At the loud cries of the Mirdhas and silver-stick bearers of "Burkhast, Durbar Burkhast!" "The durbar is dissolved!" the various masses of troops filed out of the square before the Hall of Audience in the same gorgeous array as they had entered. Indeed, the effect was even more gorgeous, for before the assembly the sun had been slightly veiled with thin clouds, and had only occasionally shone out with full brightness; but now the clouds had cleared away, and the sun's rays descended on the glittering masses with a power which materially enhanced their splendour. One by one the nobles left the hall, making their humble obeisances to the Throne, and, joined by their retinues, passed onwards through the citadel to the gate, and thence to their respective abodes within and without the citadel. The prospect of immediate service in the field, too, enhanced the spirit of the many different bodies of men, and their party or national war cries arose from time to time, mingled with shouts of "Victory to Abbas Khan!" which, entirely spontaneous as they were, filled his heart with joy. The Queen again reminding him that he was to return at the usual hour of council, attended by the Portuguese priest, left the hall before it was emptied; and when most of the nobles had gone on, he mounted his horse, and rode home at a quiet pace.
In truth, his wound was painful, for his shield was somewhat heavy; and the rapidity and strength of the blows showered on him by the Abyssinian had required his utmost skill and vigilance to parry. He had no doubt, therefore, that the Padré's bandages had been strained, as, indeed, they proved to have been on examination. In the heat of the encounter, all pain had been forgotten; and it was now great and increasing, and he longed for relief. But his mind was full of joyous gratitude, not only for preservation in the ordeal, but for the establishment of his innocence of cowardice or of treachery; and the papers found on the Abyssinian might even prove more, since it was evident, from the addresses on them, that they had belonged to Elias Khan, and before the night had passed all would be clear.
Thus Abbas Khan rode on through the streets of the fort which led to his uncle's house, slowly and deliberately, receiving the salutations of the crowds which filled them with grateful acknowledgments. As the troops broke up from the durbar, great numbers of them had betaken themselves to these streets; and the real joy with which they now greeted the young nobleman, always a favourite, was more real and more genuine, perhaps, than that evinced before the ordeal. Abbas Khan was the popular hero of the day: women stretched out their arms from the housetops and blessed him, and wished him a hundred years of life and joy; stalwart veterans would not be kept off; and some kissed his feet, others put portions of his garment to their lips, and with a blessing turned away. It was almost too much to bear.
At his gate he was met by the whole household, and the usual ceremonies of welcome were performed ere he crossed the threshold. Lighted lamps were waved over him, incense was burnt in the name of the protecting saints, and vows of offerings at their shrines promised by the venerable Moolla, who was present on behalf of his aunt. As he dismounted from his horse, he caressed it fondly. As if he had understood his warning, Sooltan had been steady and perfectly manageable through the combat, and nothing but his perfect temper, and the ease and certainty with which he had followed every turn of his master's wrist or pressure of his knee or heel, could have ensured victory. As he ascended the steps of the hall of audience all that were present rose and greeted him; many came forward to embrace him, and several poets of the city presented addresses in verse, of a very florid and laudatory description, comparing him to Roostum and the champions described in the "Shah Nama" with painstaking fidelity, which, whatever the merits of the composition might be, were sufficiently tedious. When these were finished, and suitable rewards ordered, Abbas Khan, fairly wearied out, excused himself to the rest of the company, and went at once to his aunt, who had already sent several messages to him to come as quickly as he could; and truly it was grateful to him to find himself once more encircled by the arms of one so revered by him and so dear.
"Oh! thou art safe, thou art safe, my son!" she cried, as she clung sobbing to his neck. "I feared for thee; I wept for thee; I prayed for thee to the Lord and His saints, and I was heard; and as soon as the news was brought to me that thou hadst won the combat, I sent Fatehas to all the mosques and shrines; and to-morrow, Inshalla! I will feed a thousand poor people in the name of the Imams. And thou art not hurt, my son?"
"Not hurt, mother; but the old wound needs looking to by the Padré Sahib: it is sore and stiff. It is he alone that can give me rest and ease. He is waiting within, and I must go to him; for there are other matters on which he must be consulted. I will come to thee at the evening prayers, after which, when I have eaten, I must return to the Queen for the evening council."
"So soon," she said, "so soon to leave me; and I had hoped to sit and talk with thee a whole evening! Well, thou must do thy duty to our Royal mistress; and why should I regret that thou doest it? God forbid. And she was gracious unto thee, Meeah?"
"Mother, she wept; she could hardly speak as I went up to her; but I saw that she believed in me, and she was happy. Happy, mother; and your son was proud, too, when she rose and declared I was to lead the division that goes to the King's aid. Ah! that was too much honour; may I be worthy of it!"
"I have no fear, Meeah," replied the old lady. "Go where she sends thee, and win honour and fame as thine uncle has done; but go now and get relief."
Abbas Khan found the priest in his own apartment, who, after very sincere congratulations, helped him to divest himself of the mail shirt he wore, when he fell to an examination of the wound.
"No doubt, my lord, it is sore and smarting from the weight and strain of the armour; but it is sound, and there hath been no more bleeding. I will change all these dressings now, and put on lighter ones, and in a few days there will be no more danger of relapse."
The new, cool dressings were a delicious relief, and left his arm at full liberty for action of any kind. Until he reached the King's camp, he should have no occasion to use it in any but the most ordinary actions.
"And now, Padré Sahib," continued Abbas Khan, when the operation was finished, "make yourself ready to come with me to the Palace to-night. The Queen-Regent desires to see you on a matter of much importance, and I am ordered to bring you with me."
"Do you know why?" asked d'Almeida. "Nothing in regard to the mission at Moodgul could have given offence to Her Majesty? I wish we had had longer notice; Maria might have made some sweetmeats, for an offering, or some of her work. Yet I remember, she hath an exquisite lace veil, and it could not be presented to one more worthy."
"The matter is this," replied Abbas Khan. "On the body of the Abyssinian was found a case of letters. Some of them are in Persian and Mahrathi, others in your language; at least the writing is in the Frangi character. No one that she can trust can read it, and assuredly no one among the Portuguese artisans and gunners could translate the papers. Do you remember anything which might give a clue to these letters?"
"I do," he replied. "Was your adversary a very tall, very powerful man, with hard, black features?"
"He was, Padré; why do you ask?"
"Because, some months ago, soon after Dom Diego came, a man such as I describe, mounted on a big chestnut horse, and with several attendants, arrived at Moodgul. They came to me first, but the letter they brought was addressed to my colleague, and I directed them to him. The man was so remarkable that, as he rode away, I called Maria to look at him. There was a renegade Portuguese with that man, who spoke to me in our language, and interpreted what I said to him."
"Ah! that is valuable, my friend; but you do not know of what passed between him and Dom Diego?"
"Nothing whatever, my lord. Once only the good Nawab, my friend, hinted that some intrigue was in progress between my superior and Eyn-ool-Moolk, but warned me against having any concern in it. But what could Dom Diego do, even if he has engaged in intrigue?"
"Ah! my friend, you are too simple," returned the young Khan, laughing; "he could get money; he could promise your nation's troops."
"Those he will never get," interrupted the priest. "Our Government has declined from the first to mix itself up in the affairs of kingdoms whom our nation esteems to be heretical. I have heard there have been many offers by the Emperor Akbar, and others before him, but the policy of our Government is consistent and friendly to all."
"And yet you are a nation of valiant soldiers. It is strange to see such without ambition."
"Which might lead to our ruin, my lord. No; wise minds have determined and guided our course hitherto, and we only defend ourselves when we are attacked."
"As we know to our cost, Señor Padré; and as they of Ahmednugger found to theirs in the siege of Ghoul," returned Abbas Khan, laughing. "But enough now; be ready when I send for you. And your sister is well, and hath all she needs?"
"All, my lord, and is grateful. She is busy preparing for her school; and our poor folks are thankful for even the few ministrations we have afforded them."
"Only be careful, Señor, lest you excite bigotry among mine. Alas! there is bitterness between Moslim and Nazarene; but you have only to be careful."
"Yet at Moodgul no one molests us, my lord."
"There are many who would do so if they dared, my friend; but you are under protection there by order of the State, and here it may be different. I only say be cautious, and you are as safe here as there."
The priest bowed and retired. What his young friend had said to him he did not tell to his sister; but some of the castles they had been building had already been shaken, and caution was at least necessary, lest they should crumble down altogether.
As the Padré left him, Abbas Khan threw a light sheet over himself, and slept profoundly. The Lady Fatima stole in several times to see him, and at last seated herself near him; and, with a light fan, drove away the flies which would have settled on his face. How proud she was of her boy. "The Lady Queen is as proud," she said to herself, "I know; but she could not do this like me. Am I not the happier? for I can watch him while every mood of his mind leaves its expression on his features. See, now, there is a frown, and the fingers seem to clutch something; it is his sword, and he dreams of the combat. And there! now all is changed, and there is love on the moist lips and in the smiles. Why dreams he of her? Ah, well! may she be worthy."
So the young man slept, and so his good aunt tended him as she had done when he was a child. And the time flew rapidly, and the muezzin from the minaret of the garden mosque began to chant invitation to the evening prayer, "Allah-hu-Akbar! Allah-hu-Akbar!" and then Abbas Khan woke, and found his aunt sitting beside him, watching.
"My sleep was sweet," he said, "because thou watchedst over me, mother. Ah, so sweet! may God reward thee. But I must go to the prayer now."
"There are many who wish to speak with thee, my son," she said; "and one is very urgent, Runga Naik, a Beydur."
"Bid him wait; he is, indeed, most needful. I will not be long away, mother, or I will send for him."
Entering the garden by the private door, Abbas Khan performed his ablutions at the little fountain, whose cool, sparkling water refreshed him. The garden was refreshing also; and, as he knelt down, a soft feeling of grateful adoration stole over him. Many of his friends were assembled there, and their salutations, with the warm grasp of the hand which accompanied them, were more grateful to him than he had ever remembered before.
"I will attend ye speedily, friends," he said to them, "but I have some private affairs to see to first here, and ye must excuse me;" and, calling to an attendant, he bade him bring in Runga Naik, and seating himself on the rim of the fountain, awaited his coming alone. Presently he saw the Beydur chief enter, peering about as though he were in a thick forest, but, directly he saw his young master, he bounded forward with a cry of joy, and threw himself at his feet.
"I was not in time, Meeah," he said, as soon as his emotion had subsided, "to see thee slay that villain. Would I had been! But I could not travel faster with the prisoners; and it was only at the last stage that I heard thou hadst reached this the day before, when the Lady Queen was hunting. What had delayed thee?"
"Only the wound again, friend," said the Khan, laughing. "One day—it was our second march—my horse, it was one of Osman Beg's, stumbled and fell with me, the stitches of my wound burst open, and the Padré Sahib insisted I should not travel till I was well. Notwithstanding his skill, I could not move for more than a month; but I had good lodging at Talikota."
"So near to my town; and why did you not send for me, Meeah?"
"I did send; but thou wert gone, they said, to Belgaum, and thou hadst not returned when I resumed my journey."
"Then you have heard nothing, my lord, of the old Dervish and his child? Are they with thee?"
"No!" replied Abbas Khan, starting at the question. "Not with me. I have never even heard of them. By your soul, tell me what you know."
"I had been absent from home, tracing our men who had deserted us at Kórla, and had three hundred of my best men with me. You were then in Juldroog, and I heard afterwards you and the Moodgul Padré had departed. There was one of our Beydur festivals to come on after that, and I returned home for it, when I was suddenly sent for by the Dervish, and I delivered Zóra from the palace of Osman Beg, where she was confined under the charge of two procuresses from Moodgul. Yes, Burma Naik and Bheema and I did it; and to this day I regret that I did not slay thy profligate cousin as he slept."
"But, but!" cried Abbas Khan, horrible thoughts rising in his mind, "she was safe, she had not been dishonoured?"
"Thanks be to the Gods, she was safe, Meeah. There had been an attempt at a marriage that afternoon; but the stout old Moolla refused to perform it, and the ceremony was deferred till the morrow. I saw there was time for me to do what was needed, and we three brought her away, through the panthers' cave. Who dared to follow us?"
"And then?" cried the Khan, breathlessly and anxiously.
"Only this," continued the simple fellow; "I had a boat ready, and the old man's property was placed in it as evening fell; and when we three brought the girl away safely, we crossed the river, and I took them to Kukeyra, where I have a house, and where I bestowed them safely, with six hundred of my people there to guard them."
"And they are there now, Runga?"
"No," he replied, "they are not there; and that is what troubles me. One of the Kukeyra men met me here to-day, and told me that the old man had grown restless; and though Zóra had entreated him to remain, yet he had left Kukeyra and gone to our Rajah at Wakin Keyra, who was protecting him; and that Osman Beg had sent spies across to trace them, and even attempted to follow with his retainers: but who can cross the river mother if the Beydurs say nay?"
"Now may God be praised, Runga, for this protection of them! Oh, think, if that child had come to harm! And it was a foul plot and outrage of Osman Beg's, for which he shall answer to me as surely as the sun shines or as the Abyssinian died. But art thou sure it was a forcible abduction of the child?"
"There is no doubt of that. Jooma and another carried Zóra from the bastion, as she sat looking at Cháya Bhugwuti; and only that the good old Moolla refused, Zóra would have been married by Nika, and would have now been in thy cousin's zenána. Yes, that is true, Meeah; I heard it from Zóra, and others have told me since."
"He shall answer this before the King and his mother," said Abbas Khan, fiercely. "Ever treacherous! who can trust him?"
"He has other things to answer for besides this, Meeah," was the reply. "Look! here are more papers, more letters;" and he took a packet from his waistband; "and I have secured all Elias Khan's Duftur, and his scribe. There are plenty of Osman Beg's letters in it—and other people's too, for the matter of that—quite enough to give him a seat under the Goruk Imlee trees, and to find the executioner making him a last salaam."
"Then he should be summoned at once, Runga."
"If you were not to go to your uncle and the King he might be; but as it is, he had better remain. He thinks he is quite safe; and, indeed, he is safe, for it is impossible for him to stir; but here he would intrigue while you are away. He might even learn news of the old Dervish, and carry off Zóra in spite of us; but now I will send word to my people, and to the twelve thousand, that her honour is your honour and mine; and they know what that means. I, Meeah, go to the war with thee, for the men here who belong to the Rajah are mad to go with us, and I will not deny them."
"Oh, true friend and brother!" exclaimed the young Khan, with a choking sensation in his throat, and tears welling up in his eyes; "what can I render to thee for all this aid, and thy good counsel? Yes, come with me, Runga; we have fought before together, but none know thee but me. Now all shall know thee, and thou shalt be honoured and rewarded. First, let us do our duty to the King, and then," he continued, rising, "I call the holy saints to witness, our duty will be done to others. Hast thou eaten food, Runga?"
"No," he said, "not since yesterday; but I have bathed, and am hungry. Tell them to give me something from thy kitchen, Meeah; and suffer me to eat here, where I can offend no one, and put my dinner on fresh plantain leaves. Ah! that will be a luxury, indeed!"
The servants brought to him portions of the savoury food which was ready in the kitchen, and deposited it on a huge plantain leaf which he had gathered. They saw him eat as it seemed to them voraciously, but in truth little food had passed his lips for two days; and when he had finished, they saw him wrap himself in the sheet which had before served him as upper covering and waistband, and lying down on the bare earth fall into a deep sleep.
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