But Barlow was watching with deep interest the ceremonial form of the straddha. He saw the women place balls of rice, milk, and leaves of the tulsi plant in earthenware platters, then sprinkle over this flowers and kusa-grass; they added threads, plucked from their garments, to typify the presenting of the white death-sheet to the dead one; a priest all the time mumbling a prayer, at the end of the simple ceremony receiving a fee of five rupees.
As the two men turned back toward their camp Jemla chuckled: “Captain Sahib, thou seest now the weapon of the Brahmin; his loot of silver pieces was acquired with little effort and no strife; as to the rice-balls the first jackal that catches their wind will have a filled stomach. It is something to be thought of in the way of regard for a long abiding in heaven that such foolish ones will not attain to it. The setting up of false gods, carved images, I was once told by a priest of thy faith, is sufficient to exclude such. It makes one’s tulwar clatter in its scabbard to see such profanation in an approach to God.”
Then Jemla spoke of the matter that had engendered the troubled look Barlow had observed: “The Captain Sahib has intimated that the One”—and he tipped his head toward the girl—“would proceed to the temple of Omkar to make offerings at the shrine?”
“Yes, she goes there.”
“There will be a hundred thousand of these infidels at Mandhatta, and when they see fifty Pindaris, tulwar and spear and match-lock, there will be unrest; perhaps there will be altercation—they will fear that we ride in pillage.”
“I was thinking of that,” Barlow replied; “and it would be as well that you turned your faces homeward.”
“We have received an order from our Chief that our lives are at the disposal of the Captain Sahib, and we will drive into the heart of a Mahratta force if needs be, but if it is the Sahib’s command we will ride back from here,” Jemla said.
“Yes; there is no need of a guard for the Gulab now—just that the tonga carries her as far as she wishes it,” Barlow concurred.
“Indeed we are not needed; those infidels come to worship their heathen gods, not to combat men, and Mandhatta is but a matter of twelve kos now,” Jemla affirmed.
When Captain Barlow, and Bootea in the tonga, drew out from the encampment to proceed on their way the Pindaris rode on in front, and then, at a command from Jemla, wheeled their horses into a continuous line facing the road, stirrup to stirrup, the horsemen sitting erect with their tulwars at the salute. As Barlow passed a cry of, “Salaam, aleikum! the protection of Allah be upon you,” rippled down the line. Then the horsemen wheeled with their faces to the north. Jemla swept a hand to his forehead and from his deep throat welled a farewell, “Salaam, bhai! (brother).”