“A surprise, an agreeable surprise.”
The majordomo cocked his ears; but Ramabai said nothing more.
At the colonel’s bungalow there was rejoicing. Ramabai had written that, since the king could not be found he would head the provisional government as regent, search for and arrest Umballa, and at any time the Colonel Sahib signified would furnish him with a trusty escort to the railway, three days’ journey away. He added, however, that he hoped the Colonel Sahib would be good enough to remain till order was established.
The majordomo contrived to tarry long enough to overhear as much of the conversation as needed for he understood English—and then returned to the city to carry the news to Umballa. To him Umballa gave a white powder.
“To-night, you say, Ramabai gives a banquet?”
“Well, put this in his cup and your obligation to me is paid.”
The majordomo stared a long time at that little packet of powder. A cold sweat formed upon his brow under his turban.
“Well?” said Umballa ironically.
“Huzoor, it is murder!”
Umballa shrugged and held out his hand for the packet.
The majordomo swallowed a few times, and bowed his head. “It shall be done, Huzoor. My life is yours to do with as you please. I have said it.”
“Begone, then, and bring me the news on the morrow that Ramabai is dead. You alone know where the king is. Should they near the hut in which I have hidden him, see that he is killed. He is also useless.”
The majordomo departed with heavy heart. Ramabai was an honest man; but Durga Ram had spoken.
At the banquet, with its quail and pheasant, its fruits and flowers, its rare plates and its rarer goblets for the light wines high castes permitted themselves occasionally to drink, Ramabai toyed idly with his goblet and thoughtlessly pushed it toward Kathlyn, who sat at his right.
Imbued with a sense of gratitude for Ramabai’s patience and kindness and assistance through all her dreadful ordeals, Kathlyn sprang up suddenly, and without looking reached for what she supposed to be her own goblet, but inadvertently her hand came into contact with Ramabai’s. What she had in mind to say was never spoken.
The majordomo stood appalled. This wonderful white woman over whom the gods watched as they watched the winds and the rains, of whom he had not dared speak to Umballa. She? No! He saw that he himself must die. He seized the goblet ere it reached her lips, drank and flung it aside, empty. He was as good as dead, for there were no antidotes for poisons Umballa gave. Those seated about the table were too astonished to stir. The majordomo put his hands to his eyes, reeled, steadied himself, and then Ramabai understood.
“Poison!” he gasped, springing up and catching the majordomo by the shoulders. “Poison, and it was meant for me! Speak!”