As Hartley left the apartment in the house of Ram Sing Cottah by one mode of exit, Miss Gray retired by another, to an apartment destined for her private use. She, too, had reason for secret and anxious reflection, since all her love for Middlemas, and her full confidence in his honour, could not entirely conquer her doubts concerning the character of the person whom he had chosen for her temporary protectress. And yet she could not rest these doubts upon any thing distinctly conclusive; it was rather a dislike of her patroness’s general manners, and a disgust at her masculine notions and expressions, that displeased her, than any thing else.
Meantime, Madame Montreville, followed by her black domestic, entered the apartment where Hartley and Menie had just parted. It appeared from the conversation which follows, that they had from some place of concealment overheard the dialogue we have narrated in the former chapter.
“It is good luck, Sadoc,” said the lady, “that there is in this world the great fool.”
“And the great villain,” answered Sadoc, in good English, but in a most sullen tone.
“This woman, now,” continued the lady, “is what in Frangistan you call an angel.”
“Ay, and I have seen those in Hindostan you may well call devil.”
“I am sure that this — how you call him — Hartley, is a meddling devil. For what has he to do? She will not have any of him. What is his business who has her? I wish we were well up the Ghauts again, my dear Sadoc.”
“For my part,” answered the slave, “I am half determined never to ascend the Ghauts more. Hark you, Adela, I begin to sicken of the plan we have laid. This creature’s confiding purity — call her angel or woman, as you will — makes my practices appear too vile, even in my own eyes. I feel myself unfit to be your companion farther in the daring paths which you pursue. Let us part, and part friends.”
“Amen, coward. But the woman remains with me,” answered the Queen of Sheba. 11
“With thee!” replied the seeming black —“never. No, Adela. She is under the shadow of the British flag, and she shall experience its protection.”
“Yes — and what protection will it afford to you yourself?” retorted the Amazon. “What if I should clap my hands, and command a score of my black servants to bind you like a sheep, and then send word to the Governor of the Presidency that one Richard Middlemas, who had been guilty of mutiny, murder, desertion, and serving of the enemy against his countrymen, is here, at Ram Sing Cottah’s house, in the disguise of a black servant?” Middlemas covered his face with his hands, while Madame Montreville proceeded to load him with reproaches. —“Yes,” she said, “slave and son of a slave! Since you wear the dress of my household, you shall obey me as fully as the rest of them, otherwise — whips, fetters, — the scaffold, renegade — the gallows, murderer! Dost thou dare to reflect on the abyss of misery from which I raised thee, to share my wealth and my affections? Dost thou not remember that the picture of this pale, cold, unimpassioned girl was then so indifferent to thee, that thou didst sacrifice it as a tribute due to the benevolence of her who relieved thee, to the affection of her who, wretch as thou art, condescended to love thee?”
“Yes, fell woman,” answered Middlemas, “but was it I who encouraged the young tyrant’s outrageous passion for a portrait, or who formed the abominable plan of placing the original within his power?”
“No — for to do so required brain and wit. But it was thine, flimsy villain, to execute the device which a bolder genius planned; it was thine to entice the woman to this foreign shore, under pretence of a love, which, on thy part, cold-blooded miscreant, never had existed.”
“Peace, screech-owl!” answered Middlemas, “nor drive me to such madness as may lead me to forget thou art a woman.”
“A woman, dastard! Is this thy pretext for sparing me? — what, then, art thou, who tremblest at a woman’s looks, a woman’s words? — I am a woman, renegade, but one who wears a dagger, and despises alike thy strength and thy courage. I am a woman who has looked on more dying men than thou hast killed deer and antelopes. Thou must traffic for greatness? — thou hast thrust thyself like a five-years’ child, into the rough sports of men, and wilt only be borne down and crushed for thy pains. Thou wilt be a double traitor, forsooth — betray thy betrothed to the Prince, in order to obtain the means of betraying the Prince to the English, and thus gain thy pardon from thy countrymen. But me thou shalt not betray. I will not be made the tool of thy ambition — I will not give thee the aid of my treasures and my soldiers, to be sacrificed at last to this northern icicle. No, I will watch thee as the fiend watches the wizard. Show but a symptom of betraying me while we are here, and I denounce thee to the English, who might pardon the successful villain, but not him who can only offer prayers for his life, in place of useful services. Let me see thee flinch when we are beyond the Ghauts, and the Nawaub shall know thy intrigues with the Nizam and the Mahrattas, and thy resolution to deliver up Bangalore to the English, when the imprudence of Tippoo shall have made thee Killedar. Go where thou wilt, slave, thou shalt find me thy mistress.”
“And a fair though an unkind one,” said the counterfeit Sadoc, suddenly changing his tone to an affectation of tenderness. “It is true I pity this unhappy woman; true I would save her if I could — but most unjust to suppose I would in any circumstances prefer her to my Nourjehan, my light of the world, my Mootee Mahul, my pearl of the palace”——
“All false coin and empty compliment,” said the Begum. “Let me hear, in two brief words, that you leave this woman to my disposal.”
“But not to be interred alive under your seat, like the Circassian of whom you were jealous,” said Middlemas, shuddering.
“No, fool; her lot shall not be worse than that of being the favourite of a prince. Hast thou, fugitive and criminal as thou art, a better fate to offer her?”
“But,” replied Middlemas, blushing even through his base disguise at the consciousness of his abject conduct, “I will have no force on her inclinations.”
“Such truce she shall have as the laws of the Zenana allow,” replied the female tyrant. “A week is long enough for her to determine whether she will be the willing mistress of a princely and generous lover.”
“Ay,” said Richard, “and before that week expires”—— He stopped short.
“What will happen before the week expires?” said the Begum Montreville.
“No matter — nothing of consequence. I leave the woman’s fate with you.”
“’Tis well — we march to-night on our return, so soon as the moon rises Give orders to our retinue.”
“To hear is to obey,” replied the seeming slave, and left the apartment.
The eyes of the Begum remained fixed on the door through which he had passed. “Villain — double-dyed villain!” she said, “I see thy drift; thou wouldst betray Tippoo, in policy alike and in love. But me thou canst betray. — Ho, there, who waits? Let a trusty messenger be ready to set off instantly with letters, which I will presently make ready. His departure must be a secret to every one. — And now shall this pale phantom soon know her destiny, and learn what it is to have rivalled Adela Montreville.”
While the Amazonian Princess meditated plans of vengeance against her innocent rival and the guilty lover, the latter plotted as deeply for his own purposes. He had waited until such brief twilight as India enjoys rendered his disguise complete, then set out in haste for the part of Madras inhabited by the Europeans, or, as it is termed, Fort St. George.
“I will save her yet,” he said; “ere Tippoo can seize his prize, we will raise around his ears a storm which would drive the God of War from the arms of the Goddess of Beauty. The trap shall close its fangs upon this Indian tiger, ere he has time to devour the bait which enticed him into the snare.”
While Middlemas cherished these hopes, he approached the Residency. The sentinel on duty stopped him, as of course, but he was in possession of the counter-sign, and entered without opposition. He rounded the building in which the President of the Council resided, an able and active, but unconscientious man, who, neither in his own affairs, nor in those of the Company, was supposed to embarrass himself much about the means which he used to attain his object. A tap at a small postern gate was answered by a black slave, who admitted Middlemas to that necessary appurtenance of every government, a back stair, which, in its turn, conducted him to the office of the Bramin Paupiah, the Dubash, or steward of the great man, and by whose means chiefly he communicated with the native courts, and carried on many mysterious intrigues, which he did not communicate to his brethren at the council-board.
It is perhaps justice to the guilty and unhappy Middlemas to suppose, that if the agency of a British officer had been employed, he might have been induced to throw himself on his mercy, might have explained the whole of his nefarious bargain with Tippoo, and, renouncing his guilty projects of ambition, might have turned his whole thoughts upon saving Menie Gray, ere she was transported beyond the reach of British protection. But the thin dusky form which stood before him, wrapped in robes of muslin embroidered with gold, was that of Paupiah, known as a master-counsellor of dark projects, an Oriental Machiavel, whose premature wrinkles were the result of many an intrigue, in which the existence of the poor, the happiness of the rich, the honour of men, and the chastity of women, had been sacrificed without scruple, to attain some private or political advantage. He did not even enquire by what means the renegade Briton proposed to acquire that influence with Tippoo which might enable him to betray him — he only desired to be assured that the fact was real.
“You speak at the risk of your head, if you deceive Paupiah, or make Paupiah the means of deceiving his master. I know, so does all Madras, that the Nawaub has placed his young son, Tippoo, as Vice-Regent of his newly-conquered territory of Bangalore, which Hyder hath lately added to his dominions. But that Tippoo should bestow the government of that important place on an apostate Feringi, seems more doubtful.”
“Tippoo is young,” answered Middlemas, “and to youth the temptation of the passions is what a lily on the surface of the lake is to childhood — they will risk life to reach it, though, when obtained, it is of little value. Tippoo has the cunning of his father and his military talents, but he lacks his cautious wisdom.”
“Thou speakest truth — but when thou art Governor of Bangalore, hast thou forces to hold the place till thou art relieved by the Mahrattas, or by the British?”
“Doubt it not — the soldiers of the Begum Mootee Mahul, whom the Europeans call Montreville, are less hers than mine. I am myself her Bukshee, [General,] and her Sirdars are at my devotion. With these I could keep Bangalore for two months, and the British army may be before it in a week. What do you risk by advancing General Smith’s army nearer to the frontier?”
“We risk a settled peace with Hyder,” answered Paupiah, “for which he has made advantageous offers. Yet I say not but thy plan may be most advantageous. Thou sayest Tippoo’s treasures are in the fort?”
“His treasures and his Zenana; I may even be able to secure his person.”
“That were a goodly pledge,” answered the Hindoo minister.
“And you consent that the treasures shall be divided to the last rupee, as in the scroll?”
“The share of Paupiah’s master is too small,” said the Bramin; “and the name of Paupiah is unnoticed.”
“The share of the Begum may be divided between Paupiah and his master,” answered Middlemas.
“But the Begum will expect her proportion,” replied Paupiah.
“Let me alone to deal with her,” said Middlemas. “Before the blow is struck, she shall not know of our private treaty, and afterwards her disappointment will be of little consequence. And now, remember my stipulations — my rank to be restored — my full pardon to be granted.”
“Ay,” replied Paupiah, cautiously, “should you succeed. But were you to betray what has here passed, I will find the dagger of a Lootie which shall reach thee, wert thou sheltered under the folds of the Nawaub’s garment. In the meantime, take this missive, and when you are in possession of Bangalore, despatch it to General Smith, whose division shall have orders to approach as near the frontiers of Mysore as may be, without causing suspicion.”
Thus parted this worthy pair; Paupiah to report to his principal the progress of these dark machinations, Middlemas to join the Begum, on her return to the Mysore. The gold and diamonds of Tippoo, the importance which he was about to acquire, the ridding himself at once of the capricious authority of the irritable Tippoo, and the troublesome claims of the Begum, were such agreeable subjects of contemplation, that he scarcely thought of the fate of his European victim — unless to salve his conscience with the hope that the sole injury she could sustain might be the alarm of a few days, during the course of which he would acquire the means of delivering her from the tyrant, in whose Zenana she was to remain a temporary prisoner. He resolved, at the same time, to abstain from seeing her till the moment he could afford her protection, justly considering the danger which his whole plan might incur, if he again awakened the jealousy of the Begum. This he trusted was now asleep; and, in the course of their return to Tippoo’s camp, near Bangalore, it was his study to soothe this ambitious and crafty female by blandishments, intermingled with the more splendid prospects of wealth and power to be opened to them both, as he pretended, by the success of his present enterprise. 12
11 In order to maintain uninjured the tone of passion throughout this dialogue, it has been judged expedient to discard, in the Language of the Begum, the patois of Madame Munreville.
12 It is scarce necessary to say, that such things could only be acted in the earlier period of our Indian settlements, when the check of the Directors was imperfect, and that of the crown did not exist. My friend Mr. Fairscribe is of opinion, that there is an anachronism in the introduction of Paupiah, the Bramin Dubash of the English governor. — C. C.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00