Who speaks to the King carries his life in his hand.|
TARVIN found the Maharajah, who had not yet taken his morning allowance of opium, sunk in the deepest depression. The man from Topaz gazed at him shrewdly, filled with his purpose.
The Maharajah’s first words helped him to declare it. ‘What have you come here for?’ he asked.
‘To Rhatore?’ inquired Tarvin, with a smile that embraced the whole horizon.
‘Yes; to Rhatore,’ grunted the Maharajah. ‘The agent sahib says you do not belong to any government, and that you have come here only to see things and write lies about them. Why have you come?’
‘I have come to turn your river. There is gold in it,’ he said steadily.
The Maharajah answered him with brevity. ‘Go and speak to the Government,’ he said sulkily.
‘It’s your river, I guess,’ returned Tarvin cheerfully.
‘Mine! Nothing in the State is mine. The shopkeeper people are at my gates day and night. The agent sahib won’t let me collect taxes as my fathers used to do. I have no army.’
‘That’s perfectly true,’ assented Tarvin, under his breath. ‘I’ll run off with it some morning.’
‘And if I had,’ continued the Maharajah, ‘I have no one to fight against. I am only an old wolf, with all my teeth drawn. Go away!’
They were talking in the flagged courtyard immediately outside that wing of the palace occupied by Sitabhai. The Maharajah was sitting in a broken Windsor chair, while his grooms brought up successive files of horses, saddled and bridled, in the hope that one of the animals might be chosen for his Majesty’s ride. The stale, sick air of the palace drifted across the marble flags before the morning wind, and it was not a wholesome smell.
Tarvin, who had drawn rein in the courtyard without dismounting, flung his right leg over the pony’s withers, and held his peace. He had seen something of the effect of opium upon the Maharajah. A servant was approaching with a small brass bowl full of opium and water. The Maharajah swallowed the draught with many wry faces, dashed the last brown drops from his moustache and beard, and dropped back into the chair, staring with vacant eyes. In a few minutes he sprang to his feet, erect and smiling.
‘Are you here, Sahib?‘said he. ‘You are here, or I should not feel ready to laugh. Do you go riding this morning?’
‘I’m your man.’
‘Then we will bring out the Foxhall colt. He will throw you.’
‘Very good,’ said Tarvin leisurely.
‘And I will ride my own Cutch mare. Let us get away before the agent sahib comes,’ said the Maharajah.
The blast of a bugle was heard without the courtyard, and a clatter of wheels, as the grooms departed to saddle the horses.
The Maharaj Kunwar ran up the steps and pattered toward the Maharajah, his father, who picked him up in his lap, and fondled him.
‘What brings thee here, Lalji?’ asked the Maharajah. Lalji, the Beloved, was the familiar name by which the Prince was known within the palace.
‘I came to exercise my guard. Father, they are giving me bad saddlery for my troopers from the State arsenal. Jeysingh’s saddle-peak is mended with string, and Jeysingh is the best of my soldiers. Moreover, he tells me nice tales,’ said the Maharaj Kunwar, speaking in the vernacular, with a friendly little nod toward Tarvin.
‘Hai! Hai! Thou art like all the rest,’ said the King. ‘Always some fresh demand upon the State. And what is it now?’
The child joined his little hands together, and caught his father fearlessly by his monstrous beard, which, in the manner of a Rajput, was brushed up over his ears. ‘Only ten little new saddles,’ said the child. ‘They are in the big saddle-rooms. I have seen them. But the keeper of the horses said that I was first to ask the King.’
The Maharajah’s face darkened, and he swore a great oath by his gods.
‘The King is a slave and a servant,’ he growled—‘the servant of the agent sahib and this woman-talking English Raj; but, by Indur! the King’s son is at least a King’s son. What right had Saroop Singh to stay thee from anything that thou desiredst, Prince?’
‘I told him,’ said the Maharaj Kunwar, ‘that my father would not be pleased. But I said no more, because I was not very well, and thou knowest’—the boy’s head drooped under the turban—‘I am only a little child. I may have the saddles?’
Tarvin, to whom no word of this conversation was intelligible, sat at ease on his pony, smiling at his friend the Maharaj. The interview had begun in the dead dawn-silence of the courtyard—a silence so intense that he could hear the doves cooing on a tower a hundred and fifty feet above his head. But now all four sides of the green-shuttered courtyard were alive, awake, and intent about him. He could hear muffled breathings, the rustle of draperies, and the faintest possible jarring of shutters, cautiously opened from within. A heavy smell of musk and jasmine came to his nostrils and filled him with uneasiness, for he knew, without turning his head or his eyes, that Sitabhai and her women were watching all that went on. But neither the King nor the Prince heeded. The Maharaj Kunwar was very full of his English lessons, learned at Mrs. Estes’ knee, and the King was as interested as he. Lest Tarvin should fail to understand, the Prince began to speak in English again, but very slowly and distinctly, that his father also might comprehend.
‘And this is a new verse,’ he said, ‘which I learned only yesterday.’
‘Is there any talk of their gods in it?’ asked the Maharajah suspiciously. ‘Remember, thou art a Rajput.’
‘No; oh no!’ said the Prince. ‘It is only English, and I learned it very quickly.’
‘Let me hear, little Pundit. Some day thou wilt become a scribe, and go to the English colleges, and wear a long black gown.’
The child slipped quickly back into the vernacular. ‘The flag of our State has five colours,’ he said. ‘When I have fought for that, perhaps I will become an Englishman.’
‘There is no leading of armies afield any more, little one; but say thy verses.’
The subdued rustle of unseen hundreds grew more intense. Tarvin leaned forward with his chin in his hand, as the Prince slid down from his father’s lap, put his hands behind him, and began, without pauses or expression—
Tiger, tiger, burning bright|
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Framed thy fearful symmetry?
When thy heart began to beat
What dread hand made thy dread feet?
‘There is more that I have forgotten,’ he went on, ‘but the last line is—
|‘Did He who made the lamb make thee?|
I learned it all very quickly.’ And he began to applaud himself with both hands, while Tarvin followed suit.
‘I do not understand; but it is good to know English. Thy friend here speaks such English as I never knew,’ said the Maharajah in the vernacular.
‘Ay,’ rejoined the Prince. ‘But he speaks with his face and his hands alive—so; and I laugh before I know why. Now Colonel Nolan Sahib speaks like a buffalo, with his mouth shut. I cannot tell whether he is angry or pleased. But, father, what does Tarvin Sahib do here?’
‘ We go for a ride together,’ returned the King. ‘When we return, perhaps I will tell thee. What do the men about thee say of him?’
‘They say he is a man of clean heart; and he is always kind to me.’
‘Has he said aught to thee of me?’
‘Never in language that I could understand. But I do not doubt that he is a good man. See, he is laughing now.’
Tarvin, who had pricked up his ears at hearing his own name, now resettled himself in the saddle, and gathered up his reins, as a hint to the King that it was time to be moving.
The grooms brought up a long, switch-tailed English thoroughbred and a lean, mouse-coloured mare. The Maharajah rose to his feet.
‘Go back to Saroop Singh and get the saddles, Prince,’ said he.
‘What are you going to do to-day, little man?’ asked Tarvin.
‘ I shall go and get new equipment,’ answered the child, ‘and then I shall come to play with the prime minister’s son here.’
Again, like the hiss of a hidden snake, the rustle behind the shutters increased. Evidently some one there understood the child’s words.
‘ Shall you see Miss Kate to-day?’
‘Not to-day. ’Tis holiday for me. I do not go to Mrs. Estes to-day.’
The King turned on Tarvin swiftly, and spoke under his breath.
‘Must he see that doctor lady every day? All my people lie to me, in the hope of winning my favour; even Colonel Nolan says that the child is very strong. Speak the truth. He is my first son.’
‘He is not strong,’ answered Tarvin calmly. ‘Perhaps it would be better to let him see Miss Sheriff this morning. You don’t lose anything by keeping your weather eye open, you know.’
‘I do not understand,’ said the King; ‘but go to the missionary’s house to-day, my son.’
‘I am to come here and play,’ answered the Prince petulantly.
‘You don’t know what Miss Sheriff’s got for you to play with,’ said Tarvin.
‘What is it?’ asked the Maharaj sharply.
‘You’ve got a carriage and ten troopers,’ replied Tarvin. ‘You’ve only got to go there and find out.’
He drew a letter from his breast-pocket, glancing with liking at the two-cent American stamp, and scribbled a note to Kate on the envelope, which ran thus:—
|‘Keep the little fellow with you to-day. There’s a wicked look about things this morning. Find something for him to do; get up games for him; do anything, but keep him away from the palace. I got your note. All right. I understand.’|
He called the Maharaj to him, and handed him the note. ‘Take this to Miss Kate, like a little man, and say I sent you,’ he said.
‘My son is not an orderly,’ said the King surlily.
‘Your son is not very well, and I’m the first to speak the truth to you about him, it seems to me,’ said Tarvin. ‘Gently on that colt’s mouth—you.’ The Foxhall colt was dancing between his grooms.
‘You’ll be thrown,’ said the Maharaj Kunwar, in an ecstasy of delight. ‘He throws all his grooms.’
At that moment a shutter in the courtyard clicked distinctly three times in the silence.
One of the grooms passed to the off side of the plunging colt deftly. Tarvin put his foot into the stirrup to spring up, when the saddle turned completely round. Some one let go of the horse’s head, and Tarvin had just time to kick his foot free as the animal sprang forward.
‘I’ve seen slicker ways of killing a man than that,’ he said quietly. ‘Bring my friend back,’ he added to one of the grooms; and when the Foxhall colt was under his hands again he cinched him up as the beast had not been girt since he had first felt the bit. ‘Now,’ he said, and leaped into the saddle, as the King clattered out of the courtyard.
The colt reared on end, landed stiffly on his forefeet, and lashed out. Tarvin, sitting him with the cow-boy seat, said quietly to the child, who was still watching his movements, ‘Run along, Maharaj. Don’t hang around here. Let me see you started for Miss Kate.’
The boy obeyed, with a regretful glance at the prancing horse. Then the Foxhall colt devoted himself to unseating his rider. He refused to quit the courtyard, though Tarvin argued with him, first behind the saddle, and then between the indignant ears. Accustomed to grooms who slipped off at the first sign of rebellion, the Foxhall colt was wrathful. Without warning, he dashed through the archway, wheeled on his haunches, and bolted in pursuit of the Maharajah’s mare. Once in the open, sandy country, he felt that he had a field worthy of his powers. Tarvin also saw his opportunity. The Maharajah, known in his youth as a hard rider among a nation of perhaps the hardest riders on earth, turned in his saddle and watched the battle with interest.
‘You ride like a Rajput,’ he shouted, as Tarvin flew past him. ‘Breathe him on a straight course in the open.’
‘Not till he’s learned who’s boss,’ replied Tarvin, and he wrenched the colt around.
‘Shabash! Shabash! Oh, well done! Well done!’ cried the Maharajah, as the colt answered the bit. ‘Tarvin Sahib, I’ll make you colonel of my regular cavalry.’
‘Ten million irregular devils!’ said Tarvin impolitely. ‘Come back, you brute! Back!’
The horse’s head was bowed on his lathering chest under the pressure of the curb; but before obeying he planted his forefeet, and bucked as viciously as one of Tarvin’s own broncos. ‘Both feet down and chest extended,’ he murmured gaily to himself, as the creature see-sawed up and down. He was in his element, and dreamed himself back in Topaz.
‘Maro! Maro!’ exclaimed the King. ‘Hit him hard! Hit him well!’
‘Oh, let him have his little picnic,’ said Tarvin easily. ‘I like it.’
When the colt was tired he was forced to back for ten yards. ‘Now we’ll go on,’ said Tarvin, and fell into a trot by the side of the Maharajah. ‘That river of yours is full of gold,’ he said, after a moment’s silence, as if continuing an uninterrupted conversation.
‘When I was a young man,’ said the King, ‘I rode pig here. We chased them with the sword in the springtime. That was before the English came. Over there, by that pile of rock, I broke my collar-bone.’
‘Full of gold, Maharajah Sahib. How do you propose to get it out?’
Tarvin knew something already of the King’s discursiveness; he did not mean to give way to it.
‘What do I know?’ answered the King solemnly. ‘Ask the agent sahib.’
‘But, look here, who does run this State, you or Colonel Nolan?’
‘You know,’ returned the Maharajah. ‘You have seen.’ He pointed north and south. ‘There,’ he said, ‘is one railway line; yonder is another. I am a goat between two wolves.’
‘Well, anyway, the country between is your own. Surely you can do what you like with that.’
They had ridden some two or three miles beyond the city, parallel with the course of the Amet River, their horses sinking fetlock-deep in the soft sand. The King looked along the chain of shining pools, the white, scrub-tipped hillocks of the desert, and the far distant line of low granite-topped hills, whence the Amet sprang. It was not a prospect to delight the heart of a King.
‘Yes; I am lord of all this country,’ he said. ‘But look you, one-fourth of my revenue is swallowed up by those who collect it; one-fourth those black-faced camel-breeders in the sand there will not pay, and I must not march troops against them; one-fourth I myself, perhaps, receive; but the people who should pay the other fourth do not know to whom it should be sent. Yes; I am a very rich king.’
‘Well, any way you look at it, the river ought to treble your income.’
The Maharajah looked at Tarvin intently.
‘What would the Government say?’ he asked.
‘I don’t quite see where the Government comes in. You can lay out orange-gardens and take canals around them.’ (There was a deep-set twinkle of comprehension in his Majesty’s eye.) ‘Working the river would be much easier. You’ve tried placer-mining here, haven’t you?’
‘There was some washing in the bed of the river one summer. My jails were too full of convicts, and I feared rebellion. But there was nothing to see, except those black dogs digging in the sand. That year I won the Poona cup with a bay pony.’
Tarvin brought his hand down on his thigh with an unguarded smack. What was the use of talking business to this wearied man, who would pawn what the opium had left to him of soul for something to see? He shifted his ground instantly.
‘Yes; that sort of mining is nothing to look at. What you want is a little dam up Gungra way.’
‘Near the hills?’
‘No man has ever dammed the Amet,’ said the King. ‘It comes out of the ground, and sinks back into the ground, and when the rain falls it is as big as the Indus.’
‘We’ll have the whole bed of it laid bare before the rains begin—bare for twelve miles,’ said Tarvin, watching the effect on his companion.
‘No man has dammed the Amet,’ was the stony reply.
‘No man has ever tried. Give me all the labour I want, and I will dam the Amet.’
‘Where will the water go?’ inquired the King.
‘I’ll take it, around another way, as you took the canal around the orange-garden, of course.’
‘Ah! Then Colonel Nolan talked to me as if I were a child.’
‘You know why, Maharajah Sahib,’ said Tarvin placidly.
The King was frozen for a moment by this audacity. He knew that all the secrets of his domestic life were common talk in the mouths of the city, for no man can bridle three hundred women; but he was not prepared to find them so frankly hinted at by this irreverent stranger, who was and was not an Englishman.
‘Colonel Nolan will say nothing this time,’ continued Tarvin. ‘Besides, it will help your people.’
‘Who are also his,’ said the King.
The opium was dying out of his brain, and his head fell forward upon his chest.
‘Then I shall begin to-morrow,’ said Tarvin. ‘It will be something to see. I must find the best place to dam the river, and I daresay you can lend me a few hundred convicts.’
‘But why have you come here at all,’ asked the King, ‘to dam my rivers, and turn my State upside down?’
‘Because it’s good for you to laugh, Maharajah Sahib. You know that as well as I do. I will play pachisi with you every night until you are tired, and I can speak the truth—a rare commodity in these parts.’
‘Did you speak truth about the Maharaj Kunwar? Is he indeed not well?’
‘I have told you he isn’t quite strong. But there’s nothing the matter with him that Miss Sheriff can’t put right.’
‘Is that the truth?’ demanded the King. ‘Remember, he has my throne after me.’
‘If I know Miss Sheriff, he’ll have that throne. Don’t you fret, Maharajah Sahib.’
‘You are great friend of hers?’ pursued his companion. ‘You both come from one country?’
‘Yes,’ assented Tarvin; ’and one town.’
‘Tell me about that town,’ said the King curiously.
Tarvin, nothing loth, told him—told him at length, in detail, and with his own touches of verisimilitude, forgetting in the heat of admiration and affection that the King could understand, at best, not more than one word in ten of his vigorous Western colloquialisms. Half way through his rhapsody the King interrupted.
‘If it was so good, why did you not stay there?’
‘I came to see you,’ said Tarvin quickly. ‘I heard about you there.’
‘Then it is true, what my poets sing to me, that my fame is known in the four corners of the earth? I will fill Bussant Rao’s mouth with gold if it is so.’
‘You can bet your life. Would you like me to go away, though? Say the word!’ Tarvin made as if to check his horse.
The Maharajah remained sunk in deep thought, and when he spoke it was slowly and distinctly, that Tarvin might catch every word. ‘I hate all the English,’ he said. ‘Their ways are not my ways, and they make such trouble over the killing of a man here and there. Your ways are not my ways; but, you do not give so much trouble, and you are a friend of the doctor lady.’
‘Well, I hope I’m a friend of the Maharaj Kunwar’s too,’ said Tarvin.
‘Are you a true friend to him?’ asked the King, eyeing him closely.
‘That’s all right. I’d like to see the man who tried to lay a hand on the little one. He’d vanish, King; he’d disappear; he wouldn’t be. I’d mop up Gokral Seetarun with him.’
‘I have seen you hit that rupee. Do it again.’
Without thinking for a moment of the Foxhall colt, Tarvin drew his revolver, tossed a coin into the air, and fired. The coin fell beside them—a fresh one this time-marked squarely in the centre. The colt plunged furiously, and the Cutch mare curveted. There was a thunder of hoofs behind him. The escort, which, till now, had waited respectfully a quarter of a mile behind, were racing up at full speed, with levelled lances. The King laughed a little contemptuously.
‘They are thinking you have shot me,” he said. ‘So they will kill you, unless I stop them. Shall I stop them?’
Tarvin thrust out his under jaw with a motion peculiar to himself, wheeled the colt, and waited without answering, his empty hands folded on the pommel of his saddle. The troop swept down in an irregular mob, each man crouching, lance in rest, over his saddle-bow, and the captain of the troop flourishing a long, straight Rajput sword. Tarvin felt rather than saw the lean, venomous lance-heads converging on the breast of the colt. The King drew off a few yards, and watched him where he stood alone in the centre of the plain, waiting. For that single moment, in which he faced death, Tarvin thought to himself that he preferred any customer to a Maharajah.
Suddenly his Highness shouted once, the lance-butts fell as though they had been smitten down, and the troop, opening out, whirled by on each side of Tarvin, each man striving as nearly as might be to brush the white man’s boot.
The white man stared in front of him without turning his head, and the King gave a little grunt of approval.
‘Would you have done that for the Maharaj Kunwar?’ he asked, wheeling his mare in again beside him, .after a pause.
‘No,’ said Tarvin placidly. ‘I should have begun shooting long before.’
‘What! Fifty men?’
‘No; the captain.’
The King shook in his saddle with laughter, and held up his hand. The commandant of the troop trotted up.
‘Ohé, Pertab Singh-Ji, he says he would have shot thee.’ Then, turning to Tarvin, smiling, ‘That is my cousin.’
The burly Rajput captain grinned from ear to ear, and, to Tarvin’s surprise, answered in perfect English—‘That would do for irregular cavalry—to kill the subalterns, you understand—but we are drilled exclusively on English model, and I have my commission from the Queen. Now, in the German army——’
Tarvin looked at him in blank amazement.
‘But you are not connected with the military,’ said Pertab Singh-Ji politely. ‘I have heard how you shoot, and I saw what you were doing. But you must please excuse. When a shot is fired near his Highness it is our order always to come up.’
He saluted, and withdrew to his troop.
The sun was growing unpleasantly hot, and the King and Tarvin trotted back toward the city.
‘How many convicts can you lend me?’ asked Tarvin, as they went,,
‘All my jails full, if you want them,’ was the enthusiastic answer. ‘By God, sahib, I never saw anything like that. I would give you anything.’
Tarvin took off his hat, and mopped his forehead, laughing.
‘Very good, then. I’ll ask for something that will cost you nothing.,’
The Maharajah grunted doubtfully. People generally demanded of him things he was not willing to part with.
‘That talk is new to me, Tarvin Sahib,’ said he.
‘You’ll see I’m in earnest when I say I only want to look at the Naulahka. I’ve seen all your State diamonds and gold carriages, but I haven’t seen that.’
The Maharajah trotted fifty yards without replying. Then—
‘Do they speak of it where you come from?’
‘Of course. All Americans know that it’s the biggest thing in India. It’s in all the guide-books,’ said Tarvin brazenly.
‘Do the books say where it is? The English people are so wise.’ The Maharajah stared straight in front of him, and almost smiled.
‘No; but they say you know, and I’d like to see it.’
‘You must understand, Tarvin Sahib’—the Maharajah spoke meditatively that this is not a State jewel, but the State jewel—the jewel of the State. It is a holy thing. Even I do not keep it, and I cannot give you any order to see it.’
Tarvin’s heart sank.
‘But,’ the Maharajah continued, ‘if I say where it is, you can go at your own risk, without Government interfering. I have seen you are not afraid of risk, and I am a very grateful man. Perhaps the priests will show you; perhaps they will not. Or perhaps you will not find the priests at all. Oh, I forgot; it is not in that temple that I was thinking of. No; it must be in the Gye-Mukh—the Cow’s Mouth. But there are no priests there, and nobody goes. Of course it is in the Cow’s Mouth. I thought it was in this city,’ resumed the Maharajah. He spoke as if he were talking of a dropped horse-shoe or a mislaid turban.
‘Oh, of course. The Cow’s Mouth,’ repeated Tarvin, as if this also were in the guide-books.
Chuckling with renewed animation, the King went on—‘By God, only a very brave man would go to the Gye-Mukh; such a brave man as yourself, Tarvin Sahib,’ he added, giving his companion a shrewd look. ‘Ho, ho! Pertab Singh-Ji would not go. No; not with all his troops that you conquered to-day.’
‘Keep your praise until I’ve earned it, Maharajah Sahib,’ said Tarvin. ‘Wait until I’ve dammed that river.’ He was silent for a while, as if digesting this newest piece of information.
‘Now, you have a city like this city, I suppose?’ said the Maharajah interrogatively, pointing to Rhatore.
Tarvin had overcome, in a measure, his first feeling of contempt for the State of Gokral Seetarun and the city of Rhatore. He had begun to look upon them both, as was his nature in the case of people and things with which he dwelt, with a certain kindness.
‘Topaz is going to be bigger,’ he explained.
‘And when you are there what is your offeecial position?’ asked the Maharajah.
Tarvin, without answering, drew from his breast-pocket the cable from Mrs. Mutrie, and handed it in silence to the King. Where an election was concerned even the sympathy of an opium-soaked Rajput was not indifferent to him.
‘What does it mean?’ asked the King, and Tarvin threw up his hands in despair.
He explained his connection with the government of his State, making the Colorado legislature appear as one of the parliaments of America. He owned up to being the Hon. Nicholas Tarvin, if the Maharajah really wanted to give him his full title.
‘Such as the members of provincial councils that come here?’ suggested the Maharajah, remembering the grey-headed men who visited him front time to time, charged with authority only little less than that of a viceroy. ‘But still you will not write letters to that legislature about my government,’ queried he suspiciously, recalling again over-curious emissaries from the British Parliament over seas, who sat their horses like sacks, and talked interminably of good government when he wished to go to bed. ‘And above all,’ he added slowly, as they drew near to the palace, ‘you are most true friend of the Maharaj Kunwar? And your friend, the lady doctor, will make him well?’
‘That,’ said Tarvin, with a sudden inspiration, ‘is what we are both here for!’