Then he ran his fingers through his hair. To send the Gulab off without even a cup of tea was one thing; to admit the bearer to know of her presence was another.
The wily old watchman sensed what was passing in his master’s mind, and he hazarded, diplomatically, “If the One is of high caste she will not eat what is brought by the bearer who is of the Sudra caste, but from the hands of a Meena none but the Brahmin pundits refuse food.”
Barlow laughed; indeed the grizzled one had perception—he was an accomplice in the plot of secrecy.
“Good! Eggs and toast and tea. Demand plenty—say your Sahib is hungry because of a long ride and nothing to eat. But hurry, I hear the ‘seven sisters’ (crows) calling to sleepers that the sun is here with its warmth.”
Then the bearer entered, but Barlow ordered him away, saying, “Sit without till I call.”
As he slipped into breeches and brown riding boots he cursed softly the entanglement that had thrust upon him this thing of ill flavour. Of course the watchman, even if he did keep his mouth shut, which would be a miracle in that land of bazaar gossip, would have but one opinion of why Bootea had spent the night in the bungalow. But if Barlow squared this by speaking of a secret mission, that would be a knowledge that could be exchanged for gold. Perhaps not all servants were spies, but there were always spies among servants.
“Damn the thing!” he muttered; but he was helpless. The old man would give no sign of what, no doubt, was in his mind; he would hold that leathery face in placid acquiescence in prevalent moral vagary.
Then he tapped lightly on the wooden door, calling softly, “Bootea—Bootea!”
When it was opened he said: “Food is coming, Gulab. A man of caste brings it, and it is but eggs from which no life has been taken, so you may eat. Then the chowkidar will go with you.”
Jungwa brought the breakfast and put it down, saying, “I will wait, Sahib, outside the bathroom door.”
“Here is money—ten rupees for whatever is needed. Be courteous to the lady, for she is not a nautchni.”
“The Sahib would entertain none such,” the chowkidar answered with a grave salaam.
“Damn the thing!” Barlow groaned.
An hour later Barlow, mounted on a stalky Cabuli polo-pony, rode to the Residency, happy over the papers in his pocket, but troubling over how he could explain their possession and keep the girl out of it. To even mention the Gulab, unless he fabricated a story, would let escape the night-ride, and, no doubt, in the perversity of things, Resident Hodson would want to know where she was and where he had taken her, and insist on having her produced for an official inquisition. The Resident, a machine, would sacrifice a native woman without a tremor to the official gods.