“My salaams to you, Chief, for your goodness. To-morrow if it please you I will go with your promises to the British.”
“It is a command, Sahib—to-morrow. And may the Peace of Allah be upon thee and thy house always!”
He held out a hand and his large dark eyes hovered lovingly over the face of the Englishman.
Captain Barlow walked along to the tent of Bootea to tell her of the arrangement that had been made for their leaving the camp so that she might be ready. He could see in the girl’s eyes the reflection of a dual mental struggle, an ineffable sweetness varied by a changing cloud of something that was apprehension or doubt.
“The Sahib is a protector to Bootea,” she said. “Sometimes I wondered if such men lived; yet I suppose a woman always has in her mind a vague conception that such an one might be. But always that, that is like a dream, is broken—one wakes.”
Prosaically taking the matter in hand Barlow said, “You would wish to go back to your people at Chunda—is it not so?”
The girl’s eyes flashed to his face, and her brows wrinkled as if from pain. “Those who have fled will be on their way to Chunda, and they will tell of the slaying of Amir Khan. The Dewan will be pleased, and they will be given honour and rich reward; they will be allowed to return to Karowlee.”
“Yes,” Barlow interposed; “that Hunsa goes not back will simply be taken as an affair of war, that he was captured and killed; there will be nobody to relate that you revealed the plot. When you arrive there you, also, will be showered with favours, and Ajeet Singh will owe his life to you; they will set him at liberty.”
“And as to Nana Sahib?” Bootea asked, and there was pathetic dread in her eyes.
“What is it—you fear him?”
“Yes, Sahib, he will claim Bootea; a Mahratta never keeps faith. There will be a fresh covenant, because he is like a beast of the jungle.”
Barlow paced back and forth the small confine of the tent, muttering. “It’s hell!” He pictured the Gulab in the harem of Nana Sahib—in a gaudy prison chained to a serpent. To interfere on her behalf would be to sacrifice what came first, his duty as an officer of state, to what would be called, undoubtedly, an infatuation. Elizabeth would take it that way; even his superiors would call it at least inexpedient, bad form. For a British officer to be interested or mixed up with a native woman, no matter how noble the impulse, would be a shatterment of both official and personal caste.
“I won’t allow that,” he declared vehemently, shifting into words his mental traverse.
Bootea had followed with her eyes his struggle; then she said: “The Sahib has heard of the women of the Rajputs who, with smiles on their lips faced death, who, when the time of the last danger came were not afraid?”