Kathlyn and Bruce returned to Allaha without mishap. Neither animal nor vagabond molested them. When they arrived they immediately found means to acquaint Ramabai, who with Pundita set out to meet them.
In their picturesque disguises Kathlyn and Bruce made a handsome pair of high caste natives. The blue eyes alone might have caused remarks, but this was a negligible danger, since color and costume detracted. Kathlyn’s hair, however, was securely hidden, and must be kept so. A bit of carelessness on her part, a sportive wind, and she would be lost. She had been for dyeing her hair, but Bruce would not hear of this desecration.
So they entered the lion’s den, or, rather, the jackal’s.
At Ramabai’s house Ahmed fell on his knees in thankfulness; not that his Mem-sahib was in Allaha, but that she was alive.
During the evening meal Ramabai outlined his plot to circumvent Umballa. He had heard from one of his faithful followers that Umballa intended to force the colonel into a native marriage; later, to dispose of the colonel and marry the queen himself. Suttee had fallen in disuse in Allaha. He, Ramabai, would now apparently side with Umballa as against Colonel Hare, who would understand perfectly. As the colonel would refuse to marry, he, Ramabai, would suggest that the colonel be married by proxy. However suspicious Umballa might be, he would not be able to find fault with this plan. The betrothal would take place in about a fortnight. The Mem-sahib would be chosen as consort out of all the assembled high caste ladies of the state.
Ahmed threw up his hands in horror, but Lal Singh bade him be patient. What did the Mem-sahib say to this? The Mem-sahib answered that she placed herself unreservedly in Ramabai’s hands; that Umballa was a madman and must be treated as one.
“Ramabai, why not strike now?” suggested Ahmed.
“The promise Umballa has made to the soldiers has reunited them temporarily. Have patience, Ahmed.” Lal Singh selected a leaf with betel-nut and began to chew with satisfaction.
“Patience?” said Ahmed? “Have I none?”
So the call went forth for a bride throughout the principality, and was answered from the four points of the compass.
Between the announcement and the fulfilment of these remarkable proceedings there arrived in the blazing city of Calcutta a young maid. Her face was very stern for one so youthful, and it was as fearless as it was stern. Umballa’s last card, had she but known the treachery which had lured her to this mystic shore. The young maid was Winnie, come, as she supposed, at the urgent call of her father and sister, and particularly warned to confide in no one and to hide with the utmost secrecy her destination.
THE VEILED CANDIDATES
From the four ends of the principality they came, the veiled candidates; from the north, the east, the south and west. They came in marvelous palanquins, in curtained howdahs, on camels, in splendid bullock carts. Many a rupee resolved itself into new-bought finery, upon the vague chance of getting it back with compound interest.