FETTERS DIFFICULT TO SEVER

Baroda is, without exception, one of the most interesting and
picturesque cities in India. It is perched on the lofty, precipitous
banks of the River Wishwamitra. Large marble staircases lead down to
the water’s edge, and above them rise thousands of minarets, bell
towers, temples, kiosks, and pagodas half screened here and there by
masses of dark green foliage.

Frederick met with a very hospitable reception on his arrival at
Colonel Fitzpatrick’s comfortable bungalow. He could not help being
touched by the heartiness of welcome extended to him, and Florence
appeared to him more charming and beautiful than ever.

As in duty bound, the colonel immediately took steps to notify the
Guicowar of Frederick’s presence in the capital, and a few days
afterward received an intimation that his highness would be glad to
grant Count von Waldberg the honor of an audience. Accordingly, on
the appointed day, Frederick, accompanied by Fitzpatrick, drove to
the royal palace, and after traversing numerous halls and gorgeous
apartments thronged with courtiers, found himself in the presence of
the Guicowar, to whom he was introduced with due form and ceremony.

The first moments of the interview were passed almost in silence. Then
the Guicowar, addressing Frederick in English, declared that he was
happy to receive the son of so illustrious a soldier and statesman
as General von Waldberg, and bade him consider himself at home in
his dominions, adding that he would do all that lay in his power to
render Frederick’s sojourn in Baroda as agreeable as possible. The
Guicowar wore a red velvet tunic, over which was spread a profusion
of magnificent jewels. His turban was adorned with an aigrette of
diamonds, among which sparkled the famous “Star of the South.” He
was at the time a man of about thirty-five years of age and of tall
and commanding stature. His complexion was tolerably clear, and his
strongly marked features at once gave a perfect idea of this singular
man, who to extreme gentleness in every-day intercourse united the most
atrocious cruelty on many other occasions. The origin of the dynasty
of the Guicowars is very interesting. Their name, “Guicowar,” of which
they are so extremely proud, signifies in the Mahratta language,
“Keeper of Cows,” and they are fond of tracing their descent to a
family of “Koumbis,” or peasants.

After a time hookhas, with jeweled amber mouthpieces, were brought
in, and both the colonel and Frederick, following the example of the
Guicowar, began to smoke in true oriental fashion. Meanwhile a number
of pretty girls, covered with trinkets and attired in thin chemises,
had stepped into the room. They were bayaderes, or dancing girls,
who played, sang, and danced for the entertainment of the Guicowar’s
guests, moving with all the languid voluptuousness peculiar to the
East. These privileged individuals are allowed to come and go as they
please in the royal palace, as if to make up for the absence of the
ladies secluded in their Zenana. When, at the close of the audience,
which had lasted about two hours, Frederick at length took leave of
his dusky highness, he was thoroughly enraptured with all he had
seen. The Court of the Guicowar is the only one in India which has
preserved down to the present time the customs of the middle ages in
all their primitive splendor, and during his stay at Baroda, Frederick
had numerous opportunities of admiring the extreme luxury and lavish
magnificence of ceremonies which are not to be witnessed anywhere else
in the world.

Frederick soon began to feel as if he were a member of the colonel’s
family. The old gentleman treated him like a son, and was never tired
of introducing him to all his friends and acquaintances. One morning he
proposed that they should call together on a Hindoo lady, the widow of
a great dignitary, and whose wealth was enormous. Being free of control
and of advanced notions, she was fond of frequenting good European
society, and would, so the colonel declared, be delighted to make Count
von Waldberg’s acquaintance. The opportunities of entering the house of
a lady of great fortune and high caste in India are exceedingly rare,
for the rules of the Zenana are so strict and so full of deeply rooted
prejudices that even widows, proverbially forward, seldom dare to break
through them. Frederick, therefore, declared in reply that he would be
much pleased to avail himself of the colonel’s offer.

The widow received them in a magnificently decorated room. Her face
was partly vailed by a rose-colored silk scarf, and her dress was
literally ablaze with diamonds, rubies, and gold. She was a woman of
between forty and fifty years of age, very dark, and with piercing
coal-black eyes. When the colonel and his young friend entered, she
quickly rose from the divan, and having shaken hands with them both in
European fashion, invited them to take seats on either side of her.
She began by thanking Colonel Fitzpatrick for having brought Count von
Waldberg to see her, and then, turning to the latter, added graciously
that she would be “at home” to him whenever he might deign to call
for the purpose of cheering her lonely life by his welcome presence.
Frederick assured her that he would frequently avail himself of her
permission,and the conversation then turned to European topics and to
social scandal both at home and abroad, concerning which the widow
appeared to know much more than might reasonably have been expected
from a Hindoo lady living in the seclusion of a Baroda Zenana.

Frederick could not help noticing the very marked impression that he
was producing on the widow. She addressed herself almost exclusively to
him, and her piercing eyes hardly ever left his face. She insisted on
their staying until nightfall, and when Frederick pleaded some urgent
business appointment she prevailed on Frederick to allow the colonel
to depart alone and to remain behind, at any rate until it was time
for the city gates to close. The heat being intense indoors, the widow
shortly afterward made a proposal that they should adjourn to the
gardens of her palace, and conducted him along a winding path sheltered
from the glare of the sun by the dense foliage of the sycamore trees to
a fairy-like kiosk, built on a kind of rocky promontory, which seemed
to hang out over the river. A gentle breeze made its way through the
closed lattices of the windows, and a pink marble fountain perfumed the
atmosphere with its jet of rose-water.

Frederick had entered this charming _buen retiro_ a free man. When he
left it he was enthralled by fetters which he would find it difficult
to sever.

He had been about four months at Baroda when one morning as he was in
the act of mounting his pony to ride over to pay his customary visit
to the widow a diminutive black boy stealthily slipped a note into his
hand. Hastily turning round Frederick recognized the grinning features
of Florence’s little page, who, after making a profound salaam,
disappeared as fast as his legs would carry him. Putting his horse at a
walk the young count opened the letter and read the following words:

“I will be this evening, at dusk, in the wood adjoining our
bungalow, near the little temple of Jain. Meet me there. I must
speak to you alone and without delay. I have a communication to
make to you of such importance that our lives are endangered
thereby. Oh, my love, my love! Why are you so cruel?”

With a stifled curse Frederick crushed the note in his hand and thrust
it into one of the outside pockets of his jacket. Then, giving his
unfortunate pony a vicious dig with his spurs, he started off at a
sharp canter, and fifteen minutes later he alighted at the palace of
the widow, who, having become insanely jealous, was making his life a
perfect burden to him.

On that particular morning she was more than usually fractious and
exacting, and it was only by playing the part of an enthusiastic
and passionate lover that he could in any way pacify her. When at
length he reached home he was in a state of exasperation bordering on
frenzy. Flinging himself upon the couch in his room he gave way to a
most violent fit of rage. Suddenly remembering Florence’s note he put
his hand into his pocket, with the object of reading it once more.
The letter, however, was gone. It was in vain that he turned all his
pockets inside out; the note had disappeared. This caused him a moment
of anxiety, but on second thought he remembered that it bore neither
signature nor address, and, taking it for granted that it had dropped
from his pocket while riding, he dismissed the subject from his mind.

Shortly after sundown he started to walk through the wood to the little
temple of Jain where Florence had requested him to meet her. It was
a lovely and romantic spot. The small temple, built of delicately
chiseled stone forming a kind of open trellis work, was surmounted
by nine little carved domes and tiny fretted minarets. All round the
building rose half-broken columns, the ruins of a mosque, while huge
trees covered the spot with deep shade, and Barbary figs, cactuses and
poisonous euphorbias enveloped the ancient stones. Thousands of parrots
and humming birds dwelt in the branches of the sycamores and palms and
flew off at the slightest sound. The place was very lonely, and as he
approached it there was no sound save the babble of a brook whispering
among tall rushes and lotus plants to be heard in the quiet evening air.

Florence, who had been sitting on the fragments of the basalt column,
rose to her feet as she saw him coming, and advanced toward him with
outstretched hands. She had been a very beautiful girl a few months
previously, but the brilliant pink color, which was one of her chief
charms, had now given place to a sickly pallor. Her cheeks were haggard
and drawn and her soft brown eyes had a sad and hunted expression which
was very painful to see in one so young and fair.

“Fred,” exclaimed she, as he took her hands in his and bent to kiss
her cheek. “I cannot bear this any longer. You promised me long ago
that you would talk to my father! Why don’t you do so now? The time
has come! I have asked you to come here to-day to tell you that soon I
shall be unable to conceal my shame any longer. Already now I tremble
every time my dear father looks at me, and I have no strength left to
carry on this horrible deceit any longer.”

As she said this she leaned her head on her lover’s shoulder and sobbed
bitterly.

The expression on Frederick’s face became very dark, now that her face
was hidden against his breast and that she could no longer see him.
He bit his lips savagely and his eyes flashed with anger. Here was a
pretty state of things. What was he to do? She must be pacified with
new promises and induced to wait till he could find means to flee once
more before the storm which he seemed to call forth wherever he went.
He tried to compose his features and to soften the tones of his voice.
Drawing the weeping girl closer to him he murmured, gently:

“Look here, Florence, you must not give way like this! You only hurt
yourself and pain me. You know how doubly precious your life is to me
now. Do not doubt me! Believe me, I am acting for the best. You shall
be my wife long before many days are passed and long before there
is any danger of discovery. You are nervous and low-spirited, and
exaggerate the difficulties of our situation. I adore you! That ought
to satisfy you, together with the knowledge that I will guard you from
any misfortune and trouble. Cheer up, darling! Better times are coming.
Have patience but a little longer.”

As he said this they both gave a sudden start of terror. Behind them in
the thicket they heard the noise of a broken twig and the rustle of a
dress. Florence, in an agony of fright, tore herself from his embrace
and disappeared in the direction of her father’s bungalow, exclaiming
as she rushed off:

“God help us! We are discovered!”

Frederick, turning toward the tangled bushes whence the sound had
proceeded, found himself face to face with the widow.

The latter presented a truly awful appearance as she advanced toward
him. Her black eyes were distended with fury, and her face, from which
the vail had fallen, was distorted by a cruel and mocking smile.

“Is that the way you keep your troth to me, you miserable scoundrel?”
screamed she, clutching hold of Frederick’s arm. “Is that my reward for
the love of which I have given you so many proofs? Is that the return
for the bounty I have heaped upon you—for all my lavish generosity?”

“Silence!” exclaimed Frederick, “and cease to taunt me about your gifts
and presents. They have been purchased dearly enough in all conscience.
I have never given you the right to control my actions. Although I may
be a mere boy compared to you, yet I am old enough to take care of
myself.

“Is that it, then? So I am too old for you! You dare to let me see that
all your pretenses of love were only due to your greed for my wealth!
The widow is good enough to furnish you with money and to help you to
pay your numerous debts! But you require something younger, lovelier,
and more attractive than I am, to satisfy your passions.”

Frederick muttered a terrible oath.

“I wonder,” she continued, “what your friend Col. Fitzpatrick will say
when I inform him how you have betrayed his hospitality and dishonored
his daughter. As there is a heaven above us, I swear to take such a
revenge, both on you and upon your light-o’-love, that you will live to
curse the day on which you were born.”

Frederick, exasperated beyond all expression, shook her hand roughly
off his arm, saying as he did so:

“Do anything you please, but be silent now! You have said more than
enough! I have done forever with yourself, your money, and the very
questionable charms of your acquaintance! Good-evening.”

Turning his back on her, he was about to effect his retreat when the
frantic woman bounded toward him and clutched him by his coat with such
violence that he nearly lost his balance.

“Thief, coward, traitor! You shall not leave me thus!” hissed the widow
through her clenched teeth.

Almost blind with rage, Frederick caught her by both arms and pushed
her from him with such brutality that she fell backward, striking her
head as she did so on the jagged edge of a broken marble column. The
young man attempted to raise her from the ground, but she lay back
lifeless on the greensward.

Trembling with fear, Frederick put his hand to her heart. It had ceased
to beat. For the second time within the space of six months Frederick
had become a murderer. The full horror of the situation flashed through
his mind like a streak of lightning. He must leave Baroda at once. But
how was he to do so without money? Not a moment was to be lost, and
without casting a look behind him he hurried toward the city, leaving
the corpse of his victim lying among the ruins of the temple, with her
poor livid face and wide-open eyes, still distorted by passion, turned
upward toward the dark heavens, where the crescent of the new moon was
rising.

Half an hour later Frederick presented himself at the gate of the
widow’s palace and asked to see her. The servants replied that their
mistress had gone out two hours previously and that she was expected
back every minute. If his excellency would take the trouble of walking
up stairs he might wait for her in her boudoir. Shortly afterward
Frederick came down stairs again, and handing the servant a card for
the widow declared that, being pressed for time, he was unable to wait
any longer.

He then hastened to his hotel and locked himself up in his room,
determined to pack up his belongings and find an excuse for leaving
Baroda the next morning. He was not short of money now, for, emptying
his pockets on the table, he sat for some moments gazing at a heap of
gold pieces and jewels which must have amounted to a value of over
several thousands of pounds. Locking this treasure in a small trunk, he
was just about to change his clothes for evening dress when there was a
loud knock at the door. Frederick started and looked helplessly around
him before hoarsely exclaiming:

“Who is there?”

“It is I,” replied the voice of Col. Fitzpatrick. “Open the door, my
dear boy. I want to speak to you.”

Somewhat reassured, Frederick hastened to admit the colonel, who,
throwing himself on a chair, exclaimed:

“A terrible thing has happened. You will be horribly shocked. Our poor
old friend, the widow, has been found murdered near the ruins of the
Temple of Jain,” and without noticing the ashy hue of Frederick’s face
he continued: “Her assassin was captured just as he was attempting to
remove from her corpse the jewels which she wore. The whole town is in
an uproar about it, and the culprit was nearly torn to pieces by the
people when he was taken through the streets on his way to the prison.”

[Illustration: ROBBING THE MURDERED WIDOW.]

“You say her murderer is captured?”

“Yes,” answered the colonel, “and a villainous, hang-dog looking fellow
he is, too—a member of some of those wandering tribes of beggars who
infest our part of the country—and no mercy will be shown to him.”

Frederick instantly realized that it was necessary for his safety
that he should remain at least some days longer at Baroda, so as not
to arouse, by his sudden departure, suspicions which had, so luckily
for him, taken another direction, and, coolly finishing his toilet,
he accompanied the colonel to a dinner party at the bungalow of the
English political resident.

Three days afterward Frederick received an invitation from the Guicowar
to be present at the execution of the widow’s murderer, who was
condemned to undergo the punishment of “death by the elephant.”

[Illustration: EXECUTION BY ELEPHANT.]

This punishment is one of the most frightful that can possibly be
imagined. The culprit, secured hand and foot, is fastened to the
elephant’s hind leg by a long cord passed round his waist. The latter
is urged into a rapid trot through the streets of the city, and
every step gives the cord a violent jerk which makes the body of the
condemned wretch bound on the pavement. On arriving at the place of
execution he is released, and by a refinement of cruelty a glass of
water is given to him. Then when he has sufficiently recovered to feel
the throes of death his head is placed upon a stone block, and the
elephant executioner is made to crush it beneath his enormous foot.

Up to this juncture Frederick, though very pale, had remained standing
behind the Guicowar’s chair, his eyes intently fixed on the horrible
scene which was being enacted before his eyes. But at the moment when
the head of the poor innocent man was being crushed to atoms under the
dull thud of the monster’s foot he uttered a cry of horror and sank to
the ground in a dead faint.