As Barlow turned away leading his horse, he muttered over and over, “Gad! it’s incomprehensible that a Sahib should feel this over a—yes, a native woman; it’s damnable!”
He reviled himself, declaring that it was harder on the Gulab than on him—and he was actually suffering. It would be better if he swung to the saddle and fled from the misery that prolongation but intensified. And the girl’s brave resignation in giving him up was wonderful, was so like her.
Then the sight of Mahratta sowars, who, it being Sindhia’s territory, were a guard to watch the pilgrim throng, flashed him back to a sense of duty, his own mission. But it had not suffered because of Bootea; it had benefitted through her; but for her the written message from the British would have been lost—stolen by Hunsa, and would have landed in Nana Sahib’s hands; and he would have been slain as the Patan, killer of Amir Khan.
But the Gulab was right; from that time forward should she listen to him and go on to Poona, God alone knew where it would lead to—misery. It would be utter ruin morally, officially, in a caste way; even in time passionate enthusiasm, engendered by her lovableness, dulled, would bring utter debasement, degradation of spirit, of man fibre. It was the wisdom of God that entailed upon the union of the white and dark-skinned the bar sinister.
Until he slept, wrapped in his blankets on the sand beside his tethered horse, Barlow was tortured by this mental inquisition. Even in his troubled sleep there was a nightmare that waked him, panting and exhausted, and the remembrance was vivid—Bootea lay beneath the mighty paws of a tiger and he was beating hopelessly at the snarling brute with a clubbed rifle.
In the morning Captain Barlow underwent a sartorial metamorphosis; he attained to the sanctity of a Hindu pilgrim by the purchase of a tight-ankled pair of white trousers to replace the voluminous baggy ones of a Patan, and a blue shot-with-gold-thread Rajput turban. He shoved the Patan turban with its conical fez in his saddle-bags, and wound the many yards of blue material in a rakish criss-cross about his shapely head, running a fold or two beneath his chin. The Patan sheepskin coat was left with his horse.
When Bootea came at ten to where Barlow—who was now Jaswant Singh—paced up and down with the swagger of a Rajput in front of the bunnia’s shop, she stood for a little, her eyes searching the crowd for her Sahib. When he laughed, and called softly, “Gulab,” her eyes almost wept for joy, for not seeing him at once, a dread that he had gone had chilled her.
“You see how easy it is, in a good cause, to change one’s caste,” he said.
“With you, Sahib, yes, because you can also change your skin.”
There it was again, the indestructible barrier, the pigmented badge. It drove the laugh from Barlow’s lips.