Barlow knew several such. Of course of drifters he knew also, the white inland beach-combers—men who had come out to India to fill subordinate positions in the telegraph, or the railroad, or mills; and, as they sloughed off European caste, and possessed of the eternal longing for woman companionship, had married natives. Barlow shuddered at mentally rehearsed visions of the degradation. Thus everything logical was on that side of the ledger—all against the Gulab. On the other side was the fierce compelling fascination that the girl held for him.
Yes, at Mandhatta they would both sacrifice to the gods. Curiously Elizabeth stood in the computation a cipher; probably he would marry her, but the escapement from disaster, from wreck, would not be because of any moral sustaining from her, any invisible thread of love binding him to the daughter of the Resident. He knew that until he parted from Bootea at Mandhatta his soul would be torn by a strife that was foolish, contemptible, that should never have originated.
And next day when Barlow, sitting his horse, still riding as the Afghan, went forth, his going was somewhat like the departure of a Nawab. Chief Kassim and a dozen officers had clanked down the marble steps from the palace with him and stood lined up at the gates raising their deep voices in full-throated salaams and blessings of Allah upon his head.
The horsemen of the guard, spears to boot-leg, fierce-looking riders of the plain, were lined up four abreast. The nakara in the open court of the palace was thundering a farewell like a salute of light artillery.
The tonga with Bootea had gone on before with a guard of two out-riders.
All that day they travelled to the south, on their left, against the eastern sky, the lofty peaks of the Vindhya mountains holding the gold of the sun till they looked like a continuous chain of gilded temples and tapering pagodas. For hours the road lay over hard basaltic rocks and white limestone; then again it was a sea of white sand they traversed with its blinding eye-stinging glare.
At night, when they camped, Barlow had a fresh insight into the fine courtesy, the rough nobility that breeds into the bone of men who live by the sword and ride where they will. The Pindaris built their camp-fires to one side, and two of them came to where the Sahib bad spread his blankets near the tonga and built a circle of smudge-fires from chips of camel-dung to keep away the flies. Then they went back to their fellows, and when Barlow had pulled the blanket over himself to sleep the clamour of voices where the horsemen sat was hushed.
And Bootea had been treated like a princess. At each village that they passed some would ride in and rejoin the cavalcade with fowl, and eggs, and fruit, and sugar cane, and fresh vegetables; and a mention of payment would only draw a frown, an exclamation of, “Shookur! these are but gifts from Allah. There has been more than payment that we have not cut off the kotwal’s head, not even demanded a peep at the money chest. We are looked upon as men who confer favours.”