As Kathlyn advanced to the canopied dais upon which she was to be crowned, a hand filled with flowers reached out. She turned to see Ahmed.
“Bruce Sahib,” she whispered.
Ahmed salaamed deeply as she passed on. The impression that she was dreaming again seized her. This could not possibly be real. Her feet did not seem to touch the carpets; she did not seem to breathe; she floated. It was only when the crown was placed upon her head that she realized the reality and the finality of the proceedings.
[Illustration: Ahmed salaamed deeply.]
“Be wise,” whispered Umballa coldly. “If you take off that crown now, neither your gods nor mine could save you from that mob down yonder. Be advised. Rise!”
She obeyed. She wanted to cry out to that sea of bronze faces: “People I do not want to be your queen. Let me go!” They would not understand. Where was Rao? Where was Bruce? What of the hope that now flickered and died in her heart, like a guttering candle light? There was a small dagger hidden in the folds of her white robe; she could always use that. She heard Umballa speaking in the native tongue. A great shouting followed. The populace surged.
“What have you said to them?” she demanded.
“That her majesty had chosen Durga Ram to be her consort and to him now forthwith she will be wed.” He salaamed.
So the mask was off! “Marry you? Oh, no! Mate with you, a black?”
“Black?” he cried, as if a whiplash had struck him across the face.
“Yes, black of skin and black of heart. I have submitted to the farce of this durbar, but that is as far as my patience will go. God will guard me.”
“Yes, my God and the God of my fathers!”
To the mutable faces below she looked the Queen at that instant. They saw the attitude, but could not interpret it.
“So be it. There are other things besides marriage.”
“Yes,” she replied proudly; “there is death.”
THE TWO ORDEALS
Umballa was not a coward; he was only ruthless and predatory after the manner of his kind. A thrill of admiration tingled his spine. The women of his race were chattels, lazy and inert, without fire, merely drudges or playthings. Here was one worth conquering, a white flame to be controlled. To bend her without breaking her, that must be his method of procedure. The skin under her chin was as white as the heart of a mangosteen, and the longing to sweep her into his arms was almost irresistible.
A high priest spoke to Kathlyn.
“What does he say?” she asked.
“That you must marry me.”
“Tell him that I refuse!”
Umballa shrugged and repeated her words. Here the Council of Three interposed, warning Kathlyn that she must submit to the law as it read. There was no appeal from it.