Amritsar, Northern India, Late October, 1921
If the head woman from the temple looked in her direction, Laine Harkness wouldn’t give two squashed mangoes for her life, or Eshana’s. Laine could never be confused for an Indian, but with the tail end of this cotton sari covering half her face, and her brown eyes peeking over, she simply had to blend in. Still, any minute now that hatchet-faced female standing guard to the girls’ quarters could let out a pulse-freezing yell.
A sudden blare of a conch shell from within the Hindu temple stretched Laine’s nerves. She and Eshana must be mad to risk this exploit again. The principal matron at Laine’s hospital would give her a severe reprimand if she ever found out. More likely sack her. If either she or Eshana had any sense at all, they’d turn around, go back to the mission, and mind their own business.
But a line from Wordsworth, one of Adam’s favorites, ran through her mind…little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love…
Blast! She wouldn’t call what she and Eshana were about to do little, but please let it be unremembered.
Unnoticed would be better still.
Nudging Eshana in the side and closing her mind to the writhing creatures in the burlap bags they carried, she hissed into Eshana’s ear. “Well off you go. You’ve got yours to dispose of, and I’ve got mine. Just please keep that guard distracted.” Laine jutted her chin toward the obese head woman waddling around in a sari stained down the front with betel juice. Every once in a while she would take her long wooden club and rap on the doors of the hovels.
Eshana hurried through the narrow alleyway toward the guardian of the temple girls, carrying a burlap sack similar to Laine’s.
On the opposite side of the bazaar, the globelike spires of a temple devoted to a Hindu goddess poked above nearby rooftops. Like a multi-tiered cake decorated in a variety of colored icings—pinks, blues, orange—the temple enticed like a sugary concoction.
But from there the loveliness ended. In these alleyways behind the temple, the pervasive scent of incense and stale flowers mixed with the reek of human misery. Girls who should still be playing with toys, and some a little older, chatted with one another. Many of the paint-chipped doors were closed, imprisoning within those adolescent girls forced into ritual marriages to a Hindu deity.
Laine flattened herself against a peeling plaster wall to watch Eshana shake out the contents of her sack at the base of a cluster of clay pots. Now she waved her hands about, talking in rapid Hindi to the older woman. Good girl, Eshana, that’s the ticket. Laine’s stomach writhed in rhythm to the creature in the bag she carried.
She strengthened her grip at the top of the sack though the drawstring had been tightly pulled.
Sure enough the head woman stomped off with Eshana and began to clatter around the pots with her club, giving Laine the moment she waited for. Sixth door from the end on this side, Eshana had told her. Eshana had been visiting the inhabitants of this alley on a regular basis in an attempt to give them some sort of medical aid.
Laine hunched down at the correct threshold. A gap of five or so inches between the door and the mud floor of the girl’s hovel afforded her the needed space.
The low voice of the so-called midwife seeped out. Midwife, my eye. Nothing more than witch doctors with their foolish notions that no water should be given to those giving birth and that the mothers be kept in dark rooms with filthy concoctions of ash smeared over them. Laine shut her mind to the atrocities of how they forced a baby out if it took too long to be delivered.
She kneeled at the bottom of the closed door. With a deep swallow and shudder, she slotted the top of the sack into the gap below the door. With her other hand she eased the drawstring, loosened the bag’s opening, and jumped back to flatten against the wall.
Another shudder rippled through her as she waited. Nothing. Her gaze flitted from the ground to the flat rooftops of this rancid boil of a place. Where had the horrible, disgusting creatures gone? Oh please don’t come out at me.
At last, screams from inside room number six shattered the sleepy deadness of the afternoon.
“Snake!” one woman screeched in Hindi.
Another cry pierced the air. “A cobra!”
They tumbled from the room, and with a gulp Laine slipped inside.
“They’re not poisonous. They’re not poisonous,” she repeated to bolster her flagging courage. But she had no time to worry where the rat snakes had wriggled off to.
She went still. There lay the girl.
So small for fourteen, lying on a heap of rags stained with water and blood. She peered at Laine with eyes soaked with pain.
Irish-born Christine Lindsay writes award-winning inspirational historical novels. Her great-grandfather and grandfather both worked as riveters on the Titanic. Several more of her ancestors served in the British Cavalry in India, seeding Christine’s long-time fascination with Colonial India, and became the stimulus for her series Twilight of the British Raj.
In her novels, SHADOWED IN SILK and CAPTURED BY MOONLIGHT, Christine delights in showing the love of God in times of great injustice on a national and domestic scale. She weaves the endless theme of redemptive love throughout stories of danger, suspense, adventure, and romance.
The Pacific coast of Canada, about 200 miles north of Seattle, is Christine’s home. Like a lot of authors, Christine’s chief editor is her cat.
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