“What a devilish trick!” cried Barclay.
“Well, I hope that concludes the entertainment for tonight,” said Dermot. “Enough is as good as a feast.”
When next morning the servant brought in his tray, Dermot was smoking a cigarette in an easy chair, and he fancied that there was a scared expression in the man’s eyes, as the fellow looked covertly at the slippers on the Major’s feet.
In the forenoon of the fifth day of the Durga-Puja Festival the Dewan and Chunerbutty sat on the thick carpet of the Rajah’s apartment, which was in that part of the Palace facing the wing given up to the visitors. It formed one of the sides of the square surrounding the paved courtyard below, which was rarely entered. Only one door led into it from the buildings which lined it on three sides, a door under the Rajah’s suite of apartments.
That potentate was sprawling on a pile of soft cushions, glaring malevolently at his Chief Minister, whom he hated and feared.
“Curses on thee, Dewan-ji!” he muttered, turning uneasily and groaning with the pain of movement. For he was badly bruised, sore, and shaken, from his treatment by the crowd on the previous day.
“Why on me, O Maharaj?” asked the Dewan, looking at him steadily and with hardly-veiled contempt.
“Because thine was the idea of this foolish celebration yesterday. Mother Durga was angry with me for introducing this foreign way of worship,” answered the superstitious atheist, conveniently forgetting that the idea was his own. “It will cost me large sums to these greedy priests, if she is not to punish me further.”
“Not for that reason, but for another, is the Holy Mother enraged, O Maharaj,” replied his Minister. “For the lack of a sweeter sacrifice than we offered her yesterday.”
“What is that?” demanded the Rajah suspiciously. He distrusted his Dewan more than any one else in his service.
“Canst thou ask? Thou who bearest on thy forehead the badge of the Saktas?”
“Thou meanest a human sacrifice?”
“I have given Durga many,” grumbled the Rajah. “But if she be greedy, let her have more. There are girls in my zenana that I would gladly be rid of.”
“The Holy Mother demands a worthier offering than some wanton that thou hast wearied of.”
Chunerbutty spoke for the first time.
“She wants the blood of one of the accursed race; of a Feringhi; of this soldier and spy.”
The Rajah shifted uneasily on his cushions. He hated but he feared the white men, and he had not implicit faith in the Dewan’s talk of their speedy overthrow.
“Mother Durga has rejected him,” he said. “Have ye not all tried to slay him and failed?”
The Dewan nodded his head slowly and stared at the carpet.