Some of the yogis, perhaps Goswamies that had come from the country where Eklinga was the tutelary deity, had their hair braided and woven around their foreheads, holding in its fold lotus seeds; beneath the tiara of hair a crescent of white on their foreheads. A flowing yellow robe half hid their ash-smeared limbs. A tall Sannyasi—the most ascetic of sects—his lean yellow-robed form supported by a long staff at the end of which swung a yellow bag, strode solemnly along with eyes fixed on a book, the Bhagavad Gita, muttering, “Aum, to the light of earth, the divine light that illumines our souls. Aum!”
To Barlow it was like a grotesque pantomime with no directing head. Nautch girls tripped along laughing and chatting, bracelets jingling, and tiny bells at their ankles tinkling musically. It depressed him; it was such a terrible juxtaposition of frivolity and the gloomed shadow of idol worship that lay just the bridge’s span of the sullen Narbudda: the gloomy, broken scraps of the long since deserted forts that cut with jagged lines the moonlit sky; and beyond them again the many temples with their scowling Brahmin priests, and the shrine wherein the god of destruction, Omkar, sat athirst for sacrifice. He shivered as though the white mist that veiled the river crept into his marrow.
The Gulab seemed at home amongst these gathered ones. Two or three times she had bade the driver stop his creeping pace, and looking out from beneath the curtain had questioned a man or woman. At last, as they were stopped by a wall of people watching the antics of some strolling players upon a platform, Bootea spoke to a stout woman who was pressed against the opening into the cart by the mob.
“Lucker khan Bhaina, Bowree,” the Gulab said in a low voice, and the woman’s eyes took on a startled look for it was a decoit password, and the Bowrees were a clan of decoits akin to the Bagrees. From the woman Bootea learned where she could find a good resting place with the family of a shop-keeper. There was no doubt about it, the Bowree woman assured her, for the tonga would impress him, and he was one who profited from the loot of decoits.
The Gulab was given a place to sleep in the shopkeeper’s house that extended back from his little shop. The driver was ordered to return in the morning to the Pindari camp. Barlow was for keeping the tonga, hoping that perhaps Bootea would change her mind and go on to Chunda, but the girl was firm in her determination to end it all at Mandhatta.
Before Barlow left her to seek some camping place in hut or serai, and food for himself and horse, the girl said: “If the Sahib will delay his going to-morrow for a little, Bootea will proceed early to the shrine to see the Swami—then she will return here, for she would want to see his face once more before the ending.”
“I’ll wait, Gulab,” he acquiesced; “I’ll be here at the tenth hour.” He felt even then an unaccountable chill of their parting, for, many being about, he could not take her in his arms to kiss her; but their eyes spoke, and the girl’s were luminous, and sweet with a look of hunger, of pathetic longing, of sublime trust.