“Your Highness, there are those whose coming shortly will cause you much annoyance if you refuse to give me proper aid. There is no possible way for you to cover up my appearance here. Send me to the commissioner’s bungalow, where I may await the coming of my friends.”
“Indeed!” The Kumor saw here a conflict not altogether to his liking. He was lazy, and there was the damnable, unrelenting hand of the British Raj looming in the distance. He shrugged. “Achmet, call the captain of the guard and have him convey this runaway queen to Allaha. Surely, I may not meddle with the affairs of a friendly state.” With a wave of his fat bejeweled hand he appeared to dismiss the matter from his mind.
Kathlyn was led away. The human mind can stand only so many shocks.
Outside the palace courtyard stood Rajah, the howdah securely attached once more, Kathlyn was bidden to mount. A water bottle and some cakes were placed in the howdah beside her. Then a drunken mahout mounted behind Rajah’s ears. The elephant did not like the feel of the man’s legs, and he began to sway ominously. Nevertheless, he permitted the mahout to direct him to one of the city gates, the soldiers trooping alongside.
It appeared that there was a much shorter route to Allaha. Time being essential, Bruce had had to make for the frontier blindly, as it were. The regular highway was a moderately decent road which led along the banks of one of those streams which eventually join the sacred Jumna. This, of course, was also sacred. Many Hindus were bathing in the ghats. They passed by these and presently came upon a funeral pyre.
Sometimes one sleeps with one’s eyes open, and thus it was with Kathlyn. Out of that funeral pyre her feverish thoughts builded a frightful dream.
* * * * * *
The drunken mahout slid off Rajah; the soldiers turned aside. Hired female mourners were kneeling about, wailing and beating their breasts, while behind them stood the high caste widow, her face as tragic as Dido’s at the pyre of Aeneas. Suddenly she threw her arms high over her head.
“I am suttee!”
Suttee! It was against the law of the British Raj. The soldiers began arguing with the widow, but only half heartedly. It was a pious rite, worthy of the high caste Hindu’s wife. Better death on the pyre than a future like that of a pariah dog. For a wife who preferred to live after her husband was gone was a social outcast, permitted not to wed again, to exist only as a drudge, a menial, the scum and contempt of all who had known her in her days of prosperity.
The widow, having drunk from a cup which contained opium, climbed to the top of the pyre where her husband lay, swathed in white. She gazed about wildly, and her courage and resolve took wings. She stumbled down. A low hissing ran about.
“Make the white woman suttee in her place!” cried the drunken mahout.