Ramabai paused suddenly in front of his wife and smiled down at her.
“Pundita, you are my legal queen. It is for you to say what shall be done. I had in mind a republic.”
Lal Singh cackled ironically.
“Do not dream,” said Ahmed. “Common sense should tell you that there can be no republic in Allaha. There must be an absolute ruler, nothing less. Your Majesty, speak,” he added, salaaming before Pundita.
She looked wildly about the room, vainly striving to read the faces of her white friends; but their expressions were like stone images. No help there, no guidance.
“Is the life of a decrepit old man,” asked Lal Singh, “worth the lives of these white people who love and respect you?”
Pundita rose and placed her hands upon her husband’s shoulders.
“We owe them our lives. Strike, Ramabai; but only if our need demands it.”
“Good!” said Lal Singh. “I’m off for the bazaars for the night. I will buy chupatties and pass them about, as they did in my father’s time at Delhi, in the Great Mutiny.”
And he vanished.
Have you ever witnessed the swarming of bees? Have you ever heard the hum and buzz of them? So looked and sounded the bazaars that night. At every intersection of streets and passages there were groups, buzzing and gesticulating. In the gutters the cocoanut oil lamps flickered, throwing weird shadows upon the walls; and squatting about these lamps the fruit sellers and candy sellers and cobblers and tailors jabbered and droned. Light women, with their painted faces, went abroad boldly.
And there was but one word on all these tongues: Magic!
Could any human being pass through what this white woman had? No! She was the reincarnation of some forgotten goddess. They knew that, and Umballa would soon bring famine and plague and death among them. Whenever they uttered his name they spat to cleanse their mouths of the defilement.
For the present the soldiers were his; and groups of them swaggered through the bazaars, chanting drunkenly and making speech with the light women and jostling honest men into the gutters.
All these things Lal Singh saw and heard and made note of as he went from house to house among the chosen and told them to hold themselves in readiness, as the hour was near at hand. Followed the clinking of gunlocks and the rattle of cartridges. A thousand fierce youths, ready for anything, death or loot or the beauties of the zenanas. For patriotism in Southern Asia depends largely upon what treasures one may wring from it.
But how would they know the hour for the uprising? A servant would call and ask for chupatties. Good. And the meeting-place? Ramabai’s garden. It was well. They would be ready.
Flicker-flicker danced the lights; flicker-flicker went the tongues. And the peaceful oriental stars looked down serenely.