Imagine his astonishment when, a few minutes after his arrival, Ramabai and Pundita demanded audience, the one straight of back and proud of look, the other serene and tranquil! Umballa felt a wave of bland [Transcriber’s note: blind?] hatred surge over him, but he gave no sign. Ramabai stated his case briefly. Colonel Hare and his daughter were being held prisoners for ransom. Three bags of silver—something like five thousand rupees—were demanded by the captors.
The council looked toward Umballa, who nodded, having in mind the part of the good Samaritan, with reservations, to be sure. Having trod the paths of the white man, he had acquired a certain adroitness in holding his people. They had at best only the stability of chickens. What at one moment was a terror was at another a feast. For the present, then, he would pretend that he had forgot all about Ramabai’s part in the various unsuccessful episodes.
To the council and the gurus (or priests) he declared that he himself would undertake to assume the part of envoy; he himself would bring the legal king of Allaha back to his throne. True, the daughter had been crowned, but she had forfeited her rights. Thus he would return with Colonel Hare as soon as he could make the journey and return.
“He is contemplating some treachery,” said Ramabai to his wife. “I must try to learn what it is.”
In his shop in the bazaars Lal Singh had resumed his awl. He had, as a companion, a bent and shaky old man, whose voice, however, possessed a resonance which belied the wrinkles and palsied hands.
“The rains,” said Lal Singh, “are very late this year. Leather will be poor.”
All of which signified to Ahmed that the British Raj had too many affairs just then to give proper attention to the muddle in Allaha.
“But there is this man Ramabai. He runs deep.”
“He has been conspiring for months.”
“Then why does he not strike?”
“He is wary. He is wary; a good sign.” Lal Singh reached for his pipe and set the water bubbling. “In a few weeks I believe all will be ready, even the British Raj.”
“Why will men be sheep?”
Lal Singh shrugged. “Only Allah knows. But what about this guru’s curse you say follows the Colonel Sahib?”
“It is true. I was there,” said Ahmed. “And here am I, with a price on my head!”
“In the business we are in there will always be a price on our heads. And Umballa will bring back the Colonel Sahib. What then?”
“We know what we know, Lal Singh,” and the face under the hood broke into a smile.
Five days passed. The chief of the brigands was growing restless. He finally declared that unless the ransom was delivered that night he would rid himself of them all. The tiger was starving. In order to prove that he was not chattering idly he had the prisoners tied to the wheels of the cage. It would at least amuse him to watch their growing terror.