He stopped and rolled his eyes apprehensively. He had been on the point of mentioning his jewels, but, though he was amongst saints and kings, he suddenly remembered the danger.
“We would not have camped here,” Ajeet declared, “had we not been a strong party, because this village has an evil reputation. You have been favoured by the gods in finding honest men in the way of protection, and, no doubt, it is because you are one who makes offerings to the deity.”
“And if the Maharaja will suffer the presence of a poor merchant, who is but a shopkeeper, I will rest here in his protection.”
Ajeet Singh graciously consented to this, and the merchant commanded his men to erect his small tent beneath the limbs of the deep green mango trees.
The decoits watched closely the transport of the merchant’s effects from the cart to the tent. When a strong iron box, that was an evident weight for its two carriers, was borne first their eyes glistened. Therein was the wealth of jewels the flying horsemen of the night had whispered to the yogi about.
When the merchant’s tent had been erected, and he had gone to its shelter, the jamadars, sitting well beyond the reach of his ears, held a council of war. Ajeet was opposed to the killing of Ragganath and his men, but Hunsa pointed out that it was the only way: they were either decoits or they were men of toil, men of peace. Dead men were not given to carrying tales, and if no stir were made about the decoity until they were safely back in Karowlee they could enjoy the fruits Of their spoils, which would be, undoubtedly, great. By the use of the strangling cloth there would be no outcry, no din of battle; they of the village would think that the camp was one of sleep. Then when the bodies had been buried in a pit, the earth tramped down flat and solid, and cooking fires built over it to obliterate all traces of a grave, they would strike camp and go back the way they had come.
Ajeet was forced to admit that it was the one thorough way, but he persisted that they were decoits and not thugs.
At this Sookdee laughed: “Jamadar,” he said, “what matters to a dead man the manner of his killing? Indeed it is a merciful way. Such as Bhowanee herself decreed—in a second it is over. But with the spear, or the sword—ah! I have seen men writhe in agony and die ten times before it was an end.”
“But a caste is a caste,” Ajeet objected, “and the manner of the caste. We are decoits, and we only slay when there is no other way.”
Hunsa tipped his gorilla body forward from where it rested on his heels as he sat, and his lowering eyes were sullen with impatience: