white marble. ‘That,’ said the women, ‘is the gipsy’s son. He learns to kill daily. A snake is a snake, and a gipsy is a gipsy, till they are dead.’
There was no slaughter of goats, singing of songs, or twangling of musical instruments in the wing of the palace that made itself specially Kate’s own. Here lived, forgotten by the Maharajah and mocked by Sitabhai’s maidens, the mother of the Maharaj Kunwar. Sitabhai had taken from her — by the dark arts of the gipsies, so the Queen’s adherents said; by her own beauty and knowledge in love, they sang in the other wing of the palace — all honour and consideration due to her as the Queen Mother. There were scores of empty rooms where once there had been scores of waiting-women, and those who remained with the fallen Queen were forlorn and ill-favoured. She herself was a middle-aged woman, by Eastern standards; that is to say, she had passed twenty-five, and had never been more than ordinarily comely.
Her eyes were dull with much weeping, and her mind was full of superstitions — fears for every hour of the night and the day, and vague terrors, bred of loneliness, that made her tremble at the sound of a footfall. In the years of her prosperity she had been accustomed to perfume herself, put on her jewels, and with braided hair await the Maharajah’s coming. She would still call for her jewels, attire herself as of old, and wait amid the respectful silence of her attendants till the long night gave way to the dawn, and the dawn showed the furrows on her cheeks. Kate had seen one such vigil, and perhaps showed in her eyes the wonder that she could not repress, for the Queen Mother fawned on her timidly after the jewels had been put away, and begged her not to laugh.
‘You do not understand, Miss Kate,’ she pleaded. ‘There is one custom in your country and another in ours; but still you are a woman, and you will know.’
‘But you know that no one will come,’ Kate said tenderly.
‘Yes, I know; but — no, you are not a woman, only a fairy that has come across the water to help me and mine.’
Here again Kate was baffled. Except in the message sent by the Maharaj Kunwar, the Queen Mother never referred to the danger that threatened her son’s life. Again and again Kate had tried to lead up to the subject — to gain some hint, at least, of the nature of the plot.
‘I know nothing,’ the Queen would reply. ‘Here behind the curtain no one knows anything. Miss Kate, if my own women lay dead out there in the sun at noon’— she pointed downwards through the tracery of her window to the flagged path below —‘I should know nothing. Of what I said I know nothing; but surely it is allowed’— she lowered her voice to a whisper —‘oh, surely it is allowed to a mother to bid another woman look to her son. He is so old now that he thinks himself a man, and wanders far, and so young that he thinks the world will do him no harm. Ahi! And he is so wise that he knows a thousand times more than I: he speaks English like an Englishman. How can I control him with my little learning and my very great love? I say to you, Be good to my son. That I can say aloud, and write it upon a wall, if need were. There is no harm in that. But if I said more, look you, the plaster between the stones beneath me would gape to suck it in, and the wind would blow all my words across to the villages. I am a stranger here — a Rajputni from Kulu, a thousand thousand koss away. They bore me here in a litter to be married — in the dark they bore me for a month; and except that some of my women have told me, I should not know which way the home wind blows when it goes to Kulu. What can a strange cow do in the byre? May the gods witness.’
‘Ah, but tell me what you think?’
‘I think nothing,’ the Queen would answer sullenly. ‘What have women to do with thinking? They love and they suffer. I have said all that I may say. Miss Kate, some day you will bear a little son. As you have been good to my son, so may the gods be good to yours when that time comes, and you know how the heart is full of love.’
‘If I am to protect him, I must know. You leave me in the dark.’
‘And I also am in the dark — and the darkness is full of danger.’
Tarvin himself was much about the palace, not only because he perceived that it was there he might most hopefully keep his ear to the ground for news of the Naulahka, but because it enabled him to observe Kate’s comings and goings, and with his hand ready for a rapid movement to his pistol-pocket.
His gaze followed her at these times, as at others, with the longing look of the lover; but he said nothing, and Kate was grateful to him. It was a time, as it seemed to him, to play the part of the Tarvin who had carried water for her long ago at the end of the section; it was a time to stand back, to watch, to guard, but not to trouble her.
The Maharaj Kunwar came often under his eye, and he was constantly inventing amusing things for him to do remote from Sitabhai’s courtyard; but the boy would occasionally break away, and then it was Tarvin’s task to go after him and make sure that he came to no harm. One afternoon when he had spent some time in coaxing the child away, and had finally resorted to force, much to the child’s disgust, a twelve-foot baulk of teakwood, as he was passing out under an arch in process of repair, crashed down from the scaffolding just in front of Fibby’s nose. The horse retired into the courtyard on his hind legs, and Tarvin heard the rustle of the women behind the shutters.
He reflected on the incurable slackness of these people, stopped to swear at the workmen crouched on the scaffolding in the hollow of the arch, and went on. They were no less careless about the dam — it was in the blood, he supposed — for the headman of a coolie gang who must have crossed the Amet twenty times, showed him a new ford across a particularly inviting channel, which ended in a quicksand; and when Tarvin had flung himself clear, the gang spent half the day in hauling Fibby out with ropes. They could not even build a temporary bridge without leaving the boards loose, so that a horse’s hoof found its way between; and the gangs seemed to make a point of letting bullock-carts run down the steep embankments into the small of Tarvin’s back, when, at infrequent intervals, that happened to be turned.
Tarvin was filled with great respect for the British Government, which worked on these materials, and began to understand the mild-faced melancholy and decisive views of Lucien Estes about the native population, as well as to sympathise more keenly than ever with Kate.
This curious people were now, he learned with horror, to fill the cup of their follies by marrying the young Maharaj Kunwar to a three-year-old babe, brought from the Kulu hills, at vast expense, to be his bride. He sought out Kate at the missionary’s, and found her quivering with indignation. She had just heard.
‘It’s like them to waste a wedding where it isn’t wanted,’ said Tarvin soothingly. Since he saw Kate excited, it became his part to be calm. ‘Don’t worry your overworked head about it, Kate. You are trying to do too much, and you are feeling too much. You will break down before you know it, from sheer exhaustion of the chord of sympathy.’
‘Oh no!’ said Kate. ‘I feel quite strong enough for anything that may come. I mustn’t break down. Think of this marriage coming on. The Maharaj will need me more than ever. He has just told me that he won’t get any sleep for three days and three nights while their priests are praying over him.’
‘Crazy! Why, it’s a quicker way of killing him than Sitabhai’s. Heavens! I daren’t think of it. Let’s talk of something else. Any papers from your father lately? This kind of thing makes Topaz taste sort of good.’
She gave him a package received by the last post, and he fell silent as he ran his eye hastily over a copy of the Telegram six weeks old; but he seemed to find little comfort in it. His brows knitted.
‘Pshaw!’ he exclaimed with irritation, ‘this won’t do!’
‘What is it?’
‘Heckler bluffing about the Three C.‘s, and not doing it well. That isn’t like Jim. He talks about it as a sure thing as hard as if he didn’t believe in it, and had a private tip from somewhere that it wasn’t coming after all. I’ve no doubt he has. But he needn’t give it away to Rustler like that. Let’s look at the real estate transfers. Ah! that tells the story,’ he exclaimed excitedly, as his eye rested on the record of the sale of a parcel of lots on G Street. ‘Prices are going down — away, ‘way down. The boys are caving. They’re giving up the fight.’ He leaped up and marched about the room nervously. ‘Heavens! if I could only get word to them!’
‘Why — what, Nick? What word do you want to send them?’
He pulled himself up instantly.
‘To let them know that I believe in it,’ he said. ‘To get them to hold on.’
‘But suppose the road doesn’t come to Topaz after all. How can you know, away off here in India?’
‘Come to Topaz, little girl!’ he shouted. ‘Come to Topaz! It’s coming if I have to lay the rails!’
But the news about the temper of the town vexed and disconcerted him notwithstanding, and after he left Kate that night he sent a cable to Heckler, through Mrs. Mutrie, desiring her to forward the despatch from Denver, as if that were the originating office of the message.
‘HECKLER, TOPAZ. — Take a brace, for God’s sake. Got dead cinch on Three C.‘s. Trust me, and boom like —— TARVIN.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10