Today's Reading

"Sir, in the days before...her death, had your wife been unhappy?"

He shook his head. "She did not appear so. Quiet perhaps, in the weeks before."

"And your sister, Miss Pilloo. What was her demeanor?"

Leaning on his elbows, Adi looked at his hands. "Pilloo had always been rather shy, I suppose, rarely spoke at meals." He sighed. "She was wed just six months before, you know, at fifteen. She'd have gone to her husband when she was eighteen. She was content, I think. But lately, before the tragedy, she seemed...withdrawn. Perhaps it only appears so, now that they're gone. Bacha and Pilloo were devoted to each other, you understand."

A lock of hair fell over his forehead, now ridged with grief.

That was my introduction to the victims of this case, the ladies, as I began to think of them. Bacha, nineteen, married a year, and Pilloo, sixteen, just wed, and devoted to her new sister-in-law.

"Is that common among Parsees, sir? To wed at fifteen but remain living at home until later?"

Adi's eyebrows rose. "It's a compromise, I suppose. Tradition dictates girls should marry young, but reformers like our friend Behramji Malabari in Simla have been vocal against it. Diana refused to marry, wanted an education, so Papa sent her to finishing school near London. Pilloo was more domestically inclined."

So, one sister was in England, the other had been married. I knew very little about the Parsees, descendants of medieval refugees from Persia.

I asked, "What can you tell me about the day of the event?"

My client took three breaths and locked his fingers together. "On the twenty-fifth of October, Bacha and Pilloo said they would visit my mother's sister in Churchgate. They set off at about three that afternoon, but...never got there. Instead they climbed to the viewing gallery of the university tower."

I'd known this. The university library or reading room was a popular location to meet friends or browse newspapers, filled with students and law clerks most of the day. I said, "Rajabai clock tower, near the reading room. Did they say they would go there?"

"They told no one at home."

Had the ladies hidden their plan to visit the tower, or simply changed their minds midway? Here I was at a disadvantage. Army life taught little about women and their motives. Why would they lie about their whereabouts?

"Who saw them there?" I asked.

"A Havildar, the clock tower guard, escorted them up the stairs. Two siblings—children really—saw them go up to the viewing gallery."

"Their names?'

Adi's brow knotted. "The guard was called Bhimsa. The children are from the Tambey family, I believe."

"And then?"

"Just before four o'clock, Bacha...dropped to her death. A short while later, Pilloo also fell from the gallery. I'm told she lived for a few moments."

The gap in time between the women's deaths was puzzling. "Were there other witnesses?"

"Afterwards, you mean? Oh yes. A librarian—Apte was his name. Francis Enty, the clerk who testified, and Maneck, a Parsee, was charged, along with two Mohammedan accomplices."

I added these to my list. I could visit the university and seek other witnesses, but had little hope of sifting through dozens of students who might have been present.

"How soon did the police arrive?"

"Right away, it seems. Bombay High Court is nearby. Police Superintendent McIntyre testified he got there at ten minutes past four and cordoned off the area."

"Why was Maneck arrested?"

Adi drew a breath. "Maneck appeared unkempt and out of breath, for which he had no explanation. It's in McIntyre's report."

"And the Mohammedan men? Why were they arrested?"

"The Khojas, yes. Before the deaths, Enty, the law clerk, said he saw an altercation in the tower, involving Maneck and two Mohammedan men, Seth Akbar and Saapir Behg. Maneck claimed not to know them. Both had alibis elsewhere."

So, the police had decided Maneck and the Khojas were lying and believed Enty's story. Why? "Behg stood trial but Akbar wasn't found?"

"No," sighed Adi. "It's a famous name—Akbar was an ancient Moghul king, you know? Curious that we don't have his first name, only the title Seth... I gathered he's influential. Couldn't be found."

That was odd. "I'll ask Superintendant McIntyre about it."

This excerpt ends on page 13 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book The Red Horse by James R. Benn.

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