Barlow was startled. It was like a voice crying out in the night that shattered a blissful dream.
“Why do you ask that, Gulab?”
“Because it was said. And the Missie Baba’s heart will be full of the Sahib, for he is like a god.”
“Is the Gulab jealous of the Missie Baba?” Barlow asked mundanely, almost out of confusion.
“No, Sahib, because—because one is not jealous of a princess; because that is to question the ways of the gods. If I had been an Englay and he loved me, and the Missie Baba claimed him, Bootea would kill her.”
This was said with the simple conviction of a child uttering a weird threat, but Barlow shivered.
“And now, Gulab,” he persisted, “if you thought I loved you would you kill the Missie Baba?”
“No, Sahib, because it is Bootea’s fault. It can’t be. It is permitted to Bootea to love the Sahib, but at the shrine Omkar will take that sin and all the other sins away when she makes sacrifice—”
“What sacrifice, Gulab?”
“Such as we make to the gods, Sahib.”
Then something curious happened. The girl broke, she clung to Barlow convulsively; sobs choked her.
He clasped her tight and laid his cheek against hers soothingly, and said, “Gulab, what is it? Don’t go to the Shrine of Omkar. Come with me to your people at Chunda, and if you do not want to remain with them I will have it arranged, through the Resident, that the British will reward you with protection. You have done the British Raj a great service.”
“No, Sahib.” The girl drew herself erect, so that her eyes gazed into Barlow’s, They were luminous with an intensity of resolve. “Let Bootea speak what is in her heart, and be not offended; it is necessary. There is, at the end of the journey the place that is called jahannam (hell) for Bootea. The Nana Sahib waits like a tiger crouched by a pool at night for the coming of a stag to drink.”
“The Resident will protect you against the Mahratta,” Barlow declared.
“Bootea could do that,” and in her small hand there gleamed in the moonlight the sheen of her dagger blade. She thrust it back into her belt.
“What then do you fear, Gulab?” he queried.
“Yes, Khudawand. To see you and not be permitted to hear your voice, nor feel your hand upon my face, would be worse than sacrifice. Bootea would rather die, slip off into death with the goodness, the sweetness of to-night upon her soul. There, where the Sahib would be, Bootea’s heart would be full of evil, the evil of craving for him. No, this is the end, and Bootea will make offering of thanks—marigolds and a cocoanut to Omkar, and sprinkle attar upon his shrine in thankfulness for the joy of the Sahib’s presence. It is said!” and the girl nestled down against Barlow’s breast again as though she had gone to sleep in content.