Three years passed away after the fatal encounter mentioned in the last Chapter, and Doctor Hartley returning from his appointed mission, which was only temporary, received encouragement to settle in Madras in a medical capacity; and upon having done so, soon had reason to think he had chosen a line in which he might rise to wealth and reputation. His practice was not confined to his countrymen, but much sought after among the natives, who, whatever may be their prejudices against the Europeans in other respects, universally esteem their superior powers in the medical profession. This lucrative branch of practice rendered it necessary that Hartley should make the Oriental languages his study, in order to hold communication with his patients without the intervention of an interpreter. He had enough of opportunities to practise as a linguist, for, in acknowledgment, as he used jocularly to say, of the large fees of the wealthy Moslemah and Hindoos, he attended the poor of all nations gratis, whenever he was called upon.
It so chanced, that one evening he was hastily summoned by a message from the Secretary of the Government, to attend a patient of consequence. “Yet he is, after all, only a Fakir,” said the message. “You will find him at the tomb of Cara Razi, the Mahomedan saint and doctor, about one coss from the fort. Enquire for him by the name of Barak el Hadgi. Such a patient promises no fees; but we know how little you care about the pagodas; and, besides, the Government is your paymaster on this occasion.”
“That is the last matter to be thought on,” said Hartley, and instantly repaired in his palanquin to the place pointed out to him.
The tomb of the Owliah, or Mahomedan Saint, Cara Razi, was a place held in much reverence by every good Mussulman. It was situated in the centre of a grove of mangos and tamarind-trees, and was built of red stone, having three domes, and minarets at every corner. There was a court in front, as usual, around which were cells constructed for the accommodation of the Fakirs who visited the tomb from motives of devotion, and made a longer or shorter residence there as they thought proper, subsisting upon the alms which the Faithful never fail to bestow on them in exchange for the benefit of their prayers. These devotees were engaged day and night in reading verses of the Koran before the tomb, which was constructed of white marble, inscribed with sentences from the book of the Prophet, and with the various titles conferred by the Koran upon the Supreme Being. Such a sepulchre, of which there are many, is, with its appendages and attendants, respected during wars and revolutions, and no less by Feringis, (Franks, that is,) and Hindoos, than by Mahomedans themselves. The Fakirs, in return, act as spies for all parties, and are often employed in secret missions of importance.
Complying with the Mahomedan custom, our friend Hartley laid aside his shoes at the gates of the holy precincts, and avoiding to give offence by approaching near to the tomb, he went up to the principal Moullah, or priest who was distinguishable by the length of his beard, and the size of the large wooden beads, with which the Mahomedans, like the Catholics, keep register of their prayers. Such a person, venerable by his age, sanctity of character, and his real or supposed contempt of worldly pursuits and enjoyments, is regarded as the head of an establishment of this kind.
The Moullah is permitted by his situation to be more communicative with strangers than his younger brethren, who in the present instance remained with their eyes fixed on the Koran, muttering their recitations without noticing the European, or attending to what he said, as he enquired at their superior for Barak el Hadgi.
The Moullah was seated on the earth, from which he did not arise, or show any mark of reverence; nor did he interrupt the tale of his beads, which he continued to count assiduously while Hartley was speaking. When he finished, the old man raised his eyes, and looked at him with an air of distraction, as if he was endeavouring to recollect what he had been saying; he at length pointed to one of the cells, and resumed his devotions like one who felt impatient of whatever withdrew his attention from his sacred duties, were it but for an instant.
Hartley entered the cell indicated, with the usual salutation of Salam Alaikum. His patient lay on a little carpet in a corner of the small white-washed cell. He was a man of about forty, dressed in the black robe of his order, very much torn and patched. He wore a high conical cap of Tartarian felt, and had round his neck the string of black beads belonging to his order. His eyes and posture indicated suffering, which he was enduring with stoical patience.
“Salam Alaikum,” said Hartley; “you are in pain, my father?”— a title which he gave rather to the profession than to the years of the person he addressed.
“Salam Alaikum bema sebastem,” answered the Fakir; “Well is it for you that you have suffered patiently. The book saith, such shall be the greeting of the angels to those who enter paradise.”
The conversation being thus opened, the physician proceeded to enquire into the complaints of the patient, and to prescribe what he thought advisable. Having done this, he was about to retire, when, to his great surprise, the Fakir tendered him a ring of some value.
“The wise,” said Hartley, declining the present, and at the same time paying a suitable compliment to the Fakir’s cap and robe — “the wise of every country are brethren. My left hand takes no guerdon of my right.”
“A Feringi can then refuse gold?” said the Fakir. “I thought they took it from every hand, whether pure as that of an Houri, or leprous like Gehazi’s — even as the hungry dog recketh not whether the flesh he eateth be of the camel of the prophet Saleth, or of the ass of Degial — on whose head be curses!”
“The book says,” replied Hartley, “that it is Allah who closes and who enlarges the heart. Frank and Mussulman are all alike moulded by his pleasure.”
“My brother hath spoken wisely,” answered the patient. “Welcome the disease, if it bring thee acquainted with a wise physician. For what saith the poet —‘It is well to have fallen to the earth, if while grovelling there thou shalt discover a diamond.’”
The physician made repeated visits to his patient, and continued to do so even after the health of El Hadgi was entirely restored. He had no difficulty in discerning in him one of those secret agents frequently employed by Asiatic Sovereigns. His intelligence, his learning, above all, his versatility and freedom from prejudices of every kind, left no doubt of Barak’s possessing the necessary qualifications for conducting such delicate negotiations; while his gravity of habit and profession could not prevent his features from expressing occasionally a perception of humour, not usually seen in devotees of his class.
Barak el Hadgi talked often, amidst their private conversations, of the power and dignity of the Nawaub of Mysore; and Hartley had little doubt that he came from the Court of Hyder Ali, on some secret mission, perhaps for achieving a more solid peace betwixt that able and sagacious Prince and the East India Company’s Government — that which existed for the time being regarded on both parts as little more than a hollow and insincere truce. He told many stories to the advantage of this Prince, who certainly was one of the wisest that Hindostan could boast; and amidst great crimes, perpetrated to gratify his ambition, displayed many instances of princely generosity, and, what was a little more surprising, of even-handed justice.
On one occasion, shortly before Barak el Hadgi left Madras, he visited the Doctor, and partook of his sherbet, which he preferred to his own, perhaps because a few glasses of rum or brandy were usually added to enrich the compound. It might be owing to repeated applications to the jar which contained this generous fluid, that the Pilgrim became more than usually frank in his communications, and not contented with praising his Nawaub with the most hyperbolic eloquence, he began to insinuate the influence which he himself enjoyed with the Invincible, the Lord and Shield of the Faith of the Prophet.
“Brother of my soul,” he said, “do but think if thou needest aught that the all-powerful Hyder Ali Khan Bohander can give; and then use not the intercession of those who dwell in palaces, and wear jewels in their turbans, but seek the cell of thy brother at the Great City, which is Seringapatam. And the poor Fakir, in his torn cloak, shall better advance thy suit with the Nawaub [for Hyder did not assume the title of Sultann] than they who sit upon seats of honour in the Divan.”
With these and sundry other expressions of regard, he exhorted Hartley to come into the Mysore, and look upon the face of the Great Prince, whose glance inspired wisdom, and whose nod conferred wealth, so that Folly or Poverty could not appear before him. He offered at the same time to requite the kindness which Hartley had evinced to him, by showing him whatever was worthy the attention of a sage in the land of Mysore.
Hartley was not reluctant to promise to undertake the proposed journey, if the continuance of good understanding betwixt their governments should render it practicable, and in reality looked forward to the possibility of such an event with a good deal of interest. The friends parted with mutual good wishes, after exchanging in the Oriental fashion, such gifts as became sages, to whom knowledge was to be supposed dearer than wealth. Barak el Hadgi presented Hartley with a small quantity of the balsam of Mecca, very hard to be procured in an unadulterated form, and gave him at the same time a passport in a peculiar character, which he assured him would be respected by every officer of the Nawaub, should his friend be disposed to accomplish his visit to the Mysore. “The head of him who should disrespect this safe-conduct,” he said, “shall not be more safe than that of the barley-stalk which the reaper has grasped in his hand.”
Hartley requited these civilities by the present of a few medicines little used in the East, but such as he thought might, with suitable directions, be safely intrusted to a man so intelligent as his Moslem friend.
It was several months after Barak had returned to the interior of India, that Hartley was astonished by an unexpected rencounter.
The ships from Europe had but lately arrived, and had brought over their usual cargo of boys longing to be commanders, and young women without any purpose of being married, but whom a pious duty to some brother, some uncle, or other male relative, brought to India to keep his house, until they should find themselves unexpectedly in one of their own. Dr. Hartley happened to attend a public breakfast given on this occasion by a gentleman high in the service. The roof of his friend had been recently enriched by a consignment of three nieces, whom the old gentleman, justly attached to his quiet hookah, and, it was said, to a pretty girl of colour, desired to offer to the public, that he might have the fairest chance to get rid of his new guests as soon as possible. Hartley, who was thought a fish worth casting a fly for, was contemplating this fair investment, with very little interest, when he heard one of the company say to another in a low voice —
“Angels and ministers! there is our old acquaintance, the Queen of Sheba, returned upon our hands like unsaleable goods.”
Hartley looked in the same direction with the two who were speaking, and his eye was caught by a Semiramis-looking person, of unusual stature and amplitude, arrayed in a sort of riding-habit, but so formed, and so looped and gallooned with lace, as made it resemble the upper tunic of a native chief. Her robe was composed of crimson silk, rich with flowers of gold. She wore wide trowsers of light blue silk, a fine scarlet shawl around her waist, in which was stuck a creeze with a richly ornamented handle. Her throat and arms were loaded with chains and bracelets, and her turban, formed of a shawl similar to that worn around her waist, was decorated by a magnificent aigrette, from which a blue ostrich plume flowed in one direction, and a red one in another. The brow, of European complexion, on which this tiara rested, was too lofty for beauty, but seemed made for command; the aquiline nose retained its form, but the cheeks were a little sunken, and the complexion so very brilliant, as to give strong evidence that the whole countenance had undergone a thorough repair since the lady had left her couch. A black female slave, richly dressed, stood behind her with a chowry, or cow’s tail, having a silver handle, which she used to keep off the flies. From the mode in which she was addressed by those who spoke to her, this lady appeared a person of too much importance to be affronted or neglected, and yet one with whom none desired further communication than the occasion seemed in propriety to demand.
She did not, however, stand in need of attention. The well-known captain of an East Indian vessel lately arrived from Britain was sedulously polite to her; and two or three gentlemen, whom Hartley knew to be engaged in trade, tended upon her as they would have done upon the safety of a rich argosy.
“For Heaven’s sake, what is that for a Zenobia?” said Hartley, to the gentleman whose whisper had first attracted his attention to this lofty dame.
“Is it possible you do not know the Queen of Sheba?” said the person of whom he enquired, no way both to communicate the information demanded. “You must know, then, that she is the daughter of a Scotch emigrant, who lived and died at Pondicherry, a sergeant in Lally’s regiment. She managed to marry a partisan officer named Montreville, a Swiss or Frenchman, I cannot tell which. After the surrender of Pondicherry, this hero and heroine — But hey — what the devil are you thinking of? — If you stare at her that way, you will make a scene; for she will think nothing of scolding you across the table.”
But without attending to his friend’s remonstrances, Hartley bolted from the table at which he sat, and made his way, with something less than the decorum which the rules of society enjoin, towards the place where the lady in question was seated.
“The Doctor is surely mad this morning”— said his friend Major Mercer to old Quartermaster Calder.
Indeed, Hartley was not perhaps strictly in his senses; for looking at the Queen of Sheba as he listened to Major Mercer, his eye fell on a light female form beside her, so placed as if she desired to be eclipsed by the bulky form and flowing robes we have described, and to his extreme astonishment, he recognised the friend of his childhood, the love of his youth — Menie Gray herself!
To see her in India was in itself astonishing. To see her apparently under such strange patronage, greatly increased his surprise. To make his way to her, and address her, seemed the natural and direct mode of satisfying the feelings which her appearance excited.
His impetuosity was, however, checked, when, advancing close upon Miss Gray and her companion, he observed that the former, though she looked at him, exhibited not the slightest token of recognition, unless he could interpret as such, that she slightly touched her upper lip with her fore-finger, which, if it happened otherwise than by mere accident, might be construed to mean, “Do not speak to me just now.” Hartley, adopting such an interpretation, stood stock still, blushing deeply; for he was aware that he made for the moment but a silly figure.
He was the rather convinced of this, when, with a voice which in the force of its accents corresponded with her commanding air, Mrs. Montreville addressed him in English, which savoured slightly of a Swiss patois — “You have come to us very fast, sir, to say nothing at all. Are you sure you did not get your tongue stolen by de way?”
“I thought I had seen an old friend in that lady, madam,” stammered Hartley, “but it seems I am mistaken.”
“The good people do tell me that you are one Doctors Hartley, sir. Now, my friend and I do not know Doctors Hartley at all.”
“I have not the presumption to pretend to your acquaintance, madam, but him”—
Here Menie repeated the sign in such a manner, that though it was only momentary, Hartley could not misunderstand its purpose; he therefore changed the end of his sentence, and added, “But I have only to make my bow, and ask pardon for my mistake.”
He retired back accordingly among the company, unable to quit the room, and enquiring at those whom he considered as the best newsmongers for such information as —“Who is that stately-looking woman, Mr. Butler?”
“Oh, the Queen of Sheba, to be sure.”
“And who is that pretty girl, who sits beside her?”
“Or rather behind her,” answered Butler, a military chaplain; “faith, I cannot say — Pretty did you call her?” turning his opera-glass that way —“Yes, faith, she is pretty — very pretty — Gad, she shoots her glances as smartly from behind the old pile yonder, as Teucer from behind Ajax Telamon’s shield.”
“But who is she, can you tell me?”
“Some fair-skinned speculation of old Montreville’s, I suppose, that she has got either to toady herself, or take in some of her black friends with. — Is it possible you have never heard of old Mother Montreville?”
“You know I have been so long absent from Madras”—
“Well,” continued Butler, “this lady is the widow of a Swiss officer in the French service, who after the surrender of Pondicherry, went off into the interior, and commenced soldier on his own account. He got possession of a fort, under pretence of keeping it for some simple Rajah or other; assembled around him a parcel of desperate vagabonds, of every colour in the rainbow; occupied a considerable territory, of which he raised the duties in his own name, and declared for independence. But Hyder Naig understood no such interloping proceedings, and down he came, besieged the fort and took it, though some pretend it was betrayed to him by this very woman. Be that as it may, the poor Swiss was found dead on the ramparts. Certain it is, she received large sums of money, under pretence of paying off her troops, surrendering of hill-forts, and Heaven knows what besides. She was permitted also to retain some insignia of royalty; and, as she was wont to talk of Hyder as the Eastern Solomon, she generally became known by the title of Queen of Sheba. She leaves her court when she pleases, and has been as far as Fort St. George before now. In a word, she does pretty much as she likes. The great folks here are civil to her, though they look on her as little better than a spy. As to Hyder, it is supposed he has ensured her fidelity by borrowing the greater part of her treasures, which prevents her from daring to break with him — besides other causes that smack of scandal of another sort.”
“A singular story,” replied Hartley to his companion, while his heart dwelt on the question, How it was possible that the gentle and simple Menie Gray should be in the train of such a character as this adventuress?
“But Butler has not told you the best of it,” said Major Mercer, who by this time came round to finish his own story. “Your old acquaintance, Mr. Tresham, or Mr. Middlemas, or whatever else he chooses to be called, has been complimented by a report, that he stood very high in the good graces of this same Boadicea. He certainly commanded some troops which she stills keeps on foot, and acted at their head in the Nawaub’s service, who craftily employed him in whatever could render him odious to his countrymen. The British prisoners were intrusted to his charge, and, to judge by what I felt myself, the devil might take a lesson from him in severity.”
“And was he attached to, or connected with, this woman?”
“So Mrs. Rumour told us in our dungeon. Poor Jack Ward had the bastinado for celebrating their merits in a parody on the playhouse song,
‘Sure such a pair were never seen,
So aptly formed to meet by nature.’”
Hartley could listen no longer. The fate of Menie Gray, connected with such a man and such a woman, rushed on his fancy in the most horrid colours, and he was struggling through the throng to get to some place where he might collect his ideas, and consider what could be done for her protection, when a black attendant touched his arm, and at the same time slipped a card into his hand. It bore, “Miss Gray, Mrs. Montreville’s, at the house of Ram Sing Cottah, in the Black Town.” On the reverse was written with a pencil, “Eight in the morning.”
This intimation of her residence implied, of course, a permission, nay, an invitation, to wait upon her at the hour specified. Hartley’s heart beat at the idea of seeing her once more, and still more highly at the thought of being able to serve her. At least, he thought, if there is danger near her, as is much to be suspected, she shall not want a counsellor, or, if necessary, a protector. Yet, at the same time, he felt the necessity of making himself better acquainted with the circumstances of her case, and the persons with whom she seemed connected. Butler and Mercer had both spoke to their disparagement; but Butler was a little of a coxcomb, and Mercer a great deal of a gossip. While he was considering what credit was due to their testimony, he was unexpectedly encountered by a gentleman of his own profession, a military surgeon, who had had the misfortune to have been in Hyder’s prison, till set at freedom by the late pacification. Mr. Esdale, for so he was called, was generally esteemed a rising man, calm, steady, and deliberate in forming his opinions. Hartley found it easy to turn the subject on the Queen of Sheba, by asking whether her Majesty was not somewhat of an adventuress.
“On my word, I cannot say,” answered Esdale, smiling; “we are all upon the adventure in India, more or less; but I do not see that the Begum Montreville is more so than the rest.”
“Why, that Amazonian dress and manner,” said Hartley, “savour a little of the picaresca.”
“You must not,” said Esdale, “expect a woman who has commanded soldiers, and may again, to dress and look entirely like an ordinary person. But I assure you, that even at this time of day, if she wished to marry, she might easily find a respectable match.”
“Why, I heard that she had betrayed her husband’s fort to Hyder.”
“Ay, that is a specimen of Madras gossip. The fact is, that she defended the place long after her husband fell, and afterwards surrendered it by capitulation. Hyder, who piques himself on observing the rules of justice, would not otherwise have admitted her to such intimacy.”
“Yes, I have heard,” replied Hartley, “that their intimacy was rather of the closest.”
“Another calumny, if you mean any scandal,” answered Esdale. “Hyder is too zealous a Mahomedan to entertain a Christian mistress; and, besides, to enjoy the sort of rank which is yielded to a woman in her condition, she must refrain, in appearance at least, from all correspondence in the way of gallantry. Just so they said that the poor woman had a connexion with poor Middlemas of the —— regiment.”
“And was that also a false report?” said Hartley, in breathless anxiety.
“On my soul, I believe it was,” answered Mr. Esdale. “They were friends, Europeans in an Indian court, and therefore intimate; but I believe nothing more. By the by, though, I believe there was some quarrel between Middlemas, poor fellow, and you; yet I am sure that you will be glad to hear there is a chance of his affair being made up.”
“Indeed!” was again the only word which Hartley could utter.
“Ay, indeed,” answered Esdale. “The duel is an old story now; and it must be allowed that poor Middlemas, though he was rash in that business, had provocation.”
“But his desertion — his accepting of command under Hyder — his treatment of our prisoners — How can all these be passed over?” replied Hartley.
“Why, it is possible — I speak to you as a cautious man, and in confidence — that he may do us better service in Hyder’s capital, or Tippoo’s camp, than he could have done if serving with his own regiment. And then, for his treatment of prisoners, I am sure I can speak nothing but good of him in that particular. He was obliged to take the office, because those that serve Hyder Naig must do or die. But he told me himself — and I believe him — that he accepted the office chiefly because, while he made a great bullying at us before the black fellows, he could privately be of assistance to us. Some fools could not understand this, and answered him with abuse and lampoons; and he was obliged to punish them, to avoid suspicion. Yes, yes, I and others can prove he was willing to be kind, if men would give him leave. I hope to thank him at Madras one day soon — All this in confidence — Good-morrow to you.”
Distracted by the contradictory intelligence he had received, Hartley went next to question old Captain Capstern, the Captain of the Indiaman, whom he had observed in attendance upon the Begum Montreville. On enquiring after that commander’s female passengers, he heard a pretty long catalogue of names, in which that he was so much interested in did not occur. On closer enquiry, Capstern recollected that Menie Gray, a young Scotchwoman, had come out under charge of Mrs. Duffer, the master’s wife. “A good decent girl,” Capstern said, “and kept the mates and guinea-pigs at a respectable distance. She came out,” he believed, “to be a sort of female companion, or upper servant in Madame Montreville’s family. Snug berth enough,” he concluded, “if she can find the length of the old girl’s foot.”
This was all that could be made of Capstern; so Hartley was compelled to remain in a state of uncertainty until the next morning, when an explanation might be expected with Menie Gray in person.
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