But he groaned inwardly: there was something of dread in his heart, her resignation was so deep—suggesting an utter giving up, a helplessness. She had named sacrifice; the word rang ominously in his mind, beating at his fears. And yet, what she had said was philosophy—wise; a something that had been worded, perhaps differently, for a million years; the brave acceptance of Fate’s decree—something that always triumphed over the weak longings of humans.
Now they could see the wide silver ribbon of Mother Narbudda lying serene and placid in the moonlight, in the centre of the river’s wide flow the gloomy rock embrasures of Mandhatta Island. Where it towered upward in cliffs and coned hills the summit showed the flickering lights of many temples, and like the sing of a storm through giant trees there floated on the night wind the sound of many voices, and the beating of drums, and the imperious call of horns and conch-shells.
They came upon the tonga waiting by the roadside, and Barlow, thrusting back the covering from the girl’s face said: “Now, Gulab, I will lift you down. We must find a place in the village beyond for you to rest to-night; I, too, will remain there and in the morning we will make our salaams.”
Then he drew her face to his and kissed her.
He slipped from the saddle and lifted the girl down, carrying her in his arms to the tonga.
As they neared the village that was situated on the flat land that swept back from the Narbudda in a wide plain, and nestled against the river bank, they were swept into a crowd such as would be encountered on a trip to the Derby. The road was thronged with people, and the village itself, from which a bridge reached to the Island of Mandhatta, was a town in holiday attire, for to the Hindus the mela of Omkar was a union of festivity and devotion.
Both sides of the main street were lined with booths for the sale of everything; calicoes from Calicut, where these prints first got their name; hammered Benares ware; gold-threaded cotton puggris from Mewar; tulwars and khandas from Bhundi. In some of the little shops, bamboo structures that thrust an underlip out into the street, there was Mhowa liquor, and julabis, and kabobs of goat meat. Open spaces held tiny circuses—abnormal animals and performing goats, and a moon-bear on a ring and strap.
The street was full of gossiping men and women and children dodging here and there; it was an outing where the ryot (farmer) had escaped from his crotched stick of wood that was a plough, and the village tradesmen had left his shop, and the servant his service, to feel the joyousness of a holiday. Mendicants were in abundance prowling in their ugliness like spirits in a nightmare; some naked, absolute, others with but a loin-cloth, their lean shrivelled bodies smeared with ashes—sometimes the ashes of the dead—and cow-dung, carrying on their arms and foreheads the red and white horizontal bars of Shiva—who was Omkar at Mandhatta. In their hands were either iron-tongs, with loose clattering ring, or a yak’s tail, or the three-ribbed horn of a black-buck.