Said the spokesman of the council: “We have found a precedent. We find that one hundred and ninety years ago a like case confused the council of that day. They finally agreed that she must submit to two ordeals with wild beasts of the jungle. If she survived she was to be permitted to rule without hindrance. It would be a matter for the gods to decide.”
“Are you really human beings?” asked Kathlyn, her lips dry. “Can you possibly commit such a dreadful crime against one who has never harmed you, who asks for nothing but the freedom to leave this country?”
Pundita secretly caught Kathlyn’s hand and pressed it.
“Once more!” said Umballa, his compassion touched for the first time. But he had gone too far; for the safety of his own head he must go on.
“I am ready!”
The four men salaamed gravely. They turned, the flowing yellow robes of the council fluttering in the wind, the sun lighting with green and red fires the hilt of Umballa’s sword. Not one of them but would have emptied his private coffers to undo what he had done. It was too late. Already a priest had announced the ordeals to the swarming populace. You feed a tiger to pacify him; you give a populace a spectacle.
That night Umballa did not rest particularly well. But he became determined upon one thing: no actual harm should befall Kathlyn. He would have a marksman hidden near by in both ordeals. What a woman! She was a queen, and he knew that he would go through all the hells of Hind to call her his. Long ere this he would have looted the treasure chests and swept her up on his racing elephant had he dared. Sa’adi’s houri!
A thousand times he heard it through the night:
“I am ready!”
HOW TIME MOVES
Meantime Lal Singh was hurrying on a racing camel toward the railway, toward Simla, more than a thousand miles away. He was happy. Here was the long delayed opportunity for the hand of the British Raj: a captive white woman. What better excuse was needed? There would be armed Sikhs and Gurhas and Tommies near Rawal Pindi. Ai! how time moved, how fate twisted! How the finest built castle in schemes came clattering down! At the very moment when he had secretly worked upon the king to throw himself into the protecting arms of the British Raj—assassinated! The council? Umballa? Some outsider, made mad by oppression? The egg of Brahma was strangely hatched—this curious old world!
Ahmed remained hidden in the bazaars, to await the ordeals. Nothing should harm his mistress; he was ready now and at all times to lay down his life for her; in this the British Raj came second. He had sent a courier to Bruce Sahib’s bungalow, but the man had returned to report that it was still unoccupied.