“What has happened, Jamadar?” she cried. “Ajeet heard the beat of iron-shod hoofs upon the road, and seeing in the moonlight the two riders knew from the manner they sat the saddles that they were of the Englay service; when he called to them they heeded him not. Then Ajeet followed the two. Why was the shot, Hunsa?”
“They have killed Ajeet,” Hunsa declared; “but also they are dead, and I have the leader’s leather sandals for a purpose. The shot has roused the village, and even now our people are preparing for flight. Get you into the cart that I may take you to safety.” He took the ruby from his turban, saying: “And here is the most beautiful ruby in Hind; the fat pig of a Dewan wants it, but I have taken it for you.”
But Bootea pushed his hand away: “I take no present from you, Hunsa.”
Hunsa put the jewel back in his turban and commanded the two men, who stood waiting, “Make fast the bullocks to the cart quickly lest we be captured, because other soldiers are coming behind.”
The two Bagrees turned to where the slim pink-and-grey coated trotting bullocks were tethered by their short horns to a tree and leading them to the cart made fast the bamboo yoke across their necks.
“Get into the cart, Bootea,” Hunsa commanded, for the girl had not moved.
“I will not!” she declared. “I’m going back to Ajeet; he is not dead—it is a trick.”
“He is dead,” Hunsa snarled, seizing her by arm.
The Gulab screamed words of denunciation. “Take your hands off me, son of a pig, accursed man of low caste! Ajeet will kill you for this, dog!”
At this the wife of Sookdee fled, racing back toward the camp. One of the men darted forward to follow, but Hunsa stayed him, saying, “Let her go—it is better; I war not upon Sookdee.”
He had the Gulab now in the grasp of both his huge paws, and holding her tight, said rapidly: “Be still you she-devil, accursed fool! You are going to a palace to be a queen. The son of the Peshwa desires you. True, I, also, have desire, but fear not for, by Bhowanee! it is a life of glory, of jewels and rich attire that I take you to; so get into the cart.”
But Bootea wrenched free an arm and struck Hunsa full upon his ugly face, screaming her rebellion.
“To be struck by a woman!” Hunsa blared; “not a woman, but the spawn of a she-leopard! why should not I beat your beautiful face into ugliness with one of these sandals of a dead pig!”
He lifted her bodily, calling to the man upon the ground, the other having mounted behind the bullocks. “Put back the leather wall of the cart that I may hurl this outcast widow of a dead Hindu within.”
Bootea clawed at his face; she kicked and fought; her voice screaming a call to Ajeet.
There was a heavy rolling thump of hoofs upon the roadway, unheard of Hunsa because of the vociferous struggle. Then from the shimmer of moonlight thrust the white form of a big Turcoman horse that was thrown almost to his haunches, his breast striking the back of the decoit.