“A step nearer,” she cried, low voiced, “and I will strike.”
Umballa recoiled. This was no longer Sa’adi’s houri but the young woman who had mastered the lion in the railway train. Rage supplanted the passion in his heart. Since she would not bend, she should break. As her arm sank he sprang forward like a cat and seized her wrist. He was not gentle. The dagger tinkled as it struck the marble floor. He stooped for it.
“Since you will not bend, break!” he said, and left the chamber, cold with fury.
Kathlyn sank weakly upon her pillows as Pundita ran to her side.
“What shall I do, Pundita?”
“God knows, Mem-sahib!”
“Are you a Christian?”
And so they comforted each other.
[Illustration: So they comforted each other.]
There was a garden in the palace grounds, lovely indeed. A fountain tinkled and fat carp swam about in the fluted marble basin. There were trellises of flowers, too. Persian roses, despite the fact that it was still winter. It was called the garden of brides.
Kathlyn, attended by Pundita, awaited there the coming of Umballa and the council. Her heart ached with bitterness and she could not think clearly. The impression that all this was some dreadful nightmare recurred to her vividly. What terrors awaited her she knew not nor could conceive. Marry that smiling demon?—for something occult told her that he was a demon. No; she was ready to die . . . And but a little while ago she had been working happily in the outdoor studio; the pet leopard sprawled at her feet; from the bungalow she heard the nightingale voice of Winnie, soaring in some aria of Verdi’s; her father was dozing on the veranda. Out of that, into this! It was incredible. From time to time she brushed her forehead, bewildered.
In this mood, bordering on the hysterical (which is sometimes but a step to supreme courage), Durga Ram, so-called Umballa, and the council found her. The face of the former was cold, his eyes steady and expressionless.
“Has your majesty decided?” asked the eldest of the council.
“And your decision is?”
“No, absolutely and finally. There is no reason why I should obey any of your laws; but there is a good reason why all of you shall some day be punished for this outrage.”
“Outrage! To be made queen of Allaha?” The spokesman for the council stamped his foot in wrath.
“Think!” said Umballa.
“I have thought. Let us have no more of this cat-and-mouse play. I refuse to marry you. I’d much prefer any beggar in the street. There is nothing more to be said.”
“There are worse things than marriage.”
“What manner of indignities have you arranged for me?” Her voice was firm, but the veins in her throat beat so hardily that they stifled her.