As Barlow led the Gulab within the bungalow she drew, as a veil, a light silk scarf across her face.
Upon the floor of the front room a bearer, head buried in yards of pink cotton cloth, his puggri, lay fast asleep.
As Barlow raised a foot to touch the sleeper in the ribs the girl drew him back, put the tips of her finger to her lips, and pointed toward the bedroom door.
Barlow shook his head, the flickering flame of the wick in an iron oil-lamp that rested in a niche of the wall exaggerating to ferocity the frown that topped his eyes.
But Bootea pleaded with a mute salaam, and raising her lips to his ear whispered, “Not because of what is not permitted—not because of Bootea—please.”
With an arm he swept back the beaded tendrils of a hanging door-curtain, the girl glided to the darkness of the room, and Barlow, lifting from its niche the iron lamp, followed. Within, she pointed to the door that lay open and Barlow, half in rebellion, softly closed it. As he turned he saw that she had dropped from their holding cords the heavy brocaded silk curtains of the window.
His limbs were numb from the long ride with the weight of the girl’s body across his thighs; he was tired; he was mentally distressed over the messengers he had failed to locate, and this, the almost forced intrusion of Bootea into his bedroom, the closed door and the curtained windows, her doing, was just another turn of the kaleidoscope with its bits of broken glass of a nightmare. He dropped wearily into a big cane-bottomed Hindu chair, saying; “Little wilted rose, cuddle up on that divan among the cushions and rest, while you tell me why we sit in purdah.”
The girl dragged a cushion from the divan, and placing it on the floor beside his chair, sat on it, curling her feet beneath her knees.
Barlow groaned inwardly. If his mind had not been so lethargic because of the things that weighted it, like the leaden soles upon a diver’s boots, he would have roused himself to say, “Look here, a chap can’t pull a girl who is as sweet as a flower and as trusting as a babe, out of trouble and then make bazaar love to her; he can’t do it if he’s any sort of a chap.” All this was casually in his mind, but he let his tired eyes droop, and his hand that hung over the teak-wood arm of the chair rested upon the girl’s shoulder.
“Bootea will soon go so that the Sahib may sleep, for he is tired,” she said; “but first there is something to be said, and I have come close to the Sahib because men not alone whisper in the dark but they listen.”
The hand that rested on Bootea’s shoulder lifted to her cheek, and strong fingers caressed its oval.
“Would the Sahib sleep, and would his mind rest if he knew where the two who rode are?”
Barlow sat bolt upright in the chair, roused, the lethargy gone, as if he had poured raw whisky down his throat. And he was glad, the closed door and the drawn curtains were not now things of debasement. Curious that he should care what this little Hindu maid was like, but he did. His hand now clasped the girl’s wrist, it almost hurt in its tenseness.