TARVIN learned a number of things within the next week; and with what the West calls ‘adaptability,’ put on, with the complete suit of white linen which he donned the second day, an initiation into a whole new system of manners, usages, and traditions. They were not all agreeable, but they were all in a good cause, and he took pains to see that his new knowledge should not go for nothing, by securing an immediate presentation to the only man in the State of whom it was definitely assertable that he had seen the object of his hopes. Estes willingly presented him to the Maharajah. The missionary and he rode one morning up the steep slopes of the rock on which stood the palace, itself rock-hewn. Passing through a deep archway, they entered a marble-flagged courtyard, and there found the Maharajah, attended by one ragged and out-at-elbow menial, discussing the points of a fox-terrier, which was lying before him on the flags.
Tarvin, unversed in kings, had expected a certain amount of state from one who did not pay his bills, and might be reasonably expected to cultivate reserve; but he was not prepared for the slovenly informality of a ruler in his everyday garb, released from the duty of behaving with restraint in the presence of a viceroy, nor for the picturesque mixture of dirt and decoration about the court. The Maharajah proved a large and amiable despot, brown and bush-bearded, arrayed in a gold-sprigged, green velvet dressing-gown, who appeared only too delighted to meet a man who had no connection with the Government of India, and who never mentioned the subject of money.
The disproportionate smallness of his hands and feet showed that the ruler of Gokral Seetarun came of the oldest blood in Rajputana; his fathers had fought hard and ridden far with sword-hilts and stirrups that would hardly serve an English child. His face was bloated and sodden, and the dull eyes stared wearily above deep, rugged pouches. To Tarvin, accustomed to read the motives of Western men in their faces, there seemed to be neither fear nor desire in those eyes—only an everlasting weariness. It was like looking at an extinct volcano—a volcano that rumbled in good English.
Tarvin had a natural interest in dogs, and the keenest possible desire to ingratiate himself with the ruler of the State. As a king he considered him something of an imposture, but as a brother dog-fancier, and the lord of the Naulahka, he was to Tarvin more than a brother; that is to say, the brother of one’s beloved. He spoke eloquently and to the point.
‘Come again,’ said the Maharajah, with a light of real interest in his eyes, as Estes, a little scandalised, drew off his guest. ‘Come again this evening after dinner. You have come from new countries.’
His Majesty, later, carried away by the evening draught of opium, without which no Rajput can talk or think, taught this irreverent stranger, who told him tales of white men beyond the seas, the royal game of pachisi. They played it far into the night, in the marble-flagged courtyard, surrounded by green shutters from behind which Tarvin could hear, without turning his head, the whisper of watching women and the rustle of silken robes. The palace, he saw, was all eyes.
Next morning, at dawn, he found the King waiting at the head of the main street of his city for a certain notorious wild boar to come home. The game laws of Gokral Seetarun extended to the streets of walled towns, and the wild pig rooted unconcerned at night in the alley-ways. The pig came, and was dropped, at a hundred yards, by his Majesty’s new Express rifle. It was a clean shot, and Tarvin applauded cordially. Had his Majesty the King ever seen a flying coin hit by a pistol bullet? The weary eyes brightened with childish delight. The King had not seen this feat, and had not the coin. Tarvin flung an American quarter skyward, and clipped it with his revolver as it fell. Thereupon the King begged him to do it again, which Tarvin, valuing his reputation, politely declined to do unless one of the court officials would set the example.
The King was himself anxious to try, and Tarvin threw the coin for him. The bullet whizzed unpleasantly close to Tarvin’s ear, but the quarter on the grass was dented when he picked it up. The King liked Tarvin’s dent as well as if it had been his own, and Tarvin was not the man to undeceive him.
The following morning the royal favour was completely withdrawn, and it was not until he had conferred with the disconsolate drummers in the rest-house that Tarvin learned that Sitabhai had been indulging one of her queenly rages. On this he transferred himself and his abundant capacity for interesting men off-hand to Colonel Nolan, and made that weary white-haired man laugh as he had not laughed since he had been a subaltern over an account of the King’s revolver practice. Tarvin shared his luncheon, and discovered from him in the course of the afternoon the true policy of the Government of India in regard to the State of Gokral Seetarun. The Government hoped to elevate it; but as the Maharajah would not pay for the means of civilisation, the progress was slow. Colonel Nolan’s account of the internal policy of the palace, given with official caution, was absolutely different from the missionary’s, which again differed entirely from the profane account of the men in the rest-house.
At twilight the Maharajah pursued Tarvin with a mounted messenger, for the favour of the royal countenance was restored, and he required the presence of the tall man who clipped coins in the air, told tales, and played pachisi. There was more than pachisi upon the board that night, and his Majesty the King grew pathetic, and confided to Tarvin a long and particular account of his own and the State’s embarrassments, which presented everything in a fourth new light. He concluded with an incoherent appeal to the President of the United States, on whose illimitable powers and farreaching authority Tarvin dwelt, with a patriotism extended for the moment to embrace the nation to which Topaz belonged. For many reasons he did not conceive that this was an auspicious time to open negotiations for the transfer of the Naulahka. The Maharajah would have given away half his kingdom, and appealed to the Resident in the morning.
The next day, and many succeeding days, brought to the door of the rest-house, where Tarvin was still staying, a procession of rainbow-clad Orientals, ministers of the court each one, who looked with contempt on the waiting commercial travellers, and deferentially made themselves known to Tarvin, whom they warned in fluent and stilted English against trusting anybody except themselves. Each confidence wound up with, ‘And I am your true friend, sir’; and each man accused his fellows to the stranger of every crime against the State, or ill-will toward the Government of India, that it had entered his own brain to conceive.
Tarvin could only faintly conjecture what all this meant. It seemed to him no extraordinary mark of court favour to play pachisi with the King, and the mazes of Oriental diplomacy were dark to him. The ministers were equally at a loss to understand him. He had walked in upon them from out the sky-line, utterly self-possessed, utterly fearless, and, so far as they could see, utterly disinterested; the greater reason, therefore, for suspecting that he was a veiled emissary of the Government, whose plans they could not fathom. That he was barbarously ignorant of everything pertaining to the Government of India only confirmed their belief. It was enough for them to know that he went to the King in secret, was closeted with him for hours, and possessed, for the time being, the royal ear.
These smooth-voiced, stately, mysterious strangers filled Tarvin with weariness and disgust, and he took out his revenge upon the commercial travellers, to whom he sold stock in his land and improvement company between their visits. The yellow-coated man, as his first friend and adviser, he allowed to purchase a very few shares in the ‘Lingering Lode,’ on the dead quiet. It was before the days of the gold boom in Lower Bengal, and there was still faith in the land.
These transactions took him back in fancy to Topaz, and made him long for some word about the boys at home, from. whom he had absolutely cut himself off by this secret expedition, in which he was playing, necessarily alone, for the high stake common to them both. He would have given all the rupees in his pocket at any moment for a sight of the Topaz Telegram, or even for a look at a Denver daily. What was happening to his mines—to the ‘Mollie K.,’ which was being worked on a lease; to the ‘Mascot,’ which was the subject of a legal dispute; to the ‘Lingering Lode,’ where they had been on the point of striking it very rich when he left; and to his ‘Garfield’ claim, which Fibby Winks had jumped? What had become of the mines of all his friends, of their cattle-ranches, of their deals? What, in fine, had become of Colorado and of the United States of America? They might have legislated silver out of existence at Washington, for all he knew, and turned the republic into a monarchy at the old stand.
His single resource from these pangs was his visits to the house of the missionary, where they talked Bangor, Maine, in the United States. To that house he knew that every day was bringing nearer the little girl he had come half way round the world to keep in sight.
In the splendour of a yellow and violet morning, ten days after his arrival, he was roused from his sleep by a small, shrill voice in the verandah demanding the immediate attendance of the new Englishman., The Maharaj Kunwar, heir-apparent to the throne of Gokral Seetarun, a wheat-coloured child, aged nine, had ordered his miniature court, which was held quite distinct from his father’s, to equip his C-spring barouche, and to take him to the rest-house.
Like his jaded father, the child required amusement. All the women of the palace had told him that the new Englishman made the King laugh. The Maharaj Kunwar could speak English much better than his father—French, too, for the matter of that—and he was anxious to show off his accomplishments to a court whose applause he had not yet commanded.
Tarvin obeyed the voice because it was a child’s, and came out to find an apparently empty barouche, and an escort of ten gigantic troopers.
‘How do you do? Comment vous portez-vous? I am the prince of this State. I am the Maharaj Kunwar. Some day I shall be king. Come for a drive with me.’
A tiny mittened hand was extended in greeting. The mittens were of the crudest magenta wool, with green stripes at the wrist; but the child was robed in stiff gold brocade from head to foot, and in his turban was set an aigrette of diamonds six inches high, while emeralds in a thick cluster fell over his eyebrow. Under all this glitter the dark onyx eyes looked out, and they were full of pride and of the loneliness of childhood.
Tarvin obediently took his seat in the barouche. He was beginning to wonder whether he should ever wonder at anything again.
‘We will drive beyond the race-course on the railway road;’ said the child. ‘Who are you?’ he asked, softly laying his hand on Tarvin’s wrist.
‘Just a man, sonny.’
The face looked very old under the turban, for those born to absolute power, or those who have never known a thwarted desire, and reared under the fiercest sun in the world, age even more swiftly than the other children of the East, who are self-possessed men when they should be bashful babes.
‘They say you come here to see things.’
‘That’s true,’ said Tarvin.
‘When I’m king I shall allow nobody to come here—not even the viceroy.’
‘That leaves me out,’ remarked Tarvin, laughing.
‘You shall come,’ returned the child, measuredly, if you make me laugh. Make me laugh now.’
‘Shall I, little fellow? Well—there was once—I wonder what would make a child laugh in this country. I’ve never seen one do it yet. W-h-e-w!’ Tarvin gave a low, long-drawn whistle. ‘What’s that over there, my boy?’
A little puff of dust rose very far down the road. It was made by swiftly moving wheels, consequently it had nothing to do with the regular traffic of the State.
‘That is what I came out to see,’ said the Maharaj Kunwar. ‘She will make me well. My father, the Maharajah, said so. I am not well now.’ He turned imperiously to a favourite groom at the back of the carriage. ‘Soor Singh’—he spoke in the vernacular—‘what is it when I become without sense? I have forgotten the English.’ The groom leaned forward.
‘Heaven-born, I do not remember,’ he said.
‘Now I remember,’ said the child suddenly. ‘Mrs. Estes says it is fits. What are fits?’
Tarvin put his hand tenderly on the child’s shoulder, but his eyes were following the dustcloud. ‘Let us hope she’ll cure them, anyway, young ’un, whatever they are. But who is she?’
‘I do not know the name, but she will make me well. See! My father has sent a carriage to meet her.’
An empty barouche was drawn up by the side of the road as the rickety, straining mail-cart drew nearer, with frantic blasts upon a battered key-bugle.
‘It’s better than a bullock-cart anyway,’ said Tarvin to himself, standing up in the carriage, for he was beginning to choke.
‘Young man, don’t you know who she is?” he asked huskily again.
‘She was sent,’ said the Maharaj Kunwar.
‘Her name’s Kate,’ said Tarvin in his throat, ‘and don’t you forget it.’ Then to himself in a contented whisper, ‘Kate!’
The child waved his hand to his escort, who, dividing, lined either side of the road, with all the ragged bravery of irregular cavalry. The mail-carriage halted, and Kate, crumpled, dusty, dishevelled from her long journey, and red-eyed from lack of sleep, drew back the shutters of the palanquin-like carriage, and stepped dazed into the road. Her numbed limbs would have doubled under her, but Tarvin, leaping from the barouche, caught her to him, regardless of the escort and of the calm-eyed child in the golden drapery, who was shouting, ‘Kate! Kate!’
‘Run along home, bub,’ said Tarvin. ‘Well, Kate?’
But Kate had only her tears for him and a gasping ‘You! You! You!’